The Trouble with the Common Core

Via Rethinking Schools

It isn’t easy to find common ground on the Common Core. Already hailed as the “next big thing” in education reform, the Common Core State Standards are being rushed into classrooms in nearly every district in the country. Although these “world-class” standards raise substantive questions about curriculum choices and instructional practices, such educational concerns are likely to prove less significant than the role the Common Core is playing in the larger landscape of our polarized education reform politics.

We know there have been many positive claims made for the Common Core:

  • That it represents a tighter set of smarter standards focused on developing critical learning skills instead of mastering fragmented bits of knowledge.
  • That it requires more progressive, student-centered teaching with strong elements of collaborative and reflective learning.
  • That it equalizes the playing field by raising expectations for all children, especially those suffering the worst effects of the “drill and kill” test prep norms of the recent past.

We also know that many creative, heroic teachers are seeking ways to use this latest reform wave to serve their students well. Especially in the current interim between the roll-out of the standards and the arrival of the tests, some teachers have embraced the Common Core as an alternative to the scripted commercial formulas of recent experience, and are trying to use the space opened up by the Common Core transition to do positive things in their classrooms.

We’d like to believe these claims and efforts can trump the more political uses of the Common Core project. But we can’t.

For starters, the misnamed “Common Core State Standards” are not state standards. They’re national standards, created by Gates-funded consultants for the National Governors Association (NGA). They were designed, in part, to circumvent federal restrictions on the adoption of a national curriculum, hence the insertion of the word “state” in the brand name. States were coerced into adopting the Common Core by requirements attached to the federal Race to the Top grants and, later, the No Child Left Behind waivers. (This is one reason many conservative groups opposed to any federal role in education policy oppose the Common Core.)

Written mostly by academics and assessment experts—many with ties to testing companies—the Common Core standards have never been fully implemented and tested in real schools anywhere. Of the 135 members on the official Common Core review panels convened by Achieve Inc., the consulting firm that has directed the Common Core project for the NGA, few were classroom teachers or current administrators. Parents were entirely missing. K–12 educators were mostly brought in after the fact to tweak and endorse the standards—and lend legitimacy to the results.

The standards are tied to assessments that are still in development and that must be given on computers many schools don’t have. So far, there is no research or experience to justify the extravagant claims being made for the ability of these standards to ensure that every child will graduate from high school “college and career ready.” By all accounts, the new Common Core tests will be considerably harder than current state assessments, leading to sharp drops in scores and proficiency rates.

We have seen this show before. The entire country just finished a decade-long experiment in standards-based, test-driven school reform called No Child Left Behind. NCLB required states to adopt “rigorous” curriculum standards and test students annually to gauge progress towards reaching them. Under threat of losing federal funds, all 50 states adopted or revised their standards and began testing every student, every year in every grade from 3–8 and again in high school. (Before NCLB, only 19 states tested all kids every year, after NCLB all 50 did.)

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School funding disaster in the making

The Dispatch may have published this story on April Fools Day, but it is no joke. Lawmakers aren’t near a school-funding resolution

Faced with an unpopular formula, a fast-approaching deadline, and an uncertain amount of money, Rep. Gerald Stebelton doubts a final school-funding plan can be crafted by the time the two-year state budget is approved.

We have some sympathy for Rep Stableton. The Governor crafted his ill conceived defunding plan in secret, with little or no input from any stakeholders. The Governor then spent over a week trying to bamboozle everyone with his ridiculous claims of what his funding plan would do, only to have those claims fall to pieces once details of the defunding plan emerged.

The Lancaster Republican said the plan is for the House to pass “something,” and then send it to the Senate in April for more work by the June 30 deadline. But with time running short, he thinks it’s unrealistic that it can be fully resolved and provide school districts with answers about how funding will work in the future.

This is where our sympathy begins to run out. The GOP dominated legislature are struggling to devise an adequate and equitable funding system because they don't want to commit the money necessary to make that possible. Consequently they are left trying to move an inadequate amount of funding around in the hopes that they can find some magical distribution that works.

They are never going to find that solution at the currently proposed funding levels - levels which fall below those seen in 2009. Instead of adequately funding public education, the Republicans have an income tax cut fetish that few others support.

It is troubling that a Republican legislature is once again going to punt on creating a funding formula that works, and instead continue to lock in funding levels that are woefully inadequate.

And if you need any more proof that Michelle Rhee's billionaire funded StudentsFirst organization is nothing more than an anti-tax front group, this should do the trick

StudentsFirst, an education-reform organization founded by former Washington, D.C., schools’ chief Michelle Rhee, has proposed reworking the formula while spending no additional money.

We are not aware of any other pro-public education organization that thinks a workable solution can be found at the currently proposed funding levels. And as for Dick Ross, the architect of the currently proposed disaster of a funding plan, the State Board of Education just made him the State Superintendent.

Education News for 08-30-2012

State Education News

  • Lax sex ed lets fallacies flourish (Columbus Dispatch)
  • Plenty of Americans thought Missouri Rep. Todd Akin was out of line, wrong and maybe even a little nutty when he said that a woman’s body has a way of preventing pregnancy in cases of “legitimate” rape...Read more...

  • Attendance scandal claims a casualty (Columbus Dispatch)
  • State Auditor Dave Yost warned Columbus schools leaders a month ago that contacting the district’s internal auditor as she investigates claims of data rigging could have serious consequences...Read more...

  • Hathorn predicts improvements in Youngstown schools (Youngstown Vindicator)
  • Although the release of the state report cards is weeks away, city schools Superintendent Connie Hathorn expects it to show improvement...Read more...

Local Education News

  • Bay Village school district sees health insurance premium hike (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
  • Health and prescription insurance premiums for school district employees will increase by more than 9 percent beginning...Read more...

  • Man challenges effort to roll back school tax (Columbus Dispatch)
  • Gene Hollins says he has friends on both sides of the ballot issue that aims to repeal part of a property tax for the Westerville school district...Read more...

  • Crawford County partnership links education, economic development (Mansfield News Journal)
  • Adding the word education isn't just a change in semantics for a local group...Read more...

  • Lakewood teachers to receive base pay raises (Newark Advocate)
  • For the first time since the 2009-10 school year, Lakewood teachers will receive a base pay raise...Read more...

  • Preschool programs return to Southwest Licking (Newark Advocate)
  • At this time last school year, the classrooms inside Southwest Licking's former kindergarten center were empty and quiet, but that no longer is the case...Read more...

  • Parents Threaten To Take School District Back To Court Over Busing Issues (WBNS)
  • Parents were threatening to take a school district back to court over whether their children should be bused to private schools...Read more...

  • Willoughby-Eastlake Schools to bring new technology into the classrooms (Willoughby News Herald)
  • The Willoughby-Eastlake School District is preparing to train 200 teachers as it moves to bring in newer technology in the classroom...Read more...

I Don't Understand Michelle Rhee

A must read

Of all the images of Rhee, the one that sticks in my head is when she invited a PBS film crew to watch her fire a principal. She said to the crew: "I'm going to fire somebody in a little while. Do you want to see that?" Of course they did, and they filmed it. It was then that I realized that she enjoys hurting people. She enjoys watching people suffer.

In another infamous incident, Rhee told an audience of young teachers that when she was a teacher, she controlled her restless class by putting duct tape on their mouths; when the tape came off, their lips were bleeding. Apparently, the audience found that act of child abuse very funny.

Today Rhee is a national figure. Her organization claims to have a million members, though I hear that anyone who goes to her website is automatically registered as a member. StudentsFirst sends out deceptive email solicitations—I received one myself—asking the recipient if you want to see a great teacher in every classroom. Rhee's name does not appear anywhere on the email. If you answer yes, you are registered as a "member" of StudentsFirst. I don't understand this kind of deceptive marketing on behalf of someone who claims to be concerned about education.

Her organization allegedly has raised more than $200 million and is well on its way to raising $1 billion. This money will be used to attack teachers' unions; to strip teachers of any job protections; to promote vouchers, charters, and for-profit organizations that manage charter schools; and to fund candidates who want to reduce spending on public education and privatize it. I have heard rumors about big-name donors to Rhee, but can't verify them. StudentsFirst does not release the names of its contributors.

Let me add that I find offensive the very concept of "StudentsFirst." The basic idea is that teachers are selfish and greedy and do not have the interests of students at heart. So students need a champion to protect them against their venal teachers, and Rhee is that champion. Supposedly, Rhee and her allies—assorted billionaires, big corporations, wealthy foundations, and rightwing governors—are the only people who can be trusted to care about our nation's children. A New York City writer, Gail Robinson, recently challenged Rhee's claim to be above self-interest after Rhee announced that she was bringing her campaign to New York City.

How money buys education "research"

The Center for American Progress (CAP), which bills itself as a being dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action, recently produced a report titled "Charting New Territory: Tapping Charter Schools to Turn Around The Nation’s Dropout Factories"

The report argues for a more prominent role for charter operators in turning around perennially low-performing high schools. Among its recommendations

the report posits that five steps might improve the likelihood of successful CMO-district partnerships (all of which strengthen the CMO’s position in the district):
1) maximizing theCMO’s autonomy over staffing, budget, curricula, operations, and pedagogy;
2) staffing turnaround schools through creative agreements among education entrepreneurs, unions, charter operators, districts, and states, such as developing thin union contracts;
3) ensuring district financial support for turnaround schools;
4) relaxing state and district administrative regulations around staffing, funding, and school operations; and
5) cultivating public will for such partnerships.

At this point, you might be wondering why a progressive think tank is advocating such right wing policies that have been proven to be unsuccessful. The answer is actually quite simple to descern, and can be found on the very first page of this CAP report.

Paid for by the conservative corporate education reform outfit - the Eli Broad Foundation.

The National Education Policy Center has just released their analysis of this report, and they don't have kind things to say about this Broad funded report.

The report bases the majority of its findings and conclusions on conversations with charter school operators—including those that have not yet engaged in turnaround work—and with school district staff, researchers, and education reformers or consultants. Interview respondents included one professor of educational policy, one researcher from the Center on ReinventingPublic Education, five reformers or consultants from reform organizations or think tanks that advocate for market-based education policies, and three district administrators who were associated with their districts’ charter school partnerships.

Secondarily, the report cites evidence from the popular media, blogs, foundation reports, non-peer reviewed literature, charter operators’ external relations materials, and ideologically identifiable think tanks.

Beyond these citations, the report routinely offers a range of unsubstantiated claims that are not supported by any evidence or that ignore existing evidence to the contrary.

At the same time, no theoretical or substantive rationale behind the report’s sources of evidence is provided to justify why the particular interview respondents or literature sources were selected or how their data were evaluated. The result is a collection of weakly supported claims based on an unsystematic, unsophisticated interpretation of the knowledge base on school turnarounds, charter schools, and charter management organizations.

This is what millions of dollars can buy you. Research and recommendations that lack intellectual rigor. Designed to further corporate education reform agendas at the expense of public education, and the possibility of real reforms and changes that would make a difference to the quality of education students receive.


Kasich makes false claims to state workers

As signature collection for the SB5 repeal effort gets under way today , it comes as no surprise that the Kasich administration has begun to use its position to propagandize state employees

On one front, the governor ordered Department of Administrative Services Director Robert Blair to issue a letter to the state's 57,520 employees that highlights "key facts" of Senate Bill 5 and included an endorsement from Blair of the switch to a merit-based pay system.

Plunderbund has a copy of the letter, and debunks some of the false claims it makes.

Apr 21 2011 DAS Dir Blair Re SB5