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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Turmoil swirling around Common Core education standards

Via the Washington Post

As public schools across the country transition to the new Common Core standards, which bring wholesale change to the way math and reading are taught in 45 states and the District, criticism of the approach is emerging from groups as divergent as the tea party and the teachers union.

The standards, written by a group of states and embraced by the Obama administration, set common goals for reading, writing and math skills that students should develop from kindergarten through high school graduation. Although classroom curriculum is left to the states, the standards emphasize critical thinking and problem solving and encourage thinking deeply about fewer topics.

But as the common core shifts from theory to reality, critics are emerging. State lawmakers are concerned about the cost, which the Fordham Institute estimated could run as high as $12 billion nationally. Progressives fret over new exams, saying that the proliferation of standardized tests is damaging public education. Teachers worry that they haven’t had enough training and lack the resources to competently teach to the new standards. And conservatives say the new standards mean a loss of local control over education and amount to a national curriculum. They’ve begun calling it “Obamacore.”

On Tuesday, the head of the American Federation of Teachers and a strong supporter of the Common Core standards will warn that the new approach is being poorly implemented and requires a “mid-course correction” or the effort will fall apart.

“The Common Core is in trouble,” said Randi Weingarten, the union president who is slated to speak Tuesday in New York about the issue. “There is a serious backlash in lots of different ways, on the right and on the left.”

Weingarten is concerned that states are rushing out tests based on the new standards without preparing teachers and designing new curricula.

“This is a wake-up call for everyone else in the country,” she said, pointing to New York, which just administered new tests based on the Common Core standards. Teachers, parents and students complained that the tests were poorly designed, covered material that had not been taught and frustrated children to the point of tears.

Education News for 10-25-2012

State Education News

  • Staff earns cash for grades (Dayton Daily News)
  • Springboro Community City Schools is planning to pay staff more than $200,000 in bonuses…Read more...

Local Education News

  • Lakota anticipates spending deficits in next 4 of 5 years (Hamilton Journal-News)
  • Spending deficits are projected in Lakota’s near future, and school officials have said further budget reductions will have to come…Read more...

  • Granville schools, Lodge strike deal on valuation (Newark Advocate)
  • The Granville School District and five other tax districts will not have to refund tax collections to the current owners of Cherry Valley Lodge because of a decrease in the lodge’s property valuation…Read more...

  • BP sets STEM curriculum (Warren Tribune Chronicle)
  • Trumbull County Schools' new curriculum will give students a competitive edge in both their education and their career of choice…Read more...

  • Lorain: School system, city on the brink (WKYC)
  • The city of Lorain and the Lorain City School District are struggling to survive. The area has been hit hard by the economy and unemployment, and families are struggling to get by…Read more...

Two Visions

Education historian Diane Ravitch, writing about the Chicago teachers strike, but has lots of relevance across the board

The Chicago Teachers Union has a different vision: it wants smaller classes, more social workers, air-conditioning in the sweltering buildings where summer school is conducted, and a full curriculum, with teachers of arts and foreign languages in every school. Some schools in Chicago have more than forty students in a class, even in kindergarten. There are 160 schools without libraries; more than 40 percent have no teachers of the arts.

What do the teachers want? The main sticking point is the seemingly arcane issue of teacher evaluations. The mayor wants student test scores to count heavily in determining whether a teacher is good (and gets a bonus) or bad (and is fired). The union points to research showing that test-based evaluation is inaccurate and unfair. Chicago is a city of intensely segregated public schools and high levels of youth violence. Teachers know that test scores are influenced not only by their instruction but by what happens outside the classroom.

The strike has national significance because it concerns policies endorsed by the current administration; it also raises issues found all over the country. Not only in Chicago but in other cities, teachers insist that their students need smaller classes and a balanced curriculum. Reformers want more privately-managed charter schools, even though they typically get the same results as public schools. Charter schools are a favorite of the right because almost 90 percent of them are non-union. Teachers want job protection so that they will not be fired for capricious reasons and have academic freedom to teach controversial issues and books. Reformers want to strip teachers of any job protections.

Encounrage you to read the whole piece, here.

Education News for 07-20-2012

Statewide Stories of the Day

  • Newark appears on track to meet 23 of 26 indicators on Ohio Achievement Assessment (Newark Advocate)
  • NEWARK - Although state report cards likely are a month away, Newark administrators said they are excited about preliminary Ohio Achievement Assessment results. According to preliminary results released by the Ohio Department of Education, Newark students passed more indicators than in 2011, including seventh-grade reading. Although nothing is final until report cards are released, Newark is on track to meet 23 of 26 indicators, said Maura Horgan, director of secondary curriculum instruction. Read more...

  • Youngstown schools: Cost to update curriculum estimated at nearly $500,000 (Vindicator)
  • Youngstown - Getting the school district’s curriculum up to state standards will be an expensive proposition. One of the elements of the Academic Recovery Plan for the district updated by the state-appointed Academic Distress Commission earlier this year calls for up-to-date Ohio standards based pre-kindergarten through 12 plans in literacy, math, science and social studies. Teams of teachers and administrators determined the books, materials and supplies needed to accomplish that and the cost is nearly $500,000 for grades seven through 12. Read more...

Local Issues

  • Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon says building, operating funds come from different accounts (WEWS 5 ABC)
  • CLEVELAND - It's been a monumental week for the Cleveland Municipal School District. Since last Friday, ground has been broken for four new, 21st century elementary schools: Paul L. Dunbar, Miles, Almira, and Orchard. Groundbreakings for the new Max Hayes and John Marshall high schools are coming soon. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the school board voted to seek a new 15 mill levy to finance the new education reform plan and avoid a huge budget deficit next year. Read more...

  • Cleveland school district faces big challenge passing 15-mill tax increase, some councilmen say (Plain Dealer)
  • CLEVELAND — Taxpayers can't quite wrap their heads around the 15-mill school tax the school board proposed Wednesday night, some Cleveland City Council members say, predicting the tax is likely to fail by a large margin. "It's going to go down in utter defeat," said Ward 2 Councilman Zack Reed. Councilman Mike Polensek, of Collinwood, said he and his office have received call after call from families shocked at a request that is twice as big as he expected -- an amount that he said families can't afford. Read more...

  • Fostoria board OKs 2013 appropriations (Courier)
  • FOSTORIA - Fostoria school board approved fiscal year 2013 general fund temporary appropriations of more than $21.7 million at Thursday's regular meeting. The meeting was rescheduled from Monday to accommodate board members' schedules. The district finished fiscal year 2012 on June 30 with a carryover balance of $400,939, according to information from Treasurer Jaime Pearson, so the available general fund balance is more than $22.1 million on July 1, which is the beginning of the fiscal year. Read more...

The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum

Great piece

Welcome to other side of the looking glass, and into the Bizarro world of so-called "education reform" - an upside-down universe in which up is down, left is right and multimillionaire CEOs are civil rights heroes championing social justice, while public school teachers are corrupt fat cats, maintaining a status quo which oppresses students in poverty and racism.

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