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Politicizing #commoncore takes focus off quality education!

April 21, 2014

The divisive politics surrounding the national debate about the efficacy of the Common Core has done little to advance the reasonable and informed dialogue we need to have regarding challenging issues in K-12 education.  With regard to the Common Core, we should be talking about how to implement it with fidelity and how to adequately train teachers so they can be effective agents of the implementation.  This piece in the New York Times, Republicans See Political Wedge in the Common Core, written by Jonathan Martin, highlights how the politics focus on sabotaging any productive conversation.

Consider the following quote from Martin’s article:

Conservatives denounce it as “Obamacore,” in what has become a surefire applause line for potential presidential hopefuls

The reason for instituting a “common core” set of national standards was to bring into greater alignment the diverse curricula and expectations across the different states.  The idea was to use a standards-based reform approach that involved all states in the United States.  The initiative was sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).  As of January 15, 2013, Texas and Alaska are the only states that are not members of the initiative.  Nebraska and Virginia are members but have decided not to adopt the standards. Minnesota rejected the Common Core Standards for mathematics, but accepted the English/Language Arts standards. The standards were adopted in Indiana, but implementation has since been rejected by the Republican Governor, Mike Pence (click here).  Legislation to repeal Common Core Standards has been initiated in Alabama.  There is a public debate going on right now as to whether national standards are an effective means to increase student achievement in the US.

Progressive politicians seem to favor the development and implementation of the CCS, as well as the national assessments developed to test students’ mastery of the standards.  While conservative politicians see the standards movement as too much federal intrusion what should be a state’s matter.  However, there are politicians on both sides of the aisle that struggle with a focus on testing the mastery of a set of standards at a national level.

There is no question that our education system in the United States is “failing” many of our students so we need a major overhaul of No Child Left Behind and our over-reliance on high-stakes testing to measure student achievement in school.  Over the past 12 years, these efforts have done very little to improve the overall quality of education for all students.

Another interesting quote:

The Republican revolt against the Common Core can be traced to President Obama’s embrace of it, particularly his linking the adoption of similar standards to states’ eligibility for federal education grants and to waivers from No Child Left Behind, the national education law enacted by President George W. Bush.

Why should someone’s position on the validity of the Common Core be linked to the opinion of someone else?  I would argue this is absurd.  One’s position on the Common Core should be grounded in whether the framework is a valid mechanism for improving all students’ preparation to compete in a global society.  Rest assured, if states do not adopt national standards of excellence, they will have to create their own state standards, as in the past.  I think one could argue that many states, especially those in the south, have failed in their ability to design and implement a rigorous set of standards in the past.  To understand the failure of many states to adequately educate their students all we need to do is look at their abysmal high school graduation rates (click here).  It is unacceptable that in many states we leave behind nearly 25-40% of our students.  Indiana, which recently rejected the Common Core and will develop its own state standards, only graduates about 77% of students from high school.  That translates into a C+.  Should they be trusted to develop standards that are more rigorous or better than the Common Core?  I would be highly dubious.   With Tea Party politics pushing out misinformation about the Common Core, I wonder if typical citizens of Indiana actually understand what their politicians are doing.

Here are a set of facts that ALL Americans ought to know about the Common Core Standards (CCS):

  • Standards are only in Math and English Language Arts
  • CCS were designed by experts in the field and vetted by teams of experts.
  • CCS were designed using a large body of scholarly research on knowledge and skills students need to know for the 21st Century.
  • The federal government was not involved in creating the CCS.
  • The CCS requires teachers to cover the curriculum in a deeper fashion rather than cover broader set of content standards.
  • While the CCS emphasize the development of skills and the process of learning, they also place a high degree of importance on the content to be covered at each grade level.
  • The CCSs establish what students need to learn, but do not dictate how teachers should teach.  Schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standard.

Another quote from Martin’s article:

Mr. Jindal’s position (Governor of Louisiana who is now against the CCS), a reversal for him, shows how quickly conservative opposition has grown. He recently announced his support for a bill that would remove Louisiana from the Common Core, on the same day the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which supports the program, released a video featuring his earlier endorsement of it.

I don’t understand how you can be a supporter of major legislation like the CCS one day and the next day you are signing bills to remove your state from the Common Core.  In my view, this further indicates the negative impact of political pressure on a reasonable and informed dialogue.  If you truly understand the seven facts listed above, you don’t just flip your position because a political party pressures you to follow their lead.  What is in the best interest of ALL students, even those who start out being educated in your state but move to a different state to continue their education?  That question should be driving the leadership, conversation and the decisions being made.  Let’s point out that Louisiana graduates only 69% of its high school students.  Thirty-one percent are left behind by an inadequate education system.  If  you live in Louisiana, do you trust Bobby Jidal to lead a state-sponsored development of educational standards better than the Common Core.  Their track record is poor at best (D+).

Finally, there is this quote:

It is not just conservatives who have turned against the Common Core: The leaders of major teachers unions are also pushing back because of the new, more difficult tests aligned to the standards that are being used to evaluate both students and teachers.

Common Core Standards are a GPS to guide schools and districts as they design and develop rigorous, interesting and relevant curriculum in math and language arts.  We need to address the assessment issues surrounding the Common Core as a separate but related issue.  The CCS are relevant regardless of how we choose to assess their mastery by students.  We first have to decide whether the relentless high-stakes assessment programs we pursue, both philosophically and economically, are paying off.  History would suggest that the testing corporations are raking in loads of money at the expense of an educational system that is not improving as a result of the administration of these expensive programs.  Why don’t we give school and districts more local control of  CCS assessment?  Do we really believe they will do a less effective job?  When good teachers know their students and their curriculum well, their assessment of student learning is richer and more accurate than any high-stakes, multiple-choice test.  Get assessment out of the hands of corporations that want to make a profit.  See other posts from the Center for Teaching on assessment and teacher evaluation (click here).

After reading this article and thinking about school reform on a regular basis, here are my thoughts about the current state of affairs with regard to the Common Core.

  • The CCS are well written and cover essential skills students need for being a well-rounded student.
  • Implementation of the CCS requires excellent training of teachers, many of whom feel as though they have not received adequate training.
  • Successful implementation of the CCS requires bold leadership on the part of principals and district leaders.
  • The conversation about high-stakes tests measuring mastery of the standards should be separated from any decision about whether the standards are robust.  While linked, the standards should stand on their own.
  • Politicians should not be trusted when pushing one position or another with regard to the standards.  Their motives get in the way of honest conversation about the standards’ value.  Also, they are ill-equipped to make informed decisions and generally use information that is not accurate.

Put decision-making about national education standards in the hands of a state or district panel or task force that is composed of researchers, educators, developmental psychologists and school administrators.  Leave politicians off to the side until there is a request to fund initiatives designed to promote successful adoption of the standards.  Get the politics out of the conversation for the good of ALL students and teachers.

Resources:

This 3 minute video gives a good introduction to why the Common Core Standards are a valuable initiative.

 

 

Myths versus facts of the Common Core Standards (click here)

About the standards (click here)

Edutopia has compiled a set of resources on the Common Core Standards (click here)

Achieve the Core is an official website with good resources on CCS (click here)

Article by Kenneth Chang in New York Times, With Common Core, Fewer Topics but Covered More Rigorously

Caution and the Common Core, a NY Times editorial

Whose Minding the Schools?  NY Times article, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, June 8, 2013

Why States are backing out on common standards and tests? The Hechinger Report, Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass, August 15, 2013

Common Core Standards: Are we on the right track? Center for Teaching Blog post, Robert Ryshke, August 12, 2013

Ed Secretary Defends Common Core: Feds didn’t write, approve or mandate them, Get Schooled, Maureen Downey, June 26, 2013

Cobb sets back Common Core and possibly state, Get Schooled, Maureen Downey, May 14, 2013

Common Core Standards Already Being Taught Despite Political Controversy, Survey Shows, Huffington Post, Joy Resmovits, August 7, 2013

States Rollout of the Common Core Goes Under the Microscope, Education Week, April 15, 2014

 

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