Archives for category: Common Core

I kept hearing the same phrase used over and over again about the Common Core standards: don’t complain, the train is leaving the station, and you don’t want to be left behind. It is inevitable. Then one of the readers of the blog, noting this cliche, wrote, “I didn’t know the train was IN the station, how could it be leaving?”

At some point, as the volume of complaints got louder, and as states announced they were dropping the standards or the tests or both, the narrative began to shift. That sense of inevitability disappeared, and the nation seemed to go into a period of watching to see which state would pull out next.

Fortunately, Mercedes Schneider has been keeping count. Here is her latest summary of the slow dissolution of the Common Core.

In case you didn’t know it, Schneider just spent this summer (which is barely half over) writing a book about the Common Core. We will wait to hear more about publisher and publication date. Let’s just say she may be the fastest, most prolific writer in our field.

Zephyr Teachout, who is opposing Governor Cuomo in the New York Democratic primary, explained her strong opposition to the Common Core standards, which Cuomo supports.

She writes:

“Common Core forces teachers to adhere to a narrow set of standards, rather than address the personal needs of students or foster their creativity. That’s because states that have adopted the standards issue mandatory tests whose results are improperly used to grade a teacher’s skill and even to determine if he or she keeps their job. These tests have created enormous and undue stress on students, and eroded real teaching and real learning. What’s more, there’s sound reason to question whether these standards even measure the right things or raise student achievement. No doubt, many teachers have found parts of the standards useful in their teaching, but there is a big difference between optional standards offered as support, and standards foisted on teachers regardless of students’ needs.

“Widespread outrage from teachers and parents has led Gov. Cuomo to tweak the rules around the implementation of the Common Core and call for a review of the rollout. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not addressed the real problem with Common Core.

“The fundamental issue is not the technicalities of how the standards are implemented. It is not even that Gov. Cuomo allowed this regime even as he was stripping schools of basic funding, leading class sizes to swell and forcing schools to slash programs in art and extra help. The root problem with Common Core is that it is undemocratic. It is a scheme conceived and heavily promoted by a handful of distant and powerful actors. Here in New York, it was adopted with insufficient input from local teachers, parents, school boards or students, the very people whose lives it so profoundly affects.

“Bill Gates’ coup is part of a larger coup we’re living through today – where a few moneyed interests increasingly use their wealth to steer public policy, believing that technocratic expertise and resources alone should answer vexing political questions. Sometimes their views have merit, but the way these private interests impose their visions on the public – by overriding democratic decision-making – is a deep threat to our democracy. What’s more, this private subversion of public process has come at the precise time when our common institutions, starved of funds, are most vulnerable. But by allowing private money to supplant democracy, we surrender the fate of our public institutions to the personal whims of a precious few.”

Teachout concludes:

“As did the founding generation in America, I believe public education is the infrastructure of democracy. The best public education is made democratically, in the local community: when parents, teachers, and administrators work together to build and refine the education models and standards right for our children.”

Russ Walsh has been teaching about literacy for 45 years. He started blogging to share his thoughts.

But then he discovered that his views about literacy did not exist in isolation. They were part of a great national debate that involved the Common Core, education reform, charters, and other aspects corporate education reform. He read other bloggers and found that he was engaged as a. Teacher,a reader, a writer, and a thinker. These were not stages of development but a process of thinking, writing, and acting.

Now he too is part of the national debate.

Writing in The Atlantic, high school English teacher David Perrin tries to imagine what Mark Twain would think about Common Core testing.

 

He begins:

 

I’ve been teaching high school English in Illinois for over 20 years, but have only recently come to believe that I am complicit in a fraud. For nearly a decade, I have dutifully prepared college-bound students for the rigors of the ACT and the Advanced Placement (AP) English Literature and Composition exam. Even though I believe there’s an undue emphasis on testing in our current school culture, I have considered this preparation an important part of my job because these tests are important to my students both academically and financially. But I question what, if anything, the new Common Core test—which will include writing components graded in part by computer algorithms—will have to offer my students.

 

Perrin has no doubt that Twain would have skewered the Common Core curriculum, as he skewered the curriculum of his own time:

 

Mark Twain had an abiding concern with education, and he treated formal schooling derisively in his writings. His 1917 autobiography describes his education in the mid-19th century, at the dawn of the public school movement; his acerbic portrayal of Mr. Dobbins in the school scenes of Tom Sawyer is based on Twain’s remembrances of his own teachers and experiences. In one scene, set on Examination Day, Twain mocks the vacuous nature of writing instruction as he shows Tom Sawyer’s classmates reading their essays aloud: “A prevalent feature in these compositions was a nursed and petted melancholy; another was a wasteful and opulent gush of ‘fine language’; another was a tendency to lug in by the ears particularly prized words and phrases until they were worn entirely out.” The examinations come to an abrupt halt when Tom and his friends hide in the garret, lower a cat on a string, and watch it snatch the wig off the teacher’s head.

In 1887, Twain penned an introduction to English as She is Taught, a parody of sorts written by a Brooklyn school teacher who had crafted together her students’ most outlandish and misinformed answers. Twain quotes his favorite passages: “The captain eliminated a bullet through the man’s heart. You should take caution and be precarious. The supercilious girl acted with vicissitude when the perennial time came.” His real target isn’t the writing itself but the school system that gave rise to such disjointed answers. “Isn’t it reasonably possible,” he asks, “that in our schools many of the questions in all studies are several miles ahead of where the pupil is?—that he is set to struggle with things that are ludicrously beyond his present reach, hopelessly beyond his present strength?” He notes, for example, that the date 1492 has been drilled into every student’s memory. In the book’s essays, it “is always at hand, always deliverable at a moment’s notice. But the Fact that belongs with it? That is quite another matter.”

 

Twain would have had fun at the expense of the Common Core standards and the computer-graded tests, writes Perrin:

 

The Common Core standards and their assessment tools would have given Twain plenty of fodder for his sardonic wit. The first “anchor standard” for writing at the grade 11–12 level declares that students will “write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.” This goal will be assessed by Pearson, one of America’s three largest textbook publishers and test-assessment companies. Pearson will, at least in part, be using the automated scoring systems of Educational Testing Services (ETS), proprietor of the e-Rater, which can “grade” 16,000 essays in a mere 20 minutes.

 

And he would have been suspicious of the profit motive of the corporations that are likely to make $1 billion or more by testing students. Perrin feels sure that Twain “would have almost certainly had something to say about essay-grading software and corporations that refuse to reveal their testing methods. With so little transparency, and with so many dollars and futures at stake, Twain might have condemned an “assification of the whole system….” He would not be one of those who stand with the corporations that stand to profit and the politicians who couldn’t pass the tests they insist upon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core standards, believes that students should analyze difficult text as written, without reference to context or their personal reactions. This blogger disagrees. His blog is vigornotrigor, though you might be tempted to call it Wag the Dog. However, if you google Wag the Dog, you will never find it.

He includes a video of David Coleman, New York State Commissioner John King, and a member of the State Education Department staff named Kate Gerson discussing how to teach Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

Coleman, who has never been a teacher, says:

“The first question is for kids as readers, how much can they draw from the text itself, you always want to ask yourself, how can they make do…I think we as readers often decide what can I skip. In other words, I don’t fully get this, but I get it enough to keep moving. I think it’s Ok to say that because you can’t read complicated things without choosing, there are some references that you don’t quite get, that you are not going to follow up on.”

And further:

“These speakers clearly do not realize that many of our slow learning, at-risk, and learning disabled middle school students are not developmentally ready and experienced enough independent readers to make such critical judgment calls when it comes to complex informational text.

“Coleman and crew also fail to grasp that students’ thoughts and feelings matter a great deal. Successful teachers at any grade level are genuinely interested in their students’ lives and the classroom is a safe and welcoming environment where each person’s thoughts and feelings are highly valued and respected.

“Trust is an essential ingredient of good teaching and it will flourish in the classroom when the teacher takes time to learn about the individual needs and interests of each student…..

“Learning unfolds in a safe environment that rewards and values curiosity, innovation, imagination, and risk-taking. A properly designed and implemented education program will nurture student confidence rather than fear, and cultivate hope rather than despair.

“The CCSS close reading strategy demands that all students independently “dive into” and master complex informational text and teachers are discouraged from answering student questions or introducing and reviewing prior knowledge with them.

“This unproven approach directly contradicts Bloom’s Taxonomy which has clearly demonstrated that students will first acquire knowledge before they can progress to comprehension and understanding.

He concludes:

“From an educator’s perspective, the importance of text is not simply how well students can comprehend a reading passage, but how the ideas, ideals, and values expressed in the text are internalized and then implemented by students in real life situations.

“Another way of looking at this issue is to simply ask, what would Martin Luther King, Jr. want our students to do?

“Spend two weeks deconstructing and dissecting the nuance and subtlety of his words and how well he supported his claims, or two weeks applying and teaching his principles in our schools and local communities?”

The Badass Teachers Association issued the following press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 14, 2014

More Information Contact:

Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager, BATs

Melissa Tomlinson, Asst. General Manager, BATs

contact.batmanager@gmail.com

“The Badass Teachers Association, an organization that is nearing 50,000 members, is releasing this statement to express our outrage over Resolution #2 (AFT Common Core) that passed on the floor of the AFT Convention this past Sunday. The decision to support the Common Core will further erode the confidence of parents, students, and teachers who have watched the chaos that has unfolded in our schools as a result of standards that were never researched , tested, or piloted.

“The AFT stated that the promise of the Common Core has been corrupted by political manipulation, administrative bungling, corporate profiteering and an invalid scoring system designed to ensure huge numbers of kids fail the new math and language arts exams that will be rolled out next spring.” “Why in the world would they support keeping them?” asks Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager of BATs.

“BAT Asst. General Manager Melissa Tomlinson states, “BATs do not dispute the need for high level standards that will encourage our students to develop and apply higher-order thinking skills. BATs does dispute the standards as the panacea for what is actually wrong with our educational system. The Common Core has become a distractor to veil the real issues of fair funding and access to equal resources that will not be solved as school districts struggle to align curriculum to the standards through purchasing of Common Core materials, mainly from the Pearson monopoly.”

“BATs are dismally disappointed with the results of the convention and will fight to have CCSS disbanded and Arne Duncan removed as Secretary of Education. We will not give up the fight for ALL children”, said BAT Jo Lieb.

“Co-founder Mark Naison states, “The new AFT position on Common Core is going to disappoint many parents and teachers who were looking for relief from uncontrolled testing and intrusive federal mandates.”

“This CCSS “baby” was created by people with NO classroom experience (ELA) and very little classroom experience (Math). They are developmentally inappropriate for the younger grades, for kids with disabilities- they defy every best practice and research we know about how children learn. The CCSS are copyrighted and cemented in place to high stakes testing, VAM, and rigid annual benchmarks. Throw out this toxic baby and the bathwater now!” exclaimed BAT and Special Education advocate, Terry Kalb.

“BATs look forward to continuing our work with parents, students, and education policy makers to take back public education and end the FEDERALLY MANDATED Common Core State Standards! Further, we fully support NEA’s resolution to ask for Secretary Duncan’s resignation. Unions MUST return to the important role of educating the rank and file about specific and significant changes implemented in order to qualify for RttT funding; and most importantly, stand up for a complete and thorough analysis of implementation, specifically as they relate to individual states, localities, and communities manpower decisions.”

###

Every state that has adopted Common Core tests has seen a sharp decline in test scores.

Maryland is the latest to discover that its scores fell thanks to Common Core tests.

“Reading and math scores on state tests for Maryland elementary and middle school students have dropped to their lowest levels in seven years, according to a Washington Post analysis of 2014 test data released Friday. Some Maryland officials expected the drop because schools are transitioning to new national academic standards that do not align with the tests.

“State and county educators said the across-the-board decline on the final Maryland School Assessment (MSA) was largely a result of the state’s move to a curriculum aligned with the Common Core State Standards. The new curriculum shifts some academic topics to different grade levels, especially in math, making the MSA obsolete.

“Students’ scores had been steadily inching up until 2013, when there were sharp declines in reading and math scores, a slide that continued this year. In 2014, overall proficiency scores in reading and math among elementary students fell 5.2 percentage points to 80 percent proficiency. Middle-schoolers fared worse — 71.4 percent proficiency, a drop of 6.5 percentage points. Drops in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties roughly mirrored the state averages.

“During the past two years, the state has shifted its instruction to prepare for the tests by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which are aligned with the Common Core and were recently field-tested in Maryland.”

The two federally-funded tests used NAEP “proficient” as their passing mark, a standard that is equivalent to high performance, not grade-level performance.

One reason–perhaps the main reason–that so many conservatives and entrepreneurs like the Common Core testing is that they hope it will convince suburban parents that their schools are no good and create new markets for charters, vouchers, and expensive new software. In other words, the Common Core tests are designed for failure.

Jay Nixon, Governor of Missouri, signed a bill to review and revise Common Core. It will remain in place for next two years,

Stephen Sawchuck did a good job reporting the heated debate about the Common Core standards at the AFT convention. The Chicago Teachers Union wanted to dump them. The head of the New York City United Federation of Teachers mocked the critics of the standards. One union official said that the critics represented the Tea Party. That’s pretty insulting to the Chicago Teachers Union and one-third of the AFT delegates, as well as people like Anthony Cody, Carol Burris, and me.

As far as I can tell, no one explained how states and districts will find the hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for hardware and software required for “the promise of Common Core.” Early estimates indicate that Pearson will have a contract of $1 billion to develop the PARCC tests. Who will pay Pearson? Who will be laid off? How large will class sizes go?

There were no Martians on the committee that wrote the Common Core standards, but there were also no classroom teachers, no early childhood teachers, no special education teachers. There were a number of testing experts.

Frankly the best and only hope for the future of these standards is that they are totally decoupled from testing. It is not likely to happen because doing so would deny the privatizers the data to prove that schools are failing and must be closed at once. That’s where the next big fight will occur.

Will they prepare all children for college and careers? Nobody knows. Will they help prepare our children for “global competition?” Not likely if the global competition works for $2 an hour for 18 hours a day under unsafe conditions.

The Common Core standards will never be national standards. They were developed in haste, paid for by one man (the guy is Seattle who thinks he knows everything), sold to the public via a slick PR campaign. They were never tried out. The tests connected to them are designed to fail most kids. Arne Duncan and Bill Gates thought they could pull a fast one and bypass democracy. Sorry, boys, you are wrong. Public education belongs to the public. Children belong to their parents. Neither public education nor children are for sale.

Mercedes Schneider was unimpressed by the AFT resolutions.

Plaintively, she writes: “It sure would be nice if a national union would aggressively confront the pro-privatization education agenda emanating from the Oval Office.” Neither NEA nor AFT would take on that Herculean task.

She expects that nothing will happen to Duncan, no matter how many absurd things he says or does. He is coated with Teflon.

She sees no point in clinging to the “promise” of the CCSS standards, which are dying the death of a thousand cuts.

She sees much ado about nothing. Duncan stays. The CCSS remains, no matter how troubled and lifeless it may be.

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