School districts in California are trying to compel the state to pick up the $1 billion cost of Common Core testing. The districts say it is an unfunded mandate. Many districts are strapped for cash, and they can’t find the money to pay for Common Core hardware for testing.
Remember a few months ago when everyone was wringing their hands and agreeing there was too much testing? Remember Arne Duncan said testing was sucking the oxygen out of the classroom?
That was then. This is now. Duncan is upset that Chicago is backing away from Commmon Core PARCC testing.
Mike Klonsky reports that Duncan threatened to cut off $1.2 billion in state aid if Chicago doesn’t give the PARCC.
This is crazy. The Secretary of Education is not supposed to tell states and districts what tests to use. He has overstepped his bounds, as he has done so often in the past. He has no understanding of federalism or of the limits of the federal role in education. The law says that no federal official may try to direct, control, or influence curriculum or instruction. Tests influence curriculum and instruction. By funding two tests and then compelling states to use them, he is flouting the law.
If he cuts any funding, Illinois should sue him.
Massachusetts is switching from its 20-year-old MCAS testing program to PARCC, the federally-funded Common Core test.
Massachusetts is the highest performing state in the nation on NAEP, the federal tests. Why is it making the change?
Some think it is because Massachusetts’ State Commissioner Mitchell Chester is the chair of the PARCC governing board.
“Mitchell Chester, the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary education, said the PARCC exam would help the state reduce the stubborn achievement gaps between rich and poor, white and minority, by giving teachers better information about which kids need extra support.”
So let’s get this right: a harder test will improve the test scores of kids who are poor? A harder test will raise the scores of minority students but not white kids so the gaps will be reduced? Or the scores of poor and minority kids will increase at a faster pace than the scores of rich and white kids?
And one other question: why do teachers need a new test to tell which kids need extra help? Didn’t they learn that with the MCAS? Don’t they know it by seeing the kids in class daily and reviewing their class participation and homework?
None of this makes sense.
Anthony Cody reports that Democratic leaders in Washington State passed a resolution condemning the Common Core standards.
“The Central Committee of the Washington State Democratic Party has passed a resolution that roundly condemns the Common Core standards. This is the first time a statewide Democratic Party committee has taken a public position against the Common Core, and it happened in the back yard of the Gates Foundation, which has provided the funding that made the national standards project possible. This could signal a sea-change for the beleaguered standards, because up until now, political opposition has been strongest in the Republican party.
“More than 200 delegates representing 49 legislative districts, from 29 counties, gathered at the Red Lion Inn in the state capital, Olympia on Saturday, Jan. 24, where there was a showdown between “new Democrats” and a scrappy coalition of education and labor activists. Activists mixed in with the delegates, and carried homemade signs expressing their opposition to the Common Core. They also arrived early and made sure there were flyers on each chair carrying their message.”
Jennifer Rickert is an elementary school teacher in upstate Néw York. She loves teaching. She has taught for 22 years. She tried her best to implement the Common Core. She was enthusiastic about doing it right. But when she read the guidelines for the Spring 2015 tests, she concluded her students were being set up for failure. She can’t do it.
She explains why in this post.
She details each of her objections to the test, including the fact that some passages may be written at a level suitable for eleventh-graders (her students are age 11 and 12). And students will be asked to choose the “right answer” when some answers are “plausible” but not the right answer.
She summarizes why she will not give the test:
“In summary, we are going to ask 11-year-olds to read and comprehend passages that are taken from higher grades, some at 5 years above their level, with controversial and provocative language, based on abstract literature and historical documents that the students have not learned about yet, and choose an answer from several plausible choices? We are going to have our students spend nine hours of seat time, allowing extra time for our Special Education students, on these inappropriate tests? (Add another nine hours for math.)
“And after all is said and done, we will reduce each child to a number: 4, 3, 2, or 1, based on their performance, providing the teachers and parents with little to no information about what they can and cannot do?
“No. No, I cannot.”
Beth Dimino, an eighth grade science teacher in the Comsewogue district on Long Island in Néw York, will not administer the Common Core tests this spring. Her superintendent, Dr. Joseph Rella, supports her. For their act of courage, I name both to the honor roll.
The Long Island Press reports:
“More than 20,000 LI school children refused to take the state tests last April. No teacher, however, has gone so far as Dimino to publicly voice his/her intention to refuse to even proctor the exams. She tells the Press her unprecedented decision is simply a matter of conscience, and spelled out as much in a recent letter to Comsewogue Superintendent Dr. Joe Rella, who’s also gone on record as a staunch Common Core dissident.
“I find myself at a point in the progress of education reform in which clear acts of conscience will be necessary to preserve the integrity of public education,” she writes. “I can no longer implement policies that seek to transform the broad promises of public education into a narrow obsession with the ranking and sorting of children.
“I will not distort curriculum in order to encourage students to comply with bubble test thinking,” continues her letter. “I can no longer, in good conscience, push aside months of instruction to compete in a state-wide ritual of meaningless and academically bankrupt test preparation. I have seen clearly how these reforms undermine teachers’ love for their profession and undermine students’ intrinsic love of learning.”
Republican Governor Susana Martinez is a strong supporter of Common Core and PARCC. She is a follower of the Jeb Bush model of school reform, with ratings and grades for everyone.
Democratic State Senator Linda M. Lopez has introduced legislation to withdraw from Common Core and PARCC. It will be interesting to see if any Republicans are willing to buck the Governor or if any Democrats are willing to stand with the veteran Senator Lopez.
Governor Martinez selected Hanna Skandera as Commissioner of Education, but the Democratic-controlled State Senate has not confirmed her because she has no teaching experience as the law requires. Skandera previously worked for Jeb Bush, and before that for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Skandera is currently leader of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change and a strong supporter of Common Core, VAM, and high-stakes testing.
Several days ago, I posted a commentary by Alan Singer that was critical of the National Council for the Social Studies. Singer was disturbed that NCSS was trying to align its content with the Common Core standards, and that it had modeled some lesson plans on a proposal by the Bill of Rights Institute, which is funded by the Koch brothers. I posted Singer’s piece because it was interesting; I did not echo his criticisms, as I have no independent knowledge of the specific issues he raised. It is good to air the issues, and I provide room to different perspectives.
The president of the NCSS responded to Singer as follows:
Dear Dr. Ravitch:
Alan Singer, professor of education at Hofstra University, has recently criticized the National Council of Social Studies (NCSS) and its work in advancing the study of civics, economics, geography, and history. In particular, Prof. Singer has tried to undercut NCSS’s work on the “C3 Framework” (College, Career, and Civic Life Framework for Social Studies State Standards), by misrepresenting its intent and its content, and has challenged the organization’s integrity by alleging that NCSS is supporting the right-wing political agenda of the Koch brothers.
Your blog of January 5 cites some of Singer’s criticisms. People truly knowledgeable about NCSS, its mission, legacy, and membership will dismiss Singer’s attack—which was our first impulse as well. But his thesis appears to be gaining some traction, at least on the Internet, so we think it is necessary to add some facts to the conversation, in the hope of elevating the discussion to a level more appropriate to its importance.
Singer accuses NCSS and the C3 Framework of sacrificing social studies in favor of the marginalization of social studies content and conceptual learning promoted by the Common Core State Standards. The exact opposite is the case. NCSS and the C3 Framework strongly advocate that the study of social studies – civics, economics, geography, and history are just as important to our nation’s future as the study of Mathematics and English-Language Arts, which are the focus of the Common Core State Standards.
The C3 Framework provides clear and exacting distinctions by defining the conceptual knowledge and skills required for all students of social studies to be prepared for college, career, and an engaged civic life. Twenty-two states and fifteen national professional organizations representing civics, economics, geography, and history, collaborated in the creation of the C3 Framework. All agree that literacy skills are no substitute for the robust content knowledge, skills, and dispositions found in a rigorous social studies curriculum. All agree that a vigorous, inquiry-based social studies education is essential for the development of responsible, informed, and engaged citizens and provides a powerful context for the development of literacy skills for all students.
The C3 Framework is built around an Inquiry Arc…”a set of interlocking and mutually reinforcing elements” structured upon four dimensions:
Developing questions and planning inquiries.
Applying disciplinary concepts and tools.
Evaluating sources and using evidence; and
Communicating conclusions and taking informed action.
These are the pillars of the conceptual framework for the C3 Framework and speak to the heart of education for informed civic participation, the purpose of social studies. They offer a strong foundation for exactly the kind of “meaningful social studies education” and “education for democracy and citizenship” that Singer says is necessary.
The C3 Framework includes links to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts to assist states that have adopted the Common Core to identify the conceptual understandings and skills common to both. High quality social studies education enables students to build content knowledge, conduct research, evaluate multiple sources of information, collaborate with others to share knowledge and ideas, and communicate conclusions based on evidence through expository writing and formal presentations. All of these important skills, found in a rigorous social studies program, will prepare students to address compelling issues and problems in the 21st century as informed, engaged citizens.
Let us turn to the NCSS/Koch brothers connection. In a blog on January 5, Singer claimed:
“Desperate for Koch dollars to subsidize its convention and publications, the NCSS actually had agents for the seemingly anti-Common Core Koch brothers design one of the fifteen Common Core aligned lessons [published in an NCSS Bulletin].”
This line of attack, which Singer expanded upon in segments just preceding and following the quote above, is a classic example of asserting guilt-by-association, innuendo and misrepresentation. Yes, it is true that the Bill of Rights Foundation was and has long been an exhibitor at the annual NCSS convention. In that capacity it is one of over 200 exhibitors, organizations that represent every conceivable ideological stripe on the spectrum. Other exhibitors have included Peace Corps, Fords Theater Society, Mikva Challenge, and the Zinn Education Project among others.
As for selling out to right-wing zealots, featured speakers at this year’s convention included immigration reform advocate Jose Antonio Vargas, filmmaker Ken Burns, columnist Nicholas Kristof, Anthony Chavez, grandson of the late civil rights icon Cesar Chavez, and many others, who might be surprised at being so labeled. In 2013, the keynote speakers were Taylor Branch, John Lewis, Stephen Paine, and Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick. You yourself were a keynote speaker in 2011. William Bennett and Howard Zinn were both keynote speakers at our conference in 2008. Through our exhibitors and our speakers, NCSS provides a dynamic forum for ideas that social studies teachers can measure and evaluate as they see fit.
Yes, it is also true that the Bill of Rights Institute was one of 15 organizations that provided a lesson plan to an NCSS publication (Bulletin 114) on how to use the C3 Framework; the wide range of other contributors included National Geographic, National History Day, Facing History and Ourselves, the Newseum, Mikva Challenge, National Museum of the American Indian, Library of Congress, the National Archives and others. NCSS Bulletins are funded by member dues, and have never received funding from the Koch brothers, as implied by Singer (or from any other of the “right-wing groups” that he speculates are influencing NCSS). NCSS publications are open to a wide range of viewpoints. Although Singer criticizes the latest NCSS Bulletin for excessive alignment with the Common Core, the lesson plans in the Bulletin are, in fact, directly aligned with the four dimensions of the C3 Framework, not with the Common Core State Standards.
A copy of the Bill of Rights lesson plan published by NCSS that Singer denounced is attached. We do not believe that any reasonable reading of the lesson plan will support Singer’s view that it is a result of a conspiracy in which NCSS “had agents for the seemingly anti-Common Core Koch brothers” write the lesson plan with the aim of achieving objectives like opposing “a national health insurance plan and the regulation of companies like Koch Industries that destroy the environment in the name of profit.”
We believe that any representative review of NCSS books and journals, which have published several contributions by Singer himself, will show that they are richly diverse and anything but a “sell-out of all principles.”
The C3 Framework asks students to analyze and evaluate evidence prior to communicating conclusions or taking action. We suggest that all of us follow that sound instruction.
Michelle M. Herczog, Ed.D.
President, National Council for the Social Studies