Archives for category: Common Core

Peter Greene was offended by the graceless attack on Carol Burris, published by billionaire-funded Edpost, which loudly proclaimed its intention to elevate the tone of the discussion, and now this. Burris is a respected principal in New York, admired by her peers as an inspirational leader. Yet here is a woman who worked at the U.S. Department of Education on Arne Duncan’s team, with nerve enough to call out Burris as misinformed about the Common Core, or even a liar. Let’s just say this embarrassing hit piece did not elevate the tone of the conversation, nor was it informative. If this is what $12 million produces, the billionaires should get their money back.

Greene writes:

“Headliner Ann Whalen wins the Well That Didn’t Take Long Prize. She tosses out EdPost’s highflying promises about raising the conversational tone in education discussions and goes straight to calling Burris a liar. Well, she uses a nifty construction to do it (“When you can’t make an honest case against something, there is always rhetoric, exaggeration or falsehoods, but it’s disheartening when it comes from an award-winning principal and educator like Carol Burris”) but for those of us who can read English, yeah, Whalen just called Burris a liar.

“And the she tries to refute Burris’s arguements by lying. (Hey– I never made any hollow promises about elevating the conversation).”

A warning to the world: If you try to make the case for the Common Core Standards, and your evidence is flawed or non-existent, you will be called out by Mercedes Schneider.Here’s the thing: If you plan to go into the ring with Mercedes Schneider, you better be fully prepared. In this case, someone named Ann Whalen, who is a former assistant to Arne Duncan decided she would attack Carol Burris for having criticized the CCSS. Burris, an experienced high school principal and a skilled writer, has written often about the defects of the CCSS and she organized nearly 40% of the principals in New York state to oppose the state’s test-based ratings of teachers and principals.


When Whalen went after Burris, Mercedes Schneider, who teaches English in Louisiana, took apart Whalen’s critique of Burris. Whalen, it should be noted, responded to Burris on the website of Education Post, a blog funded with $12 million from the far-right Walton Family Foundation, the anti-public school Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Bloomberg Foundation. Schneider, whose blog is funded by Schneider, proceeded to take Whalen apart, argument by argument, claim by claim, in a deft fashion that she may soon have to copyright, it is so fully Mercedes.


Whalen’s biggest mistake, the same one made by Carmel Martin in the “great debate” about CCSS, was to insist that states were free to change CCSS and that many have done so. Not true. The CCSS are copyrighted by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. States agree to change nothing but may add up to 15% of their own content. For defenders not to know that is indefensible.

Carol Burris was the only actual on-the-ground educator to participate in the Intelligence Squared debate about Common Core. Unlike the other three debaters, Burris is principal of a high school. She is also a crack researcher, who has published and done research on education issues.

She recently wrote in Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog about the four big “Flim-Flams” at the heart of the claims for the Common Core.

She writes:

“Since the standards were first introduced, Common Core supporters have created amorphous platitudes and spin to market it. Even as more Americans like me “wise up,” do not expect the Common Core-ites to give up. Think tanks have received millions from Gates to support it and education companies are making millions on new Core-aligned materials. There is big money being spent — and big money to be made — in the Common Core.”

Here is what you will hear from the “Core-ites”:

First, that they are internationally benchmarked and grounded in solid research. Not so, says Burris, with evidence to the contrary.

Second, that the standards are merely goalposts and do not tell teachers how to teach. Not so, says Burris, and offers examples.

Third, that the Common Core will close the achievement gap. Not so, says Burris, and demonstrates that it is actually widening the achievement gap and may, if the Carnegie Corporation prediction proves correct, double the dropout rate, lowering the graduation rate, especially among minorities, to levels unseen since the 1940s.

Fourth, that the problems with the Common Core can. Be solved at he state or local level. Not so, says Burris: the standards were copyrighted and states signed a memorandum agreeing not to change them but allowing states or locals to add another 15% to them.

Burris concludes:

“Curriculum will standardize and narrow as students practice three English Language Arts tasks for the PARCC exam. All that will vary will be the difficulty of the texts to which they respond. The lack of imagination, as well as the lack of knowledge on how writing and critical thinking skills develop, is breathtaking. The combination of common, prescriptive standards, national tests and a re-alignment of the SAT and GED will act as a vise pushing schools toward similar curricular experiences for American students. Make no mistake, this is by design.

“If the goal of Common Core supporters is to create a standardized curriculum across states and schools, then they are obligated to make sure that the Common Core standards are both remarkable and sound. They are neither. It will take more than a public relations campaign to convince the American public to buy the homogenized vision of the few who created the Common Core.”

Mercedes Schneider here reviews half of the Great Debate about Common Core sponsored by Intelligence Squared and titled “Embrace the Common Core.” The half that she reviews is the side that favored Common Core: Mike Petrilli of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Carmel Martin, former Obama administration official, now at the Center for American Progress.

Schneider spent the summer writing a book about the history of the Common Core, so she is well informed.

I thought I could summarize her critique, but I can’t. If you are interested in the subject of the Common Core, this is a must read. Suffice it to say that Schneider, a high school English teacher in Louisiana with a doctorate in research methodology, skewers the arguments advocating for Common Core. She does it in her typical style: with keen intelligence and withering wit.

Lots of buzz on the Internet about the new ad that allegedly is trying to rebuild the image of Common Core. The reaction is overwhelmingly negative, not just on this particular website but in a flurry of emails that I have received for the past few days.


Here is Peter Greene’s take on this truly bad piece of propaganda.


The ad shows a grandfather who brings his grandson to school and asks about Common Core. Grandpa is portrayed as a blustering buffoon. He makes some derogatory comments about Bill Gates. He boasts about his military service. The teacher and the boy look at him in a condescending way. Some people think the ad was really made by people who oppose Common Core. See what you think.


Because of the overwhelmingly ridicule heaped on the ad, it was taken down. However, in this age of technology, someone copied it and posted it on YouTube.  There it is if you want to have a good laugh and see a stupid old grandfather making dumb remarks about Bill Gates and Common Core, while his grandson is embarrassed by him and the teacher looks at him pityingly.

Laura H. Chapman, a reader who is an expert curriculum consultant in the arts, wrote the following in response to studies that say that “grit” is unrelated to creativity:

“This discussion about creativity should include mention of theoretical and empirical work from the 1950s and 1960s such a J.P. Guilford’s broad view of human intelligence, reworked by Howard Gardner; Getzels & Jackson, “Creativity and Intelligence:

Explorations with gifted students;” and the legacy of E. Paul Torrence who developed still-in-use tests of creativity translated into 36 languages and being studied for cultural bias. More at

Here is a little-known back story on the fate of talk about “creativity” in the midst of the roll-out of the CCSS and the desire of Achieve and the Council of Chief State School Officers to bury this concept (along with other phrases popularized by tech-lobbyist Ken Kay under the banner of 21st Century Skills.)

In July, 2010, Newsweek featured a report called “The Creativity Crisis,” citing a steady decline in scores on the Torrance Tests of Creativity since 1990. The tests have been respected and widely used, in part, because data has been kept on multifaceted accomplishments of each cohort of test takers since the late 1950s. A secondary analysis of the longitudinal data indicated that lifetime creative accomplishment (patents, publications, awards and other indicators) is more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than for traditional childhood measures of intelligence.

In response to inquiries, the CCSSO issued a press release that dismissed the Torrance tests and referred its own work on creativity. This work included a program of individualized instruction via computers (a stretch); some activities in the Arts Education Partnership (not relevant); and EdSteps, the latter described as a project to help “advance creativity to the highest possible international standards, and measure creativity in a way that is situated in a context of actual activity.”

EdSteps is a web-based standard setting and assessment project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is operated by the CCSSO. Although the Common Core State Standards are separate from EdSteps, the CCSSO says the two initiatives complement one another. “EdSteps was created to find new ways to assess vital skills—those that contribute to college and career readiness—that are not currently assessed on a broad scale for reasons of difficulty and cost.”

“EdSteps defines creativity as the valued uses and outcomes of originality driven by imagination, invention, and curiosity.” In order to create a novice-to-expert scale for creativity, EdSteps started soliciting work for an online data bank. ….”from students in early childhood and elementary, middle, high school and from college and graduate students; from individuals in the workplace; from teachers of all subject areas; for any audience or purpose, both within the United States and globally; in any form, genre, or media. Creativity samples can include anything – writing, videos, images, charts, or other graphics – in any subject area.”

Anyone can submit work through EdSteps’ website. The submitter must agree to give up all rights to the work, and permit EdSteps to alter, edit, and otherwise modify the work for its purposes. That freedom of action may be a concern to persons in the arts who think that the integrity of a performance is in the whole work, not a snippet.

I was unable to determine how the proposed scale will address the fact that, in some arts, novice performances by children and untutored adults are sometimes judged more original and imaginative than expert performances by well-trained adults (e.g., a quote attributed to Picasso: ”It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child”). Nor was I able to determine whether EdSteps assumes that a single scale of creative achievement can be constructed from the heterogeneous samples of work.

The process of constructing the scale is fairly technical, but it relies on comparing two works and deciding which of the two is the most “effective,” The paired comparisons are carried out in multiple iterations, by multiple judges, with multiple samples. Submissions are coded to permit analyses based on factors such as age, gender, ability level, geographic region, type of work, and the like. In theory, a scale representing a progression of achievement from novice to expert can be constructed without the need for written criteria or explanations, “although these may be added.”

This all sounds like a crock to me, perhaps because I had more than one conversation with Torrence as a young scholar and, as a worker in arts education, have relied on his vocabulary—fluency, flexibility, elaboration, humor, elaboration, and the like—to teach others that some qualities of creative thinking are not entirely a mystery.

Gates paid for some high profile talent to consult on EdSteps, including Howard Gardner. I can’t imagine that they endorced what the website has become.

Judge for yourself. Samples of work and the rest are posted on the glitchy EdSteps website.”

Peter Greene has been following the conversation at EducationPost, the blog funded by Broad, Walton, Bloomberg et al for $12 million, he says that the new spin from reformsters is that education is too politicized. He agrees but asks how it got that way. Who took the decision making power away from educators and gave it to legislatures, governors, the President, and Comgress? Not educators.

Peter Greene knows who did it:

“As it turns out, I think I have an answer for this one. Asking why the Common Core are wrapped up in politics is like asking why human beings are so involved with blood.

“The Common Core were birthed in politics. They were weaned on politics. And every time they have looked tired and in trouble, they have been revived with a fresh transfusion of politics.

“When David Coleman and Gene Wilhoit decided they wanted to standardize American education, they did not come up with a plan to sell such a program on its education merits. They called on Bill Gates to use his money and power to convince state governments to legislate systemic changes to education.

“The states signed on to a Memo of Understanding (a political tool for out-politicking politics) and many of them did it before there were even any standards to look at. This was a political move, using the political power of legislatures and governors’ offices to impose rules on educational systems– in many cases, before educators in particular states even knew that such a systemic overhaul was being considered.

“Common Core’s Pappy, No Child Left Behind, was a creature of politics, right down to its spin-ready title. It was created to put a glossy shine on bipartisan action for the kids. Educators (and other people with rudimentary math skills) pointed out early on that the NCLB end game of 100% above average was ridiculously improbable, but the political shininess plus the political notion that future politicians would find a political solution drowned out good sense. Because, politics.”

He concludes:

“At no point in all this reformy baloney have we seen the spectacle of bottom-up reform, a reform movement driven by teachers and other educators saying, “Hey, we have some ideas that are so revolutionary and so great that they are spreading like wildfire strictly on their educational merits!”

“No– Common Core and its attendant test-driven high stakes data-glomming VAMboozling baloney have come from the top down, by politicians using political power to impose educational solutions through the political tools applied to the political structure of government. Why do people get the idea that all these reformy ideas are linked? Because they all come from the same place– the linkage is the political power that imposed them all on the American public education system.

“Look. We live in the real world and politics play a part in many things. But for some reformsters to offer wide eyes and shocked dismay and clutched pearls as they cry, “Oh, but why does it have to be so political!” is the height of hypocrisy. It’s political because you folks made it political, every step of the way, and it’s not humanly possible for you to be too dumb to know that (particularly at a site like Education Post that is larded with career political operatives). So if you want to have a serious conversation about any of this, Step One is top stop lying, badly, directly to our faces. I can’t hear you when my bullshit detector alarm is screaming in my ear.”

Caitlin Emma has a great story about Bill Bennett’s new-found advocacy for the Common Core standards in the Morning Edition of

“CONSTERNATION OVER COMMON CORE: The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed [] this week supporting the Common Core – and it wasn’t long before the author, Reagan administration Education Secretary Bill Bennett, was targeted by critics. Chief among them: the libertarian Cato Institute, which said [ ] Thursday that Bennett’s piece is rife with spin and contradictions. For example, Bennett writes: “When I was chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in the 1980s, I asked 250 people across the political spectrum what 10 books every student should be familiar with by the time they finish high school. Almost every person agreed on five vital sources: the Bible, Shakespeare, America’s founding documents, the great American novel ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and classical works of mythology and poetry, like the Iliad and the Odyssey.” But Cato’s Neal McCluskey writes that no such mandates are mentioned in the Common Core standards. “Presumably, the Core includes these readings that almost everyone Bennett polled agreed students should tackle. Right? Um, no.”

- Bennett told Morning Education that the op-ed was simply suggesting that such literature makes up the ‘intellectual roots’ of the Common Core. (The fundamental idea behind a core curriculum is “preserving and emphasizing what’s essential, in fields like literature and math, to a worthwhile education,” the op-ed says. “It is also, by the way, a conservative idea.”) But when it comes to curriculum or required reading lists, he told Morning Education, “I think that’s a decision that ought to be made at the local level.”

- Bennett said he wrote the op-ed because the Common Core has “taken a beating that’s been unwarranted.” And he’s planning to write more in support of the standards, he said. He also acknowledged that the public relations, lobbying and business consulting firm DCI Group paid him for the op-ed. “I’m compensated for most of the things that I do,” he said.

Rick Hess quickly dashed off a piece for National Review questioning Bennett’s “tepid defense” of CCSS. He says, conservatives believe in standards so these standards must be good.

So, conservatives can feel reassured about the value of the CCSS because Bill Bennett approves them. Whether he has actually read them is another issue. What he does not touch on is whether a national curriculum, enforced by the power of the federal government (e.g. Threatening to withdraw federal waivers from states that repeal the Common Core [Oklahoma] or states that won’t evaluate teachers by test scores, which is probably illegal in itself) is legal, constitutional or wise.

Laura H. Chapman is a frequent contributor to the blog and a curriculum consultant in the arts.

Shortly after releasing the Standards with much publicity about international benchmarking, the CCSSO helped to fund a study that shows the Standards are not, in fact, closely aligned with the standards of nations that score higher on international tests.
In mathematics, for example, the nations with the highest test scores—Finland, Japan, and Singapore—devote about 75% of instruction to “perform procedures” compared to the CCSS emphasis at about 38%.

These same nations give almost no attention to “solve non-routine problems” compared to the CCSS.

In ELA, countries that score at the highest level also have patterns of emphasis in different grade spans that differ substantially from the CCSS, with a greater emphasis overall on “perform procedures” than in the CCSS.

The big surprise is that a significant part of “perform procedures” in mathematics and ELA is following directions and completing highly conventional assignments, free of elaborated analysis and generalization.

In other words, compliance with the conventions of schooling has a strong association with higher test scores. Wowzie. Who would have guessed that learning to follow directions mattered so much?

Note also that the former president of the American Educational Research Association, Andrew Porter, was among others who did this study and made the connection of the CCSS to the “new US intended curriculum. See: Porter, A.; McMaken ,J.; Hwang, J. ; & Yang, R. (2011). Common core standards: The new U.S. intended curriculum. Educational Researcher, 40(3). 103-116. DOI: 10.3102/0013189X11405038

I am not exactly sure what “Intelligence Squared” is, but it sponsored an interesting debate about Common Core. Here is the transcript. Here is the video.


Speaking for Common Core was Mike Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Carmel Martin, formerly assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education and a strong enthusiast for Race to the Top as well as the Common Core.


Speaking in opposition to the proposition of embracing the Common Core was Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center in New York, and Rick Hess of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.


I found Burris and Hess far more persuasive than Petrilli and Martin.


Petrilli assured us that we need high standards, and that the Common Core standards are the best standards around. Martin offered an anecdote about a student she met who thought she was well-prepared but learned she was not when she got to college. Both said they had talked to teachers. They also insisted that the Common Core was not top-down, but was bottom up. They claimed that the standards could be changed, apparently unaware that they are copyrighted and allegedly cannot be changed, only added to.

Petrilli and Martin had the talking points one would use to persuade legislators. But it was clear that neither know much about the mismatch between the cognitive demands of the CCSS and the developmental readiness of children. They seemed to believe that school can never be “too hard,” that notated how high you set the bar, all children will reach it. This, if you push fourth grad material down to first grade or even kindergarten, kids will learn it.

Burris, the only real workaday educator among the group, said she initially supported the Common Core but turned against them as she realized that so many of them were just age-inappropriate and wrong. She had facts and experience. She gave examples from the standards, and the audience laughed. She spoke knowledgably about the math standards. She is an educator.


Hess expressed his doubts about the value of having a single way of teaching reading and math to 50 million students. I was impressed by his reasonable conservatism. He doesn’t hate the Common Core. He just thinks that too many people are embracing them without any real evidence that they will do what they claim to do.


From what I heard and read, this was a big win for Burris and Hess. They were right on the facts, right on the concerns, right on the cautions. Burris was especially informed, because she speaks from real-life experience as a working principal.


The studio audience voted for Petrilli and Martin. The online voters supporters Burris and Hess. Watch, read, cast your ballot.


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