Archives for category: Common Core

I received this comment recently in my email: 

“I haven’t really been sure about the hullabaloo centering on the Common Core until this year. What follows are some of my thoughts regarding my daughter’s AP English class. If what follows might be helpful for discussion in your blog, please use my story as you wish. I admire your work and am very thankful for your voice in education.
All the best!

My daughter is taking AP Language and Composition this year and I have been intrigued by the texts used in the class. It happens that I took the same class many decades ago. It amazes me how the reading lists differ from my class as compared to hers! I recall reading a lot of fiction. Her course seems to be almost exclusively non fiction. Has this AP course changed so much over the years that Camus and Miller, Wolf and Hawthorne are no longer useful? As I browsed syllabi for AP Language and Composition for recent years from other schools available on the internet, I came to realize that the difference in my daughter’s class has nothing to do with the decades that separate the instruction I received, compared to hers. What is different is the implementation of Common Core standards! Common Core wasn’t really real to me until now.
Take a look at what my daughter is reading during her first semester:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebbecca Skloot
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
Short pieces such as:

Fish Cheeks by Amy Tan
“How Fetal Tissue is Used in Medical Research” The Week
“Ten Benefits of Reading: Why You Should Read Every Day” by Lana Winter-Herbert for
“The Ugly Truth About Beauty” by Dave Berry
“Fly the Partisan Skies” by David Brooks
This can be compared to reading lists from several schools I happened upon on the internet, all of which contained texts much closer to what I read so many years ago. This one offers a useful example:
AP English Language and Composition Syllabus 2014-2015 Darla Barnett Terry High School
First 18 weeks
Shea, Renee, Lawrence Scanlon and Robin Dissin Aufses. The Language of Composition: Reading, Writing, Rhetoric. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013.

-Excerpts from 19th Century American Writers: The Transcendentalists
-Dead Poets Society
-Excerpts from Mark Twain’s writings
-Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
-Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter
– Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God
Other syllabi include works by Nabokov, Didion, Sontag, E. B. White, Frost, Emily Dickenson, names oh so familiar to me.
Why the difference for my daughter’s class? It turns out that the Skloot and Roach books have been adopted for Common Core as very important texts. They are “informational” and they are geared toward teaching science subjects while being useful for courses such as AP English Language and Composition. My daughter accepts their use for the course – the many kids who are interested in science and don’t really enjoy fiction that much are better served, she thinks, by these books than by the classical texts. However, I noticed that all the works are rather short in length. I asked her how much reading she does this year compared to her previous year’s English course. She replied, “Less, but it’s more in depth, unpleasant reading!” The unpleasantness refers to the fact that her major reading has to do with death, cadavers and a lot of science and politics that explore issues of death and cadavers. But, she can persevere through the course and she really likes her teacher!
Since the course my daughter is taking is focused upon “language” and “composition,” I am comfortable with the idea that she will learn all that she needs to learn using “informational” texts. This isn’t a literature course, after all. However, it must be acknowledged, I think, that the classical literature that served to lead young minds to process “language” and encourage “composition” is being sacrificed to Common Core “informational” texts. The fine minds that produced classical literature are not the influences that shape my daughter’s writing this year. Instead, science writers fill that role.
Common Core is changing education in fundamental ways and I only recently realized how that is the case, given my daughter’s experience. Is this good or bad? I don’t really know. But I do know that I picked up a copy of a short story, The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, one of the texts used in several of the online syllabi, for my daughter to read in her spare moments (she read it and really liked it!)! Something tells me that I will be visiting the library many more times in the coming school year to search out classical literature for my daughter’s spare time reading!”

Valerie Straus reports that Bill Gates continues to pour millions of dollars into organizations that might persuade people to like the Common Core. Usually when a product or service gets good word of mouth, it takes off. Unfortunately for Gates, who has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in establishing national standards, a national curriculum, and national testing, the public is not buying.


This past year, Gates expended another $42 million trying to buy friends for his standards. You might be surprised by some of the recipients.


Here are a few:


Editorial Projects in Education, which sponsors Education Week: $100,000


National Writing Project: $1.6 million


National Congress of Parents and Teachers: $1 million


The Boston Foundation: $150,000


There are many more. Someone should tell Bill, “Money can’t buy you love.”











The National PTA adopted a resolution opposing parents’ decision to have their child opt out of state testing.

The resolution endorses the federal requirement of annual testing and says:


“National PTA does not support state and district policies that allow students to opt-out of state assessments that are designed to improve teaching and learning. While we recognize that parents are a child’s first teacher and respect the rights of parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, the association believes the consequences of nonparticipation in state assessments can have detrimental impacts on students and schools. Nonparticipation can result in a loss of funding, diminished resources and meaningful interventions for student subgroups, which would have a disparate impact on minorities and students with special needs and widen the achievement gap. Opting out also stalls innovation by inhibiting effective monitoring and improvement of programs, instructional strategies and exams, and could thwart transparency by providing incomplete data sets for states and schools.”


Di, despite 15 years of mandated testing, the National PTA still thinks that testing somehow promotes the best interests of the children in the bottom half if the bell curve, that testing narrows achievement gaps, and that testing promotes innovation. Note that no evidence is provided for any of these claims.


Fifteen years of testing and accountability and the National PTA says, “Stay the course.”


Surely this has no connection to the fact that the National PTA has received $3.7 million from the Gates Foundation, which has a deep faith in data and testing. $1 million of the total was earmarked specifically to promote Common Core.


Gates gave the group another $1 million in October 2015 specifically to support Common Core assessments and the results of those assessments.

A new study published in the AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice concludes that the discarded New Jersey standards were more effective at teaching critical standards than the Common Core standards.


The study was conducted and written by Dario Sforza, EDD, a principal in East Rutherford, New Jersey; Christopher H. Tienken, EDD, an associate professor at Seton Hall University; and Eunyoung Kim, PhD, a professor at Seton Hall.


Here is the abstract:




The creators and supporters of the Common Core State Standards claim that the Standards require greater emphasis on higher-order thinking than previous state standards in mathematics and English language arts. We used a qualitative case study design with content analysis methods to test the claim. We compared the levels of thinking required by the Common Core State Standards for grades 9-12 in English language arts and math with those required by the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards in grades 9-12 English language arts and math (used prior to the Common Core) using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge framework to categorize the level of thinking required by each standard. Our results suggest that a higher percentage of the 2009 New Jersey high school curriculum standards in English language arts and math prompted higher-order thinking than the 2010 Common Core State Standards for those same subjects and grade levels. Recommendations for school administrative practice are provided.

District Administration magazine, which is written for district administrators, contains a startling poll conducted by the magazine.


When asked whether they expect the opt out movement to grow in their state, 60% said yes. Only 24% disagreed. The remainder neither agreed nor disagreed.


When asked whether political pressure against the Common Core would grow in their state, 62% said yes. Only 18% disagreed.


When asked whether the implementation of new standards and tests were “generally successful” in my state, 32% agreed, and 37% disagreed.


What this poll suggests is that the people who are in responsible positions in school districts see test resistance growing, and the Common Core faring poorly.



John Thompson, historians and teachers, assesses a discussion about the role of scholars in the current era of tumult in education.

He writes:

Education Week published essays by four scholars, Jeffrey Henig, Jay Greene, Jeannie Oakes, and Rick Hess, on the role of academic researchers in school improvement. While I respect all four contributors, and with the key points of the four commentaries, I found a part of Henig’s message to be unsettling, so I will get my concerns out of the way before embracing the thrust of their arguments.

Being an academic turned inner city teacher, I know the joy that can come from bringing advanced scholarship into public education. I’m not surprised by Henig’s explanation why academics would be leery of edu-politics, however, especially during this era of bitter reform wars. He writes, “Younger scholars worried that those with opposing views would wreak revenge on them.” Moreover, Henig reports:
Seasoned and secure scholars worried about being drawn into making more simplistic and extreme statements than they felt comfortable with, believing that necessary to be heard above the noisy background of claim and counterclaim. As one researcher put it to me, “Once somebody else brings a knife to the fight, you have to bring a knife to the fight, too.”

Henig correctly complains that public discourse about education has become partisan and ideological. But, I wonder what exactly does he mean when charging that the debate has become “simplistic” and “simple-minded.” And, I was downright offended by his call for “at least some reasonable voices to be heard—voices that distill and accurately reflect what research has to say.” (emphasis mine) Speaking only for our side of the reform wars, teachers and unions are not just (belatedly) bringing a metaphorical knife to the fight that was imposed on us. Our spokespersons include some of the nation’s greatest education experts and social scientists.

Although I object to the ideology of the contemporary reform movement, scholars who embrace it are very skilled in their fields (such as economic theory and data modeling) and reasonable. The ones who I have communicated with merely don’t know what they don’t know about actual schools and systems. Had they seriously contemplated the social science of the Johns Hopkins Everyone Graduates Center and the Consortium for Chicago School Research, the historical wisdom of Diane Ravitch and Larry Cuban, and the practical implementation insights of Jack Jennings and John Merrow, I can’t believe that many would have gone down the test, sort, reward, and punish path to school improvement.

In the 25 years since leaving academics for the inner city, I have repeatedly seen situations in schools and policy-making that are downright surrealistic, as well as tragic. To be blunt, scholars who do not visit with teachers and students may not have the background to determine whether an argument is simplistic or simple-minded, or whether it is an accurate identification of policies, imposed by non-educators, that are “simplistic and extreme.”
In my experience conversing with pro-reform academics dismayed by the pushback against their policies by practitioners and patrons, the issue of Common Core usually comes up. Even after we teachers had seen students denied high school diplomas because they could not pass college readiness exit exams, I would hear the claims by some who still believed that Common Core only applied to math and English. Later, policy people protested that very few 3rd graders have been denied promotion due to Common Core tests. In doing so, they ignore the obvious reality that it was the Opt Out movement and the grassroots anti-“reform” counter-attack that prevented the full implementation of Common Core high stakes tests that would have been disastrous.

So, I’d add a concrete point to Henig’s commentary. An academic who wants to help improve schools should at least see how well he fares on a Common Core GED high school equivalency math test before assuming that our positions are simplistic.

Next, Jay Greene warns against engaging in “delicate ‘messaging’ [that] will produce a desired outcome or please a powerful patron.”

He bluntly but accurately writes:

Researchers involved in the Gates Foundation’s “Measures of Effective Teaching” study from 2009 claimed the study found that teachers are best evaluated using a formula that combines multiple measures when the research actually found no such thing.
Greene links to specific misstatements issued by the Gates Foundation, but I would make a more general point. The MET methodology would have been beneficial if the Gates Foundation had acknowledged what it was actually conducting – theoretical research. It was hopelessly inappropriate for policy research.

I still find it hard to believe that academics would bring no more than regression models to a real-world fight against the legacies of poverty and discrimination. Why would they assume that statistical models could capture the complexities of urban education?

Then, Jeannie Oakes and Rick Hess offer solid advice to scholars. Oakes cites John Dewey in urging academics to embrace “the ‘hurly burly’ of social policymaking.” She explains that, “Education policymaking must negotiate strongly held public perceptions and contested political terrain—factors usually far more influential than research findings.” Oakes then encourages public scholars to “nurture trusting and respectful relationships with policymakers and public actors. These are not one-way relationships, but reflexive.”
Rick Hess adds that there are multiple “right way(s) to think about education.” Hess affirms that, “Parents, students, community leaders, journalists, and more all have their own legitimate, valuable perspectives.” He notes, “This robust pluralism is the very foundation of the American project.”
Hess is correct that “scholars have an important role to play in that democratic cacophony, though far too few play it enthusiastically or well.” Moreover, “public debates and decisions benefit when all of our talents are brought to the table.” Academics must “connect with and learn from their fellow citizens.”

I would add that academics need to learn from each other when they engage in policy research. For the life of me, I can’t understand why so much faith was placed in regression models, and how scholars seemed to believe they could advance policy studies without thrashing out old-fashioned falsifiable hypotheses. Had quantitative and qualitative researchers joined the same table to draft hypotheses, and ask what results would be necessary to support their assumptions and put their findings into a sound narrative, we all would have benefitted. Such conversations would have identified the nuances of education issues and prompted academics to talk with other stakeholders in the ways that are proposed by the four scholars.

The series about the new Every Student Succeeds Act is concluded. I want to thank Senator Lamar Alexander and his staff, especially David P. Cleary, chief of staff, for responding to my questions. I know that readers have additional questions or want clarifications of some of the statements. The new law is the result of negotiations between the two parties. Questions will inevitably arise as the new law is implemented. Meanwhile, feel free to submit your questions and you can be sure that Senator Alexander’s staff will answer them as best they can. Let me add that there are things in this law I like, and things I don’t like. I will spell those out in a separate post.


Here are the links to each of the posts written by Senator Lamar Alexander’s staff.

1. ESSA and Testing

2. ESSA and Teacher Evaluation

3. ESSA and the Bottom 5% of Schools

4. ESSA and Opt Outs

5. ESSA and Special Education

6. ESSA and Teacher Education

7. ESSA and Charter Schools

8. ESSA and the Federal Role

9. ESSA and Common Core

This is the ninth and final installment in a series of exchanges about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). I wrote the questions, and David P. Cleary, chief of staff to Senator Lamar Alexander, wrote the answers.

I may have overlooked important issues. David has agreed to write a follow-up post if there are any additional questions that need explaining. I thank David Cleary, other members of the staff, and especially Senator Alexander for taking the time to explain the ramifications of the new law.

How does ESSA affect Common Core? Some says ESSA “locks in” CCSS. True or false.

Short answer: No. This one is absolutely the biggest whopper we’ve heard.

Some advocates have tried to pretend that there were no mandates to adopt Common Core, but in the same breath point with glee to how many states adopted Common Core in order to secure a waiver from the broken NCLB or a grant under Race to the Top.

States are completely, totally, 100 percent free to set their standards on their own and relegate the Common Core State Standards to history, if they choose.

Long Answer:

States do have to have academic standards in order to receive federal education funds. That’s been a federal requirement for a very long time.

Here’s what the new law requires:

States have to have “challenging State academic standards.” This requirement has been in effect since at least the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act. But “challenging” means what the states want it to mean. The Secretary and peer reviewers are strictly prohibited from reviewing the content of state standards, as the State does not have to submit the standards for review or approval, prohibited in section 1111(b)(1)(A) under the new law.

It’s the equivalent of checking a box.

The Secretary cannot require a state to add to or delete from its standards, or interfere with state standards, as dictated by section 1111(e)(1)(B)(ii) in the new law. In section 8527(d), there is an explicit prohibition on any federal approval or certification of standards.

Under ESSA, state standards have to be aligned so that the end point of the state standards in k-12 is aligned with the entrance requirements for the public system of higher education and career and technical state standards. This seemed like a logical requirement: students and parents expect that when the student leaves high school, the student is then prepared to go on to higher education or career and technical education.

Common Core advocates saying that this “locks in” Common Core are the equivalent of the rooster taking credit for the rising of the sun. It’s pure poppycock.

There are all sorts of ways a state could set their standards under ESSA. Some will keep Common Core (whether admitting to it or trying to rebrand it), some will keep parts of Common Core and make changes in areas, some will completely abandon Common Core and adopt their own system or work together with a smaller group of states to develop something that works for them. It is purely a state decision.

What Congress eliminated were the mandates in the waivers, the incentives in the Race to the Top (and we didn’t authorize the Department to do something like Race to the Top again), and any other method of coercing or incentivizing the adoption of Common Core standards or any particular set of standards deemed “acceptable” by Washington bureaucrats. The law is clear – no officer or employee of the federal government can mandate, direct, or control a state’s standards, or condition or incentivize the receipt of any grant, contract, or cooperative agreement on the adopt of Common Core State Standards, as described in section 8526A of the new law. States can enter voluntary partnerships to develop and implement standards, but the new law states in section 1111(j) that that Secretary cannot attempt to influence, incentivize, or coerce participation in partnerships or the adoption of the Common Core.

Now it is up to states to decide what to do, without any interference from Washington. For those concerned about Common Core, the responsibility falls to them to keep an eye on what their state decides to do.

From Chairman Alexander’s perspective this is exactly what he set out to do: restore responsibility to state and local leaders what to do about educational decisions. If a state decides to move away from Common Core, they don’t have to call Washington and ask permission—they can just do it.

So, what should business leaders and think tanks do when their state’s public schools are first in the nation? Disrupt them, of course. Demand more privately managed charters, more competition. Just make sure there is no praise for accomplishments. Complain, complain, complain, so the public thinks ill of the best schools in the nation.

Jean Haverhill writes about what is happening: I need to offer more time to this group. The MA Business Alliance brings in Sir Michael Barber with a phony study on “PARCC” superiority to MCAS. Measured Progress in NH (formerly a research firm) conveys the Sir Michael Barber infiltrating through MA Business Alliance directly to the Board of Ed. Fordham Institute is actively pursuing this avenue. David Driscoll, of NAEP, is going to be testing our kids on “grit”. The MA Business Alliance is tying up the grass roots effort of parents (in the courts) who have diligently gathered signatures to put common core/testing onto the November ballot. People in Worcester County, Essex County, Hampshire County may not be aware of all of the intricacies/ circumstances of groups in Boston but in particular, I prefer to spend my time on calling out (a) Fordham Institute and Education Next (Michael Petrilli, Andy Smarick, Education Next) for their constant pushing on vouchers/charters and tests (b) NAEP measurement of “grit” (thanks, David Driscoll) © Measured Progress ( a “research” firm tied up with West Ed and Pearson) and the (d) MA Business Alliance trying to defeat the grass roots efforts of parents. These are some pretty powerful foes or public education as I know it. If we fight amongst ourselves, these major elements will proceed with their own agenda and their own special interests.”

Warning: wherever Michael Barber goes, testing, ranking, and privatization follows.

Imagine teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird” to children who can’t read. Teachers of special education are expected to teach the Common Core to their students regardless of their ability or readiness.

This comes from Jill Cataldo, a teacher of special education, blogging on Brandin Stratton’s blog, called “Humans of New York.” (Thanks to readers for correcting me.)

“Even in special education, our curriculum is based on Common Core standards. I’ll have to teach about seasons to a child who doesn’t know his own name. I’m expected to teach To Kill A Mockingbird to a classroom full of nonverbal students, some of whom may be wearing diapers and haven’t learned their ABCs. I think it’s insulting to tell students what they’re going to learn, regardless of their abilities and needs. But I try to work some magic and design a lesson plan where everyone in the class can take something away from the story. For the least advanced students, we just use To Kill A Mockingbird to practice the alphabet. Then I’m also expected to teach Algebra. I try my best using lots of velcro and lamination, but I can’t say that many of my students have ever learned how to solve for x. We spend so much energy on learning how to sit still. I think special populations should be focused more on vocational training like filling out forms and budgeting money—things that will give them confidence and prepare them for independence. But I keep my mouth shut and do my best to work within the system. When I first began teaching, my mentor told me: ‘If there’s anything about the system that you want to fight, just make sure it’s the hill you want to die on.’”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 166,872 other followers