Archives for category: Common Core

Jeff Bryant, a sharp observer of education trends, points out that the well-funded corporate reform movement has hit a brick wall: they have lost the PR war against public schools and teachers, and they know it. It turns out that the public really does support their public schools, really does respect teachers, and thinks that their local public schools need more resources.

 

The evidence is everywhere, especially in their own publications. They write that they want a new conversation; they want a restart on accountability; they know that the public is rising up against their obsession with standardized testing. They surely know (although they don’t admit it) that charter schools do not outperform public schools unless they engage in skimming, and that many for-profit charter chains are frauds and scams that promise the moon but take public money away from public schools while providing a third-rate education to hapless children lured in by their advertising.

 

Do the reformers have any new ideas? No, it is the same old, same old. They will not give up their obsession with standardized testing; they will not give up their faith in test-based evaluation of teachers; they will not abandon their love of charters and other forms of privatization.

 

When you hear the reformers denouncing budget cuts or racial segregation or for-profit schools, when you hear them call for reduced class sizes and higher standards for new teachers, then you can believe in their sincere reformation. Until then, it is old wine in new bottles. Or old wine in old bottles, rebranded.

“All I really need to know I learned in smoke-filled back rooms.” (apologies to Robert Fulghum)

0. *****Always accept grant money from Bill Gates.****

1. Test everything that moves (even the classroom goldfish)

2. Play with cut scores.

3. Don’t hit teachers (Just fire them)

4. Always leave things in more chaos than when you found them.

5. NEVER (EVER!!) CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.

6. Never admit you are wrong and never (ever!) say you are sorry.

7. Wash your hands of everything that goes wrong.

8. Flush after each school closing.

9. VAMs and failings (students, teachers, schools) are good.

10. Unions and teacher independence and creativity in the classroom are bad.

11. Mandate a Fair and Balanced (TM) curriculum – teaching some Common Core math and some close reading and never (ever) allowing students to draw or paint or sing or dance or play or go out for recess and making sure they do a minimum of 4 hours homework every day (especially in kindergarten)

12. Take a shot of whiskey every afternoon.

13. When you go out into the world, watch out for Diane Ravitch, hold secret meetings, and stick together.

14. Beware the American Statistical Association. Remember Vergara: The student test scores go down and the teacher firings go up and nobody really knows how or why, but we all like that.

15. Statistics and standardized tests and VAMs – they all lie. So do we.

16. And then remember the Common Core books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – Test”

This is one of the silliest, most embarrassing articles I have read in a very long time. It was allegedly written by two teachers as a rebuke to Carol Burris, the experienced high school principal who has made a hash of Common Core in her many writings for Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet in the Washington Post.

The teacher who says she teaches kindergarten wants to make sure that her 5-year-old students are “college-and-career-ready.” Really? So if a 5-year-old can’t count to 100, they won’t have a career or go to college? Surely, she jests.

Has she ever heard of “Defending the Early Years,” an organization of early childhood experts who believe the Common Core standards are indeed developmentally inappropriate. In this article, Professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige says that it is “ridiculous” to expect little children to count to 100. So what if they learn to do it next year or the year after?

What is super embarrassing about the article is that both teachers are identified as “part of Student Achievement Partners.” No mention of the fact that Student Achievement Partners is funded by the Gates Foundation or that Student Achievement Partners was founded by David Coleman, architect of the Common Core standards. Or that SAP played the leading role in writing the standards.

Come on, guys, how about a full disclosure?

Kathy Cordone is a retired teacher who taught for 37 years and was selected as Wolcott’s teacher of the year. In this post, she recommends that Connecticut abandon the Common Core.

She writes:

“I am an expert on children and I can make that claim because I have spent thousands of days with children, unlike the writers of the Common Core who never spent one day trying out their standards on actual children.

And my testimony is that current education policy, which started with No Child Left Behind, then went into overdrive with Race to the Top and now Common Core and SBAC testing, has turned our schools into test prep factories, sucking the joy out of teaching and learning.

Common Core is a very expensive experiment with no evidence to support the claim that it will make students “college and career ready.” It will fail just as No Child Left Behind failed to make all children “proficient” by this year.

My greatest concern is the pressure on our youngest students to perform in ways that do not match their brain development. The joint statement of Early Childhood Health and Education professionals, signed by more than 500 early childhood experts, explained how the standards were developmentally inappropriate for our youngest students.

Requiring young students to “discover” math algorithms and think abstractly ignores Piaget’s stages of cognitive development which state that most children are not able to think abstractly until they are 11 years old…..”

She adds:

“Play has disappeared from our kindergarten classrooms as teachers are forced to try to make 5-year-olds read and write before they are ready. Early childhood specialist and advocate Susan Ochshorn explains that intentional, make-believe play is where little ones develop the part of their brains that has to do with self-regulation. A child’s ability to self-regulate is a better predictor of academic success than IQ and social class…..

Young children cannot be forced to learn things before they are ready and play lays the foundation for academic success later on.

In Connecticut we have tens of thousands of experts on children, whether retired like me, or teaching in our classrooms every day.

Connecticut needs to withdraw from Common Core and replace it with standards written by those experts: Connecticut teachers.”

Laura H. Chapman, arts consultant and curriculum designer, writes in response to Mercedes Schneider’s recent post, in which she wondered whether theCommon Core copyright could be sold, for example, to Pearson. Chapman asserts that the copyright is unenforceable. I assert that if every state that signed a Memorandum of Understanding to adopt the Common Core were to convene review panels of teachers to revise and improve them, no one would stop them. The standards cannot be standards if they cannot be revised and improved. Chapman refers to the essential requirements of the American National Standards Institute; the designers of the Common Core standards violated or ignored all those essential requirements, which would have required them to have an open process involving all interested parties, not dominated by a single interest, and amenable to revision by those with legitimate concerns.

Laura Chapman writes:

“I have been thinking again about the copyright issue with the Common Core State Standards.

“In addition to noting that these are not really standards by the criteria set forth by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) http://www.ansi.org/essentialrequirements‎ I think that the essential structure and constructs in the CCSS are not really subject to copyright.

“Here is why this non-lawyer thinks there is a lot of room for modification, and for the menu like choices that the corporate authors warned adopters not to try. That threat may have been a huff and puff of hot air. Here is why I think so.

“The CCSS set forth ideas, procedures, processes, a system, concepts, principles, and a method for thinking about education. None of these can be copyrighted. I will leave it to lawyers to work with the fine points, but here is the language posted at http://copyright.gov/circs/circ31.pdf

“What Is Not Protected by Copyright

“Copyright law does not protect ideas, methods, or systems.

“Copyright protection is therefore not available for ideas or procedures for doing, making, or building things; scientific or technical methods or discoveries; business operations or procedures; mathematical principles; formulas or algorithms; or any other concept, process, or method of operation.

“Section 102 of the Copyright Act (title 17 of the U.S. Code) clearly expresses this principle:

“In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”

“What Is Protected by Copyright

“Copyright protection extends to a description, explanation, or illustration of an idea or system, assuming that the requirements of copyright law are met. Copyright in such a case protects the particular literary or pictorial expression chosen by the author.
But it gives the copyright owner no exclusive rights in the idea, method, or system involved.

“Suppose, for example, that an author writes a book explaining a new system for food processing. The copyright in the book, which comes into effect at the moment the work is fixed in a tangible form, prevents others from copying or distributing the text and illustrations describing the author’s system.

“But it will not give the author any right to prevent others from adapting the system itself for commercial or other purposes or from using any procedures, processes, or methods described in the book.

“So, if you are in the orbit of some legal eagles you might ask them to look at the 1,620 Common Core State Standards and get an opinion on how much huff and puff has been put into the rhetoric surrounding their use.

“Most standards, and the CCSS are not an exception, are replete with recycled ideas, principles, and so forth. For example, this standard at http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RL/9-10/7/‎ includes a sample assignment from Achieve’s American Diploma Project, and the writers at Achieve recycled it from an Introductory English survey course at Sam Houston University, Huntsville, TX.

“The exact example in the CCSS for grades 9/10 appears on page 107 in Achieve’s 2004 American Diploma Project (ADP), Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts, http://www.achieve.org/readyornot

“Maybe we should be asking who owns the copyright for the federally funded SBAC and PARCC tests and for the curriculum materials they had to develop in order to create the tests.

“Are those federally funded work products and items in the public domain? Just thinking and wondering.”

The Common Core standards are copyrighted. The copyright belongs to the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Theoretically, states are not allowed to alter them. States can add standards, but they cannot alter what has already been written,  which is treated as a holy scripture or the two tablets brought down from Mount Sinai. This, in fact, is a major defect of the standards, because there is a protocol for standard-writing, which the CCSS violates. That protocol, described very clearly by the American National Standards Institute, says that any standard-writing process must include a means of revising them; CCSS does not. It also says that all stakeholders must be involved in the discussion; this was not true for CCSS. And it says that no single interest should dominate standard-writing (as the Gates Foundation did by paying for everything).

 

Mercedes Schneider brings up another worrisome, if speculative point: since the CCSS are copyrighted, could the holders of the copyright sell it? The likeliest buyer, of course, would be Pearson. Suppose Pearson offered the two D.C.-based organizations $100 million? Would they refuse it? In that case, a private, for-profit organization based in the United Kingdom would be sole owner of the United States’ standards. Why not? It makes about as much sense as having the “national standards” developed and written by a committee that included no classroom teachers, a committee led by a Yale- and Oxford-educated entrepreneur who had never taught, a committee that included no experts on cognition or early childhood education, a committee that had an ample representation from the testing industry.

 

Some supporters of CCSS think that the standards could be used all by themselves, disconnected from the testing. But that is not the plan. The plan is a system. The system begins with standards, then testing, then teacher evaluation based on the testing, the testing must all be done online, which makes possible data mining and the creation of a longitudinal data base that follows children from pre-Kindergarten through at least the end of high school. At every step along the way, some corporation has a stake in the process: the testing industry, the technology industry, the consultants who sell teacher evaluation rubrics, the data mining entrepreneurs whose numbers are multiplying, the Big Data industry. I am sorry if this sounds conspiratorial. I don’t believe in conspiracies. It is all out there in the open.

The school board in Portland, Oregon, may refuse to set annual achievement goals, in a show of resistance to Common Core testing.

“A month after asking the state to delay using Common Core-aligned state test results to grade schools, the Portland School Board appears ready to back that effort up with a refusal to set yearly achievement targets in three subjects linked to the new test.

“The board is set to vote next week upon the district’s proposed yearly goals for student achievement – which conspicuously don’t include targets for third grade reading, fifth-grade math and eighth-grade math.

“Oregon law requires school districts to file the yearly “achievement compacts” with the Oregon Education Investment Board, spelling out the district’s goals in areas such as student attendance, graduation rates, and state test pass rates. But during a meeting Monday night, the district committee charged with setting yearly targets declined to address the three subject areas linked to the state’s new Smarter Balanced Test, which is launching this year.

“The test, which students will take in the spring, replaces the longstanding Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. It is aligned with the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, a controversial new set of criteria for measuring student achievement.”

The board is not convinced that the test is either valid or reliable and refuses to be pushed into endorsing a new test based on controversial standards.

Kenneth Chang, who writes about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects realized that his child in a Jersey City charter school would be taking the Common Core test called PARCC this year. He noted that while 42 states have signed on for Common Core, the federally-funded testing has “fractured.”

He writes:

“Supposedly, the economies of scale were to lead to better tests at lower costs, and initially, almost all states signed up with one of two federally financed organizations developing Common Core tests: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or Parcc, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. (Some states belonged to both groups.)

“Parcc has dwindled to 12 states plus the District of Columbia. New York, a member of Parcc, will continue to use its own Common Core-inspired test. Smarter Balanced has 21 states participating, but four members will not use the tests, at least not this school year. A survey by Education Week found that less than half of public school students would take either test this year.”

Nonetheless, millions of students will take one of them this spring.

Chang took a practice version of PARCC, the test chosen by New Jersey.

He writes:

“In many ways, it is a better test than the fill-in-the-bubble multiple-choice exams of my youth. With a computer-based test, the questions can be more complicated but still easily graded. Both consortiums also offer paper versions for the time being, because not all schools have enough computers and Internet connectivity.

“Some questions require several calculations to come up with the answer, testing a deeper level of understanding. For example: “Hayley has 272 beads. She buys 38 more beads. She will use 89 beads to make bracelets and the rest to make necklaces. She will use 9 beads for each necklace. What is the greatest number of necklaces Hayley can make?”

This is a multi-step problem but not that difficult (but then, I have a Ph.D.). I will wait to hear from fourth grade teachers whether it is a good question.

What struck me about Chang’s comment was that he said the PARCC test was better than “the fill-in-the-bubble multiple-choice exams” of his youth. As a student in the 1950s, I never took multiple-choice tests. Why does he assume that is the natural order of things? Did he think about the cost to his charter chain of the technology to administer the tests? Did he wonder who (or what) would grade any written answers? Does he know that his daughter will get a grade but the teacher will not be allowed to see her answers on the test and will get no diagnostic information from the test to help her? What is the value of the test if the teacher learns nothing from it other than a score? Is the grade all the father expects from this expensive investment? Did it occur to him that the real purpose of the test is to derive data to evaluate the teacher, not to provide information to help his daughter?

Carol Burris, award-winning high school principal in New York, is one of the leading critics of the Common Core standards. She has studied them closely and finds them to be a mess. The problem, she says, is not “implementation,” as their advocates say, but the standards themselves. She notes that teachers’ support for Common Core has rapidly declined. The more teachers use them, the less they like them.

 

In this post, she suggests what must be done to fix them.

 

One possibility is to adopt the Massachusetts standards, which were far superior to the Common Core standards, but Massachusetts dropped them in order to get millions from Arne Duncan. Besides, Arne Duncan, now the czar of American education, might punish states that dare to replace the Common Core standards, even with superior standards like those of Massachusetts.

 

So here is what Burris proposes:

 

1. Insist that the State Education Department rewrite the standards so that they are clear and coherent. She gives examples of standards that are incomprehensible.

 

2. Ask experts on early childhood education to rewrite the standards for pre-K-third grade. They were written without the participation of anyone who understood the developmental needs of young children and need to be completely revised to make sense for young children.

 

3. “Reduce the emphasis on informational text, close reading and Lexile levels.

 

There is no evidence that reading informational text in the early grades will improve reading. Informational text in primary school should be read as a one means of delivering content or included based on student interest. Ratios of 50/50 (informational text/literature) in elementary schools and 70/30 in high school are based on nothing more than breakdowns of text type on National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, not on reading research. The force-feeding of informational texts in the primary years is resulting in the decline of hands on learning in science and projects in social studies, as my teacher’s email attests. At the high school level, literature is being pushed out of English Language Arts to make room for informational text. For example, take a look at the readings of Common Core Engage NY curriculum modules for 9th grade. Literature is minimal, replaced by texts such as “Wizard of Lies,” a biography of Bernie Madoff, and articles that include “Sugar Changed the World,” “Animals in Translation” and “Bangladesh Factory Collapse.”

 

The standards, she writes, overemphasize “close reading,” reading without context, as though young children should be subjected to the ideology of the “New Criticism.” There must be room for teachers to decide whether and when to use literature or informational text. There is no evidence for the standards’ privileging of informational text over literature.

 

In short, the Common Core standards are a mess. They were written in stealth, imposed by the lure of federal dollars, and the resistance to them by the public and by teachers is growing. The only question now is whether the standards can be “fixed” (they are copyrighted and no one is supposed to change them) or whether they will be abandoned altogether.

 

Hannah Oh, of State Budget Solutions, wonders whether states and districts can afford the required technology.

Question: why should all tests be taken online? Whose idea was that? Why shouldn’t the federal government pay for the new technology? Why the windfall for the tech industry?

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