Archives for category: Common Core

An excellent article by Caroline Porter in the Wall Street Journal describes the heated competition for a slice of the Common Core market.

 

She writes:

 

As states race to implement the Common Core academic standards, companies are fighting for a slice of the accompanying testing market, expected to be worth billions of dollars in coming years.

 

That jockeying has brought allegations of bid-rigging in one large pricing agreement involving 11 states—the latest hiccup as the math and reading standards are rolled out—while in roughly three dozen others, education companies are battling for contracts state by state.

 

Mississippi’s education board in September approved an emergency $8 million contract to Pearson PLC for tests aligned with Common Core, sidestepping the state’s contract-review board, which had found the transaction illegal because it failed to meet state rules regarding a single-source bid.

 

When Maryland officials were considering a roughly $60 million proposal to develop computerized testing for Common Core that month, state Comptroller Peter Franchot also objected that Pearson was the only bidder. “How are we ever going to know if taxpayers are getting a good deal if there is no competition?” the elected Democrat asked, before being outvoted by a state board in approving the contract.

 

Mississippi and Maryland are two of the states that banded together in 2010, intending to look for a testing-service provider together. The coalition of 11 states plus the District of Columbia hoped joining forces would result in a better product at a lower price, but observers elsewhere shared some of Mr. Franchot’s concerns.

 

The bidding process, which both states borrowed from a similar New Mexico contract, is now the subject of a lawsuit in that state by a Pearson competitor.

 

An accompanying graph in the article shows that Common Core is unpopular: Based on the Phi Delta Kappa-Gallup Poll, 60% of the public opposes the Common Core, while only 33% support it. When asked whether standardized tests are helpful to teachers, 54% of the public said no, as did 68% of public school parents. Other surveys show that a majority of teachers now oppose the Common Core standards.

 

Despite growing opposition to the Common Core and to standardized testing, most states are forging ahead, under pressure from the U.S. Department of Education, which used Race to the Top funds ($4.35 billion) to lure states to adopt the standards, and then required adoption of “college-and-career-ready” standards (aka Common Core) as a condition for getting a waiver from impossible and ruinous No Child Left Behind mandates.

 

 

 

 

 

I wrote earlier this week about the frightening posdibility that we as a nation might be facing a future in which jobs are scarce, due to globalization (which encourages outsourcing to low-wage countries) and technology (in which computers and robots will replace large numbers of workers).

As it happened, Anthony Cody wrote a complementary post in which he factored in the rigorous Common Core standards and tests as the great sorting mechanism that will determine winners and losers in the new economy. The good test-takers will get the good jobs, and those with low scores will get the scraps or nothing at all.

The middle class is shrinking, he writes. There won’t be enough jobs for all who seek work. Students are crushed by debt.

“A smaller number of Americans will be better off than their parents – even with the advantage of better education. We are looking at a lottery system with fewer and fewer winners, and many more losers. And our educational system is being prepared for this.

“Our schools are the center of a battle for our collective soul.

“Our schools can be laboratories of democracy, controlled by local citizens, connected to the life blood of the community, preparing children to engage with and transform the world they are entering. The documentary series, A Year at Mission Hill shows what such a school looks like, and how it cares for the students, and nurtures their dreams as they grow. Most of us entered teaching with this vision in mind.

“But our schools can also be the place where dreams are squashed. A place where students are sorted into winners and losers based on their test scores. Students who are given academic tasks that are beyond their ability or developmental level become frustrated and discouraged. When I taught 6th grade math in Oakland, one of my greatest challenges was the many students who arrived and would write on my introductory survey, “I am bad at math.” These self images form early, and the scientific precision of our tests creates a false portrait that becomes indelible when reiterated time and again come test time. What we are creating is a system that says “If you are bad at math, and these many other difficult things on our tests, you are not prepared for college or career, and you are worthless…

“Our educational system is being used as a means to rationalize the economic marginalization of a growing number of students. That process will hit those already marginalized by class and race the hardest….

“These are the children that our educational system is being prepared to look in the eye and say “you are not going to be able to attend a good college.” In fact, many of you may not even graduate from high school if plans proceed to use these tests as graduation exams.

“So the students who have been labeled as “not ready for college or career” will be released into society, to join the permanently unemployed or underemployed, the low wage service sector, their jobs vulnerable to computerization.

“And what will the story be that explains why will this is their fate? It will not be because jobs have been sent overseas. Not because technology is increasing productivity and reducing the need for labor. Not because the economy is delivering ever more wealth to an ever smaller number of oligarchs. No. The story will be that they are surplus because they did not achieve the education needed to make themselves indispensable to some company’s bottom line. They are surplus because they are not needed to make the machinery of our society run.”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Cody writes:

“The trends are not positive, so long as we are stuck in our current economic model. Teachers have a role to play. We can cooperate with the system, and validate the tests as accurate indicators of our students’ value as “productive members of society.” That is what we are asked to do when Bill Gates and Arne Duncan implore us to help implement the Common Core. Or we can offer our own vision of the role of education as a catalyst for democratic change. And that change that will increasingly require us to question the imperatives of an economy that no longer serves the majority of Americans, and reject the ranking and sorting of our students into those with and without economic value.”

Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center in Long Island, New York, tells a shocking story about the intransigence of the New York State PTA to concerns expressed by some of its members. In 2012, parents and educators in the Niagara region of the state prepared a resolution opposing high-stakes testing. They wanted to present it to the state PTA convention, but were told it was too late and their resolution would not be considered. The parents refined their resolution and tried again the next year, but the state leaders of the PTA once again said that their resolution would not be presented to the membership at the state convention.

 

Meanwhile, the New York State PTA developed its own position paper on the issues. That paper was remarkable in what it did not say–in fact it appeared to be deliberately designed to say nothing at all. There were only vague references to the effects of high-stakes testing, along with a “thumbs up” for the Common Core State Standards and APPR, the state’s controversial teacher evaluation system. The group took heart that their stronger resolution would be approved by those attending the Convention, allowing the State PTA to take a stronger stand. However, once again it was rejected by the resolutions committee with a letter that outlined the reasoning.

 

The rejection letter was an odd response that talked about Regents exams (the resolution was for 3-8 tests only) and criticized Niagara for not defining “high stakes testing,” It claimed that the position paper that the New York State PTA had recently issued was in conflict with the resolution, because it called for student scores to not be used in teacher evaluations. In fact, the NYS PTA position paper never mentioned the use of Grades 3-8 tests scores in APPR at all. It used the term “multiple measures.”

 

At the NYSPTA conventions of 2012 and 2013, Principal John McKenna and two parent representatives read statements of concern about testing from the floor. As he told me, “Our statements were met with great applause and support from the membership.”

 

That support strengthened their resolve to create a resolution that would be acceptable. In 2014, the Niagara Region PTA broke their resolution in half, creating two different resolutions to meet the objections of the state committee. “The ask” in one resolution was a review of APPR and a delay in its use for employment decisions. The second resolution asked for a delay in the use of high-stakes testing, a return to the development of assessments by teachers and a restoration of school funding.

 

Once again, the resolutions were rejected.

 

Burris asks whether the New York State PTA represents parents or teachers. The state has been in an uproar over the Common Core and the tests, which now require third graders to be tested for nine hours. Yet parents and teachers cannot get their state organization to hear their voices.

 

Who does the New York State PTA represent?

American Radio Works is producing a four-part series on NPR about Common Core. Here is one segment. The program suggests a new turn in the reformer narrative: The Common Core is wonderful but the high stakes tests are horrendous.

 

I don’t mean to be cynical but I understand the idea behind Common Core and all the moving parts attached to it. In the 1990s, it was referred to as “systemic school reform.” The idea was that all the parts of the education system had to work in tandem, not separately. The standards, the curriculum, the tests, teacher education, teacher evaluation, textbooks, and every other part of the education system had to be seen as a synergistic whole. When that happened, scores would go up, and the system would achieve maximum efficiency and equity.

 

That is why–try as we might–the Common Core standards will not stay separated from the Common Core testing. Arne Duncan gave out $360 million to create the tests, and he knew exactly what he was doing. He pretended that the tests would not influence curriculum or instruction, but that is a transparent fiction. Tests drive curriculum and instruction, not the reverse.

 

 

Tom Hoffman, a blogger in Rhode Island, took up the challenge to explain what is wrong with the Common Core ELA standards. He does it here. He goes through them in the spirit of “close reading,” and they read like a nineteenth century approach known as “parsing,” whereby the student analyzed a sentence or a paragraph or a story in minute detail, identifying its grammatical and syntactical features. Today, promoters of the Common Core call it “critical thinking,” but if you go through Hoffman’s analysis, it sure looks like parsing, in which students are expected to read not for the joy of ideas, words, and stories, but for the interpretation and interaction of minute (and dubious) details and (possible) literary devices.

 

After going through exemplar texts and the questions based on them, Hoffman writes:

 

I am not seeking out edge cases; I’m just trying to apply the standard as written to the exemplar texts provided. Try it yourself.

And I am not reading pedantic detail into the standard — pedantic detail was explicitly put there by the authors. They chose each word with specific intention (or with careless indifference, take your pick). The unambiguous message is that in third grade, precisely, teachers, textbook authors and testing companies should focus students on explaining how key details support the main idea.

Would you ever, while reading a book on dinosaurs with your child, pause to ask how a detail supports the “main idea” of the book? Could you blame her if she looked at you as if you were an idiot? What is the opportunity cost of steering 3rd grade teachers all over the country to spend time with their students not discussing the wonders of dinosaurs, medieval feasts, sprouting seeds and soap bubbles, but instead dragging their students through inane pseudo textual analysis? Does anyone really believe this is necessary to get them ready for college courses a decade in the students’ future?

 

In seeking more information about the author, Tom Hoffman, I found that he writes a blog and has a lot to say on subjects that interest me. His blog is called TuttleSVC. Here is a post about the issue of whether kindergartners should be expected to count to 100 (part of the Common Core). Frankly, I don’t see why it matters whether 5-year-olds learn to count to 100 or whether they learn when they are six, even seven. Hoffman seals the deal by posting the kindergarten expectations in Singapore, where students are expected to count to 10!

 

 

 

 

Jeanette Deuterman is a parent in Long Island, New York, who started a group called Long Island Opt Out. It now has 22,000 members. Long Island is the center of the anti-testing, anti-Common Core movement in New York State (with the Lower Hudson Valley a close second). Deuterman recently attended a forum composed of local superintendents to explain the virtues of the Common Core, and she was ready.

 

She wrote about the event:

 

There was a forum last night called “Common Core: Uncommon Challenges”. Panelists included Lydia Bellino, Assistant Superintendent for Cold Spring Harbor, Lorna Lewis, Superintendent Plainview Old Bethpage, Lydia Begley, Asst Superintendent Nassau BOCES, and moderated by Thomas Rogers, Superintendent for Syosset. Knowing who the speakers were, we knew that this would be a CC cheerleading forum. We rounded up our own experts – teachers, BATS, liaisons, and myself, and attended the event. For the first hour we heard how great it was that our second graders can use difficult advanced words in everyday language. We heard about 4 and 5 year olds learning how to write sentences. We were told that although it’s a plane being built in the air with our children on board, in a few years it will be great! Then it was our turn. One by one OUR experts approached the mike, and gave the true picture of CC and testing. We talked about privatizing, inappropriate grade level material, money, special needs and ELL children being broken and left behind, 5th graders who, being the first CC regents class, may not graduate, and 9th graders getting the brunt. We talked about those that DO stand with us to protect public education, and asked the panel “WHERE DO YOU STAND??” The response was that letters have been written, and some signed onto [Rep. Steven] Israel’s Bill…..Oh, and here I thought they might be part of the problem.

 

As often happens, when it was my turn at the mike, it was time to wrap it up. So I will write my response to the panel here instead.
Do you want to know why we are so upset? Do you want to know why we are now directing that anger at this panel? Because what we have heard is all the small benefits you see of CC. We didn’t hear you complain of testing. We didn’t hear you say the testing time is inappropriate and abusive. We didn’t hear you acknowledge that you understand why we as parents, choose to opt our children out. We didn’t hear you acknowledge the very real and very dangerous side of CC. We didn’t hear you say you understand that this is a means to privatize public education and make ungodly amounts of money. You are school leaders. You have a responsibility to inform the public. You have a responsibility to educate your parents in you district of the absolute crisis we are in, rather than trying to sell a CC package. CC is paying millions to PR firms to sell CC. They don’t need you. WE need you. We need you to be upstanders. We need you to be loud. We need you to protect our children. The next time you speak to parents or the community, PLEASE…..give them the whole picture. Educate them on what is really happening. Tell them what you talk about amongst yourselves behind closed doors. Be truthful. Be brave. Stand up.

In a guest post for Jonathan Pelto’s blog, veteran educator Ann Policelli Cronin explains why the Common Core standards are a waste of time. For one thing, they were never tested on real students in real classroom, and no one can honestly say that they will prepare students for college or careers. That is sheer speculation or wishful thinking. What’s more, she writes, there is much in the Common Core ELA standards that is just plain wrong and/or incomprehensible.

 

The Common Core standards are also neither “high” nor “clear”. The Connecticut State Standards for English Language Arts are much more rigorous than the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and have a strong and deep research base that is totally lacking with the Common Core. The Common Core standards require a way of teaching students to read and to write that has long been discredited. Not only will the Common Core approach severely restrict students’ development as readers and writers, it will discourage students from even wanting to become readers and writers. The Common Core standards are definitely not rigorous, as teachers who have required rigor of their students know.

 

Standards that are rigorous encourage students to read and to write. They actively involve students in reading books that engage them and in writing poems, essays, narratives, plays, and speeches about ideas that are theirs alone. The author of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, David Coleman, has said over and over at conferences, in interviews and in online presentations that students’ personal responses and interpretations have no place in the classroom nor does discussion of the cultural and historical context in which books are written or in which students live belong in that classroom. Also, as writers, the personal voice of students is not allowed and essays of personal interpretation and evaluation have been replaced with impersonal, formulaic essays that have nothing in common with real writing. Rigorous learning engages students with the big questions that great literature poses, encourages students to connect their own lives to those questions, and requires students to integrate the classroom discussions about those ideas so that they create new knowledge for themselves.

 

As for the Common Core standards being “clear”, they are not. There are 42 English Language Arts standards crammed with almost 200 different skills to be taught in each academic year. They are a mishmash of skills without a plan of developmental appropriateness and devoid of logic as to why some of them are in one grade and others in another grade. In a recent article in Education Week (September 23, 2014), Mike Schmoker reports that Gerald Graff, the former president of the professional organization of college English professors (Modern Language Association) said that most of the Common Core standards are unnecessary and nonsensical. For curriculum expert Robert Shepherd, the Common Core standards are “just another set of blithering, poorly thought-out abstractions.” Schmoker challenges any of us to make sense out of this 8th grade Common Core standard: “Analyze how the points of view of the characters and audience or reader (e.g. created through the use of dramatic irony) create effects like suspense or humor.”

 

She adds:

 

Not only are students receiving a poor education with the Common Core but the dropout rate will also increase. The Common Core aligned tests have the passing rate set at 30%; therefore, about 70% of the students in Connecticut will fail those tests. Since all standardized test scores correlate with family income, many children of poverty will fail. The way to break that correlation is not by testing and punishing students but by addressing the needs of those disadvantaged by poverty and racism. Feed the kids, give them eye exams, lower the class size so that that they get the adult conversation they crave, add personnel for extended learning experiences after school and in the summer. Standardize opportunities for learning.

 

Insisting upon real rigor for all Connecticut’s children and addressing the needs of children disadvantaged by poverty and racism – that is how Connecticut will be a state where people want to live, work, and invest in their future.

 

 

Despite the efforts of the Gates Foundation and others to treat the Common Core standards as an iron-clad document, as tablets chiseled in stone, which may be added to but never changed, the American Federation of Teachers has awarded grants to its affiliates in New York and Connecticut to review, and where necessary, rewrite the standards. The same thing could happen in every state where teachers have concluded that the CC standards are developmentally inappropriate, misaligned with the needs of children with disabilities, or suffer from other defects. This move on the part of the AFT both bolsters the chances of CC to survive and undercuts  its ability to be considered “national standards,” since teachers in every state will see different ways to revise them. Teachers will determine whether the standards need revision or whether the implementation was problematic. Let the revisions begin!

 

Here is the AFT announcement:
AFT Awards Grants for New York, Connecticut Teachers to Have Voice on Standards
WASHINGTON— The American Federation of Teachers announced today it has awarded AFT Innovation Fund grants for teachers in New York and Connecticut to offer solutions to problems with their state’s rollout of the Common Core State Standards.

 

The New York State United Teachers and AFT Connecticut were awarded the grants in a competition that was announced in July at the AFT convention.

 

“These grants are about giving educators some seed money to take their ideas about educational standards and convert them into practice. Many educators support higher standards but are concerned about particular aspects, especially the Common Core standards’ poor implementation and their developmental appropriateness, particularly in the early grades,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “We wanted to give the people closest to children a chance to do something different, as long as we were all focused on how to help students secure the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that the Common Core standards are supposed to be about.”

 

Along with the AFT, the judges were Bianca Tanis, an elementary school special education teacher in New York state and a co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education; Jeanne Oakes, a presidential professor emeritus of education equity, University of California Los Angeles; and Kevin Welner, a professor in the school of education at the University of Colorado Boulder.

 

“The grant applicants had wide latitude, including critiquing the Common Core standards or writing new ones. It’s significant that the judges thought the best ideas primarily involved finding better ways to make the standards work for teachers and students,” Weingarten said.

 

NYSUT will use its six-month, $30,000 grant to make recommendations to address the state’s botched implementation of both the Common Core State Standards and assessments. A union task force will review and critique the state’s math and English language arts curriculum materials, developed by outside vendors, which have received a torrent of critical comments from teachers. These materials are seen as developmentally inappropriate, too prescriptive, and frequently riddled with errors and inconsistencies.

 

The task force also will scrutinize the state’s process for developing standardized tests; probe whether practitioners were involved in the local implementation of the New York State Common Core Learning Standards and development of curriculum; and consider whether the state’s professional development afforded teachers enough support.

 

“Given the profound problems with the state’s materials used for the initial Common Core rollout—units that weren’t developed with educators—we’re anxious to roll up our sleeves and get to work on a critique aimed at improving the materials and making sure they are developmentally appropriate for students,” said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee.

 

The task force’s critique will be shared with state policymakers; the state legislature; parent organizations; student advocates; and education professionals.

 

AFT Connecticut will address the unmet need for developmentally appropriate instructional strategies for students in the primary grades. The union’s working group will also make recommendations for teachers on how to help students with special needs and students with disabilities reach the standards.

 

“Teachers have not had enough time to fully understand the standards and develop curriculum, and it’s been especially difficult for teachers with special education students and English language learners,” said AFT Connecticut President Melodie Peters.

 

The resulting report will be shared with state policymakers and teachers who are anxious to receive Common Core guidance.

 

Both of the grants announced today also support the AFT’s July 2014 resolution on the Common Core State Standards, “The Role of Standards in Public Education.” Among its recommendations is a call for state-level boards made up of a majority of teachers to monitor standards and to use feedback from parents, educators and students to evaluate and continuously improve the system.

 

 

About the AFT Innovation Fund:
The AFT Innovation Fund makes grants to support bright ideas for improving education, health care and public services by state and local affiliates of the AFT. It is funded by the AFT and several national philanthropies.

 

NOTE: The Connecticut AFT received $25,000 for a six-month period. The New York State United Teachers received a $30,000 grant for a six-month period.

Peter Greene knows that breaking up is hard to do. But it is happening. The people who love charters also were promoting Common Core. They had a common goal: make public schools look bad, then watch the stampede to privately-managed charters.

 

What is it about Common Core that has made it toxic? The more teachers use it, the more the polls show they don’t like it. Rhetoric to the contrary, CCSS does tell teachers how to teach, based on the likes and dislikes of the authors, few of whom ever were classroom teachers. Rhetoric to the contrary, the early grades set absurd expectations that some children will meet easily, and others won’t reach for a year or two. No one on the writing team had ever taught little kids or had no idea that they develop at different rates. No one had any experience teaching students with disabilities, most of whom will look bad on Common Core tests. Greene points to the number of governors, like Malloy and Cuomo, who disowned the Common Core, but I think it is better to wait and see what happens now that the election is over.

 

Greene writes:

 

The Ed Reform movement has always been a marriage of different groups whose interests and goals sometimes aligned, and sometimes did not. The Systems Guys, the Data Overlords, the Common Core Corporate Hustlers, the Charter Privateers, the Social Engineers– they agree on some things (we need to replace variable costly teachers with low-cost uniform widgets), but there are cracks in the alliance, one seems to be turning into a fissure.

 

The Common Core Hustlers are being dumped by the Charter Privateers. It’s not an obvious break-up– the privateers haven’t texted the Core backers to say, “Hey, we need to talk.” It’s the slow, soft drop. The unreturned phone calls. The unwillingness to even say the name. Not even making eye contact when they show up at the same party. It’s awkward. It’s painful.

 

It wasn’t always like this. Charters and the Core were a match made in heaven. To spur financing and enrollment, the Charter forces needed a way to “prove” that public schools suck, and that meant finding a yardstick with which public schools could be measured and found failing. That meant some sort of standardized test, and that meant something to test them on. So, Common Core. The Core and the Tests (from which it could not, must not, be separated) would be the smoking gun, the proof that public schools were failing and that only privatizing schools would save Our Nation’s Youth.

 

The corporate folks liked it because it was another opportunity for market growth. The fake liberals liked it because it could be packaged as a way to bring equity to the poor. The fake conservatives liked it because it could be packaged as a way to use market forces to get those slacker poor folks into line.The Core and Charter really got each other. They wanted all the same things.

 

But soon, the love affair between charters and the Core started to show strain. The Core would show up late at night, smelling like Big Government. And while everybody’s friends liked the Core when it first started coming around, but as they got to know it, they started whispering behind its back that it was kind of an asshole. Pretty soon, old friends like Bobby Jindal were calling the Core out in public. And when election season came, they weren’t invited to the same parties together any more. Jeb Bush had been the Core’s oldest and best friend, and even he had a huge party where Charters were held up for praise and applause and the Core wasn’t even mentioned.

 

There was no longer any denying it. When Charter walked into the cafeteria, instead of sitting down with the Core and telling friends, “You should come sit with the Core. It’s cool” instead Charter would sit on the other side of the room and say, “You don’t want to sit at that table with that thing.”

 

Once the Core had been a marketing point. Public schools were bad news because they couldn’t do Common Core well enough. Now public schools are bad news because they are trying to do Common Core well enough. We used to market charters as a way to run toward the Core; now we market them as a way to run away from it.

 
None of the reformsters who now disown Common Core are dropping any other part of the reformster agenda, especially not privatization.

 

And you can bet they are not dropping high-stakes testing either, unless the public revolt gets loud enough for legislators to hear it.

 

 

An Ohio teacher sent this YouTube video made by a student, John Prusak, who started an anti-Common Core club, with tee-shirts and this video. You will be amazed.

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