Archives for category: Common Core

Last week, the Washington Post published an editorial in defense of Jeb Bush, Andrew Cuomo, and the Common Core. The editorial scoffed at the idea that the federal government had anything to do with the standards and commended Bush and Cuomo for their sensible support of these state-led standards.

Mercedes just published a book about the Common Core called “The Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?

I recommend it to the editorial writers at the Washington Post.

They can save some time by reading Mercedes’ advice to them in this post.

The Post asserts that the CCSS were developed by the states and merely “encouraged” by the federal government.

Mercedes patiently explains how the U.S. Department of Education used the lure of bilions of dollars to entice states to adopt common standards and assessments, to agree to evaluate teachers by test scores, to turnaround low-performing schools (firing staff or closing the schools), and to create a longitudinal data base of student information.

These governors were led right into the federal will for state-level education by the promise of federal money. It was just that easy.

The governors traded state autonomy for federal money. And the federal government– US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan backed by President Barack Obama– encouraged them to do so and allowed it to happen….

The Washington Post editorial board assumes that the governors who signed on for Common Core did so for some primary reason greater that the federal dollars doing so would possibly bring into their states. However, any governor who really wanted “higher standards” would surely have insisted on some empirical evidence that the resulting standards were indeed “higher” prior to agreeing to adopt them. Yet this common-sense insistence did not happen.

The promise of federal dollars won.

The near-simultaneous appearance of editorials at the New York Times and the Washington Post in defense of the floundering Common Core tests does make you wonder which important person is making the calls.

Emmanuel Felton and Sarah Butrymowicz write in the Hechinger Report that students in New York have shown little progress in three years of Common Core teaching and testing. Experts warn that three years may be too short a time line to reach a judgment. Nonetheless, the widening achievement gaps are cause for concern. According to the conventional wisdom, the writers say, scores were supposed to rise as teachers and students became accustomed to the new standards. The reality is different.

Three years into the transition to harder tests, scores across the board have remained low and largely stagnant.
Thirty percent of all fifth-graders passed the English exam, for instance – while just 7 percent of special education students did. In math, 43 percent of all fifth-graders were proficient, but only a quarter of black students were….

The past three years of testing have been rough for New York. Complaints began right away in 2013 when the state switched to the new exam and continued when the scores showed proficiency rates had dropped roughly 24 percentage points in English and 34 percentage points in math. In the subsequent two years, criticism grew – over the stakes attached to the exams, the tests themselves and the standards. A robust “opt-out” movement led by disaffected parents and supported in part by teachers resulted in 20 percent of New York students not taking the exams, up from 5 percent the previous year….

And scores have not improved much in the three years. A Hechinger Report analysis found that English scores were essentially stagnant across the state and math scores went up slightly. White and Asian students, however, drove this increase, while the gulf between black and Latino students and their peers has widened.
In 2013, for example, 30 percent of fifth-graders passed the state math exam. This year, when the vast majority of those students were in seventh grade, 35 percent of seventh-graders passed the test. But while white students went from 36 to 46 percent proficiency, black students only increased from 15 to 17 percent and Hispanic students from 18 to 20 percent…

In addition to looking a lot like last year’s results, these scores also match New York’s results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the Nation’s Report Card, which is considered the gold standard for student exams.

But the alignment with NAEP is precisely the problem. The state exams now consider “NAEP Proficient” to be a “passing mark.” This is utterly absurd. NAEP Proficient was never intended to be a passing mark, nor is it “grade level.” NAEP Proficient represents a high level of achievement. No state has seen as many as 50% of its students reach NAEP Proficient except for Massachusetts. As long as the states continue to use tests whose “cut scores” are aligned with NAEP, a majority of students will be considered “failures.” This is not sustainable. Think of the consequences of failing most students year after year.

Delaware State Commissioner Mark Murphy is stepping down.

“Many legislators, the teachers, administrators, and parents had lost confidence in Secretary Murphy, but he had the confidence of the man who mattered, Jack Markell. The DSEA [Delaware State Education Association] voted no confidence in his leadership. Legislators complained about the strong arm tactics to force through Common Core. Parents rallied and protested the Smarter Balanced Assessment. He had been called out of touch, but he claimed his efforts led to significant achievements.”

Murphy was a strong proponent of Common Core and Race to the Top. He was one of the few remaining members of Jeb Bush’s shrinking “Chiefs for Change.”

Until recently, the Chiefs included Gerard Robinson (FL), Tony Bennett (IN, FL) , Chris Cerf (NJ), Mike Miles (Dallas), Deborah Gist (switching from RI to Tulsa)), Janet Barresi (OK), Kevin Huffman (TN), Stephen Bowen (ME), and Chris Barbic (Tenn). All are gone, although Gist is still a “Chief” as district superintendent in Tulsa.

The only two original members left are John White and Hannah Skandera, neither of whom is popular with educators or parents.

The original Chiefs for Change was funded by Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence.

Politico reports on the opinion poll conducted by the rightwing journal Education Next:

“COMMON CORE WAR MELLOWING?: Support for the Common Core standards is dropping, but it’s not in a freefall. In fact, it might even be stabilizing. Education Next’s new annual survey [ ] released with the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard Kennedy School shows overall support slipped this year, falling four percentage points to 49 percent. A year earlier, however, support fell 12 points in one year. The survey has two more key takeaways on Common Core: Democrats over Republicans favor the standards (by a 57 percent to 37 percent margin), and the standards are becoming less popular with teachers. (Seventy-six percent of teachers in 2013 said they support the standards compared to 40 percent this year).”

To read the Education Next report, go here.

The big story here is the dramatic decline in support for the standards by teachers: from 76% in 2013 to 40% in 2015. That is a dramatic decline. Teachers know the standards. The general public does not. Pay attention to the connoisseurs.

While Education Next says a majority oppose opting out from tests, what is remarkable is that a third of parents and teachers support it. Acts of conscience do not require majority approval. If the civil rights movement and legislators had abided by opinion polls in the 1950s and 1960s, American society would still have laws requiring racial segregation.

Mercedes Schneider wrote a book about Common Core (“The Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?), and she knows its history as well as anyone. One thing she knows is that Jeb Bush was one of the biggest supporters of the Common Core. When the criticism started, he defended Common Core. When the criticism intensified, he said he would not cut and run from Common Core. He stood on principle in their defense. He saw the Common Core standards as the answer to closing achievement gaps and doing all sorts of important and good things.

But now that he is in a hotly contested primary campaign, he forgot what the Common Core standards are. He doesn’t remember supporting them. He just likes high standards. He wants to get as far away from the Common Core brand as possible. It has become “poisonous,” he said recently.

In an editorial that is remarkably uninformed, the Washington Post defends the Common Core, insists that it was created by the states, and asserts that the federal government “merely encouraged” states to adopt them.

None of this is factually accurate. The Common Core standards were written by a small group of Washington insiders, with the largest contingent coming from the testing industry. There were few classroom teachers on the writing committee. Early childhood educators were not at the table, nor were those familiar with children with disabilities or English language learners. The standards were written behind closed doors; their development was underwritten by the Gates Foundation. The federal government paid $360 million for two testing consortia to create Common Core-aligned tests. Most states adopted the standards in 2009 because the U.S. Department of Education dangled nearly $5 billion in Race to the Top funding, and states had to adopt “college-and-career-ready standards” to be eligible for a piece of that huge pie. The standards were not actually finished until 2010, meaning that most states adopted them without having read or reviewed them. They are copyrighted and cannot be revised. It is a basic principle of standard-setting that stakeholders must be represented at the table, that no single interest should dominate their creation (e.g., the Gates Foundation), and there should be a process for revision to correct errors. None of these criteria was met.

The editorial says:

“The pressure [against Common Core] is built on bogus premises. Common Core is not a federal takeover of education. States developed the standards, accepted them voluntarily and implement them with local flexibility. The federal government merely encouraged states to adopt them, as it should have. The standards also aren’t some conspiracy to force children to learn about climate change and evolution; they cover basics in language arts and math. Even so, Republicans in various states are trying to repeal them, in some cases successfully, or to at least defund implementation.”

“Liberal opposition to Common Core, meanwhile, is proving at least as harmful. Teachers unions have resisted the accountability that consistent and meaningful testing might bring, and they have used their own form of Common Core sabotage: Along with misguided anti-test activists, they have encouraged parents to refuse to let their children take exams meant to assess how well students are meeting Common Core expectations. They have succeeded in undermining educational standards in New York: Parents pulled an astonishing 20 percent of students grades 3 through 8 out of the tests last school year, upsetting efforts to track student progress.”

So the Washington Post puts itself in the position of opposing those–like the American Statistical Association–who challenge the validity of test-based accountability for individual teachers. It criticizes parents who object to their children losing weeks of instruction to test prep. It criticizes the opt-out movement, which has mobilized parents to say “no” to the misuse and overuse of standardized testing. And it fails to explain how the parents who opt out upset efforts to track student progress. And not a word about the Common Core tests with their absurd passing marks (cut scores), designed to fail the majority of children.

I am shocked that the Washington Post could be so misinformed.

Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation/Institute has been a strong supporter of school choice and the Common Core. On the whole, he and TBF have applauded Arne Duncan’s move to promote charter schools, to ignore the voucher proliferation, and to push Common Core on the states (as if they were “state-led,” which they were not).

However, Petrilli now has had a change of mind. (For the record, I support those who are willing to rethink their views and change their minds.) He now recognizes that Arne overreached and caused a counter-reaction. The most atrocious action by Duncan was to force test-based teacher evaluation on the states, with no evidence that it would improve education. It was a disaster. It hasn’t worked anywhere, and it has increased teaching to the test and teacher demoralization. If you are looking for the cause of the widespread teacher shortage, look to the policies of the U.S. Department of Education since 2009.

Petrilli writes, with humility, that he was wrong.

It’s not just that the Department of Education usurped power from Congress and the states; it’s that they used that power to push bad policy. Nobody today can creditably argue that mandating statewide teacher evaluations as a condition of ESEA flexibility was a good idea. Nobody can say that the teacher evaluation efforts are going well. This was an unforced error of enormous magnitude—one that has sparked a significant backlash to accountability policies writ large and also destroyed whatever credibility the feds may have had….

So yes, both the Senate and House versions of ESEA reauthorization are “looser” than No Child Left Behind, or than the Fordham proposal from 2011. If this renewal processes gets across the finish line (and I think it will), the federal government will have much less power than it does today. Folks like Chad who don’t like that will only have Arne Duncan to blame.

Angie Sullivan teaches young children in Nevada. She writes occasional letters to state legislators, journalists, and other educators.

She writes here to refute the canard that only conservatives don’t like Common Core.

Angie writes:

Here are my liberal thoughts taken directly from my decades of teaching experience and my Nevada classroom.


Free versions of state standards are published all over the Internet. Lots and lots of free sets without a copyright and most likely with research based best practice attached. Standards have always been a part of Nevada education or at least as far back as 1990 when I taught first grade in Winnemucca, Nevada. Teachers in each state, including Nevada, created standards based on research and best practice and the specific needs in each state. This was routine and done annually. Many many sets of K-12 standards are readily available to anyone at any time. Different sets have strengths and weakness – and common core is no exception.

Problem One: These common core standards were not created by people who represented my specific area K-2. Early childhood was obviously not represented in common core development meetings. When you increase the rigor two grade levels by forcing down the standards, working backward from college – you end up with 3rd grade rigor in Kindergarten. This is not developmentally appropriate and doesn’t work. Example: A singular Kindergarten writing standard that requests a five year old write a fact and opinion paper – without addressing writing letters or words first is not good. I don’t mind rigor. I do mind legislated mandates the equivalent of education malpractice. When almost every prominent Early Childhood Researcher and Professor makes a public statement against Common Core – politicians should listen. This is going to create significant issues down the road because Nevada students were never taught at their instructional level due to mandated rigor.


In the past, Nevada classroom teachers were given an opportunity to join a team to work on standards and they were slowly modified to increase rigor. Standards were standards. And now politicians try to convince us common core is the same – just another set. This set is completely different because it was lobbied nationally and sent down with money attached. Unfortunately not enough money to implement properly – but in a cash starved state like Nevada too much to turn down whether the standards were appropriate or not. Financially punishing states for not implementing a national set of standards is new and weird.

Also there is an overall tragic assumption that what is good for kids in Connecticut will also meet the needs of kids in Nevada. That is crazy. Meeting individual needs helps kids – not mandating “rigor”. While it is nice to know what typical grade level work should look like – when you work in a community that is typically three years or more behind before ever setting foot in a public school – individualized differentiated instruction that will authentically teach children should be the emphasis. We should not be in a hurry to introduce rigor. Our Nevada kids do not need rigor. Believe me. All they get is rigor. And it leads to failure on every level.

Problem Two: Teachers are used to revisions in standards. Small methodical common sense and appropriate revisions. When you hear education reformers state – drastic disruption – run away! Since teachers have to buy our own materials and implement curriculum without much support in Nevada – pressing down crazy drastic reform without the $151 million to implement caused major stress and teachers became overwhelmed. Teachers are obedient people who try to make due and wait for appropriate change. Many teachers I know support the common core in public and then struggle in significant and real ways in private. Silence or even public supportive announcements from educators does not mean these standards will make significant change or benefit kids – it means teachers are afraid to complain. And when teachers have problems with a standard now – where do we go to improve them. Do we lobby in Washington? Where is the body that actually controls the benchmarks for Nevada’s children now?


It is misinformation to say Nevada had no standards or we weren’t improving Nevada standards before common core. Any veteran experienced teacher who has been teaching in Nevada can tell you that history. In fact, using data, Nevada was actually doing significantly better and making steady growth puttering around at a methodical balanced pace than we are doing now that we have been “reformed”. We will never know what could have happened if we had patiently stayed the course instead of insisting on drastic, destructive immediate improvement. Instead we are now going to stagnate due to disruption and wonder why all the money we spent in the wrong direction did not work according to return on investment.

Problem Three: Standards weren’t the problem and data does not clearly identify the real issues. Rushing to implement the next fad that was not research based, supported, and well thought out has been devastating to public schools. We were on track to improve but had significant obstacles that were growing faster than our steady improvements. Now I’m afraid we may never recover from legislated whiplash. When a lobbyist is telling you things that sound idealistic and unrealistic- please question their credentials. If they have not been in the classroom directly working with Nevada kids in the last five years – I would question what they really could add to the conversation – especially if they are representing a corporation or for-profit entity. Educational fads, scams, and frauds are expanding at an alarmingly rapid rate and misusing tax payer funds.


It is misinformation that if we did not have common core – that we would have nothing. Plenty of free standard information is circulated. You also have thousands of professionals in Nevada who can help create whatever standards are needed – just as we did for decades before common core.

Problem Four: No one wants to admit they made a mistake. Teachers do not feel comfortable being vocal about the problems because of possible workplace harassment, appearing negative or insubordinate. We have flawed standards like everyone else in America who accepted them. We have spent large amounts of resources and moved in a direction that did not authentically educate kids. We are supposed to take comfort from the fact that we are not alone? This does not mean kids will improve or that teachers get what they need to teach. It is not working – so we continue to throw more resources in the wrong direction? Too late to go back now is the answer? We still have big problems.


It is misinformation that Nevada was not competitive. Or that we had drastically different standards than other states. That is simply a lie. I grew up in Nevada when we funded near the top in the nation and everyone received an education comparable to everywhere else in the United States. I have taught or worked in schools across the United States including Nevada, Texas, Delaware, New Jersey, Maine, Ohio, Maine, and Florida. States all had about the same standards but they were based on research and best practice. And no one would have thought that standards developmentally appropriate for an eight year old should be the benchmark for a five year old.

What has changed in Nevada education over the last decades? Simply a huge increase in population that includes large numbers of families in poverty. Children in Nevada need more support to be successful than they needed in the past. Spending resources to manipulate standards doesn’t address the real problem does it?

Problem Five: Someone told politicians this expensive fix would solve a problem we simply did not have. Now we have to try to teach inspite of unfunded, unsupported legislated mandates and common core. When it doesn’t make sense – teachers like me roll our eyes and plug forward. There is a myth that teachers were the problem when we were actually the solution. Now I post the standards, reflect on the stupidity, and the look into those precious faces in my classroom and teach small people to read and do math. I teach inspite of many crazy mandates. And sometimes I weep because I’m not able to think of a creative way to get around the destruction imposed on me. I do not have what I really need because we are busy trying to get federal money or buying product from vendors that donated to campaigns?


If things improve in Nevada education, it will not be because of reform.

It will be because professional teachers take back our schools and tell politicians to let us do our professional jobs. This reform is preventing me from teaching. It would be nice if I could get some textbooks, books at a variety of instructional levels, paper, and technology for my classroom.

You can count on me. I love my kids. I know their names and advocate for them daily. Please do not mandate things like common core that waste my time and keep me from doing my job.

O God hear the words of my mouth – hold Nevada’s children in your hand and protect the women who teach babies to read.

It is not just the far right that has problems with common core. Those of us with university degrees based in research and developmental educational theory hate the common core too.


The Néw York Times opposes the opt out movement and asserts–with no evidence–that the rigorous Common Core standards and tests will raise achievement and close the gaps among racial groups and between affluent and poor.

This is magical thinking. Or wishful thinking. Or illogical thinking.

Alarmed by the fact that 20% of students didn’t take the tests, the Times’ editorial asserts that the test boycott could damage the Common Core standards: “The standards offer the best hope for holding school districts accountable for educating all students, regardless of race or income.”

If the editorial means that teachers, principals, and schools will be punished for low scores on unrealistic tests, it is right. Heads will roll. People will be fired. Schools will be closed. Chaos and disruption are not good for children or learning.

Will these standards and tests ensure that all children have an excellent education? No. Setting standards a grade or two above where children will not make the children smarter; those who are most advantaged will move ahead, while those who are lagging will fall farther behind.

Why does the editorial board defend standardized tests whose cut scores are absurdly high, guaranteeing that most children will fail? Why defend tests that fail almost every student with disabilities and almost every English language learner? Why defend tests that actually widen the achievement gaps? These tests accomplish the exact opposite of what the Times says it wants: an excellent education for all.

Has common sense deserted the editorial board of the New York Times?

Carol Burris analyzed the New York State results in the third year of Pearson testing for the Common Core, and she was underwhelmed.

She says the results are “a flop. The proficiency needle barely budged.” Achievement gaps grew.

“The percentage of students scoring proficient in English Language Arts rose less than 1 point, to 31.3 percent. The percentage of students who met math proficiency rose less than 2 points, to 38.1 percent. At this rate of increase, it will take about 70 years for all New York students to meet both New York Common Core proficiency cut scores.

There was no closing of the gap—in fact when it comes to proficiency rates, the gap between white students and black students and white students and Latino students widened in both ELA and math. The math proficiency gap increased by more than 3 percentage points. Both black and Latino student math proficiency rates rose about 1 percent–gains by white students were largely responsible for most of the increase in state math scores.

“Only 4.4 percent of all English language learners and 5.7 percent of students with disabilities were proficient in English Language Arts, and their math proficiency gains were respectively 0.6 percent and 1 percent….

“Three years of data make it crystal clear that the New York State Education Department is giving inappropriate tests, which are, for most students, a prolonged and arduous exercise in multiple guess.

“No one should be more embarrassed by that sad state of affairs than Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Answer Sheet readers may remember her big promise after the first year of Common Core tests. Comparing herself to Babe Ruth, Tisch said, “He called that shot, and he said, ‘I’m going to hit it there…A year from now, God willing, if we’re all sitting here, I promise you test scores are going to go up.”

“That promise was made after the first year of testing. In Year 2, there were flat ELA scores and a tiny tick up in math. Year 3 is once again a bust.”

Burris writes:

“The second clue came July 20 when Tisch said, ““Personally, I would say that if I was the mother of a student with a certain type of disability, I would think twice before I allowed my child to sit through an exam that was incomprehensible to them,”

“The “incomprehensible” test to which she refers is her own State Education Department’s Grade 3-8 Common Core tests. She does not explain what exactly that “certain type of disability” is. Apparently nearly 70 percent of all New York students have it.”

Chancellor Tisch believes in the theory that raising the bar higher and higher causes children to try harder. But if they fail year after year to meet goals beyond their reach, will they keep trying?

A few years ago, before the first of the Common Core tests, Tisch said it was time to throw kids into the deep end of the pool. Now we know–or should–that this is not a good way to teach swimming.


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