Archives for category: Common Core

Gene V. Glass here quotes a young woman, Susan Tran, who completed her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and is now finishing graduate studies to be certified as an elementary school teacher. He wonders how new teachers are able to resolve the contradictions between what the demands of the state and their professional ethics.

Glass writes:

Susan is mature and intelligent; she recognized early in her career that becoming a teacher in the Age of Reformation is forcing idealistic young teachers to resolve contradictions — contradictions between 1) messages from reformers who believe that teaching is a low level trade that has no right to organize on its own behalf and for which six weeks of indoctrination are adequate training, and 2) messages from university-based teacher trainers who believe that good teaching is rooted in children’s unique interests and capabilities and treats them as individuals, not as replicates of a governmentally defined template.

Susan Tran writes (quoted in part):

Throughout my education to be a teacher, one of the biggest questions that has arisen for me is “How do I meet the expectations and standards of the state and district, while also meeting the true needs of my students?” One of my biggest fears coming into the teaching profession is that we have started to confuse the acquisition of knowledge with the process of learning. In an effort to meet numeric goals and score high on standardized tests, we have become obsessed with how to get our students to perform in a way that satisfies a checklist, or a numerical score, or a national standard. I’m fearful that we have forgotten about instilling passion, excitement, and curiosity in our students. It is becoming less important to us to create better people, who care about each other and the world around them and think of ways to deal with the problems that they see in front of them. We discuss world problems only in so far as they fit into our standardized curriculum, but we don’t address the difficult yet inevitable issues that our students will eventually find themselves confronted with in the very near future.

I do understand the need for progression in a student’s knowledge. I see why it’s important that our students are exposed to and encouraged to master a large variety of topics. However, I do not understand why we have begun to think that the best way to do this is to have them fill in a bubble sheet, or sit in front of a computer for an hour and take the exact same test. We’ve become immersed in this notion that there is a “standard,” which then implies that there is a norm. There’s a ‘normal’ level that a student must attain at a certain time, and that the best way to get them there is to maintain the same timeline across the board.

In spite of the fact that our methods classes certainly cover the topics of differentiation, and “meeting the needs of each student,” we see classrooms all around us that teach to the same set-in-stone standards, which translates into more information and less context, relevance, and appeal to students’ interests. This may all sound like a long rant criticizing the methods of current teaching, and that is absolutely not the point that I am trying to make. I think that teaching and teachers should be one of the most highly valued professions. I think that many schools do their very best to create well-rounded students who will enter the world as functional citizens who can contribute to society. I am simply trying to express the fact that we are in danger of getting lost along the way. We have focused too much on the numerical scores that we are producing rather than the wonderful, creative, and inspired individuals who we are helping to shape.

I know that I am entering this profession at a time of great change. There are shifts occurring within the standards, the expectations, and the focus of what we are teaching. I constantly wonder how I am going to be the teacher I imagine myself to be during this time of reform. I wonder how I am possibly going to adhere to these state and national standards with each class that I have, since I know that every single student, and thus every classroom, is unique. The state declares that a class must be at a specific point in the curriculum at a specific time, but what if we need more time? What if we need less? How can I possibly fit in all of the projects and support and guidance that my students will need to fully understand why what they’re learning is important and applicable to the real world? How will I foster minds that love learning, instead of ones that dread testing and begin to believe that they are “too stupid” to learn because they’re not categorized in the “correct” numerical column? These are all things I’ve seen already, and it would be a lie to say that I’m not overwhelmed and terrified.

The Los Angeles Times reports that arts education has been shortchanged in the Los Angeles Unified School District in recent years, even as the district leadership was pouring millions of dollars into testing, test-prep, and technology. Former superintendent John Deasy was willing to allocate $1.3 Billion to buy iPads for Common Core testing, but at the same time, many schools across the district had no arts teachers.

Under the philosophy that test scores are the only measure that matters, that low scores lead to school closures, the district neglected the arts.

Normandie Avenue Elementary Principal Gustavo Ortiz worries that he can’t provide arts classes for most of the 900 students at his South Los Angeles school.

Not a single art or music class was offered until this year at Curtiss Middle School in Carson.

At Carlos Santana Arts Academy in North Hills, a campus abuzz with visual and performing arts, the principal has gone outside the school district for help. A former professional dancer, she has tapped industry connections and persuaded friends to teach ballroom dancing and other classes without pay until she could reimburse them.

Budget cuts and a narrow focus on subjects that are measured on standardized tests have contributed to a vast reduction of public school arts programs across the country. The deterioration has been particularly jarring in Los Angeles, the epicenter of the entertainment industry.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is discovering the extent of those cuts as it seeks to regain the vibrancy that once made it a leader in arts education. For the first time, L.A. Unified in September completed a detailed accounting of arts programs at its campuses that shows stark disparities in class offerings, the number of teachers and help provided by outside groups.

Arts programs at a vast majority of schools are inadequate, according to district data. Classrooms lack basic supplies. Some orchestra classes don’t have enough instruments. And thousands of elementary and middle school children are not getting any arts instruction.

A Los Angeles Times analysis that used L.A. Unified’s data to assign letter grades to arts programs shows that only 35 out of more than 700 schools would get an “A.” Those high-performing schools offered additional instruction through community donations, had more teachers and a greater variety of arts programs than most of the district’s campuses.

State policy is strong in support of arts education, but LAUSD doesn’t have the money to support the arts. Instead, the money has been spent on testing and implementing the Common Core.

Eight out of every 10 elementary schools does not meet state standards in the arts. The students least likely to engage in the arts are in the high-needs, low-income schools. In schools where there are parents with resources and contacts, they are able to supplement what the school does not provide.

Only four elementary schools — West Vernon, Magnolia, Bonita Street and 49th Street Elementary — had an arts teacher five days a week, according to district data.

“I feel real guilty because my kids go to schools where an art teacher and a music teacher are there five days a week,” said Ortiz, who pointed to Normandie’s limited budget. “I come here and I can’t give the kids what my own kids get. It just tears me up. It’s such an inequity.”

Arts education was not meant to be a luxury in California.

State law requires that schools provide music, art, theater and dance at every grade level. But few districts across the state live up to the requirement.

According to a story in the Wall Street Journal today, the state has allocated $4.8 Billion to the implementation of the Common Core standards and testing. This is a matter of priorities: What matters most: The joy of learning or standardized test scores?

It is ironic that billionaire Eli Broad, who just opened a new museum to house his own collection, wants to spend $490 million to open 260 new charter schools, but can’t find it in his heart to subsidize the arts in the schools of his adopted city.

Which will matter more to these children? The joy of performance, the discipline of practice, the love of engagement promoted by the arts or taking the Common Core tests that most will fail again and again?

You decide.

Peter Greene read the WSJ article that was just posted on the blog, and he saw it as confirmation of what he long ago predicted: the dream of national standards and tests is dead. Whatever you may call the Common Core, there will not be one big set of standards and one big standardized test for all (or even two big standardized tests for all).

In other words, the dream that Common Core would be the single educational vision of the entire country– that dream is dead. Dead dead deadity dead.

But Rothfeld’s piece lays out a not-always-recognized (at least, not by people who don’t actually work in education) culprit for the demise. He lists the usual suspects– politics, testing, federal overreach. But the article is most interested in another malefactor– finances.

“The total cost of implementing Common Core is difficult to determine because the country’s education spending is fragmented among thousands of districts. The Wall Street Journal looked at spending by states and large school districts and found that more than $7 billion had been spent or committed in connection with the new standards.”

That’s billion-with-a-B (and that rhymes with P and that stands for “Probably still underestimating the total cost”). WSJ looked at all sorts of records and figures that still doesn’t count things like the training budgets that have been turned into Common Core training budgets.

So it isn’t working, states are dropping out of the tests and the standards too.

And he allows Vicki Phillips to repeat her claims about the awesomeness of Kentucky without being challenged. In fact, Rothfeld doesn’t really challenge anything about the Core, and in a way, that’s what makes this article so brutal– whether the Core is any good or not is beside his point, which is that the whole business just isn’t working, and it’s costing a ton of money to boot.

Will historians in the future look back and review the short life and rapid death of the Common Core standards as the educational equivalent of the Edsel? New Coke? There must be a Museum of Failed Educational Experiments and Fads somewhere. If there is, a special place should be reserved for CCSS, because it not only was imposed by the federal government and the Gates Foundation without any deference to democratic process, but it wasted billions of dollars that might have been better spent on reducing class sizes, restoring arts education, promoting desegregation.

I confess that I once believed in the value of national standards. The experience of Common Core has proven that national standards are a waste of time and money, that we will best improve education by improving the conditions of teaching and learning and by reducing poverty and segregation. These are hard but achievable goals. They will change the lives of children across the nation for the better. National standards and tests might be imposed, but even if they were, they would do nothing to improve the lives of children or communities or our society.

Michael Rothfeld of the Wall Street Journal has written the best, most balanced account that I have seen of the perilous condition of the Common Core standards. The article fails to explain adequately why 46 states adopted the standards, as if everyone was waiting and hoping for the chance to endorse untested national standards; it happened because of the $4.35 billion offered as a state competition, but only to states that agreed to do what the Obama administration wanted them to do, which included embracing the standards.

Rothfeld documents why states are dropping out. A few have repealed the Common Core standards. Half of the 46 states that signed on to one of the two federally-sponsored tests have backed out. It wasn’t simply the political controversy from right and left, from parents and educators. The cost turned out to be a deal-breaker.

Some states couldn’t afford the cost of retraining teachers. Some could not afford the technology. Some could not afford the new tests.

But the standards and tests arrived at a time when districts and states were strapped.

“The total cost of implementing Common Core is difficult to determine because the country’s education spending is fragmented among thousands of districts. The Wall Street Journal looked at spending by states and large school districts and found that more than $7 billion had been spent or committed in connection with the new standards. To come up with that number, the Journal examined contracts, email and other data provided under public-records requests by nearly 70 state education departments and school districts.

“The analysis didn’t account for what would have been spent anyway—even without Common Core—on testing, instructional materials, technology and training. Education officials say, however, that the new standards required more training and teaching materials than they would otherwise have needed, and that Common Core prompted them to speed up computer purchases and network upgrades.

“Much more money would be needed to implement Common Core consistently. Some teachers haven’t been trained, and some schools lack resources to buy materials. Some states haven’t met the goal of offering the test to all students online instead of on paper with No. 2 pencils….

“Common Core advocates hoped to make standards uniform—and to raise them across the board. Their goals were to afford students a comparable education no matter where they were, to cultivate critical thinking rather than memorization, to better prepare students for college and careers, and to enable educators to use uniform year-end tests to compare achievement. They wanted to give the tests on computers to allow more complex questions and to better analyze results.

“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which signed on to the effort in 2008, so believed in the cause that it has spent $263 million on advocacy, research, testing and implementing the standards, foundation records show. Vicki Phillips, a Gates education director, says its Common Core-related funding of new curriculum tools developed by teachers has led to student gains in places such as Kentucky.

“But after a burst of momentum and a significant investment of money and time, the movement for commonality is in disarray.

“Some states, including South Carolina, Indiana and Florida, have either amended or replaced Common Core standards. Others, including Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana, New Jersey and North Carolina, are in the process of changing or reviewing them. A total of 21 states have withdrawn from two groups formed to develop common tests, making it difficult to compare results.

In California, the costs of implementation are staggering.

California has allocated $4.8 billion to local school districts that they can use for Common Core implementation, but some have asked a state commission to order more funding for giving the Smarter Balanced test.

“For some urban districts struggling to pay for basic educational needs, preparing for the standards has been challenging.

“The Philadelphia school district unveiled a plan in 2010 to implement Common Core and won a $500,000 grant from the Gates Foundation. But a budget crisis the next year resulted in nearly 4,000 layoffs, including of some putting the plan in place.”

There is something bizarre about pouring billions into untested standards and tests at a time when districts like Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, and many others are struggling to maintain basic services in their schools and at a time when privatizers are targeting the very existence of public schools.

thanks to a reader who sent this link to an excellent article by Thomas Newkirk about the defects of the Common Core standards. Newkirk is a professor at the University of New Hampshire. His critique of the Common Core is a classic of reasoned criticism.

He understands that the standards were rolled out with a massive and subtle PR campaign. From the outset, the public was told that the standards were written by governors and experts. The public was told that the CC was a done deal. From day one, it was too late to object. The train had left the station, even though few people were aware that there was a train or that it was in the station. “Resistance is futile,” said the well-paid corps of CC cheerleaders. 

Newkirk writes: 

The Common Core initiative is a triumph of branding. The standards are portrayed as so consensual, so universally endorsed, so thoroughly researched and vetted, so self-evidently necessary to economic progress, so broadly representative of beliefs in the educational community—that they cease to be even debatable. They are held in common; they penetrate to the core of our educational aspirations, uniting even those who might usually disagree. We can be freed from noisy disagreement, and should get on with the work of reform.
This deft rollout may account for the absence of vigorous debate about the Common Core State Standards. If they represent a common core—a center—critics are by definition on the fringe or margins, whiners
and complainers obstructing progress. And given the fact that states have already adopted them—before they were completely formulated—what is the point in opposition? We should get on with the task of implementation, and, of course, alignment.”

Newkirk proceeds to diagnose the flaws of the CC, starting with the conflict of interest of the testing companies whose representatives helped to write the standards. He criticizes the developmental inappropriateness of the standards. 

He writes: 

“The CCSS has taken what I see as exceptional work, that of perhaps the top 5 percent of students, and made it the new norm.” The work once expected of fourth graders has shifted to the second grade.”

The standards give extraordinary power to standardized tests. Not surprising since test publishers played such a prominent role in writing them.  

The central question is this: Are standardized tests compatible with the more complex goals of twenty- first-century literacy? Or are they a regressive and reductive technology (ironically, many of the countries we are chasing in international comparisons do not share our belief in these tests)?”

Newkirk says: 

In a democracy it is never too late to speak back, to question, to criticize. As Martin Luther King Jr. argued in his“Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”it is never“untimely.” We simply cannot give up our democratic birthright and settle into compliance, not on something this important. We need to pierce the aura of inevitability that promoters have woven around the Common Core. We have to“follow the money”and ask who benefits financially from this initiative (especially important considering the financial scandals that occurred with Reading First several years ago). We need to ask about the role of unaccountable think tanks, testing agencies, and foundations in driving this initiative—have we  outsourced reform? We have to determine what value to place on local control and teacher decision making. We have to ask about the usefulness of the“data”that tests provide and whether these data may be crowding out the richer, contextual observations of teachers. And we have to look at the limitations of tests them- selves, what they can illuminate and what they must ignore. Can they test the complex, integrated, and creative skills that students will truly need—not only to be better workers but more fully realized human beings?

All in all, this is a very satisfying essay that raises important questions. 


Fred LeBrun of the Albany-Times Union is the only journalist (to my knowledge) who gets the picture of the reform disaster in New York (especially after the NY Times mothballed the great Michael Winerip). 

He writes today:

Cuomo may have seen light on the Common Core mess

Fred LeBrun

Published 6:09 pm, Saturday, October 31, 2015 

Things are at long last looking up for beleaguered public education in this state, probably.


I’d like to say the likelihood of significant corrections coming to Common Core, excessive and inappropriate standardized testing, and a hard-wired connection between those tests and teachers’ jobs, is because the politician most responsible for the total mess we’re in, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has finally seen the light. 


His infatuation with data driven education ”reform,” fueled by millionaire political donors, has been a disaster, for him and for our children. It’s his law that’s codified the problem. It’s his law that needs amending.


But I have a hunch closer to the truth would be the sobering recognition by the governor that what desperately needs fixing and quick are persistently in-the-toilet poll numbers over his intrusive handling of education issues.


Voters get it. 


Especially with Judgment Day a mere five months away, when the next round of standardized tests are mandated in English and math for grades 4 to 8. That’s also about the time we are apt to see a parental opt-out uprising across the state of a scary magnitude if big changes aren’t already made or in the works.


So Cuomo needs to distance himself from his own mess pronto and be part of the solution rather than the problem for a change. 


He’s emphatically called for a ”total reboot” of the Common Core system while avoiding any mention of prior ownership or responsibility, and his new task force looking into it is remarkably different attitudinally than the last one Cuomo convened that delivered the Common Core manure heap as the divine word, with no dissent allowed.


This time, dissent prevails — and it’s about time.


The first public meeting of the governor’s Common Core task force last week at the College of New Rochelle in Westchester County heard presentations and comments from anti-testing activists and a leader of the opt-out movement calling for the immediate decoupling of student test scores from teacher evaluations.


Speakers also included those successfully working with Common Core standards, but still calling for changes, such as greater flexibility for school districts, more local control of the process, a diversity of approaches, and the building of trust among parents, teachers and school districts. What’s heartening is that the governor’s office, of course, controlled the panel process because that’s the way they operate, and the fact that divergent views were incorporated is striking. 


Nothing like that happened with the first task force. But, there was no public comment period in New Rochelle. 


Whether we’re witnessing just more window dressing from the governor or a meaningful attempt at fixing what’s broken will be evident Friday when simultaneous public hearings by the task force will be held all over the state, with public comment.


Perhaps the most encouraging sign of all is the governor bringing Jere Hochman, superintendent of the Bedford school district, into the administration as his top education adviser. 

Hochman has been a consistent critic of the administration’s policies, reportedly even tacitly encouraging opt-out. The lower Hudson Valley, where he’s from, has been a center of parental outrage over Common Core.


Again, whether Hochman is window dressing, or one of the architects of change, will be evident soon enough. 


The State of the State, at which Cuomo is expected to announce his recommendations for changes to his education ”reform” act, is a scant two months away.


The announced departure of state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch is also great news. 


It’s not just that she backed the wrong horses pushing for hurry-up implementation of Common Core before anyone was ready, and a perfectly idiotic teacher evaluation system, but in truth she was a prominent nag in that stable, a major player. 


Before you feel too sorry for her, remember that Tisch was more than willing to sacrifice a generation of our schoolchildren and the state’s teacher corps to her cause. Deliver us from the ideologues. So good riddance. Her leaving is favorable news for the future of the Regents, and for the anticipated recommendations from their own task force to the governor and Legislature for changes to Common Core and teacher evaluations. 


Without Tisch in the mix, significant ties are cut to the failed policies of President Barack Obama, outgoing U.S. Education Commissioner Arne Duncan, and former state Education Department Commissioner John King. King, meanwhile, has been booted up to the very top of the ladder as Duncan’s interim successor when he leaves at the end of the year But the operative word that fits like a blanket over that whole lot of them when it comes to education policy is failure.


Meanwhile, still another encouraging tea leaf is the state Education Department giving, as promised, more than three-quarters of the school districts in the state waivers from the draconian teacher and principal evaluation formulas built into Cuomo’s education reform law. The stage is set for change. School districts are taking a pass in anticipation that better times are coming.


Now, the devil remains in the details, and forgive the state’s teachers, educators — and parents — for being skeptical. The last five years has been a horror show. At the very least sole reliance on the flawed ”growth score” from standardized tests in evaluating teacher performance has to change. It’s written in the law. Student performance, and an appropriate level of teacher accountability, can be measured in a number of different ways, and alternatives need to be part of the dialogue. Common Core standards need new flexibilities, and a total rethink down in the lower grades where serious issues of developmentally inappropriate testing, questions, and frequency are recurring criticisms.


It won’t be all that hard to torque the law back to reasonable. Now let’s see it happen before we break out the confetti. • 518-454-5453

Reader Jack Covey watched Eva Moskowitz’s ED talk at Governor Cuomo’s Camp Philos retreat:

“Holy moley!

“I just watched a one-woman Eva Moskowitz’ horror show… starring Eva herself. It’s her six-minute “Ed Talk” (get it? rhymes with “Ted Talk”) at the 2014 Corporate Reform jamboree called “Camp Philos”:

She glowingly tells the story of Sidney — an eighth grade Success Academy student — while projecting her picture on a screen. (Did she get permission?)

“During Common Core testing, Sidney was in a life-threatening battle with sickle-cell anemia. Even at the most severe moment of crisis in her health, Sidney insisted on taking the entirety of that year’s Common Core testing. The adults around argued otherwise, because she had just had her infected spleen taken out that very day, “had lost a lot of weight,” and “was extremely cold and weak.” In the light of this, the principal informed Sidney that she was entitled to claim a “medical excuse” and delay taking the test.

“However, Sidney wouldn’t hear of it, and took the test.

“I want to get a 4,” Sidney replied, with Eva recounting these words with emotion.

Eva’s point?

( 02:10 – 03:03 )

( 02:10 – 03:03 )

“EVA MOSKOWITZ: “Children are incredibly resilient, and I would urge you to think about NOT treating children AS children… I think that we have underestimated in this country the pleasure that comes from achieving mastery, and from performance. In my experience, kids actually want to perform. The want to master. Sidney was a perfect example, even though she was in a life-threatening situation.”

Sweet Lord! What is WRONG with this woman?

“Cue the Supremes:

“(By the way, Camp Philos 2015 is this weekend. My invite must have got lost in the mail.
I wonder what Eva’s 2015 “Ed Talk” will be this year, given the timing.)”

Jason France, aka Crazy Crawfish, ran for state board of education in Louisiana and lost. As he explains it here, the winning candidates pretended to share the views of the losers and had the advantage of millions of dollars from super-PACs. The losers were outspent by at least 100-1.

The winners’ campaign was promoted by the Louisiana Association and Industry.

Jason says there are still two candidates in the race who need our help so that the corporate people don’t gain total control.

He writes:

“To everyone who supported and believed in me and the other FlipBESE candidates you have my utmost respect, thanks, and gratitude. With your help we terrified our opponents into outspending us in the 100’s to one range, to fabricate and promulgate lies about us, and to actually adopt OUR platforms to defeat us.

“None of the LABI backed candidates ran on platforms claiming Common Core and PARCC were outstanding or that the state should confiscate and run all of our schools, because they knew those claims would cost them the elections. So while LABI and their allies claim education reform got a mandate in Saturday’s election, nothing could be further from the truth. You won’t see LABI’s remaining lapdogs doing anything to promote the agenda they claim they have a mandate for in their runoffs.

“That means it is crystal clear (even to our opponent’s highly paid political consultants) that it was FlipBESE that won Saturday, October 24th, NOT corporate ed reform and Common Core.

“Now that LABI has most of the BESE seats, and has deceived and bribed their way into unseating two of our greatest champions (Carolyn Hill and Lottie Bebee) it is more important than ever to rally around our remaining champions.

“We NEED Mary Harris and Kathy Edmonston to defend our teachers, parents, and students.

“For this reason I am proud to endorse and support Kathy Edmonston for the BESE district 6 runoff race against LABI owned Jason Engen.”

Be sure to see G.F. Brandenburg’s post on the pass rates for DC high schools on the Common Core test PARCC. 

Don’t miss his commentary after the graphs. He tells the secret to getting high scores. He says, as I have written many times, that the cut scores were set so that most students would fail. 

Carol Burris, experienced educator and executive director of the Network for Public Education, writes hereL about the 2015 NAEP scores.

She reminds us that Arne Duncan crowed about the scores in 2013. His Race to the Top states proved he was right. Now he says, it takes time to absorb the changes I have imposed on the nation’s schools. Wait until 2025 to judge.

As usual, a brilliant piece.


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