Archives for category: Common Core

Stephen Sawchuck did a good job reporting the heated debate about the Common Core standards at the AFT convention. The Chicago Teachers Union wanted to dump them. The head of the New York City United Federation of Teachers mocked the critics of the standards. One union official said that the critics represented the Tea Party. That’s pretty insulting to the Chicago Teachers Union and one-third of the AFT delegates, as well as people like Anthony Cody, Carol Burris, and me.

As far as I can tell, no one explained how states and districts will find the hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for hardware and software required for “the promise of Common Core.” Early estimates indicate that Pearson will have a contract of $1 billion to develop the PARCC tests. Who will pay Pearson? Who will be laid off? How large will class sizes go?

There were no Martians on the committee that wrote the Common Core standards, but there were also no classroom teachers, no early childhood teachers, no special education teachers. There were a number of testing experts.

Frankly the best and only hope for the future of these standards is that they are totally decoupled from testing. It is not likely to happen because doing so would deny the privatizers the data to prove that schools are failing and must be closed at once. That’s where the next big fight will occur.

Will they prepare all children for college and careers? Nobody knows. Will they help prepare our children for “global competition?” Not likely if the global competition works for $2 an hour for 18 hours a day under unsafe conditions.

The Common Core standards will never be national standards. They were developed in haste, paid for by one man (the guy is Seattle who thinks he knows everything), sold to the public via a slick PR campaign. They were never tried out. The tests connected to them are designed to fail most kids. Arne Duncan and Bill Gates thought they could pull a fast one and bypass democracy. Sorry, boys, you are wrong. Public education belongs to the public. Children belong to their parents. Neither public education nor children are for sale.

Mercedes Schneider was unimpressed by the AFT resolutions.

Plaintively, she writes: “It sure would be nice if a national union would aggressively confront the pro-privatization education agenda emanating from the Oval Office.” Neither NEA nor AFT would take on that Herculean task.

She expects that nothing will happen to Duncan, no matter how many absurd things he says or does. He is coated with Teflon.

She sees no point in clinging to the “promise” of the CCSS standards, which are dying the death of a thousand cuts.

She sees much ado about nothing. Duncan stays. The CCSS remains, no matter how troubled and lifeless it may be.

In a day of debates, the American Federation of Teachers voted to continue its support for the controversial Common Core standards while complaining about its faulty implementation. The delegates also voted for a resolution to put Secretary Duncan on a remediation plan that would be monitored by President Obama (ha-ha, when he is not busy with foreign crises). Politico.com wrote: “The “improvement plan” would include the requirement that Duncan enact the funding and equity recommendations of the Equity Commission’s “Each and Every Child” report; change the No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top “test-and-punish” accountability system to a “support-and-improve” model; and “promote rather than question” teachers and school staff.”

After the NEA passed a resolution calling on Duncan to resign, the AFT rebuke seemed like mockery of Duncan, a bureaucrat who demands accountability of everyone but is never held accountable for his own missteps. Of course, his missteps are not mistakes but reflect his contempt for teachers and public schools. In his world-view, everyone lies about how terrible schools are except him.

This is the press release in which AFT explained its continued support for the Common Core, which will drain states and districts of billions of dollars for the testing industry while teacher layoffs increase:

“LOS ANGELES— AFT members today passed a resolution at the union’s national convention reaffirming the AFT’s support for the promise and potential of the Common Core State Standards as a way to ensure all children have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the 21st century while sharply criticizing the standards’ botched implementation. The AFT’s resolution lays out key actions needed to restore confidence in the standards and provide educators, parents and students with the tools and supports they need to make the standards work in the classroom.

The resolution, “Role of Standards in Public Education,” resolution passed following an intense, extended debate on the convention floor. Educators expressed their frustrations and anger with how the standards were developed and rolled out, without sufficient input from those closest to the classroom and without the tools and resources educators need to make the transition to the new rigorous standards, even as states and districts rushed to test and hold teachers and students accountable. AFT members also voiced their distrust of efforts by those seeking to make a profit off the new standards. No matter where members stood on the issue, there was clear anger over the deprofessionalization of teachers throughout the implementation process. At the same time, however, many educators shared how they’ve witnessed, when done right, how these standards more from rote memorization to provide children with the deeper learning the standards were designed to produce and that the standards remain the best way to level the playing field for all children. Proponents of the resolution made clear that it resolution offers solutions to fix the poor implementation and includes a call for greater teacher voice.

“We heard a lot of passion today—all in support of student needs and teacher professionalism,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “And where our members ended up is that we will continue to support the promise and potential of these standards as an essential to tool to provide each and every child an equitable and excellent education while calling on the powers that be in districts and, states and at the national level to work with educators and parents to fix this botched implementation and restore confidence in the standards. And no matter which side of the debate our members were on, there’s one thing everyone agreed on—that we need to delink these standards from the tests.”

The resolution lays out key action steps the AFT is taking to make the standards work for kids and educators, including:

• Rejecting low-level standardized testing in favor of assessments aligned with rich curricula that encourage the kind of higher-order thinking and performance skills students need;

• Supporting efforts by affiliates to hold policymakers and administrators accountable for proper implementation;

• Advocating that each state create an independent board composed made up of a majority representation of teachers and education professionals to monitor the implementation of the standards;

• Fighting to ensure that educators are involved in a cohesive plan for engaging stakeholders, and, that they have a significant role in the implementation and evaluation of the standards in their schools, and that there are adequate funds provided by all levels of government to ensure successful implementation of the standards; and

• Reaffirming the call the AFT made more than a year ago for a moratorium on the high-stakes consequences of Common Core-aligned assessments for students, teachers and schools until all of the essential elements of a standards-based system are in place.
“What educators and parents are saying is,: ‘Yes, we want our children to have the knowledge and skills they need for life, college, career and citizenship.’ But to make that a reality, our voices need to be involved in a meaningful way, and we actually have to focus on the learning, and not the obsession with testing,” said Weingarten.

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Here are my thoughts;

If the standards are decoupled from the tests, as the AFT hopes, the standards will be a very costly and very toothless tiger. With or without the tests, they will drain every district of desperately needed resources.

One very promising idea to emerge from the conference was Randi Weingarten’s proposal to give grants to groups of teachers to revise the standards. This makes sense, especially in light of the fact that the writing committee for the Common Core standards did not include a single active classroom teacher nor anyone who had experience teaching early childhood edition nor anyone who had taught children with disabilities.

To those who say that the standards can’t be revised because they are copyrighted, I say nonsense. Let’s see if the National Governors Association or Achieve or the Council of Chief State School Officers has the gall to sue the AFT or its surrogates for trying to fix the CCSS. Bring it on.

No matter how many resolutions are passed at this or any other convention, the Common Core standards are going nowhere. State after state is dropping them or the federal tests or both. The standards ignore the root causes of low academic achievement: poverty and segregation. There is no proof that they will fulfill their lofty goals. They will end up one day as a case study in college courses of the abuse of power: how one man tried to buy American education and bypass democratic procedures. Even in states with high standards, like Massachusetts and California, there are large achievement gaps. Even in the same classrooms with the same teacher, there are variations in test scores.

We live in an age of magical thinking, of unrealistic expectations and of lies dressed up as goals and promises. For more than a dozen years, politicians have insisted that testing and accountability would leave no child behind. Then in 2009, the politicians said that testing and accountability would create a “race to the top.” Now we are told that common standards and common tests will bring about equity and excellence. What fools these mortals be. The politicians never run out of excuses or slogans. At some point, the public will tire of their know-nothing meddling. Let us hope that day will come soon.

There is something about corporate education reform that encourages chutzpah. Chutzpah is a Yiddish word for arrogance. Reformers think they are on the front lines of the civil rights movement. They think that making tests harder helps kids who are already struggling. They think that if the failure rate for black and Hispanic kids goes higher, these kids are getting the help they need. Please don’t ask me to explain the logic behind their train of thought. I suppose their inflated opinion of themselves leads the corporate reformers to reach absurd conclusions.

Take New York State Commissioner John King. His teaching experience is limited to three years in a no-excuses charter school where poor kids were expelled for minor infractions. Having been chosen to lead the Empire State, where only 3% of children are in charters, he has decided that the Common Core standards are his heroic mission. He has compared himself to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And just a few days ago, he said that the advocates for the Common Core were like the all-black World War II unit called the Tuskegee Airmen.

Please don’t ask me to explain the logic. There is none. In the first administration of Common Core testing, 95% of children with disabilities failed. More than 80% of African-American and Hispanic children failed. These tests have passing marks designed to fail most kids, and the burden falls most heavily on minority children. Instead of help and reduced class sizes, they get more tests. What part of this scenario would be supported by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr? What part is similar to the bravery of the Tuskegee Airmen?

It makes no sense. But then, Common Core makes no sense. It was underwritten by one man, Bill Gates. It was imposed by making it a condition of Race to the Top. The tests were federally funded (an act of dubious legality). It eviscerates state and local control of education. It sets poor kids, black kids, Hispanic kids, and those with disabilities on a road to failure. What part of this terrible scenario resonates with the civil rights movement?

The only thing Dr. John King has in common with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is his last name. The current Dr. King should have the decency to refrain from comparing himself to a man who distinguished himself by his humility, his compassion, his decency, his astonishing intellect, and his genuine concern for those who had the least. He sought equity. He fought for unions, good jobs, good housing, fair wages. In my reading of Dr. King’s work, I never once encountered a passage in which he said that what black children need most is testing.

Peter Goodman regularly blogs about education in New York. He is close to the UFT leadership in New York City and thus has good sources. Here is his update from inside the AFT convention.

Reading this, I conclude that the AFT will not call for Arne Duncan’s resignation. This is the first time in my memory that the AFT was less militant than its larger brethren and sisters in the NEA.

It appears that there will be a floor debate about the Common Core. The Chicago Teachers Union is opposed to it. If my reading of the tea leaves is right, the New York City delegation is prepared to shoot that resolution down too. CTU is the outlier in this convention, battle-scarred and ready to fight. The NYC delegation has the numbers to vote them down.

Readers of this blog know my views. Arne Duncan is the most anti- teacher, anti-union Secretary of Education in the history of the Department. He was the guy who said that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans, having swept away public schools and teachers’ unions (forget the death toll). He was the one who cheered the firing of the entire staff of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island. He was thrilled when the Los Angeles Times posted teachers’ (inaccurate) VAM ratings. He required states to adopt VAM ratings, which Randi wisely called “a sham” in her speech to the convention. He spoke admiringly of the Vergara decision. He should not be Secretary of Education. He should be Ambassador to some very small nation, where he can’t do much damage. Or teach basketball.

As for Common Core, I agree with CTU. Teachers don’t need scripts. They don’t need “standards” written by a committee that included not a single classroom teacher. They need class sizes they can manage. Their schools need equitable funding. They need tenure to protect them from political reprisals. They need due process and speedy resolution of complaints. They need respect. Common Core does nothing to alleviate the poverty in which nearly one-quarter of our children live. It does nothing to restore the art teachers, librarians, nurses and counselors who have been laid off. It does nothing to address the root causes of poor academic performance: poverty and segregation. It will die no matter what the AFT does because, frankly, it doesn’t matter.

This teacher laments the explosion of testing in school, which has reduced or eliminated time for play, recess, and activities. This is the brave new world of Common Core and PARCC:

H/she writes:

“The Common Core and PARCC will ruin education as we know it..And, of course, it is all part of the overall plan. My school starts PARCC this next school year. My 2.5 hour paper and pencil test (in only one subject).. will be replaced by three (3) two hour “tasks” in February. (My students will have to sit down at a computer THREE times at 2 hours each in February.) I’m not done yet….In May my students have to sit down at the computer for two (2) hour tests on the computer. My 2.5 hour paper and pencil test is now replaced by 10 hours of testing for only one subject. My students will also do the same amount of testing in three (3) other subjects. My students now will be completing 40 hours of testing on a computer in a given year. Oh, and my students are only 11 and 12 years old. They yearn to go outside and play kickball and basketball at recess. But, they have no recess. They only have 10 extra minutes after they finish lunch to play outside.

“I was blessed to teach in the what I now know were the “good ole days” of yesteryear. I dearly miss and mourn for those years. I was able to teach through fun and meaningful learning activities! We had TIME! (: As I go through my files over my almost 30 year career in the same subject and grade level, I don’t begin to get the material taught and covered as what I used to. I have thick files of learning activities that I never get to anymore. The curriculum director at our school has already said that he has no clue how he will get all that testing done for all of our kids. He said there is a 4 week window in February and April/May, so students will be gone at different times in my classroom. It will be a nightmare.

“It’s a shame that Pearson has to take away the childhood of our children, so they can earn their millions. I teach children. They are children. They love to run, play, draw, make faces, jump up and down, play tag, tease each other, hide, run around, make jokes, and enjoy being a child. With all of these hours of testing, I will not have time to teach anymore. The test preparation for a 2.5 hour test was bad enough, but this is totally ridiculous. Then, take the time to read over the Common Core and you will laugh to yourself. In Language Arts, they will be teaching adverbs to 3rd graders, with not much more emphasis on it after that. I think they know the Common Core will be the bullet that finally kills all public education in the U.S. The kids will not score well on this silly curriculum, which will be recorded on the teacher’s evaluation . . .and teachers will be let go. Yes, it’s all a part of the sad overall plan. It’s evident that the Common Core was created by people who knew very little about the developmental stages of our children. No one ever mentions Piaget anymore. It’s all so sad. But, Sasha and Alieah don’t have to follow these communist socialist education rules. Do they?”

Stephanie Simon of politico.com reports that Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has invited members to debate the Common Core standards at the organization’s convention in Los Angeles.

Until now, Weingarten and the AFT have strongly defended the standards. But she has been reconsidering their value over the past 15 months. In April 2013, she said in a major speech in Néw York City that the standards should be separated from high-stakes testing because there had been inadequate preparation for them—little or no professional development, materials, or other necessary tools. In Néw York state, implementation of Common Core testing was hurried and slipshod. The passing marks were set so high that 70% of students failed–failure by design.

The Common Core standards have recently been in free fall. The Gates Foundation–which paid over $2 billion to write and promote the Common Core–has called for a moratorium on using the results for punishing teachers. The Chicago Teachers Union flatly rejected the Common Core standards. State after state have dropped the standards or the tests or both.

Now Weingarten is inviting members to weigh in.

Simon writes:

“The American Federation of Teachers will open its annual convention Friday morning with a startling announcement: After years of strongly backing the Common Core, the union now plans to give its members grants to critique the academic standards — or to write replacement standards from scratch.
It’s a sign that teachers are frustrated and fed up — and they’re making their anger heard, loud and clear.

“The AFT will also consider a resolution — drafted by its executive council — asserting that the promise of the Common Core has been corrupted by political manipulation, administrative bungling, corporate profiteering and an invalid scoring system designed to ensure huge numbers of kids fail the new math and language arts exams that will be rolled out next spring. An even more pointed resolution flat out opposing the standards will also likely come up for a vote.”

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/07/american-federation-of-teachers-common-core-108793.html#ixzz37B0IG6ju

The Gates Foundation called for a two-year suspension of the high stakes evaluation of teachers–ratings and rankings tied to student scores—but not a moratorium on the testing. A reader writes:

“If there is a moratorium on the evaluations connected to the tests, then there is no point in continuing the tests either since the sole purpose of the tests was to attempt to measure growth for the purposes of the evaluations. The real reason the evaluations are being suspended is that there simply cannot be any remotely accurate growth measures to base them on while the CC$$ is being implemented. This moratorium is like saying we will suspend the use of nails but are still required to swing the hammers and hit the wood. And, once the CC$$ is being ramped up and many more teachers see it’s problems manifesting themselves, such as it being developmentally inappropriate for K-3, will the moratorium be extended while that and any other problems are being solved? How will they be solved, with the input of teachers as should have been the case from the beginning? Or not? Hard to say since it is a copy righted product.”

Have you ever wondered about the amazingly effective campaign to sell the Common Core standards to the media, the business community, and the public? How did it happen that advocates for the standards used the same language, the same talking points, the same claims, no matter where they were located? The talking points sounded poll-tested because they were. The language was the same because it came from the same source. The campaign to have “rigorous,” “high standards” that would make ALL students “college and career-ready” and “globally competitive” was well planned and coordinated. There was no evidence for these claims but repeated often enough in editorials and news stories and in ads by major corporations, they took on the ring of truth. Even the new stories that reported on controversies between advocates and opponents of the Common Core, used the rhetoric of the advocates to describe the standards.

This was no accident.

Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post reported that the Hunt Institute in North Carolina received more than $5 million from the Gates Foundation to organize support for the brand-new, unknown, untested Common Core standards. Organizing support meant creating the message as well as mobilizing messengers, many of whom were also funded by the Gates Foundation.

In Layton’s blockbuster article about how the Gates Foundation underwrote the rapid adoption of “national standards” by spreading millions of dollars strategically, this remarkable story was included:

“The foundation, for instance, gave more than $5 million to the University of North Carolina-affiliated Hunt Institute, led by the state’s former four-term Democratic governor, Jim Hunt, to advocate for the Common Core in statehouses around the country.

“The grant was the institute’s largest source of income in 2009, more than 10 times the size of its next largest donation. With the Gates money, the Hunt Institute coordinated more than a dozen organizations — many of them also Gates grantees — including the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, National Council of La Raza, the Council of Chief State School Officers, National Governors Association, Achieve and the two national teachers unions.

“The Hunt Institute held weekly conference calls between the players that were directed by Stefanie Sanford, who was in charge of policy and advocacy at the Gates Foundation. They talked about which states needed shoring up, the best person to respond to questions or criticisms and who needed to travel to which state capital to testify, according to those familiar with the conversations.

“The Hunt Institute spent $437,000 to hire GMMB, a strategic communications firm owned by Jim Margolis, a top Democratic strategist and veteran of both of Obama’s presidential campaigns. GMMB conducted polling around standards, developed fact sheets, identified language that would be effective in winning support and prepared talking points, among other efforts.

“The groups organized by Hunt developed a “messaging tool kit” that included sample letters to the editor, op-ed pieces that could be tailored to individuals depending on whether they were teachers, parents, business executives or civil rights leaders.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the advocates for the Common Core standards have the same rhetoric, the same claims, no matter where they are, because the campaign was well organized and well messaged.

What the campaign did not take into account was the possibility of pushback, the possibility that the very lack of public debate and discussion would sow suspicion and controversy. What the advocates forgot is that the democratic way of making change may be slow and may require compromise, but it builds consensus. The Common Core standards, thanks to Gates’ largesse, skipped the democratic process, imposed new standards on almost every state, bypassing the democratic process, and is now paying the price of autocratic action in a democratic society.

Common Core standards are usually described in the mainstream media in idealistic terms, using the positive and affirmative messages to sell the idea to the public. Doesn’t everyone want “high standards?” Doesn’t everyone want every single student to be “college and career ready?” Doesn’t everyone want students to be “globally competitive”? Of course. These claims, though untested and unproven, sound poll-tested.

Can standards be both “common” and “high”? If they are truly high and rigorous, won’t a sizable proportion of students fail? Can a single set of standards make everyone college and career ready? How do we know? What does it mean to be “globally competitive” with nations where educated people are paid a fraction of our own minimum wage?

Another way to view the Common Core standards is to see them as part of an integrated system of standards, tests, and teacher ratings that generate data. This data can be used to award bonuses, fire teachers, close schools, and identify students for remediation or college admission. The underlying assumption behind CCSS is that all children, if exposed to common standards, will learn at the same pace.

This post challenges the data-driven approach to school reform. “Data,” it says, “is the fool’s gold of the Common Core.”

He writes:

“Teachers should strive to meet the individual needs of their students, not the “needs” of standards or tests. There should be high academic expectations for all students, but to expect everyone, regardless of ability/disability, to meet those standards simultaneously and in the same way is foolish and inherently unfair.

“Standardized tests are toxic for the Common Core and they are the primary reason for the botched implementation efforts around the country. These tests do not generate comprehensive or reliable data regarding constructivist learning that is called for in the Learning Standards….

“The Common Core testing regime is more about satisfying data-driven enthusiasts’ ‘thirst” for more data, than it is about cultivating students’ thirst for knowledge.

“We are witnessing an unprecedented data collection “gold rush”, while the validity and reliability of this “fool’s gold” is of little concern to those who are mining it.

“The “college and career readiness” mandate or mission of the Common Core is misguided and not in the best interest of all our students. There are many “paths” to trade and vocational careers, and they don’t all go through college.

“Since the Common Core Standards were designed to serve and support the college and career readiness mandate, they are seriously flawed and deficient.

“A more inclusive and appropriate mandate such as readiness for “adulthood and employment” would better serve the academic, social, and emotional needs of all our students. Rather than simply “correcting” the inadequate Common Core standards, they should be reconstructed and redesigned from the ground up.”

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