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Why You Can't Out-Fox the Common Core Curriculum

by Stephanie Block

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  • Description:
    This article by Stephanie Block addresses three questions about Common Core Standards: Are Common Core Standards inherently problematic?; Are School systems free to use any curricula they want to support Common Core Standards?; and What success has there been for academic student achievement under Common Core standards?
  • Larger Work:
    Spero News
  • Publisher & Date:
    Spero News, December 12, 2013

“Look,” the bright, young superintendent of schools insists, “I understand that are all sorts of horror stories floating around out there about terrible Common Core curriculum but that isn’t the curriculum we’re going to use.” She began her job this past August and has enormous enthusiasm for what can be done to improve the academic achievement of her district.

She’s doesn’t want to listen to any “conspiracy theories” about who is driving this terrible program but is willing to consider source documents, if there are any, that any U.S. school system accepting money under Common Core provisions 1) must teach to standards that are inherently problematic and/or 2) must use approved - and problematic – curriculum.

Are Common Core Standards inherently problematic?

One can read the Common Core Standards for oneself (www.corestandards.org/the-standards).

Inherent problem #1 with these standards is that they are designed as national standards – voluntarily instituted, state by state, but heavily “encouraged” by federal grants.[i]

It isn’t that there have never been education standards. Almost universally, educators have tried to help students accomplish high levels of reading, writing, and computational skills. On that foundation, however, classicists argue for teaching grammar, logic, and rhetoric, religious educators argue for God-centered curricula, and pragmatists want modern languages and more vocational training…and within these “schools” of educational thought, and others, there are many different approaches to teaching.

A movement for one, single set of formalized, national (and global) standards – above and beyond basic reading, writing, and math – do not simply introduce one more school of thought about what constitutes a “good education” or one more approach to teaching but seeks to impose its educational theories on everyone, everywhere. States that adopt Common Core standards may not change them in any way and may only add an additional 15% of other material.[ii]

Therefore, the more widely these standards are accepted, the more educational diversity is flattened into a single, grim, ideological monoculture.

Inherent problem #2 is that these are flawed standards. That fact probably wouldn’t cause much outcry if they were introduced only among small populations where problems could be easily addressed. As a national program, however, its deficiencies take on an entirely different proportion.

The deficiencies have been decried by numerous educators. Let look at a few of them.

Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the 21st-century chair in teacher quality at the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform, who served on the National Validation Committee for the Common Core State Systemic Initiative (2009-2010), on the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (2006-2008), speaks against the Standards. She argues that:

1. Common Core’s ELA [English Language Arts] standards are NOT rigorous. They were designed to allow mid-level grade 11 students to enroll in credit-bearing courses in a non-selective college.

2. Common Core’s standards are NOT internationally benchmarked and will not make any of our students competitive.

3. There is NO research to support Common Core’s stress on writing instead of reading.

4. There is NO research to support Common Core’s stress on informational reading instead of literary study in the English class.

5. There is no research to support the value of “cold” reading of historical documents, a bizarre pedagogy promoted by the chief architect of Common Core’s ELA standards.

6. Available research suggests exactly the opposite of what Common Core’s document and standards promote in the ELA classroom.[iii]

Elsewhere, she writes: “Unless high school students can prepare for a calculus course in grade 12 or as college freshmen, they are unlikely to become science, engineering, or mathematics majors. Common Core doesn’t let them."[iv]

The business about Common Core’s stress on “informational reading” has resulted in places such as Massachusetts, for example, eliminating an estimated 60 percent of the classic literature, poetry, and drama previously required to emphasize reading speeches and articles.[v]

James Milgram, professor emeritus of mathematics at Stanford University, who was also on the validation committee for the Common Core mathematics standards, like Stotsky, speaks against them: “The Common Core standards claim to be ‘benchmarked against international standards’ but this phrase is meaningless. They are actually two or more years behind international expectations by eighth grade, and only fall further behind as they talk about grades 8–12. Indeed, they don’t even fully cover the material in a solid geometry course, or in the second year algebra course…..as someone who was at the middle of overseeing the writing process – my main duty on the CCSSO Validation Committee — it became clear that the professional math community input to CCSSI was often ignored…. A particularly egregious example of this occurred in the sixth and seventh grade standards and commentary on ratios, rates, proportion and percents, where there are a number of serious errors and questionable examples. But the same issues are also present in the development of the basic algorithms for whole number arithmetic – the most important topic in grades 1-5. It was argued by some people on the Validation Committee that we should ignore such errors and misunderstandings as they will be cleared up in later versions, but I didn’t buy into this argument, and currently there is no movement at all towards any revisions.” [vi]

Dr. Duke Pesta, an English professor at the University of Wisconsin, sees the Standards as having social engineering goals. As a condition for accepting federal money for implementation of the Common Core standards, states must implement a State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS) to track its students.[vii]

Not all the information to be gathered by these state systems is academic. The National Education Data Model proposed by the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) project includes not only parents’ names, address, social security numbers, date of birth, place of birth, mother’s maiden name, and so forth, but the student’s religious affiliation, physical and mental health history, family income, personal associations (cohorts), non-school activities and accomplishments, community service, records of delinquency and truancy and so much else. [viii]

To increase the “usefulness” of California’s student database system that is part of its Common Core Standards implementation, public policy analysts are recommending that the state “develop ways to link preschool and K–12 data to higher education and workforce information….” and “[e]xpand data access to educators, administrators, policymakers, and researchers,” which would require a change in state.[ix]

These databank expansions are still in the formative stage but, given the momentum behind them, will soon pass into reality unless there is strong, public resistance.

Recently, an open letter signed by about 130 Catholic professors representing a broad spectrum of disciplines, expressed concern that Common Core standards have been “approved too hastily and with inadequate consideration of how it would change the character and curriculum of our nation’s Catholic schools. We believe that implementing Common Core would be a grave disservice to Catholic education in America.” [x]

As evidence for this opinion, they refer the U.S. Catholic bishops to a conference about Common Core, held at the University of Notre Dame on September 9, 2013.[xi]

Are School systems free to use any curricula they want to support Common Core Standards?

Standards drive the curricula.

It’s rather obvious: if the standards demand that students must have rhetorical skills (to give an example), curriculum produced to support these standards will be oriented toward the development of rhetorical skills.

Conversely, subjects and skills ignored by the standards are less likely to be contained within the curricula. There are only so many hours in a day.

Standards also drive assessments. The student is tested to ascertain that he has met the standards. If a school district were, in contradiction of the Common Core standards, to teach classical literature beyond the allotted 15% supplementary portion permitted, its students will not meet the standards for informational reading.

Heartland Institute’s Education Research Fellow Joy Pullmann explains that when governors signed on to the Common Core initiative, it was defined “as standards plus assessments. So those assessments, those tests, are the enforcement mechanism to make sure that Common Core gets into the minds and into the hands of teachers and children in the classrooms.”[xii]

So the school superintendent who believes each district has autonomy to choose its own curricula is deceived. A district receiving money to implement Common Core standards must use curricula to support those standards – and will be assessed to ascertain that it has done so.

Is there any data to suggest Common Core will NOT produce academic proficiency?

As a final question, what success has there been for academic student achievement under Common Core standards?

Although Common Core, in its present iteration, is still largely experimental, there have been fifteen pilot programs around the country whose results are cause for alarm. “Common Core tests in New York caused a collapse in test scores…Only 31 percent “passed” the Common Core tests. The failure rates were dramatic among the neediest students. Only 3.2 percent of English language learned were able to pass the new tests, along with only 5 percent of students with disabilities, and 17 percent of black students. Faced with tests that are so far beyond their reach, many of these students may give up instead of trying harder.”[xiii]

This has been a common experience among the pilot districts. In fact, one set of talking points, attempting to sell Common Core to parents, begins with this: “The states that have started to implement Common Core Assessments, such as New York, Minnesota, and Kentucky, have experienced dramatic drops in proficiency rates.”[xiv] The author offers a number of reasons why this is the case but that does little to assuage concerns that the facts don’t lie: implementing Common Core requires an act of faith in future achievements without evidence that it can produce these results and much evidence that it won’t.

Spero columnist Stephanie Block is the author of the four-volume study on community organizing that inspired Barack Obama. 'Change Agents: Alinskyian Organizing among religious bodies ' is available at Amazon.

Notes

[i] “Race to the Top” federal funding “incentivized” several different educational reforms, including the adoption of the Common Core.

[ii] Kendall, J. S., Ryan, S., Alpert, A., Richardson, A., & Schwols, A., “State adoption of the Common Core State Standards: The 15 percent rule,” Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, March 2012.

[iii] Sandra Stotsky, University of Arkansas emeriti, “Fatal Flaws in Common Core’s English Language Arts

Standards: Testimony for the Ohio House Education Committee,” Columbus, Ohio , November 20, 2013.

[iv] Sandra Stotsky, “Support for Common Core’s Fuzzy Math Doesn’t Add Up,” Pioneer Institute , Public Policy research, 12-13.

[v] Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, pp 13-14 (K-5 grades); pp 39-40 (6-12 grades)

[vi] “James Milgram Testimony to the Indiana Senate Education Committee,” 1-23-12.

[vii] The United States Department of Education has a good deal of information about this. See, for example, “Application for Funding for Phase II of the Education Fund under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Program

CFDA Number: 84.394,” DOE, 5-31-10: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/statestabilization/stateapps/phase-ii/id-phase-2-approved.pdf . This describes Idaho’s SLDS. A well-documented article about the data-mining of students is “Six Things the US Dept of Education did to Deprive Your Child of Privacy,” This can be read at: http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/tag/national-data-collection-model

[viii] National Education Data Model: http://nces.ed.gov/forum/datamodel/eiebrowser/techview.aspx?instance=studentElementarySecondary

[ix] Paul Warren and Heather Hough, “Increasing the Usefulness of California’s Education Data,” Public Policy Institute of California, August 2013.

[x] The full text of this letter as well as a complete list of its signatories can be read at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/11/02/catholic-scholars-blast-common-core-in-letter-to-u-s-bishops/

[xi] A copy of the video can be obtained by contacting Gerard V. Bradley, Professor of Law

c/o University of Notre Dame, The Law School, 3156 Eck Hall of Law, PO Box 780, Notre Dame, IN 46556.

[xii] Alex Newman, “Expert Explores Link Between Federal Data Mining and Common Core,” The New American,” 10-13. Joy Pullmann is Education Research Fellow for the Heartland Institute.

[xiii] Dr. Diane Ravitch, historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University, “The Biggest Fallacy of the Common Core Standards: No Evidence,” Diane Ravitch blog post, 8-23-13.

[xiv] By Kristen Swanson, “5 Tips for Explaining Common Core to Parents,” THE Journal (resource for administrative, technical, and academic technology leaders in K-12 education), 10-1-13: http://thejournal.com/articles/2013/10/01/how-to-explain-common-core-to-parents.aspx#MmXZkXj0QlWtkXRe.99

© Spero News

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