Monday, February 24, 2014

Everything You Need To Know About Common Core

I've been writing a lot lately about the scourge of high stakes standardized testing in our public schools, and specifically about these tests being used in kindergarten. Standardized testing has been with us for far too long, but the most recent source of these tests has been those attached to the Obama administration's Race To The Top Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I get asked questions about CCSS, but the truth is that I have no direct experience with it: everything I know comes second hand, either directly from teachers or from what I read, so I must rely on others.

Although I did not specifically write about CCSS, over the past week, I received a handful of similarly worded comments of support for the national curricula standards, all of which tried to frame it as merely an "update," nothing to get worked up about. This makes me suspect that there is something of an orchestrated pushback against critics, and it made me want to really write about CCSS. As I did my research over the weekend, I landed on the text of a speech given last month by education historian Diane Ravitch as it appeared in the Washington Post. For those who don't know, Ms. Ravitch is one of the leaders in the fight against corporate-style education "reform," and most recently appeared on these pages as the author of the bestselling Reign of Error, which I discussed in three posts (here, here, and here) when it was first published. In both her book and in this speech, she, in well-documented detail, lays out why CCSS is not a mere "update" as proponents would have it, but rather a poorly designed, poorly executed Trojan horse of a program intended to create wholesale, corporate-sponsored changes to public education in America.

Instead of writing my own post, I urge you to read the speech for yourself. It is a devastating, thoughtful, blood-boiling analysis of what is wrong with CCSS, why it got so wrong, and who is to blame, all from a person who started out not only supporting the idea, but working with the US Department of Education to create it.

After providing a brief history and description of the signature education initiatives, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT), of our two most recent presidential administrations, Ms. Ravitch catalogs the damage done:

These two federal programs, which both rely heavily on standardized testing, has produced a massive demoralization of educators; an unprecedented exodus of experienced educators, who were replaced in many districts by young, inexperienced, low-wage teachers; the closure of many public schools, especially in poor and minority districts; the opening of thousands of privately managed charters; an increase in low-quality for-profit charter schools and low-quality online charter schools; a widespread attack on teachers' due process rights and collective bargaining rights; the near-collapse of public education in urban districts like Detroit and Philadelphia, as public schools are replaced by privately managed charter schools; a burgeoning educational-industrial complex of testing corporations, charter chains, and technology companies that view public education as an emerging market. Hedge funds, entrepreneurs, and real estate investment corporations invest enthusiastically in this emerging market, encouraged by federal tax credits, lavish fees, and the prospect of huge profits from taxpayer dollars.

This is the context in which CCSS was introduced five years ago, created almost exclusively from funds provided by the Gates Foundation:

The writing group of 27 contained few educators, but a significant number of representatives of the testing industry. From the outset, the Common Core standards were marked by the absence of public participation, transparency, or educator participation. In a democracy, transparency is crucial, because transparency and openness builds trust. Those crucial ingredients were lacking.

Ms. Ravitch admits to having supported the idea of national standards and was consulted by the White House. Her main advice to them was that whatever emerged would need to be rigorously field tested by actual teachers in actual classroom settings. She warned them about this more than once, yet CCSS has never been tested, anywhere, by anyone. It has been introduced, disastrously, wholesale, with no mechanism for change, adjustment, flexibility or teacher input.

Early childhood educators are nearly unanimous in saying that no one who wrote the standards had any expertise in the education of very young children. More than 500 early childhood educators signed a joint statement complaining that the standards were developmentally inappropriate for children in the early grades. The standards, they said, emphasized academic skills and leave inadequate time for imaginative play. They also objected to the likelihood that young children would be subjected to standardized testing. And yet the proponents of the Common Core insist that children as young as 5 or 6 or 7 should be on track to be college-and-career ready, even though children this age are not likely to think about college, and most think of careers as cowboys, astronauts, or firefighters.

Not only that, but the tests, upon which children's and teacher's futures rest were intentionally designed so that a full 70 percent fail. What a crushing, cruel thing to do to young learners, especially those who do not come from the socio-economic classes that tend to do well on standardized tests.

I fear that the Common Core plan of standards and testing will establish a test-based meritocracy that will harm our democracy by parceling out opportunity, by ranking and rating every student in relation to their test scores . . . We cannot have a decent democracy unless we begin with the supposition that every human life is of equal value. Our society already has far too much inequality of wealth and income. We should do nothing to stigmatize those who already get the least of society's advantages. We should bend our efforts to change our society so that each and every one of us has the opportunity to learn, the resources needed to learn, and the chance to have a good and decent life, regardless of one's test scores.

Please take the time to read the full speech. It is worth it. 

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Stephanie Wells said...

Thank you. Going to read speech now!

Angel Wilson said...

After reading your post and the speech by Dianne Ravitch, I found myself nodding enthusiastically as I read, acknowledging the changes I have witnessed in our district over the last 10 years, and ones we are experiencing currently with the implementation of Common Core. I am a LMS in the highest poverty K-5 elementary school in our district. This is my second full year in this school, but 20th total year in the same district. The frustrations I dealt with as a teacher throughout the NCLB years, and now with RTTT, and the unreasonable testing goals which could never be feasibly attained to the prescribed percentages, placed and continue to place an overwhelming burden upon teachers and students. Teachers in my building are restricted by scripted lessons and time schedules which nearly completely eliminate teachable moments or veering off topic to discover something new for fear a standard won't be covered in a set amount of time. The overall morale of teachers in the time of my tenure has dropped dramatically, and while there are other contributing factors including major budget cuts and lack of student motivation, the onus of standards, computerized tests, interpreting test results, and data meetings have had significant impact on the attitude of today's teacher in public education.

I appreciate you taking the time to post your findings on such a very important topic. How does CCSS impact you and your students, or will it have any impact for you at all?

kdpicou said...

barf. what do we do about this??

Angela said...

I, too, am trying to understand everything about Common Core, but have to get my info second, third, fourth handed. I think the non-transparency is the hugest issue.

Diane Streicher @ Diane Again said...

The Common Core is disastrous for students of all ages. Thanks for posting.

Mommy, Papa and the 'Nuts said...

I've shared this speech with everyone I know. I'm shocked that no one seems to even really understand what Common Core IS let alone what is going on inside the doors of our public schools. After subjecting our three children to the system for the past 7 months, we've decided to pull them out of public school and have enrolled them into a small catholic private school that doesn't follow the same standard. After fighting the school district for these months, I feel defeated and relived at the same time.

I believe in excellent quality education for ALL, but its infuriating that parents will not or can not fight the fight and make their voices heard. There are so many that really just do not care. We will not sacrifice our children to a system that we can afford to get them out of.

Angel Wilson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cynthia Faddis said...

My 6 yr old daughter has been VERY affected by CC. We're a Army Fam who moved from TX to OH late in her Kindergarten year (last year). The school she attended in TX was NOT CC, it was a public school on a military base. She was learning letter recognition, sounds, playing with letters to create words, etc. Basic number concepts were being taught. Mostly they played and learned interpersonal skills. Attending both full day PreK and Months of Kindergarten she had a love of learning and was excited to go to school. After the first day of Kinder in OH she came home in tears. "The other kids are all smarter than I am", she told me, her eyes red from crying. Things continued to get worse as the year came to an end. The CC school OH expected the Kinder children to sit in their seats memorizing math facts and sight words for hours on end. Her vet teacher confided that she really felt sorry for the kids and was shocked that they could learn the information she was required to teach. My daughter, who had never had 1 discipline problem was not fairing as well as her classmates who had been groomed to conformed all year. She began getting up randomly and hitting other students! She was SO bored and frustrated! The children had memorized 100 sight words, they were adding and subtracting too. Of course, there was little else taught. A few coloring pages reinforcing fire safety procedures and "stranger danger" were brought home but everything else was rote memorization of words and math facts on FLASH CARDS! HOW BORING!! I worked all summer w/ my daughter to teach her 100 words so she would be better off for 1st grade. She did really well and I felt she knew enough to attempt 1st grade with her friends from last year.
But the effectiveness, or lack thereof of CC is evident this year. The amazing thing about all of the stuff they "learned" last year is....they are relearning it all this year! Seriously, I know at the beginning of each school year the teacher will often review last years material but so far it seems that they are actually needing to re-learn everything. Of course that is because much of those endless word lists and number facts were only placed in the temporary files of the children's brains.
Our family will be on to a new state in May of this year. I can only pray that our next home is not a CC state or that our financial situation is better and that I can find an affordable private school.

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