Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Common Core’

In case you are wondering, as many are, what the heck is this Common Core stuff anyway, here are some links to blogs with a crash course in their history, and what is not right with them.

A lot of the confusion is due to the Common Core State Standards organization itself, which has inaccurate information on their website. Much confusion is due to really bad curriculum labeled as Common Core – which is simply bad curriculum and doesn’t have much if anything to do with the new standards. But there is now a new kind of bad curriculum, which mindlessly follows the Standards, clause by clause, as if you can teach grammar one day and comprehension the next.

Recently too there has been confusing criticism, coming from the Tea Party and far-right political groups, of the Common Core State Standards, and the Obama administration’s education program, not only for federal overreach (which is, indeed, one of the biggest problems with the current federal education policy), but also for what used to be called Secular Humanism in curriculum. Their issue is that public schools teach kids that our country is not perfect, that the world was not created 6000 years ago, and that Muslims and gay people are ok. This has nothing to do with the Common Core State Standards.

There is also confusion from radio and magazine pieces labeling good classroom practice as Common Core, when in fact it has nothing to do with it.

Here’s an article about the NPR (National Public Radio) problem with covering Common Core: http://www.current.org/2014/09/gates-funding-spurs-doubts-over-pubmedias-impartiality-in-education-reporting/

I had wondered, about some articles I heard on NPR that made no sense – where what teachers were doing and said they liked about the Common Core, are not actually in the Standards. You should definitely take a look at the Standards themselves.

I heard a story recently about how Bill Gates was having similar problems with his work in Africa, where they are starting to learn that you don’t swoop in from above and fix things. You need to talk to people on the ground, find out what the problem is, work with others.

This is a good story, about the Gates involvement: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-bill-gates-pulled-off-the-swift-common-core-revolution/2014/06/07/a830e32e-ec34-11e3-9f5c-9075d5508f0a_story.html

But here is what I think is the best summary I have seen of the problems with the Common Core State Standards: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/09/17/four-common-core-flimflams/

Even though Alaska did not adopt the Common Core State Standards, we actually did. Look at the Alaska State Standards and the Common Core side by side. That was one interesting thing Alaska State Rep. Reinbold had in her recent slide show – the certification from our Commissioner of Education to federal DOE, certifying that the Alaska Standards are “virtually identical” to Common Core – which they had to be to get a waiver from No Child Left Behind.

One more article, a speech by Diane Ravitch, who rocks. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/18/everything-you-need-to-know-about-common-core-ravitch/

And, my Common Core essay.

Sitka’s district leadership is gung ho on Common Core/Alaska State Standards, as are I bet most administrators around the country. As far as teachers, you’ll find a range of opinions, from being profoundly insulted, to eager for guidance. A big problem is that the Standards are very poorly written and hard to interpret, which causes stress when teachers are being judged by how well they get the kids to pass the tests based on them.

The premise of the Common Core is seductive, to administrators, politicians, and even some teachers – the notion that all you need is a list, you teach everything on the list, you’re good to go. Unfortunately, learning doesn’t work that way. Teaching is an art.

I got to see the Houghton Mifflin program for middle school (Sitka schools are looking at spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on new “Common Core Aligned” textbooks). They reduce English to mindless test practice. The entirety of the workbook for the year consists of “close reading,” which, as in the Common Core, means taking a short, mediocre piece of writing, and finding particular sentences and words in it. Far from requiring analysis or critical thinking, it requires no thinking at all.

But as for the tests, one teacher told me she saw sample questions and it made her cry, knowing her lower-ability kids would not be able to do it. Bad as the standards are, the real crime is that they were written as a template for practicing for new, harder tests.

The CCSS are poorly written, hard to interpret, and students (schools, and teachers) will be judged on the tests based on them, so there’s more confusion and fear than anything. That is probably why one English teacher is actually WANTING a curriculum that will hit all the Standards, as a safety net. That’s my sense, also, with the District.

Tonight I heard that some teachers are saying they won’t be teaching anything not in the standards. This is really short changing their students.

So it’s a big, old, entrenched problem – the federal requirements for testing (driving the frenzy for curriculum that will prepare students for the tests) are top-down and have nothing to do with improving schools. Our schools are pretty good, and potentially could be even better. Common Core and all the testing is so expensive, not transparent, and so obviously stupid, that this paradoxically might mark a change in the tide, and we can get back to pursuing excellence in education, by doing things we know work – instead of spending millions on things that do not, and in fact diminish the quality of our schools.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

What is Common Core?

The Common Core State Standards are lists of what students should be able to do, in each grade from kindergarten to 12th grade, in English and Math. They are endorsed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, but privately funded and developed. Released in 2010, they have been adopted by 48 states.

While consistent standards is a good idea, the Common Core State Standards are not very well done, in English or in Math. The authors were not experts in education, wrote them in only six months, the standards were never field tested, and there is no mechanism for fixing various problems with them. But, they are no worse than most previous standards.

The problem is that they are part of “standards-based reform,” an approach to education based on high-stakes standardized testing. In fact, 14 of the 24 Common Core authors are from standardized testing organizations.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, in force since 2002, made federal funding contingent on raising test scores every year, for a 100% pass rate in 2014.

In order to get a waiver (and federal funding), 40 states, including Alaska, had to sign on to the Common Core State Standards; more teacher evaluations; more charter schools; and new, harder tests, that must be taken electronically.

According to our district superintendent, the Sitka School District is looking at spending 1.6 million dollars for these mandates in the waiver: new curriculum, hiring extra personnel for teacher evaluation, and equipment for the online testing. The state of Alaska paid $25 million dollars last summer, for the new tests.

The waiver requires that by 2017 half of a teacher’s evaulation be based on students’ test scores, even though the teacher’s influence on student test scores – from 1 to 14% – is so small it can’t be separated from other factors. Why would we create such an incentive for teachers to focus on test scores, and to avoid low-performing students?

A study by the Carnegie Corporation predicts that the new, harder, Common Core tests will double the high school drop out rate. And, the new tests have to be taken on line, which has resulted in expense and logistical problems.

We already know that high-stakes standardized testing does not improve education, and there is no reason to think that harder tests, new standards, or teacher evaluation will do anything, either.

So why are we doing what doesn’t work?

Unfortunately, standards-based reform has been the American approach to education for 30 years. It is based on an obsolete model of learning: that education is the passive transfer of information, so the teacher just has to know the material, nothing more.

But a good teacher is not an information delivery system – she is more like a coach. Think about the great teachers you have had. Even if it’s the state capitals, or biology, it takes a good teacher to help kids get it. A good teacher has a fairly sophisticated set of leadership, psychology, and people skills, in addition to a mastery of her subject.

Standards-based reform does not expect – or allow – teachers to develop these skills. It is an attempt to fix education from the top down, without addressing the way learning actually works. That is why standards-based reform, educational technology, and MOOCs, among other initiatives, have been failures.

So why is it being promoted at every level of public education? Some is because teachers, as a class, have never had much status in America. Some of it is a sincere belief that this approach could work: Bill Gates has put hundreds of millions of dollars into developing and promoting Common Core State Standards, in the stated belief that the market can fix education: with common standards, industry can compete to create the best products.

Indeed, standards-based reform is very good for business: the K-12 ed tech market was $8.4 billion in 2014, up from 7.9 billion just the year before. Charter school companies, consultants, and hardware suppliers also make healthy profits.

Since we are up against an entrenched paradigm, and substantial commercial interests, what can we do at the local level? We can ask for evidence that what we spend will improve education. Testing does not improve education. Small class size in early elementary, on the other hand, is proven to result in higher graduation rates.We can encourage our district to involve the teacher workforce in designing improvements.

As education scholar Dr. Yang Zhao said in his talk, there are models everywhere, around the world, around the country, here in Sitka, for programs that work. We can just copy what works, whether it’s integrating art, or the way a particular teacher gets kids excited about algebra.

What if it’s the law, as it is, to spend our money on more teacher evaluations, new tests, new, unproven curriculum? Well, last I checked, this is a democracy. We can stand with our districts to press the legislature, the state board of education, and our Congress to roll back the focus on testing.

The Common Core State Standards could serve, for now, as a minimum, with modifications for their documented deficiencies. There is no reason to get new curriculum that is “aligned.” For one thing, the new standards are not that different from the old ones. But the main reason is that the Common Core State Standards were written expressly as a template for standardized tests, and the last thing we should be doing is desigining curriculum around tests. That is the heart of the problem with standards-based reform.

If you just have to test, first figure out why. If it’s to make sure a school is good, you certainly don’t have to test every kid, every year. Standardized tests provide no information a teacher can’t get (and doesn’t already have) using such tools as the “quiz” and “class assignments.”

Instead we can build on existing curriculum, and improve it based on sound teaching practice – integrating the arts, field trips, inquiry, and science – none of which is in the Common Core.

We need standards, and evaluation, that are based on what we really believe students should be able to do, not going by what some small D.C. testing group decided.

We can focus on teaching as the highly skilled craft it can and should be. Not preparing kids for taking a test, but preparing them for life and citizenship, through an education rich in content, that fosters a love of learning.

Read Full Post »