This might be one reason why a Common Core is needed… If we are the UNITED States we need to be sure that everyone has the same intellectual framework… and it should include evolution, global warming, and an accurate, factual and apolitical description of history.
This weekend the NYTimes will feature an article titled “So Bill Gates Has This Idea for History Class…” which describes Gates’ investment in “Big History”, a course he took while working out on his treadmill. The content of the course looks intriguing: it’s interdisciplinary, topic centered, and covers ALL of history from the dawn of the Universe to today. The delivery of the course is also promising from my perspective: it’s a hybrid course that interweaves on-line instruction with face-to-face interaction. But Gates is encountering some pushback, which surprises him— but not me:
To his bafflement and frustration, he has become a remarkably polarizing figure in the education world. This owes largely to the fact that Gates, through his foundation, has spent more than $200 million to advocate for the Common Core, something of a third rail in education circles. He has financed an army of policy groups, think tanks and teachers’ unions to marshal support for the new rules and performance measurements that have been adopted by 44 states. Many education experts, while generally supportive of the new goals for reading and math skills, have been critical of the seemingly unilateral way in which the policy appeared to be rolled out.
And therein lies the problem: someone who earns $80,000,000,000 appears to be “buying” the narrative that schoolchildren will learn for decades to come. Here’s Diane Ravitch’s reaction as quoted in the article:
…It begins to be a question of: Is this Bill Gates’s history? And should it be labeled ‘Bill Gates’s History’? Because Bill Gates’s history would be very different from somebody else’s who wasn’t worth $50-60 billion.
From what I read in the article, Gates’ history appears to include evolution, revolutions, and questions about the way income and wealth is distributed. It also appears that Gates is making a genuine effort to grow this history course organically– from the bottom up. Here’s the question, though: will the kind of history course HE advocates be supported by politicians? By State Superintendents who are elected by voters who think the constitution and the Bible should be the basis for all history instruction? By his billionaire friends who think that only capitalism should be taught to schoolchildren? Unfortunately in this day and age of Citizen’s United all of these questions will be answered by who has the most money to spend. History, so the aphorism states, is written by the victors. The victors in this case are not a nation state but a group of plutocrats.
Schadenfreude is the pleasure one derives from seeing the misfortunes of another person. For example, as a Boston Red Sox fan, it is the tingle we feel when the Yankees lose…. and as one who opposes the use of standardized tests as the primary means of measuring student performance it is the frisson I experienced when I read in an Education Week article that President Obama’s education policy is one of the areas Republicans targeted in their otherwise ill-conceived lawsuit against his use of presidential power… or read a Fair Test press release in Diane Ravitch’s blog announcing that despite over a decade of mandated standardized testing ACT scores remain flat… or read about the many disgraceful abuses of deregulated privatized charter schools in Florida… or read about a “miracle school” championed by a pro-privatization Governor closes because of low test scores… or read about the eroding support for the Common Core in the NYTimes and Education Next, a conservative mouthpiece. All of these articles indicate that the top-down and outside-in reforms are resulting in adverse unintended consequences that are eroding public support for the reforms themselves… BUT
The major findings of the survey are unsettling:
1) While Americans asked to evaluate the quality of teachers’ work think, on average, that about half of the teachers in their local schools deserve a grade of A or B, they think that more than one-fifth deserve a D or F; even teachers give these low marks to more than 1 in 10 of their peers, on average.
2) More than one-fourth of all families with school-age children have educated a child in a setting other than a traditional public school.
3) The public thinks less money should be spent on class-size reduction relative to the amount spent on teacher salaries or new books and technologies, if they are told the relative price of each intervention.
If 25% of children in this country are no longer educated in a “traditional public school” we may be approaching a tipping point, especially given that those surveyed believe that 20% of the teachers warrant a D or F grade and the public is unwilling to spend more money to provide small classes for children in public schools. Those who support public education may be winning the battle against the “government imposed” NCLB, RTTT, and CCSS but we may also be losing the battle to gain support for “government schools”. In the end, it may be that Fox News followers are the ones who will experience schadenfreude as overall support for public schools erodes.
Tennessee was the site of the Scopes trial in the 1920s… and even today many of its citizens clings to the Biblical truths instead of the Darwinian theories of science. Now the debate over the common core has ignited a debate on handwriting… and as a result TN is intending to adopt standards for cursive handwriting.
I’m sorry to report this to TN, but people aren’t exchanging information in cursive anymore… and 85% of college bound students PRINTED their answers on the SAT essay question. Personally, I never saw the value of cursive writing though I recall it WAS emphasized in Oklahoma where I attended elementary schools in the late 1950s– that is until Sputnik was launched at which point it seemed that the emphasis shifted to mathematics. Moreover, in my 35 years as Principal and Superintendent from the mid-1970s until 2011 I cannot recall any serious debate about teaching handwriting at the board level or among administrators… though I DO recall many debates about keyboarding….
TN is also a state that values deregulation and charter schools… maybe this is the TN State Board’s effort to drive more parents into deregulated charters where coding is seen as more important than cursive. ;-)
In two “Dog Bites Man” stories, Valerie Strauss’s July 24 and June 27 describe the flaws inherent in NYS’s Common Core tests— flaws that illustrate the inability of a pencil and paper test to measure the high-minded outcomes expected if the Common Core was implemented.
The July 24 article features a letter from the 3rd and 4th grade teachers at Shaker Road School which is part of the South Colonie School Dstrict, a district that serves relatively affluent parents in the Albany area. The letter describes the flaws in the writing section of the tests administered to grades they teach and notes concerns about “…badly constructed questions and arbitrarily determined cut scores for what constitutes student proficiency on the tests”… flaws that are inherent in ANY standardized test. Indeed, it is the setting of cut scores that determines expectations far more than the standards that serve as the basis for the test questions.
The earlier June 27 post, which can be accessed via a link in the July 24 article, describes the flaws in the Algebra Regents test used to determine if a student can graduate from high school. When the “Regents-For-All” initiative was launched in the late 1990s and early 2000s there was suspicion that the cut scores might be lowered to guarantee higher pass rates. The advent of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards combined with the Blame Teachers First movement (see yesterday’s post), the cut scores were increased and the failure rate increased… which will add fuel to the fire that “public schools are failing” and need to be replaced by private schools that. presumably and contrary to all evidence, will do a better job.
I am glad that Valerie Strauss continues covering the flaws in standardized testing. I only wish her findings were gaining traction in the mainstream media who appear to believe the “schools-are-failing-and-can-be-fixed-without-money” fantasy spun by the privatizers.