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NYTimes Doesn’t Get the Common Core

April 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes featured a lengthy article explaining the political division within the Republican party over the Common Core, an article that repeats lots of misinformation (or perhaps DIS-information) on the Common Core. Here are two instances where the Times repeated the assertion that the Common Core was developed independent of the federal government.

  • “The learning benchmarks, intended to raise students’ proficiency in math and English, were adopted as part of a 2010 effort by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to bolster the country’s competitiveness.” NO!!! The Common Core was adopted AFTER the USDoE effectively mandated their adoption in the States by linking the CCSS to the State’s ability to get waivers from NCLB
  • “Supporters of the Common Core, which outlines skills that students in each grade should master but leaves actual decisions about curriculum to states and districts, say that it was not created by the federal government and that it was up to the states to decide whether to adopt the standards” NO AGAIN!!! The Common Core was adopted AFTER the USDoE effectively mandated their adoption in the States by linking the CCSS to the State’s ability to get waivers from NCLB.

Even more maddening is the depiction of the opposition on the left coming predominantly from the teachers unions “…because of the new, more difficult tests aligned to the standards that are being used to evaluate both students and teachers.” which is reinforced by a quote from Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam who contends the opposition includes “…folks on the left associated with teachers unions who are trying to sever any connection between test results and teacher evaluation”. As readers of this blog realize I worked for 29 years as a Superintendent of Schools and have written and spoken against the use of value added metrics for the past five years. Anyone who seeks rational, evidence based tools for evaluation would necessarily reject the use of standardized test scores as a primary basis in the evaluation process.

Some of the commenters tried to correct misunderstandings… but some just echoed the bad information or built on the incorrect information the Times provided. If the national “newspaper of record” is not recording information accurately, it is hard to engage in a meaningful debate about the direction we should be taking in public education.

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The Debate We Haven’t Had

April 10, 2014 1 comment

Jessica Lahey’s post in today’s Motherlode section of the NYTimes purports to provide an overview of standardized testing for parents. From my perspective it implicitly supported the mandates incorporated in Race To The Top, the way NYS implemented it’s testing program, and the value of standardized testing in general. It concluded with this platitudinous paragraph:

As states struggle to align curriculum and No Child Left Behind Act testing to the Common Core State Standards, and decide what role, if any, testing will play in teacher and school evaluation, parents are left to define their role in state and federal government’s efforts to shape the future of education for our children. While parents may choose to opt out of their state’s standardized tests, we can’t choose to opt out of the debate over education and our nation’s effort to assure rigor and higher standards for all children.

Anyone who reads this blog realizes that STATES had no opportunity to “decide what role, if any, testing will play in teacher and school evaluation”. As Superintendent in New Hampshire in 2010 and 2011 I urged my colleagues and the Commissioner to say no to the Race To The Top because it required the use of Value Added Measures (see my white papers elsewhere on this blog for details on this). Furthermore, parent have NEVER been encouraged to enter into the debate over education…. indeed there has been NO debate at the national level over education since 2001 when NCLB was adopted. All of this led me to enter the following comment:

Here are some points readers should also know. First, the Common Core State Standards (CSSS) was a de facto mandate included in Race To The Top (RTTT), the Obama administration’s workaround to the fact that NCLB was not re-authorized. In order to get RTTT funding states HAD to agree that test results would play a role in teacher and school evaluation. There was no public debate on the national level about CCSS, RTTT, the new tests, or the way tests would be used to measure teacher, student and teacher performance. For better or worse our legislators have opted out over the debate over education, ceding the direction we are headed in public education to the US Department of Education. At this juncture, for-profit charter operators, testing companies, and technology magnates are engaged in the “debate over education” while parents, teachers, school boards, and the public are on the sidelines. This marginalization is fueling the opt out movement.

As a reader of Orwell, I know that one way to control the future is to control history… and unless parents are clear about how the CCSS, RTTT, and the testing regimen we have now was put in place they will have no way to fix the problems that are in place.

The Best Common Core Critique Yet

April 3, 2014 Leave a comment

Phi Delta Kappa magazine can be counted on to provide thoughtful and unbiased perspectives on public education, and Kevin Welner’s April article in that magazine is by far the best I’ve read on the topic. He emphasizes that the need for higher uniform standards is irrefutable but the linking of those standards to high stakes tests without addressing the disparate opportunities students face is unfair and counterproductive. The concluding paragraph summarizes his thinking on the common core:

Standards can be beneficial elements of a high-functioning educational system; so can assessments. Moreover, many well-intentioned and smart people are working to advance the Common Core and make it successful. But unless and until our politicians reverse course and focus on closing opportunity gaps, the Common Core will be part of the problem, and its potential benefits will never be realized. 

It is plausible that those advocating for the common core are motivated by good intentions, and it is equally plausible that those advocating for the common core are motivated by greed… but the fact that the common core advocates are NOT speaking out for equitable resources leads one to lean toward the conclusion that greed is the underlying rationale for their advocacy. While I think it is worthwhile to emphasize the link between the common core advocates and the privatizes and profiteers, as this FLA blogger has done, I think it is more important for those of us who desire social justice to use the test results to hammer home the fact that the schools with the fewest resources are scoring lowest on the tests and the link is causal… that is we should use the test results to get our politicians to “reverse course and focus on closing opportunity gaps”. 

If we assume that greed is the motivation behind the common core, we can be confident that money will soon be flowing to state and local politicians to make sure the testing continues until all schools are punished and privatized— especially after yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling… It’s up to parents and elected school board members to push back, for, alas, teachers, administrators, and college professors will not be listened to.

 

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