Getting Up To Speed On Common Core

It’s time to jump in and get up to speed on Common Core. Let’s start at the beginning:

Common Core is a set of K-12 educational standards, developed by big business and special interests in Washington D.C. and supported by private liberal foundations. It is another attempt to centralize decision making about our children’s education and development on a national level.

More:

Common Core national standards were adopted by 45 states in 2009 after the federal government incentivized states using a combination of carrots and sticks—including $4.35 billion in Race to the Top (RTTT) competitive grants and No Child Left Behind waivers.

Basically, it’s an initiative to create one set of educational standards that apply in all 50 states starting in the 2014-2015 school year, ostensibly to level the playing field across the country and to make it easier for students to move around.  It is supposed to provide a more “rigorous” education that will prepare students for higher education, and allow teachers to tailor their lessons however they’d like.  It was supposedly instigated and led by a group of state governors:

Common Core is not a curriculum, a federal program or a federal mandate. It was created at the state level. Curriculum remains within the control of districts, school boards, school leaders and teachers.

And:

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt.

Except that it’s not.  Here’s an interesting debate explaining both sides of how it came about so you can see both arguments for yourself, as well as some of the details mentioned above:

So, we had cash-strapped states at the height of the financial crisis being offered billions of dollars of federal money…if they’d only agree to immediately accept and implement Common Core.  This was all done at a time of year when most legislatures weren’t in session, so state legislatures were cut out of the process.  Yep, they definitely embraced Common Core based on its merits, didn’t they?  And isn’t it interesting how there is no answer to the fact that the “tailoring” is only 15% of the curriculum?  And, for those who think that Common Core is great because it’s a “set of standards” rather than an actual curriculum, I would suggest they aren’t acknowledging how any sort of testing gets done in the real world.  Why would anyone create a curriculum that wasn’t designed to meet a particular set of standards?  There’s no reason for the curriculum to exist except to meet that standard.  Therefore, the standard drives the curriculum in its entirety.  This argument is pure semantics, and a distinction without a difference.  But let’s get back to the real world.

New York and Kentucky were two of the earliest adopters, and they saw terrible results:

The New York principals reported problems with the assessments, including:

  • Difficult and confusing questions (some on unrelated topics).
  • Unnecessarily long testing sessions—“two weeks of three consecutive days of 90-minute periods”—that require more “stamina for a 10-year-old special education student than of a high school student taking an SAT exam.”
  • Field-test questions that do not factor into a child’s score but take up time.
  • Confusing directions for the English language arts sessions.
  • Math problems that repeatedly assess the same skill.
  • Multiple choice questions that ask the student to choose from the right answer and the “next best right answer.” The fact that teachers report disagreeing about which multiple-choice answer is correct in several places on the English language arts exams indicates that this format is unfair to students.

Kentucky, the first state to implement Common Core, has experienced similar testing problems.

Last month, the Kentucky Department of Education “discontinued scoring for all constructed-response questions in each of the four CCSS-aligned high school end-of-course exams.” Leaders said that the slow turnaround times for scoring and lack of diagnostic feedback on how scores are determined would cause the results to be delayed past the end of the school year.

One of the ladies in the debate video above is Lindsey Burke, the Will Skillman Fellow in Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation.  She presents the following arguments about the origins of Common Core:

Common Core was developed by two national organizations, it’s adoption incentivized with billions in federal funding and waivers from the onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind, and the national tests funded with federal grants.

These are not the hallmarks of a “state-led” process. Moreover, these are not high standards. They are, to reference the work of Stanford professor of mathematics emeritus James Milgram, standards that prepare students for “non-selective community colleges.” The English Language Arts standards de-emphasize the reading of fiction and classic literature in favor of informational texts.

But most concerning, Common Core removes the ability of parents and teachers to direct academic content and will have a homogenizing effect on the educational choices available to families.

We’ll dig further into those points momentarily.

As I see it, there are three key problems with Common Core:

1. Common Core removes curriculum control from invested local parties (i.e. the states and school districts) and puts it into the hands of unaccountable, anonymous government bureaucrats in Washington DC; this is a violation of 3 federal laws, for those who care about such things.
2. The tests are very poorly executed, containing numerous typos, incorrect answers, and confusing questions that prevent genuine learning and accurate testing.
3. Common Core tracks hundreds of data points on each student (and their families), many of which have nothing to do with education.

Now, let’s get into some details.

As with so many liberal efforts at centralizing control of something, there is little evidence to show this is a positive move in terms of actually improving American education.  Rather than debate the merits, defenders of Common Core resort to something else entirely: the squashing of dissent.  Opponents of Common Core are mocked no matter how legitimate their opposition may be…or literally forced out of the room for simply asking questions that Common Core supporters can’t answer.  Or they’re slapped with legal restrictions barring them from the premises altogether.  Even an official information request for some answers to a few questions from a high-ranking state official received evasive treatment. If this is such a great improvement in American education, why not broadcast the supporting details and success stories far and wide?  Why hide and deride instead of showcase?  There’s also the question of the content being taught.  For example, in one third grade class, Barack Obama was portrayed as a Messiah.  There is a common belief throughout Common Core supporters that “the children belong to all of us.”  From prenatal to age 20, to be specific.  It’s a general mindset that we are a collective, and that the government is the paragon of authority. Common Core is more about developing that mindset than actually focusing on reading or math.  It was created to be a wedge between parents and their children, inserting the state and its agents into a place of ultimate authority.

While we’re on the subject of Common Core content, one of the people responsible for developing Common Core — who ended up not endorsing the finished product — claims the following:

President Obama correctly noted in September 2012 that “leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today—especially in science, technology, engineering and math.” He has placed a priority on increasing the number of students and teachers who are proficient in these vital STEM fields. …

Yet the basic mission of Common Core, as Jason Zimba, its leading mathematics standards writer, explained at a videotaped board meeting in March 2010, is to provide students with enough mathematics to make them ready for a nonselective college—”not for STEM,” as he put it. During that meeting, he didn’t tell us why Common Core aimed so low in mathematics. But in a September 2013 article published in the Hechinger Report, an education news website affiliated with Columbia University’s Teachers College, Mr. Zimba admitted: “If you want to take calculus your freshman year in college, you will need to take more mathematics than is in the Common Core.” …

Common Core’s deficiencies also plague its English standards, though its proponents have been selling the opposite line. Under the Common Core, complex literary study—literature close to or at a college reading level—is reduced to about 50% of reading instructional time in high school English class. The rest of the time is to be spent on “informational” texts, and more writing than reading is required at all grade levels.

Excerpts will have to do when reading “The Great Gatsby” so students can spend more time on the Teapot Dome Scandal. Yes, that’s a real suggestion for informational reading from the National Council of Teachers of English, the professional organization of English teachers that aims to support teachers under the Common Core.

In its November 2013 Council Chronicle, a teacher argued that learning about this 1920s government oil scandal is the proper way to “contextualize” Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age characters. But reducing the time students spend studying complex literature means fewer opportunities to learn how to read between the lines—the fundamental way teenagers learn how to analyze a text.

Let’s look at an example of the questions our kids will have to address on Common Core exams:

Embedded image permalink

Good luck on that one. Or how about this response from an advanced engineer whose son was frustrated with his math problems:

Photo: The Patriot Post Facebook Page

One Arkansas mom speaks before her local school board and uses another example to decimate the effectiveness of Common Core methodology:

Missouri schools have already begun merging Common Core methodology with their existing methods in preparation for the full implementation next year, and I’ve already seen this in my own kids’ homework.  Rather than perform simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division operations, they’ve been taught to draw a series of circles on the paper and begin tediously filling them with dots, counting them along the way.  It took several times longer to do it that way than the way you and I were taught in the pre-Common Core days, and I watched as the dots were miscounted, resulting in an incorrect answer anyway.  This is not the fault of our kids, nor do I hold our teachers responsible.  This is Common Core.  It’s designed to be this way.  Ask your kids and see what they tell you about doing math this way.

It’s not just young kids, though.  Even the SAT has been revamped to more closely mirror Common Core, but unfortunately the revamp is making it easier rather than more stringent.  How is an easier standard meeting the “more rigorous” education Common Core is claiming?  The problem is systemic, from the beginning of the educational experience to the end of it.

In addition to how bad the curriculum itself might be, the rollout has been spectacularly bad, too, with confusion, delays, miscommunications, and low quality.  Even the nation’s largest teacher’s union claims the implementation thus far has been completely “botched” and even worse than the healthcare.gov rollout (and that is saying something).  Typical government work, yes?  The problem is that this is our children’s education.  They only get one shot at being in school, so isn’t that something that is too critical to botch?  You can read even more on the devastating effects of Common Core’s literary and analytical thinking instruction here.  The bottom line is: this isn’t the way we want our kids to be educated, and this isn’t preparing them for a globally competitive economy.

So who’s behind it besides a government greedy for ever more power and control?

Big business is pushing it hard despite the Chamber of Commerce’s own statements that more individualized attention and choice is much more effective.  Returning to the third point above, here’s why:

Assessing Common Core is inextricably tied to the big business of data collection and data mining. States that took the Race to the Top bribes in exchange for adopting Common Core must now comply with the edutech requirements of two private testing conglomerates, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Common Core states also agreed to expand existing statewide longitudinal database systems that contain sensitive student data from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education.

Massive efforts to collect data on every aspect of life for every American are kept quiet, but are very real, and Common Core provides a great vehicle to consolidate all those delicious data points for data analysts to dissect and utilize.  Even worse, we see instances of abuse popping up, such as the three schools in Florida that took iris scans of students without parental permission.  The more power and information gets consolidated into massive databases like this, the worse those abuses are going to get.

Conservative commentator George Will summed it up this way recently:

For all of these reasons and more that I didn’t go into here, there is more and more concerted pushback.  Indiana is the first state to officially exit the program entirely — though some say its replacement is little more than a bait-and-switch of a different name — but they are far from alone.  In North Carolina, legislation is in process to pull back from Common Core altogether.  Massachusetts halted their Common Core implementation last fall.  Kansas dropped Common Core testing standards in favor of something developed by the University of Kansas.  Michigan pulled funding from further implementation.  At least one school district in Colorado has refused to move forward with Common Core.  Louisiana, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Missouri are all also in the process of rolling back Common Core.  In all, there are almost 20 states now taking measures of some kind to halt or push back Common Core.

Liberal comedian Louis C.K. openly blasted Common Core, saying “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!”  An Obama acolyte attempted to persuade him otherwise via Twitter, to no avail.  Popular TV comedian Stephen Colbert even weighed in — mocking it — on the subject recently.  This is key because the low information crowd actually thinks people like Colbert and Jon Stewart are genuine news guys, and considers what they say to be something resembling gospel.  Sure, their treatment of Common Core is humorous, but given the extreme liberal nature of these guys, the fact that they are also mocking Common Core should be extremely telling to the rest of us, should it not?

I get it – Common Core sounds nice.  Having a national standard that everyone can shoot for on equal ground sounds so good, so genuine, so fair.  But, as the saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  We have to look past the intentions and see the reality, and in this case the reality is the dumbing down and brainwashing of American students from start to finish.  There may be some good components or pieces or concepts in Common Core that are genuine positives, but taken as a whole the system is bound to fail.  In fact, it’s already failing wherever it’s being tried, even before it’s completely implemented.

Let me be clear: I’m voicing my opinion of what I’ve learned about Common Core from my own personal study.  I’m not a teacher, nor a school administrator, and I have no particular insider knowledge.  I’m not bashing or blaming any teacher or member of any school administration for the failures of Common Core (certainly not in our local area, where our public schools are generally excellent).  They have a job to do, and I have no doubt that they genuinely have the best interests of our kids at heart.  I’ve seen first hand how incredible many of these teachers are, and have been immensely grateful for their hard work and dedication to our kids.  However, at the end of the day, they have to teach what they’re required to teach by the powers above them, or they lose their jobs.  I know that some of them have major reservations about Common Core, and I know that some of them have remained silent because of the way things work in the public school system today (remember what happens to the opposition?).  They’ve been at ground zero as this change has been pushed down to them from above, and they know better than anyone how well this is working (or not).  I’m certain that some believe Common Core is an improvement and will be a boon to the nation, but I think there are a lot more who, like me, do not…even if they cannot express it publicly.  But this issue is bigger than any one teacher or school administrator, so my beef isn’t with any of them.

The problem here is with the federal government intrusion into yet another area where it doesn’t belong.  States were meant to retain control over educational standards because that provided a way for 50 different attempts to get the best possible results – we have 50 chances to get it right.  Those states that succeed can be copied by other states, and the entire nation benefits.  Forcing one set of standards onto all states will always result in less desirable results, simply out of statistical probability if nothing else.  That’s exactly what Common Core does.  Not only that, but it performs that forceful intrusion extremely poorly – even if it was the best method, it would be an educational disaster simply due to the abysmal implementation.  Finally, I have major concerns about the privacy violations we are seeing more frequently, with schools encroaching more and more on things that have nothing to do with education and subverting the authority of parents over their children.  Why should our kids be scanned or examined or questioned about things that aren’t applicable to their learning experience?  They shouldn’t.  Period.

It is for all of these reasons that I strongly oppose Common Core.  I’m heartened to hear that so many states are now trying to back their way out of it, and I sincerely hope that trend continues.  I’m sure we’ll see more on this through the next few months as the 2014-2015 school year approaches.

There’s my two cents.

 

Additional Resources

You can watch an extensive video series explaining the history, background, and dangers of Common Core starting here.  It’s incredibly informative, and I would strongly encourage you to take the time to watch this.

A terrific video from the Family Research Council on the dangers of Federal control over education standards can be viewed here.  Again, this is excellent information, and I would strongly encourage you to watch it.

The Heritage Foundation piles on here with another excellent video.

 

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I'm a gun-owning, Bible-thumping, bitter clinger conservative in the heartland. You can disagree with me if you want (you do, after all, have a right to be wrong)...just don't be rude or stupid and we'll get along just fine! :)

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