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Sunday, June 09, 2013

Common Core Discussion in the New York Times

Here are two utterly compelling and important opinion pieces from the NY Times (thanks to Seattle Citizen for pointing them out).

This is important stuff.

The first is by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus called Who's Minding the Schools.  Both are professors and are co-writing a book about math.

The second opinion piece is by Claire Needell Hollander, a middle school English teacher. If you have ever worked with students in an academic sense - as a parent, a teacher, a tutor - you will recognize the worry in this piece.   Reading and writing are such personal skills that trying to mold a child's understanding of how to read and write by providing such a narrow focus gives me a lot of worry.  Ms. Hollander's piece is called No Learning Without Feeling.

Highlights from Who's Minding the Schools:

-Indeed, the first wave of exams was so overwhelming for these young New Yorkers that some parents refused to let their children take the test.  These students, in grades 3 through 8, are taking part in what may be the most far-reaching experiment in American educational history. 

- By the 2014-15 academic year, public schools in 45 states and the District of Columbia will administer Common Core tests to students of all ages. (Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia have so far held out; Minnesota will use only the Common Core English test.) Many Catholic schools have also decided to implement the Common Core standards; most private, nonreligious schools have concluded that the program isn’t for them. 

- Students in Kentucky were the first to undergo the Common Core’s testing regimen; the state adopted the standards in 2010. One year later, its students’ scores fell across the board by roughly a third in reading and math. Perhaps one cannot blame the students, or the teachers — who struggle to teach to the new, behemoth test that, in some cases, surpasses their curriculums — for the drop in scores.

- The anxiety that drives this criticism comes from the fact that a radical curriculum — one that has the potential to affect more than 50 million children and their parents — was introduced with hardly any public discussion. Americans know more about the events in Benghazi than they do about the Common Core. 

For all its impact, the Common Core is essentially an invisible empire. It doesn’t have a public office, a board of directors or a salaried staff. Its Web site lists neither a postal address nor a telephone number. 

Hilariously, they speak of how embarrassing and "unprofessional" it was for states to have wildly different results of their state tests.  They then explain how private funding brought governors and ed chiefs together to create Common Core.

For crying out loud - it was called No Child Left Behind.  When the feds saw this mess of scores, why didn't THEY create one national test?  With one national test, we would know how students are doing.  But no, every state had their own curriculum so to have a national test, well, you needed a guide.

- “College and career skills are the same,” Ken Wagner, New York State’s associate commissioner of education for curriculum, assessment and educational technology, told us. The presumption is that the kind of “critical thinking” taught in classrooms — and tested by the Common Core — improves job performance, whether it’s driving a bus or performing neurosurgery. But Anthony Carnevale, the director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, calls the Common Core a “one-size-fits-all pathway governed by abstract academic content.” 

IN sum, the Common Core takes as its model schools from which most students go on to selective colleges. Is this really a level playing field? Or has the game been so prearranged that many, if not most, of the players will fail?  

From No Learning Without Feeling:

“IT’S sad,” the kid at the far table told me, “but it’s my favorite poem we worked on.” He was talking about “The Weary Blues,” by Langston Hughes, and although his emotional language was rudimentary, his response was authentic. “So we should read literature that makes us sad?” I asked. He laughed. “Well, sadness, Ms. Hollander, is something people pretty much feel every day.” He looked up at me and smiled incredulously. 

My middle school students turn again and again to highly charged young adult novels. The poems and stories they receive enthusiastically are the ones that pack the most emotional punch. Just as teens like to take physical risks, they are driven to take emotional risks. For teachers, emotion is our lever. The teen mind is our stone.  

Put another way, emotion is the English teacher’s entry point for literary exploration and for the development of the high-level skills outlined in the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted in 45 states. Unfortunately, the authors of the standards are not particularly interested in emotional risk taking but rather in the avoidance of political risk.

The writers of the Common Core had no intention of killing literature in the classroom. But the convenient fiction that yearly language learning can be precisely measured by various “metrics” is supplanting the importance of literary experience. The Common Core remains neutral on the question of whether my students should read Shakespeare, Salinger or a Ford owner’s manual, so long as the text remains “complex.”

15 comments:

Unknown said...

The New York Times editorial board said this earlier in the week:

"The new teacher evaluation system that the New York State education commissioner, John King Jr., has imposed on New York City represents an important and necessary step toward carrying out the rigorous new Common Core education reforms."

And it went on to extol the complexity and nuance of the teacher evaluation system sounding a lot like the Obama administration trying to explain why what the NSA does is ok but what Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden do is not. So I'm glad to see the NYT give some space to a thoughtful critique of the Common Core.

Not that it matters at this point. It's just going to play out the way it's going to play out, and ten years from now we'll be preoccupied with cleaning up the mess made by the flood of its unintended consequences.

Also in the NYT this morning is this article on the resurgence of ability grouping.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Jack, sad but true. I am with you on the "in ten years we'll look back and wonder."

I think some of this is already coming off the rails but CC is the new and shiny idea.

Haven't read the ability grouping story but plan to.

dan dempsey said...

Guest Column: Common core standards off mark



Secretary Arne Duncan and the federal Department of Education ignored this prohibition by providing multi-hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and contracts to encourage development of the core standards and the online computer tests to measure student learning and the effectiveness of teachers and principals.

The development of the core standards was bought and paid for by the Department of Education and large national and international computer and digital based corporations; e.g., Microsoft and the Gates Foundation. The seductive siren calls of the millions of dollars offered as bribes were too much for the National Governor’s Association, the Council of State School Officers, national and state associations of school administrators and school directors to refuse.

In fact, individual states “fought” each other via the submission of competitive grant proposals in an effort to receive funding. They sold their souls by buying into conditions that required them to surrender local control of education for an unknown, undeveloped and untested national curriculum.

Know what you’re buying


The WA legislature had no idea what they were buying.

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