Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Common Core Revealed: the Bad and the Ugly (Jury's out on the Good)

Fortune Magazine
Fortune magazine has a special report that came out this week on Common Core - Business Gets Schooled. It provides a window into the thinking of big business and public education and folks, it is, by turns, sad and horrific.  This being Fortune, they kind of "tsk tsk" but more over the naviete of some (see Bill Gates) than what these titans of industry say about children and learning.

Please - if you don't read the article, don't read my entire thread - scroll down to read what Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil has to say to you as parents about your children. (I'll highlight it in red.)

What's equally fascinating is that any dissent mentioned in the article by ordinary folks gets the "blogger moms" attitude with a complete brush-off of what noted education experts have said about CC.  It's like all the dissenters are just the anonymous, ignorant and unwashed masses.  You know, the little people.

They also chose to leave out who really wrote those standards (hint: it wasn't educators.)

The main takeaway from Fortune:

When Exxon Mobil, GE, Intel, and others pushed for the education standards, they incurred the wrath of Tea Party conservatives and got a painful lesson in modern politics. 

To CEOs, the issue has always been a no-brainer. In an increasingly global economy, what sense does it make for America to have 50 different sets of education standards? 

It's fascinating that an issue that we can all agree on - having high standards of education for American children - could go so far off the rails in how we get there.  What is equally fascinating is that all these CEOs who loved President George W. Bush and NCLB, now decry NCLB.   What's to say they won't feel that way in 10 years with Common Core?

The report starts with a story of Bill Gates and Charles Koch sitting down in Feb. 2014 to have dinner.

The two men were bankrolling opposite sides in a raging war over the future of American education.  

The two discussed many subjects and even touched, diplomatically, on topics they disagree about, such as climate change. There was a second sensitive subject that Gates broached, and it didn’t come up by chance. His team at the Gates Foundation had engaged in a process it calls a “faction analysis” and identified Koch as a key opponent on a crucial issue. Gates had a mission that night: He wanted to persuade Koch to change his mind about Common Core.

But Koch wasn’t willing to engage with Gates on the issue. Instead, like a senator politely brushing off a constituent, he gave Gates the name of one of his staffers who focuses on the subject and suggested Gates call the staffer.  

The article notes (bold mine):

One measure of the deep involvement of corporate leaders: The Common Core standards were drafted by determining the skills that businesses (and colleges) need and then working backward to decide what students should learn.

I like that colleges is the word in parens and not business.

Organizations such as the Business Roundtable have devoted considerable effort to the initiative. The education chair for that association of CEOs, Exxon Mobil XOM chief Rex Tillerson, has played a particularly prominent role.  

He has pressed other CEOs to join the cause, spread the word by appearing at education summits, underwritten TV advertisements, and personally called legislators in multiple states to press for their support. His company went so far as to cut off campaign contributions to some politicians—even those who support the oil and gas industry—who spurned Tillerson’s entreaties on Common Core.

They get this right:

But the conflict over this issue shares many traits with the crusades over Obamacare, and one of them is this: Its most fervent opponents show not the slightest sign of relenting.

Some choice quotes from the article:

There’s a somewhat unwritten rule that if you’re a CEO, you only get your business involved in an issue that rewards your company in some fashion,” says former Intel chief Craig Barrett. Education reform is “such a hot topic,” especially as Common Core made it “more of a tar baby,” that “it’s sometimes difficult to get people enthusiastic,” he adds. “A lot of people just sit on the sidelines.” Adds Barrett, with exasperation: “It’s turned into a political food fight instead of an education discussion … The hope is that rational minds will prevail.”

I wonder what "rational mind" thought it okay to ever use the term "tar baby."  And, it's only a "political foodfight" because those with power have made it so.

In the 45 states, adoption of the standards, which typically required just a public meeting and approval by the state education board, stirred little notice. “Zero,” recalls Tony Bennett, the elected superintendent of public instruction in Indiana when the state signed on. “No controversy. No criticism.”

Victory in hand, Common Core advocates turned their energies toward the task of implementation. They didn’t foresee that a deep well of opposition was about to erupt. “In a sense the early days almost went too easy for us,” Gates would later say. “Everything seemed to be on track … We didn’t realize the issue would be confounded.”

States had adopted Common Core, Ruzicka says, “before parents even knew what happened.” In retrospect, approving an education transformation without building parental support would turn out to be a huge mistake. It meant that the opposition would mass and organize before many potential allies of the standards even realized they needed to be defended.

Teachers’ union leaders—who had endorsed Common Core at the outset—complained bitterly about its rollout, especially objecting to the immediate use of new standardized tests in their performance evaluations. This criticism of “high-stakes testing” would later bring Common Core under assault from both ends of the political spectrum. 

I see this written over and over.  The standards got quietly okayed in nearly every state board of ed and state legislature and then the creators are shocked and surprised when the enactment of them turned into a firestorm.  Little public notice - especially to parents and educators - over the most massive change in American public education and they thought no one would notice? 

And these poor state officials and CEOs got blindsided and had no resources to marshal a defense of these standards?  They whined for about five minutes and then what did they do?  Created yet another faux education non-profit.

Recognizing the need for conservative political and PR savvy, Common Core backers turned to a new nonprofit they’d established, called the Collaborative for Student Success, to “ensure fact-based discussion.” (The group’s funding includes $27.9 million from the Gates Foundation, as well as grants from the ExxonMobil Foundation.) 

Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil

But Tillerson articulates his view in a fashion unlikely to resonate with the average parent. “I’m not sure public schools understand that we’re their customer—that we, the business community, are your customer,” said Tillerson during the panel discussion. “What they don’t understand is they are producing a product at the end of that high school graduation.”

The Exxon CEO didn’t hesitate to extend his analogy. “Now is that product in a form that we, the customer, can use it? Or is it defective, and we’re not interested?” American schools, Tillerson declared, “have got to step up the performance level—or they’re basically turning out defective products that have no future. Unfortunately, the defective products are human beings. So it’s really serious. It’s tragic. But that’s where we find ourselves today.”

Your kids? A product for business use.  And guess what? To business nothing else matters but your children's output to business.  Is this the thinking in all of big business? No but I'd bet is is for the majority of them (no matter what smiling corporate face they put on.)

Final thoughts

There are several presidential candidates who have backed off from early support of CCSS.  Those would be Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie,  Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush.

Steadily in favor: Hillary Clinton, John Kasich

No clear position: Bernie Sanders

Always opposed: Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Donald Trump

While public education has not received much attention during these early debates, I'm thinking there will come a day when we will hear from candidates and be able to base our support on what those views are.

Where does Fortune leave CCSS?

That said, Common Core has become a reality. Like Obamacare, it’s reviled in many quarters. Yet it’s increasingly impractical to undo. Countless schools have established curriculums designed around the standards, retrained teachers, and bought new books and materials. Reversing course would require redoing all of that again.  

That's true but that doesn't mean that the standards might not be watered down in practice.  As we see in Seattle, curriculum may get bought but not always used with fidelity.  (You'll note that Fortune says all the ways that CCSS can't be undone and even bring Obamacare into the mix and yet, they don't mention that Obamacare has similar issues and yet there are those on the right who believe it can be undone.)

One funny aside is that the illustrations used in the article - a pencil down to its nub, a crumbled test sheet - are all things that are gone with the wind when it comes to Common Core testing.


Anonymous said...

I always naively thought the "product" of public education is an educated citizenry. One that has the democratic power to change laws and reign in these dangerous bozos, and send them back to the luxury rocks under which they live.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Desinfectant, there's training and there's education. Personally, as you suggest, I would rather have educated citizens and not just trained workers.

Anonymous said...

Really the product is not the workforce, rather it is the consumer.

Outsider said...

You have to keep in mind the background to common core, and the reason why the 1% get involved. Their real priority is to offshore jobs and increase the number of H1 visas. Common core, and education reforms more generally, are charades designed to rationalize off-shoring and importing foreigners. The goal is not really to change education, but just to create a yardstick that can be used to say "see, American kids had their chance and they blew it. They failed, they are defective, they didn't measure up. So we hired Chinese engineers. What else could we do?"

Standards are a red herring. They neither help nor hurt, just distract attention from the policies that actually hold American kids back and demoralize the schools.

Anonymous said...

From the article =>

"Yet it’s increasingly impractical to undo. Countless schools have established curriculums designed around the standards, retrained teachers, and bought new books and materials. Reversing course would require redoing all of that again."

Hummm... NAEP scores went in the tank in 2015 .... perhaps redoing "all of that" will be justified.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data.... but as Outsider points out above ... the priority is NOT improvement.

-- Dan Dempsey

Charlie Mas said...

All of Corporate Education Reform has exactly two goals:
1) To reduce the cost of public education and thereby reduce the taxes needed to pay for it.
2) To re-direct as much of the public education budget as possible into corporate hands.

Towards that end, they work to de-professionalize teaching (TFA, union busting, "teacher quality" programs, Value-added), force education into a business model (talk about product and productivity), and, whenever possible prove public education a failure (NCLB, assessments, Standards). If the Corporate Education Reformers can prove that public education is a failure they can erode public support for it and they can pitch their privatized solutions. Standards Based Education, in theory, doesn't cause failure, but it is failure-focused in practice. Just as No Child Left Behind set an impossible requirement of 100% of students working at grade level in 2014, the Common Core, under the banner of "establishing high standards to make students college and career ready", also sets impossibly high standards, and then fosters an ineffective curriculum.

The whole object is to prove public education a failure. Common Core isn't intended to improve education but to erode public support for it.

Anonymous said...

Just because I had to look it up and it's super-interesting:

It's a great idiom - we need to make up another that doesn't sound so racist.

Chris S.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks Chris and I agree that it's a very fine line. But you'd think elected officials and CEOs might be a little more aware and graceful in their language (Trump not withstanding.)

Here's a link to another good look at common phrases and where they came from:

I think it IS a difficult thing to erase all phrasing that had bad origins. Language evolves and moves on. But it also doesn't mean you can say anything you want and then plead ignorance.

Charlie Mas said...

The Fortune article certainly was written from a perspective supportive of Common Core and unquestioning of the presumptions that support it. The writer characterizes US education results as "dismal" without offering any meaningful data to back up that contention. The article is dismissive of those who oppose the Common Core State Standards and focuses, almost exclusively, on the goofiest statements made against it. It characterizes those who support Common Core as rational, informed, and altruistic and those who oppose it as emotional, misinformed, and self-interested.

It's a pretty good hackjob. A little heavy-handed at times, but pretty good.

Ms206 said...

As a teacher, I am totally in Favor of national standards. It makes so much sense to have a common system across states. My issue with Commom Core SS are the process for developing them and the actual content. The standards are too rigorous in the lower grades. The K standards for literacy should be the standards For First grade. I have less of an issue with the math standards, but I think that the ones for K should be a little easier. Setting unrealistically high standards sets up kids to Fail.

Ms206 said...

As a teacher, I am totally in Favor of national standards. It makes so much sense to have a common system across states. My issue with Commom Core SS are the process for developing them and the actual content. The standards are too rigorous in the lower grades. The K standards for literacy should be the standards For First grade. I have less of an issue with the math standards, but I think that the ones for K should be a little easier. Setting unrealistically high standards sets up kids to Fail.

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