A recently released Brookings Institute Study called ‚ÄúThe 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education: HOW WELL ARE AMERICAN STUDENTS LEARNING?‚ÄĚ tells us ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt let the ferocity of the oncoming debate fool you. The empirical evidence suggests that the Common Core will have little effect on American students‚Äô achievement. The nation will have to look elsewhere for ways to improve its school‚ÄĚ
The Professional Educators of Tennessee‚Äôs blog site has a primer on the CCSS which quotes several expert views:
‚ÄúThe Obama administration has pressed hard for the speedy acceptance of the so-called common core standards, arguing that the establishment of centralized norms replacing those in 50 states will raise the achievement of students who most need help. The opponents say that a system created in Washington will become captive to the education establishment, and that the standards, as currently written, will promote mediocrity across the board. ‚Ä¶Jim Arnold Pelham City, Ga., school chief writes:
‚ÄúCritic Alfie Kohn, the author of a dozen books on education and human behavior, states ‚Äėuniformity isn‚Äôt the same thing as excellence; high standards don‚Äôt require common standards. And neither does uniformity promote equity‚Äô‚Ä¶.
‚ÄúSandra Stotsky a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas takes a different approach, but reaches a similar conclusion: ‚ÄėThe Common Core standards may accomplish the goal of equalizing education but not in a way the supporters initially hoped: they may lead to more uniformly mediocre student achievement than we now have.‚Ä¶‚Äô
‚ÄúBruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, suggested: ‚Äėstandards threaten to further routinize pedagogy, filling students with bits of reified knowledge ‚ÄĒ leaving behind the essence, the humanistic genius of liberal learning.‚Äô Then Fuller points out: ‚ÄėThe strange thing in all this is that the political left is now preaching the virtues of systems, uniformity and sacred knowledge. Lost are the virtues of liberal learning, going back to the Enlightenment when progressives first nudged educators to nurture in children a sense of curiosity and how to question dominant doctrine persuasively.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúCommon Core is a standardized national curriculum. Why is this problematic? From an historical context, a centralized school curriculum serves the goals of totalitarian states. Jefferson warned us about that.Lynn Stoddard a retired educator from Utah and the author of four books on the need for authentic reform of public education wrote this month in the Deseret News, ‚ÄúOne big problem with the Common Core Curriculum, recently adopted by Utah and 46 other states, is this feature. It specifies what all students should know and be able to do at grade-level check points. It pressures teachers, with excessive testing; to make students fit the curriculum. The testing draws forth low level teaching by trying to measure student growth in likenesses. Never mind that it's impossible to standardize students; the Common Core is exactly what it says it is, ‚Äėcommon.‚Äô It tries to make students "common" in knowledge and skills. It's a generic, narrow curriculum designed by subject matter specialists who have never even met the students it is designed to serve.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThere are additional issues: 1) there are few interdisciplinary connections between subjects. Research for many years has shown the positive effects of interdisciplinary connections on student learning and achievement; 2) citizenship, personal development and the promotion of democratic values is ignored.
‚ÄúIt is rather troubling to note the number of educational ‚Äėreforms‚Äô that ignore educational research, as if invoking the magic word ‚Äėreform‚Äô is enough to allow any imposition however implausible.
‚ÄúWith adoption of the Common Core standards, you can rest assured that Common Core standardized testing is not far behind. How can we expect a single, nationwide standardized ‚Äėpick-a-bubble‚Äô machine scored test to effectively measure what is taught in practically every school system in the United States? The documented testing issues we already see with state assessments will increase exponentially.‚ÄĚ
There are several valid reasons why so many voices across the nation are speaking out against the CCSS. (1) They are untested, so no one knows whether they will work or not. (2) They are based on a bad theory of pedagogy. It is a theory of pedagogy that encourages direct instruction and the development of fact knowledge and the accountability portion will narrow curriculum. What is tested is what is taught in a high stakes environment. It is the behavioral theory of education that was promoted by Edgar Thorndike and BF Skinner. (3) Professionals in the classroom have had no authentic input into the standards development which means the standards are not likely to be appropriate for various aged students. They are being written by university professors, noble laureates and businessmen none of whom have a reputation for knowing how to teach even at the college level and are especially clueless about how to teach third graders. (4) Who has control over the standards is a big concern. Are the standards being perverted for various business or religious or political purposes?
In his recent book Teaching Minds, Roger Schank - the founder of the renowned Institute for Learning Sciences at Northwestern University, where he is John P. Evans Professor Emeritus in Computer Science, Education and Psychology ‚Äď makes several important points about good pedagogy. He point out, ‚ÄúThere is no evidence whatsoever that accumulation of facts and background knowledge are the same thing. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Facts learned out of context, and apart from actual real-world experience that is repeated over and over, are not retained.‚ÄĚ
In another section of the book, Dr. Schank quotes many politicians and describes their lack of understanding about how people learn and why they support accountability. He states:
‚ÄúAccountability must play well in Peoria because every politician is for it.In his book Dr. Schank excoriates the quality of teaching at universities. He attributes the poor quality of teaching to what he calls the star system in higher education. Universities that want high ratings look for Nobel Prize winners and other internationally famous professors. They do not look for good teachers. Dr. Schank himself came to Northwestern via the star system when Northwestern made him a better offer than Yale was willing to match. The point is that quality of teaching is not a consideration, yet these same professors who gained fame through the star system and not their understanding of pedagogy are writing the CCSS.
‚ÄúAccountability must mean to voters, I assume, that teacher will be measured by how well they teach their students. Political candidates, always willing to hop on an uncontroversial point of view, are all quite certain that the voters know what they are talking about. No matter how stupid NCLB is, no matter how mean spirited, no matter how awful for both teachers and students, its very horror rests on the premise that no one seems to be disputing that the federal government has the right to tell the schools what to teach and to see whether they are indeed teaching it.‚ÄĚ
Dr. Schank shares and interesting anecdote to bolster this point:
‚ÄúAt MIT, where students are different than they are at Northwestern by quite a bit, there are a number of superstars that I know quite well. Two of them, whom I will not name but are about as famous as a professor can be, are people I have heard lecture many times. I have never understood what they were talking about in any of those lectures. Now, bear in mind that I know their fields very well so I should have been able to understand them. Also, bear in mind that I was a terrible student, which means my attention fades fast when I am bored or irritated.‚ÄĚ
The CCSS are purported to be the result of a group of states voluntarily agreeing to a set of curricular standards. The reality is the Gates foundation paid to develop the standards, paid to evaluate the standards, and is underwriting Pearson‚Äôs program to create online courses and resources for the standards, which will be sold by Pearson, for a profit, to schools across the nation. We are told, ‚ÄúThe Common Core State Standards Initiative is an effort led by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.‚ÄĚ However, the reality is different. An example of the real process is the present Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which are in progress. Officially the NGSS development is ‚Äúa joint effort between the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve.‚ÄĚ When queried about the NGSS the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Achieve are the only sites that give current information. The information at NSTA is illuminating:
‚ÄúIn a process managed by Achieve, 26 states are leading the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The science education community got a first glimpse of the NGSS draft when it was released during the first public comment period from May 11 through June 1. According to Achieve, the writers are now working to review all of the comments and develop a second draft to be released for public comment in the fall 2012. Achieve has removed the first draft from the web while it undergoes revision."Achieve is the lead partner writing the science standards, but achieve is a private non-profit that is only accountable to its founders and donors. The Achieve web site lists their contributors:
"The Battelle Foundation; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; The Boeing Company; Brookhill Foundation; Carnegie Corporation of New York; The Cisco Foundation; The GE Foundation; IBM Corporation; Intel Foundation; JP Morgan Chase Foundation; The Joyce Foundation; Lumina; MetLife Foundation; Nationwide; Noyce Foundation; The Prudential Foundation; Sandler Foundation; State Farm Insurance Companies; and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation."So it is really these corporations and foundations who are writing the NGSS. The people of this country and professional educators have already lost control of these standards. They are in the control of these corporations which is exactly what is to be feared, an unaccountable group gaining sway over national education standards.
The state of New York recently published some sample English language and mathematics Common Core questions for third graders. Jeff Nichols a parent of a 3rd grader responded, ‚ÄúWell, I looked at the sample 3rd grade ELA questions. Utterly bizarre (sic). I would never put this material in front of my 8-year-olds (avid, enthusiastic, proficient readers both). The Tolstoy translation is stilted and boring, and full of inappropriate vocabulary (hoarfrost? caftan? threshing-floor?) It's as though the selection were made to project this to the kids: "reading is excruciatingly dull and confusing; maybe you thought you could do it, but I'm here to tell you 8-year-olds are stupid and teachers (and test designers) are smart. You're going to have to work like a dog and suffer a lot if you want to pass this test." Honestly, I thought the practice tests that came home all year as homework were bad, but they were just meaty, unreadable trivial passages followed by absurd and confusing questions. This CC sample is worse: it's perverse, overtly hostile to young children. A former 3rd grade teacher commented, ‚ÄúI just looked at the 3rd grade math assessment and they are asking the children to understand algebra.‚ÄĚ They are asking third graders to understand algebra because it is in the CCSS math standards for third grade. These standards and tests are not ready for prime time. They are being rushed through without regard for the possible damage.
Stephen Krashen is professor emeritus at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education. He recently wrote:
‚ÄúThe mediocre performance of American students on international tests seems to show that our schools are doing poorly. But students from middle-class homes who attend well-funded schools rank among the best in world on these tests, which means that teaching is not the problem. The problem is poverty. Our overall scores are unspectacular because so many American children live in poverty (23 percent, ranking us 34th out of 35 ‚Äúeconomically advanced countries‚ÄĚ).We are in a period in which states across the country are slashing education budgets but the CCSS which will cost billions up front for: text books; infrastructure such as high speed networks, new software and more computers; training; consultants; tests; and much more is being pushed through as if it were going to stop the end of civilization. This push to spend money we don‚Äôt have on standards that are not fully developed and are based on questionable pedagogical theory is unreasonable. The only thing certain about the CCSS is that a lot of private businesses will make a lot of money. A likely outcome of CCSS is less money will reach the classroom and another likely outcome is that education in America will be harmed!
‚ÄúPoverty means inadequate nutrition and health care, and little access to books, all associated with lower school achievement. Addressing those needs will increase achievement and better the lives of millions of children.
‚ÄúHow can we pay for this? Reduce testing. The common core demands an astonishing increase in testing, far more than needed and far more than the already excessive amount required by No Child Left Behind.
‚ÄúThe cost will be enormous. New York City plans to spend over half a billion dollars on technology in schools, primarily so that students can take the electronically delivered national tests. Research shows that increasing testing does not increase achievement. A better investment is protecting children from the effects of poverty, in feeding the animal, not just weighing it.‚ÄĚ