Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Stine's Flip Flop on Common Core

Governor Ernie Fletcher
In 2004, Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher’s (R-Lexington) education agenda featured the idea of getting high schoolers ready for college and the workplace, including year-end assessments and better curriculum alignment across all core content areas. Fletcher’s plan was developed based on research conducted through the state's participation in the American Diploma Project, a joint effort of three Washington-based education reform groups: Achieve Inc., the Education Trust, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation – which are not coincidentally, also the groups behind the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).[1]
When Fletcher’s Education Secretary Virginia Fox met with the National Governor’s Association in February 2005, she reported that Kentucky already had a pre- K-16 council working to forge stronger ties between high schools and higher education. "We've been working very hard on the issue of alignment," added Ms. Fox. "That's a track we're on, and we'll continue aggressively - and, in fact, probably accelerate."[2]

David Williams
Accelerate they did. In 2009, the Kentucky legislature passed Senate Bill 1 which was sponsored by a host of Republicans including former Senate President David Williams (R-Burkesville) along with Sens. Katie Stine (R-Southgate) and Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) who have recently had second thoughts. SB1 directed the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and the Council of Postsecondary Education (CPE) to plan and imple­ment a comprehensive process for re­vising the core standards so they are fewer in number, more focused and in-depth, evidenced-based, incorpo­rate international benchmarks where possible, and are common from high school to postsecondary introduc­tory courses.

That’s what Common Core did, and it didn’t forget about junior and senior year in the process. After requiring fewer standards, Stine and Thayer seem to want to put more back in.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday had been on the job less than a week, in August 2009, when he sat before the Interim Joint Committee on Education to talk about the implementation of Senate Bill 1. Listening were many of the key crafters of the bill including Stine. 

Damon Thayer
“Kentucky has long been known for national leadership in education reform,” said Holliday. “Your insight and preparation in Senate Bill 1 will lead us into the next generation of education reform.” He made it clear that he was ready and able to follow their game plan.

A key provision of the bill seeks to ensure high school graduates are prepared for college or jobs eliminating the need for zero-credit developmental classes in the process. Holliday and CPE President Bob King confirmed to the SB1 sponsors that they understood the legislators’ desire for a Kentucky high school diploma to truly indicate the student has completed work which is synchronized with the course requirements needed for college success.

KDE staff handed out detailed time lines for implementing the deadlines imposed by the bill – which was to be fully implemented by 2011. College Readiness Workgroups had already been established to review the common core standards. After reviewing the time lines Stine encouraged Holliday and King saying, “It’s a tall task but it looks like you’re well on your way.”[3]

KDE’s Michael Miller explained to the legislators that 49 states and/or territories would be reviewing the national common core standards and that even though adoption of the standards is voluntary, states choosing to partici­pate must adopt all of the standards as they are released, and then may add some of their own standards. The legislature knew the process when they approved it. Additionally, Stine said she was ex­tremely interested in the progress being made on Senate Bill 1 and inquired about the possibility of Kentucky winning a Race to the Top grant.[4] 

At that time she was apparently unconcerned by the Obama administration’s encouragement of CCSS and wanted those federal dollars for Kentucky – especially since the legislature did not fund SB1.

Katie Stine
My research, however failed to reveal any instance where Stine questioned the approach or spoke of concerns with Common Core State Standards prior to April 2013 when the Republican National Committee decided to oppose CCSS, apparently because it was endorsed by President Obama. Since then, some previous supporters have been dreaming up ways to explain away their flip flop on Common Core.

In her recent H-L Op-Ed, Stine claims that CCSS would fail to meet the needs of all students including those most advanced, and that somehow, CCSS hampers a student’s ability to “take those upper-level high school courses that are essential prerequisites to college studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).”

Commissioner Holliday refuted Stine’s claims telling KSN&C: 

Kentucky Core Academic Standards (KCAS) do not result in the omission of science and mathematics courses in high school, including higher level mathematics and science courses. In fact, the standards are a vast improvement over the previous outdated standards and are designed to better prepare students to enter postsecondary education and be successful in college-level courses.  

Some have argued that the new standards eliminate the teaching of subjects like chemistry or physics in high school. That is not true. Five of the 16 topics in the high school standards contain physical science topics that could be taught in either a chemistry or physics class. The five chemistry and physics topics are: Structures and Properties of Matter; Chemical Reactions; Energy; Forces and Interactions; and Waves and Electromagnetic Radiation. Additionally, the standards represent the minimum content students are required to master. Every school and district has the freedom to supplement the standards, to create curricula appropriate for their students and to add topics as they see fit. Further, the number of students enrolled in physics and chemistry courses has increased significantly in recent years. Since 2010, Kentucky school districts have enrolled almost 372,000 students in chemistry and physics classes. Not only have the number of students enrolled increased, but we see more and more districts expanding course options in physics and chemistry, even in districts with small student populations.   

As I noted during my recent testimony before the Senate Education Committee, physics and chemistry courses are being taught in Kentucky high schools. Due to enrollment and financial constraints, however, some schools alternate the years in which these courses are offered. The issue is not related to standards, but rather enrollment, finances and the availability of certified teachers in those content areas. The Kentucky Board of Education and I are strong supporters of students having access to rigorous, quality science and mathematics instruction and have been working diligently to expand such offerings through a host of partnerships and initiatives, including supporting the work of AdvanceKentucky to increase Advanced Placement courses statewide and expanding opportunities for dual credit and online learning. 

Your average Kentuckian might be forgiven for being duped by the outlandish claims made by extreme critics. But a fully-briefed state senator who prompted the effort to begin with? Not so much.

It reminds me of Bob Sexton’s response, in 1994, when a grandmother called a radio show to proclaim on good authority that Kentucky was training kids to become communists, witches, and homosexuals. “My caller was repeating flagrant distortions as if they were gospel,” Sexton wrote. The caller was not unique, just extreme. As Sexton understood, “This fight today could become a tragic diversion from the real business of school reform…because it comes from mixing ignorance and deceit.”[5] 

As H-L’s editorial board correctly suggests, the duplicitous actions of some legislative leaders has tended to undermine the ability of government to function at its most basic level. Every issue becomes suspect as a bad-faith negotiation. The ability to debate, compromise, and govern effectively is lost when wasteful knee-jerk reactions to partisan politics undercut that essential trust.

[1] Kentucky Seeks to Improve College Readiness Education Week - Wednesday, November 17, 2004 Author: Vaishali Honawar
[2] High Schools in Limelight for Summit - Governors Are Prepared to Talk About Change Education Week - Wednesday, February 23, 2005  Author: Lynn Olson and Alan Richard
[3] Daily Independent, The (Ashland, KY) - Monday, August 10, 2009 Author: Ronnie Ellis
[4] 2009 Interim record – August http://www.lrc.ky.gov/legislat/pastint.htm
[5] Common aspirations at core of reform - The Debate over reform The Kentucky Post - Thursday, January 20, 1994 Author: Robert F. Sexton


Anonymous said...

Dr. Day,

With respect, a lot of people disagree with Holliday about the omission of higher end high school coursework in Common Core.

Why don’t you have some of the real math people at Eastern (Not Ed School folks) show us and you where the reportedly missing trig and pre-calculus material is actually found in CCSS.

Why don’t you have your science professors tell us where key high school chemistry stuff like chemical equations and the Universal Gas Law and important high school physics subjects like fundamentals of electrical circuits are found.

Fordham Foundation and others say you won’t be able to find such essential upper-level high school material in CCSS. Unless you can show that to us, the CCSS are clearly deficient as a way to comply with SB-1 (which, unlike CCSS, requires the needs of all students, including advanced students, to be addressed).

Also, take a look at a new American Enterprise Institute paper titled “Flying under the radar? Analyzing Common Core media coverage.” Maybe Senator Stine and others were delayed in speaking out about CCSS because the media did a lousy job of covering the creation and initial implementation of these new standards. Maybe a groundswell of concern was there, but the media just wasn’t paying attention.

Most importantly, ask yourself some common-sense questions. With people like Diane Ravitch and the Washington Post’s education blogger laying hard into Common Core, do you really think there are no problems? Do you really think the criticism is all just politics?

Common, you are capable of better analysis than this.

Richard Day said...

Thanks for the comment.

For all of the reasons I’ve mentioned, I’m more than a little skeptical about Stine’s motives. And I am keenly aware of those who don’t buy what Holliday is selling. I’m sure that includes a good number of our readers and we try to give voice to those folks (and others) through KSN&C.

I am also well aware of the disagreements that surround the standards themselves. In fact, I can’t remember a curriculum movement where disagreements didn’t occur.

It seems to me that CCSS attempts to frame up a set of expectations without dictating the specific curriculum to get there. That is left to the schools. (Wait until you see the social studies standards. They appear to be completely dedicated to not promoting any specific curriculum.)
The thing to keep in mind here is the CCSS is a set of curriculum standards that describe certain student performances that would allow a student to be ready for college. It’s not a curriculum per se, and no science teacher is precluded from teaching the content that will best help students reach the standards, Universal Gas Law and electricity included.

I imagine teachers at my former school, Ryland Elementary (Kenton Co.), where we had a lake and nature trail, would choose to teach different earth science topics than my teachers at Cassidy or Meadowthorpe (Fayette Co.) would. Each situation comes with its own set of resources and creative teachers will gravitate toward what works best for their kids. As I understand it, CCSS is supposed to work that way.

You are quite correct to suggest that Diane Ravitch has had a big impact on this. It is true across the US, and doubly true for New York where she works. But if you read her books, she’s not opposed to curriculum standards. She’s opposed to CCSS as a part of the larger corporate education movement – one that funnels money to corporations. She’s much tougher on the abuses of teachers, anti-scientific teacher evaluation schemes, high-stakes testing for accountability, charter schools and their too frequent abuses (particularly for-profit charters), vouchers, etc.

If Stine’s motives were as you surmise, wouldn’t her rhetoric be different? I think she would be calling for specific improvements - not trying to throw the whole thing out, and waste tens of millions of dollars in the process.

I expect politicians to be politically motivated. That’s my analysis.

Thanks again.

Richard Day said...

Oh, and...

Education policy folks certainly knew about common core, but CCSS did not get a lot of early popular media coverage because it was not particularly controversial. Most of the recent interest has come from the RNC's decision to oppose CCSS, and the FreedomWorks campaign to defeat them. If it weren't for that, I doubt we would even be discussing the topic today.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Stine’s motives, if she does want improvements, how can we do that when the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers hold the copyright to these standards? Is there a way to override that copyright?

Richard Day said...

Good question:

First, Kentucky Core Academic Standards and CCSS are not perfectly equal as it is.

Second, I'm not sure there's a copyright issue here. Kentucky is free to use, and expand on the CCSS.

From KDE’s perspective, since the Kentucky Core Academic Standards represent a floor, not a ceiling, teachers have the freedom to go beyond the standards at any time as long as they also cover what is included in the standards. They believe Kentucky has the authority to add new standards as the state sees fit...and Sen. Stine is certainly in a position to influence that review.

Per Senate Bill 1 (2009), the goal is for our content standards to focus on critical knowledge, skills and capacities needed for success in the global economy.

KDE’s aim is to do that by preparing students for college and careers, and they believe KCAS effectively does that. However, Kentucky has always reviewed their curriculum standards, and the plan is to re-examine the standards after an unspecified period of time to see what, if anything, may need to be adjusted or changed based on research and practice.

Anonymous said...

Career ready needs to be the focus, not college ready. We are trying to send students to colleges which often are more interested in pumping up enrollment and marketing conveniency through technology than they are about providing an education which is actually usable in the future work force. Post secondary graduation rates are sorry and you can't just lay that at the door step of K-12 prep. It is not just K-12 that has to work on getting students ready, universities have a long way to go too.