Wednesday, February 04, 2015

What does it even mean to oppose the Common Core?

Nine Questions

This from Fordham:
Almost every article and column written about the nascent GOP presidential campaign mentions Tea Party opposition to immigration reform and the Common Core—and most candidates’ efforts to align themselves with the Republican base on these two issues. (A Google News search turns up more than 11,000 hits for “Common Core” and “immigration” and “Republican.”)

When it comes to immigration reform, it’s easy to understand what the hard-right candidates oppose: any form of amnesty for people who entered the country illegally.

But what does it mean when Ted Cruz, or Rand Paul, or Bobby Jindal says he “opposes” the Common Core? Reporters* might ask them:
  1. Do you mean that you oppose the Common Core standards themselves? All of them? Even the ones related to addition and subtraction? Phonics? Studying the nation’s founding documents? Or just some of them? Which ones, in particular, do you oppose? Have you actually read the standards?
  2. Or do you mean that you oppose the role that the federal government played in coercing states to adopt the Common Core? Fair enough, but don’t you share that exact same position with every Republican in Congress and every other Republican running for president, including Jeb Bush?
  3. Do you mean that you think states should drop out of the Common Core? States like Iowa? Isn’t that a bit presumptive, considering that you’re not from Iowa and the state’s Republican governor wants Common Core to stay
  4. If you do think that states should reject the Common Core, which standards should replace them? Do they need to be entirely different, or just a little bit different?  And could you cite a specific example of a standard that needs to be “different?”
  5. Or do you mean that you oppose the way Common Core has been implemented? If so, everywhere, or just in some states? Or just in some schools? You are running for president; do you think the president of the United States has a role in fixing Common Core implementation?
  6. Do you mean you oppose any standards in education that cross state lines? Several years ago, the governors came to an agreement about a common way to measure high school graduation rates. Do you oppose that, too?
  7. Or do you mean that you oppose any standards, even those set at the state level? Since states have the constitutional responsibility to provide a sound education, don’t you think they should be clear about what they expect students to know and be able to do in the basic subjects?
  8. Or do you mean that you oppose standards that aim to get young people ready for college or a good-paying career? Do you think that’s too high a standard? What standard would you prefer?
  9. Tell us again: Why do you oppose the Common Core?
* These are good questions to ask Republican senators, too, who will almost surely rail against the Common Core when the Elementary and Secondary Education act comes to the Senate floor later this year.


Richard Innes said...

Let’s get a little balance here. Fordham would now need to ask a growing list of liberals their same, straw man questions.

For example, Diane Ravitch is one such CCSS opponent.

The Central Committee of the Democratic Party in Washington State just adopted an anti-CCSS position, as well. That adds to a number of state-level teachers unions that are upset with the CCSS or the actual impacts resulting from their implementation.

By the way, Fordham needs to get its own standards house in order.

Fordham jumped rather hard on the NextGen Science Standards for leaving out high school chemistry and physics – basically the last two years of high school science for any student serious about STEM. So, I don’t understand how Fordham can defend the CCSS, which omit the last two years of high school math for students who want to go into STEM or other challenging careers. It isn’t that we expect all students to take trigonometry and pre-calculus, but if a state has no standards for those courses, then schools have no need to offer high quality in those courses – or to even offer them at all.

As far as Fordham wringing its hands over what to do if we drop CCSS, that’s easy. If states want really good standards, some of the old ones from Massachusetts would be a smart place to start.

In fact, with the Kentucky social studies revision now more or less under way (Even Prichard has problems with what was offered in October), our social studies teachers should look at the Massachusetts History and Social Studies Framework, as well.

Richard Day said...

Or, those who oppose Common Core could simply support their views by answering the questions.

Ravitch opposes CCSS as part of the larger high-stakes reform movement, but she does not oppose curriculum standards.

And I don't see any conflict between supporting common standards but vigorously debating the content in those standards, as Fordham seems to do. Prich too.

And, as you know, the standards are not a ceiling.

Richard Innes said...

Richard, you write:

“And I don't see any conflict between supporting common standards but vigorously debating the content in those standards, as Fordham seems to do. Prich too.”

For one thing, Fordham and Prichard would both debate you strongly regarding the contention that content is “in” those standards. Both organizations have clearly tried to make a case that content is quite different from standards.

Anyway, here’s another point about supporting common standards. It is now 2015. Common Core was released in 2010. There is no national organization in existence with technical experts to service the standards by handling questions and taking in suggestions for improvement. That makes Common Core a very dead set of standards.

In recognition of this, Terry Holliday has launched his own Common Core Challenge to take in suggestions to update the Common Core as applied in Kentucky. However, that very process will likely make Kentucky’s standards less common unless we somehow decide to stay with exactly what was created in 2010.

So, why is Fordham defending these particular, non-living standards? Are you also doing that?

One more point, real standards would not look like Common Core. They would be more specific and include information about how good a performance is good enough so that everyone, including test writers, would be on the same page. Good standards would preclude the confusion and double-speak we are currently hearing about whether fuzzy math approaches are in, or not (CCSS writers like Jason Zimba say the fuzzy approaches were not intended, but he didn’t write the standards well enough to keep them out). Why do you think Fordham does not understand this very basic, Standards 101 sort of stuff?

Richard Day said...

Richard: Yes, I take your point on content. I typically say curriculum standards which is more correct.

I do not think common core standards are dead any more than any other state-led program would be. Are you arguing in favor of federal control?

Holliday's challenge is appropriate.Curriculum standards ought to be revisited from time to time. That can be done while still maintaining agreement on the bulk of the standards. They were looking for about 85% agreement, as I recall. After all, when states have gone against CCSS, they have also invariably, recreated very similar standards in the aftermath.

Fordham and I disagree that anything is dead in the standards.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you've always been big on testing, right? You seem to view standards as necessary for testing. That's true. But I think Petrilli and I see instruction as the reason for having curriculum standards.

To whatever extent testing for accountability remains a part of NCLB, national curriculum standards are the only way to produce comparable results - the lack of which, both of us have criticized in the past. In fact, it was that lack of comparability that led to CCSS.

Content standards would look different. Curriculum standards would not.

Like the Bluegrass Institute, Fordham is political. They occupy a more moderate position on the political spectrum that y'all do, but there's a lot of overlap too. Groups that exist to advance a particular political mission tend to remain true to the politics and funding sources.

I think they understand the political realities very well.


Richard Innes said...


You cover a lot of territory with your last. I’ll try to deal with some of that here.

You said, “I do not think common core standards are dead any more than any other state-led program would be.”

Well, right now the Common Core State Standards are a non-living document. There is no national service organization to answer questions and take comments for improvement. To me, that is rather dead, and it definitely is not the way to run a standards-based operation. The fact that Kentucky is having to take over, but only for the benefit of our state, what should be a nationwide review/revision effort is just more evidence that the Common Core isn’t being supported.

Standards absolutely need revisiting, sometimes on a fairly frequent basis depending upon how well developed they are. But, I don’t know if Kentucky can change even a small part of the existing Common Core and still keep the rest of it. There is a copyright, and Kentucky doesn’t own it.

What if our teachers and citizens want to change more than a small amount of the standards? We don’t know what will be recommended at this time because the comments are still being collected.

You said, “They were looking for about 85% agreement, as I recall.”

No, you have this wrong. The agreement Gov. Beshear signed in 2009 said we agreed that CCSS would comprise at least 85% of all our standards. We did not receive authority to change any of what was in that 85% that came from CCSS. We could only add at most another 15% to the CCSS (however you figure out what 15% of a standard is).

You said, “Fordham and I disagree that anything is dead in the standards.”

If they were once alive during their development, but they don’t continue to live today, they are currently dead. They could be resurrected if a national service group is formed, but I don’t hear anyone talking about doing that. Have you heard anything?

You said, “Correct me if I'm wrong, but you've always been big on testing, right? You seem to view standards as necessary for testing. That's true.”

The right kinds of assessments are crucial to effective instruction.
However, that is only part of the process. A good standards-based education system starts with explicit standards that are expressed in terms that can be measured. Then, coordinating with the standards writers, a solid curriculum is developed. In the next step, well-trained teachers (which might require a lot of PD for existing teachers when a radically new program is started) teach the curriculum while having access to both the standards and curriculum creators as questions come up and inevitable short-comings in the curriculum and standards are discovered. Finally, the people writing the assessments need to coordinate and cooperate with the standards, curriculum and classroom people so that tests are properly established. And, after the tests are administered and graded, all of the education groups need to conduct feedback and collaboration to find out what worked, what didn’t, and what needs adjusting, which could be anything from the standards to the curriculum to instruction or even the test questions.

I’m not sure we are going to get that with CCSS, however. For one thing, the lack of solid information on how good a performance is good enough leaves curriculum developers, teachers and assessment developers in the dark. That sets the stage for weak assessments.

And, the fact that the CCSS people folded their tent and went home means a critical part of the feedback system isn’t functioning.