Are the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards Progressive Ideology?
A growing criticism of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards is that its way for progressives to inject their philosophies and ideology onto children and youth in American schools. Ralph Watts, a state representative from Iowa believes this, and in his mind, the evidence is clear. Evidence of progressive philosophy can be found throughout the standards. According to Watts,
In a nutshell, after reviewing the information, I have to conclude that the Next Generation Science Standards are more about promoting an ideology than they are about science. Throughout the curriculum the topic of global warming (climate change) is taught as a fact rather than a concept. In addition, the syllabus is full of references to humans’ negative impact on our environment and what can be done about it. It suggests throughout that industry (meaning the private sector) causes irreparable harm to the environment. In addition, the study of chemistry is eliminated along with chemistry labs.
From the Right
In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, Wayne Washington wrote that the new national standards stoke new fears. In typical fashion, the author included comments and ideas from “both” sides of the argument. One comment that struck me was this one:
The fight over the standards that critics call “ObamaCore” recently led the Cobb County School Board to reject new math textbooks for the district’s students.
Obamacore? Obamacore, in the wake of Obamacare (The Affordable Healthcare Act), was coined by the Indiana Republican Assembly (Super Pac). I am not talking about the elected Indiana legislature, but a right-wing Indiana Super Pac, whose mission is to return to the ideology of Reaganism–small government, lower taxes for the rich, free market capitalism that will take over the schools, strong defense, gun rights, pro-life, and of course, a decent America. According to Michelle Malkin, author and supporter of the Indiana Super Pac, the Common core is rotten to the core. Outside of the context of this right-wing group, I’ve not seen the use of the term Obamacore.
Malkin believes that the Common Core, and I would presume, the Next Generation Science Standards are the result of “Progressive” reformers, led by President Obama, and his “mal-formers” (Malkin’s term) in cahoots with that liberal billionaire Bill Gates. In fact, according to Malkin, President Obama’s education programs, such as Race to the Top enabled the common core. Malkin doesn’t mention in her article that two groups, the Council of Chief State Officers and the National Governors Association established the Common Core.
The movement to impose a common set of standards on U.S. schools began in 2009 at a Chicago meeting held by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and individuals from the states, and Achieve, Inc. This group charged Achieve to develop and write common standards in mathematics and English/language arts. According to research report on the common standards by researchers at the University of Colorado, the development of the common core took a path that undermined one of the tenets of research, and that is openness and transparency. The writing was done in private, and there was only one K-12 educator involved in the process. According to the Colorado study:
The work groups were staffed almost exclusively by employees of Achieve, testing companies (ACT and the College Board), and pro-accountability groups (e.g.,America’s Choice, Student Achievement Partners, the Hoover Institute). Practitioners and subject matter experts complained that they were excluded from the development process.
The Common Standards was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Gates Foundation, and other foundations. Only one classroom teacher participated in the review of the common standards, with nearly all reviewers being university professors. There were no school administrators in the review process.
According to the literature on the Common Core and the Science Standards, the underlying purpose is to prepare students to compete successfully in the global economy. According to Achieve, students, regardless of where they live, will be afforded a “consistent, clear understanding” of what they are to learn, and what teachers are to teach. The Common Core and science standards are state led projects managed by Achieve. In my view, however, Achieve has done a lot more than manage, and the degree to which consultants for Achieve actually wrote standards is unclear. Malkin, and other right-wing Republicans ought to look at the history of these projects to find out who was really behind them. There is supporting evidence that the U.S. Department of Education did not authorize or write the standards, however, that is not to say that they haven’t influenced the adoption and implementation of the standards. They clearly have. States that applied for Race to the Top funds had to specify that they would adopt the common core if they wanted a chance to get some of the $4 billion in funds.
According to the radical-right the Common Core and the Science Standards are the brainchild of progressive reformers. Because the right-wing is in denial about evolution and climate change, they have to resurrect reasons questioning this content in the standards. Progressive educators are to blame. The evolution, creation and intelligent design wars have not gone away. In some states if ideas such as evolution, the Big Bang Theory, stem cell research, abortion, and climate change are part of the science curriculum, then in the spirit of academic freedom, all sides of the issue must be presented. Of course we know that the other side of the issue is the rights insistence that evolution is flawed, and the research on climate change is “not fully settled.” The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has written model legislation entitled Academic Freedom Bills, which many of us consider to be “anti-science” bills such as the Louisiana Science Education Act.
From the Left
There has been much criticism of the Common Core and the Science Standards in the research literature, and from bloggers, many of whom are teachers, who oppose the standards movement.
On this blog I’ve written many posts summarizing the work of others who take a critical look at the standards movement, and its associated high-stakes testing mania. Here are six criticisms of the standards, and their effect on student learning.
1. Brick Walls. In the face of teaching and learning, standards are like brick walls. According to research published by Dr. Carolyn S. Wallace, a professor at the Center for Science Education, Indiana State University, science standards are barriers to teaching and learning in science. She makes this claim in her 2011 study, published in the journal Science Education, entitled Authoritarian Science Curriculum Standards as Barriers to Teaching and Learning: An Interpretation of Personal Experience.
One of the key aspects of her study is her suggestion “that there are two characteristics of the current generation of accountability standards that pose barriers to meaningful teaching and learning in science.”
- The tightly specified nature of successful learning performances precludes classroom teachers from modifying the standards to fits the needs of their students.
- The standards are removed from the thinking and reasoning processes needed to achieve them.
And then she adds that these two barriers are reinforced by the use of high-stakes testing in the present accountability model of education.
Dr. Wallace’s suggestions are significant in that nearly every state has adopted the Common Core State Standards, bringing America very close to having a national set of common standards and possibly a national curriculum, at least in English language arts and mathematics, with science next in line to be adopted by each state.
An important point that Wallace highlights is that teachers (and students) are recipients of the standards, and not having been a part of the process in creating the standards. By and large teachers are not participants in the design and writing of standards. But more importantly, teachers were not part of the decision to use standards to drive school science, first. That was done by élite groups of scientists and educators.
In the rhetoric of the standards, especially Achieve, the U.S. system of science and mathematics education is performing below par, and if something isn’t done, then millions of students will not be ready to compete in the global economy. Achieve cites achievement data from PISA and NAEP to make its case that American science and mathematics teaching is in horrible shape, and needs to fixed. The solution to fix this problem to make the American dream possible for all citizens is to write new science (and mathematics) standards. According to Achieve, quality science teaching is based on content standards “that are rich in content and practice, with aligned curricula, pedagogy, assessment and teacher preparation.
The Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards are theorized to improve learning because the new standards are superior to the existing state standards. Indeed, two groups that studied the state standards did conclude the that Common Core standards were of higher quality. A second improvement to learning is that expectations will be higher than those that now exist in the Common Core and science. The claim here was that the states set their expectations too low, resulting in “inflated” results. And the third area of improvement in learning is that standardizing might lead to higher quality textbooks and other resources since they would only have to be aligned to one set of content standards.
2. The Social-Emotional Consequences. Anxious teachers, sobbing children was the title of an opinion article published in the Atlanta newspaper. The article, written by Stephanie Jones, professor of education at the University of Georgia, asks “What’s the low morale and crying about in education these days? Mandatory dehumanization and emotional policy-making — that’s what.”
Policy makers, acting on emotion and little to no data, have dehumanized schooling by implementing authoritarian standards in a one-size-fits-all system of education. We’ve enabled a layer of the educational system (U.S. Department of Education and the state departments of education) to carry out the NCLB act, and high-stakes tests, and use data from these tests to decide the fate of school districts, teachers and students. One of the outcomes of this policy is the debilitating effects on the mental and physical health of students, teachers and administrators.
The emotional and behavioral disorders that youth experience have only been amplified by the NCLB act.
In research by Ginicola and Saccoccio, entitled Good Intentions, Unintended Consequences: The Impact of NCLB on Children’s Mental Health, they report that NCLB is indirectly damaging children by disproportionately stressing childhood education and blatantly disregarding other areas of child development. Their research on NCLB is enlightening and disturbing.
3. Dehumanizatiion of Students and Teachers. In 2001, the U.S. Congress enacted the No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB requires that each state develop assessments in basic skills, mathematics and reading, at first, but it has now expanded to other areas. The “testing game” is an annual event making every boy and girl take part (starting at grade 3) to make sure that their state and school continue to receive federal funding. The testing games that children and youth are annually required to take part in are used to find winners and losers. Unlike the Hunger Games, children are used to decide winning schools, teachers and districts. No one dies. However, we are testing the life out of our children and youth.
Here is how the testing games work. Student scores decide whether a school has done a good or bad job. Schools which receive Federal ESEA funding must make progress (known as Adequate Yearly Progress) on test scores. Schools compare scores from one year to the next, and use the difference to decide how well or poorly the children and youth did.
Students are not televised when they take these tests. However, the results are published in the local newspapers, and using the students’ test scores, schools that didn’t make AYP are labeled and their names published in the papers. And one more thing. Policy makers are hunting for bad teachers. To do this, they have required states to begin using VAM (Value Added Modeling) to rate teachers, and to then humiliate the teachers by publishing VAM scores in the local papers. Check Los Angeles. Check New York City.
In the scenarios described above, The Hunger Games and The Testing Games, (read a fictional account of the testing games here) youth are dehumanized and used as gladiators, or in the case of The Testing Games pawns, where their moves are used to punish or reward states, districts, schools and teachers. On Valerie Strauss’ blog, there was a recent post that gets to the heart of the tragedy of The Testing Games, and how it is not only a dehumanizing event, but has nothing to do with helping students find out about their own learning.
4. The Research Evidence Is Not Supportive for the Standards. According to the 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, the Common Core State Standards will have little to no effect on student achievement. Author Tom Loveless explains that neither the quality or the rigor of state standards is related to state NAEP scores. Loveless suggests that if there was an effect, we would have seen it since all states had standards in 2003.
For example in the Brown Center study, it was reported (in a separate 2009 study by Whitehurst), that there was no correlation of NAEP scores with the quality ratings of state standards. Whitehurst studied scores from 2000 to 2007, and found that NAEP scores did not depend upon the “quality of the standards,” and he reported that this was true for both white and black students (The Brown Center Report on American Education, p.9). The correlation coefficients ranged from -0.6 to 0.08.
The researchers concluded that we should not expect much from the Common Core. In an interesting discussion of the implications of their findings, Tom Loveless, the author of the report, cautions us to be careful about not being drawn into thinking that standards represent a kind of system of “weights and measures.” Loveless tells us that standards’ reformers use the word—benchmarks—as a synonym for standards. And he says that they use too often. In science education, we’ve had a long history of using the word benchmarks, and Loveless reminds us that there are not real, or measured benchmarks in any content area. Yet, when you read the standards—common core or science—there is the implication we really know–almost in a measured way–what standards should be met at a particular grade level.
5. Injustice. The authoritarian standards and high-stakes testing movement conjure up for me the use of power and privilege to create injustices for not only schools and teachers, but for students and their parents. Using invalid test scores, the government has cast a net around schools that have high poverty rates resulting in many of them being labeled as failures with teachers and administrators fired, and replaced by teachers, many of whom are un-certified, and lack the teaching experience needed for these schools.
And all of this is done with data that is not only invalid, but is not reliable. As Dr. Michael Marder says, “the masses of nationwide data do point to the primary cause of school failure, but it is poverty, not teacher quality.” So what do we do? We create a system in which life changing decisions are made about teachers and students based on data that is not examined in the context of power, privilege, and income. This leads to a corrupt system in which we predicate schools’ and teachers’ performance on false data, and use these results to embarrass and destroy careers of highly educated teachers, and bring havoc to families. Why are we doing this?
6. Testing. Many bloggers have added to the conversation about standards, and especially its companion, high-stakes testing. One of the important voices in this discussion is that of Anthony Cody, a former science educator and curriculum developer who blogs over on Living in Dialog on Education Week. Anthony has written extensively on standardized tests, and you can see all of his posts on this topic here.
Anthony brings to the table a strong knowledge base on current educational reform, perhaps more than any other blogger. In one post, he explored some of the ideas of Governor Jerry Brown of California. Brown strongly takes issue with a system of education that depends on experts from afar who impart their opinions about what should be taught and when, and who should decide what students are learning. He is more concerned with how we teach our children, as he is with what. In his view, education is about the “early fashioning of character and the formation of conscience.”
But more importantly his ideas are considered in the context of the state of California which has six million students and 300,000 teachers. And three million of California’s school age students speak a language at home that is different from English, and there are more than 2 million students living in poverty.
He’s very clear on his place on testing. Here is one comment he made in the State of the State speech:
The laws that are in fashion demand tightly constrained curricula and reams of accountability data. All the better if it requires quiz-bits of information, regurgitated at regular intervals and stored in vast computers. Performance metrics, of course, are invoked like talismans. Distant authorities crack the whip, demanding quantitative measures and a stark, single number to encapsulate the precise achievement level of every child.
In stark contrast to the place that poverty, violence, joblessness, home environment have little effect on academic performance, he suggested the following for the coming year:
My 2013 Budget Summary lays out the case for cutting categorical programs and putting maximum authority and discretion back at the local level–with school boards. I am asking you to approve a brand new Local Control Funding Formula which would distribute supplemental funds — over an extended period of time — to school districts based on the real world problems they face. This formula recognizes the fact that a child in a family making $20,000 a year or speaking a language different from English or living in a foster home requires more help. Equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice.
I want to explore progressive ideology, and try to show that neither the Common Core, nor the Next Generation of Science Standards are based on progressive ideology.
Progressive thinking had its origins in the U.S. in the 19th century. Historical accounts of the progressive movement echo the protests of the 99% who see massive wealth and power in the hands of the 1%. Today as the wealth of the 1% has risen 18% over the last decade, those in the middle class have seen their incomes fall. Last fall, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that more than 15% of the population lived in poverty, including almost 20% of American children. Because of the Great Recession, more than 15 million Americans were unemployed at the height of the recession. Because of a very slow recovery, the opportunity for people to lead productive and happy lives is shrinking. Joseph E. Stiglitz, in a Vanity Fair article, entitled Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% that the income divide in the U.S. has resulted lagging growth for most people, but upward growth for the 1%. Stiglitz suggests that the economic pie is divided unequally, but the real problem is the size of the pie. He writes about the reasons for this:
First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible. Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. To give just one example, far too many of our most talented young people, seeing the astronomical rewards, have gone into finance rather than into fields that would lead to a more productive and healthy economy.
Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.
Occupy Wallstreet was a direct outcome of the income inequality that Stiglitz talks about. It was this type of economic, political, and social inequality that led to the progressive protests and later movement in the 19th century and into the early part of the 20th century. In the present day, the rise of protests such as Occupy Wallstreet and Save Our Schools (SOS) are grass-roots organizations of citizens who are progressives questioning things as they are, and demanding changes that those in power are determined to reject.
Are the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards the kind of movements that would attract the kind of freethinker that I am talking about here? Well, of course not. The K-12 Standards movement is a top-down, authoritarian system that is polar opposite of the kind of action that progressive teachers would see as improving the education for children and youth.
Freethinkers, Progressives & Secularism
According to Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, “the period from 1875 – 1914 was the “highwater” mark of freethought as an influential movement in American society.”
However, as Jacoby explains, we need to go back to the revolutionary days of America and recognize that it was the freethinking of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson who worked with others to set up a secular government that would not enable theological views to rule. The government that Adams and Jefferson envisioned would be build on the rights of the individual.
Freethinkers believed that public education for all people was essential for a secular vision of society and education. Jacoby writes that it was freethinkers who were dedicated to the improvement of free education for “pragmatic” as well as philosophical reasons. She puts it this way:
Free public education for the many rather than the few was essential to the secularist vision of a society in which every individual, unhampered by gatekeepers who sought to control the spread of dangerous knowledge, could go as far as his or her intellect would permit. In the view of freethinkers, the most pernicious gatekeepers were religious authorities; thus, education must be both secular and publicly financed. Indeed, by the 1870s the word secularist was used not only as a general philosophical term but as a specific definition, in either the affirmative or the pejorative sense, of those who advocated public schooling free of religious content. (Jacoby, Susan (2005-01-07). Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (p. 155). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.)
During the rise of the freethought period, there was no Internet, but there was the lecture circuit, which turned out to be the way progressive and secular ideas spread across the country. Citizens of many religious beliefs and views flocked to the most famous of these lecturers, Robert Ingersoll. Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Stanton along with Ingersoll were the most important freethought speakers of the day.
Ingersoll’s thinking is important in my argument that the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards have nothing to do with progressive thought. Susan Jacoby writes that without Ingersoll there would not have been a golden age of American freethought. Because of his style of speaking he reached out to millions of American citizens who normally would not have considered listening to criticism of conventional religion. Jacoby explains why he was so important:
While he was hardly the first person to make the connection between authoritarian religion and authoritarian social values, Ingersoll was the first American to lay out a coherent secular humanist alternative, touching on everyday matters like marriage and parenthood, to life as defined by traditional religious faith— and to present the case for freethought to a broad public. Like Paine’s written polemics, Ingersoll’s speeches were delivered in vivid, down-to-earth language, intended for the many rather than the few, and understandable to all. With his immense passion and physical energy, he spoke in hundreds of towns each year at the height of his career in the eighties and nineties, and his influence reached far beyond nests of infidel intellectuals in the cultural centers of the northeast. The breadth of Ingersoll’s influence was attested to by the depth of antagonism he aroused. He is a critical figure in the struggle for true freedom of conscience in America— (Jacoby, Susan (2005-01-07). Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (p. 158). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.)
Although the makers of the standards will tell you that the Common Core and Science Standards are state led, in reality they were established by an élite group of governors and chief state officers, and corporate CEO’s or their representatives. Large foundations funded the effort to write the preliminary documents and the standards.
For many educators and freethinkers, John Dewey’s progressive philosophy was the alternative to the traditional approach that dominated schools in America. Dewey said more than 100 years ago that education is a process of living, not a preparation for the future.
Dewey believed that learning is embedded in experiences when the student interact with the environment, which is when humans work to deal with the tensions between themselves and their surroundings. Dewey believed that learning is natural, not process limited. He would say that humans are always in motion trying to resolve or seek a goal, or working on something intently. To Dewey, the learner is active, and within science education they would be experimenting, analyzing an environment and using tools like telescopes and hand lens to glimpse the world they are exploring.
As such, freethinkers were attracted to John Dewey’s educational philosophy because of his view that learning was rooted in observation and experience, not revelation (Jacoby, p. 160). Education should not only be based on experience, but should be secular.
Progressive educational programs were learner-centered, and encouraged intellectual participation in all spheres of life. Dewey suggested that the Progressive Education Movement appealed to many educators because it was more closely aligned with America’s democratic ideals. Dewey put it this way:
One may safely assume, I suppose, that one thing which has recommended the progressive movement is that it seems more in accord with the democratic ideal to which our people is committed than do the procedures of the traditional school, since the latter have so much of the autocratic about them. Another thing which has contributed to its favorable reception is that its methods are humane in comparison with the harshness so often attending the policies of the traditional school.
Any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit. Indeed, the idea of standards is conservative idea that proposes that what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards. Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.