6 Reasons Why the Common Core is NOT Progressive Ideology

imageA growing criticism of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards is that its a way for progressives to inject their philosophies and ideology onto children and youth in American schools.

One reader of this blog made this comment about my post in which I discuss why Bill Gates defends the common core.

Common Core is Progressive Speak for a Nationalized (Common), Centrally Planned (Core), Agenda (Education), System (Standards). It will become a continuous accelerated march to Socialism and to the destruction of America through indoctrination of our kids. It is the means by which Socialists can insinuate better control of children and destroy the influence of parents on kids views, via electronic media teaching (See comment by Wordwaryor, March 26, 2014.

Any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit.  Indeed, the idea of standards is a conservative idea that proposes that what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed in discrete sentences or objectives, performances or standards.  Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

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.  None of these support the idea that the Common Core was the brainchild of progressive educators: Hint–think John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Alfie Kohn, Lisa Delpit. 

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 fit the needs of their students.
  • The standards are removed from the thinking and reasoning processes needed to meet 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 is to make the American dream possible for all citizens by writing 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 (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) 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. Dehumanization 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. Check the State of Florida.

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 Reports, 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.

Then, in the 2014 Brown Center Report on Education, it was reported that the Common Core in math had insignificant effects on student math achievement.

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 ratesresulting 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.

Standards and Progressive ideology?

I want to be clear that neither the Common Core, nor the Next Generation of Science Standards are based on progressive ideology.

The progressive movement was about inclusiveness.  It was grass-roots movement that fought to change the economic, social, legal and educational problems that many Americans endured.  The standards are a top-down, authoritarian system–just the opposite of progressive thinking.

So, there you have it.  What is your opinion about the relationship between the standards movement and progressive thinking?


The Testing Games: How America’s Youth are being put at Risk

Note: This is the third in a series of articles on the consequences of the authoritarian standards & high-stakes testing.

Starting tomorrow every American girl and boy in grades 3- 8 will participate in the testing games, an annual competition to determine which schools are good or bad, whether they have a good teacher or a bad one, and what factoids they put to memory or guesswork.

The “testing games” have been part of human culture for a long time, but they have taken on greater significance since policy makers have figured out how to differentiate “winners and losers” in the annual contest held each spring.

Third through eighth grade girls and boys, in the annual “testing games” will sit in place over several days spending at least  6 hours at their desks bubbling in test answer sheets;  for some special education students they might take as long as 12 hours.  More than 60 million tests will be administered.

The Hunger Games

In 2008, Suzanne Collins published the first book in a trilogy called The Hunger Games.  A series of books for young adults, The Hunger Games are an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12 – 18 from 12 different districts are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle, which only one person wins.  The author of the Hunger Games says that the inspiration for the series came from channel surfing in which she saw one reality show after another, but also footage of the invasion of Iraq.  These images blurred, and Collins created a mythically-based story set in the future based on Roman gladiatorial games.  The hunger games were initiated as a punishment for a previous rebellion against the central government.  The hunger games are televised, so that everyone can watch the battle to the end.

 The Testing Games

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 games” are an annual event making every boy and girl participate (starting at grade 3) to ensure that their state and school continue to receive federal funding.  The testing games that children and youth are annually required to participate in are used to identify winners and losers.  Unlike the Hunger Games, children are used to determine 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 determine 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 determine 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. Continue reading “The Testing Games: How America’s Youth are being put at Risk”

In High Stakes Testing, Science Trumped by Math & Reading

This is a post I wrote five years ago today, and it sheds some light on the pressure that school districts experience as a result of high-stakes testing.  In particular, I draw attention to Atlanta cheating scandal which appears to have had its origins about five years ago when I first wrote this post.  There were warning signs then, as I wrote then, that teachers were pressured to focus their attention on reading and math literacy and not be concerned about other subjects, especially at the elementary and middle school levels.

Science and Literacy

The Science Report for the Trial Urban District Assessment recently became available by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Ten large urban U.S. school districts volunteered to participate in science testing, grades 4 and 8 in 2005, and the results of the test administration were just made available. Most editorial pages of newspapers in the ten districts carried comments and editorials regarding the results, which in general were not very good. You can view the Science Report for the Trial Urban Districts Assessment at the NAEP site. It’s very easy to use, and there are more statistics there to answer most any question you might have.

The districts involved in the NAEP testing include the following: Atlanta City School District: Austin Independent School District; Boston School District; Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools; City of Chicago School District 299; Cleveland Municipal School District; Houston Independent School District; Los Angeles Unified School District; New York City Public Schools; and San Diego Unified School District.

There were several articles in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution regarding the results for the Atlanta Public Schools. Atlanta did not do very well on the tests, with 58% of fourth-graders and 78% of eighth-graders scoring below “basic” in the NAEP science tests. The scores are not my concern here in this post.

My concern is the claim made by the Superintendent of Schools for Atlanta that “there’s no way for students to do well on NAEP science if they are not reading and doing math.”

This might be true, but I also found that the Superintendent made no apologies for the low science test scores saying that it was more important for the students to score well on the literacy tests administered by the State of Georgia each year.

Is reading and math necessary to learn about science? Probably yes. However, should we use literacy in reading and math as an excuse for not teaching science? Probably no. So, what is going on here? Why would a superintendent of a large urban district seemingly not be concerned that students in her district are not learning about science?

Consequences of High-Stakes Testing

There are several reasons why this kind of a dilemma exists. Test results demonstrated that students in the Atlanta school district are not very competent in science. However, Atlanta volunteered to take the test, as did the other ten urban districts. Science has not been a priority in the testing momentum that has taken over education in American schools. The No Child Left Behind Act does not require testing in science, thus enabling school districts to put more time into the school day into having students mastery literacy in reading and math. Has the increased time on reading and math tasks resulted in higher scores in these areas? Are students doing well in reading and math? According to NAEP test scores, no.

The NCLB Law has increased the pressure on school districts to create a curriculum that is skewed away from science and the arts, and toward minimal literacy. And state departments of education are going along for the ride. In Georgia, the emphasis on testing has gotten out of hand.

In Atlanta, the result of this pressure score well on high-stakes testing led to the Cheating Scandal in the Atlanta Public Schools.  The Governor’s investigation into the Cheating Scandal concluded that a “culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” existed in the Atlanta schools with teachers being pressured to make sure that their students were ready and able to pass the state’s end-of-the-year CRCT at any cost.

The Back to Basics movement, which put emphasis on individual students learning the “basic” skills, especially in math and reading, has led to the overemphasis on testing as a way to make sure that schools know whether students and schools are succeeding in meeting basic levels of achievement as measured by tests such as the CRCT.

As a result, high quality science teaching is not part of the elementary school curriculum.  Unfortunately, when science is taught in the elementary school, it is not focused on hands on and inquiry based learning, but typically on reading from a text, or doing cookbook style “experiments.” What’s worse, time is taken away from science (and social studies) so that more time can be devoted to teaching math and reading.

And the nature of the pedagogy utilized in the middle school does not reflect inquiry or hands on learning either. So at a time that many educators feel that students might be hooked on science or the “love” for learning, our schools have retreated to a back to basics regime, removing inquiry and experimentation from science teaching, and from school in general.

Science educators need to share some of the blame here as well. Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8, a new report issued by the National Research Council, is very critical of science education standards, and the way in which schools fail to understand childhood learning and the potential for learning. Instead of making use of new research on learning, curriculum developers and schools have played it “safe” and used old forms of pedagogy.

Districts like Atlanta would do well if they experimented with alternative curriculum designs, and created curricula that were more integrated. That is, curriculum in which literacy, science and the arts is a fundamental aspect of learning. Science can contribute enormously to literacy, and to mathematics. Educators, such as the superintendent of Atlanta, needs to boldly look to the future and implement more innovative curriculum.

The Enigma of High-Stakes Testing in Science: A New eBook

The Art of Teaching Science has just published a new eBook entitled The Enigma of High-Stakes Testing in Science.

Cover page of the eBook "The Enigma of High-Stakes Testing in Science

The Enigma of High-Stakes Testing in Science is a new eBook published by the Art of Teaching Science Weblog, and made available free. This eBook is based on blog posts that were written over the past few months. The content of this eBook is based on the position that high-­stakes tests, which are used to make life-­changing decisions about students, teachers, and schools, should be banned from use as further research is carried out to design alternate systems that are humanistic and student-centered.

Research evidence is provided in 21 articles that are presented here, and organized into five parts. The intent is to provide information that others can use to raise questions about why we continue this practice of bringing such pressure to bear on the entire education system, and the collateral effects on science teaching.  As I show in the pages in eBook, there is little evidence that continuing to use high-­stakes testing will improve student achievement, or improve America’s economy.

The content is organized into the following parts:

Part 1. Is High-­Stakes Testing an Enigma?

Part 2. Are We Racing to Nowhere?

Part 3. Why Are We Centralizing Standards and Testing in America?

Part 4. What Are The Misconceptions About Achievement Testing?

Part 5. Who and What Was Responsible for the High-­Stakes Cheating Scandal in Atlanta?

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Click on the cover of this new eBook
or here to find out more details and how you can obtain a copy of the book for free. 

New eBook on High-Stakes Testing

A new eBook will soon be published by The Art of Teaching Science Blog with the title: Why Should High-Stakes Testing be Banned?

Over the past three months, I have written about the Common Core State Standards, the Next Generation of Science Standards, and the corporate take-over of public education.  Living in the Atlanta area, and having been a professor at Georgia State University (GSU) for many years, the Atlanta test cheating scandal hit very close to home.  For more than 30 years as a professor at GSU, I worked with teachers and administrators in the Atlanta Public Schools K-12.  I taught science education courses in the Atlanta Public Schools, collaborated with teachers and principals in middle and high schools, and worked closely with graduate students in science education who were pursuing degrees in teacher education and did much of their internship work in the Atlanta schools.

The scandal, which is discussed in the new eBook, shocked many of us, but the investigation into the test scandal has not addressed the fundamental question, Why did teachers and administrators risk their professional careers by participating in a cheating scandal that probably will result in the 180 educators losing their teaching credentials?

In my own view, the cause of the cheating scandal is directly related to the No Child Left Behind Act that put into place a wide-ranging high-stakes testing program that has resulted in an inordinate amount of pressure on students, teachers and parents, so much so, that a culture of fear spread throughout the Atlanta School System.

According to the Georgia Governor’s three-volume report, the Atlanta cheating scandal was caused by “a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation that spread throughout the (Atlanta) district.”  That culture of fear was directly related to the pressure put on administrators, teachers, and students to make sure students scored high on the end-of-year tests at any costs.  The intimidation and the culture of fear that the report describes was part of the school district since at least 2004, two years after the NCLB Act was established by Congress.

Nineteen posts that were written about high-stakes testing, the common standards movement, and the corporate involvement in American schools form the content of this new eBook.

The eBook is organized into  five parts, each posing a question that organizes the posts that were written related to the question.

Part 1: Is High-Stakes Testing an Enigma?

Part 2: Are We Racing to Nowhere?

Part 3: Why Are We Centralizing Standards and Testing in America?

Part 4: What the the Misconceptions about Achievement Testing?

Part 5: Who and What was Responsible for the High-Stakes Cheating Scandal in Atlanta?

Look for this new eBook on this blog in a few days.  In the meantime, you can download and read three previously published eBooks on this blog.