The Common Core is here, Now what do we do?

The Common Core State Standards are here, now what do we do?  Some would suggest we should work to make them go away, or to ban high-stakes assessment.  The adoption of the Common Core and the requirements set forth by NCLB Act that all students be tested from grade 3 – 12, has resulted in an authoritarian system of education, which doesn’t make sense in the American democracy.

Only Texas, Nebraska, Virginia, Minnesota, and Alaska have not adopted the Common Core.  The remaining states and District of Columbia have bought into the Common Core.  One major reason for the wholesale adoption by the states was to improve their chances of receiving Federal grant funds, especially the Race to the Top Fund.

Final Exam: High-Stakes Test with Computer Terminals

According to a commissioned report by Achieve, the administrative and development arm of the Common Core, the American public strongly supports the common standards.  Although the public supports the use of common assessments, teachers are more skeptical.  One should use caution in relying on this report as it was commissioned by Achieve, as it was not reviewed by outside, independent researchers.

As I have pointed out, standards represent the dogmatism of a particular group that actually writes and finally publishes the standards documents. A very small group of people in the education community are involved in this process. To assume that one set of standards in mathematics and English/language arts will be appropriate to every school, each community, and every student seems very undemocratic.

The march to standardize and uniform the curriculum is a dangerous movement in a democratic society, and one that is so diverse in cultures, languages, and geography as America.  How can we really think that one set of statements of mathematics and English/language art objectives written by non-practitioners can be truly be valid for all learners, all schools, and all teachers.

Common Core

Controversy over the Common Core.

Here are a few comments from USA TODAY:

Yes, we are 50 states, but we are one nation!  Of course we need common math and reading standards across the country.  What about families who move from state to state as their children grow?  There is often no continuity in these children’s education.

How did something so simple become so complicated, USA TODAY’s article on education asked.  The answer is that while prescribing what shall be taught to all grade-schoolers in all classes at the same time might be simple idea, it is destructive to the individualism, diversity and spirit of innovation that lie at the heart of American existence.

Teaching to standards is all well and good in a technical field. But whatever happened to the art of teaching and allowing students to explore a variety of different aspects of a subject? Let’s get away from teaching to the test and give students the practical and worldwide skills they will need to compete in a global marketplace.

These comments express the gulf that exists between advocates and the opponents of the authoritarian standards & high-stakes testing movement. The Opt-out camthatvis have contributed to growing an awareness that some is wrong with this authoritarian movement.

Although most state department’s of education and school districts are gearing up for the common core and incessant testing, in at least two states there is there are protests against high-stakes testing.  The South Carolina governor has called for the state to back out of its earlier adoption of the common core.  In Texas more than 400 school districts have signed on to letter protesting the use of high-stakes tests.  Earlier remarks by the Texas commissioner of education that high-stakes tests were a perversion sparked an outright revolt among parents and educators.

There is little evidence in the form of refereed research to support the authoritarian standards and high-stakes movement.  Even without research that shows some positive effects on student learning, non-teaching educators and elected officials and lobbyists have led the charge to create a top-down system of schooling rooted in old time behavioristic psychology.  They talk a good game by saying that the common standards define 21st century skills, but 19th century learning theory defines their pedagogy.

Lets look at some of the research.

Brown report on standards

The 2012 Report on American Education published by The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institute focused on education policy as it affects student learning.

The report examined three aspects of American education including the effect of the common core on learning, the achievement gaps on NAEP, and how international tests are misinterpreted.

According to the report, the common core will have little to no effect on student achievement.  It suggested that:

Despite all the money and effort devoted to developing the Common Core State Standards—not to mention the simmering controversy over their adoption in several states—the study foresees little to no impact on student learning. That conclusion is based on analyzing states’ past experience with standards and examining several years of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Supporters of the standards movement have used the argument that if we “raise the bar” by writing more rigorous standards, then student achievement will increase.  In a 2009 study, also at Brookings, quality ratings of state standards as judged by the AFT and Fordham Foundation, were correlated with state NAEP scores.  Researchers found that the correlations were very weak.  According to the study, state with “weak” content standards as determined by the AFT and Fordham score about the same on NAEP as those with strong standards.  These findings of no relationship held up whether NAEP scores from 2000, 2003, 2005, 2007, or the gains from 2000 – 2007 were used in the analysis.  And they found that relationship for scores of both white and black students.

This is significant.  In nearly 8 years of data analysis of content score quality correlated with NAEP scores, we see no relationship.  The quality of the standards did not bear any improvement in academic achievement scores.

One ought to be a bit hesitant with the Fordham analysis of state standards.  It is an organization that goes out of its way to support the adoption of the Common Core by all states.  Its research tends to uncritical of the Common Core, but critical of many state standards, except for the one that meet their six criteria for strong state accountability systems, e.g. standards that are demanding, clear, and specific, and are followed with rigorous assessment.  This is only one, the others fall in line with the Federal guidelines that states must follow in the NCLB Waivers.

Curriculum and Teaching are teeming with Variation

At a high school to where I life, that five teachers, each teaching four sections of biology for 9th grade students.  There are about 500 students studying biology at this high school.  Three of the teachers, each with more than 8 years of teaching experience is a National Board Certified, while the other two are second year teachers.  Each of the teachers has bachelors degree in biology, and a master’s in science education.

The five teachers are using the same textbook from a major publisher (Holt), and they also follow the State of Georgia science standards for high school biology.  In schooling there is an intended curriculum—the one sitting on top including the state standards (soon to replaced with the Common Core in math and English/language arts.  The second curriculum is what we might call the implemented curriculum, that is, the curriculum taught, for example, by each of the five biology teachers.

Do you think the implemented curriculum, the one taught by the biology teachers will be the same?  Will it be a copy of the Intended state standard’s curriculum?  Well, of course not.  All you have to do is spend a few days in each of these teachers classrooms, and you find variation in teaching styles, variation in the grasp that the teachers have for pedagogical content knowledge, variation in the way students are grouped, assignments are made, class time used, textbooks and other resources are used, and on and on.

So here within the same school, across five biology classes we will expect variation in the taught curriculum.  What the students attain will be directly related to the course they took with one of these biology teachers.  There are serious questions about whether the Common Core, even if ways are beefed up to see that the standards penetrate the core of schooling.  Researchers at Brookings think the “Common Core will fail to dramatically affect what does on in the thousands of districts and tens of thousands of schools they seek to influence.”

My own view is that the Common Standards and arrival of the Common Assessment will create enough controversy that small revolts will begin, like the ones going on in Texas, and that they will spread.  Since the Common Core is not a Federal policy, states can individually decide not to adopt them, and if they have, then they can repeal them in the same manor that South Carolina is suggesting.

Solidarity is required here.  The testing that has taken over the way of education is doing much more harm than good.  But unfortunately, the educational bureaucrats sitting in offices in the capitals of each state are the gate keepers, and the enforces of this fiasco that has caused little improvement in teaching and learning, but had led to policies that induce failure, and shame.  It’s got to change.

Next Step

What do you think about the common core/high-stakes testing duo?  Are they causing harm or good for American Schooling?

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University