November 4, 2012

Why Common Core is a disaster

 From Susan Ohanian

Kenneth Mitchell, Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents - New York's hard won inclusion in the federal Race to the Top initiative has already dramatically changed both how we educate our children and how we fund public K-12 education in our state.

This report finds:

The costs to implement RTTT mandates well exceed the funding, for example:

- In six Rockland County districts, leaders projected a total four-year cost of almost $11 million. This compares with an aggregate revenue of about $400K in Race to the Top funding-- a $10 million deficit representing an increase in average per pupil spending for this single initiative of nearly $400 per student.

- In a sample of eighteen Lower Hudson school districts, the aggregate cost just to get ready for the first year of RTTT in September 2012 was $6,472,166, while the aggregate funding was $520,415. These districts had to make up a cost differential of $5,951,751 with local taxpayer dollars.

There are serious challenges to this federal program's validity, and the research upon which it is based. Without substantive validation, New York State and U.S. taxpayers are funding a grand and costly experiment that has the potential to take public education in the wrong direction at a time when we need to be more competitive than ever before.

Much is being sacrificed to meet this expensive mandate in the context of the state's
newly enacted tax cap, including: teacher and staff cuts resulting in increased class sizes; redirected priorities and unmet facilities' needs; diminishing professional development; a narrowing of curriculum; and sacrificed leadership in curriculum development and nontraditional approaches.

James Arnold, Superintendent, Pelham City Public Schools, Pelham City, GA - Common Core is a standardized national curriculum. Why is this problematic? From an historical context, a centralized school curriculum serves the goals of totalitarian states. It's also illegal. The General Education Provisions Act, the Department of Education Organization Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act all forbid or protect against the USDOE sticking its nose into the curriculum choices of state and local districts.

In spite of these measures, the USDOE has been funding, since 2010, the efforts of two separate testing companies to create a national curriculum for English and mathematics. In reference to the creation of the USDOE in 1979, President Carter said in his State of the Union Address that "states, localities and private institutions will continue to bear the primary responsibility for education." Carter's Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Joseph Califano, said, "Any set of test questions that the federal government prescribed should surely be suspect as a first step toward a national curriculum [and] a national control of curriculum is a form of national control of ideas."

In spite of the inherent legal issues, Common Core was created through a secretive process, with no thoughts for opportunities for public input, no attempt at the solicitation of public dialogue, no evidence of discussion or critique from experienced educators, no foundational research or pilot programs, and created on the assumption that any standardized national curriculum was better than no standardized national curriculum at all.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, evidently immune to mundane legalities and to legal advice, immediately made acceptance of the Common Core a requirement for approval of state applications for exemptions to the No Child Left Behind Act...

There are additional issues:

1. There are few interdisciplinary connections among subjects. Research for many years has shown the positive effects of interdisciplinary connections on student learning and achievement. Innovation is at best ignored and at worst proscribed for teachers and for students. Standards, by their very nature, insist that if anything at all must be excluded because of the constraints of time in class, whether it be the length of the school term or year, or the amount of "material to be covered," it must not, at any cost, be the standards themselves. Creativity will no doubt be the first casualty.

2. Citizenship, personal development and the promotion of democratic values are ignored. Again I quote Califano: "[A] national curriculum is a form of the national control of ideas." I do not believe for one second that the omission of democratic values was inadvertent or unintentional. I do believe these standards will be, by design and intention, difficult to amend in any way, shape or form...

With adoption of the Common Core standards, you can rest assured that Common Core standardized testing is not far behind. How can we expect a single, nationwide standardized "pick-a-bubble" machine-scored test to measure what is taught in practically every school system in the U.S. effectively? The documented testing issues we already see with state assessments will increase exponentially. The June, 2012 Georgia State Board of Education minutes listed over $25,000,000 in state contracts for testing and test development for 2013. Whether these investments are educationally justifiable or wise never seems to be the question. The point of ranking states, schools, systems, and students eludes me, unless it is an attempt to shame low performers into magically doing better. I feel that neither anger nor shame can serve as a prime motivational tool. Cooperation and collaboration, however, have worked wonderfully, but are consistently in absentia from those whose declared purpose is educational reform.

Standardized tests were designed, once upon a time, to serve as prescriptive tools to help teachers help students. Presently they serve as autopsy reports that include first-time test-taker results with the primary purpose, not to assist teachers in improving student achievement, but to rank schools and systems...

In a time when parents--and, as an extension, the public--are demanding more and more personalization for their children's educations, Federal and state educational agencies continue to insist upon more and more standardization--falling once again into the fallacy of "what's good for one child is good for all children."

The Common Core standards will ultimately serve not to improve student achievement but to increase the profits of standardized testing companies. The effects of poverty, family and socio-economic factors on education will continue to be largely ignored in our infatuation with the misguided belief that student achievement will improve through intensified measurement. ...

The U.S. has, since the 1950s, been rated in the bottom 25% of every educational rating system imaginable. The fact that our country has set the economic standard for the rest of the world, that our creativity, achievements, and scientific progress far overshadow the nearest competitors would seem to lead us toward the beginnings of a discussion about the efficacy and reliability of the ranking systems we seem to trust as infallible measurements.

Those that point to our nation's rank among international educational rankings also conveniently forget to mention that in our country every child is entitled, not just to attend school, but to expect to achieve, or at least to be tested. Every score from every student counts. There is no selective testing or tracking, and no other country makes the effort to educate every child. When our best students’ scores are compared to those of other countries—surprise, surprise!-our rankings compare favorably with anyone's.

Sooner or later even legislators must see that it's not about race, it's about poverty; it's not about a test score, it's about student achievement; it's not about a standardized curriculum, it's about good teaching; it's not about the business model, it's about personalization; it's not about competition, it's about cooperation. Until that time, we will continue to get the kind of legislature and public education system that we vote for.

Relevant content and applications of knowledge through critical thinking, problem solving, modeling, and higher order thinking skills should be the focus and goal of our educational processes. Education is not supposed to be about determining or defining a specific amount or trove of material that must be learned in order to advance to the next level, but about cultivating and growing students' inquisitiveness and curiosity, which eventually grow into life skills. None of these skills or processes can be measured with any degree of reliability, accuracy, or validity by a multiple choice machine-scored test.

My suggestion is that we trust teachers enough to give them the freedom to do what they do best: teach children on personal and individualized levels. Micromanagement is an egregious sin and an almost irresistible temptation for State and Federal officials.

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