Tag: Comon Core

Michelle Rhee’s Common Core Crud

I don’t dislike the oft-attacked Michelle Rhee. I don’t even know her. But I do dislike disingenuous or empirically anemic arguments about the Common Core, and she offers too many of both in a new Politico op-ed.

Let’s start with the most aggravating thing she does in her piece: imply that anyone who opposes the Core based on concerns about Washington’s role in it is proffering a “false narrative of a federal takeover” and making “wild claims.” As Core apologists have done repeatedly, Rhee utterly ignores the $4.35-billion Race to the Top program that de facto required Core adoption to compete, and No Child Left Behind waiver rules that locked most states into the Core. She also turns a blind eye to the overall trajectory of federal education policy, which went from decades of mainly providing money, to requirements that states have standards and tests, to now pushing specific standards and tests—and let’s be honest, that ultimately means curricula—on schools.

If Rhee wants to have a substantive debate on the Common Core, great! But we can’t have that if she and other Core supporters refuse to acknowledge basic reality about the federal role, and they essentially smear people who do acknowledge reality as purveyors of “wild claims.”

There is much more that’s dubious about Rhee’s piece, though not as infuriating as the ol’ smear-and-deny.

Rhee, for instance, ignores the wise counsel delivered last week not to simplistically cherry-pick results on the recent PISA exam to press for national standards. Rigorous analysis needs to be done, controlling for lots of factors ranging from income levels to national culture, to determine the effect of national standards on test results. The problem for Core supporters is that when that is done, national standards appear to make essentially no difference. Rhee also ignores the well-reported research of Brookings’ Tom Loveless, who found that the quality or rigor of state standards has had no correlation with state scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. 

Indeed, Rhee’s own piece contradicts itself. Rhee applauds Massachusetts for its relatively high performance on PISA, but laments that in the Bay State “student performance continues to vary greatly” from district to district and “between white students and children of color.” But fear not: “Correcting for that inequity among schoolchildren is exactly what Common Core  seeks to do.” The thing is, the Bay State has had uniform state standards for roughly two decades, meaning uniformity did not end disparities, and national standardization will not change the fact that standards within all states have been uniform for more than a decade under No Child Left Behind.

So no, I don’t dislike Michelle Rhee. But I very much dislike her denial of facts, and ignoring of evidence, on the Common Core.

Common Core Caught In Its Own Tangled Web

At this point, I probably don’t need to rehearse all the deceptions that have been central to the triumph of national curriculum standards. (If for some reason you need a refresher, check out this op-ed.) Unfortunately, what we are dealing with now are the slowly emerging costs of all that deception. We are indeed entering a tangled web.

The fastest growing hullabaloo is over how much fiction versus nonfiction English teachers – or is it schools? – must teach. Many English teachers  are just now learning about seeming Common Core dictates that no more than 30 to 50 percent of what they teach – depending on  the grade level – be fiction. You know, Fahrenheit 451 or Animal Farm. The specific reasons for their concern are two tables in the Common Core ELA document  (p. 5) that appear to lay out just such percentages.  And needless to say, despite the Common Core’s air of omniscience about what and how kids should learn, there is big disagreement about the relative value of fiction and nonfiction.

But hold on! Common Core crafters David Coleman – now head of the SAT-makin’ College Board – and Susan Pimentel insist that’s all off base. The standards are very clear, they say,  that the percentages apply to all reading in a school, not just English classes. As they wrote in the Huffington Post yesterday:

The Standards could not be clearer: ELA classrooms must focus on literature – that is not negotiable, but a requirement of high school ELA. On page 5 of the Standards – where the distinction between literature and informational text is introduced – there is an explicit, unambiguous statement regarding the balance of texts relative to the disciplines covered by the Standards:

“… the ELA classroom must focus on literature (stories, drama, and poetry) as well as literary non-fiction, [and] a great deal of informational reading in grades 6-12 must take place in other classes…”

I sure hope the Common Core doesn’t have lessons on ambiguity, because I don’t think the crafters grasp the concept. This explanation couldn’t be much more ambiguous, stating that English classes must focus on literature “as well as” nonfiction. Sure sounds like a 70-30 or 50-50 split could be mandated under that.

This is, of course, exactly the kind of obtuse mumbo-jumbo one should expect from a document – and overall effort – that tries to simultaneously be revolutionary and innocuous. And wouldn’t it have been wonderful if this sort of thing had been hashed out before states were cajoled into adopting the standards? But then there would have been public disagreements, and all the silliness of people holding different opinions is exactly what destroyed past efforts to impose uniform standards on the country.

The good news is that, absent further federal efforts – which are the huge, looming threat – there is no mechanism that can actually make states adhere to these confusing time allocations, or anything else in the Common Core. And, of course, states can move in a wholly better direction by instituting private school choice programs that don’t include centralized standards. Then individual children – you know, unique people – could seek out educational models tailored to their specific needs provided by educators with the freedom to use different and innovative standards and methods.

Even if that happens, though, the lesson is becoming clear: Practice to deceive, as Common Core supporters have, and you could get caught in a very sticky web.

 

Is Common Core about to Melt Down?

Is the national curriculum standards debate about to go nuclear?

Proponents of national standards, as I’ve pointed out many times, have made a concerted effort to avoid attention as they’ve insidiously—and successfully—pushed the so-called Common Core on states. They’ve insisted the effort is “state led,” even though states didn’t create the standards and Washington coerced adoption through Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind waivers. They’ve called adoption “voluntary,” even with the heavy hand of the Feds behind them. And they’ve assiduously avoided what blew up past efforts to impose national standards: concrete content such as required readings or history lessons that were guaranteed to make people angry.

Well, with a recent unveiling of sample items for federally funded tests that go with the standards, all that might be about to change, and the whole thing could become radioactive to the public.

A couple of days ago the HechingerEd blog—from the education-centric Hechinger Report—published a post looking at preliminary testing items from the two consortia hand-picked by the Obama administration to create the national tests. Included in the post were links to sample items. I didn’t hit every one, but those I did check out contained, among other things,  confusing readings, poor questions, and lame functionality (in some cases the reading material on which questions were based didn’t even show up). And here’s one for the grammarians: A video-based item about the effect of weightlessness on astronauts’ bodies asked how weightlessness is like “lying” on a bed. The astronaut being interviewed, however, said it’s like “laying on a bed.” A small matter, perhaps, but one among many matters both small and big.

And here’s a really big one:

Smarter Balanced officials gave an example of a multi-part question in which high school students are asked to imagine they are the chief of staff for a congresswoman. Before they start working on the test, their teacher is supposed to lead a classroom activity about nuclear power. The students are then asked to come up with a list of pros and cons about nuclear power. Finally, they must write up a presentation for the congresswoman to give at a press conference later that day…. Questions like the one about nuclear power are more expensive, because they will likely require a trained evaluator to score them.

So much for avoiding controversy! Not only do we discover that the tests will have students take on hot-button topics like nuclear power, but scores will be meted out by human evaluators.

The fears and problems are clear: What should students be told about nuclear power—or any other contentious issue—that the tests address? Who decides? Will evaluators really just grade students on the structure of their presentations, or whether students write things with which the evaluators agree?  How will scoring be consistent among evaluators? Even if consistent, how will students and parents be assured of that?

This day had to arrive sooner or later. Eventually, something substantive had to come from the Common Core crowd. The question now is whether it will cause the whole, dubious undertaking to suddenly melt down.