…Like Rats on a Sinking Ship

Common Core Standards were created in an effort to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, are graduating high school prepared for college, career, and life. It was a lofty goal from the beginning. They were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association and  generously funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

With more than $200 million, the Gates Foundation bankrolled the development of the standards, while building political support across the country (Washington Post).  “Bill Gates was de facto organizer, providing the money and structure for states to work together on common standards in a way that avoided the usual collision between states’ rights and national interests that had undercut every previous effort, dating from the Eisenhower administration (Washington Post).

States latched on to the standards thinking this would cure what ails them. Others latched on because it was required if a state was applying for Obama’s Race to the Top school funding initiative.

They have been tremendously costly, and did nothing to bridge the achievement gap, or prepare students for college, career, or life. Why didn’t they work? According to Diane Ravitch,

They were written in a manner that violates the nationally and international recognized process for writing standards. The process by which they were created was so fundamentally flawed that these “standards” should have no legitimacy.

Setting national academic standards is not something done in stealth by a small group of people, funded by one source, and imposed by the lure of a federal grant in a time of austerity.

There is a recognized protocol for writing standards, and the Common Core standards failed to comply with that protocol.

In 2010, 46 states and the District of Columbia agreed to adopt the National Common Core Standards, with 19 of those states also agreeing to the aligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) standardized assessment.

In 2016, the number of states still using Common Core dropped 62% to 20, with only 7 states giving the PARCC assessment. States abandoned Common Core like rats on a sinking ship.

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In New Jersey, former Governor Christie dropped Common Core in 2016, and replaced it with NJ Student Learning Standards, which look remarkably similar, just repackaged and renamed. In one of his first orders of business as the new Governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy dropped PARCC, saying it will be replaced with a new test TBD. Murphy said, “The notion of assessing kids to make sure we understand how they’re doing, I’m all in for that. But these big, white-knuckle, once-a-year, with lots of weeks getting folks tuned up to take a particular test I’m not a fan of. Never have been” (NJ.com).

The rebranding and repackaging seems to be a way for states to claim they’re getting away from the failed Common Core, but they’re really not. Below is a sample of 4 Common Core standards (CCSS) and the same 4 New Jersey Student Learning standards (NJSLS): They’re verbatim.

CCSS.Math.Content.4.OA.A.1
Interpret a multiplication equation as a comparison, e.g., interpret 35 = 5 × 7 as a statement that 35 is 5 times as many as 7 and 7 times as many as 5. Represent verbal statements of multiplicative comparisons as multiplication equations.

Interpret a multiplication equation as a comparison, e.g., interpret 35 = 5 × 7 as a statement that 35 is 5 times as many as 7 and 7 times as many as 5. Represent verbal statements of multiplicative comparisons as multiplication equations.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.1
Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.2
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
RL.4.1. Refer to details and examples in a text and make relevant connections when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

RL.4.2. Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.

I guess it’s true, the more things change the more they stay the same.

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Education experts agreed  the PARCC assessments did not fare well because the tests’ implementation “became intertwined with new, controversial teacher evaluations and school accountability measures” (Heartland.org). In a nutshell, the assessment was to be aligned to some degree (as determined by each state) with teacher evaluation. Education experts have repeatedly said aligning student performance to teacher evaluations is highly problematic. Additionally, there was a significant amount of time teachers needed to prepare students for the exam which took away countless hours of instructional time. The tests were to be given electronically, and that was an issue, as well. Many schools were not equipped with enough computers to administer the tests.

The Bush administration, through No Child Left Behind (NCLB) began the testing and accountability movement with a bit of school choice-thrown in- meaning parents could choose to send their kids to a school with a higher performance rating than their home school (to which most parents opted to keep their children in the neighborhood). NCLB was a precursor to Common Core.

The Obama administration, through the Race to the Top initiative pushed for more testing, and teacher evaluations connected to student performance. “With a price tag of nearly four and a half billion dollars, it was billed as the ‘largest-ever federal investment in school reform.’ Later, the Department would give states a waiver from NCLB’s requirements so long as they adopted the Obama administration’s preferred policies-aligning teacher evaluation with student performance, and fully adopting Common Core Standards(Berry, 2018). Race to the Top didn’t work either.

That leaves the current administration. Last year Betsy DeVos said the Every Student Succeeds Act  (ESSA) effectively does away “with the notion of the Common Core,” (EdWeek).  The ESSA left it to states to decide on their standards. However, this decision was always up to the states. Alex Newman of the Freedom Project  wrote, “Despite blasting federal overreach in education… U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continued to mislead Americans on Common Core last week.”

The Trump administration seems unsure which side of the fence to be on with regard to Common Core. Either that, or they don’t understand the legislation. Though Trump has said repeatedly he wants to end Common Core, that would require a change in federal law. And if DeVos truly believes Common Core is dead, it’s only dead in the states that stopped using it, with no federal role in the decision.

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States truly wanting to move away from Common Core and PARCC need to create well-written, piloted, modified, and adopted curricula and get away from what didn’t work. The next step would be to create assessments which are aligned to curricula, can be used to inform instruction, don’t undermine creativity,  can be more beneficial to teachers and students, and not such a financial burden to school districts.

If you ask children growing up in low income areas what they want for their schools, I’d bet the farm not one of them would say curriculum standards that align with standardized tests.

These are my reflections for today.

2/2/18

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Author: Meg White

I am a lifelong educator and advocate for public schools. I hope to use this blog to reflect on what's happening in public education. These are my musings, opinions, and reflections. If you learn from them, good for us. Ignorance is no excuse. I have co-authored a book, "Questioning Assumptions and Challenging Perceptions: Becoming an Effective Teacher in Urban Environments" (available on amazon)

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