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NYC new math curriculum & the Common Core standards

Talk Out of School

Now, think about what that means for a minute. Effectiveness is not stage one. You could have a very effective program, and we do have some very effective programs that have been shown to teach kids math and to teach kids how to read, that were rejected by Ed Reports because they’re not Common Core compliant.

So that’s what Ed Reports does. And they have given, it’s called all green, they use these color codes. They’ve given all green to Illustrative Math, so they have approved Illustrative Math.

No one’s terribly surprised by that. One of the three co-authors of the math standards for Common Core is Bill McCallum, and he’s also the founder of Illustrative Math. So it’s not really shocking that this particular program would be seen as in conformity with Common Core.

And you talk about Gates 2 and 3. None of them really have anything to do with any proven effectiveness. Is that right or independent research showing that they were?

They don’t have a gateway that says, is it effective? And what’s the evidence that this particular program was affected?

Yeah, see, I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand.

They feel like if it’s been evaluated and given a high mark by this, suppose, an independent organization, that means that it’s sort of validated in some objective sense. And I just haven’t seen that to be true.

How the media covered Common Core


Common Core began with great promise: broad popular support, the endorsement of policy elites from both parties, boatloads of cash from governmental and philanthropic sources, and adoption by 45 states within a few months of the standards’ June 2010 release.

And yet, more than a decade later, the best-designed study of Common Core’s impact on student achievement found only small, negative effects. No study has documented positive gains that rise to the level of either statistical or practical real world significance.

My recent book, Between the State and the Schoolhouse: Understanding the Failure of Common Core, attempts to describe what happened to that bold initiative.

Media coverage of Common Core followed an arc that mirrored the policy’s fate: perhaps too optimistic at the beginning, but after a few years of documenting the standards’ choppy implementation, a more realistic view of the reform emerged.

I’m no education journalist, but there are some valuable lessons here for the next time a major policy proposal is being presented and adopted: maintain a healthy skepticism, suspend judgment until evidence of outcomes appears, and do not let the assumptions of major policies go unchallenged.

First Common Core High School Grads Worst-Prepared For College In 15 Years

Joy Pullman:

Students in the U.S. made significant progress in math and reading achievement on NAEP from 1990 until 2015, when the first major dip in achievement scores occurred,” reported U.S. News and World Report. Perhaps not coincidentally, 2015 is the year states were required by the Obama administration to have fully phased in Common Core.

Common Core is a set of national instruction and testing mandates implemented starting in 2010 without approval from nearly any legislative body and over waves of bipartisan citizen protests. President Obama, his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Bill Gates, and myriad other self-described education reformers promised Common Core would do exactly the opposite of what has happened: improve U.S. student achievement. As Common Core was moving into schools, 69 percent of school principals said they also thought it would improve student achievement. All of these “experts” were wrong, wrong, wrong.

“The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”.

Common Core Collaborators: Six Organizational Portraits

Richard Phelps, via a kind email:

Historical, financial and media analyses of the organization that spawned the Common Core Initiative, the two copyright holders, two of the paid proselytizers, and the delivery vehicle, where the reputed CC “architect” now runs things (for a cool annual salary of well over a $million).

Real Clear Propaganda: Bellwether’s Education News Bias by Richard P. Phelps:

Education news aggregation at the RealClearEducation (RCE) website purports to be journalistic, independent, thorough and somewhat representative of the whole. During a period from 2014 to 2016, however, it was run directly by leaders of the DC consulting group Bellwether Education Partners (BEP). During that period, RCE’s selection of source material was lopsidedly skewed toward those issues and perspectives favored by those allied with BEP. Except for some occasional instances of pandering to the more politically well connected among the opposition, RealClearEducation was about as biased a news source as was humanly possible to construct. Its coverage of the Common Core Standards Initiative (CCSI), in particular, ranged from blatant promotion to a variety of disingenuously framed news and opinion pieces featuring individuals and organizations receiving funds from Common Core’s donor groups, without revealing their conflict of interest. Bellwether’s behavior in managing a news outlet raises larger questions about the trustworthiness of information provided by education policy funders and recipients, the incestuous nature of the interlocking interests at both ends of the funding, and the almost total absence of the vast majority of the US population from some education policy discussions.

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and Institute: Influence for Hire by Richard P. Phelps:

According to a recent publicly available filing with the Internal Revenue Service, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation is “the nation’s leader in advancing educational excellence for every child through quality research, analysis, and commentary, as well as on-the-ground action and advocacy in Ohio.” The mission statement for the legally separate but commonly owned Thomas B. Fordham Institute uses exactly the same words. Moreover, the two organizations share the same board of trustees. All of which would lead one to believe that the two entities—foundation and institute—should be considered two parts of the same whole.

The Council of Chief State School Officers and National Governors Association: Whom do they serve? by Richard P. Phelps:

he Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) are member associations headquartered in Washington, DC. They are also co-owners of the Common Core Standards—the controversial educational content standards that most US states have incorporated, in whole or in part, into their K–12 education programs.1

Yet, despite what their names might suggest, they are not government entities, even though most of their members are elected or appointed state government officials. Peter Wood explain

Does College Board deserve public subsidies? by Richard P. Phelps:

The century-old College Entrance Examination Board (College Board) sponsors, develops, and administers standardized testing programs, most famously the “SAT suite of tests,” which includes the SAT college admission test and the “pre-SAT,” or PSAT, and the more than thirty Advanced- Placement (AP) courses and exams that high-school students take for college credit.
In its own words,
We are a mission-driven, not-for-profit membership organization made up of over 6,000 of the world’s leading colleges, schools, and other educational organizations. Through our programs and initiatives, we expand opportunities for students and challenge them to own their future

… Our primary goals are to improve college and career readiness and increase access to opportunity for all students through focused assessments, rigorous instruction, personalized practice, breaking barriers to college entry, and access to better planning tools and skills needed most for tomorrow’s lobs.1

The Organization Named Achieve: Cradle of Common Core Cronyism by Richard P. Phelps:

Achieve is corporate America’s direct connection to national education policy. Mainstream business leaders seem to trust it, and their foundations give it money. Achieve lists all of the following as contributors:1

Arconic Foundation; AT&T Foundation; The Battelle Foundation; Bayer USA Foundation; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; The Boeing Company; Carnegie Corporation of New York; Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation; Chevron; The Cisco Foundation; DuPont; ExxonMobil; The GE Foundation; GSK; IBM Corporation; Intel Foundation; The Joyce Foundation; The Leona & Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust; Lumina Foundation; Microsoft; PwC Charitable Foundation; The Prudential Foundation; S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation; State Farm Insurance Companies; Travelers Foundation; and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The Dangers of Common Core

Mark Bauerlein:

The latest installment in an ongoing interview series with senior editor Mark Bauerlein, featuring Nicholas Tampio on his book Common Core: National Education Standards and the Threat to Democracy. You can follow Tampio on Twitter @NTampio.

Nation’s Report Card: Common Core Delivering Education Stagnation

Richard Phelps, via a kind email:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) boasts a long and proud history. First administered in 1969 to national samples, NAEP typically tests students in 4th, 8th, and an upper high school grade in a variety of subjects. Mathematics and reading are tested most often, but other periodically tested topics include science, history, civics, geography, technology literacy, arts, writing, and economics.

The NAEP is “low stakes,” given that neither students, nor teachers, nor schools face any consequences for test performance. Indeed, given the NAEP’s “matrix” sampling design, where only some individual classrooms within schools are selected to participate and, even then, only to administer one test section—just part of a larger whole—test scores cannot be calculated for individual students, classrooms, or schools.

NAEP had long reported test scores for some of the larger states—where sample sizes were large enough naturally to produce statistically representative results—and for smaller states willing to subsidize sample size increases. Around 1990, however, the federal government instituted a bi-annual “State NAEP” in mathematics and reading (and occasionally science or writing), covering the costs for any state wishing to participate. After the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, all states would participate.

Will Fitzhugh: Common Core, Close Reading, and the Death of History in the Schools

Diane Ravitch:

He writes:

A few years ago, at a conference in Boston, David Steiner, then Commissioner of Education for New York State, said, about History: “It is so politically toxic that no one wants to touch it.”

Since then, David Coleman, of the Common Core and the College Board, have decided that any historical topic, for instance the Gettysburg Address, should be taught in the absence of any historical context—about the Civil War, President Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg—or anything else. This fits well with the “Close Reading” teachings of the “New Criticism” approach to literature in which Coleman received his academic training. This doctrine insists that any knowledge about the author or the historical context should be avoided in the analytic study of “texts.”

The Common Core, thanks to Coleman, has promoted the message that History, too, is nothing but a collection of “texts,” and it all should be studied as just language, not as knowledge dependent on the context in which it is embedded.

Not only does this promote ignorance, it also encourages schools to form Humanities Departments, in which English teachers, who may or may not know any History, are assigned to teach History as “text.” This is already happening in a few Massachusetts high schools, and may be found elsewhere in the country.

Will Fitzhugh: Common Core, Close Reading, and the Death of History in the Schools

Will Fitzhugh is founder and editor of The Concord Review, which publishes outstanding historical essays by high school students. I have long been an admirer of the publication and of Will for sustaining it without support from any major foundations, which are too engaged in reinventing the schools rather than supporting the work of excellent history students and teachers. You can subscribe by contacting him at

He writes:

A few years ago, at a conference in Boston, David Steiner, then Commissioner of Education for New York State, said, about History: “It is so politically toxic that no one wants to touch it.”

Since then, David Coleman, of the Common Core and the College Board, have decided that any historical topic, for instance the Gettysburg Address, should be taught in the absence of any historical context—about the Civil War, President Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg—or anything else. This fits well with the “Close Reading” teachings of the “New Criticism” approach to literature in which Coleman received his academic training. This doctrine insists that any knowledge about the author or the historical context should be avoided in the analytic study of “texts.”

The Common Core, thanks to Coleman, has promoted the message that History, too, is nothing but a collection of “texts,” and it all should be studied as just language, not as knowledge dependent on the context in which it is embedded.

Not only does this promote ignorance, it also encourages schools to form Humanities Departments, in which English teachers, who may or may not know any History, are assigned to teach History as “text.” This is already happening in a few Massachusetts high schools, and may be found elsewhere in the country.

The dominance of English teachers over reading and writing in our schools has long meant that the great majority of our high school graduates have never been asked to read one complete History book in their academic careers.

Good English teachers do a fine job of teaching novels and personal and creative writing, but it is a Common Core mistake to expect them to teach the History in which they have little or no academic background. Treating History as contextless “text” is not a solution to this problem.

The ignorance of History among our high school graduates is a standing joke to those who think it is funny, and NAEP has found that only about 18% know enough to pass the U.S. citizenship exam.

In The Knowledge Deficit, E.D. Hirsch writes that: “In a 1785 letter to his nephew, Peter Carr, aged fifteen, Jefferson recommended that he read books (in the original languages and in this order) by the following authors in History: Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon [Anabasis], Arian, Quintus Curtius, Diodorus Siculus, and Justin.”

We may no longer imagine that many of our high school students will read their History in Latin, but we should expect that somehow they may be liberated from the deeply irresponsible Common Core curriculum that, in restricting the study of the past to the literary analysis of “texts,” essentially removes as much actual History from our schools as it possibly can.

Via Will Fitzhugh.

Common Core is dead at U.S. Department of Education

Betsy DeVos:

To a casual observer, a classroom today looks scarcely different than what one looked like when I entered the public policy debate thirty years ago…The vast majority of learning environments have remained the same since the industrial revolution, because they were made in its image. Think of your own experience: sit down; don’t talk; eyes front. Wait for the bell. Walk to the next class. Repeat. Students were trained for the assembly line then, and they still are today.

Our societies and economies have moved beyond the industrial era. But the data tell us education hasn’t.

The most recent Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, report, with which you are all familiar, has the U.S. ranked 23rd in reading, 25th in science and 40th in math. And, you know this too: it’s not for a lack of funding. The fact is the United States spends more per pupil than most other developed countries, many of which perform better than us in the same surveys.

Of course there have been many attempts to change the status quo. We’ve seen valiant efforts to improve education from Republicans and Democrats, liberals, conservatives and everyone in between.

The bottom line is simple: federal education reform efforts have not worked as hoped.

That’s not a point I make lightly or joyfully. Yes, there have been some minor improvements in a few areas. But we’re far from where we need to be. We need to be honest with ourselves. The purpose of today’s conversation is to look at the past with 20/20 hindsight, examine what we have done and where it has – or hasn’t – led us.

Historians Want to Put Events in Context. Common Core Doesn’t. That’s a Problem.

“The dialogue now taking place was not about the literature curriculum but about English teachers being required to teach historical documents—and without context, if they followed guidelines from the standards writers on ‘close reading.’…. As high school history teacher Craig Thurtell states: “This approach [close reading] also permits the allocation of historical texts to English teachers, most of whom are untrained in the study of history, and leads to history standards [Common Core’s literacy standards for history] that neglect the distinctiveness of the discipline.”

Historians Want to Put Events in Context. Common Core Doesn’t.

That’s a Problem.

Sandra Stotsky:

For an October 2017 conference sponsored by an affiliate of the California Association of Teachers of English, I was invited to give an informal talk on a chapter in my book, The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum. Chapter 8 centered on how English teachers could create coherent sequences of informational and literary texts to address civic literacy.

I presented initial remarks on Chapter 8 and then asked for questions. But instead of questions about Chapter 8, the concerns were mostly about the requirement in Common Core’s English language arts (ELA) standards for English teachers to teach Founding documents. In particular, one teacher expressed at length the problems she was facing in teaching “The Declaration of Independence.” She wanted to know why English teachers were compelled to teach historical documents. Her academic background was not in history, and she was not the only one in the audience upset about this requirement. But something had happened.

The dialogue now taking place was not about the literature curriculum but about English teachers being required to teach historical documents—and without context, if they followed guidelines from the standards writers on “close reading.” The dialogue also touched on the “literacy” standards that content teachers were to address in order to teach reading and writing in their classes.

Why were “literacy” standards for other subjects in Common Core’s ELA document and what had researchers found on English teachers teaching “informational” texts (required by Common Core’s ELA standards) and on content teachers teaching reading and writing (required by Common Core’s “literacy” standards)? I sympathized with both English teachers who didn’t feel comfortable teaching foundational historical documents and history teachers who had presumably studied the context for documents now being taught by their English colleagues. Common Core’s ELA document makes clear that the motivation for these standards and requirements was the standards writers’ concern about the low reading skills of many American students graduating from high school.

As a response to teachers’ concerns at this conference, this essay first clarifies how the K-12 study of history ever got tangled up in Common Core’s ELA standards. It then explains why reading in a history class is not like reading in a literature class.

The story begins with the rationale for the contents of a document titled, “Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.” The bulk of the 66-page document is on English language arts standards. But the last seven pages provide “literacy” standards for the other subjects in grades 6-12. The introduction to the whole document justifies Common Core’s literacy standards on the grounds that college readiness means being able to read, write, and speak in all subject areas. That is the basis for entangling the study of history in the final version of Common Core’s ELA document.

The attempt to make English teachers responsible for teaching high school students how to read history, science, and mathematics textbooks relaxed after critics made it clear that English teachers could not possibly teach students how to read textbooks in other disciplines. Their criticism was supported by the common sense argument that teachers can’t teach students to read texts on a subject they don’t understand themselves, as well as by the total lack of evidence that English teachers can effectively teach reading strategies appropriate to other disciplines and thereby improve students’ knowledge in that discipline.

Via Will Fitzhugh (The Concord Review).

Commentary on Bill Gates and Common Core

Joy Pullman:

“Based on everything we have learned in the past 17 years, we are evolving our education strategy,” Gates wrote on his blog as a preface to a speech he gave last week in Cleveland. He followed this by detailing how U.S. education has essentially made little improvement in the years since he and his foundation — working so closely with the Obama administration that federal officials regularly consulted foundation employees and waived ethics laws to hire several — began redirecting trillions of public dollars towards programs he now admits haven’t accomplished much.

“If there is one thing I have learned,” Gates says in concluding his speech, “it is that no matter how enthusiastic we might be about one approach or another, the decision to go from pilot to wide-scale usage is ultimately and always something that has to be decided by you and others the field.” If this statement encompasses his Common Core debacle, Gates could have at least the humility to recall that Common Core had no pilot before he took it national. There wasn’t even a draft available to the public before the Obama administration hooked states into contracts, many of which were ghostwritten with Gates funds, pledging they’d buy that pig in a poke.

But it looks like this is as close to an apology or admission of failure as we’re going to get, folks. Sorry about that $4 trillion and mangled years of education for American K-12 kids and teachers. Failing with your kids and money for eight years is slowly getting billionaire visionaries to “evolve” and pledge to respect the hoi polloi a little more, though, so be grateful.

Is There Anything Common Core Gets Right?

Sandra Stotsky, via Will Fitzhugh:

Most books on public education in any country do not favor workforce preparation for all students in place of optional high school curricula or student-selected post-secondary goals. Nor have parents in the USA lauded Common Core’s effects on their children’s learning or the K-8 curriculum. Indeed, few observers see anything academically worthwhile in the standards funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and promoted by the organizations it has subsidized to promote them (e.g., the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence).

Joy Pullmann’s The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids (Encounter Books, 2017) is a recent addition to the critics’ side of the Common Core controversy. Her purpose is to explain what Common Core is and how it got to be implemented in almost every public classroom in almost every state in a remarkably short period of time (less than five years). She does so chiefly from the perspective of the many parents and teachers she quotes.

Organized in seven chapters, her book describes how the Gates Foundation promoted and continues to promote one extremely wealthy couple’s uninformed, unsupported, and unsupportable ideas on education for other people’s children while their own children are enrolled in a non-Common Cored private school. It explains how (but not exactly why) the Gates Foundation helped to centralize control of public education in the U.S. Department of Education. It also explains why parents, teachers, local school boards, and state legislators were the last to learn how the public schools their local and state taxes supported had been nationalized without Congressional knowledge or permission; and why they were expected to believe that their local public schools were now accountable for what and how they teach…not to the local and state taxpayers who fund them or to locally-elected school boards that by law are still supposed to set education policies not already determined by their state legislature…but to a distant bureaucracy in exchange for money to their state department of education to close “achievement gaps” between unspecified groups.

Overnight, teachers discovered they were accountable to anonymous bureaucrats for students’ scores on tests these teachers had not developed or reviewed, before or after their administration. Amazingly, state boards and governors believed all teachers were accountable to the federal education department despite the fact that the federal government pays for only about 8 to 10 percent of the costs of public education on average across states, and not for teachers’ or superintendents’ salaries.

The complex story of how sets of English language arts and mathematics standards (and, later, compatible science standards) created by non-experts selected chiefly (so far as we know) by Gates got adopted legally by mathematically- and scientifically-ignorant state boards of education is carefully told in a relatively short book. What we miss are analyses of four crucial topics: the academic quality of Common Core’s standards, why they were adopted by mathematically-illiterate state boards of education, why “school choice” doesn’t address the problems in Common Core’s standards, and how the peer review process for approving a “State Plan” under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ensures continuing federal control of a state’s public schools.

Tony Evers seeks a third term after battles with conservatives, cancer and Common Core

Molly Beck:

“The ability for school boards to use charters as kind of an incubator — I think that’s great,” Evers said, who lamented that the public often conflates private voucher schools with charter schools.

Evers, who now opposes the expansion of taxpayer-funded school vouchers in Wisconsin, also once voiced support for them in 2000 — when only students in Milwaukee could use them.

“To me, the key is student learning. I don’t care if we find success in voucher schools, charter schools or Milwaukee public schools. The idea is to find what works and replicate it as soon as possible. So from that standpoint, I believe the (voucher) experiment needs to continue,” Evers said in 2000.

By 2001, however, while running against former West High School principal Libby Burmaster, who would go on to beat him, Evers had publicly opposed the expansion of vouchers beyond Milwaukee and said the system’s level of financial and academic accountability must increase.

Evers said he has tried to “thread the needle” on the issue since then.

Much more on Tony Evers, here.

Common Core Links

Richard Phelps, via a kind email:

Drilling through the Core:

“The federal Department of Education’s coercion of states to join Common Core sought to preempt a necessary debate at the state and local level. Nevertheless, that debate is now raging in state capitals across the country and Pioneer has been at the forefront of the discussion with thoughtful critiques on every aspect, from the notion of common standards, to the specific standards as written, and the process by which they were adopted. This book is a valuable resource for parents or anyone else who wants to understand the criticisms of Common Core.” – U.S. Senator Charles Grassley


The Common Core K-12 standards have gone from “inevitable” to “poisonous.” A new book adds to the woes of Common Core’s supporters by bringing together academic critiques from over a dozen scholars who provide an independent, comprehensive book-length treatment of this national standards initiative. The book arrives at a moment when popular support for the Common Core is declining.

Two national polls show widespread opposition; repeal and rebranding efforts are underway in numerous states; it has become toxic for presidential candidates; and the number of states participating in Common Core-aligned testing consortia has dwindled. The Common Core standards have lost credibility with the general public, parents, and teachers.

Common Core Math Will Reduce Enrollment in High-Level High School Courses:

Common Core math standards (CCMS) end after just a partial Algebra II course. This weak Algebra II course will result in fewer high school students able to study higher-level math and science courses and an increase in credit-bearing college courses that are at the level of seventh and eighth grade material in high-achieving countries, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

Study Finds Common Core Math Standards Will Reduce Enrollment in High-Level High School Math Courses, Dumb Down College Stem Curriculum

The framers of Common Core claimed the standards would be anchored to higher education requirements, then back-mapped through upper and lower grades. But Richard P. Phelps and R. James Milgram, authors of “The Revenge of K-12: How Common Core and the New SAT Lower College Standards in the U.S.,” find that higher education was scarcely involved with creating the standards.

Fordham’s PARCC v. MCAS Report Falls Short:

The Fordham Institute has long been at work on a study of the relative quality of tests produced by the two Common Core-aligned and federally funded consortia (PARCC and SBAC), ACT (Aspire), and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (MCAS). What Fordham has produced is only in the most superficial way an actual analysis – in fact, it reads more like propaganda and lacks the basic elements of objective research.

It takes only a little digging under the surface to reveal pervasive conflicts of interest, a one-sided sourcing of evidence, and a research design so slanted it cannot stand against any scrutiny. In developing their supposedly analytic comparisons of PARCC, SBAC, Aspire and MCAS, the authors do not employ standard test evaluation criteria, organizations, or reviewers. Instead, they employ criteria developed by the Common Core co-copyright holder, organizations paid handsomely in the past by Common Core’s funders, and predictable reviewers who have worked for them before. The authors also fill the report with the typical vocabulary and syntax of Common Core advertising – positive-sounding adjectives and adverbs are attached to everything Common Core, and negative-sounding adjectives and adverbs are attached to the alternatives.

Study: Poor Performance of Other States in PARCC Consortium Would Translate to Lower Standards for Mass.

“If too many students fail to reach the new threshold and are denied diplomas, our education system seizes up,” said Dr. Richard P. Phelps, author of “Setting Academic Performance Standards: MCAS vs. PARCC.”

Massachusetts’ bar for scoring “proficient” on MCAS is currently the second highest in the nation for 4th grade math, third highest for 4th grade reading, fourth highest for 8th grade math and 23rd for 8th grade reading. The composite rankings for rigor associated with definitions of proficiency in the 11 states that were still part of the PARCC consortium in August (it has since dropped to seven states and Washington, D.C.) was 27th in 4th grade math, 20.5 in 4th grade reading, 25.3 in 8th grade math and 25.1 in 8th grade reading.

In this case, the inevitable reversion to the mean would translate to a one-half year drop in performance expectations for 4th grade math and reading and 8th grade math in Massachusetts.

The Education Writers Association casts its narrowing gaze on Boston, May 1-3
April 28, 2016

Many billions have been spent, and continue to be spent, promoting the Common Core Standards and their associated consortium tests, PARCC and SBAC. Nonetheless, the “Initiative” has been stopped in its tracks largely by a loose coalition of unpaid grassroots activists. That barely-organized amateurs could match the many well-organized, well-paid professional organizations, tells us something about Common Core’s natural appeal, or lack thereof. Absent the injection of huge amounts of money and political mandates, there would be no Common Core.

The Common Core Initiative (CCI) does not progress, but neither does it go away. Its alleged primary benefit—alignment both within and across states (allegedly producing valid cross-state comparisons)—continues to degrade as participating states make changes that suit them. The degree of Common Core adoption varies greatly from state to state, and politicians’ claims about the degree of adoption even more so. CCI is making a mess and will leave a mess behind that will take years to clean up.

How did we arrive in this morass? Many would agree that our policymakers have failed us. Politicians on both sides of the aisle naively believed CCI’s “higher, deeper, tougher, more rigorous” hype without making any effort to verify the assertions. But, I would argue that the corps of national education journalists is just as responsible.

Too many of our country’s most influential journalists accept and repeat verbatim the advertising slogans and talking points of Common Core promoters. Too many of their stories source information from only one side of the issue. Most annoying, for those of us eager for some journalistic balance, has been some journalists’ tendency to rely on Common Core promoters to identify the characteristics and explain the motives of Common Core opponents.

An organization claiming to represent and support all US education journalists sets up shop in Boston next week for its annual “National Seminar”. The Education Writers Association’s (EWA’s) national seminars introduce thousands of journalists to sources of information and expertise. Many sessions feature journalists talking with other journalists. Some sessions host teachers, students, or administrators in “reports from the front lines” type panel discussions. But, the remaining and most ballyhooed sessions feature non-journalist experts on education policy fronting panels with, typically, a journalist or two hosting. Allegedly, these sessions interpret “all the research”, and deliver truth, from the smartest, most enlightened on earth.

Fordham report predictable, conflicted:

On November 17, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will decide the fate of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and the Partnership for Assessment of College Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) in the Bay State. MCAS is homegrown; PARCC is not. Barring unexpected compromises or subterfuges, only one program will survive.

Over the past year, PARCC promoters have released a stream of reports comparing the two testing programs. The latest arrives from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in the form of a partial “evaluation of the content and quality of the 2014 MCAS and PARCC “relative to” the “Criteria for High Quality Assessments”[i] developed by one of the organizations that developed Common Core’s standards—with the rest of the report to be delivered in January, it says.[ii]

Much more on the Common Core, here.

Commentary On The Common Core

Diane Ravitch:

FOR 15 years, since the passage of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind act, education reformers have promoted standardized testing, school choice, competition and accountability (meaning punishment of teachers and schools) as the primary means of improving education. For many years, I agreed with them. I was an assistant secretary of education in George H. W. Bush’s administration and a member of three conservative think tanks.

much more on the common core, here.

Nine Times Diane Ravitch Was Wrong About Common Core in the New York Times:

1. and 2. Ravitch repeatedly refers to Common Core State Standards as national standards, and as a curriculum.

Common Core State Standards are state-chosen standards, not adopted or mandated nationally in any way. Standards and curricula are completely different things. It’s surprising that an education “expert” is willfully ignoring the difference between standards and curricula.

States and districts have always created their own curricula and reading lists using their state standards as the guide. As a result, what happens in classrooms varies school to school, and state to state even among states that share the same academic standards.

In fact, objective analysis has time and again rejected claims that the Common Core dictates what teachers teach or how they can teach it. In fact, by setting rigorous and consistent learning goals and giving local authorities full control over how best to help students achieve those targets, the Common Core fosters creativity and flexibility in the classroom.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports under the Common Core, “the curriculum and teaching methods are decided locally.” Likewise, US News & World Report points out, “School districts design the curricula, and teachers create their own methods for instruction, selecting the resources best tailored to their lessons.” That hardly sounds like a national curriculum…

3. She claims the standards are “another excuse to avoid making serious efforts to reduce the main causes of low student achievement: poverty and racial segregation.”

National civil and human rights groups have repeatedly stated the value of the standards and assessments for students of color and low-income students. In fact, the civil rights community has publicly united to oppose opting students out of annual tests. Despite the civil rights community’s agreement about the importance of state assessments, Ravitch continues to support opting out.

Refusing the test aligned to high standards robs all students of a quality education, particularly children from underserved communities that have fought to be counted. Data from these statewide assessments provide valuable information, not only to schools and policy makers who use it to inform and improve education policies, but just as importantly, to parents – especially parents of color – who deserve transparent information about their child’s performance.

Can High Standards and Accountability Co-Exist? Lessons From the Common Core Assessment Consortia

Ashley Joachim & Patrick McGuinn

The Common Core State Standards Initiative was designed to solve a problem that has plagued past standard-setting efforts. Many states responded to earlier efforts by watering down their standards for learning and lowering expectations for students in an attempt to artificially boost the number of students that reached proficiency. By creating a set of common expectations across states, the designers of the Common Core sought to protect the initiative from the inevitable political pressures that might lead policymakers to weaken the standards or the aligned assessments.

However, history may be set to repeat itself. While most states have stood firm in their embrace of the new standards, the number of states planning to use the aligned assessments dropped from 45 in 2011 to 20 by mid-2016.

In a new article in Education Next, we examine why states have abandoned the assessments (designed by the federally funded Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessments of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)) even as they continue to embrace the standards on which the assessments are based. The answer, in short, is politics. It’s easy for policymakers and the public to embrace high standards in principle. But when policymakers seek to hold students, teachers, and schools accountable for those standards by using the results from aligned assessments, support is far more likely to falter.

Love It or Hate It, Common Core is Giving Us Interesting Data About Black Student Achievement


table below to compare New Orleans African-American students and economically disadvantages students against the same subgroups in other places across all subjects in grades 3-8, with the hope that looking across grades and varied proficiency differentials might illuminate trends.

It should be noted that New Orleans students used paper and pencil versions, so in later grades especially this might result in inflated NOLA results. But as the chart details, New Orleans did well in 3rd and 4th grade as well (where other states saw less scoring differentials based on test type).

Green cells indicate where New Orleans students outperformed their peers; red cells indicate where they underperformed their peers.The numbers in the cell are +/- differential rates for how other geographies scored compared to NOLA proficiency.

Meanwhile, Madison largely continues with more if the same.

Louisiana Teachers Show How Common Core Advances Classroom Learning 

Get it right:

For example, Ms. Richard notes that the previous English/language arts standards might have asked students to identify a main character in a story. “Now, I may ask my students, ‘How do the actions of the main character affect the plot of the story?'” she said. “They’re going so much deeper. They’re having to look at the author’s craft, how the author wrote what they did and why they chose the words they used.”

Should political forces in the state force teachers to revert back to lower-level standards, these teachers say they will still continue to teach Common Core’s higher-level concepts because they have seen the advantages for their students. Listen to the podcast, or read the transcript below for more information.

Common Core’s Surprisingly Deep Roots

Robert Pondiscio:

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz reliably wins applause with a call to “repeal every word of Common Core.” It’s a promise he will be hard-pressed to keep should he find himself in the White House next January. Aside from the bizarre impracticality of that comment as phrased (Which words shall we repeal first? “Phonics?” “Multiplication?” Or “Gettysburg Address?”), the endlessly debated, frequently pilloried standards – love ’em or hate ’em – are now a deeply entrenched feature of America’s K-12 education landscape.

Estimate: Common Core To Cost California Nearly $10 Billion, Nation $80 Billion

Joy Pullman:

A California commission has just decided the technology costs for Common Core tests are an unfunded mandate, which will require state taxpayers to cough up approximately $4 billion more to local school districts, Californian and former U.S. Department of Education official Ze’ev Wurman tells The Federalist.

This adds to the extra $3.5 billion the legislature gave schools for Common Core in spring 2015 and a separate infusion of $1.7 billion Gov. Jerry Brown snagged for Common Core spread across fiscal years 2014 and 2015. That makes a total of approximately $9.2 billion above and beyond existing tax expenditures Californians will pay to have Common Core injected into their state.

The High-Priced Death of Common Core

grumpy teacher:

In other words, the dream that Common Core would be the single educational vision of the entire country– that dream is dead. Dead dead deadity dead.

But Rothfeld’s piece lays out a not-always-recognized (at least, not by people who don’t actually work in education) culprit for the demise. He lists the usual suspects– politics, testing, federal overreach. But the article is most interested in another malefactor– finances.

How the Common Core Is Transforming the SAT

Emmanuel Felton:

High-school students who enjoy obscure vocabulary and puzzle-like math problems might want to sign up for the SAT now, before the 89-year-old college-admissions test is revamped this March to better reflect what students are learning in high-school classrooms in the age of the Common Core.

While other standardized tests have also been criticized for rewarding the students who’ve mastered the idiosyncrasies of the test over those who have the best command of the underlying substance, the SAT—with its arcane analogy questions and somewhat counterintuitive scoring practices—often received special scorn.

N.J. PARCC Drill-Down: Reality Hurts and Common Core Works

Laura Waters:

The New Jersey Department of Education released the state’s first PARCC results yesterday afternoon. No surprises here: student proficiency scores were lower because the tests are actually aligned with grade-appropriate content, unlike N.J.’s now-defunct ASK and HSPA assessments. As NJ Spotlight reports, “The numbers were stark: Just 44 percent of third-graders and 36 percent of 10th-graders reached or exceeded PARCC’s grade-level marks in language arts.” In math, “just 24 percent of high schoolers met the PARCC mark in geometry test, and 23 percent achieved the standard in Algebra II. No math numbers at any grade level topped 50 percent meeting ‘expectations in the math tests.”

Or as Commissioner David Hespe told the Wall St. Journal, “We promised many years ago a more honest, accurate assessment. We have great challenges ahead.’’ Comm. Hespe also confirmed to the Star-Ledger that “the results show that high school graduation requirements are not rigorous enough for most students to be successful after graduation. The 2014-15 results set a new baseline for improving student achievement.”

Unsolved problems with the common core

Lior Pachter:

The Common Core State Standards Initiative was intended to establish standards for the curriculum for K–12 students in order to universally elevate the the quality of education in the United States. Whether the initiative has succeeded, or not, is a matter of heated debate. In particular, the merits of the mathematics standards are a contentious matter to the extent that colleagues in my math department at UC Berkeley have penned opposing opinions on the pages of the Wall Street Journal (see Frenkel and Wu vs. Ratner). In this post I won’t opine on the merits of the standards, but rather wish to highlight a shortcoming in the almost universal perspective on education that the common core embodies:

The emphasis on what K–12 students ought to learn about what is known has sidelined an important discussion about what they should learn about what is not known.

Common Core Flop/Flip & Flip/Flop

Wheeler Report (PDF):

For this reason, many of us were initially encouraged when you indicated that you would defund Wisconsin’s participation in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) via your proposed 2015-2017 biennial budget. We hoped for substantive movement, at long last, on an issue that affects most children, parents, and teachers in Wisconsin. However, as we read the actual budget language, we became troubled. Despite the defunding of SBAC, nothing in the budget language prohibits the selection or implementation of another Common Core-aligned assessment. Nor does it propose any fiscal plan for the creation or adoption of non- Common Core standards.
As it turns out, we were right to be skeptical.

On April 23rd, the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DoA) issued a Request for Bids (RFB) to replace the SBAC assessments that your proposed budget would ostensibly defund. The RFB was so vague as to which academic standards bidders should use to construct the new assessments that it took two rounds of questions to pin down a definitive answer. On June 5th the truth was irrefutably revealed: For mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA), the State of Wisconsin is telling bidders to write assessments based on the Common Core. Even then, there was clearly an effort to make it difficult to get to the truth. The links provided to the math and ELA standards did not directly contain the standards. Bidders and interested citizens, such as us, had to chase a rabbit trail of links and pages finally to arrive at PDF documents that contained the standards—clearly labeled as Common Core.

March, 2014

More than 100 superintendents and school board members packed a Senate chamber Thursday in opposition to a bill that could derail the transition to new educational standards in Wisconsin.

At issue are the Common Core State Standards, a set of expectations for English and math instruction that most states have adopted and have been implementing for three years.

The debate came as lawmakers hustled to push through — or push aside — a host of measures, with the end of the legislative session in sight. Committees on Thursday approved bills to rewrite election rules and provide more oversight of the deaths of suspects in police custody, while a Senate leader declared a bill to limit so-called living wage rules is dead in his house.

But the hot issue of the day was Common Core.

Many Republican lawmakers fear the standards didn’t get enough input and review when they were written and adopted in 2010. They’re proposing a state standards board that could repeal Common Core and write its own standards.

Superintendents at the Senate Education Committee hearing acknowledged the Common Core standards were not perfect and that they could use more time and resources to implement them. But they argued a new committee would just politicize the process while failing to improve outcomes for students.

“(Common Core) is the basis we need to be able to make local adjustments,” said Jennifer Cheatham, superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Don’t Shrink Fiction In America’s Common Core Reading Lists

Warren Adler:

There is nothing wrong with providing young students with more access to non-fiction and its many manifestations that include all the documentation of historical facts, biography, science, government, analysis, travel, real life adventure and anything else in this category. Any scrap of informational reading is absolutely essential to a well-rounded education and deserves a prominent place in the education of young minds, but not at the expense of fiction.

Works of the imagination, of which fellow authors and I are proud dispensers, is not only essential material for a well-rounded curriculum, it is crucial. In fact, it should be expanded. Imagination, in my view, often trumps information and hard scholarship.

Via Will Fitzugh.

Common Core Is Leaving My Students Behind

Brian Zorn:

The mission of American education is “No Child Left Behind.” For me as a special-education teacher in New York state, that means making my students feel worthwhile and giving them the confidence they need to succeed—academically and socially. Yet New York’s statewide English language arts (ELA) and mathematics exams unduly humiliate children in special education and frustrate the teachers who want them to succeed.

The tests, administered to third- through eighth-graders over six days each spring, evaluate students on uniform Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by most states and emphasize critical thinking. As this newspaper reported in 2013, the first year the tests were administered, many children in New York state “ran out of time, collapsed in tears or froze up.”

Common Core vs. Common Knowledge

Mike Atonucci:

For those who are in – or, in my case, marginally associated with – the business of public education, it is easy to assume that others share your enthusiasm equally. We are constantly told that education is one of the nation’s top issues, we spend vast amounts of money on it, and we argue about it incessantly.

The delicious irony is that time and again we discover that the general public is paying virtually no attention to any of it. They are highly uneducated about education.

Poll after poll over the years have indicated that Americans don’t know how much we spend on education, don’t know what a charter school is, don’t know what teachers make, and now, don’t know what the Common Core State Standards are.

Common problems with Common Core reporting

Alexander Russo:

“Something big is happening in New Jersey,” PBS NewsHour special correspondent John Merrow intones ominously at the start of last week’s NewsHour segment on standardized testing in New Jersey and elsewhere. “It’s happening in Newark … . It’s happening in Montclair … . And it’s happening in the state capital.”

The “something big,” according to PBS and other media outlets, is growing grassroots resistance among parents and students to a new set of tests being administered nationwide for the first time.

But so far, at least, much of the media’s coverage of this spring’s Common Core testing rollout has been guilty of over-emphasizing the extent of the conflict, speculating dire consequences based on little information, and over-relying on anecdotes and activists’ claims rather than digging for a broader sampling of verified numbers. The real story—that the rollout of these new, more challenging tests is proceeding surprisingly well—could be getting lost.

Latest glitch delays Common Core exam in Wisconsin

Erin Richards:

The new standardized state achievement exam has been in the works for years, and is expected to be a much better gauge of student performance than the old pencil-and-paper, fill-in-the-bubble Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam.

The Badger Exam will be taken online and should be tougher, because it will align with the more rigorous Common Core academic standards.

It was also designed to feature test questions that would automatically adapt to individual students’ skill levels, but that feature was dropped because it wasn’t ready.

Because of concerns about testing time, DPI also eliminated a set of performance tasks that were to accompany the English portion of the exam.

State officials blamed the problems on Educational Testing Service, the company it contracted to administer the exam. It has not yet paid anything to the company, DPI Spokesman John Johnson said in an interview Thursday.

Common Core’s cyber spies

Stephanie Simon:

But Pearson is hardly the only company keeping a watchful eye on students.

School districts and colleges across the nation are hiring private companies to monitor students’ online activity, down to individual keystrokes, to scan their emails for objectionable content and to scrutinize their public posts on Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram and other popular sites. The surveillance services will send principals text-message alerts if a student types a suspicious phrase or surfs to a web site that raises red flags.

Wisconsin students will take scaled back Common Core-aligned tests this spring

Molly Beck

Wisconsin students are set to take a new kind of standardized test next month — one that is online, interactive and expected to be more rigorous than the annual pencil-and-paper exam given to students for years.

But a technical glitch in the creation of the new test for students in third through eighth grades will mean school districts will get a scaled-back version instead, according to records obtained from the state Department of Public Instruction.

As a result, DPI officials say the agency won’t pay the full $11.1 million cost and it will negotiate a new price with the test vendor and creators. About $1.2 million has been paid so far.

The test is linked to the controversial Common Core State Standards and tests students in math and English language arts.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin has long tolerated the sub standard WKCE assessment.

Who was behind the Common Core math standards, and will they survive?

Sarah Garland:

Every Saturday morning at 10 a.m., Jason Zimba begins a math tutoring session for his two young daughters with the same ritual. His youngest, Claire, 4, draws on a worksheet while his oldest, Abigail, 7, pulls math problems written on strips of paper out of an old Kleenex box, decorated like a piggy bank with a pink snout on one end and a curly-cue tail on the other, and adds the numbers as fast as she can. If she gets the answer “lickety-split,” as her dad says, she can check them off. If she doesn’t, the problem goes back in the box, to try the following week.

Zimba began the Saturday lessons to make up for what he felt was subpar math instruction at Abigail’s public elementary school in Manhattan after it switched to the Common Core, a set of controversial new math and English standards adopted by most states in 2010. The standards have been in place in many districts for three years, but most textbooks, curriculum and teacher training have yet to catch up to the Common Core’s grand vision. The math standards, in particular, have caused outrage across the country as parents have grappled with confusing homework and garbled word problems labeled Common Core. Several states are currently reconsidering the standards in response to the growing backlash.

But Zimba, a mathematician by training, is not just any disgruntled parent. He’s one of the guys who wrote the Common Core.

“I would be sleeping in if I weren’t frustrated,” Zimba says of his Saturday morning lessons, which he teaches in his pajamas. Instead, four years after signing off on the final draft of the standards, he spends his weekends trying to make up for the lackluster curriculum at his daughters’ school and his weekdays trying to make up for the lackluster curriculum and teaching at schools around the country that are struggling to shift to the Common Core.

The Man Behind Common Core Math Standards

Sarah Garland:

Every Saturday morning at 10 a.m., Jason Zimba begins a math tutoring session for his two young daughters with the same ritual. Claire, 4, draws on a worksheet while Abigail, 7, pulls addition problems written on strips of paper out of an old Kleenex box decorated like a piggy bank.

If she gets the answer “lickety-split,” as her dad says, she can check it off. If she doesn’t, the problem goes back in the box, to try the following week.

“I would be sleeping in if I weren’t frustrated,” Zimba says of his Saturday-morning lessons, which he teaches in his pajamas. He feels the math instruction at Abigail’s public elementary school in Manhattan is subpar — even after the school switched to the Common Core State Standards.

But Zimba, a mathematician by training, is not just any disgruntled parent. He’s one of the guys who wrote the Common Core.

And four years after signing off on the final draft of the standards, he spends his weekends trying to make up for what he considers the lackluster curriculum at his daughter’s school, and his weekdays battling the lackluster curriculum and teaching at schools around the country that are struggling to shift to the Common Core.

Jeb Bush speaks up for Common Core

Chloe Sorvino:

“In my view, the rigour of the Common Core state standards must be the new minimum in classrooms,” Mr Bush said. “For those states choosing a path other than Common Core, I say this: Aim even higher. Be bolder. Raise standards and ask more of our students and the system, because I know they have the potential to deliver it.”

Mr Bush said the US government must make education reform a priority and, if that happens, it could make Common Core a 2016 election cycle issue. Last month, Rand Paul, Kentucky’s Republican senator, said that a supporter “doesn’t have much chance of winning in a Republican primary.”

Mr Bush pointed to Black and Hispanic American fourth graders reading two and a half grade levels below their white peers on average. He also cited the global rankings that place American students 21st in reading and 31st in mathematics.

“But if we buy the excuses, if we let kids struggle, if we herd them into failing schools, how can we expect young people to grasp those first rungs of opportunity?” Mr Bush asked. “That is why the challenge of fixing our schools must be among the most urgent of national priorities.”

On Common Core Reading


All week we’ve been reporting on big changes in reading instruction brought on by the Common Core State Standards: a doubling-down on evidence-based reading, writing and speaking; increased use of nonfiction; and a big push to get kids reading more “complex texts.”

Whatever you think of these shifts, they’re meaningless ideas without a classroom and kids to make sense of them. That’s today’s story, as we round out our series on reading in the Core era.

It’s mid-morning at Watkins Elementary in Washington, D.C. From the fourth floor, Amy Wertheimer’s fifth-grade classroom looks out over a red-brick grid of rowhouses and, looming over it all, the U.S. Capitol. But every back is to the view as Ms. Wertheimer calls her kids to the reading rug.

Who’s to Say Teachers Can’t Modify Common Core? No One

Barry Garelick:

I currently am on a second career after retirement—I teach math in middle school. During my last few years of work, I started taking courses in ed school at night. The first course I took was taught by a professor who had what seemed to me to be a unique gift. He managed to agree with whatever anyone said about teaching. I learned very quickly that this was pretty much the norm, and that ed school was the place where there are no wrong answers—just the “greater truth,” which will eventually prevail. It is the place where future teachers see the light and embrace the principles of student-centered, inquiry-based, discovery-based teaching, and answering students’ questions is “handing it to the student” (aka the “struggle is good” philosophy).

I am seeing something similar with respect to the Common Core math standards. Peter Greene, on his blog Curmudgucation, puts it this way: “If the Common Core were to collapse and everyone in the country came to see it as a disaster and a Huge Mistake, exactly whose head would roll? Who would be held responsible?” And he answers it as follows: “To use the language of the ed revolution, nobody is accountable for Common Core.”

And another perspective is offered by Katharine Beals at her blog Out in Left Field. She points out a constant refrain heard about Common Core:

Fight Is On for Common Core Contracts

Caroline Porter:

As states race to implement the Common Core academic standards, companies are fighting for a slice of the accompanying testing market, expected to be worth billions of dollars in coming years.

That jockeying has brought allegations of bid-rigging in one large pricing agreement involving 11 states—the latest hiccup as the math and reading standards are rolled out—while in roughly three dozen others, education companies are battling for contracts state by state.

Mississippi’s education board in September approved an emergency $8 million contract to Pearson PLC for tests aligned with Common Core, sidestepping the state’s contract-review board, which had found the transaction illegal because it failed to meet state rules regarding a single-source bid.

Dormant for now, expect Common Core to flare in next Scott Walker term

Alan Borsuk:

January approaches and so, presumably, does the first hot round of education action of the second term of Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

There will be many other rounds, especially by the time the state budget is completed in June. In solidly re-electing Walker on Tuesday, Wisconsin voters made clear which side is going to prevail on some big questions about the future of kindergarten through 12th grade education.

But start with January, when the new Legislature convenes with solid Republican majorities in both the Assembly and Senate.

On July 17, Walker issued a remarkable, one-sentence statement:

“Today, I call on the members of the state Legislature to pass a bill in early January to repeal Common Core and replace it with standards set by people in Wisconsin.”

Pretty much nationwide, the Common Core went quiet as an issue during the several months leading up to the election.

At the time of Walker’s statement, several states had acted to drop out of the nationwide effort to have consistent goals for what students should learn in reading, language arts and math at each grade level.

The objecting states set standards of their own, and the Common Core had become a hot-button issue for opposing President Barack Obama and liberal educators, even if sometimes facts got in the way. Oh, well.

A Math Teacher on Common Core

Brooke Powers:

Before Common Core I was a typical math teacher. I had my curriculum maps and and state standards which read like a skill and drill check list that I marked off one by one whether the kids understood them or not. I used really “great” methods and math terminology like “butterfly method”, “keep switch flip”, “leave opposite opposite”, and so many more that I would love to forget. I moved to Kentucky the year that KCAS (Kentucky’s Common Core) was adopted and thought “how different could it be?” The answer to that question can be answered easily with a quick peak inside my classroom today.

Today, my classroom is cognitively busy and alive with excitement about numbers. We no longer focus on skills, timed tests, facts, or catchy phrases to make students remember things that have no meaning to them. Today, we do math talks, counting circles, estimating, and reasoning instead of direct instruction. We take the time to understand numbers and their meanings rather than memorizing facts. I don’t drill random formulas and information into students heads so that they can remember it long enough to pass a test rather than understanding it to a depth that can be applied to real life.

I really do understand the reason so many parents seem to get upset about the “new math” associated with Common Core. After all, it is change and change is difficult but here is what I know. I have talked to tons of adults and not one has told me that they have to take skill and drill tests daily at work or risk being fired. When I ask what they have to do at work I get a lot of answers but there is always a common theme, in real life we are no longer asked to use math as a check list of skills that we either know or don’t know. Instead real life is about using the math to solve real problems, to be a critical thinker, to reason, and actually understand what is happening around them. Those are all the things along with many more that Common Core has brought to my classroom.

Much more on the Common Core, here.

Related: Math Forum Audio & Video.

Rejecting Common Core & Rigor?

Stephanie Simon:

“We should be completely prepared for lots of folks to get cold feet starting now,” said Andy Smarick, a policy analyst at Bellwether Education Partners. States that have already moved to Common Core tests have seen student scores plunge and parent protests soar — and as the spring testing season creeps closer, similar outcomes “are staring our leaders in the face” in states from coast to coast, he said.

“Claims of ‘We’re not ready,’ and ‘This will be too disruptive’ are sure to spike,” Smarick said.

The nascent district rebellion comes against a backdrop of growing public frustration with standardized testing in general. In New York last spring, as many as 60,000 students refused to take the state’s Common Core tests. Similar opt-out movements have swelled in states from Georgia to Connecticut to California, where a coalition called “Pencils Down” has been organizing parents to boycott the exams.

A few teachers in Florida and Colorado have even staged small mutinies of their own, announcing that they would not give standardized tests to their students. A public letter from a Colorado teacher titled “I refuse to administer the PARCC” caught fire on social media last month.
Supporters of the Common Core have taken note of the public mood and tried to get ahead of iti/blockquote>

Common Core Math Will Reduce Enrollment in High-Level High School Courses

Pioneer Institute via a kind Richard Phelps email:

Study Finds Common Core Math Standards Will Reduce Enrollment in High-Level High School Math Courses, Dumb Down College STEM Curriculum

Lower standards, alignment of SAT to Common Core likely to hurt low-income students the most

Common Core math standards (CCMS) end after just a partial Algebra II course. This weak Algebra II course will result in fewer high school students able to study higher-level math and science courses and an increase in credit-bearing college courses that are at the level of seventh and eighth grade material in high-achieving countries, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

The framers of Common Core claimed the standards would be anchored to higher education requirements, then back-mapped through upper and lower grades. But Richard P. Phelps and R. James Milgram, authors of “The Revenge of K-12: How Common Core and the New SAT Lower College Standards in the U.S.,” find that higher education was scarcely involved with creating the standards.

“The only higher education involvement was from institutions that agreed to place any students who pass Common Core-based tests in high school into credit-bearing college courses,” said Phelps. “The guarantee came in return for states’ hoped-for receipt of federal ‘Race to the Top’ grant funding.” “Many students will fail those courses – until they’re watered down,” he added.

Perhaps the greatest harm to higher education will come from the College Board’s decision to align its SAT tests with Common Core. The SAT has historically been an aptitude test – one designed to predict college success. But the new test would become an achievement test – a retrospective assessment designed to measure mastery of high school material. Many high-achieving countries administer a retrospective test for high school graduation and a predictive college entrance examination.

Much more on the Common Core, here.

Reframing the Common Core discussion: A battle for our freedom

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” – Voltaire
“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.” – George Orwell

If I were to build a list of the worst systemic problems in public education, the Common Core State Standards would not be at the top of the list. The Common Core (CCSS) is a huge problem, to be sure. It’s dictatorial, inadequate, experimental, expensive, developmentally inappropriate, politically infused – it’s nearly everything critics have said it is. But it isn’t the worst problem we face.

That dishonor goes to The Network, a moniker I’ve given to the conglomeration of corporate and government interests (and their allies) that have seized control of America’s classrooms. The Network is huge – containing most of the K-12 education mob, plus its allies in the Department of Education; colleges of education; unions; media; government agencies, associations and legal teams; foundations; corporations; legislatures; fundraising groups; colleges and universities; business; and even the courts.

The Network prefers to operate quietly, promoting supposedly good intentions. Its hallmark phrase: “It’s all about the kids.” But try opposing The Network on behalf of a child – yours or anyone else’s. If you can’t be put off, persuaded, ignored, bullied or bought out, The Network has no problem getting nasty. The more honest and honorable you are, the nastier The Network becomes.

This isn’t about left or right, Democrat or Republican. It’s about “in” and “out”; money and power; agenda and ideology. The Network spends a lot of taxpayer money growing itself, feeding itself and shielding itself from accountability. The bigger it is, the more power it has. The more power it has, the more friends it gains. The more friends it gains, the more money it gets. The more money it gets, the bigger it grows – even as it completely fails our children. Allies of all stripes play along.

In Washington State, legislators and judges now tout the additional billions they’ll rip from taxpayers for failed school districts. They don’t say how much is spent currently or what it buys. They don’t hold districts accountable. Education already is a bottomless pit of wasted dollars; they don’t seem to care.

Undoing the ‘Rote Understanding’ Approach to Common Core Math Standards

Barry Garelick, via a kind email:

A video about how the Common Core is teaching young students how to do addition problems is making the rounds on the internet:

Much ballyhoo is being made of this. Given the prevailing interpretation of Common Core math standards, the furor is understandable. The purveyors of these standards claim that they neither dictate nor prohibit any pedagogical approach, but the wave of videos and articles sweeping the internet like the one above suggest the opposite may be true: that, in fact, the Common Core math standards are dictating how teachers are to teach math.

I believe that CC math, while not dictating particular teaching styles, has given the math reform movement that has been raging for slightly more than two decades in the United States a massive dose of steroids. Reform math has manifested itself in classrooms across the United States mostly in lower grades, in the form of “discovery-oriented” and “student-centered” classes, in which the teacher becomes a facilitator or “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage” and students work so-called “real world” or “authentic problems.” It also has taken the form of de-emphasizing practices and drills, requiring oral or written “explanations” of problems so obvious they need none, finding more than one way to do a problem, and using cumbersome strategies for basic arithmetic functions. The big reason behind all of this is that math reformers believe such practices will result in students understanding how numbers work—as opposed to just “doing” math. In fact, reformers tend to mischaracterize traditionally taught math as teaching only the “doing” and not the understanding; that it is rote memorization of facts and procedures and that students do not learn how to think or problem solve.

For the Common Core, A Different Sort of Benchmark

“But we do have an example of the kind of approach to standard-setting I admire that should be getting much more attention than it has yet received: the work of Will Fitzhugh, publisher of The Concord Review”—It was [is] the examples, not the declarative statements of the standards, that really ‘set the standard.’”

Marc Tucker:

Years ago, when we were putting our New Standards project together, Phil Daro, the director of New Standards, and the standards design team, headed by Ann Borthwick, decided to do something very important. They built the standards around examples of student work that met the standards. We had statements of the usual sort—the student should know this and be able to do that—but they felt that these statements were necessarily abstract. To know what they really meant, both student and teacher would need examples of work that actually met the standards. Ann had previously directed the effort to build the famous Victorian Certificate standards in Victoria, Australia, which peppered their standards document with examples, but New Standards was the first to make the examples the very heart of the work.

Our standards consisted mainly of a series of performance tasks given to students and, for each task, an example of exemplary student work (actual student work, in fact). Each piece of student work was annotated to show which piece of the student work illustrated the relevant standard, with a note about why the work met the standard. Any given piece of student work would typically contain sections illustrating several different standards.

Both students and teachers would look at our standards books, and, say, over and over again, “Oh, now I know what they mean. I can do that.” Or, they might say, “I cannot do it yet, but now that I know what is wanted, I know what I have to do to meet the standard.” Teachers would post examples of work that met the standards on classroom walls. Students would critique their own work in relation to the examples. It was the examples, not the declarative statements of the standards, that really “set the standard.”

In a way, there was nothing new in this. For many years prior, most of the top performing countries had issued their standards and then published—nationally, sometimes in the newspapers—both the questions asked—all of them—and the highest scoring responses, often in the form of short essays, because all or most of the questions demanded essays or worked out problems, not checked boxes in multiple choice format. Both teachers and students in those countries routinely pored over the answers with the best marks to understand what the people scoring the tests were looking for. Because of the way the questions were asked and the kind of constructed response that was required, there was no way to “test prep” for these exams. The only way to succeed on them was to demonstrate real command of the material and be able to respond with the kind of analysis, synthesis and just plain good writing that was called for.

I was very disappointed when I saw that the Common Core did not follow the New Standards example. Like the Victorian Certificate, some examples were included, but the standards were not built around them. Most important, I see that, although the two consortia building tests set to the Common Core will be releasing sample questions, most of the prompts will call for choices among multiple choice responses. There will be many fewer performance tasks calling for open-ended responses of the kind just described than they had promised when they began their work. I do not doubt that their tests will be much better than the vast majority of the tests that states have been using for accountability purposes, but they will still, in my opinion, fall well short of what they could and should have been had it not been for federal policy that requires far more testing than will be found in the any of the high performing countries.

But we do have an example of the kind of approach to standard-setting I admire that should be getting much more attention than it has yet received: the work of Will Fitzhugh, publisher of The Concord Review, a journal of high school student history essays refereed by Fitzhugh. I say “refereed” because Fitzhugh’s standards are very high and the quality of the essays is consistently remarkable.

The Concord Review is arguably the world standard for history writing at the high school level, a true benchmark. Fitzhugh has published standards for the essays that appear there, but the published essays themselves really set the standard. Students and teachers know that, and they study the essays hard to understand what it takes to get an essay published in the journal. I might say that the standard is not just a standard for history writing, but, at the same time, a standard for writing.

If you have read what I have written here with a note of skepticism, perhaps you will believe the testimony of a high school history teacher, John Wardle, head of the history department at Northern Secondary School in Toronto, Ontario (I forgot to mention that publication in The Concord Review is open to high school students all over the world, which it why it can reasonably claim to set an international benchmark for the quality of high school history writing). Here’s what Wardle had to say in a letter to Fitzhugh:

“Please find enclosed four essays for your consideration. All of these girls were students in my Modern Western Civilization class here at Northern Secondary School.

I would also like to compliment you on the consistently high standards of The Concord Review. Our collection of them has proven to be a terrific tool for my senior students. For a few, it gives them ideas for topics of their own. For many more, it provides outstanding material for their own research. For all of them it is the benchmark against which they can measure their own writing and historical skills. Since we began setting aside class time for reading them, student essay writing has improved considerably.

From a teacher’s point of view, it is tremendously rewarding to see students get engrossed in topics of their own choosing, enthusiastically pursue them and then produce strong, correct papers. The discussions before, during and especially after this creative process are always memorable. Almost without exception, the students feel that, by the end, they have gained a solid understanding and mastery of a particular aspect of history. By producing first-rate work, they also know they are ready for, and able to handle, post-secondary education.

When I returned their essays this year, for example the first question they posed each other was not ‘What was your mark?’ but rather ‘Can I read your paper?’ They spent the entire 76 minute period sharing essays, exchanging thoughts and genuinely learning from each other. I merely watched and listened. Professionally, it was a wonderful experience. As a catalyst, The Concord Review deserves a great deal of the credit for this kind of academic success.”

For years, Fitzhugh has been trying to find a foundation that would supply him with the modest amount of money needed to find a successor to run The Concord Review when he retires, which will happen rather sooner than later, as Fitzhugh is getting on in years. So far, there have been no takers. Which is deeply puzzling to me. If I were a foundation that had expressed an interest in doing whatever is necessary to bring American education up to a world standard, especially if I were interested in promoting what has come to be called “deeper learning,” I do not think I could find a more productive use of my funds than to invest them in the preservation of this treasure, truly a global benchmark not only in the field of history but in the kind of disciplined inquiry and first class writing that ought to be the hallmark of high standards everywhere.

Melinda Gates On Common Core Concerns


The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is perhaps best known for funding global health programs, but in the U.S., it has focused largely on education.

The foundation has strongly backed the national education guidelines known as the Common Core. The standards in math and English that specify what skills a student should have for every grade.

“Where it got tricky was in the implementation.”
– Melinda Gates on
the Common Core
“We got so interested in Common Core because we saw such a huge number of students not being prepared to go on to college,” Melinda Gates told Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson.

Gates attributes this to different education standards from state to state. She said it was time for something “different.” That different standard was the Common Core, which has now been adopted fully by 45 states.

“We saw the difference they could make in kids lives and we also saw that it brought flexibility to the way you were teaching and that teachers could start to collaborate with one another on lesson plans,” Gates said. “We can help come up with tools that help teachers teach the Common Core. If a teacher wants to teach ‘The Scarlet Letter’ or ‘Beloved’ or ‘The Secret Life of Bees,’ we can have tools there that then help them teach and then scaffold those lessons appropriately to meet the needs of their students.”

But Common Core has been criticized by teachers unions and parent groups, and at least three states have dropped the program this year.

The Common Core Commotion

“Decisions about what content is to be taught,’ they insist, ‘are made at the state and local levels.’ At the same time, we read that Common Core’s “educational standards are the learning goals for what students should know.” Is what students should know different from content?” [That is the question. WHF]

Andrew Ferguson:

The logic of education reform always points to more education reform. With experts having shown they didn’t really know how to improve education on a broad scale, and with state school officials having proved themselves in many cases to be cheats and bunco artists, the solution was clear to every educationist: State school officials should get together with experts to come up with a new reform. Except this time it would work.

At least since the heady days of “A Nation at Risk,” the world of education reform has been a cozy fraternity. Foundation directors sit on one another’s boards, think tankers beehive with other think tankers in the lounges of convention hotels, academics peer-review the work of academics who will soon peer-review their reviewers’ work. One foundation will give a grant to another foundation to study the work of the first foundation. In the last decade the fraternity has increasingly become a creature of the fabulously wealthy Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates has spent more than a billion dollars studying primary and secondary education. Few institutions dedicated to education reform have escaped Gates funding. Recipients range from trade groups like the American Federation of Teachers (more than $10 million since 2010) and Council of Chief State School Officers (nearly $5 million last year alone) to think tanks of the left (Center for American Progress) and the right (Thomas B. Fordham Institute).

The Gates Foundation has tunneled into the federal bureaucracy, too, at levels low and high. Several Gates officials and recipients worked in the Education Department under the second Bush, back when NCLB was the thing. Now, under President Obama, they are clustered at the top. Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post, one of the few beat reporters who brings a gimlet eye to the work of educationists, points out that Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, oversaw a $20 million Gates grant when he was CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Duncan’s chief of staff is a Gates protégé, as are the officials who designed the administration’s “Race to the Top” funding initiative in 2009. As we’ll see, the initiative was indispensable to enlisting states into Common Core.


The foundation’s generosity seems indiscriminate, reflecting the milky centrism of its founder. Evidently Bill Gates doesn’t have a political bone in his body. His intellectual loyalty lies instead with the ideology of expertise. His faith is technocratic and materialist: In the end he believes the ability of highly credentialed observers to identify and solve problems through the social sciences is theoretically limitless. “Studies” and “research” unlock the human secret. This is the animating faith of most educationists, too. All human interactions can be dispassionately observed and their separate parts identified, isolated, analyzed, and quantified according to some version of the scientific method. The resulting data will yield reliable information about how and why we behave as we do, and from this process can be derived formulas that will be universally applicable and repeatable.

“One size fits all” may be a term of mockery used by people who disdain the top-down solutions of centralized power; in the technocratic vision, “one size fits all” describes the ideal.

A good illustration of the Gates technocratic approach to education reform is an initiative called “Measures of Effective Teaching” or MET. (DUH.) The effectiveness of a truly gifted teacher was once considered mysterious or ineffable, a personal transaction rooted in intuition, concern, intelligence, wisdom, knowledge, and professional ardor, combined in a way that defies precise description or replication. Such an old-fashioned notion is an affront to the technocratic mind, which assumes no human phenomenon can be, at bottom, mysterious; nothing is resistant to reduction and measurement. “Eff the Ineffable” is the technocrat’s motto.

To demystify teaching, MET researchers designed experiments involving more than 3,000 teachers, easily recruited after a layering of Gates money. They were monitored, either in person or by video, by highly trained observers who coded their every move according to one of five “instruments” of measurement that were also designed by highly trained professionals—the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, the Mathematical Quality of Instruction, and so on. So far, MET has cost Gates $335 million, spent on statisticians and psychologists from education schools, teachers’ unions, and not-for-profit companies with names like “Teachscape” and “Empirical Education.”

So what’s the answer? How do you build a good teacher? The findings produced by MET experts are choked with charts, graphs, and algorithms—intimidating to the layman, consoling to the educationist. Their research has uncovered the 22 components, or “competencies,” that are exhibited to one degree or another by effective teachers everywhere. Non-educationists will find some of these components frivolous or predictably trendy (“attention to access, equity, and diversity”). Others are banal (“teacher knowledge and fluency,” “intellectual engagement in key ideas”). Still others are redundant, and many more are simply too poorly defined to qualify as distinct human traits. Yet the Gates reformers believe that their method—rigorous, empirical, scientific—can instill competencies in America’s teachers if the same MET process of observation and evaluation is duplicated in local classrooms. “The goal,” says Gates, “is for them to become standard practice.”

Whether this is even possible is a question that doesn’t take up much room in the MET literature; technocrats are seldom preoccupied with bridging the theoretical and the actual. Yet the researchers themselves give off occasional hints that the process they’ve invented won’t travel very far. The observers used in the MET experiments had undergone training far too elaborate, time-consuming, and expensive for any but the richest school districts to afford. The observers were usually strangers to the teachers they evaluated in the experiments; in actual practice, in real schools, observers and teachers would be acquainted with each other, with the social and personal complications any such relationship entails. No consequences were attached to the ratings the observers came up with—no raises or job security influenced the experimental evaluations, as they would in real life. And even then, researchers found, evaluations of the same teacher often differed radically from one observer to the next, and depending on which “instrument” was used.

Exciting as it undoubtedly is for the educationist, MET research tells us nothing about how to improve the world that students and teachers inhabit. It is an exercise by educationists for educationists to ponder and argue over. Three hundred and thirty five million dollars can keep a lot of them busy.


The Common Core State Standards are a product of the same intellectual ecosystem that gave us MET: the same earnest good will, the same cult of expertise, the same tendency to overthink, the same bottomless pot of money. Common Core would not exist without the Gates Foundation.

When it became clear that NCLB wasn’t working, a Gates-funded trade group called Council of Chief State School Officers (yes: CCSSO) summoned a conclave of educationists, including officials from 48 states. They agreed that the embarrassing muddle of test results delivered by the varied state tests under NCLB should be cleaned up. The way to do it was through a single set of standards that would explicitly list the things a properly educated American child should know and be able to do as he rose from one grade level to the next, no matter what state he lived in. Even Tennessee.

Here the sequence of events in the story of Common Core grows murky. Official histories say only that “committees of educators” and “subject matter experts” were deputized by the National Governors Association (NGA, ahem) to develop the Standards. The Gates Foundation was generous as always. It kicked up a whirlwind of working groups, feedback committees, workshops, forums, advisory groups, development teams, and expert panels—a Full Employment Act for educationists. But how the experts who wrote the Standards were chosen, and which expert wrote what standard and why, are questions that are hard to get answers to. More than 10,000 educators commented on the Standards after they were developed, according to Common Core’s publicists. But the attention of the general public or press was never aroused, and the impression of a mysterious elite gathering secretly to impose a New Educational Order has been hard to shake.

The committees worked fast. In less than a year, in June 2010, their handiwork was unveiled at a little-noticed event in Suwanee, Georgia. Kentucky agreed to the Standards days before they were made public. Five months later, 41 states had agreed to “fully implement” the Standards by the end of 2014. More states signed on within another year, bringing the total to 46. (Alaska, Texas, Virginia, and Nebraska were the holdouts.)

All of this activity at the state level has allowed advocates to say, correctly, that the federal Department of Education did not produce the Standards. Our nation’s educationists, working together, produced the Standards. But it is a distinction without much difference. When the Ed Department found itself flush with cash from the 2009 Obama stimulus, it came up with “Race to the Top,” a $4.35 billion program that allocated federal money to states based in part on how closely they embraced “common standards” for “college and career readiness.” Department officials, especially Secretary Duncan, have been tireless in promoting the cause, and the revolving door of the Gates Foundation has made it hard to tell the difference between state and federal, public and private.

Once the states fell into line, the department paid another $330 million for two state consortiums to hire educationists to devise Common Core tests. These will measure how well students are rising to the Standards, and those results, in turn, will be used to evaluate how well individual teachers are teaching them. The new tests will replace tests that each state had to develop over the last few years in response to NCLB. Those tests cost a lot of money too—money down the drain. In fact, many school districts were still introducing the NCLB tests when word came down that Common Core would require new tests to replace the old tests. Educationists are always on the go.


Only half the Common Core states say they will have the program up and running by the 2015 deadline. The Standards, with thousands of pages of experimental research to support them, are proving difficult to put in practice. If you read them, you get hints why. I’ve spent many hours pinching myself awake as I read through the hundreds of thousands of words that make up the Standards for Language Arts and Social Studies. Their length is intimately involved in their ambition. “The Standards,” reads a preamble, “lay out a vision for what it means to be a literate person in the twenty-first century.” Students who meet the Standards are “engaged and open-minded—but discerning—readers and listeners. They work diligently to understand precisely what an author or speaker is saying. .  .  . They use relevant evidence .  .  . making their reasoning clear .  .  . and they constructively evaluate others’ use of evidence.”

This is a lofty notion of a high school senior, and rare even among accomplished adults—I can think of several columnists for the New York Times who would fail to qualify. It is also notably abstract. The Standards are this way from necessity. The experts who wrote them had to insist on a distinction between a national curriculum, which the federal government is forbidden by statute to enact, and national standards, which any state or local curriculum must meet. Advocates try to draw a bright line between these two, curriculum and standards, without much success. According to the authors, the Standards “do not—indeed cannot—enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn.”

“Decisions about what content is to be taught,” they insist, “are made at the state and local levels.” At the same time, we read that Common Core’s “educational standards are the learning goals for what students should know.” Is what students should know different from content?

This distinction between content and learning—between what a student is supposed to learn and how he is supposed to learn it—has been a premise of educationist philosophy for a generation or more. Before schools fell under the sway of modern educational theory, it was assumed that a student would learn how to weigh and judge knowledge in the act of acquiring it; the best way to get a kid thinking, in other words, was to make him learn something. The educationist bisects the process. The act of learning is somehow to be separated from what’s being learned and then taught independently of it. The what of learning is much less important than the how. This is why such airy concepts as “critical thinking” and “problem solving” and “higher-order thinking skills” are the linchpins of modern education. As one disgruntled teacher put it: Rather than learning something in particular, students learn nothing in general.

Teacher training has developed accordingly. In the schools of education where most primary and secondary teachers learn the trade, the method is not to train teachers in the subjects they’ll teach but to train them in theories about teaching. The adage that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach has been topped off: Those who can’t teach, teach teachers. The technocrats in social sciences produce a limitless supply of theories to study and argue over—enough to amuse education majors and keep an entire academic discipline busy. Education schools are now understood to be the easy mark of higher education: Anyone can get an education degree. The paradoxical effect is that some college students are drawn to become teachers precisely because they don’t have to know much to be one.

In the confusion between content and learning, the Standards often show the telltale verbal inflation that educationists use to make a simple idea complicated. The Standards for Reading offer a typical example. They come in groups of three—making a wonderful, if suspicious, symmetry. Unfortunately, many of the triplets are essentially identical. According to the rubric Key Ideas and Details, a student should “read closely to determine what the text says explicitly.” Where one standard says the student must be able to “analyze the development of central ideas,” the next standard says the student should be able to “analyze” “how ideas develop.” One “key detail” is to “learn details.” Under Craft and Structure, the student should be able to “analyze” how “portions of text” “relate to each other or the whole.” Another says he “should cite specific textual evidence” and still another that he should “summarize the key supporting details.” All of this collapses into a single unwritten standard: “Learn to read with care and to explain what you’ve read.” But no educationist would be so simple-minded.

There are standards only an educationist could love, or understand. It took me a while to realize that “scaffolding” is an ed-school term for “help.” Associate is another recurring term of art with a flexible meaning, from spell to match, as when third graders are expected to “associate the long and short sounds with the common spellings (graphemes) for the five major vowels.” This seems like students are being asked to spell vowels, but that can’t be right, can it? And when state and local teachers have to embody such confusing standards in classroom exercises, you’re likely to wind up with more confusion. In a teacher’s guide to the Standards from Kentucky, I found this problem for tenth graders, who will be asked to decide “which person demonstrates more admirable qualities”:

“Aristotle describes three different types of people. He points out that Person A gets pleasure from doing good things. Other people get pleasure from doing bad things. Of these people, Aristotle mentions two types.” [So there are four types?]

“Person B eats too much food because he gets pleasure from it. Person C would also get pleasure from eating too much food. However, this person controls himself and eats the right amount of food even though he would prefer to eat more.” [Then Person C is doing a good thing?]

“In Aristotle’s system, both Person A and Person B eat the right amount of food. [Don’t you mean Person C?] Person A eats the right amount of food by nature. Person B eats the right amount of food by choice.” [Wait. He does?]

By the end Person C has vanished altogether apparently, leaving many unhappy tenth graders in his wake.


Most of the criticism of the Standards has come from the populist right, and the revolt of conservative parents against the pet project of a national educationist elite is genuine, spontaneous, and probably inevitable. But if you move beyond the clouds of jargon, and the compulsory gestures toward “critical thinking” and “metacognitive skills,” you will begin to spy something more interesting. There’s much in the Standards to reassure an educational traditionalist—a vein of subversion. At several points, Common Core is clearly intended as a stay against the runaway enthusiasms of educationist dogma.

The Standards insist schools’ (unspecified) curriculums be “content-rich”—meaning that they should teach something rather than nothing. They even go so far as to require students to read Shakespeare, the Preamble and First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and works of Greek mythology. Phonics is the chief means of teaching reading in Common Core, rejecting the notorious “whole language” method first taken up in the 1970s and—research shows!—a likely culprit in the decline in reading scores. The Standards discourage the use of calculators, particularly in early grades where it has become a popular substitute for acquiring basic math. The Standards require memorization of multiplication tables as an important step in learning arithmetic, striking a blow against “fuzzy math.” Faddish notions like “visual literacy” are nowhere to be found.

Perhaps most impressively, at least in language arts, the Standards require students to read and write ever larger amounts of nonfiction as they move toward their high school diploma. Anyone familiar with the soupy “young adult” novels fed to middle- and high-school students should be delighted. Writing assignments, in tandem with more rigorous reading, move away from mere self-expression—commonly the focus of writing all the way through high school—to the accumulation of evidence and detail in the service of arguments. The architect of the Language Arts Standards, an educationist called David Coleman, explained this shift in a speech in 2011. He lamented that the most common form of writing in high school these days is “personal writing.”

“It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or it is the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with those two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.”

Now, it is hard to imagine a more traditionalist sentiment than that. Yet conservative Common Core activists single out Coleman as a particularly sinister adversary, perhaps for his potty mouth. The populist campaign against the Standards has been scattershot: Sometimes they are criticized for being unrealistically demanding, at other times for being too soft. Even Common Core’s insistence on making the Constitution part of any sound curriculum has been attacked as insidious. Recall that students will be required to read only the Preamble and the First Amendment. That is, they will stop reading before they reach the Second Amendment and the guarantee of gun rights.

Coincidence? Many activists think not.

The conservative case, as seen in videos and blogs posted on countless websites, relies heavily on misinformation—tall tales and urban legends advanced by people who should know better. Revulsion at the educationist project predates Common Core by many decades. It is grounded in countless genuine examples of faddish textbooks and politicized curriculums. For the last few years, however, Common Core has been blamed for all of them. Textbook marketers and lesson-plan designers are happy to help. Their market, after all, isn’t parents but fellow educationists on state and local school boards that control purchasing budgets. Once Common Core was established as the future (for now) of education, the marketers knew the phrase was catnip. Every educational product imaginable now bears the label “common core,” whether it’s inspired by the Standards or not. A search of books for sale on shows more than 12,000 bearing the words “common core” in their titles. Many were produced long before the Standards were even a twinkle in an educationist’s eye.

And so, from a popular conservative blog, we get lists of horribles like this, attributed to Common Core:

“Would you be okay with your 4th grader learning how to masturbate from his school textbook? Would you think it’s a good idea to teach kids that the correct answer to 72 + 81 is 150, not 153? What about cutting Tom Sawyer from the curriculum, and replacing it with articles about the imminent dangers of man-made global warming?”

All these were evidently drawn from textbooks that sell themselves to educationists as being “aligned” with the Standards. Of course, if you live in the kind of school district that buys a textbook that teaches your fourth grader how to masturbate, that’s most likely the kind of textbook you’ll get. But Common Core has nothing to do with it. The Standards are agnostic on the onanism question at every grade level. Activist literature commonly confuses the Standards with the National Sexuality Educational Standards, a fringe concoction of left-wing “sexuality educators” that apes the Common Core but has no official or unofficial relation to it. The fact that the Common Core Standards can be plausibly linked to such enterprises is a testament to the neutrality of their content—their intentional blandness. Indeed, it might be an argument for making the Standards more demanding rather than for doing away with them altogether.

Conservative hostility to the Common Core is also entangled with hostility to President Obama and his administration. Joy Pullman, an editor and writer who is perhaps the most eloquent and responsible public critic of Common Core, wrote recently in “I wager that 90 percent of the debate over Common Core would instantly dissipate if states adopted the top-rated standards from, say, Massachusetts or Indiana and dropped the Obama administration tests.”

While the personal hostility to Obama might be overwrought, the administration’s campaign on behalf of the Standards has borne all the marks of the president’s other efforts at national persuasion. There is the hysterical overstatement—Secretary Duncan calls Common Core “the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown v. Board of Education.” (Has he forgotten Goals 2000?) There are the same sly elisions, the buried assumptions and question-begging, the drawing of Jesuitical distinctions. Here are Secretary Duncan’s remarks last year to a group of newspaper editors: “The federal government didn’t write [the Standards], didn’t approve them, and doesn’t mandate them, and we never will. Anyone who says otherwise is either misinformed or willfully misleading.”

This is willfully misleading. The federal government doesn’t mandate Common Core, but when Duncan and his department made lots of federal funds contingent on a state’s embrace of “common standards,” the Common Core was no longer “voluntary” for most revenue-hungry state officials. At the same time, for all practical purposes, the department assumed oversight of the program. Only a federal bureaucrat can say when a state has satisfied its obligation to produce materials appropriate to the Standards. And as implementation of Common Core begins in earnest, with confusion about which tests comply with which standards, the federal role will only grow.

Common Core does not impose a national curriculum, Duncan often insists, correctly; such an explicit move would not only be illegal but would face insurmountable resistance. Yet, in other venues where it is helpful to do so, he speaks of the program as if it had all the conveniences of a national curriculum: “Literally for the first time in American history .  .  . a fourth grade teacher in New Mexico can develop a lesson plan at night and, the very next day, a fourth grade teacher in New York can use it and share it with others if she wants to.” This assertion isn’t willfully misleading. To the extent it concerns the Common Core, it is nakedly untrue.


The administration’s bullying and dishonesty might be reason enough to reject the Standards. The campaign has even begun to worry its natural allies, who are losing trust in assurances that the Common Core is an advance for progressive education. Educationists on the leftward edge point to its insistence that teachers be judged on how much their students learn. This bears an unappealing resemblance to NCLB requirements, and they worry it will inject high-pressure competition into the collegial environment that most educationists prefer. Worse, it could be a Trojan horse for a reactionary agenda, a return to the long-ago era when students really had to, you know, learn stuff.

“The purpose of education,” says Paul Horton, a Common Core critic at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, “is for a person .  .  . to discover who they are, to grow as an individual. .  .  . I think current policymakers unfortunately see the purpose of education as being training people to acquire the minimum level of skills that are required to work in a technical workplace.”

The nation’s two largest teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, supported Common Core in its earliest stages, and were happy to accept very large grants to assist Gates and other pro-Standards institutions in their work. But as the deadline for implementation in 2015 approaches, the support among teachers shows signs of softening. Last month a group of nearly 200 local teachers marched on the Gates Foundation headquarters in Seattle protesting its role in Common Core. Gates’s attitude, one protester told the local public radio station, “is, ‘It’s the teachers that need to change, and it’s the standards and the testing that really will improve [schools].’ .  .  . Really, the issue is class size, support for teachers, and poverty.”

In May, one of the AFT’s largest subsidiaries, the Chicago Teachers Union, passed a resolution condemning Common Core. “Common Core eliminates creativity in the classroom and impedes collaboration,” said a spokesman. “We also know that high-stakes standardized testing is designed to rank and sort our children and it contributes significantly to racial discrimination and the achievement gap among students in America’s schools.”

Already last year, the president of the AFT called for a delay of at least two years in using Common Core-related tests for teacher evaluations; states would test students, in other words, but teachers would not be judged on the students’ scores. The Gates Foundation has agreed, and several states have already announced a moratorium on teacher evaluations. In perhaps the most dramatic development of all, Politico reported, the AFT’s Innovation Fund announced it would no longer accept its annual $1 million grant from the Gates Foundation. The “level of distrust” of Gates among its members was too great. Of course, distrust has its limits. The union itself will continue to accept Gates money for its general fund. And AFT leadership holds out the possibility that even the Innovation Fund will once again accept Gates money in the future, according to a union spokesman. “We don’t want to say never, never, ever, ever.”


The delays and distancing suggest a cloudy future for the Common Core. Even its advocates say that the best possible outcome for now involves a great deal more unpleasantness: The tests will be given to many students beginning next spring, and the results will demonstrate the catastrophic state of learning in American schools. Of course, we knew that, but still. “Maybe this will be a reality check,” one booster told me the other day. “People will take a look at the results and say, ‘Aha! So this is what they’ve been talking about!’ It will send a very strong signal.”

It would indeed, but a signal to do what? Educationists don’t like unpleasantness; it’s not what they signed up for when they became reformers. We already know what happened when NCLB state tests exposed the reality of American public schools. It was time for a new reform.

In that case, Common Core would survive, but only as NCLB survives—as a velleity, a whiff of a hint of a memory of a gesture toward an aspiration for excellence. And the educationists will grow restless. Someone somewhere will come up with a new reform program, a whole new approach—one with teeth, and high-stakes consequences for stakeholders. Bill Gates will get wind of it. He will be intrigued. His researchers will design experiments to make sure the program is scientifically sound. Data will be released at seminars, and union leadership will lend tentative support. The president will declare a crisis and make reform a national priority. She will want to be called an education president too.

Politics, Wisconsin & The Common Core, Part 34

Alan Borsuk:

Here’s a suggestion for something to include in Wisconsin-specific education standards for Wisconsin children:

By the end of first grade, children will know that two Badgers plus two Badgers equals four Badgers.

You want Indiana-specific standards for Indiana kids? By the end of first grade, children will know that two Hoosiers plus two Hoosiers equals four Hoosiers.

North Carolina standards for North Carolina kids? You got it — two Tar Heels plus two Tar Heels equals four Tar Heels.

What kind of silliness is this? Best as I can see, it’s about the level of silliness the whole discussion of education expectations for our children is reaching, both in Wisconsin and across the nation.

With Gov. Scott Walker’s one-sentence statement on Thursday that he wants the Legislature to repeal Wisconsin’s involvement in the Common Core standards movement, we have crossed onto turf where chaos in education policy is likely to reign for the coming school year.

At the same time, I bet we’re also on the way, in the long run, to changing very little when it comes to state standards for what kids should learn. I say that because states that have announced they are going to set their own standards are generally coming up with new plans that actually change little. That’s for two reasons.

Politics, Wisconsin & the Common Core

Erin Richards & Patrick Marley:

Gov. Scott Walker’s call to drop the Common Core State Standards in Wisconsin threw a new dart at the beleaguered academic expectations this week.

But his plan to have lawmakers pass a bill in January that repeals and replaces the standards might be easier said than done, especially because the standards are voluntary for districts.

A leading Republican senator said that establishing new, state-specific standards could actually shift power away from local school boards and to the state.

Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), chairman of the Senate Education Committee and a vocal supporter of the standards, said there’s actually nothing to “repeal” with Common Core. That’s because the standards are not codified in state law.

Much more on the Common Core, here.

And, a primer.

A new front has opened in the Common Core wars — over testing contracts.

Stephanie Simon & Caitlin Emma:

The high-stakes battle is undermining one of the Obama administration’s most prized initiatives: its vision, backed by more than $370 million in federal funds, of testing students across the country on a common set of exams in math, reading and writing.

The administration wants children in Mississippi to be measured against the same bar as children in Massachusetts or Michigan. But now a testing revolt is spreading across the country, adding to a slew of troubles for the Common Core initiative, which began as a bipartisan effort but has come under fire from parents and teachers across the political spectrum.

One-time Jindal ally blasts Common Core move

Stephanie Simon:

A longtime ally of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is accusing the governor of violating the civil rights of poor children with his abrupt decision last week to renounce the Common Core academic standards.

State Superintendent John White has previously said the governor had no authority to scrap the Common Core or to pull out of a federally funded consortium that has been developing new reading, writing and math tests aligned to the academic standards.

On Wednesday, he ramped up his rhetoric considerably, telling POLITICO in an interview that Jindal is breaking the law, trampling the state constitution — and crushing the dreams of low-income minority students.

Common Core, in 9-Year-Old Eyes

Javier Hernandez:

He could have written about the green toy truck he kept hidden in his room, a reminder of Haiti, a place he did not yet fully understand.

He might have mentioned the second-place trophy he had won for reciting a psalm in French at church — “le bonheur et la grâce m’accompagneront tous les jours de ma vie…” — his one and only award.

He could have noted his dream of becoming an engineer or an architect, to one day have a house with a pool and a laboratory where he would turn wild ideas about winged cars and jet packs into reality.

But on a windy April afternoon, as the first real sun of spring fell on Public School 397 in Brooklyn, and empty supermarket bags floated through the sky, Chrispin Alcindor’s mind was elsewhere.

much more on the Common Core, here.

How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution

Lyndsey Layton:

The pair of education advocates had a big idea, a new approach to transform every public-school classroom in America. By early 2008, many of the nation’s top politicians and education leaders had lined up in support.

But that wasn’t enough. The duo needed money — tens of millions of dollars, at least — and they needed a champion who could overcome the politics that had thwarted every previous attempt to institute national standards.

So they turned to the richest man in the world.

On a summer day in 2008, Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, an emerging evangelist for the standards movement, spent hours in Bill Gates’s sleek headquarters near Seattle, trying to persuade him and his wife, Melinda, to turn their idea into reality.

Big Data, Common Core, and National Testing

Pioneer Institute:

May 2014 A Pioneer Institute White Paper by Emmett McGroarty, Joy Pullmann, and Jane Robbins New technology allows advocates for education as workforce development to accomplish what has long been out of their reach: the collection of data on every child, beginning with preschool or even earlier, and using that data to track the child throughout his/her academic career and his/her progression through the workforce. This paper explores the many initiatives that the federal government has worked with private entities to design and encourage states to participate in, in order to increase the collection and sharing of student data, while relaxing privacy protections. The authors offer recommendations to protect student privacy, including urging parents to ask what kinds of information are being collected on digital-learning platforms and whether the software will record data about their children’s behaviors and attitudes rather than just academic knowledge. If parents object to such data-collection, they should opt out. The authors also urge state lawmakers to pass student privacy laws, and they recommend that Congress correct the 2013 relaxation of FERPA.

2+2=What? Parents rail against Common Core math

Michael Rubinkam:

What could be so horrible? Grade-school math.

As schools around the U.S. implement national Common Core learning standards, parents trying to help their kids with math homework say that adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing has become as complicated as calculus.

They’re stumped by unfamiliar terms like “rectangular array” and “area model.” They wrestle with division that requires the use of squares, slashes and dots. They rage over impenetrable word problems.

Related: Math Forum audio & video.

Parent to Obama: Let me tell you about the Common Core test Malia and Sasha don’t have to take but Eva does

Rebecca Steinitz:

We have something very important in common: daughters in the seventh grade. Since your family walked onto the national stage in 2007, I’ve had a feeling that our younger daughters have a lot in common, too. Like my daughter Eva, Sasha appears to be a funny, smart, loving girl, who has no problem speaking her mind, showing her feelings, or tormenting her older sister.

There is, however, one important difference between them: Sasha attends private school, while Eva goes to public school. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support your decision to send Malia and Sasha to private school, where it is easier to keep them safe and sheltered. I would have done the same. But because she is in private school, Sasha does not have to take Washington’s standardized test, the D.C. CAS, which means you don’t get a parent’s-eye view of the annual high-stakes tests taken by most of America’s children.

I have been watching Eva take the Massachusetts MCAS since third grade. To tell you the truth, it hasn’t been a big deal. Eva is an excellent student and an avid reader. She goes to school in a suburban district with a strong curriculum and great teachers. She doesn’t worry about the tests, and she generally scores at the highest level.

Much more on the Common Core, here.

Social Studies Standards: “Doing” Common Core Social Studies: Promoting Radical Activism under the Obama Department of Education

“Were the Common Core authors serious about ‘college-readiness,’ they would have taken their cue from publisher Will Fitzhugh, who for decades has been swimming against the tide of downgraded writing standards (blogging, journal-writing, video-producing). To this end, he has been publishing impressive student history papers in his scholarly journal, The Concord Review. The new (CC) standards, to Fitzhugh, enable ‘students to be ignoramuses who may be able to talk glibly about their instant New Deeper critical analysis of selected test passages.’ They will, however, ‘not have enough knowledge to do them a bit of good in college or at any workplace.’ They are effectively being taught the art of propaganda through multimedia rather than the art of writing from a knowledge base in history….”

Mary Grabar, via Will Fitzhugh:

The word “doing” appears frequently in the NCSS guidelines, as it does in the Department of Education’s 2012 report, “A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Future,” which was criticized roundly by the National Association of Scholars for using civics education to promote radical activism and anti-Americanism in higher education, instead of providing a knowledge base in history, civics, and geography.

In 2009, when I attended the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference, I learned that most of the educators bristled at the idea of following educational “standards.” Most of the sessions involved sharing strategies for formally adhering to standards, while covertly turning students into activists for radical causes. Among these were repeal of immigration laws, statehood for Washington, D.C., and acceptance of Islam as superior to Christianity. Instead of being given a knowledge base in history, civics, and geography, students were emotionally manipulated into being advocates, attending protests, and lobbying legislators.

Flash forward to 2014. Now the objectives of these social studies teachers are the objectives of Obama’s Department of Education. The Common Core “standards” for math and English Language Arts are the law in 45 states. Those for science and social studies have been written, but are still voluntary.

Eschewing traditional forms of knowledge acquisition and writing (the old standards), “The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: State guidance for enhancing the rigor of K-12 civics, economics, geography, and history” promote the idea of doing social studies. Yes, “doing.”

The word “doing” appears frequently in the guidelines, as it does in the Department of Education’s 2012 report, “A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Future,” which was criticized roundly by the National Association of Scholars (myself included) for using civics education to promote radical activism and anti-Americanism in higher education.

In order to advance similar activism, the authors of the K-12 “C3 Framework” caricature traditional education as pouring knowledge into students who are passive vessels. But traditional, classical education, founded on a firm base of knowledge, is the kind that works and best prepares students for adult life. It incorporates three levels of learning outlined by the Atlanta Classical Academy charter school, as taken from their successful petition before the Board of Education:

Grammar Stage (mastery of key foundational facts, rules, and tools, imparted by teachers who are experts in their subject);
Logic Stage (mastery of relationships, categories, and order to create coherent frameworks);
Rhetoric Stage (communication and reasoning).

Notably, Common Core skips the first step, reducing it to a haphazard process of “discovery”—a hallmark of progressive education. The cart is put before the horse through “experiential” learning, where students “practice the arts and habits of civic life.”

There is no sense that students should first acquire a solid foundation of historical knowledge. Rather, students are left to do “inquiry” with “Four Dimensions”: 1) “developing questions and planning inquiries;” 2) “applying disciplinary concepts and tools;” 3) “evaluating sources and using evidence;” and, 4) “communicating conclusions and taking informed action.”

It can hardly be said that children are capable of “taking informed action.” Yet the cover photographs of the report draft (dated April 9, 2013) reveal the authors’ aims by showing children in a public forum, looking at a globe (perhaps plotting their next business move in the “twenty-first century workplace”?), and in a group leaning over plans (mimicking modern-day advertisements of the corporate working world). The final photo shows a street protest with signs saying, “No” to toxic waste.

Such photos belie the authors’ claim that “Advocates of citizenship education cross the political spectrum” and are “bound by a common belief that our democratic republic will not sustain unless students are aware of their changing cultural and physical environments; know their past; read, write, and think deeply; and, act in ways to promote the common good.” Rather, these advocates use children for their own aims, placing adult burdens on them, while denying them a real education.

The Objectives for Second Grade

Age-inappropriateness also becomes evident in a table called “Suggested K-12 Pathway for College, Career and Civic Readiness Dimension 1.” It states that “by the end of grade 2” (emphasis added) the student will construct compelling questions and “explain why the compelling question is important to the student” and “identify disciplinary concepts found or implied in a compelling question.” (A note explains, “Students, particularly before middle school, will need considerable guidance and support from adults to construct questions that are suitable for inquiry.” Of course, they would need “guidance.” That’s where the teacher can impose her own, leading questions.)

The second-grader, furthermore, in a mind-boggling quest, must “make connections between supporting questions and compelling questions” and “identify ideas mentioned and implied by a supporting question” and then “determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions.”

Writing assignments do not follow an age-appropriate progression, either. Dimension 4, “Communicating Conclusions,” calls for second-graders to “construct an argument with reasons” and “present a summary of an argument using print, oral and digital technologies.” High school seniors are to do similar tasks in a slightly more sophisticated form, for example, in constructing arguments, using multiple sources, and acknowledging counterclaims and evidentiary weaknesses.

What can a “college-ready” senior do?

While second-graders are asked to “think like historians,” the high school senior is asked to perform unscholarly tasks, such as presenting “adaptations of arguments and explanations that feature evocative ideas and perspectives on issues and topics to reach a range of audiences and venues outside the classroom using print and oral technologies (e.g., posters, essays, letters, debates, speeches, reports, maps) and digital technologies (e.g., internet, social media, digital documentary).” Even essays and reports get buried amidst posters, social media, and digital documentaries.

The authors refer back to the English Language Arts (ELA) standards for guidance, but these are vague and loose, for example, Standard 7, which “focuses on ‘short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions.” The social studies standards also go back to the ELA’s emphasis on “Speaking and Listening Standards,” wherein “students engage one another strategically using different forms of media given a variety of contexts in order to present their knowledge and ideas.” As if these were really vigorous, the authors cite “examples,” such as participating in a “range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners” and making “strategic use of ‘media and visual display’ when presenting.”

This is hardly preparation for college work in the traditional sense. Traditional work would involve sifting through historical material knowledgeably, and compiling it in the well-reasoned format of a scholarly paper. Were the Common Core authors serious about “college-readiness,” they would have taken their cue from publisher Will Fitzhugh, who for decades has been swimming against the tide of downgraded writing standards (blogging, journal-writing, video-producing). To this end, he has been holding contests and publishing impressive student papers in his scholarly journal, The Concord Review. The new standards, to Fitzhugh, enable “students to be ignoramuses who may be able to talk glibly about their instant New Deeper critical analysis of selected test passages.” They will, however, “not have enough knowledge to do them a bit of good in college or at any workplace.” They are effectively being taught the art of propaganda through multimedia rather than the art of writing through a knowledge base in history, civics and geography.

The new social studies standards are not surprising, considering the work of social studies teachers behind the scenes at conferences and elsewhere. They now have an administration that supports their radical aims. Consider the members of the “writing team” of this report, including this large majority:

Kathy Swan, lead writer/project director: associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Kentucky, and coauthor of And Action! Doing Documentaries in the Social Studies Classroom. Her research focuses on “standards-based technology integration, authentic intellectual work, and documentary-making in the social studies classroom.”

Keith C. Barton, professor of curriculum and instruction and adjunct professor of history at Indiana University and co-author of Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle Schools and Teaching History for the Common Good.

Flannery Burke, associate professor of history at Saint Louis University who specializes in environmental history, the history of the American West, and gender studies.

Susan W. Hardwick, professor emerita of geography at the University of Oregon and co-host of the Annenberg/PBS series The Power of Place.

John Lee, associate professor of social studies education at North Carolina State University and co-director of the New Literacies Collaborative, (connected to Linda Darling-Hammond).

Peter Levine, Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Tufts University, author of Engaging Young People in Civic Life, and a proponent of left-wing “civic engagement.”

Karen Thomas-Brown, associate professor of social studies and multiculturalism at the University of Michigan-Dearborn with research interests in “neoliberalism and the impact of globalization on the operation of secondary urban centers in developing countries.”

Cynthia Tyson, professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University, “where she teaches courses in multicultural and equity studies in education; early childhood social studies; and multicultural children’s literature.”

Bruce VanSledright, professor of history and social studies education at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. His research focuses on “doing history.

Merry Wiesner-Hanks, professor of history, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a special interest in women’s and gender history.

Mary Grabar, Ph.D., has taught college English for over twenty years. She is the founder of the Dissident Prof Education Project, Inc., an education reform initiative that offers information and resources for students, parents, and citizens. The motto, “Resisting the Re-Education of America,” arose in part from her perspective as a very young immigrant from the former Communist Yugoslavia (Slovenia specifically). She writes extensively and is the editor of EXILED. Ms. Grabar is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

Wisconsin Sen. Olsen unbowed by pressure from Common Core opponents


Olsen said he sees the Common Core standards as an improvement over Wisconsin’s old standards and points to support from the conservative Fordham Foundation and business leaders like Bill Gates, who argue the standards are needed to remain competitive in a global economy. He wants to avoid a situation similar to Indiana, which dropped Common Core only to end up adopting something similar anyway.

While he thinks that some groups are using the issue to “gin up” membership and hopes it will fade away after the 2014 elections, he also says the issue’s staying power will likely depend on how Gov. Scott Walker handles it.

“The governor put the money in the budget for the [Smarter Balanced] test, and I was asking him and his staff all along, ‘Is he going to stand strong on his position supporting this?'” Olsen said. “And all of a sudden, one day, he turned 180 degrees. ‘Well, we can do better.’ Well, I’ve been waiting to find out what ‘better’ is. I’ve been waiting to find out what ‘more rigorous’ is. I’ve been waiting to find out what’s the problem is. It’s easy to say this stuff, but there’s nothing behind it. And when you say things like this, people believe it.”

Links: Luther Olsen.

Common Core.


The Common Core makes simple math more complicated. Here’s why.

Libby Nelson:

You might not know what a number sentence is. Neither does Stephen Colbert, who recently suggested “word equation” and “formula paragraph” as nonsensical synonyms.

But millions of American students soon will. Math education is in the middle of big changes — including new ways of learning that might frustrate parents even more than students.

The Common Core state standards, now in place in 44 states, will require that elementary school kids not just to know how to subtract, multiply and divide, but to understand what they’re doing and why.

That means more number sentences — the term, if you’re curious, just means “equations” — and other unfamiliar concepts, like area multiplication and number line subtraction.

We Need to Talk About the Test: A problem with the common core

Elizabeth Phillips

I’D like to tell you what was wrong with the tests my students took last week, but I can’t. Pearson’s $32 million contract with New York State to design the exams prohibits the state from making the tests public and imposes a gag order on educators who administer them. So teachers watched hundreds of thousands of children in grades 3 to 8 sit for between 70 and 180 minutes per day for three days taking a state English Language Arts exam that does a poor job of testing reading comprehension, and yet we’re not allowed to point out what the problems were.

This lack of transparency was one of the driving forces that led the teachers at my school to call for a protest rally the day after the test, a rally that attracted hundreds of supporters. More than 30 other New York City schools have scheduled their own demonstrations.

I want to be clear: We were not protesting testing; we were not protesting the Common Core standards. We were protesting the fact that we had just witnessed children being asked to answer questions that had little bearing on their reading ability and yet had huge stakes for students, teachers, principals and schools. (Among other things, test scores help determine teacher and principal evaluations, and in New York City they also have an impact on middle and high school admissions to some schools.) We were protesting the fact that it is our word against the state’s, since we cannot reveal the content of the passages or the questions that were asked.

In general terms, the tests were confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards. The questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous. Children as young as 8 were asked several questions that required rereading four different paragraphs and then deciding which one of those paragraphs best connected to a fifth paragraph. There was a strong emphasis on questions addressing the structure rather than the meaning of the texts. There was also a striking lack of passages with an urban setting. And the tests were too long; none of us can figure out why we need to test for three days to determine how well a child reads and writes.

Teachers and administrators at my school have spoken out against the overemphasis on testing for years, but our stance is not one of “sour grapes.” Last year we were one of the 25 top-scoring schools in New York State. We have implemented the Common Core standards with enthusiasm, and we have always supported the idea that great teaching is the best test preparation. But this year’s English Language Arts exam has made a mockery of that position.

It is frightening to think what “teaching to the test” would mean, given the nature of the test. We won’t do it, but some schools will, or at least will try, despite a new state law that mandates that schools limit test prep to 2 percent of instructional time. How does one even begin to monitor or enforce such a mandate?

When people are forbidden to talk about something it is almost always because someone has something to hide.

Over the past few years, as higher stakes have been attached to the tests, we have seen schools devote more time to test prep, leaving less time and fewer resources for instruction in music, the arts, social studies and physical education. This is especially true for schools with a high proportion of low-income students, who tend to do worse on the test, and whose teachers and principals have to worry more about the scores.

At Public School 321, we entered this year’s testing period doing everything that we were supposed to do as a school. We limited test prep and kept the focus on great instruction. We reassured families that we would avoid stressing out their children, and we did. But we believed that New York State and Pearson would have listened to the extensive feedback they received last year and revised the tests accordingly. We were not naïve enough to think that the tests would be transformed, but we counted on their being slightly improved. It truly was shocking to look at the exams in third, fourth and fifth grade and to see that they were worse than ever. We felt as if we’d been had.

For two years, I have suggested that the commissioner of education and the members of the Board of Regents actually take the tests — I’d recommend Days 1 and 3 of the third-grade test for starters. Afterward, I would like to hear whether they still believed that these tests gave schools and parents valuable information about a child’s reading or writing ability.

We do not want to become cynics, but until these flawed exams are released to the public and there is true transparency, it will be difficult for teachers and principals to maintain the optimism that is such an essential element of educating children.

Elizabeth Phillips has been the principal of Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for 15 years.

A Progress Report on (math &) the Common Core

Tom Loveless:

William H. Schmidt of Michigan State University presented research on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics at the National Press Club on May 3, 2012.[1] A paper based on the same research, co-authored with Richard T. Houang, was published in Educational Researcher in October 2012.[2] Schmidt and Houang’s study (also referred to as the “MSU study” below) was important for endorsing CCSS’s prospective effectiveness at a time when debate on the CCSS was beginning to heat up. Opponents of the Common Core had criticized the CCSS for lacking empirical support. The MSU study showed that states with math standards similar to the Common Core, after controlling for other potential influences, registered higher NAEP scores in 2009 than states with standards divergent from the CCSS. The implication was that the math standards of CCSS would boost state math performance on NAEP.
 Is there reason to believe that projection will become reality? In this section of the Brown Center Report, a two-part investigation attempts to answer that question. First, the ratings of state standards provided by Schmidt and Houang’s study are examined using NAEP data that have been collected since their study was completed. The central question is whether the MSU ratings predict progress on NAEP from 2009-2013. Second, a new analysis is presented, independent from the MSU ratings, comparing the NAEP gains of states with varying degrees of CCSS implementation. The two analyses offer exploratory readings of how the Common Core is affecting achievement so far.
 Schmidt and Houang used state NAEP scores on the 2009 eighth grade math assessment to model the potential effectiveness of the CCSS. They first developed a scale to rate the degree of congruence of each state’s standards with the CCSS. The ratings were based on earlier work also conducted by Schmidt and his colleagues at MSU. That work made a lasting and important contribution to curriculum studies by attempting to represent the quality of curriculum standards—both international and domestic—in a quantitative form.[3] The key dimensions measured in the MSU ratings are focus and coherence. Focus refers to limiting topics in the math curriculum to the most important topics and teaching them in depth. Coherence refers to organizing topics in a manner that reflects the underlying structure of mathematics, allowing knowledge and skills to build sequentially.
 In the National Press Club talk, Schmidt presented a chart showing how the states fell on the congruence measure (see Table 3-1). Alabama, Michigan, California, and the others at the top of the scale had standards most like the CCSS math standards. Arizona, Nevada, Iowa and those at the bottom of the scale had standards that diverged from the CCSS.

Educators launch defense of Common Core at Senate hearing

Erin Richards:

More than more than 100 superintendents and school board members packed a Senate chamber Thursday in opposition to a bill that could derail the transition to new educational standards in Wisconsin.

At issue are the Common Core State Standards, a set of expectations for English and math instruction that most states have adopted and have been implementing for three years.

The debate came as lawmakers hustled to push through — or push aside — a host of measures, with the end of the legislative session in sight. Committees on Thursday approved bills to rewrite election rules and provide more oversight of the deaths of suspects in police custody, while a Senate leader declared a bill to limit so-called living wage rules is dead in his house.

But the hot issue of the day was Common Core.

Many Republican lawmakers fear the standards didn’t get enough input and review when they were written and adopted in 2010. They’re proposing a state standards board that could repeal Common Core and write its own standards.

Superintendents at the Senate Education Committee hearing acknowledged the Common Core standards were not perfect and that they could use more time and resources to implement them. But they argued a new committee would just politicize the process while failing to improve outcomes for students.

“(Common Core) is the basis we need to be able to make local adjustments,” said Jennifer Cheatham, superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Kill the bill that would let politicians muck around with Common Core standards, says education dean

Pat Schneider

Tim Slekar, the dean of education at Edgewood College and outspoken critic of corporate-driven education “reform,” couldn’t read another word about Wisconsin GOP legislators’ plan to rewrite the state’s educational standards without saying something about it.

“Someone has to say it: Any bill that would allow politicians the ability to directly and/or indirectly write learning standards must be killed!” Slekar posted Friday on the At the Chalk Face blog.

Slekar was writing about a bill sponsored by Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, that would create a politically appointed board to write state-specific educational standards to replace the national Common Core standards that are drawing criticism from conservatives and progressives alike. The proposal has been swept up in political maneuvering and made headlines again when gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke said it would politicize education.

Too late, Slekar said in an interview. Politicians are talking about educational standards instead of the people most impacted by them.

“Politicians have proven themselves over the last 30 years to be wholly unqualified to make even remotely positive decisions about public education policy. In fact I propose a bill that would place an indefinite moratorium on politicians’ ability to even breathe too closely around public schools,” he wrote.

“Are we clear about what I just said? Kill the Bill! Got it? K-I-L-L the Bill!”


Related: NCTQ Sues University of Wisconsin education schools over course syllabi and When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Lake Wobegon has nothing on the UW-Madison School of Education. All of the children in Garrison Keillor’s fictional Minnesota town are “above average.” Well, in the School of Education they’re all A students.

The 1,400 or so kids in the teacher-training department soared to a dizzying 3.91 grade point average on a four-point scale in the spring 2009 semester.

This was par for the course, so to speak. The eight departments in Education (see below) had an aggregate 3.69 grade point average, next to Pharmacy the highest among the UW’s schools. Scrolling through the Registrar’s online grade records is a discombobulating experience, if you hold to an old-school belief that average kids get C’s and only the really high performers score A’s.

Much like a modern-day middle school honors assembly, everybody’s a winner at the UW School of Education. In its Department of Curriculum and Instruction (that’s the teacher-training program), 96% of the undergraduates who received letter grades collected A’s and a handful of A/B’s. No fluke, another survey taken 12 years ago found almost exactly the same percentage.

And, MTEL arrives in Wisconsin via the Legislature and Governor, not the ed schools.

Finally, Madison’s long term disastrous reading scores.

Union Leaders Put Common Core in the Cold

Tim Daly:

This week, National Education Association (NEA) president Dennis Van Roekel released an open letter to his members criticizing the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and demanding a series of “course corrections,” without which NEA will no longer back the initiative.
Van Roekel joins Randi Weingarten, the president of the smaller and more urban American Federation of Teachers, in turning his back on the new standards, which were voluntarily adopted and designed to establish a more credible and consistent definition of proficiency across academic subjects.
It’s worth keeping a few things in mind.

Proposed Wisconsin Academic Standards Bills (Replacing the “Common Core”)

The Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email:

The following links provide a lot of additional details on the legislation that would replace the Common Core State Standards within 12 months with model academic standards created in Wisconsin. Please stay informed and contact your legislators with your thoughts.

2013 Senate Bill 619.
Assembly Substitute Amendment 1 to Assembly Bill 617 (ASA1/AB617)
Video message from Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Tony Evers.
Governor Scott Walker staff drafted bill aimed at Common Core State Standards.
A Critique of the Wisconsin DPI and Proposed School Choice Changes.

After the heat, will Common Core standards shed light?

Alan Borsuk:

The Common Core standards call for fifth graders to understand metaphors. So here’s a story from my life last week that I fear may end up being a metaphor for the Common Core campaign.
I had a flat tire. AAA came promptly, put on that weird little spare in my trunk, and didn’t charge me anything. It turned out there was a nail in the tread.
The tire was repaired and put back on my car. In a pleasant surprise, I didn’t have to pay for the repair because the tire was under warranty.
I was quite pleased to have this fixed for free. But then I thought how I really had paid, both with my AAA dues and with the money the tire cost me. Furthermore, I realized things had been returned only to where they started — I had the same tire on the car and nothing was actually any different than before I ran over the nail.
Are you paying attention, fifth graders? Here’s the metaphor: The tire episode was a fair amount of hassle, it’s over now, I dealt with it, but nothing was really better in the end.
Is this where we’re headed with the Common Core? A lot of work for the same results?

Teacher teams, instructional materials bring Common Core to Madison students

Nora Hertel:

Fourth grade teacher Carissa Franz starts her lessons by outlining the Common Core standards she and her students will focus on. Franz is in her second year at Ray W. Huegel Elementary School, and uses the standards to drive her teaching this year.
She and teachers throughout Madison are integrating the new Common Core State Standards, adopted by State Superintendent Tony Evers in 2010, into their curriculums with the help of new Common Core-aligned materials and district-supported teacher teams
The changeover to Common Core is a deliberate process. Franz meets monthly with the superintendent as part of a teacher advisory board that shares the “voice of the teachers” with the district, she said.
Every week, she meets with a group of teachers representing each grade level in her school to discuss how to align the standards and the math materials used district-wide with the needs of Huegel’s classrooms.

Common Core Doesn’t Add Up to STEM Success

Sandra Stotsky:

As a former member of the Common Core Validation Committee and the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, I am one of the few mothers to have heard the full sales pitch for this latest educational reform, which has been adopted by 45 states.
I know the Common Core buzz words, from “deeper learning” and “critical thinking” to “fewer, clearer, and higher standards.” It all sounds impressive, but I’m worried that the students who study under these standards won’t receive anywhere near the quality of education that children in the U.S. did even a few years ago.
President Obama correctly noted in September 2012 that “leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today–especially in science, technology, engineering and math.” He has placed a priority on increasing the number of students and teachers who are proficient in these vital STEM fields. And the president’s National Math and Science Initiative is strongly supported by people like Suzanne McCarron, president of the Exxon Mobil XOM -0.24% Foundation, who has said she wants to “inspire our nation’s youth to pursue STEM careers by capturing their interest at an early age.”
Yet the basic mission of Common Core, as Jason Zimba, its leading mathematics standards writer, explained at a videotaped board meeting in March 2010, is to provide students with enough mathematics to make them ready for a nonselective college–“not for STEM,” as he put it. During that meeting, he didn’t tell us why Common Core aimed so low in mathematics. But in a September 2013 article published in the Hechinger Report, an education news website affiliated with Columbia University’s Teachers College, Mr. Zimba admitted: “If you want to take calculus your freshman year in college, you will need to take more mathematics than is in the Common Core.”

Commentary: The Idiot’s Guide to the Common Core Standards

Ellie Herman:

How much do you know about the Common Core Standards? Choose all that apply. The Common Core is:
a) a new set of nationwide standards that will encourage deep thinking instead of rote memorization
b) a new round of edu-crap, like No Child Left Behind
c) replacing state standards in 45 states including California
d) causing surprisingly large numbers of students to freak out and start weeping uncontrollably during initial tests all across the East Coast
e) causing Arne Duncan to infuriate opponents by dismissing them as “white suburban moms”
f) going to push fiction out of English classrooms
g) going to have no effect on the teaching of fiction
h) going to change everything
i) going to change nothing
j) going to make testing companies billions of dollars

Wisconsin DPI collecting testimony on Common Core

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email:

DPI held public hearings on the Common Core State Standard today, December 19, in Milwaukee, LaCrosse, and Ashland. The public may submit written testimony on the CCSS to DPI until January 3, 2014. Testimony may be send via email to CCSSTestimony or mailed to DPI at P.O. Box 7841, Madison, WI 53707-7841.
This is separate from the legislative hearings on the CCSS which were held in October. The following information has been provided by DPI to update us on developments since the legislative hearings.
NEW Developments since October Hearing Opportunity
On December 11, the Assembly special committee on CCSS released the following report and on December 12, voted on eight recommendations crafted after hearing public testimony at the four hearings in October. Read more about the outcome of that vote from the committee chair press release here or view the Wisconsin Eye video of this vote and discussion here (120 min).
On December 11, the Senate special committee released their report and recommendations. It is unclear whether the Senate committee will also vote on their recommendations.

Comments made by Wis. superintendents on Common Core standards released

Responses from nearly 100 school superintendents across Wisconsin with their feelings about the Common Core academic standards have been released by a legislative committee.
The special panel created by Republicans to study the standards released results of the four-question survey on Tuesday. The committee is expected to release its recommendations related to the Common Core curriculum on Wednesday and vote on it Thursday.
The survey was sent to all 426 public school districts in Wisconsin and 94 superintendents responded. Their comments can be seen online.

View the complete report, here (24mb PDF).

Politics & Common Core

Jessica Vanegeren:

When asked if politics and the resistance from the tea party had eroded the chances of Common Core moving forward in Wisconsin, Evers said the politics surrounding the issue have created a lot of misinformation.
“It’s important for everyone, including those on these committees, to realize that this is about our students being college and career ready,” Evers said. “These standards have been embraced by districts across the state for the past three years. I think it is the right thing to do for the kids to keep the standards in place. That’s the bottom line.”

‘White moms’ remark fuels Common Core clash

Stephanie Simon:

“Do we want more for our kids, or do we want less?” Duncan said. “Do we want higher standards or not?”
That’s the debate that Duncan dearly wants to have.
It’s not, however, the debate he’s getting.
To the immense frustration of Common Core supporters, an eclectic array of critics have raised sustained and impassioned objections about the new standards. From New York to Florida to Michigan to Louisiana, their voices are so loud and their critiques so varied that they have muddied the narrative around Common Core. It’s no longer a focused national debate about high standards; it’s hundreds of local debates, about everything from student privacy rights to cursive handwriting to computerized testing to the value of Shakespeare.
Over the summer, Duncan complained that opponents were “fringe groups” who make “outlandish claims” about “really wacky stuff” such as “mind control, robots, and biometric brain mapping.” There is undoubtedly some of that.

Schools expert Diane Ravitch warns Wisconsin off Common Core standards

Catherine Capellaro:

Less than a decade ago, Ravitch promoted many of the same policies she now rails against. As assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush, and then as head of the federal testing program, she led the charge for state and national academic standards and supported ideas of “choice” and merit pay. “I believed in those things because in theory they made a lot of sense,” Ravitch says when I ask about her dramatic about-face. “It sounds right that if you pay teachers a bonus they’ll get higher scores. It just doesn’t work.”
Ravitch went public with her change of heart in her 2010 book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. In her new book, she uses data to rebut arguments for market-based solutions to education problems.
“When you look at the data, the test scores have never been higher in the last 40 years,” says Ravitch. “Dropouts have never been lower than they are today.”
Real gaps
“The achievement gap is real,” Ravitch told me when I brought up Madison’s racial and economic disparities.
She points to research showing the only time the black-white achievement gap has narrowed was in the late 1970s and early 1980s because of concerted efforts to desegregate schools, reduce class size, increase access to early childhood education and target federal resources to schools with low-income students.
But today’s leaders have abandoned solutions that work, says Ravitch, who comes down as hard on President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan as she does on conservatives. “Our policymakers have given up on reducing class size,” she adds, saying she visits classes with up to 40 students. “Are there expanding opportunities for African American families? Our society has thrown up its hands, and we’re resegregating

A ridiculous Common Core test for first graders

Carol Burris:

My speech teacher came to see me. She was both angry and distraught. In her hand was her 6-year-old’s math test. On the top of it was written, “Topic 2, 45%”. On the bottom, were the words, “Copyright @ Pearson Education.” After I got over my horror that a first-grader would take a multiple-choice test with a percent-based grade, I started to look at the questions.
The test provides insight into why New York State parents are up in arms about testing and the Common Core. With mom’s permission, I posted the test here. Take a look at question No. 1, which shows students five pennies, under which it says “part I know,” and then a full coffee cup labeled with a “6″ and, under it, the word, “Whole.” Students are asked to find “the missing part” from a list of four numbers. My assistant principal for mathematics was not sure what the question was asking. How could pennies be a part of a cup?

Commentary on the Common Core & Madison Schools

Madison School Board President Ed Hughes:

As I hope someone might have noticed, I have not been posting much lately. Part of the reason is that I have another outlet. I have been writing a column in the school district’s bi-weekly family newsletter.
My latest column focused on a recent School Board retreat where we learned more about the Common Core State Standards. Even though the family newsletter is a district publication, I should point out that the views I express in the column (as well as in this blog) are my own and do not necessarily represent the views, positions or policies of the Madison Metropolitan School District. But however unofficial my words may be, here is what I wrote:
On Saturday, September 28, the Madison School Board held the first of our quarterly board retreats. We get together on a Saturday for an extended discussion of a few topics of particular interest. Our focus this time was on the much-misunderstood Common Core academic standards for literacy and math.

Wisconsin’s Common Core education standards face public, GOP scrutiny

Jon Swedien:

Tom Larson is one of the legislators responsible for reviewing the set of academic standards for public schools in Wisconsin, yet the rural Colfax assemblyman admitted last week that he was still trying to catch up with the arguments swirling around the “Common Core.”
In 2010, state schools Superintendent Tony Evers voluntarily agreed to adopt the Common Core State Standards, which cover math and English and promote literacy in history/social studies, science and technical subjects for students from kindergarten through high school. According to the Common Core website, the standards also define a vision of what it means to be a literate person in the 21st century.
On paper, that all sounds good, but, in the real world, the Common Core standards have sparked a firestorm of controversy in the Badger State and elsewhere.
Speaking Monday before a group of local education officials in Eau Claire, Larson said he had been selected as one of nine representatives to sit on the Assembly Select Committee on Common Core Standards.

Related: the oft criticized WKCE.

Common Core & “Local Control”

Michael Hancock and Kevin Johnson, Angel Taveras and Julian Castro:

Lagging far behind their international peers. Shamefully low reading and math competency. A staggering achievement gap. We’ve heard the alarming statistics about the trajectory of American students. After 10 years, No Child Left Behind has failed to put American children back on a competitive academic track.
But we are beginning to see real results in America’s cities, the epicenters of innovation, including the four we lead: Denver; Providence, R.I.; San Antonio; and Sacramento, Calif.
Long before we entered the political arena, each of us lived in the city we now lead. We attended public schools and sat at those desks — and through that connection, we know that public education can work.
One lesson is that education doesn’t need to be a partisan battleground. Far from Washington, smart education policy is uniting even the most strident opponents.
Take the Common Core curriculuma which was first promoted by the National Governors Association and has now been adopted by 45 states. Common Core improves on NCLB by putting more influence into the hands of those on the ground, breathing new life into an old Tip O’Neill axiom: Not only is all politics local, but effective education policy is even more local.

Move to Common Core standards brings more questions than answers

Alan Borsuk:

A lot of the currently hot controversy over the Common Core State Standards for kindergarten through 12th grade has to do with the role of standardized testing. Being a contrary kind of person, that leads me to offer this highly unstandardized test, including a few comments on some of the questions:
One: Do you have any idea what we’re talking about?
This really interests me. Just about every school in Wisconsin is deep into some pretty important changes in the goals for what kids should learn and how they should be taught when it comes to reading, language arts and math. This is part of a nationwide effort called the Common Core State Standards, launched several years ago by the National Governors Association and the organization of education chiefs of each state, with backing from major business leaders. Forty-five states are taking part. But opposition to the standards has been rising. An eight-hour public hearing Thursday before a legislative committee in Madison was called largely so foes of the standards could air their views. Three more hearings around the state (none in the Milwaukee area) are scheduled this month.

Common Core’s enemies are another reason to support it

Chris Rickert

There’s a pretty good chance Scott Walker doesn’t know much about Common Core, the new set of education standards for kindergarten through high school being adopted by states and school districts across the country.
It’s not surprising, then, that when his spokesman was asked Tuesday to explain what his boss meant when he said the standards might be too weak, this newspaper got no response. It’s likely that Walker doesn’t know what he meant.
He’s not alone — a poll recently found that two-thirds of Americans hadn’t even heard of Common Core — and that’s unfortunate because it leaves the door open for those at the extreme ends of the political spectrum to step into the vacuum.
In May, state tea party groups sent a letter to Walker and the Legislature accusing the Common Core of being all sorts of bad things, including an “educational fraud” and something of a federal takeover of education.

I welcome Common Core education standards, but let’s not forget creativity

Ashley Lauren Samsa:

Across the nation, students and teachers are headed back to school. Teachers, such as myself, are furiously preparing their classrooms to welcome students and planning new lessons to ensure that this year is an educational one.
For many across the country, the planning and preparation has taken a new turn with the official adoption of the Common Core education standards – President Obama’s replacement for No Child Left Behind. The Common Core includes new definitions for school success as well as new national standards for core subjects such as reading, writing and math. Before the Common Core, states had the ability to create their own standards, meaning a student in Illinois might be held to one level of expectations while a student in Arkansas might be held to another. This caused many problems in education, especially when students moved from state to state. The Common Core now unites all of the participating states with the same standards that are both rigorous and skills-based with a focus on utilizing technology in the classroom.
In many ways, this is a great thing both for students and for teachers. Main subject classes have long been behind the curve when it comes to utilizing technology in the classroom. Being technologically competent is now considered a vital life skill, not to mention something today’s students need if they are ever going to be employable. English classes in particular have been a little lost in the digital age; when we English teachers went to school, we had been taught to teach literature as an art form for the sake of the appreciation of beauty. Now, with fewer and fewer students going on to study the humanities, we have been tasked with making our classes relevant to the masses. The Common Core’s skills based standards could help us do just that. With the focus no longer on content, we can teach whatever pieces we want in our classroom, as long as students are being taught how to read, write, and think critically.

Despite Common Core, States Still Lack Common Standards

Paul Peterson & Peter Kaplan:

Only 35 percent of U.S. 8th graders were identified as proficient in math by the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). According to the most recent calculations available, the United States stands at the 32nd rank in math among nations in the industrialized world. In reading, the U.S. ranks 17th in the world (see “Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?” features, Fall 2011).
The low performance of U.S. students has been attributed to low expectations set by states under the 2002 federal law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which expects all students to reach full proficiency by 2014. In this, the fifth in a series of Education Next reports, we compare the proficiency standards set by each state to those set by NAEP, which has established its proficiency bar at levels comparable to those of international student assessments.
Most states have set their proficiency bars at much lower levels, perhaps because it causes less embarrassment when more students can make it across the proficiency bar, or because it was the easiest way for states to comply with the NCLB requirement to bring all students up to full proficiency.
Unhappy with the low level and wide variation in state standards, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, with the financial backing of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the political support of the U.S. Department of Education (ED), formed a consortium in 2009 that invited each state to join in an effort to set Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Those states that take that step and institute other education reforms improve their chances of receiving an ED waiver of onerous NCLB regulations. That waiver, which has been granted to 37 states and the District of Columbia, provides a strong incentive to participate in CCSS. (Virginia is the only state to receive a waiver without adopting the standards.)

Five Complications for Common Core Education Standards

Mike McShane:

Last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave a speech to the Society of News Editors that Education Week called “The strongest defense yet of Common Core Standards.”
In it, he said that the Common Core – educational standards that are being adopted by most states – “has become a rallying cry for fringe groups,” that opposition has been “misguided” and “misinformed” and that legislation in state houses across the country aimed at stopping the standards is “based on false information.”
While it is true that some criticism of the Common Core has been over the top, it is also true that the Common Core does not have to be a malign conspiracy to be problematic.
Even if you believe that the standards are a “boon” for schools, as the Washington Post’s and USA Today’s editorial boards do, it is important to recognize that the Common Core’s ultimate success will hinge on its implementation. As such, several issues loom large.

Stop the Rush to the Common Core

Neal McCluskey, Williamson Evers and Sandra Stotsky:

The Common Core — effectively national math and English curriculum standards coming soon to a school near you — is supposed to be a new, higher bar that will take the United States from the academic doldrums to international dominance.
So why is there so much unhappiness about it? There didn’t seem to be much just three years ago. Back then, state school boards and governors were sprinting to adopt the Core. In practically the blink of an eye, 45 states had signed on.
But states weren’t leaping because they couldn’t resist the Core’s academic magnetism. They were leaping because it was the Great Recession — and the Obama administration was dangling a $4.35 billion Race to the Top carrot in front of them. Big points in that federal program were awarded for adopting the Core, so, with little public debate, most did.
Major displeasure has come only recently, because only recently has implementation hit the district level. And that means moms, dads and other citizens have recently gotten a crash course in the Core.
Their opposition has been sudden and potent — with several states now considering legislation to either slow or end implementation, and Indiana, Pennsylvania and Michigan having officially paused it.

The UnCommon Core of Learning: Researching and Writing the Term Paper

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico
1) Will, you have been advocating for the high school term paper for years–why the persistence?
I have worked on The Concord Review for 26 years for several reasons. It pays almost nothing, but we have no children, the house is paid for and my wife has a teacher’s pension. Most of all, I am constantly inspired by the diligent work of high school students from 39 countries on their history research papers. I thought, when I started in 1987, that I would get papers of 4,000, words. But I have been receiving serious readable interesting history research papers of 8,000, 11,000, 13,000 words and more by secondary students, who are often doing independent studies to compete for a place in this unique international journal.
2) I remember with fondness, my term papers in both high school and college–and the feeling of accomplishment I received. Am I alone in this regard?
We did the only study done so far in the United States of the assignment of term paper in U.S. public high schools and about 85% of them never assign even the 4,000-word papers I had hoped for. Most American high school students just don’t do term papers. Teachers say they are too busy, and students are quite reluctant to attempt serious papers on their own, so they arrive in college quite unprepared for college term paper assignments. Many of our authors say that their history papers were the most important and most satisfying work they did in high school.
3) People write and talk about “curriculum issues”–are there any curriculums that you are aware of that focus on library research and writing?
As you know the hottest topic in American education now is “The Common Core Standards,” which are quite explicit in saying over and over that they are “not a curriculum.” They say that nonfiction reading is important, but they recommend no history books, and they say nonfiction writing is important, but they provide no examples, of the kind they might find, for example, in the last 97 issues of The Concord Review. To my mind, the CC initiative is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” as the man said. As you know, by a huge margin, the focus for writing in our schools is on personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay, even for high school students.
4) Let’s discuss some of the skills needed to write a good term paper–what would you say they are?
The most important skill or effort that leads to a good term paper is lots and lots of reading. Too often our literacy experts try to force students to write when they have read nothing and really have nothing to say. So the focus becomes the students’ personal life, which is often none of the teachers’ business, and there is little or no effort to have students read history books and learn about something (besides themselves) that would be worth trying hard to write about. Many of our authors learn enough about their topic that they reach a point where they feel that people ought to know about what they have learned–this is great motivation for a good term paper.
5) You have been publishing exemplary high school research papers from around the world for years–how did you get started doing this and why?
I had been teaching for enough years at the public high school in Concord, Massachusetts to earn a sabbatical (1986-1987). That gave me time to read What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know, Horace’s Compromise, Cultural Literacy and some other books and articles that helped me understand that a concern over students’ knowledge of history and their ability to write term papers was not limited to my classroom or even to my school, but was a national issue. I had usually had a few students in my classes who did more work than they had to, and it occurred to me that if I sent out a call for papers (as I did in August, 1987) to every high school in the United States and Canada and 1,500 schools overseas, I might get some first-rate high school history essays sent to me. I did, and I have now been able to publish 1,066 of them in 97 issues of the journal. [Samples at] No one wanted to fund it, so I started The Concord Review with all of an inheritance and the principal from my teacher’s retirement.
6) Has the Internet impacted a high school student’s ability to research? Or is it a different kind of research?
I read history books on my iPad and so can high school history students. I also use the Internet to check facts, and so can students. There is a huge variety of original historical material now available on the Web, as everyone knows, but I would still recommend to students who want to do a serious history research paper that they read a few books and as many articles as they can find on their topic. This will make their paper more worth reading and perhaps worth publishing.
7) It seems that getting a paper into your Concord Review almost always guarantees admission to a top notch college or university–am I off on this?
Thirty percent of our authors have been accepted at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale, but I have to remember that these serious authors doing exemplary papers for my journal are usually also outstanding in many other areas as well. A number of our authors have become doctors as well, but at least at one point in their lives they wrote a great history paper!
8) I was recently on the East Coast and was reading The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. I was astounded by the quality of writing. There are still good writers out there–but do we treasure, promote and encourage good writing?
Those papers can hire a teeny tiny percent of those who want to make a living by their writing, and they provide a great service to the country, but for the vast majority of our high school students, reading and writing are the most dumbed-down parts of their curriculum. Many never get a chance to find out if they could write a serious history paper, because no one ever asks them to try. And remember, we have nationally-televised high school basketball and football games, but no one knows who is published in The Concord Review and they don’t ask to know.
9) What have I neglected to ask?
My greatest complaint these days is that all our EduPundits, it seems, focus their attention on guidelines, standards, principals, teachers, and so on, and pay no attention to the academic work of students. Indiana University recently interviewed 143,000 U.S. high school students, and found that 42.5% do one hour or less a week on homework. But no one mentions that. Our education experts say that the most important variable in student academic achievement is teacher quality (and thus all the attention on selection, training, assessment and firing of teachers). I maintain that the most important variable in student academic achievement is student academic work, to which the experts pay no attention at all. But then, most of them have never been teachers, and so they usually do not know what they are talking about.
The Concord Review

Reconciling the Common Core State Standards with reading research

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email:

During her recent visit to CESAs 1 and 6 in Wisconsin, Louisa Moats recorded a podcast on the topic of reconciling the Common Core State Standards with reading research. This podcast, which comes in three parts for viewing, is an excellent source of information on what is necessary to effectively implement the CCSS in the area of reading. You can access the podcast at either of the following sets of links, depending on your computer system.
PART 1 –
PART 2 –
PART 3 –
PART 1 –

PART 2 –

PART 3 –

The End of the Beginning for Common Core

Jay Greene:

The folks at Pioneer have landed another blow against Common Core in the mainstream Conservative press. This time Jim Stergios and Jamie Gass have a lengthy piece in the Weekly Standard detailing the start of troubles for Common Core, both substantively and politically. This follows on a piece by Gass and Charles Chieppo in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week. A central part of the strategy for Common Core was to create the impression that it was inevitable, so everybody might as well get on board. That aura of inevitability has been shattered.
My reasons for opposing Common Core are slightly different from those articulated by the folks at Pioneer, but we agree on the political analysis of its fate. To become something meaningful Common Core requires more centralization of power than is possible under our current political system. Pushing it forward requires frightening reductions in parental control over education and expansions of federal power. These are not the unnecessary by-products of a misguided Obama Administration over-reach. Constraining parental choice and increasing federal power were entirely necessary to advance Common Core. And they were perfectly foreseeable (we certainly foresaw these dangers here at JPGB).

Opposition to Common Core standards defies political lines Tea party activists, union leaders form strange bedfellows

Erin Richards

or the past three years, teachers in Wisconsin’s public schools — and some private schools — have been changing curriculum and practices to make sure what’s taught in class fulfills the expectations of a common set of national standards in reading and math.
West Bend School District Superintendent Ted Neitzke calls them the highest standard he’s seen as a teacher.
“West Bend is now benchmarking itself against some of the best school districts in the country, such as Montgomery County, Md., because of the impetus of the Common Core State Standards,” Neitzke told a committee of legislators earlier this month.
“This is putting us in a position to move forward,” he said. “Whatever happens, we can’t go backward.”
But a growing movement of national resistance to the common core threatens to derail a movement that many Wisconsin education leaders say is a big step forward for the state.
Recently lawmakers in at least nine states have introduced legislation that would pause or block implementation of the common core. And last week the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee made a less aggressive move, voting to implement a more rigorous review process for any new standards introduced.

The GOP and the Common Core

Chester E. Finn Jr.:

Though few Americans have ever heard of the “Common Core,” it’s causing a ruckus in education circles and turmoil in the Republican Party. Prompted by tea party activists, a couple of influential talk-radio hosts and bloggers, some disgruntled academics, several conservative think-tanks, and a couple of mysterious but deep-pocketed funders, the Republican National Committee recently adopted a resolution blasting the Common Core as “an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children.” Several red states that previously adopted it for their schools are on the verge of backing out. Indiana has already hit the “pause” button.
What, you ask, is this all about?
Thirty years after a blue-ribbon panel declared the United States to be “a nation at risk” due to the weak performance and shoddy results of our public-education system, one of the two great reforms to have enveloped that system is the setting of explicit academic standards in core subjects, standards that make clear what math youngsters should know by the end of fifth grade, what reading and writing skills they must acquire by tenth grade, and so on. (The other great reform: school choice.)
Up to now, individual states set their own academic standards. A few did this well but most, according to reviews undertaken by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and others, faltered badly, putting forth vague expectations that lack content and rigor, are unhelpful to teachers and curriculum directors, and often promote left-wing dogma. Even the good ones differ so much from state to state that school and student performance cannot be compared around the country, much less with other lands.

Common Core Education Is Uncommonly Inadequate

Jamie Gass & Charles Chieppo:

Massachusetts student test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and SATs were unremarkable in the early 1990s. Then, after a landmark educational reform in 1993, state SAT scores rose for 13 consecutive years. In 2005, Bay State students became the first to score best in the nation in all grades and categories on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The students have repeated the feat each time the tests have been administered.
How to explain this turnaround? The state’s educational success hinged on rigorous academic standards, teacher testing and high-quality tests that students must pass to graduate from high school. All locally developed, these three factors aligned to produce amazing results.
Unfortunately, Massachusetts dropped its own standards in 2010 to join 44 other states (and the District of Columbia) in adopting the flawed standards of the Common Core. This is an educational program sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers that has been championed by the Obama administration.
Common Core recycles a decades-old, top-down approach to education. Its roots are in a letter sent to Hillary Clinton by Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, after Bill Clinton’s presidential victory in 1992. The letter laid out a plan “to remold the entire American system” into a centralized one run by “a system of labor-market boards at the local, state and federal levels” where curriculum and “job matching” will be handled by government functionaries.

Common Core school standards ruffle feathers among strange bedfellows

Pat Schneider:

Although Common Core state standards for public schools were adopted in Wisconsin back in 2010, they by no means have been readily accepted by groups with an interest in education.
That was vividly apparent Wednesday when voices from the right joined teachers unions in questioning the “reform” standards and how they are being implemented.
It’s not surprising that questions about Common Core are emerging now, Daniel Thatcher, a policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures, told a joint session of the committees on Education, which held an informational hearing at the Capitol.

Common Core Needs More Debate

Neal McCluskey:

Parents in Michigan, like those across the country, want their children to have the tools they need to excel in school and beyond. The Common Core national curriculum standards were sold as the way to give students those tools. But with the standards now being implemented, a growing number of Michiganians — as evidenced by the recent House vote to withhold state funds from Common Core — are having buyer’s remorse. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s support for the Core notwithstanding, they’re right to be wary, especially since Core supporters have too often ridiculed dissenters instead of engaging in honest debate.
Supporters of the Core tout the fact that 45 states have adopted the standards, but don’t mistake that for enthusiastic support. Before the standards had even been published, states were coerced into adopting them by President Obama’s Race to the Top program, which tied federal dough to signing on. Even if policymakers in recession-hobbled states like Michigan would have preferred open debate, there was no time. Blink and the money would be gone; which is why most people hadn’t even heard of the standards at adoption time.

Republicans Should Love ‘Common Core’ National standards can revive the way we teach math and science.

Edward Frenkel & Hung-Hsi Wu:

The Common Core State Standards are a set of rigorous academic standards in mathematics and English language arts. They are the culmination of a meticulous, 20-year process initiated by the states and involving teachers, educators, business leaders and policy makers from across the country and both sides of the aisle.
The standards form a foundation for a high-quality education, have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, and are slated for full implementation in 2014.
Unfortunately, the Republican National Committee recently adopted a resolution rejecting the Core Standards, calling them a “nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.” This resolution and efforts under way to repeal the Core Standards in several states are misguided and have to be resisted.
Mathematical education in the U.S. is in deep crisis. The World Economic Forum ranks the quality of math and science education in the U.S. a dismal 48th. This is one of the reasons the 2010 report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” by the National Academies warned that America’s ability to compete effectively with other nations is fading.

Three part article on the Common Core “Standards for Mathematical Practice”

Barry Garelick, via a kind email

The tendency to interpret the standards along the ideological lines of the reform movement can be seen most readily in how the Standards for Mathematical Practice are interpreted. The SMP themselves are sensible and few mathematicians or teachers would disagree with their principles. Their interpretation and implementation is another matter, however.

Standards for Mathematical Practice: The Cheshire Cat’s Grin.
Standards for Mathematical Practice: Cheshire Cat’s Grin, Part Two
Standards for Mathematical Practice: Cheshire Cat’s Grin, Part Three

Turmoil swirling around Common Core education standards

The Washington Post:

As public schools across the country transition to the new Common Core standards, which bring wholesale change to the way math and reading are taught in 45 states and the District, criticism of the approach is emerging from groups as divergent as the tea party and the teachers union.
The standards, written by a group of states and embraced by the Obama administration, set common goals for reading, writing and math skills that students should develop from kindergarten through high school graduation. Although classroom curriculum is left to the states, the standards emphasize critical thinking and problem solving and encourage thinking deeply about fewer topics.
But as the common core shifts from theory to reality, critics are emerging. State lawmakers are concerned about the cost, which the Fordham Institute estimated could run as high as $12 billion nationally. Progressives fret over new exams, saying that the proliferation of standardized tests is damaging public education. Teachers worry that they haven’t had enough training and lack the resources to competently teach to the new standards. And conservatives say the new standards mean a loss of local control over education and amount to a national curriculum. They’ve begun calling it “Obamacore.”
On Tuesday, the head of the American Federation of Teachers and a strong supporter of the Common Core standards will warn that the new approach is being poorly implemented and requires a “mid-course correction” or the effort will fall apart.
“The Common Core is in trouble,” said Randi Weingarten, the union president who is slated to speak Tuesday in New York about the issue. “There is a serious backlash in lots of different ways, on the right and on the left.”

Tracking Measures, Common Core Materials, and Other Timely Topics in Education

Whiteboard Advisers [PDF]

Why or Why Not?

  • “Possibly–I think it depends on the size of the state and who they work with to develop the materials. Broader adoption would depend on them being externally validated in some way.”
  • “The Common Core creates a national market for effective curriculum, and it supports efficient scaling. The Common Core will therefore democratize curriculum development and adoption processes in a manner that will disrupt the current order.”
  • “Ultimately this is all about standardizing America’s classroom and what goes on within it. Like anything else mandated from the top, the first to market are going to have the advantage of stories being written about what they’re doing and then all of a sudden other state [leaders] are going to latch on, thinking A) this must be good for my kids, too, and B) they won’t have the time or the will to tell people they represent why they’re behind the curve.”
  • “First to market will rule the roost. The laggards will simply model on those who come before them, hoping to save money and time.”
  • “It’s too soon to tell. The disappointment here is that states have been unable to coalesce. There is less ‘common’ in the Common Core than people imagined.”
  • “Unless CA, TX, and FL are the ones furthest ahead forget about it. The primary concern of the publishers is making sure the largest states and their state contracts are happy.”

The school standards (common core) debate: time for tech to weigh in

Steve Wildstrom:

Tech people are very fond of whining about the U.S. educational system, complaining that it is not producing the sort of workers they need. With a few notable exceptions-Bill and Melinda Gates and Dean Kamen come quickly to mind-the are much less good when it comes to doing anything about the problems of schools.
OK, here’s your chance. It won’t even cost you anything-calls for better education seem to die quickly in places like Silicon Valley when the talk turns to taxes-except some leadership.
The Common Core State Standards are the most important school reform to come along in many years. The standards fo mathematics and language arts lay out what we expect students to learn, year by year, from kindergarten through high school. They are not a curriculum, but a set of mileposts for what curriculum should cover, and they inject a badly needed dose of rigor into education. If you have any interest in K-12 education, you should take the time to read them here.
Despite a studied effort by their authors and sponsors at the National Governors’ Association and Council of Chief State School Officers to avoid political pitfalls, the standards have come under increasing attack from both the left and right. CCSS was initially adopted by 48 states and the District of Columbia, but three states have withdrawn their support and their is pressure in many others to do the same.
On the left, opposition to CCSS is closely tied to opposition to standardized testing, based on the assumptions, not necessarily warranted, that the standards will lead to increased testing. The anti-testing advocacy group FiarTest argues:

Common Core education standards sweeping Wisconsin schools

Alan Borsuk:

Vouchers, charters, public school spending, treatment of teachers – isn’t there something we’re not fighting about when it comes to education?
Why, yes, and last week’s quiet end to a boring race for state superintendent of public instruction underscores one of the biggest examples of that: The Common Core learning standards initiative.
The Common Core is the biggest thing in Wisconsin education that you hardly ever hear about, unless you’re employed in the school world. Then you hear about it all the time. For a lot of schools, teachers and students, it’s bringing clear, significant and, let us hope, ultimately productive changes in what goes on daily.
Take a tour of a school or talk to school leaders about what they’re up to anywhere in the state and two out of every three sentences you hear include the phrase “Common Core.” At least it feels that way.
In many classrooms, each student now has explicit goals to work on daily (“Use place value understanding to round whole numbers to the nearest 10 or 100,” for example, from the third-grade math standards) and will gladly tell you what standard they’re focused on at the time you ask (I’ve asked). Or perhaps show you the standard and their work on it on their iPad. If this hasn’t come to your child’s school yet, look for something like this soon.
The Common Core movement has swept across the nation in the last five years. It arose largely from among governors, state education chiefs, corporate leaders and education advocates who believed the nation as a whole was not aiming high enough in education and that the wide variation from state to state in defining good achievement and what it takes to get a high school diploma was a problem.

Poor Implementation Undermines Promise Of The Common Core

Stephen Lazar:

The Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) seek to define “college and career readiness expectations.” Forty-five states have adopted them, and are moving briskly towards full implementation in the coming year. Last January, I wrote that the standards “represent the greatest opportunity for history teaching and learning to be widely re-imagined since the Committee of Ten set the basic outlines for American education over a hundred years ago.”
While I stand by that statement, with each step towards implementation I see the opportunity being squandered. We cannot possibly continue to move solely in the direction of “college and career readiness” in History & Social Studies education without ensuring that “civic” readiness is valued equally. Additionally, we need to ensure that as states write new curricula, that they contain the proper balance of content, skills, and understandings. New curricula will need to ensure students use an inquiry-based approach to go in depth with a smaller amount of content to gain the wider breadth of skills and dispositions required for civic, college, and career readiness.
All teachers working in Common Core states are currently engaging with the changes demanded by the Common Core. In too many places, this is happening without sufficient time and supports, but it is happening very quickly nonetheless. The U.S. and state Departments of Education have poured over half a billion dollars into the assessments already, and, beginning this year, the results will be high-stakes for students and teachers. All systems are moving full speed ahead to assess core skills without sufficient consideration of the end to which these skills are applied. Two things need to happen to avoid driving off a cliff.

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