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Will Education Reform Kill The Common Core?

The latest news stories from the brave frontiers of a movement known as “education reform” are in, and the consensus view is that down continues to be the new up.

Personnel programs such as teacher merit pay that were supposed to improve the financial efficiency of schools are now being discarded for financial reasons. New competitive forms of schooling such as cyber charters that were supposed to reform the system through competition are now in need of “top-bottom reform.” Teachers who are held more accountable for children’s motivation to pursue education are discouraged to seek more education for themselves. Schools that are supposed to rescue children from poverty are bearing the brunt of deep cuts in spending.

Amidst this colossally dysfunctional scenario descends the new national standards known as the Common Core, what many believe constitutes education reform 2.0. Is it any wonder people are skeptical?

Whether you’re a big fan of the new standards or not, it should be clear that the old way of doing “education reform” will not work for the Common Core. Yet that seems to be the strategy rolling out, and no one seems to be coming forward to propose a better way forward.

Common Core Not  For Kids?

By all indicators, teachers are generally favorable to the new standards. But like its predecessor No Child Left Behind, the Common Core is proving to have many unanticipated consequences.

Who would have thought, for instance, that adopting new academic standards would necessitate kindergartners barely able to hold pencils being made to take bubble-in tests?

In states, such as New York, that are on the advanced guard of implementing the new standards and their accompanying tests, multiple choice tests are being pushed down to the youngest students, not because they’re good for the kids, but because they’re required to evaluate whether teachers are teaching according to the new standards.

Based on the report linked above in The Daily News, the exams are a “complete headache” for teachers, making the very act of testing “slow and traumatic.”

“Trying to get a proper answer was next to impossible,” the reporter observed, and teachers complained that the process caused their little pupils to “break down” and “cry.”

“‘Developmentally, it’s not the right thing to do,’ said one Queens teacher.”

New York is not alone in encountering unanticipated problems related to the new reforms. According to a report in The Washington Post, 14 states that have agreed to field-test the new exams linked to the Common Core are realizing that implementing the exams requires teaching little kids, from kindergarten up, to learn how to use a computer.

The standardized tests “require students to be able to manipulate a mouse; click, drag and type answers on a keyboard; and, starting in third grade, write online.” And while most elementary-age children are no strangers to technology, what they’re used to is operating those devices with “a swipe of a finger” rather than using them to compose a well-structured paragraph.

“It’s a huge deal,” said a California teacher who writes a popular blog called Ask A Tech Teacher. “All these elementary teachers are dying, worrying how they’re going to get their kids to meet these new requirements.”

The need to get little kids “to sit with two feet on the floor, elbows bent, hands hovering over keys and eyes on the screen” caused at least one Arizona teacher – like her colleague in New York struggling with paper-and-pencil tests – to wonder “whether developmentally, if it’s appropriate for kids.” A professor of educational psychology quoted in the article clarified: It’s not.

“The current Common Core is not developmentally appropriate,” she stated.

Setting Struggling Schools Further Behind?

Getting little kids up to expectations for implementing the Common Core seems difficult enough – now imagine what it’s like when they also don’t speak English.

That’s the situation for teachers in the lower Hudson Valley area of New York who have already seen how their predominantly Spanish-speaking students performed on the first go-round of new standards-based tests.

“We have children come to us in seventh, eighth, ninth grade with no English skills and little education,” explained the head of the local teachers’ association. Nevertheless, these children were supposed to meet the same assessment targets as their English speaking peers elsewhere in the state.

The test results weren’t pretty: over 80 percent of seventh- and eighth-graders failing in math, and 85 to as many as 92 percent of fourth- and fifth-graders missing state goals for English language arts.

Noted the reporter, “These districts are used to relatively low test results, as many students from poor, Spanish-speaking homes don’t develop rich language skills before reaching school age. But the new tests results have set them back further.”

Adaptations To Children Not Allowed?

Traditionally, when teachers encounter students who lack the readiness to tackle new academic work – whether for developmental, linguistic, or personal interest reasons – they’ve been trained to devise their own strategies for engaging the students in learning.

Implementing the Common Core may leave little room for this according to an Iowa teacher, Amy Prime, whose blog post about implementing the Common Core in her class went viral on the Internet. In her experience with the new standards, teachers are being given “new materials packaged and sold as magic bullets to cover everything Common Core” and told to “cover” those materials “without deviation.”

“I was trained as a teacher in the ’90s ” Prime explained. “We were taught to discover what our students were interested in and then create cross-curricular units of study that would build upon those interests to instigate learning.”

Elaborating in an interview with a local reporter, Prime expanded, “The problem is when districts chose to bring in [a] program that is purchased and marketed as covering the Common Core; then they insist upon teachers following that without deviation and fidelity.”

Further, Prime continued, “When you are required to spend 90 minutes to two hours a day on a specific program that [school officials] purchased … it shuts out other things. A huge majority of our day has to be focused on teaching reading and math. But what does that do for science, what does that do for physical education, what does that do for the arts, what does that do for social studies and history and all of those things that are important to a well-rounded education? It just narrows the focus down, and it hurts kids.”

Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter?

Even the biggest fan of the Common Core would have to admit, “Houston, we have a problem.”

But the old ways of doing reform – NCLB’s command-control driven administration, demanding compliance or else – seem to apply with the implementation of the Common Core.

Dismissing teachers’ concerns about the inappropriateness of using bubble tests with kindergarteners, a New York department of education official responded that the new tests were just examples of “multiple tools” that every teacher “should” want to employ in order to “diagnose what students already know and what they need help with.”

“I can tell when a student needs help,” replied a Staten Island veteran. “I don’t have to give them a test.” But who believes her opinion will be heard?

Some teachers who are struggling to get their students’ keyboarding skills up to the proficiency required for Common Core testing may get a reprieve and use pencil-and-paper versions for the first year, depending on which type of test their state has chosen. But is a reprieve just a delay in implementing a potentially mistaken policy?

Teachers in New York who are seeing their progress set back because the new tests are not accommodating to the needs of students struggling with English got a visit from State Education Commissioner John King. The teachers explained, “They are trying to embrace the new Common Core learning standards despite a lack of money and the challenges posed by a student body with a wide range of English skills.”

According to the reporter, King “had no easy answers on how to address the test-score gap.” And he took the opportunity to opine, “We have to do a lot better as a state – and as a country – to help English-language learners acquire English skills.” To which one would imagine any thoughtful teacher replying, “Of course. But that’s not the point.”

Responding to teacher Amy Prime, who felt coerced to use Common Core aligned curriculum that narrowed the learning experiences of her students,her state’s Elementary Educational Services Director expressed no doubt that what his office is imposing “is working.” His proof?

“It’s making a difference in the performance of students,” which really means, “Test scores are up.” In other words, rather than taking into account authentic classroom experiences and the voices of teachers, test scores – the criteria that has ruled since the imposition of NCLB – remain the order of the day.

A Revolt In The Offing?

Will teachers and parents who witnessed the collapse of NCLB and education reform 1.0 get steamrolled by the same sort of mistaken top-down, test-driven process again?

“No way,” declared a mass audience gathered recently in upstate New York.

Writing for a Buffalo, NY newspaper, a reporter observed, “Reform of high-stakes testing for schoolchildren, a groundswell movement of lawn signs and small-scale protests, became an earthquake Wednesday evening.”

The event drew an audience large enough to reach the rafters of a local music performance hall but also included a host of political leaders that “looked like a Western New York State Legislature roll call.” The speeches tapped disgruntled teachers and parents who take issue with the reform agenda of high-stakes testing and teacher evaluations linked to student test scores.

“We’ve had a lot of quote-unquote educational reform in the past decades aimed at poor schools in the cities,” declared one state assemblyman, “But now all schools are feeling the pain, regardless of their previous performance. This is why you see a lot of suburban parents here tonight. They’re all being treated poorly. They’re mad about these tests.”

Echoing the discontent up-state from them, New Yorkers clogged a Poughkeepsie PTA-sponsored forum – originally intended to be the first in a series – to express their dissent to State Commissioner King about how the Common Core is being rolled out in their schools.

A video captured the event, as speaker after speaker rose to declare that the current agenda for education reform must “stop, stop, stop,” that the implementation of new standards and tests is being rushed, and that an imposed one-size-fits-all education program herds students into data points and percentages rather than engaging them as learners with individual and unique needs.

“These citizens are raising concerns which, prior to this event, have not been given a chance to be aired,” noted Education Week blogger Anthony Cody, “The frustration at their lack of input is palpable.”

Award-winning Long Island principal Carol Burris, writing at Valerie Strauss’ blog at The Washington Post, described the frustration: “By the last half hour of the evening, the audience was both boisterous and impassioned, angered because there was limited opportunity to speak. What little time remained for the audience was twice interrupted by Commissioner John King, who had held the floor for an hour and a half.”

“‘My will be done’ has been the tone and the tenor of chaotic reform in New York,” Burris continued. “In its rush to implement teacher evaluations, the Common Core and new testing, the state leadership has likened it to building a plane in the air. Cut scores anchored to ridiculously high performance on the SAT caused proficiency scores to plummet. Students, often in tears, rushed to finish tests that were too difficult and too long. The Common Core Algebra modules are still not finished, even though teachers must teach the course to students now.”

King’s response to the outpouring from parents and teachers was to cancel the rest of the series of hearings. His rationale, quoted in a local news article, “The disruptions caused by the ‘special interests’ have deprived parents of the opportunity to listen, ask questions, and offer comments.”

Marginalizing Dissent Is Not The Answer

Regarding teachers and parents, and their students and children, as “special interests” to be marginalized or ignored seems less than a workable plan for the Common Core’s success.

The real “special interests” who appear to be running the Common Core show are, in fact, not at all invisible to teachers and parents witnessing the battle over the Core’s roll out. Writing for Politico, Stephanie Simon and Nirvi Shah recently revealed, “Tens of millions of dollars are pouring into the battle over the Common Core.”

“Think tanks and advocacy groups” cited in the article, not teachers and parents, are using their money to engineer the debate, while all us little people need to figure out how we can “earn our place at the table,” at least according to a prominent operative from one of the very think tanks pushing the reform agenda.

If you’re a fan of the Common Core, these are not the people you want to see running the show: public officials and policy makers who refuse to embrace input from teachers and parents, pundits and philanthropists who continue to treat education as their pet cause, and businesses and entrepreneurs who are only in it for the money.

They had their shot running previous versions of “reform,” and they blew it.

We don’t need that kind of “reform” again. Instead, heed the voices from classrooms and communities – critics and all. Then, and only then, does any sort of positive way forward have a chance to succeed.

  • chermoe says:

    In kindergarten, kids can’t even “color in the lines” let alone do “bubble tests”. Demanding that they write essay style and use critical thinking is a bit of a stretch. My granddaughter is Autistic and has been in Special Ed since age 3. Last year with the state (Ohio) and Federal budget cuts and Sequester, she was suddenly deemed fit to be ejected into General Education (with the exception of Math) and is now subject to all state testing and the Common Core Standards. Needless to say, this is SHOCKING, since we were told last year 1st quarter she was failing (no aides for inclusion in 6th grade). The Special Ed teacher carved out time so her aide could help IEP students in Gen. Ed subjects and there was a slight improvement in grades 2nd quarter. Third quarter, when she was dumped into Gen. Ed, all grades went down a full letter grade. They passed her into 7th grade. This year she STRUGGLES with Language Arts and still has Special Ed Math. She is required to write her head off in language arts (which also includes all the Spanish words) in addition to TWO foreign languages, etc. It is absolutely MIND BOGGLING. Years ago we had a system of teaching where 99% of kids graduated. The system wasn’t broken yet somebody decided it had to be “fixed” and totally overhauled. Here we stand …. traumatized kids who don’t know much more than taking tests and being taught studying techniques & how to think. So much for teaching the love of learning and a well-rounded education that captures their interest. Seems to me their critical thinking and literary abilities would be better developed by putting emphasis on teaching rather than tests.

    Our country doesn’t value education enough to put money into it. Changing the standards isn’t going to put us in better competition with other countries. TEACHING does. Not tests.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:09 pm
  • Richard Fouchaux says:

    This is a very disappointing summary of what’s actually been happening. Diane Ravitch in her new book “Reign of Error,” not only explains and reports with greater clarity what has happened to get us to this dysfunctional place, but—contrary to Mr. Bryant’s lazy reporting—offers many viable solutions. I myself have documented how educators have been having this discussion 40 years, the blockage to reform, similar to the problems the US has in getting world class health care citizens of developed nations should rightfully expect, are entirely ideological. Howard Gardner went to Harvard just like Duncan, Summers & Kagan and many of the president’s other close friends he’s tried to find roles for. He’s reasonably well known and respected, and has published some ideas he has about learning—the Theory of Multiple Intelligences is one even most “reformers” are aware of. He told us what’s wrong with our learning and how to fix schools in 1995. Yet, no one makes a man like this Secretary of Education or even listens to what life-long educators have to say unless they see a buck in it for themselves. http://bit.ly/H0wLrn2Lrn

    October 15, 2013 at 5:22 pm
  • Thomas says:

    To quote a respected principal here in Connecticut, weighing the cow does not make it fatter.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:55 pm
  • victoriamyoung says:

    “…no one seems to be coming forward to propose a better way forward,” is not the truth. The truth is that no one hears the proposals for a better way forward.

    Teachers favor “education reform 2.0″ ? I’m not blaming here, just stating a fact: teachers allowed “education reform 1.0″ to play out; that never made it right.

    And those in charge of 2.0 are the same ones that gave us 1.0; they do not deserve our trust. There was no do-over for our kids.

    Those of us that suffered through Round 1 should feel obligated to stop Round 2 just because it is the right thing to do. How many times must we hear “narrows the focus” of the curriculum- CALL IT WHAT IT IS – a deprivation of opportunity.

    To hell with “earn our place at the table,” it is time for the American people to set their own table. This is not a NY or CA issue, this is a national issue.

    And educators from all sides of the issue need to follow your advice here, Jeff; “heed the voices from classrooms and communities – critics and all. Then, and only then, does any sort of positive way forward have a chance to succeed.”….If you never hear critics, you never find the common ground upon which to trot down that better path.

    October 15, 2013 at 5:59 pm
  • CitizensArrest says:

    For a truly stupendous look at how the CC$$ came to be and how that made it a toxic mess, read this by Mercedes Schneider. http://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/the-common-core-memorandum-of-understanding-what-a-story/

    October 15, 2013 at 8:38 pm
  • CitizensArrest says:

    One thing being seen by students, teachers and parents all across America is this: The questions on tests aligned with the CC$$ are not more demanding, they are not harder or more “:rigorous”. What they are is more convoluted and impossible to understand. Math is still math, the only way to make it harder according to the CC$$ shills is to make it harder to understand. That’s why kids scores are dropping.

    October 15, 2013 at 8:43 pm
  • Mary H Murchison says:

    As a retired teacher in North Carolina, I have personally seen too much emphasis on testing and too little interest from the administration in listening to teachers and principals about the effects of this testing on students and faculty. Teachers are in the classrooms; they know what’s working and what isn’t, but very few in the hierarchy, at least when I taught, gave us any credibility.
    I now have a grandchild in kindergarten and am appalled at the too-long day she has to endure, without a suitable rest/nap time. Of course, what was once the first- grade curriculum in now the K curriculum. As a result, my bright grandchild, who was so excited and eager to go to Kindergarten and learn to read is exhausted and upset. If “educators” in charge aren’t careful, they’re going to make the youngest learners hate school and reading by the end of the first quarter of Kindergarten !
    And don’t even get me started on the emphasis on non-fiction in high school. So wrong for so many reasons. High school should not be a trade school for memo-writing and following directions on assembling bookcases. Critical thinking, good writing skills, strong reading skills,and the ability to work with a team are still the foundation for life after high school, for both college and careers, and are best taught through the use of literary fiction in English classes. Don’t science and social studies provide ample opportunity for non-fiction reading and analysis?
    And while I’m at it, has anyone looked at the longer school day in Japan? The last time I checked, the day included many subjects taught in shorter time periods, including art, music and PE, interspersed throughout the day, NOT more of the academic stress that American schools seem to think produces better outcomes.
    Don’t trust all the business-related ideas either; students are individuals, not products on an assembly line. One size doesn’t fit all. Give the teachers and principals some academic freedom to teach; treat them like professionals as in the good old days when I began teaching. Now everyone else except teachers are listened to : parents, businessmen, politicians, and this isn’t good. Do we ask our friends how to treat appendicitis, rather than our doctors and surgeons? Then why don’t we show some respect and let the people who are trained professionals have more input in not only WHAT to teach but HOW to teach it. Lock-step education has always proven to be a failure; why do we have to keep trying it? Embrace creative, new ideas for the classroom; include technology as a tool, not as a goal in itself. Just don’t throw out ideas and techniques that are proven successful over time.
    That brings us to the elephant in the room: support for public education. As evidenced by the actions of the governor of North Carolina and the General Assembly this year, public education isn’t valued very much. Charter schools, with no accountability and almost no requirements for teachers
    (not even a college degree, much less certification) are proliferating and using tax money that should go to our public school system. The myth that vouchers will allow poor students to opt out of a struggling public school to attend a charter school is obvious: the money a voucher in NC provides doesn’t cover the tuition at a decent private or charter school, so the poor children will be no better off. These vouchers may drain middle-class students whose parents mistakenly think that charter is better. With no credentials required from the state? I personally wouldn’t put a child of mine in such a school. Oh, I forgot to mention the state doesn’t even require criminal background checks. It’s a crap shoot, not conducive to a good education, but will result in money in the pockets of the owners of these for-profit charter schools, who also happen to be cronies of and contributors to the governor and the majority party in the General Assembly. What nonsense! This is a travesty. True reform would get the politics and profit-making out of educational reform. The future of our state and our country depend on an educated citizenry, not just for the wealthy children but for all the children!

    October 15, 2013 at 8:51 pm
    • Jaime says:

      Sadly, parents aren’t really being listened to, either. :(

      October 16, 2013 at 5:45 am
  • boo says:

    Most teachers dislike Common Core. I find it a waste of time and the kids are not ready for what i have to teach. The testing is a waste, too.

    October 15, 2013 at 9:35 pm
  • Clare Steward says:

    Regarding the meeting in Poughkeepsie in upstate NY, certain members of the Board of Regents have now accused parents of hurling racial slurs, thus giving a valid reason for the remainder of the NYS PTA forums being cancelled. I was personally at that forum in Poughkeepsie. Parents were frustrated and angry at John King’s interruptions of the public response portion of the evening. He had already spoken for an hour and forty minutes, and the audience listened patiently, and for the most part, quietly. The entire full length video is posted on YouTube, and you can see for yourself where parents became loud and boisterous. However, AT NO TIME, were racial slurs ‘hurled’, lobbed, thrown, tossed or otherwise used in any way! This is an outrage, and completely unfair to the concerned parents and teachers who were in attendance. First, Commissioner King labels us as ‘special interests’, and now we are being accused of being ‘racist’. Common Core does not work. It is developmentally inappropriate. Second graders are having anxiety attacks, fourth graders are having nightmares. Kindergarteners now sit for most of the day… SIT, mind you… for approximately 170 minutes while learning ELA and math. When they are done, they then sit in front of a computer screen with earbuds in. no more story time, no more center time, no more show and tell. there is no time for recess. The math is ridiculously and unnecessarily difficult because of the methods children must use to ‘prove’ their answers. THESE are the concerns voiced by parents and teachers, but John King has turned a deaf ear. He has shown that he clearly does not care for the mental well being of the children of the State of New York.

    October 16, 2013 at 5:23 pm
  • kavips says:

    In attacking Common Core, and I just heard our Governor on this today, one must be clear to separate the standards from the actual product. Those defending themselves over Common Core, wrap themselves up in the standards, and it is hard to attack those standards, because in their original intent, they are good. Who can truly say they don’t want their kid to be smarter?

    The problem with Common Core, is that it is bad for kids. We have one year of evidence. if you put a knowledgeable kid into the pipe at the beginning of the year, when they come out at the end of the year, they aren’t so knowledgeable anymore….

    In our state, it has been likened into putting chicken poop (which our state has an excess of) into toothpaste tubes and marketing it as being the best toothpaste ever. The marketing fools everyone, and make it so our kids are the first to find out what’s REALLY in those toothpaste tubes, and their parents checking up on them are the second…… Parent’s voices, and their legislators following them, have to be the impetus of change.

    The most important method to combat Common Core is to educate people what is on the test; it shocks them. Then demand those pushing Common Core to take the tests themselves in public and publish the scores. If you have children under Common Core,you too can now take the Smart Balanced Assessment version of their tests to see what your child will undergo….

    (At the bottom of this link is a list linking you to every test from smart balanced assessments…)

    This is how you fight Common Core BEFORE it damages your child…..

    October 17, 2013 at 4:23 pm
  • Peter says:

    I think you are over-estimating the support among teachers for CCSS.

    But that aside, the CCSS could not be expected to be implemented any way but top down. It was created top down, by a consortium of edu-crats and edu-business reps with no meaningful teacher input and not an iota of basis in real research.

    CCSS is by its fundamental nature built to be imposed from the top down. There is no other way to move forward with CCSS except to roll it back to the very beginning and redesign it from scratch, and the rich and powerful forces behind it are not about to willingly volunteer for that approach.

    November 9, 2013 at 9:36 pm
  • campak14 says:

    Oh…but there is an alternative to corporate education reform. It has been there all along but suppressed by the rich and powerful opulent minority and their enablers in state and federal government. Instead of a pedagogy of fear and punishment as is NCLB and RttT, those of us who are experts in learning know there is a better way. A natural way to educate children. You can find it here: http://withabrooklynaccent.blogspot.com/2013/12/bats-and-pedagogy-of-joy.html

    January 22, 2014 at 8:59 pm

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