May 19, 2010

Common Core Standards Released

Here they go.  Ta Da.

I remain unimpressed.  Frankly, I don't see how these standards are going to be the impetus to improve any aspect of education.

As a lawyer I occasionally draft contracts and, let me tell you, you have to use much more precise language than this to actually get someone to reliably do what you want (and are paying) them to do.

I'd bet that all fifty states could adopt these standards, not change a single thing they are doing, and claim compliance.

Some of these standards are incredibly silly.

Take for example this one under print concepts for kindergarten (p. 16)

Demonstrate understanding of the organization and basic features of print. ... Follow words from left to right, top to bottom, and page-by-page.
This looked familiar to me and sure enough Minnesota had (has) a similar standard.

Follow print (words and text) from left to right and top to bottom.

Bob Dixon lampooned Minnesota's standard as being ridiculous and I'm thinking the same criticism applies to the Core standard.

Students should certainly do this when learning to read. My question is this: Before Minnesota developed this standard, was anyone there not teaching kids to read English from left to right and top to bottom? Apparently. The people who sat on that committee and collectively decided to write this out as a standard for the children of Minnesota—did they feel literate and scholarly and innovative when the final vote was tallied? I hope this standard makes a significant contribution toward correcting the problem with the way people used to teach reading in Minnesota.

This sentiment applies to pretty much all of the Core standards, even the less ridiculous ones.

In fact Dixon's criticism of the Standards movement is one of the best I've seen and applies to Core's standards.

These standards are harmful because they are, for the most part, meaningless verbal detritus on the one hand, but textbook publishers live and die off them, on the other. Even with respect to clearly incomprehensible standards, publishers have to come up with something to stick in a textbook that helps create the illusion that the textbook is aligned with some set of standards. I am empathetic with the publishers … to a point. The standards are a major incentive for the publishers to produce crap. Over the years, I’ve worked with several major publishers, and none of them has aspired to produce crap. They do it, though, because the market demands that they do it.

And standards and state tests, taken together, are very harmful. First, because the standards are so bad, it is nearly impossible to assess them. In short, the standards and the state tests don’t align, except in the most meaningless and specious ways. But here is the biggest problem of them all, and the reason the tests and standards are so damaging. IF the standards were really “good” according to some criteria that would make sense to the average educated person on the street, and if they were precise enough to be aligned with assessment tools that were actually technically sound, widespread failure would continue, unabated. Figure 1 shows Doug Carnine’s illustration of the problem.

The black box in the middle is the magic by which teachers start out with goals for students and end up with students performing brilliantly on tests that are valid and reliable. The black box is the instruction, and the states and just about everyone else are so clueless about instruction that they give it very little attention. With the best standards and the best assessments, the system is doomed to failure if, at the center of it all, we don’t have the best instruction. As it stands now, the standards are, for the most part, ridiculous, and few if any of the state assessments have been certified as valid and reliable.

So using the inductive learning model to judge the effectiveness of Standards reform, let's evaluate standards as an education reform.
Standards aren't going to affect teacher or student effectiveness.  The  theory is that standards will improve curriculum effects.  But, I don't see that happening.  Standards, like the Core standards, that are easily subvertible will be subverted and educators will continue to do what they are presently doing -- because that's what they want to do.  And if NCLB 1.0 taught us anything, its that standardized assessments, even the high stakes variety, are simply not capable of improving student outcomes.  At best, improved standards and perfect assessments, might have a very indirect effect on curriculum and instruction.  Just because you write the perfect standard does not mean that educators will be able to teach it to the kids who they are currently unable to teach it to today without the standards.


Unknown said...


You and I have both seen both deliberately ambiguous language in contracts and inadvertantly unclear language.

There is no question that the Common Core standards are deliberately ambiguous. Specific enough to win political support as an improvement over the weak, content-free standards, too many states use.

Deliberate ambiguity then allows discovery oriented instructional frameworks, the new national assessment with LDH in charge, and the kind of fuzzy math textbooks deplored by so many parents to be the actual enacted curriculum.

I knew that's where they were going because that's the lesson they learned from the State of Georgia. The irony is that yesterday EdWeek did a story and said point blank that the instructional curriculum should reflect curriculum frameworks and the assessment, not the standards themselves.

We are nationalizing some of the worst ideas in American education.

Dick Schutz said...

This isn't the "third installment" of your story, is it Ken? I take it, you interrupted the story for "an important announcement."

The released standards reflect only cosmetic changes in the "draft standards"--that after receiving 10,000 "comments"--which have yet to be summarized.

Your take on the standards makes sense to me.

There are several easy "tests" of the integrity of the standards.

--Scramble parts of the documents and ask anyone to put them back together. It's impossible.

--Pick a statement at random and ask people at what grade the statement should be taught. The statements increase in syntactical complexity from grade-to-grade, but that's doesn't fit the way that expertise is acquired.

__Try to map the standards to any set of current core text series. There is no match.

--Ask people to draft a scenario for how they would go about teaching all the standards requirements at a given grade. It can't be done.

--Compare the "new standards" with the "old standards" from any state.
There's nothing superior about the "new" standards.

There are other ways, but these should be enough to show that "the dog won't hunt."

The folks who drafted the standards, backed into them. The "strands" are fictions, but they provide a matrix that can be "filled in" by grade.

People from the 1920's through the 1960's were doing the same thing--better--with curriculum guides" composed of "objectives" x "grades." Teachers didn't pay much attention to the guides then, which was a good thing. Now, with national tests tied to teacher pay, the gaming will be ferocious.

School people have no idea what's in store for them. Not only will they be "accountable" for teaching ambiguous/over-specific/trivial matters, look what's coming down the pike from publishers:

Pearson’s Promise
Pearson has the experience and resources to holistically
support our district partners and ensure success in this time of
transition. Professional development for implementing the new standards, powerful tools to reach all stakeholders, instructionalmaterials that evolve on each district’s timeline, and progress monitoring to provide a quick, but comprehensive view of
student performance will combine in a uniquely effective way
to help you realize a seamless and successful transition to the
Common Core State Standards.

More simply We promise to try to sell you anything and everything we can think of

Thank you, Pearson!

When the nonsense about "school turnaround" is factored in, with everything going into "data warehouses," it's a monstrosity of huge proportion.

The tragedy is that the "reformers" sincerely believe they're "doing everything right." The standards have been "vetted" by a whole passel of very prominent people.

It's scary from one perspective. But as you say, the whole matter is so feckless that it will have little effect. Teachers will go on trying to teach and kids will go on trying to learn.

KDeRosa said...

This isn't the "third installment" of your story, is it Ken? I take it, you interrupted the story for "an important announcement."


Also, I can say I disagree with anything you've written, Dick.

A lot of people are really overselling these standards. There's going to be a lot of backpedaling in the next few years.

Roger Sweeny said...

Teachers will go on trying to teach and kids will go on trying to learn.

Uh, no. Some kids will try to learn. More will try to memorize enough to do well on assessments and forget soon thereafter, and some will just try to do well enough to pass and stay with their friends.

A major problem with school (at least high school, where I am) is that, in general, kids don't want to "buy" most of the knowledge we are "selling."

Dick Schutz said...

There's going to be a lot of backpedaling in the next few years.

I'd bet it's going to be faster than that and more consequential than that.

Most everybody is interested simply in teaching kids to read. The NeoLib/NeoCon consensus considers that commitment "unrealistic." They're chasing the silly aspiration of "college and career readiness."

If we can't teach kids to read, how in the world are they going to be "college and career ready"?

The Race to the Top has now buried "Reading" under a pile of "English Language Arts." We don't need no stinkin language arts.

Mr President, "Tear up the Common Core Standards"

Secretary Duncan, "Call off the Race to the Top"

Unknown said...

Did you see this new white paper "The Emperor's New Clothes" on the standards from the Pioneer Institute?

It's all worth reading but for this discussion page 20 and then the Appendix are especially pertinent.

These standards are not sufficiently clear and these ambiguities mean that the new assessments are likely to drive the actual curriculum.


Did you see where Pearson has stated that it sees Common Core as a principal driver of its earnings going forward?

I especially like the quote from the Appendix that a good example is worth a 1000 hours of debate over what the standard actually means.

Dick Schutz said...

The Stotsky-Wurman paper came ou May 20. I guess that's "new." The paper reveals that the CCS have no clothes. But like Diane Ravitch, Sandra Stotsky fails to recognize that the Emperor of "standards and tests" is a paper/rubber Ruler.

The paper gives some good reasons why the CCS standards are fatally flawed, but they fail to see that these flaws apply to all "standards" statements.

Yes, the publishers are salivating over the CCS. But what is going to come out is that CCS is a cover for the BG Standards, which you can read as either Bill Gates or Gates-Broad.

If you navigate to the "Properties" of the CCS document, you see that the author is Susan Pimentel. Susan Pimentel is an Achieve hired hand.

The cover-letter of the doc is signed: Sue David Jim

That's Susan, David Coleman, (another Achieve-r, and Jim Patterson of ACT (American College Testing).


Unknown said...

Well isn't ACHIEVE busy.

Georgia's state school super decided belatedly, after qualifying closed, that she would not run again after all, and would become CEO in DC of the new US Education Delivery Institute. It was announced this past week.

It's being founded by Achieve and Education Trust.

Georgia was heavily involved in CCS from the beginning and is ground zero for the idea of having ambiguous content standards that win political support and are the curriculum's public face.

The instructional frameworks though are the basis for the textbooks pushed, the learning tasks, the pedagogy pushed, and the assessments used.

With Cox moving to DC, it really is hard not to see the ambiguities in Common Core as the basis for a stealth classroom curriculum.

Dick Schutz said...

Yep. Now we have Deliverologists, courtesy of Broad-Gates. And there is even more good news. Our kids and teachers are going to get SMARTER tests! Ta da, to borrow from Ken.

Here are excerpts from a News Release out of Maine:

Susan Gendron, who has overseen school district consolidation, a new standardized test's introduction and the expansion of Maine's student laptop initiative, said Wednesday she is resigning as education commissioner.

. . . Gendron, commissioner since March 2003, will leave her job at month's end to become policy director for a 35-state group -- the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium -- which is competing for $350 million in federal money to develop a set of common standardized tests.

. . .Gendron is leaving the education department at a busy time, as state education officials prepare Maine's application for Race to the Top, a national competition among the states for billions aimed at education reform. Maine could be eligible for up to $75 million if its application -- which will include a proposal to participate in the SMARTER consortium -- is successful.

Follow the money. This has all the makings of a broad EducationGate(s).

KDeRosa said...

That's a good paper, but doesn't address the underlying problem that standards are simply not capable of doing the things their advocates believe they can do. Aren't they really just the flip side of high stakes assessments? And, look how well they worked out.

Dick Schutz said...

Aren't they really just the flip side of high stakes assessments?

They're more like the wind behind the high stakes assessment than they are the flip side. It's an illusion that the tests can be "aligned" with the standards. That's an illusion that Ravitch and Stotsky still haven't seen through.

The illusion/delusion is why standards are simply not capable of doing the things their advocates believe they can do.

Standards statements also have other high stakes consequences.

For example, the CCS standards open the door for massive expansion of publisher sales.

This in turn increases the cost of education with the profits accruing to the Corporate sponsors who leveraged the standards.

By burying "phonics" deep within the standards, the CCS standards ensure the continued dominance of "Whole Language" ideology.

The standards essentially borrow the NAEP view of reading as "comprehension of meaning." This view justifies the "usual" test items that define "comprehension" and the salience of different text genres.

Advocates believe that Standards are the route for "reform." Actually they serve to maintain the instructional status quo.

NCLB didn't didn't bring any new test architecture or any different instructional architecture.

All of the new Fed money hasn't brought anything new either--only priorities and assurances. And the closer one examines the priorities and assurances, the flimsier they look.

The thing is, the standards have been vetted by very prominent people. Were the vetters paid for their service? Will their written endorsements become public information?

In applying for ARRA-ED funds, states "assured" that they would implement the CCS--sight unseen.

As Oliver Hardy used to say to Stan Laurel when they were in an impossible situation, "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into."

Too bad it's real life and not an old movie.

Dick Schutz said...

For comedy relief/anxiety, take a peek at the standards side show on stage in Texas

Things really get heated when you get to "Social studies/history." This is where the "national standards" fell apart in 1996. But the CCS ELA standards will enjoy/suffer the same heat when people start to take a look at the "banded" books that the standards cite.

This raises another dilemma that the "reformers" haven't thought through. States have "assured" that they will evaluate teachers at least partially on the basis of test results. If the only tests available are in "English Language Arts" and "Math" and even these tests have yet to be constructed, how in the world can these "assurances" be "implemented"?

Unknown said...

You might be interested in reading Alfie Kohn's take on the folly of common core.