The Common Core: The Beat Goes On: Tony Bennett, David Steiner and the Hirsch Crowd Muse About the Common Core and the Future of Public Education

As the Common Core snowball gathers speed the three million teachers are increasingly ill at ease,

Even as the Common Core State Standards are being put into practice across most of the country, nearly half of teachers feel unprepared to teach them, especially to disadvantaged students, according to a new survey.

Education Week reports,

More than two-thirds said they were not well enough prepared to teach the standards to English-language learners or students with disabilities. More than half said they were not yet ready to teach them to low-income students or those considered at risk of academic failure.

Prepared or not the forty-five states that are part of the two consortia – Smarter Balance and PARCC are in high gear preparing the assessments for the 2014-15 school year.

The pushback is gaining steam.

Diane Ravitch has been maintaining for months that she is “agnostic” about the Common Core is now opposing the Core.

I have come to the conclusion that the Common Core standards effort is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation.

David Coleman and the Sanhedrin that created the Common Core should have spent a little time reading the 1995 classic “Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform.” David Tyack and Larry Cuban peruse the landscape – the last hundred years of school reforms and conclude,

Reforms have rarely replaced what is there; more commonly they have added complexity … Failure to enlist the support of the community was especially harmful … it was difficult to retain resources and enthusiasm that sustained change … changing basic organizational patterns created overload for teachers…

What does the historical experience suggest about attempts today to refashion the grammar of schooling? …We suggest that actual changes in schools will be more gradual and piecemeal …Gaining the freedom to experiment demands political and organizational savvy and collective action.

Innovators outside the schools who want to reinvent were often skilled at publicity and the politics of promising …they rarely factored into their plans a sophisticated understanding of the schools as an institution or insight into the culture of teachers.

On Thursday morning at the Harvard Club the Manhattan Institute hosted a panel, “Curriculum Counts: Fulfilling the Promise of the Common Core State Standards.” A fascinating hour listening to, and engaging with some really smart, thoughtful people – if you have an hour click here and watch,

Sol Stern framed the discussion, “Within the school-reform community, the standards have set off a virtual civil war. It pits those who believe that America desperately needs national standards to catch up to its international competitors against those who think that the administration, by imposing standards on states, is guilty of an unwise, or even illegal power grab.” (Read Stern’s City Journal essay, “The Curriculum Reformation: New national standards prod schools to return to content-based education”). Stern emphasized, quoting both ED Hirsch and Diane Ravitch, the missing essential element, a content-rich curriculum.

Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the NYS Board of Regents cast doubt on the increasing high school graduation rates when viewed against the appalling college readiness metrics (grades of 75 on the English Regent and 80 on the Math Regents exams). 75% of students entering community college in CUNY require remediation and six years later only a quarter graduate. While Tisch fully supports the Common Core she worries whether the PARCC consortia can deliver appropriate tests on time: Plan B is phasing in Common Core items on the current tests Tisch has not fully committed to PARCC assessments. Tisch was proud that the state website, Engage NY provided a host of resources for parents, schools and teachers that are free, and took a swipe at Pearson, which she called a “monopoly.”

Tony Bennett, the recently defeated Commissioner of Indiana (defeated by the voters) and just appointed Commissioner of Florida is an education reform “jihadist.”

* transform the way children learn
* transform the way teachers teach
* transform the way we assess students.

Although he limited his remarks to the Common Core Bennett supports vouchers and charter schools – the full range of choice options. He admitted there was a communications gap, “we need to communicate better with parents and teachers.” Somewhat surprisingly, at least to me, he lauded local control, and placed the burden of professional development on the local districts. To Bennett, the key was assessment, to use his words, “shine the bright light” of data -driven assessment which will lead change in classrooms. The Common Core was the spear with assessments as the tip of the spear – driving change – with a “take no prisoners” attitude.

Linda Bevilacqua, the President of the Core Knowledge Foundation, was insightful and focused. The NYC Department of Education, as well as the NYS Education Department have both selected Core Knowledge as the prime content provider in grades K-2. E. D. Hirsch has an article in the current issue of City Journal, “A Wealth of Words, the key to increasing upward mobility is expanding vocabulary,” read here. Linda worries that measuring skills (standards acquisition) in the absence of content is a fruitless path. She worries that the race to “find the main idea” types of assessments will narrow the curriculum instead of building content-rich grade-by-grade curricula.

In the afternoon, at the newly renovated Roosevelt House, David Steiner and Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein discussed, “The ELA Common Core Standards: The path to a better educated America?” Bauerlein, the author of “The Dumbest Generation” (Read review here. The format: a discussion with a skilled facilitator was an invigorating hour. The Common Core, actually what are called the “anchor standards” must be tied to a “rich content-based curricula.” Bauerlein was pessimistic, students entering an elite college year after year less prepared, less well-read, with little interest in becoming well-read. In his closing comments he mused whether college freshman English classes should be divided into two separate classes, a literature class taught by the “college professor,” and a skills class, taught by whomever. He sounded just like most secondary school teachers I meet!

Steiner worried about the mechanical aspects of the standards, he worried that great literature is great because of the beauty of the prose, and parsing every phrase takes away from the timeless nature of the prose or poem.

An erudite thoughtful discussion with David Steiner and the Talibanic certitude of Tony Bennett, an interesting day.

At the end of the morning event I noticed a teacher I knew – she had brought along two high school seniors from her school. I asked one, “If you were on the panel, what would you have said?” He smiled, and spewed forth … I followed up with a few questions, He replied, “I hadn’t thought about that.” The Danielson domains, components and elements popped up on a box on the inside of my glasses, I scrolled down to Domain 3: Instruction, to Component 3b: Using Questions and Discussion Techniques, and checked off the Level 4: “Distinguished” boxes,

* The teacher builds on and uses student responses to question in order to deepen student understandings,
* Student(s) extend(s) the discussion, enriching the lesson.

I fear Tony Bennett would have shoved a bubble sheet and a number 2 pencil over to the kid, “Quick, bubble in your answers, I have to decide whether to promote or fire your teacher.” Too harsh, however, increasingly the public views the Common Core as a testing regimen – test the kid, and test the kid again, use the results to promote or hold back the kid, to close the school, to fire the teacher, and, give me a few more hundreds of millions so that I can keep this up.

Those hundreds of millions should be spent recruiting, educating, supporting and retaining the most effective teachers. Spend the dollars to create spaces in which teachers can discuss and plan and collaborate and be open to criticism and offer ideas and criticism to colleagues. Clone principals who can thrive in and enrich the mix, stir the pot, add the seasonings, become the great chef.

Yes, weed out the ineffective teachers in a fair and humane fashion.

I may have quibbles with some aspects of the Common Core; I would hope that I have been following the path through the years, for example,

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.7 Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.8 Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

Sounds perfectly reasonable.

The elements of the Core (see above) must be entwined in a rich curriculum: what are we teaching? do we simply follow the chronological path of history, or, carve out the crucial themes for an in-depth analysis? Is nationalism a 19th or 20th century concept or does it impact the tribalism in Afghanistan or Syria today?

In too many classrooms educrats are proudly sitting with their I-Pads, electronic check lists, and flailing the teacher for only using 50, not 60% informational texts. The twisted paths of the educational reform movement are littered with discarded reforms. George Santayana is right, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” Unless teachers, parents and the wider public buy into a reform – unless the reform is “Sticky” (“Six Principles of sticky ideas”), teachers will close their doors and do what they have always done, parents will reject what they see as punitive ideas and the public as a waste of tax dollars.

Useful ideas, the seeds of change, must be nurtured, fed and watered regularly, not blared from the minarets of officialdom.

If it makes us feel better we can blame Bloomberg, or Joel Klein, or disinterested parents, they all make our job more difficult, ultimately it is the skill of the teacher in the classroom that closes achievement gaps.

About these ads

7 responses to “The Common Core: The Beat Goes On: Tony Bennett, David Steiner and the Hirsch Crowd Muse About the Common Core and the Future of Public Education

  1. Peter,

    Thanks for being on the scene and providing your summary, contextual information and editorial comments.

    I respectfully take issue with the limited prescription you offer:

    “Those hundreds of millions should be spent recruiting, educating, supporting and retaining the most effective teachers. Spend the dollars to create spaces in which teachers can discuss and plan and collaborate and be open to criticism and offer ideas and criticism to colleagues. Clone principals who can thrive in and enrich the mix, stir the pot, add the seasonings, become the great chef.”

    You leave out the most important ingredient: The parents. Spend millions bringing them into the discussion. Let’s get it straight. They are the prime stakeholders without whom there would be no public education. Without them organized, respected and leading a Consortium of Reform (How do you like that one?!)–the schools have become another market place for private interests to exploit and grubby turf that unions seek to dominate.

    The fact that a unifying movement of parents empoweed to have autonomy in their children’s education (the seeds of which were crushed in 1969) hasn’t emerged cannot be seen as accidental. Obviously, it’s all about control. The rest is commentary.

  2. “Yes, weed out the ineffective teachers in a fair and humane fashion.”

    How do you suggest “weeding out” ineffective teachers if we are not tracking their students’ outcomes as part of their evaluation?

  3. Omar

    The Chicago Consortium study (http://ccsr.uchicago.edu/publications/rethinking-teacher-evaluation-chicago-lessons-learned-classroom-observations-principal) shows a high correlation between lesson obervations and student testing data – and – when we factor in the instability (variation form year to year) lesson observations by properly trained personnel can effectively identify high, average and low performing staff.

    70% of teachers teach non-state tested subjects – every teacher should interact regularly with school supervisors, coaches or peer reviewers. The current NYC policy is “multiple brief observations with meaningful feedback.”

    Competent principals know, or certainly should know, the ineffective teachers and after assistence is not successful take steps to terminate the teacher. Remember a really bad teacher teaching really smart kids would probably have good test score data.

    Don’t get too attached to the data side – eyes on a classroom is a far more indicative of teacher effectiveness.

  4. Pingback: Knews Feed » Lisa Nielsen: Is the Common Core an Attack on Progressive Education?

  5. Pingback: Lisa Nielsen: Is the Common Core an Attack on Progressive Education? : freedomluchador.com

  6. Pingback: Is the Common Core an Attack on Progressive Education? |

  7. Pingback: Lisa Nielsen: Is the Common Core an Attack on Progressive Education? | Political Ration

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s