The Common Core versus Parents, Teachers, Principals and School Boards: All Politics is Local.

An idyll conversation: one guy was whining, “Technology is driving me crazy, my I-Phone, I-Pad, Blackberry, my Twitter account, soon they’ll be stapling a chip into your earlobe. Another guy, who was busy texting looked up, “They haven’t done you yet.”

On Friday the Steinhardt School of Education hosted the second of a three-part series on the Common Core.

A simple question: what is the Common Core? The official website begins with a mission statement,

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers

Teachers ask, how do the current Common Core standards differ from I have been teaching? A fair question. The Department of Education website tries to explain the differences.

• Standards increase in complexity from K-12, helping to articulate what students need to know and be able to do along this trajectory and assist with differentiation
• Literacy-building as a shared responsibility for all content area teachers
• Emphasis on teaching reading of informational text
• Emphasis on steadily increasing students’ ability to understand more and more complex text over time
• Integration of research skills across standards and grades
• Emphasis on writing to argue, inform, and explain in the upper grades to prepare students for college-level writing

Maybe not a perfect analogy – we’re decided that the current 10-foot high baskets are not preparing players so we’re going to raise the baskets to 12 feet – 11 next year and 12 the following. And, BTW, if you’re scoring drops we’re firing the coach.

At the February 22nd Policy Breakfast experts took their 20-minutes to support and defend the Common Core.

Michael Casserly, executive director, Council of the Great City Schools, discussed a survey of urban school systems – the results, from the perspective of the districts, moving ahead smoothly towards implementation.

Lucille E. Davy, senior advisor, James B. Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy, and former commissioner of education for the New Jersey, explained the testing requirements of the two national consortia – Smarter Balance and PARCC, the organization to which New York Start belongs.

In New York State students in grades 3-8 take ELA and Mathematics tests in April/May, the results are used for student placement and, of course, to assess teacher effectiveness. Beginning in the 2014-15 school years the PARCC assessments will arrive.

The 3-8 PARCC assessments will be delivered at each grade level and will be based directly on the Common Core State Standards.

The distributed PARCC design includes four components – two required summative and two optional non-summative – to provide educators with timely feedback to inform instruction and provide multiple measures of student achievement across the school year.

Summative Assessment Components:

• Performance-Based Assessment (PBA) administered as close to the end of the school year as possible. The English language arts/literacy (ELA/literacy) PBA will focus on writing effectively when analyzing text. The mathematics PBA will focus on applying skills, concepts, and understandings to solve multi-step problems requiring abstract reasoning, precision, perseverance, and strategic use of tools.

• End-of-Year Assessment (EOY) administered after approximately 90% of the school year. The ELA/literacy EOY will focus on reading comprehension. The mathematics EOY will call on students to demonstrate further conceptual understanding of the Major Content and Additional and Supporting Content of the grade/course (as outlined in the PARCC Model Content Frameworks), and demonstrate mathematical fluency, when applicable to the grade.

Non-Summative Assessment Components:

• Diagnostic Assessment designed to be an indicator of student knowledge and skills so that instruction, supports, and professional development can be tailored to meet student needs.

• Mid-Year Assessment (MYA) comprised of performance-based items and tasks, with an emphasis on hard-to-measure standards. After study, individual states may consider including the MYA as a summative component.

• Speaking and Listening Assessment (ELA/literacy only) designed to be an indicator of students’ ability to communicate their own ideas, listen to and comprehend the ideas of others, and to integrate and evaluate information from multimedia sources.

The 3-8 assessments will include a range of item types, including innovative constructed response, extended performance tasks, and selected response (all of which will be computer based).

The presenters seemed to have no problem with this testing regimen – one test a year to five tests a year!! And that last sentence, “innovative constructed response, extended performance tasks, and selected response (all of which will be computer based).”

Senior Advisor Davy glossed over, almost as an aside, PARCC intended to use Artificial Intelligence software to grade the constructed response, and ignored the little problem, large numbers of schools and school districts did not have the computers or bandwidth to offer “computer based” testing.

Susan Neuman, the moderator, offered excellent comments on the Steinhardt pre conference website,( “To be successful, we will need to provide many of our children with intensive early intervention and additional supports to enable them to meet these standards,” however, as moderator she simply called on audience members.

I must admit I jumped to a microphone,

“Every day legislators and Board of Regents e-mailboxes are filled with messages from parents, teachers and principals criticizing the headlong rush to the Common Core – parents are organizing opt-outs, teachers and principals fear the huge increase in testing will push out non-tested subjects and everyone fears ‘bad scores’ on the APPR principal-teacher rating system – do the Common Core folk understand the ferocity of the pushback?”

The response was, “Yes, to be expected ….” (And the implication – they’ll get over it).

The panel should have been been more balanced … there is no evidence that the full implementation of the Common Core will achieve desired ends; every decade or so a new standards movement arises – and none of the previous attempts had any impact.

David Steiner and Mark Buerlein will discuss the Common Core Thursday evening, Buerlein has been a sharp critic at the Roosevelt House, should be an interesting dialogue.

To borrow from Diane Ravitch, I am agnostic, teaching students to write persuasive/argumentative essays, analyzing complex texts, evidence-based writing, all positive … a testing regimen that will enrich Pearson and deaden classrooms as test prep reigns; not positive and may sink the Common Core and not benefit students.

The drive to implement the Common Core is driven by $340 million in federal dollars – will the current Congress add to the pot? What is the price point at the state level? If the Common Core testing program cost states additional dollars will they provide the dollars?

All political is local, to quote Tip O’Neill.

If parents and teachers and principals and school boards oppose the Common Core, especially the testing side, will elected legislators fund the program?

Let’s add five tests a year, spend millions to buy computers and expand band width and eliminate the football team, the band and the dance program.

I think not.


5 responses to “The Common Core versus Parents, Teachers, Principals and School Boards: All Politics is Local.

  1. Michael Casserly

    I appreciate receiving your article this morning, but noted that you described my characterization of common core’s implementation as running smoothly. In fact, I said that implementation of the common core was uneven, and I went to some lengths to describe a number of areas where we were having trouble–sometimes trouble of our own making. If you are going to summarize my points, please do so accurately. Thank you.

    –Michael Casserly
    Council of the Great City Schools


  2. We weren’t invited to the policy breakfast meeting so we couldn’t ask questions directly, but we’ve written about the consortia assessments.


  3. The common core. Who has not seen it before but dressed in different packaging? We never seem to get it right. Or perhaps, it is the testing companies that make sure we don’t so we can make the world safe for test takers and “preparing our students for college and the work world.” The rhetoric just gets recycled. Woe to those who misrepresent the present and disfigure the future, for they will have a generation of the underdeveloped and disaffected to contend with. Where are you Ms. Mitchell and Ms. Weber, Mr’s Dewey, Holt, Goodman, and Herndon, when we need you the most? It’s getting strange down here, and like climate change, we stay hunkered down in stark denial.


  4. There is a truism in Education- the more you test the less you teach!. Every new “innovation” is inevitably followed by an intensive testing cycle. That also inexorably leads to an intensive teaching to the test cycle. At what point do we give adequate credit to the teachers and include indices and criteria for meaningful teacher judgement?


  5. Pingback: Common Core: Thoughtful Reflections from an Experienced Teacher | Ed In The Apple

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