The Common Core Wars: Why Are the Left and the Right Both Attacking and Defending the Common Core?

The Common Core (CCSS) is under attack from the left and the right, and being rigorously defended, from the left and the right – perhaps one of the few bi-partisan issues on the table, attack and defense from both sides at the same time!

The Tea Party Republicans and the Libertarians attack the CCSS as a plot to take over the minds of America’s youth as well as supporting vouchers, charter schools and the elimination of any federal role in education. They are joined by opponents of charters, supporters of increased federal aid for the poorest schools, Diane Ravitch, while “agnostic” on the Common Core links to anti CCSS sites. Governors, the business community and AFT President Randi Weingarten support CCSS.

Why have the standards evoked such passions across the political spectrum?

I see the standards as aspirational goals – skills that we want to students to master at each grade level. In crafting units and lessons, in designing rubrics we embed the CCSS in each unit and lesson. As kids move through the grades we hope that kids begin to achieve the CCSS goals.

Unfortunately the Common Core at the federal and state level is viewed as a “test,” kids and teachers who are winners or losers.

To what purpose?

Will the specter of doom, being “left back,” being branded a failure, being threatened with dismissal make kids and teachers work harder or smarter?

While I believe the standards are a tool for teachers the use of the standards to hold a scimitar over the heads of students, teachers and principals is obnoxious.

The grades 6-8 Social Studies Common Core State Standards (below) are guides to teachers – it would be nice if both the state and the city published “clickable” curriculum on the EngageNY website – it is unfathomable that the state designs tests without providing teachers with curriculum,

I have no problem with the standards; they set a high bar, as teachers we must figure out how to help our students reach higher.

Key Ideas and Details
• Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
• Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
• Identify key steps in a text’s description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).
Craft and Structure
• Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
• Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).
• Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
• Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
• Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.
• Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.
Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity
• By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6–8 text complexity band independently and proficiently

Social Studies teachers I meet see the standards above as rigorous, and as a guide, a focus for their lessons.

Unfortunately the state has not provided the principals and teachers with materials or training or the time to feel confident in moving up the bar.

The commissioner may gloat that the state has spent at $1.5 billion to train teachers; the dollars were not well spent. When the majority of teachers admit that they are not equipped to fully implement the standards isn’t that an indictment of the state-sponsored training? See Report by Michael Casserly, Council of Great City Schools at Steinhardt/NYU in February, 2013.

The state carefully managed establishing cut scores that guaranteed “pass” rates in the 30% range – are 70% of students in New York State “failing”? Of course not. (Read a description of the Person-Regent Fellows management of the cut score-setting process, BTW, that process appears to exclude actual classroom teachers)

When asked to go along with other states, and AFT President Weingarten, and place a moratorium on the impact of the test scores the commissioner refused.

It is the commissioner who is failing – not the students.

He has shown an abysmal lack of leadership.

Eric Nadelstern, the former chief academic officer in New York City wrote in a blog comment,

The easy way for Albany to lead is to make the tests harder and then point fingers. The real work takes place in hundreds of thousands of classrooms throughout the State where teachers interact with students each day. To be more effective, they need better instructional materials, more effective supervisors, and fairer assessments that level the playing field for all students; not just harder tests. Unfortunately, that would require bold and effective leaders at a time when such individuals are as rare in education and politics as unicorns.

So the student assessments get harder, the teacher evaluations grow more complicated, and the leadership declares victory and seeks higher office.

Eric is absolutely correct, “To be more effective, they need better instructional materials, more effective supervisors, and fairer assessments that level the playing field for all students; not just harder tests”

New York City has provided networks and principals with excellent guidance; however, the network system is incapable of carrying out the “Instructional Expectations” set by Tweed. (Read the Citywide Instructional Expectation: 2013-14 document – it is excellent)

At the heart of the Instructional Expectations is instruction – the interaction of supervisors and teachers in improving instructional practice,

Frequent classroom observations paired with timely, meaningful feedback and targeted support to help teachers

… educators learn best from professional development that is embedded in their everyday work. For teachers, this means learning experiences delivered by the school leaders who are most knowledgeable about their skills and experiences. School-based learning experiences that engage teachers in professional conversations with their peers and administrators about high-quality teaching foster both a professional community and shared learning and support.

In the real world the best of plans go awry.

Cluster and network leaders, for the most part, do not have the skills to work with principals and teachers. Ask a teacher to identify their network; they have no idea, ask a teacher to identify their network leader, again, no idea.

“Frequent classroom observations” is viewed as harassment in a climate where the mayor spends his time attacking the union and the union fights back.

Unfortunately the union is in a fight-first mode, it is difficult for the union to defend principals who are actually using frequent classroom observation to improve instruction.

What is so distressing is that the commissioner, who is viewed so negatively by the folks in the field, the folks who actually man schools and classrooms, moves further and further away from practitioners.

If the commissioner simply said:

* The first year is a moratorium year – the tests will only be used to for diagnostic purposes and to set a baseline.

* in year two the test will be used to measure growth – not to measure whether the student has achieved the Common Core standards.

I was at a birthday party for a little girl, everyone was having a wonderful time, and a number of the attendees were teachers in Brownsville. A balloon burst with a loud “pop,” someone joked, “Makes us feel right at home.” Everyone laughed.

I’m not being sarcastic; not being retributive, just a suggestion, maybe the commissioner and his family should move into Brownsville for a couple of weeks.

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7 responses to “The Common Core Wars: Why Are the Left and the Right Both Attacking and Defending the Common Core?

  1. The CCSS require students to support opinions iwth evidence. I would suggest that the demagogues on the right and the left do not really want an electorate that looks for the evidence behind the sound bite. These standards threaten them with questions they can’t answer> Haven’t we already tried cutting taxes and did it really help the economy? What did we spend the Clinton budget surplus on? Does concentrating money in the hands of the wealthy really help economies grow? What are the specifics behind these political promises and how will they be paid for? Etc. Etc.

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  2. Where’s “the Report by Michael Casserly, Council of Great City Schools” Peter? your link goes to videos of Steinhardt/NYU panels in February, 2013 — and there’s no link there to any report from Casserly or even a power point from him in the listing for the event where he appeared. thanks Leonie.

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  3. Perhaps even more significant the CCSS for grades 6-8 in Soc.St. should be shown and taught to the political idealogues at the extreme of both our major political parties that hold democracy hostage to idealogical zealotry and purity at the expense of governing!

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  4. Again I’ll put it very succinctly’ long term real projects are the best ways of fostering learning.Most of the necessary skills can be taught n learning should be fun!

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  5. Peter, Re your quote from Eric N,

    yeah, like all those: “…better instructional materials, more effective supervisors, and fairer assessments…”

    Eric churned out the Leadership Academy, the Networks w/o science or Social studies staff developers, and all the other great ideas he put in place for nine of the twelve years of the Bloomberg/Klein reign when he was steering the ship.

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  6. Oh, and one more thing—Eric PROMISED that the new, little, organizations he was hothousing would have NOTHING BUT TENURED TEACHERS so that they could count on proven expertise and minimize staff development.

    Now we have a policy put forward by the DOE that discriminates against experience by charging each school the actual salary of an employee.

    Good Job Eric!!

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