Wednesday, January 16, 2013

This is how Democracy Ends Part II: Dispelling 6 Common Myths of the #CCSS

By Kris Nielsen Originally posted at Middle Grades Mastery
This is the second installment in the This is How Democracy Ends series. Part one is here.  This is How Democracy Ends–Part II –Reality Check–will give an abbreviated version of why the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) is worse than we think and why it has been pushed so hard on states, districts, and schools.  Hopefully, Part Three will be my ideas for action, and my proposal for an alternative to the current reform movement, based on a humble teacher’s perspective.

Let’s look for a moment at a majority (yet shrinking) consensus among professional educators and the perspective that the public has accepted has been fed regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

This is part of a comment left by a professional educator on the first article in this series:
 I have a hard time believing that the whole thing is a ploy to destroy education and teachers. I doubt that our country would maliciously and hurt our children.
I post this comment because it’s a good start to a list of things that teachers and parents have been told to believe and talk about–the first of which speaks to that commenter–we are supposed to trust our educational and government leaders.  They would never hurt our kids or allow our kids to be hurt.  First, let’s talk about what the Common Core State Standards Initiative is and what it isn’t.  Then, I’ll come back to discuss our trust in our country.
Here’s a non-inclusive list of myths about Common Core and standardized tests that professional teachers have all been prescribed (ordered) to accept.  I will touch on why each one is not a truth or a benefit to our kids and the future of our country.
Myth 1: Common Core is not a step toward national standards.
Reality: Whether the standards were designed to be national is debatable. The official FAQ of the CCSSI sounds a little defensive in answering the question of nationalized education. They explain that the standards aren’t national because the Federal government wasn’t the entity that drafted them. I am arguing that the CCSS are national standards, meant to standardize education across the country and prescribe what business interests want to see in the next generation of workers.
The fact that 45 states and 3 territories (plus the DoD education system) have adopted the standards point to a pretty strong buy-in.  CCSSI suggests that the choice to create, adopt, and implement the standards was state-led.  Even if the initiative was not born with nationalization in mind, that’s what it’s evolved into–and it takes a serious shortage of foresight or critical thinking to believe that such a project could have any other purpose.  The CCSSI was created for one purpose: to standardize the way our kids are educated to prepare them for a future that has already been designed for them.
Obama’s Education Department has assured state buy-in by tying funds to the adoption of the CCSS, at the same time state budgets have cut education funds to near nothing, thereby invalidating the idea that this is a state-led initiative. In other words, there is hardly any real choice in the matter. Adopt the Core, or starve.
Myth 2: Teachers helped create the Common Core State Standards
Reality: Almost every page on the CCSSI website includes a passage that makes sure everyone know that teachers, administrators, and educational experts were in on the development of the standards.  However, there is no real evidence for this claim.  Which teachers? From where? Are there credits to these contributing teachers or their schools?  Perhaps the NEA and AFT supported and gave feedback to the initiative, but they were not instrumental in constructing the common core state standards.
In fact, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA )were the true architects and designers of the initiative, both of which have debatable abilities to lead educational reform.  The face of the CCSSI, David Coleman, is a businessman, with ties to testing and textbook corporations and is now the head of CollegeBoard–the high-power testing corporation that brings us the SAT, AP exams, and lots of professional development. Mr. Coleman has been a loud voice, among many, that propagandizes a false “crisis in America,” joining the likes of Michelle Rhee and her network of deceptive education reformers.
Image credit: Sara Wottawa
Does anyone see a relationship developing here that’s just a little too comfortable–and profitable?
Myth 3: The Common Core standards are evidence-based.
Reality: Ironically, there is no evidence that the CCSS are evidence-based.  The evidence that is cited so often includes U.S. and international benchmarks and how those benchmarks led to achievement on standardized tests, including NAEP, PISA, TIMSS, and other.  In other words, the CCSS were built just right so that standardized tests would be the best way to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers, textbooks, and curricula.  They do not provide a system or a goal for student success (and the CCSSI doesn’t seem to clearly claim that they do).
Myth 4: The Common Core standards increase rigor.
Reality: The slogan that has gained traction and faithfulness is “fewer, clearer, higher.”  This may be true for some states, but not all.  High school standards, in particular, are numerous, vague, and not generally cohesive.  It’s anyone’s guess what the “higher” means in that slogan, but I’ll assume that it means more students passing achievement tests (it certainly doesn’t refer to higher-order thinking). Some experts might define rigor as meaning “harder.”  If this is the functional definition, then yes, they are more rigorous.  That’s only because, compared to other state standards, skills and concepts have been pushed to earlier grade levels, which has already caused its own set of headaches for students and teachers.
I, and several other teachers and professors, define rigor as using background and new knowledge to solve novel problems using creativity and collaboration.  Rigor should be defined in terms of the methods used to learn, not the difficulty our instruction or the amount of work students are given.  The CCSS does not increase rigor as it should be defined in the new century.
Myth 5: The Common Core will help our kids be “college and career-ready.”
Reality:  This is the myth that deserves the most incredulity. Going back to the fact that the most prominent forces behind the CCSSI are testing corporations, state chiefs, and governors, who do you think the specialists are?  The architect of the CCSS accepted a job at CollegeBoard.  The only evidence that these standards lead students to be college and career-ready are the promises of CollegeBoard, and ACT–the same folks that decide whether or not you get into college.
Interestingly, the CCSSI defends its ability to prepare kids for college and career in one sentence of their website, and in another sentence, refuses to suggest that they can help fix education.  Passing the buck is a specialty with these people.
Myth 6: The Common Core focuses not just on what kids learn, but how they learn.
Reality:  This doesn’t make any sense, because there is not a shred of evidence to support it.  The CCSS are just what they say they are: academic standards. Nowhere in the documents can you find any suggestion of a focus on how kids learn. This was a major point of frustration for hundreds of school districts who found themselves needing to get ready for Common Core.
The claim that CCSS focuses on how kids learn comes from one idea: the learning and topic strands in the standards build on top of each other as the years pass.  This is not a focus, this is simply copying what teachers have known for centuries, if not millenia.
Several people (teachers, administrators, legislators, parents, and even students) have told me that it doesn’t make sense to attack the Common Core–they’re just standards. I disagree. They are not just standards. They are an untested, overrated, and dangerous attempt to standardize our workforce training programs (formerly known as public schools) and track students into pre-qualified positions in the American economic class structure.
This fits nicely with the ongoing onslaught that StudentsFirstTFABill GatesThe Broad Foundation, the Walton family, and Democrats for Education Reform have sustained.  As Kentucky schools showed recently, the mix of new standardized tests and the Common Core leads to dismal school failure.  How many more schools, districts, and states will see the same problems?  How long will it take for teachers and schools to be the ultimate scapegoat of those failures?  How long will it take for bad policy to remove good teachers and replace them with mass-produced teachers with 6 weeks of training in test administration and little else?
How long will it take to derail public education in this country and replace it with a model that serves the wealthy power elite who really have no interest in making sure your child can think critically, creatively, or independently?  As the article linked in the previous sentence suggests, “The driving force for business’ interest in education is the productivity of the American workforce.”
There is no investment being made in your child that helps her grow as a citizen in a modern democratic society.  The only investments being made now are dedicated to making her a useful worker.
So, is this a “ploy to destroy education and teachers,” as stated in the comment?  If we’re talking about our current, free, democratic, and well-rounded system, then yes.  It is most clearly a plan to change our system into a private, profit-driven model.
Are the country’s educational architects “maliciously” trying to hurt our children?  No.  I don’t think they are targeting children with the hopes of destroying their lives.  However, I do believe they are looking at the most efficient ways to fill their workforces in the near future. In other words, they aren’t trying to hurt your kids; they simply don’t care about any of them as human beings. To the business elite, the testing corporations, the government, and the privatizers, your child is a number.  That number is based on test scores and will help guide him into the field that will help the corporate world maximize profits the most.
The Common Core State Standards were designed to keep us all on the same page, learning the same things, being taught the same, corporate-prescribed skills (which do not focus on liberal thinking and reasoning).  It’s so much easier to track and place an entire country’s workforce that way.

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