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OP-ED | Criticism of Common Core Is A Misunderstanding That Will ‘Dissipate’ After Adoption?

by Barth Keck | Mar 20, 2014 9:36pm
(10) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Opinion

To listen to the leaders of the leaders of Connecticut public schools, the controversy surrounding the Common Core State Standards is merely a misunderstanding that will be clarified once the standards are adopted.

Bob Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said “there’s a lot of misinformation about the teacher evaluation system and how it’s going to work together with the Common Core,” according to a CTNewsJunkie report.

“What we’re trying to do is give a little cooling off period so we can implement Common Core,” Rader said during the legislature’s hearing on March 12. “Then I think you’ll see this all dissipate.”

Regarding a survey that found 97 percent of Connecticut teachers “believed there should be some sort of moratorium on the implementation of the standards,” Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said that he didn’t know where “the approximately 1,500 teachers surveyed by the Connecticut Education Association came from because that’s not what he’s hearing from the leaders of school districts.”

Note to Mr. Cirasuolo: I know where at least one of them came from.

What we have here is a classic case of “decoupling.” That is, proponents of the Common Core have separated themselves from the pushback simply because it’s an impediment to their agenda.

“Moratorium says to me: You stop,” said Cirasuolo. “All of that just stops. Our members are saying, ‘We can’t do that. What do we do if we stop? Do we go back and get the stuff we used to use four years ago?’ You’re not going to improve a process if you stop it.”

Cirasuolo’s attitude is mirrored at the national level.

“The standards are portrayed as so consensual, so universally endorsed, so thoroughly researched and vetted, so self-evidently necessary to economic progress, so broadly represented of beliefs in the educational community,” writes respected author and literacy expert Thomas Newkirk in a must-read essay, “that they cease to be even debatable.”

Problem is, adds Newkirk, these bold attitudes “hide their controversial edges.”

Newkirk outlines multiple reasons why — despite the self-assurance of Common Core supporters — the current resistance should not be so readily dismissed.

For one, many standards are “developmentally inappropriate.”

“[T]he CCSS has taken what I see as exceptional work, that of perhaps the top 5 percent of students, and made it the new norm,” writes Newkirk. “What had once been an expectation for fourth graders [has] become the standard for second graders, as in this example:

Write informative/explanatory texts in which they [i.e., second graders] introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points and provide a concluding statement.

“Normally this would be the expectation of an upper-elementary report; now it is the requirement for seven-year-olds.”

Newkirk also has concerns about the connection between standardized testing and the Common Core, a situation that ultimately limits what is taught: “These tests will give operational reality to the standards — in effect they will become the standards; there will be little incentive to teach to skills that are not tested.”

Perhaps most significantly, the full-speed-ahead attitude of the CCSS proponents “drowns out” all other educational discussions.

Explains Newkirk: “The principle of opportunity costs prompts us to ask: ‘What conversations won’t we be having?’ Since the CCSS virtually ignore poetry, will we cease to speak about it? What about character education, service learning? What about fiction writing in the upper high school grades? What about the arts that are not amenable to standardized testing? What about collaborative learning, an obvious twenty-first-century skill? We lose opportunities when we cease to discuss these issues and allow the CCSS to completely set the agenda, when the only map is the one it creates.”

The history of our country is filled with examples of cognitive dissonance created by people who question the so-called “conventional wisdom.” Newkirk cites Martin Luther King, Jr., who stated in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that it is never “untimely” in a democracy to scrutinize policies.

The leaders of the leaders of our public schools would do well to remember this lesson. King’s “Letter,” after all, is included in Common Core Standard 10 as a “Text Illustrating the Complexity, Quality, & Range of Student Reading 6-12.”

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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(10) Comments

posted by: JamesBronsdon | March 21, 2014  9:24am

Robert Thorson, Professor at UConn’s College of Liberal Arts, in a column in Tuesday’s Hartford Courant, referred to parents opposing Common Core as an “angry mob.” How dare we question the wisdom of the elites? Disgracefully dismissive.

posted by: Avg-Joe | March 21, 2014  12:10pm

I am a teacher and I have seen and worked with the standards.  They are high, and they will be difficult for many.  This is due to the fact, however, that they are supposed to produce high school seniors who are ready to complete college courses.  How many of the students that we send to college today find the courses difficult or do not have the ability to think and express themselves in the manner that professors (and later employers) expect of them?  So yes, it is the wisdom of the elites which guide this.  Should we really see this as a problem, though, if all the elites are doing is telling the nation which are the skills our kids need to succeed?  The problem, from my view, is not the standards but the vast number of students who may never reach those standards due to deficiencies elsewhere.  As a teacher I would not go to the Capitol to ask for a moratorium on the Common Core, but to ask the state to make sure that all kids have what they need to reach these standards—adequate food, shelter, and early education.

posted by: JamesBronsdon | March 21, 2014  12:22pm

Here’s a sampling, similar to the nonsense my 1st and 4th graders come home with.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/373840/eleven-dumbest-common-core-problems-alec-torres

posted by: Linda12 | March 21, 2014  4:15pm

Hey Joe,
If the national standards are so great why isn’t Gates requiring them at Lakeside, a pirate school he once attended and presently attended by his children. Why aren’t the Obama girls taking the SBAC or PARCC aligned to the CCS if they are so rigorous? Gates has been quoted saying we won’t know if this STUFF, yeah stuff, works for ten years.  Experimenting on other people’s children is a hobby for Bill. Who elected him the decider for all of us?  Just because you think they are elite, doesn’t mean Gates is an expert at teaching, learning and child development. He can stick to getting a monopoly on a mediocre product and experiment on his own kids. Leave my kids alone. This will implode eventually and be the shame of our nation.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | March 21, 2014  4:36pm

Joe, your faith in “elites” is really quite disturbing.  What if we don’t agree with these “elites” that these are the skills our kids need to succeed. When I went through public school, my teachers taught me to ask questions and think critically - not to accept that just because people are rich their opinion matters more than mine does. Your views seem more antiquated British than American.

posted by: ASTANVET | March 27, 2014  7:59am

There is too much of a monied interest in this.  It cannot be trusted.  what do we get for 12K per student per year in CT?  In my daughters class there are 24 students per class room.  That is 288K per class.  The money in education is absolutely killing it.  Common Core is the latest scheme - there has been a steady decline in our education RESULTS since the fed dept of education, yet we keep turning to them to fix it… we need to change course.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | March 27, 2014  9:39am

Are you sure your student’s school gets $12K per student? I believe that’s the statewide average. It can vary widely from district to district, which is, of course, the whole point of the CCJEF lawsuit. Not to mention the added disparities of PTA funding. At my kids’ elementary school, in backcountry Greenwich, the PTA was doing fundraising to put air-conditioning in the building. I disagreed with this on a fundamental basis: air-conditioning is a capital expense that should be funded by the town, not by the PTA. But Greenwich parents didn’t want to sweat while watching the darlings perform in the school assembly, so they raised some gobsmacking amount of money to put in A/C. If the students in Bridgeport or Hartford or New London had a PTA that could raise that kind of money, I bet teachers wouldn’t have to buy their own supplies and they wouldn’t be rationing copy paper and toilet paper. Let’s be honest about the inequities, otherwise we’ll never be able to really solve the problems.

posted by: ASTANVET | March 27, 2014  4:04pm

Sara - I actually think it’s great that the PTA did the AC for the school.  Local people addressing a local problem.  Schools who service a community must solve their problems locally.  Aside from that, I think my point was that we (tax payers) are not getting what we are paying for, and further the mixing of corporatism into education is what brought us here.  I would think that we (towns) could run our schools better, more efficiently, and address all the particular challenges within the town.  Some rural towns have more cost in transportation, some have more issues with structures…but locally we can control what we want to spend our tax dollars on - Common Core is NOT one of those things!

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | March 27, 2014  4:27pm

So you’re basically saying you’re fine with massive inequality in educational opportunity?

I guess that’s a fundamental difference between us.

However, on the Common Core I agree. Even if the standards had been well drawn with input from teachers and child development specialists, the testing-industrial complex that is associated with them makes the package unhealthy for kids and unaffordable for taxpayers.

posted by: ASTANVET | March 27, 2014  6:08pm

massive inequality… hmmm… I think the disparity has come from the state and municipalities creating massive under performing schools.  Those bad educational choices are now (thanks to bad judges) the responsibility to everyone who doesn’t live in the town.  Educational cost sharing sucks.  Making Hartford Schools the problem of the simsbury tax payer doesn’t sound very fair.  That aside, I would like to focus on the points we agree on… Common Core is a train wreck!  on this we agree…that is to be celebrated.