In the ongoing search for a Common Core PR bump, Education Post with the use of VIVA Idea Exchange has issued a report, trotted out for the convention of the Education Writers Association (a group that has steadfastly expunged bloggers and other ne'er-do-wells from its consideration, but I'm not bitter).
The report "Common Core State Standards: the Key To Student Success" has a weird retro vibe, like someone stashed it in a drawer in early 2013 and only just now dug it out. But Education Post is a group that has been bankrolled to promote and push the Core (which, among other things, creates the spectacle of a raft of Democratic operatives working hard to smooth Jeb Bush's path to the White House). Peter Cunningham, former mouthpiece for Arne Duncan's USED, reportedly got a cool $12 million to launch the rapid response PR machine, but I am going to go ahead and take a look at their nifty everything-old-is-new-again report for free.
Note: Education Post's name has been carefully omitted from the report itself, but still proudly sits atop the press release for it.
The use of VIVA represents an attempt to involve authentic teacher voices in this report. There are ten authentic teachers listed on the Writing Collective for this, plus one moderator. If you want a picture of how well that flies, scoot on over to Living in Dialogue and Anthony Cody's recent series about how that very thing turned out (spoiler alert: not all that great for authentic teacher voices). The report features four recommendations, all of which will strike you as vaguely familiar.
Recommendation 1: Clearly Acknowledge that the Common Core and Curricula are Two Different Things.
Yes, it's that golden oldie, "The standards aren't curriculum at all." Like many writers in the field, I've addressed this question many times. But the report wants teachers to get out there and convince people that the standards aren't curricula, while sharing all of their CCSS-aligned curricula. But in the meantime, the phrase "common core curriculum" turns up in marketing materials all over the place. Core supporters lost this one over a year ago.
The report shoots itself in the foot by offering an analogy-- all lasagna has the same basic ingredients, but no two chefs make it exactly the same. So.... what? The Core is not restrictive and one size fits all? In Core land, you can eat anything you like and select anything from the vast and exciting array of foods known to humans-- as long as it's lasagna. You can make lasagna with a little more ricotta cheese, or a bit more basil, and you can make it in a rectangular pan or square pan, so you totally have all sorts of freedom. If I had looked for an analogy to show that, when it comes to Common Core, standards vs. curriculum is a distinction without a difference, I could not have done any better myself.
What exactly do they recommend? Get out there and sell the Core, because according to that bogus Edutopia poll, folks love it. Also, make a culture in which teachers are involved "in every part of educational policy-making implementation," which will be hard since the very existence of CCSS means that ship has sailed (and no teachers were allowed). Basically, we really need to get teachers on the team here.
Recommendation 2: Restructure the Way Schools Engage Parents, Families, and Community Members with the Common Core in the Academic, Emotional, and Social Education of Their Children.
In other words, do some community outreach PR for the core. Proposed solutions include "Share Evidence that the Common Core State Standards Provide Opportunities for All Students Regardless of Background or Economic Privilege." Which is tricky since no such evidence exists. And in fact the breakdown for specific actions under this item includes-- well, sharing the PARCC timeline and keeping a blog.
Or how about some five-minute videos of happy children talking about their Common Core success stories. We could show them at "family universities" designed to alleviate frustration. There's a lot of recognition of the need to work with diverse cultural backgrounds and to help overcome the issues of poverty. At times you can almost see where the authentic teacher voices have been grafted right onto the authentic client message that VIVA was hired to articulate.
Recommendation 3: Change the Concept of “School” from Just a Building Where Our Children Sit All Day, to a Place of Community Identity and Opportunity.
"The Core is starting to make children and their families hate school. Try to fix that." They don't get into many concrete recommendations here, but off the top of my head I'm thinking that putting back all the things schools had before CCSS and testing drained resources and forced schools to focus on test prep-- that might be a good start.
But basically we're looking for ways to help parents with their kids' homework, because the Common Core is making parents feel frustrated and dumb. So let's pass on some of the CCSS training that we haven't finished giving to teachers yet. That should do it.
By gifting families with new tools for success, teachers increase school-home communication. In return, teachers get partners who can monitor homework and ensure that students are physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared for active learning throughout the day.
Oh, Core-o-philes! You just never tire of re-inventing the wheel. Communicating with parents! What an idea! But I'm taking a point deduction for the use of "gift" as a verb,
Recommendation 4: Create Opportunities for Sustained CCSS-Based Professional Development that Allows Teachers to Collaborate Regularly and Provide the Resources Necessary to Achieve Success.
Ah, another old fave-- the Core rollout was rocky because we didn't train teachers enough. That was barely credible two years ago. Now that teachers have had a chance to really get to know the Core, pretending that we're victims of our ignorance just doesn't fly. The results are in, and they are that the better teachers know the Core, the less they like it. More PD from Core cheerleaders isn't going to fix that. Also, when you hand a surgeon a rusty can opener, his problems with operating is not because you didn't give the accessories necessary for success-- it's because the main tool you handed him is a lousy tool.
But hey-- let's identify master teachers and have them teach the rest. Let's have PD sessions to surf the resource sites on line. Let's work with the union! Let's do lots of PD so the teachers can teach each other and get on the same page. If we pass the rusty can opener around many times, maybe we'll figure how to better use it!
Recommendation 5: Ensure CCSS-Based Assessments are as Useful as Possible to Students, Educators, the Community, and Policy Leaders.
You will perhaps be surprised to learn the two purposes of assessment: Instructional change, and accountability. Also, here's the goal of Common Core:
The goal of the Common Core is to make children think critically while teaching them how to absorb, process, and use those skills on an everyday basis. The assessments we develop and administer to students should align with that goal.
So add that to your list of explanations for what this is all supposed to be accomplishing.
The report recommends fewer and fairer assessments, so less time spent taking, less test prep, and less pressure and emphasis on them. The detail portion also says we should be clear about the test purpose, but hey-- that's simplified above, so no sweat. Also, only one CCSS test per year, and let's use portfolio assessment too.
Then some editor just let the authentic teacher voices run wild-- let teachers have input on what's on the test, and let us know what texts will be on the test ahead of time, and deliver the results within thirty days, plus creating rubrics. Also, let's scrap grades and move toward competency based education. Also, every child should ride to school on a unicorn. Okay, I made that one up, but what a crazy page. Were the ATV's just carried away with irrational exuberance, or did the VIVA folks miss a page in the edit. Anyway, fun list of things that are never going to happen.
Recommendation 6: Reconsider the CCSS-Based Assessment Schedule
States that haven't rolled out CCSS tests yet should do it in stages, and all I'm thinking is who hasn't rolled out their CCSS tests yet? Anyway, if you've already done it, we've got nothing for you.
So what have we here?
We appear to have a blunt PR object that took some ATV input, wrapped it up in a nice sauce of the client's making, with the hopes that some enterprising education writers (real writers, not those damn bloggers) will write it up and creatively disrupt the already fully-congealed narrative that Common Core is just Dead Program Walking. Cunningham is being paid good money to make sure that people hear that Common Core builds strong bodies twelve ways and is totally grrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeaaattt and will cure your bad breath and hair, and since most politicians will no longer even say the Core's name out loud, it needs all the press it an get. In which case I guess they can thank me later-- and I did it for free.