Wednesday, January 8, 2014

StudentsFirst Flashback

A year ago, like many teachers, I was quietly plugging away in my classroom, only slightly aware of the rumblings of CCSS off in the distance. I've found it instructive lately to go back and look at some of what was being said, and how it has panned out since.

One gem I ran across was this piece from the StudentsFirst blog in which Eric Lerum explains why CCSS is super swell and everyone should want to give it a big educational kiss on the lips and addresses the first pushback. How could we have responded if we knew then what we know now? The original text is in italics. My comments will be in red.

Recent efforts to roll back Common Core (our latest Policy Brief on Common Core can be read here) adoption and implementation are troubling. Legislative proposals in Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, and South Carolina threaten the progress already made in these states to ensure schoolchildren are ready to compete with their peers in other states and around the world.
As it turned out, that was just the beginning. At last count, Mercedes Schneider found pushback in 23 states.
We've come to expect resistance to change and reform from a variety of special interests over the past few years. That’s because education reform puts students' interests ahead of adults' priorities, often for the first time, and that threatens the adults. What is different -- and concerning -- about the recent pushback against Common Core, however, is that it appears to be motivated not by a desire to protect the status quo, but rather by a desire to deliver on a political agenda at the cost of students.
 The two threads offered here are familiar. First, it's for the children. Even the strongest proponents forget to sing that song, instead offering that we need to stop coddling the children or cutting them off from the excessive confidence of their white suburban mothers. Second, the pushback is just politics. The repeated notion that opponents are confined to Tea Party Tinhat Wing republicans or motivated by Obama Derangement Syndrome still has legs, though more and more media are recognizing that opposition comes from all across the political spectrum.

Let's be clear: retreating from the implementation of Common Core standards puts equity among schoolchildren across the country at risk. Current state standards highlight disparities among expectations for students; what might constitute proficiency in one state is considered failing in another. It makes no sense to continue under a structure that lets U.S. students reach college and compete for jobs in a global workforce unprepared and unable to compete, even when they have done all of their homework and passed all of their graduation requirements.
The StudentsFirst hallmark-- prove your point by asserting really hard. "Let's be clear" means "I am not going to explain how we know this." No links, no data, not even anecdotal evidence. Just assertion. You would think by now, we would be awash in tales of people who finished school but found themselves unemployable on the global scale, or US employers searching fruitlessly for American hires. A year later-- nothing.
Moreover, when students in different states are held to different standards, comparative growth is difficult to analyze, which makes improvement in our schools hard to achieve. Common Core makes it possible to measure the progress of students from state to state against the same metrics, enabling policymakers to make better decisions regarding everything from adoption of instructional methods to resource allocations to professional development.
Turns out we already knew this was baloney last year because the Brown Center Report on American Education had already laid out that scoring disparities were worse within states than between states. The rest of this paragraph because it once again tips the reformers' hand. We need national standards so that we can make national comparisons. Why? Asa classroom teacher I have never thought, "Gee, if only I could give my students a test that would allow me to compare them with students in Utah, because then I could make better lesson plans for next week." No, we need the national standards so that we can make national comparisons to inform national decisions about national materials, methods, curriculum, and materials. The real need for national standards and national tests is to better data-drive a national school district.

A 2010 study by the Fordham Institute found the Common Core Standards stronger than 33 states' standards in both English Language Arts and math. Even states like Massachusetts and California, with some of the more rigorous state standards in the nation, chose to adopt the Common Core because the benefits outweighed any risks of switching over (also, notably, up to 15 percent of the state’s standards can be shaped to a state’s own interests and needs; and Massachusetts, as a lead member of an assessment consortium, helps develop the assessments administered to their students).
Most of the arguments propelling the current wave of concern regarding Common Core are unfounded and blatantly misconstrue the facts. First, there is no question that Common Core would improve academic standards for students. All of the states listed above that are considering withdrawal from Common Core or the testing consortia had standards equal to or less rigorous than the Common Core, except for Indiana's ELA standards. In some cases, particularly Idaho and Missouri, their standards were among the worst in the nation.
 Mercedes Schneider has done the definitive take-downs of Fordham and their study. I have nothing to add-- this is all bunk.

Furthermore, Common Core is neither federally imposed nor a national curriculum, where 45 states plus the District of Columbia voluntarily adopted Common Core as a means of raising the quality and rigor of their state academic standards. Common Core establishes high learning expectations for students that are consistent regardless of district or state. This initiative does not prescribe pedagogy and there are no federal bureaucrats telling teachers how to teach the material or prescribing any particular curriculum framework. Instead, Common Core outlines internationally benchmarked skills that students should know and allows districts and schools adopt their own curricula and instructional materials aligned to the standards.
Nobody believes this any more, either. Even supporters have started referring to CCSS as a federal program. Note the careful wording-- "there are no federal bureaucrats telling teachers..." No, there are just state bureaucrats and corporate curriculum writers doing so, as highly incentivized to do so by the feds. And a year later, we still have seen no sign of the international benchmarks that are supposedly a foundation of CCSS.

By focusing on unfounded fears of federal interference, state policymakers are overlooking the huge benefit of Common Core to educators. Teachers have overwhelmingly signed on to the rigorous standards movement. We're already seeing a huge influx of new ideas and innovations for learning materials and professional development tools. Most of these leverage new technology and online platforms that make tools, tips, and lesson plans more accessible to teachers looking to improve their craft and reach students in ways they never have been able to before. Best of all – many of these are teacher-driven. One such site, Achieve the Core, represents a joint effort by the two national teacher unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to supply teachers with Common Core implementation tools.
Yes, those federal interference fears are totally unfounded. Well, unless you count Duncan's attempt to influence local decisions in both California and New York. And NEA and AFT continue to experience anger and agitation from their members. (Check out the comments section of this NEA puff piece on CCSS). And a year later, is not exactly awash in thousands of lesson ideas.

 Among educators I've talked to about this, there is a tangible excitement about the potential impact these could have in the classroom and on the teaching profession as a whole. Many teachers began implementing Common Core in their lessons as soon as sample standards were released to the public. Legislators and parent groups should support this groundswell of teacher enthusiasm towards bringing rigorous standards and creative lessons to students.
 Yeah, keep saying it and it may be true.

There should be no doubt that with Common Core, states have embarked on the right path. It is true that implementation has been difficult, but states are making progress. The hard work of adopting new standards and assessments is something every state has done in the past, and these transitions are complex. Yet the move to Common Core is notable for something different, even extraordinary. For perhaps the first time, states – and the school leaders, educators, and communities responsible for our children – are able to do this work together. Let's make sure that states' efforts to do the best for our students are not thwarted by those who seek to use unfounded fears to make political points.
There should be no doubt? Why? For fans of data-driven instruction, these folks sure don't want to provide much actual support for what they have to say. Is it extraordinary that states are able to work together, or is that just further proof that this is a federally-driven, corporate-manufactured program?

In some ways this piece can make us all nostalgic for February, 2013, when many of us were still clueless about just how bad CCSSec was, and CCSS supporters were still sure they were being opposed only by a splinter of easily-marginalized political activists. The good news for us is that we have learned a lot since this piece first ran. The bad news for them is that they have not. I have saved one little detail for last.

I did not locate this article through some deep or wandering search. StudentsFirst posted it on their twitter feed just this week. Apparently they think it's still on point. Good for their opponents to know. 

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