Monday, March 24, 2014

Why CCSS Can't Be Decoupled

Don't think of them as standards. Think of them as tags.

Think of them as the pedagogical equivalent of people's names on facebook, the tags you attach to each and every photo that you upload.

We know from our friends at Knewton what the Grand Design is-- a system in which student progress is mapped down to the atomic level. Atomic level (a term that Knewton lervs deeply) means test by test, assignment by assignment, sentence by sentence, item by item. We want to enter every single thing a student does into the Big Data Bank.

But that will only work if we're all using the same set of tags.

We've been saying that CCSS are limited because the standards were written around what can be tested. That's not exactly correct. The standards have been written around what can be tracked.

The standards aren't just about defining what should be taught. They're about cataloging what students have done.

Remember when Facebook introduced emoticons. This was not a public service. Facebook wanted to up its data gathering capabilities by tracking the emotional states of users. But if users just defined their own emotions, the data would be too noisy, too hard to crunch. But if the user had to pick from the facebook standard set of user emotions-- then facebook would have manageable data.

Ditto for CCSS. If we all just taught to our own local standards, the data noise would be too great. The Data Overlords need us all to be standardized, to be using the same set of tags. That is also why no deviation can be allowed. Okay, we'll let you have 15% over and above the standards. The system can probably tolerate that much noise. But under no circumstances can you change the standards-- because that would be changing the national student data tagging system, and THAT we can't tolerate.

This is why the "aligning" process inevitably involves all that marking of standards onto everything we do. It's not instructional. It's not even about accountability.

It's about having us sit and tag every instructional thing we do so that student results can be entered and tracked in the Big Data Bank.

And that is why CCSS can never, ever be decoupled from anything. Why would facebook keep a face tagging system and then forbid users to upload photos?

The Test does not exist to prove that we're following the standards. The standards exist to let us tag the results from the Test. And ultimately, not just the Test, but everything that's done in a classroom. Standards-ready material is material that has already been bagged and tagged for Data Overlord use.

Oddly enough, this understanding of the CCSS system also reveals more reasons why the system sucks.

Facebook's photo tagging system is active and robust. Anybody can add tags, and so the system grows because it is useful. On the other hand, their emoticon system, which requires users to feel only the standardized facebook emotions, is rigid and dying on the vine because it's not useful and it can't adapt.

The CCSS are lousy standards precisely because they are too specific in some areas, too vague in others, and completely missing other aspects of teaching entirely. We all know how the aligning works-- you take what you already do and find a standard that it more or less fits with and tag it.

Because the pedagogical fantasy delineated by the CCSS does not match the teacher reality in a classroom, the tags are applied in inexact and not-really-true ways. In effect, we've been given color tags that only cover one side of the color wheel, but we've been told to tag everything, so we end up tagging purple green. When a tagging system doesn't represent the full range of reality, and it isn't flexible enough to adapt, you end up with crappy tagging. And that's the CCSS.

It's true that in a massive tagging system like this, a Big Test could be rendered unnecessary-- just use all the data that's pouring in from everywhere else. Two reasons that won't happen:

1) While our Data Overlord's eyes were on the data prize, their need for tagged and connected data opened the door for profiteering, and once that stream is flowing, no Pearsonesque group will stand for interfering with it.

2) High stakes tests are necessary to force cooperation. To get people to fork over this much data, they must be motivated. We've seen that evolution in PA, as the folks in charge have realized that nothing less than the highest stakes will get students to stop writing the pledge to the flag on their tests and teachers to stop laughing when they do.

Decoupling? Not going to happen. You can't have a data system without tagging, and you can't have a tagging system with nothing to tag. Education and teaching are just collateral damage in all this, and not really the main thing at all.

PS: Note Diane Ravitch's morning post which displays how badly the standards fail at being standards by all standard standards standards. Why did they do such a bad job of writing standards? Because they weren't trying to write standards-- they were writing data tags!


  1. Wow. So enlightening...excellent analogy. I think this is going to make sense to a lot of folks. BTW...your blog has quickly become a daily read of mine. Keep up the great work!

  2. It must be understood that Common Core is not a test, is not a reform- it is a business plan.

    It’s all about rampant profiteering. Charter schools and voucher
    programs are merely the repository for the capitalists- they are the
    marketing scam as the vultures seek to make inroads on a massive and heretofore untapped pile of cash. As a 1.3 trillion dollar pool of money that is publicly funded the privateers wring their greedy paws at the thought of turning that public money into their playpen.

    None of this is about education- this is a business plan that has the political backing of both bought and sold parties.

    NCLB, Race to the Top, Common Core and all the rest of the alphabet soup testing titles, reform schemes etc. are merely the front for a business plan. The corporate greed heads want all that cash to take a direct u-turn from public institutions and head into their private coffers. Charters and vouchers are the repository of our public funds for these venture capitalists.

    The current situation surrounding Common Core and Race to the Top must be seen in the context of the privatization of everything.
    Resources are dwindling (being stolen) for municipalities in all areas and those funds are being shifted to private interests. The politicians at all levels- Team Donkey and the Elephants- are merely overseeing and rubber stamping the policies that sanction this theft.

    Public education, like all else, is being replaced with a market-based, non-unionized privately managed system. Common Core is
    merely the latest marketing concept (the hammer to crack open the nut of taking public monies and placing them into private hands) used to manage public opinion and sell the idea that schools need radical restructuring that can only be done by corporate ideology- and investment. It has the convenient (and purposeful) benefit for those who have initiated it of ignoring the unsightly fact that the very same interests and methodologies that are being proposed to “fix” our “broken” schools are the same ones that have been and are destroying our schools (and all else) at breakneck speed. And all of this is by design.

    High Stakes Testing, NCLB, Race to the Top, Common Core etc. have never been about educational processes they are political processes driven by business interests.

  3. The emergence of the Internet presented a problem to the educational materials monopolists. Free open source textbooks, many quite good, started appearing. Open source had the potential of doing to the ed book publishers what cell phones did to telephone booths and personal computers did to typewriters.

    But tagging to standards and locking schools into data systems for programs so tagged presented a way to prevent that from happening. The Common Core State Standards were paid for by ed materials monopolists who wanted to create economies of scale for computer-adaptive ed tech products that would, by virtue of being so tagged and linked to proprietary data systems sold to school systems, have a "value-add" that Open Source learning materials do not have.

    1. Good observation, as always. There are days when I think there should be a whole blog just devoted to your responses in other peoples' blog comment sections.

    2. Great point about open source materials.. This is also why the CC insists on their strange, imprecise, not defined, idiosyncratic language, in for instance, primary school math. One example for my 2nd and 4th grade daughters was "find the number bond"--which could mean a number of things if you were trying to guess, another was "break apart". In either case, these are inventions, and bad ones at that. You only find this language in the engageNY modules, and I'll bet the same stuff will be on the test. If you do the math the "old" way which you can learn from library books or internet, they will mark it wrong. Similar story for ELA.

    3. Peter, great post. And you're correct about Robert's comments. At one point I had started collecting his comments, pasting them into a Word document, but there got to be so many that I gave up. After Diane's, this is my favorite ed blog, and Robert, is by far my favorite commenter. He has a nifty blog of his own, but his wisdom really seems to shine when it's in the midst of a conversation.

      Danilo, great point about the specific language used in these modules. My wife's principal told her the other day that she didn't need to bring in any outside resources, that the county has already provided everything she needs. She teaches kindergarten and uses outside sources to help the kids make sense of the county's resources, to act as a bridge so to speak. Out of one side of their mouths they tell you CCSS will allow you to open the doors to your creativity; out of the other they tell you to follow the script.

  4. Thank you Peter Greene and Robert Shepherd! You guys nailed it.

    If you have not already watched this video published by the US Dept of Education please do:

    This was filmed at the White House in 2012 during a “Datapalooza” and shows the vision of data collection and data mining in public education. The video is of Jose Ferreira, the CEO of Knewton. Knewton’s largest partners are………get ready for this……..Pearson and Microsoft.

    This video helps tie all of the pieces together of a very well thought out strategy that has been in the works for years. A very small number of elite individuals including Gates and Duncan have the vision of revolutionizing global education using a computer based system called Next Generation Learning or Individualized Learning. Some claim it will personalize education. Others claim it will use data mining of powerful, predictive and personal information to profile your child and put them on a predefined educational track. While the benefits seem intriguing at first glance, the risks are simply beyond comprehension if we don’t protect our children’s privacy. All of this is happening without transparency because the elites know parents and teachers would never go for it because it is clearly not what is best for our children. Oh, and by the way, Knewton, Pearson and Microsoft all stand to make a lot of money.

    Here is their playbook:

    1.) Loopholes were added to Federal Education and Privacy Rights Act (FERPA) in 2008/2011 to allow these companies access to student’s personally identifiable information (PII) without a parent’s knowledge or consent in order to “conduct research” or “improve instruction.”

    2.) The Common Core national standards provide the tagging structure for the “atomic concept level” data to be gathered in a uniform way.

    3.) The national assessments PARCC and Smarter Balance will be aligned to this education taxonomy so that the closer you follow it the higher your scores. Other tests such as the ACT are also being aligned.

    4.) The State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) and college entrance will be used to put pressure on teachers, schools, parents and teachers to get the highest possible test scores driving them to the Pearson/Microsoft on-line curriculum that will collect and mine keystroke level data on our children.

    5.) Once all of the data analytics and software are developed it will be nearly impossible to get all of the stakeholders to ever agree to revise or upgrade the copyrighted standards.

    This EdTech revolution is going to happen one way or another. The question becomes will it happen in a way that empowers individuals or centralizes control in the hands of a few? The answer all depends on how we treat the privacy of our children’s education data. Let’s be clear, FERPA as it stands today is a joke.

    This data collection, data mining and data sharing is what inBloom and TS Gold are being built to facilitate. If you are not already familiar with Teaching Strategies Gold (TS Gold) you need to be. This is the next inBloom but it is so much worse. Here is a great blog written by a teacher in Denver to get you started. We must stop the use of TS Gold in our preschool and kindergarten classrooms before it is too late.

    1. That video actually put me on the track to writing the above post, after I addressed it more directly in this post--

      You are correct about just how thoroughly scary the overall plan seems to be.

  5. great info, hope you don't mind if I steal a few points to present to my parent night re CCSS. My head is spinning with so much info and I fear I am going to sound like a lunatic instead of making this concise and to the point. Just need to get my head around the tagging thing, I get it but I have to put it in a nutshell to explain to very naïve parents should they even let me speak.

  6. As pointed out above this is a loooooong but great article.

    I want to point out one quote that illustrates how they are using the loopholes added to FERPA in 2008 and 2011. These loopholes allow schools to share a child's personally identifiable information (PII) without a parent's knowledge or consent. The elites (Gates, Duncan etc.) needed to add this as their first step because they knew parents and teachers would never agree to the data collection and data mining on our children. Of course, they believe they know what is best for our children so activated their plan to "transform" education beneath the radar of transparency from parents and teachers.

    The below is a direct quote from the article above.

    Universities have long contracted with technology companies. But only recently did they start adopting those companies as “school officials.”

    Microsoft is a “school official” at Dartmouth College and Cornell and Gonzaga Universities by virtue of the company’s contract to provide students with cloud-based communication and composition tools, according to its attorneys. Coursera is a “school official” at the University of Virginia, according to the contract it signed last year (and it seems safe to say that the company holds a similar legal status with most of the nearly three dozen other institutions for which it is producing MOOCs).

    And, indeed, Knewton and Pearson are “school officials” at Arizona State, according to contracts obtained via a public records request.

    The designation is a legal maneuver devised to let noneducation entities handle sensitive student data without running afoul of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, commonly known as FERPA. Though rarely used as a basis for actual lawsuits, FERPA has long been viewed as nonprofit higher education’s Maginot Line: the last barrier between universities and outside vendors.

    As companies such as Pearson and Knewton work their way closer to the core of the university mission, legal distinctions between the nonprofit institutions and for-profit vendors are melting away.

    “The Family Compliance Office has recognized that institutions can designate other entities, including vendors and consultants, as ‘other school officials,’ ” reads Knewton’s contract with Arizona State. “Designated representatives of Knewton will be designated as ‘other school officials’ for the purposes of this agreement.”

  7. Sorry, I also have one other point to make. I listened to the archived recordings of the Colorado State Board of Education comparing the Colorado Academic Standards in Math/ELA to the Common Core State Standards in Math/ELA. One of the things they stated multiple times was that standards are not curriculum. However, one of the teachers pointed out that the more granular the standards become the closer and closer they get to curriculum. So while I agree the CCSS as written are not curriculum, the atomic level tagging structure they are developing does get closer and closer to becoming curriculum. If all states are using the exact same tagging structure then this really is leading us closer to a national curriculum. Where you draw the line between standards and curriculum is up for debate, but the direction the elites want to take us is clear.

    Let me state that I am not opposed to technology. I am not even opposed to some of the technology that Knewton is developing, though it is still unproven and must be used appropriately. However, I am opposed to a small number of elites trying to transform our education system under the radar of transparency. I am also opposed to the way they are invading our children's privacy without a parent's knowledge or consent. This is truly disturbing..............

  8. Thank you for writing this so clearly. This should be widely understood by teachers, parents, legislators, school boards. Sharing!

  9. This is the very good idea! Just want to say thank you for information, Just continue to the write such a position.

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  10. This is why the "tags" need to be OPEN. Still standardized, but like social media tags, they are editable, can add/delete/change/rate them, customizable by local schools, etc.

    1. The Data Overlords will never stand for it, in the same way that Pearson et al will always do what they can to obstruct open source textbooks.

  11. The new regulations state that all equipment used in a hostile operating environment must be tested and tagged.
    The definition of a hostile environment is much the same as the current NSW legislation,
    and business in NSW will therefore not notice much of a change in this area of the new Regulations.

    Test and Tag

  12. We Watch Television

    We watch television
    To make it through one more day
    We put children in rooms with walls and send parents off to work.
    Don't cry.
    Wash your hands.
    Go to the table.
    Act right so you can grow up.
    Grow up to watch television to make it through one more day.

    I don't want to be among the living dead she tells me.
    She is three and can speak with her eyes.
    Her screams are met with shrugs-
    "She has attachment issues," they say....I hear something else.

    She is in a world where we stick the elderly in linoleum institutions- sterile and manicured. Where three year olds are called students and we are all- each and every one of us- a day late and a dollar short playing a madman's catch up to a life just out of reach. She is screaming for us to climb back into our own humanity. To fold it around us and bury ourselves back into the womb of creation where the ecosystem of god is waiting. She is screaming bloody murder in this classroom because she knows the living dead walk among us and someone must scream or we will all go mad and we will not have a clue as to why

    May you live in interesting times.

    We zap our dinners hot and hit the brakes in a sea of red lights---congested roads ----lines of ants marching nowhere....are we mad? Will they look back upon our time and say "This is when the madness began."

    The trauma in the room descends into my blood and I go to the bathroom, get down on my knees and pray as if the cement floors were an altar to the gods.
    I am a lightworker, I will invoke the light---"god rain your light on Classroom 2."

    Classroom 2 is where all hell has broken loose. Children scream and cry for there mommies while four year old boys whose brains are littered with the relentless debris of poverty smack teachers across the face and spit on my shoes.

    It is a cry for love I tell the teachers---they look back- half gone- their eyes flooded with stress.

    My young beautiful violent children, I want to hand you dirt and worms. I want to give you clay and bugs, shells and smells...I want to blow the roof off the building and invoke the blessings of all of heaven to rain and shower upon you. All you want is joy and all I want to give you is the freedom of running through the October woods. I want to give you leaves of orange and talk about their veins, I want to look you in the eyes and flood you with light by the very act of my gaze. I want to torch Teaching Strategies Gold and blare on every loudspeaker that teachers are human beings once again. "The race to the top has been cancelled" I would declare and the whole building would exhale in the memory of joy, dust, delight, sunlight and sorrow of which every childhood contains.

    But the reports are due, the other 18 classrooms call.
    I am sorry my children, but the day is over and it is time for me to watch tv.