Monday, April 28, 2014

The Gates Wants Higher Ed To Take a Stand

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Dan Greenstein and Vicki Phillips are making yet another pitch for the Core on behalf of the Gates Foundation (Greenstein is director of postsecondary success and Pillips is director of education).  I would love to tell you that they have shiny new talking points to offer, but no-- it's the same old fluffernuttery. Here's the breakdown.

They begin with a mystery-- why, they have wondered, don't more young people who start college actually earn degrees. They had reams of data (really? like what, pray tell) but they wanted to hear from college leaders, and let me say that it's refreshing to hear reformsters say that sometimes you just have to ignore the data and actually talk to people.

So they asked college leaders what the barriers to success were, and shockingly, college leaders responded with a resounding, "Hey, it's not our fault. It's those damn high schools." G & P note that the complaint was most prevalent at community colleges, which I take as a big fat hint. I've discussed the college unreadiness phenomenon before, but here's my short theory-- college freshmen are increasingly unready for college because colleges are increasingly accepting students who are clearly not ready for college. This might be related to the increasing college full court marketing press aimed at convincing every student on the planet that OMGZ they must has college or they will fail and be poor.

And about the P word-- the research tells us repeatedly that what is linked to school achievement? What's that, boys and girls? Yes, poverty. And which students are most likely to enroll in community colleges? That's right-- poor ones. So two graphs in, I'm ready to solve this mystery for them. But no-- they are headed in another direction.

So, is this view an attack on high school educators? Not at all. We see this as a reason for K-12 and higher education leaders to work together on behalf of students. It’s exactly why higher education leaders must engage with the Common Core State Standards — the biggest and boldest effort in a generation to ensure every student is prepared to succeed in college and the workforce.

For too long, they opine, we have taught to standards that don't match knowledge and skills needed for post-secondary success. The CCSS were designed to address this by providing rrrrrigorous goals for all students. No matter where they live or what they want to do after school, this one size will fit all. HOW do we know the CCSS match the knowledge and skills needed for post-secondary success? Because we just do, shut up.

The new standards move far beyond memorizing facts and figures. They challenge our students to develop a deeper understanding of subject matter, to think critically, and to apply what they are learning to the real world.

And thank God for that, because in my classroom we have never done anything but memorize stuff and poke rocks with sticks. Yes, a critical part of the CCSS sales pitch remains the implication that all schools and teachers have been mired in stone-age teaching techniques and general stupidity. Tell me again the part about how this is not an attack on high school educators.

Specifically, the full and faithful implementation of the Common Core could all but eliminate the need for colleges to provide academic remediation to students enrolling in college immediately after graduating from high school.

I am out of words. This sentence is like a black hole of dumb that just sucks the air out of my brain.

CCSS is not curriculum, nor does it prescribe content, I hear. But any student going to any college who earned any grades from any courses at any high school will be fully prepared to be a freshman at any college. Even in the fantasyland that reformsters occupy, how does that work. How. Does. That. Work.

G & P follow up with the news that Kentucky adopted the Core and their percentage of grads ready for college and career increased from 38% to 47% in a single year, a statement is only true if you believe that a single bubble test will tell you whether someone is college and career ready or not. I don't. You don't. Bill "We'll have to wait a decade to see if this works" Gates doesn't. And I don't believe that G & P believe it either.

This imaginary college readiness will reduce the college time and save students lots of money, and I am sure that the colleges who are trying to con my former students into taking extra remedial course they don't need will welcome the chance to make less income with wide open arms.

G & P say another swell benefit of the Core will be purposeful connection between high schools and colleges and I say, bring it on, since colleges currently ignore us when we do everything attach a blinking red sign on transcripts that screams "This student is not ready for college!" Of course, we often talk about our students preparing themselves for college, and clearly they bear no responsibility at all.

But now to the action item portion of this piece.

Many colleges are working to align their freshman course to fit the new high school course standards and-- wait! what? Let me see if I follow this.

We rewrote high school standards to better match expectations of college freshman courses. Now we are rewriting freshman course expectations to match the new high school standards. So in fact the Core Standards are actually written on a Moebius strip? The back of the Worm Ouroborus? Or somebody just made them up from air and is now using circular reasoning to make it look like they have some objective basis. One of those three. Got it.

Anyway, G & P want to sound the alarm, because some groups are "working to purposefully undermine them with misinformation that isn't about quality."  Critics continue to claim that CCSS are improper federal overreach, that educators weren't involved in creating them, and that they dictate curriculum. And here we arrive at the plea of this article:

The higher education community is in a unique position to reinforce what matters most, affirming the quality of the Common Core State Standards and attesting that the standards are aligned to better prepare students for credit-bearing courses.

In other words, "We told everybody that you really want this stuff, so it would really help us out if you would play along with that and talk and act as if you really DO want this stuff."

The Common Core State Standards should be a watershed moment in our nation’s efforts to improve the lives of young people. The new standards will be critical in determining how well our students succeed in K-12, and whether they are ready to succeed in college, the workforce, and beyond.
You know what would really sell that? Proof. Any proof or support at all. One study that shows how standards improve college readiness. One study that shows how the CCSS are directly related to requirements to college success. One study that shows how one-size-fits-all standards improve student achievement across large, nation-sized student populations.
G & P wrap up with the old "let's not lose momentum" cheer, with a special emphasis on how they really need higher ed people to engage in the battle for the corporate co-opting of American public ed. It took two high-priced Gates directors who-knows-how-long to write this. It took one teacher a lunch shift to respond. I probably should have just eaten lunch instead.

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