Saturday, August 2, 2014

CCSS Myths That Won't Die, Already

You may think that certain Common Core bunk has been debunked so many times that it would finally crawl back to the PR cave that it crawled out of and, if not die, at least spend the weeks eating twinkies and watching AMNTM marathons. But no.

Here comes Cynthia Dagnal-Myron over at HuffPost with an article that looks as if it were written in the summer of 2013. But no-- August 1, 2014. It's a sobering reminder that these undead talking points are remarkably resistant to the light of day. Let's tick off the bogus bunkery still bouncing around.

You haven't read them, have you

We leap right in with the title-- "Do You Really Know What the Common Core Is?" -- and that old standard insinuation that if you're critical of the Common Core, it must be because you don't really understand them, you poor dear. Even Mike Petrilli at the Fordham Institute (motto: We Use Common Core Butter on Our Common Core Bread) no longer claims that CCSS is not criticized by some folks who have looked at it pretty damn carefully.

American schools are failing

You would think by now that we have sufficiently explained how US student scores actually stack up internationally. Breakdowns of PISA scores tell us far more about poverty in the US than schools internationally. Nor do we ever remember to ask the important question "Did the US ever lead the world in these scores?" (spoiler alert: no).  And if schools are currently failing, you'd think that would tell us something about the over-a-decade that reformsters have had their own way with public education. They've had a generation of students to fiddle with-- weren't they supposed to be announcing "Mission Accomplished" by now?

But no. Dagnal-Myron starts with this simple premise.

Our school system is broken. Badly.

Faux history

And so in 2009, the leaders of 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia enlisted the aid of hundreds of teachers and educational experts who eventually created the Common Core to help us fix it.

Well, it is true that some things did happen in 2009. After that, this sentence goes south. I recommend Dagnal-Myron catch up on a more fact-based history of the Common Core. Try this short account by educational historian Diane Ravitch. Or Lyndsey Layton's interview with Bill Gates about his role in spreading Common Core. If you want more background in painstaking fully-researched detail about the pre-2009 history of  the Core, try this piece by Mercedes Schneider.And this piece by Anthony Cody is as good a place as any to work on that "hundreds of teachers" baloney; it includes lots of helpful links to NGA's own list of the sixty-ish people who wrote the Core.

Weird self-contradiction

I have read literally (literally!) hundreds of these paeans to Common Core, and they inevitably include some moment of self-devouring illogic. In this case, Dagnal-Myron wanders down a byway about testing. Some districts test too much, because there's money involved, and that leads to lousy test scores. But not, I guess the test scores that Dagnal-Myron used as proof that schools are terribly broken and failing.

Numbered lists of CCSS swellness

You'd think we didn't need to bother, but no-- here comes a list.

Reading non-fiction is swell

It's up to districts to pick reading lists, and students already read non-fiction, and districts don't have to use that list in the appendix marked "Here's how to do it right." Districts are totally free to risk their funding by ignoring the CCSS "suggestions."

Also, Tea Party be crazy

Noting that required reading only includes a few swell things like the Declaration, Dagnal-Myron notes that these swell documents are the very ones many of the people who seem angriest about the CC love to pull out of a suit pocket and wave, very proudly, at the camera. Come on-- even some of the big CCSS boosters have finally figured out that the Tea Party is only a tiny little slice of the folks lined up against the Core.

More critical thinking and reading and writing

She considers this the "money" standard. I consider this a chance to ask the same old question-- what do you think teachers were doing previously? Were English teachers sitting in classes saying, "No, don't actually read that book. Just put it under your pillow. And for God's sake-- when you write an essay about it, use irrational arguments and don't support them with anything of substance."

Is that what you think we were doing?

And if your answer is no, then why do we need a multi-gazzillion-dollar school-system-disrupting massive federal-ish program to give us permission (or orders) to do what we were already doing?

Magical Common Core powers

Dagnal-Myron supports the previous point by observing that teenagers make poor decisions, and parents may not always enjoy it when their children approach them with solid, well-built arguments.

But you'll thank those teachers later, when she kills that first interview and lands a job with a salary that gets her out of your house and into that first apartment. Or helps her start paying off some of those loans so she can move out a little sooner. 

Yes, Common Core will completely override the developmental stage of being a teenager. Science may think that wacky teenage behavior is the result of their stage of neurological development, but no, it's just that they haven't been taught critical thinking and proper textual support by CCSS-empowered teachers. You'd think that the actual physical make-up of the human brain might have an affect on what that brain can do, but no-- Common Core will re-write the human brain! Because, magic!

Things that aren't in Common Core presented as reasons to love Common Core

To be fair, I'm pretty sure that all administrators, consultants and education professors take a workshop entitled "How to make the newest education reform program say what you wish it would say." This is not a new thing.

For Dagnal-Myron, it's technology. Somehow, CCSS means that "technology is blended into the curriculum" (this also scores the usual "forgetting to stick to the standards-are-not-a-curriculum story"). She really doesn't offer any explanation of how Common Core is linked to technology, nor how it will make underfunded districts able to afford computer gee-gaws, but she's pretty sure that once computers enter the classroom, students will be really excited. Which is a charming point of view, if you are still in 1995.


Again, as someone who specializes in sophomoric mockery, I enjoy a good tsk now and then myself. But no CCSS apologia is complete without it.

So what's not to like? I have no idea. They address the needs of today's students in ways today's students might actually find more engaging. But boy, there are some angry people out there hell bent on making sure the Common Core goes away tout de suite.

I'm really sorry to hear that. I was hoping American kids were finally going to get the big boost they needed to catch up to the kids in other countries. 

But I guess some our kids will be eating their dust a little while longer...

So there you have it. You may think that we've covered all of this ground so thoroughly that there could not still be people out in the world who haven't gotten any of these memos. But no-- there are still writers, thinkers, and leaders flapping about today as if it's August 2013. Let it be a reminder to the rest of us to stay vigilant and repetitively redundant in getting the message out. And for those of you who don't, tsk tsk tsk.


  1. Good analysis. Yeah, HuffPost's education section pretty much sucks. They've had an article by Joanne Lipman in the teachers section forever that's called "Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results" that actually IS from 2013. The thing is, she wrote the article to shill for a book she wrote about a teacher she had that actually has nothing to do with teaching methods; it's more human interest. But since everybody's talking about school reform she thought writing this article would help push her book. I have never seen an essay with more conflation or hinting at causality where there isn't even correlation. If I were a college freshman comp teacher I would give it an F. It's one of the most outrageously shoddy pieces of journalism I've ever read. I can't believe this person was managing editor of the Wall Street Journal. HuffPost really needs an editor who knows something about education - and writing. (I vote for you, Peter.) And I still think the only way we can defeat the reformsters is if we all become absolute experts on cognitive learning theory so we can refute them with science.

  2. I was lead here from the Huff Post by a commenter, so before you get on your high horse, I'm not what has become the meanest insult of a troll. American schools are failing, we are no longer the leader in science and mathematics Our scores have comparatively fallen in this short time, while other scores, predominantly in Asian countries, have risen. I read the piece on Bill Gates, it didn't say much of anything except he backed it, failed to mention what he backed. I don't know if Bill Gates is bad and any association is thus bad, but there is nothing about what Common Core is in that article--at all. I fail to see your logic in the lousy test score department, the scores are lousy because students are disinterested, those extra tests increase their disinterest. I believe, as you talk about non-fiction, schools should teach kids the classics, it is one of the principles of common core that each student has the same access. While teachers should be given some discretion of which classics (and what is becoming on that list) they should stick to those. You have to admit that you probably have a constitution in your pocket and that you do not like President Obama. Teachers weren't given the ability to teach how they felt best under No Child Left Behind, a seriously misconceived education bill. My favorite comment, because the right wing type always know how to use science to their advantage (but ignore it when they do not like its results), is the "magical powers." Young adults at the age you mention can benefit from critical thinking and logic, we don't give them enough credit (although I do agree with the science of not giving them too much credit). The inevitable conclusion one must draw from your arguments is that schools are fine, teachers are fine, students are fine--leave the school system alone. I encourage you to look at the tests they are giving to school children through this new program Especially look at the open ended sections of the language section, they demonstrate what students are learning (or are failing to learn). If you are worried about the mathematical section, I recollect the same types of problems (with the exception of introducing more advanced concepts in chunks earlier to prepare for later learning) at the same stages, again if you doubt me check the actual test. I'm not sure if it is a major reform or if everything is just so on edge right now that any change seems major, but I disagree that the school system is just fine (I was in just a decade ago) and it was not fine. Additionally, I believe any change is good that is positive, whether or not the school system is broken there is always room for improvement. You say we should think for ourselves and do research, get it from the horse's mouth--look at what common core (testing) is and see for yourself what you think.