Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Common Core 2.0?

Over at the Washington Post. Lindsey Layton is reporting on a survey by the Education Commission of the States about the Common Core. The ECS bills itself as a non-partisan research group, headed by a different governor each year, with a history stretching back to mid-sixties. They've produced a handy list that shows all the cool new names states have come up with for their states standards.

Layton posits that this is Common Core 2.0-- the same old wine in brand new skins. Nineteen states have found bold new ways to hide the fact that they are signed onto the Core Standards, because it turns out that-- gasp-- the Core have become political kryptonite (sorry about that, ex-future-President Jeb Bush).

An example of CCSS 2.0 in action

I can tell you a little about how this is playing out in Pennsylvania, because just this week, Governor Tom "Uphill Election Battle" Corbett issued a press release in which he sternly intones that he will continue on his nearly-completed mission to chase the Common Core out of the Keystone State.

“Though Common Core began as a state-led initiative to ensure our public schools met the educational standards needed in the 21st century economy, the process has been overly influenced by the federal government,” Gov. Corbett said.  “Common Core has become nothing more than a top-down takeover of the education system.  It is nothing more than Obamacare for education.”

Not entirely accurate history there, but when you're politically distancing yourself from something, you sometimes have to be both pro-active and retro-active. But fear not.

“Pennsylvania has a long tradition of local control of public schools,” Gov. Corbett continued. “Our children deserve every educational advantage, and I want to thank the educators and the State Board for their hard work in getting us to this point. I am now asking the State Board to continue the process we began at the start of my term and to ensure that any final influence of the national Common Core State Standards is eradicated from Pennsylvania.” 

Yes, this process of eradicating the Core has been going on for three years now, I hear. 

How has the separation been progressing?  

It's true-- in PA we have been rigorously pursuing the Pennsylvania Core Standards (which, up until a year or two ago, were called the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards), which are totally different from the CCSS. Let's check some examples.

Determine and analyze the relationship between two or more central ideas of a text, including the development and interaction of the central ideas; provide an objective summary of the test.

Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.

Different as night and later that same night. (The PA Core standard is first there). Let's try again.

Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing and engaging.

Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging.

If you want to play this game yourself, you can find the PA Core Standards here and the CCSS here.

What else have you got, Tom?

One of the fun things about declaring your state independent from the Common Core is that you can take credit for things you don't even have to do. "It's just standards, not a curriculum, and local control stays in place," is always fun as an apologia for the Core, but when you're pretending to dump the Core, you can declare that this represents a change.

It is important to note that Pennsylvania’s standards do not mandate curriculum, teaching methods, materials or instructional strategies to be used in the classroom.  These decisions are made by local school officials in consultation with parents and the community.

See how cool that is? Instead of pretending that these are features of the Core, we can pretend that we are installing them as a change from the Core. 


In PA we are also refusing to go with a national test. It's worth noting that several years ago we were badly burned by an attempt to handle our standardized testing online. That week-long fiasco ought to be burned into the memories of at least a few Harrisburg bureaucrats. 

So we take our own Keystone Exam, on paper. Now, where the Keystone comes from is a bit of a mystery. The official word is that it was produced by the PA Department of Education, and the data seems to come by way of Data Recognition Corporation.

Maybe we do create the tests in house. But I do know that I sat through a training in which the trainer used materials from the PARCC tests, and we were told, with a state ed department in the room, that the PARCC material would work fine for our training purposes. Not a surprise- if the PA Core standards are cloned from the CCSS, then the testing must follow the same pattern as PARCC or SBA.

Other things that aren't happening

Nobody from the state and nobody who watches the state on educational issues is telling local districts, "Just wait up until we can see what radical changes the governor is going to make to the standards."Nobody seems to think that we don't already know what we need to know to move forward. And nobody is saying, "Be careful not to look at any Common Core materials because they will be totally incompatible with the Pennsylvania standards."

Also, no threatening letters from Arne Duncan saying, "Youse guys are playing wit fire. Put down that eraser and rewrite pen, and just pick up the Core." No, nobody on the national scene seems to think that the Core's hard work is in jeopardy here in the Keystone State.

Does Common Core 2.0 work?

I cannot tell you how many of my conservative friends and acquaintances have been cyber-passing about copies of Corbett's message with their own cries of, "Hurray! At last the governor is going to do the right thing." He's taking heat from his own party for "undercutting sound policy" So far I've seen no analysis to suggest that he's getting a boost from this, but Corbett is an incumbent whose prospects are not great for re-election. Now he's become one more example of how running from the Core-- sort of-- is becoming a popular election strategy.

Pennsylvania is just one example of this sort of shenanigans in action. The moral of the story--as I've told my conservative friends-- is read the fine print. Putting new lipstick on a pig is no more transformative than the original coat of Revlon was. Do not become distracted by an argument about the relative merits of Midnight Blue and Rapscallion Red; just check to see if the beast oinks.
It probably will. Common Core 2.0 will still eventually find its way to a platter where, apple in its mouth, it will be far more at home by a relaxing beach party than in any of America's schools.


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