Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What Lily Misses about the Common Core

My esteemed colleague at Edushyster scored an interview with NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia, and as always, it's pretty encouraging to see an NEA boss express herself in plain English that clearly opposes reformster ideas-- except for the Common Core. I'm going to reprint a full paragraph because I think it articulates more clearly than anything I've seen where LEG's mistake lies.

But listen, I have this exact conversation with my best friend all the time. She hate, hate, hates the Common Core and she always says: *You know exactly what’s going to happen, Lily. You know the Common Core is just going to be turned into one more high-stakes punishment. It will be all about cut scores, you get fired, this kid doesn’t graduate.* I can’t disagree with her on that. She’s basically describing what happened in New York. Before teachers were even trained to know what was in the Common Core at their grade level, before they had time to do anything in a thoughtful way, it was clearly so much more important to have the cut scores and the punishments in place. But here’s what I tell my friend. Let’s say you could develop the perfect standards. They’re so perfect that everyone is throwing up confetti because that’s how perfect they are. And you find the perfect curriculum and you have text books that are aligned to these perfect standards. And you only have to give one test a year instead of a thousand of them. In other words, it’s perfect! But some politician says, *you get punished, you get a prize.* It’s not the standards. It’s not the curriculum. It is the high-stakes punishment that is hooked to them. That’s why people are so upset about the standards, because of the high-stakes punishment that’s now attached to them and that has corrupted what it means to teach. We have to get rid of that. 

What happened in New York (and with various variations, around the country) is what the Common Core was designed to do. The Core was designed as a means of imposing standardization on US public schools, and as any manufacturing person can tell you, you cannot have that kind of standardization without measuring the output. 

The Standards and the Tests are inextricable, because conceptually, the Test came first. The cut scores and punishments were put in place first because they were always the point. What the Founding Fathers of Coresylvania said was, "We are going to put a mechanism in place for checking to see that every state is on point. Of course, we'll tell them what the instrument is checking for, but the checking-- that's the important part."

The Test is not there to measure the outcome of the Standards. The Standards are there to facilitate preparation for the test. They are not designed to answer the question "What would a great education look like." They are designed to answer the question, "What will be on the test? What must your students do to prove to the People In Charge that you are doing a good job?" For the people who created, promote, and profit from the Core, it is inconceivable that it could be separated from testing.

Let's look at that hypothetical perfect standard.

The perfection would be rooted in a completely different purpose and intent. The perfect standards would exist in order to help provide guidance and support to teachers, filtered through their own professional judgment. The Standards would exist as a means to assist teachers, not as an avenue through which they must prove they are meeting someone else's conception of their job.

The number of tests I would give per year with the perfect standards would be zero, because no standardized test will be capable of giving a true measure of how well my students met those standards. 

Proving you're doing a good job and actually doing a good job are two separate activities. The Common Core are designed around proving we're doing a good job, and for that reason (among others, but let me be brief-ish) they cannot be simply separated from testing. 

Put another way, the Common Core Standards and LEG's hypothetical perfect standards are two completely different kind of standards. 

The Core standards are manufacturing standards, a list of tolerances that widget construction must adhere to. Manufacturing standards mean nothing unless you use them to test your widgets, either passing them on or throwing them out, depending on how well they meet the standards. These are standards that People in Power use to judge, accept, and reject others.

Perfect human standards are internal guidance systems. As in, "I trust my daughter's choice in boyfriends because I know she has high standards" or "Our hospital personnel are committed to a high standard of care." These are standards that people use as their own personal compass.

Manufacturing standards may be used to make course corrections in the process, but the individual widgets are in a strictly binary win-or-lose situation. The human standards allow for course corrections constantly, with the goal of making use of multiple, continuous opportunities to do well.

Manufacturing standards are followed by people who are concerned about avoiding punishment. Perfect human standards are followed by people who are concerned about being the best they can be, being able to see a friendly face in the mirror and to sleep soundly at night. Manufacturing standards have no moral imperative other than "Save yourself." Human standards have some sort of moral code at their foundation.

Removing the threat of punishment from manufacturing standards does not turn them into human standards. Because they have no moral basis, without the threat of punishment they simply evaporate, or join the big shelf full of dusty binders. Manufacturing standards are the standards that you follow only when somebody is watching. Human standards are the ones you follow all the time, even when you're alone.

Imagining that you can remove the Tests from the Core and end up with useful standards is like imagining that you can chain-saw off the roof of your car and have a convertible. It's like imagining that you can create a housebroken pony by chopping the back end off of a horse. It's like imagining that your spouse would be a great spouse if that spouse were an entirely different person. 

Lily, it is the standards, because the standards have no existence independent of the Test. The standards are not the kind of standards you imagine as being perfect (or nearly so), and removing the testing will not turn them into those standards. Removing the testing will turn them into an irrelevant mass of documentation created by amateurs and ignored by real teachers, so for that reason, I still support removing the tests as a tactic-- but for that exact reason the Core supporters will fight decoupling tooth and nail.


  1. Would it help at all to have objectives instead of standards so people wouldn't think they had to be connected with standardization and punishment? We don't need standards, we could use objectives as guidance?

  2. Without high stakes testing and punishment there is no Common Core. To blithely state that they need to be separated is to demonstrate a pathetically naive understanding of the big picture. The moneyed parties who funded this clownshow did so for their own interests in the form of test companies, software contracts, test prep software and entire sets of test prep materials spanning all grade levels. To assume that the moneyed parties are going to step back and allow a bunch of $50K a year teacher uncouple their cars from the train is embarrassingly naive. I read one of Lily's frothing defenders answer the question of her accepting money from Gates with by saying Go get yourself elected President of NEA then YOU can refuse Gates' money. Ok, in other words STFU. Lily like Randi has a Bill Gates problem. Listen to her: “They funded the Common Core,” Eskelsen GarcĂ­a said. “And for some of our folks, it’s like, ‘But the Gates Foundation funded the Common Core, so we must be suspect. It’s corporate. It’s Bill Gates — the mega billionaire!’ But I don’t see it that way. I see the Gates Foundation as funding ideas.” As long as she talks and thinks like that she's another Weingarten, A wholly owned subsidiary of the Gates Foundation who likes to make flippant smartass comments she will never have to answer for as a teacher would he made them. Sorry Lily not buying one bit of your act.

    Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/07/lily-eskelsen-garcia-national-education-association-president-108596_Page2.html#ixzz3Er2Gu25z

  3. Yes, exactly. A standard defines the level of achievement students need to demonstrate. DEMONSTRATE. As in, take a test. Otherwise, it's a curriculum, that is, a description of the material that the *teacher* should cover at any given grade level. Since CCSS is always breathlessly assuring us that, no really, it's just *sooo* not a curriculum, we have to assume that it's a standard.

  4. Dear Mr. Green:
    While I appreciate how well you have laid out the reasons why Standardized Testing is connected to The Common Core, and that if you are against one it just follows to be against the other, I think you should understand that Ms. Garcia just does not see this the same way, and may not ever. So, what to do? Write another article explaining it again? Maybe, but maybe it is a good time to support Ms. Garcia on a common front. Both you and she are against Standardized Testing. So, if the NEA were to vote to encourage parents to opt out, publish forms to do so on its website, encourage local EAs to have the forms at booths at community events and announce all these things in the press, and every parent who hated the tests got those forms and acted, well, that would be the end of Standardized Testing. You and she could re-assess at that point.
    She probably needs a lot of support to do this, but Standardized Testing as a means to rate children, schools, and districts is THE education issue of this age. It's the line in the sand. In 2016, it should be a position that every politician up for election has to reveal. As a popular education writer, perhaps you should encourage her to be bold and speak for the people.


  5. With Washington state first taking the lead, Leila, NEA did vote to support opt out. http://www.washingtonea.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4135:2014-nbi-8-opting-students-out-of-standardized-tests&catid=95

  6. Dear Juliana Dauble:

    Thank you for your information. I read your link to the Washington EA and I am in admiration of it. I have searched for a similar resolution by the NEA and can't find it. I am not referring to any of several generalized hand-wringing statements from NEA about how terrible standardized testing is. I am looking for the same clear resolution as Washington EA has published. It should have the same exact points. Do you have the link to that? Please send me the link at my e-mail below.

    So, to get back to the substance of my comment, I am arguing that Mr. Green set aside his objections that Ms. Garcia must agree with him about Common Core. I think we would all be pleasantly surprised how much better everything would be if the testing were stopped. So... suppose they gave a test and nobody came?

    I am a retired Art Teacher but I still teach Art part time. I would love to have the extra burden of running the opt-out room. If someone were to opt out at our school, I would readily volunteer to run an opt-out room. We would do such a great Art project that the next year ALL the kids would ask their parents to be opted out...to do Art! This plan of action wouldn't be blatant insubordination like the Seattle teachers refusing to administer the test. It would be very, very, very subversive. But, it would depend on parents finding out that they can legally opt out their child. That's where the NEA comes in. If they have already made a resolution; it needs more publicity, so parents can find out about it. Mr. Green could help.

    I readily share my subversive thoughts! My Subversive Plan is that, after parents find out that they can opt out their child, and students are opted out, the teacher in charge has something ready to do that is fun, and educational, too! Word gets out that the alternative to the State Test is : A REAL EDUCATION PROJECT! Reports of the kinds of REAL EDUCATION PROJECTS your student will enjoy if you opt him/her out of the State Test then will circulate. Maybe these projects would be covered by a news reporter. See? It is very, very, very subversive!

    And, in the future, No-Test Week would be celebrated in April by schools vying for the Best Educational Project EVER prize. Or, Everything As It Should Be.

    Thanks for the link,
    any more thoughts/links send me them at: leilafile@hotmail.com 'cuz this is Peter's space :)!