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.