Tuesday, October 28, 2014

CAP: Core Is for Ladies [Updated]

The Common Core is great for the ladies.

At least that's what we can learn from a new CAP (Center for American Progress) article that combines two now-classic Core-boosting rhetorical techniques-- wacky leaps of logic, and taking credit for what was already happening.

The piece opens with a paragraph with a shout out to Title IX, then sadly shakes its head and notes that there are still gender-based inequities in education and employment persist, particularly for girls of color and from low-income background. Plus, girls often lack access to high-quality, rigorous STEMmy courses, which would prepare them for college and high-paying careers. Not that the author offers any evidence, or even an assertion, that they lack access to a higher degree than boys.

Next up: charts and data. The data is exclusively high stakes tests based, so here's what we know. More eight grade boys get proficient-ranked test scores on science tests than eight grade girls. The boys barely edge out girls on the math test results on the eight grade test. And as always, black and brown girls score lower on the test than their white counterparts. So that's a picture of how eight graders score on those two tests. What we can actually deduce from that about the entire educational system is a whole other debate. I just want to be clear on what we're actually talking about. 

Fewer females than males take the AP computer science test. Few females take STEM related AP tests. Also, female students and students of color take more college remedial courses (the article lumps women and minorities together a lot). And we get a section (well, two paragraphs) of data with a chart about the pay gap between men and women. This, the article tells us, exists even when controlling for college major, hours worked, and occupation.

So wait-- how is the Common Core fixing all this? Let's go back to the introduction:

The Common Core State Standards represent an important step toward closing achievement gaps and opening the door to higher-paying STEM fields for millions of girls. By establishing uniform and more-rigorous academic standards, the Common Core helps ensure that all students—both girls and boys, regardless of their income levels and backgrounds—are taught to the same high expectations. 

This is followed by the data establishing, sort of, that the gender gap exists. Then we arrive at this conclusion.

More engaging and challenging standards build a strong academic foundation for all students. Girls—and in particular, girls of color—have a lot to gain from more-rigorous learning standards that better prepare them for college and career success. By raising the expectations for student learning, the Common Core State Standards allow girls the opportunity to seize STEM learning opportunities while in grade school; to pursue a diverse set of college majors; and to obtain jobs that command higher salaries. The Common Core State Standards can expand on the progress girls have made since Title IX and can have a long-lasting impact on women in society.

Many of you will recognize a composition technique known as "recycling your introduction in new words as your conclusion."

That's it. That's the whole argument. CCSS will raise everybody's standards, so women (and, I guess, students of color) will just automatically be raised up to the level of white guys. Of course, that effect would theoretically work with literally any educational standards at all-- so why didn't the states (particularly those with super high standards rated by Fordham Institution as better than CCSS) already wipe out their own gender gaps? And how can rigorous education wipe out the pay gap when the pay gap, as CAP just said, is controlled for occupation? Will lady engineers suddenly be paid more because they have a Common Core seal of approval stamped upon them?

This has to be one of the laziest arguments I have ever seen for pretty much anything. I guess it's good that they didn't print a special CCSS edition in pink for girls, but the implication that girls have been doing poorly because, well, it's just that nobody asked them to do better-- it's somehow insulting to everybody. If CAP is going to try to score social justice points, they're going to have to do much better than this.

[Update 10/30] The evening that this post went up, several of us were contacted by CAP chieftain Neera Tanden who asked if anyone wanted to take issue with the data.

The answer was, of course, that the data about gender gaps were fine, but there was no data at all to indicate that CCSS could close the gap. Tanden cited gains in the College and Career Readiness Ratings for girls in Kentucky, one of the first states to adopt the Core. I asked how those gains for girls compared to gains for boys, and she referred me to this site, where Kentucky parks all their reports on student achievement.

This actually raised more questions than it answered, because the high school data clearly shows that girls outpace boys by large margins in most tested areas (boys win on the social studies test) and that the gender gap on the College and Career Ready ratings also runs in favor of the girls. I asked about this, but have yet to hear a response (it's twitter-- I don't read much into the silence). My conclusion, however, is that the CAP article profiled above makes even less sense than it did before.]


  1. How on earth can CAP claim that Common Core will prepare girls for STEM? Common Core math doesn't prepare anyone for STEM. At a bare minimum, a STEM major needs to start college prepared for calculus. Common Core doesn't provide precalculus let alone a path to AP calculus. Any high school student who hasn't taken a strong math program is unlikely to be admitted to a college STEM program. Since Common Core does not provide a path to STEM, it will be up to individual school districts to decide if a college preparatory pathway to STEM will be offered.

    Check out "Lowering the Bar: How Common Core Math Fails to Prepare High School Students for STEM" by R. James Milgram and Sandra Stotsky http://www.uaedreform.org/wp-content/uploads/2000/01/Lowering_the_Bar.pdf

    Also read the discussion about math acceleration by John Fensterwald at http://edsource.org/2014/new-twist-to-old-debate-on-accelerated-math/66174#.VE_Ybd5NFO5.

  2. Sharon Noguchi at The San Jose Mercury News has an article about how some California school districts are preparing students for STEM in the era of Common Core.

    Quoting from the article:
    "The various approaches -- permitted under the Common Core standards adopted by California, 42 other states and the District of Columbia -- could cement a two-tier system, with accelerated math being the norm in wealthy areas and the exception elsewhere."

  3. In 2012-13 San Louis Coastal had 304(!) students in Algebra 1 by grade 8, out of 520 enrollment (83 in grade 7, 221 in grade 8). 76% (231) scored proficient or advanced, and 96% (283) scored basic or above.

    The powers that be decided that it would have to be tougher to qualify for Algebra 1 in 8th grade because CCSS doesn't allow for grade skipping and after all, there is all this "deeper understanding" inherent with math as taught via CC. So they introduced a new test developed by the Silicon Valley Math Initiative which despite its impressive name is a rather fuzzy-math oriented organization. Now students had to get a good score on two tests: the UC/CSU test that had always been given, and now the new one, which like most "authentic assessments" has students apply prior knowledge in "new situations".

    And now in 2013-14 only 46 kids were admitted to 8th grade algebra 1 and deemed brilliant enough for the "traditional approach". The others are relegated to Math 8 as its called with its "rote understanding" For more info on that, see http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2014/10/20/common-sense-approach-common-core-math-part-iv-making-connections-one-c

  4. I have some questions, the first of which you hinted at. If the the rising tide of standards lifts all boats, how will the girls "catch up?" If the standards are raising the boys as well as the girls, will they raise the girls at a faster rate? I don't get it. Second, let's assume that the CCSS will open a door to STEM for girls and/or minorities (because what's the difference, I guess), does that mean they will walk through it? Does anybody care to ask the individual students what they want to do? I have had the sense with some of my own students, who were white and male, that they were entering a profession, some STEM related some not, because they thought they could make a living at it, and not because they actually had a deep interest or love of the field. And they have avoided other fields they love only because they were unsure of the "earning potential." At the back of all of this I see the big tech companies attempting to heard everybody into STEM, and Bill Gates, funder of CCSS, getting some free advertising for his field. Or am I just seeing things?