Sunday, November 23, 2014

Core Ready Schools, Aspen and Achieve

So you want to know how your district is doing on the implementation of the Common Core? Well, the folks at Achieve and the Aspen Institute have a tool for you. It's Core Ready Schools, 
a handy tool for evaluating your school's progress in implementation that only misses one huge, gigantic, Uranus-sized indicator. But let me work up to it.

There is a whole 90-minute rollout presentation on video right here and I know I usually watch these things for you, but I couldn't quite get through all of it. But let me tell you about what I did get through, and if you actually want to watch the whole thing, drop me a note in the comments and let me know how it was. Because who knows-- it might not have been quite as mind-numbing as I began to fear it was.

The video opens with a nice lady from Aspen who covers a bunch of specs and screenshots about the-- well, she keeps calling it an app, but it appears to be a website. Also big thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, and their Program Officier, which I infer is a person from the foundation who comes and works with you on your program so that you don't have to do that nasty application process, and for some reason I'm thinking of the Roman system of local governors, but maybe we should leave this for another day. What's this thing actually for? Well, it's not an accountability tool (I know because she said so). Let's bring up Mike Cohen from Achieve to talk.

Mike from Achieve talks about Achieve's Core cred and says "I feel like the Home Depot of the Common Core" Nobody laughed and he took that to mean that nobody got that joke at all."It's a tough crowd this morning"

Anyway, Achieve was concerned about a lack of data and tools to monitor implementation. They needed a way to get data on how implementation was going on state level. First tries they gave up as too hard. But then somehow we all realized that Aspen had already kind of done the work, with their handy transition guide for school leaders and so the Core Ready Schools app-site-tool covers similar ground.

Core Ready Schools ia aimed at things you would want to monitor, and that chiefs at CCSSO would commit to using. Something lightweight, but with depth. Balance of common across states but flexible enough for individual states. Here are the seven factors Mike says (the site calls them "levers") the tool is designed to consider.

1) Is leadership focusing on CCSS as part of school improvement
2) Is instruction being aligned with it
3) Is ongoing professional development supporting CCSS
4) Do you have an aligned assessment system?
5) Do you have aligned instruction resources and curriculum in school
6) Do you have mechanisms for engaging families and communities (because you're going to have to get them to buy into this, so by "engage" we seem to mean "talk to" and not "listen to.")
7) And are there sufficient resources and staffing (technology)

The tool is supposed to allow for different states' emphasis and ways to collect data. Mike tells a story about how one school chief was just going to ask superintendents how things were going and not dig any deeper. "Don't you think there will be inflation" "Yes, but then they'll have a harder time explaining results on assessments." So, give a principal enough rope? With this not-an-accountability tool?

Mike also says, "They desperately need it to know what's going on-- there's no debate about that." I would be happy to debate him. Also, though this started as Common Core thing, but they've been flexing it to handle states other CACR standards. Because we'd hate to get left behind when the Core is dumped.

Do you know what we haven't talked about?

I said there was a glaring omission. So far it appears that when we're assessing the success of our Common Core implication, we are not going to ask if the students in the schools seem to be getting a better education. That seems to be primarily because we assume that if Common Core is well-implemented, it will automatically lead to better test scores (what? is there some other way to measure how well children are being educated?) But no-- at no point in this entire process do we actually look at the affect of Core implementation on student learning.

Who is this for again?

This tool fits the whole reformster style because it assumes that superintendents simply can't know what is going on in their own districts, presumably because of some combination of stupidity and lying subordinates. Also, of course, information is far more informationny when it's in number form.

The big selling point here is that this tool will be useful inside of districts, helping leaders tell how well the implementation is going on inside the district. This skips over the question of whether we should implement CCSS in the first place, plus it skips over another question-- when school leaders are implementing a program because it has been mandated and they had no say in it, how much time to they spend worrying about implementing it well? Or, on the deeper philosophical level, how much commitment to doing a bad thing well is a good amount of commitment to doing a bad thing well. Or, if you prefer classic filmic references, exactly whom should we be rooting for in Bridge on the River Kwai?

Never mind that for a moment, because I'd like to offer for your consideration the user agreement from the Core Ready Schools website:

By clicking the button below, you agree to have your anonymized survey results recorded by Anabliss Design + Brand Strategy and shared with the Aspen Institute. The Aspen Institute reserves the right to utilize the data in research, analysis, and reporting on the implementation of the CCSS and other education-related trends; however, the Aspen Institute agrees that any data disclosed will be anonymized data that is not tied to specific users and is not released in any manner that could identify an individual, school, or school district.

So, NOT just collecting data for your district. You're also collecting data for Aspen and their friends. You are volunteering for a walk-on roll for the next production of "How the Implementation of Common Core Is Going in Our Schools." Yes, it's one more great chance to do free grunt work for our Data Overlords.

More fun with websites

One cool things about Core Ready Schools? Anybody can log in and create an account. You could, for instance, sign in and start the account for your school or district; I did that, and I'm sure my superintendent will be calling to thank me if she ever hears about it. I suppose you could log in and start an account for any school-- even fake ones-- although if a lot of people did that, it might make Aspen's aggregated numbers less accurate, and that would be a shame, I imagine.

You're allowed to take the survey ten times over five years. I found the questions simple and the interface easy to navigate. There are just a handful of self-assessment questions for each "lever," and most of them are unexceptional. The program occasionally reveals its blind spots. One of the questions about instruction asks about how well teachers understand and use the Core, and it does not allow for the possibility that teachers are familiar with the Core but don't use it because they don't want to. Everything in the survey assumes that we all want to welcome the Core into our home and make it happy here and that its success will naturally flow into educational awesomeness and joy for all. There is no "You're not my real mom" option.

The whole effect is very Borgian, and it reveals an extremely specific view of exactly how a school should be assimilated into the Core universe. This is no surprise. Since the Core is a one-size-fits-all prescription for students, why would it not come with a one-size-fits-all school districts to implement it? Yes, Aspen is promising customizable versions of this tool (for a price), but this is customizable in the same manner as a fast food burger-- you can change the balance of the elements a bit, but you'll be choosing how to tweak the ingredients that the restaurant has chosen for you. So, not very customizable at all (kind of like that "personalized" education we keep hearing about).

So if your school district decides to sign on to this handy tool, God bless you and have fun. Thank you for making a contribution to the giant holding cells of our Data Overlords.And remember-- student learning is irrelevant to the process.

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