Saturday, August 22, 2015


It was just last week that I warned that I was running out of headline variations on "CAP tries to promote a stupid Common Core idea that nobody has seriously tried to sell for years." But the Center for American Progress just keeps driving that baloney truck around the block again and again.

And last Thursday, there they were again. This time it was Lisette Partelow (director of teacher policy) in the pages of US New in their feature called Knowledge Bank.

Common Core doomsayers often claim that rich, engaging, curiosity-inspiring lessons are a thing of the past. But, as a former teacher, I'm tired of Common Core critics claiming that the standards somehow inhibit teacher creativity. It's simply not true.

First of all, as you have already guessed, Partelow's "former teacher" status is based on her two years of Teach for America experience (2012-2014). She actually did the TFA thing well after graduating college. She got her BA in Psychology from Connecticut College in 2003, and went straight to work for American Institutes for Research, the test manufacturers who sometimes go toe-to-toe with Pearson. She spent six or seven years working as a Congressional staffer and research assistant, then TFAed her way into a DC first grade temp position before landing a policy gig with CAP. In short, she's not really a former teacher.

But back to her defense of the Core.

Although the Core is swell, its detractors are "winning the public relations battle that they themselves manufactured," because as we know, all objections to Common Core are simply PR ploys and not an expression of real objections by real humans who know what they're talking about. She'll pair that old chestnut up with "people like high standards and great schools, so ipso factoid they MUST love the Common Core, just not by name."

Contrary to popular perception, Common Core was designed to be less prescriptive than many states' previous standards. 

So, popular perception is just deluded. When, for instance, the Core says that the way to write a narrative is this:

Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation and its significance, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.

That's not prescriptive? David Coleman's insistence that literature must be understood only by using what appears within the four corners of the text-- that's not prescriptive? And the Core's inherent emptiness, which Partelow presents as a strength (the Core doesn't tell you what texts to include)-- that insistence on structuring around a set of prescribed skills, which in turn implies that texts and literature have no value, but exist simply as a bucket in which to carry the important part, the required skills-- that's not prescriptive in any way?

Like the rules or regulations that provide direction to other professions, rigorous standards provide a loose guide for teachers to follow, while still allowing teachers ample room for creativity in how they develop and execute their daily lessons. 

You can read your script wearing a tie or wearing a skirt. You can cover the Core-aligned lessons with your hair parted in the right or on the left. The classroom teacher is free to make any number of choices-- just not any of the major ones.

Partelow trots out some other old standards of the genre, including a teacher (one who won the Fishman Prize from TNTP, TFA's sister organization) who says that "she believes Common Core allows for creativity in the classroom while ensuring that students are supported by better, more rigorous standards that encourage deeper levels of understanding." Which is a pretty thing to say, although I have yet to hear an explanation of how, exactly, standards encourage deep thinking-- especially Core standards which have nothing to say about deep thinking, but focus on compliance.

But Partelow goes on to follow pattern of all those essays we read a year or two ago and offers some concrete examples of great teaching ideas and lessons that any teacher worthy of the name already knew to do before the Core was even a distant twinkle in Bill Gates' eye.

Partelow does not even recognize that CCSS has lead to straightjacketed lockstep creativity-free teaching throughout the country, not even in order to blame it one somebody else. Meanwhile, CCSS and its testing program drive schools to get "aligned" materials and follow them blindly. Of course, most reformsters didn't start that game until mid-2014. CAP is stuck in 2013.

Meanwhile, I am wondering what's going on at CAP. This is the fourth article this month in which they recycle stale Common Core talking points from late 2013. Are they in fact recycling, trying to create more environmentally responsible thinky tank effluvium? Are they executing an elaborate piece of performance art and presenting themselves as living nostalgia for the recent past? Did they hire a completely new staff that is now redoing the old crew's work? Did CAP have a stroke?

Whatever the case, they need to stop. How can we take anyone seriously who pretends that a couple of year's worth of discussion and debate and debunking never happened. At the very least, CAP needs to move on to points that we don't already know simply aren't true.


  1. Dear Mr. Greene:

    Ah! The grawlix! (

    A perfect headline for any article about Education Reformers. We can always count on you, Mr. Greene. *^Y(FLJVKICukvkkcjty!! indeed!

    I have a deep seated conviction that when people see an article from a teacher which says “I didn't know how to (insert something teachers have been doing for 50 years or more) until I began using the Common Core (or whatever they are calling it today) that those teachers are trying to get themselves noticed as a “team player,” and therefore suitable for a plum job that has opened or is about to open up at the administrative level. This would be a job that pays more than they are making now, but does not require any actual interaction with those damned insolent larvae: jobs like mentor teachers, curriculum consultants, etc. They would get an office where no student enters without an appointment.

    I found a letter like that like that in my local paper about a year ago, from a 5th grade teacher, so we might not have seen the last of this, especially now that everyone is re-naming the Common Core.

    So, I hope you will all humor me. I have taught 5th grade. Here was part of my response (loosely based on several of your articles, Mr. Greene:)

    I wrote: You state: “Math instruction is no longer focused on rote memorization and the recall of facts.”

    What? In Math, students must know certain things: the multiplication table, or the formulas for perimeter and area. In your class, you taught and still teach, Math facts, or there is cause for concern.

    You wrote: “We use problems that may arise in everyday life.”

    Teachers have done this for a long time: How many fliers do we need? What is needed for our class party? How many buses for our field trip? You have had students solving relevant problems like these and probably even more complex ones, for the 11 years you've been teaching, right?

    You state: “Students are also exposed to challenging literature, informational text and poetry. All readings have a purpose ...”

    Before Common Core: no challenging literature, informational text, or poetry? You didn't realize that all readings have a purpose? Once again, if you say no, there's cause for concern.

    Well, those were my concerns and my counter-arguments. I don't know if that put a crimp in his career plan to oil his path and slide into an administration job after 11 years of hard labor toiling in the fields of teaching. I hope I at least ruined his day.

    Thanks for a blog that really helps us sort through the $#i+ being flung out there.

    Wishing you a great year!