Saturday, January 30, 2016

CCSS: Safe and Secure

The Collaborative for Student Success is yet another Common Core shilling group, supported by folks like the Gates Foundation, the New Ventures Fund, and the Fordham. It has to be lonely over there, standing up for the Common Core when nobody will even mention its name unless they're paid to do so.

Election Doesn't Matter

Last week executive director Karen Nussle issued a memo declaring Common Core a non-issue in the race for President, and she has a legitimate point. At this point Common Core lacks support among Presidential candidates as surely as roasting and eating baby pandas does. But Nussle sorts out the different types of non-support.

Many of the contenders have a complicated relationship with the standards marked by inconsistencies and shifting positions, while others have staked out governance positions on standards that are unconstitutional.

I think "complicated relationship" is a nice way to put it. There are, for instance, the flip-floppers. She calls out Rubio, who used to brag about his role in getting CCSS adopted in Florida. And Chris Christie and Fiorina and Huckabee (and Jindal and Walker) who are all for Common Core before they were against it. Nussle does not dig further, considering that this might be a result of selling the Core, not on their merits as educational standards, but on their merits as a good political posture. I suppose you can argue that the flip floppery is a sign that these candidates are unprincipled, but I think it's also a sign that Common Core was never a matter of principle to begin with. The Core were sold as politically expedient and politically sale-able. These deserters of the Core deserted the standards as soon as it became evident that they did not possess the only qualities that ever made CCSS in the first place.

Nussle's "unconstitutional" crack is for Cruz and Trump, both of whom have promised to undo the federal Common Core laws, and while I hold the feds responsible in large part for the Core's existence and prevalence, even I understand that talking about undoing the federal Common Core laws is like promising to repeal the federal laws requiring it to snow in Alaska. It's a cynical, cost-free to promise nothing, appropriate for two supremely cynical sonsabitches. To even sort of make good on the promise, Nussle points out, they have promised to use any Presidential power they can to undermine the Core, which would make for spectacular overreach and abuse of power. Oh yeah-- Ben Carson is in this group. Is he still here? Apparently.

Nussle also brings up the "principled leaders" while simultaneously giving them a pass for actually being flip floppers. Bush and Kasich "have consistently and unapologetically supported higher standards" she says, conveniently switching from "common core" to "highers standards" because otherwise both would just be flip-floppers who were a little slower on the flop than the rest. That would be appropriate for Kasich, who was still spouting the "but these were created by the governors" line long after even Common Core PR flaks had dropped that fiction (I watch him at the NH beauty pageant and my impression that Kasich is more clueless than diabolical). Bush, on the other hand, had staked out education as the issue-based limo that would drive him to DC, and ever since the wheels came off, he's been unsure about whether to wait next to the vehicle for a tow-truck or to just hitch a ride with something else.

Nussle does a nice call-back to the Washington Post prediction that Common Core would be the most important issue of the election before pointing out that it barely came up at all in GOP debates, and devotes twelve whole words to acknowledging that Democrats are also running for President and not talking about Common Core.

The Core Is Safe

Nussle wraps up by explaining why the Core standards are in no danger.

The enactment of ESSA forever ends what has long been the greatest point of vulnerability for Common Core: federal entanglement through Race to the Top and secretarial waivers in states’ decisions surrounding the adoption of standards and the selection of aligned assessments.

Yes, for people whose theory is that the Core was doing fine until Obama and Duncan and the feds messed everything up, ESSA is good news because it protects the states from the results of any federal elections, and Nussle is convinced that CCSS is firmly entrenched in forty-three states.

On the one hand, she has a point. Most states that "replaced" Common Core did it through the highly technical Lipstick on a Pig technique of changing the name and a few words here and there.

On the other hand, Common Core is dead, and public education is fighting a long clean-up battle against the shambling zombies that still grunt its name.

The portions of Common Core that are not on the Big Standardized Test are dead and gone, gone, gone. When was the last time you heard about a school sinking big bucks into the Common Core speaking and listening program? How many teachers are under intense pressure to implement instruction that meets those standards? Speaking and listening standards are absolutely part of the Core, but they're not on anybody's BS Test, so nobody cares. For all intents and purposes they don't exist.

What about schools and teachers who claim they are being led by the Common Core to new heights of educational awesomeness? I have read dozens of essays by these folks, and they all have one thing in common-- they are full of baloney. Here is the process followed by every single one of these schools and teachers:

1) Do whatever your professional judgment tells you is best for your students.

2) Credit it to the Common Core standards.

At this point, "Common Core" has about as much clear and specific meaning as "stuff." It means something completely different to every person that uses it, encounters it, or interprets it, and its decay into empty nothingness is accelerated by the lack of any sort of anchor-- there's no person, no group, no "authority" in place to say, "No, this is what it really means."

Common Core still exerts an unhealthy influence in a thousand corners of the country, depending on how deep the kool-aid runs in the veins of the People In Charge. But it's no longer possible to have a real conversation about it because nobody means the same thing by the words. So in a sense, Nussle is correct in believing that nobody can hurt the Core any more. However, nobody can hurt the Core anymore because it's already dead, shambling and shuffling around, desperate to eat brains but unable to form a single useful thought or join up with any of the other policy zombies.


  1. The last time I posted about the CCSS, you refused to believe there was anything positive that could not continue without it. It was upsetting that someone who is so passionate about education, and who seems so thoughtful on many of the issues, would sound like a close-minded administrator. I have worked as a teacher for over ten years now, and coming from a family of educators, know at least a few set of standards. From personal experience, I know for sure that the CCSS has a lot of good to it -- things that will be sadly lost.

    Do I care about specifically about the CCSS, word for word? Of course not. But I think it is important to recognize the quality before dismissing it completely. Quality educators, including Carol Burris admit they liked the standards at first. There must have been a reason. Can't we just acknowledge what that is before starting completely from scratch again?

    1. Could you please specify exactly what you like about CCSS. Please specify grade level and exact standards. Please also describe how these exact standards have benefited your students. Finally, give a brief comparison on how the CCSS differ from your state's previous standards.

    2. ParentNY: I'll try to explain quickly.

      Middle school: 6th through 8th
      ELA, Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
      New York City

      First, the previous standards: It was very simple to prove that you were meeting them. You were practically able to do anything. There were some things like doing a "how-to" in eighth grade. The other subjects were content-based so the focus becomes the textbook. Teachers could do other things, but then you are putting a real target on your back. It's five times the amount of work for the teacher, it's challenging for the students, parents get angry, and administrators do not support you. It becomes a numbers game. Why should we push the students if it is going to hurt a school's standing? So expectations and quality slowly drop. I have been working so hard, that when I put it this way it is comical that I am the one fighting to keep them. My job was so much easier before CCSS! Bring back multiple choice and True or False! Kids get good grades, the work is enough to get high marks on the state tests and SATs. Less stress -- so everyone is happy.

      CCSS: it is a systematic change in teaching. It is completely skill-based and flexible. The work does have to be challenging, but you move forward using the students' abilities as your guide (this does become difficult because you have to re-evaluate the curriculum as you go & of course it can changes from class to class). You can prove that you are following the standards without having to write an in-depth research paper. The skills you are teaching are the elements that go into research. But it doesn't mean you need to teach as if everyone is going to become a researcher. You are just trying to help them think for themselves -- when people use the buzz term "lifelong learning." In a media driven society like ours, it takes critical thinking, passion, and a lot of endurance to recognize and evaluate the right information. You have to use a variety of resources, and the textbook is used only when it is necessary. It's about forming questions and re-evaluating them as you gain information, purposeful annotations, creating search terms, proving authoritative resources, note-taking, teaching what it really means to paraphrase, constructing a paper, proper citations, developing topics, etc. This is not an easy thing to do, so it can only work if this becomes a school-wide model. It needs to be spread throughout all the subject areas because for students to really benefit, you really need to grade the work and provide clear comments and guidance. It's an impossible job for one teacher. The great thing is that it opens the door for greater collaboration between core and minor subjects like art and music. There is still a lot of creativity but it is based on information. You could still write a Star Wars story, but the new planet would have to have a futuristic culture based on the Seminole Native American tribe -- it can't just be R2D2 and BB-8 go to Disney World. Again, you have to break down each step to such small digestible parts for the kids to get it, and again, it needs to be a school-wide model because it would be lost with doing it in just one class. It needs the repetition of the skills that are being taught but of course, the content is changing so the learning does not feel repetitious especially if the teachers write their own curriculum as oppose to purchasing a "common core" set of books (it actually would never work this way because it needs to be personalized to your school). The class discussions have been amazing because students are the active participants of their own education -- they remember the information because they chose to learn it as oppose to us telling them to memorize stuff. We teach so they don't need us.

    3. Summing it up (and a little reflection) -- usually learning standards are not that defined like the CCSS. Most teachers quickly jot down one or two that seems to fit -- we still do it. Who has the time to analyze our lesson plans to make sure we really selected the appropriate standards each day? With the CCSS, it is tougher to do that cause they are a little clearer. And I like that to follow the CCSS, schools HAVE TO move forward, always re-developing and delving deeper into the work along with the students' abilities. Most of the time, the teachers want to do this, but it is the administrators that hold them back.

    4. Who says you can't continue using whatever it is you like about CCSS?

    5. David, as a parent and teacher who is adamantly against the whole Common Core package, even *I* admit that there is some "good to it." However, and this is a BIG however, I have seen first-hand in classrooms and as a parent the real damage that is being done in the early grades by insisting on developmentally-inappropriate standards especially in K-3. It's only just in 4th and 5th grade that my younger (who's had nothing BUT CCSS since Kindergarten) is where the standards dictated she should be. In 2nd grade she was still a bit ahead of the game in math and a bit behind in reading vis a vis the standards, and in 3rd grade she was showing as quite a bit behind, ESPECIALLY in math, as the expectations leaped ahead of her development (and that of most of her classmates, if what I saw and heard from other parents was any indication). We did spring for assessments on our own dime and discovered that not only was she on target for her age, but she was advanced, and in some cases quite a bit advanced, like 3 years above what the neurodevelopmental psychologist considered "grade level," despite her poor grades in school at the same time. (Also worth noting that quarterly MAP testing also had her at/above grade level.)

      The damage this did to her was real: she was manifesting physical and emotional symptoms of chronic stress, and to this day (2 years later) she is still reluctant to take chances in her academic work or in her spare time.

      Older Kid's experiences in middle school, which finally transitioned to CCSS a year or two ago (she was ahead of CCSS implementation by a couple of years so didn't get it till partway thru 7th grade), have been mixed: some good stuff, some ridiculously contrived stuff having little bearing on reality so that arbitrary standards can be met. (Our teachers don't get a lot of autonomy in CCSS subjects, although I do understand that's an implementation issue and that people's mileage there may vary.) But I will be curious to see, as this year's 6th-graders are the first in our district to have had CCSS from Day One of their public school experiences, how that foundation plays out in middle and high school. Given what I saw in my local elementary school when I taught there, I have to say that I for one am not encouraged by the K-3 standards and the way they have transmogrified what is (or should still be) Early Childhood Education.

    6. CrunchyMama,

      Just curious: Did the school purchase curriculum materials for teachers to follow? CCSS provides flexibility but only if the teachers create the curriculum themselves. If schools depend on companies on the materials, and they fix the standards, then flexibility goes out the window. Companies do a messy job with the CCSS -- needed to prove "rigor." Only a teacher can decide that for her or his students. When you have a environment where teachers are not trusted to slowly figure out this new teaching style and develop their own curriculum, everything falls apart. I am very lucky to be in a school where administrators have trusted us, and great things happened as a result. (I apologize if this gets published twice)

    7. Oh, yes, our district entered into an agreement with Pearson to create a CCSS-aligned curriculum, so yeah, "we" made "our own."

      We still had to work within the confines of the standards, though, and of course had to create a curriculum whose successes and failures could be measured by verifiable objective data. Perhaps that is where the issue is: the amount of drilling needed to produce identifiable and assessable outcomes turns out to be killer, especially in our high-poverty high-ELL neighborhood.

  2. We don't have to start from scratch. Step One, states revert to the standards they had before they were pushed into the Common Core (which still lives on under new names. Rebranding has not killed it.) Step Two, state realize the developmentally inappropriateness of the standards and take a bottom-up approach to building a better set.

  3. I am in agreement on the first part of your post, but I *will* say, as someone in a wealthy district (where the common core conversion is happening five years late because they were insulated from the punishments) in a state where the tests aren't settled yet (and thus we still just have the standards as a hint for future testing) there is still a HUGE common core push.

    Now, I agree with the idea that "do what you think is best and call it the core" is what's mostly happening, but I still have a significant number of colleagues and I work under administration that will eat up any resource that claims to be core-y simply because of the label. This gets very frustrating when trying to argue against them, because even though my ideas are easily attached to the vague standards, theirs has an official-looking seal on it, and so they win.

    I'm not sure how different this would be if the Core weren't around- I know getting everyone to agree on things is *always* hard- but the fact that "Common Core Approved!" is still a trump card in the argument is undeniable in my district.

  4. Our academically "lower" kids in 2 year algebra 1 will take the Common Core Algebra 1 Regents in NY this year. Looking at the January exam, which has a LOT of Algebra 2 level topics and not one traditional single solve for x equation, I think our pass rates will be extremely low. Even with the ridiculous curve, there is no way these kids are going to pass that ...and it's a graduation requirement. Our Regents exams have been ruined by the Common Core....and wait till NYS has massive amounts of kids who can't graduate high school because of these exams. The kids who took it this January after failing last June, were in tears.

    1. I can only speak for Florida, where cut scores were set deliberately to fail students. Unconscionable!

  5. Now that CCSS is dead, let us finish the job and kill off this inane notion that standards play a positive roll in good education. They never have and never will. In his masterpiece "A Study of History" , Arnold Toynbee observed that standardization is the characteristic of a civilization in decline.

  6. Though I despise "Breitbart" --- both the late
    right-wing wackjob, and the website that
    bears his name and includes the equally
    reprehensible James O'Keefe --- I guess you
    have to take allies where you can find them.

    You know what they say about broken clocks!

    That said, here's the hidden camera video where
    Houghton-Mifflin's insiders dishes about
    how corrupt former LAUSD Superintendent
    John Deasy deals for Pearson's Common Core
    software and APPLE'S I-pads, and were.

    This video is pretty explosive:

    Hidden Cam: Common Core Insider Reveals Info About LA Bid Rigging Scandal

    Here's the Breitbart article accompanying
    the above video (which unfortunately suffers
    from its looney-tunes Donald-Trump-ish
    view of Common Core as a vast left-wing
    conspiracy to brainwash and indocrinate
    U.S. children with liberal communist-oid

    Hey guys! Common Core sucks, but that ain't why!

    However, the article thankfully gets the Deasy corruption angle right:

    Exclusive: Former Houghton Mifflin Exec Reveals How Pearson Unfairly Won the LAUSD iPad Deal

    It'll be interesting to see if the mainstream media
    picks up on this.

    Three Common Core officials have been fired in the last week due to this hidden camera coverage, for God's sake!

    In a statement to Breitbart News, Project Veritas President James O’Keefe said, “Thanks to these undercover videos, we’ve continued to inject faces into the Common Core debate.”

    O’Keefe added, “In an extraordinary sequence of events, we released three Common Core corruption videos and three Common Core executives have been fired. But so far, none of this has been mentioned by the mainstream cable news networks. There will be no journalism awards for undercover journalists such as myself, but I have exposed and will continue to expose how the book publishers are all about the money with no regard for the actual needs of our children, how corporate cronyism and underhanded political deals have contributed to Common Core’s massive disruption and the unraveling of America’s educational fabric, and how taxpayer dollars are used with little accountability to enrich the major book publishing companies.”

  7. PROJECT VERITAS INTERVIEWER: "You seem like you're in it for the kids. You seem like ... you know-"

    DIANNE BARROW: "No, I hate kids. ... I'm in this to sell books. Don't even kid yourself for a heartbeat."

    ... of so says one of the Common Core promoters and curriculum providers.

    Well, then maybe you should disqualify yourself from creating or developing the curriculum that those whom you hate are forced to use. Here's the video of this quote:

    She continues with her explanation of why education publishing companies are repeatedly, every few years, creating and selling a different curriculum over and over and over:

    "It's all about the money. It's all about the money. You don't think that the education publishing companies are in it for education, do you? No, they're in it for the money."

    Sheeesh! Don't mince words, lady.

    NOTE: as the post just above this one indicates, this and other blather was secretly recorded, and justifiably led to Ms. Barrow's firing.

    Here's a teacher from Brooklyn (from the video) going off on the curriculum publishing industry:

    "It's a joke. ... It's bullsh**, and the thing is, what they do is. They create some new f**king system, that f**kin sucks, to sell more books, and then we (teachers) have to learn something new with the students, so it's buuuuuulll-sh**! Oh my God! It's all a money game. It's allll a money game."

    More from Dianne Barrow:

    "I've worked for Pearson (in the past.) Everybody has worked for Pearson. It just owns the world. They just do underhanded things."

    Regarding publishing companies:

    "They go after the money. It's just like any business. If you're selling T-shirts, you want you T-shirts to fit everybody. Right? So you can sell it to everybody."

    Barrow also shares her misgivings:

    "In my opinion, education shouldn't have a bottom line. I mean seriously, it should not be. It's one place where it really shouldn't be about the money. It should be about the kids. And you hear all the time. 'It's about the kids.' No, it's not. It's not about the kids. ... as far as anybody's concerned. You know what? They say it's about the kids, but it's all bulls***."

    Hey, wait. That's not what Campbell Brown --- woman with ZERO background or experience in education, in any capacity --- says in her WashPost op-ed in defense of Common Core:

    CAMPBELL BROWN: "Let’s be clear about what Common Core is. It spells out what students should know at the end of each grade. The goal is to ensure that our students are sound in math and literacy and that our schools have some basic consistency nationwide."

    Hmmmm ... who's right?