An archive of articles and listserve postings of interest, mostly posted without commentary, linked to commentary at the Education Notes Online blog. Note that I do not endorse the points of views of all articles, but post them for reference purposes.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Common Core Standards: Ten Colossal Errors Anthony Cody Nov 16, 2013
A recent book described the "Reign of Errors"
we have lived through in the name of education reform. I am afraid that
the Common Core continues many of these errors, and makes some new ones
The Business Roundtable announced last month that its #1 priority
is the full adoption and implementation of the Common Core standards.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is likewise making a full-court press to advance the Common Core.
Major corporations have taken out full-page ads to insist that the
Common Core must be adopted. Many leading figures in the Republican
party, like Jeb Bush, have led the charge for Common Core, as have entrepreneurs like Joel Klein. And the project has become a centerpiece for President Obama's Department of Education.
in New York, the first large state to implement the tests associated
with the new standards, students, parents and principals are expressing grave concerns about the realities of the Common Core. Common Core proponents like Arne Duncan have been quick to ridicule critics
as misinformed ideologues or delusional paranoiacs. Defenders of the
Common Core like Duncan and Commissioner John King in New York insist
that only members of the Tea Party oppose the Common Core. In spite of
this, the opposition is growing, and as more states begin to follow New
York's lead, resistance is sure to grow.
With this essay, I want
to draw together the central concerns I have about the project. I am
not reflexively against any and all standards. Appropriate standards,
tied to subject matter, allow flexibility to educators. Teachers ought
to be able to tailor their instruction the needs of their students.
Loose standards allow educators to work together, to share strategies
and curriculum, and to build common assessments for authentic learning.
Such standards are necessary and valuable; they set goals and
aspirations and create a common framework so that students do not
encounter the same materials in different grades. They are not punitive,
nor are they tethered to expectations that yield failure for anyone
unable to meet them.
The Common Core website has a section devoted to debunking "myths"
about the Common Core - but many of these supposed myths are quite
true. I invite anyone to provide factual evidence that disproves any of
the information that follows. (And for the sake of transparency, I ask
anyone who disputes this evidence to disclose any payments they or their
organization has received for promoting or implementing the Common
Here are ten major errors being made by the Common Core project, and why I believe it will do more harm than good.
Error #1: The process by which the Common Core standards were developed and adopted was undemocratic.
the state level in the past, the process to develop standards has been a
public one, led by committees of educators and content experts, who
shared their drafts, invited reviews by teachers, and encouraged
teachers to try out the new standards with real children in real
classrooms, considered the feedback, made alterations where necessary,
and held public hearings before final adoption.
The Common Core
had a very different origin. When I first learned of the process to
write new national standards underway in 2009, it was a challenge to
figure out who was doing the writing. I eventually learned that a
"confidential" process was under way, involving 27 people on two Work Groups,
including a significant number from the testing industry. Here are the
affiliations of those 27: ACT (6), the College Board (6), Achieve Inc.
(8), Student Achievement Partners (2), America's Choice (2). Only three
participants were outside of these five organizations. ONLY ONE
classroom teacher WAS involved - on the committee to review the math
This committee was expanded the next year, and additional educators were added to the process.
But the process to write the standards remained secret, with few
opportunities for input from parents, students and educators. No experts
in language acquisition or special education were involved, and no
effort was made to see how the standards worked in practice, or whether
they were realistic and attainable.
organizations leading the creation of the Common Core invited public
comments on them. We were told that 10,000 comments were submitted, but
they were never made public. The summary of public feedback quotes only 24 of the responses, so we are left only with the Common Core sponsors' interpretation of the rest.
The process for adopting the Common Core was remarkably speedy and expedient.
Once the standards were finalized and copyrighted, all that was
required for states to adopt them were two signatures: the governor and
the state superintendent of education. Two individuals made this
decision in state after state, largely without public hearings or input.
Robert Scott, former state Commissioner of Education in Texas, said that he was asked to approve the standards before there was even a final draft.
Common Core process could not have been directly paid for by the
federal Department of Education, which is prevented by law from enacting
or promoting national standards. So Bill Gates footed the bill.
The Gates Foundation has, so far, paid $191 million to develop and
promote the Common Core. Of that sum, $33 million was earmarked for the
development of the Common Core. The remaining $158 million was spent on
myriad organizations to buy their active support for the standards -
with $19 million awarded just in the past month.
Many of the voices in the public arena, including teacher unions, the
national PTA, journalistic operations like John Merrow's Learning
Matters, and the National Catholic Educational Association, have
received grants for such work.
Although specifically prohibited
from interfering in the curriculum or instruction in the nation's
classrooms, the federal Department of Education has used threats and
bribes to coerce states to adopt Common Core. Indeed, the active role of
the U.S. Department of Education in supporting, advocating for, and
defending the Common Core may be illegal,
as may the Department's award of $350 million to develop tests for the
Common Core. The Department might reasonably argue that it was
appropriate to encourage the development of "better" tests, but in this
case the tests were specifically intended to support only one set of
standards: the Common Core.
Public Law 103-33, General Education Provisions Act, sec 432, reads as follows:
provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any
department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to
exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum,
program of instruction, [or] administration...of any educational
institution...or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or
other printed or published instructional materials...
spite of this prohibition, Race to the Top gave major points to states
that adopted "college and career ready standards" such as Common Core.
federal government can provide key financial support for this effort in
developing a common core of state standards and in moving toward common
assessments, such as through the Race to the Top Fund authorized in the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Further, the federal
government can incentivize this effort through a range of tiered
incentives, such as providing states with greater flexibility in the use
of existing federal funds, supporting a revised state accountability
structure, and offering financial support for states to effectively
implement the standards.
When the Department of
Education announced Race to the Top there was a complex application
process with a short timeline. The Gates Foundation created a process
where their staff would assist states in applying for RttT grants. In
order to receive this help, state leaders had to fill out a qualifying
questionnaire. The first question on the qualifying criteria questionnaire is,
"Has your state signed the MOA regarding the Common Core Standards
currently being developed by NGA/CCSSO? [Answer must be "yes"]"
the Gates Foundation worked within the Race to the Top process to apply
additional pressure on states to sign on to the Common Core.
at a time when state education budgets were under great pressure, these
inducements were significant in overcoming any hesitations on the part
of most governors. The pressure continues, as NCLB waivers depend on the
adoption of "college and career ready standards," which are most
readily provided by the Common Core.
It is also worth noting
that alongside the adoption of Common Core standards, both Race to the
Top and NCLB waivers being issued by the Department of Education require
states to include test scores in the evaluations of teachers and
principals. This is a package deal.
Error #2: The Common Core Standards violate what we know about how children develop and grow.
One of the problems with the blinkered development process described above is that no experts on early childhood were included in the drafting or internal review of the Common Core.
response to the Common Core, more than 500 experts signed the Joint
Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the
Common Core Standards Initiative. This statement now seems prophetic in
light of what is happening in classrooms. The key concerns they raised were:
1. Such standards will lead to long hours of instruction in literacy and math.
2. They will lead to inappropriate standardized testing
3. Didactic instruction and testing will crowd out other important areas of learning.
4. There is little evidence that such standards for young children lead to later success.
states are now developing standards and tests for children in
kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, to "prepare" them for the
Common Core. Early childhood education experts agree that this is
developmentally inappropriate. Young children do not need to be
subjected to standardized tests. Just recently, the parents of a k-2
school refused to allow their children to be tested. They were right to
Error #3: The Common Core is inspired by a vision
market-driven innovation enabled by standardization of curriculum,
tests, and ultimately, our children themselves.
two goals here that are intertwined. The first is to create a system
where learning outcomes are measurable, and students and their teachers
can be efficiently compared and ranked on a statewide and national
basis. The second is to use standardization to create a national market
for curriculum and tests. The two go together, because the collection of
data allows the market to function by providing measurable outcomes.
Bill Gates has not spoken too much recently about the Common Core, but
in 2009, he was very clear about the project's goals.
common standards is just the starting point. We'll only know if this
effort has succeeded when the curriculum and tests are aligned to these
standards. Secretary Arne Duncan recently announced that $350 million of
the stimulus package will be used to create just these kinds of tests -
"Next Generation assessments," aligned to the Common Core. When the
tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up
as well. And it will unleash a powerful market of people providing
services for better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large,
uniform base of customers looking at using products that can help every
kid learn, and every teacher get better.
This sentiment was shared by the Department of Education, as was made clear when Arne Duncan's Chief of Staff, Joanne Weiss, wrote this in 2011:
development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters
the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional
development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets
operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district
basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means
that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best
products can be taken to scale.
market-driven system enabled by the Common Core, the "best products"
will be those which yield the highest test scores. As Gates said: "The
standards will tell the teachers what their students are supposed to
learn, and the data will tell them whether they're learning it."
the overriding goal of the Common Core and the associated tests seems
to be to create a national marketplace for products. As an educator, I
find this objectionable. The central idea is that innovation and
creative change in education will only come from entrepreneurs selling
technologically based "learning systems." In my 24 years in high poverty
schools in Oakland, the most inspiring and effective innovations were
generated by teachers collaborating with one another, motivated not by the desire to get wealthy, but by their dedication to their students.
#4: The Common Core creates a rigid set of performance expectations for
every grade level, and results in tightly controlled instructional
timelines and curriculum.
At the heart of the Common
Core is standardization. Every student, without exception, is expected
to reach the same benchmarks at every grade level. Early childhood
educators know better than this. Children develop at different rates,
and we do far more harm than good when we begin labeling them "behind"
at an early age.
The Common Core also emphasizes measurement
of every aspect of learning, leading to absurdities such as the ranking
of the "complexity" of novels according to an arcane index called the Lexile score.
This number is derived from an algorithm that looks at sentence length
and vocabulary. Publishers submit works of literature to be scored, and
we discover that Mr. Popper's Penguins is more "rigorous" than
Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. Cue the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to moan that teachers are not assigning books of sufficient difficulty, as the Common Core mandates.
sort of ranking ignores the real complexities within literature, and is
emblematic of the reductionist thinking at work when everything must be
turned into a number. To be fair, the Common Core English Language Arts standards
suggest that qualitative indicators of complexity be used along with
quantitative ones. However in these systems, the quantitative measures
often seem to trump the qualitative.
The most alarming thing is the explanation Burris offers for how these standards were defined:
If you read Commissioner John King's Powerpoint slide 18, whichcan be found here, you see that the Common Core standards were "backmapped" from a description of 12th
grade college-ready skills. There is no evidence that early childhood
experts were consulted to ensure that the standards were appropriate for
young learners. Every parent knows that their kids do not develop
according to a "back map"--young children develop through a complex
interaction of biology and experience that is unique to the child and
which cannot be rushed.
Error #5: The Common
Core was designed to be implemented through an expanding regime of high
stakes tests, which will consume an unhealthy amount of time and money.
is theoretically possible to separate the Common Core standards from an
intensified testing regime, and leaders in California are attempting to
do just that. However, as Bill Gates' remarks in 2009 indicate, the
project was conceived as a vehicle to expand and rationalize tests on a
national basis. The expansion is in the form of ever-more frequent
benchmark and "formative" tests, as well as exams in previously untested
Most estimates of cost focus only on the tests
themselves. The Smarter Balanced Common Core tests require the use of
relatively new computers. Existing computers are often inadequate and
cannot handle the "computer adaptive tests," or the new Common Core
aligned curriculum packages. This was one of the reasons given to
justify the expenditure of $1 billion of construction bonds on iPads and
associated Pearson Common Core aligned curriculum software in Los
Angeles. The Pioneer Institute pegs the cost of full implementation of the Common Core at $16 billion nationally - but if others follow the Los Angeles model those costs could go much higher.
cost in terms of instructional time is even greater, so long as tests
remain central to our accountability systems. Common Core comes with a
greatly expanded set of tests. In New York City, a typical fifth grade
student this year will spend 500 minutes (ten fifty-minute class
periods) taking baseline and benchmark tests, plus another 540 minutes
on the Common Core tests in the spring. Students at many schools will
have spend an additional 200 minutes on NYC Performance Assessments,
being used to evaluate their teachers. Students who are English learners
take a four-part ESL test on top of all of the above.
testing under the Common Core in New York will consume at least two
weeks worth of instructional time out of the school year. And time not
spent taking tests will be dominated by preparing for tests, since
everyone's evaluation is based on them.
Error #6: Proficiency rates on the new Common Core tests have been dramatically lower -- by design.
that we have attached all sorts of consequences to these tests, this
could have disastrous consequences for students and teachers. Only 31%
of students who took Common Core aligned tests in New York last spring were rated proficient.
On the English Language Arts test, about 16% of African American
students were proficient, 5% of students with disabilities, and 3% of
English Learners. Last week, the state of North Carolina announced a similar drop in proficiency rates. Thus we have a system that, in the name of "rigor," will deepen the achievement gaps, and condemn more students and schools as failures.
of the "rigor," many students -- as many as 30% -- will not get a high
school diploma. What will our society do with the large numbers of
students who were unable to meet the Common Core Standards? Will we have
a generation of hoboes and unemployables? Many of these young people
might find trades and jobs that suit them, but they may never be
interviewed due to their lack of a diploma. This repeats and expands on
the error made with high school exit exams, which have been found to
significantly increase levels of incarceration among the students who do not pass them -- while offering no real educational benefits.
should be noted that the number of students (or schools) that we label
as failures is not some scientifically determined quantity. The number
is a result of where the all-important "cut score" is placed. If you
want more to pass, you can lower that cut score, as was done in Florida in 2012. The process to determine cut scores in New York was likewise highly political, and officials knew before the tests were even given the outcome they wanted.
Error #7: Common Core relies on a narrow conception of the purpose of K12 education as "career and college readiness."
one reads the official rationales for the Common Core there is little
question about the utilitarian philosophy at work. Our children must be
prepared to "compete in the global economy." This runs against the grain
of the historic purpose of public education, which was to prepare
citizens for our democracy, with the knowledge and skills to live
fruitful lives and improve our society.
sad facts about Common Core are most visible in its reduction in the
study of classic, narrative fiction in favor of "informational texts."
This is a dramatic change. It is contrary to tradition and academic
studies on reading and human formation. Proponents of Common Core do not
disguise their intention to transform "literacy" into a "critical"
skill set, at the expense of sustained and heartfelt encounters with
great works of literature.
Error #8: The Common Core is associated with an attempt to collect more student and teacher data than ever before.
Parents are rightfully alarmed about
the massive collection of their children's private data, made possible
by the US department of education's decision in 2011 to loosen the regulations of FERPA , so that student data could be collected by third parties without parental consent.
are legitimate privacy concerns, for both students and teachers, as
data, once collected, can be used for all sorts of purposes. The vision
that every student's performance could be tracked from preschool through
their working lives may be appealing to a technocrat like Bill Gates,
but it is a bit frightening to many parents.
This is one aspect
of the project that is already in big trouble. The Gates Foundation
invested about $100 million to create inBloom, a nonprofit organization
that would build a system to store the massive amount of student data
their reform project requires. However, as parent concerns over privacy
have grown, seven of the nine states that had signed up to use the
system have withdrawn. Only Illinois and New York remain involved, and
in New York this week a lawsuit was filed to block the project.
#9: The Common Core is not based on any external evidence, has no
research to support it, has never been tested, and worst of all, has no
mechanism for correction.
The Memorandum of
Understanding signed by state leaders to opt in to the Common Core
allows the states to change a scant 15% of the standards they use. There
is no process available to revise the standards. They must be adopted
as written. As William Mathis (2012) points out,
the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing
about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate
educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other
standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself."
Common Core does nothing to address this problem. In fact, it is
diverting scarce resources and time into more tests, more technology for
the purpose of testing, and into ever more test preparation.
In conclusion: Common
standards, if crafted in a democratic process and carefully reviewed by
teachers and tested in real classrooms, might well be a good idea. But
the Common Core does not meet any of those conditions.
Common Core has been presented as a paradigmatic shift beyond the
test-and-punish policies of NCLB. However, we are seeing the mechanisms
for testing, ranking, rewarding and punishing simply refined, and made
even more consequential for students, teachers and schools. If we use
the critical thinking the Common Core claims to promote, we see this is
old wine in a new bottle, and it turned to vinegar long ago.
all these reasons, I believe any implementation of the Common Core
should be halted. The very corporations that are outsourcing good jobs
are promoting the Common Core, which deflects attention from their
failure to the nation's economy and their failure as good citizens. I do
not believe the standards themselves are significantly better than
those of most states, and thus they do not offer any real advantages.
The process by which they were adopted was undemocratic, and lacking in
meaningful input from expert educators. The early results we see from
states that are on the leading edge provide evidence of significant
damage this project is causing to students already. No Child Left Behind
has failed, and we need a genuine shift in our educational paradigm,
not the fake-out provided by Common Core.
evident in recent public hearings in New York is a powerful indicator of
a process gone badly awry. The public was not consulted in any
meaningful way on decisions to fundamentally alter the substance of
teaching and learning in the vast majority of schools in our nation.
This process and the content of these standards are deeply flawed, and
the means by which student performance is measured continues to damage
This did not happen by accident.
Powerful people have decided that because they have the money and
influence to make things happen, they can do so. But in a democracy, the
people ought to have the last word. Decisions such as this ought not be
made at secret gatherings of billionaires and their employees. The
education of the next generations of Americans is something we all have a
And so, fellow citizens: Speak Up, Opt Out, Teach On!
What do you think? Is it time to end the reign of Common Core errors?