An In-Depth Look at Frequently Asked Questions

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Here are some detailed questions that have been provided to our group for input.  We hope that this information will help clarify some of the messages the media generates.  We have also found confusing answers are often used to placate parents’ concerns when inquiring about their children’s education under Common Core.

1.  What benefits, or detriments, to the educational system in Wyoming do you see Common Core bringing?

We don’t have any evidence of any potential benefits yet. What’s wrong about this massive systematic change in education is that it has never been pilot tested on any group. The “research-based” and even the ultimately disproven “internationally benchmarked” claims are far too broad to warrant such an outlay of money, time and sacrifice of freedoms. The FDA would never approve a drug on such a generalized research premise; it would demand to see the specific results of a clinical trial. Yet we are accepting so many sacrifices in exchange for what amounts to mere promises:

  • No revision rights: No matter what label we put on these standards, they are owned and copyrighted by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, not Wyoming. Therefore, we have NO control over any portion and cannot alter or delete any standard. Teachers on the ground in Wyoming have NO say when something is not working or to suggest how to make changes.
  • Poor academic quality: The only Math and English experts on the committee to certify the Common Core refused to sign off on them. One of these, Sandra Stotsky, had already developed the standards for the BEST PERFORMING STATE IN THE NATION, and that state (Massachusetts) shows a clear drop in performance since adopting the Common Core. She didn’t just speak based on opinion, she had evidence for what makes good standards. These and many other experts have written extensively about the devastating lack of academic quality of these standards. Yet proponents stick with the messaging of “rigor” and “college ready”. They can’t possibly deliver on what the public understands these words to mean. The evidence shows our kids will be worse off, not better.
  • Increasing loss of control: The US Department of Education’s strategies to coerce states into adopting and keeping these standards telegraph clearly its intentions. Want money? Adopt the Common Core. Want relief from NCLB’s impossible demands? Get the Common Core. We don’t need any more evidence that the USDOE will utilize ever-increasing enticements and pain to acquire what it wants. And what do we give up as soon as we accede to the centralized planning approach? In a word, control, into perpetuity, since it will only get more painful to get out. Once control is lost, any change, no matter how objectionable, can be made to our education system without our consent.
  • No, it’s not “just standards”: No matter what proponents are taught to repeat, the CCSS is a comprehensive systematic initiative. The USDOE invested heavily in these standards. It also generously helped fund two testing consortia which are not only developing aligned tests, but also curriculum guides. The standards themselves contain pedagogy (how to teach – this belongs in curriculum) and the ideas are reinforced and expanded on through the Core’s implementation documents.   Appendix B telegraphs the literature, or at the very least the type of literature, that will likely be tested. Publishers and school districts alike rushed to incorporate these exact titles immediately in spite of the insistence this was only a list of  “exemplars”.  We believe they knew the truth of what this list really is. It is concerning that the educational experts we are supposed to trust would chose literature titles where some examples are very politically charged or even sexually explicit. Proponents cannot escape the fact that what is tested in a national high-stakes environment drives the curriculum, and the drive to match the tests narrows both the content and the curriculum options. Would you like spaghetti for dinner, or spaghetti?

2.  Some have said that Common Core is telling teachers how to teach. Although Common Core does state that certain markers, and academic information, has to be met by certain grades, do you feel that by having these markers it IS telling teachers how to teach, and if so, in what ways?

Here’s just one illustration of how the CCSS is not just a list of “markers”. Take this standard as only one of many examples:

CCSS.Math.Content.1.OA.C.6 Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9); using the relationship between addition and subtraction (e.g., knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 – 8 = 4); and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).

This is telling teachers the strategies that are expected of children to know and demonstrate on the test. Were this standard expressed as a “marker” or “goal”, it would merely state, “The student can add and subtract within 20 showing fluency within 10”. Then it is up to the teacher to use her abundant professional knowledge to introduce a basic strategy, plus additional strategies for students who are demonstrating a need for them (some for example need a picture or visual-based strategy, some may benefit from another). The test should not force a student to demonstrate proficiency at a variety of educational strategies (many of them far more tedious, confusing and time-consuming than the standard algorithms parents are familiar with). It should test the child’s ability to arrive at the correct answer.

Further, it is in the implementation documents of the standards (such as Progressions for the Common Core in Mathematics) that we find more evidence of pedagogy. This is why amongst the “choices” of curriculum materials we find so little variation because strategies are dictated.

For more evidence of pedagogy in the standards see Erin Tuttle’s excellent article: http://hoosiersagainstcommoncore.com/yes-common-core-tell-teachers-teach/

Finally, if the standards were merely a set of markers, why do teachers need SO MUCH training on how to implement them? This makes no sense…our teachers are already professionally trained to provide differentiated instruction using a variety of teaching strategies to help students achieve a list of learning goals (standards). Why should Bachelors- and Masters-level professional teachers have to learn so much about what is only supposed to be a new list of “markers”? The answer is simple. It’s not “just standards”.

3.  Wyoming has some of the highest ratio of parents turning up for parent-teacher conferences in the nation, in some areas being as high as 98%. Considering that these numbers show that parents are very involved in the education their children receive, and because of the fact that there are so many websites that have vastly differing ideas on what IS and IS NOT included in common core; do you feel that a lot of the opposition to Common Core, from the parents, is related to the amount of confusion that can come from so many sources?

Proponents would like people to believe this is the problem. They frequently try to marginalize voices speaking out about this by saying opponents are merely “misinformed”.

Actually, parents are quite focused and for the most part armed with excellent evidence. While there are certainly occasional misstatements (a little research reveals this is a colossal and complex topic), parents are basically concerned about a truly quality education for their children, halting what they know is a precipitous loss of local control over it and data privacy.

Meanwhile, proponents repeat the same message containing important-sounding words for which they’ve created new definitions along with a sense of urgency: “rigorous” (as compared to what?) “state-led” (what is their definition of a “state”?) “skills for the 21st Century” (how exactly have the basic skills of reading, writing and math changed for the 21st century?) and “college and career ready” (what kind of college? A 2-year, non-selective community college where what used to be remedial courses will now become credit-bearing, making it appear students are more “ready”). Parents are much more intelligent than credited. They see through this subterfuge and are demanding to regain a meaningful voice in their own children’s education.

4.  A lot of what Common Core wants to see developed is new methodologies of problem-solving being applied in math and science (YES – more evidence that these standards DO tell teachers how to teach). In the 1970’s the US was going to convert to the metric system, but due to the fact that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” along with the complete overhaul of the way that educators would have had to present information, it died. Do you feel that Common Core is a sort of revisit to that, and because parents in Wyoming are so involved in the lives of their children and students, that the thought of having to completely re-learn subjects that a lot of parents (myself included) have had ingrained in their minds for so long, that Common Core will go the way of the metric system due to the difficulty it will present to parents when it comes to helping their children out with homework and the like?

No. If there were evidence these new strategies (which frustrate both the child and the parent) worked, parents would invest themselves in that. However, there is none. On the contrary, when professional scientists and mathematicians look at the homework of their children and say “that’s bunk!” we’d better pay attention to that. These are the folks who will soon be employing/working with the products of this system, in the real career fields for which the Common Core claims to prepare our children.

 The CCSS contain specific pedagogy that dictates to teachers how to teach the content, therefore limiting curriculum to a one-size-fits-all approach. Establishing national standards and enforcing them with a high-stakes, federally funded test will mandate a national curriculum. There is no constitutional basis for national standards, national assessments or national curricula.

Furthermore, parents are properly leery of education reform that is excluding them on all fronts. When that exclusion reaches right into their home (they can’t even help their kids learn how to multiply numbers, or are even told by the school, “listen, we just prefer you don’t try to teach them”) that is a powerful message that they are becoming less important in their child’s life than the school. Parents are justified when they object to this or are even suspicious of it. Numerous despotic societies have used a centrally-controlled school system to train up its obedient populace by excluding and removing ultimate authority from parents. That’s not how education is handled in America.

5.  In 2012 the United States ranked 27th in the world in mathematics (behind countries like Japan, Hong-Kong China, Switzerland ) yet, analysis suggests that a successful implementation of the Common Core Standards would yield significant performance gains also in PISA. If this is the case, then why has there been so much push-back against it’s implementation?

It would be wise to review Diane Ravitch’s (a historian of education, education policy analyst and a research professor) education blog regarding this very topic. She points out several arguments dealing with this supposed “crisis”. Briefly: The US scores have been poor on international tests for over 50 years, and yet we still remain the world’s leading economy, with the world’s most vibrant culture and a highly productive workforce.

http://dianeravitch.net/2013/12/03/my-view-of-the-pisa-scores/

  • PISA scores show the failure of public policy in the United Stats. NCLB and Race to the Top are failures at accomplishing their singular goal of higher test scores.
  • Improving the quality of life for the nearly one-quarter of students who live in poverty would improve their academic performance.
  • We measure only what can be measured. The scores tell us nothing about students’ imagination, their drive, their ability to ask good questions, their insight, their inventiveness, their creativity. If we continue with the Bush and Obama administrations’ policies, we will crush all of the qualities that have given our nation its edge as a cultivator of new talent and new ideas for many years.

6.  Do you think that the opposition towards Common Core is coming from the thought that by implementing the standards, it will cause issues with Federal versus States Right’s, especially considering Common Core really didn’t begin until President Obama’s Race to the Top grant started?

Actually, Common Core is just the latest idea in the “slow creep” advance of federal influence over education that’s been going on for decades. In fairness and all honesty, President Obama only continued what his predecessors had either created or contributed. Bottom line: Education is NOT one of the 18 enumerated powers granted the federal government in the U.S. Constitution, and yet here we are.

We are going to have to face the fact that since we agreed to the idea of a US Department of Education, the overall quality of education in America has NEVER improved, only worsened. The success stories still remaining exist in SPITE of the USDOE, certainly not because of it, and are at tremendous risk of being lost forever should this model of centrally organized schooling be allowed to progress. The educational shining stars around the country represent the laboratory approach which we should be embracing rather than discouraging and should be used as models for local school districts to analyze and adopt as they choose freely.

No, the opposition to Common Core simply represents a generation of parents who have suddenly been jarred from a long nap by a rapid and suspicious chain of events. They finally see centralized education as an idea that will not only shortchange their children but threaten the freedoms of teachers, parents and students.

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