Common Core Standards Breaking Bad?

29–remember this number–we’ll get back to it.

Meanwhile, what is going on with the Common Core State Standards? From reading the sensationalized media, it seems in a matter of months the Standards have broken bad as their cachet reveals cracks through supposed flawed rollout programs, accountability measures tying student achievement with teacher and principal performance, communication with parents problems, and threats of new assessments. What began five years ago as a solution to many of public education’s ills, including declining US competitiveness on international student achievement measures has now seemingly become problematic. What started as a pathway to nationwide rigor and consistency has become fragmented and politicized in some states. What promised to increase literacy and math skills for all students is now accused of stressing children (and parents) and lowering their sense of worth. What in the world has happened? Are things really that different? Are the standards no longer worthwhile and valid? Are they beyond our children’s capacities? Are they too hard? No, No, No, No. Rather, the standards are now more critically important than ever (Remember that number, 29). What’s happened is the Standards are being confused with other challenging elements of school reform including standardized testing and student assessments tied to teacher performance.

As a refresher, the Common Core State Standards were created five years ago through the efforts of the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. They were designed to ensure students in every state of the nation graduated high school ready for college or career, leading to fewer remediation classes at college, less time for new employee training on communications, basic skills, team work, and so on.  In other words, the Common Core were written to pull America up by its boot straps by raising the proverbial bar of academic rigor. To be exact, two years increased rigor were part of the package. What was once reading material at 5th grade would now be found in 3rd grade, 9th grade literacy expectations were now required in 7th grade. The same rules applied for math. The elementary math curriculum was heavily pruned to remove the excess baggage that bogged students and their teachers down, and at all grade levels, there was a call for mathematical fluency, process skills, and application of mathematics in familiar and unfamiliar scenarios. Increased academic rigor are what the standards  promised and are now delivering in schools across the nation.

Five years ago, the Common Core Standards were advertised quite rightly as a game changer!! From Common Core State Standards InitiativeThe Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy. Well, with the challenges of implementing large-scale school reform, some are beginning to balk at the inherent difficulty of such reform and confusing Standards with other reform elements. As my good friend and colleague, Mike DeCaprio, said, “Part of my current push is for clarity about just what we really dislike. Are the Standards actually breaking bad? Or is the roll out breaking bad? Or was the assessment requirement? Or VAM? Or….” It’s all so confusing, but it needn’t be.

To be clear, the standards have not changed–at all. They still prepare students for college and career readiness. They remain rigorous, and continue to demand higher level thinking across all grade levels and subjects. No one is exempt from teaching or learning the standards, and theoretically, it no longer matters in what state you graduate high school from. As long as the state is one of the 45 which has adopted Common Core, the high school graduate will be prepared for success. What has changed, sadly, is people’s eagerness to lump Common Core Standards with the messiness of standardized assessments, performance reviews, federal intrusion in schools, etc…

It’s hard reforming a nation’s curriculum, particularly when politics enter the equation. It’s hard when student report cards include letters of the alphabet beyond A and B, and it’s hard when this is all done during times of economic duress. And yet, there has been immense progress made in implementing the Common Core. Students are now reading more complex text at earlier grades, learning fractions, ratios and proportions beginning in elementary school, and most significantly, using evidence to support positions. In this region of New York state, parents and educators are finding students can do Common  Core Standards work. Some are downright gleeful with the level of work being done by their children. For a variety of reasons, many of the success stories don’t pass muster in the news media. Instead, recent headlines and political whirlwinds suggest much like in Mary Poppins, a change in the weather is approaching for the Common Core.

With NPR, Lehrer Newshour, Fox News (Yes, I watch both Fox and Lehrer News Hour for my contrarian views), CBS, NY Times,……all reporting regularly about education and Common Core topics, I did a Google search January 22nd on “Common Core News.” What I found is disconcerting, and demonstrates the noise occurring in parts of the nation regarding Common Core Standards.

1. From WBIR.com, TN lawmakers balk at Common Core school standards.

Republican lawmakers are putting the final touches on legislation that would delay the implementation of Common Core education standards and the companion test in Tennessee, perhaps setting the stage for the type of fight playing out in statehouses across the country. Around a dozen House Republicans, according to Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, are united behind a bill to take a pause from the controversial curriculum — for up to three or four years —

2. From the Pensacola News Journal, Education chief defends changes to Common Core standards

MIAMI — Education Commissioner Pam Stewart defended proposed changes to the Common Core on Tuesday, saying they will set Florida apart and strengthen the state’s academic standards. Stewart presented the changes and fielded questions from the Board of Education at its meeting in Miami. The benchmarks for learning in language arts and math were adopted by Florida in 2010… In Florida and elsewhere, the standards have been criticized as being part of a “federal intrusion” into state education and a strategy to force children to take more high-stakes testing.

3. From Alabama Media Group’s Mike Cason, Superintendent Tommy Bice, panelists disagree sharply on Common Core standards at forum.

Bice defended the use of Common Core as an Alabama-driven approach to set benchmarks that prepare students to succeed in higher education and careers. The detractors described Common Core as a poor substitute for traditional approaches to education that focused wrongly on work preparation and indoctrination.

4. From the Syracuse Post Standard, Cuomo calls for panel to take ‘corrective action’ on Common Core.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today that he will assemble a panel of educators and legislators to fix what he said was a “flawed” rollout of the Common Core learning standards in New York’s schools.

As the preceding news articles indicate, there are pockets of angst with Common Core. However, to fully appraise what’s happening, one has to have a ground level look to see the problem is not Common Core Standards but the churn, implementation dips, and struggles significant change brings. And at the ground level, one would see we’re moving through the change process. Teachers, students, principals,….are adjusting to the new rigor and challenges. Progress is being made, and students CAN DO the work. Another confounding element is the emphasis by many states on using student achievement data to rate teacher and principal performance. That is a dicey concept at all times, but particularly so when the rules have been changed with new curricula and assessments. People get stressed when there are unknown variables out there, especially when jobs are on the line. A final factor is the misinformation being sent out via the blogosphere, twitter, Facebook, and other forms of media. It so often seems when the going gets tough, the tough get going and the rest complain.

So, about the number 29. 29th is our country’s international ranking  on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  That is not good, and in stark contrast for a country that prides itself on being number one. We really must look in the mirror and accept that we are losing when it comes to P-12 education. If we truly believe that a first class education system really, really matters to our longterm global success, then we must address the income inequality gap that exists in the U.S.. 23% of our children live in poverty, which places us 23rd among industrialized nations in terms of childhood poverty. That is unacceptable and damaging to our country’s welfare. Not surprisingly, our students perform much better when poverty is not factored in to the PISA comparisons. We must also continue to demand more from students, teachers, parents, principals, community members, politicians… (The good news is the vast majority of people are rising to the challenge). Lastly, if we want to rise up the international education rankings, we must stop poking holes in quality standards that have pushed students to succeed at higher levels of rigor. Simply put, it’s important to remind ourselves that the Common Core Standards are more rigorous than what we’ve had in the past and as a result provide a pathway to inch back up the rankings list.

Let’s put as much energy and commitment into our PISA ranking as we will do at the upcoming Winter Olympics. Let’s earn the gold medals for academic performance by addressing childhood poverty, pressing all stakeholders to do more, and staying the course on the Common Core Standards and academic rigor. Too much is at stake to do otherwise.

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2 responses to “Common Core Standards Breaking Bad?

  1. I think overall the attitudes towards Common Core are generally misaligned because of the lack of knowledge that surrounds the world of education. Parents seem more out of touch than ever with the system and there is a very obvious boundary between veteran teachers that have witnessed several changes in their careers and new teachers that don’t know anything different.
    In my research and experience as a substitute I have inquired about these topics a lot. From talking with my own family members and people I work with I have also seen the way parents eagerly jump to conclusions about the Common Core.
    Educators need to help define the differences between Common Core, standardization, Race to the Top, and other legislation such as No Child Left Behind. While many aspects are similar and share traits they each hold their own agendas.
    The saddest part, as you’ve alluded to, is the attention it takes away from larger problems; the biggest being poverty’s effects on education especially at the pre-kindergarten age. Students are coming into school unprepared and malnourished on a daily basis. Blaming the economy and urban centers are one thing, but the focus needs to be on how to fund schools properly with public tax money.
    Educational Leadership recommends “unleveling” schools and totally revamping fund distribution – giving more to those who don’t have it seems to be the consensus among many leaders in the field.
    How can these programs and pieces of legislation be altered to fit the real needs of education? Aren’t we only as strong as our weakest links? Do these agendas even represent the best goals for American education at this time? Maybe being #1 isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if the bottom is still, well, the bottom.

    • Well said! The common core have been tainted by tying teacher performance to student assessments, and that brings up your point about misinformation. Schools can and should do more to educate the public about education, the common core, etc. And I couldn’t agree with you more regarding the funding issues and impacts of poverty on student (and school) success. We’ve got to continue the good fight. Lick our wounds, learn from the mistakes, and persist. Peace.

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