Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reading Common Core Standards is Not Difficult; Highly Recommended Before Forming Opinions

I've written several different posts about the Common Core State Standards. In the first I purposefully left out my opinion on the matter, hoping readers would come to their own conclusion. I wasn't as kind in following posts. My support for Common Core is obvious to anyone who follows me here or on facebook. However, I am not such a die hard supporter that I have ignored valid arguments against the Core. Unfortunately, I've met very few people who can craft an argument against Common Core that uses logical reasoning and relevant evidence. When challenged, few people can show accurate and credible sources that back their outlandish claims. Basically, most arguments I come across wouldn't earn higher than a C in my 8th Grade Language Art classes (because using relevant evidence, logical reasoning and accurate and credible sources is an 8th grade learning standard -- one I was passionate about helping my students master). To prove I am not against rating an anti-Common Core argument higher than a C, I would like offer some ideas for a thesis that could drive an A paper. The valid arguments I've heard people make include (but are not limited to) 1) Education shouldn't be standards based 2) The K-2 standards are not developmentally appropriate, and 3) States should not have complete control over which standards local districts use. I do not agree with any of those arguments, but when approached with those concerns I acknowledge room for debate and I honor any opinions that oppose my own. The problem is those aren't the arguments most people make. Those arguments require a deep understanding of Education reform, early childhood development, and federal and state laws. Most people who form opinions about Common Core lack that understanding and to be honest, I do too. However, I do have a deep understanding of how standards are formed. I am experienced in turning learning standards into curriculum and then using that curriculum to fit my own daily lesson plans. I've studied the facts of Common Core, and there are three myths I am tired of hearing. When/if I find these myths in an argument I will destroy it. Claiming the Common Core is controlled by one company, that it equates to a federal government takeover of Education, or that it will result in the indoctrination of our public school children are all patently false statements.

There are many corporations who have a heavy hand in Education. I have no solution for this. If you know how schools can buy and use textbooks and supplies without anyone making any money, please advise me on the matter. Assuming you don't have a solution for that problem, here's some things to know about corporate influence in Education reform and the Common Core. Each individual for-profit Education provider that had representation on the Common Core committee made up less than 1% of the total committee involved in drafting, reviewing, and publishing the standards. Less than 1%! To date Pearson holds the greatest number of contracts with individual states and the District of Columbia, so they take much of the blame for corporate control. Total, they have 18 contracts with the 50 states and DC. That's roughly 35% control on the standardized testing market (which is just one small market in the world of Education). Their largest contract is held with a non-Common Core state (Texas). Most the states they have a contract with have contracts with various other Education companies -- companies like Scholastic, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill, Follet, and many, many others. It is also worth noting Pearson runs a national for-profit charter and several on-line Education markets. To think corporations are limited to public school and the Common Core is absurd. As I stated earlier, I don't know how to take capitalism out of Education. But here are some things I do know: I know there isn't just one corporation profiting off Common Core, there are hundreds; I know tossing Common Core will not change the influence those companies have on Education; and I know corporations do not, and will never, own Common Core.

The National Governor's Association (NGA) and The Council of Chief State of School Offices (CCSSO) own the Common Core. The Federal Government did not create and was not consulted about the creation of the Common Core. When the NGA and the CCSSO published the Core Standards, the Federal Government gave the standards a thumbs up. The 24 hour news cycle (now there's a group of people who would do anything to make a profit) has created a lot of lies and myths as a result of that thumbs up. Shame on anyone who falls for it. The NGA and the CCSSO -- both non-profit, state based agencies -- hold the copyright to Common Core. They are the organizations who selected the committee. They are the organizations who found funding to pay the committee members. Common Core is neither a corporate nor a federal take over of Education. It is, perhaps, the most bi-partisan, federalist (state led) movement I have seen in my lifetime (and likely yours). I am baffled by all the confusion that surrounds this reality. The nation should be championing this as the perfect example for how states (and political parties) can work together without federal influence. Each state can opt in or out whenever they'd like. According to the copyright, states can adopt the whole or selected excerpts or portions according to their choosing (Minnesota did just that). Common Core is non-profit, bi-partisan, federalism at its finest.

At its core the standards are merely learning expectations. In all my attempts to discourage the myths surrounding Common Core my most repeated phrase is this: standards are not curriculum. Somehow I have failed miserably in helping people understand that simple truth. I'm going to make one last attempt here, and it will be painfully basic. The word standard and the word curriculum are both nouns. The Webster-Merriam dictionary defines standard as a level of quality or achievement that is considered acceptable or desirable. It defines curriculum as the courses that are taught by a school, college, etc. So not only are these two words not the same, they aren't even synonyms for one an other. Claiming standards = curriculum is as stupid as claiming plow = tractor. Are the two related? Sure. Are they the same thing? No. Common Core are learning standards. They encourage and support critical and analytical thinking. They are not a curriculum. They are not a set of facts kids are to memorize. They are an expected level of achievement considered acceptable to Education experts. Teachers (and parents) are tasked with helping students master standards. Teachers use Common Core standards to create a curriculum that promotes mastery of said standards. Teachers who share the same curriculum will not have identical lesson plans. Teachers who have identical lesson plans will not execute those plans in an identical manner. There is no indoctrination going on here. There is no mystical force that is making every 4th grade classroom across America look the exact same. Local schools still control curriculum and individual teachers still drive instruction.

Becoming familiar with the standards is not difficult. They start on page 11 of the following documents: Mathematics and English Language Arts and Literacy in History, Science, and Technical Subjects. Opinions about those standards will vary, but facts surrounding them are not debatable. Common Core is not the corporate take over of public schools. Common Core is not a federal program. Common Core is not an attempt to turn all our kids into robots that think exactly alike. Though my opinion is clear, I still encourage readers to come to their own conclusions. Read the standards for yourself. Ignore the radical voices of liberals like Diane Ravitch (who has never taught in a primary school) and conservatives like Glenn Beck (who has never taught in a school setting period). Visit your local schools, where the Core is being implemented. Watch two teachers who share a curriculum and see for yourself if their lessons are delivered in identical form. Go to a neighboring school, where teachers are using the same set of standards as your local school, and see for yourself if those standards somehow translate into the liberal brainwashing of our nation's children. I'm confident that anyone who reads the primary text of Common Core  and/or visits local schools where Common Core is being implemented will conclude, as I have, that Common Core is neither a corporate nor a federal plot to take over our schools and it certainly isn't a danger to our children.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Though the core does NOT do it, I wish it did a "little liberal brainwashing!" I am sick and tired of the conservative righteous pushing their values on me! Yuck, yuck, yuck!!! I have a mind of my own and don't want to be a mindless sheep -- like they wish we all were.

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