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Bedford Ramblings
Steve Mills

Is there a short version of what the Common Core Education Initiative is all about?

Posted Monday, September 2, 2013, at 3:02 PM
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  • Well--I guess there is no one "in the know" who wants to jump in. More telling, I do not know anyone who is even interested enough to be able to "jump in" in the meantime. I am not an insider, but I will tell you what I think.

    No, there is not really a short version. If there were, that would be a list of the standards. The standards, however, are not necessarily the problem. The problem, at least as I see it, is what results from the implementation of the curriculum that the standards require, and the structure that its implementation generates. Common Core will work within a rough amalgamation of different educational perspectives. None of which are necessarily bad, in and of themselves. They are not even necessarily bad when used in combination. Some are, however, more easily used to "direct" learning. Common Core is the potential "perfect storm" of thought guidance.

    Standards based -- No change to the testing. The schools will still be "teaching to the tests". Again, not necessarily bad, but as chefgrape pointed out with his question about cursive writing, whatever is not going to be tested becomes somewhat of a luxury. It is not that the teaching of cursive is disallowed; it is just not measured or rewarded. Therefore, most students (including ours--for many years now) will not really learn it. (The standards--and the subsequent curriculum--not only dictate what will be taught, they inevitably dictate what will not be taught.)

    Constructivist -- The idea of core knowledge is the same as before, but the concept of taking that core knowledge and creating a universal foundation for future understanding is very ambitious--and somewhat alarming. There are strong aspects of social constructivism, which again is not necessarily bad, but questionable--especially given the history of public education. (If the "correct" core produces the "correct" understandings, then the core can easily become more of an imperative than a general foundation. Moreover, the world-views created using this method become deeply engrained as students become personally invested in ideas, which may not really be their own, or worse, they themselves may not even be in possession of the prerequisite ability to reach such a conclusion on their own.

    What it comes down to is whether or not we believe that the federal government is the better steward of our schools. If so, then I am sure that the curriculum will be fine. I do not believe that though. Here are just a couple of reasons why I do not.

    Common core would never have been approved 10 years ago. The states would never have imagined giving up their schools. We have common core because NCLB set impossible standards. If not for waivers, the vast majority of all public schools would be in "reconstruction" by now, with the rest to follow in the next few years--and all eventually all being reorganized. Common core was a way out, with monetary incentives to help grease the wheels. In short, a problem was created, a solution was provided, and almost every state gratefully did what would have been unthinkable just a short while ago. More telling, there is a public relations blitz to generate positive reactions to common core. Nationwide, teachers and administrators are being indoctrinated. Internal dissention is squelched. Difficult parents are cajoled. If the implementation warranted this level of subterfuge, what were the objectives? Two better questions might be: If the standards (and resulting curriculum) are so good (and free) why resort to any pressure at all? Or: If the advocates of the curriculum cannot be trusted to encourage open dialogue--as opposed to compulsion--why should they be trusted with our children's minds--or believed when they espouse the importance of critical thinking?

    Fortunately, we don't have to speculate about what to expect, we have some experience with de-facto federal curriculum. The new curriculum will include reading more nonfiction, such as the founding documents. That sounds like a wonderful thing, even if it means some great books that do inspire critical thinking will have to be left out (like 1984 & Fahrenheit 451). The problem is that the testing results released from last year indicate that 95% of Bedford County students are "at or above proficient" in U.S. History (don't get excited--that is a ranking of 108th out of 119 systems in the state). Either we have some great students, great teachers, or the existing curriculum in history is completely meaningless. I am guessing the latter, as only 33% of the same students (roughly the same age group as those taking later History) fare as well in English III (94th out of 119). That means that more than 60% of the 95% are not proficient at reading/writing--yet somehow ace the history. The history curriculum is simply devoid of any meaningful history. The same is true of social studies. Virtually no one (across the state) is below proficient. I do not believe that this anomaly is the unintended consequence of an otherwise good plan. It is the intended result. There is absolutely no context to provide a foundation for any other knowledge.

    Without context, we have no ability to form opinions--at least anything resembling an informed opinion. It isn't just history and social studies though. Why are there NO civics or citizenship classes? What about current events, philosophy, serious economics classes, or even comparative religion? The reason our children do so poorly in math and english is that they do not yet know enough to realize just how little they actually do know. Common core is not going to help that. More than likely, it will only exasperate the status quo.

    I read through your links and I believe most of the writing is spin. I do, however believe this one quote: "With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy."

    Unfortunately, what it is apparently going to take to compete successfully in the global economy is a population that endures a falling standard of living for the majority, but we will be so oblivious, we wont even realize it.

    -- Posted by memyselfi on Tue, Sep 10, 2013, at 2:59 AM
  • You put a lot into this analysis memyselfi. I too think the majority of was on the website was "spin" but would LOVE for someone to disagree.

    What you say about the test scores is not too promising either and from the times I have interfaced with young folks coming out of our high schools I the that I agree for the most part.

    It seems that our daughter started taking Honors classes just to keep it interesting.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Tue, Sep 10, 2013, at 1:39 PM
  • From what I have seen (I teach in another district which is trying to convert over one year earlier), there is a greater emphasis on critical thinking, close reading, and analysis. Also, at least at my level, the "multiple guess" of the EoC is almost removed (there is a multiple choice portion, but it is paired with multiple open ended writing prompts in which the student must back up his/her answer with proof cited from the texts given). This in and of itself is an improvement over what we have now. It is also still flawed; we still live in a society in which we are expecting all children to go to a four year university and educate them as such.

    Again, take it (as anything in education) with a grain of salt; this is mandated by politicians who have never set foot inside of a classroom, and who would think it beneath them to ask educators what we think. Sorry about the rant! Common Core (as a way of teaching) is much better than what we do now (from what we have seen), but that does not make it perfect.

    -- Posted by mrmosier on Thu, Sep 12, 2013, at 9:37 PM
  • As a homeschooling mom, I have had to look into this. And I can tell you , that I do NOT like it at all. One of the major problems that I have with it, is simply that it teaches children to make sure they make everything about emotions and be rude about it.

    For an example, there are a few videos that you can watch that provide examples of the problems/learning materials that will be taught.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGph7QHzmo8

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdgGqVq-akg

    In Language Arts, one of the examples given was:

    My mom always ____ me to clean my room.

    Choices: tells nags

    Correct answer: nags

    Also, the math area, gone are the days of practice and class exercises. They are all or mostly, word problems.

    So far, as a homeschool family, we are not going to be affected by it unless my children get the opportunity to attend college. Because the SAT / ACT test are being changed to accommodate the CommonCore aka Obamacation.

    -- Posted by PrpleHze on Fri, Sep 13, 2013, at 10:54 AM
  • What! Maybe I don't understand language arts it how does that fit?

    -- Posted by stevemills on Sat, Sep 14, 2013, at 4:16 PM
  • The videos make it clear that the CC are going to teach the children to use strong emotions. Another example is that the the children write a letter to parents explaining that the class needs more balls, jump ropes, etc for recess. Instead of stating just that, the children are instructed to state that "We have absolutely nothing to do at recess" or "Without exercise, the kids will become overweight and unhealthy".

    -- Posted by PrpleHze on Sun, Sep 15, 2013, at 9:20 PM
  • Ah, this is a creative writing course. I can understand the need to use more emphatic or descriptive words and phrases, but some of the examples seem strange. I hope they are not all like that.

    "We have absolutely nothing to do at recess" is asking them to stretch if not distort the truth but the other example, "Without exercise, the kids will become overweight and unhealthy" could be a way of justifying and emphasizing the need.

    However, I would suggest their example have an auxiliary verb like could or might and a quantifier about how many would become overweight like some or many since absolutes seem to jump out as being an exaggeration.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Mon, Sep 16, 2013, at 5:42 AM
  • mrmosier, I was hoping that more input from teachers would be forthcoming, but since you are the only one who commented after two weeks, there is no one else to ask questions of.

    I was wondering if you work in Tennessee. If so, did your district have an advance copy of the assessments, or were they produced locally, as a stop-gap measure, as the actual assessments will not be out until next year?

    I like your reserved optimism. I wish I shared it. I value the notions of critical thinking, close reading, and analysis. I agree that, if implemented correctly, the curriculum has the potential of being much better than what we have now. The problem lies in your own comment though: "writing prompts in which the student must back up his/her answer with proof cited FROM THE TEXTS GIVEN". This is problematic. Not necessarily because of the texts given, but because of the potential absence of differing texts--in both quality and quantity.

    Anything can be accepted as reality by anyone, provided one lacks enough knowledge to mediate additional information through. It is only with the inclusion of many perspectives that anything resembling true understanding will ever take place. What passes as understanding in the absence of this knowledge is merely dogmatic doctrine. It is not simply that I do not want public schools to be in the business of proliferating this mind-set; I do not even want them to be capable of it. Common core makes them more than capable of achieving this on a national scale.

    Common core may be mandated by politicians, but it was developed by highly inculcated ideologues whose objectives do not quite align with those of active classroom teachers. Teachers are only the medium through which their aspirations will be realized. They already know what most teachers think. More importantly, they likely already know what future generations of teacher will think. It would be a mistake to assume that common core came down from higher-ups who do not know anything. The technocrats who are responsible for the development are unmistakably well versed in pedagogy and epistemology. It is not that they didn't understand a teacher's perspective; the heart of common core is anti-teacher--almost as much as it is anti-student. With the oversight of common core, teachers will be compelled to teach what is expected--whatever that evolves into. In this fashion, teachers, like their students, will face the potentiality of smaller and smaller parameters within which to exercise independent thought and action. Moreover, in the same way it marginalizes teachers, it strips local and state systems of any significant authority.

    The only problem with optimistically assuming that common core will be better than what we already have is that the assumption discounts the enormous potential losses, and focuses only upon the modest potential gains. It is a certainty that ignorance is much easier to overcome than indoctrination.

    If you do happen to read this, I also have to ask, what is wrong with a society that expects its high school graduates to be able to attend a four year university? Given the amount of money the U.S. spends for education, why should we accept ranking so poorly in relation to other societies? Does it not stand to reason that, whether or not a student goes to university, the education required of attending one is parallel to the education required of every politically engaged citizen within a free society?

    -- Posted by memyselfi on Wed, Sep 18, 2013, at 2:57 AM
  • memyselfi, I never know if someone will return to the blog to continue conversations, so if I step on mrmosier's response, my apologies.

    I am not a proponent or opponent of this education effort(yet) but I am curious why you think it is anti-teacher and why you expect this to be more and more restrictive for teachers?

    I can see where it COULD be used as an indoctrination program but that could be said for numerous efforts and revisions of history books, etc. Why do you feel this Common Core has more propensity to do this?

    There is nothing wrong for society to want the best education possible for their youth, but even though I am a college graduate with post graduate courses, my wife and our daughter have college degrees, but I do not think college is for everyone.

    It is a great experience IF you are ready or willing to embrace it, but I work for a company president who has a high school degree, yet continues to accomplish things that college educated engineers tell him cannot be done.

    I know other folks who have accomplished similarly great things but would not have fit into college structure nor want to, so for us to want to teach them Shakespeare, physics, or algebra in high school, we may be wasting an opportunity to teach them something more relevant to their desired path.

    Our daughter was enrolled in a private school at one point. It was great exposure to many different teachers and educational opportunities, but she knew it was not for her. She got straight A's but chose to return to public school.

    We were told she was too young to be making those decisions, but we have not regretted listening to her and allowing her to pursue her dreams.

    She graduated in a challenging field and has continued to grow in it but if she had chosen a non-academic direction, we would have supported her anyway.

    Again, I see nothing wrong with wanting the best for our children, but that may not be the college route.

    Oops! Out if time. Gotta go.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Sep 18, 2013, at 11:19 AM
  • My comment was directed to mrmosier, but was definitely not intended only for him. I am glad you responded. I did not expect a response at all. I didn't even expect anyone to read my comment. I'm sure if mrmosier checks in later, he will feel free to add his perspective. (I am assuming that the mr indicates a Mr. but I don't know)

    For the sake of my own clarity, I will try my best to take on one subject at a time with a paraphrased reiteration of your question at the beginning. If I misconstrue your thoughts, or have missed your point entirely, please do not hesitate to let me know. I will start with the easiest first.

    Why do I believe that college is for everyone? --- I agree that college is not for everyone. My own education was arrested very early. There is no way that I could have attended college straight out of high school (even if I had completed high school). I was neither mature nor disciplined enough to appreciate anything related to education. I also agree with all of your explanations concerning your opinion. I would even go so far as to add that many degrees--especially in highly technical and specialized fields such as psychology, criminal justice, education, and economics--amount to little more than "professional" indoctrination anyway. What I am suggesting is that the vast majority of our students should have the ABILITY to attend university. Not necessarily for the sake of going to college, but for the benefit of personal understanding--and the effective discharging of the duties required to exercise their right to be active participants within a political society.

    Our schools have our children for thirteen years. At the end of that time, we should expect that the students possess the knowledge required of a diploma. It is not really that much. We are talking about the ability to read and right adequately (english), the ability to perform algebra and geometry (math), and some surveys in history, the natural sciences, and basic geography. Some of our eighth graders have the ability to make an entry level score on their ACT, and another small percentage typically reach that level by the time the finish the ninth grade. Admittedly, algebra and Shakespeare will never be esteemed by a large percentage of high school graduates, but one never knows which twenty year old, who elects to begin his career building bridges, will also one day want to design them. Likewise the child who hates everything about literature may one day grow old and reflect upon that ridiculous quote from Shakespeare and finally "get it".

    To achieve the abilities required of attending a four year university does not require a great amount of knowledge, but it does require the ability to digest and contemplate information critically, while being cognizant of some basic realities of our existence. The education should not be the objective in itself; it only provides only a foundation for future experience. I do not presume to know what is best for anyone. I do, however, firmly believe that everyone who has the right to vote (even someone who lives under the bridge and picks up cans for a living) should be able to read the newspaper, and either have the ability to understand the headlines in context, or have the competence to research them independently, in order to determine the context. It is only with that ability that people can ever hope to determine what is best for themselves.

    Of course, I do understand that the natural distribution of abilities will preclude a small percentage from ever achieving that goal, but that percentage is much smaller than what we see coming out of our schools today.

    Why do I believe that common core is anti-teacher and that it will be more restrictive for teachers? -- I hope that I do not muddy the waters here, but common core is not a stand-alone proposal. Instead, it is only one facet (the standards and testing) of a large-scale package of reforms called Race to the Top. It is inextricably tied to other modifications, including strong elements of the accountability movement. Holding our teachers accountable sounds like a good thing, but the devil is always in the details. To whom, and for what, should we hold our teachers accountable? It is a certainty that the accountability will be based upon the standards. Therefore, it becomes "produce or perish" for each individual teacher. There will almost certainly be a revision to tenure. What we will likely see is that the vast majority of all instruction time will eventually be devoted to the standards in order for the teachers (and by extension, their administrators) to maintain their positions. The days of teachers planning their days and weeks based upon class interests and abilities are about over. The same is true of individualized "extra material" that has augmented the curriculum of good teachers for many years.

    Instead of professional and proactive teachers interacting with their students, we will have a more uniform teaching front wherein the dynamics of the relationships fundamentally change. The teachers will become means to an end for the standards--and the students will become means to an end for the teachers. The only question that remains unanswered is: to what end do the standards serve as mean?

    The apparent goal is to create teachers (and students) who perform their duties as automatons. I don't imagine that is what most teachers signed on for. What will inevitably happen is that the process will eliminate the less effective teachers, but will also separate the more successful teachers from what makes them effective, and finally create an army of mediocre ones--all teaching from the same texts, highlighting the same points, drilling the same standards-based questions--and I like to imagine that they will be using Ben Stein's voice to do so.

    If you do not mind wild speculation, I am betting that the ultimate long term goal is the eventual transformation of professional teachers into "facilitators" who, like hospital orderlies or prison guards, maintain classroom decorum and direct student behavior. The teaching will likely be piped in, created entirely by ideologues working for large corporations possessing lucrative contracts, and distributed to every student in the nation.

    Why am I so cynical about the effects of common core? --- That is a tough one. Most of what I have written is pure speculation. I do not have a crystal ball. What I do have, though, is history. I know the incremental steps of the federal incursion into the schools, and the outcomes. It does not matter which one it was, it ended badly (at least if the stated objectives were the measure). Whether the incursion was desegregation, D.A.R.E. or NCLB, the laudable justifications always fell short, and what was left was only the intrusion. I know the history of the development of huge federal bureaucracies. From Homeland Security to the new healthcare system, consolidation of power is the rule--and we are breaking new ground in this endeavor. I also know the history of the social engineering that common core and Race to the Top reek of. There are undoubtedly elements working within our governments and corporations who sincerely believe that people are nothing more than natural resources, to be molded in the interest of the collective. I would like to think that the "collective" which was being improved actually represented everyone, and that the degree of "molding" would be minor, but prior experience with this type of thought indicates otherwise.

    Common core may be the best thing to happen to schools since the printing press, but I just do not think that it will turn out that way. If I were to pay the best minds in academia today for a plan to eventually guide the thoughts of a nation through the training of the children, I would likely get a report back that was a close approximation to everything that these reforms are. It is worse than anything that came before because of its huge scope, and because it comes with the ability to, once implemented, propagate itself in perpetuity through a system of authoritarian control not easily challenged. The local power has all but been eliminated. This is not like finding a textbook questionable and bringing it before a local board. In this scenario, the local board has become merely the face of the reforms, which is probably not the ideal place to seek remedy or redress. The funny part is that the state and local administrators are obligingly building the infrastructure (by adherence to Race to the Top strategies) that will ultimately render them powerless. Make no mistake; this is a hostile takeover of the entire public school system. Our local systems will still be left with some managerial duties and decision making ability, but like our teachers, the important decisions will be made for them.

    To find a specific example that belies the intention of this initiative, you do not have to look any further than the standards developed for classes other than english and math. There are none. This is a done deal, and they have not even developed the standards for anything else. They should be forthcoming, but they are an afterthought. No matter what the standards include, you can bet that the tests (the ultimate arbiter of the curriculum) will reflect a disdain for most of the humanities--just like the NCLB standards of today.

    -- Posted by memyselfi on Fri, Sep 20, 2013, at 1:09 AM
  • Nice answer memyselfi and good points. Thank you.

    If you get the paper there is an interesting report on the debate regarding Common Core. http://www.t-g.com/story/2006293.html

    -- Posted by stevemills on Sun, Sep 22, 2013, at 7:45 AM
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