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Definitely Not Common Core

March 19, 2016

If we needed proof that the new Oklahoma Academic Standards for math and English/language arts are not just a rebrand of the jettisoned Common Core State Standards, it arrived Friday night with a resounding plop. At about 8:30, Achieve, Inc. released a 68 page document highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.

If you’ve never heard of Achieve, here are a few graphics to help you get an idea of who they are.

12874463_10209054464982397_1065128931_o 12476801_10209054441541811_2061290219_o 12516881_10209054441301805_996470653_o

Achieve was one of the drivers behind the development and implementation of the Common Core. Here’s a blurb from their website:

At the direction of 48 states, and partnering with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve helped develop the Common Core State Standards. Twenty-six states and the National Research Council asked Achieve to manage the process to write the Next Generation Science Standards. In the past Achieve also served as the project manager for states in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. And since 2005, Achieve has worked with state teams, governors, state education officials, postsecondary leaders and business executives to improve postsecondary preparation by aligning key policies with the demands of the real world so that all students graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills they need to fully reach their promise in college, careers and life.

Throughout their website, you can find resources to support Common Core implementation. This is who they are. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many of their harshest criticisms of our standards are tied to things that they feel Common Core does better. For example:

sample criticism

Most of the review follows a simple format:

  • Make a declarative statement about the Oklahoma standards.
  • Identify any strengths in this part of the standards.
  • Explain how Common Core is superior.
  • Forecast the fall of western civilization.

That last part is implied, rather than explicitly stated (which I find to be a weakness).

Here’s one of the Common Core standards that the document’s author(s) hold up as critical:

Tracing the reasons and evidence an author gives so students are able to break down arguments and understand the structure of claims, warrants, and evidence (for examples, see CCSS RI #8 across grade levels).

This is a wonderful thing to teach. We can do this with historical documents and speeches. We can use editorials and blogs. We could even break down the cable news folderol or statements from candidate debates for this. What I don’t need, as an English teacher, is a specific standard telling me to do it. I would’ve gotten there on my own.

This gets back to the gist of all the criticisms I’ve read in the last week (yes, the last week). The standards don’t explicitly spell out every task we want teachers to have students do. I’m fine with that. That’s not the purpose of standards.

We shouldn’t be bothered that Achieve doesn’t approve of our standards. The timing, on the other hand, seems suspicious, however. Why drop the report on a Friday night? Why now, with less than a week to go before the standards are approved? Wondering these things, I took to Twitter and started asking questions. Friends chimed in too. Below are some of our questions, as well as some responses from Achieve and their people:

Achieve claims that the review was completely independent and neither funded nor requested by anyone. They evaluate and review standards. It’s just a thing that they do. After all, they’re a non-profit and all of their activities are simply a service to the public.

If you’ve been reading my blog for anytime at all, you’ve probably detected that non-profit is one of my trigger words. So I looked at their 990 tax form from 2013 (the most recent one online). They have about a 14 million dollar budget. They list 10 employees (all that the form requires) making in excess of $100,000. They’re a non-profit entity, for sure, but they’re not a bunch of starving artists, either. Their funding comes from such sources as the Gates Foundation and the Batelle Foundation. Yes, the people who brought us value-added measurement and roster verification are among their primary supporters.

Reviews like this take time. They take money. I have no evidence or reason to believe that the Achieve’s report was anything but independent. Unless something to the contrary surfaces, I’ll accept that. For the record, one other pair of their tweets made me snicker a little:

I get it. Nobody understands how it feels to have your standards attacked better than the architects of the Common Core. As for not believing that this is an attack, well maybe they lack context for what it’s like to be an educator in Oklahoma. Within the last week, our standards have been criticized by a group that wants nothing to do with public education (yet somehow still gets a seat at the table).

Jenni doesn't care

This comes on top of relentless attacks, whether it is voucher schemes that would further deplete school funding, charter school bills sugar-coated as empowerment legislation, and ongoing political coercion from out-of-state. The timing of the report is also frustrating – three days after resolutions were filed in the House and Senate to disapprove the standards, and days before they automatically go into effect.

Again, if we take people’s words at face value, then we should accept the fact that legislators like Jason Nelson, Jeff Hickman, Anthony Sykes, and Josh Brecheen have been reviewing feedback of the standards all along. Still, they can’t point to a single conversation with a single member of the standards writing teams. Furthermore, they respond to the critics of the standards, but not at all to the 60+ letters of support the SDE has received.

I’ve also read the letters of support, and the most compelling was written by Dr. Frank Wang, president of the Oklahoma School of Science and Math. He writes:

My background is as follows: I am a mathematician by training with a bachelor’s degree in math from Princeton University (1986) and a PhD in pure math from MIT (1991). While pursuing my PhD I taught students at MIT and at the University of California at San Diego….

Given my prior experience studying state standards, I approached this task of examining the Oklahoma Standards with a healthy amount of skepticism. I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, I found the standards to be clearly stated, explicit, relevant and appropriate. I feel that students who are in classes that follow these standards will be well-prepared for college and be capable of pursuing STEM majors, if they chose to do so.

As for me, I’m just tired of waiting. When I was in Moore, we spent nearly four years transitioning from PASS to Common Core. When the state pulled the plug, our teachers were frustrated – even the ones who didn’t like the Common Core. So we transitioned back to PASS. Now, we’ve been writing and developing these standards, and we’re on the precipice of implementing them. Will the state pull the plug again? Our teachers deserve more certainty than that.

If what had been developed during the past year was lousy, I could see delaying or even dumping it. That’s not the case at all. What we have is something between ROPE’s happy place and Achieve’s. That’s what I call a sweet spot.

One more thing: below is an excerpt from Brecheen’s argument in 2014 for Oklahoma to toss the Common Core.

This is his screed against books, particularly against Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which he called pornographic. Now he, and a handful of others in the Legislature, want to delay the standards, citing the lack of reading exemplars as one of their reasons. The truth is that they were going to be against the standards because they don’t like the name at the top of the letterhead. They don’t need another reason.

Along with the editors at the Oklahoman – who ran an opinion piece on the standards by someone who hasn’t read them – and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs – whose Andrew Spiropoulos once warned conservatives not to get rid of Common Core – we have to deal with people in elected positions intent on disrupting public education, above all else.This is about politics and egos.

Some in the House will claim that one of the proposed standards resolutions – HJR 1070 – would not delay implementation of the standards at all. That is false.

1070  Nelson twitter

Apparently, Nelson doesn’t understand the delay (and cost) that this supposedly harmless resolution would cause. Nor does he seem to remember that ROPE – which has no interest in helping public education – would be involved in the review process.

review committees

The standards are ready. They’re not perfect; they never will be. We should take constructive feedback into consideration, but we shouldn’t stop what we’re doing because of it.

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  1. March 20, 2016 at 4:19 pm
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