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Topic: "Why I Cannot Support the Common Core Standards"

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This blog post (originally posted at e-standards ) was submitted to MSPnet by David May.
We feel this is a view worth discussing. We look forward to an interesting, interactive discussion.

Excerpt from Diane Ravitch's Blog:
"I have thought long and hard about the Common Core standards.
I have decided that I cannot support them.

In this post, I will explain why.

I have long advocated for voluntary national standards, believing that it would be helpful to states and districts to have general guidelines about what students should know and be able to do as they progress through school.

Such standards, I believe, should be voluntary, not imposed by the federal government; before implemented widely, they should be thoroughly tested to see how they work in real classrooms; and they should be free of any mandates that tell teachers how to teach because there are many ways to be a good teacher, not just one."

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Common Core Standards

posted by: Gerry Meisels on 3/15/2013 1:20 pm

Ours is a highly mobile society. In some of our schools the turnover rate exceeds 100%. The scope of the job market has become national. Professionals and other workers move to where the jobs are, and their mobility has no state boundaries. We are ONE country, and we must assure that children of those who move are not disadvantaged because what is taught when differs from location to location. What students should know and be able to do to be compoetitive in the job market of the 21st century differs very little from school to school and state to state. An inadequate P-12 education closes the door to opportunities for students' entire lives. Common expectations are sensible and essential in our society. Common standards recognize this reality. They underly the critical common sequencing.
Having been a member of the team that wrote the science standard in my home state, I am aware of the magnitude of the job and the diverse expertise and time commitment that effort requires. There is little sense in duplicating this effort, and almost imposible to gather all nessary people especially in smaller states. As a consequence the quality of state standards is very uneven as documented by national reviews.
A national effort has much better resources and can draw on a much larger number of experts. By any reasonable criterion, a collaboratively developed national set of standards makes the most sense. That is what we have before us, and while it may not be perfect, it is a good step forward.
Let us not forget that standards are just the beginning, and that the real crux of the matter is what happens in teh classroom, what the teacher and how the teacher does it. To change human behavior is a challenge much more formidable and important than writing standards. Yet we spend much time and effort (and resources) on defining expectations (i.e. standards) and evaluating the outcome (i.e. assessment) but conveniently disregard the much more important stage inbetween, the "how to."

Finally, Diane Ravitch speaks to voluntary standards -
taken ad absurdum that would mean that each teachers stes his or her individual standard. The national standards are voluntary in a sense since they were developed in a collaborative process, and while their adoption is incentivized, they are not mandatory. The preoccupation with retaining a system of local autonomy and educational decisionmaking fails in the 21st entury because our world is much more complex and learning much more important and varied than it was even half a century ago.

Surely in the "how to" stage teachers will draw on location-specific resources for student interest and relevance. That is certainly allowed and encouraged in the national standards. The standards merely define the major, broader learning outcomes. These are the same no matter where the student is.

On: Why I Cannot Support the Common Core Standards

posted by: Dr. Thomas P. Walsh on 3/16/2013 5:18 am

This discussion seems to be "Why we must support the Common Core Standards" not "Why I Cannot Support the Common Core Standards". I'm not sure I understand the point Gerry is making. If he is supporting the CCSS, then he should title his piece "Why I DO support the Common Core State Standards"

Common Core

posted by: Josephine Pasquarelli on 3/18/2013 9:15 am

Let us look first at what we mean by "common". We certainly want our students to have knowledge that is common to all scientists or mathematicians. Common knowledge boosts communication. But is communication all that we are about. Common can also mean "ordinary" and do we want to hold our students back with ordinary knowledge? It is very easy to measure whether or not a student can give us back the knowledge and techniques we have given to him/her. It is quite another to measure the depth of understanding and connection that creates ground-breaking discoveries that advance the state of mankind. I maintain that we are dangerously close to squashing the very students that have the ability to create and move us forward. The evil is not in the standards, the evil is in testing and pigeon-holing and labeling.
I doubt very much that Albert Einstien would have prospered under such a rigid atmosphere.
So the short answer is - I am vehemently opposed to Common Core Standards because I have seen the casualties that such rigid thinking creates. Let the districts have a curriculum and teach teachers how to do formative assessments to adjust instruction. Do we really need a huge beauracracy to oversee all of our children's education? Is this what made America great. I am a first generation American. I know why my ancestors immigrated here.

Common Core

posted by: Mary Govan on 3/19/2013 8:52 am

I too agree with your thoughts on Common Core.

Let's get back to the kids

posted by: Teresa Strong on 3/19/2013 11:09 am

What I find disturbing about the top down approach of common core and the need for evaluation of teachers and students is that creates an unreality that no one contests. I am so tired of worrying about being badly evaluated by persons that have no idea of what I do and the children I work with and know. I wish that I could teach with the real starting point of where my students are and go towards what I know they should learn by the time I get through with them. I am so tired of vague standards, so tired of high stakes tests that don't reveal what the ids should know until the moment the kids open the tests. In my humble opinion, I think the real aim of common core and the concurrent high stakes testing is the dismantling of public education. That's the emperor with no clothes. But most of us are are so preoccupied with trying to meet goals that we don't set ourselves, by trying to keep our jobs by getting good evaluations, that we don't question what's behind the changes to public education. Our Wizard of Oz so to speak.

Misconceptions about Common Core

posted by: Steven Kramer on 3/20/2013 8:49 am


Misconceptions about Common Core

posted by: Steven Kramer on 3/20/2013 8:53 am

I want to address what I perceive to be misconceptions in two recent posts. . I am a math educator, so my comments apply only to the Common Core Standards for Matematics. I have not studied the Language Arts standards.

Misconception 1: "But it appears that the reigns of education have been handed over to politicians and theorists with very little, if any, classroom experience or knowledge of child development."
The math standards were written by educators and based to the degree possible on research about learning trajectories in mathematics: sequences of learning that are developed by starting with one-on-one teaching experiments used to develop hypotheses about how students construct their understanding of math concepts, followed by teaching activities based on this research that try to implement the hypothesized learning trajectory in the classroom, followed by revision, etc. While there are many possible learning trajectories that can work, there are also many sequences of instruction that don't work because they do not take into account how kids actually learn. Basing the curriculum topics and sequence on learning trajectories is an attempt to fix this.
The problem is that research on learning trajectories is new and incomplete--with much more information available for the elementary school than for middle, and almost no information available for high school.
So the math standards are based on the best we know about elementary school learning trajectories, combined with a SWAG (scientific wild-assed guess) about learning trajectories for older students. Overall, while terribly imperfect,the Common Core math standards incorporate more knowledge of child cognitive development than any past standards or curricula.

Misconception 2: The Common Core are "vague standards (and) high stakes tests that don't reveal what the kids should know until the moment the kids open the tests." The whole point of the Common Core is to make as clear as possible to teachers and students what students are supposed to know. The PARCC and Smarter Balanced folks are focusing on developing formative as well as summative assessments, so that students and teachers can assess how things are going as they aim for clearly-defined goals, and make adjustments if things arent going well. Plus, the coherence across grade levels makes it possible to know not only how kids are progressing this year but how they are progressing towards goals laid out for their full K-12 career.

Semi-misconception: Folks tend to treat the Common Core as fixed. In fact, it was designed to be a living document, in that it ought to be revised as we learn more about student learning. See my comments about lack of knowledge regarding learning trajectories for older students for an example of an area that will need improvement. The long term problem is that the Common Core is a practical compromise between educators and the politicians who must fund any revisions to the Standards and to the tests. A decade from now (if not sooner) we ought to revise the Common Core based on what we learn over time. I am, however, a bit worried that such revisions wont truly happen.


posted by: Josephine Pasquarelli on 3/21/2013 10:09 am

There is a huge difference between educators writing standards and the people who decide implementation and "consequences". My experience has been this- Standards are written. Consequences are determined. Administrators want to look good. Children are taught how to do well on the test. Administrator looks good. Teacher feels guilty because they feel children do not fully understand the material. Children hate school.
As I said, the evil lies not in the standards but in implementation. It is a child's nature to be curious and want to explore but we are killing that and I cannot sit by and watch this. We, as educators need to somehow stop this from being a political football and a money- making opportunity for companies to create scripted curriculums that administrators force talented teachers to use. Yes, this is happening to many of our colleagues.
Standards are good but they are standards. We can and should go beyond them for the children who can.
I only urge all of you not to be pawns in a political game of one-ups-man-ship.
The question is "Do I support Common Core." There is more to Common Core than standards.

A must read for policy makers and principals

posted by: Frank Gardella on 3/22/2013 10:45 am

Josephine's writing titled 'Misconceptions' needs to be read by all the 'key players' at the policy level. Yes, even Bill Gates. We need to add Common Sense to Common Core. And common sense needs in-school leadership that makes sense. I believe in many places this is sorely missing.

It seems the money stream jumped from developing the CCSS directly to developing the assessments. It jumped over the need to develop a proper protocol for implementing the CCSS in classrooms and the required training.

Misconceptions about Misconceptions

posted by: Eric Smith on 3/22/2013 10:59 am

I'm probably going to regret responding to this at the end of a trying week, but....

Can't tell you how frustrated I am at this post. Evidently teachers care about students, and administrators only care about looking good and forcing talented teachers into scripts.

I am an administrator. I care deeply about the 570 students in my elementary school. I care about taking them from where ever they are, giving them the best support possible, and lifting them up to whatever heights we can. I care about my talented teachers and supporting them to maintain high standards and engaging teaching. I am also NOT special or unique in this passion. Might I suggest that the admin that only cares about looking good is as rare as that awful teacher that seems to come up when some person with an ax to grind bashes teachers in some post on the net.

Perhaps we should work together and not make gross assumptions about each other. I had some teachers stop talking to me when I "went to the other side" and became an admin. Should I lump all teachers together and claim that they are petty and condescending or understand that a few people have problems with admins that are beyond me?

I fully support this....."the evil lies not in the standards but in implementation. It is a child's nature to be curious and want to explore but we are killing that"...... but let's be careful to fight for our students together instead of sniping at each other.

I'm sorry that you have experience with possibly short-sighted admins in your career. Most of us are hard working; under stress that you could only imagine if you've never dealt with school boards, newspapers, parent groups etc.; and care as much about a school's worth of students as you care about your classroom. God bless!

Sorry Eric

posted by: Josephine Pasquarelli on 3/25/2013 10:54 am

Eric - Let me apologize to you for making you feel unsupported and frustrated. I am glad that you spent so much time in a classroom before becoming an administrator. When you make decisions at that level you are not going to be a popular guy, I realize that. Unfortunately, my experiences with the majority of administrators has not been positive - although I have seen some dynamite leaders. The thing about being a leader is you become everybody's target. It becomes very difficult to do what is right for the students in todays environment. You at the top sometimes have no choice but to play the game or be headed out the door. I know that. The "blame" if we are to think of it in those terms, goes way up the ladder beyond places where you have any real control.
There are bad things happening to students and teachers, Eric. I am very happy that is not the case in your district.
I am "old". I remember my childhood school days fondly and most of my fond memories have nothing to do with the papers I did or the tests I completed. They have to do with a sense of knowing I was cared for, the excitement of learning, and the time to spend on my own to explore the things that became my passions as an adult. In an attempt to raise up the lowest performers, we have loaded work onto ALL students, given them a false sense of what knowledge is and loaded them with so much "school" stuff and pressure that they have no real time to reflect. I do not want us to be Korea where the suicide rate among students is very high.
I am so glad you care enough to feel insulted because people like you give me hope for the future. I wish you well, and support you in your caring. You are a gem. Don't forget that. Always remember - these children are our countries future.

Misconceptions and Confusion

posted by: Gerry Meisels on 3/21/2013 4:30 pm

An additional element of confusion relates to assessment. I agree completely that high stakes assessment is fraught with misuse, tyhat there is nothing wrong with using to have educator-developed common standards guide what we do in the classroom. That is what the discussion of misconceptions states quite well. Much of the criticism has to do with assessment.

Some seem to believe that assessment is there only to improve student learning or teacher practice, that is it assumes that there is only formative assessment. As any student of management practice and quality management knows, (as well as any grant PI), it is also necessary to assess outcomes, i.e. to conduct summative assessment. It's all based on the principle that if you don't measure outcomes, you don't really know whether any change in practice has led to improvement. I have heard it argued that one does not need summative assesemnt because when walking iunto a classroom "we can just tell when learning is going on." Perhaps, but what you really see is student engagement, and you do not know know whether what is learned is right or wrong, i.e. whether students are aborbed in developing one of the misconceoptions tghat are so prevalent.

What is wrong here too is that summative assessment is misused. But that does not mean that it should not be conducted. Prfescription drugs can also be misused. That doesn't mean you should do away with them!

Biological/Cognitive Variation

posted by: Brendan Foreman on 4/24/2013 6:34 am

The point that Steve is making here is one of the most important and one of the most elided.

A set of academic standards based on age and "typical" learning trajectories will necessarily not provide the best fit for every single student. Rather they serve as approximations for potential achievement levels given enough academic, emotional and social support and minimal external inhibiting factors -- such as poverty, lead-poisoning, etc.

But there will always be variation among students of even the most homogeneous population. As all mathematical educators have noted, mathematical learning in the classroom does not occur quite as linearly as a set of age-based standards makes it seem. We forget and remember certain facts often randomly. We suddenly have insight on some advanced aspect of the topic that clears up misconceptions about more basic aspects. Connections between topics become more clear -- or less clear. Certain topics just never become intuitive, whereas others we can do in our sleep.

One child learns to count to 100 by the age of 4, but her best friend is still struggling with getting up to 20 correctly. One 9th grader suddenly sees that every single linear equation is essentially solveable by the same techniques, whereas another is still treating each given linear equation as a singleton problem with all-new solving techniques.

And, of course, as David Tyack and Larry Cuban pointed out a few years back, before graded classrooms, no student was ever "behind."

Many state standards were designed to address this situation by purposefully being the most minimal possible levels of achievement for each grade. The Core Standards do just the opposite and push more and more advanced topics into lower grades.

High rigor of this sort is a great tool for guiding teachers as to where to lead their students. But, ignoring a basic facet of human existence -- namely, each person learns mathematics along their own trajectory -- is not the most optimal way to construct a robust, coherent curriculum.

I agree...

posted by: Anna R. Lewis on 3/20/2013 3:22 pm

I hear you Teresa. What the others have said does have merit, and yes as a profession it's good to have standards to strive towards... but what gets lost is the fact that how we get individuals to achieve these standards is as varied as the teachers and students themselves. It's when the process also becomes standardized that the real trouble begins. Developing, conducting, and evaluating good teaching requires an eye to the unique strengths of the teacher and students. We want so much for the factory model to work since it's so clean and easy to understand and assess - but we are people in social situations and it's really messy. So go ahead and give us standards but then STOP. Let's continue to train teachers how to adapt to student needs as they arise and determine how those standards can be met and then let them do it! And if we plan to use these standards - then do away with normalized test results. Use straight criterion measures so teachers can show that their students know the content and have mastery of the information. That one step in itself would be a wake-up call to the nation. Let's work towards mastery and trust that teachers want their students to learn just as much as everyone else.


posted by: Teresa Strong on 3/22/2013 6:07 am

Can you put these words in a can and sell them? Beautifully said by someone who understands. Than you--it's nice to be heard.

Some details in Gerry Meisels' comments of 3/15/13

posted by: Frank Gardella on 3/16/2013 9:28 pm

About the turnover rate of over 100%. Does that mean that students who move out of a school move to another district or do they move to another school in the same district where the curriculum may be the same? If a large percent of the students were moving out of districts, that would be a problem. Is there any disaggregated data to focus on the places to which these students move?

The comments state that now that the standards are set, focus can now be placed on the classroom. This is not the true history of the CCSS in mathematics and ELA. For the most part, after the standards were set, immediate national attention was turned to the Assessments (PARCC and Better Balance.) Although there was a lot of talk about classroom practice, this was left strictly to the local level where in 'some' cases', for obvious political reasons, the rule has become 'get the students through the tests.' Also, in New York,
state department people are very comfortable in speaking of a drop in scores of up to 30% when the new assessments are used. Not exactly the saving program that the CCSS first promised.
And lastly, my latest reading of Diane Ravitch in her blog on February 26 shows that although she may be an advocate of voluntary standards, she is not supporting the CCSS. In her blog she states several reasons, one of them having to do with the lack of research basis for what the CCSS do.

Turnover Rates

posted by: Gerry Meisels on 3/21/2013 4:11 pm

Frank is correct that turnover includes in-district, in-state, and out-of-state student transfers. I do not recall whether the data provide that level of detail, they came from a district report a few years ago. My recollection is that schools that served a substantial migrant (farm) worker population were the worst off as parents moved to wherever farm products were harvested at the time and that further follow-up suggested that this group included a substantial out-of-state component.


Standards / Assessment Conflation

posted by: Arthur Camins on 3/16/2013 2:57 pm

Diane Ravitch's disagreement with Mark Tucker caused me to reflect on why I am so dissatisfied with the standards debate. There is too much conflation of the complex issues surrounding standards, standardization and high-stakes assessment as an improvement tool. They seem inseparable in practice, but nonetheless, it's important to sort them out.

I'll use the example of the Kindergarten math standard, " Count to 100 by ones and by tens." This is a marked departure from current expectations, at least here in the US. I am not taking a position on whether it is appropriate or not. But, I know this expectation has generated a lot of heat. Why has it? First, it is clear that many people do not know whether this is a common achievable expectation for most students based on evidence from around the world, an aspirational expectation based on small samples under experimental conditions or an experimental research proposition. If the US is just out of step, why is this not common knowledge across math and early childhood educators? If not, why is it situated in the standards as an expectation for which teachers will be held accountable?

In my view, it the looming threat of consequential assessments that is undermining consideration, or when necessary suspension of disbelief, of standards that might push beyond current practice. Without the threat, educators might embrace challenges and new ideas about the limits of student understanding. With the threat, educators reasonably hear, "You must accomplish outcomes with your students that you mistakenly believe is not possible. If you don't accomplish them (and excel in comparison to your colleagues) you will be blamed, and risk promotion."

Engaging students and teachers in stretching their limits is not just about, "stepping up our game," as President Obama suggested on Education Nation. Maybe that was just rhetorical and he really understands complexity, but he hasn't said so. The Standards could engender healthy debate about the evidentiary basis of various learning propositions and the repertoire of effective strategies necessary to achieve them. We might even be able to consider new assessments if they were meant to be exploratory rather than a sledgehammer.

Arthur H. Camins

Math Wars II?: The Point of Common Core Math vs NCTM standards

posted by: F. Joseph Merlino on 3/16/2013 11:33 pm

For me, the issue is not, "does one support the CCMS." From a math disciplinary standpoint, they could be the most excellent possible.

The issue is what makes anyone feel confident that this initiative will not meet the same fate as the 1989 NCTM standards and its refreshed version the 2000 Standards and Principles, which many also considered worthy and excellent? Are we headed for another Math Wars II? Many of the rants footnoted within Ravitch's blog sound all too familiar.

As long as math is presented as a discipline unto itself, as a subject separate from the sciences and from other disciplines, without any real connectivity to its natural allies, including business and industry, I cannot see how the status quo can be moved and defended from the reactionary mobs with pitchforks that are sure to assemble from out of the woodwork as soon as the nine-hour PARC and Smarter Balance assessments start to kick in and loads of middle class kids start to fail them. (See the fate of the New York state's Math A and B exams a decade ago, or Achieve's Gates Foundation sponsored nine state Algebra II fiasco).

I say this having the utmost respect for those who labored mightily with good intent to craft the CCMS and who in their hearts want only the best for kids. But I, and my other grayer headed colleagues, have been down this long road before.

F. Joseph Merlino (PI of the MSPGP, 2003-2012)

Theory of standards-based reform

posted by: Andy Zucker on 3/17/2013 11:43 am

Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, has also been writing about the Common Core documents recently; he largely supports them, and disagrees with Diane Ravitch. Yong Zhao is someone who, like Ravitch, has critiqued the Common Core. It is interesting that these diverse opinions are being voiced at this late date. Haven't the Common Core and NextGen Science Standards trains left the station already?

Arthur Camins writes that he is concerned about conflating discussions of standards, standardization, and high-stakes testing. I do understand his point. Yet don't we need "systems thinking" in education? Isn't that what the standards-based reform movement has focused on for twenty years? The theory has always included assessments (and has always under-emphasized legitimate concerns about high-stakes assessments).

Another weakness of the theory of standards-based reform is that some disciplines and some forms of knowledge are, in practice, privileged over others. Isn't there good evidence that science teaching suffered in many schools because reading and math were the priorities? Has the result been good for STEM education and for kids? Similarly, learning about civics is not a priority of the standards movement, although we know that citizen involvement is crucial in a democracy. Neither are the social sciences a priority, even though our understanding of human psychology has made progress in recent decades, with implications for many public policy issues.

I have not taken "a position" on the Common Core or the NextGen Science Standards. For better or for worse I am less interested in the content of the documents than in how they will be used in practice, and in understanding reformers' theories of how they are supposed to be used.