Posted by: Middleclass Search | February 16, 2016

Common Core Standards

Reviewing education in America for a book on the middle class the subject of Common Core Standards was prominent in the literature. Being an engineer any encouragement to support a systematic approach to improving education should not be missed. When the basic research for information was made there was found a dissent for the approach and use of Common Core Standards. An article in the Washington Post by Valerie Strauss on January 18, 2014 where she quotes a speech given by Diana Ravitch (an one time Assistant Secretary of Education)on January 11, 2014 to the Modern Language Association. After reading the article the first time it appeared that the doctor was an academia trying to justify keeping the education process of the past. The article did list more concerns than you would expect from a thoroughly designed and implemented system. Much research later it is obvious that Dr. Ravitch speech (article) provides a very precise history of a good and simple idea gone awry. I do not agree with her conclusions, we do need standards but many issues some interacting and some just happening concurrently are casting doubt on the Common Core Standard and are threatening a successful implementation.

The list of issues includes:

1 – The development and implementation timeline;

2 – The government implementation of a $4.35 billion grant program;

3 – The change in methodology of learning/ teaching mathematics which was integrated in the new standard but had not previously been presented;

4 – The relationship of some of the developers of the standards and the testing, implementation;

5 – Testing of Common Core Standards;

6 – The requirement that the Common Core Standards test would require computer equipment;

7 – There was no discussion of subjects not included in the standards (social studies, arts and American/ world history).

The first issue is the development and implementation timeline that included a change in methodology of learning/ teaching mathematics which was integrated in the new standard but had not been previously announced to the education community. A concise timeline:

2007 – At the Annual Policy Forum of the Council of Chief State School Officials (CCSSO) a discussion on standardizing states educational standards was put forth.

2008 – CCSSO and the National Governors Association (NGA) collaborated on a report to upgrade educational standards.

2009 April – NGA and CCSSO convinced state government and educational of advisors to commit to develop common standards.

2009 May – Common Core Standard development starts.

2009 June – 48 states, two territories and Washington DC, some providing expertise, began developing Common Core Standards.

2009 September – First draft provided for public comment. One thousand responses.

2009 November – First draft of K – 12 grade by grade Common Core Standards completed.

2010 January – Review of revised draft of K – 12 grade by grade Common Core Standards.

2010 February – Revised version of Common Core Standards provided to states

2010 March – Comments received on Common Core Standards

2010 June – Final draft of Common Core Standards released.

2011/15 – A majority of states, four territories and Washington DC work to replace existing standards with Common Core State Standards. Some states are considering dropping out after having implementation problems, cost of assessment concerns and a few are concerned that Common Core Standards is the prelude to a national education program.

The time line is not unreasonable for implementing a system but when one adds to the Common Core Standards the changes of a new way mathematics is to be taught and these changes were not publicized prior to the standards it easy to see how mistrust of Common Core is coming from many fronts. The mathematic change itself normally would’ve taken 2 to 4 years to implement. The normal approach would be to introduced the idea, teachers would be trained, parents would introduced to the new method so they could help their children adjust and then and only then the new approach would have been put into practice.

A second issue causing concern in implementing Common Core Standards is that in July 2009 the Department of Education announced the “Race to the Top” a grant program of $4.35 billion for satisfying certain educational policies of performance based evaluation of faculty based on measures of educational effectiveness. Although adopting Common Core Standards was not required by this program some (most) states linked the two. This link real or imagined added to those concerned that the Federal Government was trying to dominate what was taught in local schools.

The third issue is the change in methodology of learning/ teaching mathematics which was integrated in the new standard but had not previously been presented, this was a significant change in mathematics teaching equivalent to the change attempted in the 1960s and 1980s which was referred to as “New Math”. The attempted change to math teaching in the 60s/80s did not succeed with more preparation then the Common Core math change. From a systems integrator point of view I can’t explain the logic of why the Common Core math (for lack of a better name) was introduced to school systems this way. If the Common Core math is better for American students we should not penalize them for the approach used for its introduction. We as parents should help to improve the introduction by working with our local school system. Parents can provide tutorials for both students and other parents on the subject, work with teachers to help struggling students, do what it takes to make it happen.

An issue that is a concern to some in the education community and others outside it, is the relationship of developers and the educational testing community. As an example, just recently it was announced that the 2016 SAT exam has undergone the first major change in 30 years when the changes are compared to the Common Core standards they match the new requirements. A reasonable future goal but the exam has changed before the Common Core Standards are fully implemented. The President of the College Boards since late 2012 is David Coleman who left the Common Core development team to become President of the College Boards.

The fifth issues the testing of Common Core Standards has several concerns. Under the current approach all school systems will be paying for their students to take the Common Core Test. Two testing consortiums have been set up to administer test to measure the effectiveness of the standards. The  time the test places on the students’ class time might be more beneficially used in learning rather than measuring. It would make more sense to link the Common Core testing to the daily, weekly and monthly testing that goes on in a school system via the local school systems metadata. The information for the Common Core statistics can be “data mined” from existing information, in the long run this will save money (money that can be used locally and not going to a testing consortium) for the school system, do away with testing stress and do away with “teaching to the test”.  Since the College Boards are integrating the standards in their test the measurement of the 11th/12th grade college bound students will be available in the College Boards database.

Another testing issue is that some states and some administrators want to use the test as a measurement of a teachers’ ability to teach and some politicians have jumped on this simplistic idea. One governor wants to make the results be 50% of a teacher’s evaluation. The idea of using the results of the Common Core test to be a major factor in grading a teachers is enough of an argument to negate any testing. (I’m not an educator but I was a manager for many years and I did not need a test to rate the engineers that worked for me.)

The issue that Common Core Standards test would require the purchased of computer equipment. There doesn’t appear to be any validity that testing would require individual computers for students at least in the beginning. That’s not to say that some school systems may have used Common Core implementation for justification of additional computers. This argument would go away if alternate methods to measure the implementation of Common Core Standards other than standard test are used.

The seventh issue which was brought up back in 2009 in some of the feedback was that there was no discussion of subjects not included in the Common Core Standards (social studies, arts and American/ world history). The answer has never been adequately addressed by any of the organizations responsible for the standards. Common Core Standards were and still are funded by large corporations who want an educated workforce something that few would disagree with but some members of society have argued that the common core is focused too much on what corporations need for good employees and not what a country needs for good citizens. The concern that teaching the items in Common Core Areas would not allow time for other subjects should be looked at by each state.

From an engineering point of view, Common Core appears to be a system that was implemented to quickly without proper peer review. The designers got review of their design but from a selective group of individuals which the designers chose, the number was very small when you consider there are a little over 3.6 million teachers in public and private elementary and secondary schools.

There is much more that can be said on the subject but the function of this article is to highlight problems that harm the middle-class where joint action by citizens can solve. Common Core Standards is a good idea but one that needs to be implemented for the long haul. The system design and implementation had too much money, too little time, a lot of naivety about system change and just maybe too much arrogance that the system developers know better for the citizens of our country then the citizens.

I’m concerned that the current approach of implementing Common Core Standards will end up just as prior attempts to implement “New Math” in the 1960s and again in 1980s both times a lot of buzz, a lot of complaints were generated but eventually mathematic teaching went back to the prior approach.

States should not abandon the idea of Common Core Standards but develop a better implementation program along with a better and cheaper information gathering methodology (testing).

Action: Citizens can get involved and help school districts work through the problem. Ask questions: Are the teachers trained in teaching the new approach to mathematics? Do the parents understand the new approach to mathematics? Do the Common Core standards provide a “well-rounded” citizen? Are there better assessment techniques then standardize test?

Remember that school administrators via CCSSO have a vested interest in the current approach to implementing Common Core so changes to the process at the local level may not come easily.


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