Give ‘em a centimeter, they’ll take . . .

When Jeanne Zaino was in second grade, teachers were told to teach the metric system. The Metric Conversion Act of 1975 had made metric the preferred system of weights and measures. It’s a cautionary tale for Common Core standards, writes Zaino, a professor of political science and international studies at Iona College.

She recalls:

(a) the United States is behind the rest of the world when it comes to measuring, and this doesn’t bode well for your futures; (b) if we have any hope of reasserting ourselves on the world stage, we have to buck up, forget our outmoded system of measurement, and adopt this new system; and (c) the president said you have to learn this, so, whether we like it or not, here are your new rulers.

Her teacher tried, but students could tell she wasn’t enthusiastic about teaching second graders about centimeters and meters when they weren’t clear about inches, feet, and yards. The teacher probably didn’t know the metric system well herself.

Looking back, I am fairly certain that our collective inertia and trepidation pretty much guaranteed that the mandate was going to fail.

Lately, as I watch my own son’s elementary school teachers struggle to introduce the common-core standards, the latest mandate in our state, I have been thinking a lot about the failed attempt to introduce the metric system. I have no problem with mandates, but they work only if they are fully embraced by those on the ground, those who stand at the front of the classroom every day.

. . . without the support, understanding, and enthusiasm of teachers, these directives tend to either fail or fizzle away.

I worry about elementary teachers trying to teach “deep understanding” of math concepts they don’t really understand themselves.

The metric system was the wave of the future when I was in second grade in 1959. Soon the U.S. would stop using the old-fashioned inches, feet and yards, Miss Bletsch told us. I learned that a centimeter is sort of like an inch and a meter is very much like a yard and . . . I may have peaked too soon on the metric system.

Common Core backlash

Indiana will “pause” implementation of Common Core standards for more state review, if Gov. Mike Pence signs a bill on his desk. It’s not clear how state Superintendent Glenda Ritz will interpret the legislation, writes Scott Elliott in the Indianapolis Star.  The State Board of Education is “deeply committed to Common Core,” but the governor will be appointing new board members this summer.

The backlash against the new standards is a national phenomenon, reports the Washington Post. Some state legislators are worried about the costs, which could add up to $12 billion a year. Others say teachers don’t have the training and resources they need.

Conservatives say “Obamacore” amounts to a national curriculum. Using federal Race to the Top grants to pressure states to adopt Common Core has backfired.

New standards will mean lower test scores — and more testing for many students.

Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers and a strong  Common Core supporter, called for  a “mid-course correction” this week. “The Common Core is in trouble,” she said. “There is a serious backlash in lots of different ways, on the right and on the left.”

AFT’s proposed testing moratorium is a triangulation strategy, writes Dropout Nation.

Tougher tests spur anxiety, opt-outs

New York’s new Common Core-aligned tests are bringing “protests and tears,” reports the New York  Times.

Complaints were plentiful: the tests were too long; students were demoralized to the point of tears; teachers were not adequately prepared. Some parents, long skeptical of the emphasis on standardized testing, forbade their children from participating.

“All the kids were, like, open-mouthed, crazy-shocked and very upset,” said.Maya Velasquez, 14, an eighth grader at the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering.

Education officials are predicting test scores will nosedive in the first year.

 Across the city on Thursday, teachers and principals reported that the test required more stamina and concentration than students were used to.

Students said they struggled with questions that asked them to discuss how a writer constructed a story rather than about the content of the passage itself. One question, for instance, asked students to analyze how an author built suspense in describing a girl whose rope snapped while in a cave.

At the Computer School on the Upper West Side, students said teachers had warned them that the test would be the most challenging they had taken. “When they ask, ‘What’s the main idea?’ and you have to put it in your own words, it’s a lot harder,” said Ron Yogev, a sixth grader.

That was the point. David Coleman, president of the College Board and an architect of the Common Core standards, told critics to chill. “When the alternative is shallower passages and shallower questions, what are we debating here?” he said.

Some parents, especially in affluent areas, are opting out of testing, notes Dana Goldstein in a blog post on Test Resentment and the Politics of the Common Core.

The new tests were “rolled out” before many schools and teachers received new curriculum materials and training.

. . .  the decision to move quickly was a deliberate one on the part of state policy-makers; since the exams are tied to teacher evaluations and high school graduation requirements, rolling them out sends a strong message that officials expect instruction to improve now. The risk is that the Common Core movement will lose political support as families and schools receive low test scores, and that states like New York will grade the exams on such a steep curve that their purpose–raising expectations–will be watered down.

It takes “fortitude” to stick with rigorous tests when many students do badly — especially if they’re middle-class students — Goldstein concludes.

Bundled

New York City teachers must teach bundles — “aligned tasks embedded in a unit of study” — to fulfill Common Core Standards, writes Exasperated Educator.

At my school, we are obligated to administer a minimum of two bundles in each major subject. It can take weeks to plow through the bundles with all their attachments (the 6th grade special ed class has been working on the same unit since Martin Luther King Day).

. . . Before Easter vacation, I looked at a hallway bulletin board. It proudly displayed the culminating task for an English assignment. I saw ten essays written by ten different students each of which said the exact same thing. Each essay made the same arguments. Each essay cited the same evidence. Each essay used the same transition words. It was a model of uniformity.

EE’s own bulletin board displayed “ten examples of student work each espousing the same reasoning, the same ideas, the same answers.”

Reading list is diverse, inclusive and useless

California’s new recommended reading list of books for English, science and socials studies teachers is so inclusive and “relevant” that it’s useless writes Mark Bauerlein on Core Knowledge Blog.

Recommended Literature: Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve will help students meet Common Core Standards, claims the state education department. Bauerlein disagrees.

. . . the list is too long and too indiscriminate. It contains 7,800 titles—2,500 for grades 9 – 12 alone—and it sets dozens of classics among thousands of contemporary, topical titles without distinction. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is followed by Macho, a 1991 tale of an illegal immigrant who becomes a field worker. Little Women makes the list, but the description of it says nothing about its historical status. Every work gets the same treatment, a one-sentence statement of content. The field is overwhelmingly wide and it has only one level, ranking Leaves of GrassHuck Finn, etc. equal to pop culture publications.

Common Core Standards call for students to “demonstrate knowledge” of the ‘foundational works of American literature,” such as Ben Franklin’s Autobiography, Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery and Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Bauerlein writes. The California list buries the classics in a pile of pop lit.  The Iliad is on the list. So is Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven and a sequel to The Da Vinci Code

Students who’ve read trendy modern books won’t be prepared for college, Bauerlein writes.

When professors in U.S. history, sociology, or political science mention the American ideal of self-reliance, those who have read Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau, and Washington have a decided advantage over those who haven’t. . . . Many contemporary works are superb, of course, but they do not provide the background learning that goes with Gulliver’s Travels, Jane Eyre, and 1984. And few of them, too, contain the exquisite sentences of Gatsby, the piercing metaphors of Blake, the characters of Flannery O’Connor . . .

. . . How much of our understanding of the Depression comes from The Grapes of Wrath, of the American South circa 1930 from William Faulkner, of old New England from Hawthorne?

“A more culturally relevant curriculum” gives students ” a thin and haphazard version of the culture they inhabit,” Bauerlein concludes.

No math, no job

Weak math skills disqualify would-be workers, manufacturers say.

High school graduates applying for jobs at Tacoma’s General Plastics Manufacturing have to take a math test. The company makes foam products for the aerospace industry.

Eighteen questions, 30 minutes, and using a calculator is OK.

They are asked how to convert inches to feet, read a tape measure and find the density of a block of foam (mass divided by volume).

One in 10 pass the math test. And it’s not just a problem at General Plastics.

“Manufacturers are willing to train people about the specifics of their machines and technology,” said Linda Nguyen, CEO of Work Force Central, a partnership of government, business, education and community organizations that trains workers in Tacoma and surrounding Pierce County. “But they can’t afford to hire someone who needs to relearn basic math.”

Math teachers know their students will need math knowledge in the real word, writes Darren, a high school math teacher, on Right on the Left Coast. But he’s turned off by the story’s “drooling over Common Core Standards. Many teachers  “doubt . . .  the so-called cure.”

Having students write about math isn’t a real cure.  Group work isn’t a cure.  Collaboration requires everyone have some background knowledge on which to draw so everyone can contribute.  I wouldn’t mind cutting a few topics out so we had more time to cover the remaining topics more deeply, but to insist on so-called discovery learning is an exceedingly inefficient use of instructional time.

Instead of trying to make math “fun” or “applicable”, perhaps we could consider instilling in students, or insisting on, some perseverance and a sense of responsibility, and maybe even some delayed gratification.

Employers would value those traits too, Darren believes.

Many students who slid through high school without really learning math enroll at community colleges with hopes of training for a job or eventually earning a bachelor’s degree. Placement in remedial math is the single biggest dream killer.

A brand-new crossroads in education

According to Ken Kay (former president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills) and Bob Lenz, we face a crossroads with the implementation of the Common Core. We could focus on mapping the standards to curricula, or we could use the standards to transform teaching and learning. The authors cheer for the latter.

The common core can and should serve as a unique transformational opportunity for our nation’s teaching and learning systems. Educators who leverage these standards to teach and assess such competencies as critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration will lead the way to postsecondary and career success for more students.

They associate the second path with the 21st century and its attendant skills. Other details are unclear–for instance, what books they think would be good to read in literature and history classes.

But vagueness may be a 21st century skill in itself, if a satirical piece by Arnold Arons tells truth:

REPORTER: Dr. Platitudeford, how do you and your colleagues characterize the salient features of the instructional methods you advocate?

DR. PLATITUDEFORD: They are innovative, individualized, inquiry-oriented, performance-based, experiental, and unstructured.

Oops–this piece, “Educational Practices–An Expert View of Human Trends,” was published in 1973. (Hat tip to Richard Hake for bringing it to my attention a few months ago.)

Maybe we’re at a crossroads, but the two roads aren’t what Kay and Lenz suppose. Who knows what they are until we’ve traveled them a bit? There’s a chance, though, that they might be the well-worn roads of clarity and obfuscation.

States link exit exams to college readiness

Eight states have linked high-school exit exams to college-readiness standards such as Common Core and 10 more plan to do so.

After collecting $105,000 in student loans and grants to attend community college, a Pennsylvania man faces fraud charges. The college he allegedly attended would have cost less than $16,000 for a full-time student over three years.

Where’s the literature?

Secondary teachers should stress classic works of literature, argue Sandra Stotsky and Mark Bauerlein in a paper critical of Common Core Standards. The new standards name only a few required texts, such as foundational American documents (for example, the Declaration of Independence) and a Shakespeare play, notes Ed Week.

(The standards) say that half of what students read in elementary school—and 70 percent in high school—should be informational, arguing that mastery of such texts mirrors the demands likely to be made on them in college and job training. is.

. . .  some English/language arts educators . . .  fear that literature will lose its important place in students’ studies. The standards’ architects have argued that the opposite is true: Teachers of social studies, science and other subjects will inherit new responsibilities for teaching writing and reading in their areas, freeing English/language arts teachers to dive deeply into literary works with their students.

Stotsky, a University of Arkansas professor nd a chief architect of Massachusetts’ highly regarded academic standards, and Bauerlein, an Emory English professor, believe “the analytical and critical-thinking skills developed by a deep study of literature” will prepare students for college more effectively than reading informational texts.

Private schools and public schools in affluent suburbs will teach a literature-rich curriculum, while most public school students will suffer from a “literature deficit,”  Stotsky and Bauerlein predict. That will widen the achievement gap, they write.

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn isn’t included in Massachusetts’ new Common Cored curriculum, write Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass of the Pioneer Institute. (It’s not banned either. It’s just not mentioned.) “These new English standards include less than half as much classic literature and poetry than the Massachusetts standards they will replace.”

 

Common Core cartoons

Here’s my favorite from Larry Cuban’s Cartoons on Common Core Standards.