Core-aligned means . . . nothing?

In part 3 of Dispatches from a nervous Common Core observer, AEI’s Michael McShane wonders what it means for curriculum to be “aligned” to the new Common Core standards. An Amazon search for Common Core yields more than 32,000 results, he writes. Most are aimed at teachers. Nearly all claim to be “aligned to the Common Core.”

Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement by Teachers College professor Lucy Calkins (et al) seems to be most popular.

Kathleen Porter-Magee, the Fordham Institute’s Common Core expert, is unimpressed:

“Part ideological co-opting of the Common Core (CCSS) and part defense of existing—and poorly aligned—materials produced by Heinemann, the book is the leading edge of an all-out effort to ensure that adoption of the new standards requires very few changes on the part of some of the leading voices—and biggest publishing houses—in education.”

Calkins tells readers that the Common Core marginalizes “the low-level literacy work of sound-letter correspondence,” a “patently false” and “damaging” rewriting of the standards, writes Porter-Magee.

“Even the best-selling book on the topic might not be aligned to the Common Core,” writes McShane. “What about the other 31,999?”

. . . pretty much anyone can slap a “Common Core Aligned” sticker onto a textbook, professional development module, or supplemental resource. It is incumbent on states, districts, and schools to wade through all of these, but given the enormous volume of resources out there, they’re drinking from a fire hose. Without some meaningful vetting process, all of the benefits of the nationwide market for new tools will be washed away in the flood of misaligned materials.

That’s problematic, writes Bill Evers, who worked on California’s standards, in an email. “If all the teaching materials labeled Common Core are weak and not aligned, then the program will not bring about whatever improvement in achievement that it has the potential for (not much in my opinion) and will waste a considerable amount of money.  On the other hand, if the Common Core-niks establish a common vetting office, that would be the final step in instituting a national curriculum.”

Common Core pushback

Fox News looks at the federal push for Common Core standards and the pushback in some states.

Nine states that adopted Common Core are having second thoughts, reports the Washington Post.

Some states are seeking to slow implementation, while others are trying to repeal the standards altogether. Legislation pending in some states would prevent adoption of standards in other subjects, such as social studies or science.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia adopted the reading and math standards. Minnesota adopted only the reading portion and Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia are staying with their own standards.

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.

Lawless

In its zeal to push Common Core Standards on all the states, Arne Duncan’s Education Department is “pretending that three laws do not mean what they clearly say,” writes columnist George Will. He cites the Pioneer Institute’s report, The Road to a National Curriculum, by three former department officials.

The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act – No Child Left Behind is its ninth iteration – said “nothing in this act” shall authorize any federal official to “mandate, direct, or control” a state’s, local educational agency’s or school’s curriculum.

The General Education Provisions Act of 1970 stipulates that “no provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize” any federal agency or official “to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction” or selection of “instructional materials” by “any educational institution or school system.”

The 1979 law establishing the Education Department forbids it from exercising “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum” or “program of instruction” of any school or school system. The ESEA as amended goes further: No funds provided to the Education Department “may be used…to endorse, approve, or sanction any curriculum designed to be used in” grades K-12.

The department has used Race to the Top funding and No Child Left Behind waivers to pressure states to adopt the new standards, the Pioneer report charges. The effect will be a national curriculum.

“As the regulatory state’s micromanagement of society metastasizes, inconvenient laws are construed — by those the laws are supposed to restrain — as porous and permissive, enabling the executive branch to render them nullities,” Will concludes.

Update: When South Carolina legislators considered rescinding the state’s adoption of Common Core Standards, Duncan blasted the idea. He drew a lot of flak for that. In response to Utah’s threatened withdrawal, he wrote a letter agreeing that it’s the state’s decision.

Meet the new teacher, Uncle Sam

President Obama has waived No Child Left Behind requirements for 10 states ”in exchange for embracing the Obama administration’s educational agenda,” reports the New York Times.

Education Trust analyzes what each state promised to earn a waiver, highlighting the best and “most worrisome” ideas.

Obama and Duncan Waive Goodbye to Systemic Reform, headlines RiShawn Biddle, who objects to putting low-income, minority, disabled and non-fluent student  in one high-needs subgroup.

States had to jump through a lot of hoops to get very limited flexibility, writes Rick Hess.

The U.S. Department of Education could be violating federal law by using Race to the Top to push Common Core Standards, argues The Road to a National Curriculum (pdf), sponsored by the Pioneer Institute, the Federalist Society, the American Principles Project, and the Pacific Research Institute of California.

By law, the department is barred from “directing, supervising, or controlling elementary and secondary school curriculum, programs of instruction, and instructional materials.”

Lance Izumi piles on in Obama’s Education Takeover.

It’s time to reboot the ever-growing federal role in education argues Choice and Federalism by the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education: States should be free of federal constraints as long as they provide information on school performance and let parents choose their children’s schools.

The federal government has three critical responsibilities, the task force concluded:

creating and disseminating information on school performance, enforcing civil rights, and providing financial support to high-need students via “backpack” funding attached to individual pupils.

“Today, Washington is stuck in an education policy rut,” said task force chairman Chester E. Finn Jr. “On one side we find those who would simply let states do whatever they like with the federal dollars. On the other side are those who want the federal government to tighten the centrally prescribed accountability screws even harder. This debate is going nowhere, as is evident from Congress’s multiyear failure to reauthorize what just about everyone agrees is a badly flawed law.”

Against a national curriculum

A national curriculum backed by national tests will stifle innovation, freeze the status quo into place, end state and local control of schooling  and “impose a one-size-fits-all model on America’s students,” argues Closing the Door on Innovation, signed by 100 education and public policy leaders.

The U.S. Education Department is funding two groups that are developing assessment systems to match Common Core Standards. A manifesto organized by the Shanker Institute has called for a national K-12 curriculum.

Common Core Standards aren’t good enough to be the national standard, the anti-Shanker manifesto argues.  The highest-performing countries and states set higher standards.

Furthermore, there is no one “best” curriculum design.

The Shanker Manifesto assumes we can use “the best of what is known” about how to structure curriculum. Yet which curriculum would be best is exactly what we do not know, if in fact all high school students should follow one curriculum.

. . . A single set of curriculum guidelines, models, or frameworks cannot be justified at the high school level, given the diversity of interests, talents and pedagogical needs among adolescents. . . . Other countries offer adolescents a choice of curricula; Finland, for example, offers all students leaving grade 9 the option of attending a three-year general studies high school or a three-year vocational high school, with about 50% of each age cohort enrolling in each type of high school.

. . . A one-size-fits-all model not only assumes that we already know the one best curriculum for all students; it assumes that one best way for all students exists. We see no grounds for carving that assumption in stone.

The manifesto was organized by Bill Evers, research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution; Greg Forster, senior fellow at the Foundation for Education Choice; Jay Greene and Sandra Stotsky, professors at the University of Arkansas; and Ze’ev Wurman, executive at a Silicon Valley start-up. Signers are listed here.

Update:  A national curriculum is in the works, Eduflack points out.  The Gates Foundation is working with the Pearson Foundation to write online curricula for 24 courses.

Robert Slavin believes the boffins can create one best algebra curriculum.

Shanker called for common content, not a national curriculum, responds Randi Weingarten, the American Federation of Teachers president.

A national curriculum?

Common Core math and English Language Arts standards aren’t rigorous enough to prepare students for college work, writes Sandra Stotsky on Jay Greene’s blog. Yet wording in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would force all states to use tests based on the new standards.

States should be able to pick “internationally benchmarked, research-based” tests that satisfy their high school diploma requirements, argues Stotsky, who headed the writing of Massachusetts’ standards. “They may prefer objective end-of-course tests in algebra I, geometry, algebra II, U.S. history, chemistry, physics, and biology instead of ‘performance-based’ subjective tests.”

The two federally funded consortia developing tests for Common Core are creating what amounts to a national curriculum, writes Rick Hess. That will push all schools to teach the same material at the same time to give students a chance to pass the new exams.

The American Federation of Teachers wants a “common, sequential curriculum” to match Common Core standards so teachers “are not making it up every day,” reports Ed Week’s Curriculum Matters, quoting Randi Weingarten, the union president. (More here on what the test-writing consortia are working on.)

Congress banned the use of federal funds to write a national curriculum in 1979, but the consortia argue they’re just writing “curriculum frameworks, model instructional units and such” or a “clearinghouse of curriculum resources,” not a curriculum.

Learning from Finland

Finland’s schools rank very high in international comparisons.  The secret is highly trained, well-paid teachers and few standardized tests, writes Samuel Abrams in The New Republic.

Today, teaching is such a desirable profession that only one in ten applicants to the country’s eight master’s programs in education is accepted. . . . High school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102 percent of what their fellow university graduates do. In the United States, by contrast, they earn just 65 percent.

In first through ninth grade, Finnish students take art, music, cooking, carpentry, metalwork, and textiles.

Instead of standardized testing for all students, the Finns give exams to a small sample of students.

Teachers in Finland design their own courses, using a national curriculum as a guide, not a blueprint, and spend about 80 percent as much time leading classes as their U.S. counterparts do, so that they have sufficient opportunity to plan lessons and collaborate with colleagues. The only point at which all Finnish students take standardized exams is as high school seniors if they wish to go to university.

Ability tracking doesn’t start till 10th grade.

Finland’s schools don’t fit Abrams’ agenda that neatly, responds Quick and the Ed’s Kevin Carey.

For example, Finnish teachers don’t make more than U.S. teachers. Finnish doctors, lawyers and other college graduates make less money.

It’s true that only 10 percent of applicants are accepted by Finnish teacher education programs, he writes. But . . .

I have never, ever heard a serious proposal from the anti-testing / school of education crowd to raise admissions standards into teacher preparation to anything approaching the levels that would result in a 10 percent admission rate — or, heck, a 50 percent admission rate.

The only U.S. program that sets the bar that high is Teach for America, which Abrams “predictably critiques.”

Finland has a national curriculum and administers a high-stakes national test to seniors who wish to go to university, Carey writes. Here, each state sets its own standards, which aren’t enforced.

I’ll add that most U.S. schools do not track students by ability before 10th grade or after, though there’s de facto tracking in high school. For that matter, U.S. students do a lot of art and music in elementary and middle school, though they’re less likely to have access to shop classes, cooking or sewing.

There’s a lot we can learn from Finland’s very successful schools, Carey writes. “But anyone arguing that the evidence from Finland cleanly supports either side of the American education reform debate is being dishonest,” he concludes.

Is it OK to be average?

U.S. students were average in reading and science, and below average in math, in the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) rankings. What’s so awful about being average? asks National Journal.

Can the United States, one of the most diverse of the world’s developed countries, really compete with much smaller and homogenous countries like Finland and Korea? . . . With the United States’ broad range between rural and urban, rich and poor populations, what can it realistically expect in worldwide educational comparisons?

Homogeneity isn’t educational magic, responds Kevin Carey of Education Sector.  PISA champion Finland has a sparse, overwhelmingly white population who practice the same denomination of Christianity and are concentrated near the capital city. So does Utah, which produces mediocre test scores.

That state would be Utah, whose results are decidedly mediocre.

Finland isn’t successful because it’s homogenous. (Albania is homogenous.) It’s successful because it has clear, well-implemented national standards, equitable school funding, a strong social safety net, high-quality early childhood education, and smart, highly-trained teachers. We could have those things in America, too.

“Learning is the entry ticket to the idea economy,” writes Tom Vander Ark of Revolution Learning.  The uneducated will be stuck in the service economy, unable to qualify for a middle-class job.

David Kirp, a Berkeley professor, points out that high-achieving countries all have highly centralized systems with a national curriculum and “well-trained, comparatively well-paid teachers.” Strategies range from “skill-and-drill to a Dewey-influenced constructivist approach.”