Sunday, August 12, 2012

Completing the circle: from the Common Core to the College Board

We live in an age of growing centralized control over K12 curricula and instruction, wielded by a combination of national and state departments of education, the education division of the NSF, powerful textbook companies like Pearson Publishing (the current publisher of Investigations math) and McGraw Hill (the publisher of Everyday Math), and deep-pocketed funders like the Gates Foundation, along with the prominent ed-school affiliated "education experts" who advise them, and the Constructivist philosophy that binds them all together.

One of their top priorities are national K12 curriculum guidelines ("Common Core"), to be aligned with with state-devised, state-wide tests--guidelines whose "written-by-committee" vagueness, as I've argued, further entrenches current Constructivist practices. Another priority: national pedagogical standards, to be enforced by Pearson Publishing, on who gets certified to teach. If the Powers that Be get what they want, it'll be all Constructivism all the time.  And a generation of poor readers and poor writers, uninformed in history and science and unprepared for college-prep math.

At least, I've always thought to myself, we've got the College Board. At least there still exists an independent entity measuring the aptitude and achievement of a significant portion of K12 students. At least, in the SATs and the Advanced Placement tests, we have an independent measure of how the current generation is faring compared to its predecessors. If test scores really plummet, surely pressure will emerge to release the Constructivist stranglehold.

Of course there'll be confounding factors: in particular, wealthy parents who wise up and hire tutors, and "experts" who claim that SATs and the APs don't measure what's important. But surely the drop-off in College Board scores that will occur once a nationwide cohort of students educated exclusively via Reform Math, Balanced Literacy, etc., starts taking these tests (and competing for college admission with students educated in non-Constructivist classrooms abroad) will be steep enough that most of us can't simply ignore it.

The College Board tests, however, have changed over time. They've been "recentered"; essays have replaced analogies; testers can now use calculators. What's to stop them from continuing to "adjust" to current circumstances? And what if the dominant Constructivist paradigm grows irresistible? Alas, that may already be happening. In May of this year the College Board appointed a new president, David Coleman, who happens to be one of the architects of the Common Core. His mission? To reshape the SATs so that they reflect the Common Core standards. As reported in Education Week:

Mr. Coleman’s hope of reworking the SAT could play a role in moving the standards from a set of guidelines used in college course placement to one considered in college admissions. That, to Mr. Coleman, goes to the heart of the standards’ intention.
Mr. Coleman doesn't take office until October, and he notes that the changes he wants will have to be gradual. His true agenda is also unclear. But it'll also take time before we have a whole generation of students that have experienced only Constructivist classrooms. By the time they're taking the SATs and the Advanced Placements, the tests as we currently know them may no longer exist.

And all of us will be none the wiser.


Anonymous said...

It seems the more teachers are under pressure for outcomes and the more parents push to link student performance and teacher pay, the more the education establishment pushes for "authentic" evaluations and subjective testing. Teachers really seem to want the authority to assign grades and without objective criteria and that are not based on merit.

Auntie Ann said...

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

ChemProf said...

I actually doubt we'll see big changes in the SAT, as much as a bunch of lip service, just because there is a client (the colleges) and a competitor (the ACT). If it starts to be clear on college confidential that taking the ACT gives you a leg up (because the SAT is full of vague questions so it is hard to reach the highest scores regardless of preparation), watch the SAT become less constructivist.

Barry Garelick said...

It already is the case that ACT gives you a leg up, because the questions are straightforward and you don't have to figure out what they're really asking as you do with the SAT. Plus all colleges now accept both. And people are starting to figure that out.

Katharine Beals said...

So it sounds like the bigger concern is not the aptitude tests (so long as there's competition from the ACT) but the achievement tests, over which the College Board would appear to have a monopoly.

Leigh Lieberman said...

The Common Core standards are “clearly superior” to what most states are expecting of their students, according to a report released in July 2010 by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that gave an A- to the mathematics standards and a B+ to those in language arts.

The math standards for the elementary grades were called out for being particularly strong.

As the Fordham Institute has always been a steadfast proponent of serious, as opposed to constructivistic, warm and fuzzy pedagogy, there is no reason to doubt the potential for the CCSS to improve public education.

The threat comes from those who have a vested interest in pushing the currently predominant, academically weak agenda, who will no doubt be peddling assessments designed to maintain sales of atrociously shallow textbbooks. As long as schools take the new standards seriously through the use of objectively sound assessments, many youngsters will have far better educational opportunities.

Auntie Ann said...

Having kids growing up in California, the CC is dumbing down the old curriculum. The biggest example is the pushing back of algebra to 9th grade. Current pre-CC CA standards place it in 8th.

Mnemosyne's Notebook said...

I teach 8th grade math on Kauai. Our middle school is just beginning to follow the CCSS. I have to say that they are more rigorous than our old HCPS-III (Hawaii Content and Performance Standards).

Now, I am not a fan of the idea of centralized standards, and I share Katharine's concerns about Pearson, the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium. But at present the standards I need to teach to are in fact higher than what I had to teach to last year.

But I suspect that over time, the zeal for improvement will be replaced by the normal amount of inertia, cronyism, and influence peddling that goes on in every bureaucracy. And the various state level education administrators who pimp teachers and students (they'll make us do anything if it gets money from the feds) will be unwilling to walk away from all the funding that comes with CCSS, RTTT, NCLB, and the other four letter acronyms.

But at the moment I kinda like my new velvet-lined handcuffs. They help me reach higher.