Saturday, November 16, 2013

Seven reasons why the Common Core Standards are a really bad idea

1. They bypass, and even undermine, the key factors that underpin a high quality education system: good curricula and good teachers.

The CCS, pedagogically neutral and respectful of local autonomy as they proudly claim to be, do not address teacher training, certification requirements, specific teaching strategies, or specific content (i.e., specific curricula, specific textbooks, and specific readings).

Singapore, along with other countries that outperform us in math, follows a national math curriculum—one that, among American parents, rivals in its popularity just a few of our way too many homegrown math curricula.

Top-performing counties—add Finland to this list—have succeeded in recruiting teachers from the top tiers of academic achievers, requiring strong subject-area knowledge for certification. It’s hard to imagine that the CCS, with its hundreds of vague and often highly unrealistic goals, and its egregious omission of any kind of roadmap for reaching them, are going to make teaching in the U.S. any more attractive than it currently is.

Indeed, articles about the Common Core regularly characterize our teachers as feeling overwhelmed by the goals and at a loss at how to meet them. At the same time, many current and aspiring teachers are now required by their supervisors to state specific Common Core goals (e.g. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.9: Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres [e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.]) at the top of each day's lesson plan and to center each lesson around these goals.

2. They further empower the problematic Powers that Be in education.

At best, they further entrench the status quo; at worst, they further encourage the problematic trends that have gotten us to the point where we think we need Common Core Standards in the first place.

3. They’ve engendered a label that lends legitimacy to all sorts of wrong-headed educational ventures.

Look no further than the “Common Core Technology Project,” the name the LA Unified School District had given to its iPad Initiative.

(More on that later.)

4. They’re leading to more testing, with more interruptions in classroom instruction time and more diversion of scarce educational funds into the Testing Industrial Complex.

...the more so as states begin to make passing these tests a prerequisite for graduation. No that this will make the high school diploma indicative of subject-specific mastery. In Pennsylvania, for example, as a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article reports,

Students will have multiple chances to take the exams, and those unable to pass will be allowed to do projects in the same subjects instead. For those who still can't pass, superintendents may grant waivers to up to 10 percent, though districts that use that authority liberally will be required to submit a corrective-action plan.
5. They’re imposing set of rigid, one-size-fits all goals on all students, regardless of ability, that is extraordinary damaging to the education of advanced and special needs students alike.

(More on the Common Core and special needs students later).

6. Many of the goals, esp. for the earlier grades, are developmentally inappropriate even for students who are developmentally typical

Goals for second graders include:

"Write informative/explanatory texts in which they introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points, and provide a concluding statement or section." (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.2.2 )


"Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations)." (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.2.7)

In practice, these goals have led to heavy homework loads and prohibitive assignments for kids as young as 6 or 7.

7. The CCS authors have fallen for the “how to change your life advice book” fallacy.

Yes, I know I’m supposed to show perseverance and empathy, be generous and accepting of others, balance work and leisure, stop and smell the roses, and live life to the fullest—but what are my incremental steps for acquiring these habits? How, specifically, am I supposed to change my behavior at specific times and places? How am I supposed to remember to override old habits on a day-by-day, circumstance-by-circumstance basis? How do I stay motivated? However many advice books our gurus can sell by showing and telling us how important one or more of these goals are, simply promoting them hardly qualifies as even a first step. The hard part is showing people how to attain them, step by step from day 1, and how to change what they do what in whatever ways are necessary under a whole bunch of particular, ever-changing circumstances.

The same goes for goals like CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3--Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10--By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 9-10 text complexity band independently and proficiently; and CCSS.Math.Content.HSF-IF.C.8a--Use the process of factoring and completing the square in a quadratic function to show zeros, extreme values, and symmetry of the graph, and interpret these in terms of a context.

However ugly and off-putting these CCS goals sound in comparison with "Stop and smell the roses," the big challenge, once again, isn't in identifying the goal, but in spelling out how on earth we get there.


Anonymous said...

"However ugly and off-putting these CCS goals sound in comparison with "Stop and smell the roses," the big challenge, once again, isn't in identifying the goal, but in spelling out how on earth we get there."
The whole issue for me with the CCS is exactly this. They are lofty sounding, and in my opinion, nebulous goals with no clear plan as how to get there. Whether this was from a fear of political fallout in making specific requirements or a romantic dream of let a thousand flowers bloom, the lack of a clear and structured curriculum dooms this to failure. For the next few years the textbook/testing industry will be churning out expensive remedy after expensive remedy until the next fad arrives.

Hainish said...

Anonymous, we need a national curriculum, desparately. . . and it is precisely for political reasons that CCSS does not provide that.

Katharine, two articles that caught my attention recently: