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Julia Steiny: Common Core Standards Freak Out Chicken Littles

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


It's true: if allowed to survive, the Common Core State Standards would be a massive, necessary, though slow-moving overhaul of American education.

Finalized and welcomed by the education community three years ago, the standards are now starting to trickle into classroom practices, so hackles are up. But somehow the American public has lost the habit of raising questions in a civil manner or asking pointed questions to spark a needed debate. That's for wusses. Better to reach for emotional Uzis -- name-calling, vicious accusations, and rallying cries to kill the Standards dead rather than improve them. This is life in the post-moral culture. Fight first.

At the risk of adding to their current unpopularity, the situation with the CCSS is not unlike that of the Affordable Care Act. Both are messy, flawed, and huge.

But in both cases, they're also necessary and long overdue. I concede their imperfections. They are human-made, after all. But no virtue or value lies in reverting to the bad old days. In the case of the ACA, we've had the most expensive and ineffective healthcare system in the world, which doesn't even reach huge swaths of the population. At least we are headed, however stumbling, towards something better.

In the case of the CCSS, the very purpose of public education in America has been unclear for decades. We've desperately needed a description of "better." CCSS are such a description. They are not curriculum and they're not testing programs. They're just standards -- goals, objectives, targets to sharpen our aim and elevate our hopes for kids. We can't get anywhere if we don't know where we're going.

America is the only developed country without national standards.

All the countries with whom American students are compared have national standards and even national curricula (Finland). Weirdly, national standards are about the only thing those countries' education systems have in common. The Asian countries have their Tiger Mamas and their cram schools and a focus on test scores that makes my skin crawl. The European and Euro-like countries (Australia) have more appealing (to me) national goals and standards that at least mention preparing young people for happy, fulfilling lives. So the comparison countries have highly diverse, but national standards.

Just for the record, if the state of Massachusetts were a county unto itself, it would be at the top of the international rankings, right up there with Singapore. In the 1990s, MA set a high bar for their students and weathered nasty complaints of opponents that sound exactly like the hues and cries voiced now against CCSS. Over the course of years, MA's students' academic performance climbed from middling to the top of the U.S. state rankings, where they have remained for years. MA did not mandate a curriculum; that was up to the locals, just as it is with CCSS. Interestingly, MA just announced it would take a pass, for now, on the CCSS testing program they'd agreed to use. If they can tweak their MCAS, which has served them well, it might remain their testing system. Every state can decide for itself how their kids will meet the new rigorous standards.

Let's back up to the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind law.

NCLB bowed to states' rights and local control by mandating each state develop a standards-and-accountability system. Three states pooled their resources to create the NECAP, bringing the number of unique sets of state standards to a ridiculous 48. With very few exceptions (like MA), states set fairly low expectations. Furthermore, NCLB's strategy was to punish under-performing schools, so most states tried to avoid consequences with pathetically unambitious testing goals. Other than developing very useful data-gathering machinary in each state, NCLB mainly left the education industry confused and defensive.

To dig out of that mess, the National Governors Association and the Chief State School Officers collaborated on the CCSS. They assembled all manner of teachers, boards of education, researchers, institutions of higher education, administrators and business leaders to figure out what a high-school student should know and be able to do. With the end goals in hand, they designed a sequence of grade-by-grade benchmarks to help students reach newly ambitious academic heights, In 2010, the CCSS authors presented their work, in English and Math.

Generally, experts agreed that the standards were good -- more rigorous, more aligned with Higher Education, Business and the emerging economy. Many people, including me, take issue with some of the specifics. (The early-childhood standards need revision.) But let's work on them in isolation. One bad standard does not spoil the lot. Killing off the CCSS initiative will not address specific concerns, never mind improve public education.

How the CCSS plays out in your district or your child's classroom is a local matter. Anyone worried about over-testing needs to take it up with their state, where the problem actually lies.

But stop already with the Chicken Little behavior. CCSS is not the doom of America's kids. Review your lesson on the Baby and the Bathwater, because while we probably need to change some bathwater, this Baby is critical.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at EducationNews.org . She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building demonstration projects in Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.

Related Slideshow:
College Board Reports - New England States by the Data

Reports released by the College Board, "Trends in College Pricing 2013," and "Trends in Student Aid", included a number of national data points regarding college affordability.  Here, see how the New Engand states stacked up agains each other.

Prev Next

Students enrolling

Percentage of all youths entering postsecondary education

Connecticut: 56%

New Hampshire: 53%

Rhode Island 52%

Massachusetts: 51%

Maine: 45%

Vermont: 43%

US average 48%

Prev Next

In-State Tuitions

Average 2013-14 in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions

New Hampshire: $14,665  

Vermont: $13,958  

Rhode Island: $10,992  

Massachusetts: $10,792  

Connecticut: $10,206  

Maine: $3,391

US Average: $8,893

Prev Next

Out-of-State Tuitions

Average 2013-14 out-of-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions

Vermont: $34,055

Rhode Island: $26,646

Connecticut: $26,365  

New Hamprshire: $24,987  

Massachusetts: $23,516  

Maine: $23,007

US average: $22,203

Prev Next

State Appropriations

State Appropriations for Higher Education per Full-Time Equivalent Student 

Connecticut: $10,475  

Maine: $7,183  

Massachusetts: $6,410  

Rhode Island $5,162  

Vermont: $4,131  

New Hampshire: $2,482

US Average: $6,646

Prev Next

Increase in Enrollment

Percentage increases in total full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment in public degree-granting institutions between 2001 and 2011

Vermont: 35%

Connecticut: 29%
New Hampshire 26%
Massachusetts 26%  
Maine 20%
Rhode Island: 16%  

US average: 27%

Prev Next

Student Grant Aid

In 2011-12, state grant aid per full-time equivalent (FTE) undergraduate student ranged from under $200 (in 2012 dollars) in 12 states to over $1,000 in 10 states.

Vermont: $580  

Connecticut: $380  

Maine $320  

Massachusetts: $280

Rhode Island $200

New Hampshire: 0

US average $670


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Wuggly Ump

What is the real problem? What were the standards that built this nation, did we lose that information or teaching plan?
My son was in a class teaching the "New Math" if my spouse and I hadn't shown him the "Old Math" he would have never gotten the answers. 1+1 is about 2 isn't math.

Creative thinking, on both the teacher's and student's part needs to be encouraged. The teacher has the responsibility of recognizing what strategies the individual student can use to retain the information. The student and parents have the responsibility to try strategies suggested by the teacher.

Too much emphasis is being placed on college. Some people work much better with their hands and learn in a hands on environment. We are losing basic building and craft skills in the U.S. We don't have woodworking, metal shop even sewing in schools anymore.

Remember colonists came here with the technology of the time, the 4000 year old wheel. In three hundred years the first airplane (that worked) was built in a bicycle shop, 70 years later we were on the Moon.

Amazing what creative minds and a little freedom can do.

Johnny cakes

First of all, Julia, let’s not pretend that parents, students or teachers had any say whatsoever in the development of this Common Core curriculum. You have this proclivity to not only lie, but turn reality upside-down and inside-out. But then again, you and those you apologize for think you know what is the best way to educate our children.
God forbid that any children of mine would grow up to think like you, Gist, Gates, Broad, and a whole host of others. People who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near children - imparting the “wisdom” of a me first, screw-everybody-else kind of society.

What was emphasized last night at the URI Honors Colloquium on Education -, by the Finnish educator - is that the Finnish system of education is above all else CHILD CENTERED. Get that - CHILD CENTERED. Do you know what that means?

Now, I ask you: What is “child-centered” about this brutal and dehumanizing regime of education reform? These reforms, and the outlook you represent and defend, reflect a particular view of the world - a world that is in serious decay and dying. And this is the system you seek to impose upon teachers and unsuspecting children.

You and those you represent are child abusers, and I’m not going to let you.

donatello gori

another garbage article by julia. the cc is nothing more than a power grab by the feds to gain control over education by withholding fed money. states stupidly bought into it and communities have lost a say in how best to educate their children.

Wuggly Ump

Common Core is not teaching kids, it's about inducting them into Big Government mentality.

Example: Agree/Disagree statements from a survey in Common Core text book "U.S. Government 2" You start by agreeing or disagreeing to each statement then go back look at the ones you picked to see if you're liberal, conservative or don't know.

1) "The government should encourage rather than restrict prayer in school.
2) "The federal government has an obligation to regulate businesses in order to preserve the environment for future generations."
3) "Affirmative action programs deny equal opportunity to whites in hiring."
4) "The federal government should provide funds to improve public schools and make college possible for more young adults."
5) The individual is basically responsible for his own well being, so the government should make welfare recipients go to work."
6) "The federal government should limit spending so that individuals enjoy the maximum freedom of choice in spending their income."
7) "Unregulated free enterprise benefits the rich at the expense of the poor."
8) "The government should guarantee medical care for all citizens."
9) "The Supreme Court should reverse its decision to legalize abortions in order to protect the right to life of the fetus."
10) "The federal government should guarantee the rights of homosexuals."
11) "Present federal laws effectively guarantee the rights of women and make passage of the Equal Rights Amendment unnecessary."
12) "The federal government has an obligation to guarantee full employment."
13) "The federal government should take all steps necessary to eliminate discrimination."
14) "The government must uphold the morals of the past."
15) "The government must provide a sort of insurance against catastrophic illness and unemployment."
16) "The government should not try to manipulate the social values of the citizenry."
17) "The government should be less concerned with rights of the accused and more concerned about maintaining law and order."
18) "The government should stop being permissive with student protesters."
19) "I consider myself a A. liberal, B. conservative, C. don't know

Other Common Core surveys involve more personal questions
For 2013-2014 Sophomores, Poolesville High School in Maryland.

What religion do you identify with?
What is your living situation?
--both parents
--single mother
--single father
--legal guardian/relative
--split between parents
--parent and step parent

What is your household income?
What is your sexual orientation?
Should the sale of assault rifles be banned?
Who is primarily responsible for the government shutdown?
If President Obama were caucasian how much more or less criticism do you think he would receive?
which of the following should the national government increase funding for most?
And others

Most of the questions are in the context of government having power as opposed to should We the People allow government the power.
The illusion that government has a magic printing press to give goods and services to all. Many of the agree/disagree statements are not a yes/no and should be qualified. Ask them as an essay assignment.
Common Core stinks of bureaucracy not of creative thinking and an actual education.

joi fons

Ms Steiny,
you make stupid comments that are fallacies...first educators did not make Common core...Bill Gates and his cohorts did..and David Coleman had a hand in it...Read up on his bio and see his fingers in quite a few "education pies."
You also said the US is the only country without national standards. WE ARE A REPUBLIC! It was done that way be design. You did not continue on to say that the writers of our Constitution spent a lot of time in devising what powers the states should have. Try opening up your history book and you better read the Constitution while you are at it. The forefathers were very smart men. They knew far better than the morons of today how to create a republic and that is what the US of America is...my dear ...
They found that marriage and education should be left in the hands of the states and not in the hands of the national government. Look at the mess the feds under obummer are doing with immigration, the Affordable Health Care Act, that's not so affordable to people, the debt crisis, the budget ...shall I go on? In fact, the dept of education under Arne Duncan who knows not what he is doing, should be abolished....CC is against the Constitution but Bill Gates' money with Eli Broad, Sam Walton and Rupert Murdoch (who should be in prison) money and many many other sin the corporate and political (like Jeb Bush)realm...is what is fueling CC and your push for a national standard....

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