Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Origins of Common Core: How Business Leaders, Policy Makers, and Educational Corporations Developed a Graven Idol by Jesse Bluma



The Origins of Common Core:  How Business Leaders, Policy Makers, and Educational Corporations Developed a Graven Idol





A report titled, “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts,” found that both employers and colleges are demanding more of high school graduates than in the past.  According to Achieve, Inc., the major problem currently facing the American school system is that high school graduates were not provided with the skills and knowledge they needed to succeed.  The report continues that the diploma itself lost its value because graduates could not compete successfully beyond high school, and that the solution to this problem is a common set of rigorous standards.  (Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Core_State_Standards_Initiative).

The Why Lie:  The Common Core standards promote logic.  So let’s use it.  Read the last sentence of the paragraph above again.  According to Achieve Inc. (which stood to gain prominence, prestige, and further their own careers) the problem in American schools is that the curriculum was not rigorous and that solution is to make it more rigorous.  Guess what followed this report.  Pearson and other educational companies jumped on board offering curriculum, seminars, and textbooks based upon the principles of Common Core.  This is one more example of how profits are made from educational fads (see Project Self-Esteem, Whole Language, Multiculturalism, Professional Learning Communities, Data Teams, Clickers, A.V.I.D., Group Work, Devices, Merit Pay, President Obama’s Race to the Top, and ever changing district, state, and national standards), misconceptions, and “crisis”.  All of these educational movements, tools, and philosophies sound good.  After careful analysis, implementation, and billions of dollars spent, each was exposed as a false-messiah.  That does not mean none of these educational reforms has merit.  Project Self-Esteem encouraged students to think about emotions affecting actions, PLCs encourage teachers to work together to enhance learning, and group work gives students an opportunity to learn leadership and communication skills.  As each of these had benefits, each failed to take American students to number one in the world.  The origins of Common Core is based upon the belief that schools across the country lack rigorous standards, thus more rigor will improve the skills and knowledge of students.

According to the Unites States census from 1980 to 2007 there was a 140% increase in the number of people speaking a language other than English at home.  The largest increase was in Spanish speakers (about 79% of the increase).  (Source:  http://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/language/data/acs/ACS-12.pdf).  In California there are approximately 1.4 million English Language Learners in public schools (85% of which speak Spanish).  (Source:  http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/sd/cb/cefelfacts.asp).  Yes, American students can do better in school.  Do American students lag behind other nations?  Yes.  Although when broken down by ethnicity on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, Asian students in America do as well as Asians in Asian countries, and Caucasian students do as well as other students in Europe.  Those of Hispanic and African origins do as well as students in Austria, Sweden, Norway, and the Ukraine.  (Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achievement_gap_in_the_United_States).

Ignoring, denying, and hiding these statistics is not helpful.  The founders of Common Core did not and do not address this issue in their initiative.  A real improvement in learning will happen when we as communities, states, and as a country recognize and act upon the fact that we are a nation of immigrants.  The immediate needs of food, housing, and medical care are obstacles that non-immigrant students don’t have to face.  What Common Core also ignores is the long understood process of acquiring language.  Before a student can do well on a state test, meet the standards of Common Core, earn a high school diploma, get into college, graduate college, or get a job, they must acquire the English language.  Students ages 8 to 11 are the fastest achievers, taking between two to five years.  Students ages 5 to 7  take three to 8 years, and those ages 12 to 15 have the most difficulty acquiring a new language.  These students take six to eight years.  Students in general need seven years to acquire enough English to reach national norms on standardized tests for reading, social studies, and science.  A major factor on acquiring English is a student’s schooling in their country of origin.  The better their previous education, the better a student does in their new country.  Professor and linguistics expert Stephen Krashen notes the importance of comprehensive input.  Students acquire English best when it is focused on relevant, interesting topics.  (Source:  Schooling and Language Minority Students: A Theoretical Framework, Legal Books Distributing; 2nd edition).

The status of student achievement in America has been, is, and will be in a perpetual state of “underachievement” if we grade ourselves according to the current standardized tests and Common Core standards.  That’s not to say test scores in America are only where they are because the country is much more heterogeneous and diverse than Finland and South Korea.  Americans have adopted different social norms over the past few decades.  The list is long and varied from child to child and school to school.  Among the challenges may be pop culture, media, drugs, divorce, violence, socio-economics, cell phone distractions, large class sizes--work load, ever changing standards, unsupportive principals and vice-principals, some union leaders, helicopter parents--neglectful parents--parent behavior, and student behavior.  Additionally, parental aspirations for their children has a larger impact on student learning than feedback from teachers, study skills, homework, testing, and teacher education.  Other important factors in school:  instructional quality has an impact of 1.00, testing 0.30, teacher education 0.11.  Student characteristics:  prior cognitive ability 1.04 and disposition to learn 0.6.  Home influences:  parental aspirations for children’s educational achievement .80, home factors .67, home environment (socio-psychological) .57, parent involvement .46, transiency/mobility -0.34 (that is a negative).  Social influences:  peer .38 and television -.12 (that is a negative)  (Source:  Professor John Hattie).  Thus, educational achievement in America is complex, layered, and much more intricate than Common Core addresses.

The Three Big Takeaways


What is Common Core?

Governors and other education elites gathered together and formed the Common Core State Standards Initiative (http://www.corestandards.org/).  The Common Core Standards are a blueprint.  Each state has the freedom to choose their own curricula, those are the details of how to reach the Common Core Standards.   The main directive is for students across America to have a set of consistent standards, to create an educational thread of commonality, and ensure students in each state have the same certain set of knowledge and skills.


What Common Core does:

Common Core is more reinventing the wheel than a messiah in the classroom.  Much of Common Core is already contained in the California State Standards, standards of other states, and the foundation of a lot of long held teaching practices.  California is uniquely poised as it has some of the most rigorous standards for students across the country.  For example, the Common Core embeds the “Habits of Mind”.  This includes communication, collaboration, creativity, innovation, critical thinking, and problem solving.  This means that instruction is to engage students in responding to the audience, task, and purpose when writing.  Comprehension and critiquing.  Building strong content knowledge.  Using technology strategically.  Valuing evidence.  Understanding perspective and cultures.  Lastly, demonstrating independence by allowing for time to struggle and encouragement of reasoning. (Source:  “Common Core Instructional Strategies to Develop Students ‘Habits of Mind’ K-12”, Orange County Department of Education).  These Habits of Mind are already contained in the state’s educational framework, standards, and best practices for teachers.

Do no be fooled into thinking test scores will go up just because of Common Core.  As long as we continue our decades of denial that California, and other states, serve mainly new immigrants, we are in part wasting a lot of time, money, and energy.  It takes years for new immigrants to acquire the language.  Common Core does not address this issue.  Its predisposition is that the majority of students are natives to American English.

As we continue to place misguided demands on children that don't know the language we will keep getting the same result.  When we finally admit California and other states permanently and perpetually serve new immigrants from around the world, we will then develop standards and assessments that reflect the true learning and growth of students.  As long as we fail to encourage and demonstrate to parents how to best serve their children, we will get the same results as well.

Few, if any K-12 educators were part of the development of Common Core .  The Common Core standards are not designed according to the biological growth and development of children.  Corporations behind Common Core are making and stand to make a lot of money.  As Common Core rolls out school districts will not be able to afford computers for every student to take the new Common Core online test.  Although Common Core contains some real nuggets of good educational practices,  it does not contain enough for students in America to be number one in the world.

President Barak Obama has hired a non-educator as the top educator in the country. Together, they promulgate policies that undermine professionalism in education, lionize high stakes testing and make the future of public education vulnerable. Now we have Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which are accelerating money out of the classroom to consultants and testing companies and undermining professionalism in education.  (Source:  http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/10/06/1141132/-Faux-Education-Reform-or-Improved-Education).



What Common Core does not do:

-Focus on individual needs of students.
-Identify individual areas of academic, skill, and social weaknesses and strengths.
-Acknowledge who has been, is, and will be the student body of America.
-Save tax payer funds, time, and energy.
-Graduate more students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.
-Provide an alternate path for students, other than college.  (Our educational system has not for a long time, does not, and will not under Common Core provide students with the education and skills necessary to become artisans, craftsmen, tradesmen, or work in factories.)





Christmas Tree Brownies

Artisanal treats by Jesse Bluma at PointeViven
using organic ingredients and inspiration
from California, Central, and South America.

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Image Credits:  ride.ri.gov, learn360.com

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