Commentary - October 23rd, 2013
9:42 am
Wed October 23, 2013

Common Core Craziness

"You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension - a dimension of sound and fury, a dimension of fright. You're moving into a land of shadow and little substance, of things and ideas fiercely believed, though barely believable. You've crossed over into the Fact-Free Zone."

Inhabitants of the Fact-Free Zone are much in evidence these days.  Bring up reasonable responses to our out-of-control gun violence, and you’re barraged with conspiracy theories about the government’s thirst for tracking you down and seizing your weapons.  Bring up affordable healthcare, and you’re accosted by people who believe in death panels and, once again, fear that the feds hunger to know everything about you.  But the Common Core education standards?  How can anyone get flapped up about them?

First, a bit of factual background.  In 2008, state school superintendents and governors started discussing the desirability of agreeing on a set of standards in the “core” subjects that made the high school diploma more portable across state lines and flowed more seamlessly into colleges and careers. They decided to give it a shot.

Teams of educators, business people, and others were assembled to develop common core standards, beginning with English and math.  Input on the standards was solicited.  Drafts were drafted, sent out for review, and revised.   Finally, a set of standards the majority believed were rigorous, relevant, and portable was endorsed.

Then, using the processes particular to each state, the states decided whether or not to adopt them.  Montana was the 46th state to do so, after our Board of Public Education, as usual, invited public review and comment for nearly two years.  That board also conducted a gap analysis between the proposed standards and the existing ones and concluded the proposed standards were more specific, comprehensive, rigorous, and more clearly connected to the expectations of colleges and careers.  After modifying the national Common Core standards to include Montana-specific goals like Indian Education for All, in 2011 the Board of Public Education adopted Montana’s Common Core Standards for English language arts and mathematics.

Read them.  Pop a No-Doz first because, unless you’re a math or English teacher, they’re about as riveting as a user’s manual for your lawn-mower.  Then consider these fact-free statements from Montanans Against Common Core:

Flight of Fancy #1:  The Common Core is a stealth federal takeover to lower standards and create a national curriculum in order to indoctrinate your children.

C’mon now.  On the strategic level, why would our government want to lower education standards?  And as a practical matter, the federal government has no authority to dictate curriculum or standards in Montana.  Nada.  Zilch.  Goose egg.  Montana’s Board of Public Education has the sole authority to establish education standards, but even that board can’t dictate local curriculum.  Only local school boards can do that.  Montana school boards, as well as the communities that elect them, guard that right zealously.

Fanciful Flight #2:  The Common Core implements Orwellian data-tracking of children.  Their healthcare records, family incomes, voting and religious preferences, social issues, moods, habits, and values will be closely monitored through a Longitudinal Data System.  “The better to lobotomize you with, my dear.”

OK, reality check. Montana has tracked longitudinal data on student achievement for years.   The data system has nothing to do with the new standards and nothing has been added because of the new standards.  And the system doesn’t track any of the stuff alleged in the Fact-Free Zone.

Galactic Flight #3:  I actually have to quote this one, because it is so “in the zone,” and I apologize for occasionally interrupting with questions:

“It starts with switching American literature with pop culture lyrics. Then come subjective feelings [is there some other kind?], opinions instead of facts [now facts matter?] … multi-culturalism, social justice and diversity [these are problems?] climate change [this isn’t?] and … socialist studies instead of American history …. [oh, please].  Globalist child robots are replacing the American ideal ….

Right.  Cuz then they can be programmed to take your guns and, through Obamacare, spawn a race of alien automatons.

Does anybody really believe this stuff?  The sad answer is that a small but vocal Montana contingent does – emphatically and intractably.  When you try to slide a fact or two into the zone, you are shouted down.  Ah, for the good old days of Chicken Little. 

This is Mary Sheehy Moe, retired but still advocating for free, quality public education in Montana.  For some facts about Montana’s Common Core Standards, visit the Hot Topics link at opi.mt.gov.  Or read the Appendix to this commentary at mtpr.org.

More Rebuttal of Common Core Criticisms

Mary Sheehy Moe

The Common Core Is an Unpiloted, Untested “Program”

It is important to distinguish between the national standards and the ones Montana adopted, as well as between state standards, local curriculum, and programs/courses teachers design to meet local and state expectations.  The Common Core standards and Montana’s Common Core Standards are not “programs” that can be piloted or tested.  Developing, piloting, and assessing learning experiences happens at the local level, under the supervision of locally elected school boards.

Just like other professionals, educators play the central role in the development, implementation, and evaluation of educational standards, whether at the national, state, or local level.  That role is fundamental to the profession of teaching.  Most of Montana’s Teachers of the Year, 22 of whom recently endorsed Montana’s Common Core Standards, have seen Montana through the adoption and implementation of several sets of standards over the course of their careers.  Those of them in the English language arts and mathematics fields actively followed the development of the Common Core at the national level and the subsequent adoption of Montana’s Common Core Standards over the past several years.  That is the way that standards are vetted and validated in our profession. 

Federal Mandate, State Standards Usurped Local Control

Neither the United States Constitution, nor Montana’s, allows for such a usurpation.  The federal government played no role in the development of the Common Core standards, although the Department of Education did encourage states to adopt them through its “Race to the Top” initiative.  Montana’s RTTP proposal was not funded.  The federal government played no role in Montana’s adoption or in local implementation of Montana’s Common Core Standards.  Montana’s Board of Public Education refined the national standards to meet the Common Core goal of general consistency across states while preserving the educational goals unique to Montana.  Local school boards must meet state standards, but the adoption of curriculum, the design of courses, and the selection of instructional materials remain under the purview of local school boards.  

Loss of Parent and Student Rights.

Claims that Montana’s Common Core Standards intrude upon parent rights and student privacy are just plain wrong.  Read the standards.  There is no evidence to support such claims.

Montana’s Common Core Standards Lower Expectations

Compare Montana’s recently adopted standards with the ones they replace.  They are more specific, more rigorous, more comprehensive, and more connected to the expectations of colleges and careers.

Experts Oppose the Common Core

It is true that Stotsky believes the Common Core is too watered-down to reflect America’s literary and cultural heritage.  Yet cultural literacy proponents Hirsch, Bennett, and Finn support the Core.  It is true that one mathematician on the Common Core validation committee for mathematics standards ultimately refused to support them.  It is important to remember that many, many mathematics and English language arts professionals helped develop the Core standards, both on national committees and from the field.

The adopted standards reflect the majority's view of the standards best-suited to meet the Core goals of rigor and relevance.  Education is a profession, and like all professionals, we disagree, sometimes strongly, with a particular direction the profession takes.  But to present two outliers as the oracles for all of us is insulting to the profession and intellectually dishonest. 

If the common core standards intrude upon parents’ rights, why does the National PTA support them?  If they fail to prepare students for 21st-century careers, why do Bill Gates, Exxon/Mobil, Intel, State Farm, and the Carnegie Corporation support them?  If they fail to prepare students for college, why do the College Board and ACT support them? 

Montana’s Common Core Standards Will Be Expensive to Implement

Core opponents’ claims about the costs of implementation ($16 billion nationally and $40 million in Montana) have been refuted by the Fordham Institute nationally and, in Montana, by the Legislative Fiscal Division.

But let’s be clear:  Implementing Montana’s Common Core Standards does come with a price tag.  So did the post-Sputnik curriculum changes that produced a generation of students better equipped to compete in the 20th century.  So did No Child Left Behind, which, unlike the Common Core, truly was a federal mandate. 

Let’s be clear about this too:  The expenses for technology, assessments, textbooks and professional development entailed in implementing local curriculum to meet the new state standards would have accrued with the adoption of any 21st-century standards.

Public Schools in Montana Have Other Pressing Needs

For sure.  Investing in new facilities, up-to-date technology, ongoing professional development, and appropriate class sizes are extremely pressing needs.  But what is the point of providing up-to-date facilities and technology and more student-friendly class sizes if what children are expected to learn is not up to par? 

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