Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Life After Common Core - How To Create Accountability and Insure Quaility Education WITHOUT Common Core


ROPE has advocated the repeal of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in Oklahoma since 2011.  Over the years, we have had occasion to field numerous concerns regarding repeal of these Standards from state law.   We rarely speak to a legislator who, when we say we want Common Core repealed from law, doesn't say something similar to, "What would we do then?  We must have standards.  We must have accountability for taxpayer funds."

On all these counts, we agree.  We simply disagree about the level at which these things should happen.  There are many moving parts in public education.  Seemingly endless research has been conducted in areas such as teacher preparation, student discipline, district/building leadership and classroom resources, all of which can play just as integral a role in providing excellent state funded education, as the issues of funding or standards.  Generally, the greater the control at the local level, the greater the opportunities for parent engagement but also management of local resources toward their optimum end.  An excellent article on this latter topic, "Parent Involvement in American Public Schools: A Historical Perspective 1642—2000" describes the situation this way:
However, bureaucratization of the educational system and increased professionalization of teachers have reduced parental influence in public schooling. The bureaucracy controls the schools, and parents feel powerless over this overwhelming system. The system controls governance, daily administration, curriculum content, and hiring faculty.  In addition, the professionalization of faculty separates the teacher from the parent, placing the role of “expert” upon the teacher and administrator.
As we have traveled the state relaying our years of research on the Common Core, attended functions and helped to populate the two years of House Common Core Interim Studies, we have met many education experts and developed a large number of 'contingency' plans for the Common Core.   All these must start with two premises:
  1. Repeal Common Core from state law.  This puts educational control back into the hands of Oklahoma school districts, their boards and their parents and stops the numerous unfunded mandates that currently accompany the standards at the local level.
  2. Stop Common Core testing.  It will do no good to repeal the Standards from law if schools are still bound to teach to a Common Core-based test and schools are still accountable to test scores on an A-F grading scale.
Here are a few ideas about educational Standards:

  1. Allow each district to develop their own standards - they can use Common Core, the Core Knowledge Sequence - whatever parents and school boards decide is best for their community and their students.
  2. The state could adopt those written by Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Professor Emerita of the University of Arkansas, who wrote the standards used by Massachusetts prior to their adoption of the Common Core.  These standards were widely regarded as the best in the nation.  Dr. Stotsky has provided these standards without copyright for use by any district/school/state that wishes to use them.
  3. The state could issue a moratorium on standards for a year while a committee of trained OKLAHOMA university and K-12 standards writers develop true Oklahoma standards.  These standards would be tested by individual volunteer districts for at least five years before their adoption, during which time the standards would be reviewed and tweaked as necessary.  Final adoption would follow the five year development period.

Somehow Common Core proponents have developed - and messaged - the notion that making tests harder will somehow make children smarter and making children take more and more tests will provide a more inclusive overview of their educational progress.  Both assumptions are illogical and incorrect.

For decades in American education, schools evaluated students once per year via some form of basic skills examination.  There are many fine examples of such national achievement tests available on the market today that alone, or in combination can produce a picture of how Oklahoma students compare to students in other states - or among districts and even schools.  There is no reason for any state to pay exorbitant chunks of their public education budget for individualized tests or support membership in a testing consortia (PARCC) to develop new 'harder' tests, when excellent student achievement instruments are currently available on the market.  Many of these tests, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and California Achievement Test are decades old.  Oklahoma children wouldn't be Guinea pigs for these tests, nor would their administration cause the upheaval of an entire school day, require banks of new computers or millions in school bonds to provide broadband in every school in every district.

In closing, though Common Core proponents are selling the idea that we must completely upend our educational system in America in order to produce students who are "College and Career Ready", history tells a different tale.  Instead of continuing down an untested, untried path where the destination is unknown, we should revert back to the system of education that put man on the moon when engineers used slide rules and one computer took up the floorspace of entire room - local control of educational standards with accountability brought to bear via tried and true national achievement tests given once a year, that allow Oklahoma to compare our students with any other student in the country.