Monday, April 28, 2014

No Common Core, No Measured Progress During Re-Write of State Standards

There has been great controversy over the Common Core State Standards, but when did this controversy begin?  I think that's a very important question to ask.  Those of us who oppose the standards have been called everything from "conspiracy theorists" to "fringe groups".  Why such name calling?

In 2011, ROPE wrote it's first paper outlining the Common Core State Standards and the history that had lead up to their installation in state law in 2010 through SB2033.  We have learned many things about the initiative since then, but with over 100 citations, there is a lot of information there to provide a corroboration of our concerns.

When we began following the Common Core in 2010, very few parents we spoke with had ever heard of them - they had never even been mentioned in their school.  It's important to point out here that neither had a large number of lawmakers when we went to them to explain our thoughts on the initiative.  ROPE's Facebook page, when started in 2010, had fewer than 200 "likes" and fewer than 100 weekly page views.  Today, we have nearly 4K "likes" with weekly page views exceeding 60K some weeks.  Is that simply because we've been out there since 2010, or is that because parents are finally seeing the fruits of the Common Core as it becomes instituted in their schools and their children have had to navigate this system?

The more parents who see the work their children are doing in school under the Common Core - and the associated testing - the more parents are awakening to the idea that, no matter their protests, teachers and administrators tell them they have no control to address their concerns.  In fact, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan has ascribed complaints to,
"...white suburban moms who - all of a sudden - their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were."
I have been a classroom teacher.  So was my mother.  One of the biggest struggles in our careers was the fact that underperforming kids were allowed to move forward by every administration for which we worked.  In fact, I was called a racist (which, if you know me is hysterical!) by a parent because her basketball player son was flunking my Environmental Biology class though the kid put his feet up on the desk and slept nearly the entire class period.  Did the principal stand up for me and force the kid to complete the class with a passing grade?  No.  The child was removed from my class because his mother was upset and he was a star basketball player and the principal didn't want a confrontation with the parent.

There are rare few teachers I've spoken with who haven't had this happen to them.  Classroom teachers - by and large - want kids to learn the material and move on.  Principals and superintendents, however - by and large - seem to be more concerned about rocking the boat with parents and as such, tend to throw teachers under the bus.

Obviously, there is enough blame in the system to go around for ill-prepared high school graduates.

Why do these factors - which could all be addressed separately by the community/district - force the state into an entirely new set of standards meant to be tested to the nth degree in order to keep students and teachers accountable?  Why do principals and superintendents not need such accountability?  Oh, that's right, they have CCOSA. (Yes, and teachers have OEA/NEA/AFT - again, enough blame to go around.)

In the face of the current blame-game environment, why should Oklahoma continue to use PASS during the interim in which new standards are being developed?
  • 1.  The CCSS were not to be fully implemented until the 2014-1015 school year.  Some schools have fully integrated with the standards, but many have not.  Why should schools not yet in CCSS alignment continue moving toward CCSS use, if it has been agreed the CCSS will be repealed from law and new standards written?
  • 2.  Though districts have spent a good deal of money on teacher training and technology in preparation for the CCSS, these investments will continue to yield benefits to schools and students outside that realm.  How could this be considered wasted effort?
  • 3.  Oklahoma has made consistent gains in the number of students graduating high school and in overall math and reading scores from 2003 to 2011 - utilizing PASS, not CCSS.  CCSS were untested and untried prior to adoption in Oklahoma.  Why continue standards with no idea how students will fare when we have many years of data that indicate gains in student achievement under PASS?
  • 5.  The testing company, Measured Progress, contracted by the State Department of Education to test for next year's implementation of the CCSS is a sub-contractor to PARCC - the testing consortia given federal (ARRA) funds to develop CCSS assessments.  Why would we continue a 35 million dollar testing contract to assess CCSS when we will not be using CCSS in the classroom?
  • 6.  It is our understanding that Oklahoma owns the PASS-aligned test bank created by the previous vendor, CTB/McGraw Hill.  Returning to these tests (with PAPER AND PENCIL not computers) in the interim could only be substantially cheaper than creating an entirely new test for two years during which new standards would be written which would also require new tests.  If implementation of CCSS will be halted, why not return a substantial portion of the 35 million to the classroom where it is better utilized?
  • 8.  When Oklahoma applied for its No Child Left Behind Waiver, we took the option of CCSS because the standards had been placed into state law and adopted by the state School Board in 2010/2011.  There was a second option (B); that of creating our own standards and having them certified by a "network of institutions of higher education (IHE)" in the state (page 15).  In fact, the Waiver itself tells us (page 17),
    • "As our State transitions to the CCSS, our generational commitment to the 1991 Administrative Code can serve as a legacy to remind us that college-, career-, and citizen-ready learning standards have long been at the core of what Oklahomans expect for their children." (210:35-3-61, effective 5-17-9)
    • The Waiver acknowledges the PASS (present in 1991) were college and career ready standards.  It would be easy, therefore, to negotiate Oklahoma's waiver retention based on this, and the Thomas B. Fordham PASS/CCSS comparison.  If PASS/CCSS are really not substantially different, how could they not qualify as "college and career ready" per the Waiver?
I will be writing more on this topic later, but please, study up.  We'll need your help soon.