An Uncommon Conversation on the Common Core | IDEA

An Uncommon Conversation on the Common Core

Posted by Dana Bennis on Jul 11, 2013 - 07:26 AM

One of the flash points in the education debate in the United States today revolves around the Common Core State Standards and the parallel assessments now being designed and tested by two consortia of states.  The Common Core was put together by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers in 2009-2010.  While it is not a nationally required set of standards, they have been used as a bargaining chip by the Federal Government, whose Race to the Top competition and state waivers from NCLB give states points if they adopt the Common Core.
The Common Core is just now becoming a popular school and community conversation piece, as the implementation of the standards and preparation for the assessments is now a reality for schools around the country.  While the arguments strongly in support of and opposed to Common Core are many, a recent conversation on IDEA's Facebook pages brought up interesting points that explore some of the complexity involved - with voices from educators, parents, administrators, and others in the IDEA community.  Here are highlights:
Okaikor Aryee-Price
I have a question: I was going through IDEA's "Where We Stand", and I did not see anything about where we stand on the Common Core. Do we (IDEA) have anything for or against CCS?
Jayeesha Dutta
I think this is one of those nuanced issues like charter schools which IDEA does outline in the position document released last year. A situation where there are those of us (like me) who think it is dangerous road to tread but others who may see it as valuable. I think in trying to build a multi-faceted network it is issues like this that make it difficult to take a stand without alienating some who may be allies otherwise. Perhaps the role of IDEA is bringing folks with those seemingly disparate viewpoints together to find areas of consensus to move forward in greater alignment. Just my thinking on the matter...
I hear you Jayeesha; I'll go back to reread it. But I don't see it similar to the charter issue. I actually see it more in line with the standardized one-size-fits all, HST and corporate reform issue. I saw my 5 year old daughter subjected to "computerized test prep" and a decrease in recess and play, all in the name of meeting the standards, which, were not created by educators. 
Sarah Bertucci
It's such an interesting question, Okaikor, thanks for raising it! My take on the Common Core, and standards movements/testing in general, is that it is problematic in the way that it narrows our educational focus -- a five year-old in computerized test prep is one example! I think NCLB has been tremendously destructive, but that the important thing we've gained from it is the quantitative data about the achievement gap. However, focusing on closing that achievement gap, and having liberating, human schools for all children, is not about test prep. I wonder if IDEA's stand could be less about the Common Core itself and more about the way that it has co-opted so much of the energy and resources across our education system. For example, my husband who is a teacher and administrator can't get any time to do critical friends groups, or other teacher-centered PD next year, because every meeting time is already taken with Common Core training.
Scott Nine
A few quick thoughts. We are IDEA and stance comes from conversation. We did not name a position about common core but have blogged about the "influence gap" that exists in the 4.5 year distance between when Common Core went down and money to think tanks to design, and when it hit teachers and communities. Several years ago we did have a conversation about it and am trying to find notes. A public position would be good to add and this chain looks like the start of what could be a huddle and drafting of something.
On a larger front - what I hope is that the value frame we work with provides a guidance system to think through things like Common Core. 
Adam Fletcher
Here's an interesting piece highlighting Duncan's current spin on CC, with some interesting perspectives... 
Darcy Bedortha
I've spent the morning in meetings - deciding how to best direct teachers to grade each of the standards, separately, in addition to course work - we have to also re-vamp the report card to reflect each standard separately (an Oregon HB2220 directive).
The problem is we've put all our energy into that, into measuring, testing, designing curriculum to focus on standards, and none of our attention is turned to the kids themselves. I just spent three days with people who are taking the same approach to social emotional learning - commodifying it until it has become a bunch of assignments, with no understanding of the purpose, or what SEL is even about. Same thing. No connection to life, only a desperate scramble to meet some measurement... Yes, conversations, dialogs, community forums, etc. The educators I work with, admin and teacher alike, even a few of our school board members have misunderstood what it is and where it came from... they don't understand what much of this is about, and I mean the basics of what a standard is, not the "is it good or is it bad" question - so many of our parents are (understandably) really confused.
I thought this editorial from Rethinking Schools was interesting.
Monika Hardy
Common core is a misnomer - no? No set of anything is common enough to bring about equity. Humanity is too wonderously diverse for that. From a math perspective alone, the common core is still catering to perhaps 10% of humanity. I’m thinking - the only focus that we could ever consider as common - would be a process of learning to learn, what to do when you don’t know what to do. We’re losing time that could be spent on learning/living/being/doing, because instead, most of us are making/faking our way through a credentialing system based on a belief that our ultimate goal is becoming globally competitive. We spend so much time/money/energy on what most people will never need.
Dana Bennis
Appreciating this conversation greatly. Perhaps what is IDEA's most important contribution to the Common Core conversation, as with other issues, is our ability to openly ask and honestly discuss complex issues like this. My own intuitive sense is highly skeptical not just of the standards and the tests coming from them, but also the political and funding implications coming from Common Core, a lot of which has been mentioned by others. If we HAD to have high stakes tests and standards (and of course now we do have them), these might be somewhat preferable due to encouraging more critical thinking - from what I've read thus far. Yet the broader implications are huge.
Some great push back there via Rethinking Schools. So i'm going to push us even more.. you wrote: if we HAD to have high stakes tests and standards (and of course now we do)....  I'm asking - do we really?
And a summary and final point by Okaikor:
Yeah, thanks to Darcy and Dana for posting the Rethinking Schools article. What has been key for me are the corporations (or people) that are pushing this agenda without listening to the voice of the people...and rushing to push them with proper field testing.
My dad was a statistician for a big pharmaceutical company. His job was to research drugs prior to approving them..or building a case to have them approved in the US...this was done with every drug. Why is it then okay to experiment and invest millions, if not billions of dollars, in a set of standards that cannot be proven. Why is it okay to test our children like guinea pigs or lab rats? And then, why is it okay to punish the children for these failures, which we now know (as Sarah Bertucci highlighted) is actually a reflection of our opportunity and poverty data from NCLB has been great at identifying.
I like Monika's question, because it is something I ask myself. I don't believe we need high-stakes testing, but I am on the fence with the idea of national standards in general...I ask myself if the lack of standards is the problem, or is it poverty, and residuals of a system that has created this mess!?
And finally some thoughts from a popular post Susan Sandler wrote on this blog last December, about the Fight for the Soul of the Common Core Standards:
A colleague of mine challenged me awhile ago with this statement: “The common core standards could be about liberation, but only if people step up to define it that way.”  These standards are still new, and what they mean have not been completely defined and interpreted yet.  
When the standards call for critical thinking, will that mean that we should prepare students be good analysts at work, or does it also mean that students can form independent conclusions about what is going on in our society?  Is the rigor of the standards, something that focuses exclusively on the ivory tower or does it embrace the lives of learners?  Will students end up with the skills for following more high-tech and sophisticated orders or for being change agents for a just society?
While nothing in the standards declares that they are for the kind of ”liberatory learning” I described, they could support this kind of learning.  But a critical mass of us would need to actively shape and interpret what they are about.  
Susan's comments bring up one of the center questions of the education dialogue today: whose voice carries weight in determining what happens in schools and classrooms around the country, and is there an opportunity for educators, young people, parents, and community members to engage in and impact issues like the Common Core?  
While the comments of many folks above speak to the power that policy-makers, foundations, and corporate leaders have, it is also clear there is a rising chorus of those deeply involved in education who are speaking out strongly about what they think is best for young people. From Providence to Texas to Colorado, people are coming together to offer their ideas and solutions. The Common Core - like many hot issues in education including student and teacher assessment, school funding, and charter schools - is not a fully written story. 
The question is, ten years from now, what will the story be?
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