Supplemental: What’s the real point of the Common Core?

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11, 2014

Common versus higher: From the standpoint of messaging, an advocate can never go wrong calling for “higher standards.”

That sounds like something a person would want! Who could possibly stand opposed to “higher standards?”

This messaging drives the campaign in support of the Common Core. That said, the Common Core is often supported in a different way.

Often, advocates praise the Common Core because it creates a common set of “standards.” If every state signs on to the program, all the states will be teaching the same skills in each grade!

At first glance, that seems to make perfect sense. We live in a highly mobile world. Under this theory, a student who moved from one state to another would encounter the same set of “standards” at his new school.

That said, the Common Core is often praised on that other basis. It’s praised because its “standards” are higher than those which have obtained in many states in the past.

Which is it? Is the Common Core a good idea because it creates a common set of “standards?” Or is it good because the standards in question are higher?

The two rationales often appear interchangeably. Consider a passage from Lyndsey Layton’s detailed report in Sunday’s Washington Post.

In the following passage, Layton describes the way Arne Duncan got states to adopt the Common Core through the use of stimulus money. In the process, Layton cites both rationales for the program:
LAYTON (6/8/14): As secretary [of education], Duncan named as his chief of staff Margot Rogers, a top Gates official he got to know through that grant. He also hired James Shelton, a program officer at the foundation, to serve first as his head of innovation and most recently as the deputy secretary, responsible for a wide array of federal policy decisions.

Duncan and his team leveraged stimulus money to reward states that adopted common standards.

They created Race to the Top, a $4.3 billion contest for education grants. Under the contest rules, states that adopted high standards stood the best chance of winning. It was a clever way around federal laws that prohibit Washington from interfering in what takes place in classrooms. It was also a tantalizing incentive for cash-strapped states.
First, we’re told that Duncan offered money to states which adopted common standards. Then, we’re told that the standards in question had to be high.

The point is simple. You'll see two different rationales used in support of the Common Core. Sometimes, we’re told the program is good because the states will have common standards. We’re also told the program is good because the standards are high—in effect, because instruction will be more challenging than before.

At least on the surface, uniformity across the states makes an obvious type of sense. Beyond that, many kids would presumably benefit from more challenging instruction.

That said, our basic question remains:

Given our large achievement gaps, how can any set of “standards” make sense for all kids in a single grade? The gaps are very large in our schools. How can any set of “standards” be appropriate for all students?

This is the world’s most obvious question. Through twenty years of the “standards movement,” we’ve never seen it asked.

27 comments:

  1. OMB (Still Trying to Understand What the Heck OTB is Writing About)

    How can any set of “standards” be appropriate for all students?

    This is the world’s most obvious question. Through twenty years of the “standards movement,” we’ve never seen it asked."

    How is this for a simple answer to that lonely question BOB alone has been raising in his wilderness for lo these many decades.

    No set of grade-specific standards can fully reflect the great variety of abilities, needs, learning rates, and achievement levels of students in any given classroom.

    KZ


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    1. But if you don't set standards, then you can't fire teachers for their students failing to meet them. And we desperately want it to be the teachers' fault when students don't achieve.

      The initial problem is trying to run education like an assembly line; educating human beings is not like assembling a car, and unlike in the olden days when that model was adopted we are not living in times where educational resources are scarce except by choice. But even given the assembly line model, trying to run it as fast as possible with as few workers as possible just compounds the problem. Common sense should tell you that pushing the line faster results in more defective widgets coming out the far end because there's less time for quality control at each point in the line. If you want the quality of your widgets to improve, you have to slow down the line.

      Not only is simply declaring higher standards setting up students for failure; it's setting up teachers for failure. And I think that's the point. This will be just one more hammer to wield against public education ("they can't/aren't meeting the Common Core standards!").

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    2. Fine, but that has nothing to do with BOB's question or our proposed answer.

      Delete
    3. Attention Douchebag KZ:

      No one gives a damn what *your* answer is.

      The question needs to be answered by media that purport to seriously discuss the issue. The opinion of comment trolls such as yourself couldn't be less relevant.

      Delete
  2. What is the difference between a Supplemental post and an Interlude?

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  3. Standards according to raw aptitude of most students for a particular age are positive. For students with higher potential and achievement, skip grades. For students with aptitude who fail to meet the standards, sped. Abandonment of standard of "first grade" and other grades will signal it is acceptable for an 11 year old with the aptitude for reading at a sixth grade level to read at a first grade level. Destruction of expectations, the worst solution.

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    1. If you expect a sixth grader that reads at first grade level, to increase their reading ability to sixth grade by the end of the school year, then you have doomed that student to fail.

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    2. If that happens then clearly it's the fault of the teachers, who must then be fired. Eventually (after a sufficient number of such firings) a set of good teachers will be found who can bring those lagging students up to the mark in the time allotted. After all, that's what they do in the corporate world when people don't meet their targets, right?

      The Common Core is just a set of standards, or goals; the actual "curriculum" for achieving them is left up to the local people. If students fail to meet the standard, then it's the local peoples' fault (and more likely, the teachers' fault for not teaching the curriculum properly; because if they had done so, students would not have failed to meet the standards). The Common Core cannot fail, as it is just a set of benchmarks; it can only be failed.

      This is the "thinking" that I'm sure is behind the Common Core.

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    3. Rob: I (at least) think you are correct.

      Delete
  4. Tougher standards that challenge the higher percentiles to perform at a higher level will only increase the gaps. So which should be the focus of national efforts, trying to improve the knowledge of kids who largely motivate themselves and can advance at the speed of their choosing -- think Common Core -- or doing everything possible to eliminate the effects of a 400 year national disgrace?

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    Replies
    1. Why does it have to be either/or?

      But, I suppose, it always will be as long as we are willing to limit ourselves to false choices.

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    2. It should be both. But simply adopting tougher standards will not accomplish either goal. This will be demonstrated over the next decades.

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  5. Bob asked some good questions about this centralized set of standards. Here are some more questions:

    1. Is CC a good set of standards?
    2. Is it the best possible set of standards?
    3. If CC has flaws or weaknesses, is there a process to identify those weaknesses and make appropriate modifications in the CC standards?

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    Replies
    1. BOB had really only has one question. We'll repeat it for him.

      "That said, our basic question remains:

      Given our large achievement gaps, how can any set of “standards” make sense for all kids in a single grade? The gaps are very large in our schools. How can any set of “standards” be appropriate for all students?"

      We proposed an answer:

      No set of grade-specific standards can fully reflect the great variety of abilities, needs, learning rates, and achievement levels of students in any given classroom.

      What say you DinC?

      KZ

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    2. I agree with your answer, KZ.

      Urban legend, I don't think the federal government is doing everything possible to eliminate the effects of slavery. I think that phrase is mostly an excuse to give away stuff, because giving away stuff is pretty much what Washington does.

      No Child Left Behind was designed to force schools to expend whatever resources were necessary so that every child could reach a reasonable level of reading and mathematics. This program would help many black children. But, liberals fought against this program.

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    3. Some liberals fought NCLB. Some conservatives fought it. It passed with bipartisan support, including the strong support of Ted Kennedy.

      The Bush refused to fund it.

      NCLB notably set up statewide mandatory testing. Same test. And very high stakes, with a carrot to reward schools that passed, a stick to punish those that failed.

      And each state was allowed to set its own standards, its own tests and its own scores on a sort of pass/fail system.

      I also agree with KZ's answer. And I trust that KZ knows that simply setting the nation's first set of uniform standards isn't supposed to address the achievement gap in and of itself. But it is a very important, necessary first step.

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    4. That supposed "failure to fund" NCLB is bogus. First of all, Bush did increase federal funding a LOT.

      Annual U.S. Department of Education spending on elementary and secondary education has increased from $27.3 billion in 2001 to $38 billion in 2006, up by nearly 40 percent. According to the department, annual spending on the Title I program to assist disadvantaged children grew by 45 percent between 2001 and 2006. In 2007, the department will spend 59 percent more on special education programs than it did in 2001.

      Second of all, why should schools need federal funding in order to teach their students to read and do arithmetic? That's what the schools are there for.

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    5. I think I can agree that schools do not need Federal funding at all. But that assumes that there is other sources of adequate funding, which is certainly not the case. You are looking at the billions of dollars spent on education and claiming that should be enough. But how much will it cost in supplemental tutoring to get a 4th grade student reading at the 1st grade level up to his potential? I don't think the billions provided by the NCLB are enough if that is the goal.

      Delete
  6. Thanks DinC and Anon @ 10:36

    We cannot take credit for that answer. Here is the full statement:

    "No set of grade-specific standards can fully reflect the great variety of abilities, needs, learning rates, and achievement levels of students in any given classroom. Importantly, the standards provide clear signposts along the way to the goal of college and career readiness for all students."

    It is the final paragraph on the cover page to which you are directed by the Common Core Initiative if you want to "Read the Standards."

    BOB linked to this page in the last Supplemental. We believe he titled it "What the Heck is the Common Core." He disappeared this statement. He also never answered the question in his headline.

    http://www.corestandards.org/read-the-standards/

    KZ

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    1. And if that remains the extent of the discussion of the actual applicability of standards, then it amounts to little more than ass-covering, but you know that.

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    2. Let's use another sports analogy -- a marathon race.

      Suppose runners are told where the starting line is, but not where the first mile marker, the second mile marker the 10th mile marker or the finish line is.

      Now suppose somebody came up with the bright idea of mapping out the course every step of the way.

      Somerby would criticize that because it doesn't guarantee that all runners will finish the race with exactly the same time.

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    3. How about you use an accurate analogy? Suppose the course is marked, but haphazardly, and the runners vary widely in their conditioning. Some run marathons regularly; some can't complete a 5k. Now suppose somebody came up with the bright idea of having a uniform set of mile markers. Now what do you think TDH would criticize?

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    4. Anon 10:58 - Do you really think the point of caring about children who are failing in our school system is about getting "all runners finishing at exactly the same time"? We are talking about human lives here. This is not a race to "win". Finishing at the same time or ahead of everyone else is not the issue. I think we just want all kids to get a chance to succeed. Is that too much to ask?

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    5. Anonymous @1:03P,

      It's not too much to ask; it's far too much to fund the answer.

      Delete


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