On the Common Core by John Thompson via Edweek’s Living in Dialogue

Leave a comment

This is from Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialogue blog at Edweek, providing a piece by John Thompson. Links on top are interesting also.

« Open Letter to President Obama, Time to Do What’s Right for our Schools |

Designer of Value-Added Tests a Skeptic about Current Test Mania »

Common Core Is the Essence of the “Status Quo” — That’s why I Support It

Guest post by John Thompson.

http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2012/06/john_thompson_common_core_is_t.html?cmp=ENL-EU-VIEWS2

Last week, attending a great conference in Oklahoma City, Vision 2020, focused largely on Common Core, I kept worrying how I could articulate my support for the effort without angering my friends who are skeptical of it, or needlessly antagonizing Common Core supporters who hold the weird belief that it will be “a game-changer.” Finally, I decided to just put my thesis on the table. I support Common Core because it embodies the essence of the educational “status quo.” I support Common Core because it is like the educational establishment and American democracy in being the worst of all systems, except for all of the rest.

Twenty years ago, when I shifted from an academic career as a historian, I loved education conferences where teachers presented a range of workshops on pedagogies that had worked for them, stimulating a cross-fertilization of ideas. Few presenters claimed that the best practices that worked for them could be scaled up as “silver bullets” for the entire nation. These conferences also offered a window into my new profession’s scholarship. In contrast to many other career-changers who became school “reformers,” I fell in love with the work of the late Gerald Bracey, Larry Cuban, David Berliner, Lynn Canady, Diane Ravitch and, later, Robert Balfanz and the Consortium of Chicago School Research. I concluded that the educational research informing these seminars was the intellectual equal of any other social science genre.

I was not confident that the emerging “Standards” movement would have an effect on inner city schools like mine but, when read as scholarly documents, the original standards of learning were outstanding, and I mourned their defeat by the scorched earth politics of the 1990s.

Rather than stay the course and work within the system for another set of higher standards, a new generation of accountability-driven “reformers” adopted the Lee Atwater/Dick Morris tactics of demonization. They set out to destroy the “status quo.” According to the “brass knuckles” school of reform, if education schools, school boards, teachers unions, and educational progressivism were wiped out, then “disruptive innovation” would produce “transformational” change.” Standards morphed into standardization. Bubble-in testing became the point of the spear in a war by newcomers to the profession against veteran educators, as well as the social science that questioned their quick fixes. Eventually, many of the leading accountability hawks described themselves as “the Fight Club,” and concentrated their efforts not on improving schools, but on destroying education systems in the righteous belief that something better would magically rise from the ashes.

Now, we have “déjà vu all over again,” as the Common Core seeks a collaborative effort to organize instruction and assessments in order to provide engaging instruction so that students can learn for mastery. The contemporary Common Core effort is like old-fashioned educational progressivism in that it is based on the current state of the art of educational research. So, of course, many of its core tenets will later be proven to be mistaken. But, Common Core is a back-to-the-future political process where all stakeholders have been consulted.

As with the educational status quo of the 1990s, testing companies and consultants have more influence than I would like. Common Core advocates continue to insist that they do not intend to intrude into the way that practitioners teach the new Standards, as they continue to try to micro-manage instruction. (I have several sources I consider credible who fear it’s actually PARRC that is intent on creating (yet again) scripted teacher-proof instruction – Jer) Teachers will need to push back as the policy-makers over-emphasize assessments and become overly proscriptive. And, probably, it will go overboard in replacing too much fiction with nonfiction. (This is in fact an expectation of several state- and national-award winning English teachers with whom I’ve chatted with the decisions being made by people who know nothing about teaching language arts – Jer) We should remember the wisdom of Core Knowledge’s Robert Pondiscio, however, who explains that Common Core does more than cut fiction, it also “restores art, music, history, and literature to the curriculum. (Emphasis in the original)

But, has that not always been the case in our schools? Are not all of our social institutions the results of “reforms” that prompt pushback, and that thus evolve in a non-rational manner? Is that not also the history of our constitutional democracy? The difference is that the test mania of recent years is an existential threat to public education. Common Core is not.

Prospects for Common Core would be far brighter if it was 1992 and we had not just followed the dead end path of test-driven accountability. Today, we have far more resources for designing new Standards and assessments. The billions of dollars wasted on bubble-in accountability gimmicks, however, will be missed. It will be tough enough to fund the curriculum supports and to implement the professional development necessary to prepare teachers. In the short term, we will not have a fraction of the resources necessary to provide the supports that our poorest children will need in order to learn for mastery. (I am not convinced that the sponsors of Common Core have any idea how much it will cost to align high-quality interventions that are needed before it can improve the toughest schools.)

Even so, we must recognize the opportunity that Common Core represents.
After a decade where educational leaders had to twist themselves into pretzels, maintaining that it was possible to have high-stakes testing and engaging instruction, it was liberating to attend a conference where educators and politicians of all stripes agreed that the teach-to-the-basic-skills-test regime of the last decade has failed. Similarly, I did not meet a politician, vendor, administrator, or a teacher who claimed that value-added teacher evaluations and test-driven accountability can co-exist with the transition to the Common Core. After all, test scores are bound to crater in our toughest schools as the curriculum is turned on its head.

Value-added accountability is a tool for destroying the teachers’ part of the “status quo,” but Common Core seeks to build a new barn and not just kick the old one down. The consensus I see as emerging is that the most likely next step for data-driven accountability is to return to the skill that we know forwards and backwards. If we want Common Core to survive, systems will apply their practiced talents in fabricating data and creating loopholes in order to keep value-added models from driving teaching talent from the schools where it is harder to raise test scores, and where the transition to Common Core will be most difficult.

During the next couple of years, educators will receive a mixed message. We will be told to prepare for a brand new adventure in teaching for mastery. In enlightened districts, educators will get a head start and will be allowed to abandon the teach-to-the-test basic skills approach that has been driving the love of learning out of our classrooms. In other schools during the two-year transition period, educators will still be required to engage in the same educational malpractice of the last decade and, then, they will be expected to turn on a dime and teach analysis, critical thinking, and synthesis. Finally, there is no guarantee that “reformers” won’t again become impatient and turn the technology necessary to support Common Core into a more sophisticated version of an educational assembly line. Common Core could degenerate into a super-duper hi-tech version of the scripted instruction that that has come out of NCLB but, still, it could be a step toward real educational equity.

We should remember that the short-term pain of the abrupt change schooling will be tougher on our students. Kids are resilient, though. In another contrast to data-driven reform, if Common Core survives the rocky road ahead, it will be our poorest kids in our most challenged schools who will have the most to gain. It would be nice if the billions of dollars spent on computers for command and control could be redirected towards the socio-emotional supports that are necessary before low-skilled students can excel with a legitimate college-prep or career-tech curricula. The key to success, however, is rejecting the quick fix mentality that looks to Common Core, or any other single reform, as being more than a step by which our schools, and the rest of our so-called “status quo,” bend the arch of incremental change towards justice. Common Core Is the Essence of the “Status Quo”

John Thompson was an award winning historian, with a doctorate from Rutgers, and a legislative lobbyist when crack and gangs hit his neighborhood, and he became an inner city teacher. He blogs for This Week in Education, the Huffington Post and other sites. After 18 years in the classroom, he is writing his book, Getting Schooled: Battles Inside and Outside the Urban Classroom.

Pop Quiz on Testing

Leave a comment

‘Nuff said.

Jer

Published Online @ Edweek.org: June 11, 2012

Published in Print: June 13, 2012, as Pop Quiz on Testing: What’s the Answer?

Commentary

Pop Quiz on Testing

By Lisa Guisbond

Premium article access courtesy of Edweek.org.

You can practically hear the collective relief as school testing season winds down across America. It’s not just the sighs of millions of overtested and stressed-out children. Joining them are state officials, school administrators, teachers, and parents. All, for varying reasons, are no doubt happy to close the door on a particularly disastrous season that included public uproar over a confusing reading test question and a scoring fiasco on the Florida writing exam.

Before we put away the No. 2 pencils, though, how about sharpening them for one last exam? Why should our kids be the only ones to suffer the acute anxiety that comes from opening the test booklet to Page 1? Let’s share their pain and take a test to see how well we’ve been paying attention and learning from our obsession with tests.

1. Why did Florida’s state board of education call an emergency meeting to lower the passing score on its writing exam?

A) The percentage of 4th grade students with passing scores plunged                         from 81 percent last year to 27 percent this year, making it look as if most students went from good to horrible writers in one year.

B) The board realized student writing wasn’t really any worse, but the new test-scoring guide was too harsh and penalized students for minor mistakes.

C) The sudden drop in scores called the state’s entire testing system into question.

D) All of the above.

2. Why did New York eliminate the “Hare and the Pineapple” item when scoring the 8th grade reading test?

A) A student came home and told his mother about extremely confusing and incomprehensible questions regarding an absurd reading passage.

B) The author of the story adapted for the test item expressed his contempt for the way his writing was used to confuse and distress young test-takers. “This was done by somebody who was barely literate,” Daniel Pinkwater said of the adapter.

C) Media attention to the item embarrassed both test-maker Pearson and state education officials.

D) The “Pineapple” item was only one of more than 20 mistakes on the tests.

E) All of the above.

3. Why have 525 Texas school boards, more than 1,400 New York principals, and more than 8,000 individuals across the nation endorsed anti-high-stakes-testing resolutions and statements?

A) The Texas board members believe “the overreliance on standardized, high-stakes testing … is strangling our public schools.”

B) The New York principals said: “Our students are more than the sum of their test scores. … According to a nine-year study by the National Research Council, the past decade’s emphasis on testing has yielded little learning progress, especially considering the cost to taxpayers.”

C) School board members, principals, and many parents across the country recognize that testing mandates compel them to do things that undermine teaching and learning.

D) All of the above.

4. Who pays for and who profits from the testing explosion resulting from the No Child Left Behind Act and similar misguided education policies?

A) Taxpayers spend billions of dollars for ever more testing, money that could be used to improve school facilities, hire and train teachers, and staff school libraries.

B) Pearson, the company behind the twin fiascos in Florida and New York as well as years of other costly testing errors, saw its profits increase by 72 percent in 2011.

C) Veteran teachers with years of positive reviews by knowledgeable evaluators are being labeled ineffective and denied tenure or fired based on inaccurate and incomprehensible formulas using student test scores.

D) All of the above.

5. What can parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members do to change the costly and destructive path we are on?

A) Sign the National Resolution on High Stakes Testing and tell all your friends and relatives to do the same.

B) Get engaged with your local school system to review and reconsider the amount and uses of testing.

C) Write your members of Congress and tell them federal education policy needs to fundamentally change course and regain a sane and reasonable approach to assessment and accountability.

D) All of the above.

[The correct answer to all of the questions is “All of the above.”]

Lisa Guisbond is a policy analyst with FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, in Jamaica Plain, Mass.

Quote of the day

Leave a comment

Found this in the Edweek newsletter.

It’s like we’re trying to put out a bunch of fires and, rather than look at the causes of the fires or improving the resources available to firefighters, we’re merely trying to switch out a few current firefighters for hypothetically ‘better’ ones.
David Cohen

I have been TERRIBLY remiss in hounding everyone with stuff here – I guess I can blame it on the end of semester rush, except we’re already well into summer minis. I’ll try to do better, all!  Hope you’re having a wonderful summer.