Uncommon core dissent

Posted on January 31, 2014. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , , , |

The Common Core State Standards Initiative has a lot of detractors—and rightly so—but the New York State United Teachers’ (NYSUT) board resolution to withdraw support last week was an unexpected dissent from a presumably predictable proponent.

Since NYSUT represents 600,000 educators, the resolution does much to refute Common Core’s continuing claim that the standards are widely supported by teachers. Both national teachers union organizations do endorse Common Core, but both also cautiously respected NYSUT’s action against it.

The main problem with Common Core is a common one: It’s a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to education that was ill-conceived, misrepresented as state-led and voluntary, and laughably inept rather than academically thorough.

In short, it is to education what Obamacare is to health care.

Even the nomenclature is similarly duplicitous. Who doesn’t want high standards in school curricula?

Everybody wants affordable health care too, but few would nod in agreement that that’s what Obamacare is delivering. It can be well argued that its named goal is something the Affordable Care Act will never deliver.

But how much support would the bill have gotten had it been named more accurately? A “Mandatory Health Insurance Act” or “National Socialist Health-Care Act” likely would never have cleared committee.

Using the same rhetorical trickery, Common Core claims universal agreement of broad goals (higher standards and accountability) as support for its program particulars.

It’s impossible to know how many of the 45 states (Arkansas among them) adopted Common Core just to get the “Race to the Top” money, but an educated guesser would place the percentage high. A truly competent, well-tested and thoroughly proven standards initiative wouldn’t have required bribing the states to adopt it.

As University of Arkansas professor emerita and education reform expert Sandra Stotsky has pointed out since Common Core’s inception, the nontransparent nature of its development belied its lofty declarations. Qualifications for standards-writing committee members were never publicly defined, and when names of members were released, it appeared the predominant qualification was employment at a testing company.

Likewise, the nebulous assertion that Common Core would include internationally bench marked standards supported by research evidence was not accompanied by any body of actual evidence.

Instead, using federal funds instead of wool to pull over the eyes of state legislators and schools, Common Core bore the all-too-common arrogance of expert government bureaucrats: “Trust us. We’re here to help.”

Now that some Common Core rubber is beginning to meet the road, a lot of early believers are starting tohit the brakes. Some 20 states have either pulled back from the initiative or begun changing the standards, and Arkansas would be wise to join them—and wiser to lead them.

After all, low-performing states will be hurt the most by misguided standards that fail to ensure system accountability. New York State’s example ought to be all the tipping point we need to substitute common sense for Common Core in seeking to raise our own standards.

Back in December, an Arkansas parent addressed the state Board of Education with a stunningly simple example of standards silliness run amok.

If you’re not one of the more than half a million people who have viewed Karen Lamoreaux’s 3-minute presentation on YouTube, it’s worth watching. She told board members she wanted to see if they were smarter than a Common Core fourth-grader, and put one of the standards’ math questions to them.

If a class of 18 students counts off by a certain number and ends up with 90, what number did they count by? she asked. In just a few seconds, a board member correctly answered “5” and explained that she arrived at the answer through simple division: 90÷18=5, essentially solving for x in the equation 18x = 90.

But no, Lamoreaux pointed out, that’s not critical thinking according to Common Core. She said to get the question right, students must draw 18 circles (representing the students) and add marks to determine the answer.

“This is not rigorous,” the mother with 12 years of college education told the board.

But it is ridiculous. It seems like the kind of dumb question that should be dismissed as an anomaly, but no—Dr. Megan Witonski, assistant commissioner of Learning Services, defended it:

“Yes, that is one way you can answer the problem, there may be another way, you can have the same answer with the same result and still work with that same problem.”

I can see there being some value in letting students take the long road around occasionally, but not weighting the two paths as equal.

Any supervisor watching an employee drawing circles and making marks like that would wonder what on earth was going on, and instead show the employee how to simply divide to get the answer quickly and efficiently.

Besides, like many parents, I am weary of tricky wording of questions. It’s almost as if the idolatry of diversity has become so entrenched in government-centric ideology that educrats now believe every test question is more probing if phrased confusingly so as to have many answers.

If NYSUT and other states are wising up, let’s hope Arkansas doesn’t blindly follow the Common Core course of folly.

 

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