19,000 reasons to pay attention to Common Core politics

According to the Orlando Sentinel’s Leslie Postal, the set of 19,000 comments that the Florida Department of Education received on the Common Core state standards is not quite the 20,000 comments on the state science standards when they were in the process of being rewritten in 2007-08. But 19,000 still easily outstrips most involvement of the public in education policy matters as deep into the weeds as the “skeleton of the curriculum,” as one of my students called curriculum standards.

I do not know what the tenor of the public’s Common Core comments were. The department’s online intake forms presented the standards and substandards individually, confronting someone wishing to comment with the details. I made a few comments, generally positive while wincing on occasion regarding the phrasing. In particular, I would like to have a few words with whoever thought of “informational text” as a horrid catchall for “whatever is not fiction.” I have a sneaky suspicion it’s a few decades old, though I suspect it’s only with the Common Core standards or a few other documents that anyone has tried to use the term for historical documents and the like. Ugh. But for the most part, while there are places where people can (strongly) disagree with some specifics on pedagogical grounds, the English/language arts and math standards are pretty far from the Glenn Beck and Phyllis Schlafly claims.

Unfortunately, Florida’s newspapers have done a fairly poor job of describing the standards — I don’t think I’ve seen any excerpts of the actual standards in the Tampa Bay Times‘ coverage in the past year, or other papers I’ve scanned online, and that’s simply a poor editorial choice about how to use space. You want to write an editorial about the politics of curriculum standards? Great. Maybe have examples somewhere in the coverage? I guess that was not important. Or maybe editors are hoping that BuzzFeed will cover it for them. You know, “13 math standards tied to skills you really could use but can’t remember.”

So with the coverage, we have False and Pants-on-Fire claims from some opponents of the Common Core, while proponents of the Common Core never talk about the standards themselves, just the glorious things that will happen and are happening because of them. Right now, the people who are more energized, more active in education policy debate in Florida are not in possession of basic information about the standards, and Common Core proponents are part of the problem.

Forget for a moment whatever position you take on the Common Core standards themselves and think about the numbers involved here, vs. the typical audience at school board meetings or talking with state representatives and senators before and during the annual legislative session. What we are seeing is an engagement of a very large number of citizens in the state. I may disagree with many of them, but I would love for every important education policy to attract 20,000 comments from around the state. That would be great for general civic participation, whether I’d win or lose on a particular issue. So why is it happening here and not with a host of other issues?

And, on the other side, why are Common Core proponents so passionate about everything except the standards themselves? You are wedded to the standards as a solid planning document and are missing the fact that talking up the standards without mentioning anything specific is like telling younger teenagers they should read Romeo and Juliet as “great literature” without mentioning that the plot revolves around forbidden love, gang warfare, and suicide pacts. Good grief, folks, if you like the repeated and close reading ideas in the English/language arts standards, could you memorize a few of the standards and be willing to recite and defend them in public?

6 responses to “19,000 reasons to pay attention to Common Core politics”

  1. Chris Guerrieri

    Endorsing common core is to endorse the high stakes testing culture we have now. Somewhere along the way tests went from being a tool to see how kids were doing to the whole kit and caboodle. Common Core does nothing to eliminate or even tone down the testing which has sucked the joy out of learning and teaching for countless students and teachers.

    The Cost, despite what Pam Stewart says common core is going to be expensive, estimates for Florida range from a couple hundred million into the billions. Now undoubtedly some of those costs will replace costs we otherwise would have incurred. Some of those costs that is and it should be a huge red flag that the powers that be are not trying to clarify the expenses. Most of that money by the way will be diverted away from schools and classrooms.

    Next it does not address the problem facing our schools which is poverty. When you factor out poverty our children zoom to the top of the international rankings. Common core does absolutely nothing to address poverty and until we do all common core does is throw money down a hole, sorry make that into the bank accounts of testing companies, who are the primary financial backers of people like Jeb Bush who support Common Core.

    Finally if Jeb Bush is for it you should be against it. Everything he has supported from his A-F grading scale to charters and vouchers have done great harm to education. He is a flim flam man who sends his children to exclusive prep schools with small classes without high stakes tests while at the same time sentencing our children to schools he would never send his kids to. Furthermore since he was in charge of our education system for 8 years he in effect is saying, I got it wrong with the standards we had in place when I was in charge, I would like a do over, a very expensive do over that doesn’t address our problems (poverty) and allows my backers to get rich, sorry make that richer.

    The problem with common core is not the standards and that should not be lost on people.

  2. Paul Bielawski

    The curious thing to me about common core is the allegiance with the lack of ownership. Millions of educators were involved in state standards. The opponents generally used the same arguments against state standards. However, many district level folks are fighting strongly for common core despite having had no input into development. The state level folks need common core because they are heavily vested in the assessment consortia. In Michigan it looks like the Legislature is OK with Common Core, but wants to pull out of Smarter Balanced. I do not understand where the Legislative support for Common Core came from. They were really defending the process – not the standards.

  3. Peter Young

    Soon, several states will begin using PARCC assessments in an effort to measure students’ understanding of the Common Core standards. When this testing process begins, we will then find out which standards are deemed to be more important than others based on how many questions are related to each standard. The untested standards will be ignored as much as possible by teachers and students. Teachers will naturally focus their instruction around fewer standards. To be practical, it would help to know up front which standards are going to be tested and what the testing items will look like so we can spend our time debating and discussing the quality of the standard and whether or not the testing items truely require children to be proficient in that particular standard.

    It seems unfair to require our teachers to teach each standard equally when they are tested unequally. Part of any useful review of standards should involve how the standard is measured in terms of frequency on tests and what the children should produce as demonstration of the standard. Without that information, standard reviews are not useful and potentially misleading.

    In short, while the Common Core may have been constructed carefully, an analysis of the standards is incomplete if it does not include the whole story. If PARCC were to release this information, the analysis of the standards would be very interesting because we could prioritize them and understand what the Common Core standard really is asking our children to do. Without that information, there are many interpretations of the standards.

  4. CCPhysicist

    What Chris misses up in the first comment is that you can have Common Core and regular and final exams or assignments in each class that appropriately assess whether students have learned those topics without having “high stakes” exams that are used to punish schools and teachers that are stuck with poorly prepared students.

    My only experience with Common Core has been a workshop with high school math teachers, where it was abundantly clear that they and we like the focus (important content) and flexibility (they do not have 200 specific topics that dictate what has to be done each day in class) of the proposed standards.

    It was also clear that they have already been adopted, in the de facto sense that they are the basis for the current curriculum, as far as teachers are concerned.