Posts filed under ‘Common Core State Standards’

Finessing the Common Core

Here’s the deal. The Common Core was heralded as a new higher standard for college readiness in PreK-12 education that ¾ of the states adopted at one time or another. Now there is some buyer’s remorse because states want flexibility in implementation. Therein lays the mistake. The wholesale adoption of the Common Core by states was misplaced. What we needed in the end was a nationwide minimum standard (hint: the Common Core) for Interstate portability and absolute flexibility within the states to direct how they achieved the minimum as well as how they wished to raise the bar locally.

In politics, like marketing, there’s more than one way to achieve the desired result. Take for example, the pharmaceutical industry, which takes a two-pronged approach to selling a new drug…sell it to the prescribing physicians and/or sell it directly to the consumers to get them to ask their doctors for it. Likewise, the Nation’s political agenda can be legislated directly or bubble up through grassroots operations within a critical mass of states. Gay marriage offers a brilliant example of the bumpy road to victory and the legal altar. Anyway, back to the Common Core.

The Obama Administration believed in a national standard for education, but they hesitated to define it as such. Instead, they let the early adopters of the notion among state education chiefs develop Common Core State Standards and sell them to their colleagues across the nation. Then, they offered NCLB waivers as an incentive for states to adopt the Common Core themselves. But, rather than sell the idea to the Legislature when they had more favorable odds, the Administration made a strategic mistake of solidifying the agenda via the back door to the states. Instead of seeing the ¾ adoption rate among the states as a mandate for a national standard, they were satisfied with uniformity within the states…a straight-jacket that would eventually irk states’ rights advocates and more independent thinkers among the local education leaders.

The opportunity that remains would be to stop waxing eloquently about the new high level of achievement offered by the Common Core and begin to sell it as a good minimum standard for the nation…the starting point from which states would have great liberty in setting their own agendas equal to or greater than the national mandate. Because that is what the Common Core is. We forget that any standard to be achieved by “all of the children” is the new floor for achievement. Yes, our glorious Common Core, if successful, is actually intended to be the lowest common denominator.

For now, we are mired in the false starts of treating standards as curriculum mandates, which they clearly are not, and thinking that states who wish to rewrite or modify the Common Core in their own words are wrong. It is time to let go of the rigid thinking and find the common ground founded in the Common Core.

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February 27, 2015 at 10:48 AM Leave a comment

Maybe Predicted PARCC Test Score Dip Will Be About Scaffolding…If It Happens

Before the PARCC tests were, well, tested many educators began to predict a dip in test scores as an inevitable outcome. And another good excuse for missing NCLB goals was born. When in doubt, or under the watchful eye of accountability, blame the test. A dissenting opinion from the Special Ed corner and a plea for a no-fault world…

Do PARCC tests require that the children leap to higher level thinking without a net, or did too many of us forget our scaffolding in new curricula designed for the Common Core? Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that it is a problem when assessments change and students are held to a higher standard for critical thinking and applied knowledge. That may be true, but many of us thought we were working on building better thinkers already. And that the PARCC tests would assess the effectiveness of our work. Instead, these assessments may help to underscore the manner in which the students got caught in the crossfire of a pedagogical battle waged by the adults.

Special Education can be a wonderful incubator for new ideas for reaching diverse learners. Often we would find helpful forms of scaffolding that offered benefits across the curriculum as well as the fully inclusive classroom. Unfortunately, it is within this microcosm for learning that a new obstacle for success for Students with Special Needs has emerged from a knee-jerk reaction to the Common Core…the rush to the generic skills mandate.

A new vision for Special Ed support for inclusive classes seems to have emerged over the past 18 months or so. New school leaders in charter schools and more progressive traditional schools have begun to redesign these skills classes around a curriculum on generic skills. A sort of how-to-be-a-good-student guide that would formalize strategies in the abstract for completing assignments and studying for tests…BEFORE they were explored in the concrete through content class support. Further, this vision included a plan for its own homework, rather than helping students complete their existing assignments.

It is true that all students, not just those in Special Ed, need to internalize the strategies that allow them cope with learning challenges in order to be successful lifelong learners. But the vast majority of students need to demonstrate their ability to use these skills in specific ways first. In the meantime, the premature jump to generic skills is likely to frustrate many students. Never mind their disbelief when formerly trusted liaisons try to add homework assignments to the stack of work they are already struggling to complete.

Under conditions of change in education, a kind of fuzzy logic seems to emerge that carries its own mandate. Decisive leadership seems to call for urgent action, which sorts people into those who embrace change and those who don’t. And when student outcomes deteriorate, we all know who is to blame, right?

But suppose we were to function in a no-fault world that rendered the reflexive need to get on the winning team obsolete? There is so much that we do not know. And we would benefit as educators if we were to strive to improve our practices through daily reflection and be informed by the new tests after they happened. Then we could make adjustments in response to real knowledge, which often helps us to arrive at counter-intuitive insight into our problem-solving efforts…like seeing where the children needed different scaffolding, rather than making a pre-emptive strike that gave them less.

January 25, 2015 at 1:47 PM Leave a comment

ESEA Renewal…beyond the Pit and the Pendulum

ESEA/NCLB renewal may be at hand, but polarization along party lines in both houses of Congress is already threatening the process. Perhaps this is just the natural starting point for debate and negotiations; however, a quick look at the State and Federal functions in education could help light the way to solid middle ground in lieu of a power play.

There is a very real need for Federal involvement in education. Global markets challenge the US to compete effectively beyond its borders even as States retain their rights within the US. We are a mobile society and interstate portability of education property is essential to ensure that students from one state do not become “more equal” than those from another, and that all are well-educated. Further, as a capitalist society, we cannot forsake citizens who fall into the chasm of “market imperfections,” the poor, the disabled, or the gifted agents of change who need to be empowered to lead through innovation. That said, the US Department of Education could do some good by getting out of the way of States by refocusing their data requirements on the mission of educating the children.

Back in 2011, I wrote a blog post entitled Updating Decision Architecture for Student Success in which I outlined the roles of different levels of government to highlight the mismatch between State and Federal functions and data standards. Essentially, the core management of education lies within the States while the data is organized around Federal exigencies to the point of becoming obtuse rather than informative for all other education authorities. As a result, LEAs and SEAs are managing costs and compliance for ancillary functions with more detail than their mission of excellence in student outcomes.

Instead of unraveling the data mess, new Federal regulations were added. NCLB and waivers thereof that had Common Core strings attached created at least the appearance of an uneasy extension of the Federal role in education. More recent involvement in regulatory oversight of teacher evaluations and teacher prep got the long arm of the Feds closer to the hot plate of Big Government. However, this constitutional conflict is not as difficult to resolve once all the pieces of the puzzle are laid out.

 Link to table in Media – State Vs Federal role in education if needed.

 Federal role

 State role

Education content Guarantee Interstate portability of education property with common core of minimum standardsGuarantee equal access to content District oversight· Customization of standards for curriculum development

· Quality assurance (baseline Fed’l compliance, pursuit of local goals for excellence)

· Assessment of student achievement

· Rules of engagement for schools and districts as deemed necessary

Education finance Establishing student funding formulasManaging market imperfections· Disability benefits

· Food and transportation for the poor

· Other inequities among individuals or institutions

· Incubation of innovation

Distribution of Federal funds· Matching resources to eligible students &  districts· Monitoring compliance with Federal regulations

Rationalizing local funding

· Subsidies for students and/or facilities in under-funded communities

State education initiatives

Education data Establishment of national data standard (for state/local analysis and oversight)· Student-centered finance, education service delivery, educator effectiveness, and student outcomesFederal regulatory compliance data

· Special grants, food, transportation, special student services

· Summary-level spending and student outcomes data

Customization of discretionary data setData analysis and reporting· Resource allocation

· Regulatory compliance

· Education effectiveness and equity

· Programmatic investments and results

Educator professionalism Definition of minimum standard for educator qualification Manage professional licensure, educator quality programs

 

The goals set forth in No Child Left Behind legislation remain viable for the most part, including goals for near-universal proficiency in math and literacy, a sense of urgency in achieving those goals, and the expectation that every child should have qualified teachers. The exception would be the return to greater autonomy in State management of school transformations where needed.

Rather than question Common Core State Standards or make them discretionary, I consider them essential to interstate portability for education. Likewise, disaggregated data to verify equal access to civil rights should continue. And any otherwise successful school that gets caught marginalizing certain populations of children and under-serving them must be driven to correct that inequity in earnest.

As for the conundrum of funding formulas, educator effectiveness, and student outcomes…student-centered data must happen. And the standards must be national yet designed for micro-economic analysis of investments and outcomes of schools at the state and local levels. We cannot validate our methods behind a blind. Nor can we judge our peers with blunt instruments or achieve greatness based on best guesses instead of good information.

And, finally, testing must continue. Perhaps the one area of flexibility would come with greater achievement of 3rd grade benchmarks. If we reliably met our 3rd grade goals, we could probably worry a little less about every step going forward. So, let’s not leave any children behind in early elementary school…then test every other year after that, or even just 5th, 8th, and 10th grades.

January 18, 2015 at 12:49 PM Leave a comment

Duncan Dilutes Obama Legacy with Words that Trump Actions in Education

Arne Duncan is willing to betray a generation of children to save the Common Core. He has charted the path for states that were unable to meet their own goals after getting waivers that forgave their failure to meet NCLB goals…as long as they have goals…that show they will really mean it this time. Promises made to Mr. Duncan do not supersede the promise made to our nation’s children that they will not be left behind educationally. Playing Kick the Can from 2008 through 2019 cannot be Obama’s intent.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation is the law of the land. It must be enforced by the Executive Branch of the US Government. The Obama Administration has addressed two important issues in its treatment of NCLB, partially excusing the waivers, but there is no constitutional mandate to allow continuation of the waiver program for states that are out of compliance for both their waiver agreements and NCLB.

The two most valid education issues have been…

  • Interstate Portability: The absence of consistency and rigorousness of standards for education across the country has left some children more equal than others. That is to say, children in states without high standards for K-12 education render their young constituents disadvantaged Vis a Vis their peers in other states when they reach adulthood. In addition, these same children are unable to carry their education property across state lines without unnecessary knowledge gaps. Children who enter these states will likely see the value of their education property diminish through unnecessary redundancies and their becoming underserved educationally.
  • Absence of Due Process: NCLB created a “presumption of guilt” clause that removed due process from job loss actions against educators in schools that were declared to be failing. The absence of objective educator effectiveness standards, combined with mandates to dismiss some or all educators in these schools, has created the opportunity for unconstitutional capriciousness in the firing process.

The Obama Administration has explicitly mandated the development of educator effectiveness processes as part of the waiver process to address the latter issue. The only questions remaining are, “Did you do it? Yes or No?” followed by, “Have you met your self-imposed standards for progress toward conformity with NCLB?”

The Interstate Portability issue was partially addressed by a collection of states in adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and reinforced by their inclusion in the NCLB waiver terms. However, the whole issue has become muddied in CCSS implementation. At the highest level, CCSS could have been reasonably imposed by the Executive Branch as part of NCLB from the start to insure Interstate Portability…End of story, with the interpretation of the standards and subsequent curriculum development and compliance measurement being matters for state and local education authorities.

Instead, the US Department of Education has taken a passive-aggressive approach by offering CCSS as an optional way to score a waiver from NCLB and has offered curricular-like guidelines for their implementation that the Federal Government has no business doing. Educators across the nation have been doing their part to complicate things by misinterpreting the CCSS as a curricular mandate and playing pedagogical ping pong with the Common Core for at least a couple of reasons.

Educators often take binary approaches to pedagogy and choose sides. The Common Core standards were written in language that seems to have bolstered some academics to think, “Aha! They are going to have to do it MY way now.” This position has a couple of flaws…first, CCSS is not a curriculum, and, second, jumping from standards to directions for instruction omits the concept of scaffolding. Educators have to teach the children, not just reinvent the world to be more consistent with a one-sided vision of pedagogy.

The other, quite valid, cause for debate is that the Common Core represents a very good first attempt at a set of education standards for the US. Like any other first draft, the CCSS will need to evolve to maintain their validity against the test of time. Unfortunately, today’s political game seems to be one of smoke and mirrors on the Common Core that is obscuring the fact that educators can escape accountability for the rest of the decade. At this rate, the reach of the NCLB waivers will undermine the educations of children as yet unborn. This is wrong.

November 15, 2014 at 11:44 AM Leave a comment

Common Core Not So Hot of an Issue

The heated debate that is being waged over the Common Core is neither. Yes, it is July, which renders any environment a bit sultry…but the Common Core has slipped under the heading of safe binary disputes over pedagogy. These discussions are not a problem; the natural tension between standards and curriculum is a functional cornerstone of what should be a dynamic equilibrium in education. Feel free to jump in at any point. Just try not to ignore the real problems that should be at the top of the list.

I just read a cogent piece on literacy instruction and curriculum development by Kathleen Porter-Magee in the Education Gadfly; however, its inherent reason survived its goal of perpetuating the current obsession with the Common Core. The main objective seemed to be that some standards are good and others are bad, and that the bad ones are more likely to come from the Common Core. Standards that lead to manifestation within the context of a curriculum, as in the math example, are good. Standards that manifest in applied problem-solving are bad, as in the literacy example, because educators try to teach a generic skill before context.

Generic skills must become known as such before applied problem solving can happen across any curriculum. However, the skills themselves often need a context in order to be learned at the start. But then again…don’t forget style variations among students. Not everyone excels in linear thinking. Ms. Magee makes a number of fine points, but the Common Core is not essential to her argument. Instead, it does make for a strong case for a wider bandwidth in pedagogy. The students only win when the educators agree to disagree and accept more than one approach to learning at any given time.

Now, back to the Common Core…and the Gadfly’s Twitter summary that “this too shall pass.” The Common Core is a crucial element of our nation’s education system, but not because of its skills concentration. Rather it is the interstate portability of education that is at stake. The Common Core can and should be tweaked endlessly in a continuous quality improvement effort. Of greater importance, perhaps, is the notion that education as an institution can withstand any external forces of change.

Educators are resilient under conditions of siege, which is the way any change is perceived. And the industry can set up a failure with great reliability. The Common Core resistance suggests that, like No Child Left Behind, it was destined for failure from the start within this context. This is why neither can be left as an artifact of history. We are denying access to a high quality education to a large number of American children, and they are trapped in their geography. These changes must happen in spite of the resistance. The education community must learn a new skill, to rally around success with the same facility they exercise to create a failure.

July 24, 2014 at 8:27 AM Leave a comment

Common Core Debate Misses Point

The Common Core State Standards are about interstate transferability of education. They do not tell a state how to do its job…only that children should be able to move about the country without having that property right that is education be devalued or burdened with inefficiencies related to deep knowledge gaps or redundancies. Unfortunately, however, they have a side effect of undermining progress to date in accountability.

The current debate about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has become politicized and presumptive of conclusions before full implementation. By mid-September 2013, reports of who was struggling under CCSS made headlines, less than three weeks into their beta-test year. The States Rights advocates decried implicit federalism, the straw man tossed aside too many times to recall. Then, a few educators began to fret about the assessments…perhaps their real concern. Waivers had all but eliminated the NCLB deadline of proficiency by 2014, but the testing would continue.

Sadly, the timing of CCSS has undermined achievements made over the previous decade in math and literacy. Instead of looking at a clear picture of progress with hard data, we have changed the experiment so as to eliminate comparability. All other things have no longer been held the same. We have entered a new base year for most states, and student outcomes have lost an important part of their meaning. Further, many of the very people who have failed to deliver adequate results for their students have found a wedge against future evaluations of student outcomes.

In addition to the temporary setback of resetting the base year for statistics, the Common Core has been heralded as a new higher standard for college readiness. This has confused their definition as floor versus ceiling. Any standard that applies to all students as a baseline is a floor. Yes, for a few states that had not entered the era of standards-based education before now, the standard may be higher. But this cannot be considered a real problem. The previous absence of such standards was the real deficit.

The Common Core State Standards are new…they can and should be evaluated and tweaked as needed over time like any other benchmark in evolution. And children need to be proficient in in math and literacy at a minimum for adult life readiness. We, as educators, should focus on these issues and welcome the objective evaluations of student performance along with the many data points we can develop to help us move beyond the basics for all children.

On the issue of the ceiling, there is none. There never should be.

January 16, 2014 at 9:21 AM Leave a comment

Bait & Switch?

Or How to Gain New Standards without Losing Accountability

NCLB has our backs against the wall. An escape hatch is in sight with the Common Core and its related assessments. The urge to latch onto the new approach prematurely will not enhance its implementation. Nor will it benefit the children who are being excluded in strong schools or lost in the mayhem of chaotic schools.

One cannot adopt the current draft of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and quickly swap out NCLB accountabilities. Any new set of standards must evolve over time to reflect the shared vision of a global village as large as the US. Beta testing of new assessments necessarily will trail the solidification of these standards against which to judge performance.   In the meantime, our children cannot wait. So, how do we achieve a national curriculum while keeping our promise to the children who have not been served?

Ironically, success with CCSS hinges on short-term extension of NCLB. There is a perception of urgency for adoption of the Common Core. One real reason for this collective unreality is the closing window on leaving children behind. As NCLB puts our backs against the wall, we can either work even harder to educate the children, or we can rally around the Common Core and NCLB waivers. True proponents and false prophets of the Common Core both are banking on the latter.

CCSS authors are legitimately pleased with their work. As realists, however, they also see the need for an orderly transition from NCLB to the Common Core and new measures of accountability. Undermining NCLB with waivers, however, falls short as an interim strategy. Once in place, waivers will allow a huge, collective sigh of relief. Let off the hook, educators will be back in their comfort zone, happily debating pedagogy and the details of standards and their corresponding assessments indefinitely. This loss of momentum will be devastating to another generation of children at risk.

High stakes tests for NCLB are real. Assessments related to the Common Core are analogous to vaporware. Adopting CCSS today has nothing to do with accountability to our students. Nor will the industry move quickly to encumber itself with new performance measures once freed from them.

September 19, 2011 at 10:16 AM Leave a comment