Tag Archives: Common Core

What does it mean to be ‘aligned to the Common Core?’

Now Common Core Aligned!

Did you know that…

As expected, with the advent of the Common Core we are seeing a lot of labeling and re-labeling of instructional materials, resources, and activities. Publishers are adding the Common Core designation to existing textbooks, resources, assessments, and professional development opportunities just as fast as they can. Educators are unpacking the Common Core and affirming to themselves that they’re already doing what the standards expect. Lots of Common Core hoopla. Lots of Common Core assurances. Lots of old educational wine in new Common Core bottles…

Plus, of course, lots of gratuitous Common Core labeling and hucksterism. Because if it’s not stamped ‘Common Core’ these days, hardly anyone’s going to look at it. 

We have the standards. And publishers’ criteria. And state and school district certification efforts. But we also have lots of confusion, including whether or not teachers are prepared or unprepared to implement the standards.

As we sort out that confusion – and as we work together to become better prepared for implementation of the Common Core juggernaut – we need to be critical consumers of both our own lessons and the vendor pitches that accompany the standards. Because if there’s anything that policy-level folks agree on, it’s usually that the Common Core is supposed to be different. Very different.

Of course if we absorb the Common Core into what we’ve always done without substantially changing anything – and this is extremely likely given our history – then things won’t be different at all. We know from past experience that standards usually don’t change instruction much. Neither do they change the day-to-day learning experiences of most children. Implementation always trumps wishes. Regardless of the rhetoric accompanying the Common Core, our historically high rates of reform assimilation indicate that what kids do in school on a daily basis is unlikely to be very different in most places. As Richard Elmore notes,

Internal accountability precedes external accountability and is a precondition for any process of improvement.

What does it mean to you for things to be ‘Common Core aligned?’ [Although Common Core chief architect / circus barker David Coleman believes that “people really don’t give a sh*t about what you feel or what you think“, I do.] Perhaps more importantly, what are you and your fellow educators doing to avoid old wine in new bottles?

P.S. Never fear. This blog post is Common Core-aligned℠. See ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.8.

The oligarchs pushing Common Core don’t send their kids to schools that use the Common Core

the same oligarchs who have brought this insane Common Core to fruition do not send their kids to schools that use Common Core.

They send them to Waldorf schools.

Or Quaker schools.

Or Montessiori schools.

Or the Lab School.

You know, the kinds of schools that aren’t run like army drill camps, where the teachers aren’t graded using test scores, where the kids don’t take high stakes standardized tests all throughout the year, where students get to explore meaningful subjects and lessons rather than endless test prep and drills.

via http://perdidostreetschool.blogspot.com/2013/01/how-is-common-core-for-kindergartners.html

I don’t know if the Common Core is ‘insane,’ but it’s worth questioning the belief of many that it’s okay to impose a certain kind of education on others’ children that they’d never agree to for their own…

The Common Core standards are supposed to be about bigger ideas and fewer of them?

All of the Finnish National Standards for Math, grades 1-9, fit on just 9 pages. In contrast, our K-8 Math Common Core Standards fit on 70 pages along with another 145-page appendix of requirements for grades 8-12.

via http://dianeravitch.net/2012/12/20/a-teachers-critique-of-the-a-common-core-standards

10+1 reactions to closing Iowa’s achievement gaps


Today the Iowa Department of Education (DE) released a report on achievement levels in Iowa compared to other states. The report also focuses heavily on closing the significant achievement gaps that exist in our state. Here are some very quick reactions that I have to the report…

  1. The emphasis on better meeting the learning needs of traditionally-underserved student populations is absolutely necessary. Educationally and otherwise, we often have neglected students of color, students in poverty, students who are English language learners, and students with disabilities.
  2. It’s hard to argue with proposed educational solutions that are focused on instruction, proven effective, and scalable, but I think that there is an accompanying, unstated concern: How should we think about educational initiatives that need to occur but don’t have ‘significant bodies of evidence’ behind them yet? For example, we live in a digital world and we know that students need to be fluent with the technologically-transformed information spaces of our time. And yet the peer-reviewed research to support this move isn’t there yet. It’s just sort of common sense: all we have to do is look around and realize that this is a need. Given the lack of ‘research,’ however, does that mean we don’t do it?
  3. I wish that the report’s initial framing of the issues focused on the substantial changes that are occurring in the ways that we learn, citizenship needs in an increasingly-complex democracy, and other concerns related to life success beyond just economy/workforce issues. The latter are definitely important, but preparing future employees is not schools’ primary societal function.
  4. Raybake01If we’re going to work on raising scores and closing achievement gaps, let’s do our best to focus on assessments that matter. Right now we seem to be concerned mostly about average scores on assessments of primarily lower-level thinking. It’s also worth noting that our own National Research Council has found that decades of test-based incentives have done nothing to improve student learning outcomes. In fact, high school exit exams as configured in many states actually decrease graduation rates without concurrent increases in achievement.
  5. Despite the sturm und drang around Iowa’s NAEP scores, we must recognize that there are no objective criteria and/or research-based evidence behind the cut scores for the different NAEP proficiency levels. The cut scores are set by committee and thus are inherently political. The NAEP benchmarks have been vociferously criticized by the National Academy of Sciences, the Government Accounting Office, the National Academy of Education, and many, many others. The designers of NAEP freely admit that the cut scores and levels are arbitrary.
  6. Is our concern merely about raising Iowa students’ academic performance levels or is it necessary that we also BEAT OTHER STATES AND NATIONS? The rhetoric that’s flying around about Iowa ‘slipping to the middle of the pack’ seems very concerned about the latter. It’s also worth noting that most of the countries to which we negatively compare Iowa also wouldn’t do very well on NAEP.
  7. ‘Rapid iteration,’ ‘living in perpetual beta,’ and other ideas related to quickly trying things, getting feedback to see if they worked, and adjusting course accordingly are all extremely important, particularly in a rapidly-changing world. As such, Response to Intervention (RTI) is a great process, particularly if feedback loops are short in time. But the RTI process also traditionally has been deeply rooted in notions of low-level cognitive work. Terms like ‘progress monitoring’ and ‘data-based decision-making’ are typically employed by educators in service of factual recall and procedural knowledge regurgitation. Turning those ideas toward higher-order thinking outcomes is going to be a lot of work in most school systems.
  8. We need to be careful that we don’t turn ‘fidelity of implementation’ and ‘best practices’ into cookie-cutter instructional recipes and/or scripted lessons (as has occurred in many districts across the country). The report says that we need to ‘eliminate variability in instruction.’ I understand the sentiment behind that phrase but we need to be very wary of simplistic, stupid solutions to this issue.
  9. The underlying premise of the report (and its accompanying policy proposals that we’ll see in the near future) is that education is a system amenable to fairly mechanistic solutions: put in place the right inputs, processes, and feedback loops and we’ll get the desired outcomes. Classic systems theory stuff. Learning and teaching are inherently messy domains, however, that often defeat externally-imposed procedures and expectations. As other nations show, we can improve student learning outcomes with thoughtful, purposeful changes, but we should be prepared for a lot of messiness along the way.
  10. There’s a difference between ‘differentiation’ (as proposed in the report’s description of RTI) and ‘personalization’: see McClaskey & Bray’s chart on this. Differentiation is good, but a move away from primarily teacher-directed learning environments also is needed.

Final thoughts

Will teacher quality initiatives, the Iowa Core, and better deployment of RTI improve student learning outcomes in Iowa? Probably, at least somewhat. Are we going to see massive shifts in student learning outcomes in Iowa as a result of these? Probably not. These are school-focused interventions promulgated by the state department of education, and they’re all likely to have some positive impact. But they’re not enough. The research is very clear that roughly 80% of student learning outcomes is a result of NON-school factors. If we’re truly concerned as Iowa citizens and policymakers about improving student learning outcomes and closing achievement gaps, we’ll pay attention to the 80%, not just the 20%, just as most other ‘higher-performing’ nations have done. That means looking beyond the Department of Education for solutions.

Take some time to read over the report. What are your reactions?

Undermining the transition to the Common Core

The most likely scenario is that value-added will undermine the transition to Common Core.  During the next two years, principals and teachers will be urged to abandon the primitive bubble-in mentality, but their jobs will be at risk if they don’t focus on rote instruction for high-stakes NCLB tests.

For instance, my district is putting its discretionary money into two contradictory efforts, leaving almost nothing for the student supports necessary before students in a 90% low income district can meet Common Core standards. One priority is paying consultants to urge teachers to teach for mastery of Common Core.  The problem is that principals and teachers risk termination if they don’t wait two years before starting to teach in that way.  The main priority during the transition is to double-down on “drill and kill” for obsolete End of Instruction EOI tests. The name of the test prep regime, “EOI Boot Camp,” is illustrative.

As long as test-driven accountability persists, the rational approach for administrators is to circle the wagons and blame teachers.  And the worst case scenario for Common Core is likely.  Rather than turning on a dime and allowing the exact opposite type of instruction when the game changes, the chances are that many districts will take the same teach-to-the-lowest common denominator and “juke the stats” mindset to Common Core.

John Thompson via http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2012/08/thompson-living-in-dialogue-with-the-gates-foundation.html

Don’t waste your money on Common Core products and services

Don’t waste your precious dollars on the numerous Common Core products and services purport to help with your children’s college and career readiness. A better bet is on the people in your schools – spend the money on teachers and school leaders – excite them with opportunities and support for their innovation, inspire them with high quality professional development programs, minimize the bureaucratic burden placed on them, reduce their class sizes, and give them time to learn and collaborate with their colleagues.

Yong Zhao via http://zhaolearning.com/2012/06/17/common-sense-vs-common-core-how-to-minimize-the-damages-of-the-common-core