Thursday, March 10, 2011

Trend: Common Core Standards/Alignment

Doug Lederman in his article "Colleges and the Common Core" explores the limited success in creating a 'seamess' K-20 system of education in the US.

Key Points:

1. Policy makers have long acknowledged and discussed the need for a smooth transition to college level work.
2. Work has been accomplished toward this end, but the author says the progress has been limited. Lederman points to a 2008 article that casts doubt on the effectiveness of so-called 'P-16 councils'.
3. He quotes Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, as making much the same criticism at the first joint gathering of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the State Higher Education Executive Officers.
4. Instead of progress we are getting familiar blame games, each side blaming the other for student ill-preparedness.
5. Top leaders Gene Wilhoit and Paul Lingenfelter hope that the new common core standards of high school graduates will be an occasion for improving this stalemate.
6. Wilhoit and Lingenfelter assert that without the core standards students and their schools won't know what to aim for. Without changes to schools of education that reflect those core standards, then there will be no one to teach students how to meet them.
7. The larger goal is "college attainment and completion" and Wilhoit and others in the joint gathering were optimistic at least at the attainment of a new 'awareness' of the need to address the issue.
8. The small start at the joint meeting highlights the gravity of the job of aligning colleges and core standards.
9. Problem One: Core standards were set up without hied involvement although some have argued that postsecondary teachers were surveyed (lame-o).
10. Hied involvement likely to ramp up as all parties figure out how to bring them into practice.
11. Knowledge and skill levels for entry-level academic institutions are described in the core standards, but proficiency levels are not established. That is where hied will contribute by helping to develop the assessments that will measure these skill and knowledge levels.
12. Three consortia have applied to the federal government for Race to the Top funds to build these assessments.
13. Kevin Reilly, president of the Wisconsin university system, would use the assessments to "help drive more sensible messages about what you need to do to attend any of our campuses."
14. Faculty must reconcile institutional standards with common core standards.
15. Next, the ed schools will have to change the way they prepare teachers. According to Wilhoit, we don't have that workforce in place.
16. The practical interface between postsecondary and secondary will be the ed schools and their professors, but national organizations will have their say as well.
17. Some at the joint gathering worried about how legislators might dumb down the standards and lower admissions cutoffs in response to parents' pressure.

Significance and Consequences:

One might argue that while the core standards have been put forth there is still much jockeying back and forth over the assessments and still more over revising the already drafted version; yet, one can never underestimate how slowly and finely this kind of top down, money driven millstone can work over time. Some commentators have remarked that we are beginning to see "a long, passive aggressive takedown of the Common Core in English Language Arts".

I am particularly worried that these well-intentioned folk are working with a fully stocked empathic deck. Their understanding is...understandably from an eagle's eye view. Looking top down from their eyrie they certainly get the illusion that they know the lay of the land, but it necessarily misses the classroom level hurlyburly and even further the professional mindsets that make up that classroom. In other words these leaders don't have the slightest inkling of the potential effect both professionally and personally to those who are expected to buy into and implement their plans. A true hell of unintended consequences could be hatched from such an airy perch. I worry about that. How many experienced teachers will flee the predations of these hawks?

I am also concerned that the whole enterprise has a distinct odor to it. The impressive involvement of the ETS from the beginning begs the question: who guards against the guardians. Damon Hargraves has tried to follow the money behind this initiative both profit and non-profit and has sketched out how their might be not so secret corporate agendas driving the common core push.

I am also concerned by one of the quotes in the article attributed to the president of Kentucky's Council on Postsecondary Education Robert L. King who remarked, "While everyone in this room is persuaded [about the wisdom of the common core standards and the need to raise educational attainment], we should be worried about parents coming back on our state legislatures." I hope this was taken out of context. If not, then two items are worrying. First, I wonder that there are no other voices in the room and that these meetings are echo chambers for prevailing opinion not public opinion. No one elects these arbiters of core standards. King should be especially sensitive to this and does not appear to be so. It is small wonder that conspiracy theorists abound and that experts' motives are often impugned. It ain't paranoia if they really are out after you.

Second, I am concerned about the obvious disdain that King has for parents. How dare they do an 'end around' someone who is looking out after the best interests of their children! Who better to decide what is in their best interests than Robert King, a carpet bagging New Yawker


This initiative has the makings of a very fine train wreck. Economic conditions are poor for reform of any kind much less that of the ill-conceived and hierarchic as this one. If the latest footage around the world hasn't put you in the know then let me--common folk from Cairo to Madison are mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. This isn't to say that reform isn't needed, it is, but not this kind done this way.

By all that is reasonable in educational research and sensible classroom level professional behavior, I think that we need to more like the Finns. Much has been said about their mighty educational system but little about the culture that supports it. Finland is a nearly homogeneous country. It is small. Teachers are paid above average and they seem well respected. I seem to be arguing against myself here, but bear with me. The Finns have a curriculum. Finito. No assessments. No standards. Just curriculum.

We have made the mistake of putting the horse not before the cart but to the side of it. Imagine if you will the retrofitting that will be needed at the classroom level for teachers to fit what they are already doing into the vagueries of such standards as these: they use technology strategically and capably. It will be as much 'by guess' as 'by gosh' when it comes to deciding how to do that and how that doing will be assessed by some as yet to be decided upon national test. Make no mistake. This is the first leap toward a single, ETS/CollegeBoard administered exam. Whether that fits the plethora of educational conditions in the US or not is not the concern of these people. Their concern is that the parents shut up and do what the experts say. Inflammatory you say? It is because they are.


Lederman, D. (n.d.). News: Colleges and the Common Core - Inside Higher Ed. Inside HigherEd. Retrieved from

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