Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Common Core: Getting past the bullshit and the myths

(Please forgive me. I don't use profanity very much. But this time it was truly needed.)

I'm getting fed up with all the attacks on the Common Core State Standards Initiative (abbreviated herein as "Common Core," or "CC"). It seems like the anti-CC folks, and the anti-CC arguments, come from people who have no idea what they're talking about.

Some people misunderstand one piece of CC, draw an erroneous conclusion, and trumpet their conclusion as proof that CC is bad. An example of this is the myth that "CC will let a student say that 3x4=11 and get away with it, if his reasoning is good enough." I dare any of you to find the text in official CC documents that supports that statement. There isn't any. It's a myth - or, to put it more baldly, IT'S A LIE. It gains credibility through retelling, but it's still false.

Some people hear an anecdote about a bad experience somebody had with CC, and they repeat the anecdote. They tweet it; they put it on Facebook; they put it on their blogs and again, through repetition, the anecdote acquires enough credibility to be a powerful (but bogus) argument against CC. These bad experiences are usually based on a misunderstanding. One example of this is the recent story of Jeff Severt, the "Frustrated Parent" who couldn't understand his child's CC math worksheet and got his 15 minutes of fame by crafting a snotty response to the question on the worksheet. As I have shown in a previous post, the guy proved that, even with an engineering degree, he couldn't grasp an elementary mathematical concept and couldn't read or follow directions.

MOREOVER (and I added this on April 7 and put it in italics), a lot of people's complaints are not about the CC standards, but about curricula (that's a fancy word for "lesson plans") developed by textbook companies and sold to school districts, curricula which claim to be compliant with CC. If you don't like the curriculum, then complain about the curriculum, not the standards. Despite what you may think, THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING.

Some of you may take the lazy way out and say, "But the curriculum is written to comply with the standards; therefore the standards must dictate the way the curriculum is laid out." That's some kind of logical fallacy. I don't know how to label it, but only intellectually lazy people would believe something like that.

My question to my readers is this: with all the resources available from the CC initiative itself, why are you relying on distorted opinions and anecdotes about stupid people, to form and to reinforce your negative opinions about Common Core? Why don't you bypass all the bullshit and go directly to the source?

And Now, A History Lesson:

The Common Core State Standards Initiative was started in 2009. It was a collaborative effort between state governors, school administrators, teachers and yes, those nasty old teachers' unions. The federal government was not a part of it back then - and the federal government is still not a part of it. Okay, I can hear you sputtering with exasperation back there. Hold onto your horses, okay? We'll talk about the feds in a minute.

Before CC came about, departments in individual schools tried to come up with a common set of goals or standards, to ensure that all the students in their school learned the same stuff. It was a collaborative effort, driven by teachers.

Then teachers at many different schools in the district realized they were all working on the same thing, so they collaborated to create district-wide standards. Their efforts were usually coordinated by a curriculum chair at the district level. This was not a bad thing. Don't get your shorts in a bunch.

With the advent of No Child Left Behind, state boards of education were responsible for coming up with a set of common statewide standards, against which all students could be evaluated. Whether you like NCLB or not (I don't), it doesn't matter. NCLB led to the creation of state standards, and the districts hustled to conform, because statewide standardized testing was next. The state BOEs (well, the smart ones) relied on the work that had already been done by the teachers in the school districts in their states.

In the field of mathematics, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) recognized the major effort that these teachers were making, and so NCTM surveyed the teachers and developed a uniform nationwide set of standards for mathematics in all grades. I imagine that similar movements were happening in other subjects.

So in 2009, a bunch of governors and school district administrators had the bright idea to codify these efforts, and define a core of knowledge, the bare minimum standards that American students should learn. This core would be the same in all participating states or districts; hence it would be known as the Common Core, and the standards as the Common Core State Standards.

NOW, ALL YOU ANTI-COMMON-CORE LOUDMOUTHS: Notice that the CC standards were driven by the teachers - the ones doing the teaching - and fostered by the governors of some of the states in the Union. Not all of them.

Like all good things, the federal government got wind of CC, and they messed with it. They screwed it up. They didn't change the content of CC, but they took what should have been a teaching tool, to be handled delicately by skilled practitioners, and turned it into a club, to be wielded by clumsy politicians and inept bureaucrats. They made threats like, "If you don't adopt CC in your school, or district, or state, we will withhold federal education funding." You can blame it on the Obama administration if you want to. You won't be very far off. I wouldn't say it was Obama's doing, but the few times I've heard him speak about Common Core, it was obvious that he didn't understand CC any better than the anti-CC forces did.

A Special Message for You Mormons

The Mormon church has had to endure a lot of bad press in its 180-plus years of existence. It seems like the same lies, half-truths, and innuendo keep getting repeated over and over, in spite of the church's (and its adherents') attempts at rebuttal. In addition, it seems like everybody knows a friend of a friend who has a scare story about a Mormon, illustrating just how evil, terrible and bad the Mormons are.

Now, all of you Mormons know that the lies are just lies. You know that the anecdotal Mormons are either extreme fabrications or aberrations. Don't you wish that people would find out the truth about the Mormons by talking to a Mormon? or by reading the official Mormon website or something? Doesn't it really frost your cookies when people try to find out about the Mormons from somebody other than a Mormon, and they end up getting it all wrong?

So why the hell are you doing the same thing with Common Core? If you want to know the truth about Common Core, then go to the Common Core website. Read everything the creators have to say. Don't rely on CC's opponents to tell you the truth. Read the actual standards themselves, not somebody's interpretation of them. Use your own brain; don't borrow somebody else's.

Finally, a Message for Everybody

The Common Core standards were developed by teachers, for teachers. It was, and remains, a grassroots effort, with the students' best interests in mind. Although CCSSI itself was launched only four years ago, the groundwork for it was laid years before - by teachers.

This isn't something that was thought up by politicians, bureaucrats, administrators or union bosses. It came from the teachers themselves, because they cared about their students.

Don't believe the negative stuff in the press. If it's not outright lies, then it's distortions and innuendo. Even the anecdotes are suspect, as I've shown in the case of Jeff Severt. If you look behind the stories, you will see that they're based on misunderstanding, and sometimes on stupidity.

Finally, and I can't stress this enough: read the standards yourself. Go to the Common Core website and read them. Understand them. Make up your own mind. Use your own brain; don't borrow somebody else's.

Final final note: My wife says I'm ranting. Yes, I certainly am.

Update, April 7: I found a great explanation of the difference between Common Core standards and Common Core curriculum. I quoted it in my latest posting. Click here to read it. 


Jera Robertson said...

amen to I have a group of individuals at church in Loveland that I would love you to talk to...think for yourself man is all I'd like you to share.

Jera Robertson said...

thank you for sharing....all I have to say is AMEN. Now could you speak with these crazy people in the stake that think can't think for themselves and are just sure that common core is a way that the government is helping make your kids grow horns or something...ugh