Thursday, September 26, 2013

Curse/Love the Alleged Common Core -- Some Straight Talk


In our current media saturated society, loaded with partisanship, it has become increasingly difficult for Jane and Joe taxpayer and parent to separate myth and some semblance of reality in U.S. public education.  The current alleged reform movement, initiated with NCLB, was less about changing learning than using U.S. diminished world K-12 public school performance to try to undermine public education.  

Few in our society have likely read the contents of the law that created NCLB, nor "A Nation at Risk," the report to former President Reagan that eventually rooted NCLB.  Part of the law prescribed Draconian consequences for schools that didn't achieve the arbitrary and delusional goals prescribed, but the embedded shadow theme throughout was creating circumstances for replacing public education.  Then with an inexplicable endorsement of NCLB under the Obama Administration, culminating with trying to buy change with RTTT, the current binge of standardized testing was launched.

Critically, that testing was keyed to private sector test creation for profit, launched with virtually no prior consultation with our education institutions, and was implemented -- almost unbelievably -- with no testing of its conceptual integrity, or forms of implementation, or whether there were potential unintended consequences.  Had that nationally scoped implementation guided, for example, our moon shot, the capsule might have made it all the way to Key West.

Enter stage right, the alleged "Common Core."  Repeat after me, the "Common Core" is the epitome of contemporary knowledge, designed by our best and brightest, properly vetted, the very minimum our children deserve in K-12 public education.  Keep repeating this as a mantra, echo it in our press, until it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy or your neurons become catatonic. Small glitch; the current alleged "Common Core" is laced with politics and fraud.

Round One

With little more than a whimper of protest, 45 states have allegedly adopted the first components -- reading/language arts and math -- of what is termed the "Common Core." 

That 45 state adoption rate, intended to convey broad acceptance, is smoke; the alleged knowledge standards are the product of a Republican dominated NGA, or National Governors Association, with a staff almost solely politically conservative.  The standards for reading and math were created by an anonymous group, appointed by just two governors, that the CCSSI's (Common Core State Standards Initiative) own web site notes must also remain anonymous.  Is this the American way in action? 

The standards, from that anonymous body, were then vetted by a committee of the least known educators in the U.S., typically from bureaucratic public K-12 ranks, and from schools of education in second and third tier colleges and universities.  In sum, the standards have mediocrity and/or obsessive reversion to obsolete last century public education methods logic written all over them.

Lastly, the "Core" has been aggressively marketed by ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, extreme right wing advocacy funded among others by the Koch brothers, and tasked with writing right wing legislation to be implemented by Republican-dominated state legislatures.

What superb provenance for the alleged knowledge to be stuffed down the throats of 49.5 million public school students, to then be hammered with standardized tests to claim learning?

Anyone, therefore, who naively believes that this first round of common alleged knowledge standards for public K-12 is the product of our bipartisan best and brightest, is either neurally challenged or in need of Obamacare.

Round Two

The CCSSI strategy calls for two more rounds of alleged common standards, covering respectively science and social science.  Here the story gets even more destructive of learning.

In contrast with the questionable reading and math contents from CCSSI, the science standards were initially created under the auspices of the AAAS, or American Association for the Advancement of Science, also publisher of the premier U.S. academic journal, Science.  Representing genuine higher education resources of every science discipline, these standards could arguably be designated as true national knowledge standards.  Along with the knowledge contents, our scientists proposed some learning caveats:  Move away from memorization of fragments of knowledge to basic understanding of science processes, and think in terms of learning progression, building understanding by unfolding learning with increasing levels of sophistication keyed to grade bands.  In short, stress core understanding, and evolution of fully integrated science knowledge; use standards that promote critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity, not memorization of a body of disconnected facts and knowledge fragments. 

Still enroute to our public K-12 schools those standards have already been hijacked, by allegedly the same education bureaucracy that perverted the reading and math standards.   Dr. Bruce Alberts, internationally known biological scientist, then editor of Science, authored multiple Science editorials protesting that perversion seemingly intended to support more standardized testing.

Round Three

One can only cringe at the prospect of a next round of core standards produced by the same origins.  The potential for demagoguery, for misrepresentation of American values, for pushing political ideologies, by manipulating social science standards, is what one can only describe as sick. What is incredible is that the public K-12 education establishment, thought to be overall somewhat liberal, has been cuckolded into believing that the CCSSI "Common Core" is actually legitimate learning, rather than the creation of some complex combination of right wing agenda for education and protection of last century's educational methods beliefs.  That naiveté is genuinely frightening for this nation.

Equally frightening, is the reality that K-12 public education's teachers over a half century have been reduced to classroom technicians, disconnected from truly understanding contemporary knowledge, turned into education mechanics.  Few now have the educational background to evaluate contemporary knowledge much less research and invent it.  The profession has primarily our retro collegiate schools of education to thank for that. Some evidence:  The very existence of "Teach for America" -- Wendy Kopp's Gates and U.S. Department of Education funded/supported scheme for recruiting teachers avoiding our collegiate schools of education.  The strategy may well be justified, but the question is, is this a rational mainstream solution?


A consensus is building, too slowly, that U.S. public education has been attacked for its very reasoned existence, universal public K-12 education, versus the extreme right wing's view that it should be trashed in favor of privatized schools.  Buried underneath layers of the facades of reform, the real argument asserted is that what is driving charters and vouchers is the rooted belief that public education has over the decades created more subsequent Democratic voters than Republicans.  A secondary argument is that universal public education puts the Federal government in a position to control local schools, attacking the core beliefs of extreme conservatism.

The most tragic part of this story is that public K-12 bureaucracy, administrators, even its teachers, are so brain-washed, or lacking the courage to buck public education bureaucratic leadership, that they are contributing to their own denouement.  It is unquestionable that most of our public school teachers are sincere, empathetic, principled, and genuinely wish to see their charges learn.  It is also likely that many who have migrated to public K-12 administration operate in good faith, believing they are acting for the common good.  But many of the latter are also hypocrites, or seek power, or monetary gain, or lack the education to be effective and creative leaders, and abuse the system by blocking transparency to avoid critique and loss of power or possible dismissal.

If some of the above sounds a bit like some of west central Ohio's school systems, once the Pollyannish rose-tinted shades come off, the shoe fits.

A bottom line -- resisting recognition because of the dogmatism on both sides of the public K-12 reform debates -- is that BOTH the corporate test/VAM-based reform movement, and a now inadequately educated, inadequately conceptualized, organizationally obsolete, and self-righteous public K-12 education system are culpable in America's education wars.  

Is There Common Knowledge For the U.S. Classroom?

YES, of course, categorically, subject to the maxim that a material fraction of what we think we know is likely wrong, even to the nature of matter and our universe.  Are the theories and laws of physics and chemistry, or any other science, or neural science, or of human behavior, or any other core intellectual construct different by state?  Excepting possibly Texas, the answer has to be a resounding NO.   What is needed to right the public K-12 education ship, call it U.S. public education parbuckling, is real reform driven by educator participation, research on what works, creativity, and something assumed to be in America's arsenal, courage.

One proposed answer is:  
  • Concept real reform, and make that reform bottom up engaging our teachers and administrators rather than imposing it; 
  • adopt real national knowledge standards;
  • adopt uniform national education standards for K-12 teachers and administrators; 
  • get Federal, state, and politicized control of public schools out of the system, restoring local control; 
  • but make that control subject to rigorous standards of school leadership, classroom performance, and rational periods of assessment devised primarily by the schools themselves, while leaving space for periodic national assessments of school learning performance, e.g., NAEP; 
  • require periodic third-party (sourced from higher education?) education and financial audits of local systems to puncture the self-righteousness and grandiose views of exceptionalism that stymie self-assessment and self-reform/improvement;
  • institute major reform of school boards, with rigorous election standards to correct the internal rigging of elections, and adopt long advocated state upgrading of the educational requirements to serve on those boards;
  • a challenge because our colleges and universities seem incapable of launching any reform of their own venues, but seek comprehensive reform of collegiate schools of education, or eliminate them in favor of a universal and more effective version of "Teach for America;"
  • finally develop standards of performance requiring local systems and boards to operate transparently to their parents and voters/taxpayers.  
Lastly, the current U.S. Department of Education, once properly the locus of quality research on what works in the K-12 classroom, has basically been trashed by a demagogic Arne Duncan, therefore indirectly, by the ignorance or confusion about mainstream K-12 education needs and realities exhibited by Mr. Obama.

Clearly, there is no silver bullet for getting U.S. K-12 education out of its evolving crater.  But so far, there appears no consensus among those with the intellect to diagnose that and concept remediation; nor among our parents -- educated by the same failing public systems -- who have little conception of how public education really works or how that has been covered up. Meanwhile, our alleged legislators -- Congressional and state -- cynically use any opening, including playing on the fears of parents, to seek political advantage, and much of our corporate world has underwritten a simplistic and greed-driven version of the market system featuring denial of social responsibility.

Will America's K-12 public education system be saved by standardized tests, politicized education, freak knowledge conceptualizations, and public schools in denial and blowing smoke?  Will Ted Cruz suddenly develop humility and advocate for health care for Americans who aren't on his Congressional Plan?

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