Monday, November 18, 2013

Why the Core Isn’t As Tasty As a S’more

A Rotten Apple?

The alleged “common core,” its first subjects language arts and math, was not given much currency in Part 5 of this series, for cause.  However, it is becoming the next cause célèbre as there is increasing states’ and school systems’ resistance to more standardized testing encroachment.

One cause is the origin of the core’s standards; that is, the NGA (the currently right wing-dominated National Governors Association, CCSSI’s originator), and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) the more extreme right wing entity lobbying, and in most cases actually writing states’ conservative legislation.

A second cause is the provenance – based on secrecy surrounding the creators of the language arts and math specifics — of the so-called knowledge standards, and their legitimacy, much of the first two sets interleaved with obsolete or error-laced education methods assertions of last century.

The third argument is the primary purpose of this brief assessment, but first, some positioning.

Media treatment of the “common core” has frequently been framed by resources who typically know nothing of the origin of the core, and even less about its contents.  The basis of praise has been rooted in the use of two admittedly emotionally effective descriptors:  “Common” denoting uniform or applicable to all; and “Core," denoting the central elements of needed knowledge to function in our society.

A Common Knowledge Kernel Versus the “Common Core”

Because you can’t make a case that basic knowledge in Texas, is different than basic knowledge in Indiana, than basic knowledge in Massachusetts, there is a strong position in arguing for a common national curriculum in K-12.  In fact, because the interaction of institutions in higher education that is essentially national, coupled with the professional bodies also national, plus the accessibility of those learning materials without state boundaries, there is essentially a common knowledge core in the U.S.  It has just been perverted and distorted in public K-12 by our states as education middlemen, and the infusion of ideology and politics into its processes.

Resistance to national knowledge standards has also been driven by the ignorance associated with the entrenched American value, “local control.”  Could any position be more absurd than the concept that the laws of physics, or DNA processes, or math laws, are different in New Bremen, OH, than New York City, than New Delhi, India?  Or that a local school system’s achieved learning need not be applicable on the other side of the continent, or in our hyper-connected world across an ocean?

The issue then is, who gets to call out that common set of knowledge by subject matter?  Arguably, the better answer is, the academic human resources that have created and are keepers of contemporary knowledge.  Almost by definition and past failure, that rules out most of the public education bureaucracy, and most of America’s collegiate schools of education, that decades ago eschewed rigorous subject matter content in favor of a deductively self-constructed methods mantra. The self-centric reasons, one might speculate, were to try to differentiate its offerings, professional ego, an attempt to create some product monopoly, and to claim a discipline; legitimate reasons, now being assuaged, are that there was no fMRI, no neural research, no now accumulating knowledge about how learning actually occurs.

CCSSI: A False Flag?

Currently, the soft underbelly of the CCSSI effort was demonstrated by how the “new generation science standards” were evolved.  That is, originally by legitimate scientists, under the auspices of the NSF and the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science, and publisher of the journal Science).  Those standards in the first round emphasized learning progression and in depth understanding of a finite group of basic concepts.  However, when handed off to the common core directorate, they were perverted into fragmented bits of science knowledge, allegedly to support more standardized testing.  Not speculation, this bastardization of the standards was twice publicly protested in lead editorials in Science.  

There is adequate basis for questioning both the standards, and the agenda and ideologies of CCSSI, including inadequate testing of proposals before being mandated by some states, unsurprisingly following the same path taken by testing corporations' early standardized tests.  There is even more risk in the offing if a similar effort is made to manipulate the comparable social science standards, because those standards are “soft,” inviting embedded ideology as opposed to genuine scholarship.


The December 2013 issue of Discover featured an article on STEM, specifically engineering learning applicable to K-12.  It revealed both the potential of good technology learning systems applied in our schools, and the downsides of increasingly discredited fragmented knowledge drill and use of standardized tests to assess.  The model is Christine Cunningham, an education researcher and vice president at the Museum of Science in Boston.   In her words, a forceful argument why present reform and an alleged common core are flawed:

“’The more I watch young children interact with the world around them, the more I am convinced that they are natural engineers,’ she says.”
“But schools are failing to nurture these natural design inclinations. Worse, rigid math- and language-arts-centric curricula can actually educate these engineering tendencies right out of children. The ubiquitous worksheet model asks kids to memorize and regurgitate facts instead of creatively applying those facts to solve problems.”

“'Problem-solving skills should be considered a basic literacy.  Everybody, regardless of whether or not they go on to college or go on to become engineers, needs to know something about how the human-made world that they live in comes to be.  STEM fields are increasingly important to our fast-paced and fast-changing society, but remain underrepresented in schools,’ Cunningham says.”

“Engineering is Elementary provides curricula that teachers can use to work toward the goals set by the Next Generation Science Standards. She and her colleagues have composed interactive lessons that empower kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers to introduce topics that may go beyond their areas of expertise or familiarity.”

“So far, Cunningham’s program has reached 4 million children by introducing engineering concepts through familiar avenues like storybooks.”

Still another straw in the wind is linked here, suggesting that a too frequently somnolent public K-12 establishment, as the saying goes, “needs to get out more,” less a follower, more a leader.

Take Away

A conclusion, that is increasingly hard to refute, as standardized testing advocates (and now “common core” advocacy) reveal both ignorance of our national K-12 learning needs, and dogmatism that seems to trace to more ideological values than intellectual awareness, is that education is in the thrall of the same genre of partisanship that has taken over Congress. 

A timely local example, Ohio’s alleged state board of education, dominated by appointive members, is consumed with advocacy of charter schools versus intelligent assessment and support of Ohio’s public schools.  Reported today, forum confrontations between New York State’s Education Commissioner and New York teachers, that official in effect stating the dogmatic belief that its current course based on standardized testing and the alleged “common core” are appropriate essentially because they had been in place for three years.

With that kind of sophisticated awareness of how K-12 learning happens, and how discovery processes work, K-12 public education doesn’t need more enemies in top-down leadership.  Perhaps the sharpest point, from corporate reform now tumbling down a slippery slope into middle-America’s traditional culturally retro public K-12 systems, is that it may be time to update looking and reading outside the bubbles, and thinking outside the box.

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