"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Friday, May 13, 2016

Thank You,Governor, for Request to Move Away from CC

A couple of weeks ago, Governor Gary Herbert sent a letter to the Utah State Board of Education requesting they move away from the Common Core standards and work to eliminate SAGE testing from high school.  I think it is a great first step. Your involvement in the possible update of the standards will be essential going forward.

To read his letter, you can go here

In response, some local board members from around the state wrote this letter of thanks to the Governor. We are supportive of the Governor's call to revisit the Common Core standards and SAGE testing.  Whether we are supposed to have local control or not, parents who have children who are struggling realize all too well, how this isn't working for their children.  Those children are the collateral damage that Common Core is responsible for.  

Since the Governor's letter, a lot of editorials, websites, and facebook pages have come out criticizing the Governor's move, as well as, those of us who have been opposed to Common Core from its inception. Meetings with teachers, superintendents, etc have been scheduled to make sure that we don't deviate.  (Interestingly, in Feb. 2014, the State Board was told by the Secondary Math Education specialist to "Stay the Course" on the math because we didn't have enough data to know whether it was working or not.  Glad to know that my kid was an experiment.)  

It is understandable when so much money has been poured into Common Core, there are many powerful, well-connected people who have a lot to lose if states start doing their own thing again.  Imagine how lucrative it is when you can write a single set of materials and have it completely accepted in 45 out of 50 states.  Or as children struggle, these organizations can provide "new and better" professional development sessions, webinars, etc.  In short, student success doesn't sell, but student failure certainly does.  Why would any educational vendor not want Common Core, right? And that's the point.  The rich and powerful and well-connected like it. Those who worry about 'competing in a global economy' and (falsely) believe that Common Core will help, like it too.  The parents who are working with their kids, seeing them struggle, and wondering who came up with these stupid ideas, they don't.  So, now that the Governor has asked the State Board to reconsider, all those who stand to lose something are coming out in force.  But there are a whole host of kids who are being harmed by this experiment on our kids.  And that is what it is: an experiment.  It was adopted out of whole cloth without any testing, scientific research, or piloting.  The standards were 'informed by'.. the 'spirit of' those standards in other countries.  And the research I was cited by USOE at the beginning of the implementation was "we have anecdotal evidence."  

Next time, let's use something that has some evidence behind it, not just slick marketing, good funding, talking points, and empty promises about 'higher standards', 'international benchmarking', and 'college and career readiness,' all of which have been shown to be *untrue.  

A couple of thoughts going forward.  Massachusetts has a 13 year track record for their English and Math standards pre-Common Core.  We could look at theirs; the standards and the associated tests are in the public domain.  California experimented with Investigations Math before their General Assembly outlawed it.  They then developed A-rated Math standards, pre-Common Core. Both states 'dumbed down' their standards to Common Core in order to get the federal Race to the Top money. Indiana, Massachusetts, and California all had English standards SUPERIOR to Common Core, as rated by Fordham Foundation.  In short, there were 13 states that had English standards superior to our own and were equivalent or BETTER than Common Core. (Download the report from 2010 here.)

Utah's previous math standards (which by all accounts prohibited Investigations Math as a stand-alone method) were rated an A-minus, EXACTLY the same rating they gave to Common Core's Math (along with receiving Gates' Foundation money to promote CC). BUT, from reading the review, Utah's standards sound superior.  

Here are some quotes:

Utah’s [2007 Math] standards are exceptionally well presented and easy to read and un­derstand. They cover content with both depth and rigor, and provide clear guidance. There are a few weaknesses in whole-number arithmetic. The high school content is exceptionally rigorous. 
Utah’s standards are beautifully presented and generally both clear and specific. They receive three points out of three for Clarity and Specificity 
The standards are generally very strong and cover most of the essential content with both depth and rigor. The high school standards are particularly strong. There are a few weaknesses in the development and prioritization of arithme­tic. Some minor problems result in a Content and Rigor score of six points out of seven (see Common Grading Metric, Appendix A). 

The Bottom Line 
With some minor differences, Common Core and Utah both cover the essential content for a rigorous, K-12 mathemat­ics program. Utah’s standards are briefly stated and usually clear, making them easier to read and follow than Common Core. In addition, the high school content is organized so that standards addressing specific topics, such as quadratic functions, are grouped together in a mathematically coherent way. The organization of the Common Core is more diffi­cult to navigate, in part because standards dealing with related topics sometimes appear separately rather than together....[emphasis mine]

First, I have to say that this wasn't a concern when the State Board jettisoned the 2007 math standards, that had just begun to be implemented 3 years later, in 2010, in hopes of receiving federal funding.

However, I really do feel for the teachers who for the past couple of decades have had to modify what they're doing every few years just to keep up with the 'latest and greatest best new thing' in education.  However, if we ever started looking at the actual research, maybe we would find that truth, real truth, doesn't change.  Sure, there can be fun, new ideas, but 2+2 = 4.  Let's allow teachers to have some semblance of constancy about those pieces of knowledge that are actually constant.  Let's allow teachers to use the lesson plans that they have found, by experience, are working.  I envision greater autonomy for our teachers who can find creative ways to work with all our kids, but who needn't be subject to the 'latest and greatest educational fad.'  

We often hear that Common Core is wonderful; it's just the implementation that was poor. Every, single failed educational idea is always blamed on poor implementation.  More than a decade ago, Alpine School District implemented Investigations Math (a precursor to Common Core's methodology).  To this day, the failure of Investigations Math is blamed on implementation.  The reality is that parents don't want a lot of what Common Core teaches or the way it requires teachers to teach it. (And yes, the standards do include teaching methodology.)  It is important to note, there has not been one state out of the 45 that originally signed on to Common Core, where widespread 'failure of the standards' has been cited as the problem.  Instead, it has been noted, in those 45 states, that the blame lies clearly with the implementation.  It begs the question that if 45 independent states all implemented the same standards, and all 45 have had similar problems with parental backlash and teacher support dropping (70% down to 40% in 2015), could it be possible that maybe the problem is inherent in the Common Core standards and testing themselves, and not the implementation? A good system leads to good implementation. Much like a good tree yields good fruit.  The Common Core standards have shown by their 'failure of implementation' that they are not good at their core.  (Pun intended.) 

I am cautiously optimistic.  I hope we will go forward looking for things that will work and embracing true freedom in education.  My fear is we will pursue the 'next latest and greatest fad' to replace this botched one. And, like with Investigations Math, the fault will be placed, yet again, on the 'implementation.'  Unfortunately, like other states who have 'gotten out' of Common Core, we will probably end up with a rebranded failure to foist on the next generation of kids. 

Should the State Board reconsider the standards, I HOPE you will be actively involved in reviewing them, writing, commenting, and, most importantly, asking for evidence.  The Common Core standards have failed this generation of kids.  Only we, the parents of those kids who were short-changed, can help prevent it from continuing.  

*As a side note, I highly recommend this $5 e-book written by a long-term teacher with a Psychology degree.  https://www.amazon.com/Perfectly-Incorrect-Psychologically-Cognitively-Unsound-ebook/dp/B00Y7BM2OA  In short, there is no research to back up Common Core.  There's a lot of research to indicate that it's the exact opposite of what will work to teach kids.