The introduction to the Common Core English language arts standards includes a page that articulates “what is not covered by the standards.” The first bullet notes that,
…while the Standards make references to some particular forms of content, including mythology, foundational U.S. documents, and Shakespeare, they do not—indeed, cannot—enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn. The Standards must therefore be complemented by a well-developed, content-rich curriculum consistent with the expectations laid out in this document. [emphasis added]
Proponents of content-driven curricula would do well to keep the champagne on ice.
Photo by James Cridland.
An article penned by Sol Stern in the latest edition of the City Journal argues that this call for a content-based curriculum is perhaps the most important element of the standards and that is has led to at least one “undeniably positive development” in American education: “States are now having a serious discussion about the specific subject matter than must be taught in the classroom. And that’s a discussion that hasn’t happened in American schools for almost half a century.”
Yet, proponents of content-driven curricula would do well to keep the champagne on ice because, while the standards hint at this important restoration, they alone can’t
Terry Ryan of Fordham's Ohio team recently returned from the GE Foundation's Summer Business and Education Summit and provided a fascinating recap of the diverse groups rallying around the Common Core effort. Here are a few of the highlights:
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush captured the scale of the [Common Core implementation] challenge when he told the gathering on the first morning that states are heading for a “train wreck.” He noted that when the new standards and assessments come fully online in 2014-15 that many communities, schools and families are in for a rude awakening... He said, “My guess is there’s going to be a lot of people running for cover and they’re going to be running fast.”
The need for higher standards was brought home by business leaders:
During breakout sessions business leaders from some of the largest, most innovative and successful companies in the world – General Electric, IBM, Boeing, Disney World, Apple Inc., and Intel – lamented that they had good jobs in American factories and offices they couldn’t fill because they couldn’t find candidates with the required math and science skills to do the work.
Terry also recounts the remarks by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, AFT President Randi Weingarten, and CCSS architect David Coleman. It's worth a read.
Diane Ravitch penned a post this week lambasting the architects of the Common Core standards for not “field testing” the expectations in a small handful of states before rolling them out more broadly. The standards “are being rolled out in 45 states without a field trial anywhere,” Ravitch complains.
How can I say that I love them or like them or hate them when I don’t know how they will work when they reach the nation’s classrooms?
You can’t “field test” what a state should expect its students should learn.
This sounds like sage advice. After all, field testing is a proven way to refine and validate solutions to complicated problems. But in this case, just because it sounds like sage advice, doesn’t make it so. In fact, suggesting that we “field test” Common Core betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about what standards are and what they are not.
Standards aren’t an instructional program or curriculum that helps teachers and students reach an academic goal. Standards are the goal. They are nothing more or less than a simple list of knowledge and skills that students should learn at particular grade levels. You can’t “field test” what a state should expect its students should learn.
Of course, reasonable people can and should debate what should comprise that list of the essential knowledge and skills all children should learn. And educators can quibble over what whether students should learn particular content in fifth or sixth grade. Many
Anti-testing advocates frequently decry the amount of time students spend on state summative assessments. I must admit that I’m persuaded that it’s gotten out of hand—in Connecticut, where I lived for the past 6 years, nearly every public school student in the state spent the better part of March taking tests. Even if the tests were better, it’s hard to justify taking 3-4 weeks out of a roughly 36-week school year away from instruction. But maybe it doesn’t have to be this way?
It’s hard to justify taking 3-4 weeks out of a roughly 36-week school year away from instruction.
There is an old engineering maxim: “Good, fast, cheap; pick two.” When it comes to summative state assessments, we seem to have picked just one: cheap.
The truth is, if we want to build a better assessment, we need to set a more ambitious goal. The current crop of time consuming, low-quality tests isn’t the way the world needs to work; it’s simply the byproduct of a failure of imagination and leadership.
But what if we simply raised our expectations? Why can’t we, for example, have a new kind of test, aligned to the Common Core and leveraging the latest technology, that requires only 3-4 days of testing rather than 3-4 weeks?
Can’t be done? That’s what they said about the iPhone.
Apple’s innovations were as much a product of Steve Jobs’ commitment to doing the impossible as anything else. As Gregory Ferenstein wrote in
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Senior Director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she leads the Institute’s work on state, national, and international standards evaluation and analysis.
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