Thursday, December 13, 2012

Paved With Good Intentions



In October, I was sitting in at the Indiana Non-Public Education Association conference in the Indianapolis Convention Center, enjoying new professional friendships with a couple of Lutheran administrators… trying to hold back judgment on the presentation “Common Core Standards and Assessments” by a young man from the Indiana Department of Education.  Admittedly, we were potentially a hostile audience – private school administrators who as a breed tend to lean toward distrustful when presented with legislated educational policies.   However, we were mostly faith-based administrators who whole heartily try, as St. Ignatius would challenge us, to presume good will. 

The good will lasted until slide #4 (the presentation can be found on the IDOE Resources for Implementing Indiana’s Common Core Standards page).  At Slides 5 we leave the hallowed halls of the Common Core and move to the more important issue… the test with which we will MEASURE the success or failure, not of the Standards, but of the children and teachers of Indiana schools.  For us this means the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). 

Let us leave my narrative for a moment…

I’m a primary source kind of gal… And my coursework at Indiana University’s School of Library and Information Science (and ensuing Masters in Library Science) makes me a killer on the Google…. I decided to read, for myself, the originating document posted on the Common Core State Standards Initiative website.  Looking over the Introduction (June 2, 2010) and Key Considerations  for the English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects document the good intentions of the document are evident.

Good Intention #1: A Living Work

“The Standards are intended to be a living work: as new and better evidence emerges, the Standards will be revised accordingly”

You may have read the Washington Post “The Answer Sheet” post this week on America’s Next Education ‘Crisis’ – and Who Benefits.   Valerie Strauss looks at who really benefits from the public discourse in education these days and lands firmly with the for-profit businesses selling curriculum, textbooks, consulting and data warehousing software.  The pavement cracks under the cash load… how can a document be “living” when an entire industry is evolving on a static document?  The textbooks, supplemental websites, curriculum pacing guides, webinars… are all being designed around the Standards created and taken off life support.  Let’s not kid ourselves; the Common Core is not a living document.  It died the day the money fell from the luminous Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) data enhanced sky. 

Good Intention #2: A Focus on Results Rather than Means

 “Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identity as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards”

Remember teachers?  Heck, remember professional judgment?  I for one spent years in an undergraduate program to study not only my content area, but also educational philosophy, pedagogy and methods before entering the classroom in 1992.  Contrary to what some would have you believe, the majority of teachers I have worked with over the past 20 years have cared deeply about students… spending long hours planning activities to meet learning objectives, personalizing experiences for individual students and listening to countless stories of “look what I found on the way to school today…”. 

The Goal #3 of the PARCC framework in Indiana looks simple enough.  The test will support these amazing educators in four ways:


Let me give you all a little hint, when one posts a presentation online, one might want to make sure the speaker notes are not visible.  

The speaker notes for this slide let us know that what is meant by “Instructional Tools to Support Implementation” is to provide “content frameworks, sample assessment tasks and model instructional units”.  A pothole in the road…  a fully canned curriculum that anyone could dish out to young people – no need for teachers or their professional judgment and experience.  “Professional Development Models” include PD on implementation of the new assessment and interpreting test data.  “Timely Student Achievement Data” means aligned performance – based assessments throughout the year (DUCK – lost a tire on that one)… And that “Educator-Led Training to Support ‘Peer-to-Peer’ Training”… that’s to train K-12 educators to use the instructional tools handed down by the PARCC folks, i.e. the canned curriculum mentioned earlier.  (Whew – I think I broke an axel)

Back to our presentation…. At this point, the young presenter from the IDOE on that October morn looked earnestly at the now hostile audience and said we shouldn’t worry about what to teach … we should “trust the Standards” (his words) and let them be our guide.

And with one simple phrase the faiths of the world came together in a common question-  how is this good for our children?

The Actual Pavement

Here’s the thing – the Common Core Standards are not bad.  As a jumping off point for the living discussion of best educational practices I’m really okay with them.  The Standards own authors were acting in good faith … but they never saw the jackhammer of market forces coming to bear on education.  This document will become a rally point for those looking to make a profit.  In the 45 states and 3 territories which have adopted the Common Core, the conversation is not about educational standards… it’s about textbooks, testing and budgetary concerns for hiring all those consultants. This isn't about educating children.  This isn't about developing better teachers.  This isn't about improving and innovating schools.  This is about making money in for profit companies…. hiding behind good intentions paving the way …


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