"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

It's Not "How" We Should be Implementing Common Core Standards; it's "Why" We are Implementing Them.

We'll be discussing information learned from the Constitutional Coalition as it refers to common core standards. These standards have been adopted by Missouri and 40 other states as of January 28, 2010.

What exactly are common core standards? Here is a brief description from the Common Core Standards Initiative:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

That description sounds impressive. Here is the description of the standards developed by Missouri in 1996 and currently used in the state:

Missouri students must build a solid foundation of factual knowledge and basic skills in the traditional content areas. The statements listed here represent such a foundation in reading, writing, mathematics, world and American history, forms of government, geography, science, health/physical education and the fine arts. This foundation of knowledge and skills should also be incorporated into courses in vocational education and practical arts. Students should acquire this knowledge base at various grade levels and through various courses of study. Each grade level and each course sequence should build on the knowledge base that students have previously acquired.

These concepts and areas of study are indeed significant to success in school and in the workplace. However, they are neither inclusive nor are they likely to remain the same over the years. We live in an age in which ‘‘knowledge’’ grows at an ever-increasing rate, and our expectations for students must keep up with that expanding knowledge base.

Combining what students must know and what they must be able to do may require teachers and districts to adapt their curriculum. To assist districts in this effort, teachers from across the state are developing curriculum frameworks in each of the content areas. These frameworks show how others might balance concepts and abilities for students at the elementary, middle and secondary levels. These models, however, are only resources. Missouri law assures local control of education. Each district has the authority to determine the content of its curriculum, how it will be organized and how it will be presented.

This sounds impressive as well. It is similar to the common core standards in many ways; the idea that knowledge "grows", the state must adapt and a good foundation in core subjects must be set. What is the difference, then, between the common core standards and the ShowMe standards?

Common core standards require Missouri give up the right to set her own standards for students and the state is now in a 26 state consortium to develop standards and the move to new assessments. It also mandates the creation of a Longitudinal Data System that will cost the state and districts millions of dollars for implementation. The cost is major in terms of giving up sovereignty and signing on to underfunded debt.

Why were common core standards developed? There is prevailing thought in some circles that students need more rigorous standards to perform better on testing. Refer back to the mission statement of the common core standard website: The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

There is an increased emphasis on preparing students for a "global" economy and the belief the United States is lagging behind other countries in terms of students testing well. Christopher H. Tienken, Academic Editor of Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education, writes a thought provoking article asking why common core standards are being implemented in the majority of states:

Seemingly, state education bureaucrats and many professional education associations jumped directly to How will we implement these standards? rather than first asking Why should we implement them? Certainly education professionals responsible for promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children should, at the very least, ask why as part of the vetting process for any initiative aimed at children.

Professor Tienken summarizes his study in which he compared testing data from other countries and the United States:

Despite more than 50 years of political noise regarding America’s imminent demise at the hands of education systems like the Soviet Union, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, the U.S. economy has remained the strongest and most nimble in the world. What is this infatuation on the part of some education leaders, professional associations, and policy makers with asking how before they ask why? The facts just do not support the rhetoric in the case of Common Core State Standards and should prompt all of us to ask why.

We are asking why our State Board of Education decided to adopt these standards. The state legislatures in Utah and New Hampshire are asking their State Board of Education why they were adopted in those states. What is the rush to give up state sovereignty and spend millions of state dollars for a set of standards that are unproven and invasive to student privacy?

Familiarize yourself with the standards and what they mean to your state and your child. We'll talk tomorrow about exactly what is required from your state to adhere to the consortium guidelines. And remember, your state and local tax dollars are being used to fund schools in which the state and localities have very little input to what is being taught to your children.

Is this what our state Constitution provides? We've signed away our sovereign right to set standards for Missouri children. My district receives 91% of its funding locally. 7% comes from the state and 1-1/2% is from federal money. Yet we can't set our own assessments and while state law mandates we can set our own curriculum, the curriculum will need to adhere to the assessments set forth by the consortium. This means the actual setting of curriculum is legally permitted but technically, it needs to be chosen based on the assessments developed by the consortium.

Why are taxpayers paying for an educational system in which they have no voice to set standards for their students? Does this make anyone else other than Professor Tienken uneasy? Should our legislators investigate why common core standards were signed onto in Missouri?

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