Friday, February 28, 2014

The Common Core: Devils and Details

I have the honor of speaking on a panel with other education bloggers at the Network for Public Education Conference in Austin, TX this weekend. Here is some of what I will say.


When I began my journey addressing the Common Core State Standards in my blog one year ago, I was quite na├»ve. I assumed that the Common Core, for better or worse, was a fait accompli and so I focused on ways to help teachers address the standards without sacrificing what I knew to be exemplary practice in literacy education. As I dug more deeply into the Common Core itself and as I heard statements about close reading, ignoring the role of background knowledge and David Coleman’s famous decree that “nobody gives a shit” about how you think and feel when reading, I began to see how fundamentally flawed the Common Core was.

I investigated the people who wrote the Common Core and the process they followed for implementation and my blog turned from criticism of the standards themselves to concern that people who knew nothing about literacy were telling professionals how to do their job. Finally, with the invaluable help of my fellow bloggers, and after reading books like Reign of Error, by Diane Ravitch and Test and Punish by John Kuhn, I came to the realization that the Common Core is not merely a flawed document that needed to be tweaked, not just a flawed process that now required a step back for educators to weigh-in,  but a coordinated effort to coerce states to adopt national standards that are tied to standardized testing of children and teacher evaluation based on those test scores. The Common Core is a vital cog in the corporate education reformers efforts to privatize public education.

The Common Core is wrong about literacy in many ways. The call for greater text complexity ignores what we know about developing fluency, especially in the early grades. As Hiebert and Sluys (2013) have pointed out, text complexity is based on the erroneous notion that we must ramp up text difficulty beginning in third grade in order to achieve “college and career readiness.” Kylene Beers and Robert Probst excellent book, Notice and Note, worries that “text dependent questions” in close reading will lead to student disengagement in reading. Having students do cold reads of material without efforts to activate prior knowledge flies in the face of decades of solid research in literacy. Finally, the Common Core pushes overly academic instruction down to the kindergarten where Fiano (2013) has shown that the elimination of work/play stations may harm the development of oral language so vital for these young learners.

The Common Core is wrong in process. No classroom teachers were included in the drafting process. When classroom professionals were invited to provide feedback, the feedback was used to make minor changes, but the Common Core pushers failed to make any substantive revisions. No early childhood experts were consulted, with the resultant problems that I outlined above. The Alliance for Childhood, in fact, drafted a letter of concern about the Common Core while it was still in draft form. The statement said in part, the standards “conflict with compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development, and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn, and how best to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades.”

But finally, we must see the greatest flaw in the Common Core and its greatest threat is that it is tied closely to the corporate education reformers agenda. The Common Core development was funded in large part by the Gates Foundation. The public relations effort to get the public, the business community and educators behind the Common Core is being funded by the Gates Foundation. The Common Core is inextricably tied to the burgeoning testing industry and the attack on teachers through value added models of teacher evaluation, again promoted with money from the Gates Foundation. In the minds of the corporate privatizers, there is no separating Common Core from standardized tests and from the degradation of the teaching profession through spurious evaluation designs and attacks on tenure and seniority.

The Common Core is of one with the corporate privatizers efforts to destroy public education.