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Common Core: Implications of Collaboration

January 24, 2013

The implementation of the Common Core State Standards is underway, and the imminent transition that will affect most American public schools is sparking a wide variety of reactions among educators I know and interact with, or whose writing I read online.  At the extremes are the enthusiastic adopters and the active resistors, and in between, a wide swath of teachers who are still sorting out their reactions as they learn more about the content of the standards and the implications of their adoption.

In my blog, I haven’t focused on the Common Core at length, but the posts I have written remain some of the most viewed here at InterACT.  Looking back at “Common Core Confusion” – written nearly two years ago – I see many of the fundamental issues are still driving the conversation.  The argument for the necessity of the standards has never been convincing to me.  The inclusion of a “recommended” reading list in the ELA standards still irritates me.  Additional problems include the likelihood of excessive testing and the money gushing out of schools and into publishing and testing enterprises.  In that post, I quoted or linked to many of the same key players in the debate right now, including vociferous critics such as P.L. Thomas, Yong Zhao, Susan Ohanian and Stephen Krashen.

Shortly thereafter I revisited my concerns in a post written in response to a conference I attended: “Common Core Confusion – ASCD Edition.”  In that post, I found myself increasingly skeptical, and linked to other blog posts that I still think are worth revisiting, by Mary Ann Riley and Alfie Kohn.

ACT members in EETF

Larry Ferlazzo (left), seen here with fellow ACT members on the CA Educator Excellence Task Force (l-r): Martha Infante, Tara Kini, Kelly Kovacic

So, for anyone familiar with those authors and their perspectives, it may come as a surprise that although I agree with their assessments of the key problems in the Common Core, I actually disagree with some of their more recent writing regarding what teachers should do, or not do, as the transition unfolds.  The divide I’m seeing is revealed in the comments and links that have arisen in Larry Ferlazzo’s recent blog post at EdWeek, “Response: Best Ways to Prepare Our Students for CCSS in Language Arts.”  In that post, Ferlazzo offers viewpoints from a number of teachers who are doing exactly what the title suggests, and offering advice to their colleagues.

Like me, and the above named critics, Ferlazzo maintains doubts about the Common Core.  His post begins:

I have been no fan of the Common Core standards (see The Best Articles Sharing Concerns About Common Core Standards). However, one of the key lessons I learned in my nineteen year community organizing career was that, though we should always recognize the tension inherent in “the world as we’d like it to be” and “the world as it is,” living in the former seldom leads to success in the latter. The Common Core is the reality for most of us, and I’ve begun collecting the most useful resources for implementing them.

And like Ferlazzo, I have reached the conclusion that teacher leaders need to seize this initiative, engage in the transition efforts of our schools and districts, and do the best we can to make the implementation work for our students.  We should also continue to express concerns and criticisms of the standards, and remain hyper-vigilant regarding the problems to follow in developing curriculum and assessing learning.

That pragmatic compromise smacks of collaboration and submission for the most outspoken critics of the standards.  Krashen and Thomas responded in the comments on Ferlazzo’s post; Krashen did concede to a small extent, “Yes, if the common core is instituted, help teachers and students deal with it. But that does not mean accept it. The train has left the station but it has not arrived.”  That sounds like a statement I could agree with, but he goes in more forceful terms: “The arguments against the common core are very strong and clearly indicate that the common core will be the greatest disaster ever to hit education. Please see Yong Zhao’s articles and books, Anthony Cody’s blogs on edweek, susanohanian.org, and of course the first few articles at http://www.sdkrashen.com/index.php?cat=4.  Accepting the common core as inevitable has the effect of making it inevitable.”

Thomas rejects any compromise: “I cannot endorse any efforts or arguments regarding how to implement CCSS; that is the wrong question.  CCSS is a cash-cow for textbook and testing corps, as well as paid consultants and their professional organizations.”  The “cash-cow” argument concerns me as well, but I think our best antidote is to keep excellent teachers engaged in understanding the standards and finding expanding our own capacity to work with them creatively, and more independently, reducing the demand for huge and costly purchases of curriculum-in-a-box, some of which is the same shoddy material we had before with “Common Core Aligned!” slapped on the packaging.

Ferlazzo responds to the comments:

I can think of no realistic political scenario that would stop Common Core from being implemented for at least ninety percent of millions of teachers and students in the United States. I have also not heard anyone else share one, though I am all ears….

Given that political reality on the ground, I think the political capital of teachers, students and their families is better spent on other issues that also affect the working and learning conditions in our schools and the living conditions in our communities — teacher evaluation procedures, adequate funding for schools, class size, parent engagement — just to name a few. In my political judgment, teachers and their allies are much more likely to be able to influence those issues.

In his own blog post responding to Ferlazzo, Thomas writes, “If implementing CCSS is inevitable as Ferlazzo claims and if school, district, state, or federal mandates will continue to support those standards and the related high-stakes tests, teaching is reduced to an act of fatalism, and in effect, teachers are de-professionalized and students are similarly reduced to passive recipients of state-mandated knowledge, what Paulo Freire (1998) labeled as ‘the bureaucratizing of the mind’ (p. 102).”

And I might agree with Thomas (and Friere) in the abstract, but here’s the problem: such a transformation of public education could not happen in a vacuum, could not happen solely by the willpower of teachers even if we all agreed with each other, and could not happen quickly – maybe not even in one generation.

Meanwhile, Ferlazzo and I both teach in high schools with over 2,000 students apiece.  I work on a staff of over 100 teachers, and interact with many others around the district.  I help to direct a teacher leadership network with over 300 California teacher members.  The conversations I’m hearing in my school and among peers do include CCSS concerns and criticism, but in my observations there is simply no groundswell of teacher resistance to the Common Core, and I have seen a number of teachers who have favorable opinions of it despite some reservations.  (Thomas points out there is resistance to standardized testing that’s building around the country, embodied most recently in the Seattle teachers who are refusing to administer tests.  I support their efforts, and I would caution administrators around the country to look at the conscientious objections raised not only by Seattle teachers, but also teachers in Chicago, and the broader resistance in New York, led by thousands of school principals.  If the Common Core implementation continues down that path, I doubt the grassroots resistance will take as long to develop as it did with the NCLB testing regimen).

And as for the critics I’ve cited, to my knowledge, none of them is currently a K-12 teacher.  That fact does not invalidate their criticisms, but I think it colors their perceptions regarding a realistic, pragmatic approach, here and now, for those of us trying to serve our current students and schools most productively.  True, I could resist; I could dedicate hours and days to finding and sharing articles, holding meetings, building alliances.  In the meantime, someone will be making decisions about the educational program and policies for my school and district, operating with the state mandate to implement the CCSS.  I’d prefer to be part of those decisions.  If teachers don’t engage deeply in that process, I have no doubt that we will be ill-served by whatever is imposed from above without our participation.  I see more to gain for teachers in approaching this process in a “Yes, and” attitude, rather than a flat rejection.  Yes, we will help implement the Common Core Standards, and we will use the occasion of that engagement as an opportunity to educate our peers, leaders and stakeholders, and become more effective advocates for better teaching, better learning, and a stronger teaching profession.

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47 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim Davis permalink
    January 24, 2013 6:17 am

    I appreciate this review and respect differing stances, although my deep inclination is toward resistance. The discussion, however, might benefit from clear explication of what various parties mean by “implement”: what does that look like at different levels of the system, but especially in the classroom? Who designs the increments of curriculum (which the Core is not) and chooses the pedagogy to help students learn in light of directions posed by standards, AMONG OTHERS. Advocate for that to be the work of teachers, not fuel the profit margins of publishing and testing companies. Core standards will never identify all the learning to occur through rich student experiences in classrooms with professional teachers; rich learning will not “align” evenly across standards and other important learning directions. Implementation of some sort may be forced upon some high percentage of schools, teachers and, consequently, students; precedence says this too shall pass. What devastation will be left in its wake?

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      January 24, 2013 1:36 pm

      Excellent point, Jim. Sometimes, the word “implement” is more akin to “carry out” – as in, here’s the curriculum we’ve prepared for you, all the decisions have been made, and you will implement what we give you. When I use the word and suggest that I’m willing to help implement the Common Core, I mean it in a broader and more authoritative sense, as in, now that we have these standards to contend with, let’s work together to determine how they can best serve our students and teachers, and let’s make decisions together about the content and methods we can use to address these standards. I totally agree that a standards-based course or classroom MUST be much more than the standards. As for the potential of devastation, I’m not that pessimistic, yet, preferring to maintain confidence in teachers and parents who are more vigilant in the aftermath of NCLB.

  2. January 24, 2013 7:49 pm

    Thanks David for bringing this back in the light. I have been involved at the district level and at the site level with various groups working on implementation of Common Core units and have been privy to quite a few discussions in which legitimate concerns about where we are going have been voiced. I agree with is that we have to be advocates. How the Core is implemented differs from subject to subject, but what I also fear is that this becomes a disguised version of NCLB with the testing component. I came in contact with an individual at our site who was doing work so that our computers could be ready for pilot testing this year! Having seen and done some reading on the Smarter Balanced testing, I have found that the testing has moved from the low level test questions of the CST and challenges the students with more rigorous questions. However, I have yet to receive any clear answers on how much testing will be done, when it will take place, etc. This is where teachers have to keep pushing for answers.

    As a history teacher I am pleased to see that the standards actually reflect the type of teaching I currently incorporate in my classroom. This being said, another one of complex issues surrounding the CC for California history teachers arises. We are being told that we need to start implementing CC next year while still being bound by the content standards while our students are still being tested unless the State decides to nix the test altogether at the 5th, 8th and 11th grade levels. Another concern I have is who is deciding on what students will be tested on? The guessing game for many teachers who are forced to teach to the test and then are evaluated on their scores is a reality for those districts are moving towards value-added measures evaluations.

    It is also alarming to see the various publishers bombarding teachers with their Common Core curriculum fixes (a clear reminder of NCLB). Our district has instructed to sites to not commit any money to anything of the sort.

    To the best of my knowledge no one really has a handle on the implementation, how it will take place, when schools will be tested. Anxiety reigns at many sites as teachers have not received any answers to their concerns. All I can say is be an advocate for your subject matter, get involved, and question, question, question.

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      January 24, 2013 9:58 pm

      Great insights from the field – thanks, Chris. For what it’s worth, I went to a big CCSS policy event last year with representatives from all the players in this, and there was a consistent message from the top to the audience of mostly district level personnel that they know this will take years to figure out, that it will be messy, etc. I hope you’ll stay right in there and make sure that the classroom perspective remains central to the conversation, and make sure that any “higher-ups” you can work with are making intelligent decisions not based on misunderstandings and misinformation about things like VAM. In fact, at the secondary level, I think CCSS may be a serious blow to VAM since, if implemented properly, these standards should encourage more crossover instruction. I have always argued that my students’ progress in reading is influenced by many texts, curricula, and teachers, and that was largely random and unintentional influence. Now, I could theoretically point to specific, overlapping instruction coming from multiple sources.

  3. skrashen permalink
    January 24, 2013 9:37 pm

    Response to David B. Cohen:

    First, you say that “Krashen did concede to a small extent. “ What I said was that if the common core is instituted, help teachers and students deal with it. This is NOT a concession. It has been my position since the beginning of the CC era.
    Second, you then say: “(Paul) Thomas rejects any compromise.” This suggests that my position is a compromise. Again, I said help people deal with the CC “IF THE COMMON CORE IS INSTITUTED…”, My position is neither a compromise nor a concession.
    Third, you suggest our position is colored by our lack of real-world experience. You write that none of the critics you cited to my knowledge … is currently a K-12 teacher. That fact does not invalidate their criticisms, but I think it colors their perceptions regarding a realistic, pragmatic approach…”.
    Paul Thomas has years and years of real-world experience and is involved with schools all the time. Read his bio. I am a scholar, who has not spent years and years teaching public school, and I don’t pretend to have the insights people such as Paul Thomas and Susan Ohanian have. But my efforts, my “resistance,” is not “finding and sharing articles, holding meetings, building alliances,” as you describe it. Rather, it is painstakingly doing the research and analyzing the research, which very few teachers have the time for (“too busy to be professionals,” as Paul Tomas points out, thanks to excessive time devoted to implementing new standards and test-prep) .
    And then sharing the results. In my presentations and discussions, I have found that very few people know the basic facts about the CC, why we have it (the rationale), who is behind it, whether approaches similar to the CC have worked in the past, the amount of testing done and planned, and whether the CC even attempts to deal with the real problems in education. I rely heavily on my own studies, study the work of first-class scholars, and pay very careful attention to what teachers tell me.
    Fourth, you describe your position as “realistic, pragmatic.” The CC is anything but. I agree with Yong Zhao: “…it is impossible, unnecessary, and harmful for a small group of individuals to predetermine and impose upon all students the same set of knowledge and skills and expect all students progress at the same pace (if the students don’t, it is the teachers’ and schools’ fault).”
    Also, I don’t think that a program is realistic or pragmatic that intends to inflict more testing on students than has ever been seen on this planet, at an enormous and never-ending cost, then we have different definitions of realistic and pragmatic.
    Support for the common core is pragmatic only in the sense that drinking poison to quench thirst is pragmatic. You may feel better in the very short run because you have avoided conflict, but in the long run, it is a disaster.
    Note: Yong Zhao discussed this saying here:
    Yvonne Siu-Runyan: “Once you told me a great idiom from China called, ‘Yin Zhen Zhi Ke: Drinking poison to quench thirst.’ Would you please explain why you used this Chinese idiom when speaking about American education?”
    Yong Zhao: “Well, the Chinese saying is to warn people not to take measures that may appear to solve an urgent problem in the short term but in effect the solution is more damaging than the problem.“
    From: Yong Zhao in Conversation: Education Should Liberate, Not Indoctrinate http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2012/05/yong_zhao_in_conversation.html
    I hope readers have a chance to read Paul Thomas’ contribution to this discussion. In case you don’t, here is his conclusion:
    … a compromise between wrong and right can equal only wrong.
    In the CCSS debate, the problem with compromise is that the frame within which teachers are being asked to compromise has been set for them, not by them.
    In 2013, standards and tests have had ample time (and consumed more than enough funding) to show that they are effective reform strategies. They have never worked, and they never will.
    The CCSS movement is a tremendous waste of time and money. Implementing and testing CCSS will further erode teacher agency and student achievement.
    No compromise will stem those realities, but teachers claiming their own agency as professionals, collectively, can stop these consequences if we all agree to stop saying “can’t.”

    http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/teacher-agency-in-a-time-of-high-stakes-accountability/

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      January 25, 2013 12:12 am

      Dr. Krashen,
      Thank you for the comments and clarifications. I’m sorry that my terminology for your comment does not fit your intent, re: “concession.” From where I’m sitting, the Common Core adoption is a done deal, and I think we’re at the stage of helping people deal with it as best we can. Perhaps we have different benchmarks regarding if/when the transition began, or will begin.
      I also regret if my point regarding our collective positions in or out of classrooms seemed dismissive or even particularly critical. I am largely in agreement with the negative views of the CCSS origins, process, rationales, etc. We only differ on the question of the range of appropriate teacher responses to CCSS. When I said I had the option of “finding and sharing articles, holding meetings, building alliances” there was no implied “you” – I literally meant myself alone. I’m aware of your research and appreciative of your body of work. Those activities are the options I see for myself if I want to fight the CCSS adoption, while still carrying on the very demanding work of teaching, and also helping to direct Accomplished California Teachers.
      I will continue to look to you, Professors Zhao and Thomas, and all the other critics who can inform my actions, but I may not choose the actions you would recommend for me. I’ll have to find my own path to act on the information in my own context, making the best contributions I can to my school, district, and profession. I do not intend to collaborate on CCSS implementation in order to nod and smile, align everything in sight and open the testing floodgates. I intend to collaborate so that administrators and bureaucrats in the system have to hear from me regularly about what works or doesn’t work, about how they are serving or neglecting my students’ needs, about alternative ways to address standards and assess learning. I think I’ve established a voice in my school and district to promote greater teacher autonomy and collaboration, improved evaluation practices, and a clear position against overtesting and misuse of the results. I don’t want to claim undue credit, but my school and district have not veered towards test prep in the slightest during NCLB – the luxury of working in a wealthy area. But I’ve seen a bit and read even more about what happens when younger or more pliant teachers are put in positions to manage the data-driven machinery, and I have no intention of letting spreadsheets and histograms hold sway over the relationships and humanity that form our true “common core” in education. I’ll do the best I can in my context to find a better way.

  4. skrashen permalink
    January 25, 2013 12:28 am

    David Cohen writes: ” …but I may not choose the actions you would recommend for me.”
    My response: I have not recommended any plan of action for anyone.

    David Cohen maintains that the CC is a done deal.
    My response: Oh no. It could be reversed tomorrow. And I think it would be reversed if the public knew the facts. Susan Ohanian has been researching and publishing these facts for years. (website: susanohanian.org).

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      January 25, 2013 12:49 am

      Stephen Krashen noted: “I have not recommended any plan of action for anyone.”
      My response: I wrote “would” recommend, based on my inference that you would advocate non-participation in CCSS implementation efforts, having equated my position with drinking poison to eliminate thirst. Did I infer incorrectly?

      Stephen Krashen wrote: “It could be reversed tomorrow.”
      My response: Overlooking the exaggeration in “tomorrow” (perhaps technically true but facing astronomically large odds), I don’t think there’s any precedent to suggest that it could even be reversed soon. Has there been some other large program that gained this much traction and support in a field and in government, but was rapidly halted to a sudden and dramatic change in public opinion? I’m entirely in favor of informing the public, and sympathetic to the position that the CCSS should be unadopted.

      • skrashen permalink
        January 25, 2013 1:02 am

        I need to point out that in contrast to many others advocating working to apply the common core, citing their inevitability, you have stated that you are in favor of informing the public. Glad to hear it.

    • January 25, 2013 10:55 am

      No, CCSS and much that is connected to that at this point could not be reversed tomorrow, for many reasons. All of it can and must be more publicly examined and challenged. I’m glad to see this discussion, but it has a long way to go.

  5. Lynne Formigli permalink
    January 25, 2013 9:25 am

    To quote my old principal, you have to pick your battles. There are times to fall on your sword, and other times it’s just a waste.
    The common core is a done deal. Many teachers like them, seeing them as an improvement over previous standards. Also, we no longer have the expectation we get to decide what we teach. There is no groundswell from teachers against them and there won’t be tomorrow either.
    Pick your battles. The problem isn’t the CC, it’s the testing comming with it. The biggest problem has always been the opportunity to compare across states now that the standards in each are the same. We need to spend our resources educating the public on the harm to our kids the testing mania has done, and continues to do. Smarter Balance is positioned as a better test that addresses the concerns of NCLB. I hope we will organize around the harm VAM, Labelling schools as failing and other test based decisions are doing.
    President Obama has said, you can’t fatten up the pig by weighing it more. It’s a shame his education policies are trying to do just that.

    • skrashen permalink
      January 25, 2013 10:44 am

      For a discussion of the incredible amount of testing planned, please see: “How much testing?” at http://sdkrashen.com/index.php?cat=4
      At least a 20-fold increase over what we have now, which everyone agrees is too much.

  6. January 25, 2013 9:25 am

    So–here’s the thing, David. The argument is not centered around the value of standards, per se. Back in the late 1980s/90s (when I had been actively teaching for 20 years, and was in the classroom full time, thus qualifying as credible commenter, per your blog) I was a big fan the national standards (this was also back when we called them what they were) for the arts. I led a district-wide adoption, and attended MI State Board meetings to urge adoption statewide (this didn’t happen, as the Board rejected the need for statewide standards in the arts, preferring to adopt standards only for “real” subjects).

    There is nothing wrong–and a lot right–with deciding which disciplinary knowledge is most important, what should be taught–the most critical content and skills, sequencing, benchmarks, etc. I think that’s what those classroom teachers who are somewhere between enthusiastic and compliant about the Common Core State (sic) Standards are reflecting. Bearing in mind that the modal number of years of experience for classroom teachers is now one-point-something, it must be a relief for novice teachers to have something to hold on to. It’s certainly a lot better than “make it up yourself.”

    But the fight isn’t about using standards to develop challenging, custom-tailored curriculum. If it were, teachers everywhere could look at CCSS the way teachers in the 1990s saw the national standards: a model from which one could choose most appropriate knowledge and skills for their students, a set of goals–100% voluntary, and representing the best thinking of classroom practitioners.

    We all know what happened to those standards (which were developed by experienced K-12 practitioners, through their disciplinary organizations). They were shot down (sometimes violently), and launched a series of bitter wars over curriculum, instruction and “best practice”-one national battlefield centered in your school district.

    The CCSS are a different animal: created outside the classroom, circumventing a federal law that prohibits a national curriculum and –here’s the horrifying part–entirely tied to a set of national tests (let’s call those what they are, too) that open a door to many things we don’t want: unwarranted data collection, using that data to shut down schools and fire teachers, all those “CC-ready” curriculum “kits” you mentioned. And look, here comes the Pearson-Gates on-line curriculum, a much more “efficient” way of teaching kids in poverty: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/04/27/30pearson.h30.html

    If you’re not terrified by that, you’re not paying attention.

    I do NOT blame teachers–especially new teachers–for failing to resist the Common Core. It’s like fighting back against the weather. But I am immediately suspicious of anyone who calls him/herself a “teacher leader” or consultant or policy analyst endorsing the CCSS. In that case, the ever-useful “Cui bono?”–who benefits?–applies.

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      January 25, 2013 11:16 am

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Nancy. I think maybe I wasn’t clear enough in my comment about approaching these issues from the classroom, as it seems to have sparked similar replies from you and Paul. My point about being a current teacher is not that I have different insights or credibility about the standards and the related issues, but rather that I’m faced with a different type of concrete decision to make: how to do my job (or quit), how to deal with my colleagues and supervisors, maintain both daily and longterm productivity and progress, keep my sanity, uphold my values and live with my conscience. I agree with the criticisms of the CCSS rationale, process, policy levers, assessment issues, edu-industrial complex – all of that. “Terrified” may be too strong a word for what I’m feeling, but not by much. Now, can I function as a teacher leader in the CCSS-infiltrated environment, and still claim that I don’t “endorse” the CCSS? I’m going to try.
      The rest of this comment is copied from what I wrote on Paul Thomas’s blog:

      So, I’m picturing the asst. supt. coming to my school and saying it’s time for us to get into CCSS transition mode. I could be organizing my colleagues to reject this initiative, and begin an active defiance of the implementation, but I doubt that we could compartmentalize that battle and maintain a good working relationship already in place that is serving my school, students, and colleagues. We need to work together on a number of fronts. Another option would be a more passive resistance, going through the motions and waiting it out, a quiet sabotage of CCSS. That seems the least productive – advocating nothing and just riding it out in simmering frustration. Then we arrive at the point that I think will be most helpful. Teachers knowing the standards well, prioritizing and bending where we can, and assuming as much leadership as we can. Let’s have teachers involved in every discussion, asserting our expertise, advocating for as much autonomy as we can, trying to work out productive options – rather than have non-teachers take their best guess, operate based on their priorities alone, and then tell us what to do. And in most cases, I think the same administrators we work with on CCSS are those we have to work with on curriculum, professional development, technology plans, school improvement plans… I just don’t see teachers coming out ahead if we disengage and resist the entirety of CCSS. At the same time, I think the vociferous, well-reasoned and supported opposition to CCSS will strengthen the hand of teachers who are on the inside working it out. Look at it this way: many schools and districts are going to have teachers helping lead the process. I’d rather be doing the work than have it done to me, or against me. I’d want a teacher like Larry Ferlazzo effectively advocating for an implementation that takes into account his expertise, experience, and commitment to his students. I’ve seen younger, less experienced, more compliant and “data-driven” teachers step into those voids and gain influence. It’s not pretty.

      • January 25, 2013 5:42 pm

        “I just don’t see teachers coming out ahead if we disengage and resist the entirety of CCSS.”

        I don’t either–nor do I believe, given the billions invested, that the Common Core will go away, no matter who’s against it. Frankly, I find many of the folks who see the Common Core as a socialist plot creepier than its proponents. I also agree that it’s better to push back against the devil you know, from an insider perspective.

        But — I know too many people and organizations with earned leadership roles around issues of education policy, who have jumped on the CCSS bandwagon because that’s where the grant money is going right now. The Common Core is not the Great Satan in education. But anybody who’s been in the classroom for a few years knows its impact and potential been greatly overestimated–and its ultimate value right now is giving the publishing, conference-hosting and product/service-selling world something to live for.

    • skrashen permalink
      January 25, 2013 11:21 am

      Re Nancy Flanagan’s comments. Yes indeed, cui bono? Here is a letter published in Ed Week a few days ago:

      Feeding the Testing-Industrial Complex
      Published in Education Week: January 23, 2013,

      To the Editor:

      “Testing Group Selects Exam to Gauge ‘College Readiness'” (Jan. 9, 2013) announces yet another test to add to the staggering pile of tests our students must take.

      When will this end? Because there is no evidence that adding more tests helps students, and plenty of evidence that increased testing will be very profitable for those who sell the tests and supply the infrastructure for the required online testing, the obvious answer is that testing fever will end only when the greed of the standardized-testing-industrial complex is satisfied.

      In other words, never.

      Stephen Krashen

      Professor Emeritus of Education
      University of Southern California
      Los Angeles, Calif.
      Vol. 32, Issue 18, Page 22

      • skrashen permalink
        January 25, 2013 11:26 am

        More cui bono: The CC situation is a classic example of “take from the needy give to the greedy” – enormous profits for the .01%, our taxpayer money going for projects, infrastructure with zero demonstrated value, while genuine needs are neglected. (By the way, the Economic Policy Institute just reported that from 2009 to 2011 wage growth for the 1% was 8.2%. For the bottom 90% wages fell 1.2%. Education policy is doing its part.

  7. January 25, 2013 11:39 am

    I mostly teach math, but have full credentials in English and history, and have read CC standards in those fields.

    I find all the energy to be a bit….absurd, really. I’m a teacher, and have been through Common Core presentations in two different high schools. The vast majority of the teachers aren’t “resisting” Common Core. They’re just going through the motions because this is just like all the rest of the New New things. They’ll ignore most of the requirements and pull out a few ideas that look interesting from the rest. They think the new standards are absurd–and this goes triple for math teachers. A small subset of teachers are standing up and congratulating themselves because they’ve always taught this way, and us malcontents just snicker at the suckups.

    “The conversations I’m hearing in my school and among peers do include CCSS concerns and criticism, but in my observations there is simply no groundswell of teacher resistance to the Common Core, and I have seen a number of teachers who have favorable opinions of it despite some reservations. ”

    Believe it or not, what you’ve written is entirely consistent with what I’ve described. We don’t have to “resist”. We’ll just “ignore”.

    As always, though, the standards are primarily focused on elementary school, and it’s those teachers that are impacted the most severely, because they’re largely dependent on the curriculum provided. It’s really nothing us high school teachers need concern ourselves with.

    Finally, the part that interests me the most—why on earth would anyone believe the tests are going to happen in just a year? It'[s insane. They are technologically demanding to design, much less score and implement, and will cost a fortune in new technology to roll out. No assessments, no standards to enforce, nuts to Common Core. Game over.

    • January 26, 2013 5:21 am

      @educationrealist, you’re talking like many veteran teachers do: Been there, saw those, no big deal until they’re tied to tests. We’ll still be doing what we always did. But.

      There are two national consortia (Smarter/Balanced and PARCC) that have been working on “world class, 21st century” assessments aligned with the CCSS for nearly four years. All states that have adopted the CCSS (47, I believe) will be using assessments developed by one or both of these consortia. The US Dept of Ed funded the two assessment-creating groups, spending upwards of $350 million. At least one state (TN) has piloted some of the assessments (yielding, not surprisingly, shockingly low scores).

      SO–while it may take another year or two for full roll-out, yes there are already tests aligned with the CCSS. A few sample items from PARCC and Smarter/Balanced have been released, and the general consensus is: We paid $350 million for these? Really? Lots of folks are already noting that the “21st century” aspect of these tests might generously be described as “computer-based.” Meaning schools will be sinking even more resources in 1:1 computing so that their kids can take the mandated tests aligned with the mandated standards.

      And Pearson & Gates have “collaborated” to design the perfect on-line CCSS curriculum, too. Seriously, they have.

      The question isn’t when/whether this is happening. It’s how to respond.

      • January 26, 2013 5:34 am

        @educationrealist. Just read this, from the right-leaning Education Next and the definitely-right Fordham group’s Andy Smarick. A CCSS booster (Smarick) frets over the high cost of the CCSS tests, coming 2014-15: http://educationnext.org/the-complicated-economics-of-testing-in-the-era-of-common-core-standards/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+GLCWorthARead+%28Worth+A+Read%29

      • January 26, 2013 7:36 am

        Nancy, what on earth would make you think I wasn’t aware of the two consortia? They *confirm* my point. And if you follow what educational insiders believe, you know they are deeply skeptical of both efforts, particularly SMART.

        The tests aren’t funded to completion, the states–which are all broke–are going to have to pony up more money, and that’s not even including the technology it’s going to require. And before I was a teacher, I was a software technologist, which means I know far, far, far better than you do what the difference between a few prototypes and an actual test.

        It took ETS at least three years to change an existing test–the GRE–to a computer adaptive test. THREE YEARS. One test. That they already had content and scoring methods for.

        And you’re claiming that it will take just a couple years to develop 3-5 tests per grade, when the content is new, there are no cut scores, and no known leveling. Meanwhile, the testers have a wide range of motivations, and varying familiarity with technology.

        Software has bugs. It always takes longer and costs more. And that’s for the easy stuff.

        You are, seriously, a fool if you think these tests are a trivial matter.

      • skrashen permalink
        January 26, 2013 10:31 am

        David wrote: I don’t think we can afford to disengage and resist as a strategy for growing teacher leadership,
        My comment: Disengage, no. Resist, yes. For me, resist = supply and share information. Others have different paths which I cooperate with whenever possible.

        Many of us have concluded that the whole point of the CCSS is the tests. They are a vehicle for bringing in the tests. Everything else (especially the content of the standards) is a distraction. And the goal of the tests is to make huge and undeserved profits for the .01%.

        Nearly every week there seems to be an annoucement of some new test.

        http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2012/12/boondoggle.html

    • January 26, 2013 4:21 pm

      @EducationRealist You said: “Why on earth would anyone believe the tests are going to happen in just a year? It’[s insane. They are technologically demanding to design, much less score and implement, and will cost a fortune in new technology to roll out. No assessments, no standards to enforce, nuts to Common Core. Game over.”

      I don’t know you. That statement made me think that you, like many teachers, weren’t aware of the full scope of what amounts to an unprecedented national power grab in education.

      Like you, I’ve been following this boondoggle closely. And like you, I spent two years working for an assessment development organization. I think there’s plenty of reason to believe that the CCSS-aligned tests are going to be rolled out, at least in some places and probably before they’re deemed “ready.” And all hell will break loose. Billions have been spent–at least half a billion in federal money–to develop and pilot these tests. Lots of big names are associated with the project. I’ve heard the same rumblings you have–trouble in Smart & Balanced City–but there are too many organizations lined up behind the Common Coreporate juggernaut to believe it will all go away, and secondary teachers can pretty much ignore it for now.

      I am scratching my head over your accusation that I think the tests are a trivial matter. The tests–and the data they generate– are the heart of the problem, the critical reason to resist. Which–let me be clear–I think teachers should do, in good conscience.

  8. David B. Cohen permalink*
    January 25, 2013 4:51 pm

    I appreciate all the comments and the spirited debate. Here’s another quick thought that might help clarify my position. I firmly believe that any school or district wide initiative should be conceived, formulated, crafted, implemented and evaluated with teachers as equal partners with administrators. If I don’t like the current program (CCSS) should I refrain from that level of involvement in favor of resistance, and encourage other teachers to do the same? If we wait for CCSS to go away, we might be waiting a looong time and have much more work to do elevate teachers in the important work occurring at school and district levels.

    If not now, when?

    I don’t think we can afford to disengage and resist as a strategy for growing teacher leadership, even when the current policies are not to our liking. That assessment is not set in stone. CCSS implementation could stumble badly and prove to be as bad as many people predict. As the situation unfolds, each individual will have to make choices about how to work in the best interests of students. But I think the whole situation is more likely to turn out worse if teachers bow out now.

  9. January 26, 2013 10:47 am

    “f I don’t like the current program (CCSS) should I refrain from that level of involvement in favor of resistance, and encourage other teachers to do the same? ”

    Yes.

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      January 26, 2013 12:18 pm

      Sarah, is that happening in your school or district? Any teachers refusing to discuss CCSS implementation, refusing to attend any meetings or trainings? More power to them, if so. What I’m concerned about, though, is that while that effort plays out, we may be missing a chance to expand opportunities for teachers to lead. If teachers are more involved in the CCSS transition, I’m hopeful it will turn out better. I think teachers who are making a good faith effort to address the standards will be better positioned to point out and resist problems in testing and assessment. At the same time, as I’ve suggested above, I don’t think any one strategy or approach will carry the day.

      • January 26, 2013 4:09 pm

        David my District has not done anything yet with teachers-they’ve designated one person in the D O as “in charge” and I suspect they will follow the County led. Well we had a summer couple day session at the county office “listening” and I attended. I wanted to hear about it. And now I’ve read quite a lot. It looks to have it’s “language” which is a code for things that need to be spoken.
        At the county a few teachers took jobs to run the implementation. One with zero understanding of the arts and zero talent using it to teach by her own words has created several workshops for the evening around arts in Common Core. The first was remarkable in not understanding the arts but barreling ahead based on something she learned at the state level.
        I assume all the rest will follow.
        No one is resisting as most aren’t even feeling it.
        AND we are being generally told we must teach the same as it isn’t being tested YET.

        However I think if the best and brightest teachers statewide write, explain and do good work NOW it might help because one thing I do see is teachers who were burned once and know it.
        I do see teachers even at the arts training and the first sort of Common Core summer several day Common Core roll out listen rather critically.

        My husband is a Superintendent. I’ve been listening to HIS commenting on this.
        I hear in him no love for putting into place something that fails to do what it proports so I assume his teaching experience and his involvement may assist how one looks at this process.Just as you are speaking of teacher voice. My main comment and what I will say is someone unqualified in arts instruction has no business running it for all county-because it is critical and they will not really understand how it underlies and is a language and discipline-the least that can be done is hiring top flight credentialed arts educators. And ….I’d expect Common Core “experts” to be MORE than those with good politics. Which in our county is what flies the flags in ed.

  10. January 26, 2013 10:49 am

    “If we wait for CCSS to go away, we might be waiting a looong time and have much more work to do elevate teachers in the important work occurring at school and district levels. ”

    Perhaps we can WORK for it to go away.

  11. January 27, 2013 7:14 am

    As I have read the various posts, I have a couple of observations. One this is the very discourse that should take place at sites and at the district level. For those districts who have leaped into implementation planning as mine has, there is not an option of rejecting the implementation. As previous posts as have stated, such a stance would be considered insubordination. However, keeping the pressure on district personnel on the logistics of implementation may open their eyes to the concerns we have as teachers. For myself there is concern about the testing, the amount, and how districts will try to utilize students scores for teacher evaluation. This has not been answered by anyone in my presence and as such this is a conversation that must continue to take place until we receive solid answers.

    The second observation is how is the Common Core going to benefit our students? Are they going to be the subjects of unprecedented numbers of tests much like the generation that has passed through our classrooms the last twelve years? As Nancy, Dr. Krashen and others have alluded to, the answer appears to be yes. Yong Zhao’s book
    Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, is very clear about the implications of testing. Although I see that our students have built quite an arsenal in their basic use of technology, my years in the classroom have also revealed that there is a deficit in students critical thinking and writing skills which I attribute to the barrage of testing they have been subject to. The answer to the question of how this benefits students is that they will develop the skills needed for the 21st Century. How? Through more testing? Ultimately, the only way students develop these skills is through a challenging and rigorous curriculum. However, one must take into account the sheer number of students who are EL’s in our state’s classrooms. Will the challenge leave them behind? Will schools be punished punitively for their underachievement as mandated by the federal government? And the larger question looms as stated in one of the first posts “cui bono”?

Trackbacks

  1. What A Great Post About The Common Core Debate… | Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…
  2. Common Core: Implications of Collaboration | Teaching and Professional Development | Scoop.it
  3. Teacher Agency in a Time of High-Stakes Accountability | the becoming radical
  4. "In my observations there is simply no groundswell of teacher resistance to the Common Core." David Cohen | Common Core State Standards for School Leaders | Scoop.it
  5. Implications of Collaboration: "I see more to gain for teachers in approaching this process in a “Yes, and” attitude, rather than a flat rejection" | Common Core Online | Scoop.it
  6. Common Core: Implications of Collaboration | Teacher Leadership Weekly | Scoop.it
  7. Reflections on Teaching » Blog Archive » Idealism vs. the Probable and Possible
  8. Common Core: Implications of Collaboration | 21st Century Literacy and Learning | Scoop.it
  9. Teaching the Common Core: Debate Continues « InterACT
  10. Common Core: Implications of Collaboration | Currents | Scoop.it
  11. "In my observations there is simply no groundswell of teacher resistance to the Common Core." David Cohen | college and career ready | Scoop.it
  12. Common Core: Implications of Collaboration | Oakland County ELA Common Core | Scoop.it
  13. Common Core: Implications of Collaboration « InterACT | All things Core Curriculum | Scoop.it
  14. ASCD Conference Highlights: Day 2 | InterACT
  15. Common Core Presentations and Omissions | InterACT
  16. The Best Articles, Videos & Posts On Education Policy In 2013 – So Far | Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…
  17. Why TURN? | InterACT

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