I have been reading Peter Elkind’s January 01, 2016, article in Fortune on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
Elkind’s work is a study in foolishness. Basically, he demonstrates the unfounded faith that powerful individuals whose lives only skirt the worlds of whose with children in public schools have placed in a set of rushed, contrived standards to cure all that ails American public education. Whether such ailments are real or contrived becomes irrelevant; CCSS is the needed fix.
Nevertheless, truth regarding CCSS leaks out from among Elkind’s words. Consider this statement in regards to billionaire Bill Gates’ trying to convince billionaire Charles Koch to support CCSS (a failed effort on Gates’ part):
This extraordinary tête-à-tête is just one example of how the war over Common Core has personally engaged—and bedeviled—some of America’s most powerful business leaders. Hugely controversial, it has thrust executives into the uncomfortable intersection of business and politics.
CCSS is hugely controversial, if for no other reason than its rushed-and-hushed creation. And surely one must wonder about the motives behind Gates’ continued push of what is little more than a Gates latest-and-greatest pet project.
Had CCSS been developed and implemented with sense– one grade level at a time, openly, and prior to any formal state adoption– the “hugely controversial” component would have been quelled.
Elkind does not mention this. Instead, he shows that CCSS is very much a corporate tool– a magic tool that is supposed to serve their corporations by contorting the purpose of education into corporate service:
In truth, Common Core might not exist without the corporate community. The nation’s business establishment has been clamoring for more rigorous education standards—ones that would apply across the entire nation—for years. It views them as desperately needed to prepare America’s future workforce and to bolster its global competitiveness. One measure of the deep involvement of corporate leaders: The Common Core standards were drafted by determining the skills that businesses (and colleges) need and then working backward to decide what students should learn.
CCSS: “working backward.” Truer words….
Surely a sensible business community absorbed with serving itself would have required proof that CCSS would deliver on its claim of “college and career readiness.” But no. Business jumped right into selling CCSS– with the likes of Exxon’s Rex Tillerson so enamored with CCSS that he even threatened to not do business with states that did not have CCSS. (As Elkind notes, Tillerson is currently satisfied that CCSS is so embedded in American education that he rescinded his bizarre threat.)
When one is in love, sensibility becomes irrelevant. The CCSS violins in Tillerson’s ears must be proof enough of its faithfulness.
“Businesses say they can’t find enough skilled workers,” reports Elkind.
What board meeting involved any CCSS promoter (David Coleman? Chester Finn?) offering details on exactly how CCSS translates into “enough skilled workers”?
Those pushing CCSS also be required to guarantee its implementation. But they can’t because, well, it is just not that easy.
Elkind mentions the “executive mindset… favors consistency, efficiency, and accountability.” What he also hints at it that the executive mindset assumes that it is right– that it has the right to “insist” on how an issue should be– any issue that captures that executive’s attention. Yes, CCSS has captured that attention, and executives like Tillerson want American education to be accountable to their perceptions of how American education should work– even as such ivory-towered power-wielders overlook the glaring reality that CCSS is, as Elkind points out, a “grand experiment”:
It remains unclear how well this grand experiment will meet its ultimate goal: better preparing kids (and our country) for a challenging future.
You just can’t drop an education reform from the top and expect it to work on the local level as willed by the top. It will be resisted, and it will be gamed. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) offered that lesson. And CCSS will too– even as it is excused for not being “properly implemented.”
And to think that CCSS would work if only America just relaxed about the appendaged CCSS testing is plain ignorant:
A key element of the Common Core effort—common standardized tests to allow honest assessments of progress—remains unfulfilled, swept back by a wave of parental concern about over-testing and teacher anxiety about being judged too harshly too soon.
Elkind, when you can produce for me a major testing company willing to guarantee that its student assessments are able to accurately grade teachers and schools, then you can toss off commentary about “honest assessment” with no beef from me. However, the reality is that students are being over-tested, and much of it has to do with grading teachers and schools– which will never be a valid use of a student achievement test.
So, as a teacher, I will tell you that CCSS and the attendant assessment craze in which it was birthed will only perpetuate opportunities to game a system imposed from the top to smother the bottom into some flaky, cognac-at-the-club-induced illusion of globally-competitive submission.
The likes of CCSS will fail, not because of poor implementation, but because it will collapse under the foolishness of its own ill-conceived weight. Indeed,Fortune magazine is willing to accept the word of Chester Finn– whose Fordham Institution promoted CCSS even though it conceded that standards in some other states were better–regarding the state of CCSS:
“We’re better off than we were before Common Core,” says veteran education scholar Chester Finn, a senior fellow with Stanford’s Hoover Institution. “We’ve got better standards. There’s less lying about the performance of kids and schools. There’s some better curriculum in place. If you were hoping for a 100% gain, today we’re probably looking at a 37% gain. But honestly it’s still early days. The aircraft carrier of an education system turns really slowly.”
If you want to see some lying in the form of pro-CCSS marketing, read Finn’s July 2010 review of state standards and CCSS. Finn proves that creative writing is very much alive in association with CCSS.
As for that “37 percent gain”– I wonder if any of the CCSS corporate pushers will finally decide to follow through on their supposed mindset of accountability and ask for the hard proof behind Finn’s marshmallow stat– and whether they will pin him down on exactly how long that aircraft carrier takes to turn.
EDITORS NOTE: The author has written A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education. She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. If you don’t care to buy from Amazon you may purchase her books directly from Powell’s City of Books. The featured image is courtesy of Fortune Magazine.