The following as a copy of an article posted tonight by Diane Ravitch…it speaks volumes, and should be shared far and wide.
The Fatal Flaw of the Common Core Standards
Posted: 03/24/2014 9:16 am EDT Updated: 03/24/2014 9:59 am EDT Print Article
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Across the nation, parents and educators are raising objections to the Common Core standards, and many states are reconsidering whether to abandon them and the federally-funded tests that accompany them. Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, Bill Gates, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Business Roundtable vocally support them, yet the unease continues and pushback remains intense.
Why so much controversy?
The complaints are coming from all sides: from Tea Party activists who worry about a federal takeover of education and from educators, parents, and progressives who believe that the Common Core will standardize instruction and eliminate creativity in their classrooms.
But there is a more compelling reason to object to the Common Core standards.
They were written in a manner that violates the nationally and international recognized process for writing standards. The process by which they were created was so fundamentally flawed that these “standards” should have no legitimacy.
Setting national academic standards is not something done in stealth by a small group of people, funded by one source, and imposed by the lure of a federal grant in a time of austerity.
There is a recognized protocol for writing standards, and the Common Core standards failed to comply with that protocol.
In the United States, the principles of standard-setting have been clearly spelled out by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
On its website ANSI describes how standards should be developed in every field. The American National Standards Institute:
“has served in its capacity as administrator and coordinator of the United States private sector voluntary standardization system for more than 90 years. Founded in 1918 by five engineering societies and three government agencies, the Institute remains a private, nonprofit membership organization supported by a diverse constituency of private and public sector organizations.
“Throughout its history, ANSI has maintained as its primary goal the enhancement of global competitiveness of U.S. business and the American quality of life by promoting and facilitating voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment systems and promoting their integrity. The Institute represents the interests of its nearly 1,000 company, organization, government agency, institutional and international members through its office in New York City, and its headquarters in Washington, D.C.”
ANSI’s fundamental principles of standard-setting are transparency, balance, consensus, and due process, including a right to appeal by interested parties. According to ANSI, there are currently more than 10,000 American national standards, covering a broad range of activities.
The Common Core standards were not written in conformity with the ANSI standard-setting process that is broadly recognized across every field of endeavor.
If the Common Core standards applied to ANSI for recognition, they would be rejected because the process of writing the standards was so deeply flawed and did not adhere to the “ANSI Essential Requirements.”
“Due process is the key to ensuring that ANSs are developed in an environment that is equitable, accessible and responsive to the requirements of various stakeholders. The open and fair ANS process ensures that all interested and affected parties have an opportunity to participate in a standard’s development. It also serves and protects the public interest since standards developers accredited by ANSI must meet the Institute’s requirements for openness, balance, consensus and other due process safeguards.”
The Common Core standards cannot be considered standards when judged by the ANSI requirements. According to ANSI, the process of setting standards must be transparent, must involve all interested parties, must not be dominated by a single interest, and must include a process for appeal and revision.
The Common Core standards were not developed in a transparent manner. The standard-setting and writing of the standards included a significant number of people from the testing industry, but did not include a significant number of experienced teachers, subject-matter experts, and other educators from the outset, nor did it engage other informed and concerned interests, such as early childhood educators and educators of children with disabilities. There was no consensus process. The standards were written in 2009 and adopted in 2010 by 45 states and the District of Columbia as a condition of eligibility to compete for $4.3 billion in Race to the Top funding. The process was dominated from start to finish by the Gates Foundation, which funded the standard-setting process. There was no process for appeal or revision, and there is still no process for appeal or revision.
The reason to oppose the Common Core is not because of their content, some of which is good, some of which is problematic, some of which needs revision (but there is no process for appeal or revision).
The reason to oppose the Common Core standards is because they violate the well-established and internationally recognized process for setting standards in a way that is transparent, that recognizes the expertise of those who must implement them, that builds on the consensus of concerned parties, and that permits appeal and revision.
The reason that there is so much controversy and pushback now is that the Gates Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education were in a hurry and decided to ignore the nationally and internationally recognized rules for setting standards, and in doing so, sowed suspicion and distrust. Process matters.
According to ANSI, here are the core principles for setting standards:
The U.S. standardization system is based on the following set of globally accepted principles for standards development:
Essential information regarding standardization activities is accessible to all interested parties.
Participation is open to all affected interests.
No one interest dominates the process or is favored over another.
Effectiveness and Relevance
Standards are relevant and effectively respond to regulatory and market needs, as well as scientific and technological developments.
Decisions are reached through consensus among those affected.
Standards are performance based (specifying essential characteristics rather than detailed designs) where possible.
The process encourages coherence to avoid overlapping and conflicting standards.
Standards development accords with due process so that all views are considered and appeals are possible.
Assistance is offered to developing countries in the formulation and application of standards.
In addition, U.S. interests strongly agree that the process should be:
Allowing the use of different methodologies to meet the needs of different technology and product sectors;
So that purely administrative matters do not result in a failure to meet market expectations; and
Balanced among all affected interests.
Lacking most of these qualities, especially due process, consensus among interested groups, and the right of appeal, the Common Core cannot be considered authoritative, nor should they be considered standards. The process of creating national academic standards should be revised to accord with the essential and necessary procedural requirements of standard-setting as described by the American National Standards Institute. National standards cannot be created ex nihilo without a transparent, open, participatory consensus process that allows for appeal and revision.
Diane Ravitch, the education historian who has become the leader of the movement against corporate-influenced school reform, gave this speech to the Modern Language Association on Jan. 11 about the past, present and future of the Common Core State Standards.
Here’s her speech:
As an organization of teachers and scholars devoted to the study of language and literature, MLA should be deeply involved in the debate about the Common Core standards.
The Common Core standards were developed in 2009 and released in 2010. Within a matter of months, they had been endorsed by 45 states and the District of Columbia. At present, publishers are aligning their materials with the Common Core, technology companies are creating software and curriculum aligned with the Common Core, and two federally-funded consortia have created online tests of the Common Core.
What are the Common Core standards? Who produced them? Why are they controversial? How did their adoption happen so quickly?
As scholars of the humanities, you are well aware that every historical event is subject to interpretation. There are different ways to answer the questions I just posed. Originally, this session was designed to be a discussion between me andDavid Coleman, who is generally acknowledged as the architect of the Common Core standards. Some months ago, we both agreed on the date and format. But Mr. Coleman, now president of the College Board, discovered that he had a conflicting meeting and could not be here.
So, unfortunately, you will hear only my narrative, not his, which would be quite different. I have no doubt that you will have no difficulty getting access to his version of the narrative, which is the same as Secretary Arne Duncan’s.He would tell you that the standards were created by the states, that they were widely and quickly embraced because so many educators wanted common standards for teaching language, literature, and mathematics. But he would not be able to explain why so many educators and parents are now opposed to the standards and are reacting angrily to the testing that accompanies them.
I will try to do that.
I will begin by setting the context for the development of the standards.
They arrive at a time when American public education and its teachers are under attack. Never have public schools been as subject to upheaval, assault, and chaos as they are today. Unlike modern corporations, which extol creative disruption, schools need stability, not constant turnover and change. Yet for the past dozen years, ill-advised federal and state policies have rained down on students, teachers, principals, and schools.
George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top have combined to impose a punitive regime of standardized testing on the schools. NCLB was passed by Congress in 2001 and signed into law in 2002. NCLB law required schools to test every child in grades 3-8 every year; by 2014, said the law, every child must be “proficient” or schools would face escalating sanctions. The ultimate sanction for failure to raise test scores was firing the staff and closing the school.
Because the stakes were so high, NCLB encouraged teachers to teach to the test. In many schools, the curriculum was narrowed; the only subjects that mattered were reading and mathematics. What was not tested—the arts, history, civics, literature, geography, science, physical education—didn’t count. Some states, like New York, gamed the system by dropping the passing mark each year, giving the impression that its students were making phenomenal progress when they were not. Some districts, like Atlanta, El Paso, and the District of Columbia, were caught up in cheating scandals. In response to this relentless pressure, test scores rose, but not as much as they had before the adoption of NCLB.
Then along came the Obama administration, with its signature program called Race to the Top. In response to the economic crisis of 2008, Congress gave the U.S. Department of Education $5 billion to promote “reform.” Secretary Duncan launched a competition for states called “Race to the Top.” If states wanted any part of that money, they had to agree to certain conditions. They had to agree to evaluate teachers to a significant degree by the rise or fall of their students’ test scores; they had to agree to increase the number of privately managed charter schools; they had to agree to adopt “college and career ready standards,” which were understood to be the not-yet-finished Common Core standards; they had to agree to “turnaround” low-performing schools by such tactics as firing the principal and part or all of the school staff; and they had to agree to collect unprecedented amounts of personally identifiable information about every student and store it in a data warehouse. It became an article of faith in Washington and in state capitols, with the help of propagandistic films like “Waiting for Superman,” that if students had low scores, it must be the fault of bad teachers. Poverty, we heard again and again from people like Bill Gates, Joel Klein, and Michelle Rhee, was just an excuse for bad teachers, who should be fired without delay or due process.
These two federal programs, which both rely heavily on standardized testing, has produced a massive demoralization of educators; an unprecedented exodus of experienced educators, who were replaced in many districts by young, inexperienced, low-wage teachers; the closure of many public schools, especially in poor and minority districts; the opening of thousands of privately managed charters; an increase in low-quality for-profit charter schools and low-quality online charter schools; a widespread attack on teachers’ due process rights and collective bargaining rights; the near-collapse of public education in urban districts like Detroit and Philadelphia, as public schools are replaced by privately managed charter schools; a burgeoning educational-industrial complex of testing corporations, charter chains, and technology companies that view public education as an emerging market. Hedge funds, entrepreneurs, and real estate investment corporations invest enthusiastically in this emerging market, encouraged by federal tax credits, lavish fees, and the prospect of huge profits from taxpayer dollars. Celebrities, tennis stars, basketball stars, and football stars are opening their own name-brand schools with public dollars, even though they know nothing about education.
No other nation in the world has inflicted so many changes or imposed so many mandates on its teachers and public schools as we have in the past dozen years. No other nation tests every student every year as we do. Our students are the most over-tested in the world. No other nation—at least no high-performing nation—judges the quality of teachers by the test scores of their students. Most researchers agree that this methodology is fundamentally flawed, that it is inaccurate, unreliable, and unstable, that the highest ratings will go to teachers with the most affluent students and the lowest ratings will go to teachers of English learners, teachers of students with disabilities, and teachers in high-poverty schools. Nonetheless, the U.S. Department of Education wants every state and every district to do it. Because of these federal programs, our schools have become obsessed with standardized testing, and have turned over to the testing corporations the responsibility for rating, ranking, and labeling our students, our teachers, and our schools.
The Pearson Corporation has become the ultimate arbiter of the fate of students, teachers, and schools.
This is the policy context in which the Common Core standards were developed. Five years ago, when they were written, major corporations, major foundations, and the key policymakers at the Department of Education agreed that public education was a disaster and that the only salvation for it was a combination of school choice—including privately managed charters and vouchers– national standards, and a weakening or elimination of such protections as collective bargaining, tenure, and seniority. At the same time, the political and philanthropic leaders maintained a passionate faith in the value of standardized tests and the data that they produced as measures of quality and as ultimate, definitive judgments on people and on schools. The agenda of both Republicans and Democrats converged around the traditional Republican agenda of standards, choice, and accountability. In my view, this convergence has nothing to do with improving education or creating equality of opportunity but everything to do with cutting costs, standardizing education, shifting the delivery of education from high-cost teachers to low-cost technology, reducing the number of teachers, and eliminating unions and pensions.
The Common Core standards were written in 2009 under the aegis of several D.C.-based organizations: the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve. The development process was led behind closed doors by a small organization called Student Achievement Partners, headed by David Coleman. The writing group of 27 contained few educators, but a significant number of representatives of the testing industry. From the outset, the Common Core standards were marked by the absence of public participation, transparency, or educator participation. In a democracy, transparency is crucial, because transparency and openness builds trust. Those crucial ingredients were lacking.
The U.S. Department of Education is legally prohibited from exercising any influence or control over curriculum or instruction in the schools, so it could not contribute any funding to the expensive task of creating national standards. The Gates Foundation stepped in and assumed that responsibility. It gave millions to the National Governors Association, to the Council of Chief School Officers, to Achieve and to Student Achievement Partners. Once the standards were written, Gates gave millions more to almost every think tank and education advocacy group in Washington to evaluate the standards—even to some that had no experience evaluating standards—and to promote and help to implement the standards. Even the two major teachers’ unions accepted millions of dollars to help advance the Common Core standards. Altogether, the Gates Foundation has expended nearly $200 million to pay for the development, evaluation, implementation, and promotion of the Common Core standards. And the money tap is still open, with millions more awarded this past fall to promote the Common Core standards.
Some states—like Kentucky–adopted the Common Core standards sight unseen. Some—like Texas—refused to adopt them sight unseen. Some—like Massachusetts—adopted them even though their own standards were demonstrably better and had been proven over time.
The advocates of the standards saw them as a way to raise test scores by making sure that students everywhere in every grade were taught using the same standards. They believed that common standards would automatically guarantee equity. Some spoke of the Common Core as a civil rights issue. They emphasized that the Common Core standards would be far more rigorous than most state standards and they predicted that students would improve their academic performance in response to raising the bar.
Integral to the Common Core was the expectation that they would be tested on computers using online standardized exams. As Secretary Duncan’s chief of staff wrote at the time, the Common Core was intended to create a national market for book publishers, technology companies, testing corporations, and other vendors.
What the advocates ignored is that test scores are heavily influenced by socioeconomic status. Standardized tests are normed on a bell curve. The upper half of the curve has an abundance of those who grew up in favorable circumstances, with educated parents, books in the home, regular medical care, and well-resourced schools. Those who dominate the bottom half of the bell curve are the kids who lack those advantages, whose parents lack basic economic security, whose schools are overcrowded and under-resourced. To expect tougher standards and a renewed emphasis on standardized testing to reduce poverty and inequality is to expect what never was and never will be.
Who supported the standards? Secretary Duncan has been their loudest cheerleader. Governor Jeb Bush of Florida and former DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee urged their rapid adoption. Joel Klein and Condoleeza Rice chaired a commission for the Council on Foreign Relations, which concluded that the Common Core standards were needed to protect national security. Major corporations purchased full-page ads in the New York Times and other newspapers to promote the Common Core. ExxonMobil is especially vociferous in advocating for Common Core, taking out advertisements on television and other news media saying that the standards are needed to prepare our workforce for global competition. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed the standards, saying they were necessary to prepare workers for the global marketplace. The Business Roundtable stated that its #1 priority is the full adoption and implementation of the Common Core standards. All of this excitement was generated despite the fact that no one knows whether the Common Core will fulfill any of these promises. It will take 12 years whether we know what its effects are.
The Common Core standards have both allies and opponents on the right. Tea-party groups at the grassroots level oppose the standards, claiming that they will lead to a federal takeover of education. The standards also have allies and opponents on the left.
I was aware of Common Core from the outset. In 2009, I urged its leaders to plan on field testing them to find out how the standards worked in real classrooms with real teachers and real students. Only then would we know whether they improve college-readiness and equity. In 2010, I was invited to meet at the White House with senior administration officials, and I advised them to field test the standards to make sure that they didn’t widen the achievement gaps between haves and have-nots.
After all, raising the bar might make more students fail, and failure would be greatest amongst those who cannot clear the existing bar.
Last spring, when it became clear that there would be no field testing, I decided I could not support the standards. I objected to the lack of any democratic participation in their development; I objected to the absence of any process for revising them, and I was fearful that they were setting unreachable targets for most students. I also was concerned that they would deepen the sense of crisis about American education that has been used to attack the very principle of public education. In my latest book, I demonstrated, using data on the U.S. Department of Education website that the current sense of crisis about our nation’s public schools was exaggerated; that test scores were the highest they had ever been in our history for whites, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians; that graduation rates for all groups were the highest in our history; and that the dropout rate was the lowest ever in our history.
My fears were confirmed by the Common Core tests. Wherever they have been implemented, they have caused a dramatic collapse of test scores. In state after state, the passing rates dropped by about 30%. This was not happenstance. This was failure by design. Let me explain.
The Obama administration awarded $350 million to two groups to create tests for the Common Core standards. The testing consortia jointly decided to use a very high passing mark, which is known as a “cut score.” The Common Core testing consortia decided that the passing mark on their tests would be aligned with the proficient level on the federal tests called NAEP. This is a level typically reached by about 35-40% of students. Massachusetts is the only state in which as many as 50% ever reached the NAEP proficient level. The testing consortia set the bar so high that most students were sure to fail, and they did.
In New York state, which gave the Common Core tests last spring, only 30% of students across the state passed the tests. Only 3% of English language learners passed. Only 5% of students with disabilities passed. Fewer than 20% of African American and Hispanic students passed. By the time the results were reported in August, the students did not have the same teachers; the teachers saw the scores, but did not get any item analysis. They could not use the test results for diagnostic purposes, to help students. Their only value was to rank students.
When New York state education officials held public hearings, parents showed up en masse to complain about the Common Core testing. Secretary Duncan dismissed them as “white suburban moms” who were disappointed to learn that their child was not as brilliant as they thought and their public school was not as good as they thought. But he was wrong: the parents were outraged not because they thought their children were brilliant but because they did not believe that their children were failures. What, exactly, is the point of crushing the hearts and minds of young children by setting a standard so high that 70% are certain to fail?
The financial cost of implementing Common Core has barely been mentioned in the national debates. All Common Core testing will be done online. This is a bonanza for the tech industry and other vendors. Every school district must buy new computers, new teaching materials, and new bandwidth for the testing. At a time when school budgets have been cut in most states and many thousands of teachers have been laid off, school districts across the nation will spend billions to pay for Common Core testing. Los Angeles alone committed to spend $1 billion on iPads for the tests; the money is being taken from a bond issue approved by voters for construction and repair of school facilities. Meanwhile, the district has cut teachers of the arts, class size has increased, and necessary repairs are deferred because the money will be spent on iPads. The iPads will be obsolete in a year or two, and the Pearson content loaded onto the iPads has only a three-year license. The cost of implementing the Common Core and the new tests is likely to run into the billions at a time of deep budget cuts.
Other controversies involve the standards themselves. Early childhood educators are nearly unanimous in saying that no one who wrote the standards had any expertise in the education of very young children. More than 500 early childhood educators signed a joint statement complaining that the standards were developmentally inappropriate for children in the early grades. The standards, they said, emphasize academic skills and leave inadequate time for imaginative play. They also objected to the likelihood that young children would be subjected to standardized testing. And yet proponents of the Common Core insist that children as young as 5 or 6 or 7 should be on track to be college-and-career ready, even though children this age are not likely to think about college, and most think of careers as cowboys, astronauts, or firefighters.
There has also been heated argument about the standards’ insistence that reading must be divided equally in the elementary grades between fiction and informational text, and divided 70-30 in favor of informational text in high school. Where did the writers of the standards get these percentages? They relied on the federal NAEP—the National Assessment of Educational Progress-which uses these percentages as instructions to test developers. NAEP never intended that these numbers would be converted into instructional mandates for teachers. This idea that informational text should take up half the students’ reading time in the early grades and 70% in high school led to outlandish claims that teachers would no longer be allowed to teach whole novels. Somewhat hysterical articles asserted that the classics would be banned while students were required to read government documents. The standards contain no such demands.
Defenders of the Common Core standards said that the percentages were misunderstood. They said they referred to the entire curriculum—math, science, and history, not just English. But since teachers in math, science, and history are not known for assigning fiction, why was this even mentioned in the standards? Which administrator will be responsible for policing whether precisely 70% of the reading in senior year is devoted to informational text? Who will keep track?
The fact is that the Common Core standards should never have set forth any percentages at all. If they really did not mean to impose numerical mandates on English teachers, they set off a firestorm of criticism for no good reason. Other nations have national standards, and I don’t know of any that tell teachers how much time to devote to fiction and how much time to devote to informational text. Frankly, I think that teachers are quite capable of making that decision for themselves. If they choose to teach a course devoted only to fiction or devoted only to non-fiction, that should be their choice, not a mandate imposed by a committee in 2009.
Another problem presented by the Common Core standards is that there is no one in charge of fixing them. If teachers find legitimate problems and seek remedies, there is no one to turn to. If the demands for students in kindergarten and first grade are developmentally inappropriate, no one can make changes. The original writing committee no longer exists. No organization or agency has the authority to revise the standards. The Common Core standards might as well be written in stone. This makes no sense. They were not handed down on Mount Sinai, they are not an infallible Papal encyclical, why is there no process for improving and revising them?
Furthermore, what happens to the children who fail? Will they be held back a grade? Will they be held back again and again? If most children fail, as they did in New York, what will happen to them? How will they catch up? The advocates of the standards insist that low-scoring students will become high-scoring students if the tests are rigorous, but what if they are wrong? What if the failure rate remains staggeringly high as it is now? What if it improves marginally as students become accustomed to the material, and the failure rate drops from 70% to 50%? What will we do with the 50% who can’t jump over the bar? Teachers across the country will be fired if the scores of their pupils do not go up. This is nuts. We have a national policy that is a theory based on an assumption grounded in hope. And it might be wrong, with disastrous consequences for real children and real teachers.
In some states, teachers say that the lessons are scripted and deprive them of their professional autonomy, the autonomy they need to tailor their lessons to the needs of the students in front of them. Behind the Common Core standards lies a blind faith in standardization of tests and curriculum, and perhaps, of children as well. Yet we know that even in states with strong standards, like Massachusetts and California, there are wide variations in test scores. Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution predicted that the Common Core standards were likely to make little, if any, difference. No matter how high and uniform their standards, there are variations in academic achievement within states, there are variations within districts, there are variations within every school.
It is good to have standards. I believe in standards, but they must not be rigid, inflexible, and prescriptive. Teachers must have the flexibility to tailor standards to meet the students in their classrooms, the students who can’t read English, the students who are two grade levels behind, the students who are homeless, the students who just don’t get it and just don’t care, the students who frequently miss class. Standards alone cannot produce a miraculous transformation.
I do not mean to dismiss the Common Core standards altogether. They could be far better, if there were a process whereby experienced teachers were able to fix them. They could be made developmentally appropriate for the early grades, so that children have time for play and games, as well as learning to read and do math and explore nature.
The numerical demands for 50-50 or 70-30 literature vs. informational text should be eliminated. They serve no useful purpose and they have no justification.
In every state, teachers should work together to figure out how the standards can be improved. Professional associations like the National Council for the Teaching of English and the National Council for the Teaching of Mathematics should participate in a process by which the standards are regularly reviewed, revised, and updated by classroom teachers and scholars to respond to genuine problems in the field.
The Common Core standards should be decoupled from standardized testing, especially online standardized testing. Most objections to the standards are caused by the testing. The tests are too long, and many students give up; the passing marks on the tests were set so high as to create failure.
Yet the test scores will be used to rate students, teachers, and schools.
The standardized testing should become optional. It should include authentic writing assignments that are judged by humans, not by computers. It too needs oversight by professional communities of scholars and teachers.
There is something about the Common Core standards and testing, about their demand for uniformity and standardization, that reeks of early twentieth century factory-line thinking. There is something about them that feels obsolete. Today, most sectors of our economy have standards that are open-sourced and flexible, that rely upon the wisdom of practitioners, that are constantly updated and improved.
In the present climate, the Common Core standards and testing will become the driving force behind the creation of a test-based meritocracy. With David Coleman in charge of the College Board, the SAT will be aligned with the Common Core; so will the ACT. Both testing organizations were well represented in the writing of the standards; representatives of these two organizations comprised 12 of the 27 members of the original writing committee. The Common Core tests are a linchpin of the federal effort to commit K-12 education to the new world of Big Data. The tests are the necessary ingredient to standardize teaching, curriculum, instruction, and schooling. Only those who pass these rigorous tests will get a high school diploma. Only those with high scores on these rigorous tests will be able to go to college.
No one has come up with a plan for the 50% or more who never get a high school diploma. These days, a man or woman without a high school diploma has meager chances to make their way in this society. They will end up in society’s dead-end jobs.
Some might say this is just. I say it is not just. I say that we have allowed the testing corporations to assume too much power in allotting power, prestige, and opportunity. Those who are wealthy can afford to pay fabulous sums for tutors so their children can get high scores on standardized tests and college entrance exams. Those who are affluent live in districts with ample resources for their schools. Those who are poor lack those advantages. Our nation suffers an opportunity gap, and the opportunity gap creates a test score gap.
You may know Michael Young’s book The Rise of the Meritocracy. It was published in 1958 and has gone through many editions. A decade ago, Young added a new introduction in which he warned that a meritocracy could be sad and fragile. He wrote:
If the rich and powerful were encouraged by the general culture to believe that they fully deserved all they had, how arrogant they could become, and if they were convinced it was all for the common good, how ruthless in pursuing their own advantage. Power corrupts, and therefore one of the secrets of a good society is that power should always be open to criticism. A good society should provide sinew for revolt as well as for power.
But authority cannot be humbled unless ordinary people, however much they have been rejected by the educational system, have the confidence to assert themselves against the mighty. If they think themselves inferior, if they think they deserve on merit to have less worldly goods and less worldly power than a select minority, they can be damaged in their own self-esteem, and generally demoralized.
Even if it could be demonstrated that ordinary people had less native ability than those selected for high position, that would not mean that they deserved to get less. Being a member of the “lucky sperm club” confers no moral right or advantage. What one is born with, or without, is not of one’s own doing.
We must then curb the misuse of the Common Core standards: Those who like them should use them, but they should be revised continually to adjust to reality. Stop the testing. Stop the rating and ranking. Do not use them to give privilege to those who pass them or to deny the diploma necessary for a decent life. Remove the high-stakes that policymakers intend to attach to them. Use them to enrich instruction, but not to standardize it.
I fear that the Common Core plan of standards and testing will establish a test-based meritocracy that will harm our democracy by parceling out opportunity, by ranking and rating every student in relation to their test scores.
We cannot have a decent democracy unless we begin with the supposition that every human life is of equal value. Our society already has far too much inequality of wealth and income. We should do nothing to stigmatize those who already get the least of society’s advantages. We should bend our efforts to change our society so that each and every one of us has the opportunity to learn, the resources needed to learn, and the chance to have a good and decent life, regardless of one’s test scores.
As the PARCC is about to be piloted in school districts across Massachusetts, news reports have been swirling. The major issue at hand? Whether parents have the right to “opt-out” their children from taking this assessment. A small number of districts have made headlines for “allowing” parents this choice, but could they really have said otherwise?
While district leaders and policymakers might be claiming that the schools and districts identified as those which will be taking part in PARCC are mandated to do so, and while many will tell parents that they may NOT opt their children out, this is not the reality. PARCC is NOT policy in Massachusetts (yet); thus, there is no policy regarding the compliance with its implementation.
The reality that DOES exist today in terms of PARCC is that it is being piloted in certain schools and districts – it is a field study – an experiment – a test of a test, in order for policymakers to determine whether or not it proves to be a “better” assessment for the Commonwealth to adopt than MCAS. The PARCC assessment that roughly 81,000 Massachusetts schoolchildren will be spending hours taking is for experimental purposes only. The scores will serve no purpose for the children or the school; it will not be used to assess learning; it will not be used to inform instruction…it is a “no-stakes” test, that needs to be “piloted” prior to being adopted by the state as standard procedure. The children are guinea pigs in this massive corporate reform initiative…an initiative that will make Bill Gates yet another fortune.
As I’ve said before, I would like to see the teachers in Massachusetts take this upcoming PARCC field-test as an opportunity to make some noise…refusing to administer it – refusing to be part of this “study” – would certainly have an impact. Last year, the teachers at Garfield High in Washington were brave enough to take a stand against their own high-stakes test by refusing to administer it. And that was a test that actually counted. PARCC doesn’t.
Every teacher in Massachusetts – especially those coming from my generation (pre-NCLB teachers) – knows too well the damage that has been done by this reform movement. It will only get worse as it continues. We have sat back and complied with all the changes in education and the system for too long…how bad does it really have to get before we stop being the ever-so-obedient followers and finally stand up for ourselves, our children, our profession? We need to remind each other that WE are the experts; WE are the ones who KNOW what children need and how they learn best. WE have the right to say what works and what doesn’t in the classroom; WE know what is and is not appropriate for children at every age and grade level.
And we also know that the initiatives and policies brought about by corporate reform are wrong. Many are harmful. Education is not improving; children are not getting smarter. Yet we continue to comply. Why? Because we have to, lest risk charges of insubordination…or worse.
This PARCC pilot is different, though. As I said above, it is not policy yet; it’s a field-test. Legally, can a person be required to participate in a field-test? Can he be punished for refusing…especially if he’s refusing in the best interests of his students? Maybe a teacher would be hesitant to opt-out his class if he were the only one taking such a stand…but what if all the teachers said no to PARCC? Because in two years, it WILL be policy, and it likely WON’T be so easy to fight against then…
…but today, it’s still just a field-test. And by virtue of AGREEING to take part in it will actually put “…teachers in a very difficult legal and ethical position”, says Jim Stergios, Executive Director of Pioneer Institute.
Read on and understand…and let’s come together as Massachusetts educators to do the right thing and stand strong, together, for our students.
From Pioneer Institute:
Twenty years after the passage of the landmark Massachusetts education reform law, how did the Bay State get to a place where it is unclear whether the Commonwealth’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is abiding by federal and state law on a key pillar of reform – testing for accountability?
Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s rush to pilot new national exams has caused consternation among superintendents, with 38 districts refusing to participate in the effort to pilot the new PARCC tests.
After repeated questions from district officials, Pioneer sent a January 27th letter to Commissioner Mitchell Chester questioning (1) whether the Commonwealth’s plan to pilot PARCC (while exempting certain students from MCAS) was aligned with the state’s landmark 1993 law and (2) whether the Department had received a waiver from the federal government authorizing the state and districts to forego the administration of the 2014 MCAS exam.
The Commissioner’s January 31st reply is troubling. In it, Chester indicates that the DESE had not received a waiver from the federal government. Nor is it clear when the Massachusetts Department’s request was submitted to the federal government. (As the Commissioner has not made this waiver public, Pioneer has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to allow that request to be seen by school officials and the general public.)
Today, Pioneer is issuing a follow-up Open Letter, in which Executive Director Jim Stergios notes:
“[A]dministration of the MCAS is not optional. It is the law – both state and federal law. The goal of such testing is to provide information to both parents and the department you head. An engine of reform was always contemplated to inform the conversations over kitchen tables that decided school committee elections, chose schools, and made decisions about town meeting warrants. A commissioner of education doesn’t get to arbitrarily abrogate the testing responsibility – especially given the erosion of student achievement in elementary schools that has been documented in NAEP results. We remain, after all, a society under the rule of law.”
This is not the first time the Commissioner has had difficulty with the law. A Superior Court judge, ruling on the controversy around the state’s approval of a Gloucester charter school in 2010, found “a strong factual showing that the Commissioner, despite his affidavit to the contrary, did not perform his own evaluation of the GCA application but, to the contrary, ignored the state regulations.”
The Pioneer letter closes noting that the Commissioner’s “reckless view” of the rule of law “places [him], along with Massachusetts school committees, superintendents, principals and teachers, in a very difficult legal and ethical position.” Each of these education officials understands that state and federal laws apply to them as well.
Here are links to the correspondence between Mr. Stergios and Commissioner Chester (to be read in order):
I urge every educator in Massachusetts to share this among their colleagues as PARCC rolls in. There could not be a more opportune time for us to mobilize and take action than now. Enough is enough. It’s time to Just Say No, and stand up for ourselves, for our schools, and most of all, for our students.
The PARCC test is currently being field-tested in school systems throughout America; in Massachusetts alone, 360 districts are participating.
Social media is abuzz with conversations about “Opting-Out”; organizations that are designed to inform and encourage parents to opt their children out are cropping up everywhere. Slowly, some legislators have finally come to see the light and are supporting parents who choose to take this stand. There are even some school districts notifying parents of the Opt-Out option, and instructing them on how to go about doing so.
Let’s pretend you’re a parent who only understands the goings-on in education via mainstream media (ie, you think these reform efforts and Duncan/Obama policy are actually good for your children). And let’s pretend you live in Worcester, Massachusetts, and your child came home from school last week with the following letter:
March 19, 2014
As you may have heard, Massachusetts is a participating state in the Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, a multi-state project to develop a next-generation, computer-based testing program. The goal of PARCC is to measure student progress toward the state’s new academic learning standards in English language arts and mathematics.
Over the next two years, Massachusetts is piloting the PARCC test in schools throughout the state to see how well it measures the state’s learning standards and to help determine whether it should replace MCAS, the state’s current testing program. I am writing to inform you that your child’s class has been selected for participation in an English language arts or mathematics field test between March 24 and April 11.
The purpose of the field test is to allow schools and students to experience the new test before it counts and to allow PARCC developers to ensure that the test questions are fair, on grade level, and measure the intended skills. I would like to assure you that your child will not receive a score or grade based on the PARCC test. Should you choose for your child not to participate in the field test, please notify your child’s principal prior to the testing date. Your child’s school will be notifying you of the testing dates soon. There will be no academic or disciplinary penalty for not participating, and appropriate accommodations will be provided during testing time.
If you wish to learn more about PARCC, please visit the web site of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education at http://www.doe.mass.edu/parcc/. If you have additional questions, you may contact Worcester Public Schools’ Office of Research and Accountability at WPSORA@worc.k12.ma.us or, as always, ask your child’s principal.
Melinda J. Boone, Ed.D.
What would your reaction to this letter be? Would you think it best to Opt your child Out? Or would you think it was important to help make sure the “test questions are fair, on grade level, and measure the intended skills” before it will actually “count” for him or her? Or maybe you would need a little more information first, and would click on the link to the MA DOE to find out more…
The only parent who likely would Opt-Out his/her child is the parent who takes the initiative to dig deeper – who turns away from mainstream media and instead looks to social media for information. And how many are likely to do that?
I hate to be a pessimist, because the reality is, I do believe the tide is turning. I further believe that Opting-Out of high-stakes tests can, and likely will, be what stops this corporate reform movement in its tracks.
Except I don’t think we can wait for the parents.
I think it’s time for the teachers to step up to the plate.
And this massive field-test of the PARCC could only set them up to hit a grand slam.
All they have to do is refuse to pilot the test.
It’s simple, when you think about it.
Imagine if every teacher – in every one of the schools – within every one of the 360 districts in Massachusetts, alone – simply refused to take part in this PARCC pilot. Would it really not make an impact?
This so-called “field-test” is not really a field test. The feedback from teachers will matter naught. This is nothing more than the final gateway into what will soon become “official policy”.
The teachers need to close the gates.
The teachers need to Just Say No.
The teachers need to Opt-Out of piloting the PARCC on behalf of their own students.
Dear Bill and Melinda,
You are making history, Bill and Melinda. You have now reached a new level of notoriety. You two can now be known in history books as the American billionaire couple — withyour seat on Air Force One and 80 senators in your pockets — who are forcing 5 year olds to sit behind a computer screen taking a Common Core MAP test for 5 hours. As the richest couple in the world, you have the hubris to think you have that right?
You can now be infamous for pushing a testing system of adaptive Common Core MAP tests down to the early childhood level. You are accountable because you have used your power and wealth to force feed the Common Core to the Department of Education, the State School Officers, and the state Governors with what amounts to as a whopping $2.3 BILLION as discovered recently by Jack Hassard, noted here by Diane Ravitch.
“We have long known on this site that Bill Gates’ foundation underwrote every aspect of the Common Core standards. Mercedes Schneider has documented nearly $200 million in grants specifically for the writing, evaluation, review, implementation, and advocacy for the Common Core standards.
Jack Hassard, a retired professor of science education, has scoured the Gates search engine and concluded that the investment of the Gates Foundation in the Common Core is actually $2.3 billion.”
You are pushing the inhumane and unnecessary NWEA Common Core MAP tests with major financial backing. Sara Littman wrote about your $5 million grant to the NWEA MAP tests in Connecticut here. Seattle Education Blog wrote about the Gates Foundation grants for MAP tests also.
Because of you — despite being in tears, these innocent 5 and 6 year old children — children who used to be finger painting, learning nursery rhymes, engaging in dramatic play with miniature kitchens, role playing with costumes and puppets, and building forts with large wooden blocks — endured FIVE hours of standardized testing. FIVE hours of standardized testing of 5 and 6 year olds? Do you really think American parents and teachers are going to allow this testing abuse?
As a kindergarten teacher and special education teacher with 20 years experience in early childhood education, I am outraged!
Every early childhood expert I know will be as well, but I want more than that! I want parents to be outraged! I want teachers and administrators to be outraged! I want them all to call Congress and demand #TESTHearingsNow!
And then I want Congress to be outraged enough to put a gate up between corporations and public education to preserve public education for our children, our parents, our teachers, our communities, and our very democracy.
So is this test really that bad? Here is a demo of the MAP test for primary grades. Just imagine being 5 or 6 years old, sitting behind a screen taking this test for 5 hours, then read the details below as written by the Badass Teacher who is sending out the alarm call to stop this madness!
“We had been told to set up each child with their own account on their numbered Chromebook. The Teacher on Special Assignment came around and spent about an hour in each class doing this in the previous weeks.
We didn’t know exactly when the test would be given, just that some time on Thursday or Friday, the proctors would come and test. I set out morning work for my kids today but before the bell rang, the proctor arrived. I quickly swept off the tables and she said we’d begin right away. I went out to pick up my class.
While the proctor set up the computers (disregarding what we had done — that hour the TOSA spent in each class was unnecessary), I went through the usual morning routine.
Parents who happened to be in the room scrambled to unpack the headphones, which had arrived in the office that morning, and distribute the computers. We started a half hour later. The kids were excited to be using the computers. That didn’t last for long.
The test is adaptive. When a child answers a question, the next batch of questions is slightly harder or easier depending on the correctness of their answer. The math and language arts sections each had 57 questions.
The kids didn’t understand that to hear the directions, you needed to click the speaker icon. We slipped around the room explaining.
Answers were selected by drop and drag with a trackpad, no mouse was available. A proctor in one room said that if a child indicated their answer, an adult could help. Other proctors didn’t allow this. I had trouble dragging and dropping myself on the little trackpads.
Kids in one class took five hours to finish. Kids were crying in 4 of 5 classes.
There were multiple computer crashes (“okay, you just sit right there while we fix it! Don’t talk to anyone!”). There were kids sitting for half hour with volume off on headsets but not saying anything. Kids accidentally swapped tangled headsets and didn’t seem to notice that what they heard had nothing to do with what they saw on the screen.
Kids had to solve 8+6 when the answer choices were 0-9 and had to DRAG AND DROP first a 1 then a 4 to form a 14. There were questions where it was only necessary to click an answer but the objects were movable (for no reason). There were kids tapping on their neighbor’s computers in frustration. To go to the next question, one clicks “next” in lower right-hand corner…..which is also where the pop-up menu comes up to take you to other programs or shut down, so there were many instances of shut-downs and kids winding up in a completely different program.
Is this what we want for our youngest children?” ~ Anonymous Badass Teacher
“Answering NPE’s call, Arizona Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-3), a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, responded with a sentiment that has been echoed by parents and educators throughout the United States. The six-term Representative said, “The need for an impartial and transparent hearing on mandatory testing and privatization efforts directed at public education, is critical. We need to have an open discussion about the dismantling of public education. I hope the leadership of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives will hold hearings that allow our public schools and the families they serve the opportunity to have an open and honest hearing.”
We trended #1 for several hours, showing evidence of wide support for these Congressional hearings investigating testing abuse. The many horrific examples of the misuse and abuse of standardized testing — like the one above that I read about today on the Badass Teachers Association blog – become one more important reason we need to support these hearings.Bill and Melinda, it is time to stop this insanity!
We need a firewall between corporate education reform and public schools. We need a firewall between privatizers and public schools. We need a firewall between predatory philanthropists and public education!
Readers, it is time to take action! Join us in calling your Congressmen on Monday, March 24th and demand formal Congressional hearings on standardized testing! Use thisCommon Cause link to find your congressmen/women. And use the Network for Public Education Toolkit to assist you with this campaign.
Readers, it is time to demand #TESTHearingsNow!
Susan DuFresne – Full Day Integrated Kindergarten Teacher and Co-Author of Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates
Dear Bill Gates,
This is now the third letter I am publishing on teachersletterstobillgates.com, a website that, by now, you surely must be well aware exists. There have been over 150 heartfelt and emotional posts published in the nine or so months since its inception, yet you have chosen, thus far, to ignore them all.
And that is the reason for my third letter to you today. I don’t know how I can tolerate your ignorance – your apathy – for much longer. Especially when I read “news” that quotes you as saying, “Maybe we can’t answer every tweet or post, but the authoritative voice on this is teachers.” Do you REALLY believe this, Bill? I doubt it.
Because if you had, you certainly would have at least taken a moment to address its existence. But you can’t. Why? Because you’re too busy touting your claims of all-knowing excellence to the world and selling your products to fix the public education system in America.
I try to see the good in others; I TRY to believe that you really do think you are doing what is right for America’s public schools. Yet I can’t help but ask myself – after all this time – HOW COULD YOU? How could you think what you are doing is RIGHT? How could you really believe that you – a non-educator with a non-education degree and non-education experience – have all the “answers” to the inequality issues within American schools?
Let me help; you DON’T. The bottom line is, you are making a fortune from these reforms, and people are catching on, but not soon enough. Shame on you.
The reality is, Bill (sorry, but I no longer have enough respect to call you “Mister”), you are sacrificing our next generation for your own personal gain. And why do you even need it? Don’t you have enough?
You want to fix the public schools in America? Talk to Diane Ravitch. If anyone has the answers, she does. And I’m often afraid she’s killing herself trying to spread the word. Talk to people like me, to Katie, to Susan – people who have dedicated their lives to educating children. Yes, we might not have all the answers, but, frankly, we know a hell of a lot more than you do.
I’m tired, Bill. I’m tired of reading the BS that you sell to the media. I’m tired of the fact that, because of this all, I have moved myself and my three little boys to Dubai to escape what’s happening at home. It’s not so easy here, and I am homesick. But their lives, and especially their educations, far surpass what I know what they could get from the Boston Public Schools at this point, and so, for them, I persist in my struggle as angry as it makes me.
It’s time you acknowledge your many, many mistakes in education. You want to fix it? You certainly have more than enough money to do so, but for the love of God, let the TEACHERS direct you in how best to do that (like you pretend so very well that you have been).
And remember – we, the teachers – are involved in education because we have chosen to dedicate our lives to teaching children, a job which has little to no extrinsic rewards.
Why are you in it? Can I ask when you will decide to face the fire? It’s only a matter of time before it turns and burns you in the face, so you might as well do the right – the humane – thing, once and for all, before you ruin this country for good.
Jill O’Malley Conroy
P.S. In the future, can you please get the quotes you use to support your efforts directly from the teachers who (supposedly) stated them, and not from your “staffers”? Because, frankly, I don’t believe these people (teachers) exist. Thanks.
These quotes appeared in Bill Gates Comes to the Defense of the Common Core, which appeared on Huff Post Politics on 3/14/14.
“One teacher told a foundation staffer, Gates said, that under the current system, even top-performing kids aren’t prepared for college.”
“Everybody in my school is complaining about the lack of curriculum,” another teacher told a foundation staffer, according to Gates. “Now we have to jump all over the place and find extra materials to make things deeper and richer.”