November 14, 2013

Fundamental questions about the Common Core standards

Why do the Common Core educational standards (e.g., a list of what needs to be taught in each grade dreamed up by David Coleman) need to be common across the country? Why is it crucially important that 45 states upend what they're doing to jump on board this untested bandwagon? Wouldn't it make more sense to test Dave's brainstorm in one state to see if it actually works before betting the country on it?

For example, a couple of decades ago, the state of California had a great idea: stop teaching kids to read using phonics and use only whole word instruction instead, because studies prove that really good adult readers are whole word readers (e.g., "whooping cough" pretty much equals "whooping crane" in the eyes of the fastest readers). This proved a famous disaster. For years afterward, you could look at California test scores and instantly tell which grades the poor kids who got stuck with whole word instruction were in by how much lower the reading scores were of, say, eighth through tenth graders versus seventh or eleventh graders.

Fortunately, due to our federal system, that only happened in one state (granted, the state that is 1/8th of the country), and other states learned salutary lessons from California's mistake.

The only argument I've heard for why a Common Core being must be almost nationally common is that it would be nice for students who suddenly move from one state to another to find their new school is exactly where their old school left off. But how important is this?

The French minister of education is famously proud that in every school in the country the nine-year-olds are reading the same page at the same moment. Is this better or worse than a more federal system like Germany's? Off hand, the results don't seem all that different. The differing approaches seems more to reflect the French state's obsession with centralization in case they want to put together an army big enough invade Russia again. In contrast, German federalism reflects their interest in decentralization so they aren't tempted to put together an army big enough to invade Russia again.

Moreover, what is the point of lockstep standards, anyway? How do they survive their collision with the reality of human diversity? If you say that all students must learn U, V, and W in 4th grade so they will be prepared to learn X, Y, and Z in 5th grade, what happens to the students who fail to learn V and W in 4th grade and thus aren't ready for X,Y, and Z if fifth grade? What about the students who learned U,V, and W in the first months of 4th grade?

And shouldn't somebody, somewhere test the Common Core before it's rolled out to 45 states?

Education Realist writes:
I’ve stayed out of the Common Core nonsense. The objections involve much fuss about federal control, teacher training, curriculum mandates, and the constructivist nature of the standards. Yes, mostly. But so what? 
Here’s the only important thing you need to know about Common Core standards: they’re ridiculously, impossibly difficult.

America is just finishing up a colossal failure called No Child Left Behind, a plan dreamed up by President Bush and Senator Kennedy that mandated that every public school student in America score "proficient" in reading and math by next May. It was obvious from the get-go that it would never work, but it was wildly popular within the education industry for many years because it justified no end of conferences, meetings, pet projects, days out of the classroom to get "professional development," and all the other things that are more fun than teaching other people's children day after day after day.

Now that NCLB is dying, we have a whole new fad that is suspiciously like the old one.

53 comments:

dearieme said...

All educational experiments work on a small scale and fail on a large scale. That's about all you need to know.

Anonymous said...

Public Education policy is basically a long series of fads. Read about it retrospect from John Taylor Gatto or from someone there at the conception, Zachariah Montgomery.

Anonymous said...

If you make the tests incredibly hard you can reduce the gap.

carol said...

do to our federal system

Oh c'mon Steve fix that.

Anonymous said...

http://www.badeagle.com/2013/11/13/the-philippines-a-cultural-sink-hole/

Uh-oh, I think the Chief really pissed off Michelle Malkin.

Anonymous said...

"The differing approaches seems more to reflect the French state's obsession with centralization in case they want to put together an army big enough invade Russia again. In contrast, German federalism reflects their interest in decentralization so they aren't tempted to put together an army big enough to invade Russia again."

ROTFL. Sums up their psycho-history pretty well.

Portlander said...

Not only are they rolling it out in 45 states at once, they are rolling it out in 12 grades at once. This latter is particularly problematic as there is not a one-to-one mapping for when material is covered.

For example, if under CC fractions are introduced in 3rd grade, and complete proficiency is expected in 5th, while a particular state used to introduce them in 5th... woe to those poor 5th graders that are being thrown into the deep-end of the pool without any prior training.

Oh, and the textbooks aren't completely written either. They are for the lower grades, but again, not for those woeful 5th & 6th graders.

A market indicator of what a boon-doogle this is going to be: tutoring franchises are popping up like mushrooms across suburban upper-middle class bedroom communities.

Anonymous said...

Uh-oh, I think the Chief really pissed off Michelle Malkin.

How Indian is Yeagley, anyway? He does not look very Indian. Isn't he also a Christian? He just seems phony as hell.

It's true that the Philippines are dysfunctional and poor, but he seems to think this is the sole reason for the devastation and loss of life. Typhoon Haiyan is one of the most severe storms ever recorded. By some measures it's the most powerful storm to strike land on record. The best building codes and all the order in the world won't prevent mass loss of life and devastation. Japan had more than 10,000 fatalities in the recent earthquake and tsunami.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

NCLB was not beloved by actual teachers, but by educationalists. Most people here knew that, but I wanted to get it said.

Common Core isn't going to matter much one way or the other. Educational fads never do half the good they are supposed to, nor half the damage their critics claim.

Anonymous said...

We have to penalize those genetic lottery winners:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2013/11/13/obamacare_architect_genetic_lottery_winners_have_been_paying_an_artificially_low_price.html

Dave Pinsen said...

Could it also be that the French are trying to compensate for the centripetal effect of their greater diversity?

Anonymous said...

http://www.jaguda.com/2013/11/14/proud-nigerian-read-offensive-article-state/

"At the University of Lagos, you can major in credit card fraud."

Joke or real?

A Working Class American said...

Orwell said who controls the past controls the future. But ya gotta control the educational system that molds young minds in order to control the past.
That is why the GOP never even tried to deliver on its promise of vouchers--vouchers would degrade the top-down, centralized curriculum molding system that controls what the past is understood to be.

The elite need that top-down, centralized educational system to control the nation.

Anonymous said...

David Coleman was in large part successful because he had parents that were interested in his upbringing. His education at home was probably better then his education at school. His parents developed his mind.

We cannot create 50 million little Davids without like minded parents. A teacher with 20 students cannot replace the individual attention that little David received at home

It just cannot happen!

Anonymous said...

"Common Core standards: they’re ridiculously, impossibly difficult."

One group of people will definitely benefit from such difficulty.

Let kids with IQ above 125 stand out please. Identifying those super smart kids and putting them on the right track are more important than NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND.

Anonymous said...

HBD content!

Body types of athletes in various sports:

http://www.boredpanda.com/athlete-body-types-comparison-howard-schatz/

Presumably a fair number of them have the benefit illicit pharmacology use.

Luke Lea said...

Does the federal government have the right to impose these standards? At what point might the Supreme Court step in and say that it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who's ever been ten weeks into a math class they haven't been able to keep up in since week three knows exactly why common core is a terrible idea.

TheLRC said...

I've worked in higher ed for two and half decades, and I can tell you that all anyone needs to know about education research and policy is summed up in the first two comments to this thread. Kudos to dearieme and anon, and of course to Steve.

panjoomby said...

education marches on! expect NCLB to return in the year 2080 or so.

AMac said...

"Fortunately, due to our federal system, [whole language reading instruction] only happened in one state, and other states learned salutary lessons from California's mistake."

Well, Maryland for one didn't learn nothin' from anyone else's experiences with whole language. Tens of millions of dollars' worth of outdated Phonics textbook tossed in the dumpster. A short time later, an equivalent quantity of W.L. textbooks dumped, and replaced by Phonics.

And think of the glorious unread dissertations gathering dust on college library shelves, and the wondrous academic careers launched.

Forget about those pesky students, and Whole Language worked out just fine.

ben tillman said...

The only argument I've heard for why a Common Core being must be almost nationally common is that it would be nice for students who suddenly move from one state to another to find their new school is exactly where their old school left off. But how important is this?

It can't be very important if the central government continually brings in children from school systems in different countries.

Cyclone said...

Uh-oh, I think the Chief really pissed off Michelle Malkin.

The reality is that we wouldn't be prepared for a Haiyan level hurricane either. This was much bigger and more powerful than Katrina, which killed about 2,000 in the US. Bigger and more powerful than anything that's ever hit the US as far as we know.

Cyclone said...

A Haiyan level hurricane that hit Florida would leave more than 11 million Floridians displaced and result in huge loss of life. A huge chunk of Florida would be underwater.

Sword said...

OT thought:

The proportion of Nigerian Prince scam emails that actually generate any results should be strongly linked to the difference in median IQ between Nigeria and various target countries. Are there such data? They could be used as statistical stand-ins for median National IQ.

Anonymous said...

Public Education policy is basically a long series of fads. Read about it retrospect from John Taylor Gatto or from someone there at the conception, Zachariah Montgomery.

Public education is little more than a fad gone on a centuries too long. It also presumes that all the kiddies are exactly the same and have exactly the same needs.


Auntie Analogue said...


"Wouldn't it make more sense to test Dave's brainstorm in one state...."

If sense is wanted, to find it one ought to turn last to Government - which includes all those highfaluting administreducators who never taught a single thing to so many as a single pupil.

Common Core is just more power to central government - you may expect therefrom yet another massive bloated self-justifying self-enlarging caste of all-powerful unelected bureaucommissars sucking high salaries, gold plated bennies, and pensions from the public teat. Common Core is to teaching what central economic planning was to the USSR's commerce.

God help our schoolchildren, because helping them is the last thing on the central power bureaucommissars' minds.

jody said...

why can No Child Left Behind die, and not only die but die just a few years after GW Bush is out of office, but Head Start lives on for decades? because settled law is only settled if it's settled to liberal satisfaction.

a republican came up with No Child Left Behind, so it can safely be dropped by a democrat administration at any time. future democrat administrations have no problem at all completely dropping republican political initiatives from previous years. or democrat initiatives, of course. but it's usually the republican ones they kill, and usually only a few years later, immediately upon assuming power again.

republicans on the other hand tend to dutifully keep up any liberal initiatives from previous administrations even when proven to be bad or useless, because 'that's the law' and they obey the rules and play fair. occasionally they kill them, if they can get the votes, but not that often.

and they almost never kill the big, society changing sized ones. the liberals resist violently, and republicans are never allowed to drop one of the liberal programs without a hell of a fight, getting all their ducks in a row, getting all the votes, and then running the gauntlet through the courts after the absolutely certain barrage of appeals. there is no quietly killing democrat enacted legislation the way republican legislation is routinely dropped or struck down.

so you end up with a system where nothing any republican ever does can be counted on to last for very long, whereas any democrat policy gets set in stone quickly. unless a particular law or policy is found to not be politically expedient for the democrats, then they may attempt to change their own laws by a wave of the hand.

because Common Core is a liberal program devised by a democrat administration and being vigorously forced upon every state, you can probably expect it to become a permanent part of the public school experience in america. it, or some version of it, will now be around forever, or until democrats decide they like something else better and replace Common Core with that. what's less likely is that Common Core will just kind of 'die' like NCLB. least likely of all is that CC will be dropped by a republican administration or killed outright by a republican voting attempt.

Anononmous said...

Electric Company Shadowbox #1

Anonymous said...

In the French version you left out the word "to" in "big enough invade Russia"

Anonymous said...

Dagestani child wrestles bear for MMA training:
http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=2ed_1384469944

Anonymous said...

Steve, you're pulling a New York Times here - what you write is literally true, but most people are getting the wrong idea.

Common Core is not a Federal program, it's not a curriculum, and it's voluntarily adopted by states.

It's just a set of standards. The idea is that no matter what state you're from, you should be prepared to attend college anywhere in the country. It was set up by the National Governors' Association.

I know you know this, but those in the comments who have only heard about it through you are clearly getting the wrong impression.

http://www.corestandards.org/resources/frequently-asked-questions

Beliavsky said...

NCLB required states to make almost everyone proficient and to erase racial gaps in proficiency, so some states set a low bar for proficiency. Common Core is a reaction to this, but the same standards will not fly in Massachusetts and Oklahoma, since there are IQ differences between the states.

Jonathan Silber said...

America is just finishing up a colossal failure called No Child Left Behind...

Yes, but our so-called elites learn from their failures, so their next one will be even more colossal.

Steve from Detroit said...

Steve,

As for David Coleman: "Meet the new boss....."

Steve, thanks for keeping a light shining on this guy and CC. He and it are destructive.

My generalized response to this post would be: liberals love centralization because it enables them to consolidate power more easily. Instead of fighting 50 small fights, they focus on one big one.

If you even timidly suggest each state should be in charge of educating its own children, you are brandished Bull Connor. The implementation of CC is disingenuously as well. The CC standards are not, in fact, mandatory. The states, however, that refuse implementation lose big money under Arne Duncan's Race to the Top.

It's just a microcosm of so much that is wrong with this country.

Rohan Swee said...

Constant churn is of course desirable in terms of "conferences, meetings, pet projects, days out of the classroom...". But nowadays it also serves the far more important need for obfuscating the hell out of The Gap. The bigger the mess that The Next Big Idea creates, the more excuses available for persistent performance differences.

Rohan Swee said...

AMac: Well, Maryland for one didn't learn nothin' from anyone else's experiences with whole language. Tens of millions of dollars' worth of outdated Phonics textbook tossed in the dumpster. A short time later, an equivalent quantity of W.L. textbooks dumped, and replaced by Phonics.

And in the not too distant future, those phonics texts will again be dumped, for the never-tried-before Whole Language approach. I kid you not, I recently heard the education superintendent in my state push for consolidating schools into fewer, bigger, more centralized units. More efficient that way, better in all ways, and a great new idea that's never been tried before. Nobody learns nothin'.

Cail Corishev said...

republicans on the other hand tend to dutifully keep up any liberal initiatives from previous administrations even when proven to be bad or useless, because 'that's the law' and they obey the rules and play fair.

Yep. The Department of Education was signed into law in 1979 and began operating in May of 1980. Reagan specifically campaigned against it, but by the time he took office less than a year later, it was already too late to kill it. The best he could do was to appoint someone (Bennett) who wouldn't do too much harm with it.

Democrats create most government programs; Republicans try to make them work.

Mountain Maven said...

Education is the only field I know of where the farther up the ladder you look the more foolish and less experienced the workers are. Arne Duncan and David Coleman are at the top.

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUsUWFANPS8

CAUGHT ON TAPE: Obamacare Navigators Counsel Applicants to lie.

pat said...

You are quite wrong about phonics. Phonics was been a huge government success - as a jobs program.

I just checked Amazon. There are currently more that 39,000 phonics books, CDs or videos on sale. Everyone used to decry that parents abandoned responsibility for their children's education once they enrolled them in public schools.

Whole Word reading instruction changed all that. Parents got involved and private market education jobs were created.

Surely that's a success?

Any boob can own a Ferrari. But if you want real exclusivity you need a Fisker.

This is yet another 'unexpected benefit' of a government program. Think of all the systems designers and web developers who now have brighter career prospects after the Obamacare rollout.

Albertosaurus

alcogito said...

Have you heard of the Core Knowledge Series "What Your _ Grader Needs to Know" as a guide for what children need to learn each school year? Every grade level is passed around our family as needed among the grandchildren. Core Knowledge as a concept is far from new, and is, in fact, essential. A strong building needs a strong foundation.

Bill said...

Steve, can you say why you think whole language has been abandoned in favor of phonics? I mean, what reason do you have to believe that any such transition actually occurred. (No, school officials saying that they are doing it does not count as a reason)

Here is a simple test. If you know what the phrase "sight word" means, then you or your child was exposed to whole language. As far as I can tell, most schools use a "blended" reading instruction method including both whole language and phonics.

"What, your car doesn't run well on peanut oil? Try half peanut oil and half gasoline!"

Memorizing "sight words" is a compromise method of whole language instruction which kinda sorta works. Being not-phonics, it's stupid. But, at least the dumb children learn some words. Real whole language lunatics don't even like sight words. They like functional illiteracy.

Shagrat's Friend said...

The German Second Empire of 1871-1918 was a federal state, yet they managed to "put together an army big enough to invade Russia".

Anonymous said...

Whole language works if you have the right population. In Chinese, there is no such thing as phonics (aside from Pinyin Romanization which is taught on top of their character based writing system) and yet they all learn to read just fine. OTOH, with the WRONG population, nothing works.

K

nobody innit said...

We can have the world's most educated bin men.

They can purchase food from Beanler, rent their spare rooms with Philosofa and top up their standard of living with Slavely.

What could possibly go wrong?

Cail Corishev said...

With smart enough kids, you could just lock them in a library for a year, and they'd come out reading. But it's still true that some methods work better than others.

I've tutored kids who had no phonics training, and they're helpless when encountering a new word. It's bad enough that they don't know what many words mean, but when they can't even stumble through a half-decent pronunciation, or even take a stab at getting the likely sounds in the right order, it makes everything that much harder. They tend to try to skim quickly past any word they don't recognize, and after a while it seems like they don't even notice how many words they're skipping.

CJ said...

And shouldn't somebody, somewhere test the Common Core before it's rolled out to 45 states?

If that kind of hidebound reactionary thought had been applied to Obamacare, then the healthcare.gov website would have started with just a few states or a couple of area codes or only people whose last name starts with A. And then where would we be?

David Davenport said...

That is why the GOP never even tried to deliver on its promise of vouchers--vouchers would degrade the top-down, centralized curriculum molding system that controls what the past is understood to be.

That is entirely wrong, unless you are alluding only to the RINO Republicans.

Evidence: totalizing, centralizing USA government run school systems, a.k.a. public school systems, are vehemently opposed to vouchers.

More and more education vouchers are part of the Tea party agenda.

Anonymous said...

"They tend to try to skim quickly past any word they don't recognize, and after a while it seems like they don't even notice how many words they're skipping."

When I taught at a large state university, I had an earnest but not too bright student who, in her papers, would consistently attribute positions to the authors of our readings that the authors clearly did not hold. So I asked her to justify attributions of positions with quotations, hoping that this would improve her reading. Instead, when I got her later papers, I looked up the alleged quotes, and found that she had changed or deleted about a third of the words from the quote in the essay. I am convinced she did not know she was doing it.

Since that experience I've continually wondered how someone could do something like that unawares. Now I'm wondering if it might be related to the process you're describing -- a student doesn't know a lot of words, has trouble figuring out a new word, and so ultimately as an unconscious habit only reads the "easy" words (and perhaps, in this particular case, even changes the hard words to easier words in her mind).

The Wobbly Guy said...

Chinese is much harder to learn than English for precisely the reason it has to be learned via whole word method instead of phonics.

In Singapore, both languages are taught side by side for ethnic chinese. Guess which language is picked up much more easily?

In addition, weaker students have more problems with learning chinese. The reverse is seldom true.

Given the intelligence potential of the various ethnic groups of the US, why make learning more difficult than it needs to be? The whole word method is just plain wrong.

john marzan said...

photo of young girl #commoncore

http://www.soopermexican.com/2014/02/13/heart-wrenching-viral-photo-of-frustrated-little-girl-shows-what-common-core-does-to-children/

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=714460471932456&set=a.307999755911865.78066.207805025931339&type=1&stream_ref=10

Anonymous said...

I don't have any reason to say that the standard order of prealgebra, algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2, trig, precalculus is better than some other order with geometry distributed. But doesn't it seem like a lot of churn to move it when there is no proof the new system functions better?