Teacher Barth Keck adds his voice to the debate about the Common Core and related testing

As Connecticut’s public school students begin taking the Common Core Balanced Assessment Field Test of a test this week, more and more serious questions are being raised about the Common Core and its associated testing charade.

As evidenced during the recent public hearing held by the General Assembly’s Education Committee, apologists for the Common Core and Governor Malloy’s corporate education reform industry initiatives desperately defend the indefensible policies related to the Common Core, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test and the absurd teacher evaluation system.

At the recent hearing, the most irrational support for Malloy’s education reforms came from Malloy’s own Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and organizations such as the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.

CABE and CAPSS are two examples of groups that are funded in large part by taxpayer funds but rather than spend their resources protecting Connecticut’s public school students, parents, teachers, school administrators and taxpayers they are kowtowing to an increasingly unpopular governor and his increasingly unpopular so-called “education reforms.”

This weekend’s trifecta of columns about the failures of Malloy’s education reforms include Wendy Lecker’s “Charter school pitch not about helping community,” Sarah Darer Littman’s “Politicians Underestimate Common Core Opposition at Their Peril” and Connecticut teacher Barth Keck’s column entitled, Criticism of Common Core Is A Misunderstanding That Will ‘Dissipate’ After Adoption?.”  

The commentary piece Barth Keck wrote in this week’s CT NewsJunkie lays out some of the most profound issues.

Keck writes,

“To listen to the leaders of the leaders of Connecticut public schools, the controversy surrounding the Common Core State Standards is merely a misunderstanding that will be clarified once the standards are adopted.

Bob Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said “there’s a lot of misinformation about the teacher evaluation system and how it’s going to work together with the Common Core,” according to a CTNewsJunkie report.

“What we’re trying to do is give a little cooling off period so we can implement Common Core,” Rader said during the legislature’s hearing on March 12. “Then I think you’ll see this all dissipate.”

Regarding a survey that found 97 percent of Connecticut teachers “believed there should be some sort of moratorium on the implementation of the standards,” Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said that he didn’t know where “the approximately 1,500 teachers surveyed by the Connecticut Education Association came from because that’s not what he’s hearing from the leaders of school districts.”

Note to Mr. Cirasuolo: I know where at least one of them came from.

What we have here is a classic case of “decoupling.” That is, proponents of the Common Core have separated themselves from the pushback simply because it’s an impediment to their agenda.

“Moratorium says to me: You stop,” said Cirasuolo. “All of that just stops. Our members are saying, ‘We can’t do that. What do we do if we stop? Do we go back and get the stuff we used to use four years ago?’ You’re not going to improve a process if you stop it.”

Cirasuolo’s attitude is mirrored at the national level.

“The standards are portrayed as so consensual, so universally endorsed, so thoroughly researched and vetted, so self-evidently necessary to economic progress, so broadly represented of beliefs in the educational community,” writes respected author and literacy expert Thomas Newkirk in a must-read essay, “that they cease to be even debatable.”

Problem is, adds Newkirk, these bold attitudes “hide their controversial edges.”

Newkirk outlines multiple reasons why — despite the self-assurance of Common Core supporters — the current resistance should not be so readily dismissed.

For one, many standards are “developmentally inappropriate.”

“[T]he CCSS has taken what I see as exceptional work, that of perhaps the top 5 percent of students, and made it the new norm,” writes Newkirk. “What had once been an expectation for fourth graders [has] become the standard for second graders, as in this example:

Write informative/explanatory texts in which they [i.e., second graders] introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points and provide a concluding statement.

“Normally this would be the expectation of an upper-elementary report; now it is the requirement for seven-year-olds.”

Newkirk also has concerns about the connection between standardized testing and the Common Core, a situation that ultimately limits what is taught: “These tests will give operational reality to the standards — in effect they will become the standards; there will be little incentive to teach to skills that are not tested.”

Perhaps most significantly, the full-speed-ahead attitude of the CCSS proponents “drowns out” all other educational discussions.

Explains Newkirk: “The principle of opportunity costs prompts us to ask: ‘What conversations won’t we be having?’ Since the CCSS virtually ignore poetry, will we cease to speak about it? What about character education, service learning? What about fiction writing in the upper high school grades? What about the arts that are not amenable to standardized testing? What about collaborative learning, an obvious twenty-first-century skill? We lose opportunities when we cease to discuss these issues and allow the CCSS to completely set the agenda, when the only map is the one it creates.”

The history of our country is filled with examples of cognitive dissonance created by people who question the so-called “conventional wisdom.” Newkirk cites Martin Luther King, Jr., who stated in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that it is never “untimely” in a democracy to scrutinize policies.

The leaders of the leaders of our public schools would do well to remember this lesson. King’s “Letter,” after all, is included in Common Core Standard 10 as a “Text Illustrating the Complexity, Quality, & Range of Student Reading 6-12.”

You can read Barth Keck’s full column at CT NewsJunkie by clicking here:  Criticism of Common Core Is A Misunderstanding That Will ‘Dissipate’ After Adoption?

  • ReTired

    For those districts participating in the Smarter Balance assessment this week, I’d love to hear your observations on students’ behaviors as they attempt to take this ‘balanced’ assessment. Remember the adage-actions speak louder than words! Let’s hear from educators in the trenches about how their students acted on this auspicious occasion!

    • Linda174

      Check this out, CCS math:

      • ReTired

        Perfect solution! Let the games begin! Would love to see what scores Malloy and Pryor would earn as they attempt to ‘balance’ the equations!

        • Linda174

          Malloy would need extended time and a reader. Pryor would just appoint an underling to take it for him.

        • ReTired

          And they’d both have to take it over again because they didn’t score proficient!

        • Jane Doe

          No chiclets for any of them!

  • Linda174

    And this from a CT teacher:

    She (Ravitch) concluded her address with a list of suggestions, of next steps:

    Salvage the standards to make standards better. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) should review and revise the standards. ”Fix what is wrong”and “damn the copyright.”

    Decouple the Common Core from the tests;
    Teachers: Teach what you love and enrich instruction;
    Remember that a decent democracy equals values.
    Do nothing to stigmatize those who have the least.

    It should be noted that throughout the speech, Ravitch referred to “children” instead of using the word “students.” Her linguistic choice was noted by a later speaker, Kathy Collins. In refusing to use “students,” Ravitch put the focus back on the purpose for public education, to prepare the nation’s children, and she relayed a critical difference between her pedagogy and the philosophy of the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. “Arne Duncan thinks children as young as five should be on track to be college and career ready. He has said, ‘I want to walk in, look in their eyes, and know they are college and career ready’.”

    She paused as if to respond to him, “I see a child. Leave him alone.”

    The cathedral reverberated with applause.

    http://usedbooksinclass.com/2014/03/23/diane-ravitch-to-the-defense-of-teachers-at-the-saturday-reunion-at-teachers-college/

    • ReTired

      Ravtich is a woman of courage and conviction. Students are children first and always. Duncan wants a model similar to what they use in China. Dehumanize educational methodologies and pedagogy and you’ll create an everlasting product. And finally, evaluate the worth of the product by plugging it into a system that is similarly prescribed and you have the perfect future citizen!

  • Mary Gallucci

    What a fabulous column by Barth Keck. He is an inspiration as a teacher. I am grateful also for the study by Newkirk. Thank you.

  • Amy

    From another CT Teacher: Re; “Moratorium says to me: You stop,” said Cirasuolo. “All of that just stops. Our members are saying, ‘We can’t do that. What do we do if we stop? Do we go back and get the stuff we used to use four years ago?’ You’re not going to improve a process if you stop it.”

    Perhaps Mr. Ciraauolo did not take Latin. The root word mora is Latin for “delay” not “Stop.” Therefore, a moratorium, by definition, is only a delay…not a stop. Let’s hope that there are no questions regarding Latin roots on the SBAC test….