THE HIGH COST OF IGNORING SKEPTICISM (By Ann Policelli Cronin)

What if the People are right and the Education Reform Industry is wrong!

THE HIGH COST OF IGNORING SKEPTICISM (By Ann Policelli Cronin)

A recent UConn poll reported that most people (59% of respondents) believe their schools are already good or excellent.  Many (73% of respondents) like the idea of national standards but are highly skeptical of the Common Core standards.  In fact, the more people know about the Common Core, the less they think it will increase the quality of education, with 30% of the respondents saying that Common Core will actually be detrimental to education. That skepticism about Common Core was justified when Connecticut 12th graders excelled on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

The skepticism expressed in the UConn poll may well lead to increased attention to the lack of substance of the Common Core and recognition of its huge expense for the state and for local communities.  With that attention and recognition, we then as parents, educators, and citizens will be ready for political action.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is the nation’s one authoritative measure of academic performance in reading and math over time and is a test with great validity. It is administered to samples of students. No one knows who will take it.  It assesses performance across a state and across the country and doesn’t report individual test scores. On that national test, Connecticut’s 12th graders ranked #1 in reading.

Also on an international test, the 2012 Program of International Student Assessment (PISA), Connecticut’s 15 year-olds also scored extremely high in reading. PISA assessed students in 65 nations plus the states of Connecticut, Florida, and Massachusetts. Connecticut ranked fifth in the world in reading, following closely behind fourth-ranked Massachusetts. Connecticut has a huge achievement gap yet scored better than 62 nations, including #1 Shanghai, which excluded its disadvantaged students from taking the test.

Reading skills develop over years in school, kindergarten through grade 12.  Connecticut was excelling before Common Core. Common Core isn’t responsible for current achievement in reading and isn’t needed for the effective teaching of reading to continue.

Common Core won’t improve instruction. Proponents claim Common Core will end rote memorization and introduce, for the first time, the practice of students using evidence from what they read to support their thinking. Not so. I have been in hundreds of English classrooms, in both our most affluent and our most disadvantaged communities, and have never once witnessed “rote memorization”. And using text evidence has forever been the center, the heart, the fundamental principle of teaching English; it’s nothing new.

Proponents of Common Core claim it’s needed to reduce the number of college students requiring remediation.   Not so. The number of students needing remediation is already declining nationally from 26.3% in 1999 to 20.4 % in 2008.  In CT, we do even better. In 2013, only 13%, of students took remedial courses in Connecticut’s public colleges and universities.

Of those requiring remediation, 91% attended community colleges. Those taking remedial courses at community colleges include both students right out of high school and adults already in the workforce. Community colleges have open enrollment and serve those who lack language or math skills necessary for college courses so remediation is both appropriate and beneficial for them.

Not only is Common Core not needed, but those surveyed who say the Common Core will do harm are correct.

The harm is that Common Core standards are not about improved learning; they are about improved test-taking.  The designers of Common Core were employees of testing companies.  Not one English teacher was involved in creating the English standards. The English standards are not intellectually rigorous, bring back failed pedagogy of the 1950’s, and severely limit critical and innovative thinking.

Also, the Common Core standards are not developmentally appropriate. Not one early childhood educator created the standards for elementary schools. Five hundred pediatricians and early childhood experts wrote a public statement explaining how the Common Core harms children.

Make no mistake about it:  The standards are curriculum with packaged lessons, correlated textbooks, and prescriptive teacher training. The accompanying tests, which affect student promotion and graduation and teacher evaluations, guarantee the Common Core will govern every day of the school year.

Test makers design Common Core aligned tests that the majority of children fail, but that does not mean the tests are challenging in meaningful ways.  The tests say very little about students’ abilities to do anything except take that particular test and very little about the quality of their minds.

No one knows if scoring well on those tests equals success in college or careers because the tests haven’t been field-tested.  They don’t guarantee anything because skills the modern world requires and other nations test, such as collaborating with others to problem solve and innovative thinking, are not measured.

We don’t need expensive Common Core testing. It drains local budgets and replaces valuable learning experiences with test prep.  If we want to know how we’re doing as a state, NAEP assesses that, and since it doesn’t rank students, teachers, and schools, there is no teaching to the test.  NAEP testing doesn’t affect curriculum or cost local school districts any money.

Common Core is a waste of money, a waste of time, and a waste of children’s lives. It’s time to act on our skepticism. Reject Common Core for Connecticut.

As parents, opt your children out of testing. As educators, advocate for real learning. As citizens, vote against any candidates who impose Common Core on Connecticut.

Ann Policelli Cronin is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education. She has taught middle and high school English, was a district-level administrator for English, taught university courses in English education, and was assistant director of the Connecticut Writing Project. She was Connecticut Outstanding English Teacher of the Year and has received national awards for middle and high school curricula she designed and implemented.

LISTEN TO THE FOOLS (A guest post by Ann Poicelli Cronin on the Common Core)

Ann Policelli Cronin is an experienced educator and an outspoken advocate for public education.  In this commentary piece the former Connecticut Outstanding English Teacher of the Year responds to national columnist David Brooks’ recent op-ed column in the New York Times in which he lauds the Common Core.

Cronin has some choice words for Brooks and his inability or unwillingness to consider the facts before pontificating on the benefits of the Common Core Standards and its associated Common Core Testing scheme.

LISTEN TO THE FOOLS – By Ann Poicelli Cronin

There just may be an ideological circus coming to town, as David Brooks predicts in a recent editorial. With any circus come silly and distracting clowns. With this Common Core circus, however, some who David Brooks dismisses as clowns are like the fools in Shakespeare’s plays: fools pointing to truths – truths not seen on the surface, truths we need to recognize or face great peril, truths that David Brooks didn’t probe.

The first truth is: Employees of testing companies, not the National Governors Association or the Council of State School Officers, wrote the Common Core standards. No educators were involved in creating the standards. It was all about what could be tested, not about what students should learn.

The second truth is: Standards by themselves accomplish nothing. To accomplish the goals of those who fund the Common Core, the standards must be intimately connected to a mandated curriculum and standardized testing with consequences for non-compliance. That compliance must be strictly enforced with punishments for students, such as not being promoted or not graduating and for teachers, the non-renewal of their contracts. What is measured on those tests is narrow and reducible to easily scored assessments that have nothing to do with the complex thinking, collaboration, questioning skills, and innovation that the modern world requires. The trade-off is real learning and thinking for simplistic measurements which diminish what it means to go to school.

The third truth is: The Common Core does “determine what students read and how teachers should teach”.  An example of “the how” is a video featuring David Coleman, chief writer of the Common Core English standards. View link here.  Coleman has never been a teacher yet explains how to teach. By dismissing alternate philosophical approaches to the teaching of reading, he makes clear that all variations in the “how” must be under the philosophical umbrella of an approach called New Criticism (Coleman calls it text-dependent analysis.), which was prevalent in the 1940’s and 50’s but abandoned because it was intellectually unsound and pedagogically bankrupt. An example of “the what” is the literature that students read with the Common Core: books chosen because their vocabulary and structure are difficult for the age group, excerpts of novels instead of whole books, and emphasis on informational texts. Proof that the Common Core intends to change what students read is that Bill Gates funded the Fordham Institute to track those changes. The how and what of instruction is curriculum. No doubt about it; the Common Core is curriculum – an inadequate one.

The fourth truth is: The federal government did not merely “encourage states to embrace the new standards”, it threatened to impose sanctions in regard to No Child Left Behind on them and denied states the chance for Race to the Top money if they didn’t adopt the Common Core.

The fifth truth is: The Fordham Institute is not an impartial judge of state standards. It uses a highly subjective rubric with loosely-defined terms. Its ratings of state standards do not correlate with student performance or college completion of high school graduates in those states. The Fordham Institute is funded by the Gates Foundation which has spent nearly 2 billion dollars on the Common Core. The Gates Foundation paid the Fordham Institute $1,961,116 to promote the Common Core and $1.5 million for operating expenses. To accept what the Fordham Institute says about the Common Core is like taking the word of a car salesman in the showroom of a dealership about which manufacturer makes the best car on the road.

The sixth truth is: The Common Core does not improve the teaching of English. I have been in hundreds of English classrooms and have never witnessed a teacher doing what David Brooks accused teachers of doing: telling students to simply “read a book and then go off to write a response to it” without citing explicit text evidence. If there were such a teacher, professional development would be the remedy, not prescribing the antiquated and ineffective way of teaching reading that the Common Core mandates.

The seventh truth is: The Common Core tests are not rigorous. They don’t demand complex thinking. Anyone can create a multiple choice “gotcha” test which most students fail.  It is important to distinguish between rigor and test-making. A test which most test-takers fail often is not a rigorous one, just a dumb one.

The eighth truth is: Education is more than making “students competitive with their international peers” on standardized tests.  First of all, using standardized tests as the competition is tricky business. International tests began in the 1960’s, and the U.S. scored near the bottom or last in all of them, yet, in those 54 years, the U.S. led the world in innovation and has been the dominant economy. Keith Baker, a long-time researcher for the U.S. Department of Education, investigated what happened to the 12 nations that took the First International Math test in 1964 and found no relationship between a nation’s economic productivity and its test scores. In fact, the higher the score, the worse a country’s economic performance.

The tests themselves have shaky reliability. For instance, Shanghai ranked #1 on the 2012 PISA but prohibits at least a quarter of potential test-takers from taking the test since the children of under-educated migrants are excluded. Also, in this country, children in poverty scored low.  U.S. children attending schools with less than 10% living in poverty, however, score 1st over all nations in reading and science and 5th in math.  If the game is test scores, then U.S. students not living in poverty are winners. So do we have an education problem or a societal problem?

The ninth truth is: Addressing racism and poverty will improve student learning and the achievement of our less advantaged students. There is an opportunity gap based on established inequities in our society. Standardized test scores always correlate with the family income of the test takers. The Common Core’s testing and failure rates will produce an underclass of high school dropouts and underachievers in our poorest communities.

The tenth truth is: We can transform our schools but not with the top-down Common Core approach of testing and punishments. I have been part of creating effective change and agree with Michael Fullan, an expert in school change and systemic reform, that the ingredients that work are:  building the capacity of educators (teachers, principals, and superintendents), establishing a collaborative school culture centered on learning, focusing on effective pedagogy, and bringing those three pieces together with an underlying philosophy and plan of action.

David Brooks is a good writer but not an educator. Like the heroes in Shakespeare, he and the nation would profit by listening to the “fools” who are pointing to the lack of substance and ineffectiveness of the Common Core and not confuse the “fools” with the political clowns.

Ann Policelli Cronin is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education. She has taught middle and high school English, was a district-level administrator for English, taught university courses in English education, and was assistant director of the Connecticut Writing Project. She was Connecticut Outstanding English Teacher of the Year and has received national awards for English curricula she designed and implemented.

Foul shots in the classroom: A Fable (By Ann Policelli Cronin)

As we celebrate UCONN’S [Remember it is not UConn] double national championships, it seems particularly appropriate to look back on a great commentary piece written by fellow columnist and pro-education advocate, Ann Policelli Cronin.  Here piece entitle, “Foul shots in the Classroom:  A Fable” first appeared in the CT Mirror.

Ann Policelli Cronin writes,

Imagine…

The NCAA Basketball Championship is based solely on free-throw shooting. Team practices are spent doing repetitive exercises of shooting from the foul line. All college players take the same free-throw shooting test. Their scores determine the excellence of the team, expertise of the coach and quality of the school. The team with the highest score becomes the national champion.

As a result of this new competition, the game of basketball is lost. The game, in which quick thinking, collaborative efforts and a whole array of athletic abilities are integral to the success of a team, is not played. The players begin to forget what it was to play 40 minutes of basketball. The coaches stop thinking about ways to develop talents of individual players and stop strategizing about how to make the team as a whole more successful. The fans forget about that long-ago game of basketball and enthusiastically cheer for their favorite foul shooters and compare them to foul shooters on other teams and in other countries.

Critics say that free-throw shooting is a simple skill and won’t prepare the college players for the basketball played in the NBA or WNBA. They also say that free-throw testing was chosen to replace playing games because the NCAA commissioned people in the test-making business to make that decision.

Common Core emphasizes authentic comprehension. In the past, students could depend on memorization to pass an upcoming test, then forget the procedures afterwards; yet they’d need to relearn the material in the following years.

Legislators will get to hear feedback on the rollout of the Common Core Curriculum Wednesday during a public hearing at the state Capitol complex. The noon event is the result of a move by Republican minority legislators to force the reluctant leaders of the Education Committee to hold a hearing on the bill that would put implementation of the state’s new academic standards on hold.

If this scenario were real, there would be quite an outcry…

But something scarier is happening in public school classrooms due to the Common Core State Standards. At stake there is not the game of basketball, but the development of students as thoughtful, engaged readers and effective writers. The Common Core requires the teaching of 200 narrow skills each year. Such skills will never foster students’ growth as readers and writers. The Common Core keeps students on the foul line, practicing limited skills.

In high school English classes, teaching Common Core skills in preparation for the accompanying test means that students are not asked to create meaning as they read, to think divergently and innovatively, nor learn a variety of ways to express their ideas orally and in writing. Instead, learning the isolated skills of the Common Core will keep students at the rudimentary level of simply finding information as they read and writing in a prescribed formula without any personal investment or even their personal voice.

Teachers of literature in love with ideas must be quiet. Teachers whose satisfaction is helping their students grow as thinkers by immersing them in reading and writing must be quiet. They must spend time at the foul line, urging their students to sink more shots, urging them to get higher and higher scores on tests that classify and rank them compared to other test-takers.

Executives of testing companies designed the Common Core. They wrote standards with skills that are measurable on computerized tests. Those skills are far too small a definition of literacy just as free-throw shooting is far too small a definition of playing basketball. We could benefit from authentic standards, written by those who know how to teach and not measured by computerized tests. Unfortunately, the Common Core committee didn’t have one English teacher in love with ideas on it, not one coach who knows the game.

A foul shooting test will never determine the NCAA championship because of the reality facing college players: The NBA and WNBA await. That world of professional sports demands experience in playing the whole game of basketball. Similarly, the world of higher education and the global workplace await current public school students. That world demands that graduates excel in the complex thinking that a rich literacy environment teaches.

College basketball players certainly will not spend the season just practicing free-throw shooting; instead, they will work at becoming accomplished and strategic basketball players. How our children, our students, our future citizens and leaders, spend their season, their school year, however, is up for grabs. They will spend it either preparing for Common Core tests or spend it becoming thoughtful readers, effective writers and complex thinkers. They can’t have it both ways.

What will we as parents, educators and taxpayers choose for them? It is our call. The time for our voice and our action in opposition to the Common Core is now.

You can find the full commentary piece here: http://ctmirror.org/op-ed-foul-shots-in-the-classroom-a-fable/

“When we buy something, we should get what we pay for”

Ann Policelli Cronin is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education. She has taught middle and high school English, was a district-level administrator for English, taught university courses in English education, and was assistant director of the Connecticut Writing Project. She was Connecticut Outstanding English Teacher of the Year and has received national awards for middle and high school curricula she designed and implemented.

In a powerful commentary piece posted on the CT Mirror website and entitled, “When we buy something, we should get what we pay for,” Ann Cronin begins by laying out the harsh reality that faces our public schools.  She writes,

We, as U.S. taxpayers, spent $350 million for standardized tests to assess if students are mastering Common Core standards, and we are spending millions more at the state level to implement that testing. What we have been asked to buy is that teaching those standards and assessing them will make our students “college and career ready.”

But who knows? We need a warranty so we can return the standards and tests and get a new education for our children if they don’t work.

“Readiness for college and careers” will be measured by standardized tests given in Grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11. As a parent, good standardized test scores were not what I asked of my children’s public schools. Instead, I asked that their teachers tap into my children’s love of learning, motivate them to want to learn more, and help them to grow in both their knowledge and their skills in building their own knowledge.

Cronin adds,

Standardized tests give a very limited picture of a student, limited by the goals of the test-makers. What seems much more important, even in terms of college and careers, is that children enjoy a stimulating and challenging year in school and have ideas and skills in June they didn’t have in September, rather than receive a high score on a standardized test.

This standardized test of “college and career readiness” is particularly inappropriate and unreliable because not one teacher was involved in setting the learning goals. Of the 29 writers of those goals, called Common Core standards, 27 were employees of testing companies. People who know how to test but not how to teach decided exactly what our children need to be “ready” for and how they demonstrate that “readiness” each year, kindergarten through high school.

And Cronin concludes with,

But we in Connecticut are still buying the idea that learning can be measured by standardized tests. The cost is high – not just in money but also in the education our children are not receiving. As Carol Burris, an award-winning high school principal who first supported the Common Core but changed her mind after a year of implementation and testing in New York, said:

Eventually all of it will fail. But your child will not get another chance to be a third grader. We are on our way with the Common Core to creating a generation of students who will despise school before they get to college, ready or not. Our country and our children deserve better. (The Washington Post, April 7, 2013)

There is no warranty for the Common Core and its testing. Let’s look the governor, the commissioner of education and the State Board of Education in the eye and say: No Sale.

This MUST READ article can be found in its entirety at: http://ctmirror.org/op-ed-buyers-beware-of-common-core/