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.