I was recently interviewed by a reporter regarding my reaction to State Education Commissioner John King’s intention of making adjustments to Common Core rather than delaying its implementation. The first question I was asked was how my children scored on the standardized test.
The reporter was probably hoping to incorporate the opinion of one of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s so-called white suburban moms who were angry with the Common Core tests because their children were not as bright as they thought.
My children, however, scored quite well on last year’s standardized test. The point that I would have liked to make was that there are some very real concerns with the standards themselves and not just their implementation.
I believe it is essential for all to educate themselves on the standards and the issues attached to the adoption of these standards under the Race to the Top Initiative.
Commissioner King says that the Common Core standards are widely agreed upon. He bases this assumption on the fact that 45 states have adopted them. But what is interesting to note is that the majority of states, including New York, agreed to adopt the standards before they were even written in order to receive Race to the Top funds.
They were sold as a higher set of standards, more “rigorous,” to ensure that our children are college- and career-ready and able to compete globally. What cash-strapped school district is going to say, “No thank you, we don’t want higher standards, we don’t want your money?”
So school boards across the state, across the country, signed on, sight unseen. It was not until school districts began implementing the standards that they could see what was actually in them. Sound familiar?
As it turns out, Common Core was not developed by educators. Neither of its chief standards writers, David Coleman and Jason Zimba, has ever taught in K-12, nor published anything on curriculum and instruction. Nonprofits coordinated the creation of Common Core and they were mostly funded by the federal government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The nonprofits include the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, both trade associations made up of lobbyists and partially funded by the federal government. These two groups commissioned Achieve, Inc. to do the detail work.
Since Common Core was created by nonprofits, everything was done behind closed doors and without public view or comment.
There was a validation committee to review the standards, but unfortunately the only two content experts on the committee refused to sign off on the standards, claiming they were both flawed and lacking.
Sandra Stotsky, who is credited with developing one of the country’s strongest sets of academic standards for K-12 students while serving as senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education, reviewed the English Language Arts standards. She claims that Common Core actually reduces opportunities for students to develop critical thinking and that most of Common Core’s college-readiness and grade-level standards in ELA are empty skills.
James Milgram, professor of mathematics at Stanford University, reviewed the math standards. He states that they were written in a “real hurry,” taking between nine and 10 months, with little to no communication among the writers for three separate groups, K-5, 6-8 and high school. He told various legislative committees that “our students will be more than two years behind international expectations by grade 7.”
When asked if Common Core standards would prepare our students for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, Zimba, the chief drafter of the math standards, replied, “Not only not for STEM, it’s also not for selective colleges.”
Since these standards were written from the top down, there was not much consideration for the development of our youngest students. Perhaps this is where the “rigor” is placed and inappropriately so.
In March 2010, the Alliance for Childhood issued a Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative. Hundreds of leading educators and health professionals expressed grave concerns over these standards for students in K-3, stating “the proposed standards conflict with compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development, and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn, and how best to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades.”
These concerns went unaddressed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Aside from these very troubling concerns with the Common Core standards are the issues attached to the adoption of them. Commissioner King states that the standards are separate from the testing. But that is not true. Common Core is a two-part process, according to the agreement the governors signed. The first part is the standards. The second part is testing.
New York state agreed to adopt PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), which is a national testing consortium. PARCC will serve to drastically increase the emphasis on standardized testing.
Maryland has implemented PARCC this year and is facing a $100 million shortfall to accommodate for the new Common Core tests, and total testing time has increased between 73 percent and 102 percent for grades 3-8.
There is also a second part to the testing, in which New York state has agreed to provide very detailed student level data on each child. In 2012, the federal government changed the student privacy laws to allow the state to share any information they have about our children without parental knowledge or consent.
The government model calls for more than 400 data points to be collected on each child and shared with whomever they deem appropriate. New York has agreed to send all personally identifiable data to a third party company called inBloom, and all data is scheduled to be uploaded to the Cloud in April.
This information not only calls for academic records but personal information such as family income, voting status, disciplinary records, IP address, bus stop times, disabilities — and the list goes on.
Many believe that the solution to the Common Core crisis is simply to delay its implementation. However, with a deeper look into the standards themselves and the issues they create, I believe the only solution is for New York state to completely withdraw from Race to the Top.
It is under this initiative that we agreed to adopt not only these questionable standards but everything else that is attached to them. If we withdraw from Race to the Top, there is nothing to stop our schools from implementing those higher standards that they deem to be appropriate.
On the other hand, if we do not withdraw completely we are restricted to adhering to the good, the bad and the ugly that is Common Core.
Tricia Farmer lives in Burnt Hills and is a member of BH-BL and Capital District Parents Concerned over Common Core. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.