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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Is U.S. Secretary Duncan’s Common-Core Defense Falling Apart?

By Peter DeWitt — July 05, 2013 5 min read
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In Arne Duncan Mounts Strongest Defense Yet of Common Core Standards (Education Week) Michele McNeil highlighted a recent speech that Secretary Duncan gave to the American Society of News Editors in Washington D.C. In the speech, Secretary Duncan called out opponents to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and focused on some of the outliers who are saying, “That the standards and tests will lead to mind control, robots, and biometric brain mapping.” He called them, “Just wacky.”

Why did Secretary Duncan point out the arguments that will make educators look the worst? Most teachers, administrators and parents do not believe the CCSS will lead to mind control, but perhaps he was trying to insinuate that educators are paranoid.

It seems as though the speech was about defending his side of the Common Core debate. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention some things.

McNeil rightfully points out that, “He didn’t mention Race to the Top Round 3, the bridesmaid round as we call it, when common standards adoption and implementation mattered even more. Implementing common standards and participating in a testing consortia were required in order for any of the nine finalist states to get their consolation prize. (UPDATE: I should point out that the department did this to make sure states didn’t backtrack from the promises they made in the original rounds of competition.)”

Secretary Duncan did mention some of the coherent arguments against the Common Core. In Arne Duncan Decries ‘Imaginary’ Attacks on Common Core which focuses on the same speech to the American Society of News Editors, Andrew Ujifusa wrote, “Some critics, Duncan noted, falsely conflate the standards with curriculum, which he emphasized that the federal government cannot mandate or create. He also makes a point of spelling out the difference between curriculum and standards in one part of the speech.”

Perhaps this isn’t the fault of the opponents of the movement who believe, like everything else the federal government has been doing since the implementation of NCLB, that calling the Common Core...standards instead of curriculum is just a bait and switch move. Today they are standards but tomorrow will they become curriculum? After all, it’s important to point out the states like New York promised to make state assessments 20% of a teacher and administrator’s evaluation but have been discussing changing it to 25% after the agreement was already made, and cut points were changed after the tests were completed.

Perhaps also, Secretary Duncan should acknowledge that the reasons some educators and parents are calling them curriculum instead of standards may be due to the heavy handedness of some of the states, and may also be due to the fact that some states have done a horrible job of implementing them.

The Common Core
I want to believe that the Common Core is like a textbook. They offer a base of what educators should focus on but they are not the only thing that educators should teach. They may offer a blueprint but you can build the way you want. The problem is that state assessments are tied to those standards which means that teachers are very much required to focus on each and every standard. After all, their evaluations depend on it.

The Common Core, which are really being sold (Business Leaders Asked to Sell the Common Core) as the silver bullet of education, could lead to some old arguments. For example, there are exit requirements, sorry...I mean expectations, for students leaving each grade. What will happen if students do not meet all of those exit expectations? Summer school? Not all schools can afford summer school because they have been spending their money on unfunded mandates and dealing with major budget cuts.

How about retention? If students cannot meet all of those exit requirements teachers are concerned about sending the students up to the next grade level (Social promotion argument) because the next teacher’s evaluation depends on those students being able to meet those requirements.

What happens when a student enters the grade level not being able to meet the entrance expectations? Do teachers send the kids back to the previous grade? Do they offer AIS? What happens if the districts can’t afford AIS for primary? In states like New York, AIS is only required for grades 4 and up, and they are tied to whether a student received a 2 or lower on the state assessment.

I understand that supporters of the Common Core will say that if all teachers in all schools around every state are teaching the same standards they won’t have to worry about children entering not meeting those expectations. But let’s face it, that argument is just plain silly. We know that not every student will meet those exit requirements and we know that not all students come in to the next grade (from the same school or another one) meeting those entrance requirements....expectations.

In the End
I am an optimist. I always have high hopes that things have been done with integrity. There are many educators who like the Common Core because they work in great schools where students are meeting those expectations. There are other educators who want to believe that the CCSS will help their low-achieving students meet higher expectations. I’m left feeling doubtful.

I don’t want my teachers to believe that they are teaching something that was not researched with integrity. I want more for our students. I want to believe in the Core. However, in an Answer Sheet blog (Washington Post) Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Ed Miller wrote about the panel that created the Common Core State Standards. They said, “In all, there were 135 people on those panels. Not a single one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional.” As an educator, I want to know that experienced educators had input.

As for Secretary Duncan...when the best he can do is sarcastically point out that some opponents of the Core believe that they will, “lead to mind control, robots, and biometric brain mapping” he is not helping get educators on board with the Core.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.