Standards Opinion

The Common Core: Are They Even Really Standards?

By Anthony Cody — March 24, 2014 2 min read
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The original sin, the fatal flaw, the hamartia of the Common Core has been defined, at last, with scientific precision and unimpeachable reference.

Diane Ravitch this morning has revealed the basic accepted process for the setting of national standards, and the process leading to the Common Core violated just about every step.

The origins of the Common Core have been hotly debated over the past couple of years. It is remarkable that something so recently born could still be subject to such a wide variety of birth stories. I wrote last fall:

Perhaps because Common Core standards originated in a secretive process, and were adopted with little public discussion, their origins have become a subject of great interest among educators. As with ancient mythology, we care about where things come from, because the method of creation can reveal the nature of the creator, and the intentions at work.

But the true origins of the Common Core have always been clear, in spite of all the post-hoc arm-waving. I know, because I wrote about the process as soon as it was announced back in July of 2009:

So who makes up the two Work Groups? Of the 25 individuals on the two teams, (four people are on both) six are associated with the test-makers from the College Board, five are with fellow test-publishers ACT, and four are with Achieve. Zero teachers are on either Work Group. The Feedback Groups have 35 participants, almost all of whom are university professors. There appears to be exactly one classroom teacher involved in the entire process, on one of the Feedback Groups.

Diane points us to the ANSI website, which explains what is required to create legitimate standards:

In order to maintain ANSI accreditation, standards developers are required to consistently adhere to a set of requirements or procedures known as the "ANSI Essential Requirements," that govern the consensus development process. Due process is the key to ensuring that ANSs are developed in an environment that is equitable, accessible and responsive to the requirements of various stakeholders. The open and fair ANS process ensures that all interested and affected parties have an opportunity to participate in a standard's development. It also serves and protects the public interest since standards developers accredited by ANSI must meet the Institute's requirements for openness, balance, consensus and other due process safeguards. That is why American National Standards are usually referred to as "open" standards. In this sense, "open" refers to a process used by a recognized body for developing and approving a standard. The Institute's definition of openness has many elements, but basically refers to a collaborative, balanced and consensus-based approval process. The content of these standards may relate to products, processes, services, systems or personnel.

Although there have been Herculean efforts to paint the feedback process that followed the drafting of the Common Core as somehow the most important step of the process, the original development of the standards was described clearly as a “confidential process.”

As I pointed out, the San Francisco Chronicle went so far as to PRAISE the secrecy of the process and its insulation from the influence of the hoi polloi:

that secrecy in this project is "... a wise decision. A truly open process would result in the experts being lobbied by countless interest groups, and - given the still-controversial nature of national standards - it could torpedo the plan altogether."

The engineers who created the ANSI understand that process matters in the generation of standards that all must adhere to. If the process lacks transparency, and is not the product of an open process involving all parties in debate and deliberation over the content of the standards, then the standards will lack legitimacy. They will be rejected by those who must implement them in order for them to be successful. That is exactly what is happening now with the Common Core.

As the San Francisco Chronicle noted, the idea of national standards was still highly controversial in 2009. The powerful social engineers at the Gates Foundation apparently thought that, given their access to so many levers of social and political control - their think tanks, their advocacy organizations, their influence with the teacher unions and the Department of Education, they could overwhelm the inevitable opposition. That is, in any case, what they set out to do.

Instead of engaging with the constituencies affected by these standards, they sought to create a fait accompli and then dazzle everyone with an overwhelming sales job.

But there have been many failed attempts to institute standards, as the engineers at ANSI know from experience. If such standards are seen as a power grab by one sector or set of interests, they are rightly rejected. Even if the formal levers of democracy have been compromised - as they have been with the Common Core, there are ways that people resist from the ground up. That resistance is legitimate and honorable, and in the best traditions of democracy. The Common Core process lacked the elements required to make the standards legitimate. Attempts to defend the pseudo-standards that we have been given should be abandoned as futile.

What do you think? Does the process by which the standards were created matter? Are ANSI guidelines relevant in this regard?

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