Common Core Quality Debated

Last fall Rick Hess complained about his inability to find anyone to participate in an Education Next debate about the quality of Common Core standards who would argue in their favor.  As Rick put it:

Rather, I think the reluctance to contribute [to a debate in support of Common Core] is due to hubris, impatience to focus on implementation, political naivete, and disdain for what they see as mean-spirited carping….

There are long rows of argument and persuasion still to be hoed. And, if you’re eager to overhaul what gets taught in forty-odd states serving forty million or more students, that’s probably as it should be. If Common Core-ites don’t have the patience or stomach for that task, they should let us know now–and save everyone a whole lot of grief.

The notion that Common Core proponents needn’t make their case is an affront to democratic values.

Well, Ed Next managed to find someone to argue for and against the quality of Common Core standards, producing a really excellent and illuminating exchange.  W. Stephen Wilson took the pro side and Ze’ev Wurman was on the con side.  I would encourage you to read the entire debate yourself, but here is my takeaway:  They were mostly in agreement about the quality of Common Core.  Both seemed to agree that Common Core was better than the standards previously in place in most states but worse than in a non-trivial number of other states.  They also agreed that Common Core standards are significantly weaker than the ones in most high-achieving countries.

So if they agree that Common Core is sort of mediocre, why does Wilson support them while Wurman oppose them?  Wilson sees the improvement on the standards of 30 or more states to be substantial progress.  He sees this as a first step toward developing stronger national standards that would be comparable to those of our overseas competitors and better than all previously existing state standards.

Wurman sees Common Core as significantly lowering the bar relative to several previously existing state standards, including very large states like California.  More importantly, he sees Common Core as the end of progress in improving standards rather than the beginning.  Once put in place, he sees no incentive for anyone to toughen national standards since no state will be competing to offer a more rigorous education in order to attract residents and businesses.  He also sees national standards as more easily captured and dummied-down by teachers unions and other entrenched interests who would prefer to have their members (and students) jump over a lower bar.

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19 Responses to Common Core Quality Debated

  1. I read the piece and did I miss where Dr. Wilson came out in favor of Common Core?? I thought he was giving an honest analysis of Common Core, especially when compared to some of the states that had low standards to begin with.

    He is also highly critical of the new assessment based on Common Core: Smarter Balanced Assessment you can find at Fordham Gadfly. Although it’s not the final version, I think he sees the devil is in the details: the ASSESSMENT.

    Let’s not forget that Chester got “played” with the Delphi technique by the Obama/Duncan/Gates/Tucker team. He fell right into their kool-aide drinking trap called …LET’S DELPHI CHESTER.

    So with Dr. Wilson at Fordham, it’s pretty hard to come out swinging against Common Core until Chester owns up to his HUGE mistake.

    This is why you never abandon your core principles. Chester has to be thinking….WHAT HAVE I DONE?? :-)

  2. Greg Forster says:

    Even if CC were better than the standards in all 50 states it would still be a lousy idea. It establishes a ceiling beyond which we would never rise, and strongly strengthens incentives to lower the bar over time while weakening incentives to raise it.

  3. Thanks MomwithAbrain. I was quite disheartened to see Jay’s misreading of what I said, then laughed out loud when I saw you point it out. Steve

    • I’m not sure in what direction you think I’ve mis-read your argument. You did come out in support of Common Core, saying “Yet Common Core is vastly superior—not just a little bit better, but vastly superior—to the standards in more than 30 states.” You admit that Common Core is weaker than the standards in several states (“There is much to criticize about them, and there are several sets of standards, including those in California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, and Washington, that are clearly better.’) and weaker than those in high-achieving countries (“When you are so far behind, comparing the United States with better-performing countries through the incredibly narrow lens of standards doesn’t make a lot of sense. I think Common Core is in the same ball park, certainly not up there with the best of countries…”). But you think Common Core is an important step in the right direction and might facilitate further progress in the future.

      Which part am I mis-reading?

      • “He sees this as a first step toward developing stronger national standards that would be comparable to those of our overseas competitors and better than all previously existing state standards.” Never said that. Anyway, that’s politics, and I try to stay out of politics. I’m a content sort of guy. Also, although technically I’m the pro-Common Core person, the questions don’t actually ask me to be pro-Common Core. Thus I could answer all the questions without taking a political stance, unless being pro-math is political. Steve

      • Let me see if I have this right. You state that Common Core math standards are “vastly superior… to the standards in more than 30 states,” but weaker than those in several states and in high-achieving countries. And you acknowledge that “technically I’m the pro-Common Core person….”

        Yet you find it to be a laughable mis-reading to summarize your view on Common Core as “a first step toward developing stronger national standards…” Um… OK.

        Also, I’m sorry to tell you that it is not possible to be apolitical when you engage in a debate about the substance of education policies. You may be “pro-math” but then you also have to be pro or con policies that you believe contribute to math achievement. Besides, I’m not sure why you would want to be apolitical about something that you care deeply about.

      • That’s a bit of a twist. I didn’t say you had “a laughable mis-reading”, I said you misread and I laughed when I read MomwithAbrain’s comment pointing it out. (Sorry, that’s the mathematician in me coming out.) That trivial aside, I am agnostic on most policies. I know what the outcome has to be for success (i.e. content knowledge) but I’m not sure how to get there, and, don’t really care as long as people get there. I have never given an opinion about whether Common Core is a good POLICY or not, only on how good their standards are. Some might consider giving (or not giving) elementary school kids calculators a policy choice. To me, that’s a debate between pro-math and con-math, so, as a pro-math guy, I’m against calculators in elementary school. I know that everything is politics (my wife is a political scientist) (and all politics is local and all local politics is personal), but some “policy” issues really are about pro-math content. Calculators are one (we don’t want to catch up with Korea for sure. They don’t allow calculators K-12). Should we choose a textbook that doesn’t cover the material or is mathematically incorrect? Some consider that a “policy” decision. I don’t. It is a mathematical decision, and such books shouldn’t be used. Where so-called “policy” is a choice between real math and other stuff, then I guess I am a political animal. When it comes to Common Core, was it good for states with bad standards to accept better standards? Yes. Was it good for states with better standards to accept worse standards? No. I consider all that just pro-math. The policy, or, political, question is should all the states ban together and be ruled by the same standards and assessments? That one really is pure politics and is certainly independent of states choosing good or bad standards. I don’t see an obvious way to decide on the basis of what is good for math content. I don’t want to lose whatever credibility I have with my “expertise”, math content, by getting too involved in pedagogical or purely political issues. Steve

      • Fair enough. I should revise my summary to state that you think Common Core math standards are much better than those that previously existed in 30 states but still lagging those in other states and high achieving countries. And you have no opinion on whether universal adoption of Common Core would represent progress or not or is desirable or not. Does this sound accurate?

      • Jay, I think we have come to general agreement. It would be nitpickiy of me to say that I actually have opinions here and there, but since I get into enough trouble stating what I know about math content, I can’t imagine the trouble I’d get in if I gave my opinions about pedagogy or policy! I appreciate the writeup you did. Keep up the good work. Steve

  4. Matthew Ladner says:

    I think Stephen is right Jay- you attribute too much optimism to what he had to say. At one point he says that CC is not up to top world or the top state standards, but that even a state like California with world class math standards has many teachers that resist those standards.

    The only reason I think Zev’s conclusion isn’t too pessimistic is the continued mumbling about “not needing NAEP once we have common core.” The people who say that are either incredibly naive or completely evil, or maybe both.

    • OK, but then I guess we are back to the problem that Rick initially complained about. No one is willing to intellectually defend the policy of imposing Common Core on the country but we are moving ahead with doing it anyway.

      If I mis-read Wilson as too pro-Common Core, then it was more of a discussion among Common Core critics than a debate about the merits of the policy.

  5. Greg Forster says:

    This is just like when Jeb Bush and Joel Klein published a WSJ op-ed defending common standards that didn’t contain any argument for common standards. Basically, the powerful people behind this want to wave their hands around and call it an argument. Wilson sounds like he’s not in on the joke, but a joke is what it is.

  6. I can see the Common Core Standards are better in my own state, however I vehemently oppose them.

    I think Jay made a leap of logic and I caught that because even when I admit ours are better, in no way does that mean I’m willing to hand over control the the national level.

    I read Dr. Wilson’s review of the math assessment and I knew the devil would be in the details of the assessment. I’ve also looked past these standards to the guru behind them : Marc Tucker, and I understand his Progressive philosophy. That’s another area engrained in the centralization of education that I vehemently disagree with.

    It’s really quite simple to me, according to Hirsch, YEARS ago schools aligned their program of studies to college entrance expectations. Today we align to state and now national standards.

    It’s been a disaster in our state as we raced to the bottom.

    With Common Core, we will trade (and we already are trading) local control for standards that are better than what we had.

    Teachers are being forced to use “best practices” they know are NOT best practices, but some educator’s utopia.

    *I’m not happy that these are still not to the international level, let alone the best we had in this country.
    *I’m not happy to see states like CA and Mass. sell their students for Race to the Top money.
    *I’m not happy to see a transformation of our education to one that you would recognize in Germany.
    *I’m not happy that we are having to rehash old fads that have failed in other states in order to implement this reform movement (Outcome Based Ed, School to Work, Real World Learning)
    *I’m not happy that I see kids being told that they can learn this material in the real world with a philosophy that’s unproven to improve academic excellence.
    *I’m not happy to see kids having to meet “Outcomes” that have nothing to do with academic excellence and everything to do with changing their attitudes, beliefs and values.
    *I’m not happy that some students will be tracked to the workforce and others to college and most likely with little or no parental input or guidance.
    *I’m not happy to think about all of those kids who come from a disadvantaged home will most likely be put on that workforce track because elites tend to think they know what’s best for all children. (I suspect when this is implemented fully, we may hear from the NAACP on that)

    However I can admit our state standards, as they were written, were so bad, the Common Core standards, as they are written, are better.

  7. Sandra Stotsky says:

    Can you please give us an example or two of a bad state standard and its “better” counterpart in Common Core in ELA? I think we need to look at something that is considered better than bad and that is praised (as a whole) by the media and the administration as being “strong.” Sandra Stotsky

  8. Peter Meyer says:

    In defense of the non-policy wonks, I would argue that it’s perfectly sane to argue that the common core standards can be great but not take a position on whether they should be mandated. My reading of Jay and Gregg is that it wouldn’t matter if the standards were absolute perfection; they should not be mandated. I would further surmise that Jay, Gregg, et al, would mandate only at the school level; i.e. the Great School of Everyone’s Success uses Saxon math, take it or leave it. The national curriculum debate is an interesting one and I would prefer to see us have one the old fashioned way: choice. … Good discussion, folks.

  9. Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr. says:

    About those best practices that are NOT best practices, consider the recent report (below) on professional development for 7th grade math teachers. 114 hours of professional development did NOT improve teacher knowledge of math content or student performance.

    What did the study find?

    The study found no statistically significant difference in teacher knowledge of rational numbers or student achievement between treatment and control schools.

    http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/quickreviewsum.aspx?sid=181

    Initially the CC standards were to be principally about content knowledge … now this is morphing into pedagogy and instructional materials.

    We’ve already been down this road for a decade plus in WA state and it leads to lots of spending and few positive results. I assume that with FED control it can be made event more expensive and with even worse results.

    “To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data.” — W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993)

    The Obama/Duncan plans are data deficient — but long on in crowd thinking.

  10. George Mitchell says:

    From my Wisconsin perspective, the Common Core problem seems straightforward. Our education bureaucrats used their power under NCLB to set “proficiency” benchmarks that earned Wisconsin a Pangloss award from some national group….maybe even Fordham. When the local media finally caught up with that mess the bureaucrats said, “No problem, we will go to Common Core standards with all the other states.” This deflect/delay was recently reiterated about the time Fordham ranked Wisc with an “F” on science standards. From watching education “administrators” during the last 30 years as the stumble from one fad and reform to the next, the idea that Wisconsin’s educrats will help implement a meaningful assessment of Common Core standards is preposterous.

  11. Autif Kamal says:

    One problem with common core standards is that everyone is required to learn the same level of academic content. For example, it’s a problem for those who will not enter some specific science field to be required to take high level classes of science. However, that is not a problem for those students who will enter some specific field of science. So, requiring students to take classes that will not apply to their career is inefficient, but requiring students to take classes that will definitely apply to their career is efficient.

  12. The attempt to push Steve Wilson into the role of advocate for Common Core Standards is quite fascinating and perhaps illustrative of why so little progress is made. My view of his assessment of the state and CC standards is that it was credible and accurately reflected both their clarity and content: better than most states but not as good as a few. In doing this carefully and without a dog in the fight he has done us all a favor.

    The question of whether the common core is a good thing depends overall depends on balancing a lot of other considerations. As reflected in the discussion one may reject the standards based on opposition to a pro-active federal policy, to feelings about the present administration, or to concern about how they will be implemented by publishers, test designers, and school systems. Conversely one might regard them as a hopeful step in the right direction.

    But if Professor Wilson were to endorse one or the other of these positions, wouldn’t the value of his analysis decline? Then the assumption might be that he would favor that side in his analysis of the standards.

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