Common Core Chickens

Last week I put up a post praising a debate in Education Next over the quality and desirability of Common Core math standards.  I was pleased that after many months of trying the editors at Ed Next had finally found a supporter of Common Core to defend the math standards in a forum with established critic Ze-ev Wurman.

It turns out I was mistaken.  Stephen Wilson, who appeared to be taking the pro side of the debate, clarified in the comment section of last week’s post that he is not a Common Core supporter and has no general opinion about the desirability of imposing Common Core standards nationwide.

Wilson did praise the fact that “Common Core is vastly superior—not just a little bit better, but vastly superior—to the standards in more than 30 states.”  But he also acknowledged “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.”  He also acknowledged that Common Core math standards are “certainly not up there with the best of countries…”

I thought Wilson was trying to argue that being better than 30 states represented a good first step and that Common Core would be improved over time.  That was me inferring something that he did not actually say and that he explicitly objected to having attributed to him.

Rather than being the Common Core supporter, it appears more like Wilson was damning the Common Core movement with faint praise.  In the forum Wilson emphasized that even if Common Core were comparable to the best state and international standards, it may have little effect on math instruction or achievement:

So, let’s just pretend for a moment that Common Core is just as good as the very best. Who, in education circles, will agree with that enough to put it all in practice? The standard algorithm deniers will teach multiple ways to multiply numbers and mention the standard algorithm one day in passing. Korea will say “no calculators” in K–12, a little extreme perhaps, but some in the U.S. will say “appropriate tools” means calculators in 4th grade. We, in this country, are still not on the same page about what content is most important, even if everyone says they’ll take Common Core. Without a unified, concerted effort to teach real mathematics, there isn’t much chance of catching up.

In other countries, if you say “learn to multiply whole numbers,” no one questions how this should be done; students should learn and understand the standard algorithm. In the U.S., even if you say “learn to multiply whole numbers with the standard algorithm,” some people will declare wiggle room and try to avoid the standard algorithm.

This echoes Tom Loveless’ conclusion from the annual Brookings report released last week:

The Common Core will have little to no effect on student achievement. The quality or rigor of state standards has been unrelated to state NAEP scores, Loveless finds. Moreover, most of the variation in NAEP scores lies within states, not between them.  Whatever impact standards alone can have on reducing within-state differences should have already been felt by the standards that all states have had since 2003.

So, let’s review where things stand.  Despite a withering public scolding from Rick Hess, Common Core still can’t produce anyone to strongly defend national adoption of those standards based on their quality.  Common Core supporters are either too chicken to engage in the debate over the quality of the standards or too arrogant to think they have to defend the standards intellectually before they cram them down all of our throats.

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17 Responses to Common Core Chickens

  1. Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr. says:

    Defenders of Common Core …… OH MY you are looking for defenders in an actual debate style encounter. Good Luck with that. Even Marc Tucker has stated that real improvement would be far more likely to occur on the state level than with a national action.

    I was going to suggest Arne Duncan or any head of a state education department in 45 states to defend CCSS but I see that pushing propaganda is not what you desire.

    You can likely rule out WA State SPI, Randy Dorn and his Deputy Super Allen Burke …. they just snow state legislators with the usual BS.

    Isn’t the need for some elusive Fed Ed dollars good enough for an intellectual reason?

    Jay wrote:
    too arrogant to think they have to defend the standards intellectually before they cram them down all of our throats.

    It is not a question of arrogance…. this is how the system operates.

    The State Standards movement was developed in secret masquerading as a our National Governors desire… Then piece by piece the Powerful Oligarchy pushes whatever it wants done upon us (and existing laws do not matter). …. Here comes pedagogical training and expensive assessment to match.

  2. [...] Common Core Chickens February 20. 2012   Jay P. Greene’s Blog Share this: This entry was posted in Common Core State Standards. Bookmark the permalink. ← Personalized education for the world. [...]

  3. Thank you for the clarification.

    It would be nice if Chester Finn took the much needed step and admitted he was wrong to endorse the Common Core reform movement.
    He’s lost so much credibility by abandoning his principles.

  4. Inquiring minds want to know: Who did you ask?

  5. Doug Lasken says:

    Why would a proponent of Common Core want to engage in debate? That would only make CCSSI look like a contender, throwing out the benefit of the sales pitch so far in which national standards are presented as a done deal. The best hope for the opposition now is that the money will do the talking. After all, is there a single state that can afford CCSSI? Our role should be to put the politicians feet to the fire while the money talks, whether it’s at the state level, as with Jerry Brown in CA who has made an art of ignoring the CCSSI projected state cost of $1.7- $2 billion (a bit much when we can barely fund school buses), or Mitt Romney, who needs to understand that the $30 billion national cost of CCSSI is exactly the type of substantive issue he needs to save his foundering campaign.

    • As you suggest, the standards are just a bunch of empty words unless they can get states to adopt the new assessments based on national standards and purchase all of the related professional development, textbooks, etc… If Common Core supporters want states to do all of that, they had better be willing to argue that it is all for a worthy set of standards. Adopting the standards was the easiest and most cost-free part of this whole effort.

      • Greg Forster says:

        Jay, you’re so naive. Don’t you understand that when powerful people declare something to be, it becomes true?

  6. Autif Kamal says:

    “We, in this country, are still not on the same page about what content is most important, even if everyone says they’ll take Common Core.”

    “In the U.S., even if you say “learn to multiply whole numbers with the standard algorithm,” some people will declare wiggle room and try to avoid the standard algorithm.”

    So, would you say that U.S. simply lacks much clarity of which educational standards should be taught to all and how?

  7. [...] looks at the battle in Alabama to allow charter schools, and comments on the debate over the value of Common Core reading and math [...]

  8. [...] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } jaypgreene.com – Today, 6:22 [...]

  9. [...] seems no one will defend the Common Core Math Standards, as Jay Greene noted in his article Common Core Chickens.  At least no one who understands [...]

  10. [...] The only expert Education Next could find to defend the Common Core math standards in an online debate turned out not to be much of a Common Core supporter after all [...]

  11. [...] Common Core Chickens (jaypgreene.com) Related posts: [...]

  12. Frank Quinn says:

    To find out why mathematicians won’t defend CCSS-M, see this:
    http://www.math.vt.edu/people/quinn/education/techkiller.pdf

    • pdexiii says:

      Mr. Quinn, your article was stunning, informative, and in my students’ vernacular “low-key” hilarious.
      “Use a pencil to draw a graph…picking up a snake..”: that had me almost pulling a muscle in laughter.
      It was reassuring to hear you discourage ” tricks” for teaching math, and saying “understanding comes from use” made me want to jump up and holler “AMEN!!!”
      All, and I mean ALL of my 8th graders who struggle can’t multiply past their 6′s fluently. A student tried to use a calculator (forbidden in my class) to reduce 24/40, and I almost transformed into the Incredibule Hulk.
      I see CCSS as only a shift in when content’s taught; I will not let it change my “old-school” focus on algorithms and practice. It seems, though, those same “math reformers” have assimilated CCSS, thus may perpetuate the same issues you illuminated.

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    Think of this as a way to document your improvements over time, and eventually it will be a very effective PR tool.

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