Reading & Reacting: Rotten to the Core

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Wheats

By Vicki  E. Alger @ US News Opinion

I saw this editorial before the Christmas and wanted to comment. I am no fan of the Common Core for a variety of reasons I have expressed on this blog and more. In this editorial Alger too opposes the Common Core but for all the wrong reasons. In fact, she laments the political agenda she claims is embedded in the CCSS, only to advocate an even more politically charged alternative.

Yet American education is moving in the opposite direction toward one-size-fits-all schooling thanks in no small part to the Common Core national standards. Savvy education consumers should reject this growing centralization and start demanding from education what they demand from every other industry sector: more innovation and personalization.

In what is essentially the thesis of her argument, Alger shows her colors right away with her use of “innovation and personalization,” two keywords from the edreform playbook attacking public education.

While she is correct that states had little choice in adopting the Common Core, if they wanted any share of federal money with its tangled web of attached strings. She is also correct that many states now have misgivings. However, that is about the end of her accuracy and attention to facts.

She begins citing testimony in the Texas debate about adopting the CCSS. Of course, Alger isn’t completely forthright with that fact, only following the links reveal this. Texas is one of the handful of states that did not adopt the Common Core and might be one of the grandest stages for educational politics in the country. Apparently this is the warrant for her next claim.

Unsurprisingly, the approved curriculum is advancing a partisan political agenda, showcasing pro-labor union and pro-universal health care materials, along with more graphic, adult-themed books under the auspices of promoting diversity and toleration. The problems don’t stop there.

Nothing like getting the terms right in the debate. Despite my opposition to the Common Core and its more insidious curricular intentions, it is not a curriculum. This is the first conflation that any informed reader should be able to identify in discrediting an argument on the issue. Still her “problems don’t stop there” either.

I have been reading the ELA document for a few years now and I am hard pressed to find the “pro-labor union and pro-universal health care materials,” although I would like it if there were. As for “more graphic, adult-themed books” I am not sure that any titles suggested even get close to some of the more contestable choices that schools have already been using.  What’s more, I am wondering what Alger’s problem would be with “promoting diversity and toleration”? She makes it sound almost morally reprehensible.

Other links included in her criticism are from the oh-so-unbiased sources of education information, the EducationNext and Pioneer Institute. No partisanship there, despite any declarations to the contrary.

Then she switches to the whole data collection issue, which has been hotly discussed but little understood.In fact, there is very little actual information about this that has really made its way into the mainstream media. Moreover, it is aspect that already seems doomed to greater failure than the health care system rollout. So, this pretty firmly yet to be determined issue.

Nevertheless, all Alger’s proposes as potential alternatives involves a laundry list from the edreformy agenda: parental choice, private schools, vouchers, and school competition. It is as if she was working from a talking points checklist.

Interestingly, she supplies no links or sources for any of the alleged evidence that she offers as support for these grand schemes. Yet, that doesn’t stop her from dropping gems like this, “Scientific research consistently shows that participating students [in parent choice programs] have higher graduation and college attendance rates, as well as higher reading and math scores, than their peers.” Never mind citing any of that “scientific research” or from where it comes.

Ultimately, Alger falsely believes that somehow parental choice leads to innovation and personalization but fails to support how any of it is actually connected. In her view it all seems that simple. Yet, for all her charges of a political agenda in the Common Core, she writes with a pretense as if she is void of one. She isn’t and far from it.

Image: iPad

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2 thoughts on “Reading & Reacting: Rotten to the Core

  1. Laura Gibbs

    The one TRULY good thing about CCSS is that the standards are there online in full detail for people to read. I’ve plowed my way through the narrative writing standards and the literacy standards and done detailed analyses of them (since those are the ones most relevant to my own perspective and which I think I can judge) … but I’m staggered by the number of people who opine about the standards who seem to know nothing about them at all. Admittedly, getting to the bottom of the politics, the funding, the testing, etc. is complicated – but at least for a start people could read the darn standards so that at least THAT much of the conversation could be on solid ground. But I have found precious few discussions of actual standards – more so for math than for ELA, but that’s not surprising since the ELA really seems to be an un-theorized hodgepodge (that’s the case for the narrative writing and literacy standards anyway), while at least on the math side there is some kind of pedagogical thought that went into the thing (and so, as a result, the math one really is more like a curriculum than the ELA). I don’t know enough about the actual teaching of math, though, to judge what I think about the approach they have taken… for narrative writing and literacy, though, I just shudder. And that’s BEFORE even seeing the actual tests…

    1. Fred Haas - @akh003 Post author

      I think there are definitely problem with the ELA standards, but they are not drastically different at the high school levels from what we had in MA. There are differences and some argue that they are not as good. I would submit that CCSS is narrower than the previous MA frameworks, which I think will contribute to more problems down the line. Still, I think the differences are more concerning at the younger levels. What I fear most is that they are going to lead a lot of administrators and teachers into a kind of “old-time religion” revival, like throwing really difficult texts at classes whether they can handle them or not in the name of the required “text complexity.” Some of that kind of stuff is going to be potentially harmful to kids and probably contribute to even more kids that hate reading.

      Also, every math teacher I have talked to in a serious fashion where I work thinks much of the Common Core is madness.

      As for the tests, the information that has been released from PARCC at least is looking very much like the Advanced Placement Composition synthesis question, with a prompt and a text set that is used for evidence to draft an answer. However, that is only one of the three designated strands of writing. Even the fact that CCSS has essentially reduced all modes and genres of writing to three is perhaps the height of folly, despite the mention that there are many sub-genres. In many places the three is the only instruction students will ever receive.


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