Friday, September 26, 2014

Truth, Justice, and American Education: How the Common Core Debate Is As Senseless As a Superhero Slugfest

How does this picture reflect the arguments over the Common Core State Standards?

Think about what the heroes in this picture stand for - truth, justice, and the American way.  However, it's that last idea - the American way - that caused the heroes in this picture to battle each other.  

The Justice League have a more idealistic view of the American way and hold not only the public but also themselves to such high standards.  The Avengers have a more practical view and realize that sometimes hard choices must be made and lines must be crossed in the name of truth and justice.  Though their meaning and methods differ, their intent and purpose are the same - protect the innocent and preserve the common good.

Doesn't that sound like the Common Core debate?  Both the supporters and detractors believe education needs to be "saved".  However, where they disagree is how education should be "saved" - or improved.

However, could it be possible that both sides are misinformed in their approach to supporting and detracting the standards?

The CCSS supporters claim that the standards address the cognitive rigor that will have our students demonstrating higher levels of thinking and communicating deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness of what they are learning to prepare them for the demands, expectations, and responsibilities they will encounter after graduating from high school.  However, there is no scientifically-based research that proves these standards are effective in raising the rigor of student achievement, teacher effectiveness, and overall school performance.  To state that the curriculum offered by a school or through a publish company is misleading since there are no materials or strategies that have been proven to be effective - only hypotheses and theories.

The CCSS detractors claim that the adoption and implementation of the standards is an attempt for the federal government to have more of say in regards to decision-making with education right down to the school level.  However, the CCSS is not a federal mandate.  It was a state-led initiative that was supported by the current Presidential administration who offered states an administrative incentive to adopt these standards by offering to absolve them to the stringent requirements of No Child Left Behind and a fiscal incentive through the Race to the Top grant that would fund the implementation and professional development of these new standards and the instructional strategies to address them.  To state that President Obama and his administration are responsible for the development and implementation of these standards is misleading since the idea and proposal for the national standards can be traced back to President Bush Sr.'s administration in the late '80s and early '90s (and, interestingly, abandoned by President Bill Clinton - a democrat who advocated for the development of academic standards that were developed by the individual states).

However, both sides do have a valid point.  The CCSS supporters are correct in that the academic standards for student performance and progress should be strengthened and made more rigorous and relevant.  The CCSS detractors are correct in that these standards developed and implemented were thrust upon not only educators but the public as a whole without any opportunity for discussion or review.

So what is the truth about the Common Core State Standards?  

They will not make our students any smarter nor any more intelligent.  However, they hopefully will help our students think deeper about what they are learning and demonstrate and communicate the deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness they develop using oral, written, creative, and technical expression to answer questions or come up with new ideas, knowledge, perspectives, and ways of thinking.

The curriculum materials offered by the education companies do not address the cognitive rigor of the Common Core State Standards.  They may be aligned to them in that they identify the standards that to be taught and learned with the materials they provide, but there is no scientifically-based research to prove one curriculum package is any better than another.  It's all speculation and theory at this point until our students' performance and proficiency are measured by the PARCC or Smarter Balanced exams.

Where's the justice behind the Common Core State Standards?

The implementation of the CCSS is also not a violation of the 10th Amendment, which delegates all powers and responsibilities not designated to the federal government to the states.  The states did not have to adopt or implement the CCSS.  Four states - Texas, Virginia, Alaska, and Nebraska - chose to establish their own college and career ready standards and assessments.  Indiana has backed out of implementing the CCSS but still maintained their NCLB waiver because their new plan met the requirements of the Race to the Top grant.  Other states such as Oklahoma are either repealing or exploring the possibility of abandoning the CCSS under the consequence of having their federally funding pulled unless they can develop a system of instruction, assessment, and evaluation that meets the criteria of the Race to the Top grant.  The states were not forced or even coerced to adopt the standards.  They were given incentives, but they could have chosen not to take the reprieve or the money.


What's the evil and injustice behind the Common Core State Standards?

The misconception of what the CCSS are and what their intent and purpose are has been so grossly distorted due to this debate.  It's become a Brave New World situation.  There is so much information and misinformation out there that it's difficult to discern what's fact or fiction.

The "bad guys" are those who have fueled this confusion about the CCSS and used them to advocate their personal or political agenda.  The concept and idea of rigorous standards is irrefutable.  Our students need to be challenged and engaged to know, understand, think about, and be aware of what they are learning and how these concepts and content can be used to address, handle, settle, or solve real world circumstances, issues, problems, and situations.  However, what's the best manner or method to do this should be an educational concern and issue, not a political problem or situation.

Who are the "heroes" in this battle over the Common Core State Standards?

That's the teachers - the Supermen and Wonder Women who will use their professional judgment and training to present the concepts and content addressed in these standards in new and novel ways and challenge and engage our students to think deeply beyond the data, details, elements, facts, and information as they are presented.  They are the ones who will take whatever standards are implemented and provide our students with deeper teaching and learning experiences they deserve.  They are the ones who should not depend on the curriculum packages offered by the publishing companies that provide "false promises" about alignment to the CCSS or the politicians who have made this more about their feelings about the current Presidential administration to provide them the support they need to teach.  They are the ones who will create the lessons, the units, and the scope and sequence of the courses that will provide our children with engaging and enriching education experiences.

Let the CCSS supporters and debaters continue to fight each other proclaiming they have the best interest of the community in their mind.  We teachers will be the X-Men and the Teen Titans, fighting the good fight to ensure the American way of equality and opportunity are preserved through our actions. 

- E.M.F.



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