Responses from the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd)
Criticisms from Pioneer Report:
- 1. The Common Core Standards Are of Mediocre Quality and Rest on Questionable Philosophies
Last month, Jim Stergios, executive director of Pioneer Institute, said that “[Pioneer Institute’s] view is that Common Core has a real place in Mississippi or maybe a mid-performing state but certainly not Massachusetts.” This is a conversation worth having. Maybe not all states need to join Common Core, but this is a far cry from the anti-CCSS hyperbole the institute puts out on a daily basis.
Despite all of their “constitutional,” “parental rights,” “high cost,” and other arguments, it is clear from this statement that Pioneer sees merit in at least some low-performing states adopting the standards. This begs the question, then – why is Pioneer going on road shows with Sandra Stotsky, William Evers, the American Principles Project, and others to fight Common Core across the nation? Why are they praising Alabama for dropping from the consortiums? Alabama is certainly at Mississippi-level for states Common Core has a “real place” in. Pioneer Institute has also been very active in the efforts to repeal Common Core in Utah, a state that is mid-performing by most measures.
Their opposition does a great disservice to students in Mississippi and “mid-performing states” who will benefit from these higher standards.
Benchmarked against the skills today’s students need to be prepared for college and 21st century careers, Common Core development involved governors and education commissioners from 48 states and were designed by a diverse group of teachers, experts, parents, and school administrators.
- 2. The Common Core Standards/Race to the Top Effort Violates Three Federal Statutes and Eliminates State
In a 2010 post, Stergios says that Massachusetts winning Race to the Top (RttT) is “good for Massachusetts. Very good.” Not only does he think RttT is “very good,” he wonders why its announcement was made in August, which is “not a great news cycle,” and says that mid-September would have been “perfect with the kids back at school and lots of parents thinking about education.” This does not sound like someone who thinks RttT violates three federal statutes and eliminates state autonomy.
He says that Massachusetts residents should take this “very good” announcement with a grain of salt because of all of the spending the state has foolishly spent since reforms started in 1993. Additionally, he says that the money will “help in a crises” but that it doesn’t do enough because “so much of it is going to go to professional development, textbooks, and adjusting all the districts to the new national standards” that will “cost tens of millions of dollars.” So, despite all the talk about unfunded mandates, it seems like Stergios knew the day that they received RttT funds that a small portion of the $250 million funds would be going toward these standards.
Pioneer says that Common Core “lays down broad prohibitions on Department [of Education] involvement in curricula decisions.” We agree. The first red herring to address here is the fact that the USDOE had no involvement in the creation of the standards. Beyond that, neither USDOE, the assessment consortiums or the standards themselves are involved with curriculum – they revolve around standards. To get around these red herrings they throw out another one: “a change to common K-12 standards will inevitably result in change in curriculum, programs of instruction, and instructional materials to align with the standards.” Despite the fact that these standards are voluntary, let’s indulge this line of reasoning. If it were true, then I.D.E.A, E.S.E.A., and basically every federal education program created in the past 50 years violates the constitution.
RttT led to many states implementing teacher evaluations and lifting charter school caps. Does the Pioneer Institute oppose those reforms as well, as they say they do Common Core, because they are part of this program?
- 3. The Common Core Standards Scheme Requires a Governance System that Will Further Impair State and Parental Right
Common Core is not a national mandate – states voluntarily choose whether or not to adopt the standards and (unlike Medicaid) retain full authority for implementation, preventing the possibility of a federal takeover.
- 4. States and Their Taxpayers Will Incur Substantial Costs to Implement the Common Core.
Most states are already transitioning to online assessments. Florida’s State Board of Education adopted a timeline for the state to transition to online assessments separately from Common Core State Standards. There is a natural textbook adoption process that states undertake on a regular basis and most states have, or should have, a process by which they regularly update their standards. For example, Florida updated its standards in 2008 when it adopted the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. It is likely that the cost of administering assessments increase with Common Core State Standards at least in some states. However, the question and focus should be is it good public policy? Is it good for students? State’s annually or biennially have to prioritize funding. This is no different.
- 5. The Common Core Standards System Intrudes on Student and Family Privacy.
Pioneer says that tracking student learning data “from birth through their participation in the workforce” will lead to “a dystopia of authoritarian control.” They say that a component of CCSS is “its collection and dissemination of personal student data.” They then use some out-of-context quotes from people in hopes that you will buy into their dystopian premise. I imagine Massachusetts standards rely heavily on student data to help drive resources.
Criticism from Paul Horton to address:
- 1. Our first reservation has to do with whether all students are beginning on the same starting line. State funding for education has been incrementally reduced and we have no reason to believe that more resources will be placed in those schools that currently receive substandard funding. Will Illinois’ “Spotlight Schools” be given more resources to insure that they can meet minimal standards before assessments are introduced? If not, will one-size-fit-all standards simply reconfirm what James Coleman found over forty years ago: that test scores will correlate most closely to economic class and abundant resources?
More funding is not the answer to this issue. What’s important is how the current funding is used. Florida is routinely criticized for underfunding legislation; in fact, Florida expends $2,700 less per pupil than Illinois does. But when you consider that, using NAEP data, Florida’s low-income students at grade level or higher outperform Illinois’ low-income students at grade level or higher by 8 points in 4th grade reading, 6 points in 4th grade math, 6 points in 4th grade science, and 8 points in 8th grade math, then it’s hard to argue that money is the answer.
But if you need further proof, then note that the percent of Florida Hispanic 4th graders reading on grade level or higher in 2011 is 12 points higher than the same students in Illinois. And the percent of Florida Hispanic 4th graders at grade level or higher in math is 11 points higher than the same students in Illinois. The percent of Florida’s Hispanic 4th and 8th graders scoring grade level or higher in Science is 13 points higher than the same students in Illinois, and 9 points higher when you compare urban populations.
- 2. A second concern has to do with assessment. Assessment prototypes are still being formulated, but many private companies are rushing products into the educational market place in advance of the scheduled 2014 date for completion. (See the video overview of development of assessments: http://media.all4ed.org/webinar-oct-2-2012). In Kentucky, a state that has rushed into standardized assessments, scores have dropped precipitously. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, “Achievement gaps among low-income, minority, limited English and disabled students…continued to persist.” (November 2, 2012). If assessments are formative and summative, that is, if they are based on portfolios that clearly demonstrate in-class writing, reading, and speaking progress, and make use of common grade-level rubrics that teachers are trained to use, we might be able to make significant progress. This requires time and careful training to roll out, perhaps three to four years, if done carefully. We firmly believe that standardized tests, which may be a much cheaper way to assess Illinois students, will not accurately reflect student progress because some schools will struggle with literacy, while better funded schools will use the Common Core Standards to push toward the upper limits of the normal curve.
What is described here is good practice that all good teachers already do, but you have to assess all students at the end of the year to determine, “how it’s working for you?” The bottom line: how do you know if schools are struggling in literacy or math if you don’t assess them? Time and time again we see success stories with schools, and in some instances, districts as a whole, beating the odds and closing the achievement gap amongst low-income, minority, limited English students and those with disabilities. In ALL of these cases, the one factor that emanates amongst them all is they believe ALL kids can learn. Another factor is that they have high expectations for all students and will do whatever it takes to ensure every student reaches their God-given potential – they’ve got grit, and they expect kids to have it too. Kentucky’s scores didn’t drop because they administered standardized assessments. Kentucky’s scores dropped because they administered more rigorous assessments than what they had used in the past.
- 3. A third concern involves, not surprisingly, costs. Can the State of Illinois afford “authentic assessment” that requires human beings to score essays using rubrics? Many of us have us have graded AP exams that are very expensive to grade…