Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Willful ignorance and fear about public education PART 1: The Common Core

I had first planned this post because of a comment on the Utah Moms Care blog last week. This blog has regularly posted rational, succinct (much, much more succinct than I ever manage) information about education issues along with its other material. The post on Jan. 13 dealt with misperceptions of the new “Common Core” math and English curriculum being adopted by Utah and 30 or 40 other states. I can actually understand the mistaken impression that this is some federally mandated curriculum—it’s not—and Karen of Utah Moms Care simply explains what the core is and isn’t, notably providing links to support her explanations. She supports the core in relatively mild language.

Now, I think there are very understandable reasons to be more hesitant about the common core than Karen. It’s claimed they are more rigorous in English than Utah’s current standards and about the same as math. (This rating was by the Fordham Institute, a politically conservative, education policy advocacy group that supports school testing, vouchers, etc. So I take their ratings more skeptically than most, but it can’t be claimed the rating was biased by “liberal teachers unions” or something like that.) I have read large parts of the middle grade core for both and think the claims are overblown.

There are some excellent lesson plans and supporting material for the English side, and it raises the bar on how high of a “lexile score” (one way of measuring reading comprehension) is expected in each grade, but the actual changes in what is taught are not drastic. I think it will be a positive, but not extremely noticeable change. It remains to be seen if the higher lexile expectations are a good stretch or an unrealistic overreach.

The math core drives me crazy. It supposedly isn’t any more rigorous than the current core, but it requires huge changes for students and work for teachers for no real benefit. Some concepts will be required to be taught a grade earlier in elementary school. I think this is minor, but the benefits are highly debatable. The big thing to me is that it changes later math courses from algebra, algebra II, geometry, etc. to Math 8, Math 9, Math 10, etc. with elements from all of those courses integrated in a new order. I personally disagree with the comments of the school board member in this article describing the changes. I think breaking down the content of the traditional math courses into smaller pieces and mixing them will more confusing for students both as they learn from week to week, and in terms of defining what they have learned. “I learned Math 8 which is a mix of some algebra and geometry” is not a clear achievement. I know many students have very different experiences with algebra and geometry, often understanding one group of concepts better than the other. I did. They will receive less immediate repetition in the skills, and remediation will be doubly as hard as new teachers or schools try to figure out the specifics of what a student doesn’t understand. I would rather my kids take the traditional classes. I think there will be some justifiable major pushback from teachers, parents, and students as the planning continues for this.

So well and good. I have some concerns about the new curriculum based on their academic impact. But the negative commenter on the Utah Moms Care blog was bizarrely unconcerned with any of the issues I raised.

Anonymous said...
With all due respect, I believe you are off base with your understanding of common core standards. States will not be able to opt out of these standards. Standards must be adhered to 100%--no addition to curriculum or deletion. Students are taught to a standard vs standards being taught to students.

You, as a state, will have NO voice to any curriculum you find objectionable. The 10th Amendment gives the authority to EACH state to set educational policy for THAT state. Utah is giving up that right to educate her children.

How can you sign on to standards WHEN THEY HAVEN'T EVEN BEEN DEVELOPED? You don't even know what you have signed onto! Would you pay for a kitchen remodeling before you had the plans? Of course not! You would be throwing your money into a black hole! You would be irresponsible for giving money and control to a contractor with no plan; so are legislatures that are making these educational decisions without due diligence.

Why are you supporting signing onto to standards that are unknown and the people or organizations (who knows?) are determining what your children are learning! Again, with all due respect, this is foolish.

You may not want to use this comment. So be it. You must learn more about common core standards. They are deadly to students. They will not help educational progress.
January 13, 2011 6:35 PM

I almost imitated the commenter by starting “”With all due respect,” but I cannot honestly say I respect the reasoning of this comment.

1. The two initial paragraphs about the state being unable to opt out or modify the curriculum are purposefully ignorant. And yes, I know I said earlier I can understand thinking this a “federal curriculum.” I meant that I can understand that mistake on first hearing the name “Common Core” and hearing that other states have adopted these standards. But the post provided links explaining that the core is voluntary, the commenter knows that no organization, even the federal government, has any authority to impose a mandatory curriculum on the state of Utah, and the crazy, inflammatory language is dead wrong about an easily verifiable claim. It reeks of mindlessly passing along a fearful email warning from the Eagle Forum, which is ironic since the commenter chides the blog and state for not researching on their own .

2A. The second false claim is even more blatantly incorrect and the commenter contradicts him/herself. The person uses capital letter shouting to claim the standards are “unknown” and haven’t even been developed yet. But the commenter concludes that the original blogger should learn more because the standards “are deadly to students” and “will not help educational progress.” How can you make that claim about supposedly non-existent standards??

2B. The original post included a link to the completely developed Common Core standards in the last paragraph. A bright red link in a 3-sentence paragraph at the end of a 500 word article. “You must learn more about common core standards” indeed.

3. In my opinion, this provincial, conspiracy theory, “public education is evil” mindset is harmful to the state and nation and is used for misleading political gain by many conservative politicians.

At the time, I attributed the comment some general anti-public ed. and common core sentiments expressed at the Eagle Forum convention last week. The Tribune gave us a stub saying some people were against the Common Core and public schools' “anti-family” agenda and quoted Senator Chris Buttars “We’re in big trouble in our public education system.” (I don't mean that as a cheap shot against the Trib. It's not like the Eagle Forum convention is major news. And notice that all of the above links about the Common Core are to the Trib. The Trib has always covered education more extensively, but The Deseret News doesn't even try since they fired half of their staff last year.) From the text and pictures in the article, Buttars was apparently getting much of his information from Susan Schnell and Oak Norton of “BYU and the Alpine District are secret socialists” fame, which was again ironic because of his quote a couple days earlier regarding the Common Core: “We’re dropping Utah’s moral and ethical standards in favor of a more national [set], and I don’t like it,” said Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan. He also said he was concerned that the new standards contain “code words for socialism.”

We’re apparently dropping our “moral and ethical” Utah standards tainted by BYU’s secret socialism to adopt national standards with “code words for socialism.”

I was originally going to make a joke about “critical thinking” and “research” apparently being these code words, but that is apparently too close to the truth. On to part 2.


A.S. Ahmed said...

What would be the philosophy of education in Utah?

L. Stewart said...

I recently had an alarming discussion with a junior high school math teacher in the Nebo School District who told me they are rushing to implement the common core math program there without a clear curriculum. He said he is being told he will be teaching the common core for the next three year WITHOUT textbooks. Basically, the teachers are on their own to come up with the curriculum under broad subject categories. Is anyone else hearing anything about the implementation of this program?