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Louisiana 'Legislative Audit' of Common Core: Standards Drive Curriculum in Classrooms

Louisiana 'Legislative Audit' of Common Core: Standards Drive Curriculum in Classrooms

In an ironic twist, a report issued Monday by the nonpartisan Louisiana Legislative Auditor asserts that the Common Core standards are driving curriculum in the classroom, a statement that is in sharp contrast to the meme of supporters who have consistently argued that the Common Core is “just standards” and that curriculum can be decided at the local level.

The audit, prepared by Daryl G. Purpera, CPA, CFE, and written from a decidedly pro-Common Core perspective, cites “hindrances” of implementation of the standards in schools, such as “the lack of curricula, textbooks, instructional materials, and assessments aligned with the [Common Core] standards” as the reason why states have experienced “challenges” with Common Core. The report suggests that if all curricula, i.e., instructional material and teaching, and testing were aligned with the Common Core standards, the education reform would move more smoothly.

According to the audit:

Implementation of the standards has been an ongoing challenge as states, districts, and individual schools have worked to develop curricula and put together textbook lists, instructional materials, lesson plans, and professional development training to help them meet the standards. Education publishing companies have been working in that time as well to develop materials aligned with the standards, and the two major testing consortia – PARCC and Smarter Balanced – are on schedule to have their assessments ready by spring 2015.

Citing the path of the Common Core standards in New York State, Purpera adds:

New York has been working on developing its own assessment tests for grades 3-8, and is working on aligning its Regents exams with the high school standards. To help districts make the transition, the education department created Network Teams of educators and experts to provide professional development and curriculum planning. The state also developed the EngageNY website to provide online help and resources for educators and helped establish the Tri-State Rubrics, which give teachers a way to see if their instructional plans align with the standards.

Purpera is clearly demonstrating that Common Core champions who have repeatedly minimized the impact of the standards to avoid political confrontation (“They’re just standards.”) have been deceptive, so much so, in fact, that he suggests the only way the shift to the Common Core standards can really go smoothly is if all “hindrances” to implementing Common Core-aligned curricula are removed.

Though Purpera caves to Common Core opponents on the “standards drive curriculum” argument, every other piece of the audit is consistent with the talking points of Common Core supporters.

For starters, just about all of the sources cited in the End Notes section of the audit are pro-Common Core. Purpera, who, as the state auditor, supposedly serves as the “watchdog of public spending,” doesn’t seem to have checked opposing sources for his data gathering.

For example, regarding polling about Common Core, Purpera focuses attention on ignorance of the standards. He writes:

At the same time, national surveys have found that the majority of Americans still do not know much about Common Core. Two of the most recent polls–the 46th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools and the 2014 Education Next Survey–found that fewer than half of respondents were either aware of or knew much about Common Core. Both polls were conducted in May and June of 2014. In the PDK/Gallup Poll, 47% of respondents said they knew either a great deal or a fair amount about the Common Core standards as opposed to 53% who said they knew only a little or nothing at all. The Education Next Survey found similar results–43% of respondents said they had heard of Common Core, while 57% said they had not.

Other groups that have conducted surveys include such national organizations as Achieve, Inc., and the National Collaborative for Student Success, and state-level entities such as the University of Connecticut, Middle Tennessee State University, the Public Policy Institute of California, and the LSU Public Policy Research Lab.

The LSU Public Policy Research Lab surveyed state residents in the spring as part of its 2014 Louisiana Survey. The survey found that nearly one out of two Louisiana residents had not heard of Common Core. Of those who had, 48 percent said they were very or somewhat confident that using the standards would result in students being college or career ready. However, 35 percent said they were not at all or not very confident that the standards would help ensure students were ready.

In citing the most recent Education Next poll, Purpera ignores the main findings of the survey, which were that support for the Common Core standards has declined in general, and that teacher support for the standards has dropped dramatically since last year, with 76 percent of teachers having supported them in 2013, but only 46 percent favoring them currently.

Similarly, in the PDK/Gallup poll cited by Purpera, the main finding was that most Americans who are familiar with the Common Core standards oppose them.

“Given the increased media coverage this year, we were not surprised that an overwhelming majority of Americans have heard about the Common Core State Standards, but we were surprised by the level of opposition,” William Bushaw, co-director of the poll and CEO of PDK International, an association for educators, said, according to Education Week. “Supporters of the standards, and education in particular, face a growing challenge in explaining why they believe the standards are best in practice.”

Additionally, Purpera cites a survey by Achieve, Inc., the Gates Foundation-funded nonprofit that is one of the developers of the Common Core standards–not exactly an independent source of data.

“We appreciate the Legislative Auditor’s report as it confirms what parents, educators, legislators and the Governor have been saying all along – standards drive curriculum,” said Stafford Palmieri, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s assistant chief of staff and education policy adviser, in a statement. “In black and white, the Auditor states that states, districts and educators have had to revamp curriculum, lesson plans and learning materials to align with Common Core Standards.”

“It’s time for the proponents of Common Core to admit that Common Core equals curriculum. What are they hiding from? If Common Core supporters are proud of the standards, they should be proud that it drives curriculum,” Palmieri added. “Instead, education bureaucrats, elitists and the intelligentsia are trying to wordsmith and dupe parents and educators. It won’t work. Parents and educators are smarter than that.”

Ze’ev Wurman, a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution and a former senior policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Education, told Breitbart News in an email statement:

I will not attempt to critique this document in terms of its sloppiness and overall low quality, i.e., its uncritical acceptance of some of the Common Core claims; its ignorant confusion of Linear Algebra with Linear Functions, at the bottom of page 24; its use of the clueless example from FEE on page 8; or its incorrect claim that No Child Left Behind was another effort to “create common standards,” on top of page 5.

“Instead, I’d rather focus on the issue of standards and curriculum, the heart of some of the disputes due to the legal prohibition on the U.S. Department of Education (USED) to control curriculum,” Wurman said, adding:

The way I look at it, a curriculum has four major components:

  • What is to be taught (content, across grades)
  • How it is to be taught (pedagogy, methods)
  • The order of what should be taught (sequence, within grades)
  • Supporting materials (textbooks, labs, exercises)

“Separately, like any program, the curriculum may have an assessment component–the test,” Wurman said. “If the test is associated with consequences, the test becomes the stick.”

He continued:

When Congress insisted that the federal government is not authorized to “direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s curriculum, program of instruction,” nobody imagined that it is possible to separate the content from the other three components of the curriculum. But where there is a will there is a way, and the USED perverted the prohibition in 2009, when it pretended that the “content”–the what–can be separated from the “curriculum,” by calling it “standards,” and pretended that controlling them is somehow separate from controlling the curriculum.

“Yet it is clear to anyone with eyes in his head that this is a fake and artificial split,” Wurman concluded. “Controlling what is taught is controlling the essence of the curriculum, and pretending otherwise is disingenuous.”

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