Many governors are drawing from a large bag of tricks to confuse and deceive parents worried about the Common Core standards, their implementation, and the tests based on them.
Most parents’ major, if not only, concern is the academic quality of their children’s education. If their children lose a grade or two – or more – of their school years, these grades and years can never be made up. They are gone forever.
But parents in this country are now pitted against politicians with deep political ambitions, bureaucratic elites without children in the public schools, and school faculty pushing ideological education.
Additionally, parents must contend with Bill Gates, a very wealthy man who apparently seeks to influence public education contrary to the way he wants his own children educated. So-called policy experts who have never created a policy or program that actually strengthened the public school curriculum are also in the mix.
Republican governors playing games on the parents in their states, such as those from Indiana, New Jersey, Tennessee, Florida, Pennsylvania, and maybe Maine and Oklahoma, have issued executive orders or signed bills that express disfavor for state standards and tests based on the Common Core, and they have often set up standards review or revision committees. But they have also ensured they get back a slightly amended cut-and-paste job so they can use Common Core-based tests and buy good will from organizations that want Gates Foundation money to continue flowing into their coffers.
The obvious cut-and-paste job became less popular after the “revision” committees set in motion by Indiana’s Governor Pence in early 2014 botched their assignment and altered too slightly what is on Common Core’s website. They ended up with such poorly paraphrased standards that even the pro-Common Core Fordham Institute reviewer found them unsatisfactory. That didn’t stop Pence from approving them for Indiana students on the grounds that they were, as he promised, “written by Hoosiers for Hoosiers.” He can be credited with kicking off a set of variations on the “pretend to revise Common Core” strategy.
New Jersey’s Governor Christie has tried another variation. To ensure that the New Jersey Senate did not get to hear an anti-Common Core bill passed by the New Jersey House in late spring 2014, Christie issued an executive order in July to establish a review committee and set a December 2014 deadline for the first phase. But, as of this date, no study commission has been selected, even though candidates submitted applications in July. This is the “pretend to want a review” strategy.
Oklahoma’s Governor Fallin signed a bill during the summer designed to eradicate Common Core. But control of the revision project lies in the state board of education she appointed. That board has recently established a “Steering Committee” to oversee the project. So far, it includes no one who actually teaches (and therefore understands) the authentic content of college-level mathematics, science, or English coursework. Call this strategy, which remains to be played out, “pretend anyone is a content expert.”
Pennsylvania’s Governor Corbett has allowed his department of education to post an online “methodology” for revising the state’s version of the Common Core standards that, as happened in Florida, ensures little change can emerge. A “standard-by-standard” online evaluation allows thousands of people to participate in a fraudulent exercise. The few who understand the necessary organization and contents of a truly academic and rigorous set of K-12 mathematics and English standards are far outweighed by those who say the standards are fine as they are.
In Florida, dozens of calculus standards were added by the state department of education staff in order to claim that the state’s very own “Sunshine” standards are not really Common Core’s. But the calculus standards are useless because calculus will not be assessed by Common Core or Florida, and high school students can’t get to calculus from the weak Common Core-based Algebra II course ending its mathematics sequence, as Trevor Packer of the College Board explained this past year. Call this strategy “pretend the input of unknown thousands leads to rigorous standards.”
Missouri’s Governor Nixon, a Democrat, pulled a different trick from his bag, which I accidentally discovered on October 22 when I visited the Work Group revising grades 6-12 ELA standards. After signing a bill to “develop and recommend” new standards that, unlike privately copyrighted Common Core, are in the public domain, he allowed his department of education staff to set up revision committees in four major subjects. These committees are comprised mainly of those chosen to give back to his appointed board of education for approval a mangled form of Common Core’s standards in ELA and mathematics, and the Next Generation Science Standards in science.
Since I was only given three minutes to speak when I visited the Missouri Work Group, I didn’t have enough time to explain why the boiled-down set of Common Core’s ELA standards the group leader wanted everyone to adopt was a set of elementary school strategies or skills, not standards, and certainly not secondary standards. The publicly available “standards” on a wall chart for “Reading Literary Texts” in grades 6-12 included: “determine author’s purpose,” “recognize significant details and draw logical inferences,” “identify and analyze narrative point of view,” “synthesize information from multiple texts,” and “read a wide range of literary texts appropriate for the grade level.”
I’m sure Missouri has many experienced and well-read high school English teachers, but they were not on this committee, although a teacher of culinary arts was. Call this strategy “pretend any K-12 teacher knows what secondary students need to know and be able to do in English in order to be ready for authentic college coursework.”
South Carolina’s department of education staff have pulled yet another trick from the Common Core bag to confuse parents and legislators. It has created such a lengthy list of comparative standards that it will take teachers or legislators years to figure out that the proposed standards are only a slightly disguised version of Common Core’s. In addition, it offers dozens of seeming standards that begin with non-assessable and non-teachable words like “employ,” “use strategies to,” “value,” “expand,” “explore,” “deepen,” “ask,” “focus,” “broaden,” “transact,” “engage in,” “develop,” “acknowledge,” “communicate,” “adjust,” and “create.” Who could be against expecting students to expand, explore, and create? These types of expectations, however, are not academic standards.
Sandra Stotsky, Ed.D. is Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas.