Data-Less Decision Making in Obama Education Reform: Common Core Standards

I no longer have children in public schools and do not often post on education, but I do read the latest reporting at Grumpy Educators, an informative section of Grumpy Opinions. Today I am posting two articles on Common Core State Standards, Obama’s plan to reform what we know to be a broken system. Both of the writers I am posting oppose Common Core and do a good job of explaining why, using impressive sources. Read the first article here. Below is an explanation of Common Core State Standards. If you are like me, and are no longer involved in your city, town or state’s public education (other than paying for it), note that you can help by sending this information on to your Governor, state legislators, school superintendents, teachers, school boards and educational reform groups.

[What are Common Core Standards?] The Common Core standards are national academic standards that will replace the often shoddy and substandard standards (if that’s not an oxymoron) of the 45 states and District of Columbia that have approved adoption. As someone who consulted for the Fordham and Pioneer Institutes on assessing the states’ English Language Arts standards in the run-up to Common Core, I can attest that many states have abominable ELA standards in which, often, a functionally illiterate student can be certified proficient in reading. Ironically, one of the causes of such shoddy state standards is the federal government’s last major attempt at reform, the Bush-era No Child Left Behind initiative, which enacted harsh penalties for states whose students do not test proficient in reading and math. The bar was set impossibly high, culminating in the Lake Wobegon-esque requirement that all children test proficient in reading and math by 2014. It should be no surprise that many states reacted to this unrealistic demand by degrading their standards to the point that the definition of “proficiency” would be low enough to escape the Department of Education’s ideological fervor. Read the entire article here.

Best Research Award Winner Says Common Core is Data-Less Decision Making
Missouri Education Watchdog, by Anngie,
Published in full with permission

Christopher Tienken

Christopher Tienken

Christopher Tienken, Ed.D. is the editor of the AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice. He is an assistant professor of Education Administration at Seton Hall University. He has public school administration experience as a PK-12 assistant superintendent, middle school principal, and elementary school assistant principal. He began his career in education as an elementary school teacher. Dr Tienken’s research interests include the effect and influence of professional development on teacher practice and student achievement, the construct validity of high-stakes standardized tests as decision-making tools about student achievement and school effectiveness, and curricular interventions used in schools to improve achievement. His research about the effects of professional development on student achievement has been recognized by the Institute of Education Sciences and the National Staff Development Council awarded him the Best Research Award in 2008.”

As a top researcher in academic practice and student achievement, Dr. Tienken looked at the claims of those who support the Common Core Standards and wrote about his findings in the Winter 2011 edition of the Journal of Scholarship & Practice. You can read his full report “Common Core State Standards: An Example of Data-less Decision Making” here.  What follows are some key highlights from it.

On the claim that the standards are evidence based and internationally benchmarked.

“The standards have not been validated empirically and no metric has been set to monitor the intended and unintended consequences they will have on the education system and children (Mathis, 2010)”

“The site alleges that the standards  are  “evidence  based”  and  lists  two   homegrown documents to “prove” it: Myths vs Facts (NGA, 2010) and the Joint International Benchmarking Report (NGA, 2008). 

The Myths document presents claims that the standards  have  “made  use  of  a  large   and  growing  body  of  knowledge”  (p.  3).     Knowledge derives in part from carefully controlled scientific experiments and observations so one would expect to find references to high quality empirical research to support the standards.

When I reviewed that  “large  and   growing  body  of  knowledge”  offered  by  the   NGA, I found that it was not large, and in fact built mostly on one report, Benchmarking for Success,created by the NGA and the CCSSO, the same groups that created these standards; Hardly independent research.”

The need for the standards has been justified by claiming that, (a) America’s  children  are “lagging” behind international peers in terms of academic achievement, and (b) the economic vibrancy and future of the United States relies upon American students outranking their global peers on international tests of academic achievement.

Tienken’s response -
“Unfortunately for proponents of this empirically vapid argument it is well established that a rank on an international test of academic skills and knowledge does not have the power to predict future economic competitiveness and is otherwise meaningless for a host of reasons (Baker, 2007; Bracey, 2009; Tienken, 2008).”
He sites these examples to support his statement.
“The fact is China and its continued manipulation of its currency, the Yuan, and iron-fisted control of its labor pool, has a greater effect on our economic strength than if every American child scored at the top of every international test, the SAT, the ACT, the GRE, or the MAT.” (emphasis added)
“Japan‘s stock market, the Nikkei 225 Average, closed at a high of 38,915 points on December 31, 1989 and on October 15, 2010 it closed at 9,500 points, approximately 75% lower, but Japan ranked in the Top 10 on international tests of mathematics since the 1980‘s and has always ranked higher than the U.S. on such tests. Yet Japan‘s stock market and its economy have been in shambles for almost two decades. They have national curriculum standards and testing, and have for over 30 years. Japanese students outrank students from most other nations on math and science tests.”
“Economic strength of the G20 countries relies more on policy, than education achievement.”
“To believe otherwise is like believing in the tooth-fairy.”
Even if the standards were a good idea, they would not lead to the results that their proponents promise. Given their tremendous cost, it seems reasonable to question whether they are really needed. At the very least we should ask, is this a good investment of America’s capital?
Another phrase heard ad nauseum regarding the standards is that our students will need 21st century skills in order to compete in a global economy. I have been asking for months, someone please tell me what a 21stcentury skill is. I have received no answers and it would appear that the drafters of the Common Core Standards had no answer either.
“The language arts and mathematics curriculum sequences embedded in the standards are nothing more than rehashed versions of the recommendations from the Committee of Ten in 1893 and the Committee of 15 in1895; hardly 21st Century innovations.”
The United States Council on Competitiveness had a better answer than the consortia for what is needed to keep our economy growing.
“At the beginning of the 21st century, America stands at the dawn of a conceptual economy in which insight, imagination and ingenuity determine competitive advantage and value creation. To succeed in this hyper-competitive, fast-paced global economy, we cannot, nor should we want to, compete on low wages, commodity products, standard services, and routine science and technology development. As other nations build sophisticated technical capabilities, excellence in science and technology alone will not ensure success (p. 10).”
The CCSS, in contrast, contain no “authentic, critical thinking…. They are inert, sterile, socially static.”Tienken says, if we want to know what skills we be needed for the next century, we should ask the leaders of the businesses who will be looking for workers what they are looking for.
“The results from the 2010 Global Chief Executive Study conducted by the IBM Corporation made several recommendations that call into question the use of 19th century curriculum standards to address 21st century issues. After analyzing data from interviews with 1,500 of the worlds CEO‘s the authors stated that to remain competitive in the global economies CEO‘s and their employees must:
(a) use creative leadership strategies;
(b) collaborate and cooperate globally amongst themselves and with their customer bases;
(c) differentiate their responses, products, and services to ―build operating dexterity (p.51); and
(d) be able to use complexity to a strategic advantage.
The vendors of the CCSS have a problem: They have no data that demonstrates the validity of the standards as a vehicle to build 21st century skills nor as a means to achieve the things the business leaders say will be needed to operate in a diverse global environment. The CCSS are stuck in a time warp. A curricular time machine, if you will, set to 1858.”
Behind all the talk about the standards is fear mongering about America’s economic status in the world. America is painted as behind and falling further and further behind. The propaganda for Common Core claims this is because of our declining education system. But the real statistics show something very different. Below is just one example of many that Tienken provides.
“The U.S. has ranked either first or second out of 139 nations on the World Economic Forum‘s (2010) Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) eight out of the last 10 years and never ranked below sixth place during that period, regardless of results on international assessments and without adopting national curriculum standards.”
Unfortunately, the proponents of Common Core continue to push them as vital to our country’s future.
“Yet this nation will base the future of its entire public education system, and its children, upon this lack of evidence. Many of America‘s education associations already pledged support for the idea and have made the CCSS major parts of their national conferences and the programs they sell to schools.”
“This seems like the ultimate in anti- intellectual behavior coming from what claim to be intellectual organizations now acting like charlatans by vending products to their members based on an untested idea and parroting false claims of standards efficacy.”
“It is an Orwellian policy position that lacks a basic understanding of diversity and developmental psychology. It is a position that eschews science and at its core, believes it is appropriate to force children to fit the system instead of the system adjusting to the needs of the child.”
The better solution, according to Tienken, is to bring control for education back to the local level.
“Alexander‘s (2002) study of course taking pattern before and after the introduction of New York‘s regent standards revealed that local contexts such as school size and demographics accounted for most of the disparity in course taking, and universal curriculum requirements did little to overcome that after their initial implementation. Local context, involvement and input matters greatly.”
“In fact, the experiment (Aikin, 1942)demonstrated that the less standardized, more diverse, locally developed and designed the programs (based on demonstrated research and theories of learning), the better the students did in college academically, socially, and civically compared their traditionally prepared peers.”
If we really want to bring up the lowest performing students, Tienken advances that a better approach would be the development of better social safety nets. “Housing policy has been shown to be a stronger intervention for increasing test scores than nationalizing curriculum (Schwartz, 2010).” These would have to be carefully constructed so as not to demolish personal responsibility or pride, and not foster an unnecessary dependence on the system.
Perhaps it‘s not universal curriculum standards that make the difference. Maybe it‘s a comprehensive social system that provides a quality social safety net for children and mothers that has the greatest influence on ultimate education outcomes.”

Tienken offers these conclusions about Common Core.

There is no reliable, independently validated empirical support for the CCSS initiative and yet many policy-makers and educators support it.

It is an attractive idea to support because it limits the intricacies of the real issues and makes it easy to lay the blame at the foot of a system (public education) that reacts to society, not drives it.

The CCSS initiative compartmentalizes complexity and compartmentalizing messy issues allows people to be intellectually lazy. Developing coherent education and social policy is more difficult.

The vendors of the CCSS present the standardization of America’s  children  as a neat and clean solution, easily manageable and easy to discuss.

Unfortunately the real world is not so organized and it is much more cognitively complicated. Believing that we can eliminate the complexity of educating all students by putting forth superficial ideas like one-size fits- all standards is like believing rankings on international tests really mean something. (Is your tooth under the pillow?)

It seems anti-intellectual, and based on the lack of evidence, unethical to support such a massive social experiment, using participants who have no choice but to go along.

The evidence suggests that there is not a crisis in education; there is a crisis in education leadership at all levels. Those who perpetuate bad ideas based on flawed data are practicing poor leadership. If some school leaders and their organizations do not want to stand up for children then they should stand down and let those who are willing assume the leadership reins.

The entire article is relatively short, well documented and worth the read.
More articles on Common Core and Tienken’s commentaries/research:

 

The Bell News

 

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