Saturday, May 03, 2014

More Common Core Discussion

I just read a blog about homeschooling and the Common Core that asks the question:

 "Is math, arithmetic, probability, and algebra something that should change from state to state? Of course not.  It’s pretty standard."  
Common Core Educational Standards


I totally agree. This business of state independence on standards gets a lot of people all worked up but realistically, does the state of North Carolina (for instance) really have the resources to develop new math standards?  Why shouldn't they adopt the same math standards as South Carolina or Oregon? Do they think they have any special insight into the needs of their students for math skills in the 21st Century?  

If every state developed their own road signs or their own standards for car design safety, we could easily damage the US economy to the detriment of US consumers and businesses.  But business would not standard for it.  But, without business weighing in, we risk really screwing up the educaitonal system if every state decides to do something independent.  So far, the states have acted in unison with forty something of them agreeing to first develop and then to adopt a Common Core of Standards.  Now however, it has become politicized and it's possible that in pandering to the extremists and their rhetoric, we'll end up losing all the benefits of high quality uniform standards.

Any state that drops out and decides to go it alone will do so at their own risk.  Even Texas, for all their rhetoric, has always adopted standards that are different from the other states in name only.  But, this is the first time that it's become such a political football so I'm worried....

An important thing to remember is that each school or district is free to implement the standards with any curriculum or materials that they would like. The schools are free to choose their own literature to read, essays to write, problems for math solve, and films to watch.  A set of standards includes lists of "exemplary readings" but they are just there to illustrate the type of literature, the schools or districts are under no obligation to use them.  The choice of curriculum is left to the states and schools, it's only what the student outcomes or learning is supposed to achieve that is defined by CC standards.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Pros & Cons of Common Core Standards

Rather than pursue my discussion of the history of the Common Core, I thought I'd jump to a question that I'm very interested in:

What are the pros and the cons of the Common Core Standards?  They seem to have become so politicized that I haven't seen any real evaluations of the pros and cons. So I'll  start it off, feel free to join in. I'll start today with the language arts side.

PROS
The language arts standards shifts from the heavy traditional focus on literature to a more balanced approach with 50 of the reading being of non-fiction, 50% of fiction. While many English teachers are up in arms about this, most of us agree that we should have a workforce with more modern skills in media and are willing to give up a bit in terms of their ability to analyze a book's theme or a poem's  rhyme pattern.  In terms of critical thinking and analysis of non-fiction, students are being taught to focus on what the purpose of a document is, who wrote it, and is it clear or convincing and why?

In terms of writing, this  spells the end of the five paragraph academic essay. Instead, students are given more real world assignments like writing a persuasive blog article, a memo about what strategy the company should take, or a piece with instructions on how to accomplish a given task.

In terms of reading comprehension, the shift is away from "what did the article say" to "what was the article intended to do?"

CONS

This is interesting. I can't think of a single problem with the standards for language arts. I decided to do some web reading and googles "NGSS Pros & Cons."  I read the top entries for cons and none of them complained about the standards themselves.  They talk about:
 tremendously difficult adjustment for students and teachers
Common Core Standards will costs schools money to update the technology
The Common Core Standards are vague and broad
- "the Common Core standards effort is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation." - Diane Ravitch. She also addresses the fiction vs information text as: "The flap over fiction vs. informational text further undermined my confidence in the standards. There is no reason for national standards to tell teachers what percentage of their time should be devoted to literature or information. Both can develop the ability to think critically."

In fact, all of the common complaints about the language arts side of the common core focus on issues unrelated to the standards but based on the process and how the testing and data related to them will work.

 It's interesting since all of the standardized tests are going to be computer-based adaptive in the near future. All of the data will be used for data-driven differentiated learning. And the states that have tradtiionally created their own standards which are frankly substandard have all committed to switching to standards and tests that are more in tune with national and international norms.  Yet these complaints which are basically about the 21st Century are all being used to attack the NGSS. Guess what, beat down the NGSS and it will come right back under a new name. It's basically a collection of best practices melded with modern reality and the need to be competitive. For Florida, even if we stayed with the Sunshine Standards and FCAT, it would soon by revised to be less substandard and the delivery of the test would be updated  to be computer-based.


Sources:
http://teaching.about.com/od/assess/f/What-Are-Some-Pros-And-Cons-Of-The-Common-Core-Standards.htm
http://dianeravitch.net/2013/02/26/why-i-cannot-support-the-common-core-standards/
http://www.remindernews.com/article/2013/11/18/educators-and-officials-discuss-pros-and-cons-of-common-core-standards

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Common Core Standards

I've been following the progress of the Common Core curriculum with some amazement over the last years.  Here's a quick summary.

Some people, apparently in Kentucky, feel that the usual process for the creation of standards should be replaced. Usually,  the Dept of Education (or some federal agency like the NSF)  gives grants to national groups to create exemplar sets of standards. Typically, these model standards are created by groups such as the National Council of Teachers of Math, or the National Association of  Teachers of Science etc NCTM, NATM, NSTA etc. Then each state reviews and accepts or modifies these standards per their own state approach. Massachusetts typically moves all the grades down a level, Learn that in 4th grade? Heck no, we'll do that in 3rd.  In contrast, it's said that Mississippi takes the opposite approach and then trims a little more to make it appropriate for their state.  Texas of course refuses to admit that they even look at the exemplars although of course their standards look suspiciously exactly like all the other state except they are called TEKs.

But, I digress. These peopkle from Kentucky,  talked to a sleepy group called the National Council of State Education Officers (CCSSO). While I'm not entirely sure, I'm pretty sure that this organization had never done anything significant before in it's history.

This group decided that they would set some exemplar standards.  Very ambitious. Fortunately, some foundations such as the Gates foundation quickly hooked up with them and provide deep deep grants for the effort.  A antional non profit educational foundation called Achieve was hired to do the actual work.... (More later, stay tuned....