Monday, March 7, 2011

More Common Core Meshugenah

Last year, in an attempt to win federal Race to the Top funds, the California Board of Education approved the adoption of Common Core Standards (CCS). These standards will actually dumb down the curriculum, as California already had some of the toughest standards in the nation, and it will cost the state $1.6 billion to implement (e.g., new text books and curriculum) at a time when the state has a budget deficit of $21 billion.

This week, the Board of Education will hear from two assessment consortia that have won federal grants to develop tests to assess the CCS in hopes of choosing one to develop a test that may replace the STAR tests that are currently given. The two consortia are the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC),  and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SMARTER Balanced). The federal grants are worth between $150 million and $200 million.

John Fensterwald has published an article, “Common Core groups should be asked plenty of questions,” by Doug McRae, that brings up some basic questions the State Board should ask the consortia:
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a governing member of only one consortium versus being a participating member of both?
  • What will be the impact on curriculum and instruction?
  • Will student scores on the tests be used to assess teachers?
  • What will be the costs associated with the proposed use of computer assessments?
  • The tests are expected to include open-ended questions rather than multiple-choice. How will test security and teaching to the test be addressed?
  • California’s tests will have to be augmented to address the additional Algebra I standards for 8th graders that go beyond the national CCS. How will the consortia address this augmentation?
  • How will the consortia work to develop the tests over time in order to improve them and to mitigate teaching to the test?
  • How much will it cost California over and beyond what the consortia have been given in federal grants?
  • Can the consortia realistically do all they have promised by the 2014-2015 deadline? What are the chances that Congress will kill or alter the consortia’s mandates before completed?

This last question is not merely hypothetical. A group of educators and business and labor leaders are throwing their support behind a new plan to extend CCS beyond the English and mathematics standards that have already been adopted by 40 states. The new standards would account for about 50 to 60 percent of the curricula, with the rest determined by local communities, districts and states. The group’s statement can be found at the Albert Shanker Institute. Signers include Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT; Richard Riley, secretary of education under Clinton; Chester Finn, assistant secretary of education under Reagan; and Susan Neuman, assistant secretary of education under Bush (W).

Here Are My Questions:
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of refusing to comply with CCS?
  • What will be the impact on students? Is there any chance that $1.6 billion worth of new textbooks is better for them than smaller classes or better paid teachers?
  • Why are the unions collaborating (again) in a scheme that may be used to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores (and that forces states to divert desperately need funds to textbook publishers)?
  • How will CCS be used to suck more money from the education budget in coming years? How many times $1.6 billion will actually be sucked into this hole?
  • Can we mobilize teachers to dump Weingarten?

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