The South Carolina School Boards Association has released a pamphlet designed to alleviate South Carolinians’ concerns about the new Common Core State (sic) Standards (CCSS). The pamphlet argues that it’s a good idea to relinquish control over English Language ares (ELA) and mathematics education to private interest, and the federal government, in Washington, D.C. When armed with the truth, South Carolinians are unlikely to be swayed by this argument.
SCPIE Responds to South Carolina School Boards Association’s Reality Check Pamphlet
The South Carolina School Boards Association has released a pamphlet designed to alleviate South Carolinians’ concerns about the new Common Core State (sic) Standards (CCSS). The pamphlet argues that it’s a good idea to relinquish control over English language arts (ELA) and mathematics education to private interests, and the federal government, in Washington, D.C. When armed with the truth, South Carolinians are unlikely to be swayed by this argument. Herewith, a response to the School Boards Association’s talking points:
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt. . . . State leaders, not the federal government, drove the creation and development of CCSS. The decision for states to participate is voluntary and is not a requirement of the federal government.
CCSS didn’t result from a “state-led” effort. NGA and CCSSO are private trade associations, neither of which has a grant of legislative authority from any state to do anything. NGA won’t even reveal its list of dues-paying members. Very few parents or other taxpayers had ever heard of either group until the Common Core debacle, and these citizens certainly did not realize they ought to be lobbying their governor or state superintendent to beg them not to relinquish local control and parental rights over education to these unaccountable groups. To present NGA and CCSSO as democratic organizations somehow answerable to the people – as though the average citizen could attend the NGA cocktail party and influence the decision-makers — illustrates the worst kind of elitist, inside-the-Beltway thinking. But this is the type of thinking that has pervaded the entire Common Core process.
The funding of NGA and CCSSO suggests where their accountability lies. Since 2007, NGA and CCSSO have accepted approximately $100 million from the Gates Foundation alone to advance the standards and the connected data-collection and assessments. These organizations are not answering to the people; they are answering to an enormously powerful funder with a very definite agenda.
Where else do NGA and CCSSO get their funding? To a large extent, from the federal government. Both organizations receive substantial federal funding (for CCSSO, about half its operating funds). Could this suggest a certain inclination to push the federal government’s agenda rather than promote the will of the people?
Even if this scheme were genuinely state-led, why should the education of South Carolina’s children be controlled, to any extent, by people in California and New York? As Governor Haley said, “Just as we should not relinquish control of education to the Federal government, neither should we cede it to the consensus of other states.” She’s right.
What about the claim that South Carolina adopted CCSS “voluntarily”? As any member of the State Board of Education who served in 2010 will attest, the adoption decision was made to increase the state’s competitiveness for federal Race to the Top funds during a time of deep recession. A state that refused to adopt Common Core and the aligned assessment lost 70 points in the Race to the Top competition (out of 485 possible points). This meant the state had no hope of compiling enough points to receive a grant (and in fact, no state was awarded a grant without adopting Common Core and the national test). If the CCSS proponents were honest, they would admit that they never could have convinced enough states to sign onto the national standards without the federal “persuasion.” And the U. S. Department of Education (USED) made it clear that, upon submitting their Race to the Top applications, the states were expected to implement CCSS regardless of whether they were awarded money. Finally, USED reinforced the desirability of retaining CCSS by linking No Child Left Behind waivers to its implementation. So states have kept the national standards to increase their chances of more federal favors.
In South Carolina, common standards are nothing new. Schools have been teaching common standards – developed by and unique to our state – in English language arts (ELA), mathematics, science and social studies since the passage of the Education Accountability Act of 1998. As part of the CCSS Initiative, SC no longer has to maintain its common standards for English language arts and mathematics but will continue to improve both and may add to either.
This rather bizarre argument seems to be that since we’ve had “common” standards across 46 counties, we shouldn’t object to common standards across 46 states. Of course we’ve had statewide standards, which is unremarkable. What is remarkable, and unacceptable to South Carolinians (as it would have been to our Founders), is national standards that we don’t control. The School Boards Association presents this as somewhat of a relief – “SC no longer has to maintain its common standards” – as though the state is just not up to the task of handling its constitutional responsibilities. We think we’re very much up to it, and that executive officials in this state have no right to cede their responsibilities to outsiders.
The claim that we will “continue to improve” the standards and “may add to either” is similarly misleading. When CCSS needs to be revised, it won’t be South Carolina making that decision; rather, South Carolina will have only one voice among many, and if we’re outvoted, we’re bound by what other states, and the unaccountable private owners of the standards, decide. And our right to “add to” the standards is limited to 15 percent in any content area – which additional material will not be on the national Smarter Balanced test that South Carolina agreed, sight unseen, to implement. Especially when their evaluations are tied to the test scores, how much time will teachers spend on this added 15 percent?
The standards establish what students need to learn, but they do not dictate how teachers should teach. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.
The claim that CCSS doesn’t “dictate how teachers should teach” is, in many respects, false. An English teacher who spends 80 percent of her time teaching great literature may not continue to do so, but must substitute a large chunk of nonfiction texts. A geometry teacher who uses the traditional Euclidean method must now teach Common Core’s experimental approach instead. A first-grade teacher who teaches the standard algorithm for addition and subtraction is forced to use alternative “fuzzy math” approaches. One middle-school math teacher reports that he was told to abandon his direct-instruction method of teaching and employ instead the “project” method, which he recognizes to be ineffective in math, because that is what CCSS requires. In these and many other areas, the standards dictate the methods.
The mandates to teachers about teaching methods are particularly evident in the mathematics standards for the early grades. A child who solves problems using the standard algorithms (i.e., the methods that have been used for thousands of years, and that were successful in propelling Americans to the moon) finds her correct answers marked wrong. The only acceptable answers are those that require her to “explain” her answers by parroting arbitrary “alternative” methods for working the problems.
Despite the CCSS proponents’ claim that this mandate promotes “critical thinking,” this is nothing but the same recycled “new math” that was tried and abandoned decades ago. Ignoring this history of failure, Common Core tries again to impose the notion that students must spend less time working math problems and more time explaining the underlying concepts of what they are doing.
Does the research support the argument that students are more successful with math using this technique? To the contrary – research concerning top-performing countries shows that students do better in math if they are required to work math problems (lots of them), not merely explain math problems. A report by the American Educational Research Association examined the math standards of high-achieving countries, Finland, Japan, and Singapore, and discovered very little alignment to CCSS. All three of these countries “place a much greater emphasis on ‘perform procedures’ than found in the U.S. Common Core standards.” In fact, “[f]or each country, approximately 75% of the content involves ‘perform procedures,’ whereas in the Common Core standards, the percentage for procedures is 38%.” If the CCSS math drafters want U.S. students to compete with students from these countries, perhaps imposing standards with only half the math-performance requirements is not the best way to go about it.
Most parents see Common Core’s “math explanation” techniques as a colossal waste of time. Forcing teachers to require students to explain their work in highly scripted ways is accomplished at the expense of essential practice in working math problems with the standard algorithms. Not only does the “explanation” focus waste precious class time, it slows down the progression, as students who have mastered a skill are stalled with the busy-work of drawing pictures and memorizing scripted explanations. Generations of mathematicians, scientists, accountants, and engineers excelled without learning the “critical thinking” of Common Core, which suggests it isn’t so critical after all.
States can voluntarily choose to participate in one of these [testing] consortiums or develop tests of their own.
The decision to adopt CCSS-aligned tests was exactly as “voluntary” as was the standards-adoption decision. South Carolina did it to have a chance at Race to the Top money.
State leaders, including governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states and two territories, were concerned about differing levels of education standards from state to state and unfair comparisons being made concerning the quality of schools from one state to another. Leaders realized that if the country is to compete in the future in the global marketplace for jobs and innovation, students today must learn more than standards unique to their states. They need to learn standards that are internationally benchmarked to prepare them to compete with counterparts around the world for college admission and careers. Also, in an increasingly mobile country, students who move from one state to another would have the benefit of being taught the same standards across grades and states.
See response to Claim 1 for an account of how “state-led” this entire scheme was. Moreover, the involvement of NGA and CCSSO in the Common Core scheme hardly means the standards were developed by state officials. It is virtually undisputed that the standards were written by five people, none of whom was a state official, and none of whom was from South Carolina.
Nor is CCSS “internationally benchmarked.” We’ve already mentioned the lack of international alignment in the area of mathematics. In addition, during the validation process, Validation Committee member Dr. Sandra Stotsky repeatedly asked for information about what countries’ standards were being used for the “international benchmarking.” The developers never responded. Since then, Dr. Stotsky has done her own research and discovered many countries (such as Finland and the countries of the British Commonwealth) that have ELA standards “far more demanding” than Common Core.
What about the claim that we have to abolish our system of local control for the benefit of students who move from one state to another? In fact, census data shows that less than two percent of K-12 students move across state lines during any given school year (most moves are within states, not to different states). This is not to minimize the challenges of children who are within this small percentage; rather, it is to recognize that eradicating our constitutional system is an overreaction to a problem that can be addressed in other ways.
Teachers, parents, and education experts worked on a set of “common standards” for every state to ensure high school graduates are prepared for college or a career. Drafts of standards in English/language arts and mathematics (grades K-12) received intense public review and feedback was received from national organizations representing teachers, postsecondary education, civil rights groups, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
This picture of all these stakeholder groups slaving away over CCSS development is misleading in the extreme. In fact, the major complaint of many people who were nominally involved in the development process was that it was carried out completely behind closed doors, with no open-records access, no sunshine-law applicability, etc. Five people were doing the writing, despite the utter lack of qualifications of several of them to do so, and the other people appointed to various work groups, feedback groups, or the Validation Committee saw most of their suggestions disappear into a black hole.
Nor was there “intense public review,” as the School Boards Association ludicrously claims. NGA and CCSSO have never released any comments about or critiques of the drafts. The sources of those critiques, and whether any of the suggestions were adopted (and if not, why not), have never been revealed. The entire Common Core effort was shrouded in secrecy, for obvious reasons – to prevent the delay (and perhaps derailment) that would inevitably result from giving the public a real voice.
NGA and CCSSO trumpet that when they released the standards for public comment, such as it was, they received “almost 10,000 responses.” (Of course, they refuse to release these comments.)There are over 56 million K-12 students in the U. S. This means there are approximately 112 million parents of K-12 students. There are also over 3.2 million public-school teachers. Receiving “comments” from 10,000 out of 115.2 million hardly demonstrates broad public awareness of what was happening with Common Core.
Common core learning or academic standards are not a curriculum. They are shared education goals and expectations for what students should know at each grade level. Curriculum, on the other hand, is how teachers teach to help students meet those standards including the textbooks and other materials. Curriculum is generally chosen at the district or even the school level, and in many cases, individual teachers actually decide on the curriculum and classroom content.
As former USED general counsel Kent Talbert and Robert Eitel have documented, curriculum inevitably follows from standards. That’s the point of standards. From Talbert and Eitel’s report: “[T]hese standards and assessments will ultimately direct the course of elementary and secondary study in most states across the nation, running the risk that states will become little more than administrative agents for a nationalized K-12 program of instruction and raising a fundamental question about whether the Department if exceeding its statutory boundaries.” States and local districts’ “flexibility” will be reduced to choosing one CCSS-aligned textbook over another CCSS-aligned textbook.
Textbook developer and curriculum designer Robert Shepherd bemoans the standards’ “content-free” design and its inevitable negative effect on curriculum. He writes: “The fact that the ‘standards’ are entirely highly abstract descriptions of skills to be demonstrated, that they are content free, will be ENORMOUSLY distorting in their effects on curriculum development
. . . . [T]he abstract standards will drive the curriculum development. It’s the tail wagging the dog . . . .”
In addition, the two testing consortia funded by the federal government are using the money, explicitly, to “develop curriculum frameworks” and “develop instructional models.” And what is on the national test will control what is taught in the classroom – especially when the teachers’ evaluations are tied to the test scores.
CCSS standards focus on knowledge and skills rather than understanding or memorization and are internationally benchmarked. . . . CCSS recognizes both content and skills are important. ELA standards require certain critical content for all students, including: classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s Founding Documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare. Appropriately, the remaining crucial decisions about what content should be taught are left to state and local determination. In addition to content coverage, students must systematically acquire knowledge in literature and other disciplines through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
CCSS doesn’t focus on knowledge. CCSS is the latest iteration of the previously discredited Outcome-Based Education, which introduced the educational philosophy that academic knowledge should be diminished in favor of developing government-approved “skills.” In fact, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the nation’s leading expert on ELA standards, rejects the new national standards precisely because they don’t require students to develop knowledge of any particular literary works. They are, as she says, “empty skill sets” that “won’t prepare students for authentic college coursework.”
The texts listed in this claim as “required” – America’s founding documents, etc. – in fact aren’t required at all; they’re merely listed in an appendix of voluntary “exemplars.” (It’s worth noting that, although the two main drafters of the CCSS ELA standards yielded to Dr. Stotsky’s entreaties to include the U. S. Constitution, they included only parts of it – the preamble and the Bill of Rights – and not the other provisions that create our system of federalism.) Shakespeare is mentioned, but as Dr. Stotsky laments, the standards require no more than one Shakespearean work. The rest of British literature is omitted – no Austen, no Milton, no Dickens.
CCSS proponents seem unaware of the central conflict between their citing these Appendix B exemplars as “required,” while simultaneously maintaining that all curricula is determined locally. It has to be either one or the other. And if the exemplars they list are required, does that mean the other texts in the appendix, such as the sexually explicit In the Time of Butterflies and The Bluest Eye, are also required?
Finally, the claim of “international benchmarking” is refuted in response to Claim 5, above. Significantly, the CCSS website has abandoned the assertion that the standards are internationally benchmarked. It now says they are “informed by” the standards of high-achieving countries, whatever that means.
A 41-member group of SC educators convened by the SC Education Oversight Committee reviewed SC’s current ELA and mathematics standards and compared them with CCSS. The group found the CCSS to meet or exceed the current rigor of SC’s standards. Also, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington D.C., compared each states’ (sic) standards to CCSS and found [that CCSS was superior to South Carolina’s standards].
In the first place, the 41-member group convened by the EOC produced a comparative review that is available on the SC Department of Education’s website. A chart on page 14 of the Comparative Review Report displays alignment and cognitive level of the previous standards and the CCSS. The chart states that pre-calculus is 100% aligned, and the cognitive level is greater than, or equal to, the previous standards. This is impossible, since (as explained in response to Claim 16, below) the Common Core Math Standards do not include pre-calculus standards. Then at the end of the Report, on page 118, under summary comments, the following statement is made: “The high school [Math] standards set a rigorous definition of college and career readiness…” How can this be true when CCSS admittedly doesn’t prepare students for selective colleges and STEM career pathways? It is apparent that the Comparative Report was produced primarily to justify a previously made decision – to adopt the Common Core Standards as a way to compete for federal money. If the State Board of Education relied on this report, it adopted CCSS on false pretenses.
Second, whether the Fordham Institute is a “conservative” organization is debatable. In any event, Fordham has received over $6 million from the Gates Foundation to promote CCSS. In fact, the very survey of state standards the School Boards Association relies on was made possible by the “generous support” of Gates.
Dr. Stotsky, who on three occasions has served on Fordham’s team to evaluate state standards and so is intimately aware of how this should be done, is dismissive of Fordham’s high opinion of CCSS. Testifying about the 2010 evaluation that gave CCSS such high marks, Dr. Stotsky said, “The top officials at the Fordham Institute changed the evaluation form (and grading scheme) it had used in earlier reviews of state [English language arts] standards in order to claim that Common Core’s ELA standards were better than those in most states.” Given this critique from someone who is deeply familiar with evaluating state standards, it is clear that Fordham’s current opinions are, at a minimum, suspect.
But regardless of whether Fordham is biased, no one has claimed the status quo is good enough for South Carolina schools. What South Carolinians are saying is that, if left alone by USED and the private interest groups that own CCSS, we can fix our problems ourselves. For example, before yielding to the Race to the Top bribery, many other states had standards that were demonstrably superior to CCSS – even according to Fordham. Why can’t we look at the Massachusetts ELA standards (which provided a genuine classical education and led to the highest test scores in the nation) and the Indiana math standards (which even Fordham had to admit were much better than CCSS) and adapt them for South Carolina? Then we would have the best standards in the country and would not be mired in the uniform mediocrity that is gripping other states. Why not be a leader rather than a follower?
South Carolina will continue its science and social studies standards which are judged independently as the highest in the nation by the Thomas Fordham Institute.
We hope South Carolina will stick with its own social studies standards, but given the recent history of yielding to the power of the federal purse, we have our doubts.
Regarding South Carolina’s continuing with its own science standards, this is not true. On October 9, 2013, the State Board of Education adopted, on first reading, new science standards that mirror the national Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). *Although the state legislature has prohibited funding for NGSS, the State Board evaded the law by, essentially, simply dropping the name of the national standards and calling them something else. This is a perfect example of why South Carolina parents are fed up with the entire education-nationalization scheme and with the people who enforce it.
Local school districts own, and will still control, all student data, just as they do now. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits the reporting of aggregate data that could identify individual students. In addition, the federal government does not have access to the student-level information held in state databases. States have collected student information through state assessments in compliance with state and federal law, and will continue these practices under new assessments.
The suggestion that all student data remains with local school districts is flatly untrue. And the claim that FERPA protects personally identifiable student information is, as of January 3, 2012, also untrue. The Obama Administration has gutted the privacy protections of FERPA. Under the new regulations, the state department of education or USED may share a student’s personally identifiable information with anyone the agency designates as an “authorized representative” for audits, evaluations, or research – and that authorized representative could be another government agency, a private entity, a commercial enterprise, or an individual, either in this country or abroad. When Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and others express enthusiasm for tracking students from early childhood into the work-force, and for sharing data across multiple agencies so that the government can know everything there is to know about a child, parents are right to be alarmed.
States have collected student information through state assessments in compliance with state and federal law, and will continue these practices under new assessments.
By agreeing to administer the Smarter Balanced assessments, South Carolina has agreed to send Smarter Balanced whatever as-yet unspecified student data the consortium may decide it wants. And in its Cooperative Agreement with USED, Smarter Balanced has agreed to “make student-level data that results from the assessment system available [to USED] for research” and other purposes. Smarter Balanced has further committed through its Cooperative Agreement to “provide timely and complete access to any and all data collected at the State level [to USED]” and to any agencies or organizations the feds designate. So if South Carolina stays in the Smarter Balanced consortium, student-level data on South Carolina students will be given to the federal government. And the new FERPA regulations will allow that data to be sent anywhere in the world – without the consent, or even the knowledge, of the parents.
Because there are fewer standards in each subject, CCSS will provide more freedom for teachers to delve into appropriate content, spend time on analysis and reading and on mathematical application and fluency. What is demoralizing is being overwhelmed by the demands of too many standards and not enough time as presently exists. And since 45 states have adopted CCSS, collaborative possibilities have been opening up in classrooms not only throughout each state but across the country.
The teachers’ proclaimed “freedom” is addressed in response to Claim 3, above. And it is critical to remember that the national tests haven’t yet gone into effect. Once that happens, teachers will be forced to teach to those tests. Their jobs will depend on it.
In 2010, the USDE announced that it would reserve about $350 million of the total $4.35 billion appropriated for the Race to the Top grants program to support consortia of states designing and implementing high-quality tests aligned with a common set of rigorous, college- and career-ready, K-12 standards. The USDE awarded two, four-year grants totaling about $330 million to the two testing consortiums that were already in existence. At the time of award, the 31-state SBAC was awarded $160 million and the 26-state PARCC was awarded $170 million.
This claim is actually true, though incomplete. It omits the critical detail that USED’s financing of the Smarter Balanced testing consortium and the other national testing consortium is illegal. A federal statute prohibits federal involvement in public-school testing. So the Smarter Balanced test that South Carolina has committed to administering is being illegally developed and pushed onto the states.
RTTT applications awarded points—40 points out of 500—to states that were collaborating to create common college- and career-ready standards. The total RTTT dollars were less than one percent of what the U.S. annually spends on K-12 education. Dozens of states, including SC that adopted CCSS did not win RTTT grants.
In fact, as explained in response to Claim 1, above, a state that declined to adopt CCSS and the aligned tests lost 70 out of 485 points and had no chance to win Race to the Top “free” money. In South Carolina the commitment to CCSS and the Smarter Balanced test was made by the Governor, the State School Superintendent, and the State Board of Education only to improve the state’s chances to get the money. That is undisputed. The fact that we didn’t get the grant in the end – that we sold our educational birthright and missed out even on the mess of pottage – is beside the point, since the commitment had already been made. And in case any non-grantee state might waver and re-think its adoption of CCSS, USED reinforced the incentive by tying No Child Left Behind waivers to adopting CCSS.
In Mathematics, CCSS lays a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals. Taken together, these elements support a student’s ability to learn and apply more demanding math concepts and procedures. The middle school and high school math standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues and challenges; they prepare students to think and reason mathematically.
As discussed in response to Claim 3, above, CCSS math requires discredited “fuzzy math” techniques to be taught in the lower grades. In fact, Dr. James Milgram of Stanford University, who was the only mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off on the math standards because he recognized that they will put our students at least two years behind those of higher achieving countries by 8th grade.
And the drafters of the math standards have themselves admitted that the standards’ definition of “college readiness” is minimal. Drafter Jason Zimba has acknowledged that 1) the math standards are designed to prepare students for a nonselective college rather than a four-year university; and 2) “if you want to take calculus your freshman year in college, you will have to take more mathematics than is in the Common Core.” Indeed, Trevor Packer of the College Board said recently that the College Board will probably eliminate AP calculus, since CCSS doesn’t get students that far. Most South Carolina parents would probably be dismayed to learn that CCSS stops with Algebra II – almost no trigonometry, no precalculus, and no calculus.
CCSS omits all this math content because it places Algebra I in high school, not 8th grade, so there isn’t time to get to these higher courses by senior year (the highest achieving countries in mathematics teach Algebra I one or two years earlier than CCSS does). Although education bureaucrats claim this won’t be a problem because students can “accelerate” and take Algebra I by 8th grade, for most students this won’t be an option. The reason is that K-7 CCSS doesn’t prepare students for Algebra I in 8th grade; rather, it prepares them only for pre-algebra. So the only students who will be able to grasp algebra by 8th grade will be those who have academic parents at home to help them, or whose parents can afford tutoring. What will this do to the “achievement gap”?
At a conference in Atlanta on September 23, 2013, the president of Georgia Tech, Dr. Bud Peterson, stated that a student can’t go to Georgia Tech unless he has Algebra I in 8th grade and calculus by senior year. CCSS makes it much harder for the typical student to achieve this.
A final note about CCSS math: It requires teaching geometry not by the traditional Euclidean method, but by an experimental method never used successfully in K-12 anywhere in the world. What could go wrong?
In sum, we ask legislators and other officials to dig beyond the surface of the CCSS talking points and examine the truth about Common Core. Our children deserve so much more than this.
FOR MORE INFORMATION,
CONTACT SOUTH CAROLINA PARENTS INVOLVED IN EDUCATION: