Here is another one -comprehensive! A must read.
Diane Ravitch Backs Louis C.K., Blasts Newsweek Piece: 'Your Belief...Has No Research to Support It.'
I am a supporter of national health insurance, so I don’t accept the analogy between the Affordable Care Act and Common Core. The difference between them, which may be unknown to Alexander, is that the U.S. government, including the U.S. Department of Education, is prohibited by law from taking any action that would direct, control, or supervise curriculum or instruction. Now we know that Arne Duncan regularly says he is doing none of the above, but it would be hard to find a teacher who would agree that neither Common Core nor the federally funded online tests has any effect on curriculum and instruction. Common Core and the related testing has had a dramatic effect on both. And, so, at risk of being called a name by Alexander, I would say (having worked for two years in the U.S. Department of Education) that the federal encouragement of Common Core and the federal funding of the Common Core tests directly conflicts with federal law.
You are right that it is far too soon to judge Common Core’s efficacy. But that is the fault of those who wrote it. In 2009, when I met at the Aspen Institute with the authors of the Common Core, I urged them to field test it so they would find out how it works in real classrooms. They didn’t. In 2010, I was invited to the White House to meet with Melody Barnes, the director of domestic policy; Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff; and Ricardo Rodriguez, the President’s education advisor, and they asked me what I thought of Common Core. I urged them to field test it. I suggested that they invite three to five states to give it a trial of three-five years. See how it works. See if it narrows the achievement gap or widens the achievement gap. They quickly dismissed the idea. They were in a hurry. They wanted Common Core to be rolled out as quickly as possible, without checking out how it works in real classrooms with real teachers and real children.
Are we judging Common Core too quickly and too harshly? Consider the first Common Core test results last year in New York. The passing mark was set so high (artificially high) that 97% of English learners failed; 95% of children with disabilities failed; more than 80% of black and Hispanic children failed; statewide, 69% of all students failed. Maybe there wasn’t enough time for teachers to learn and teach the secrets of Common Core, but why set the bar so high that children were doomed to fail? Is this supposed to increase equity?
Are our kids left behind by China, South Korea and Germany? Not really. Maybe not at all. It is true that we get mediocre scores on international tests, but we have been getting mediocre scores on international tests since the first such test was offered in 1964. We were never a world leader on the international tests. Most years, our scores were at the median or even in the bottom quartile. Yet in the intervening fifty years, we have far surpassed all those nations–economically, technologically, and on every other dimension– whose students got higher test scores. Basically, the test scores don’t predict anything about the future of the economy. Should we worry that Estonia might surpass us? The fact is that our international scores reflect the very high proportion of kids who live in poverty, whose scores are lowest. We are No. 1 among the rich nations of the world in child poverty; nearly one-quarter of our children live in poverty. Our kids who live in affluent communities do very well indeed on the international tests. If we reduced the proportion of children living in poverty, our international test scores would go up. But in the end, as I said, the international scores don’t predict anything other than an emphasis on test-taking in the schools or the general socio-economic well-being of the society. We would be far better off investing more money in providing direct services to children–small classes for struggling students, experienced teachers, social workers, counselors, psychologists, and a full curriculum–rather than investing in more test preparation.
Alexander, I frankly do not understand your faith in national standards. There is no evidence that national standards produces higher achievement, nor that they reduce achievement gaps. They certainly do not overcome the burdens of homelessness, hunger, lack of medical care, or overcrowded classrooms. You express contempt for public school educators, so it is hard to understand why you think that they will magically be transformed into great teachers by national standards. This may come as a surprise, but most nations in the world–without regard to their standing on international tests–have national standards. When I visited Finland, which has an excellent school system, I read its national standards, but I also saw well-prepared teachers who shaped the curriculum in their classrooms and schools and who had a wide degree of professional autonomy about how they taught. I did not see or hear anyone express the hostility that you feel towards classroom teachers; teaching is a highly selective and highly respected profession, unlike here, where every legislator and pundit is considered an expert because they went to school.
I actually wrote a book about national standards, but I saw them as aspirational, not as a common script for teachers across the nation. I saw them first of all as voluntary, not mandatory. I saw them as standards for states and districts, requiring them to provide the resources for students to aim for standards. I never thought that standards meant that everyone would meet them (a la NCLB and RTTT). Example: for male runners, a four-minute mile is the standard. But very few male runners have ever reached that standard. It inspires all runners, but some will never come close. Education is not a race. It is about full human development of every human being. Education is not about winning or losing. It is about having the chance to develop one’s talents and abilities to the fullest.
Unlike you, Alexander, I see no advantage in “having a teacher in Alaska teach more or less the same thing as a teacher in Alabama.” What’s the point of that? If the teacher in Alabama is passionate about the work of Flannery O’Connor, let him or her teach it with passion. If the teacher in Alaska is fascinated with the arctic tundra, teach it. I assume you have not read the study by Tom Loveless of Brookings, who pointed out that the Common Core standards were likely to make little or no difference in achievement. After all, states with high standards have wide variations in achievement, as do states with low standards.
I see no value in the arbitrary division between literature and informational text prescribed in the Common Core. I know where the numbers come from. They were instructions to assessment developers of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (I served on its governing board for seven years). The ratios were not intended as instructions to teachers. This is balderdash. English teachers should teach what they know and love. If they love fiction, teach it. If they love nonfiction, teach it. Why should a committee with no classroom teachers on it in 2009 tell reading teachers how to apportion their reading time? I doubt that teachers of math and science will spend any time on fiction anyway.
Your belief in using test scores to hold teachers accountable has no research to support it, nor is there any real-world evidence. Many districts have tried this for four or five years and there is no evidence–none–that it produces better teachers or better education. The ratings, as noted above, are arbitrary, and say more about classroom composition than about teacher quality. Nor is there any evidence that education gets better if teachers everywhere are using a common script. Doing well in school depends on family support, student motivation, community support, adequate resources, class sizes appropriate to the needs of the children, experienced teachers, wise leadership, and students who arrive in school healthy and well-fed.
Frankly, I don’t understand why you oppose “joy” in the classroom. Why should school be so “hard” that it makes children cry? It is true that some assignments are hard; some books are hard to read; some math problems are hard to solve. We learn from doing things that are not necessarily joyful, but that engage us in work that stimulates us to think harder, try harder, persist. When we are done with hard work, yes, it is a joyful feeling. Maybe it is because I am a grandmother, but I want my grandchildren to approach their school work with earnestness and to sense the joy of accomplishment, the joy of learning. I want my grandchildren to love learning. I want them to read books even when they are not assigned. I want them to go to the Internet to find things out because they are curious.
And, yes, Alexander, I agree that kids like yours and Louis’s and my grandchildren will be fine. We will read to them, we will talk with them and introduce them to vocabulary, we will take them on trips to the museum and the library, we will listen to them as they read the stories they wrote for school. Other kids are not so lucky. But why should they be punished by being deprived of joy? Why should they be subject to endless testing and test prep? Will that free them from poverty and homelessness? Will that vault them into the middle-class?
Alexander, you assume that national standards, holding teachers accountable for test scores, more high-stakes testing, more rigor, and privately-managed charter schools will cure poverty. There is no evidence for what you believe. The Common Core has some good ideas in it; I doubt that it will do harm, although I believe that subjecting little children to 6-8 hours of testing to see if they can read and do math is harmful, physically and mentally, to them. Long ago, educators were able to find out in tests lasting 50 minutes how well a student could read or do math. Why is it now an ordeal that lasts as long as some professional examinations? For heaven’s sake, we are talking about little children, not candidates for college or a profession!