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Undergraduate Teaching Faculty Should Be Worried about Common Core: A Perspective from K-12

Feb 23, 2016 by

sandra stostky

Sandra Stotsky –

Because of my long-term involvement in reforming curriculum, instruction, and teacher training in K-12, I want to explain to faculty in post-secondary institutions why the problems in Common Core-based standards and tests in English language arts and reading (ELA) in K-12 will increasingly matter to them, especially teaching faculty in the humanities. I do not discuss the problems in the K-12 mathematics and science curriculum resulting from the widespread adoption (by mainly state boards of education) of Common Core’s mathematics standards. R. James Milgram, professor emeritus of mathematics at Stanford University, has discussed the deficiencies in Common Core’s mathematics standards, as well as their implications for undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate education or work in disciplines or areas that are math-dependent, both in writing (for example, http://pioneerinstitute.org/news/lowering-the-bar-how-common-core-math-fails-to-prepare-students-for-stem/) and at dozens of public events around the country.

As Milgram has observed many times over, undergraduate teaching faculty were left out almost completely from the process of developing both sets of Common Core’s K-12 standards (yes, an army of outside reviewers is acknowledged by the private organizations that developed Common Core, with financial help from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but no one knows to this day what role the reviewers or the Foundation played in shaping the final product that emerged on June 2, 2010). The one English literature professor who communicated regularly with the ELA standards writers (Mark Bauerlein) cannot point to more than a sidebar or footnote as evidence of the many suggestions he offered. This footnote/sidebar, as appropriate as it is for strengthening the K-12 curriculum in an English-speaking country, seems to have exerted no influence on our professional organizations for K-12 educators, K-12 test developers, or K-12 professional development providers, so far as we can tell. (http://pioneerinstitute.org/download/how-common-cores-ela-standards-place-college-readiness-at-risk/)

Indeed, the most recent “research” on Common Core-aligned tests for K-12 (PARCC, SBAC, ACT’s Aspire, and the post-2011 MCAS) showed little interest in the literary content of these tests, despite the fact that literature has been and remains the central content of the language curriculum in all other countries. The scholar selected to lead the analysis of the tests’ ELA content is a professor of psychology (“…Charles Perfetti, Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at University of Pittsburgh, served as the ELA/Literacy content lead…”, p. 5). Issued by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in January 2016, the study sought to determine which tests best meet the criteria formulated by Common Core test developers or supporters for evaluating how closely Common Core-aligned tests reflect college-and-career readiness standards, not criteria developed by independent experts for evaluating the qualities of sound tests. (http://dianeravitch.net/2016/02/18/thomas-b-fordham-releases-a-report-on-quality-of-common-core-tests-act-and-mcas-a-debate/) The study cannot be taken seriously. (http://dianeravitch.net/2016/02/18/richard-phelps-the-fordham-report-on-assessments-is-pretend-researc h/) Nevertheless, it is being portrayed as serious research by the organizations that developed these tests. For example, on February 13, 2016, PARCC declared: “New Studies Reaffirm PARCC as One of Nation’s Premier Tests” (http://www.parcconline.org/news-and-video/press-releases/388-new-studies-reaffirm-parcc-as-one-of-nation-s-premier-tests?utm_source=PARCC+Updates+2-1316&utm_campaign=1.23.16+PARCC+Updates&utm_medium=email)

The plot is even thicker than it appears. According to IRS 990 filings, the Gates Foundation has done much more than subsidize the development of Common Core’s standards, their promotion, and their dissemination. It has also given the Fordham Institute over 8 millions in the past seven years. It has also paid Teach Plus, a Boston-based organization for training teachers, 7.5 millions in 2014 alone to testify for Common Core and produce reports on the teachers it has trained showing how much they like PARCC tests (http://hechingerreport.org/can-new-tests-quell-teacher-anger-common-core/). And it has given the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) over $600,000 in 2013-2015 for “operating costs,” anticipating the pricey lawsuit the MBAE filed in January 2016 to quash an initiative petition by parents and teachers in the Bay State (certified by the Attorney General in September 2015) allowing voters to vote whether or not to restore the state’s superior pre-Common Core standards in the November 2016 election (see, e.g., http://newbostonpost.com/2016/02/12/gates-foundation-tied-to-lawsuit-seeking-to-block-citizen-vote-on-common-core/ and http://www.educationviews.org/initiative-petition-15-12bill-3929-merits-approval/).

The mistaken ideas on education held by the Gates Foundation should be enough reason to be concerned about its grip on K-12. Not one education policy “expert” employed by the Gates Foundation or education-oriented organization it has funded in the past seven years has a record of any kind in improving academic achievement in K-12. But, if that isn’t enough, then undergraduate teaching faculty should ponder the contents of Appendix B in the Common Core document on its website to understand the folly of the advice it gives K-12 teachers—to give “literacy” instruction in the middle of content instruction. http://nonpartisaneducation.org/Review/Essays/v9n1.htm or

http://www.uaedreform.org/wp-content/uploads/2000/01/Stotsky-Literature-or-Technical-Manuals.pdf

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