Monday, December 14, 2009

Problems with the Common Core National Standards

Ze'ev Wurman and I wrote an op-ed that we published Dec. 11 as a guest column on Jay P. Greene's Blog. The post was entitled: "Alternative Needed to Common Core: An Additional Consortium for ‎Common Standards."

We noted that some critics have pointed to the federalism problem. For example, the Texas chief state school officer describes the Common Core national standards as

an effort “by the U. S. Department of Education” to impose “a national curriculum and testing system” and “a step toward a federal takeover” of public schools across the nation.

But Ze'ev Wurman and I focused on the the problems of process and content.

In terms of process, we pointed to the longtime secrecy about who was doing what and the secrecy about the drafts of the standards themselves. We pointed to the tight timeline and asked whether it allowed enough time for public comment.

We argued that although the process had been flawed, the situation is, unfortunately, even more troubling on the content side.

The proposed English-Language Arts “college and career readiness” standards (which we are told are not high school graduation standards) are largely a list of content-free generic skills. Rather than focusing on what English teachers are trained to teach (quality literature), the drafters seem to expect English teachers to teach reading strategies presumed to help students to cope with biology or economics textbooks.

In mathematics, the standards are perhaps even worse. While essentially all four-year state colleges require at least three years of high school mathematics, including Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry or above, CCSSI’s standards require only Algebra 1 and few bits and pieces from Algebra 2 and Geometry. In other words, students who graduate from high school having taken only math coursework addressing those standards (and presumably having passed a test based on them) will be inadmissible to any four-year college around the country.

The remedy we proposed was an alternative consortium of states.

That consortium would be composed of states whose standards have been highly rated by academic experts– like California or Massachusetts — together with states like Texas and Alaska whose reluctance to jump on the Common Core bandwagon has been clearly vindicated.