Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Common Core State Standards Initiative has uncommonly bad problems

I attended a lecture by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush last year at which he spoke positively about the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS), explaining that governors and state commissioners or secretaries of education developed the program. It is entirely voluntary, and is designed to set uniform high education standards in the states that participate.

The idea seems potentially beneficial, given that the states control it and not the federal government. In support, Mr. Bush cites the fact that the U.S. has fallen behind many other countries in educational attainment, and that CCSS can reverse this trend.

“Let me tell you something,” Mr. Bush said recently at the Broward Workshop business breakfast, as reported by The Miami Herald. “In Asia today, they don’t care about children’s self esteem. They care about math, whether they can read – in English – whether they understand why science is important, whether they have the grit and determination to be successful.”

Appearing on the Hugh Hewitt radio program the host breached the idea that CCSS would be a national curriculum. “In fact, standards are different than curriculum,” Mr. Bush responded, “and that’s where I think the biggest misnomer is where people legitimately get concerned. I would be concerned if we had a national curriculum influenced by the federal government. My God, I’d break out in a rash.” The curriculum, he said, “should be driven by state and local school districts and by policy makers at the state level.”

So, CCSS sounds pretty good. Ideas often fail to reach their expectations, however, and where Common Core is concerned there are numerous examples of how its implementation fails to match up with the high ideals Mr. Bush believes in.

To say that the Common Core approach to basic mathematics is different takes understatement to a new level. If the problem is to find the sum of 26 and 17, we would normally put the addends one above the other, add 7 and 6 to get 13, put the 3 down and carry the 1, then add the 1, the 2 and the other 1 to get 43.

Not so with Common Core math. Here’s how CCSS does it:

Add 26 + 17 by breaking apart numbers to make a ten. Use a number that adds with the 6 in 26 to make a 10. Since 6 + 4 = 10, use 4. Think: 17 = 4 + 13. Add 26 + 4 = 30. Add 30 + 13 = 43. So, 26 + 17 = 43.

Does the CCSS method work? Well, yes, it works. And perhaps some beneficial learning takes place. However it is somewhat like when trying to fly from Washington, DC to New York City, you first fly to Nashville, TN, then to Atlanta, GA, then to Boston, MA then to NYC.

Most important in education, however, is the content presented in the classroom. The most high-minded goals are meaningless if what students actually experience ignores them.

Testifying before the Alabama Senate Education Committee, Becky Gerritson focused primarily on an 11th grade literature textbook called The American Experience: 1900-Present by Prentice Hall, with the words “Common Core Edition” on the cover. She explained that it contains anti-American themes and misrepresents our nation’s founding, and she supports a bill to allow local school districts to opt out of Common Core.

But where she really got the Committee’s attention was when she began reading six sentences of Toni Morrison’s book The Bluest Eye, which she said is recommended reading for 11th graders.

What she read produced gasps from the audience, and the chairman stopped her, and did not allowed her to finish. You see, this book recommended for 11th graders is the story of an 8-year old black girl. The six sentences she chose to read were a graphic depiction of a sex act between a pedophile and the 8-year-old, and contained, among several pornographic phrases that are inappropriate for this column, the F-word that brought the testimony to a close.

Defenders of Common Core might argue that most 11th graders are familiar with such language and concepts, but that is totally beside the point. It is completely inappropriate for a high school classroom.

And political pressure is also present.

According to Susan Kimball, a kindergarten teacher of 20 years in the Sikeston, Missouri Public School District, her opposition to Common Core resulted in bullying and intimidation from administrators and fellow teachers.

Ms. Kimball related that she was told at an in-service meeting to “be careful about what you post on Facebook, or talk about in the public regarding Common Core.  Don’t say anything negative.  It could affect your job.” But she continued to speak out.

“When I turned in a personal day request to come support the rally for House Bill 1490,” she said, “I was asked by my principal, ‘Do you really want that in your personnel file?’ And then I was bullied and ostracized by my administration, a few other teachers and the president of the school board.  And that continues today,” she said.

Common Core must be carefully investigated and cleaned up before being adopted. Or maybe just scrap it.

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