Thanks to Republican legislators who used a rare parliamentary procedure to get a bill asking for a moratorium raised for public hearing, Connecticut finally got to experience a lengthy airing of views on the Common Core and its implementation thus far in our state.
Republicans had to resort to such strategies because, for reasons that can only be known to them, Democrats in the legislature tried to limit “hearings” on Common Core implementation to what amounted to a PR session with Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which is one of the organizations that helped draft the standards. Hardly a well-rounded airing of views — but then that doesn’t appear to have been what the governor and his allies wanted.
Democrats from Arne Duncan on down are trying to frame the growing nationwide revolt by parents, K-12 educators, university professors, and child development specialists as “Tea Party extremism” or overwrought “white suburban moms.” A recent Hartford Courant piece by UConn professor Robert Thorson simplistically categorized those who question the Core as anti-Copernican opponents of science. As a devoted Neil deGrasse Tyson fangirl, I can think of no greater insult.
Such diatribes are foolish and myopic. Common Core proponents need to face a very important fact: parents are not idiots. Those of us with older children can see the qualitative difference in curriculum since the Common Core roll out began — and we are not impressed. We’re angered by the loss of instructional time to testing for a benefit that accrues to testing companies rather than our children.
Common Core proponents claim that the standards raise the bar and will make us more competitive. But is this actually true?
I encourage parents and legislators alike to read the September 2013 study: Challenging the Research Base of the Common Core State Standards: A Historical Reanalysis of Text Complexity published by AERA (American Educational Research Association). The analysis focuses on the ELA components of the standards, but what it says about the assumptions driving them and how they were constructed is important: “The blanket condemnation made by the CCSS authors that school reading texts have ‘trended downward over the last half century’ is inaccurate” — particularly so, the authors of the study found, in the K-3 grades. Why this is dangerous is that “we may be hastily attempting to solve a problem that does not exist and elevating text complexity in a way that is ultimately harmful to students.”
Just talk to any reading specialist about the ridiculous anomalies experienced when using lexiles. For example: Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid (950) has a higher text complexity than Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (890). While a computer might think the text in Wimpy Kid is more complex, any parent, teacher, or librarian with half a brain knows that the concepts in Fahrenheit 451 require far greater maturity to digest and comprehend. Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers (890) has a higher lexile than Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. (870). Now, my kids and I loved Captain Underpants, but seriously? Oh, and according to the lexile folks, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever (1060) is on practically the same level as Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1080).
Why then, are to we believe the standards are better and more developmentally appropriate? Simply because we’re being told it is so?
When the authors of the AERA study analyzed the literature used by Common Core writers to justify the need for more complex texts, what they found was: “a tight and closed loop of researchers citing one another and leading . . . to an artificially heightened sense of scholarly agreement about a decline in textbook complexity.”
It’s hardly surprising this is the case when we look at how the world’s richest man, Bill Gates, has funded the research, development, implementation and promotion of the CCSS.
According to HonestPracticum.com, Gates has spent more than $282 million to promote on his vision of education reform.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan asserts that despite such lavish spending, Gates “doesn’t have a seat at the table” when it comes to education policymaking, but it’s hard to believe Duncan could get those words out with a straight face. Gates owns the table — and after all the money he’s spent, he seems completely baffled as to why we common folk aren’t jumping to eat what he’s put on it.
A teacher friend wrote to me in despair this evening:
Sarah, could you could ask legislators what they would do if a six or seven year old did one of the following:
—Came to school late and sat down in her seat. Raised her hand and waited patiently to be called on and then said, “The reason I am late to school is because my mother died last night.”
—Came to school and said, “I saw a guy get shot last night. There was blood all over the place and my mother screamed at me to close the door.”
—Came to school with his kindergarten sister and leaned up against the wall of the school sobbing waiting for his teacher to arrive. Then when she saw him and asked what was wrong, he told her that the cops shot their dog this morning.
—Sent to see the nurse by the teacher because when she was eating her snack and talking to the teacher the teacher noticed that she had huge cavities in every molar. But, she was not taken to a dentist until her mother was told she could not return to school until she went to the clinic.
These are true stories and I was the teacher.
Please Sarah, ask the legislators if they believe no-excuses charter schools, CCSS, and incessant testing are more beneficial to these students then counseling and other resources for families. Please remind them that we provide extra resources and support all around the state for many horrific tragedies, but we continually neglect our most vulnerable children and families when they experience tragedy.
My friend is putting a human face on the same question the authors of the AERA report asked: “Shall we tinker with complexity levels while overlooking the egregious educational inequities and scandalous socioeconomic conditions that researchers have demonstrated are persisted causes of low academic performance? . . . Higher test complexity levels are likely to ignore this problem while further widening the achievement gap.”
These are the facts that Malloy and Pryor and other Core proponents — including Gates, the Business Roundtable, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who are funding the latest Pro-CCSS propaganda campaign — want us to ignore. They need to accept that no matter how much money they spend, parents, educators, and child development specialists will never do so.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.