Thoughts on Common Core

Originally posted by the Gem State Tea Party. Posted here by permission.

Dear Fellow Legislators and other interested parties:

I am convinced that Idaho has some of the best educators in the nation. For the most part, they work hard and are very concerned about their students. I believe working together; Idaho can continue to improve the educational experience for our youth.

Common Core is the most important education issue to come before the legislature for many years. Since, I have been active in education issues; I believe that I should share my thoughts with you on this issue.

To begin, there are three different perspectives of what Common Core is. Tom Luna's view and the view of many educators is that Common Core is a voluntary set of benign standards that are superior to the standards currently in place.

The second view of Common Core is that they are a step toward nationalization of the curriculum with the accompanying loss of local control. This view believes that Common Core standards are inferior standards, the testing process will lead to manipulation and control of the population and students will not be ready for college.

The third view of Common Core is what Common Core actually becomes which will be determined by the actions that we take as legislators in the next session. What Common Core becomes will probably fall somewhere between these two extremes.

In my discussion with interested parties, I have learned that there are six major areas of concern which both camps seem to agree on which are:

  1. Parental, local, and state control over the education system is superior to federal control of education and the curriculum.
  2. Protecting the individual student data from third party access such as the federal government, private corporations, and researchers is necessary. The reason is simple. Data can be used to manipulate, intimidate, or give or deny access to education and other services.
  3. The nature of the standards is critical. Are the standards quality standards? Are they sequential?
  4. The nature of the test. Does the test give more weight to process or to the correct answer? If the test gives more weight to the process, then this discriminates against students that were not trained in a specific system and would discriminate against home schooled students and public school students that don't think in the prescribed manner. Subjective answers give power to the graders of the test to favor one thought pattern over another. Finally, subjectively grading tests is more expensive.
  5. Cost. What is the cost of the Common Core system? Where is the money coming from? To my knowledge, a cost analysis has not been done.
  6. The content of the curriculum. This refers to what is taught to students that parents may disagree with, for example: American history, when sex education is taught, the role of global warming, exposure to homosexuality, and other controversial issues. Whose view of the world should be taught? Those of the parents or those of social elites? Common Core currently does not deal with many of these issues; however, they are still an ongoing concern.

Perspective

One camp opposed to Common Core believes that Common Core should be repealed. I like to point out to them that if Common Core is repealed that all six problems still exist. There is still a threat of the nationalization of public education, data mining by the federal government will still be a problem, discussions on standards will still take place, testing is still an issue, cost is still and issue, and what is taught in school is still an issue.

I believe there are issues that need to be addressed in all six areas. I have suggested several possible solutions. Some require legislation while others do not. Let's take each area one at a time and go over potential fixes.

  1. Nationalization of the curriculum. Few want the federal government to control curriculum. While this is not a threat this year or next, there is a real concern in the next 5, 10, or 20 years unless active steps are taken to protect Idaho from this threat – real or imagined. A solution would be to strengthen the power of parents in choosing the curriculum. It is contrary to federal law for the federal government to control the curriculum. Placing parents in a stronger position would be a good first step in this process. I have written a bill that allows parents to choose any curriculum for math in elementary school or any curriculum for government class. This means that the curriculum does not have to be approved by the feds, by the state, or by the local school board. The bill states that if 10 or fewer students desire the same alternative curriculum, the school district does not have to provide the instructor but must facilitate parents teaching the curriculum within the school. If 11 or more students desire an alternative curriculum, the school must provide the instruction. It could be a class within a class. The cost of the curriculum would be paid for by the parents and the students would need to take the same final test as the students that take the approved curriculum. Finally, strengthening the role of parents in choosing the curriculum creates a culture of parental control and involvement that would protect Idaho from many future federal actions.
  2. Data mining. A bill needs to be written to address some of these concerns. I have not written such a bill; however, Senator Goedde indicated he was working on such a bill.
  3. The nature of the standards. This will be an ongoing discussion. I have some concerns with the Common Core math standards. In the first grade math standards, it says the first graders should be able to reason abstractly. This concerns me at several levels. First of all, most first graders do not reason abstractly. They reason concretely. In Ray's New Arithmetics, which was used over 130 years ago, great care is given to explain to the teacher when a child can reason abstractly and when a child cannot. One of the biggest clues concerns numbers. Rays Arithmetic always uses numbers with objects -- one apple, two birds etc. It never uses numbers by themselves because numbers are abstractions, until the child starts using numbers abstractly. For example, when talking about an object, instead of saying 2 birds, the child simply says 2. I am greatly concerned that educators have not raised this concern. My concern about the education establishment is that educators tend to follow the crowd rather than raise concerns that are not accepted by administrators or education experts. They tend to yield to peer-pressure rather than raise concerns. I do not know if this is because they are afraid of losing their job or they lack confidence in their own ideas or if they have been conditioned to go along. I believe that Common Core Standards need to be compared with standards from high performing nations and states such as Massachusetts Language Art standards of several years ago or previous year's California math standards. Common Core standards will be in place for a couple of years even if we decide to change them; never-the-less, an ongoing discussion is needed to decide if Common Core standards are the standards we actually want to keep. The legislature has not debated this issue and it needs to be debated. Math pathOne of the concerns of those opposed to Common Core is that Common Core math standards do not support STEM careers; namely, Common Core only supports Algebra through high school. In order to correct this concern, I would suggest publishing a Math Path or the math classes that need to be taken by students beginning in the 7th grade in order to take calculus their senior year of high school. This is a simple solution. Allowing the parents to choose the curriculum for math in elementary school would also address this problem.
  4. The nature of the Test. I am so concerned about this issue that I would recommend delaying the beginning of the Smarter Balance test for a year to ascertain if this is the test that we want. Another option would be for legislators and concerned parents to take the test to see, for themselves, if they approve of the test or not. Maybe we should keep in place the ISAT for another year. At the very least, correct answers on a test must count more than the process. I would suggest that any test that gives a wrong score for the correct answer (because the process is lacking) while giving credit for the wrong answer if the process is correct should be prohibited within the state of Idaho.
  5. Cost. Superintendent Luna and other Common Core supporters need to tell the legislature what are the costs. This is simply a prudent question and area of discussion.
  6. The nature of the curriculum. Allowing the parents to begin to choose the curriculum in math in elementary school and government class is a good first step. In the future, if this concerns continues, parents may need to be able to choose the curriculum in other areas as well such as literature, science etc.

These thoughts are a summary of some of the major issues that I see with both Common Core and education in general. My hope is that they may be helpful in framing the discussion and addressing some very important issues.

I spoke with Tom Luna about the issues raised in the paper. He agrees with most of the concerns and is supportive of many of the proposals. He pointed out that:

  • Common Core is, in his opinion, the floor and not the ceiling.
  • The ISAT test only tested through algebra; yet, students still took calculus.
  • The Smarter Balance assessment has a three year role out. Last year it was tested in 120 schools, this year students in all schools will take it, and next year will be the first year of full implementation. He indicated that the questions will be available to review.
  • Superintendent Luna would see if parents and legislators could take the test after the students took the test.
  • One last concern was the sexually explicit nature of some of the recommended literature. I requested that he contact the Smarter Balance test creators to see if passages from these books could be barred from tests in Idaho. If they can, then we have some control over the nature of the test. If they cannot be barred, then the test is of real concern.
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Original article on the Gem State Tea Party website here: http://gemstateteaparty.blogspot.com/2013/10/thoughts-on-common-core.html
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