“We must raise the expectations for our students, for our schools and for ourselve to prevent other nations from out-competing us.”-Barack Obama’s Blueprint for Reform, March 2010
Based on the incorrect assumption that global rankings in standardized tests identifies the fault in our educational system, focus has been aimed at educational standards shifting from attainment of basic skills to mastery of higher skills. For example, the shift in Math education is to follow the Singapore Math model. Singapore Math is highly visual and requires a mastery of foundational skills. Several studies have shown that the reason that students in Singapore do so well with this approach is limited cultural diversity and an industry-based economy. More than 90% of students in Singapore are employed in the industrial workforce upon graduation. There are very few scholars, inventors, explorers, artists, etc. One culture. One economy.
The idea that countries like Singapore out-compete the United States is solely based on Math scores. Yes, they mass produce electronic parts for the rest of the world, but only because their population contains a specific skillset, and they produce goods at a fraction of what they can be produced elsewhere.
Under the premise of the above reasoning, it was determined that there was a need to develop higher standards. Surely, if our students can do as well as theirs, then the result would be a more capable workforce that can compete. Under the guidance of the National Governors Association (NGO) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the non-profit organization, Achieve, was created. Achieve enlisted another organization, Student Achievement Partners, to create the standards. The standards were to be reviewed by internal audit groups. Here are some facts about the creation of the standards.
- The standards were completed in under one year, but had not been made public until after many States had already adopted them.
- Sixty-five people participated in the creation. The group was comprised mostly of representatives from the testing industry. Only one was a classroom teacher.
- Content experts and practitioners were omitted from the process because they were “determined to base the standards on content research.”–Education Week, June 2010
- One of the audit groups, Alliance for Childhood, refused to sign off on the standards because of their inappropriate nature and issued a formal statement to that effect. (see attached)
Acceptance and Implementation
The Common Core standards were accepted by the NGO/CCSSO (not written by), and the Race To The Top program was introduced by President Obama citing that educational dollars would be made available to States that adopted the Common Core standards, or comparable standards. Forty-six states adopted the standards without having seen them. The standards were reportedly designed to increase problem solving skills and higher order thinking skills; however, this is not a function of standards. These skills are cultivated by curriculum. Therefore, the implementation of Common Core standards requires specific curriculum and assessment which is produced by the very companies that were represented in the development.
Analysis of the standards
Immediately upon implementation, members of the education community began to notice problems. Many of the standards were similar to previously used standards but moved down two grade levels. A Math skill that a 3rd grader would have been taught, previously, was now required of a 1st grader. The problem with this type of grade level shift is that many upper level skills are based on previously learned foundational skills and facts. In addition, the concept of higher level skills are at risk of being above the cognitive skill of the younger student. For example, the average kindergarten student doesn’t cognitively understand the concept of linear time such as yesterday, today and tomorrow, yet they are required to solve word problems that they cannot read and not only require knowledge linear time, but also the ability to conceptualize a math problem. In addition, they are required to memorize and recognize more than 60 words for reading at a level that they have no context for. In general, there has been less opposition from parents of middle school aged children because those children have reached the cognitive level required AND they have had 5 or more years of foundational skills. Kindergarten through fifth are not getting the foundational skills. They are going straight into conceptualizing.
Curriculum and Assessment
The curriculum and assessment, developed by the companies who created the standards, represent a fundamental shift in purpose. Prior to NCLB, the purpose of standardized tests was to determine a student’s progress in attaining basic skills and represented in a percentile comparison of a similar demographic across the nation. The ITBS, a norm-referenced test, was the primary instrument used by most states. NCLB changed that testing to standards-referenced testing which compares a student to a standard, then ranks them in comparison to other students. In both cases, the assessment was designed to create a general snapshot of skills attained. Under the new standards, the curriculum teaches skills above the student’s level of learning, then the assessment creates a snapshot of what the student DOESN’T know as opposed to what he DOES know. The system promotes failure, by design.