Class Warfare Blog

August 9, 2013

Common Core Curriculum Lies and Truths

I have been writing about education a great deal of late, because this is a major thrust in the class war. As the Jesuits used to say, give me a child until they are five. . . . This one is about high stakes testing of students and schools.

Well, the results are in! I like big experiments and we are experimenting like crazy right now . . . on our children. As I said, I like big experiments, except in science (my field) there are many little ones leading up to middle-sized ones, leading up the really big ones—like the one that resulted in the verification of the existence of the Higgs Boson most recently. If you look back from that set of trials you will find hundreds of attempts to get at the truth that failed and from which we learned something that helped with the big experiment.

But experimenting on inanimate matter and experimenting on people are two very different things. One must go even slower when working with people, hence in drug studies they work on mice, then rats, then pigs, etc. before any human trials are even considered.

But we are experimenting, big time, with the futures of our children by radically changing how we educate them. Most recently has been the development of the Common Core State (sic) Standards (see my previous post for an explanation of the “sic”). Every state has adopted them and states are busy aligning their statewide achievement tests to these standards. But the little experiments were not done. The middle-sized experiments were not done. We did the equivalent of teaching an infant to swim by throwing them into the deep end of the pool. We are doing whole state experiments . . . many of them . . . simultaneously, not waiting to see what we could learn from the others.

And the first big experiment results are in! Consider the state of New York. The results of the latest “Common Core Aligned” state tests were,  as expected, lower than they had got with their old tests. In fact, the scores were not just Lower, they were abysmal.  The New York Times reported that “from last year to this one, the percent of students scoring “proficient” on English dropped from 47% to 26% while the percent scoring ‘proficient’ on Math dropped from 60% to 30%.” Now New York state is a big state and it has some of the best high schools in this country, many of whom have extremely rigorous internationally recognized curricula. Their scores went down, too.

As a classroom teacher, I can tell you the hardest thing a teacher has to do is to maintain one’s standards. It is very easy to drift lower when you get a crop or two of weaker students and to drift higher if you get a crop or two of stronger students. Consequently I adopted the practice of reusing several tests each term, but these were tests that were rotated in every three or four years, so the likelihood of any student having a copy of that previous test were very poor. The average scores on those tests were not a directly reflection of the student’s performances. They were a direct reflection of their performance and my performance, so there was a great deal of reflection involved as well as other measures I took to maintain consistency of assessment. It just doesn’t do to have this year’s A effort be the same as last year’s B effort.

“Since they brought up “lies,” the topic is on the table. They are telling a Big Lie,
a lie that says our public schools are irredeemably broken.”

 In addition, I worked with the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the producers of the SAT and other tests, and got to learn quite a bit about their methods, especially since I got started working with them by being involved in test development. They went to enormous trouble to make sure that test scores were consistent, to the point that completely new tests were tested and then the norms adjusted so that if the test were a little more or less difficult, the scores would still reflect the same levels of achievement.

In the case of New York’s “dismal performance” some of the “reformers” decided a positive spin was needed.  Joel Klein, in an Op-Ed in the The New York Post wrote “While some may confuse lower scores as a negative development, the fact that we’re finally being honest about academic achievement is a very positive sign.”  DOE Chief Arne Duncan said “Too many school systems lied to children, families and communities.” You can only make such comments if you have absolute knowledge of what the situation actually was and neither of these two gentlemen were in a position to know anything that specific about the entire state of New York.

“Guess which schools did better: the public schools (Boo, hiss!) or the charter schools (Yea!)?
Yep, the
public schools kicked the charter school’s butts.”

Since they brought up “lies,” the topic is on the table. They are telling a Big Lie, a lie that says our public schools are irredeemably broken. They are telling this lie over and over, which is how you make a Big Lie work, just as Hitler repeated over and over to the German people, “all your problems stem from the Jews.” A Big Lie will fall flat if the audience isn’t primed to believe it somehow. The Germans had been blaming Jews for many things for centuries. And Americans have been “awfulizing” about public education for decades, even though a careful inspection shows a slight upward trend in quality. And there has been a drumbeat of late, financed by wealthy, conservative “reformers,” who are pushing business-based reforms.

Not only are the “reformers” lying about the problem, they are lying about the solution. Guess which schools did better: the public schools (Boo, hiss!) or the charter schools (Yea!)? Yep, the public schools kicked the charter school’s butts. Wha? In an article by AP writer Stephanie Simon, she said “Just 23 percent of charter students scored proficient in language arts, compared with 31 percent in public schools overall. That’s a greater gap than had shown up in last year’s exams. In math, charter schools beat the public school average in each of the past two years — but not this year. On the new tests, just 31 percent of charter students scored proficient, the same as in public schools overall.”

If you want to take the results of flawed tests to state the public schools are failing (rather than say that the test writers failed), you also have to say “charter schools aren’t the answer.” Well, you do if you are being honest.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for that admission.



  1. A side note, but regretful nonetheless, is how the “problems” in education there are being treated/approached by the media. New York Post is decidedly right-leaning, correct? Hence the negative spin. Turning something as important as education into a ball in a public political/ideological mosh-pit is surely a recipe for disaster. I say regretful because these people (journalists) should know better.


    Comment by john zande — August 9, 2013 @ 8:24 am | Reply

    • It is no coincidence that the news media in this country have been “corparatized.” (I hate noun into verb constructions.) Fox (sic) News takes orders from corporate interests directly and is clumsy enough to let it be known. The other networks are a bit more circumspect but still, you don’t hear/read anything or very little that is critical of corporations from them. real journalists do know better but many of them have been sent off and replaced by clones or not replaced at all. And just what are the Kardashians up to?

      Check this out the Common Core was shoved down our throats by a great deal of federal law breaking.


      Comment by stephenpruis — August 9, 2013 @ 8:33 am | Reply

  2. Thanks for bringing out the point that the Charter schools are not the godsend their promoters want us to believe. The business model is eventually going to be exposed for its serious flaws in the public sector as it continues to fail in its use in education, health care and the prison system in this country.


    Comment by lbwoodgate — August 10, 2013 @ 6:22 am | Reply

    • The question is whether anyone will be paying attention. I think that a great deal of the crisis and scandal mongering is to create political fatigue, outrage fatigue if you will, so that when important issues come up only the zealots will be mobilized. I hope the outrage of parents will turn the tide on this issue. One year one’s kid is an A student, the next a C student–pretty hard to take from bureacrats.


      Comment by stephenpruis — August 10, 2013 @ 8:14 am | Reply

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