Andrew Cuomo and the Common Core

images from Google image search
Andrew Cuomo replaced some disastrous governors in
New York State. He made Albany function again. However, he is hardly perfect.
He is strong, but he is also patriarchal. He is not one to consult the various
interest groups in the state and then arrive at his policy decisions by wending
a careful line between them. He has his own firm opinions and he seems to work
from the strategy that “if you want something done right (fast) you must do it
It’s difficult to complain when Andrew Cuomo has set
New York State back on a stronger financial path and when he does something as
brave and endearing as issuing a fracking ban. But he has not managed to put
much of a dent in the corruption that is so rampant in Albany and he created
quite an as-yet-unresolved stir when he cancelled his own commission just when
the members started to focus on him.
The good seems to outweigh the bad so far except for
the Governor’s views on education. His stern edicts in this area are misguided
and perhaps even harmful. Here he is at his patriarchal worst. He is a bull in
the china shop, thrashing around and breaking everything.
This current trend to end tenure needs to go away.
Tenure is not the problem, at least not the main problem, with education.
Instead of ending tenure we need to get a great teacher evaluation system that
will sort out hopeless educators, provide more training or support services for
teachers who will be great with just a slight tweak, and which will provide
merit awards to the best teachers.
I believe there is also such a strong tendency right
now to blame unions and to engage in union busting and that this is a very
wrong-headed tendency. Those in positions of authority have long histories of
antipathy towards unions because unions give individuals the strength of a
group of lobbyists. Unions give job security and the state is the boss in the
case of teachers. Unions also promise benefits in lieu of salary increases that
cost the state money – at least from a budget-eye view. Teachers, however,
would have to demand higher salaries if such benefits as health insurance and
pensions were not offered in place of wages. Current leaders feel that previous
leaders made bad bargains and that it will be a pinch to honor these old deals.
They would like to nullify these old bargains. Since our corporations left us
and since many unions are left with no one to fight against, there has been some
success with busting unions using right-to-work rulings.
This climate offers a perfect opportunity to attack
public employee unions which have, by definition, an adversarial relationship
with their managers (which are state and local government). Of course, without
the protection of a strong teacher’s union the employer (the state) could move
teacher salaries  and benefits up and
down in response to the financial climate of the times offering little security
or few incentives to our teachers who have families to support.
Cuomo is using a strict approach to teacher
evaluation in order to break up what he feels is the unfair advantage that
tenure gives to bad teachers. Teacher’s unions and teachers need to stop
stonewalling and come up with such a system. A great peer review evaluation
process could be every bit as effective as ending tenure and busting teachers’
unions and far more fair.
Not only does Governor Cuomo want to base teacher
evaluations on tests and how students perform on tests, but he wants to base teacher
evaluation on the new Common Core student evaluations. He’s an intelligent man
so I am suspicious of his motives in taking this controversial stand. New York
education standards were high enough that we did not need to go with the Common
Core. Neither students nor teachers are used to the new Common Core curriculum.
The tests do not accommodate for special education students or students with learning
disabilities and we know it will be unclear for a number of years whether this
population of students will ever be able to benefit from the Common Core
I am very disheartened by the current “war on
teachers” with government officials encouraging weary citizens to act like
spectators at the gladiator contests in the old Roman arenas, going after
teachers with a certain glee (perhaps people resent the relative security
teachers still have because of their unions). The “war on unions” is also being
enjoyed by factory workers who found that their unions actually had little
power to protect them. It is quite effective to pit the people against the
At the federal level we see legislators trying to
take down our system of social supports. They cite the suspicion that citizens
are taking advantage of the system. We are doing the same thing with our
schools, citing bad teachers that the system protects as a reason to take
control away from teachers and from the unions. If you want to evaluate
teachers then come up with a peer review system. If you want schools that
function without the kinds of discipline issues we are seeing then get rid of
the Common Core, find more interesting ways to implement it, or find some more
interesting hands-on and community-based ways to stress math and science
skills. Common Core may function well in upscale schools, although I doubt it,
but it is not helping teachers or students in at-risk populations or schools.
Just putting your “mean” face on, Governor Cuomo,
will not change a thing and only proves the anti-government argument that
education should be taken out of the hands of government. I wouldn’t go that
far but I don’t think the fact that the money flows through governments turns
those who govern into education experts. Just divvy up the money fairly, facilitate
teachers and schools, and step away from controlling curriculum or teacher
evaluation. I’m talking to decision-makers at all governmental levels and I’m
talking to you too, Governor Cuomo.
By Nancy Brisson

Common Core Standards – Some Ideas

you remember I wrote a summary of people’s thoughts about the Common Core
Standards as encountered in my readings on the internet. The article called A Quick Look at the Common Core can be
found in my blogs( and http://
for 11/17/13. I wanted to think some more before I tried to
say anything more concrete about Common Core Standards in practice.

can common core standards be implemented in ways that are beyond teach, test,
teach, retest? This is the kind of thinking school staffs and teachers need
workshops and work sessions to consider. I recall when we had to write all our
objectives for each subject as behavioral objectives. Every objective had to
include what the student would do and how we would know if they had done it.
Before we attended workshops and conference presentations to explain this
process in the clearest terms; before we were given written guidelines to help
us make this transformation, we grumbled a lot about these top-down mandated
changes. Once we understood what was expected of us a lot of our anxiety went
away and with it most of our grumbling. Of course, we found the exercise had
some value in improved instructional effectiveness. We would have continued to
complain if these positive outcomes did not arrive. We, the teachers, were
never threatened with being judged by student’s test results as no top-down
tests were part of this particular mandate.

core standards also came to teachers as a top-down mandate, but they posit
rather extensive changes in classroom objectives, classroom content, and
therefore in curricula. There was no in-depth training that came along with
common core standards, however. No one made sure teachers were on board. I bet
anxiety was high but money was so tight that little preparation in the forms of
workshops and group work sessions was forthcoming. There were written materials
to read, but they were dense and did not include useable classroom objectives.
Parent’s anxieties were not taken into account. Teachers also need to be well-grounded in methodologies which may not have been included in their training. You cannot treat any learning/teaching creatively unless you are thoroughly proficient in the techniques you are expected to teach and the philosophical rationale for teaching them.

use of common core standards should not have been implemented to children who
were mid-stream in a different system. These standards should have been layered
in (once teachers were trained) starting with a kindergarten class and then
should have followed these students on through each subsequent grade.

implemented, common core standards include things that could have some value
for students in real life, like using reading everywhere across the curriculum
and in a conscious way so that even a social studies or science teacher would
have some reading objectives built in, and for that matter some writing
objectives and even some math objectives built in. The tendency of the common
core to focus on nonfiction is difficult for this literature lover and also, I
believe, short-sighted. Literature requires levels of thought not always found
in nonfiction materials. However, since many of my adult students had no idea
how to study or how to write, I believe that the creators of the common core standards
had a point here, although I believe a balance between fiction and nonfiction
is also needed.

suppose a given school chose a topic for the year. Perhaps the topic might be
slightly more sophisticated as grade levels increased. Let’s say the school decided
to explore the waste stream: 1) in the cafeteria, 2) in the whole school, 3) in
the community, 4) in several countries around the world.

would be something that would be totally comprehensive – other units of study
might intervene, but it is a topic that could keep popping up in math class
(design a way to collect data in the cafeteria or from research and decide how
the data will be analyzed).

science class each item of waste could be classified according to components
and there could be follow through to see how each item could be recycled and
where, or if disposed of what toxic substances might result, where would they
show up, and how long would it take each type of item to break down.

social studies students could see what kinds of waste were produced in other
places (maybe partner with a school in Alaska or Florida or New York) or
students could read about how waste was handled in ancient Rome or Victorian
times (only in ways appropriate to grade level).

projects would flow naturally from this kind of activity.

second project idea in high school might be to study low birth weight babies
born in local hospitals as compared with another city perhaps. Lots of options
present themselves in a project such as this for science, math, social studies
and writing/reading activities.

sure there are many great ideas out there. These ideas change the current model
of education where children sit in rows of desks quietly listening (hopefully)
and working (maybe). It makes classrooms more like workshops and work sessions
where students may work quietly one day, in small groups the next, on computers
on other days and on some days moving between work stations, with teachers and
aides circulating and facilitating where needed. Classrooms could even be
designed like offices with teams of workers who have a task to accomplish and
know that they will earn some reward if the project is completed and has a
quality result.

districts should step back and go through the comprehensive kinds of preparation
that should have occurred before implementation. They should teach some of this
stuff to parents as their children encounter common core methodologies
(especially in math) and they should think about starting with a group of
students who were never taught using a different system. These are the deeper
thoughts I promised on this topic and I hope they have some value.


By Nancy Brisson
This blog post is also available at

A Quick Look at Common Core

When the Common Core was first introduced people
(educators, mainly) were excited about it. It promised to provide schools with
a set of national standards which would equalize quality across schools, which
would make US students competitive in a global work environment, and which
would help America surpass all those schools that, according to statistics,
have outpaced American schools.

That was in 2009. Two groups – The National Governors
Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers “announced an effort
to create voluntary national standards in Math and Reading, says an article in
USA Today 30, Only four states did not sign on:  Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia. Obama
tied “college and career-ready standards” (the article goes on to say) to
billions in federal grants. The article states that in September of 2010 Obama
“all but required adoption of the common core or similar standards approved by
state higher ed. officials if states want to receive federal waivers from the 2002
No Child Left Behind law. (People in America really find mandated activities

Wikipedia tells us, “[t]he team who worked on developing
the standards included David Coleman, Wm. McCallum, Phil Daro, and Student
Achievement founder, Jason Zimba to write curriculum standards in the areas of
mathematics and for literacy instruction.”

“The common standards are funded by the Governors and State
School chiefs with additional support from the Bill and Melissa Gates
Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and others,” Wikipedia

However, by 2013 much of the excitement about these
standards seems to have worn off. In fact many educators and even more parents
are up in arms. Kentucky, a state that seems eager to adopt any new programs
that will help its people, is further along than many other states with
implementing Common Core standards and has already seen some positive results.
(also Wikipedia) Elsewhere we see varying levels of discord.

Here are some of the less than positive reactions that I
have discovered in the literature (my notes and links will be included at the
end of this post).

Common Core standards are not curricula
objectives. Objectives still have to be developed by states at each grade level
to specify how the standards will be met.

These standards were put in place by governors
and others who were not necessarily educators in top-down fashion.

Teachers and parents have not been asked for
their input (although some educators were consulted when the standards were

Schools are spending a lot of money to buy the
textbooks from Pearson (the publisher) and these monies benefit a private

Pre-tests test students on things they haven’t
learned yet which is frustrating (sometimes very frustrating) to students and
therefore parents.

Post tests are premature as these standards are
not fully in place.

These tests are expensive and also published by
Pearson. They are designed to be administered on computers which many schools
are not equipped to do.

Since many teacher evaluations are based, in
part, on student progress on tests that test common core outcomes that have
barely or have not been implemented yet, scores on teacher evaluations are most
likely lower than they should be. These scores were not supposed to be
considered valid, but the results have been published and used in school
staffing decisions.

The standards set by the Common Core,
especially at the elementary school levels, are not appropriate to the age of
the learners unless children have experienced being schooled using these
standards since kindergarten.

10. The
language arts standards stress nonfiction reading over literature which
teachers feel demands thinking of a different order than is stimulated by
reading literature and they believe students will be shortchanged by not having
a solid progression of fiction reading along with the nonfiction that the
standards require.

11. Parents
are not able to understand the homework assignments their children bring home,
having the greatest difficulty with math homework which often involves only 2
or 3 problems which, once solved, must be explained by students. How did they
solve the problem; why did they solve it that way?

12. These
standards have barely been implemented and there is a great outcry against

13. Workshops,
conferences, teacher trainings, parent meetings are all things that should have
happened before Common Core standards were even implemented but because of the
Race to the Top funding deadlines there was no time. If teachers created teaching
objectives to accomplish the standards they would have felt more invested, they
would have understood how the standards could be met, and school districts
would not have felt it so necessary to buy the whole Pearson product line.

14. The
Common Core tests should be suspended while some of the above activities are
scheduled and until teachers are able to get an in-depth understanding of the
standards and also until they have devised strategies to use them in their

15. Teachers,
parents and children are all unhappy with the reliance on tests and test
results that have been imposed from above.

16. This
Common Core dictates a classroom format that encourages teachers to teach to
the test and that robs classrooms of opportunities for creativity and for accommodating
diverse learning styles.

I did not foresee that we would be moving to such a
test-based system. I did not see that we would turn teaching and learning into
a simple matter of bookkeeping. I thought we would get kids up out of those
desks and sally forth into the real world more often and do more field trips
and more creative computer work along with that textbook work and do that skill
practice that is needed to turn children into educated adults. I had thought we
would make school more interesting, rather than more nerve-wracking. Teachers
have done this; the best teachers have done this. If asked they could create a
program that would incorporate much more interaction with the real world in the
communities in which they live. I truly believe that we are on the wrong track
here. We would be better off programming the whole business into a computer and
letting students learn online at their own pace with oversight from their
instructors. Each one of these educational models I have mentioned seems preferable
to the Common Core and I bet there are educators out there in the ether with
even better ideas. The one thing we could all probably agree on is that we wish
we were the owners of the Pearson Company. Have they gone public? Maybe we
should buy the stock.

I do have some credentials in education, a BA degree from
SUNY Potsdam in Secondary English and a Med from the University of Arizona at
Tucson as a Reading Specialist. I taught College Reading and Study Skills at a
SUNY EOC for 24 years.



Here are my notes and links for those who are interested or
for the doubters:

Suburban teacher, Syracuse parent on teacher ratings: “How
is this helping our kids?”

Susan Fahey Glisson, a school librarian in the
Jamesville-DeWitt School District and president of Parents for Public Schools
of Syracuse, calls the state’s new teacher evaluation system wasteful and

By Paul Riede

Susan Fahey Glisson – School librarian at Tecumseh Elementary
for 14 years – did something she never thought she would do with her students

She tested them – she didn’t want to – believes library
should be a rufuge – she even tested them on things they were never taught,
fully expecting them to do poorly.

How demoralizing is that? That’s what Susan said.

Teachers across NY, underwent a new state-mandated teacher
evaluation last year. The state required part of the evaluation to be based on
student improvement. Teachers had to develop their own student learning
objectives. The program involved pre and post testing. The improvement was
factored into teacher evaluations.

Fahey Glisson “was a waste of time and a disservice to my
students” “These tests don’t tell me anything about the kids that I don’t
already know. They’re only to evaluate me.”

She’s not complaining about her scores. She scored an 88.
“she is furious at results showing 40 percent of Syracuse’s teachers scored
below the effective range while, by all accounts, very few teachers in the
suburbs suffered the same fate.”

“This is not an accurate reflection of teaching abilities,”
she said. “It’s insane to thing that Syracuse city all these years is only
hiring ineffective teachers and J-D hires only effective teachers. I think
socioeconomics is the driving factor behind test scores, whether the test
scores are being used to evaluate the student or evaluate the teacher.”

[Her] perspective is unique because she works in the suburbs
and has a son who attends Syracuse City schools.

“City teachers are being evaluated on how unprepared the
majority of their kids are to be successful in school,” she said. “Whereas I am
being evaluated on how prepared the majority of our kids are when they walk
into kindergarten.”

“the only part of the evaluation that makes sense is the 60
percent that is based on direct contact between administrators and teachers
through classroom observations and reviews of the teachers’ work.

What does it mean to be a developing teacher?  (Commentary)

October 21, 2013

By George Theoharis and Douglas Biklen

The new teacher and principal evaluation system called
Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), has resulted in 2% of teachers
in the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) being rated as highly effective, 58
percent effective, 33 percent developing,
and 7 percent ineffective.

First, what does developing mean?  This portion of the APPR score was based on
percentage of students scoring at “the lowest performance category, decreasing
from 2012 to 2013 by 10% and the number of students scoring at proficient or
higher increasing by 5%. If these percentages are not achieved, all teachers in
the school were rated as ineffective for that portion of the evaluation.

New Common Core assessments took effect this year – they
were harder and not previously aligned to the curriculum. In the Syracuse City
School District that meant that for part of the APPR based on local growth, all
teachers in the school got the same rating based on lack of school-wide
improvement in percentages of students increasing their proficiency from 2012
to 2013. This teacher at the lowest performing schools had little chance of
rating anything higher than developing because of the way this part of the
evaluation was scored given the changes in the state tests. [This] penalized
teachers for working at low performing schools.

Public shaming of teachers, leader, schools is confused with
real accountability. They are not the same thing.

Developing- educators referred to those early in their
career as novices, presuming that the goal is to become expert. And anyone who
teaches knows that we can get better with time, with interaction with great
teachers, by being observed and critiqued, by seeing how our students respond
to different approaches, and in professional reflection. This is what
developing should mean.

Second: Shaming does not lead to improvement

Blaming teachers misses the impact poverty and the role
leaders and policy play. Blaming state and federal policy ignores the essential
role of teachers and families and the impacts of poverty. Blaming leaders
overlooks the power of good teaching and the role of poverty and policy.
Blaming families fails to acknowledge the profound impact of teachers, leaders,
systems, poverty and racial prejudice.

Real improvement happens through collective responsibility,
and collective accountability. And any discussion of teacher quality demands
attention to the broader context.

Third: Improvements are needed

We also know that decades of research have shown that dense
concentrations (segregation) of students based on race, economics, home
language, and disability makes school improvement difficult.

Predictably, the process of supporting teachers to get
better at their craft will work if it is pursued systematically over several years,
until it becomes a normal part of school culture.

Fourth: This will take time

Principal: “I was naïve about Common Core” from The
Washington Post

By Valerie Strauss, 3/4/2013

How an award-winning principal went from being a Common Core
supporter to an opponent. This was written by Carol Burris, principal of South
Side High School in New York, named 2010 Outstanding Educator by the School
Administrators Association of New York State and she is one of the co-authors
of the principal’s letter against evaluating teachers by student test scores
signed by 1,535 New York principals.

By Carol Burris

“When I first read about Common Core State Standards, I

I even co-authored a book, “Opening the Common Core” on how
to help schools meet that goal. It is a book about rich curriculum and
equitable teaching practices, not about testing and sanctions. We wrote is
because we thought that the Common Core would be a student-centered reform
based on principles of equity.

I should have known…that the standards themselves would
quickly become operationalized by tests.

Testing coupled with the evaluation of teachers by scores is
driving its implementation. The promise of the Common Core is dying and
teaching and learning are being distorted. The well that should sustain the
Core has been poisoned.

(Here’s a question from a test for 7-year-olds)

Kings and queens COMMISSIONED Mozart to write symphonies for
celebrations and ceremonies. What does COMMISSION mean?

To force someone to do work against his or her

To divide a piece of music into different

To perform a long song accompanied by an

To pay someone to create artwork or a piece of

Whether or not learning the word ‘commission’ is appropriate
for second graders could be debated – I personally think it is a bit over the
top. What is of deeper concern, however, is that during a time when 7 year olds
should be listening to and making music, they are instead taking a vocabulary

The Common Core places an extraordinary emphasis on
vocabulary development.

(Every teacher) and every child in the class feels that
pressure and trepidation as well

I am troubled that a company that has a multi-million dollar
contract to create tests for the state should also profit from producing test
prep materials.

“An English teacher in my building came to me with a
‘reading test’ that her third grader took. Her daughter did poorly on the test.
As both a mother and an English teacher she knew that the difficulty of the
passage and the questions were way over grade level. Her daughter, who is an
excellent reader, was crushed. She and I looked on the side of the copy of the
quiz and found the word “Pearson.” The school, responding to pressure from NYS,
had purchased test prep materials from the company that makes the exam for the

I am even more deeply troubled that this wonderful little
girl, whom I have known since she was born, is being subject to this distortion
of what her primary education should be.

When state education officials chide, “Don’t drill for the
test, it does not work”, teachers laugh. Of course test prep works.

Test scores are a rough proxy for learning.

Real learning occurs in the mind of the learner when she
makes connections with prior learning, makes meaning, and retains that
knowledge in order to create additional meaning from new information.

With tests we see traces of learning, not learning itself.

The Common Core wants student to grow in five skill areas of
the English Language Arts 1. Reading, 2. Writing, 3. Speaking, 4. Listening, 5.

Common Core tests measure only reading and writing.

What gets measured gets done

For the corporate reformers, test data constitute the
bottom-line profits that they watch.

Michael Fullan – there is no one more knowledgeable about
school change and systematic reform. He is the renowned international authority
on school reform. Here is what he said at a conference the author attended:

The present reforms are led by the wrong drivers of change—individual
accountability of teachers, linked to test scores and punishment, cannot be
successful in transforming schools. He said that the Common Core standards will
fall of their own weight. The right driver of school change is capacity
building. Data should be used as a strategy for improvement, not accountability
purposes. The Common Core is a powerful tool, but it is being implemented using
the wrong drivers.

Fullan helped to successfully lead the transformation of
schools in Ontario, Canada.

“A fool with a tool is still a fool. A fool with a powerful
tool is a dangerous fool.” Says Fullan

A few
educators say the new standards, supported by the U.S. Department of Education,
are untested, and one Republican governor wants to block the measure, saying
it’s a federal intrusion into local decisions.

2009, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers announced an effort to create
voluntary national standards in math and reading. All but four states…quickly
signed on to the standards, known as the Common Core, agreeing to help create then
implement them by 2014.

…decision was
helped partly by President Obama, who has tied “college and
career-ready standards” to billions in federal grants. Last September, he
all but required adoption of the Common Core or similar standards approved by
state higher education officials if states want to receive federal waivers from
the 2002 No Child Left Behind law.

applied for a waiver without adopting Common Core and is in negotiations with
the administration over its plan.

That angered
conservatives, who point out that even though adopting the Common Core is
voluntary, Obama’s moves make it all but obligatory. In February, Republican
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said she’d support a state
legislative effort to block Common Core implementation — her predecessor had
adopted the standards in 2010.

“Just as
we should not relinquish control of education to the Federal government,”
she wrote in a letter to a state lawmaker, “neither should we cede it to
the consensus of other states.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan shot back with unusual candor, saying in a
statement that Haley’s fear of losing control is “a conspiracy theory in
search of a conspiracy.”

in February, Brookings
Tom Loveless issued research calling into question whether the Common Core
would have much of an effect. He noted that state standards have done little to
equalize academic achievement within states. The reaction, he says, was
“like putting my hand in a hornet’s nest — people do have a strong

York University

education historian Diane Ravitch, a vocal Duncan critic, blasted the
standards, writing in The New York Review of Books that they’ve never been field-tested.
“No one knows whether these standards are good or bad, whether they will
improve academic achievement or widen the achievement gap,” she said. to
the Common Core.”

insistence on tying the Common Core to No Child waivers and billions in federal
grants shows that “it is not the least bit paranoid” to say the
federal government wants a national curriculum.

Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called those fears
“ridiculous.” Guidelines around core subjects don’t constitute a
national curriculum, she said, but are a simple way to boost skills. “We
do our kids a disservice when we do not teach (them) to compete in a global
economy,” she said.

 Weingarten said many teachers approve of the
new standards, which “offer students the ability to think and persuade and
communicate” rather than just fill in blanks on standardized tests. She
and others point to recent surveys that show nearly two-thirds of teachers say
it’s better for states to have common math and English standards. But she frets
that teachers won’t get adequate training — and that they’ll be judged harshly
if their students don’t measure up at first. “It has to be implemented
with integrity so teachers can get their arms around it,” she said.

Coleman, one of the standards’ authors, admits admits that they’ll be “a
major shift,” requiring more history, arts and science in English and
reading classes, for instance, and less fiction. But he says it’s needed to
correct a decade of watered-down lessons. The biggest problem with No Child’s
requirement that schools raise test scores each year was that it was
“content-free,” he said. The law “was merely saying, ‘Test
whatever you got.’ “

Chester Finn, a former Reagan administration
education official who now leads the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington education think tank,
said Common Core “sets a worthy destination for kids and teachers, which
most states have failed to do on their own for many years.”

Dzwonek, an elementary school English coach in Daly City, Calif., said the standards are
“a step in the right direction because they are state-driven and based on
the highest-quality research the field of education has to offer.”

David Riesenfeld, a history teacher
who has been using the standards since 2010, said they’ve “pretty
significantly pushed me to think about how much I cover” each school year.
Because they require more depth in just a few areas, he said, they’ve forced
him to focus more on teaching students to read and write about a handful of
“significant topics” in world history.

Riesenfeld, who teaches 10th-grade
world history at Robert F. Wagner Jr. Secondary School for Art and Technology
in Long Island City, N.Y., said he often relies on shorter passages and pushes
students to read more closely and analytically — occasionally a class will
spend an entire period breaking down a single paragraph. “In effect,
they’re learning how to use materials rather than just answer question a, b, c
and d,” he said.

As a result, Riesenfeld said, his history
students often look and sound as if they’re in an English class.


(My notes take in just about the entire text of this
article, but these reactions are looking much more negative a year later.)

Two Moms vs. Common Core

How an eight-year-olds homework assignment led to a
political upheaval

May 12, 2012

By Maggie Gallagher

Indiana has become the first
state to retreat from the Common Core standards, as Governor Mike Pence has
just signed a bill suspending their implementation.

Common Core is a set of math and
English standards developed largely with Gates Foundation money and pushed by
the Obama administration and the National Governors Association. The
standards define what every schoolchild should learn each year, from first
grade through twelfth, and the package includes teacher evaluations tied to federally
funded tests designed to ensure that schools teach to Common Core.

Here is my prediction: Indiana is
the start of something big.

Just a
year ago Common Core was untouchable in Indiana, as in most other places.
Common Core had been promoted by conservative governor Mitch Daniels, and the
state superintendent of public schools, Tony Bennett, was a rising GOP
education star.

did the bipartisan Common Core “consensus” collapse?

collapsed because some parents saw that Common Core was actually lowering
standards in their children’s schools. And because advocates for Common Core
could not answer the questions these parents raised.

In Indiana, the story starts with
two Indianapolis moms, Heather Crossin and her friend Erin Tuttle.

September 2011, Heather suddenly noticed a sharp decline in the math homework
her eight-year-old daughter was bringing home from Catholic school.

of many arithmetic problems, the homework would contain only three or four
questions, and two of those would be ‘explain your answer,’

She found she could not help her
daughter answer the latter question: The “right” answer involved heavy
quotation from Common Core language. A program designed to encourage thought
had ended up encouraging rote memorization not of math but of scripts about

…some of the same things that
caused Stanford mathematics professor R. James Milgram to withhold his approval
from the Common Core math standards.

Professor Milgram was the only
math content expert on the Validation Committee reviewing the standards, and he
concluded that the Common Core standards are, as he told the Texas state
legislature, “in large measure a political document that . . . is written at a
very low level and does not adequately reflect our current understanding of why
the math programs in the high-achieving countries give dramatically better

In fact, according to a scholarly
2011 content analysis published in Education Researcher
by Andrew Porter and colleagues, the Common Core math standards bear little resemblance
to the national curriculum standards in countries with high-achieving math
students: “Top-achieving countries for which we had content standards,” these
scholars note, “put a greater emphasis on [the category] ‘perform procedures’
than do the U.S. Common Core standards.”

many parents at the school complained that the principal convened a meeting. He
brought in the saleswoman from the Pearson textbook company to sell the
parents. “She told us we were all so very, very lucky, because our children
were using one of the very first Common Core–aligned textbooks in the country,”
says Heather.

the parents weren’t buying what the Pearson lady was selling.

Heather recalled, “our principal just threw his hands up in the air and said,
‘I know parents don’t like this type of math but we have to teach it that way,
because the new state assessment tests are going to use these standards.’”

the first time Heather had heard that Indiana had replaced its well-regarded
state tests, ISTEP (Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress–Plus) in
favor of a brand-new federally funded set of assessments keyed to Common Core.
“I thought I was a fairly informed person, and I was shocked that a big shift
in control had happened and I hadn’t the slightest idea,” she says.

standards are designed not to produce well-educated citizens but to prepare
students to enter community colleges and lower-level jobs. All students, not
just non-college-material students, are going to be taught to this lower

could find literally no press coverage of the key moment when Indiana’s Board
of Education abandoned its fine state standards and well-regarded state tests
in favor of Common Core.

brought in David Coleman, the architect of the standards, to give a
presentation, they asked a few questions, there was no debate, no cost
analysis, just a sales job, and everybody rubber-stamped it,” Heather said.

But as
my colleague at the American Principles Project (APP) Emmett McGroarty pointed
out to me, nationalizing curriculum standards quietly knifes the school-choice
movement in the back. As McGroarty puts it, “What difference does it make if
you fund different schools if they all teach the same basic curriculum the same
basic way?”

2012 white paper, co-sponsored by the American Principles Project and the
Pioneer Institute, that urged the American Legislative Exchange Council to
oppose Common Core became Heather and Erin’s bible. “That white paper is the
most important summary; we gave copies to people and said, ‘Read this. If you
can’t read the whole thing, read the executive summary.’ Because it covered all
the bases, from the quality of the standards to the illegitimate federal data
collection to the federal government’s involvement in promoting Common Core,”
Heather told me.

Indiana, as elsewhere, Common Core proponents have responded to public
criticism by accusing the parents of being stupid and uninformed or possibly
lying. Common Core, they say, is not a curriculum; it is not being driven by
the federal government; it will not interfere with local control of schools.

April 20, Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer (R., Mo.) sent a letter — co-signed
by 33 other congressmen — to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, asking for a
detailed accounting of changes in student-privacy policies associated with the
new national database the Obama administration is building as part of its
Common Core support. The letter pointed out that the Education Department had
already made regulatory changes — without consulting Congress — that appear to
circumvent the 1974 law that limits the disclosure to third parties of any data
collected on students.

major objection to the Common Core standards is that they are not
evidence-based. Their effect on academic achievement is simply unknown, because
they have not been field-tested anywhere in the world.

moms have a more elemental objection: The whole operation is a federal power
grab over their children’s education. Once a state adopts Common Core, its
curriculum goals and assessments are effectively nationalized. And the national
standards are effectively privatized, because they are written, owned, and
copyrighted by two private trade organizations.

are incredulous when they learn the standards and assessments are written by
two private trade organizations — the National Governors Association
Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. This
creates concern why public education is now controlled by two private organizations,”
says Gretchen Logue, a Missouri education activist and one of the co-founders
of Truth in American Education, a network of activists and organizations
opposing Common Core. “They also don’t like that the standards and assessments
are copyrighted and cannot be changed or modified by the states.”

a) They are not internationally benchmarked. In fact, for
math in particular, they are exactly contrary to the kind of national standards
used in high-performing countries.

b) The two major experts on content who were on the
Validation Committee reviewing the standards backed out and repudiated them
when they saw what the standards actually are.

c) State legislatures and parents were cut out of the loop
in evaluating the standards themselves or the cost of implementing them.

d) The Common Core standards are owned by private trade
organizations, which parents cannot influence.

went on: “The Common Core standards have been adopted in 46 states and the
District of Columbia without any field test. They are being imposed on the
children of the nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will
affect students, teachers or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost
all trying an unknown new program at the same time.”

(Lots of politics in this article. These teachers were
Conservatives and they were involved with the Tea Party and several
Conservative organizations. But some Conservatives back the standards and some
Democrats do not. This issue crosses party lines.)

A report titled, “Ready or Not: Creating a High School
Diploma that Counts,” from 2004

“current high-school exit expectations fall well short of
[employer and college] demands”

“the major problem currently facing the American school
system is that high school graduates were not provided with the skills and
knowledge they needed to succeed.

“the diploma itself lost its value because graduates could
not compete successfully beyond high school, and the solution to this problem
is a common set of rigorous standards”

In 2009 the National Governor’s Association convened a
group of educators to work on developing the standards. This team included David Coleman,
William McCallum, Phil Daro and Student Achievement founder, Jason Zimba [5] to write
curriculum standards in the area of mathematics and for literacy instruction
(more information needed).[  stated
purpose is to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students
are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to
help them.”[7] Additionally,
“The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world,
reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in
college and careers,” which will place American students in a position in
which they can compete in a global economy.[7]

The standards are copyrighted by NGA Center for Best
Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) [8] The copyright ensures that the standards will be the same throughout the
nation. The standards also carry a generous public license [9] which waives
the copyright notice for State Departments of Education to use the standards;
however, two conditions apply. First, the use of the standards must be “in
support” of the standards and the waiver only applies if the state has
adopted the standards “in whole.”

Standards were released for mathematics and English
language arts on June 2, 2010, with a majority of states adopting the standards
in the subsequent months. (See below for current status.) States were given an incentive to adopt the Common
Core Standards through the possibility of competitive federal Race
to the Top
grants. President Obama and Secretary
of Education Arne Duncan announced the
Race to the Top competitive grants on July 24, 2009, as a motivator for
education reform.[12] To be
eligible, states had to adopt “internationally benchmarked standards and
assessments that prepare students for success in college and the work
place.”[13] This meant
that in order for a state to be eligible for these grants, the states had to
adopt the Common Core State Standards or a similar career and college readiness
curriculum. The competition for these grants provided a major push for states
to adopt the standards.

The common
standards are funded by the governors and state schools chiefs, with additional
support from the
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pearson
Publishing Company, the
Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and others.[16] States are
planning to implement this initiative by 2015
[17] by basing at
least 85% of their state curricula on the Standards

If you click through to the Wikipedia article there is a
quick summay of objectives for each grade level in both areas (English Language
Arts and Math and there are sample questions in some of the areas.


With the implementation of new standards, states are also
required to adopt new assessment benchmarks to measure student achievement.
According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative website, formal
assessment is expected to take place in the 2014–2015 school year, which
coincides with the projected implementation year for most states.[15] The
assessment has yet to be created, but two consortiums were generated with two
different approaches as to how to assess the standards.[


The Common Core initiative only
specifies what students should know at each grade level and describes the
skills that they must aquire in order to achieve college or career readiness.
Individual school districts are responsible for choosing curricula based on the

In response to the Common Core
standards the Brookings Institute calls into question whether the standards
will have any effect, and “have done little to equalize academic
achievement within states.” The libertarian Cato Institute responded to
the standards as “it is not the least bit paranoid” to say the
federal government wants a national curriculum.[32]
Conservatives, have assailed the program as a federal “top-down”
takeover of state and local education systems.[33][34] South
Governor Nikki Haley said her state should not “relinquish control of
education to the federal government, neither should we cede it to the consensus
of other states.”[33]

(a few other responses are
discussed by various groups, just click through to read them.

Some commentators feel the Common
Core drains initiative from teachers and enforces a
“one-size-fits-all” curriculum that ignores cultural differences
among classrooms and students.[41][42] Diane
Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, states in her book Reign
of Error
the Common Core standards have never been field-tested and that no
one knows whether they will improve education.[43] Other
critics have said that the standards emphasize rote learning and uniformity
over creativity, and fail to recognize differences in learning styles.[44]

According to some analysts, the
goal of increased exposure to informational texts and lterary nonfiction in
Common Core is to have students read challenging texts that will build their
vocabulary and background knowledge. The standards require certain critical
content for all students, including: classic myths and stories from around the
world, America’s Founding Documents, foundational American literature, and
Shakespeare.[45] Additionally
educational advocate Sandra Stotsky has argued the standards will lead to
students reading more nonfiction texts, rather than being exposed to
challenging literature.

(This article also includes a
chart showing where each state stands in relation to the Common Core.)

(from comments I have heard
locally, kindergarten teachers are mystified by and quite unhappy with the
Common Core Standards for Kindergarten.)

(If you have the time and patience
to read through all of the Common Core standards at all grade levels this is
the site for you.)

Commissioner Kings Opts Out (New

By Diane Ravitch (she is leading
the opposition to the Common Core and she has a blog, Diane Ravitch’s blog

In this article Diane Ravitch
makes sure state educators and parents know that John King walked out of the
first of 12 forums held to discuss the Common Core Standards and other
education reforms (non of which are planned for NYC). The first event was held
in Poughkeepsie and the parents were angry about having little time to as their
questions or make their comments. The schedule for the next 11 forums is included
in this article.

Mother of 2nd Grader:
Does This Make Sense? (Diane Ravitch October 22, 2013)

(A mother shows one of the
questions on the second grade test which she does not consider age appropriate
which includes the word “tapenade”, not your everyday 2nd grade word
– and it’s a math problem.)

Wendy Lecker: Common Core Uses Our
Children As Guinea Pigs (Diane Ravitch October 22, 2013)

Children are being tested on materials they have never been taught.

Wendy lists her problems with the Common Core:

States do not have a curriculum that aligns with the Common Core standards.

The federally-funded tests are being developed independent of the
curriculum, which does not exist.

Teachers are not prepared.

Students are not prepared.

Yet the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Arne Duncan, and
other corporate thought-leaders say: Full speed ahead! We cannot delay! Now!
Now! Now!

Wendy Lecker concludes:

The Common Core requires massive investments in textbooks, tests,
training, and technology. Money is spent on the Common Core experiment at the
expense of strategies with a long track record of success, such as high-quality
preschool, small class size, wraparound services and extra help for at-risk

The benefits of the Common Core are speculative at best. A New York
comparison of the 2013 Common Core tests, the previous standards and college
completion rates, revealed that the previous standards were better predictors
of college readiness. Moreover, the evidence is clear that neither tests nor
standards raise achievement. Countries with national standards fare no better
than those without, and states with higher standards do no better than states
with lower ones. In states with consistent standards, achievement varies
widely. The difference in achievement lies in those resources that states are
now foregoing to pay for the Common Core.

As for justice, schools serving our most vulnerable students suffer most
from a narrow test-based curriculum. A new report in New York reveals that poor
children and children of color are least likely to be in schools with
libraries, art and music rooms, science, and AP classes. Expanded Common Core
testing will disproportionately harm our neediest children.

It is time to ask policy-makers why they made our children guinea pigs
in the rush to impose the not-ready-for-prime-time Common Core.

(There are many articles about the Common Core on Diane Ravitch’s
website and she publishes new ones everyday.)

Common Core has become part of the
corporate reform project now stalking our schools. Unless we dismantle and
defeat this larger effort, Common Core implementation will become another stage
in the demise of public education. As schools struggle with these new mandates,
we should defend our students, our schools, our communities, and ourselves by
telling the truth about the Common Core. This means pushing back against
implementation timelines and plans that set schools up to fail, resisting the
stakes and priority attached to the tests, and exposing the truth about the
commercial and political interests shaping and benefiting from this false
panacea for the problems our schools face.


Rethinking Schools has always been
skeptical of standards imposed from above. Too many standards projects have
been efforts to move decisions about teaching and learning away from
classrooms, educators, and school communities, only to put them in the hands of
distant bureaucracies. Standards have often codified sanitized versions of
history, politics, and culture that reinforce official myths while leaving out
the voices, concerns, and realities of our students and communities. Whatever
positive role standards might play in truly collaborative conversations about
what our schools should teach and children should learn has been repeatedly
undermined by bad process, suspect political agendas, and commercial interests.


Unfortunately there’s been too
little honest conversation and too little democracy in the development of the
Common Core. We see consultants and corporate entrepreneurs where there should
be parents and teachers, and more high-stakes testing where there should be
none. Until that changes, it will be hard to distinguish the “next big thing”
from the last one.

(this gives a list of links to articles about the Common Core that have
appeared in the Huffington Post)

Common What?

What is Common Core and why is everyone –right, left—so mad about it?

By Alexander Russo

September 25, 2013

Education Expert: Common Core Education is Social Engineering

By Alex Newman

October 18, 2013

Common Core Standards not good for our Students

By Tonya Shellnutt

October 17, 2013







Schools – On the Wrong Track

I was a teacher for 24 years, actually an instructor and
then an assistant professor of Reading. Most of my students were adults who did
not consider college when they were in high school; or who never completed high
school. A special program funded through the State University of New York was
set up in the late 60’s to help these adults go to college which often required
that they have a high school diploma (in most cases a high school equivalency
diploma). Our staff worked very hard to create a program that would give
students the skills they needed to succeed in college. It took us a while to
develop courses that were really effective, but we eventually got the correct
mix and we helped many adults get into college and do well in college. Our
students became “A” students at the local community college and some even
continued on to four year colleges, which was difficult for them given that all
of our students were financially disadvantaged. I also worked with 7th,
8th, 9th, and 10th graders in another special
program for students who had been suspended from school for anger issues.

So I have spent lots of time thinking about our schools and
what kinds of things schools need to do to keep students involved in schooling
instead of quitting early, acting out or just failing to thrive. It is not an
easy fix and there is not a formula. I am watching everyone jump on the Common
Core bandwagon and the ever increasing reliance on testing to measure student
performance and teacher competence (accountability). There is no stopping this
train, even our President is on board; but I am very skeptical that this
combination will produce the results we are looking for. If children rebel
against authority, placing them in restraints may bring temporary peace, but it
is not an answer for turning out talented graduates or for making schooling
interesting and relevant. In my city, here in Central NY, a gifted teacher quit
his job and wrote an open letter to the newspaper in which he blasted an
endless round of standardized testing and of teaching to the test as a
learning-killer, a creativity crusher and something no great teacher could

I believe this man is a hero and that we should listen to
him; soon. Our classrooms have looked basically the same since the 1800’s with
the desks and the rows and the students and the quiet and the order and the
blackboards (which are now white, but still there). But students and the world
we live in are much different than what was the norm in the 1800’s. We have children who
absolutely hate to sit still and yet they must, even if drugs must be
administered to make it so. Our world moves fast, but our classroom pace is
still slow, slow, I think I might zone out, slow. Sitting at more desks taking
test after test flies in the face of the way we actually live our lives in the
21st century. We do need to be able to check in with students to see
how they are doing. We do need to know which teachers are getting good results
and which are not. We do need to take more control over factors outside of
school that affect student progress. But, the truth is, if schools were more
task oriented, more hands-on and more exciting, all of these other factors
might not be so important.

On May 1, 2013, on the CBS evening news, as I was thinking
about what I wanted to say about schools, there was a story about school that
was in a cycle of escalating violence; that was hiring more and more security
people; a school that had had 5 different principals within a very brief window
of time. However when the 6th principle decided to turn this
dysfunctional school into a school that specialized in the arts (yet did not
neglect academics) his school was transformed from a school no one wanted to
attend to the school that everyone in that school district wanted to attend. Of
course, we can assume that this principal had some really great skills; that he
knew where he wanted his school to go and how to get there, but it was an
inspiring story and that was because of great outcomes for both students and
teachers. I hate to think that well-meaning people are pointing our schools in
exactly the wrong direction, but I think, as we watch the results of this
Common Core/Standardized Testing push, we will find that this is a
nonproductive approach and we will have to find a much more creative model. I hope
it doesn’t take us too long to switch if the results are not promising.