Common Core Quality Debated



By 02/17/2012

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Last fall Rick Hess complained about his inability to find anyone to participate in an Education Next debate about the quality of Common Core standards who would argue in their favor.  As Rick put it:

Rather, I think the reluctance to contribute [to a debate in support of Common Core] is due to hubris, impatience to focus on implementation, political naivete, and disdain for what they see as mean-spirited carping….

There are long rows of argument and persuasion still to be hoed. And, if you’re eager to overhaul what gets taught in forty-odd states serving forty million or more students, that’s probably as it should be. If Common Core-ites don’t have the patience or stomach for that task, they should let us know now–and save everyone a whole lot of grief.

The notion that Common Core proponents needn’t make their case is an affront to democratic values.

Well, Ed Next managed to find someone to argue for and against the quality of Common Core standards, producing a really excellent and illuminating exchange.  W. Stephen Wilson took the pro side and Ze’ev Wurman was on the con side.  I would encourage you to read the entire debate yourself, but here is my takeaway:  They were mostly in agreement about the quality of Common Core.  Both seemed to agree that Common Core was better than the standards previously in place in most states but worse than in a non-trivial number of other states.  They also agreed that Common Core standards are significantly weaker than the ones in most high-achieving countries.

So if they agree that Common Core is sort of mediocre, why does Wilson support them while Wurman oppose them?  Wilson sees the improvement on the standards of 30 or more states to be substantial progress.  He sees this as a first step toward developing stronger national standards that would be comparable to those of our overseas competitors and better than all previously existing state standards.

Wurman sees Common Core as significantly lowering the bar relative to several previously existing state standards, including very large states like California.  More importantly, he sees Common Core as the end of progress in improving standards rather than the beginning.  Once put in place, he sees no incentive for anyone to toughen national standards since no state will be competing to offer a more rigorous education in order to attract residents and businesses.  He also sees national standards as more easily captured and dummied-down by teachers unions and other entrenched interests who would prefer to have their members (and students) jump over a lower bar.

-Jay P. Greene

UPDATE — Stephen Wilson contacted me over at the Jay P. Greene blog to object to the description of his views as supporting the adoption of Common Core. He thinks Common Core math standards are much better than those that previously existed in 30 states but still lagging those in other states and high achieving countries. And he generally has no opinion on whether universal adoption of Common Core would represent progress or not or is desirable or not.

It appears that I was wrong. The Ed Next forum was more a discussion among critics than a debate between a supporter and opponent.

So we are back to Rick’s original complaint. We still don’t have anyone who was willing to debate in favor of the national adoption of Common Core based on the quality of the standards.

It’s pretty pathetic that supporters of Common Core couldn’t produce anyone to take the “pro” side of this debate. And it’s even more pathetic that supporters are determined to cram Common Core down our throats without feeling the need to intellectually defend it.




Comment on this article
  • Steven Leinwand says:

    It’s not surprising at all that Wurman would take the negative side. Anything different from the mathematician-designed California Math Standards that have been an abject failure wouldn’t measure up. What is pleasantly surprising that that Wilson has begun to see the light and acknowledges the focus on number (not just arithmetic) and the significant improvement in terms of mathematical coherent and appropriateness.

    What both ignore is that COMMON, albeit imperfect, math standards that guide much more coherent, much thinner and more focused textbooks and that get assessed with the promise of PARCC and SBAC assessments that should shame current NCLB state-assessments, harken a long-overdue Singapore-like alignment of the content, the instructional materials and the assessments that, for years, have sent mixed messages to teachers. The mere fact that publishers now have an incentive to develop materials, including technological enriched materials, aligned with only one set of standards bodes well for U.S. mathematics in the coming years, regardless of the warts and imperfections in the new common standards.

  • Jay P. Greene says:

    UPDATE — Stephen Wilson contacted me over at the Jay P. Greene blog (see http://jaypgreene.com/2012/02/16/common-core-quality-debated/#comment-26828 ) to object to the description of his views as supporting the adoption of Common Core. He thinks Common Core math standards are much better than those that previously existed in 30 states but still lagging those in other states and high achieving countries. And he generally has no opinion on whether universal adoption of Common Core would represent progress or not or is desirable or not.

    It appears that I was wrong. The Ed Next forum was more a discussion among critics than a debate between a supporter and opponent.

    So we are back to Rick’s original complaint. We still don’t have anyone who was willing to debate in favor of the national adoption of Common Core based on the quality of the standards.

    It’s pretty pathetic that supporters of Common Core couldn’t produce anyone to take the “pro” side of this debate. And it’s even more pathetic that supporters are determined to cram Common Core down our throats without feeling the need to intellectually defend it.

  • SteveH says:

    “We still don’t have anyone who was willing to debate in favor of the national adoption of Common Core based on the quality of the standards. ”

    Apparently Mr. Leinwand has picked up the baton.

    “Singapore-like alignment of the content”

    So even Singapore Math is being co-opted. If you can’t beat them, redefine them. Understanding and critical thinking have already been redefined.

    Our state will be using PARCC standards and it will be instructive to see an actual implementation of the standards. I will also be interested to see what the consequences are of not meeting the standards.

    I’m not expecting Singapore-like curricula to flood our schools. I expect the same-old Everyday Math with a few more units and Math Boxes on the standard algorithms. I expect to see a continuation of full inclusion and trust the spiral.

    It won’t take much for PARCC to “shame” NCLB standards, but that won’t be clear until I see their low cut-off points. They will become the top goals that schools shoot for. What it really “bodes” is that Everyday Math will have an easier time marketing their products to educators who like to be told what they want to hear. Standards won’t change what is in the hearts of educators.

  • SteveH says:

    Our state just released it’s numbers for our tests. The state average for “proficiency” in math is 30%. That’s how many students get over the very low proficiency cut-off point. How do you improve this number just by setting the bar higher? Are all K-12 teachers currently sitting around waiting to be told what to teach in which grades? Will the low cut-off proficiency level be raised? You can put anything you want in a standard, but it’s the proficiency cut-off point that matters. The minimum becomes the maximum. Everyone is focused on this proficiency level, but few know what it means in terms of the raw percent correct on the test and what it means in terms of closing STEM career doors.

    Besides, there are too many other fundamental problems being ignored. If schools do not ensure mastery of the basics on a year-by-year basis (even using things like the lattice method for all I care), then you can set the standards at any level and it won’t make a difference.

    The real problem is educational pedagogy and philosophy in K-8, not standards. It’s low expectations. CCSS standards are guidelines, not expectations.

  • [...] only expert Education Next could find to defend the Common Core math standards in an online debate turned out not to be much of a Common Core supporter after [...]

  • Anissa Lokey-Vega says:

    A debate is an interesting way to get at understanding how the Common Core Standards really measure up to current state standards and other standards of high-achieving nations; however, I question why we aren’t pushing for a comparative curriculum evaluation method that incorporates more objective means of comparison than expert opinion. A colleague and I have been working on a method to allow such comparison. We will be presenting an illustration of our method at AERA’s 2012 meeting in Vancouver next week entitled “Goal-Curriculum Alignment Measures: Comparing the Common Core State Standards to the Georgia Performance Standards.” I encourage interested parties to attend.

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