Fordham and CC-Backers Need to Get Their Story Straight

By 10/31/2013

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Checker Finn and the folks at Fordham have made the “conservative case” in support of Common Core.  In it they have reassured those concerned about centralized control that Common Core embodies a “tight-loose” approach, which is tight on the ends of education but loose on the means for accomplishing those ends.  Common Core doesn’t dictate curriculum or pedagogy Checker assured us, it only requires that “everybody’s schools use the same academic targets and metrics to track their academic performance”  and “then those schools can and should be freed up to ‘run themselves’ in the ways that matter most: budget, staffing, curriculum, schedule, and more.”

Kathleen Porter-Magee and Sol Stern made the same argument in National Review Online:

Here’s what the Common Core State Standards do: They simply delineate what children should know at each grade level and describe the skills that they must acquire to stay on course toward college or career readiness. They are not a curriculum; it’s up to school districts to choose curricula that comply with the standards.

And Fordham’s Peter Meyer responded to criticism of the curricular and pedagogical implications of Common Core in the New York Times by asserting:

In fact, there is no Common Core curriculum, radical or otherwise. Words matter. The Times essay, Cunningham says, “conflates standards, which are agreed-upon expectations for what children should know in certain subjects by certain ages, with curricula, which are the materials and the approaches that teachers use to help kids learn.”  There is no such thing as a “radical curriculum” because there is no such thing as a common core curriculum.

These were the promises the Fordham folks made when they were courting us on adopting Common Core, but now that we’re married, they’ve changed their tune.  No longer do they bring us flowers, write love-poems, or assure us that Common Core in no way dictates how schools should teach or what they should teach — their pedagogy and curriculum.  Instead, Fordham and their friends are now judging schools on whether they are properly implementing ”instructional shifts—ways in which the Common Core standards expect practice to differ significantly from what’s been the norm in most American classrooms.”

I thought Common Core didn’t determine “practice.”  Now Checker Finn and Kathleen Porter-Magee argue:

In order for standards to have any impact, however, they must change classroom practice. In Common Core states, the shifts that these new expectations demand are based on the best research and information we have about how to boost students’ reading comprehension and analysis and thereby prepare them more successfully for college and careers. Whether those shifts will truly transform classroom practice, however, remains to be seen.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, with support and praise from the Fordham Institute, are grading teacher training programs on whether “The program trains teacher candidates to teach reading as prescribed by the Common Core State Standards.”   Wait.  ”Prescribed?”  I thought Common Core didn’t prescribe pedagogy.  But that was back when I was young and we were dating.

It would be nice if Fordham and others trying to hold down the right flank of the Common Core advocacy campaign could keep their story straight.  The switch once the fight has shifted from adoption to implementation creates the impression that these folks make whatever argument they think will help them prevail in the current debate rather than relying on principle, evidence, and intellectually serious policy discussion.

-Jay P. Greene

Comment on this article
  • Greg Forster says:

    “If you like your curriculum, you can keep your curriculum.”

  • Kris Hansen says:

    Districts are dropping their curriculum in favor of EngageNY curriculum because Pearson is writing the tests that the teachers will ultimately be judged. Public school is now Pearson school.

  • Sherman Dorn says:

    I’d be willing to give them some more slack if the survey hadn’t been focused on English teachers, as if they carried the entire burden of ELA standards… didn’t the defense of CCSS have to do with literary (& other) nonfiction being part of the whole day, not just English classes?

  • Tina Andres says:

    I have said this all along. Teachers are being sucked in with the sense that they now have “freedom” to teach. This sense of freedom is only attractive because many started teaching during the oppressive “teach to the test” NCLB years. These teachers think that something has now changed and Common Core is their “savior”. What they fail to realize is that the testing will be even more high stakes and when the first round of testing results come out, the company who writes the test will own us all. I am in CA and not NY so teachers do not yet understand this. All of these wonderful teacher made “units” in CA are going to be tossed in the trash soon and billions will go to our owners as we beg them to teach us how to pass their tests.

  • Doug Stark says:

    I have already spoken with my district superintendent and have submitted a letter formally excusing my two children from any high stakes testing. As a teacher, I had the opportunity to personally take a pilot version of the smarter/balanced assessments that they are planning to introduce in Michigan next year.

    After I finished my 1.5 hours of hell – cut and paste, cut and paste, click, scroll, click, scroll – I decided two things:

    1. I will be retiring in three years – as soon as I pay off my house.

    2. My kids will never waste a second taking any of these tests.

    I have two great kids who love to read, write, and explore. They will get a traditional liberal arts education and will not – under any circumstances – be lab rats in the continued efforts to turn all of our schools into test prep. centers.

  • Lauren Steiner says:

    The chief of staff of a school board member here in LA told me that the CC does not dictate methodology. So my response to her was, then why did the district spend almost $800 per iPad for each LAUSD student? It was reported that it was because it was loaded with Pearson Common Core curriculum software. Her response was: this will all be discussed at the next meeting.

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