Recently a high school senior testified before the Knox County School Board in Tennessee, and the video of the event went viral. His testimony made it all the way to such respectable morning shows as Fox and Friends (in between water-skiing squirrels and skateboarding dogs of course). If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the full video, as much as it pains me to give him extra page views.
As per his request in his opening statement I shall refute his “research,” which is mostly the standard boogiemen arguments against Common Core. Refuting it logically was fairly easy -once I transcribed his speech. As this is a Georgia political blog, most of my argument will focus on Georgia, though there is reference to other states throughout.
This is going to be a long post, so get ready for it.
“Here’s the history of the common core. In 2009 the National Governors Association, The Council of Chief State School Officers partnered with Achieve Inc, a nonprofit that received millions in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Thus the initiative seemed to spring from states when in reality it was contrived by an insular group of educational testing executives with only two academic content specialists. Neither specialist approved the final standards, and the English consultant Dr. Sandra Stotsky publicly stated she felt the standards left students with an empty skill set lacking literary knowledge.”
This is flawed research and a weak argument. He offers no proof of the cabal he suggests led the initiative for Common Core, it’s just an empty claim. He also makes no mention of Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue co-chairing the initiative. Or the involvement of Jeb Bush, Roy Romer, Bill Haslam, Jennifer Granholm, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee or Mitch Daniels, all governors who were involved. In Bush’s case, still very much involved in education; and in Huckabee’s case, still defending Common Core as a reaction to a Federal takeover of education. While it is fine and dandy that rubes such as Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin go off on Common Core conspiracies, the people who have actually governed and helped to create it are trying to set the record straight.
There is also no mention of how the Common Core standards were based on the 2004 Georgia Performance Standards which were rated by the Fordham Institute as being in the top ten for English and Mathematics. (Link goes to pdf.) Georgia’s standards have been through the gauntlet of implementation and evaluation, and they were developed with input from teachers, administrators, and educational specialists.
Professor Sandra Stotsky, cited as opposing Common Core standards even though she helped develop them, is offered as proof positive of Common Core’s inadequacy. After all, who knows anything better than its creator? Stotsky is just one voice among many, though, and studies on the rigor of Common Core Standards by Professor David Conley, (who served on the validation committee alongside Stotsky) and Dr. William Schmidt, (who verified through international benchmarking the alignment of Common Core with high-performing countries,) have been dismissed because they were funded by the Gates Foundation, although no one dismisses Stotsky’s funding by the Heritage Foundation.
A study by the Fordham Institute in 2010, when the Standards were publicly released, found the Common Core to be stronger than 33 states’ standards in both English Language Arts and mathematics. To suggest otherwise one must ignore the work and input by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, National Council of Teachers of English, and other professional groups comprised of teachers and academic leaders.
“Nevertheless Common Core emerged. Keep in mind that the standards were never voted on by congress, the Department of Education, State or local Governments. Yet their implementation was approved by 49 states and territories. The President essentially bribed states into implementation via race to the top, offering 4.35 billion taxpayer dollars to participating states. $500 million of which went to Tennessee. And much like No Child Left Behind, the program promises national testing and a one size fits all education, because well it worked so well the first time.
While I do admire some aspects of the core, such as fewer standards and emphasis on applicational writing. It’s not going to fix our academic deficit! If nothing else these standards are a glowing conflict of interest and they lack the research the allegedly received. Most importantly the standards illustrate a mistrust of teachers. Something I believe this county has already felt for a while.”
Educational standards are rarely voted on by Congress or legislatures, and one could argue that because they were developed by governors and State School Superintendents, that they were “voted on.” But standards are mostly the purview of local Boards of Education. Only four states require legislative approval for standards: Idaho, Kentucky, Maine and Washington -all four of which adopted Common Core. His argument here is spurious.
Bribery is a spurious argument here as well, especially considering that the five states that decided not to participate in the Common Core – Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Minnesota, and Nebraska – have not lost any federal funding. (There was a factual error here that has been omitted) Just because the President thought it was a good idea, should not doom a program that was organically driven from the states.
As for the national “one sized fits all” testing, states are not required to join either of the two federally funded testing consortia. This is evidenced by Alabama, Utah, and Florida, states that backed out of one or both consortia. Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Georgia have decided to stay connected with the efforts but have not committed to administering exams from the consortia. New York, which has decided to go with a different evaluation system, will continue that testing regime after the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments are implemented nationally.
Finally, I’m not sure how the standards illustrate a mistrust of teachers. There is nothing that constrains a teacher to a specific teaching method or what materials/strategies the teacher is to use. Instead the standards only insist that Johnny should know that 2+2=4 and not 5. Thus the teacher and district still has full use of their faculties and training. They are able to cater to a child’s needs and teach that child in the best way they know how.
At this point in the video Mr. Young then goes into a tirade about teacher evaluations that are Tennessee and Knox County specific and not part of the Common Core State Standards. I’ll skip this part.
Mr. Young cares about education but is still confused:
“I stand before you because I care about education but I also want to support my teachers. And just as they fought for my academic achievement so I want to fight for their ability to teach. This relationship is at the heart of instruction. Yet there will never be a system by which it is accurately measured.”
Common Core is a set of standards. Standards only reflect what a student needs to know. Standards do not tell a teacher how to teach, only what a child should be capable of doing after instruction. The curriculum development and approval is still up to the school district, or in some cases the individual school. An added benefit is that through a multitude of federal laws – like the General Education Provisions Act, the No Child Left Behind Act or Elementary and Secondary Education Act - it is illegal in most circumstances for the federal bureaucracy to influence curriculum.
We’ll get to measurement in a little bit.
Broader Issues and Robots:
“But I want to take a step back. We can argue the details ad infinitum, yet I observe a much broader issue with education today. Standards based education is ruining the way we teach and learn. Yes, I’ve already been told by legislators and administrators “Ethan it’s just the way things work.” But Why? I’m going to answer that question – it’s bureaucratic convenience. It works with nuclear reactors, it works with business models, why can’t it work with students? I mean how convenient, calculating who knows what and who needs what. I mean, why don’t we just manufacture robots instead of students? They last longer and they always do what they’re told.”
He, as well as others, should go read this article from Foreign Affairs about the state of American education. In it is not a rejection of standards-based education but a comprehensive discussion about the actual problems with our education system. As for his discussion of robots, I applaud him for his imagery, but it does nothing to advance the argument. It only distracts.
“But education is unlike every other bureaucratic institute in our government. The task of teaching is never quantifiable. If everything I have learned in high school is a measurable objective, then I haven’t learned anything. I’d like to repeat that. If everything I have learned in high school is a measurable objective, then I haven’t learned anything. Creativity, appreciation, inquisitiveness, these are impossible to scale, but these are the purpose of education. Why our teachers teach, why I chose to learn.
Today we find ourselves as a nation that produces workers. Everything is career and college preparation. Somewhere our founding fathers are turning in their graves. Pleading, Screaming, and trying to say to us that we teach to free minds. We teach to inspire. We teach to equip. The careers will come naturally.
I know we’re just one city in a huge system that excitively embraces numbers, but ask any of these teachers, ask any of my peers, and ask any of yourselves. Haven’t we gone too far with data?”
Again he is wrong, though it’s not his fault. He is a high school senior and likely has not had any experience with quantitative modeling, even if he is an AP math student. Hardly anyone is formally trained in quantitative analysis and even those who are need a while to get really good at it. But it is what allows Google to figure out the path of a flu epidemic as accurately as CDC based on 45 search terms and search history. Another approach is measuring the level of corruption in a nation by counting the NYC parking tickets on diplomats’ vehicles. While neither of these approaches measure their target phenomenon directly, they correlate with something else that can illustrate the phenomenon. With the right combination of other, and sometimes seemingly unrelated, variables it is indeed possible to provide a measure for qualities like inquisitiveness and creativity.
As for his question about having gone too far with data, the answer is no. We are just getting to the point where we can effectively use big data instead of small n samples to determine correlation and causation. No longer are we just limited to Frequentist and Bayesian statistics. We can use an n in the millions or billions now instead of an n of 1500. (For further explanation go here.)
Please listen to me:
“I attended tonight’s meeting to share my critiques but as Ben Franklin quipped “any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain. and most fools do.” The problems I have cited are very real. I ask only that you hear them out, investigate them, and do not dismiss them as another fool’s criticisms.
I’ll close with a quote of Jane L. Stanford that Dr. McIntyre shared in a recent speech. “You have my entire confidence in your ability to do conscientious work to the very best advantage to the students. That they may be considered paramount to all and everything else. We’re capable of fixing education, and I commit myself to that task. But you can not ignore me, my teachers, or the truth. We need change but not Common Core, high stakes evaluations or more robots.” Thank you.”
Unlike most of his peers and many people in general, Young is a talented public speaker. But his research is flawed and most of his conclusions are factually incorrect. While Common Core does have some issues, Young did not address the real problems. Instead he chose to believe the conspiracy theories that have come to surround the issue and poison the phrase “Common Core.”