The Common Core Grinch this Christmas… Part One

Today is the day I officially became a Common Core Grinch.

It being conference week for teachers and the high stress time already, I sat in my office reflecting upon the effects of Common Core and the impact it is having upon the classrooms of our nation.   The image of the grumpy, ole’, green Grinch came to mind.  My face definitely mirrored the contortions Jim Carey became so famous for in the movie of Dr. Suess’ beloved Christmas Story. I most likely will never star in any movie for my facial expressions, but I am sure mine are just as ugly.

I spent some time last night continuing my research around the Common Core Standards and uncovering more connections between Corporate Big Business, the Corporate Billionaires, the stake holders, the testing industry, the publishing companies… the list goes on. In my reading a parent posted the following:

Tonight, while trying to help my son with his first grade math homework, I told him I had no idea what they were talking about in the wording on his homework sheet, he then tells me: ‘Maybe you need to go in and talk to my teacher because you don’t know how to do this.’ I’m 33 years old and can’t figure out 1st grade math homework.”

The flood gates were opened to comments by a slew of angry and confused parents. I don’t blame them. I, too, am seeing math homework I’m not in agreement with either. See my own child’s perspective here: (here)

I joined this discussion thread and posted the question, “By chance, is your district using EngageNY?” My suspicions were affirmed.

A few months back I wrote an anonymous piece about my growing concern around common core.   A concerned parent in Washington and I found each other through a referral, and she asked if she could post my piece to some concerned parent sites. With a little trepidation, I said yes. Within the day the following comment came through in response to my writing:

“I am a mother of a 3rd grade student currently enrolled in the Spokane City School District (District 81). My daughter is bright, creative, sensitive, and has a passion for learning. Unfortunately during the past months, only months, I have witnessed her struggle, fail, and actually think that she was too stupid to understand how to complete the math assessments, and assignments. It breaks my heart, and is setting her up for failure, and creating a mindset of fear, extreme stress, and test anxiety.  No, you are not alone. When I saw her teacher about this I stated, that the public school system has a LEGAL OBLIGATION to provide my daughter, as well as every single student enrolled in the public school system, with the proper education! We talked about ways to help her, as well as myself, understand this new curriculum and common core formulas. I was astonished to see how they expect children of this age grasp, the unnecessarily complicated process, without knowing the basic formula first!  Then her teacher’s eyes watered up when I said as much, and said that I do not want my child held back because of this nonsense….I could tell he wanted to say something, but just said “we’ll find a way”. I think you’re right, in that most teachers are afraid to speak up and stand against this abomination called “Common Core”! If everyone, all teachers and all parents would rally together, and strike, or stand up and SAY something we could win.  We need to stop being complacent. We need to be the voice, and protector of our children! They can’t do it for themselves! These are entire future generations of our country, that are being force fed what boils down to being a political and financial agenda!!  I commend you for standing up and speaking out about the real problem!”

Spokane Public School District is using EngageNY too.

I could spend the rest of this post copying and pasting several more like comments.  I think two is enough to drive the point home.  There is a problem festering and brewing and soon will be boiling over.  Anything done in haste usually does not end well.  You’d think if this math program was to be put into the hands of teachers and used to instruct our most precious commodity, there would be a full review of the program by math experts?  It seems logical there would be time taken to find out what other school districts using it were finding?   Or consider even the state of New York dropped the program as currently written?  Or how about this one…  determine if it was field tested in real classrooms with real teachers with real children?  No?  And if it so happened it was field tested, which it was not, was there an examination of its results?  Hmmmmm…. For most school districts, none of the above happened.  Thenceforth, should anyone be surprised an outcry… or downright outrage… is catching fire?

What is the rush all about anyway?

The rush is all about getting students to standard…. Now!   The message I heard over and over is, “There is nothing else out there that aligns to the Common Core.” … Or … “It’s better than what we had.” … Or … “It isn’t that bad, come on….  Give it a few years and the kids will catch up.”

The rush is all about getting students to pass the test.  And the test is here… Now!  No time to wait, to think, to evaluate, or to ask the bold questions… and for those of you not convinced this isn’t about money, it may be to your advantage to read the following:

1) 8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson that Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests

http://www.alternet.org/education/corporations-profit-standardized-tests

2) Pearson Education Can Run, but it Can Not Hide.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/pearson-education-can-run_b_6327566.html

So what pushed me over the edge today?   From concerned educator and mommy to the cantankerous Grinch?

The wonderful special education teacher in my building came to my office with a student assignment in hand.  She pointed at a question and asked me for some background and help.

Here is part of the assignment:

6th Grade Problem

Zero in on #1.  Write the opposite of the opposite of -10 in an equation.

Think about this for a moment.   What grade level do you think this is from?

Let me humor us all with the standard the student is supposed to grasp:

Understand that positive and negative numbers are used together to describe quantities having opposite directions or values (e.g., temperature above/below zero, elevation above/below sea level, credits/debits, positive/negative electric charge); use positive and negative numbers to represent quantities in real-world contexts, explaining the meaning of 0 in each situation.”

And…

“Understand a rational number as a point on the number line. Extend number line diagrams and coordinate axes familiar from previous grades to represent points on the line and in the plane with negative number coordinates.

a. Recognize opposite signs of numbers as indicating locations on opposite sides of 0 on the number line; recognize that the opposite of the opposite of a number is the number itself, e.g., -(-3) = 3, and that 0 is its own opposite.”

 Does reading the standard bring clarity to this question? Is it easier to determine what grade level our children are expected to master this skill?

I, of course, dug into my background in mathematics, and began the path of explaining. The special education teacher then said, “I have 5 pages of this to work through with my student.”

My mouth dropped.

My mouth contorted.

My face reddened.

And my dear colleague affirmed I did not turn green.

The Common Core Grinch emerged. Wrong color, but the Grinch still.

Can we stop just for one moment and ask ourselves a few sensible questions?

Here we go:

  • Is this age appropriate?
  • Is this critical to the student to master at this point in her educational career?
  • How does this child learn? Is she an auditory learner? Is she visual?   Does she learn by doing (kinesthetic)?
  • What pre-requisite skills does this child need in order to be successful?

And this is where most of us need to give pause and ask ourselves what we are doing to our children, and dare I ask…. what toll is this taking upon the many gifted teachers in the classrooms across the nation trying to make sense of this sleigh pulled by a dog with tied on antlers?

May I boldly suggest the quickly written EngageNY materials peppered with errors do not address children’s learning modalities? May I boldly suggest the pacing of the lessons leave students farther behind and give no opportunity for review?

None of this is a surprise, really, to many who were already predicting what the one size fits all Common Core Standards would do to our classrooms. Take Anthony Cody, 24 year educator and national board certified teacher, for example, as he expressed the 10 Colossal Errors regarding the Common Core Standards:

http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2013/11/common_core_standards_ten_colo.html

By highlighting two of the ten errors he exposes, my evolution to the solid Grinchhood state will become obvious. EngageNY is a direct result of the push for national common standards and a fulfillment of Cody’s predictions embedded in the following errors.

“Error #2: The Common Core State Standards violate what we know about how children develop and grow.

One of the problems with the blinkered development process described above is that no experts on early childhood were included in the drafting or internal review of the Common Core. 

In response to the Common Core, more than 500 experts signed the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative. This statement now seems prophetic in light of what is happening in classrooms. The key concerns they raised were

  1. Such standards will lead to long hours of instruction in literacy and math.
  2. They will lead to inappropriate standardized testing
  3. Didactic instruction and testing will crowd out other important areas of learning.
  4. There is little evidence that such standards for young children lead to later success.

Many states are now developing standards and tests for children in kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade, to “prepare” them for the Common Core. Early childhood education experts agree that this is developmentally inappropriate. Young children do not need to be subjected to standardized tests. Just recently, the parents of a k-2 school refused to allow their children to be tested. They were right to do so.”

I am a first-hand witness to all of the above.   Teachers everywhere are grappling with breathing life into this scripted program and screaming for the time to do so.   This is addressed with clarity in Cody’s 4th error:

“Error #4: The Common Core creates a rigid set of performance expectations for every grade level, and results in tightly controlled instructional timelines and curriculum.

At the heart of the Common Core is standardization.  Every student, without exception, is expected to reach the same benchmarks at every grade level. Early childhood educators know better than this. Children develop at different rates, and we do far more harm than good when we begin labeling them “behind” at an early age. 

The Common Core also emphasizes measurement of every aspect of learning, leading to absurdities such as the ranking of the “complexity” of novels according to an arcane index called the Lexile score. This number is derived from an algorithm that looks at sentence length and vocabulary. Publishers submit works of literature to be scored, and we discover that Mr. Popper’s Penguins is more “rigorous” than Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Cue the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to moan that teachers are not assigning books of sufficient difficulty, as the Common Core mandates. 

This sort of ranking ignores the real complexities within literature, and is emblematic of the reductionist thinking at work when everything must be turned into a number. To be fair, the Common Core English Language Arts standards suggest that qualitative indicators of complexity be used along with quantitative ones. However in these systems, the quantitative measures often seem to trump the qualitative.

Carol Burris recently shared a 1st grade Pearson math test that is aligned to the Common Core standards for that grade level. 

Would (or should) a 6 year old understand the question, “Which is a related subtraction sentence?”  My nephew’s wife, who teaches Calculus, was stumped by that one. 

Keep in mind that many New York State first graders are still 5 years old at the beginning of October, when this test was given.

You can review the first grade module for yourself, and imagine any five or six year olds you might know grappling with this.

 The most alarming thing is the explanation Burris offers for how these standards were defined:

If you read Commissioner John King’s Powerpoint slide 18, which can be found here, you see that the Common Core standards were “backmapped” from a description of 12th grade college-ready skills.  There is no evidence that early childhood experts were consulted to ensure that the standards were appropriate for young learners.  Every parent knows that their kids do not develop according to a “back map”–young children develop through a complex interaction of biology and experience that is unique to the child and which cannot be rushed.”

Having honed in upon two of Cody’s ten errors, let’s go back to the student problem. What is the opposite of the opposite of -10 written in equation form?

If you haven’t already figured it out yet, this is a 6th grade level question from the 3rd Module of EngageNY. This is the mathematics the 24 writers believed was most critical for our 11 and 12 year olds to know in order for them to be career and college ready. The answer is posted in the picture below:

6th Answer Key

(-(-(-10))) = -10

Will this content help this young special education student become ready for college and career? My gut tells me there are other foundational mathematics skills she has not yet mastered and deserves the time and quality instruction to learn at her own pace in order to develop authentic mathematical understanding.

So… what’s the story behind EngageNY? Who wrote it?

Often times, we teachers take what is given to us, and just make the best of it. Very true. We are rule followers and do what we are told.   Don’t want to rock the boat or possibly call attention to ourselves. After all, we are now under a new evaluation system in which our principals rank us in around 41 standards.   We must show we are teaching the materials with integrity, we must prove our students are mastering the common core standards, and now there is even legislation in many states, including Washington, to tie our teacher evaluations to how well our students perform on the SBAC test. Some states have already passed this kind of legislation.

Uh Oh.

How does this set up any teacher to have open dialogue regarding their instructional practice or to analyze a program and deem it inappropriate?   How does this create a risk free environment in which the hard questions can be asked by the very educators living and breathing in the trenches alongside our children?

Honestly? It’s darn hard.

When I first heard about EngageNY it was shared in this way, “New York State developed a program with grant money.   $27,000,000 in grant money. Educators within the state wrote the program and it is free to use. It is the most aligned program out there at this time.”

Sound Good?

I laughed to myself as I did my first Google search and found David Greene, author of the book, Doing the Right Thing. He’s a skeptic just like myself.   The same questions below were festering inside of me one August day this summer.

He wrote, Being as skeptical as I am, I asked a few questions. “Is ENGAGENY really ‘in house’ as the NYSED says it is?” Where is the transparency? Who paid for all of this? Why is it so hard to follow the money? With whom does it partner? Who has NYSED hired to write the modules on their site?” See his full discovery here:

https://dcgmentor.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/why-isnt-aft-and-new-york-more-enraged-about-engageny/

Interestingly, EngageNY was NOT written in New York.   The Department of Education in New York contracted the job out to a company called Common Core, Inc. located in Washington D.C.   It was funded by a national grant and once written it had to be made available to any and all whom wished to see it and use it. It basically went viral and has been “adopted” by many school districts throughout the United States.

Because of the wide spread use, Common Core, Inc. saw the mighty dollar sign.

$$$$$$$$. Pretty symbol, yes?

So… this same company started a new company called Eureka.   Eureka bought the full rights to the Common Core, Inc. written EngageNY. Here’s the problem. Because EngageNY was written so quickly, it was filled with errors.   Because it was never field tested, there were many lessons found to be lacking. Eureka, the same peeps, now had the time to go through every module and fine tune the program.   The original writing paid for by the benefits of a national grant gave the now “for profit” Eureka the luxury of time to correct the errors and to make subtle changes to the lessons.   How nice for school districts everywhere. They can now purchase this “comprehensive” program.

EngageNY = Eureka

Eureka = EngageNY

How’s that for the commutative property?

School districts are still allowed to use as much of the old error filled version of EngageNY. It remains “free”.

If school districts want the new and improved version, well, they now have to fork out the dough.

You can examine the “free” version here:

https://www.engageny.org/common-core-curriculum

A more comprehensive analysis of the history of EngageNY was written by Mercedes Schneider, one of my favorite educational writers. See here:

https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/the-ny-dc-la-and-ca-story-of-eureka-math/

I will end Part One here.   I’m hoping my story will end with a softened heart and a happy ending for the U.S.A. educational system.   For now, though, when it comes to the Common Core Standards and EngageNY, I have been Grinchified.

Have you?

Passionately Submitted,

RAZ ON FIRE

 

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5 thoughts on “The Common Core Grinch this Christmas… Part One

  1. As a 29 year high school math teacher, I applaud your illuminating post. I’m sending it to people who aren’t in education and wonder what the debate is all about. I do have one suggestion, though: in mathematics, reversing the order of an equation (switching left and right sides) is the symmetric, not commutative property. I know it’s picky, but you know how people are…thanks for your work!

    Like

    1. Thank you Nancy. I was trying to capture:
      2 + 3 = 3 + 2.

      Both equal the same thing… and also symmetric!

      My main point was… it doesn’t matter the order… EngageNy and Eureka same same.

      Appreciate the comment!

      Like

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