Paved With Good Intentions

I’m a primary source kind of gal, and my coursework at Indiana University’s School of Library and Information Science (and ensuing Masters in Library Science) makes me a killer on the Google. I decided to read, for myself, the originating document posted on the Common Core State Standards Initiative Web site. Looking over the Introduction (June 2, 2010) and Key Considerations for the English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects document, the good intentions of the document are evident.

Good Intention #1: A Living Work

“The Standards are intended to be a living work: as new and better evidence emerges, the Standards will be revised accordingly”

You may have read the Washington Post “The Answer Sheet” post on America’s Next Education ‘Crisis’ – and Who Benefits. Valerie Strauss looks at who really benefits from the public discourse in education these days and lands firmly with the for-profit businesses selling curriculum, textbooks, consulting, and data warehousing software. The pavement cracks under the cash load. How can a document be “living” when an entire industry is evolving on a static document? The textbooks, supplemental Web sites, curriculum pacing guides, webinars… are all being designed around the Standards created and taken off life support. Let’s not kid ourselves; the Common Core is not a living document. It died the day the money fell from the luminous Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) data enhanced sky.

Good Intention #2: A Focus on Results Rather Than Means

“Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identity as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards”

Contrary to what some would have you believe, the majority of teachers I have worked with over the past 20 years have cared deeply about students, spending long hours planning activities to meet learning objectives and personalizing experiences for individual students.

The Goal #3 of the PARCC framework in Indiana looks simple enough. The test will support these amazing educators in four ways :

Instructional Tools to Support Implementation: to provide “content frameworks, sample assessment tasks and model instructional units.” In other words, a fully canned curriculum that anyone could dish out to young people
Professional Development Models: These =include PD on implementation of the new assessment and interpreting test data.
Timely Student Achievement Data: This means aligned performance-based assessments throughout the year.
Educator-Led Training to Support ‘Peer-to-Peer’ Training”: This is to train K-12 educators to use the instructional tools handed down by the PARCC folks (i.e. the canned curriculum mentioned earlier).

The Actual Pavement

Here’s the thing: the Common Core Standards are not bad. As a jumping off point for the living discussion of best educational practices, I’m really okay with them. The authors of the standards were acting in good faith, but they never saw the jackhammer of market forces coming to bear on education. This document will become a rally point for those looking to make a profit.

In the 45 states and 3 territories that have adopted the Common Core, the conversation is not about educational standards. It’s about textbooks, testing, and budgetary concerns for hiring all those consultants. This isn't about educating children. This isn't about developing better teachers. This isn't about improving and innovating schools. This is about making money in for profit companies.

Jen LaMaster is the Director of Faculty Development at the Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School.