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The charge that Common Core is mediocre is not credible – and this opponent’s error filled opinion piece proves it

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It’s odd that the Common Core would be called a “path to mediocrity” as this opinion piece is headlined.  New Hampshire educators who have implemented the the Common Core standards consistently praise the new standards as a step forward.  The Fordham Institute did an authoritative study comparing the Common Core State Standards to those in place in each state.  Their conclusion was that the Common Core would be a big step forward for us.  There is little serious debate about the educational value of the new standards.

You wouldn’t know that from this opinion piece.  But when you look into the claims, there’s no there there.  Everything after the author’s byline is fiction.

What you are seeing here is a political debate (notice that Democratic Gov. Lynch is responsible for bad standards) in which academic authority figures presume to tell us what to think about the standards because this is all too complex for us.  But just skim through the standards yourself.  Ask any superintendent or principal – and, especially, ask any local teacher who has implemented the standards.  You’ll find strong support for the standards and agreement that they are a step forward.

You don’t need to rely on authority figures you’ve never heard of.  Here is my commentary on the piece.  It has run so far in the Concord Monitor and the Portsmouth Herald.

Common Core: the path to mediocrity


For the Monitor

Friday, October 4, 2013
(Published in print: Saturday, October 5, 2013)

Re “Common Core is good news for students” (Sunday Monitor Forum, Sept. 29):

One needs to understand that those supporting the Common Core education reform effort tend to leave out critical information parents need to know. Bill Duncan, founder of Advancing New Hampshire Public Education, is no exception.

The Common Core standards are a set of national standards in math and English. New national science standards are the next up for consideration.

One would think that a set of national standards that identify what a child should learn in each grade level would be fully embraced by everyone across the country. Instead, we are seeing just the opposite. Growing opposition to Common Core standards is coming from parents, teachers, administrators and teachers’ unions.

Notice that no parent, teacher administrator or teachers’ union is actually quoted in this piece.  I’m sure that some of the Tea Party activists opposing the standards must be parents, so she’s got that right.  But beyond that, she’s in the weeds.

The teachers’ unions are strong Common Core supporters because, although there’s a lot of added work for teachers in developing new lesson plans, the benefit for kids is so clear.  And if you find a New Hampshire teacher or administrator with Common Core experience who thinks the standards are a bad thing, please let me know.  I haven’t found one yet.

Common Core standards in math and English had great promise. Many of us who research education noted the low academic standards in states like New Hampshire. New Hampshire’s academic standards developed under former governor John Lynch were some of the worst in the nation, and something needed to be done.

“Many of us?”  Who is that?  The author is an advocate not an academic researcher.  Who else is she referring to?  And “worst in the nation?”  Who says?  Is the author making a slyly ambiguous use of words here.  Does “low academic standards” mean that New Hampshire had standards comparable to the Common Core in place (we did not)?  Or is she saying that our schools have low standards?  That’s not true either.  New Hampshire’s actual educational performance is high.  Our schools test among the highest in the nation and the world.

We’re through the first half of the piece and haven’t found a true statement yet.

Significant problems

I’ve attended several presentations by school administrators and the New Hampshire Department of Education on why these new Common Core standards are good for our children. Unfortunately, these same individuals never tell the audience the significant problems too.

One dean recently told a group of parents that they are going to focus less on teaching facts and even mentioned biology facts that would be eliminated at Pinkerton Academy. One parent wisely pointed out that she was concerned those facts could be on an SAT exam and then what?

Actually, many educators do make the important point that the Common Core State Standards go beyond memorizing facts to requiring students to demonstrate their skills in reading and writing and solve math problems.  Was that the discussion?

To find out, I asked Chris Harper, Pinkerton’s Dean of Academic Affairs, if this was an accurate report of the meeting.  He said (via email):

“This message is another unfortunate example of how those opposed to The Common Core State Standards hear only what they want to hear.

“I attended the meeting held by Cornerstone at Manchester recently in order to be sure that I understood the concerns from the opposition and I then tried to address those very specifically in the meeting that we had at Pinkerton Academy.  We tried at the meeting to link together the need to have both knowledge and skills codified in the standards.

However, it appears that that message was not received. I am sorry they chose not to hear that part of the message.”

Chris Harper says it all.  There’s hardly any need to continue reading.  But the author gets a lot more wrong in a short space.

As a parent of a nursing student in college, I know that facts and memorization are a huge part of the nursing program. This de-emphasis on facts and knowledge could explain why so many students drop out of these competitive programs. They simply are not prepared for that kind of challenge. There is nothing good about adding to the illiteracy problem in the United States, yet that seems to be what they are now selling parents through the implementation of Common Core.

This is a goofy extrapolation from what has turned out to be a groundless premise.  Ask your superintendent or any teacher who’s implemented the new standards in her classroom if the Common Core will make the kids illiterate.  Read the standards yourself and see if you think these standards will make your kids illiterate.

There are more flaws with the Common Core math standards never mentioned by proponents like Duncan, the New Hampshire commissioner of Education and school administrators. For instance, if your school district follows the Common Core standards, your children will be one year behind their peers in top-performing countries by the time they reach fourth grade. They will be two years behind by the time they reach high school. This is according to the only mathematician who sat on the Common Core Math Validation Committee and refused to sign off on the standards, Dr. James Milgram. In other words, the national expert in mathematics and academic standards does not believe these are the best standards for our children.

Now we get to the famous Dr. Milgram, who is traveling the country saying that the math standards are no good.  Here is the real story on Dr. Milgram.  He was no the only mathematician on the committee.  He was one of eight and six approved the standards, as well as many others.

More importantly, anyone who has used them will tell you that the math standards require that students use math concepts to solve more complex problems than before.

The New Hampshire commissioner of education has said that these standards are voluntary, meaning that schools do not have to settle for poor standards. The school board in Alton just voted down the Common Core standards and is now working to elevate its academic standards.

There are a few states that rejected the Common Core standards and went to work on developing the best standards in the country. This means that if New Hampshire continues down this path of low quality standards, our children will be at a disadvantage when compared to students in states that developed higher quality standards.

These two previous paragraphs are wishful thinking.  The Alton School Board did take a symbolic 3-2 vote against the Common Core standards but it will have no actual impact.  And Alton teachers are surely “working to elevate its academic standards” in the Alton Central School, as all school districts do, but if the suggestion is that the Alton School District is writing new standards, that is incorrect.

Then the author tries to create the impression that there is a move away from the standards.  Not true.  Forty five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards but the idea that Texas, with its creationist board of education, and several other non-adopters will create serious academic standards that will leave New Hampshire and the rest of the country behind is…..well, it leaves me speechless.

Parents and teachers around the country are starting to fight for better quality standards for their children. There is no reason the students in New Hampshire deserve anything less.

Cornerstone has called upon Gov. Maggie Hassan to begin a public debate on the Common Core standards. We want to see an honest debate that lays out all of the information. Let’s look at all sides of this issue and decide whether we want to elevate the standards or continue down this path to mediocrity.

Honest debate?

(Ann Marie Banfield is the education liaison for Cornerstone Action.)

via My Turn: Common Core: the path to mediocrity | Concord Monitor.

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