Sunday, October 11, 2015

What happens when I do reserach on the common core....the rabbits warren of research...

Thus far we have focused on the literature and sites which expose the Common Core as an evil. In this post I will focus on the actual common core standards and some examples from classrooms which demonstrate the common core in practice. Because of the breadth and depth of the core we will look at 1st grade to get a sense of what it is and what it is not. 1st the core sets standards but doesn't dictate curriculum. This gives each state, town, school a lot of latitude to teach those things that are near and dear in that region! Doesn't sound much like government control does it?

Since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, and the appointment of William Bennett as Secretary of Education, monumental changes have driven the educational practice.  Bennett published "A Nation at Risk" in 1983.  This report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, a Reagan created commission, largely indicted our entire educational system. It was based on a perception that our educational system was not able to compete with education offered in other countries. Here is a brief history of the department of Education.

In no small part because of this frenetic pace of experimentation and change brought on by this report teachers can expect yearly changes is what they are to teach, how they are to teach, what measures are used to determine if they succeed, and the philosophy driving their teaching.  I can think of no other profession which has been subjected to this constantly shifting philosophy. 

One of the teachers who came to my school after graduating from a premier college of education, believed that she knew better than those older teachers how to teach has succumbed to this pace of change and the frustrating impossibility of keeping up.  She is starting to sound like one of the older teachers.  I did not hesitate to point this out to her since she used to readily stand in judgment of the poor practices of those teachers whose skills were out of date.

As I began thinking about this I had questions.  It is what happens when you do research.  Sometimes it seems like your questions are leading you down a rabbit's warren. You must follow these leads to increase your scope of understanding.  Ideally this is what the common core leads students to do.  The whole goal is to create curiosity and encourage sound development of a students ability to question, seek answers, and determine what the best choice is.  It also helps students learn that answers will continually be refined as new information presents.  What could be bad about that!?

Indeed this is the reason I support the core.  For the years following Sputnik when we had emphasis on math and science (sound familiar?) a push was born to modernize public education which culminated in raising the Department to a cabinet level position, which ironically is where it began in 1867.    One of the things the Core fuels in those who fear it is that the core is a Government takeover of education.  What it really means is the federal government is offering incentives (or bribes if you prefer) to work toward the overarching goals (standards) set by the committee which foes claim were not even educators.  After checking that out I learned, as those who support the core rightly suggest,  that they were educators.

Yes, actually the majority of those who wrote these standards were members of faculties of university departments of education.  That means that they were most likely K-12 teachers at one time, but in any case they were deeply involved in the quality of education and preparing teachers to teach!
In the next post we look just at the standards themselves.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Part II - Thinking Critically about the Common Core -

This piece on why the common core is bad is impressive. It had me agreeing with it by the time the young man from Knox county completed his attack on the core.
Even the two experts who helped create the core, according to this video speak out against the final product.  But once again when you dig deeper this claim is not what it seems. Bits and pieces, partially true, are culled out and used in slightly twisted form to elicit your agreement and lead you down a very manipulative path. For example the two educational experts mentioned were not part of creating the standards, but are rather part of the vetting process at the end.  In the case of the math standards This article artfully explains the fallacy of Dr. Milgram's vocal objections. 

The fellow who created this video is a Canadian, living in Japan (which immediately sent up "red flags" about why he was interested in the common core and made me look at his entire body of work).  I determined that he is one of the group of folks who see conspiracies to create a "new world order" in many things.  

He vilifies Bill Gates who gave millions to help create the Common Core suggesting he had an ulterior motive.  While I personally prefer that we fund education from our commons (taxes) rather than relying on philanthropy, I don't believe that there was any evil intent behind the money Gates gave for the common core development.  The google search I did on Common Core (hereafter dubbed CC) yielded conspiracy stuff all over the map.  There are those that think it s carrying forward an evil United Nations agenda and others who think it is leading to tracking what your children think so that the government can control your mind.  

One of the skills I learned in school was about vetting sources by recognizing the bias of those who wrote the material. Even someone who seriously wants to learn about the CC presents real problems. In large part when you do a google search you will see things Goggle has decided to show you based on the algorithms of your previous searches. Google analyzes your search history and presents you with what it thinks you want to see.  This results already skew your data to your preexisting biases.  I get different results from the same search so how do I know I have "valid and good" information?
Google further puts what it decides you want to see in order of what other people who are like you read.  So you see how difficult it is to ferret out the "truth" of anything.  Thus, items by conspiracy theorists rise like cream to the top of the google search for the person who google thinks might be interested in this kind of thing over scholarly studies from universities.  Site after Site are posts by groups like, Freedom, Karen Bracken (a talk show host is leading an impeach the President and save our country effort) most of these and others are self-described tea party patriots"  who see everything as an attack on freedom.  The people in these groups tend to see everything as black and white. 

They take a specific anecdote, and apply it as though it is happening everywhere.  Let me give you a specific example from one of these websites. "An elementary school librarian told the group that elementary kids in her school "are being forced to read technical books instead of stories and they don't like it.  They said the books are boring and they are losing interest in reading."  The Librarian said she was instructed to tell the kids they must learn how to read these manuals if they expect to get a job at Volkswagen (VW has a facility in TN)."

Let's unpack her comments.  First teachers are being required to use non-fiction (not technical manuals) but a technical manual would qualify as non-fiction.   Indeed, as a librarian I am purchasing more non-fiction than I used to.  I believe this is good -- Many kids who never wanted to read fiction are captivated by non-fiction.  It is more difficult to read non-fiction because you must learn factual material instead of just remembering a story line.  It is also easier to teach critical thinking from a non-fiction text as you tear into it pulling out the most important fact and the supporting data.   Do I believe elementary students were reading technical manuals? 

No!  They might be exposed to reading real technical manuals.  The teacher  might have been told to tell kids they need to learn this skills so that they can read technical manuals -- and get a high paying job at a place like VW -- probably.  I often tell kids that I taught myself to play the guitar because I could read a "technical manual" in the form of a how-to book!  Once unpacked this anecdote sounds a lot less ominous.  Also, let's be honest, the people in our communities have accused schools of teaching irrelevant material for a long time and it seems reasonable that we would be justifying what kids are learning not only to the kids but also to the general public showing how one could get gainful employment from it.

We must learn how to look at things to find the biases and then how to find good unbiased information.  That will be the next post. 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Critical thinking for adults in a world flush with "information" and conspiracy theory about the common core!

One of my teacher friends sent me this link.  She had received it from a friend on Face Book and was quite rightly confused by it. It said that Lily saw the common core as the same curriculum she experienced when a child in Maoist China.  I listened to the whole thing trying to find out how the CURRICULUM WAS LIKE that of communist China. I learned that it was not the curriculum that was like the curriculum of Maoist China.  What Lily feared was that anything that was a government program that collected data about you could be used to hurt you.  AND in Communist China that certainly was true.  She sees the data collection (which we use in school to drive instruction) would be used to turn us into silent subservient slaves to a central government.  Here is the link -
What Lily misses is an important difference between our government and the government of communist china.  Our government is US ---we regularly vote people into office and out of office.  We have constitutional issues we vote on.  IN TRUTH the common core may be tossed out before we find out if it is good or not because their is so much conspiracy theory out there about it!  I hate to be the bearer of these tidings, but Lily, the government already knows you are a citizen and the IRS has your number in case you to do not pay your taxes (the price of belonging to this great club we call The U.S. and having public schools, garbage collection, roads, social security, libraries, public colleges and land grant institutions etc....all goods that we share in common and support with our TAXES.)  Yup who knew -- TAXES can be good especially when they fix the pot hole down the street!

My friend found this post disturbing.  Did I know anything about this?  Well, no. But as a librarian, it is my job to find out! I immediately began to search for information on that great heap of TREASURE and TRASH that is the internet.  What I found was a lot of conspiracy theory and virtually no real information about what is actually in the common core in the first pages of my google search!  People get a buzz from being angry or upset, while peaceful thoughts don't boost the blood pressure.  What fun is that?!  

I am going to dedicate several posts to this since it deserves more than a cursory look.  So today I would like to focus on who we believe when we are looking for information.  I will be showing you some things that on the surface seem very reasonable and only upon deeper inspection send up red flags as the authors move deftly from fact to fantasy.  Stay tuned if you are really curious about what Common Core is and whether we need to tweak it or throw the baby out with the bathwater  Of course,  this is ALL from my analysis and point of view.  You see we cannot divorce ourselves from the baggage of our experience, education, reading, friends, and the time in which we are born and raised!! AT best we are aware of our bias and struggle to understand and combat it! That is the first important fact.  If you want to know what biases I have you might want to check out who I am I trustworthy?  Am I widely read?  Do I know a lot of people with different viewpoints or do I have only friends who reflect my personal belief system? Do I have experience with the subject I am writing about? These are valid questions and need to be asked whenever we read information.  By the way teaching this skill is one of the common core objectives...hmmm 

When I was growing up the news was separated (in as much as is ever possible) from opinion. There was the editorial and news.  News attempted to be dispassionate.  Example #1  - You could not interject something like this article from the Heartland Institute does.  Let's take the first bit of its reporting about the common core. 

"Montana legislators are debating a proposal that would repeal the state’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards, a set of requirements for what elementary and secondary school children should know in each grade in math and English.
On November 4, 2011, Montana was the last of 46 states to adopt Common Core. Other states, such as Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia, never adopted the standards, and a recent nationwide backlash has led to successful repeals in Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Carolina."  so far it is only factual reporting with a foreshadowing of where we are headed since the article is focusing on repeal already.

Common Core supporters say implementing standards that are both high and unified with other states will jumpstart the U.S. education system and improve student achievement on a mass scale.   Still factual -- but wait here it comes...."A study from the Brookings Institution contradicts that claim, instead finding government-mandated standards fail to correlate with student achievement. For example, every state has had its own set of standards for many years, yet variation in achievement is four to five times larger within states than between them, despite the quality or rigor of the standards."  source

This is a tame example.  So first things first -- who is the Heartland Institute and the nice thing about this particular cite is that their site has an about feature which lets you learn about them.  Following it you find out that this is an organization dedicated to " discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems."  Armed with this information I can pretty well guess where they will land on any number of issues --- like environment, constitutional reform, healthcare, taxation and government....but at least we start with an understanding.   NOW AS ACTUAL INFORMATION --- NOT SO MUCH!  I need to first LEARN about what is actually in the common core.  To do that I need to go to a website like  Here I found Information about what the core is, how it came to be, and I can even link to specific curriculum.  So this is where I began my exploration.  Is this site without a viewpoint.  NOT HARDLY --- these guys spent years of work creating the common core.  Think they have an investment in getting you to understand and appreciate it.  You bet they do.  Tomorrow we will explore that!