Debunking the Branstad Defense of the Common Core



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The Des Moines Register ran two stories on the Common Core State Standards.  This issue has had a serious lack of media attention in our state with the exception of conservative talk radio.  Simon Conway, Jan Mickelson and Steve Deace all have had programs or segments dedicated to discussing the Common Core.  In a way I understand this because it’s a wonky topic, but this is a serious shift in education policy that should and must be addressed.

Jennifer Jacobs wrote an overview where Iowa Governor Terry Branstad said there were a lot of misconceptions about the Common Core (translation: those who oppose these are lying to you).  Then they published an article pointing out criticism giving Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s office the chance to offer a rebuttal for each.

I want to go through each rebuttal made by the Branstad administration and provide a rebuttal of my own.

Transparency

The Governor’s office said:

“The common core standards were developed by a coalition of states led by governors and state school chiefs through their membership in the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Forty-eight states took part, drawing on the expertise of content specialists, teachers, school administrators and parents. The process was open for public comment, and more than 10,000 comments were received. The standards were created for voluntary adoption in states through their own unique processes. In Iowa, the standards were discussed and adopted by the State Board of Education at public meetings in 2010.”

First off, essentially five people wrote the Common Core State Standards.  Members of the validation committee didn’t even know what was done with their input.  Secondly with the public commenting process, sure you commented if you followed education policy news at the time, but other than those who read Education Week who knew about this?  Nobody.  Third, for the most part our state legislators were left in the dark.  When most of the population didn’t even know about this change 2-1/2 years after it’s approval and just learned just as it was being rolled out at best you have a communication problem.  Transparency, not so much.

One-size-fits-all: What About Kids with Different Learning Styles

“There is no assumption that every student learns the same way. The standards give students, parents and teachers a clear, common understanding of what students need to learn at every grade level, but not how to teach. Each Iowa school district decides what curriculum to use to deliver the Iowa core, and Iowa teachers develop the lessons used in their classrooms. Modifications to the Iowa core may be made for special-education students based on their individual learning needs. There’s also work under way in Iowa to customize instruction to better meet the academic needs of each student. The common core sets high, internationally benchmarked standards, but it’s a solid base rather than the ceiling. States can build on the common core to set even higher standards by adding an additional 15 percent of material.”

Is this why it promotes a convoluted approach to math?  Is this why they’re impacting how much classical literature high school students read?  Curriculum has to be aligned with the Common Core.  The Common Core Assessments, for Iowa it would be the Smarter Balanced Assessments, further drives the content of the curriculum and will drive classroom instruction.  I have yet to have a Special Ed teacher (and yes I’ve talked with a few, as well as, parents of special needs kids) tell me they like the Iowa Core in general and the Common Core in particular.  Quite the opposite.  I’ve had special ed teachers tell me that they have a hard time finding standards that fit with a student’s IEP (individual education plan).  Sure states can add 15%, but they can not revise or subtract anything within the Common Core.  Also the 15% that a state adds will not be on the Smarter Balanced or PARCC assessments.

Federal role

“The standards were created for voluntary adoption by states. Iowa received no federal funding to implement the common core as part of the Iowa core and would lose no federal money if the state stopped using the common core. We oppose the federal government tying federal funding to adoption of the common core or dictating the content of state academic standards.”

Well they’re making my argument that this would be easy to get out of.  Iowa however, under the Culver administration, did adopt the Common Core in preparation to apply for Race to the Top.  So they’re glossing over the history.  Would as many states have adopted the Common Core if it were not for the Race to the Top grant and NCLB waivers?  Not likely.  I’m glad that they oppose the federal government tying funding to the adoption of the Common Core and dictating the content of state academic standards.  This is at least a admission that it was being done.  This is still a top-down approach which should be rejected.  This was not created by States, it was created by special interests and state legislatures were not given the opportunity to weigh in.

Cost

“The Iowa core, blended with the common core, had to be in place in high schools in 2012-13, and must be in place in grades K-8 by 2014-15. That has involved some additional cost to date, such as training educators in how to deliver Iowa’s state academic standards. Iowa has not committed yet to using a new statewide assessment. The cost of any potential new assessments in the future may be higher because the assessments would be better and more comprehensive than what we have now. The tests would be more closely aligned with the Iowa core; they would give teachers more information about the strengths and weaknesses of their students; and the tests would go beyond memorizing and recalling facts, instead moving us toward having students apply what they know to complex situations.”

This isn’t a rebuttal, it’s a validation and an excuse for spending more money.  Iowa is still on the governing board of Smarter Balanced and until they withdraw we can only expect that they will move forward to implement this.  As far as the tests being “better.”  That’s debatable, and emphasizing skills and application over content will contribute to kids not understanding the content.  This also ignores what Massachusetts did with their standards and tests that focused on content (for both students and teachers) and they raised student achievement when most states stagnated.  That has been field tested.  There’s evidence for that model.  Why ignore it to embrace something that zero data backing it up?

Parent’s role

“Parents have opportunities for ongoing input into state and local academic standards. They can enroll their child into any school district under Iowa’s open enrollment law.”

What local standards?  The Iowa Core has basically supplanted them all.  Iowa’s open enrollment law will not give parents the ability to escape the Common Core since every public school (and non-public schools accredited by the Iowa Department of Education) has to adopt the Iowa Core and in doing so adopts the Common Core ELA and Math standards. Besides if you do not qualify for free or reduced lunches and you live in districts like Des Moines the district does not have to allow you to leave.  Also, what input do parents have to provide input into state standards?  What accountability exists when the State Board of Education is unelected?  Who do they complain to in the Iowa Department of Education?

Teacher’s role

“Teachers design the lessons to teach in their classrooms and may help shape the district curriculum. Districts are also free to improve the Iowa core and set even higher standards.”

But they won’t be on the tests and again we’re talking adding to the Iowa Core, not replacing it.  If they honestly believe a “teach to the test” culture doesn’t exist in our public school systems especially after No Child Left Behind then I have some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell them.

Data Sharing

“Implementing the standards does not require data collection. The Iowa Department of Education collects student data and information to learn how schools in Iowa are changing, to follow the academic progress of students from preschool to high school, and to guide efforts to improve our education system. Data help teachers and parents gauge whether students are on track from year to year and whether they graduate ready for college and career training. This information is used to detect and report shifts in student populations and demographics and student achievement results, such as high school graduation rates, attendance rates and state assessment scores. Under No Child Left Behind and other federal laws, data, such as test scores, are provided to the federal government. Students are never identified by name.”

It’s not the standards where the data collect exists – it’s the assessments.  Giving reasons for why data is collected doesn’t mean it’s a good idea and that it doesn’t violate privacy.  Does the state really need to know this information?  No.  Does the Federal government?  Certainly not!  Iowa has signed an MOU with Smarter Balanced and Smarter Balanced has an MOU with the U.S. Department of Education to provide student level, not aggregate level, data.  Also the Feds have made a pretty big deal out of data collection, and Iowa has received federal funds – over $12 million dollars – to create a Statewide Longitudinal Data System.  I’m sure they just did that because they’re generous and don’t expect anything in return right?

This was low-hanging fruit.  Would you like to try again and get away from the canned talking points from the National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers and Achieve?  I’m surprised they didn’t even bring up objections we have with the content itself.

Photo Credit: Kevin Hall

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