On Monday, July 22, I appeared as a guest of AFT TEACH 2013’s town hall on Common Core State Standards. To give you an idea of the ambivalence with which CCSS is met by both teacher and parents, the title of the town hall was “Common Core: The Good, The Bad, The Promise, and the Politics.”
I mostly discussed the politics, jumping off from the points I made in my San Jose Mercury News op-ed.
I’m genuinely interested in reeling back the school day from incessant test prep and and narrow, stunted material. I love project-based learning and the opportunities for students to design and direct inquiry. But those things are found in California’s two-headed Curriculum Support and Reform Act of 2011, and could be equally attributed to the P21 aspects as the CCSS aspects of the law.
I made sure to point out that though the CCSS are supposed to be national in scope, there is considerable variation in how they’re being implemented in all 50 states. One example: California’s Governor Brown has signaled that he is explicitly against “testing mania” and has in the past turned down a bill calculating Academic Performance Index using an increased number of standardized tests, likening the process as “putting more speedometers on broken cars.” And Brown has asked for and signed into law a new vision of API that relies on only 60% standardized test scores, and 40% consideration of school progress on other measures.
Governor Brown also set aside $1.25 billion dollars, or about $500 per student in the state, to implement CCSS. This is an increase from the $0.50 per child previously, before the mid-May 2013 readjustment of the budget.
Yet devoting resources to implementation is fraught in a state that has only recently begun to repair the damage from the Great Recession and loss of vehicle and other temporary taxes that funded education over the past five years. California bears the additional burden of thirty-five years of chronic underfunding from absurdly low below-market valuations of commercial property tax.
During the town hall, I’d said that we’d been on a starvation diet, and now the sudden appearance of $1.25 billion made it tempting to skip the necessary meal and “go right to dessert.” (One of the biggest applause lines was for my related point, discussing the demands made on schools for computer hardware that not every single of the 1,000 districts in the state can meet — “parents and teachers have worked too hard, shoulder to shoulder to pass Prop 30, our recent education revenue measure, to see it become an ed tech payday instead of putting counselors, school psychologists, art and music teachers, and librarians back into the schools.”)
Here’s a quick summary of the reasons I hesitate to support full-fledged CCSS tests and certainly don’t want low scores due to the novelty of the tests to send more California schools into Program Improvement. Many of these reasons also apply to states other than California.
• statewide tech deficits/tech infrastructure not up to par. Yes our state has Silicon Valley, but — not all schools in the state have the capacity to enable each child to take a computer-based test all at once.
• new and permanent income stream for ed tech/hardware and software companies. This is a planned obsolescence treadmill that once we get on, we can’t get off. And it’s money likely carved out from – displacing — school budgets that still fall short on small class sizes, or art in the school day.
• priorities out of whack. Where is the money for Professional Development? California is still 48th in the nation in per pupil spending even after passage of Prop 30; the school board of Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education recently spent $50 million on ipads for all students to enable them to take computer-based CCSS tests — yet where are librarians, counselors, aides, paraprofessionals? Have they been hired back? (No.) Who is going to spend extra time working with autism spectrum disorder kids for whom collaborating in teams for project-based learning might be challenging in some way, to give just one example?
• a 12 week (3 month) testing period out of a 9 month school year?? Do kids tested at the beginning get the same depth of curriculum as the ones tested at the end? Why are we warping our school year to accommodate expensive and not entirely technologically reliable online tests?
• test novelty, not lack of ability, will cause scores to artificially drop. We’ve seen this in NY and KY already. Why do we want to continue the insanity of labeling more children and more schools “failing” by an as-yet untested metric?
• student record privacy issues. My kid’s “data cloud” is Bill Gates’ future income stream. No, I don’t think so.
So what should schools do if we suspend reliance on CCSS to determine Program Improvement?
We should use those three years to emphasize portfolios of work, performances, and presentations – “summative assessments” that adults working in the world of scientific research, the arts, business, or other fields use to measure their proficiency, achievement, and mastery of a field. There’s no need for these to be mediated by online technology.
In fact, for those of us in California, Governor Brown gave us an opening we should pursue. He suggested that perhaps local panels of teacher subject experts could review authentic student work and encourage its presentation to the community. We could certainly offer this in the moratorium period.
In that three year period, we may find we don’t need more standardized tests.
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