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At the Chalk Face: Comparing CC Support with Evidence Against

AFT president Randi Weingarten has recently changed positions on value-added methods (VAM) for teacher evaluation, but maintains support for Common Core (CC). With that shift to rejecting VAM, based on the solid evidence base that shows high-stakes implementation of VAM is at least complicated if not misleading, I would like to request that Weingarten and AFT apply that same analysis to CC.

Step one would include comparing AFT’s Debunking Myths of the Common Core with an earlier post of mine that no one has addressed directly—Evidence? Randi Weingarten Ignores the Evidence.

My concerns about AFT’s myth debunking include the following:

  • The debunking is a list of stated myths (no evidence that anyone claims any of these) and a series of challenges to those unverified “myths”—all without a single hyperlink to evidence (except the two “adapted from” links at the end) and with only one direct acknowledgement of evidence, that being from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (whose work has been routinely discredited against peer-review).
  • The debunking arguments seem completely disassociated from the historical record on standards-based accountability over the past thirty years as well as blind to the real-world implications of mandated standards, high-stakes tests, and accountability for students and teachers. Both of these omissions are especially disturbing in the context of claims coming from a teachers union.
  • The costs of implementing CC are trivialized, and the distorting influence of funding on CC advocacy is ignored (see Horton: “ It should come as no surprise, then, that NCHE would be left begging at the curricular table because it could not bring very many bucks to the table”).
  • CC advocacy continues to focus on hypothetical claims that are also uncoupled from CC-correlated high-stakes tests, which are being implemented along with CC in every instance (just as all standards have been implemented with high-stakes tests over the past three decades)—disregarding that CC and the tests are inseparable and that the research base clearly reveals that standards are always reduced and corrupted by how they are tested (see Bracey, WYTIWYG). Arguing that CC or any standards should be separate from high-stakes testing is quite different from pretending that they are (especially when they demonstrably are not). CC and the so-called next-generation high-stakes tests have been examined and neither, in fact, offer anything different than the failed standards/tests implementation that has occurred at the state levels (see here about the next-generations tests, for example).

I am asking for a simple point of logic:

  1. VAM in theory seeks to identify teacher quality through statistical calculations based on student tests scores. In the real world of the classroom and under high-stakes environments, VAM is revealed to be more harmful than in theory; thus, as Weingarten has now conceded, VAM must be rejected.
  2. CC hypothetically seeks to identify a unified set of standards for all students in the U.S. In the real world of the classroom and under high-stakes environments, CC is guaranteed to be just as harmful as the state standards movement; thus, as AFT refuses to concede, CC must be rejected.

In Why Make Reform So Complicated?, Mike Schmoker raises an important, and ignored concern:

So, too, with the Common Core State Standards. The spirit of this initiative (warts and all) is largely welcome and long overdue: an emphasis on a more authentic literacy and real-world mathematics. But the actual lists of standards and practices were never piloted—ever, by anyone. They are still overlong and abounding in indecipherable abstractions. Siegel and Etzkorn found that long documents written in confusing language are the worst enemy of confident, effective implementation.

It is now time for leaders in education—including political leaders, union leaders, professional organization leaders—to acknowledge the historical record on standards-based accountability, the research base on standards-based accountability, and the real-world consequences related to standards-based accountability; and then, CC should be rejected, the real problems facing schools should be identified, and a new reform paradigm embraced.

AFT and Weingarten could offer a brave and powerful voice in that fight, and it would be welcomed.

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P.L. Thomas

Paul Thomas, Professor of Education, taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. Recent books include Parental Choice?:...