It seems that not only are Joel Klein and company turning their tail and running from their problems. It seems the US Department of Education and Arne Duncan are doing the same thing.
Back in late July, around the time I posted this fiery piece on the cancellation of New York State tests in Social Studies for 5th and 8th grade, I had sent letters to the Board of Regents and the US Department of Education’s pointperson for Race to the Top, James Butler. This is the letter I sent to the Board of Regents on July 20th:
Honorable Members of the Board of Regents,
I write to you to express my disgust and dismay at your recent decision to cut social studies testing in grades 5 and 8. In so doing, I have written a post on my blog that has been sent to thousands of my readers explaining the plight of this situation, the text of which can be found here:
I do not want to belittle the fact that in a recession, cuts need to be made. Of course, costs must be diminished in severe economic times. Yet I ask you honorable members one question: How is cutting testing in grades 5 and 8 “appropriate and responsible”, in Commissioner Steiner’s words? If you do care about our high school graduates, who need this knowledge to succeed in the wider world, why take away an effective early indicator of their social studies readiness? Why take away an impetus for instruction from teachers that understand the importance of history, economics, geography and government.?
Let us be completely honest with each other. In this world of assessment, if a subject is not assessed in a standardized way, it is not important. Your action has deemed social studies not only unimportant, but unnecessary. Social studies cannot be taught out of the goodness of teacher’s hearts: assessment is necessary to make sure children are ready for higher education. Your action will create children so underprepared that it will make New York the laughingstock of the United States
in terms of education.
I leave you with a request: please find an alternative solution to this financial problem that does not affect our students. DO NOT blame President Obama or NCLB, for that is an excuse that is too tired to even contemplate. What can YOU, as one of the oldest institutions in the state, predating the US constitution, do to solve this problem?
Thank you very much for your time.
I then sent a letter to James Butler at the Department of Education on July 21:
My name is [Mr. D’s real name] and I am a teacher in New York City public schools. I wanted to bring to your attention an inaccuracy in New York State’s application for Phase II RTTT funds.
In page 106 of New York’s June 1, 2010 application, it states that:
“New York collects yearly test records of individual students under section 1111(b) of the ESEA [20 U.S.C. 6311(b)] program in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies
, as well as scores obtained on NewYork
’s secondary-level Regents examinations
(see Appendix C_1_2).”
Yet on June 22, the NY Board of Regents voted to approve the suspension of social studies testing in grades 5 and 8, a serious blow to the achievement of our students. In a more specific way, however, NY is now no longer compliant with the criteria for funding. The NY Board of Regents, just like administrators across the country, must be held accountable to their actions.
Please make sure NY does NOT get any RTTT funds unless it returns to compliance and restores full testing on all levels.
Thank you for your time.
To which I received this response yesterday, almost a month after my initial inquiry:
Thank you for your email. We appreciate your attention to the New York Race to the Top application. We deeply appreciate the contributions of teachers like you, who are involved in shaping the education system for our nation’s children. You play the most vital role in ensuring that the next generation is fully prepared for the challenges it will face. Thank you again for sharing your concerns.
Race to the Top Team
Now, I don’t blame Jessica McKinney. My guess is that she’s an eager, go get-em intern type that did what she was told and sent me a form letter acknowledging that they did receive my concerns, albeit almost a month late. She probably’s going off to TFA after her internship is up, so watch out Compton or southside Chicago!
What I am pissed about is that this problem with cutting testing–while at the same time stating the exact opposite on a federal application for funding–isn’t taken more seriously. Isn’t that perjury? I mean, New York State outright lied to the federal government. Yet it seems that the folks running Race to the Top couldn’t care less.
I don’t hate New York: I want it to get the money it should get as one of the larger states. But damnit, it should be doing it in the best interests of children getting a COMPLETE education. I urge everyone in the Neighborhood to spread the word about this tepid response to a travesty occurring among social studies instruction in this state and possibly this country.
Race to the Top can be reached at email@example.com. E-mail Jessica directly and see if it helps.
Still haven’t heard from the Board of Regents, so here’s there contact info one more time:
To contact the Regents as a whole, use the following:
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Board of Regents, Room 110 EB
Albany, New York 12234
The following are the individual Regents and the areas they represent:
2011* Tisch, Merryl H.; B.A., M.A., Ed.D.
Chancellor; At Large
9 East 79th Street, N.Y., N.Y. 10075
Phone: (212) 879-9414 Email: RegentTisch@mail.nysed.gov
2012* Cofield, Milton L.; B.S., M.B.A., Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor; Judicial District VII – Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Yates
98 Hickory Ridge Road, Rochester, N.Y. 14625
Phone (585) 200-6284 Email: RegentCofield@mail.nysed.gov
2015* Bennett, Robert M.; B.A., M.S.
Chancellor Emeritus; Judicial District VIII — Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming
201 Millwood Lane, Tonawanda, NY 14150
Phone: (716) 645-1344 Email: RegentBennett@mail.nysed.gov
2014* Cohen, Saul B.; B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
14 North Chatsworth Avenue, Apt. 3E, Larchmont, NY 10538
Phone: (914) 834-0615 Email: RegentCohen@mail.nysed.gov
2015* Dawson, James C.; A.A, B.A., M.S., Ph.D.
Judicial District IV — Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington
166 U.S. Oval, Plattsburgh, NY 12903
Phone: (518) 324-2401 Email: RegentDawson@mail.nysed.gov
2011* Bottar, Anthony S.; B.A., J.D.
Judicial District V — Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga, and Oswego
120 Madison Street, Suite 1600, AXA Tower II, Syracuse, NY 13202
Phone: (315) 422-3466 Email: RegentBottar@mail.nysed.gov
2013* Chapey, Geraldine, D.; B.A., M.A., Ed.D.
Judicial District XI — Queens
107-10 Shore Front Parkway, Apt. 9C, Belle Harbor, NY 11694
Phone: (718) 634-8471 Email: RegentChapey@mail.nysed.gov
2015* Phillips 3rd, Harry; B.A., M.S.F.S.
Judicial District IX — Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester
71 Hawthorne Way, Hartsdale, NY 10530
Phone: (914) 948-2228 Email: RegentPhillips@mail.nysed.gov
2012* Tallon, Jr., James R. ; B.A., M.A.
Judicial District VI – Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Madison, Otsego, Schuyler, Tioga, Tompkins
United Hospital Fund, Empire State Building, 350 Fifth Avenue, 23rd Floor, New York, N.Y. 10118-0110
Phone (212) 494-0777 Email: RegentTallon@mail.nysed.gov
2015* Tilles, Roger; B.A., J.D.
Judicial District X – Nassau, Suffolk
100 Crossways Park West, Suite 107, Woodbury, N.Y. 11797
Phone (516) 364-2533 Email: RegentTilles@mail.nysed.gov
2015* Brooks Hopkins, Karen; B.A., M.F.A.
Judicial District II – Kings
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217
Phone (718) 636-4135 Email: RegentHopkins@mail.nysed.gov
2012* Bendit, Charles R.; B.A.
Judicial District I – New York
111 Eighth Avenue, Suite 1500, New York, N.Y. 10011
Phone (212) 220-9945 Email: RegentBendit@mail.nysed.gov
2013* Rosa, Betty A., B.A., M.S. in Ed., M.S. in Ed., M.Ed., Ed.D.
Judicial District XII – Bronx
Chambreleng Hall, Fordham University, 441 East Fordham Road, Bronx, N.Y. 10458
Phone (718) 817-5053 Email: RegentRosa@mail.nysed.gov
2015* Young, Jr., Lester W., B.S., M.S., Ed.D.
55 Hanson Place, Suite 400, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217
Phone (718) 722-2796 Email: RegentYoung@mail.nysed.gov
2014* Cea, Christine D., B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
Judicial District XIII – Richmond
NYS Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities
1050 Forest Hill Road, Staten Island, NY 10314
Phone (718) 494-5306 Email: RegentCea@mail.nysed.gov
2014* Norwood, Wade S., B.A.
74 Appleton Street, Rochester, NY 14611
Phone (585) 461-3520 Email: RegentNorwood@mail.nysed.gov
The Dos and Don’ts of the Common Core Standards
Lately, the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) has taken a good piece of my life.
First, it was the beginning of the year meetings that introduced us to the CCLS (then called the Common Core State Standards, or CCSS) and how they will impact our instruction. Then came the periodic meetings evaluating student work, supposedly using the CCLS (but often not).
Now, in a frantic pace to stay on the CCLS bandwagon, I’m involved with not one, but two taskforces attempting to integrate social studies instruction and museum education into the new standards.
During the whole time, I didn’t even attempt to read the standards. Maybe it’s time that I did.
The Common Core Learning Standards were part of a two-year long initiative by the National Governors’ Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Their goal was to provide a uniform set of standards for reading and mathematics nationwide, supplementing the various state benchmarks and standards that had been implemented in the early stages of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
The CCLS was rolled out in 2010, and immediately many states jumped aboard. Washington had much to do with the enthusiasm: Race to the Top grants were determined—de facto, if not de jure—through swift and thorough adoption of the CCLS. To date, 48 of 50 states have jumped on the initative (except Texas and Alaska) and 47 of 50 have adopted the standards (Virginia chose not to).
On the surface, the CCLS is a noble idea. It would be an incredible leap for our educational system if a child were held to the same standards in any part of the country—the same way other, smaller countries handle it.
Looking at the standards themselves, however, leads me to believe they are not the silver bullet everyone makes them out to be.
I decided to see how the Common Core stacked up against the old standards used in New York City up until now. Here’s the first elementary standard for reading in the old system:
It’s what we expect from standards: broad, verbose, and so cumbersome that any set of criteria could fit in here. A combination of Marvel comic books, Mad Magazines, the Onion, the history textbook and some selection from the class library should do the trick. By the way, this is what you’re expected to do once you reach sixth grade.
The CCLS addresses this standard differently, as it does with others: instead of one culminating indicator, there are benchmarks for each year from Kindergarten to 5th for elementary, and from 6th to 12th for secondary. In first grade, the similar CCLS standard for reading would read like this:
By fifth grade, the same standard reads like this:
It appears that the Common Core has won this round—after all; grade scaffolding seems more palatable than a one-shot deal. Yet look at the old standard compared with the one above: other than the quantity constraints of the old standard, don’t they look suspiciously similar?
Let’s try a writing standard now. In the old standards, we have:
The fifth grade standard in the CCLS for report writing is as follows:
Again, apart from a difference in vocabulary, these two standards bear a striking resemblance.
The Mathematics standards, on the other hand, seem to be a real improvement. Here’s the old standard for 5th grade for using base ten number systems:
We could all agree that’s pretty lame, even by the already-low standards (no pun intended) of the authors of these standards. The CCLS version gives much more detail:
So the new standards are pretty hit-and-miss. There’s a lot of good stuff to get out of them, but also plenty of pitfalls along the way to implementation—and especially assessing them.
First, realize that, especially in English, the CCLS is largely a re-packaging of the standards we have already used—standards that lack much substance to begin with. So for all the hoopla of newness and scaffolding, in the end the final benchmarks will not be so radically different from before.
Second, the “Common” in Common Core is a real misnomer. Many states, including New York, are allowed to tweak or alter the standards to meet the needs of their particular groups of students. This is important, to be sure, but then it no longer makes these standards very “common” anymore. How is this any different from the old state standards?
Furthermore, don’t expect to see a massive overhaul of the standardized testing situation because of these standards—at least not yet. It is claimed that full implementation of the standards, with new assessments, curricula, etc., will be in place by 2015 the latest. I’m guessing we’ll see the new assessments sooner than that, because there will be little new about them. If the CCLS is a re-packaging of the old, then wouldn’t the new tests be a re-packaging of the old, as well?
Besides, if you fuck with those tests too much, Pearson and McGraw-Hill will have a serious chat with you.
Finally, the CCLS does not even address content areas, science and social studies, until the 6th grade, and then it is merely a test of “Literacy in Science/Social Studies.” Those standards are a re-packaging of the re-packaging: a reformation of the English standards to make them more content-specific. Yet no actual content standards are addressed: what actual stuff do kids need to know?
It’s nice how we focus on the process, the skills, the strategies, but without the actual stuff of learning the CCLS—like any set of standards—is really meaningless.
So what can we get from this new initiative foisted on most of us in this country?
Not much, but that’s okay.
To those who are getting their shorts in a knot over the CCLS…relax. It’s not as big a deal as even they think it is. These standards are no more rigorous than the personal set of standards any good teacher uses throughout his/her day. It’s simply a new paper trail for what you already do.
Hopefully it’ll lead to changes for the better. Probably, it won’t.
Just grin and bear through the workshops, lectures, symposia and focus groups—knowing that the next “silver bullet” is coming right around the corner…
…and it’ll be just as effective as the last one.
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