New Standards, Familiar Problems

The following op-ed is the John Locke Foundation’s Daily Journal for Friday, October 28, 2011:

If you thought the federal No Child Left Behind law was bad, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Next year, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction will introduce new curriculum standards for all public school students. This will include Common Core State Standards in K-12 English and mathematics. North Carolina’s adoption of the Common Core standards is a testament to the growing influence of the federal government in matters that traditionally (and constitutionally) have been state and local responsibilities.

Unlike No Child Left Behind, the Common Core State Standards are the product of two independent organizations: the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. While these groups coordinated the standards’ development, neither had the financial or political influence to convince states to sign on. After all, education officials in North Carolina and elsewhere had little incentive to adopt standards created by two Washington outfits. Enter the feds.

The federal government joined forces with these organizations and made states an offer they couldn’t refuse. The U.S. Department of Education declared that a state officially adopting the common standards would receive “bonus points” toward its application for a piece of the $4.5 billion federal Race to the Top fund. In June 2010, the State Board of Education unanimously approved Common Core English and math standards. Three months later, North Carolina won a four-year, $400 million Race to the Top grant. In fact, all 10 states that received round-two Race to the Top grants adopted Common Core standards.

The federal government is also bankrolling the development of common tests. Predictably, most states are falling in line. The Education Department will distribute $360 million in grants to members of two state consortia. North Carolina became a member of the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium. In its role as a governing state in this group, North Carolina will work with public education agencies from 28 other states to shape test-design policy.

Of course, the burden of implementing common standards and tests will fall on North Carolina’s English and math teachers. They will have the difficult task of quickly turning a catalog of new standards into sound classroom instruction. And research indicates that the shift to Common Core standards will not be easy. In a study published in Educational Researcher, a University of Pennsylvania research team concluded that the Common Core standards represent considerable change over existing state standards and tests. Researchers also found that the proposed standards are no better, and likely worse, than academic standards created by state education agencies.

While researchers disagree about the English standards’ quality, there is a growing consensus that the Common Core math standards are abysmal. In fact, few academics, policy analysts, and education officials have been willing to defend the math standards publicly. For example, the executive editor of Education Next recently complained that, after three months and numerous rejections, he has been unable to find anyone willing to write a short defense of the math standards for his widely read journal.

Parents, public school teachers, and school board members throughout North Carolina have joined a growing number of opponents of the Common Core standards. During a recent school board meeting in Durham, two board members publicly voiced their concerns about the standards. They worried that the implementation of dramatically different standards has the potential to harm struggling students. Durham Public Schools superintendent Eric Becoats warned them that delaying implementation of the Common Core standards would prompt state education officials to punish the district. He responded, “I’m not sure if we would receive funding from the state.”

In other words, Becoats suspects that the state would employ the same kind of “carrot and stick” strategies employed by the federal government to get North Carolina to adopt the Common Core State Standards, as well as No Child Left Behind, in the first place.

Dr. Terry Stoops is the Director of Education Studies for the John Locke Foundation

Bachmann Would Repeal All Federal Education Law

Oh that is music to my ears.  In a phone interview I had with Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann on Saturday she told me that not only would she repeal the Race to the Top program which has foisted common core state standards onto cash strapped states, but that she would work to repeal all education law and undo all executive orders made by the Obama administration in the area of education.

Whether you like the Congresswoman or not you have to admit that she has been very consistent on this issue.

NC DPI embraces Common Core wackiness

I recently spent some time reviewing presentations from the April 2011 Collaborative Conference for Student Achievement (CCSA).  The CCSA is an annual conference sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NC DPI).

During the conference Kitty Rutherford (NC DPI Elementary Mathematics Consultant) and Robin Barbour (NC DPI Secondary Mathematics Consultant) discussed the implementation of the Common Core math standards in North Carolina.  According to their Power Point presentation, the first step is to discard two core beliefs about mathematics:

1. All students in a mathematics classroom work on the same problem at the same time

2. Each math question should have a single answer

I am fine with the idea of modifying the first idea.  Kids learn differently.  I have no problem allowing some students to proceed to more advanced problems and others to work on basic ones.

However, the idea that we need to reject the idea of a correct answer is appalling.  And it gets to the heart of why we oppose the Common Core.  Rutherford and Barbour provide the following example:

Example 1: If someone asked you to name two numbers to multiply, which numbers would you choose and why?

I suspect that most students will choose numbers that are easy to multiply and require as little work as possible.  Indeed, I would always choose to multiply by zero or one.

Furthermore, should we really care why students choose numbers?  Should our teachers waste valuable class time on such questions?  Absolutely not.  We need to ask whether he or she successfully multiplied the numbers.  I suppose that it does not matter to the Common Core folks, given that there is no single (read: correct) answer.

Rick Santorum Opposes and Would Repeal Race to The Top

In an interview I had with former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) on Monday we talked specifically about Race to the Top and the Common Core State Standards.  He said that he opposes and would repeal all of the Obama education executive orders, including Race to the Top.

You can watch the entire interview here.

Turning Off the Lights at the Federal Department of Education

From The Des Moines Register:

“I want to close down the fed Department of Education, turn off lights, lock the doors and instead keep all that money in Iowa,” Bachmann said, to cheers.

Bachmann said education concerns were what prompted her to enter politics in the first place, after she became concerned with the work her foster children were doing in public schools.

The federal government has insinuated itself into local public schools, she said, and in the process has lowered the quality of education, wasted taxpayer dollars and overstepped its constitutional boundaries. The solution is to remove federal influence and empower parents to choose how their children are educated – be it in public schools, private schools, religious schools or at home.

“As a parent you should get to decide what kind of education you want for your children,” she said. “And you shouldn’t be economically disadvantaged because of the choice you make.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Congresswoman Bachmann’s position on this, and she has been the most vocal of all the candidates on this subject.  I’d just like to know what she would do to reverse Race to the Top and the federal creep into States with the Common Core State Standards.  Closing the Department won’t happen overnight and I’d like to know what the intermediate steps she would implement.

Originally posted at American Principles in Action

Support Grows for Abolishing the Department of Education

In the wake of the already posted unanimous resolution adopted by the National Federation of Republican women to oppose the Common Core State Standards Initiative, FOXNews reports.  Michelle Bachmann has led the charge to insert this as a centerpiece ofher plans to cut spending in Washington.  Ron Paul and Gary Johnson also want to shut down the agency.  Newt Gingrich has called for it to be radically slimmed down.  Rick Perry has long been a fierce advocate of repealing Race to the Top and protecting local control.

The education debate needs to go mainstream for Americans to understand what is going on.  It looks like the GOP primary is proving an effective platform to educate Americans about radical federal overreach on education policy.

Common Core: There's an app for that

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is asking teachers to check out the new Common Core Standards app available at iTunes.

Here is a description of the app:

View the Common Core State Standards in one convenient FREE app! A great reference for students, parents, and teachers to easily read and understand the core standards. Quickly find standards by subject, grade, and subject category (domain/cluster). This app includes Math standards K-12 and Language Arts standards K-12. Math standards include both traditional and integrated pathways (as outlined in Appendix A of the common core) and synthesizes Language Arts standards with the Corresponding College and Career Readiness Standards (CCR’s).

And here is what it looks like:

This gives you a pretty good sense of the amount of money that the Common Core advocates are willing to spend on their effort.