.                        The Common Core State Standards:
      Signs of Progress for the U.S. Public Education System
     Fall 2015




W.E.B Dubois once asked: How shall man measure Progress? And, what happens when Progress replaces what is no longer useful?
 
The Common Core State Standards are a sign of progress for the American Public School System. After all, the latest student scores, on aligned assessments, have far exceeded expectations. This news, which is very good news, is a way to measure progress but many states have placed the political needs of their school representatives and elected officials above the needs of their students by rejecting the need for uniform, research-based standards such as the Common Core State Standards.  Clearly, all students suffer when school officials make decisions that are not well thought out --- or in the overall best interest of their students who want and need a high-quality public school education --- no matter where they live. 

According to Gary Phillips:

                    Fifty states going in 50 different directions is not a strategy for national success in a                              globally competitive world. It may look good for federal reporting purposes, but it                                 denies students the best opportunity to learn college-ready and career-ready skills. 

But will states reject lessons learned or best practices and the need for uniform, high-quality standards, and their aligned tests?

If so, the most mind-boggling question that needs to be asked is: why are so many parents and community stakeholders rejecting CCSS, best practices and lessons learned  ---  or signs of progress in the U.S. public school system? Who is explaining the CCSS to parents and community stakeholders? Are they receiving information about the standards from just one source?  Why are they "sabotaging" school reform efforts that support public school children?   The answer to this question or the reasoning behind  this decision is stunning, a fact the Trump Administration has never mentioned --- a fact caused by partisan politics (to learn more about this topic, please click here .). 

But, is this the only reason that  so many states replaced the Common Core State Standards with carbon copies and "keep wasting tax payer funds" in the process? 

For instance, why are state officials failing to provide teachers with the training that they need to fully implement the Common Core State Standards in some states ? Are the school officials or the teachers' unions  sabotaging the CCSS implementation efforts? This is an ugly question to ask. Yet, this is a question with wide implications about the motivational levels and/or  the abilities of school officials to implement the standards. It is a question about the abilities of teachers and if they are capable of aligning classroom instruction to the standards.  The aforementioned articles, hint at this concern. What are the key questions that parents and community stakeholders must ask? Based on these articles, the questions include but are not limited to: "Has training for the CCSS been inconsistent? Have teachers and administrators received the kind of high-quality, sustained training that they need to successfully teach these rigorous CCSS standards? Are there differences of opinion about what constitutes high-quality teaching and professional development? Are the educators who are offering professional development to teachers also in need of professional development support?"

But, did parents and community stakeholders ask these questions in meetings where the CCSS were discussed? Did they ask about the incentives attached to the CCSS (to better understand the impetus and driving force  --- of any hidden agendas) that might explain why the CCSS were replaced?  If they did not ask these questions, how can parents and community stakeholders truly understand the goals of state education systems and the officials who, in the above-stated instances, were willing to replace the CCSS with weaker standards, waste funds and criticize the CCSS --- all at the same time --- merely because their teachers were never really trained to use the CCSS (or worse --- please refer to the previously mentioned explanations).

Clearly, parents and community stakeholders must  never underestimate the political decisions of school officials who may assume that they can "buffer schools from outside inspection, inteference or disruption" at the expense of the education of children. This type of engagement requires parents and community stakeholders to have some understanding of the inner workings of educational entities, especially those entities with a history of engaging in partisan politics and/or who still refuse to support the CCSS since the Obama Administration supported them.  

Unfortunately, these state-based practices that lack transparency and accountability, are a return to the days when  few states set world class standards . No one really knew what schools were doing.  In this light, there will always be an urgent need for parents and community stakeholders to become knowledgeable about and take part in school-based discourse and decision-making tied to student ahievement. 

Why should this still happen?
 
Once upon a time our educators, politicians, and parents all agreed that our U.S. educational standards were low, vague, incomprehensible, and vast, which prompted President Obama in 2009 to explain the importance of high-quality standards. He said:


             Today's system of 50 different sets of benchmarks for academic success means 4th grade                 readers in Mississippi are scoring nearly 70 points lower than students in Wyoming -- and                 they're getting the same grade. Eight of our states are setting their standards so low that                   their students may end up on par with roughly the bottom 40 percent of the world…                          That's  inexcusable. That's why I'm calling on states that are setting their standards far                       below where they ought to be to stop low-balling expectations for our kids. The solution                   to low test  scores is not lowering standards -- it's tougher, clearer standards…


As far back as 2005 Diane Ravitch, an education historian also made the case for national standards, a national curriculum and a national testing system (Refer to: Every State Left Behind).  While her political positions on these topics have changed --- the need for the Common Core State Standards still remains.
 

Going back even further Sandra Stotsky (who currently is a critic of the standards) in 1998 said:


          One reason for U.S. students' poor rankings on national and international tests is the lack                of  uniform high standards for all students. State standards are not useful if they  are vague,              uninterpretable, and unmeasurable, which occurs in many states.

 
And, then there are the Republican presidential candidates who all seem to be against the standards for reasons that have nothing to do with children. They have forgotten that education must be a bipartisan effort for the sake of children, which means its bottom line must be based on lessons learned and best practices or proven results. And yet, disagreeing with President   Obama who just happens to support the standards is the reason for their stance.  For instance, Carly Fiorina, in her speeches, talks about government overreach even in the development of the tests and textbooks aligned to the standards but the federal government is not responsible for the tests or the textbooks .   These facts do not seem to matter to her or her constituents. 
 
 
The real issues emerge, however, and the political conversations change when the focus is on children, first and foremost.  For example, in 1996, Schmidt, McKnight, & Raizen wrote:


             It is time to admit that at the ground level, where teachers teach and students learn, there                is not coherence, but chaos. The chief problem is that there is simply too much to teach—               arguably two to three times too much (Schmidt, McKnight, & Raizen,1996)—and too many                options for what can be taught (Rosenholtz, 1991). There are enormous differences in what              teachers teach in the same subject at the same grade level in the same school. Even when               common, highly structured textbooks are used as the basis for a curriculum, teachers                         make independent and idiosyncratic decisions regarding what should be emphasized,                     what should be added, and what should be deleted (see, for example, Doyle, 1992). Such                  practices create huge holes in the continuum of content to which students are exposed.

 
And, so the Common Core State Standards began their journey as a state-led effort.  (Note:
"They were launched in 2009 by state leaders, including governors and state commissioners of education from  48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia through their membership in the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). State school chiefs and governors recognized the value of consistent, real-world learning goals and launched this effort to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, are graduating high school prepared for college, career, and life.")
 

James Migram from Stanford University, who supports the Common Core State Standards states: 
 
            The reality is that they are better than 85 or 90 percent of the state standards they                               replaced. Not a little better. A lot better.”
 
An Iowa teacher who has taught for 21 years, a teacher who supports the Common Core
State Standards and finds it painful that they are being attacked, recently asked presidential candidate Hillary Clinton about the standards. Hillary Clinton responded by saying:
 
           How did we end up at a point where we are so negative about the most important non-                     family enterprise in the raising of the next generation, which is how our kids are                                   educated? When I think about the really unfortunate argument that’s been going on                           around Common Core, it’s very painful, because the Common Core started off as a bi-                        partisan effort — it was actually nonpartisan. It wasn’t politicized, it was to try to come up                 with a core of learning that we might expect students to achieve across our country, no                     matter what kind of school district they were in, no matter how poor their family was,                         that there wouldn’t be two tiers of education. Iowa has had a testing system based on a                     core curriculum for a really long time, and you see the value of it. You understand why                       that helps you organize your whole education system. And a lot of states, unfortunately,                    haven’t had that, and so don’t understand the value of a core in this sense.
 
So how have the Common Core State Standards changed the public education system, especially opportunities to learn for children of color?
 
              According to its supporters , what the Common Core did, by applying a more rigorous
             testing standard across the board, was to pull back the curtain on the problems that
             had  existed everywhere else (so these problems could be identified and addressed).
             It turned out that a lot of suburban schools weren't doing so well either, although the                         system  didn't show it. They had been administering the wrong kind of tests and teaching
             the wrong kind of math, and now it was their students and teachers who would
             feel the heat of the "accountability" ethic. (Tim Murphy, 2014)
 
From this frame of reference, the Common Core State State Standards have paved the way for citizens to ask better questions about instructional leadership, teacher instructional practices, teacher effectiveness, actual classroom instruction and student mastery of lessons. These citizens now know why it is important for states, districts and schools to align the standards to the curriculum, the assessments and teacher professional development training programs --- so teachers do not have to “teach to the test.”
 
Stakeholders who were against charter schools that (continue) to support the Common Core
State Standards are now wondering  why low-income students (attending such schools as the
high performing Success Academy Charter Schools, Promise Academy Charter Schools, etc.) 
are scoring higher than children who attend wealthy suburban schools. Note:  " Students attending Success charters: a) are three times as likely to qualify for free or discounted lunch, b) 12 times as likely to be black and c) twice as likely to be Hispanic    and yet they perform the same or higher on the common core aligned test than students who attend schools in upscale Scarsdale, a district where the median household income is $221,531." For instance, "90% of the students who attend public schools (in Scarsdale) are white or Asian and less than 1% are black with 0% of the students qualifying  for free/reduced lunch." 
Based on exposure to this type of data, stakeholders are asking better questions about their own  children's schools. Consider  Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore ,  a school without one proficient  student --- in a a state where only half of the students pass the state assessment . Janel Nelson, a parent, however, responded to the scores by saying to her son:  "That’s your teachers' report card, ultimately.” From this stance, parents must demand that schools promote high quality standards aligned to classroom instruction, state assessments, instructional practices, including the professional development of leaders and teachers, etc. They must have access to objective information based on "who" is teaching their children and  " what" their children are actually learning  in classrooms tied to  high, quality research-based standards.  This type of information empowers stakeholders and  creates a culture of inquiry that cannot just be blamed on the socio-economic status of students. Such an environment built on problem solving efforts leads to pertinent questions being asked or even explains: why the poorest 10 percent of students in   Shanghai score higher than the richest 10 % of U.S. students on the PISA?
 
All citizens and/or parents and community stakeholders must discuss subjects from a wider perspective with many options for information dissemination/knowledge utilization so informed debates can take place. Unfortunately, teachers’ unions with their lobbyists are dominating the discussions against the standards and aligned tests in some locations.  Some unions have even asked parents to opt-out-of-testing without the parents and citizens weighing information from different sources.

The key, of course, to understanding the Common Core State Standards (or any educational subject for that matter) is for stakeholders to ask their own questions about the CCSS. To accomplish this task, they must have access to meaningful information from a wide range of sources that moves beyond politics and partisanship --- so they can make "informed decisions."  In other words, opportunity structures and spaces must exist for parents and community stakeholders to build their capacity so they are able to understand such subjects as the standards --- without special interest groups controlling the discourse or explaining the standards from their perspective, alone. 
 
With this view in mind --- in 1899, W.E.B Dubois found, after returning to the community where he had once taught that the school had been replaced --- in its place, he noted, "stood Progress, and Progress, he understood, is necessarily ugly." In other words, inclusive school communities know that there may be differences in perspectives, opinions, and stances on certain subjects but they will still ask: What is progress? How is progress measured? In the case of the Common Core Standards, there is, of course,  plenty of evidence proving that  public school students can exceed expectations on the aligned tests when the standards are implemented well. There's also plenty of evidence proving that the parents who know and understand that they do not have the luxury of operating in the dark when it is comes to public  schools --- are also the ones who understand how student progress is achieved. 
By Stephanie D. Leigh Robinson