Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Common Core's Long, Strange (And Ongoing) Trip

Posted By on Wed, Mar 5, 2014 at 12:30 PM

[UPDATE: After I wrote this post, SB1310 was voted down in the Senate, 18-12.]

Is it possible Sen. Al Melvin and I agree about Common Core? Well, not exactly. That would just be wrong. Let's say we share a common interest in halting its full implementation.

Cap'n Al's bill, SB1310, prohibiting Arizona's use of the Common Core standards and tests passed the Senate Education committee 6-3 on a straight party line vote. Melvin made his usual mess of things during discussion of the bill.

Melvin, pressed in floor debate Tuesday to identify what in the Common Core standards he does not like, provided no answer.

“I leave it to you to find them,’’ he told Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson. Instead, Melvin said he was simply reflecting what he said is the will of a majority of Arizonans who said they do not want Common Core.

“We can do a better job at the state level than the federal government dictating standards,’’ Melvin said.

Earlier Melvin talked about "borderline pornographic" reading material and "'fuzzy math,' substituting letters for numbers." He said he hadn't really read the standards, but “I’ve been exposed to them." (Hope he got his immunization shots so he doesn't catch anything.)

I'd like to see the Common Core subjected to some serious scrutiny, and a sizable contingent of folks in the progressive education camp agree. We're worried that schools are turning into testing factories where students, teachers and schools are at the mercy of their standardized test scores, and any classroom experiences that don't raise scores are viewed as frills that need to be pushed aside to allow more time to teach to the test.

The standards Melvin hates and fears aren't really the problem. [Full disclosure: I haven't read them in depth either] It's not a bad idea to suggest what students should learn at certain grade levels, and the standards can be used as a guide for schools, districts and states which decide to adopt them. For others, they can be part of an ongoing discussion of what kind of education is best for our children.

As the standards are adopted in classrooms across the country, something which hasn't really happened yet, we can decide how appropriate they are for the general student population and get an idea of whether a one-size-fits-all approach works for students with different socioeconomic backgrounds in different parts of the country. They should be a work in progress where we keep the standards that work, throw out those that don't and tweak those needing adjustment. Who knows, we may even decide that a country as large and diverse as ours shouldn't have a set of standards every classroom has to adhere to.

But when you attach high stakes tests to the standards, they're written in stone. Failure to teach to the standards means student failure on the high stakes tests, and no school wants to face the consequences of low scores. The AIMS tests have skewed Arizona's education for the worse. Common Core testing will take the process even further.

So no, I don't agree with Melvin. He and I object to the push for Common Core for different reasons. He's against black education helicopters flying over Arizona forcing students to read pornography and use letters instead of numbers, but he's fine with standardized tests so long as they're not related to Common Core. I don't mind giving the standards a serious look, but I'd like to drive a stake through the heart of our obsession with high stakes tests.

But I have to say, I don't mind Cap'n Al gumming up the works on this one.

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