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Extreme Common Core Rhetoric Clouds Serious Debate

The Common Core State Standards initiative was started with bipartisan support. But new and often nonsensical criticism from right-wing Republicans is making it seem as if the Core is a partisan issue, and, further, is clouding important and serious-minded criticism about the standards and their implementation.Just because Glenn Beck is a rightwing nut doesn't mean that the 'Common Core' education policy is a good idea. What Beck and others conservative rhetoric crowds out, however, is a reasonable and serious critique of the policy that could have deep and lasting impacts on public education in the US.

Far right-wing commentators, such as Glenn Beck, are shouting that the Core is essentially an effort by the federal government to rip children out of the control of their parents. Beck said recently:

You as a parent are going to be completely pushed out of the loop. The state is completely pushed out of the loop. They now have control of your children.

Conservative commentator Phyllis Schlaffley, calling the Common Core “Obama Core”, said in a recent piece:

Obama Core is a comprehensive plan to dumb down schoolchildren so they will be obedient servants of the government and probably to indoctrinate them to accept the leftwing view of America and its history.

Actually, probably not.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee recently approved a resolution calling the standards an “inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children.” Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa is trying to eliminate U.S. Education Department funding for the effort. And a number of state legislatures have or are considering slowing down or stopping the Core, with Republicans dominating the opposition.

Such talk has opened the door for the pro-school reform organization Democrats For Education Reform to try to link anybody who criticizes the Core with the far right. The group sent out e-mails — (I got a few) — with the subject line: ‘Who’s Been Courting You On Common Core?”

A series of e-mails came from DFER Indiana, with a link to a letter that says:

Dear Fellow Democrats:

It’s growing late and some of us have spent the night canoodling with far-right opponents of the Common Core State Standards. If that sounds like you, it’s time you ask yourself this question: “Am I going to hate myself for this in the morning?”

We can almost guarantee the answer will be yes.

Before you decide to get into bed with extremist right-wing critics of the Common Core, we highly recommend that you get to know them better.

Here’s the first in a series of would-be, right-wing bedfellows you’d be smart to stay away from. Let’s start with State Sen. Scott Schneider of Indiana and Phyllis Schlafly, Founder and President of the Eagle Forum. Click their names to find out more.

- Larry, DFER IN State Director

Somewhere in the middle of the extremes — the Core is going to bring down America vs. the Core is going to save American education — is serious and thoughtful concern from educators about how the standards were written and adopted, how they are being implemented and how Core-aligned assessments were designed. But this conversation is having a hard time breaking through the high-profile cheerleaders and doomsday predictors.

Critics are not identical. Some believe that national standards are a reasonable goal but say the Common Core standards are not based in research. Others like the standards themselves but believe the implementation has been lousy.  Some think that standards have never and will never drive student achievement and all of this is much ado about very little.

While educators don’t all agree on the quality of the standards, there seems to be broad consensus that the implementation in state after state has been dangerously rushed. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a speech on Tuesday that a survey of the members of the country’s second largest teachers union found that 75 percent supported the Core but “a similarly overwhelming majority said they haven’t had enough time to understand the standards, put them into practice, or share strategies with colleagues.”

That hasn’t stopped authorities in some places from giving students high-stakes assessments aligned with the Core. Last month’s administration of new Core-aligned tests in New York sparked a great deal of criticism from educators who saw the Pearson-designed tests and said they had too many problems for the allotted time, were loaded with poorly drawn questions, and weren’t even close to being in the same vicinity of  the “next-generation” assessments Core supporters had hoped for. In fact, experts say that Core-aligned assessments now being developed by two consortia of states with some $350 million in federal funds won’t be the “game changer” that Education Secretary Arne Duncan promised.

Unfortunately, educators and others who raise real problems with Core standards and implementation are wrongly accused by supporters of being against “accountability” and determined to maintain the “status quo.”

Meet Jeanne Tribuzzi. Shei is the director of English Language Arts, English as a Second Language and second language in the West Seneca Central School District in West Seneca, New York. Tribuzzi, who has studied the standards in detail, said she does not oppose the Common Core, she said, and thinks they are largely “well written.” But, she said, many school districts have not provided teachers with enough time for adequate study and collaboration to create aligned materials and lessons.

“Something the public doesn’t understand,” she said, “is that teachers have kids at their feet all day long, so to bring teachers together to do the work that needs to get done takes some intention .. and money. When those things are in short supply, teachers are not engaged in collaborative professional development, and that is what it is going to take to get them to understand the standards.”

In New York state, she said, education officials have tried to do too much at once. They have tried to develop a new educator evaluation system at the same time they are implementing the Core in classrooms, and started giving students Core-aligned assessments before teachers had a chance to incorporate them fully into lesson plans. Teachers who were asked to score student-written responses to parts  of the new assessments were doing so “without the context” they needed to understand whether the answers addressed the standards.

Because of all of this, Weingarten called Tuesday for a moratorium on the high stakes associated with the new Common Core assessments. She will likely be attacked for it by some doctrinaire school reformers, but the idea makes far more sense than continuing to unfairly assess students and teachers and principals on scores from questionable tests.

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