Monday, July 07, 2014

Ditching Common Core?

Colorado teacher (and former RotLC commenter) Mike Mazenko offers a well-written piece on why Bill Gates, et. al., should get out of the Common Core business.

Because Common Core been pushed by the Obama Administration, California is still mid-fellatio regarding those standards.  We'll go full steam ahead even if every other state in the union drops them.


maxutils said...

well, no disagreement that CA 'blows' almost every educational opportunity...

allen (in Michigan) said...

Bill Gates came to prominence, and his immense wealth, due to the accidental establishment of a standard, Windows. Ironically, it was another standard, or the result of a set of standards, the internet, that pushed him out of his position of dominance over the computer industry.

You'd think with that experience Bill Gates would understand how standards work but Common Core makes it clear that he doesn't. Or at least that he believes enough in the way of money trumps the forces that allow for the establishment of standards. Gates is the proverbial guy with the hammer for whom all problems look like nails.

And the fact is, if you've got a hammer or a lot money there are a lot of problems that are soluble by the application of one or the other. So much so that it's easy to assume that all problems can be solved with one or the other.

The biggest problem is that there's no common education arena in which Common Core might solve problems. There are, at least, fifty different education "markets" which are almost entirely independent of each other. What happens in one state is of little interest to other states and that division goes right down to the individual district level. If one state has awful results and the state right next door has great results the two might as well exist on different dimensional planes for all the impact the disparity will have on either. Worse, the education system in any particular state doesn't have to be good it just has to be good enough not to be a political lightning rod.

Given that situation Mr. Gates could only have assumed that enough in the way of money, which is to say a big enough hammer, would overcome the inhospitable nature of the public education system to common anything.

But like the interent public education's a distributed system which is to say it's pretty resilient.

Sweet reason may bring success in one state but that nets you nothing in the state just to the left. Arm-twisting may work there but you've got a lot more states to conquer before momentum might carry you over the goal line and each success raises the profile of your standard which results in the undecided carefully looking to their own goals to see if Common Core helps or hinders them in their own pursuits. If it's the former then Bill Gates and Common Core are invited to move on and if you look hard enough there's almost always something to criticize.

With that reality in mind it's easy, and accurate, to predict that the only education policies that'll achieve national scope will be the indistinguishable from those that already have which is to say, handing out big, fat checks without much in the way of oversight or without much hope that the oversight will be effective.

The solution is, of course, to change the reality that precludes the emergence of national standards and that change is the dissolution of the public education system.

maxutils said...

I'm with you up until you reach your conclusion. The worst thing about Common Core is that it 'encourages' teaching math in a completely ridiculous way ... based on everything I've seen. I firmly believe that kids should know how things work ... so, e.g., when you introduce the times table? Tell them what 6x7 is, that it ls like adding 6 7s together, and then convince them that doing it with addition is, in the long run, not as good as memorizing this table ...which you then have them fill out. And drill. Common Core uses methods that ... I don't know, APPEAR to work, but I, with a math credential don't understand them or follow their logic, if that's what it is ...

The problems with your solution is that a) it's in the public interest to have some level of standards, at minimum b) if you mandate education, again, we need to make sure everyone can afford it ... again, in our own best interests, even if you don't have kids, and c) you need to be able to ensure the market provides enough slots. that means public schools are at worst a place of last refuge. But, make them compete with private schools for attendance...and if they can't draw enough attendance to fill their schools, they can be rented to privates. This still requires public funding, though ... not any of the half assed vouchers that have been tried ... which are really just a tax credit to the rich.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Common Core's the other approach to national standards which is a mandated, top-down approach. By definition it has to be rammed down the throats of all involved save those who either approve of the approach or see some personal gain as a result.

This is my bailiwick, max. The internet, and even earlier the entire computer industry, wouldn't exist but for a whole slew of standards. ASCII - American Standard Code for Information Interchange - shoved EBCDIC, an IBM proprietary standard, out of the way and that's been the case repeatedly down through the years.

The element that tied all those standards together was that all the stakeholders saw significant benefit in giving up a modest, and not particularly worthwhile, degree of autonomy. With a standard for wheels you didn't have to re-invent the wheel.

If you wanted to go into the computer business you didn't have to worry about interfacing your character encoding scheme to the character encoding scheme used by the company that made your hard all used ASCII.

But what's crucial is that there was a commonality of purpose all up and down the line. Everybody wanted to make money and computers made that easier by reducing head count. But there is no commonality of purpose, or much sense of purpose at all, in public education. Without that commonality of purpose there's no reason for a standard.

What Common Core seems to me to be is an attempt to establish not an educational standard but a political standard. To establish influence over a necessarily fractured seascape of individual islands and for political purposes. The timing of Common Core isn't coincidental either not that I'm positing a conscious conspiracy.

The public education system's under assault as never before and it's coming apart at the seams. Charters led the way but but more recently the long-denied voucher's have been making historically important inroads. Tenure's been overturned in a number of states and the once all-powerful teachers unions seem utterly helpless to stem the tide of change. The slow, steady increase in federal influence is quite suddenly looking like the clock's no longer in its favor so a more distinct, and swifter, assertion of influence is also quite suddenly looking like a good idea. If federal influence isn't quickly established over public education it might never be.

But there's another approach to the establishment of standards and that's a standard that arises from a commonality of purpose and that commonality of purpose is suppressed by the public education. That suppression of a commonality of purposes comes from the suppression of parental authority.

It's parents who could supply that commonality of purpose due to the relatively simple set of demands parents would make of the public education system if they could. Those would be to ensure the safety of their child and to educate their child.

But the public education system is inherently indifferent to parental demands so suppresses the effects of the common parental desire to have their child educated. No common purpose? No need for standards.

But with parental choice standards become inevitable. Even crossing state lines.

It's getting late so if I haven't answered your question just ding me.

maxutils said...

consider yourself 'dinged', Allen ... I agree with you that there should be standards, and I also agree that there should be a full on voucher system to allow full, or near full funding of private schools. My problem with common core is that ... they dictate that you teach math in a completely convoluted way that actually reduces understanding. And you can't avoid that, because the standardized tests focus on those methods. That's wrong. Standardized tests are not a true measure of what the child knows. A general rule of thumb? I know you're down on public education, but every single one of these theories comes from a public educator who wasn't good enough to cut it in the classroom. I wouldn't put too much stock in it.