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What if Common Core Had Followed the Democratic Process?

December 7, 2013

On December 2, 2013, I posted a piece that focused on the governor-business hybrid nonprofit, Achieve, Inc. The post also included information on one of the “lead writers” of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Sue Pimentel.

I followed the post on December 3 with CCSS Validation Committee member Sandra Stotsky’s response to my post.

Based upon my CCSS investigations and resulting writings, I maintain that teacher involvement in CCSS development was both peripheral and cosmetic.

In the early morning on December 4, I had a comment on my initial post to the effect that I was wrong, that teachers were indeed a part of the CCSS developmental process. I ended the exchange with the following comment:

Here’s the true test:

Could teachers vote to not adopt CCSS in the first place?

No. It had been decided. Teachers were not “lead architects” and were not even in the work groups.

Window dressing.

Teachers should have had decision-making power to directly shape CCSS from the outset. They did not.

As a result of this comment exchange, I began thinking about how the CCSS developmental process might have appeared had it followed the democratic process.

The results of my imaginary journey I present in this post.

Back to 2008

Initially, I thought that I might use the 2008 Hunt Institute Governors Symposium as the point at which I might begin crafting this post according to the democratic process. However, the primary message of this article is the false panic regarding “the global demands of the 21st century economy” and being “internationally competitive with those from top-performing countries.”

First, the “21st century economy” appears to be one in which most US jobs  require no college degree. Thus, it seems that the governors would do better to focus their attention on an economy that will likely leave numerous college graduates underemployed.

Second, the faulty focus on being “internationally competitive” is really one of getting the highest scores on international tests. Perhaps then the US might earn a place among the “examination hell” countries that “sacrifice everything else for test scores, such as life skills, character building, mental health, and physical health.”

Thus, the focus of this 2008 symposium was already double-dipped in  the top-down, “take-charge” pseudo-panic upon which corporate reform thrives.

So, let’s just erase this 2008 punitive, privatizing petri-dish of a meeting in favor of one in which honest support of public education was the declared goal.

Once these governors decided that they wished to improve public education via developing a common set of educational standards, they should have immediately and openly invited teachers to engage in the decision making process.

Democratic “Common Standards” Development

The governors could have arranged for a teachers congress: Communicate to each state superintendent the desire to discuss the possibility of common standards. Use those Gates millions to pay the expenses of two teachers per state to participate in such a congress. Encourage the state superintendent to select teacher participants who have at least ten years of full time classroom experience and who have been in the classroom full time in the last three years.

No edupreneurs allowed.

Teacher congress membership should be openly publicized in both the individual school districts and on a website expressly devoted to the common standards effort.

The first order of business of the teachers congress would be to decide whether developing a common set of standards is a feasible goal. In our current CCSS ramrodding, teachers were never asked if CCSS was a good idea in the first place.

In deciding whether to proceed with common standards, the teachers congress should take a lesson from Al Shanker, who later denounced his idea for charters once he realized that his idea had been hijacked by privatizers.

Thus, the teachers congress could consider what might be done to preserve the promotion of common standards while guarding against their abuse– including the tying of standards to federal funding and high-stakes testing; the adoption of standards based upon only two signatures (as in the case of the CCSS memorandum of understanding signed by only the governor and state superintendent for RTTT funding), and the potential of education corporations to hijack the standards in order to turn a profit.

Once the teachers congress has carefully considered how safeguard against abuse of the common standards (a major task), then the congress should consider the process for developing a common set of standards and what teachers should advise at specific points in the process.

Attempting to devise the full set of standards at once is poor planning.

A set of common standards should be developed and piloted systematically such that the problems associated with the standards for one grade level are sufficiently addressed before attempting to build by adding standards for the next grade level.

In order to do this well, the standards developmental process takes time.

The teachers congress should decide upon which subjects to focus initial development (this could be restricted to one or two subjects) and the timeline for development (including drafting and piloting).

Funding considerations for drafting and piloting should also be addressed. (Sure would be nice if those Gates millions were available for this carefully-planned, democratic endeavor. However, Gates and other philanthropies must agree to surrender the cash while remaining outside of the process.)

The teachers congress could then report back to the respective states in order to publicize their decisions and to compose the teacher work groups who would draft the first standards (for example, one group for kindergarten math, and one, for kindergarten English Language Arts).

Teachers involved in the work groups should have the same teaching experience as was required of the members of the teachers congress. Moreover, work group members should have at least five years of full time teaching experience in the grade level and subject pertinent to the standards they are creating.

Work group membership should be openly publicized in the same manner as the teachers congress.

Standards experts should be available to advise the work groups. However, the teachers should retain final decision-making power regarding the standards.

Districts across the nation could be randomly selected for piloting; those that choose to accept should be presented with clear description of what to expect, including timelines to begin and conclude piloting.

Piloting districts must also retain the freedom to discontinue piloting at any time– especially if implementing the standards is producing detrimental effects.

Piloting results should be publicized in the same manner as work group membership.

Once a given grade level-subject area has its standards established following the writing-piloting-revision-retesting process, states could then be invited to utilize the standards, but only via consent of the individual school districts.

Standards drafts should be openly publicized in the same manner as work group membership.

Districts should not be fiscally coerced into standard adoption. However, the state should offer financial support to assist with standards implementation.

Funding for standards implementation should not be garnered at the expense of other educational programs.

The districts should offer a means for teachers to communicate feedback regarding standards implementation– a website or some other commenting forum that is monitored such that fine-tuning is addressed at the district level.

It is unrealistic to believe that common standards will not require some district- (or even school-) level adjustment.

If there is no standardized test attached to the standards, then such necessary fine-tuning is possible.

Attaching standardized tests to common standards precludes any adjustment. One size must fit all if one grade/subject-level standardized test is given to all students across states.

“One size fits all” is poor educational practice. Doing so in order to serve testing companies is obscene.

A Closing Word

This is my vision for the democratic development of a common set of standards.

It looks nothing like what actually happened in our very non-democratic, top-down, manufactured, edupreneur-favoring, cosmetic-teacher-involvement CCSS development.

Sure would be nice if we could change that.

From → Common Core

  1. What counts as knowledge is a product of a process variously called inquiry, research, or scholarship. The primary flaw in the Corporate Core Sham Standard is that it showed little to no respect for that process. But democracy is the optimal political environment in which inquiry can thrive. The second flaw in the CCSS is that it showed little to no respect for the democratic process.

  2. The importance of preparing individuals for their role as citizens in a democratic society is well documented. However, the reverse assertion is less broadly understood. That is, a democratic environment, in which dialogue and critical thinking are prized, is not only facilitative of but vital to the full development of intelligence. Philosopher Hilary Putnam (1992) refers to what he calls the epistemological justification of democracy which he attributes to John Dewey, “The claim, then, is this: Democracy is not just one form of social life among other workable forms of social life; it is the precondition for the full application of intelligence to the solution of social problems” (Putnam, Renewing Philosophy, p. 180).

    Awbrey, S.M., and Scott, D.K. (August 1993), “Educating Critical Thinkers for a Democratic Society”, in Critical Thinking : The Reform of Education and the New Global Economic Realities, Thirteenth Annual International Conference of The Center for Critical Thinking, Rohnert, CA. ERIC Document ED4703251. Online.

  3. Laura h. Chapman permalink

    I agree that the “process dimensions” of setting standards is important. Even so, I think your discussion of so many details in the process (state-level selection of delegates, qualifications of participants, etc) assumes that everyone should or will think in terms of a “core,” which means that delegates will also determine what counts as that “core,” and by implication, what will be relegated to “not core.”
    I think “core” is just another way of referring to the 3R’s–the essentials for literacy and numeracy same basic idea in the CCSS. Reading, writing, and mathematics are widely regarded as the necessary and sufficient tools for academic learning, in addition to accomplishing much else in contemporary life.
    The CCSS give a nod to history/social studies and science as worthy of study, then dumps everything else into the category of a “technical subject.” I suppose this arbitrary scheme is the “expanded core,” or some such.
    My point is that process and substance need to be paired so that concepts about what’s worth teaching and learning are ample, coherent, not arbitrary, etc. I am concerned that the very idea of a national process will produce a version of the 3R’s with no real gain in opportunities for a more ample conception of education.
    I am reminded of the Goals 2000 Educate America Act (H.R. 1804, 1994). Money was allocated for educators to develop “world-class” standards in specific subjects. Collaboration among teachers and academics in these subjects was the norm, including multiple reviews seeking consensus. But, the participants worked in silos, with no discussion of the significance and implications of the whole effort. Thus, K-12 standards were written in 14 broad domains of study, parsed into 24 subjects, then framed as 259 standards, with 4100 grade-level benchmarks, the lion’s share of these in history, after a nasty dispute that dumped social studies as an official part of the agenda. Only with intensive lobbying were arts educators included in the project. Goals 2000 was another federal fiasco, top-down and one-size-fits all fantasy,
    I appreciate your “process discussion” as an exercise designed to show how thoroughly the CCSS bypassed the wisdom of experienced teachers, the insights available from multiple reviews, testing over time for proof of concepts, especially in schools where little is steady-state, and the rest. I have much less confidence in the details of your proposal.

  4. That’s the beauty of it, Laura: had the process been democratic, you would have had opportunity to voice such concerns before a common core even existed.

    I did mention that the first order of business of the teacher congress would be to address this very question.

  5. So, first the question was whether teachers participated. Now it’s clear that they not only participated but were undeniably heard and responded to – they could see their own words in the standards. That’s not good enough – it’s got to be teacher run. And not only that, it’s got to be a never ending process stretched over years. And others would say no, we need more parent involvement. And, and, and.

    The fundamental problem Common Core opponents have is the conviction that, if Gates funded them and Arne Duncan like them, they must be bad. But then when you look, they are not bad. Just look at Anthony Cody’s list to 10 Colossal Errors, one of which is that these academic standards don’t address poverty. A bit of a stretch? Or that they are not “developmentally appropriate” (even though many Kindergarten teachers disagree)? Here we have, inserted into the Common Core context, the critique early childhood development folks have of American (or other?) education, that 4 and 5 year olds need play and emotional development, not instruction. Ok. Good debate. It’s not one that will be settled soon. But used as he does, it’s just a political jab.

    These are all political objections, often rooted in New York’s disastrous implementation. (Bulletin: NY is not the country. Check out KY, NC, WA, ID, NH…on and on.)

    So, go for it. Try to get states to pull back from the Common Core, but the only potential result of that effort at this point will be confusion in the classroom. A much more important goal would be stopping testing that drives bogus accountability policies. That’s what damages teachers and schools. “Testing can’t be separated from the Common Core,” is the usual response.

    Actually, it can.

    • This is from the 2009 Governors Symposium, Arne Duncan was there. He pushed (and continues to do so, notably in the RTTT agreement) for CCSS with indispensable assessment:

      “As Secretary Duncan pointed out, ‘This first step (the common standards) is huge, but if all we do is the standards piece—if the assessments don’t follow the standards—we’re really missing the boat.’”

      CCSS is part of a package of reforms laid out at the 2009 Governors Symposium and designed to happen simultaneously. The simultaneous push is evident in the RTTT application. You need to study their game plan. It is part of this post:

      Teachers are cosmetic in this process. I don’t care how many quotes of teacher words you provide as “evidence” of “teacher involvement” in CCSS. Teachers did not LEAD this process. It was thrown together and pushed on teacher (AND parents).

      CCSS investment is shaky in your own state of NH:

      “There are at least six bill requests dealing with the Common Core that lawmakers have filed for 2014. They range from completely terminating state participation in the Common Core to delaying the implementation of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.”

      You can keep trying to sell CCSS the democratic product of teachers, but I’m not buying. I’ve read too many key documents involving governors and Duncan.

      • Yes, I do understand the documents trail theme. Sandra Stotsky was there and goes on in great detail about the behind-the-scenes politics. Once you postulate cynical intent, you can lay that motivation over any narrative.

        If the standards were a confused mess, that would be one thing. But they are not. So, even if all that back room stuff is right, I’d agree with a teacher friend of mine who also objects to the top down process but says, “The kids got lucky this time.”

      • Tell the New York City kids that they’re “lucky.”

      • And if you think the Common Core is “shaky” because a few bills have been proposed, I assume you will agree when those bills don’t pass that CCSS is solid in NH, right?

    • But that’s the NY disease I’m talking about. NYS has had bad education policy for a long time. The state’s education system has been hollowed out as if by a nuclear bomb.

      This mistake is to attribute that disaster to the Common Core when so many other states without punitive teacher evaluation policies don’t have the problems NYS does.

      So you can use NYS as a bludgeon in a battle to defeat the Common Core, but if you’re actually trying to figure out what’s going on, you’ve got to go way beyond that.

      • CCSS violates the democratic process from start to RTTT finish.

        What I propose is to scrap and start over with teachers as the primary decision makers, just as this post proposes.

        End of story.

    • Veteran Educator permalink

      Don’t listen to “Duncan.” There is no language from Early Childhood Education in the Common Core and no ECE experts were included in the writing of the standards.

      MANY Kindergarten teachers like me, as well as child development experts from a wide number of ECE organizations, have voiced their opposition to the Common Core because the standards are not developmentally appropriate for young children. Had the Kindergarten standards been written by ECE experts, including veteran Kindergarten teachers who know that there is a four year spread of development in the typical KG class each fall, no doubt, the language and standards would be quite different.

      Anyone who expects such a diverse population of students in their first year of formal schooling to become standardized and all achieving what used to be 2nd and 3rd grade goals in reading, writing and math when they leave KG knows nothing about child development and how young children grow at variable rates or appreciates best practices for promoting the joy of learning with young children.

    • Ang permalink

      Hi Bil,
      I can see you are a big proponent of the CC, and you claim a lot of involvement and inside knowledge.
      So perhaps you can answer some questions for me.
      1. Do you have a list of anyone form Ga who was involved in writing them? Minutes from any meeting and what their contribution was? They are supposed to be state standards, so did all sates participate equally?
      2. Why did we need the cc in the first place? For example, what was inadequate about the GA standards?
      3. Why did the CC have to be implemented all at once? Why not phased in over grade levels over several years? Why the rush?
      4. How much money is the CC costing school systems? (New books, materials, tests, teacher training, etc) Was this the best use of our extremely tight budgets right now?
      5. Why were the CCSS not field tested? What was so wrong with beginning in a few districts in several states to try them out?
      6. Is there any mechanism built in to “tweak” the standards over time as we put them into use? What if we discover that not all of them are perfect?
      7. What about the testing? You say it doesn’t have to go with the standards, but it currently does. What can be done? Do you support a moratorium on CC testing until all the kinks can be worked out and the teachers trained?
      Thank you.

      • Sorry, Ang. I have no inside knowledge. I only know what’s public knowledge that you could research about GA as well as I

    • Ang permalink

      OK, no answer.
      But some vague implication that I could just google up this info.
      Not so much.
      You see, that is my problem with the cc.
      There don’t seem to be any real answers to what seem to me to be very reasonable questions.
      No anyone want to help us out with why that is?

  6. Green Party Teacher permalink

    “First, the “21st century economy” appears to be one in which most US jobs require no college degree. Thus, it seems that the governors would do better to focus their attention on an economy that will likely leave numerous college graduates underemployed.”

    Your work is always spot on!

    I hope your readers will look into a new economy…….and how schooling can hurt our natural human inclinations….

  7. Tell the New York City kids that they’re “lucky.”

    • Sorry, folks. A comment meant for Bill.

      • Laura h. Chapman permalink

        I would NOT have been in the orbit of consideration for the teacher’s congress by any governor, or state superintendent of education, nor would I have met your criterion of recency of teaching experience.
        I would prefer a structured nomination process with qualifications and reasons for these, and a term other than congress ( given this historic moment). Even so, your general point is well-taken, and appreciated.

  8. Laura h. Chapman permalink

    Bill Duncan presents himself as an expert on the CCSS. He says: “If the standards were a confused mess, that would be one thing. But they are not.”
    Am I to assume Mr. Duncan has completed a thorough examination of the grade level distribution of 1, 620 English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematic standards (counting parts a-e), excluding high school mathematics courses, and also read the full narrative accompanying the CCSS?
    Can Bill Duncan explain why high school mathematics standards are organized around five major “topics,” with 4 to 6 “strands” per topic, with an average of 12 “clusters” per strand?
    Can Mr. Duncan explain why grade 3 students and their teachers have 79 CCSS standards to meet in ELA?
    Can Mr. Duncan explain why grade 6 students and their teachers are expected to meet 115 English Language Arts and Literacy standards and why “Literacy” is rolled out as a special category with 38 boiler-plate standards for grades 6 to 12?
    Can Bill Duncan explain why geometry merits 88 standards–more standards than any other mathematics topic– with more than half of these standards in grade 9 in addition to others that sum to 177 standards for 9th grade mathematics?
    Teachers are not shy about working with standards and they know that curricula are being defined and delimited when standards are written with a-e detail for every grade, as if all students can and will learn at the same rate—achieving grade level proficiency–if only their teachers are properly standardized.
    The CCSS offer no coherent concept of learning beyond invoking the obligatory adjectives “rigorous” and “academic,” and speaking of “college and career” ready as if the requirements were the same for elite colleges and vocational certificates, and the vocations of filmmaking and plumbing had the same requirements.
    The CCSS shove down collegiate work to grades 9 and 10. Some of the CCSS and exemplary assignments in parts a-e of a standard are “borrowed” from Achieve’s work on the American Diploma Project intended to make college prep, with specific courses, the national norm.
    The writers of the CCSS snubbed a deep reservoir of practical experience and research on learning but had no trouble in mustering massive amounts of spin for this uninformed version of the 3Rs.
    The CCSS function as a curriculum, and the mandate to use the CCSS standards verbatim means that they are intended to be a one-size-fits-all curriculum. That is not just my opinion. See: Porter, A.; McMaken ,J.; Hwang, J. ; & Yang, R. (2011). Common core standards: The new U.S. intended curriculum. Educational Researcher, 40(3). 103-116. DOI: 10.3102/0013189X11405038.
    Teachers who want to view my spreadsheet analysis of the CCSS can obtain a copy through an email to Include a brief explanation of the intended use.

  9. Anonymous Educator permalink

    It looks like WordPress is cutting off the end of the URL because it has so many %20 (which represent spaces) in the link, so I’m adding the last part of the URL that was cut off on a separate line.

    One can also find the link at the Alliance for Childhood under Position Statements, Common Core Standards, where it says “statement” in this sentence,”See our statement on the standards, signed by hundreds of leading educators and health professionals” here:

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