What if Common Core Had Followed the Democratic Process?
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.
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.