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A Revelation Regarding the Common Core Sale: Evidence is needed.

October 26, 2014

On October 22, 2014, the corporate-reform-friendly think tank, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), hosted a panel discussion entitled, What Now for the Common Core? Below is the description of the panel participants and the *implementation-focused* conclusion is actually what should have happened before the Common Core (CCSS) was adopted by any state and certainly before CCSS was ever proclaimed as “ensuring college and career readiness for all students:

Evidence that it works.

A profound revelation, no?

Here is AEI’s entire event summary spiel:

What is the current state of the Common Core, and what is its future? Moderator Michael McShane of AEI posed these questions to a group of experts at an AEI event on Wednesday. Frederick Hess of AEI, Chris Minnich of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Catherine Gewertz of Education Week largely agreed that districts and schools are at very different stages of the implementation process, that the public is still underinformed, and that the Common Core comprises more states and has been more federally driven than anticipated.

Hess and Minnich dove into the issue of federal involvement, with Hess emphasizing that the effort should focus on ensuring comparability and rigor across states, not on recruiting as many states as possible. Minnich agreed that governors and school chiefs must take the Common Core out of federal hands.

Gewertz said that most teachers focus on making the Common Core work in their classrooms, not on debating its political implications. One of the biggest impediments has been finding high-quality, Common Core–aligned materials.

To conclude, McShane asked panelists what must happen for the Common Core to be successful. All of the panelists focused on outcomes: there needs to be evidence that students are performing better and that this progress translates into greater college and career readiness. [Emphasis added.]
–Jenn Hatfield

A couple tidbits: First, “moderator” McShane co-authored a CCSS-promo book with Hess in November 2013, entitled, Common Core Meets Education Reform.

That title is redundant.

Second, it is interesting that the above AEI panel summary includes zero discussion of the public rejecting CCSS because CCSS is a top-down, imposed product that teaching practitioners and parents, among other stakeholders, genuinely do not want. Period.

No, no. According to the three non-teacher-practitioner individuals on this panel, what CCSS needs in 2014– four years after it was rushed to its hardly-transparent finish in 2010– is “evidence that students are performing better.”

The horse continues to push the corporate reform cart.

Indeed, the CCSS Promise of College and Career Readiness as being “research and evidence-based” goes back to before CCSS was written. That term– “evidence based”– is a term that can easily serve as a bait-and-switch for what should have happened given the very-high-stakes nature of CCSS: a subjecting of the CCSS product to empirical testing.

Here is the full CCSS announcement from July 4, 2009:

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a joint effort by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in partnership with Achieve, ACT and the College Board. Governors and state commissioners of education from across the country committed to joining a state-led process to develop a common core of state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. These standards will be research and evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, aligned with college and work expectations and include rigorous content and skills. The NGA Center and CCSSO are coordinating the process to develop these standards and have created an expert validation committee to provide an independent review of the common core state standards, as well as the grade-by-grade standards. The college and career ready standards are expected to be completed in July 2009. The grade-by-grade standards work is expected to be completed in December 2009. [Emphasis added.]

Yeah, the top-downers “jointing this effort” thought they would be done six months before they actually were– and even with the delay in completion until June 2010, this CCSS product has “rush job” stamped all over it.

In June 2010, America got a press release.

In place of empirical evidence, America received a short list of endorsements.

Endorsements are not evidence.

No readily available site or search engine to offer the public a comprehensive view of that supposed “research base,” and no empirical “evidence” because, well, there just isn’t any.

Now, this Hunt Institute set of CCSS talking points for governors to use in promoting CCSS— a doc that happens to be posted on the USDOE website (hmm…)– states that there is “evidence.” However, nothing listed includes any practical, real-world testing of CCSS to demonstrate the proclaimed “ensuring” of “college and career readiness.

What is offered is a lit review justifying the idea of CCSS, not its actual utility.

No evidence prior to the June 2010 proclamation that CCSS was a product ready to be used and guaranteed to deliver.

But in 2014, the AEI panel states that evidence is needed. 

Meanwhile, the CCSS website continues to advertise the CCSS Guarantee. Here it is, on a page entitled, “What Parents Should Know”:

Today’s students are preparing to enter a world in which colleges and businesses are demanding more than ever before. To ensure all students are ready for success after high school, the Common Core State Standards establish clear, consistent guidelines for what every student should know and be able to do in math and English language arts from kindergarten through 12thgrade. [Emphasis added.]

What complicates the “evidence is needed in 2014” issue is that one month after CCSS was released, in July 2010, the standards-grading Thomas B. Fordham Institute proclaimed CCSS as “the winner” despite its own grading of CCSS as lower than or equal to existing state standards– a grading that is further complicated by an utter lack of any logical connection between state results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)– and a proclamation that CCSS were “clearly superior to those currently in use in thirty-nine states” based upon the *evidence* of “our observations.”

And when a state such as California had highly-esteemed standards in Fordham Institute’s view yet low NAEP scores– former Fordham Institute President Chester Finn blamed (go ahead and guess)– faulty implementation.

For any CCSS supporter, the “faulty implementation” card is the gift that keeps on giving.

But if California has great standards and poor NAEP scores, and other states have “poor” standards and above average NAEP scores, then is it possible that the entire standards-driven idea is too rudimentary to capture the education enterprise?

Here is another hard-hitting question: Is it possible that CCSS cannot be “properly implemented,” period?

Anyone who answers definitively that CCSS is fine and that “implementation is the problem” is only offering an opinion. It might be a fiscally-fueled, ego-stroking, well-publicized opinion, but no number of high-profile endorsements or USDOE talking points will transform it into empirical evidence.

Know who wins in the absence of empirical evidence to support a standards-to-promised-CCSS-results connection given that the nation is now in the middle of the CCSS mud?

For one, the peddlers of CCSS materials– tests, curricula, professional development, and (let us not forget) data collection.

Pearson wins.

AEI panelist and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) CEO Chris Minnich has Pearson connections… and his CCSSO is one of the CCSS owners.

A thought with which to leave readers.

There is much more that I can write about this AEI meeting of the pro-CCSS minds (yes, Hess, that includes you), but I will save it for another post.


Schneider is also author of the ed reform whistleblower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education

previti chronicle pic

  1. Louisiana Educator permalink

    How about experienced teachers who realize what students need to know? What happened to people trained in a field being allowed to make educated decisions?

    • If they want to peddle their product as “ensured,” let them offer the proof in the same numbers they peddle as the way to measure educational worth. In other words, let them meet their own terms.

  2. Ira shor permalink

    Excellent rejoinder to the AEI nonsense on CCSS, thanks. Because so much money is at stake here, a lot of political pressure is pushing CCSS/PARCC no matter what. All the money comes from what CCSS/PARCC actually make happen–the national unification of the k-12 education market. This unification, achieved by standardized testing digitally applied, will make Pearson, Murdoch/Amplify and such the masters of the education revenue stream. This is what its all about–not learning, not teaching, not the needs of kids, not the wholesomeness of community public schools…just a complex maneuver to transfer even more public wealth into private hands.

  3. CCSS is causing and has caused harm to children, and everyone who has promoted it, forced it on our children should be charged with child abuse, mental and physical.

  4. Harlan Underhill permalink

    Mercedes: Would it be correct to say that the CCSS promotional material suffers from the same statistical error as No Child Left Behind. Doesn’t the use of the word “all” imply that there will be no tail to the normal curve of performance? It’s a nobel aim to leave no child behind as well as ensure “all” students will be college or career ready. Isn’t it fundamentally impossible with any task, let alone tasks involving intellectually challenging material, to avoid a normal distribution?

  5. Harlan Underhill permalink

    in which just by the nature of things some children will be left behind and some children will be ready neither for college nor career? Maybe one could shift the mean a bit to the right by investing in smaller classes, well-trained teachers, surrounding support services, and the like, but can anyone beat the normal curve?

  6. I am supporting Harlan Underhill in his statements; in special education we searched repeatedly for ways to get evidence that out students were showing growth. We would examine the child’s trajectory through the grades on different tests. This was always case by case. The newest Stanford Binet test claims to have “change sensitive” scores that would show growth from year to year. The biggest problem I see is that PARCC and SBAC have not yet calibrated the tests and they are creating tests that are not instructionally sensitive. Why do people think these experimental tests will be the measure to fire all the teachers if the tests are not “instructionally sensitive.”? I hope there are some individuals in the AFT working on this because it is a big lawsuit against the monopoly test firms. However, law suits take a long time and again are case by case and our kids are suffering in the mean time. I would like to talk with Harlan about the “Change sensitive” scores and the “instructionally sensitive” scores or anyone who is willing to listen… policy /decision makers are not listening to those of us who have had experience watching students’ trajectories over the years of our experience teaching.

    • Harlan Underhill permalink

      I’d be happy, Jean, to work through the assumptions underlying the industrial practice and the educational practice. Try

      I’ve never had a group of students that didn’t have a top of the class and a bottom of the class. But what was crucial was where on the normal curve I myself defined the cut point for failure. I assumed on the basis of my school’s grades for students in all subjects that the median of our population was at a B-, and used that as a guide to issuing grades. There were occasionally people at 2 sigma to the left, and even 3 sigma to the left on my in class grade sheets. THOSE were the ones I called for extra work with me, and I can remember only 1 kid out of 33 years who just couldn’t improve.

      I found out that he ranked on some test at the United States average of all students. Thus I concluded that ALL of my students fell into the top half of the national intellectual normal distribution. I never failed anyone. The closest I came was giving a D- to an actual failure so he could graduate from high school. He was smart enough, just had problems with independent work. He dropped out of U of M in his freshman year.

      Now my population of students was in a private school, pre-screened for ability, and it was a high school too. How I would deal with teaching a general population I can’t even imagine. I might move a few every year to improve, to learn something, but the expectation that EVERY kid below the mean of the national average can be moved to the right of the national average simply cannot happen.

      Garrison Keillor’s wry description of this contrary to fact condition in his home town of Lake Woebegone is that its parents believe their kids are “all above average,” a clear impossibility.

      My wife once remarked to a colleague: “You can’t save them all.” His reply was a vigorous “Of course we can.” Who is right? There is some fundamental philosophical confusion that I haven’t figured out. I myself thought for a while that it really was possible to leave no child behind. Where am I going wrong?

  7. Harlan Underhill I think the model came out of the defense industry where you can keep repeating the industrial quality design over and over as you build new bombs. You are aiming at “perfection” in the absolute. Teaching is a different field; “The Black Swan” says we need to throw out the bell curve; Neil Wilson (Australia) says we have only “psychometric fudge” when we apply these to actual people…. Totally different paradigms. Now I am going out on a limb here and revealing my own fallibility: (a) my first husband was a quality control engineer for Raytheon that built defense shields uses in the Middle East to protect against bombs — he and I had many discussions and (b) my second husband worked at MIT on the Apollo (the one that almost didn’t make it back)…. when they talk about “perfection” in their industry they aim for 100% in industry but I would tell them this is not how we work in schools when working with human nature. I hope some people can get a laugh from this open, personal dialogue but it is true.

  8. The press release June 2, 2010, was one day after the deadline for the submission of Race To The Top Grant Applications, for the second wave of applicants. None of the states ever saw the released standards they committed to implement when they submitted their applications.

    • Heidi, excellent point. I thought of including Duncan’s maneuvers in this post but decided it would have required to much for me at the time. I plan to write at least one more post on this AEI panel (on the participants, namely Minnich). Might be able to focus some on Duncan’s role at that time.

  9. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    JeanHaverhill. You are on the mark. Brother also worked on precision gear for Hughes Tool, Huges Air Craft, NASA, Raytheon, Baxter. Built and polished a huge granite slab just to make sure that an instrument being tested would not be mismeasured due to imperceptible vibrations in the surrounding space. The quest for perfection in human conduct is typically an expression of religious belief. A similar passion can drive some remarkable technological achievements– but kids are not machines and mechanical fixes, including carefully calibrated tests, will not do anything constructive for education…not to be confused with training.

  10. i feel my child is already behind compared to where my other 2 children were at, CC will not bring our children further it will leave them behind

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