pedagogy

Members of the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core have been going around the state educating the public on Common Core because it is hard to fight against that which you don’t understand. In each presentation, we make a point of talking about the individuals who constituted the two work groups of CCSSI. The glossy public image, artfully presented by the NGA and CCSSO early on was a group of happy teachers, parents and education professionals (you fill in the definition of those folks) who got together and considered “best practices” which everyone assumed had something to do with helping kids learn the things they really needed to know. The actual picture has been very hard to reveal and, it turns out, very different from this education mega team initially presented to the public.

Mercedes Schneider wrote an excellent post summarizing what really happened and who ended up being on these work groups. Though it is long, I encourage you to read it to fully understand the Standards Development groups. She provides thorough research details.

Though CCSSI may have started out with the best of intentions, they were racing an artificially created clock to get the work done on time and a host of corners were cut.

For instance, the initial July 2009 press release by the National Governors Association (NGA), said that the ELA and Math work groups were made up primarily of folks from the standards-writing nonprofit (Achieve) and two testing companies (ACT and College Board). They had great intentions to expand that group later in the year to include “additional experts to develop the standards for grades K-12 in English language arts and mathematics. Additionally, CCSSO and the NGA Center have selected an independent facilitator and an independent writer as well as resource advisors to support each content area work group throughout the standards development process.”

But the plan to have all of the work done by December of that year, meant that there was little time to add these other experts and truly consider their work. Making things worse was the fact that most of the experts selected for these expanded positions were part of the colleges of education.

Let me explain why this is important. Teaching colleges, while they do cover content, tend to focus on pedagogy, or the study of how to teach children. We know that there is no single  approach to teaching that works for all kids. Some strategies are better suited to teaching certain skills and fields of knowledge than are others. Some strategies are better suited to certain student backgrounds, learning styles and abilities. Teachers, with a typical classroom, will need to know how to adjust their teaching to address the different needs of their students in a single class and the changing needs of their students over time. Unfortunately many of the people who teach this theory are removed from actual classroom experience. They are teaching theories that don’t actually work in the classroom, but since they haven’t been there in a while (or sometimes ever) they don’t know that. In the mean time, the coverage of actual content knowledge is diminished.

Schneider writes, “In sum, only 3 of the 15 individuals on the 2009 CCSS math work group held positions as classroom teachers of mathematics. None was a classroom teacher in 2009. None taught elementary or middle school mathematics. Three other members have other classroom teaching experience in biology, English, and social studies. None taught elementary school. None taught special education or was certified in special education or English as a Second Language (ESL).

Only one CCSS math work group member was not affiliated with an education company or nonprofit.”

Her break down of the ELA work group reveals similar lack of current classroom experience or depth of content knowledge.

The CCSS MOU that governors signed stated that the process would be “open, inclusive, and efficient” and “would be completed by December 2009.” However, NGA’s own press release in July 2009 stated that “The Work Group’s deliberations will be confidential throughout the process.” So much for “open.”  And all these other experts they were bringing on to make everyone feel more comfortable about the process were also explained away in that press release. “Final decisions regarding the common core standards document will be made by the Standards Development Work Group.

The NGA only released the identities of those on the work groups after tremendous public pressure was applied. They believed all along that they were in charge of this process and were under no obligation to explain themselves to the public who would ultimately be funding their little experiment. Again, I am forced to recall the false advertising of this being a state-led effort.

What makes an understanding of the make up of these work groups so devastating is that legions of principals and superintendents are going around touting the benefits of common core as if it really was developed by the team of active teachers initially promoted by CCSSO and NGA, people who know what it is like being the classroom and what works or doesn’t, believing that the professional integrity of teaching was considered in what they are forcing their teachers to do.  They have placed a blind faith in a set of standards developed by theoreticians. They dutifully sing the line out of the hymnal that the standards don’t tell teachers how to teach, when they were developed by people whose sole focus is to tell teachers how to teach, or who don’t mind telling teachers how to teach through their development of assessments that will make or break a teacher’s career.

Schneider’s conclusion sums it up nicely.

Those pitching for “teacher development” of CCSS have just lost their case. Even if one considers the CCSS work group “additions” not originally part of the CCSS MOU but “conceded” in the forced 2009 NGA publicizing of its CCSS work groups, one readily sees that current classroom teachers were intentionally excluded from the CCSS decision-making table– especially elementary school teachers, special education teachers, and teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL). And I have not even touched upon NGA and CCSSO’s completely ignoring inclusion of teachers currently teaching in varied ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic regions.

NGA and CCSSO (and, by extension, USDOE) undeniably meant for CCSS to be something done “to” teachers. NGA’s and CCSSO’s concentration of individuals versed in standardized assessment on their CCSS work groups speaks to the purpose of CCSS to both financially benefit education testing companies and usher unprecedented, nationwide standardized testing into the classrooms of those very professionals purposely excluded from the CCSS work group table.

 

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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