Tag Archives: Common Core State Standards

“When you assume, you make a CCSS of you and me”

The Common Core is laden with serious problems, and it makes me want to vomit, but not until after I school some folks, out of the loop.  I won’t even bring up the fact -as TeacherX likes to point out- that it’s “a $14 billion Trojan horse for more testing.”

A week before school started and I had to sit through a horrible professional development that was put together by our “network literacy specialist” who, when I asked her where she got the document she responded that ” it was something I got from a friend.”  As if that’s good enough.  Thank you for your honesty in describing how you waste my time with such little forethought.

I was so livid about the content and methods, I posted pics to these to social media with the comment below.  Please note the description for the “close reading” strategy:

The text below (Dees) was given to teachers as professional development on literacy strategies for CCSS. The disposition we take is that this should be text-dependent reading, un-contextualized (second pic). This document expounding the virtues of vulture capitalism and philanthropic colonialism is meant to be read w/o understanding all the grief those two practices have caused in the world and more intimately in our Chicago communities. This is why educators must fight the common core animal head on. No text is without CONtext.
In the margin, I wrote, “If background knowledge is secondary, then why pay for certified educators?  Why not do everything via virtual school?  (Adressing the “close reading strategy) Very problematic: [this reading is] disengaging, individualistic, [encourages to students to] develop[ing] false conclusions.  This is the centerpiece of the CCSS problem.”
Today the Examiner published a poorly-researched op-ed extolling the virtues of Common Core, missed the boat completely and declared that professors -the one he interviewed- think that the CCSS will improve “teachers expectations of learning for young black and brown men in Chicago and nationally,” even while admitting they probably won’t be implemented well in Chicago.  Which is true.
Below is my challenge to the ideas he put forth:
I call into question a serious assumption that he makes: It is extremely problematic to call reading the “most basic of skills…” To be sure, there is NOTHING basic about reading. As literate adults, we take for granted and forget that, but the reading process is extremely complex to both learn, and to teach, and only more so under threat of high stakes (testing, school closures, merit pay), and the conditions of our schools (rising class sizes, no AC, students experiencing trauma).

I am a social studies teacher in CPS, but because there are no Social Studies Standards, I “officially” teach “Literacy.” This is because in the 1980s’ standards implementation set off the “Culture Wars,” and so a strategic decision was made by the (non-teacher) “experts” from the Governor’s Association and Achieve, Inc. to replace social studies with literacy in order to pass a “common” set of standards across the US, and in doing so bypass the inherent bias in social studies education: “the question of “which/whose history is the subject of study, and therefore the “official history?”

The CCSS are written in a way to declare that if any given young person is meeting standards, they should be able to “analyze context given a piece of text” via critical thinking. But without context a reader cannot place importance or relevance into a given document, and therefore critical thinking DOES NOT take place at all, and the standards ultimately feign neutrality in the face of “bipartisanship.” Real neutrality means analyzing text and contexts. As I say to my students, “we must read the word AND read the world.” CCSS does not ask this of young people.

It does not matter what kind of standards are developed or aligned to what kind of tests. The only way to make learning valuable for young people is to make sure they have context for learning. No set of standards can provide context. Only when we recognize to invest in the people who engage in both teaching and learning will we start to value the process as a whole.

Here’s what needs to happen to improve the rate of success for young people:

1) Invest in humane and developmentally appropriate facilities and conditions for teaching and learning.

2) The job of Principal should not be “building manager,” but “teacher-leader” as they were 50 yr ago focusing on staff development.

3) Individualized Professional Development Plans: Support for educators to work on what they want to work on that directly translates to improved curriculum and instruction for students.

4) A rich and varied curriculum of not only STEM, but the arts, humanities, health, civics, and vocational experiences.

All of this is not cheap. But I am convinced that if the United States can afford 4 wars in 10 years, or money to bail out major banks we can afford a dignified education system for all children.

The need for standards is a myth, but a lucrative one at that, and pervasive in the education reform world.  As educators we roll our eyes, but we need to speak up and expose what it actually does to curriculum and instruction – and ultimately students- is harm.

Retired Oswego Superintendent Calls for Quinn to Fire IL State Superintendent Chris Koch for Pearson-Scandal Involvement

And the letters keep rolling in… this one is from fellow Chicagoland SaveOurSchools Member Roger Sanders.


January 9, 2012

Honorable Patrick Quinn
Office of the Governor
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62706

Dear Governor Quinn:

I am writing to ask that you demand the resignation of Dr. Christopher A. Koch, State Superintendent of Schools.  It is with continued dismay that the citizens of Illinois live under the cloud of corruption that has become the hallmark of too many elected and appointed officials.  As a life-time resident of Illinois for 60 years, and a career educator of 40 years in Illinois, I feel it is imperative that our educational system be seen as above reproach.  Sadly, our State Superintendent has joined the ranks of those who make us question the motives of policies and contracts set by Illinois’ public officials.

The New York Times (January 3, 2012) reports that:
“Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education in Illinois – which has $138 million in contracts with Pearson [the nation’s largest education publisher] – went to China, Brazil and Finland with the [Pearson] foundation.  The only Pearson compensation he listed on state ethics forms was the cost of the flight to China, $4,271 for business class.  Asked why hotels, meals and the other flights were not documented, a spokesman for Dr. Koch, Matt Vanover, said , “What we’re looking at is a litmus test; they just want to make sure he’s not traveling first class.”

The New York State’s attorney general has been investigating similar trips involving other education officials from around the country who have taken world-wide junkets as guests of the Pearson Foundation.  I have included the full article for your review.  How shameful it is for Illinois to be in the national spotlight, AGAIN, among the infamous allegations of crooked politicians and officials who are supposed to be protecting the public trust.  And if the only thing we are looking at is to see if Dr. Koch is traveling first class, then we need to look even further at the people and processes that are supposed to be watching for ethical malpractice.  Frankly, if that is the standard for Illinois, then we need new people and new standards to protect the public interests.

First, Dr. Koch should have had enough common sense not to bring his motives into question in such a way.  At best he has used poor judgment.  Or perhaps he believes that in his role as President, now Past President, of the Council of State School Officers, it was O.K. for him to accept such trips.  Or perhaps he just doesn’t think it is wrong.  Or perhaps there is more to his motivation than we would like to think.  I suppose only Dr. Koch knows for sure.  Do we really think we are going to learn a lot from countries such as China or Brazil about how to “improve” our educational systems?  Having been to China myself, I would question that rationale.  And even if we thought we might learn from Finland or Brazil, if it is that important, then the Illinois State Board of Education should pick up the tab.  And if we are sharing with those countries all the great things we are doing, then those countries should pay the freight.  It’s crystal clear to any objective observer that these trips were neither necessary, not important for the people of Illinois, nor more than a “free” way for Dr. Koch to travel the world with money laundered through a foundation associated with a company with which Illinois has a huge contract for services.  Plus, the funds were further brokered through an organization in which Dr. Koch had a high-level position.

Second, Dr. Koch should report his full expenses, or should we not expect such high-profile officials to be accountable at the same level that we hold our students, teachers and administrators.  As a teacher, administrator and former school superintendent, I was  always acutely aware of the compelling need to be above any question regarding contracts for services.  Had I taken such trips as Dr. Koch with a company that has such large contracts with my employer, I would fully expect my Board of Education to ask for my resignation.  If they did not, I’m sure community members would have.  And rightfully so.  To suggest that you can maintain objectivity in contract decision making in those types of arrangements is ludicrous.

Third, our compulsion to test, test, and test our students and evaluate teachers based upon standardized test results has gone so far beyond reasonable, and is so pedagogically unsound, that it is crystal clear to me that policy making at the highest level has more to do with business economics and political ideology that teaching and learning.  Dr. Koch’s willingness to accept such travel perks certainly reinforces many educators’ beliefs that our educational policies are less about what is in the best interest of students and more about what is in the best interest of business.

I guess Dr. Koch didn’t think we would find out.  I guess Dr. Koch didn’t think he needed to report all his expenses paid for by Pearson.  I guess Dr. Koch thinks it’s alright to accept such perks from a company who he oversees a $138 million contract with.  I guess Dr. Koch thought the tens of thousands of dollars for these trips, when laundered through the Pearson Foundation and then brokered through an organization that he was president of, would go unnoticed.

Well, we did find out and it is not alright.  How many corrupt governors, how many corrupt elected officials, how many corrupt appointed officials must Illinois’ citizens endure?

I have always viewed you as an advocate for the citizens of our great state.  I am confident that you have our interests and well-being foremost in your thoughts.  Your long-standing and steadfast fight for equity and fairness are without question.  I’m asking you to do the right thing.  I’m asking you to demand that Dr. Koch resign.  Then, I’d like to see you ask the Illinois Attorney General to launch an investigation into state contracts with Pearson, just as New York State has done.  And, I’d like to know that Illinois has a higher level of concern than just whether Dr. Koch flew first class or not.  Surely our standards for ethical behaviors can be higher than that.

You can send a clear message to every appointed official.  Illinois’ citizens expectations for ethical behavior and sound judgement must be reflected at the highest level of our government.  Certainly the school children and educators of Illinois deserving nothing less.


Roger L. Sanders
105 Wilson Place
Oswego, IL 60543

c: Mr. Gery Chico, Board Chair, Illinois State Board of Education
Members, Illinois State Board of Education
Honorable Michael Madigan, Speaker of the House
Honorable John Cullerton, Senate President
Honorable Tom Cross, Representative
Oswego Ledger-Sentinel
Michael Winerip, New York Times
Chicago Sun Times
Chicago Tribune
Fellow Educators

Stephen Krashen speaks to Chicago Teachers Union on Standards and High-Stakes Testing

The ever-succint teacher-educator Stephen Krashen @skrashen spoke to the a group of teachers at he Chicago Teachers Union recently.

“Everyone thinks our schools are broken and that’s why we have standards and tests.”

Ken Goodman on Common Core Standards

Ken Goodman says it well: It’s high expectations, not standards that we need.

Common-Core Standards: Gates and Pearson team up to Develop Online Curricula…in a box!

This week The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Pearson Education Publishing Goliath announced they will partner up to develop a curriculum to be implemented along with the Common Core State Standards.  It makes me nervous for my teaching craft.

All but eight states (and four territories) in the U.S. have adopted Common Standards for English and Math.  The following is the mission statement from the CCS webpage:

“The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”

To say that anything is common or standard about the learning process doesn’t respect the kinds of creative thinking that the human brain can do, and certainly doesn’t respect the kinds of diverse experiences of my students.

The CCS assume that 1) there is a clear understanding of “what learning looks like” 2) global competition is the ultimate contribution to American society.

Whose assumptions are those?

Any teacher (or non-teacher) who has read James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me recognizes the kinds of hero-ification that (the few) Big Publishers (Pearson, Houghton-Mifflin/Harcourt, Heinemann, McGraw-Hill, etc.) produce for our society in a little over 300 pages.  Whose stores are told; values represented in these compendia?  More over, whose voice are excluded?

I am definitely curious to see what Gates and Pearson come up with for their Common Core Curriculum, but I not convinced it’ll be the cure for what ails curricula.