Friday, August 14, 2015

Hutchinson's Common Core Letter Signals No Real Change to Program

Talk Business has an article about Gov. Asa Hutchinson's letter to the state board of education on the subject of the recommendations from his Council on Common Core Review. They did a good job of citing relevant quotes from the letter, but did not really provide any analysis of what it means. Today I will fill that gap: What it means is that there will be no substantial change.

For example, Hutchinson wrote: “I have reviewed the recommendations with Commissioner (Johnny) Key, and I understand that the Department of Education will initiate revision of the English Language Arts and Math standards according to Arkansas Code Annotated 6-15-101 and ACTAAP Rules 4.0.,”
The original standards for Common Core had no requirements to teach U.S. History prior to 1890 in High School. That would mean the only time students would learn about, say, the U.S. Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence, and even the Revolutionary and Civil Wars was in Middle School. Minds that young are not fully able to grasp many of the most important concepts from those documents and events. Some would say an article on Neighbors of Arkansas helped draw the legislature's attention to that omission. The legislature added a requirement for pre-1890 U.S. history back in High School. That's good, but it is not any change that was a result of this Common Core Review. It happened during the legislative session. 

Isn't it good that Arkansas can add a little something to Common Core standards? Well, its better than not being able to add anything, but the problem isn't that we can't add a thing or two to what these unelected and unaccountable experts say ought to be taught to our children. The problem is that we can't take anything away from their list of demands - which on a practical basis also serves to severely limit what we might wish to add. My and other's objection to Common Core is not that we can't add a little of what we want to it- its that we must include all of what they want. This of course leaves us only a little room to add what our own state and its people think should be in there while giving us no leeway to omit things that we think are useless or even objectionable. 

Saying this is an Arkansas-based program because we can decide to add a standard or two of our own is like saying you are self-employed because you can do what you want on your 15 minute break. 

As for the testing, its true Arkansas switched from the PARCC to the ACTAAP, but the two tests will still be measuring the same things - Common Core standards. The issue is who picks the standards to which students in Arkansas will be educated towards? The answer appears to be, except for the small amount of local tweaks we have room for, that whoever writes the standards for Common Core will be deciding those standards, not Arkansas parents, teachers, or school boards. Once the standards are decided, who writes the test to measure them is of lesser importance, and plenty of evidence suggests that the same company, Pearson, is behind both incarnations of Common-Core centered tests.

The Governor's letter further states “The process allows the ADE to seek feedback from the public on the current and revised standards, and it allows the Content Revision Committees ample time to review and revise the standards as necessary.” 

Just because ADE is "allowed" to seek feedback from the public does not mean they will even do it, much less take is seriously. Who is going to be on the "Content Revision Committees an how much authority do they have to "revise" standards? Can they "revise" a politically-correct standard until is reflects more traditional viewpoints or may they only change the wording around the edges so long as they don't change the actual intent of what the delivered standard is attempting to convey? Once you centralize this much power, there are going to be a lot of groups fighting to insert their agenda into the standards. That is why the purest and best way to do it is to allow local school boards to pick their own standards. Good ideas will win over time because the market will reward them for being good. Government coercion leaves little to no room for feedback from reality.

One thing that might change is the name. Since Common Core is copyrighted, an Arkansas version with its own little additions and tiny tweaks might run afoul of the owners of the Common Core standards without a new name. Giving it a new name however, does not change the fact that it is essentially the same program, regardless of the number of people who wished to be fooled into believing that it does.

He also said he wanted the state to "continue to utilize safeguards" to protect student data, which implies that current efforts are adequate and once again no real change needs to be made.  I do think privacy of student data is important, and that as long as you have a standardized program that information is going to be a tempting target for some group to try to exploit. This is simply another reason we should move away from all standardized programs.  The ultimate problem with Common Core for me is that it takes the power to decide what your children should be educated toward further and further away from you and gives that power to some distant unknown persons. None of these superficial reforms come anywhere close to addressing that basic objection.


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