When I first started researching the Common Core and learning about the good, the bad and the ugly, I had a gnawing feeling that something wasn’t right. That the Common Core was going beyond the traditional educational reform that we’ve seen in the past.
There are only so many examples of curriculum that you can look at before you begin to ask the question, “Why?” Why are the powers that be doing this? Why have they changed the educational boundaries so much?
Let me introduce you to one of the ladies I am blessed to know here in Oregon. Lidia Larson is a mom who is fighting the Common Core like me. The difference between Lidia and myself is that she has the patience and wherewithal to do the research beyond the normal human capacity to do it. She spends countless hours chasing that “why?” question until she gets the answer.
Lidia discovered a very helpful website that has shown us a lot of answers. The name of this site is Invisible Serf’s Collar. The author also wrote a book documenting education’s evolution and all of the reforms that have come and gone and failed. I highly recommend reading this book, which the author put on hold so she could blog the events of the Common Core initiative, real time. The book’s name is Credentialed to Destroy: How and Why Education Became a Weapon.
You do not need to read the blog or the book to follow this series I am going to be writing but it will give you a rich historical sense and an idea of why our search began heading in a different direction. My intention is to draw out the picture of why I and many others are saying that the Common Core is not about education. At the end of the series you can decide what you think it’s about but I guarantee you the answer will not be that it is about education.
Due to Lidia’s determination to find the answers we now have the documents that lay it all out directly from the mouths of the people in charge.
I will begin with the curriculum that we have begun to see in the form of worksheets and materials that make it home and the assessments the kids will be taking.
I’ve always maintained that the Common Core Standards are ambiguous at best and confusing to boot. Why would you want a child to come to the conclusion that 4 x 3 = 11? Why would you want a very young child to be reading complex informational text and then answer questions about that text that are almost unanswerable. This kind of ambiguity is done on purpose. Don’t think there is a single thing the people who are in charge of this mess are doing that is not intentional.
Why would you want to constantly bombard a child with ambiguous and tenuous situations? The simplest answer is probably the correct one and that would be that by introducing them to these untenable situations you are at the very least, getting them comfortable with the ambiguity.
Let me show you some examples of what I am talking about.
The following is a screen shot of the Smarter Balanced Assessment sample test for English Language Arts for the 6th grade.
Putting aside the fact that the questions are asking kids to infer what an author was intending, which is ridiculous, let’s focus on the answers provided.
After reading the story and the first question I can argue that any one of the answers they provide is correct. So how are these things going to be graded? Is each answer worth a certain amount of points? I don’t believe that you have to pick the exact right answer. I believe they are trying to see how a child’s mind works. The answer a student picks says a lot about the way their brain is making connections, no?
Isn’t that what they mean when they talk about “dispositions”? Have no doubt that is the aim here. To see how the child answers and what part of the brain they are using for this “higher order thinking.” These are just two of the things you will hear about in the Common Core standards. We need to promote critical thinking and higher order thinking. What you may not see is the part about dispositions. I will unveil that further in another article.
For now keep in mind that dispositions are defined as “‘mindsets (sometimes referred to as behaviors, capacities, or habits of mind) that are closely associated with success in college and career.” Higher order thinking is defined as “‘critical, logical, reflective, metacognitive, and creative thinking whose processes are activated by when the individual encounters unfamiliar problems, uncertainties, questions or dilemmas.”
If you read this piece put out by the Harvard Graduate School of Education you will see what I am talking about:
“The Common Core will mean fewer “bubble tests” and more performance tasks that require analysis and reasoning.” – See here, we are not just asking a child to pick an answer and it is either right or wrong. We want a peek at how their brain works and how they got to that answer.
Another quote: “These expectations are aimed at ensuring that all students develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they need to succeed in the global economy and society…” (Emphasis added by author.)
How do they measure what a child’s disposition is, I ask? By giving curriculum and assessments created to measure how a child thinks rather than whether or not they have gotten the correct answer or learned any real content.
The Common Core goes much deeper than just curriculum. While the curriculum is a small part of the puzzle, it is a very important part.
If a student works on traditional mathematical algorithms and learns the black and white rules of punctuation and grammar for English Language Arts then their brains are receiving information and filing it away to be used in the future, perhaps even to be recalled when doing a traditional assessment. The horror!
In reading the book I mentioned above you will see the aim is to use the part of the brain that bypasses rational or analytical thought in favor of an emotional response not based on facts.
The ambiguous questions are to see what concepts the brain falls back on.
To fully ensure that a child is thinking “properly” and using parts of the brain that the educrats want to be used, they must be immersed in this curriculum.