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Louisiana educators already digging in to Common Core standards and practices

Educators gathered in September at the Lindy Boggs Center for training on how to implement Common Core standards.

Caroline Roemer Shirley

Educators gathered in September at the Lindy Boggs Center for training on how to implement Common Core standards.

For three days in September, 100 principals, teachers and learning coaches met at the Lindy Boggs Center on the New Orleans lakefront to refine their skills in implementing Common Core, the set of school standards adopted by the National Governors Association that are being phased in over the next couple of years.

The room was packed and buzzing for three days.

Groups of teachers like those who gathered at the Lindy Boggs Center are digging in, setting to work on a major educational upgrade alongside peers all across America. They do so against an unhelpful backdrop of politicians, media pundits and special interest groups trying to make hay about Common Core, and in the process frequently — often deliberately — misinforming the public about what it is and does. That noise is nicely countered by voices that are more reasonable and better informed, including that of Neerav Kingsland, head of New Schools for New Orleans.

Common Core was adopted years ago by all but five states. Louisiana embraced the program early on with Gov. Bobby Jindal leading the charge. The recent uproar in national and state news is just that: a rhetorical mosh pit with a lot of energy but little to offer that addresses deep, long-term problems with our schools. Instead, we’re seeing a lot of cheap shots and easy points tallied on a red or blue scoreboard. .

Critics have lunged wildly and generally come up wide of the mark. An effort has been made to confuse Common Core with Obamacare (ObamaCore?). Another strategy has been to insist, against all evidence, that Common Core is a secret plot to enforce Soviet-style groupthink.  One faction calls the standards too rigorous; another says they’re too lax: a “dumbing down” of our public schools. Yet another wing of the opposition draws on rhetoric used in the 1950s and 1960s to oppose school integration. It argues that the governors’ plan is somehow a federal violation of “states’ rights,” as in this screed by former Texas education commissioner-turned-lobbyist Robert Scott.

When tongues start moving more rapidly than the human mind, it’s usually a good idea to step back and consider some basic facts:

  • Common Core is not a curriculum.
  • Common Core is not a pathway for the federal government generally, or President Barack Obama specifically, to take over our classrooms.
  • Common Core does not include or make any references to sex education.

In fact, just about anything you think you know about Common Core may well be wrong because there are fake Common Core information sheets on the web and tons of myths being circulated by talk radio.

Common Core is a set of standards for English and math that provides guidance to teachers on what knowledge and abilities students should have at each grade level. Standards provide an academic guideline; teachers then decide how best to implement that guideline in their classrooms. A curriculum aligned with Common Core can and will look different from state to state — indeed, from school to school.

Common Core addresses the challenges our students face in a global economy in which they must compete not only with our neighbors in Texas and Tennessee, but with other countries, including Singapore, Finland, China and Brazil.

In 2010, Louisiana voluntarily adopted Common Core because it set more rigorous math and English standards and provided a common assessment tool created collaboratively by educators from across the nation. They understood the need to raise expectations and the value in creating national benchmarks by which K-12 students can measure their performance years before college entrance exams set their record in stone.

Our school districts, teachers and students have been preparing for this transition for over three years, with many teachers already implementing the standards in their classrooms. Thus those 100 educators from public and private schools at the Lindy Boggs Center: They’ve already turned the corner in transforming public education in our state. They’re making instructional decisions, and empowering their students to succeed on more rigorous tests.

Academic standards are not new to Louisiana, but Common Core entails some shifts:

  • Shifts in English: balancing fiction against a greater amount of nonfiction reading; learning to  pull together text-based evidence when writing student compositions; writing across the curriculum (math, social studies, and science), and building vocabulary drawn from all these study areas.
  • Shifts in math: focusing deeply on fewer standards; linking standards across grades; and increasing rigor not only by sharpening technical fluency, but also by developing the deeper understanding of math that comes through verbal problem solving.

Louisiana ranks high on education reforms in recent years, and our adoption of Common Core is a key reason why. But while performance is improving, our students still  rank poorly against their peers in many other states. We cannot be lax. A Louisiana student is one full school year behind a student her age in Massachusetts. When compared with national peers, only one-fourth of our fourth-graders read proficiently.

Where to from here?

It’s critically important that all of us — parents, education and community leaders, businessmen and women — oppose legislation or any other effort to derail Common Core State Standards. Turning back the clock always holds some appeal as we confront the challenge of significant change.

But let’s be frank about what we’d be returning to: proven failure and continuing academic mediocrity? Good public education is the key to success for our children and we must help them get there by all means available. A quality education is one of childhood’s most basic civil rights.

Let’s let educators do what’s best for our children at the school level. Our battle is not one of words but of results: Our goal must be to get our children into the top tiers nationally. That means pushing aside anything or anyone standing in the way of their success.

We have worked too hard to let our children be used as props in a partisan propaganda fight. Most educators are on board with Common Core. They are in the process now of breaking the Core values down into teachable moments that will keep our children excited about learning.

We’re helping them become thinking, enlightened citizens, and that is nothing to fear.

Caroline Roemer Shirley is the founder and director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, a statewide non-profit that supports, promotes, and advocates for  increased student access to high quality public schools throughout Louisiana. Contact her at croemer@lacharterschools.org.

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  • Wood

    My wife wrote this letter to the staff writer at “the Advocate”. It applies here also, just change “the Advocate” to the “the Lens”.

    You
    really ought to be a shamed of yourself. Have you bothered to read all
    the agreements/applications/memos of understanding in order to make
    your ridiculously one-sided comments about Common Core State Standards
    Initiative. It is the whole package…the initiative; and all you
    geniuses want to focus on are the standards, which have considerable
    issues on their own. But these standards are manifested through the
    many agreements that have been put in place.

    You
    call this
    journalism. With all due respect, you come across as a hack in this
    article and so do the other writers at the Advocate regarding your
    coverage on this very important matter. I knew this was the case in the
    mainstream media but never experienced it firsthand. To try to
    marginalize the truly concerned parents and teachers who have spent
    countless hours pouring over all the documents comprising this
    initiative is insulting. You do it only to keep the majority of people
    in the dark as to the fundamental changes that are happening and which
    are only going to get worse through this initiative.

    In my opinion, all of the reporting by the Advocate on
    CCSSI, is misinformation at best. You should read how LA is
    obligated under the PARCC Consortium to implement what the Governing
    Board decides to implement in order to effect the purpose and the goal
    of the Consortium. The whole theme of that understanding is
    collectivism. We have one vote on that consortium made of an original
    26 states. The other 20 belong to the SBAC Consortium. How is all of
    that collectivism with federal money going in and all around every bit
    of it, NOT going to effect a national curriculum, which obedience is
    further ensured by the high stakes for the local school districts. Why
    don’t you pursue that perspective in your research or do you all even
    bother to research in reporting anymore? If you were to research, you
    would find that the Memo of
    Understanding for the PARCC Consortium, also ties LA to the
    requirements that PARCC has with US Dept of Education, which requires
    PARCC to obtain and maintain INDIVIDUAL GROWTH DATA as to each student
    that thanks to FERPA, can be done without parental consent. All of this
    kicks in 2014-15…so yes you have freedom to pick, maybe this year.
    But with the high stakes associated with this Initiative, you can
    believe the state and PARCC know exactly what the choice will be…and
    you can bet your bottom dollar that it will result in a national
    curriculum. Oh and also thanks to FERPA and John White, childrens’
    personally identifiable information is being provided through the
    Workforce Data Quality Initiative Grant, to the US Dept of Labor, which
    thanks to FERPA can be given to a third party without parental consent
    and very likely is already being done, though I have not had the time
    yet to confirm such. Here is a suggestion…why don’t
    you find out? THE MEDIA IS HELPING TO MISLEAD ON THIS INITIATIVE…AND
    THE DANGLING CARROT IS THE PROMISE OF HIGHER STANDARDS, WHICH IS AN
    UNSUBSTANTIATED PROMISE TO SAY THE LEAST!

    If
    you had either a conscience or a brain, you would be ashamed of
    yourself. There are very real issues with the Common Core Standards
    itself, and that can be argued from both sides going nowhere and which
    we as parents were effectively denied here in Louisiana. YOU SHOULD BE
    TRYING TO ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO DO THEIR OWN RESEARCH, AT A MINIMUM;
    INSTEAD OF YOUR OBVIOUSLY BIASED REPORTING ON THE
    MATTER, SKEWING THE CONCERNS BY USING TERMS THAT YOU KNOW MARGINALIZE
    THE CONVERSATION SO THAT PEOPLE WILL STOP PAYING ATTENTION. There is
    more proof to the ineffectiveness of these standards, than the unproven
    theories put forth in these standards; besides, the parents see what is
    coming home with their children. But where opponents really win is
    where none of the proponents want to go; the binding agreements,
    committees and charters/by-laws and you would think that you would be
    looking into that as reporters. Imagine that!! So when you have read,
    studied and considered the effects of the agreements to which LA is
    bound relative to this initiative, please let me know and then you can
    do an honest article, as to how much freedom will result from this at
    every level and whether there is no reason to fear the cradle to grave
    data mining that will continue to occur. Such disregard for privacy and
    collectivist standards are more
    similar to the tactics of the scary forms of government that end with
    “ism” than the American freedom so many generations before us fought to
    preserve. It is a shame you live in Wonderland and cannot see that for
    yourself or better yet inform of others on such important similarities.
    What has been clearly proven to me and the many other concerned
    parents, is that the Advocate is no better than the other garbage that
    calls itself a newspaper in our area and we did have such high hopes for
    something different.
    As
    I have stated to others in your field, I am not misinformed about the
    Common Core State Standards Initiative, but I feel you very well are and
    how long you remain uninformed is up to you.

  • scotchirish

    This, too, shall pass.

    A list of over 50 educational fads that have come and gone over the past few decades:

    http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/educational-fads-what-goes-around-comes-around/

    The list does not mention “new math,” which probably precedes his time interval; nor “spiral learning.”

    “Common Core” is just the next in an inexhaustible supply of snake oil.

  • Lee Barrios

    Fellow blogger and public education advocate, Wendy Lecker, has another “must read” commentary piece in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate. Wendy Lecker is a columnist for Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project at the Education Law Center.

    Wendy Lecker lays out the case against Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, observing, “Secretary Duncan is the one in an alternate universe, and our students, teachers and taxpayers are paying the price.”

    The commentary piece begins with;

    “Education reformers claim that standardized test scores are an objective measure of student performance, and school and teacher quality; thus it is reasonable to attach severe consequences to them. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan demands that states administer standardized tests yearly so that we can “hold everyone accountable.” In fact, Duncan recently accused anyone who criticizes America’s overemphasis on tests as “living in an alternate universe.”

    But the evidence is clear that test scores are not objective. Officials play with standardized test scores to further their political goals.

    Proficiency levels, or “cut scores,” are politically determined. New York implemented new Common Core tests in 2013, setting such high cut scores that statewide proficiency rates dropped 20 to 30 percent from 2012. In Illinois and D.C., officials did the opposite. Facing the prospect of widespread school failure this year, Illinois quietly recalculated what “failure” meant. D.C. officials reverted to an earlier grading scale to make their scores look better.

    The manipulation extends beyond cut scores. State officials move test scores and targets whenever it fits their agenda.

    In New York, children who fail state tests must receive academic intervention services (AIS). The majority of children statewide failed the 2013 tests, resulting in a sharp increase in children that must receive AIS. Providing AIS to more children costs more money. To save money, the New York State Regents changed the threshold so that fewer children would qualify for AIS.

    In doing so, the Regents essentially lined up the old tests against the new Common Core tests and developed a scale they claimed could equate the old and new scores. However, this type of equating is only valid if the new tests assess the same skills as the old tests.

    Proponents sold the Common Core standards promising that they will teach entirely new “sophisticated reasoning skills” not found in previous state standards. Apparently, for the Regents, when it means that the state would have to spend money on additional services for children, the Common Core does not teach new skills.

    Connecticut is requiring that teachers engage in similar statistical acrobatics. Districts across Connecticut are implementing the new, ill-conceived teacher evaluation plan. Teachers must set “student learning objectives” (SLOs) for each child. In subjects covered by state standardized tests, the SLO baseline must include a student’s score on the CMTs the previous year. Then, the teacher must set a goal for the student on the upcoming state tests. This year, districts can choose to administer either CMTs or the new Common Core pilot tests. For those districts using existing CMTs, teachers must somehow predict how each student will score on 2014′s CMTs.

    In districts using the Common Core tests, teachers have it even worse. They must use the CMTs as a baseline, and predict a score for each child on the new Common Core tests. Thus, like the New York Regents, teachers must assume that the new tests assess the same skills as the CMTs.

    Officials cannot have it both ways. Either the Common Core teaches different skills, in which case we cannot equate the old tests with the new tests. Or, the Common Core tests can be aligned with the old tests, in which case they assess the same skills the CMTs did and in which case we are wasting billions of dollars nationwide on a boondoggle.”

    You can read Wendy Lecker’s the full commentary piece here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Arne-Duncan-s-alternate-universe-4870140.php

  • Lee Barrios

    I would say Ms. Roemer is misinformed but that would be charitable. Again, we have someone running charter schools who is not an educator and either does not understand Common Core or chooses to hide its many deficiencies.

    Standards are set at a “level” that is age appropriate and in educational jargon developmentally appropriate. Teachers are entrusted – and trained- to align the curriculum to the level of their students (reflective if their communities) while still challenging to those students at their varying levels of capability. That doesn’t mean all students are not taught to the standards. It simply acknowledges that students are not widgets and in order to truly learn, each if their potentialities and their acquired skills must be addressed.

    One if the major problems with the implementation of CCSS is that John White has mandated that all students be taught to an artificial and “common” level of proficiency. Whereas special needs children and gifted and high achieving (honors level) students received special instruction, CCSS mandates all be taught the same level of ability. The high stakes test is designed to test one level of learning also. Therefore the curriculum borne out of the standards and test will be narrowed to achieve proficiency. Special needs children will be frustrated, gifted students will be bored and their true abilities not ascertained. I don’t know if I have been able to explain this to non-educators but I hope this means something.

  • Lee Barrios

    This, by the way, is exactly whatJohn White is doing and has done. He recently proposed adjusting the cut scores to avoid a crash and burn from the new tests and gradually raising the “bar” as students gain the ability to “pass the test.” This has nothing to do with improving education. John White has far too much power and refuses to listen to educators.

  • asiliveandbreathe

    Isn’t Ms Roemer – Shirley’s involvement in this contrary to state laws governing conflict of interest? After all, her brother is head of BESE

  • Lee Barrios

    Bobby Jindal fixed that. Google it.

  • Lisa Griffis Bourgeois

    Ha. This article made me laugh. It is a curriculum. I am a teacher. I know. The standards dictate a curriculum. Most of the info you posted is so off….makes me wonder who you are protecting. We all know the truth. We did our research.

  • Lisa Griffis Bourgeois

    I am handed a unit to teach with activities. So it is more than standards. And it is all test centered. Don’t get me wrong. I am am for analytical thinking. But this is more than standards. I don’t have any choice of novels or what I teach -it is handed to me. One size fits all doesn’t work. This will go away. It is so flawed that it can’t last. Anyone who wakes up and does the research and sees it for what it is knows.