Sunday, June 28, 2015

Common Core IS Part of the Testing Industrial Complex

Can We Rescue the Common Core Standards from the Testing Machine?

By Peter Greene-
Ethan Heitner

I hear this a lot these days: The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are, in and of themselves, fine. If we could just uncouple them from the testing and implementation regimens, all would be well. The standards themselves are an improvement, so let’s build on that opportunity, and not stand in the way just because their ugly testing step-cousin is trying to sneak through the door with them. We just need to get rid of the high-stakes tests.

I can remember thinking like that. I can remember looking at the standards and thinking, “Many of these are actually fine.” In fact, one of my earliest complaints about the CCSS was that they were one more example of folks telling us to do things that we already did. And I don’t think there are teachers alive who don’t relish the promise of freedom to pursue standards in any way they deem most effective.

“You know,” I thought at one point. “If it were possible to just use these standards as a rough guide to follow as we thought best, and we got the government to stop testing, I could live with this.”
That was the same moment when I realized that, no, the CCSS were not pure of heart, and I would never learn to love them.

Because what would decoupling look like? What incantation would exorcise the testing demons? Could teachers go to the government and say: “Thank you for these guidelines. Trust us—we will use our best professional judgment and produce the best-educated generation of students ever. Just step back and watch us work.” No, that would never work, and it would never work because the CCSS are not for us. They never were.

Teachers who like the standards look at them as a guide, as that helpful assurance that we are on the right page. We think of standards as a tool to help us find our way. To us standards say: “Here’s a map. We trust you to find your way.”

Not the Common Core. The primary purpose of the CCSS is to call teachers out. It says: “Here’s what you are supposed to be doing, or else. And we’ll be checking up on you every step of the way.” It is not a tool to be used by teachers; it’s a tool to be used on them.

The CCSS say: “Here’s what you must prove you’re accomplishing.” If you tell your students that you expect them to study and learn the chapter about Torquemada and 15th-century Spain, they know there’s a test coming. Everyone expects the Spanish Inquisition. The CCSS are not about helping us teach; they are about holding us accountable, so they are meaningless without testing (and some parts are meaningless with it).

Since they were designed to hold teachers accountable, they were designed to be tested. Let’s look at the Reading Literature Strand for 11–12 grade: RL.11–12.1, 2, and 3 deal with key ideas and details, and all three standards have one thing in common—they focus always and only on the text. For example, RL.11–12.3 tells us to analyze the impact of the author’s choices, but not the intent or context of them. So a CCSS-style study of The Sun Also Rises would not include the impact of the Great War on Hemingway’s generation, Hemingway’s own background, the rise of postmodernism, or the emerging literary techniques of the period. Nor would we look at how prevalent themes of the generation find expression in the novel.

We would study The Awakening without applying an understanding of women’s roles in the fin de siècle American South. We would study the impact of sarcasm on “A Modest Proposal” without studying what prompted Swift to write it. Animal Farm would be a curious fairy tale about talking animals. I cannot even imagine how to unlock the riches of “Dream Deferred” or “I, Too, Sing America” without noting that Langston Hughes was Black, or considering what it meant then to be African American.
Why would we strip all this literature of its richness, depth, and complexity, the very human qualities that make it worth reading in the first place? Because measuring students’ grasp of such ideas would be hard. Because the test could not be standardized, because we could not control for the depth and breadth of background information that individual students brought to the table. Because the only serious answers to the only important questions would have to be in the form of essays instead of bubbles. And real essays (not the standardized faux essays) are not cost effective to score.

A standardized test cannot measure how a student understands Hemingway’s novel as an expression of a generation’s confusion and alienation after World War I. But a standardized test can ask a student to read a paragraph from the novel and pick the most important sentence.

These are not standards designed to foster a richer and deeper understanding of literature. They are designed to produce easily testable results.

You may reply: “You can teach all that other nifty stuff if you want. Go ahead and enrich your lessons above and beyond the CCSS.”

Well, if I am enriching above and beyond the CCSS, what do I need the CCSS for? If the CCSS is not laying out a path for a full, quality education, what path is it marking?

It’s laying out the path to the test. The CCSS are just the largest scale test-prep guide ever created. The CCSS tell us what we need to cover for the test, and the test tells us how well we covered it. If there were no test, the CCSS would not matter.

The CCSS are also, of course, about making money. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) also wanted to bust into the big piggy bank that is public school funding, but NCLB was a big, blunt hammer; CCSS is a more sophisticated machine with many interlocking parts.

In fact, the biggest reason that CCSS cannot be rescued is directly related to the difficulties those of us who write about education have had in explaining the problems with CCSS. And it is probably the biggest lesson that the powers that be learned from NCLB.

The mistake those powers that be made with NCLB is that they gave the whole thing a name. The testing, the state standards, the punishing evaluations, the funding pressures—everything was gathered under the No Child Left Behind banner. Oh, how we loathed it. We called it funny, mocking names. Even when we couldn’t see the full picture, we knew its name. We knew its name.

This thing that’s happening now? The contempt for teachers, the drive to privatize, the evaluation-based punishment, the dismantling of our profession, the destruction of public education, the redirection of billions of tax dollars, the secrecy, the ill-conceived standards—we can see all its pieces, but the great, chewing mechanism does not have a name. The lack of a shorthand title for the galumphing monstrosity allows its creators, our so-called leaders, to pretend that all these are separate elements, when, in fact, they are all one well-coordinated machine.

If these were all separate and discrete pieces, they could not be parts of a giant machine chewing apart the entire U.S. institution of schooling. And that leads to the belief that some of these separate pieces can be rescued—that we can accept some and leave the rest behind.

But the CCSS are part of a coordinated, interlocking machine, and its creators will never let you take only a piece of it home. The testing regimen is not its own separate thing that can be just thrown out, any more than it was its own thing when it was the engine of NCLB. If you want only one cog, you can’t extract it from the machine.  


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

End Mayoral Control Coalition Supports NYC Education Reconstruction Commission Bill

The End Mayoral Control Coalition supports Barron’s education bill
The End Mayoral Control Coalition fully and enthusiastically endorses Assembly Bill A.7924, introduced by Assemblyman Charles Barron, to establish a ...
The End Mayoral Control Coalition fully and enthusiastically endorses Assembly Bill A.7924 (see below), introduced by Assemblyman Charles Barron, to establish a commission to thoroughly study the ineffectiveness of the New York City mayoral control of education state law. It authorized an entirely undemocratic system of school governance in 2002, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg was given dictatorial control of education in New York City. The current mayor has said he wants permanent undemocratic control.

This bill is an essential first step toward transparently investigating why a 13-year policy of mayoral control has failed to improve the quality of New York City public school education for all students. The commission will show that mayoral control has produced gross racial and class inequities among our public schools in shockingly gross proportions. Also, the commission will recommend the abolition of the current undemocratic mayoral control law and authorize an open exploration for a law that mandates a democratic parent-student-teacher system of school governance.

From our experience, we charge that exclusive mayoral control through a personally handpicked chancellor must be fully exposed for the incompetency it has continually demonstrated. It has mis-educated millions of our students, especially children of color, ELL, immigrant and special-needs students.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has mobilized 45 nonprofit “community” and social service organizations to support his efforts to bring permanent mayoral control to our 1.2 million school-age children. These organizations are desperate for funding and naively hope their endorsement of the mayor’s plan will bring in the needed funds to keep them afloat. They have misread de Blasio as a liberal progressive because of slick PR work. But the real de Blasio is continuing the Bloomberg-Giuliani policies of giving the Wall Streeters and luxury condo developers what they want: a direct political say in defining public education while at the same time syphoning off tens of billions of public school monies in the name of “charter” schools and no-bid contracts.

We understand that mayoral control is (1) undermining the quality of the future of our children by eliminating the child-centered institutions of learning and promoting the racist-fueled and profit-centered privatized policies and structures of “education” institutions; (2) stripping decision-making power from parents, educators, students and community and giving power over to the mayor’s office, his corporate allies, state legislators and the governor; and (3) infringing on the human rights of the students and parents of New York City public schools.

David Dobosz, a retired teacher from Brownsville’s District 23 and a member of the Independent Commission for Public Education, notes, “Public schools in heavily ‘charter schooled’ neighborhoods have become seriously under-resourced buildings that concentrate ever-increasing numbers of high-needs children in over-crowded classes that simply cannot be serviced effectively by a downsized staff and developmentally inappropriate standardized tests. The mayor owns problems like these because only he, not the parents nor the students, teachers or the community, has any real decision-making power to substantially change the numerous adverse in-school circumstances that negatively affect children. These adverse circumstances have only worsened over the years, and we refuse to allow this any longer.”

Brooklyn parent activist and co-chair of the Coalition for Public Education Muba Yarofulani asserts, “The sun setting of mayoral control is this month. As a parent of a child attending a New York City public school, I will fight to see a commission put into place to investigate this 13-year-old failed educational system, which has squandered tens of billions of dollars, and instead, transform it into a democratic people’s Board of Education.”

Instead of continuing mayoral control for any length of time, we must advocate for and fight for the creation of an education system based on human rights that includes democratic participation, equity, nondiscrimination and the full rich human development of us all—a democratic people’s Board of Education. The commission bill Barron has submitted can definitely help us start this democratic process in which parents, teachers, students and community are engaged in creating educational excellence for our children and adults desiring to further their education.

The End Mayoral Control Coalition is supported by many grassroots organizations, chiefly the Coalition for Public Education, the Independent Commission on Public Education, Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence, S.E.E.D.S.( and others. Each of these organizations advocates for a democratic governance of public education at the community level to provide equal educational opportunity for all students.

For more information, visit and

A07924 Summary:

BILL NO    A07924 

SAME AS    No same as 

SPONSOR    Barron

COSPNSR    Walker


Establishes a task force on school governance to research and propose a new
structure for school governance in a city with a population of one million or
more; requires the task force's proposal go into effect on September 1, 2016
ending mayoral control.

A07924 Text:

                           S T A T E   O F   N E W   Y O R K


                              2015-2016 Regular Sessions

                                 I N  A S S E M B L Y

                                     June 1, 2015

       Introduced by M. of A. BARRON -- read once and referred to the Committee
         on Education

       AN  ACT  to  establish a task force on school governance to research and
         propose a new system for school governance in a city with a population
         of one million or more;  and  providing  for  the  repeal  of  certain
         provisions upon expiration thereof


    1    Section 1. 1. A task force on school governance is hereby  established
    2  to  research  and  propose  a new system for school governance in a city
    3  with a population of one million or more.   Such  task  force  shall  be
    4  composed of sixteen members of whom one member shall be appointed by the
    5  governor,  one  member  shall be appointed by the temporary president of
    6  the senate, one member shall be appointed by the minority leader of  the
    7  senate,  one  member  shall be appointed by the speaker of the assembly,
    8  one member shall be appointed by the minority leader  of  the  assembly,
    9  one  member  shall  be  appointed by New York State United Teachers, one
   10  member shall be appointed by the  United  Federation  of  Teachers,  one
   11  member  shall  be  appointed by District Council 37, one member shall be
   12  appointed by the council of school supervisors and administrators,  five
   13  members  shall  be appointed by the Chancellor's Parent Advisory Council
   14  and two members shall be appointed by the state department of education.
   15  Of the members appointed by the department of education, both  shall  be
   16  student  representatives  from Student Leadership Teams; one such member
   17  shall be appointed from a high-performing  school  and  the  other  such
   18  member shall be appointed from a low-performing school. The chair of the
   19  task  force  shall  be  elected  by  a  majority  vote of the task force
   20  members.  The members of the task force  shall  each  have  demonstrated
   21  experience  or  expertise  in school governance and/or have an impact on
   22  their schools and communities.

        EXPLANATION--Matter in ITALICS (underscored) is new; matter in brackets
                             [ ] is old law to be omitted.
       A. 7924                             2

    1    2. The task force  shall  research,  examine  and  evaluate  potential
    2  school  governance  models  and  shall  propose  a new system for school
    3  governance in a city with a population of one  million  or  more.    The
    4  commission is charged with the following tasks: assess the strengths and
    5  weaknesses  of  the  current educational system; create a strategic plan
    6  and develop a mission, goals and policies to redesign the system and its
    7  governance structure to guarantee every child's human  right  to  educa-
    8  tion;  include  the  public  in  a democratic process to reach consensus
    9  about a redesigned system that the legislature enacts into law.
   10    S 2. The members of the task force shall receive no  compensation  for
   11  their services, but shall be allowed their actual and necessary expenses
   12  incurred  in  the  performance  of  their  duties  pursuant to this act,
   13  provided that the task force shall be authorized to conduct meetings  in
   14  a manner that minimizes travel and costs.
   15    S  3.  The task force shall submit, within twelve months of the effec-
   16  tive date of this act, a final report of its proposal for a  new  system
   17  for school governance in a city with a population of one million or more
   18  to  the  governor, the temporary president of the senate, the speaker of
   19  the assembly and the chairs of the education committees in the  assembly
   20  and  senate.  The report shall include such legislative proposals as the
   21  task force deems necessary to implement its new system for school gover-
   22  nance. Such proposal for a new system for school governance  in  a  city
   23  with a population of one million or more shall go into effect on Septem-
   24  ber  1,  2016. Mayoral control pursuant to article 52-A of the education
   25  law shall expire on September 1, 2016.
   26    S 4. This act shall take effect immediately;  provided  that  sections
   27  one and two of this act shall expire and be deemed repealed September 1,
   28  2016.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why Corporations Want Public Schools By Any Means Necessary

Infographic: Why Corporations Want Our Public Schools

Where’s the big money in privatization? Take it from the teachers.