Sunday, April 17, 2016

Moron More On Common Core...

I spoke about Common Core the other day, pointing out what was right and what was wrong with the program. I also explained why all of the attacks on Common Core from the talk radio right are garbage. But what about the complaints from the left? I think you’ll find this enlightening...

The left raises various complaints about Common Core, all of which come down to the issue of accountability. Put simply, they hate testing because it measures children and lets us know if a child is succeeding or not. Indeed, whether they disguise this impulse as socialism, self-esteem-ism, class-ism, or just whining about fairness, they just don’t like one kid being better than another. What’s more, their allies in education, i.e. incompetent unionized teachers, worry that accountability means they will need to answer to angry parents who wonder why their child isn’t learning anything.

That brings us to an article written by a New York state teacher criticizing Common Core. Here is the attack with my points beneath:
"The 2016 Common Core English Language Arts test was unacceptably long."
Note that the criticism she chooses to lead with is the standard leftist criticism: you’re asking too much of these kids!!! Why does this matter to the left? Well, while she couches this as an issue of overwhelming kids, what the left really worries about is that when you ask more of kids, smarter kids will step up to the challenge and will learn more than the dumb kids. This means separation and inequality... which they hate. But let us put aside her motive and take her whining at face value. Hence, let us ask: Is this test really too long?

This test had ten “reading passages” (suspiciously, she doesn’t tell us how long they are) which led to 31 multiple-choice questions, seven short answer questions and two “extended response” answers (short essays). Is that too much to ask? Well hold on. Does it really matter if it’s too much? If a test is too easy, then it really tells us little except that everyone can meet the lowest common denominator. That doesn’t help us know how well kids are really doing, does it? Wouldn’t a truly worthwhile test set the bar at the highest common denominator and let the kids’ scores fall naturally at the level of their current abilities so we can access each child? Yes, it would. So her criticism is disturbing.

Still, I can agree that this is a lot to ask of elementary kids for one test. Only, it wasn’t “one test.” This test was done in three parts over three days. Suddenly, this doesn’t seem like much at all, does it? But wait...
Time: "After 18 hours of testing over 3 days, [my child] emerged from the classroom in a daze... She fell into my arms and burst into tears... my heart was breaking... She [then] asked if she could read for a while in my room to calm down."
Let’s take this one apart. First, notice that emotion is key: if a child cries, then something must be wrong. That’s not a valid argument. What’s more, she’s misled you on what happened. The “testing” may have been done over 18 hours, but it was not “18 hours of testing.” It was 18 hours of school with testing on those days. These kids still got recess, still got lunch, and if my own daughter’s testing is any indication, still got breaks for other classes. Indeed, her school did a little in the morning and then sent them to art or PE or music, before having them return to testing in the afternoon. In between, they had lunch, three recesses and other periods where their teacher read to them or they did something fun. The suggestion that these poor kids were bent over a desk for 18 solid hours is flat out false.

And let me ask this: if they hadn’t been testing, wouldn’t they have been doing math or reading for those 18 hours instead? How is that different? Indeed, if this was so Dickensian that it broke her poor daughter, why did she ask to go read to relax? Odd.

Also, doesn’t this kind of blow apart the first point about this test being “too long”? If it really was 18 hours, then the kids are only doing less than two multiple choice questions per hour, one short answer every three hours and one long answer every nine hours. That doesn’t sound too overwhelming, does it?

By the way, she also claims that it’s no longer a “standardize test” if there is no time limit. This is an odd complaint since (1) the left hates standardized tests and even she admits she prefers tests without time limits (just not this time – when it suits her to change her “principled” mind), and (2) there is a time limit... six hours for each portion.
Time: "this appears to violate the NY law passed in 2014 that limits state testing time to one percent of total instructional time."
So this is a union work place/legal issue. I see.
Content: "The reading passages were excerpts and articles from authentic texts (magazines and books)... many students could not connect the text-to-self (sic) nor could they tap into prior knowledge to facilitate comprehension... the questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension... there was a strong emphasis on questions addressing the structure rather than the meaning of the texts."
Ooh, sounds like a genuine criticism! But is it?

She complains that the test used “excerpts and articles from authentic texts (magazines and books)” rather than stuff specifically written for the test. So what? Isn’t the purpose of reading to teach kids to be able to read and understand anything written? She apparently doesn’t think so. Indeed, note another of her complaints: that the kids “could not connect the text-to-self.” What she means is that these reading passages where not tailored to be things that interest the kids. But reading isn’t about just reading the things you already like. Reading is about expanding your mind and knowledge base and being able to learn things you don’t already know. Whether or not the reading passages interest the kids should be entirely irrelevant to the kids’ ability to succeed on this test.

Indeed, think about this. If we only taught kids to do things that interest them, then how many would learn math? a foreign language? science? grammar? history? Not to mention, how can a standardized test pick topics that interest all of the kids? Are we going to pick history to excite the little boy in the back, babysitter detective stories to excite the girl in the front, or stories about dogs to excite the kid by the door? It is impossible to pick only topics that excite everyone taking the test and someone who wasn't beholden to group-think would would know this. And even if it wasn’t, it doesn’t matter because reading is about comprehension regardless of the topic. Her criticism is idiotic.

Ditto on her criticism that the kids couldn’t draw on their own experience to understand the passages. That’s why kids are taught vocabulary and how to extract meaning from context.

Next, she whines about the focus on “structure.” Think about this one. The test took articles from newspapers and passages from books and asked students a series of questions that required them to understand the structure of the writing. Structure, in this case, means things like spotting the subject of the sentence or paragraph, spotting lists of items, and connecting subjects to actions (e.g. “which of the following did X say smelled like a rose”). These are the exact kinds of basic skills you need to know to be able to read something and understand it. Do you see the problem with her complaining about this? Indeed, does anyone see the irony in her complaint about the test focusing on structure and details over “overall comprehension”? If not, then ask yourself: if kids can’t understand the structure and details, how can they have an “overall comprehension” of the text?

She also whined that the questions were confusing because they asked the kids how the paragraphs related to each other. She actually called this a “high school” level question. Really? Do you really think kids need to wait until their mid-teens to be able to explain how two paragraphs in a text relate? Does she really think kids see books as collections of random paragraphs? Is it just magic that pre-high schoolers can understand the plot of Harry Potter or can they actually put together what is happening by connecting paragraphs as they read along? And wasn’t she just whining that they should have tested “overall comprehension”? How do you get overall comprehension if you can’t relate all the paragraphs to each other?
Content II: "... there was also a striking lack of passages with an urban setting."
Here we go: politicization. Boo hoo hoo, Common Core doesn’t “speak” to ghetto kids. Let me ask, are you really saying that black kids can’t read if it isn’t something written by Jay-Z? Yo’ bitch, tha’ shit be whack.

This is a great example of what is wrong with leftist thinking on education. While the things they say sound like genuine criticisms on the surface, they are ultimately nonsense when you break them down, or they come to “we don’t want anyone to succeed beyond the herd.” It’s also more proof that Common Core is a conservative idea.



Patriot said...

Andrew......Common Core sure sounds a lot like "learning." Other than this one example complaint, are there other more valid complaints that people have?

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, So far, the only valid complaint I've found is that the New York State Common Core guidelines, which many schools (in many states) use, contain some nonsense methods for solving problems. These are the complaints you see passed around online about "I can't understand my kid's homework!!"

However, those methods are taught in addition to the good methods, i.e. they don't replace the valid methods. So they aren't really very damaging, instead they are basically just a waste of time, though they do cause frustration. That could be cleaned up pretty easily though.

Apart from that though, I haven't seen any valid complaints. They basically just raises the current standards and left it up to teachers to decide how to hit those standards and then added testing to see if kids are kitting the standards.

tryanmax said...

I'm not sure what it means, but I find it very intriguing that complaints about Common Core from the right focus on math while complaints from the left focus on language. If I had to guess, I'd say that conservatives tend toward right way/wrong way thinking and the idea that there can be more than one approach to MATH, of all things, astounds them. Meanwhile, language subjects are naturally open to interpretation, which is the easy avenue for making purely contrarian attacks on anything. "Well, I don't see it that way."

AndrewPrice said...

Interesting observation, tryanmax. I think liberals avoid talking about math because they knew it sounds really stupid to say, "It's unfair to ask kids to find the right answer!" So they stick with English, where everything is more fuzzy, and they only attack the math area with the idea of "too much."

Conservatives stick to math, I suspect, because the conservative criticism of liberalism is that liberalism is fuzzy and the world should be black and white. So it's easier to say, "there is one answer and you aren't teaching it!" than it is to delve into the shade of gray that happen in English.

I found the criticism here to be particularly annoying because it really fundamentally misunderstands the purpose and goals of education.

BevfromNYC said...

...But reading isn’t about just reading the things you already like...

Uh, who says?

Yes, the war on basic reading and math skills in NY Public schools. This NYC (most likely) public school teacher is most likely worried about how poorly the kids do on the tests no matter how long or short or easy they are. The scores are terribly here, so they don't want the tests because then they have to access the teacher's ability to teach effectively...and UNION!!!

Anyway, this really all boils down to this:
"But if the test is too hard, my little perfect angel that I have told over and over that they are the smartest child in the world...MAY NOT DO WELL IF IT IS TOO HARD!!! And by "TOO HARD!!" we mean "if my child does not get a perfect grade [even though these are assessment tests are not "graded" as such"] then their little souls will be crushed. How will they ever get into the Ivy Leagues! [No, actually, it's my bragging rights will be crushed and how will I be able to face the other parents?"]

Just one time more I will make this statement even tough it may be sterotyping - It is never Asian parents who right this crap about how hard the curriculum in public school is.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I find it truly interesting that this woman seems to think that it's only fair to test kids on reading selections that the kids will like. How does that help them learn to read text books for classes they don't like instruction manuals, etc.?

And you're right, it all boils down to "this is too hard!!!" But that's a false criticism. That's a criticism from losers who don't like the fact that people really do come in a spectrum of intelligence, and they think everyone should need to wait for them. Imagine punishing runners who run faster than the slowest kid on the track?

Agreed about the Asians. In my experience, they often overdo it, placing too much pressure on their kids, but they get the value of success. To many teachers don't.

Anthony said...

Nice essay. Not much to add, aside from the fact that opposition to Common Core seems to be bipartisan and often centers around parents traumatized by their kids being challenged.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Anthony. The political right (talk radio) attacks it for being pro-gay and anti-Christian (which it isn't), and the professional left attacks the whole idea of accountability. But the parental complaints do seem to come down to it being "too hard" for their kid.

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