Conservatives Erupt over Betsy DeVos Announcement: ‘Common Core Is Dead’

Dear Friends,

A very informative article written by Dr. Susan Berry, Dr. Berry is a conservative writer and contributor to Breitbart.com, she has a doctorate in psychology. She writes about cultural, educational, and healthcare policy issues. Shared by Donna Garner, a retired teacher and education activist (Wgarner1@hot.rr.com)

“Conservatives Erupt over Betsy DeVos Announcement: ‘Common Core Is Dead’”

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continues to struggle with the conservative base of the GOP as she again declares, “Common Core is dead.”

“I agree – and have always agreed – with President Trump on this: ‘Common Core is a disaster,’” DeVos allied herself with Trump last week during a major policy speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). “And at the U.S. Department of Education, Common Core is dead.”

The secretary’s statement led Alex Newman of the Freedom Project to write:

Despite blasting federal overreach in education and making other statements sure to delight conservatives and constitutionalists, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continued to mislead Americans on Common Core last week. Indeed, despite the dumbed-down national standards still being in place in almost every state, DeVos falsely claimed that Common Core was “dead” at the Department of Education.

In yet another address that at least superficially put forward sound statements reflecting the Constitution’s lack of mention of any federal role in education, DeVos has again failed to convince the base of her party that she actually believes this fact.

…Indeed, the education secretary gave a good conservative run-down of the George W. Bush and Obama administrations’ contributions to entrenching the federal government further into education policy via No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Common Core:

Where the Bush administration emphasized NCLB’s stick, the Obama administration focused on carrots. They recognized that states would not be able to legitimately meet the NCLB’s strict standards. Secretary Duncan testified that 82 percent of the nation’s schools would likely fail to meet the law’s requirements — thus subjecting them to crippling sanctions.

The Obama administration dangled billions of dollars through the “Race to the Top” competition, and the grant-making process not so subtly encouraged states to adopt the Common Core State Standards. With a price tag of nearly four and a half billion dollars, it was billed as the “largest-ever federal investment in school reform.” Later, the Department would give states a waiver from NCLB’s requirements so long as they adopted the Obama administration’s preferred policies — essentially making law while Congress negotiated the reauthorization of ESEA.

However, as Shane Vander Hart writes at Truth in American Education, the “reauthorization of ESEA,” i.e., the “bipartisan” Every Student Succeeds Act – engineered by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) – essentially cemented Common Core into every state in the country:

Sure, the U.S. Department of Education is not actively pushing Common Core, they don’t need to. The standards and assessment consortiums don’t need to be funded anymore. The damage is done.

They don’t need to publicly push it because ESSA essentially codified Common Core.

At best, DeVos’s views on Common Core are murky, and conservatives have never been sold on her statement that she has “always agreed” with Trump that Common Core is a “disaster.” In fact, DeVos never was a fan of Trump and actually served as an at-large delegate of Common Core supporter John Kasich at the GOP convention in 2016.

American Principles Project senior fellows Jane Robbins and Emmett McGroarty write at Townhall:

Especially in her home state of Michigan, conservatives were discouraged by DeVos’s nomination because of her past support of Common Core and her efforts (through organizations she founded and/or funded) to thwart the parents who opposed them. She disavowed her previous support and then sought to put the issue to bed by simply declaringmistakenly, that “the Every Student Succeeds Act [ESSA] . . . essentially does away with the whole argument about Common Core.”

As Robbins and McGroarty note, in April 2017, the secretary actually said during a Fox News interview, “There really isn’t any Common Core anymore.” 

“The Every Student Succeeds Act, which is in the process of being implemented now, essentially does away with the whole argument about Common Core,” she added.

DeVos’s pronouncements that Common Core is “dead” seem disconnected from reality to parents across the country.

Education Week reported, “at least 37 states” are still using the Common Core standards or its “rebrands” – renaming the Core with a state-friendly title – as of the end of 2016.

Meanwhile, Education Dive notes Timothy Shanahan, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago – and one of the authors of the Core, says the standards are still in effect in 42 states.

“Even if Common Core were ripped out from the roots, the federally controlled government ‘education’ system in America would continue to dumb down and indoctrinate students on an industrial scale—literally threatening the future of the nation,” Newman writes.

In dulcet conservative tones, DeVos also announced during her AEI address that  federal mandates are not working to improve education. The thousands of parents fighting against Common Core in their states for years now have been saying that to establishment Republican and Democratic lawmakers – but to no avail.

DeVos herself, however, continues to plug ESSA – a federal mandate. “Under ESSA, school leaders, educators and parents have the latitude and freedom to try new approaches to serve individual students,” she said. “My message to them is simple: do it!” Vander Hart asserts DeVos should heed her own advice.

“That’s a nice sentiment, but what is Secretary DeVos going to do about it?” he asks. “If this is something she truly believed she would support the repeal of ESEA instead of touting it in its current form as the Every Student Succeeds Act.”

A big part of conservatives’ problem with DeVos is the fact that she has invited many followers of her close friend Jeb Bush to advise her. Bush has been a primary supporter of Common Core and school choice.

Robbins and McGroarty observe that while DeVos has declared Common Core “dead,” she has followed Bush’s lead in the areas of school choice – without detailing the mechanisms for bringing about the “choice,” and “digital” or “personalized” learning – which is a major platform for student data collection.

“She didn’t mention the central problem with [school choice],” the authors write. “[T]he danger that when the money follows the child, government regulations will be close behind to strip private schools of the characteristics that made them appealing to parents in the first place.”

The authors add:

[S]o-called personalized learning is actually depersonalized, computerized training rather than genuine education. It replaces a liberal arts education with pared-down workforce-development training that concentrates on “skills” corporations deem necessary for the (current) job market. It props children in front of computer screens that feed them curricula (probably not available for parental review) that children can click through without really learning anything. It indoctrinates children with government-approved attitudes, mindsets, and beliefs. It collects literally millions of data points on children that will allow the government and vendors to create profiles and algorithms that may control each child’s future life path. It minimizes human interaction, converting professional educators into data clerks.

Of course, ESSA is fully on board with digital learning and DeVos is fully on board with ESSA.

 Constitutionalists note that until DeVos can put into action the words she apparently believes make sense to Trump’s constituents, she will continue to have battles with both the left and the conservative wing of her own party.

“If DeVos is sincere about her philosophical rhetoric, she will devote her efforts to three things: freeing the states from all federal mandates to the extent she can under the law; working with Congress to revise ESSA to eliminate all mandates; and creating a workable plan to shut down her department,” Robbins and McGroarty write. “That would be something conservatives can cheer.”

Newman warns, however: “T]he fact that DeVos continues to dishonestly try to mislead Americans into believing Common Core is ‘dead’ should alarm everyone. It’s way past time to shut down the whole unconstitutional Education Department.”

Respectfully,

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com

Historians Want to Put Events in Context. Common Core Doesn’t. That’s a Problem

Dear Friends,

Informative article written by Sandra Stotsky. Stotsky is a professor of education reform emerita at the University of Arkansas and holds the Twenty-First Century Chair in Teacher Quality. She served as editor of “Research in the Teaching of English” in the 1990s and has taught at the elementary, secondary, undergraduate, and graduate level. She is the author of The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012. Shared by Donna Garner, a retired teacher and education activist (wgarner1@hot.rr.com)

“Historians Want to Put Events in Context. Common Core Doesn’t.

That’s a Problem.”

For an October 2017 conference sponsored by an affiliate of the California Association of Teachers of English, I was invited to give an informal talk on a chapter in my book, The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum. Chapter 8 centered on how English teachers could create coherent sequences of informational and literary texts to address civic literacy.

I presented initial remarks on Chapter 8 and then asked for questions. But instead of questions about Chapter 8, the concerns were mostly about the requirement in Common Core’s English language arts (ELA) standards for English teachers to teach Founding documents. In particular, one teacher expressed at length the problems she was facing in teaching “The Declaration of Independence.” She wanted to know why English teachers were compelled to teach historical documents. Her academic background was not in history, and she was not the only one in the audience upset about this requirement. But something had happened.

The dialogue now taking place was not about the literature curriculum but about English teachers being required to teach historical documents—and without context, if they followed guidelines from the standards writers on “close reading.” The dialogue also touched on the “literacy” standards that content teachers were to address in order to teach reading and writing in their classes.

Why were “literacy” standards for other subjects in Common Core’s ELA document and what had researchers found on English teachers teaching “informational” texts (required by Common Core’s ELA standards) and on content teachers teaching reading and writing (required by Common Core’s “literacy” standards)? I sympathized with both English teachers who didn’t feel comfortable teaching foundational historical documents and history teachers who had presumably studied the context for documents now being taught by their English colleagues. Common Core’s ELA document makes clear that the motivation for these standards and requirements was the standards writers’ concern about the low reading skills of many American students graduating from high school.

As a response to teachers’ concerns at this conference, this essay first clarifies how the K-12 study of history ever got tangled up in Common Core’s ELA standards. It then explains why reading in a history class is not like reading in a literature class.

The story begins with the rationale for the contents of a documenttitled, “Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.” The bulk of the 66-page document is on English language arts standards. But the last seven pages provide “literacy” standards for the other subjects in grades 6-12. The introduction to the whole document justifies Common Core’s literacy standards on the grounds that college readiness means being able to read, write, and speak in all subject areas. That is the basis for entangling the study of history in the final version of Common Core’s ELA document.

The attempt to make English teachers responsible for teaching high school students how to read history, science, and mathematics textbooks relaxed after critics made it clear that English teachers could not possibly teach students how to read textbooks in other disciplines. Their criticism was supported by the common sense argument that teachers can’t teach students to read texts on a subject they don’t understand themselves, as well as by the total lack of evidence that English teachers can effectively teach reading strategies appropriate to other disciplines and thereby improve students’ knowledge in that discipline.

The absence of studies strongly implies there may be no credible research suggesting that subject teachers can effectively teach reading skills in their own classes in ways that improve student writing or learning. Not only are subject teachers reluctant to teach reading in their own classes (as the research indicates), there’s no evidence that even if they do, student writing or learning will be enhanced.

So how do secondary students learn how to read their history books or their science and mathematics textbooks? We will return to this hugely important question after we consider some possible reasons for the failure of the movement called Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum (RAWAC)—in the 1970s and later.

Common Core’s literacy standards are general statements of different purposes for reading and writing in any subject such as “Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.” The expectation is that subject teachers are to use the content of their subject to teach students how to read, write, and talk in their subjects, not the other way around.

Secondary school learning was turned on its head in 2010 without any public murmur probably because most subject teachers did not know they were being required to teach reading and writing in a document ostensibly designated for English and reading teachers. The National Council for the Social Studies apparently knew what the ELA standards writers intended, according to this History News Network article, but it did not communicate any concerns to its members so far as is known.

While the effort to make subject teachers responsible for assigning more reading to their students and/or teaching them how to read whatever they assigned sounded justifiable, it didn’t succeed for several reasons. First, why assign more reading if there were reasons for not assigning much reading to begin with (e.g., no textbooks available, students couldn’t read whatever textbooks were available on the topic, students wouldn’t do much homework)?

Second, history teachers were also unlikely to think in terms of “main idea” or “supporting details” in discussing what students had read about a specific topic. Instead, they would ask students to apply these general skills in topic-related language (e.g., what “claim” they are to evaluate) to expand students’ conscious knowledge base. Subject teachers use the specific content of their discipline in ways that require students to apply their thinking skills and prior knowledge to what they have been assigned to read or do.

Third, if students claimed they couldn’t read the assignment, other issues needed to be explored. How much reading had students been doing on the topic? Did they have any prior knowledge? Were they familiar with the vocabulary related to the topic? Students can absorb some of the vocabulary for a discipline-based topic by re-reading the material (as in history) or by working carefully with material named by these words (as in a science lab) without constantly consulting a glossary. But how to get students to do more re-reading is not the purpose of a standard. Getting students to address questions about particular topics in a discipline with adequate and sufficient information (i.e., to develop their conscious understanding of the topics) is one purpose of a standard.

Fourth, content teachers continued to see English teachers as teachers of writing (and literature), and themselves as teachers of specific subjects like math, science, or history.

Common Core’s literacy standards suggest that their writers do not understand the high school curriculum. That problem is also suggested by the titles offered in Appendix B of Common Core’s ELA Standards document as examples of the quality and complexity of the informational reading that history and other subject teachers could use to boost the amount of reading their students do and to teach disciplinary reading and writing skills.

While grades 9-10 English teachers may be puzzled about the listing for them of Patrick Henry’s “Speech to the Second Virginia Convention,” Margaret Chase Smith’s “Remarks to the Senate in Support of a Declaration of Conscience,” and George Washington’s “Farewell Address”—all non-literary, political speeches— grades 9/10 history teachers may be even more puzzled by the examples for them. Among a few appropriate examples (on the history of indigenous and African Americans), we find E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art, 16th Edition; Mark Kurlansky’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World; and Wendy Thompson’s The Illustrated Book of Great Composers. What history teacher would tackle excerpts from those books in the middle of a grade 9 or 10 history course?

The informational examples in Appendix B for grades 11/12 history teachers are even more bizarre. Along with a suitable text (Tocqueville’s Democracy in America), we find Julian Bell’s Mirror of the World: A New History of Art and FedViews, issued in 2009 by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. These two titles clearly don’t fit into a standard grade 11 U.S. history course or grade 12 U.S. government course. These examples are out of place not just in a typical high school history class but in a typical high school curriculum.

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of Common Core’s approach to literary study is the advice given teachers by its chief writer David Coleman, now president of the College Board, on the supposed value of “cold” or “close” (non-contextualized) reading of historical documents like the “Gettysburg Address.” Coleman categorically declared: “This close reading approach forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all students.” Aside from the fact that “close” reading was not developed or promoted by Yale English professors Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren as a reading technique for historical documents, no history or English teacher before the advent of Common Core would have approached the study of a seminal historical document by withholding initial information about its historical context and clear language archaisms.

As high school history teacher Craig Thurtell states: “This approach [close reading] also permits the allocation of historical texts to English teachers, most of whom are untrained in the study of history, and leads to history standards [Common Core’s literacy standards for history] that neglect the distinctiveness of the discipline.” Thurtell goes on to say that the “study of history requires the use of specific concepts and cognitive skills that characterize the discipline—concepts like evidence and causation and skills like contextualization, sourcing, and corroboration. These concepts and skills are largely distinct from those employed in literary analysis. Both disciplines engage in close readings of texts, for example, but with different purposes. The object of the literary critic is the text, or more broadly, the genre; for the historian it is, however limited or defined, a wider narrative of human history, which textual analysis serves.”

Not only did the writers of Common Core’s English language arts standards profoundly misunderstand how reading in a history class differs from reading in a literature class, they basically misunderstood the causes of the educational problem they sought to remedy through Common Core’s standards. They assumed that many high school graduates needed remedial coursework in reading and writing as college freshmen because English teachers gave them too heavy a diet of literary works and that teachers in other subjects deliberately or unwittingly did not teach them how to read complex texts in these other subjects. This assumption doesn’t hold up.

High school teachers will readily acknowledge that many students have not been assigned complex textbooks because, generally speaking, they can’t read them and, in fact, don’t read much of anything with academic content. Consequently, they have not acquired the content knowledge and the vocabulary needed for reading complex history textbooks. And this is despite (not because of) the steady decline in vocabulary difficulty in secondary school textbooks over the past half century. Higher levels of writing are increasingly dependent on higher levels of reading. Students unwilling to read a lot do not advance very far as writers.

The accumulation of a large and usable discipline-specific vocabulary depends on graduated reading in a coherent sequence of courses (known as a curriculum) in that discipline. The accumulation of a general academic vocabulary, however, depends on assigning a lot of increasingly complex literary works with strong plots and characters to entice poor readers to make efforts to read them (like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). Otherwise, students will not acquire the general academic vocabulary needed for serious historical nonfiction, the texts that secondary history students should be reading.

Possible Approaches to Common Core’s Secondary ELA Standards

  1. Schools can establish reading classes separate from the English and other subject classes. Students who cannot or won’t read high school-level textbooks can be given further reading instruction in the secondary grades by teachers with strong academic backgrounds who have learned how to teach reading skills appropriate to the academic subjects students are taking. While not easy to do, it is doable.
  2. Schools can enable English and history teachers to provide professional development to each other in the same high school. The context and philosophical antecedents for our seminal political documents (e.g., Declaration of Independence, Preamble to the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address) can be explained/taught to English teachers by their colleagues in the History Department, while an analysis of their language and other stylistic features can be explained/taught to history teachers by their colleagues in the English Department.

Respectfully,

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com