Common Core implementation will prove costly error for California

Dear Editor:

I don’t usually like to make predictions. By nature, I’m a cautious person. So, when I do, finally, determine to go out on a limb and tell others what I think the future holds, I want it to be as near as possible to a certainty.

Such is the case with the current direction of education in the state of California. This year, school districts throughout the state are implementing the Common Core standards, and, more importantly, the teaching techniques supposedly designed to align with them.

My prediction: This program will prove to be the largest education debacle in the history of the state. The vast majority of the students subjected to this program will fail to achieve proficiency in either mathematics or English, regardless of grade level. The gap in performance that exists between students in affluent communities (or who are homeschooled) and those who, under the new Local Control Funding Formula are considered disadvantaged, will widen. This will happen in spite of the millions of dollars sent to local school districts in the form of Supplemental and Concentration Grants designed to help these same, disadvantaged, students.

How can I be so sure? Two reasons. One, my fourteen years of experience as a teacher and administrator at private schools informs my prediction. Second, we only have to look at New York, a couple of years ahead of us on the curve, to see how things will go.

For the last fourteen years I’ve been a math teacher at private schools. I’ve taught across multiple grade levels, from 2nd grade through 12th grade. I’ve taught courses from basic arithmetic through algebra, trigonometry, and pre-calculus. I’ve seen what works, and what doesn’t. By the time my students finished 8th grade, they typically scored in the 90th percentile or above on the Stanford Achievement Test.

These results didn’t happen overnight. Over the years, I used a variety of texts, and teaching methods, checking the progress of my students weekly with tests measuring cumulative proficiency with the subject matter, and annually, with the aforementioned Stanford Achievement Test. When progress stalled, or overall results failed to show a high level of proficiency, changes were made. No matter how much I liked a curriculum, if it didn’t produce results, it was gone.

The experience I had in successfully taking students to a high-level of proficiency gives me great confidence when analyzing teaching programs.

In teaching math, what works, year-in and year-out, is a steady, incremental development of math concepts, with an emphasis on memorizing the algorithms that most efficiently lead to the correct answer. Couple this with time spent having students practice what has been learned (i.e., working out problems in class), and you are virtually guaranteed success…regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, or any other factor.

I also know, from experience, what doesn’t work. Lengthy lectures, teaching students multiple ways to solve a problem, having students solve problems in groups, letting students take turns guessing about how they might solve a problem, and having students write out long explanations to justify their reasoning are all methods which fail to deliver results. Unfortunately, some of these failed ideas are what is being pushed on teachers as Common Core is rolled out. At the same time, the methods that guarantee success, memorization, learning the most efficient algorithms, and practice, are being thrown out.

The second reason I can be sure of my prediction is based on the experience the state of New York has already had in the implementation of Common Core. New York got a head start in Common Core teaching techniques when the program began to be implemented during the 2011-2012 school year. During the 2012-2013 school year, all mathematics instruction for grades 3-8 was Common Core aligned.

We have only to look at the results of the program in New York to see where our educational program in California is headed. An Internet search reveals scores of articles and videos denouncing the program. Most students in the state failed to achieve proficiency during the high-stakes testing process. Students have gone from loving, to hating, school. Parents have crowded school board meetings demanding an end to the program. It has even become a major issue in the current race for governor, with most candidates calling for its suspension.

While there is still time to stop the looming disaster that is Common Core in California, I don’t expect that to happen. Those who make policy for the education establishment in our state are running full-tilt toward the Common Core canyon, and there appears to be no brake-man on this runaway train. Those children who remain on board seem doomed to academic failure for the next few years.

Is there any hope? Yes, for some. The only students who will have any chance at avoiding this fiasco are those that are homeschooled (and not through the public school ‘homeschool’ options now popping up across the state), or enrolled in the few private schools that have not bought into the new teaching methods.

Why will homeschoolers and some private school students avoid the problem? Because most of them use curriculums that focus on the very successful methods that I mentioned above. Programs like Saxon Math, and A Beka, which provide repeated practice of standard algorithms remain popular with homeschool families in particular, and for good reason. In a 2009 study commissioned by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), the average homeschool student was found to perform 34 percentage points ahead of his average public school counterpart.

New York recently released half of the questions used for their latest Common Core assessment tests. After reviewing the math questions, and comparing them with the concepts taught in the Saxon math curriculum with which I’m most familiar, I concluded that students who use this or a like curriculum, will not just continue to outperform their counterparts. Their peers, having to wade through the extremely inefficient methods used in the Common Core program, will lose even more ground. Thus, ironically, the gap between homeschooled and public schooled students will actually widen as Common Core, supposedly adopted to ‘save’ American education, moves forward.

Last week I spoke with William Estrada, Esq., Director of Federal Relations at HSLDA regarding my prediction. HSLDA has been an outspoken critic of Common Core. Even so, Estrada confirmed that the position their organization has taken against it is not because the new standards will put homeschooled students at any disadvantage. Referring to various college entry tests, he said, “At this point, it appears that these tests (like the Common Core standards themselves) are being dumbed down, which could actually result in homeschoolers doing even better on these tests.”

As they say, forewarned is forearmed. There’s not much chance that the state education train will change direction. But at least some parents can still get their children off at the next stop. Either way, 2016 will be an exciting election year, as California parents, like their New York counterparts, begin to flood school board meetings and other forums to demand changes and reverse the disaster that is coming with Common Core.

John Crowder

Crowder is the Herald’s local government reporter, and a former private academy administrator and teacher. This commentary was originally posted at educationreformer.org in October, 2014.

 

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7 Comments to “Common Core implementation will prove costly error for California”

  1. […] Common Core Implementation Will Prove Costly Error For California […]

  2. Ze'ev Wurman says:

    I am with Mr. Crowder here. I believe Common Core will be a disaster for California students, and for disadvantaged students in particular. For a detailed California data supporting this argument one may read the (short) white paper here:
    https://americanprinciplesproject.org/app-education/new-white-paper-why-students-need-strong-standards-and-not-common-core/

  3. Georgia Joyce says:

    As a parent of 4 from NY, I cannot agree more. My children are fortunate enough to have gone on to college. Their elementary school was ranked as one of the top schools in NY State. In fact, 3 of them enjoyed learning so much, they want to become teachers.

    I work in schools and have had many discussions with teachers who had been awarded over the years for their excellent teaching skills. They prepared their students to achieve at high levels of proficiency in both math and English. Many of these teachers are now retiring prematurely because they feel they are unable to have continued success under the new Common Core guidelines. Their hands are tied with new regulations.

    Sadly, my own children are now hesitant to become teachers, & are currently considering different professions. When teachers are no longer able to teach to meet a student’s needs, something is terribly wrong. I fear for the future of education in NY at this point. Learn from New York’s mistake, California, & do not accept Common Core.

  4. Lia Bush says:

    I am a parent of two elementary school children, and I am in total agreement with what Mr. Crowder has stated. The issues in New York are well documented, yet districts here in California don’t want to believe the trend that is in front of them.

  5. Tom Robinson says:

    As a homeschool teacher and online STEM curriculum developer, I am glad to say the homeschool community is alive and well and will continue to thrive without the help of the CC guidelines. In order for our children to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to excel in the 21st century, we (parents) must remain in control of their educational choices.

    We all know government schools are not working today and the CC will only cripple them further. Students from overseas coming to this country for their college education likely will be further ahead of the majority of our students in the coming years.

    Hold the line for your most precious children and keep up the pressure against the CC rollout.

  6. Concerned Parent says:

    We need to pay attention to this! It IS a runaway train that education administrators are trying to “sell” even though they admit they really don’t know what it entails. I guess I should no longer expect to see 100% scores on my children’s assessments (what used to be called STAR testing), as administrators expect to see a 70% failure rate on Smarter Balance Assessments (Common Core assessments). This is positive progress? We need to snap out of this blind acceptance and do something to STOP it!

  7. mike W says:

    My child goes to a private school, so I really don’t care what public schools do anymore.

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