Tag Archives: University of California

Common Core Standards: Round 2 Results and Critique

The finalists from round two of the Race to the Top Program, an initiative sponsored by the federal government to reward states for educational reform under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, were announced yesterday.

Of the 35 states and D.C. that applied for the second round, 18 and D.C. were chosen:

• Arizona
• California
• District of Columbia
• Florida
• Georgia
• Hawaii
• Illinois
• Kentucky
• Louisiana
• Maryland
• Massachusetts
• New Jersey
• New York
• North Carolina
• Ohio
• Pennsylvania
• Rhode Island
• South Carolina

Finalists will present their plans to reviewers in Washington in early August, with winners announced in September. Not all finalists will receive grants.

Meanwhile the NYTimes in its Room for Debate feature, had panelists consider the question “Will National Standard Improve Education?” Here’s a summary of comments by invited contributors:

• Sandra Stotsky, professor at University of Arkansas in the field of education reform suggests that, contrary to the hopes of those who created them, the Common Core standards are likely to result in uniform mediocrity. Stotsky claims that the way the Common Core is structured may reverse the trend of increased numbers of students completing Algebra I by 8th grade, an accomplishment that enables greater achievement in both math and science in high school. She also critiques the Common Core “college readiness” standards as not being adequate for college-level work.

• Richard D. Kahlenberg, a Century Foundation senior fellow, points out that in the past, conservative desire for local control and liberal opposition to the testing programs linked with strong standards has prevented a move such as the current Common Core. He notes (without criticism), that it is the state’s impoverished budgets that has lead to the consensus.

Neal P. McCluskey, Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom associate director, remarks that having national standards does not change the underlying situation that public schooling is a monopoly and that those within the system have a strong motivation to have as little accountability as possible. He suggests that parents, rather than the government, should control educational spending and autonomous educational options, rather than the government, provide the choices, and states that research shows that free-market education performs better than monopolies, while there is no “meaningful” evidence that having national standards improves educational outcomes.

Michael Goldstein, MATCH Charter Public School’s founder, says that while he doesn’t think the curriculum will help his school in Boston, Massachusetts (Massachusetts has been touted for its high-quality standards), the Common Core standards are potentially beneficial for “millions of at-risk children” because it will allow successful schools and teachers to share seamlessly with other schools without different state curriculums getting in the way.

Alfie Kohn, an author in the field of education and human behavior claims that the most dedicated proponents of national education initiatives such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind “tend to be those who know the least about how kids learn.” He points out that uniform instruction offers only an illusion of fairness. What he seems to be arguing, although he does not say so explicitly, is that an excellent education for Child A, who may have the capacity to do college level calculus while still in high school may not be the same excellent education that would suit Child B, who has the capacity to become an internationally acclaimed oboist, or Child C, who has the capacity to repair the family car at age 14. What the Common Core standards say, according to Kohn, is that these children should be offered the same instructional demands. What Kohn seems to be advocating is an equally excellent education for each student.

Bruce Fuller, and University of California, Berkeley professor of education and public policy points out that when standards-based accountability was first introduced, gains were seen, especially in students who had weak literacy skills, but worries that the approach to education called “liberal” (not to be confused with the political persuasion)—which he characterizes as nurturing curiosity and the ability to question the status quo—will be lost in the attempt of the standards to make learning fit into uniform modules.



Staying on the Technology Donkey

After a weekend of articles attacking the excesses of technology and implicit urgings that it should be abandoned, Monday brought a bit more sanity to the discussion. The New York Times, on Monday, ran a new edition of its “Room for Debate” series, “First Steps to Digital Detox,” in which —in this case — a group of academics and authors (including, btw, Nicholas Carr, who wrote the article in the Wall Street Journal cited in Monday’s blog post)—answer questions about strategies for unplugging and whether multitasking can go too far.

And, in this forum, the discussion becomes a bit more nuanced, in most cases. Suggestions tend toward controlling one’s use of the tools, not throwing the tools out or damning them as inherently damaging, but necessary evils.

In this debate, Carr’s advice is threefold: turn off devices from time to time; check email less often; spend time each day in pursuits like reading, engaging in a hobby, or conversation.

Gary W. Small, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA (please see full credentials for Small and others in the article), recommends making an effort to focus on one task at a time and take regular breaks.

Steven Yantis, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins, differentiates between true multitasking and switching, which is what is really occurring in most cases, and discusses the meaning of “switch cost,” the cognitive price we pay for changing our focus.

Russell A. Poldrack, professor of psychology and neurobiology at UT, Austin, points out that people often are mistaken in assessing their own multitasking abilities, and recommends practices such as yoga and meditation to improve focus.

Timothy B. Lee, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, points out that lamenting the effects of new technology is neither new nor as insidious as the Richtel article suggested. He points out the increased ability to stay in touch with his spouse when they are separated, nurture long-distance friendships, and making new friends, and concludes that time spent on line is not always damaging to family life and may, in fact, be more important in some moments than the work of the moment on the desk in front of us.

Clifford Nass, professor of communications and cognitive science at Stanford, urges making a distinction between multitasking to seek new, interesting information or to avoid current, boring tasks, in which case, he suggests a real world break of walking or stretching and then getting on with it.

FInally, Gloria Mark, professor of informatics and UC, Irvine, points out that surfing websites, Facebook, and Twitter provides rewards at random intervals, and this kind of reinforcement is, she says, the most difficult to turn away from. She also points out that workplaces are often set up with an expectation of multitasking—whether to answer one’s coworker’s question, and the client call, etc., and when the need to check email, IMs, and phone calls is required to keep up with one’s jobs requirements, it may be quite difficult to step away.

But these are just summaries, and I encourage you to read the whole debate to get a better feel for what’s involved in the topic.