Common Core Besieged @ MLA

, Spencer Irvine, 1 Comment

Gerald Graff, a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, presented a defense of Common Core after author and educator Diane Ravitch strongly criticized the federal education curriculum. He quoted Ravitch from one of her previous books, which said that America’s education system “has been good at educating the small minority of students” who have a good start on education. He accused Ravitch of not addressing “the intellectual” component of the Common Core standards. However, he admitted that the education system has done a poor job of helping the “confused” students.

Yet, Graff said that Common Core narrows in on the confused students and claims that its standards should help raise them to the level of the self-starters. “The Common Core standards emphasize much higher level thinking skills” than previous standards, said Graff. Contrary to what Ravitch said about demoralized teachers, Graff pointed out that in his personal experience, “I just don’t see the massive demoralization of teachers” and instead see “a great sense of excitement.” He did agree that “these standards should be used flexibly and not punitively,” but that the education system has to “do a better job” of raising all students to a basic level. “We need to help all students meet these standards,” said Graff.

Graff disagreed with “neoconservatives and conservatives” who said that liberals “are too lazy to clean their own house” in the education sector.

The last panelist, Catharine Roslyn Stimpson of New York University, said that all educators “believe in affordability,” but “accountability is being reduced for more bang for the buck.” She observed that the “higher education scene is being feckless about cost” and that “productivity, efficiency and national competitiveness in the market” has replaced language and humanities studies. She said that what is lost in this shift is “local knowledge infused with local and regional knowledge,” which then becomes “national expertise, which is held by government policymakers and foundations.”

Stimpson said that “we should all read government documents” and look to the Obama administration for “educating our way.” She felt that “we all want our economy to grow” and that liberals should avoid being lumped in with the anti-growth crowd and the feeling that liberals “don’t want people to have good jobs. She believed that the 5 million-college graduate goal is ambitious and said that today, community colleges “are being turned into training centers.” Stimpson pointed out that the government is predicting, even declaring what the “high-growth demand areas” are for jobs and criticized government statistics like completion rates, whether they are 6-year graduation rates or 8 or 10 years. The college scorecard system, put into place by Obama, was not warmly received by Stimpson because it will skew average earnings at certain colleges whose graduates work in non-profit or education sectors. As a result, “you’ll look like a slacker in the global economy.”

She warned, “There is going to be a push on the accrediting agencies to make sure that accreditation depends on your incorporation of online learning, including MOOCs.”

Ravitch said, “There are a lot of people in the hedge fund industry” who are itching to get into private education. She blamed “a broken society” for public education failures and said “we’ve had more income inequality.” Ravitch added that she felt “we’re back to the age of the robber barons,” especially when during post-recession “most of the income went to the top 10%.”

Ravitch said, “It’s a great distraction” to focus on “outsourcing jobs” and “how bad our teachers are.” She was upset that “earnest, hard-working teachers are about to be fired” or that “30% of teachers are preparing to quit (according to a survey by MetLife).” She pointed out “most teachers are teachers because they love teaching” and politicians are wrong if they think that “if they’ll offer bonuses then they’ll do better.” She said she doubts that “teachers are hiding their best lesson plans for a bonus. She said the school choice efforts in Indiana, Louisiana and North Carolina are “horrible stories” of “pitiful bonuses” and short-term contracts for teachers. And, she blamed No Child Left Behind for raising generations of bad teaching and methods, saying that “We cannot stop doing what’s right until we stop what we’re doing wrong.”

She praised California as “a blessed state” and applauded the efforts of Jerry Brown, who will not approve the use of Common Core in the state. She said, “The sun shines all the time in California” and that it was the only state not to have standardized tests the past year. Ravitch criticized longtime teachers’ union target Michelle Rhee for overusing the word “proficient” in her analyses and reforms. She said that context matters in learning, and was severely disappointed when students read the Gettysburg Address without knowing who Abraham Lincoln was.