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Julia Steiny: If the CCSS Are Not Our Common Vision, What Is?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


To my chagrin, people whom I respect took my column of last week out to the woodshed for a thrashing. I'd conflated those objecting to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) into a single not very nice cohort of "Chicken Littles."

Actually, the voices protesting CCSS fall into two very different groups. Last week I took on the group whose objections are largely prompted by resisting change, by being asked to work towards aligning curricula to new standards, or by the need to sling the word "socialism" around whenever peeved. (Aren't public highways, colleges and fire protection socialistic?) So I got that off my chest.

The other group, however, has much more legitimate concerns about a wide range of issues. I don't agree with all of their objections either, but this group includes thoughtful people who are concerned for the kids and not merely whining. To them I apologize.

However, my intention was and still is to assert is that we'll never get anywhere if we don't know where we're going. We need common goals and objectives, at least in part to protect students from being pawns in our adult battles. The CCSS are the goals currently on the table. If they're not good enough, what are? Propose a positive alternative before just saying no.

For example, I've long admired the 2008 Educational Goals for Young Australians , over-arching statements of purpose that guide the education decision-making in that country. Australia has no national tests nor curriculum, so each of that country's six provinces meets the goals however they see fit, which is how it's supposed to work with the CCSS. According to international tests, Aussie kids do very well.

I envy a culture that has these aspirations for their young people:

Goal 1: Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence

Goal 2: All young Australians become:

– successful learners

– confident and creative individuals

– active and informed citizens

Achieving these educational goals is the collective responsibility of governments, school sectors and individual schools as well as parents and carers, young Australians, families, other education and training providers, business and the broader community.

Since we're good, practical Americans, the CCSS goals focus on ramping up skills and knowledge. The mission statement concludes: "With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy." It's not as loving as I would like, but it is a vision for all U.S. children, and not just some.

The irony is that last week I felt some urgency first to support the considerable work that went into creating the CCSS common vision, precisely so I could address the specific problems that I am also finding in the standards.

Yes, I should have realized last week that I am far from alone.

To date, the most commonly-expressed complaint is that the attention given to classical literature is radically reduced in the English Standards. I adore Dickens and the rest. I hate watching the Western-Civilization canon all but disappear in the face of political correctness and the challenges of teaching plugged-in students. But no one is dictating how the districts meet the standards. The CCSS are specifically designed to bolster critical thinking more than memorization. If educators are serious about critical thinking, they'd be hard pressed to find anything more intellectually challenging than great literature, drama and poetry. It's particularly weird that the CCSS emphases non-fiction reading, in English, while seeming to forget entirely about science and history, subjects populated only by non-fiction. Surely districts would straighten that out.

The test creators seem full-on incompetent.

But while the CCSS soft launch of three years ago was unencumbered by the reality of implementation, now rubber is meeting the road. The abstractions typical of educational standards are now becoming more concrete in the actual curricula and tests. Sadly, the CCSS vision does not seem to be delivering educators' best work.

The recent CCSS-aligned pilot tests in New York state were a disaster. They seem to have been written by people who hadn't the foggiest idea as to what is developmentally appropriate for a kid to know. The questions were wildly confusing. Find a teacher's comments and a copy of the test here.

With the implementation of the standards getting botched here and there, one by one, states are pulling out of the testing programs. That's fine. Delay the tests. Big relief.

In fact, now that the standards have finally caught the public's attention, we have an opportunity to focus on what we're trying to accomplish. The public needs to weigh in. What's the vision? Personally, I believe the CCSS is a strong enough draft, it can be honed to help children become truly successful.

But if not, we could just adopt the work of the Australians who at least give a poop about their kids' confidence and creativity, as well as excellent schooling.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at EducationNews.org . She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building demonstration projects in Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.

Related Slideshow:
RI 4 Year Colleges & Universities with the Highest Student Debt

Seven in 10 college seniors (71%) who graduated last year had student loan debt, with an average of $29,400 per borrower, according to a new report released by the Institute for College Access and Success. According to the Institute’s Project on Student Debt, Rhode Island has the fifth highest student debt in the country, but what about the state's individual institutions? Check out the slides below to see the average debt graduates accrued at Rhode Island colleges and universities.

Note: All data is based on four-year or above institutions for students graduating in the 2011-2012 academic year. Johnson and Wales University and the Rhode Island School of Design are not included in the data below, because they did not report the average debt of their graduates.

Prev Next

#7 Rhode Island College

Average Student Debt: $23,110

Percent of Graduates with Debt: 79%

Non-Federal Debt, Percent of Total Debt of Graduates: 11%

Bachelor's Degree Recipients: 1,307

Full-time Enrollment Fall 2011: 5,794

In-State Tuition and Fees: $7,268

Total Cost of Attendance: $18,964

Percent Pell Grant Recipients: 36%

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#6 Brown University

Average Student Debt: $23,521

Percent of Graduates with Debt: 37%

Non-Federal Debt, Percent of Total Debt of Graduates: 45%

Bachelor's Degree Recipients: 1,603

Full-time Enrollment Fall 2011: 6,114

In-State Tuition and Fees: $42, 230

Total Cost of Attendance: $56,150

Percent Pell Grant Recipients: 14%

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#5 Providence College

Average Student Debt: $26,832

Percent of Graduates with Debt: 70%

Non-Federal Debt, Percent of Total Debt of Graduates: 21%

Bachelor's Degree Recipients: 914

Full-time Enrollment Fall 2011: 3,804

In-State Tuition and Fees: $40,975

Total Cost of Attendance: $54,840

Percent Pell Grant Recipients: 16%

Prev Next

#4 Univ. of Rhode Island

Average Student Debt: $30,387

Percent of Graduates with Debt: 77%

Non-Federal Debt, Percent of Total Debt of Graduates: 31%

Bachelor's Degree Recipients: 2,614

Full-time Enrollment Fall 2011: 11,672

In-State Tuition and Fees: $11,366

Total Cost of Attendance: $25,311

Percent Pell Grant Recipients: 24%

Prev Next

#3 Roger Williams Univ.

Average Student Debt: $38,550

Percent of Graduates with Debt: 66%

Non-Federal Debt, Percent of Total Debt of Graduates: 39%

Bachelor's Degree Recipients: 872

Full-time Enrollment Fall 2011: 3,834

In-State Tuition and Fees: $30,908

Total Cost of Attendance: $47,568

Percent Pell Grant Recipients: N/A

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#2 Salve Regina Univ.

Average Student Debt: $39,996

Percent of Graduates with Debt: 80%

Non-Federal Debt, Percent of Total Debt of Graduates: 33%

Bachelor's Degree Recipients: 436

Full-time Enrollment Fall 2011: 1,904

In-State Tuition and Fees: $32,800

Total Cost of Attendance: $47,100

Percent Pell Grant Recipients: 24%

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#1 Bryant University

Average Student Debt: $44,580

Percent of Graduates with Debt: 88%

Non-Federal Debt, Percent of Total Debt of Graduates: 53%

Bachelor's Degree Recipients: 831

Full-time Enrollment Fall 2011: 3,211

In-State Tuition and Fees: $34,624

Total Cost of Attendance: $50,153

Percent Pell Grant Recipients: 17%


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John Onamas

Common Core in general is a good idea. It standardizes education nation-wide, establishing equal opportunity to a quality education as a goal and a mandate. But I have two problems with it that I'm not sure are correctable:

1. It teaches to the middle--in other words, the kids who fit into a large portion of the bell curve. It doesn't do much for kids on the edges of the bell curve with special educational needs--kids who tend to excel in school, and kids with educational disabilities. It also fails to address the needs of kids who might be brilliant, but in non-traditional ways, such as thinking creatively. Common Core does not address the needs of these kids, short of isolating them from the kids on the big part of the curve.

2. The testing. While the objective of common core is not necessarily passing high stakes tests, that's ultimately what it boils down to. There does need to be some method for evaluating the effectiveness of Common Core and of teachers' ability to teach it. These sorts of tests are appropriate. But when it comes down to a single test that a student must pass to graduate, the program is a failure. As I've already stated, not all kids fit into the big middle of the bell curve. Also, we're asking kids to prove their effectiveness of this curriculum by wagering their future.

Johnny cakes

"Most visitors to Finland discover elegant school buildings filled with calm children and highly educated teachers. They also recognize the large autonomy that schools enjoy, little interference by the central education administration in schools’ everyday lives, systematic methods to address problems in the lives of students, and targeted professional help for those in need."

“Finland has shifted from a highly centralized system emphasizing external testing to a more localized system in which highly trained teachers design curriculum around the very lean national standards.”

"The Finns have worked systematically over 35 years to make sure that competent professionals who can craft the best learning conditions for all students are in all schools, rather than thinking that standardized instruction and related testing can be brought in at the last minute to improve student learning and turn around failing schools."

“In a Finnish classroom, it is rare to see a teacher standing at the front of a classroom lecturing students for 50 minutes. Instead, students are likely to determine their own weekly targets with their teachers in specific subject areas and choose the tasks they will work on at their own pace.” http://www.nea.org/home/40991.htm

This is child-centered education.

On any given day, 80 thousand prisoners are in solitary confinement, with about 2.4 million incarcerated. Many have been in solitary for years, even decades. They have created these SHUs, like Pelican Bay, for those who can’t adjust to the degradation and inhumanity.
The brutish and sick minds that design our prisons and wage wars on those who have done nothing to us, have now decided to reform our schools. They train like-minded people, opportunists and immoral people who psyches have been throughly colonized, to sell these “reforms” to us as being in the best interests of “the children.” Just as drones are in the best interests of the children of Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, etc.

If what we are doing isn’t working, do even more of the same. Hammer that square peg into that round hole until it fits. Medicate, discipline or expel those children who can’t adjust, and tell them its for their own good. There is obviously something wrong with a kid who can’t sit still for six hours a day - soon to be increased - while being forced-fed like the prisoners at Guantanamo.

Longer school days, more homework, more testing (so you internalize your place in the pecking order), more memorization of useless nonsense - that they won’t remember, less time for socialization and play (how children learn), more regimentation and thoughtless obedience to authority……… and the list goes on and on.

This is an exploiters and oppressors vision of school “reform.”

Johnny cakes

Should read: This is an exploiter’s and oppressor’s vision of school “reform."

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