New York: The Common Core Blank Slate State

“Ignorance is an abyss.”  Anonymous

 The scores for Common Core in New York State are in and the results indicate that Common Core is an abject failure.  The New York Times reported on the results, which came in yesterday.  The Newspaper of Record took some five paragraphs to get to the bad news, apologizing for the failure by stating that Common Core is new, that the teachers haven’t had time to truly prepare for it, that they haven’t had enough experience teaching it, and that the tests are harder because they require writing rather than multiple choice questions.

 According to the New York Times:

 “Over the last decade or so, most states deceived the public about the dismal quality of public schools by adopting pathetically weak learning standards that made children appear better prepared than they actually were. Not surprisingly, when states like Kentucky dropped the charade and embraced more challenging standards, scores dropped precipitously.

 “That same scenario is playing out in New York State, which, this week, released the first round of scores from tests linked to the ‘rigorous Common Core learning standards, which have been adopted by all but a handful of states.

At this point there were two more paragraphs trying to explain the poor results.  But here they are:

 “The data show that about 31 percent of the state’s students in third through eighth grades met or exceeded the proficiency standard in language arts. That is down from about 55 percent in 2012 and 77 percent in 2009, when the state tests were ‘easier’.”

 Scores were down 24 percent from 2012 and 46 percent from 2009.

 “Teachers in New York are just becoming familiar with instructional methods necessary for teaching more complex skills,” the New York Times explains.  “Given that reality and a challenging exam, the scores were expected to decline. Still, the test results show how far the state has to go to prepare children for jobs in the new global economy.

 “The Common Core standards are aimed at helping children acquire sophisticated reasoning skills. The goal is to move the schools away from rote learning — and those weak, multiple choice bubble tests — to a writing-intensive curriculum that emphasizes problem-solving skills. Since the new tests require different and stronger skills than the old ones, the state has discouraged direct comparisons of results from the two.

The official report on Wednesday left parents unsettled, and principals and teachers facing new challenges to a national effort to toughen academic standards.

“In New  York City, 26 percent of students in third through eighth grade passed the tests in English, and 30 percent passed in math, according to the New York State Education Department.

“The exams were some of the first in the nation to be aligned with a more rigorous set of standards known as the Common Core, which emphasize deep analysis and creative problem-solving over short answers and memorization. Last year, under an easier test, 47 percent of city students passed in English, and 60 percent in math.

“Chrystina Russell, principal of Global Technology Preparatory in East Harlem, said she did not know what she would tell parents, who will receive scores for their children in late August. At her middle school, which serves a large population of students from poor families, 7 percent of students were rated proficient in English, and 10 percent in Math. Last year, those numbers were 33 percent and 46 percent, respectively.

 “The Common Core standards have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Although not technically national standards, they are ardently backed by the Obama  administration [Obama, speaking on the Tonight Show apparently was misinformed about the location of Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, S.C., believing they are Gulf Coast state ports; they are Atlantic Seaboard ports] and education officials who contend that outdated and inconsistent guidelines leave students ill-prepared for college and the work force. New York was one of the first states to develop tests based on the standards. Kentucky, the first state to do so, also reported plummeting scores.

“But striking gaps in achievement between black and Hispanic students and their counterparts persisted. In math, 15 percent of black students and 19 percent of Hispanic students passed the exam, compared with 50 percent of white students and 61 percent of Asian students.”

When all else fails and you can’t find another scapegoat, racism is always a handy argument.

Written exams are more difficult, especially for third graders who don’t know anything yet.  That’s why they’re expected to memorize their multiplication tables, learn to read through phonics, and remember that George Washington crossed the Delaware, Benjamin Franklin discovered how to transmit electrical current by flying a kite in a thunderstorm, and that John Hancock had the biggest signature on the Declaration of Independence.

 Little by little, we give our children building blocks of knowledge about literature, math, science, and history.  That’s why we read books like The Cat in the Hat, Winnie the Pooh, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the Wizard of Oz, Cinderella and Thomas the Tank Engine to them.  We sit down with them and teach them to count to ten, then 20, then 100, and teach them what those values mean.

We teach them about frogs and turtles, and lions and tigers and bears (oh my!).  We teach them why the sky is blue, why it rains, why rainbows sometimes appear after big thunderstorms.  We teach them about thunder and lightning, and the four seasons, and the 12 months of the calendar. 

We teach them the functional stuff, too, like how to tie their shoes.  But the cultural information is what’s going to make a difference to them.  We teach them briefly about the history of America and of the world, so they know who George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were.  We give them enough information so that if they have to write a short paragraph about our first president, their little minds don’t go blank staring at a blank piece of paper.  Instead, they think, “Oh yeah!  I remember about him:  He was the first president of the United States, he led the American Revolution, and he never told a lie, even when he chopped down the cherry tree.”  He didn’t really, but it was something naughty that children could relate to and find absolution in Washington’s honesty.

E.D. Hirsch, Jr., wrote a book, Cultural Literacy:  What Every American Needs to Know.”  Published in the now-long ago year of 1987, Hirsch and his researchers argued that without assimilation into one general culture, students would not gain the knowledge they needed to take that next step.  The memory, at the least the short-term memory, works in bursts of six-second intervals.  That’s how long a typical student has to memorize something before the human RAM runs out of memory.  That’s how long the brain has to get those pieces of information into long-term storage.

Common Core wants to do away with boring, repetitious, rote-memorization altogether.  Now students will be required to ‘think for themselves,’ write about what they know and more importantly, what they feel.   Only they don’t know anything.  The only thing they know is their own experiences and that just isn’t worth very much to the real world.

Our knowledge of science and mathematics is particularly shallow.  At the back of Cultural Literacy is an exhaustive list of cultural information about literature, geography, history, science, mathematics, religion and politics, Americans should know.  Test yourselves:

 Where is Budapest?

Who was Buddha

Who was Natty Bumppo?

Who was Paul Bunyan?

Who was Caligula?

What is a capacitor?

What is a cardinal number?

What is meant by “casuistry”?

What is meant by “cast pearls before swine”?

Who was Cato?

Where is Beale Street?

What is beta radiation?

What is an auricle?

What is an auxiliary verb?

What was the Bakke case?

“Better safe than sorry” is an example of what kind of saying?

What is a bear market and how did it get that name?

What is the bell curve?

Natty Bumppo was a figure in James Fennimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales (You’d think New York State students would know that, since this area between the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains is in their state).  He also went by the names of “Hawkeye,” “The Pathfinder,” “The Trapper,” and “The Deerslayer,” inspired by the real-life Daniel Boone, and cut a pretty dashing figure in the film, The Last of the Mohicans.  The Bakke case was a challenge to Affirmative Action in 1978.  Budapest is in Hungary.  Originally a Celtic settlement called Aquincum, it became the Roman capital of Lower Pannonia. The Huns arrived in the territory in the 9th century. Their first settlement was pillaged by the Mongols in 1241–42.  The re-established town became one of the centers of Renaissance humanist culture in the 15th century.  A capacitor is an electronic circuit device for temporary storage of electrical energy.  An auricle is an atrium of the heart.  A cardinal number is a number used in simple counting, as opposed to an ordinal number that designates the place of an item in an ordered sequence.

“Casuistry” means specious or excessively subtle reasoning intended to rationalize or mislead, and pretty much applies to the advocates of Common Core.  Beale Street is the main drag in Memphis, Tenn.  Caligula was a Roman tyrant.  Cato the Elder was a Greek philosopher and statesman known as “The Censor.”   Cato the Younger was an opponent of Julius Caesar known for his integrity.

An auxiliary verb is used to add functional or grammatical meaning to the clause in which it appears – for example, to express tense, aspect (how a verb relates to the flow of time), modality, voice, or emphasis, etc. Auxiliary verbs usually accompany a main verb, the main verb providing the main semantic content of the clause in which it appears.  An example is the verb have in the sentence I have finished my dinner – here the main verb is finish, and the auxiliary have helps to express the perfect aspect. Some sentences contain a chain of two or more auxiliary verbs. Auxiliary verbs are also called helping verbs, helper verbs, or (verbal) auxiliaries.

To cast pearls before swine is to give something valuable to someone who is unworthy.  Paul Bunyan was a mythical gigantic lumberman of the North Woods.  A bear market is when the stock market is down.  It is so called because bears use a downward swipe of their giant paws to capture prey, whereas a bull uses an upward thrust of his horns.

Gautama Buddha was an Indian sage or wise man from the Himalayas, born in 563 B.C., who taught a Middle Way between sensual indulgence and the severe asceticism found in the Sramana (renunciation) movement common in his region.  He taught that through the seeking of the Four Truths,  a state of supreme liberation, or Nirvana, is believed to be possible for any being. The Buddha described Nirvāna as the perfect peace of a mind that’s free from ignorance, greed, hatred and other afflictive states, or “defilements”. Nirvana is also regarded as the “end of the world,” in that no personal identity or boundaries of the mind remain. In such a state, a being is said to possess the Ten Characteristics belonging to every Buddha.

The bell curve is a grading curve by which teachers analyze classroom performance.  According to the bell curve, there should be a few students on the failing size, the same number who meet all expectations, and large group of average students in the middle.  If the line doesn’t curve, then it is assumed that the curriculum is either too difficult or too easy.

Beta radiation is one of three types of radiation (alpha, beta and gamma).  Beta radiation is ionizing radiation resulting from the decay of radioisotopes where a beta particle is emitted. This radiation is denoted by the Greek letter β.  Beta radiation is radiation due to beta particles, which are electrons (or, sometimes, positrons); mostly, when you come across the words ‘beta radiation’, what is meant is what is produced by beta decay (radioactive decay which produces beta particles … either electrons or positrons).  Beta radiation is in between alpha and gamma in terms of its penetrating power; typically it goes a meter or so in air. Like all kinds of radioactive decay, beta decay occurs because the final state of the nucleus (the one decaying) has a lower energy than the initial one (the difference is the energy of the emitted beta particle and neutrino).  Still don’t understand? That’s okay.  It’s the type of radiation that is thought to cause melanomas.

Finally, “better safe than sorry” is an axiom, or saying that we would do well to cram into our long-term memory because Common Core is a dangerous educational system that will rob our children of all cultural knowledge, unanchor them from a stable culture, increase the sense of division that is tearing our culture apart, and create Rush Limbaugh’s long-touted “mind-numbed robots.”







Published in: on August 8, 2013 at 1:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

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