A rose by any other name …

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/08/01/a-rose-by-any-other-name/

In the 19th century, cattle rustlers rebranded cattle to hide the fact that certain cows actually belonged to someone else. Today “rebranding” is a widely used marketing strategy in which a new name or logo design is created for an established product in order to create a better image of the product in the minds of consumers. It is usually an attempt to fool the public into thinking that something old is actually something new or different.

“Rebranding” is exactly how state departments and boards of education are dealing with Common Core in the face of strong parent and teacher opposition to the federally backed standards. By changing the names of the standards or tests that measure such standards, but keeping the standards aligned with Common Core, policymakers have duped many unsuspecting stakeholders into believing their concerns have been addressed. They have not.

Massachusetts is only one of many states to change the name of its federal/state-mandated test (to MCAS 2.0 — to try to make parents think it is like the MCAS they once knew). Tellingly, Massachusetts didn’t even bother to drop its membership in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) because it has no intention of unaligning the test from Common Core, and it is sure that the title “MCAS 2.0” will keep the media in a state of bewilderment.

The Bay State is far from the only state that has pretended to get rid of a state test based on Common Core’s standards. Many states have dropped their membership in a Common Core-based testing consortium (PARCC or SBAC) but adopted another test also aligned to Common Core’s standards (e.g., ACT’s Aspire, SAT, or ACT). In a new twist, ACT officials pretend it is aligned to its own version of college readiness standards but won’t tell anyone how these standards differ from Common Core’s.

While these convoluted political strategies do not ultimately fool the public, especially the kids taking the tests, they usually fool the media because most reporters can’t tell the difference between academically strong standards and Common Core’s standards and don’t seem to know what to point to when standards are renamed in order to show readers that the skunk is still in the garden (or at the party) but with another name. Like parrots, the media repeat the talking points they are given by public officials as if they deserved to be believed. If public officials claim that the rebranded standards are a revised set of standards that gave “stakeholders” a buy-in, reporters don’t question the talking point or examine the standards to see for themselves if what is in the garden or at the party still smells like what had been there. Admittedly, it’s getting harder for them to tell.

The latest evolution of the rebranding strategy has gone far beyond a slight alteration of Common Core’s standards (e.g., removing examples in parentheses — as Pennsylvania’s state department of education staff did in order to proclaim the birth of its Academic Standards) or drenching Common Core’s standards in a sea of mostly unassessable statements — as South Carolina’s state department of education staff did in the English language arts (ELA) — to make Common Core’s less salient in the face of state legislation against them). Rebranding now encompasses the development of standards that seem to bear little surface resemblance to Common Core’s (they use different organizing strands). They are what I call Common Core-compliant standards because they are easily usable for a Common Core-aligned test like the revised SAT or ACT, or ACT’s Aspire tests.

That is what Oklahoma’s department of education came up with in ELA (in the face of state legislation banning Common Core’s standards), and the direction in which the state affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of English in Texas (Texas Council of Teachers of the English Language Arts or TCTELA), with the assistance of a handful of other professional education organizations in the state, has been trying to mold drafts of the state’s revised ELA standards (also in the face of state legislation banning Common Core’s standards). New York and Massachusetts are in the process, so they claim, of revising their Common Core standards in ELA and mathematics with selected committees, but it is not clear yet what variation of the rebranding strategy the new standards will reflect.

Rebranding Common Core standards has proved so successful in fooling the media that state departments of education have begun to apply the strategy to the science standards packaged as Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and aligned to Common Core’s. The mechanism Wyoming’s department of education used for rebranding these dumb-downed science standards had been successfully used in many states (e.g., North Dakota, Indiana, and Oklahoma) for ensuring rebranded Common Core’s ELA standards — a handpicked committee of mostly K-12 teachers and administrators who knew that they could not add any national, state, or local literary/historical specifics if they were to avoid producing a politically incorrect ELA product. (An online review of each standard has been the other most often used mechanism by state department of education staff, as in Florida, West Virginia, and New Jersey. To pretend “rigor” had been added, Florida and West Virginia staff even added calculus standards after the review, but made sure there were no pre-calculus standards that could get students to calculus.)

In the summer of 2015, Wyoming’s department of education convened a committee to evaluate NGSS. The committee changed the name of NGSS to “2016 Wyoming Science Content and Performance Standards” after changing some wording and adding 12 “Wyoming/Regional Examples” to existing NGSS “Benchmarks, Clarification Statements and Assessment Boundaries.” For example, for a grade 3 life science standard: “Construct an argument that some animals form groups that help members survives” (3-LS2-1/Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics), the committee added as a “State Assessment Boundary”: “Use Wyoming animals as examples.”

No Wyoming-specific changes were made to the benchmarks (or standards) themselves, according to Jim Nations, a former NASA educator living in Wyoming who reviewed the NGSS on his own and considers them junk science. His harsh judgment echoes the critical statements made earlier by scientists reviewing NGSS — the only published review of NGSS, it seems, by scientists.

Not to be outdone by its neighbor, Montana seems to be following in Wyoming’s path. Although the state’s director of “content standards and instruction” is quoted as gushing: “They are truly Montana’s science standards,” reporters did note that the standards “bear a striking resemblance to Next Generation Science Standards.” Nevertheless, the proposed standards were approved by the state’s board of education and “endorsed by many education and industry groups, including ExxonMobil,” and praised for being “more rigorous and encouraging more critical thinking.” As in Wyoming, there was no mention of approval by the state’s own scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.

Parents in every state need to petition their state legislators to get an independent appraisal of their state’s standards and tests in science, English language arts, and mathematics. From whom? From the only people who can give them an informed analysis: the faculty who teach these subjects at their own public colleges and universities. Only then can stakeholders be sure that the standards by which their children are measured are high quality standards and not the same faulty Common Core standards that they oppose.

Sandra Stotsky

Sandra Stotsky

Sandra Stotsky, former Senior Associate Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education, is Professor of Education emerita at the University of Arkansas. Read her past columns here.