Monday, March 18, 2013

Understanding Common Core

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has launched a web page to help parents understand the Common Core standards that are supposed to transform education across the country.

That's good, because I'm having trouble getting my head around it.

I know the standards are supposed to make sure students across the country get more rigorous lessons, with a testing system that allows for good comparisons from state to state and country to country. I know there are a whole lot of new tests coming to North Carolina,  starting this spring,  and that we're likely to see some pretty grim results the first time out.

But I haven't yet had that moment where the light bulb flashes over my head and I say, "OK, now I get it!"  I thought last week's school board report might flip the switch. Nope.

My confusion comes partly from the fact that curriculum is not the kind of thing that's easy to translate into newspaper writing.  Another big issue is that the answer to a whole lot of questions seems to be  "We don't know yet."

I know North Carolina is among 24 states working with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to create new online English and math tests based on Common Core standards, and that some CMS classrooms will pilot those exams this spring.  Other states are working with a group called PARCC to do the same.  Superintendent Heath Morrison said last week that there has been talk of 10-hour tests,  based on an estimate by PARCC,  but no one seems to know how solid that is or exactly what it will mean for local students, teachers and schools.

The good news is that CMS leaders seem to want to explain this as much as I want to understand it.  I'm meeting with them later this week.  Here's how you can help:  Readers with close ties to schools  often know the key questions and issues before I do.  So let me know what you're hearing, wondering and worrying about.

For instance,  a reader shared this example of what's supposed to be a state-issued bubble sheet for this year's exams,  illustrating the difficulty of bubbling in open-ended math answers  (the top row is correct,  the bottom row wrong). Board member Tom Tate asked last week about how CMS plans to deal with potential confusion on answer sheets.  That's exactly the kind of thing we all need to understand.


Anonymous said...

After sitting in the summer Common Core rollout sessions and watching 7/8 of the teachers play with their smart phones during the presentations, attending the mandatory follow-ups and make-work sessions, one wonders if the charters and LIFT will be doing this amount of CYA.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Mr. David Coleman. Many degrees tend to muddle common sense or how can I profit from even more educational obfuscation.

Anonymous said...

The CCSS are a product of the corporate reform movement. They will only lead to more testing which is a multi-billion dollar industry that has a huge lobbying presence in Washington. The testing companies made a huge push for this because they can save money by creating one test for the 46 participating states instead of multiple versions. David Coleman, a non-educator, is considered the architect of the Common Core and now heads ETS which means the SAT will be aligned with CCSS. This means he and his company will even benefit from private school families seeking to escape test-heavy public schools. States are forced to comply in order receive RttT funding. Common Core will help students from stable backgrounds but low poverty students will continue to fall behind.

BolynMcClung said...

BYTE FLIGHT….an ugly by-product of Common Core

CMS is ready to teach with Common Core. It isn't ready to use it online.

CIO Valerie Truesdale says the connectivity of CMS to Internet is 39% ready and will be 100% in August. If that means 100% the students will be able to logon and stay connected then we'll have a lot to be proud of.

But if CMS limps into 2013-2014 with some students able to connect and others not, then we will begin experiencing BYTE FLIGHT.

Byte Flight will be the last link in the chain of White Flight, Bright Flight, Byte Flight.

Byte Flight is when families of all incomes believe a school system is not committed to funding classroom technology. And, they'll believe this poverty of funds will cause the School Board to begin to select winners and losers among students. This can't happen. We can not let a shortage of technology become the replacement for that old saw of "no textbooks in the first month of classes." It can't happen.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Ask Dianne Ravitch about Common Core on Wednesday at UNCC. Connectivity has multiple meanings. Wi-fi maybe in August. Suitable equipment and labs to test 1000 to 3000 students for multiple hours of testing is another quagmire to consider. Add BYOT to this and watch the fun begin.

Anonymous said...

Would it be easier to provide equal connectivity for all schools if we were dealing with smaller school districts?

Anonymous said...

When is that we replace Heath Morrison with the national leading guy up in Mooresville? And why on earth was he not brought in the first time? Make the district smaller and hire about 5 of him and your onto something.

BolynMcClung said...

To: Anon 8:30AM

I'm not invited to the meeting you mentioned. Tech is beyond a pep rally. CMS is locked into a plan.

I believe CMS knows exactly what needs to be in place and has a timetable that will just barely let them get to the finish line. Let's use that legal form of prayer: hope. There seems to be a lot of cooperation inside the administration. There needs to be $15,000,000 available immediately.

There are four problems.

Between the "surprise" of the need for online and the lack of existing infrastructure, CMS is very crippled. God ain't going to add a few new months in the Summer calendar.

I was recently in four schools to see the "three PCs per classroom" policy in action. It's a joke. But at the least there appears to be ports in many classrooms for access point connections.

CMS is probably locked into PCs and wireless. That's wrong. It needs to be thinclients(dumbterminals) and ethernet with wireless support.

I know a person who recently donated six used, but very good laptops to a school...with new batteries. There must be 10,000 of those sitting on Mecklenburg county business' computer room shelves going unused. But, that donation thing is dangerous. It is sort of like depending on the taxis of WWI Paris to evacuate ahead of the Germans or the thousands of small craft sailor coming to the rescue at Dunkirk. Both had one thing in common that contributed to their successes: LUCK.

I'd like to hear from the ISPs on what they can provide rather than hear CMS tell how they will use it if they can get it.

Bolyn McClung

Jeff Wise said...


Interesting tech comments, how much is CMS outsourcing on this and how much are they handling in-house, do you know?

One would hope that every classroom, or instructional space would already have at least 4 network drops. There shouldn't be any real need of installing more - if there is, then what's been going on the last 10 years?

I generally agree with your sentiment for thin clients to use virtual machines, but that doesn't seem to be the educational method. Even Mooresville doesn't seem to use many virtual machines.

Most likely because of the central IT management that would be needed to handle such chores. But it would be much more efficient and save a barrel of cash too.

Bandwidth doesn't worry me as much, though bandwidth and its costs as a whole in our society is a different story altogether. Still, good planning should afford each school building plenty of pipe to cover all their sundry needs.

Common Core has been discussed for years now, CMS knew they were adopting it a long while ago, why is it just now that this concern about bubble testing is just popping up? Is that because the previous CIO left in a lurch and never planned for this?

There is a district-wide technology plan, right?

Pamela Grundy said...

Hi Jeff,

It's my understanding that any districtwide technology plan is being superseded by the requirements for the Common Core online testing, which CMS has no choice about (and towards which which neither the state nor the feds will contribute any money). Although Common Core has been on the radar for a couple of years, only now are districts being told the specifications of the technology they will need to give the tests. They don't even know all of them yet. It will be those specifications, not any district priorities, that will drive technology purchases. This is where testing madness gets you.

Anonymous said...

In the 10th grade, I had a geometry teacher who gave us an incorrect mark if the formula was not correct, even though we had the correct answer.

After looking at this garbage, what are these educrats grading, the correct answer or their penmanship skills?

Does it matter or not matter how the answer was derived?

2+2=4 only if you can mark the right bubbles.

Pamela Grundy said...


If you look at Ann's Diane Ravitch blog, there's a description of the discussion she's having before the lecture, which is open to the public. There will actually probably be more Q and A there.

Anonymous said...

10:49 - if your formula was incorrect how could you come to the right answer? Maybe you cheated?

BolynMcClung said...


I don't know the answer to your tech outsource/ability question.

Prior to the Board meeting where the three administrators discussed all of this, I had been concerned about not having a Geek as the CIO. I've changed that opinion.

What did it was Dr. Truesdale was able to explain the technology hurdles in a way that meshed with Ann Clark's Common Core needs and Guy Chamberlain's limited dollars.

There is no time left for second guessing but would dearly love to see the Bond Oversight Committee add some members with heavy tech backgrounds and to then split-off into an intense subgroup until the build-out is complete.

Bolyn McClung

BolynMcClung said...


Subject: Ethernet drops

I was at Butler HS last week. In a classroom setup for literature.

Three PCs: one for the teacher, two to hold down desks.

There were 8 drops along the back walls. The teachers' PC had an ethernet cable running across the floor between the blackboard and the first row of desk. No safety tape or 90mph racing tape.

Just sort of FYI stuff but lets say that all the publicity about energy efficiency and PCs isn't coming from Butler.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...


No cheating.

To simplify, you can get the number 4 by adding 1+1+1+1 or 2+2 or 6-2. It depends on the application. Or I could simply count on my fingers.

With some geometry questions, I could derive the answer my way but fail to write down the proper equation on paper.

In college, I could get the answer to questions much faster with a calculator but we were forbidden to use them. We had to use a slide rule. Again, two different ways to get an answer but the calculator was a hell of a lot easier.

It seems to me with the example of testing here, they are more interested in filling the bubbles in correectly than the answer to the problem or how they came to their answer.

Anonymous said...

Add the switch from NC Wise to the latest and greatest software du jour and summer, summatives, and testing next year should be a breeze! By the way Bolyn, your post at 7:53 is the the most foresightful yet. However, as most know, and some refuse to acknowledge, the winners and losers have already been chosen and the flight reservations will continue to be made.

Anonymous said...

Parents need to do thier research and find out what Common Core is really about. The Federal Government is taking over education and the states and parents will no longer have a say. The math is ridiculous because with all of the extra unnessary steps there is more of margin for error. What's wrong with keeping it simple? Some kids can do math in their heads, others need to see it or use examples. Who cares how they get the answer as long as they are capable of doing the work. There are also a lot of opionions that are disquised as facts. Also, makes kids think that Americans are Bad, Bad people. Kids are reading books about Obama and how great he is but they are not being taught about what is really happening in the US.

Anonymous said...

There are Opt Out of Common Core Standard forms for parents but I am not sure how they work or if CMS will accept them. Other states are waking up and realizing how expensive CC is to implement and how the government is trying to make education naturalized. Another Obamacare!

Jeff Wise said...

Pamela - fair points on the Common Core tech specs. And you're most definitely right that many of these changes are wrought by the onslaught of testing.

Still, as the head of an IT department, I'm expected to anticipate and be generally prepared for changes of this nature. Maybe not all of the details, but the general concept shouldn't have been difficult to prepare for.

To Bolyn's point about Butler HS and the placement of network drops, from what I've seen that's pretty standard across all schools. And is one of the reasons the push to wireless is so big.

Way back 15+ years ago when I was setting up networks in Columbus Public Schools, we could only have 1 network closet in most schools and some of the far classrooms were stretching the limit of cable length. I imagine the same challenges exist in CMS.

Bolyn's comments about adding tech folks to the bond committee is interesting. The way we design a new office space today is radically different tech-wise than what we were spec'ing even 5 years ago.

Shamash said...

As far as Common Core goes, it's really time for parents to take more control of what their kids are learning.

I'm fairly sure our schools don't have much of a clue after seeing what they've been teaching my son.

Fortunately, we kept him on the right path despite what any school teaches.

He's far enough ahead that he can treat the school stuff as review of what he already knows.

I'm checking into the math portion of common core to see what it's all about.

What was funny to me was that in discussing Common Core Math Standards they immediately mentioned the composite standards of Singapore, S. Korea, and Hong Kong.

The funny thing to me is that Singapore has been using a system called "Singapore Math" for some time which they compiled from US math teaching best practices and research that we apparently ignore.

Now we're copying the Asians copying us (once they succeed).

It's Edward Deming, Quality Control, and the Japanese, all over again.

Deming was an unknown in the US, but a near-saint in Japan. And we didn't even notice him until Japanese quality started kicking our rears.

It's funny how we don't recognize our own brilliance until someone else starts beating us using our own ideas.

Maybe that will happen in math someday...

Anonymous said...


Why dont you hire Andy Baxter back as a consultant. He made over $100,000 by making an art out of the "I DONT KNOW" answer. Where is Scott Murri when you need him?

What a JOKE CMeS!!!

Anonymous said...

MOrrison and the BofE


Anonymous said...

Ah, Edward Deming! I have not heard his name since MBA school.

So let's think what that implementation would look like in public education. That would mean the administrators would have to listen to the teachers when the teachers give them feedback on their cockamamie ideas. And that will not work when you have teachers teaching blacks. The educrats need reason after reason for the failure of their programs and the teachers are the easiest and cheapest to thrown under the bus. Meanwhile this keeps the community organizers happy as they push for more and more money to be stolen from hard working taxpayers instead recognizing these failures and just canceling the programs.

Anonymous said...

Get some new material, rate barbecue joints, hang with igliigli on the sports education beat, or join the Georgia Prophets (Avossa etc.)

Anonymous said...

45Why worry about Common Core?

It is being implemented by professional administators making $100,000 plus and being taught by teachers making less than an assistant manager at McDonalds. What could possibly go wrong.

Anonymous said...

CTE already uses "Thinkgate/Elements" for on-line assessments.
Watch what happens at a school when 3 04 classes try to access the Internet at the same time for testing! And if the connectivity 'blinks' students need to start from the beginning.
What about the schools that utilize mobile classrooms? (Learning cottages) will these rooms have Internet connectivity?
Will personal devices be permitted?

Anonymous said...

From Education Week March 13:

Estimated Time On Task:

The amount of time students will have to complete both the performance-based and end-of-year components in math and English/language arts:
Grade 3: 8 hours
Grades 4-5: 9 hours, 20 minutes
Grades 6-8: 9 hours, 25 minutes
Grades 9-10: 9 hours, 45 minutes
Grades 11-12: 9 hours, 55 minutes

PARCC documents say that typical students will need those amounts of time, but that "all participating students will have a set amount of additional time" to take the tests. That will "provide them with ample time to demonstrate their knowledge" and "reduce the need to provide increased time as an accommodation."

The documents sidestep the issue of exactly how much "additional time" will be given to students, and under what conditions. But they say that students with disabilities and those learning English will be given even more time, if it's called for in their individualized education programs. Policies governing what accommodations are given to those students are under development.

Testing Window:

For students: Five to nine days
For schools and districts: Up to 20 days for the performance-based component of the test, and up to 20 days for the end-of-year component. Schools may administer the tests in narrower windows of time if they have the capacity to do so.

PARCC documents say that testing times and windows could change, in the wake of research and field-testing, but that "major changes are not anticipated."

Shamash said...

As for their bubblesheet...

Are programmers today too stupid to figure out how to remove/block unnecessary spaces and commas from input?

It seems like this was one of the first things we used to learn in programming back so long ago.

Removing/checking/preventing garbage input was just part of the game.

Computers are just so much better than people at that sort of thing.

Oh, well, maybe it's web-enabled...

Shamash said...

Anon 7:14pm

Yeah, quality is passé now.

Too bad.

It was a good idea while it lasted.