KET ran a special show on Common Core implementation in Kentucky’s classrooms last night, but rather than feeling like I was seeing something new, it seemed like I was in an early 1990s time warp.
The show, which didn’t include a single critic of Common Core, was focused on what is supposedly changing in the classroom thanks to these new standards.
The show talked a lot about students becoming self-directed learners. While the terms were not specifically mentioned, it was all about teachers becoming a “Guide on the Side” rather than a “Sage on the Stage.”
Ho, Hum. That’s the same sort of thing Kentuckians first started hearing when the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 came along a quarter of a century ago (yes – we’ve now had a quarter of a century of this stuff).
In fact, even the very earliest, 1993 version of “Transformations: Kentucky’s Curriculum Framework Volume II” (sorry, not on line, but a later version is available here) talks about these old, now rather long of tooth, ideas. Here is what that 1993 document says:
“Student-Directed Learning is characterized by students taking responsibility for setting the direction of their learning and helping determine the types of instruction which are most appropriate for the selected task. It is dependent upon the establishment of an atmosphere of trust and collaboration between teachers and students. It demands student involvement which may range in duration from a class period to an entire term, often depending upon the teacher’s comfort level and the student’s ability to take responsibility.” (Page 11 in 1993 version)
Listen to the KET show and ask yourself if anything much different from that 1993 “stuff” was offered.
There was also some talk about teachers collaborating together and more professional development, etc., but that is old shoe, too.
So, a big take-away from the show is that Common Core is just bringing back ideas that were tried, not with a lot of success, in the early days of KERA. Ho, Hum.
However, since we now have three years of Common Core era data to look at, you might think the KET show also would have explored that, but performance was mentioned only in vague passing.
So, let me help out a bit with some of the “rest of the story.”
One of the two “showcase” schools in the broadcast was the Second Street School in the Frankfort Independent School District. It is actually a grade K to 8 school, but it was referred to in the broadcast as an elementary school. How has good old Second Street – offered as a great example of classroom changes being brought about thanks to Common Core – performed on state testing?
The elementary school grades in Second Street School didn’t rank terribly well at all, coming in at the 44th percentile among all elementary schools in 2013-14. The only good thing was the elementary school grades’ ranking did rise from 24th to 44th place between 2012-13 and 2013-14.
Most important, however are the reading, math and writing proficiency rate trends in Second Street School. After all, these are the CCSS subjects.
Table 1 summarizes proficiency rates for the elementary grades at Second Street School over the three years that Common-Core-aligned Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (KPREP) testing has been conducted.
Reading proficiency rates actually were lower recently than in the first year of KPREP. Also, the 2013-14 reading proficiency rate in Second Street School is well below the statewide average of 54.7 percent.
Math proficiency rates also dropped. In addition, the 2013-14 math proficiency rate for Second Street is well below the statewide elementary school average of 49.2.
Writing proficiency rates complete a sad trifecta for this school. In fact, the writing performance suffered the largest drop of all. The school’s 2013-14 writing performance is well below the statewide average of 38.7 percent proficiency.
What about the middle school grades?
I took a quick look at the middle school performance, although not much data is available. Apparently, the middle school grades in Frankfort were redistributed in 2013-14 and earlier data isn’t available for Second Street.
Still, Second Street’s middle school grades 2013-14 reading proficiency rate was only 41.0, well below the statewide average of 53.2
The school’s middle school grades 2013-14 math proficiency rate was only 30.8, again well below the statewide average of 44.8.
For 2013-14 writing, Second Street’s proficiency rate was only 23.8, also well below the comparable statewide average of 43.7.
So, let’s get this straight. KET just presented Second Street as an exemplar of all the great instructional changes going on thanks to Common Core – a poster child school, as it were.
But, this school actually provides a case that on-going adoption of CCSS has hurt its students!
In fact, the results for Second Street School might not be so surprising. Despite claims on the KET show that the student-centered stuff is based on research, the facts are that the longest running, most heavily funded research ever in this area, Project Follow-Through, actually found that the “sage on the stage” approach is better for disadvantaged students. We have plenty of those kids in Kentucky, of course. That includes more than a fair share in Second Street, which has above average school lunch eligibility and a higher proportion of racial minorities than is typically found in Kentucky.
One more thought about Second Street as a poster child for Common Core. Apparently even the principal at Second Street might have reservations. You see, the State Journal announced on March 27, 2015 (subscription), that he is quitting at the end of this – his first – year at Second Street. That might be a pretty interesting vote of non-confidence in this school – maybe even in Common Core – from an obviously informed source.