The Tweet Heard ‘Round the Edu World

Recently, my twitter world has been on fire in response to comedian Louis C.K.’s anti-Common Core rant.

It started with this tweet:

A lot has been said already — check out Audrey Watters’ storify on the subject for one example.

I agree that, as a parent, C.K. is a stakeholder in public education and therefore should have a voice. But I would like to attempt to push back a bit to put the Common Core Standards in a little bit of context in the hopes that C.K. and other middle class parents can sharpen their advocacy.

As I have said previously, we need to distinguish among the standards, their implementation, and the accountability system they have been stuck into. Otherwise, we will repeat our American tendency to simply throw out babies with the bathwater.

In the spirit of nuance, I have two responses to Louis C.K.’s tweet and those who endorse it:

(1) The Common Core is not the same as No Child Left Behind. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been implemented hastily and without any modification of the NCLB accountability system in many places. This has resulted in middle-class public schools feeling the heat that has been around for some time in schools in lower-income communities, as teachers worry about evaluations that are based on assessments and standards that are unfamiliar, and perhaps in their hurried, underfinanced implementation, unreasonable.

The kind of overkill test prep has been going on for a long time in schools who don’t rate well under the NCLB regime. These schools are put on probationary status, as they have to demonstrate making “adequate yearly progress” (AYP). Researchers (including myself) have reported that test prep has taken over other more humanistic educational goals like so much kudzu. I predicted that if rapid implementation led to this form of schooling for the middle class, there would be a larger outcry.

(2) The goal of standards is to provide more equal learning opportunities.

Do you remember Williams vs. California? Students from high poverty communities sued the state because state agencies failed to provide public school students with equal access to instructional materials, safe and decent school facilities, and qualified teachers.

This is a serious problem. I had the opportunity to visit schools across the country in the mid-1990s. To deform Gertrude Stein, algebra wasn’t algebra wasn’t algebra. The content of courses could too easily be predicted by the community’s SES. Even the best students in high poverty schools were not given the same level of content as mediocre students in wealthy schools.
Standards are not a perfect solution, but they are a tool to set a bar that is public and transparent for teachers, students, and communities. They say, “This is what algebra needs to include. Students, you have a right to learn this. Educators, you need to work out how to get students there.”

Of course, this last part of the mandate is where we find the rub. Educators are expected to know how to successfully work with the standards NOW — often with minimal support and training, and certainly with very little time.

As I have listened to some of the push back on the actual content of the CCSS, the most troubling to me is along the lines of “our kids can’t do that.”

Let me just say right out: I am quite certain that almost all of them can. How many Bob Moseses and Megan Bangs do we need showing us the unrecognized competence in kids of color or kids in poverty? Something needs to be done to bring high quality content to all students. Standards should not be the only tool, but they could be one of several that would include full funding of education and improving teachers’ working conditions to attract and retain our best people.
I  know firsthand that figuring out new ways of teaching to engage that different kinds of mathematical competence are hard and take huge investments on the part of schools.

The question remains: what are we going to let prevail? The status quo in which the kids whose parents have the ears of the world can have a quality education while others remain on the margins? Education is a key to a democratic society. The standards may not be perfect but they can be one tool of rectifying our history of unequal education.

22 thoughts on “The Tweet Heard ‘Round the Edu World

  1. Pingback: louie | sonata mathematique

      • Teachers need to know their subject matter inside and out, much like a doctor who knows the body and how it works. Teachers who let the government, or ” NCLB” or “common core” lead them by the nose are weak…. educators need to revolt or do their job despite the top down approach. I know a few educators who quietly watch the crazy parade go by, and do what they do best… TEACH.


      • If you see my point about algebra not being algebra not being algebra, you will see that I think that we can’t simply leave everything to teachers’ discretion. Even dedicated teachers working in the midst of school cultures that don’t provide the resources for high expectations have a hard time keeping them up. Remember, Jaime Escalante had a heart attack in “Stand and Deliver.”


  2. From my discussions with parents, I realize that we as educators do a poor job of delineating the difference between standards and curriculum. Until the Common Core arrived, most everyone outside of education had not even heard of educational standards. Now, a lot of people are voicing opinions about them. We have to speak to them in their language and not eduspeak to help them understand the difference. Thank you for taking a good step in that direction. The more we share with parents that standards are topics/skills that need to be taught and curriculum is how we (or a publisher we have chosen) deliver that content, the more well-grounded opinions will be part of this national debate.

    As an educator in an underserved community and a parent in a different community, your second point resonates with me. I see that my elementary school children are learning skills and topics that challenge too many of my high school students. The broken house of learning that builds the history of many of my high school students needs a new foundation. I hope that the standards will help us build that foundation. I see how my children are pushed to higher levels of performance and unfortunately, I see many high school students that are pushed to higher levels of frustration. I am very hopeful that the Common Core standards are successful because, from what I have seen from them, they demand the development skills that we want our next generation to have.


    • Aside from the rushed rollout, I am frustrated that there is not a better process for revision for the common core. I also see some hopeful classroom learning coming out of them, but I also see the need for feedback. I really believe teachers want to do right by their students but we need to give them time and tools.


  3. Pingback: “The Tweet Heard ‘Round the Edu World” | MathSugarOff

  4. good post, but the real status quo is the unending stream of accountability systems foisted on schools and their teachers nonstop since 1983.


    • Hm. I believe in smart accountability given the concerns I voice about equity. But I would like to see more resources put toward supporting growth and designing processes that account more for the particulars of schools, along the lines of the old school inspectors in England or Lesson Study in Japan.


  5. While I keep reading both defences of and outcry against the common core in this debate, I feel like everyone, including Louie CK himself, are forgetting the original point of his tweets.
    I’m paraphrasing, but he stated his point had nothing to do with the level of difficulty with the questions themselves, but with the absurdly low copy editing standards applied to the questions.
    He provided ample examples how the questions are misleading in some instances, when a multiple choice question combines choice 4 and 5 on the same line, or just fail to provide grade three level readers with a sentence structure that would be easily understood by readers of any level.
    In the end, the point becomes that the questions themselves and not the math was sabotaging a child’s ability to complete the work easily. The questions required a grade three student to have the critical thinking ability to ask themselves if the question itself was written poorly. Unfortunately, children in grade three would usually take the question at face value and sooner believe they are the idiot and not the ones writing/proof-reading the question.
    This is simply an outsiders perspective, as I do not have to deal with the US education system, but I feel like the point was lost due to the sensitivity surrounding the issue of the common core programs.


  6. Wow, this was actually an article on common core that took a civil tone! Great insights. I have 3 kids in public school and I’m still not sure what to think of common core, but I found this article me a bit more calm than I usually find myself after reading about cc


  7. With Ilana Horn calling Louis C.K. a middle class parent, it really makes me wonder how over-paid that woman is…lol. I knew civil servants and teachers have great unions that get everything they want, but if Louis C.K. is middle class, where does that leave the rest of us…lol.


  8. There should be an ongoing discussion about continually improving our schools, standards, and curriculum, but there isn’t enough nuance and the questions being asked aren’t always the most productive ones. As you said, there is a difference between the standards and how best to implement them.

    A lot of the underlying issues that people have with Common Core touch on this push and pull between (to use loaded terms) drill and kill versus fuzzy math. But it is a flawed question, just as the arguments against Common Core are often missing the point. Our instructor Jeanine Brownell wrote about it.
    Why Do the Math Wars Rage On?

    “Algorithms have the allure of a sure thing. But we must advance the discussion beyond the false choice of skills or concepts. Our school children deserve both.”


    • Yes. Getting to the right discussions are an important part of the work we need to do. We often hear from the teachers who are working hard to be effective and from middle class parents. Our educational system needs to serve all students effectively, not just those with the social capital to navigate the many potholes.


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  10. Pingback: Common Sense About the Common Core | teaching/math/culture

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