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Is the Problem Data, the Common Core, or Trust?

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The call to protect student information from being captured in proprietary software and the objection to national learning standards...what do these two issues have in common?  We think a much larger problem.  We do not trust our politicians and we certainly do not trust big business and too often we don't trust each other.  Amidst this environment, leaders are called to be trustworthy and to regain lost trust, not simply march on.

We use a computer to purchase books, clothes, gifts, and services.  We bank online, post on Facebook pages, file our income tax online (or have a professional do it for us), update the software on our computers, subscribe to a newsfeed online ...all places that capture some portion of our personal information.  Do we read the small print privacy notice before clicking 'agree'?  Most of us don't. 

Over the past years, school districts across the country have purchased student information systems to help them gather and manage information about students. In addition, for students with disabilities and students receiving Response to Intervention services, there are systems that link with the student information system (SIS) for accurate and timely information sharing between faculty and administration. In the past years, schools have even had the ability to open a 'parent portal' in their SIS from which parents have access to information on their children; grades, attendance records, discipline records, test results, transcripts, any information the school maintains and opens to the portal.

States collect information on students either through a connection with these systems or by uploading reports from the district spreadsheets or databases that schools are required to maintain. In turn, states are required to send or upload some of that information to the Federal Government.  Federal aid depends upon information about poverty and achievement levels, classification rates, and so on.  The information to be captured in software systems, like inBloom, is already captured each district's SIS, many of which are proprietary software.  So much of this information about students has been captured and maintained for years without objection. But this is a different time.

We can read studies, or simply talk with parents and educators to confirm what we want for our children - to have a positive and challenging learning experience in which they discover their interests and experience success in learning. We want them to have opportunities to be social, learn how to be members of a team, and develop leadership skills in a club or activity. We want our graduation rates to rise and to reach the goal of all students, ALL students, receiving a quality education that leaves them lifelong learners, capable of working and living in this complex, technical world with the human capacity to be compassionate and empathetic toward others.

In an attempt to raise the academic standards to which our students are held, the Common Core Standards were developed.  This FAQ page gives a quick overview. On that page, there is an answer to who was involved in the Common Core initiative.

States across the country collaborated with teachers, researchers, and leading experts to design and develop the Common Core State Standards. Each state independently made the decision to adopt the Common Core State Standards, beginning in 2010. The federal government was NOT involved in the development of the standards. Local teachers, principals, and superintendents lead the implementation of the Common Core.

In answer to the question about the process in creating the standards:

This process is state-led, and has support from across the country, including CCSSO, the NGA Center, Achieve, Inc, ACT, the College Board, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Hunt Institute, the National Parent Teacher Association, the State Higher Education Executive Officers, the American Association of School Administrators, and the Business Roundtable.

Common Core Standards, developed with input from teachers, boards of education, researchers, institutions of higher education, administrators and business, and were adopted by 45 states.  The intention was to create similar standards for all students that are high, rigorous, and responsive to this century.  The standards in ELA do not determine topic or content. Math, by its nature has topic connected to the standard, by grade.  But both are aimed at creating a ladder of skills with increasing complexity from k - 12. Objections to the mathematics that are required to be taught to our youngest learners and the increased focus on non-fiction texts are prevalent.  No assessment is part of the Common Core.  The objection to the emphasis on testing is sensible.  But the testing is not the Common Core. Confusion is a fertile breeding ground for distrust.

So the waters are troubled by opposition to CCS and to the assessments related to them. Trust in educational leaders is eroding. Even field leaders are being impacted by the disbelief that anything is secure and well intentioned.  There appears to be little transparency...how odd, since that is central to these reforms.  While calling for transparency of student, teacher and principal data, policy makers and state leaders ignore calls from the field to have open and honest conversation. The imperfect implementation plan has welded the CCS and testing into one flawed process. Letters, forums, articles and blogs have all failed to result in a change in behavior.  While we fight over student information systems, privacy, tests, or learning standards, we should remain focused on an essential missing ingredient.  We no longer enjoy the advantage of disagreement.  We no longer trust our leaders. 

Secretary Duncan has made some pretty ill-conceived statements.  NY's Commissioner King who has traveled about his state to listen but no response to change has been forthcoming. As trust is diminished so is our capacity to follow.  Our work is gets harder.  Preventing this mistrust from leaking into our local communities is our new challenge. Is the challenge about data, the Common Core or trust?  When there is trust, open and honest conversations can happen. 

But let's not forget that the world is bigger than education. The backdrop for this educational drama is NSA spying and health care promises and debacles.  Add to that political parties that won't work together and elected officials who forget that once they take an oath of office they need to represent us all. Democracy in all its imperfection requires compromise.  Is compromise necessary for trust to be restored or have we come to the point where compromise has been replaced by righteousness?  Did 1984 address the need for trust? Maybe it's time to reread Orwell.

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