THE BLOG
05/18/2014 06:13 pm ET Updated Jul 18, 2014

Are Common Core Standards Actually Data Tags?

Don't think of them as standards. Think of them as tags.

Think of them as the pedagogical equivalent of people's names on Facebook, the tags you attach to each and every photo that you upload.

We know from our friends at Knewton what the Grand Design is -- a system in which student progress is mapped down to the atomic level. Atomic level (a term that Knewton lervs deeply) means test by test, assignment by assignment, sentence by sentence, item by item. We want to enter every single thing a student does into the Big Data Bank.

But that will only work if we're all using the same set of tags.

We've been saying that CCSS are limited because the standards were written around what can be tested. That's not exactly correct. The standards have been written around what can be tracked.

The standards aren't just about defining what should be taught. They're about cataloging what students have done.

Remember when Facebook introduced emoticons? This was not a public service. Facebook wanted to up its data gathering capabilities by tracking the emotional states of users. If users just defined their own emotions, the data would be too noisy, too hard to crunch. But if the user had to pick from the Facebook standard set of user emotions -- then Facebook would have manageable data.

Ditto for CCSS. If we all just taught to our own local standards, the data noise would be too great. The Data Overlords need us all to be standardized, to be using the same set of tags. That is also why no deviation can be allowed. Okay, we'll let you have 15 percent over and above the standards. The system can probably tolerate that much noise. But under no circumstances can you change the standards -- because that would be changing the national student data tagging system, and THAT we can't tolerate.

This is why the "aligning" process inevitably involves all that marking of standards onto everything we do. It's not instructional. It's not even about accountability.

It's about having us sit and tag every instructional thing we do so that student results can be entered and tracked in the Big Data Bank.

If you are in a state that "dropped" the Core, here's one simple test -- look at your "new" standards and ask just how hard it would be to convert your standards/tags to the CCSS standards/tags. If it's as simple as switching some numbers and letters, guess what -- you haven't really changed a thing, and your data is still ready to be tagged and bagged.

And that is why CCSS can never, ever be decoupled from anything. Why would Facebook keep a face-tagging system and then forbid users to upload photos?

The test does not exist to prove that we're following the standards. The standards exist to let us tag the results from the test. And ultimately, not just the test, but everything that's done in a classroom. Standards-ready material is material that has already been bagged and tagged for data overlord use.

Oddly enough, this understanding of the CCSS system also reveals more reasons why the system sucks.

Facebook's photo-tagging system is active and robust. Anybody can add tags, and so the system grows because it is useful. On the other hand, their emoticon system, which requires users to feel only the standardized Facebook emotions, is rigid and dying on the vine because it's not useful, and it can't adapt.

The CCSS are lousy standards precisely because they are too specific in some areas, too vague in others and completely missing other aspects of teaching entirely. We all know how the aligning works -- you take what you already do and find a standard that it more or less fits with and tag it.

Because the pedagogical fantasy delineated by the CCSS does not match the teacher reality in a classroom, the tags are applied in inexact and not-really-true ways. In effect, we've been given color tags that only cover one side of the color wheel, but we've been told to tag everything, so we end up tagging purple green. When a tagging system doesn't represent the full range of reality, and it isn't flexible enough to adapt, you end up with crappy tagging. Look! It's a purple apple! And that's the CCSS.

It's true that in a massive tagging system like this, a big test could be rendered unnecessary -- just use all the data that's pouring in from everywhere else. Two reasons that won't happen:

1) While our data overlord's eyes were on the data prize, their need for tagged and connected data opened the door for profiteering, and once that stream is flowing, no Pearsonesque group will stand for interfering with it.

2) High stakes tests are necessary to force cooperation. To get people to fork over this much data, they must be motivated. We've seen that evolution in PA, as the folks in charge have realized that nothing less than the highest stakes will get students to stop writing the pledge to the flag on their tests and teachers to stop laughing when they do.

Decoupling? Not going to happen. You can't have a data system without tagging, and you can't have a tagging system with nothing to tag. Education and teaching are just collateral damage in all this, and not really the main thing at all.