Archive for May 2013
This week Alisa and I spoke in Star Valley, Wyoming at the Afton Civic Center. The event was filmed and I’ll post it when receive it.
What I learned:
Wyoming is in great shape to reclaim educational liberty and control. I’m almost jealous of the state’s position. Why?
1) Wyoming could walk away from the temptation of federal monies easily because it has strong education funding through state royalties.
“Each biennium, Wyoming gets about $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion in federal mineral royalty payments (FMRs), which account for a sizable portion of the state’s entire two-year $8.9 billion budget. More FMRs flow to Wyoming than any other state, largely because of extensive coal mining on federal land” – WyoFile.
2) Wyoming only recently (1 year ago) formally adopted Common Core. The amount of wasted money, time, teacher development and other Common Core-related waste that is happening in other states, has not happened there yet. It will be so easy to cut bait and walk away, because there’s not a lot of bait to cut.
3) Wyoming has an enviable state school board.
The Wyoming state school board only voted 8 to 4 to adopt Common Core. That means that a good chunk of the school board was opposed to it from day one. Enviable! (In supposedly conservative Utah each of the board members adore the Obama-pushed Common Core.)
Perhaps best of all, the Wyoming state superintendent, Cindy Hill, really gets it– she fights for local control of educational quality and liberty. She recently gave a speech to her state legislature about the foolishness of being federal-compliance-focused rather than having a “laser-like focus” on academic excellence.
Hill had refused to throw her state under the national testing bus and was severely punished for her wisdom. She was recently pushed aside and relieved of virtually all her powers and duties except for ceremonial and paperwork duties, because she opposed the federal-compliance mentality of the majority of the Wyoming School Board. Hill’s powers were reassigned –not by a vote, but by an appointment– to the new position: Director of Education, one who would dance the dance of federal compliance more cheerfully.
But Wyoming citizens rose up in protest, getting thousands and thousands of citizens to sign a petition to vote on the issue and to get Cindy Hill reinstated with her full powers.
4) Wyoming has strong, devoted people who value local control and are not willing to give it away.
Wyoming, we love you. Go, Fight, Win!
Sign the Wyoming Petition to STOP COMMON CORE here.
I watched this video, where the Salt Lake Tribune reporter asked Utah School Board Chair Debra Roberts whether Common Core took away classic literature –see minute 15:40.
Roberts laughed, said that she was an English major and would never support standards that were not strongly supportive of classic literature— and then, without answering, took the conversation in the direction of how important informational texts are.
The fact is, informational texts used to be taught where they OUGHT to be taught– in science classes, history classes, and other classes. But they are being force fed in all English classes now.
Certainly, some classic literature is still permitted in Utah schools under Common Core. But it has been dramatically reduced, especially at the high school level. Roberts would not admit this. WHY?
Debra Roberts’ signature (together with our former governor’s signature) put Utah’s former educational liberty under the thumb of the Common Core agenda. She’s been on the Common Core adoption team longer than our current governor. She cannot be ignorant of the truth.
She knows that Common Core emphasizes informational text and takes away classic literature. She knows that in elementary school, students may read 50% classic stories and 50% informational text; and she knows that the percentage of informational text MUST increase while the percentage of classic literature must decrease, so that when a student is a high school senior, he/she must have 70% of his/her English class reading be informational, while 30% max may be classic literature.
She and others on the state school board continue to call those of us who call for the whole truth, “misinformed” and “erroneous.”
I requested an explanation of what exactly seemed “erroneous,” in the school board’s view, in the GOP resolution that Utah’s State Delegates voted to support last week.
I have not heard back from them.
I have also requested face to face meetings with board members and have been denied a meeting. Here I am, a credentialed Utah teacher, denied a meeting to discuss my concerns about Utah’s new Core Curriculum. Does that seem good?
I am willing to be proven wrong. One person could be wrong.
But I don’t think it’s fair to call all 6,000 petition signers at Utahns Against Common Core, plus the 1500— 2,000 state delegates who voted against common core at the resolution vote, plus the entire Republican National Committee, plus Sutherland Institute, Heritage Institute, Pioneer Institute, Cato Institute, Senator Mike Lee, Jason Chaffetz, and Rob Bishop, all “misinformed.” –Especially not in the same week that the chair of the board misinforms reporters about Common Core.
Have you seen Senator Mike Lee’s statement on education policy?
Senator Mike Lee
The first principle of education, and therefore of education policymaking, is that parents are the primary educators of their children.
And because responsibility for children’s education lies primarily with parents, to the greatest extent possible so should decision-making authority over Pre-K to secondary education.
The further pre-K to secondary policymaking authority is removed from the parents and guardians of children, the further it is removed from those who will promote the best interests of students.
Therefore federal pre-K, elementary, and secondary education policy should be limited. Neither members of Congress nor Department of Education bureaucrats can be expected to promote the interests of individual students – with unique talents, interests, and learning styles – more than those students’ parents, their teachers or principals.
And indeed, history has borne out this basic human insight. Pre-K Federal pre-K policy primarily amounts to the Head Start program, which for forty years has utterly failed to improve the lives of the poor children and families it ostensibly serves.
It is a demonstrable fact that the federal Head Start program does not help, and in most cases hurts the children and families enrolled in it. The $8.1 billion the federal government today wastes on this failed program, on the other hand, might conceivably do some good for poor children and families – if federal bureaucrats surrender control over it to states, school boards, and, ideally, parents themselves.
Senator Lee has therefore introduced the Head Start Improvement Act (S. pending) to eliminate the federal Head Start bureaucracy and block grant its full $8.1 billion budget to the states, to spend on pre-K education for the underprivileged as they see fit, including as vouchers to defray the costs of private pre-school tuition.
Primary & Secondary
Federal K-12 policy today consists of the No Child Left Behind Act, which has bound states and schools in so much red tape that even some of NCLB’s “successes” have been revealed as little more than administrative book-cooking.
Tying educators and administrators in federal red tape does nothing to educate children, or protect parents’ rightful authority over the education of their children.
Therefore Sen. Lee is an original co-sponsor of the “A-Plus” Act, which creates an alternative, locally-controlled accountability and regulatory system for federal K-12 funds. Borrowing the logic of charter schools – under which new public schools are freed from bureaucratic supervision in exchange for meeting performance goals – APlus would in effect allow for the creation of “Charter States.”
States would be free to continue under the current NCLB system, or they could instead adopt rigorous performance standards in exchange for being released from NCLB red tape. If over time the standards are not met, the state will revert back to the NCLB system.
Federal K-12 funding – which should generally be limited – should finance innovation, opportunity, and success in the classroom – not Washington bureaucracy.
The Unasked Question
by Dr. Peg Luksik
Reposted from http://foundedontruth.com/index.php/battlelines-news-info/32-the-unasked-question
The public debate over the Common Core Standards is intensifying as parents and teachers learn more about the changes to our educational system.
When the proponents of the standards mention them, they always begin with the word “rigorous”. The word is always used, and there is never a synonym. This is marketing at its finest.
Who could ever be opposed to rigorous standards that would make America’s children college and career-ready?
Then the definition of “rigorous” began to emerge. To quote the training materials being used with teachers across Pennsylvania, rigor does not mean “difficult, as AP Calculus is difficult”. Rigor meant… that lots of effort would be required. In the example given by one of the official presenters, the rigorous activity in a high school chemistry class was to have the students use balls to build little models of each of the atoms in the Periodic Table. She explained that the brightest students were frustrated with this activity because they were not used to having to do such “rigorous” work.
And now the Common Core based secondary school math assessment has been revealed. To meet these “rigorous” new standards and be able to graduate from high school, America’s students will have to pass Algebra I.
In testimony before the PA Senate Education Committee this month, a proponent of these standards was asked about this situation. He responded that a graduate only needed Algebra I to be “career-ready” – which he clarified by specifying that he was referring to working a service or manufacturing job or joining the military.
His response brings us to the unasked questions in this movement to radically restructure our schools.
Who is the client of the educational system? What is the purpose of education?
In classical education, which is how most adults over the age of 35 were taught, the client of education was the child, and the purpose was to give each child the ability to reach his fullest potential. The school was supposed to open doors so children from any background would have the chance to achieve their dreams. Educational programs were not aimed at what a child “only needed” – they were aimed at giving each child as many options as possible. They aimed a child at the ceiling instead of the floor.
And in reaching the ceiling, those adults learned what they needed to find and keep a job. Some of them went to college and some of them entered the work force and some of them joined the military. But those decisions were theirs, based on their abilities and preferences and effort. And if they decided to make a different choice, they had the ability to do so.
But the Common Core changes the answers to those basic questions. In the new system, the client of the educational system is business, and the purpose of the educational system is to create a work force with the skills they need to do the job. And if the job only requires Algebra I, then, as the gentleman testifying said, there is no need for the workers in that job to have any education beyond Algebra I.
Who decides which students will be allowed to continue learning and which will be stopped at “the skills they need to do their jobs”?
That too is an un-asked, and un-answered, question.
And it is the most chilling question of all.
Thanks to Dr. Luksik for her essay.
Where is the evidence to support the rhetoric surrounding the CCSS? This is not data-driven decision making. This is a decision grasping for data… Yet this nation will base the future of its entire public education system, and its children, upon this lack of evidence. – Dr. Christopher Tienken, Seton Hall University, NJ
In the Education Administration Journal, the AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice (Winter 2011 / Volume 7, No. 4) there’s an article by Dr. Christopher Tienken of Seton Hall University that clearly explains the ridiculousness of Common Core. The full article, “Common Core: An Example of Data-less Decision Making,” is available online, and following are some highlights:
Although a majority of U.S. states and territories have “made the CCSS the legal law of their land in terms of the mathematics and language arts curricula,” and although “over 170 organizations, education-related and corporations alike, have pledged their support,” still “the evidence presented by its developers, the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), seems lacking,” and research on the topic suggests “the CCSS and those who support them are misguided,” writes Dr. Tienken.
“The standards have not been validated empirically and no metric has been set to monitor the intended and unintended consequences they will have on the education system and children,” he writes.
Tienken and many other academics have said that Common Core adoption begs this question: “Surely there must be quality data available publically to support the use of the CCSS to transform, standardize, centralize and essentially de-localize America‘s public education system,” and “surely there must be more compelling and methodologically strong evidence available not yet shared with the general public or education researchers to support the standardization of one of the most intellectually diverse public education systems in the world. Or, maybe there is not?”
Tienken calls incorrect the notion that American education is lagging behind international competitors and does not believe the myth that academic tests can predict future economic competitiveness.
“Unfortunately for proponents of this empirically vapid argument it is well established that a rank on an international test of academic skills and knowledge does not have the power to predict future economic competitiveness and is otherwise meaningless for a host of reasons.”
He observes: “Tax, trade, health, labor, finance, monetary, housing, and natural resource policies, to name a few, drive our economy, not how students rank on the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS)” or other tests.
Most interestingly, Tienken observes that the U.S. has had a highly internationally competitive system up until now. “The U.S. already has one of the highest percentages of people with high school diplomas and college degrees compared to any other country and we had the greatest number of 15 year-old students in the world score at the highest levels on the 2006 PISA science test (OECD, 2008; OECD, 2009; United Nations, 2010). We produce more researchers and scientists and qualified engineers than our economy can employ, have even more in the pipeline, and we are one of the most economically competitive nations on the globe (Gereffi & Wadhwa, 2005; Lowell, et al., 2009; Council on Competitiveness, 2007; World Economic Forum, 2010).
Tienken calls Common Core “a decision in search of data” ultimately amounting to “nothing more than snake oil.” He is correct. The burden of proof is on the proponents to show that this system is a good one.
He writes: “Where is the evidence to support the rhetoric surrounding the CCSS? This is not data-driven decision making. This is a decision grasping for data… Yet this nation will base the future of its entire public education system, and its children, upon this lack of evidence. Many of America‘s education associations already pledged support for the idea and have made the CCSS major parts of their national conferences and the programs they sell to schools.
This seems like the ultimate in anti-intellectual behavior coming from what claim to be intellectual organizations now acting like charlatans by vending products to their members based on an untested idea and parroting false claims of standards efficacy.”
Further, Dr. Tienken reasons:
“Where is the evidence that national curriculum standards will cause American students to score at the top of international tests or make them more competitive? Some point to the fact that many of the countries that outrank the U.S. have national, standardized curricula. My reply is there are also nations like Canada, Australia, Germany, and Switzerland that have very strong economies, rank higher than the U.S. on international tests of mathematics and science consistently, and do not have a mandated, standardized set of national curriculum standards.”
Lastly, Dr. Tienken asks us to look at countries who have nationalized and standardized education, such as China and Singapore: “China, another behemoth of centralization, is trying desperately to crawl out from under the rock of standardization in terms of curriculum and testing (Zhao, 2009) and the effects of those practices on its workforce. Chinese officials recognize the negative impacts a standardized education system has had on intellectual creativity. Less than 10% of Chinese workers are able to function in multi-national corporations (Zhao, 2009).
I do not know of many Chinese winners of Nobel Prizes in the sciences or in other the intellectual fields. China does not hold many scientific patents and the patents they do hold are of dubious quality (Cyranoski, 2010).
The same holds true for Singapore. Authorities there have tried several times to move the system away from standardization toward creativity. Standardization and testing are so entrenched in Singapore that every attempt to diversify the system has failed, leaving Singapore a country that has high test scores but no creativity. The problem is so widespread that Singapore must import creative talent from other countries”.
According to Dr. Tienken, Common Core is a case of oversimplification. It is naiive to believe that all children would benefit from mastering the same set of skills, or that it would benefit the country in the long run, to mandate sameness. He observes that Common Core is “an Orwellian policy position that lacks a basic understanding of diversity and developmental psychology. It is a position that eschews science and at its core, believes it is appropriate to force children to fit the system instead of the system adjusting to the needs of the child.”
Oh, how I agree.
Since when do we trust bureaucracies more than we trust individuals to make correct decisions inside a classroom or a school district? Since when do we agree force children to fit a predetermined system, instead of having a locally controlled, flexible system that can adjust to the needs of a child?
What madness (or money?) has persuaded even our most American-as-apple-pie organizations — even the national PTA, the U.S. Army, the SAT, most textbook companies and many governors– to advocate for Common Core, when there never was a real shred of valid evidence upon which to base this country-changing decision?
Brave New Schools
Guest post by California English teacher Cherie Zaslawsky
The much touted Common Core Standards (CCS) Initiative that is being pushed as a silver bullet to improve our schools is not simply the latest fad in education: CCS is actually an unprecedented program that would radically alter our entire K-12 educational system, affecting content (i.e. curriculum), delivery (largely via computer), testing (also via computer), teacher evaluations (connected to test scores), as well as creating an intrusive database of sensitive information from student “assessments.” This program, for all the protestations to the contrary, represents the nationalization of education in America, extinguishing any semblance of local control. Furthermore, it was essentially developed at the behest of billionaire Bill Gates, who also funded it to the tune of some $150 million, and who clearly thinks he knows what’s best for everybody else’s children. (His own are safely ensconced in private schools).
California adopted the Common Core Standards (CCS) Initiative on August 2, 2010, only two months after the standards were released. Nor has this multi-billion dollar program ever been piloted anywhere! It’s a nationwide experiment—with our children as the subjects. Nor was CCS ever internationally benchmarked. In California, as in most states, there was no time to devote to studying the intricacies of the program, vetting it, or introducing it to the public. Instead, Race to the Top money was dangled in front of state legislatures, and 45 states sprang for it, but 16 of these states at last count are already seeking to withdraw from the program.
Parents need to understand the implications of the Common Core Standards. These standards, which amount to a national curriculum via bundled tests, texts and teacher evaluations, would severely degrade our local schools. How? By lowering the standards of high-performing schools to make them “equal” with low-performing schools, in a misguided attempt to reach what its proponents call “equity” or “fairness” by mandating the lowest common denominator for all schools. True, this would close the muchballyhooed “achievement gap”—but only by dumbing down the education of the best and brightest to better match that of the unmotivated and/or less academically gifted.
The idea that all students should perform identically sounds eerily like something out of Mao’s China. What happened to our relishing of individual talents and uniqueness? Would we lower the standards for the best athletes to put them on a par with mediocre athletes to close the “performance gap” in, say, high school football?
How do a few of the experts view this program? Dr. James Milgrim of Stanford University, the only mathematician on the Common Core validation team, refused to sign off on the math standards because he discovered that by the end of 8th grade, CCS will leave our students two years behind in math compared to those in high-performing countries. And according to Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the respected expert who developed the Massachusetts standards, widely regarded as the best in the nation, “Common Core’s ‘college readiness’ standards for ELA are chiefly empty skill sets and cannot lead to even a meaningful high school diploma. Only a literature-rich curriculum can. College readiness has always depended on the complexity of the literary texts teachers teach and a coherent literature curriculum.”
As English teacher Christel Swasey notes: “We become compassionate humans by receiving and passing on classic stories. Souls are enlarged by exposure to the characters, the imagery, the rich vocabulary, the poetic language and the endless forms of the battle between good and evil, that live in classic literature.” Instead, students will swim in the murky waters of relativism where all things are equal and no moral compass exists. We should not be surprised if they are also encouraged to view history along the lines of multiculturalism, “social equity,” and the Communitarian glorification of the collectivist “global village.”
Consider how drastically literature is being marginalized (30%) in favor of “informational” texts (70%) in the 12th grade, with a maximum of only 50% literature ever, throughout middle and high school English classes. The switch to a steady diet of “informational” texts virtually ensures that students won’t be learning to think critically or to write probing, analytical essays, let alone to develop the love of reading and appreciation for the literary masterpieces of Western culture. Put in practical terms, it means that instead of reading Hamlet, Great Expectations and Pride and Prejudice, your child will be reading computer manuals and tracts on “climate change,” “environmental justice,” and the virtues of recycling.
And the price of mediocrity? In California, implementation cost is estimated at $2.1 billion, with $1.4 billion as upfront costs—mainly for computers (every child needs one—along with special apps—could that be one reason Bill Gates poured a cool $150 million into this program? Perhaps giving new meaning to the word “philanthropist”…) along with training teachers to navigate the complicated new programs. Even though it’s been proven—as if we needed proof—that children learn better from real live teachers than from staring at LCD screens.
In addition, tests and “assessments” will be taken on computers—resulting in the harvesting of personal data that amounts to a dossier on every child, including choice tidbits about Mommy and Daddy. And what is to stop the powers-that-be from using these assessments and test results to “re-educate” “politically incorrect” students who show too much independence?
Clearly Common Core is a disaster in the making. So what can we do? The simplest solution is to insist that our school boards turn down the carrot of federal funding and reject Common Core in order to preserve the integrity of our local schools through local control and to continue to allow our teachers to use their creativity in the classroom. The price of compliance with Common Core, however tempting monetarily speaking, is just too high— the mortgaging of our children’s future.
Thanks to Cherie Zaslawsky for permission to publish her essay here.