Archive for the ‘Howard Stephenson’ Tag

Orwellian Reason Obama Said States Can “Stop Obsessing” About Tests   4 comments

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People throw around the word “Orwellian”.

What does “Orwellian” mean, and how does it relate to education –and to our current president’s latest softening commentary about high stakes testing?

George Orwell showed, in his books 1984 and Animal Farm, how tyranny looks, works, stomps on the individual and suffocates freedom.  He could have been describing Obama’s CEDS/SLDS/EdFacts data exchange in its final form.

(If you haven’t, read 1984.  Just read the first half and skip the nightmarish ending (my advice)  –that way, you’ll see why privacy matters so very, very much, why the freedom to choose the path of your own conscience matters, and why big government control of data is deadly.)

News articles now describing Obama’s supposed, new-found softness about standardized testing, remind me of the news stories put out by the central managers in the novel 1984.  The reactions of the masses remind me of 1984, too.

Some see Obama’s new testing attitude as sincere enlightenment; others think it’s a move to regain popularity among teacher’s unions and angry parents; but the reason I am sure that Obama’s softening his stance on high-stakes testing is that he does not need it in his Orwellian-style, centrally managed, Constitution-be-damned kingdom.

He does not need the tests to control the people nor to get data about them, now that he has:

Peg With Pen said it  this way:

“I keep getting texts, phone messages and emails telling me how happy folks are that Obama is now listening to us – and that Opt Out has been heard. This is heartbreaking for me – because this tells me that mainstream media has done a stellar job of co-opting Opt Out…

The next wave involves the U.S. Dept. of Ed’s recommendations for testing reduction which also comes with funds to support states in getting there. And the scariest part is this – the GROUNDWORK IS COMPLETE. The feds/corporations did exactly what they came to dothey dangled carrots. They got high stakes testing systems in place with longitudinal data bases to carry the seamless productivity of the data. They loosened privacy regulations.  They got common standards out there which are essential for easy data tagging. They pushed and pushed and pushed to support charters and alternative teacher certification. They set the groundwork for the STATES to now lead the way – and they (feds/corporations) have their people in place on school boards, schools of education, depts. of ed…

And now, they simply have commiserated with the masses and said we need to reduce testing and make sure the testing that occurs is meaningful and does not take away from classroom instruction. This is accomplished so easily. It’s called online daily computer based testing. Followed by online daily computer based instruction. Call it mastery testing. Competency based testing. Proficiency testing. Whatever you like. It will begin to fall in place very quickly as states move away from the hated interim testing and massive amounts of end of year testing. There will be less need for these large tests with quick, tidy, END OF DAY testing TIED TO STUDENT GRADES and STUDENT PROMOTION to the next grade/digital badge – whatever it may be – and of course testing which tells the teacher what the next day’s online instruction must be. It’s already happening. And now the federal gov’t. is simply nudging it into the states’ hands with a resounding message of support, an apology for overstepping their boundaries and a few bucks along the way…”

The worst part about seeing federal (Obama) or local (Senator Stephenson, Representative Poulsen) officials suddenly seeing the Opt Out light, and suddenly pooh-pooh-ing high stakes testing– is the replacement, the “new” and bigger river of data to fulfill their stated goal of “data-driven” central decision making:  it’s stealth assessment, also known as embedded assessment.

I’ve written about stealth testing before.

Stealth assessment is nonconsensual assessment, unannounced assessment and data gathering.  (Hello, consent of the governed.)

It’s testing that happens while students are simply using their technological devices for any school assignment.  And it’s being discussed right now in our Utah legislature as the solution for the ills of high-stakes testing.

What are they discussing?  Which is worse, SAGE or stealth?

Let’s make a little pros and cons list together.  (Also, see my top ten reasons to opt out if you want more detail on why SAGE opt-outs are so vital.)

CONS:  For High Stakes Standardized Testing (SAGE/PARCC/SBAC/AIR tests)

The tests rob students of real  learning by pressuring teachers to teach to the test.

They rob teachers of professional judgment by punishing and rewarding them based on test scores.

Utah’s SAGE is secretive, closed to teachers and parents.

The tests are un-valid (never having been tested).

The standards, upon which the tests are based, are un-valid (never having been tested).

The untested tests are using our children as guinea pigs without our consent.

The tests do not meet basic values for codes of ethics.

PROS:  For High Stakes Standardized Testing (SAGE/PARCC/SBAC/AIR tests)

We can opt out of the tests.

That’s it.

We can opt out of the tests; we can’t opt out of stealth testing, aka curriculum-embedded assessment.

Do you see?  The move away from standardized tests is also a move away from the parental or individual ability to opt out of the data mining assault on privacy.

Taking Utah as an example:  if Representative Marie Poulson’s committee— that was formed after her stealth assessment (anti-high stakes testing) resolution passed— decides to kick SAGE testing to the curb, the Utah legislature will follow the federal trend of pushing all the data mining further underground by using embedded assessment (stealth testing) as its replacement.

Don’t let this happen.  Talk to your representatives.  Say no to stealth/embedded testing.

 

 

 

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2015 Update: US Congressman Schaffer on Marc Tucker’s “Dear Hillary” Letter   14 comments

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The following is authored by former US Congressman Bob Schaffer and is posted with his permission.  In light of the fact that Marc Tucker has been invited to advise the Utah legislature on education at this week’s two day education conference, it seemed important to remember the history behind the changes that are culminating now, which Tucker and Hillary Clinton detailed in motion in the 1990s.  Thanks to Bob Schaffer for his timely update.

_________________________________________________________

Thanks Christel: 

 

I am grateful for your inquiry and certainly wish you well in your patriotic efforts in Utah.  Incidentally, your readers can find PDF files of each page of Marc Tucker’s “Dear Hillary” letter in the 1998 Congressional Record through these links: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7

 

The “Dear Hillary” letter is as relevant today as it was in 1992.  Though I doubt anyone in the halls of government much remembers the letter itself, it is the concise, clear, and intentional nature of the letter that is instructive to those of us who still find value in the idea of a constitutional republic self-governed by free and intelligent citizens.  Tucker’s sweeping 1992 blueprint for nationalizing the American public-education system is especially pertinent now because, at least since the day it was penned, it has been brilliantly executed with virtually no deviation.

 

It is instructive to note Tucker’s blueprint does not stop at nationalizing primary public education.  It entails merging nationalized primary-education goals with a nationalized higher-education system and a nationalized labor-administrative function.  Think of the 1990s doublespeak “School-to-Work” and you get an accurate picture.  School-to-Work, as you know, was the apt title of the Clinton-era initiative setting the Tucker letter into actual national public policy.  More practically, think of the “Prussian-German, education-labor model” because it is the same thing.  Tucker actually says so in the letter itself:  “We propose that (President-elect) Bill take a leaf out of the German book.”

 

Truly, Tucker’s ideas are not new.  They were formalized by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, refined by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, embedded by Hegel in the German university structure, then exported throughout the world including to virtually every “teachers college” in America.   Specific to the perpetual, anti-intellectual quest to undermine the traditions of “classical” education, Rousseau’s “social-contract” ideas (wherein individuals are understood as subordinate to state interests and royal continuity) were perfected for European classrooms by heralded social engineers such as Heinrich Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel.  These ideas were most powerfully applied to American classrooms by John Dewey.  Despite being deeply embedded in the curriculum of modern American teacher’s colleges, these collectivist ideals and progressive-romantic philosophies have been held in marginal abeyance by the brilliant American design of decentralized, independent, sovereign states each in charge of its own public-education system. 

 

Accordingly, this is where Tucker’s “Dear Hillary” letter earns its notorious repute.  An acolyte of the worn Rousseau-Dewey, progressive-romantic line of thinking, Tucker eloquently maps in his 1992 letter to the new First Lady a sharp and detailed political plan for mutating American primary education, secondary education, and labor policy in ways that can breach the pesky firewalls of the Tenth Amendment if not the core revolutionary ideal of federalism itself.  Hegel would have been elated.  Dewey’s, Pestalozzi’s, and Froebel’s names are already painted on the ceiling of the Library of Congress – main floor, at that.

 

Though eight years of the Clinton administration have come and gone (maybe), the tactics of the “Dear Hillary” letter roll onward.  Not a single manifestation of “Dear Hillary” policies was curtailed during the Bush presidency.  In fact, many were accelerated through “No Child Left Behind.” The Obama administration has effectuated “Dear Hillary” objectives to nearly complete fruition. 

 

As to your curiosity about why I petitioned the House of Representatives in 1998 to allow me to preserve the Tucker letter as I did, my best explanation follows.

 

After discovering, studying and digesting the transformational implications of the “Dear Hillary” letter, and concluding it carried credible political heft, I thought it important to enshrine the missive via The Congressional Record perhaps as a self-explanatory and incontrovertible marker as to whom, when, where and how the United States of America finally and completely disconnected itself from the proven ideals of classical education – the kind of education the country’s Founders received.  As a youngish, backbench first-term Member of Congress in 1998, I thought someday maybe someone working on a Master’s thesis would like to pinpoint the moment our former republic opted instead for the amply disproven, constrained and anti-intellectual objectives of formalized “training.”  Maybe my Congressional-Record entry would be of good use to an aspiring scholar or two.

 

Indeed, history is replete with examples of classical education leading to strong, powerful individuals; and formalized training leading to a strong, powerful state.  I regarded this letter as a signal of an epic American turning point.  I actually did imagine the letter would one day be regarded as an important historic document worthy of being singled out and remembered.  I maintain that belief even now, and am delighted you are among those who recognize its significance.

 

It seemed to me at the time, the “Dear Hillary” letter was the most concise, honest and transparent political document of its kind.  It reminded me of the moment Gen. George McClelland at Sharpsburg came into possession of Gen. Robert Lee’s plans for an offensive at Antietam Creek.  Here in these plans, one actually reads a credible battle strategy for overcoming American federalism.  Tucker’s war cannons were fully charged and tightly packed with progressive-romantic canister, aimed directly upon the Founder’s revolutionary idea of republican, self-government and our traditions of states’ rights.  

 

I had anticipated my colleagues in the Congress and various state-education leaders would benefit from knowing, in advance, of Tucker’s offensive strategy especially as his battle plan was specifically addressed to, and received by, the occupants of the White House.  The last thing I ever imagined at the time (and I am heartbroken to realize it now), is how political leaders in the several states have stood indolently for it.  Never did I picture the baleful scene we are witnessing today – state leaders themselves dutifully lowering Tucker’s linstock to the touch hole of statism.

 

At least for the past couple of decades, the vast majority of elected leaders in both political parties have clearly – if not enthusiastically – worked to outdo one another in applying Rousseau-Hegel-Dewey ideas to public education.  They offer little, if any, impressive resistance to policies, laws, rules, and mandates relegating American education to a job-training enterprise despite the prescient warnings of Albert Jay Nock, E.D. Hirsch, Tracy Lee Simmons and others who have underscored the crucial difference between classical education and anti-intellectual training.  As such, Tucker’s letter and goals, though overtly political, cannot be fairly regarded as a partisan.  No, the epic transformation of American culture and national character is being achieved rather quickly due to an overwhelming advantage of spectacular bipartisan cooperation. 

 

Henceforward, when intelligent people scratch their heads and wonder how it was that the citizens of the United State of America inexplicably stood by and unwittingly participated in the systematic demise of their blessed republic, at least they’ll find one comprehensive and compelling explanation, assuming it survives the censors’ notice, in The Congressional Record on September 25, 1998.

 

Thank you for finding me, reaching out to me, and granting me an opportunity to underscore the perilous certainties of the country’s education system.

 

Very truly yours,

Bob Schaffer

 

—————

On a related note, I invite the officials who will be participating in so-called “guided” discussions at this week’s conference to truly arm themselves against the manipulative “delphi technique” that is used to force consensus, as outlined by Jenny Hatch here.

 

Dear Utah Legislature   Leave a comment

Dear Francis Gibson,

Missouri, South Carolina and Indiana have written legislation that could withdraw their states from Common Core.

I am writing to ask you to help pass similar legislation for Utah.

I was able to give a speech on this subject at the Weber County Republican Women’s group meeting this month. https://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/weber-county-republican-womens-meeting-speech-on-common-core/

I will attach the text of that speech here, so that if there is still any doubt in your mind that Common Core is a financial, academic, states’ rights and privacy-rights disaster, this will clarify the point.

I write to you because my own representative, Kraig Powell, has closed his mind on this subject.

Thank you for taking the time to read.

Please keep this in mind above all: the difference between what I am saying and what the proponents of Common Core are saying, is that my statements and claims are referenced and verifiable. The DOE’s and the NGA/CCSSO’s and the USOE’s all match, but all are empty claims with no provided references and no validation from empirical sources anywhere. Common Core is a massive, expensive academic experiment. An experiment! On our children.

We have been sold out, not by malice, but simply by the ignorance of our state school board and the former governor who signed us up.

My motive is pure, as a teacher and a mother who wants high quality education and actual freedom to change standards when we find some of them don’t match Utah’s needs and wants.

Thank you.

Christel Swasey

Heber City

Legislature Hears Expert Testimony: What Should Utah Do About Common Core?   Leave a comment

Ted Rebarber with James Stergios at Utah’s Capitol

James Stergios kindly provided this copy of the testimony he gave last month to education committee legislators in Salt Lake City.

Testimony to the Utah 2012 Education Interim Committee

by James Stergios

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I thank the co-Chairs of the Committee, Senator Howard Stephenson and Representative Francis Gibson, for the opportunity to provide testimony to the Committee.

My name is James Stergios, executive director of the Boston-based think tank, Pioneer Institute. Pioneer Institute has produced the most analytic work on the Common Core in the country, with multiple peer reviewed published reports on their relative quality, cost, and legality. In doing this work we have taken no funding from interested parties, and we have commissioned the reports from the most highly qualified scholars and experts in the country.

Our motivation is the same as yours: We care deeply about our children and this country’s future, and want to prepare our students to compete internationally and to be citizens in a free society characterized by strong state and federal institutions.

My testimony presents four concerns about the Common Core national standards and assessments, which are fully derived from empirical analysis:

1. The quality of the Common Core standards is mediocre and aims for community college-level.

2. The implementation of national standards and assessments limits Utah’s ability to innovate.

3. The promotion of national standards and assessments by the federal government is illegal.

4. Utah has adopted the national standards and assessments without adequate deliberation.

It also makes suggestions for actions by the Utah legislature.

First, the quality of the Common Core is mediocre and aims for community college readiness. Pioneer Institute has conducted four independent evaluations of the national standards, comparing them to states that have or had high standards. In every case, our experts found Common Core to be of lower quality. The Common Core English Language Arts standards suffer from many technical shortcomings, such as their lack of coherent grade-by-grade progressions through high school. But the problems are larger than that. As Dr. Stotsky’s testimony underscores:

Common Core’s standards for English language arts are neither research-based nor internationally benchmarked… To judge from my own research on the language and literature requirements for a high school diploma…, Common Core’s ELA standards fall far below what other English-speaking nations or regions require of college-intending high school graduates.”

In fact, that is the main reason that [Stotsky] and four other members of the [Common Core] Validation Committee declined to sign off on Common Core’s standards.

Nor is there evidence to support the idea [embedded in Common Core] that having English teachers teach more information reading (or literary nonfiction) and less literary reading will lead to greater college readiness.

Let me underscore three points here:

  • First, the Common Core ELA standards are not authentic academic standards; rather, they are empty skills standards. I would be pleased to elaborate on this important issue later.
  • Second, Massachusetts’ remarkable rise on national assessments is not because we aligned our reading standards to the NAEP. Rather, it is because, unlike Common Core, our reading standards emphasized high-quality literature. Reading literature requires the acquisition in a compressed timeframe of a richer and broader vocabulary than non-fiction texts. Vocabulary acquisition is all-important in the timely development of higher-level reading skills.
  • Third, English teachers are trained not to teach Federal Bank reports, or computer and other manuals. They are people steeped in the love of language and literature. Asking an English teacher to teach one of Microsoft’s software development manuals is really not going to work out well.

Common Core’s math standards also suffer from a lack of coherent grade-by-grade progressions, but they too have deeper problems. Common Core’s standards for Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II are not demanding and reflect a less than rigorous definition of “college readiness.” Common Core’s goal of teaching Algebra I only in high school makes it at least one year behind the recommendations of the National Mathematics Panel and current practice among our international competitors. Common Core alarmingly replaces the traditional Euclidean foundations of geometry with an experimental approach to middle and high school geometry that has not been widely or ever successfully implemented at the middle and high school levels.

Stanford mathematics professor James Milgram, well known to Utah during its revision of its state math standards and also a member of the review committee for the Common Core math standards, considers the material covered in Common Core’s math standards by fifth grade to be “more than a year behind the early grade expectations in most high-achieving countries” and by seventh grade to be “roughly two years behind.” He says that the national math standards “are written to reflect very low expectations.”

As Stotsky notes in her testimony: Jason Zimba, lead writer of Common Core’s mathematics standards, admitted at a meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that passing a college readiness test in mathematics will mean that students in Utah or Massachusetts will only be qualified to enroll in a non-selective community or state college.

Former head of the Council of Chief State School Officers Gene Wilhoit’s insistence that Utah can add whatever it wants to the national standards is meaningless for two reasons: First, there may be no federal policing of the standards today, but there is ample evidence across many policy areas that the federal government often moves from “gentlemanly agreements” to mandates. Second, Common Core requires that states adopt the standards verbatim, with flexibility to add up to 15 percent to the content. However, the national assessments will not cover that additional material. As a result, no districts and no teachers will end up teaching the add-ons.

I know that Utah has removed itself from the Smarter Balanced consortium, but that begs the question: If you are not going to use the tests crafted by the national consortia and you are going to deviate as much as you want from the national standards, why have them at all?

Second, the implementation of national standards and assessments limits Utah’s ability to innovate. Any time a state education official seeks to change a strand in the standards or change the test, it will have to get support from the US Department of Education and 40-plus other states and jurisdictions. If a parent has an issue with the standards, you, as a legislator, will have no ability to help them. You will have to suggest that they call a federal 800 number and wait who-knows-how-long for an answer.

And just what does “innovation” mean when one actor (the federal government) controls the standards? What does innovation mean when there is no longer a competition to innovate among states?

States have led the way in education reform. We have made steady gains over time in a way that, frankly, is not seen from the federal government. Utah’s own state math standards were rated as at least as good as the Common Core math standards, as more clearly articulated and succinct by the Fordham Institute, one of Common Core’s biggest backers. You have done well with your standards—and you can do even better.

Third, the promotion of national standards and assessments by the federal government is illegal. Writing in a paper entitled The Road to a National Curriculum, former USDOE General Counsel Kent Talbert and Deputy General Counsel Robert Eitel write:

With only minor exceptions, the General Education Provisions Act (“GEPA”), the Department of Education Organization Act (“DEOA”), and the ESEA, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (“NCLB”), ban federal departments and agencies from directing, supervising, or controlling elementary and secondary school curriculum, programs of instruction, and instructional materials. The ESEA also protects state prerogatives on Title I content and achievement standards.

The Department has used discretionary grants to herd state education authorities into adopting national standards and tests. Talbert and Eitel contend that conditional waivers to NCLB offered by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have never been approved by Congress. Past secretaries of the federal department of education have granted waivers, but never with a unilateral, material change to federal law. Moreover, the recent announcement of a new round of Race to the Top for districts includes the advancement of Common Core. Finally, the two consortia receiving over $300 million in federal funds include in their funding applications explicit recognition that they would develop curricular materials and instructional practice guides.

These two distinguished attorneys note that the US Department of Education is therefore likely violating the aforementioned three federal laws.

While Secretary Duncan’s statement in a letter of March 7th to Superintendent Larry Shumway that the State of Utah has “complete control of Utah’s learning standards” may be true on paper (and given that date), Utah’s waiver from NCLB in June, potential impacts on future federal funding, and the announcement of a new round of Race to the Top for districts, all suggest that Utah’s complete control is much more tenuous than the Secretary’s good letter states.

Utah—and the country—are at a critical juncture, a decision point.

Finally, Utah has adopted the national standards and assessments without adequate deliberation. You, like legislators across the country, are only now debating this issue, after the fact, because Common Core was advanced as an end-run around state legislatures. When Race to the Top was announced in the depths of a recessionary 2009, the federal department emphasized that states adopting national standards would be viewed favorably in funding decisions. As Stotsky notes in her testimony:

… the Utah State Board of Education did not provide a full public discussion before it voted to move control of the curriculum from local school boards to a distant federal bureaucracy.

The USBE tentatively approved the standards two days after they were published (June 4, 2010) to make a U.S. Department of Education deadline of August 2 and then approved them on August 6, 2010.

They were not “thoroughly” vetted. Developing and vetting standards takes time. When states advance new standards, the process of holding public meetings and hearings, which includes developing and deliberating on various drafts, usually requires well over a year.

Not only did the federal government truncate its public comment and other important processes meant to uphold the public trust, but so did the Utah State Board of Education.

What the legislature can do.

The legislature has a role here because the board of education’s decisions on learning standards have an impact on the public purse. The legislature also has an interest in ensuring an open and public vetting of the standards. Our empirical work gives me confidence that, given a proper vetting, the legislature and the state board would agree that the Common Core is deficient in ways described above.

A handful of states have said “no” to Common Core national standards and tests. I urge you not only to say “no” to Common Core—which is a matter of prudence regarding the state’s future and its purse—but also to use the opportunity of this debate to move forward with positive improvements to Utah’s previous state math and reading standards and assessments. As Dr. Stotsky states in her testimony,

If Utah negates its adoption of Common Core’s English language arts standards, I volunteer to help Utah develop a first class set of ELA standards.

Her work helped guide Massachusetts from above average nationally to become the top-performing state in the nation. That is what Utah’s students deserve rather than mediocre national standards.

James Stergios is Pioneer’s Executive Director. Prior to joining Pioneer, he was Chief of Staff and Undersecretary for Policy in the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, where he drove efforts on water policy, regulatory and permit reform, and urban revitalization. His prior experience includes founding and managing a business, teaching at the university level and in public and private secondary schools, and serving as headmaster at a preparatory school. Jim holds a doctoral degree in Political Science.

James Stergios is Pioneer’s Executive Director. Prior to joining Pioneer, he was Chief of Staff and Undersecretary for Policy in the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, where he drove efforts on water policy, regulatory and permit reform, and urban revitalization. His prior experience includes founding and managing a business, teaching at the university level and in public and private secondary schools, and serving as headmaster at a preparatory school. Jim holds a doctoral degree in Political Science.

About Pioneer

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

85 Devonshire Street, 8th Floor, Boston, MA 02109 | T: 617.723.2277 F: 617.723.1880 | http://www.pioneerinstitute.org

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