Schadenfreude is the pleasure one derives from seeing the misfortunes of another person. For example, as a Boston Red Sox fan, it is the tingle we feel when the Yankees lose…. and as one who opposes the use of standardized tests as the primary means of measuring student performance it is the frisson I experienced when I read in an Education Week article that President Obama’s education policy is one of the areas Republicans targeted in their otherwise ill-conceived lawsuit against his use of presidential power… or read a Fair Test press release in Diane Ravitch’s blog announcing that despite over a decade of mandated standardized testing ACT scores remain flat… or read about the many disgraceful abuses of deregulated privatized charter schools in Florida… or read about a “miracle school” championed by a pro-privatization Governor closes because of low test scores… or read about the eroding support for the Common Core in the NYTimes and Education Next, a conservative mouthpiece. All of these articles indicate that the top-down and outside-in reforms are resulting in adverse unintended consequences that are eroding public support for the reforms themselves… BUT
The major findings of the survey are unsettling:
1) While Americans asked to evaluate the quality of teachers’ work think, on average, that about half of the teachers in their local schools deserve a grade of A or B, they think that more than one-fifth deserve a D or F; even teachers give these low marks to more than 1 in 10 of their peers, on average.
2) More than one-fourth of all families with school-age children have educated a child in a setting other than a traditional public school.
3) The public thinks less money should be spent on class-size reduction relative to the amount spent on teacher salaries or new books and technologies, if they are told the relative price of each intervention.
If 25% of children in this country are no longer educated in a “traditional public school” we may be approaching a tipping point, especially given that those surveyed believe that 20% of the teachers warrant a D or F grade and the public is unwilling to spend more money to provide small classes for children in public schools. Those who support public education may be winning the battle against the “government imposed” NCLB, RTTT, and CCSS but we may also be losing the battle to gain support for “government schools”. In the end, it may be that Fox News followers are the ones who will experience schadenfreude as overall support for public schools erodes.
Tennessee was the site of the Scopes trial in the 1920s… and even today many of its citizens clings to the Biblical truths instead of the Darwinian theories of science. Now the debate over the common core has ignited a debate on handwriting… and as a result TN is intending to adopt standards for cursive handwriting.
I’m sorry to report this to TN, but people aren’t exchanging information in cursive anymore… and 85% of college bound students PRINTED their answers on the SAT essay question. Personally, I never saw the value of cursive writing though I recall it WAS emphasized in Oklahoma where I attended elementary schools in the late 1950s– that is until Sputnik was launched at which point it seemed that the emphasis shifted to mathematics. Moreover, in my 35 years as Principal and Superintendent from the mid-1970s until 2011 I cannot recall any serious debate about teaching handwriting at the board level or among administrators… though I DO recall many debates about keyboarding….
TN is also a state that values deregulation and charter schools… maybe this is the TN State Board’s effort to drive more parents into deregulated charters where coding is seen as more important than cursive. ;-)
In two “Dog Bites Man” stories, Valerie Strauss’s July 24 and June 27 describe the flaws inherent in NYS’s Common Core tests— flaws that illustrate the inability of a pencil and paper test to measure the high-minded outcomes expected if the Common Core was implemented.
The July 24 article features a letter from the 3rd and 4th grade teachers at Shaker Road School which is part of the South Colonie School Dstrict, a district that serves relatively affluent parents in the Albany area. The letter describes the flaws in the writing section of the tests administered to grades they teach and notes concerns about “…badly constructed questions and arbitrarily determined cut scores for what constitutes student proficiency on the tests”… flaws that are inherent in ANY standardized test. Indeed, it is the setting of cut scores that determines expectations far more than the standards that serve as the basis for the test questions.
The earlier June 27 post, which can be accessed via a link in the July 24 article, describes the flaws in the Algebra Regents test used to determine if a student can graduate from high school. When the “Regents-For-All” initiative was launched in the late 1990s and early 2000s there was suspicion that the cut scores might be lowered to guarantee higher pass rates. The advent of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards combined with the Blame Teachers First movement (see yesterday’s post), the cut scores were increased and the failure rate increased… which will add fuel to the fire that “public schools are failing” and need to be replaced by private schools that. presumably and contrary to all evidence, will do a better job.
I am glad that Valerie Strauss continues covering the flaws in standardized testing. I only wish her findings were gaining traction in the mainstream media who appear to believe the “schools-are-failing-and-can-be-fixed-without-money” fantasy spun by the privatizers.
On of Diane Ravitch’s blog posts today includes a link to a post written by Mercedes Schneider that reports on Arne Duncan’s latest effort to punish a state for opting out of the Race To The Top requirement that state’s adopt the Common Core. Diane Ravitch wrote an overview of Duncan’s action:
When Indiana recently threatened to drop the Common Core, the US Department promptly sent out a letter threatening to withdraw the state’s waiver from NCLB, on grounds that Indiana had promised to adhere to high academic standards as a condition of getting the waiver.
The irony here is that Indiana already had superior academic standards prior to adopting the Common Core. Even the conservative policy group, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, rated Indiana’s academic standards as at least equal to, perhaps superior to, the Common Core.
Ah… but Indiana’s academic standards weren’t linked to one of the de facto national assessments that Duncan wants to use to “…measure teacher performance” through VAM… and if he lets ANY State opt out of either the CCSS OR the standardized tests that accompany them he will need to allow ALL of them consider the adoption of different standards. What makes all of this especially problematic for Duncan from Schneider’s perspective is that the USDoE web page offers the following “Fact” in its FAQs:
Fact: The Common Core is a state‐led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind or any other federal initiative. … State adoption of the standards is in no way mandatory. …This work is being driven by the needs of the states, not the federal government. [Emphasis added.]
This is the “grassroots-led-initiative” meme that the Common Core advocates keep repeating and that even anti-privatization bloggers echo… a meme that is increasingly difficult to prove as Duncan punishes states like WA for abandoning CCSS tests and contemplates punishment in IN for their failure to adopt the Common Core.
As I’ve written in earlier posts, there is a need for nationally determined scope and sequence in academic content areas and there is a means for democratically developing such a scope and sequence through the use of open source software… but instead of using technology to facilitate a national consensus among teachers Duncan and the USDoE decided to accept a Gates Foundation grant and summon a small band of “experts” to write the “Common Core” and get several official sounding state organizations and national teacher organizations to endorse it. Over the past several weeks whenever I read a news article or blog post that describes the Common Core as grassroots I write a comment explaining that it is a de facto mandate, citing the recent decision to withhold $$$ from WA as evidence. I can now add IN to the list….
eClassroom News, an online news source for educators, published a post today describing the “…need to build a National Repository of Educational Materials (NREM), an online library of lessons in a range of subject areas with pre-assessments, instructional content and media, practice tasks, quizzes, and mastery tests.” Building such an open source online library is not a new idea to some national governments… if you click on the link you’ll find that India is doing just that!
Oh… wait a minute… we can’t have the FREE exchange of information and we certainly can’t have the government facilitating it! We need to find a way for textbook manufacturers, software developers, hardware salespersons, and testing companies to make a profit!
From my perspective, this is another case of the USDoE taking the wrong path. Instead of using the billions of dollars of stimulus money to develop something like an NREM, which blogger Carol Lach analogizes to the Genome Project, and/or provide ALL schools with broadband, Arne Duncan used stimulus money to issue a de facto mandate for the Common Core, Value Added high stakes testing, and the promotion of for-profit charter schools. Not only is the another case of taking the wrong path… it is an example of what could have been…
An AP story on the Mustang School District’s decision to offer an elective course developed by the Museum of the Bible is a case study in why the Common Core might be a good thing… and why grass roots democracy in the form of local school board governance might be problematic.
Without assigning names to the players in the drama, it seems that a wealthy fundamentalist who serves on the board of directors of a museum devoted to celebrating the Bible found a like minded school board in Oklahoma, “The Buckle of the Bible Belt”, and offered them a chance to pilot a new HS curriculum “…billed as a way to teach archaeology, history and the arts through Bible stories”. The new curriculum uses a textbook that covers:
…the role of religion in early America, discussing the New World as a haven for those seeking to escape religious persecution. It also talks about the role of religion in art, citing the role of patrons such as the Catholic Church and wealthy families during the Renaissance.
The book also uses popular culture, mentioning songs written by U2 that it says are based in the Psalms, to illustrate the Bible’s modern relevance. It does not name specific compositions.
From the outset, the book describes God as eternal, “faithful and good,” ”full of love” and “an ever-present help in times of trouble.”
The wealthy fundamentalist, who declined to be interviewed by AP, “…said he wants the program in thousands of schools by 2017.”
And who is the as yet unnamed wealthy fundamentalist? None other than Steve Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby, whose name has been all over the newspapers because he sued the federal government after the passage of the Affordable Care Act claiming that providing certain types of birth control to its workers would violate the religious freedom rights of the company’s owners.
In years past I’ve witnessed some of my colleagues deal with school boards with a majority of fundamentalists who wanted to ban books, re-introduce prayer, and propose curricula based on Biblical teachings. After a few years these candidates, who often ran without being clear about their intentions, got voted out of office. What makes this story disturbing isn’t that a school board adopted a curriculum that a Religion Professor at SMA described as lacking “scholarly insight”, that kind of thing has happened in the past. What makes this disturbing is that an individual with deep pockets and a penchant for litigation is behind the introduction of the curriculum and intends to expand this curriculum into other schools. And what schools in what states might be open to offering an elective funded by the Museum of the Bible? Methinks it might be the very states that are abandoning the Common Core because they don’t want the federal government meddling with local control.
Bottom line: we live in a complicated world… but one where the person with the deepest pockets will have the biggest megaphone. I think we’ll be hearing more about this in the months ahead.