Archive for August, 2013

The Common Core’s Downfall in NY

August 22, 2013 Comments off

Charles Blow’s NYTimes column on the Common Core has good insights… but maddeningly refers to the Broad Foundation as an “educational reform group”. Broad’s idea of reform is to measure success based on test results… and Blow’s best insight is to flag this testing as part of the problem:

…The problem is that, in some states, Common Core testing has been implemented before teachers, or the public for that matter, have been instructed in how to teach students using the new standards.

This means that, when students score poorly on the more rigorous Common Core-based tests, it threatens to cause a backlash among parents, who increasingly see testing as the problem, not the solution.

That Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll also found that most Americans had not heard of the Common Core. Only 22 percent thought increased testing helped school performance, and most rejected the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.

Because we insist on prioritizing testing over teaching — punishments over preparation — we run the risk of turning Americans off one of the few educational strategies in recent memory that most people say we need.

As long as the primary metric for measuring the effectiveness of school reform is standardized testing based on age-based grade levels we will continue perpetuating the factory school model and continue prioritizing punishment over preparation.

Obama’s College Ratings: A Bad Idea

August 22, 2013 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes reports that President Obama is announcing “…a set of ambitious proposals… aimed at making colleges more accountable and affordable by rating them and ultimately linking those ratings to financial aid.”

The rating system Obama proposes would be based on “…measures like tuition, graduation rates, debt and earnings of graduates, and the percentage of lower-income students who attend. The ratings would compare colleges against their peer institutions. If the plan can win Congressional approval, the idea is to base federal financial aid to students attending the colleges partly on those rankings.”

This is a terrible idea. As indicated in a comment I submitted:

The President should exhort States to restore funding to public schools, State colleges and community colleges instead of promoting a rating system based on graduation rates, college costs, and, worst of all, earnings after college. Under this rating system colleges that accept non-traditional or poor students will fare worse than highly selective colleges who choose from affluent applicants, colleges with highly qualified and well compensated teachers will fare worse than colleges employing adjuncts, and colleges that prepare teachers will fare worse than colleges preparing hedge fund managers… but it seems that our country celebrates inexpensive labor over anything that increases taxes.

Moreover, later in the article the President calls for:

…so-called competency-based degrees, in which college credits are based not on the hours students spend in classrooms, but on how much they can show they know.  Another approach mentioned in the plan is online education through what have become known as “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, which are mostly free. Mr. Obama will also urge consideration of three-year degree programs and dual enrollment programs in which high school students can begin to earn college credits.

The President has created the unrealistic and completely unnecessary expectation that all students should attend college and now wants to reduce the purpose of college to developing “competencies” and instead of developing a thirst for knowledge. Give his desire to reduce costs this makes perfect sense.  “Competencies” can be taught with on-line courses and measured with standardized tests while measuring a students’ desire for learning and curiosity requires a live human being with an understanding of motivation and ability to relate directly with a student.  We don’t need more mass instruction, we need more tutoring and apprenticeships, especially if we want to reach those individuals who are currently lack the qualifications. We don’t need to focus on cost reduction measures like on-line courses, the use of adjuncts, and AP courses in high schools, we need to focus on hiring and retaining teachers who can connect with non-traditional students. We don’t need ratings that tell us what we already know, we need funding for programs that will encourage all students to be life-long learners.

Times Implicit Support for CCSS

August 21, 2013 Comments off

Last week the NYTimes ran an article titled “School Standards’ Debut is Rocky, and Critics Pounce”.  The article, like most on this initiative, made no mention of the source of funding for the common core, unquestioningly accepted Arne Duncan’s assertion that the USDOE was not mandating the implementation, and made no mention of the slapdash implementation of the standards in most states— in particular New York. Moreover, it diminished the “critics” critiques to whiny soundbites when they were often nuanced. For example Diane Ravitch has written countless blog posts with specific criticisms of the standards themselves, the funding sources for the standards (education think tanks funded by so-called venture philanthropists), USDOE’s efforts to bully States into use of the CCSS by mandating their adoption in order to receive NCLB waivers, the lack of field testing for assessments, and the way the assessments are being used to measure the performance of teachers. Her critique of the CCSS was reduced to this quote:

“We’re using a very inappropriate standard that’s way too high,” said Diane Ravitch, an education historian who served in President George W. Bush’s Education Department but has since become an outspoken critic of many education initiatives.

The Times reporter Mokoto Rich then goes on to quote Ravitch as saying:

“I think there are a lot of kids who are being told that if they don’t go to college that it will ruin their life,” she said. “But maybe they don’t need to go to college.”

To an uniformed reader it makes Ravitch sound like a whiny elitist instead of a thoughtful critic and the commenters seemed to pick up on the “…these new standards are too tough” narrative. Indeed, Rich fuels this in one of her opening paragraphs:

At the same time, a group of parents and teachers argues that the standards — and particularly the tests aligned with them — are simply too difficult.

As written in earlier posts on the CCSS, they are not too difficult for all children to master IF time is variable… but their link to age-based grade levels reinforces the factory model for schooling and impedes the kind of individualized learning that could take place given the technology available today.



Wang, BlackBerry, and Schooling

August 20, 2013 Comments off

Joe Nocera’s column in today’s NYTimes describes the rise and fall of two technology companies: Wang and BlackBerry.  Both companies fell into bankruptcy because they clung to old notions. Wang believed the public wanted computers to be work processors and missed the personal computer revolution as a result. BlackBerry believed the I-phone was a toy that no business would ever use for “serious” communication. Here’s the comment I posted:

There is a lesson here for education as well… MOOCS and on-line courses can be linked to certification programs that make “diplomas” obsolete… in the meantime schools and colleges hold fast to their notion that they alone can provide access to credentials that are universally accepted…

This Just In: AP Poll Shows Support for Public Schools

August 19, 2013 Comments off

Did you know that a recent AP poll indicated that 76% percent of the parents in the US rated their children’s schools “Excellent” or “Good”?

Did you know that only 8% of the parents rated their child’s school as “Poor” or “Very Poor”?

Did you know that parent satisfaction with schools has increased over the past three years?

Did you know that 66% of parents think that their children’s teachers are paid too little? Did you know that this percentage has increased by 10% over the past three years?

Did you know that 61% of parents believe their oldest child is getting a better education than they received? did you know that this percentage has increased over the past three years?

Did you know that 82% of parents rate their children’s teachers as good or excellent? Did you know that only 5% rate their children’s teachers as poor?


I didn’t think so… That’s because the AP report on this poll appeared under this headline: “Parent’s Back High Stakes Tests”.

The AP’s report on their poll didn’t include any of the data outlined above because this information didn’t conform to the “schools are failing” meme… and the fact that it undercut that narrative wasn’t at all newsworthy.

Yet the fact that parents satisfaction with schools is INCREASING is amazing given the negative press public education has received over the past three years. It seems to me that this resistance to media reporting IS newsworthy.

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Reformers Overreach on CCSS Testing

August 19, 2013 Comments off

Diane Ravitch’s post earlier today detailed the anti-testing movement on Long Island where school district leaders and local newspapers are speaking out against the testing regimen associated with the implementation of the CCSS. Michael White offered the following insights in a newspaper editorial published in two local papers:

“Consider that many children in poverty-stricken areas will still be living in single-parent or no-parent households in our new, Common Core world. They still won’t be eating or sleeping properly. They won’t be getting proper medical attention for physical or emotional issues that interfere
with school. They won’t be getting help with homework, or even
having their homework checked at home. In fact, extra attention for
such students will be increasingly funneled away from them, as the
focus shifts to teaching to the Common Core assessments.

“For these kids, school’s simply getting harder, with no significant amount of funding set aside to provide them better access to school supplies,
computers and internet access, or any plans to expand the school day or school year or bulk up after-school enrichment programs. With higher test failure rates, there’s also sure to be a huge spike in students in need of additional support through mandated programs such as academic intervention services. Where does that money come from?

“State officials keep arguing that we must adopt Common Core because America’s education system lags behind those of other industrialized nations. But they never acknowledge that much of the disparity is accounted for by the performance of students in poor and non-English-speaking immigrant communities, which aren’t as prevalent in more homogeneous nations like Finland and South Korea.”

I offered the following comment to this post:

The “reformers” are being exposed now: they can prey on the large urban districts serving economically disadvantaged children where mayors have undermined democracy by usurping the power of elected school boards. Rural and suburban school districts will never allow corporations to supplant their locally elected school boards.

REAL Reform and the CCSS

August 19, 2013 Comments off

Bill Keller of the NYTimes wrote an op ed piece today excoriating the Republican party for its decision to withdraw its support for the common core. I found the column maddening because it perpetuated several myths regarding the common core and the testing that accompanies it, which led me to make this comment:

The Common Core was NOT a grassroots movement by educators or politicians. It was funded by a handful of billionaires who want to impose the business model onto public education in the name of “reform”. The business “reform” model assumes schools are factories where children are expected to proceed through academic instruction at the same rate despite their varied backgrounds, despite the reality that children’s intellectual growth— like their physical growth— happens at different rates, and despite the fact that formal schooling occurs only six hours a day after a child reaches the age of five. The business “reform” model assumes people who enter teaching are motivated by the same incentives as those entering business and assumes that student learning, like corporate earnings, can be quantified and analyzed using test results. The business “reform” model assumes all of this can and must happen quickly and cheaply— hence the need for de-regulation, the circumvention of democratic process, and the outsourcing of as much work as possible to nonunion employees. REAL reform would allow children to progress through the common core at their own rate instead of being grouped in age-based “grade levels” and would use the assessments diagnostically. REAL reform would address the underlying challenges students born into poverty face, for it is those children who struggle the most to meet the “world class standards”. REAL reform would abandon the factory school model completely.