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Posts Tagged ‘CCSS’

Another Sign of the ESSA Apocalypse: States Adopt Science Standards that Contradict Reality

February 7, 2018 Leave a comment

I am no fan of the common core, but I do believe that Bill Gates understood the need to nationalize standards in order to ensure that every child in the nation was learning a uniform set of facts. From my perspective, it is understandable that some topics might be contentious when trying to achieve a consensus. The causes of the Civil War, for example, are nuanced and complicated and agreeing on what to present to 5th graders on that topic might lead to heated disputes. But legislatures have no rational basis to overturn scientific consensus… and that is what the Idaho legislature did last year in response to the Heartland Institute’s desire to change the facts about global warming. As a result, the curriculum director for the state crafted a set of standards that thread the needle on the issue, making it certain that Idaho children will learn about global warming even though they might not learn the real causes of it. NYTimes reporter Livia Albeck-Ripka writes:

The battle started in early 2016, when Idaho was working to update its decade-old science standards for kindergarten through 12th grade, which outside education groups said were out of date. Lawmakers rejected a new set of standards, which were closely modeled after national guidelines developed by a consortium of states and science organizations and included information on climate change, saying more input from the public was needed.

Last year, the House education committee accepted the new standards, but only after scrubbing five sections related to climate change. The passages about climate change were “surgically removed,” said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, which monitors anti-science legislation.

Now, (Scott Cook, the director of academics at the Idaho State Department of Education, who helps lead a committee of teachers, parents and scientists urging that climate change be included in the standards) has reworked those passages in an effort to win approval from lawmakers. The revised standards include natural causes of climate change alongside those driven by humans, and, in response to lawmakers’ requests, they emphasize potential solutions to climate change.

“The committee took a true course between the rocks on one side and the whirlpool on the other,” Mr. Cook said, describing how it had been difficult to strike a balance between language that was scientifically accurate but was satisfying to lawmakers. Where the original standards placed a stronger emphasis on human activity as the primary cause of climate change, the revised standards note that both “human activities” and “natural processes” can affect the Earth’s temperature.

“Although this is not exactly untrue, to say this in the context of a discussion of ‘current changes in climate’ is to suggest a significant role of natural activities in current climate change, which is misleading,” Mr. Branch said in an email. Still, he said he hoped the revised standards would be approved.

Historians could argue over the root causes of the Civil War, but there are some hard cold facts that are unalterable: the dates of battles, the generals who led their respective troops, and the ultimate victor. But when it comes to science, there IS no debate over the existence and cause of global warming except on the fringes. Those causes may well be an inconvenient truth and they may be championed by environmentalists who tend to be “liberal”, but the causes are unarguable— except in legislatures where denial seems to be the order of the day.

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Proof that a Blind Squirrel Will Occasionally Find a Nut: Betsy DeVos’ View of Bush and Obama “Reform” is Spot on… BUT…

January 26, 2018 Leave a comment

Readers of this blog know that I am no fan of Betsy DeVos, but I must acknowledge that her assessment of the Bush and Obama administration’s results is on the mark….and this headline summarizes her point well:

Nothing Presidents Barack Obama or George W. Bush did in education reform really worked

As Valerie Strauss reported in a blog post last week in the Washington Post, Ms. DeVos “…delivered her first speech of 2018 and flatly declared that school reform efforts under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush had not worked…” Had she stopped there she would have won my unequivocal praise for her insights. But she went on a little longer and, in doing so, demonstrated her lack of understanding about “reform”. in examining the two administrations, she stated:

We saw two presidents [George W. Bush and Obama] from different political parties and philosophies take two different approaches. Federally mandated assessments. Federal money. Federal standards. All originated in Washington, and none solved the problem. Too many of America’s students are still unprepared.

This is wrong on two counts. The approaches the two administrations took were identical… and both came from the misguided belief from the hinterlands that schools could only be improved if they were standardized like cars or computer software.

She also saw fit to characterize the standardized-test obsessed DOE as “a giant nod to union bosses”, none of whom, to the best of my knowledge, favor the “reform” endorsed by BOTH political parties.

Ms. Strauss’ post includes the speech in it’s entirety, but focusses on the points Ms. DeVos DIDN’T make but should have.

  • The market driven “choice” model of reform Ms. DeVos favors had not improved any schools anywhere
  • The charter schools Ms. DeVos favors provide less opportunities for teacher-led initiatives than the traditional “government schools” she disdains
  • The Common Core is NOT dead: it’s been effectively re-branded and re-inforced at the state level because when ESSA gave states greater latitude they did not seize the opportunity. Instead the great majority of states adopted test-driven metrics that are based on— you guessed it— the Common Core!

As is often the case with Ms. DeVos and her fellow reformers, they get the “bullet points” highlighting the flaws of public education correct. Who could disagree with this statement?

Our children deserve better than the 19th century assembly-line approach. They deserve learning environments that are agile, relevant, exciting. Every student deserves a customized, self-paced and challenging life-long learning journey. Schools should be open to all students — no matter where they’re growing up or how much their parents make.

That means no more discrimination based upon Zip code or socio-economic status. All means all.

But who could agree that the solution implied in the next paragraph, that deregulated market-based reform is the way to improve schools?

It’s about educational freedom! Freedom from Washington mandates. Freedom from centralized control. Freedom from a one-size-fits-all mentality. Freedom from “the system.”

Let me translate what Ms. DeVos is really saying. “Washington mandates” means those pesky desegregation orders. “Centralized control” means requiring all children to learn how democracy works and how to think independently. “One-size-fits-all” means providing children in less affluent areas with the same funding levels as children in wealthy areas. “The system” in this case means government funding and regulation that ensures equal opportunity for all…. and the provision of revenues through a fair and just system of taxation.

 

 

This Just In: Common Core Benchmarks Unattainable in ANY Country in the World

January 18, 2018 Leave a comment

The National Superintendents Roundtable and Horace Mann League released a report yesterday that included several findings that contradict the “failing schools” narrative set forth decades ago by the Reagan administration and built upon by every administration thereafter. The primary take away from the report is this:

Globally, in just about every nation where it is possible to compare student performance with our national benchmarks, the vast majority of students cannot demonstrate their competence because the bars are set unreasonably high.

And as the report notes at the outset, this inability for students to demonstrate competence is intentional:

One motivation for establishing the NAEP benchmarks was the desire to demonstrate that “large numbers of students were failing,” according to a former New York Times national education correspondent.

A rushed process for developing the benchmarks was adopted by the policy body governing NAEP – despite experts’ objections – in part because a prominent member of the policy body acknowledged he was “fed up with technical experts.”

It isn’t difficult to adjust cut scores on tests to “prove” students are improving OR failing… and it isn’t difficult for “think tanks” to generate “benchmarks” that have some official seal of approval that is untethered to the realities of child development or the realities of teaching students from challenging backgrounds. And, unfortunately, it isn’t difficult to persuade the public that their public schools are “failing” as a result of attaining low scores on tests with impossibly high standards while implying that other nations are doing far better.

And here’s the saddest news of all: the “reformers” who want to undercut support for the institution of public schools are succeeding. According to a recent survey conducted by NPR, only 43% of the public has confidence in public schools. But educators should be heartened to know that the public has far more confidence in them than they have in Congress (8%), or either political party (29% for the GOP and 36% for the Democrats). Somewhere Ronald Reagan and his acolytes are happy, though. The voters all agree with his assertion that Government is the Problem. Our founding fathers, though, weep. Democracy counts on an electorate that supports public institutions… and the NPR survey shows that the only institution that has broad public support is… the military.

When Intelligent Design is Offered, Thank the Bi-Partisan Passage of ESSA Which Enables the Spread of “Stupid Ideas”

November 20, 2017 Leave a comment

I have long believed that some kind of national standards are required in all curriculum areas, Bill Gates’ unilateral efforts to impose the Common Core via Race to the Top notwithstanding. The pushback to Mr. Gates’ initiative and Arne Duncan’s efforts to impose top-down testing resulted in the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bi-partisan bill that empowered State’s to devise their own curricula, their own assessments, and their own means of accountability.

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an article by Cyde Haberman describing on result of this shift of power back to the States: the re-emergence of the debate on whether to include evolution in the curriculum as “scientific fact” or present it side-by-side with theories like intelligent design. And, no surprise to this blogger, the intelligent design crowd is making headway. Mr. Haberman offers a detailed description of a law passed in Louisiana and tested in courts and concludes that other states are likely to pass similar bills:

Thus far, the Louisiana law is proving to be bulletproof. No court case has been brought against it, even if Dr. Miller says somewhat dismissively that this is only because “the First Amendment protects you against imposition of religious ideas in the public schools — it doesn’t protect you against the introduction of stupid ideas.”

And Louisiana does not stand alone. Tennessee, home of the Scopes trial, passed a comparable law in 2012. Efforts along the same line have been tried in other states, including Mississippi, Alabama, Indiana, South Dakota, Missouri, Florida and Oklahoma.

With the passage of ESSA and the abandonment of the common core, expect more states to adopt curricula that abandon science… and at some point, who knows, maybe students will be required to demonstrate an understanding of intelligent design in order to earn a diploma. Nine states down… 41 to go. And for my friends in New Hampshire, please pay attention! It could happen in our state.

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Timothy Egan Unfairly Castigates Public Schools for Public Stupidity

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment

In his op ed piece today titled “We’re With Stupid“, NYTimes columnist Timothy Egan unfairly blames public schools for the stupidity we are witnessing among voters, stupidity that is causing our democrcy to go off the rails. Here’s his analysis of our status as a nation:

As we crossed the 300-day mark of Donald Trump’s presidency on Thursday, fact-checkers noted that he has made more than 1,600 false or misleading claims. Good God. At least five times a day, on average, this president says something that isn’t true.

We have a White House of lies because a huge percentage of the population can’t tell fact from fiction. But a huge percentage is also clueless about the basic laws of the land. In a democracy, we the people are supposed to understand our role in this power-sharing thing. 

Nearly one in three Americans cannot name a single branch of government. When NPR tweeted out sections of the Declaration of Independence last year, many people were outraged. They mistook Thomas Jefferson’s fighting words for anti-Trump propaganda.

Fake news is a real thing produced by active disseminators of falsehoods. Trump uses the term to describe anything he doesn’t like, a habit now picked up by political liars everywhere.

But Trump is a symptom; the breakdown in this democracy goes beyond the liar in chief. For that you have to blame all of us: we have allowed the educational system to become negligent in teaching the owner’s manual of citizenship.

As I commented on his article, the “educational system” is not to blame on this. For at least the past decade our country has been engaged in a debate about what is important to teach in schools. This debate was manifested most recently in the Common Core, a set of objectives for reading and mathematics that it seemed impossible to get a consensus on. As for science, we have several state boards who are rejecting any discussion of climate change and some states where the teaching of evolution is still disputed. How on earth can we hope to get a consensus on what elements of civics are important in this atmosphere?

Timothy Egan does offer a solution:

There’s hope — and there are many ways — to shed light on the cave of American democracy. More than a dozen states now require high school students to pass the immigrant citizenship test. We should also teach kids how to tell fake news from real, as some schools in Europe are doing.

The idea of requiring that high school students pass the citizenship test as a basis for earning a diploma should be a quick and easy fix… but teaching kids how to tell fake news from real will run into the same buzz saw as math, reading and science. And if we can’t adopt the citizenship test as a graduation standard, please don’t blame public education for the demise of democracy.

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Montgomery County (MD) Decision to Return to Traditional Letter Grades is Evidence of Where Change is Most Resistant

September 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Conservative columnists complain that teachers unions are the biggest block to making changes in public education. Liberal columnists contend change is thwarted by a lack of funding. Progressives look with dismay at the standardized testing that drives decision making and reinforces the status quo and see that as an impediment to change.

But a recent decision by the Montgomery County (MD) School Board illustrates the biggest obstacle to change: parents who want to retain the system as it is. Five years ago, the Montgomery County School Board made a decision to institute a new system of reporting student progress to students. As reported by Washington Post writer Linh Bui at that time, the system would replace the traditional A-F grades on elementary report cards with ones indicating how each student was progressing.

The Montgomery County public school system is joining other districts across the country in abandoning traditional letter grades for some students and instead matching student evaluations with specific curriculum standards.

Instead of seeing A’s, B’s, C’s or D’s on report cards this November, for the first time, parents of Montgomery students in third grade will see ES, P, I or N. Those new letters will also apply to students in first through second grade, who used to get O’s, S’s or N’s.

Teachers also will mark students separately on learning skills such as “effort,” “intellectual risk taking” and “originality” with separate codes of DEM (demonstrating), PRG (progressing) or N (not yet evident).

This kind of grading system is the natural outgrowth of switching to a standards-based curriculum whereby all students are expected to master a series of standards no matter how much time takes for the each student to do so. It is an important and necessary step for any teacher, school, or district attempting to move toward a mastery learning model based on the assumption that time is a variable and learning is constant instead of the other way around.

In well funded and equitable Montgomery County the teachers and the teachers union supported the change. From all appearances, a sea change was underway… but from the outset one set of parents never understood what was going on and another set of parents and the conservative media rejected the move to “standards-based” grades because the new grades were based on (gasp) the Common Core. As Ms. Bai reported five years ago, the A-F paradigm seemed to be unshakeable to parents… as did the inherent competitiveness and false sense of exactness and certitude built into the A-F system. Some parents made fallacious crosswalks between the new grading system and the old one, some saw the system as “squishy” since it didn’t have numbers associated with it, and some never saw the link between the curriculum standards and the progress reports.

The terminology itself is crucial: the quarterly issuance of letter grades is called a “Report Card”. The terminology used when districts move toward a standards-based grading is a “Progress Report”. They convey a different intent and a different purpose.

As one who sees technology as potentially assisting in the shift away from the competitive bell curve mentality inherent in standardized test driven grading, I know is now possible to completely eliminate report cards altogether. With parent portals into the student information systems used in virtually every school in the nation it is no longer necessary to issue periodic “Report Cards” or “Progress Reports”. Instead, parents can periodically check on their child’s progress through the outcomes defined for each course and schools can monitor the parent’s assiduousness in doing to to make certain it is appropriate for the age of the child. Technology makes such a change possible… and, as we witnessed in Montgomery County, it is supported by teachers, affordable, and equitably applied. The problem with instituting this necessary change? Parents who want schools to stay just the way they were when they attended.

Don’t Know Much About History? Blame the Textbooks…

August 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Atlantic writer Matt Ford’s  What Trump’s Generation Learned About the Civil War, an article in yesterday’s yesterday on-line edition effectively laid the blame for our President’s ignorance about the Civil War on the textbooks used in classrooms while he was in school. As a contemporary of the President, I think that the way history was taught during that era was the problem far more than the content…. and the methods used in that era persist in far too many classrooms today.

The history courses— or “social studies” courses— I took in the late 1950s and early 1960s all used thick textbooks that were stuffed with facts, textbooks that were impossible to “cover” in one year and “front loaded” so that the explorers and Founding Fathers were covered in depth. In my experience, the Civil War was taught as a stand-alone event. Contrary to the premise of Mr. Ford, I recall the context for the war was limited to the premise that the South wanted to keep slavery and the North wanted to abolish it. There were facts we needed to memorize about the Civil War, but the facts were not put into a context… a method that was typical of the way all conflicts were presented. As a result, I learned a lot about the time period between 1763 and the election of George Washington, a lot about 1861-1865, and a lot about 1914-1917. Being raised in a Republican bastion, we also learned that FDR’s programs did nothing to left the country out of the Depression. Instead it was our entry into World War II that got our economy back on track.

Throughout junior and senior high school our history teachers relied heavily on AV to deliver many of the facts we needed to recall for the tests… and one teacher in particular showed film-after-film of the battles in World War II, a favorite era for him. Because he emphasized that particular time span in that fashion, we learned even less about the economic factors that led to World War II and hardly anything about our country’s isolationist perspective prior to the war. We all learned that history was about memorizing indisputable facts and timelines.

The result of this approach to presenting material was to conflate the accumulation of facts with “history”, which deadened the subject and, in all probability, led many in my generation to be incurious about the causes and effects of the events we had to commit to memory. Clearly both recent GOP Presidents lack the curiosity needed to delve deeply into causes and effects of events that faced them. The anti-intellectualism of the GOP that has come into full bloom under President Trump dates back to the antipathy the party generated in opposition to Adlai Stevenson, the anti-Communist attacks of Joe McCarthy, and Spiro Agnew’s railing against the “pointy-headed” liberals.

Mr. Ford is right in his criticism of the material in the textbooks of the 1950s and 1960s. It was too often sanitized in order to be marketable in all parts of the country and, consequently, omitted contentious issues like slavery and racism that supported slavery. But he misses the key point that the way we were tested on those facts led us to accept them as indisputable and etched in stone. Worse, it led too many of us to stop looking deeply into the causes and effects of events and to diminish those who bothered to do so.