"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Pajamas Media Talks to Missouri Education Watchdog about Educational Data Warehousing on Human Capital

Patrick Richardson of Pajamas Media talked to us recently about common core standards and the Longitudinal Data System. He has done a fine job detailing exactly how your child and family will be profiled via the educational data base and other federal agencies.

You may find his article on the plan for the Longitudinal Data System here.

And just what educational purpose does it serve to reveal your child's eye color? Or gestational age at birth? We were at the St. Louis Zoo today and saw the photo you see in the heading of this posting:

A Plan for Survival

With the support of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), zoos from across North America work together to mange Species Survival Plans (SSP). These plans ensure the survival of these unique animal species well into the future.

Knowing the genetic background of each individual, SSP managers decide which animals should be paired to breed for the benefit of the entire species. This promotes responsible population management in captive breeding programs.

What do you think? Is human capital heading for "responsible management" in the global workforce as well ?

Friday, March 11, 2011

What Does Quality Education Look Like?

We've all read about “investing in education” and using technology to “transform education,” and you must conceded there is some value in both of these concepts. Those districts that are struggling to show improved student performance, need to invest in finding ways to reform their spending so they get more bang for their buck. Technology can certainly play a role in transforming education by allowing advanced students to reach their fullest potential or by providing access to high quality teachers in inaccessible locations. But often, the solutions that are needed require on the spot innovation and systemic flexibility, not hard wiring or advanced technology. So what does true education reform look like? What does “tailoring educational settings to individual students’ needs to maximize student outcomes” really look like?

Today I offer a real life example from a teacher in my local school district. The names have been changed, but not the situation or actions. Carol works with educationally “challenged” students. One such student was little Arthur who is in kindergarten, struggles with social interactions and has all ready been deemed behind his peers. Arthur needed to improve his reading skills but actively refused help from the special education teachers. He would scream, throw papers on the floor and generally work against anyone trying to help him.

Some models for education reform would simply apply more money and technology to Arthur’s problem. Perhaps he would be given a special computer and software that would provide a number of increasingly difficult sentences to read and would challenge him with an ever expanding assortment of new vocabulary. Experts would claim that a child who has difficulty with interpersonal communication is far more likely to respond to the non-personal approach of a computer. It is possible that this approach would work and, over time, Arthur’s reading skills would improve. But would Arthur’s educational situation in general be improved? Perhaps not.

Enter Carol, who has the wonderful ability to look at a situation from a totally new perspective. After experiencing Arthur’s outbursts first hand and having her hand aggressively pushed away when she tried to point to a word he had read wrong, Carol decided they needed to work on Arthur’s attitude towards learning before they could make any progress on his actual learning. She told him they were going to play the “What’s my job?” game. In this game, made up on the spot, they would make a list of everybody’s (in this case hers and his) jobs. (Please note -no actual technology was used during this exercise.) On a piece of paper she wrote her name in one column and his in another. Prompting for his suggestions they came up with detailed lists of what each of them was supposed to do in their jobs at school. I’m simplifying here for brevity, but basically her job was to teach and respect him. His job was to give his best effort at understanding and to respect her.

Days two and three with Arthur were spent replaying the “What’s My Job?” game; the first day at Carol’s request and the second day at Arthur’s (he loved the game). On day four, they no longer played the game. Arthur now had a much better grasp of why he was there and what others were expecting of him. He also understood that what the teachers were doing was their job and he appreciated why they were doing it. Arthur sat and concentrated on his reading. He did not scream in the resource office. In fact, the other teachers who were used to his outbursts, first thought that he was not in school. The learning that took place was about the roles of students and teachers and why everyone was there in the school building each day. That opened a door to learning that Arthur had shut.

This is what quality, personalized education looks like. The average student probably does not need as much personalization, but an ideal system would allow for this flexibility. No computer program could have taught Arthur the lesson he learned from Carol, nor would it have been able to veer off topic to address his barrier to learning. Even self learning (??) software does not have that level of flexibility. Learning would have remained a painful process for both student and teacher.

I should also mention that Carol just recently got her teaching degree. Arthur had already spent 6 months with the veteran teachers at school who had not moved him any further down the field. This is more anecdotal evidence that long tenured teachers do not necessarily provide the best education. Sometimes they become stuck in a rut and sometimes they are too burnt out to bother finding new solutions. I will also add that the veteran teachers were very grateful for Carol’s efforts. She not only allowed them to show Arthur’s parents some progress, but she also gave them back some peace in their world.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

When Up is Down, Down is Up, and Laws Don't Mean a Thing...

I chuckled when I read Neal McCluskey's latest piece "Not in This Dimension". He questions The Fordham Institute's logic on how national curriculum really doesn't encroach on state and local authority:

Contrary to popular belief (especially in some Tea Party circles), a national curriculum, done properly, does not threaten local control. As we learn in this story, plenty of folks, including Randi Weingarten and our own Checker Finn, have signed on to a “common curriculum,” which its proponents say will constitute only about half of a school’s “academic time.”

McCluskey rightly notes that by definition forcing local districts to use national standards must threaten local control. Indeed, it must not only threaten it, it must actually defeat it. And this is in no way changed by the curriculum having to account for "only about half" of a school's time: Hours formerly controlled locally are now controlled nationally, which is inescapably a major incursion on local control.

I chuckled when McCluskey describes the twisted logic put forth by Fordham as:

Maybe in some dimension white is black, black is white, and ants are really walruses. But in this dimension, as far as I know, the laws of reality and logic must still apply -- even to national curriculum standards.

His description of the definition of when national control "really" isn't national control shows the absurdity of Fordham's statement. Not only do the laws of reality and logic NOT apply in the world of Fordham thought, it doesn't apply when Federal law specifically states the Federal Government cannot set national curriculum. This 1979 document, Department of Education Organization Act, Public Law 96-98, Section 103(b) states:

No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school or school system, over any accrediting agency or association, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, except to the extent authorized by law.

Has the law been overturned regarding curriculum control? Did we miss that overturning of that particular law? When Race to the Top and common core standards were touted by the administration, the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, states were assured the standards were state led initiatives and assessments and would not lead to a national curriculum. Curriculum was never to be a Federal responsibility. From the myths and facts subset on the CCSSI website:

Myth: These Standards amount to a national curriculum for our schools.

Fact: The Standards are not a curriculum. They are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms. (pg 4)

Based on the comments from Fordham advocating national curriculum and the blatant disregard of existing federal law, the laws of reality and logic no longer apply. Perhaps the CCSSI website needs to be amended. Or then again, maybe not. We have truly entered an alternate universe: white is black, black is white, and ants are really walruses.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The President Wants to Bring Government and Technology Together to Reform Education

President Obama, in a speech in Boston, called for the development of a new federal agency to research education technology. Sure, his original outlay for funding is meager, only $90 million dollars (is he already deciding what to do with the money that may be taken away from NPR?), but then again most government behemoths start small. Named the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Education (ARPA-ED) - this agency sounds just like and is modeled after DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the military program – launched in response to Sputnik – that developed many important technologies. Its purpose would be to “aggressively pursue technological breakthroughs that will transform educational technology and empower teaching and learning the way that DARPA did and how that supported the development of the Internet, GPS and robotics." (Education Secretary Arne Duncan.) Mr. Duncan went on to reiterate what the government really thinks of education when he noted in the same conference call with reporters on Monday quoted above that typically, only about 0.2 percent of K-12 funding goes to research and development (R&D) – far less than in virtually any other industry. When you start viewing education as an industry, then our children become resources, or to use the Department of Ed’s favor phrase, human capital, and the final product is a machine that serves the needs of the US economy.

As some have pointed out, pushing for a new government agency in a time of financial deficits and runaway spending seems crazy. Joshua Shields, a spokesman for Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said the Education Department already has enough resources to launch such a program without asking for more money. People should therefore ponder heavily why the President would push for this now.

President Obama stated, “We’ll need a national education policy that tries to figure out how do we replicate success stories like TechBoston all across the country.” TechBoston is a “model of private-public partnerships, working closely with a local teacher residency program and numerous business partners, including Microsoft, Google, Cisco, and IBM. Created through a collaboration between the Boston Public Schools, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Boston Foundation, this ‘pilot school’ enjoys much more flexibility than most public schools, including the ability to have a longer school day and year. Pilot schools are part of a Boston program that allows certain schools freedoms similar to charter schools, though still run by the district and staffed with union employees. “

James Shelton III, the U.S. Department of Education’s assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement has been working on this program for over two years. Mr. Shelton's background is quite impressive with a B.S. from Morehouse and an MBA from Stanford. He has worked for the private equity organization Knowledge Universe, buying and selling education companies. Most recently he was a program director at the Gates Foundation (that name seems to pop up frequently in this story.) He strongly believes that if obstacles such as funding, bureaucracy, and political opposition were removed, he and his fellow technology gurus could solve all of America's problems.

The problem with President Obama’s recommendation is its underlying assumption, that government can do what private markets can’t. There are already numerous private firms who are actively pursuing a role in education, from SMART Boards, to education videos like those produced by BitTorrent, Inc. which cover high school and college level curriculum across science, math, history, finance and test prep. Technology is actively being used and marketed to schools. What is missing is someone to be the referee and pick the winners. Until now there has been no pathway for education technology companies to obtain government cooperation in creating or carving out market share for themselves. With the implementation of ARPA-ED, that pathway is laid. Government will direct both these companies and the public, the same way they did with the elimination of incandescent light bulbs, not by naming specific companies or technologies, but by writing the regulations and curriculum that lead only to the hand selected finalists. And once the government starts deciding who the winners and losers are, watch for newly developing private markets to dry up leaving the government to dictate terms to its chosen few.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Call Us Crazy. ..but the Words and the Intentions are Clear. A Nationalized Curriculum Coming Soon to a School Near You?

Last night we wrote about disappearing local school district curricula. Where is the local control of curriculum going? It is being aligned along the P20 spectrum into the postsecondary education level per the "P20 Curriculum Alignment Steering Committee" from the Missouri Department of Higher Education.

Tonight let's look at another step down the road toward the takeover of education by the Federal government. Neal McCluskey from Cato has a terrific article about the national standards coming soon to a school near you:

Hey, National Curriculum Standardizers: Stop Lying to Us!

Posted by Neal McCluskey

Today, a group of seventy-five national-standards crusaders released a manifesto calling for "shared curriculum guidelines" to accompany the Common Core State Standards. But don't worry, the petitioners assure us, "use of the kinds of curriculum guidelines that we advocate in the core academic subjects would be purely voluntary."

Oh please, please -- stop lying to us!

Here's the only absolutely clear thing that we've learned so far from the national standards push: Leading national standardizers do not want adoption of their plans to be truly voluntary.

Sure, they talk about creating mere "guidelines," and states being free to choose what they'll use, but they know reality full well: Whatever Washington connects to federal money becomes de facto mandatory, and they most certainly want their guidelines riveted to federal bucks.

Don't believe me? Look no further than the federal Race to the Top program, which required that states adopt what for much of the time were unpublished national standards in order to meaningfully compete for part of $4.35 billion in federal dough.

"But wait", standards mavens assert. "We didn't ask for that and we really regret that the administration federalized our warm-and-fuzzy voluntary effort."

Sorry, no dice. Many of these same people had been calling for federal funds to push national standards before there ever was a Race to the Top, or even an official Obama administration. In December 2008, national standards advocates put out Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring Students Receive a World-class Education, which among other things called for Washington to "offer a range of tiered incentives to make the next stage of the journey [toward national standards] easier."

In this latest assault on honesty, the national standards crowd has done it again. You have to read their entire statement, but at the bottom you'll find words that make it clear that "the undersigned" have no intention of having adoption of their guidelines be truly voluntary. They want Washington forcing states to eat the new curricula if states want back some of the money that came involuntarily from their citizens. The last of their "recommendations" calls for:

7. Increasing federal investments in implementation support, in comparative international studies related to curriculum and instruction, and in evaluations aimed at finding the most effective curriculum sequences, curriculum materials, curricular designs, and instructional strategies.

You want this to be truly voluntary? Then you'd better keep federal money, especially for such things as "implementation support," out of it. But by all indications national standardizers don't want this to be truly voluntary. They just want us thinking they do.


Remember the "recommendation" McCluskey refers to above...just wait until you see what is in the Memorandum of Understanding Jay Nixon (Governor) and Chris Nicastro (Commissioner of Education) signed in August 2009 for acceptance of the Common Core Standards. It truly is a federal takeover of education based on the memorandum. We'll be posting on exactly what Missouri signed away to the Federal Government in a couple of days.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How Does the "Aligning of Curriculum" in the State Create More Parental Choice in Education? What Kind of "Reform" is Really Being Offered Taxpayers?

I've been intrigued with the debate raging in the educational circles about the Federal government insisting the common core standards are state led, voluntary and the development of a national curriculum would not occur as a nationalized curriculum is illegal. Let's look at the plan for Missouri on the state level for curriculum today and then move tomorrow to the national level.

This website from the Missouri Department of Higher Education describes the P20 pipeline (that channel of educational/social/family information collected in educational institutions from your student) that ultimately will supply the workforce with human capital and its relationship with aligned curriculum. Here's a snippet from "P20 Initiatives in Higher Education":

P-20 Curriculum Alignment Steering Committee

Phase 3: The Steering Committee will be charged with: overseeing the work of the Discipline workgroups; promoting curriculum competencies in Missouri public institutions; working together with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to align curriculum across the K-12/postsecondary boundary; and compiling and presenting recommendations to the Commissioner of Higher Education for policy development.

What does "align" mean? According to Webster's: "to get or to fall into line". Constructing a syllogism with the information from the Missouri Department of Higher Education might look like this:

  • Major Premise: MDHE is aligning curriculum with DESE along the K-12/postsecondary boundary.
  • Minor Premise: The aligned curriculum will be presented to the Commissioner of Higher Education for policy development.
  • Conclusion: The aligned curriculum will result in policy development of adoption of a common curriculum from K-12/postsecondary boundary.
Maybe I don't even have to present a syllogism to believe this is the plan. Just look at the name of the committee again: P-20 Curriculum Alignment Steering Committee. The name says it all.

Here is a description of how DESE addresses curriculum decisions:

Particular emphasis is placed on assisting schools in aligning curriculum with the Show-Me Standards and the development of written curriculum guides required by the Missouri School Improvement Program and the Outstanding Schools Act.

Here's another syllogism:

  • Major Premise:DESE assists schools in aligning curriculum with the Show-Me Standards
  • Minor Premise: The State Board has signed onto the common core standards which will replace the Show-Me Standards
  • Conclusion: DESE will assist schools in aligning curriculum with common core standards.
If the syllogisms are valid, local control is non-existent. How is adopting state-wide curriculum considered giving local districts more control in what their students learn? Are the reforms making their way through the Legislature (school choice, trigger options, charter schools, etc) addressing the issue of common core standards and the takeover of curriculum? I've searched the pending Missouri bills and can't find one mention of rescinding common core standards which will presumably lead into common curriculum.

If you can tell us how the state aligning district curriculum into a common state curriculum creates more local control, we'd like to hear your reasoning. The reforms for this legislative session are supposed to be about parental choice. Are we missing something from reading this MDHE document? Aligning curriculum along a K-12/postsecondary boundary seems to be more centralization of control to the state, not to the local districts.

Tomorrow: part II will address the national takeover of curriculum.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Scared Straight Curriculum

This would be welcome curriculum in schools but don't hold your breath. From Robin of Berkeley:

Why We All Should Be Scared Straight

March 3, 2011

You might recall that awhile back, there was a popular program called, “Scared Straight.” Kids who were at high risk for the juvenile justice system got a first-hand look at life in the slammer.

Eventually the program faded from view. I recall that there was a groundswell of complaints that the program was too mean. People were concerned that it would hurt young and impressionable minds.

If I were asked my opinion back then, I’m sure I would have opposed Scared Straight. I wouldn’t have wanted our sweet and innocent ones to be subjected to the obscene rants of prisoners. But what a difference a few years makes. Now I’m open to most programs that teach logical consequences.

Unfortunately, our culture has gone 180 degrees in the other direction. Liberals coddle not just our kids, but everyone who acts out. In California, for instance, state law mandates substance abuse treatment for some offenders — even if the perp has been in the same type of program over and over again.

Out here the citizens make endless excuses for bad behavior. But bad behavior, if not curtailed, leads to more of the same. By defending atrocious behavior, one becomes an enabler, a codependent; one becomes part of the problem.

In many left-leaning homes, children grow up with parents so permissive that the kids do not learn how to control themselves. By parents trading the role of disciplinarian for that of friend, kids think they can get away with anything they want.

Recently, for instance, I was at my local Office Depot, when a little tyke of about 7 started bellowing. Using the softest of voices, the mother said, “I don’t like how you are behaving.”

Guess what happened? The child started screaming even louder. Before they left the store, he was hollering and flailing his arms. He was acting like a spoiled brat — which he had obviously become.

Now some parents out here do an admirable job of imparting morals and self-discipline. Unfortunately, the child then enters the public schools, and becomes immersed in the Internet/texting/sexting culture. At the Berkeley schools, kids learn to “Question Authority” — the teachers’, the parents’, everyone aside from themselves — thereby creating a monster to rival that of Frankenstein.

Personally, I would be a fan of Scared Straight-like programs for children that teach ethics and proper behavior. Kids need to understand that there are consequences for bad behavior. But let’s not just stop there; there may be a Scared Straight program for practically everyone.

For instance, how about a Scared Straight program around Radical Islam? Muslim apologists would sit through some real-life videos of stoning, genital mutilation, and beheadings. If watching some footage of Tiq Zanu (a horrifying ritual involving children) doesn’t scare people straight about Islam, then those people are beyond repair.

Let’s also require training for liberals about progressivism. Most liberals don’t realize that the Democratic Party has been hijacked by revolutionaries. Watching footage of Van Jones, Frances Fox Piven, Code Pink’s Jody Evans, and Rev. Wright might do the trick. Also, civilized progressives may benefit from sitting through videos of their brethren acting violently in Wisconsin.

In the old Scared Straight program, Billy, a juvenile delinquent wannabe, would get up close and personal with Inmate #45900. Through the ranting and raving of the hardened convict, Billy may realize that he doesn’t want #45900 as his new roommate.

Perhaps if adults were also exposed to reality, they’d gain some vital information as well. For instance, they’d learn that Radical Islam is not the “Religion of Peace;” and also that Obama et al. are not really about Hope and Change.

Because people should be very scared about what’s happened to this country. And I’m for anything that would make them wake up from their stupor and become Scared Straight.

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