"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

Search This Blog

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Petro Dollars Get Behind Common Core

My  and my husband's paths crossed this weekend when I happened to catch (out of the corner of my eye because I cannot imagine sitting down to watch this) an ad by Exxon Mobile, that ran during the golf tournament he was watching on tv, promoting the Common Core Standards. It was every bit the propaganda that CCCS enthusiasts could want.

"Forty five states have joined together to assure consistent academic standards across America.  These internationally recognized benchmarks are unlocking a better way to prepare our children for college and their careers. Because when our kids do better, America does better. Let's reach higher.  Let's invest in our teachers and inspire our students.  Let's solve this."
My husband looked over at me an innocently asked, "Hey, isn't that something you're following?"  (He generally leaves all kid related issues to me and knows that I write for an education blog, so it was a safe guess when the ad mentioned education that I might have some knowledge about it.)  It turned into a moment where my head popped up from the middle of the forest of education reform. I got a glimpse of the view from someone standing outside the forest. Here was someone who only paid passing attention to education being hit with this message from a well known company while watching his favorite passtime. To him the message sounded positive. It had all those manly buzz words, "internationally recognized" (not true), "children prepared for careers" (and out of the house), "invest", "reach higher", "solve." What's not to like for the average American male? Almost every state is in on it. They are going to fix the problem. Even if the average male doesn't know exactly what the problem is, the fact that there is a single one time fix available appears to be what the ad claims, so let's get behind these standards and get back to the 8th hole.

The ad is an intrusion into the mainstream and more importantly into the male world where, admit it guys, most of you don't spend much time thinking about public education.  Unlike the public service announcements about the fictitious government dependent Julia, or the seniors who secretly use food stamps to get healthy food (put out by USDA), this ad had a credible sponsor and a message that was hard for those not in the know to argue with.

But for those in the know it is disturbing.

Exxon is not in the education business.  If the ad were done by Pearson Publishing or any one of dozens of education technology companies it would be more understandable. Get the men behind this and we'll make more money. But an international fuel supplier promoting this is highly suspicious.  Does this count as a charitable contribution for them?  Does this count as a political contribution for them? Is this something they had to promise to do to get some drilling permits pushed through? Why would Exxon Mobile be promoting national education standards?

A look at their Let's Solve This website may give some indication why they're doing this. They have teamed with the National Math and Science Initiative to help promote those two subjects, both of which, coincidentally, one would need to work at Exxon Mobile. It just seems that promoting Common Core Standards which Exxon will, theoretically, have no input to, is a rather round about way to garner better future employees.

It does, however, fall right in line with the DOEd's goal of providing graduates ready for work. This could be the beginning of the official partnership between government and business, which is not a new discussion in the field of education, but is new outside of education, say, on the golf course.

Expect to see these ads running in more places, probably starting with sports where they will appear more inoccuous as opposed to running on the Sunday morning talk shows where they will smell of politics. I suspect more companies will join the chorus as they too vie for competent workers.  I just hope they all have a permanent budget line set up for these promotions, because I don't think the problem with education is going to go away any time soon.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Learning From International Experience When It Comes To Education

A certain percentage of the population learns through experience. That percentage drops as we get older. As young children we do not have enough experience to make our own decisions or even to trust the warnings of adults. At best, we don't touch the stove because it will make mommy mad. At worst we just have to touch the stove to see what "hot" feels like for ourselves. But with age and experience we learn to both pull together facts and to use observations of others' experience to reach our own conclusions. We learn we are less likely to suffer if we approach new challenges this way.  So what can we learn through experience and observation about education to save ourselves some pain?

In Korea they have a vibrant private school market known as hagwons or, less formally, cram schools. Despite vocal government support for their public schools, many parents (and most notably those who are teachers and government officials) send their children to these after school schools so that they can have a competitive advantage over other students.

A writer for The Korea Times put it this way, "This sort of parents' love for their children has been passed down from time immemorial. Forcing humans born with genes responsible for competition not to compete never works by any means in all ages and countries." 

Where has this private attitude put Korea in terms of the market?  The Korean firm Samsung Electronics is on a fast track, while the Finnish company Nokia, based in a country whose public education is ranked number one in the world, is in decline. There is almost no private education in Finland and all teachers are free to choose their own curriculum.  Public education in Korea has lots of problems, but overall the country is benefitting from a pairing of is public and private education.
Turning back to America and what we can learn from observing these two countries' experience with education, consider the
Obama administration's position on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) which provides vouchers to allow D.C. students to attend more successful private schools. His latest budget did not include money to start any new students in this program which has been widely acknowledged as successful in improving graduation rates and somewhat improving student performance. The money currently leftover money in the program is enough to fund its existing participants through the end of high school. The result of this decision by the administration will be to force students back into the public school system. The rationale? They want better schools for all students, not just the voucher-earning elite.

The Administration chants the old mantra that the best way to improve public education is by increasing funding for public schools and this won't happen if everyone wants to run to private schools. This is the equivalent of the toddler who keeps putting his hand back on the stove to see if "hot" feels any less painful.

Valerie Jarrett, one of the President's closest advisers, called him the smartest man she knows. If he is, then he will look at what has been successful in other places and promote those things here. But we see that, unlike Finland which does not have a national set of education standards, this administration supports the development of national standards.  National testing, school ranking lists and inspection systems do not exist in Finland. They are being added daily in the U.S.  Korea has a robust private sector which fills in what the public sector cannot cover, while we try to make the public school be everything to the child and family via the community school push.  It looks like we are in for a world of hurt and I'm not sure that's the smartest thing to do.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Can A Single District Take Down Standardized Testing?

Everyone knows the image of a series of falling dominos. It's a basic lesson in physics on inertia and gravity, combining linear impulse with angular momentum. I offer this video as a more advanced physics lesson using dominos to demonstrate how today's story may play out.

Notice how tiny the first domino is. He must hold it with a tweezers. And note how large the 13th domino is.  It weighs 100 lbs yet it is knocked down in the end.

Now let's look at Broward School District in Florida, small in comparison to the whole state, but the 6th largest school district in the country. Broward just passed a resolution asking the Governor Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Education and state and federal lawmakers to revamp state and federal accountability systems so that they include a variety of measures to determine how students perform. The resolution claims standardized testing is "an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness."

How can a single school district bring down the state's standardized test, the FCAT? As the video shows, its not a direct path from the smallest to the largest, but rather a combined force of each domino working together to push over the largest one. Broward's domino may actually be somewhere in the middle of this chain.

In Florida, other districts like Palm Beach County, Martin County and St. Lucy County, have made similar requests. They join districts across the country who recognize that such tests are often not accurate measures of what students learn, and more importantly, that such tests are receiving greater and greater power to completely change school districts. (Picture the largest domino falling the other way back onto the smaller dominos.)

In Texas, 360 school boards passed resolutions against standardized testing. They join districts in New York, California and Illinois in opposing the seemingly endless stream of assessments kids are being funneled into with the new "incentives" coming out of Washington.

A national effort to stop the heavy push of standardized testing was launched back in April with a resolution that local districts could adopt. (full text here) The resolution, modeled on the Texas resolution was developed by: Advancement Project; Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund; FairTest; Forum for Education and Democracy; MecklenburgACTS; Deborah Meier; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; National Education Association; New York Performance Standards Consortium; Tracy Novick; Parents Across America; Parents United for Responsible Education - Chicago; Diane Ravitch; Race to Nowhere; Time Out From Testing; and United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.

What gives it a fighting chance is that it uses a concept that liberals love, choice. The signers are simply asking that schools be given the choice of a number of assessment tools to determine whether they are meeting standards. After all, if the newest RTTT says that schools must provide individual learning plans for children to meet their individual learning needs, shouldn't schools be given individual assessment options to meet their teaching needs?

If your school district doesn't think it would do any good to pass this resolution, maybe you should show them the domino video.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Magic Ingredient Missing in Education - Motivation

I have a dog that has a neat little repertoire of tricks. Teaching him these tricks required two things; 1) a lot of time for repetition and 2) something to motivate him.  The second part was easy. My dog will do anything for a Pupperoni. In fact, he is so motivated by this doggie treat that just the sound of the bag rustling can cause him to run through every trick he knows, unprompted, while I am fishing one out.  Kind of makes me look unnecessary if I'm trying to show him off to friends, but at least we all know what he has learned.

If only teaching kids were as simple. The Atlantic wrote about about the missing ingredient in education reform. Emily Richmond covered a new report from the Center on Education Policy that did a metastudy on student motivation. The good news - motivation programs do sometimes work.  The bad news - There is no equivalent of Pupperoni for all students.  And in many cases, once the motivation is removed, the student stops participating.

The one common thread in the studies is that students need to see a connection between what they are learning and how it is going to help them in the real world. Without that, many students either stop attending school or act out in class due to boredom or frustration.

The human brain is a lot more complex than my dog's brain.  Humans will play all sorts of mental games with themselves to keep from being disappointed or feeling guilty. Some students will not try hard because they are convinced they do not have the innate intelligence to master something. Some won't try hard because it gives them an excuse if they fail. The only reason my dog stops trying is because either I have run out of treats, or his brain has registered that his stomach is full. Thus, motivating students is much more complex than applying simple Pavlovian techniques.

Dealing with the immature brain of a child makes finding motivation even more challenging. Adult logic would tell you, take the education while its free because you get an early start on the ladder to success and better chance at college which gives you a better chance at higher earnings over a lifetime. Otherwise, you will end up trying to get a GED, which you have to pay for, while working a low wage job and taking care of yourself and possibly a family. All the while you will be behind those who took advantage of the 12 years free the first time.  All of that means little to a kid who can barely think past lunch let alone a decade or more into the future.

Walt Gardner, who writes the Reality Check blog at Ed Week, noted that the right motivation can spur tremendous effort, "Kids will sleep out overnight in the street to get tickets to a rock concert. If you show students a connection and a purpose to what they're doing, the motivation takes care of itself."

It will be difficult for the school system to figure out what motivates each child. Blanket programs that attempt to guess at this have been a hit or miss prospect. This is why parents must stay involved in the education process. And we should be showing kids a connection between what they are being asked to do in school and what the world will ask them to do once they leave school.  Otherwise those kids will be sleeping out on the street, but not for any concert tickets.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What's REALLY Happening in Schools? Common Core Control Coming Soon to Your Public School...or Home School...or Private School.

If you have stories about your child's Common Core implementation and would like readers to know how it is impacting your child's learning and testing, we'd like to pass it on to other readers.  Since it's "common", your experiences are likely to be similar to those of parents/students in your consortia.  Homeschooling and private schooling parents, please pay attention to how Common Core will be invading your teaching materials as well.

Common Core tales from a mother of four children in the Midwest:

Regarding David Coleman being named president of the College Board, this could be good news in a way.  Here in Indiana we have organized groups of home schoolers, who have been asleep at the wheel since the mid 90's, when they rallied against OBE, Goals 2000. etc. I have been frustrated that I haven't been able to get the lobbyists who represent them to pay attention. They think they are "safe" because they home school. Those days are numbered and they are going to have to join the fight!

Why should home schooling parents or even parents private schooling their children be concerned?  
Some people I know who have taken the courageous step of home-schooling have understandably lost interest in fighting the federal take over of schools. They have the attitude that they can teach a good solid curriculum to their children, many of whom will outperform regularly schooled kids on the SAT, and get into a great college.  If the SAT is rewritten to align with the Common Core, they may think again before ignoring it.

For example, the Common Core inspired reform/"fuzzy" math my third grader brings home is difficult to do well on, unless it is specifically "taught.". It requires scripted written explanations and solving problems in unconventional ways. Getting the answer right using the standard algorithm doesn't cut it. The child's' answer is marked incorrect. It necessitates teaching to the test. It has exemplified to me that in certain subjects there will be items that will have to be taught, in order for a child to score well on a Common Core test.

Private schools that are accredited in Indiana all must take the federally funded PARCC assessment. Non-accredited schools are talking about how they will be impacted by the fact that most of the mainstream textbooks will be rewritten to be Common Core aligned. Now, if the SAT is altered most every college bound student will become entangled in the Common Core, regardless of how and where they are schooled.

Since taxpayers are paying for this privilege of unfunded/unvoted mandates and they are supplying their children to this system, the bureaucrats should be delighted to hear from the people paying for this service:

Another pathetic tidbit is that after 35 parents went to a School Commission meeting,with complaints such as "I have a degree in finance and I can't understand how to help my third grader with her math homework, the Principal called in a Pearson sales rep to sell us on the book.  When parents weren't satisfied, the Principal finally responded in frustration, "Look, I know parents don't like this kind of math because it isn't how any of us were taught, but we have to teach it this way because this is what is going to be on the PAARCC assessment."

Bingo. The principal isn't concerned the process of teaching math is all wrong.  He/she is concerned that the kids learn how to learn this process because that's the way the students will be assessed.  Now when your curriculum director and superintendent tells you he/she will still be able to set the curriculum, you know he/she is not telling you the truth.  It truly is "teach to the test."

The tactic of ignoring the public school educational reform debacle by home schooling and private schooling won't work either. If your home schooled, privately schooled child can't answer the question in the way it's designated by Pearson (a privately held company unaccountable to taxpayers), your child (even though he/she understands math) will most likely not do well on the PAARCC (or other consortia) assessment.

Do you believe David Coleman's promises on untested, unproven and unconstitutional standards...or tales from parents who are actually experiencing the standards and bureaucrats shrugging their shoulders because they see themselves as powerless?  Welcome to Arne Duncan's educational reform.

Have a story to share?  Contact stlgretchen@gmail.com

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Student's Understanding of Memorial Day and a Mother's Wish

This is a nice story of a young student understanding how important it is to remember military men and women on Memorial Day.  A nine-year old boy raised $239.00 for the USO by running a lemonade stand.   Thanks to his mom for sharing her wish about  teaching children the importance of this holiday.  From  Kirkwood Patch:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Worldwide Hippies Blog:  Don't follow the political Pied Pipers of Education

Welcome to the Sunday Education Weekly Reader 05.27.2012.  From the twitter world:

  • More like cubic zirconium...."Race to the Top" was described in the Washington Post as "the crown jewel of the Obama adm's education reform agenda
  •  Perhaps this headmaster needs to choose his words a bit more carefully or enroll in a writing class....Headteacher claims school had 'overcome accidents of birth' to produce ...: The head has previously been honoure...  
  •  Does Team Obama even know what it and Arne Duncan want in education?  A big stumble....You know, when you have TPM pushing back on Democratic rhetoric, then you have a problem:

  • Worldwide Hippies call both Republican and Democratic view of education for what it is: spin.  "Where the campaigns tried to score on each other was in the sacred realm of DC policy, where terms like “choice, accountability, and reform” are inflated with mythic technocratic significance by the Very Serious People. And left totally out of the melee was whether either candidate can come close to telling the truth."  Gotta love hippies.... Romney, Obama Vie For Who Can Hurt Education The Worst


Educational conundrum for the week: 

Where are headed with the common core?  Students able to think outside the box...or just a cog in the workforce machinery?  Can Cory Booker give us a peek into how thinking/speaking/learning alike is the end result of education reform applied in the workforce?

From Ann Althouse:

"Thinking outside the box may solve problems in the real world."

"But in the political realm, creative noodling will get you cast into the outer darkness. No matter which way you lean, The Machinery requires cogs, not cognizance."

Kathleen Parker, talking about Cory Booker.

Site Meter