"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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Friday, August 17, 2012

Resistance to Common Core State Standards Gaining Steam

Utah leads the effort to push back against Common Core Standards and all of their associated regulations and requirements. Their state school board has already voted to withdraw from SBAC, the consortium developing the assessments. The fight continues however, as this vote was only step one in divesting themselves of CCSS.

Predictably the USDoE is not going to make backing out of the consortia easy. They are the third and final hurdle a state must get over to actually back out. Now that the state has taken step one, the USDoE is coming in to push back.  Listen to this discussion at the Education Committee hearing in Utah. Jim Stergios from the Pioneer Institute, and Ted Rebarber CEO of AccountabilityWorks, testified on issues with Common Core.

Jaykell Sullivan developed a great infographic, which is included in the information packet shared at the Education Committee hearing, which demonstrates how Common Core is not a departure from NLCB (which it supposedly was in the beginning), but is in fact NCLB on steroids.

Utah is leading the way, but Missouri doesn't have to be left behind. We already have the support of the Republican Party in the state's platform which rejects Common Core. Let us know if you would be willing to join a state coalition to educate our legislature on Common Core and get them to support pulling our state out of CCSS, the longitudinal database, excessive assessments and decisions about the education system in our state that come from Washington.


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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Did Michelle Rhee or one of her TFAers Write These Rambling Letters?

Her words are empty and vague.  So are her educational reform ideas. See if you can discern what they are and what she wants...other than your money. 

Michelle Rhee and her organization StudentsFirst just won't leave Missourians alone with her talking points on educational reform sent via email.  She's about as vague on her reform plans as Arne Duncan saying we need "great teachers".  What's the definition of educational reform and what's the definition of a "great teacher"?  Who and what organizations define and implement those plans for public education?  It's increasingly becoming clear it's not the public.

Parents and taxpayers have no say in educational reform (it's been spelled out for us in Race to the Top and Common Core standards written by private corporations and bureaucrats) and the "great" teachers will be decided by accountability measures not set by local districts.

Ms. Rhee's poorly constructed letter (below) begging for support for educational reform ended up in a Missourian's email inbox.  Her idea of educational reform is as clear as mud and the links provided in her letter don't give the reader additional information on how Ms. Rhee wants to transform education.   If Ms. Rhee wants parents to trust her with educational decisions, it might behoove her to explain what she has in mind for American children.  She does make it clear she wants your donations but she doesn't explain how she will spend your $10.00 or her educational reform plans.

We have questions for Ms. Rhee highlighted yellow in the letter:

From: Michelle Rhee admin@studentsfirst.org
Date: August 15, 2012
Subject: Working for reform in Saint Louis

Hi member, Be careful if you sign up to receive emails...you are now considered a member.

To put the needs of students first in every school in America, we need people committed to reform in every community. What specifically are the needs of students?  What kind of  people do you need "committed to reform" and what type of reform are you promoting?

Education is a local issue with national implications. How is education a local issue when school boards are impotent to make educational policy decisions?  Missouri schools need advocates to get involved with the reform effort and make a difference.   What is the reform effort and what difference does Ms. Rhee want to see? 

In the last year, we have successfully worked with our members to make progress in states across the country, including passing groundbreaking laws in Georgia, Ohio and Maine.  What groundbreaking laws were passed in those states?  Why would laws that work in other states necessarily mean they are appropriate laws for Missouri school children? This is a great start, but we all know our education system is far from fixed. We have so much more work to do to put the interests of students first.  What work do you have to do in local districts since you are a national group?  What are the interests of students?

Will you work with us to bring comprehensive reform to schools near you? What IS comprehensive reform and why should parents sign onto your idea of reform?  Sign up now to take local action:

http://studentsfirst.org/local-action  Read about the REAL reform needed: Common Core standards rescinded, data mining stopped in public schools and local control restored (not Rhee's national power grab) at truthinamericaneducation.com.

Time and again, we have witnessed those with a vested interest in continuing the status quo rise up and squash local reform movements with their money and power. But allowing the status quo to continue means denying millions of children the chance at the American dream they deserve.  What is this status quo Ms. Rhee refers to and would Ms. Rhee please explain why she wants to raise a billion dollars to push her reforms...whatever they may be?

We cannot let the reform movement be trampled once again. To make real reform possible, we need the resources in place to go out and fight for every child in America.  Tell me what "real reform" means to a billion dollar organization and how that billion dollars will help children....OR will it enrich private businesses to deliver educational products deemed necessary by private organizations while using taxpayer money.

Can you donate $10 to StudentsFirst right now?  No.  You have not laid out your plan of educational reform and these one-liner educational reform talking points make no sense.  When you tell me you want to reduce federal spending and/or control in education, I'll donate to that cause.

http://studentsfirst.org/donate-10-now  Instead, read what Michelle Rhee's bipartisan reform REALLY means for students and taxpayers at this site: RheeFirst!

The excitement and interest pouring in from every corner of the nation is incredible. Keep spreading the word and building this movement for reform.  Jeez, who wrote this letter?  The movement for reform is coming from the corporations, NOT the grassroots.  Nobody asked parents and taxpayers for their votes on Race to the Top or Common Core standards. That was a $4.35 Billion check given to Arne Duncan for HIS (and Michelle Rhee's "vision" for reform).  Unvoted on by citizens. 

We're at the beginning of something remarkable.  Yes, indeed we are.  We are witnessing something remarkable....the destruction of local and state autonomy in any decisions for students and the schools the taxpayers fund.

-- Michelle

Michelle Rhee
CEO and Founder

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Sacramento, CA 95814

The following letter from StudentsFirst  was received by a Florida reader and forwarded on to MEW.  The reader writes:  Don't be fooled by this trickery.  I would add to that statement.." and a narrative that can't be explained except that "it's students first" ":


(For background information, please read this recent Tampa Bay Times opinion editorial by speaker-designate Will Weatherford of the Florida House of Representatives where he discusses the importance of accountability and testing.)

Florida has led the nation in its efforts to establish strong systems of accountability. These systems hold adults accountable for serving all of our students well, and ensure our kids are learning and receiving the education they deserve. Unfortunately, Florida's precedent-setting accountability system is under attack.  From whom?  What group?  Explain.

Local politicians in twelve Florida school districts caved under pressure from special interests (as if Michelle Rhee is not pushing a special interest agenda?) who are working to derail our (who is "our"?  Bill Gates? Arne Duncan?) state’s education reform efforts and adopted a resolution against testing. Could this possibly be the testing to be done every three weeks due to Common Core mandates?  Could that be a reason these districts pushed back against the CCSSI and the NGA?  These groups (what groups?) are working to remove any sort of accountability from our schools. Do these "special interest" groups want to remove ANY accountability in schools or just YOUR idea of accountability?  Several other school districts are being pressured to adopt similar resolutions in the coming weeks.  Shouldn't and don't LOCAL school districts have the authority to set their own accountability measures?  Who is Michelle Rhee to tell LOCALLY  ELECTED officials how to run their school districts?

Florida cannot afford to turn back the clock on its accountability system.  Wow, she sure is concerned about students in ALL the states, isn't she, bless her heart.

In the nearly fifteen years that Florida parents, teachers and elected officials have been using accountability systems to measure our students’ progress, the improvement in Florida’s educational system has been undeniable.  So why is Rhee trying to undermine parents, teachers and elected officials for HER version of accountability?  Who made her the queen of education?

Education professionals across the state of Florida - at all levels - should stand up for the accountability systems that have successfully transformed Florida's education system!  If the systems have worked for 15 years, then why any district or official follow Michelle Rhee's system when she doesn't even LIVE in Florida?

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Unpacking the Standards

Many teachers across the state have just spent hours "unpacking" new standards for their classes this year. This is the process where they take the language in the standard and try, as a coordinated group, to decide what specific skill set it it meant to refer to and how, using the resources they have, they will teach it to their classes. Teachers are used to doing this. Unless a district has adopted a new textbook method, like Everyday Math, unpacking the standards is usually not difficult and may only be a matter of tweaking previous lesson plans or bringing newer teachers on board with how a particular school handles the standards. As elements of Common Core Standards are rolled out, unpacking has become more complex, and in some cases depressing, for teachers.

Let's take a look at an example of a math standard to see what this process looks like,

CCSS Math Standard (Grade 4)

Find whole-number quotients and remainders with up to four-digit dividends and one-digit divisors, using strategies based on place value, the properties of operations, and/or the relationship between multiplication and division. Illustrate and explain the calculation by using equations, rectangular arrays and/or area models

The writers of the standards were going for clarity.  They provided a lot of specifics, including exactly HOW the standard is to be taught which they promised they would not do. If they are going to take the time to detail how you teach a standards, you can bet they are going to test whether a teacher is using this method or not.

Picture, for example, that the assessment will ask the child to solve the problem 247x38. In pencil and paper math world, they would write the standard algorithm for this, mutliply the ones, the tens and the hundreds, add the totals and come up with the answer. In the rectangular array method noted above, they will be asked to fill in a chart like this:

For comparison, here is how California currently writes this standard.

Solve problems involving division of multi-digit numbers by one-digit numbers.

Simple, clear and it allows the teacher to use whatever method works best for her class and her district in order to get the standard across.

Teachers in Utah have begun unpacking the Common Core Standards.  Here are some of their comments.

I am a 3rd grade teacher at a Charter School in Utah. I am becoming very frustrated with Common Core, and I am starting to feel helpless, and feel that I am failing my students, which will one day affect me as they grow up and enter the workforce.

I attended the Math CORE Academy this summer and was told that Utah is not going to suggest a math book that will meet the new standards, instead I have to use whatever math book my school is using  to create work for the students. It is incredibly difficult to teach the Common Core using Tasks with the math book we have, and I imagine it is just as difficult with any math book. First of all, it takes 2-3 hours to create a Task using a math book, I had to help create 2 at Core Academy. Secondly, the instructors encouraged us to leave out key pieces of information so that the students could construct their own knowledge. I cannot imagine elementary students doing well in Algebra or Calculus after spending years learning that whatever number they come up with is correct. I am frustrated that students are required to make a guess to solve the problem, and of course, they are correct, because any number they choose would work. They would then see that their classmates all chose different numbers, and yet all of the answers are correct? How confusing for an elementary student! I have decided to send these Tasks home as extra credit so that the parents in my class can see what to expect in the next school year. I am sure I will get many complaints that the problems are unsolvable, because important information has been left out! I believe that math has right and wrong answers, and that teaching students that any answer can be correct is foolish.

Another teacher had this to say about the math standards.

I just attended the Core Academy for math as an elementary teacher and was told for 4 straight days that the common core does NOT require math facts or the teaching of standard algorithms. I was taught how to teach solely using discovery learning or weird, unusable, at least with larger numbers, fuzzy math algorithms which actually make understanding place value unnecessary to solve problems requiring regrouping. What? I thought the core was supposed to help teachers REMEMBER to teach skills and standard algorithms … I am devastated and do not even know if I can teach in Utah if this is the direction we are going…aligning ourselves with Washington state which is all discovery and has some of the poorest performing math students in the country…where they still believe Terc Investigations is great Curriculum. May the saints preserve us all.

Ze`ev Wurman and W. Stephen Wilson reviewed the math standards in this piece on Education Next. Since the standards were created by a committee of representatives of all the states paying for the assessments, they are a compromise of each state's interest. Both reviewers acknowledge that the standards are better than some states' current standards here and there. They are not universally better than any one state's standards.  And they have an inordinate focus on higher level critical thinking. Critical thinking is a wonderful goal, but it can only be done once a solid base of facts has been established. And it can only be done efficiently if that knowledge base is fluent. Wilson said,

There will always be the anti-memorization crowd who think that learning the multiplication facts to the point of instant recall is bad for a student, perhaps believing that it means students can no longer understand them. Of course this permanently slows students down, plus it requires students to think about 3rd-grade mathematics when they are trying to solve a college-level problem...

 The standard algorithms for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing whole numbers are the only rich, powerful, beautiful theorems you can teach elementary school kids, and to deny kids these theorems is to leave kids unprepared. Avoiding hard mathematics with young students does not prepare them for hard mathematics when they are older.

Combine these new standards, and all of the assessments that will come with them, with the fact that Race To The Top and NCLB have tied teacher tenure to student performance on assessments that will include things like the array above and you can bet that unpacking the standards next year may send some really good teachers packing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The GAO Establishes Site for Citizens to Report "Potential State Testing Improprieties" when it Cheats Taxpayers for Lavish Conferences?

This federal worker is from the GAO, now charged to investigate school cheating....while the GAO has cheated taxpayers of millions of dollars with its own improprieties.

Teacher cheating scandals have been in the news the last few years.  Michelle Rhee, the darling of charter schools and school choice has had her issues with keeping those test scores up to support her educational reform.  From the Washington Post:

Nobody was particularly surprised when the D.C. Inspector General’s Office, after a 17-month investigation into allegations of widespread cheating on standardized tests in D.C. public schools, issued a new report which concluded that the suspicions were unfounded.

The probe was launched in 2011 in large response to a USA Today Kaya Henderson and Michelle Rhee (Ricky Carioti/WASHINGTON POST) investigation that focused on Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus, finding through documents and data an unusually high number of erasures where wrong answers had been erased and right answers then marked in. But the newspaper also noted that erasures on tests were flagged as outside the norm at 103 schools at least once since 2008.

Thus it isn’t exactly clear how Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby came to that conclusion.

Investigators only delved into cheating suspicions at Noyes, where big gains on scores were reported during the time that Michelle Rhee was schools chancellor and linked student test scores to the evaluations of some teachers. Willoughby’s team found that at least one teacher had cheated, and decided that because they found so little fire amid the smoke, there was no reason to look at any other schools, the report said.
Yes, that’s what they found after 17 months of work.

....Of course, there is a history in Washington, D.C., of cheating allegations — and less than a determined effort to get to the bottom of it. Back in 2009, my colleague Bill Turque wrote about an investigation into possible cheating at 26 public and public charter schools where reading and math scores had shot up in 2008. The suspicions were never thoroughly investigated by the Rhee administration.

With the increased pressure of  teacher evaluations based on student performance and "free market" principles applied to human capital assessments, there is evidence and concern that teachers and administrators will cheat to keep their jobs and school funding.

The Post continues:

Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, says the only cases nationwide in which cheating has been fully documented are when truly independent investigators were brought in.  

The government's answer to "independent" investigators documenting potential test cheating has created new responsibilities for the General Accounting Office (GAO).  It has established a "whistle blowing " site where individuals can tip the Federal Government to potential cheating by teachers and administrators.  From https://tell.gao.gov/csa59/:

Potential State Testing Improprieties

U.S. Government Accountability Office

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has created this website for the purpose of gathering information on fraudulent behavior in state-administered standardized tests. The information submitted here will be used as part of an ongoing GAO investigation into cheating by school officials nationwide, and will be referred to the appropriate State Educational Agency, the U.S. Department of Education, or other agencies, as appropriate. 

Any information provided through this website will be encrypted through our secure server and handled only by authorized staff. GAO will not release any individually identifiable information provided through this website unless compelled by law or required to do so by Congress. Anonymous reports are also welcome. However, providing GAO with as much information as possible allows us to ensure that our investigation is as thorough and efficient as possible. Providing contact information is particularly important to enable clarification or requests for additional information regarding submitted reports. 

Click on the button below to begin.
Click to view GAO Security and Privacy statement GAO Logo Click to Verify - This site has chosen an SSL Certificate to improve Web site security

This is yet another Federal bureaucratic layer on education.  This is also from the agency with lavish spending on conferences in Las Vegas and its own ethics violations.  This site, federalnewsradio.com, is an excellent source for many of the financial and ethical issues plaguing GAO, now charged with policing cheating in schools.  The GAO epitomizes the waste of federal dollars and now it is charge of investigating abuse in state/local schools?  You would think this idea is from The Onion, but unfortunately, it is a sad truth.

Aren't you delighted such a sterling federal agency is investigating potential educational cheating in schools?  What happened to districts and states policing themselves for improprieties in their schools?  What happened to districts and states crafting their own assessments for their students?  What do you think will happen when these  untested and unproven assessments are used to gauge teacher accountability?  

Do you think these assessments will reform education and provide the knowledge your student needs to become a self-directed individual or is this just another multimillion boondoggle from an agency that is under Congressional investigation?  Who/what is driving this educational nightmare of educational reform?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Is this Teacher's Response the Main Reason Parents Home School?

...Or do they?

From Diane Ravitch's blog, Do Parents Always Know What is Best?.

The State Commissioner of Education John White memorably said in defense of school vouchers: “To me, it’s a moral outrage that the government would say, ‘We know what’s best for your child,’” White said. “Who are we to tell parents we know better?” 

Ravitch printed a teacher's response to the superintendent's statement:

I am  tired of this attitude about parents knowing what is best for their children. Parents are easily swayed by politicians, talk show hosts and preachers.  They rarely understand how schools work unless they are teachers themselves or have relatives who are teachers.  If their child broke his leg they would not try to fix it themselves even if they did not have health insurance. They would take the child to a health care professional.  So what in God’s name is wrong with taking your child to an Education Professional?  This debasement of teachers and deprofessionalization of of K-12 education has got to go before we get a whole generation of uneducated, dysfunctional adults.

Certainly they should  have a say and be part of the decision making about the child’s education  but parents also starve, beat, tie up, and rape their children.  They also spoil them rotten and don’t expect them to do anything and teach them that they are “entitled”.You have to have a license to drive a car, for your dog, and to practice most professions.  No license is required to be a parent.  I have also seen parents demand inappropriate programs for their child and not accept the truth that a child with a 30 IQ should not be mainstreamed into a college prep program.  I had a parent swear that her multihandicapped son could rollerskate when he could not even turn over on his own.  But I had to clean dried feces off the little boy’s butt.

I agree that some school programs are bad.  They have no vision for the children’s success. They think poor kids are in a pipeline to prison. I have known some bad teachers, some lazy, some incompetent, some functionally illiterate, two drunks and some just not bright enough to teach.  But at least 95% of teachers do their best and are competent and do better as they get experience.  Some of the best teachers I have known started as paraprofessionals.

Programs may be inadequate or inappropriate for some students but that is not the fault of the teachers but of the politicians and upper administrators.  That is part of why I stayed in Severe/Profound.  I could pretty much do what I wanted because most people thought my children could not learn anything.  I could keep away from the politics pretty well until I came to Louisiana.  But this place is a mess from hell.

So who DOES know best for children?  Is it parents, state employees, or educational consortia controlled by private corporations unaccountable to taxpayers?  There are thoughtful readers' comments and it should be noted Mr. White, the superintendent, has connections with Joel Klein, who promotes school "choice".  However, Mr. Klein is silent on common core standards and other federal mandates ensuring that this "choice" is not really a "choice" at all.  

Conversely, are teachers never swayed or directed by their union policies?  Are teachers considered professionals any longer?  TFAers can enter the classroom with a 5 week training period.  Would you send your child for medical treatment to a doctor with a 5 week training period? 

Several readers understand this "class warfare" between parents and teachers does little for education and children and only creates division.  Below is Warren's comment (a teacher) on who knows best.  This might be the teacher to avoid and may embody the main reason some parents choose not to utilize public education for their children:

Parents don’t know jack about education or schooling. If they did, there would be no need for schools and schooling.

Teaching and education is best left to us, the professionals. We spent many years working and learning, and yes, mr. white, we DO know what is best for kids, in terms of education.

 There you go, parents.  In Warren's eyes, you exist to pay his salary and provide him the children.  That's your function.  You don't know "jack" about education and schooling and what's best for your child.   Someone needs to tap the home schoolers on the shoulders and tell them how uninformed they are in terms of directing their childrens' education.

 Does anyone else find Warren's attitude rather chilling?

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