"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, November 17, 2012

Common Core State Standards Explained.

Just one reason to oppose federally funded standards that are REALLY not "state led"
The American Principles Project, Concerned Women for America of Georgia and stopcommoncore.com have prepared a five part youtube series about the Common Core State Standards.  Attorney Jane Robbins provides historical information about the standards, how they are not "state led" and how they will lead to a nationalized curriculum.  
Share this video series with your local school board and elected officials.  Since we are all "common", what Ms. Robbins says about CCSS in Georgia probably is true in your state as well.

Stop the Common Core

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Cautionary Tale on Career Schools

Career Education Corp will not be helping California's unemployment numbers next year. This week California Watch reported that Career Education Corp will be closing more than a quarter of its 95 campuses and eliminating 900 jobs in its network of schools dedicated to providing career instruction for students across the country. They will be closing six schools in California alone and another seventeen in other states where their enrollment is declining. It is instructional to look at what is happening at these for-profit schools as it is a cautionary tale for career education and education in general.

A major push in education now is to privatize it. Let the free market compete to improve education. I am a proponent of the free market.  In the end it does produce the higher quality product than the government produced product which has no market forces imposed on it. But the free market is primarily focused on making a profit and there are only so many levers a company can pull to make that happen: lower costs of production, raise prices, increase sales to achieve economies of scale or get government to grant you a monopoly. These do not seem to be a good fit to education, but maybe that's just me.

Career Education Corp. was working on the model that tried to maximize the number of customers they had.  They have 95 school campuses in 23 states and 5 countries. Their network members are listed below.

 Until recently they paid recruiters incentive compensation to bring in students. The more people a salesperson could get enrolled, the more he or she was paid. This worked well until the U.S. Department of Education placed a ban on incentive compensation last year. “To the extent that was an effective strategy for increasing new enrollments, that is kind of what blows a hole in their business model,” said Kevin Kinser, a professor of higher education policy at the University at Albany, State University of New York.

You can't blame the DoEd for cutting off the gravy train.  That was just providing responsible oversight to protect the consumer and the taxpayer. It also helped plug a hole that DoEd had in their fiscal outflows. They provide financial aid to students receiving career training. The problem was there were a lot of them starting such programs, but not finishing, not getting jobs and not paying back those loans. It appeared that career education centers, like Sanford Brown were not delivering the product they said they would, - well trained employable graduates.

And the career colleges could not seem to meet the Feds minimum requirement that no more than 90% of their revenue come from federal financial aid.  Six of them in Career Education Corp’s network, last year, were in violation of that requirement.

Think about that for a moment. Career education, the be all and end all of education focus in America now, could not get enough money from private lenders to cover a mere 10% of their revenue. Is that because private lenders have decided career education is not a good investment? Possibly.  Is that because the federal government has made it prohibitive for private lenders to get into tuition lending? Much more likely. In either case the federal government may soon have a monopoly on career education which is another lever in turning a profit. And how is that working for the students?

In short, not so good. Career Education Corp, like other career education centers such as University of Phoenix which said last month that it will close 115 locations, and Corinthian Colleges Inc. which disclosed this year that it will close three Everest College locations and sell four others, is but one of a number of for profit career education providers experiencing declines in both enrollment and profits. These are businesses  whose stated purpose, at least, is to teach people a marketable skill and help them get jobs. Yet most of them are seeing tremendous challenges with job placement after graduation. In 2010, Career Education agreed to pay $40 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in which former students said the California Culinary Academy had misled them with its claim that 97 percent of graduates got jobs in the field. When the company released its new job placement rates - which officials said are accurate - most of them had rates that fell below the minimum rate of 65 percent required by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools.

You can say that these businesses were shysters and were out to hustle the public. You could assume that they only had the goal of turning and profit, not providing quality education.  By their own admission they were not worried as much if students completed the coursework or got jobs afterwards. "Our goal is to no longer put disproportionate emphasis on starts and population,”[emphasis added]  said Career Corp CEO Steven H. Lesnik. “Our goal is not only to provide high-quality career-focused education, but to evaluate where there are identifiable employment needs that coincide with our program offerings and students’ education.” But such schemes are usually short lived and tend not to grow nearly as broad as the private for-profit career school system is. One additional thing this system has going for it is government support, not only in financing but also in philosophy. The whole focus of k-12 education is college and career readiness. When Uncle Sam is championing your business sector it should be a winning business model.  Unfortunately it’s not.

Enrollment is down 23% in Career Education’s network. Some of that is due to students’ wariness of taking on student loans. Since for-profit tuition tends to be higher than state run schools, the concern over student debt hits them harder.  Is there any logical reason to believe that this dynamic would not also be present in private education provided in the k-12 system by, say, for-profit charters? Career colleges have been around a lot longer and have worked some of the kinks out, though obviously not all. They are heavily regulated as various attempts to game the system were tried and eventually controlled. Shouldn’t similar regulations be applied to charter schools to take advantage of career schools’ learning curve?

In the bigger picture is the overall success or failure of the education sector in helping get people off the unemployment ranks and into jobs that will help the economy grow. We heard this phrase ad nauseam during the campaign cycle, “We have to make sure our education system is providing our students with the skills they will need to make it in the 21st century global economy.” If a company, whose sole mission is to train people for jobs doesn’t even have a 65% success rate in getting its graduates into jobs, a company whose time horizon is only two years out, cannot predict which jobs are going to be needed so they can train people for those jobs, how successful is a public school system ,whose time horizon is twelve years, going to be in predicting what jobs will be open when those students graduate and training students with those specific skills?

If nothing else, it looks like training people with specific job skills and promising them a job because they have demonstrated competency in those skills is not enough to get people employed and fix our economy. Yet our government tells us we need to spend more money on doing just that, investing in education. I’m not convinced that is a good investment. Are you?

Post note: Career Education Corp operates two campuses in Missouri: Sanford Brown in  Fenton, and Missouri College in Brentwood.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The End of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium?

Color me shocked.  A consortia pushing unproven, untested, unfunded, unconstitutional standards doomed to fail?

The elite speak.  From The Huffington Post and "50 to 75 education insiders" interviewed by Education Whiteboard:

About 44 percent of respondents believe there is a high likelihood of states exiting the consortia (SBAC) and designing their own custom Common Core-aligned tests with the help of third-party vendors, as Utah did in early August. A majority are of the opinion that SBAC’s membership may drop by as much as half by 2014, though they are less pessimistic about PARCC.

We can only hope.  You might want to share this with your school district before it spends any more money on the mandated assessments from SBAC.

By the way, who are these "insiders"?

Influential leaders who are shaping federal education reform, including
individuals who have or are currently serving as key policy and political
“insiders,” such as:
• Current and former White House and U.S. Department of Education
• Current and former Congressional staff
• State education leaders including state school chiefs and former
• Leaders of major education organizations, think tanks and other key

It's too bad Whiteboard Advisors didn't bother asking the taxpayers/parents who pay for these "reforms" and provide their children for the educational experiment.  I guess "influentials" don't include these stakeholders.

One more point.  What is one reason these insiders see the consortia failing and states designing their own tests?

“Cost, cost, cost, cost, cost.” (pg. 29/48)

And just think.  Missouri's Commissioner of Education said Common Core wouldn't cost money in Missouri even as the Pioneer Institute estimated it would cost the state at least $350 Million.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Minnesota Needs Your Help

A good magician, or a progressive, pulls off most magic tricks using slight of hand which diverts your attention to one hand while the other hand makes the switch. It looks like the Minnesota Department of Education is working its own slight of hand conveniently using the elections to distract the public from noticing the terrible Social Studies Standards they are trying to pass into law. We have written about these standards before. Interestingly, these standards were panned by both conservative and liberal groups alike, including the Southern Poverty Law Center. These standards are headed into permanent rule without a public hearing because the notice for requesting a hearing was snuck out in the heat of the election cycle. Education Liberty Watch has been ringing the alarm bell about these standards for a little over a year, and now they really need your support.

You can help by requesting a public hearing by November 30th. You do not need to attend the hearing or be a MN resident to request the hearing.  The rest of this post is from an Education Liberty Watch mailing.

Karen R. Effrem, MD - President, Education Liberty Watch

The Minnesota Department of Education is about to complete the "extreme makeover social studies standards edition" process of the well rated 2004 version. Instead of following the law which says to "revise and align" the standards, there has been a top to bottom rewriting with alarming changes in emphasis.  This process began in 2011 and we have endeavored to keep you informed:

Comments Submitted for Final Draft of Minnesota Social Studies Standards
Comments on US History Standards from an Attorney and Teacher of the Constitution 
National Association of Scholars Review of MN Social Studies Standards  
John Fonte Review of Minnesota Social Studies Standards
Southern Poverty Law Center Review  
 Please Comment!! Social Studies Standards Continue Disastrous Course in Final Draft!  
 Alert! New PC Social Studies Standards are a Disaster!! 

The 2011 version, (official rule version available here and standards with benchmarks available here), is about to be put into permanent rule.  The only way to have a hope of any more influence on the final outcome is for at least 25 people to request a hearing by November 30, 2012. The actual hearing itself is scheduled for December 20th but will be cancelled if there are not enough requests.

The full details to request a hearing and or to comment on the standards are contained in the Dual Use notice.  Here are the important highlights:

What:  Request a public hearing before the social studies standards are cemented into rule and submit comments on the social studies standards.

Deadline: 4:30 p.m. on Friday, November 30, 2012 

Hearing Time, Date, & Location if 25 Requests Received: 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, December 20, 2012 in room CC-15, Minnesota Department of Education, 1500 Highway 36 West, Roseville, Minnesota, 55113

Submit Hearing requests to: Kerstin Forsythe Hahn at the Department of Education, 1500 Highway 36 West, Roseville, Minnesota, 55113, email: Kerstin.forsythe@state.mn.us. Phone (for questions):phone: 651-582-8583. TTY users may call the Department of Education at 651-582-8201.  [Please forward a copy to office@edlibertywatch.org so that we may know if there are enough requests for a hearing. Also after discussions with the administrative law judge, the agency contact, and MN Senate staff, there is no requirement that hearing requests be from Minnesota residents exclusively.]

Parameters for Hearing Request: "You must make your request for a public hearing in writing, which the agency contact person must receive by 4:30 p.m. on Friday, November 30, 2012. You must include your name and address in your written request. In addition, you must identify the portion of the proposed rules that you object to or state that you oppose the entire set of rules. Any request that does not comply with these requirements is not valid and the agency cannot count it when determining whether it must hold a public hearing. You are also encouraged to state the reason for the request and any changes you want made to the proposed rules." NOTE: PLEASE at a minimum, request a hearing and whether you oppose all of the standards or a certain part along with your name and address all in writing. You do not need to be a Minnesota resident to do this.

Parameters for Comment Submission: "You are encouraged to propose any change that you desire. You must also make any comments about the legality of the proposed rules during this comment period.  You have until 4:30 p.m. on Friday, November 30, 2012, to submit written comment in support of or in opposition to the proposed rules or any part or subpart of the rules. Your comment must be in writing and received by the agency contact person by the due date.Comments are encouraged. Your comments should identify the portion of the proposed rules addressed, the reason for the comment, and any change proposed." NOTE: If, after you have requested a hearing, you want to submit comments, please do so. You do not have to submit extensive comments on every single standard and benchmark. You may certainly choose as few as one standard in one grade level in one subject, but PLEASE do something.

The Department's justification for this wholesale rewrite of the standards is in a document called the Statement of Need & Reasonableness (SONAR).  A more detailed analysis of this will be coming soon with our comments.

The reasons to oppose these standards are myriad and may be found at the links above and within the SONAR.  Here are a few important ones:

  • There is no discussion of the distinction between unalienable (God-given, inherent) rights as defined in the Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the Constitution  and rights that are given and taken away via the whims of man and government as described in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which receives almost as much emphasis in the standards and benchmarks as the Declaration of Independence. Unalienable rights is mentioned once in the examples, but not in the standards or benchmarks that are actually tested. 
  • Substitution of content knowledge in history and civics for civic activism that is not politically neutral, according to the National Association of Scholars.
  • The standards focus inordinately on skills in stead of content knowledge and there are glaring omissions including the Global War on Terror, the genocide of Communism, the benefits of Western Civilization and free market capitalism,and the significant scientific and other innovations from the US.  This was pointed out by John Fonte of the Hudson Institute, who is also a member of the NAEP steering committee in civics and  member of CIVITAS.
  • The historical discussions are incredibly biased towards everything the nation has done wrong regarding slavery and the treatment of indigenous peoples, but little to nothing about the things this nation has done well to have made it the freest, most generous, most prosperous, and most liberating country in the history of the world.  In other words there is no discussion of American exceptionalism, patriotism, etc. This was discussed by both Fonte, as well as attorney Holsten. Even the very liberal Southern Poverty Law Center gave the new standards an "F" grade because there is not enough content and specificity about the civil rights movement. They also admitted that the 2004 version contained excellent content on this subject and was highly rated by the Fordham Foundation
  • Not previously discussed is the whole issue of linking the new social studies standards to the English standards which are now the Common Core national standards in English. In fact, the full name of the English standards is the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. These English standards have been described by Dr. Sandra Stotsky, a member of the original Common Core validation committee, as culture and content free skills with the so called "college ready" high school standards being at the 6th to 8th grade level. They were so bad that she refused to sign off on them. This speaks poorly to the likely rigor and content of the new social studies standards as already indicated by the reviews mentioned here. 
Although Minnesota and the nation are rapidly approaching the point of no return, beyond which it will be very difficult to have our children in public schools learn the principles of freedom and economic success that have made the United States the most exceptional  nation in the history of the world and to preserve that status, we have a chance to change or at least slow down the implementation of these seriously flawed standards. For sake of the future for both our children and our nation, please do what you can. THANK YOU!!!

MEW Readers: It might be tempting to consider this Minnesota's problem alone or rationalize that non-residents have no business getting involved, but keep in mind that every time a set of standards like this becomes enshrined into law somewhere, it is used in the development of and justification for Common Core Standards. If we do not believe this is the version of history we want taught to our children and future generations, we need to make sure it does not stand anywhere in this country. Please consider requesting a hearing in Minnesota. You can use the points in the links provided as justification.
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