"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, January 12, 2013

Missouri Scales Up Accreditation

Is DESE trying to inject a little competition into the school system with their new accreditation program?

The short version of the change in their program is that they are moving from a 14 point scale to a 150 point scale. In the past, schools who got 13/14 points received accreditation.  Now they must receive at least 105/150 to be accredited. Districts receiving between 75-104 points will have provisional accreditation. As further incentive, districts who receive more than 90% of the points will be "accredited with distinction."

Why the change? The claim is that the new system will "intensify pressure on low-performing school districts to improve, while exposing even the best schools to new scrutiny from parents and the public."  In fact, districts will now be able to compete more because their will be a wide range of scores in the accredited column. DESE plugged three years worth of data into the new system to give districts an idea of how they would rate.  The examples given in the Post Disptach were Mehlville, Parkway, Pattonville and Rockwood. All three had perfect scores under the old rating, but under the new scale their scores would be  97.9, 98.2, 87.5 and 96.8 percent, respectively, based on this latest performance data.

Everyone keeps saying competition among the schools is good. The new system begins to look a little like Olympic scoring where bragging rights can depend on the tenth of a point earned in some small aspect of the grading. Lower performing schools have many more areas they can work on to up their scores which, in theory, should help them.

Unfortunately for lower performing schools, like St. Louis City schools, the reality is that the new system will probably strip away their newly acquired provisional accreditation. It could be because, and the comments in the Dispatch seem to support, some of the new categories to be rated contain bias against districts like St. Louis Public Schools.

Take the new way they will calculate attendance rate. Under the old system, schools supplied the percentage of kids in school daily. The new system requires districts to calculate what percentage of students are in school 90% of the time to focus on the kids who are missing the most school. To increase their score, the districts are going to have to find a way get those kids to come to school.

Suburban school districts, whose parents typically have more education and are more tuned in to their children's education have very good attendance rates no matter which way they are calculated. Urban district families face a host of problems which impact whether or not children attend school. Parents typically have less education. Many pay less attention to their children's education as a result. One Fergusson/Florissant parent wrote, "I have witnessed a very competent teacher who after she had a terse encounter with a parent throw her arms up and exclaim publicly for all nearby to hear, 'How can we expect kids to learn when these are the parents in our school?' "

Children's home life can be chaotic making getting to school challenging. Health care, for now, may be missing causing more illness. These and other factors endemic to urban life affect how many and how often kids attend school. I find it a little scary that anyone wants to give schools the power to impact these things. That seems well beyond the current authority of a school district. I would also expect this point in the accreditation process to be a constant point of contention for urban districts who will rightly note that they are penalized more for this than their suburban counterparts.

The new system was a bit of a shock for administrators. It set the bar higher. But with Missouri ranking 41st in the nation in the Ed Week 2013 Quality Counts Report, change would appear necessary. Setting our sites on a higher rating by Ed Week means hitting the categories noted in the chart below. Ed Week, funded by the Gates Foundation, is in essence telling states, these are the things they need to focus on.

Source: Ed Week Quality Counts 2013

The other shift in focus of the new system is onto individual students and their achievement, making sure they leave the district college or career ready, rather than the overall results for district. Yet ironically, what seems to be missing in DESE's and Ed Week's rating systems is the role of the student. Teachers are accountable, administrators are accountable, state legislatures are accountable, but the student is merely raw material put through the system to be transformed by the system into whatever the state needs. It's hard to see how scores in lower performing districts are going to change when the consumer of what they are offering has no accountability and no incentive to change their behavior.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Common Core and the (Re)Distribution of Wealth?

This elementary Scholastic math worksheet is making the rounds on the internet:

Is this an example of cross-curricular content present in Common Core Standards?  Check out this site, Learning Resources, touting the wonders of CCSS:
As the Standards for Mathematical Practice appear on the stage, we can almost hear the cheers from the audience. Now the math curriculum rocks! It has been transitioned from a mass of unrelated skills to a nexus of true, deep understanding across the curriculum. With a thorough grasp of math “processes and proficiencies”, students will know the answer to the question, “When will I use this?” Instruction in mathematics no longer prepares students for just a math test; it prepares them for learning up and down the curriculum, for college, for career…and for life!

Thanks to Scholastic's adherence to cross-curricular math lessons,  your elementary school student will learn redistribution of wealth in a math problem.  Forget about learning to work for wages in a job to support themselves, now your 5th grade student will learn the concept of learning "distributing the wealth" through a math problem so they can learn "how to use it" in the future.

They will use it as they see their paychecks shrink to ensure equitable redistribution of wealth in this country which will certainly equip them with a deep and abiding work ethic to take care of themselves and their families.

Isn't Common Core great?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Constructivist Math in Common Core Standards?

Here is a video illustrating constructivist math techniques in an elementary classroom:

According to truthinamericaneducation.com, Common Core standards promote "collaborative" learning in the classroom as they place emphasis on Standards for Mathematical Practice which supports a constructivist approach.  You can read the research of the standards at the link.  The teacher's role is relegated to that of a facilitator.  I asked a math teacher to review this video.  His comments:

I could probably argue both sides of this. The students in the video seem to have this system well practiced. This might not be a bad practice with some aspects of it changed or removed and that it is not used every time a paper is checked. Occasionally might not be too bad but on a regular basis I would be concerned about the amount of instructional time that would be lost.
 What is taking place calls for peer teaching.  I don't send my kid to school for her to have to teach other kids (although that too often happens).  I send her to school to be taught. Unfortunately, the school doesn't see it that way.
 Having to reach consensus on whether a math problem is correct?  What?  That is where I lost it.  As long as we reach agreement all is okay?  Answers to math problems are either right or they are wrong.  Determining that an answer is correct is not a consensus activity---it is a "prove it" activity. I guess if two kids reach consensus that 2 + 3 = 6 then it must be so because they are in agreement.
 While some of the kids were having some good math discussion, what are we teaching kids when we have them use consensus to determine right or wrong.  A larger concern is that kids will learn to use consensus to determine what is morally and ethically right or wrong----no matter what the issue as long as they are in agreement.

Punishment for lack of consensus?  Really now?  What is the larger lesson students might learn from this.  Is it more important to agree with each other than for one to stand by empirical evidence even when not able to convince his partner?  Do we not promote standing up for what is right?  Will students reach consensus simply to avoid punishment? 

Here's another video (entitled "A primer for parents") by Bruce Deitrick Price questioning constructivist theory and practice. It is a good study for non-educators and parents to understand why collaborative learning might not be in your child's best educational interest but a good idea for CCSS adherence:

It might be a good idea to write down some of the statements in this second video and take it to your child's teacher if he/she is supportive of using collaborative learning projects instead of encouraging independent study. Price writes in the description of the video:

Constructivism is the main gizmo inside of Reform Math. 

Are consortia set standards supporting constructivist techniques in the best interest of your child? 


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Fight Back Against the Misinformation Campaign

An Indy Star letter to the editor is typical of the misinformation being spread about Common Core. Here is an excerpt from the letter by Kristine Shiraki, interim executive director of Stand for Children Indiana, a privately funded organization whose donors include the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and New Profit Inc. Their mission is to push the education reform agenda including Common Core.
"To address these needs, a group of state leaders and experts came together to improve standards for all students. They talked to universities to see what was expected from incoming freshmen. They consulted businesses to see what new entrants to the workforce ought to know. They made sure the standards were rigorous, clear and concise. The result was the Common Core State Standards.

The Common Core Standards were so strong that 45 states, including Indiana in 2010, adopted them separately and voluntarily.

Years later, these standards that were developed by state leaders, without a hint of political motivation, are now being challenged, mostly for political reasons. And Indiana is ground zero for the assault.
...It has been said that Indiana’s old standards were good, but they were a mile wide and an  inch deep.
...That’s why the experts who developed the standards gave states the flexibility to add their own materials on top of what the Common Core requires, such as Indiana’s robust reading lists. And, of course, these standards are state minimums that local school corporations are always free to add to."

What follows in the Comments Section is the counterstrike that needs to occur every time these kinds of lies or unsubstantiated comments are put out there about Common Core.
  • We both know that states can only add 15% to the common core standards and they may not delete or edit any standards as they are copyrighted and owned by two trade organizations in Washington DC, NGA and CCSSO. Stand for Children should be honest on this point. The new PARCC test that is replacing IStep will not test over the 15%. In this world of high-stakes testing, few, if any, teachers will have the time or incentive to teach any additional standards.
The idea that the common core standards are "fewer, clearer, deeper" is also untrue. The only people claiming Indiana's former standards were "a mile wide and an inch deep" are Tony Bennett and your organization.   - Erin Tuttle
  • Statements and claims are commonly made that the CCSS are internationally benchmarked. This is a carry over from a promise that was made before the standards were written. The National Governors Association (NGA), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) made this promise and it is often repeated as if true. The standards are not and were never internationally benchmarked. The CCSSI did not deliver on this promise and now says the standards “are informed by other top performing countries”. - Mathematically Sound Foundations 
As one commenter noted - "There were many great points made and questions asked. I find it interesting that none of the questions were answered nor were the points countered."  Nor are they likely to be because the initial statements are not backed up by facts. They seem to be relying on a strategy of, "If we say it often enough, it will become true." If we let their misinformation go unchallenged, their strategy has the potential to work.

We will keep Dr. Tienken's report, which addresses most of the statements Ms. Shiraki makes, on the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core (MCACC.webs.com) website under Resources tab for everyone to access to address the misinformation campaign that is in full swing on Common Core.

The full court press to support CCSS will come within the next few months as schools begin using the new standards full time. Watch for burn out in the faculty first. Once the assessments begin in earnest in 2014 watch for the same burn out in students, especially the youngest ones. No one will be happy; from the superintendents, who watch their district's scores tank on the first rounds of testing, to the teachers who have to completely rethink the way they teach and whose jobs will be on the line depending on how their students score, to the students who have to be rotated through multiple on-line assessments, to the parents who watch their children come home lost and frustrated and see the request from their school board for more money to fund whatever it is that is making their kids so miserable.

If Common Core was anything like it is being made out to be, it might be worth the pain of the change, but numerous experts have weighed in and said it is the wrong tool, to address a problem that doesn't exist, that cannot possibly achieve the results it claims.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Best Research Award Winner Says Common Core is Data-less Decision Making

Christopher Tienken, Ed.D. is the editor of the AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice. He is an assistant professor of Education Administration at Seton Hall University. He has public school administration experience as a PK-12 assistant superintendent, middle school principal, and elementary school assistant principal. He began his career in education as an elementary school teacher. Dr Tienken's research interests include the effect and influence of professional development on teacher practice and student achievement, the construct validity of high-stakes standardized tests as decision-making tools about student achievement and school effectiveness, and curricular interventions used in schools to improve achievement. His research about the effects of professional development on student achievement has been recognized by the Institute of Education Sciences and the National Staff Development Council awarded him the Best Research Award in 2008.”

As a top researcher in academic practice and student achievement, Dr. Tienken looked at the claims of those who support the Common Core Standards and wrote about his findings in the Winter 2011 edition of the Journal of Scholarship & Practice. You can read his full report "Common Core State Standards: An Example of Data-less Decision Making" here.  What follows are some key highlights from it.
On the claim that the standards are evidence based and internationally benchmarked.
“The standards have not been validated empirically and no metric has been set to monitor the intended and unintended consequences they will have on the education system and children (Mathis, 2010)"

"The site alleges that the standards  are  “evidence  based”  and  lists  two   homegrown documents to “prove” it: Myths vs Facts (NGA, 2010) and the Joint International Benchmarking Report (NGA, 2008). 

The Myths document presents claims that the standards  have  “made  use  of  a  large   and  growing  body  of  knowledge”  (p.  3).     Knowledge derives in part from carefully controlled scientific experiments and observations so one would expect to find references to high quality empirical research to support the standards.
When I reviewed that  “large  and   growing  body  of  knowledge”  offered  by  the   NGA, I found that it was not large, and in fact built mostly on one report, Benchmarking for Success, created by the NGA and the CCSSO, the same groups that created these standards; Hardly independent research." 
The need for the standards has been justified by claiming that, (a) America’s  children  are “lagging” behind international peers in terms of academic achievement, and (b) the economic vibrancy and future of the United States relies upon American students outranking their global peers on international tests of academic achievement.

Tienken’s response -
“Unfortunately for proponents of this empirically vapid argument it is well established that a rank on an international test of academic skills and knowledge does not have the power to predict future economic competitiveness and is otherwise meaningless for a host of reasons (Baker, 2007; Bracey, 2009; Tienken, 2008).”
He sites these examples to support his statement.
"The fact is China and its continued manipulation of its currency, the Yuan, and iron-fisted control of its labor pool, has a greater effect on our economic strength than if every American child scored at the top of every international test, the SAT, the ACT, the GRE, or the MAT." (emphasis added)
"Japan‘s stock market, the Nikkei 225 Average, closed at a high of 38,915 points on December 31, 1989 and on October 15, 2010 it closed at 9,500 points, approximately 75% lower, but Japan ranked in the Top 10 on international tests of mathematics since the 1980‘s and has always ranked higher than the U.S. on such tests. Yet Japan‘s stock market and its economy have been in shambles for almost two decades. They have national curriculum standards and testing, and have for over 30 years. Japanese students outrank students from most other nations on math and science tests."
"Economic strength of the G20 countries relies more on policy, than education achievement."
"To believe otherwise is like believing in the tooth-fairy."
Even if the standards were a good idea, they would not lead to the results that their proponents promise. Given their tremendous cost, it seems reasonable to question whether they are really needed. At the very least we should ask, is this a good investment of America’s capital?
Another phrase heard ad nauseum regarding the standards is that our students will need 21st century skills in order to compete in a global economy. I have been asking for months, someone please tell me what a 21st century skill is. I have received no answers and it would appear that the drafters of the Common Core Standards had no answer either.
“The language arts and mathematics curriculum sequences embedded in the standards are nothing more than rehashed versions of the recommendations from the Committee of Ten in 1893 and the Committee of 15 in1895; hardly 21st Century innovations.”
The United States Council on Competitiveness had a better answer than the consortia for what is needed to keep our economy growing.
“At the beginning of the 21st century, America stands at the dawn of a conceptual economy in which insight, imagination and ingenuity determine competitive advantage and value creation. To succeed in this hyper-competitive, fast-paced global economy, we cannot, nor should we want to, compete on low wages, commodity products, standard services, and routine science and technology development. As other nations build sophisticated technical capabilities, excellence in science and technology alone will not ensure success (p. 10).”
The CCSS, in contrast, contain no “authentic, critical thinking…. They are inert, sterile, socially static.” Tienken says, if we want to know what skills we be needed for the next century, we should ask the leaders of the businesses who will be looking for workers what they are looking for.
“The results from the 2010 Global Chief Executive Study conducted by the IBM Corporation made several recommendations that call into question the use of 19th century curriculum standards to address 21st century issues. After analyzing data from interviews with 1,500 of the worlds CEO‘s the authors stated that to remain competitive in the global economies CEO‘s and their employees must:
(a) use creative leadership strategies;
(b) collaborate and cooperate globally amongst themselves and with their customer bases;
(c) differentiate their responses, products, and services to ―build operating dexterity (p.51); and
(d) be able to use complexity to a strategic advantage.
The vendors of the CCSS have a problem: They have no data that demonstrates the validity of the standards as a vehicle to build 21st century skills nor as a means to achieve the things the business leaders say will be needed to operate in a diverse global environment. The CCSS are stuck in a time warp. A curricular time machine, if you will, set to 1858.”
Behind all the talk about the standards is fear mongering about America’s economic status in the world. America is painted as behind and falling further and further behind. The propaganda for Common Core claims this is because of our declining education system. But the real statistics show something very different. Below is just one example of many that Tienken provides.
“The U.S. has ranked either first or second out of 139 nations on the World Economic Forum‘s (2010) Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) eight out of the last 10 years and never ranked below sixth place during that period, regardless of results on international assessments and without adopting national curriculum standards.”
Unfortunately, the proponents of Common Core continue to push them as vital to our country’s future.
“Yet this nation will base the future of its entire public education system, and its children, upon this lack of evidence. Many of America‘s education associations already pledged support for the idea and have made the CCSS major parts of their national conferences and the programs they sell to schools.”

“This seems like the ultimate in anti- intellectual behavior coming from what claim to be intellectual organizations now acting like charlatans by vending products to their members based on an untested idea and parroting false claims of standards efficacy.”
“It is an Orwellian policy position that lacks a basic understanding of diversity and developmental psychology. It is a position that eschews science and at its core, believes it is appropriate to force children to fit the system instead of the system adjusting to the needs of the child.”
The better solution, according to Tienken, is to bring control for education back to the local level. 
“Alexander‘s (2002) study of course taking pattern before and after the introduction of New York‘s regent standards revealed that local contexts such as school size and demographics accounted for most of the disparity in course taking, and universal curriculum requirements did little to overcome that after their initial implementation. Local context, involvement and input matters greatly.”

“In fact, the experiment (Aikin, 1942)demonstrated that the less standardized, more diverse, locally developed and designed the programs (based on demonstrated research and theories of learning), the better the students did in college academically, socially, and civically compared their traditionally prepared peers.”
If we really want to bring up the lowest performing students, Tienken advances that a better approach would be the development of better social safety nets. “Housing policy has been shown to be a stronger intervention for increasing test scores than nationalizing curriculum (Schwartz, 2010).” These would have to be carefully constructed so as not to demolish personal responsibility or pride, and not foster an unnecessary dependence on the system.
Perhaps it‘s not universal curriculum standards that make the difference. Maybe it‘s a comprehensive social system that provides a quality social safety net for children and mothers that has the greatest influence on ultimate education outcomes.”
Tienken offers these conclusions about Common Core.
There is no reliable, independently validated empirical support for the CCSS initiative and yet many policy-makers and educators support it.
It is an attractive idea to support because it limits the intricacies of the real issues and makes it easy to lay the blame at the foot of a system (public education) that reacts to society, not drives it.
The CCSS initiative compartmentalizes complexity and compartmentalizing messy issues allows people to be intellectually lazy. Developing coherent education and social policy is more difficult.
The vendors of the CCSS present the standardization of America’s  children  as a neat and clean solution, easily manageable and easy to discuss.
Unfortunately the real world is not so organized and it is much more cognitively complicated. Believing that we can eliminate the complexity of educating all students by putting forth superficial ideas like one-size fits- all standards is like believing rankings on international tests really mean something. (Is your tooth under the pillow?)
It seems anti-intellectual, and based on the lack of evidence, unethical to support such a massive social experiment, using participants who have no choice but to go along.
The evidence suggests that there is not a crisis in education; there is a crisis in education leadership at all levels. Those who perpetuate bad ideas based on flawed data are practicing poor leadership. If some school leaders and their organizations do not want to stand up for children then they should stand down and let those who are willing assume the leadership reins.
The entire article is relatively short, well documented and worth the read.
Common Core State Standards: An Example of Data-less Decision Making, Christopher H. Tienken

More articles on Common Core and Tienken's commentaries/research:



Sunday, January 6, 2013

Common Core is a Financial Disaster

‘Trickle-down mandate’ hurts ed standards
MetroWest Daily News reports:
To shine a light on the decision-making process, Pioneer Institute, under Massachusetts Public Records Law, requested documents pertaining to any cost-analysis prepared prior to the adoption of Common Core.  Sadly, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education admitted that none existed.
You wouldn’t build a house without costing out the labor and materials.  But, unfortunately, that is exactly what Massachusetts did when education officials and Governor Patrick adopted Common Core without estimating the cost of implementing the standards. That means the expense of assessments, textbooks, instructional materials and technology weren’t projected, or, more likely, even considered in the decision.
Not unlike Massachusetts, Missouri's DESE stated the CCSS wouldn't cost anything.
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