"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, February 1, 2013

Breaking News - Alabama Withdraws From Both Testing Consortia

We had heard rumors that there was something going on in Alabama. State Board of Education member Betty Peters has been ringing the bell about Common Core for years. Now there is something to celebrate.
EdWeek broke the news today that Alabama  has withdrawn from both testing consortia, Smarter Balanced and PARCC.  The state's assessment director, Gloria Turner confirmed that they will not longer participate in the consortia developed testing.  They will "pursue a different avenue for assessments."
Back in 2011 Governor Robert Bentley, who sits as President of the State School Board in AL, introduced a resolution to rescind that state's adoption of the standards. His vote, along with that of board members Betty Peters and Stephanie Bell, was unfortunately not enough to get the resolution passed.

The news is not totally unepxected. Alabama has been lukewarm about their involvement in the consortia from the start. They were only an advisory state in both consortia which meant they had no vote in the consortia. Back in September at the advisory meeting they were asking if there would be alternatives to the planned on-line assessments.

Missouri, on the other hand, is a governing member of the Smart Balanced Consortia. You  can only belong to one group if you want to be a governing member and have a vote.

The news is a mixed bag for Common Core. Director Turner said that the state plans to continue implementation of the standards.

The Wrangling of Taxpayer Money by Jeb Bush and other Education Reformers

The Wild West Comes to Your State via Education Reformers looking for Gold.

Education is the "Wild West".  Scott Joftus was correct when talking about money to be made in education reform:

Scott Joftus, closely aligned with Bill Gates and his foundation since the early years of 2000, had this to say about education in an article aptly titled "Is the Stimulus Really "No Consultant Left Behind" "?:

That metaphor is an apt one for the market as well. In the fall of 2009, Mr. Joftus was contacted by a former contractor who was working for Global Partnership Schools, a new school turnaround venture funded by GEMS Education, a Dubai-based company founded by entrepreneur Sunny Varkey. The caller was hoping to obtain copies of Mr. Joftus’ contract for school improvement services in Kansas.
“You know we’re in a new era when school turnaround firms in the U.S. are being funded out of the Middle East,” Joftus said. “To me, that says there’s money to be made. I call this period the Wild West in education.”
We wrote about Joftus in May 2011.  Researchers such as Susan Ohanian and Dora Taylor have been writing about the money trail to Bill Gates and other "entrepreneurs" using taxpayer money to fund their private companies for years.   Note that Joftus' remark was in 2009.  This has been in the planning for some time by private corporations and the Federal Government to create an enormous public/private partnership without voter/legislative approval.

Joftus is just a small part in the big picture of corporate payback in education.  The story garnering the attention of education activists this week was the information on former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his plans to gain monetarily from the reforms designed "for the kids". Rather than serving student educational needs, various education reforms allow the framework for investors and professional ed reformers to gain access to state/federal coffers.  From inthepublicinterest.org:

Emails between the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), founded and chaired by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and state education officials show that the foundation is writing state education laws and regulations in ways that could benefit its corporate funders. The emails, obtained through public records requests, reveal that the organization, sometimes working through its Chiefs For Change affiliate, wrote and edited laws, regulations and executive orders, often in ways that improved profit opportunities for the organization's financial backers.

"Testing companies and for-profit online schools see education as big business," said In the Public Interest Chair Donald Cohen. "For-profit companies are hiding behind FEE and other business lobby organizations they fund to write laws and promote policies that enrich the companies."

The emails conclusively reveal that FEE staff acted to promote their corporate funders' priorities, and demonstrate the dangerous role that corporate money plays in shaping our education policy. Correspondence in Florida, New Mexico, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Louisiana paint a graphic picture of corporate money distorting democracy.

This report focuses on testing companies and for-profit online schools and doesn't mention common core standards.  But think how easy (and necessary for increased profits) it will be for these testing companies and on-line schools to use the mandated CCSS standards, assessments and resulting curricula.  It doesn't matter so much to these companies/investors what students are learning, it's that they are learning the same material so the process can be streamlined for the assessment/testing companies.  

Does anyone seriously believe the push for CCSS is anything more than a money making scheme and to control educational content?  Why the clamor to sign on to assessments that were never even written?  Why are the standards/assessments copyrighted by private companies?  Why won't states/school districts be able to adapt these standards/assessments?

Read again what Scott Joftus said in 2009 and understand what education reform is really about.  It's never been "for the kids".  Mr. Joftus may be discovering how making money in education reform is getting in the way of real teaching for his own children in his post When Education Reform gets Personal in EducationNext.org:

Over more than 20 years in the field of education—including two with Teach For America—I have helped promote state standards, the Common Core, the hiring of teachers with strong content knowledge, longer class periods for math and reading, and extra support for struggling students, to name a few. I have recently discovered, however, that what I believe as an education policy wonk is not always what I believe as a father.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live, academic expectations are extremely high. Our school district aims to teach math, for example, in a rigorous way. I appreciate this goal, but to date “increased rigor” has primarily meant that some students skip grade-level math classes and enroll in classes meant for older kids. Basic skills that are taught and reinforced in the grades being skipped are often given short shrift. In 2nd grade, my daughter brought home worksheets on probability before she had any real understanding of the concept, or even a strong foundation in simple division. Her frustration with probability, and consequently math, grew as we substituted times-table drills for play dates. Last year, to my horror, she said that she hated math. This year, which has included an increased focus on math facts and an inspiring teacher, math has become her favorite subject.

He writes how a child in the foster system disrupted the class and took the teacher's time and away from other children:

The tension between my understanding of good education policy—driven by a deep commitment to equity and the belief that an outstanding education can transform lives, and this country—and what is right for my daughters makes me both a better policy wonk and a better father. The tension also illustrates why school reform is so difficult.

I would suggest the educational reform currently being driven by leaders like Jeb Bush, Bill Gates, Achieve, David Coleman, etc won't alleviate the types of problems Mr. Joftus details.  Living in the "Wild West" of education leaves much to be desired, even for the education reformers profiting from the wrangling of taxpayer money.  


Thursday, January 31, 2013

How Much Will Common Core Cost Missouri School Districts?

The question on how much CCSS will cost school districts might just be the $64,000 question. In all reality, the bill will probably be in the $350 Million range (at the least) as districts have to comply with infrastructure, assessment, training and curricula mandates.

This is not new information on cost nor is it set in stone.  In fact, the bill to school districts will become much higher if the science and social studies standards (now being crafted) are adopted.  Don't forget the Art Common Core standards that may be imposed on districts as well!  The idea of creativity in the art room would go against the idea of common educational delivery and product.

Reality is setting in for some folks, however, and it is coming as quite a shock.  California (in the same consortia as Missouri) is more upfront on state/district costs than Missouri DESE has been.  Since we are in the same boat as California in terms of mandates, you can receive a foretaste of the reform to come in this article from edsource.org, Uncertainties and unknowns beneath the gloss of Common Core:

Listening to the people at the State Department of Education who are charged with California’s transition to the new Common Core K-12 learning standards, as I did (twice) earlier this month, you’d have to conclude that it’s all going pretty well.

Everything’s on schedule, local districts are moving ahead to “varying degrees” to get ready, teachers are champing at the bit to be liberated from the chains of rote learning and fill-in-the-bubble multiple-choice tests, and there’ll be materials to support the new focus on analytical skills, critical thinking, problem solving and essay writing.

By spring 2015, the state officials say, the kids will be ready – many of them anyway – for the “Smarter Balanced” computer-based test assessments that will measure how well they’re doing. (Yes, Virginia, “smarter balanced” is a test, not a shoe or a brand of margarine.) Anyway, they say, local districts will have a lot of flexibility on when to get on board. 

If all the foregoing resonates with a bit of skepticism, it’s meant to.

For state Department of Education officials, from Superintendent Tom Torlakson down, optimism is part of the job description. But California, one of some forty states that have signed up for Common Core, faces an enormous task not only because of the apparent magnitude of the change, but because its education system, and the state Department of Education itself, are so badly strapped in so many ways.

In the past few years we’ve laid off thousands of teachers; our average classes are among the largest in the nation; we have the fewest counselors and librarians per pupil; our per-pupil spending is near the bottom, even after Gov. Jerry Brown’s much-ballyhooed tax hike. And now we will take on this change as well.

The other day Torlakson estimated that it will cost $1 billion for California to make the change, and that, too, may turn out to be optimistic. So far most districts have been left dangling with little help other than the information – and there’s a fair amount of that – they can glean from the Department’s websites.

Even the optimism at the top – all of it from good people with good intentions – has some weasel wording. What does it mean that districts are getting ready to “varying degrees”? How many teachers are eager to change?

And a lot is left unsaid. The state may adopt texts and other classroom materials for Common Core, but the locals will have to buy them out of already strapped budgets. (emphasis added)

Missouri is not that different than California in that mandates will be coming to your school district that were never voted on by voters nor the Legislature. If "optimism is part of the job description" for Missouri Commissioner Chris Nicastro as it is for California Superintendent Tom Torkalson, she's doing a darn good job.  However, it is time for reality and truth to prevail and the tough questions must be answered in terms of cost and loss of local control.  The "weasel wording" is becoming suspect and the hard truth on the financial impact must be shared with the very taxpayers who are mandated to fund these standards.

The taxpayers and legislators require more documented evidence than DESE's statement that "CCSS won't cost Missouri any money" and regurgitated ed reform talking points.  Missouri has adopted standards/assessments that are unproven, untested and unfunded.  Legislative approval was never granted for this process and the Legislature was not informed of the additional cost needed for these mandates.  DESE needs to tell taxpayers and legislators how much they will cost the state (and local districts) and how they will restore local control.

We're waiting, Commissioner Nicastro.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The National School Board Association and Bill Gates

We posted this morning on the puzzling legislation NSBA crafted pushing back against the Department of Education.  The NSBA wants to reclaim local control in school districts.  We couldn't figure out why the NSBA would push for more local control while supporting common core standards.

I tweeted the link and received a tweet in return from education researcher extraordinaire Susan Ohanian that many of you might find interesting:

It's been 3 1/2 years since NSBA got $755,603 from Gates. Maybe they're angling for more.

Maybe that explains the ambivalence?

NSBA Pushes Back Against Arne Duncan but Supports Common Core Standards?

National School Board Association issues press release:

Alexandria, Va. (Jan. 29, 2013) – More than 700 school board members and state school boards association leaders will be meeting with their members of Congress and urging them to co-sponsor legislation, developed by the National School Boards Association (NSBA), to protect local school district governance from unnecessary and counter-productive federal intrusion from the U.S. Department of Education.

...“We must ensure that the decisions made at the federal level will best support the needs and goals of local school systems and the communities they serve,” said Gentzel. “Local school boards must have the ability to make on-the-ground decisions that serve the best interests of our school districts.”

The NSBA is pushing back against Arne Duncan's policies mandating school district policies.   It has prepared draft legislation stopping the increasing Federal encroachment into local districts and states:

The proposed legislation would ensure that the Department of Education’s actions are consistent with the specific intent of federal law and are educationally, operationally, and financially supportable at the local level. This would also establish several procedural steps that the Department of Education would need to take prior to initiating regulations, rules, grant requirements, guidance documents, and other regulatory materials.

“In recent years, the U.S. Department of Education has engaged in a variety of activities to reshape the educational delivery system,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA’s Executive Director. “All too often these activities have impacted local school district policy and programs in ways that have been beyond the specific legislative intent. School board leaders are simply asking that local flexibility and decision-making not be eroded through regulatory actions.”

This press release sounds encouraging for those against CCSS.  I particularly like this on page 3:

Ensure that national policy in education is established by Congress
through specific legislation.

Congress wrote a blank check to the Obama administration for education reform but legislation for this reform was circumvented. This proposed legislation would ensure such massive federal programs like RTTT would not occur again without legislative approval and sounds promising.  But take a look at this NSBA powerpoint presentation, Getting Ready for the Common Core.  It is not a presentation on how to resist CCSS.  It doesn't urge districts to not implement the standards/assessments.  It is a presentation for districts on how to use CCSS and promote them in your school district and business community.  

I'm curious.  How can NSBA want less federal intrusion into local school district policy and programming and then support CCSS which mandate standards, assessments and ultimately the curricula necessary to use with these standards and assessments?  The two consortia are supported by Federal funding and contain federal mandates.  Should states/districts be able to choose what Federal intrusion is "good" and which should be resisted?  Or should the Federal Government be involved in a state's educational direction/delivery for any reason?

Diane Ravitch's readers had quite a lively discussion on her blog about the role of the Federal government in education and federalism.  Perhaps it's time for NSBA to rethink its support of these national standards that aren't really "state led".  Private corporations own the copyright to the standards and assessments that the "states" were allegedly crafting.  The school districts/states can't change them even if they prove destructive to student learning and achievement.

Shouldn't the NSBA be supporting the revocation of the CCSS since they have been proven to be the blueprint of private organizations using taxpayer money to create a managed workforce?  How can the NSBA support CCSS when it strips local districts of autonomous decision making abilities and governance?   We applaud NSBA for the proposed legislation but urge them to call for the rescinding of CCSS as well.

Susan Ohanian Tweets - "It's been 3 1/2 years since NSBA got $755,603 from Gates. Maybe they're angling for more."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Common Core Wars Heating up in Indiana from the Chamber of Commerce

Indiana will face a vote in the Senate to advance a bill to rid itself of Common Core.  Anngie and I were there for the testimony and rally a couple of weeks ago.  Five hundred citizens showed up at the Capitol to show their support for stopping Common Core in their state.

The reformers might be getting worried.  Below is an editorial insinuating taxpayers frankly don't understand why private corporations should be given the authority to own the copyright to the standards and assessments used in teaching their children...and if a parent or a school district should find some of these items objectionable, they have no due process to stop using it in their schools.  From indianabarrister.com and Indiana Chamber: Show Common Sense on Common Core:


It’s a bit amazing, but right now – with a Republican supermajority – we are fighting hard to keep in place a major component of the K-12 education reforms that former Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett implemented here and have helped lead around the nation. The state’s new Common Core academic standards are under assault from a contingent of out-of-state interest groups, conservative Republican legislators and tea party activists.

Senate Bill 193, sponsored by Sen. Scott Schneider (R-Indianapolis), would effectively overturn the state’s 2010 approval and subsequent participation in the Common Core academic standards. Forty-six states have adopted the Common Core program, an initiative to set strong standards for what students learn at each grade level in math and English that is also designed to get students ready for college and careers. The program is already being implemented in Indiana and enjoying unusual bipartisan and broad-based support, including among classroom teachers.

Beginning in 2009, governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states committed to developing common K-12 benchmarks in math and English. They sought significantly more rigorous academic standards and testing programs for their states. Common Core opponents charge it is designed to “nationalize” academic standards and testing, citing the Obama administration’s support for this state-led effort as evidence of sinister intent.

This is nonsense. Common Core was and still is a state-led effort. Indiana was one of the early states to approve and implement the program. In fact, Gov. Daniels and Dr. Bennett were key leaders in helping states around the country – now 46 states – to approve the program. Common Core opponents know that if they can tear it down in Indiana first, the foundation will begin to crumble across the country.
 Is Common Core perfect? Of course not; no initiative is. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has acknowledged that some of the critics – at least those focused on contents of the standards rather than hysterical exaggerations of federal intrusion – may have some legitimate concerns that should be evaluated.  But those concerns, if legitimate, can be offset by the flexibilities contained within the Common Core and through corresponding adoptions of rigorous assessments and accountability measures. There is no need to overreact.

Rather than subjecting our academic standards to the politicized environment of the Legislature, such determinations and oversight need to remain in the hands of our state’s education leaders, including the Department of Education, the Education Roundtable and the State Board of Education. Ironically, while critics of the Common Core have heaped praise on Indiana’s previous state standards, they consistently overlook the fact that those highly-rated standards were adopted through the same process as was conducted when Indiana adopted the Common Core, and that the Legislature played no role in those adoptions.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has urged the Legislature to allow Common Core implementation to continue but has promised to conduct a review of the standards that would be completed by the end of 2013. This is a reasonable, welcome recommendation, as such a review would be helpful for determining how best to use the flexibilities that are allowed in the multi-state agreement.

Senate Bill 193 is scheduled to be considered and possibly voted on by the Senate Education and Career Development Committee on Wednesday, February 6 . With Republican legislators split on the measure, a close vote is expected. Indiana simply cannot afford to start going backwards on education. Let’s hope common sense prevails on the Common Core standards.

For more information about Common Core, contact Derek Redelman, vice president for education and workforce development policy, at dredelman@indianachamber.com / (317) 264-6880 or visit http://stand.org/indiana/common-core.


My response to the editorial?

I would have thought astute business people would have realized a long time ago that you shouldn't sign on to any public school plan that had no price tag, had no specifics and would be controlled by private corporations held unaccountable to the taxpayers whose money they were using.

Would the Chamber of Commerce endorse such a plan in private industry? Would they support a business plan that had no budget, no oversight? Would they endorse a construction project with no blueprint and only promises of grandeur?

Of course not. Then why is the Chamber endorsing CCSS? The processes used and the product promised by CCSS is what I described above. If the Chamber endorses such pie in the sky promises of CCSS that have no research to back them up, and the Chamber thinks THAT is common sense, Indiana is in deep trouble.

As the US Chamber of Commerce signed on to the support of the standards (even before they were written), expect to see more editorials from individual state/local chambers in those states where there is growing opposition and questioning of the wisdom of such action.

Where's The Math in Common Core Math Problems?

Yesterday we linked an article about the stress on kindergartners because of Common Core standards.

Today we highlight Barry Garelick's article on 5th grade Math taught via Common Core standards.  From EdWeek and Developing the Habits of Mind for Algebraic Thinking:


....a friend of mine who lives in Spokane directed me to the website of the Spokane school district, where they posted a math problem at a meeting for teachers regarding best practices for teaching math.

The teachers were shown the following problem which was given to fifth graders.  They were to discuss the problem and assess what different levels of “understanding” were demonstrated by student answers to the problem:

Not only have students in fifth grade not yet learned how to represent equations using algebra, the problem is more of an IQ test than an exercise in math ability.  Where’s the math?  The “habit of mind” is apparently to see a pattern and then to represent it mathematically.

Such problems are reliant on intuition — i.e., the student must be able to recognize a mathematical pattern — and ignore the deductive nature of mathematics.  An unintended habit of mind from such inductive type reasoning is that students learn the habit of inductively jumping to conclusions.  This develops a habit of mind in which once a person thinks they have the pattern, then there is nothing further to be done.  Such thinking becomes a problem later when working on more complex problems.

...Giving students problems to solve for which they have little or no prior knowledge or mastery of algebraic skills is not likely to develop the habit of mind of algebraic thinking.  But the purveyors of this practice believe that continually exposing children to unfamiliar and confusing problems will result in a problem-solving “schema” and that students are being trained to adapt in this way.  In my opinion, it is the wrong assumption.   A more accurate assumption is that after the necessary math is learned, one is equipped with the prerequisites to solve problems that may be unfamiliar but which rely on what has been learned and mastered.  I hope research in this area is indeed conducted.  I hope it proves me right.

Barry Garelick has written extensively about math education in various publications including The Atlantic, Education Next, Educational Leadership, and Education News. He recently retired from the U.S. EPA and is teaching middle and high school math in California.

Read more here. 

MEW note: if you think the above problem (page 1) is vexing, click on the link from the Spokane math teachers' meeting and check out page 2 for further instructions on the button problem. 


Is this really about math?

Monday, January 28, 2013

This is Why We Are Against Common Core Standards

But I'm too young to read informational text.  I'm only in kindergarten.

Is this scenario coming soon to a kindergarten class in your school district?  Teachers are mandated to teach developmentally inappropriate standards, assessments and curricula to district students.  What do you think will happen?  Will endlessly assessing students in kindergarten make them more ready for the global workforce or will they dissolve in tears and view school as something to avoid at all costs?

THIS is what teachers, parents, school board members and legislators need to understand about Common Core standards.  When students implode, there is nothing your school can do.  Schools can't subtract from the standards and they must use the copyrighted material. 

This is not what education should be.  But this is what it is becoming unless we stop the implementation of the standards in our states.

From the NY Post:

Way beyond the ABCs, crayons and building blocks, the city Department of Education now wants 4- and 5-year-olds to write “informative/explanatory reports” and demonstrate “algebraic thinking.” 

Children who barely know how to write the alphabet or add 2 and 2 are expected to write topic sentences and use diagrams to illustrate math equations.

“For the most part, it’s way over their heads,” a Brooklyn teacher said. “It’s too much for them. They’re babies!”
In a kindergarten class in Red Hook, Brooklyn, three children broke down and sobbed on separate days last week, another teacher told The Post.

When one girl cried, “I can’t do it,” classmates rubbed her back, telling her, “That’s OK.”

“This is causing a lot of anxiety,” the teacher said. “Kindergarten should be happy and playful. It should be art and dancing and singing and learning how to take turns. Instead, it’s frustrating and disheartening.”

The city has adopted national standards called the Common Core, which dramatically raise the bar on what kids in grades K through 12 should know. 

Read more here. This is the same story, just set in a different school, published about a kindergartner in Chicago who sobbed "I'm just no good at kindergarten".

If you are in Missouri, call your Senator and ask him/her to support Senate Bill 210:

This act prohibits the State Board of Education and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education from implementing the Common Core State Standards for public schools developed by the Common Core Standards Initiative or any other statewide education standards without the approval of the General Assembly.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Frank Zappa and School

High school graduation

Picked up from Althouse.

Frank Zappa's idea of school.  Interesting thoughts from 1981.  He stated, "Schools train people to be ignorant, with style".  In 2013?  "Schools train people to be ignorant, in a common manner."

Style is so overrated.

NY School District Regains Local Control and "Opts Out" of the Food Line

The real fight is between federal control and schools reclaiming local control.

A school district says "no thanks" to Federal policy and gives up federal money for its school lunch program.  Life goes on, the food is better and the district has control over its own lunch menu. The district is actually a better steward of resources as students probably won't be throwing as much food away that was uneaten (but forced upon lunch trays) from the mandated Federal menu.  It took the district four months into the Federal program to decide it wasn't worth it financially or nutritionally.

Students stopped buying food because it was not tasty and the school was $59,000 in the red for this budget item. 

From The Huffington Post:

New York's Niskayuna Central School District is severing ties with the National School Lunch program, tossing out its adherence to federal regulations for more fruits and vegetables on lunch trays.

"You are going to be heroes among a lot of kids," Board member John Buhrmaster said, according to Spotlightnews.com. "The program you had before was better than the one dictated by the federal government and the kids understood that, and they will be very appreciative."

Read more here.

From Missouri, you can read here the rules on what children must take to eat via the Federal guidelines.  For example:

Under The Offer Versus Serve Provision for Lunch, LEAs must offer students at
least three menu items as described. Senior high school students must select at
least two menu items; one menu item must be the entree. When more than three
menu items are offered, students may refuse only two items. Again, the entree
must be selected. At the discretion of the LEA, students below the senior high
level may also participate in offer versus serve.
So the lesson learned....is?  Force food and rules upon students that they don't like and don't want, they will throw the food away and stop paying money for a product that is substandard.  There must be an economics/political science lesson or two in this example for the Niskayuna School teachers to use in their classroom. 

Those kids in Kansas are probably hoping their school district makes the same decision.  Remember the clever youtube video the kids produced, "We Are Hungry"?

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