Online Education: Choice is Good, Mandates Are Not

I read an article written by Beth Hawkins that was part news and mostly conspiracy theory in the MinnPost.  First the news, she discussed a proposed bill in the Minnesota Legislature, House File 2127, that would require all students starting in four years to take one online class to graduate.

This section of the bill reads:

High school students must successfully complete at least one course credit under paragraph (a) that includes digital learning as defined in section 124D.095 to graduate.  Where appropriate, a school district may comply with this requirement by adopting a comparable, locally established alternate plan to accommodate an eligible student with disabilities or an English-language learner enrolled in school for three school years or less.

Digital learning is defined later in the bill as “learning facilitated by technology that offers students an element of control over the time, place, path, or pace of their learning.”

So the question that begs to be asked is why?  Why would you mandate online learning?  I don’t have the vaguest idea why.  There’s no good reason, that I can think of, for the state of Minnesota to mandate that high school students take an online course.

The article goes from making a good point into tin foil hat conspiracy.  Now the “ultra-secretive, ultra-conservative” ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and corporations are making deals with Republican state legislators in smoke-filled rooms to have the audacity of giving students and families in different states the choice of online education.  Here’s the crux of her complaint:

ALEC is at work on those cost-cutting measures, drafting model bills aimed at collective bargaining, teacher compensation, licensure, local school boards, vouchers, tax credits and a host of other “reforms” that incorporate privatization.

So the real problem Ms. Hawkins has is that they promote choice.  She seems to be ok with online education if it is run by the state, but not if it is run by for profit company and certainly not if conservatives are involved.  Forget the fact that it is only model legislation that first needs to actually get passed by State Legislatures and signed into law by a state’s Governor.

Apparently Schools Are No Longer Capable of Determining Their Start Date

Back to schoolLocal control in education is under attack again in Iowa.  This time in the form of House Study Bill 671 that is currently being considered by the Iowa House Ways and Means Committee.  The bill in essence says that the first day of school can be no earlier than September 1.  If a school district wants to start earlier than this they must receive a waiver from the Iowa Department of Education if they have a pilot program for an “innovative school year.”  Schools that are running on trimesters are exempt, and schools that want to seek the waiver must pay a $100 waiver fee to the department.

There are two primary issues that is driving this bill – the Iowa State Fair and increased energy costs for running air conditioning units in August.

The Iowa Association of Christian Schools in their legislative update pointed out in regards to the energy costs that that those concerns are unwarranted… “public schools are using the penny sales tax to increase building efficiency and IACS schools are not pulling down State dollars for utility costs.”

Before the Iowa House decides to trample all over the ability of school districts and non-public schools with the input from parents to determine their own calendar.  IACS brings up the following points why schools would want to start earlier than September 1:

  • To avoid spending a week in January refreshing students’ memories, effectively adding days of instruction.
  • To avoid taking exams immediately after Christmas break.
  • To allow those students graduating at semester to attend college starting in January.
  • To avoid the impact of made-up snow days extending well in to June.
  • To facilitate dual credit courses for high school students with post-secondary institutions by having the calendars better aligned.
  • Student athletes are on campus already August 11 for the State (IHSAA and IGHSAU) mandated start of Fall sports practices (football, volleyball, and Cross-country) with first contests starting the week of August 20.  It makes no sense to have football and volleyball games and not yet be in school.
  • To prep students for the finals testing regimen they will likely face in college, and allow them to enjoy winter break with no finals hanging over their heads.
  • To give some buffer between the end of the school year and the opportunity for teachers to begin summer coursework in June.

It just doesn’t make sense for the Legislature to be making these types of decisions for schools, and it cedes more power over to the Iowa Department of Education.  Certainly something they don’t need.  Not only should the Ways and Means Committee kill this bill, but they should also strike the current language in the code as well.  Let schools, not the state, determine their start date.

Bonus: Here are the members of the Iowa House Ways and Means Committee along with their email addresses.

Originally posted at Caffeinated Thoughts

CATO's Neal McCluskey publishes piece on fed ed takeover

CATO Institute education scholar Neal McCluskey writes an op-ed in the conservative blog  USAction News called “The Other Federal Takeover”:

Right now the nation is fixated on the Supreme Court and health care, as well it should be. If the Court rules the wrong way and the individual mandate is upheld, seemingly the last limit to federal power—Washington can’t make you buy stuff—will be gone. So yes, please, let’s focus on ObamaCare.

When the arguments end and the health fight abates for a while, however, let’s pay some much needed attention to another federal takeover, one that is constantly being overshadowed by bigger things like wars, ObamaCare, and budget blowouts: looming federal domination of education.

There’s actually an immediate ObamaCare connection to education, though few will likely recall it. To make the CBO cost estimates come out right, Democrats attached the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) to the already immense legislation. SAFRA eliminated guaranteed college loans—loans originated through private lenders but completely backed by taxpayer money—and made almost all lending direct from the Treasury. It wasn’t a sudden takeover as many Republicans framed it—the guaranteed program already represented massive federal control—but it did push the private sector even farther to the student-lending fringes.

Much more insidious is what Washington has been doing in K-12 schooling.

The whole piece can be viewed here.

A Case for Literature Rather Than Informational Texts

Jane Robbins and Joe Mack of American Principles Project made the case why the common core state standards should be rejected based on its dependence on informational texts rather than original source literature.  They did so by sharing a top 10 list complied by Dr. Steven Lynn who is the Dean of the Honors College at the University of South Carolina.  Dr. Lynn wrote:

In uniquely powerful ways, literary study prepares students for richly rewarding and meaningful lives. No other reading experience or learning activity duplicates this preparation.

1. Imagination: Reading literature cultivates the imagination. That’s one reason why tyrants and dictators hate literature, banning or strictly controlling it. From the ancient Greeks to the present day, cultures steeped in literary study have thrived on creativity and innovation.

2. Communication: Writing and talking about literature helps prepare students to write and talk about anything. Not only are they working with words, with carefully considered language, but they are also considering how different kinds of people think and react to and understand words.

3. Analysis: Literary works—whether fiction, poetry, drama, creative nonfiction—challenge readers to make connections, to weigh evidence, to question, to notice details, to make sense out of a rich experience. These analytical abilities are fundamental life skills.

4. Empathy: Because literature allows us to inhabit different perspectives (What’s it like to be a teenage girl, a Jew, in Nazi Germany? How would you feel if you thought your father had been murdered but no one else believed that?), in different times and places, we learn to think about how other people see the world. We can understand and persuade and accept and help these others more effectively and fully.

5. Understanding: We think in terms of stories: this happens, and then that happens, and what’s the connection between these events, and what is going to happen next? People who’ve experienced more stories are better able to think about actions and consequences. Experience is the best teacher; literature is the best vehicle for vastly enlarging our possible experiences.

6. Agility: Literary works often ask us to think in complex ways, to hold sometimes contradictory, or apparently conflicting ideas in our minds. As brain imaging has shown, this kind of processing helps us to be more mentally flexible and agile—open to new ideas.

7. Meaningfulness: Literary works often challenge us to think about our place in the world, about the significance of what we are trying to do. Literary study encourages an “examined” life—a richer life. It provides us with an almost unlimited number of test cases, allowing us to think about the motivations and values of various characters and their interactions.

8. Travel: Literature allows us to visit places and times and encounter cultures that we would otherwise never experience. Such literary travel can be profoundly life-enhancing.

9. Inspiration: Writers use words in ways that move us. Readers throughout the ages have found reasons to live, and ways to live, in literature.

10. Fun: When students read literature that is appropriate for them, it’s intensely fun. Movies are enjoyable, but oftentimes the written version, readers will say, is more powerful and engrossing. Students who don’t find literature to be a whole lot of fun are almost certainly reading the wrong things (too difficult, too removed from their interests), and not reading enough (perhaps they are slogging line by line, week by week, through a text beyond their growing capabilities). When students do discover the fun of literature, they will read more and more, vaulting forward in verbal skills and reasoning abilities, and becoming better readers and writers of other kinds of texts (letters, memos, legal briefs, political speeches, etc.).

The Missing Ingredient to Education Innovation: Choice

While a recent Council on Foreign Relations Task force report indicated that we need national standards of which I vehemently disagree.  They also determined that choice in education was necessary to achieve educational innovation, this I totally agree with.  Joe Klein a member of the task force and former New York City schools chancellor wrote about school choice in a recent op/ed for New York Daily News:

Today, even as students in Asia and Europe are making rapid academic gains and surpassing American students in core subjects, only a third of U.S. students are proficient in math, reading and science, and only a quarter of our high school graduates are considered college ready.

Why is innovation lacking in U.S. education?

I believe America is missing an ingredient that is key to education innovation: choice.

The Council on Foreign Relations Task Force report that came out this week, which I co-chaired, notes that choice and competition have the power to spur the innovations we need in our public schools. This is essential if we are going to help our students achieve the American dream in an ever competitive environment and if we are going to protect our nation’s cohesiveness, prosperity and ability to lead.

In an ideal world, every neighborhood’s school would already provide a world-class education to all students, but that is sadly not the world in which we live. Just hoping that these schools improve — or investing more in the status quo — is not a strategy that will create the needed change.

Today, the only families that can opt out of a failing school are families with financial means. This leaves poor children trapped in failing schools. This is the worst form of inequality.

Public school choice, charter schools and vouchers like the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships help to level the playing field for families and encourage educators to think creatively about how to best serve students and families. Coupled with necessary resources, well-prepared educators, and strong curricula, I believe that choice has the power to improve the overall quality of education we are providing to our students.

The Common Core Controversy Riles Montana

Here’s a clip from the Missoulian, the second-largest Montana newspaper:

The debate in education circles far too often centers on “philosophical points of view, and not on research,” Atkins said. The new standards lay out very specifically what a student is expected to know at every age, and there is real power in that.

“Just having established the goal is effective,” he said. “We’ve collectively set what seems to be reasonable benchmarks for kids to meet.”

Yet the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan public policy think tank in Washington, D.C., released a lengthy report earlier this year forecasting that Common Core State Standards will prove to be another failed attempt to nationalize curricula, and will “undermine the decentralized, federalist principles on which education has been governed since America’s founding.”

Citing a study from the Fordham Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers, the institute said past efforts at toughening standards have had “very little impact” on test scores, particularly the National Assessment of Educational Progress – the current federal testing standard.

“The quality of past curriculum standards has been unrelated to achievement,” the report said, advising parents in conclusion: “Do not expect much from the Common Core. … They represent good intentions that are not often realized.”

Check out the whole article here.


Teacher Claims Common Core Promotes Boredom in the Name of Equality

Great article in the Washington Post hits the Common Core Standards in English:

Another problem we found relates to the pedagogical method used in the Gettysburg Address exemplar that the Common Core calls “cold reading.”

This gives students a text they have never seen and asks them to read it with no preliminary introduction. This mimics the conditions of a standardized test on which students are asked to read material they have never seen and answer multiple choice questions about the passage.

Such pedagogy makes school wildly boring. Students are not asked to connect what they read yesterday to what they are reading today, or what they read in English to what they read in science.

The [Common Core] exemplar, in fact, forbids teachers from asking students if they have ever been to a funeral because such questions rely “on individual experience and opinion,” and answering them “will not move students closer to understanding the Gettysburg Address.”

(This is baffling, as if Lincoln delivered the speech in an intellectual vacuum; as if the speech wasn’t delivered at a funeral and meant to be heard in the context of a funeral; as if we must not think about memorials when we read words that memorialize. Rather, it is impossible to have any deep understanding of Lincoln’s speech without thinking about the context of the speech: a memorial service.)

The exemplar instructs teachers to “avoid giving any background context” because the Common Core’s close reading strategy “forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all.” What sense does this make?

Teachers cannot create such a “level playing field” because we cannot rob any of the students of the background knowledge they already possess. Nor can we force students who have background knowledge not to think about that while they read. A student who has read a biography of Lincoln, or watched documentaries about the Civil War on PBS or the History Channel, will have the “privilege” of background knowledge beyond the control of the teacher. Attempting to create a shallow and false “equality” between students will in no way help any of them understand Lincoln’s speech.

It is a great, long expose that is well worth a read.  Check it out here.

South Carolina Bill Would Give School Districts Control of School Buses

I wasn’t aware that school districts were not in control of their own bus systems already.  Who thought of that nightmare to have the state in charge?  Now there is a bill introduced to turn that responsibility over to school districts or to private companies if the school district so chooses.

Kudos to State Representative Jim Merrill (R-Charleston) who recognized that it is asinine for the state to run all of the school buses.  I know this isn’t exactly education policy, but it is an example of overreach at the state level as it relates to the public school system.

Education Without Representation

Sherena Arrington with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation wrote a great piece entitled, “An Uncommon Approach to Costly Common Core Education Standards.”

One comment that I hear a lot from those who push the Common Core is that it is an initiative of the states.  Ms. Arrington addresses that:

Two organizations take credit for developing the Common Core “on behalf of” the states, declaring, “These English language arts and mathematics standards represent a set of expectations for student knowledge and skills that high school graduates need to master to succeed in college and careers.” These organizations, both based in Washington, D.C., are the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) along with considerable advice from Achieve, Inc., ACT, the College Board, the National Association of State Boards of Education and the State Higher Education Executive Officers.

The federal government is quite careful to avoid any credit for the Common Core because such direct meddling into the curriculum of the states would actually be illegal, according to several federal laws. Instead, the federal Department of Education pushes the Common Core onto the states through the constitutional power of the Spending Clause. The letter of the law is met when states agree to conditions attached to grants, in this case embracing all the strings attached to the Race-to-the-Top grant and accepting the waiver conditions tied to No Child Left Behind. Such federal grants frequently are carrots to get states to voluntarily commit to federal educational goals, which end up costing states more money to administer than they ever receive in federal funds.

Citizens are expected to trust in this educational consortium and allow the Common Core full sway over their state’s curriculum. A state may supplement the standards, but those additional standards may not exceed 15 percent for any content area and states cannot omit or change any of the other 85 percent.

She then makes a very poignant, but necessary comment about the educational establishment.  We can see this problem in a variety of states:

Educational bureaucracies seem to operate as if they are the fourth branch of government. They want the money appropriated by the legislature and to be left alone to do with it as they please. A shorter rein, constant accountability to the people and reducing educational dependence on federal grants would go a long way to ensuring that the people of each state retain control of their educational systems that are paid for with their tax dollars.

Then sounds the warning to states:

The Common Core provides a perfect example of how quickly a state can lose control of its K-12 educational system. Obviously, curriculum is central to education. With Georgia supposedly locked into the Common Core as a condition of the Race to the Top federal grant as well as the No Child Left Behind waiver, it appears the state will simply become the administrative agent for a nationalized curriculum through the adoption of nationalized standards, and the citizens will pick up the expensive tab.

This is what should be called, “education without representation.” Such a hands-off approach to K-12 educational policy is an abandonment of the Legislature’s constitutional duty to keep the agencies of state government accountable to the people, especially so when it comes to an agency whose mission consumes at least $7 billion in state taxpayer funds and $6 billion in local taxes annually.

State Legislatures need to do their jobs, uphold federalism and provide oversight to the educational bureaucracies within their states.

Former NCTE President Analyzes Common Core (Negatively)

Joanne Yavin, a former President of the National Council of Teachers in English publishes an analysis of the English standards in Edweek:

In reading the recently proposed Common Core State Standards already accepted by all but three states, I could not see many elementary school children of any background or ability meeting the standards at the grades designated. In my view, as a former elementary teacher and principal, the standards overestimate the intellectual, physiological, and emotional development of young children, asking them to think analytically as they read or write, extract subtle meanings from a text, and make fine distinctions within and across texts. Such deliberative and intensive behaviors are not supported by the research on child development, nor are they expected anywhere else in children’s lives today.

Not long afterward, I read the accompanying document “Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy,”Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader prepared by the standards’ primary authors, David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, and became truly alarmed. In these instructions to curriculum developers and publishers of classroom materials, I saw not only a misreading of children’s capabilities, but also the intent to redefine the purpose of K-12 education and to control its curriculum and methods.

Check out the whole piece here.