Retired Utah Judge Goes After Common Core in Op-Ed

From the Deseret News:

In 2010, Utah and other states rushed to join the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia, or SBAC, for two reasons. First, to escape the strictures imposed on educators and students by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Second, to receive federal money the Obama administration promised to disburse from stimulus funding. President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan then offered “waivers” from No Child Left Behind with grants as incentives for states to develop their own “Common Core Education Standards.”

However, this was a bait and switch program because the waivers pushed states into “Federal Common Core Education Standards” regarding testing and assessments. Some states, including Utah, are now taking various measures to opt out or step away from the federal standards.

Utah has made two moves to pull away. First, Utah enacted SB287 at the end of the 2012 session attempting to limit our participation. Second, our State Board of Education has placed on its August action agenda a recommendation to change our SBAC status from governing to advisory member.

To counter these moves by states, Duncan is now dealing directly with local school districts to adopt the federal standards. Because both federal and state governments have adopted “Common Core” as the name for their respective standards, their disparate “core” education programs have become as “ships passing in the night.” For example, on May 23 a Utah school district foundation announced receipt of a federal grant for its “Fully Integrated Common Core Project.” It proudly reported, “The standards have been informed by the best available evidence and the highest state standards across the country and the globe. … States can choose whether to adopt them ?— the Utah Department of Education adopted them.” Obviously, confusion reigns regarding who is really in charge. Further, those destined to suffer most are students and parents.

Read the whole piece here.

Fordham Institute Comments on the first draft of the Next Generation Science Standards

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute provides Commentary & Feedback on Draft I of the Next Generation Science Standards.  The commentary is dated June 25, 2012 and is authored by Paul R. Gross with Lawrence S. Lerner, John Lynch, Martha Schwartz, Richard Schwartz, and W. Stephen Wilson.  The forward is written by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Kathleen Porter-Magee.

The commentary and feedback indicates the drafters have considerable work ahead of them if they are going to produce a set of quality standards.  One more public draft will be produced prior to the final standards being released in 2013.

The review points out the drafters are trying to create fewer standards to reach greater depth.  In doing so, it seems, some prerequisite skills and content are not developed for many of the standards.  The standards also seem to focus on conceptual understanding and process rather than scientific knowledge.

One page 17 of the review, the alignment of the Next Generation Science Standards with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M) is addressed.  For many who followed the development of the CCSS-M and have concerns about the emphasis being placed on the Standards for Mathematical Practices, the first problem mentioned may be no surprise:

First, too often the NGSS references not the mathematics content in the CCSS-M, but rather the “mathematical practices” included therein. To be sure, there are important mathematical problem-solving skills that students need to master. But more important to the study of science is firm mastery of essential math content that provides the foundation for much of their science work, and the alignment between the math content and the science standards should be given far greater prominence.

These days the typical emphasis seems to be on process rather than content.  Many are emphasizing the Standards for Mathematical Practices in the CCSS-M rather than the math content.  It seems the science standards are also emphasizing process over content.

Will process skills be developed in the absence of appropriate content?  Will higher order thinking skills be developed in the absence of anything to think about?

I encourage you to read the complete commentary and feedback for yourself.

Why Kids Can’t Do Math Without a Calculator and the Common Core Isn’t Helping

calculatorKonstantin Kakaes wrote an interesting article in Slate entitled, “Why Johnny Can’t Add Without a Calculator” about how technology is hurting, not helping kids really learn math.

I went to see (Vern) Williams because he was famous when I was in middle school 20 years ago, at a different school in the same county. Longfellow’s teams have been state champions for 24 of the last 29 years in MathCounts, a competition for middle schoolers. Williams was the only actual teacher on a 17-member National Mathematics Advisory Panel that reported to President Bush in 2008.

Williams doesn’t just prefer his old chalkboard to the high-tech version. His kids learn from textbooks that are decades old—not because they can’t afford new ones, but because Williams and a handful of his like-minded colleagues know the old ones are better. The school’s parent-teacher association buys them from used bookstores because the county won’t pay for them (despite the plentiful money for technology). His preferred algebra book, he says, is “in-your-face algebra. They give amazing outstanding examples. They teach the lessons.”

The modern textbooks, he says, contain hundreds of extraneous, confusing, and often outright wrong examples, instead of presenting mathematical ideas in a coherent way. The examples bloat the books to thousands of pages and disrupt the logical flow of ideas. (For instance, the standard geometry book for Fairfax County, which is used in schools around the country, tries to explain what a mathematical point is by analogy to pixels on TV screens, which are not in fact point-like.) Teachers at other schools in the county have told him that they would rather use the old books, too, but their principals would kill them. Other teachers have told me the same about new technologies—they, like Williams, think the technologies are ineffectual, but lack his courage to oppose them

The real shortfall in math and science education can be solved not by software or gadgets but by better teachers. Programs like Wu’s can make more teachers more like Williams. That’s where efforts should be focused, not on imagined technological solutions, which obscure more than they reveal.

You’d think the Common Core Math Standards would come to the rescue right?  Right?  Think again.  They promulgate the problem.

In this, the new Common Core standards for math, which were adopted with lightening speed by 45 states and Washington, D.C., fall short. They fetishize “data analysis” without giving students a sufficient grounding to meaningfully analyze data. Though not as wishy-washy as they might have been, they are of a piece with the runaway adaption of technology: The new is given preference over the rigorous.

I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Boston Herald: Bracelets Winner of “Hare-Brained Scheme of the Year”

Over the weekend an editorial in The Boston Herald critiqued the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to fund bracelets to be used in classrooms in order to study student participation:

Competent teachers know when students are paying attention. Signals from the bracelet, according to the text of the Clemson grant, can only indicate the strength of such states as “excitement, attention or anxiety” down to “boredom or relaxation.”

If third-grader Jim is trying to poke third-grader John with his pencil when the teacher isn’t looking; that’ll register excitement. If fourth-grader Joan is absorbed by Paul Revere’s ride; her bracelet shows relaxation or boredom. If tenth-grader Jack sits next to a hottie; what do you think his bracelet registers?

This deserves a prize for hare-brained scheme of the year. Any teacher will tell that to the Gates people if asked.

Tea Party Rising in Indiana Against Common Core


Indianapolis Tea Party, 2009

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett are pushing in favor of the Common Core State Standards even though embracing them undermines the conservative principles they say they hold.  That isn’t even to mention that several critics (including one common core supporter) have noted that Indiana is swapping out superior standards for mediocre ones all in the name of “being able to speak the same language” in our “society of comparisons.”

Andrea Neal of The Indianapolis Star wrote:

Leading policy experts on standards and curriculum have questioned why Indiana would abandon its previous standards, which were ranked among the best in the country.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a champion of Common Core, has called Indiana’s English and language arts standards “clearly superior” and our math standards of comparable quality. Nationally known reform expert Sandra Stotsky says Indiana traded in a “silk purse for a sow’s ear” when education officials adopted the Core’s high school English standards.

Daniels and Bennett are also butting up against some grassroots opposition:

The Coalition of Central Indiana Tea Parties wants Indiana to withdraw from what it calls “the unconstitutional federal education takeover.”…

…”All around the country backlash is occurring belatedly because of the speed and manner in which these were adopted,” says Heather Crossin, an Indianapolis citizen-activist involved in education issues. “It didn’t go through a legislature. The public was largely unaware. There wasn’t enough time to do a proper analysis the issues deserve.”

We can only hope to see the increased involvement of Tea Party groups like the ones in Indiana rise up against the Common Core State Standards.  Grassroots opposition is needed as educrats, many legislators, and Governors, even ones who claim to hold conservative principles, are becoming increasingly tone deaf.

Phil Daro: The Reason We Have Standards Is Because of the Social Justice Agenda

Phil Daro, one of the drafters of the Common Core Math Standards was speaking to a group of educators at a curriculum publisher event last year at the California Mathematics Conference North (CMC – North Asilomar) in 2011.  At the 4:56 minute mark in the video below Daro said, “And remember that the reason we have standards is because of the social justice agenda to make sure all kids get enough math to have a decent opportunity.”

Oak Norton from Utahns Against Common Core wrote:

Common Core set minimum standards for all students which means minimal learning for those who could accelerate. Thus social justice is achieved by holding down the achievers to the level of the lowest common denominator and by forcing them to learn what you want them to learn instead of letting them become individualized and accelerating their education as they can.

So these standards aren’t really about helping kids learn and achieve but rather an attempt to be “fair” to all students.

STEM Makes No Sense

STEM-Education1According to Marc Tucker at EdWeek:

Here is an interesting fact.  The countries that are producing more people with higher skills in mathematics, science, engineering, technology and science don’t have STEM programs.  When we do benchmarking research in those countries, we don’t hear their educators talking about STEM priorities.  We don’t hear their industrial leaders doing that either.  The term is not used.  The programs don’t exist.

What is going on here?  How come they are doing better at this when we have STEM programs and they don’t? 

The answer is that they have education systems that work and we don’t.  When we start falling behind in an area, we invent a program.  When they start falling behind, they ask, What’s wrong with our system?  And they fix it.  The truth is that “programs” won’t work in an arena like this.  The causes of our poor performance in these disciplines run deep.  Those causes implicate the inner workings of our education system.  It is not possible to ring fence the STEM subjects from the system itself, nor is it possible to build a strong secondary school STEM program on a weak elementary school curriculum.  If you try to do that, you will fail.  If you think that you can fix the problems in the STEM subjects without fixing the larger system, you will find that any progress you make will be limited and even that progress will disappear very quickly as the system reverts to form as soon as your back is turned.  This is not because educators are opposed to your objectives or fail to share your hopes for their students.  It is because they are as much trapped by the system as you are.  We are all in this together. 

Read the whole thing.

Another reason why the current course Jeb Bush, Bill Gates and company are leading us on is asinine.  They are not committed to making the changes that are actually necessary.

And Mitt Romney’s Education Plan Receives a D

By our own Shane Vander Hart

While there are some encouraging aspects to Governor Romney’s plan and I can point to specific improvements over what we currently see in the Obama administration.  The complaint that Obama has expanded federal education bureaucracy, (pg. 13) is countered with slightly less federal bureaucracy.  Given that the principles of federalism are still being ignored, the school choice measures are anemic and there is an over emphasis/reliance on standardized testing I have to give Governor Romney’s K-12 plan a D.  His position on teachers unions, reducing the amount of federal regulations with teacher certification, consolidating teach quality programs from NCLB, and focusing on choice spared this plan from receiving a failing grade.  Governor Romney’s involvement with the common core state standards is uncertain based on his ties with its supporters and his emphasis on standards.  I do hope we see a Romney administration back away from promoting the common core, but at this point I see little that would make me optimistic.

Read the whole thing.

A Whole New Approach to Student Data Mining

Q-Sensor-BraceletSusan Ohanian blogged on one of the awards given by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for “effective teaching.”

“To: Clemson University
Purpose: to work with members of the Measuring Effective Teachers (MET) team to measure engagement physiologically with Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) bracelets which will determine the feasibility and utility of using such devices regularly in schools with students and teachers [emphasis added]
Amount: $498,055”

Think about that!!
NOTE: The emerging field of neuromarketing relies on biometric technologies to determine a participant’s emotional and cognitive response to certain stimuli. In the case of neuromarketing, this stimulus is anything from a television commercial to an internet advertisement. There are six primary biometrics used to gather data on physiological responses to marketing…
So Gates wants to apply it to effective teaching.

“The Affectiva Q Sensor is a wearable, wireless biosensor that measures emotional arousal via skin conductance, a form of electrodermal activity that grows higher during states such as excitement, attention or anxiety and lower during states such as boredom or relaxation.”

Since Polar Monitors have been used over a decade now this really shouldn’t surprise us.

HT: Diane Ravitch via Missouri Education Watchdog

Oklahoma Educrats Violate Student Privacy, Break Federal and State Law

report-cardsYes the students signed FERPA waivers, but did they really expect this?  Also can students sign this for themselves?  It would seem that the spirit, if not the letter, of state and federal privacy laws were violated by the State Board of Education and Oklahoma Department of Education.  It’s one thing to have their information discussed as a board is in executive session, but quite another for their information to be posted on the internet for all to see.

From Tulsa World:

Hours after the State Board of Education deliberated behind closed doors over seven students’ appeals for exemptions from high-stakes testing requirements, state officials posted the private educational records of each of those students on the state website.

All seven students were denied an exemption from the law that requires high school seniors to pass at least four of seven end-of-instruction tests to earn a diploma.

The Internet posting includes names, grade point averages, school districts, learning disabilities, test scores and other information. Addresses and phone numbers were redacted.

It prompted an outcry Wednesday from Tulsa-area educators and attorneys who said the state Department of Education’s action violates state and federal educational privacy laws.

Under a new law allowing students to appeal for an exemption from testing requirements under the Achieving Classroom Excellence – or ACE – law, students are required to sign a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act waiver to enter the appeals process.

But educators say that waiver doesn’t cover placing students’ private information on the Internet.

“This is just a violation of even common courtesy, as well as FERPA, which is federal law,” Union Superintendent Cathy Burden said. “This is exposing confidential test information, by name, of students who hadn’t anticipated such a thing. I’m just kind of appalled. We would never do this. It’s just common professionalism.”