Not So Gold Standards

A new study is out that demonstrates that state standards reform might not lead to student achievement.  According to this study changes that have been made to several state’s standards over the last 20 years have not brought about student achievement The study is was completed by Joshua Goodman of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  You can read the study here.

Here’s the abstract:

Proponents of the recent and widely adopted Common Core State Standards argue that high quality curricular standards are critical to students’ educational success. Little clear evidence exists, however, linking the quality of such standards to student achievement. I remedy this by connecting data on state-level student achievement from 1994-2011 with measures of the quality of states’ curricular standards as judged by two independent organizations at three different moments in time. I show that, within states, changes in the quality of standards have little impact on overall student achievement. Improved standards do, however, raise achievement of 8th graders in low-scoring states, particularly for low-scoring students. Given the known weaknesses of U.S. middle schools, this result suggests that standards may be beneficial in settings where pedagogy would otherwise be poor.

Common Core Reversing Massachusetts’ Educational Achievements

I wanted to draw your attention to an op/ed written by James Stergios, Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass of the Pioneer Institute entitled “The Massachusetts Exception” published at The City Journal.

An excerpt:

It’s common knowledge that in 1983, a federal report called A Nation at Risk indicted the “rising tide of mediocrity” in American public education and called for a school system that would be among the best in the world. Far less well known is that only one state effectively responded to that challenge: Massachusetts. By passing the landmark Education Reform Act of 1993, which pushed content and high standards above all else, the state became an outpost of success in a landscape of academic failure. Today, however, federal initiatives—especially the push for national education standards, which may have beneficial effects in lower-performing states and which Massachusetts has adopted—threaten to undermine the reforms that made the Bay State the nation’s unquestioned educational leader…

…With this record of success, Massachusetts should be the model for other states to follow. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened, thanks to the development of the Common Core State Standards (see “The Curriculum Reformation”). The push for national education standards dates back to the first Bush administration, when Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander called for voluntary national standards and testing. After the Clinton administration’s attempt failed in the mid-1990s, efforts to implement national standards lay dormant until the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation decided to make them a top priority. Beginning in 2007, the foundation funded the development of national English and math standards. It also supported organizations like Achieve, the National Governors Association (NGA), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and the Fordham Institute, all of which advocated for national standards. Ze’ev Wurman—a Silicon Valley high-tech executive and former federal education official who played a central role in developing California’s standards—says that the Gates Foundation’s total investment in the national standards reached $100 million last year.

Read the whole thing here.

Despite Top-Down Standards Iowa Trails in Student Achievement

A new study commissioned by the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance and EducationNext was recently released.  They compared student achievement internationally and among the states.  They studied the improvement trend in 41 states from 1992 to 2011 looking at four different U.S. tests specifically looking at performance in math, science and reading of students who at the time of testing were in 4th or 8th grade.

Internationally, the United States is barely keeping pace with the rest of the world.  Within the United States, Iowa is last in terms of student achievement showing the slowest rate of improvement.  The study also demonstrated that our increase in education dollars have done nothing to help increase test scores.  Iowa from 1992-2011 under three different administrations (technically four if you count Governor Branstad’s 5th term as a new administration) has seen little growth in student achievement even after an increased involvement by the state in education.

Local control has been diminished, centralization increased and student achievement in our state is no better off.  Even with increased spending, the introduction of the Iowa Core Curriculum along with other reforms kids are lagging behind.

Governor Branstad in his fifth term has shown the same proclivity to push centralized education and double-down on top-down standards so there is little evidence (as the Common Core State Standards have not been field tested – anywhere) that Iowa will improve its standing.

Perhaps it is time to change things up and see how we can lead the nation in education reform rather than mimic other states in adopting unproven standards.  Perhaps it is time to respect once again honor our longstanding tradition of local control which placed Iowa as a leader in education and decentralize and let parents and school boards come up with local solutions.  Perhaps it is time to empower parents in making educational decisions for their children with real choice instead of shoddy public school options.

The current course of action right now is more of the same and it is leading Iowa toward failure.  Increased decentralization and greater school choice would help buck the trend.

Originally posted at the From The Right Blog at The Des Moines Register.

Lessons from Iowa on Fighting for Local Control

Lindsey Burke of The Heritage Foundation had an op/ed published in Deseret News entitled “Lessons for Utah from Iowa: Fight for control of education.”  She wrote:

If the centralizing impact of the Obama education waivers wasn’t already clear, the recent decision by the U.S. Department of Education to issue its first waiver rejection to Iowa — a state well known for its history of local control — makes it unambiguous that the waivers are designed to increase federal control over education.

Why was the Hawkeye state denied this alleged flexibility? Evidently, Iowa’s long-standing legacy of school district autonomy prevented the state from being eligible for a waiver.

The U.S. Department of Education informed Iowa that it would have to implement a statewide teacher evaluation system if it hoped to receive a waiver. Because the legislature hasn’t vested the state department of education with the authority to mandate such regulations on school districts, Iowa can’t meet the federal government’s condition.

Unfortunately many outside of Iowa aren’t aware of our Governor, Terry Branstad’s push for the centralization of education and the fact he chastised the Legislature for not giving up on local control

Burke then goes on to discuss options that exist for flexibility without the strings attached:

One of the more frustrating aspects of the NCLB waiver issue is the fact that an alternative to NCLB that provides genuine flexibility for states exists, and doesn’t carry with it the strings associated with the waivers. For years now, conservatives in Congress have championed the Academic Partnerships Lead Us To Success Act, or A-PLUS, which would allow states to completely opt-out of NCLB.

States that choose to opt-out would be empowered to use their share of federal funding for any lawful education purpose under state law. And if a state can demonstrate over a five year period that it is able to improve student outcomes, the state can continue to enjoy that flexibility.

It’s a far better approach than further concentrating power in the halls of the Department of Education, which is the outcome we can expect if the White House waivers continue.

The Tale of Two Secretaries of Education Past

Michael J. Petrilli at Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog had an interesting side-by-side comparison of two former Secretaries of Education, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) (served under President George H.W. Bush) and Margaret Spellings (the 2nd Education Secretary for President George W. Bush).  Lamar has a respect for local control and Spellings does not.  They are having a debate today, and here are some of their position statements:

Issue

Margaret Spellings

Lamar Alexander

The appropriate federal role in education “I believe that the federal government should play a discrete and powerful role in maintaining accountability, that it is time for us to get serious as individuals about putting our education system back on track, and that our focus must not be deterred by the main issue of improving the system for all students.” Ed Week 1-12-12 “Washington can’t create good jobs, and Washington can’t create good schools. What Washington can do, though, is shape an environment in which businesses and entrepreneurs can create jobs. It can do the same thing in education, by creating an environment in which teachers, parents and communities can build better schools.” New York Times 9-27-11
How far can states be relied on to do the right thing? In far too many places, state and local control means excuses, inaction, complacency, and union control.” Huffington Post, 10-3-11 “No Child Left Behind has made one thing clear: when it comes to education reform, the states are both highly capable and highly motivated.” New York Times 9-27-11
Whether federal sanctions should apply to just the lowest-performing schools. “[Officials in the Obama administration] are going to double-down on the lowest-performing schools and that’s fine, but they are letting up to 90 percent of them escape the net of accountability. Today, every one of the schools feels its [NCLB’s] enduring legacy.” Hechinger Report, May 17, 2010 “And we would make sure that some of that money went specifically to help states turn around the bottom 5 percent of their schools.” New York Times 9-27-11
Whether to keep NCLB’s “public school choice” and “supplemental services” provisions “My other main beef is they have killed off tutoring and public school choice options, so when you fail, unless you are horrifyingly low-performing, then really nothing happens to you. There are no consequences, and I think that’s terrible” Hechinger Report, May 17, 2010 [Senator Alexander’s ESEA reauthorization bills do not mandate public school choice or supplemental services for low-performing schools.]

If the Public is in the Dark About the Common Core, Just Do Some Poll Manipulation

Robert Holland, a senior fellow for education policy with the Heartland Institute, wrote an excellent op/ed in The Washington Times highlighting how the general public is in the dark about the Common Core State Standards:

Achieve, a band of like-minded corporate moguls that formed in 1996 to push national education standards, had to report rather sheepishly last month that its own poll showed Americans are almost totally in the dark about the Common Core juggernaut.

A remarkable 79 percent of registered voters know “nothing” or “not much” about what Achieve calls the Common Core State Standards. Another 14 percent said they knew “some,” and just 7 percent claimed to know “a lot.”

None of that is surprising: Those standards for teaching English and mathematics were put together behind closed doors starting in 2009 by “experts” assembled by resident bureaucrats of the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.

Achieve then had to recover and do some poll manipulation in order to cover this embarrassment up.

Achieve had a headache remedy handy for the embarrassing lack of public knowledge revealed by its own pollsters: Write a glowing description of the Common Core and then ask folks again what they thought. After reading it, 77 percent of respondents said they supported implementation of the Common Core, a finding Achieve then touted. This was the description the pollster spoon-fed them: “These new standards have been set to internationally competitive levels in English and math. This means that students may be more challenged by the material they study, and the tests they take will measure more advanced concepts and require students to show their work.”

That’s a classic example of a pollster manipulating questions to obtain a result desired by an advocacy group. Remember, the description was for folks who confessed to knowing basically nothing about the Common Core.

Holland wondered how would people poll if given some basic facts about how the Common Core State Standards have been developed and what their implementation means for local schools:

“Your local schools are about to start implementing standards and assessments developed by Washington-based interest groups and pushed by the federal government. These standards, known as the Common Core, have never been field-tested, and your local school board has been unable to put them to a public hearing or vote.

“The national standards provide no process for states or localities to amend them. They will require students to take four federally subsidized tests a year, all of them via computer, and the results will be a factor in evaluating local teachers.”

Given that factual statement, it is doubtful the desire to push forward with immediate implementation would have reached 25 percent.

He’s probably right.  We need to continue to shine the light on the Common Core State Standards that way we do have people informed about these standards that are being foisted on states and local school districts.

What’s wrong with this picture?

act--testing-pic

Jupiter Images/Photos.com

I put the picture above on our Facebook page last night.  The problem is how ACT wants to develop and implement career tests for kindergarteners and third graders.  Here’s the caption I used:

ACT has developed a career test for third graders –http://bit.ly/OaiZOQ and next they want to develop one for kindergartners – http://huff.to/NI3GkK we should be inspiring kids, not pegging them for a particular career.

We must speak out against this.

Indiana Education Chief Admits Obama Hijacked Common Core

Tony Bennett, the Indiana Superintendent of Public Education, was cornered at a Tea Party gathering in Indiana last week.  Russ Pulliam, blogging at the Indianapolis Star gives an account of the exchange:

Bennett is usually locked in debates with advocates for traditional approaches to public education. But this argument was different. Bennett played defense on behalf of a set of academic standards called the Common Core, which many tea party advocates see as yet another example of the federal government’s overreach.

The temperature in the room rose as Bennett took one question after another from the audience at the White River Yacht Club. He contended that the Common Core is a state-driven initiative, but one that was hijacked by the power-hungry Obama administration.

“I’m a strong conservative and I believe in states’ rights,” he told the gathering of about 100 tea party members.

Bennett pointed out that the Common Core’s standards originated with the National Governors Association, and were intended for voluntary adoption by states. Then, according to Bennett, Obama nationalized the standards and has tried to use federal clout to force the Common Core on the states.

“This administration has an insatiable appetite for federal overreach,” he said. “The federal government’s involvement in these standards is wrong.”

So shouldn’t this be a reason to pull out of the Common Core?  Buck the trend, preserve federalism, show other states that Indiana can produce standards of their own without Arne Duncan breathing down their neck?

I’m reminded of a letter I was shown sent by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to State Senator Mike Fair.  Senator Fair has worked diligently trying to rid South Carolina of the Common Core State Standards.  In it Governor Haley wrote:

South Carolina’s educational system has at times faced challenges of equity, quality, and leadership – challenges that cannot be solved by increasing our dependence on federal dollars and the mandates that come with them.  Just as we should not relinquish control of education to the Federal government, neither should we cede it to the consensus of other states.  Confirming my commitment to finding South Carolina solutions to South Carolina challenges, I am pleased to support your efforts to reverse the 2010 decision to adopt the common core standards.

Dr. Bennett, are you saying there isn’t enough knowledge, talent and experience within the state of Indiana to develop standards for the Hoosier state that makes sense for Indiana’s kids?  Governor Haley understands that even ceding control to the consensus of other states is not practicing fidelity to federalism.  It’s time for you to understand that as well.

Pull Indiana out of the Common Core State Standards or at the very least let elected officials who are accountable to the citizens of Indiana decide whether or not it is the right course to pursue.