Bill Gates’ Education Reform Agenda Goes to College

Photo credit: World Economic Forum (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Photo credit: World Economic Forum (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Even though the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation acknowledged that the Common Core State Standards and related assessments have not accomplished what they had hoped they are bringing the standards, assessments and accountability movement to higher education.

The Gates Foundation is funding a project that seeks to develop learning outcomes/standards for core academic disciplines in college and assessments to go with them.

Inside Higher Ed published a piece entitled “A Plan to Define and Test What Students Should Know.”

Sound familiar?

Paul Fain, the author, writes about a new book called Improving Quality in American Education by Richard Arum, Josipa Roska, and Amanda Cook, that unveils this “faculty-led” (and Gates-funded) effort.

Fain writes:

The Measuring College Learning project, which Arum has helped lead, seeks to change that dynamic by putting faculty members in charge of determining how to measure learning in six academic disciplines. After more than two years of work, the project has defined the “fundamental concepts and competencies society demands from today’s college graduates” in biology, business, communication, economics, history and sociology.

The project’s initial results are included in a newly released book by Arum, Josipa Roksa, an associate professor of sociology and education the University of Virginia, and Amanda Cook, a program manager at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

The Social Science Research Council has overseen the Measuring College Learning project. (Arum and Roksa were Academically Adrift’s coauthors and Cook previously worked for the council.) The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Teagle Foundation provided funding.

Fain explained the process of developing outcomes:

The project sought to have each panel of experts represent a broad range of colleges, geographic locations and sub-disciplines. The majority work at four-year institutions, but some are at community colleges or academic associations. And most have worked on other faculty-led efforts to measure learning.

“They are people who are doing this work,” said Arum, “and have been for decades.”

The faculty panels tried to identify “essential concepts,” meaning complex ideas, theoretical understandings and ways of thinking central to each discipline. They also came up with “essential competencies,” which the book said are “disciplinary practices and skills necessary to engage effectively in the discipline.”

The resulting concepts and competencies are not intended to be fixed, universal or comprehensive, the book said, calling them a “reasonable and productive framework.”

Of course we have to have standardized tests to go with the common standards….

“It may be difficult to list everything students should know and be able to do,” the book said, “but when faculty are asked to focus on essential elements they are quite ready, willing and able to define priorities for student learning in their disciplines.”

One of the project’s goals is for the white papers to be used for the creation of tests, or assessments, that colleges can use in a standardized way. However, those possible assessments must be voluntary, the book said, and based on multiple measures rather than a simple box-checking, multiple choice test.

College faculty, the article noted, may be forced to adopt measures like these.

For his part, Arum said he’s hopeful the majority of faculty members will welcome the project’s first draft of learning outcomes. That’s because the goal is to give them responsibility and ownership to drive the work “in a way that’s helpful to them.”

Even so, professors might have no other choice, the book argues, because policymakers and the general public will continue to pressure colleges to demonstrate value, including through some form of standardized assessment of student learning.

So the Common Core movement for college has been launched.  Oh goody.

High Achievement New York Does Not Understand the First Amendment

Screenshot of the Wall of Shame website.

Screenshot of the Wall of Shame website.

The pro-Common Core High Achievement New York doesn’t like a website they say is bullying educators who support the standards.

By bullying they mean the website, Wall of Shame, identifies the educator (there are currently 12 administrators in New York and a teachers’ union president), what they said, assigns them a grade for truthfulness, and then lists the contact information at the school.

High Achievement New York has gone so far to solicit help from New York state legislators in getting the website taken down. Let me say that again, they want the state to take the website down.

“We are writing to ask all of you to help us end a clear case of cyberbullying in our state’s education system,” wrote leaders of High Achievement New York, a coalition that has battled the anti-testing movement.

“The website, which has posted public images and contact information for multiple educators for the ‘offense’ of supporting the State’s learning standards and annual tests, has a single purpose: to shame and intimidate educators until they are publicly silenced,” the group’s leaders said.

First Amendment anyone?

Also, are they forgetting the fact these are public officials. Granted they may not be elected, but they are government employees and last I checked people have the right to address grievances with our government whether it is local, state or at the federal level.

I can’t speak to every person listed, but it seems a common theme is local school administrators who are providing roadblocks to parents opting their students out of the Regents exams. So New Yorkers are to just remain quiet and not say anything?

How about the parents or students who have been bullied by Common Core advocates who refuse students to opt-out? What about the assessments and standards that have left young children in tears and have provided counselors job stability?

This pales in comparison to what Common Core advocates have inflicted upon parents which was done unconstitutional. This website, whatever you may think of it, has a constitutional right to exist. High Achievement New York is trying to do the same thing they accuse the Wall of Shame website of doing – silence the opposition.

I’d encourage the leadership at High Achievement New York to pick up and brush off the Constitution because they clearly do not understand it.

Michigan on the Verge of Repealing Common Core

Photo credit: Brian Charles Watson (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Photo credit: Brian Charles Watson (CC-By-SA 3.0)

The Michigan Legislature is on the verge of passing what is poised to be the strongest anti-Common Core bill to date. The legislation SB 826 is sponsored by State Senator Pat Colebeck (R-Canton) in the Michigan Senate. A companion bill, HB 5444, sponsored State Representative Gary Glenn (R-Midland) in the Michigan House of Representatives.

The legislation would:

  • Michigan’s math, ELA, science and Social studies standards (math and ELA standards are Common Core) and testing would be eliminated in their entirety, replaced by the standards that were in place in Massachusetts prior to Common Core.
  • Local school boards would be free to adjust the standards, and after five years, the state Board of Education would be authorized to do the same. New standards shall not be implemented until both the Senate and House approve the new standards in concurrent resolutions.
  • Parents would be free to opt their child out of any class, instruction, or testing.
  • The state and local schools would be prohibited from collecting data regarding an individual student’s values, attitudes, beliefs, and personality traits, or the student’s family’s political or religious affiliations or views.
  • Test questions used by public schools would be made easily available to the public.

If the sponsor(s) can keep it from being gutted by the usual suspects who elevate their own agendas over genuine education, it will be a very strong bill. I look forward to seeing how the education-establishment and corporate types argue that replacing the Common Core standards with the indisputably better pre-Common Core Massachusetts standards will harm Michigan education,” Jane Robbins, Senior Fellow at American Principles Project, said to Truth in American Education in an email.

SB 826, that has six cosponsors, passed the Michigan Senate Education Committee, but has not yet been brought to the Senate floor for a full vote. HB 5444 has 32 co-sponsors and has not yet moved out of the Michigan House Education Committee.

One of the possible delays Melanie Kurdys, co-founder of Stop Common Core in Michigan, opined was the attached fiscal note that said the bill would have a negative impact. They disagree:

First, the House Appropriations Bill calls for the current state assessment, M-Step to be dropped and replaced with a computer-adaptive assessment.  THIS strategy would be extremely costly to the MDE as well as local districts.  Building a brand new assessment is expensive. Computer-adaptive state-wide assessments are an experiment prone to significant start-up problems and REQUIRE every school district in the state to have current and adequate computer technology and internet access.

SB 826 calls for the adoption of the Massachusetts pre-Common Core assessment, a proven, paper and pencil assessment.  Years of actual questions, answers, cut scores and disaggregated student achievement are available FOR FREE online.  All Michigan needs to do is modify Social Studies questions to reflect MI history instead of MA.  The cost and administration of a paper and pencil assessment is far less than a computer based assessment.  And based on our experience with M-Step, the results will be available to the schools in a much more timely manner!

Second, local districts do not have to change their curriculum.  Local districts and importantly, teachers, will have the freedom to teach using best practice, rather than an experimental cookie-cutter approach.  They can change if they choose, but change is not required.

Finally, the cost of the failed Common Core experiment is profound.  A failed first attempt at a Common Core aligned assessment, M-Step, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Colebeck told Truth in American Education that the bill is waiting for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) to authorize a vote.

“We’re pressing to get a floor vote. I’ve whipped my caucus, and we have the vote. Just need the the Majority Leader to authorize it,” Colebeck told Truth in American Education during a phone interview.

Colebeck said there is a lot of enthusiasm to get the bill “across the finish line.”

Several groups have called for the repeal of Common Core in the state. Stop Common Core in Michigan has led grassroots activism in pushing out the standards.  The Michigan 13th Congressional District Republican Committee passed a resolution in favor of the bills. The Michigan Republican Party and Michigan 9th Congressional District Republican Executive Committee, Republican Women’s Federation of Michigan have offered resolutions calling for the repeal of the standards.  Add those to national voices and local groups who have called for an end to the standards marking a groundswell of support.

Colebeck said that they will have to offer a substitute bill in order to see it pass. This has prompted concern among activists leery of a potential Common Core rebrand that has been seen in several states.

Colebeck said he is aware of the concern stating that the substitute bill will not be a rebrand, but will be a repeal and replace bill. “It will have a repeal component, and it will include the Massachusetts standards as a replacement. It will make it very difficult for the Common Core to eek its way back in,” Colebeck said.

When pressed about what would be taken out of the current bill if a substitute bill is offered, Colebeck pointed to the language in the bill that requires new standards having to pass through the House and Senate in concurrent resolutions. He indicated they would receive pushback and likely a legal challenge over that.

“I just don’t want this thing challenged once it is out,” Colebeck explained.

Colebeck was optimistic that the bill would see a vote within the next couple of weeks. He said if a vote is not held by then the next opportunity would be in the fall.

Stop Common Core in Michigan launched a petition that Michigan residents can sign.

NJ Teachers Union President: PARCC Is a Flawed Assessment


Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association, submitted an op/ed to addressing the New Jersey Department of Education’s use of the PARCC assessment as a graduation requirement.

An excerpt:

The problem with the NJDOE’s push to make the tests associated with thePartnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, a graduation requirement is much deeper than just a flawed process.

PARCC itself is a flawed assessment, and it should not be used as a graduation requirement this year, next year or ever.

PARCC disregards the work a student puts in over an entire academic career. Using it as a graduation requirement places more value on one test than on 12 years of learning, achievement and authentic, student-centered assessment.

Unlike teachers, PARCC cannot account for learning styles. Unlike teachers, PARCC cannot account for high-level critical thinking. And, unlike teachers, PARCC doesn’t know students, or understand what they have overcome, or recognize the intangible strengths that matter so much for future success. A standardized test can never replace great teachers. Making PARCC a graduation requirement would prioritize the mechanical judgment of that test over the professional judgment of the educators who actually work with and know their students.

Despite all the evidence against PARCC and the nationwide movement to abandon it, the DOE continues to foist this failed test onto our schools. Last year, more students refused the PARCC than any standardized test in the state’s history. How did the DOE react? It ignored parents’ concerns and pushed full-steam ahead. This year, PARCC had a serious technology failure that frustrated and confused students and families and deprived those students of even more learning time. What did the DOE do in the face of that failure? Nothing. That’s unacceptable.

The DOE has ignored parents, students and educators for too long. In the wake of thoughtful research-based criticism and passionate civil disobedience, we have seen no meaningful movement on this issue. That is evidence that PARCC is a political issue, not an educational one. That is why it is up to families, educators, and legislators who are willing to listen, to continue this fight in the political arena.

Read the rest.

Gates Foundation CEO: We Underestimated Resources Needed for Common Core

Sue Desmond-Hellmann speaks with young students at White Center Heights Elementary School in Seattle, WA on January 5, 2015.

Sue Desmond-Hellmann speaks with young students at White Center Heights Elementary School in Seattle, WA.
Photo source: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the CEO of the Gates Foundation, in letter published on the Foundation’s website noted that the Foundation underestimated the amount of resources that would be needed to implement Common Core.

Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards. We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators – particularly teachers – but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning.

This has been a challenging lesson for us to absorb, but we take it to heart. The mission of improving education in America is both vast and complicated, and the Gates Foundation doesn’t have all the answers.

But every tough lesson only reinforces our commitment to teachers and student success.

All teachers and students should have access to learning materials of the highest quality. But far too many districts report that identifying or developing Common Core-aligned materials is a challenge, meaning that teachers spend their time adapting or creating curriculum, developing lessons, and searching for supplemental materials.

One of the best parts of my job is getting to hear from educators. And no one knows teaching like teachers. So, we’re doubling down on our efforts to make sure teachers have what they need to make the most of their unique capabilities.

Digital content and tools that provide support for lesson planning – including LearnZillion, Better Lesson, and EngageNY – are providing millions of teachers with an increasingly attractive alternative to traditional textbooks.

We’re supporting a partnership with, the Consumer Reports of K-12 curriculum, to provide free and open-access teacher-led reviews and evidence on instructional materials. This will increase the capacity of educators across the country to seek, develop, and demand high-quality, aligned instructional materials.

I agree that they missed an early opportunity with teachers and parents. That opportunity existed BEFORE the standards were rammed down our throats. They still are not admitting failure with the Common Core rollout and point to Kentucky as an indicator of success.

Yes, Kentucky with it’s widening achievement gap between black and white students. What this letter shows me is the continued tone deafness of a foundation started by a man who thinks he can, with his vast resources, shape American education into his image. Complicit governors and the Obama administration proved that he could. One thing I can agree with Desmond-Hellmann on – the Gates Foundation doesn’t have all the answers not even close.

Kentucky’s Achievement Gap Increases Five Years Post-Common Core


Kentucky was an earlier adopter of the Common Core State Standards. They adopted them to replace the state’s English Language Arts and math standards over five years ago.  The state has seen a widening black-white achievement gap since then.

The Hechinger Report writes:

In spring 2015, in the elementary grades, 33 percent of black students were proficient in reading, versus 58 percent of white students; in math, the breakdown was 31 percent to 52 percent, according to Kentucky Department of Education figures.

And those gaps, in many cases, have widened, according to an analysis of state testing data by The Hechinger Report and theCourier-Journal.

In Jefferson County Public Schools in 2011-12, the first year of Common Core testing, 25 percent of black third-graders were proficient or better in reading, compared to 54 percent of white third-graders. By 2015, when the majority of those same students likely had reached sixth grade, the percentage of proficient black sixth-graders had inched up 2 points while that of white sixth-graders had increased more than 4 points.

The students at Dunn Elementary, located in a leafy and affluent section of Louisville, had average scores about 20 points higher than the rest of the state. From 2012 to 2015, its white and black students saw improvement on reading tests, and the black students in many cases outscored their black peers in the rest of the district. But at the same time, white students at Dunn scored proficient or better in both math and reading at more than double the percentage of black students.

Closing these gaps was one of the goals of Common Core reform.

In the past, “Schools that were in low-income areas and predominately served students of color often had very low standards for their students that did not prepare them adequately. When the [Common Core] standards were first introduced, I sent them to my sister, a college professor of English, and she wrote back right away, ‘Yeah, this is what you need to succeed in college,’ ” said Sonja Brookins Santelises, vice president of K-12 policy and practice at the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based research group.

Now, Kentucky finds itself at a crossroads. With four years’ worth of testing to show after its quick embrace of Common Core, it’s clear that raising standards was not enough to help all learners.

The last sentence in this excerpt is a major understatement. There wasn’t (and still isn’t) any empirical evidence that shows standards will help increase student achievement. While Common Core advocates care to admit it we now have evidence in Kentucky that a one-size-fits-all approach to education reform has made the black-white achievement gap worse.  Whether it has actually helped Kentucky students in general is still very much up for debate.

PARCC Quashes Discussion of Assessment

Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)

How do we know if the assessment our kids take is bad if we can’t talk about it?
Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Some teachers wanted to make a point that PARCC was developmentally inappropriate for their students. In order to do that they had to give some examples from the assessment, but PARCC wasn’t about to let that happen.

USA Today reports:

A long-simmering dissatisfaction over standardized testing came to a head this month when an academic uploaded a handful of test items to the Internet and promptly got a note from the test’s creator, threatening legal action if she didn’t take down the items — and name her source.

The academic, Celia Oyler of Columbia University’s Teachers College, took down the items, which she said came to her anonymously. But the episode is irking educators and other observers who already believe that the powerful forces behind the tests are hijacking not just the educations of millions of children but, in this case, teachers’ rights to free speech. They note, for instance, that tweets about the episode have been taken down at the test publisher’s request.

The controversy began nearly two weeks ago, when Oyler posted a lengthy essay by an anonymous teacher who set out to show that the fourth-grade reading test designed by the non-profit Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, is “developmentally inappropriate” for the children taking it this spring in a handful of states. The blog post included details from three test items.

Five days later, after other bloggers had shared the post, Oyler got an e-mail from PARCC CEO Laura Slover, who respectfully asked her to remove the items. They were protected by copyright, she said, and were “live” test questions, still being used in schools. The postings, Slover said, “threaten the utility of the assessments, both as their administration is completed over the next few weeks and in versions of the assessment to be administered in the future.”

She said the anonymous teacher, who’d admitted in the essay that he or she had “breached a written undertaking not to reveal any of the material,” was clearly avoiding personal responsibility by remaining anonymous. Slover said PARCC would waive any damage claims if Oyler would take down the items and “turn over to us any information you may have about the teacher.”

Gotta love the transparency. While I understand that they can’t have the entire test floating out on the internet, it is impossible for parents and policy makers who are outside the loop to evaluate the assessment. It is also impossible to be able to explain why the assessment is bad if you can’t talk about it.

Who does that help? Certainly not the kids taking the test.

Rhode Island Teacher May Lose Job Over Protecting Student Data

Photo credit: Michael Derr The future employment of Shelley McDonald, a math teacher at North Kingstown High School, remains undetermined. She is pictured with John Leidecker, NEA-RI deputy executive director, during a February hearing about alleged insubordination.

Photo credit: Michael Derr
The future employment of Shelley McDonald, a math teacher at North Kingstown High School, remains undetermined. She is pictured with John Leidecker, NEA-RI deputy executive director, during a February hearing about alleged insubordination.

Shelley McDonald, a math teacher at North Kingston High School in Rhode Island, may lose her job because she is unwilling to agree to terms given by Pearson before administering the PARCC Assessment. She said she does not believe that there is adequate protection of student privacy in the memorandum of understanding made with Pearson.

The Independent reports:

In March, Superintendent Phil Auger said Shelley McDonald’s job was safe if she would proctor the PARCC assessment May 3. She is scheduled to be terminated at the end of the school year after multiple alleged instances of insubordination, which included not administering the PARCC exam.

In a May 8 email, McDonald claimed she was not allowed to administer the most recent PARCC exams because she did not click a screen to “agree” to the terms before issuing the online standardized tests to students.

In an April 25 email, McDonald said she planned to administer the PARCC “just as [she had] in the past.” In the May email, she said she remains concerned that if she agreed to the terms of use, the company that owns the PARCC, Pearson, could sell personal student information.

“For whatever reason it remains very important to the district that I agree to the release and sale of student private information and data to third parties,” McDonald said. “If I won’t do that, [the School Department] will continue to not allow me to proctor the test and will continue to insist that I am not doing my job.”

Superintendent Phil Auger refuted McDonald’s allegation after the May 10 School Committee meeting, saying McDonald chose not to administer the PARCC.

“She just told us she’s not going to do it,” Auger said.

Auger also referred to a memorandum of agreement the School Committee and National Education Association North Kingstown agreed to in March, which agrees the School Committee will release to Pearson only the name of the school or local education agency; the use role (test administrator or coordinator); usernames created by the school or local education agency – such as a user’s email address; teachers’ full names and district email addresses.

McDonald said that understanding did not protect student data “in any way,” a claim Auger said was untrue.

“We’re not sharing anyone’s personal information, not kids’ or teachers’, with Pearson or anybody else … other than this student [name], this school and grade; that’s it,” he said. “The union accepted that and [McDonald] clearly did not. She said ‘I’m not doing it,’ which means you’re clearly not proctoring.”

In an interview, NEA-NK President Kevin DuBois said he and other union member teachers were concerned with Pearson possibly selling student and teacher data to third-party companies, but they reached the agreement with the district, and received confirmation from a state Department of Education representative that the state did not intend to share any student information other than the students’ gender and ethnicity.

“No personal info on where they live, Social Security numbers or anything like that [will be shared],” DuBois said.

Sharing a student’s name, school, grade, ethnicity and gender, along with their assessment results, isn’t sharing information? Fascinating.  The article alludes to multiple instances of insubordination, but it only directly refers to the PARCC assessments. Does the school seriously not have anyone else who can proctor the assessments?

NJ School District Passes Resolution Opposing PARCC Grad Requirement


The East Brunswick Public Schools Board of Education passed a resolution at their May 12th meeting opposing PARCC as a graduation requirement for New Jersey students.

Greater Media Newspapers (NJ) reports:

After calls from the community to take a stand against the state’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) test, the East Brunswick Board of Education passed a resolution in opposition to using the test as a requirement for graduation.

“This is absolutely a victory, and we are very deeply appreciative that the Board of Education (BOE) listened to the concerns of a growing number of parents in the district, gave it thoughtful consideration and took action today to pass a resolution like 11 other districts have done around the state,” said Deborah Cornavaca, a district parent who at past board meetings had spoken out against the PARCC test.

The board passed the resolution at its May 12 meeting, becoming one in more than 10 school districts throughout the state to denounce a proposal by the Department of Education to make the PARCC test a requirement to graduate from high school.

“The board thought very long, hard and thoughtfully on what the community had requested, and they believe this resolution represents a position that the board is comfortable with and meets the needs of all the parents who expressed concern about the PARCC possibly becoming a graduation requirement,” Superintendent Victor Valeski said after the meeting. “I think it was a compromise between the community and the BOE.”

The resolution was passed unanimously with three board members, Holly Howard, Meredith Shaw and Laurie Lachs, absent for the vote.

Volunteer Help Needed for Massachusetts Common Core Ballot Initiative


Have some free time on your hands? Can you travel to Massachusetts to help the effort to stop Common Core there? End Common Core Massachusetts needs volunteers to help collect signatures to ensure their ballot initiative makes the ballot in November.

WWLP 22 News reports:

Volunteers have until June 22nd to collect 11,000 signatures. After that, the signatures need to be reviewed by the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General must approve the ballot question.

Their goal is to collect 16,000 signatures. You can learn more about volunteering and contact End Common Core Massachusetts here.