A Debate over the Meaning and Perfection of Education in America

Bill Gates, the funder-in-chief of all things Common Core.
Photo credit: World Economic Forum (CC-By-SA 2.0)

One of candidate Donald Trump’s biggest applause lines when campaigning was his promise to end the Common Core national K through 12 standards. For the first time in any presidential campaign, an education issue claimed a place of importance with grassroots citizens. What was it about Common Core that so excited the passions of ordinary Americans that they demanded answers in a national campaign? And what are the implications for American education?

Joy Pullmann addresses those questions in her new book, The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids. A managing editor at The Federalist and an education research fellow at the Heartland Institute, Pullmann brings her impressive journalistic skills to analyzing the history, philosophy, and quality of the standards. Her book provides a meticulously documented 360-degree view of the Common Core scheme—why it became “toxic” (in Mike Huckabee’s description) and what can be done about it.

In the early days of Common Core, almost no one outside the federal and state education bureaucracies or the insular world of “education reform” had ever heard of it—even though the standards would ignite the largest education-related grassroots movement in American history. Common Core was adopted by state executive branch officials in response to “incentives” from federal executive branch officials, with (in almost every case) no consent from or even notice to elected state legislators.

The stealth introduction of Common Core was intentional. As Pullmann documents, the standards sprang not from elected officials but from the agendas of largely private, unaccountable players. An obscure education consultant named David Coleman and the president of a D.C. trade association called the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) persuaded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to bankroll these new standards to “transform” American education into a giant workforce-development system. Fueled by the Gates multimillions, Common Core was on track. Now every public school would teach the same thing in the same way. And the centralized control would rest, as Progressives always think it should, with a small group of “experts.”

One former state education official explained why this scheme would especially appeal to Bill Gates. I paraphrase: “Think of how he made his money. His operating system is used by almost everyone on the planet, and it’s very efficient. Why can’t education be handled that way? Why can’t we have an education operating system, designed by experts, that’s imposed on every child in every school? Wouldn’t that be more efficient?” It’s the computer-geek view of the world, with an eye toward producing not educated citizens but widgets for the workforce.

The bottom line, according to Pullmann: “So it was mostly unelected officials who locked states into an overhaul of education policy, with little to inform the public of what they were doing. But the real work of crafting the policy had been done by private organizations.” And Gates proceeded to supply not only much of the funding for the Common Core initiative but also key personnel for the U.S. Department of Education to implement this transformational plan.

But what did the feds have to do with Common Core? Wasn’t this a “state-led” initiative, as its proponents repeat as a mantra? Pullmann shatters that myth. She outlines how, from the outset, the Department of Education was viewed as a critical player in imposing Common Core nationwide, for without federal bribery in the form of “Race to the Top” grants for states that would adopt the scheme, it would never take flight. And when 46 states eventually signed on, former Gates staffers went to Washington to work for the Education Department as what Pullmann calls a “shadow bureaucracy” to ensure there was no daylight between the Gates agenda and the federal government’s.

Pullmann uses her investigative skills to document the federal cash flow beyond “Race to the Top”: Among other expenditures, millions of dollars poured into the two trade associations (CCSSO and the National Governors Association) that own and copyrighted the standards, and much more was granted to two testing consortia to develop Common Core-aligned assessments.

The assessment component of the Common Core initiative has always been key to achieving maximum centralization in education. Tying states to the same test ties them to the same standards and essentially the same curriculum. And, as Pullmann reports, the assessment angle was yet another channel for federal control. In exchange for $330 million in federal money, the two consortia (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) “submitted to . . . to oversight by a specially appointed federal board that had access to and power over every aspect of the tests, down to the specific questions.”

This may not meet most people’s definition of “state-led.”

Pullmann highlights another aspect of the national testing that Common Core proponents downplay: data-collection. She writes:

The national Common Core testing organizations are not just collecting the kind of anonymous, aggregate student information that states have historically submitted to the federal government, but also “student-level data” that goes into national databases. There, the federal government and any person or organization it designates will have “timely and complete access to any and all data collected at the State level,” according to the testing organizations’ contracts with the federal government.

So Common Core encompassed much more than just a set of standards. And even those standards, created by this tiny cadre of supposed experts, turned out wretchedly. The English Language Arts (ELA) standards are essentially content-free. Instead of requiring particular content (say, 19th-century American literature) by a certain grade, they dictate focusing not on content but on “skills” (for example, identifying the “evidence” used for a “claim”). The standards’ lack of content prompted ELA standards expert Dr. Sandra Stotsky to observe, “You can do this with Moby Dick, or with The Three Little Pigs.” Common Core is indifferent to which book is chosen. And in fact, Common Core discourages reading fiction at all, requiring English teachers to replace at least half of the classic literature they formerly taught with non-fiction “informational text.”

The Common Core math standards are dreadful in their own way. They reintroduce the “fuzzy math” that had been tried in the 1960s and 1990s, with disastrous results. Common Core math delays teaching the standard algorithm—the method of solving a problem that works first time, every time—instead teaching “conceptual understanding” to kids who are too young to grasp what they’re being forced to do. The result is rich fodder for stand-up comedians but agony for children and their parents, who struggle to help them make sense of nonsense.

As a journalist, Pullmann excels in using storytelling to present the voluminous information her research uncovered. The ineffectiveness and, well, idiocy of the standards are illustrated by visits to actual classrooms and discussions with actual teachers, some of whom began the Common Core experiment with high hopes until reality crashed in. She relates the stories of actual parents who watched with growing dismay as their children’s lessons deteriorated with Common Core.

When those parents began to network and push back, they generated an earthquake that rocked American public education. The level of opposition also caught the Common Core centralizers flat-footed. They had assumed their plan—secretively developing the standards, avoiding elected legislatures, tying the adoption to federal money—would result in quick and quiet implementation of the standards. Before parents and state or local officials fully understood what was happening, the standards would be installed and academic achievement would be at least improving, if not soaring. Any anti-democratic flaws in the plan would be forgiven in light of obvious success.

As Pullmann outlines, parents (primarily moms) across the nation switched into research mode when they saw the changes occurring in their children’s classrooms. After identifying the infectious agent as something called “Common Core,” they spent midnight hours at their computers, tracking down the information that had been deliberately withheld from them: the identities of the players, the nature of the funding mechanisms, the legal agreements their states had signed to adopt the standards in exchange for the federal bribe.

Armed with this research, the “march of the moms,” as Pullmann puts it, approached state governments to seek relief from this scheme. But relief was hard to come by. Although some legislators stepped up to help, more hesitated to buck the supposedly objective “experts” at the state education departments. Others were cowed by empty but effective threats from Education Secretary Arne Duncan that states might jeopardize federal funding by exercising their education autonomy.

Nevertheless, Pullmann reports, as the backlash against Common Core mounted, even the scheme’s most adamant protectors realized something had to be done to mollify the grassroots. A watershed moment occurred in Indiana, when national Common Core pitchman Tony Bennett lost his bid for re-election as the state’s superintendent of schools.

The best way to get the attention of the politicians is to defeat one at the polls. So the number of Common Core-repeal bills introduced in state legislatures exploded, from 117 in 2012 to 427 in 2014. And the opposition was bipartisan. From Tea Partiers on the Right to Diane Ravitch and many unionized teachers on the Left, the national standards provoked outrage.

But if the opposition was bipartisan, so too was the protectorate. Moms soon discovered that even in red states such as Indiana, Republicans were as likely as Democrats to dismiss their concerns because they weren’t “experts.” When the moms persisted, Gates and his private foundation buddies ramped up the marketing, spending hundreds of millions not only on direct propaganda but on buying other powerful organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to recruit them for the defense.

The education establishment in some states decided to quell the uprising by deception—“rebranding” the Common Core standards to fool the rubes and get them to go home. The grassroots weren’t deceived, of course, but enough legislators and governors (such as Mike Pence, then Governor of Indiana) latched onto the maneuver to enable the standards to be preserved in all but name.

So Common Core drones on. Teachers become more disillusioned with the enforced mediocrity in their classrooms. National Assessment of Educational Progress scores flatline or decline. The federally funded testing consortia slowly collapse as states withdraw to escape escalating costs and operational dysfunction.

But Pullmann ends on a hopeful note, highlighting parent-propelled alternatives that are emerging across the country. Homeschooling is booming. Classical schools are enjoying a renaissance, perhaps because the genuine education they offer is diametrically opposed to the drab utilitarianism of Common Core. School choice is gaining adherents (although parents must resist efforts to impose government regulations on private schools that participate in such programs).

Pullmann sees a renewed determination by parents to do whatever it takes to ensure a real education for their children. If this is the result, Common Core could turn out to have been a boon to American education—just not in the way it was planned.

Cross-posted from Library of Law and Liberty

Trump Orders Enforcement of Statutory Prohibitions on Federal Control of Ed

The Washington Times ran with this headline after President Trump’s executive order today regarding reining in the federal government involvement in education.

Donald Trump to pull feds out of K-12 education.”

As glorious as that would be he needs Congress to repeal various education laws first.

Even so, this is significant action.

Here’s the executive order for your perusal.

ENFORCING STATUTORY PROHIBITIONS ON FEDERAL CONTROL OF EDUCATION

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to restore the proper division of power under the Constitution between the Federal Government and the States and to further the goals of, and to ensure strict compliance with, statutes that prohibit Federal interference with State and local control over education, including section 103 of the Department of Education Organization Act (DEOA) (20 U.S.C. 3403), sections 438 and 447 of the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), as amended (20 U.S.C. 1232a and 1232j), and sections 8526A, 8527, and 8529 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (20 U.S.C. 7906a, 7907, and 7909), it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Policy.  It shall be the policy of the executive branch to protect and preserve State and local control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, and personnel of educational institutions, schools, and school systems, consistent with applicable law, including ESEA, as amended by ESSA, and ESEA’s restrictions related to the Common Core State Standards developed under the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Sec. 2.  Review of Regulations and Guidance Documents.  (a)  The Secretary of Education (Secretary) shall review all Department of Education (Department) regulations and guidance documents relating to DEOA, GEPA, and ESEA, as amended by ESSA.

(b)  The Secretary shall examine whether these regulations and guidance documents comply with Federal laws that prohibit the Department from exercising any direction, supervision, or control over areas subject to State and local control, including:

(i)    the curriculum or program of instruction of any elementary and secondary school and school system;

(ii)   school administration and personnel; and

(iii)  selection and content of library resources, textbooks, and instructional materials.

(c)  The Secretary shall, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, rescind or revise any regulations that are identified pursuant to subsection (b) of this section as inconsistent with statutory prohibitions.  The Secretary shall also rescind or revise any guidance documents that are identified pursuant to subsection (b) of this section as inconsistent with statutory prohibitions.  The Secretary shall, to the extent consistent with law, publish any proposed regulations and withdraw or modify any guidance documents pursuant to this subsection no later than 300 days after the date of this order.

Sec. 3.  Definition.  The term “guidance document” means any written statement issued by the Department to the public that sets forth a policy on a statutory, regulatory, or technical issue or an interpretation of a statutory or regulatory issue, including Dear Colleague letters, interpretive memoranda, policy statements, manuals, circulars, memoranda, pamphlets, bulletins, advisories, technical assistance, and grants of applications for waivers.

Sec. 4.  General Provisions.  (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i)   the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii)  the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b)  This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c)  This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

In a nutshell, it is a review of every existing federal regulation, rule or guidance related to K-12 education. It is certainly a welcome action, but let’s not do a happy dance yet.

An Open Letter to President Trump

I don’t know how to speak with a president … but I can speak well enough with any father.

So, let us speak as fathers … and of the dreams we dream for our own children.

Then we should imagine that we are dreaming for all sorts of children … because that is your new job … and that was my old job for a long, long while.

I should say straight away that my own children are grown and flown … like most of yours. But, as you know, families grow … and new stars join the troupe and steal the spotlight. Like your Barron… and my young Aidan.

I’ve seen you lose yourself in that boy’s face. I have. It’s the sort of thing I pay attention to because … because I do the same. All the time. That “circle of life” stuff gets extra-real in people our age. And finally … we learn to pay attention to what really matters. The sweet, small stuff … like a child’s face.

You are a busy man. I am not so busy at all.

You are the president of a great country … and I am the chief of a very small tribe. You were once a business man … and I was once a history teacher.

And what busies you hardly busies me.

My responsibilities are now sweet and simple … I only have to be on time for baseball games and perhaps explain old civilizations now and then.

You have only to worry about a country … and perhaps the rest of the world.

See? We do have things in common. So … now we can talk.

Children teach us to keep our promises. Nothing winces a father more than the face of a disappointed child. Break a promise … break a heart. I’ve sinned that sin … I’m sure you have, too.

And now … now everything about your life is suddenly larger than ever before. Your challenges. Your promises. And perhaps even your disappointments.

But for a moment, let’s shrink your world so it looks more like mine … and the folks who placed their hopes and dreams in you. The people who believed your promises. Not-so-famous people … except to the children who look up to them, and hang on their every promise.

Childhood is a quick moment. It’s the maker of first memories … and we make big deals of firsts. First words. First steps. First everything.

We should never forget that school is life’s first great adventure. That break-free moment that puts the first crack in every parent’s heart. That anxious adios … even if it lasts for just a few hours.

We fanny-pat them and cup their tiny faces for one last boost … and send them off to the first brave solo-moment of their brand new lives.

We are both joyed and jittered by this daring episode.

But for many parents … things are not as we remember.

Schools have been nightmared. Children guinea-pigged … poisoned by imposter-reformers and their pedagogical idiocy.

So many seem intent on reinventing childhood … swapping out sandboxes and monkey bars for hypnotizing iPads and abusive testing circumstances. Many classroom reforms are simply ludicrous … and harming.

There’s so much wrong with this reform, it’s a miracle schools haven’t been pitchforked by parent-mobs.

They’re calling out school leaders for odd-ball curriculum changes. Even demanding legislation for … are you ready, Mr. President? … for recess. For play time. For six year olds.

It’s that sick, sir.

They’re frustrated by politicians-turned-Socrates who dismiss their concerns … and permit creepy-freaky social engineers to bend the lives of their children.

Master-teachers … once the most trusted regents of our children … have been exiled to the edges of every reform discussion. Their common sense expertise suddenly dismissed as Dark Age know-how.

These spring months turn children into school-loathing messes because fraudy-gurus insist that “grit and rigor” are imperative antidotes to wasteful childhoods of discovery and play.

These hoaxers demand that hyper-dramatized assessments be homaged as the new tools of educational excellence. Real-deal teachers are threatened into silent compliance. And so … hundreds of thousands of enraged parents are refusing abusive testing in state after state … Georgia … Texas … New York … Michigan … Florida.

The outrage is exploding.

This is what happens when schools are hijacked by an interfering government and bungling bureaucrats.

It’s what happens when disconnected theoreticians pretend to understand children … and dare to claim parental regency over them.

It’s what happens when self-anointed wizards decided that only government can wrench us out of the educational Middle Ages … and make us as advantaged as … as Sweden. And Singapore. Or Switzerland.

And caught in this cyclone of nonsense are small people. Young children … like your Barron … and my Aidan. But not as well protected.

So … millions of innocents are anguished … and their parents agonized.

Never has there been a more toxic reform effort than Common Core … and all that churns around it. It is a harmful failure. A disturbing, national mess.

Mothers and fathers across America witnessed your promise to end Common Core … and they signed that contract in the ballot booth.

Never was the “art of the deal” so serious for so many.

They asked for their schools back … and for childhood to be restored.

They asked that childhood education be balanced again … in challenge and joy … so they, too, can dream dreams for their children.

So they signed on the dotted line.

Now you are the president of great people. And I am still the chief of a small tribe.

And one day, Barron and Aidan will read of this … and know if we both kept our promise.

Let’s not disappoint anyone.

Why Betsy DeVos Is Wrong About Common Core…. Again

Betsy DeVos was sworn in as Secretary of Education by Vice President Mike Pence.

Betsy DeVos was sworn in as Secretary of Education by Vice President Mike Pence.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has not said much about Common Core since being confirmed, and what she has said has been entirely incorrect.

In February DeVos told Frank Beckmann on Detroit’s WJR News Talk 760 AM Wednesday that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) “essentially does away with the notion of a Common Core.” She also said that ESSA “encourages states to set forth their own levels of achievement expectation.”

During that same interview, she also said the approval of state plans is a “good and important role for the federal government.” She was wrong then, and she was wrong again Monday in an interview on Fox News with Bill Hemmer.

Here’s the relevant transcript:

Bill Hemmer: “When it comes to Common Core, will the Administration withhold funds from states that pursue Common Core education in order to get them to change their mind?”

Betsy DeVos: “Well as you probably know Every Student Succeeds Act, which is in the process of being implemented, essentially does away with the whole argument about Common Core, and it leads up to the states and empowers the states to be able to make decisions on behalf of their students that is going to be right for that state.

“We are in the process of receiving their plans now, and I am very hopeful that many states, in fact, all of the states, will be setting very high expectations and aspirations for their students.”

Hemmer: “Just to put a fine point on it, I know what your position is on Common Core, and I heard what the President said during the campaign, will you make a move to cut off funds if a state pursues it – Common Core?”

DeVos: “Well, there really isn’t any Common Core anymore, and each state is able to set the standards for their state. They may elect to adopt very high standards for their student to aspire to and work toward, and that will be up to each state to ascertain what is right for that state. We hope that all of them will have very high expectations.”

First, she has misguided faith in what the Every Student Succeeds Act accomplishes. ESSA offers all sorts of dog whistles to indicate Common Core or Common Core-aligned standards are the expectation.

The Every Student Succeeds Act requires the alignment of state standards, assessments, and accountability systems to the Common Core. While it does not explicitly say “Common Core” within the law, ESSA does use the “college-and-career-ready” lingo employed by Common Core advocates.

Also, if the Secretary of Education claims that any part of the plan submitted by the state fails to fulfill the requirements of the Act – that is, that in her opinion, it fails “to [prepare students to] graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary education and the workforce without remediation” – the Secretary can deny the state plan. This new authority for the Secretary of Education is an action that DeVos said in February was an appropriate role for the Department.

States will be pressured into keeping the Common Core rather than risk having their plans disapproved for using different standards or aligned assessments which are what we’ve primarily seen leading up to state’s submitting their accountability plans.

Second, the notion that “there really isn’t any Common Core anymore” is blatantly false. Most states have retained Common Core, and states that have implemented some review have only just tweaked the standards and rebranded them.

Third, she is right that states are free to apply their own standards. The same was true under former U.S. Secretaries of Education Arne Duncan and John King. States in 2010 faced fiscal uncertainty that led many of them to adopt Common Core in order to be eligible for a Race to the Top grant. Now they face regulatory uncertainty as to whether or not DeVos will approve state accountability plans that use different standards.

She mentioned twice her desire that states will be setting “very high standards.” If I were Bill Hemmer I would have followed up to ask “what do those standards look like and do you consider Common Core to be high standards?”

By using the same “high standards and expectations” lingo, she sends a message to maintain status quo.

Fourth, the answer to Bill Hemmer’s question should be “no.” Using the federal power of the purse strings to compel states to adopt education policy favored by the Administration would be wrong. It was wrong when the Obama Administration used the Race to the Top program to force states to adopt Common Core. It will be a mistake to threaten federal funding to compel states to repeal Common Core. I want to see a decrease in the federal government’s reach into K-12 education, respecting a state’s responsibility and authority in education also means recognizing that state has the right to keep standards we dislike.

President Trump’s campaign promise to “end Common Core” was a misguided one as only states can get rid of it. What his administration can do is get out of their way. The best way for DeVos to signal her willingness to do this is to act as a rubber stamp for state accountability plans and send a clear message that states who repeal Common Core can expect that decision not to have any bearing on her decision.

Then Congress needs to repeal ESSA and allow real local control in education, not just give lip service to it.

DeVos can lead the way, but at the moment she just appears to be willing to channel Jeb Bush’s doublespeak on Common Core.

Cross-posted from Caffeinated Thoughts.

Common Core Repeal Bill Introduced in Ohio House

State Representative Andy Thompson (R-Marietta) introduced HB 176, a bill that would repeal Common Core in Ohio, earlier this month. Download the text of the bill (as introduced) here. The bill currently has 26 co-sponsors in the Ohio House.

The bill analysis of HB 176 summarizes the legislation, as it relates to academic standards and assessments, this way:

Academic content standards and model curricula

  • Prohibits the State Board of Education from adopting, and the Department of Education from implementing, the Common Core State Standards, or any standards developed by any similar initiative process or program, as the state’s academic content standards for English language arts mathematics, science, or social studies and voids any prior actions taken to adopt or implement the Common Core State Standards
  • Requires the State Board, to replace the academic content standards in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies with new standards that are consistent with the standards adopted by Massachusetts prior to that state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards, so that Ohio’s standards are as identical as possible to those adopted by Massachusetts, except where an Ohio context requires otherwise.
  • States that a school district is not required to utilize all or any part of the academic content standards adopted by the State Board.
  • Prohibits the State Board from adopting or revising any academic content standards in English language arts, mathematics, science, or social studies until the new or revised standards are approved by the appropriate subject area subcommittee created under the bill, and approved by the General Assembly by a concurrent resolution.
  • Creates the 13-member Academic Content Standards Steering Committee to do the following: (1) determine a chair and co-chair of the committee, (2) appoint four individuals to oversee the development of the standards documents, (3) contract, if necessary, with an individual who has a “national reputation” in the areas of academic content standards and assessments to facilitate the committee’s work, (4) establish a subcommittee each in the areas of English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies to review and approve any new or revised standards, and (5) select, by majority vote of all members, a chair for each subcommittee.
  • Prohibits the State Board from adopting any model curricula.

Achievement assessments and diagnostic assessments

  • Eliminates the fourth-grade and sixth-grade social studies assessments and the fall administration of the third-grade English language arts assessment.
  • Specifies that the elementary-level assessments must be the assessments administered before 2010 in Iowa.
  • Specifies that the administration of the elementary-level assessments must occur at the discretion of each discretion or school.
  • Eliminates the retention provision for students who fail to attain a passing score on the third-grade English arts assessment.
  • Replaces the current seven high school end-of-course examinations in English language arts I, English language arts II, Science, Algebra I, geometry, American history, and American government with examinations in English language arts, mathematics, and science.
  • Specifies that the high school exams must be the assessments administered before 2010 in Iowa.
  • Eliminates an exemption under current law that allows students in public and chartered nonpublic high schools to forego taking a nationally standardized assessment that measures college and career readiness if that student has attained a “remediation-free” score on the assessment and has presented evidence of that fact to the student’s district or school.
  • Prohibits the State Board of Education from using the assessments developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the Smarter Balanced assessments, or any other assessment related to or based on the Common Core State Standards for use as state achievement assessments.
  • Eliminates the requirement to administer any diagnostic assessment to students in grades kindergarten through three, and instead authorizes districts and schools to administer such assessments.

U.S. Department of Education Prepares to Reduce Workforce

According to federal records, the U.S. Department of Education issued a contract with Graduate School USA for Reduction in Force (RIF) Training. The Washington, DC-based institution provides “professional development and training courses for the federal government and the private sector, serving organizations and individuals with programs designed to support organizational missions, career and occupational development, and the personal ambitions of adult learners.”

The contract is for $28,418 to consult with the Department on how to go about upcoming layoffs. President Donald Trump’s first budget provides $59 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2018 for the Department which reflects a reduction of $9 Billion or 13 percent of the annualized 2017 continuing resolution levels. The budget reflects President Trump’s commitment to school choice, but also reflects the elimination of numerous programs within the Department.

Some highlights:

  • Eliminates the $2.4 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program, which is poorly targeted and spread thinly across thousands of districts with scant evidence of impact.
  • Eliminates the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which supports before- and after-school programs as well as summer programs, resulting in savings of $1.2 billion from the 2017 annualized CR level. The programs that lack strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement.
  • Eliminates the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, a less well- targeted way to deliver need-based aid than the Pell Grant program, to reduce complexity in financial student aid and save $732 million from the 2017 annualized CR level.
  • Reduces Federal Work-Study significantly and reforms the poorly-targeted allocation to ensure funds go to undergraduate students who would benefit most.
  • Eliminates or reduces over 20 categorical programs that do not address national needs, duplicate other programs, or are more appropriately supported with State, local, or private funds, including Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnership, Impact Aid Support Payments for Federal Property, and International Education programs.

The Office of Personnel Management states, “when an agency must abolish positions, the RIF regulations determine whether an employee keeps his or her present position, or whether the employee has a right to a different position.”

They also state, “each agency has the right to decide what positions are abolished, whether a RIF is necessary, and when the RIF will take place. Once the agency makes these decisions, the retention regulations then determine which employee is actually reached for a RIF action.”

In FY 2015 the U.S. Department of Education had over 3862 full-time employees down from 4,066 in FY 2011.

Rhode Island Rejects PARCC for PARCC Hybrid


Rhode Island is ditching PARCC.

The Providence Journal reports:

Rhode Island is abandoning a controversial standardized test called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career for the exam that Massachusetts has successfully used for nearly 20 years.

Rep. Gregg Amore, D-East Providence, chairman of the House Finance Committee’s education subcommittee, confirmed Thursday that the Rhode Island Department of Education has decided to adopt the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), which the Bay State administers to measure student achievement.

In high school, 10th graders will take the popular SAT or PSAT. Many states have adopted the college entrance exams in high school because they are well-respected by students, parents and teachers and because they are widely used as part of the college admissions process.

First, they are still using PARCC; this test is a hybrid of the old MCAS and PARCC. I posted on this when Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester made the following recommendations.

  • Award a new MCAS contract to include a next-generation assessment for English language arts and math using both PARCC items and items specific to Massachusetts;
  • Commit to computer-based state assessments with the goal of implementing this statewide by spring 2019;
  • Remain a member of the PARCC consortium to have access to high-quality assessment development while sharing costs with other states and to be able to compare next-generation MCAS results with those of other states’ assessments; and
  • Convene groups of K-12 teachers, higher education faculty and assessment experts to advise ESE on the content, length and scheduling of statewide tests; testing policies for students with disabilities and for English language learners; the requirements for the high school competency determination (currently the 10th grade MCAS); and the timeline for reinstating a history and social science test.

MCAS 2.0 is not the quality pre-2011 MCAS that was part of reforms that led to Massachusetts leading the nation in K-12 education. Until Rhode Island abandons Common Core, they will never have a quality assessment. The Every Student Succeeds Act requires alignment between a state’s assessment and academic standards.

I also wouldn’t get excited about the new requirement for 10th graders to take the new Common Core-aligned SAT and PSAT.

Using NAEP Proficiency for Accountability Sets Florida Students Up for Failure

From the beginning, the marketing of the Common Core and other progressive education schemes has been brilliant. The PR guys seized on words and phrases that sounded good to the uninformed public and then painted all opposition as manifestly unreasonable. Why would anyone not want “rigorous” standards that teach “critical thinking” and make our children “college- and career-ready”?

Now Jeb Bush and his minions (including his Foundation for Florida’s Future, or “FFF”) are doing the same thing in Florida on a related topic – assessments and school accountability. This time the popular terms are “proficiency” and “honesty gap.” But the real honesty gap yawns between what FFF claims to be doing and what it’s really up to.

As Karen Effrem of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition explains, all this has to do with school-accountability ratings included in the state plans required by the recent fed-ed bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act (you know, the statute that supposedly eliminated federal requirements). FFF is pushing legislation imposing school accountability ratings that are linked to whether students are deemed “proficient” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – “the nation’s report card” – rather than whether they score at grade level on the state tests.

As Dr. Effrem observes, another Bush foundation website – “Why Proficiency Matters” – “makes it appear that these two achievement levels are completely equivalent and that anyone who opposes this idea is against honesty and raising student achievement.”

But like so much else in the “education reform” universe occupied by FFF and its co-advocates, (such as Achieve, Inc., which helped develop the Common Core national standards), this simply isn’t so. Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution states flatly, “Equating NAEP proficiency with grade level is bogus.” Why? Because the NAEP proficiency score is “aspirational” – it was set significantly above what most students could be expected to achieve (as Loveless reports, even some education organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences objected to NAEP’s achievement levels from the outset as “fundamentally flawed” and “consistently set too high”).

Even the NAEP governing board warns against conflating the NAEP proficiency level with grade-level achievement. From the board’s “myths vs. facts” brochure: “Proficient on NAEP means competency over challenging subject matter. This is not the same thing as being ‘on grade level,’ which refers to performance on local curriculum and standards.”

This misalignment seems particularly apparent in math. The 2007 Brown Center Report on American Education projected that even in Singapore – with the world’s highest-scoring math students – over a quarter of students would fail to achieve proficiency on the 8th-grade NAEP test.

The irony here is that Bush and his cohorts nationwide are largely responsible for imposing the subpar Common Core standards on most public schools – thereby practically guaranteeing diminished student performance on any genuine achievement test, and especially on a test such as NAEP with elevated proficiency scores. Recent flatlining or declining NAEP scores have borne that out. Bush’s foundations, in keeping with their longtime enthusiasm for Common Core, refuse to acknowledge the connection between those standards and poor academic performance. But while downplaying this negative trend with NAEP scores, they push the bizarre notion that academic achievement can be improved merely by requiring higher scores – without fixing the underlying “Core” problem that depresses achievement in the first place.

Maybe there’s a larger plan in the works. Dr. Effrem outlines the devastating consequences of saddling Florida’s public schools with inferior standards and curricula and then subjecting them to the NAEP proficiency standard rather than a more realistic grade-level standard: “[T]he passing rate on the fourth-grade reading test would be cut in half from 54 percent to 27 percent. . . . The costs to local districts would skyrocket . . . . These costs would include remediation, progress monitoring, more summer school, and make-up exams . . . .” As she sums up, “the public schools would implode.”

Could this be designed to drive education in a different direction? One possibility would be increasing the number of charter schools (with, perhaps, their politically and financially connected management companies). In fact, the Florida House is proposing an increase in charter funding of $200 million and a school-turnaround plan that accelerates converting schools into charters. Whatever their possible benefits, charters are less accountable to the public and in direct competition with private schools that seek to provide an alternative to Common Core (charters, as public schools, teach Common Core).

An alternative direction would be Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s favorite project, private-school choice programs. The obvious problem here is that once government money begins flowing into private schools, government regulations will almost inevitably follow. Indeed, when the nationwide anti-Common Core movement originated in such states as Missouri, Utah, and Indiana, the Indiana parents were battling the national standards in Catholic schools –which were forced to administer the state Common Core test, and therefore to teach the inferior Common Core standards, because they accepted voucher students.

While it’s laudable to raise the bar on meaningful academic achievement, that won’t be done by setting the passing scores unreasonably beyond grade level while simultaneously imposing standards and curricula that practically ensure failure. In Florida, this failure will then be tied to high stakes such as 3rd-grade retention, graduation, teacher pay, and school accountability grades. Labeling so many students, teachers, and schools as failures — when they probably couldn’t meet the new requirements even without the downward pull of Common Core — is simply deceitful.

Whatever the motive of the proponents of this plan, Effrem warns about the negative personal and financial “accountability” consequences of holding students, teachers, and schools to an unreasonable standard. “Raising the bar to a level that is quite simply unattainable,” she says, “is just not fair.” If Mr. Bush and his foundations really want to improve schools, they should advocate freeing them from the snare of Common Core. That would be the honest thing to do.

NaughtyBots Part 4: Researchbots, Bought, or Naught, Theoretically Speaking?

coverThis is the fourth part in a four-part NaughtyBots series about the #commoncore Project: How Social Media is Changing the Politics of Education.

Researchbots, Bought, or Naught

I tend to be linear, not millennial-ear, and had to read the pdf version of the #commoncore Project report. I found it difficult to follow the online format that has been lauded as an innovative interactive presentation. This is not a typical format for presenting research findings and adds to the notion of this being fake research as I have heard many refer to it. The interactive online presentation lost me until after I read file2051252012506much of the pdf version and gained an understanding of how the information is organized. Is this the way future research reports will be presented? What’s next? Is this a precursor to research reports being presented as interactive online video games? Research report gamification—kind of like the gamification of education?

There are actually two #commoncore Project reports. The citation for the first report says 2015 and the citation for the second says 2017. I used the 2017 report. Having heard a comment that the first report was more objective and interesting, I thought I ought to take at least a quick look. I found that the first report does not include theories brought up in the second report and appears to be more straight forward in presenting information not laden with so much opinion and ideology. Does the difference make you wonder why?

DSC03524-BThe first report shows a statement that says, “This project received no external funding from any source.” The second reports says, “This project received funding support from the Milken Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. The analyses, findings, and conclusions are the authors’ alone.”

For many advocates, any sense of credibility is lost upon seeing all to familiar funding sources for the project’s second report. It can be enough to make one wonder. Was this research bot bought? Did funding bring on the opinions and ideology in the second report? Would researchers compromise standards of professional ethics that guide most academic research as a result of funding? Has that ever happened? Of course that would not be the case here because we are told, “The analyses, findings, and conclusions are the authors’ alone.”

One very involved mom observed that the whole tone of the project was different after the Gates Foundation became involved. It is hard to tell if this is a correlation or a cause and effect situation. It has made some wonder if part of the mission of the funded project was to marginalize Common Core opponents.

file0001446941348Research or naught? Or naughty research? You decide. The project did produce a report but that doesn’t necessarily make it research. Advocacy reports, research for pay, anecdotal compilations, or ideological reports about education are all to often pushed and accepted in lieu of solid empirical research.

Research or project? The Consortium for Policy Research in Education published the report. Sounds credible. While the authors do refer to this as a project, they also say “our research” and once in the report say “our cutting-edge research.” So that settles it. It must be research or at least a research project.

On page 69 of the report it says:

“Using this avenue, individuals and organizations can disseminate information unvetted by formal sources. This loosening of the hold of the ‘professional’ media
has led to broader reporting of activity and events, but also has the effect of increasing unsubstantiated, exaggerated, and even outright fake news stories. “

“…and identified a number of alternative online ‘news’ organizations that used the legitimacy of news to overtly push a particular ideological slant.”

and on page 70 it says:

“These strategies show that invested parties are making a concerted
 effort to disseminate information in intentional ways with specific goals.”

When it says “individuals and organizations can disseminate information unvetted by formal sources”, does anyone think of the NGA, CCSSO, CCSSI, wealthy individuals, major corporations and foundations $upporting and promoting the Common Core? I didn’t think so. Why would you?

file0001155309316These statements raise some other questions. Does the mainstream media ever publish information from proponent press releases without substantiation? From opponents? We do have an unbiased objective mainstream media… don’t we? We would like to think so but all to often we see the so-called “professional” media publish unverified information in an unfettered manner. I wonder if that is okay as long as information and opinions are stated as fact, false or naught. The way Twitter seems to be portrayed as manipulating and spreading misinformation, you would think mainstream media is pure, never manipulating or spreading misinformation.

file000466827401Here’s a mix of taco filling comments that may, or naught, be related to research methods. The taco didn’t come out of nowhere—it came from page 37 and I really wanted to fit it in somewhere and this seemed as good a place as any.

The project undertakers appear to assume the adoption of the Common Core has been successful, yet successful adoption has not been defined so we don’t really know what constitutes success in their eyes.

file000202230960While it is understood the project focused on central actors, transmitters and transceivers, using Twitter, it does not take into account the possibility that many of those actors are also part of non-Twitter networks and may very well influence and be influenced by actors in those other networks. It is hard to imagine Twitter as the only source of information for these central actors or anyone else.

I have heard people question why Instagram, Facebook, or other social media were not included in this project. I can’t speak for the project undertakers but it make sense to me. Many social media platforms are not public. Tweets are publicly accessible and can be searched, stored, and mined to gather quantifiable data that can be confirmed and verified.

It says in the project report that the work was peer-reviewed. I wonder what that peer review process looked like. Would this “research” report survive the peer review process to be published in a reputable research journal? We may never know.

Miscategorization or mischaracterization? While I realize people, or tweeters, may need to be placed in categories for any number of reasons, in this case, research, questionable or naught, I question the loose broad position type categories used like education professional. Initially, I thought those conducting this activity did not provide clear definitions of the position type categories they used or how tweeters were assigned Untitledto these categories. Then on page 26, I found were it does define, loosely, “Education professionals were individuals who worked in, commentated on, or were otherwise part of the education profession.” Wow! I know lots of people who commentate on education and the profession, but they wouldn’t consider themselves as education professionals. Anthony Cody as an education professional, no problem. He had a career as an educator, mostly as a classroom teacher. I don’t see Michael Petrilli or Neal McCluskey as educational professionals even though they commentate. Both are foundation executives or officers and don’t seem to be working in or a part of the education system itself. Would they even be considered education bureaucrats? Are any classroom teachers across the country offended by this categorization? I know of at least one group outside education that was surprised to be categorized as being a group inside education.

Theoretically Speaking

To start this section, let’s consider two definitions of theory.

  1. file000278512533a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena
  2. a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual facts

While it is not clear, it appears that the project undertakers may be trusting unproven theories, or at least one. At any rate, they do bring up and rely on some theories in their work. Would using unproven theories lead people to believe they are undisputable fact? It may be questionable as to which definition applies to the theories used in this project. Let’s explore.

On page 46, the report says, “David McClelland’s seminal research in needs theory—a motivational model of human behavior created in conjunction with the Thematic Apperception Test.” The project has a heavy reliance on this theory. The statement says it is a motivational model. That doesn’t mean it is a proven theory. As I read more, I thought it sounded like Maslow’s Hierarchy. Maslow’s theory has made sense to a lot of people over the years but it lacks scientific support. Definition 2 would apply to Maslow’s theory. What about McClelland’s Need Theory focusing on achievement, power, and affiliation? Definition 1 or 2? One statement indicates there is more empirical evidence to support McClelland’s Need Theory. “McClelland’s theory is criticized for its lack of predictive power as it relates to entrepreneurship.” While there may be some empirical evidence to support this theory with regard to entrepreneurs and possible others, is there evidence or reason to believe it applies to the study population considered in this project? Definition 1.5 plus or minus .1 or .2, maybe or naught?

The Theory of Social Capital comes into play in the project big time on page 13. Definition 2 definitely applies and I wouldn’t rule out definition 1. There’s lots of studies and information available about this theory and there seems to be evidence to support it beyond conjecture but it is hard to tell. The linked video says there is no single social capital theory. It also says, “there’s a lot of contradicting and confusing theory out there trying to explain what social capital actually is.” It’s uncertain as to agreement on how social capital is defined as shown by the 20 definitions provided on a Definitions of Social Capital web page. With or without empirical evidence to support this theory, it does seem to provide a good perspective to use for this project.

8-03-2The project makes use of James Pennebaker’s lexical tendancies work. There is some indication this work is “more accurate than a polygraph.” Seems like fascinating work, especially with the now available technology. Interesting names of a book and a papers found in the references and online—The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us and Counting Little Words in Big Data: The Psychology of Communities, Culture, and History.
happyface
We or I (or you choose the pronoun) can have some fun with some of those little words and pronouns, especially if the little words are pronouns. Choose the pronoun depending on how you want to be analyzed. On page 42 of the report, it says, “…whereas the happy poet, using we, finds distance between themselves and their feelings and they share their experiences with others.” We are told happy people use “we” words, or third person pronouns. On page 49 it says, “Specifically, dishonest people employ fewer I words, more 3rd person pronouns, fewer number words…” So what should we infer from this? Should we infer that dishonest people are happy or that happy people are dishonest?

The four words that make up my concluding thoughts will fit within Twitter’s 140 character limit, but being a twittertard, I will not tweet them. My concluding thoughts seem to apply to life in general and may, or naught, apply to this article or the #commoncore Project. My favorite quote from Douglas Adams presents my concluding thoughts better than I could, “Reality is frequently inaccurate.” Have a diurnal anomaly.

NaughtyBots Part 1: Articles

NaughtyBots Part 2: Twittertards, TwitterBotsandNaughts, and Analog Man

NaughtyBots Part 3: Advocacy and Marginalization

NaughtyBots Part 4: Researchbots, Bought, or Naught, Theoretically Speaking?

Give the White House Your Feedback About the Dept. of Education

The Trump Administration is looking for feedback on reorganizing the executive branch, and they have set up a form on the White House website where you can share your input.

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, makes his appeal so he can submit a plan to President Trump in response to an executive order recently signed to start work on making the executive branch more efficient.

Ideas need to be submitted by June 12. Take this opportunity to share with President Trump ways he could make the U.S. Department of Education more efficient, by, say, eliminating it. (Just a suggestion). President Trump’s first budget cuts the U.S. Department of Education’s budget by $9 Billion, so we can encourage him to go further.

You can find the form here.