Silicon Valley’s Influence on Public Education

The New York Times published an interesting article about how Silicon Valley companies have pushed coding into public schools.

Natasha Singer writes:

At a White House gathering of tech titans last week, Timothy D. Cook, the chief executive of Apple, delivered a blunt message to President Trump on how public schools could better serve the nation’s needs. To help solve a “huge deficit in the skills that we need today,” Mr. Cook said, the government should do its part to make sure students learn computer programming.

“Coding,” Mr. Cook told the president, “should be a requirement in every public school.”

The Apple chief’s education mandate was just the latest tech company push for coding courses in schools. But even without Mr. Trump’s support, Silicon Valley is already advancing that agenda — thanks largely to the marketing prowess of Code.org, an industry-backed nonprofit group.

This push coincides with corporations’ interest in public education and a shift to a focus on workforce development to be ready for “21st-century jobs.”

Would these jobs certainly include computer programming right?

The article questions the motives behind this.

Computer science is also essential to American tech companies, which have become heavily reliant on foreign engineers. Mr. Trump’s efforts to limit immigration make Code.org’s teach-Americans-to-code agenda even more attractive to the industry.

In a few short years, Code.org has raised more than $60 million from Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Salesforce, along with individual tech executives and foundations. It has helped to persuade two dozen states to change their education policies and laws, Mr. Partovi said, while creating free introductory coding lessons, called Hour of Code, which more than 100 million students worldwide have tried….

…. But Code.org’s multilevel influence machine also raises the question of whether Silicon Valley is swaying public schools to serve its own interests — in this case, its need for software engineers — with little scrutiny. “If I were a state legislator, I would certainly be wondering about motives,” said Sarah Reckhow, an assistant professor of political science at Michigan State University. “You want to see public investment in a skill set that is the skill set you need for your business?”

Public dollars to help prepare future employees for these companies. There was a time workforce development, and job training was done by the companies themselves. Now they want us to pay for it.

Standards Drive Curriculum

Teacher at Maxwell AFB Elementary/Middle School
(Air Force photo/Kelly Deichert)

I had an interesting conversation with a school superintendent in Northwest Iowa this week. He was adamant about his school district’s control over curriculum. It’s true in Iowa and most (if not all) states that state departments of education do not dictate curriculum and textbook decisions.

He noted that they barely buy textbooks anymore because they write their curriculum and their teachers use multiple resources because he said no one textbook can provide everything they want to teach.

I’m not chained to the notion of using textbooks, and having taught I can certainly agree that finding the best resources for the particular topic being taught is beneficial. That forces teachers and schools to be all that much more transparent about what is being used to teach students so parents can be informed.

That’s a challenge, however. I asked how they inform parents what is being taught if they can’t peruse a textbook. He said “should” (he didn’t say that it is) be on the teacher’s website and if it isn’t – “that’s on us.”

I’m not sure saying oops, my bad cuts it, but ok. Parents need to be proactive to find out what teachers are teaching.

The superintendent then said something fascinating to me, “buying textbooks would force us to adopt California or Texas values.”

I’m not so certain post-Common Core how much Texas drives curriculum, but I do know a block of, initially, 46 states adopting Common Core did.

He had a problem with California and Texas pushing textbooks but didn’t have a problem with Bill Gates, National Governors’ Association, and Council of Chief State School Officers driving top-down standards. We didn’t discuss the Next Generation Science Standards or C3 Framework for State Social Studies Standards, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to assume he’s in favor of those as well.

He told me it’s good to make sure everyone is learning the same thing. This argument assumes there wasn’t some commonality before, and second, he acknowledged that demographics impact what happens in schools. Third, if everyone is learning the same thing doesn’t that weaken his claim about his teachers’ designing their curriculum?

Standards drive curriculum, especially if they are aligned to assessments, even if you develop your own. So certainly there is variation, there will always be variation because there isn’t one national test and each school uses a different curriculum. You do see themes crop up, however – like using reform math, as well as, an emphasis on informational text. Also, teachers and schools have to show how their lesson plans are connecting with standards because the state is requiring that they implement them. Several special education teachers have expressed frustration with how they had to show how IEPs they write back into the Iowa Core. Then his school implemented standards-based grading, a shift that certainly wouldn’t have taken place without the standards and accountability push.

But yeah, tell me how much control you have over your curriculum. True freedom would be able to control your own standards and assessments.

State Accountability Plans’ Relative Silence on Common Core

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Alyson Klein writes at Education Week that Common Core is barely mentioned in the state accountability plans that states are submitting to the U.S. Department of Education.

There’s barely a whisper about the standards in the seventeen ESSA plans that have been turned in so far, an Education Week review found. That’s true even though all but two of the states who have turned in their plans are using the standards.

Of the states still using the common core, eight—Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, and North Dakota—only mention the standards once in their applications, or not at all. And Michigan’s application has the words “common core” three times, but only to talk about all the negative comments it has received about the standards. So that doesn’t really count.

And even the states that do talk about the common core don’t do it at great length. Common core comes up most often in the District of Columbia’s application, which mentions the standards just six times.

That’s a big contrast from the last round of state accountability plans—applications for the Obama administration’s waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act—which were chock full of common core references.

To be sure, states weren’t asked to go into detail about their standards in their ESSA applications. The new law requires states to set standards that get kids ready for college and/or the workforce, but the feds don’t have any say in what those standards are.

After the Obama administration boosted the common core in a couple of ways, the lawmakers who wrote ESSA tried to prevent that from happening again. The law prohibits the secretary from linking the adoption of a particular set of standards to money or flexibility.

Regarding the silence we see….

Ok, first off, this is a review of only 17 plans. Second, as Alyson mentions, states are still very much use Common Core – most states don’t use the name, however. Third, I think you see states omitting Common Core in their state plans for a couple of reasons – they don’t want to draw attention to the fact they are still using them (or a rebranded version of them). Then, as Alyson mentioned, they don’t have to go into great detail about their standards, so they don’t.

Regarding her comments about the Every Student Succeeds Act, she promotes some misconceptions. They codified Common Core advocate language in the law and then patted themselves on the back for “getting rid of Common Core.” No, they just helped Common Core stay further entrenched.

The law does prohibit the Secretary of Education from linking the adoption of a “particular set of standards to money or flexibility.” At the same time, it also gives the Secretary of Education the power to approve or reject state plans. It also requires alignment of a state’s standards with their assessments. Something that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says is an appropriate role for the federal government.

So excuse me if I don’t sing ESSA’s praises.

Ohio requests feedback on updated academic standards.

Dr. Robert Lattimer with Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) contacted me to inform me that Ohio is looking for feedback on its science, social studies, and financial literacy standards. Below is information that he provided to his group.

The Ohio Department of Education is updating the state’s science, social studies, and financial literacy standards.  The Department is currently taking input on its proposed revisions (https://www.ohio-k12.help/standards/).  The deadline for providing feedback is JULY 18. 

Ohio’s science standards date back to 2011 (before the introduction of the Next Generation Science Standards).  The standards provide a heavy dose of materialistic philosophy, especially in the area of biological evolution.  Overall, the Ohio standards are just as objectionable and biased as NGSS.

The proposed 2017 revisions are generally minor in most areas of science.  However, the 8th grade and high school Biology standards have extensive updates.  In particular, the dogmatic coverage of biological evolution has been strengthened and extended.  You are encouraged to provide input on these standards (and others if you choose). 

The on-line response form is easy to use.  A space is provided on the form for comments on the various standards.  Note that the social studies and financial literacy updates are very brief and there isn’t much to object to.  Science is the real problem area.

The review form asks the participant to select an Ohio county.  For those respondents who live in other states, you can check the “State Level Sites” option instead of a county.  A list of suggested comments for the biology standards is available; you may request a copy by e-mail (rplattimer@gmail.com).

Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester Dead at 65

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced on Tuesday that Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester passed away on Monday night after a fight with cancer. He was 65.

Chester began his career as an elementary school teacher in Connecticut and later served as a middle school assistant principal and district curriculum coordinator. From there he moved to the Connecticut State Department of Education, where he oversaw curriculum and instructional programs. In 1997, he was named the executive director for accountability and assessment for Philadelphia. In 2001, he moved to Ohio, where he served as the senior associate superintendent for policy and accountability for the Ohio Department of Education. He was named Massachusetts’ education commissioner in 2008.

Chester was a proponent of the Common Core State Standards. He also chaired the PARCC Board of Governors until the state pulled back to create a PARCC-MCAS hybrid assessment.

“On behalf of the entire administration, Lieutenant Governor Polito and I extend our deepest condolences to Commissioner Chester’s family, friends and colleagues at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education during this difficult time,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said. “Commissioner Chester was a dedicated educator and accomplished public servant. His leadership improved the lives of thousands of the Commonwealth’s students and helped make our public school system a national leader. He will be terribly missed by all.”

“Mitchell Chester was proud of the Commonwealth’s strong education system and dedicated to spreading that strength to all students, whether they lived in Lawrence or the Berkshires,” Education Secretary James Peyser stated. “He will be sorely missed.”

“Mitchell brought his tremendous intellect, a listening ear, and his concern for students to the work of the Board and the Department,” Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Chair Paul Sagan stated. “The strength and dedication of his team reflects his strength and passion as a leader, and his passing is a loss for Massachusetts.”

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education named Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson acting commissioner.

Some Fed Ed Regulations Under the Microscope

Last week, I highlighted the news that the U.S. Department of Education is looking for public feedback on different federal education regulations.

Several people asked me what regulations they could comment on since the website for that wasn’t exactly straightforward. Here are a few regulations, identified by the taskforce, that are related to K-12 education.

This list is NOT exhaustive (click links to read the regulations):

These regulations are not new so they are not open for comment at Regulations.gov so what I would do is leave a comment on the notice the U.S. Department of Education released last week.

If I learn of additional regulations to add or additional information I’ll post again. Just remember comments are due by August 21, 2017.

Beware of Experts in Education Policy

Frederick Hess, resident scholar and director of education policies at American Enterprise Institute, warned that we should beware of experts, especially those in education policy, in AEI’s latest In 60 Seconds video.

Watch below:

Hess is right.

Hess mentioned education policy experts brought us No Child Left Behind and School Improvement Grants that did more harm than good. Had he had more time, based on Hess’ writings, I’m sure Race to the Top and Common Core would make his list as well.

Education policy experts often think top-down when the best solutions typically come from the local level. Top-down “experts” will never know local schools as well as parents, teachers, and administrators involved in those schools and school districts do.

I have yet to see a top-down idea work. I wouldn’t put much stock into education policy “experts” unless they are pushing local control and local solutions for problems in public education.

The Trump Administration Wants Feedback on Cutting Education Regulations

Education Secretary Betsy DeVoss and President Donald Trump at St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, FL

The Trump Administration via the U.S. Department of Education just announced they are soliciting public feedback on cutting back and/or getting rid of burdensome education regulations.

This notice is in response to Executive Order 13777 that President Trump signed back in February directing his agency heads and cabinet members to enforce the regulatory reform agenda of his administration.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos commented on the department’s regulatory reform task force’s progress.

The Regulatory Reform Task Force has been hard at work over the last few months cataloging over 150 regulations and more than 1,700 pieces of policy guidance on the books at the Department of Education. As their work continues, they have been tasked with providing recommendations on which regulations to repeal, modify or keep in an effort to ensure those that remain adequately protect students while giving states, institutions, teachers, parents and students the flexibility needed to improve student achievement.

To ensure an open and transparent process, the Task Force’s progress report will be published on the Department of Education’s website. I look forward to the Task Force’s continued work and to hearing from the public as we work to prioritize the needs of students over unnecessary and burdensome requirements.

Trump’s order required each department’s regulatory reform task force to, at a minimum, look for regulations that:

(i) eliminate jobs, or inhibit job creation;

(ii) are outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective;

(iii) impose costs that exceed benefits;

(iv) create a serious inconsistency or otherwise interfere with regulatory reform initiatives and policies;

(v) are inconsistent with the requirements of section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act, 2001 (44 U.S.C. 3516 note), or the guidance issued pursuant to that provision, in particular those regulations that rely in whole or in part on data, information, or methods that are not publicly available or that are insufficiently transparent to meet the standard for reproducibility; or

(vi) derive from or implement Executive Orders or other Presidential directives that have been subsequently rescinded or substantially modified.

The department has published their notice here. Comments are due by August 21, 2017. To make comments electronically you need to go to www.regulations.gov. To learn how to leave a comment, go to the help section and click on the “submit a comment” tab.

Another Mess ESSA Made

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

Jay Matthews writing at The Washington Post last week pointed out another problem the Every Student Succeeds Act caused for states and school districts.

How do you identify an ineffective teacher?

He writes:

In 2015 both parties in both houses of Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, now the primary federal statute on schools. It barred the U.S. secretary of education from telling states how to assess teachers. But in the spirit of confusing bipartisanship, the new law also insisted each state define what an ineffective teacher was and make sure there aren’t a disproportionate number of them teaching poor and minority children.

The new law embraced one of the great myths of 21st century American education: just identify the bad teachers, improve them or fire them, and all will be well.

Many people have believed versions of that, including me. But the past 10 years have shaken the faithful. Using test scores or even humans to assess teachers is too vulnerable to factors out of teachers’ control, such as poverty, curriculum, leadership or happenstance.

The assessments don’t consistently predict classroom success. Often they just drive serious educators crazy.

State governments have been fumbling, and in most cases avoiding, the federal requirement that they come up with a definition of ineffectiveness. In an incisive piece in Education Week, Daarel Burnette II pointed out that only 17 states have so far submitted plans under the law, and many of those have said little or nothing about what makes a bad teacher.

When Burnette and the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and advocacy group, asked Michigan, for instance, about the lack of a definition in its plan, Michigan said, in effect, “Oops, we forgot,” and tried again.

States can’t win this game.

Any statement on ineffective teachers approved by the committees that do such things is going to be vague, unrealistic and annoying to our best educators.

Read the whole piece here.

U.S. Department of Labor Funds States to Link Workforce to Education Data

The U.S. Department of Labor announced they awarded $11.4 million in state grants to “develop, enhance state workforce databases.”

Here’s the text of the press release from Friday:

The U.S. Department of Labor announced today the award of $11.4 million in federal Workforce Data Quality Initiative grants. The grants are designed to increase efficiency and effectiveness of these programs.

The department awarded six grants – each approximately $1 million – to eligible State Workforce Agencies in Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Missouri for the development or enhancement of a state workforce longitudinal administrative database. These databases include information on programs that provide training and employment services and allow tracking of similar information on identical subjects at multiple points in time.

For the first time, the department awarded two grants of $2.7 million to SWAs for the integration of their states’ case management, performance reporting, and/or fiscal reporting systems with their states’ longitudinal administrative databases. The grants are awarded to SWAs in Mississippi and Rhode Island.

“This administration is committed to reinvigorating workforce development systems in America,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. “Access to high-quality data is essential to making good, evidence-based decisions. These Workforce Data Quality Initiative grants help states and local agencies improve the quality and breadth of workforce data, which will benefit businesses, workers and job seekers.”

Grantees will be expected to use their longitudinal databases to conduct research and analysis aimed at determining the effectiveness of workforce and education programs, and to develop tools to better inform customers about the benefits of the publicly funded workforce system.

WDQI databases include information on programs that provide training and employment services, and connect with education data. They may be linked at the individual level and are capable of generating workforce training provider performance information and outcomes, including information and outcomes relevant to Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act performance reporting, in a standardized, easy-to-understand format to help customers select the education and training programs that best suit their needs.

Grantees will be expected to achieve multiple objectives during the three-year grant period. Objectives include:

  • Developing or improving their state workforce longitudinal administrative databases.
  • Connecting workforce data with education data.
  • Improving the quality and breadth of the data in workforce longitudinal administrative databases.
  • Using longitudinal data to provide useful information about program operations.
  • Evaluating the performance of education and employment training programs.
  • Providing user-friendly information to consumers to help them select the education and training programs that best suit their needs.
  • Integrating performance, fiscal, and/or case management systems with the longitudinal administrative database.

One of the objectives is to connect “workforce data with education data” that “may be linked at the individual level.” Sure, what could go wrong here? *Snort*

This isn’t new. Student data privacy advocates have warned about the expansion of these databases to track your student from birth or preschool all the way to their participation in the workforce.