Five Problems with Massachusetts’ Draft History and Social Science Curriculum Framework

The Pioneer Institute released their public comment on the 2018 Massachusetts Public Comment Draft History and Social Science Curriculum Framework. The authors are David Randall with the National Association of Scholars, Will Fitzbaugh of The Concord Review, and Jane Robbins with American Principles Project.

They open their comment by writing:

The January 2018 Public Comment Draft of the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework (2018 Revision) follows in the footsteps of other recent revisions of the Science, English Language Arts and mathematics standards. In each case, the revised version of the standards has declined in content and coherence. Sadly, the 2018 Revision of the History and Social Science Curriculum Framework eviscerates the 2003 Framework.

They then list five deficiencies:

  1. „The 2003 Framework organized its curriculum around coherent sequences of American and European history; the 2018 Revision substitutes incoherent fragments that obstruct students from learning about historical progression.
  2. „Thee 2003 Framework provided crisply written standards that were easy for teachers to understand and incorporate into their classrooms; the 2018 Revision lengthens the standards by 50% and conveys them in unreadable education-school jargon.
  3. „The 2003 Framework gave students a history that provided a full account of our country’s European past and its own exceptional history; the 2018 Revision replaces much of that narrative with the history of politically correct protest movements.
  4. „The 2003 Framework gave students sufficient time to learn European and American history; the 2018 Revision abbreviates to deficiency the European and American history sequences.
  5. „Perhaps most importantly, the 2003 Framework ensured that parents and the public could judge how well Massachusetts schools taught history by culminating in a statewide test, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). e 2018 Revision eliminates assessment, and substitutes meaningless “expectations” for each grade.

They give the following suggestions to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for improving civics education in the Bay State.

  • Turn the American Government course, which is an elective in the 2003 Frameworks, into a required course;
  • Add a civics component to the MCAS test; and
  • Endorse the Civics Education Initiative, which has been enacted in 15 states and requires high school students to pass the same test those applying for U.S. citizenship must pass.

This public comment precedes a detailed analysis that the Pioneer Institute said will be released at a later date.

Read the public comment below:

South Dakota’s New Standards Are a Rebrand

When I wrote last week about the media reaction to a lack of public comment about the “new” South Dakota Academic Standards I said, “I have not reviewed the proposed math and ELA standards in comparison to the Common Core yet. Because of reviews and revisions that other states have completed, I’m not hopeful for significant change. I would like to be wrong though.”

I am not wrong and I am not surprised.

South Dakota Secretary of Education Don Kirkegaard said, “Common Core standards in South Dakota are officially gone.”

At best Kirkegaard’s statement is misleading. Megan Raposa with the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader reports:

But remnants of the controversial standards remain. More than remnants, really.

About 60 percent of the K-12 English language arts and math standards approved by the state Board of Education in Pierre last week were taken verbatim from Common Core, according to an Argus Leader analysis.

A line-by-line review showed that, in addition to the bullet points taken verbatim, those changed within a few words of the original Common Core language made up nearly 75 percent of the state’s updated standards.

“We don’t call it ‘Common Core,’ but the ghosts are there,” said Art Marmorstein, a Northern State University professor and advocate for local control in education.

The new standards, called simply “South Dakota State Standards,” will be fully implemented this fall.

The Associated Press reported the standards “mirror” Common Core:

Kirkegaard says it’s not unusual for standards to look similar after a revision.

Nicole Osmundson is a Sioux Falls parent who helped review the new standards. She says if the standards mirror what they were before, it’s because they’re good standards.

No, they were awful standards. They needed to be jettisoned and the standards writing team needed to start from scratch. Not only is this process and the rhetoric coming out of Kirkegaard’s mouth deceptive, but it’s also just lazy.

If they wanted to have some sort of baseline they should have started with their standards pre-Common Core and gone from there or used Massachusetts’ pre-Common Core ELA standards or California’s previous math standards.

Anything other than Common Core, not that the Every Students Succeeds Act makes that easy. It requires a state’s statewide assessment to be aligned to their standards. South Dakota uses Smarter Balanced as their statewide assessment. Abby Javurek, the Director of Assessment and Accountability with the South Dakota Department of Education, is the chair of their board.

There has not been any talk (that I’ve seen) about South Dakota changing its assessment and without changing their assessment they would be in violation of federal law. The rebrand was baked in.

The whole review and rewrite process was nothing but a farce.

Common Core Is Very Much Alive

Below is a guest article from Nicholas Tampio that was originally published at The Conversation and was republished here with their permission.

 DeVos said Common Core was ‘dead’ – it’s not

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By Nicholas Tampio, Fordham University

In a speech in Washington earlier this year, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos called the education standards known as the Common Core a “disaster” and proclaimed: “At the U.S. Department of Education, Common Core is dead.”

The reality, however, is that the Common Core is still very much alive. As indicated in a recent report from Achieve, 24 states have “reviewed and revised” their English and math standards under the Common Core. In some instances, such as in New York, the revised standards are known by a different name.

This is worth pointing out because, as a political scientist and as I argue in my new book, the Common Core has soured many people on public education and civic life in general. When one group of people decides the national education standards, other people feel alienated from the schools and the democratic process.

Criticism and praise

Many families oppose the Common Core and have refused to allow their children to take the associated end-of-year tests such as the PARCC, SBAC, ACT Aspire, or New York State Common Core 3-8 English Language Arts and Mathematics Tests. Critics argue that Common Core math expects students to justify their answers in ways that are “unnecessary and tedious.” Others note that the standards will not prepare many students to major in a STEM discipline in college. And for some scholars and parents, the “close textual reading” under Common Core makes learning a chore rather than a pleasure.

In 2013, then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the Common Core may “prove to be the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown versus Board of Education.” For Duncan and others, the Common Core promised to prepare all students to succeed in college, career and life.

Waning support

But that view did not align with popular support for the Common Core, which dropped from 83 percent to 50 percent between 2013 and 2016. For many parents and educators, the Common Core has made public education worse.

For critics such as author and former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, the Common Core is “fundamentally flawed” because of the way that the standards were developed. Common Core work group members included more people from the testing industry than experienced teachers, subject-matter experts or early childhood educators. According to some early childhood health and education professionals, the standards conflict with research about how children learn and how best to teach them.

What political opponents said

When President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., stated that the Republican congressional majority had “kept its promise to repeal the federal Common Core mandate.”

As a candidate for president, Donald J. Trump tweeted how he had been consistent in his opposition to the Common Core and argued that the federal government should “Get rid of Common Core — keep education local!”

It seemed only a matter of time before many states moved away from the Common Core.

As of 2018, however, nearly every state that adopted the Common Core during the Obama administration has kept the most important features. Across the country, students will take end-of-year tests that align with the Common Core.

Why the standards are still here

Alexander’s claim that Congress has repealed the Common Core mandate is misleading. The federal government has made it an expensive gamble for states to adopt education standards that differ from the Common Core.

According to the Every Student Succeeds Act, states that wish to adopt an alternative to the Common Core must now prove to the secretary of education that the standards are “challenging.”

According to the law, “each state shall demonstrate that the challenging state academic standards are aligned with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the system of public higher education in the State.” Most states adopted the Common Core as part of their “Race to the Top” applications during the Obama administration. Race to the Top gave an incentive to states to align high school graduation requirements and college entrance requirements with the new standards. States that keep the Common Core do not have to change anything to satisfy this provision. States that adopt new standards must prove to the secretary that high school graduates will be able to take credit-bearing courses as soon as they enter a public college or university.

In addition, the law requires states to adopt standards that align with “relevant State career and technical education standards.” The main Common Core reading standards are called the “college and career readiness anchor standards.” For states that want to meet this criterion of the law, the safest bet is to keep the Common Core.

States have a strong financial incentive to meet these criteria. The Every Student Succeeds Act directs approximately US$22 billion a year to states around the country, including over $700 million to Ohio, $1.6 billion to New York, $2 billion to Texas, and $2.6 billion to California. If a state fails to meet any of of the requirements of the law, “the Secretary may withhold funds for State administration under this part until the Secretary determines that the State has fulfilled those requirements.”

The ConversationSecretary of Education Betsy DeVos has approved virtually all plans that include the Common Core or a slightly modified version. According to Education Week, even when states have revised the standards, “the core of the Common Core remains.”

Nicholas Tampio is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Fordham University.

Let’s Not Let Students in California Control Taxpayer-Funded Budgets

I read an article in The Orange County Register that left me shaking my head. A columnist, Joe Mathews, suggested allowing students in California to control large district and state education budgets.

It is a colossally bad idea. It is a ridiculously bad idea. It is such a bad idea that I can’t believe he had the audacity to publicly articulate it.

Mathews writes:

California education finances are an unholy mess — with incomprehensible budget formulas, equity funding that doesn’t produce equity, and cuts to schools even during the current economic expansion. And our state’s so-called education leaders refuse to fix the system.

We should let the kids fix it instead.

This isn’t a modest proposal: I’m as serious as a month’s detention. To fashion something workable from California’s broken education-funding system, we should give budget powers to the students themselves.

It’s not a radical idea. Students already make financial decisions in schools in San Jose, Sacramento, Phoenix and Chicago — often about school-site capital spending — as part of a popular process called participatory budgeting. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio recently gave all his city’s public high schools these budget powers.

Typically, students in these processes spend less than $100,000 (though Paris, France allows students to allocate $10 million). But given California’s problems, we should expand participatory budgeting for bigger budgets at the district and statewide level.

You might argue that decisions about the $80 billion that California spends annually on schools should be made exclusively by adults.

Except that we’ve already let the adults do it, and it would be impossible for the kids to do worse.

Some obvious problems here: 1. Kids pay very, very little in taxes. Why in the world should a group who does little to fund the schools control the budget? They shouldn’t. 2. Kids are not accountable to taxpayers, elected officials are.

The claim that “adults” have had a chance to make decisions is a ridiculous notion. The problem is that the wrong adults with the wrong ideas have the majority in the California legislature. California, from this Midwestern’s perspective, seems to be run by people who think money grows on trees.

How about putting fiscally-disciplined adults in charge? By that, I mean adults who know how to budget. These are would run the state’s budget like they run their household budget or business budget.

If you put those people in charge that will clear up budgetary messes. Putting kids who lack life experience, maturity, budgetary knowledge, and wisdom in charge of education budgets would be a disaster.

Would Be Governors, Please, Ignore Fordham’s Ed Policy Cheat Sheet

I’ve noted Rick Hess and Sofia Gallo’s piece at Real Clear Policy which pointed out in the 36 gubernatorial contests this year, candidates are not saying a whole lot about education.

Well never fear Mike Petrilli with the Fordham Institute provides a cheat sheet at Real Clear Education.

Would be Governors, please, ignore it.

His first suggestion.

“Build thousands of new seats in high-quality career and technical education (CTE) programs.”

Hess and Gallo pointed out the one thing Governors have talked about is CTE. Workforce development is all the rage, and unfortunately, it has gutted education. It’s an unproven fad; it makes K-12 education subservient to corporate America, and students don’t come out of the pipeline with a well-rounded education. Companies need to pay for their employee training, and now they expect schools to do it.

So please, ignore the education reformer lingo. If you want to do something bold, talk up classical education. Otherwise, you are just parroting the latest jargon.

“Raise the bar for teacher tenure.”

Raise the bar? How about eliminating the bar by getting rid of teacher tenure. Who else does this beyond academia? I’m happy my home state of Iowa does not have tenure for K-12 teachers. It should be considered anathema.

Be bold, work to get rid of it.

“Thread the needle on curriculum reform.”

Petrilli writes:

For states with strong standards, assessments, and accountability systems — and gladly, that’s many more states than in the past — the next step is effective implementation.

Stop, lousy advice; governors should have absolutely NOTHING to say about curriculum. Leave curriculum decisions with locally-elected school boards. Also “effective implementation” of curriculum aligned to subpar standards and assessments is an oxymoron anyway.

Here’s the real cheat sheet.

1. Demand REAL flexibility from the U.S. Department of Education.

The Every Student Succeeds Act continues to expect states to ask the Secretary of Education “mother may I.” Governors need to strive to cut the apron strings. Governors who discuss this on the campaign trail, along with a plan for accomplishing that, are the bold candidates.

2. Quality standards, not subpar, top-down standards.

Would-be governors need to talk about how they will genuinely rid, not rebrand but rid their state of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. States can write their academic standards. Be even more radical and encourage local school districts to adopt their own.

We sent men to the moon with centralized standards, but if a state must have state, rather than local school district, standards then make sure they are quality, evidence-based, actually benchmarked, and field tested unlike what most states currently have.

3. End testing mania

Reduce the amount of assessments students have to take in your state. Support a parent’s right to opt their student out. That would be a fresh idea. That would be bold.

4. Protect student data.

Support and cheerlead legislation that severely reduces the amount of data that schools can collect. Also, leave individual student data with local schools. States should only have access to aggregate student data and even very little of that. Then eliminate any third-party access to student data. Also, mandate parental consent for data collection and protect a parent’s right to opt their student out of data collection beyond what is necessary.

Would-be governors who talk up these ideas I could get excited about.

When a University Embraces the Workforce Development Model of Education

University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point faces a $4.5 million deficit over the next two years because of declining enrollment and lower tuition revenues. They proposed earlier this month to add or expand 16 programs in areas with high-demand career paths as a way to maintain and increase enrollment.

They said in order to fund this investment “resources would be shifted from programs with lower enrollment, primarily in the traditional humanities and social sciences. Although some majors are proposed to be eliminated, courses would continue to be taught in these fields, and minors or certificates will be offered.”

Here are the programs they propose expanding:

  • Chemical Engineering
  • Computer Information Systems
  • Conservation Law Enforcement
  • Finance
  • Fire Science
  • Graphic Design
  • Management
  • Marketing

In addition, new bachelor’s (or advanced) degree programs are proposed in:

  • Aquaculture/Aquaponics
  • Captive Wildlife
  • Ecosystem Design and Remediation
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Geographic Information Science
  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Natural Resources
  • Doctor of Physical Therapy

I understand adding some of the majors and expanding some programs, colleges do prepare students for careers. But Aquaculture/Aquaponics?

Here are the subjects they plan to eliminate as a major.

  • American Studies
  • Art – Graphic Design will continue as a distinct major
  • English – English for teacher certification will continue
  • French
  • Geography
  • Geoscience
  • German
  • History – Social Science for teacher certification will continue
  • Music Literature
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Sociology — Social Work major will continue
  • Spanish

You can see what their current majors and minors are here.

Now we can certainly argue about the value of a degree in history or English, generally, if you plan on majoring in those subjects you plan to teach and go on for additional graduate work.

Here is a thought. If additional colleges and universities adopted this particular business model who will, down the road, be available to teach these subjects?

We’ve already seen classical education jettisoned in favor of workforce development at the K-12 level. Now workforce development goes to college.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually see these classes eliminated entirely.

South Dakota Adopts New Standards, Media Reports Zero Interest From General Public

The South Dakota Board of Education Standards adopted on Monday new standards in the following subjects:

  • Capstone courses
  • Career and technical education (business management & administration; government &
  • public administration; hospitality & tourism; marketing; transportation, distribution &
  • logistics)
  • English language arts
  • Health education
  • Math
  • Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards

You can review the current standards, proposed standards, workgroup information, and submit a comment here. (I have not reviewed the proposed math and ELA standards in comparison to the Common Core yet. Because of reviews and revisions that other states have completed I’m not hopeful for significant change. I would like to be wrong though.)

The South Dakota Joint Legislative Rules Review committee has to approve the changes.

South Dakota state law requires that the South Dakota Board of Education Standards review academic content standards on a cyclical basis. In addition, the board is required to host four public hearings as part of the standards review process. The adoption of the standards came after the conclusion of the fourth public hearing.

An overall lack of public comment during these “public hearings” which is just an open comment time during the board’s regular meetings caused the Watertown Public Opinion to conclude: “School-content standards draws zero interest from general public.”

Was it zero interest or was it that most people who care lack the ability to come to a state school board meeting that is held at 9:00a when most people work?

The board does hold their meetings at various locations. This week’s meeting was held in Pierre, the state capitol, and the last three were held in Aberdeen, Sioux Falls, and Rapid City.

They are still held during the work day, it’s almost like they want to discourage public input. If the board was serious about public input they would hold their public hearings at 7:00p rather than 9:00a. I’m self-employed, but even I have difficulty attending meetings at that time so I can imagine the difficulty for people who punch a clock or who are expected to keep regular office hours.

Also, considering the public outcry over the last few years following the adoption of Common Core both nationally and in South Dakota how can anyone conclude there is not public interest?

Unfortunately, many people may have also concluded that petitioning the South Dakota Board of Education Standards (or any state board of education) is largely a waste of time. I think that is sad, but that skepticism says more about the established educracy than it does the general public.

That said, it’s important for concerned citizens to stay engaged if, for nothing else, to prevent the narrative that we don’t care.

Kids Need Recess

Photo Credit: SmartSign (CC-By-2.0)

Most of my elementary school memories are of recess, time I was able to spend with my friends and take a break from the school day. I remember playing on equipment that has largely disappeared from school playgrounds. I remember a favorite teacher coming out and playing catch with the boys.

I also remember running for my life when a girl named Christie tried kissing me in third grade when I was volunteered to be “the groom” for a make-believe wedding at the merry-go-round.

I guess not every memory is a pleasant one.

The thing I remember most is getting a significant break from the montony of the school day which was very much needed.

With the standards and accountability movement in education, along with its hyper-focus on testing, recess has become a luxury instead of a necessity for elementary school students.

It’s ridiculous. Even adults need a break during their workday, and kids are not adults. They need even more time. Now some states have passed laws stating students must have at least 20 minutes of recess.

I call that a start, but in actuality it should be more.

Time in a feature addressing the “recess debate” cites some of the evidence in support of recess:

A 2009 study found that 8- and 9-year-old children who had at least one daily recess period of more than 15 minutes had better classroom behavior. The study also found that black students and students from low-income families were more likely to be given no recess or minimal recess. That report reinforced the results of a 1998 study, which found that when 43 fourth-grade students were given recess, they worked more or fidgeted less than when they were not given recess.

When recess is eliminated or reduced, it is often because a school is allocating more time to subjects covered on standardized tests, aiming to improve student achievement. But a 2010 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found positive associations between recess and academic performance. “There is substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores,” the report said.

Another study, from 2016, found that young boys who spent more time sitting and less time playing didn’t progress as quickly in reading and math.

Studies also show that recess can improve student nutrition when held before lunchtime. A 2014 study published in Preventive Medicine found that holding recess before lunch increased students’ fruit and vegetable consumption by 54%.

This is simply common sense, something that it seems a lot of educrats have lacked as they push their reforms not considering the unintended consequences.

Louisiana Elementary Schools Are Teaching Cursive Again

Last year, Louisiana joined 15 other states requiring that children are taught cursive in elementary school. The law went into effect this year, and New Orleans Public Radio highlighted the change.

Susan Roesgen reports:

Educational studies have shown that taking notes in cursive is better for students’ brain development, better than printing or typing on a keyboard.

Teacher Niki Gazley agrees. She’s teaching cursive this semester to her second-grade students at Cedarwood School in Mandeville.

“There is so much research out there about cursive,” says Gazley. “Children are accessing both hemispheres of the brain, when in printing it’s only one hemisphere. So they’re actually… building more circuitry in the brain, which is making them smarter.”

Gazely also says the kids seem to enjoy it, taking pride in carefully crafting each looping letter on worksheets at their desks.

“It’s kind of different from printing,” says second-grader Regan King, “It’s like you’re drawing.”

Cedarwood Principal, Kathy LeBlanc agrees with Gazely that learning cursive at this age will help students long after grade school.

“Learning is scaffolding, we scaffold skills,” says LeBlanc. “Students who master cursive at this age will go on to college more efficient at taking notes, so it’s a skill they will use their entire life.”

Louisiana students will be better off with the opportunity to relearn this skill. Children do need to be able to read important historical documents, as well as, the handwritten letters they may get from their grandma. There are other benefits as well as Dr. William Klemm summarized in a Psychology Today article he wrote in 2013.

He said it helps with hand-eye coordination, but it does more than that (reaffirming what Ms. Gazley said in the excerpt above).

Handwriting dynamically engages widespread areas of both cerebral hemispheres. Virginia Berninger, a researcher and professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says that brain scans during handwriting show activation of massive regions of the brain involved in thinking, language, and working memory.

Learning to type makes little demand on the brain: you just have to punch a key. Learning to touch type (typing without looking at the keys) is mentally demanding, and I encourage that kind of teaching too. One should not be taught at the expense of the other.

He also notes that it has a positive psychological effect as well:

Since, reproducing a single letter is rather easy, the child knows that success if obtainable. Positive feedback, instant and specific, comes from the very act itself.

Without realizing it, children learning cursive are also learning self-discipline. I can’t think of any school task more important than that.

As each letter is mastered, the child says “I can do this! I can even do this better!” Then it is just a matter of moving on to mastery of the next letter and eventually to the relatively easy task of joining letters. Maybe the best emotional boost of all is when children learn they have acquired this skill on their own. All the teacher did was show them how to hold and move a pencil and show them the objective. Nobody force-fed this new skill into their brain. They did it themselves.

So I applaud Louisiana for this new law, and I hope states that don’t yet require cursive will join the 16 states like Louisiana and Alabama who do.

President Trump Calls for a Review of FERPA

Photo credit: Nick Youngson (CC BY-SA 3.0)

On Monday, the White House announced that President Donald Trump’s school security plan also includes a review of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

It falls under his mental health reform proposal part of the plan. He is “proposing an expansion and reform of mental health programs, including those that help identify and treat individuals who may be a threat to themselves or others.”

The plan includes “increased integration of mental health, primary care, and family services, as well as support for programs that utilize court-ordered treatment.”

Along with FERPA he is calling for a review of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and other statutory and regulatory privacy protections.

The White House said, “Reviews will determine if any changes or clarifications are needed to improve coordination between mental health and other healthcare professionals, school officials, and law enforcement personnel.”

There are obvious privacy concerns. FERPA needs to be strengthened and the White House’s goal is the opposite of that.

Currently, according to the U.S. Department of Education,  FERPA allows schools to disclose a student’s education records, without parental consent, to the following parties or under the following conditions (34 CFR § 99.31):

  • School officials with legitimate educational interest;
  • Other schools to which a student is transferring;
  • Specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes;
  • Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student;
  • Organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school;
  • Accrediting organizations;
  • To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena;
  • Appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies; and
  • State and local authorities, within a juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific State law.

They are also allowed to share “directory” information such as: a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance without parental consent.

Under FERPA, schools must tell parents and eligible students about that directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them.