Parental Requests to See Curriculum Should NEVER Be Denied

There is a troubling story out of Texas this week that deals with the human sexuality curriculum used in the Fort Worth Independent School District. Parents, apparently, have attempted to get their hands on a copy and now the Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, has demanded a copy.

I point this out not because of the subject matter per se, our readers are probably on different sides of this issue, but the fact parents are having problems getting their hands on the curriculum to review.

Parental requests to see curriculum, no matter the subject material, should NEVER be denied. Parents and taxpayers, in general, have a right to know what is going on in their public schools.

I’m glad to see Attorney General Paxton is getting involved, but the simple fact is this – he should not have had to.

The Texas Tribune reports:

Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner on Thursday evening demanding he hand over a copy of the district’s controversial sixth-grade human sexuality curriculum, which includes lessons about gender identity and sexual orientation.

Paxton claimed in the letter that district officials were repeatedly denying parents access to the curriculum or textbooks, which he said are in use in 22 schools across the district. He said children who asked to take their textbooks home or take a photo of the curriculum were denied.

Paxton cited state and federal laws that give parents access to “all written records of a school district concerning the parent’s child” and “the right to inspect and review the education records of their children.”

Stand for Fort Worth, a parental rights group opposed to having their children learn about gender identity, has been calling on Fort Worth ISD officials to hand over the textbooks and curriculum for months, arguing the district should have asked their permission before moving forward with the curriculum, according to the Star-Telegram.

Read Attorney General Paxon’s letter below:

Why Gates’ Big Data Experiment Assessing Teacher Performance Failed

Cathy O’Neil, a mathematician, hedge-fund analyst and data scientist, points out in a piece for Bloomberg yesterday why the Gates’ Foundation’s Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching experiment not only failed but did actual harm to public schools.

Gathering data from assessments, principal observations of teachers, and evaluations from students and teachers they used an algorithm to determine whether a teacher was adding value.

She writes that the goal was to reward the good teachers and root out the bad.

She writes:

Laudable as the intention may have been, it didn’t work. As the independent assessment, produced by the Rand Corporation, put it: “The initiative did not achieve its goals for student achievement or graduation,” particularly for low-income minority students. The report, however, stops short of drawing what I see as the more important conclusion: The approach that the Gates program epitomizes has actually done damage. It has unfairly ruined careers, driving teachers out of the profession amid a nationwide shortage. And its flawed use of metrics has undermined science.

The program’s underlying assumption, common in the world of “big data,” is that data is good and more data is better. To that end, genuine efforts were made to gather as much potentially relevant information as possible. As such programs go, this was the best-case scenario.

Still, to a statistician, the problems are apparent. Principals tend to give almost all teachers great scores — a flaw that the Rand report found to be increasingly true in the latest observational frameworks, even though some teachers found them useful. The value-added models used to rate teachers — typically black boxes whose inner workings are kept secret — are known to be little better than random number generators, and the ones used in the Gates program were no exception. The models’ best defense was that the addition of other measures could mitigate their flaws — a terrible recommendation for a supposedly scientific instrument. Those other measures, such as parent and student surveys, are also biased: As every pollster knows, the answer depends on how you frame the question.

Read the whole thing.

It must be awesome to get to purchase education policy. How many schools, teachers, and students will they experiment on when they finally learn that this is not the way to go about determining education policy?

Duke Pesta Discusses Proposed Education & Labor Department Merger

Dr. Duke Pesta and Alex Newman with FreedomProject Media note that despite being marketed as an effort to shrink the federal government, the Trump administration’s proposal to merge the U.S. Department of Labor with the U.S. Department of Education is being criticized from all sides. Especially critical, though, have been many leading conservative education activists, who argue that the plan fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of education.

They discuss.

No, We Don’t Need to Protect the U.S. Department of Education

Andre Perry with the Brookings Institution wrote a piece for The Hechinger Report that I wanted to respond to. He responded to the news that the Trump Administration’s proposal to merge the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor.

I share his concern about the merger, but we come to entirely different conclusions. He wants to protect the U.S. Department of Education. I want to stop the merger, sure, but I’d rather end the department.

First, he said a couple of things that I agree with.

1. Government should be “rebooted.”

The notion of a governmental reboot seems fair enough. Government bureaucracies that grow over time can be anathema to innovation and efficiency. Technology has challenged the way we engage with all institutions, and the federal government could certainly improve its use of technology to better deliver services.

A leaner bureaucracy is not a bad thing. That should be something we welcome. Eliminating redundant programs are not a bad thing. I noted at Caffeinated Thoughts that there are a number of laudable things within the government reform plan. This particular merger isn’t one of them.

2. Education is more than workforce development.

Perry notes that “to collapse education and labor into a single agency” will “reduce education’s role in developing full human beings.”

He adds, “Students are more than widget makers for the economy.”

I agree and have said that a merger between the education and labor departments would institutionalize workforce development as an education model.

He continues:

Children need to view themselves as full human beings, as citizens even, something a good liberal arts foundation provides. By limiting education to a workforce development function and downplaying its political, social and development roles, the conservative position that education must be in service to the workforce benefits those who are currently in power, and education leaders are aggressively converting that belief into policy.

A caveat, twice in this piece he calls this idea a conservative one. It is not.

Where Perry goes off the rails.

1. The Education Department is not too big, too important to merge with another department.

The reality is that the Departments of Education and Labor are big enough and important enough to be standalone agencies. Unschooled reductions in government and reflexive conservatism create more problems and inefficiencies than they purport to resolve.

No, it’s not. Is Perry under the presumption that education did not happen pre-1976 when President and Congress made it a stand-alone cabinet-level department? Certainly, that is not the case. What would happen should the department be eliminated altogether? Kids would still be educated.

2. Don’t make this about race.

The White House’s new effort to diminish the Department of Education comes at a time when whites have to transition to being minorities. In 2014, white students became the minority in our public schools (partly a result of white students’ overrepresentation in private schools). And a way to prevent numerical power from converting into political and economic power is to see the majority of its public students as “its,” as workers, not citizens.

This just muddies the opposition to this proposed merger. Does workforce development as an education model have negative implications for minority students? Sure, I understand that concern when there are still performance gaps between minority and white students on standardized assessments and a student’s place on the pipeline will likely be decided by assessments.

Is that the motivation behind this? No, it’s more about corporate workforce needs and the bottom line than anything else. The only color that matters in this discussion is green.

The U.S. Department of Education does not need protection.

It needs to be eliminated, and the proposed merger does not eliminate a single thing from the current department.

The fact is the idea of federal oversight in education is an unconstitutional one. The protection of civil rights is the only involvement the federal government legitimately has. Do they need a stand-alone department for that? No, this is something the U.S. Department of Justice can handle.

We sent a man to the moon before the U.S. Department of Education. Its presence has not improved K-12 education in our nation, in fact, it has done the opposite.

White House Petition Against Education and Labor Department Merger Launched

Karen Bracken, a parent activist in Tennessee, launched a White House petition for citizens to express their opposition to the proposed merger between the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor.

It reads:

Education was never about getting a job. When we make education about getting a job we are no longer educating future American citizens we are training human capital to meet the needs of the corporate world. A truly “educated” citizen is capable of learning anything to be successful. A “trained” citizen becomes an obedient slave. The schools are to educate. The employer is to train. Using the education system to provide trained workers is NOT education. C. S. Lewis said it best “If education is beaten by training, civilization dies,” NO MERGER!!

You can go here to sign if you like.

The petition needs 100,000 signatures by July 24th to receive a response from the White House. At the time of this writing, they had 494 signatures. So if you oppose the merger I’d encourage you to go sign.

DeVos, Foxx Celebrate Announced Merger of Education and Labor Departments

Betsy DeVos at CPAC 2017

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Committee
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

After the White House announced it’s government reform plan on Thursday that includes a proposed merger between the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos lauded the decision.

“President Trump campaigned and won with his promise to reduce the federal footprint in education and to make the federal government more efficient and effective. Today’s bold reform proposal takes a big step toward fulfilling that promise. Artificial barriers between education and workforce programs have existed for far too long. We must reform our 20th century federal agencies to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” DeVos said in a released statement.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality,” she added.

First, the fact that DeVos issued a statement, but U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta did not, gives us an idea who will remain a part of President Trump’s cabinet.

Secondly, DeVos celebrates the elimination of “artificial barriers between education and workforce programs.” What artificial barriers?

She’s not allow in celebrating. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce lauded the proposal as well.

“The federal government is long overdue for a serious overhaul. The proposed Department of Education and the Workforce is recognition of the clear relationship between education policy at every level and the needs of the growing American workforce. At the Committee on Education and the Workforce, we make these connections in everything we do. We welcome the administration’s focus on education and workforce issues together, and as we continue our oversight over the Department of Education and the Department of Labor, we look forward to working with the administration on the proposal and how the new department could function to best serve American students, workers, job creators, and families,” Fox wrote.

No word from U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, chair of the U.S. Senate HELP Committee, however. Which makes me think the proposal may have a harder time passing the U.S. Senate.

As I said yesterday, this institutionalizes “workforce development” as the education model and that is being celebrated this week.

Pioneer Institute Study: Massachusetts “Eviscerates” Its K-12 History Standards

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education should reject a proposed rewrite of the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework in its entirety and immediately restore the state’s 2003 framework, considered among the strongest in the country, according to a new research paper titled, No Longer a City on a Hill: Massachusetts Degrades Its K-12 History Standards, published by Pioneer Institute.

“The 2018 revision fails to provide effective history education. It must be replaced with a framework that requires much of students but offers them, in return, a share of our common treasure,” wrote the paper’s authors, David Randall, director of research at the National Association of Scholars; Will Fitzhugh, founder of the The Concord Review; and Jane Robbins, senior fellow at the American Principles Project.

The authors argue that the draft of the new framework, released for public comment in January, “eviscerates” the 2003 framework and degrades it in five ways.

  1.  It replaces coherent sequences of American and European history with incoherent fragments.
  2.  It is 50 percent longer than the 2003 framework and presents the standards in “unreadable education-school jargon.”
  3.  It replaces the earlier framework’s full account of our country’s European past and replaces much of it with “the history of politically correct protest movements.”
  4. It allots insufficient time for students to learn European and American history.
  5. It eliminates the already developed 2009 history MCAS assessment and substitutes hollow “expectations” for each grade.

“Each of the 2018 Revision’s failings is sufficient to disqualify it as an adequate standard for K-12 history instruction,” according to the authors. “It should be rejected outright.”

“It’s truly a travesty to see the loss of curriculum standards that helped catapult Massachusetts to national leader in education. First the state replaced its excellent English language arts and math standards with Common Core, and now it discards its stellar history standards in favor of progressive propaganda. This white paper aims to address the heart of these issues and suggest a way the state can reclaim its much lauded educational heritage,” Robbins said in a released statement.

In 2003 the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework was created as part of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act. It contained grade-by-grade standards for core essential learning. While history instruction in K-12 schools has been in decline for decades, according to the authors, history education in Massachusetts has fared better until changes were made in 2009.

In 2009 the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) suspended the history and social science framework. In 2016 the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) introduced a rewrite of the framework, the result of what the authors called “an exercise in progressive educational propaganda and vocational training for how to be a political activist.” The rewrite was approved by BESE and posted for public comment in January 2018.

Along with rejecting the revised standards outright, the authors made several recommendations on ways that DESE could strengthen civics instruction in the state.

These include turning the 2003 framework’s United States Government elective into a required course; endorsing the Civics Education Initiative, already enacted in 15 states, which requires high school students to pass the same test that immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship must pass; and adding a civics component to the MCAS history test.

The Trump Administration Proposes to Merge Education, Labor Departments

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

***See update below***

The White House plans to propose today merging the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

A source within the Trump Administration with knowledge of the proposal told the Wall Street Journal that the plan is the result of a review of Cabinet agencies ordered by the President to look for ways to shrink the federal government.

This proposal would require Congressional approval since an act of Congress established both departments.

I have mixed feelings about this:

  • This proposal will not end federal involvement in education; it will just move the responsibilities and oversight to a new department. So, unfortunately, it will not diminish their influence.
  • The merger of the Education and Labor Departments will further institutionalize the workforce development model of education. This idea is what led to the testing and accountability reforms, Common Core, a hyper-focus on STEM, and corporate influence in K-12 education.
  • There are data privacy concerns as far too much student data has been shared with the U.S. Department of Labor as they have been funding state databases to link workforce data with education data. This merger, I’m afraid, will advance preK-workforce tracking.
  • On the flip side, since I favor limited government, reducing the bureaucracy is welcome, I would rather see the U.S. Department of Education eliminated. The Department of Justice can address civil rights abuses in schools.  The Department of the Treasury can disburse Title I funding to states, preferably in the form of block grants or, better still, eliminate federal funding. Federal funding is a small piece of the education funding pie but drives many of the regulations.

I don’t want to discourage government reorganization or finding ways to reduce the size of the bureaucracy in DC, but the Trump administration does have to consider the implications of certain mergers. I hope that they would go big and eliminate an unconstitutional department.

Update: It’s official. The plan is to merge the two departments and create a “Department of Education and the Workforce.” You can read the details below.

On State Takeovers of School Districts

Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana

Recently there has been a number of high-profile cases of states taking over school districts. The Kentucky State Board of Education will soon decide whether or not they will take over Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville), a move that both parents and teachers object to.

The Indiana Legislature voted in May to strip power from Gary and Muncie school district’s school boards. In Muncie’s case, Ball State University has been given control. In Gary’s case, MGT Consulting Group, based in Tallahassee, Fla., a $6.2 million contract to serve as Gary’s emergency manager. The emergency management team leader, former educator Peggy Hinckley (a native of Lake County where Gary is located), is the sole decision-maker.

The State of Louisiana took over New Orleans Public Schools after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 transitioning many of the public schools to charter schools. It was not a success. Mercedes Schneider writes in The Huffington Post:

An overarching goal of state takeover of Louisiana schools was for the state to assume control of most New Orleans public schools– which it did in 2005– and to convert all of those formerly local-board-run schools into charter schools– which it did by May 2014.

Louisiana’s RSD New Orleans (RSD-NO) was an experiment, one that was supposed to “turn around” those failing schools and make the RSD charter conversion a modern-day miracle.

By 2017– twelve years post-Katrina– it is clear that the experiment has failed. There is no incredible test-score-based miracle, and in no place is such failure more obvious than in the average ACT composite scores for RSD-NO in general and its high schools individually.

The state of Michigan controlled Detroit Public Schools from 1999-2006 and 2009-2016, the newly formed Detroit Public Schools Community District has an elected school board.

Tennessee has experience in taking over schools, with Memphis Public Schools being the largest district, and two studies show it is not working.

A 2016, paper by Michigan State University researchers studying the Detroit and Memphis takeovers concluded:

The formation of the EAA and ASD reflected the leadership of state and external partners in both urban districts. In practice, their introduction has added yet another district-like bureaucracy to the complex and evolving systems of school governance in both places. Key challenges involving finances, competition among schools, leadership turnover and lack of district-wide governance remain unaddressed by state policies.

The first study from Vanderbilt University cast doubt on the state’s achievement school district plan, The Tennessean reported in 2015:

District-run turnaround efforts of low-performing schools have yielded better results than that of Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

The finding, released Tuesday in a policy report by Vanderbilt University, casts doubt on the effectiveness of the district meant to help improve the bottom 5 percent of all schools in the state. The study, however, adds that most reform efforts take three to five years to change a school.

“Some years results are bouncing down or up, and across all years the change is basically a zero,” said Ron Zimmer, a professor of policy and education. “The overall story is that we’re not seeing an effect.”

And although he said reform efforts generally take years, district-run efforts have yielded positive results in a relatively short time.

A study from the Tennessee Education Research Alliance released on Tuesday shows three years later it still isn’t working. From The Tennessean:

The finding from a Tennessee Education Research Alliance research brief released Tuesday reinforces what researchers discovered in 2015 about the district over the course of three years. That district-run turnaround efforts of the state’s lowest-performing schools yield greater results than that of Tennessee’s state-run district

“The model that said to bring in a new manager and them give autonomy and good things will happen doesn’t work,” said Gary Henry, a Vanderbilt University researcher on the study and expert in education policy.

It brings about a moment where Tennessee’s education leaders must refocus on how Tennessee’s Achievement School District goes about its work because the threat of a state takeover has spurred action in districts, according to researchers of the study.

So the threat of a takeover appears to do more good than the actual takeover itself.

Local control in education is waning nationally and a state takeover of a local school district takes away the voice of the taxpayers and parents when elected boards are either abolished or neutered.

This is not to say each of these school districts were without problems, that certainly is not the case, but in the case of school takeovers, we see that the loss of local control does not produce the results the state promises.

Centralization fails yet again.

Will Dropping AP Become a National Trend?

Sidwell Friends School’s Administration Building
Photo Credit: Cosal via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 4.0)

Eight Washington, DC area elite, private schools announced that they are dropping out of the Advanced Placement (AP) program. Georgetown Day, Holton-Arms, Landon, Maret, National Cathedral, Potomac, St. Albans and Sidwell Friends in a joint statement said that AP courses would be phased out from their schools.

The Washington Post published their statement which reads in part:

While each of us offers a unique academic program grounded in our historical missions and educational philosophies, we have jointly come to recognize the diminished utility of Advanced Placement courses. Consequently, collectively we agree that we will better equip our students for further study and for life beyond the classroom by eliminating AP courses from our curriculums entirely by 2022.

When introduced in the early 1950s, the rationale for the AP program was to offer particularly ambitious students an opportunity to pursue and receive credit for college-level work, allowing them to graduate from college early. Yet today, few college students graduate in less than four years. At the same time, almost 40 percent of high school students enroll in AP courses, meaning it is no longer true that only a few, exceptional students take them.

As a result, AP courses on high school transcripts are of diminished significance to college admissions officers. Further, we’ve conducted our own survey of almost 150 college and university admissions officers and have been assured that the absence of the AP designation will have no adverse impact on our students. The real question for colleges is whether an applicant has taken a high school’s most demanding courses; the AP designation itself is irrelevant.

I have no great affection for AP courses, and I think they have gone downhill with David Coleman at the helm of The College Board, so I’m not surprised by this development.

They continue:

Naturally, colleges and universities want the most capable and hard-working students. Therefore, in the belief that failing to take an AP course may hurt their college prospects, students reluctantly pass up more interesting, more engaging and potentially more intellectually transformative and rewarding courses. Because these tests loom so large for students, faculty often feel pressed to sacrifice in-depth inquiries to cover all of the material likely to be included on the test.

But the truth is that college courses, which demand critical thinking and rigorous analysis, look nothing like AP courses, which stress breadth over depth. Moving away from AP courses will allow us to offer courses that are foundational, allow for authentic engagement with the world and demonstrate respect for students’ intellectual curiosity and interests.

Inside HIgher Ed notes that some schools are questioning whether utilizing AP is the best use of limited resources:

In addition, as more states have pushed for the expansion of AP programs in high schools, some have noted high failure rates in schools with limited resources, and have questioned whether high schools with serious education challenges should be focusing money and attention on AP. If educators at public high schools share the concerns of the Washington private schools, some are likely to note that they lack the resources to create the kinds of advanced courses that private schools can offer. Others at public high schools have said that the AP framework, whatever its flaws, encourages high schools to provide demanding courses for top students.

Schools should definitely provide demanding courses for top students, but I think it’s a crutch for schools to say they lack the resources to offer courses that private schools can offer. Most private schools don’t have the budget these particular elite schools in DC have.

One problem for many schools is that Common Core has pushed schools into a race for the middle, so advanced courses are not getting the time and attention they require. It’s easier to do AP courses than to create your own curriculum.

The College Board, predictably, said your students will miss out.

A spokesman for the College Board provided this statement to Inside Higher Ed on the schools’ decision:

Over the past decade, the students at just these D.C.-area independent schools have earned more than 39,000 credit hours at the colleges to which they sent their AP scores. That equates to nearly $59 million in tuition savings at highly selective colleges, not to mention the head start these students received in their majors — particularly in STEM disciplines. At a time when the placement, credit and admission benefits of AP have never been greater, it’s surprising that these schools would choose to deny their students these advantages.

I will say there are other ways to receive college credit while in high school so AP is not the only way. Time will tell if this will be a growing trend.