A new law went into effect this summer that impacts elementary, middle, and high schools in New York State this fall.
Specifically the law states:
All schools under the jurisdiction of the department shall ensure that their health education programs recognize the multiple dimensions of health by including mental health and the relation of physical and mental health so as to enhance student understanding, attitudes and behaviors that promote health, well-being and human dignity.
The law gives the latitude to individual districts, schools and classrooms to decide, as long as they meet some broad parameters, how to design curricula and lesson plans that cover mental health (as is the case for all subjects — including alcohol, drug and tobacco abuse and the prevention and detection of certain cancers, the only two other topics included in the education law that are required to be taught as part of health education in the state of New York).
But New York schools aren’t exactly being left on their own to figure out how to add mental health education to their teaching agendas.
After the changes to the law were passed in 2016, the New York State Education Department, along with the New York State Office of Mental Health and the Mental Health Association of New York State, Inc. (MHANYS), established the New York State Mental Health Education Advisory Council in August 2017 to provide guidance to schools on how to add mental health to the curricula.
While U.S. academic performance has declined since the broad implementation of Common Core, school choice programs are increasingly hamstrung by regulations that require private schools to adopt a single curriculum standards-based test as a condition for receiving public money, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.
“When states mandate a particular curriculum standards-based test, private schools are essentially required to adopt the curriculum content and pedagogy on which the test is based if they want to increase the probability that that their students are successful,” said Theodor Rebarber, Chief Executive Officer of AccountabilityWorks, an education nonprofit, and co-author of “Common Core, School Choice and Rethinking Standards-Based Reform.”
Nearly two thirds of U.S. tuition grant (“voucher”) programs require schools to administer a single curriculum-based test, typically a Common Core-aligned test, in order to receive public money. Tax credits are less susceptible to government mandates than voucher programs are.
Under tax credit programs, parents paying tuition or others that donate money receive a tax credit. The authors find that in 95 percent of cases, these programs are not subject to curriculum-based testing mandates.
Common Core is the logical endpoint of nearly three decades of Congressionally-mandated centralization through ‘standards-based reform’ that has moved key curriculum content, sequencing and pedagogical decisions away from local school systems and educators to the state and national levels. Instead of the promised accountability for results or informed school choice, the outcome at the local level has been a culture of compliance (“alignment”) that has intruded into the core function of curriculum and teaching.
“With its near-monopoly status distorting the textbook and other instructional materials markets,” said Neal McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, who co-authored the study with Rebarber, “Common Core blunts the innovation, dynamism and competition that is the heart of the school choice movement.”
The authors find that after several decades of only incremental test score improvements, which started prior to federal requirements for curriculum centralization, since Common Core was implemented in 45 states and Washington, D.C., student results are showing the first significant declines in achievement, especially for students who were already behind.
Fourth- and eighth-grade math scores were down overall on the 2015 and 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The declines among lower-performing students (bottom quartile) were even steeper. Fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores were flat, with declines among lower-performing students. At the same time, the U.S. is no closer to the internationally competitive performance in math and science observed in top-tier developed nations.
Instead of accelerating the curriculum to more advanced topics and following the practices of leading international competitors, Common Core’s politically-driven process resulted in the adoption of the mediocre curriculum sequences used in a number of mid-performing states and promoted progressive instructional dogmas shared by its developers.
The authors do not recommend the adoption of a different set of national curriculum standards; rather they propose reducing federal mandates and permitting broader state experimentation.
At the state level, the authors identify two possible avenues for reform of public schools. The first is for states to emulate the pre-Common Core Massachusetts model, under which the state engaged a team of visionary curriculum standards drafters to develop clear and ambitious academic goals approximating the highest quality public and private schools. The reality, however, is that most states have not been successful in implementing this model and even Massachusetts in recent years has moved away from this approach in favor of the flawed Common Core.
“The second possibility is to re-conceptualize standards-based reform and accountability,” says co-author Rebarber. “We must shift standards-based reforms away from government central planners in order to disrupt the status quo and leverage innovative, ambitious curricula.”
Instead of the current federal mandate requiring that each state adopt a single, homogeneous set of curricular standards and test-driven instruction, states could be permitted to allow local districts, vocational-technical, and charter public schools to use the curriculum that best fits their needs and select from a variety of state-vetted assessments the ones that most closely align to the local curriculum.
Rebarber explains that “it would mean the end of the current misguided model of the national or state testing tail wagging the local curriculum dog, which parents oppose. The result would be a surge in investment at the national and local levels in far more diverse curricular and pedagogical models that do not conform to politically-established, lowest common denominator government curriculum standards.”
To empower states interested in such reforms, when the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act is next reauthorized, scheduled to occur in two years, the authors recommend that Congress eliminate the mandate that every state impose a single statewide set of curriculum standards and allow states to experiment with diverse approaches to accountability.
In a foreword to the study, University of Arkansas Distinguished Professor of Education Policy Patrick J. Wolf likens Common Core to “scientific management,” which is defined by standardization and command and control, and school choice to “liberation management,” which is marked by decentralization, choice and competition.
“Diversity has long been a hallmark of these United States, especially in the area of education,” Professor Wolf writes. “At its essence, this fine report gives us good reasons, at least in K-12 education, to favor more pluribus and less unum.”
Neal McCluskey is the director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. He is the author of the book Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education and is co-editor of Educational Freedom: Remembering Andrew Coulson, Debating His Ideas.
Theodor Rebarber has worked on education reform and policy for three decades in the public, nonprofit and private sectors. He currently leads nonprofit AccountabilityWorks, which conducts education policy research and offers online testing services.
Patrick J. Wolf is Distinguished Professor of Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. He has led or assisted with most of the key evaluations of private school voucher programs over the past 15 years, including recent studies of programs in Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, and Louisiana.
Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.
The Daily Herald, a newspaper in Utah, published an article this week featuring parents who are resisting education tech in their schools. Here’s an excerpt about one parent, Amy Mullins, who is one of several parents featured who has struggled to limit her kids’ screen time.
“I have some children that self-regulate really well, and some who do not who would get sucked in for eight hours without even batting eye,” she said. It was hard to place limits on technology in her own home, let alone monitor what her children were doing with technology in the classroom.
Google products like Chromebooks and Google Classroom are commonly used in schools, as are the use of phone apps and the digitalization of learning materials. But it’s not just the use of the technology that’s concerning to parents. They also have worries around if the use of tech in the classroom is creating an addiction or dependency to screens and what is being done to protect the data apps that schools collect on their students.
When she has tried to opt her students out of using technology in the classroom, she said she has faced resistance from both the school and society from people who don’t understand why she’s resistant, or make automatic assumptions about who she is.
“I needed to, as a parent, to be able to opt out of that and not be labeled Amish or afraid of technology,” Mullins said.
I wanted to draw your attention to an interview that Pioneer Institute did with Will Fitzhugh, the founder of The Concord Review. Will established this quarterly journal that publishes history papers written by secondary students.
When he founded it its goal was to “recognize and to publish exemplary history essays by high school students in the English-speaking world.”
“In 1987 I was teaching history at the high school in Concord, Massachusetts and I heard a lot of talk about low reading skills and poor writing ability and ignorance of history among secondary students,” Fitzhugh recalled.
“It seemed to me that if I could start a journal for the best history essays by high school students that I could find, it could attract some good papers and also serve as an inspiration to other students who might not realize how hard their peers are working,” Fitzhugh added.
The Concord Review has published over 1,300 papers from students all over the world in 118 quarterly issues since 1987.
According to The Concord Review‘s website, many of their authors have sent reprints of their papers with their college application materials, and they have gone on to Brown (27), University of Chicago (23), Columbia (21), Cornell (16), Dartmouth (22), Harvard (125), Oxford (13), Pennsylvania (23), Princeton (67), Stanford (51), Yale (107), and other institutions, including Amherst, Bowdoin, Bryn Mawr, Caltech, Cambridge, Carnegie Mellon, Duke, Emory, Johns Hopkins, McGill, Michigan, Middlebury, MIT, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Reed, Rice, Smith, Trinity, Tufts, Virginia, Washington University, Wellesley, and Williams.
Will has found a way to highlight and encourage good writing from students, by publishing it. Well done Will, keep up the good work!
The Hechinger Reportpublished an article last week about a survey of students about the use of school-assigned mobile devices (laptops, Chromebooks, tablets, etc.):
High schoolers assigned a laptop or a Chromebook were more likely to take notes in class, do internet research, create documents to share, collaborate with their peers on projects, check their grades and get reminders about tests or homework due dates. Among high school students assigned these devices, 60 percent said they had emailed their teachers with questions. That’s compared to 42 percent among students without an assigned device.
In focus groups, students explained that emailing their teachers was somewhat of an anxiety release, said Julie Evans, Speak Up’s CEO and the author of a brief about the findings.
“It isn’t as if they need the teacher to respond to them in that moment,” Evans said. “It’s more that they want to share the problem with someone.” And when they go to class the next day, they can arrive knowing their teacher is already aware of the problem.
Most high schoolers have a way to send an email from home, whether it’s from a smartphone or a family computer. But students with assigned devices from their schools are more likely to actually draft those emails and hit send.
Evans said sending those emails indicates students are independent learners who have the benefit of a school support system. She connected it to the portion of students who get electronic reminders about tests and homework due dates. Among high schoolers with assigned laptops or Chromebooks, 53 percent get those electronic reminders, compared with 39 percent of students who don’t have school-assigned devices, the survey found.
Newsday, a newspaper and news site in New York State, declared the war over various education reforms over in an editorial this week.
The war over Common Core standards that had gotten so heated it spawned a statewide political party actually ended fairly well by 2017. As students, teachers and parents got used to the new curricula and learning methods that had initially been enacted too fast and with too little training, the state replaced the name Common Core with “Next Generation English Language Arts and Mathematics Learning Standards.” It also allowed public comment on the standards, tweaking them but leaving them largely intact.
The fight to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations, though, is now dead. State law says the scores have to be part of the evaluations, but there is a moratorium on enforcing that rule which will almost certainly be extended until the law connecting student scores to teacher evaluations is repealed.
And any forceful attempt to make school districts push kids to sit for those tests appears to be dead, too. The state Board of Regents this week retreated on its plan to divert a portion of schools’ federal funds toward encouraging test participation at high opt-out schools, and to make those schools craft plans to reduce those rates.
Regarding the war over Common Core, unfortunately, I think too many, including members of the media, have bought into the rebrand. And that is what it is, a rebrand. Those who speak out against the standards will have to point out the specific problems within New York’s academic standards such as the standards of mathematical practice remain the same, and New York’s ELA standards still have an undue emphasis on informational text.
As for the other changes they mention, those are positive developments, and I hope they stay in place. That said, how Newsday finished the editorial irked me.
It’s good news that the state has managed to keep a set of rigorous standards to ensure students are ready for work or college when they graduate high school. But the unions and Regents who claim teachers can be properly and rigorously evaluated without tests scores must craft a plan to do so. And parents and teachers, having won the battle to decouple standardized tests and teacher evaluations, must have the kids take the tests.
They buy into the same talking points that education reformers have foisted. No, New York’s standards are not rigorous. No, they will not ensure students are ready for work or college. That is propaganda. New York’s tweaked standards and Common Core does not have any data that backs up those claims.
Then the statement that parents “must have kids take the tests.” Must? No, the point is that parents, not the state, not the school district, and indeed not the editorial board of Newsday, decides what is best for their student.
On Tuesday, U.S. Parents Involved in Education (USPIE) released an open letter to President Donald Trump urging him to fire Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. You can read it below.
Dear Mr. President,
United States Parents Involved in Education (USPIE), a nationwide grassroots organization of parents and education advocates regularly conveys concerns to you and other elected officials about the negative effect of Federal government intrusion in education.
USPIE calls for Congress to abide by the Constitutional structure for education, for the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education, for ending all Federal education programs, and for returning the control of education to parents and local communities. USPIE developed a Blueprint based on references from CATO Institute and The Independent Institute to provide clear reasons and steps to achieving these goals. The Blueprint has been shared extensively with elected officials in Washington D.C.
As USPIE communicated to you previously, we were hopeful, with some reservations regarding the nomination of Mrs. DeVos for Secretary of Education. USPIE believed you would instruct Secretary DeVos to be laser focused on fulfilling your campaign promises to eliminate Common Core, however rebranded, and begin to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education.
Since her appointment, Secretary DeVos has used the hammer of the Federal government to broaden its authority and disregard the rights of states and parents. Three actions in particular demonstrate this disregard:
threatening states abiding by state parental rights laws through the ESSA plan approval process,
recommending the merger of the Departments of Education and Labor fundamentally shifting the purpose of education to “workforce development”,
and now, endorsing the G20’s Declaration enshrining the UN’s education agenda, which undermines not only parents and states, but the fundamental sovereignty of the United States.
We do not believe these actions are consistent with your “America First” philosophy nor your campaign promises that generated so much enthusiasm. As one of the nation’s largest collaboration of parents, and grassroots education advocates, we are committed to the goal of truly improving education for all of America’s children, which begins with reinstating parental authority and control, and ending Federal meddling in education. We continue to be available to assist in this effort.
Given these concerns, we call for the immediate dismissal of Secretary DeVos and for the appointment of an American education leader who will prioritize the fulfillment of your campaign promises.
ACT announced last week that they won a contract to provide a standardized assessment for a moral education program for students in the United Arab Emirates called the Moral Education Standardized Assessment (MESA).
In their press release, they state they will leverage the expertise of its US-based research and test development teams to create the assessment, which will also utilize the latest theory and principles of social and emotional learning (SEL) throughout the development process.
“We are thrilled to be supporting a holistic approach to student success,” ACT Chief Commercial Officer Suzana Delanghe said. “We know that social and emotional learning skills are crucial to success in school and life and these skills can be taught and developed over time. With their learning and measurement expertise, our teams will create a world-class assessment that measures UAE student readiness, so teachers can more effectively foster the shared cultural values across UAE’s diverse communities.”
“Moral Education is an innovative, engaging curriculum designed to develop young people of all nationalities and ages in the UAE with universal principles and values that reflect the shared experiences of humanity,” Mohammed Khalifa Al Nuaimi, the Director of the Education Affairs Office at the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, said. “The curriculum was introduced in the UAE in 2017 in an initiative from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Through the MESA, we plan to assess the impact of Moral Education over time in an independent and standardized manner. Beyond testing the students’ knowledge and understanding of concepts, we aim to measure their awareness of the character traits and values underpinning the Moral Education Program.”
Character & Morality: “The character and morality curriculum is centred around developing each student as honest, tolerant, resilient and persevering individuals.”
Individual & Community: “A true citizen is one that takes care of themselves in addition to caring about the good of society and participating actively to make things better.”
Civic Studies: “Whether a student was born in the UAE or moved here with their family, it is essential to understand the fundamentals of how the UAE was formed and how it is governed today.”
Cultural Studies: “Culture is an inherent part of a society and the program wants to highlight UAE’s shared human culture that encapsulates the traditions and symbols that help define who we are.”
While the UAE is certainly more “tolerant” than some of their neighbors, they are not exactly a bastion of freedom and religious tolerance.
This kind of assessment also begs the question: whose morals will be taught and assessed?
So why am I writing about a morality assessment that will be used in the UAE at Truth in American Education? Peter Greene in his piece at Forbes made the following point:
It would be easy to pass this course and test off as an exercise in futility, except for a couple of things. First, the test will likely be digital, and therefore captured as more data for the test taker’s personal permanent file. Second, while the program is being piloted for UAE, once ACT has it built, they’re sure to want to market it other places as well. Keep your eyes peeled for the standardized morality test at a school near you.
Look for ACT to bring this test home once they have their test bank items developed.
Today is Constitution Day, a federal observance of the delegates signing of the Constitution. This is a great time to first remind people that students need a solid civics education, one that focuses on the Constitution, not civic engagement.
Looking at Annenberg Public Policy Center’s annual Constitution Day survey is depressing.
Whether that’s due to heightened cynicism about America’s role in the world, a general increase in moral relativism, or other factors is a different issue. But now that a problem of practice has been diagnosed, specifically the lack of training in the fundamentals of governance, we can do something about it.
Let’s begin as a nation by celebrating Constitution Day. Most Americans have no idea that September 17 is a federal observance, one founded in the early-20th century to mark the day in 1787 that delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the founding document in Philadelphia. And each educational institution that receives federal funds for a fiscal year is required to hold an educational program about the U.S. Constitution for its students.
I don’t have data on Constitution Day itself – nor am I sure that such data exists – but I can tell you that in my own experience, it’s just an afterthought in most public high schools. When I was a first year teacher in Florida, I suddenly found that I had to teach about the Constitution in the middle of my first period when I had prepared completely different lesson plans. That’s how little emphasis my department put on the observance. Of course, in the following years, I did better on my own accord.
Constitution Day is the only day of the year that most public high school students will ever have the opportunity to focus on the centerpiece of our nation’s founding. That means perhaps six hours in their entire secondary education tenure, the formative years before they’re granted their right to vote.
There is a lot of work to do.
A reminder for legislators as well. I just checked Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;—And
To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
Interestingly enough, education is still not included in that list.
He looks at the historical justifications for regulation, examines the regulatory practices, and then lays out a four-step process for reforming K-12 regulation today. He’s primarily focused on what happens at the state, not federal, level.
It was a wonky, but interesting read. I can’t say I agree with all of his conclusions, and I think there need to be deeper changes than what he suggests, but I wanted to highlight what he had to say about academic standards and assessments.
He advocates states draft fewer, simpler standards:
By my count, first graders in Missouri have 112 individual English Language Arts standards they are supposed to meet by the end of the school year. Missouri only requires that schools are in session for 174 days, meaning that there is one ELA standard for every one and a half days of school. As a former English teacher, this seems excessive.
States should have a small set of expectations for schools that are clearly communicated, measured directly and reported simply. Any principal, teacher, or parent should be able to parse the results…
…The simplest way to accomplish this is to cut down the number of standards to just the most important ones. But another could be a shift from defining a set of standards for every single grade to a cumulative set of standards that students should meet by the end of the major transition points in their education (say at fourth grade, eighth grade, and 12th grade). Even if states wanted to keep a coherent set of K-12 standards, perhaps they might require less frequent testing. Prior to No Child Left Behind, taking standardized tests every year was the exception, not the norm, and even high-performing states like Massachusetts only tested in fourth, eighth, and 10th grades, (pg. 9)
This is an interesting observation, and one that states when adopting academic standards should consider. It’s certainly a problem with Common Core. I also like his point about less frequent testing. Even Finland, whose education system has been championed by reformers, does not require the amount of assessment as we see in the United States.
He also recommends that states allow multiple assessments to be used instead of forcing all schools to use one. He writes:
If states still want to test students every year, there are multiple, psychometrically-validated standardized tests that can give teachers, parents and community members valuable and actionable information about how students are performing in school. Whether it is the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the TerraNova, the NWEA, or the SAT-10, tens of millions of children have taken these tests. They are nationally norm-referenced so everyone involved can know not just how students are scoring in relation to the students in their state, but to students all around the country.
Schools should be free to use these tests as a tool to measure how well they are educating their students.
It is true that these tests are norm-referenced, and not based on particular state standards that states have drafted with their individual expectations for student knowledge. But the tradeoff in national comparability, ease of administration and freedom for educators to find the assessment they think best reflects what they are doing in their classroom could very well be worth it. If schools really value those standards, they can use the state’s tests. But it is also true that nationally normed tests reflect a broader consensus about what students should know beyond the handpicked groups of stakeholders that form the backbone of the state standard-writing process. Schools should have the option to choose those as well, (pg. 10).
An interesting point and one that runs counter to what we have seen most reformers advocate.