Arne Duncan Does Not Regret Race To The Top or Common Core

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan just wrote a new memoir entitled How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest Serving Secretaries of Education. In it, he discusses the Race To The Top program that contributed to foisting Common  Core onto the states. 

He has no regrets.

Education Week provided a highlight:

Duncan wrote that he loses sleep over some of the things that happened during his tenure in Washington, but not Race to the Top, or at least not anymore.

Race to the Top, which was created through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, rewarded 12 states with for adopting the common core standards, teacher evaluation through test scores, dramatic school turnarounds, and more.  

Duncan said the program “changed the education landscape in America. … Since Race to the Top, 46 states and the Washington, D.C., [school system].. have either adopted common core or developed their own high standards.” 

It’s true that the common core is still on the books in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia. And plenty of states have kept teacher evaluations through student outcomes—although six states have ditched them since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which prohibited the federal government from monkeying with teacher performance reviews.

Duncan writes that he tried to stay out of the political fray when it came to the common core standards. But the secretary—and especially Obama, in his re-election campaign—took credit for the widespread adoption of the common core. That’s part of the reason the standards ended up facing such widespread opposition

I am still waiting to see some tangible, documented positive results demonstrating the effectiveness of Common Core. I’ve heard talking points and warm fuzzies from teachers who like it, but there has not been any data that has demonstrated that this widespread, top-down reform has made a positive difference.  I have seen stagnant NAEP scores and a widening achievement gap though.

As far as Duncan trying to stay out of the fray I think there are some white suburban moms who feel differently.

Read other highlights here.

“People’s Views on Education Policy are Quite Malleable”

Photo credit: Cubmundo (CC-By-SA 2.0)

“People’s views on education policy are quite malleable.”

That was the conclusion of a study that Stephen Sawchuk wrote about at Education Week. The piece is called “Here’s One Way to Dispel Misconceptions About Common Core.”

This article does not reveal anything new. Common Core proponents have asserted this ever since the standards were first released. “We just don’t understand them,” they said.

Every negative thing written about them is “simply misinformation” they claim.

Sawchuk writes:

The respondents were given a set of six true-and-false questions on the common core, including these. (The answer to all three is false.)

  • Common Core requires more testing than previous standards.
  • The federal government required states to adopt the common core.
  • The Common Core State Standards were developed by the Obama administration.

They were also asked about whether they approved or disapproved of the standards.

Then, half of the sample were given a short refutation text created by the researchers; the other half, a control group, were given Education Week‘s own explainer on the common core, though in a significantly altered format—the researchers cut it from 1,400 words down to 360.

After reading these, the panelists were asked to take the quiz again. They took it a third and final time after a week.

Initially, the respondents were neutral on the common core and held a number of misconceptions. (Just 16 percent got the first question, on testing, correct.)

But upon reviewing the refutation text, the treatment group had a significantly reduced number of misconceptions and more correct conceptions of the standards; they were also likely to support the standards than before. The effects declined somewhat after a week but were still statistically significant.

The control group also improved, but the treatment group outperformed the control group on four of the six questions—a function, the authors believe, of the refutation structure explicitly built into the treatment text, but not into the modified Education Week article.

Congratulations, what Stephen Sawchuk discovered here is push polling and that it can be useful (which is why campaigns and political groups use it). What an earthshattering discovery.

We’ve had to deal with misconceptions from those pushing Common Core. Here’s a list I would include if I did my own “study.”

  • Common Core was state-led.
  • Common Core State Standards are more rigorous standards.
  • Common Core is internationally benchmarked.

All of the above statements are false even though Common Core advocates will claim that they are correct.

Common Core was special interest-led. Last I checked the National Governors’ Association and Council of Chief State School Officers are special interest groups located in Washington, DC. They are not government entities even though it sounds that way. Governors did not develop these standards, workgroups selected by NGA and CCSSO did. Also, state legislatures, for the most part, did not vote on Common Core before the implementation of the new standards.

Common Core State Standards are more “rigorous”? First, what does that mean? Secondly, based on what? Certainly not California’s math standards or Massachusetts’ ELA standards.

As far as international benchmarking for Common Core is concerned, that talking point was later changed to “informed by international benchmarks,” and eight years later I’m still uncertain what country they compared themselves to.

Initial polling for Common Core was quite high until we and others started to challenge what proponents were putting out there.

Now have Common Core opponents provided inaccurate information? Yes, and I have challenged some of it at Truth in American Education. He gave two examples. The first being, “Kids won’t read fiction anymore.”

That’s hyperbole that points to a truth. Kids will still read fiction, but they will read much less fiction as the standards call for more informational text to be read. Also, how much of the fiction that kids read represents entire literary works or just excerpts?

By the time a student is a senior in high school, under Common Core, 70 percent of what they read is informational text. That is simply a fact.

The other example he gives “schools are scanning children’s irises.”

I agree with him that this is not Common Core because Common Core State Standards in and of themselves are just academic benchmarks. Common Core was part of a package of reforms that included aligned assessments and data collection. All of those things were requirements to be eligible for Race to the Top money and the federal government spent a lot of money on the assessment consortia and statewide longitudinal database systems.

As far as iris scans at schools, yeah, so unbelievable.

This Made Me Roll My Eyes

There have been many, many articles I have read that caused an involuntary eye roll. This article has to be the first that I’ve felt compelled to address.

Education Week found a way to spin social-emotional learning into the government shutdown story.

Evie Blad wrote “Social-Emotional Learning for Senators: This Elementary School Exercise Helped End the Shutdown.”

U.S. Senator Sue Collins’ talking stick saved the day!

She wrote tying this into social-emotional learning:

The experience illustrates something school leaders have told Education Week in the past: It’s wrong to assume that adults have social-emotional learning all figured out. We all need help with skills like social-awareness and relationship skills, and some tools and scaffolding never hurt anybody. Many school leaders who’ve put social-emotional learning plans into place have later said they should have started with adults, like teachers, who are crucial for modeling respect and healthy interactions to students.

It’s amazing to me that these folks seem to believe that educators, youth workers, parents, etc. did not teach or model social skills like listening before.

No, this is a “new thing,” and even U.S. Senators are trying to figure it out!

“Now we need to wrap it up with a bow into a new fad.” Let’s “be intentional” about teaching it and let’s assess it as well!

She continues her consideration of the talking stick and how things like it can help the educational process:

But young students don’t always recognize how they communicate with body language and facial expressions. So some schools use the same kinds of “scaffolding” exercises when they teach listening as they do when they teach traditional academic subjects, like writing. That might be posters with sentence starters that help children reflect what they heard back to their peers, or objects like talking sticks to make the roles of speakers and listeners more deliberate.

A few years ago, I watched a group of fifth-grade students in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, an area known for gang violence and poverty, complete a listening circle. To help listening become more deliberate, their teacher had created a routine. First a classmate led them in some mindful breathing to “inhale the positive and exhale the negative.” Then they went around the circle answering questions from their teacher: What is something they’ve said or done that made someone happy? What’s something they’ve done that made someone hurt? How could they “set an intention” to fix it?

Mindful breathing? Is this a 5th-grade classroom or yoga class? Perhaps Senator Collins’ needs to introduce this into her meetings.

Look, I don’t have a problem with things like talking sticks. I’ve employed ideas like this myself as a youth pastor (and *shocker* I didn’t need training on social-emotional learning). Teaching kids to listen was the secondary outcome. The primary focus was discussing content I wanted them to grapple with.

That is where teachers’ focus should be as well. If teachers have an opportunity to model listening and find teaching moments when students are not listening well then great. What Senator Collins did was help her group not to talk over one another. Teachers (and anyone who has led meetings) have been doing that for years.

Ok, I need to stop rolling my eyes otherwise they will be permanently stuck there. Thanks for letting me rant.

Career and Tech Education (CTE) Doesn’t Boost College Attendance

Career and Tech Education (CTE) is another top-down education reform that Congress has waded into, and philanthropists have funded.

Like other education reforms, it does its results do not match the hype.

Education Week reports:

Policymakers are increasingly touting CTE as a road to college, and the new paper adds to evidence that questions how solid that linkage is.

The study was published today in the American Educational Research Journal, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association. It was conducted by two scholars from the University of California at Santa Barbara: Michael A. Gottfried, an associate professor of education, and Jay S. Plasman, a doctoral student. They tracked a cohort of about 10,000 students from 2002 to 2006, starting when the students were 10th graders, and following up as they moved into their first couple of years after high school….

….They found that taking CTE courses had no effect on whether students went to college right after high school. They found only a small effect on college application, and only for students who took one or more CTE classes in 12th grade. And they found that 11th graders who took CTE were .8 of a percent more likely to attend college, and .8 of a percent more likely to go to college within two years. But that effect was absent at other grade levels.

Career-tech-ed study and college-going might not be strongly linked because CTE students learned skills in those courses than enable them to go directly into the workforce, so they are less likely to perceive a need to go to college, Gottfried and Plasman write in the paper.

Data that the two authors gathered show that students who took more CTE courses were more likely to report that they weren’t seeking a bachelor’s degree in the future, and more likely to have parents with only a high school diploma. But in an interview, Gottfried and Plasman said their findings controlled for those factors.

The authors aimed their findings at the policymaking conversation about career and tech ed, and its potential to supply the college pipeline. The lack of strong, positive links to postsecondary outcomes is noteworthy, they wrote, and suggests “the need for further assessment of the reach of high school CTE coursetaking if indeed policymakers wish to more effectively rely on CTE to address college-going gaps.”

They do note that CTE does make a positive impact on the drop-out rate which makes sense. It fills the role vocational tech played back when I was in school. If done well, it gives students an opportunity to learn employable skills before they graduate high school.

CTE and the push to make education about workforce development will evitably have a negative impact on college attendance (and college readiness).

Betsy DeVos’ Hard Line on Every Student Succeeds Act

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

We can file this under “we told you so.”

The New York Times notes that states are surprised by the hard line that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education now has in their enforcement of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who made a career of promoting local control of education, has signaled a surprisingly hard-line approach to carrying out an expansive new federal education law, issuing critical feedback that has rattled state school chiefs and conservative education experts alike.

President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 as the less intrusive successor to the No Child Left Behind law, which was maligned by many in both political parties as punitive and prescriptive. But in the Education Department’s feedback to states about their plans to put the new law into effect, it applied strict interpretations of statutes, required extensive detail and even deemed some state education goals lackluster.

In one case, the acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, Jason Botel, wrote to the State of Delaware that its long-term goals for student achievement were not “ambitious.”

Apparently only the Federal government is capable of deciding what is ambitious. Is this the local control that U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and supporters of ESSA touted when pushing the bill?

The Department had problems with some state’s use of science assessments in their plan. Education Week reports:

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos got pushback last month when her team told four of the 17 states that have submitted ESSA plans so far—Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, and Tennessee—that their vision for incorporating science into their accountability plans didn’t pass muster.

*Yay, flexibility*

It appears that DeVos has fully embraced the power ESSA gave her to approve state accountability plans and has no trouble with exerting federal control.

Perhaps if Congress were actually serious about returning control back to states and local school districts, they would pass a bill that truly does that.

Chester Finn: Social-Emotional Learning is Self-Esteem Repackaged

This has to be one of the rare times I find myself in agreement with Fordham Institute’s former president, Chester Finn, but I think he is on to something in an op/ed Education Week published on June 19.

He says Social-Emotional Learning is just the self-esteem movement of the 80s repackaged.

Finn writes:

Today, few people talk explicitly about self-esteem or other kooky curricular enthusiasms of the past, but the worldview and faux psychology that impelled them have never gone away. Of late, they’ve reappeared—and gained remarkable traction—under the banner of social-emotional learning, which claims to build the ways by which children learn and apply skills necessary to understand and manage their emotions, make decisions effectively, sustain positive relationships, and practice empathy.

The notion has attracted much buzz, thanks in part to its very own advocacy organization—the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL—which is backed by many high-status funders across the country. The National Education Association climbed aboard as well. Social-emotional learning also enjoys a high-profile national commission under the aegis of the Aspen Institute.

Adding fuel to the social-emotional-learning bonfire is its recent association with hot-button issues, such as reforming school discipline into restorative justice. Another major push comes from the federal Every Student Succeeds Act’s encouragement of states to include school quality in their rating systems, with school climate as a key metric in many jurisdictions. Another current education enthusiasm, known as 21st-century skills, also contributes to social-emotional learning’s popularity.

There’s nothing exactly wrong with many of these ideas, some of which partake of legitimate performance-character traits such as impulse control and self-discipline. But social-emotional learning also smacks of the self-esteem mindset, with entries such as “self-confidence” and “self-efficacy.” Dig into social-emotional learning’s five core competencies, as laid out by CASEL, and you’ll spot—among 25 skills students are supposed to learn—just one feeble mention of ethics and none whatsoever of morality. You won’t even find such old-fashioned virtues as integrity, courage, or honesty, and certainly nothing as edgy as patriotism.

Read the whole piece.

HT: Richard Innes

State Accountability Plans’ Relative Silence on Common Core

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regarding the silence we see….

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

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

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

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

Alabama Is an Example that Local Control Under ESSA Is a Sham

Photo credit: Jim Bowen (CC-By-2.0)

Tricia Powell Crain with reported last week that the Alabama State Board of Education learned at their last meeting that the U.S. Department of Education denied the state’s request to dump ACT Aspire and use interim tests next spring.

She wrote:

The U.S. Department of Education rejected Alabama superintendent Michael Sentance’s request to use different tests next spring.

Sentance and board members have expressed their dislike for the ACT Aspire in recent months and need the waiver in order to keep from having to renew the ACT Aspire contract for another year. The board must either renew or cancel the contract with ACT Aspire by July 1.

Sentance told board members he and other state education staffers held a phone conference last week with Acting Assistant Secretary of Education, Jason Botel, and other federal education officials to ask for permission to stop using the ACT Aspire.

Instead, Sentance wanted to use a series of interim tests, given throughout the 2017-2018 school year, to measure student progress and growth while Alabama decided on a new annual test to use for federal accountability.

Telling board members the phone call was “pretty unsatisfactory,” Sentance said, “It was pretty clear right from the start that the answer was going to be no.”

Alyson Klein at Education Week reports that the U.S. Department of Education has not made their final decision:

The U.S. Department of Education however, has a different take: They haven’t given their final answer yet.

“We have received Alabama’s formal waiver request and it is being assessed,” said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman.

So we are to believe Superintendant Sentance just misunderstood? It had to be pretty clear what the decision was going to be if he told the board members they said no.

Also, this is what the Trump administration considers local control? This is EXACTLY the type of authority that the Every Student Succeeds Act gave the Secretary of Education, and this power is something Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said was appropriate for the federal government.

Klein also pointed out:

It’s not a total surprise though, that the conversation may not have gone as Alabama hoped. The Every Student Succeeds Act does indeed allow states to use a series of interim—assessment-speak for short-term—tests instead of one big overall exam for accountability purposes.

But these interim tests must meet certain quality requirements, ESSA says. For instance, the onus is on the state to show that the interim tests do indeed provide the same information as a single summative score. And the tests are supposed to go through the department’s rigorous peer review process. It would be a big deal for DeVos to waive those requirements.

And it’s not clear that the interim tests Alabama was asking to use met the law’s standards. (We’ve put out a call to the Alabama Department of Education and will update if we hear back.)

We do know, however, that ACT Aspire didn’t quite meet the federal department’s requirements for tests that are rigorous and reflect state academic standards. The department said so in a recent peer-review letter.

The Trump administration has a big decision here. They can give lip service to local control, or they actually can respect it and allow Alabama to proceed.

Trump Slated to Meet With Michelle Rhee in Education Secretary Search

Photo credit: Rikki Ward

Photo credit: Rikki Ward

Education Week reports that Preisdent-elect Donald Trump is slated to meet with Michelle Rhee as his search for an Education Secretary continues.

Andrew Ujifusa writes:

President-elect Donald Trump is slated to meet with former District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee as he continues his search for an education secretary under his administration, the Trump transition team told the press on Friday.

Trump’s search for education secretary appears to be crossing party lines. Rhee, who has identified as a Democrat throughout her career, is a strong supporter of school choice (including vouchers), which appears to be the top K-12 priority for Trump. She also rose to prominence for how she handled teachers and teacher evaluations during her tenure in the District of Columbia, which lasted from 2007 to 2010. In 2010, she left the nation’s capital and founded StudentsFirst, an advocacy group that pushes for choice, reforms to labor policies often unfriendly to teachers’ unions, and data-based school accountability. She stepped down as the leader of StudentsFirst in 2014.

He had met with Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Charter Schools in New York City, and she has withdrew her name from consideration.

Both Moskowitz and Rhee are Democrats, and both are supporters of Common Core.

It would sure be great to hear that President-elect Trump is slated to meet with someone who, I don’t know, actually is against Common Core. I don’t see how he will actually follow through on his campaign promises with education.

Trump’s Secretary of Education Short List


Who will run the U.S. Department of Education in Trump’s administration?

During the Presidential transition the President-Elect starts to put together his administration, and many wonder who President-Elect Donald Trump will appoint to become the Secretary of Education. Who he appoints will send a signal of whether it will be business as usual or if he means business when it comes to shrinking the federal role in education.

Outside of hoping he appoints no one (I’m not sure that’s a great idea while the U.S. Department of Education still exists). Here are some names that are floating out there.

The New York Times reports (Politico echoes this):

WFYI in Indianapolis said that at a Education Writers Forum held in DC on Monday these names were being thrown around by Vic Klatt, a principal of Penn Hill Group and former GOP staff director for the U.S. House Committee on Education.

  • Tony Bennett – ousted Indiana Superintendent of Public Education who later resigned as Florida Commissioner of Education after being investigated for fraud.
  • Congressman Luke Messer (R-Indiana) – serves on the House Education & Workforce Committee

Alyson Klein at Education Week speculated:

  • the list above and then adds Gerard Robinson who served as a Florida Education Commissioner and former Virginia Secretary of Education. Robinson currently serves on Trump’s transition team. He has also been a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Brett Baier of Fox News floated these two names other than Carson:

  • Eva Moskowitz – the CEO and Founder of Success Academy Charter Schools
  • Michelle Rhee – Founder of Students First, former Chancellor of Washington, DC Public Schools

I wouldn’t know what to expect from a Secretary Carson. While he is a nice man, I think he would be out of his depth at the U.S. Department of Education. A Tony Bennett appointment would send all of the wrong signals that status quo will be maintained. I couldn’t take Trump seriously when he says he is against Common Core if he appoints a pro-Common Core advocate who lost his election in Indiana largely because of that support.

I don’t know much about Congressman Messer other than he is part of the committee that helped usher in the Every Student Succeeds Act and was a vocal advocate for it. No thank you.

Gerard Robinson’s time in Florida was marred with controversy when FCAT scores collapsed. He is also part of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. He isn’t the person I would be looking for.

Eva Moskovitz’s involvement with charter schools and the fact she’s liberal would sink her potential nomination as she would take flak from both sides of the aisle. Michelle Rhee pushes corporate school reform and is against parental assessment opt-outs, not to mention, is pro-Common Core. Yeah… no thanks.

I think the best candidate for the job would be Williamson Evers, who has been a staunch critic of the Common Core State Standards and its aligned assessments. I hope that he gets the appointment, and he has prior experience with the U.S. Department of Education which would be an asset I would think.

Perhaps under a Trump administration Evers will be the Secretary of Education who padlocks the front doors of a closed U.S. Department of Education, but I’m not going to hold my breath on that.

Update: Additional names added to the rumor mill. I want to emphasize these are just rumored to be on the list.

  • Tony Zeiss, a former president of Central Piedmont Community College
  • Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, now the president of the Purdue University System.
  • Governor Scott Walker (R-WI)
  • Hanna Skandera, the New Mexico Secretary of Education
  • Education activist Betsy DeVos
  • Education activist Kevin Chavous
  • Larry Arn, President of Hillsdale College

Out of these names, Dr. Arn is the only one I could get excited about. I don’t know anything about Zeiss, Daniels supported Common Core so no thanks.

Walker is a mixed bag. On one hand he was weak when it came to repealing Common Core on the other hand he could work to scale the department back. Too many question marks. Ms. Skandera is a supporter of Common Core.

I don’t know anything about Kevin Chavous, but I don’t think appointing an activist is the right way to go. Betsy DeVos… hell no.