Top Down “Local Control”

Photo credit: World Economic Forum (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Andrea Gabor wrote an opinion piece for Bloomberg where she highlighted the Gates Foundation’s change in their K-12 education funding strategy. 

She writes:

Now, the foundation seems to be stepping back from sweeping national initiatives in its bid to remake education. In the coming years, its K-12 philanthropy will concentrate on supporting what it calls “locally driven solutions” that originate among networks of 20 to 40 schools, according to Allan Golston, who leads the foundation’s U.S. operations, because they have “the power to improve outcomes for black, Latino, and low-income students and drive social and economic mobility.”

If Gates hews to its new plan, it will mark a significant change from the top-down approach that characterized not only the recent work of the foundation and the continuing focus of other education-minded philanthropies, but also government policy. Think of “No Child Left Behind,” the 2001 federal program dictating that all children achieve “grade level” by 2014; schools that failed to reach that mandate risked being closed, though, in practice, the U.S. education department granted states waivers from the most onerous requirements.

Or “Race to the Top,” the initiative of President Barack Obama’s administration that offered cash to states that adopted the common-core curriculum and tied teacher evaluations to standardized test scores.

The Gates Foundation’s pivot represents an acknowledgment that when it comes to education reform, local experiments “done with, not to schools,” as Golston puts it, appear to be more promising than grand initiatives.

This program is still a top-down initiative. Yes, the scope is smaller, but it still places the Gates Foundation in the driver’s seat. Instead of pushing top-down education initiatives nationwide, the Gates Foundation will now push top-down initiatives for networks of ten to twenty schools.

The focus is the creation of networks. The Gates Foundation defines Networks for School Improvement in the RFP glossary:

A Network for School Improvement (NSI) is defined as a group of secondary schools (grades 6-12) working both collectively and individually in partnership with a high-quality Intermediary to use a continuous improvement process to improve outcomes for Black, Latino, and low-income students. To support the acceleration of learning and improvement, NSIs set a network aim, tackle problems of practice that are common across the network schools and track their progress using indicators that are predictive of student learning, graduation, and postsecondary success

NSIs are:

led by an Intermediary skilled in: continuous improvement processes, data collection and data analysis from multiple sources, and developing school-level adult capacity to address the network problem and aim; and  

facilitated by said Intermediary to drive school and network improvements, surface learning within and across schools, and uncover meaningful variance as schools work to reach a specific and measurable aim.

NSIs have the following characteristics:

Network is focused on addressing a problem of practice and reaching a measurable, time-bound aimthat is shared by all network schools. An NSI’s aim is related to improving one or more predictive outcomes or indicators for Black, Latino, and low-income students.  

Network comprises an Intermediary and multiple school teams from one or more districts and/or Charter Management Organizations (CMO). 
Network is structured to support school teams to reach their aim and build their capacity to use acontinuous improvement process

School teams are guided by a working theory, informed by research and practice, of how to reach the aim (e.g.  logic model, network theory of action, or driver diagram). 

School teams engage in rapid inquiry cycles to develop, test, and refine interventions.  

Network has the necessary data, research, measurement, and analytic skills to drive improvement, surface learning within and across sites, and uncover meaningful variance. 

Network is organized  to spread and accelerate learning and improvement. 

An intermediary organization is defined as:

An Intermediary is defined as a central, coordinating entity that brings together multiple school leadership teams to tackle common problems and work toward common aims. Intermediaries serve several functions, including: (a) supporting individual school teams to use continuous improvement to improve student outcomes; (b) networking school teams with one another to innovate, improve, and build capacity;  (c) sharing and codifying lessons learned within and across the network; and (d) bringing together key stakeholders who can support and accelerate a network’s success, including external experts. Intermediaries may be, but are not limited to: non-profit school improvement organizations; regional education service agencies; school districts; charter management organizations (CMOs); higher education institutions; or for-profit professional services firms.

To compete for this grant, schools are required to organize into a network under the control of an intermediary. This requirement is not local control. It focuses on networks of schools that are minority-majority schools which means that network may or may not include an entire school district which takes control away from the elected school board. According to their RFP’s FAQ, they don’t have expectations for the geography or proximity of schools in the network.

These schools can be located in different states. How again is that local control? How can a network situated not in the same city, geographical area, or even state come up with locally-driven solutions? They can’t.

Responding to The 74 Jumping on the Social-Emotional Learning Bandwagon

An education news organization called The 74 (heavily funded by the Gates Foundation) recently jumped on the bandwagon for so-called social-emotional learning (SEL). This supposedly objective news source found little reason for skepticism about implementing SEL, as long as teachers are given sufficient resources and guidance. But such cheerleading masks deep concerns about whether schools should be manipulating students’ personalities via SEL. 

A brief response to The 74:

  • The 74 defines SEL as “teaching students skills such as self-regulation, persistence, empathy, self-awareness, and mindfulness” but admits that different research and media entities define SEL differently. This disagreement complicates SEL implementation and research/assessment, as evidenced in contradictory statements by The 74 and many other SEL proponents. As one researcher for CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) stated in a 2017 meta-analysis, “We know these skills are essential for children…” Yet in the same sentence, she said, “but there’s still a lot we don’t know about ways to enhance them.”
  • However SEL is defined, The 74 thinks this is what schools should be doing. But parents rightly object that the school (which means the government) has no business analyzing and trying to change a child’s psychological makeup. It’s one thing to enforce discipline in a classroom and encourage individual students to do their best; good teachers have always done that. It’s quite another to assess students on their compliance with highly subjective behavioral standards that may measure personality and individual or family beliefs more than objective shortcomings in performance. The school exists to assist parents in educating their children, not to replace them in that role. 
  • The 74 traces the concept of SEL back to the 1995 book Emotional Intelligence (which the news outlet apparently takes seriously). In fact, “emotional intelligence” has been debunked as “a fraudulent concept, a fad, a convenient bandwagon, a corporate marketing scheme.” SEL first entered the federal education lexicon in 1994 as part of the Goals 2000 legislation signed by President Clinton. These goals were “voluntary” as long as states were willing to give up their share of federal Title I money for not implementing them. This is analogous to recession-racked states’ “voluntarily” adopting the Common Core standards to qualify for federal money. 
  • Interestingly, research in a paper cited by The 74, as well as multiple other SEL proponents and education stakeholders, posits that the supposedly “rigorous” and “academic” Common Core supports  SEL and vice versa. The fact that Common Core is proving to be a drag on academic achievement demonstrates that neither is very effective. Besides seeing both SEL and Common Core as anti-academic, parents and citizens also recognize both as invasive and indoctrinating — so touting the SEL-Common Core connection is unlikely to engender support for either one.  
  • The 74 cites only studies supportive of SEL. But even the aforementioned CASEL researcher admitted, “The results to date have been mixed…There’s also a general lack of long-term studies that might give researchers a clearer picture of the programs’ effectiveness.” In fact, The 74 ignores glaring defects of the first meta-analysis it links — that only 15% of the 200+ studies reviewed did a long-term follow-up, and only 16% actually checked academic outcomes. The 74 also neglects to mention a decidedly negative analysis of preschool SEL in six longitudinal education databases, which concluded, “Early math skills have the greatest predictive power, followed by reading and then attention skills. By contrast, measures of socioemotional behaviors…were generally insignificant predictors of later academic performance, even among children with relatively high levels of problem behavior.” Ironically, the preschool years have the most uniform, numerous, and longstanding SEL standards in all fifty states. Yet this study, combined with a new Brookings paper, affirms much previous research showing that SEL-laden Head Start and other government preschool programs don’t improve academic outcomes. Nor does “growth mindset” (an SEL favorite), as confirmed by another recent study. 
  • The 74 also touts a paper claiming economic benefit from SEL interventions. But the paper’s authors emphasized that the SEL interventions they analyzed “are not representative of SEL generally,” and that the protocols and methods they used are racked with “deficiencies.” If there is any real economic benefit from SEL, this study doesn’t show it.
  • Turning to student SEL assessment, The 74 does admit that deciding whether SEL is working, or whether individual students are reshaping their personalities to the government’s satisfaction, is a tricky business. Only 17% of principals “know which assessments to use for measuring how their students are doing socially and emotionally,” especially since most states don’t have clear SEL standards or grade-by-grade benchmarks. But The 74 doesn’t report that even SEL gurus admit that meaningful assessment is at best problematic. This is because, among other factors, teachers aren’t mental-health professionals capable of assessing children and because, in any event, the assessment mechanisms usually depend on unreliable inputs (such as student self-reports). 
  • Speaking further of assessment, The 74 doesn’t mention the serious problem of placing all these unreliable, amateur psychological assessments into the longitudinal data system that will follow students, potentially, throughout their lives. Might employers or colleges or government agencies be interested in accessing records about a particular individual’s psychological makeup? 
  • The 74 approvingly links SEL to schools’ implementation of “restorative justice” in place of “punitive disciplinary practices.” The news outlet seems oddly oblivious to the controversy surrounding restorative justice. Many teachers across the country are rebelling against restrictions on their ability to discipline unruly kids, and such policies can have tragic consequences if criminal offenders are allowed to remain in schools. 
  • The 74 seems to endorse “deep breathing, counting, and mindfulness” for helping students improve their relationships with teachers. There is no acknowledgment that many parents would object to a school’s leading their children through such pseudo-spiritual practices. 
  • Prominent thought leaders in the teaching profession, even SEL proponents, are questioning whether SEL can be formally taught and standardized, as well the wisdom of burdening teachers with another responsibility for which they aren’t trained. (See here and here.) 

The bottom line is that SEL is far more subjective and invasive, and far less effective, than proponents claim. Maybe The 74 should take another look.

Five Problems With Shifting to Competency Based Education

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Former executive director for the Gates Foundation, Tom Vander Ark, wrote a piece for Forbes that plugged both competency-based education (CBE) and personalized learning.

Here’s an excerpt:

There are two big ideas behind the shift to competence in formal education. First, students should show what they know. It’s not about turning work in, earning points, or showing up to class, they should demonstrate in several ways that they have mastered important knowledge, skills, and abilities. Assessments in a competency-based system inform student learning as well as teacher judgments about concept mastery.

Second, students should progress when ready–after they’ve demonstrated mastery of important concepts that build a platform for future learning. For the system to promote equitable outcomes, it’s important that students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. The “move on when ready” commitment prevents passing learners along with a weak foundation which could prevent them from achieving higher level knowledge and skills.

Vander Ark noted that “it’s important that competencies not be a checklist of low-level skills.”

That’s all well and good, but the problems with this approach go beyond that. Here are five problems that came to mind as I read through his piece.

First, Vander Ark suggests that CBE is this brand-shiny new thing that has never been tried. That simply is not the case. CBE is just a repackaging of Outcome-Based Education (OBE), an education fad that was tried and found wanting by parents in the 90s.  No thanks.

Second, boiling education down to a list of competencies will diminish how much students actually know, not increase it. CBE is the enemy of a well-rounded education. What will get missed? Anything that is not assessed will be fair game for exclusion. Who decides what is essential in this system? Not the teacher. I shudder to think how this approach will hurt a student’s ability to grasp classic literature or their understanding of civics.

Third, is competency the sole goal for students? I suppose if you want to boil education down to learning skills instead of acquiring knowledge it would be, but for most parents “competency” is likely not at the top of their list.

Fourth, Vander Ark asserts that assessments are the only true measure of whether a student is competent. I would argue that is not the case.

Fifth, personalized learning the way Vander Ark promotes it can only be accomplished by sitting kids in front of computers for their instruction. Teachers will no longer teach, they will be facilitators instead. There are all sorts of problems with putting kids in front of a screen all day from limited social interaction to a diminished attention span.

No thanks.

I understand there are better ways to approach classroom instruction, but let’s consider ways that will benefit students not education tech companies.

Bill Gates Can’t Leave ESSA State Plans Alone Either

Photo credit: World Economic Forum (CC-By-SA 2.0)

The Associated Press reported this morning that Bill Gates has poured millions into trying to influence state plans required under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

AP’s Sally Ho writes:

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates saw an opportunity with a new federal education law that has widespread repercussions for American classrooms.

His non-profit, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has given about $44 million to outside groups over the past two years to help shape new state education plans required under the 2015 law, according to an Associated Press analysis of its grants. The spending paid for research aligned with Gates interests, led to friendly media coverage and even had a hand in writing one state’s new education system framework.

The grants illustrate how strategic and immersive the Microsoft founder can be in pursuit of his education reform agenda, quietly wielding national influence over how schools operate. Gates’ carefully curated and intersecting web of influence is often invisible but allows his foundation to drive the conversation in support of its vision on how to reshape America’s struggling schools systems.

Critics call it meddling by a foundation with vast wealth and resources. The Gates Foundation says it’s simply helping states navigate a “tectonic” shift in responsibility for education — from the federal government to more local control.

Read the rest.

We call it meddling because it is. My gosh, it must be nice to be able to buy education policy. Since the millions and millions of dollars he poured into Common Core was a colossal waste he thought he would try to be more influential at the state level.

I wish educrats would use the critical thinking skills they believe Common Core will impart to students and ask one simple question. Have Gates-funded reforms have actually worked?

Largely no, but they have dollar signs in their eyes. It’s hard to say no to that cash and Gates has plenty of it.

Beware of Educrats Peddling “Evidence-Based” Solutions

Photo credit: World Economic Forum (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Photo credit: World Economic Forum (CC-By-SA 2.0)

In an unguarded moment in 2009, Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute admitted that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is running U.S. public education: “It’s not unfair to say that the Gates Foundation’s agenda has become the country’s agenda in education.” A new book reveals how right he was.

Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform, and the Politics of Influence was written by Megan Tompkins-Stange from the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. To examine the influence of private foundations on U.S. education policy, Tompkins-Stange spent several years interviewing officials from four philanthropies that are deeply involved in education issues – Gates, and the Eli and Edythe Broad, Ford, and W.K. Kellogg foundations. She notes that “[a]rguably, no social sector in the United States is more heavily impacted by foundations than K-12 education,” and no foundation is more influential than Gates.

The problem she examines was brought into stark relief early in the Obama administration, with its Gates-financed Common Core national standards and other “reforms”: that powerful, wealthy private groups are using their influence to bypass democratic processes and impose their preferred policies on public schools. Not only are parents and other citizens shut out of education policy, they don’t realize the strings are being pulled by organizations they never heard of.

As former U.S. Department of Education (USED) official – and trenchant Common Core critic – Ze’ev Wurman once asked about how parents could register a complaint, “Will Bill Gates have an 800 number?”

Bill doesn’t have an 800 number, but he probably has every top USED official on his speed dial. One reason, as Tompkins-Stange reports, is that former Education Secretary Arne Duncan awarded top USED staff appointments to officials of either the Gates Foundation (such as Jim Shelton, formerly program director for education at Gates) or grantees of the Gates Foundation (such as Joanne Weiss, formerly of the Gates-funded NewSchools Venture Fund). So when USED was – unconstitutionally — crafting federal education mandates, Gates policy preferences had the inside track from the beginning.

Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post recently published an interview with Tompkins-Stange conducted by Jennifer Berkshire of the EduShyster website. In that interview Tompkins-Stange drew two inferences from an Obama administration staffer’s verbal slip in referring to “the Gates administration.” “The source is acknowledging,” Tompkins-Stange said, “that the close coupling between Gates and [USED] under Arne Duncan was great because it pushed their agenda forward. But on the other hand, they’re acknowledging that it’s somewhat problematic in terms of democratic legitimacy.”

Not that the Gates/USED mandarins were particularly concerned about usurping democracy:

It was my sense [Tompkins-Stange said] that most of the people I talked to hadn’t engaged – at an organizational level – with the larger question of “What’s our role in a liberal democracy?” or “Is this the right thing for us to do as a foundation?” . . . The democracy part of it was not really a part of the equation in  terms of their day-to-day discussions. It was more about, “How do we get the elites who can really move this policy on board?”

But her contacts slid past the philosophical and constitutional problems by emphasizing the supposed benefits of the technical approach advocated by Gates and the other foundations (remember Bill’s famous comparison of education to electrical outlets). The predominant mindset was that evidence-based policy is more important than democratic structures and citizen participation. Trains must run on time, you know.

But Tompkins-Stange pointed out practical problems with this worldview. One is that schemes created and imposed by elites historically don’t work when their development excludes the people expected to live under them. Human beings are not machines, and they stubbornly refuse to operate according to the Gates manual.

Another drawback – as admitted by some of the officials she interviewed – is that the cited “evidence” is often weak or non-existent:

There was a real cognitive dissonance that people reflected on in interviews. In one breath they’d say that what the foundations were doing was evidence-based. But in the next breath they’d note that the evidence isn’t all that great, or acknowledge the fragility of the evidence’s underlying assumptions. Another Gates source said, “I don’t know anyone in philanthropy who can chart a logic model. All these people just put arrows between boxes and think it means something.”

Think of that the next time you hear an educrat or foundation official touting “evidence-based” education solutions.

This is what happens when unaccountable elites evade the Constitution to impose centralized control. Tompkins-Stange’s book confirms the wisdom of the Founders and spotlights a problem that must be fixed if we are to remain a self-governing republic.

More Blind Faith Placed in Common Core

The Center for American Progress issued a “report” about how the Common Core State Standards “arm students with the necessary literacy skills needed for college and careers.”

Here is an excerpt of their summary:

One only need skim the data to see that just a small proportion of students are on the path to graduate from high school ready for college and a career. Only one-third of fourth- and eighth-grade students—36 percent and 34 percent, respectively—performed at the proficient level or higher in reading, according to the most recent data, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. Students do not close these gaps as they continue in the K-12 system. Only 38 percent of high school seniors are proficient in reading according to NAEP, and NAEP reading scores are even bleaker for black high school students at 16 percent, Latino students at 23 percent, and English language learners, or ELLs, at 4 percent. And while students in the fourth grade are reading on par with students in other high-performing countries, U.S. 15-year-olds rank 17th out of students in 34 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.

The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects—or ELA standards for short—help address some of these readiness gaps. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia are currently in the process of implementing the state-developed ELA and math Common Core K-12 standards, which were finalized in 2010.

The ELA standards are changing how students read and write in American classrooms in some fundamental ways. Under the new standards, students are getting regular practice with complex and grade-level appropriate texts, using more informational texts, and practicing more evidence-based writing.

All they do in this “report” is regurgitate Common Core advocacy talking points. There is no data given to show Common Core is working. There is no evidence. In fact the NAEP scores they share in the excerpt above disprove their point.

Also ACT took issue with some of what Common Core advocates consider being “college-ready.” For instance with the Common Core approach to writing they said:

….high school teachers and perhaps some middle school teachers may be emphasizing certain approaches to writing over others due to a concern for source-based writing in response to the Common Core State Standards. But if so, college instructors appear to value some key features of source-based writing (the ability to analyze source texts and summarize other authors’ ideas) much less than the ability to generate sound ideas—a skill applicable across much broader contexts.

Sandra Stotsky, who wrote Massachusetts’ ELA standards pre-Common Core and was on the Common Core validation committee, addressed in a Heritage Foundation Report why the Common Core approach to reading was inappropriate.

Why do Common Core’s architects believe that reading more nonfiction and “informational” texts in English classes (and in other high school classes) will improve students’ college readiness?

Their belief seems to be based on what they see as the logical implication of the fact that college students read more informational than literary texts. However, there is absolutely no empirical research to suggest that college readiness is promoted by informational or nonfiction reading in high school English classes (or in mathematics and science classes).

In fact, the history of the secondary English curriculum in 20th-century America suggests that the decline in readiness for college reading stems in large part from an increasingly incoherent, less challenging literature curriculum from the 1960s onward. This decline has been propelled by the fragmentation of the year-long English course into semester electives, the conversion of junior high schools into middle schools, and the assignment of easier, shorter, and contemporary texts—often in the name of multiculturalism.

From about the 1900s—the beginning of uniform college entrance requirements via the college boards—until the 1960s, a challenging, literature-heavy English curriculum was understood to be precisely what pre-college students needed. Nonetheless, undeterred by the lack of evidence to support their sales pitch, Common Core’s architects divided all of the ELA reading standards into two groups: 10 standards for informational reading and nine for literary reading at every grade level.

This misplaced stress on informational texts (no matter how much is literary nonfiction) reflects the limited expertise of Common Core’s architects and sponsoring organizations in curriculum and in teachers’ training. This division of reading standards was clearly not developed or approved by English teachers and humanities scholars, because it makes English teachers responsible for something they have not been trained to teach and will not be trained to teach unless the entire undergraduate English major and preparatory programs in English education are changed.

In short, Stotsky writes that the direction Common Core took with reading material really won’t help students become “college ready.”

Here is what you really need to know.

The Gates Foundation just awarded them $1,000,000 in July “to increase support for and reduce opposition to the Common Core and high-quality assessments, and to promote high-quality early childhood education through strategic advocacy efforts that bring new voices into the early childhood movement.”

Seriously for one million dollars they really need to do better than this. In fact since 2008 the Gates Foundation has given the Center for American Progress almost $6.7 million for their K-12 education efforts.

The Center for American Progress “report” on the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts is just a Gates Foundation-funded piece of propaganda.

Blame the Textbooks for Poor Common Core Implementation!

Photo credit: World Economic Forum (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Gates funds the standards, funds reviews of the standards, and now funds reviews of the textbooks.
Photo credit: World Economic Forum (CC-By-SA 2.0) reviewed five high Common Core-aligned math textbooks in their first round of reviews and found only one textbook was “aligned.”

  • College Board – nope.
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – nope.
  • Pearson – nope.
  • Carnegie Learning – partial credit for “focus and rigor,” but nope.
  • The CPM Learning Program was the only textbook deemed “Common Core-aligned”

Pearson wasn’t happy with the review because obviously this isn’t good for the bottom line.

They wrote:

Our analysis of the EdReports evaluations of Pearson Integrated High School Mathematics Common Core ©2014 shows that the EdReports evaluations continue to be plagued by inaccuracies, misunderstandings of program instructional models, misinterpretations of the both the intent and the expectation of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and the Publisher’s Criteria, and a lack of understanding of effective curriculum development and pedagogy. Pearson Education and its authors consider the EdReports evaluation an incomplete, invalid, and unreliable reporting of the quality of the program and of its alignment to the expectations of the CCSS-M.

This group recently said all of the K-8 math textbooks reviewed were not “Common Core-aligned.”

Look here is all you need to know about They received just shy of $1.5 million in 2015 from the Gates Foundation (by way of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Inc.) for operating support “to enable them to build their core priorities of publishing reviews of instructional materials, and to grow their operations and capacity to include teacher feedback of such materials.”

See if all the textbooks are bad then they can blame the poor implementation of Common Core on the textbooks, not the standards themselves.  They have already started that narrative. See teachers just need better resources, not new standards… Nothing to see here folks, just ignore the clear conflict of interest.

Ze’ev Wurman: Gates Foundation Doesn’t Acknowledge Mediocrity of Common Core

Sue Desmond-Hellmann speaks with young students at White Center Heights Elementary School in Seattle, WA on January 5, 2015.

Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann speaks with young students.

Rick Hess at Education Week wrote about the Gates Foundation’s CEO’s Common Core Mea Culpa:

It’s reassuring to see Desmond-Hellmann acknowledging missteps and blind spots and pledging that the Foundation will do better. I admire people who are willing to revisit their assumptions. And the point here is not that “some of us told you so.” We all make our share of mistakes and miscalculations. The point is that the problems were predictable and foreseeable.

Given that the problems were predictable, why did they catch so many advocates off-guard? Part of it is that Common Core advocates were in such a hurry to do good that they just didn’t show much interest in hard questions or uncomfortable cautions. Having lived this, I can safely say that they mostly talked to each other, reassuring one another that any problems were the product of malicious politicos, ignorant Tea Partiers, and misinformed parents. Skeptics, even reasonably sympathetic ones, were greeted only with quiet intimidation or public ridicule. For one thing, conceding the legitimacy of the concerns might have argued for pursuing the enterprise in a less sweeping and more incremental fashion. Advocates opted for another route.

This is the way these things routinely go. Conservatives raise concerns about how things will play out, focusing on the immutability of human nature, institutional constraints, and all those forces sure to frustrate ambitious plans. Progressives get annoyed that conservatives don’t understand why dramatic structural reforms are so urgent, and for not grasping that they would work if everyone would just join the team and put their shoulder to the wheel.

I think Hess may be onto something in terms of why Common Core’s most vocal critics (in most cases conservatives early one) were ignored. He seems to miss that the implementation problems are not the only ones that Sue Desmond-Hellmann should have offered a mea culpa for.

Ze’ev Wurman, who is a senior fellow with American Principles Project and a visiting scholar with the Hoover Institution, straightens Hess out in a comment he offered today which I thought was worth sharing.

Absent in this discussion is the mediocrity of Common Core, which the Gates Foundation didn’t yet acknowledge.

Implementation is one thing. Yet when the whole enterprise leans on intentional academic mediocrity (does anyone remember that the *end* of CC in math was initially supposed to be ALGEBRA 1? Check the September 2009 “college readiness” standards!), and when the focus of ELA standards is to avoid naming great literary works and instead focuses on skills, a conservative realizes that the focus is not on improving academics but rather in engendering social changes, peddling a fictitious academic equity, and growing Washington’s intrusion into states’ teaching objectives.

It is therefore unsurprising that the writing of the Common Core standards was given to unqualified people with little to no experience in K-12 education. The goals were — despite the pretense — not academic but of social justice.

Mea culpa on “bad implementation” is nice, but where is the mea culpa on PLANNED dumbing down of American education?

Exactly right.

HT: Jamie Gass

The Common Core Hoax

Students in Computer Lab --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Below is a guest op/ed submitted by Robert R. Logan, PhD. He is a homeschool parent, a retired economics professor from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and an economics researcher who resides in Fairbanks, AK.

The Common Core Hoax

By Robert R. Logan, PhD

When I was a professor I used to put a proposed law up on an overhead projector entitled the “Care for Infants Act”.    In the body of the Act, I described grinding up children and turning them into food and fertilizer in deceptive language but clear enough to anyone who was actually thinking.  Then I would have the students discuss whether the government had any business interceding in the sovereignty of the family in cases of abuse or neglect.    

It was rare that a student would raise their hand and object that the debate had nothing to do with the act they were voting on.  I could usually see some confused faces, but it was terribly easy to misdirect peoples’ attention and get them squabbling about something they wanted to argue about anyway.   That is how I got them to pass the Care for Infants Act.   The only thing Bill Gates has done differently is bribe people for their vote.   I could have gotten 100% passing rates had I incorporated bribes.     

If Common Core is all about increasing academic achievement, why is it necessary to convert all tests nationwide into computerized online testing?   Logically, that does not follow.   How is it that taking a test on a computer is any different from taking it with paper and pencil?   If computer-based tests are better than paper and pencil, then why does it have to be online?   If there is a technical failure to an online test then potentially millions of students are affected.   

We homeschool, but enrolled in online tests for a number of reasons.   The tests were timed.   But it took longer to download the questions than it did to answer them.   Whenever we call our provider about this, they lie to us.   For example, we see the clear pattern of slowest speeds, far less than promised, during the internet rush hour.  We have learned to disable our phones when we call technical support because they have been trained to tell customers in an accusatory tone that “I see you have TWO I-phones” and tell us it is our phones updating even when we have the update feature turned off. 

I can see my download speed in real time.   I think the tech people can too, but they never acknowledge so.  I tell them I will go to any site of their choosing and they can watch my download speed.   But they won’t do it.  We understand throttling and our ISP insists they don’t do it.   But that doesn’t mean someone else in the chain isn’t doing it or that a host site is capable of handling the traffic directed to it.   There are innumerable potentials for catastrophic failure with an online test that are nonexistent for other delivery methods and this was obvious to us the first time we tried to take an online test

Alaska’s tests were cancelled after allocating $25 million for computers, bandwidth, and development.    A worker in Kansas severed a fiber optic cable.  Even after attempts to fix the problem students’ answers were being lost.   So the state cancelled the tests.   How could something so easily foreseen have been overlooked by the smartest people in the room telling us how inferior our previous tests were?    Because Common Core is a hoax:  the real purpose behind Bill Gates’ billions spent bribing the Governor’s Association, Unions, and think tanks was to line the pockets of the Tech industry by converting the test delivery method: to online computerized testing, using Bill Gates’ products.

On the propaganda site for Common Core, there isn’t one word explaining why computerized online testing is superior to other test delivery methods.   Instead, there is a lot of puerile talk about being ready for work and college, about the “grass roots” origins of the movement, and completely contradictory assertions about states being free to choose their own standards when the entire purpose was developing a common standard.   How can people be this stupid?   How has it gone virtually unnoticed that the most significant change has been to the test delivery method and not the content of the tests?   

If higher performance is the objective, the easiest thing to do is require higher scores on existing tests.  Changing the tests themselves makes no sense.   It introduces a statistical incompatibility between the years leading up to the change and the years afterwards.   How do you determine whether performance has increased or decreased when the tests are different?   There are ways to approximate, but it is one of the most basic concepts in statistics: using the same measure or instrument from sample to sample.

Complaints were made about some states being more lax than others.   So why does that require states with high standards to change anything at all? Why do they need to change from paper and pencil to computerized, let alone online testing?   Our stress levels went through the roof when we were trying to take online tests.   Interactive tests can be downloaded onto every computer individually and scores can be easily assembled into a national database if this is an objective.   It does not require that they be taken online. 

One of the most telling “reveals” in this hoax is trade groups and even state educational bureaucracies adopting the standards before they were written.   You cannot legitimately do this even conceptually, let alone before field testing.   But it happened.   Bill Gates gave money and Obama used Race to the Top funding along with exemption from the No Child Left Behind debacle in order to hook states into the Common Core.

Since the hoax required misdirecting our attention away from the real change – computerized online testing – it required another radical contradiction:  the claim that curriculum would be unaffected while forcing changes in curriculum.  There was no national debate over the way math should be taught for example.   But you have to do something.  When the math standards came out there was no tying of research in math instruction and problem-solving to the Common Core methodology. 

Bill Gates couldn’t simply come out and announce a program of converting the exact same tests into an online computerized format.   People would have pointed out the obvious problems of catastrophic failure like Alaska just went through.   They would have asked the obvious question:  why waste tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars on more expensive means of delivery?   

So to perpetrate a hoax like this you have to pretend it is about something else and produce changes in test content.  No public debate took place on the process by which content would be changed.   Gates created a committee headed by David Coleman and a process that took place completely outside public scrutiny while Gates was busy bribing various organizations to back something that hadn’t even been written yet.   It worked brilliantly.

Gates couldn’t care less what the committee did with math or English.  He couldn’t care less whether teacher evaluations and student promotion were tied to the tests.   That’s why the Gates Foundation in 2014 announced urgent support for a moratorium on those very things.   The one thing Gates is clear about is that Common Core standards should not be used as standards.   That contradiction only makes sense if the goal is computerized online testing instead of standards.

We are now engaged in an after-the-fact debate over whether this new method of doing math is any better than the New Math debacle of the 1960’s.   It is beyond belief that this debate is taking place after, and not before it was imposed.  This is a consequence of Gates and the Obama administration bribing key organizations and bureaucracies to accept something before it had been researched and debated in public.   It is a consequence of a hoax designed to enrich tech companies and other education industry parasites like text publishers while we argue ignorantly about something else. 

I know how easy this is to do because I have done it myself.   I began doing so after seeing our government attach extremely deceptive titles to Acts it was passing.   You can assume the purpose of an Act is very different, even opposite, from its title and be right most of the time.   That’s what Bill Gates has gotten away with because he could not have gotten a “Computerized Online Testing Act” passed.

Yes, Limits On Your Child’s Tech Usage Are A Good Thing

Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)

In a recent Education Week post, author Benjamin Herold gave a synopsis of Common Sense Media’s report, “Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy, and Finding Balance.”   Herold’s article can be found here.

By way of background, Common Sense Media was a Gates Foundation grant recipient in 2013, and again in 2015.  Any “report” ostensibly funded by Gates money; the man who would have 1:1 tech devices in the hands of every student as often as possible, should be read cautiously, recognizing the potential for bias.

Herold’s article summarized a number of findings from the report, but there were two in particular that could have an adverse effect on how parents and caregivers perceive the use of media by today’s pre-teens and teens.  And not necessarily for the better.

One of the big takeaways from the Education Week article was that researchers have not established any formal link between social media usage and decreasing empathy among teens, and research on the impact of extensive technology usage on social, emotional, and cognitive development is “surprisingly limited. “

Yet, research is not surprisingly limited.  It’s actually fairly easy to locate studies that report excessive media use can lead to increased reports of mental health issues (children twice as likely to report mental ill-health), decreased sensitivity to emotional cues, school difficulties (heavy media users report lower grades), eating disorders (strong correlation between  increased use of internet and discontentment with weight, and body shame), sleep difficulties (greater risk of sleep disturbances, stress), structural and functional changes in brain regions, and obesity (obesity associated with frequent television/video use).  What is surprisingly limited are studies or research concluding that excessive exposure to digital media is beneficial for kids.

According to a Pew Research study, 92% of teens reported going online daily and 24% of those reported being online “constantly.”  Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices.  This number doesn’t include the amount of exposure kids are getting at school, especially with the current tech-to-the-rescue mindset of education reformers, none of which has been shown to be beneficial to student performance.  In fact, more and more research seems to conclude all the tech exposure in school isn’t helping to improve educational outcomes, anyway.  For example, using laptops to take notes resulted in shallower processing.  And in another study, students who used digital devices performed worse in class.

The most questionable research finding Herold quoted in the Education Week article, was that, “…children of technology limiters…are most likely to engage in problematic behaviors such as posting hostile comments or impersonating others online, whereas children of media mentors are much less likely to engage in problematic online behaviors.”  For reference “technology limiters” are parents with concerns about the impact of technology use.

That statement raised more than a few neck hairs and rightly so.  Suggesting parents should loosen the constraints on screen time, social media, texting, and gaming to avoid raising a generation of cyberbullies plays on every parent’s emotions.  Nobody wants to be the parent who raised a troublemaker.

However, the basis for concluding technology limiters produce more online troublemakers came solely from an article published in The Atlantic in November 2015, written by a social media speaker and strategist whose career focuses on create compelling content and leveraging social media to spread it.  Frankly, it’s irresponsible for Common Sense Media to cite it as a credible source, or for Education Week to regurgitate the information at a time when tech use by kids is rife with anxiety.

As a parent, I prefer the philosophy of more widely recognized names in the tech industry.  Steve Jobs, for instance, said in a New York Times article, “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”  In the same article, Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired, talked about why he and his wife have strict tech limitations for their children.  He stated, “That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand.  I’ve seen it in myself.  I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”

Enough said.