Archives for category: Common Core

Arne Duncan gave $360 million to two consortia to create tests for the Common Core. By law, no federal official may attempt to direct, control, or influence curriculum or instruction, but every one either ignores the law or pretends that tests have nothing to do with what is taught or how.

Mercedes Schneider here takes a close look at the efforts of one of those consortia to set achievement levels so everyone will know who is college ready.

“SBAC has purportedly anchored its assessment to empirically unanchored CCSS. How doing so is supposed to serve public education is an elephant in the high-stakes assessment room.

“Regarding its assessment scoring, SBAC decided upon cut scores that divide individual student scores into four “achievement levels.” SBAC knows it is peddling nonsense but does so anyway, apparently disclaiming, “Hey, we know that these achievement levels and their cut scores are arbitrary, but we have to do this because No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is making us. But we want to warn about using the achievement-level results of this high-stakes test for any high-stakes decisions…”

“The reality is that the media will publish percentages of students falling into the four categories as though the SBAC-created classification is infallible, and once again, schools, teachers, and students will be stigmatized.

“Forget about any cautions or disclaimers. Offer a simplistic graphic, and the media will run with it.”

I think it is fair to say that Schneider thinks the standards and tests are harmful nonsense.

You don’t have to look far into the future to see the technology sector circling the schools, giving generously to elected officials, hyping the wonders of computers instead of teachers (so much cheaper, and computers never need a pension), and gently persuading legislatures to add online courses as graduation requirements. Consider the federally-funded tests for Common Core: all online, all requiring a massive investment in equipment, bandwidth and support services. The Golden Fleece: replacing teachers with computers.

 

Laura Chapman writes:

 

 

 

Latest Bamboozlers are the “on-line only” promoters of “learning,” no need for teachers.

 

In a press release dated February, 3, 2014 KnowledgeWorks and The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) announced their shared agenda for federal policies that would change “our entire K-12 education system” to fit a student-centered learning environment with demonstrations of competency, free of traditional notions of schools, teachers, and student learning.

 

The policy report addressed to federal officials calls for the status quo on requiring students to meet college-and career-ready standards, but these standards would be aligned with specific competencies mapped into the idea of optimum trajectories for learning that will lead to graduation. Individual students would be tracked on the “pace” of their mastery through the use of on-line and “real-time” data. The data for each student is supposed to inform the instruction, supports, and interventions needed by each student in order to graduate.

 

This vision requires competency-based interpretations of the college-and career-ready standards and measures of those competencies. It requires a recommendation system (data-driven guide) for prioritizing required learning and ensuring continuous improvement in learning until graduation.

 

The vision calls for federal funding to states and districts for developing “personalized learning pathways” (PLPs) for students along with the infrastructure needed to produce real-time data for just-in-time recommendations for the interventions and supports needed to move students to college and career readiness.

 

The system in intended to build reports on the progress of individual students relative to mastery, or a high level of competency, for the college and career readiness standards.

 

In addition to keeping individuals “on-pace” in demonstrating standards-aligned competencies, this entire system is envisioned as offering “useful information for accountability, better teaching and learning, and measures of quality in education.”

 

In effect, programmed instruction is the solution for securing student compliance with the Common Core State Standards, assuring their entry into college and a career, with “instructional designers and programmers” the surrogates for teachers. Teachers are not needed because the out-of-sight designers and programmers build the recommendation systems for needed “interventions,” also known as “playlists.”

 

This is a souped-up version of vintage 1950s programmed instruction amplified in scope and detail by technology–on-line playlists and monitors of PLPs–personal learning plans–available anytime.

 

In fact, students get one-size-fits education, at the rate they can manage. The rate learning is optimized by computers programmed to lead students to and from the needed playlists of activities (e.g., subroutines that function as reviews, simple re-teaching, new warm-ups for the main learning event or subsets of methods for presenting the same concept). The student does what the computer says and the computer decides if and when mastery or some other criterion for competence has been achieved.

 

The selling framework is for “personalized, competency-based student-centered learning in a de-institutionalized environment.

 

Out of view are scenarios where all education is offered by “learning agents” who broker educational services offered by a mix of for-profit and non-profit providers. Token public schools remain in the mix, but are radically reduced in number and the loss becomes a self-fulling prophesy justifying radical cuts in state support. Profit seekers, together with volunteers and “20-year commitments from foundations” provide for “students in need. This is one of several scenarios from KnowledgWorks.

 

 

The quest for federal funds is found here at http://knowledgeworks.org/building-capacity-systems-change-federal-policy-framework-competency-education#sthash.Nr0OpfWq.dpuf

 

See more at the CompetencyWorks website http://bit.ly/cwk12fedpolicy

Valerie Strauss has a fascinating column about the scoring of the Smarter Balanced assessment. It appears that the achievement levels mirror the levels on NAEP. Understanding the scoring process is not easy. Apparently only the students in the top two levels will be considered “college-ready,” as befits a very rigorous curriculum. This means that less than half of the 11th grade students will be on track to go to college. In terms of mathematics, only one-third will be college-ready. The scoring ends with the rather ominous statement that Smarter Balance has not yet figured out a scoring guide for “career readiness.” Since there is so little in the Common Core that is related to career readiness, this is understandable. Very likely, the students who are involved in career and technical education will be in the lower bands and won’t be eligible to go to college.

 

I served on the NAEP governing board for seven years. NAEP Proficient is not grade level. It represents a very high level of achievement; in my view, NAEP proficient is an A or A-. To expect almost all students to reach NAEP Proficient is totally unrealistic. The only state in the nation where as much as 50% of students have reached NAEP Proficient is Massachusetts. The achievement levels were set in 1992 and are periodically revised. They are set by panels of judges who make estimates about what students should know and be able to do; they are arbitrary. Many scholars have contested their validity, as well as the validity of the standard-setting method, over the years.

 

If NAEP Proficient is used by PARCC and Smarter Balanced as a standard for graduation, most of our students will not graduate high school.

 

At some point, someone will have to admit that the Common Core and the tests are so “rigorous” that the students who succeed are being prepared for elite universities, not for state universities, and not for career readiness.

Who wrote the Common Core standards? Advocates say that teachers did it but that is not accurate. .

Here are two useful descriptions of the process that created the Common Core standards.

This one is by Mercedes Schneider, who completed a book about the Common Core last summer; it will be published by Teachers College Press.

This one appeared on Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog, “Cloaking Inequity.”

Both agree that the dominant voices in the writing of the standards were Student Achievement Partners (David Coleman, Jason Zimba, and Susan Pimentel) and testing companies. Classroom teachers were scarce.

Nancy Bailey reports that special education is in jeopardy in Seattle.

 

She writes:

 

You can’t put your guard down. Rest assured the wheels of ugly education reform continue to churn. Here is a recent Seattle Times headline, “Special Education is Ineffective and too Expensive, Report Says.”

 

Why? Well, students with special needs, 54 percent to be exact, aren’t managing to get their diplomas on time. They also aren’t going on to college as much as their non-disabled peers. They fail to always reach their NCLB goals on their IEPs. Students with emotional disabilities, I’m guessing with no real SPED services, are getting suspended 2 to 3 times more often than the students without disabilities. Second language students aren’t being served well, and parents have become concerned that their students won’t be employable.

 

I would argue that the reforms that have taken place since the reauthorizations that formed IDEA, along with NCLB and RTTT, have not been in the best interest of students with special needs across the country. The harsh budget cuts haven’t helped either.

 

But instead of fixing the problems in Seattle, and without reassessing the terrible reforms that have been foisted on schools and students with disabilities for the last 20 years or more, this is what the rubber stamped Blue Ribbon Commission Report from the Governor’s office, came up with:

 

The evidence is clear that disabilities do not cause disparate outcomes, but that the system itself perpetuates limitations in expectations and false belief systems about who children with disabilities can be and how much they can achieve in their lifetime.

 

“System,” of course, implies teachers. Hey, you teachers quit sitting around painting your nails and raise those expectations! And while you are at it—embrace Common Core! Why doesn’t the news say what they all really mean?

 

And this is how the Seattle Times puts it:

 

But the vast majority of children in special education do not have disabilities that prevent them from tackling the same rigorous academic subjects as general education students if they get the proper support, so those low numbers reflect shortcomings in the system, not the students.

 

And where does this all come from? What revolutionary research study have we missed? Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education!

 

You see, with higher expectations and plenty of rigor, most if not all of the students with disabilities can achieve excellent results. And that is where the Common Core comes in: Rigor for all. No exceptions, no excuses.

Politico reports that Jeb Bush won’t back down on Common Core, choice–vouchers, charters, online charters–and the rest of corporate reform that offers huge opportunities for entrepreneurs. It was his conference, and he offered a line-up of star speakers, including Condoleeza Rice, a newly minted education expert who promotes charters and vouchers, and Amanda Ripley.

Rice apparently doesn’t know that vouchers have produced no academic gains in Milwaukee, Cleveland, or D.C.

“- Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio concluded the conference on Thursday night with a wide-ranging discussion about education reform. Rice said the public school system is in and of itself unequal, and defenders of the “status quo are on the defensive.” Critics of school choice like to say that it’s taking money away from public schools, she said. “Well, what can they do? They can get better,” she said to applause. Wealthier families are already sending their children to private school and disadvantaged families are trapped in failing schools, she said. “We need to give parents that wouldn’t otherwise have the means to send their children to a school system that works for them,” Rice said.

- The national summit continues today with a lineup of guests including OECD Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher, New Mexico state education chief Hanna Skandera, Louisiana Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard and author Amanda Ripley. The agenda: http://bit.ly/1zDYtjJ Watch live: http://bit.ly/1F4X74r”

Will Bush’s full-throated support of Common Core hurt him in Republican primaries? Will choice mean anything if every school has the same standards and the same tests?

This is a post by Justin Williams, an educator and resident of Uniondale, Néw York. Uniondale is a highly segregated school district on Long Island in Néw York. 98% of the students in the district are Aftican-American or Latino. Neighboring districts are 95% or more white.

 

Justin Williams writes:

 

Rising Violence in Schools Serving Predominantly Black and Latino Students

 

Over the last ten years, I have worked as a certified English teacher in a high school in Long Island, New York, a suburb of New York City. I am in my seventeenth year working in public education. I have taught various courses in four different school districts on Long Island that range from grades six to twelve. Children and adolescents, whether they are school shooters or gangbangers, do not become violent without cause. None of them were born violent.

 

I tend to connect the rise in school violence in my suburban school district, 95% of which is African American and Hispanic, to the recent economic downturn and education policy insidiously devoted to teacher, principal and school evaluations tied to standardized testing of students. These students have been exposed to school curriculum, said testing, and “raised” standards (Common Core) conceived by politicians, economists and billionaires, not professional and long-time education practitioners who would know much, much better how to make our public schools the envy of the world (again). They have also been victimized by inflexible “zero tolerance” policies with mandatory minimum suspension periods, as well as increased in-school surveillance and security measures that prepare chocolate and caramel students much more for the realities of prison than they do a safe existence.

 

I have noticed great family uprooting provoked by the trickle-down effects of the predatory mortgage-lending thievery that targeted chocolate, caramel and other relatively poor folks, all over America. This crime against humanity precipitated global economic catastrophe. American school children were affected too. My students were affected.

 

Largely (but not only) because of this dreadful event in our history, violence escalated in my community (I live in the town where I work), inside and outside of our schools, largely made up of the same demographic hoodwinked by bankers and lawyers who knew exactly what they were doing yet, remain unpunished. So many of these kids do not or cannot live with their parents (realistically homeless) that new categorical terms like “displaced” or “unaccompanied youth” have been recently coined for them in schools. These kids are angry, don’t feel protected by any adults, yet we’re asking them (forcing them) to do coursework and take tests they cannot and do not wish to do. They need therapy. And skills with which they can function in the workforce.

 

 

There have been numerous fights and assaults over the last decade in the secondary settings of my district, steadily escalating in severity. Adult professionals have been grabbed, groped or assaulted. A troubled young man, a recent graduate of our high school, shot himself in the head in a backyard next to mine. I heard the shot clearly. A kid was stabbed in a cafeteria. About two-dozen young men have been killed in our community or neighboring community, school districts with no more than seven thousand kids. I could not find many of these incidents in the local news. I’m talking about a middle class town where the median income is $70,000. This is not a stereotypical ghetto.

 

Presently and throughout the past two years, a huge influx of Central American kids with harrowing stories to tell of their journeys to New York have and are adding to the socio-emotional quagmire of the schools (students, teachers and administrators are emotionally, morally and ethically drained, strong as we try to be) in my district. Gangs like MS-13 are replenishing their ranks with Hispanic boys adrift in an American ocean of ambivalence aimed squarely in their direction. Others wish to learn enough English so they can work. Too many received little education in their native countries. Few of them are that interested in coming to our schools for anything else, save food. The Common Core has zero relevance to them. Z.E.R.O.

 

If my students find irrelevant the Common Core, as well as for-profit corporations like Pearson who greatly benefit from its ill effects, then Pearson and the Common Core are irrelevant to me.

 

I don’t need “the state” telling me how and what to teach. By paying close attention to the dreams, goals and/or likes and dislikes of my students (they always tell you or show you when they know you care), I know precisely what I need to teach, how I need to teach it, and when I ought to do so. When you can get ten or fifteen re-writes on a research assignment from kids prone to extremely disturbing, violent episodes, not only do you have fodder for great work, but you also have young people who are not thinking about being angry (for the time being).

 

Every teacher cannot and will not become a master teacher. Every doctor cannot and will not become a brain surgeon. Every lawyer cannot and will not become a famous defense attorney. Every mechanic or welder cannot and will not gain his or her own business. Every politician cannot and will not become Commander in Chief.

 

There is no profession, organization or country that thrives because of its talented tenth. Though often driven by the talented few, average, hard-working people are the engine that makes progress happen. Most teachers are average, hard-working, women committed to educating the children of others. You do not need to be a Marie Curie to teach, any more than you need to be Babe Ruth to be a professional baseball player.

 

The big failure of the current school reform debate is that creating great teachers is talked about much more than the creation of great homes. But even the very best teachers are unable to perform consistent miracles with our most angry, violent students; no more than a doctor can treat an emotionally volatile patient or a lawyer adequately interview a hostile witness. In these scenarios, the doctor and lawyer are not typically viewed as the areas to be addressed.

 

Angry, violent, aggressive students, on average, do not come from stable, healthy homes. Schools full of violent kids and fearful adults are rare in societies that are generally non-violent. But blaming professional educators is easy. Re-energizing and empowering the American family unit is harder.

 

But not impossible.

 

Justin holds a B.S. in English education and a M.Ed. in education administration from The Pennsylvania State University, a certificate of advanced studies (C.A.S.) in educational leadership from Hofstra University and he is working on a doctorate degree (Ed.D.) in educational and policy leadership at Hofstra University.

Yesterday, despite the strong objections of tens of thousands of parents across the state, the New York Board of Regents agreed to make field testing of the Common Core testing mandatory. This was supposedly to quell the uprising of parents who kept their children home last year. Making an unpopular policy mandatory seems likely to feed the parent rebellion.

 

New York has adopted the PARCC test, which some other states have rejected. PARCC is supposed to have at least 15 states signed on, but at present its numbers have shrunk to only 12 or 13 willing states.

 

Peter Goodman, a long-time commentator on New York education politics, here describes PARCC as “zombie testing.” It is dead, and no one is willing to give up the ghost.

 

He writes:

 

The only purpose of the current testing regime is to “measure” the effectiveness of the $55 billion New York State spends each year as well as to “measure” the effectiveness of individual teachers.

The governor loves to talk about turning New York State into a high tech center, creating high paying jobs in the new cyber industries and harasses educators and demeans parents, he is the troglodyte.

The governor should be leading our school system into the new age, not wasting time and money and resources testing kids in a meaningless exercise.

 

The Regents and Commissioner John King think they are in public office to compel the public to do what they want. They don’t understand that they are “public servants,” which means obviously they are supposed to serve the public. When thousands of parents rise up as one to say that their children are over tested and their schools have been turned into test-prep centers, the Regents should listen. They haven’t. They have added fuel to parent anger. It is not going away just because the Regents have passed a motion. The children belong to their parents, not to the state.

David Callahan wrote an insightful article in “Inside Philanthropy” about something that most of us have noticed: the growing power of foundations that use their money to impose their ideas and bypass democratic institutions. In effect, mega-foundations like Gates and Walton use their vast wealth to short circuit democracy.

Callahan identifies five scary trends but they all boil down to the same principle: Unaccountable power is supplanting democracy.

He writes:

“1. The growing push to convert wealth into power through philanthropy

“Look at nearly any sector of U.S. society, and you’ll find private funders wielding growing power. Most dramatic has been the reshaping of public education by philanthropists like Gates and the Waltons, but the footprint of private money has also grown when it comes to healthcare, the environment, the economy, social policy, science, and the arts.

“Whether you agree or disagree with the specific views pushed by private funders, you’ve got to be disturbed by how a growing army of hands-on mega donors and foundations seem to get more clever every year about converting their money into societal influence. Love it or hate it, the Common Core is a great example: In effect, private funders are helping determine how tens of millions of kids will be educated for years to come. And to think that we once saw public education as America’s most democratic institution!

“Inevitably, the upshot of all this is a weaker voice for ordinary folks over the direction of American life. The veteran funder Gara LaMarche has a recent piece in Democracy that crystallizes the worries that many people have that philanthropy has become a powerful agent of civic inequality.

“2. How philanthropic dollars have become another form of political money

“Zeroing in on politics, we see philanthropic money increasingly shaping public policy and legislative outcomes. This trend isn’t new, of course, and along with Sally Covington, I wrote in the 1990s about the huge influence that conservative foundations like Bradley and Olin had over policy debates of that era by funding a network of think tanks and legal groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. Perhaps the greatest achievement of these funders was knocking off the federal welfare entitlement, after investing millions in work by Charles Murray and others.

“What’s different today is that many more funders, with much more money, are playing the policy game.”

The money quote: “And to think that we once saw public education as America’s most democratic institution!”

In city after city, state after state, wealthy funders are underwriting charter schools to replace democratically controlled public schools, school closings, mayoral control, state takeovers, and other means of removing democratic institutions. These funders have no compunction about privatizing “America’smost democratic institution.” They think they are acting in the public interest by removing the public from public education. Their wealth leads them to exercise power recklessly. They think they know everything because they are richer than almost everyone else. They are wrong. And their arrogance is dangerous.

This mom in Chicago opted her child out of the state tests. She remembered that when she was in school, there were a few standardized tests, and they were about her growth. Now the tests are pervasive, and constantly comparing her child to other children. She decided to opt out.

“When I look at my kids’ progress reports and academic records, the picture is a bit more murky. Which is surprising. It should be more clear than something that happened 30-20 years ago. And yet, my childrens’ academic records are numerical to the extreme. ISAT score: number. NWEA score: number ranges. STEP level: number. Selective Enrollment score: number. These numbers can be useful. But they are, for the most part, comparative.

“They tell me less about how my kids are doing as they do about how my kids are doing compared to everyone else. Do my children know more than the average American 6th, 4th, and 2nd graders? Yes. But what does this mean for them and their future success? I cannot answer that. And neither, really, as far as I can see, do the test results.

“If test results in 3rd grade are prescriptive of future life success, why not just sort them all out then and be done with it immediately? “O brave new world, That has such people in’t!”

“Yeah, no. That is, fortunately, not yet how it works in this world.

“Instead, (two of) my children will take the PARCC assessment this year. I took the sample assessment for ELA for 3rd grade. It is hard. I remember taking the ACT in 1991 as a high school junior, and I think the types of reading comprehension questions I answered then were easier than the exercises that the PARCC asks 8- and 9-year-olds to complete. If my conclusion, based on this exercise, is that I am dumber than the average 8-year-old, I can only imagine the effect such tests will have on the average 8-year-old. And I’m not the only adult struggling with the PARCC practice exam. And we’re only parents. At least one school board is also struggling with the validity and need for administering the PARCC.”

Will she subject her children to nine hours of PARCC testing?

Let’s hope not.

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