Archives for category: Common Core

In an interview, John White made it clear that he wants to keep his $275,000 job as state superintendent in Louisiana. Bobby Jindal pushed the state board to hire him after his brief stint as superintendent of the Néw Orleans Recovery School Diistrict. White loyally implemented Jindal’s agenda of vouchers, charters, for-profit schools, and attacks on teachers’ due process, as well as test-based evaluation. But then Jindal and White locked horns over Common Core. Jindal wanted out, White didn’t. (White’s only school experience is TFA. Also he attended the unaccredited Broad Superintendents’ Academy.)

Now one of the leading candidates for governor has said White has to go. Open the statement for links.

John Bel Edwards issued the following statement;

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: media@johnbelforlouisiana.com; 225-435-9808
Edwards: John White Will Never Be Superintendent On My Watch

BATON ROUGE, La. – State Representative and candidate for governor John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) responded to news that State Superintendent John White wishes to remain in his current position under the next governor’s administration.

“I have no intention of allowing John White, who isn’t qualified to be a middle school principal, to remain as Superintendent when I am governor,” Edwards said. “We have so many highly qualified candidates right here in Louisiana that we don’t need to go looking in New York City for our next head of K-12 education.”

White’s tenure as State Superintendent has been frought with controversy and accusations of wrongdoing. In 2012, White was embroiled in scandal after emails revealed political motives behind his fight to ensure that expanded school vouchers were approved by the Louisiana Legislature. Thanks to testimony by Rep. John Bel Edwards, the Louisiana Supreme Court later found the voucher scheme to be unconstitutional, because it did, as White denied, illegally divert funding designated for local city and parish public schools. Later, voucher schools approved under White’s watch were shown to lack a requisite number of teachers, lunch rooms, and other resources common to any proper school. In 2013, he was accused of having purposefully inflated letter grades for certain schools. For at least three years, White knew about inequities in special education funding which violated directives in the La. Constitution, but declined to take action to correct the problem even after the Legislature urged and requested that he do so in 2014. Under White’s watch per pupil funding for public k-12 schools was frozen despite many new unfunded mandates. During the same time period the per pupil amount paid to private schools through the state voucher program increased each year.

Citing these controversies Edwards said,”We need genuine leadership at the helm of the Louisiana Department of Education. We will have that when we elect a genuine leader as governor.”

White’s only formal training in educational administration was earned during six weekend trainings at the Eli Broad Superintendent’s Academy, meant to be an introduction to issues facing Superintendents at the local level.

Mercedes Schneider posted a letter written by a Néw York algebra teacher to parents of his students.

He begins:

“Dear Algebra Parents,

 

“The results from this year’s Common Core Algebra exam are now available and have been posted on the high school gymnasium doors. They are listed by student ID number and have no names attached to them. The list includes all students who took the exam, whether they were middle school students or high school students.

 

“I’ve been teaching math for 13 years now. Every one of those years I have taught some version of Algebra, whether it was “Math A”, “Integrated Algebra”, “Common Core Algebra”, or whatever other form it has shown up in. After grading this exam, speaking to colleagues who teach math in other school districts, and reflecting upon the exam itself, I have come to the conclusion that this was the toughest Algebra exam I have ever seen.

 

“With that in mind, please know that all 31 middle school students who took the exam received a passing score. No matter what grade your son or daughter received, every student should be congratulated on the effort they put into the class this year.

 

“Although everyone passed, many of you will not be happy with the grade that your son or daughter received on the exam (and neither will they). While I usually try to keep the politics of this job out of my communications, I cannot, in good conscience, ignore the two-fold tragedy that unfolded on this exam. As a parent, you deserve to know the truth.

 

“I mentioned how challenging this exam was, but I want you to hear why I feel this way.”

Emily Talmage of Save Maine Schools says goodby (and don’t come back) to the federally-funded Common Core assessments called SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium).

It is not a fond farewell.

She writes:

“SBAC, you will not be missed – but rest assured that we will not forget you.

“We will not forget how many hours you took from children so that they could take part in your failed testing experiment.

“We will not forget the way you set our children up to fail – confusing them with strange, multi-part directions that even adults could not decipher; giving them reading passages written for students well beyond their grade level; requiring them to manipulate complicated computer interfaces to answer your questions…

“We will not forget how hard some parents had to fight to protect their children from your nonsense.

“We will not forget the way you hid your profit-seeking makers behind non-profit organizations.

“We will not forget how very expensive you were.”

A reader reacted to the post about how Common Core demands equal or greater time for informational text instead of literature:

“So much for inspiring with literature. I had a legendary public high school teacher in Georgia who made us love Shakespeare, and Dostoyevsky and Orwell. Those days are done. He was a “light the fire” kind of teacher. I e-mailed him recently and asked him about all of this. He said that he got out of teaching just at the right time.

“At least reading “1984” prepared me for this America. It never comes like you think it will, but here we are with our own “American” version. Orwell was a genius! Innerparty top 2%, Outerparty was top 13% or so. It works well for today’s America or any modern Capitalistic country, doesn’t it? Our billionaires, super rich, top military and top politicians and propagandists (and moronic celebrities for show) make up the top 1-2%. Other rich, including doctors, lawyers, business owners (corporate class) make up the other 13% or so. Then you have the bottom 85% (proles) who live day to day, low wages, retail and yucky jobs. This uneducated horde spends its days trudging their oversized bodies through big-box, plastic junk stores and watching moronic, action-packed, quick-cut movies. It all eerily fits. The top 15% send their kids to expensive private schools or public schools in wealthy, leafy suburbs. The bottom 85% is seeing their schools turned into militarized charter schools (or destroyed, or online). Who cares what happens to the Proles? The bottom 85% has to know their place and know where they fit in to the grand scheme. Too much human “capital”. The bottom 85% will not have nice lives. The top 15% of society will have lunch, the bottom 85% will be lunch! This is the future evolving.”

Chris Wallace on Fox News interviewed Laura Slover, identified as the CEO of the federally funded PARCC.

The interview–and the description of Common Core and PARCC on the Fox website–repeats common myths about both.

This is how PARCC is described:

“PARCC is one of two nonprofits set up by states to test how students are measuring up to Common Core education standards.”

But PARCC and the other testing program were not created by the states. They were both created by the U.S. Department of Education with a grant of $360 million.

No mention of the fact that numerous states have backed out of PARCC. It started with 24 states. Now it’s down to 12 states and D.C.

And then comes a slew of bogus claims. See how many you can count:

Slover says:

“”I think it’s vital that we set a high standard for kids, because if we build it, they will come,” Slover said. “If we expect a lot of kids, they rise to the occasion.”

“Wallace noted that the main complaint about Common Core testing is that it is part of a federal takeover of local schools.

Slover asserted that it’s actually a state-driven program, and states make all the decisions.

“As a parent, I can understand why there are concerns about testing,” Slover said, adding that she wants her daughter taking the tests. “I want to be sure she’s learning. I want to be sure she’s on grade level. And I want to be sure she knows how to do math and is prepared for the next grade.”

“She asserted that for far too long a child’s success has been determined by their parents’ income level and where they grew up.

“We think it’s critical that kids all have opportunities, whether they live in Mississippi or Massachusetts or Colorado or Ohio,” Slover said. “They should all have access to an excellent education. And this is a step in the right direction.”

Biggest bogus claim: if all kids have the same standards and same tests, all children will learn the same things in the same way and will have high test scores. The path to an excellent education requires standardization.

Susan Ochshorn tells the back story on her early childhood education blog. Angie Sullivan, a teacher of grades K-2 in Nevada, is upset because Lucy Calkins is supporting the Common Core. Angie is weeping for the children. She wrote a letter to Lucy Calkins, whose Writers Workshop she admires.

 

She writes:

 

 

There is one Common Core writing standard for kindergarten students in Las Vegas: write a fact and opinion paper.

 

Yep.

 

And that is all.

 

Children who have never picked up a pencil have one global standard: write a paper.

 

I’m weeping as I read through these pages in your book (up to 13)—as you describe fine-tuning your research, somehow expressing a loving Common Core at the same time.

 

I’m having a very difficult time thinking that something as beautiful, powerful, and developmentally appropriate as Writer’s Workshop can work smoothly with the terribly inappropriate, developmentally gross Common Core. I appreciate that this program is your best attempt to fill in the holes with solid examples and sample lessons, but as a professional educator, I question why we would accept this solution. While Common Core meets the needs of a few, in my experience, it ensures the failure of many.

In this post, Valerie Strauss interviews Rafe Esquith. It was published in 2013, in connection with the publication of his book, “Real Talk for Real Teachers.” He started teaching in 1983.

It is a fascinating interview. I urge you to read it. These are excerpts.

Why did he write the book?

“I want young teachers to understand what they are getting into. They are swallowing this line that they are going to save every kid. And when that doesn’t happen they are crushed and they give up.

“I am not saying this to be conceited, but I’m a very good teacher and I want them to know that I fail all the time. There are factors beyond my control. But I have to understand there are issues of family and poverty. Sometimes even if you do reach a kid it’s not going to happen in the year you have them. They aren’t going to sing ‘To Sir With Love’ at the end of the year.

“And to the veteran teachers who really understand what’s going on, every month it’s a new [school reform] flavor of the month. The Common Core [State Standards initiative] isn’t going to do anything. They are spending tens of millions of dollars but it isn’t going to do anything. In my classroom you still have to put a period at the end of a sentence…. I don’t need a new set of standards to make that clear to me.

What’s changed in teaching since you started teaching?

“The obsession with testing. We always gave tests, but basically now it’s the entire day. Basically if it’s not on the test don’t teach it. Teachers spend hours and hours and hours trying to figure out what’s going to be on the test. They will teach that there are four chambers of the heart, but not why we have a heart or why it works…. The data you are looking at — I feel like the emperor has no clothes. Somebody has to say this stuff. I think teachers will feel better to see in print what they think all the time.

“So the obsession with testing is one big change. Also, the economy has declined, families are hurt and I deal with many more family problems. Some of them are really difficult… Most of the parents I deal with try hard for their kids. One of the myths is that poor kids have parents who don’t care. That’s crap. They care.

“But I definitely deal now with more poverty and family troubles and the effects of poverty. I had a great kid this year. His father is gone. His mom works from 5 in the afternoon to 5 in the morning, so he doesn’t really see her. He comes home to an empty house. For teachers to be expected to have the same results as teachers in Finland where there is much less poverty, it’s absurd.”

What do you think about Teach for America?

“They [TFA corp members] are in my room all the time. Good kids. Nice. Bitter joke: TFA really stands for ‘teach for a while.’ Like all other teachers there are some great ones who are there for the right reasons who want to make a difference and some who want to pad their résumés. I certainly don’t think anybody can be a great teacher in five weeks. I hope this book helps them think a little bit about what they are getting into.”

“They [TFA corps members] are obsessed with test scores. It becomes all about this: If you have a kid who gets a 75 on a test and then the kid gets an 85, you are a good teacher. My wife didn’t fall in love with me because of my test scores…. They [TFA leaders] are incredibly defensive about hearing an alternate idea. What’s said is that they are constantly throwing data and money showing they are successful. But they are really not. They are no more successful than any other teachers and if you read their blogs a lot give up in horrible frustration.”

He concludes:

“The point of my new book is that it takes years to be a good classroom teacher. It takes years to be good at anything…

“With Teach For America, I just want to tell them that there’s another problem. Most TFA teachers don’t stay in the classroom long. I want them to know that Room 56 matters. What we do matters. But the kids see teachers shifting back and forth, leaving for other jobs, why would they believe anything matters if their teachers keep leaving?”

Vicki Cobb, a well-known writer of science books for children, was not at all happy with the New York Times’ report on How Common Core has affected the English curriculum.

She writes:

“One of the huge misconceptions about the implementation of the CC is that nonfiction must replace a certain amount of fiction in ELA classes.

“The intent, as we nonfiction authors interpret it, is that there should be a lot more reading of high-quality nonfiction material across the curriculum. There are wonderful books about art, music, sports, as well as history, science and geography that have been shut out of must classrooms.

“Unfortunately, nonfiction has been equated with the flat, boring writing that is in textbooks that destroy the desire to read along with the desire to learn.

“Kate Taylor, also exhibits her ignorance of this huge body of nonfiction literature that can enhance reading and learning in her article by not mentioning it. I can assure you that I wrote her about that.”

Motoko Rich of the Néw York Times answered the question deftly. Peter Greene says she gave a “master class in how to let the subjects of a story make themselves look ridiculous.”

Most of the graders have never been teachers. We know that Pearson and other testing companies hire test graders from Craigslist and Kelly Temps.

Rich writes:

“On Friday, in an unobtrusive office park northeast of downtown here [San Antonio], about 100 temporary employees of the testing giant Pearson worked in diligent silence scoring thousands of short essays written by third- and fifth-grade students from across the country.

“There was a onetime wedding planner, a retired medical technologist and a former Pearson saleswoman with a master’s degree in marital counseling. To get the job, like other scorers nationwide, they needed a four-year college degree with relevant coursework, but no teaching experience. They earned $12 to $14 an hour, with the possibility of small bonuses if they hit daily quality and volume targets.”

My favorite lines in Rich’s story (and Peter’s too) are these:

“At times, the scoring process can evoke the way a restaurant chain monitors the work of its employees and the quality of its products.

“From the standpoint of comparing us to a Starbucks or McDonald’s, where you go into those places you know exactly what you’re going to get,” said Bob Sanders, vice president of content and scoring management at Pearson North America, when asked whether such an analogy was apt.

“McDonald’s has a process in place to make sure they put two patties on that Big Mac,” he continued. “We do that exact same thing. We have processes to oversee our processes, and to make sure they are being followed.”

So, if you want test scoring by readers who are paid by volume, who are not teachers, and who are trained like employees of McDonald’s and Starbucks, the results of Common Core testing should please you.

Don’t you wonder whether this madness is done on purpose to drive parents out of public schools and make them desperate to find an alternative to be free of mass-produced teaching and testing?

The best way to stop it is to refuse the test. Opt out. Take control away from Pearson, PARCC, and the privatizers. Make the machine grind to a halt.

One of the most annoying features of the Common Core standards is its mandate imposing set percentages of fiction and informational text. I know of no other national educational standards that impose such a rigid division. This mandate is absurd. It should be eliminated.

 

The New York Times reports on the controversy here in typical Times style, quoting some who say they like the new approach while others say they don’t like it at all.

 

“The new standards stipulate that in elementary and middle school, at least half of what students read during the day should be nonfiction, and by 12th grade, the share should be 70 percent.”

 

Where did these numbers come from? Not research. They happen to be the same as the instructions to assessment developers for the federal test called NAEP. NAEP wanted a mix of fiction and informational text. They were not concocted as guidelines for teachers. Yet the CCSS project adopted them as a national mandate, with no evidence. Is there evidence that students who read more nonfiction than literature are better prepared for colleges and careers? No. There is none. None.

 

There is absolutely no valid justification for this mandate. When it was challenged five years ago as a threat to the teaching of literature, the authors of the CC said there was a misunderstanding. They said the proportions were written for the entire curriculum, not just for English classes, so the nonfiction in math, science, and other classes would leave English teachers free to teach literature, as usual. This was silly. How many classes in math, science, civics, and history were reading fiction? Clearly the goal was to force English teachers to teach nonfiction, on the assumption that fiction does not prepare you to be “college and career ready.”

 

And as the article shows, English teachers are taking the mandate seriously. Frankly, every English teacher should be free to decide what to teach. If he or she loves teaching literature, that’s her choice. If she loves teaching documents, essays, biographies, and other nonfiction, that’s her choice.

 

Or should be.

 

Now, read Peter Greene’s dissection of this article. He is outraged by the writer’s bland acceptance of Common Core’s nonsensical demands on English teachers, as well as the assumption that English teachers never taught non-fiction in the past. They did and do.

 

He lists the elements of the article that are infuriating. Here is one:

 

Taylor does not know where the informational text requirement came from.

 

Taylor notes that “the new standards stipulate” that a certain percentage (50 for elementary, 70 for high school) of a student’s daily reading diet should be informational. And that’s as deep as she digs.

 

But why is the informational requirement in the Common Core in the first place? There’s only one reason– because David Coleman thought it would be a good idea. All these years later, and not one shred of evidence, one scrap of research, not a solitary other nation that has used such a requirement to good results— there isn’t anything at all to back up the inclusion of the informational reading requirement in the standards except that David Coleman thought it would be a good idea. Coleman, I will remind you, is not a teacher, not an educator, not a person with one iota of expertise in teaching and is, in fact, proud of his lack of qualifications. In fact, Coleman has shared with us his thoughts about how to teach literature, and they are — not good. If Coleman were student teaching in my classroom, I would be sending him back to the drawing board (or letting him try his ideas out so that we could have a post-crash-and-burn “How could we do better” session).

 

Coleman has pulled off one of the greatest cons ever. If a random guy walked in off the street into your district office and said, “Hey, I want to rewrite some big chunks of your curriculum just because,” he would be justly ignored. But Coleman has managed to walk in off the street and force every American school district pay attention to him.

 

Here is another:

 

Taylor uses a quote to both pay lip service to and also to dismiss concerns about curricular cuts.

 

“Unfortunately there has been some elimination of some literature,” said Kimberly Skillen, the district administrator for secondary curriculum and instruction in Deer Park, N.Y. But she added: “We look at teaching literature as teaching particular concepts and skills. So we maybe aren’t teaching an entire novel, but we’re ensuring that we’re teaching the concepts that that novel would have gotten across.”

 

So, you see, we really only use literature in the classroom as a sort of bucket to carry in little nuggets of concept and skill. The literature doesn’t really have any intrinsic value of its own. Why read the whole novel when we only really care about (aka test) a couple of paragraphs on page 142? If we were hoping to pick up some metaphor-reading skills along the way, why not just read a page of metaphor examples?

 

This is an attitude of such staggering ignorance and numbskullery that I hardly know how to address it. This is like saying, “Why bother with getting to know someone and dating and talking to each other and listening to each other and spending months just doing things together and sharing hopes and dreams and finally deciding to commit your lives to each other and planning a life together and then after all that finally sleeping together– why do all that when you could just hire a fifty-dollar hooker and skid straight to the sex?” It so completely misses the point, and if neither Taylor nor Skillen can see how it misses the point, I’m not even sure where to begin.

 

Literature creates a complex web of relationships, relationships between the reader and the author, between the various parts of the text, between the writing techniques and the meaning.

 

You don’t get the literature without reading the whole thing. The “we’ll just read the critical part of the work” school of teaching belongs right up there with a “Just the last five minutes” film festival. Heck, as long as you see the sled go into the furnace or the death star blow up or Kevin Spacey lose the limp, you don’t really need the rest of the film for anything, right?

 

And here is the truly outrageous change that Common Core is imposing on English classrooms across the nation: No need to read the whole novel or the whole play. Just read little chunks to get ready for the test. That is an outrage.

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