Archives for category: Common Core

A watchdog website has blown the whistle on a study of the cost of new testing in Colorado. Critics say the study far understates the cost of testing.

 

Joshua Scharf of Watchdogwire writes:

 

A $74,000 commissioned report by Augenblick Palaich and Associates (APA), detailing the costs and time of statewide school assessments is coming under scrutiny for data analysis, key omissions, and potential conflicts of interest….

 

The APA Assessment Study Report analyzing the cost and time of Colorado assessments, was formally presented to Colorado’s HB14-1202 Standards and Assessments Task Force on Nov. 17, but critics charge it omitted outlying data, failed to account for necessary capital expenses, and is unclear in its calculation of student- and district-level averages.

 

Of 179 districts in Colorado, APA surveyed only 5 and excluded capital costs associated with new assessments. Here was one big omission: APA’s HB1202 report does not include costs incurred by schools for computers, infrastructure, and bandwidth necessary to take the state-mandated online PARCC and CMAS tests. Ah! So the contractor calculated the cost of testing but did not include the cost of computers, infrastructure, and bandwidth! Parents–and even some members of the state’s Task Force are calling for an investigation.

 

Scharf writes:

 

Technology costs associated with online testing are steep. This Pioneer Institute report shows average testing costs $1.24 billion pale in comparison to technology costs $6.27 billion, nationally. Many Colorado districts have already spent millions just to meet the technological demands, and although the HB1202 APA survey did collect “some information” on technology costs to schools, again, they refused to show it. Task force members have repeatedly asked to see the quantitative data collected by the APA survey both on reported testing time and cost.

 

APA’s private Draft report records significantly different numbers from its public report. The “Private Draft” reports testing costs for state, federal, and local tests to range from $55 million to $130 million while the study that the public sees reports the weighted average cost of testing as $61 million, and doesn’t explain that the range was double that….

 

Despite the competition placed by the CDE for study, APA’s was the sole proposal received. While 109 other bidders expressed interest, some demurred, commenting that the $74,000 budget was too small for a study of proper scope.

 

In addition, according to this CDE document, the task force itself expressed many concerns on APA’s proposal, including conflict of interests stemming from APA’s previous work with the Bill Gates-funded Colorado Education Initiative (CEI). CEI paid APA to do a similar assessment study just two years ago. The task force worried this prior work with CEI “could slant the focus and, consequently, the results of the HB1202 study”. They also cited APA’s tendency to not use quantitative data, resulting in reports based mostly on “perceptions and opinions, rather than actual school and district budgets and expenditures.”

 

Even more fascinating than the report were the public comments, most of which expressed strong opposition to the time and costs of new testing. Read them here.

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Elfrieda H. Hiebert and Heidi Anne E. Mesmer published an article in a recent issue of Educational Research about the problems posed by Common Core’s demand for “rigorous” and complex text in the early grades.

 

The researchers show how the writers of the Common Core have raised expectations and “text complexity” for children in the early grades, even though research is scant. Most children do not reach the level that NAEP define as “proficient.” The Common Core tests will raise demands on students in second and third grades to prepare them for college-readiness. The authors ask the obvious question: “When a majority of students is already failing to attain the proficient level, will pushing down demands increase their engagement?” 

 

Hiebert and Mesmer urge that more study and research are needed before raising the bar so high that many more children will fail. They conclude: Increasing the pressure on the primary grades—without careful work that indicates why the necessary levels are not attained by many more students—may have consequences that could widen a gap that is already too large for the students who, at present, are left out of many careers and higher education. How sadly ironic it would be if an effort intended to support these very students limited their readiness for college and careers.

 

 

Nicholas Tampio, a professor of political science at Fordham University, dislikes David Coleman’s approach to teaching literature even more than Peter Greene. He believes that Coleman has no appreciation for literature.

 

Coleman writes about the joys of “wonder,” says Tampio, but the methods he imposes are sure to suffocate and penalize wonder:

 

 

 

Coleman’s pedagogical vision stifles this kind of wonder by imposing tight restrictions on what may be thought — or at least what may be expressed to earn teacher approval, high grades and good test scores. He expects students to answer questions by merely stringing together key words in the text before them. This does not teach philosophy or thinking; it teaches the practice of rote procedures, conformity and obedience.

 

The first standard is the foundation of his vision. “Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it,” it reads, and “cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.” According to Coleman, the first standard teaches a rigorous, deductive approach to reading that compels students to extract as much information from the text as possible.

 

Throughout the document, he reiterates that students need to identify key words in a text. He analyzes passages from “Hamlet,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the Gettysburg Address and an essay by Martha Graham. There is minimal discussion of historical context or outside sources that may make the material come alive. For instance, he suggests that teachers ask students, “What word does Lincoln use most often in the address?” rather than, say, discuss the Civil War. In fact, he disparages this approach. “Great questions make the text the star of the classroom; the most powerful evidence and insight for answering lies within the text or texts being read. Most good questions are text dependent and text specific.”

 

A recurrent defense of the Common Core is that the standards are good but the implementation has been bad.
As a professor, of course I demand that my students provide evidence to support their arguments. Coleman’s pedagogical vision, however, does not prepare students for college. He discourages students from making connections between ideas, texts or events in the world — in a word, from thinking. Students are not encouraged to construct knowledge and understanding; they must simply be adept at repeating it.

 

His philosophy of education transfers across disciplines. After analyzing literary passages, he observes, “Similar work could be done for texts … in other areas such as social studies, history, science and technical subjects.” Like a chef’s signature flavor, Coleman’s philosophy of education permeates the myriad programs that the College Board runs.

 

Computers can grade the responses generated from his philosophy of education. Students read a passage and then answer questions using terms from it, regardless of whether the text is about history, literature, physics or U.S. history. The Postal Service sorts letters using handwriting-recognition technology, and with a little tinkering, this kind of software could seemingly be used to score the SAT or AP exams.

 

Coleman’s vision will end up harming the U.S. economy and our democratic culture.

 

The U.S. should be wary of emulating countries that use a standards-based model of education. In “World Class Learners,” the scholar Yong Zhao commends America’s tradition of local control of the schools and an educational culture that encourages sports, the arts, internships and other extracurricular pursuits. In diverse ways, U.S. schools have educated many successful intellectuals, artists and inventors. By contrast, the Chinese model of education emphasizes rigorous standards and high-stakes tests, pre-eminently the gaokao college entrance exam. Chinese policymakers rue, however, how this education culture stifles creativity, curiosity and entrepreneurship. The Common Core will lead us to the same trap. Educators should not discard what has made the U.S. a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship.

 

Democracy depends on citizens’ treating one another with respect. In perhaps his most famous public statement, Coleman told a room of educators not to teach students to write personal narratives, because “as you grow up in this world, you realize that people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” This statement expresses, albeit more crassly, the same sentiment as his essay on cultivating wonder. He demands that students do what they are told and not offer their own perspectives on things. Ideally in a democracy, by contrast, citizens have a sincere interest in what other citizens have to say. As John Dewey argued in “Democracy and Education,” the purpose of the schools is to create a democratic culture, not one that replicates the worst features of the market economy.

 

A recurrent defense of the Common Core is that the standards are good but the implementation has been bad. Even if Coleman’s educational vision is perfectly actualized, it is still profoundly flawed. Under Common Core, from the time they enter kindergarten to the time they graduate from high school, students will have few opportunities to ask their own questions or come up with their own ideas. It’s time for Americans to find alternatives to Coleman’s educational vision.

 

 

Nicholas Tampio is associate professor of political science at Fordham University. He is the author of “Kantian Courage: Advancing the Enlightenment in Contemporary Political Theory.” He is currently researching the topic of democracy and national education standards.

 

Peter Greene, a high school teacher in Pennsylvania and blogger extraordinaire, here reviews David Coleman’s approach to teaching literature and finds it wanting.

 

This matters because David Coleman is both the architect of the infamous Common Core standards and the CEO of the College Board, which administers the SAT for college admission.

 

Greene examines how Coleman would teach Hamlet, Huck Finn, the Gettysburg Address, and a few other well-known literary works and shows what Coleman does not understand about teaching.

 

I hope not to spoil your pleasure in reading Greene’s analysis by sharing his concluding thoughts:

 

Coleman repeatedly fails to distinguish between his own experience of the text and Universal Truth. This leads him both to believe apparently that if he just figured something out about Bernardo, he must be the first person ever to see it, that his own reaction to a line is the universal one, that his path into the text is the only one, and that things that do not matter to him should not matter to anybody. Of all the reformsters, he is the one least likely to ever acknowledge contributions of any other living human being. For someone who famously said that nobody gives a shot about your thoughts and feelings, Coleman is enormously fascinated by and has great fait on his own thoughts and feelings.

 

The frequent rap on Coleman’s reading approach is that it is test prep, a technique designed to prepare students to take standardized tests. But the more Coleman I read, the more I suspect it’s the other way around– that Coleman thinks a standardized test is really a great model of life, where there’s always just one correct answer, one correct path, one correct reading, and life is about showing that you have it (or telling other people to have it).

 

Sadly, it often seems that what David Coleman doesn’t know about literature is what David Coleman doesn’t know about being human in the world. Life is not a bubble test. There is a richness and variety in human experience that Coleman simply does not recognize nor allow for. His view of knowledge, learning, understanding, and experience is cramped and tiny. It’s unfortunate that circumstances have allowed him such unfettered power over the very idea of what an educated person should be. It’s like making a person who sees only black and white the High Minister of National Art.

Katie Osgood, who teaches in Chicago, describes what the Common Core and PARCC have done to her classroom. Whatever the children read is decontextualized, lifeless, bare of interest, skill-based.

 

They are engaged in “close reading,” following David Coleman’s ideology.

 

She writes:

 

My school is drowning under the ridiculous Common Core Standards. Everything I know to do to inspire my students is forbidden. Instead, we are forced to deliver truly horrible curriculum in developmentally inappropriate ways with pacing charts that move so fast all our heads are spinning. My students with special needs are shutting down, acting out, or just giving up entirely. Sometimes I hear them whisper, “I hate school”. And they are right to think that. All the teachers are upset. And every time we ask “Why? Why are you making us do this?” the answer is always the same. PARCC is coming….

 

For the past two weeks, my co-teacher and I were teaching off the standard that asks our fifth graders to compare and contrast two pieces of literature from the same genre. In my inclusion classroom, that looks like reading two myths without any teaching around what myths are, about Ancient Greece, about how the myths point to our own humanity. No, we are told to have the kids create a Venn diagram of the two texts and then practice writing a constructed response. The kids have no idea who Zeus or Hera are. They know nothing about the way myths were used to explain religion and nature to an ancient people. There is no chance to connect these ancient stories to the kids’ own lives. I hear the kids mutter, “Why are theses such funny names?” But because we are on a strict pacing guide, and because the teaching of Greek Mythology is not in the standard, we simply moved on. This week we’re on to comparing poems. In order to practice more constructed responses. To get ready for PARCC.

 

I cannot believe how we are warping the experience of reading for these children. Sometimes we are told to do a “close read”of stirring passages about the Underground Railroad for the sole purpose of pulling out the main idea and supporting details. We don’t actually talk about the Underground Railroad-letting the horror of slavery sink in. No, it’s simply about getting the skill, so the kids can demonstrate the same skill on the dreaded test. What a ridiculous disservice. I still remember my fourth grade teacher reading us a novel on Harriet Tubman and how that story was one of my first understandings of true injustice. We were inspired to create art projects, to write poetry, to pull out further texts on slavery from our library. We had class discussions. We wrote letters. We felt the text come alive. Our kids are not getting anything remotely like that experience. Because of PARCC.

 

And to make things worse, I teach at an all African-American school in a high-poverty neighborhood on Chicago’s southside. Killing the love of reading before it starts for my students is nothing short of criminal. But because of the high-stakes nature of PARCC, knowing that schools just blocks away have been closed for their poor test scores, our school is in a sickening frenzy to raise our test scores by any means necessary. Everything revolves around this test. And my students who so desperately need safe, supportive, relevant, and engaging learning environments, instead are given high-pressured, standardized, test-prep CCRAP.

 

Will anyone defend these absurd practices? Or must we go along because Arne says so. Because the College Board says so. Because the business community believes that Common Core will prepare our children to be “globally competitive.” Based on what evidence?

 

 

Sarah Blaine*, a lawyer and mother in Néw Jersey, took the 4th grade PARCC sample test. She has a daughter in 4th grade. Blaine was outraged by the test questions. She wrote a letter to the members of Governor Christie’s PARCC Task Force and urged them to take the test before they make their recommendations.

She writes:

“I have a fourth grade daughter. She was first identified for our district’s gifted and talented program for English Language Arts in kindergarten, as she came into kindergarten reading chapter books. Her vocabulary and analysis skills remain quite advanced for a child of her age. And I can tell you that she retains the ability to imagine. Do you remember that, the ability to imagine with ease? Do you remember your childhood, when you could create imaginary worlds and people them with imaginary characters just by wishing them into existence? Do you remember building forts and castles that were as real to you as could be? For a moment, for just a moment, I ask you to call upon what is likely your long-stagnated power of imagination. Imagine yourself at nine or ten years old. Imagine your room, imagine your friends, and imagine your school work.

“Then sit down. Keep yourself in your nine or ten year old mindset. Boot up your desktop, or power up your laptop, or unlock your iPad. Navigate to the PARCC website, at parcconline.org. Navigate to the 4th grade English Language Arts PARCC practice test. Open it in front of you, right now, as you read this comment. If you refuse to sit down to take the sample tests yourself, then with all due respect I submit that farcical as this task force — with its 6 week window to issue recommendations — might be, you are not meeting you obligation as member of this task force. Remember as you work through the 4th grade PARCC practice test that you are not your current self — you are still your nine or ten year old self.”

Will they take the challenge? Will they take the test?

*Sarah Blaine was the writer of “Arne’s Worst Idea Yet,” cited on this blog.

Governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi recounts how governors were cajoled into supporting the Common Core standards. It sounded like a good idea, it would be “state-led,” but now it turns out that if you try to change your mind, you lose federal funding. So much for “state-led.” Of the 24 states that agreed to use the federally-funded PARCC assessment, only 9 remain, he says.

 

He writes:

 

In 2008, a new system of public education standards was discussed by the National Governors Association. The new standards, called Common Core, would emphasize problem solving and competitiveness and would ensure that students throughout the nation met certain achievement benchmarks. The concept sounded solid, and we were assured that this was a state-led initiative with no federal control or connection to federal funds.

 

Now in 2014, we know something went terribly wrong. State control over the standards turned out to be a myth, and adopting the standards has been required if a state wants to even apply for major federal education funding. So much for no federal control.

 

Federalism in education has long been a feature of American education. States are supposed to be “laboratories of democracy,” encouraged to innovate. Mississippi’s low test scores are not caused by a lack of national standards and national tests but by poverty. Reduce poverty and test scores will rise, no matter what the test.

This article appears on Breitbart.com, a conservative media outlet. Written by Dr. Susan Berry, a regular contributor to the website, it is critical of Jeb Bush’s support for the Common Core and details his relationships with other groups and funders.

 

With polls showing Republican support for Common Core plummeting, common sense would dictate that Bush call it a day with the nationalized standards, as has been done by other Republicans, such as Maine Gov. Paul LePage and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who plans to run for governor of Louisiana next year.
However, as a review of Bush’s history with the education initiative demonstrates, his interest in pushing onto the entire nation the reforms he introduced while governor of Florida – and his methods for doing so – have led his critics to claim he is more about big government crony capitalism than concern for children’s education.
Bush is the founder of several organizations that all play into a reported strategy that involves not only motivating “the people” at large for changes in education, but also using state education officials to administratively make some of those changes happen without the scrutiny or approval of the public.
As the founder and chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), a national group which states its ambitious mission is “to build an American education system that equips every child to achieve his or her God-given potential,” Bush tapped for CEO Patricia Levesque, his former deputy chief of staff for education, enterprise solutions for government, minority procurement, and business and professional regulation while he was governor.
Chiefs for Change is an affiliate of FEE and describes itself as a “bipartisan coalition of current and former state education chiefs who believe that American public education can be dramatically improved.” Current members of Chiefs for Change include Mark Murphy of Delaware, Tom Luna of Idaho, John White of Louisiana, Hanna Skandera of New Mexico, Janet Barresi of Oklahoma – who was defeated in the state’s primary election this year, Deborah Gist of Rhode Island, and Kevin Huffman of Tennessee, former education commissioner and ex-husband of controversial Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee…..

 

As it happens, some of the Chiefs for Change are also members of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the two federally funded interstate consortia that are developing tests aligned with the Common Core standards.
“Cronyism and corruption come in all political stripes and colors,” wrote [Michelle] Malkin at Townhall. “As a conservative parent of public charter school-educated children, I am especially appalled by these pocket-lining GOP elites who are giving grassroots education reformers a bad name and cashing in on their betrayal of limited-government principles…..”

 

Additionally, Bush has joined with former president of the pro-Common Core Fordham Institute Chester Finn and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Conservatives for Higher Standards, a group that promotes the Common Core standards but whose supporters still call themselves “conservatives.” Among the organization’s supporters are Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), soon-to-be head of the Senate committee that oversees education; former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R); former U.S. Secretary of Education Bill Bennett; Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R); Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R); former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R); and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R).
The Fordham Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Bush’s national organization have all been awarded grants by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the primary private backer of the Common Core standards.
In 2013, Bush’s FEE itself received $3,500,000 from the Gates Foundation. Two million dollars of that was awarded to FEE “to support Common Core implementation,” and $1.5 million was “for general operating support….”

 

In addition to the Gates Foundation, FEE’s donor list includes names not unfamiliar to critics of the Common Core standards: the GE Foundation, the Helmsley Charitable Trust, News Corp, the Walton Family Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Carnegie Corporation, the Schwab Foundation, Microsoft, Exxon Mobil, Paul Singer Foundation, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Intel, K12, Pearson, Scholastic, and Target.
Book publishers such as Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, K12, and Scholastic are all poised to reap billions off the sale of Common Core-aligned textbooks and instructional materials that school districts are forced to purchase if they want their students to succeed on the Common Core-aligned assessments. Similarly, technology companies will benefit from the online assessments and student data collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the local newspaper printed an article indicating that Louisiana’s teachers support the Common Core, teacher Glynis Johnson wrote a letter saying that the reporter was wrong.

 

What I found interesting about her letter was the cogency of her critique:

 

1. Very few teachers were involved in the writing of the standards.

2. Bill Gates, who did not graduate college, put his millions into the development of the standards.

3. She writes: The Common Core State Standards are a federal intrusion and the “data-mining” involved is a violation of student privacy. Many of the standards are developmentally inappropriate, particularly in the lower grades. This leads to undue stress in our students and parents. We need high standards, but do not need to be part of a 10-year federal experiment on our children.

 

Many people have explained why they do not support the Common Core standards. This is as good a short description as I have seen.

 

 

 

 

Peter Berger teaches English at Weathersfield High School in Vermont. He says that the amount of instructional time wasted for faux professional development days is absurd. Equally absurd is the time and money wasted on consultants touring the latest fad, who never were teachers.

Likewise, the new online Common Core tests are a boon to the tech corporations, but not to the students, who actually write more on paper-and-pencil tests.

“I’ve stood behind my eighth-grade students as they’ve taken several publishers’ Common Core era tests. The directions were convoluted, the questions frequently did “focus on small details” and isolated, obscure bits of literary terminology, rather than on “overall comprehension,” and the questions often were ambiguous. Many were actually indecipherable, with words missing and incorrectly arranged so that students were left asking me what the question meant, and I was left to fill in the syntactical blanks and guess what they were being asked to do.

“The myth that these assessments are scientifically designed to generate meaningful data is insupportable. Any such guarantee is a fraud. Last week’s test was accompanied by a notice that the assessment contractor had added five questions to the test this year, for a total of 20 questions, in order to “provide more accurate test scores and less fluctuation in scores between test windows.”

“In other words, students, teachers, and schools that failed last time, and suffered interventions and sanctions as a result, maybe didn’t fail. Of course, students, teachers, and schools that appeared to succeed maybe didn’t succeed.

“Oh, well.”

Who dreamed up all this nonsense?

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