Archives for category: Curriculum

A reader reports on first-hand experience with Néw York’s EngageNY curriculum for Common Core:

“As a 2nd grade teacher with nearly 20 years teaching experience, I cannot express how disturbing it is to be forced to use the EngageNY materials every day. It goes against everything we know works effectively to engage and educate our students. As professionals originally hired for our creativity, enthusiasm, and dedication – these materials do everything possible to kill those qualities in each of us.

“We were told from day one that we were to use the program “with fidelity.” It was obvious that no one had actually reviewed the materials (probably due to the fact that many of the modules hadn’t even been completed yet when districts adopted them) or had asked teachers to take a look at what we were being given ahead of time. We also were not given any training – the boxes were just delivered just a few days before the school year began. As the year progressed and it became increasingly evident that there were multiple errors and/or no way to implement all of the many components scheduled in a day with the time allotted, we were then told to “use common sense.” We were not exactly sure what that meant as we were still expected to follow the program and would be evaluated on our use of it as well.

“Last year we entered our second year with EngageNY. Having been through it once, we are still identifying more and more errors and, most importantly, developmentally inappropriate material that we are expected to present to our students. Mid-year we were told that we would finally have a day to meet with a representative to do some training. All we had ever requested was that someone come in to our school and demonstrate exactly HOW all of the materials were to be used in a given lesson. Please just SHOW US! – we asked over and over. That would never happen. However, during our “training” (which was essentially just a sales presentation showing us each component), again we asked how it would be possible to fit all of these things that were dictated in a lesson into our limited time each day. The representative did finally admit that there really couldn’t be any at to fit 2 1/2 hours worth of lessons in an hour or 1 1/2 hour period.

“We, teachers and students, are being set up to fail. It is so sad to think that I hear teachers talk about “the good old days” when we used to be able to create fun and engaging activities that students enjoyed and we loved teaching! I am sorry that this has been a bit long-winded (and I could go on and on with more about this), but I haven’t had an opportunity to share this with any teachers outside of my own district. It is both comforting (and discouraging) to know that there are others experiencing the same things around the country. I hope that we can come together and fight for what we know is right for our students!”

This post is a description of EngageNY, the scripted curriculum written for use in New York state and now migrating to other states. Ken Wagner, former deputy commissioner of the New York State Education Department, now Rhode Island state superintendent, promises to import them to Rhode Island. New York’s new state commissioner says she used the New York curriculum with great success in Florida. Read this post and decide for yourself. Be sure to read the comments.

Here is a sample:

The same people who gave us standardized testing have now given us standardized teaching, which goes directly to the information a student can get, how the student gets it, and what the student is supposed to get out of each and every class minute. It is 19th-century educational lockstep, pushed by the White House and institutionalized by the New York governor’s office.

If standardized testing dumbed down school and teacher evaluation, standardized teaching takes it a step further: It dumbs down the kids.

The project is called “Engage New York.” It does anything but.

If, say, you are a teacher of 11th-grade English in Buffalo, you get, every 10 weeks, a thick three-ring binder with instructions on what you are to do in every class. The copy I have of one of these runs 587 pages. The volume is excruciatingly boring to read. (I cheated: I skimmed most of the pages.) I cannot imagine what it is like to be a creative and imaginative teacher hamstrung by it. Worse: I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a student in classes that now have to be taught by teachers forced to deliver this drivel or be fired.

The book is divided into teaching “modules,” which list what questions the teachers should ask, what answers they should get, and how they should respond to them. They list what words students should learn each day.

There are regular pages headed “Unit-at-a-Glance Calendar,” telling the teacher the specific lines and paragraphs to be covered in each class. There are pages listing “Activity” items for each class; each named activity includes the percentage of class time to be devoted to it. One, for example has “Activity 1: Introduction of Lesson Agenda. 5%”; Activity 2: Homework Accountability. 10%”; “Activity 3: Masterful Reading. 5%”; “Activity 4: Hamlet Act 1.2, Lines 900-110 Reading and Discussion, 60%.”

Day after day of this, class after class, minute by minute.

The questions the teachers are ordered to ask are often so banal they read like a Monty Python parody. Here is an example. The teacher is told to ask the question, “What information do you gather from the full title of the play: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark?” (All teacher questions are in bold type.)

Permissible student answers are:

—The play is about a person named Hamlet.

—This is a tragic or sad play.

—Hamlet is a prince.

—This play likely takes place in Denmark.

This is drivel. The book is full of things like that. It is also full of misinformation.

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.”

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.”

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.

This article was distributed by the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy.

“Dr. Barbara Brothers, Dean Emeritus, Youngstown State University, and current chair of the Education Committee of the Greater Youngstown League of Women Voters, is looking into the Pearson operation in Ohio and wrote what she has found thus far.

Ohio, a Pearson State

The Pearson Corporation is a multi-billion dollar United Kingdom enterprise which has grown from a construction company to include newspapers, entertainment enterprises such as amusement parks, and book publishers among its holdings. In 2000 Pearson spent $2.5 billion to acquire an American testing company in an effort to increase its profits through securing contracts to produce standardized tests and test preparation materials
(http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/pearson-education-115026.html). It has been given enormous control over K-12 public schools in Ohio by the Ohio legislature and governor.

Pearson effectively controls what is taught, who graduates, and even who gets a second chance at a high school diploma through the General Education Diploma (GED) examination. Recently Comcast was prevented from acquiring Time Warner because the federal government determined that Comcast’s control of 60% of the market was too great. But that market share pales compared to the 100% Pearson has been granted by the State of Ohio.

Since 2013, Pearson tests even license teachers in Ohio. Because the tests are designed and graded by Pearson, the company and its employees determine what teachers need to know in all particular teaching fields-English, science, history. Colleges must address what Pearson puts on the tests so that their students will be licensed to teach in Ohio initially and, later, when a teacher seeks professional advancement.

By 2018, Pearson end of course exams in designated subjects in grades 9 -12–PARCC Tests–will determine if a student receives an Ohio high school diploma. PARCC tests-Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and careers-are to be based on Common Core State Standards (CCSS), developed with primary input from Pearson.

In January of 2014 Pearson produced a revised GED exam—a new version of the GED that is to be taken entirely on-line. The pass rate fell 90 percent because the test now measures college readiness rather than what was actually learned in high school.

Pearson controls the curriculum by defining the knowledge and skills a student must master. Pearson assures us the CCSS will be rigorous; i.e. that at least thirty percent or more of students taking the tests will fail. An educator such as Dr. Louisa Moats, who was a contributing writer of CCSS, is just one of many of those critical of the jump to test and fail (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/child-development-central/201401/when-will-we-ever-learn). These standards for which Pearson oversaw the development, helped by tax free money such as an $88 million dollar grant from the Gates Foundation, in turn require the development and selling of both on-line materials and textbooks to prepare the teacher to teach to the test. Pearson produces the materials from which the teachers teach and the tests that tell us if they have performed satisfactorily. In Ohio they have no competitors. If your school “fails” then send your child to a Connections Academy, a Pearson for-profit Charter advertised on their GED webpage.

Teachers, parents, and concerned citizens have criticized the tests on a number of grounds-the number of tests, the time the tests take, the appropriateness of the questions, the secrecy about the test questions, the spying on students’ social media, the use of the tests for punishment, teaching to the test, the ignoring of the arts, the expense and failure of the technology for administering the tests, and the tremendous cost to taxpayers. The mania for testing and collecting volumes of data are destroying our education system and creating a world of big profits for the Pearson corporation and Big Brother-ism–all approved by our Ohio Legislature and Governor and supported by Federal legislation-No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

The College Board has ambitious plans to make SAT prep a standard part of the curriculum, utilizing Khan Academy videos. The head of the College Board is David Coleman, architect of the Common Core. The ostensible goal is to help more poor kids get prepared to take the SAT and gain admission to college.

“The company wants schools to track students’ progress from eighth to 12th grade using the “SAT Suite of Assessments,” which will be largely paid for by schools and typically administered during the school day, thus ensuring high participation rates. All of the exams will be aligned with the redesigned SAT, which is slated to make its debut next spring. More school-day testing is bound to take time away from traditional instruction, as is Khan prep if schools make it part of the standard curriculum, which appears to be the College Board’s goal….”

“If you ask Coleman, having students do Khan prep in school doesn’t detract from authentic learning. He believes that doing multiple-choice math and reading questions on screen and watching Khan’s YouTube videos constitute an “organic tool” that will work within the existing curriculum to develop academic skills. Meanwhile, Cynthia Schmeiser, who oversees assessment at the College Board, believes that “the sooner a student starts [using Khan prep], the more comfortable they’ll be on test day.”

“These positions fly in the face of test-prep experts, who argue that the SAT is divorced from traditional school work because it is a high-stakes, time-pressured, multiple-choice exam. Tutors typically recommend intense, compact preparation that detracts as little as possible from other educational pursuits and takes months not years. As Brendan Mernin, a founding tutor at Noodle.com, put it, “The SAT is supposed to show what you got out of your schoolwork. It is not supposed to be the schoolwork.”

What do I think? I think this is a corruption of education. The goal of education is to help young people learn and develop in mind, body, and character. School is a time to explore and develop interests and talents. Taking a test is not the goal of education. It is supposed to be a measure, not a part of the curriculum.

It is well-established that students’ grade point average predicts college readiness better than the SAT. Many colleges recognize this,and more than 800 are now test-optional.

The SAT has been losing ground to the ACT. This may be a clever marketing ploy by the College Board to best the competition.

Let’s hope that more colleges recognize that students’ work over four years means more than the SAT or the ACT. Free the students from this unnecessary burden!

Defending the Early Years (DEY), an advocacy group for young children, has published an excellent critique of K-3 Common Core math standards by Dr. Constance Kamii, a scholar of early childhood learning.

Here is a brief summary by DEY of Dr. Kamii’s study:

In this report, Dr. Kamii explains that most of the CCSS are written as if the authors are not aware of logico-mathematical knowledge; they seem to think that the facts and skills in the mathematics standards can be taught directly. Dr. Kamii goes on to explain why the CCSS are set at grade levels that are too early. She selects specific standards for each grade from kindergarten to grade 3 and shows, based on her research, why young children cannot grasp the mathematical concepts these standards require. Dr. Kamii’s explanations are thorough and grounded in child development research and understandings. They will give any interested reader a deep appreciation for the term “developmentally inappropriate.”

According to Dr. Kamii, in an effort to meet the standards, teachers will try to accelerate learning by directly teaching specific and too-advanced concepts and skills. This, she explains, will result in empty “verbalisms” children learning by rote what they don’t truly understand. Children will learn to accept answers on the basis of what teachers and books say and will lose confidence in their own ability to think for themselves.

The powerful ideas found in Dr. Kamii’s paper are echoed in the recent essay released by Defending the Early Years in April, 2015 called Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children by Dr. Lilian G. Katz (Katz, 2015). Dr. Katz is Professor Emerita of Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). Dr. Katz is Past President of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the first President of the Illinois Association for the Education of Young Children. She is an influential leader in the field of early childhood education.

In Dr. Katz’s paper, she explains the importance of intellectual goals for young children and contrasts them with academic goals. Intellectual goals and their related activities are those that address the life of the mind in its fullest sense – reasoning, predicting, analyzing, questioning – and include a range of aesthetic and moral sensibilities. Academic goals, on the other hand, involve mastery of small discrete elements of disembodied information designed to prepare children for the next levels of literacy and numeracy learning. Items designed to meet academic goals rely heavily on memorization and the application of formulae versus understanding. As Dr. Katz explains, intellectual dispositions may be weakened or even damaged by excessive and premature focus on academic goals.

In Dr. Kamii’s critique of the Common Core Math Standards, she shows how many of the standards further academic but not intellectual goals. Many of the standards she describes require children to master discrete bits of information and rely heavily on rote learning. For Dr. Kamii, genuine math learning engages children’s intellectual dispositions. In her opinion, the CCSS redirect education away from thinking and genuine meaning making and focus it on more limited academic goals.

For both scholars, Dr. Katz and Dr. Kamii, an appropriate curriculum for young children is one that supports children’s in-born intellectual dispositions, their natural inclinations. In Selected Standards from the CCSS for Mathematics, Grades K-3: My reasons for not supporting them, Constance Kamii makes plain that most of the CCSS involve logico-mathematical knowledge and are therefore, not directly teachable. Dr. Kamii also maps out clearly in each of the examples why specific standards for the early grades are set at grade levels too early and are therefore developmentally inappropriate. She asks why the authors of the CCSS did not consider the large body of data available from research. And she concludes that any teacher of children in grades K-3 would easily understand that the standards are too hard for most children.

At Defending the Early Years, we are persuaded by the evidence from early childhood experts about the many failings in the CCSS for young children. We therefore call for removing kindergarten from the Common Core and for the convening of a task force of early childhood educators to recommend developmentally appropriate, culturally responsive guidelines for supporting young children’s optimal learning from birth to grade 3.

The DEY reports Selected Standards from the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Grades K-3:
My reasons for not supporting them and Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children are available to download at our website http://www.DEYproject.org.

Gary Rubinstein, teacher of mathematics at Stuyvesant High School, author and blogger, reviews Eureka Math in this post and finds it wanting. He points out that Eureka Math is the program that is considered most closely aligned to the Common Core math standards.

 

Rubinstein picked several examples of math problems from the Eureka curriculum and found them poorly written or wrong.

 

Eureka Math will soon be the national curriculum or very close to being one. This is an important post. If you are a math novice, you may find it hard to follow. If you are a math teacher, please speak up and say what you think.

 

Steven Rasmussen is a mathematics educator and co-founder of Key Curriculum Press. He studied the mathematics tests of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and concluded that the tests are so flawed that they should not be used.

He has written a report, analyzing sample questions, which can be found here, by opening a pdf file. 

This is his summary:

This spring, tests developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium will be administered to well over 10 million students in 17 states to determine their proficiency on the Common Core Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM). This in-depth analysis of sample mathematics test questions posted online by Smarter Balanced reveals that, question after question, the tests (1) violate the standards they are supposed to assess, (2) cannot be adequately answered by students with the technology they are required to use, (3) use confusing and hard-to-use interfaces, or (4) are to be graded in such a way that incorrect answers are identified as correct and correct answers as incorrect. No tests that are so unfair should be given to anyone. Certainly, with stakes so high for students and their teachers, these Smarter Balanced tests should not be administered. The boycotts of these tests by parents and some school districts are justified. In fact, responsible government bodies should withdraw the tests from use before they do damage.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 156,345 other followers