Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Common Core's Becoming the Edsel

Why does Common Core have attackers from both left and right? A recent article in Salon by Jeff Bryant suggests a few answers:
"Diane Ravitch, who had previously been an advocate for national standards, looked at how the Common Core was being sold to the American public and warned, “To expect tougher standards and a renewed emphasis on standardized testing to reduce poverty and inequality is to expect what never was and never will be … We have a national policy that is a theory based on an assumption grounded in hope.” (emphasis added)
Educators on the ground also sounded warnings about the Common Core, as award-winning Long Island school principal Carol Burris did at The Washington Post. “When I first read about the Common Core State Standards, I cheered, she explained. “I even co-authored a book, “Opening the Common Core.” But her opinion soured as she gradually realized that support for the Common Core included accepting the features that came with it, including more standardized tests that are used to evaluate and fire teachers. Burris realized. “The promise of the Common Core is dying and teaching and learning are being distorted. The well that should sustain the Core has been poisoned.”
More recently, opposition to the Common Core has spread to parents. In New York, thousands of parents and teachers, from the lower Hudson Valley all the way upstate to Buffalo, have packed school auditoriums and demanded changes to current education policies that enforce the new standards. At a recent town hall meeting in Long Island, a classroom teacher charged state officials with “child abuse” and was roundly cheered by an audience of hundreds of disgruntled parents and educators. 
All this unrest prompted U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to lash out at critics of his agenda by saying they inhabit “an alternative universe” and by demeaning them as “white suburban moms” who are upset at anything that might reveal “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were.” 
Although Duncan eventually apologized for his remarks, it will do little to quell the anger.
As parent and Connecticut journalist Sarah Darer Littman recently explained, “Democrats from Arne Duncan on down are trying to frame the growing nationwide revolt by parents, K-12 educators, university professors, and child development specialists as ‘Tea Party extremism’ or overwrought ‘white suburban moms.’ … Those of us with older children can see the qualitative difference in curriculum since the Common Core roll out began – and we are not impressed. We’re angered by the loss of instructional time to testing for a benefit that accrues to testing companies rather than our children.”
Clearly, the reformers’ ad campaign is no longer working, their jeering response to opposition has inflamed resistance, and now politicians are feeling the heat generated by the pushback.
A recent review of the state of the Common Core by Education Week found, “a spate of bills in state legislatures calling for the slowdown or abandonment of common-core implementation, or withdrawal from the state assessment consortia designing aligned tests. Although none of the bills that would pull states out of the Common Core so far has garnered enough support to become law – with the notable exception of one in Indiana – a half-dozen states in recent months have pulled out of the coalitions developing common tests.”
The Big Mistake Reformers Make
It’s now obvious that advertising claims behind current education policies like the Common Core were never based on strong objective evidence. More Americans are noticing this and objecting. And politicians are likely to get more circumspect about which side of the debate they lean to. 
So what’s an education reformer to do? 
So far, the strategy is to churn out more editorial, along the lines of what David Brooks wrote, to exhort Americans to “stay the course” on what is becoming a more obviously failing endeavor.
But as this sloganeering wears thin, we’re likely to get a new and improved “message” from the policy elite – a Common Core 2.0, let’s say, or a “next generation” of “reform.”
What’s really needed, of course, is to see the marketing campaign for what it really is: a distraction from educational problems that are much more pressing. Why, for example, focus on unsubstantiated ideas like the Common Core rather than do something that would really matter, such as improve instructional quality, reverse school funding cuts that are harming schools, or address the inequities and socioeconomic conditions that researchers have demonstrated are persistent causes of low academic performance?
But that would require something much more than another marketing campaign. It would mean developing a whole new product."
Jeff Bryant is Director of the Education Opportunity Network, a partnership effort of the Institute for America's Future and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. Jeff owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C., and has written extensively about public education policy.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

CCSD Social Studies Loses All Credibility

"Must S.C. students debate Darwinism?" screams the above-the-fold headline. From the reporter's point of view, the idea smacks of idiocy. From College of Charleston professor Rob Dillon, a measure just passed in the SC Education Oversight Ccommittee "is part of an effort to sneak creationism into public schools." Dillon probably checks under his bed each night to see if Bob Jones is hiding there.

Haven't they heard all the fuss about teaching "critical thinking"? What are educrats such as Dillon afraid of?

Maybe ignorance. One of the four votes against teaching "the controversy" was cast by Barbara Hairfield, "a Social Studies Curriculum Learning Specialist" (whatever that amounts to) in the Charleston County School District. Hairfield worries that "academic standards could possibly be interpreted as promoting a religion."

Hairfield is quoted as saying, "What does that say to our students who are Hindu or Jewish or Buddhist?" Some of us are hoping she was misquoted.

Yes, Hindus and Buddhists do not accept creationism because in their world views, the world is and always has been. But Jews?

Apparently Hairfield has never heard of the Torah. Where does she think the creation story comes from? This is CCSD's expert on social studies.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Who Wrote Common Core Standards? See Below

From Diane Ravitch; [italics mine]

Mercedes Schneider: Who Are the 24 People Who Wrote the Common Core Standards?

A few days ago, I posted the names of the members of the "work groups" that wrote the Common Core standards. There was one work group for English language arts and another for mathematics. There were some members who served on both work groups.

Altogether, 24 people wrote the Common Core standards. None identified himself or herself as a classroom teacher, although a few had taught in the past (not the recent past). The largest contingent on the work groups were representatives of the testing industry.

Mercedes Schneider looked more closely at the 24 members of the two work groups to determine their past experience as educators, with special attention to whether they had any classroom experience.

Here are a few noteworthy conclusions based on her review of the careers of the writers of the CCSS:

In sum, only 3 of the 15 individuals on the 2009 CCSS math work group held positions as classroom teachers of mathematics. None was a classroom teacher in 2009. None taught elementary or middle school mathematics. Three other members have other classroom teaching experience in biology, English, and social studies. None taught elementary school. None taught special education or was certified in special education or English as a Second Language (ESL).

Only one CCSS math work group member was not affiliated with an education company or nonprofit....

In sum, 5 of the 15 individuals on the CCSS ELA work group have classroom experience teaching English. None was a classroom teacher in 2009. None taught elementary grades, special education, or ESL, and none hold certifications in these areas.

Five of the 15 CCSS ELA work group members also served on the CCSS math work group. Two are from Achieve; two, from ACT, and one, from College Board.

One member of the work groups has a BA in elementary education but no record of ever having taught those grades.

Almost all members who had any classroom experience were high school teachers.

Schneider concludes:

My findings indicate that NGA and CCSSO had a clear, intentional bent toward CCSS work group members with assessment experience, not with teaching experience, and certainly not with current classroom teaching experience.

In both CCSS work groups, the number of individuals with “ACT” and “College Board” designations outnumbered those with documented classroom teaching experience.

The makeup of the work groups helps to explain why so many people in the field of early childhood education find the CCSS to be developmentally inappropriate. There was literally no one on the writing committee (with one possible exception) with any knowledge of how very young children learn. The same concern applies to those who educate children in the middle-school years or children with disabilities or English language learners. The knowledge of these children and their needs was not represented on the working group.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

SC Superintendent Zais No Lame Duck on Smarter Balanced

If the Democrats manage to get control of the SC Department of Education by electing Mick Zais's replacement, those opposing the imposition of Common Core and its attendant government-mandated testing will think of these as the good old days.

Retiring Superintendent Zais earlier this week used his position to withdraw South Carolina from the consortium pushing Smarter Balanced Testing for the Common Core standards. Other mealy-mouthed politicians in the state are hedging their bets with comments on how, since we started down the Common Core road (under a Democratic Superintendent) we must continue. South Carolina is not alone in its rejection of the federal take-over of education by dangling Race-to-the-Top funds in front of ignorant noses.

We're going to miss Mick.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

SC State Board of Ed Stubbornly Approves Discredited Sham VAM

How many edublob members does it take to change a lightbulb? None, apparently. They would still be arguing over the merits of changing to wind turbines to power the light.

Despite the presence of level-headed Larry Kobrovsky and the prevalence of studies discrediting the practice, the State Board of Education, top-loaded with edublob members, voted to approve using VAM (value added measurement) for teacher evaluation. The practice treats students as though they are vehicles on a Ford assembly line. You know, one teacher adds the brake pads, another checks that the screws are tightened properly.

Here we have a situation where the assembly-line model of schooling has been discredited for decades, perhaps even a century! But schooling must now use the models provided by business.

VAM will not improve student outcomes. Where it has been used so far, the results have been erratic, to say the least. No study has shown that it has improved teaching, and year-to-year results for individual teachers have been ludicrous. Unmotivated teachers are not the problem. If someone proposed using VAM to evaluate parents instead, imagine the uproar and reasoning put forth as to why it would be unfair.

To top off its pig-headedness, the Board also voted to support Smarter Balanced testing. Let's hope the state legislature has more sense.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

SC House Signs on to CCSD's One-Cent Sales Tax Extension

Don't you love it when politicians get together to spend Other People's Money? Our state House has now made it possible for voters to approve an extension of the tax for capital building programs in both Charleston and Horry Counties in the next election cycle. Otherwise, those districts might actually have a chance to pause and take stock of whether previous capital expenditures were really worth it.

My favorite statement from Michael Bobby, who is in charge of CCSD's capital program?

"The school could use the money to finance long-term bonds instead of a "pay-as-you-go" system, which they say would reduce the overall cost of projects. They could also use any additional funds generated by the 1 percent tax to reduce property taxes."

In other words, what we really need is long-term debt. And we can promise the voters that we might reduce property taxes. Actually, I've always been a fan of "pay-as-you-go." That must make me old fashioned. If you think this tax will lower property taxes, well, I've got a bridge. . . . Furthermore, sales taxes are the most hurtful to the poor among us, something CCSD Board Vice-Chairman Tom Ducker apparently doesn't mind.

As you read, Superintendent McGinley and Bobby are busy conspiring to dream up a list of "necessary" capital projects that will be of interest to voters in every corner of Charleston County. They've been working on it for months. You get the picture.

Call or email your state senator and tell him or her to vote against this bill if it actually comes to a vote in the state senate! And ask the CCSD Board of Trustees for an external audit of capital expenditures. It's past time.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

CCSD's Garrett Has Clear-Eyed View of Segregated Schools, Vague Solutions

One of the newer members of the Charleston County School Board, Todd Garrett, opined in Saturday's edition that the district has not fulfilled the promise of desegregation nearly 60 years after Brown versus Board of Education. While no one in his or her right mind could dispute Garrett's figures, other board members and district administration have tried to gloss over the details for decades. 

For sure, the disparities among schools are the result of decisions and policies of the CCSD School Board ever since its inception when Charleston schools were consolidated. The effects of decades cannot be overcome overnight. 

Most people probably assume that segregated schools in the district (15 by Garrett's count) result from homogeneous neighborhood school populations. Not in Charleston County! These schools by and large are in thoroughly integrated neighborhoods. Where homes sell for half a million dollars and up, some neighborhood schools are nearly 90 percent free and reduced lunch. We're not talking just about race here; economic background is the villain. The middle class of all ethnic backgrounds has deserted these schools for those that are succeeding. The poor would do so if they knew how.

Garrett's analysis is cogent; however, his plea that the community trust CCSD board members to fix its problems is premature. The Board needs more members such as Garrett who are willing to speak the truth and criticize blanket proposals from the McGinley administration. 

When the CCSD Board of Trustees stops rubber-stamping administration and acts as the boss, and not the underlings, perhaps desegregation will go forward.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

SC Education Department Drops Margarine--oops, Smarter Balanced--Testing

Even as districts are forced to waste money implementing the Common Core Standards, the underpinnings are failing. Participation in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is a case in point.

Unlike Smart Balance products, which are devoted to lowering cholesterol, SBAC devoted itself to winning the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top assessment contest. Think of the millions at stake (and I don't mean students!). The SC decision halts Horry County's field testing this spring.

Legislation to prevent using SBAC was already in the pipeline in the state. South Carolina must find another test and must decide what to do about Common Core implementation in the next year or so. The state has plenty of company in its misgivings regarding the entire program, but not Charleston County's Nancy McGinley, who has been content to follow Arne Duncan's lead.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Thurmond Takes Senate 2 by 4 to CCSD's Gnat of a Problem

One school board in the State of South Carolina has not managed to get its act together--or should we say, get its members together--to finish the appeals process for teachers not receiving continuing contracts last spring. Those teachers continue to receive money from the district.

Guess which one. Duh.

Senator Paul T. wants to change the appeals process statewide so that the Charleston County School Board can take care of business. This logic is akin to junking the car if one of the brakes starts to squeal.

How about putting the blame squarely where it belongs. If school board members are too busy with other, more important, aspects of their lives to provide a quorum for hearings, they should resign to be replaced by someone who can put school board business first.

It's a no brainer, Paul, unless you're trying to protect your buddies.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Is You Is, or Is You Ain't: CCSD Doublespeak on Math Standards

Could someone who has never learned to write in cursive actually read cursive? Probably not. Think of all the letters and historical documents that must be filtered through typeface for those individuals lacking this centuries-old skill. Think about an educational system that proposes if something isn't on standardized testing, it's too unimportant to be taught!

This ridiculous proposition and doublespeak in mathematics standards are the reason for SC's "Back to Basics in Education Act of 2013 pass[ing] with little opposition. It requires adding cursive writing and the memorization of multiplication tables to the list of required subjects of instruction in South Carolina's public schools."

CCSD's Math Specialist, Cathy DeMers, appears well educated in doublespeak. She points out that the 2010 standards require "multiplication fluency" and provides the reporter with two nebulous examples:
In the third grade, students must be able to multiply single digits, such as 9 times 9. By the fifth grade, students must fluidly multiply using the standard algorithm for multi-digit multiplication; in other words, they must be able to solve 782 times 94, for example.
Notice DeMers avoids the obvious question--does CCSD require memorization of multiplication tables or not? Was the reporter too embarrassed to ask?

So tell us, please, how much are calculators used in these circumstances? Is the student learning to plug numbers into a calculator? If you ask a random third grader what is the answer to 8 times 9, will the student be able to answer without one? And does that fifth grader learn how to solve multi-digit problems the long way, with pencil and paper?

If you've taught the upper grades recently, you already know the answer.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

No April Fool's Joke: CCSD's McGinley Offers Self as Example of Merger Benefit!

Instead of waiting until April 1st, Charleston County Superintendent Nancy McGinley on March 23rd presented her views of having a "comprehensive research" university in Charleston, most likely by merging the College of Charleston and MUSC. Perhaps she meant to send the letter to the Onion instead.

According to McGinley, she is a prime example of the benefits of growing up in such an area, or, to use her own words, "My own educational experience is a clear example of the importance of access to research institutions. My professional life was enriched by the robust intellectual environment that existed in Philadelphia, a city that was anchored by major research universities." Golly.

Well, we certainly could use more Nancy McGinleys in Charleston.