Union leaders go cold on Common Core

Teachers’ union leaders have turned against Common Core standards, writes Tim Daly on the TNTP Blog.

National Education Association (NEA) president Dennis Van Roekel is demanding “course corrections” to keep NEA backing. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also is criticizing Common Core implementation.

Whatever unions leaders say, this is not about “botched” implementation or the standards themselves, argues Daly.

“The unions routinely complain that states are moving too fast in transitioning to the new standards, but the truth is that educators have already had years to prepare. In New York, for instance, the standards were adopted in 2010—four years ago. . . If four years is not sufficient, how long is? Eight years?

“Politics and job protection” are the real issues, Daly writes.

Unions hoped that the occasion of Common Core (and their support for it) might present an opportunity to roll back or dilute teachers’ accountability for results. (Never mind that, even when students begin to be measured against tougher, Common Core-aligned tests, there’s little evidence to suggest a drop in scores will put teachers at any real risk.)

As it has become clearer that no such accountability holiday is forthcoming—and that educators, in addition to schools, will be on the hook for advancing students toward the standards—the union withdrawal has been a foregone conclusion.

“Unions were already fighting accountability measures associated with Common Core at the state and district level,”  he writes. Now the strained alliance with the Obama administration is over. “The unions are now taking aim at the administration’s central education policies.”

Duncan: Demand more of kids

U.S. parents need to demand more of their children, writes New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. We’re raising a generation of slackers, he writes.

“Teachers are held to impossible standards” and students aren’t held accountable at all, complained a seventh-grade English teacher in the Washington Post‘s Answer Sheet.

I set my expectations high, I kept my classroom structured, I tutored students, I provided extra practice and I tried to make class fun. … (The principal) handed me a list of about 10 students, all of whom had D’s or F’s. . . . I walked her through my grade sheets that showed not low scores but a failure to turn in work — a lack of responsibility. I showed her my tutoring logs, my letters to parents, only to be interrogated further.

Eventually, the meeting came down to two quotes that I will forever remember as the defining slogans for public education: “They are not allowed to fail.” “If they have D’s or F’s, there is something that you are not doing for them.” . . .  I suppose I was not giving them the answers. I was not physically picking up their hands to write for them. I was not following them home each night to make sure they did their work on time. I was not excusing their lack of discipline.

A high school teacher in Oregon told Friedman she used to have one or two students per class who wouldn’t do the work. Now it’s 10 or 15.  Expectations keep sliding. A failing student said, “You don’t seem to realize I have two hours a night of Facebook and over 4,000 text messages a month to deal with. How do you expect me to do all this work?”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave a “feel-bad” speech to the National Assessment Governing Board’s Education Summit for Parent Leaders.

In 2009, President Obama met with President Lee of South Korea and asked him about his biggest challenge in education. President Lee answered without hesitation: parents in South Korea were ‘too demanding.’ Even his poorest parents demanded a world-class education for their children, and he was having to spend millions of dollars each year to teach English to students in first grade, because his parents won’t let him wait until second grade. … I [wish] our biggest challenge here in the U.S. was too many parents demanding excellent schools.

South Korea probably has the most intense education parents in the world. But what about U.S. parents? Are they failing to demand excellent schools? Raising low achievers with high self-esteem?

TFA spinoff turns teachers into leaders

Leadership for Educational Equity, which helps Teach for America alumni move into policy and advocacy roles, is expanding rapidly, reports Education Week.

Jennifer Aguirre, who teaches Spanish, won a LEE fellowship with a Baltimore community-organizing group run by a TFA alumnus. She’s now considering a public policy career.

“You have people who know something’s wrong,” she said, “but they need to be given the resources needed and encouragement to step out of their comfort zone and try to tackle a huge problem.”

LEE funds workshops with donations from Teach For America, private foundations and individual donors.

Electoral work amounts to less than a third of LEE’s budget, its officials say, but it has nevertheless fueled popular accounts of the organization, mostly critical. Such accounts accuse the group of supporting candidates who espouse a particular “corporate” brand of education policy focused on expanding charter schools and test-based accountability.

Bill Ferguson, a TFA alumni and LEE member, was elected to Maryland’s Senate, where he’s sponsored “parent trigger” legislation.

LEE officials say the group coaches candidates and reviews their campaign materials but doesn’t support particular policies.

Schools get D+ from Students First

The nation’s schools earn a D+  from Michelle Rhee’s Students First. No state earned an A, reports U.S. News.

The group evaluated states on three policy areas: how well states “attract, retain and recognize quality teachers,” how well they give parents easily accessible information about their children’s schools and how well they spend public funds to support schools and teachers.

Louisiana (B-) and Florida (B-) earned the highest grades, followed by Indiana (C+). North Dakota, Montana and Vermont received F’s.

Fourteen states now assign A-F letter grades to schools or will do so by 2015, reports the Education Commission of the States’ new accountability database.

? All 50 states and the District of Columbia consider student achievement as measured by test results in their performance indicators
? 37 states and D.C. factor in student growth or improvement on tests in deciding school performance. That’s up from 21 in 2002.
? 44 states and D.C. consider graduation rates in determining school performance while 12 states include dropout rates.
? 9 states weigh growth of the lowest-performing quartile of students in judging their schools.

Florida was the first state to issue letter grades to schools in 2002.

Kentucky leads the way on Core teaching

As an early implementer of Common Core standards in fall 2010, Kentucky is learning how to teach the Core, writes Sarah Butrymowicz in The Atlantic.

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Freshmen in Kate Barrows’ English class at Liberty High School, an alternative school in Louisville, were trying to solve a crime. A wealthy man had received a letter demanding money, or else his daughter would be kidnapped. Barrows guided the students through a series of questions to identify the extortionist.

Was the writer male or female? They thought female: The writer asked for the money in a “pretty blue pocketbook.” Could it have been a professional gangster? A gangster would just rob you and wouldn’t bother with threatening notes, the class decided.

The exercise introduces students to the kind of analysis expected when they move on to harder texts, Barrows says.

In Karen Cash’s Algebra 2 class down the hall, students cut grid paper to make boxes, graphed the volume of the shapes they created, and wrote algebraic equations based on the patterns. Liberty’s math department has made it a point to have students work through the mathematical process on their own instead of listening to lectures. Students have a checklist to go through when they can’t solve a problem, before turning to the old default of asking a teacher. Questions on the checklist include: What information does the problem give us? Can we draw a picture?

It’s not easy to change teaching.  It’s even harder to raise test scores, which remain “dismal.”

Common Core demands more than Kentucky’s old standards, writes Butrymowicz. “For example, in math, the order of operations used to be covered late in the year in sixth grade; under the Common Core, fifth graders start with it on day one.”

Some students just aren’t ready, said Jason Cornett, who teaches math at Flat Lick Elementary School. “They’re still having trouble mastering the basics and you’re trying to add stuff on top.”

Fordham’s Common Core Watch is looking at how five states—Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York—are handling accountability in the Common Core era.  Here’s part one and part two.

It’s not the white moms, it’s the whitewash

Common Core’s problem isn’t “white suburban moms” who can’t handle high standards, as Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, writes Eduwonk. It’s not the white moms, it’s the white wash.

Duncan and President Obama told suburban voters their schools were fine, whatever No Child Left Behind might say. Now Duncan is backtracking.

. . . the administration is pretty much fully reactive on K-12 policy now and doesn’t have a forward-looking argument to make about K-12 schools. This lets the Common Core critics have a field day (and they are, even without gaffes that make their job easier). Meanwhile, on the other side Civil Rights groups are increasingly up in arms over the looseness of the No Child Left Behind waiver process and what it means for currently underserved students.

No Child Left Behind, which “told the states to make their own standards more meaningful,” couldn’t overcome political resistance, writes Eduwonk.  Common Core standards are much more ambitious.  “It’s basically like a couple in troubled marriage who decide that since things are not working having a baby is the next logical step.”

Duncan’s No Child waivers let suburban districts hide their inability to educate low-income, black and Latino students, writes Sandy Kress, a NCLB architect, on Dropout Nation.

Common Core needs a czar

Common Core needs a czar, argues John Wilson, former head of the National Education Association, in Education Week. Wilson backs the standards but blames bureaucrats for botching implementation.

Bureaucrats want  to “standardize everything about the education process from lesson plans to testing,” writes Wilson.

To deal with the chaos, we desperately need a single authority to oversee the implementation, call out bad practices, and recommend policy changes to the politicians. We need a Common Core Czar.

. . . the czar should be able to offer a new vision of American education that is rooted in shared standards, an understanding of local and state authority over curriculum, and empowerment of teachers to select lesson plans that assure all their students learn.

. . .  Testing for accountability should be limited to a scientific sampling. High-stakes tests have poisoned the system and need to be eliminated.

If standardization is the problem, how can a czar be the solution?

Core testing: Hold or go?

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.com

Pause standardized testing for three years to let schools adjust to Common Core State Standards, argues Joshua Starr, superintendent of schools in high-performing Montgomery County, Maryland.

Testing provides critical information for teachers, administrators and parents, counters Margaret Spellings, former U.S. Secretary of Education and now president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

Examining High-Stakes Testing in Education Next has the debate.

“We must build systems of accountability and support that use the right assessments to measure the right things,” writes Starr. “Once the CCSS is fully implemented and the new assessments aligned to these standards have been completed, we can begin to construct a meaningful accountability system that truly supports teaching and learning.”

Spelling responds: “Common Core is pie in the sky unless students meet basic grade-level expectations in reading and math, a goal we have fallen woefully short of meeting to date.”

 But no one has ever demonstrated that mastering grade-level reading and math skills hurts students’ ability to acquire higher-order thinking skills. Nor has anyone shown that state standards in reading and math endanger students’ social and emotional well-being. While the narrowing curriculum rallying cry is popular in opinion surveys, assessments such as NAEP reveal no signs of declining achievement in science or history or any other supposedly “squeezed out” subject.

Spellings suspects “we aren’t serious” about educating all children. While everyone debates “college and career readiness for all,” the “real battle on the ground is whether educators believe schools are capable of or should be expected to help students meet even basic academic standards.” She fears a testing moratorium would become permanent.

New teachers are smarter

The academic caliber of new teachers is rising significantly, according to a University of Washington study published in Education NextThe average SAT score of first-year teachers in 2008 was 8 percentile rank points higher than the average score among new teachers in 2001. New teachers in 2008 averaged higher SAT scores than college graduates entering other professions.

“It is unclear whether this improvement reflects a temporary response to the economic downturn or a more permanent shift,” write the study’s authors, Dan Goldhaber and Joe Walch.

Teachers working in 2008 were slightly more likely to hold a master’s degree or higher compared to teachers in 1987.  Sixty-three percent of teachers in 2010 had graduate training compared to 45 percent 20 years earlier.

Some claim that test-based accountability policies have made teaching less attractive to top students. Not so.

. . .  the researchers compare the SAT scores of new teachers entering classrooms that typically face accountability-based test achievement pressures (grade 4–8 reading and math) and classrooms in those grades that do not involve high-stakes testing. They find that new teachers in high-stakes classrooms tend to have higher SAT scores than those in other classrooms, and that the size of this difference increased between 2001 and 2008. This suggests that more academically proficient teachers are not generally shying away from classrooms that face accountability pressures.

High-scoring math and science majors were more likely to become teachers in 2008 than in the past, but teaching still isn’t drawing enough math and science majors, the study found. Only 30 percent of math and science classes in 2008 were led by teachers who majored in math or science in college, the same as in 1993.

Most high school students with aspirations to teach don’t become teachers — or even college graduates, notes an Illinois study. The stronger students are more likely to persist. People who earn teaching credentials have “weaker academic qualifications” than other bachelor’s degree earners, “but those who actually became teachers were quite similar academically to non-teaching college graduates.”

Learn from the California Raisins

Learn from the California Raisins how to market community colleges, advises a community college dean.

The first national accountability system designed for community colleges — the Voluntary Framework of Accountability – launched last week.