Core standards: It’s not about the benjamins

Democratic state senators in Pennsylvania have come out against Common Core State Standards “without adequate state financial resources,” reports Ed Week.

It’s not about the benjamins, responds Marc Tucker on Ed Week‘s Top Performers blog. Some high-achieving countries spend substantially less per student than the U.S. ”Top performers . . . redesign their school finance systems” to provide more resources for hard-to-educate students.

When Florida first proposed to raise its standards years ago, some people objected on the grounds that high standards would hurt the poor and minorities, who would not be able to meet them.  The standards were raised and the students whose scores improved the most were poor and minority students.  When Massachusetts set out to raise their standards, the liberals objected that the poor and minority students would be hurt, because they would not be able to meet the standards.  And–you guessed it–when the standards were raised anyway, the students who made the greatest gains were the poor and minority students.

Years ago, he asked parents in a focus group about standards.  An African-American single mother living on welfare said her middle-school son was getting A’s for coloring in a coloring book. “The kids in the suburbs have to work really hard for their A’s,” she said. “When my child graduates, all he will be good for is working the checkout counter at the grocery store.  I want my child to have the same opportunities they have.  I want him to have to do as well in school as they have to do to earn an A.”

It will be very hard for schools with low-income and minority students to meet the new standards, Tucker concedes. Spending more won’t be enough.

We already spend more money on average than every industrialized country except Luxembourg and Norway.  We will have to do what the top-performers everywhere have done: radically change our school finance systems, academic standards, curriculum, instructional practices and tests and exams.  Not least important, we will have to make big changes in teacher compensation, the way we structure teachers’ careers, the standards for getting into teachers colleges, the curriculum in our teachers colleges, our teacher licensure standards and the way we support new teachers.

Rejecting high standards isn’t an option, Tucker argues. Employers will enforce the standards when they decide who to hire. Selective colleges will enforce the standards when they decide who to admit.

Teachers hit computer-scored writing exams

New tests aligned to the new common standards will ask students to do more writing and provide quick feedback to teachers on their students’ skills. But that’s only cost effective, if students’ writing is scored by computers, writes Catherine Gewertz on Ed Week‘s Curriculum Matters. Not surprisingly, the National Council of Teachers of English think machines can’t evaluate writing.

In its statement, the NCTE says that artificial intelligence assesses student writing by only “a few limited surface features,” ignoring important elements such as logic, clarity, accuracy, quality of evidence, and humor or irony. Computers ability to judge student writing also gets worse as the length of the essays increases, the NCTE says. The organization argues for consideration of other ways of judging student writing, such as portfolio assessment, teacher-assessment teams, and more localized classroom- or district-based assessments.

If essays are scored by humans — usually teachers working over the summer — the costs will go way up, tempting states to require less writing.

Conservatives can like the Common Core

Conservatives should support the Common Core standards, write Kathleen Porter-Magee and Sol Stern, who describe themselves as “education scholars at two right-of-center think tanks” (Fordham and the Manhattan Institute).

Glenn Beck  calls the standards a stealth “leftist indoctrination” plot by the Obama administration. Michelle Malkin warns that they will “eliminate American children’s core knowledge base in English, language arts and history.”  Not so, write Porter-Magee and Stern.

Common Core State Standards . . . describe what children should know and the skills that they must acquire at each grade level to stay on course toward college- or career-readiness, something that conservatives have long argued for. They were written and adopted by governors—not by the Obama administration—thus preserving state control over K–12 education. And they are much more focused on rigorous back-to-basics content than the vast majority of state standards they replaced.

Common Core doesn’t force English teachers to drop To Kill a Mockingbird in favor of government manuals, they write.  All teachers — not just English teachers — will expose students to informational texts and literary nonfiction. That includes “foundational texts of American history—the Gettysburg Address, Common Sense, and works of thought leaders like Emerson and Thoreau.”

(Non-fiction reading can inspire creativity, writes an AP English teacher in Ed Week’s Teacher.)

On the math side, opponents argue the standards are “squishy, progressive and lacking in rigorous content.”  But the math standards are dominated by content, write Porter-Magee and Stern.

 Unlike many of the replaced state standards, Common Core demands automaticity (memorization) with basic math facts, mastery of standard algorithms, and understanding of critical arithmetic. These essential foundational math skills are not only required but prioritized, particularly in the early grades. The math standards focus in depth on fewer topics that coherently build over time.

“For decades, conservatives have fought to hold students accountable for high standards and an academic curriculum imbued with great works of Western civilization and the American republic,” conclude Porter-Magee and Stern. “This is our chance to make it happen.”

Common Core could lead to “federal control of school curricula,” writes Neal McCluskey on Cato’s blog.  Porter-Magee will serve on the U.S. Department of Education’s technical review panel vetting Common Core tests developed by “Department-selected consortia,” he adds. If the feds control the tests, they control what’s taught in schools, argues McCluskey.

The bigotry of low (teacher) expectations

Common Core Standards didn’t invent effective teaching, writes Julie Greenberg in  The bigotry of low (teacher) expectations in the National Council on Teacher Quality’s blog. She objects to step 5 in Six Steps to Teacher Development, a joint production of the Gates Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers.

Districts are encouraged to “Align teacher development and evaluation to the Common Core Standards.”

..while most teachers are adept at classroom management skills, teachers have long been taught to fit a lot of material in a short period of time, not to ask high-level questions or to engage students in rigorous discussions.

Greenberg taught secondary math for 13 years without being advised to ask low-level questions and avoid rigorous discussion. Nobody helped her improve her questioning or discussion techniques. Perhaps the new standards will do so, she writes.

But I’m also worried that districts will fall into the same old professional development trap they’re in now, paying some pricey “Common Core” consultants to portray  the need for better questioning and discussion techniques to teachers as breaking news without any follow-through on real improved practice.

Greenberg provides a caricature of teachers attending the typical professional development session. It’s all too close to reality, she writes.
 

Kindergarten, play and standards

Teachers are blaming new standards for taking the joy out of kindergarten, writes Deborah Kenny, a charter school founder in New York City, in the Washington PostKindergartners should learn by playing, she writes. But she thinks the standards are getting a bum rap.

Last year, as Harlem Village Academies prepared to open new elementary schools , our principals visited dozens of kindergarten classrooms. The upper-income schools focused mostly on active play, interesting discussions and crafts, including papier-mache projects that delighted children for hours. In the lower-income schools we saw regimented academics, reward-and-punishment behavior systems and top-down instruction. In one South Bronx classroom, the only time children spoke during the course of three hours was to repeat drills of the sounds of letters over and over.

Why the disparity? Many educators are placing the blame squarely on the Common Core — national learning standards recently adopted by 45 states and the District and supported by the Obama administration — and asserting that they lead to poor-quality teaching and take all the joy out of kindergarten.

The standards’ goals —  ”teach students to think independently, grapple with difficult texts, solve problems and explain their thinking in a clear and compelling way” — are noble, Kenny writes. That can be done well or badly.

Take vocabulary, for example. The Common Core standards state that kindergarten students should be able to “distinguish shades of meaning among verbs that describe some general action (e.g., walk, march, strut, prance) by acting out the meanings.” Imagine a classroom full of 5-year-olds marching, strutting, walking and prancing for 10 minutes to different kinds of music while laughing and learning vocabulary. . . . So while some schools might choose to teach vocabulary in a rote, boring way, clearly the standards are not to blame.

Teaching to the new standards demands more of teachers, Kenny writes. Principals need to hire good teachers and then let them learn from each other, try different strategies, learn from mistakes and improve. Principals also need the power to fire teachers who aren’t up to the job.

Via Eduwonk.

This anti-CCSS math blog critiques the standards’ call for kindergartners to “decompose” numbers.

Core math adds coherence, rigor, focus

Common Core’s new math standards “have the potential to improve average student achievement” by adding focus, rigor and coherence, predict  William H. Schmidt and Nathan A. Burroughs in the new American Educator.

Common Core State Standards in math resemble the high-quality standards of high-achieving nations, they conclude.

Furthermore, states with standards similar to CCSS-M had the highest eighth-grade mathematics score on the 2009 NAEP. “The more similar the standards were to the CCSS-M, the higher student achievement.”

Without books at home, few read well

Children raised in low-income families have few age-appropriate books in their homes, according to First Book, which gives books to disadvantaged children to encourage reading.  The infographic is based on research by Susan Neuman, co-author of Giving Our Children a Fighting Chance.

[INFOGRAPHIC] The Haves and the Have-Nots

Education reform starts with reading, writes Michael Mazenko in the Denver Post. He supports Common Core standards’ recommendation that 70 percent of all high school reading be non-fiction. Students can analyze literature in English class and think critically about informational text in social studies, science, math and arts classes, he writes. That will help the 44 percent of high school students who can’t truly comprehend what they read, according to NAEP.

Principals, teachers report more stress

Three-fourths of principals say the job has become “too complex,” reports MetLife’s new  Survey of the American Teacher.  And the number of “very satisfied” teachers has hit a new low.

Most principals say their responsibilities have expanded; nearly half say they “feel under great stress several days a week.”

Teachers also report more stress and less job satisfaction, notes the Educated Reporter.

Factors contributing to lower job satisfaction included working in schools where the budgets, opportunities for professional development, and time for collaboration with colleagues have all been sent to the chopping block.

At high-poverty schools, about half of teachers were rated excellent by principals and colleagues compared to three-fourths of teachers at low-poverty schools.

More than 90 percent of principals and teachers say they’re knowledgeable about Common Core State Standards and have the “academic skills and abilities to implement” the new standards. However, only 20 percent of teachers and principals are very confident the Common Core will improve achievement or college and career readiness.

School leaders need better training, writes RiShawn Biddle, who notes that 82 percent of teachers are “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with their jobs. ”Far too many principals see themselves more as colleagues of teachers with higher job titles than as school leaders” charged with evaluating their staffs, Biddle writes.  Fifty-three percent said they find it challenging to evaluate teachers.

Gates targets education policy

The Gates Foundation, with a whopping $37 billion in assets, is spending more to influence education policy, writes Joy Pullman in Heartlander Magazine. The foundation funds “myriad seemingly grassroots” advocacy groups. That’s causing concerns, she writes.

“Philanthropists, unlike teachers unions, they don’t have an obvious constituency,” said Sarah Reckhow, a Michigan State political science professor. “Teachers unions represent teachers. Who does the Gates Foundation represent?”

Gates has spent $173 million to develop Common Core State Standards and to persuade 46 states to adopt them, writes Pullman. At an Indiana legislative hearing, 26 of the 32 people who testified against a bill to withdraw Indiana from the Core are members of organizations the Gates Foundation funds.”

“The Gates Foundation completely orchestrated the Common Core,” said Jay Greene, who runs the University of Arkansas’ department of education reform. Still, Greene thinks the foundation is following education reform trends already adopted by the “D.C. elite,” not setting them. Gates and the U.S. Department of Education are together “push[ing] down into states and localities the consensus they have already arrived at,” he said.

The Gates Foundation’s agenda has become the country’s agenda in education,” Michael Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, told the Puget Sound Business Journal in 2009 after four Gates employees moved to the U.S. Department of Education.

Kevin Welner, who directs the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder, worries that Gates has too much influence.

“I’d like others—particularly [in] the communities that are impacted by the most high-profile school policies—to have at least an equal voice to those from the outside,” he wrote in an email to School Reform News.

Nearly everyone Pullman interviewed “agreed Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation’s employees are, as Greene put it, ‘good people trying to do good things.’ But that does not quell their concerns.” (She must not have talked to Diane Ravitch.)

There are people who think Bill Gates is trying to get even richer by giving billions of dollars away. I think that’s crazy. But I do worry about the foundation’s enormous clout in education debates.

Conspiracy theories about nefarious philanthropists are “laughable,” writes RiShawn Biddle. There’s nothing stealthy about the Gates Foundation’s role in advocating for the Common Core, he adds. Bill and Melinda Gates are “doing nothing more than what any of us would do if we had the cash: Using their dollars and influence to  engage in efforts to improve the world in which they live.”

The American Federation of Teachers gave $6 million to advocacy groups and charities in 2011-12, reports the Education Intelligence Agency. The largest donation was $1.2 million to Californians Working Together, which backed a state ballot measure that raised taxes to fund schools.

Most of the donations were ho-hum, but I was a bit surprised to see $10,000 went to the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center and another $9,155 to the Center for Citizenship Education in Mongolia. I like Rabin. I favor good citizenship in Mongolia. But is this why teachers pay union dues?

Fordham: New science standards need work

Next Generation Science Standards are coming fast. Public comment on draft 2.0 just ended. The final version is due out in March. Then states will be urged to adopt NGSS, as most did Common Core State Standards in English and math. It’s too soon, advises Fordham, which has been reviewing state science standards for years. ”This important, ambitious, but still seriously troubled document” needs more work, write Checker Finn and Kathleen Porter-Magee.

In an effort to draft “fewer and clearer” standards to guide curriculum and instruction, NGSS 2.0 (like NGSS 1.0) omits quite a lot of essential content. Among the most egregious omissions are most of chemistry; thermodynamics; electrical circuits; physiology; minerals and rocks; the layered Earth; the essentials of biological chemistry and biochemical genetics; and at least the descriptive elements of developmental biology.

. . . Real science invariably blends content knowledge with core ideas, “crosscutting” concepts, and various practices, activities, or applications. . . . (But) authors have forced practices on every expectation, even when they confuse more than clarify. For example, high school students are asked to “critically read scientific literature and produce scientific writing and/or oral presentations that communicate how DNA sequences determine the structure and function of proteins, which carry out most of the work of the cell.” Here as elsewhere, the understanding of critical content—which should be the ultimate goal of science education—becomes secondary to arbitrary and peripheral activities such as “critical reading” and “oral presentation.”

Appendices explain “what is and isn’t present and why,” but the structure is “complex and unwieldy,” Finn and Porter-Magee write. “Will a fifth-grade teacher actually make her way to Appendix K to obtain additional (and valuable) information about science-math alignment and some pedagogically useful examples?”

Science students won’t have to learn much math, leading to “dumbing down,” especially in physics, they fear. And the “assessment boundaries” will ensure that students aren’t challenged.

The new standards don’t require chemistry labs, complains Harry Keller, a chemist. The word “chemistry” is never used, though “chemical reactions” can be found under physical sciences. Without labs.

Physicists also are dissatisfied, reports Ed Week.