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.

Finn’s math: One (correct) solution is enough

“Huck Finn” is subbing for math teachers who are away from class learning how to teach to the new Common Core standards. Finn worries that teachers will be told to require students to find multiple ways to solve the same problems, he writes in Out In Left Field.

There’s nothing wrong with finding multiple ways of solving problems.  But in early grades, students find it more than a little frustrating to be told to find three ways of adding 17 + 69.  Putting students in the position of not satisfying the teacher by producing a correct answer and showing how they got it unless they find multiple ways of doing it is a recipe for 1) disaster and 2) rote learning, the bugaboo of the purveyors of “find more than one way to solve it”.

If a student can do a proof or solve a problem correctly, he or she shouldn’t “also have to do 25 fingertip pushups,” Finn believes.

When my daughter had to do a “problem of the week” in pre-algebra, the last question always was: How do you know your answer is correct?  She’d write: “I double-checked my answer,” leaving out the fact that she’d double-checked with her smart friends or her father, who majored in math at Stanford. I think students were supposed to say they’d solved the problem in multiple ways, but nobody was dumb enough to do the extra work.

The ‘me’ curriculum teaches nothing

The “me” curriculum is undermining learning, writes Mark Bauerlein, an Emory professor, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

In its attempt to implement Common Core’s new standards, the Georgia Department of Education is telling teachers that narrative writing is all about me, all the time. A recommended writing prompt for 11th graders:

The characters in Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” are all seeking a home, a place of refuge, a place that is “clean and pleasant.” Describe your own “clean, well-lighted place,” the place where you feel safe, secure, and most “at home.”

The prompt asks students to “reveal things about themselves, not analyze” the story, Bauerlein writes. It’s typical.

In her essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” Zora Neale Hurston defines her personal experience as an African-American female in early 20th century America. Using Hurston’s essay as a model, define how it feels to be yourself (as a male, as a female, as a member of any group) in early 21st century America.

“Demonstrating character” cites the Cuban Missile Crisis and asks seventh graders:

If you were President of your own country and had the power to make laws, start or stop wars, end hunger, etc., what would you do? Write about an imaginary country where you are the president. Make your country the way you wish it could be.

A president has the power to make laws and end hunger?

“As a college teacher of freshman English, I can see no sense in these assignments,” writes Bauerlein. Students don’t develop the analytical, reading and writing skills they’ll need in college or an eventual job.

The units claim to align with Common Core’s English Language Arts standards, which Bauerlein helped develop. Teaching students to write about their navels is not what he had in mind.

Common Core’s critics are pushing states to withdraw approval, reports Ed Week. The campaign is focused on on Colorado, Idaho, and Indiana.

Alabama is withdrawing from the two consortia developing core-aligned tests.

 

Will ‘drill and grill’ replace kindergarten play?

Rigorous new Common Core standards endanger young children by requiring “long hours of direct instruction in literacy and math” and more standardized testing, argue Edward Miller, a teacher, and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a retired early childhood education professor, on Answer Sheet.

. . .  “drill and grill” teaching has already pushed active, play-based learning out of many kindergartens.

. . .  Didactic instruction and testing will crowd out other crucial areas of young children’s learning: active, hands-on exploration, and developing social, emotional, problem-solving, and self-regulation skills—all of which are difficult to standardize or measure but are the essential building blocks for academic and social accomplishment and responsible citizenship.

There’s little evidence academic instruction in the early grades leads to later success, they write.

Miller is the co-author of Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School.  Carlsson-Paige is the author of Taking Back Childhood.

Children should play — but not with straw men, counters E. D. Hirsch, a stanch defender of Common Core State Standards. The new standards don’t dictate how teachers should teach, writes Hirsch.

Children have a lot to learn about the world, past and present. They need to learn some things as efficiently as possible—through direct instruction. But they also need opportunities to explore—through well-constructed spaces and activities that invite creative problem solving and role playing.

Some educators are misreading the new standards, writes Hirsch, citing the New York Post story on kindergarteners expected to write “informative/explanatory reports” and demonstrate “algebraic thinking.”

But the status quo isn’t good enough, he concludes.

Kindergarten demands ‘algebraic thinking’

Kindergarten is too tough for little kids these days, New York City teachers complain to the Post.

Way beyond the ABCs, crayons and building blocks, the city Department of Education now wants 4- and 5-year-olds to write “informative/explanatory reports” and demonstrate “algebraic thinking.”

Children who barely know how to write the alphabet or add 2 and 2 are expected to write topic sentences and use diagrams to illustrate math equations.

Under newly adopted Common Core State Standards, kindergarten teachers read aloud “informational texts,” such as “Garden Helpers,” a National Geographic tale about useful pests.

After three weeks, kids have to “write a book about what they’ve learned,” with a drawing and sentences explaining the topic.

In math, kindergarteners learn about the “commutative property.”  (I recall learning that in middle school.)

 The big test: “Miguel has two shelves. Miguel has six books . . . How many different ways can Miguel put books on the two shelves? Show and tell how you know.”

Teachers rate students’ performance as “novice,” “apprentice,” “practitioner” or “expert.”

An “expert” would draw a diagram with a key, show all five combinations, write number sentences for each equation, and explain his or her conclusions using math terms, the DOE says.

Cathleen Vecchione, a kindergarten teacher at PS 257 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has taught her students to count by 10s, but hasn’t started teaching addition.

Her students are expected to write simple sentences, such as “I have a pet.”

I tutor first graders in reading and I once volunteered in my daughter’s kindergarten class. Writing is very challenging for little kids. Some can’t form letters. Most can’t spell. It’s especially tough for boys. And I haven’t met many five- or six-year-olds who are ready to write equations.

In fact, I’m 60 and I’m a little puzzled by Miguel’s book options. The Post suggests there are five combinations. I get 14 ways if it’s just about how many books go on each shelf. (Zero books on Shelf A and six on Shelf B and so on, then zero books on Shelf B and six on Shelf A and so on.) But what if Miguel is putting some books on their side, and other backwards and . . . Is he organizing by subject matter? Perhaps he’s got his physics books on Shelf A and his philosophy books on Shelf B.

In Developing the Habits of Mind for Algebraic Thinking, Barry Garelick implies that fifth graders aren’t ready to write algebraic equations. “Giving students problems to solve for which they have little or no prior knowledge or mastery of algebraic skills is not likely to develop the habit of mind of algebraic thinking,” he writes.

Cutting to the core on scores

In the era of Common Core State Standards, all high school graduates are supposed to be ready for college or careers. That means the new tests must measure grade-level readiness in every grade, writes Checker Finn on Gadfly. Setting cut scores — how good is good enough? — will be difficult.

State officials fear “soaring failure rates, and not just among the poor and dispossessed,” Finn writes.

. . .  about half of eighth graders with college-educated parents fail to clear the “proficient” bar on NAEP. If (as mounting evidence suggests) “NAEP proficient” is roughly equivalent to “college ready,” and if the new assessments hew to that level of rigor and honesty, many millions of American youngsters will be found unready—and millions more will learn that they’re not on track toward readiness. Such a cold shower should benefit the nation over the long haul, but in the short run, it’s going to feel icy indeed.

Finn favors setting multiple passing levels, such as NAEP’s advanced, proficient and basic.  And, at least in the transition period, states will need to offer two levels of high school diploma rather than expecting everyone to meet the college-ready level.

He raises more questions about how Common Core testing will work. Will colleges and employers accept young people who’ve passed these tests as “ready” for college-level classes and skilled jobs? Does anyone know how to define “career readiness?” Will the GED be aligned to CCSS tests? What about credit-recovery programs?

In Getting Ready for Common Core Testing, Diane Ravitch posts a quiz question that a reader’s seven-year-old son got wrong.

Kings and queens COMMISSIONED Mozart to write symphonies for celebrations and ceremonies. What does COMMISSION mean?

A. to force someone to do work against his or her will
B. to divide a piece of music into different movements
C. to perform a long song accompanied by an orchestra
D. to pay someone to create artwork or a piece of music

It’s not clear who wrote the quiz or whether the second graders has read a story about Mozart. But I have to agree with the boy’s parent: Expecting second graders to understand “commission” (or “symphonies” with “movements”) is “nutso.”

Teachers are test experts, writes Arthur Goldstein, who teaches English to immigrant students in New York City.

A large part of my job entails assessing the progress and motivation of my students. And I do, in fact, write tests. I’d argue that my tests are far better than those designed by the city or state. This is at least partially because I cater my tests to the needs and abilities of my students and give them as my students need them, not on wholly arbitrary dates determined by the Board of Regents.

New York City teachers are sent to different schools to grade exams, so they won’t inflate their students’ scores, Goldstein writes. “If I can’t be trusted to design tests and I further can’t be trusted to grade them, I ought not to be teaching. If the state feels that we teachers are so incompetent and untrustworthy it ought to fire us all en masse.”

Core standards will boost equal opportunity

“Millions of young people are having their right to a world-class education violated every day, writes sociologist Peter W. Cookson Jr, president of Ideas Without Borders, in The Quick and the EdCommon standards will advance equal educational opportunity, he argues.

Cookson studied five high schools serving “very different economic and social communities.”

If a student is not lucky enough to attend a high school located in an upper-middle or middle-class neighborhood, he or she is likely to get a watered-down, uninspiring, and inadequate set of academic choices—often taught in a hit-or-miss manner. If a student attends a school in an area of concentrated poverty, his or her course of study often consists of worksheets, out-of-date textbooks, and more worksheets.

Common Core State Standards won’t solve the problem, but it will help, Cookson believes.