U.S. math scores are falling

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-25-17-am2+2=??? Don’t ask an American 15-year-old. The U.S. ranks near the bottom in math compared to 35 industrialized nations, according to the latest PISA results.

U.S. scores fell in math and remained about the same in reading and science, near the international average.

PISA is given to 15-year-olds in 72 countries.

Higher performing nations teach fewer math topics in greater depth, Andreas Schleicher, who runs the test, told journalists. Students master a topic and then move on, rather than cycling back to the same concept each year, he said.

PISA results matter, writes Robert Rothman. “PISA is designed to measure how well students can apply what they have learned to real-world problems.” In a follow-up study, Canadian students’ results correlated with their success in college and the job market.

The usual excuses don’t apply, he argues. U.S. students aren’t more likely to live in poverty than children in other OECD countries. U.S. 15-year-olds are slightly less likely to be enrolled in school.

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-25-39-amHong Kong has lots of poverty — and high scores for all students. Estonia also is an equity champion.

The U.S. improved on measures of equity, notes Amanda Ripley in the New York Times. “In 2006, socioeconomic status had explained 17 percent of the variance in Americans’ science scores; in 2015, it explained only 11 percent, which is slightly better than average for the developed world.”

PISA scores don’t correlate with education spending, Ripley observes. The U.S. spends more than most OECD countries for average or below-average performance. Malta spends about the same — and outperforms the U.S.

Luxembourg is the biggest spender, with mediocre results, followed by Switzerland, which has high scores. Taiwan, which spends less than average, and Singapore, which spends more, have similar, very high math scores.

Ripley summarizes what matters:

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

“I’m confident the Common Core is going to have a long-term impact,” Schleicher said. “Patience may be the biggest challenge.”

Trumpucation

Nobody really knows how a Trump presidency will affect education policy, but let’s speculate.

Education Week interviews Trump education advisor Gerard Robinson, an American Enterprise Institute fellow and former state chief in Florida and Virginia, who says Trump may curb the Education Department’s civil rights office, impacting school-discipline disparities.

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Chickens will come home to roost, writes Rick Hess. Ganders will get sauced.

President Obama, who “bragged about his intent to govern with his ‘pen-and-phone’,”  extended “the reach of Washington via ‘gainful employment,’ Title IX, the redefinition of gender, guidelines governing Title I spending, and much more,” writes Hess.

Trump can dump those pen-and-phone policies and replace them with his own edicts. “The door has been opened for enthusiastic Trump appointees to get creative about pressing states to adopt school voucher programs, abstinence-only sex education, biologically-aligned locker rooms, curbs on PC-speech-restrictive policies on college campuses, and whatever else they can dream up.”

With a Republican-controlled Congress, Trump could fulfill his pledge to fund “vouchers that would let students use federal money to attend the schools of their choice, be they charters, private or parochial schools, magnet programs, or traditional public schools,” writes Emily DeRuy in The Atlantic.

On the campaign trail, Trump called for the repeal of Common Core standards, but he also backed local control. He can’t order Core states to drop the standards if they wish to stick with them.

Education in the Trump era: What now?

Donald Trump won the presidency by mobilizing the frustration of non-college educated whites who feel left out and left behind. (Donald Trump will be president of the United States of America. Oy vey.) What now?

On the campaign trail, Trump called for cutting “the power and reach” of the Education Department.

Donald Trump spoke in New York in June. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

Donald Trump campaigning in New York. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

“Education has to be run locally,” he said. “Common Core, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top are all programs that take decisions away from parents and local school boards. These programs allow the progressives in the Department of Education to indoctrinate, not educate, our kids.”

He backed school choice, including charters, vouchers and magnet schools.

Trump said he’d make colleges cut tuition. “If the federal government is going to subsidize student loans, it has a right to expect that colleges work hard to control costs and invest their resources in their students,” Trump said. “If colleges refuse to take this responsibility seriously, they will be held accountable.”

He also threatened to end the tax-exempt status of colleges and universities with large endowments and high tuition rates, notes Inside Higher Ed. Colleges need “to spend endowments on their students, not themselves,” Trump said. “They need to use that money to cut the college debt and cut tuition, and they have to do it quickly.”

Trump’s education platform includes making it easier for people to afford vocational and technical training.

Here are education quotes.

What’s he really going to do? Would Congress go along? I have no idea. Still in shock.

Trump’s victory “leaves widespread uncertainty about what’s in store for public schools,” writes Ed Week.

Fordham’s Mike Petrilli predicts “quick changes” at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, including an end to applying “disparate impact theory” to school discipline.

Massachusetts voters rejected lifting the cap on charter schools.

California voters repealed limits on bilingual education.

‘Explain your thinking’ can backfire

Image result for explaining math answers cartoon

When students explain their thinking, they may be “justifying stuff that’s wrong,” says Bethany Rittle-Johnson, a Vanderbilt psychology professor.

Her analysis of 85 peer-reviewed studies found that self-explanation can cement misunderstandings, reports Liana Heitin in Education Week. It “seemed to focus students’ attention on their preexisting theories … and may have reduced attention to new information and evidence that contradicted their theories,” the research review noted.

“The general recommendation is you get kids to explain right information, that’s step one. And then it can be helpful to tell kids [that] something is wrong and have them explain why it’s wrong,” Rittle-Johnson said. “That’s different than me getting a wrong answer and explaining to you why it’s right.”

Common Core math standards ask students to “make sense of problems” and “construct viable arguments,” writes Heitin. “Because of this, many teachers have put more emphasis on having students explain the thinking behind their problem-solving.”

Core math doesn’t add up in California

California’s Common Core math standards are less rigorous than the state’s old standards, writes Wayne Bishop, a Cal State LA math professor, in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

The old standards, released in 1997, were written by Stanford math professors who wanted eighth graders — not just the private school kids — to learn algebra, he writes. The new standards stress verbal skills.

. . . the new test requires students to answer follow-up questions and perform a task that shows their research and problem-solving skills. . . . Any student with weak reading and writing skills is unfairly assessed. That is especially problematic for English learners.

Common Core reflects the belief that “mathematics is best learned through students’ exploration of lengthy ‘real world’ problems rather than the artificial setting of a competent teacher teaching a concept followed by straightforward applications thereof,” writes Bishop. In reality, “traditional (albeit contrived) word problems lead to better retention and use of the mathematics involved.”

In addition, Common Core “expects students to use nonstandard arithmetic algorithms . . .  in place of the familiar ones; e.g., borrow/carry in subtraction/addition and vertical multiplication with its place-value shift with successive digits,” writes Bishop.

He recommends Stephen Colbert’s “delightful derision” of Core confusion.

Why students cant rite good

Image result for bad writing cartoon

I have six words of advice for people who want to develop their writing talents: “Read a lot. Write a lot.”

American students aren’t good writers because they don’t write enough, asserts Andrew Rotherham in U.S. News. That’s because English teachers “see far too many students to be able to assign the quantity of writing students need to do to become skilled.”

So why are we surprised that a 2015 Education Trust analysis of middle school language arts work found that only 9 percent of assignments required writing multiple paragraphs? Almost one in five assignments Ed Trust looked at required no writing at all.

Often, students are asked to “peer review” classmates’ work. I don’t think the average middle or high school student is capable of providing useful feedback.

To give teachers time to help students improve their writing, we’d need smaller English classes — and larger classes for other subjects, writes Rotherham. That’s politically impossible.

Image result for writing high school

 “We could also deploy assistants for teachers so that math teachers could cover more ground or English teachers could assign more writing,” he writes. However, “the teachers unions hate that idea because it disrupts today’s labor model.”

Common Core won’t help, argues Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews. It encourages a “furniture-assembly approach” to writing, he writes.

Robert Pondiscio proposes persuading selective colleges to “stop asking for personal essays and require instead at least two graded research papers with students’ applications.”

More students would write research papers, which would prepare them to write college research papers.

In addition, teachers are in a better position than admissions officers to tell when a paper was written by Mom rather than the student.

Hirsch: All kids need ‘enabling knowledge’

E.D. Hirsch’s new book, Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories, is “as clear and trenchant as Cultural Literacy was in 1987,” writes Fordham’s Checker Finn.

Hirsch takes on “the tyranny” of three mistaken ideas, writes Finn.

— Early education should be age-appropriate and seen as part of a “natural development process.” (“Early education” in Hirsch’s world isn’t preschool; it’s kindergarten and the first several grades of school.)
— Early education should be individualized as far as possible.
— The main aim of education is to develop critical thinking and other “general skills.”

In the early grades, children need a common, knowledge-centric curriculum, Hirsch argues. Poor kids need to know what the children of educated parents know.

In the book’s preface, Hirsch writes about the radical shift in France’s education system. In 1989, France told elementary schools to abandon the national curriculum. Each school was to develop its own curriculum and special emphasis.

. . . more attention was to be paid to the individuality of each student, to his or her native abilities, interests, and home culture. To compensate for all this novel heterogeneity, the unifying emphasis was to be on general skills such as “critical thinking” and “learning to learn.”

After 20 years, researchers found “an astonishingly steep decline in achievement” for students from all demographic groups, writes Hirsch. Children of North African immigrants suffered the most — “inequality increased dramatically” — but children of professionals also did much worse.

Image result for ignorance

U.S. educators believe in “different strokes for different folks,” “multiple learning styles,” “multiple intelligences” and so forth, writes Hirsch.

In practice, individualizing leads to a fragmented curriculum and the idea “that the goal of education is the imparting of general skills like critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, and cooperative thinking,” writes Hirsch. “But reality has not accepted this hopeful idea about skills, and recent cognitive science has been fatal to it.”

Hirsch “sees potential in the commonness’ of the Common Core,” but thinks it will help only if it leads to knowledge-rich curricula, writes Finn. He also warns that “close reading” of texts — a Common Core obsession — is a waste of time unless those texts are integrated with a knowledge-rich curriculum.

EdNext poll: Core support slides

“The demise of school reform has been greatly exaggerated,” concludes Education Next in reporting on its survey of 10-year trends in education opinion.

“Public support remains as high as ever for federally mandated testing, charter schools, tax credits to support private school choice, merit pay for teachers, and teacher tenure reform,” the survey found. “However, backing for the Common Core State Standards and school vouchers fell to new lows in 2016.”

In 2016, 50% of all those taking a side say they support the use of the Common Core standards in their state, down from 58% in 2015 and from 83% in 2013. Republican backing has plummeted from 82% in 2013 to 39% in 2016. The slip among Democrats is from 86% to 60% over this time period. Eighty-seven percent of teachers supported the initiative in 2013, but that fell to 54% in 2014 and to 44% in 2015, stabilizing at that level in 2016.

When “Common Core” is not mentioned, two-thirds back the use of the same standards.

Nearly four out of five respondents, about the same as in 2015, favor the federal requirement that all students be tested in math and reading in each grade from 3rd through 8th and at least once in high school. However, only half of teachers support the testing requirement.

A “federal policy that prevents schools from expelling or suspending black and Hispanic students at higher rates than other students” is very unpopular, backed by only 28 percent of the general public and of teachers.  In 2016, 48 percent of black respondents express support for the idea, down from 65 percent in 2015. Thirty-nine percent of Hispanics express support, showing little change from last year.

Respondents rated local schools more favorably than in the past, but continued to give low marks to schools nationally.

To save the Core, states dump Core tests

Most Common Core states are sticking with the controversial standards, but writing their own tests, report Ashley Jochim and Patrick McGuinn in Education Next. Since 2010, 38 states have dropped out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), or both.

Fourteen states plan to administer SBAC in the 2016-17 academic year, and just six states plan to administer PARCC.

Political pushback is a major factor, they conclude.

“The new SBAC and PARCC assessments have Common Core written all over [them]—federally funded, part of a national effort,” said Mike Cohen, who directs the advocacy group Achieve. “In many states where opposition to the Common Core emerged, the compromise was to hold on to the standards and get rid of the aligned tests.”

Massachusetts and Louisiana have both moved forward with “hybrid” state tests that combine consortia- and state-designed assessment items. That may be the future of Common Core testing.

Writing in the Core era

Is the Five-Paragraph Essay History? asks Stephen Sawchuk on Education Week Teacher.

Critics say the five-paragraph essay — introduction with a thesis, three paragraphs each with a topic sentence and supporting details, and a conclusion — is too rigid, he writes. Defenders say it’s a first step.

The popular workshop model doesn’t provide enough support to weaker students, Mark Anderson, a New York City teacher, tells Sawchuk. “The (five-paragraph) structure guides them to organizing their ideas in a way that is very clear, and even if they’re very much at a literal level, they’re at least clearly stating what their ideas are,” he said.

Common Core standards stress argumentative and informative writing over personal narratives, writes Madeline Will. “David Coleman, the lead architect of the English/language arts portion of the common core, famously justified the switch in 2011 by telling a group of educators that ‘as you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think’.”

Core writing is all about citing evidence from a text to support a thesis.

In the Common Core era, a teacher will assign a text-citing essay on Beowulf, not a poster on the epic hero.

In the Common Core era, a teacher will assign a text-citing essay on Beowulf, not a poster on the epic hero.

James A. Dittas, who teaches in a Tennessee high school, writes about how he’s changed writing instruction to meet Core standards.

“I learned how to craft text-dependent questions and I began assigning longer essays and research papers that required evidence from the texts that we were already reading,” he writes.

He’s more likely to require “an essay analyzing the author’s use of heroic elements in Beowulf” than a poster about the epic hero. Debate and drama must meet a Core objective. The April poetry unit is out. Even “journaling” must address “text-based questions” rather than “personal or current-event-related prompts,” he writes.

The pendulum always swings too far in education.

When I was in high school, we did nothing but expository writing using a structure called the 3-3-3 paragraph. There were no introductions or conclusions, just a thesis sentence supported by topic sentences supported by three (or more) “concrete and specific details.” We hated it. But we learned how to support a thesis.