Why are these kids doing so well?

Octavio Gutierrez previews lessons for students learning English. Photo: Emmanuel Felton

The kids are doing alright on Common Core tests in a small Los Angeles-area district, reports Hechinger’s Emmanuel Felton. In Wiseburn Unified, low-income blacks, Latinos and English Learners significantly outperform similar students elsewhere.

In fact, the district’s 55 percent of the district’s low-income black students passed the English exam, 11 points above the state average for all students.

Statewide, only 13 percent of low-income black students passed in math. In Wiseburn, 29 percent passed, the largest percentage of any district with significant black enrollment.

Superintendent Tom Johnstone said the district started teaching math differently in 2009, before the Core.

In the lower grades, teachers get on the floor with their students to work with brightly colored blocks and chips to assess their mathematical thinking and problem-solving strategies. In the middle and upper grades, students spend whole class periods on a handful of math problems, rather than racing through reams of equations.

An engineering curriculum called Project Lead The Way has students work together to build things. Johnstone says that program has been key to getting young students – particularly girls and minorities underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields – interested in math, science and the robotics team, which competes in world championships.

In English Language Arts, Wiseburn gives English learners what amounts to 27 extra days of instruction, with previews of what they’ll learn later in the week in English together with their native English-speaking peers.

Wiseburn is a predominantly Latino district with a high tax base from nearby aerospace companies. It’s a district of choice: 43 percent of students have transferred in from neighboring districts with struggling schools.

However, success isn’t just a matter of parental buy-in and funding, Johnstone told Felton. “Much of this was accomplished during the fiscal crisis, when we weren’t able to give out any salary increases for five years.”

Gates Foundation learns humility — maybe


Bill and Melinda Gates, co-chairs of the world’s largest foundation, talk to reporters in New York on Feb. 22. Photo: Seth Wenig/Associated Press

After years of “setting America’s public school agenda,” the Gates Foundation is learning humility, concludes a Los Angeles Times editorial.

The foundation funded the creation of small high schools, until its researchers found that size isn’t a critical factor in student achievement.

It funded bonuses for high-performing teachers, coupled with a new evaluation system, but an experiment in Hillsborough County, Fla. proved costly and ineffective.

“Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards,” Desmond-Hellmann wrote. “We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators — particularly teachers — but also parents and communities, so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning.

“This has been a challenging lesson for us to absorb, but we take it to heart. The mission of improving education in America is both vast and complicated, and the Gates Foundation doesn’t have all the answers.”

I’m not sure this is quite the mea culpa the Times thinks it is. Gates certainly isn’t abandoning the Common Core. The foundation will focus on providing high-quality Core-aligned learning materials and helping teachers choose from what’s available.

“If the knock on the hidebound education system is that it doesn’t change fast enough isn’t the knock on Gates that they change too fast?” responds Eduwonk. “Their small schools investments were not the disaster everyone thinks they were but they pivoted before the evaluations came in. . . . They soft peddled the results of their own evaluations of measures of teacher effectiveness. And while the rollout of Common Core has certainly been a political disaster and the assessment scene is something of a garbage fire, the standards themselves are pretty embedded.”

Homeschooling passes private school in NC


Shane and Bruce McGregor study in the living room, while their mother, Deanna, reviews curriculum. Photo: Ken Harper/Creative Commons

In North Carolina, homeschoolers now outnumber private school students, writes Genevieve Wood of the Heritage Foundation.

About 3.4 percent of the school-age population is educated at home, according to federal estimates.

“In the Tar Heel state, homeschooling has increased by 27 percent over the past two years,” writes Wood. “Those who run local homeschooling groups in North Carolina say Common Core is a big factor.”

According to a 2011 national survey by the U.S. Education Department, 91 percent of parents said they chose homeschooling because of “a concern about the school environment” which included worry about safety, drugs or negative peer pressure, 77 percent said “a desire to provide religious or moral instruction” was a major reason and 74 percent cited “dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools.”

Get practical: ‘A BA in every pot’ is a fantasy


Credit: Christopher Corr, Getty Images/Ikon Images

Vocational education, now known as “career tech ed (CTE),” is back in vogue, says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Young people need a “middle path” to middle-class jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, he tells KUNC reporter Claudio Sanchez. However, Carnevale wouldn’t want his own son or daughter in CTE.

. . . a huge number of technical certificates that take a year to complete, pay more than a [four-year] college degree. You can make a lot more money with a certificate in heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Still, “high school to Harvard” is the “tried-and-true path” to success, says Carnevale. “Until we invest enough to build an alternative pathway and respect real work in the U.S., I wouldn’t risk my child’s [education], even though I know that learning by doing is more powerful than learning with your head alone in school.”

Thirty to 40 percent of young people say ‘school is irrelevant.’ But saying to [parents], ‘I’m going to send your kid to trade school,’ will not appeal to people.

CTE will succeed if it develops a broad set of skills while teaching technical skills, Carnevale says.

In Europe and Singapore, businesses help design training programs and hire the graduates. That’s a “long shot” in the U.S., says Carnevale.

For more than 30 years, the U.S. has rejected practical, applied learning.

Every year, more than 400,000 young people in the top half of their high school class go to college, and eight years later they have not earned either a two- or four-year degree or certificate. So at some point, failure matters. Education reform in pursuit of academic excellence is floundering. We need to change our curriculum. The notion that the Common Core will make people college and career ready is largely a fantasy.

“Politicians want to put a BA in every pot,” says Carnevale.

90% of parents: My kid’s at grade level

Ninety percent of parents think their kids are performing at or above grade level in reading and math, according to a Learning Heroes survey. Welcome to Lake Wobegon.

Reading results broken out by student subset. Source: The Nation's Report Card

Parents held fast to this sunny belief no matter their own income, education level, race or ethnicity, writes Anya Kamenetz on NPR. But most are wrong, according to the Nation’s Report Card, or NAEP.  Less than half of white students and less than a quarter of black and Latino students are on grade level by fourth grade.

“Build deeper relationships and ask tougher questions of your student’s teachers,” Learning Heroes founder Bibb Hubbard advises. “Instead of the teacher just saying, ‘He’s a great kid,’ ask, ‘Is he reading on grade level?’ ”

According to Parents 2016: Hearts and Minds of Public School Parents in an Uncertain World, 75 percent of K-8 parents surveyed also said a college education is “very important” or “absolutely essential” for their children.

Morgan Polikoff, who researches K-12 education policy at the University of Southern California, says the “Lake Wobegon effect” is actually no surprise.

“Kids are getting passed on from grade to grade, a large percentage of kids graduate high school on time,” he explains. “So certainly parents have been getting the message for a long time that their kids are doing just fine.”

Fewer than 2 percent of students are held back a grade, so perhaps parents can’t be blamed for thinking their own kids are at least on par with their peers,” writes Kamenetz.

Learning Heroes aims to inform parents about the Common Core, which it describes as ” a set of clear, consistent learning goals in mathematics and English language arts” and “new state tests that measure critical thinking, problem solving and reasoning skills that students need to be prepared for the next grade level.”

Ambitious parents demand 8th-grade algebra

Educated parents want their kids to take algebra in eighth grade, so they’ll be ready for calculus in 12th grade, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington PostCommon Core is doing a lousy job of explaining why bright students should wait till high school to take algebra.

A student works in an eighth-grade algebra class at Holy Spirit School in East Greenbush, N.Y. Photo: Mike Groll, AP

A student works in an eighth-grade algebra class at Holy Spirit School in East Greenbush, N.Y. Photo: Mike Groll, AP

Private schools aren’t cutting back on eighth-grade algebra, Mathews writes.

“Ambitious parents . . . are unlikely to tolerate delaying algebra, no matter what the experts say.”

Schools are dropping eighth-grade algebra or restricting access, according to Tom Loveless of Brookings. “The portion of eighth-graders in advanced math has declined from 48 percent in 2013 to 43 percent in 2015.”

Students who get an early start on algebra earn higher scores on AP exams, his research shows. Yet that opportunity is “more open to white and Asian students in suburban schools than to disadvantaged youngsters in schools serving students of color.”

Parents try Common Core math

Posted by BuzzFeed Video.

SAT, ACT become high school tests

While some colleges are going “test optional” more high schools are requiring the SAT or ACT, reports the New York Times. The rival college-admissions exams are being used to assess high school performance, as required by federal education law. State are dumping the two federally funded Common Core tests, Smarter Balanced and Parcc.

In January, Delaware decided to use the SAT, instead of Smarter, Balanced, “to meet the federal requirement to test high school students,” reports the Times.  A month later, the University of Delaware “announced that it would no longer require in-state students to submit SAT scores, citing research that high school grades better predict college success.”

Montana will use the ACT instead of Smarter Balanced, and Colorado will use the SAT instead of Parcc. At least seven other states plan to replace Common Core-aligned tests with the SAT or ACT, according to the Times.

Some states see requiring a college-admissions test for all students, including those without college plans, as a way to raise aspirations.

For high school students already planning to take the SAT or ACT, the move means one less exam — with no fee. But these tests are supposed to judge college readiness, not high school performance.

Going “test optional” allows colleges to raise the number of applicants, while hiding their drop in standards, writes Gerald Bradshaw, a college-admissions consultant, in the Chicago Tribune.

Students who opt to report their scores tend to have higher scores. “Test optional colleges can admit lower scoring students while at the same time maintaining artificially higher test averages in the US News and World Report rankings.”

Tracking is linked to higher AP scores

Tracking in eighth grade — usually in math — correlates with higher scores on AP tests at the end of high school, concludes the 2016 Brown Center Report on American Education.

In eighth grade, the tracking question currently boils down to whether high achieving students who are ready for a formal algebra course will get one—or whether all students will take the same general math course.

States with larger percentages of tracked eighth graders produce larger percentages of high-scoring AP test takers, the study found. “The heightened AP performance held across racial subgroups—white, black, and Hispanic.”

There was no relationship between tracking and and the number of students taking AP tests — just to the number who earned a 3, 4 or 5.

Another section looks at how Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are changing instruction in math and reading.

Teachers are teaching more nonfiction in fourth and eighth grade, NAEP data show.

In addition, “data and geometry are receding in importance in fourth grade math, and course enrollments in eighth grade math are shifting away from advanced courses toward a single, general math course,” the report notes.

Eighth graders study algebra at San Francisco's Presidio Middle School in 2011. Photo: Lenny Gonzalez, MindShift

Eighth graders study algebra at San Francisco’s Presidio Middle School in 2011. Photo: Lenny Gonzalez, MindShift

That suggests fewer achievers will start on the path to passing AP Calculus.

San Francisco Unified middle schools no longer teach algebra, as part of the shift to Common Core standards, reported Ana Tintocalis for KQED last year.

For years, all eighth graders took algebra and many failed, said Lizzy Hull Barnes.  Now no one will take algebra till ninth grade.

This “is a social justice issue for SFUSD,” writes Tintocalis. “District officials say the controversial practice of tracking students — or separating them based on talent and ability — is simply wrong.”

Charter school King

John King, Jr. won bipartisan approval as President Obama’s new U.S. Education Secretary this week. That shows “the mainstreaming of school choice and charter schools,” writes Lisa Snell in Reason.

U.S. Education Secretary John King, Jr.

U.S. Education Secretary John King, Jr.

A former school principal, John King helped found Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston and was managing director at Uncommon Schools charter school network, writes Snell. His schools have closed achievement gaps and raised college-going rates for low-income black and Latino students.

Yet, King’s charter school history wasn’t controversial in the hearings. His biggest obstacle was his support for Common Core as New York state education commissioner and his introduction of using student achievement in teacher evaluations.