Stop ignoring the smart kids

Americans think high achievers don’t need any help to reach their full potential, writes Andy Smarick on Flypaper. He’s the author of Closing America’s High-Achievement Gap, published by the Philanthropy Roundtable.

Educated, well-resourced parents can provide special help to their gifted children, writes Smarick. The “talented, low-income child” depends on support at school. And teachers pay much more attention to struggling students than to achievers.

When a high-potential child isn’t challenged, she misses “the opportunity to acquire skills and knowledge but also invaluable attributes like grit and perseverance, which will be essential when she faces difficulties in higher education or the workforce.”

. . .  the “excellence gap,” the difference in performance at the “advanced level,” is large and growing. Low-income, minority, and English-language-learning students are terribly under-represented at the highest levels of achievement.

. . . new accountability systems should pay more attention to “advanced” and less to “proficient,” or they should calculate the “value-added” gains of gifted children (as Ohio’s does). We should create more specialty schools for high-potential kids (like those identified in Finn and Hockett’s superb Exam Schools).

. . . We need to do a much better job of identifying gifted kids and developing policies requiring that they receive attention. We need more out-of-school supplements, such as distance-learning opportunities and university-based programs. And we need to seriously reconsider how we recruit, train, certify, and compensate those who teach gifted kids. These boys and girls desperately need very, very smart educators.

“We should care about all boys and girls,” Smarick concludes.

Busy with the move to Common Core standards, teachers have even less time for gifted students, reports Education Week. ”In order to differentiate, you have to understand the standards and know what they entail. That’s ground zero,” said Jared B. Dupree, a Los Angeles Unified administrator. “Quality differentiation” for gifted students may be  ”three or four years down the road.”

Core reading will be a lot harder

Teachers will assign more complex, challenging reading – if they follow Common Core standards, concludes a Fordham analysis of what students are reading now.

Currently, many teachers try to assign books that match their students’ reading skills, especially at the elementary level. Common Core calls for assigning grade-level reading and giving students extra help to understand it.

In trying to improve reading comprehension, schools made a tragic mistake: they took time away from knowledge-building courses such as science and history to clear the decks for more time on reading skills and strategies. And the impact, particularly on our most disadvantaged students whose content and vocabulary gap is so great, has been devastating.

Teachers are assigning “relevant” and “easily digested books” in hopes of getting students to read, according to Common Core in the Schools.

. . . classic literature has, in many classrooms, been replaced by popular teen novels (often made into movies) such as The Hunger Games and Twilight. Indeed, the former, according to Renaissance Learning . . . became the most widely read book in grades 9-12 following its theatrical release in 2012. Yet it is pegged at a fifth-grade reading level.

The most-assigned books are Because of Winn-DixieAnne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and To Kill a Mockingbird, the Fordham survey finds.  Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail also is assigned frequently.

“Across all grade levels…there was a tendency to err on the side of lower-level books,” says Fordham’s Kathleen Porter-Magee.

In fourth and fifth grade, students should read texts with a lexile range of 740 to 1100, according to Common Core. Four of the top 10 books are below that level, including Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Middle-schoolers should be reading texts in the 950 to 1185 range, according to Common Core. Seven of the 10 most popular books for this age group aren’t challenging enough. (Is John Steinbeck’s The Pearl really an elementary book?)

Ninth- and tenth-graders should be reading texts with a lexile range of 1050 to 1335, the new standards say.  Five of the 10 most popular books don’t meet that level of difficulty. (I guess To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn often are read in earlier grades. I took a “look inside” The Book Thief, which allegedly has a lexile rank too low for fourth graders. It’s not Dick, Jane and Sally.)

Fifty-one percent of teachers surveyed — all in states that have adopted Common Core standards – said they’d made little or no change to their teaching as a result of the new standards.

Teaching the physics of ‘Angry Birds’

Video games have become teaching tools, reports the Wall Street Journal.

At a private school in Houston, eighth-graders slingshot angry red birds across a video screen for a lesson on Newton’s law of motion. High-school students in Los Angeles create the “Zombie Apocalypse” computer game to master character development. And elementary students in Hampstead, N.C., build a virtual city to understand spatial reasoning.

Teachers are using games such as “Minecraft,” “SimCity” and “World of Warcraft” to teach “math, science, writing, teamwork and even compassion,” reports the Journal.

In Chicago and New York, entire schools have been created that use the principles of game design in curriculum development.

Video games let students try, fail, reassess and try again, says Joey J. Lee, an assistant professor who runs the Games Research Lab at Columbia University’s Teachers College, “This creates a positive relationship with failure, especially because the stakes are so low.”

Games “provide rapid feedback that forces students to rethink and alter strategies,” advocates say.

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Geovany Villasenor, a senior at East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy, uses “Minecraft” to build virtual cities. He learned the game in an after-school club but it’s now used in his architecture class. The game lets his “imagination run wild,” says Villasenor.

Not everyone is happy to see video games in the classroom. “Some parents worry that children already spend too much time in front of glowing screens, while others argue that the games are based on rewards, corrupting the idea of learning,” reports the Journal.

The newest games are “aligned” with Common Core standards — or so the makers claim.

Gove: Stop lying to kids

“Lying to children” is a crime, said Michael Gove, Britain’s education secretary, at the National Summit for Excellence in Education in Boston. Children are being “told they’re ready for college, a job or the military” when they’re not, he said.

He compared inflated exam grades on Britain’s graduation exams to Soviet tractor production propaganda, notes the Guardian.

“For years, ministers in previous governments looked at the way more and more people were getting GCSEs and they congratulated themselves, like Soviet economics ministers on the growth in statistics,” Gove (said) . . .

Slipping into a mock Russian accent and syntax, Gove said: “Look in Russia, thousands more get GCSEs. Surely now we are education powerhouse?”

Instead, he told the audience in Boston, “the truth is that we were lying to children” by telling them they would be able to go to university or find skilled work.

“Employers said: ‘You have a piece of paper that says it, you’re qualified in English and mathematics. But you can’t write a business letter, you can’t do basic arithmetic required to work in this store or on this shop floor.’

Both Britain and the U.S. are “houses divided by inequality and lack of opportunity,” Gove said. Access to the best universities in schools is “rationed and restricted, increasingly, to those who live in upscale neighbourhoods, have parents who have access to connections, and are supported by stable families.”

Children without those advantages need “a great school with great teachers,” but many won’t have that chance, Gove said. They’ll never reach their full potential.

Born to an unwed mother, Gove could have been “robbed of opportnity,” if he hadn’t been adopted, he said. Instead, he was raised by parents who made sure he attended excellent schools.

In the name of equity, Gove strongly endorsed Common Core standards, high expectations for all students,  testing (“tests are liberating!”) and competition.

Arguing like a scientist

Learning to “argue, question and communicate more like real scientists” may help students understand scientific concepts more deeply, researchers believe.

Both the Common Core State Standards for reading and mathematics and the Next Generation Science Standards have increased the focus within their disciplines on skills such as constructing and evaluating arguments, complex communications, disciplinary discourse, and critical thinking, said James W. Pellegrino, a co-director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

“Although some think of these as general cognitive competencies, it turns out that reasoning and argumentation have to be disciplinary-based,” Mr. Pellegrino said. “Reason and argumentation in literature is not the same as it is in history, is not the same as it is in science.”

Florida State University’s laboratory school and local Gainesville-area secondary schools are testing a new method to teach reason and argumentation, reports Education Week. In “argument-driven inquiry,” small groups of 8th graders choose how to investigate a problem, run experiments, analyze data and “develop arguments to present to the rest of the class.”

Based on those discussions, the students may collect more data, reflect on their findings, and write up an “investigation report” that has to go through a double-blind peer review process, modeled on the peer review boards that professional journals use to screen scientific papers submitted for publication. Each student then revises his or her work and submits a final report.

In a pilot comparison study of 265 8th grade students in 16 classes at both the laboratory school and regular district-run schools, researchers at the university’s Center for Educational Research in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science found students using the traditional lab model engaged in more structured lab tasks than those in the argument-driven labs, but the latter labs went deeper during each task.

. . . After a year, the students in both lab models significantly improved their knowledge of scientific concepts, but only the students in the argument-driven inquiry labs had improved in science writing and in their understanding of the nature and development of science knowledge. Moreover, the students who were taught in the pilot labs showed nearly twice as much improvement in their ability to use and generate scientific explanations and arguments as the students in the traditional labs.

Another study looked at traditional science labs. Researchers found that “middle and early high school students often avoid setting a hypothesis that could be rejected, try to design and conduct experiments that would confirm biases they already hold, and reject evidence from an experiment that contradicts what they thought going into it.” Even when 8th graders entered a “scientifically accurate” interpretation of  data, many “privately—and incorrectly—interpreted the results to confirm their initial hypotheses.”

Teacher ratings: Ineffective

Syracuse has no highly effective elementary or middle school teachers under the district’s new rating system, notes Aaron Pallas on the Hechinger Report.

Just two percent of Syracuse teachers were rated highly effective, and an additional 58 percent were deemed effective. Seven percent were classified as ineffective, and 33 percent as developing, categories that suggest low levels of teaching performance, the need for teacher improvement plans, and the threat of eventual dismissal.

On average, Syracuse teachers were rated effective on the state’s metric for student growth. They were rated effective or highly effective by the principals and peers who observed their teaching.  But  the school-wide measures of student achievement used by the district lowered scores significantly.

That’s because teachers had to raise test scores from 2012 to 2013 to be rated effective. But the 2013 tests, aligned with Common Core standards, was much harder. Scores went down in Syracuse — and everywhere else in the state. That was inevitable.

I wonder how State Commissioner John King, Jr. would like it if his performance evaluation were based on the same criteria applied to teachers in Syracuse. The percentage-point increase in students statewide scoring at level 3 and 4 in ELA from 2012 to 2013? Well, that actually fell from 55 percent to 31 percent. The Commissioner gets a zero. The percentage-point increase in students scoring at level 3 and 4 in math? That fell from 65 percent to 31 percent. The Commissioner gets a zero. The percentage-point decrease in students statewide scoring at level 1 in ELA from 2012 to 2013? That actually increased from 10 percent to 32 percent. The Commissioner gets a zero. And the percentage-point decrease in students scoring at level 1 in math? That rose from eight percent to 33 percent. The Commissioner gets a zero.

Commissioner King is ineffective — by unfair criteria — concludes Pallas.

The haunted school

Students Last, a humor site, visits The Haunted School.  “A robot-like coed sporting a Teach for America t-shirt and a forced smile . . .  promised to guide us through the house” but mysteriously disappeared.
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“Michelle Rhee” leapt at our oldest child trying to tape his mouth shut. As my son cowered behind me, she threatened to remove my tenure while menacing me with a copy of the Common Core.

A second TFA guide appeared, but quickly vanished.

In the next room, “Executioner Andrew Cuomo” threatened to execute our school if it failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress.

When the third TFA guide abandoned the group, “we wandered into what we thought was a roomful of zombie children but it turned out they were actual kids just preparing for the specialized high school exam.”

The new reading lesson

Common Core standards will change reading lessons, writes Timothy Shanahan in The American Educator.  To start with, the new standards specify the complexity of reading texts at each grade level, writes Shanahan, an emeritus professor who directs the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

That’s a big change. For years, teachers have been told each student should read a “just right” book that’s not too hard (frustrating) or easy (boring). Common Core will require much harder texts, writes Shanahan.

Unfortunately, teacher preparation typically includes few tools for helping students to learn from challenging texts. No wonder teachers so often resort to reading the texts to students, using round-robin reading, or, in history or science, not using the textbook at all.

Common Core proponents also want to cut down on time spent preparing students to read, so more time can be spent on “close reading,” Shanahan writes.

Reading preparation includes discussions of relevant background information, explanations of context in which the text was produced, previews or overviews of the text itself, “picture walks,” predictions, and purpose-setting.

. . . If students are to read about tide pools, for example, teachers are counseled to start out by asking questions such as, “Have you ever visited a beach? What plants and animals did you see near the shore?” Or if students are to read Charlotte’s Web, they might first learn the biographical details of E. B. White’s life.

. . . I recently observed a primary-grade reading lesson that included such a thorough and painstaking picture walk (previewing and discussing each illustration prior to reading) that eventually there was no reason for reading the eight-sentence story; there was no additional information to be learned.

“Close reading” puts the stress back on reading, he writes. But there’s evidence that some preparation aids comprehension. That’s important “at a time when texts are supposed to get harder for kids.”

Reading for emotional intelligence

Reading literary fiction develops empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence, according to a new study reported in the New York Times.

Understanding others’ mental states, known as “Theory of Mind” (ToM), is a critical social skill, researchers write. People who read a short piece of literature did better on ToM tests than those who read excerpts of popular fiction, nonfiction or nothing at all.

“Literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity,” researchers believe.

 “This is why I love science,” Louise Erdrich, whose novel The Round House was used in one of the experiments, wrote in an e-mail. The researchers, she said, “found a way to prove true the intangible benefits of literary fiction.”

“Thank God the research didn’t find that novels increased tooth decay or blocked up your arteries,” she added.

The study could give ammunition to critics of the Common Core standards, which call for students to read more nonfiction. Inevitably, that means less time reading literature.

Participants were tested on their ability to decode emotions or predict a person’s expectations or beliefs. For example, in one test, they studied 36 photographs of pairs of eyes and chose which of four adjectives best described the emotion shown.

Is the woman with the smoky eyes aghast or doubtful? Is the man whose gaze has slivered to a squint suspicious or indecisive? Is she interested or irritated, flirtatious or hostile? Is he fantasizing or guilty, dominant or horrified?

Popular fiction tends to be focused on plot, says researcher Emanuele Castano, professor of psychology at The New School for Social Research. “You know from the get-go who is going to be the good guy and the bad guy.”

Number sense or nonsense?

Twitchy features Common Core math problems that try to teach number sense.

From News12WX RichHoffman?@hoffmanrich

3rd grade common core math. See image. I have a math minor and it doesn’t make sense to me. pic.twitter.com/gTuJmLUN6e

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Saxon’s Core-aligned seventh-grade math book is riddled with errors, writes Michelle Malkin.