Obama’s education legacy

What will be Obama’s lasting education legacy? asks PBS NewsHour.

“In President Obama’s first state of the union, he said . . . that every American needs at least one year of post-secondary training to succeed in today’s economy,” says Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik.

Congress “never touched” the president’s proposal for “free” community college, but “districts all over the country took the idea and ran with it,” he says.

President Obama scored some first-term “victories on teacher quality, academic standards, and school turnarounds,” writes Ed Week‘s Alyson Klein but second-term “backlash threatened the longevity of his signature initiatives and made it virtually impossible to enact similarly sweeping change in new areas, including early-childhood education.”

On the new administration’s way in the door, Obama and (Education Secretary Arne) Duncan were handed $100 billion for education, including more than $4 billion to push almost any K-12 policy they chose, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was crafted to jump-start the stalled economy.

Obama and Duncan took the money—which came with few congressional strings—and . . . created the Race to the Top competition, which sought to reward states with grants of up to $700 million for embracing the president’s priorities on school turnarounds, tests, state data systems, and teacher evaluation based in part on student outcomes.

Obama’s Education Department used its financial clout to push states to adopt Common Core standards, undercutting its credibility as “state standards.”
Graduation rates are up. Reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are down.

Busy work kills love of reading

School assignments killed his son’s love of reading, writes Tony on Leading Motivated Learners.

Reading logs and summaries became a chore, he writes. Written responses were “never checked or responded to.”

“Book reports . . . became more about drawing some amazing picture to go on the cover of the report than anything else,” Tony complains. “They were also so formulaic that little thought went into completing them.”

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach

Instead of reading a passage, then answering comprehension questions, his son “would just read the questions and the multiple choice answers and then scan the passage for the correct answer – no reading really involved there.”

Close readings, a Common Core staple, meant “reading the same book for months and doing endless assignments around that one book.”

Even before the close reading era, my daughter would complain that it took forever to read a book, hunt down its symbolism, “journal” about it and beat it to death in class.

We did almost none of this when I was in school, except for writing book reports.

My fifth-grade teacher told us to write a 1 1/2-page book report for every book we read. I was reading a book a day, so it was a lot of work. I suspected she didn’t read the reports. One day, in my largest handwriting and widest margins, I wrote:

Johann Sebastian Bach is a book about Johann Sebastian Bach. Sometimes Johann Sebastian Bach was called Johann Sebastian Bach, but sometimes Johann Sebastian Bach was called Johann, Johann Sebastian or Bach. However, Johann Sebastian Bach was not called Sebastian or Sebastian Bach.

That was the first page. On the second page, I wrote:

 Johann Sebastian Bach is a very good book for boys and girls who are interested in reading about Johann Sebastian Bach.

The teacher never said a word about it. I kept churning out book reports, because that’s the sort of person I am. did not lose my love of reading.

In sixth grade, we just had to fill out an index card for every book we read. For years after, the teacher used my stack — 184 books, I  think — to terrify her new students.

Robert Pondiscio wrote on Facebook: “You know what REALLY kills the love of reading: Not teaching kids how to @#%*! read…. ”

How can teachers teach reading without boring readers?

Update: A New Jersey district lets teachers assign short excerpts from a novel for close reading, then show a movie based on the book. In my school days, we watched the movie of Julius Caesar (James Mason!) and Pride and Prejudice (Laurence Olivier!), but we read whole books, not excerpts.

DeVos: Mainstream or monster?

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for Education secretary, is a “pretty mainstream pick – though usual suspects on right & left of course are already going bonkers,” tweeted Andrew Rotherham. On Eduwonk, he added that DeVos is “within the mainstream of Republican thought on education.”

She’s not the elitist, racist, fundamentalist, public education-hating monster that opponents claim, writes Tyler O’Neill in PJ Media. She doesn’t hate public education or oppose all regulation of charter schools.

She doesn’t want to bring back “child labor.” (A staffer at a DeVos-funded institute argued for teens working “a few hours a week.”)

The challenge for DeVos is to “avoid the Beltway education trap,” Column write Jim Stergios and Charles Chieppo of the Boston-based Pioneer Institute in USA Today.

Only 10 percent of K-12 spending comes from the federal government, they write, yet education secretaries always want to run the whole show.

DeVos “isn’t an educator or an education leader,” writes Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press, also on USA Today. “She’s not an expert in pedagogy or curriculum or school governance. In fact, she has no relevant credentials or experience for a job setting standards and guiding dollars for the nation’s public schools.”

I’m bothered by DeVos’ lack of experience with traditional public schools: She attended private schools and sent her children to private schools. She’s an education advocate — Henderson says “lobbyist” — but not an educator.

That’s surprisingly common: Of 10 Education secretaries, only three — Bell, Paige and — were former K-12 teachers.

Betsy DeVos is a Jeb Bush ally, reports Politico, which calls her appointment his “consolation prize.”

A ‘bad year’ for Core-linked SAT

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After helping to write Common Core standards, David Coleman moved to College Board, where he pushed a plan to align the SAT and PSAT college entrance exams to the standards, reports Renee Dudley for Reuters. The new Core-linked SAT, released this spring, is facing “harsh realities.”

Within College Board, there were “pitched battles” over Coleman’s “timeline to create the new test,” writes Dudley, who had access to internal e-mails, memos and presentations.

As Reuters reported in March, the College Board has struggled to stop cheating rings in Asia that exploit security weaknesses in the SAT and enable some students to gain unfair advantages on the exam. A massive security breach earlier this year exposed about 400 questions for upcoming SATs.

And College Board officials went forward with the redesigned test even though they knew it was overloaded with wordy math questions, a problem that handicaps non-native English speakers and reinforces race and income disparities that Coleman has vowed to diminish.

Reviewers warned that linking to Common Core “would disadvantage students in states that rejected the standards or were slow to absorb them,” writes Dudley.

Aligning the SAT with the Common Core standards is not “educationally sound, nor will it be fair to students for at least several years, even if all fifty states enthusiastically adopt them,” wrote Dan Lotesto, a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“It was a bad year, and I’m sorry,” Coleman said in September, at a conference of university admissions officers and high school counselors. “It is no good to have vision if you don’t deliver.”

Several states have dropped the Common Core. President-elect Donald Trump has called the standards a “total disaster.”

The Common Core is “unraveling,” education historian Diane Ravitch said in an interview. “If the SAT becomes woefully out of line with what’s happening in schools, then it’s less valuable.”

The ACT has passed the SAT in popularity among collegebound students.

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.

ednext-blog-nov16-aldeman-trumpainting

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.