How good are Common Core standards?

The Common Core State Standards Initiative gets a grade of B for its proposed English Language Arts and math standards in a new Fordham report, Stars By Which to Navigate? Scanning National and International Education Standards in 2009.

Four expert analysts concluded:

• PISA strikes out. Neither in reading (literacy) nor in math does its content deserve better than a grade of “D.” This is no promising benchmark for American K-12 education.

• NAEP fares better, with a “C” for its math framework and “B” grades in reading and writing. But it ought to be better than it is.

• TIMSS does really well in math, earning an “A.” (Math and science are all that TIMSS touches.)

Common Core drafters “state clearly that these standards need to be accompanied by a rich, content-based curriculum,” but don’t try to specify what that content should be, write Checker Finn and Amber Winkler on Education Gadfly. That avoids bitter fights over reading lists, but makes it essential that states develop content guidelines.

Finn and Winkler warn that the validation panel is not staffed by experts and that it relies on “an unwarranted conceit” that the common-core standards must be “evidence based.”

Most of them are not and cannot be, at least not today, given the state of research into what skills and knowledge are truly necessary to succeed in college and the workplace.

Despite limitations, the draft standards “are pretty good, better in fact than many of us expected,” write Finn and Winkler.

. . .  there’s tons of work ahead, including “backward-mapping” them from the end of high school through grades K-8; building aligned assessments that will give them traction; and developing the curricular materials (especially in reading/writing etc.) that will bring them to life in the classroom.

So far, Common Core has avoided the controversy that’s plagued previous efforts to develop national standards, writes the Washington Post.

Texas: Don't hire dropouts

Don’t hire dropouts of high school age, Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott urged employers.

“It would send a powerful message to these kids to stay in school. It would be better for them, better for businesses and better for the state in the long run,” Scott said.

The Texas Association of Business had criticized education officials for reporting that only 12 percent of students fail to graduate; the business group thinks the dropout rate is closer to 30 percent.

Education Gadfly predicts graduation rates will fall when Texas “fully implements last fall’s stricter federal reporting regulations.”

School shooting game killed

Zombie School, an iPhone game which features students killing zombie classmates, has been pulled from Apple’s App Store, reports Brian X. Chen of Wired’s Gadget Lab. The game’s developer, Retarded Arts, issued a statement:

Zombie School is not promoting school shooting; it’s rather promoting elimination of zombies to protect the humans.

Apple’s been having trouble identifying offensive games, Chen notes. It approved Baby Shaker, “a game whose objective was to shake a baby to death,” then dropped it in response to parental outrage.

Retarded Arts claims Apple rejected a game that involved shooting Wall Street bankers as objectionable, but accepted it when it was revised to target zombie students. But the App Store sells Squash the $treet, “whose premise is to kill bankers — by squashing them with your finger rather than gunfire,” Chen writes.

Perhaps they’re zombie bankers.

Via Education Gadfly.

Slow down 'race to the top'

Learn from No Child Left Behind’s mistakes, Frederick Hess advises the Obama administration. You can’t force states to “race to the top,” he writes on Education Gadfly.

It appears increasingly likely that President Obama and Secretary Duncan are at risk of doing to charter schooling, merit pay, and school “turnarounds” what the Bush administration did to educational accountability. That’s not meant as a compliment.

The Bush team took the sensible and broadly-supported notion of holding schools accountable for their returns and then pursued a vision that is so prescriptive, so overwrought, and so divorced from a coherent rendering of what the feds can actually do that they managed to largely unravel a solid bipartisan commitment in support of the underlying idea.  As a result, most of the country wants to see NCLB overhauled or dumped outright.

Hess predicts states will make promises to get RTT money and then “go through the motions of reforming.”

First, good ideas will be executed poorly, undermining support and engendering skepticism. Second, such an approach will fuel backlash.

It will take longer than four or even eight years to develop “reform-minded political leaders and educators at the state and local levels, and to foster the efforts of entrepreneurs who are solving problems related to teacher quality, assessment, and charter schooling.”

Race to the Top will have only a few winners, predicts Patrick Riccards of Eduflack.

Those in the know seem certain that only a select group of states are going to be bestowed the title of Race to the Top states.  The betting odds are 10 to 15 states will earn the RttT seal.
It’s not clear whether the winners will be states with the greatest need or “low-hanging fruit states where a couple of billion dollars in education funding can make the difference,” he writes. Everyone’s talking innovation now, but the RTT losers are likely to lose their motivation once the dollars are allocated.

One standard shall rule them all

Though 46 states and Washington, D.C. are backing the creation of common math and English standards, figuring out what all high school graduates should know is a challenge, reports Politics Daily. Experts are trying to meet an end-of-July deadline.

The goal is for students to be career and college ready, meaning that they could make a C or better in first-year college classes without having to take remedial courses. Expanded groups of experts will set standards for grades K-12 by the end of December.

Federal standards efforts went awry in the past.  This campaign was started by governors.

“What’s really changed is that it’s almost always now teachers who say, ‘When are we going to get over this nonsense that math in Mississippi is different?’ “from math in another state, says Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has “pledged up to $350 million to help develop tests that would measure whether students are meeting the new standards.”

ACT and College Board experts are trying to develop fewer, clearer and higher standards than in most states. They’re looking at freshman course syllabi and exit surveys to determine what students need.

“They’re really looking for what students should be able to do to truly be ready for college,” says (Chris) Minnich of the Council of Chief State School Officers, one of the groups overseeing the process along with the National Governors’ Association and a Washington-based group called Achieve. “It means taking out some of the things that aren’t really important, including, he says, “whether or not kids should read Shakespeare. Most of the studies say Shakespeare is not critical.”

We’re going to dump Shakespeare? Lynne Munson of Common Core at the eagerness to “throw out possibly the brightest star of our literary heritage and replace it with … well, we don’t yet know.”

Of course, in a few years the loss will hardly be noticed, as someone wise once pointed out: “He that is robb’d, not wanting what is stolen, / Let him not know ‘t, and he’s not robb’d at all.” (Othello, Act III, scene 3)

Massachusetts’ standards are the best we’ve got, Munson argues. If common standards aren’t that rigorous, why bother?

Gadfly’s Mike Petrilli wants a broad liberal arts curriculum that goes beyond “the utilitarian and narrow drive toward college and work readiness,” which has been embraced by Democrats and Republicans.

While the right celebrates anti-intellectualism, “the left remains uncomfortable saying that there is a body of knowledge that all young people need to master in order to be prepared for life in our democracy.”

Before you know it, Shakespeare’s as dead as a royal Dane in the last act of Hamlet. History, being unessential for college or work, is history.

Teachers are tops at trivia nights

Teachers make the best trivia night hosts in Massachusetts bars, reports the Boston Globe.

. . . the host one recent evening, Joel Bates, is an assistant principal at Florence Sawyer School in nearby Bolton; the scorekeeper, Steve Grant, works for him as a second-grade teacher. At least a half-dozen other teachers were in the standing-room-only crowd.

. . . “When you think about it, it makes sense,’’ said Bob Carney, a trivia night organizer with “about 10’’ teachers in his stable of hosts. “Teachers are knowledgeable. They know how to control a room full of people. And if you can handle a 10-year-old, you can handle the occasional drunk.’’

Via Education Gadfly.

Darren of Right on the Left Coast competes with a team of teachers at a Sacramento trivia night. Years after he learned that Nunavut is the name of a Canadian territory, his team was asked: Iqaluit is the capital of what Canadian territory or province?

My trivial knowledge of the existence of that Canadian territory has finally paid off!

The team won a $100 gift certificate. And deep and abiding satisfaction for Darren.

I still cherish beating all the guys to answer a science question in the try-outs for It’s Academic.  I don’t remember the question but the answer was kelp. That was 40 years ago.

Texas schools get credit for kids who fail

Texas schools are expected to get higher ratings under a new state rule that counts students who fail the state exam as passing if they’re expected to pass in the future. School accountability ratings have changed so much, it’s “a test in itself to figure out if a school is doing better, doing worse or holding even,” writes the Dallas Morning News.

Say a seventh-grader failed the math TAKS. The Texas Education Agency developed a statistical formula that predicts whether that student will pass the math test in eighth grade. The formula considers the student’s math and reading TAKS scores, plus the average math TAKS score at his school.

If the student is predicted to pass, the school gets to count him as actually passing – even though he really failed.

If the student fails in the future, nothing happens to the school’s rating, says Education Gadfly.

Say a sixth grader fails TAKS but is projected to pass in eighth grade; if that same student actually fails in eighth grade, the school is not penalized. Instead, projections readjust, and our former-sixth-now-eighth-grader’s scores are now calibrated to predictions for passing the eleventh grade test. As Education Trust’s Daria Hall explains, “From a school perspective, a student never has to actually be proficient. It’s always projected into future grades.”

Some day, my proficiency will come.

Beyond math and reading tests

The Broader, Bolder folks want to test a broad range of subjects, not just math and reading, through  an expanded National Assessment of Educational Progress, which would evaluate a representative sample of students.

In addition, the report urges letting states design their accountability systems “provided these systems include qualitative evaluation of school quality and do not rely primarily on standardized test scores to judge the success of schools.”

·        The federal government should collect state-level data – mostly from an expanded National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) – on how students of different backgrounds perform in a broad range of academic subjects, as well as in the arts, physical health and fitness, citizenship habits, and other necessary knowledge and skills;
·        State accountability systems should supplement higher quality standardized tests with qualitative evaluation of districts and schools to ensure the presence of a supportive school climate, high-quality classroom instruction and other resources and practices needed for student success.

“Eminently sensible,” writes a Mike Petrilli on Education Gadfly.

That’s a big surprise, for in the past this coalition has appeared eager to refight old battles about whether schools can be expected to help poor kids reach high standards. Now, however, it’s arguing for a broader look at school success — what might be termed “test scores-plus.” They would keep test-based accountability, tweaked in various ways (with progress-over-time measures, better assessments, a more robust NAEP, etc.) and supplement it with school inspectors. These inspectors would guard against lousy practices, such as “an undue emphasis on test preparation,” and catch schools engaged in good ones, like “a collegial professional culture in which teachers and administrators use all available data in a collaborative fashion to continuously improve the work of the school.”

Charter school advocates might support that, he writes, since most believe “it will show their schools to have more supportive learning environments than what is found in a typical public school.”

Robert Pondiscio is skeptical that school inspectors will see schools as they really are.

Spend time in a struggling school in the weeks before a “quality review” and you’ll see an extraordinary amount of teaching and learning time going to cleaning classrooms, updating portfolios, making sure bulletin boards have up-to-date student work, etc.  Having lived through a few such inspections, its tempting to suggest judging a school from a formal walk-around is like judging a household from a Thanksgiving dinner.  Remember the grief your mom used to give you to clean up and mind your manners before company came?  Now imagine mom’s livelihood depends on it.  That’s a school in the weeks before quality review.

Instead of test prep, teachers will focus on inspection prep.

The $125,000 teacher

Teachers will earn $125,000 a year at a charter middle school opening in New York City. They’ll be eligible for $25,000 bonuses. Six hundred teachers applied for eight  jobs at The Equity Project, which will target low-performing children in a Hispanic neighborhood.

Founder Zeke Vanderhoek, 32, looked for master teachers who can engage students and get the attention of “potential troublemakers,” reports the New York Times.

To make ends meet, teachers will hold responsibilities usually shouldered by other staff members, like assistant principals (there will be none). There will be no deans, substitute teachers (except for extended leaves) or teacher coaches. Teachers will work longer hours and more days, and have 30 pupils, about 6 more than the typical New York City fifth-grade class.

The principal, Mr. Vanderhoek, will earn just $90,000. Teachers will not have the same retirement benefits as members of the city’s teachers’ union. And they can be fired at will.

Vanderhoek plans to finance the operating costs without private donations.

Charter schools rarely use merit pay, notes Stafford Palmieri on Education Gadfly. That’s because they can reward good teachers and fire ineffective teachers.

. . . high-performing charter teachers can’t get very far up the pay scale if they’re ineffective because they’d be dismissed first.

. . . The currency of the charter rewards system is respect: knowing that your peers — other teachers — have their jobs because they deserve them, not because they made it through three years without molesting a child or passed an eighth-grade level exam that has little relationship to actual teaching quality. This can make a huge difference when it comes to workplace culture.

Most charters pay about the same as local district-run schools, with extra pay for longer hours or added duties.  Schools with a strong culture and community can attract and retain good teachers without offering high salaries. Disorderly, dysfunctional schools can’t keep good teachers no matter what the pay.

Fluff development

To earn points toward certification, Massachusetts teachers can take classes in balloon twisting, tie-dye, making paper snowflakes and folk dancing offered by the state teachers’ union, reports the Boston Herald.

Some of the courses drop any pretense of addressing educational concerns and focus on the union’s real priorities. “MTA’s Lens on Beacon Hill” is led by some of the organization’s legion of lobbyists and discusses strategies for advancing key priorities, like securing retiree cost-of-living increases. In “Grievance Processing,” members “investigate, write up and present grievances.”

Peter Wood has more.

Via Education Gadfly.