Against core standards

Today, California’s board of education is expected to adopt the Common Core Standards already approved by 30-odd states.

Dissenters Bill Evers and Ze’ev Wurman believe California will trade eighth-grade algebra for an “obese, unteachable” math course. Despite the state standards, many eighth graders can’t handle algebra.  Yet Evers and Wurman argue that setting the bar high has helped students.

Over the past decade and a half, California’s Latino student population has almost doubled from 30 percent to over 50 percent, many of them facing special learning challenges. Yet the number of students taking algebra by eighth grade has jumped from 16 percent to 60 percent, while the success rate has jumped from 39 percent to 48 percent since 2002. In 2002, only a third of high school students took Algebra 2 by grade 11; now more than half take it, and with increasing success rates.

More importantly, between 2003 and 2009 the number of African American students successfully taking Algebra 1 by grade 8 more than tripled from 1,700 to 5,400; the jump among Hispanic students was from 10,000 to 45,000; and for students from low-income households, from 12,000 to 49,000. Algebra 2 in high school shows similar results. Finally, since 1997, California State University freshman enrollment has doubled from 25,000 to 50,000, while remediation rates in mathematics have dropped from 54 percent to 37 percent.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders, a veteran of the “math wars,” warns that going from “fuzzy crap” math — as the state education secretary called it — to eighth-grade algebra was a tough fight: “Once you’ve captured turf, you have to hold it.”

Massachusetts, another state with high standards, already has adopted the common core. Sandra Stotsky, who helped create the state’s standards, protests the decision.

In a New York Times’ Room for Debate last year, Stotsky said English teachers aren’t prepared to teach the common core English Language Arts standards, which call for students to learn to read scientific and historical texts as part of English class.

Go here to read Common Core’s Standards Still Don’t Make the Grade: Why California and Massachusetts Must Retain Control Over Their Academic Destinies by Stosky and Wurman.

Pushed hard by Arne Duncan, all but a few states seem certain to adopt the new standards. How will they implement them? That’s another question.

Update: Minnesota will not adopt Common Core Standards; they think the math standards are unclear and want to retain local control.

Hat is 'hat'

From The Onion: Arizona High Schools To Now Teach Spanish Entirely In English

In other Onion news: Struggling High School Cuts Football — Nah, Just Kidding, Art It Is

Farewell to 'Farewell to Arms'

It’s Farewell to “A Farewell to Arms” in Douglas County, Nevada, reports Teaching Now, an Ed Week blog.

English teachers are protesting district plans to introduce College Board’s Springboard textbook set and curriculum, complaining it eliminates classic books in favor of short readings. From the Record-Courier:

(Douglas High teachers) argued SpringBoard prevents students from being exposed to classic, challenging texts with rich vocabularies. Rather, they said, students are stuck with one novel a year and random excerpts, some of which deal with movies and television shows, resulting in a loss of the English literary tradition.

More specifically, teachers argued that SpringBoard lacks rigorous grammar, vocabulary and writing instruction.

Sophomore Taylor Gray said her ninth-grade honors English class, which piloted Springboard, didn’t teach her how to write an essay, because “I was spending time learning about ‘Edward Scissorhands’ cinematic value.”

Middle school teacher and supporter Susan Van Doren thinks the curriculum could serve as an academic equalizer. “SpringBoard makes it possible to throw open the doors to Advanced Placement that have long been closed to all but the elite.”

Springboard’s thematic approach is supposed to prepare students for AP classes. But many Hillsborough County, Florida teachers complain it lacks substance, contains too much pop culture trivia and repeats material taught in lower grades. Some call it SpringBored.

There are fans. Sylvia Ellison, an English teacher at Brandon High in Florida, taught the American Dream theme to 11th-graders, many of whom were low achievers. “They like the variety,” Ellison told the Tampa Tribune.

Her class took about seven weeks to cover Jon Krakauer’s biography, “Into the Wild,” about a 24-year-old man’s adventures and death in the Alaska wilderness.

“We listened to the whole book on iTunes,” Ellison said. “Last year, they read ‘The Great Gatsby.’ I think they got more out of this one.”

And this will prepare students for AP English?

Update: James Elias of Common Core piles on, asking Where’s the Beef? and linking to reading lists.

In 12th grade, for instance, SpringBoard replaces a unit on the English Renaissance (Spenser, Raleigh, Shakespeare, and the King James Bible) with a unit on My Fair Lady, The Manchurian Candidate, Nine to Five, Cinderella, and The Legend of Bagger Vance. 12th grade Victorian literature (Tennyson, the Brownings, Kipling, Dickens, Bronte) is replaced by a current events unit focusing on the Waco massacre, Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” and newspaper editorials.

A SpringBoard supporter says, “If you can read, you can read the classics on your own.” Oh, OK. No problem.

Arizona vs. accents, ethnic studies

Arizona teachers who speak English with a strong accent or poor grammar won’t be allowed to teach classes for English Language Learners, the state education department has ruled. The decision primarily will affect elementary teachers recruited from Latin America to staff bilingual classes. When Arizona voters ended bilingual education in 2000, teachers were told to use English only. But some aren’t able to speak fluently or model good English, state officials complain. From the Wall Street Journal:

The education department has dispatched evaluators to audit teachers across the state on things such as comprehensible pronunciation, correct grammar and good writing.

Teachers will be given time to improve their English, but those who can’t meet the state auditors’ standard must be reassigned to mainstream classes or fired, says a state education official.

. . . Nearly half the teachers at Creighton, a K-8 school in a Hispanic neighborhood of Phoenix, are native Spanish speakers. State auditors have reported to the district that some teachers pronounce words such as violet as “biolet,” think as “tink” and swallow the ending sounds of words, as they sometimes do in Spanish.

Creighton’s principal says her foreign-born teachers are dedicated, experienced and understand the students’ culture. There aren’t enough mainstream early elementary classes for teachers with accents, unless they can teach higher grades. The school — nearly all Hispanic and all poor — is rated “performing plus” by the state. By middle school, students are catching up to state averages, especially in math.

In other Arizona news, a bill designed to ban ethnic studies classes has reached the governor’s desk, reports the Arizona Republic. State Superintendent Tom Horne, a candidate for attorney general, wrote the bill to abolish classes that:

• Promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.

• Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.

• Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.

• Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.

Horne is targeting Tucson’s La Raza studies class, saying it’s “aimed primarily at members of one race, and we have testimony that this has promoted resentment.” He said students could be exposed to various cultures and traditions in social studies classes.

Tucson school officials say there’s nothing in their curriculum that would run afoul of the bill’s provisions. “In no way do we teach the resentment of any particular group of people,” said Sean Arce, director of the Mexican-American studies department in the Tucson district.

The district integrates Mexican-American studies into its offerings, from kindergarten through high school.  

Oh, and there’s that law about illegal aliens. Arizona’s new moniker: The Grand Ban ‘Em State.

Speaking of advertising

It seems much of education is turning into a PR campaign. The “21st Century Skills” movement seems quite fond of advertising.

Here are some sample projects from the “21st Century Skills Map” for social studies (from the P21 website):

Fourth grade:

Outcome: As a group, work together to reach a decision and to explain the reasons for it.

Example: Working in small groups, encourage and engage other classmates to assist with a group service-learning project. Using digital media, students demonstrate the need to raise the awareness of their classmates on an issue within their community, (e.g., students create a digital poster that persuades classmates to participate in a school fundraising project).

Eighth grade:

Outcome: Students develop entrepreneurial skills by undertaking a business project.

Example: JA World Wide (Junior Achievement) provides a semester project for middle school students, in which business leaders from the community teach a weekly class, and each student group in the class develops and markets a product.

Students are responsible for setting goals, developing and implementing their plans, monitoring their progress in developing and marketing their product, and modifying as needed.

Twelfth grade:

Outcome: Students create an economic venture that requires the application of economic principles such as supply and demand.

Example: Students work together as a class or in groups to execute a simple business task such as selling a certain amount of a popular snack by a certain date. The activity could be structured competitively or in such a way that various groups are attempting to reach group-based specific sales goals. Students use a range of sales techniques that incorporate forms of technology such as video and web-based promotion. Students could also create a new product or packaging of an existing product and make a competitive pitch to fellow students who decide which product or packaging should be awarded with a “venture capital” type of investment. The activity could be incorporated into a co-curricular school-based venture that has access to some start-up funds.

I don’t understand why kids should be selling snacks instead of studying history.

Afghan girls return to school

Scarred by acid, Afghan girls have returned to school in Kandahar, defying terrorists who attacked students and teachers two months ago, reports the New York Times.

. . .  if the acid attack against Shamsia and 14 others — students and teachers — was meant to terrorize the girls into staying home, it appears to have completely failed.

Today, nearly all of the wounded girls are back at the Mirwais School for Girls, including even Shamsia, whose face was so badly burned that she had to be sent abroad for treatment. Perhaps even more remarkable, nearly every other female student in this deeply conservative community has returned as well — about 1,300 in all.

“My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed,” said Shamsia, 17, in a moment after class. Shamsia’s mother, like nearly all of the adult women in the area, is unable to read or write. “The people who did this to me don’t want women to be educated. They want us to be stupid things.”

I hope teachers in the U.S. show this story to their students.

Update:  To learn to communicate with the rest of the world, Afghan students need help learning English, writes Michael Yon. Pashto and Dari aren’t enough.

Learning English in 2008

Ed Week’s Mary Ann Zehr recaps English learning stories of 2008.

You’ve got to love the One Semester of Spanish Love Song.