Core support erodes, right and left

Common Core support is eroding on the left and the right, according to two new polls, writes Rick Hess in National Review.

Depending on how the questions are phrased, “it’s possible to argue that the public supports the Common Core by more than two to one or that it opposes it by more than two to one,” he writes.

“Support on the right melted away between 2012 and 2015, but Democratic support has also steadily softened,” writes Hess. In that period, “the share of Democrats opposed to the Common Core has increased about fivefold — from 5 percent to 25 percent.”

“New York was one of the first major states to implement Common Core state standards,” writes Casey Quinlan on ThinkProgress. Now Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who backed linking test scores to teacher evaluations, has launched a task force to review and revise the standards.

Statewide, 49 percent of New Yorkers do not support the standards, with more downstate suburban voters and Upstate New Yorkers opposing them, according to a Siena Rsearch Institute Survey.

. . . (Cuomo) “refuses to admit he was wrong to demand test-based teacher evaluations during this sensitive time. He is unwilling to level with parents about the need for higher standards and more honest assessments,” Michael J. Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio wrote in Newsday.

Core-aligned test scores are very low, especially for disadvantaged students. “A growing number of states across the country are walking back their commitments to the tests and even to the standards themselves,” reports U.S. News.

Care for kids or flip a burger?

New York state will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for fast-food workers at chains with 30+ restaurants. That means the state’s burger flippers will earn more than child-care workers and preschool teachers in most parts of the country, writes Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

Child care workers average $8.63 in West Virginia to $12.47 in Massachusetts, according to a 2014 Berkeley study. Wages have fallen slightly since 1989.

“Preschool workers, who are more likely to work with older children in licensed centers and in publicly funded, school-based programs, earn more — from $11.57 an hour in Delaware to $20.99 in New York City, writes Kamenetz.

“We desperately need educated young people to be working with young children, but they look at this job and say, ‘It’s a pathway to poverty. I can’t pay my student loans if I do this’, ” says Deborah Phillips, a Georgetown professor who’s studied the issue. When wages are low, turnover is high, affecting the quality of care.

If the New York law stands, restaurant owners will be able to replace low-skilled workers with automated order taking and cooking. It’s a lot harder to automate child care.

Judge finds racial bias in NY teacher’s exam

Understanding liberal arts and sciences isn’t necessary to be a teacher, ruled a federal judge in rejecting New York’s teachers’ exam for racial bias. Blacks and Latinos failed the LAST-2 exam, given from 2004-12, at a much higher rate than whites, reports the New York Times. Education officials failed to prove it measured skills necessary to do the job.

“Instead of beginning with ascertaining the job tasks of New York teachers, the two LAST examinations began with the premise that all New York teachers should be required to demonstrate an understanding of the liberal arts,” Judge (Kimba) Wood wrote.

. . . With this ruling, the LAST-2 meets the same fate of the LAST-1, an earlier version of the test, given from 1993 to 2004, that was also found to be discriminatory.

Minority teacher candidates who failed the test may be entitled to back pay.

Judge Wood has questioned whether New York’s new exam, the Academic Literacy Skills Test ( ALST), also is “racially discriminatory,” reports the Times. A hearing is scheduled this month. (Here are sample questions.) The state Board of Regents has “agreed to postpone for a year the requirement that candidates pass the ALST.”

In New York City’s public schools, 41 percent of students are Hispanic, compared to 15 percent of teachers. The disparity is much narrower for blacks: 25 percent of students and 18 percent of teachers are black.

Research is mixed on whether students learn more with a same-race/same-ethnicity teacher. Of course, it’s not clear how to predict who’s going to be an effective teacher, but high verbal ability seems to be a plus.

Nimbi: Mysterious, ephemeral and on the test

New York’s Core-aligned tests are too hard, teachers are complaining.

One version of the sixth-grade test asked students to answer questions based on a Smithsonian article, Nimbus Clouds: Mysterious, Ephemeral and Now Indoors, on a Dutch artist who creates and photographs indoor clouds.

Berndnaut Smilde’s favorite picture uses the architecture of the D’Aspremont-Lynden Castle in Rekem, Belgium. “The contrast between the original castle and its former use as a military hospital and mental institution is still visible” the artist writes. “You could say the spaces function as a plinth for the work.”

Nimbus D’Aspremont. © Berndnaut Smilde.

Others complained of a sixth-grade passage from That Spot by Jack London, which included “beaten curs,” “absconders of justice,” surmise, “savve our cabin,” and “let’s maroon him,” writes Valerie Strauss in her Washington Post column.

One version of the eighth-grade test required 13-year-olds to read a New York Times‘ story, Can a playground be too safe?  with vocabulary such as “bowdlerized, habituation techniques, counterintuitive, orthodoxy, circuitous, risk averse culture, and litigious,” writes Strauss.

The story quotes a journal article by Norwegian scientists on why kids love risky play:

Paradoxically, we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.

Without seeing the questions, it’s hard to tell whether the test is unreasonably difficult. Is it possible to infer meaning from context? Or to ignore the “hard words” and still get the meaning?

Smarter teachers, smarter students

Should we select teacher candidates for their smarts? asks the National Council on Teacher Quality Bulletin. If so, “can we raise the bar without endangering equitable access to strong teachers or limiting diversity?”

The cognitive skills of a nation’s teachers is linked to their students’ PISA performance, conclude Eric Hanushek and two Germany-based researchers. The study tried to control for “parental cognitive skills, a country’s educational culture, differences in student aptitude” and other factors. 

It assumed places with higher public-sector salaries would draw more academically talented people to teaching. If that’s valid, then “raising average teacher cognitive skills by a standard deviation likely raises student performance in math by 20 percent of a standard deviation in math and 10 percent in reading.”

Another study suggests it’s possible to get more talented teachers into the classroom. Teachers’ academic aptitude has been rising in New York over the past 25 years, concludes a study by Hamilton Lankford and others.

In the late 1990’s, almost a third of New York’s newly certified teachers were drawn from the bottom-third of the SAT scale. Beginning in 1998, the state tightened requirements on teacher preparation programs, eliminated temporary teaching licenses (which tended to be awarded to low-scoring individuals), and allowed selective alternative routes (e.g., Teach For America and TNTP) to begin operating. By 2010, more teachers were being drawn from the top-third of the SAT distribution than any other group.

The sharpest rise came in SAT scores of new teachers at the most disadvantaged schools, especially in New York City.

Average SAT scores rose more for new black and Latino teachers than for whites and Asian-Americans. Yet the state’s teaching force become more diverse.

New discipline rules make schools less safe

“Progressive” discipline policies such as “restorative justice” are reducing suspensions — and making schools less safe, argues Paul Sperry in the New York Post.

Convinced traditional discipline is racist because blacks are suspended at higher rates than whites, New York City’s Department of Education has in all but the most serious and dangerous offenses replaced out-of-school suspensions with a touchy-feely alternative punishment called “restorative justice,” which isn’t really punishment at all. It’s therapy.

. . . everywhere it’s been tried, this softer approach has backfired.

Chicago teachers say they’re “struggling to deal with unruly students” under a new policy that minimizes suspension, reports the Chicago Tribune.

“It’s just basically been a totally lawless few months,” said Megan Shaunnessy, a special education teacher at De Diego Community Academy.

De Diego teachers said the school lacks a dedicated “peace room” where students can cool off if they’ve been removed from a class. They say the school does not have a behavioral specialist on staff to intervene with students, nor does it have resources to train teachers on discipline practices that address a student’s underlying needs.

 “You have to have consequences,” fifth-grade teacher John Engels said of the revised conduct code. “If you knew the cops weren’t going to enforce the speed limit, when you got on the Edens Expressway you’d go 100 miles an hour.”

Oakland students discuss behavior issues in a "talking circle."

Oakland students discuss behavior issues in a “talking circle.”

All over the country, teachers are complaining that student behavior has worsened under lenient policies, writes Sperry.

It has created a “systemic inability to administer and enforce consistent consequences for violent and highly disruptive student behaviors” that “put students and staff at risk and make quality instruction impossible,” wrote Syracuse Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern in a letter to the Syracuse Post-Standard.

Los Angeles Unified also is seeing problems, writes Sperry.

“I was terrified and bullied by a fourth-grade student,” a teacher at a Los Angeles Unified School District school recently noted on the Los Angeles Times website. “The black student told me to ‘Back off, b—h.’ I told him to go to the office and he said, ‘No, b—h, and no one can make me.’ ”

Oakland Unified is considered a national model for using restorative justice programs to cut suspensions in half.  “Even repeat offenders can negotiate the consequences for their bad behavior, which usually involve paper-writing and ‘dialogue sessions’,” writes Sperry.

There have been serious threats against teachers,” Oakland High School science teacher Nancy Caruso told the Christian Science Monitor, and yet the students weren’t expelled. She notes a student who set another student’s hair on fire received a “restorative” talk in lieu of suspension.

. . . White teachers are taught to check their “unconscious racial bias” when dealing with black students who act out. They’re told to open their eyes to “white privilege” and white cultural “dominance,” and have more empathy for black kids who may be lashing out in frustration. They are trained to identify “root causes” of black anger, such as America’s legacy of racism.

Conflicts can take days or weeks to resolve. Teachers must use class time for “circles” rather than academic instruction.

“RJ (restorative justice) can encourage misbehavior by lavishing attention on students for committing infractions,” warns science teacher Paul Bruno, who participated in talking circles while teaching middle school in Oakland and South Central Los Angeles.

Most schools still follow zero-tolerance rules. An 11-year-old boy was kicked out of school for a year when a leaf that looked like marijuana, but wasn’t, was found in his backpack, reports the Roanoke Times. The gifted student now suffers from depression and panic attacks.

Teacher: Core tests set kids up to fail

Common Core tests set kids up to fail, argues Jennifer Rickert, a sixth-grade teacher in New York, on Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet.

The “New York State Testing Program’s Educator Guide to the 2015 Grade 6 Common Core English Language Arts Test” describes expectations that are way too high, writes Rickert.

At 11 and 12 years old, her students have difficulty understanding abstract or hypothetical situations, she writes, citing Piaget’s theories.

Yet in the guide, it states that students will “evaluate intricate arguments.”

In addition, “students will need to make hard choices between fully correct and plausible, but incorrect answers that are designed specifically to determine whether students have comprehended the entire passage.”  This is not developmentally appropriate for my students . . .

Students will read passages from texts such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which include “controversial ideas and language some may find provocative.”

Is "Tom Sawyer" too "provocative" for sixth graders?

Is “Tom Sawyer” too “provocative” for sixth graders?

Children shouldn’t be subjected to “provocative language” in sixth grade, Rickert believes. In addition, sixth graders won’t be able to understand these readings because they don’t study the history till seventh or eighth grade.

Some readings will be at the eleventh-grade level. Presumably that’s to challenge the very good readers. Rickert sees it as a plot to humiliate everyone else.

I read, and loved, Tom Sawyer in elementary school.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn made a big impression on me when I was in sixth grade. I also read lots of U.S. history and historical novels, so I had the context to understand what I was reading.

Piaget is not a reliable guide to what children can learn, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham in a critique of the “developmentally appropriate” concept.

Cuomo sets union-unfriendly agenda

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “has declared war on the public schools,” charges Karen E. Magee, president of the state teachers’ union.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

The Democratic governor thinks too hard to fire underperforming teachers, wants to raise or eliminate the limit on charter schools and backs a tax credit for people and companies donating money to public schools and private school scholarships, reports the New York Times.

Chester Finn calls Gov. Cuomo’s education agenda “awesome (and radically union-unfriendly).”

“Its single boldest and most surprising item is the governor’s endorsement of a tax-credit scholarship program so that more young New Yorkers can afford to attend private schools,” writes Finn. That makes Cuomo “the first Democratic governor ever to propose a program of private-school choice for kids and families in his state.”

School goes ‘rogue’ on Core teaching

Principal Billy Bean sits with third-graders Kendra, Ian and Edmund who are trying to decipher a Common Core reading passage. (Photo: Meredith Kolodner)

Principal Billy Bean sits with third-graders Kendra, Ian and Edmund who are trying to decipher a Common Core reading passage. (Photo: Meredith Kolodner)

Test scores fell at nearly all New York schools due to the shift to Common Core-aligned tests. The Hechinger Report’s Meredith Kolodner looks at a rural school that raised scores by “going rogue” on Common Core teaching.

Lockwood teachers divided up lesson planning to have time to design new lessons using technology. “What’s worked well for us is the whole teamwork thing, realizing that we can’t do it by ourselves,” said Tyler King, who teaches third grade. “We show no shame in letting each other know when we fail.”

. . . the school decided to group children by ability for 30 minutes daily in both math and English across the grade. That allowed some children to catch up, and a deeper dive for others even as they all learned the same basic material together. The change meant that for an hour each day, teachers left their classes and took a group of students that could number between 3 and 15, who were at a similar learning ability for that subject.

As a result, the lessons, and the assessment of the children, had to be in lock-step. The strongest and weakest teachers worked as a team, and often met at the end of the day to discuss which lessons worked and which didn’t. They also kept track of the progress of individual students using “exit tickets” or short assessments on tablets at the end of each class.

The state curriculum included a manual with “minute-by-minute directions for how teachers should teach,” writes Kolodner. Teachers were allowed to deviate when the script didn’t give students enough time to understand concepts. The next year, they dropped the manual — and the homework that came with it. It simply repeated the day’s lessons, said teachers.

“If they couldn’t do it in class, there’s no use having them get frustrated at home,” said (third-grade teacher Traci) Krist. For the students who did understand, teachers didn’t see the value in having them simply repeat the exercise. Lockwood teachers assigned their own homework.

Knowing parents were frustrated by the new curriculum, Lockwood staffers invited parents to meetings to ask questions and express their concerns.

NY charter parents sue for equal funding

New York underfunds charter schools, discriminating against low-income, black and Latino students and denying them an equal education, charges a lawsuit filed today by Buffalo and Rochester parents.

Buffalo’s district-run schools get $23,524 per student, while charter schools receive $13,700, according to the suit, filed with the help of the Northeast Charter Schools Network. That’s about 60 percent of district funding. In Rochester and New York City, charters get 68 percent of the per-student funding allotted to district schools.

“New York’s charter students receive a fraction of what their friends in district schools receive—that’s unfair, unconstitutional, and discriminatory,” said NESCN Interim President Kyle Rosenkrans. “And because the formula provides no money for buildings, charters must divert their already shortchanged classroom dollars to pay the rent.”

Some 107,000 New York students attend charters and more than 50,000 are on charter school waiting lists. Ninety percent of charter school students are black and Hispanic compared to 41 percent in district schools. Some 80 percent are considered economically disadvantaged vs. 52 percent in regular district schools.