Oh, yeah, it’s the loneliness

“What enemies of a Common Core — by any name — have come to fear is really loneliness, writes Jennifer Finney Boylan in a New York Times commentary.

It’s the sadness that comes when we realize that our children have thoughts that we did not give them; needs and desires we do not understand; wisdom and insight that might surpass our own.

. . . For some parents, the primary desire is for our sons and daughters to wind up, more or less, like ourselves. Education, in this model, means handing down shared values of the community to the next generation. Sometimes it can also mean shielding children from aspects of the culture we do not approve of, or fear.

Oh, yeah? responds Katharine Beals on Out in Left Field. It’s not that the standards are vague, unreasonably high or one size fits all. It’s the loneliness.

Yes, it really makes me sad when I hear my children expressing original opinions. And it makes me feel tremendously insecure when they show wisdom and insights that I don’t think I’m capable of.

Beals fears Common Core’s pedagogical biases, she writes in another post.

. . . the bias towards lofty, everyone-can-do-it, one-size-fits-all goals; the bias towards an abstract version of “higher-level thinking” that probably doesn’t exist; the bias towards the supposed virtues of explaining in words one’s reasoning in math problems; the bias towards an abstract, information-aged, multi-media conception of “text”; and finally, via its abstract goals and its leaving up to schools and teachers how to meet these goals, the de facto bias towards the dominant pedagogical philosophies of the Powers that Be in education.

She’s not worried about ideological bias. “It’s harder to indoctrinate kids than many people fear.”

Confused? Blame fuzzy (not core) math

If your kids’ math homework is confusing, blame “fuzzy math,” not the Common Core, writes Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic.

Eleven years ago, long before the core, New York City teacher Matthew Clavel complained about the “fuzzy math-inspired” Everyday Math curriculum in City Journal.  Not one of his fourth-graders knew the times tables, he wrote.

The curriculum stressed “critical thinking skills” over mastery of math facts on the theory that “what matters is showing that you understand a concept, not whether you can perform a calculation and come up with a right answer.”

. . . no one claims that knowing how to think independently isn’t important. But thinking can’t take flight unless you do know some basic facts—and nowhere is this more the case than in math. If you really want your students to engage in “higher-order thinking” in math, get them to master basic operations like their times tables first.

Clavel’s critique of fuzzy math sounds a lot like the complaints against Common Core math, Lahey points out.

Last December, Emily Willingham attacked the “hodgepodge of confusion” known as Everyday Math — without confusing it with Common Core standards.

Everyday Math is drill free. It’s jargon full. Complaints are widespread that it is confusing for parents and children. And it doesn’t build on concepts or scaffold understanding. It has children learn 2 plus 2 in 500 different ways, many of which involve answering questions like, “How did Tanya add two plus two?” Um, with her brain?

“My children like math and play math games at home for entertainment,” Willingham concludes. “But they hate Everyday Math, every day.”

Frustrated parents should identify the monster correctly before going for the pitchforks and torches, writes Lahey. Common Core isn’t to blame for every problem with our schools.

Teachers: New tests are ‘soul crushing’

Teachers say New York’s new Common Core English exams are “stressful,” “exhausting,” “confusing” and “soul crushing,” reports Chalkbeat. Teachers posted their reviews on an online forum, Testing Talk.

With questions calling for “close reading,” students ran out of time, many teachers complained.

“When I announced there was only ten minutes remaining, more than half my class had not even started the extended response!” one teacher commented

“We have spent the year teaching students to be careful, thoughtful, deep thinkers,” a fourth-grade teacher lamented. “Today the objective was speed.”

The eighth-grade test featured a Shakespearean poem that was “extremely difficult,” one teacher said.

Third graders faced “obscure vocabulary and unapproachable plot line” in a reading passage drawn from a 1950s book, another teacher wrote.

In affluent Park Slope, known for excellent public schools, a principal e-mailed parents to complain about the “terrible test,” reports New York Magazine.

“There was inappropriate content, many highly ambiguous questions, and a focus on structure rather than meaning of passages,” wrote (Elizabeth) Phillips. “Our teachers and administrators feel that this test is an insult to the profession of teaching and that students’ scores on it will not correlate with their reading ability.”

“I have never felt more devalued and outraged about a statewide test,” a Brooklyn teacher told parents in a separate recruiting email. “I really need you to help make a vocal stand against these high stakes tests.”

Private school head hits ‘elite’ charters

In defense of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s anti-charter agenda,  Steve Nelson attacks charter schools for enrolling the children of motivated parents and taking money from wealthy donors Nelson is the headmaster of the Calhoun School, an elite private school in New York City.

. . .  the (charter) lottery is rigged in that the pool is comprised only of self-selected families with social capital and high motivation. They claim to operate with more efficiency, but their budgets are augmented by an infusion of capital from billionaire philanthropists and hedge fund managers who know a lot about PR and very little about education.

Charter schools and other “so-called” reforms  reform” will “divide us by creating pockets of relative privilege while leaving the rest of the nation’s children to languish in neglect and poverty,” writes Nelson.

So, all of the nation’s children who don’t attend charters are languishing in neglect and poverty? Or maybe it’s just the public school kids.

The Calhoun School is a “pocket of rather extraordinary privilege on Manhattan’s Upper West Side,” responds Robert Pondiscio on Facebook. Tuition runs from $41,700 in kindergarten to $43,580 in high school and parents are asked to donate more.

Calhoun’s board is full of wealthy financiers, points out Matthew Levey.  The chairman of the board runs a hedge fund, the vice-chair is a partner at a financial firm, the treasurer manages two investment funds, a board member is a portfolio manager and another is a broker.

‘Readability’ is unreliable

PictureStuck in the Middle is a collection of comics that’s way too graphic about middle-school sex and swearing, writes Momma Bear. She advised an irate mother to complain to the school principal.

Then Momma Bear wondered why Accelerated Reader labels the book a 3.0, readable by third graders, and recommends it for grades 4 to 8. Renaissance Learning, which owns AR, explained that content doesn’t count. The company’s readability formula measures text complexity. “Graphic novels tend to produce a lower readability level because of the short sentence structure.”

AR also provides an “interest level” for each book and warns of “objectionable content” in book summaries. “Because of your concern,” the company raised the Interest Level from MG to MG+ (Grade 6 and above), the email said.

Reading formulas are unreliable, writes Dan Willingham on RealClearEducation, his new blog home.

Educators are often uneasy with readability formulas; the text characteristics are things like “words per sentence,” and “word frequency” (i.e., how many rare words are in the text). These seem far removed from the comprehension processes that would actually make a text more appropriate for third grade rather than fourth.

To put it another way, there’s more to reading than simple properties of words and sentences. There’s building meaning across sentences, and connecting meaning of whole paragraphs into arguments, and into themes. Readability formulas represent a gamble. The gamble is that the word- and sentence-level metrics will be highly correlated with the other, more important characteristics.

Only the Dale-Chall formula is “consistently above chance” in a new study,  writes Willingham. It’s easier to assess readability for high-ability than for low-ability students.

Parent involvement doesn’t help much

Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework, writes Dana Goldstein in The Atlantic. And, if you do, don’t expect it to make much difference.

“Most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire — regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education,” writes Goldstein, citing research by Keith Robinson, a University of Texas sociology professor,  Angel L. Harris, a Duke sociology professor.

The researchers combed through nearly three decades’ worth of longitudinal surveys of American parents and tracked 63 different measures of parental participation in kids’ academic lives, from helping them with homework, to talking with them about college plans, to volunteering at their schools.

“No clear connection exists between parental involvement and improved student performance,” they conclude in The Broken Compass.

Helping your kids with homework won’t raise their test scores, the study concluded. “Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down,” writes Goldstein.

What does help: Requesting a teacher with a good reputation, “reading aloud to young kids (fewer than half of whom are read to daily) and talking with teenagers about college plans.” 

Robinson asked UT statistics undergrads  how their parents contributed to their achievements.

He found that most had few or no memories of their parents pushing or prodding them or getting involved at school in formal ways. Instead, students described mothers and fathers who set high expectations and then stepped back.

I suspect the parent involvement that really matters happens at home. My husband’s mother told him to “be the best,” he said in her eulogy. She didn’t say, “try.” Like Yoda, she told him to do it.

If parents teach certain values — set goals and work to achieve them, take responsibility for the consequences of your actions, do your own damn homework — their children are likely to do well in school and in life. It doesn’t matter if Mom volunteers for the PTA bake sale or not. 

Does choice create quality?

Accountability doesn’t mean “government-imposed standards and testing” argues an education manifesto signed by leaders of the Cato Institute, the Friedman Foundation, the Heartland Institute, the Center for Education Reform and others. “True accountability” comes from “parents financially empowered to exit schools that fail to meet their child’s needs. Parental choice, coupled with freedom for educators, creates the incentives and opportunities that spur quality.”

Despite his strong bias toward school choice and parental prerogative, Robert Pondiscio is “not quite ready to act upon the argument that choice, not standards, is the best guarantee of excellence, he writes on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

I taught in the lowest-performing school in New York City’s lowest-performing district. There was choice available to the families we served. The original South Bronx KIPP Academy was a few blocks away. There were other charter schools and good Catholic schools, too. In my school, meanwhile, our principal knew all the families by name, spoke fluent Spanish, and parents appreciated that we were respectful and nice to the kids. Our motto was written in big, bold letters on the playground wall: “Job Number One: Keep Everyone Safe!” Job Number Two, directly under it, read “Get a Good Education.”

Those were the de facto standards that arose at my school. One hundred percent of our students were safe. Sixteen percent could read on grade level.

Choice and standards need each other, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee. Not all parents want no-excuses, data-driven instruction.” In Washington, D.C., parents can choose Montessori charters, Catholic charters, Hebrew immersion, Reggio Emilia, No Excuses, and on. “All are held accountable to the same standards, but real innovation is not only possible — it is encouraged and thriving. In fact, that innovation is possible not in spite of the standards but because of them.”

“Having standards to which all publicly funded schools are held accountable doesn’t strike me as an undue burden,” writes Pondiscio.

On This Week in Education, Paul Bruno takes on the faulty logic of the “other people’s children” argument. Reform critics charge reformers push for ideas — such as the “no excuses” model — that they wouldn’t want for their own kids.

. . . it seems plausible that different kids have different educational needs and that the children of prominent reformers are likely to be systematically different than other children, particularly the least-privileged children who tend to be the focus of reform efforts.

That makes sense to me — if low-income parents have a choice of different school models, as in Washington D.C. 

Gates speaks up for Common Core

As more states rethink Common Core standards and testing, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates says high, consistent standards are essential to keep the U.S. competitive with other nations.

The Gates Foundation has spent $75 million to support the Common Core movement.

The Common Core is under attack from all sides. The right complains of federal meddling. Teachers’ unions are backing away, citing poor implementation. Parents are confused. And reform opponents really don’t like the fact that it’s backed by Bill Gates. He must know that, but think he has clout with other factions.

Asians fight return of college preferences

“A legislative push to permit California’s public universities to once again consider race and ethnicity in admissions appears to be on life support after an intense backlash from Asian-American parents,” reports the San Jose Mercury News.  Because many Asian-Americans earn high grades and test scores, they’re “over-represented” at University of California campuses.

A planned referendum sailed through the state Senate in January without fanfare on a party-line vote, but three Asian-American Democrats who initially backed the measure are now calling for it to be “tabled” before the state Assembly has a chance to vote on it — a highly unusual move. And it seems unlikely to get the two-thirds majority in the Assembly without the support of the five Asian-Americans in the lower house.

UC reaches out to students from low-income, non-college-educated families. That helps Latinos, blacks — and students from Chinese and Vietnamese immigrant families.

Core confusion

When parents don’t understand their child’s homework assignment these days, they put it online.

“The new Common Core curriculum continues to confuse and flummox parents and children alike,” writes Twitchy, which highlights a first-grade assignment using number bonds.

common-core-example1

The text reads:

Use the number bond to fill in the math story. Make a simple math drawing. Cross out from 10 ones or some ones to show what happens in the stories.

There were __ ants in the ant hill. __ of them are sleeping and __ of them are eating. 9 of the sleeping ants woke up. How many ants are not sleeping?

When I was in first grade, I learned to add and subtract one-digit numbers. I don’t think we got to “borrowing” till second grade. We didn’t design story problems. Number  bonds had not been invented.

I also was baffled by this kindergarten math problem, which includes a number bond. When I was in kindergarten, we learned to count to 100. We had no homework.

A math teacher defends a “Common Core” math problem that’s gone viral on Facebook.