Easy exit

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.

Core aligned? Not so much

In Checking In, Education Trust asks whether classroom assignments reflect higher Common Core standards. The answer is: “Not so much.”

Analysts looked at more than 1,500 assignments given by 92 teachers at six middle schools in in two urban school districts.

Thirty-eight percent were aligned with a grade-level standard — and the rate was lower in high-poverty schools.

Only 4 percent of assignments “pushed student thinking to higher levels,” concluded the analysis. Eighty-five percent “asked students to either recall information or apply basic skills and concepts as opposed to prompting for inferences or structural analysis, or requiring author critiques.”

Many assignments were “over-scaffolded,” the report found. “Much of the work was actually done for the students rather than by them.”

Attempts to motivate and engage students were “superficial,” according to Ed Trust. Teachers tried to provide “relevance” through pop-culture references and art activities.

In their attempt to align teaching to Common Core standards, schools and teachers are replicating what’s taught at workshops and picking up online resources, the report concluded. “The majority of assignments included keywords and phrases found in the common-core standards, fostering a comforting sense that ‘we are aligned.’ Unfortunately, this is not the case—much of this is window dressing.”

This is not surprising.

‘Thinking like a scientist’ — without facts

Memorizing is out, thinking like a scientist is in, thanks to Michigan’s proposed new science standards, reports Lori Higgins in the Detroit Free Press. 

Instead of “memorizing the ins and outs of life cycles, photosynthesis and matter,” Michigan students will “ask questions, investigate, analyze data, develop evidence and defend their conclusions,” writes Higgins. “In short, they’re going to have to think, act and learn like scientists.

What does this mean? Projects.

“There’s a lot more hands-on activities, a lot more getting your hands dirty, trying things out, taking the core ideas and scientific and engineering practices and putting them together,” said Brian Peterson, a fifth-grade teacher at Musson Elementary in Rochester Community Schools.

Take a popular balloon rocket experiment, he said. Nowadays a teacher might give students the basic materials (a balloon, string, straw and tape), then step-by-step instructions. Under the new method, a teacher might provide kids with different sizes of balloons, different lengths of straws, and different materials for string, then turn them loose.

The kids design their own balloon rocket — then defend why they made the material and size choices they did.

“Scientists think like scientist because THEY #$%@! KNOW SCIENCE!,” writes Robert Pondiscio on Facebook.

This isn’t new. In The Music Man, Professor Harold Hill promised Iowans their sons would learn to play music via the “think system.”

What doesn’t work

John Hattie’s What Doesn’t Work In Educationpublished by Pearson Education, attacks “popular and oft-prescribed remedies,” such as small classes, high standards and more money, reports NPR.

A University of Melbourne professor, Hattie analyzed 1,200 meta-analyses “looking at all types of interventions, ranging from increased parental involvement to ADHD medications to longer school days to performance pay for teachers, as well as other factors affecting education, like socioeconomic status,” to see what makes a significant difference.

Here’s his chart of “visible effect sizes of different interventions and issues related to achievement.”

Sir Ken’s well-meant twaddle

http://sirkenrobinson.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/skr_creative_schools_3d-cover.jpgSir Ken Robinson, known for a 2006 TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?,  has a new book out called Creative Schools about “transforming” education.

“Think of it as a jukebox cranking out all of the anti-reform hits,” advises Robert Pondiscio on Education Gadfly. “Nod your head like, yeah, as Sir Ken critiques not just standards, but competition, corporatization, back-to-basics, ‘industrial model education,’ and, inevitably, the school-to-prison pipeline.” Or, perhaps, it’s a “greatest hits album.”

Naturally, there’s praise for a certain country:

a)      Finland.

b)      Obviously Finland.

c)      Of course it’s Finland! It’s a freakin’ Sir Ken Robinson book!

d)     All of the above.

“In terms of knowledge, the standards movement favors direct instruction of factual information and skills and whole class teaching rather than group activities,” Robinson writes.

No, it doesn’t, responds Pondiscio.  “Teachers are expected to ‘differentiate instruction’ at all times, and students sit in pods … because group work.”

Sir Ken’s oeuvre is well-intentioned, but it is almost entirely nonsense—a warmed-over Rousseauian fantasy suggesting all children are “natural born learners,” defying what cognitive science tells us about how knowledge and practice drive skill and competence.

It is also much easier to divine what Sir Ken dislikes about schools than what he proposes we should do about it.  At several points, he compares education to organic farming. “Plants grow themselves,” he writes. “The job of the gardener is to create the best conditions for that to happen. Good gardeners create those conditions, and poor ones don’t.”

Standards and curricula aren’t the problem with education, writes Pondiscio. “They are the point.”

From time immemorial, schools have existed to transmit—consciously and unconsciously—the language, knowledge, and values of their societies at any given time and place.

It worked for Sir Ken, freeing him to think creatively, he concludes. “For those on the outside looking in—whose very existence seems lost upon Sir Ken—it’s not quite the same.”

“Robinson rightly makes the case for the rigour of creative learning – ‘creativity in any field may involve deep factual knowledge and high levels of practical skill’ – but we always need to guard against the soft bigotry of low expectations,” writes Tristram Hunt in a more positive Guardian review.  Hunt fears “the worrying trend of play and expression being adequate for working-class pupils, while leaving the tough stuff, the physics and history, for their better-off peers.”

Instead of the Core, ‘competitive federalism’

Common Core standards violate three laws barring federal direction, supervision or control over curricula or instruction, concludes Bill Evers in Federal Overreach and Common Core, a new Pioneer Institute research paper.

“Competitive federalism, under which states learn from and seek to improve on each others’ standards and tests, is both legal and would produce better results,” says Evers. “Monopolies are hardly the best way to produce either academic quality or value for taxpayers.”

Defining ‘college readiness’ down


Naesea Price teaches a lesson on sentence and paragraph structure in a remedial English course at Baltimore City Community College.

“College readiness” has been redefined as ready to take middle-school courses in college, writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

A movement for “co-requisite remediation” is placing remedial students in college-level courses, he complains.

Massachusetts will stop requiring a placement test for new students with a 2.7  grade point average (in all subjects). Those with a 2.4 grade point average who’ve passed four years of math also will be placed in college-level math.

A kid with a D in math but good grades in photography, gym, and basket weaving could easily end up with a 2.7 GPA, notes Finn. Four years of D’s in math and he needs only a 2.4 (C) average.

Florida’s open-access state colleges (formerly community colleges) now let students skip remediation and start in college-level courses, if they choose, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Alarmed by the high dropout and failure rates for college students who start out in remedial classes, Florida lawmakers voted last year to make such courses, and even the related placement tests, optional for anyone who…earned a [high school] diploma….The optional-remediation law is forcing professors in college-level composition classes to spend time on basic sentence structure, while mathematics teachers who were ready to plunge into algebra are going over fractions.

These students are earning college credit for learning middle-school skills, writes Finn.

There’s an easy way to make the reform look like a success.

Just teach fractions and sentence structure to students in courses that you label “college-level” — even though they’re not. Dumb ‘em down. Cheapen the currency. And again defraud the students (and anyone who might someday contemplate employing them) into believing that they really were prepared for college and are now getting a college education, even though neither of those statements is actually true.

Employers already are concerned that college graduates lack important skills, writes Finn. There’s “mounting evidence” that many graduates haven’t learned very much. Sending more unprepared students to college further cheapens the meaning of “college-educated,” he argues.

Why Johnny can’t read, write or calculate

U.S. education has been dumbed down, writes Marc Tucker in Ed Week.

High school textbooks for 12th graders are written  at the 7th- or 8th-grade level, while community colleges have labeled basic algebra — usually taught in 8th- or 9th-grade  — “college math.” And many of their students can’t pass it.

Why have our education standards collapsed? he asks.

Forty years earlier, Grandma was the first in the family to finish high school.  Twenty years ago, Dad was the first to go to college.  Now, all the kids have to go to college.  . . . In other countries, grades are the result of a student’s performance on an externally graded test.  Everyone gets together to help Junior meet the high standards.  In the U.S., the land of second chances and wobbly standards, it is far easier to put pressure on the principal to put pressure on the teacher to give Junior the grades required to get into college.

Teaching is no longer a high-status job — and one of the few jobs open to talented women and minorities, Tucker writes. Teacher quality has declined.

Then the standards movement was stolen by the accountability movement.  Facing tough sanctions from the federal government for low test scores, many states lowered whatever standards they had for high school students, so they could escape the consequences of poor student performance.

. . . the best of our high school graduates, seeing the pressure teachers were under to produce under appalling conditions, decided not to choose teaching as a career. Applications to schools of education started to fall and are now falling ever faster.

Unlike other nations, the U.S. has not raised standards for entering teachers’ colleges or earning a license, he writes.

Colleges have lowered standards to retain students “admitted irrespective of their academic performance,” Tucker writes. At the same, “have more or less destroyed what was once a first-class vocational and technical education system.”

20 states raise proficiency standards

Twenty states strengthened their student proficiency standards from 2011 to 2013, while eight states weakened standards, according to a study in Education Next.

All the states showing strong improvements have adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the authors note.

There remains a 30-point differential between the percentage of students defined as “proficient” by the average state and the percentage of students considered proficient by NAEP.

In many states, taxpayers have been funding tests that are a “weapon of mass deception,” writes Matthew Ladner. “Regardless of where you stand on the Common Core project, and we’ve beat the horse into hamburger on it here, state tests with the approximate rigor of a My Little Pony coloring book — look Mommy I colored this unicorn blue-I’m PROFICIENT!!! — deserve no one’s support.”