If a book says it’s Core-aligned, is it really?

EdReports.org, a non-profit that aims to be the“Consumer Reports” for Common Core finds learning materials, isn’t impressed with allegedly “Core-aligned” math materials, reports the Washington Post.

Angie Todd uses Eureka Math to teach kindergarteners about place values in Pinesville, Louisiana. Photo: Tia Owens-Powers Town Talk

Angie Todd uses Eureka Math materials to teach kindergarteners about place values in Pinesville, Louisiana. Photo: Tia Owens-Powers, Town Talk

Out of 20 sets of K-8 math materials in widespread use, only one series — Eureka Math — was aligned with the Common Core for all grade levels, the report concluded. Teachers and math experts analyzed the texts.

Next will be English Language Arts and high school materials.

Educators need “a trusted resource for rigorous, independent and public reviews of the alignment and usability of classroom curricula,” said Eric Hirsch, EdReports.org’s executive director.

“Several recent analyses have found that while many academic publishers slap a “Common Core aligned” label on their books and teaching materials, few actually follow the new standards, notes the Post.

Eureka was created by a nonprofit called Great Minds, which won a contract with the New York Education Department to develop Eureka/Engage New York math. Education departments in Louisiana and Tennessee have praised Eureka/Engage NY, reports Jessica Williams in the Times-Picayune.

Great Minds, which had to change its name from “Common Core” to avoid confusion with the standards, developed its English Language Arts and math curricula for Core classrooms. Eureka is not an update. It’s new.

Denmark debates Muhammad art in textbooks

Denmark is debating printing Muhammad cartoons in text books and requiring social studies teachers to explain why the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten ran the cartoons in 2005, reports the Washington Post.

This was the most controversial of the "Muhammed cartoons" run in 2005 by a Danish newspaper.

This was the most controversial of the 2005 Muhammed cartoons printed in 2005 in a Danish newspaper.

Weeks ago, a gunman opened fire, killing one man, at a Copenhagen cafe hosting cartoonist Lars Vilks, who drew Muhammed as a dog in 2007.

Months ago, French journalists were murdered at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, known for its depictions of Muhammad.

Children need to learn about the cartoons, wrote Mai Mercado, a spokesman for the right-wing Conservative Party, in  Jyllands-Posten: “No matter how strong one’s religious feelings are, or how much one cultivates their religion, you do not earn the right to violence or threats.”

No profit left behind

Pearson, the British publishing behemoth,  sells billions of dollars of textbooks, tests, software and online courses in North America, reports Politico‘s Stephanie Simon in No profit left behind.

“Public officials often commit to buying from Pearson because it’s familiar, even when there’s little proof its products and services are effective,” writes Simon.

Its software grades student essays, tracks student behavior and diagnoses — and treats — attention deficit disorder. The company administers teacher licensing exams and coaches teachers once they’re in the classroom. It advises principals. It operates a network of three dozen online public schools. It co-owns the for-profit company that now administers the GED.

Pearson’s interactive tutorials on subjects from algebra to philosophy form the foundation of scores of college courses. It builds online degree programs for a long list of higher education clients, including George Washington University, Arizona State and Texas A&M. The universities retain authority over academics, but Pearson will design entire courses, complete with lecture PowerPoints, discussion questions, exams and grading rubrics.

In peak years, the company has “spent about $1 million lobbying Congress and perhaps $1 million more on the state level,” writes Simon. But, she adds, the National Education Association spent $2.5 million lobbying Congress in 2013.

I think this is the key point:

“The policies that Pearson is benefiting from may be wrongheaded in a million ways, but it strikes me as deeply unfair to blame Pearson for them,” said Jonathan Zimmerman, an education historian at New York University. “When the federal government starts doing things like requiring all states to test all kids, there’s going to be gold in those hills.”

The real question is whether schools need the products and services they’re buying from Pearson and its competitors. As long as Pearson has competitors, it can’t jack up its prices or lower its quality without losing business. For example, it’s losing GED customers like crazy because the new test is too expensive and too difficult. I predict they’ll announce a new new GED or lower prices to regain business.

Students protest ‘patriotic’ history

In a Denver suburb, a conservative school board member proposed focusing U.S. history courses on citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority. Naturally, students walked out in protest.

Students protest outside of Ralston Valley High School, in Arvada, Colo.  (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Students protest outside of Ralston Valley High School, in Arvada, Colo. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Some students waved American flags and carried signs, such as “There is nothing more patriotic than protest.”

Other carried signs supporting teachers. “The youth protest in the state’s second-largest school district follows a sick-out from teachers that shut down two high schools,” reports AP.

The school board proposal — which has not been voted on — would establish a committee to review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history, to ensure materials “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” and don’t “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strike or disregard of the law.”

“There are things we may not be proud of as Americans,” board member Julie Williams told Chalkbeat. “But we shouldn’t be encouraging our kids to think that America is a bad place.”

“In South Carolina, conservatives have called on an education oversight committee to ask the College Board, which oversees Advanced Placement courses, to rewrite their framework to make sure there is no ideological bias,” notes AP.

“Politics, propaganda and faith” have distorted history in textbooks written to meet Texas’ standards, historians complain.

AP U.S. History: Has it moved left?

Critics of the new AP U.S. history framework have gone overboard, writes Rick Hess, a former history teacher.

Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King weren’t removed: The old framework didn’t mention historical figures, except for a few presidents, and the new one follows suit. The Constitution and Declaration of Independence are still there.

But he’s concerned about the lack of “attention to America’s motivating ideals or to the resulting governing institutions.”

In the new framework, the only mention that the American Revolution might have had any historical significance is a clause mentioning that it had “reverberations in France, Haiti, and Latin America.” There is little or no discussion of the intermediary institutions that are so critical to American culture, society, and government.

While the standards talk often about ethnic and gender identity, I don’t see any room for a discussion of whether there emerged any kind of distinct American “identity.”

There’s little about economics that’s not about government efforts to combat injustice. Students are introduced to decade after decade of American depravity, but there’s nothing to offer context for 20th century U.S. international engagements.

Democratic presidents are lauded, while Republicans are criticized.  “Where FDR and LBJ are warriors for justice, Reagan is described as a man of ‘bellicose rhetoric’.”

Social history — “as distilled by professors with a taste for 21st century identity politics” — drives the framework.

Critics should communicate their concerns and give the College Board “a chance to act,” Hess concludes.

Here’s a practice exam.

AP’s version of U.S. history must reflect how it’s taught by university professors, writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly. If it deviates too much, colleges will deny credit. That means “every philosophical, pedagogical, and political fad to overwhelm the faculties of today’s post-modern campuses will creep into the courses taught to sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds.”  

. . . ask yourself whether the collegiate version of U.S. history—warts and all, with emphasis on the warts—is what you want kids to learn about the nation’s past while in elementary, middle, and high school. Might it not be more important for them to internalize basic chronology, fundamental events, key people, and major accomplishments than to agonize about the injustices and downtrodden of bygone years?

College Board says students learn all that before taking AP U.S. history. But do they?

Open-source textbooks lower costs

Free “open-source” textbooks are lowering students’ costs at a Virginia community college.

Consumer Reports for textbooks

EdReports.org wants to be the Consumer Reports for textbooks and other instructional materials. The nonprofit will review materials for alignment to the Common Core, usability, teacher support and differentiation.

The first reviews, due out in a few months, will deal with Pearson’s enVision Math, McGraw-Hill’s Everyday Math, Houghton Mifflin’s Go Math and other widely used K-8 math curricula.

Classroom teachers will be the evaluators, reports Politico.

The non-profit is funded by the Gates Foundation and the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Textbook quality matters, writes USC Education Professor Morgan Polikoff on Common Core Watch. And improving textbook quality is a lot easier than improving teacher quality.

First, textbooks aren’t people. There is no union seeking to protect the interests of textbooks.

. . . Second, textbooks and online curricular materials can be improved over time through research and tinkering in ways that teacher effectiveness cannot. Especially if we collect better data, we potentially could learn about effectiveness at a granular level—for instance, which of these X lessons is the best at getting Y type of kids to learn division of fractions?

. . . Third, textbooks are incredibly cheap relative to other educational inputs. While U.S. schools spend billions on textbooks annually, the per-student cost of curriculum materials is, at most, 1 or 2 percent. …choosing a high-quality textbook over a low-quality one may be as effective as moving kids from a fiftieth-percentile teacher to a seventy-fifth-percentile teacher.

Common Core creates a nearly-national market for learning materials, Polikoff points out. There’s a very strong incentive for publishers to get this right.

Polikoff also hopes EdReports.org will “call out” the “dreadful assignments” that pop up in social media as “Common Core curriculum.”

Test answers are in the (missing) book

Pennsylvania’s state exams can be “gamed” by a “shockingly low-tech strategy,” writes Meredith Broussard, a Temple professor of data journalism. All it takes is reading “the textbooks created by the test makers.”

Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing because they don’t have the right books, she writes in  The Atlantic.

On  the 2009 Pennsylvania exam, third-grade students were asked to write down an even number with three digits and how they know it’s even.

Here’s an example of a correct answer from a testing supplement put out by the Pennsylvania Department of Education:

This partially correct answer earned one point instead of two:

Everyday Math’s third-grade study guide tells teachers to drill students on the rules for odd and even factors and be able to explain how they know the rule is true, Broussard writes. “A third-grader without a textbook can learn the difference between even and odd numbers, but she will find it hard to guess how the test-maker wants to see that difference explained.”

I’m not shocked that tests are aligned to textbooks. What’s truly disturbing is Broussard’s research into whether Philadelphia schools have the right books. She found district administrators don’t know what curriculum each school is using, what books they have or what they need.

According to district policy, every school is supposed to record its book inventory in a centralized database called the Textbook Storage System. “If you give me that list of books in the Textbook Storage System, I can reverse-engineer it and make you a list of which curriculum each school uses,” I told the curriculum officer.

“Really?” she said. “That would be great. I didn’t know you could do that!”

Principals use their own systems for tracking supplies and books. Short of support staff, schools stack books in closets and forget they’re there. Teachers scavenge materials from closed schools and spend their own money to supplement their $100 a year supplies budget.

Broussard built a program, Stacked Up, which found the average Philadelphia school has 27 percent of the books it needs. But that’s just a guess because nobody really knows who’s got what.

‘Core-aligned’ math books are a ‘sham’

It’s a “sham” to say new math textbooks are “aligned to Common Core standards, says William Schmidt, co-director of Michigan State’s Education Policy Center. After analyzing more than 40 textbooks being used by 60 to 70 percent of students, Schmidt found 800-page behemoths  stuffed with material that isn’t in the standards.

“Core-aligned” math books “do not look that different from the previous versions,” said Morgan Polikoff, an associate education professor at USC. Polikoff analyzed three “Common-Core aligned” fourth-grade math textbooks adopted in Florida and one commonly used textbook that is not aligned to any particular standards.

He found that 15 to 20 percent of textbooks cover topics outside the Common Core standards, while 10 to 15 percent of the standards are not reflected in the texts.

What is missing? Questions and problems that get to the higher levels of cognitive demand, he said.

Teachers will need to beware, said Polikoff. “If they follow the book they will not be teaching the Common Core.”

Down with history textbooks

Long, fact-laden history textbooks are “boring and intimidating,” writes teacher David Cutler in The Atlantic.

Textbooks present history as unchanging, but as time passes, our understanding and interpretation of the past constantly evolves.

Textbooks are one-sided, offering a top-down, often white-male-centric view of history.

Without a thesis or any semblance or argument, textbooks don’t accurately reflect how most scholars (at least good ones) write and present history. Teachers should assign readings that model effective historical writing.

Teachers “who don’t know history or the historian’s craft” use textbooks as a crutch, Cutler writes. “Teachers who depend on textbooks are likely to test what is in the textbooks: long lists of facts.” Students memorize, then forget.  

“Kids don’t study history to ‘learn the historian’s craft’,” responds Robert Pondiscio on Facebook. “They study history so that they have some context in place and time for their own lives, and cease laboring under the misconception that the world was handed down to them in present form as they find it.”

And it’s just not true that teachers or textbooks present history as “a long list of facts,” writes Pondiscio.