Monday, October 6, 2014

I'm Back!

For some reason, Blogger has been not letting me in to post for quite a while. In addition, my responsibilities with OhioBATs have been pretty time consuming given all of the turmoil happening in education with strikes, lawsuits, and all manner of creepy, underhanded attacks on public education. However, at least for the moment, I'm back and will be posting again on a regular basis. In the meantime, if you have not yet done so, visit and "like" the OhioBATs page on Facebook. It's an excellent source for what's going on in public ed in Ohio and beyond.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Three year old slackers.........or why Common Core really sucks.

I realize that I've been putting a lot of posts from Curmudgucation on here, but well......... they're just great. And this may be the greatest of them all.......

Friday, July 25, 2014

Memo to Three-Year-Old Slackers

To: American Three-Year-Olds
From: America's Education Reform Thought Leaders'
Re: Get to work, you lazy slackers

It has come to our attention that your older brothers and sisters have been showing up to Kindergarten completely unprepared for the requirements of a rigorous education. It is time to nip this indolent behavior in the bud. You probably don't even know what 'indolent" means, do you? Dammit-- this is exactly why Estonia and Singapore are challenging the US for world domination!

It's time for you to understand-- the party is over. We waited patiently for you to get potty trained and weaned off breast feeding on your own schedule, and that was probably a mistake because it led you to believe that you could just do things when you're good and ready. Well, no more. We're on to you. We saw you spend all that time crawling instead of walking because walking was just tooo haaard. Wah, wah, wah. We're done coddling you. The state has a schedule for you, and you are damn well going to get with it. You got to float around all free and easy in your Mommy's non-rigorous womb, and that's enough time off for anyone.

No, I don't want to see the pretty picture that you drew, unless you can explain what sources and data contributed to your compositional choices. You really need to be synthesizing two or more disparate sources for your pictures. And stick to the prompt-- I said draw a picture of an important Sumerian ceremony, not a bunny and a sun. And stop getting up every ten seconds to go look at something. You need to start learning how to focus properly. Sit in that chair and draw for the next ninety minutes without getting up.

Sitting will be good preparation for testing. Of course we're going to test you. How else will we know whether or not you are on track for college? Yes, I know your Mommy says she loves you and you can do anything, but what the hell does she know. Only a good solid expensive standardized test can tell us whether or not you are college material. Stop whining and get your pudgy little hand wrapped around that mouse. C'mon-- show some grit.

I know this is a lot to take in, and we really would have started last year when you were two, but frankly, all you would say was "no" over and over again. It's possible that terrible twos are the educational barrier that we can't break past. But now you're three, and all we have to break you of is this tendency to be distracted by childlike wonder and joy, and this ridiculous desire to play all the time. We must get you ready for Kindergarten, or you will never get into a good college and then we won't have the workers we need to compete globally and our leaders will lose supreme command of the universe and our corporations will have access to fewer markets. You don't want that, do you? You don't know what "compete globally" means? See, this is what we're talking about. Go sit down and write a six-sentence paragraph utilizing multiple sources about economic developments in post-agrarian societies, using non-fiction sources from government websites.

Look, kid. Everybody wants you to be Kindergarten-ready, so you've got to practice sitting inert, taking senseless tests, and being properly compliant. You need experience in going days at a time without playing, and I'm a little concerned that your napping is getting out of hand. And don't think your teacher is going to let you off the hook-- we know how soft and wimpy she is, and we've taken care of her.

Does everyone want this for all three year olds? Well, no, actually. Chad and Buffy, you can disregard this memo. Shaniqua and Bubba Jean-- you'd better listen up.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Students are people, not robots.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Can't vs. Won't

From Curmudgucation:
A million years ago, when I was student teaching at Wiley Jr. High in Cleveland Heights, my co-operating teacher told me that there are two rules in teaching:

     1) Some students will not learn.
     2) There is nothing the teacher can do to change Rule #1.

Pedagogical reform reliably returns to the issue of Can. If we've heard it once, we've heard it a million times-- all students can learn (most recently with the addendum "to a high level of achievement"). And I do not disagree.

But our challenge is not Can. Our challenge is Will. And if we are unwilling to see the difference, we do our students a huge disservice even as we treat them with great disrespect.

I could probably learn conversational Chinese. I have a checkered past when it comes to learning foreign languages, but if I dropped everything else that I'm working on, really buckled down, and applied myself, I could learn to at least get by with at least some spoken Chinese, though what I would do with it I have no idea. But I've done a cost-benefits analysis, and I've concluded that while I could learn conversational Chinese, it's not really worth the time and trouble, and so I will not be taking on that project.

Because I am a grown-ass man, nobody gets too excited about my choice. Nobody finds me oppositionally defiant or learning disabled or just plain a problem. I'm just a person who made a personal choice about how to spend my time and effort.

But if I were seventeen years old, making the same decisions about identifying gerund phrases or understanding Hamlet or solving quadratic equations-- well, then We Would Have a Problem.

There's another helping verb that hovers unacknowledged over these discussions, and that verb is "must." As in the assumption that if we have a well-designed program of instruction being delivered by an effective teacher, well, then, the students must learn.

This assumption, embedded in so much reformster pedagogy, denies the students agency. It denies students the basic human ability to choose how to spend their time, attention, and effort. It treats them with the utmost disrespect, saying, in effect, "Well, of course, they will do as they're told. You just have to tell them correctly."

At its worst, this approach "creates" more defective students. After all, if I have a perfect instructional program in the box and it was unpacked and delivered by an instructor who did just what she was supposed to do, and the student still didn't learn, there can only be one explanation-- there's something wrong with the student. At least, that's the only explanation possible if I assume that the student is not a sentient human life form with the ability to make choices based on her own values and priorities.

Now, as a professional teacher, my job is to get students to choose to learn. I'm teaching high school students, so I face a different version of this challenge than my elementary colleagues. But for me, step one is to recognize that I can't make my students do anything, and they don't have to do anything. I can con, cheer, encourage, bribe, cajole, reward, punish, push, tug, trick, and sell them to get there, but at the end of the day, they will choose to learn or they will choose not to. And I tell them all this on day one, and it has been very successful for me, because the message they hear is that I will treat them with respect.

See, I think this is more than a pedagogical issue. I believe it's a moral and ethical issue as well. It is basic respect to treat other human beings as independent, autonomous entities. It is disrespectful-- I will even go so far as to call it evil-- to try to deprive other human beings of their ability to direct their own lives. Yes-- when you give people the freedom to make choices, they will sometimes make bad ones, but if you are not free to make bad choices, you are not free. Yes, there is a corresponding moral imperative to do all in power to help people make better choices, but there is a line, and we cross it at exactly the moment that we try to take other people's choices away.

It's not correct to say that students who are live in poverty or deal with a disability or come from an unstable home environment cannot learn. They can-- but they face obstacles that make the costs-benefits analysis more difficult, that make choosing to learn a less obvious or easy choice. Recognizing that is NOT "blaming the victim" nor is it "making excuses."  If we are going to encourage them to make sound choices, we have to understand what their choices look like so that we can show them choices that make sense, and arm them with the tools they actually need-- so that they will choose to learn. In some situations, we must also fight hard to make more paths available to them.

So we have a huge obligation to help students choose to learn and grow into their best selves. And we have a huge obligation to recognize their freedom, their ability to make use of their free will. Isn't the ability to make good choices one of the core abilities we want to foster in schools? And how does one learn to make good choices, if one never practices making choices?

A system where the individual students don't matter, where they have no choices, where they are simply pushed through a process like toasters on an assembly line, a system, in short, that assumes that students must be compliant and that they have no power to choose-- that is an immoral system. As invested as we may be in the students' outcomes, their lives are not ours to control.

We absolutely need to recognize that all students can learn. We also need to recognize that whether they will learn or not is their choice, not ours. How far we will go to help them choose well is our own choice, our charge, our responsibility.It's our job.

Chicago Teachers Union lays out the issues with Common Core.

This is a bit of a long read, but is extremely valuable for acquiring a deeper understanding of the problems with the CCSS.

CTU Common Core Position Paper


Common Core Mission Statement:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.[1]

John Dewey:

With the advent of democracy and modern industrial conditions, it is impossible to foretell definitely just what civilization will be twenty years from now. Hence it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions. To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities; that his eye and ear and hand may be tools ready to command, that his judgment may be capable of grasping the conditions under which it has to work, and the executive forces be trained to act economically and efficiently.[2]

Martin Luther King:

We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.
If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, "brethren!" Be careful, teachers! [3]


The Chicago Teachers Union is committed to helping members do their best work and, since the Common Core Standards (CCS) are required to be taught in Chicago public schools, the CTU supports teachers in this work through professional development and curriculum development. However, as educators, we are also obligated to question the true purpose of CCS, and expose flaws in the standards themselves, their developmental appropriateness, the testing requirements, uses of test results, equity of opportunity, their roll-out time frame, and their implementation. As the preceding quotations indicate, the CCS reflect a far narrower vision of education than that of Dewey or King.
This paper’s purpose is to stimulate thought and discussion about the context of CCS roll out across the country, specifically in Illinois and Chicago. The standards themselves may or may not turn out to be useful frameworks for teachers and appropriate for students; however, this paper is not mainly an appraisal of the standards themselves, but a critique of the idea that common standards across all states and district contexts are the solution for education’s woes. On the contrary, research and careful study reveal that the CCS are likely to increase the opportunity gap experienced by students of color and low-income students; exacerbate the over-use of standardized tests; and increase the influence and market share of vendors, private consultants, and other education profiteers in the public schools.
Study after study (e.g., Rothstein, 2012[4], Ladd, 2012[5]) has documented that the root cause of educational failings is poverty and racism. Common Core Standards, like other “reforms” promoted by the corporate elite, ignore these vital issues entirely.  U.S. education could benefit from a dose of Finland’s approach. Students there regularly achieve high scores on the international PISA test, but not because they emphasize standards or standardized testing. Instead, the idea that every child should have the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background or income, has been Finland’s primary education policy driver for the last thirty years. Education there is seen first and foremost as an instrument to even out social inequality.[6]
The rhetoric of the education reform movement champions CCS as a tool to create civil rights opportunities for Black and Latino students, but the reality is that new CCS-aligned assessments are used to unfairly label students, punish teachers, and close schools.  For example, when New York City students took the CCS –aligned state test in 2013, general pass rates were low--below 30 percent. However, Black and Latino students passed at lower rates than White and Asian students. In math, for example, 15 percent of Black students and 19 percent of Latino students passed, compared to 50 percent of White students and 61 percent of Asian students. On the English Language Arts exam, only 3 percent of non-native speakers and 6 percent of students with disabilities were deemed proficient.[7]  Rhetoric about “failing schools,” justified largely by these test scores, enabled the New York state Department of Education to close or phase out 50 schools and cut education spending by 14%, leading to larger classes and fewer textbooks.  While money, time, and other resources pour into (and go out of) school districts all over the country in support of anything labeled Common Core, little if anything is being done on a national scale  to guarantee educational equity.


A look at the standards themselves reveals troubling features as well. The strategy of “close reading” is a central focus of the English Language Arts Standards. As explained by Timothy Shanahan (2013) in American Educator,[8]  “These standards will likely lead to the greatest changes in reading instruction seen for generations.” (p. 5) Students are expected to read the text three times. The first time, students read to understand key ideas and details; the second, to understand the craft and structure of the text; the third, to “critically evaluate the text and compare its ideas and approach with those of other texts.” (p. 10)
Close Reading is a useful strategy, one commonly used by book reviewers and others, but the emphasis given to this technique in the CCS is disproportionate to its usefulness and pushes out other important purposes for reading.  For example, reading for pleasure leads students to develop imagination, worldliness, and vocabulary skills, as well as an appreciation for literature. Isn’t it important to help children develop a love of reading and literature, and not just read for information or to critique, evaluate, and compare? The best way for children to develop their reading abilities is to read.
Proponents of CCS-style close reading argue that reading should be decontextualized. For example, David Coleman, a chief author of the standards, and now President of The College Board, created a video on the close reading of Martin Luther King’s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.[9] Coleman (2012) emphasizes the need for students to pay attention only to “what lies within the four corners of the text”. King’s letter was written in response to white clergy, who disapproved of the campaign he led against segregation by downtown businesses and for which he was jailed. It is particularly disturbing that Coleman would emphasize non-contextual reading of a text so rich in historical background and one still relevant to the lives of many CPS (and other) students. It is an example of how the Common Core idea of close reading, in dismissing the relevancy of students’ thoughts and experiences, undermines students’ potential to connect with the material and learn more from it.
As Rethinking Schools author Daniel E. Ferguson (2013) points out,[10]
There is a grand irony in the last few minutes of the video when Coleman praises King for not just responding to what was in the clergymen's letter, “but pointing out how critical is what's not in the letter.” Why then, is it problematic to let students do the same, to let their world inform their reading? …What if King had done only a close reading of the letter from the Southern clergymen he was addressing? What if he did not allow his own reading of the world to inform his understanding of the white clergymen's words? What leadership and wisdom would have been lost?
Close reading replaces the “text to self” strategy, which has been taught for years and values learning from relatives or members of students’ immediate communities. Close reading contrasts with critical reading, which incorporates close reading but emphasizes what is not in the text as well as what is in it. Critical reading allows students the opportunity to relate what they are reading to both personal experiences and other texts (the “text to text” strategy). Context allows the reader to make personal connections and build on previous reading or knowledge. Common Core gives undo emphasis to learning from isolated pockets of text.
Insisting that teachers focus on “text dependent” questions narrows the scope of classroom discussion. The primary (perhaps the only) place that students encounter text they must read out of context is on standardized tests. Coleman (2012) implied this in his recommendations to curriculum publishers, stating that since “80 to 90 percent of the reading standards require text-dependent analysis, aligned curriculum materials should have a similar percentage of text-dependent questions” (p. 6).[11]The narrow view of close reading emphasized by Coleman and other Common Core authors may make students better test takers, but it is unlikely to make them better readers or more learned individuals.


The early childhood CCS were designed by working backward from College and Career Readiness at the senior high school level, without taking into account developmental appropriateness. More than 500 early childhood professionals, including prominent members of the field, made this clear in the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative (2010). The statement points to the need for support, encouragement, active hands-on learning, and play at the early childhood level. They describe the long hours of didactic instruction, scripted teaching, narrowing of the curriculum, and overuse of standardized tests with young children that have already resulted from current state standards, and call for the withdrawal of CCS for children in grades K-3.[12]
The CCS require Kindergarten children to master more than 90 skills. Yet, research reveals[13] that early skill development, such as “Recognize and name all upper- and lowercase letters of the alphabet” does not correlate to later reading proficiency.  Instead, research supports a nurturing environment, project based interdisciplinary learning, and guided play to develop executive functioning (staying on task, problem solving, working collaboratively, planning, conflict resolution, organizing and delaying gratification). This nurturing environment needs to be devoid of the stress related to discreet skill mastery. The social and emotional skills appropriately developed in the early years of school lay the basis for students’ learning behaviors in ELA, Mathematics, and other subjects.
The basis for love of literature should, in formal schooling, begin in the pre-primary through early elementary grades. It is therefore crucial that the study of literary text (fiction) be valued at least as much as the study of non-fiction texts in these grades.  Common Core Standards, however, under-emphasize reading for pleasure. For example, CCS emphasize the reading of folk and fairy tales for skill mastery purposes such as identifying story element, patterning, rhyming, main idea, and character study. While mastery skills are important, at the early childhood level reading should primarily be for pleasure (Learning to Read) rather than a chore or process for gathering information (Reading to Learn).


No Child Left Behind (NCLB) failed to significantly increase academic performance or positively affect the education of underserved Black and Latino students[14], and had a negative impact on curricula and instructional practices. This bodes ill for CCS. The experience of NCLB suggests that the students most likely to be behind—those who are poor, African-American, Latino, and/or go to segregated schools—are also the ones most likely to have their schools turned into test-prep factories so that children meet the demands of success metrics.  Ironically, the very instructional processes and methods proven to enhance academic improvement have been scrapped in districts across the country in favor of test prep, which has the opposite effect. Instead of learning from NCLB that accountability, as measured by scores on a standardized test, is not the way to increase student learning or improve education, Common Core places even more emphasis on testing. Mastery of Common Core Standards will be tested in English Language Arts and Mathematics (until more subjects are added) at least twice every school year for all students by computerized tests. The amount of time students sit in front of screens will drastically increase, as companies feed the national market for test-prep materials that are supposed to help students be more successful on these tests. The role of the teacher as instructor, coach, and facilitator will diminish, as will the educational values of life-long learning, reading for pleasure, puzzling over and solving difficult problems, collaborating on projects, integrating the arts, and learning from and about people from multiple cultures.


The development of CCS is part of the corporate “education reform” agenda. These “reforms” are characterized by heavy emphasis on standardized testing, competition, ranking and sorting of teachers, and the position that language barriers, special needs, personal circumstances, poverty, and other hardships in students’ lives are irrelevant to education policy. They echo previous education “reforms”, going back at least 120 years to the 1893 “Committee of Ten” report, in that they focus on capitalist economic needs but not necessarily children’s learning needs. The United States has a long history of relatively small groups of people influencing the direction and tenor of education policy and curriculum nationally. [1]
In 1991, President George H.W. Bush announced his education program, “America 2000,” including a set of national tests to be given in five core academic areas. The program was given a boost in 2007 when a commission of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) published Tough Choices or Tough Times.[15]  This document lays out a theoretical framework for common standards, and nearly half of the commission’s leadership group members are now vocal supporters or directly involved in Common Core implementation. For example, one of the commissioners, Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor who championed corporate education reform, is now the chief executive officer of Amplify[2], one of the companies that will profit from Common Core with educational software.
Advocates of the Common Core Standards, such as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, promote the myth that they were the brainchild of state governors and the Council of Chief State School Officers who turned over standards’ development to classroom teachers. In fact, no teachers authored the original standards, and most of the development work was done by test and textbook publishers. Even the name, Common Core State Standards, supports the illusion that these standards were developed independently by the states. In this paper, therefore, “State” is dropped in favor of “Common Core Standards”. Further obscured is the fact that only a few teachers had cursory review power (at best) during the standards’ development. According to testimony of teacher Sandra Stotsky[16], CCS validation committee member, this committee was little more than a “rubber stamp” whose “requests were ignored” for the “supposed body of research evidence” on which CCS was based. Stotsky opposed, for example the misplaced stress on informational texts and the omission of major topics in trigonometry and pre-calculus.[17]
Of 29 CCS Development Work Group members, eight were from Achieve (the “non-profit” organization formed to manage CCS development and implementation), seven from College Board (test publishers), seven from ACT (test publishers), two from America’s Choice (now owned by Pearson, one of the largest textbook and test publishers in the world), two from Student Achievement Partners (another “non-profit” creating CCS materials), one from Vockley Lang LLC (a communications group that specializes in effective message management), one retired educational consultant and one professor emeritus (see full list on last page). Teachers were not part of CCS development, but Pearson, the company that stands to make millions on Common Core, is using their position on the development group to sell its products by boasting that its “close association with key authors and architects of the Common Core State Standards ensures that the spirit and pedagogical approach of the initiative is embodied in our professional development.”[18]
It is not just test and curriculum publishers, who have been intimately involved with the Common Core push. Some of the largest corporations in the world are fierce CCS advocates.
Morna McDermott, professor of education at Towson University in Maryland, created a flow chart[3]  that demonstrates research, funding, and advocacy links supportive of the CCS. She identifies the people, organizations, and corporations that are key drivers for Common Core standards. McDermott points out, for example, that Bill Gates, (co-chair, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) has paid $173.5 million to businesses and non-profits for the implementation of CCS. Gates is well-known for his support of charter schools, and initiatives which seek to use student test scores for teacher evaluation and merit pay. The people and organizations named by McDermott are shown in the table below.
Corporations, Foundations, Organizations, and People linked to CCS (McDermott)
State Farm*
Lockheed Martin*
Ford Motor Co.
McKinsey Consulting
News Corp.
inBloom (Gates/Wireless Generation)

*ALEC members
US Dept. of Education
US Dept. of Defense
American Enterprise Institute
College Board
Council on Foreign Relations
Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Car5eers (PARCC)
Alliance for Excellent Education
Fordham Institute
Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium
Student Achievement Partners
Teach for America
Broad Foundation
Gates Foundation
Walton Foundation
Joel Klein, CEO, Amplify
Rupert Murdoch, former Director, News International
Margaret Spellings, Secretary of Education under GW Bush
Gene Wilhoit, former director of Council of Chief State School Officers
Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida
Chester Finn, President of Fordham Foundation
David Coleman, College Board President
Lou Gerstner, former IBM CEO
Joanne Weiss, former Chief of Staff to Arne Duncan
Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State under GW Bush
This table reveals the deep connection between the main business and political backers of corporate education reform and the CCS.  To these elites, the standards are much more than just a means to improve reading and math scores—they are a critical component of American economic and military competitiveness. For example, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein promote CCS in a report for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) about military preparedness. [19]  They write that too many students are unable to pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and “many U.S. generals caution that too many new enlistees cannot read training manuals for technologically sophisticated equipment.” (p. 10)
The authors of Tough Choices or Tough Times (2007), whose connection to CCS was previously described, lay out a vision based on the concerns of corporate America. The report posits that globalization requires routine jobs, outsourced to the lowest bidder on a global scale. “Although it is possible to construct a scenario for improving our standard of living, the clear and present danger is that it will fall for most Americans” (p. 8). The claim that CCS will lead to “College and Career Readiness” rings hollow, given that 44% of 2012 college graduates are unemployed or under-employed.[20] More likely, the corporations behind Common Core are concerned with their own profits, not students’ educational futures.


School administrators and state superintendents are rolling out CCS for all grade levels at the same time, even though the standards are sequentially based. This means, for example, that a sixth grader will be taught based on standards that assume mastery of Kindergarten through fifth grade standards (which have yet to be taught), in the first year CCS are rolled out. A reasonable process might be one year at a time, starting with Kindergarten, and starting with necessary professional development for teachers in the new standards. First grade educators would then teach from first grade standards to students who were taught from, and mastered, Kindergarten standards, and so on.
However, even this more logical scenario has problems. Common Core provides no guidance or leeway for students who enter first grade (or any grade level) without sufficient background. Since early grade standards are developmentally inappropriate, at least in part because learning at that level is non-linear (even more subject to sudden changes or directional shifts than learning at other levels), it is reasonable to expect that many children will not master Kindergarten standards. This sets them up to be behind in school at the age of six and never be able to catch up! Students most likely to fall behind are economically disadvantaged students of color. Nothing in the prolific CCS promotion materials addresses these inequities in education, even though well-developed research exists on both the problem and solutions (e.g., smaller class size, well-rounded curriculum, and adequate wrap-around support services).
The CCS have no supports for students who are not “on grade level,” English Learners, students with Individual Education Plans or other students with special needs or circumstances. Therefore, in addition to rolling out the standards faster than they can be taught well, there are no provisions for support for teachers in general or support for teachers of EL or Special Education in particular.


Across the country, education policy-makers from the Department of Education to state and local school boards are pursuing so-called education “reform”.  These “reforms” are heavily promoted and financed by the business community, which sees them as setting the stage for future profits. “Reforms” include the appropriation of public funds by private charter school managers, the wholesale closing of public schools, disproportional emphasis on standardized testing, and attacks on teachers and their unions. While Common Core Standards may appear to be benign or even helpful, they are part and parcel of the corporate reform strategy. Standards, coupled with testing and evaluation tied to student test scores, set the stage for greater control of what is taught in each classroom--destroying teacher discretion, and pressuring teachers to ignore the needs of the students in front of them by focusing on the fulfilment of requirements set by the school district.
The members of the mathematics Work Group were:
Sara Clough, Director, Elementary and Secondary School Programs, Development, Education Division, ACT, Inc.
Phil Daro, Senior Fellow, America's Choice
Susan K. Eddins, Educational Consultant, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (Retired)
Kaye Forgione, Senior Associate and Team Leader for Mathematics, Achieve
John Kraman, Associate Director, Research, Achieve
Marci Ladd, Mathematics Consultant, The College Board & Senior Manager and Mathematics Content Lead, Academic Benchmarks
William McCallum, University Distinguished Professor and Head, Department of Mathematics, The University of Arizona &Mathematics Consultant, Achieve
Sherri Miller, Assistant Vice President, Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) Development, Education Division, ACT, Inc.
Ken Mullen, Senior Program Development Associate—Mathematics, Elementary and Secondary School Programs, Development, Education Division, ACT, Inc.
Robin O'Callaghan, Senior Director, Mathematics, Research and Development, The College Board
Andrew Schwartz, Assessment Manager, Research and Development, The College Board
Laura McGiffert Slover, Vice President, Content and Policy Research, Achieve
Douglas Sovde, Senior Associate, Mathematics, Achieve
Natasha Vasavada, Senior Director, Standards and Curriculum Alignment Services, Research and Development, The College Board
Jason Zimba, Faculty Member, Physics, Mathematics, and the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, Bennington College and Cofounder, Student Achievement Partners
Members of the English-language Arts Work Group were:
Sara Clough, Director, Elementary and Secondary School Programs, Development, Education Division, ACT, Inc.
David Coleman, Founder, Student Achievement Partners (he is with ETS now, right?
Sally Hampton, Senior Fellow for Literacy, America's Choice
Joel Harris, Director, English Language Arts Curriculum and Standards, Research and Development, The College Board
Beth Hart, Senior Assessment Specialist, Research and Development, The College Board
John Kraman, Associate Director, Research, Achieve
Laura McGiffert Slover, Vice President, Content and Policy Research, Achieve
Nina Metzner, Senior Test Development Associate—Language Arts, Elementary and Secondary School Programs, Development, Education Division, ACT, Inc.
Sherri Miller, Assistant Vice President, Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) Development, Education Division, ACT, Inc.
Sandy Murphy, Professor Emeritus, University of California – Davis
Jim Patterson, Senior Program Development Associate—Language Arts, Elementary and Secondary School Programs, Development, Education Division, ACT, Inc.
Sue Pimentel, Co-Founder, StandardsWork; English Language Arts Consultant, Achieve
Natasha Vasavada, Senior Director, Standards and Curriculum Alignment Services, Research and Development, The College Board
Martha Vockley, Principal and Founder, VockleyLang, LLC

[1] In  addition to the 1893 Committee of Ten report on the organization of secondary education in the U.S.: In 1895 the Committee of Fifteen was similarly formed to organize the elementary level curriculum. There was also the 1913-1918 Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education, as well as the 1931 Committee on the Relation of School and College, the 1934 Commission on the Social Studies in the Schools, and the 1945 Commission on the English Curriculum. The National Commission on Excellence in Education and their 1983 report, A Nation At Risk kicked off the modern era of high-stakes, standardized testing. (Thanks to Wayne Au for supplying this list.)
[2] “Amplify is reimagining the way teachers teach and students learn. We enable teachers to manage whole classrooms and, at the same time, empower them to offer more personalized instruction, so that students become more active, engaged learners. Amplify About Us
[3] McDermott, M. (2013). Retrieved from

[1]Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2014. Retrieved from
[2] Dewey, John (1897) ‘My pedagogic creed’, The School Journal, v LIV, n 3 (January 16, 1897), 77-80. [Also available in the informal education archives,
[3] King, M. L., (1948). The purpose of education. Retrieved from
[4] Rothstein, R., & Santow, M. (2012, August 22). A different kind of choice: Educational inequality and the continuing significance of racial segregation. Retrieved from
[5] Ladd, H. (2012). Education and poverty: Confronting the evidence. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, v31 n2, 203-227.
[6] Sahlberg, P. (2011).Finnish lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? New York: Teachers College Press.
[7] Hernandez, J. & Gebeloff, R. (2013, August 7). Test scores sink as New York adopts tougher benchmarks. New York Times. Retrieved from
[8] Shanahan, T. (2013). Letting the text take center stage: how the Common Core State Standards will transform Language Arts instruction. American Educator. v3, n37, 4-11. [Also available at:]
[9] Middle School ELA Curriculum Video: Close reading of a text: MLK “Letter from Birmingham Jail” | EngageNY. (2012, December 5). Retrieved from
[10] Ferguson, D. (2013) Martin Luther King Jr. and the Common Core: A critical reading of “close reading”. Rethinking Schools v28 n2, p. 18-21 .
[11] Coleman, D., & Pimentel, S. (2012, April 12). Revised Publishers' Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy, Grades 3–12. Retrieved from
[12] Joint statement of early childhood health and education professionals on the Common Core Standards initiative. (2010, March 16). Retrieved from
[13] Preston, J., Frost, S., Mencl, W., Fulbright, R., Landi, N., Grigorencko, E., & Jacobsen, L. (2010, May 19). Early and late talkers: school-age language, literacy and neurolinguistic differences. Oxford Journals v 133, n 8,. 2185-2195. Retrieved from
[14] Strauss, V., Guisbond, L., Neil, M., & Schaeffer, B. (2012, January 7). A decade of No Child Left Behind: Lessons from a policy failure. The Washington Post. Retrieved from
[15] National Center on Education and the Economy (2007). Tough choices or tough times. Retrieved from
[16] Stotsky, S. (2011, May). Stotsky's testimony before Texas legislature. Retrieved from
[17] Stotsky, S. (2014, January 2). Sandra Stotsky: Common Core doesn't add up to STEM success. Retrieved from
[18] Singer, A. (2012, June 13). Alan Singer: Protest builds against Pearson, testing, and Common Core. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
[19] Klein, J., Rice, C., & Levy, J. (2012, March). U.S. education reform and national security. Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report. Retrieved from
[20] Weissman, J. (2013, June 28). 44% of young college grads are underemployed (and that's good news) The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Friday, August 1, 2014

Rebirth for the NEA? One can hope so.

There may  be hope for the NEA, but I'm not holding my breath....... but some hope is better than no hope at all.......
This from Curmudgucation about sums it up.

Friday, August 1, 2014

How Lovable Is New NEA President?

NEA president-elect Lily Eskelsen Garcia is, if nothing else, much more lifelike and good with words than her predecessor. We don't have to rehearse the sad story of how Dennis Van Roekel lost my love; the question I'm asking now is, can I be wooed by the new boss?

My initial reaction was not full-on delight. LEG has an unabashed love for the Common Core, and consequently extends her love to the Gates Foundation and other like-minded doers of good. When she starts talking about GERM and the various enemies of public education, she seems to have a blind spot in her left eye. It will be interesting to see how she deals with places like Connecticut, New York and Chicago, where the attacks on public education are coming from Democrats.

And she has made some good moves. She has actually opened a twitter account, sort of. She has twenty whole tweets and is following fourteen feeds (mostly organizational, but some carbon based life forms). She actually contributed to the @stephenathome twitter blitz prior to Campbell Brown's appearance. It's not much, but it's roughly 23,157,391 times more activity than Van Roekel ever engaged in (of course, it's also about 0.00000312 % of Randi Weingarten's twitterage).

I say "sort of" because her twitter account is actually for her blog, and since the election, LEG's blog has turned weirdly third-person. It used to be chatty and personal; now it reads like some administrative assistant PR person is running it for her. This is not a great thing-- NEA historically suffers hugely from Imperial Presidency Syndrome, and it just needs to stop. I know the president of NEA is a Busy Person with Lots To Do. I don't care. Get down out of the castle and live and work and tweet and blog like the rest of the staffless teachers you represent. NEA continues to have huge HUGE problems because of the enormous Grand Canyon Sized gulf between leadership and rank-and-file. Do something about that.

But boy can she talk.

The comment sections are filled with folks talking about how LEG has brought them to tears at conventions. Find some videos-- she can spin words well. The caveat is that some of those same comments sections includes the line on LEG that she talks a good game, but doesn't deliver. At this point, even talking a good game is a step up.

But if you want to see everything there is to be hopeful about, read LEG's Salon interview with Jeff Bryant. Diane Ravitch fell in love with LEG over this interview, and I don't think she's the only one.

In the interview, LEG displays a kind of tough love for the US Department of Education and the hapless Arne Duncan. She has absolved him of evil intent, but not of terrible outcomes, and that's a great political bank shot, because it both holds his feet to the fire and gives him a way to make things better. She gets one of the most annoying things about Arne-- he says lovely things, and then pursues policies that foster the opposite of what he just said.

And her explanation of how federal policy created the test-and-punish atmosphere is nuanced and smart, explaining how it didn't explicitly require such policies, but created a situation where bad policies are predictable and inevitable.

The Department of Education has become an evidence-free zone when it comes to high stakes decisions being made on the basis of cut scores on standardized tests. We can go back and forth about interpretations of the department’s policies, like, for instance, the situation in Florida where teachers are being evaluated on the basis of test scores of students they don’t even teach. He, in fact, admitted that was totally stupid. But he needs to understand that Florida did that because they were encouraged in their applications for grant money and regulation waivers to do so. When his department requires that state departments of education have to make sure all their teachers are being judged by students’ standardized test scores, then the state departments just start making stuff up. And it’s stupid. It’s absurd. It’s non-defensible. And his department didn’t reject applications based on their absurd requirements for testing. It made the requirement that all teachers be evaluated on the basis of tests a threshold that every application had to cross over. That’s indefensible.

There's a lot to love there. It remains to be seen if LEG can grasp-- or acknowledge-- that in the same way, adopting national standards must lead to national standardized tests, and those test must be bad. The new NEA stance of toxic testing = bad, but CCSS = good is going to be awfully hard to pull off, like saying that we love and cherish the beautiful river, but must shut down the waterfall at the end of that river.

I have no doubts that DVR is a swell person, but he set the bar really, really low for effective NEA leadership, and so it would be Very Bad News if LEG couldn't surpass that standard. But while some signs are encouraging, I can't forget that she is a product of the tightly controlled NEA machinery. And she has me wondering how such an apparently smart person handles so much cognitive dissonance. So I'm not in love yet. But I'm willing to be courted.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

More on the VAM scam from Diane Ravitch's blog.

KrazyTA Deconstructs VAM and ASA
Our friend and frequent commenter KrazyTA has analyzed the response of the VAM Gang (Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff) to the American Statistical Association’s pithy demolition of their famous and much praised justification for VAM.
Here is his analysis:
I urge viewers of this blog to read the recent response by Raj Chetty (Harvard University), John Friedman (Harvard University) and Jonah Rockoff (Columbia University) to a statement by the American Statistical Association (ASA) [2014] on VAM.
A pdf file of same (less than five pages hard copy) can be accessed at—
The last paragraph of their response to ASA’s point #7 (p. 4):
“The ASA appropriately warns that “ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.” In particular, it is possible that teachers may feel pressured to teach to the test or even cheat if they are evaluated based on VAMs. The empirical magnitude of this problem—and potential solutions if it turns out to be a serious concern—can only be assessed by studying the behavior of teachers in districts that have started to use VAMs.”
Immediately followed by the last paragraph of their response, in full (p. 4):
“In summary, our view is that many of the important concerns about VAM raised by the ASA have been addressed in recent experimental and quasi-experimental studies. Nevertheless, we caution that there are still at least two important concerns that remain in using VAM for the purposes of teacher evaluation. First, using VAM for high-stakes evaluation could lead to unproductive responses such as teaching to the test or cheating; to date, there is insufficient evidence to assess the importance of this concern. Second, other measures of teacher performance, such as principal evaluations, student ratings, or classroom observations, may ultimately prove to be better predictors of teachers’ long-term impacts on students than VAMs. While we have learned much about VAM through statistical research, further work is needed to understand how VAM estimates should (or should not) be combined with other metrics to identify and retain effective teachers.”
My initial reaction.
While they don’t use the term “Campbell’s Law” — IMHO, they are deliberately avoiding it — notice how they take the import and sweep of Campbell’s astute observation and reduce it to “responses such as teaching to the test or cheating” with the added proviso that “there is insufficient evidence to assess the importance of this concern.” *Note that in his testimony during the Vergara trial, Dr. Chetty on p. 547 casually dismissed this challenge to his VAM-based beliefs as “Campbell’s Conjecture.”*
This is critical. First, they reduce Campbell’s Law to a statement about individual morality and ethics—of the employees no less!—rather than something that involves whole institutions [e.g., the recent VA scandal or the Potemkin Villages of the now-vanished Soviet Union] and is created/mandated/enforced from the top down. Second, by doing so they avoid having to address the destructive effects of Management by the Numbers/Management by Objective/Management by Results, i.e., the very management philosophy of those funding their “research” and leading the charterite/privatization charge. Third, they literally discard the already large amount of evidence proving the accuracy and trustworthiness of Campbell’s Law re VAM [and its fuel/food, standardized test scores] by referring to it as “insufficient” — while their pronouncements, of course, even though they need “further work,” is the current Gold Standard.
So it is hardly surprising that they are hot and heavy for heading off potential problems in data corruption by “studying the behavior of teachers in districts that have started to use VAMs” when what is needed is to independently study, monitor and regulate the behavior of folks like administrators, school boards, heads of CMOs and charter owners/operators, the DOE, and those who employ people like Chetty, Freidman and Rockoff—they’re the ones that set the numerical goals/straightjackets that drive data corruption!
*While W. Edward Deming would come in handy here, someone else thought along the same lines: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” [Charles Goodheart]*
The next is a bit perplexing. Apparently they don’t know how to use google and Amazon to find (among many such works) Sharon L. Nichols and David C. Berliner, COLLATERAL DAMAGE: HOW HIGH-STAKES TESTING CORRUPTS AMERICA’S SCHOOLS (2010, third printing) or Phillip Harris, Bruce M. Smith and Joan Harris, THE MYTHS OF STANDARDIZED TESTING: WHY THEY DON’T TELL YOU WHAT YOU THINK THEY DO (2011). Perhaps they permit themselves no newspapers, internet, or television either, hence testing scandals such as those in Washington, DC and Houston, TX and Atlanta, GA (just to name a few) escaped their notice completely. Also, the above authors and many others, like Audrey Amrein-Beardsley (see her recent RETHINKING VALUE-ADDED MODELS IN EDUCATION: CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON TESTS AND ASSESSMENT-BASED ACOUNTABILITY, 2014) can be contacted by email. Is it too much to ask of those claiming to be researchers that they take the time and make the effort to, er, get the contact information they need to make sure their research is done properly?
In their response to ASA point #7 they quote the ASA to the effect that “Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality” (p. 3). The trio start off as best they can by stating that “The ASA is correct in noting that the majority of variation in student test scores is ‘attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control,’ and that this ‘is not saying that teachers have little effect on students.’” Wait! You can read the rest for yourselves but a fly in the ointment—or the elephant in the room—when you’re in a debate is that when you concede the most critical point you lose the argument.
Since Chetty/Friedman/Rockoff didn’t dispute the 1% to 14% assertion then I would like to point out that I would be awfully interested in knowing why they’re ignoring the other 99% to 86%. Could it be that it’s poses intractable difficulties to their VAManiacal beliefs?
My very last point. Chetty/Friedman/Rockoff don’t understand that even under the most favorable circumstances, high-stakes standardized testing measures very little, is inherently imprecise, and is used for purposes so inappropriate to its few strengths that it needs to be junked. Take out of the Chetty/Friedman/Rockoff response those terms referring to “test scores” and the like and, well, the whole thing falls apart. Those “vain and illusory” [thank you, Duane Swacker!] numbers/stats are the glue that holds VAM together, the fuel that keeps VAM moving ahead, the food that sustains its very existence.
The Golem of VAM reverts to its inert form when you remove the magic of Testolatry.
Perhaps they should have taken that class in ancient Greece rather than Bean Counting For $tudent $ucce$$—
“I have often repented of speaking, but never of holding my tongue.” [Xenocrates]
Or if you prefer another very old, very dead and very Greek guy:
“Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.” [Homer]
Take your pick. Odds are you won’t go wrong. [a numbers/stats joke…]
P.S. I leave it to readers of this blog to read the triad’s response and make their own judgments and comments.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Read it and weep...then get angry and do something.

Reclaim Reform
by Ken Previti

David Sirota, you and me…

David Sirota exposes yet another major rip-off of teachers – active and retired. The political leadership of both major political parties, the elected officials, and the corporate thieves who control major media outlets lie and propagandize about these rip-offs.
“As states and cities grapple with budget shortfalls, many are betting big on an unproven formula: Slash public employee pension benefits and public services while diverting the savings into lucrative subsidies for professional sports teams.”
So begins Sirota’s latest investigative article.

Illinois, Michigan, Florida, New Jersey, Arizona, and Maryland are all used as examples in Sirota’s article, yet many other state legislatures are following this same pattern of theft.
Active teachers pay a percentage of their salaries into pensions systems that are predicted to fail – predicted by the same legislators who both mandate teacher pension payments by teachers and their local school districts in addition to 401k “savings” and redistribute these mandated savings into the pockets of corporate thieves who contribute to the re-election of the legislators. Before the same legislators legalized this process with the help of the courts, it was called corruption. Now it is merely a “public-private partnership” that sells America one student, one teacher, one pension, one contract, one school, one special sales tax dollar, one high stakes test, and one soul at a time.
Education Money1
The misused and diverted earned income of active teachers is wage theft. Retired teachers watch as their earned income, pensions, is erroneously blamed for the crippling of America’s economy. So, as Sirota publishes his findings, the corporate media publishes greedy-teacher pension scapegoating propaganda as truth.
“The state has a total of $175.7 billion in unpaid pension and state debts it cannot pay. If that had to be paid today, every Illinois taxpayer would have to fork over $43,000.”
- The Chicago Sun Times paraphrases a self proclaimed non-partisan think tank.

Let’s read that again with my emphasis that emphasizes the method of propaganda.
“The state has a total of $175.7 billion in unpaid pension and state debts it cannot pay. If that had to be paid today, every Illinois taxpayer would have to fork over $43,000.”
What other state debts? If what had to be paid in one day? Why would a state pay all its forecast payments immediately as one big, lump sum? Propaganda as fair and balanced news? Nonsense. Repeated nonsense by major media outlets becomes believed propaganda.
The stock market is at an all time high. In many states, over 70% of corporations pay no taxes. American CEO income is also at an all time high. American companies who relocate overseas are paid subsidies from America’s tax base to leave the country.
The wealthiest country in the world is selling itself away because of unnecessary austerity measures that are not called austerity. Taxes are supposed to be used for the public good – not as unearned payoffs to the immensely wealthy.
Let’s call it non-partisan corruption and redistribution of earned income to insanely wealthy corporate thieves who have no moral compass.
Corrupt legislators hate teachersThis is yet another way to wage war against public education. What capable young adult would choose to make teaching a lifelong career, a career that assures teachers will be victims of wage theft and guarantees a retirement into poverty?
This war must be won by teachers, or the quality of education will be lost.