The Common Core Arrives in Georgia: Reasons for Caution

The march to standardize and uniform the curriculum is a dangerous movement in a democratic society, and especially in one that is so diverse in cultures, languages, and geography as America.  How can we really think that one set of statements of science objectives written by non-practitioners can be truly be valid for all learners, all schools, and all teachers?

In today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wayne Washington and Nancy Badertscher report that “Sweeping Changes to hit schools.”  Beginning next year, Georgia schools, along with 46 other states will try and implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in mathematics and reading/language arts.  The Department of Education thinks the Common Core is the best thing since sliced bread.  Once again, the schools of Georgia will be up against an authoritarian movement to “standardize” education in the United States.  And the state department couches the CCSS in helping the nation get stronger.  If you believe that, then I’ll have a bridge that is for sale.

The common standards movement, and now, the the writing of a new generation of science standards rests in part on the opinion that state standards are inferior and inconsistent, and there is the need to increase student achievement, especially in science and mathematics, in order to remain competitive in the global economic environment. It’s had to argue with this. However, it is not true.  America is one of the most competitive countries in the world, indeed, number 4 in the world.

The drive to develop the common standards has also been “adopted” by the U.S. Department of Education, and in its Race to the Top Fund ($4.5 billion), states that did not adopt the common standards lost 70 points on the 500 point scale for doing so. Why do these organizations want to develop a single set of standards, and will they be any better than the standards that exist in the 50 states today?  The fact is state departments of education around the country have in one sense been coerced into accepting the common core standards in order to apply for very large Federal grants, and there is the assumption that a national set of standards will be superior to standards developed at the state level.  Oh, and by the way, Georgia was one of the Race to the Top winners.

There is an other movement that the Common Core is facing, and that is push-back from some state-level policy makers.  Anthony Cody over at Living in Dialog wrote an important piece recently entitled The Common Core: The Technocrats Re-Engineer Learning.  Anthony Cody explains that we need to look at the Common Core as the way technocrats are making it possible to “nationalize” achievement levels, and then allow “reward and punishments to be fairly distributed.”  He then cautions us that the Common Core and High-Stakes testing are joined at the hip, and we should take heed:

I think that while many people at this point favor an abstract concept like “high standards,” there is a growing discomfort with “standardization.” We should remember that in the not-too-distant past Bill Clinton’s attempt to get national standards in place was soundly rejected on political grounds. In fact, the rules that govern the Department of Education explicitly forbid the establishment of national standards — that is why there is this constant effort to insist this is a voluntary state initiative, and this pretense that Dept of Ed grant requirements have nothing to do with it.
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Guest Post by Ingvar Stål: Humanistic Science Inquiry-Oriented Teaching in Finland

Note: This is the second post by Dr. Ingvar Stål, Senior lecturer in physics, chemistry, and science at the Botby Junior High School. In his first post, which you can read here, Dr. Stål gave us an overview of the Finnish educational system, which provides a basic education to all Finnish citizens ages 7 to 16, as well as a higher education.  In the first post, Dr. Stål helped us understand the overall structure of the Finnish educational system, beginning with basic education, grades 1 – 6, followed by lower secondary, grades 7 – 10, and upper secondary, 11 and 12.

Dr. Stål teaches at Botby School, Helsinki, Finland.  He conducts teacher training courses in science at Turku ( 92,6 miles or 149,02 km from Helsinki), School Resources.  He is also doing research in Science Education for his second doctorate at Interdisciplinary Science Education, Technologies and Learning (ISETL), School of Education, University of Glasgow, UK ( 1098,8 miles or 1768,3 km from Helsinki) under supervision of Professor Vic Lally.

In this post, Dr. Stål writes about the methods that science teachers use in Finnish classrooms by comparing the behavioristic teaching of school physics, which is teacher-centered (TCM) to the humanistic science inquiry oriented (HSIO) method, which student-centered (SCM).  This post is based on a research paper by Dr. Stål which you can read in full here.

By Dr. Ingvar Stål

In class, regardless of the country there is always a central figure – the teacher. The teacher knows how to work with students, in order to involve them in teaching process. The teacher is responsible for the organization of curriculum content for the students.  Therefore, the teacher must have appropriate education for this activity.

Finnish Science Teachers and Teaching

Dr. Ingvar Stål, science teacher and researcher, Botby School, Helsinki, Finland. Copyright © | Ingvar Stål 2008-2009

In the Finnish comprehensive school, teachers still have a respectable position in society. The education of physics teachers takes about 5 years and is carried out by local universities, and as additional training to obligatory specialization.

After this training teachers receive a Mastes Degree in a subject and a Teaching Certificate. For example, a teacher may have a Masters Degree in Physics and Certificate of Teaching in Physics at Lower Secondary and Upper Secondary Schools. In order to receive this certificate candidates must have at least 60 credits in Pedagogy Studies and Practice.

In recent years in the Finnish comprehensive schools there has been a shortage of Physics teachers. In the Finland-Swedish comprehensive school year 2008 only 57,1 % physics teachers had a Teaching Certificate [1]. There are several reasons for the physics teacher shortage: lack of candidates, preference to work as a physics teacher at upper secondary school due to problems with discipline and low level of curriculum content, low salary compared to the amount of work and responsibilities.

The common responsibilities of science teachers are as follows : teaching, preparation of lab work and demonstrations, ordering of material and instruments, design of assessment tests for students, maintain contact with students’ parents.

The teaching process in school physics is a teacher-centered activity. It means that the teacher is the presenter of physics content and students are the recipients.  In the Finnish comprehensive schools, the teaching of school physics and others school sciences is a variation of the three stage model of teaching: Initiation-Response-Evaluation (IRE [2]), and is described as the Teacher-Centered Model TCM [3, 4].
Continue reading “Guest Post by Ingvar Stål: Humanistic Science Inquiry-Oriented Teaching in Finland”

Guest Post by Ingvar Stål: Education in Finland, Part 1

This post is based on my correspondence with Dr. Ingvar Stål, Senior lecturer in physics, chemistry, and science at the Botby Junior High School. Dr. Stål and I began corresponding three years ago and I wrote about his work in designing inquiry-based and optional science courses at Botby Junior High. Dr. Stål has designed a science curriculum at his school and you can read about his work at the Botby school website.

After reading the post What the U.S. can’t learn from Finland about ed reform?, I asked Dr. Stål to comment on the article. What follows are insights into education in Finland from one of the leading science educator’s in Finland. His approach to science teaching has been highlighted not only at teacher development programs in Finland, but at research conferences, and when visiting groups of educators from other countries, especially in Europe visit Botby Junior High. Much of what you will read about in this post is based on his presentation to a group of 55 teachers from Estonia earlier this month, and recent papers on teaching sciences in Finnish compulsory schools, and research on humanistic and scientific inquiry.

Teachers in the U.S. will be very interested in how Finland tests its students, especially in grades 1 – 9.  Comparing education between different countries needs to take into consideration the foundation of the country upon which its educational system rests.  In Finland, for example, all children, by law, have access to childcare, health care and pre-school.  All citizens have a right to education, grades 1 – college, free of charge.  All schools in Finland are funded on a formula guaranteeing equal allocation of resources, regardless of the school’s location.  None of these is true for U.S. students.  Yet, at the same time, it is valuable to find out what the is nature of schooling in other countries, and compare that to our own system.

Here is the first of two posts on Education in Finland.  This one will focus on education in general in Finland; the second will focus on science education, and pedagogy.  Much of the discussion of this post is based on this paper by Dr. Stål

By Dr. Ingvar Stål

Overview of the Finnish Educational System

Eduction authorities must secure equal opportunities for every resident in Finland to get education also after compulsory schooling and right to pre-primary and basic education according to the Basic Education Act (1998). The Finnish government underlines that the Finnish educational system is geared to promote the competitiveness of the Finnish welfare society. Finland, as a member of EU, support the overall lines of Finnish education and science policy with the EU Lisbon strategy.

Nowadays the Finnish Educational system is the result of several changes and reforms. The content of curriculum and the goals in education changes approximately every 10 years, but the Finnish Educational system remains traditional (see figure 1).

The Basic Education Act contains the main goal with the Compulsory Education in Finland:

The objective of basic education is to support pupils’ growth towards humanity and ethically responsible membership of society, and to provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary in life. The instruction shall promote equality in society and the pupils’ abilities to participate in education and to otherwise develop themselves during their lives (Basic Education Act, 1998).

Basic Education

Basic education in Finland is provided for children between the ages of 7 to 16. The basic education is compulsory and free of charge, what is more it is forbidden to charge students. All students during their compulsory studies receive books, notebooks, pencils and all needed material so that their studies remains free, it is even an obligation for the school to provide students with study materials. As a
rule, all children are to be educated in the school closest to where they live, but parents may chose other schools if possible.

Basic education consists of Elementary School (grades 1 – 6) and Lower Secondary School (grades 7 – 9).  The curriculum of elementary school consists of “mother tongue (Finnish or Swedish), mathematics, foreign language, nature, geography, religion (or ethics, visual arts, physical education, music and craft. In elementary school, there are no examinations.  In the fifth grade, however, student are introduced to the mark-system.
Continue reading “Guest Post by Ingvar Stål: Education in Finland, Part 1”

Guest Post by Anthony Cody: Cui Bono? The Question Rarely Asked, Let Alone Investigated

This was written by Anthony Cody, who spent 24 years working in Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high needs middle school. He is National Board certified, and now leads workshops with teachers focused on Project Based Learning. With education at a crossroads, he invites you to join him in a dialogue on education reform and teaching for change and deep learning. For additional information on Cody’s work, visit his Web site, Teachers Lead. Or follow him on Twitter.

This post was initially published here.

By Anthony Cody

As our public schools are systematically re-engineered for dubious reasons, with questionable results, by people of uncertain motives, there is a disturbing lack of skepticism on the part of our watchdogs for the public good, journalists. One of the basic principles of reporting is to ask “cui bono” – who benefits? In the Watergate scandal, the key informant whispered to reporters Woodward and Bernstein, “Follow the money.” But very few reporters today seem to be “following the money” in the field of education.

Veteran education reporter John Merrow recently delved into cheating scandals on his blog, Taking Note:

In other words, we’re cheating kids on their tests and stealing essential courses like art and music from them! Add to that, we are lying — because when kids get phony scores telling them they are proficient when they need help, that’s an out-and-out lie.

At what point does this trifecta — lying, cheating and stealing — become a felony? Seriously!

In the face of this disheartening news, one has to ask, “who benefits?” I’m stumped. Certainly not children, parents and teachers. Could it be the testing companies? Perhaps it’s the bevy of expert ‘consultants’ who advise school systems on how to raise test scores, how to calculate the ‘value added’ that individual teachers provide, and how to make education more ‘businesslike’ and efficient?

A far more important question than ‘who benefits?’ is: What are we going to do about it?

I want to make a special plea here to John Merrow and other journalists. Reporters hold a sacred public trust and fill a role no one else in society can. Before the rest of the public is even aware that something ought to be done, they must be informed that there is a problem. We need some real reporting here. And that means taking some risks.We have had a very heavy push from a host of sources to convince us all that “reform” of a certain sort is required in our schools.

False Ideas

These are the false ideas we are up against:

1. Our public schools are failing.
 Establishing this is essential because it justifies their destruction – and replacement by far more profitable ventures. There is plenty of evidence that this is not true, if one cares to look.

2. Charter schools are far more efficient than public schools, and produce better results as well.
 A new report contradicts the first claim, and the largest study of charters ever conducted contradicts the second. But many stories about charters do not dig for these facts.

3. The problems associated with standardized tests will be solved with technical innovations and the new Common Core standards. Narrowing of the curriculum will be fixed by having more tests in more subjects. Critical thinking will be fostered by better standards and tests scored by computers. Research on this is hard to find – these are largely the promises made by those who are selling these solutions. But the unproven assumption that these things are so underlies many stories now coming out about the Common Core.

4. Teachers are the number one reason students are doing poorly, and thus if we can eliminate ineffective ones, performance will shoot through the roof.
 This has spawned a host of reforms, including the elimination of due process, and Value Added Measurement systems to evaluate teachers using their test scores. Media outlets have actively propagated these unreliable methods. The Los Angeles Times created its own VAM system and published teacher ratings two years ago, and more recently New York newspapers published teacher ratings and wrote exposes of the “worst teachers” based on them.

Continue reading “Guest Post by Anthony Cody: Cui Bono? The Question Rarely Asked, Let Alone Investigated”

Creationism and Intelligent Design make Stealth Appearances in Louisiana and Tennessee Science Classrooms

Over the past four years, two states have passed laws that protect teachers if they present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution in applicable curricula or in a course of learning.  Protecting teachers?  Have these legislators heard of VAM?  No protection of teachers here.

What is really going on?

Behind these two laws is the Discovery Institute, a non-science propagada organization whose chief purpose is to attack Darwinian evolution, and wedge intelligent design into the science curriculum.  Foiled by the courts to pull a fast one and claim that I.D. is science, the Discovery Institute now hides behind its new campaign of preserving the  “academic freedom” of teachers.

The academic freedom bills that have been passed in Louisiana (2008), and Tennessee (2012) disguise their intent of teaching creationism and intelligent design using clever and slick  language that they are coming to the rescue of science teachers by passing a law that protects teachers’ academic freedom to present lessons questioning and critiquing scientific theories being studied including but not limited to evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.  Kind of a poor “Trojan horse” scenario, don’t you think?  Where is the theory of gravity, plate tectonics, and atomic theory on their to do list?

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science refers to the Louisiana Science Education Act as a “stealth creationism bill, that actually evolved from another bill, “The LA Academic Freedom Act,” which descended from the original bill that was created by the Discovery Institute.  The Tennessee Act also descended from the Discovery Institute’s bill.

Discovery Institute Dispersal Tree: Academic Freedom for Science Teachers!

The Discovery Institute disperses its ideas by making them public on its website .  If you are a state legislator, all you have to do is go here to copy or download the Discovery Institute’s Free Speech Campaign bill.  Now you are all set to fill in the blanks with the name of you state, and bingo, you can present your academic freedom bill in your state house.  This has actually been done in five states, with Louisiana and Tennessee getting the job done.  One more thing.  Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana signed their bill, the Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee wimped out! Continue reading “Creationism and Intelligent Design make Stealth Appearances in Louisiana and Tennessee Science Classrooms”