Using Students for Politics & Influence Peddling

I was in Augusta, Georgia on Friday and Saturday and during the  local evening news program, there was a TV Ad supporting the Charter School Amendment on the November ballot. The TV Ad was paid for by Families for Better Public Schools, which is chaired by Georgia Republican Representative Edward Lindsey.

The TV Ad features a student at Ivy Preparatory Academy, in Norcross, Georgia.  The video can be seen on the Families for Better Public Schools website.

Representative Edward Lindsey is Chairman of Families for Georgia Public Schools, a “social welfare organization” (according to its website) that is underwriting the campaign to convince Georgia voters to approve the Charter school Amendment. If approved, the Georgia Charter School Commission will be allowed to receive and approve applications for charter schools anywhere in the state, even with out local or the Department of Education’s approval.

This amendment is a political and corporate power play that will result in the formation of a separate stream of charter schools that the state can not afford. A few political appointees will have the power to do this, and they will have little to no accountability.

Lindsay uses double speak in his effort to get this amendment approved. He not only is chairman of the organization that has raised nearly all of its money to support the bill from out-of-state, including a billionaire from the Walton family and thousands of dollars from charter schools operators in Michigan, and Florida and other states. Very little financial support has come from Georgians. Now this is the same man who scolded Georgia’s State School Superintendent for coming out against the amendment, and stating his opinions publicly. He wrote a letter, and actually called Dr. Barge a liar.

Yet Lindsey heads up an organization for the sole purpose of raising money to run ads to get Georgians to pass his amendment. Yes, his amendment. He was one of the three Georgia House members that intro ducted the bill. And, not only that, he’s a member of ALEC, the organization that wrote the charter amendment in the first place.

So, Lindsey and others that support a bill that they claim will give parents a choice in the schooling of their children, actually use children to gain a political and corporate foothold in Georgia Public education. The flagrant use of a student in this ad shows the levels of deceit that those in power will go to convince the public. If this is such a good idea for Georgians, why is almost all of the money to support Lindsey’s idea coming from outside the state?

Georgia already has more than 100 charter schools. Some of the charters are good. Some of the charters are not so good. But the evidence from journaled research shows that public schools are actually doing a better job educating American youth than most charter schools.

It’s time for Georgians to realize that the charter Amendment has nothing to do with school choice for families, but is a slippery way to corporatize public education, and cut the stability of schools as we know them.

Unleashing Charter Schools with False Claims & Lots of Money

Just as the re-election of President Obama or the election Mr. Romney is coming to a head, so is the potential of charter schools being unleashed in several states around the nation.  Georgia and Washington State have very similar laws on the November ballot, and if you live in either of these states, you know that the issue is before you.

I have reported on this blog that the Georgia bill was a model bill written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right leaning partisan group.  The Georgia bill is ghostwritten copy of the ALEC model charter bill.  And we have reported that the legislators in Georgia who introduced and back the charter amendment are also ALEC members.

To get an idea of extent of the charter school issue across the country, here are some headlines that were extracted from the web recently.  Themes that run through these headlines are central charter authority, for-profit charter management companies, billionaires influencing legislation, lack of facts about charter schools compared to public schools.

The Big Charter School Debate

This weekend, the Georgia Public Broadcasting and the Atlanta Press Club co-sponsored a debate among four panelists.  On the pro-amendment side were Jan Jones (state representative), Kelly McCutchen, founder of Tech High Charter School.  Opposing the amendment were Alvin Wilbanks, Superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools (Georgia’s largest district), and Valarie Wilson, president of the Georgia School Board Association.

This is a link to video of the one-hour debate.

Moderating was Donna Lowry, WXIA-TV, and Maureen Downey, education reporter, Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Seventeen people were in attendance at the televised debate.

Jan Jones’ name has come up on this blog before.  It turns out that Representative Jones was one of three reps that introduced the amendment to change the Georgia Constitution that would put back in place the Georgia Charter School Commission that would have the power to create its own stream of schools, even without local school district approval.  The more important fact here is that Rep. Jones is a member of ALEC, and one can assume that she used the ALEC model bill to “write” the Georgia bill.

Arguments for the Amendment

Jones argued that we need the bill because some local districts are turning down charter applications.  She claims this means that parents will have no other place to send their kids if the local schools are failing.  She also uses this very powerful statistic:  Because Georgia ranks 47 out of 50 in graduation rates, Jones feels that if more students were enrolled in charter schools Georgia students might move up in the league standings.  Her comments were rife with political-speak, and it was clear she was shielding us from her ties to ALEC.  She was evasive about the content of bill when pressed on whether the bill includes the provision for a state appointed charter commission. It does.  She  said it didn’t, and she wrote the bill.   I think she is wrong and  is not telling the truth.

Kelly McCutchen, founder of a charter school, and president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation ( a conservative group), argued for charter schools because around the state there are some dysfunctional school boards, and by having a state appointed charter commission, parents in these districts could have a “choice” if charters were formed in their dysfunctional district. McCutchen, whose interests are in having the state expand charters, pulls the “parent choice card” when ever he can in the debate.  To him the best option is to  give parents a choice of schooling options,,even though parents already have choices.  He also claims there is plenty of money, and that’s a good thing.  Too bad his facts are wrong.

Arguments Against

Both speakers at the outset said they were not against charter schools, per se.  However…

Alvin Wilbanks, Superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools was vehement in his opposition to removing the power to create schools away from local boards of education.  He also argued that this was another expansion of government, and it would result in two separate school “systems,” one at the local level, and the other at the state level.  It would be costly not to the state, but to local districts who would be fiscally responsible.

He also argued that the language that voters will see on the ballot is misleading.  The question on the ballot is Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?.  Local schools already are allowed to create charters.  And the Georgia Department of Education has the right to approve charters as well.  What this bill really is doing is reinstating the Georgia Charter School Commission, an appointed board with the power to approve its own set of charters.

Valarie Wilson, president of the Georgia School Board Association, a school board member of the Decatur City Schools argued that this bill will cost the state and local districts money.  Wilson also challenged Rep. Jones on the issue of funding, and made it clear that over the past five years, Georgia schools have received fewer funds, not more, and indeed, many school districts are operating in a deficit.

Wilson also challenged McCutcheon claims that some school boards are dysfunctional, and that some schools are failing.  Wilson referenced data from NAEP that shows Georgia schools showing a steady increase in achievement.  She also pointed out that Georgia students rank 13th in AP scores.  As Wilson infers, Georgia schools have shown a steady improvement over many years, and references the NAEP scores in mathematics and science, which we have reported here.

Arguments Left Out of the Debate

The charter ballot issue is about money and power.  The panelists did talk about money, but not the money that private for-profit charters would make if the amendment passes.   The power to set up charters will be in the hands of an unaccountable charter commission appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House.   Most of the money to support passage of the amendment has come from out-of-state from power groups, and billionaires, and the appointees will be political appointees.  These two issues were not discussed by the panel.

Another argument left out of the debate is what role did ALEC play in the amendment.  Although we know the answer, it was not part of the actual debate.  During the panel’s debate, Maureen Downey was interacting via the Internet with viewers, and one question asked was this one from Jeff:

Can Jan Jones explain what relationship, if any, ALEC has with this issue. Also, why is so much money from outside of Georgia being spent to push for this amendment?

Unfortunately the influence of ALEC was not discussed, nor was it mentioned that Rep. Jones is a member of ALEC, and one of the Georgia legislators who introduced the bill.

Also left out of the debate was the effectiveness of charter schools and the unintended consequences of charter schools. It should have been mentioned that charter schools are not so hot when compared to public schools.  An interesting graphic that could have been used in the debate is one from Dr. Michael Marder’s research which shows the relationship between SAT scores and poverty comparing charters and regular public schools.  Representative like Jan Jones continue to ignore data that show that public schools are by far much more successful, academically and in many other areas of school life.

Figure 1. This graph might be disappointing to advocates of charter schools. The graph shows the percentage of high school graduates meeting SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted against the concentration of poverty. Each disc is a high school; the red dots are charter schools, the grey are public schools. In general, charter schools simply to do not compare favorably to public schools, regardless of poverty concentration.

Here some other facts that the proponents of charter schools failed to mention that were based on a study published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford.

  • Of the 2403 charter schools investigated, 46 percent of charter schools have math gains that are statistically indistinguishable from the average growth among their TPS comparisons.
  • Charters whose math growth exceeded their TPS equivalent growth by a significant amount account for 17 percent of the total.
  • The remaining group, 37 percent of charter schools, posted math gains that were significantly below what their students would have seen if they enrolled in local traditional public schools.

They also might have mentioned that the majority of students attending charter schools would have fared better if they are gone to a public school. And in the case of Georgia (one of the 15 states in the study), the results were mixed, or no differences were found between the charter schools in Georgia and the public schools.

False Claims

If you listen to the politician and the owner of a charter school, public schools do not know how to meet the divergent needs of Georgia students.  As one of them said, “one size does not fit all.”  Professional educators know this instinctively.  Furthermore, teachers in public schools (and independent schools, by the way) have worked with researchers who are on the cutting edge of the learning sciences.  This two-way interaction between teachers who have experiential knowledge of the classroom and students, and researchers who take themselves out of the ivory tower to work with teachers to seek answers to questions about how students learn.

The supporters of the charter amendment do not have the interests of parents or students in mind.  They make the false claim that charters will put schooling back into the hands of parents, when in fact the charter school movement has led to putting taxpayer money in the accounts and hands of charter management companies.  Parents and students are being used to secure this end.

The politician and charter owner lost this debate.  Who would know?  Only 17 people were in attendance.

The vote for the passage of the charter amendment will be very close, as it will be for the re-election of President Obama.

In His Own Words: Obama’s Progressive World View of Education

Update:  I’ve added a section at the end of the post suggested by Anthony Cody who blogs over on Living in Dialog (Education Week Teacher).  The section includes a radical quote from Obama about his view of using high-stakes tests that will surprise you.

President Obama has written and talked about education from a progressive world view.  How is it that looming over the U.S. Department of Education is a conservative world view that is making an all-out assault on public education?  The teacher’s strike today in Chicago should be a signal to President Obama that he should revisit his powerful experiences as a community organizer on the Southside of the city 25 years ago.

President Obama might want to check this section of his book, Dreams from My Father.  In a letter written to the president more than a year ago, I wrote, in part, this to him:

“On page 158 of your book you talk about the day you and your colleague & friend Johnnie had decided to visit a high school, and the principal of the school introduced you to one of the school counselors, Mr. Asante Moran. He was, according to the principal, interested in establishing a mentorship program for young men in the school.

In his office, which was decorated with African themes, you discovered that Mr. Moran had visited Kenya 15 years earlier, and he indicated that it had a profound effect on him. In the course of your short meeting with Mr. Moran, he clearly told you that real education was not happening for black children, and then he offered you his view on what “real education” might be. Here is what he said on that Spring day in 1987 and what you wrote in your book:

Just think about what a real education for these children would involve. It would start by giving a child an understanding of himself, his world, his culture, his community. That’s the starting point of any educational process. That’s what makes a child hungry to learn—the promise of being part of something, of mastering his environment. But for the black child, everything’s turned upside down. From day one, what’s he learning about? Someone else’s history. Someone else’s culture. Not only that, this culture he’s supposed to learn about is the same culture that’s systematically rejected him, denied his humanity (p. 158, Dreams from My Father).”

This is a progressive world view, and Obama knows that this is where and how real education begins.  Starting with the child where he or she is, and helping them connect to their environment—this is the core of progressive teaching. Most teachers know and try to act on this philosophy, but for many, it is an upstream battle.

The strike in Chicago is deeply embedded in the nature of teaching and learning, and it is a direct result of the corporate attack on education supported by conservatives in Obama’s department of education.  If the President would think and act on his experiences in Chicago, he might begin a new chapter in his effort to reform education.

He should pay a visit or throw some hoops with Mr. Duncan, and ask him what is his take on the teacher strike in Chicago?  How is it that 98% of teachers in the city voted to strike. I wish he would ask Duncan: Why are you supporting the likes of Achieve, Gates, Broad, Walton and the other boys that belong to that billionaires club?  Why are you insisting on strengthening the privatization and corporate values that are causing havoc to our schools?  Why are we testing the heck out of our kids?

So far, Duncan and the President haven’t said anything about the strike.

Striking Against Neoliberal Reform

Education reform, as being promoted by Obama’s Department of Education secretary, is not only disappointing, but a dangerous path to continue in the wake of the nation’s obsession with standards-based teaching, and high-stakes testing.  Secretary Duncan is promoting a neoliberal educational course that is driven by corporate values identified by Henry A. Giroux in his new book Education and the Crisis of Public Values that include:

  • privatization
  • downsizing
  • outsourcing
  • competition as the means of motivation
  • dehumanization of teachers and attacks on their autonomy
  • authoritarian modes of management
  •  obsession with measurement
  • the pedagogy of teaching to the test

The strike in Chicago is not a strike for higher salaries, but a stand against the most notorious period in the history of American education.  It is a strike against the neoliberal forces that are impacting public schooling.  In the neoliberal world the removal of controls allows the free market to balance naturally.  Neoliberal educational reformers want to turn what are now public schools into a free market place, enabling for-profit companies to come in and manage schools and treat them no differently than any fast food chain, factory, or retail store.  According to neoliberals, privatization of public schooling will offer parents choices and because of their belief in extreme individualism and market forces, schools, such as charter schools will not only offer a choice, but students will do better than students in regular public schools.

All of this hogwash.  The research reported on this blog shows that neoliberal reform is not working, and indeed is inferior to regular public schools.  Please refer to articles here, here, and here.

Since publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, American education (meaning its teachers and unions) has been on the receiving end of relentless attacks by neoliberals who think everything, including schooling should be market driven.  Leading the effort are unaccountable conservative and right-wing people, as well as corporate billionaire families.  Most of these attacks have been waged by individuals and groups with little or no experience as teachers or school administrators.  Yet, controlling this calamity are a few conservative groups such as Achieve, The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and The Broad Foundations.

During this time, conservatives have promoted vouchers, charter schools, school choice, union busting activities, and an assault on teachers.  For example, when the cheating scandal was revealed on high-stakes tests in Atlanta, Governor Sonny Purdue discharged agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) into Atlanta schools, and forced teachers to answer questions without any notification, or legal Council.  This was a physical and psychological assault on Atlanta’s educators.

The Chicago teacher’s strike is a Sputnik civil rights moment.  The President’s second home is in Chicago, and he knows the politics of the city.  His former Chief of Staff is the mayor.  But does he know that the school board is appointed by the mayor, and the make-up of the board reflects the financial interests of the city, not its citizens.  As a civil rights moment, 98% of Chicago’s teachers are willing to risk their jobs to improve the teaching and learning conditions of their students.  Courageously, with parents support, Chicago teachers are challenging the corporate take over of public education.  Instead of being forced to teach to the test, teachers are marching to provide creative and innovative experiences for their students, rather than meeting the demands of bureaucrats.

And according to Anthony Cody, there is a powerful source of support to inspire educational reform. That source is the more than four million teachers who know about how students learn, and what they need to do to help students learn. If we want educational reform, then the leaders of this movement have to be teachers, and administrators who are on the ground, and know the students that they teach. In one of his posts, Cody suggests that teachers, along with friends, families and community members could be turned into a very influential political force.  Mr. President, you might want to listen to Anthony Cody.

The President and the Chicago Teacher’s Strike

The President is challenged to say something to Chicago teachers because of comments he made years ago if a teacher’s union went on strike.  In a Democracy Now interview with Dr. Pauline Lipman, professor of Education and policy studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Amy Goodman, host and executive producer asked about the Chicago teacher’s strike.  Here is a brief excerpt of Monday’s interview:

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama famously said in 2007—he said, to unions, “I will walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States.”

PAULINE LIPMAN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you heard from President Obama?

PAULINE LIPMAN: As far—I haven’t heard from him. But as far as I know, the Chicago Teachers Union has not heard from him, either. You know, Rahm Emanuel was his chief of staff, and he’s now the mayor of Chicago. And as maybe our listeners do or don’t know, the mayor appoints the school board in Chicago.

And the school board is made up of, again, corporate CEOs, financiers, a hotel magnate, real-estate developers. And part of the agenda of forcing the teachers’ backs up against the wall, I think, is an attempt to actually weaken the Chicago Teachers Union, because the Chicago Teachers Union is not—the new leadership has not only reinvigorated the union in this city, it’s reinvigorating the trade—teachers’ union movement nationally.

But a more important challenge for President Obama is context of the strike as well as the connections among mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former Chief-of-Staff, Secretary of Education,  Arne Duncan, Chicago’s former school CEO and the President.  Here is another segment from the Goodman – Lipman interview.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the teachers have just gone out on strike. Professor Lipman, put this in a national context, what this means, what the Chicago strike means for the nation

PAULINE LIPMAN: Yes, good morning

As I said in the clip that you showed earlier, Chicago was the birthplace of this neoliberal corporate reform agenda of high-stakes testing, paying teachers based on test scores, closing failing neighborhood—disinvesting in neighborhood schools and then closing them and turning them over to charter schools—the policies that both Phil and Rhoda just described. And it was really a model which was picked up by cities around the country and then made a national agenda when Arne Duncan, who had been the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, became Obama’s secretary of education?

Chicago is now an epicenter of the pushback against it, as I also said before. And very much at the center of that is a new Chicago Teachers Union, with a new leadership that is really challenging this whole agenda with a different vision of education, a vision of education that involves a rich curriculum for all students, that puts equity at the center. They’ve named what these policies have resulted in Chicago “education apartheid,” especially for African-American and Latino students.

So, this is a battle that is being watched by people around the country. And a really strong victory for the Chicago Teachers Union, backed up by parents and community members, will send a signal that we can actually turn around this agenda. So I think it has tremendous significance. And I get the news feeds from the Chicago Teachers Union, the reports of this strike, and it’s being covered not only nationally, but internationally.

Teach with Passion and Creativity, Says President Obama

In his 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama included a section of his speech that focused on education, not only K-12, but he also challenged colleges and universities to be more creative about how they work with students, and as well as the hundreds of thousands of young students who are not yet American citizens, and “live every day with the threat of deportation.”

In his address, the President made a few comments about teachers and teaching that might just reveal that he is interested in opening the door questioning some of the basic tenets of the ED. Here are a few sentences from his address:

Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives. Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies — just to make a difference.

Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn. That’s a bargain worth making. (Emphasis mine).

Did Obama open the door to altering the fixed and seemingly unchanging policies of NCLB and the Race to the Top?

I think he might have.  Anthony Cody wrote and suggested that I add a section from a town hall meeting that Obama did on Univision. The quotes below come from Anthony’s post entitled Obama Blasts His Own Education Policies. Obama was asked by Luis Zelaya, a student, about how we could reduce the number of high-stakes tests that students take in school.

The President replied:

“… we have piled on a lot of standardized tests on our kids. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a standardized test being given occasionally just to give a baseline of where kids are at.

“Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, they just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn’t a high-stakes test. It wasn’t a test where they had to panic. I mean, they didn’t even really know that they were going to take it ahead of time. They didn’t study for it, they just went ahead and took it. And it was a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize.

“Too often what we’ve been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we’ve said is let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that’s not the only way we’re judging whether a school is doing well.

“Because there are other criteria: What’s the attendance rate? How are young people performing in terms of basic competency on projects? There are other ways of us measuring whether students are doing well or not.”

And then President Obama added a comment that is very similar to what Mr. Asante Moran told Obama in 1987 (see Mr. Moran’s statement at the beginning of this post).  Here’s the comment:

“So what I want to do is—one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you’re not learning about the world; you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math. All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that’s not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.”

This is a powerful statement.

He needs with the teachers who are striking on the issue of what is the best course of action for students in the Chicago Public Schools.  The teachers in Chicago are striking to oppose the repressive policies of his own Department of Education, who in concert with Achieve, the billionaire boys club, and conservatives, has created schools that are not likely to teach with creativity and passion. It seems to me that President Obama does not agree with the policies of his own Department of Education.

Finally, I would add that Obama, if re-elected, has the insight to change the course of American education.  He needs the will of the people, and a new secretary of education.

Would Obama be willing to talk with the Chicago Teachers?  What contribution would this action have on the day-to-day lives of American students? What are your thoughts?

Fordham Institute Review of New Science Standards: Fealty to Conservatism & Canonical Science

Fordham Institute has published their  review of the draft of the Next Generation Science Standards.  Achieve wrote the the new science standards.   Achieve also wrote the math and reading/language arts common core standards.

Unchanging fealty to a conservative agenda and a canonical view of science education restricts and confines Fordham’s review to an old school view of science teaching.  Science education has rocketed past the views in two reports issued by Fordham about science education standards.

The Fordham reviewers use a strict content (canonical) view of science education and dismiss any reference to the scientific practices (science processes) and pedagogical advances such as constructivism, and inquiry teaching.  Many of the creative ideas that emerged in science teaching in the past thirty years represent interdisciplinary thinking, the learning sciences, deep understanding of how students learn science, and yes, constructivism.

These creative ideas are not reflected in Fordham’s analysis of science teaching and science curriculum.

I have also studied and reviewed the draft of the Next Generation Science Standards and have written about them here, and here.

The Framework

In 2011, the Carnegie Corporation funded the National Research Council’s project A Framework for K-12 Science Education (Framework).  The Framework was published last year, and it being used by Achieve as the basis for writing the Next Generation Science Standards (Science Standards)

These two documents, The Framework and the Science Standards, will decide the nature of science teaching for many years to come.

In this post, I’ll focus on how Fordham has responded to these two reports.

In late 2011, the Carnegie Corporation provided financial support to the Fordham Institute to review the NRC Framework.  The Fordham report was a commissioned paper (Review of the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education), written by Dr. Paul Gross, Emeritus Professor of Biology. The Gross Report was not a juried review, but written by one person, who appears to have an ax to grind, especially with the science education research community, as well as those who advocate science inquiry, STS, or student-centered ideology. Indeed, the only good standard is one that is rigorous, and clearly content and discipline oriented.

I’ve read and reviewed the Fordham review of the Framework, and published my review here. Here some excerpts from my review.

Grade: B. In general, Dr. Gross, as well as Chester E. Finn, Jr. (President of the Fordham Foundation), are reluctant to give the Framework a grade of “A” instead mark the NRC’s thick report a grade of “B”.

Rigor.  Rigor is the measure of depth and level of abstraction to which chosen content is pursued, according to Gross. The Framework gets a good grade for rigor and limiting the number of science ideas identified in the Framework. The Framework identifies 44 ideas, which according to Gross is a credible core of science for the Framework.  The evaluator makes the claim that this new framework is better on science content than the NSES…how does he know that?

Practices, Crosscutting Concepts & Engineering. The Fordham evaluation has doubts about the Framework’s emphasis on Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Engineering/Technology Dimensions. For example, Gross identifies several researchers and their publications by name, and then says:

These were important in a trendy movement of the 1980s and 90s that went by such names as science studies, STS (sci-tech studies), (new) sociology or anthropology of science, cultural studies, cultural constructivism, and postmodern science.

For some reason, Gross thinks that science-related social issues and the radical idea of helping students construct their own ideas are not part of  mainstream science education, when indeed they are. Many of the creative Internet-based projects developed over the past 15 years have involved students in researching issues that have social implications.  The National Science Foundation made huge investments in creative learning projects.

Gross also claims that the NRC Framework authors “wisely demote what has long been held the essential condition of K-12 science: ‘Inquiry-based learning.’ The report does NOT demote inquiry, and in fact devotes much space to discussions of the Practices of science and engineering, which is another way of talking about inquiry. In fact, inquiry can found in 71 instances in the Framework. Gross and the Fordham Foundation make the case that Practices and Crosscutting ideas are accessories, and that only the Disciplinary Core Ideas of the Framework should be taken seriously . This will result is a set of science standards that are only based on 1/3 of the Framework’s recommendations.

Gross cherry picks his resources, and does not include a single research article from a prominent research journal in science education.  Dr. Gross  could have consulted science education journals found here, here, here or here.  If he did, he might have found this article: Inquiry-based science instruction—what is it and does it matter? Results from a research synthesis years 1984 to 2002.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST) published this article in 2010. Here is the abstract of the research study:

Various findings across 138 analyzed studies show a clear, positive trend favoring inquiry-based instructional practices, particularly instruction that emphasizes student active thinking and drawing conclusions from data. Teaching strategies that actively engage students in the learning process through scientific investigations are more likely to increase conceptual understanding than are strategies that rely on more passive techniques, which are often necessary in the current standardized-assessment laden educational environment.

The Fordham review of the Framework is not surprising, nor is their review of the first draft of the standards.  Fordham has its own set of science standards that it uses to check other organizations’ standards such as the state standards.  They used their standards as the “benchmark” to check all of the state science standards, and concluded that only 7 states earned an A.  Most of  the states earned an F.

If you download Fordham’s report here, scroll down to page 208 to read their science standards, which they call content-specific criteria.

I analyzed all the Fordham standards against Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Cognitive, Affective and Psychomotor domains.  Using Bloom’s Taxonomy, 52% of the Fordham science standards were rated at the lowest level.   Twenty-eight percent of their standards were at the comprehension level, 10% at application, and only 10% above analysis.  No standards were found for the affective or psychomotor designs.

All I am saying here is that Fordham has its own set of science standards, and I found them inferior to most of the state science standards, the National Science Education Standards (published in 1996), as well as the NAEP science framework.  You can read my full report here.  I gave Fordham’s science standards a grade of D.

Fordham Commentary on the New Science Standards

Given this background, we now turn our attention to Fordham’s Commentary & Feedback on Draft I of the NGSS.

The Fordham reviewers, as they did when they reviewed the NRC Framework for Science, felt the standards’ writers “went overboard on scientific and engineering practices.  From their point of view, crosscutting concepts and scientific and engineering practices create challenges to those who write standards.

Fordham science standards are reminiscent of the way  learning goals were written in the 1960s and 1970s.   Writers used one of many behavioral or action verbs such as define, describe, find, diagram, classify, and so forth to construct  behavioral objectives.  The Fordham standards were written using this strategy. Here are three examples from their list of standards:

  • Describe the organization of matter in the universe into stars and galaxies.
  • Identify the sun as the major source of energy for processes on Earth’s surface.
  • Describe the greenhouse effect and how a planet’s atmosphere can affect its climate.

The Fordham experts raised concerns about the way standard statements are written.  As shown in the examples from the draft of the NGSS, the standards integrate content with process and pedagogical components.

I agree with the Fordham reviewers that the Next Generation Science Standards  are rather complex.  Shown in Figure 1 is the “system architecture that Achieve used for all of the standards.  Figure 1 shows just four performance expectations (read standards), and their connection to practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts.  Every science standard in the Achieve report is presented in this way.

Figure 1. System Architecture of the NGSS. Source: http://www.nextgenscience.org/how-to-read-the-standards, extracted May 12, 2012

The Fordham reviewers gave careful attention to each standard statement, and indeed in their report they include many examples of how the standards’ writers got the content wrong or stated it in such a way that was unclear.

But the Fordham reviewers take the exception to the science education community’s research on constructivism.  In their terms, science educators show fealty to constructivist pedagogical theory.  To ignore constructivism, or to think that science educators have an unswerving allegiance to this well established and researched theory is quite telling.  To me it indicates that Fordham holds a traditional view of how students learn.  It tells me that these reviewers have boxed themselves into a vision of science literacy by looking inward at the canon of orthodox nature science.  Content is king.

To many science teachers and science education researchers, an alternative vision gets its meaning from the “character of situations with a scientific component, situations that students are likely to encounter as students.  Science literacy focuses on science-related situations (See Douglas Roberts’ chapter on science literacy in the Handbook of Research on Science Education).

The Fordham reviewers recommend that every standard be rewritten to cut “practices” where they are not needed.  They also want independent, highly qualified scientists who have not been involved in the standards writing attempt to check every standard.  The National Science Teachers Association, comprised of science teachers and scientists is quite qualified to do this, and indeed the NSTA sent their recommendations to Achieve last week.

I would agree with the Fordham group that the next version of the standards should be presented in a clearer way, and easily searchable.  I spent a good deal of time online with the first draft, and after a while I was able to search the document, but it was a bit overwhelming.

Finally I would add that when you check the Fordham analysis of the new standards, the word “basic” jumps out.  Near the end of their opinion report, they remind us that the science basics in the underlying NRC Framework were sound.  What they are saying is that the NGSS writers need to chisel away anything that is not solid content from the standards.

One More Thing

Organizations such as Achieve and the Fordham Institute believe the U.S. system of science and mathematics education is performing below par, and if something isn’t done, then millions of students will not be prepared to compete in the global economy. Achieve cites achievement data from PISA and NAEP to make its case that American science and mathematics teaching is in horrible shape, and needs to fixed.

The solution to fix this problem to make the American dream possible for all citizens is to write new science (and mathematics) standards.  One could argue that quality science teaching is not based on authoritarian content standards, but much richer standards of teaching that form the foundation of professional teaching.

What ever standards are agreed upon, they ought to be based on a set of values that are rooted in democratic thinking, including empathy and responsibility. Professional teachers above all else are empathic in the sense that teachers have the capacity to connect with their students, to feel what others feel, and to imagine oneself as another and hence to feel a kinship with others. Professional teachers are responsible in the sense that they act on empathy, and that they are not only responsible for others (their students, parents, colleagues), but themselves as well.

The dual forces of authoritarian standards and high-stakes testing has taken hold of K-12 education through a top-down, corporate led enterprise. This is very big business, and it is having an effect of thwarting teaching and learning in American schools. A recent study by Pioneer Institute estimated that states will spend at least $15 billion over the next few years to replace their current standards with the common core.  What will it cost to implement new science standards?

In research that I have reported here, standards are barriers to teaching and learning.  In this research, the tightly specified nature of successful learning performances precludes classroom teachers from modifying the standards to fit the needs of their students.  And the standards are removed from the thinking and reasoning provesses needed to achieve them.  Combine this with high-stakes tests, and you have a recipe for disaster.

According to the 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, the Common Core State Standards will have little to no effect on student achievement. Author Tom Loveless explains that neither the quality or the rigor of state standards is related to state NAEP scores. Loveless suggests that if there was an effect, we would have seen it since all states had standards in 2003.

The researchers concluded that we should not expect much from the Common Core. In an interesting discussion of the implications of their findings, Tom Loveless, the author of the report, cautions us to be careful about not being drawn into thinking that standards represent a kind of system of “weights and measures.” Loveless tells us that standards’ reformers use the word—benchmarks—as a synonym for standards. And he says that they use it too often. In science education, we’ve had a long history of using the word benchmarks, and Loveless reminds us that there are not real, or measured benchmarks in any content area. Yet, when you read the standards—common core or science—there is the implication we really know–almost in a measured way–what standards should be met at a particular grade level.

Loveless also makes a strong point when he says the entire system of education is “teeming with variation.” To think that creating a set of common core standards will reduce this variation between states or within a state simply will not succeed.

As the Brown report suggests, we should not depend on the common core or the Next Generation Science Standards having any effect on students’ achievement.

What do you think?  Is Fordham’s view of science education consistent with your ideas about science teaching?

 

Should All Students Be Held to a Single Set of K-12 Education Standards?

Should all U.S. students meet a single set of K-12 education standards?  In a democracy should all students be held to the same standards?

This was the question that Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute  and  Jay Greene, head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas  debated in recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

Yes, says Finn; no claims Greene.

First I’ll describe the positions of Dr. Finn and Dr. Green, and then make comments on each to show that one represents a conservative world-view and the other a progressive world-view.

Yes, We Should: The Fordham View

Chester E. Finn Jr. believes that America should adopt a single set of standards for all students, regardless of where they live, and schools (teachers & principals) should be held accountable by using student achievement scores as the metric.  Finn’s Fordham Institute has been in the business of writing non- peer reviewed analyses of state standards for more than 15 years.  They’ve analyzed standards in reading, math, and  most recently science.  He states that their findings of the state science standards are “grim”.

For example, in their 2012 report, The State of the State Science Standards, he tells us In science, just 12 states and the District of Columbia earned A’s or B’s. More than twice that number have standards that deserve grades of D or F.  Finn also believes that not involving the government in Washington in developing standards is a good thing.  He explains that the common core (reading and math) was developed be a group of governors (government?) and state level school administrators.

The proponents of the common core, such as the Fordham Institute, lead us to believe that because these standards were not developed by the government in Washington, but by state government consortia, they must be better.  Finn uses the argument that we need to follow other successful nations who’ve established national standards because they seem to do so much better than those countries that don’t have a national curriculum.  Our economic competitiveness is in dire straights because we don’t have a rigorous set of national standards.  And students are on the move.  We need a single set of standards, and a uniformed and structured curriculum just in case a new child moves into the neighborhood.  Plus, well be able to compare education state to state, city to city.

Most of these arguments are not supported in juried research.  However, organizations such as the Fordham Institute commission “research” that is completed either in-house, or by hired consultants.

Comments on the Fordham View

The Fordham Institute’s view of  national standards presented by Chester E. Finn is consistent with the conservative  world-view of educational reform.  According to research by George Lakoff, professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, the moral world-view of conservatives (or progressives) can be understood by using the conceptual metaphor of Nation as Family.

Using this idea, ones political beliefs tend to be structured by how we think of family, and our early experiences in our own family which contribute to our beliefs. Thinking of a nation as a family is a familiar notion, as in phrases such as Mother Russia, Fatherland, sending sons and daughters off to war, the founding fathers, Big Brother (see Joe Brewer, Rockbridge Institute, discussion here).  In Brewer’s thinking, the conceptual metaphor of nation as family organizes our brains in this way: homeland is home, citizens are siblings, the government (or head) is parent, and so forth. The diagram below shows the organization of schooling according to a conservative world-view.

The world-view of conservatives can be explained using the conceptual metaphor for Nation as Family. Lakoff would say that a conservative family would be based on authority, and would be represented by the “Strict Father Family”.  It makes sense to have a single set of standards in the conservative world-view.  The flow of authority and decision-making would flow downward from head to the classroom teacher.

In their book, entitled, Thinking Points by George Lakoff, and the Rockbridge Institute, the core conservative values are:

  • Authority: assumed to be morally good and used to exert legitimate control (therefore it is imperative that authority is never questioned)
  • Discipline: self-control learned through punishment when one does wrong (it is understood that failure of authority to punish for wrong doing is a moral failure)

The public schools in the U.S. reflect the core values of authority and discipline, and many of the laws and acts (especially the NCLB Act of 2001) was written by the authority of the government, and set in motion an image that suggests that students, teachers and administrators are siblings in the Family of Education, and are beholden to the Authority of Federal and State departments of education. It’s a top-down system, and conceptual metaphor of the “Strict Father Family” mirrors the way public schools are conceptualized.

When institutions like Fordham, and individuals such as Dr. Finn suggest that the nation needs “clear standards about what schools should teach and students should learn—and make these standards uniform across the land,” they base this on the conservative core value of authority at the top or the head.  In this case, the authority rests in Achieve, Inc., created by the National Governors Association.  Achieve wrote, and is now disseminating the Common Core Standards in math and reading/language arts.  Nearly all of the states have accepted the authority given to Achieve to create a single set of standards.  Coming soon, will be another authoritative set of standards in K-12 science.

The reports issued by the Fordham Institute are typically not juried.  Their research methodology is flawed, yet because of their influence, Fordham, and other think tanks use their own non juried papers as scientific research.  Their public release of these papers is normally cited by the media as the cold, hard facts.

For example, Finn mentions that his Institute recently published a report that graded each state’s science standards, and found the results grim.  The report is written in the context of Fordham Institute’s bias about the state of science education in the nation, especially in terms of achievement test results on PISA, TIMSS, and NAEP. It is very similar to the Broad Foundation’s view of American youth which I wrote about here.  The Broad Foundation has low expectations for American students, and they go on to support their claim with distorted statistics, and use them to paint negative pictures of American youth.

The Fordham Institute’s view is embedded in the “crisis mentality” that began with “Sputnik” and has carried forward through today. According to the Fordham report, American youth do not show strong science achievement, and show “woeful” results on international tests. And yet during the time that American youth showed such dismal scores on science tests, American science and technology innovations and creative development flourished, and still does. We thought our nation was at risk because of technological advances, and global economic growth of Russia (then, the USSR), Japan, Germany, and China. Now we have to worry about Finland, South Korea, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia. Their scores are higher on these tests than ours. They must be doing something different to educate their students in math and science. The race is on!  Let’s find out and import it.

Although the Fordham  report is being disseminated, the results are flawed, and biased, and should be viewed with suspicion. Access to data for reanalysis, replication and opportunity to build on findings are non-existent.  Because the “data” reported are based on opinions, it is difficult to reanalyze the study. Perhaps if the authors subjected their criteria to an outside panel, and applied the same methods, we might get more valid and reliable results.

As you explore the nature of the standards movement as it is happening in the United States, it appears as if non-profits, and professional organizations are at the heart of the development of these standards. The Federal government’s role in all of this is rather interesting. Rather than funding universities, which must be accountable, the organizations that are developing the standards receive funding from non-governmental businesses, organizations, and private philanthropic groups. The groups doing the development, and the funding sources are accountable in this process to no one but their board of directors.

If you follow the money, you would discover that there is actually a core group of foundations and businesses that are providing the financial support for institutes (like the Thomas B. Fordham Institute) and non-profits (like Achieve, Inc.—a group largely responsible for writing the math, reading/language arts, and science standards). If you go to any of these organizations, and click on the link that lists the organization’s financial contributors, you will probably not be surprised to learn that many of same contributors form the financial foundation for the entire standards movement.

Think tank “research” and subsequent views, whether from conservative or progressive organizations need to be examined with caution, and with the full knowledge of the organization’s ideology.  The Fordham Institute is a conservative group that supports a centralized educational system.  Rather odd, don’t you think?

No, We Shouldn’t: The University of Arkansas View

Jay Green suggests that to hold all students to a single metric is basically creating a national curriculum.  He thinks (as many do) that standards drive testing, which in turn will affect what content is covered, as well as how and when.  Green argues that having a national set of standards only makes sense if there was a single way for all students to learn, and when.  He points out that here is no consensus on what all students should learn.  Professor Green is concerned that a national curriculum of learning might be more like nationalized “church” of education.  What could be inspiring these groups to do so?  And finally, Green suggests we should be wary of central planning, and instead reinvigorate choice and competition.

Comments on the University View

Jay Greene, head of the department of education reform at the University of Arkansas, has presented arguments that tend to be rooted in juried research.  The position taken by Greene aligns itself with a more progressive outlook on learning  and curriculum.  Experimentation and inquiry are values that should drive curriculum, and the focus should be on student learning.  If this is so, it begins to get difficult to tailor teaching to student interests and needs when single set of national standards is seen as the goal for all.  Dr. Green questions the uniformity that would be put in place with a single set of standards.  He suggests that:

Such uniformity would only make sense if: 1) there was a single best way for all students to learn; 2) we knew what it was; 3) we could be sure the people running this nationalized education system would adopt that correct approach; and 4) they would remain in charge far into the future. But that isn’t how things are. There is no consensus on what all students need to know. Different students can best be taught and assessed in different ways.

The Department of Education Reform headed by Dr. Greene, is comprised of six endowed chairs and one faculty member.  Standards-based reform, school vouchers, charter schools, and school choice appear to be research interests of this distinguished group of professors.

Because of their research interests and political experiences, Dr. Greene may not agree that his views reflect a progressive world view.  Nevertheless, his views open the door to the following discussion.

Using Lakoff’s conceptual metaphor theory, the position taken by Greene reflects a progressive world view.  In Lakoff’s view, the progressive world-view is based on the nurturant parent family. He suggests that nurturing has two key aspects: empathy and responsibility. Lakoff explains that nurturant parents or teachers are authoritative but with out being authoritarian.

If we apply the nurturant parent model to politics or education, Lakoff suggests that what we get is a “progressive moral and political philosophy. The progressive world-view then is based on these two ideas:

  • Empathy: the capacity to connect with other people, to feel what others feel, to imagine oneself as another and hence to feel a kinship with others.
  • Responsibility: acting on that empathy—responsibility for yourself and for others. (Lakoff, George (2006-10-03). Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision (Kindle Locations 827-830). Macmillan. Kindle Edition)

In research by Carl Rogers many decades ago in his person or client centered theory, empathy was considered one of core conditions for facilitative (counseling and teaching) practice. Realness of the teacher, and prizing, accepting, and trust were two additional core conditions.

Green’s opposition to a set of national standards imposed on local schools makes sense from the progressive world-view.  In this view teachers would inquirers and would ask lots of questions such as:

  • Why is our state and district willing to accept a top-down authoritarian set of standards that weren’t developed with our students’ interests or aspirations in mind?
  • Do you know what the research tells us about the ineffectiveness of using high-stakes tests on students achievement?
  • Why does the state department of education have so much authoritative power over the inner workings of every school district in the state?
  • Why aren’t educators involved in the development of curriculum that is based on the lived experiences of students, and the interests that students might have for getting involved in real work?

One More Thing

The move to centralize education in the United States is one that has gained momentum over the past ten years. Americans are being convinced that its school system is broken, old, and in crisis. Professor Yong Zhao, Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education at the University of Oregon puts it this way in one of his blog posts:

in short, the argument goes, to save America, to retain America’s preeminence in the world, to ensure America’s global competitiveness, we must dismantle America’s education system and import policies and practices from other countries.

The core group of “reformers” who want to create a single test-based curriculum have oddly suggested that we ought to import educational ideas from other countries since their economies are improving or better than ours, and their students do so well on PISA and TIMSS international tests. As Zhoa writes in his blog post entitled The Grass is Greener: Learning from Other Countries:

The belief that education in certain other countries is superior has mostly started with and reinforced by a myopic perspective of what constitutes high quality education. This perspective easily leads to the tendency to quickly jump to the conclusion that when a country rises economically (in the case of Japan and China) or militarily (in the case of the Soviet Union), it must have an excellent education system. The same perspective also leads to the conclusion that high test scores indicate educational excellence. As a result, observers rushed to Russia, Japan, China, Singapore, Finland, and Korea to search for their secrets to educational excellence and of course found what they wanted to find: standardized curriculum, focus on academic subjects that “matter,” teachers prepared and incentivized to deliver the prescribed subjects efficiently, and well-disciplined students devoted to mastering the prescribed content, with parental support.

The mistake we are making in educational reform is taking away from local educators and local systems the ability to make the policy decisions that will affect the students they know best, and of course they are the students in their own schools. We need to stop enabling the “think-tank mentality” as evidenced so well by the Fordham Foundation, and Achieve, Inc. and their view that all kids should learn the same stuff, at the same time, and in the way that are defined by a collection of central common core standards.