Moneyball, Baseball, Teaching & Learning: Is there a Relationship?

 

Moneyball: A book and a movie based on real events in which a baseball team is assembled using analytical, evidence-based, and sabermetric methods.  Sabermetrics is derived from the acronym  SABR meaning Society for American Baseball Research.

GA AWARDS: An acronym which stands for Georgia’s Academic and Workforce Analysis and Research Data System.  GA AWARDS is data collected through Georgia’s Race to the Top (RT3) Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS).

Baseball

According to David Grabiner, Bill James developed sabermetrics which is “the search for objective knowledge about baseball.”  Here is an interesting quote from Grabiner’s book (Grabiner, n.d.):

Sabermetrics attempts to answer objective questions about baseball, such as “which player on the Red Sox contributed the most to the team’s offense?” or “How many home runs will Ken Griffey hit next year?” It cannot deal with the subjective judgments which are also important to the game, such as “Who is your favorite player?” or “That was a great game.”

Using sabermetrics, a baseball team’s management can predict how well a player should do during the next season.  What happens to the player if they don’t produce according to “objective data” collected on him over the past years. Predicting how well a player will do in the future is analogous to using a teacher’s VAM score to predict their performance in the future, don’t you think?

Jackie Robinson's Hitting Statistics, 1947 - 1956.
Figure 1. Jackie Robinson’s Hitting Statistics, 1947 – 1956.

Instead of paying attention just to runs scored, hits, runs batted in, and batting average as shown for Jackie Robinson in Figure 1, sabermetrics expands the categories of data collection by adding variables such as these: base runs, batting average on balls in play, defensive runs saved, equivalent average, late inning pressure situations, Pythagorean expectation, runs created, ultimate zone rating, value over replacement player and so on.  Thus saber metrics applies mathematical tools to analyze baseball, which are used by officials to make decisions about their teams (Wikipedia, 2013).

For teachers, however, the situation is a bit different.  Most states in the U.S. are moving toward pinning teachers’ worth and value on just one variable: student achievement scores on high-stakes tests.  It seems to me, that baseball players might have the edge here.

Statistics have always been a part of baseball.  Baseball cards showed a picture of our favorite players on one side, but on the flip side was the player’s complete batting or pitching record .  But it was nothing like the spreadsheets that are now used in the age of sabermetrics.  Just look at the Figures 2 and 3 which are spread sheets of data used by sabermaticians.

As one author stated, “sabermetrics dig deep into raw data to answer questions such as: Do pitching coaches actually make a difference? Or, what’s the best way to measure a hitter’s value the team?” (J. Silverman, How Stuff Works).  Figures 2 & 3 show some of the data used by baseball officials to make decisions about its players.

Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 3.15.56 PM
Figure 2. Micro-View of MLB 2011 Season Data

 

Figure 3. Enlarged view of the data shown in Figure 2.
Figure 3. Enlarged view of the data shown in Figure 2.

 

Many baseball front offices have adopted sabermetrics, based on the work of Bill James, who had been publishing books on baseball including its history and statistics before he was discovered by Major League Baseball.   The Oakland A’s were the first team to apply and adopt the principles of sabermetrics.  The movie Moneyball was based on the book with the same title  chronicling the the A’s general manager, Billy Beane, who applied the method to his team.

Much of the MLB data is online, and you can follow this link to Bill James Online.

Do you see any parallels with what is happening in education?  Is there any connection between sabermetrics and the current data collection and analysis strategies that have been adopted by all state education departments, and the U.S. Department of Education?  As you will see, education has a long history of collecting data, but nothing compared to what is happening in 2013.

Education

Like the statistics on the back of a baseball card, statistics on education have been collected since 1867 when Congress established a department of education for the purpose of collecting data on the condition and progress of education in the states and its territories (Grant, W. V., 1993).  As Grant recalls, the department was very small, and as an entity was moved around from one Federal agency to another, until it was separated from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1980 to become the U.S. Department of Education (ED).  The collection of data at the Federal level really began when in 1870, Congress authorized the department of education to hire its first statistician.

With time, the statistics part of the department, which is now the National Center for Education Statistics, expanded, so that by the the 1960s the center was collecting and publishing high quantities of data.

In 1969, the center began the National Assessment of Education Progress which has since then surveyed nationwide samples of students at age 9, 13 and 17 in  mathematics, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, U.S. history, and beginning in 2014, in Technology and Engineering Literacy (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2013).

In 2001, the U.S. Congress established the No Child Left Behind Act which required all states to develop assessments in basic skills, and to give these assessments to all students in order to receive federal school funding.

 

Figure 4. Race to the Top Winners.  Blue: Winners; Green: Losers: Yellow: Did not Submit
Figure 4. Race to the Top Winners. Blue: Winners; Green: Losers: Yellow: Did not Submit

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education used $4.35 billion to fund The Race to the Top, a contest in which states competed for this money in two rounds of proposal writing.  Those states that received funding had to agree to use statistics as a method to evaluate teachers, and to use a major portion of the funding to establish statewide longitudinal data systems to improve instruction, to evaluate schools and teachers.

Whether they received funding or not, many states changed their policies so as to position themselves to become more competititive for Race to the Top funding.  Some states, at the last minute, agreed to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores, and to adopt the Common Core State Standards.

GA AWARDS

Georgia was one of the states that was a winner in the Race to the Top competition, and based on its proposal was required to develop a longitudinal data system.  Georgia’s system is GA AWARDS or Georgia’s Academic and Workforce Analysis and Research Data System.

According to the GA AWARDS website, the data system:

has been made available to researchers with the high-level analytical skills and research training needed to mine the data and answer critical educational policy and evaluation questions. (emphasis mine)

Researchers will be asked to focus on key topics and advocacy areas including:

  • effectiveness of educator preparation programs
  • effectiveness of strategies and interventions implemented within the State’s RT3 proposal
  • education background of students who experience the least difficulty in transitioning to college

There’s a lot of data available to the researchers.  According to the Georgia Department of Education, the Race to the Top data will be combined from data sets in these state agencies:

  • Bright from the Start: Department of Early Care & Learning – DECAL
  • Department of Education – DoE
  • Georgia Student Finance Achievement – GSFC
  • Governor’s Office of Student Achievement – GOSA
  • Georgia Professional Standards Commission – PSC
  • Technical College System of Georgia – TCSG
  • University System of Georgia – USG

This past week, the Georgia Department of Education released a data driven 110-point grading or report card system that published scores for individual schools, districts, and the state as a whole.  Although the grading system doesn’t use as many categories as used in Sabermetrics, the principles are in place to use the data to make crucial decisions about students, teachers, and administrators.  The educational front offices of the state and each school system will be able to make decisions that may or may not be advisable.

The selection of variables that the department of education thinks are the most important in measuring student learning are highly questionable.  For example, for more than a decade, critics have questioned the use of academic learning based on end-of-the-year high-stakes tests as the major variable to assess student learning.  Yet, in Georgia, the state’s teacher evaluation system which uses a teachers “value added” score will be based largely on student test scores. Much of the drive to put into place this far reaching data driven system of education can be traced to the Race to the Top. In a letter to the Georgia Department of Education, scholars in some of Georgia’s universities have recommended that the state not use this method to evaluate teachers because there is no evidence to show its been proven.

However, the Department of Education forges ahead.

CCRPI

Georgia just unveiled a new data system.  CCRPI, or College and Career Ready Performance Index is equivalent to Bill James sabermetrics used in baseball.   The index is actually a score on a scale from 0 – 110, called the CCRPI Score.   The score is a sum of achievement, progress, achievement gap, and challenge points.  Kind of like runs batted in,  Pythagorean expectation, runs created, and ultimate zone rating used in baseball.  From this kind of data, the state classifies schools as Reward Schools, Priority Schools, Focus Schools, and Alert Schools.  Guess which variable is associated with these categories of schools?

When I dug deeper into the CCRPI index, I realized that the mathematics be used to sort out differences among schools was along the lines of sabermetrics.

At the high school level, a CCRPI is the amalgam  of 19 items including (a) content mastery—% of students meeting or exceeding content test criteria (b) post high school readiness—% of graduates, % of AP courses, % passing certain national industry credential tests, and so forth, and (c) graduate rate in %.

Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 8.00.30 PM
Figure 5. College and Career Ready Performance Index for the State of Georgia.

Figure 5 is an image of the CCRPI Index home page.  This page shows an average score for all of Georgia’s schools.  As you can the CCRPI score for the state is 83.4 out of 110 points.  The total score is a sum of achievement (57.5), progress points (9.8), achievement gap points (10.5) and challenge points—exceeding the bar (5.6).

Using the website, we can find the CCRPI scores for every school in the state, including public and charter schools.  For example here are CCRPI scores for a few school districts that I have worked with in the past.  In addition to the CCRPI score for these districts, I have included the percentage of students eligible to receive free or reduced price meals.  As you can see, there is an inverse relationship between CCRPI score and percentage of free/reduced lunches.  The lower the CCRPI score, the higher the percentage of students eligible for free/reduced lunch.  As Jean Sanders correctly points out (see comments below), higher ranking districts are rating “high” because scores are highly correlated with student body SES and income factors.

Relationship between CCRPI Score and % of Students Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch in Selected Georgia  School Districts
Figure 6. Relationship between CCRPI Score and % of Students Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch in Selected Georgia School Districts

The CCRPI scoring system (follow this link to a slide show on the system) was part of Georgia’s Flexibility Report request to obtain waivers on some aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act.  I’ve discussed this request in some detail here.   The new scoring system is also readiness for the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English/language arts, and assessments will be in place by 2014 based on the Common Core.

The CCRPI score system reduces the nature of teaching and learning to a single number that people really believe.  Unfortunately the system does not tell us anything about the arts program of a school.  It says nothing about the participation level of students in school activities.  It doesn’t tell us anything about the kind of work that students do, nor does it tell us anything about the values and aspirations that are in place in the school.

Is there any kind of relationship between the method used to evaluate baseball players and the method used to evaluate schools, teachers and students?  There seems to be, but baseball and education are based on very different value and compensation systems. To use the sabermetrics type of evaluation to judge schools and teachers is problematic. It sets up league standings of schools based on CCRPI scores. The rankings and scores are used to make comparisons, establish rewards and impose punishments.

When you sit in front of a computer screen and see the data that is at your finger tips, it makes you wonder just what is going on here.  Will education use statistics in the same way that some front office managers are using in baseball?

What do you think?

References

Grabiner, D. J.. (n.d.). The Sabermetrics Manefesto. In SeanLayman.com. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://www.seanlahman.com/baseball-archive/sabermetrics/sabermetric-manifesto/.

Grant, W. V. (1993). 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait. In National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved May 12, 2013, from http://0-nces.ed.gov.opac.acc.msmc.edu/pubs93/93442.pdf

Silverman, J. How Sabermetrics Works. In How Stuff Works, Retrieved May 14, 2013, from http://www.howstuffworks.com/sabermetrics.htm

Wikipedia. (May 7, 2013). Sabermetrics. In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabermetrics.

The Standards Emerged from the Progressive America Playbook: I Don’t Think So

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In my previous post, Are the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards Progressive Ideology, I argued that the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards are not the kind of movements that would attract the freethinkers that I discussed.  The K-12 Standards movement is a top-down, authoritarian system that is polar opposite of the kind of action that progressive teachers would see as improving the education for children and youth.  Indeed, as I pointed out, freethinkers then, and today, were attracted to John Dewey’s educational philosophy because of his view that learning was rooted in observation and experience, not revelation.  Education should not only be based on experience, but should be secular.  Progressive educational programs were learner-centered, and encouraged intellectual participation in all spheres of life. Dewey suggested that the Progressive Education Movement appealed to many educators because it was more closely aligned with America’s democratic ideals.

I concluded that any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit. Indeed, the idea of standards is a conservative idea that proposes  what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards. Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

A comment related to the progressive ideology blog post, indicated that the standards “is a page right out of the current Progressive American playbook.  The writer also suggested that 100 yrs ago Democrats fought to save slavery and Republicans supported Darwin.

Click on Darwin Two Pound Coin to go to Evolution as Design

Well, that might be so about the Democratic party then, but the Republicans did not support Darwin’s original ideas; instead they supported “social Darwinism,” which was an ideology that applied Darwin’s evolutionary theory to sociology and politics.  Darwin didn’t accept this, nor did other biologists. However,some sociologists and biologists invoked the term “survival of the fittest” as the fundamental concept of evolution and used it to further the idea of “social Darwinism.”  The problem is that cooperation is a more significant behavior in Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

The freethinkers that I documented in the last post were not Democrats. The foremost progressive of the 19th century was Robert Ingersoll, a Republican.  He was active in the Republican party, especially in years after the Civil War.  Professionally he was a lawyer, and held the post of Illinois Attorney General.

But Ingersoll also had radical ideas on religion, slavery, and woman’s suffrage.  He was one of several prominent freethinkers who wrote and talked openly about the economic, legal, and social injustices that were inflicted on women, but also the poor.  Susan Jacoby connects the 19th century progressives with their 18th century American “founding brothers,” by the declarations that they wrote.  The 19th century Progressives wrote their own declarations (using similar language that we read in the Declaration of Independence), including the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments.  This declaration stated in part: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal.”  (Jacoby, Susan (2005-01-07). Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (p. 90). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition).

The progressive movement was about inclusiveness.  It was grass-roots movement that fought to change the economic, social, legal and educational problems that many Americans endured.

Progressive education, as envisioned by John Dewey and other progressive educators, was experiential.  They believed that learning is embedded in experiences when the student interacts with the environment.  Dewey believed that learning was natural, not a process limited.  He would say that we are always in motion trying to resolve or seek a goal, or working on something intently.  Establishing a set of goals or standards that each child in America should reach is the antithesis of a progressive education.  Education should be in the hands of local boards of education and the faculty and administrators of their schools.

Dewey documented the work of progressive educators in his book, Schools of To-Morrow, published in 1915.  According to Lawrence Cremin, Dewey’s book showed what actually happened when schools put into practice, in their own way, progressive theories of education.  A number of schools around the country are featured in Dewey’s book including The Organic School at Fairhope, Alabama, the Experimental school at the University of Missouri, the Francis Parker School in Chicago, the Kindergarten at Teachers College, and public schools in Gary, Indiana.  Dewey documented not only the inclusiveness of progressive educators, but he developed a body of pedagogical theory that could explain the diversity of the progressive education movement.  (John Dewey and the Progressive-Education Movement, 1915-1952 Lawrence A. Cremin, The School Review , Vol. 67, No. 2, Dewey Centennial Issue (Summer, 1959), pp. 160-173 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1083643).

It is important to note that the progressive movement of the early 20th century was according to Malcolm Cowley, as quoted in Cremin’s article, an individual revolt against puritan restraint, as well a social revolt against the evils of capitalism (Cremin, 1959).

The goal of education in a progressive context would be moral reasoning integrated with values, human concerns, and scientific literacy. Limiting education to the achievement of canonical knowledge of science, mathematics, social studies and English/language arts is contradictory to progressive education.

To suggest that the standards are part of a progressive ideology simply without merit.

 

 

Any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit. Indeed, the idea of standards is conservative idea that proposes that what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards. Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

Any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit. Indeed, the idea of standards is conservative idea that proposes that what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards. Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

Any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit. Indeed, the idea of standards is conservative idea that proposes that what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards. Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

attracted to John Dewey’s educational philosophy because of his view that learning was rooted in observation and experience, not revelation (Jacoby, p. 160). Education should not only be based on experience, but should be secular.

Progressive educational programs were learner-centered, and encouraged intellectual participation in all spheres of life. Dewey suggested that the Progressive Education Movement appealed to many educators because it was more closely aligned with America’s democratic ideals. Dewey put it this way:dfs

Are the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards Progressive Ideology?

Are the Common Core and  Next Generation Science Standards Progressive Ideology?

A growing criticism of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards is that its way for progressives to inject their philosophies and ideology onto children and youth in American schools. Ralph Watts, a state representative from Iowa believes this, and in his mind, the evidence is clear.  Evidence of progressive philosophy can be found throughout the standards. According to Watts,

In a nutshell, after reviewing the information, I have to conclude that the Next Generation Science Standards are more about promoting an ideology than they are about science. Throughout the curriculum the topic of global warming (climate change) is taught as a fact rather than a concept. In addition, the syllabus is full of references to humans’ negative impact on our environment and what can be done about it. It suggests throughout that industry (meaning the private sector) causes irreparable harm to the environment. In addition, the study of chemistry is eliminated along with chemistry labs.

From the Right

In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, Wayne Washington wrote that the new national standards stoke new fears.  In typical fashion, the author included comments and ideas from “both” sides of the argument.  One comment that struck me was this one:

The fight over the standards that critics call “ObamaCore” recently led the Cobb County School Board to reject new math textbooks for the district’s students.

Obamacore?   Obamacore, in the wake of Obamacare (The Affordable Healthcare Act),  was coined by the Indiana Republican Assembly (Super Pac).  I am not talking about the elected Indiana legislature, but a right-wing Indiana Super Pac, whose mission is to return to the ideology of Reaganism–small government, lower taxes for the rich, free market capitalism that will take over the schools, strong defense, gun rights, pro-life, and of course, a decent America.  According to Michelle Malkin, author and supporter of the Indiana Super Pac, the Common core is rotten to the core.  Outside of the context of this right-wing group, I’ve not seen the use of the term Obamacore.

Malkin believes that the Common Core, and I would presume, the Next Generation Science Standards are the result of “Progressive” reformers, led by President Obama, and his “mal-formers” (Malkin’s term) in cahoots with that liberal billionaire Bill Gates.  In fact, according to Malkin, President Obama’s education programs, such as Race to the Top enabled the common core.   Malkin doesn’t mention in her article that two groups, the Council of Chief State Officers and the National Governors Association established the Common Core.

The movement to impose a common set of standards on U.S. schools began in 2009 at a Chicago meeting held by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and individuals from the states, and Achieve, Inc. This group charged Achieve to develop and write common standards in mathematics and English/language arts. According to research report on the common standards by researchers at the University of Colorado, the development of the common core took a path that undermined one of the tenets of research, and that is openness and transparency. The writing was done in private, and there was only one K-12 educator involved in the process. According to the Colorado study:

The work groups were staffed almost exclusively by employees of Achieve, testing companies (ACT and the College Board), and pro-accountability groups (e.g.,America’s Choice, Student Achievement Partners, the Hoover Institute). Practitioners and subject matter experts complained that they were excluded from the development process.

The Common Standards was funded by the  U.S. Department of Education, the Gates Foundation, and other foundations. Only one classroom teacher participated in the review of the common standards, with nearly all reviewers being university professors. There were no school administrators in the review process.

his group charged Achieve to develop and write common standards in mathematics and English/language arts. According to research report on the common standards by researchers at the University of Colorado, the development of the common core took a path that undermined one of the tenets of research, and that is openness and transparency. The writing was done in private, and there was only one K-12 educator involved in the process. According to the Colorado study:

The work groups were staffed almost exclusively by employees of Achieve, testing companies (ACT and the College Board), and pro-accountability groups (e.g.,America’s Choice, Student Achievement Partners, the Hoover Institute). Practitioners and subject matter experts complained that they were excluded from the development process.

Funding for the common standards was provided by the U.S. Department of Education, the Gates Foundation, and other foundations. Only one classroom teacher was involved in the review of the common standards, with nearly all reviewers being university professors. There were no school administrators in the review process.

According to the literature on the Common Core and the Science Standards, the underlying purpose is to prepare students to compete successfully in the global economy.    According to Achieve, students, regardless of where they live, will be afforded a “consistent, clear understanding” of what they are to learn, and what teachers are to teach.  The Common Core and science standards are state led projects managed by Achieve.  In my view, however, Achieve has done a lot more than manage, and the degree to which consultants for Achieve actually wrote standards is unclear.  Malkin, and other right-wing Republicans ought to look at the history of these projects to find out who was really behind them.  There is supporting evidence that the U.S. Department of Education did not authorize or write the standards, however, that is not to say that they haven’t influenced the adoption and implementation of the standards.  They clearly have.  States that applied for Race to the Top funds had to specify that they would adopt the common core if they wanted a chance to get some of the $4 billion in funds.

According to the radical-right the Common Core and the Science Standards are the brainchild of progressive reformers.  Because the right-wing is in denial about evolution and climate change, they have to resurrect reasons questioning this content in the standards.  Progressive educators are to blame.  The evolution, creation and intelligent design wars have not gone away.   In some states if ideas such as evolution, the Big Bang Theory, stem cell research, abortion, and climate change are part of the science curriculum, then in the spirit of academic freedom, all sides of the issue must be presented.  Of course we know that the other side of the issue is the rights insistence that evolution is flawed, and the research on climate change is “not fully settled.” The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has written model legislation entitled Academic Freedom Bills, which many of us consider to be “anti-science” bills such as the Louisiana Science Education Act.

From the Left

19thcentury classroomThere has been much criticism of the Common Core and the Science Standards in the research literature, and from bloggers, many of whom are teachers, who oppose the standards movement.

On this blog I’ve written many posts summarizing the work of others who take a critical look at the standards movement, and its associated high-stakes testing mania. Here are six criticisms of the standards, and their effect on student learning.

In the face of teaching and learning, standards are like brick walls. According to research published by Dr. Carolyn S. Wallace, a professor at the Center for Science Education, Indiana State University, science standards are barriers to teaching and learning in science. She makes this claim in her 2011 study, published in the journal Science Education, entitled Authoritarian Science Curriculum Standards as Barriers to Teaching and Learning: An Interpretation of Personal Experience.

One of the key aspects of her study is her suggestion “that there are two characteristics of the current generation of accountability standards that pose barriers to meaningful teaching and learning in science.”

  • The tightly specified nature of successful learning performances precludes classroom teachers from modifying the standards to fits the needs of their students.
  • The standards are removed from the thinking and reasoning processes needed to achieve them.

And then she adds that these two barriers are reinforced by the use of high-stakes testing in the present accountability model of education.

Dr. Wallace’s suggestions are significant in that nearly every state has adopted the Common Core State Standards, bringing America very close to having a national set of common standards and possibly a national curriculum, at least in English language arts and mathematics, with science next in line to be adopted by each state.

In the face of teaching and learning, standards are like brick walls. According to research published by Dr. Carolyn S. Wallace, a professor at the Center for Science Education, Indiana State University, science standards are barriers to teaching and learning in science. She makes this claim in her 2011 study, published in the journal Science Education, entitled Authoritarian Science Curriculum Standards as Barriers to Teaching and Learning: An Interpretation of Personal Experience.

One of the key aspects of her study is her suggestion “that there are two characteristics of the current generation of accountability standards that pose barriers to meaningful teaching and learning in science.”

  • The tightly specified nature of successful learning performances precludes classroom teachers from modifying the standards to fits the needs of their students.
  • The standards are removed from the thinking and reasoning processes needed to achieve them.

And then she adds that these two barriers are reinforced by the use of high-stakes testing in the present accountability model of education.

Dr. Wallace’s suggestions are significant in that nearly every state has adopted the Common Core State Standards, bringing America very close to having a national set of common standards and possibly a national curriculum, at least in English language arts and mathematics, with science next in line to be adopted by each state.In the face of teaching and learning, standards are like brick walls. According to research published by Dr. Carolyn S. Wallace, a professor at the Center for Science Education, Indiana State University, science standards are barriers to teaching and learning in science. She makes this claim in her 2011 study, published in the journal Science Education, entitled Authoritarian Science Curriculum Standards as Barriers to Teaching and Learning: An Interpretation of Personal Experience.

One of the key aspects of her study is her suggestion “that there are two characteristics of the current generation of accountability standards that pose barriers to meaningful teaching and learning in science.”

1. Brick Walls. In the face of teaching and learning, standards are like brick walls. According to research published by Dr. Carolyn S. Wallace, a professor at the Center for Science Education, Indiana State University, science standards are barriers to teaching and learning in science. She makes this claim in her 2011 study, published in the journal Science Education, entitled Authoritarian Science Curriculum Standards as Barriers to Teaching and Learning: An Interpretation of Personal Experience.

One of the key aspects of her study is her suggestion “that there are two characteristics of the current generation of accountability standards that pose barriers to meaningful teaching and learning in science.”

  • The tightly specified nature of successful learning performances precludes classroom teachers from modifying the standards to fits the needs of their students.
  • The standards are removed from the thinking and reasoning processes needed to achieve them.

And then she adds that these two barriers are reinforced by the use of high-stakes testing in the present accountability model of education.

Dr. Wallace’s suggestions are significant in that nearly every state has adopted the Common Core State Standards, bringing America very close to having a national set of common standards and possibly a national curriculum, at least in English language arts and mathematics, with science next in line to be adopted by each state.

An important point that Wallace highlights is that teachers (and students) are recipients of the standards, and not having been a part of the process in creating the standards. By and large teachers are not participants in the design and writing of standards. But more importantly, teachers were not part of the decision to use standards to drive school science, first. That was done by élite groups of scientists and educators.

In the rhetoric of the standards, especially Achieve, 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 ready 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. According to Achieve, quality science teaching is based on content standards “that are rich in content and practice, with aligned curricula, pedagogy, assessment and teacher preparation.

The Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards are theorized to improve learning because the new standards are superior to the existing state standards. Indeed, two groups that studied the state standards did conclude the that Common Core standards were of higher quality. A second improvement to learning is that expectations will be higher than those that now exist in the Common Core and science. The claim here was that the states set their expectations too low, resulting in “inflated” results. And the third area of improvement in learning is that standardizing might lead to higher quality textbooks and other resources since they would only have to be aligned to one set of content standards.

2. The Social-Emotional Consequences.  Anxious teachers, sobbing children was the title of an opinion article published in the Atlanta newspaper.  The article, written by Stephanie Jones, professor of education at the University of Georgia, asks “What’s the low morale and crying about in education these days? Mandatory dehumanization and emotional policy-making — that’s what.”

Policy makers, acting on emotion and little to no data, have dehumanized schooling by implementing authoritarian standards in a one-size-fits-all system of education. We’ve enabled a layer of the educational system (U.S. Department of Education and the state departments of education) to carry out the NCLB act, and high-stakes tests, and use data from these tests to decide the fate of school districts, teachers and students. One of the outcomes of this policy is the debilitating effects on the mental and physical health of students, teachers and administrators.

The emotional and behavioral disorders that youth experience have only been amplified by the NCLB act.
In research by Ginicola and Saccoccio, entitled Good Intentions, Unintended Consequences: The Impact of NCLB on Children’s Mental Health, they report that NCLB is indirectly damaging children by disproportionately stressing childhood education and blatantly disregarding other areas of child development. Their research on NCLB is enlightening and disturbing.

3. Dehumanizatiion of Students and Teachers. In 2001, the U.S. Congress enacted the No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB requires that each state develop assessments in basic skills, mathematics and reading, at first, but it has now expanded to other areas. The “testing game” is an annual event making every boy and girl take part (starting at grade 3) to make sure that their state and school continue to receive federal funding. The testing games that children and youth are annually required to take part in are used to find winners and losers. Unlike the Hunger Games, children are used to decide winning schools, teachers and districts. No one dies. However, we are testing the life out of our children and youth.

Here is how the testing games work. Student scores decide whether a school has done a good or bad job. Schools which receive Federal ESEA funding must make progress (known as Adequate Yearly Progress) on test scores. Schools compare scores from one year to the next, and use the difference to decide how well or poorly the children and youth did.

Students are not televised when they take these tests. However, the results are published in the local newspapers, and using the students’ test scores, schools that didn’t make AYP are labeled and their names published in the papers. And one more thing. Policy makers are hunting for bad teachers. To do this, they have required states to begin using VAM (Value Added Modeling) to rate teachers, and to then humiliate the teachers by publishing VAM scores in the local papers. Check Los Angeles. Check New York City.

In the scenarios described above, The Hunger Games and The Testing Games, (read a fictional account of the testing games here) youth are dehumanized and used as gladiators, or in the case of The Testing Games pawns, where their moves are used to punish or reward states, districts, schools and teachers. On Valerie Strauss’ blog, there was a recent post that gets to the heart of the tragedy of The Testing Games, and how it is not only a dehumanizing event, but has nothing to do with helping students find out about their own learning.

4. The Research Evidence Is Not Supportive for the Standards.  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.

For example in the Brown Center study, it was reported (in a separate 2009 study by Whitehurst), that there was no correlation of NAEP scores with the quality ratings of state standards. Whitehurst studied scores from 2000 to 2007, and found that NAEP scores did not depend upon the “quality of the standards,” and he reported that this was true for both white and black students (The Brown Center Report on American Education, p.9). The correlation coefficients ranged from -0.6 to 0.08.

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 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.

5. Injustice.  The authoritarian standards and high-stakes testing movement conjure up for me the use of power and privilege to create injustices for not only schools and teachers, but for students and their parents. Using invalid test scores, the government has cast a net around schools that have high poverty rates resulting in many of them being labeled as failures with teachers and administrators fired, and replaced by teachers, many of whom are un-certified, and lack the teaching experience needed for these schools.

And all of this is done with data that is not only invalid, but is not reliable. As Dr. Michael Marder says, “the masses of nationwide data do point to the primary cause of school failure, but it is poverty, not teacher quality.” So what do we do? We create a system in which life changing decisions are made about teachers and students based on data that is not examined in the context of power, privilege, and income. This leads to a corrupt system in which we predicate schools’ and teachers’ performance on false data, and use these results to embarrass and destroy careers of highly educated teachers, and bring havoc to families. Why are we doing this?

6.  Testing.  Many bloggers have added to the conversation about standards, and especially its companion, high-stakes testing.  One of the important voices in this discussion is that of Anthony Cody, a former science educator and curriculum developer who blogs over on Living in Dialog on Education Week.  Anthony has written extensively on standardized tests, and you can see all of his posts on this topic here.

Anthony brings to the table a strong knowledge base on current educational reform, perhaps more than any other blogger.  In one post, he explored some of the ideas of Governor Jerry Brown of California.  Brown strongly takes issue with a system of education that depends on experts from afar who impart their opinions about what should be taught and when, and who should decide what students are learning.  He is more concerned with how we teach our children, as he is with what.  In his view, education is about the “early fashioning of character and the formation of conscience.”

But more importantly his ideas are considered in the context of the state of California which has six million students and 300,000 teachers.  And three million of California’s school age students speak a language at home that is different from English, and there are more than 2 million students living in poverty.

He’s very clear on his place on testing.  Here is one comment he made in the State of the State speech:

The laws that are in fashion demand tightly constrained curricula and reams of accountability data. All the better if it requires quiz-bits of information, regurgitated at regular intervals and stored in vast computers. Performance metrics, of course, are invoked like talismans. Distant authorities crack the whip, demanding quantitative measures and a stark, single number to encapsulate the precise achievement level of every child.

In stark contrast to the place that poverty, violence, joblessness, home environment have little effect on academic performance,  he suggested the following for the coming year:

My 2013 Budget Summary lays out the case for cutting categorical programs and putting maximum authority and discretion back at the local level–with school boards. I am asking you to approve a brand new Local Control Funding Formula which would distribute supplemental funds — over an extended period of time — to school districts based on the real world problems they face. This formula recognizes the fact that a child in a family making $20,000 a year or speaking a language different from English or living in a foster home requires more help. Equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice.

Progressive ideology

I want to explore progressive ideology, and try to show that neither the Common Core, nor the Next Generation of Science Standards are based on progressive ideology.

Progressive thinking had its origins in the U.S. in the 19th century.  Historical accounts of the progressive movement echo the protests of the 99% who see massive wealth and power in the hands of the 1%.  Today as the wealth of the 1% has risen 18% over the last decade, those in the middle class have seen their incomes fall.  Last fall, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that more than 15% of the population lived in poverty, including almost 20% of American children.  Because of the Great Recession, more than 15 million Americans were unemployed at the height of the recession.  Because of a very slow recovery, the opportunity for people to lead productive and happy lives is shrinking.  Joseph E. Stiglitz, in a Vanity Fair article, entitled Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% that the income divide in the U.S. has resulted lagging growth for most people, but upward growth for the 1%.  Stiglitz suggests that the economic pie is divided unequally, but the real problem is the size of the pie.  He writes about the reasons for this:

First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible. Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. To give just one example, far too many of our most talented young people, seeing the astronomical rewards, have gone into finance rather than into fields that would lead to a more productive and healthy economy.

Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.

Occupy Wallstreet was a direct outcome of the income inequality that Stiglitz talks about.  It was this type of economic,  political, and social inequality that led to the progressive protests and later movement in the 19th century and into the early part of the 20th century.  In the present day, the rise of protests such as Occupy Wallstreet and Save Our Schools (SOS) are grass-roots organizations of citizens who are progressives questioning things as they are, and demanding changes that those in power are determined to reject.

Are the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards the kind of movements that would attract the kind of freethinker that I am talking about here?  Well, of course not.  The K-12 Standards movement is a top-down, authoritarian system that is polar opposite of the kind of action that progressive teachers would see as improving the education for children and youth.

Freethinkers, Progressives & Secularism

According to Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, “the period from 1875 – 1914 was the “highwater” mark of freethought as an influential movement in American society.”

However, as Jacoby explains, we need to go back to the revolutionary days of America and recognize that it was the freethinking of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson who worked with others to set up a secular government that would not enable theological views to rule.  The government that Adams and Jefferson envisioned would be build on the rights of the individual.

Freethinkers believed that public education for all people was essential for a secular  vision of society and education.  Jacoby writes that it was freethinkers who were dedicated to the improvement of free education for “pragmatic” as well as philosophical reasons.  She puts it this way:

Free public education for the many rather than the few was essential to the secularist vision of a society in which every individual, unhampered by gatekeepers who sought to control the spread of dangerous knowledge, could go as far as his or her intellect would permit. In the view of freethinkers, the most pernicious gatekeepers were religious authorities; thus, education must be both secular and publicly financed. Indeed, by the 1870s the word secularist was used not only as a general philosophical term but as a specific definition, in either the affirmative or the pejorative sense, of those who advocated public schooling free of religious content.  (Jacoby, Susan (2005-01-07). Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (p. 155). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.)

During the rise of the freethought period, there was no Internet, but there was the lecture circuit, which turned out to be the way progressive and secular ideas spread across the country.  Citizens of many religious beliefs and views flocked to the most famous of these lecturers, Robert Ingersoll.  Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Stanton along with Ingersoll were the most important freethought speakers of the day.

Ingersoll’s thinking is important in my argument that the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards have nothing to do with progressive thought.  Susan Jacoby writes that without Ingersoll there would not have been a golden age of American freethought.  Because of his style of speaking he reached out to millions of American citizens who normally would not have considered listening to criticism of conventional religion.  Jacoby explains why he was so important:

While he was hardly the first person to make the connection between authoritarian religion and authoritarian social values, Ingersoll was the first American to lay out a coherent secular humanist alternative, touching on everyday matters like marriage and parenthood, to life as defined by traditional religious faith— and to present the case for freethought to a broad public. Like Paine’s written polemics, Ingersoll’s speeches were delivered in vivid, down-to-earth language, intended for the many rather than the few, and understandable to all. With his immense passion and physical energy, he spoke in hundreds of towns each year at the height of his career in the eighties and nineties, and his influence reached far beyond nests of infidel intellectuals in the cultural centers of the northeast. The breadth of Ingersoll’s influence was attested to by the depth of antagonism he aroused. He is a critical figure in the struggle for true freedom of conscience in America— (Jacoby, Susan (2005-01-07). Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (p. 158). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.)

Although the makers of the standards will tell you that the Common Core and Science Standards are state led, in reality they were established by an élite group of governors and chief state officers, and corporate CEO’s or their representatives.  Large foundations funded the effort to write the preliminary documents and the standards.

For many educators and freethinkers, John Dewey’s progressive philosophy was the alternative to the traditional approach that dominated schools in America.  Dewey said more than 100 years ago that education is a process of living, not a preparation for the future.

Dewey believed that learning is embedded in experiences when the student interact with the environment, which is when humans work to deal with the tensions between themselves and their surroundings. Dewey believed that learning is natural, not process limited. He would say that humans are always in motion trying to resolve or seek a goal, or working on something intently. To Dewey, the learner is active, and within science education they would be experimenting, analyzing an environment and using tools like telescopes and hand lens to glimpse the world they are exploring.

As such, freethinkers were attracted to John Dewey’s educational philosophy because of his view that learning was rooted in observation and experience, not revelation (Jacoby, p. 160).  Education should not only be based on experience, but should be secular.

Progressive educational programs were learner-centered, and encouraged intellectual participation in all spheres of life.  Dewey suggested that the Progressive Education Movement appealed to many educators because it was more closely aligned with America’s democratic ideals. Dewey put it this way:

One may safely assume, I suppose, that one thing which has recommended the progressive movement is that it seems more in accord with the democratic ideal to which our people is committed than do the procedures of the traditional school, since the latter have so much of the autocratic about them. Another thing which has contributed to its favorable reception is that its methods are humane in comparison with the harshness so often attending the policies of the traditional school.

Any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit.  Indeed, the idea of standards is conservative idea that proposes that what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards.  Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assault on Teacher Education

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) is leading the assault on teacher education in the U.S.

According to the President of this organization “Ed schools don’t give teachers the tools they need.”

NCTQ’s president, Kate Walsh, has led the assault  claiming that teacher education has no real authority because it lacks specialized knowledge. She writes about teacher education, yet she lacks professional training in educational research and has no experience as a K-12 teacher or a university professor. Her writing is not peer-reviewed, nor subjected to kind of review and analysis that the writing is by educational researchers,  or others scholars in the fields of art, music, history, political science, computer science, mathematics. Scholarly peer review Most journals use scholarly peer review to judge professional work, such as in medicine or political science, and done by experts in the field of the scholar’s work.  Think tank “research” is typically not peer-reviewed, and it doesn’t matter whether the organization is on the left or the right of the political spectrum.  When reading reports that are non-peer reviewed, we should be cautious about the facts, principles, theories and conclusions drawn in these reports.

Leading the Assault on Teacher Education

Leading the assault on teacher education is NCTQ.

The NCTQ was created by the ultra conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in 1999.  According to Anthony Cody, we gain insight into the NCTQ’s origin from this quote from Diane Ravitch which Cody included in his article, “NCTQ Prepares its Hit on Schools of Education.”  According to Ravitch, here is what the Fordham Foundation thought about teacher education:

We thought (schools of education) were too touchy-feely, too concerned about self-esteem and social justice and not concerned enough with basic skills and academics. In 1997, we had commissioned a Public Agenda study called “Different Drummers“; this study chided professors of education because they didn’t care much about discipline and safety and were more concerned with how children learn rather than what they learned. TBF established NCTQ as a new entity to promote alternative certification and to break the power of the hated ed schools.

Screen Shot 2012-04-05 at 9.10.20 AMThis is not the first time that I’ve written about the NCTQ.  About a year ago I wrote a review of a NCTQ study on what teacher education programs teach about K-12 assessment.  In my review, I concluded that the researchers of the NCTQ study are stuck in a 19th-century model of teaching, and simply want to hold accountable, teacher education institutions to the principles and practices that teacher education rocketed through years ago.

In this blog post, I am going to focus on an article that NCTQ’s president, Kate Walsh published online at Educationnext entitled 21st-Century Teacher Education. The article includes one illustration of  a red “teacher tools” box with a very large lock with teachers standing near.  The teachers are unable to unlock the “tools of teaching” inside the box.

According to Walsh, Ed schools don’t give teachers the tools inside the box.  For a 21st-Century article about teacher education, don’t you think its odd to use a 17th – 18th century invention as a metaphor?

The article is full of opinion, and lacks any research basis for her views of teacher education.  Furthermore, the tone of the article unabashedly negative, and she seems to enjoy using violent and militaristic metaphors.

Yet at the same time, the article is important because it identifies the nature of the assault on teacher education.

The author of the article doesn’t hold back on her opinions of Ed schools. Here’s one comment that will knock you over. She quotes and agrees with a former employee of the National Institutes of Health, Reid Lyon, who would like to take the following action against Ed schools:

If there was any piece of legislation that I could pass it would be to blow up colleges of education.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, which is very close to several schools of education in Boston, this remark is simply outrageous.  (Full disclosure: I was born and raised in Boston, and attended graduate school at Boston University)

Cherry Picking

Her assault on teacher education, beyond the bombing metaphor, begins with a cherry picking exercise in which she chooses a few sentences from a major research study carried out in 2006 by the most prestigious education research organization in the world, the American Education Research Association (AERA).  The major research project was Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education, edited by Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Kenneth M. Zeichner.  Walsh claims that the research was written by 15 prominent deans and education professors, when in fact there were 25 authors and panel members, only one of whom was dean.  The authors are prominent researchers and practicing teacher educators.

Walsh assumes that thinking about right and wrong (directions, issues, methods, content) is the way researchers in this volume of research think.  They don’t.  But she does.  And this is a major dilemma in analyzing anything that Walsh and her think tank has to say.

She claims that the AERA report outs teacher education by publishing a report that will give “balanced, thorough, and unapologetically honest descriptions of the state of research on particular topics in teacher education.” But, as I said, all she has done is pull a sentence out of a report of more than 800 pages.  Here is the complete paragraph containing this sentence:

This volume represents a systematic effort to apply a common set of evaluative criteria to a range of important topics in teacher education. It is our intention to provide balanced, thorough, and unapologetically honest descriptions of the state of research on particular topics in teacher education as a field of study. For many of the topics we considered, this meant that we needed to identify and acknowledge the considerable inconsistencies and contradictions that characterize the field. Our reviews were designed not only to note this state of the field but also to explain why this is so and to evaluate both the strengths and the weaknesses of different questions and approaches as we simultaneously identified promising lines of inquiry.  (Zeichner, Kenneth M. (2009-08-03). Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education (Kindle Locations 230-235). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.)

Walsh has her own view of how teachers should be educated, and seems somewhat bothered by the depth of the research reported in the AERA study.  For the researcher, they’re interested in uncovering the nature of teacher education through inquiry, and then to use findings to document and encourage promising lines for further inquiry.  Walsh, beyond bombing schools of ed, has her own set of ideas that she thinks should be the substance of teacher education.

She claims that the volume demonstrates lack of credible research in teacher education. I don’t think she read the book.

For starters there are 12  chapters, and each chapter has between 100 – 200 citations, most of which are research studies published in peer-reviewed journals.  There is credible research in teacher education.  It might not be what Ms. Walsh wants to read.  For this book, all chapters “were vetted by scholars who brought independent expertise to the work and who had no stake in the panel or its report.”   Another words, it was peer-reviewed.  Walsh is not used to this kind of writing or research.  If she was, then her article as written on EducationNext wouldn’t have been published in any credible journal.

In the book, there are nine research syntheses that are used to highlight the current state of field in teacher education.  The “Executive Summary” which draws from three general chapters and the nine research reviews, might be valuable section of the book for “researchers” at NCTQ.

Teachers Should Be Trained

Walsh appears really upset with the fact that teacher educators don’t see teacher education as training.  (Disclaimer: I am teacher educator, and practiced teacher education at Georgia State University, Florida State, the University of Vermont, and the University of Hawaii for about 35 years, and I didn’t train anyone during that period, not even a dog).  She also objects to the concept or word “learning”, and can’t understand why teacher educators distinguish it from knowing real facts.  This is quite understandable, because she lacks the knowledge about how humans learn, and somewhere along the line missed out on a new field of inquiry known as the “learning sciences.”  Most teacher educators that I know and read embody the leaning sciences in their approach to designing teacher education curriculum, and teacher education courses.  The learning sciences is an interdisciplinary field that endeavors to further our understanding of human learning.  It is at the forefront of what teacher educators do, and unfortunately, Walsh doesn’t seem able or willing to entertain that thought.

Reading further into Walsh’s article, we find her take on methods courses in teacher education.  To Walsh, a methods course ought to send or give to the student what methods should be used to teach subject matter. Students should come into a methods course and be trained.  When Walsh found out that some of the top researchers in the field suggest that teaching is way to complex to be simply “taught” in courses based on a bag of tricks.

Walsh advances the achievement and authoritarian mentality of American education, and seeks to impose this view on teacher education.  Her conception of teacher education is simple when she talks about methods courses, and she seems bent out of shape when she reads the research that the authors of the AERA research study report to us.

Teachers Should Not Be Trained

In an amazing chapter on the Research on Methods Courses and Field Experiences by Renee T. Clift and Patricia Brady, Walsh picks two sentences from their research, but reverses them in her article, and then doesn’t tell us the full context of the research.

Here is what is in the Walsh article about methods:

A methods course is seldom defined as a class that transmits information about methods of instruction and ends with a final exam. [They] are seen as complex sites in which instructors work simultaneously with prospective teachers on beliefs, teaching practices and creation of identities—their students’ and their own.”

If you go to the research chapter, here you will see how Walsh rearranged the authors thinking, and failed to give us the context:  Here is the full context and the two sentences highlighted:  (Note how she reversed the ideas.)

Across the four content areas, methods courses are seen as complex sites in which instructors work simultaneously with prospective teachers on beliefs, teaching practices, and creation of identities—their students’ and their own.A methods course is seldom defined as a class that transmits information about methods of instruction and ends with a final exam. Content-area researchers, often the course instructors, looked at multifaceted activities such as role adoption, personal relationships, and rationales for appropriating certain tools. Field experiences were increasingly connected to and embedded within methods courses and seen as extending coverage of concepts introduced in the methods courses. The field experiences provide prospective teachers opportunities to practice ideas or gain experience with concepts through small-group observations, tutoring, community experiences, and service learning in addition to observations and more traditional student teaching.
(Zeichner, Kenneth M. (2009-08-03). Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education (Kindle Locations 9825-9831). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.)

The first science methods course that I taught was a collaborative effort with my colleague Ashley Morgan, who became my mentor at Georgia State University.  After finishing my Ph.D. in science education and geology at Ohio State University in 1969, I started my career in Atlanta, and the course I taught with Ashley was centered in the classrooms of an urban elementary school in the city of Atlanta.  Any conception that I had that a methods course was a training exercise vanished after working with Ashley Morgan at GSU.  Students in our course had continual experiences with children and youth and practicing teachers who worked with them on planning, teaching and evaluation.  For the next thirty-five years I was involved in developing and directing alternative forms of science teacher education based on theories of humanistic psychology, constructivism, and experiential learning.  Walsh would certainly not endorse the work we did at GSU.

Ms. Walsh doesn’t realize it but professional teacher education research, just like professional medical education research, has moved from a focus on general or generic teaching behavior, to thinking and learning about the context of teaching.  In the chapter Walsh refers to in the AERA report (Research Methods Courses and Field Experiences), the researchers examined methods of research in the teaching of English, mathematics, science and social studies.  Their review informs us that teacher preparation, just like medical education, begins with the beliefs teacher candidates have about students, teaching and learning and helps students explore teaching (or medical practice) to the “instructional, interpersonal, social, and historical factors that come into play one begins teaching practice.” (Zeichner, Kenneth M. (2009-08-03). Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education (Kindle Locations 9839-9840). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.

21st-Century Teacher Education is the title of Walsh’s article, unfortunately, her view of teacher education set not in the 21st-Century, but more like the 19th-Century.  Teacher education is not the naïve view of Walsh’s.

Finding Teacher Education in the Marketplace

According to the NCTQ, students who aspire to teach should consider themselves consumers of teacher education, and using the marketplace model, they would be drawn to “high quality” schools.  The NCTQ wants to impose an “objective” measure of program quality.  Indeed they have the NCTQ Teacher Prep Review coming out in June, and it purports to rate teacher education programs across the country.  This new “consumer report for teacher education” will use admission standards, course requirements, content covered, how well students are prepared for the Common Core State Standards, the nature of student teaching, instruction in classroom management and lesson planning, and teacher candidates are judged ready for the classroom (Walsh, 2013.)  The NCTQ will also single out institutions that follow or track their graduates effectiveness on the achievement of K-12 student.

If this report is anything like the “study” they did of what teacher preparation programs teach about K-12 assessment, then it will not be based on critical research on teacher education such as the work of Linda Darling-Hammond in her book, Powerful Teacher Education: Lessons from Exemplary Programs.  This book was published in 2006, the same year that the AERA study was published.  I wonder why Walsh didn’t reference the Darling-Hammond book?

In Powerful Teacher Education, the authors identify teacher education programs that have a long track record of preparing teachers who teach a wide range of students, and do it successfully.  In seven programs that they focus on, they all have the following in common:

an approach that prepares teachers to practice in ways that we describe as both learning-centered (that is, supportive of focused, in-depth learning that results in powerful thinking and proficient performance on the part of students) and learner-centered (responsive to individual students’ experiences, interests, talents, needs, and cultural backgrounds). These programs go well beyond preparing teachers to manage a calm classroom and make their way through a standard curriculum by teaching to the middle of the class. They help teachers learn to reach students who experience a range of challenges and teach them for deep understanding. They also help teachers learn not only how to cope with the students they encounter but how to expand children’s aspirations as well as accomplishments, thereby enhancing educational opportunity and social justice.  (Linda Darling-Hammond. Powerful Teacher Education: Lessons from Exemplary Programs (pp. 7-8). Kindle Edition.)

Teacher education programs have embodied learning sciences research I cited earlier in this post, and consequently the field of teacher preparation is very different than that envisioned by the NCTQ.  Darling-Hammond, recognizing that teachers are not born to teach, and pointing out how complex and difficult teaching is, suggests that teacher education institutions must prepare teachers for “responsive practice.”  Finding out what really goes on inside teacher education programs was what her research was about.

The study that will be forthcoming from the NCTQ will not reveal anything about the actual programs that they evaluate.  If they use the same methods that used in their prior study, the new one will be written without visits to the universities, interviews with faculty or students.

One More Thing

Ethical and honest research in education more times than not brings to the surface conflicts and issues, that people like Walsh like to grasp and use as a weakness in the life of educational research.  Walsh is stuck in the very old model that the purpose of teacher education is train teachers to teach the facts of science, or math, and that Ed schools should be training factories turning out teachers who follow the orders from above to teach nothing but the facts.

The NCTQ‘s assault on teacher education is a well-financed effort whose goal is control teacher preparation, and take it out of the hands of professional educators, and turn it over to statisticians and politicians who want to ignore the rich field of educational research, and the work being done at many universities with school districts in their localities.  The research book published by the AERA that Walsh uses to degrade teacher education actually promotes a vibrant and powerful profession of teacher education.  Instead of blowing up Ed schools, we should be supporting efforts to explore multiple models of preparing teachers for our schools.

What are your conceptions of teacher education in the 21st-Century?  If you’ve read the Walsh article, what do you think of her views of teacher education?

 

 

 

Defunding the Common Core: Back to the Future

Charles Grassley, the Republican Senator from Iowa, has begun the process of removing funding from the Federal Budget that would be used by districts to carry out the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core State Standards have raised the ire of not only Republicans and right leaning groups such as the Heartland Institute, but also left leaning bloggers and educators and researchers who question the relationship between high-stakes testing and national standards.  Anthony Cody, over on Living in Dialogue on Education Week has researched and critiqued the use of the Common Core in our schools.  Indeed, the Michigan House of Representatives approved a budget that would prohibit the use of any state funds to implement the Common Core or the Smarter Balanced Assessments which are tied to the Common Core.

I want to focus on Senator Grassley’s initiative to defund the Common Core State Standards, and compare this effort to the defunding of National Science Foundation science projects in the 1970s.  The effort to defund the Common Core is a “back to the future” moment for me, as it feels like I am being sent back to the 1970s when Congress defunded NSF science education programs, resulting in serious reprimands, and fundamental changes in the way NSF developed curriculum.

The underlying reasons for each defunding actions are similar, and it is interesting to note how some things haven’t changed.  Senator Grassley wrote a letter on April 26 to Tom Harkin and Jerry Moran, ranking members of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Senate Appropriations Committee.  The gist of his proposal as stated in his letter to Harkin and Moran is to “restore state decision-making and accountability with respect to state academic content standards.”   In particular, Grassley does not want funds used by the Department of Education to develop, carry out or evaluate content standards, to adopt multi-state (read Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards) standards, or to enforce any provision of the ESEA Flexibility waivers that states are seeking in exchange for more flexibility in carrying out No Child Left Behind.   Harkin, a Democrat responded and said he supports the common core initiative.

What’s behind the effort to defund the Common Core?  And what caused the Congress to defund and cut funding for NSF science education programing in the 1970’s?  We’ll see that emotions, attitudes, and family values form the fundamental angst that led to actions 40 years ago, and now.

Please read on…

Back to the Future

Unlike the Common Core State Standards, most NSF science programs were developed at American universities or educational development centers, and enlisted the work of scientists, science education professors and K-12 science teachers.  For example, the first NSF program, PSSC Physics was developed at MIT in the late 1950’s.  Other universities wrote grants to fund programs in elementary, middle and high school science over the next three decades.  NSF proposals are peer-reviewed, unlike any of the work done to develop the Common Core or the Next Generation Science Standards.   NSF projects were field-tested in schools across the country, and then revised based on the feedback received through test centers.  For a brief history of the NSF, please follow this link.

The Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards have not been field-tested, although they have been available for online review.

The NSF spent about $1.6 billion on science and mathematics education from 1958 – 1978.  Part of this funding was used to develop curriculum project materials (59 projects were developed) in the amount of $189 million or 12% of the full education budget.  Most of this was spent on developing the materials, but $82 million was used to implement the projects.  (Disclaimer: I received an NSF Academic Year Institute Fellowship to attend The Ohio State University in 1966, and was a writer for two NSF curriculum projects at Florida State University (ISCS and ISIS), directed the ISIS NSF Test Center at Georgia State University (GSU), and received grants from the NSF while at GSU).

In contrast, the U.S. Department of Education awarded more than $4 billion in Race to the Top Funds (RTT) to between 2010 -2012, but they mandated that states must adopt the Common Core to be considered for RTT funding.

ISIS.  From 1974 – 1977, I was writer and test-center director (in the Atlanta area) for the NSF curriculum project at Florida State University called the Individualized Science Instructional System (ISIS). The goal of the project was to develop and field-test about 100 science mini-courses for grades 9 – 12.  Professor Emeritus George Dawson of Florida State University assembled the entire collection of ISIS materials, including the pre-publication versions, NSF proposal details, and all related research papers ascribed to the ISIS program.  The idea was to develop a large number of  mini-courses that could be used by school districts that they could use to assemble their own curriculum.  Mini-course titles included, Kitchen Chemistry, Let’s Eat, The Physics of Sport, Tomorrows Weather, Salt of the Earth, Cells and Cancer, Birth and Growth, Human Reproduction.  When we field tested Birth and Growth, and Human Reproduction in high school biology classes, a number of parents complained, and insisted that their children not be exposed to these mini-courses.

During the first two years of the ISIS project, more than thirty mini-courses were developed and field tested in centers around the country, including Atlanta.  But in 1977, the ISIS Project Director, Dr. Ernest Burkman of FSU, was informed that the ISIS project funding would be reduced, and that no funds could be used to prepare teachers and districts to carry out ISIS.  Why did this happen?

The MACOS Controversy.  Enter Man: A Course of Study (MACOS), or better known to the education community as “The MACOS Controversy.”  Man: A Course of Study is an elementary science and social studies curriculum project funded by NSF and developed the Educational Development Center (EDC), Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Jerome Bruner took leave from Harvard to lead this fifth grade curriculum which examined the commonalities between human behavior and that of several animal species, and culminated with a series of short films documenting the lives of the Netsilik Eskimo people.

MACOS, between 1963 – 1975 received about $7.1 million to develop, carry out and test  the MACOS curriculum.    MACOS, like ISIS, developed curriculum materials (follow this link to an online archive of MACOS that is free for noncommercial use) that departed from the usual NSF curriculum project which consisted of a text-book, laboratory activities (often integrated in the text), and hands-on teaching materials specific to the project.  ISIS not only developed a curriculum with specialized hands-on materials, but its goal was to produce 100 mini-texts.  MACOS did not have a text-book, instead it created a curriculum that consisted of a variety of media, including films, and required extensive teaching preparation because of the course’s teaching strategies, and potential of the subject.

When MACOS went looking for a publisher, 43 American publishers indicated interest, but none of them was willing to sign a contract that had such implementation requirements.  As a result, the developer, EDC, in collaboration with NSF, agreed to lower the royalty rate to attract publishers.  Curriculum Development Associates of DC signed up, and began publishing the curriculum in 1970.   Forty-seven states and over 1,700 school districts used the MACOS program.  However, MACOS, as we will see, was a controversial curriculum project.

Publishers were aware that the content and pedagogy of the MACOS program was controversial, so it should have been no surprise that conservative politicians would discover MACOS, and go berserk.  Here is a brief overview  the MACOS curriculum written by Peter B. Dow, the director of the project, as cited in Karen Wiley’s 1976 research report The NSF Science Education Controversy: Issues, Events and Decisions.

Summary of the intent of the MACOS Project
Summary of the intent of the MACOS Project

The eventual defunding of MACOS and cutting of funds for other projects, including ISIS, had its origins in Phoenix, Arizona, the home of Congressman John Conlan.  Some parents in Phoenix were upset that their schools were going to implement MACOS, and as a result Conlan’s staff investigated MACOS, which resulted in Conlan moving in Congress that:

No funds authorized shall be available directly or indirectly for further development or implementation of “Man: A Course of Study,” MACOS.  Karen Wiley reported that Conlan raised specific complaints against MACOS, including:

  1. The content of the course is unfit for American children; the course advocates un-American values.
  2. The instructional methods of the course are manipulative.
  3. The implementation activities of the developer (EDC) go beyond the Congressional mandate; they constitute unfair competition with private publishers (recall that 47 publishers turned EDC down); and they exert undue influence on local decision makers (this is an odd one, because local schools make the final decision on the selection of curriculum and texts).

Conlan’s investigation expanded from MACOS to all of NSF’s curriculum development projects.  As Wiley wrote in her research report, the controversy expanded to professional societies and the media.

If you have the time, the video, Through These Eyes looks back at the MACOS project, and explores the social and educational implications of the controversy that was critical of national curriculum projects, especially MACOS which not only suggested that “man” was an animal, but that studying cultures different from our own could be an important teaching tool of discovery and experimentation.  This idea did not bode well with conservatives.

 

Through These Eyes looks back at the high stakes of this controversial curriculum. Decades later, as American influence continues to affect cultures worldwide, the story of MACOS resonates strongly.  The implications for today’s conservative agenda is relevant.

In the case of the Common Core State Standards, there is great similarity with MACOS.  The Common Core has been adopted by most states (47) and it is in the process of being implemented in many states.  But, long before Sen. Grassley wrote his “Common Core” letter, there was discontent with the Common Core by left and right leaning organizations and people.

MACOS content also raised the shackles of conservatives who thought that the curriculum was too progressive, and in their mind did not reflect the values of American families.  In their text, The Art of Teaching Science, the authors discussed the MACOS controversy, and wrote this:

Indeed, conservatives viewed progressive schools as ‘anti-intellectual playhouses’ and ‘crime breeders,’ run by a ‘liberal establishment.”  The MACOS curriculum was seen as a progressive Trojan horse.   Conlan’s staff investigated complaints and eventually, Conlan took steps to stop appropriations for MACOS “on the grounds of its ‘abhorrent, repugnant, vulgar, morally sick content.”   Nelkin claims that the Council for Basic Education objected to MACOS for its emphasis on cultural relativism, and its lack of emphasis on skills and facts. Even liberal congressmen got on the anti-MACOS bandwagon because of their desire to limit the executive bureaucracies, such as NSF, and for “their resentment of scientists, who often tended to disdain congressional politics; and above all, the concern with secrecy and confidentiality that followed the Watergate affair.”

The MACOS controversy brought the issue of censorship into the public arena. However, to avoid the claim of censorship, which probably would not have been acceptable to many in Congress, Conlan focused on the federal government’s role in implementing MACOS, as well as all other NSF funded curriculum projects. One issue that surfaced was “the marketing issue – the concern that the NSF used taxpayers’ money to interfere with private enterprise.”Along with this was the place that conservative writers such as James Kilpatrick, who attacked NSF science programs as “an ominous echo of the Soviet Union’s promulgation of official scientific theory.” The temper of the times was quite clear: “resentment of the ‘elitism’ of science reinforced concern that NSF was naïvely promulgating the liberal values of the scientific community to a reluctant public.” The result: on April 9, 1975, the Congress terminated funds for MACOS, and further support of science curriculum projects was suspended, and the entire NSF educational program came under review.

At the core of MACOS was The Netsilik Film Series, an anthropology program from the National Film Board that featured a year in the life of an Inuit family, and its relationship with the outside world.  It was the graphic images of the Netsilik people who clashed with the values of some individuals, such as in Phoenix, Arizona.

Peter Dow, Director of MACOS, explored the implications of MACOS in a paper written many years ago.  Dow points out that as Pablo Freire wrote that there is no such thing as a neutral educational process.  For Freire, education either leads the student to conform with the present system, or it becomes “the practice of freedom” which means that teaching will focus on creativity and discovery.  This fundamental concept is at odds with the conservative world view that has been discussed on this blog.  It runs counter to the authoritarian mode of living and education.

Finally, Dow comments made more than 40 years ago are relevant to the present “faux reform” that is being forced on schools today.  He said this about educational reform:

There is clearly a conflict between the pedagogy Freire espouses and curriculum building on a national scale if curriculum decisions continue to be made by state adoption boards to be imposed with no recourse on a powerless population of students and teachers.

Until curriculum decisions rest where they belong, in the hands of the users, curriculum reform movements will continue to be used as instruments of oppression. A liberating education must perforce originate from the aspirations of the participants.

Lastly, curriculum makers must become increasingly sensitive to the social and political implications of curriculum building. In designing curricula, we cannot escape the fact that we make choices and impose values on the constituency of students and teachers we serve. If no schooling is neutral, and we believe in freedom of choice, then we must increase curriculum options and be explicit about the social goals of our curriculum materials. And in our continuing search to understand the central purposes of curriculum, we would do well to have our ears tuned to the increasingly liberated voices of the young, and to keep the writings of Bruner, Erikson, and Freire close at hand. (“Man: A Course of Study” in Retrospect: A Primer for Curriculum in the 70’s, Peter B. Dow Theory into Practice , Vol. 10, No. 3, A Regeneration of the Humanities (Jun., 1971), pp. 168-177)

 Nowadays

There is a groundswell to defund efforts to carry out the Common Core State Standards.  The defunding efforts have gained traction in states dominated by Republican legislatures, such as Alabama, Texas and Michigan.  The present effort is a bit of a dilemma for progressives (like myself) in that we see ourselves in agreement with our conservative colleagues.  I‘ve written extensively on this blog that standards actually impede learning, and are like brick walls, preventing real learning from happening.  My concern has more to do with the implication of having single sets of content standards that people actually believe are important to the welfare of schooling.  There is little evidence to support the idea that standards, whether rigorous or not, make any difference in student learning.

Opposition to the standards comes from the left and the right.  If the opposition comes from the left, its typically a resistance to a one-size-fits all conception of curriculum, and a rejection of a single set of standards for all children and youth, and evidence that standards will do little to improve education, especially for children living in poverty.  If the opposition comes from the right, the right to choose comes to the surface.  Folks on the right tend to think that élite scientists or mathematicians are trying to impose an ideology that rejects conservative values. To conservatives, teaching and learning should focus on basic facts (of science, for example), and we should test students every year to make sure that they are getting the facts straight.

Grassley’s letter, and the legislative actions around the country to defund the common core show how dysfunctional our elected officials are in matters of educational reform. Instead of facilitating educational reform, Federal and state government policy has resulted in partisan bickering, and the serious impediment to improving life for students and their teachers.

In the 1970s, the Congress saw fit to dissolve a very creative and thought-provoking curriculum (MACOS).  Abandoning the Common Core might be the right decision, but what are we left to when Congress and state legislatures impose their values on local school districts, who really have the legal right and responsibility to education our children and youth.

What do you think about the movement to defund the Common Core?  Do you think this is a good idea?  Tell us what you think.