Are the Common Standards & Assessments the Antithesis of Progressive Values?

We think that Common Standards and Assessments are the antithesis of the progressive  values upon which this nation was founded. The idea of having a single set of standards and associated assessments appears to remove individuality, creativity and innovation from American classrooms.

Authoritarian & Undemocratic

Common standards and assessments were conceived and developed in an undemocratic and authoritarian manner, and have minimized our freedom to have an education system that empowers its citizens to a life that is rooted in progressive ideals.  Instead we have enabled conservative thinking and conservative think tanks, acting in their own self interests, and those of their corporate partners, especially publishers and testing companies, to take over pubic education and open it to for-profit corporations and privatization.

The danger of  privatization is that the profit motive might replace the moral mission of educating all children.  Schools may not accept students who might affect their bottom line which making sure students achieve high test scores.  Profit is tied directly to test scores.  How can we authentically believe that an education system that uses student test scores is good for its citizens?  Not only are test scores used to assess student performance, they are also being used to evaluate teacher, administrator and school performances.  In some states, teacher’s job performance and pay will be determined using  VAM scores, which have been shown to be unreliable.

Teaching is so much more than teaching to the test in order to amp achievement scores.  It is about establishing ethical and moral relationships with our students; it is about helping student learn how to learn; it is about caring for student’s aspirations and goals, and giving counsel as needed.  Yes, teachers want their students to understand the content of their courses, but not at the expense of life long affects of their courses including attitudes and values.
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Nationalized Assessments in Mathematics, English/Language Arts & Science are Just Around the Corner

National Assessments in  mathematics, English/language arts and science are coming soon to an American school in your neighborhood.  Although the national science assessments are a few years away, the national assessments in mathematics and English/language arts will begin early pilots and field testing next school year, and will be ready for full operational administration in 2014 – 2015.

Is this an idea that is good for American education?  For students? For parents?  For Teachers?

Context

In a recent post on this blog entitled The Testing Games: How America’s Youth are being put at risk, we suggested that American students from grades 3 – 12, participate in an annual event that makes them take tests to ensure that their state and school continue to receive federal funding.  The testing games that children and youth are annually required to participate in are used to identify winners and losers.  Unlike the Hunger Games, children are used to determine winning schools, teachers and districts.  No one dies. However, we are testing the life out of our children and youth.

As we noted in the post on testing, student scores determine 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 determine how well or poorly the children and youth did.  And we added that 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 scoresin the local papers, as in Los Angeles and New York City.

Each spring, American students sit for hours at their desks, or at a computer and take tests in mathematics and reading, and for some students in science, and social studies.  In many school districts, especially in poorer communities, students are prepped for the tests by their teachers, who may take as many as two or three weeks to get them ready.  We know how this testing mania, and the consequences attached to high-stakes tests has led to wide-scale cheating by school officials, with state department’s of education looking the other way, or not participating in the exploration of the causes of test erasure scandals.

Even when we examine the social-emotional toll that high-stakes testing, we continue along a path as if students didn’t matter.

Anxious teachers, sobbing children was the title of an opinion article published in the Atlanta newspaper a few weeks ago.  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 implement the NCLB act, and high-stakes tests, and use data from these tests to determine 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.
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The Common Core is here, Now what do we do?

The Common Core State Standards are here, now what do we do?  Some would suggest we should work to make them go away, or to ban high-stakes assessment.  The adoption of the Common Core and the requirements set forth by NCLB Act that all students be tested from grade 3 – 12, has resulted in an authoritarian system of education, which doesn’t make sense in the American democracy.

Only Texas, Nebraska, Virginia, Minnesota, and Alaska have not adopted the Common Core.  The remaining states and District of Columbia have bought into the Common Core.  One major reason for the wholesale adoption by the states was to improve their chances of receiving Federal grant funds, especially the Race to the Top Fund.

Final Exam: High-Stakes Test with Computer Terminals

According to a commissioned report by Achieve, the administrative and development arm of the Common Core, the American public strongly supports the common standards.  Although the public supports the use of common assessments, teachers are more skeptical.  One should use caution in relying on this report as it was commissioned by Achieve, as it was not reviewed by outside, independent researchers.

As I have pointed out, standards represent the dogmatism of a particular group that actually writes and finally publishes the standards documents. A very small group of people in the education community are involved in this process. To assume that one set of standards in mathematics and English/language arts will be appropriate to every school, each community, and every student seems very undemocratic.
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Peddling Panic: Biased Survey Promotes National Science Standards

Achieve, Inc. stands to make a lot of money for its work creating new science standards. It might not surprise us, therefore, that a survey they commissioned favors the adoption of these standards. But we need to look at these results with skepticism. Does US competitiveness depend on our rankings on test scores? And will new standards make us better?

This year, Achieve, Inc. commissioned a survey of attitudes toward science education with Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.  The pollsters sampled 800 voters using a stratified sampling technique so that they could report results by political party, ethnicity, education level of parents, region of the USA, and urban, suburban and rural areas.

There were essentially two aspects to this survey.  The first was to find out what are American voters attitudes toward science education in terms of  competitiveness with other countries.    The second purpose was to determine the voters attitudes toward the new science standards.

The survey research group based their findings on a national sample of N=800 which was conducted on February 22-26, 2012.

A report of this research was presented at the NSTA Annual meeting in Indianapolis last month.  You can view a PowerPoint of the report here.

The results can be summarized as follows:

  • Voters believe a quality science education is critical to our country’s ability to compete globally.
  • They are underwhelmed by the quality of science education in public schools today, with most viewing it as lagging other nations.
  • The majority of voters believe it is better for states to have common standards, and they favor developing new science standards that would be more challenging.

Caution

The report needs to be interpreted cautiously because the  survey questions appear to be designed to lead the respondents to answer questions that are in the best interests of Achieve, and other organizations that benefit from creating a “crisis” mentality about the nature of science and mathematics education.  More specifically, groups such as Achieve, and even the U.S. Department of Education have a tendency use hyperbole when reporting international test scores, and make “the sky is falling” claims about America’s place in the math and science global “wars.”  Good grief we’re in 21st place in science.  Or are we?  How is this going to effect our competitiveness in the global playing fields.

On this blog we have explored the relationship between a quality science education and a nation’s ability to compete globally.  There is little evidence that education is the driving force behind a nation’s economic competitiveness.  Iris C. Rotberg, Research Professor of Education Policy at The George Washington University concluded in her examination of education reforms in sixteen countries that to use student test scores is a not a valid argument to understand a nation’s competitiveness.  We’ll look at this more closely below.
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Charter School Data Fuels Controversy in Georgia

Figure 1. In this post we will find out if charter schools do raise student achievement in exchange for more flexibility.   The un-labeled graph plots  public and charter schools in Texas comparing poverty concentrations and % of students doing well on the SAT or ACT. You’ll have to read ahead to find out which schools are the red discs and which are the gray discs. YOU MIGHT BE SURPRISED.  Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission.

The Charter school movement has been in  the news recently in Georgia.  The Georgia Legislature is trying to get around the present Charter School law which says that applications for establishing a charter school must be approved by the local school district.

According to the Georgia Department of Education, there are 133 charter schools operating in Georgia. Charter schools are public schools of choice that operate under the terms of a charter, or contract, with an authorizer, such as the state and local boards of education, or the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.  Charter schools receive flexibility from certain state and local rules in exchange for a higher degree of accountability for raising student achievement.  Charter schools are held accountable by their authorizer.

Up until last year if a charter school application was rejected by the local district, it could then seek approval from the Georgia Charter School Commission, and if approved, could get their funds from the local district that rejected them in the first place.

Gwinnett County Schools v. Cox

However, on May 16, 2011, the Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision in Gwinnett County School District v. Cox found that the state constitution does not authorize any governmental entity to create or operate schools that are not under the control of a local board of education.  According to the majority decision, no other government  entity can compete with or duplicate the efforts of local boards of education in establishing and maintaining general K-1 2 schools.  And it further states that local boards of education have the exclusive authority to fulfill one of the primary obligations of the State of Georgia, namely “the provision of an adequate public education for all citizens” (Art. VIII, Sec. I, Par. I.).

The court stated that “commission charter schools” (those established by Georgia Charter School Commission) are created to deliver K-12 public education to any student within Georgia’s general K-12 public education system.  Commission charter schools thus necessarily operate in competition with or duplicate the efforts of locally controlled general K-12 schools by enrolling the same types of K-12 students who attend locally controlled schools and by teaching them the same subjects that me taught at locally controlled schools.

Georgia Charter School Commission v. Local Boards of Education

Right now the Georgia Charter School Commission is unable to establish charter schools on its own.  Charter schools must be approved by local boards of education, re Gwinnett Country Schools v. Cox.

The Republicans in the Georgia legislature were not pleased by the Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision to neuter the state commission on charters, and has submitted legislation this year to circumvent the court’s decision by changing the State’s constitution.  This will require that the amendment be presented for approval by the citizens of Georgia.

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