A Clear and Present Danger—How the New Administration Endangers Us All

A Clear and Present Danger–How the New Administration Endangers Us All

There is little doubt that the incoming Republican administration presents a Clear and Present Danger to all citizens in the U.S., and the rest of the world. Never has such an inexperienced, corrupt and autocratic administration been given the reigns to the American democracy. The new administration has already shown its hand in terms of comments made on the campaign trail, who was selected for cabinet positions, and White House executive positions.  This coupled with a Congress that is in denial of policies for science, health, the environment, and education based on research in these fields.

Why do I think the White House presents a Clear and Present Danger?

First, we have possibly the worst president-elect in history. For one, he did not secure the votes of the majority. He lost the election by more than 2 million votes, and there is some suspicion that the votes tallied in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania may be contested. If the results in these three states swing to Clinton, she would win the election. Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate has raised more than $2 million to fund this, and has requested recalls in these three states. Wisconsin has indicated it will begin a recall now. The Clinton campaign has joined in the effort.  The Authoritarian is calling foul and is reeling.  Too bad.

The words and actions The Authoritarian used and put on display during the primary and presidential campaign describe his beliefs and understandings, which resonated with many, but were repulsive to many more.

Saying Mexicans are criminals, rapists, and drug dealers and calling a judge Mexican because his surname is Hispanic, and claiming he would be biased against him in his University fraud case, even though he was born and raised in Indiana.

Name calling of women (“Look at that face,” saying that Megan Kelly “had blood coming out of her whatever), and using phrases such “lying Ted Cruz,” “crooked Hillary,” or “little Marco,” are part of his lexicon which he will carry to the White House, perhaps in a disguised form.

He thinks of people as either winners or losers, and is quick to give his opinion. In one interview he was asked about Senator John McCain’s ordeal as a prisoner of war for seven years.  He said, “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Perhaps most incendiary are his racist plans to round-up “bad hombres”, and create a registry for Muslims, and one of his allies even brought up the disgraced idea of internment camps!

The Authoritarian is also inept when it comes to literature, history and science. In a Tweet in 2012, he said “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

The new administration is a Clear and Present Danger.  In addition to his racism, sexism, misogyny, sexual assaults, and corruption, there are other concerns that are alarming.

National Security

The Washington Post has reported that The Authoritarian has only had 2 intelligence briefing, turning away these daily.  It’s reported that he is participating in less briefings than previous president-elects. During the election campaign he claimed to know more about ISIS and how to defeat it than U.S. Army Generals. He also said he wanted to be unpredictable and not say what he is thinking. Many experts on National Security are deeply concerned about his lack of preparation and knowledge about security.


He had little to no respect for public education and of course he picked as Secretary of Education a person holding similar beliefs, Betsy DeVos, (see Mercedes Schneider’s blog post on her) a billionaire philanthropist from Michigan with zero experience with public schools and a predominate advocate for vouchers and charters.  His choice of DeVos is a miscarriage of justice for public education. For thirty years or more republicans have been dismantling public education one voucher or charter at a time. And DeVos has been central in this attempt. It’s no surprise this person of privilege would be given this post. Add another billionaire to the cabinet.

The New York Times journalist, Kate Zernike said this about DeVos:

But Ms. DeVos’s efforts to expand educational opportunity in her home state of Michigan and across the country have focused little on existing public schools, and almost entirely on establishing newer, more entrepreneurial models to compete with traditional schools for students and money. Her donations and advocacy go almost entirely toward groups seeking to move students and money away from what The Authoritarian calls “failing government schools.”

The Network for Public Education is calling on U.S. Senators to turn her down for cabinet secretary. Here is what the Network for Public Education had to say about her nomination:

DeVos believes that the market solves all problems, and she and her husband’s foundation spent nearly 1.5 million dollars to persuade the Michigan legislature to kill a bill to regulate charter schools in the state.

Thanks to her efforts, 80% of the charters in Michigan operate for profit, without accountability or transparency.

Send a clear message to the Senate that Betsy DeVos should not be confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Education. Her hostility towards public schools disqualifies her. Send your letter today. We make it easy.

More than 20,000 letters have been sent as of today.

Climate Change

He thinks climate change is a political issue and he falls in line with most republicans who are in denial of climate change science.

This is a Clear and Present Danger to humankind. The hottest temperatures recorded since record keeping began have occurred in the past ten years, yet the president-elect of U.S. says more research is needed.

And most republicans in Congress deny climate change and the related scientific research that overwhelmingly asserts the realness of climate change. And not because of natural rhythms, but because humans have been so good at burning fossil fuels.

Denying climate change is the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended). To deny science in this case leads to a populace that is steeped in ignorance and is sliding off a flat earth.

Ironically, in our public schools climate change is taught as part of the curriculum, whether it’s Common Core or not. So the children of republican deniers are coming home with ideas that are counter to their parents.

The organization, Science Debate has for the last three presidential elections, invited the candidates to answer a series of questions on a range of science related topics.

The Authoritarian was the only candidate not to accept that climate change is real. Here is what The Authoritarian said in response to this Science Debate question on Climate Science.

Climate science question: The Earth’s climate is changing and political discussion has become divided over both the science and the best response. What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?

There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of “climate change.” (Emphasis, mine: Shows he does not accept the world’s scientific findings on climate change) Perhaps the best use of our limited financial resources should be in dealing with making sure that every person in the world has clean water. Perhaps we should focus on eliminating lingering diseases around the world like malaria. Perhaps we should focus on efforts to increase food production to keep pace with an ever-growing world population. Perhaps we should be focused on developing energy sources and power production that alleviates the need for dependence on fossil fuels. We must decide on how best to proceed so that we can make lives better, safer and more prosperous.

And finally, we should recognize that the Supreme Court adopted a doctrine of “clear and present danger,” as a rationale for the limitation of free speech on U.S. Citizens.  Although violence should not be tolerated, civil disobedience is a nonviolent and collective way of forcing the government to change policies.

The danger that appears to be unfolding by The Authoritarian must be met with speech, action and nonviolent protest.

One Size Does Not Fit All

On August 4, 2011, Nikhil Goyal, a sophomore at Syosset High School in Long Island, New York wrote and asked me answer some interview questions for a book he was writing about “transforming our 19th Century industrial model of education into a 21st Century model grounded in creativity, imagination, and project-based learning.

I had no idea what the interview questions would be, or indeed who was Nikhil Goyal.  I told Nikhil I would be pleased to answer his questions.

Three days later I received nine interview questions from Nikhil.  After reading them, I thought I was taking a “final exam” in modern American science education.  He asked me these questions.  You can read my answers here.

  • How has the advent of No Child Left Behind affected science education?
  • Currently, there’s a lot of talk of teaching the “building blocks” of engineering to elementary school kids. What are your thoughts on this?
  • How can the traditional high school science curriculum (9th grade: Biology, 10th Grade: Chemistry, 11th Grade: Physics) be reformed?
  • What course/courses should a student take if he/she is not entering a science-related path? And what types of skills are essential?
  • I was reading on your website about possible science assessments. What have you noticed about the success of portfolios in evaluating students?
  • How can we carry out a project based learning style of science on a grand scale?
  • How can we make learning science fun for students?
  • Why is inquiry-based learning fundamental to any science curriculum?
  • In a post, you argue that the inquiry science teaching cannot flourish with common standards. What is an alternative solution?

Nikhil interviewed many educators and policy makers including Howard Gardner, Seth Godin, Dan Pink, Noam Chomsky, Diane Ravitch, and Frank Bruni.

A year later, Nikhil sent a galley of his book One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School, and asked for a blurb about the book.  His book has been published, and you can link to it here. That’s what this blog post is all about.

The narrative of this book is rich with anecdotes of Nikhil’s experiences as an American public school student.  These experiences are woven into his analysis of schooling, which is backed up with research and interviews with educational researchers.  (Disclaimer: I was interviewed by Nikhil and one quote from my interview does appear in his book).

Nikhil wants schools to change.  He wants schools to be places that support curiosity, imagination, invention and creativity.  In one chapter of his book, he starts off by saying this:

I don’t want my brain to be stuffed with pointless content. I want to be taught how to create and do things. In conversations on changing the curriculum, the word “rigor” is often brought up. In one definition, rigor mortis is one of the recognizable signs of death. In education, rigor is a buzz word. Very few people know what it means. To some, rigor means more homework and stronger standards. That’s flawed. Rigor is about doing work that matters and has relevance to the world and focusing on depth over breadth. The late education reformer Ted Sizer once offered a threefold slogan for a revolution in teaching: “Less is more.”

In the end, Goyal wants school to create students who are life-long learners.  He wants schooling to be community and apprentice-based, and one in which students become “captains” of their learning.

Goyal wonders:

  1. What if school wasn’t school anymore?
  2. How can we tailor education to every single child?
  3. Why is the testing regime dangerous and inappropriate?
  4. How can creativity be taught?
  5. How can we reinvent the teaching profession?
  6. What if students’ voices were heard and seen as human beings, not numbers in a spreadsheet?

Goyal’s voice is one that should be heard. What students think about their experience in school is important if we are to make changes in way we educate youth.  Teenagers are not experts on learning theory, curriculum development, or the education of teachers.  They are our clients, and we should be open to their ideas and feelings, and to their hopes and desires.

The next step for him is to experiment and engage others–students, teachers, community–in working out schooling based on his ideas.

About Nikhil Goyal

At age 17, Nikhil Goyal is the author of One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School published in September 2012 by Alternative Education Resource Organization. His pieces have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NBC, GOOD, and Huffington Post. He has also contributed three Letters to the Editors for the New York Times. Nikhil has appeared on Fox and Friends and Fox Business Network: Varney & Co. as well. Nikhil has spoken to thousands at conferences and TEDx events around the world from Qatar to Spain. He has also guest lectured at Baruch College in New York. A senior at Syosset High School, Nikhil lives with his family in Woodbury, New York.

Do Higher Science Standards Lead to Higher Achievement?

In a recent article in Scientific American, it was suggested that the U.S. should adopt higher standards in science, and that all 50 states should adopt them.

When you check the literature on science standards, the main reason for aiming for higher standards (raising the bar) is because in the “Olympics” of international academic test taking, the U.S. never takes home the gold.  In fact, according the tests results reported by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), U.S. students never score high enough to even merit a bronze medal.  In the last PISA Science Olympics, Shanghai-China (population 23 million) took home the Gold, Finland (population 5.4 million) the Silver, and Hong Kong-China (population 7 million, the Bronze.  The United States (population 314 million) average score positioned them 22nd on the leaderboard of 65 countries that participated in the PISA 2009 testing.

Some would argue that comparing scores across countries that vary so much in population, ethnic groups, poverty, health care, and housing is not a valid enterprise.  We’ll take that into consideration as we explore the relationship of standards to student achievement.

Its assumed that there is a connection or correlation between the quality of the standards in a particular discipline such as science, and the achievement levels of students as measured by tests.  So the argument is promoted that because U.S. students score near the bottom of the top third of countries that took the PISA test in 2009, then the U.S. science education standards need to be ramped up.  If we ramp up the standards, that is to say, make them more rigorous and at a higher level, then we should see a movement upwards for U.S. students on future PISA tests.  It seems like a reasonable assumption, and one that has driven the U.S. education system toward a single set of standards in mathematics and reading/language arts (Common Core State Standards-CCSS), and very soon, there will be a single set of science standards.

There is a real problem here

There is no research to support the contention that higher standards mean higher student achievement.  In fact there are very few facts to show that standards make a difference in student achievement.  It could be that standards, per se, act as barriers to learning, not bridges to the world of science.

Barriers to Learning

I’ve reported on this blog research published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching by professor Carolyn Wallace of Indiana State University that indicates that the science standards in Georgia actually present barriers to teaching and learning. Wallace analyzed the effects of authoritarian standards language on science  classroom teaching.  She argues that curriculum standards based on a content and product model of education are “incongruent” with research in science education, cognitive psychology, language use, and science as inquiry.  The Next Generation Science Standards is based on a content and product model of teaching, and in fact, has not deviated from the earlier National Science Education Standards.

Over the past three decades, researchers from around the world have shown that students prior knowledge and the context of how science is learned are significant factors in helping students learn science.  Instead of starting with the prior experiences and interests of students, the standards are used to determine what students learn.  Even the standards in the NGSS, or the CCSS are lists of objectives defining a body of knowledge to be learned by all learners.  As Wallace shows, its the individuals in charge of curriculum (read standards) that determine the lists of standards to be learned. Science content to be learned exists without a context, and without any knowledge of the students who are required to master this stuff, and teachers who plan and carry out the instruction.

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

The Brown Center Report

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 nor 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 since 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 higher a “cut score” that a state established for difficulty of performance can be used to define the rigor or expectations of standards. One would expect that over time, achievement scores in states that have more rigorous and higher expectations, would trend upwards. The Brown study reported it this way:

States with higher, more rigorous cut points did not have stronger NAEP scores than states with less rigorous cut points.

The researchers found that it did not matter if states raised the bar, or lowered the bar on NAEP scores. The only positive and significant correlations reported between raising and lowering the bar were in 4th grade math and reading. One can not decide causality using simple correlations, but we can say there is some relationship here.

When researchers looked at facts to find out if standardization would cut the variation of scores between states, they found that the variation was relatively small compared to looking at the variation within states. The researchers put it this way (The Brown Center Report on American Education, p. 12): The findings are clear.

Most variation on NAEP occurs within states not between them. The variation within states is four to five times larger than the variation between states.

According to the Brown Report, the Common Core will have very little impact on national achievement (Brown Report, p. 12).  There is no reason to believe that won’t be true for science.

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

Loveless also makes a strong point when he says the entire system of education is “teeming with variation.” To think that creating a set of common core standards will cut this variation between states or within a state simply will not succeed. As he puts it, the common core (a kind of intended curriculum) sits on top of the implemented and achieved curriculum. The implemented curriculum is what teachers do with their students day-to-day. It is full of variation within a school. Two biology teachers in the same school will get very different results for a lot of different factors. But as far as the state is concerned, the achieved curriculum is all that matters. The state uses high-stakes tests to decide whether schools met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Now What?

If standards do not result in improved learning as measured by achievement tests, what should we be doing to improve schools?

Over on Anthony Cody’s blog on Education Week, we might find some answers to this question.  Cody has begun a series of dialogs with the Gates Foundation on educational reform by bringing together discussions between opposing views to uncover some common ground. Cody has already broken new ground because the Gates Foundation is not only participating with him on his website, but Gates is publishing everything on their own site: Impatient Optimists blog. Three of the five dialog posts have been written, and it is the third one written by Anthony Cody that I want to bring in here.

In his post, Can Schools Defeat Poverty by Ignoring it?, Cody reminds us that the U.S. Department of Education (through the Race to the Top and NCLB Flexibility Requests) is unwavering in its promotion of data-driven education, using student test scores to rate and evaluate teachers and administrators.  Cody believes that the Gates Foundation has used its political influence to support this.  There is also an alliance between the ED, and PARCC which is developing assessments to be aligned to the Common Core Standards.  The Gates Foundation is a financial contributor to Achieve, which oversees the Common Core State Standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, and PARCC.

There is a “no excuses” attitude suggesting that students from impoverished backgrounds should do just as well as students from enriched communities.  The idea here is that teachers make the difference in student learning, and if this is true, then it is the “quality” of the teacher that will decide whether students do well on academic tests.

Anthony Cody says this is a huge error.  In his post, he says, and later in the post uses research to tell us:

In the US, the linchpin for education is not teacher effectiveness or data-driven management systems. It is the effects of poverty and racial isolation on our children.

As he points out, teachers account for only 20% of the variance in student test scores.  More than 60% of score variance on achievement tests correlates to out-of-school factors.  Out-of-school factors vary a great deal.  However, as Cody points out, the impact of violence, health, housing, and child development in poverty are factors that far out weigh the effect of teacher on a test given in the spring to students whose attendance is attendance, interest, and acceptance is poor.

In the Scientific American article I referenced at the beginning of this post, the author cites research from the Fordham Foundation that scores most state science standards as poor to mediocre.  We debunked the Fordham “research” here, and showed that its research method was unreliable, and invalid.  Unfortunately, various groups, even Scientific American, accept Fordham’s findings, and use in articles and papers as if it a valid assessment of science education standards.  It is not.

It’s not that we don’t have adequate science standards.  It’s that if we ignore the most important and significant factors that affect the life of students in and out of school, then standards of any quality won’t make a difference.

What is your view on the effect of changing the science standards on student achievement.  Are we heading in the wrong direction?  If so, which way should we go?


Why a Single Set of Science Standards in a Democracy?

Why are we supporting the notion of a single set of science standards which has been done in mathematics and language reading/language art?  We live in a democracy.  One the of founding principles of education is that elected school board members for the more than 15,000 school districts are charged with making decisions for each local school district.  What are we thinking?

For more than 20 years I collaborated with American teachers and our Soviet partners (we started this collaboration in 1981 when the Soviet Union still existed).  During this time we began working with science teachers and professors in several Soviet cities. Working within the Soviet curriculum we worked with Soviet teachers and taught lessons using inquiry, cooperative learning, and later problem basest learning.  The Soviets had a single curriculum, one set of texts, and a centrally controlled education system.  After Perestroika (restructuring) and Glasnost (openness) the Soviet system began to change. One of my colleagues, Mr. Vadim Zhudov, Director of School 710 in Moscow, told me that local schools would now have control over 25% of curriculum at the local level.

And what are we doing?  We’re creating an an education system that is controlled more and more by the Federal government, and less and less by local schools and teachers.  Why would a democratic country fall into this trap?  Do we want a system of education that is modeled after a central command system?

Ready or Not, the New Science Standards are on the way

The Next Generation of Science Standards are under development by Achieve, Inc. and the draft version will be available very soon.  Achieve will identify content and science and engineering practices that all students should learn from K – 12, regardless of where they live.  The science standards will cover the physical sciences, the life sciences, the earth and space sciences, and engineering, technology and applications of science, but in so doing will create a landscape of factoids to be learned by students, and used to develop assessments to measure student achievement.

Grade Band Endpoints: Factoids of Science

Although we haven’t seen any of the science standards, we can tell what they might look like by examining the document A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. The content of science is detailed in the Framework document, and in the context of the Framework, the standards appear as factoids, which taken as a whole define the field of science that all students should know.  There are examples standards in this document.  Here are few excerpts from a section on Weather and Climate focused on the question: What regulates weather and climate?:

  • By the end of grade 2, students will know that weather is the combination of sunlight, wind, snow or rain, and temperature in a particular time.
  • By the end of grade 5, student will know that weather is the minute-by-minute to day-by-day variation of the atmosphere’s condition on a local scale.
  • By the end of grad3 8, students will know that weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things.
  • By end of grade 12, students will know that global climate is a dynamic balance on many different time scales among energy from the sun falling on Earth; the energy’s reflection, absorption, storage, and redistribution among the atmosphere, ocean, and land systems; and the energy’s radiation into space.

Continue reading “Why a Single Set of Science Standards in a Democracy?”

Georgia Senate Further Degrades Education, Approves Bill to Grade Each School: A B C D F

The Georgia Senate approved Senate Bill 420 which is an amendment to part of the Official Code Georgia.  The bill relates to the accountability assessment for K-12 education.  The passage of the bill further degrades education and Georgia, and applies punitive measures to further humiliate and disregard educators in the state.  The 5-Star evaluation of each school and district, and a numerical score for each school’s student performance indicators is  simplistic for such a complex system as K-12 education.  What are these “senators” thinking?

Here are some details.

The bill outlines new accountability standards that would mean each school would be “graded” on quality of learning by students, financial efficiency, and school climate.  The key features of the Senate Bill include:
Continue reading “Georgia Senate Further Degrades Education, Approves Bill to Grade Each School: A B C D F”