Georgia Governor’s Dangerous Plan to Takeover “Chronically Failing” Public Schools is a Bad Deal

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The Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, who was just elected to a second term, has proposed that he become the education Czar of Georgia by holding the power to put schools on a list that could be taken over by central command, in downtown Atlanta at the Twin Towers.

But here is the “deal,” this simply is a bad deal for schools that are put on a list based on “data” that sets up some schools for failure, according to the state’s definition of failure.

Square, New and Bad Deals

In the last century Theodore Roosevelt introduced the “square deal” which was an attempt to help middle class Americans by countering the power of corporations.  In the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the “new deal” which was a series of domestic programs to in response to the Great Depression.

Now, in the 21st Century, the Governor of Georgia has introduced the “bad deal” for Georgia parents whose children attend schools identified as “chronically failing.”  In the “Square and New Deals,” there was evidence to support these deals.

In the case of Nathan Deal’s “Bad Deal,” the data or evidence that will be used to take over some schools is nothing short of giving the schools to private charter firms, who will reap millions of state funds, and then will make deals with Teach for American and the New Teacher Project to bring in uncertified and inexperienced teachers to work with students that Deal claims are “chronically failing.”

In an earlier post, I investigated Georgia’s Race to the Top (RTT) program and reported that Georgia’s Race to the Top has clear, yet questionable relationships with Charter Management Companies, Teach for America and The New Teacher Project. Charter management companies are private nationally based firms that receive public funds intended for public schools. The Race to the Top insures that management firms are welcomed into the 11 states and D.C., at the detriment to local school districts.  Georgia is one of these states.  And Nathan Deal sees an opening to join to “take over” mentality.

Charters + Inexperienced Teachers = A Bad Deal

One of the goals of the RTT Georgia plan is to turnaround the lowest-achieving schools. In this scenario, the state fires the principal, and no more than half the faculty, and replace them. One of models is the “restart model” whereby a school is converted, or closed and then opened by a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an education management organization.

Georgia’s five-year RTT program has laid the ground work to unleash charter schools with false claims and lots of money. The problem here is that charters have not been more effective than regular public schools, and indeed it would be better for a parent to send their child to a public school than a charter. For example, data from Dr. Michael Marder’s research, University of Texas shows that not only is poverty correlated with low test scores, but charter schools are at the bottom of the graph showing how ineffective they have been in improving academic achievement.

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Charter schools also have increased the segregation of children. Instead of seeking other possible solutions, such as teacher enhancement and staff development, health care for families, social services that offer opportunities and help in alleviating poverty and unemployment, investment in the infrastructure of the communities of these schools, all the state can come up with is firing 50 percent the staff, and then hiring inexperienced and non certified part-time teachers.

To staff these new “taken over” schools, the state will look to teacher preparation mills such as Teach for American and The New Teacher Project. In the mind of some education officials, one way to get great teachers is to partner up with these two organizations that “train” teachers during a boot camp style summer program lasting at most six weeks.

This is a sweet deal for these two organizations. Georgia has already paid millions to them. Teach for America received $4,837,104 through June 30, 2012. The New Teacher Project received $3,002,890 through the same period. Why would the state pay out $7,839,994 to hire inexperienced and non certified teachers, and place them in schools that have been identified as “low achieving.” Through this period, the total expenditures of the Georgia Race to the Top is $69,765,001. More than 11 percent of the budget was allocated to these organizations who prepare non certified teachers.

Thousands of Georgia teachers lost their jobs over the past three years, yet the state is willing to hire nearly 500 inexperienced and non certified recruits from Teach for America and The New Teacher Project, at a cost of about $14,000 each.

Improve Education: No Deal Here

How is this plan going to improve the quality of the teaching profession in Georgia when the state seems bent on replacing experienced and well-educated teachers with people who’ve already indicated they are only going to stay for two years and move on to something more lucrative?

The relationship between the government and these private organizations is enough to get your attention. Why spend so much money on non certified teachers when the goal is somehow improve teaching, and get what the state calls Great Teachers.

Why not use this money to develop sustainable and research based teacher education programs? The RTT funded three projects based on the U-Teach Program at the University of Texas. However, the three universities in Georgia received a total of only $789,6748, a miniscule amount compared to what TFA and TNTP received. And, oddly, RTT people didn’t have to go to the University of Texas to find such a model. It exists at Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, and the University of Georgia.

Georgia’s Mardi Gras Turn Around Program

In an article in the Atlanta Journal, a group of legislators and state educators will visit New Orleans, the site of Governor’s go to school district to learn from the Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD).  The RSD is a statewide school district established by the Louisiana Department of Education.  Established in 2003, in the post-Katrina period, more than 100 New Orleans’ schools were assigned to the RSD, meaning they were all taken over by the state. And nearly all of these schools have become charter schools.

Oh, the Governor’s office has named the “chronically failing schools” the Opportunity School District (OSD).  Please see the policy summary here on the Empowered Georgia website.

So, it makes sense to the Governor of Georgia to send a team there to find out how successful they’ve been in improving education in New Orleans and other parts of the state.

But, hold on.

Before they head off and experience Mardi Gras, they ought to read the research, and find out what Dr. Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana teacher, blogger,  author, and Jason France, a former Louisiana Department of Education employee, and now one of the most dedicated education bloggers (Crazy Crawfish) in the USA.  France has investigated most aspects of education in Louisiana and has reported his finding on his blog.  In his study of the RSD, he writes:

The Recovery School District is arguably the most corrupt, wasteful and unnecessary state department in all of Louisiana. Over the next several weeks I will explain exactly what they have lost, how much they waste, why they are unnecessary and explain the many unethical and possibly illegal behaviors they engage in. If I could cover everything in a single article I would, but their scheming really needs several posts to cover in any depth. This post will describe how they have managed to steal property and funding and to exploit loopholes created for them by the state legislature to rip off the federal government. I will not be revealing anything that is not already available in the public domain (Crazy Crawfish’s Blog. 8 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2015)

Before the Deal groups heads off to New Orleans they might want to call Jason France as interview him to find out just how ineffective the Recovery School District has been in turning around schools.

While they are gathering information before they make their flight on Delta, they should also make a call to Mercedes Schneider.  She has done research on education reform, documented her work on her blog, and has published her first book describing her findings.  She has doctorate in educational research, and is a teacher in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.

But, Dr. Schneider has written extensively about the New Orleans Recovery School District, and it is in this context that Georgia officials should focus their attention.  If they follow this link, they will find many articles by Schneider that uncover information that one would want to have before heading west from Atlanta.

The Governor is quick to criticize anyone who opposes his take over plan.  He makes the claim that these questioners are more interested in adults, rather than the children of Georgia.

Hogwash.  If the Governor would be honest, and look at the research on recovery schools, he would find that these schools are not in the service of children and youth, but adults who lead corporate charters and stand to make a lot of money.

I hope that you will pass these ideas on to Georgia school officials, whether you agree or disagree with my position.

 It’s a Bad Deal

Establishing a Louisiana-style recovery school district in Georgia (OSD) is a bad idea.  What do you think?

Why Achievement Test Scores are Poor Indicators of Student Learning and Teacher Effectiveness

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has established a single variable as the way to reward and punish schools, teachers, students and their parents.  The fact that I have used the terms “rewards” and punishments” is evidence enough that the ED is stuck in 19th century psychology.

In 2001, the Congress approved the No Child Left Behind Act which mandated the testing of all students in reading and math.  Immediately, this set in motion the most devastating impact on curriculum in the elementary schools by narrowing the curriculum, and putting such emphasis on reading and math.

In 2009, the Congress approved the Race to the Top Fund (RT3), which earmarked about $4.5 billion for a U.S. competition among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  Of these entities, only 18 were winners.  The rest lost, except for four states which choose not to compete).

The Race to the Top, in my view, is even worse for education than the NCLB.  In the RT3, achievement test scores are given even more importance because those states that got the money were required to tie student test scores to teacher evaluation using the Value Added Modeling (VAM) system.

Many states, even those that did not receive RT3 money now require at least 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on the VAM scores generated by a mythical statistical model.  If you think I am kidding, here is the formula for determining a teachers worth as measured by adding value to student learning.

 Figure 2. The statistic value-added model (covariate adjustment model) used to evaluate Florida teachers.

Figure 1. The statistic value-added model (covariate adjustment model) used to evaluate Florida teachers.

Aside from the fact that VAM scores are unreliable, often the scores of very competent teachers end up being at the bottom of the list.  Further, the tests upon which the VAM is calculated measure only a very small aspect of student learning.  In fact, much of what we think is really important in school–communication skills, ability for work collaboratively with others to solve problems, creative thinking, empathy, and ethics–are not measured on achievement tests.

Why does the ED insist on this simple and behavioristic model of teaching?  It does so because it thinks that school is like a factory, and runs much like a machine.  Some call this mechanistic thinking.  Everything can be broken down into components, such as teacher behavior, teacher training, computers in the classroom, number of students in the class, access to technology, standards, academic tests, courses, homework, etc.   Mechanistic thinking leads to a “fix it” mentality.  That is, we can fix the problem of schooling by changing one or more of these variables.

The big problem in the minds of the mechanistic thinkers, who I am also going call the Neo-School Reformers, such as Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Joe Klein, and Arne Duncan, is that they believe that American schools are inferior to schools in other nations, especially countries including Finland, and most of the Asian nations.  Our schools are inferior, and they prove it by citing test scores on PISA and other international tests.  But they don’t tell you the rest of the story.

The Neo-School Reformers solution to what ails our schools is the Global Education Reform Model (GERM).  Although not named by Gates and associates, it was described by one of Finland’s leading educators, Dr. Pasi Sahlberg.

There is a growing body of research that shows that the GERM model is an ineffective model of educational reform.  As Sahlberg points out, GERM is primarily practiced by the North Atlantic Alliance of Schools (primarily the U.S. Europe, and Australia).

Indeed, if you compare the PISA test results of these nations, its difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Thinking In Terms of Systems Theory

The Neo-education reforms are “heads in the sand” reformers.  They fail to look around.  They can’t.  Their necks are stuck in the muck of their own arrogance, and ignorance.  They fail to take their heads out of the box of a classroom or a school, and think about the larger ecosystem in which the school is placed.  They really get mad at teachers or education researchers if they bring up out-of-school factors that might affect student achievement.  They have a code or a motto: No Excuses Education (NEE).

Here is the thing. I’ve learned from a group of scholars, including Ed Johnson, Diane Ravitch, Russell Ackoff, Peter Barnard, W. Edwards Deming, & Lisa Delpit, that there is an other and more humane way to look at schools.

When we try to isolate the effect of teachers on any of the outputs of the school, we are sure to fail.  Think about learning as a system.

Ed Johnson, a scholar and activist in Atlanta has taught me this.  When we try to break the system apart, it loses its essential properties. In this case the output as measured by student test scores is the product of the system, which is due to interactions and interdependencies that the teacher is only one small part.

To ignore the effects of the “system” on student achievement is ignore the large body of research on the effects of poverty on the emotional and social aspects of childhood, acute and chronic stressors, cognitive lags, and health and safety issues.

Just ask any teacher about his or her students.  Ask them how is the achievement of their students affected by inadequate school resources, living in poverty, not having a home, parents who struggle to earn a living, the size of the school and district, the location of the school, students coming to school each day hungry or inadequately fed, school policies, and so on?

Systems of Achievement in Race to the Top States

Take look at Figure 2.  I’ve selected seven winners of the Race to the Top competition, and plotted their math achievement level (at or above proficient) as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).   In addition to the seven winners (Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, District of Columbia) we also have included data for the United States.

The RT3 funding began in 2010, and is now in its fourth year for many of the winning states.  Notice, however, that five of states hover near the U.S. average, but  Massachusetts and the District of Columbia lie above and below the other states, respectively.  Why is this?

 

Now take a look at Figure 3. It’s the same graph but in this case its marked up.  The six states, and DC received from $75 to $700 million to improve education in their respective states.  In all cases, the single variable used to check effectiveness of the system is student achievement scores.  In  figure 3, we examine the results from a system’s point of view, a method that I learned from Ed Johnson.

Figure 2. 8th Grade Math as a System. All states, except for Massachusetts fall within the framework of Upper and Lower Control Limits.  Any variation within this zone is due to system causes, and not special causes.  Source: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, KIDS COUNT Data Center, datacenter.kidscount.org
Figure 2. 8th Grade Math as a System. All states, except for Massachusetts fall within the framework of Upper and Lower Control Limits. Any variation within this zone is due to system causes, and not special causes. Source: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, KIDS COUNT Data Center, datacenter.kidscount.org

In the graph below, most of the state scores fall within expected limits (Upper control limits–UCL and Lower control limits–LCL).  Any variation in scores for North Carolina, New York, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee for the most part was random, but there is evidence that some special causes were at work in Massachusetts, and we might hypothesize that special cause  effects might be at work in DC..

Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, New York and North Carolina are U.S. examples of what Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg calls the Global Education Reform Movement.  In each of these states, GERM has spread across these states, and we see classic GERM conditions, including the adoption of common standards, narrowing of curriculum focusing on math, writing and reading, high-stakes testing, a corporate management model which is data driven, and a system of accountability based on student test scores.

The graph below shows that the GERM model for most states is ineffective in changing math achievement.  I’ve examined reading in the same states during the same period, and the graphs are nearly identical.

The reforms that are in place in Georgia and other Race to the Top states will not affect student achievement in real ways.  The reforms are narrow and they ignore the ecology of learning by not seeing the school as part of a larger system.  For example, I asked in the last post why there was very little mention of poverty in Georgia’s reporting of their new method of grading schools.

Here is one reason.  Here is another graph of the same states, but this time showing poverty.  The graph is almost an inverse of the graphs shown in Figures 1 and 2. Notice that most states level of children living in poverty, except for Massachusetts (15%), has converged to the U.S. average which is about 23%.  What is the effect of poverty on student learning. Until we come look at the effects of the system on learning, we’ll make little progress in learning.

Using achievement scores is a poor indicator of student learning, and an even worse measure of teacher evaluation.

What do you think about the reforms that have been put into place as part of the Race to the Top?

The Puzzling and Contradictory Nature of the Common Core State Standards

 

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The Puzzling and Contradictory Nature of the Common Core State Standards (Common Core) initiative. The Common Core is a multi-billion dollar initiative that was adopted by 45 states and territories, while only five states refused to adopt the standards. Four years later, support for the Common Core is eroding, and there is also a parallel protest for the high-stakes testing associated with the Common Core.

Why do we have the Common Core and why is the initiative such a divisive force in American society, schools, and politics?

In this post I am going to review very briefly the history of the Common Core, show some of the research related to standards-based education, and explore some of the reasons that groups of people are either for or against the Common Core in public schools.

The First Common Core Meeting

The Common Core State Standards initiative began in 2009 at a Chicago meeting held by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and people from the states, and Achieve, Inc.  This group charged Achieve, Inc. to develop and write common standards in mathematics and English/language arts.  The purpose of a common set of standards was to set up a consistent set of educational goals across the nation that would make sure that students graduate from high school and be ready for college and career. College and career readiness are underlying goals of the Common Core.

The Common Core official website is at Achieve, Inc., a corporation founded by the NGA. According to Achieve, the Common Core is designed to “Prepare America’s Students for Success.”  According to Achieve, teachers played a “critical role” in the development of the standards.  However, the critical role did not involve writing the standards.  Based on Achieve’s documents, teachers either served on committees to check the standards, or provided feedback on the standards.  Teachers were not involved in the actual construction of the performance standards, nor did they take part in any decision-making about the efficacy of the Common Core standards.

Colorado and Brown Studies of the Common Core: What does the research tell us?

William J. Mathis analysed the Common Core initiative and his results were published by the Education and the Public Interest Center, University of Colorado at Boulder (Mathis, W. J. (2010). The “Common Core” Standards Initiative: An Effective Reform Tool? Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved [March 13, 2014] from http://epicpolicy.org/publication/common-core-standards).  He concluded that:

  1. The NGA/CCSSO common core standards initiative should be continued, but only as a low-stakes advisory and assistance tool for states and local districts for the purposes of curriculum improvement, articulation and professional development.
  2. The NGA/CCSSO common core standards should be subjected to extensive validation, trials and subsequent revisions before implementation. During this time, states should be encouraged to carefully examine and experiment with broad-based school-evaluation systems.
  3. Given the current strengths and weaknesses in testing and measurement, policymakers should not implement high-stakes accountability systems where the assessments are inadequate for such purposes.

According to the Colorado study, 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 ChoiceStudent Achievement Partners, the Hoover Institute). Practitioners and subject matter experts complained that they were excluded from the development process.

Recall that the first meeting calling for national standards was in Chicago in April 2009.  By the Spring of 2010, the Common Core was published, and in August 2010, the Obama Administration required that states seeking Race to the Top Funding had to adopt the Common Core if they expected to be funded.  But the real point here is that the Common Core was ready in just one year, without any field-testing or trial usage in schools.

Achieve makes sweeping statements about the Common Core.  For example, one statement you can find on its website is

According to the best available evidence, the mastery of each standard is essential for success in college, career, and life in today’s global economy.

However, independent research, such as the Colorado study, suggests that the Common Core lacks a convincing research base.  Furthermore, Achieve claims that the Common Core standards “raise the bar” and will result in students achieving at high levels than they are .  The problem with this kind of thinking is that an independent study at Brown University showed that student achievement was unrelated to the quality or rigor of standards.  The Brown study reported that there was little to no correlation between NAEP scores and the “quality” of state standards.  The correlation coefficients ranged from -0.6 to 0.08.  (Loveless, T. (2013) Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?: Brown Center for Education Policy. Retrieved March 13, 2014) from http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2013/03/18-brown-center-report-loveless).

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.

Questioning the Rationale for Standards

There are a number of questions that the Colorado study raised, and are worth noting here.

  1. Do High quality standards results in high-test scores?
  2. Will the presence of national standards result in higher scores on international comparison tests?
  3. Is the United States in danger of not being competitive in the global economy because of the failings of the educational system?
  4. Do the Common Core standards meet the workforce needs of the 21st century?

Based on the research in the Colorado and Brown studies, the answer to each question is no, or we don’t know.  But more importantly, each question ferrets out the rationale used to support the Common Core, and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  If you read the documents on the websites of the initiatives, you will read that America’s schools are failing, that we will lose the competitive edge in global commerce, but that by having national standards, achievement scores will go up, and students will be “college and career ready.”

Professional Judgement

At the Network for Public Education (NPE) conference last week in Austin, TX, a panel was assembled to discuss the Common Core.  Anthony Cody was the moderator, and the Panelists included Paul Horton, Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, Mercedes Schneider, Jose Luis Vilson, Randi Weingarten.   You can view the panel discussion here.

One of the panelists was Mercedes Schneider, a 22 year veteran teacher and highly regarded education blogger.  She has written extensively about the Common Core.  One of the points that she made in the panel discussion is that the Common Core, as presently conceived, does not include the professional judgement of teachers.  As she suggests, teachers do have one thing in “common” and that is they make judgements every day about the nature of learning in their classroom.

The Common Core, which is a set of performance standards not written by or for teachers restricts the very notion of good teaching.  Teachers have to make decisions every day about their students, and the quality of their teaching is unrelated to the performance standards that dropped into their in-box.  To be successful in the classroom, teachers need to know themselves and their students.  They need to know what works for their students.  They need to be able to make the decisions that enable their students to learn and understand mathematics, reading, science, history, music, and art.

Prescribing a set of performances that are of questionable value is part of the virus that Finnish educator and researcher Pasi Sahlberg names as GERM (Global Educational Reform Movement).  Standards and standardized testing is one sign that GERM has infected one’s educational system.  Nations around the world have borrowed from each other, thus infecting each other with failed and diseased parts.

The Wallace Study

Another aspect of the Common Core initiative has been investigated by researcher Dr. Carolyn Wallace.  Working as a full-time teacher in a south Georgia high school, Dr. Wallace studied the effect of Georgia’s standards-based accountability system on her professional work as a teacher, and subsequent learning of her high school biology students.

According to Dr. 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. The tightly specified nature of successful learning performances precludes classroom teachers from modifying the standards to fit the needs of their students.
  2. The standards are removed from the thinking and reasoning processes needed to meet 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.

And to further support the idea of inflexibility of the standards, Achieve makes the assumption that one set of standards will provide consistency, and the appropriate benchmarks for all students, regardless of where they live.  This is a troublesome assumption in that it is in conflict with findings in the learning sciences about how students learn.  Do all students learn in the same way?  How do students prior experiences and conceptions of science concepts fit into the way standards are written?

And on the heels of these standards is the development of Common State Assessments, with funding from Race to the Top Assessment (RTTA), with the goal to develop a technology based next-generation assessment system.

Behind the Scenes of the Common Core in Georgia

What is really going on in Georgia about the Common Core?  Why do the Governor and State Superintendent and educators support the Common Core, while a majority of the Georgia Senate voted to support SB 167 which will essentially opt the state out any future federal based standards and assessment?

According to Charlie Harper, editor-in-chief of Peach Pundit, a Georgia political blog, SB 167 was never about the Common Core.  As he points out, SB 167 would not have removed the Common Core from being used in the State, but it would have prohibited the state from using any future standards that a federal connection.  In particular, the Next Generation Science Standards.

Then Harper nails it when he said this in his article:

As I said last week, SB 167 wasn’t about Common Core Math or English standards.  This is about a small, vocal group of people who start all policy discussions with the belief that the basic tenets of science are lies from the pit of hell.  Common Core was a convenient boogey man, but this bill wasn’t about removing Georgia from Common Core.  It was about using the relative unpopularity of one initiative  to enshrine roadblocks to teaching basic scientific principles in Georgia schools.  “SB 167: It Was Never About Common Core.” Peach Pundit RSS. Peach Pundit, 13 Mar. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2014. <http://www.peachpundit.com/2014/03/13/sb-167-it-was-never-about-common-core/>.

Harper provides another piece of information about the forces at work here.  On the day that the Georgia House Committee on Education and Youth invited people to speak about SB 167, one of the speakers was Mike Griffin representing his church, the same church that Paul Broun, a candidate for U.S. Senator said that “evolution and the big bang theory are lies straight from the pit of hell.”

The Common Core initiative has brought together disparate groups who either oppose and stand with the standards.  Nearly every state has a “stop common core” group, and you can find conservative and liberal bloggers coming to the same conclusions.  But the reasons for reaching similar conclusions are vastly different.   In Georgia it appears that those who oppose the Common Core are fundamentalists who think that “values” are being compromised by including any form of national standards or assessments.  The Common Core is the federal government’s “Trojan Horse” which after arrival will open Georgia’s children to content and values that do not meet fundamental Christian beliefs.  Those who support the Common Core in Georgia are the education establishment, the Georgia Department of Education, the Governor’s Office, the Chamber of Commerce, and many businesses.  

What is your opinion on the Common Core?  Do you think that the Common Core should be implemented in your state?  What are your reasons?

Photo 2013 NMH Honors Chemistry Class, Creative Commons

Is the Common Standards Movement Unraveling?

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Mercedes Schneider, on her EduBlog, wrote several articles documenting a growing movement against the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by describing legislative action, and citizen protests in 23 states. I’ve used her observations to create a map locating these events across the U.S.  I’ve also included on the map the states that did not endorse the CCSS at all.

The Race to the Top (RT3) competition was the carrot the U.S. Department of Education used to entice states to adopt the Common Core State Standards. If a state choose not to adopt the common core, then there was a high likelihood their RT3 proposal would suffer the consequences. (The ED department used the same technique to make sure states use student test scores in teacher evaluations).

The context for the map and the sign that there a sweeping national backlash against the CCSS is described here by Mercedes Schneider when she says:

CCSS was not democratically vetted prior to 45 governors and state superintendents (and let us not forget the District of Columbia) signing to accept it.

No legislative vote was required for CCSS acceptance as far as President Obama and US Secretary of Education Duncan were concerned. Just two signatures sealed the deal for a state to agree to the inflexible (and at the time of signing, possibly unfinished) CCSS as part of Race to the Top (RTTT).

In order to coerce states into agreeing to this “state-led initiative,” the federal government had to become the incentive-dangling “hub.” Thus, “state led” means “led right into RTTT agreement with the USDOE.” (Schneider, M. Common Core Unrest in 22 States.  Retrieved January 5, 2014, from http://deutsch29.wordpress.com)

The backlash is coming from all fronts, the right, left and the middle. You can click on the red (rescinded the Common Core), yellow (Common Core protest activity) or blue (no-Common Core states) markers to read a brief written by Schneider on her blog. In only two cases, has a state officially changed its mind from adopt to reject the standards. But as you will see there is legislative action many of the blank color states.

The research that I’ve reported on this blog the value and effects of standards does not bode well for the supporters of national standards, or even state standards. Standards block learning much like a brick wall. The use of standards imposes unsupported litany of what teachers are required to teach with little to no input locally.

The standards-based accountability system of schooling treats students as androids who come to school to mechanically learn to follow a path established by adults, many of whom have no idea what it is like in a 3rd, 8th, or 12th grade classroom.  Nor do these adults have any idea about the aspirations, creativity, and inventiveness of students in these grades.  Yet, these policy makers have established a system of education that is a meticulous set of performance statements that all students should learn in mathematics, English language arts (The Common Core State Standards), and science (The Next Generation Science Standards).

Schooling should help open minds, not close them. Requiring students to learn content that may or may not be important to them is not based on science, its mere opinion.  More than that, much of the pedagogy that is used directs students to master content in preparation for a test.

Mercedes Schneider’s analysis suggests a possible unraveling of the common standards movement.  Explore the unraveling in the map in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Mapping Common Core State Standards Unrest (data based on Mercedes Schneider's EduBlog.
Figure 1. Mapping Common Core State Standards Unrest (data based on Mercedes Schneider’s EduBlog.

Is Georgia’s Race to the Top a Good Idea?

A report was published this week that ought to raise the eyebrows of a lot of Georgians.  The report is an analysis of the progress of the the U.S. Department of Education’s signature program, the $4.5 billion Race to the Top Fund.  Georgia snagged nearly a half-billion dollars of the fund.

The report said that most winning states made “unrealistic and impossible” promises to boost student achievement in exchange for a monetary prize.

On this blog, I have lambasted the Race to the Top concept from its beginnings when in 2009, the Secretary Duncan announced the plan to entice the governments of the states and D.C. into a competition to get a piece of $4.5 billion.   Georgia was a second round winner in this massive government competition.   $400 million, which was the amount of Georgia’s grant, looks like a lot of money.  If you do the math, however, over four years this amounts to $64.00 per student in the state of Georgia.

However, if you are the Governor, Executive of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, Georgia Superintendent of Education, or the RTT Project Director, then getting $400 million from the Federal Government during the Great Recession is a very good idea.  But in my opinion, that is the only good to the idea.

The Race to the Top was ill-conceived from the start.  It was conceived by people at the U.S. Department of Education who favor using charter management companies to come into cities where students are failing state mandated tests that are not valid and unreliable measures of learning.  The Director of the Race to the Top in D.C. is Joanne Weiss, who previously worked as Executive Director of the New Schools Venture Fund, an organization working, especially with charter management groups, to invest in schools where students are simply not doing well .

Georgia claims that its Race to the Top plan involves 41 percent of public school students, 46 percent who are in poverty, 53 percent are African-American, 48 percent are Hispanic, and represent 68 percent of the state’s lowest schools.   This is all well and good.

However, if you were to go to the original documents, and videos of who presented the Georgia Race to the Top proposal in D.C., none of these groups are visible, or seem to be involved.  The only educator that was present was Alvin Wilbanks, Superintendent of Gwinnett County Schools.  The Georgia Superintendent of Education at the time was Brad Bryant, who was not an educator.

Georgia made claims in its proposal no different from most of the other winning RTT states, and according to Elaine Weiss, author of the Race to the Top study, states did what it took to earn the points on their proposals, no matter what.  For example, some states made the claim that they would raise student performance on academic tests in math and reading that would be impossible to achieve.  But, by making outrageous claims, evaluators of the Race to the Top proposals would mark the proposals so.

Problems with Race to the Top

Here are some of the serious problems that Weiss found among the Race to Top winners.

  • With one exception, every grantee state promised to raise student achievement and close achievement gaps to degrees that would be virtually or literally impossible even with much longer timelines and larger funding boosts.
  • Virtually every state has had to delay implementation of its teacher evaluation systems, due to insufficient time to develop rubrics, pilot new systems, and/or train evaluators and others.
  • States have focused heavily on developing teacher evaluation systems based on student test scores, but not nearly as much on using the evaluations to improve instruction, as intended.
  • Because state assessments tend to test students’ math and reading skills, attention has been focused mostly on those subjects, potentially to the detriment of others. States have also struggled to determine how to evaluate teachers of untested subjects and teachers of younger students, a critical issue, given that they constitute the majority of all teachers.
  • While some states have developed smart strategies to recruit talented professionals to teach subjects and/or teach in schools that are underserved, the vast majority of alternative certification money and effort has gone to bringing young, largely non credentialed novices to teach in disadvantaged schools.
  • Many districts increasingly protest state micromanagement, limited resources, and poor communications.

One of the big issues that Weiss uncovered was the States’ promise vs. their capacity to deliver.  In a top down way, how can funding of $400 million, which represents only 0.98% of Georgia’s $10.199 billion budget, carry out the goals that are spelled out in the proposal?

Georgia’s Flawed Plan

Raising student achievement, especially in Georgia’s lowest achieving schools, is one of the four goal areas of the Race to the Top project.  Georgia’s solution to this problem?

  • Create a new office with the Department of Education that will manage turnarounds.
  • Establish a pipeline of teachers by working with Teach For America (TFA) and The New Teacher Project (TNTP) to bring non certified, inexperienced, part-time help to schools that the state said are in need of the most help.
Figure 1. NAEP reading scores and child poverty rates.  Georgia is circled in red. Source: Weiss, E. Mismatches in Race to the Top Limit Educational Improvement
Figure 1. NAEP reading scores and child poverty rates. Georgia is circled in red. Source: Weiss, E. Mismatches in Race to the Top Limit Educational Improvement

Why do these officials at the state level think that hiring TFA and TNTP recruits will solve this problem?  If they were to look at the relationship between NAEP scores and child poverty rates, they might be motivated to look to very different solutions to the problem of academic achievement.

So, we will use inexperienced and non certified teachers in the state’s lowest achieving schools to raise achievement by spending $64 per student.   Now, that’s a solution.

Georgia’s plan also said that they will create “great teachers and leaders.”  To do this, the state will develop “effectiveness measures” for teachers and administrators and collaborate with Teach For America and The New Teacher Project to stream non certified teachers to schools in need.  But for the majority of teachers in Georgia, the state will rate them by using student achievement scores, and by “leveraging” the power TKES and LKES (teacher and leader evaluation systems).

The Race to the Top in Georgia also mandates that all schools adopt the Common Core State Standards in math and reading/language arts.

So, is Georgia’s participation in the Race to the Top a good idea?  It is a travesty, and the real effects will start to appear next year when all teachers’ and administrators’ evaluations are based on student test scores and the untested TKES and LKES scales.

The authors and proponents of the Georgia Race to the Top open the door to increasing opportunities for teacher preparation groups and charter management companies to privatize Georgia education.

We need to call them out.  We surely don’t want to let them pull the wool over our eyes.  This is all about power and money, and not about improving teaching and learning.  What do you think about Georgia’s Race to the Top?