Is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Smart or Just Dumb?

Is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Smart or Just Dumb?  That’s the question we’ll try to address in this blog post.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) released scale scores for math and ELA (English Language Arts) aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

In their release to the public on November 17, Smarter Balance announced that:

Members of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium have voted to approve initial achievement levels for the mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA) assessments that will be administered in 17 states and one territory this school year. The vote marks an important milestone in the development of the assessment system (emphasis mine).

So, a vote was taken (according to their press release) to approve a set of scale scores that will be used next year to evaluate students in 17 states when they sit at computers to take tests in math and ELA in grades 3 – 8 and high school.  Smarter Balanced explains that because the Common Core content standards set higher expectations for kids, then the new computer based tests will be more difficult.  Why?  Well, Smarter Balanced simply raised the bar, and they have no problem in stating that:

It’s not surprising that fewer students could score at Level 3 or higher. However, over time the performance of students will improve.

Fewer students experiencing success is another perfect set up for failure.

Is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium smart, or is it dumb?

The answer to this lies in reading their comments about what they have done to set up a testing program that is based on false claims.  For example, they tell us that even though kids will not do very well when the tests come on-line, they are sure to improve over time.   They don’t improve over time, and we have more than a decade of results to show this.  Furthermore, raising the bar (supposedly making the standards more difficult, rigorous, demanding–choose your own descriptor) does not affect achievement test scores, as measured the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  In a study looking at the relationship between the quality of standards and student NAEP scores, the correlations ranged from -0.60.08.  We interpret these correlations a moderate downhill (negative) relationship to weak uphill (positive) relationship.

That said, shouldn’t would conclude that Smarter Balanced should be the Dumb and Dumber Unbalanced Assessment?

And one more thing.

I have reported in earlier research on this blog that many researchers have concluded that we should not expect much from the Common Core State Standards.  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.

Voting on the Scale Scores: What’s this mean?

It amazes me that the members of an organization can vote on scale scores (real numbers), and think that this has meaning.  For instance, Figure 1 shows the mathematics threshold scale scores for grades 3 – 11.  It’s a nice graph, isn’t it.  And the graph is accompanied in their Smarter Balanced press release with a very colorful chart estimating the percentage of students who will score at each level by grade level.

Figure 1. Mathematics: Threshold Scale Scores set by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, November 14, 2014.  Source: media@smarterbalanced.org
Figure 1. Mathematics: Threshold Scale Scores set by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, November 14, 2014. Source: media@smarterbalanced.org. Extracted on November 17.

Here is the graph that displays the percent of students who will fail or pass.

Figure 2. How students will score that each level by grade.  Note that between 27 - 40 percent of students will fail to reach proficiency. Can you believe that? Source: media:smarter balanced.org. Retrieved November 17,2 014
Figure 2. How students will score that each level by grade. Note that between 27 – 40 percent of students will fail to reach proficiency. Can you believe that? Source: media:smarter balanced.org. Retrieved November 17,2 014

Are Standards and Aligned Assessments Scientific?

It’s a fair question. It’s a fair question because most of the 17 states will input student test scores into a mathematical algorithm called the Value Added Model to check the efficacy and quality of a teacher, and then use this number to decide upon the “grade” or assessment of the teacher. In some states, more than 50% of a teacher’s evaluation is based on this mathematical algorithm.

So, are standards and the aligned assessments scientific.

No they are not.

In her ground breaking book, Reign of error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the danger to America’s Public Schools (Public Librarys), Diane Ravitch takes on this issue. Here is what she says:

All definitions of education standards are subjective. People who set standards use their own judgment to decide what students ought to know and how well they should know it. People use their own judgment to decide the passing mark on a test. None of this is science. It is human judgment, subject to error and bias ; the passing mark may go up or down, and the decision about what students should know in which grades may change, depending on who is making the decisions and whether they want the test to be hard or easy or just right. All of these are judgmental decisions, not science. (Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Kindle Locations 1033-1035). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition).

The Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (one of two aligned Common Core assessments) have along with its private corporate sponsors, and neo-liberal foundations such as Gates, Walton, Broad and others, have set up the perfect trap to fail millions of students, blame and then fire teachers, and then bring in privately run charter school management systems.

Think I’m kidding?  What do you think?

The Common Core: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

There was an article in Scientific American entitled Science in a Republican Senate: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  It is well worth a read, and I’ll be commenting more on the article in the days ahead.

Photo by Kristian Niemi, Creative Commons
Photo by Kristian Niemi, Creative Commons

But for this blog post, I want to apply the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly to an analysis of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

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. These groups 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

The Common Core is essentially Bad and Ugly, but it does have some Good aspects.  Please read on.

The Good: The Emergence of Voices in Opposition to the Common Core

The only “good” in the Common Core State Standards movement is the increasing volume of voices of people and groups who oppose the Common Core.  Using scholarship and activism, a rising tide of opposition to the Common Core has brought to light what really is behind the Common Core and why it has arrived at the door steps of America’s public schools.  Lurking behind the Common Core are billionaires, conservative organizations, and corporations who see dollar signs in their dreams.

The “Good” of the  Common Core and related educational reforms has created several grass-root organizations of teachers, parents, activists, students, professors, and others.  The Network for Public Education and United Opt Out National are two examples of how groups of citizens have come together and used their intelligence, creativity, and voice to call the Common Core a sham that should be opposed and removed from America’s public schools.

In addition to organizations that emerged from opposition to the Common Core, there has been a surge in the number of bloggers–mostly teachers, former teachers, professors–who write critical blog posts providing educators and parents with information, knowledge and editorial opinions about the Common Core.

In the research and reading that I do to write this blog, I’ve come to know a vanguard of voices who have created a movement to oppose a cabal of corporate pirates whose goal is to privatize public education, and mutate the teaching profession into nonprofessionals who have little experience and even shorter life expectancy as teachers.  Most of the people who I’ve identified as part of a larger vanguard of voices of opposition are doing courageous work, and writing about the injustices of the standards-based reform movement.  For example, I wrote this about one of these educators, Dr. Mercedes Schneider.

Dr Mercedes Schneider’s book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education (Public Library) arrived the other day and I was thrilled to see the names and chapters devoted to many of those who I have written about on my blog. But you won’t find the kind of writing in Mercedes’s book about these people and organization anywhere else. In my view, Mercedes Schneider is at the vanguard of voices who are uncovering the harm that the people featured in her book are inflicting on public education. In amazing detail and wonderfully written you’ll be taken on journeys into the minds of corporate and education thieves, many of whom have become wealthy on the backs of American school students and teachers.

From the literature and research, a compelling vanguard of voices has emerged, and is ground zero for the real reform of America’s public schools.  You can read about some of these people here.

As you read ahead, I will introduce other leaders among the vanguard of voices in opposition to the standards-based educational reform.

The Bad: The Influence Peddlers and Market-Based Designs

In a powerful synthesis  linking corporations and organizations to the Common Core, all of whom are affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Dr. Morna McDermott, Professor at Towson University and co-founder of United Opt Out National has used a systems approach to map these connections, and shows how this “neoliberal ecosystem” is reigning havoc on school districts around the nation.

You need to keep in mind that there is an enormous amount of money (billions and billions and billions of dollars) flowing in to this ecosystem, and working its way into the pockets of a few organizations, corporations and people.

In an article entitled Flow Chart Exposes Common Core’s Myriad Corporate Connections, the author (Candice Bernd) uses Dr. McDermott’s research to paint a nasty picture of the relationships among corporations and organizations and the Common Core.  Using the chart shown in Figure 1, which was created by Dr. McDermott, Bernd says this:

The chart illuminates a larger corporate agenda that seeks market-based education reforms and increased influence over public education in the United States. With defense and security expenditures slowing, corporations are looking to profit from new cloud-based software used to collect and mine information from student records to create individualized education programs designed by third-party companies (Bernd, C. (2013, September 6). Flow Chart Exposes Common Core’s Myriad Corporate Connections. Retrieved November 6, 2014, from http://truth-out.org/news/item/18442-flow-chart-exposes-common-cores-myriad-corporate-connections).

Figure 1. Map of the Common Core and its Connections to Corporate America.  Used with permission of the author, Dr. Mona McDermott, United
Figure 1. Map of the Common Core and its Connections to Corporate America. Used with permission of the author, Dr. Morna McDermott, United Opt Out National and Towson University 

The map created by Dr. McDermott exposes the influence peddling that shadows and casts a pall over public education in America.  The Common Core State Standards has created an ecosystem of influence peddling involving private organizations, corporations, not-for-profit groups, governments and many technology-based education companies.  In a separate research project, Dr. Mercedes Schneider has identified and investigated a who’s who of the influence peddlers shown in the McDermott map.  Taken together, the McDermott and Schneider studies expose the corruption and greed that underscore what’s wrong with American public education.

McDermott writes about the nature of standards-based education and provides us with a rich set of resources documenting how standards-based education took hold, and emerged as the major paradigm of education reform.  McDermott’s research includes a time-line of events which describe how the standards-based mentality emerged, and how technology and private corporations have teamed up to set up a cash-flow of lots of money into public education and out to private firms and investment portfolios.

McDermott documents this in a three-part article (UNESCO and the Education Technology Industry: A Recipe for Making Public Education a Profiteering Enterprise on her blog, Educationalchemy.   Here is how she begins her research paper.  She writes:

Without conjecture as to motive or intent, I parallel the last 30 years of reform which are intertwined with UNESCO and find some documented parallels and relationships. The conjecture is left to my reader. My findings here reflect what appear to be the three premises of the last few decades upon which global accountability driven reform are driven, posited by Heinz-Dieter Meyer, Daniel Tröhler, David F. Labaree & Ethan L. Hutt (Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 9, 2014):

  • homogenizing the heterogeneous reality of education through increasingly abstract and context-indifferent standards and outcome metrics;
  • shifting centers of policy making influence from “local” education professionals embedded in institutions and narratives of national history and culture to a global elite of experts, committed with increasing single-mindedness to the narrative of market efficiency;
  • and moving from decentralized governance and soft guidelines to centralized governance and hard mandates. McDermott, M. (2014, October 18). UNESCO and the Education Technology Industry: A Recipe for Making Public Education a Profiteering Enterprise PART I. Retrieved November 8, 2014, from http://educationalchemy.com/2014/10/18/unesco-and-the-education-technology-industry-a-recipe-for-making-public-education-a-profiteering-enterprise-part-i/

The Ugly: Betrayal of Civil Rights and the Right to a Quality Education

According to research by Nicholas Tampio and Yohuro Williams, the Common Core Betrays the Civil Rights Movement.  In a report published on Truthout, these researchers name several reasons why the Common Core is harming a generation of African-American students.  For several years we have published many articles on this blog that are supported by the claims of these researchers.

Firstly, they rightly state that the Common Core and its associated high-stakes testing has branded many students of color as failures.  If you look at high stakes testing data in any state, or focus on any city district, a very low percentage of black and hispanic students show skill on math tests.  Tampa and Williams report that only 19.3 percent of African-American students were proficient in math, and 17.6 percent were proficient in language arts.

A second concern that they find is the fact that public education has reduced curriculum to those areas that are tested; namely, math and language arts.  Students are unfairly punished if they don’t do well in either of these subjects.  And for students who don’t do well, the solution is to burden the students with worksheets in drill and practice regimes, and not providing opportunities for teachers to work with these students with out the fear of failing yet another test.  The result is, according to these researchers and many others, that students are turned into “little test taking machines.”

Thirdly, the resources that are available to schools are being used buy textbooks and high-stakes tests.  Billions of dollars will be needed to purchase and keep up a technology infrastructure to measure student performance on the Common Core.  As we have reported here, and as these researchers printout, The Race to the Top program used more than $330 million to fund two testing consortia (PARCC and SBAC) to develop computer-based tests.  Do schools have the funds to carry out a computer-based high-stakes testing program, and do they have the funds to keep up this system?  Could these resources be used in other ways that might help students learn, and not become robots who are taught to the test.

We have created an ugly situation when it comes to providing an education for youth that is interesting, creative, and innovative.  According to these researchers, and others that I’ve cited in this article, little is being done to offer an educational experience that sees students as unique people who bring to school a rich canopy of experiences that could be the basis for learning.  Williams and Tampio close their article by writing:

We share the National Urban League’s ambition to prepare black youth to succeed in the 21st century global economy but disagree that the Common Core is the way to make that happen. So far, the Common Core is draining educational budgets, narrowing the curriculum and turning students into little test-taking machines. This is no way to advance the civil rights legacy. Instead, we should recommit to the principle that all children, of whatever race or background, can attain the same kind of education only available, right now, to the children of privilege (Tampio, N., & Williams, Y. (2014, November 5). Common Core Betrays the Civil Rights Movement. Retrieved November 8, 2014, from http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27250-common-core-betrays-the-civil-rights-movement).

A quality education ought to be available to children from any family.  But it seems to me, and especially to scholars such as Ed Johnson, that we have done nothing but tinker with schooling under the disguise of the Common Core Standards reform.  The goal of schooling under the present reform conditions is to make the claim that students are proficient in math and reading by using a test-based metric.  Teaching to the test is the primary activity of school.

Using the current model of reform, schools can not be improved by trying to improve the parts separately.  It is a sure path to failure. For example, some advocates of educational reform believe that student achievement can be improved by weeding out the bad teachers. Millions of dollars have been invested in using student high-stakes test scores to check teacher performance using a technique called Value Added Measure (VAM). Teachers whose VAM scores are low can be identified, and according to these experts, teachers with low scores must be bad teachers. Getting rid of “defects” in any system will not improve the system or the part that was identified. Instead, a better investment would be to ask how can we improve the quality of teaching, and what can be done to improve the teaching of all educators.

The above example highlights the current approach to reform. Identify a part of the system, and fix it. Bad teachers, get rid of them. Low achievement scores? Write “rigorous” standards, raise the bar, and give high-stakes tests. It’s that simple. We’ve had rigorous and not so rigorous standards in place for more than a decade, and as you will see ahead, changing standards doesn’t have any effect on student performance.

Providing a quality education for all students means that all parts of a school system are interdependent and must be taken as a whole. For example, The Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is a system of connected and interdependent parts, and to improve the quality of the APS, it is critical to look at the APS as a whole. Closing schools (removing so-called underperforming schools), does not have an effect of improving the APS, or indeed saving money (as some would tell you). Fundamental questions about APS need to be asked, but in the context of the APS being a system, not a collection of schools, students, teachers, administrators, parents, curriculum, textbooks, technology.

But as Mr. Johnson has said in other letters and reports, if fundamental questions about the purpose of schooling are not addressed and if we can not agree on these purposes, very little will change in the system.

What do you think about the Common Core?

 

 

 

 

 

Authoritarian Spray: How the Spread of Standardization is Damaging Public Schools With Its Canopy of a Common Core, High-Stakes Testing and Market-Based Hooey

A picture is worth a thousand words. Please accept apologies because my title is nearly a picture. I just couldn’t pinch the title to a few words. That said…

The authoritarian spray of standardization has spread harm and inflicted damage to America’s public schools during the last two decades. The profits from standardized tests and teaching materials associated with the Common Core have overwhelmed the nature of learning in public school classrooms that one wonders if  this goliath, which has trampled on the very heart of education in a democratic society, can be brought down.

This post, and a forthcoming eBook will explore this conundrum, and point to ways that the mischief and misery of standardization might be overcome.   We’ll explore two fundamental paradigms of thinking, & learning, and family & politics that I think will shine a light on the dilemma of standardization.  Let’s get started.

The Root of This Dilemma

The conservative world-view is at the root of standardization, not only in the United States, but in most countries around the world.  This world-view has set in motion the reform of education based on a common set of standards, high-stakes tests, and accountability metrics that demoralize not only students and their families, but the educators who families regard as significant and positive others in the lives of their children.

The Gates Foundation has invested more than $3 billion into standards-test-based reform.  Did you know that since 1999, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (technically founded in 2000) has made over 4,000 grants in its US Program, one of the major categories of funding for the Gates Foundation?

The 4,000 grants were distributed among 16 categories such as College-Ready Education, Community Grants, Postsecondary Success, Global Policy & Advocacy, etc.  About 2,000 of these grants were made to carry out the Common Core State Standards, the use of student test scores to test teachers, and support technology that would increase the surveillance of students, parents and teachers to create sets of “big data” that can be mined by private companies to find behaviors and personal information of customers and clients that would fit profiles for their products.

Another way to understand the reform promoted by Gates and other billionaire people, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the National Governors Association (NGA), and conservative foundations, especially the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is to look at the work of educators and scholars such as Pasi Sahlberg.

Sahlberg emphatically states that the worst enemy of education and creativity is standardization. In his book, Finnish Lessons 2.0: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? (Library Copy), Sahlberg writes:

Curriculum development, student assessment, teacher evaluation, integration of information and communication technologies into teaching and learning, proficiency in basic competencies (i.e., reading and writing), and mathematical and scientific literacy have become common priorities in education reforms around the world. These changes in schools and classrooms are then ensured by employing management models from the business world, such as test-based accountability, merit-based pay and data-driven administration. I call this the Global Educational Reform Movement  (Sahlberg, Pasi (2011-11-01). Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? (Kindle Locations 2376-2380). Teachers College Press. Kindle Edition.)

Subversive Thinking

I think of standards-based education reform as a kind of “spray” analogous to how we used DDT as an agricultural insecticide.  We stayed it everywhere to stamp out disease carrying bugs.  For example, from 1940 – 1972, more than 1.3 billion pounds of DDT were released into U.S. communities indiscriminately.  This indiscriminate and relentless spray would eventually be shown to be harmful and a serious threat to the basics of ecosystems.

In 1962, Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring (Library Copy) explained how the release of DDT into the environment caused havoc and great harm to the affected ecosystems, as well as human health.  Even though the bio-chemical industry tried to subvert Carson’s work, she was eventually vindicated of the criticisms being leveled by this industry, and the US Congress went on to pass legislation banning DDT.   Later the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established.

Carson had started the environmental movement, and many leading ecologists and environmentalists from around the world looked to her work as an inspiration.

Rachel Carson, in the word’s of Mark Hamilton, one of Carson’s biographers,  was a “gentle subversive.”

There is a vanguard of gentile (and not-so-gentile) subversives who are leading the way to uncover and expose the damage that is being done to educational ecosystems, as well as  student  health (social, emotional, intellectual) by standardized, test-centered and market-oriented reform spreading like a virus with global implications.  This vanguard is composed of educators who offer different accounts of what teaching and learning is about.  They are leading an effort to challenge the current standardized reform movement.

Please follow this link to read about some of the people identified as part of this vanguard.  There are many more, and most of them are teaching in classrooms around the world.

So, what is this vanguard voicing opposition to?  All are questioning the lack of wisdom, profound ignorance, and inexcusable ineptness of an educational reform movement that is rooted in a very narrow purpose of schooling: teaching to the test.  According tp Sahlberg, the movement can be summarized in four words: Global Education Reform Movement GERM).

Global Educational Reform Model (GERM)

The Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) promotes and spreads the “strategies and interests” of global agencies, billionaire donors, and private consultants as if it was a live virus (Sahlberg 2013).  According to Sahlberg, three primary sources led to the spread of the GERM virus including:

  1. The need for proficiency in literacy and numeracy,
  2. A guarantee that all students will learn the same set of standards in math and language arts and reading, and value placed on competition, and
  3. Accountability by holding schools to a set of standards, and benchmarks using aligned assessments and tests.

None of the details of proficiency, standards or benchmarks are based on scientific or educational research.  They are opinions crafted by the groups mentioned before?

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a good example to show how GERM works.  PISA has developed its own set of standards and tests (assessments) in math, science, reading, and language arts used to hold students in more than 60 countries accountable to PISA benchmarks.

The Guardian newspaper published a series of articles about the 2013 PISA international test results.   Sahlberg points out that creating league tables that showcase or shame countries based on their student’s performance on standardized tests is simply not a proper use of international test results, in this case PISA.   As I’ve reported many times on this blog, international test results fall prey to newspaper headlines that predict the collapse of economies, or prevent its students from competing in the ‘global market.’  The ‘sky is falling’ mantra was alive and well when the 2013 results were announced.  It always is.

Imagine reading the headlines in Helsinki after its students fell from second place to 12th in just three years.  Sahlberg reports that in Sweden, the test result for its students was considered a national disaster.  In the United States, the Secretary of Education (Arne Duncan) said the U.S. the results are “straightforward and stark: It is a picture of educational stagnation.”

But Sahlberg suggests that the PISA results are proof that the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) is working and spreading itself around.  According to Sahlberg, GERM is a virus that has infected many nation’s schools.  In his view, GERM is characterized by

  • standardization (Common Core),
  • core subjects (math, reading, science),
  • teaching to the test,
  • corporate management style, and
  • test-based accountability.

When Duncan commented  (Guardian News, 2013) on the 2013 PISA results, he said it was clear that this “must serve as a wake-up call against educational complacency and low expectations.”  And to correct American education’s shortcomings, “we must invest in early learning, redesign high schools, raise standards and support great teachers.”

Good examples of GERM schools can be found in the US, England, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden and Chile.  Here is how they fared in the PISA tests (Table 1).

PISA Results for Nations that have adopted the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM)
Table 1. PISA Results for Nations that have adopted the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM)

These nations have adopted a model of education based on competition, standardization, and test-based accountability.  In Sahlberg’s view,

GERM has acted like a virus that “infects” education systems as it travels around the world.

Non-Global Education Reform

But Sahlberg, or any of ones of the “vanguard of subversives” that I identified here, were ever asked by Duncan how to improve American schools, none would suggest the “reforms” that Duncan has funded for the past five years.  Instead they would suggest that the standards-corporate styled reforms (GERM) are based on premises that are rejected by educators and policy makers in nations that seem to be successful.

GERM advocates should listen to Dr. Mercedes Schneider, a high school English teacher who holds a Ph.D. in Applied Statistics and Research Methods.  She is relentless in her writing about corporate reform, especially the way in which the Common Core State Standards came into being, and how they have corrupted American education.  In her recent book, (A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education) I wrote this as part of a review on Amazon of her book:

In this book we have at our fingertips answers to important questions about how such a limited number of individual’s faces crop-up in various media outlets as the experts on public schools. If you want to find how to get wealthy and have a really big office, read about Joel Klein in chapter 1. Find out how Teach for America is transforming teacher education into a temp business by reading the Wendy Kopp story in chapter 3. You’ll find important episodes about characters including Eva Moskovitz, Michelle Rhee, Erik Hanushek, Arne Duncan, David Coleman, Chester Finn, and others. You’ll also find out about organizations that fund each other in the name of reform, but in the end seek to dismantle public education. Welcome to TFA, the New Teacher Project, the National Council on Teacher Quality (not), the Aspen Institute, the Gates Foundation, and cousins Walton and Broad.  And the best is yet to come as she saves the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation’s bill mill for the last chapter.  The content of the book is thoroughly researched and authenticated. If you read her blog, you’ll certainly enjoy this book.

According to Sahlberg, a school system is “successful” if it performs above the OECD average in mathematics, reading literacy and science, and if students’ socio-economic status has a weaker-than-average impact on students’ learning outcomes. The most successful education systems in the OECD are Korea, Japan, Finland, Canada and Estonia.

Table 2. PISA test scores for nations that are above the OECD average, and students socio-economic status has weaker-than-average impact on students' learning outcomes (Text: Sahlberg, 2013)
Table 2. PISA test scores for nations that are above the OECD average, and students socio-economic status has weaker-than-average impact on students’ learning outcomes (Text: Sahlberg, 2013)

Beyond GERM

In order to eradicate GERM, it will be crucial to think differently about teaching, learning and the purpose of school.  We must return the locus of  control of education to local educators and their boards, and establish schooling based on the well-being of each child.  The use of standardized testing must be reduced so that the only use is to provide feedback to schools and their districts about overall goals.  Standardized tests should never be used to rate, grade, or judge students, nor should these test scores be used in any way as a measure of teacher performance.  There are oodles of ways to assess student growth that will actually help students learn.  And there are many ways to assess teachers, and provide the kind of professional growth that people in other professions receive.

Here are just a few things that should be implemented.

1. Schools should have autonomy over its curricula and how students are assessed.  Teachers should work collaboratively to design and develop curriculum, and make decisions about the nature of instruction in their own classrooms.  This is contrary to the reforms that have dominated American education for decades, especially starting with the publication, Nation at Risk, followed by the No Child Left Behind Act during the Bush Administration, and The Race to the Top during the Obama administration.  Sahlberg says:

PISA shows how success is often associated with balanced professional autonomy with a collaborative culture in schools. Evidence also shows how high performing education systems engage teachers to set their own teaching and learning targets, to craft productive learning environments, and to design multiple forms student assessments to best support student learning and school improvement.

2. Schools need to focus on equity by giving priority to early childhood (one point for Duncan), comprehensive health and special education in schools, a balanced curriculum that sees the arts, music and sports as equals to math, reading and science.

3. School choice does not improve academic performance in a nation’s schools.  In fact, the overemphasis on school choice and competition between schools leads to greater segregation of schools.

4.  Successful schools are public schools and are controlled locally, not by a state or federal governments. If we want to improve education in the US, we need to move away from the competitive, corporate-based model that is based on standardization and test accountability.  As Dr. Nel Noddings says in her book, Education and Democracy in the 21st Century (Library Copy)

Education in the 21st century must put away some 20th-century thinking. All over the world today, many educators and policymakers believe that cooperation must displace competition as a primary form of relating. Competition is not to be abandoned— some competition is healthy and necessary— but it should no longer be the defining characteristic of relationships in an era of growing globalization. If we agree with this judgment, then we must consider how to prepare students for a cooperative world, not solely for one of competition.  (Noddings, Nel (2013-01-25).

American public schools are not failing.  The premise that they are failing is based on one factor–test scores.  We need to move beyond this concept of schooling and embrace collaboration, dialogue, interdependence, and creativity (Noddings, 2013).

New eBook

As I mentioned at the head of this post, a forthcoming eBook will explore this conundrum, and point to ways that the mischief and misery of standardization might be overcome.   It’s under development, and should be published later this month, and will be available free on my blog.

 

Unreason and Anti-Science Alive and Well in the Georgia Legislature and is not Unique to Georgia

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 8.07.41 PM Figure 1. High School mathematics teacher. Creative Commons Attribution.[/caption]

The Georgia legislature has already passed a bill in the Senate (SB 167) that will essentially opt the state out of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts and other projects, ideas, technologies that have any glimmer of association with the federal government.  The bill is now being considered in the Georgia House.  Yesterday, the house committee listened to 68 speakers, most of whom opposed the bill, but those who support the bill will probably prevail in the end.  It’s an election year, and since the Governor agrees with the basic principles of the bill, other Republicans will line up behind Gov. Deal.

But the State Superintendent of Education, Dr. John Barge, vigorously opposes the bill, and for reasons that are important to the teachers in the state and their students.  Although I have not been a big supporter of the Common Core, I oppose SB 167, which in my opinion would put the state back years educationally, and the bill sends a ominious message that unreason and unscientific thinking rule the future of education in Georgia.

If the Governor signs this bill, it will set in motion at least three years of committee work while the now adopted standards in mathematics and English language arts are put in limbo because the charge of the committee is to check (including making significant changes) these standards.  In the meantime, it appears as if mathematics and English language arts is on hold until 2016-2017 for math, and 2017-2018 for English language arts (dates that the “revised” standards will be implemented).

Perpetual Committee Work 

The bill sets up an everlasting series of committees and public hearings that in the end leave you gasping for breath.  The committee work (an advisory council of 17 members), whose prime work appears to be to set up subcommittees to check the content areas of the standards.  These committees will meet for a non-specified time, but they must post all changes to the content standards 90 days before any action.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 7.45.53 PM
Figure 2. SB 167 will create a complicated network of committees, authorities, and power brokers rather than employing the professional expertise of the state’s education profession.

But it’s not that simple.  Once these committees have made their changes and posted them on the Department of Education Website, the content standards are sent to:

  1. the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, chairperson of the senate
  2. each of the 181 local school systems who will inform parents of the changes
  3. the president of each public university who will send an electronic copy to appropriate deans and department heads, but none of these deans can be from colleges or department of education, eg. the English standards must go to the English department, the mathematics standards to the math department, and so forth.  It’s a no-no to involve mathematics education or English education professors.
  4. the state board of education, followed by at least one public hearing in all congressional districts
  5. the Senate Education and Youth Committee and House Committee on education will also hold public meetings to gather comments on the standards’ changes.
  6. then, the 17 member advisory council and its subcommittees will check comments made by these groups, and include them its final report–new standards?  I don’t know. But I do know that the Advisory Council and its subcommittees have the discretion to make changes on any content standard, and any state-wide assessment.  Keep in mind, that NO state-wide assessment can be tainted by the federalists in Washington.
  7. then, this modified set of standards will be sent out by courier to the 181 school districts and the presidents of each public university to carry out public meetings once again.
  8. and then the Advisory Council will send the revised content standards to the Georgia Board of Education, who will be authorized to make any further changes and then approve the standards for all the boys and girls in the state of Georgia.  I have no idea how the Board thinks it can make changes to content standards at this stage

So, that is the process that will take place before any standards are approved.

Local Control or State Imposed Prohibitions

Is this bill about local control or is it about state control and prohibitions?  Truth is that in Georgia, the local districts are the only entities that are responsible for the education of its citizens.  But this bill appears to disengage the state from the rest of the world by using language that limits educators from doing their jobs.  For instance, line 225 of SB 167 it is stated that:

the state shall not adopt any federally prescribed content standards or any national content standards established by a consortium of states or by a third party, including, but not limited to the Next Generation Science Standards, the National Currciulum for Social Studies, the National Health Education Standards, or the National Sexuality Standards.

The bill also prohibits us from collaborating with outsiders, and make it difficult for researchers to seek federal support for programs that might enhance education, K-12.  This is my interpretation, but when you study the language of the bill, it is full of prohibitions.  What kind of an academical and social environment does that encourage?

The debate in the Georgia legislature is an unabashed mixture of anti-scientfic thought, junk thought and unreason.  However, this kind of thinking is not limited to Georgia.  Jean Haverhill, and educational researchers in Massachusetts reported that social studies teachers on a state-wide committee prepared curriculum alignment with standards, but their program was shelved for lack of funds.  But then the state turned around and a deal was made to bring in Pearson/PARCC.  Somehow, the funds that were needed to pay for this appeared in the budget.  In other states, the opt out movement is politically charged, as it is in Georgia.

Where is the evidence?

Yet the debate on the Common Core generally lacks any scholarship and related research to enable educators to make informed decisions.  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.  Carolyn Wallace of Indiana State University 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.

There is also evidence that the quality of the content standards does not have much effect on student performance.  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 argument that is going on in the Georgia legislature ignores 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 do think about what the legislators in Georgia are doing to education in the state?

 

 

 

The Season of Unreason in the Georgia State Senate@Standards Bill 167

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 8.42.53 PM

In an article published at the PeachPundit, the author, Charlie Harper suggests the Georgia Senate Bill 167 is an anti-science bill.  In this post, I want to add to Mr. Harper’s conclusion that the action of the Georgia Senate is major step backwards for education in the state.

Senators Ligon, Loudermilk, Hufstetler and Hill, the originators of the bill, based only on political considerations, have created a plague on the Georgia educational system.  If they had chutzpah, they would have created a bill that engaged the Georgia Senate in a debate, followed by and up or down vote on whether to opt out or stay with the Common Core State Standards.  Instead, they have created a wreck of the state’s curriculum by throwing their argument about the Common Core State Standards into the hands of a politically appointed 17-member committee.  According to the bill, the mathematics review has to be completed by May 31, 2015, and implemented during the 2016 -2017 school year.  English language arts is to be completed by May 31, 2016, and implemented by  the 2017-2018 school year.

The bill also prohibits any state official from relinquishing any control over content standards.  What this really means is state educators are not allowed to adopt any federally prescribed content standards established by a consortium of states or a third-party, including, but not limited to, the Next Generation Science Standards, the National Curriculum for Social Studies, the National Health Education Standards, or the National Sexuality Standards.  Will the esteemed senators ban textbooks and other resources that any connection to a federally prescribed program or research project.

But the Senators can’t get their story right. In another section of the bill, the Senators urge educators to examine standards previously or currently adopted by Georgia, other states, or other countries especially those highly rated in national and international surveys.

Whose In, Whose Out

The committee of 17 will be stacked with political appointees, many of whom will lack the knowledge to check and make recommendations about content standards in English, language arts, literature, reading, mathematics, science, biology, chemistry, physics, geology, engineering, history, political science, geography, anthropology, computer science, robotics.

The committee is tasked with making recommendations on the content standards. As you will see ahead, this is the wrong committee for a wrong-headed piece of legislation.

In: If you live in Georgia, and can claim membership in anyone of these categories, you are in:

  • Parent or grandparent of a Georgia student–they need 9 of you folks
  • Current or retired teacher–they only need 3 of you, one elementary, one middle, and one high school teacher
  • Private sector person–2 of you
  • Postsecondary content specialist: 3 people who have taught the subject content (at least 5 years) at the postsecondary level, and hopefully holding a doctorate. They mean professors of English, chemistry, history, engineering, political science, etc.

Out: If you are a professor of education in the state of Georgia, you are out.  If you hold an advanced degrees in education in a subject such as science education, English education, social studies education, or mathematics education–you can not be on this committee.

I do have a Ph.D. in science education and geology, and I know professors in all the education content areas in Georgia. If you wanted to have knowledgeable people on the committee, these are the folks you need.  They know and do the research in education, and they know and understand the content (English, mathematics, science, and social studies) of the standards.  This is a perfect example of the “season of unreason” playing out in the Georgia Senate.  Many colleagues in colleges of education also teach in academic departments of our universities.  What are these senators thinking? To continue the legacy of unreason, the Senators also insist that the committee be a blend of urban, suburban, rural and represent each congressional district.  And in typical fashion, committee members are appointed via a mix of the Governor, Speaker of the House, and the Lieutenant Governor.

Season of Unreason

I’ve read the Senate Bill 167, and if you do, I think you will agree that this piece of legislation is a display of ignorance on the part of these men.  What they have done is to use a lack of scholarship and ethics to inflict harm on hundreds of thousands of students, their parents, and all of Georgia’s educators.

The year 2010 is a benchmark for our senators.  You see, it was in 2010 that the state of Georgia received its $400 million dollar grant from the federal (this is a key word in Senate Bill 167) government’s Race to the Top fund.  Georgia agreed to adopt the Common Core State Standards as part of this grant.  Governor Purdue signed the proposal that was funded, and Governor Deal has stated support for the standards.

This senate bill pushes the state’s curriculum back to the year 2010, just before Georgia received RT3 federal funding.  Here is how Senate Bill 167 pushes education in Georgia back:

Beginning September 24, 2014, a local school system shall have the flexibility to determine its curriculum and instruction without constraint, including returning to curriculum and instruction aligned to the former Georgia Performance Standards that were in effect in June 2010, until the completion of the revision process established pursuant to this part and the establishment of new standards pursuant to such process. 

The Georgia legislature is in the midst an age of Unreason, and Senate Bill 167 is the poster child for unreason and unscientific literacy.  Two recent publications come to mind that underscore the unreason and unscientific thinking that has occurred under the Gold Dome in Atlanta.

The first publication is Susan Jacoby’s book, The Age of American Unreason (library copy).  It is the story of America caught up in “junk thought” and anti-rationalist thinking that seems to be common fare for state legislatures and the U.S. Congress these days.  The debate over the Common Core State Standards in America’s state legislatures is not a scholarly discussion of the content and curriculum of schooling.  It is an arrogant display of political advocacy trumping any sense of responsibility for the education of its citizens.  Creating a committee that lacks the credentials to analyze, synthesize and evaluate the content of the K-12 curriculum is a sham, and an embarrassment to the citizens and educators of Georgia.

Another publication that has relevance here is Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future (library copy).  A very significant part of Senate Bill 167 is the disconnect between the content of the curriculum and the development of literacy among Americans.  Why did the Georgia Senate tie the hands of Georgia’s educators by making it illegal to consider and carry out any federally prescribed content standards or related materials, especially the Next Generation Science Standards?  It’s obvious that the Georgia Senate has decided politically to join the band-wagon of fellow legislators to opt out of the Common Core and to redirect the state away from the NGSS.

The action of the Senate is very clear, and that is to use the education of K-12 students as a punching bag to wedge their political ideology into our schools.  Their behavior is unscientific.  Mooney and Kirshenbaum discuss how [scientific] literacy has been impeded by politicians and advocacy groups.  The behavior of the Georgia Senate by writing and passing Senate Bill 167 only contributes further to the problem of illiteracy.  Mooney and Kirshenbaum expose the illiteracy of the senate when they say:

And anyway, we don’t need average citizens to become robotic memorizers of scientific facts or readers of the technical literature.  Rather we need a nation in which science has far more prominence in politics and the media, for more relevance to the life of every American, for more intersections with other walks of life, and ultimately, far more influence where it truly matters—namely, in setting the agenda for the future as far out as we can possibly glimpse it.  That would be a scientific America, and its citizens would be as scientifically literate as anyone could reasonably hope for.  We will never need a nation that is fully composed of Ph.D.s. Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, p. 18.

 

The Georgia Senate, through its passage of Senate Bill 167 has not only pushed education in Georgia back, but has created instability for parents, students and their teachers.  Shame on them.

What do you think about Senate Bill 167?

Photo of the Georgia Senate Chamber by Wally Gobetz, Flickr