BREAKING: President Trump signs executive order repealing Common Core state standards

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During last year’s presidential campaign then-candidate Donald Trump said “Common Core is a total disaster. We can’t let it continue.”

Today he made good on his campaign promise to end those controversial standards.

Advocates for the standards were dismayed, but not shocked by the move. Earlier today Trump’s “Counselor,” Kellyanne Conway, signaled the repeal was coming, telling CNN the president would soon take action.

“He wants to repeal common core. He doesn’t think that federal standards are better than local and parental control,” she said.

By moving to curtail Common Core standards, Trump ends months of speculation by experts on whether or not the president has the power to halt federally mandated curriculum and education standards by the stroke of a pen.

Last year, on the heels of Trump’s election victory, the Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli doubted it could be done.

“[Common Core is] not an issue any president has much say over — academic standards are under the firm control of the state,” he wrote.

For background, the Common Core standards were authored in 2009 at a private meeting hosted by Bill Gates, in conjunction with Barack Obama, representatives from Pearson, and several back up dancers for Lady Gaga.

Critics say the intent was to confuse parents with complicated homework assignments that would leave them defenseless to help their children. That and to turn schools into “government indoctrination camps.”

A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center gives voice to many anti-common core activists who fear the standards will turn children into ” homosexual slaves of a future totalitarian global government.”

For now, the White House says America’s children are safe from that threat.

Citizen Malarkey is the newest contributor to Citizen Ed. He is a suburban entrepreneur and freelance writer of news that doesn’t exist for people who don’t know better. He writes completely plausible commentary for several legitimate-looking news sites.

If only they attacked racial gaps in student achievement like they attack Campbell Brown

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In a post yesterday I got under the hood of a Twitter argument between Carol Burris and Campbell Brown about NAEP, proficiency, and grade-level outcomes. That wasn’t the real story though. Aside from the technical details of their semantics exercise, the real story is how smart people miss the point.

Watching professional people like Carol Burris, Diane Ravitch, and Tom Loveless go after Campbell Brown feels like being a referee in an outbreak of white on white crime. My allies have already jumped into the fray with a piece here and here, but I’m compelled to speak up too because these exchanges frustrate me with how they miss the point.

I shouldn’t assume you know all these people or about their drama, so a little background first:

Burris is a highly regarded (and very well paid) former Long Island high school principal who now runs a labor funded organization that argues parents should have no education options outside of traditional district public schools, even when those schools fail.

Ravitch is a former historian who transitioned into the role of education polemicist over a decade ago, a switch that caused her to renounce 90% of her life’s work.

Loveless is an Ivy League researcher, former teacher unionist, and sometime pal of education reformers.

Their target, Brown, is a former television news journalist who now is a full time school reformer advocate.

Now that you know the players, I can tell you more about their humbug.

Missing the point

Forgive me if I sound dismissive of these really smart people who like to wade in academic minutia. From where I sit, it looks like a self-pleasing dreck tossing competition that can turn into a costly distraction. The point of all education debate in my mind should center on student achievement. How are the children?

You already know the answer. You’re not dumb. So why are really smart people splitting hairs about definitions instead of talking about the damning results coming out of too many of our schools?

It  takes an unacceptable level of naivete to ignore Burris’ intent. Her broadside is political, ideological, and mainly about defending traditional school districts against claims that they should not have a monopoly on educating children. You might say it’s fair for her to correct what she sees as inaccurate comments about education. She is an expert of sorts with both experience and strong credentials. But she wanders from the technical issue headlong into questionable territory. when she assigns reductive motives to education reformers (“Brown and her allies embrace privatization and the commercial mindset, while I believe that equity reforms embedded in democratically governed public schools are the most effective and ethical means to improvement”).

She also goes in on Brown’s media platform (The Seventy Four), and makes hay of her financial backers.

I couldn’t care less about who funds Brown or what Burris thinks about it if focusing there shifts attention from student outcomes.

American students – especially the black and brown ones – are doing poorly. Regardless of who you blame for that you can’t improve it unless you admit the problem.

Look at this graphic showing NAEP 2015 12th results, and let it speak to you. For me, it looks like trouble.

NAEP 2015 12th gr race gender larger

Further, can we stop the ruse that demand for better (and more) educational options and the call for radical school improvement comes solely from devious people intoxicated by abstract concepts like “privatization” and a “commercial mindset”?

While artfully painting school reform as solely the product of corporate boogeymen, Burris and Co. strategically sidestep a more important point: people of color widely support school reform (see: here, here, here, here, here, and here). Erasing us from the discussion as if we are to be seen and not heard is a form of erasure we can’t allow.

Further, it’s equally silly for Burris to say “democratically governed public schools are the most effective and ethical means to improvement,” rather than the new options provided by school reformers. Some of the worst schools for us have been “democratically governed.” That phrase may hold some nostalgic significance for her, but it tells me Burris prioritizes sentimentality and a unionized workforce over all else.

Her definition of public education traps students into buildings where careerists have jobs without accountability or results. More than anything, that is the center of gravity for all her arguments against Brown and other school reformers.

Finally, there is a danger in indulging highly credentialed people in their eagerness to demonstrate their smarts by over-exercising nuances in language. They become pampered house cats chasing the red blip of a laser pointer, and we join them in losing sight of what matters most. Our kids are in big trouble and damn you if you let these arguments among privileged people take any focus from that.

While the racial, social, political, and economic consequences of poorly performing schools are innumerable and harsh, they won’t be felt by Burris who earned $268,000 as a principal; or Ravitch who became a fierce public school advocate only after her children completed private school; or Valerie Strauss – another private school parent – who uses her Washington Post real estate to bolster all the drivel teachers’ unions send her (without mentioning her connection to communication contracts with labor). Marginalized children are losing, daily.

Brown is right to use her position to remind us that everyday we are turning out more and more “graduates” who are not ready for the world. If only her opponents put as much energy into attacking the achievement gap as they put into dissing her, we might make some progress.

Don’t call it a comeback, NOLA’s been here for years

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A friend down South sent an email that had great news, and a solemn subtext.

The good news is that New Orleans’ results from this past spring’s PARCC testing shows black elementary students there are outperforming similar students in every other state except Massachusetts.

This year ten states, including Louisiana, used tests that aligned to the Common Core State Standards for 3rd graders through 8th graders, which allows for better comparisons of sub-groups across states. That in itself is a huge improvement over Louisiana’s past test, the LEAP, which masked poor performance relative to other states.

So, look at these results….

Percentage of 8th Grade Black Students
Scoring Mastery or Above
 English
Math
Massachusetts
45%
Massachusetts
33%
New Orleans
33%
New Orleans
28%
New Jersey
30%
Louisiana
18%
Louisiana
27%
DC
15%
Colorado
26%
New Jersey
13%
Cross-State*
24%
Cross-State*
13%
Maryland
23%
Colorado
11%
Rhode Island
19%
Maryland
10%
DC
18%
Arkansas
6%
Arkansas
17%
Rhode Island
6%

* Includes Colorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island

The graphic below shows that New Orleans is also besting other districts in the state of Louisiana, at least in 8th grade English and Math.

Percentage of Black Students Scoring Mastery or Above in English and Math
EDNow_Student_Mastery

The email also said this:

New Orleans is ranked 11th highest in the state out of 68 school districts In New Orleans, twenty-five percent of black students in grades 3-8 scored Mastery or above in English and math, 4 points above the state average of 21%.

These results are particularly impressive when you consider that in 2004, the first year the state released test results by sub-group, New Orleans was ranked last in the state in black student performance.

Now that we have the good news out of the way, there are two pieces of bad news here.

First, while New Orleans is shining in apples-to-apples comparisons of black students to similar students in other districts and states, the gap in test scores hasn’t close yet between black NOLA students and all students in Louisiana (see below).

Percentage Scoring Mastery or Above in English and Math

Percentage Scoring Mastery or Above in English and Math

Second, while New Orleans deserves applause for making forward progress, it’s just how few black students are mastering or exceeding standards, especially in places like New Jersey, a national leader in per-pupil investment public investment.

Not to be a buzzkill. We’ll take the good news we can get, where ever we can find it.  New Orleans deserves every dose of positive reinforcement after years of trauma, neglect, politics, and scandal.

I’ll cheer them on while hoping other states follow suit.

Rather than fight reform, teachers should “heal thy self”

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Radically simple thinking and a return to basic values may do more to improve education than a million years war against charter schools, Teach For America, or Common Core academic standards. That’s Raymond A. Schroth’s suggestion in his article “Teacher Heal Thy Self” for The National Catholic Review.

Schroth pierces the mainstream education conflict too often characterized by volley from side-to-side by teacher sympathizers fighting system technocrats, but he does it with a new set of eyes coming from the Jesuit tradition. That refreshes our browser which, perhaps, has been stuck on an error page for too long.

Up front he defines the purpose of teaching, drawing from “Jesuit Schools and the Humanities Yesterday and Today” by historian John W. O’Malley. These are the “five hooks” that unify Jesuit teaching that may be helpful for all of us:

1. It releases the “fly in the bottle,” that is, it helps students escape the bondage of unexamined assumptions.

2. It helps students understand our pasts, where we came from.

3. It communicates a commitment to “faith that does justice.” That comes from Cicero’s “We are not born for ourselves alone.” Our talents are given us to serve.

4. It offers a study of the great literature so we can fit words to thought—that’s called eloquentia perfecta.

5. Its humane letters sharpen students’ aesthetic sensibilities—teaching prudence to make wise decisions. These principles remain relevant today.

If those five hooks are real, then teachers must be very important to the process of education. That might sound trite, but we often talk about teachers as if they have no agency, no efficacy, and no direct connection to outcomes that aren’t pre-determined by the demographic composition of the students in their classroom.

Schroth has this to say about teaching’s connection to our problems in education:

Perhaps the real crisis in education centers on a decline of teaching as a profession. We all know great teachers who have transformed our lives; but too many teachers today are guilty both in their laxity in the classroom and in their failure to raise and enforce the standards of their profession. Both documentary and experiential evidence paints a picture today of mediocrity. College professors encounter high school graduates who have never read a book, who can barely write a sentence, who know no grammar, cannot stand up and speak and have no intention of doing the next assignment.

[…]

During a formal visit, one group of college students told me with a straight face that their teachers were so good that they learned everything in class and so never had any homework. On my professional visits to all the Jesuit universities, I found very few students could name books that had influenced their lives. Lawyers tell me that newly hired colleagues lack sufficient writing skills.

The responsibility for these lapses falls upon those teachers who—out of laziness, timidity, ignorance of their field or a misguided desire to be loved—fail to challenge every student to do his or her very best. This includes chairpersons and deans who do not demand high standards, visit classrooms, study syllabi or publish the grade distributions by departments. Little do teachers realize that in the long run students will admire the professors who cared enough to challenge them and despise those who gave them the easy A’s.

Too many schools of education and education majors are considered academically soft. In 2014 the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research group committed to restructuring the teaching profession, released a report on 836 academic institutions housing teacher preparation programs, evaluating them on the core components of teacher preparation, including course content and practice teaching. Only 26 elementary programs and 81 secondary programs got top rankings.

And, there are real impacts to lax attention to teacher efficacy in basic material:

The weak schools disregard the basic methods of reading instruction. As a result, only 30 percent of American children learn to read beyond the basic level. Only 15 percent improved teaching on how to control classroom disruption. Worse, many classroom teachers have not been tested in the subjects they are assigned. In 509 institutions, 44 percent of the education graduates received honors, compared to 30 percent of other students. As a result the word spreads that getting an education degree is an easy college path—when, considering the responsibility of forming young minds, it should be the most rigorous.

Lowering standards, avoiding rigor, and discounting high expectations – as many do when they mock “no excuses” as a reform mantra – has disastrous consequences. We degrade the system if we forget education is supposed to free students of intellectual limits and ignorance by arming them with skills and a world fund of usable information.

Here are several books on teaching that Schroth recommends: