StudentsFirst gives NY ed commissioner a friendly audience for Common Core forum
New York State Education Commissioner John King was on a “listening tour” this fall to ostensibly talk with the public about the Common Core State Standards and school reform but it got cut short when people in the crowd challenged him. Some forums were cancelled, but he is back on the circuit -- and on Tuesday, he had a very friendly crowd, courtesy of StudentsFirstNY, the New York branch of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst advocacy organization. Here’s a description of that forum. It was written by Steven Mazie, who blogs at Big Think and The Economist and teaches at Bard High School Early College in New York City. Follow him on Twitter.
By Steven Mazie
The uproar over last summer’s dramatically lower test results in New York’s new standardized exams for third through eighth graders has haunted New York State Education Commissioner John King on his listening tour this fall. Not so on Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
In a packed auditorium at Medgar Evers College in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, an orchestrated wave of support greeted Commissioner King and applauded the Common Core State Standards. According to Parent Voices New York, an organization opposing high-stakes testing, the forum’s univocal character was the result of a carefully scripted effort by StudentsFirstNY. Dozens of parents and teachers were bussed in for the event, handed placards and instructed to sign up early for speaker slots.
It was a clear organizational win for the Common Core advocates: they got to the venue an hour early and commandeered nearly all the spots on the speaker’s list before other attendees even arrived. Alternative voices were effectively silenced.
When the proceedings got under way, several dozen members of the audience raised signs on cue: “Our kids can hit your bar!” “Common Core ” ”Low expectations [with a slash through it]” Each sign was written in the same colorful paint, in the same handwriting.
The first community speaker, teacher and activist Katie Lapham, raised concerns about the corporatization of education, called the Common Core a series of “scripted curricula that do little more than prepare kids for standardized tests,” and concluded that the implementation of the new standards “constitutes child abuse.”
Aside from a few yells from hecklers, that bit of hyperbole was the last breath spoken in clear criticism of the state’s new standards. The remaining 40-some speakers who approached the microphone sounded the same few supportive notes, again and again.
Tenicka Boyd of StudentsFirstNY got the ball rolling: “I unequivocally support the Common Core,” she said. “I’ve spoken to parents who say they had no idea that what their kids were learning in Crown Heights was different from what was being taught on the Upper West Side and in Park Slope [an affluent neighborhood in Brownstone Brooklyn].” She then asked all Common Core supporters to stand, and 75 percent of the audience jumped to their feet, cheering. The vast majority of the supporters were African American. “Notice who didn’t stand up,” she added.
Speaker after speaker reiterated two claims: (1) the Common Core represents a series of higher standards that will close the equity gap in low-income neighborhoods, ensuring readiness for college and careers; and (2) opponents of the Common Core in more affluent neighborhoods seek to deny opportunities to children in less fortunate locales.
A mother of two girls from the South Bronx said this: “The Bronx is the poorest borough in New York. The Common Core standards will give everyone the same standards across the country. Let’s take a stand to be sure our children get what they deserve. They are our future, so let’s make sure they are adequately prepared for it.”
A grandmother from the economically depressed neighborhood of East New York in Brooklyn said the Common Core is a vast improvement on the education she received as a child. Those who speak out against the new standards and tests “are doing an injustice to the future of all school-age children.” Middle class parents “oppose the Common Core because it will give lower-income people access to the same opportunities as their children. ”
One speaker said: “Those who oppose it do not have best interests of all in mind.” That sentiment was echoed by a speaker from Brownsville in Brooklyn, who said: “Knowing that people are against the Common Core sickens me. Just because I reside in a low-income community doesn’t mean my child should have lower potential. People in better off communities like Park Slope or the Upper East Side want to lower standards for my child.”
At no time did the speakers, or the commissioner, tackle questions about the implementation of the standards, the developmental appropriateness of the exams, the resource inequities that the Common Core does nothing to correct or the use of exam data to evaluate students, teachers, administrators and schools. Little dissent was voiced to the relentlessly reiterated view that the Common Core is a magic bullet for closing the racial and socioeconomic achievement gap in public education.
In short, no one at the forum engaged in critical thinking about the new educational standards that are, purportedly, all about critical thinking.
The 10 school districts with the most charter school students
A new report on charter schools says that charter school enrollment around the country has grown 80 percent over the past five years -- but represents only 5 percent of total public school enrollment (a statistic that may seem surprising given all of the attention that school reformers give to charters).
The report, which is issued by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools,” says that urban areas have seen the most charter school growth in the 2012-13 school year. The district with the most charter school students is the Los Angeles Unified School District, with 121,000 out of a total enrollment of 656,000, for a “market share” of 18 percent. (Yes, students are now referred to as “market shares.”) The New Orleans Recovery School District, however, has the highest percentage of students in charter schools -- 79 percent.
The report portrays the growth of charter school enrollment glowingly:
This rapid rate of growth should come as no surprise. For more than 20 years, the public charter school movement has been a leader in innovation and education reform. By unleashing an environment of creativity in states and communities, public charter schools have demonstrated that all children are capable of achieving high standards and college and career readiness.
It doesn’t mention that studies show that charter schools on average don’t do any better than traditional public schools. In the New Orleans Recovery School District -- which is often cited by school reformers as a huge success -- charter schools have been struggling for years -- and, this year, received a letter grade of “C” by the state under a new way of rating schools that appear to make it easier to get higher grades than it was in years passed. The “C” was a significant improvement from previous years. Blogger Mercedes Schneider wrote in this Huffington Post piece:
On October 23, 2013, [Louisiana Schools Superintendent] John White released the long-awaited, capriciously calculated 2013 Louisiana school performance scores (SPS) and letter grades. In this “official” LDOE [Louisiana Department of Education] graphic, he attempts to sell the public on the “new,” “simpler” SPS/ letter grade formula and “easy to understand scale”, all the while maintaining that this latest attempt to label Louisiana education is “aligned with higher standards to ensure postsecondary success.” Now, there is no evidence that such a statement has been tested, but this is the era of Untested Yet Boldly Proclaimed Reformer Smoke, so, it must be true.
In well-trained reformer fashion, John White is careful not to openly release any raw data by which third parties might examine formulas and verify calculations. In fact, the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge recently ruled that John White gets to withhold or release LDOE data at will.
Nevertheless, in this 2013 spreadsheet of SPS scores, I found information useful to the public in understanding that the “new” 2013 SPS and letter grades are not “rigorous.” Indeed, use of the 2013 calculations makes the Recovery School District (RSD) appear to have made gains that are nothing more than artifacts of a new scale and new calculations.
Here are three charts with statistics on charter school enrollment across the county.
A critique of Common Core math standards
I recently posted a piece on the future of high school math education and the Common Core State Standards on math, which was the work of a coalition of mathematicians, statisticians, teachers and curriculum developers, that elicited a lot of interest. The following response takes a critical look at that piece and the Common Core math standards. It was written by Michael Goldenberg, who holds a master’s degree in mathematics education from the University of Michigan, as well as master’s degrees in English and psychological foundations of education from the University of Florida. He writes the “Rational Mathematics Education” blog and was a co-founder of the group Mathematically Sane. He coaches high school mathematics teachers in Detroit. You can read the piece that prompted his reaction here.
By Michael Goldenberg
On Dec. 6, an essay from a group of noteworthy mathematics education professionals entitled, “The future of high school math education,” appeared on this blog. I responded here with a comment, a version of which appears below with additional remarks. I sent it to all the signatories in hopes of promoting a much-needed national dialogue that should have occurred long before the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics [CCSSM] were drafted, internally critiqued, and approved (or not). As of Dec. 9, I had received a reply from only one of the authors, and await permission to share that response publicly. Perhaps we can have on this blog a conversation that is less burdened with some of the more imaginative hypotheses about the Common Core as a whole and the CCSSM in particular (e.g., that Bill Ayers played an authorship or any other role in their creation).
It is difficult enough to have meaningful conversations about mathematics teaching and learning in this country without the onus of highly politicized and unfounded conspiracy theories that directly or indirectly owe much to the work of Charlotte Iserbyt and Beverly Eakma. There has been, after all, a national “math war” going on since at least the early-to-mid 1990s.
And unfortunately, the fallout from that war has been to create an enormous amount of nonsense, rhetoric, and malicious dishonesty from many entrenched traditionalists people whose minds are so closed that they have and never will grant a single positive aspect of any approach to mathematics teaching and learning at the K-14 level (that is, up to the completion of the usual undergraduate non-math-major calculus sequence), that is in any way pitched at those who are NOT planning to become professional mathematicians, physicists, engineers, computer scientists, or other members of the so-called STEM careers.
In other words, these people want EVERY student to have to start from day one in kindergarten as if the goal of ALL math teaching was to get students to at least the master’s level in mathematics. Those who aren’t ready or interested at 5 years old, and those who may never wish to pursue that stratum of mathematics, simply don’t matter. Some of these people would, given the opportunity, return K-12 education to the heavily tracked system that best serves the interests of a small elite. There is ample evidence that this approach significantly reduces the mathematical achievement of the vast majority of our youngsters, ensuring that most of them will be terrified by and turned off to mathematics, while at the same time denying them any opportunity in school to encounter a broad enough sampling of the subject to have any chance of finding something that appeals to them and/or that they are successful with.
I believe that I understand why the signatories (most of whom I know personally to some degree and nearly all of whom I know by reputation as progressive mathematics educators) felt compelled to write in defense of what they take to be the healthy core precepts inherent in CCSSM. As will be evident in what follows, I think they are correct in their championing of the Practice Standards, but mistaken in pinning their hopes for the success of the battle on throwing their support to the overall CCSSI, an initiative that, I argue below, is fatally sick at its heart.
Let’s play “pretend” for a moment. We’ll pretend that: 1) the methods by which CCSSM evolved and were foisted upon our public schools don’t matter; 2) neither do the for-profit forces promoting and funding its development or their mercenary motives; 3) the myriad complaints about developmental inappropriateness are unreasonable or irrelevant (remember -- we’re playing “pretend”); 4) the failure to carve out clear alternative paths by omitting key areas of mathematics (such as discrete math) entirely from the content standards is not highly questionable; 5) that a one-size-fits-all, top-down approach to curriculum is a fantastic idea; and 6) that the punitive use of high-stakes, summative tests employed in a manner that will keep all useful formative information away from students, teachers, parents, and other key stakeholders is not a highly destructive policy.
Despite all that creative use of imagination, as well as the best intentions of the signatories of the essay and the people who served on the various committees affiliated with the Common Core Math standards, I claim that CCSSM will fail, and fail miserably. And no one should understand the reasons better than these signatories, having been intimately involved with the National Council of Teacher of Mathematics’s (NCTM) attempts to get its 1989-2000 standards widely accepted and implemented.
That is because the same things that undermined NCTM’s reform efforts remain unaddressed by CCSSM and its supporters: the need for a LONG-TERM effort that:
1) engages support and input IN ADVANCE on a mass basis by reaching out to stakeholders in a meaningful (rather than token) way;
2) that takes advantage of the known history of reform efforts in math education to avoid perceived and/or actual past failure (see “The” New Math, and The Math Wars c. 1989 -- present);
3) that creates a cadre of teachers who are on-board with and up to the task of teaching in keeping with the Practice Standards;
4) that openly and pointedly acknowledges the impossibility and undesirability of rolling out 13 years of “new” math education in one year, and instead calls for introducing CCSSM a year/grade at a time. In keeping with a long-range approach rather than the quick fix the signatories properly decry but in fact are inherently supporting in suggesting that we “stay the course,” mechanisms for collecting and making use of feedback from teachers, a la the approach taken in Japan by its Ministry of Education, are set up and employed from the outset. The result of this is that that by the time Year 2 begins, the second year of teaching CCSSM in the lowest grades (and we might seriously want to rethink the notion that we need “rigorous” academic standards in Kindergarten, replete with high-stakes tests looming) has been informed by the experiences of the first year, and materials have been tweaked accordingly;
5) vigilant efforts to continue to build support for the Practice Standards among parents, teachers, and other stakeholders must be a year-long focus EVERY year. This may mean finding ways to phase out teachers who clearly are unable and/or unwilling to commit to the core ideas in the Practice Standards;
6) every effort must be made to change the focus of assessment from punitive, summative, standardized instruments that are not part of the learning cycle, to true formative (not “interim”) performance tasks that give all useful data to teachers, parents, and students first and foremost;
7) the focus on the myth that education is a race or competition must be soundly rejected;
NCTM, the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, and other national and state professional organizations need to stand up for a vision of educational improvement that acknowledges economic and social reality, that rejects the business-as-usual, self-serving nonsense that the vulture capitalists and billionaires have been using to destroy public schools and replace them with for-profit charters and vouchers.
While I am aware that some of the above issues are touched upon in the original essay to which I am responding, too many of these points are not addressed adequately or at all. Once we stop playing “pretend,” educators must acknowledge that CCSSM is deeply flawed and irredeemably tainted by the overall Common Core Initiative, Race to the Top, the high-stakes testing monster, and the ugly fingerprints of corporate educational deform.
We risk setting progressive reform mathematics education back to the pre-1989 era. And in the long run, we will not get see any of the key principles in the CCSSM Practice Standards implemented meaningfully.
Twenty years from now, the best we can hope for is that we’ll still be having these same arguments. At worst, all debate will be effectively shut down. Most of the rest of the industrialized world will have adopted the child-friendly, humanistic ideas that NCTM developed, to the great advantage of their students, while American students will be forced to subsist on curricula and pedagogy that would be better suited to East Germany, North Korea, Stalinist Russia, and other Cold War totalitarian regimes. The irony is vast, and would be funny if the victims weren’t children.
The link between early childhood education and PISA scores
There’s an interesting connection between early childhood education and the results released last week from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, on which American 15-year-old students performed about average in reading, math and science among some 65 countries and school systems. Here to explain is Kris Perry , executive director of the First Five Years Fund, a nonprofit organization that advocates for comprehensive, high-quality early childhood education systems, programs and supports.
By Kris Perry
Buried under the headlines of the last week about the newly released Program for International Student Assessment results -- which showed American 15-year-old students nowhere near the top on the 2012 math, reading and science tests, is an interesting bit of data. It’s the connection between early childhood education and the top-performing PISA nations.
PISA is given by an organization called the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is made up of 34 countries, including the United States, China, Germany and Japan. In the majority of OECD countries, more than three quarters (79%) of 4-year olds are enrolled in early childhood education programs. And according tothe report on 2012 PISA scores released last week, across OECD countries, students who attended early childhood programs performed better—a full year ahead of their peers.
The answer is clear: a serious focus on the education and health of children from birth to age 5, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can lay the foundation for achievement in school, college, career and life.
One of the OECD’s primary recommendations last week was for countries to increase investments in early learning for disadvantaged children, with OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurr a repeatedly returning to this conclusion. Domestic policy leaders such as Marc Tucker, president and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, agreed.
Here’s where some of the countries who did well on PISA 2012 stand on early education:
SHANGHAI and HONG KONG: Again at the top of the PISA ratings (by far), Shanghai’s key focuses has been inching towards universal access for all students from early childhood through primary school. Meanwhile, Hong Kong, which also came out near the top, has preschools that are of far higher quality than those in the United States, a key to the lasting education and economic impacts of these programs. Hong Kong comes in at No. 11 on the Economist’s Starting Well Quality Index, while the United States trails at No. 22. However, ensuring quality requires significant government support and even with two-thirds of children already in preschool centers across China, the Ministry of Education plans to provide universal access for one year of preschool and almost universal access for two years before primary school by 2020 and Shanghai, in particular has been outpacing the rest of the nation.
SINGAPORE: Ranking second in math and in the top five for both reading and science, Singapore achieved almost universal access to preschool with governmental support. Ninety-nine percent of children in the first year of school have at least one year of pre-school in either a child care center or a kindergarten.
KOREA: For the third time in a row, receiving high marks in reading and mathematics, Korea’s education leaders understand that early participation is key to producing better outcomes. Korea has higher enrollment rates for children under the age of 3 than many other OECD countries and an above-average enrollment rate at age 3. The country has also focused on connecting its birth-5 education system by creating a parallel learning framework that connects child care programs with the nation’s preschool programs for children ages 3 to 5, helping to improve school readiness across the early learning continuum.
POLAND: Seeing one of the most impressive improvements of any nation in the 2012 PISA results, Poland has steadily increased the number of its students in early childhood programs. Pre-primary education for 5 year olds is now required as part of a government strategy to help children overcome educational disadvantage. As a result, early childhood education for 5 year olds increased by 33 percent between 2005 and 2011, compared with an average of 4 percent for OECD countries. Enrollment rates for 3- and 4-year-old children almost doubled since 2004, representing a 22 percent increase for 3 year olds and 26 percent for 4 yearolds. Half of all 3- to 5-year-old children are now enrolled in early learning programs.
Comparing our education system to other countries’ strategies is difficult, and the value of these comparisons is a common criticism of PISA itself. This new data presents one standard of measurement of academic gain for students at age 15. Nothing more nothing less. Furthermore, the United States is one of the most diverse, heterogeneous countries in the world, as well as one of the largest, complicating education efforts. Still, 70 percent of voters have expressed support in surveys for investments in early childhood education, and in the face of gridlock in the U.S. Congress, states are coming up with their own innovative solutions.
A solid body of research has shown that investments in early childhood education pay real dividends socially and economically. High-quality early childhood programs in the United States result in fewer referrals to special education programs, reduced grade repetition and increased high school graduation rates advancements that save taxpayers money and provide a long-term boost to the economy.
New research from Professor James Heckman also shows that high quality early childhood education can improve the development of lifelong character and critical thinking skills the skills employers need to fill the jobs of the future.
Implementing effective early childhood education requires policymakers and politicians to go beyond the traditional notions of formal education to understand that quality is defined by how we support children and families, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to set them up for success. Business leaders, law enforcement officials and now global leaders are calling for it. Economists and neuroscientists have proven it. Now, an important international education assessment is recommending it. What are we waiting for?
Millions in private money poured into Common Core promotion
It cost money to implement and promote the Common Core State Standards. Here’s a post about where some of the funding is coming from, written by award-winning Principal Carol Burris of South Side High School in New York. Burris has chronicled on this blog the many problems with the test-driven reform in New York (here, and here and here and here, for example). She was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and in 2010, tapped as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. She is the co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student test scores. It has been signed by more than 1,535 New York principals and more than 6,500 teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens. You can read the letter by clicking here.
(Correction: Fixing first name of Regents member)
By Carol Burris
I am pleased to see the excitement in the business community for the Common Core. Businesses are the primary consumers of the output of our schools, so it’s a natural alliance.
The “output,” to which the writer refers, is our children.
The above statement is from a blog authored by Allan Golston, the president of the United States Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Golston leads the foundation’s education reform efforts. The entire blog can be found here on the Impatient Optimist website. In the blog, Golston describes a conference he recently attended in New York. It was sponsored by The Committee for Economic Development (CED), a business-led, non-profit think tank that has education reform as a project. According to its website, CED exists to deliver “well researched analysis and reasoned solutions to our nation’s most critical issues.”
The CEO of CED is Steve Odland. At the conference, Odland committed his organization to a two-year pledge to make sure that everyone understands the Common Core standards and to ensure that business leaders have what they need to support their implementation. Here is what he said:
We have to be the adults in the room. It’s not about politics. It’s about great policy.
Those oppositional educators and parents who have been stereotyped as “conservative Tea Party Republicans,” “politically silly.” or “white suburban moms” who cannot accept that their children are not “brilliant” can now sit down and be quiet. The adults have arrived to save the day.
Mr. Odland, the former CEO of Auto Zone (2001-2005) and Office Depot (2005-2010), resigned from Office Depot in 2010, a week after the company announced it settled a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation for more than a million dollars. Odland himself agreed to pay a $50,000 fine without admitting or denying the findings.
As the CEO of the Committee on Economic Development he now advises the nation on issues like the Common Core and teacher quality. Odland also blogs for Forbes about what to do on a “staycation,” and to express his concern for the people he sees who do not look healthy when walking around the malls.
His favorite quotation is by Woody Allen: “Confidence is what you have before you understand the problem.”
When it comes to education, I wish Odland and his friends were a little less confident.
In November, the month of the blog post, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave the CED $865,593 to promote the Common Core. To put this donation in perspective, in 2012, the Committee for Economic Development received a little more than $3.5 million in total contributions for their work. For this think tank, this contribution from Gates (and it is not the first that they have received) is a substantial infusion of cash.
The CED is hardly alone. The Gates Foundation has given in excess of $173.5 million to promote the Common Core standards to an astounding number of organizations. In New York, the Gates Foundation has contributed $3.3 million to the Regents Research Fund to support a think tank known as the Regents Fellows. A recent story by Jim Odato of the Albany Times Union, entitled, “Education Reform Backed by the Wealthy,” documents how foundations have contributed over $19 million to fund two dozen “research” fellows, who are pushing out the implementation of the Common Core and other reforms in New York. Odato observes that “the arrangement is stirring concern in some quarters that deep-pocketed pedagogues are forcing their reform philosophies on an unwitting populace, and making an end run around government officers.”
Other contributors to the fund include the foundation of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch ($1 million), Regent Charles Bendit ($100,000) as well as millions from the General Electric, Tortora Sillicox Family and Ford Foundations. Others donors to the Regents Research fund that supports the Fellows are New York City charities, The Robin Hood Foundation and the Tiger Foundation. Robin Hood and Tiger generously give to charter schools, including Uncommon Charters, the chain formerly led by New York State Education Commissioner John King. The National Charter School Authorizers made a $135,000 contribution to the Regents Research Fund as well.
From the very beginning, the Fellows Program was controversial, as described in this 2011 article in the New York Times. Since then, the program has greatly expanded and recently come under scrutiny again.
It is clear that these reforms are not arising from parental and community concerns. They are hard-driven, top-down changes backed by those who are willing to spend a fortune to reshape our public schools. That any philanthropic foundation would view our nation’s children as ‘output’ for which businesses are the natural consumers is, in a word, horrifying.
Ethan Young, a high senior from Tennessee, understands the destructive nature of these reforms. During his testimony to his school board regarding the Common Core and the evaluation of teachers by standardized test scores, he said:
The task of teaching is never quantifiable Creativity, appreciation, inquisitiveness—these are impossible to scale. Today we find ourselves in a nation that produces workers. Everything is college and career preparation. Somewhere our Founding Fathers are turning in their graves, pleading, ‘We teach to free minds, we teach to inspire, we teach to equip’. The careers will come naturally.
Ethan Young knows that his birthright is to be more than output to be consumed by business. I would argue that this 18 year old is the adult in the room to whom we should all listen.
Here’s the video of Ethan Young, a senior at Farragut High School in Knoxville, giving testimony in November to his district’s school board: