Friday, April 29, 2011

Common Core Standards Spur the Marketplace

According to press reports, the Bill Gates Foundation and the Pearson Foundation are partnering to create "complete, online curricula" for English/Language Arts and mathematics, based on the recently completed Common Core Standards. The effort is to offer school districts across the county a smooth transition to implementing the standards. Six states have not adopted the standards, the New Hampshire legislature will vote soon to reverse their decision to adopt them, and a similar proposal was presented to the Massachusetts legislature. School boards, organizations, experts, and parents have concerns about the Common Core Standards and their implications. One group expresses these shared concerns in a document called "What Parents, Taxpayers, and School Boards Should Know."

The Gates/Pearson partnership will offer 24 courses using "technological advances such as social networking, animation, and gaming to better engage and motivate students." Four courses will be available for free through the Gates Foundation. The rapid development process will release the math courseware for secondary students, and English/language arts for elementary students in the 2013-2014 school year, with "accompanying tools" to follow in 2014-2015.

Teachers will be part of the development process as well as experts from abroad.
"Officials from the two foundations also said they are working with a range of experts not only in the United States, but also from such countries as Japan, Singapore, Israel, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Australia in building the new curricula."

The article does not specify the precise type of input that will be provided by the international community.

Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, a former director of the U.S. Department of Education research arm, expresses concern over the initiative this way:
“The question will be, and it’s a reasonable one to ask: Who profits from this? People will have to profit from it; you can’t deliver education products into the marketplace for free. But it will be interesting to follow the money and see who manages to monetize the nation’s investment in common-core standards and assessments.

Nevertheless, Mr. Whitehurst said, it’s good to see someone tackle a curriculum spanning so many grades, so one grade can build effectively upon another. And done well, the work could serve as a valuable lever in the industry to prompt more curriculum development, he said.
Still, Mr. Whitehurst said, it will be a daunting task to complete the curriculum systems in three years."

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Education Reform Hits Speed Bump in Delaware

Delaware's Cristina School Board found one process for improving performance at two underperforming schools may have not proceeded as they expected. The process in question related to what is called "reconstitution" or releasing the staff from the schools, have them reapply to that school if they choose or seek placement at a different school. No one gets fired, just shuffled around.

The first implementation of the process revealed some unexpected outcomes, the Cristina School Board deliberated, decided to reject the results, and seek process improvements for the next time around. Board President John Young spoke forcefully on the process and those words went viral. A few days later Delaware's Govenor Markell announced his intention to freeze $11 million Race to the Top funding that was earmarked to pay for all reform efforts in the district. Delaware's Secretary of Education supported the Governor's views.

Delaware's Department of Education, however, is giving the School Board 15 days "to show cause in writing why the Department of Education should not suspend any further payment to the Christina District of Race to the Top funds."

Pointing to the audio recording of the School Board meeting, Young defended the decision saying the intention was to correct and improve the process:
"We got a very small part of this wrong, let's get it right."

Stung by the "hyperbolic response" and obviously punitive, Young notes:
The political reactions of paid elected and appointed stewards of the public trust should not be aligned with the goal of bullying local school boards.

When that happens, nobody wins.

Remarkably, Secretary Arne Duncan joined in with public statements supported the freeze:
"Districts, like Christina, which signed on to the Race to the Top plan, made a commitment to dramatically improve the lives of children. Because Christina has backtracked on that commitment, the state of Delaware has made the tough but courageous decision to withhold Race to The Top funding. I believe that is the right decision."

Personally, I find it unusual for the U.S. Secretary of Education to interject into a matter that State and local level staff should work out. Another look at the process would either validate the Board's decision or not. Reform efforts are disruptive and conducted without much history and practice. Under these circumstances why did Duncan fail to encourage a careful examination of the process for the sake of improvement; otherwise, those charged with implementation are required to do nothing more than follow orders, head down, mouth shut.

What kind of reform is this?

Friday, April 22, 2011

The NUT Report: Florida Parents Raise the Roof

Parents, extended family members, and members of communities across the nation are on the same page: No Unnecessary Testing (NUT). The opposition to the classrooms as centers for test prep and testing rather than centers of learning continues to grow in numbers and in volume. Last night, U.S. Representative Ted Deutch and U.S. Department of Education representative Michael Yudin got an earful from "hundreds of angry parents and teachers from Palm Beach and Broward counties."

A report on the Parents Across America website describes a recent event at Princeton University where Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed U.S. education policies. A student asked about the risks and challenges of the national assessment effort. His response is included in the article:
“...there are risks in everything” and “we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” There is a healthy “competition” between the two consortia developing these assessments; and states can opt out of one group and join another. Though there may be “a couple of choppy years till we get it right, and “mistakes” will be made, there is a “level of thoughtfulness” behind this effort that is extraordinary, and we must get “to this point as soon as possible” if we want to compete with other advanced nations. (Why? Has any other nation in the world adopted these highly expensive and complex computer-based performance assessments – and so quickly and on such a massive scale?).

According to the same report, he got frustrated and said "You're not listening to me."

Who is not listening?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Education Reform: I am a NUT

If you question education reform efforts, the replies from legislators and educrats are often the same:
I don't know.
We'll fix it later.
It's going to be expensive.
We have a crisis.
We can't compete.

If you persist in questions, you get these responses:
You prefer the status quo.
You are a skeptic.
You believe in conspiracies.
You are an enemy of education reform.

I declare to the world that I am a NUT and a follower of the NUT principles of Stephen Krashen. The No Unnecessary Testing (NUT) principle, first proposed in 2008, avoids the $4.5 billion investment in new standards and testing. It cuts back testing rather than adding more.
"Every minute testing and doing "test preparation" (activities to boost scores on tests that do not involve genuine learning) is stolen from students' lives, in addition to costing money that we cannot afford these days."

There are already indications from those charged with publishing tests that they do not have sufficient funds, time, or resources to meet the expectations.

NUT should be a movement.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Arne Duncan is From the Government and He is Here to Help you

[Reprinted with permission from Missouri Education Watchdog.]
In its effort to clarify student data privacy rules for researchers and education officials alike, the U.S. Department of Education proposed several changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, on Thursday and named its first chief privacy officer.
"Data should only be shared with the right people for the right reasons," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement on the proposals. "We need common-sense rules that strengthen privacy protections and allow for meaningful uses of data. The initiatives announced today will help us do just that."

There is a pesky problem standing in the way of sharing student data between states and Federal Agencies: present FERPA standards. If these standards are not altered, the data necessary to supply the workforce cannot be shared.

The DOE promises your student's data will be secure. Really? What's happened the last several weeks or years regarding cyber information?

•TJX, the parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and other retailers, has not acknowledged how data on more than 45 million credit and debit card users who had shopped at the company's retail locations was stolen and sold to fraudsters. (May 9, 2007)

•A data breach involving online marketer Epsilon, whose clients are a Who’s Who of major banks and retailers, was only the latest in a string of hacking attacks aimed at getting email records for more thefts. Companies that have said they were exposed since then include banks Citigroup Inc and Capital One Financial Corp, and retailers Walgreen Co and Best Buy Co. (April 5, 2011)

•According to U.S. investigators, China has stolen terabytes of sensitive data -- from usernames and passwords for State Department computers to designs for multi-billion dollar weapons systems. And Chinese hackers show no signs of letting up. "The attacks coming out of China are not only continuing, they are accelerating," says Alan Paller, director of research at information-security training group SANS Institute in Washington, DC.

Secret U.S. State Department cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to Reuters by a third party, trace systems breaches -- colorfully code-named "Byzantine Hades" by U.S. investigators -- to the Chinese military. An April 2009 cable even pinpoints the attacks to a specific unit of China's People's Liberation Army. (April 14, 2010).

The data sets from the National Data Education Model are set and ready to be used on your student. Don't worry if there is a cyber security attack on the Longitudinal Data Systems; information to be gleaned from an attack would only include some of the following:

•Base salary or wage
•Blood type
•Height and Weight
•Dwelling Arrangement
•Health Care History
•Health Care Plan
•Identification Results
•Immunization Status
•Insurance Coverage
•Overall Health Status
•Residence Block Number
•Social Security Number
•Voting Status

The United States Government cannot stop cyber attacks from China; why should taxpayers believe student privacy is secure because of a change in FERPA legislation?

If you believe this information is secure, you will also believe the following:

According to the No Child Left Behind Act, by 2014 every child is supposed to test on grade level in reading and math.
Not every child can test on grade level in reading and math. It's an admirable goal, but impossible to achieve. That's not going to happen. The goal for data systems is to beef up privacy protections. Like the NCLB goal, it sounds great, but if the government cannot stop foreign countries from hacking into military computers, do you believe the DOE can safeguard student data from hackers?

Read this sentence in the second paragraph again: We need common-sense rules that strengthen privacy protections and allow for meaningful uses of data. The problem with that sentence? Strengthening privacy protections don't safeguard the privacy and the "meaningful uses of data" should raise questions for anyone concerned about the constitutional right to individual privacy that your government is determined to document and share.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Education Reform: The cookie jar is empty

In a Washington Post opinion piece, Mr. Marion Brady proposes a way to reduce the federal budget this way:

FACT: We’re told that governments at all levels—federal, state, and local—are worse than broke, and that the services they provide, including education, must be cut.

FACT: There’s one multi-billion dollar cost of educating that’s not scheduled to be cut—high-stakes, standardized testing. In fact, Arne Duncan, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, says that the number of such tests is going to significantly increase.

PROPOSAL: Given present unwillingness to fully fund education, all 50 states should immediately cancel their contracts with testing companies. What teachers did for at least a century and a half before corporate interests and politicians took over education policy they can do again, at least for the duration of the present economic emergency.

Additionally, should state governments follow Mr. Brady's suggestion, the federal budget will be positively affected. Given the recent concerns expressed regarding the progress of the non-public entity producing national assessments, clearly the facts of time, money, and project scope to meet goals that exceed capability have not been adequately addressed. Under these conditions, why should that project continue?

Monday, April 11, 2011

iPads for Kindergardeners: "More Important Than A Book"

Auburn, Maine Superintendent Tom Morrill believes iPads are an essential tool for Kindergarden learning at a total cost of $200,000. Apple offered a special deal of $475 for each iPad and Superintendent Morrill will look at the budget and grants to fund this "essential to that is even more important than a book."

Not everyone agrees. Auburn school parent Nicole Fortin said: “It’s crazy! I look at all of the budgetary restraints we have. Our school system loses money every year to certain things. This is a lot to put in the hands of a 5-year-old.”

Watch the report here:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

States Where Parents Oppose Teaching to the Test

For the last couple of weeks, I have been reading what parents have to say about schools that are no longer centers of learning, but rather centers of test preparation and testing. This map is the third update and reflects locations where parents have organized in opposition to excessive testing. Some parents have successfully opted-out, some have inquired and found it not possible, and others have decided to homeschool. There is no talk of political ideologies, the common unity between parents in these states is concern for their children's education. They are fed up with government at all levels. While parents have complained for years about teaching to the test, there is something new in this current level of dissatisfaction.

UPDATE: Leon County parent advises the middle school principal that her son will not take the FCAT. See the report below.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Education Reform: Questions Raised

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are being developed for K-12 math, English, and language arts aligned to international standards through a consortia of Race to the Top winners and voluntarily accepted by all but 7 states. The Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a consortia of 25 states, which will create a new generation in computer-based assessments to measure student performance against the Common Core State Standards. Florida is part of PARCC.

The national assessments will be taken via computer, and add at least three tests before the final assessment. The interim testing is intended to capture the student's progress and through electronic analysis recommend types of remediation for improvement. While no prototypes or examples are readily available, these test items may incorporate capabilities, such as audio and video. However, assessments will likely include familiar multiple choice question types since development and programming more complex forms takes more time and a lot of money. The cost-benefit for student performance of such efforts has not been discussed. How much will the assessments cost? Secretary Arne Duncan estimates the costs as "heavy-lifting financially."

Secretary of Education Chief-of-Staff Joanne Weiss praises the potential of national standards and assessment in a recent speech:
The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

In this new market, it will make sense for teachers in different regions to share curriculum materials and formative assessments. It will make sense for researchers to mine data to learn which materials and teaching strategies are effective for which students - and then feed that information back to students, teachers, and parents.

If we can match highly-effective educators with great entrepreneurs and if we can direct smart capital toward these projects, the market for technological innovation might just spurt from infancy into adolescence. That maturation would finally bring millions of America's students the much-touted yet much-delayed benefits of the technology revolution in education.

Other Views
The Heritage Foundation points to the federal overreach in the development of national standards. A few states have not signed on and question the need to adopt national academic standards. Massachusetts has signed on; however, a local school board asked state legislators to revisit their decision and in response Republican State Rep. Todd M. Smola filed the legislation to keep Massachusetts' existing standards and its exam, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS. The bill was co-sponsored by Democrats State Rep. Anne M. Gobi and State Sen. Stephen M. Brewer.

Neil McCluskey writes opinion, and commentary regarding education matters for the Cato Institute. In one such article, he is critical of the plan for national standards saying there is no evidence that having national standards will improve performance on international tests. He notes that Canada does not have national standards, but does very well on these tests. McCluskey questions whether national standards will have any impact on the economic outcomes. There is simply no evidence to support that notion, he says.

Richard Hess of the American Enterprise Institute believes that Florida is headed towards a "train wreck." In his regular blog, Hess comments on the centralized control over schools brought by Florida's recent reform legislation.

"SB 736 continues the disconcerting habit of imagining that policymakers in a state capital can "fix" schooling through complex mandates. Rather than create the tools and opportunities for districts and schools to do better, and then hold them accountable for doing so, well-intentioned legislators have voted to replace the old credential-and-paper micromanagement with mandates that rely way too heavily on test scores of uncertain reliability, validity, or import. By setting one-size-fits-all prescriptions that apply to every teacher in every school in the state, SB 736 manages to emulate best practices in the pay of encyclopedia and aluminum siding salesmen circa 1951."

Educational reformers believe that national standards and national assessments are needed so that the U.S. can compete in the global market, U.S. students are top performers on international tests, and a spurt in marketing technological innovation is created. Parents, taxpayers, and education policy watchers share misgivings about these federal and state level efforts. The common unity, irrespective of political preference and ideology, is concern about loss of local control, parental input, teaching to the test, costs, cost-benefit, and serious questions as to benefits to students.

UPDATE: The consortia is having difficulties meeting goals and expectations due to costs, timeline, and current technology impact.
Costs: Scott Norton, Louisiana’s assistant state superintendent for student and school performance, said states must be careful to get the tests right in the first shot. While jointly developing tests was intended to save states money, the grants do not include money for administering the new assessments long-term, and it will be harder to make adjustments to the tests once they are completed, because so many states will need to sign off on changes.
“The cost makes me the most anxious,” Mr. Norton said. “In today’s world if we have a [testing] cost problem, we own that: We can print on lighter paper or something. I’m not sure that holds up when we don’t own it alone. If we get into a test we can’t afford, we’re really left holding the bag.”
Technology: “But we’re betting on that, and it does worry me,” she said. “I think technology is not really fully embedded in the world of classrooms at this point.”
Even among classrooms with computer and Internet access, state officials agreed there are few brick-and-mortar schools that fully integrate technology into instruction, which may make it harder for students to adapt to taking tests via computer.
Time: “One of the biggest problems I’ve seen with state assessments and national assessments is they are typically not done on a budget and a timeline that allow people to go out and do the pilot testing and tryouts that you would like,” said Mark D. Reckase, a professor of measurement and quantitative methods at the University of Michigan. “I’ve looked at the timelines for this, and they are fast; there will be incredible pressure to just get it done.”

D.C. Testing Irregularities: April 4 Interview

Rhee stands behind the new investigations.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Education Reform: National standards and national testing with no price tag

If the Florida legislature is sincere in their concern over money needed to fund schools, why are they embracing hundreds of millions of dollars diverted to testing initiatives? I was surprised that I knew nothing about the two national consortia involved in making a new generation of computer-based testing. I went looking for information and found Missouri Education Watchdog a credible resource.

This group was recently interviewed by the Heritage Foundation. Because this is another complicated event, I offered Katie Couric's announcement of the initiative in my last blog as a start. Today, I offer the Heritage Foundation interview as the next step in understanding the complexity of national standards and national testing initiatives. Please watch.

Florida legislative update: Senator Wise proposed a bill to eliminate salaries to School Board members. Salaries are currently based upon size of the district according to a state regulation and formula. Wise says his bill offers $100 stipend per meeting and the cost savings would allow districts to use this money for classroom instruction. SB7234 will be discussed in committee soon. According to the Orlando Sentinel article, this is not the first time Wise has introduced this idea and school board members are not pleased. Is this really about cost-savings or is it yet more of governmental overreach? On Wednesday, there will be a vote on SB1466/HB5101, which will likely lead to less availability of math classes after Algebra 1 and foreign language classes. How does this help prepare a workforce to compete in a global economy?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Education Reform: A Basketful of Rotten Tomatoes

March was not a good month for Michele Rhee, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, nor President Obama.

Rhee has stopped talking for the moment as investigations into testing irregularities on D.C. standardized tests move forward. President Obama's speeches last week on his vision for the improvement quality and quantity of standardized tests left many confused. Much was written regarding the disconnect between the President's views and those of the Department of Education. Oddly, Justin Hamilton, Deputy Press Secretary at the Department of Education, requested that one blogger make corrections to his blog since the facts had been misrepresented. Instead, Education Week blogger, Anthony Cody, requested that the government explain how the positions align. Hamilton's plan isn't working out too well. The supplied Department of Education clarifications make it fairly clear that more money is being dumped into redundant test development. Read Cody's original blog, Department of Education responses, and follow up at Living in Dialogue. Parents are resisting the spike in testing and taxpayers are not getting the necessary level of accountability on these efforts.

In September 2010, the new federal testing initiative was announced in a speech delivered by Duncan. I missed that piece of information until this week when the North Carolina Superintendent rolled out 52 new tests saying they were in preparation for the national testing to be rolled out in 2014.

The next blog or two will cover national testing and how the President and Congress intend to modify NCLB, which is up for reauthorization. It is a complicated story. For now, Katie Couric is a good place to begin. Sorry, no embed code was permitted. Please watch it here.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Education Reform: "What Teachers Make"

According to his bio, Taylor Mali taught high school for nine years but today is a poet and well-known in the poetry slam movement. He performs and lectures around the world and leads the New Teacher Project, the goal to create 1,000 new teachers through "poetry, persuasion, and perseverance." He is a vocal advocate of the nobility of teaching and expresses it in this engaging 2006 presentation.