(What’s So Special ‘Bout) Rigor, Grit and Standardized Testing?

In his 1979 song, “(What’s So Funny “Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” Elvis Costello wonders;

So where are the strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony.

‘Cause each time I feel it slippin’ away, just makes me wanna cry.
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?

Imagine how different education reform and the Common Core State Standards would be if Elvis Costello had been their chief architect and lead writer rather than David Coleman, who infamously declared in April, 2011 at a NY State Department of Education Presentation;

As you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.

Rigor vs. Vigor

The Common Core’s exclusive focus on rigorous math and ELA standards may be well intended, but these standards fail to prepare students for the diverse expectations and vigorous challenges of post-secondary learning and working.

According to the Common Core web site;

The standards are: Based on rigorous content and application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills

And Barbara Blackburn has explained that;

True instructional rigor is “creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2012).”

Rather than focusing on rigorous math/ELA standards and skills that prepare students for a standardized test, K-12 learning programs should focus on vigorous, purposeful, and transferable standards and skills that are relevant to students and prepare them for life.

Learning should be a self-directed and spirited journey of discovery. Students should be “free to learn” as they explore their interests and pursue their passions rather than simply following a curriculum map and standardized pathway to each Common Core learning standard.

Grit vs. Passion

Another justification or rationale for the rigorous Common Core Standards is that students must experience frustration and failure as they struggle with higher standards and harder tasks if they are going to develop grit and be more successful in school and life.

While resilience and perseverance are essential life skills, the notion that the best and most effective way to cultivate these traits is by compelling students to complete rigorous math and ELA activities is foolish.

The Common Core supports a test-centered and data-driven model of classroom instruction rather than a learning program that is student-centered and passion-driven. Unfortunately, ed reformers thirst for data now trumps our students thirst for knowledge.

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The Common Core “demands” that all students achieve at higher levels and demonstrate deeper understandings when they are engaged in learning activities that are primarily determined by the standards and delivered by the teacher.

Rather than focusing our efforts on rigorous learning that cultivates student grit, we should be creating vigorous learning activities and experiences that capture students’ interest and stimulates their own desire to learn, also known as “flow”.

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, students achieve flow when they find a challenge or task so enjoyable they will pursue it as a reward in itself.

When a person experiences flow they want to do more of an activity leading to advanced skill development and mastery of the task.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi further explains in, ”Thoughts About Education” …

“…Yet it seems increasingly clear that the chief impediments to learning are not cognitive in nature. It is not that students cannot learn, it is that they do not wish to…

 Of the two main forms of motivation — extrinsic and intrinsic — I focus primarily on the second kind. Although both are needed to induce people to invest energy in learning, intrinsic motivation, which is operative when we learn something primarily because we find the task enjoyable and not because it is useful, is a more effective and more satisfying way to learn…”

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Standardized Testing vs. Authentic Assessment

A standardized test does not provide a reliable or comprehensive measure of student learning or the skill level they have attained. A standardized test measures a students ability to apply the skills he or she has learned at a particular moment in time and in a standardized way.

The fact that a student does not demonstrate the ability to properly apply a numeracy or literacy skill during the administration of a standardized test is not evidence or proof that the students has not acquired that skill.

A standardized test may reveal how a student performs at a moment in time, but it cannot determine and tell you why this happened or predict how the student will perform in the future.

There are so many factors and variables that can impact student performance on a standardized test that is misleading and false to claim that student scores are a reliable means of predicting “college readiness” or measuring teacher quality.

A standardized  test does not provide meaningful information to support and improve student learning because the score only reveals what questions the student answered wrong, but not the reason why.

It would be foolish for a teacher to adjust or modify instructional practices based on a standardized test score when the new group of students they teach the following year have different cognitive abilities and disabilities.

The real time data generated by informal and formative classroom assessment ( informal + formative = informative) is the gold standard of effective student-centered classroom instruction, while the data generated by standardized and summative testing is about as useful and valuable as “fool’s gold”.

“Effective” teachers understand that actionable and meaningful feedback is essential to guide and support student learning, and this data should be provided “in the moment” while the student is actively engaged in a learning process.

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Clearly, the decision to align and couple standardized tests to the Common Core is more about satisfying NCLB and teacher accountability requirements (VAM) than about informing classroom instruction and improving student  learning.

Learning standards serve as a framework and guide that generally dictate and determine the boundaries and limits of learning in the classroom so that students share common learning experiences that are sequenced and synchronized in order to compare, rate, and sort students according to their performance on a standardized test.

The terms rigor and grit are part of ed reformers narrative and rhetoric used to sell the Common Core Standards and convince parents that sterile, scripted, and data-driven instruction is superior to vigorous, customized, and passion-driven learning that is not controlled and restrained by the format and design of a standardized test.

K-12 education programs that claim to prepare students for “college and careers” should cultivate a wide array of cognitive, social, and emotional competencies that are useful and transferable life skills rather than focusing on a narrow set of numeracy and literacy skills that are measured by a standardized test.

It is far more important that students are free to learn in school and well educated, than subjecting them to continuous testing to determine if they have been educated well.

Today many schools are eliminating vigorous extracurricular experiences that help students discover the ways they are “smart”, so they can devote more time to preparing students for rigorous standardized tests so the state can measure and compare how “smart” they are.

Successful adults understand that their achievements are less about standardized test scores and the subjects they learned in school, and more about self-efficacy and knowing how to learn in life.

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Leader vs. Leadership

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It is becoming increasingly clear that the challenges faced by teachers and defenders of public education are both external forces promoting dollar-driven reforms and privatization as well as internal forces and people more concerned with wielding power and leading others than engaging in leadership.

“Here it is important to introduce a new thought by stating that the word ‘leader’ and its function is different from the word ‘leadership’ and its function. This means that a leader is not necessarily one who engages in leadership…

Leadership is not what is done, but why it is done. The ‘why’ penetrates to the truth behind an action. The act of giving can be unwholesome in the light of why it is done. It is in itself open to judgement until its roots are exposed, because the reasons behind an action far outweigh the worth of the action itself.

It is the truth behind the action that makes it wholesome or unwholesome. Leadership cannot exist in the presence of the unwholesome, just as integrity cannot exist in the presence of corruption or deceit…

Not every giver is generous. Not every fighter is a warrior. Not all players are champions. Similarly, not all leaders appreciate the values of leadership.”

“How to Lose Friends and Infuriate People” ~ Jonar Nader

The following passage attributed to the Tao-te Ching by Lao-tzu also comments on effective leadership.

“Therefore, desiring to rule over the people,
One must in one’s words humble oneself before them
And, desiring to lead the people,
One must, in one’s person, follow behind them.”

“You who choose to lead must follow” ~ Ripple

Secretary Duncan flip on parental involvement a real flop

parentAccording to the Educational Testing Service web site, ETS is

the world’s largest private educational testing and measurement organization, ETS develops, administers or scores more than 50 million tests annually in more than 180 countries at more than 9,000 locations internationally.

Back in 2003, ETS released a report that identified factors in and out of school related to student achievement. According to the report, parental involvement and the home environment is just as important as what goes on in the school.

It is generally well recognized, in research as well as in the public generally, that parenting plays a critical role in child development and well-being, as well as in performance in school. It seems logical that, if parents are important, having two is better than having just one—at least on the average…

Research has pointed out that much of the large difference in achievement between children from two-parent and one-parent families is due to the effects of the lower incomes of one-parent families…

The report concludes by making a case  for education policies and practices that focus equally on supporting and strengthening both the school and home environment…

Gaps in school achievement, as measured, for example, in the eighth grade, have deep roots—deep in out of school experiences and deep in the structures of schools. Inequality is like an unwanted guest who comes early and stays late..

Nothing about the impediments to learning that accumulate in a child’s environment should be a basis for lowering expectations for what can be done for them by teachers and schools, or for not making teachers and schools accountable for doing those things.

And denying the role of these outside happenings – or the impact of a student’s home circumstances – will not help to endow teachers and schools with the capacity to reduce achievement gaps.

Also, insistence that it can all be done in the school may be taken to provide excuses for public policy, ignoring what is necessary to prevent learning gaps from opening. Schools are where we institutionalize learning; they are also places where we tend to institutionalize blame.

Fast forward to 2011 and just as states around the country are reviewing and adopting the Common Core State Learning Standards, the U.S. Department of Education discontinued funding for Parental Information And Resource Centers. According to the PIRC web site

Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs) help implement successful and effective parental involvement policies, programs, and activities that lead to improvements in student academic achievement and that strengthen partnerships among parents, teachers, principals, administrators, and other school personnel in meeting the education needs of children.

What a great parental involvement program and resource to help students and families transition to the higher standards and academic expectations of the Common Core. Yet the notice posted on the web site explains…

Funding for the PIRC program as a whole has been discontinued by the US Department of Education. Therefore, most PIRC programs are no longer in operation although several are continuing with funding from other sources. You may contact PIRCs directly to determine their status.

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Guess all the money the Federal government expended on developing national standards and tests to measure student learning, they could no longer afford to fund programs that actually supported student learning?

Back in 2011, The Answer Sheet posted a guest commentary by Arnold F. Fege andEdwin C. Darden regarding the poor timing and negative impact of this decision…

For 16 years PIRCs have helped low-income families, school districts and state governments nurture high-quality parent involvement programs….We aren’t losing a bureaucracy here; rather, we are enduring a real loss that will reverberate across all 50 states and several U.S. territories.

What makes this cut a shame is that PIRCs demonstrate a commitment of taxpayer dollars to ensure that the home-school partnership remains strong.The investment is not just good public relations. Decades of research prove that family involvement and academic success go hand-in-hand, especially for kids in poverty…

Indeed, the PIRCs have had amazing results. According a recent survey conducted by the National Coalition of PIRCs: *Eighty-eight percent of families said that because of the information and services received from PIRC, they were better able to support their children’s learning at home…

the impact of living without the PIRCs will be immediate and dramatic — a major blow for kids in high-poverty communities, the parents who love them, the school districts who teach them, the communities who care for them, and a nation that relies on them.

Hard to understand why the U.S. Department of Education would discontinue such an important parent involvement program at the same time states were rolling out the Common Core State Standards and increasing academic demands on students across the country?

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Even more perplexing is the fact that this decision was made during the tenure of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who commented in 2012 on the critical importance and role of parents, and more specifically involvement of dads, in supporting student achievement.

Somewhere during the course of our national dialogue, our expectations for parents have lowered, particularly for fathers. Today, I want to challenge every father to step up. If we want strong schools and strong communities, we need more dads involved…

The statistics on this front are staggering. Almost 24 million children — one in three — are likely growing up without their father involved in their lives. Those statistics are even higher if you look at the numbers inside our communities of color. That absence puts much too great a burden on our strong moms and teachers. Everyone is trying to do their part, but when dad is not around, we are all playing a man down on the team.

We know that increasing parent involvement, particularly the involvement of fathers, is key to improving schools and communities across the country. As we work to drive down drop-out rates and increase graduation and college completion rates, fathers have an important role to play…

It is dishonest for the Feds and Department of Education to claim they are supporting efforts to raise student achievement when our taxpayer dollars are devoted to the creation and administration of national assessments that facilitate expanded efforts to collect, share, and monetize student data while at the same time eliminating funding for existing parental involvement programs that have helped to increase student academic achievement.

Clearly Arne Duncan is more experienced and qualified to coach a basketball team than to lead a federal agency tasked with administering national education policies and programs.

Perhaps the Secretary of Education could learn a lesson from Michael Jordan and understand that athletes and students are continually learning even though individual performance does vary and will fluctuate from day to day.

That is why it is foolish and dishonest to claim to measure the skill level of students and the quality of their teachers based on performance during a single end of the year high stakes “game”, especially when in too many cases, teachers and students practiced most of the school year one or even two players down.

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Not How Smart Are You But, How Are You Smart?

“Kids make their mark in life by doing what they can do, not what they can’t… School is important, but life is more important. Being happy is using your skills productively, no matter what they are.” ~ Howard Gardner 

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“These great thinkers [Gardner, Armstrong ] have proposed a much healthier question regarding intellect, not how smart are you but, How are you smart?…The ways in which you are smart are a part of the seed within you and hold the key to your further growth.” ~ Jim Cathcart

Learning is about discovering your purpose and passion in life. Schools should provide diverse pathways and opportunities for students to explore and unleash their specialized skills and abilities…not standardize them.

It is far more important that students are free to learn in school and well educated, than subjecting them to continuous testing to determine if they have been educated well.

Testing and training students to sort and compare how well they meet common standards does not prepare them for the social and emotional challenges of uncommon careers.

“The second concern is justifying the Common Core on the highly dubious notion that college and career skills are the same. On its face, the idea is absurd. After all, do chefs, policemen, welders, hotel managers, professional baseball players and health technicians all require college skills for their careers? 

Do college students all require learning occupational skills in a wide array of careers? In making the “same skills” claim, proponents are really saying that college skills are necessary for all careers and not that large numbers of career skills are necessary for college…

Nearly every study of employer needs over the past 20 years comes up with the same answers. Successful workers communicate effectively orally and in writing and have social and behavioral skills that make them responsible and good at teamwork. They are creative and techno-savvy, have a good command of fractions and basic statistics, and can apply relatively simple math to real-world problems like financial or health literacy…

All students should master a verifiable set of skills, but not necessarily the same skills. High schools fail so many kids partly because educators can’t get free of the notion that all students — regardless of their career aspirations — need the same basic preparation.

As states pile on academic courses, they give less attention to the arts and downplay career and technical education to make way for a double portion of math. Maintaining our one-size-fits-all approach will hurt many of the kids we are trying most to help. Maybe the approach will just lead to another unmet education goal. But it won’t resolve the already high rate at which students drop out or graduate without the skills and social behaviors required for career success.”

Robert Lerman, “Are College and Career Skills Really the Same?” – The Business Desk / PBS NewsHour

“What do you desire? What makes you itch? What sort of a situation would you like?

Let’s suppose, I do this often in vocational guidance of students, they come to me and say, well, we’re getting out of college and we have the faintest idea what we want to do. So I always ask the question, what would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?…

Well, it’s so amazing as a result of our kind of educational system, crowds of students say well, we’d like to be painters, we’d like to be poets, we’d like to be writers, but as everybody knows you can’t earn any money that way. Or another person says well, I’d like to live an out-of-doors life and ride horses. I said you want to teach in a riding school? Let’s go through with it. What do you want to do?

When we finally got down to something, which the individual says he really wants to do, I will say to him, you do that and forget the money, because, if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way…”

“What If Money Was No Obect” ~ Alan Watts

“So, a lot of people are talking about how to fix education right now. Here’s what we’re doing: The Roadtrip Nation Experience is a program that empowers students to map their interests to future pathways in life. The heart of this experience is students exploring their communities and speaking with local Leaders to learn the steps that they took to get to where they are today.”

~ The Roadtrip Nation Experience

Everyone has been made for some particular work 

and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.

~ Rumi

EFFECTIVE teachers are continually learning and DEVELOPING

The dictionary says developing means to grow, advance, and mature. In NY State a  teacher rated developing is not considered to be effective and a teacher improvement plan (TIP) must be implemented the following school year.

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On any given day a teachers interactions with students can range from INEFFECTIVE to HIGHLY EFFECTIVE and ideally all teachers are continually learning and DEVELOPING.

Using a single standardized test score along with three to five classroom observations over the course of a 180-day school year is clearly an unreliable and INEFFECTIVE way to measure student learning and teacher quality.

Americans have been “sold” the Common Core by leaders who have carefully crafted and regulated the words, language, and narrative of the education reform movement. As Humpty Dumpty declared…

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.’

~ Lewis Carroll, “Through The Looking-Glass”

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Humpty Dumpty leaders with their penchant for doublethink rely on a litany of terms and  “educationese” to justify and sell their reforms to trusting parents using reinvented and redefined terms and phrases such as grit, rigor, college and career ready, data driven, personalized learning, flipped, 21st century skills, transformational, close reading, dive in, student learning outcomes, domain, unpack, complexity, human capital  leaving  parents and teachers confused and wondering why don’t reformers just…

Humpty Dumpty reformers claim the Common Core will ensure career readiness yet the standards do not call for additional trade/vocational pathways and job shadowing, apprenticeships, internships, job mentoring, work-based learning are nowhere to be found in the standards.

Humpty Dumpty reformers like Arne Duncan maintain that there is too much emphasis on testing and test prep…

“But the larger issue is, testing should never be the main focus of our schools…Yet in too many places, testing itself has become a distraction from the work it is meant to support…I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools..”

While David Coleman, the chief architect of the Common Core Standards declares in a 2011 Keynote Speech that the standards are designed to be measured by tests and teachers are expected to teach to them…

“… these standards are worthy of nothing if the assessments built on them are not worthy of teaching to, period…

There is no force strong enough on this earth to prevent that. There is no amount of hand-waving, there‟s no amount of saying, “They teach to the standards, not the test; we don‟t do that here.” Whatever. The truth is – and if I misrepresent you, you are welcome to take the mic back. But the truth is teachers do.

Tests exert an enormous effect on instructional practice, direct and indirect, and its hence our obligation to make tests that are worthy of that kind of attention.”

Humpty Dumpty reformers claim to support the Common Core with its single track college prep mandate for all students “ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.” while making inconsistent and contradictory statements like…

The Common Core will – by design – make some courses more difficult for many students, and for marginal students that may be enough to nudge them out of school altogether.

The Common Core Will Not Double the Dropout Rate ~ Paul Bruno

What if encouraging students to take a shot at the college track—despite very long odds of crossing its finish line—does them more harm than good? What if our own hyper-credentialed life experiences and ideologies are blinding us to alternative pathways to the middle class?…

“Kid, I’m Sorry, but You’re Just Not College Material” Is exactly what we should be telling a lot of high school students. ~ Michael Petrilli

Humpty Dumpty reformers say education reform and standardized testing is a civil rights issue while threatening to punish civil disobedient children and parents who opt out of standardized tests and placing gag orders on students and teachers to restrict and prevent them from discussing the poorly designed and written tests.

“Students in grades 3-8 are required by New York State to take standardized tests annually. No students should be required, however, to take tests that subject them to hidden advertising.

Clearly the trademarked products mentioned throughout the exam had no relevance to the stated goals of testing students’ reading comprehension and analytical skills. Surely Pearson can afford to edit standardized tests and remove all mention of trademarked products.”

Eighth grader: What bothered me most about ne Common Core test, Isaiah Schrader 5/8/13

In the Humpty Dumpty world of the Common Core, “level the playing field” means providing accommodations for learning disabled students during classroom instruction and assessment AND denying those same accommodations during standardized testing at the end of the school year.

Humpty Dumpty reformers like Arne Duncan justify testing learning disabled students at their grade level without accommodations rather than their instructional level, by relying on sensational and unsubstantiated claims…

“The Obama administration said Tuesday that the vast majority of the 6.5 million students with disabilities in U.S. schools today are not receiving a quality education, and that it will hold states accountable for demonstrating that those students are making progress…

Under the new guidelines, Duncan says he’ll require proof that these kids aren’t just being served but are actually making academic progress.

“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel,” Duncan said.

These are students with a range of disabilities, from ADHD and dyslexia to developmental, emotional and behavioral disorders. During his conference call with reporters, Duncan was joined by Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s education commissioner.

Huffman challenged the prevailing view that most special education students lag behind because of their disabilities. He said most lag behind because they’re not expected to succeed if they’re given more demanding schoolwork and because they’re seldom tested.”

Claudio Sanchez, “A ‘Major Shift’ In Oversight Of Special Education” 6/24/14 

Humpty Dumpty reformers claim the lack of academic progress and poor performance of learning disabled students on grade level standardized tests without accommodations is proof these students are receiving a substandard education and they are not being tested enough.

In contrast, The National Center for Learning Disabilities has reported on the lifelong challenges faced by learning disabled students and that individual academic progress may be incremental and inconsistent depending on the accommodations and services provided to the student, and the specific nature and severity of the disability.

“In an ideal world, students who struggle are able to overcome their challenges and grow to become adults who enjoy personal satisfaction, high self-esteem, self-sufficiency, and productive relationships within their families and in the general community. If only this was the case…

No matter how many times it’s been said, it needs to be repeated again and again: learning disabilities do not go away, and LD is a problem with lifelong implications.

Addressing features of LD during the early years can indeed help to circumvent and minimize struggles later in life, but we know that problems with listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, math and sometimes social skills can persist, even after years of special education instruction and support.”

While I fully support holding all students to the same high academic standards, I do not believe it is fair to deny learning disabled students testing accommodations that enable them to equally “access” the readings and questions on the test so they can fully demonstrate their knowledge and critical thinking skills.

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Humpty Dumpty reformers convince parents that students must close read in order to be ready for college and careers while the National Institute for Literacy Equipped For the Future (EFF) program has determined that Reading With Understanding is a more appropriate skill because..

“The Common Core focuses on academic (and to some extent, vocational) purposes for all, while EFF contextualizes skills within a fuller range of adult family-related, work-related, and civic purposes at all levels…

Another key area of difference is in what the “standard” attempts to describe. Each EFF content standard describes a transferable skill process that can be applied to a wide variety of adult purposes and tasks…

In contrast, the Common Core documents target discrete skills and sub-skills which, like other sets of K-12 standards, may lead teachers to focus only on each sub-skill and not also provide learning activities which help students apply and transfer their skills outside of the immediate learning situation…”

Humpty Dumpty reformers claim in one breath that the Common Core-aligned PARCC assessments determine whether students are “on track” for college and careers while admitting in another breath that the tests are not a comprehensive or reliable means of measuring college and career readiness

Humpty Dumpty reformers promote and sell Personalized Learning as a way to catch up delayed and disabled students via technology and digital tools that deliver and pace course materials according to individual academic needs and abilities.

“Many fans of education technology believe that specialized technology is the most effective way to deliver “differentiated” instruction that is “individualized,” or “personalized” to a large number of learners, with diverse backgrounds and learning styles…

Personalized learning means instruction is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners.

In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary (so personalization encompasses differentiation and individualization).”

While Humpty Dumpty reformers convince parents that more screen time is actually a good thing for young children who are still developing critical social and emotional skills, ed tech leaders send their children to schools that shun technology.

“The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard.

But the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.

Schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say it is foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.”

A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute” Matt Richtel, NY Times, October 2011

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The Common Core testing regime is designed to annually identify those students who have not successfully mastered grade level math and ELA standards and those teachers (via VAM) who are not performing up to those standards.

Yes, we have had learning standards before, but parents and teachers also understood that students are not standardized and they will learn and acquire new skills in their own way and at their own pace. The Common Core expects all students to acquire new skills in a synchronized way.

One year a student may lag behind in a subject area and the next year when they are cognitively and developmentally ready they may jump ahead of other learners. That is why grade-span testing is a more reliable means of measuring student learning but not as profitable for vendors selling their “personalized” software solutions.

Some people have stronger math or writing abilities than others and that is OK. People will gravitate towards those college programs and careers that allow them to exploit their academic, vocational, and social/emotional strengths and capabilities.

The college and career “promise” of the Common Core has become more rhetoric and a scare tactic to manipulate and convince parents that their child “needs” additional sit and learn math/ELA computer time to “catch up” with peers before the end of the year standardized test.

That is why some parents don’t protest when their children are parked in front of a computer for an extra class period rather than drawing a picture, playing an instrument, or engaging in other creative and physical activities that cultivate fluid intelligence and unleash other talents a child may have that also lead to careers.

These adaptive and personalized programs may engage students and artificially increase their math skills and reading scores, but researchers have questioned whether this type of digitally-enhanced learning and problem solving is lasting and transferable.

“When a resource is intended for use as part of formal education, however, educators and developers must be concerned with more than what learners do when using the product.

They must also consider whether the learning demonstrated inside the product can be also observed in learners’ actions outside the product—for example, in an independent performance assessment or in performing some new task requiring the same understanding or skill.

This is necessary because while a student may demonstrate what appears to be understanding of fractions in a digital game, the student may not necessarily demonstrate that understanding in another situation. The ability to transfer what one has learned is a challenge…”

Just as a personal trainer may improve your conditioning and work out performance in a gym, running on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike are not transferable and applicable skills to activities such as playing baseball, snow boarding, skiing, surfing, rock climbing, etc.

Students will acquire new skills when they choose to engage in a novel learning activity rather than solving a standardized problem or a virtual task that continually adapts and adjusts in order to engage with them.

In the real world, it is the student and employee that must learn to adapt and adjust to new situations as they acquire transferable problem solving skills while developing their own techniques and strategies to successfully complete non routine tasks.

Humpty Dumpty reformers continually complain about added college costs as some parents must pay for 1st-year remedial math and ELA courses for their children who are not “college ready” and they do not earn college credits for these classes.

It is foolish to worry about the cost of two college classes rather than the enormous “price” our diverse and talented K-12 learners are going to pay every year as they receive less instruction in other content and special areas in order to make room for more remedial Math and ELA computer time in their schedule.

2008 Common Core report found that “NCLB’s intense focus on reading and math skills has dumbed down the curriculum” and resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum…

The vast majority of elementary school teachers (81%) report that other subjects are getting crowded out by extra attention being paid to math or language arts (62% middle school; 54% high school) (Figure 3)

About half (51%) of elementary school teachers say that struggling students get extra help in math or language arts by getting pulled out of other classes; the most likely subjects are social studies (48%) and science (40%)

59% of elementary school teachers report that social studies has been getting less instructional time and resources (28% middle school; 20% high school); 46% say the same about science (20% middle school; 14% high school)

Unfortunately increasing numbers of students are going to spend much of their K-12 schooling trying to improve math and ELA skills rather than having the freedom and opportunity to discover their talents and pursue their passions in other content and special areas that cultivate equally important career-related skills and abilities that the students actually excel at.

As Dr. Martin Luther King warned,

We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.

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Leading the pack vs. Being a pack leader

respectEd reformers are determined to test, rate, and sort children to identify and reward students who lead the pack rather than nurture, respect, and support students to cultivate pack leaders.

This misguided obsession on evaluating and comparing students will leave our children unprepared for the social and emotional “tests” of adulthood and employment.

“Imagine two wolf packs, or two human tribes,” Mr. McIntyre said. “Which is more likely to survive and reproduce? The one whose members are more cooperative, more sharing, less violent with one another; or the group whose members are beating each other up and competing with one another?”…

This does not mean that alpha males are not tough when they need to be. One famous wolf in Yellowstone whose radio collar number, 21, became his name, was considered a “super wolf” by the people who closely observed the arc of his life.

He was fierce in defense of family and apparently never lost a fight with a rival pack. Yet within his own pack, one of his favorite things was to wrestle with little pups…

One year, a pup was a bit sickly. The other pups seemed to be afraid of him and wouldn’t play with him. Once, after delivering food for the small pups, 21 stood looking around for something.

Soon he started wagging his tail. He’d been looking for the sickly little pup, and he just went over to hang out with him for a while.

Of all Mr. McIntyre’s stories about the super wolf, that’s his favorite. Strength impresses us. But kindness is what we remember best…

Doug Smith, the biologist who is the project leader for the Yellowstone Gray Wolf Restoration Project, said the females “do most of the decision making” for the pack, including where to travel, when to rest and when to hunt. The matriarch’s personality can set the tone for the whole pack, Dr. Smith said.”

“Tapping Your Inner Wolf”, Carl Safina 6/5/15 

Education reforms are mistakenly focused on measuring how students compare to each other instead of providing diverse opportunities and experiences for students to practice and learn how to care for others.quote-Daniel-H.-Pink-empathy-is-about-standing-in-someone-elses-207223

Increasingly it seems that many reformers simply don’t care to listen and learn from people who have different perspectives and views regarding the purpose of education. People must first learn to care, if they are going to care to learn.

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Ensuring that children are college and career ready begins with activities and experiences that help students learn to be compassionate and caring ready.

Empathy is not just important in the classroom. The ability to empathize in the workplace has a direct impact on performance and the ability to lead and inspire others.

“…For nearly 20 years I’ve been studying, consulting and collaborating with organizations around the world to learn more about the costs of this incivility.

How we treat one another at work matters. Insensitive interactions have a way of whittling away at people’s health, performance and souls…

Incivility shuts people down in other ways, too. Employees contribute less and lose their conviction, whether because of a boss saying, “If I wanted to know what you thought, I’d ask you,” or screaming at an employee who overlooks a typo in an internal memo…

Technology distracts us. We’re wired to our smartphones. It’s increasingly challenging to be present and to listen. It’s tempting to fire off texts and emails during meetings; to surf the Internet while on conference calls or in classes; and, for some, to play games rather than tune in…

Civility elicits perceptions of warmth and competence…These impressions dictate whether people will trust you, build relationships with you, follow you and support you…

Leaders can use simple rules to win the hearts and minds of their people — with huge returns. Making small adjustments such as listening, smiling, sharing and thanking others more often can have a huge impact…

What about the jerks who seem to succeed despite being rude and thoughtless? Those people have succeeded despite their incivility, not because of it… the No. 1 characteristic associated with an executive’s failure is an insensitive, abrasive or bullying style…

Given the enormous cost of incivility, it should not be ignored. We all need to reconsider our behavior. You are always in front of some jury.

In every interaction, you have a choice: Do you want to lift people up or hold them down?”

“No Time to Be Nice at Work”, Christine Porath 6/19/15

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“And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the heart”

~ Rush, “Closer to the Heart”

Truth or Consequences: A Response To Bill Gates’ “Help Wanted” Blog

truthorc The education reform movement has reached a new low when Bill Gates latest blog: “Help Wanted: 11 million college grads” brings to mind the title of the TV game show “Truth or Consequences.”

Bill Gates and many reformers have a knack for cherry picking, manipulating, and massaging data to support their predetermined conclusions. In Bill Gates’ latest blog he claims;

“As the class of 2015 prepares to join the workforce, what many people may not realize is that America is facing a shortage of college graduates…

By 2025, two thirds of all jobs in the US will require education beyond high school. (That includes two-year and four-year college degrees as well as postsecondary certificates.)

At the current rate the US is producing college graduates, however, the country is expected to face a shortfall of 11 million skilled workers to fill those roles over the next 10 years, according to a new study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce…

The problem is that not enough people are finishing. More than 36 million Americans—a fifth of the working age population—have gone off to college and left without a degree. It’s always moving to sit down with students and hear the stories of why they decided to drop out…

Many quit when they realize that their high schools didn’t prepare them academically for college. Some don’t make it because they can’t afford tuition. Others leave after getting overwhelmed trying to navigate the college system without enough personal guidance from their college…”

If you read Gate’s blog carefully ( close reading not required ) it is apparent that the title of Gate’s blog is misleading and not supported by his own data.

The 11 million college grads that Gates claims are needed are actually “skilled workers” and he further explains that “two thirds of all jobs in the US will require education beyond high school

Secondary and post-secondary programs that offer certificates and licenses are viable career pathways to middle skills that are in high demand. Internships, job shadowing, and apprenticeships are all excellent opportunities for secondary students to acquire job ready skills before they graduate.

Common Core advocates may claim the standards will “ensure” all students are career ready yet the absence of standards that address any of the above mentioned pathways or programs would suggest otherwise.

Truth is, the CCSS Math and ELA standards are focused exclusively on academic skills and preparing students for Common Core tests, while employers increasingly desire entry-level workers (with and without college degrees) who have actual work experience and job-ready skills.

By the time most kids are in high school, they’ve probably heard some career advice along these lines: get into a good college, pick a marketable major, keep those grades up, and you’ll land a good job.

But that doesn’t quite cover it anymore. In a survey out today from Marketplace and The Chronicle of Higher Education, employers said what matters most to them actually happens outside the classroom.

“Internships came back as the most important thing that employers look for when evaluating a recent college graduate,” says Dan Berrett, senior reporter at the Chronicle. “More important than where they went to college, the major they pursued, and even their grade point average.”

Source: Internships become the new job requirement Amy Scott 3/4/13

Bill Gates also writes about the high numbers of students who do not complete college and claims this is because “some” couldn’t pay for it, while “others” lacked proper college guidance, and “many” were not properly prepared for the academic rigors of college.

Could it be that Bill Gates is so busy thinking up new reasons that we must prepare all our children for college that he forgot about the data from a 2009 college drop out and completion rate report that was prepared for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation?

Among students in four-year schools, 45 percent work more than 20 hours a week. Among those attending community colleges, 6 in 10 work more than 20 hours a week, and more than a quarter work more than 35 hours a week.

Just 25 percent of students attend the sort of residential college we often envision. 23 percent of college students have dependent children.

…If we truly aim to help this new group of nontraditional students fulfill their aspirations, college and university officials, state and federal policy-makers, employers, foundations and other advocates trying to ramp up college completion need to take a fresh, clear-eyed look at their current assumptions and practices.

The findings here reveal gaps in the higher education system that serve to undercut the efforts of students who need to work and go to school at the same time. They raise serious questions about long-standing policies that seem profoundly ill suited to students who simply cannot afford to go to school full-time for several years…

Source: “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them” – Myths & Realities About Why So Many Students Fail to Finish College / Research by Public Agenda, Prepared for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. December, 2009

These sobering findings were supported by another college completion study and report which found;

“…In addition to the diverse pathways students take while working toward their educational goals, students who enroll in college full time immediately after high school no longer represent the majority among post secondary college students (Choy, 2002; Horn & Carroll, 1997; Reeves, Miller, & Rouse, 2011).

Rather, many students delay college enrollment, enroll in college part time, and/or have a full-time job while enrolled. To balance the responsibilities of family, work, and school, these students often take educational routes that require a longer time to a post secondary credential, such as enrolling part time, attending institutions with shorter terms, and occasionally stopping out…”

Source: Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates – Fall 2007 Cohort / National Student ClearingHouse Research Center 

While I don’t want to say Bill Gates is deliberately not telling the truth when it comes to the demand for college graduates, there certainly will be consequences for those students who follow his advice and find themselves in debt, over educated, and underemployed.

“About 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests requires less than a four-year college education.

Eleven percent of employed college graduates are in occupations requiring more than a high-school diploma but less than a bachelor’s, and 37 percent are in occupations requiring no more than a high-school diploma;

The proportion of overeducated workers in occupations appears to have grown substantially; in 1970, fewer than one percent of taxi drivers and two percent of firefighters had college degrees, while now more than 15 percent do in both jobs;

About five million college graduates are in jobs the BLS says require less than a high-school education;

Comparing average college and high-school earnings is highly misleading as a guide for vocational success, given high college-dropout rates and the fact that overproduction of college graduates lowers recent graduate earnings relative to those graduating earlier;

Not all majors are equal: Engineering and economics graduates, for example, typically earn almost double what social work and education graduates receive by mid-career;

Past and projected future growth in college enrollments and the number of graduates exceeds the actual or projected growth in high-skilled jobs, explaining the development of the underemployment problem and its probable worsening in future years; “

Source: “Underemployment of College Graduates” The Center For College Affordability and Productivity 1/28/13

While Bill Gates claims a college education is required for future employment the Labor Force projections of U.S. Department of Labor would suggest otherwise;

“Occupations related to healthcare, healthcare support, construction, and personal care services are projected to add a combined 5.3 million jobs, an increase representing approximately one-third of all employment gains over the coming decade…

Occupations requiring a high school diploma are expected to add the greatest number of new jobs, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all employment gains over the projection period.

As demand for medical services increases as a result of population aging and expanding medical insurance coverage, the health care sector and its associated occupations are expected to see sizable gains in employment and output.

The construction industry, as well as the occupations that support it, also will experience rapid growth in employment and output. Employment in the construction sector is expected to return to its long-term trend of increase, a rebound consistent with expectations about future population growth and the need to replace older structures.”

Source: Overview of Projections to 2022 Bureau of Labor Statistics 12/2013

So who did designate Bill Gates as the authority on future employment trends in the United States and the defacto E.F. Hutton of the education reform movement? hutton2

What if education leaders listened to former secretary of labor, Robert Reich, as intently as they are currently listening to reformers like Bill Gates?

“The biggest absurdity is that a four-year college degree has become the only gateway into the American middle class…

Last year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 46 percent of recent college graduates were in jobs that don’t even require a college degree.

America clings to the conceit that four years of college are necessary for everyone, and looks down its nose at people who don’t have college degrees. This has to stop.

Young people need an alternative. That alternative should be a world-class system of vocational-technical education. A four-year college degree isn’t necessary for many of tomorrow’s good jobs.

For example, the emerging economy will need platoons of technicians able to install, service, and repair all the high-tech machinery filling up hospitals, offices, and factories. And people who can upgrade the software embedded in almost every gadget you buy.

Today it’s even hard to find a skilled plumber or electrician… It’s time to give up the idea that every young person has to go to college, and start offering high-school seniors an alternative route into the middle class.”

Source: “Why College Isn’t (and Shouldn’t Have to be) for Everyone”, Robert Reich 3/26/15

America is a great nation and our education and political leaders owe citizens the truth when it comes to the value and utility of a 4-year college degree.

All of our children deserve a quality education and the opportunity to follow their passions as they pursue diverse academic, artistic, trade, and vocational pathways to post-secondary education and careers.

Every child regardless of ability or disability deserves a well-balanced education that cultivates the basic knowledge and skills that support lifelong learning.

We can and must do much more to ensure career readiness than wishful thinking and the tenuous “promise” of a 4-year college degree for every student.

I can almost hear Bill Gates concluding a college commencement speech with the phrase Bob Barker spoke at the end each episode of Truth or Consequences;

“Hoping all your consequences are happy ones.”

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