Happy Thanksgiving

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“A lot of people thought it was fiction and this is all real stuff. I had visited my friends during the Thanksgiving break, Ray and Alice, who lived in this abandoned church. They were teachers at a high school I went to just down the road in the little town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. And a friend of mine and I decided to help them clean up their church, and because I had gone to school there, I was familiar with all of these little back roads and nook-and-cranny places. And I knew a place that local people were using to get rid of their stuff….

So it wasn’t like some pristine virgin forest that we’d–you know, were screwing around with. And our pile of garbage, well, we couldn’t tell the difference once we threw ours down. But there was someone who could and that happened to be the local chief of police, a guy named Bill Obanhein, who we called Officer Obie. And he confronted us that next morning after Thanksgiving with our crime…

And I turned it into a little story. And then, of course, I decided to stay out of school because the civil rights movement was going on, the ban the bomb, clean the water, fix that, do this, you know, I mean, all the world was changing and I wanted to be where that was happening. And so I left school and, of course, that made me eligible as it were to, you know, join up and get sent over to Vietnam. And I didn’t really want to go and little did I realize that when I went down to the induction center that they–well, they found me ineligible, and I just couldn’t believe it. And so I turned it into a song. It took about a year to put together, and I’ve been telling it ever since just about…

I thought it’s probably just a story of a little guy against a big world. It’s just a funny tale, and I had–I still have–and I cherish the letters and the postcards and the pictures I got from the guys over in Vietnam, you know, who had little Alice’s Restaurant signs outside these tents in the mud…It became an underground thing not just here, but, you know, everywhere with guys on all sides of the struggles over there and the struggles that were going on here. And it overcame–it actually became now–really, it’s a Thanksgiving ballad more than an anti-war this or a pro-that or whatever it was. And I think it could only happen here…

Well, it’s celebrating idiocy you might say. I mean, thank God, that the people that run this world are not smart enough to keep running it forever. You know, everybody gets a handle on it for a little while. They get their 15 minutes of fame, but then, inevitably, they disappear and we have a few brief years of just hanging out and being ourselves.”

~ “Arlo Guthrie, Remembering Alice’s Restaurant”, All Things Considered 11/26/05

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Arlo Guthrie would most likely agree that telling an elementary student he will not be “ready” for a myriad of post-secondary academic and vocational learning programs based on a single data point is like tellling a person they are not moral enough and eligible to serve in the military because they were once arrested for littering.

Students will learn more from text that is unpretentious and emotive rather than complex and informational. Readings in the classroom should stimulate student feelings and stir up emotions rather than stifle student feelings and suppress emotional responses.

Heavy emphasis on hard skills leaves students unprepared for the real “tests” in life. Students will be far better prepared for the academic, social, and emotional challenges of college and careers once they have learned how to connect with people and effectively manage their complex emotions, rather than training them to connect with and master complex informational text.

It is just as important that students learn how to master their thoughts, feelings, and emotions as learning to master complex informational text. A “good” education program will challenge students to learn about themselves and their values as much as they are challenged to learn about specific content and subject matter.

While it is important that employees can independently understand a company memo or employee manual it is eually important they have acquired the social and emotional skills to abide by it.

While Common Core enthusisats continue to extoll the virtues of hard skills and the importance of students being globally competitive, employers desire workers with soft skills who can collaborate with others.

“In a new study in partnership with American Express (AXP), we found that over 60 percent of managers agree that soft skills are the most important when evaluating an employee’s performance, followed by 32 percent citing hard skills and only 7 percent social media skills. When breaking down which soft skills were most important, managers chose the ability to prioritize work, having a positive attitude, and teamwork skills as their top three requirements for management roles…

Soft skills can’t easily be learned, they need to be developed over time. The big challenge for millennial workers is that they have weaker soft skills than older generations, who expect face-time and teamwork from them. Millennials have spent too much time with their collective noses buried in their iPhones and Facebook pages…”

Dan Schwabel, “The Soft Skills Managers Want” 9/4/13

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“A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

As much as academics go on about the lack of math and science skills, bosses are more concerned with organizational and interpersonal proficiency. The National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed more than 200 employers about their top 10 priorities in new hires. Overwhelmingly, they want candidates who are team players, problem solvers and can plan, organize and prioritize their work. Technical and computer-related know-how placed much further down the list…”

Martha C. White, “The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired “ 11/10/13

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While the chief architect of the Common Core is convinced that thoughts and feelings don’t matter, numerous studies have documented the EQ is a far better predictor of workplace success than IQ.

“A 30-year longitudinal study of more than a thousand kids – the gold standard for uncovering relationships between behavioral variables – found that those children with the best cognitive control had the greatest financial success in their 30s. Cognitive control predicted success better than a child’s IQ, and better than the wealth of the family they grew up in…

To further understand what attributes actually predict success, a more satisfying answer lies in another kind of data altogether: competence models…The abilities that set stars apart from average at work cover the emotional intelligence spectrum: self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social effectiveness…

These human skills include, for instance, confidence, striving for goals despite setbacks, staying cool under pressure, harmony and collaboration, persuasion and influence. Those are the competencies companies use to identify their star performers about twice as often as do purely cognitive skills (IQ or technical abilities) for jobs of all kinds.

The higher you go up the ladder, the more emotional intelligence matters: for top leadership positions they are about 80 to 90 percent of distinguishing competences…”

Daniel Goleman, “What Predicts Success? It’s Not Your IQ” 7/17/14

Continuing to educate our students in a standardized feeling-free zone and data-driven “box” while encouraging them to think outside of it, is a far less effective means of preparing future collaborators, creators, and leaders than providing opportunities for diverse learners to unleash their talents and pursue their passions in an interest-driven and box-less learning environment.

“All [my] songs are encouraging me; I guess I write them for me,” Waters explains during a new documentary, Pink Floyd: The Story Of Wish You Were Here. “It’s to encourage myself not to accept a lead role in a cage, but to go on demanding of myself that I keep auditioning for the walk-on part in the war, ‘cause that’s where I want to be. I wanna be in the trenches. I don’t want to be at headquarters; I don’t wanna be sitting in a hotel somewhere. I wanna be engaged.”

~ Andrew Leahey, “Behind the Song: Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here” 8/30/12

A Clever Way To Share Student Data

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The impact of too much screen time on childhood obesity is well documented, and there is also greater awareness regarding past and present efforts of tech leaders to restrict their own children’s use of technology at home and in school.

A recent study also found that too much screen time inhibits a child’s ability to recognize emotions as corporate surveys and interviews have revealed the critical importance of emotional intelligence and soft skills.

So why would the American Federation of Teachers partner with a company that makes it easier for software programs to be used in the classroom and access student data?

“We’re starting to see fewer entrepreneurs going around teachers and instead starting to say, ‘How can we talk to them to find out what they really need?'” Weingarten said in an interview.

“Clever knew that from the beginning.  And that’s one of the reasons they’ve been so successful. ” …

And in the bigger picture, she said, the union’s relationship with Clever offers a lesson for others in the education-technology field.

“If you want your product to be used in schools,” Weingarten said, “talk to teachers.”

According to edSurge,

Clever is a service that makes it easier for schools to use many popular education technology products. It works by providing a simple developer interface (API) for third party education technology software to access important data from Student Information Systems (SIS) used by schools. This data can then be used by third party products to deliver services with less hassle.

A 2012, edSurge report on Clever revealed,

“We’re putting schools in control of their data and making it easier to share it when they choose to,” says Tyler Bosmeny, Clever’s co-founder and chief executive.

Clever has dramatically speeded up the once onerous task of connecting to schools’ data systems. Liang-Vergara says that he’s seen software vendors’ eyes light up when he asks if they will use Clever’s API to connect to his school’s data. “They say, ‘That’s an easy step for us,'” and it works, he says.

Vendors have been asking him to verify that Clever is sending them accurate data–and so far, he says, it’s been checking out. And when partners use Clever’s software to connect with schools, they in turn, share a slice of the revenue they make with Clever.

“There’s no greater challenge that a young software company faces that selling into schools,” says Deborah Quazzo, chief executive of GSV Advisors. “Selling into the schools and districts via partners [with other software companies] is very smart,” she says.

According to the security page on Clever’s web site,

Clever is always completely FERPA compliant under the Education Services Exemption. We partner with leading school district security teams and experts to provide outstanding data stewardship, and vendors who work with Clever have agreed to use student data in total compliance with FERPA.

Clever’s assertion that they are fully compliant with FERPA is not very reassuring considering that FERPA was amended in 2011 to expand access to private student data

The Secretary of Education (Secretary) amends the regulations implementing section 444 of the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), which is commonly referred to as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). These amendments are needed to ensure that the U.S. Department of Education (Department or we) continues to implement FERPA in a way that protects the privacy of education records while allowing for the effective use of data…The use of data is vital to ensuring the best education for our children.

Even more disconcerting is the 2008 Guidance document regarding the privacy of student health data…

In most cases, the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not apply to an elementary or secondary school because the school either: (1) is not a HIPAA covered entity or (2) is a HIPAA covered entity but maintains health information only on students in records that are by definition “education records” under FERPA and, therefore, is not subject to the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

Even with growing concern about the privacy of student data, more and more school districts are turning to software developers to help their students meet the math and ELA standards of the Common Core

Under NCLB and the Common Core, students are required to demonstrate proficiency with respect to specific Math and ELA standards at each grade level.

Many reformers continue to claim that excessive standardized testing and the efficacy of the Common Core Standards are two separate issues despite the fact that the chief architect of the standards has explained that the standards were written to be tested and teachers are expected to teach to the test.

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.

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 customized and “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 readiness mandate 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 customized programs may engage students and artificially increase their math skills and reading scores, but this type of digitally-enhanced learning and problem solving is not lasting or transferable.

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/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 work-based tasks.

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.

Reformer use this argument to justify and defend the Common Core Standards which have distorted classroom instruction and have actually diminished student learning by forcing both teacher and students to focus primarily on a narrow and shallow set of testable math and ELA standards.

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…

According to most teachers, schools are narrowing curriculum, shifting instructional time and resources toward math and language arts and away from subjects such as art, music, foreign language, and social studies.

Two-thirds (66%) say that other subjects “get crowded out by extra attention being paid to math or language arts” (Figure 1)

Math (55%) and language arts (54%) are the only two subjects getting more attention, according to most teachers; in sharp contrast, about half say that art (51%) and music (48%) get less attention; 40% say the same for foreign language, 36% for social studies, and 27% for science (Figure 2)

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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Common Core and PARCC: An Education Datapalooza?

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According to the Common Core web site

The standards were created to 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.

According to the PARCC web site

the assessments are aligned with the new, more rigorous Common Core State Standards (CCSS), they ensure that every child is on a path to college and career readiness by measuring what students should know at each grade level.

However, PARCC has also issued a disclaimer regarding the assessments admitting that the new and improved tests WILL NOT provide a comprehensive and reliable measure of college readiness as they…

can only provide an estimate of the likelihood that students who earn them have the academic preparation necessary to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing courses.

PARCC’s disclaimer acknowledging that their Common Core aligned assessment is not a reliable measure of college readiness raises serious doubts regarding the validity of the claim that the Common Core State Standards ensure college readinesss.

So why are so many states and school districts moving full spead ahead with the costly technology upgrades and improvements necessary for the online administration of PARCC’s computer-based assessments?

Perhaps we can find an answer to this question by going back in time to 2011 when the Department of Education amended the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA

The Secretary of Education (Secretary) amends the regulations implementing section 444 of the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), which is commonly referred to as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). These amendments are needed to ensure that the U.S. Department of Education (Department or we) continues to implement FERPA in a way that protects the privacy of education records while allowing for the effective use of data…The use of data is vital to ensuring the best education for our children.

Permitting the expanded “use” of data not only has implications regarding the collection of student data through online assessments but it will also diminish the privacy of student health data as detailed in this 2008 Guidance document

In most cases, the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not apply to an elementary or secondary school because the school either: (1) is not a HIPAA covered entity or (2) is a HIPAA covered entity but maintains health information only on students in records that are by definition “education records” under FERPA and, therefore, is not subject to the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

If you are wondering just how student data is being used more “effectively”, check out this video by eScholar myTrack…

Shawn Bay, the CEO of eScholar spoke at the Whitehouse’s’ Education Datapalooza back in 2012 and you can view the video of his presentation below. Sean blogged about his experience presenting and reflected on the event and shared his takeaways…

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan led off the morning with some thought-provoking words about how open education data can be a game changer.  I completely agree with him.

Education data must be open and available, with appropriate security, for all education entities: companies, districts, state agencies, nonprofits.  This is the only way interoperability can be achieved.

So where does eScholar fit into this?  I believe that we are a game changer here. For the past 15 years, we’ve been collecting student data from all sorts of sources: assessments, program, enrollment, attendance, and more…

In 2012 Jonathan Harber, CEO Pearson K-12 technology also presented at White House Datapalooza and you can view his presentation below. Harber also blogged about his experience and the importance of open data.

Now, the power of open data makes the connection directly. Pearson has been partnering with organizations like NASA to tag its open education resources with open tagging schemes and the Common Core academic standards. We are indexing our learning object repositories in the government’s new Learning Registry.

But even more compelling is the fact that data on Benjamin’s academic accomplishments are mashed up with data about the class curriculum and educational resources available via the Internet to deliver a recommendation from NASA directly to Benjamin’s teacher.

Instead of searching for content, the content is searching for Benjamin!

All this talk about the importance and significance of “open data” could that have anything to do with President Obama’s 2013 Executive Order regarding open data.

Openness in government strengthens our democracy, promotes the delivery of efficient and effective services to the public, and contributes to economic growth….and making information resources easy to find, accessible, and useful can fuel entrepreneurship, innovation, and scientific discovery that improves Americans’ lives and contributes significantly to job creation.

Later in 2013, the Department of Education “opened” The ED Data Inventory which includes “Common Core of Data” and this web resource “is designed to help users of education information more easily understand and locate ED data assets”.

While many supporters of the Common Core continue to claim that the efficacy of the Standards is a separate issue and unrelated to growing concerns regarding the misuse of standardized tests, the posting  “Using Standards to Make Big Bata Analytics That Work” explains that the Common Core Standards actually provide a means to a data collecting and mining ends via standardized online assessments.

Standards, like the Common Core, make big data analytics work because they support the creation of more rigorous models of student learning and enable larger big data systems…National standards like the Common Core allow analytics systems to make better inferences for detailed sub-groups of students.

The Common Core includes only two assessments which, assuming national adoption, would greatly reduce the number of tests.  It is technically easier to link data from separate states if they use the same test or an assessment aligned to the Common Core….

Standards lower the barriers to entry for startups seeking to enter the personalized learning market.  National standards reduce the resources necessary to develop big data tools that are usable nationwide.

If each state has its own standards then analytics creators need to develop 50 different tools…The Common Core will usher in the next generation of big data tools and transform classrooms across the country.

The public might gain additional insights and a fuller understanding of the role of National Learning Standards by also reading; “7 Ways Entrepreneurs Could Change the World This Year”

Transforming higher education is so 2013. This year, the innovation battle will be won and lost in the K-12 classroom. That’s because the Common Core Standards, a new national standard of math and language arts education, are set to go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year.

That means schools across the country will, for the first time, be giving students a uniform education and uniform assessments, which Muhammed Chaudhry, CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, says is a major opportunity for entrepreneurs to get a foot in the door.

“In the past, new tech companies had to create something very specific for each state, and they weren’t able to compete with larger companies,” says Chaudhry. “This will make purchasing power of a standardized product easier.”

Not only will they have an easier time getting into the classroom, but ed tech businesses will also have more to work with. Under the new standards, students will take their assessments online, which, Chaudhry says; means schools are investing more in technology infrastructure and providing one-to-one devices for students.

That opens up a world of opportunity for entrepreneurs with ideas for how to make the classroom experience better. Chaudhry expects to see a fleet of new applications that assess, in real time, a student’s understanding of subject matter and adapt the lesson on the basis of the student’s comprehension level.

It’s a trend called adaptive learning. Apps that give teachers real-time feedback on student understanding will also become the norm, Chaudhry says, solving a major flaw in our education system.

Coincidentally, last November voters in New York approved the “New York Bonds for School Technology Act, Proposal 3” which provides additional school aid for projects related to “Purchasing educational technology equipment and facilities, such as interactive whiteboards, computer servers, desktop and laptop computers, tablets and high-speed broadband or wireless internet.”

Not just NY State that is concerned about the digital connectivity of schools in the United States. Future Ready Schools is a recent initiative by the US Department of Education asking school Superintendents to take the Future Ready District Pledge.

The Future Ready District Pledge is designed to set out a roadmap to achieve that success and to commit districts to move as quickly as possible towards our shared vision of preparing students for success in college, careers and citizenship…

However, in order for these resources to leverage their maximum impact on student learning, schools and districts must develop the human capacity, digital materials, and device access to use the new bandwidth wisely and effectively.

The Future Ready District Pledge establishes a framework for achieving those goals and will be followed by providing district leaders with additional implementation guidance, online resources, and other support they need to transition to effective digital learning and achieve tangible outcomes for the students they serve…

Future Ready districts align, curate, create, and consistently improve digital materials and apps used in the support of learning. Future Ready districts use carefully selected high quality digital content that is aligned to college and career ready standards as an essential part of daily teaching and learning.

The US Governments Office of Educational Technology has posted several research reports online including; “Expanding Evidence: Approaches for Measuring Learning in a Digital World” that focus on potential educational and entrepreneurial opportunities associated with Common Core, digital learning, big data, and data mining.

The U.S. education system invests heavily in tests of student achievement that are used to hold districts, schools, and, in some cases, individual teachers accountable for whether students meet state proficiency standards.

All the states have implemented large-scale testing systems for this purpose, and technology will become part of most states’ assessment systems within the next few years as the computer-based Next Generation Assessments connected to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) go into effect…

As discussed, one advantage of digital learning systems is that they can collect very large amounts of data (big data) from many users quickly. As a result, they permit the use of multivariate analytic approaches (analyses of more than one statistical variable at a time) early in the life cycle of an innovation.

But big data requires new forms of modeling for data that are highly interdependent (Dai 2011). Accordingly, the emerging field of educational data mining is being combined with learning analytics to apply sophisticated statistical models and machine learning techniques from such fields as finance and marketing (U.S. Department of Education 2012a).

State and district student data systems have improved greatly over the past decade in ways that permit examining an individual student’s educational experiences and achievement over time, even if the student changes schools or school districts.

For example, an increasing number of states now assign student identification numbers that stay with the student anywhere in the state, and state data systems typically contain more information on a student’s background (that is, ethnicity, whether eligible for subsidized meals, English proficiency, disability status, date of birth, gender) as well as grade level, school attended, and state achievement test scores.

Districts are also creating student data systems that include such variables as attendance, performance on district-mandated tests and benchmark exams, courses taken, grades, and teachers.

These improved data systems and the new data they house open up opportunities for schools and districts to partner with community and government agencies from other sectors to create linked datasets with more kinds of information about the circumstances of students’ lives.

Combining datasets from different agencies permits analyzing information on students’ academic achievement, attendance, and other indicators of school success with information on their involvement in social services, the juvenile justice system, the foster care system, and youth development programming aimed at supporting students’ social and emotional learning.

To their credit, the authors also raise important questions regarding the validity and reliability of any achievement data that is obtained from students while they are learning and testing in an artificial digital environment.

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…

Unlike conventional assessments, embedded assessments often provide students with feedback. This is advantageous because students can learn from the feedback, but it means that the students are learning about a concept or how to execute a skill at the same time the system is attempting to gauge their competence in that knowledge or skill.

Shute, Hansen, and Almond (2008) found that adding feedback within a system assessing high school students’ ability to work with geometric sequences did not diminish the system’s ability to assess student competence. More research of this nature is needed.

Selling software solutions is not the same as solving societal problems. Why spend money and commit resources to actually fixing socioeconomic problems and supporting distressed communities and disadvantaged students, when you and your dollar driven, I mean data-driven reformers can actually make money by selling data collection systems to quantify the educational impact of poverty?

Why stop with data collection when even more profits can be earned by letting your friends “mine” this data in order to provide personalized learning and software solutions to “fix” and address the academic and social manifestations of poverty in our classrooms, but not a penny of RTTT funds devoted to ameliorating the societal problem itself?

Expecting to improve student achievement by reducing instructional time in order to increase testing of students just so we can measure the academic impact and consequences of poverty makes as much sense as a doctor insisting his obese patients cancel their membership at the local health club for the entire month in order to make daily office visits to get their weight, cholesterol level, and blood pressure checked.

The Common Core ELA Standards emphasize close reading and challenge students to draw conclusions and make inferences directly from text while they try to determine, “what the author is up to?”

While I have previously expressed concern regarding the efficacy of the Common Core Standards, I do strongly believe that more people should give some serious thought to what exactly the Big Data enthusiasts and data miners are up to?

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Common Core 2.0 or 2001 Education Odyssey?

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With the Common Core’s emphasis on data mining and data-driven instruction there is a misguided focus and emphasis on maximizing and standardizing student “learning outcomes” rather than inspiring and supporting student learning “along the way”.

Students will learn and acquire essential academic, social, and emotional skills as they persist through vigorous and non-routine learning activities rather than proceeding through rigorous and standardized learning modules and online assessments.

Teacher, blogger and author Mercedes Schneider recently blogged about Race To The Top funding that targets school district data collection efforts and preparation for the new online Common Core assessments. Schneider found that applicants for RTTT funds agreed to

Use technology to the maximum extent appropriate to develop, administer, and score assessments and report assessment results.

The primary role of technology in education and employment should be to unleash human potential and creativity, rather than to simply quantify student and worker performance. As Richie Parker says…

I can’t say there’s anything that I can’t do…just things that I haven’t done yet.

Technology can be a powerful tool to enrich our lives while facilitating meaningful human contact and collaboration. In the classroom, education technology should be a tool to cultivate self-efficacy and encourage children to test their limits, rather than just a means to collect student data while testing a shallow and limited set of standards.

Knewton CEO, Jose Ferreira boasted in 2012 during a White House Education Datapalooza presentation;

So Knewton today gets five to ten million actionable data, per student, per day. Now we do that because we get people (if you can believe it) to tag every single sentence of their content (we have a large publishing partnership with Pearson, and they tag all their content) and we’re in open standard so anyone can tag to us.

So, Knewton students today: we have about 180,000 right now, by December it’ll be 650,000, early next year it’ll be in the millions and the next year it’ll be closer to 10 million, and that’s just through our Pearson partnership…

So we know you’re going to fail, we know it in advance and we can prevent it in advance. We go grab some content from somewhere else in the portfolio and going to seamlessly blend that into your homework tonight. So every kid gets a perfectly optimized textbook, except it’s also video and other rich media dynamically generated in real time. And it also uses the combined data power of the entire network. So here’s what I mean by that, like I said next year we’ll have close to 10 million students, a few years from now we’ll have a 100 million.

The Knewton CEO does not seem to understand that students become confident, courageous, and resilient learners by experiencing failure and overcoming adversity, not avoiding it.

Employers desire workers who know how to learn and are creative problem solvers rather than students who have been trained to perform with personalized and optimized digital learning programs.

The appropriate and effective use of technology in the classroom and workplace is as much about a student or employee mastering themselves as it is about mastering a particular device or process.

In the book, Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age the authors argue that technology should be used to customize learning and design assessments that are more appealing to students.

A test of reading comprehension, for example, is likely to present the same set of text passages for everyone, not taking into account whether each student will find the passages interesting or worth reading. Sophia, the music lover, Kamla, the basketball enthusiast, and Jamal, the expert on tanks and submarines, might all be assessed on the same passage about Mozart. Sophia would most likely be more attentive to the task than the other students, which would give her the best opportunity to show her actual reading skills. Providing multiple content options in a traditional print environment is costly and impractical. But in a digital environment, there is no reason why Kamla couldn’t select a passage about sports for her reading comprehension assessment and Jamal, a passage about submarines, as long as both passages are of comparable difficulty.

And the role of education technology will be expanded from assessing students to actually monitoring their progress and teaching them;

Most important, new technologies allow for two-way interactive assessments. With these technologies available in our classrooms, we will be able to create learning environments that not only teach, but also “learn” to teach more effectively. By distributing the intelligence between student and environment, the curriculum will be able to track student successes and weaknesses and monitor the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of its own methods. The result will be a curriculum that becomes smarter, not more outdated, over time.

Technology should be used in the classroom to assist student learning and as a tool for creating original content rather than to control learning and determine the content each student is exposed to.

At this rate, how many years will it be before the first ever U.S. Secretary of Education robot is interviewed and the reporter poses the same question that HAL 9000 was asked in 2001: A Space Odyssey ?

HAL, despite your enormous intellect, are you ever frustrated by your dependence on people to carry out your actions?

 

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What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge,

and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.

~ George Bernard Shaw

 

Listen To The Music

Our lives are to be used and thus to be lived as fully as possible, and truly it seems that we are never so alive as when we concern ourselves with other people.
~ Harry Chapin

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Students will learn more from text that is unpretentious and emotive rather than complex and informational. Readings in the classroom should stimulate student feelings and stir up emotions rather than stifle student feelings and suppress emotional responses.

Heavy emphasis on hard skills leaves students unprepared for the real “tests” in life. Students will be far better prepared for the academic, social, and emotional challenges of college and careers once they have learned how to connect with and effectively manage their complex emotions, rather than training them to connect with and independently master complex informational text.

If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far. ~ Daniel Goleman

Songs are a timeless expression of the human experience. They capture the history of events, ideas, and people that have shaped our pluralistic society. Song lyrics are an excellent teaching tool that will engage, excite and inspire young people.

The creative and critical thinking process of analyzing and interpreting song lyrics helps students to develop essential soft skills and media literacy skills.

While the sound and style of music may have changed dramatically over the years, the content or subject matter of many songs remains constant, as artists continue to write about and wrestle with complex environmental, political, and social issues.

Martina McBride sings powerful songs that raise awareness about important issues. She explained her song selection process in a 2013 interview…

Sometimes I think songs are sent to you, in a way, McBride says. I never set out to find a song about one thing or another. When I hear a song like “Independence Day” or “Concrete Angel” or “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” or whatever it is, I feel like there’s a feeling that I have to do this song. I feel like it needs to be heard.

McBride says that’s exactly what happened the first time she heard “I’m Gonna Love You Through It.”

Sometimes it’s undeniable, she says. You can’t over think it. This is a song that’s real and is really going to matter to somebody. I thought that song was really hopeful and that it would give somebody inspiration to fight.

I stopped thinking and just sang it.

Somebody cries in the middle of the night
The neighbors hear, but they turn out the lights
A fragile soul caught in the hands of fate
When morning comes it’ll be too late

Song lyrics create an emotional hook in the classroom by stimulating students’ hearts and minds while challenging them to care about and confront persistent societal problems.

Musician Steve Van Zandt’s new curriculum; Rock and Roll: An American Story! is all about engaging students and harnessing the educational power of music as he explained in a 2013 LA Times interview

“Rock and Roll: An American Story” is a Web-based interdisciplinary curriculum that will be offered to schools at no cost. It is designed to explore the influence of rock ‘n’ roll on society and social movements, politics, American culture and history over the last seven decades.

The reasons for this project are many, obviously, Van Zandt said Friday during a news conference at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. But as I looked into it, I saw one word recur in discussions of the dropout epidemic: ‘Engagement.’ At-risk students are very often the students who do not feel engaged in school. Put another way, they are not seeing how the classroom relates to their lives.

The student is the most valuable resource a teacher can have when it comes to selecting songs for use in the classroom. Asking students to bring music into the classroom demonstrates respect for their interests. This builds student enthusiasm and cultivates self-efficacy.

Employing this strategy, the teacher serves as a facilitator, designing non-routine learning experiences and song-based activities that will lead students to new knowledge, insights, and understandings. As Bruce Springsteen sings, “We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school.”

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Common Core Bait and Switch

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“Selling” the Common Core State Standards to students, parents, and employers with promotional slogans such as  “college and career readiness”, “critical thinking”, “constructivist  learning”, “technology integration”, and  “21st century skills” while cash-strapped schools provide fewer trade and vocational programs, eliminate the arts, increase class size, narrow the curriculum, and rely on test prep to prepare students for Common Core standardized tests…is like walking your customers past a sumptuous all-you-can-eat buffet and once they are seated, telling them they will be ordering from the children’s menu.

The rigorous and robust standards may look good on paper but when implementation is coupled with standardized tests only those Standards that are measurable and testable actually receive attention in the classroom leading to a routine and standardized learning experience for students.

Reformers claim students will be expected to painstakingly deconstruct authentic text and passages that are “rich and worthy of close reading” when in fact students have encountered “nonsensical” passages on the Common Core-aligned tests that include distracting product placements along with embedded questions being field tested that may not even be “worthy” of future tests.

Ed reformers claim that the ability to independently master complex informational text is essential for success in college and careers when the personal and professional success of countless dyslexics proves otherwise.

…But what has become obvious—as evidenced by the sheer number of dyslexic World Economic Forum attendees in Davos and by plenty of research—is not only that dyslexics can be, and often are, brilliant, but that many develop far superior abilities in some areas than their so-called normal counterparts…

Ed reformers claim test-taking skills are a critical component of college readiness and test scores are a significant criteria used by admission officers to select applicants while more and more business and college leaders explain;

Last year, Ithaca joined the growing number of colleges that have incorporated an option to omit standardized test scores for some or all of their applicants last year…Our first realization was that test scores add relatively little to our ability to predict the success of our students.

Ed reformers claim that standardized tests accurately measure student proficiency and teacher effectiveness while recent studies of VAM have concluded;

Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions…The majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences.

Many schools continue to reduce staffing and programs while using scarce resources to pay for costly technology upgrades required for the online administration of the Common Core PARCC assessments. These misguided wag the dog policies undermine the quality of instructional programs as limited school funding is focused on the “needs” of the new assessments rather than the academic needs of students.

PARCC enthusiasts continue to claim the assessments will measure how on track students are for success in college and careers even though PARCC issued it’s own disclaimer more than a year ago acknowledging the test does not measure career readiness and will only provide an estimate of the likelihood that students are college ready;

It must be noted that the academic knowledge, skills, and practices defined by the PARCC CCR Determinations in ELA/literacy and mathematics are an essential part of students’ readiness for college and careers, but do not encompass the full range of knowledge, skills, and practices students need for success in postsecondary programs and careers… 

A comprehensive determination of college and career readiness that would include additional factors such as these is beyond the scope of the PARCC assessments in ELA/literacy and mathematics..

Reformers claim the Common Core emphasizes transferable college and workplace literacy skills needed to understand an introductory level college textbook, an office memo, or technical report, yet according to the Common Core 3-8 Testing FAQ as much as 40% of the questions on Common Core assessments focus on a student’s ability to;

Discuss what the author is up to and how the text works… understand how an author builds and shapes meaning through their craft and structure…identify or analyze the structure of texts…compare and synthesize ideas within and across multiple texts

These specialized literacy skills are not broad-based and applicable to most work settings and situations. Instead, The National Institute for Literacy has determined that successful citizens and employees should be able to Read With Understanding and comprehend what they read, but the Close Reading technique is not an appropriate or essential work-based literacy standard.

Do Common Core supporters really envision new employees responding when asked if there are any questions regarding the company manual/handbook that they would like to discuss the different meaning of the word “mileage” as it relates to employee benefits discussed in the handbook as compared with the use of the word “mileage” as it relates to penalties in an auto lease agreement the employee recently signed?

Deep analysis and deconstruction of informational text is very challenging for learning disabled and disadvantaged students. The extra time and instructional supports they will need to independently master these skills reduces instructional time and learning opportunities in other content areas which results in a narrowing of the curriculum.

The Common Core Standards do call for “scaffolding” and other academic supports to assist weaker learners and readers. Learning disabled students’ IEP’s also describe accommodations and modifications that help to make learning and testing activities more accessible.

However, when it comes time for disabled students to take the Common Core tests, NCLB regulations specifically prohibit accommodations for reading disabled students on the ELA assessments in order to obtain a “fair” and “true” measure of student ability.

Sure is ironic that we are witnessing an unprecedented and historic period of academic false advertising and “bait and switch” tactics when the education reform movement is being bankrolled and supported by numerous multinational corporations including Walmart, the #1 retailer in the United States.

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Critical Thinking vs. Creative Thinking

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The Common Core demands students think critically while staying connected and diving into text, yet employers desire workers who can think creatively while connecting with people as they dive into their work.

In college and careers students will often face the challenge of answering open-ended questions rather than text-dependent ones. Much of the text they encounter in school and work will not be “rich and worthy” of close reading.

College students and employees will often be required to make decisions and determine a course of action using vague, conflicting, or even incomplete data that is derived from a variety of sources.

Education programs should cultivate independent thinkers who can formulate creative solutions to novel problems rather than training text-dependent thinkers who can answer standardized text-based questions.

David Coleman has made it clear that Common Core students are expected to remain tethered to the text and read like a detective while most employers expect their workers to be autonomous learners as they read with perspective.

There is a significant difference between thinking critically while close reading complex text and thinking creatively while solving a complicated task…

Creative thinking is divergent, critical thinking is convergent; whereas creative thinking tries to create something new, critical thinking seeks to assess worth or validity in something that exists; whereas creative thinking is carried on by violating accepted principles, critical thinking is carried on by applying accepted principles. Although creative and critical thinking may very well be different sides of the same coin they are not identical (Beyer, 1987, p.35).

The Common Core’s emphasis on text-based thinking at the expense of experiential learning is not in the best interest of students or their future employers.

Text may be complex and rigorous but it is a passive, dull, and lifeless way to learn, while activities are a much more dynamic, interactive, and vigorous way to learn.

The Common Core Standards do not cultivate innovative and creative thought because it’s lead author has made it clear that original thoughts and personal feelings don’t matter in life.

Supporters of the Common Core continue to claim it will prepare students for colleges and careers despite numerous surveys, reports, and research (evidence) that employers are seeking workers who think creatively

Overwhelmingly, both the superintendents of schools who educate future workers and the employers who hire them agreed that creativity is increasingly important in U.S. workplaces, and that arts training—and, to a lesser degree, communications studies—are crucial to developing creativity…Employers look for employees who reinforce their creativity by showing certain characteristics in the selection process:

Able to look spontaneously beyond the specifics of a question (78 percent)

Respond well to hypothetical scenarios (70 percent)

Able to identify new patterns of behavior or new combination of actions

Integrate knowledge across different disciplines

Show ability to originate new ideas

Comfortable with the notion of “no right answer”

Fundamentally curious

Demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work

Show ability to take risks

Tolerant of ambiguity

Show ability to communicate new ideas to others

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Supporters of the Common Core may point to standards that call for creative and divergent thinking yet the multiple choice questions on the Common Core standardized tests DISCOURAGE and DISCOUNT such thinking as they have only one right answer and plausible responses are graded as wrong.

Standards should serve as a flexible framework to meet the academic, social, emotional, and vocational needs of diverse learners and NOT a forced march to meet the data driven demands of standardized tests.

To date, Common Core instruction and implementation efforts have been focused primarily on the standardized “needs” of tests rather than the diverse needs of young learners. Standards should be a guide or pathway to learning and success, rather than a high stakes destination to failure.

Defenders of public education have questioned whether the data driven Common Core implementation efforts will actually lead to more students dropping out of school rather than increasing student achievement.

Paul Bruno, a supporter of the Common Core  responded to this concern…

And it’s also likely that, Common Core notwithstanding, our dropout rates will increase in the coming years since they are currently at an all-time low and an improving economy will give marginal students better alternatives outside of school.

For the record, it is entirely possible that the CCSS will contribute modestly  to future increases in the dropout rate. 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

Michael Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has expressed views on preparing ALL students for college and the discipline of at-risk learners that also seem contrary or inconsistent with his enthusiastic support for the K-12 college prep for all approach of the Common Core.

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?…

We shouldn’t force anyone into that route, but we also shouldn’t guilt kids with low odds of college success—regardless of their race or class—to keep trudging through academic coursework as teens…

Rather than pretend that we’re going to get “all students” to “climb the mountain to college,” we should build a system that helps many students find another road to the middle class—a path that starts with a better prekindergarten-through-eighth-grade education and then develops strong technical and interpersonal skills in high school and at community colleges. This is an honorable path, and one that’s much sturdier than the rickety bridges to failure that we’ve got now.

“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

In my view, we should be proud of the charter schools that are identifying and serving high-potential low-income students—kids who are committed to using education to escape poverty and are often supported in that effort by education-minded parents…

The reason to celebrate these schools and the role they play is because the traditional system has been downright hostile to the needs of such striving children and families…tracking or ability grouping is seen as elitist; any effort to provide special classes, environments, or challenges for motivated or high-achieving kids is cast as perpetuating inequality—even when all the kids are poor, and even though there’s a ton of evidence that high achievers do best around other high achievers.

And now these “social justice” types want to berate schools for asking disruptive students to leave. For sure, there should be checks on pushing kids out willy-nilly…

But let’s not forget about the needs (even rights) of the other kids to learn. Isn’t it possible that U.S. public schools have gone too far in the direction of accommodating the disruptors at the expense of everyone else?

Or been guilty of “defining deviancy down,” in Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s words? As Eduwonk Andy wrote this week, it’s probably because charter schools are willing (and able) to enforce discipline that they are so popular with parents. That wouldn’t be true if they had to retain chronic disrupters.

To be sure, this raises tough questions for the system as a whole. As I said in the Washington Post video, there are reasons to be concerned that district schools will become the last resort for the toughest-to-serve kids.

But in life there are trade-offs, and I would be willing to accept a somewhat less ideal outcome for the most-challenged students if it meant tremendously better life outcomes for their peers.

Flypaper: The charter expulsion flap ~ Michael Petrilli

It is odd that reformers who fervently support the Common Core with its mandate of college and career readiness for ALL students would express views that excuse the most challenged segments of our student population from meeting these higher standards.

Wasn’t the rationale for adoption of the Common Core that higher standards would serve as an academic rising tide that will lift all boats regardless of condition, design, or years at sea?

Or is it possible that the Common Core, which lacks meaningful career and technical standards or pathways, is intentionally designed to prepare cognitively privileged and standardized students for college and post-college careers while the “marginal” learners in our schools will be encouraged to apply at Dave and Buster’s?

In a rigorous Common Core world “marginal” learners are expendable and in the vigorous history of America these individuals were exceptional.

Rather than rating and sorting students according to a common and narrow set of testable academic skills we should be celebrating and cultivating uncommon talents and divergent thinking in our classrooms.

As Arnold Dodge explains, schools should be honoring and uplifting the creative “characters” in their classrooms…

Many of our schools have become dry, lifeless places. Joy and spirited emotions have been replaced by fear, generated by masters from afar. These remote overseers — politicians, policy makers, test prep executives — have decided that tests and numbers and drills and worksheets and threats and ultimatums will somehow improve the learning process…

When a student does well on a reading test, the results tell us nothing about how well she will use reading as a tool to learn larger topics, nor does it tell us that she will be interested in reading at all. What it tells us is that she is good at taking a reading test…

With the battle cry “College and Career Ready,” the champions of standardization are determined to drum out every last bit of creativity, unpredictability, humor, improvisation and genuine emotion from the education process in the name of useful “outcomes.”..

The self-righteous, powerful and moneyed, if they have their way, will eliminate from schools kids who have character — or kids who are characters, for that matter…

But there is another way. If we believe that children are imaginative creatures by nature with vast amounts of talent waiting to be mined, and if we believe that opening children’s minds and hearts to the thrill of learning — without competition and ranking — is a healthy approach to child development, then we are off to a good start…

William Glasser, M.D., studied schools for over 30 years and in his seminal work, The Quality School, he outlines five basic needs that all human beings are born with: survival, love, power, fun and freedom.

How many policymakers today would subscribe to having fun or experiencing freedom as a goal of our educational system? Just think of the possibilities if they did. Kids actually laughing in school and not being punished for it. Students feeling strong enough to talk truth to power and not being silenced. Youngsters feeling free to write with creativity and originality without being ridiculed for deviating from state test guidelines.

And that’s before we even get to love.

Think of the characters that would emerge from such an environment. Comedians, orators, raconteurs, revolutionaries, magicians, clowns, young people with agency and drive, having fun, not afraid to take risks or make mistakes. Not afraid to be children…

The BLOG: Needed in School: 140 Characters ~ Arnold Dodge

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