(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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#ThankATeacher

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“…I had incredible teachers. And as I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all of these things came from the way that I was parented and taught.

And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have made me so successful  professionally — none of these qualities that make me who I am … can be tested.

I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me. Their time was not taken up with a bunch of silly test prep — a bunch of drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. In other words, they were allowed to be teachers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, ‘My kid ain’t taking that.’ Actually, I have it in quotes cause she said, ‘It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it will just make him nervous.’ Yes, it was the late 70’s…I guess we could get away with it back then.

Well, I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.

I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based not on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.

I honestly don’t know where I would be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.

This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you guys must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.

So, the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself being called “overpaid;” the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. … Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.”

~ Matt Damon, Save Our Schools March 7/30/2011

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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

Link

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Schools should be in the “business” of creating diverse and stimulating learning environments and experiences where a child’s academic, athletic, artistic, social, and emotional skills and desires are free to flourish and thrive.

We should prepare our children to be thoughtful, caring, resilient, and responsible leaders and learners who can make meaningful and lasting contributions to our challenging and vibrant world. They need to learn how to make courageous and quality choices as they communicate and collaborate with others.

Powerful and privileged reformers like David Coleman deny the importance of thoughts and feelings because they often operate in isolation and are incapable or unwilling to consult and collaborate with others.

Reformers may hold powerful positions, but those reformers who are unable to empathize and connect with other people have a limited ability to effectively direct education reform efforts as they are more Common Core cheerleaders than education leaders.

During the summer of 2001 French filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet were in New York City documenting the daily activities of Engine 7 Ladder 1. This footage was intended to be part of a documentary that profiled the “coming of age” of a rookie fire fighter assigned to the firehouse that was located just blocks away from The World Trade Center.

As chance would have it, the Naudet brothers were riding along with the firemen on September 11th and their soon to become 9/11 documentary would provide a first-hand account of events that day including the only footage from inside the World Trade Center.

This compelling documentary honors the victims of 9/11 and pays tribute to the heroism and sacrifice of the first responders. While the film may bring back painful memories it is an important primary source that vividly captures the powerful emotions, images, and audio of that day.

I first showed the Naudet brothers 9/11 documentary in class back in 2002. My 7th and 8th grade students also listened to the Five For Fighting song, “Superman” and also watched the 9/11 Concert for New York City performance…

Only a man in a funny red sheet

Looking for special things inside of me…

It’s not easy. It’s not easy to be me.

That year I encouraged my students to write poems or letters to Engine 7 Ladder 1 which were personally delivered to the firehouse on Duane Street. Here are excerpts from several student letters…

Three weeks ago my class and I watched the documentary 9/11. I had not seen the movie until then. Right then I found out that life was not going to be easy. You taught me never to give up. That may sound ordinary but it impacted my life immensely. My family noticed my change and wondered what had driven me to be more compassionate and loving. I started to spend more time with my mom and helping her.

Seeing and reading about your conduct and character has made me rethink my values. I now try to treat people with kindness and respect. Things that used to be important to me, like family and friends, are now even more important to me. I have come to realize how fortunate I am.

After seeing 9/11 I realized how lucky I was not to lose any of my family members. I’m sorry for your losses. I can’t imagine how you felt being inside the Towers, but I really appreciate all of the things you do. I don’t think I would ever have been able to do what you did that day. You have shown us all what a true hero is. A hero isn’t Superman. A hero is you.

Your movie 9/11 made me realize that firefighters do a lot for our world. I started to care more about the world and everything going on around me. I felt more secure about stepping out into the world after seeing your movie. Those are my thoughts and regards about the September 11th tragedy. I want to thank you for not running away from this tragedy. You were a great way of showing us kids that we should care about others.

The lessons that you had taught me is not to be mean or cruel to people that are different. Another lesson that you taught me is not to think of yourself, but think of other people. That is what makes you a hero to me. You guys also taught me that no matter how frustrated you are, that doesn’t mean you go out and kill people like what the terrorist did.

Back in 2002 I also introduced a 3D Memorial Project to my middle school classes. Students were required to research a significant historic event or an individual no longer living that served as a positive role model and made a difference in the lives of others. They were also challenged to select a dedication or tribute song that is played during the class presentation of their Memorial Project. Over the years numerous students have chosen to create projects for 9/11 and you can view photos of these 3D projects here.

In 2011 I introduced a media project for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. Students were challenged to create an original tribute video blending music with the powerful images and words from that day.

The finished project was to be guided and informed by the education goals of the National September 11th Memorial and Museum which include…

Provide opportunities for the public to make meaningful and purposeful connections between the history of 9/11 and their own lives…Suggest ways to honor the memory of those killed and extend involvement with the legacy of 9/11 through acts of civic/community involvement and volunteerism.

You can find additional details, directions and resources for this project here and I also created a sample project to guide and motivate my students.

Considering the above lessons of 9/11 perhaps ed reformers would pause their plans for a moment and consider how different our children’s education would be moving forward if the specious claim in Appendix A of the Common Core

There may one day be modes and methods of information delivery that are as efficient and powerful as text, but for now there is no contest.

were to be removed and replaced with John F. Kennedy’s statement…

The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of the nation, is close to the center of a nation’s purpose – and is a test to the quality of a nation’s civilization.

Life is not standardized and neither are children. The most important lessons in life will not be found in close readings or learned from taking tests as they are much closer to the heart.

The blacksmith and the artist

Reflect it in their art

They forge their creativity

Closer to the heart

Closer to the heart

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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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

Creative-Brain

Thoughts and Feelings Do Matter

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Schools must provide less data-driven classroom activities and more emotion-filled community building experiences if we are to properly prepare our children to be self-directed lifetime learners and independent thinkers.

Many K-12 education programs are now focused primarily on preparing students for standardardized tests rather than cultivating student agency and preparing our children for the social and emotional “tests” of adulthood and employment.

“The children coming into their second grade classroom that morning arranged their chairs in a circle for a daily ritual: Their teacher asked every child to tell the class how they felt (unless they didn’t want to share this), and why they felt that way.

This simple exercise in a New Haven, CT elementary school was the first time I saw a lesson in emotional literacy. Naming emotions accurately helps children be clearer about what is going on inside – essential both to making clearheaded decisions and to managing emotions throughout life. Self-awareness – turning our attention to our inner world of thoughts and feelings – allows us to manage ourselves well.

An inner focus lets us understand and handle our inner world, even when rocked by disturbing feelings. This is a life skill that keeps us on track throughout the years, and helps children become better learners. For instance, when children tune in to what engages them, they connect with the intrinsic motivation that drives them…

In our life and career this can blossom into “good work” – a potent combination of what engages us, what matters to us, and what we can accomplish successfully. In the school years, the equivalent is “good learning” – being engaged with what enthuses us and what feels important…”

Daniel Goleman, “The Case for Teaching Emotional Literacy in Schools” 8/10/14

“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. These are studies done by companies themselves to identify the abilities of their star performers

It’s the distinguishing competencies that are the crucial factor in workplace success: the variables that you find only in the star performers – and those are largely due to emotional intelligence.

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

Daniel Goleman provides evidence and cites research to support his claim that thoughts and feelings do matter in life and they have a significant impact on the performance of students and employees.

I can’t help but wonder how much more diverse the Common Core State Standards would be if the cognitively privileged and powerful A-Team assembled to develop the Common Core State Standards had consulted with Daniel Goleman?

Guess that’s what happens when an unqualified “expert” and inexperienced person such as David Coleman is chosen to be the lead designer and architect of the passion-less Common Core State Standards despite his offensive belief and evidence-less claim that…

“As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a sh#@ about what you feel or what you think.”

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Common Core Cheerleaders

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There clearly is a lack of research and evidence regarding the efficacy of the Common Core Standards but even more troubling is the absence of state level leadership. There is a great difference between a nationally recognized Common Core cheerleader and a respected, responsive, and trusted public education leader.

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and NY Education Commissioner John King should be less concerned with leading the nation when it comes to Common Core implementation, and much more focused on leading and learning from New York State teachers.

Some ed reformers have equated the Common Core with the Civil Rights Movement, but if they want citizens to take this claim seriously, then they must stop issuing marching orders and start marching and working alongside students, parents, teachers, and school administrators.

How can Commissioner King suggest the Common Core is as historic and momentous as the Civil Rights Movement and not have his children fully participate in it? When questioned about the decision to send his own children to a private Montessori school, NY Education Commissioner John King replied;

“It’s not about public versus private, it’s about finding the right environment for your child.”

Kristen V. Brown, “King explains decision to send his kids to  private school” 12/9/13

Commissioner King has a credibility problem when it comes to the choice of a private school for his own children, and this undermines his ability to effectively lead and champion efforts to reform public education in New York State.

John King insists that the Common Core Standards are essential to ensure that K-12 public school students have the skills they will need for college and careers, yet he sends his children to a private Montessori school with a different set of standards and curriculum that are aligned to 8 broad education goals including;

To foster open minds, compassion, and respect for others

To instill in each child a sense of duty and personal responsibility for the world in which we live

To spark in our children imagination, wonder, humor, and joy”

John King’s credibility further comes in to question when he criticizes parents for opting their children out of Common Core assessments, yet he sends his own children to a school that does not administer all the assessments and views parents as partners and equals…not as problems.

“To enter into a partnership with parents in the education of their children

Commissioner King claims that he is concerned about students opting out of the Common Core tests because there will be a lack of meaningful data regarding how they are progressing in school, yet the leader of his own children’s school discounts the reliability and validity of data from standardized tests…

“Two weeks ago I attended the New York State Association of Independent School (NYSAIS) Heads of School conference. This conference featured Yong Zhao, an author and professor at the University of Seattle…

Zhou says that investing in testing will only create good test takers, and test scores are not valid predictors of success. If we invest our resources in tests, we will get good test takers; if we spend our time celebrating and encouraging our variety of abilities, creativity, and diverse thinking we will better help our students succeed…

Test scores are a poor reflection of what our students could be learning and distract teachers from the real work of helping students to discover, be curious, work collaboratively and interact with each other in meaningful ways.”

Susan Kambrich, “The Value of an Education that Promotes Creativity” 11/25/13

King and other reformers maintain that the Common Core are standards and not a curriculum and these standards don’t tell teachers how to teach. If that is the case, then parents in NY State should have the option of sending their children to public Common Core Montessori schools.

If the Common Core “ensures” that students will have the entry-level employee skills businesses so desire why did Commissioner King have to convene a meeting of business officials to tell them to speak out more in support of the standards?

“King urged a roomful of corporate decision-makers to support the tests and, more importantly, the new Common Core approach to learning embraced by New York and 46 other states… 

We need the entire community to support the standards,” King said Thursday during a talk hosted by the Center for Economic Growth.

At the end of the hour-long discussion, CEG Executive Director Michael Tucker urged those in attendance to sign a pledge saying they would support the Common Core by writing letters to the media and generally talking up the concept.”

Rick Karlin, “State seeks business backing for new tests” 5/23/13

This Civil Rights analogy just isn’t working for me, unless you can imagine Martin Luther King, Jr. calling together local church leaders because he wanted to see more passion and participation in bus boycotts and marches.

It is difficult to take these Civil Rights claims seriously, when NYSED has been concerned with supporting the right of Pearson to maintain the secrecy of it’s assessments while restricting the free speech rights of teachers to talk about them.

Earlier this year NYSED submitted a waiver renewal application to the U.S. Education Department requesting more flexibility with respect to standardized testing of learning disabled students..

NYSED is applying for a waiver to allow school districts to administer the general State assessments to these students with disabilities…

When students with disabilities are required to participate in an assessment at their chronological age significantly misaligned with content learned at their instructional level, the assessment may not provide as much instructionally actionable information on student performance or foster the most prudent instructional decisions. For these students, State assessments do not provide meaningful measures of growth for purposes of teacher and leader evaluations.”

Update on Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Waiver Renewal Process and Related Amendments – BR (A) 6 January, 2014

On 7/31/14 The Huffington Post reported…

“New York students with disabilities will be held to the same academic standards and take the same standardized tests as other kids their age next school year, the U.S. Education Department said Thursday, spurning the state’s efforts to change the policy.” 

Joy Resmovits,“This Will Make Some Special Education Advocates Really Happy” 7/31/14

Perhaps Commissioner King, NYSED, and the Board of Regents are starting to realize they have been on the wrong side of the Common Core Civil Rights Movement.

Time will tell whether New York State will continue to lead the nation and many of our students will be forced to sit and stare through another round of Common Core assessments or will Commissioner King and NYSED finally stand and lead New York’s students and teachers?

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Cognitive Privilege

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I’ve been wondering lately if there is such a thing as cognitive privilege and what role it might play in the Common Core debate?

Is it possible that there are highly intelligent individuals who lack the empathy, experience, and wisdom to “see” and understand the academic challenges and struggles faced by disadvantaged and learning disabled students? These individuals mistakenly believe that all students have the cognitive ability and a responsibility to learn and test the way they do.

Educators encourage their students to learn how to think for themselves while a cognitively privileged person believes students should be taught to think the way they do.

“David Coleman stood at a podium reciting poetry. After reading Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” a classic example of the villanelle form, Coleman wanted to know why green is the only color mentioned in the poem, why Thomas uses the grammatically incorrect go gentle instead of go gently, and how the poet’s expression of grief is different from Elizabeth Bishop’s in her own villanelle, “One Art.”

“Kids don’t wonder about these things,” Coleman told his audience, a collection of 300 public-school English teachers and administrators. “It is you as teachers who have this obligation” to ask students “to read like a detective and write like an investigative reporter.”

Dana Goldstein, “The Schoolmaster” The Atlantic 9/19/12

Educators help their students to become independent thinkers while cognitively privileged people will often demand that students are trained to be text-dependent thinkers.

There has been a lot of focus on teacher accountability and the importance of every child having a highly effective teacher. From my experience, one of the most important qualities and essential “skill” of a good teacher is the capacity to have empathy for students and even their parents.

I have criticized David Coleman and his infamous statement expressing disregard for thoughts and feelings. Coleman played a powerful role in development of the Common Core Standards and from my perspective, the Standards reflect his lack of understanding or concern for the needs of cognitively delayed and learning disabled students. David Coleman clearly has a passion for close reading and not surprisingly the Common Core Standards demand that all students learn to read and think this way.

In a recent commentary on the accreditation of Wheaton College, David Coleman stated…

“Reading well is at once a powerful and a fragile practice. In our time, the technology of interruption has outpaced the technology of concentration. It takes a certain reverent respect for what an artist has made to give the work sufficient attention (and love) to allow its full depth to emerge.

Attentive study also requires daily work. The report Academically Adrift documents that as many as 35 percent of college students study less than five hours a week. On average, students are studying only 12 to 13 hours a week; this is half as much as a full-time college student spent studying in 1960. One of the saddest clichés (or excuses) I often hear is that “the most important learning in college happens outside the classroom.” What a shocking capitulation — to lose the vitality of the classroom conversation as the main event of college life, as the place where careful daily preparation meets the intense engagement of fellow students and teachers.”

David Coleman, “No, Wheaton College’s Accreditation Should Not Be Revoked” 7/30/14

If cognitive privilege does exist, David Coleman is clearly it’s poster child, and this might be the reason he does not “see” or understand the challenges faced by nontraditional college students that could impact the amount of time they have to study…

If you picture the average college student as an 18-22 year-old who lives on campus, attends day classes, and is up until the wee hours of the night, you may need to readjust your thinking…

Ask most people to describe the typical college student and you’ll probably hear something about a recent high school graduate, someone in their early 20s who lives on or close to campus, and whose life is a mix of daytime classes and campus social activities. Walk into the library at many of our institutions, and that is a description of the people we are likely to see.

But the reality is that the traditional 18-22 year-old student is now the minority in higher education.According to the National Center for Education Statistics there are 17.6 million undergraduates. Thirty-eight percent of those enrolled in higher education are over the age of 25 and 25 percent are over the age of 30. The share of all students who are over age 25 is projected to increase another twenty-three percent by 2019…

According to a recent national report titled “Pathways to Success,” the most significant challenge is retention. One of the three defining characteristics (the other two are age and socioeconomic background) of a nontraditional student is the presence of an at-risk factor, such as  working full-time, raising a child as a single parent or lacking a traditionally earned high school diploma…

Traditional students may be taking 5 or 6 years to graduate these days, but add up the barriers confronting nontraditional college students and it’s clear that higher education institutions will be challenged to create the support systems needed to help them persist to graduation…

To improve what we know about these students, governments need to develop better tracking systems for data collection. Other recommendations in the report suggest putting nontraditional students into special cohorts for group support, shorter class terms that accommodate individuals balancing work and family, a hybrid learning experience that mixes online and onsite classes, better coordinated systems that simplify access to libraries, tutoring and technology support, mentors and life coaching to help overcome dispositional barriers, bridge programs to facilitate access for high school dropouts and flexible exit and entry points to accommodate family and job situations…”

Steven Bell, “Nontraditional Students Are the New Majority” | From the Bell Tower 3/8/12

David Coleman may wax nostalgic about his days at Wheaton and “the vitality of the classroom conversation as the main event of college life”  but his vision of college readiness is out of focus considering the growth of online classes and the special needs of nontraditional students.

Coleman does not appreciate the importance of informal learning outside the college classroom as he stated, “One of the saddest clichés (or excuses) I often hear is that “the most important learning in college happens outside the classroom.” 

David Coleman might reconsider his views on student learning if he had the opportunity to read my previous post citing a recent Gallup-Purdue study that learning experiences outside the college classroom are very important for career readiness..

And if graduates had an internship or job in college where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled as well…”

Higher Standards alone will not solve America’s student achievement problem. The Common Core emphasis on grit, rigor, and independent mastery reveals a lack of awareness and understanding regarding the academic, social, and emotional challenges of diverse learners. David Coleman may be determined to properly educate America’s youth, but he clearly lacks the capacity or desire to understand them.

I welcome constructive dialogue with people who may not agree with me, as I will very often learn from someone with a different perspective that I had not considered.

That said, there is not much to be gained from engaging in dialogue with individuals who are not interested or concerned with what other people think or feel.

Wouldn’t be proper Blogging etiquette to introduce a new term without providing a definition….

Cognitive Privilege; The advantages and benefits of possessing advanced cognitive skills and abilities; person may not be aware or recognize these benefits. Many cognitively privileged people believe that learning must be demanded and required in the classroom rather than discovered and acquired.

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Common Core For An Uncommon Nation

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Expecting students to spend countless hours trying to solve Common Core math word problems is not the same as helping them to become more effective problem solvers.

Insisting students think critically about text that they must stay “connected to” is not the same as helping them to develop critical thinking skills.

That explains how students in China and other authoritarian nations may excel at critical thinking on the PISA exam yet grow up to be compliant and obedient citizens who do not challenge oppressive government policies.

It is not conformity that has been the engine to power America’s economy but creativity. It is courageous inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs who have advanced our economy over the years.

These leaders don’t fit educational molds, they break them. They don’t learn or think about problems the same way as everyone else. They will often improvise and innovate and they are more inclined to break with tradition and “rules”, than they are to follow them.

Seems silly almost trivial to continually fret over American students’ international rankings on the PISA test, when American employers continue to bemoan the lack of soft skills in their new hires.

A much more meaningful test of college readiness and global competitiveness would measure student creativity, courage, integrity, curiosity empathy, imagination, leadership, optimism, self-reliance, self-confidence, risk-taking etc.

Common Core evangelists have a selective love affair with data as they choose to focus on certain data points that lend credence to their “sky is falling” assessment of American education while ignoring other more significant data points.

Ed reformers continually praise the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean education systems because of their students’ consistently high PISA scores but they have publicly expressed little interest or concern regarding data revealing higher suicide rates in these nations and even among Asian Americans.

Here’s a good Common Core math problem;

How many new jobs will actually be created for all the Common Core college graduates when our monthly jobs report continues to show steady growth in service industry such as retail, fast food, hospitality, transportation along with construction and manual trades as the traditionally middle class and college graduate positions in government, finance, and other professions continue to decline or stagnate?

Why are the ed reformers so focused on PISA scores and the supposed education crisis in America, but they pay little attention to data revealing a growing student loan crisis in America….perhaps it is not too late to add financial literacy standards to the Common Core?

Public schools in America should primarily serve the academic, emotional, social, and vocational needs of our children and uphold the political and social values and ideals that gave birth to our nation.

Ed reformers efforts to impose a one size fits all standardized education program across this country demonstrates that they are willing to disregard and sacrifice basic democratic beliefs and principles with respect to public education and individual freedom for the sake of higher student scores on an international skills test.

This misguided Machiavellian approach to education reform makes as much sense as requiring driver education classes for all Amish students because not enough Amish children have been taking and passing driver’s tests.

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