(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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Common Sense

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.

~ Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

Free and open societies can benefit from uniform learning standards that guide and shape classroom instruction to prepare future learners, leaders, inventors, artisans, entrepreneurs, tradesmen, artists, teachers, mentors, volunteers, etc.

To be effective, these standards must also cultivate student agency and a set of “skills” that are not easily measured including; courage, creativity, empathy, initiative, collaboration, integrity, self-efficacy, persistence, resilience, risk-taking, decision-making, problem solving, civic engagement etc.

Governments create an intolerable situation when they couple standardized tests with national standards and then impose sanctions or “high stakes” on schools and teachers when their students do not meet these standards on time and in a synchronized way.

By design, these standardized assessments can only measure the discrete numeracy and literacy skills of the standards.

While the Common Core standards may “promise” to prepare students for college and careers the misguided and punitive nature of the assessment program actually distorts implementation efforts and leads to a narrowing of instruction that emphasizes the measurable and testable components of the standards.

Implemented incorrectly, “rigorous” standards will actually diminish student potential as viable academic and vocational pathways are closed off and even eliminated to make room for an extra portion of literacy and numeracy instruction and assessment.

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Education programs that provide numerous pathways allowing students to unleash their special talents and pursue their passions will “open doors” and increase learning and earning opportunities in the future.

The unintended and negative consequences of data-driven implementation are real and there are countless school letters being sent home to parents like the one posted here…

rigorImage source: Extra curricular activities cancelled for rigor.

There is a troubling disconnect between the promised “outcomes” of the Common Core Standards and the test-focused implementation efforts.

For example, the Common Core includes numerous descriptors and paints a “portrait” of students who meet the Standards and are considered to be college and career ready including…

They demonstrate independence…they become self-directed learners, effectively seeking out and using resources to assist them, including teachers, peers, and print and digital reference materials

They use technology and digital media strategically and capably. Students employ technology thoughtfully…They are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals.

Students appreciate that the twenty-first-century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together. Students actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening, and they are able to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds.

Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy, Page 5

However, the implementation efforts are focused primarily on numeracy/literacy and disregard these intended outcomes as the instructional “shifts” demanded by the standards focus on cultivating text-dependent thinking and discrete literacy skills that actually discourage independent learning…

Students build knowledge about the world (domains/content areas) through TEXT rather than the teacher or activities.

Pedagogical Shifts demanded by the Common Core State Standards

The descriptors may call for students to “use technology strategically” yet most of the time spent using technology in the classroom will be while students are preparing for or taking standardized tests.

The descriptors may say students will learn to “understand and work with other cultures” yet the added expense and time devoted to Math/ELA preparation and testing leaves less time and resources for educational field trips, exchange programs, internships, and other learning experiences where students would interact with people from other cultures…not than just read about them.

It is foolish to believe that students who are prepared and trained to think and perform within the “box” of a standardized test will become adult learners and workers who can create and think “outside the box”. Or as Sir Ken Robinson explains…

You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them.

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Google VP Laszlo Bock explained in a NY Times interview…

“One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation…

After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently.

Another reason is that I think academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment…”

In Head-Hunting Big Data May Not be Such A Big Deal NY Times, 6/19/13

After distributing a quarterly report that reveals a recent drop in users and revenue, Google management will never ask employees to determine whether the change in company performance detailed in the informational text was either “bad”, “terrible”, or “disappointing”, but they will expect them to come up with plausible strategies and creative solutions to increase company earnings during the next quarter.

In the real world of learning and work outside of school, plausible solutions to novel problems are worth consideration and further study, but in the standardized testing “box” of the Common Core, such answers are wrong.

This distorted and somewhat dystopian view of student learning is apparent in the Common Core teacher training video (shared below); “Preparing for Close Reading with Students” as evidenced by the following exchange at 16:40 in the video…

Coleman: He moves to this very philosophical treatise on just and unjust law and what does it mean. And I think for students that’s very exciting cause he, I think the question of whether to follow a law is pretty interesting to them. What rules can they break, what rules can’t they break?

Gerson: And who’s rules are they?

King: But again, that’s one of those challenges right, because kids are gonna want to take that off into a conversation about rules and rule breaking…

Gerson: This uniform is an unjust law

King: Right, right…exactly, exactly. Again I think the discipline that you’re calling for is so important to stick with the text, stick with King’s argument, and try to avoid going too quickly to the easy connections…”

The speakers in the video clearly advocate a “discipline” of thought in the classroom so that children are initially denied the opportunity to make sense of difficult text by drawing upon their own life experiences and understandings.

Students are expected to read and think critically regarding Dr. King’s ideas about breaking unjust laws, but relevant activities such as opting out must not be openly discussed and debated in the classroom, and students better not be expressing their thoughts about the quality of the state exams on social media.

Daily training for Common Core-aligned standardized tests actually limits student learning as these tests fail to measure or “value” the most vibrant and vigorous components of the standards.

Jason Stanford, a  contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, recently took a Smarter Balanced 4th Grade ELA practice test and commented..

Then there were the questions that made me want to strangle the committee that wrote this test. None of the possible answers for what “best describes the lesson Coyote learned” had anything to do with the real meaning of the parable, and a student is asked to decide whether a particular metaphor about a “tree’s belly” is humorous, playful, or surprising, even though humor is often playful and surprising…

We’re so focused on measuring children that we’ve stopped developing them. These tests don’t measure what we want our children to learn and are a waste of money.

Common Core tests are failures, Jason Stanford 3/23/15

Just because standardized testing has been accepted practice for many years is not proof or evidence that these assessments will provide accurate and reliable data regarding student “readiness” and teacher quality.

As Thomas Paine said, in Common Sense,

A long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.

paine

#whatif…

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Students spent as much class time on vigorous learning activities that cultivate social and emotional skills as they do taking rigorous assessments that quantify math and ELA skills.

The US Department of Education began grading parents based on the age their children learned to walk, tie their shoes, or ride a bike.

Teachers could focus more on cultivating students’ thirst for knowledge rather than satisfying ed reformers thirst for data.

Students spent more time taking informal and formative (informative) assessments rather than standardized summative assessments.

Schools provided diverse pathways and opportunities for students to explore and unleash their specialized skills and abilities rather than trying to standardize and quantify their skills.

Schools replaced rigorous and standardized rules for learning with a vigorous and vibrant approaches in the classroom that embraced the philosophy; learning rules!

Reformers understood that students learn from taking risks and testing things, not taking tests.

Schools could be more focused on teaching diverse learners how worthy they are rather than repeatedly testing students to determine how much their skills are worth.

Data-driven instruction meant helping EVERY child to learn and discover ways they are “Ten Feet Tall”

I’m clumsy, yeah my head’s a mess Cause you got me growing taller everday…

But you got me feeling like I’m stepping on buildings, cars and boats I swear I could touch the sky…I’m ten feet tall.

You build me up Make me what I never was…

~ Afrojack, “Ten Feet Tall”

Reformers realized that cognitively delayed and disabled students who are resourceful, persistent, courageous, and resilient will succeed in college and careers while academically and cognitively proficient students who are lazy, hesitant, dishonest, unreliable, dispassionate, and unimaginative will not be successful in college and work environments.

Joy, civics, culinary arts, foreign language, geography, fun, health, history, field trips, home economics, humanities, recess, fiction, driver education, athletics, political science, chess, psychology, play, sociology, speech and debate, sign language, trade and vocational skills and visual and performing arts were not left behind in our Race To The Top.

Reformers understood that learning is a lifelong process and a self-directed journey of discovery and not a “race” to reach a learning standard or data point.

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

Reformers understood that teachers are like gardeners and Common Core is like Miracle-Gro but students will never thrive if their schools lack the resources to purchase garden hoses or even pay the water bill.

Education programs had more resources to address the underlying “illness” of poverty rather than continually measuring and addressing student “symptoms” in the classroom.

Reformers realized learning that doesn’t take place outside the classroom can have a much greater impact on student achievement than what transpires inside the classroom.

Reformers understood that learning should be more passion and purpose-driven rather than standards and data-driven.

Education leaders realized that in free and open democratic societies education should be focused on the needs and interests of students rather than the desires of data miners, corporations, and the state.

Reformers realized that using students’ standardized test score to determine the quality of teachers is like counting patients’ cavities to evaluate the skills of a dentist or using patients’ blood pressure and cholesterol scores at the end of the year to determine the effectiveness of their doctors.

There was as much effort devoted to assuring there are equitable resources available to every public school as there is assuring schools have equally high learning standards.

We remember that it was not conformity that has been the engine to power America’s economy but creativity. It was courageous inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs who have advanced our economy over the years. These learners didn’t fit educational molds, they broke them. They didn’t learn or think about problems the same way as everyone else. They often improvised and innovated and they were more inclined to break with tradition and “rules”, than they were to follow them.

Reformers understood that increased opposition to the Common Core is not simply “growing pains” but a growing awareness that coupling high stakes testing with the standards leads to a narrowing of the curriculum and incentivizes teaching to the test.

We did our best to help every child learn to care and we supported, encouraged, and inspired all students so they care to learn.

Teachers could first help EVERY student learn how to “Swim” before making them dive into complex informational text.

Yeah you gotta swim Don’t let yourself sink

Just find the horizon I promise you it’s not as far as you think

~ Jack’s Mannequin, “Swim”

There were many more education leaders and far fewer Common Core cheerleaders.

Ed reformers put less effort into selling solutions and put more thought into solving problems.

Ed reformers acknowledged that it is not fair to test older students using Common Core assessments or claim these scores reveal the effectiveness of their teachers because we are grading the ability of a person to climb an academic staircase that is partially completed and under construction.

AFT devoted an upcoming issue of “American Educator” to the Common Core State Standards and the editors clarified their statement in the 2011 Winter Edition that enthusiastically endorsed the standards AND even called for a National Common Core Curriculum

David Colemen retracted his infamous statement and the Common Core State Standards were rewritten by an experienced educator who understands that thoughts and feelings do matter in life.

Proficient and experienced educators took over leadership roles in the ed reform movement as the powerful and privileged education experts stepped down.

The Common Core’s close reading program were replaced by the National Work Readiness literacy program called Read With Understanding.

Reformers realized that employers desire workers who can think creatively, connect with people, and dive into their work rather than think critically while staying connected and diving into text.

Education technology were used to enrich and support student learning rather than to collect and share student data.

Reformers understood that education is a staircase of learning rather than an escalator and the diverse abilities and skills of students along with the amount of parental involvement will determine the manner and speed at which each student will be able to climb the steps.

The Common Core provided diverse career pathways rather than one path to college and underemployment.

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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

Creative-Brain

He Who Controls The Language…

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‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”‘ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”‘ Alice objected.

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

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

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

~ Lewis Carroll, “Through The Looking-Glass”

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

During the school year teachers are legally required to follow a special education student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) which describes services and accommodations to support their learning.

Test accommodations are intended to remove obstacles presented by the disability so students can equally “access” the test and demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

When learning disabled students take their State ELA exams at the end of the school year, they are not allowed to have the test read aloud to them because that accommodation is considered to be a modification of the reading assessment and their score will be invalid and not accurately reflect the students’ reading ability.

The question is, said WagTheDog, if providing legally required testing accommodations invalidates the test score, then why are those learning disabled students even required to take the test? Common sense, not the Common Core, would dictate that there is nothing to be gained from subjecting a special education student to a 4 hour ordeal or test of his or her reading disability. These are not diagnostic tests and the disability has already been identified and evaluated by mandated diagnostic and screening tools administered during the school year.

The question is, said WagTheDog, if we gave a Common Core listening test would we require hearing impaired students to remove hearing aids or cochlear implants and then expect them to answer questions about a passage that was read to them?

The question is, said WagTheDog, if we gave a one mile Common Core walking test, would we require amputee and paraplegic students to remove their prosthesis, get out of their wheelchairs, and start “walking”?

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These policies do make perfect CENTS if your goal is just to manipulate data and fabricate evidence to support your claims regarding a “crisis” of poor quality education programs and ineffective teachers that plague our nation’s schools.

Not only are special education students required to take these tests without their accommodations, but NCLB regulations also require all students, with few exceptions, be tested at their grade level, rather than their instructional level and ability.

During the 2013- 2014 school year New York State Education Department consulted with a group of stakeholders in preparing a waiver request and renewal application for the U.S. Education Department asking for more flexibility with respect to this requirement…

“Stakeholders from across the State, representing teachers, administrators, parents, and community based organizations have assisted the Department in responding to the requirements of the Renewal application. During the first week of November, an external “Think Tank” was convened, and members were asked to be thought partners with the Department as it drafted its response to the renewal requirements. A large portion of the members of the ESEA Renewal Think Tank also participated in the original ESEA Waiver Think Tank that guided the creation of New York State’s approved ESEA Waiver application. To date, The ESEA Waiver Renewal Think Tank has met five times since convening in November, with various related work groups meeting at least twice additionally during that time period.

In addition to the Think Tank, the Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner and Department staff have solicited feedback on the waiver through meetings with a wide variety of organizations, including the Title I Committee of Practitioners, the English Language Learners Leadership Group, the DTSDE Training Group, and the District Superintendents. Since one of the most significant amendment proposals involves the assessment of students with disabilities, staff from the Office of Special Education consulted with the Commissioner’s Advisory Panel for Special Education and with representatives from the thirteen Special Education Parent Centers funded by NYSED.”

The citation above came from a January 2014 NYSED Memo/Update which also explained the basis for the waiver request…

“There is a group of students with significant cognitive disabilities who cannot demonstrate what they know and can do on the general grade level assessments, even with accommodations. These are students who are not eligible for the State’s alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards…

NYSED is applying for a waiver to allow school districts to administer the general State assessments to these students with disabilities, but at their appropriate instructional grade levels, provided that (1) the State assessment administered to the student is not more than two grade levels below the student’s chronological grade level; and (2) the student is assessed at a higher grade level for each subsequent year. The student’s instructional grade level would be calculated annually and separately for English Language Arts (ELA) and math…

However, these students need to be provided with instruction with special education supports and services at a pace and level commensurate with their needs and abilities and their individual rates of learning. 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.

NYSED holds all schools and students to high expectations and believes this waiver will lead to more appropriate instruction and assessment of students, while ensuring that students with disabilities participate in the general curriculum and the same State assessments, but closer to their instructional levels in order to obtain instructionally relevant information from the assessments…”

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.”

Some special education advocates hailed the Education Department decision, saying it will enable students with disabilities to continue receiving the same opportunities as peers…

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

While I fully support holding all students to the same high academic standards, I do not believe it is fair to deny learning disabled students accommodations that enable them to equally “access” a test and fully demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

If there was a national Common Core Standard that said all children must be proficient swimmers  by age 5, would we insist that every 5 year-old regardless of individual ability, discard all flotation devices they have been using to learn to swim and repeatedly take a swimming test in the deep end of the pool, rather than test the skills they have acquired in the shallow end of the pool such as holding their breath, paddling with their feet, or treading water?

When it comes to deciding what is “fair” with respect to education policy, shouldn’t the academic, social, and emotional needs of students take precedence over the data-driven demands of student and teacher accountability systems?

Recently there has been media attention focused on half-truths and evidence-less claims about the quality of special education programs…

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

The latest government figures show that the dropout rate for students with disabilities is twice that for nondisabled students. Two-thirds of students with disabilities are performing well below grade level in reading and math. By the eighth grade, that figure rises to 90 percent…

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

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

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

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

“In Tennessee, we’ve seen over time that our students with disabilities did not have access to strong assessments. So the results were not providing an honest picture of how those students were doing.”

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

I have commented before on ed reformers penchant for cherry-picking data and self-serving efforts to manipulate and actually generate data supporting their claims.

Calculated claims implying that teachers just need to expect more and learning disabled students just need to try harder are not being sufficiently challenged or questioned by the media.

These sensational “sky is falling” claims are reported and repeated by a complicit media over and over again till the public can’t discern where the evidence-less claims end and the fabricated evidence begins.

Imagine how different the above article would be if independent fact-checking reporters actually challenged ed reformers claims and held them to the same high standards of evidence-based claims that their Common Core Standards demand of our students….

The question is, said WagTheDog, while your desire to see proof of academic progress is admirable Mr. Duncan, are you aware  that The National Center for Learning Disabilities has reported on the lifelong challenges faced by learning disabled students and that individual academic progress may be incremental and inconsistent depending on the accommodations and services provided to the student, and the specific nature and severity of the disability.

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

No matter how many times it’s been said, it needs to be repeated again and again: learning disabilities do not go away, and LD is a problem with lifelong implications. Addressing features of LD during the early years can indeed help to circumvent and minimize struggles later in life, but we know that problems with listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, math and sometimes social skills can persist, even after years of special education instruction and support.”

The question is, said WagTheDog, have you considered Mr. Duncan that SED  guidelines specifically prohibiting the use of test accommodations and NCLB regulations requiring most students be tested at grade-level, might actually exacerbate the lack of progress and low performance of so many learning disabled students on reading tests, and you are deliberately misrepresenting that data as evidence of a lack of progress by special education students?

The question is, said WagTheDog did you really mean to suggest Mr. Hoffman that learning disabilities are a result of low expectations and a lack of testing and this condition can be turned around if only a learning disabled student worked harder and took stronger assessments?

Is it possible all this hype and rhetoric about grit, rigor, college and career readiness could simply be a distraction intended to take our attention away from the deals that are being made and the real “lessons” of education reform that are being taught in the backrooms of America, rather than in our classrooms?

In the Humpty Dumpty world of the Common Core and education reform the “lesson” is clear; power and privilege will trump proficiency and experience every time.

That is the only way to explain how unqualified and inexperienced education “experts” backed by taxpayers money, have been entrusted with the task of developing national learning standards and implementing national education policy in America.

Successful and diverse locally designed education programs across this country are being defunded and set aside for an untested standardized learning and testing program.

This “new and improved” program emphasizes the importance of data, research, and evidence-based claims, while there is no reliable research, data, or evidence to support claims that national standards like the Common Core will improve student learning and achievement.

Under the Common Core, truth may be even rarer than fiction.

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A National Common Core Curriculum…An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

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In 2011 the editors of AFT’s publication, “American Educator” devoted their Winter edition to a discussion of the Common Core State Standards. The pro-Common Core publication included commentary from a variety of Common Core cheerleaders.

The AFT editors also enthusiastically endorsed the standards AND even called for a National Common Core Curriculum…

“A common curriculum – meaning one that is shared by all schools-is what binds all the different actors together…A common core curriculum – meaning one that fills roughly two-thirds of instructional time – leaves teachers ample room to build on students’ interests and address local priorities…This is an exciting new movement…but standards are just a beginning. They set forth the goals of an education, not the education itself. The essential knowledge and skills – the key to a rich life – must be set forth in a common core curriculum. It’s an idea who’s time has come”

Common Core Curriculum: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

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Misleading and meaningless eduspeak coming from some ed reformers is to be expected, but from the leadership of The American Federation of Teachers?

Curriculum that “fills roughly two-thirds of instructional time” is a disingenuous claim that no experienced teacher would make when it is virtually impossible to predict and estimate the amount of instructional time needed for ESL, disadvantaged, learning disabled, regular ed, and gifted students to master the untested and unproven Common Core Standards.

One of the contributors to the Common Core issue was E.D. Hirsch, Jr. who stated…

“We have yet to adopt a common core curriculum that builds knowledge grade by grade – but we need to…if we are really to serve all of our children to the best of our ability, then nothing short of a common curriculum – one shared by all schools – will do…”

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. “Beyond Comprehension” 

Fast forward to 2014 and E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge web site provides a rationale for a common and content-specific curriculum…

“A typical state or district curriculum says, “Students will demonstrate knowledge of people, events, ideas, and movements that contributed to the development of the United States.” But which people and events? Which ideas and movements? The Sequence is distinguished by its specificity. By clearly specifying important knowledge in language arts, history, geography, math, science, and the fine arts, the Sequence presents a practical answer to the question, “What do our children need to know?”  Teachers are free to devote their energies and efforts to creatively planning how to teach the content to the children in their classrooms.” 

Core Knowledge: “Why Knowledge Matters”

The New York State ELA Curriculum materials for grades Pre-K-2 are created by Core Knowledge and according to the EngageNY web site, these curriculum modules are optional and they can be adopted or adapted by schools to assist with implementation of the Common Core.

The Core Knowledge web site also reports…

“During the 2012–2013 school year there were 1,230 schools (ranging from preschool through eighth grade) in 45 states and the District of Columbia using all or part of the Core Knowledge Sequence. Thousands more schools use Core Knowledge materials, but the community includes only those schools that send their profile form to the Foundation annually.”

Learn about Core Knowledge Schools

The Common Core has been “sold” as a way to make our students more globally competitive and to properly prepare them for the rigors of college and careers.

The Common Core video below explains that another important reason we need the Common Core is it will allow us to compare the performance of students and teachers from state to state and even compare our students’ performance with other nations…

Teachers are certainly important, but so are police, firefighters, doctors, and even parents. Don’t quite understand the urgency of comparing the quality of teachers and education programs from state to state or the efficacy of using a national standardized test to do this, when there are so many variables outside the classroom that significantly impact the academic performance of our students.

If we were to compare the quality of doctors from state to state, we certainly wouldn’t look at the average weight of citizens, blood pressure, cholesterol levels or lung cancer rates, to measure and compare the effectiveness of doctors and then presume to know how well they had taught their patients about the importance of healthy eating and regular exercise or the dangers of smoking cigarettes.

Environmental and community factors are so powerful, that most people understand it would be foolish to claim that Beverly Hills police officers have superior policing skills compared to police officers in Newark, New Jersey because of the much lower crime rate in that city in California.

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Even if we are able to solve the problem of equitable funding for distressed schools so they have the necessary programs and wrap around services to support student learning, CC evangelists have not provided sufficient evidence to support their claim that student performance on national assessments provides enough data to reliably measure and compare the skills of students and effectiveness of teachers on a national and international basis.

An essential and missing ingredient would be a national curriculum, otherwise both teachers and students could explain that their lower performance is attributed to a different and inferior curriculum.

To be fair, AFT has adjusted it’s position regarding VAM, the over use of testing, and have called for a decoupling of standardized tests. CCSS supporters also continue to proclaim that the Common Core are standards and curriculum decisions should be made at a local level.

That said, if we are adopting national standards for the purpose of creating a unified educational system that will fairly and reliably evaluate and compare student and teacher performance across the country, then isn’t a national curriculum an inevitable and necessary outcome to assure the validity of the data?

Time for AFT to publish another American Educator issue devoted entirely to the Common Core so the leadership of The American Federation of Teachers can clarify their position on a National Common Core Curriculum, and clearly explain to; members, reformers, and the general public…Where They Stand?

The Un-Level Playing Field

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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Climbing Rungless Ladders

Talk with most ed reformers about the importance of the Common Core and many will bring up the need for higher learning standards and more academic rigor in the classroom.

Unfortunately, misguided and poorly designed implementation efforts have resulted in many disadvantaged students being subjected to “grit building” learning activities that are comparable to being required to climb a rungless ladder… 10260017_749020085129823_3965045056750888009_n In January, 2015 it was revealed that 51 percent of K-12 students were living in poverty. One would expect that a data-driven campaign to raise academic achievement in America would take into account this staggering figure. The Ed Department awarded Race To The Top funds to assist states that adopted the Common Core Standards and has established spending priorities and guidelines to support successful implementation of the Standards.

At a time when so many students are living in poverty one would expect that funding priorities would include, additional staff, smaller class sizes, after school programs, morning programs, school counselors, along with essential wrap around and community-based services to help ameliorate the affects of poverty.

Instead the Ed Department has set spending priorities such as upgrading and expanding data collection systems, purchasing new computers and upgrading technology infrastructure to accommodate online testing, implementing new VAM teacher evaluation systems, high quality CCSS professional development for teachers, and designing or purchasing curriculum materials and standardized testing programs.

So while these new and improved tests will allow parents to see if there child is “on track” for college and careers and how effective their child’s teacher is, many poor children will continue to struggle to learn without being able to see the chalkboard…

“My colleagues and I have conducted 2,400 screenings on students in three New York City middle schools: one in the South Bronx, one in Williamsburg and one in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. We have prescribed and distributed 450 free pairs of glasses to the nearly one-fifth of the kids who had 20/40 vision (which means street signs and chalkboards are blurry) or worse. Many of the kids knew they couldn’t see the board, but hadn’t thought to ask for a checkup, because their vision had deteriorated gradually.

Children who struggle to see don’t tend to make for very good students. At Middle School 223 in the Bronx, the principal reported dramatic differences in several students once they’d received their glasses. An eighth-grade boy who had previously been reprimanded for talking during class stopped being disruptive. When administrators asked him what had caused his sudden change in behavior, he explained that he’d been asking other students to help him read the board. A sixth grader who had been notably quiet in class revealed that she had stopped looking at the board because she couldn’t read it.

“Kids Who Can’t See Can’t  Learn”, Pamela F. Gallin NY Times 5/15/15

So while teachers across the country attend close reading professional development sessions, students in poorer schools and communities won’t come close to reading a book in the school library because there are no funds to hire a librarian or purchase new reading material.

“More than half of school libraries in California lack even a part-time state-certified school librarian, compared with about 20 percent nationwide, federal data shows. Urban districts are less likely to fund collections in every school.

Researchers have documented a stark difference in the number of books available outside of the classroom to children from rich and poor families, with children from low-income families typically having fewer books at home and less access to public libraries or bookstores.

Students at many D.C. schools have never had a full-time librarian or an updated book collection, and not all schools have permitted students to check books out of the library.”

“Unequal shelves in D.C. school libraries benefit wealthier students”  3/9/15

While ed reform leaders are proud of their efforts to increase college readiness and raise standards, students in 20% of the public schools in New York City aren’t able to raise their voices in a choir because there are no arts teachers.

“New York City’s comptroller plans to release a report on Monday quantifying what student advocates have long suspected: that many public schools in the city do not offer any kind of arts education, and that the lack of arts instruction disproportionately affects low-income neighborhoods…

Between 2006 and 2013, spending on arts supplies and equipment dropped by 84 percent, the report said. When money is tight, arts education is often one of the first subjects to be sidelined, the report noted.

It said the trend had accelerated as schools focused more on meeting accountability standards, shifting their resources from subjects seen as nonessential, like arts, to preparation for English and math tests…”

Vivian Yee, “Arts Education Lacking in Low-Income Areas of New York City, Report Says” 4/7/14

“Just 45 percent of public schools have a full-time registered nurse, according to a 2007 study from the National Association of School Nurses (NASN). Another 30 percent of schools have a nurse who works part time in one or more schools, while 25 percent have no nurse at all.

There has been no comprehensive study since then, but anecdotal reports show that more school nurses are losing their jobs as budgets are cut and health services are a low priority, says Carolyn Duff, president of the NASN.

The preventative care provided by nurses keeps students healthier, which means less absences, Duff says. “School administrators cannot accomplish their mission of enabling students to reach their full academic potential without providing school health services,” she adds.

NASN recommends a nurse-to-student ratio of one-to-750 for students without chronic illnesses. But 33 states were above that average in 2010, the association found. Vermont had the lowest nurse-to-student ratio at 396 students per nurse at the time, while Michigan had the highest, at 4,411 students per nurse.

To determine how many nurses are needed, administrators should consider the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch who may have less access to outside health care, and the number of emergency services calls from the school each year, Duff says.

No federal legislation mandates school nursing, and as of 2005 only 14 states had established student-per-nurse ratios, according to the American Nurses Association. With no nurse on duty, the responsibility for administering medications and treating students falls on administrators, educators and staff who may not have enough training.

In an interview about recent budget cuts, Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite told DA the district was investigating the events leading to the girl’s death. The district meets the state-mandated ratio of one nurse per 1,500 students, so hiring more nurses is not a priority, he says.

The ratio of nurses in Philadelphia schools was 1 to 950 students before the cuts two years ago. And the reduction has led to poorer student health services, according to a May 2013 Education Law Center of Philadelphia survey of school nurses, parents and special education advocates.

Seventy percent of respondents reported that medications and/or treatments were being administered by teachers or aides rather than by nurses, and 52 percent reported that children were not receiving urgent medical care. Another 36 percent said children were not receiving their treatments at prescribed intervals.”

School nurse shortages grow as budgets shrink Alison DeNisco, District Administration, January 2014

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past thirty years, so one would expect that a data-driven education reform movement would make purchasing new playground and sports equipment a priority seeking to decrease sit and learn / sit and test time, rather than buying more computers to “deliver” software solutions and administer the new Common Core assessments.

The Race To The Top funding priorities are more about measuring student achievement and teacher quality, rather than providing essential academic and support services to help our neediest students achieve higher standards.

Expecting the implementation of higher standards to improve student outcomes without investing in necessary wrap around services is like raising the recommended amount of exercise for young people while lowering the recommended calorie intake for youth and then expecting these new standards on their own to decrease the rate of childhood obesity.

Ed reformers data-driven and test-centered approaches to school improvement make as much sense as a doctor advising overweight patients to spend their money on a tape measure, scale, and blood pressure machine rather than purchasing sneakers, a bicycle, or membership in a gym.

Education reform programs implemented in classrooms are focused primarily on measuring the manifestations of poverty and treating student “symptoms” such as low achievement or poor attendance, rather than addressing the underlying “illness” of poverty that is impacting students in their homes and communities around the United States. testiop

Learning Standards

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I approached him in a humble spirit: “Mr. Edison, please tell me what laboratory rules you want me to observe.” And right then and there I got my first surprise. He spat in the middle of the floor and yelled out,

“Hell! there ain’t no rules around here! We are tryin’ to accomplish somep’n!”

September, 1932 Harper’s Magazine “Edison in His Laboratory” by Martin André 

Imagine (we are still allowed to do that, right?) what our nation would be like today if Thomas Edison ran his Menlo Park Laboratory the same way Common Core is running our schools?

There would be no testing things, just taking tests. Workers would think critically about scientific texts rather than creatively about scientific experiments. Plausible strategies and solutions (called “distractors” on Common Core tests) would be considered wrong and not worthy of consideration or investigation. There would be only one right way and process to solve math problems.

The Common Core puts more attention and emphasis on learning standards that are aligned with Singapore’s Math than learning standards about civics and America’s History.

I would much rather live in a nation that values individual freedom and leads the world in registered patents than one that restricts human rights and leads the world in PISA scores.

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

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