What makes a good teacher?

What makes a great teacher is someone who teaches you more than just that subject. They teach you how to be a better person, how to act everyday, and live your life to the fullest. Teachers teach, but great teachers help us learn and live.

~ Brooklyn, 12th grader, Fairfax R-3 – “A Great Teacher is…”

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In 2009 Bill Gates explained during a TED Talk what makes a good teacher…

“…A top quartile teacher will increase the performance of their class based on test scores – by over 10 percent in a single year…

What are the characteristics of this top quartile? You might think these must be very senior teachers. And the answer is no. Once somebody has taught for three years their teaching quality does not change thereafter

Now, there are a few places — very few — where great teachers are being made. A good example of one is a set of charter schools called KIPP…

They’re constantly improving their teachers. They’re taking data, the test scores,and saying to a teacher, “Hey, you caused this amount of increase.” They’re deeply engaged in making teaching better…

I think there are some clear things we can do…First of all, there’s a lot more testing going on, and that’s given us the picture of where we are.

Putting a few cameras in the classroom and saying that things are being recorded on an ongoing basis is very practical in all public schools… have it so everyone sees who is the very best at teaching this stuff.

You can take those great courses and make them available so that a kid could go out and watch the physics course, learn from that. If you have a kid who’s behind, you would know you could assign them that video to watch and review the concept.

And in fact, these free courses could not only be available just on the Internet, but you could make it so that DVDs were always available, and so anybody who has access to a DVD player can have the very best teachers.

And so by thinking of this as a personnel system, we can do it much better.”

Bill Gates: “Mosquitos, malaria and education” TED Talk, February 2009

Effective and experienced educators know that good teaching is about building and maintaining individual relationships based on mutual respect and trust. Students learn best when they have emotional rather than digital access to their teachers.

Unless there is a connection between teacher, student and lesson, learning becomes tiresome to all involved. Veteran educator, James Comer, states that, ‘No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.’…

There is the belief among some that camaraderie between teachers and students leads to unprofessional familiarity or places the teacher in a weakened position in the classroom. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strong relationships encourage learner exploration, dialogue, confidence, and mutual respect

Of course, we can do just about anything online, including teaching and learning. But I guess I am just old school. I want to look into your eyes when the answer finally dawns on you. I want to hear that inflection in your voice when you are angry with me. I want to see the smile on your face when you forgive me. I want to share in the joy when we both realize that we make a good team.”

WATCH: How A Teacher Encouraged Her Students With An ‘F’ Rita F. Pierson 7/3/13

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You know the purpose of the school is not just to raise test scores, or to give children academic learning. The purpose of the school is to give children an experience that will help them grow and develop in ways that they can be successful, in school and as successful adults. They have to grow in a way that they can take care of themselves, get an education, take care of a family, be responsible citizens of the society and of their community. Now you don’t get that simply by raising test scores.”

School-By-School Reform: Dr. James P. Comer Interview PBS 2005

Using students’ standardized test score to measure 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.

These tests provide limited information regarding the overall health of the patient and just like a standardized test, they cannot determine the influence and impact of pre-existing conditions, patient behavior, and environmental factors on the test scores.

It seems Bill Gates and other reformers have not considered the possibility that an educator who can train students to get high test scores may not be a good teacher.

Rather than rely on Bill Gates or scores on a standardized test, what if we were to ask students, what makes a good teacher?…

A more meaningful measure of teacher effectiveness and quality would be how he or she raises the aspirations and confidence of students rather than how much the teacher raises standardized test scores.

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”

Students will learn more from good teachers who collect hugs and care about them, than from great teachers who are more concerned with collecting data and comparing them to others.

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.  ~ Carl Jung

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“Being a good teacher is a lot like being a good gardener. Good gardeners are optimistic and patient. They are able to see the potential in those struggling young seedlings and enjoy watching them grow, develop and bloom. They give special tender loving care to those few plants that are struggling and not thriving.

They don’t blame the plant when it’s not performing well; they check the growing conditions. Is the soil the plant is growing in suitable or does it need amending? Does the plant need more water; does the plant need less water? Does the plant need more sunshine; does the plant need less sunshine. 

Good gardeners are good problem solvers, but realize that sometimes no matter what you do, the plant still will not grow the way you would like it to.”

~ Elona Hartjes, “Good Teachers Are Like Good Gardeners”

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What Happens When Highly Effective Instructors Are Not Good Teachers?

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It is fanciful to suggest that a single score on a standardized test is somehow going to assess the overall effectiveness and quality of a teacher or measure the academic, social, and emotional impact a teacher has had on his or her students and how that will be manifested and revealed in their future endeavors and accomplishments.

Many reformers are also convinced that a standardized test score will provide evidence that a student is “on track” to be ready for college and careers.

Unfortunately, the decision to couple standardized tests with the Common Core Standards and to attach high stakes for accountability purposes will often distort classroom instruction and actually diminish student readiness.

While the Common Core Standards may claim to “ensure” that all students will be ready for diverse colleges and careers, classroom instruction is focused primarily on preparing students for standardized tests.

It seems ed reformers are not aware that employers are not hiring text-dependent thinkers who have been trained to correctly answer Common Core multiple choice questions by disregarding plausible answers…

“It’s not a multiple-choice world, employers say. Don’t send us graduates who only know how to solve multiple-choice problems…

Today, educators all over the U.S. are reinventing liberal education in ways that blend the best strength of the liberal arts and sciences…including their constant focus on real-world contexts and decision-making in situations where the answer isn’t clear cut.”

In Defense Of A Liberal Education, Carol Geary Schneider, Forbes 8/10/09

More recent interviews with CEOs and other executives have confirmed the disconnect between Common Core test preparation and employer expectations…

Respondents said students lack self-awareness, can’t work in teams, have poor critical thinking skills and come up short on creativity…

The fault doesn’t lie entirely with students; some blame must go to the schools that purport to educate them, the report found…

One of the biggest problems executives cited was that schools don’t measure student success with the right metrics. Just 12% of those interviewed said M.B.A. grades actually matter in hiring…

Instead, employers said they’d like to see more assessment of so-called soft skills like the ability to execute a plan, communication and critical thinking.

Business Schools Flunk When CEOs Grade the Test, Melissa Korn, 3/18/14

It is a mistake to rely so heavily on standardized test scores to predict future performance of students and to draw conclusions regarding quality of instruction in the classroom.

A standardized math or ELA test measures a narrow set of testable skills. Determining the effectiveness of a teacher based on student test scores suggests the primary responsibility of teachers is to train his or her students to take standardized tests.

Have ed reformers even considered the possibility that a person who effectively trains students to take standardized tests may not be a good teacher?

Teachers wear many “hats” during the school day; educator, counselor, mentor, role model, referee, parent, advisor, mediator, friend…

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Good teachers help every child to “grow” and develop as a healthy human being in diverse and unique ways that can’t be measured by a standardized test including…

Helping an obese child to lose weight by walking with him/her before school

Convincing a bully to change his/her ways

Empowering bystanders to become upstanders

Helping a student who is prone to violence to learn to resolve disputes peacefully

Getting a depressed student to eat regular meals by having lunch with him/her

Convincing a student to bring and wear eye glasses each day

Encouraging a student to be more responsible about taking medication each day

Helping a student to understand that racist, sexist, and other prejudiced beliefs are not OK

Inspiring students to lead and serve others through student council or peer mentoring

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Education should be about preparing future caregivers, citizens, leaders, problem solvers, decision makers, innovators, teachers, learners, creators, entrepreneurs, designers. developers, voters, change agents, and volunteers….not test takers.

Back in 2011, David T. Conley warned in his essay, “Building on the Common Core” about the potential for misuse and misapplication of assessments…

“Implemented correctly, the common standards and assessments can vault education over the barrier of low-level test preparation and toward the goal of world-class learning outcomes for all students. Implemented poorly, however, the standards and assessments could result in accountability on steroids, stifling meaningful school improvement nationwide.”

A more meaningful measure of teacher effectiveness and quality would be how he or she raises the aspirations and dreams of students rather than how much the teacher raises standardized test scores.

Learning is a lifelong process and self-directed journey of discovery. It is far more important that a person is well educated than trying to determine if they have been educated well.

A standardized assessment measures testable hard skills and will not reveal whether teachers and students possess the social and emotional skills that are essential for good teaching and college/career readiness.

Accountability measures should be more focused on ensuring there is an empathetic teacher in every classroom rather than an effective trainer of standardized test-takers.

As Bruce Cameron wisely said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

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One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.  ~ Carl Jung

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.

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A Common Core Curriculum Conundrum

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The Common Core State Standards is an aspirational document that describes a set of academic goals and learning expectations. The standards identify what ALL students should know and be able to do at each grade level in order to be ready for college and careers.

Proponents of the standards stress that they are not a curriculum as they do not prescribe how the standards should be taught or what materials should be used to support student learning in the classroom.

Another way of looking at it is standards are the destination and curriculum is the path or road students take to get there.

Standards are a critical component that help to inform and shape the curriculum. Together, standards and curriculum can serve as a foundation upon which assessments could be developed and aligned.

Common Core supporters insist that decisions on how to implement the standards are to be made at the state and local levels and school districts across the country may very well adopt different approaches and roads to implement the standards.

It is very surprising that states and local districts are encouraged to create different academic pathways for their students to follow when the video below explains that the goal of the Common Core is to create a national set of academic expectations and create a uniform or standardized education system so student and teacher performance can be compared on a national and international level.

If Common Core proponents claim it was not possible to generate valid and reliable data regarding student and teacher performance because states were following different standards, how does allowing students to use different class materials and follow different paths to the standards pose any less of a threat to data reliability?

Under the Common Core the curriculum clearly plays a greatly diminished and less important role compared to the national standards.

The national tests have already been constructed, so it is clear that the curriculum is not part of the foundation upon which the Common Core assessments have been developed and aligned.

The design and content of the National PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments has been influenced and shaped entirely by the Common Core State Standards.

Prior to CCSS it was the curriculum that dictated what materials would be used and what activities would take place in the classroom.

Since the tests have already been created and teachers will be held accountable for student performance on them via VAM, the new assessments will clearly be much more influential when it comes to decisions regarding classrroom materials and activities.

If Pearson publishes the new Common Core tests and Pearson also publishes the ELA and MATH text books that are aligned to the standards and assessments, how believable are reformers claims regarding “local control” of the curriculum?

While it may be true the standards are not a curriculum, the specificity of the skills identified in the Common Core Standards clearly does influence and control how we teach, just as a curriculum would.

Hard to argue that Common Core ELA Shift #2 doesn’t determine the way we teach and the way students learn in the classroom

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

or Mathematics Shift #3

Students are expected to have speed and accuracy with simple calculations; teachers structure class time and/or homework time for students to memorize, through repetition, core functions

While education leaders and Common Core supporters continue to claim that test prep or teaching to the test is not an appropriate or effective means to prepare students for the Common Core test, the convoluted or rigorous format and design of test questions would suggest otherwise.

No better way to determine if teachers will need to devote extra class time to training students for the Common Core assessments than to look at a sample question like the one published in Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” Blog,

Consider this fourth-grade question on the test based on a passage from Pecos Bill Captures the Pacing White Mustang by Leigh Peck.

Why is Pecos Bill’s conversation with the cowboys important to the story?

A) It predicts the action in paragraph 4

B) It predicts the action in paragraph 5

C) It predicts the choice in paragraph 10

D) It predicts the choice in paragraph 11

Hard to take the Common Core supporters criticism of teaching to the test seriously, when David Coleman, the chief architect of the standards, issued an enthusiastic endorsement of such practices during a 2011 Keynote Speech.

Coleman clearly boasts about the quality of his standards and the assessments that are built on them, while the issue of curriculum and how learning will unfold in the classroom in diverse and student-centered ways must have been a topic for another day.

… these standards are worthy of nothing if the assessments built on them are not worthy of teaching to, period…our top priorities in our organization, and I’ll tell you a little bit more about our organization, is to do our darnedest to ensure that the assessment is worthy of your time, is worthy of imitation.

It was Lauren who propounded the great rule that I think is a statement of reality, though not a pretty one, which is teachers will teach towards the test. There is no force strong enough on this earth to prevent that. There is no amount of hand-waving, there‟s no amount of saying, “They teach to the standards, not the test; we don‟t do that here.” Whatever. The truth is – and if I misrepresent you, you are welcome to take the mic back. But the truth is teachers do.

Tests exert an enormous effect on instructional practice, direct and indirect, and its hence our obligation to make tests that are worthy of that kind of attention. It is in my judgment the single most important work we have to do over the next two years to ensure that that is so, period.

The use of test items that are “distractors” would also suggest a need for extra test preparation and also raise serious questions as to whether these tests are measuring decision making skills rather than critical thinking.

Distractors are plausible responses but not the fully correct answer. Many of the new test items require students to select one or more answers that “best support”, are “most significant” or are “most likely”.

The questions on the Common Core English Language Arts test are more complex than those found on previous tests that measured previous grade‐level standards.

Correct answers will not “jump out”; rather, students will need to make a thoughtful distinction between the fully‐correct option and the plausible but incorrect options.

These multiple‐choice questions are specifically designed to determine whether students have comprehended the entire passage and are proficient with the comprehension and analyses specified by the standards.

Frequently Asked Questions: 3-8 Testing Program (pg 8, #21)

The passage above claims these new and improved test questions will determine whether students have proficient comprehension skills, yet many students may comprehend the passage, but their judgement and decision-making skills could be impaired by stress, and they mistakenly choose the plausible or partially correct response.

It is also quite possible that the student fully comprehended the passage, but they had difficulty understanding the complex and convoluted wording of the question.

Clearly teachers will need to use class time for students to prepare for the test and practice answering such questions.

We should also be concerned about lessons that the use of distractors will teach our students when it comes to learning and solving problems in real life?

Where wouId America be today if Thomas Edison had been taught not to pursue or investigate possibly true solutions and that plausible answers are always wrong.

If we are adopting national standards for the purpose of creating a unified educational system that will accurately evaluate students and teachers, then isn’t a National Common Core Curriculum or single “pathway” to the standards an essential component to assure that nationwide comparisons and conclusions regarding student and teacher performance are valid and reliable?

The editors of AFT’s publication, “American Educator” seemed to think so back in 2011 when they devoted their Winter edition to a discussion of the Common Core State Standards.

The AFT editors 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

Perhaps its time for AFT to publish another American Educator issue devoted entirely to the Common Core to clarify and update their position on a National Common Core Curriculum, or common pathway to the standards, and explain…Where They Stand?

Perhaps we should also consider the possibility that during the initial roll out period or Phase I of the standards, schools and states are being encouraged to develop and design their own Common Core Curriculum.

However during Phase II, when the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments become fully operational, a National Common Core Curriculum will be actively “sold” to parents in America as a means of improving student performance on the Common Core assessment and also as a necessity to accurately evaluate the quality of their children’s teachers.

#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 and PARCC: An Education Datapalooza?

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According to the Common Core web site

The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.

According to the PARCC web site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Common Core 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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