More on the CCJEF v. Rell Case “Judge Moukawsher’s Disconnect” by Barth Keck

Writing for CT Newsjunkie, Connecticut educator and CT Newsjunkie columnist, Barth Keck, tackles the recent CCJEF ruling.  Keck writes;

Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s ruling last week that the state must devise a new formula for funding public schools was not surprising. What was surprising was the wide-ranging scope of his criticism of public schools as well as the exceedingly tight timeframe — 180 days — he gave the state to remedy the problem.

“The extraordinary ruling orders the state to revamp virtually all areas of public education — from the hiring and firing of teachers, to special education services, to education standards for elementary and high school students,” reported the Hartford Courant. “He also criticized the state’s generous reimbursement policy for school construction projects, especially in an age of decreasing enrollment.”

In short, Judge Moukawsher issued a scathing judgment on how Connecticut educates its children. As a public school teacher for the past 25 years, I found much of what he said in a three-hour reading of his 90-page decision insulting.

I do agree, in principle, with the judge’s ruling that “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty to provide adequate public school opportunities,” particularly since the state’s educational funding formula “allows rich towns to raid money desperately needed by poor towns,” essentially “mak[ing] a mockery of the state’s constitutional duty to provide adequate educational opportunities to all students.”

But Moukawsher’s generalizations about public schools and teachers were glaringly ignorant of the real strides that Connecticut schools — including the ones in “poor towns” — are making.

For example, the judge wrote that the state’s teacher evaluation system is “little more than cotton candy in a rainstorm” since “[s]tate standards are leaving teachers with uselessly perfect evaluations and pay that follows only seniority and degrees instead of reflecting need and good teaching.”

Barth Keck concludes his important commentary piece by observing

In the end, Judge Moukawsher may honestly believe that “schools have to be about teaching children and nothing else,” but he’s sadly mistaken. Clearly, he’s never taught in a Connecticut public school — urban, suburban, or rural — if he thinks teachers do nothing but “teach.” And while his ruling to ensure fairness in school funding is morally correct, his haughty rhetoric castigating Connecticut’s public schools and those who work in them is simply narrow-minded and offensive.

Please take the time to read Barth Keck’s article its entirety on the CTNewsjunkie website at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_judge_moukawshers_disconnect/

Common Core and Charter Schools – When in doubt, try “Re-branding”

Connecticut educator Barth Keck’s commentary pieces at the CT Newsjunkie are always a great read.

This week Barth Keck ponders the power of “re-branding” in a piece entitled, “The Year of Rebranding.” He uses his commentary piece to explores the antics of Commissioner Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy and the charter school industry as they try to explain away their unyielding commitment to  privatizing public education in Connecticut and pushing forward  to implement the Common Core and its unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory standardized testing scheme.

Keck is especially “on-point” with his observations, proven in part because his piece brings out some of the charter school trolls, who are always good for a laugh.

As Wikipedia explains,

“Rebranding is a marketing strategy in which a new name, term, symbol, design, or combination thereof is created for an established brand with the intention of developing a new, differentiated identity in the minds of consumers, investors, and competitors Often, this involves radical changes to a brand’s logo, name, image, marketing strategy, and advertising themes. Such changes typically aim to reposition the brand/company, occasionally to distance itself from negative connotations of the previous branding…”  Wikipedia add, “Rebranding has become something of a fad at the turn of the millennium…

Keck writes,

The world of education was similarly rife with examples of rebranding, a topic I addressed earlier this year.

As opposition to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) grew, several states considered changing the name to deflect criticism. Officials in Iowa, for example, began calling the CCSS “the Iowa Core,” while legislators in Florida contemplated another moniker: “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.”

Change the name, change the brand. Or so goes the thinking.

Closer to home, Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education decided this year to rebrand himself. Or maybe more accurately, to re-rebrand himself.

Keck then reminds readers,

When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy appointed Stefan Pryor as commissioner in 2011, he was lauded as a “turnaround leader” whose experience as co-founder and board president of New Haven’s Amistad Academy would “help him turn the Department of Education into an agency that helps prepare our state’s children for whichever path they may choose.”

After a tumultuous three years in the position, Pryor announced his resignation as Education Commissioner in August. Just four months later, he was nominated to become Rhode Island’s first Secretary of Commerce.

The curious transition from education commissioner to commerce secretary is not so curious to those familiar with Pryor’s previous work as Deputy Mayor for Economic Development in the City of Newark, New Jersey, and President of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

So after rebranding himself as an education expert to become an education bureaucrat, Pryor is branding himself for the second time as a business leader — a “re-rebranding” — to become a business bureaucrat.

And the best part of Keck’s piece is yet to come.  You can read the complete CT Newsjunkie Commentary piece at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_the_year_of_rebranding/

 

Yet another example that the Common Core isn’t all it claims to be

Teacher and CT News Junkie columnist Barth Keck has written another insightful commentary piece about the Common Core.  The article is entitled, “Common Core Appears to Miss the Boat on Common Technology.

Keck writes,

…public schools are gearing up for the Common Core, national principles designed to “establish clear, consistent guidelines for what every student should know.”

However, when it comes to ensuring that student fully develop technological skills, the experienced teacher notes that only 4 out of 75 standards address “our digital world.”

Keck correctly observes that the Common Core is, “Not exactly an accent on “21st century skills.”  He adds,

Students undeniably should be accountable to challenging standards, but please don’t tell me that the CCSS are based on current research. At the very least, the standards’ authors could have conducted “observational research” by watching smartphone-wielding teenagers for a full day in a BYOD [bring your own device] high school.

If they had, the Common Core might not only look different, but also be more authentic.

Read Keck’s entire piece, along with his references to the applicable research, here: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_common_core_appears_to_miss_the_boat_on_common_technology/#comments-41839

Teacher Barth Keck adds his voice to the debate about the Common Core and related testing

As Connecticut’s public school students begin taking the Common Core Balanced Assessment Field Test of a test this week, more and more serious questions are being raised about the Common Core and its associated testing charade.

As evidenced during the recent public hearing held by the General Assembly’s Education Committee, apologists for the Common Core and Governor Malloy’s corporate education reform industry initiatives desperately defend the indefensible policies related to the Common Core, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test and the absurd teacher evaluation system.

At the recent hearing, the most irrational support for Malloy’s education reforms came from Malloy’s own Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and organizations such as the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.

CABE and CAPSS are two examples of groups that are funded in large part by taxpayer funds but rather than spend their resources protecting Connecticut’s public school students, parents, teachers, school administrators and taxpayers they are kowtowing to an increasingly unpopular governor and his increasingly unpopular so-called “education reforms.”

This weekend’s trifecta of columns about the failures of Malloy’s education reforms include Wendy Lecker’s “Charter school pitch not about helping community,” Sarah Darer Littman’s “Politicians Underestimate Common Core Opposition at Their Peril” and Connecticut teacher Barth Keck’s column entitled, Criticism of Common Core Is A Misunderstanding That Will ‘Dissipate’ After Adoption?.”  

The commentary piece Barth Keck wrote in this week’s CT NewsJunkie lays out some of the most profound issues.

Keck writes,

“To listen to the leaders of the leaders of Connecticut public schools, the controversy surrounding the Common Core State Standards is merely a misunderstanding that will be clarified once the standards are adopted.

Bob Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said “there’s a lot of misinformation about the teacher evaluation system and how it’s going to work together with the Common Core,” according to a CTNewsJunkie report.

“What we’re trying to do is give a little cooling off period so we can implement Common Core,” Rader said during the legislature’s hearing on March 12. “Then I think you’ll see this all dissipate.”

Regarding a survey that found 97 percent of Connecticut teachers “believed there should be some sort of moratorium on the implementation of the standards,” Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said that he didn’t know where “the approximately 1,500 teachers surveyed by the Connecticut Education Association came from because that’s not what he’s hearing from the leaders of school districts.”

Note to Mr. Cirasuolo: I know where at least one of them came from.

What we have here is a classic case of “decoupling.” That is, proponents of the Common Core have separated themselves from the pushback simply because it’s an impediment to their agenda.

“Moratorium says to me: You stop,” said Cirasuolo. “All of that just stops. Our members are saying, ‘We can’t do that. What do we do if we stop? Do we go back and get the stuff we used to use four years ago?’ You’re not going to improve a process if you stop it.”

Cirasuolo’s attitude is mirrored at the national level.

“The standards are portrayed as so consensual, so universally endorsed, so thoroughly researched and vetted, so self-evidently necessary to economic progress, so broadly represented of beliefs in the educational community,” writes respected author and literacy expert Thomas Newkirk in a must-read essay, “that they cease to be even debatable.”

Problem is, adds Newkirk, these bold attitudes “hide their controversial edges.”

Newkirk outlines multiple reasons why — despite the self-assurance of Common Core supporters — the current resistance should not be so readily dismissed.

For one, many standards are “developmentally inappropriate.”

“[T]he CCSS has taken what I see as exceptional work, that of perhaps the top 5 percent of students, and made it the new norm,” writes Newkirk. “What had once been an expectation for fourth graders [has] become the standard for second graders, as in this example:

Write informative/explanatory texts in which they [i.e., second graders] introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points and provide a concluding statement.

“Normally this would be the expectation of an upper-elementary report; now it is the requirement for seven-year-olds.”

Newkirk also has concerns about the connection between standardized testing and the Common Core, a situation that ultimately limits what is taught: “These tests will give operational reality to the standards — in effect they will become the standards; there will be little incentive to teach to skills that are not tested.”

Perhaps most significantly, the full-speed-ahead attitude of the CCSS proponents “drowns out” all other educational discussions.

Explains Newkirk: “The principle of opportunity costs prompts us to ask: ‘What conversations won’t we be having?’ Since the CCSS virtually ignore poetry, will we cease to speak about it? What about character education, service learning? What about fiction writing in the upper high school grades? What about the arts that are not amenable to standardized testing? What about collaborative learning, an obvious twenty-first-century skill? We lose opportunities when we cease to discuss these issues and allow the CCSS to completely set the agenda, when the only map is the one it creates.”

The history of our country is filled with examples of cognitive dissonance created by people who question the so-called “conventional wisdom.” Newkirk cites Martin Luther King, Jr., who stated in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that it is never “untimely” in a democracy to scrutinize policies.

The leaders of the leaders of our public schools would do well to remember this lesson. King’s “Letter,” after all, is included in Common Core Standard 10 as a “Text Illustrating the Complexity, Quality, & Range of Student Reading 6-12.”

You can read Barth Keck’s full column at CT NewsJunkie by clicking here:  Criticism of Common Core Is A Misunderstanding That Will ‘Dissipate’ After Adoption?

Where Does Common Sense Fit Into Common Core? (By Barth Keck)

Earlier this week, Connecticut educator and CT Newsjunkie columnist Barth Keck published another important column about the problems associated with the Common Core and the utter failure in the way it is being implemented.

The Common Core fiasco was begun with President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind,” and continued under Barak Obama’s “Race to the Top.”  It has consistently had strong bi-partisan support from the “incumbent party” of Democratic and Republican elected and appointed officials.  The overall effort to create this monstrosity was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with hundreds of millions more coming from taxpayers via the federal and state governments.

In this week’s column, Barth Keck writes,

As we place more and more emphasis on computerized algorithms and Big Data to help us make Big Decisions, one question lingers: Where does common sense fit in?

The Hartford Courant’s Kathleen Megan recently reported that “new research shows that high school grades — not standardized tests — area much better predictor of college performance” for current high school juniors.

William C. Hiss, the principal investigator of the study, explains that good grades come from “long-term discipline, attention to detail, and doing your homework” — precisely the qualities needed for success in college.

As one of my colleagues quipped after reading Megan’s article, “I am completely surprised . . . said no teacher, ever.”

Put another way, isn’t this simply old-fashioned common sense?

Maybe so, but the current craving for more standardized testing in public education indicates a definitive lack of common sense.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 initiated this frenzy by requiring annual tests of all students in grades 3 through 8, and once in high school. Individual states were left to choose how to test their students.

By 2010, the future of standardized testing in schools became more complex through President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program in concert with the new Common Core State Standards.

“These new tests will be an absolute game-changer in public education,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the time. “They’ll be better, smarter assessments — the kind of tests our teachers want and our students need.”

Indeed, these “better, smarter assessments” are not your run-of-the-mill “bubble tests.” Instead, they are “adaptive tests” that automatically change as a test taker provides answers.

“Computer-adaptive assessments,” explains an Education Week article, “rely on complex algorithms to feed students questions targeted to their individual skill levels based on their prior responses. The more questions a student gets right, the harder the subsequent questions will be.”

Scheduled for official implementation by 2015, these adaptive tests sound much more individualized than the traditional standardized assessments. What could be so bad about that?

Ask the folks in Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Oklahoma. Their initial foray last year into these new tests was hardly reassuring.

“Thousands of students experienced slow loading times of test questions, students were closed out of testing in mid-answer, and some were unable to log in to the tests,” according to another Education Week piece. “Hundreds, if not thousands, of tests may be invalidated.”

Moreover, one school official in Oklahoma termed the testing problems as “absolutely horrible, in terms of kids being anxious. It was heartbreaking to watch them. Some of them were almost in tears.”

Thankfully, states have another year to get the situation straightened out. In Connecticut, students this spring will be taking a field test — a “test of the test” — to help work out the kinks.

“The Field Test is a trial run of the assessment system that helps ensure the assessments are valid, reliable, and fair for all students,” according to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), the organization behind Common Core-aligned tests in 22 states.

“It also gives teachers and schools a chance to gauge their readiness in advance of the first operational assessment in spring 2015. Students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 — along with a small sample of students in grades 9 and 10 — will participate in the Field Test.”

For my school, that means three weeks of testing this spring — one each for 9th, 10th, and 11th graders — the results of which will be shared with neither the students nor the school. This spring’s test, after all, is testing the test, not the students.

College-bound juniors, no doubt, are thankful that their scores will count when they take the SAT around the same time they serve as guinea pigs for SBAC. You remember the SAT? It’s that other standardized test which research shows is a poor indicator of college performance.

Perhaps by next year, the algorithmically-enriched SBAC test will tell us if kids are — as the Common Core people would say — “college- and career-ready.”

Makes perfect sense to me — just not common sense.

You can read this column and Barth Keck’s other pieces at CT Newsjunkie

When real teachers speak… Elected officials should listen

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach in Connecticut.  He also writes commentary pieces for CT News Junkie.  His pieces should be mandatory reading for every federal, state and local elected official in Connecticut.

In his latest column entitled, Already Feeling Squeezed As I Attempt to ‘Align’ With Common Core, Barth Keck provides a direct view into the challenges facing teachers and the chaos being created by the corporate education reform industry and their elected and appointed lackeys who are implementing their strategies.

There are the complexities and oddities of the Common Core Standards, some of which actually force Connecticut’s teachers to back-down and reduce the scope and sequence of Connecticut’s existing standards.

Then there is the rush to test child on those Common Core Standards despite the fact that sufficient Common Core Curricula has yet to be developed.

And now there is the unfair and flawed Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test.

And the list goes on and on.

The whole education reform fiasco is demoralizing teachers and undermining Connecticut’s system of public education.

As Barth Keck observes;

Little did Elizabeth Natale know that her Hartford Courant opinion piece would not only go viral, but also set off a chain reaction that essentially put Connecticut’s education reform on hold.

Natale’s op-ed appeared on Jan. 17 under the headline “Why I Want To Give Up Teaching.” The piece has been read by nearly 500,000 viewers, according to the Courant.

Ten days after Natale’s op-ed appeared, veteran Connecticut politico and blogger Jonathan Pelto published a comprehensive post summarizing the reactions of politicians and pundits.

The real bomb was dropped on Jan. 29 when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy effectively put the brakes on education reform in Connecticut.

Shortly thereafter, Madison Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice pled with state legislators to “listen to the teachers, administrators, parents, and even the students, to make the necessary course corrections” to school reform.

In truth, the issue of education reform has been smoldering for a while. Connecticut, however, has been slow to react because most Nutmeggers — especially parents — had not truly contemplated the “Common Core” until Natale’s personal and lucid reflections brought CCSS to the forefront.

Veteran teacher Stan Karp has written perhaps the most comprehensive and informative article on the issues surrounding the Common Core State Standards, starting with the hasty implementation of its untested principles.

“These standards have never been fully implemented in real schools anywhere,” writes Karp. “They’re more or less abstract descriptions of academic abilities organized into sequences by people who have never taught at all or who have not taught this particular set of standards.”

As a high school English teacher for the past 23 years, I consider myself, well, experienced. But not even my own professional experience could prepare me — in one year’s time — for the voluminous standards which, under Connecticut’s plan, comprise 22.5 percent of my performance evaluation.

Take the English Language Arts Standards for 9th and 10th graders as an example. There are six “strands” such as “Reading: Literature” and “Reading: Informational Text.” Within each strand are standards, many of which have numerous sub-standards.

The strand of Writing, for instance, has four categories: Text Types and Purposes, Production and Distribution of Writing, Research to Build and Present Knowledge, and Range of Writing. This last category has just one standard, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10: “Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.”

All of the other categories in the Writing strand, meanwhile, have multiple standards. Text Types and Purposes alone has 19 standards and sub-standards, including CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1c : “Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.”

All told, there are 75 standards and sub-standards that I must teach my students to prepare them for the computerized Smarter Balanced test — the final details of which are still being worked out.

[…]

Please take the time to go read Barth Keck’s entire piece.  It can be found at the CT News Junkie at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_already_feeling_squeezed_as_i_attempt_to_align_with_common_core/

Numbers Don’t Lie, Unless Someone Wants Them To (By Barth Keck)

“Never in my career as a high school English teacher — as an instructor of reading and writing, as a purveyor of literature — have I been asked to collect more “student data” and create more “spreadsheets” than I have in the past several years.”  – Barth Keck

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

You can find Barth Keck’s commentary pieces at http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/.

His latest piece is entitled “Numbers Don’t Lie, Unless Someone Wants Them To.”

Keck writes;

“But science is where public education is hanging its hat right now, from the “metrics” applied to teacher evaluations to the data collected from standardized tests. And why not? Science turns a frustratingly nebulous concept — educational progress — into a black-and-white, numbers-don’t-lie picture.

If only it were so easy.

Call me a cynic, but numbers can lie. Or, at least, they can be manipulated by people who want to prove a point.

Take the recent results of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which compares 15-year-olds in 65 global locations by their ability in math, science, and reading skills.

“Three years ago, I came here with a special report benchmarking the U.S. against some of the best performing and rapidly improving education systems. Most of them have pulled further ahead,” said Andreas Schleicher of the Department of Education. “The math results of top-performer Shanghai are now two-and-a-half school years ahead even of those in Massachusetts — itself a leader within the U.S.”

So there you have it — a scientifically-calibrated test proves that American students continue to fall behind schoolchildren from the rest of the world. A closer look, however, reveals a murkier picture.

“Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the school system in Shanghai is not equitable and the students tested are children of the elite because they are the ones allowed to attend municipal schools [due to] restrictions such as those that keep many migrant children out. ‘The Shanghai scores frankly to me are difficult to interpret,’ Loveless said. ‘They are almost meaningless’.”

While the corporate education reformers would dismiss Barth Keck since he is “only a school teacher,” those who care about our public schools and the students, parents, teachers and taxpayers who make up our education community would do well to read his pieces.

Barth Keck’s previous commentary piece on education policy can be read at CTNewsjunkie: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_despite_extra_coaching_from_the_bleachers_wins_still_hard_to_come_by_/