Stonington Connecticut School removes Animal Farm from 8th grade English curriculum

Censorship?

The impact of the anti-fiction Common Core?

Or both?

George Orwell’s Animal Farm has been dropped from the 8th grade reading curriculum in Stonington, Connecticut.  Although the Orwell classic has been a mainstay in Stonington and in many other schools across the state and nation, a Stonington, Connecticut teacher was told this year that he could not use the text despite having included it in his lesson plan for more than 20 years.

In response to the uproar local media reported that,

“Assistant Superintendent Nikki Gullickson has said a new system of developing anchor texts for core curriculum was put in place this year for eighth-grade classes and that the decision about Orwell’s book came from a meeting of teachers meant to build a consensus.”

However, teachers and parents say the excuse is nonsense and that local school administrators have failed to adequately explain why such an important work of literature has suddenly been deleted from the curriculum.

The story first surfaced when The Day of New London’s David Collins wrote a commentary piece earlier this week entitled, In this Orwellian time of Trump, Stonington schools drop ‘Animal Farm’.

Collins wrote,

It is troubling to me that, at a time when sales of books by George Orwell are spiking nationally amid fears of Donald Trump’s totalitarian inclinations, that Stonington has dropped his “Animal Farm” from the eighth-grade teaching curriculum.

More troubling is that a group of parents that tried to get it restored, supporting a teacher who has been using the book in classes for the last 20 years, got little traction with public school administrators.

Most frightening to me was the response from those administrators, when I called to ask about the fate of the literary classic in Stonington schools.

What they told me could have come right out of Orwell’s typewriter. I felt like I was talking to the pigs who expelled the humans from the farm in “Animal Farm” and were running the show as they pleased.

It all started when parents, clued in by their children to what was happening, opened a dialogue with a teacher at Mystic Middle School who was upset that he could no longer use in courses the classic that he had taught to so many students over the years.

Collins added,

The Mystic Middle School teacher got what I might call the Orwellian treatment when he asked why “Animal Farm” was eliminated from the curriculum after all these years, he told a parent in an email.

“There is something very ‘1984’ about all this, including the doublespeak about the curriculum,” the teacher wrote in early January. “I don’t have a good answer for ‘why’ the book was dropped …”

“None of the reasons I have been given make much sense. I have heard 1) whole group discussion of a single book is discouraged 2) the book is age inappropriate and 3) it’s not part of a ‘list’ of approved books. I don’t understand this either! …

Collins reported that when asked about the situation, Mystic Middle School Principal Gregory Keith falsely denied the development.  Collins explained,

He said the book would indeed be taught in February, evidently referring to a recent compromise in which students can volunteer to learn about the book in an “enrichment” session outside the regular classes.

At the same time, the English teacher in question was told not to discuss the matter and refer all questions to school administrators.

While the decision reeks of censorship, an unanswered question is whether the effort to remove Animal Farm is part of the greater shift toward the Common Core which frowns upon using fiction to teach English and language arts.  Proponents of the Common Core have sought to dramatically reduce the use of fiction texts, calling instead for teachers to use non-fiction to promote “close reading.”

Now the Stonington Board of Education is stepping into the debacle.  In a follow up story on February 1, 2017, The Day reported,

“Frank Todisco, board chairman, said Wednesday afternoon that he had added an agenda item for Superintendent of Schools Van Riley to discuss the issue and then allow public comment on any issue including the “Animal Farm” decision.

“I think by hearing from the community and the administration, the board will have a better understanding of the issue,” Todisco said. “After that the board will be in a better position to evaluate what any next step might need to be.

For more on the story read The Day’s coverage at:  In this Orwellian time of Trump, Stonington schools drop ‘Animal Farmand Stonington school board to listen to public Thursday on ‘Animal Farm’ decision

Two critical education issues for the Connecticut legislature By Anne Manusky

Education advocate Anne Manusky weighs in in two extremely important issues that the Connecticut General Assembly should address this legislative session.  Her commentary piece originally appeared in the CT Mirror.  You can read and comment on the column at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/01/10/two-critical-education-issues-for-the-connecticut-legislature/

Two critical education issues for the Connecticut legislature By Anne Manusky

From my perspective we have two critical points in the current Connecticut education crisis that must be dealt with first during the General Assembly’s 2017 session: One, the Common Core State Standards – they are developmentally inappropriate for many of our children, especially those in the elementary years. And Two: Measuring our children using the new state mastery test, which lacks psychometric test validation and reliability.

It takes time for children to reach certain levels of development  (i.e. vision development is not typically fully acquired until between the age of 8 and 10; and a child’s first baby tooth will typically fall out about the age of 6 or 7). Years of child development theorists’ research,  seem to have been thrown aside when children’s education standards were proposed to be redrawn by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers.

Why this “education” without allowing for typical development? Pushing children to mentally do things they are incapable of is a form of child abuse.  The Connecticut Core Standards are in need of major overhaul and return to developmental appropriateness.

As for measuring academic progress, the Smarter Balanced Assessments are purported to use the Connecticut Core Standards to determine academic mastery levels of our public school children.  So where would factual information be on the analysis of the Smarter Balanced Assessments for Connecticut?

I submitted a freedom of information request in March, 2016, to Commissioner Dianna Wentzel and the State Department of Education for documentation of the validity and reliability of the Smarter Balanced Assessments, as well as for the facts behind Commissioner Wentzel’s statement in a Hartford paper on the “…deep psychometric study…” done to remove a portion of the test to reduce test time.

Staff of the SDE provided Smarter Balanced Field Test materials from 2013, yet did not provide validity or reliability of the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA) for Connecticut.   Assistant Attorney General Ralph Urban for Commissioner Wentzel and the State Department of Education said at the FOIA hearing they “can’t prove the existence of a negative” and “they don’t exist.”  How did Commissioner Wentzel and her staff make any valid decisions on this without this psychometric testing of the SBA for Connecticut?

The financial cost of this “test?”  It is in the neighborhood of $21 million over three years in Smarter Balanced testing and data collection through the American Institutes for Research.

This is a worrisome concern.  White papers such as Dr. Mary Byrne’s  regarding the validity of the Smarter Balanced Assessments  for Missouri, and the 100 California Education Researchers study (2016) provide details of what is missing to make the Smarter Balanced Assessments valid tests. This information was provided to Commissioner Wentzel, the SDE and the SBE, without response.

Connecticut’s General Assembly, especially the Education Committee, has very serious issues besetting it come this session — the future of our children’s public education.

Connecticut is obligated to its childrens’ public education and to provide developmentally appropriate, valid, and reliable academic testing.  Public education is not an enumerated right of the federal government, as provided in Article 10 of the U.S. Constitution.  Also, the fact the Smarter Balanced Consortium is an interstate compact which was never approved by Congress is another troubling point.

The “work” of the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education bring a great deal into question.

It is time for our state to return to local school district control and have parents and residents involved in education. Cut the CT Core Standards and fraudulent Smarter Balanced tests, which our state cannot afford financially or ethically.

Top Utah Republicans join corporate education reform groups to attack anti-Common Core school board candidates

In May 2016 Utah’s Republican Governor, Gary Herbert, called on the Utah Board of Education to, “move past Common Core standards and get rid of mandatory SAGE testing for high school students.”

Governor Herbert wrote,

“I am asking the State Board of Education to consider implementing uniquely Utah standards, moving beyond the Common Core to a system that is tailored specifically to the needs of our state.”

The Utah Governor’s strong action in opposition to the Common Core standards and its related Common Core testing scheme won him praise from conservatives and educators, but some of the state’s top Republicans are now joining the Utah business community and the state’s corporate education reform allies to try and keep pro-Common Core incumbents on the Utah Board of Education.

Following the loss of some pro-Common Core incumbents during the state’s summer primary, corporate education reform allies are now raising money to defend the remaining pro-Common Core, pro-corporate education reform candidates on the Utah School Board.

Earlier this month, Utah Policy.com, a Utah based political blog reported,

“Get ready for partisan, big money, races for the Utah State School Board…

[…]

[T]the primary race this year caught some GOP leaders off guard, as several well-liked (at least on Capitol Hill) incumbents were beaten June 28.

And now a “last ditch” effort is being made to save a few of the other incumbents as a group of business/reform groups are looking to raise money and set up PACs to help those endangered school board members.

Utah Policy.com added;

Over the weekend a quickly-formed school board candidate fund-raiser was put together by the Utah Technology Council, among others, with House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, called in to help raise money for some of the remaining school board incumbents feeling the heat from the Utah Education Association – the main teacher union in the state.

For Hughes it is an old battle – remember the failed private school voucher fight of 2007?

There are eight seats on the Utah School Board this year.  The Utah Education Association, which endorsed Republican Governor Gary Herbert against his Democratic rival Mike Weinholtz, this year, is supporting candidates in six of those races.

Rather than find common ground with the teacher’s union over support for the governor and opposition to the Common Core, the Republican elected officials and corporate education reform advocacy groups are now targeting the union endorsed candidates for defeat, including those that are running on an anti-Common core agenda.

As one Utah based anti-Common Core group posted, Common Core’s Role in Hot State School Board Race,

The State School Board race has never drawn much attention before. But this year, the Salt Lake Tribune reported, businesses and even top-tier elected officials are personally campaigning and fundraising for and against certain candidates.

Yesterday’s headline was: “Niederhauser and Hughes ask Business Leaders to Help Defeat UEA-Backed School Board Candidates“.  Yesterday, too, business organizations such as the Utah Technology Council and the School Improvement Association joined Niederhauser and Hughes in a fundraising webinar that promoted a slate of pro-Common Core candidates who happen to be not favored by or funded by national teacher’s unions.

The anti-common Core blogger added,

“…I don’t understand why these groups have chosen to campaign against both the anti-Common Core candidates as well as against the UEA-backed candidates…

[…]

Nor do I understand why our House Speaker and Senate President don’t see the hypocrisy in speaking against big money buying votes (NEA) while both of them are personally funded by big business money (Education First).

But my bigger questions are: how do the Speaker and the Senate President dare to campaign for Common Core candidates, thus going directly against Governor Herbert’s call to end Common Core alignment in Utah?

How do they dare campaign against the resolution of their own Utah Republican Party that called for the repeal of the Common Core Initiative?

Have they forgotten the reasons that their party is strongly opposed to all that the Common Core Initiative entails?

Have they forgotten Governor Herbert’s letter that called for an end to Common Core and SAGE testing just four months ago? (See letter here.)  For all the talk about wanting to move toward local control and to move against the status quo, this seems odd.

Of course, the answer to the anti-Common Core blogger’s lament is that the Common Core has always had strong support from mainstream Republicans.  In fact, it was George W. Bush’s administration that helped foist the Common Core and Common Core testing program upon the nation.

It should come as no surprise to the education advocates in Utah that even when their Republican governor calls for an end to the Common Core, there will be some top Republican leaders, along with the business community and pro-corporate education reform groups, that would seek to undermine his position.

The sad reality is that when it comes to the federalization and privatization of public education, many Republican and Democratic elected officials have no problem undermining their local students, parents, teachers and public schools.

Want to know how a student is doing? Forget the SBAC or SAT test – Ask a teacher

In a recent press release, Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman pontificated about their effort to measure every child, teacher and public school by the score students received on this year’s Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test.

Wyman said,

“These successes are valuable indicators that we are on the right track today, and they position us for a stronger tomorrow.”

However, in the real world, the results from the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing scheme is hardly a valuable indicator nor does it suggest we are on the right track to anything other than forcing schools to develop better systems for teaching to the test.

As Connecticut public education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker wrote in a Stamford Advocate in August 2015, instead of looking to an unfair testing scam for guidance about student performance, If you Want to know how a student is doing? Ask a teacher.

Last year, Wendy Lecker wrote;

A friend of mine had a priceless reaction to the specious claim by education reformers that our children need standardized tests so parents can know how they are doing in school. He laughed and said that in 20 years of parent conferences no teacher ever felt the need to pull out his children’s standardized tests to provide an accurate picture of how well they were learning.

Parents have relied on teachers’ assessments to gauge their children’s progress and most have pretty much ignored their children’s standardized test scores. For decades, this approach has served parents and students well. Recent research shows that non-standardized, human assessments of student learning are superior to standardized tests of all kinds.

I have written about the voluminous evidence showing that a high school GPA is the best predictor of college success, and that the SAT and ACT, by contrast, are poor predictors. (http://bit.ly/1K7CNzG)

Even standardized college placement tests, tests ostensibly designed to measure “college readiness,” fail miserably at that task — with real and damaging consequences for students.

College remediation is often used as a weapon by education reformers. Overstating college remediation rates was one of the tactics used by Arne Duncan to foment hysteria about the supposedly sorry state of America’s public schools and justify imposing the Common Core and its accompanying tests nationwide. As retired award-winning New York principal Carol Burris has written, while Duncan and his allies claimed that the college remediation rate is 40 percent, data from the National Center on Education Statistics show that the actual percentage is 20 percent.

Exaggeration is not the only problem with college remediation. Many of the students placed in remedial classes in college do not even belong there.

Judith Scott-Clayton of Columbia’s Teachers’ College and her colleagues examined tens of thousands of college entrants and found that one-quarter to one-third of those placed in remedial courses based on standardized placement tests were mis-assigned. These students wrongly placed in remedial classes could have passed a college- level course with a B or better. Moreover, when students are mis-assigned to remedial courses, the likelihood of them dropping out of college increases by eight percentage points. These high-stakes tests produce high-cost errors.

Scott-Clayton and her colleagues found that by incorporating high school grades into the college placement decisions, misplacements were corrected by up to a third, and there was a 10-percentage point increase in the likelihood that those students placed in a college-level course would complete that course with a grade of C or better.

Once again, non-standardized, human assessments of a student’s learning are more helpful than standardized tests.

Some institutions are getting that message. After California’s Long Beach City College began incorporating high school grades into placement decisions, the rate of students who placed into and passed college English quadrupled. The rate for math tripled. Just last month, George Washington University joined the long and growing list of colleges and universities that dropped the requirement for SAT or ACT scores.

These institutions of higher education understand that standardized tests are poor predictors “college readiness” and that high school grades are superior.

Yet too many policymakers cling to the failed strategy of using standardized tests to try to tell us what teachers are much better at telling us. Congress is set to reaffirm the requirement that states administer annual standardized tests, even though the data show that a child who passes one year is very likely to pass the next. Washington, West Virginia and California announced plans to use the not-yet validated and increasingly unpopular SBAC test in its college placement decisions.

California announced this move even as it is considering ceasing the use of SBACs to judge schools. Equally hypocritical, Washington State’s Board of Education just announced that it is lowering the SBAC high school passing score below the “college-ready” level arbitrarily adopted by the SBAC consortium last year.

Amid opt-outs and outrage at the SBACs, Connecticut passed a law replacing the un-validated 11th grade SBAC with the SAT as a required high school test; even though the SAT has been proven to have little predictive value for determining college success.

The key to ensuring and determining college readiness is clearly not high-stakes error-prone standardized tests. If politicians really want to understand how to prepare our children for college, maybe they should try a new — for them- approach and consult experts with a great track record of knowing what makes kids college-ready. Maybe they should ask some teachers.

You can read Wendy Lecker’s full column on the issue at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Want-to-know-how-a-student-is-6431076.php

Hey Malloy, what’s the deal with the new Common Core SBAC test results?

With great fanfare and self-congratulations, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration recently released the results of last springs’ Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests. Their claim is that the Governor’s anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-charter school agenda is succeeding.

The SBAC test is succeeding?

The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme is the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory national testing system that the Malloy administration instituted and are now being used to evaluate and label students, teachers and public schools.

As if to give the charade some credibility, Governor Malloy, Lt. Governor Wyman and their team call it Connecticut’s “Next Generation Accountability System.”

However, the testing and evaluation system is a farce that fails to properly measure how students, teachers and schools are really doing, nor does it properly evaluate the impacts that are associated with poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs.

To showcase the extraordinary problems with Malloy’s testing scheme, the following chart highlights the results from two of Malloy’s favorite charter schools, the Achievement First Hartford charter school and the Achievement First New Haven charter school, which is called Amistad Academy.

Percent of students reaching “proficiency” in Math as measured by the 2015 SBAC tests;

DISTRICT GRADE 3 GRADE 4 GRADE 5 GRADE 6 GRADE 7 GRADE 8
Achievement First Inc. Hartford  

56.8%

 

44.4%

 

16.2%

 

20.3%

 

17.5%

 

33.9%

Achievement First Inc. New Haven – Amistad Academy  

63.3%

 

54.4%

 

34.4%

 

40.0%

 

46.1%

 

46.9%

 

Here are the core results;

  • Approximately 60% of students in both charter schools were labeled “proficient” in MATH in grade 3.
  • The percent deemed “proficient” dropped by about 10 points in Grade 4.
  • The percent “proficient” dived in Grade 5, with only 1 in 6 students deemed “proficient” in Hartford and only 1 in 3 at the “proficient” level in New Haven.
  • The number reaching a “proficient” level remained extremely low at Achievement First Hartford in grades 6, 7 and 8.
  • While the percent of students labeled proficient in at Achievement First New Haven was slightly better than its sister school in Hartford, less than 50% percent of Amistad Academy’s 6th, 7th and 8th grade students were deemed to be “proficient.”

According to Malloy’s policies, these SBAC results allow us to determine how students are doing, whether teachers are performing adequately and whether any individual school should be labeled a great school, a good school, a school that is doing fairly well or a failing school.

So, according to Malloy, which of the following statements are true;

  1. As measured by the SBAC proficiency number, while students at these two Achievement First schools are doing “okay” in grade 3, the two schools are falling short in Grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
  1. The results indicate that Achievement First Inc. has apparently hired talented teachers in grade 3, but the results prove that teachers in grade 4-8 are simply not equipped or capable to do their job. Grade 5 teachers are particularly weak, but the data indicates that Achievement First’s teachers should be evaluated as ineffective and the charter school chain should remove and replace all teachers other than those teaching in grade 3.
  1. Achievement First, Inc. proclaims that their students do much better on standardized tests, however, the SBAC results reveal that they are failing and should be labeled as failing schools.

According to Connecticut policymakers, all three statements are true, but of course, the truth is much more complex and the test results provide no meaningful guidance on what is actually going on in the classrooms.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is that these results provide no useful information about the impact of poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs

One question rises to the top.

What if the students and teachers are not the problem? What if the problem is that the testing scam really is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory and that the entire situation is made worse by Malloy’s absurd “Next Generation” Accountability system?

BREAKING NEWS – “NEW” SAT a fraud on Connecticut and the nation’s high school students, their parents, teachers and taxpayers

Residents of CO, CT, DE, IL, ME, MI, and NH, the heads of the Department of Education of your states have failed to protect the best interests of your students and your families, opting instead to protect their own interests and the interests of the College Board.

– Former College Board (SAT) executive

A major and devastating controversy is crashing into the “NEW” SAT and thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly, Connecticut’s high school students are caught up in the growing disaster.

A leak of thousands of SAT questions, a stunning expose by Reuters News about myriad of problems associated with the standardized testing scheme, an FBI raid and now a broadside posted by a former SAT executive is focusing attention on the absurd use of the “NEW” SAT to evaluate Connecticut’s public school students, teachers and schools.

The harsh reality is that Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly should never have mandated the use of the “NEW,” Common Core-aligned SAT as Connecticut’s 11th grade mastery test.

For background on the initial mistake see Wait, What? posts;

More on CT’s disastrous move to force all high school juniors to take the “NEW” SAT;

Once again Connecticut elected officials are wrong to mandate the SAT for all 11th graders;

My daughter will not be taking the “state mandated” NEW SAT on March 2nd 2016”;

Criticism of the NEW SAT grows as Connecticut’s 11th grades are told they MUST take it on March 2nd,

As well as, The lies in the new SAT (by Wendy Lecker); Connecticut school psychologist John Bestor on the NEW SAT and opting-out; REQUIRING THE SAT GETS CONNECTICUT LESS THAN NOTHING (By Ann Cronin)

Now, as a result of the most recent allegations, Malloy, his political appointees on the State Board of Education, his department of Education and the Connecticut General Assembly should immediately suspend the use of the SAT to evaluate students, teachers and public schools and should further demand that an independent investigation into the SAT and its lack of validity be conducted.

Unfortunately, mainstream media coverage of the breaking developments surrounding the “NEW” SAT have been scarce following the in-depth investigation conducted by Reuters (See links to the Reuters stories below).

What is clear is that the Reuters’ articles serve as an astonishing and shocking expose about how privatization and greed have turned the SAT into an utter farce, especially in states like Connecticut that decided to use the “NEW” SAT as a “tool” to label children, evaluate teachers and rank public schools.

The whole issue took an even more incredible twist this past weekend when Manuel Alfaro, a former College Board executive posted an open letter about the problems with the new SAT stating,

Residents of CO, CT, DE, IL, ME, MI, and NH, the heads of the Department of Education of your states have failed to protect the best interests of your students and your families, opting instead to protect their own interests and the interests of the College Board.

In his broadside, Manuel Alfaro adds;

Residents of CO, CT, DE, IL, ME, MI, and NH, the heads of the Department of Education of your states have failed to protect the best interests of your students and your families, opting instead to protect their own interests and the interests of the College Board.

As these officials are elected (or appointed by an elected official), you can demand their immediate resignation or you can vote to replace them immediately to ensure that the department of Education in your state is headed by an individual willing to put the interests of your students and your family first.

In the paragraphs that follow, I will describe how the current heads of the Department of Education have failed you and why they lack the judgment (and common sense) to protect the best interests of your children.

On May 7, 2016, I wrote a letter to the heads of the Department of Education in CO, CT, DE, IL, ME, MI, and NH to let them know that the College Board has committed global fraud against their states and the federal government. In that letter, I offered to meet with their legal teams to expose the fraud. Instead of meeting with me (or asking me for additional information), they approached the College Board about my statements and allegations. According to a Reuter’s story, published on Friday August 26, 2016, here is what some of the states had to say about my statements and allegations:

A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, Bill DiSessa, said the state “checked with the College Board” and decided not to look into Alfaro’s claims. Jeremy Meyer of the Colorado Department of Education said the state discussed Alfaro’s email with the College Board and was “satisfied with the response we received.”

Kelly Donnelly, spokesperson for the Connecticut State Department of Education, said the state considered Alfaro’s email to be “replete with hyperbole, but scant on actual facts. We did not take further action.” Donnelly said the state hadn’t reviewed Alfaro’s detailed posts on LinkedIn.

Although I have not seen any of the explanations the College Board may have provided, I can assure you that none included the following critical fact: The College Board, ETS, and the Content Advisory Committee did not have time to review all the items prior to pretesting, as the College Board has repeatedly claimed they do.

[…]

If the heads of the Department of Education of your state knew anything about test development, they would have noticed that something about the College Board’s explanation didn’t add up and would have requested copies of the records of the face-to-face committee meetings, which the College Board must keep in order to comply with the Standards of Educational and Psychological Testing. Most importantly, the College Board needs to provide these records to the federal government as evidence for peer review of the assessment programs for these states.

The heads of the Department of Education of your states clearly lack the critical reasoning skills (and the common sense) and basic knowledge of test development required to make good decisions on behalf of the millions of children in their care. This reason alone is enough to demand their immediate resignation.

The College Board saved approximately 17 million dollars by taking shortcuts in the development of a product that affects the lives of millions of students every year. This is how the College Board can afford to offer the SAT to states for about $12 per student.

As a result of Governor Malloy’s directive, the Connecticut General Assembly adopted legislation last year mandating the use of the new SAT and this past March Connecticut’s  high school juniors  were told they “must” take the SAT and that it would be used to evaluate them, their teachers and their schools.

It was wrong for Malloy to back the new SAT.

It was wrong for the legislature to mandate its use.

And now Connecticut’s elected officials have an obligation to take immediate action to undo the damage they have caused.

For additional background, here are the Reuter’s articles reporting on their investigation:

Part 1:  http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/college-sat-one/ (As SAT was hit by security breaches, College Board went ahead with tests that had leaked)

Part 2:  http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/college-sat-two/ (How Asian test-prep companies swiftly exposed the brand-new SAT)

Part 3: http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/college-cheating-iowa/ (How an industry helps Chinese students cheat their way into and through U.S. colleges)

Part 4: http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/college-cheating-act/ (Students and teachers detail pervasive cheating in a program owned by test giant ACT)

Part 5: http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/college-sat-security/ (‘Massive’ breach exposes hundreds of questions for upcoming SAT exams)

Follow up – Exclusive: FBI raids home of ex-College Board official in probe of SAT leak – http://www.reuters.com/article/us-college-sat-fbi-idUSKCN112009?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=Social

How The Common Core Hurts Kids As Readers And Writers by Ann Policelli Cronin 

Educator, public education advocate and fellow education blogger takes on the notion that the Common Core is good for children in her blog entitled, P.S. How The Common Core Hurts Kids As Readers And Writers.  She writes;

The New York Times, whose writers have seemed to lack knowledge about the Common Core, has been a PR firm for those misbegotten and ill-conceived educational standards. But finally on Sunday, July 24th, the newspaper published, ”The Common Core Costs Billions and Hurts Students” by Diane Ravitch that is critical of the Common Core.

Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education under George H. W. Bush and the author of The Life and Death of the Great American School System and Reign of Error, pointed out that the Common Core has accomplished nothing that it promised and does not meet the educational needs of children. Ravitch explained that, as a country, we have spent billions to implement the Common Core, to prepare students to take the Common Core aligned tests, and to buy the technology to administer those tests online. The results are that math scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress  declined for the first time since 1990 and reading scores are flat or decreased, the achievement gaps based on race and income persist, teachers are demoralized, causing teacher shortages, and, most tragically of all, children are receiving an education which harms them.

I would like to add a P.S.

Diane Ravitch writes about the damage that the Common Core does to children with disabilities, English language learners, and children in the early grades. I know that to be true. My Post Script focuses on the damage that Common Core is doing to all students because, with Common Core, they are not taught to be thoughtful readers and effective writers and to develop as creative and critical thinkers and increasingly independent learners.

There has been false advertising about the Common Core, calling those standards “rigorous”. They are not at all rigorous. If they were, the National Council of Teachers of English would have endorsed them. After careful review, NCTE did not endorse the Common Core due to the content of the standards and the way they require reading and writing to be taught. It is preposterous to think that English language arts standards have been mandated for all k-12 students without the endorsement of the professional organization representing all elementary, middle, high school, and college teachers of reading and writing in the country.

And what is the objectionable Common Core content?

First of all, the amount of literature is restricted. We are the only country on the planet that specifies limits on reading literature. That means we not only limit the range of ideas with which students become familiar but we also reduce their opportunities to think divergently and create individual meaning in ways that only reading literature provides. Secondly, the kind of writing taught with Common Core severely limits the thinking students do because Common Core prescribes formulaic, impersonal writing. All Common Core writing assignments, according to David Coleman, the chief writer of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards, must let students know  that ” no one gives a **** what they think and feel”. And thirdly, the volume of the grammar to be taught at each grade level requires that grammar be taught separately, not as part of the writing process, even though all research for the past 30 years says that is a waste of time. Worst of all, none of the standards are about teaching students to be engaged, active, thoughtful readers or effective writers for a wide range of purposes and audiences.

And how must teachers teach the Common Core?

Common Core teachers are purveyors of information. They teach as if the meaning of any piece of literature is “within the four corners of the page”. That outdated and discredited approach to teaching literature is called New Criticism- but “new” was the 1930’s. With it, Common Core teachers do not teach students to make personal connections, create their own interpretations, evaluate the ideas, or consider the cultural assumptions in what they are reading. The Common Core teacher requires students to dig out the one meaning from what they are reading, a meaning the teacher already knows. Since there is only one answer, there is no point in teaching students how to discuss their initial thinking with others, question the perspectives of others, and reconsider their original thinking, maybe even changing their minds because of questions or ideas offered by their classmates.

Also, writing is not used as part of the learning process to foster individual thinking because that thinking is not sought. And revision is, as the standards state, only “as needed”, not as a mandatory part of the writing process although revision always strengthens a writer’s thinking and makes the writer more effective.

And why is all this so bad?

Well, first of all, kids are not receiving an education that sparks their minds and touches their souls. Secondly, students are not learning the skills they need for their future. Tony Wagner, lead scholar at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, has written two books (The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators), which discuss the skills students will need in the workplace. Wagner says that our future as a nation depends on our capacity to teach students to have the curiosity and imagination to be innovators. He says the competencies that students must learn in school are:

  • To approach problems as learners as opposed to knowers
  • To ask provocative questions
  • To engage in dialogue which explores questions with diverse people
  • To deal with ambiguity instead of right answers
  • To trust oneself to be creative and take initiative
  • To communicate orally and in writing by expressing ideas with clarity and personal passion
  • To analyze information and identify a path forward
  • To be curious, to be engaged with and interested in the world

You can’t get there from here when “here” is the Common Core.

Diane Ravitch is right.  We must stop hurting students. The Common Core must go.

You can read and comment on her commentary piece at: https://reallearningct.com/2016/07/29/p-s-how-the-common-core-hurts-kids-as-readers-and-writers/

Ann Policelli Cronin is a Connecticut educator. She currently is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education.

For-profit K12 Inc. virtual charter school giant claims Common Core testing could hurt its profitability???

Education Reform Speak is hard enough to understand, but when K12 Inc., the large online virtual school vendor, sought to warn investors about the dangers of the Common Core — a concept proposed and driven by the corporate education reform industry —the resulting explanation was nothing short of bizarre.

Here, K12 Inc. uses it 2015 Annual Report to explain how the Common Core and Common Core testing scheme puts the company’s profits at risk.

A big kudos to any reader who can figure out what K12 means in the following paragraph, which is taken directly from the company’s most recent annual report. Note the wording that the problem apparently lies in that many states are implementing the common core but failing to use the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC and PARCC testing programs.

FROM K12 INC. 2015 ANNUAL SHARHOLDER REPORT;

The transition to Common Core State Standards and Common Core Assessments could result in a decline in state test scores that might adversely affect our enrollment and financial condition

“Many states have adopted the CCSS, also known as the College and Career Readiness Standards, but are not choosing to use the assessments developed by two national testing consortia that align with the CCSS Curriculum.  Instead, these states are electing to use existing or state-developed assessments to evaluate student performance.  As a result, it has been reported in many states that students learning under the CCSS but continuing to be tested under the existing state proficiency tests have experienced sharp declines in test results.  As managed public schools we serve [to] undertake this transition, and given the growing number of at-rick students enrolling in these schools, perceived academic performance could temporarily or permanently suffer such that these schools may become a less attractive alternative, enrollments could decline, and our financial condition and results of operations could be negatively impact.

K12, inc. 2015 Annual Report, Page 42

#Hashtag# – And education reformers want us to hand our children off to these people?

Can Jennifer come out and play?  How about Jeffrey?

Jennifer Alexander, the CEO of the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN) gets paid a lot of money to be the spokesperson for the Connecticut charter school industry and their corporate education reform allies.

Doing that job earned her $224,000 in salary and benefits in 2014. Her board of corporate elite even gave her a $25,000 bonus that year, all so that she could continue to push their pro-charter school, pro-Common Core, pro-Common Core testing and anti-teacher political agenda.

However, while Jennifer Alexander spends plenty of time inside the Capitol lobbying legislators and working with the Malloy administration, she has refused, to date, to accept an offer to debate the real problems and issues facing Connecticut’s public school children, parents, teachers and schools.

Not that long ago, UConn actually invited me to participate in a panel discussion about the very issues facing Connecticut’s public schools.  Other participants were to include both Jennifer Alexander and Jeffrey Villar, the highly paid executive of the Connecticut Council on Education Reform, another charter school industry front group.

However, within 48 hours of the invitation being sent, UConn suddenly cancelled the panel.  And when it was rescheduled months later, no invitation to me was forthcoming.

Meanwhile, thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy and the Democratic controlled General Assembly, while Connecticut’s public schools are being hit with the deepest cuts in state history, Malloy and his administration are shoveling even more scarce taxpayer dollars to privately owned and operated charter schools that have consistently refused to educate their fair share of children who require special education services or those who need extra help learning the English language.  These charter schools even allow a significant number of uncertified teachers and staff to “educate” the children they claim to serve.

One would think that being paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year would give Jennifer Alexander the courage and conviction, or at least the obligation, to actually come out and debate the issues.

But in Malloy’s Connecticut, honesty and transparency are useless terms and those paid to defend his positions choose to remain hidden inside their golden temples.

Thus, I renew my request and offer.

Ms. Alexander, we’re waiting with baited breath.  Come out and debate.

Or perhaps Mr. Villar would be willing to defend the reformers’ indefensible positions.

How about it Jen or Jeffrey?

This is an important election year, why not accept my challenge and debate the issues so that Connecticut’s voters have the information they need to make informed decisions.

The Bevy of Billionaires undermining public education

The colossal and disastrous effort to privatize public education in the United States is alive and well thanks to a plethora of billionaires who, although they’d never send their own children to a public school, have decided that individually and collectively, they know what is best for the nation’s students, parents, teachers and public schools.

From New York City to Los Angeles and Washington State to Florida, the “billionaire boys club,” as Diane Ravitch, the country’s leading public education advocate, has dubbed them, are spending hundreds of millions of dollars via campaign contributions, Dark Money expenditures and their personal foundations to “fix” what they claim are the problems plaguing the country’s public schools.

These neo-gilded age philanthropists claim that the solution is for parents, teachers and education advocates to step aside so that the billionaires and their groupies can transform public education by creating privately owned and operated – but taxpayer funded – charter schools.

In addition, they pontificate that students learn best when schools are mandated to use the ill-conceived Common Core standards so classrooms become little more than Common Core testing factories and the teaching profession is opened up to those who haven’t been burdened by lengthy college based education programs designed to provide  educators with the comprehensive skill sets necessary to work with and teach the broad range of children who attend the country’s public schools.

The billionaire’s proclaim that the solution to creating successful schools is really rather simple.

They say that public schools run best when they are run like a business…

Cut through their rhetoric and the billionaires want us to believe that by introducing competition and the concept of “profit” they can turnaround any school, no matter the challenges it or its students may face….

Privatization, they argue, will lead to greater efficiencies while opening up the public purse to those who have products that they seek to sell to our children and our public schools.

And, the billionaires would have us believe, that the best teachers are those who get five weeks of training via a high-profile Teach for America program and are then thrown into the classroom where they, like all teachers, should be evaluated based on how well their students do on those unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core standardized tests.

Like the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about more than 55 years ago, the billionaires, the charter school industry and their corporate education reform allies want us to believe that providing children with the skills and knowledge to succeed and prosper in the 21st Century is nothing more than an opportunity to “wage war” and make money, all at the same time.

And who are these billionaires?

They are the self-professed greatest names in the United States.

The following is a partial and growing list of the super elite who deem to dabble in remaking our public schools.

Or as they would put it, blessed are the wealthy for they shall reform our public schools, with or without our consent.

First Name Last Name Net Worth Relationship with Corporate Education Reform and Charter School Industry (Partial list) How They got their billions
John Arnold $2.5 B Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now, EdVoice, New Teacher Project Hedge Fund Owner – Centaurus Advisors LLC
Louis Bacon $1.9 B StudentsFirst, Cuomo Donor, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany Hedge Fund Owner – Moore Capital Management
Steve Ballmer $23.5 B Stand for Children, Major Dark Money Donor Microsoft CEO
William Berkley $1.1 B Achievement First, Inc. WR Berkley Corporation Founder Chairman CEO – insurance sports and entertainment companies
Michael Bloomberg $40 B Leadership for Educational Equity, Teach for America, Stand for Children, New Leaders for New Schools, California Charter School Advocates, Major Dark Money Donor Co-founder, Bloomberg LP Owner, former Mayor of New York City
Eli Broad $7.3 B The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, EDVoice, California Charter School, Cuomo Donor, Malloy Donor, Major Dark Money Donor Sun Life Insurance Company of America – (Retired)
Steve Cohen $12.7 B Steve and Alexandra Cohn Foundation, Harlem Children’s Zone, Achievement First, NE Charter School Network, Teach for America Hedge Fund Owner – SAC Capital Advisors
Ray Dalio $15.6 B Dalio Foundation, Teach for America, Hedge Fund Owner – Bridgewater Associates Owner Founder – hedge
Elizabeth DeVos $4.7 B DeVos Family Foundation, Alliance for School Choice, American Federation for Children, Stand for Children, All Children Matter, Children’s Scholarship Fund, Major Dark Money Donor Amway Owner Co-Founder – Orlando Magic NBA Team Owner
John Doerr $4.1 B New Schools Venture Fund, EdVoice, Venture Capitalist – Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byera
Stanley Druckenmiller $4.4 B Children’s Scholarship Fund, Hedge Fund Owner – Duquesne Capital – Retired
David Einhorn $1.4 B Democrats for Education Reform, Hedge Fund Owner – Greenlight Capital
Doris Fisher $2.6 B Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, KIPP Foundation, Ed Voice, Gap Inc. Co-Founder
John Fisher $2.2 B Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, KIPP Foundation, Charter School Growth Fund, Silicon Valley Growth Fund, Ed Voice, Gap Inc. Heir Owner – Oakland Athletics Owner
Bill Gates $75 B Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Microsoft Chairman
Reed Hastings $1.2 B KIPP Foundation, Ed Voice, California Charter School Association, Major Funder Netflix Co-Founder Facebook Board Member
H Wayne Huizenga $2.6 B National Heritage Academies, Inc. (NHA) for-profit charter school management organization, Stand for Children Investor, Waste Management- Blockbuster Video – AutoNation – Swisher Hygiene
Ray Lee Hunt $5.3 B Texans for Education Reform, Hunt Oil Co-Owner Heir – son of founder H L Hunt – oil
Carl Icahn $17 B Icahn Charter Schools, StudentsFirst, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany Icahn Enterprises Owner
Charles Johnson $4.6 B Charles and Ann Johnson Foundation, Alliance for School Choice, American Education Reform Council Chairman, Franklin Resources – Owner of San Francisco Giants
Paul Tudor Jones III 4.7 B Families for Excellent Schools, StudentsFirst, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, Cuomo Donor Hedge Fund Owner – Tudor Investment Corporation
Bruce Karsh $1.9 B KIPP Foundation, Teach for America Hedge Fund Owner – Oaktree Capital Management
Seth Klarman $1.3 B Families of Excellent Schools, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany Hedge Fund Owner – Baupost Group Investments
Charles Koch $39.6 B American for Prosperity, American Encore,  Major Dark Money Donor Koch Industries
David Koch $39.6 B American for Prosperity, American Encore, ,  Major Dark Money Donor Koch Industries
Bruce Kovner $5.3 B Thomas T Fordham Institute (former), Bronx Preparatory Charter School, Hedge Fund Owner – Caxton Associates
Kenneth Langone $2.7 B Families for Excellent Schools, StudentsFirst, Harlem Children’s Zone, Republicans for Cuomo Home Depot Co-Founder
Daniel Loeb $2.6 B Success Academy, Families for Excellent Schools, StudentsFirst, Cuomo Donor, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany Hedge Fund Owner – Third Point LLC
Stephen Mandel Jr $2.5 B Teach for America, Excel Bridgeport, Hedge Fund Owner – Lone Pine Capital
Robert McNair $3.3 B Texans for Education Reform, Chairman, McNair Group
Rupert Murdoch $10.6 B Amplify News Corporation Founder Chairman, CEO
Laurene Powell Jobs $16.7 B NewSchools Venture Fund, Teach for America, Apple-Pixar Owner
Thomas (Margot) Pritzker $2.7 B University of Chicago Charter School, Pritzker Organization Chairman CEO – Hyatt Hotels Corp Executive Chairman
Penny Pritzker $2.3 B Noble Charter Schools, Hyatt Hotels Heir –
Larry Robbins $2 B KIPP New York, Relay Graduate School of Education, Teach for America New York, Harlem Village Academies, Harlem Children’s Zone Hedge Fund Owner -Glenview Capital Management
Julian Robertson Jr $3.6 B Robertson Foundation, Pave Charter Schools, Families for Excellent Schools, iMentor, Teach for America, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany Hedge Fund Owner – Tiger Management Corporation
Stacy Schusterman $3.4 B Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Charter School Growth Fund, Ed Voice, Stand for Children, Teach for America Samson Investment Company (oil & gas)
Charles Schwab $5.4 B Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, Teach for America, Aspire, KIPP Foundation, Charles Schwab Corp Founder
Paul Singer $2.2 B Paul Singer Family Foundation, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany Elliott Management Corporation Founder Owner – distressed debt acquisitions
Christy Walton $5.2 B Walton Foundation, Major Dark Money Donor Wal-Mart Co-Owner Heir-Widow of John-who was son Of Founder Sam Walton
Jim Walton $33.6 B Walton Foundation, Major Dark Money Donor Wal-Mart Co-Owner Heir – Youngest Son Of Founder Sam Walton
Alice Walton $32.3 B Walton Foundation, Major Dark Money Donor Wal-Mart Co-Owner Heir – Daughter of Founder Sam Walton
Carrie Walton Penner (S Robson) Walton $31.9 B Walton Foundation, Major Dark Money Donor Wal-Mart Co-Owner Heir – Son Of Founder Sam Walton
Sam Zell $4.8 B Zell Family Foundation, Teach for America Equity Group Investments Chairman -real estate – private equity
Mark Zuckerberg $44.6 B Zuckerberg Foundation, Newark Project Facebook Chairman CEO