Let’s Make History by Ann Cronin

Efforts to improve K-12 education over the past 30 years have produced a bipartisan mess. In the excerpt below, Diane Ravitch describes how Democrats have contributed in substantive ways to that mess.

“Listening to their cries of outrage, one might imagine that Democrats were America’s undisputed champions of public education. But the resistance to DeVos obscured an inconvenient truth: Democrats have been promoting a conservative “school reform” agenda for the past three decades. Some did it because they fell for the myths of “accountability” and “choice” as magic bullets for better schools. Some did it because “choice” has centrist appeal. Others sold out public schools for campaign contributions from the charter industry and its Wall Street patrons. Whatever the motivations, the upshot is clear: The Democratic Part lost its way on public education. In a very real sense, Democrats paved the way for DeVos and her plans to privatize the school system.

Thirty years ago, there was a sharp difference between Republicans and Democrats on education. Republicans wanted choice, testing, and accountability. Democrats wanted equitable funding for needy districts, and highly trained teachers. But in 1989, with Democrats reeling from three straight presidential losses, the lines began to blur. That year, when President George H.W. Bush convened an education summit of the nation’s governors, it was a little-known Arkansas Democrat named Bill Clinton who drafted a bipartisan set of national goals for the year 2000 (“first in the world” in mathematics, for starters). The ambitious benchmarks would be realized by creating, for the first time, national achievement standards and tests. Clinton ran on the issue, defeated Bush, and passed Goals 2000, which provided grants to states that implemented their own achievement metrics.

The Democrats had dipped a toe in “school reform.” Before long, they were completely immersed. After George W. Bush made the “Texas miracle” of improved schools a launching pad for the presidency, many Democrats swallowed his bogus claim that testing students every year had produced amazing results. In 2001, Ted Kennedy, the Senate’s liberal lion, teamed with Bush to pass No Child Left Behind. For the first time, the government was mandating not only “accountability” (code for punishing teachers and schools who fall short), but also “choice” (code for handing low-performing public schools over to charter operators).

When Barack Obama took office in 2009, educators hoped he would return the party to its public school roots. By then, even Bill Clinton was calling No Child Left Behind a “train wreck.” Instead, Obama and Arne Duncan doubled down on testing, accountability, and choice. Their Race to the Top program was, in essence, No Child Left Behind II: It invited states to compete for $5 billion in funds by holding teachers accountable for test scores, adopting national standards, opening more charter schools, and closing low-scoring public schools.

The Obama years saw an epidemic of new charters, testing, school closings, and teacher firings. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 50 public schools in one day. Democratic charter advocates have increasingly imported “school choice” into the party’s rhetoric. Cory Booker likes to equate “choice” with “freedom”—even though the entire idea of “choice” was created by white Southerners who were scrambling to defend segregated schools after Brown v. Board of Education.

It’s fitting that Trump and DeVos rely on the same language to tout their vision of reform. They’re essentially taking Obama’s formula one step further: expanding “choice” to include vouchers, so parents can use public funding to pay for private and religious schools. Democrats are up in arms about the privatization scheme, as they should be: It’s a disaster for public schools. But if they’re serious about being the party that treats public education as a cornerstone of democracy, they need to do more than grandstand about the consequences they helped bring about. They need to follow the money—their own campaign money, that is.

As Democrats learned years ago, support for mandatory testing and charter schools opens fat wallets on Wall Street. Money guys love deregulation, testing and Big Data, and union-busting. In 2005, Obama served as the featured speaker at the inaugural gathering of Democrats for Education Reform, which bundles contributions to Democrats who back charter schools.

The money had its intended effect. When Andrew Cuomo decided to run for governor of New York, he learned that the way to raise cash was to go through the hedge funders at Democrats for Education Reform. They backed him lavishly, and Cuomo repaid them by becoming a hero of the charter movement. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, often celebrated for his unvarnished liberalism, is another champion of the charter industry; some of its biggest funders live in his state.

There are plenty of reasons that Democrats should steer clear of the charter industry. Charter corporations have been repeatedly charged with fraud, nepotism, self-dealing, and conflicts of interest. Many charters make money on complex real-estate deals.

But it’s more than a matter of sleeping with the enemy. School choice doesn’t work, and “evidence-based” Democrats ought to acknowledge it. Charter schools are a failed experiment. Study after study has shown that they do not get better test scores than public schools unless they screen out English-language learners and students with profound disabilities. It’s well-established that school choice increases segregation, rather than giving low-income students better opportunities. And kids using vouchers actually lose ground in private schools. Support for charters is paving the way for a dual school system—one that is allowed to choose the students it wants, and another that is required to accept all who enroll.

This is what Democrats should be yelling about. And if there’s ever a moment for them to reclaim their mantle as the party of public education, it’s now. The misguided push for “reform” is currently being led not by Obama and Duncan, but by Trump and DeVos, giving Democrats an opening to shift their agenda on education.

The agenda isn’t complicated. Fight privatization of all kinds. Insist on an evidence-based debate about charter schools and vouchers. Abandon the obsession with testing. Fight for equitable funding, with public money flowing to the neediest schools. Acknowledge the importance of well-educated, professional teachers in every classroom. Follow the example of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed a bill to expand charters in March. Or Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who insists that charters employ certified teachers, allow them to unionize, and fall under the control of local school districts. Democrats should take their cue from Bullock when he declares, ‘I continue to firmly believe that our public education system is the great equalizer.’ There is already an education agenda that is good for children, good for educators, good for the nation, and good for the Democratic Party. It’s called good public schools for everyone. All Democrats have to do is to rediscover it.”

So what does that mean for us in Connecticut? 

There are two immediate actions we need to take: 

1.             We have to recognize that our political establishment has failed us. Our Democratic governor sold out for the money provided to him by the charter school industry. The Connecticut State Department of Education endorsed student and school accountability measured by the lowest level of intellectual endeavors: standardized tests. The Connecticut State Board of Education permitted profiteers in the form of the totally inadequate Relay Graduate School of Education to certify teachers for our neediest schools. Recognizing the vacuum of political leadership in K-12 education, we must search for and insist upon new political leadership – both from currently serving Democratic politicians and newcomers to politics. 

2.     We must use the innovative leadership we already have in our Connecticut schools. Three experiences I had just this week showed that leadership. First, I listened to students in a Hartford high school address an adult and student audience about their projects, such as starting and running a successful business, designing a mural to encompass major elements of African Americans history in this country, making music the center of their lives by creating and performing in a band, and making a documentary about a previously unrecognized medical researcher in order to give fellow students a sense of their own possibilities to achieve and change the world. Secondly, I listened to high school students in New Haven describe their social justice projects to political and business leaders. The students each identified a societal problem, such as the Syrian refugee crisis or the lack of equitable funding of public schools in this country, researched it thoroughly, analyzed causes and possible solutions, and proposed a way to remedy the problem. Thirdly, I was inspired by a suburban middle school principal who described the school’s assessment practices. Teachers do not grade students on a one-time snapshot of their performance but rather work with the students to keep them engaged in rethinking, revising, trying again and again until the students do achieve the goals that the faculty has identified for them. 

We have the educational leadership we need for the schools in Connecticut. We just need to tap into it. Our politicians must honor the expertise of the educators who put together these three programs as well as other talented educators across the state. Then, we will move forward. 

Let’s do it. Let’s make history. 

 

Teacher Evaluation: Let’s Get It Right (By Ann Cronin)

First published on her blog and in the CT Mirror, Connecticut educator Ann Cronin writes:

An editorial in The Hartford Courant (April, 23, 2017) entitled “ Back to Squishy Teacher Evals” argued for using the scores of students’ standardized tests to evaluate teachers. It seems so neat and tidy. Teachers produce a product (a test score). We take a look at the product. We then judge if the teacher is competent or not, based on that product. If only it were that simple. But it’s not.

Factors, other than who the teacher is, affect a student’s standardized test score, such as:

  • Elements of the school – class size, curriculum, instructional time, availability of specialists and tutors, resources for learning (books, computers, science labs, etc.)
  • Home and community supports and challenges
  • Individual student needs and abilities, health, and attendance
  • Peer culture
  • Prior teachers and schooling as well as other current teachers

The truth is that many factors create that product of a student test score, and those very factors make using test scores to evaluate teachers impossible. Teachers who are rated as competent could easily be rated the next year as incompetent, depending on the students he or she is teaching.

In fact, a study examining data from five school districts found that many teachers who scored at the bottom one year moved to the top of the rankings the next year, and many  who scored at the top similarly moved to other parts of the distribution the following year. The rankings of the teachers did not remain stable over time because each school year brought them a new batch of students with differing combinations of factors.

When I was a high school English teacher, I taught two sections of the same American literature course for college-bound students, and even with the same teacher, the same school, the same curriculum, the same books, the same ability level of the students, there never once was an essay that I assigned in which students in one section of the course received exactly the same grade distribution as students in the other section. The students’ performance was a result of more than what they received from me.

In addition to student test scores not being solely the product of a single teacher, the test itself is not a good way to measure student performance. The editorial stated that SBAC, the standardized test Connecticut uses, has been “painstakingly designed to provide objective and uniform data about whether the students are learning their lessons”. But what lessons would those be?

The lessons of an English language arts teacher that promote literacy are lessons for students in using writing as a tool for learning, lessons in learning to write to express narrative or argumentative thinking or to explore a question, lessons in expanding and refining their thinking by revising their writing, lessons in learning to collaborate- to listen and speak to one another in order to deepen and broaden their individual thinking, lessons in learning how to question in increasingly deep and complex ways, lessons in creating meaning as they read, and lessons in exploring multiple interpretations of what they read. And none of that is on a standardized test.

If the English language arts teacher teaches lessons that match the test, that teacher is teaching test prep – not literacy.

The information gained from the standardized tests is useless, except for checking how well students perform on the lowest level of intellectual engagement, but even if the tests did provide good data, how would we evaluate all teachers on the scores of them?

Standardized tests are required in only two subjects: math and English language arts. There, however, are teachers of history, biology, chemistry, physics, art, music, physical education, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, technology, vocational arts, early childhood, special education, bilingual education as well as teachers who are specialists and guidance counselors and teachers who do not teach in the grades being tested. Do we evaluate all those teachers by the school’s English and math scores or do we develop a standardized test in each discipline and mandate that students spend their whole springtime taking standardized tests?

All of this is not to say that the current teacher evaluation system is effective in developing beginning teachers, making good teachers better ones, and holding everyone, both teachers and administrators, accountable. It isn’t. I have evaluated teachers for 22 years and can attest to that.

But there is a three-step program that would work. It is not as expensive as standardized tests and has a track record for creating effective teachers, and, best of all, serves the students. First would be to establish standards for teachers, based on the best practice for each specific academic discipline and stage of child and adolescent development. So there would be standards for teaching early childhood, standards for teaching English language arts, standards for teaching math, science, music etc. Second would be the requirement that all teachers must be involved in professional development in those standards pertinent to their teaching. And thirdly, administrators must participate in the professional development in the areas for which they supervise teachers. Best practice for early childhood educators, best practice for English language arts teachers, best practice for teachers of all disciplines then becomes what is required of all teachers and becomes the means of accountability.

What would be gained?

The students would become meaningfully engaged in their learning. The teachers would be empowered to do what gives them satisfaction: teaching well. And administrators would have the means for moving their school or department forward.

When teachers and administrators are engaged in conversations about best practices and best pedagogy, teacher evaluation is not squishy. It is tight. It is meaningful. It creates life in the classroom and the school.

Best of all, it gives students what they came to school for: an education.

You can read and comment on Ann Conin”s piece at: https://reallearningct.com/2017/04/29/teacher-evaluation-lets-get-it-right/

 

Public Schools: Who Is Failing Whom?  A MUST READ by Ann P Cronin

Education advocate and fellow education blogger, Ann Cronin, has written another powerful piece, this time asking who is failing whom when it comes to the nation’s public schools.

Ann Cronin writes;

If the same words are repeated over and over again, they begin to begin to be taken as true. “Failing public schools” are such words. I see them written and hear them spoken by legislators, journalists, and commentators who probably have not been in a public school in decades since they attended one or never because they were educated in private schools.

Looking at who is taking Advanced Placement courses and how those students are faring is one of many ways to bring the term “failing public schools” into question. The number of high school students taking Advanced Placement exams increased in 2016, and more of the test takers were from low-income families, according to the College Board’s annual report on the Advanced Placement program. More than 1.1 million high school students took at least one Advanced Placement course during high school, 25,000 more than in 2015. That means that of the 3.1 million students who graduated from high school in 2016, more than 20% of them earned a score of 3 or better on an AP exam. Scoring a 3 allowed them to gain college credit at most colleges and universities.

The increase in the number of test-takers from low-income families continues a trend. In 2003, just over 94,000 students from low-income families took an AP exam; whereas, in 2016, 554,500 students from low-income families took at least one AP exam. Those who believe public schools are failing probably think that increasing the number of test-takers, especially low-income students from urban schools, would lower the overall performance on the AP tests. Not so. The average scores on all AP exams have held steady. In fact, the average score was actually higher in 2016 than in 2003 when far fewer students took AP exams. As Nat Malkus of the American Enterprise Institute said recently, “The fact that 1 in 5 public school graduates passed an AP exam in 2016 pushes back against the ‘public schools are failing’ narrative.”

So, the public schools in urban areas, where the increased population of test-takers is coming from, are doing good work in challenging students to learn. The students have performed well on AP exams and gained college credits for their efforts.

But what are those in power doing to foster that positive growth?

Nothing.

Those in power are working hard to end that trend.

Low-income students are in danger of not being able to take AP exams and gain college credits because they cannot afford the cost of taking AP exams now in 2017 and in the future.  A federal grant program that subsidized AP exams for low income students has ended. It was replaced in the Every Student Succeeds Act by a block grant program in which the funds given to states do not have to be used to subsidize the cost of taking AP exams in the future, and the grants are not available at all for this 2016-2017 school year.

This creates a problem for cities like Worcester, Massachusetts. Under the leadership of Maureen Binienda, the Superintendent of Schools, high school students have  been encouraged to challenge themselves by taking AP courses. She said that emphasizing rigorous academic course offerings has changed the culture of the city’s high schools. Last year, low-income Worcester students, utilizing the federal subsidy, took 1, 919 AP exams. The fee for taking an AP exam is $93.oo; with the subsidy, students paid $15.00 per exam. This year, with no federal subsidy, low-income students will be required to pay the College Board reduced fee of $53. That College Board discounted price is still too expensive for many families in Worcester. Ms. Binienda appealed to the state legislature for funds, but the legislators could not help and suggested she try local businesses.

Appealing to private citizens and businesses is exactly what the state of Washington did. Washington state officials became concerned that low-income students, due to the removal of federal subsidies, will not be able to take AP exams so they set up an emergency fund to raise $800,000. That fund would allow low-income students to keep paying $15 per test. Microsoft, Boeing, the Shultz Family Foundations, other corporations, individuals, and nonprofits contributed to the emergency fund. The state legislature appropriated $75, 000. The result was that more than the $800,000 was raised, and low income students will take their 2017 AP exams for free.

In Connecticut, the state is picking up the costs for this one year only to provide subsidies for all of the low income students taking AP exams but with no promise of future funding by the state.

So there we have it. One state is fully funding the subsidies. In another state, private citizens and corporations are providing the subsidies. And in a third state, low-income students currently have no funding to take AP exams and earn college credits.

That is the wave of the future. Each state for itself.  Each state will decide for itself who gets access to college credits through AP courses. Each state will decide for itself what students receive services for special needs. Each state will decide for itself about providing vouchers for segregated schools. We have a Secretary of Education who said at her confirmation hearing that she does not support equal accountability for all schools. We have a President who said that a model school, one that is worthy of taxpayer support through vouchers, is one in which the students pledge allegiance to the Bible. We have a bill proposed in Congress (HR610) which will give block grants to the states to use as each state wishes rather than for specified and uniform standards for special education, integration, or equal access to challenging courses and qualifying exams for college credits. In fact, the grants, according to HR610, do not have to be used from public education at all and will provide taxpayer money for vouchers to totally unaccountable private schools. Shame on us.

It is not the schools that are failing our children. It is the adults with political power who are failing our schools.

You can read Ann Cronin’s commentary piece and her other posts at: https://reallearningct.com/2017/03/09/public-schools-who-is-failing-whom/

Closing Connecticut’s Real Achievement Gap (By Ann Cronin)

So what is the answer to closing Connecticut’s Achievement Gap?  Educator, education advocate and fellow education blogger Ann Cronin lays out the real solutions for Connecticut’s schools in her latest article. You can read and comment on Ann Cronin’s article at: https://reallearningct.com/2016/09/15/closing-connecticuts-real-achievement-gap/

Ann Cronin writes;

There‘s a lot of talk in Connecticut about closing the achievement gap between affluent students who are predominately white and poor students who are predominately black or brown, but there have been no effective actions taken and none are on the horizon. Instead, Connecticut gave up its own well-founded state standards and adopted the narrow and inadequate Common Core Standards, called them rigorous which they are not, and gave students standardized tests to measure their achievement of those quite limited standards. Then Connecticut waited for the test scores to see if the impoverished would catch up to the affluent. They haven’t and they won’t.

The poorer the students, the lower the test scores. Standardized test scores, always and ever, are correlated with the family income of the test takers so it makes no sense to address the achievement gap by analyzing standardized test scores. The achievement gap that makes sense to address is the gap between those who succeed in their academic goals and those who do not, between those who graduate from college and those who do not.

That gap is a staggering one. For students who attended Connecticut public high schools and began college, the graduation rate is: 24.4% for black, 21.4% for Hispanic and 53.8% for white college students. Similarly, only 19% of Connecticut’s economically disadvantaged students who attend college earn a college degree as compared to 54.2% of their more advantaged peers.

Colleges and universities across the country have recognized this achievement gap in which the rich are sure to graduate and the poor are not.Nationally, 90% of college freshman born into families in the top income quartile graduate while only 25% of those born into the bottom half of the income distribution graduate. 

Colleges and universities are taking effective steps to solve the achievement gap among their students, but  Connecticut is not taking any effective steps to close the K-12 achievement gap. Colleges and universities are successful because they ask a question much different from the question that Connecticut is asking. The Connecticut question is: How can we reduce the gap in standardized test scores? The question that the colleges and universities are asking is: What can we do to improve student achievement?

As in so many things, asking the right question is the secret to success

Research psychologists at Stanford University headed higher education in the right direction in answering the college and university question. They had for years been exploring the premise that students are often blocked from living up to their potential because of their fears about not belonging in college and their doubts about their ability. They found that lack of achievement is often rooted in students’ feelings of not belonging to what they see as a community of achievers and considering themselves less academically able than others.

In one of the Stanford University studies, researchers provided students at an elite Northeastern college with a message about belonging. They informed them that everyone at their college feels overwhelmed and not smart enough and asked them to react in writing to that idea. This exercise had no apparent effect on the white students who took part in the experiment. But it had a transformative effect on the college careers of the African-American students in the study. The experiment tripled the percentage of black students who earned G.P.A.s in the top quarter of their class and cut in half the black-white achievement gap in G.P.A.

This study was replicated at a private Midwestern university with students who were the first in their family to attend college. The result was that the achievement gap between students who were the first in their family to attend college and the students whose parents had attended college was reduced by 63%.

In another Stanford University study, 288 community-college students enrolled in developmental math were randomly assigned, at the beginning of the semester, to read one of two articles. The control group read a generic article about the brain. The treatment group read an article that laid out scientific evidence against the theory of a fixed intelligence that cannot grow and change. At semester’s end, 20% of the students in the control group had dropped out of developmental math and, therefore, out of college, compared with just 9% of the treatment group. This intervention cut the community-college math dropout rate by more than half.

At the University of Texas at Austin, a chemistry professor, David Laude,worked with the same hypothesis as the Stamford researchers. He identified 50 students who had lower SAT scores, were economically disadvantaged, and the first in their families to attend college. He taught them the exact same curriculum and gave them the exact same tests as the 400 students in his other class. The difference was that he involved the fifty students in a program which gave them both a sense of belonging to a group of achievers and strategies for developing themselves as learners. The result was that this group of disadvantaged students, who were 200 points lower on the SAT than students in Laude’s larger section, had exactly the same grade distribution as the students in the larger section. The impact went beyond that chemistry class. This group  of 50 students who, statistically, were on track to fail, returned for their sophomore year at rates above average for the university as a whole and three years later had graduation rates that were above the university average.

Laude has now been appointed senior vice provost, charged with improving the four-year graduation rate. He instituted a program, based on the same premises as his chemistry program, for 500 students who are low income, first members in their family to attend college, have lower SAT scores, and a graduation rate of 20%. These 500 students are given $5000 a year scholarships for which they are required to be in leadership positions on campus, participate in campus internships, and attend weekly lectures on developing strategies for learning. Through these activities, students gain a sense of themselves as part of the community of achievers and learn how to learn.

Also at the University of Texas at Austin, David Yeager, a psychology professor and former Stanford researcher, has been commissioned to address the dropout rate among poorer students with lower SAT’s and the first in their family to go to college. As part of freshman orientation, he asked students to read articles that address their sense of belonging in an academically challenging environment and that discuss the brain as malleable and able to grow and change its capability with effort. With this simple intervention, the University of Texas cut in half the achievement gap between advantaged freshmen and freshmen who are black, Latino, first-generation, and/or poor.

Many colleges and universities are instituting programs to address the particular learning needs of students who are poor and first in their family to attend college. Brown hosted the first Inter-Ivy First Generation Student Network Conference in 2012, drawing students from across the country. Harvard, Duke, Georgetown, Brown and Yale are involved in a multi-year study in which they interview first generation students from low income families (usually an income under $40,00 year) to ascertain their needs. These programs for first generation college students seek to give students  both a sense of belonging and strategies for learning.

What can we in Connecticut learn from higher education? How can we close the real achievement gap? How can we close the gap between our children who become well-educated and accomplished human beings and our children who become dropouts from the world of education and accomplishment?

Here is a plan:

First: End high stakes standardized tests. With standardized tests, test prep becomes the curriculum, and all students – black, brown, white, poor, and affluent –  are deprived of real learning. Standardized tests deprive the poor, the black, and the brown of a fair chance. Standardized tests hurt all children.

Second: Ask educators to design performance assessments which demonstrate what students can do, how they can think, how they learn, and what they can create in each discipline.

Third: Require each school district to create a curriculum which teaches students strategies for learning in a developmental progression from K-12.

Fourth: Hold all of us – teachers, school administrators, school boards, teachers unions, the Connecticut State Department of Education, the Connecticut State Board of Education, legislators, the governor – to the same standard. That standard is: What are you doing to bring all he students for whom you are responsible into the community of achievers?

Then, and only then, will Connecticut close its achievement gap.

Foul shots in the classroom: A Fable (By Ann Policelli Cronin)

As we celebrate UCONN’S [Remember it is not UConn] double national championships, it seems particularly appropriate to look back on a great commentary piece written by fellow columnist and pro-education advocate, Ann Policelli Cronin.  Here piece entitle, “Foul shots in the Classroom:  A Fable” first appeared in the CT Mirror.

Ann Policelli Cronin writes,

Imagine…

The NCAA Basketball Championship is based solely on free-throw shooting. Team practices are spent doing repetitive exercises of shooting from the foul line. All college players take the same free-throw shooting test. Their scores determine the excellence of the team, expertise of the coach and quality of the school. The team with the highest score becomes the national champion.

As a result of this new competition, the game of basketball is lost. The game, in which quick thinking, collaborative efforts and a whole array of athletic abilities are integral to the success of a team, is not played. The players begin to forget what it was to play 40 minutes of basketball. The coaches stop thinking about ways to develop talents of individual players and stop strategizing about how to make the team as a whole more successful. The fans forget about that long-ago game of basketball and enthusiastically cheer for their favorite foul shooters and compare them to foul shooters on other teams and in other countries.

Critics say that free-throw shooting is a simple skill and won’t prepare the college players for the basketball played in the NBA or WNBA. They also say that free-throw testing was chosen to replace playing games because the NCAA commissioned people in the test-making business to make that decision.

Common Core emphasizes authentic comprehension. In the past, students could depend on memorization to pass an upcoming test, then forget the procedures afterwards; yet they’d need to relearn the material in the following years.

Legislators will get to hear feedback on the rollout of the Common Core Curriculum Wednesday during a public hearing at the state Capitol complex. The noon event is the result of a move by Republican minority legislators to force the reluctant leaders of the Education Committee to hold a hearing on the bill that would put implementation of the state’s new academic standards on hold.

If this scenario were real, there would be quite an outcry…

But something scarier is happening in public school classrooms due to the Common Core State Standards. At stake there is not the game of basketball, but the development of students as thoughtful, engaged readers and effective writers. The Common Core requires the teaching of 200 narrow skills each year. Such skills will never foster students’ growth as readers and writers. The Common Core keeps students on the foul line, practicing limited skills.

In high school English classes, teaching Common Core skills in preparation for the accompanying test means that students are not asked to create meaning as they read, to think divergently and innovatively, nor learn a variety of ways to express their ideas orally and in writing. Instead, learning the isolated skills of the Common Core will keep students at the rudimentary level of simply finding information as they read and writing in a prescribed formula without any personal investment or even their personal voice.

Teachers of literature in love with ideas must be quiet. Teachers whose satisfaction is helping their students grow as thinkers by immersing them in reading and writing must be quiet. They must spend time at the foul line, urging their students to sink more shots, urging them to get higher and higher scores on tests that classify and rank them compared to other test-takers.

Executives of testing companies designed the Common Core. They wrote standards with skills that are measurable on computerized tests. Those skills are far too small a definition of literacy just as free-throw shooting is far too small a definition of playing basketball. We could benefit from authentic standards, written by those who know how to teach and not measured by computerized tests. Unfortunately, the Common Core committee didn’t have one English teacher in love with ideas on it, not one coach who knows the game.

A foul shooting test will never determine the NCAA championship because of the reality facing college players: The NBA and WNBA await. That world of professional sports demands experience in playing the whole game of basketball. Similarly, the world of higher education and the global workplace await current public school students. That world demands that graduates excel in the complex thinking that a rich literacy environment teaches.

College basketball players certainly will not spend the season just practicing free-throw shooting; instead, they will work at becoming accomplished and strategic basketball players. How our children, our students, our future citizens and leaders, spend their season, their school year, however, is up for grabs. They will spend it either preparing for Common Core tests or spend it becoming thoughtful readers, effective writers and complex thinkers. They can’t have it both ways.

What will we as parents, educators and taxpayers choose for them? It is our call. The time for our voice and our action in opposition to the Common Core is now.

You can find the full commentary piece here: http://ctmirror.org/op-ed-foul-shots-in-the-classroom-a-fable/

“When we buy something, we should get what we pay for”

Ann Policelli Cronin is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education. She has taught middle and high school English, was a district-level administrator for English, taught university courses in English education, and was assistant director of the Connecticut Writing Project. She was Connecticut Outstanding English Teacher of the Year and has received national awards for middle and high school curricula she designed and implemented.

In a powerful commentary piece posted on the CT Mirror website and entitled, “When we buy something, we should get what we pay for,” Ann Cronin begins by laying out the harsh reality that faces our public schools.  She writes,

We, as U.S. taxpayers, spent $350 million for standardized tests to assess if students are mastering Common Core standards, and we are spending millions more at the state level to implement that testing. What we have been asked to buy is that teaching those standards and assessing them will make our students “college and career ready.”

But who knows? We need a warranty so we can return the standards and tests and get a new education for our children if they don’t work.

“Readiness for college and careers” will be measured by standardized tests given in Grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11. As a parent, good standardized test scores were not what I asked of my children’s public schools. Instead, I asked that their teachers tap into my children’s love of learning, motivate them to want to learn more, and help them to grow in both their knowledge and their skills in building their own knowledge.

Cronin adds,

Standardized tests give a very limited picture of a student, limited by the goals of the test-makers. What seems much more important, even in terms of college and careers, is that children enjoy a stimulating and challenging year in school and have ideas and skills in June they didn’t have in September, rather than receive a high score on a standardized test.

This standardized test of “college and career readiness” is particularly inappropriate and unreliable because not one teacher was involved in setting the learning goals. Of the 29 writers of those goals, called Common Core standards, 27 were employees of testing companies. People who know how to test but not how to teach decided exactly what our children need to be “ready” for and how they demonstrate that “readiness” each year, kindergarten through high school.

And Cronin concludes with,

But we in Connecticut are still buying the idea that learning can be measured by standardized tests. The cost is high – not just in money but also in the education our children are not receiving. As Carol Burris, an award-winning high school principal who first supported the Common Core but changed her mind after a year of implementation and testing in New York, said:

Eventually all of it will fail. But your child will not get another chance to be a third grader. We are on our way with the Common Core to creating a generation of students who will despise school before they get to college, ready or not. Our country and our children deserve better. (The Washington Post, April 7, 2013)

There is no warranty for the Common Core and its testing. Let’s look the governor, the commissioner of education and the State Board of Education in the eye and say: No Sale.

This MUST READ article can be found in its entirety at: http://ctmirror.org/op-ed-buyers-beware-of-common-core/