Betsy DeVos — A clear and present danger by Ann Policelli Cronin

First published in CT Mirror, educator and advocate Ann Policelli Cronin highlights what she learned  from watching three hours of the Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education:

Ann Conin writes;

  • Betsy DeVos demonstrated a lack of any understanding about student assessment.
  • Betsy DeVos said that permitting guns in schools is a decision that should be left up to individual schools.
  • Betsy DeVos did not commit to preschool for all children.
  • Betsy DeVos said that educating children with special needs and disabilities is up to individual schools and districts, and she did not commit to upholding existing federal mandates regarding the education of children with special needs and children with disabilities.
  • Betsy DeVos said that she does not support equal accountability for all schools that receive taxpayer funds. Charter schools, funded with taxes, will not have the same accountability and transparency as traditional public schools.
  • Betsy DeVos said that charter schools, funded with public taxes, do not have to adhere to the same policies as traditional public schools in regard to regulations about student bullying and student suspensions.
  • Betsy DeVos did not commit to the enforcement of existing federal laws addressing waste, fraud, and abuse in for-profit colleges.
  • Betsy DeVos did not commit to the enforcement of existing federal laws which address sexual assault on college campuses.
  • Betsy DeVos will take money from traditional public schools to privatize public education.
  • Betsy DeVos, although questioned directly about the civil rights of LGBT students, gave no statement in direct support of LGBT students.
  • Lamar Alexander, the chair of the committee, did not allow appropriate questioning of Betsy DeVos. He did not honor the requests of his senate colleagues for more time for additional questions. There is precedent for that courtesy being extended to senate colleagues who request additional time for questions.

What I didn’t learn from what was said at the three hours of testimony, but could tell from the obsequiousness of the Republican senators and the lack of questioning of Betsy DeVos permitted by the chairman:

According to Education Week, Betsy DeVos and her family have given nearly $1 million directly to 21 Republican senators over past election cycles. In addition, the analysis found 10 senators on the Senate education committee have received donations from a political action committee controlled by the DeVos family, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, the chair of the committee.

Where do we go from here?

  1. Recognize that what Bernie Sanders has pointed out about our political system as a whole is true about education in particular as well: We are an oligarchy. Money talks. Money wins. Citizens lose. Children lose.
  1. That oligarchy in education is not new. It has existed during the past two presidencies with the privatization of public education through the taxpayer funding of charter schools, the dominance of the standardized testing industry, and education standards determined by the man with the most money, but that oligarchy was hidden under the misnomer of “education reform.” Education was not reformed. All that happened is that the very rich gained control of the agenda for education and the aspiring-to-be-rich-through-privatizing-a-public-institution became rich. But now the oligarchy is crystal clear. Now the danger to our republic is clear. Now the danger to our kids is right before us.
  1. Be grateful for the clarity.
  1. Fight like crazy.

You can read and comment at Cronin’s original post on the CT Mirror at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/01/19/betsy-devos-a-clear-and-present-danger/

 

When you ask the wrong questions, you can’t possibly get the right answers. (By Ann P. Cronin)

The Mastery Examination Task Force, whose report about student assessment in our public schools is due to come out soon, has asked all the wrong questions. We, therefore, can’t have any confidence in the findings of the Task Force.

Questions that the Task Force never asked are:

  • Are the tests that we now use, the SBAC and the SAT, reliable, valid, and fair?
  • What kind of learning do we want to measure and why?
  • How can we assess students so that the assessment itself is a learning experience for them?

The first question is a meat-and-potatoes no brainer. If the SBAC and the SAT lack reliability, validity, or fairness, we shouldn’t keep spending time and money on junk.

The second and third questions tell us about the quality of the education we are giving to our students here in Connecticut.

A fourth question is: Why didn’t the Mastery Examination Task Force ask Questions 1, 2, and 3?

For an answer to that question, see Mastery exam task force report due soon — its findings ‘predetermined’ by John Bestor, written by veteran Connecticut educator, Jack Bestor, and first published in CT Mirror where it can also be read at . http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/01/04/mastery-exam-task-force-report-due-soon-its-findings-predetermined/

You can read Ann Cronin’s blog at: https://reallearningct.com/

Relay Is A Very Bad Joke-One That Hurts Kids  (By Ann Cronin)

Writing on her blog, Real Learning CT, educator, education advocate and education blogger Ann Cronin explains;

The Relay Graduate School of Education recently applied to be a graduate school of education in Pennsylvania, California, and Connecticut. That application was denied in Pennsylvania and California. That application was approved in Connecticut.

What is the Relay Graduate School of Education? Daniel Katz, Director of Secondary Education and Secondary Special Education Teacher Preparation at Seton Hall University sums it up like this:

It is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First… Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.

Pennsylvania and California made worthy decisions  in rejecting the Relay Graduate School of Education. So how did it get approved in Connecticut?

On November 2, 2016, the Connecticut State Board of Education held a hearing to listen to testimony about whether Relay should be approved or not. More than 30 people testified. The overwhelming majority of those who testified strongly recommended denying Relay’s application. Some cited research about Relay and its ineffectiveness and its lack of quality . Some cited their own experience as teacher educators. Some cited their experiences in being trained as teachers. Some cited ways to bring people of color into the teaching profession in Connecticut without lowering standards and expectations for them. Only those already enrolled in or employed by Relay and two paid advocates forConnecticut charter schools spoke in favor of approving Relay.

Astoundingly, within minutes after the hearing, the Connecticut State Board of Education approved Relay as a valid program for certifying teachers in Connecticut.

The political fix was in.

Connecticut children, particularly those most in need of a good education lost. Again.

Below is my statement at that hearing:

Testimony to the Connecticut State Board of Education on November 2, 2016

My name is Ann Policelli Cronin. I have been recognized as Connecticut’s Distinguished English Teacher of the Year. I have been a district level administrator responsible for English education for 23 years and in that role have supervised and evaluated hundreds of teachers and both created and implemented innovative, state-of-the-art programs, which have won national awards for excellence. I have taught graduate level teacher education courses for 10 years. And, most recently, I have been a consultant in inner city schools identified as “failing schools”. I also recently was an advisor to a Connecticut university seeking accreditation for its teacher preparation program.

Therefore, I know what good teaching is. I know how to prepare prospective teachers to be good teachers and how to help in-service teachers to grow and develop. And I know what kind of accreditation is necessary for a teacher preparation program.

Based on that deep and broad experience as an educator, I can tell you that the Relay Graduate School of Education is a totally inadequate teacher education program.

It offers its students the mentoring of “amazing teachers” instead of academic course work. In fact, the spokespersons for Relay shun the academic work of established teacher preparation programs. I have been and, in fact, still am one of those “amazing teachers”. I have mentored teachers and taught them my skills. There are teachers around the state who could tell you how they benefited from that mentoring. But mentoring is absolutely, definitely not enough.

Teaching is complex. Teachers need more than a “how”; they need a ”why”. Brain surgeons in training certainly benefit greatly by doing their surgical rotation with expert surgeons, but when they are on their own as licensed surgeons, they must have a depth of knowledge to deal with all of the possible complexities that could occur in any surgery. So too with teaching.

Prospective English teachers need to know how cognition and intellectual engagement develop in children and adolescents because it is that understanding that dictates curriculum. They need to know the research from the past 45 years regarding the teaching of writing because, without that knowledge, they will not be able to teach their students to become effective writers. They need to know literary theory because it is that theory that dictates all pedagogy for the teaching of reading and the teaching of literature. They need to know the grammar and conventions of our language and what research says about effective ways to teach that grammar and those conventions to students. They need to know the research about learning being a social endeavor and know how to create the kind of classroom that incorporates that research, the kind of classroom that is a true community of readers, writers, and thinkers. For all of that, a teacher education program requires academic course work. Mentoring is not enough.

The accreditation process has standards to insure that graduates of teacher preparation programs have a deep knowledge of their field and a deep knowledge of child and adolescent growth and development. To be accredited, a teacher education program must also require its prospective teachers to have specified experiences of being mentored by amazing teachers. All prospective teachers need both academic course work and mentoring. Relay denies its students an essential element of teacher preparation, the element that is the foundation of all else.

Relay has been promoted both as a way to bring people of color into the teaching profession and as a fast track to let the teachers of the children of color become certified or earn Master’s degrees. How demeaning is that claim! Demeaning to both the adults of color and the children of color. Prospective teachers of color are capable of the same academic challenges as their white counterparts in accredited teacher preparation programs. And children of color in our cities, whom these teachers in the Relay program are being trained to serve, are entitled to the same appropriately trained teachers as their counterparts in the affluent suburbs.

To permit Relay to prepare teachers in Connecticut is to perpetuate the same gap between the haves and the have-nots in Connecticut that we already have. It is racist and classist. We, as state, cannot endorse that. We must give our children better care. If not us, who? If not you as the State Board of Education, who?

You can read and comment on Ann Cronin’s article at: https://reallearningct.com/2016/11/05/relay-is-a-very-bad-joke-one-that-hurts-kids/

REQUIRING THE SAT GETS CONNECTICUT LESS THAN NOTHING (By Ann Cronin)

Repost from Ann Cronin’s blog…

Big News! It was on the front page of the The Hartford Courant, reported on in all the other state newspapers, and featured on the Connecticut State Department of Education website:

Nearly 66% of 11th graders met the state standards for English and 40% met the state standards for math on the 2016 SAT.

And what does that tell us about what Connecticut has gained from fully funding the SAT for all high school juniors?

Absolutely nothing.

It was a waste of taxpayer money.

First of all, it doesn’t tell us anything about who is ready for college. The SAT is based on the Common Core Standards, which Connecticut has taken as its own. The Common Core Standards lack validity and reliability. Common Core Standards were written, without input from educators at the K-12 or college level, by employees of testing companies and companies that analyze standardized test data. They were never field-tested to see if being successful with those standards makes for achievement in college. So we don’t know if we should be happy if students score well because it could be that they succeeded at something that is innocuous at best and inferior education at worst.

We do know that getting a high score on the SAT gives us no information about the students’ ability to ask their own questions, make their own connections, and construct their own meaning as they read, or express their own ideas as they write in a personal voice because the Common Core rejects those skills. And we do know that those are skills needed for college. Therefore, SAT scores don’t tell us if students will be successful in college.

Secondly, this SAT does not allow for comparisons because it is a new test. Scores cannot be compared to the SAT of past years. It has different content and a different way of being scored than past tests. Also, the student population taking the SAT has changed. Previously, 82% of high school juniors took the SAT; in 2016, with the new requirement,  94 % took the test. So with different content, scoring, and test-taking populations, no conclusions about student improvement or decline can be made.

Thirdly, some may say we need the SAT to ascertain how Connecticut is doing as compared to other states, but we have the National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered the Nation’s Report Card, that gives state-by-state reports. NAEP tests students in reading and math and scores them, based on college readiness. There is no charge to the state or local districts. Individual scores are not reported so there is no punishments for students. Best of all, there is no class time sacrificed to prepare for the tests because, during the school year, districts do not know if they are to be tested that year.

Fourthly, the SAT is not the necessity it once was. Increasingly, high school students do not need SAT scores for their college applications. Colleges and universities are realizing the limits of standardized tests as indicators of a prospective student’s academic promise and intellectual strength. Currently, 850 colleges and universities, including 210 in the “top tier”, do not require SAT or ACT scores for admission to bachelor degree programs. The research is clear, and colleges and universities are responding to it: High school grade point average is the predictor of success in college, not standardized tests.

So why does the State of Connecticut mandate that all high school juniors take the SAT?

The only reason left is the one politicians love to herald: To close the achievement gap.

Only those who have never taught students could give that answer. Educators know that there is no way that any set of standards or any standardized test has ever or will ever overcome the damage of poverty and racism. In fact, mandating standardized tests reinforces that damage and tells many impoverished students and students of color that they do not belong in the mainstream. Standardized test scores, including the SAT, are always correlated with the income of students’ parents. With the current 2016 SAT, school districts with higher scores include the affluent towns of Darien, Simsbury, Westport, and Wilton; school districts with lower scores include the cities of Hartford, Waterbury, and Bridgeport with their high rates of poverty. And so it has ever been.

Students with parents who have the time, the energy, the money, and the benefits from their own higher education to enrich the lives of their children and support them in school will always score higher than most students whose parents do not have those advantages. How could it be otherwise?

So mandating the SAT is not even a neutral event; it actually does harm. It limits the curriculum for all students, affluent and poor, and turns the curriculum into test prep. It does added harm to those students most in need because the cost of the tests, test prep materials, and the technology to administer the tests takes financial resources away from addressing their needs propelled by poverty and racism.

There is a path forward. Connecticut must:

  1. End the Common Core test-and-punish approach. We must recognize that we are foolishly spending millions of dollars on SBAC and the SAT, and it gains nothing for us as a state. The tests reinforce Connecticut’s shame: unconscionable income inequality.
  2. End the Common Core test-and-punish approach because it denies our children a real education as learners and thinkers that they deserve.
  3. Use the money now spent on testing to invest in what has been proven to improve student achievement. It is what every teacher knows works: positive relationships with adults in schools. Educators know that having those positive relationships with adults engages students in school, inspires them to want to learn, and gives them the skills to succeed and live productive lives. According to Wendy Lecker, senior attorney at the Education Law Center in Stamford, CT, researchers have identified three ways to foster those adult/student relationships:
  • Provide developmentally appropriate preschool in which the emphasis is on play.
  • Mandate small class size in grades K-12.
  • Reduce the student caseload of guidance counselors.

Let’s put our money where we are sure we can make a difference. It’s time to stop spending money and getting nothing for it. And, worse yet, spending money and getting less than nothing by hurting our most precious resource as a state: our children.

Ann Policelli Cronin is a Connecticut educator, education advocate and education blogger.  You can read her writing at: https://reallearningct.com/

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.

Moving The Goal Post (By Ann P. Cronin)

Educator and education blogger Ann Cronin has a powerful piece on the corporate education reform industry’s fixation on measuring “student achievement.”  She takes on the education reformers’ notion that turning students into data points is the best vehicle for providing children with the comprehensive education they need to live more fulfilling lives.

You can read Ann Cronin’s great columns at http://reallearningct.com/.

In Moving The Goal Post, Cronin writes;

How do we measure student achievement?  By its standardized test scores or by something else? And what is the relationship between student achievement and the economic strength of a nation?

Arne Duncan, when he was Secretary of Education, spoke about the achievement of South Korean students, as measured by standardized tests, and advocated that the United States follow the South Korean approach to education so that our students can achieve as the South Korean students do on those standardized tests. A recent (March 15, 2016) letter to the editor inEducation Week described how the South Korean students achieve those high test scores.

Here is that letter:

South Korea’s ‘Top Performance’ Numbers Should Not Be Applauded

To the Editor:

As a student from South Korea who is now studying in the United States, I find it surprising that many people here applaud the South Korean education system. The Center on International Education Benchmarking lists South Korea as a “top performer,” and even Arne Duncan, the former U.S. secretary of education, has asked why the United States can’t be more like South Korea. As a recent Commentary argued, the United States should not blindly applaud and emulate countries that perform well on international assessments.

I want to share what South Korea’s high performance on these assessments is not telling you.

First, beyond South Korea’s impressive scores on international exams, there are unhappy, sleep-deprived, and suicidal South Korean students. South Korean students report levels of happiness that are among the lowest for youths in developed nations. High school students report sleeping an average of 5.5 hours per day in order to study. Alarmingly, slightly more than half of South Korean teenagers reported having suicidal thoughts in response to a 2014 poll conducted by the country’s Korea Health Promotion Foundation; over 40 percent of the respondents listed academic pressure and uncertainty over their futures as their greatest concern.

Second, South Korea’s high scores are a reflection of private tutoring rather than the public education system itself. About 77 percent of South Korean students participate in an average of 10 hours of private tutoring a week. This percentage is more than double the average rate of private tutoring in countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In 2013, South Korean parents paid the equivalent of $18 billion for private tutoring in order to give their children a competitive advantage.

Moreover, in the education system where high performance is all that matters, struggling students as well as students with disabilities are often neglected and left behind.

Thus, no matter how high the country ranks on international tests, our seemingly impressive test scores come at too high a price.

As a South Korean, I call on the world to see what is beyond my country’s high scores on international assessments. Until South Korea addresses its pressing educational issues, such as student well-being, reliance on private tutoring, and support for students with disabilities, the country should not be considered a model system for the United States.

April B. Choi
Cambridge, Mass.

I would bet that most of us are not willing to pay the price that the South Koreans are paying for their children to get high scores on standardized tests.

The good news for the United States, which never scored at the top of the pack in the 50 years there have been international standardized tests, is that standardized are not important. Standardized tests measure only one thing: the ability to take a standardized test. And that is a skill rapidly going out of vogue because that skill does not equip students for the world of work they will enter. The world of work in our postindustrial era demands other skills. The current time in history and the decades that stretch ahead are described in the report as the Conceptual Age. That age requires skills such as designing, making meaning, creativity, problem-solving, and developing new ideas and artifacts.

The even better news for the United States is that the kind of education that our students need and which will engage their minds and touch their souls is exactly the kind of education that will make our country economically strong in this Conceptual Age. They need to learn to question and to explore those questions. They need to learn how to learn. They need to learn how to collaborate so that they deepen and broaden their individual thinking through interaction with others. They need to learn to tell the stories of their past learning and to tell the stories of what has not yet been imagined. The need to learn to tap into their own creativity and their own passion.

Arne Duncan was wrong. John King is wrong. U.S. education policy is wrong. High standardized test scores are not a worthy goal.  We will harm the minds and deplete the souls of our precious children if we stick with emulating South Korea. We will head for economic peril as a nation if we do not create a different kind of education, one that can never, ever be measured by standardized tests.

It’s time for a change. Let’s get on it.

Readers Need Not Apply (by Ann Policelli Cronin)

Connecticut educator and fellow education blogger Ann Policelli Cronin recently posted a great article about how the “education reformers” and their Common Core and Common Core testing scheme are seeking to narrow down the role of public education.

In the name of making students “College and Career Ready,” those who seek to profit off public education see little role for concepts like literature, music, arts and the humanities.

In a piece that first appeared on her blog entitled Readers Need Not Apply, Ann Cronin writes;

In the early 1960’s, as the United States was becoming the leading economy in the world, the International Paper Company posted an ad in every edition of The Reader’s Digest which said: “Send me a man who reads”.  It always had an accompanying text which indicated that the one who reads is the one who  thinks, is the one who is productive, and is the one becomes the successful leader of the company.

I am sure that the reading referred to was not the short test prep informational articles or excerpts of full-length texts as now are read in U.S. schools.

No longer is that slogan relevant. Not only is it both women and men that we expect to be in positions of leadership, but also now reading literature is no longer a priority in our Common Core culture.

Peter Greene, a veteran teacher and education blogger at Curmudgucation, wrote the following piece, The Core vs. Content, about the substantial reduction in the reading of literature due to the Common Core. He points out well the travesty it is that the U.S. is the only nation in the world to restrict the amount of literature to be read in schools. In addition to all the sad results that he mentions, U.S. students will also not learn to question and to think in ways that only the opportunity to interpret literature offers them. Poor them. Poor us as a nation.

The Core vs. Content

By Peter Greene

Since the Core first popped its tiny head out of its crinkly shell, advocates have insisted that CCSS ELA standards, demand rich content. Meanwhile, I have become increasingly convinced that the demands for rich content and the assertions that rich content must be part of Core implementation rise up precisely because the Core actually has a giant gaping hole where rich content should be.

In other words, rich content Core-o-philes are like guys looking at an automobile with no wheels saying, “Well, obviously the makers of this car intend for us to put on wheels.” It’s not that the wheels are in evidence; it’s that their absence is an obvious fatal flaw. Or to put it another way, surely the emperor must mean for us to buy him some clothes.

But the longer the Core sticks around out in the field, the more obvious it becomes that the Core is anti-content– particularly once you throw in the Core-based standards-measuring Big Standardized Tests.

Consider this article, written by someone whose intent is to show us how the Core is perfectly swell, even as it explains that part of the swellness is how it “eases literary classics to the sidelines.

Consider some of these quotes:

“It is true that the days for ‘Moby Dick’ or ‘Great Expectations’ might be numbered, but the question that teachers have to ask themselves is ‘What is the purpose of reading this text?’” said Mark Gardner, a high school English teacher in Clarke County, Washington.

“While it may seem like sacrilege, there are many goals that can be achieved by digging deeply into a series of well-curated selections of a text rather than all of it, and then relying on teacher lecture, lessons or even Sparknotes to fill in the gaps,” Gardner said in an interview.

 As an AP English and composition teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland, Ambereen Khan-Baker has included political cartoons and shorter, more complex texts while cutting out longer novels. Using multiple texts instead of focusing on one book has allowed her to teach diverse opinions.

The article is presenting, uncritically and with a light tone of  “you old fossils need to understand the new, cool way of doing things,” the idea of trimming the classics down to a chapter or two. I’ve encountered this more than a few times– cover a couple of key chapters in depth and fill in the rest with a summary or even, I swear, sparknotes.  

Making such changes could be a positive thing if it provides students the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of literature and the skills that can be applied to reading non-fiction, according to Gardner, who said that is a key reason the classics are taught in the first place.

This is what the Core promotes and requires– reading as a conduit for transmitting certain skills to students, and because it’s teamed with the BS Tests, the skills do not include wrestling with full-length texts in any sort of depth. And apparently we can’t think of any reason that classics are classic and need to be taught. Because it’s easier to work on relevant themes and skills by folding in current YA hits.

Look, there’s a whole worthwhile (and generally unending) conversation to be had among language-teaching professionals about the canon and what should be in the canon and what makes a classic classic and why we teach anything that was written before our students were born and how we should teach it. But the Core’s contribution to that conversation is to say, “Screw content. Just teach them the skills they need for the test.”

When I write lesson plans and plug in the standards, it makes absolutely no difference what actual content I’m teaching– the standards are completely divorced from content and I can recycle the same standards-aligned plan over and over again, just plugging in some piece, any piece, of reading.

And in turns of getting great “student achievement” results (aka high test scores) I could spend the whole year having students read nothing but newspaper extracts and single pages ripped from any current fiction. If I totally lost my mind and any sense of why I actually became an English teacher, I could crank out students with great BS Tests scores who knew absolutely nothing about the literature, history and culture of their own country (or any other).

The article closes with another quote from Gardner: “We don’t read books in school so we can write papers or do projects about that book; rather, we read books in school so we can more deeply understand all of the texts – books, blogs or advertisements – that we will face beyond school.”

I think Gardner is half right– we don’t read books in school just to do projects or papers. But if we only read in school so that we can practice skills we’ll need to read things later in life, what will we be reading those works later in life for? If there are no riches to be found in Great Expectations or Hamlet or The Crucible or Song of Solomon or To Kill a Mockingbird, why read them just to get some practice with reading skills? If they have nothing to say to any of us about understanding what it means to be fully human and more fully ourselves, if they have nothing to tell us about the human experience as it has unspooled throughout human history, if they have nothing to say about the power of language to communicate across the gaps that separate us, if they have nothing to say about culture, if they have nothing to say about the rich heritage of the English language, if they have nothing to say about understanding the universal and the specific in human life, about how to grow beyond our own immediate experience– if they are, in fact, nothing more than fodder for test prep, then what the hell are we doing?

The article sets out to address the effect of the Core on the classics, but it only addresses the question of how much the standards push in non-fiction and many, multiple short texts. What the article does not address is how the Core assaults the very notion of why we bother to teach reading or writing or literature in the first place. Instead, like so many Core-ophiles, it assumes that such an assault is appropriate. Rich content fans are correct to believe that the empty head and empty heart at the center of the Core screams out to be filled with real study of real literature, but they are missing the fact that the Core itself thinks that vast emptiness is a good thing, a feature instead of a bug.

With this piece, Ann P. Cronin (and Peter Greene) remind us of Martin Luther King profound observation that;

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

You can read all of Ann P. Cronin’s posts at her blog: http://reallearningct.com/

Peter Greene’s great blog can be found at: http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/

 

While Team Malloy says full steam ahead on the Common Core and Common Core Testing Mania…

Veteran Connecticut educator Ann P. Cronin says that in this new post No Child Behind Act  (NCLB)Environment, “CT Must Reject The Common Core.”

Educator, public education advocate and education blogger Ann P. Cronin posts her writing on her blog, Real Learning CT

Her latest piece entitled, Post NCLB: CT Must Reject The Common Core, cuts through all the “education reform” rhetoric and lays out the harsh truth.  The Common Core and Common Cores testing frenzy is undermining public education in Connecticut and across the country.

The time has come to dump and replace it with a system of standards designed to provide ALL students with the knowledge and skills they need to live fulfilling lives.  Such a set of standards must be developed by educators and those who understand childhood development, not by those who seek to profit off of our children and the resources we taxpayers devote to public education.

Ann P. Cronin writes;

With the end of No Child Left Behind, states will have the flexibility to continue with the controversial Common Core State Standards or not. This is Connecticut’s opportunity to put a good education in place for our students by rejecting the Common Core. However, Alan Taylor, the Chair of the Connecticut State Board of Education, recently said, “I don’t foresee that happening. I happen to think that the Common Core is far better than anything we had done before.” 

The Common Core Standards “far better than anything we had done before”? Hardly.

In fact, the claim has been the opposite. When the Common Core was adopted by Connecticut in 2010, the Connecticut State Department of Education claimed that the existing Connecticut State Standards were 80% the same as the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and 92% the same in Mathematics.

Connecticut students have done really well in the years when their education was based on our Connecticut State Standards rather than on the Common Core. On the international PISA test, Connecticut’s 15 year olds scored higher in reading than students in 63 nations. Also, from 1992 until 2014, Connecticut, along with Massachusetts and New Jersey, had the highest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores in the country. Somebodies had been doing something right under our own Connecticut State Standards.

It’s time to build on that “something right” and rid ourselves of the Common Core. The figure of a 20% percent difference between the Connecticut State Standards in English Language Arts and the Common Core English Language Arts doesn’t tell the whole story. There is the 20% difference in topics covered, but, even more importantly, the whole approach of the Common Core contradicts the philosophically and academically-sound Connecticut State Standards approach and dictates outdated pedagogy for teachers and poor learning experiences for students. It is time to get rid of the Common Core and return to what we already had in Connecticut.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core early childhood approach to learning that 500 of the country’s most prominent early childhood professionals say harms young children due to the Common Core emphasis on didactic instruction and reduction in active learning through play and inquiry. Those experts say that we must return to developmentally appropriate active learning, which encourages the initiative, curiosity, and imagination of our youngest students and helps them to be successful learners.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the limitations that the Common Core puts on the amount of literature that students read. We must return to students reading full books in place of the Common Core recommended practice of reading selected chapters of books. We must once again give students opportunities to fall in love with reading.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core practice of treating literary texts as informational texts in which the reader’s task is to figure out what the author intended to say, based on word choice and sentence structure, rather than to explore a range of interpretive possibilities. We must return to the Connecticut State Standards, which divided texts into informational texts and literary texts and taught students how to read and respond to each kind of text and to think in the markedly different ways that reading each kind of text offers.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core approach to the teaching of writing, which was best summed up in the words of the “architect of the Common Core”, David Coleman, when he said that with the Common Core, writing is taught so that “students know that no one gives a **** what they think and feel.” We must return to the approach of teaching writing in which students are taught to write by gaining ownership of their ideas and their expression of those ideas.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core’s prohibition of students using the personal voice when arguing a position in essays. We must return to the classroom practice of students exploring a wide range of ideas and questions in class so that each student forms his or her individual thinking and then teach students to  express that thinking in both personal and impersonal voices.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of the Common Core way of teaching writing in which students revise their writing only “as needed”. We must return to teaching students the process of writing in which revision is always assigned because it is through revising their writing that students develop the quality of their thinking and learn the art and craft of written expression.

By getting rid of the Common Core, we will get rid of teaching students the answers for the standardized tests aligned with the Common Core and, instead, teach students to form their own questions and explore those questions wherever those explorations take them because questioning is the essential skill for the information-laden 21st century.

Connecticut is in great shape to begin the Post No Child Left Behind Era. Many other states have the choice of staying with the inadequate Common Core Standards or spending large sums of money to create their own standards because the standards they had prior to Common Core were inferior. Not so in Connecticut.

We are ready to go.

Post NCLB: Here we come.

The steps to beginning the Post NCLB Era in Connecticut are:

  1. Form a committee of educators to review the Connecticut State Standards, revising and adding on if necessary, and republish the Connecticut State Standards.
  2. Form a committee of educators to make the decisions about the forms of yearly assessments required by the federal government, reviewing Connecticut standardized test formats, the CMT and CAPT, and designing of new performance assessments.

Onward, Connecticut!

You can read and comment on this important article at; http://reallearningct.com/2015/12/07/post-nclb-ct-must-reject-the-common-core/

Common Core SBAC testing – Big Cost, No Value

Over the past two years Connecticut taxpayers have dropped $32 million on the Common Core SBAC tests and another $12.4 million for implementation of the Common Core.  The Connecticut state budget allocates another $43.1 million for the Common Core and Common Core SBAC tests for this year and next.

Add in the tens of million spent by local school districts on computers and internet expansion so that students can take the on-line tests, along with the substitute teachers who were brought in so that full-time teachers could be pulled out to “learn about the Common Core,” and well over $150 – $200 million dollars (or more) in public funds have been diverted from instruction to the Common Core and Common Core testing disaster.

So what has all that money gotten the students, parents, teachers and taxpayers of Connecticut?

Public education advocate, commentator and educator Ann Policelli Cronin addresses the issue in her latest blog post entitled, SBAC: The Beginning Of The End

So what did we learn from the release of the SBAC scores?  …

Not much.

We did learn that the achievement gap has not been in any way affected by implementation of the Common Core. I have been in a position to analyze CMT and CAPT scores over many years, and the SBAC scores tell the same story as the CMT and CAPT scores. That story is that students in affluent communities score significantly higher than students in poor communities do. No administration of a test will ever change that fact. No set of national standards or standardized test on those standards will ever “close the achievement gap”. First of all, high scores depend on the quality of the lives children have outside of school much more than what happens in school. Secondly, if the national standards and aligned testing did raise scores, then all scores would go up, both those of the students in affluent districts and those in poor cities. So the “gap” would be unchanged.

We did learn that charter schools, even with their cherry-picked student bodies, did not do better than many public school districts which do not restrict their student populations of special education students, English language learners, or students with behavioral issues. For example, SBAC 8th grade math scores for charter schools ranked 63, 67, 71, 74, 100, 103, 107, 119, 123,130, and 133 out of 133 reporting districts and schools. Of course, many of those charter schools had better scores than the districts from which their students came and should be expected to have better scores than the students’ originating public school districts because the charter schools have siphoned off some students with drive and potential from those districts.

We did learn that the SBAC scores tell us nothing about the learning going on in Connecticut schools. We can’t tell what schools just paid lip service to Common Core Standards and what ones focused almost exclusively on the Common Core. Without a doubt, the schools with scores demonstrating under 20% proficiency on the SBAC spent more time on test prep than the schools in affluent districts with higher SBAC scores. Yet we are told that schools must limit their curriculum to Common Core so that the school’s test scores will improve. It makes no sense. Some districts which had curriculum dedicated to the Common Core and teachers who taught to it diligently had low test scores, and some districts that just about ignored the Common Core in curriculum and practice had good scores. High test scores and teaching to the Common Core had  zero correlation.

We also learned that SBAC scores tell us nothing about students’ real competencies. As anyone who has an understanding of how to teach students to be thoughtful readers, effective writers, and competent thinkers knows, the more a teacher teaches to the Common Core ELA standards, the farther away those students will be from being thoughtful readers, effective writers, and competent thinkers. So the actual achievement gap will widen between the students in the affluent communities and the students in the cities with their increased test prep due to the low 2015 SBAC scores.

The Common Core Standards for English Language Arts lack any research base whatsoever and have no evidence that they will produce “college and career readiness”, yet we restrict our neediest students to that Common Core regimen due to our misplaced reliance on the SBAC scores. Just because a PR firm was hired to promote the Common Core Standards and that PR firm, through focus groups, determined that “rigor” was the word that would sell the standards to the American public does not make the standards or the SBAC test rigorous. Neither of them is. The Common Core ELA standards teach a discredited way of reading and an inadequate way of writing, and the SBAC test is an exercise in “Gotcha”.

We did learn from the 2015 SBAC test that opting-out is going to be an influential part of the narrative about assessing learning in the future. For example, in West Hartford, Conard High School had an opt-out rate of 5.5% and Hall High School had a 61.4 % opt out rate. What then can we tell about the two schools in the same town? Does Hall have more students who have applied to competitive colleges and do not want their excellent records of good grades and SAT scores hurt by a test designed to produce low scores? Does Hall High have parents who are more savvy than Conard parents and who are making a statement about their values and the kind of learning that they want for their children? Is learning richer and deeper at Hall than at Conard so that students and their parents seek other kinds of demonstrations of student achievement?

Also, are Westbrook High School, North Haven High School, Hartford Public High School’s Law and Government Academy, Daniel Hand High School in Madison, and E.O. Smith High School in Storrs places where the emphasis is on real learning because more than 85% of the juniors in those schools opted-out of the 2105 SBAC math test? School by school, parent by parent, district by district, those questions will be explored now that Connecticut has completed its first year of SBAC testing, and, if we can judge by what is happening in New York where implementation of the Common Core and the taking of a Common Core aligned test is a year ahead of Connecticut, it seems reasonable to believe that opting-out will increase.

Over this past year of SBAC testing, some told the story that we need SBAC to close the achievement gap. That story is wrong. Closing the achievement gap will never happen with standardized tests. Some told the story that we need SBAC to gather data in order to compare schools and districts. That story is wrong. SBAC data is same-old, same-old; we had it all along with our state tests. Some told the story that we need SBAC to gather data about individual students and the skills they need. That story is wrong. SBAC doesn’t address students’ learning needs; teachers do. Some told the story that SBAC measures what students need to learn, but that story is terribly wrong. Those telling it must not be educators. They must not know what real learning is or what students need to be prepared to do.

It is time to end SBAC. It is time for a new story. A true one.

You can read the full blog at: http://reallearningct.com/2015/09/01/sbac-the-beginning-of-the-end/

A Must Read from Ann Policelli Cronin- SBAC: Failing most Connecticut children in more ways than one

First published in the CT Mirror, SBAC: Failing most Connecticut children in more ways than one fellow public educator advocate and columnist has a great article that provides important information to parents across Connecticut and should be required reading for Connecticut’s elected officials.

SBAC: Failing most Connecticut children in more ways than one by Ann Policelli Cronin

The Connecticut SBAC scores will be released by the State Department of Education any day now. The scores will be low. You will be told that the low scores are because the SBAC tests are rigorous and our students don’t measure up.

Don’t believe it.

First of all, the test can’t possibly be rigorous because the Common Core Standards on which the tests are based are vapid. The Common Core English Standards do not teach students to be thoughtful readers, deep thinkers, or effective writers, so the SBAC exams do not measure those competencies.

Secondly, we have no idea if what is tested has predictability for the students’ future success in the next grade or college because no one checked with grade 4-12 teachers or college professors to see what competencies students will need. The Common Core English Standards were written by makers of standardized tests and are comprised of what can be measured by those tests, not comprised of what students need to learn.

Lastly, even though the Common Core has a low intellectual bar, most students will fail the tests because the passing grades have been artificially set. Last November, before any students had taken the 2015 SBAC tests, the Connecticut Commissioner of Education, representing Gov. Dannel Malloy, signed an agreement that the 2015 SBAC tests would fail 59 percent of high school juniors in English, 67 percent of high school juniors in math, 56-62 percent of third through eighth graders in English, and 61-68 percent of third through eighth graders in math       (“Cutoff Scores Set for Common-Core Tests”,Education Week, November 17, 2014).

When the majority of Connecticut children are soon told that they are failures, it is not because some absolute measure with objective criteria determined that, but because a test was designed to fail them.

By other criteria, Connecticut students are highly successful. For example, since 1992, Connecticut, along with Massachusetts and New Jersey, has had the highest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores in the country, and Connecticut ranks fifth in the world, outranked by only three countries and the state of Massachusetts, in reading scores of 15-year-olds on the international PISA test. And we as a state have accomplished all of that with the highest achievement gap in the country and without excluding our lowest performing students from taking those tests. Somebody, mostly our kids, are doing something right. Yet most of them will be deemed failures next week.

There is something very wrong with this picture.

I have worked with hundreds of Connecticut English teachers and am confident that any of them could design a test that would fail two thirds of their students. But I don’t know one teacher who would do it.  That’s because they are educators and not politicians using manufactured test results to advance political agendas.

Those English teachers and I know how to design rigorous exams. We also know how to teach students so that those who do what we ask of them and put out good effort each day in class will demonstrate competency on rigorous assessments. We also know that some of those students will perform in truly exceptional ways on the assessments and that an occasional student will exceed even our wildest dreams and thrill us beyond belief.

We teach students the skills and then see how far they go with them. We teach for success.

Last January, I reviewed a midterm English exam with high school students who had just taken it. They had their graded exams on their desks along with a description of the competencies the exam asked of them.  Those competencies were:

  • Asking their own complex and multi-layered questions as thoughtful inquiry.
  • Engaging in active and critical reading of poetry, non-fiction, fiction, and films.
  • Thinking analytically as they independently interpreted challenging literary texts.
  • Thinking imaginatively as they made connections between a historical or fictional character and their own lives and creating a persona to write about that connection.
  • Engaging in narrative thinking as they told the story of their own learning.
  • Collaborating with others in order to strengthen their own interpretations and evaluations.
  • Writing essays which demonstrate their ability to revise and strengthen a piece over time as well as writing essays in a timed classroom setting.
  • Using correct grammar and usage.
  • Demonstrating focus, energy, and passion as they prepare for and participate in the two-hour exam.

Those students knew their exam was rigorous. Those students had been taught how to succeed as readers, writers, and thinkers. Those students, therefore, did succeed as readers, writers, and thinkers.

After comparing their exams to the list of competencies, the students ascertained their strengths and determined what they needed to work on in the next semester. And, for sure, these students knew they were not failures.

Not so when the SBAC scores come out. Most students will consider themselves failures. Or, perhaps, the Connecticut State Department of Education will do what the State of Washington did and lower the passing grade to keep educators and parents quiet about the low test scores.

Either way, the message of SBAC hurts kids. Either way, SBAC is not about teaching and learning. The truth is: The SBAC test is political monkey business.

It is our job as citizens and parents to tell students the truth about SBAC. It is our job as educators to keep teaching and assessing students in real and honest ways.

Otherwise, we adults are the failures.

You can read more of Ann Policelli Cronin’s pieces at her blog: http://reallearningct.com/