Showing posts with label Barack Obama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barack Obama. Show all posts

Saturday, March 7, 2015

10 Arguments Against Common Core that Presidential Hopefuls Should Avoid

      An Open Letter to the Candidates

                Ladies and Gentlemen. We're quickly sinking into the quicksands of yet another presidential campaign. I'm writing to help with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) issue. I don't want any of you tripped up by a feeble or foolish argument, and there are lots of ways of doing that. I'm sure you all know not to rely on your 13-year-old kids for policy advice, and not to sigh audibly and roll your eyes since it will look like you sent your 13-year-old to debate in your place. If you can't stare down a callow opponent successfully, how will you ever convince voters that you can handle Putin or ISIS?

               I won't be so bold as to suggest what your position should be on Common Core, but I do have advice as to which arguments to avoid.   

1.  Previous educational standards were better.
            Don't make this claim. It can only embarrass you (as bad as not being able to spell "potato"). Past standards were so low that they were the educational equivalent of everyone getting a T-ball trophy. Many U.S. students met those standards and still needed basic reading, writing, and math instruction in the workplace or university—expensive places to obtain an elementary or secondary education. Anyone who argues against the CCSS should be able to explain why they want lower educational standards or should embrace a viable alternative. (Note campaign managers: Parents who are paying for remedial college classes or employers who are struggling to hire high school graduates with basic skills may become particularly testy over this argument).  

 2. Teachers didn’t write them.
            Ho-hum. Yeah, and I’ve long been opposed to the Declaration of Independence because it was written by a slaveholder and the Gettysburg Address is kind of dicey given that its author was in the pocket of big business before assuming the presidency. This argument elevates the ad hominem over the ad verbum. All that should matter is whether the standards are sound; if they are, a House Committee could have written them and they’d be a good idea. And, if they are not sound, how many years of teaching experience would the authors require for you to campaign on them? Many teachers worked on these standards, but who cares? The standards could still be useful even if that weren’t the case.

3. They promote the theories of evolution and global warming.
            Yikes. This is an interesting argument because everyone hates being tricked into supporting what they morally oppose. Unfortunately, it doesn't hold any water since the Common Core only deals with reading, writing, and math—and not with science, history, or any other school content or social issue. You may get away with this one, but there is always the risk that someone in the audience has actually read the standards. 

4. The Common Core isn’t research based.
            That sounds like a good argument, too. Pin the standards on the science deniers. But what if someone wonders what a research-based goal would look like? I know I want my marriage to be happy, my kids to be productive, and my country to be secure. I don’t know why I’d need a study to tell me that I wanted those things. In medicine, they use research to figure out the best treatments—not whether we want everyone to be healthy. Standards aren't teaching methods; they aren’t approaches to instruction. When the critics say some states should have tried these out first to find out if they're any good, it would be like having some states aiming for 4% unemployment and others for 8%—so that we'd know whether we wanted people to find jobs. 

5. They require too much testing.
            Common Core requires no more (or less) testing than any other educational standards. Since the early 1990s, federal law has required states to adopt their own educational goals and evaluate student progress against them. However, there’s nothing special about Common Core in that regard. If CCSS disappeared, states would still have standards and they’d still have to monitor student progress. Just as they have for the past 25 years. If you do choose to make this argument despite the facts, be careful in Alaska, Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. None of them have Common Core, but they all have educational standards and they are all testing their students against those standards.

6. They are the reason for all of the test prep.
            This is a great argument, and yet, I doubt whether many of you have the thespian skills to pull it off. Test prep, though unsavory, has nothing to do with Common Core. Educators have long devoted unconscionable amounts of time and resources to test prep, with barely a peep from any of you. Now, getting all worked up about kids being engaged in test prep instead of education will require all the faux sincerity of Captain Renault (“Casablanca gambling? I’m shocked.”). What would happen to test prep if there was no Common Core? Look to Texas or Virginia for your answer, rather than to the airy pronouncements of your supposedly shocked and offended advisors.

7.     Publishers are making money from them.
            Publishers do make money from these standards. And, if history is a guide, when we move on to the next big thing in education, they’ll make money off that, too. Government policies do help companies make money. But if that's an issue, then we ought to shut down the Defense Department, Medicare, Social Security, the oil depletion allowance, and pretty much everything else that government does—since all those nasty programs encourage the buying of goods and services from American companies. (Note to Jeb Bush: Perhaps your opponents' arguments against Common Core are really just a ruse to get schools to change their curricula more quickly to make even more money for the publishers.)

8.  The U.S. Constitution bans national curriculum.

            This one is a particularly tempting argument, especially if you are a lawyer. The Constitution does relegate authority for education to the states after all. The problem is that the federal government has always incented states in the area of education. Even a conservative Supreme Court has recently indicated that it will not even hear cases aimed at determining whether states must comply with federal law when they accept federal funding; they see it as settled law. Going before this Supreme Court to argue that Hamilton, Madison, and Jay knew nothing about the Constitution would likely be a tough slog (Justices Roberts and Alito can be sticklers about that kind of thing). The federal government has the right to require funded states to have standard--whatever standards they may choose to adopt--and there is nothing in Common Core that curtails that right in any way. You'll end up in the weeds. Avoid this one.

9. Common Core violates states’ rights.
            This would be kind of a funny argument coming from people who are running, not for governor, but for president. "If elected, I’ll not allow states to adopt Common Core." That sounds like under your presidency educational goals would be under your authority. That won't be palatable even from such staunch conservatives as a President Cruz or a President Paul. The states, being sovereign entities, have the authority to coordinate with each other as much as they choose. This is true in transportation, criminal justice, economics, natural resources, etc. From the beginning, states have had the authority to enter into such cooperative agreements, like the one that led to the creation of Common Core. This argument snatches that authority from the states, and doing so in the name of states’ rights would be too tricky a game by half. Where is George Orwell when we need him?

10. These are President Obama’s standards.
            Let's face it. It's always a good idea to run against an incumbent whose popularity is on the decline. And, getting voters to believe that these are Obamacore should be easy. When they were being written, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, promised funding to develop new tests for the new standards (a “shovel-ready project,” in the parlance of the times), and when running for President, Senator Obama campaigned on the idea that we needed higher standards and a lot more testing. Making voters believe that the Common Core belongs to the administration should be easy; voters might never figure out that these standards were written with no federal funding and no federal involvement if you can create enough of a haze of suspicion. Of course, this will be an easier argument for some than for others. (Note to Bobby Jindal: You seem sincere in making this argument, but you'll probably need to explain why President Obama was able to operate you like a hand puppet on this issue for three years without you ever being aware of where his hand was. I would avoid using the term “brainwashing”-- see George Romney, 1968. Perhaps you could get away with claiming that President Obama just gave yours a light rinse. 

             Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish you all luck, and hope this advice is useful to each of you.  


And here is a recent Powerpoint presentation on Teaching With Complex Text

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Rubber Rulers and State Accountability Testing in Illinois

Much has been made in recent years of the political class’s embrace of the idea of test-based accountability for the schools. Such schemes are enshrined in state laws and NCLB. On the plus side, such efforts have helped move educators to focus on outcomes more than we traditionally have. No small change, this. Historically, when a student failed to learn it was treated as a personal problem—something beyond the responsibility of teachers or schools. That was fine, I guess, when “Our Miss Brooks” was in the classroom and teachers were paid a pittance. Not much public treasure was at risk, and frankly low achievement wasn’t a real threat to kids’ futures (with so many reasonably-well-paying jobs available at all skills levels). As the importance and value of doing well has changed, so have the demands for accountability.

Sadly, politicos have been badly misled on the accuracy of tests, and technically achievement testing has just gotten really complicated—well beyond the scope of what most legislative education aides can handle. And so, here in Illinois we have a new test scandal brewing (requiring the rescoring of about 1 million tests).

Two years ago Illinois adopted a new state test. This test would be more colorful and attractive and would have some formatting features that would make it more appealing to the kids who had to take it. What about the connection of the new test with the test it was to replace? Not to worry, the state board of education and Pearson publishing’s testing service were on the game: they were going to equate the new test with the old statistically so the line of growth or decline would be unbroken, and the public would know if schools were improving, languishing, or slipping down.

A funny thing happened, however: test scores jumped immediately. Kids in Illinois all of a sudden were doing better than ever before. Was it the new tests? I publicly opined that it likely was; large drops or gains in achievement scores are unlikely, especially without any big changes in public policy or practice. The state board of education, the testing companies, and even the local districts chimed in saying how “unfair” it was that anyone would disparage the success of our school kids. They claimed there was no reason to attribute the scores sudden trending up to the coincidental change in tests, and frankly they were not happy about kill-joys like me who would dare question their new success (it was often pointed out that teachers were working very hard—the Bobby Bonds’ defense: I couldn’t have done anything wrong since I was working hard).

Now after two years of that kind of thing, Illinois started using a new form of this test. The new form was statistically equated with the old form, so it could not possibly have any different results. Except that it did. Apparently, the scores came back this summer, much lower than they had been during the past two years. So much lower, in fact, that the educators recognized that it could not possibly be due to a real failure of the schools, but it must be a testing problem. Magically, the new equating was found to be screwed up (a wrong formula apparently). Except, Illinois officials have not yet released any details about how the equating was being done. Equating can get messed up by computing the stats incorrectly, but they also can be influenced by how, when, and from whom these data are collected.

It’s interesting that when scores rise the educational community is adamant that it must be due to their successes, but when they fall—as they apparently did this year in Illinois, it must be a testing problem.

Illinois erred in a number of ways, but so have many states in this regard.

The use of a single form of a single measure administered to large numbers of children in order to make important public policy decisions is foolish. It turns out there are many forms of the test Illinois is using. It is foolish that they didn’t use multiple forms simultaneously (like they would have if it had been a research study), as this can help to do away with their “rubber ruler” problem. Sadly, conflicting purposes for testing programs have us locked into a situation where we’re more likely to make mistakes than to get it right.

I’m a fan of testing (yes, I’ve worked on NAEP, ACT, and a number of commercial tests), and am a strong proponent of educational accountability. It makes no sense, however, to try to do this kind of thing with single tests. It isn’t even wise to test every child. Public accountability efforts need to focus their attention on taking a solid overall look at performance on multiple measures without trying to get too detailed about the information on individual kids. Illinois got tripped up when they changed from testing schools to testing kids (teachers didn’t think kids would try hard enough if they weren’t at risk themselves, so our legislator went from sampling the state to testing every kid—of course, if you want individually comparable data it only makes sense to test kids on the same measure).

Barack Obama has called for a new federal accountability plan that will make testing worthwhile to teachers by providing individual diagnostic information. That kind of plan sounds good, but ultimately it will require a lot more individual testing, with single measures (as opposed to multiple alternative measures). Instead of getting a clearer or more efficient picture for accountability purposes—and one less likely to be flawed by the rubber ruler problem, it can’t help but being muddled as in Illinois. This positive-sounding effort will be more expensive and will result in a less picture in the long run.

Accountability testing aimed at determining how well public institutions are performing would be better constructed along the lines of the National Assessment (which uses several forms of a test simultaneously with samples of students representing the states and the nation. NAEP has to do some fancy statistical equating, too, but this is more likely to be correct when a several overlapping forms of the test are used each year. By not trying to be all things to all people, they manage to do a good job of letting the public and policymakers know how are kids are performing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reading First is Dead

Two very interesting reports came across my desk yesterday--within minutes of each other.

The first one was an Education Week story that said the House Appropriations committee intended to kill off Reading First. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/07/16/43budget_web.h27.html?print=1
This is no surprise, since Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., is the chair of that committee and he has shown a strong penchant for using his power for political reasons with little regard for educational needs. He has been anti-Reading First for a long time (mainly, I suspect, because it was proposed by a Republican), and the unfortunate management problems along with the recent interim report (see my earlier Reading First blog) make it easy for him to play politics with this. Lots of Congressmen will be sad to see Reading First go, since their home districts like it, but Obey will make this pill go down easier by expanding Title I funding (more money to schools that still aren't sure how to spend it in ways that will help kids).

A little later I received a press release from the U.S. Department of Education: NEW READING FIRST DATA FROM STATES SHOWS IMPRESSIVE GAINS IN READING PROFICIENCY.
This report claims that "students from nearly every grade and every subgroup show improvement" and goes on to report on information drawn from the states. This study provides a picture of Reading First very much at odds with the one evaluated in the recent Institute of Education Sciences study that found no reading comprehension improvement. According to these new data, kids improved in reading comprehension, second language kids improved, etc. and these gains were big. http://www.ed.gov/programs/readingfirst/performance.html

So what does all that mean? In science, when you have conflicting data, you sharpen your pencil and try to figure out how to collect new data that will resolve the differences. In politics, you hold a finger up in the air and try to determine which way the wind might be blowing. I suspect Congressman Obey's finger is going to win the day over any scientific approach. Translation: Reading First is dead. It could have withstood the corruption described in the Inspector General's report or the interim impact study--but not both!

Under the circumstances, "Reading First" is politically toxic, no matter how effective it may be or how popular with the schools. I doubt that any candidate can easily embrace Reading First (Senator Obama seems to have enough money and a large enough margin in the election that he could afford to take a risk on it, but he didn't embrace Reading First when it would have been easy to do so, so I wouldn't look for any support there). His proposals for reforming education have a lot more to do with increasing funding and improving the tests than rethinking curriculum, professional development, or interventions for struggling kids (I documented his education views in an earlier blog).

So, if I am right that Reading First is dead, where are we? I hope that everyone will think of Reading First as only a first salvo in a much needed rethinking of Title I spending. The demise of Reading First will simply mean that we need a second attempt to rethink Title I spending (one that again will provide strong guidance to states and local districts in how to expend certain additional funds in ways more likely to raise reading achievement than what the districts have been doing on their own). This new effort has to be different from Reading First, but clearly based upon lessons learned from it. That means, those aspects of Reading First that were positive (and there were many), need to be preserved--and those that were problematic need to be rethought. I described some key changes that I thought were necessary for a second attempt at using federal money to improve schools and not just fund them.

The idea of this new Reading effort would be three-fold: (1) to try to immediately and powerfully improve a small set of struggling schools (something Reading First might have been doing, but it is impossible to be sure given the conflicting evidence); (2) to serve as an immediate model for all Title I schools to start trying to emulate now (as they so clearly did with Reading First--look at the degree of emulation described in the Reading First implementation study); and (3) to ultimately identify a set of policies that will eventually become requirements for all Title I schools (we cannot continue to spend more than $15 billion of federal money each year in high poverty schools without a sound educational return for that money--Congressman Obey might think that is okay to continue like this, but it has been a meat grinder for poor children!)