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

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Literacy and the Presidency 2012

A little more than four years ago, I blogged about the literacy policies of Barak Obama, John McCain, and Hilary Clinton. Unlike George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, these candidates had little to say about reading instruction. Hillary had a plan for preschool education that Obama triangulated, and McCain clung to school choice with the tenacity he exhibited in a Vietnamese prison. Obama criticized “No Child Left Behind,” but not for the same reasons that my educator friends were against it (he decried it at the time for lacking sufficient financial support or enough testing).

This year it isn't worth bothering with that kind of column. The president’s education efforts are well known (more charter schools, more teacher evaluation, more testing, more accountability-rhetoric paired with lots of NCLB waivers relaxing actual accountability demands), while Mitt Romney clings to choice (more charter schools, more vouchers, etc.) in place of education policy.

The problem with the nostrums put forth by either candidate is that none of these is likely to have any real impact on student learning.

IES studied charter schools and found that, indeed, some were better than public schools, but overall there were no performance differences when the students' starting points were accounted for. Vouchers have not done so well either.

And, while you can find some positive studies on large-scale accountability assessments, the advantages have been tiny and inconsistent. If high-stakes testing is helping, its benefits do not match its costs. 

I very much like the idea of evaluations aimed at measuring a teacher’s impact on learning, but such schemes are not ready for prime time. Arne Duncan touted such a system in Chicago, but this scheme was never scrutinized by others. Let’s face it. Such analysis is extremely complex and getting it right is more an aspirational goal than an immediate reality. (By all means, invest in studies on such evaluations, but start with credible research rather than pressuring states into adopting schemes not even yet half baked).

No point in reviewing these candidate’s literacy plans this time around because neither provides any. Romney wants to cut to education funding and Obama doesn’t, but given the nation’s debts, cuts are sure to be made no matter who is elected. Obama started his first administration by cutting the National Institute for Literacy and funding for programs such as Reach Out and Read, the National Writing Center, and Reading is Fundamental; why would expect anything different this time around?

The research is clear: If you want to raise literacy achievement increase the amount and quality of teaching and ensure that the right things are taught. Investing in longer school days and school years and providing lots of opportunities to learn beyond the boundaries of traditional schooling makes sense. As do investments in curriculum design and teacher education. Neither candidate is emphasizing these basic, old-fashioned, research-proven approaches and neither is likely to take steps that will improve literacy achievement in the U.S.       

Monday, May 11, 2009

President Obama Proposes New Literacy Cuts

On May 7, President Barack Obama told the press that he was attempting to negotiate $17 billion in program cuts. Among the programs that he slated for abolishment are the National Institute for Literacy and Even Start, a family literacy program.

A senior administration official announced on May 6, that Even Start was ineffective in improving the literacy levels of young children:

"And then finally as another example of a program that the administration supports the goals of but that the evidence suggests is not working very well -- Even Start. Even Start is a early education -- early childhood education program -- and obviously the President and the administration feel very strongly that early childhood education done in a high-quality way is crucially important and have provided additional funds both through the Recovery Act and in the budget that we will be releasing tomorrow for early childhood education.However, a variety of studies of Even Start have suggested that that program does not work well. The most recent evaluation, for example, found out of 41 outcomes that were measured between families in the program and families that were not, that there was only a difference in outcomes on 38 out of -- I'm sorry, there was no difference on 38 out of the 41 outcomes.So we are proposing that Even Start be eliminated even while we are investing in other programs that do work, including Early Head Start and Head Start."

On May 7, the President himself made the following remarks as the explanation for ending the National Institute for Literacy:

"Some programs may have made sense in the past -- but are no longer needed in the present. Other programs never made any sense; the end result of a special interest's successful lobbying campaign. Still other programs perform functions that can be conducted more efficiently, or are already carried out more effectively elsewhere in the government....

"Another example is the National Institute for Literacy. Now, I strongly support initiatives that promote literacy -- it's critical -- but I oppose programs that do it badly. Last year, nearly half of the funding in this program was spent on overhead. So we've proposed cutting the $6 million for this program in favor of supporting literacy efforts within the Department of Education which use tax dollars more effectively and wisely."

These are just proposals, of course, but along with the recent cuts to Reading First, literacy education has been taking it on the chin. Obviously we'll have to wait to see if these latest proposals lead to real budget losses in reading. President George W. Bush tried to do away with Even Start for the same reasons, and Democrats in Congress howled about his lack of caring for the needs of adults and children living in poverty. Of course, they won't cast Obama as a Grinch for doing exactly the same thing, but that doesn't mean they'll give him the cuts he wants either (Congressional Democrats haven't really gone along with the Obama agenda at all, except when it has overlapped with their own).

The NIFL cuts are different. It doesn't provide funds for program delivery to students, and without a full-time director (and a board whose terms have expired--including mine), it has neither constituents nor supporters likely to step up to save it. Originally, proponents of NIFL put it into the law so that there would be a coordinating agency for the diverse efforts of the federal government. There was a lot of dissatisfaction with programs like those offered by the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE); too many people not reached by the programs, too much overlap between federal programs, and among federal and state programs, etc. The idea was that NIFL would study the system, monitor the delivery, and provide leadership since it was to be operated directly under the Secretaries of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services. It was even required to report directly to Congress.

Sadly, NIFL never took on the duties envisioned for it and ended up doing odd jobs on literacy (some of them good, some not so good, but no real programmatic responsibilities like those envisioned for it in the enabling legislation). They recognized that no one wants a watch dog looking over their shoulder, so they gave into the resistance and just didn't bother.

The Clinton administration tolerated NIFL, as long as it didn't try to do it's job. Although NIFL is supposed to have a board of advisors with staggered terms, the Clintons left office with all of the advisor posts open making sure that no continuity could be accomplished.

The Bush administration both made it better and worse. In NCLB, Bush expanded NIFL responsibilities giving it duties for getting research-based literacy information to the schools and the public. It carried out those duties spectacularly well, showing an ability to do high caliber work without as much overhead and bureaucracy as the departments themselves. (This was useful because NIFL could respond more quickly and do some things the departments couldn't do.) It's finest hour came when it resisted great administration pressure to release misleading information to help those who were corrupting Reading First.

But the Bushies did some things that kept NIFL from ever righting itself. Instead of having NIFL continue to report to the Secretaries as it was supposed to, they kicked it to OVAE. Yes, that's right: the major agency that was supposed to be watched by NIFL was the one that NIFL had to gain approval from. NIFL couldn't even release its report to Congress without OVAE liking the report. Then Bush, too, left office, without making sure that NIFL either had a director or an operating board. Obama could rebuild it, of course, but that would take effort, and so Obama wants to dump it. Why would he want a watchdog agency causing problems within his administration.

The problems that NIFL was supposed to address still exist. Adult literacy programs continue to be funded by Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, the Bureau of Prisons, and Homeland Security. These programs are failing to address the needs of most older Americans who have inadequate literacy skills. There is no coordinated policy to ensure that these programs, along with those funded by the states, are making a dent in the nation's adult literacy needs.

Despite massive and unprecedented increases in government spending, including in educational spending on Title I and other programs with poor track records, Obama and Congressional leaders have continued to hack away at federal support for literacy. Let's hope that in the next version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that some of that money will be put back. Fingers crossed.

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).,CST-NWS-tests09.article

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, July 8, 2008

Will Paying Teachers More Improve Achievement?

Recently, I wrote about John McCain's major educational plan, school choice. I wrote that school choice wasn't likely to contribute to improved literacy, and because so many kids are already in private school, it is just too expensive. Ineffective and wasteful--what a great combination! I hope Senator McCain will rethink and use federal dollars to help schools to improve so that more kids will learn to read to higher levels.

That blog led some readers to conclude that I was supporting Senator Obama's education plans. That isn't exactly right, but it is certainly true that he actually does have some education plans--and I do agree with some of them.

However, last week Senator Obama made news with an education speech that aroused boos from the National Education Association. He proposed using federal dollars to teachers who got higher test scores from their kids.

Will a federal boost to teacher salaries improve reading? I cannot find any convincing research on this issue that would allow me to answer, but I suspect this one is a loser, too.

The problem with the salary proposal is that it is about motivation. Senator Obama evidently believes that kids are struggling academically because teachers aren't trying hard enough. I know of no evidence that supports this data.

I don't believe most teachers aren't motivated, but I do think, in far too many cases, they don't know what to do to raise achievement and that many school cultures are not arranged to support or encourage the kind of teaching that we need.

As with the McCain proposal, I think this one is irrelevant to what America needs in education now. Gosh, I wish one of these guys would focus on educational results rather than distant actions so detached from educational reality.

Please Senators Obama and McCain, let's get real about reading. These kinds of proposals are just irrelevant!

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.
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.

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!)