Showing posts with label Educational policy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Educational policy. Show all posts

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why Standards-Based Teaching Has Failed to Raise Reading Achievement


            Standards-based educational reform goes back to the early 1990s. Since then, test scores have see-sawed a bit, but for the most part we are doing about as well as we’ve been doing since 1970 (when we first started collecting national reading data).

            That means standards-based reform has not led to higher achievement. Establishing educational goals and aligning teaching to those goals to ensure kids succeed has not happened.

            Diane Ravitch, and others who don’t spend much time in schools, claim to know why standards have failed. They believe that if teachers were just left to their own devices, American kids would excel in school.

            Unlike them, I’ve spent much time in classrooms and working with kids over the past four decades or so…as teacher, lunch room supervisor, park supervisor, student teacher, tutor, researcher, remediator, teacher educator, observer, evaluator, school administrator, textbook author, test designer, parent, grandparent, and uncle.

            My take on the problem is different, but I do agree that it is a problem.

            I have come to believe that standards-based reform will NEVER work unless educators come to understand the idea of standards-based teaching, something that has not happened during the past 25 years.

            To illustrate my point, I received the following two notes from teachers last week:

I teach 4th grade in a Daily 5/Cafe school. We have NO curriculum or requirements other than... 2 mini lessons, conferring individually and maintaining strategy groups with students. Do you have any advice or thoughts on the organizing and planning within these four areas? 

I am working on a district committee that is developing a universal literacy framework for our elementary schools. One of the recommended components is shared reading, which is not currently a formalized daily practice at our highest-achieving schools. Is there an argument, based on research, for this component to be mandated for all classrooms as part of an excellent literacy program? The research that I have found seems to mainly focus on pre-schoolers. 

            What sense do I make of these queries? They reveal that their schools are dedicated to promoting particular activities and practices—not to teaching children. There are particular activities these principals and teachers want to see in classrooms, and they are not particular focused on what they are supposed to be engaged in: teaching children to read.

            Instead of focusing like-a-laser on what they want kids to know, to be able to do, to be, they are promoting favorite classroom activities. Instead of thinking about how to get kids to a particular outcome, they are wondering if they can somehow align the required activities with useful outcomes. It would be like a surgeon deciding what kind of surgery he wanted to conduct and then hoping to stretch it to the patient’s needs (“Sorry Mr. Jones. I know you have prostate cancer, but I like to do hysterectomies.”)


            Until we actually focus on teaching the standards—that is, until we decide that our job is to ensure that kids learn what we have agreed to teach them—then it will continue to look like our kids are failing. (And, no, “test prep” is not teaching to our standards, it is just one more example of educators focusing on particular activities rather than on reaching particular outcomes).

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Razing Standards?

I've been working (visiting research professor at Queens University, Belfast), and vacationing in Ireland for the past few weeks. From the Emerald Isle I've been keeping tabs on the ongoing embarrassing political mischief aimed at keeping America firmly entrenched in the middle educational ranks ("We're 25th, we're 25th!").

I certainly understand those who oppose the CCSS standards because of fears that they might cost some money to accomplish or that they might require us -- us the students, teachers, parents, political leaders -- to work harder, the way they have worked harder in all those countries that have sped past us on the education interstate during the past decade or two. I mean who wants to invest when you can spend, and who wants to work at making things better when you can sit on your duff and collect government paychecks. Let's face it, there are no prizes for being the hardest working governor. Keep standards low and your state will be sure to reach them... hell, you've probably reached them already.

That's why Indiana is regaining jobs so fast after the 2008 downturn. Not. If your kids can't read or do math as well as the kids in China, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Finland, Massachusetts, etc. you can't expect employers to flock to your state to set up businesses. But who'd want businesses in places like Indiana?

No, I don't have any problems understanding that kind of opposition because it is self-interested. Immediate self interest, no matter how callow, is always understandable.

I have more trouble with the looney tunes who have decided that no matter how bad the educational status quo is that they are for it. Conservatives who have screamed for years about the need for privatization because government schools aren't getting the job done are now pontificating on the importance of maintaining our current low educational standards in government-supported schools (I mean, you either think government programs--like public education--are a boondoggle, or you don't). I almost suffer from whiplash when I hear political conservatives shouting about the need to maintain the status quo when it comes to public education.

I'm just as amazed about the cartoon figures on the left as well. You know the ones I mean (the ones who are arguing that unemployment is a problem, but the 1 million unfilled jobs in America is not). They want equality for all sexual persuasions, races, ethnicities, languages, and legal statuses--until someone tries to do anything to shrink the educational differences among those groups. According to these geniuses, if you set high educational standards, you are doing it to emphasize existing differences.
 
The best thing I've read about CCSS since coming here is David Brooks' recent column in the NY Times. It is a must read. Mr. Brooks rightly blames kooks on both the left and right for these harmful political shenanigans. Here's the link:
When the Circus Descends by David Brooks

Brooks' notion that the circus has come to town is a good one. In fact, I've carried a similar image for the past few months. Imagine a brightly-colored Volkswagen. A clown emerges who looks remarkably like Glenn Beck, and then various grease-painted governors and leaders of special interest groups follow in their turn.

Of course, the question you find yourself asking is, "How many anti-CCSS clowns can you get into a Volkswagen?"

But the real question should be, "Why? Why would so many clowns fight so hard to maintain the status quo of low educational standards?"  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Indiana Drops Common Core

Yesterday, Indiana became the fifth state to choose not to teach to the Common Core standards (CCSS). Opponents of these shared standards have complained less about their content, than about how they were adopted. Critics claim the federal government forced states to adopt these standards by advantaging them in the Race to the Top competition. Two problems with those claims: (1) Indiana didn’t compete for Race to the Top—so there was no federal gun to its head, and (2) states, like Indiana, that don’t adopt Common Core face absolutely no federal penalty.

Ironic. Indiana’s governor claims he’s regaining Indiana’s sovereignty, while his action itself reveals that its sovereignty was never at risk. It is a deft and subtle act of political courage when a politician stands up to someone who hasn’t challenged him. (President Obama could learn from this. Perhaps he would look better on the Ukrainian front if he would issue stern warnings to Canada or Bermuda. That’ll show them whose boss!)

Why did Governor Pence pull the trigger on Common Core? He doesn’t seem to know. “By signing this legislation, Indiana has taken an important step forward in developing academic standards that are written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers, and are uncommonly high, and I commend members of the General Assembly for their support,” Pence said in a press release. The tortured grammar aside—is it the standards or the Hoosiers who were uncommonly high?—this seems pretty clear.

But like many a “bold” politician of yore, the Guv went on to say, “Where we get those standards, where we derive them from to me is of less significance than we are actually serving the best interests of our kids. And are these standards going to be, to use my often used phrase, uncommonly high?” (I sure hope the new Indiana standards include grammar.)

In other words, Governor Pence dropped the CCSS standards because Hoosiers didn’t write them, but he doesn’t care where standards come from or who writes them. Maybe that’s why he has turned to a lifelong Kennedy-Democrat (Sandra Stotsky, not a Hoosier) to help him shape Indiana’s new educational standards. We all cheer for bipartisanship, but it is always startling to see Tea Party Conservatives and Massachusetts Liberals bedded down together.

What did the Guv get for his trouble? Dr. Stotsky publicly denounced the Hoosier draft for being too consistent with the CCSS standards. She wants Indiana teachers to teach different phonics, grammar, reading comprehension, and writing skills than those taught in the 49 other states (good luck with that).

Dr. Stotsky notes that the Indiana draft had a 70% overlap with the CCSS standards… but seemed to be silent about how much overlap there was among CCSS and the standards in Texas, Nebraska, Virginia, or Alaska; or with the previous and clearly inferior Indiana standards that she apparently advised on; or with the previous Massachusetts standards that she has championed. I guess that just shows that academics can be as slippery as politicians when they think they have a spotlight.


I support the CCSS standards because they are the best reading standards I’ve ever seen (and, yes, I am aware of their limitations and flaws). But if anyone comes up with better standards, I’d gladly support those, too (no matter how uncommonly high the Hoosiers might have been who wrote them).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Responding to the Political Challenges to Common Core

Recently, the International Reading Association began publishing a research- and policy-oriented blog. I was invited to contribute an entry to that effort, and I have done so. Thought you might be interested in reading that entry so have linked it here.

Shanahan Blog Entry on IRA Site

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

Teachers, who otherwise are supportive of the common core, often ask me if I think it is fair that they be evaluated on the basis of test scores from tests they have never seen and on content that they are just starting to teach--often without a lot of supporting materials or professional development.

In fact, that most recently happened on Friday when I was in Franklin, TN.

I always give pretty much the same answer. I don't believe the test-based teacher evaluation schemes are ready for prime time, if it were my choice, we wouldn't make this many big changes at the same time, etc.

Today the New York Times issued an editorial along the same lines that you might find helpful.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/28/opinion/caution-and-the-common-core-state-education-standards.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130528

I have no problem if the accountability parts of this slow down (not stop, but slow down). Let's digest one big reform before we take on another. There is nothing more primary to kids' learning and teachers' teaching than the curriculum, so starting there makes great sense.

The kids' testing should follow that, and while it makes sense to develop tests that are consistent with the curriculum, it does NOT make sense (and it will never make sense) for teachers' to teach to the test. Not in reading comprehension or in writing anyway.

After those things are firmly in place, stitching those into a rigorous teacher evaluation system will make sense, but that is a way off. It is a good idea to include evaluations of student learning in teacher evaluations. I just wish we really knew how to do that.Maybe we will by then.

Thank you, New York Times Editorial Board.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Indiana Backs Down on Common Core


Indiana is the first state to withdraw from the common core state standards. Previously, there were four states that had not adopted the standards, but of those that had done so, Indiana is the first to back down. Technically, they have only “suspended” their CCSS efforts for further study so it is possible that this will just be a delay and not an actual withdrawal, but the politics around this in Indiana suggest that this may be the beginning of the end of CCSS there.

Various state leaders have made noises about withdrawing from CCSS to re-embrace their previous low educational standards, and some (e.g., Alabama) have already pulled out of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced testing, but Indiana is the only one to act on their second thoughts.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence gave several reasons for the suspension, including the added costs. I’ve written about that issue in this space before, so it should be clear that I’m sympathetic to that problem. Many states, perhaps Indiana being one of them, adopted these standards without much forethought, and now are trying to implement without much real financial support either. That may be a good way to drive teachers crazy, but it won’t help kids learn.

Most of Governor Pence’s concerns seem to be about states rights, rather than learning. He apparently doesn’t like the federal government poking its nose into Indiana business. This is the same reason Virginia and Nebraska stayed out in the first place; the idea that these standards  emanated from President Obama and not from the states that combined to develop and implement them. I admit that I don’t have expertise on states rights, but I do know – Indiana politics aside — that Obama wasn't the source of these standards. That makes this concern more of a political wedge issue than an education concern. 

Also, I remember the state fights against the No Child Left Behind law during the last administration. The Supreme Court, a conservative court, was quite clear that states could be exempt from federal education mandates as long as they refused to accept the federal education money—which in Indiana’s case is more than $300 million per year that Governor Pence would need to send back. (I might not understand the ins and outs of political power, but I’ll bet you a quarter that Governor Pence for all of his enthusiastic independence from Washington would sooner outlaw basketball in Indiana before he’d that much money back to DC).

When Virginia’s Republican governor rejected the CCSS originally, he made the same state’s rights claims. He had been for the standards until he found out the Obama administration wanted them too, so for him it had become an issue of states rights (surprising how it sounds more like expediency). But the Virginia governor also indicated that the CCSS standards had been reviewed carefully and rejected because they were no higher than Virginia’s educational standards. I’ve written about that before, and it is a silly claim that doesn’t bear scrutiny. I have no idea whether Virginia or Indiana should adopt common core or cling to the lower standards, but pretending to not be able to tell the difference is embarrassing.


Indiana is the first state to withdraw from the common core state standards. Previously, there were four states that had not adopted the standards, but of those that had done so, Indiana is the first to have backed down. Technically, they have only “suspended” their CCSS efforts for further study so it is possible that this will just be a delay and not an actual withdrawal, but the politics around this in Indiana suggest that this is likely the beginning of the end of CCSS there.

Various state leaders have made noises about withdrawing from CCSS to re-embrace their previous low educational standards, and some (e.g., Alabama) have already pulled out of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced testing, but Indiana is the only one to actually take action on their second thoughts.

Indiana Governor Mike Spence gave several reasons for the suspension, including the added costs. I’ve written about that issue in this space before, so it should be clear that I’m sympathetic to that problem. Many states, perhaps Indiana being one of these, adopted the standards without much forethought, and now are trying to implement without much real financial support.  That may be a good way to drive teachers crazy, but it won’t likely be sufficient to help kids learn.

Most of Governor Pence’s concerns seem to be about states rights. He doesn’t like the federal government poking is nose into Indiana business. This is the same reason Virginia and Nebraska stayed out in the first place; the idea that these standards somehow emanated from President Obama rather than from the states that combined to develop and implement them. I admit that I don’t have real expertise on states rights, but I do know – Indiana politics aside — that Obama was not the source of these standards. That makes that more a political wedge issue than an education one. 

Also, I remember the state fights against the No Child Left Behind law during the last administration. The Supreme Court, a conservative court, was quite clear that states could be exempt from federal education mandates as long as they refused to accept the federal education money—which in Indiana’s case is more than $300 million per year that Governor Pence would need to send back. (I might not understand the ins and outs of political power, but I’ll bet you a quarter that Governor Pence for all of his enthusiastic rhetorical independence from Washington would outlaw basketball in Indiana before he’d send any of that money back to DC any time soon).

When Virginia’s Republican governor rejected the CCSS originally, he made the same state’s rights claims. He had wanted the standards until he found out the Obama administration wanted them to, so for him it had become an issue of states rights. But the Virginia governor also indicated that the CCSS standards had been reviewed carefully and rejected because they were no higher than Virginia’s standards. I’ve written about that before, too. It is a silly claim that doesn’t bear scrutiny.

Now Indiana is going to review the standards to see whether CCSS are better than what Indiana has aimed for in the past. I wonder if they’ll pay attention to the text complexity requirements that make almost all of the reading standards markedly harder than any previous standards. I wonder if they’ll pay attention to the disciplinary literacy standards for secondary students that require students to read science differently than they read history and literature.


Virginia ignored these differences and then concluded that they didn’t exist. I wonder if the upcoming Indiana review will ignore these stubborn facts, as well. Reject the standards, Governor, if you see some political advantage, you have the power to do so. Just don't mislead Indiana parents with claims that past Indiana standards are as high as the standards you are taking a pause on. They're not.