Archive | June, 2015

Common Core Dilemma is the Bomb

23 Jun

Mercedes Schneider’s new book is “evidence based” and damning. She concludes with “CCSS [Common Core State Standards] cannot work.” And “It is destined for the education reform trash heap, just like the punitive, test-driven No Child Left Behind (NCLB) from which it emerged.”

In Common Core Dilemma, Schneider shows herself to be a masterful researcher and clear thinker. She takes on the daunting task of making this Machiavellian episode concise, engaging and understandable. She triumphs.

If you never heard of the common core or “corporate education reform”, this book will be a difficult but necessary read and there is no choice but to educate yourself. If on the other hand you have been immersed in this issue since 2009, Common Core Dilemma will confirm your worst suspicions and demonstrate that you might have been naïve but certainly not cynical.

The opening chapters document the roots of CCSS sewed within Bill Clinton’s goals 2000 and the creation of the non-profit Achieve Inc. by the National Governors’ Association (NGA). Achieve became the corporate vehicle for producing the “state led” CCSS and goals 2000 accelerated the quest for national education standards.

Louis Gerstner, IBM CEO, is identified as the “godfather” of Achieve. As the keynote speaker for the NGA conference in 1995 Gerstner stated three urgent education goals for 1996: (1) high national academic standards with accountability, (2) the standards must happen NOW, and (3) don’t be sidetracked by academicians. Louis was well positioned to shape education policy; not only had he been to school, he had hired people who had been to school. In 1996, the governors of NGA held their Education Summit at Gerstner’s IBM conference facility in Palisades, New York.

As I read this documented history, I started wondering if Bill Gates’ personal competition with IBM and Gerstner had something to do with his decision to become an education “reformer”?

Ironically, the National Governors Association created their own non-governmental non-profit or was it really Gerstner who started Achieve? In any case the organization that wrote the CCSS was the creation of 40 governors and 49 corporate executives at the 1996 IBM meeting. No practicing educators were involved. No wonder Diane Ravitch calls this “corporate education reform.”

Mercedes sums up the attitude, “No need to meaningfully involve teachers in changes that Achieve, Inc. had already decided needed to be instituted.” After all we were warned by Gerstner, “Don’t be sidetracked by academicians.”

The precursor to CCSS, American Diploma Project (ADP), is explained. In her description, Schneider details the three principal organizations involved, Ed Trust (Kati Haycock), Fordham Foundation/Institute (Checker Finn) and Achieve Inc. These three non-profits garnered huge corporate largess while developing and promoting ADP. Schneider notes that during the ADP standards development when Achieve defined American education as failing; Achieve was repudiating its own claims of success two years earlier.

The story of how Achieve’s 2008 paper “Out of Many, One” became the central document for selling CCSS illustrates clearly that CCSS certainly was not a state led effort. It was the effort of incorporated non-profits financed by other corporations and corporate executives.

An intriguing set of relationships appear in the story of David Coleman and his Student Achievement Partners (SAP). Coleman is known as the lead writer of CCSS. It was he and the President of Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), Gene Wilhoit, who went to Seattle and convinced Bill Gates to finance the development of CCSS.

The “reformer” relationships are surprisingly intertwined. David Coleman had a previous lucrative business deal with Chicago Public Schools through his startup company Grow Network. CEO Arne Duncan gave him a $2.2 million non-compete contract to analyze testing data in 2002 and renewed it in 2003 for $2.1 million. Coleman and his partner Jason Zimba sold Grow Network to McGraw-Hill and started Student Achievement Partners (SAP) in 2007.

The lead writers of CCSS were David Coleman, Jason Zimba and Susan Pimentel all from SAP. The rest of the original 24 writers were from Achieve, College Board and ACT. Today, Coleman is President of College Board and the man who helped him sell CCSS to Gates, Gene Wilhoit, has left CCSSO and taken the lead at SAP.

The only person amongst the original group of 24 people who wrote the CCSS that had any classroom teaching experience at all appears to be Zimba. He taught physics at Bennington College for a short duration. And strangely enough the president of Bennington College while he worked there was David Coleman’s mother, Elizabeth Coleman.

Bill Gates the billionaire who dropped out of Harvard only to become the richest man in the world by means that are not entirely above scrutiny, paid for both the writing of CCSS and for insuring they get good publicity. The insane amounts of money Gates doled out to organizations that supported his education ideas such as “without measurement, there is no pressure for improvement” is thoroughly documented and explained.

Gate basically became the de facto national school superintendent or secretary of education only more powerful. It is estimated that the spending on CCSS by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation may run into the billions of dollars. It is a complete distortion of the democratic process and has led to bad and wasteful policies. Policies like mandating a nationwide change to a new pedagogy that has never been tested and demanding that all schools across America abandon their current curriculum and develop a new one immediately with no transition time.

An enlightening chapter explains the amazing CCSS Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which was signed by 46 governors and theirs state school chiefs before the CCSS were ever written, thus locking them in to the “voluntary” standards. It explains how it came about, the implications and the need for the lock-in.

The final few chapters deal with the enormous amounts of money mega-corporations like Pearson are planning to make from CCSS. It appears the real reason all the states had to have a standardized education is to pave the way for mega-corporations to dominate the education testing and publishing industry. It allowed them to take their products to “scale” where smaller local companies could never compete. As Mercedes points out “the goal of CCSS is not excellence. It is standardization.”

Common Core Dilemma is definitely a book that anyone trying to defend public education from privatization and profiteering should have in their library. For the uninitiated to the corporate takeover of public schools it will be more than an eye opener. Finally, it’s an informational text so David Colman would surly approve of it for your high school students to read.

Trekkie Standards for Science – The Framework

17 Jun

The administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton both supported “Outcome Based Education” and national standards which set the stage for the authoritarian model of education enacted by the George W. Bush administration. This new federally led model of education was also supported by many Democrats. Contemporaneously, many corporations both for profit and non-profit including the Carnegie Corporation, the National Academy of Science (NAS) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) launched a political campaign advocating new national science standards.

It is odd that organizations comprised of world renowned scientists proposed adopting new science standards without thorough vetting or testing. When did scientists become reckless?

The development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) followed the example set by the untested and extraordinarily rapid adoption of the common core math and English standards. As soon as the principal writer of the framework for the NGSS was finished, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) gave its full throated support.

NSTA reported that “The NGSS is based on A Framework for K–12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (Framework; NRC 2012) and is intended to reflect a new vision for science education.” Well new is not necessarily improved, top down is a bad theory of government in a democracy and instituting the untried NGSS nationwide is foolhardy!

The idea of a set of national standards in education is hardly new. In 1891, a committee of the National Council of Education gave us a recommendation for national standards.

“At the meeting of the National Council of Education in 1891, a Committee appointed at a previous meeting made a valuable report through their Chairman, Mr. James H. Balder, then principal of the Denver High School, on the general subject of uniformity in school programmes and in requirements for admission to college. The Committee was continued, and was authorized to procure a Conference on the subject of uniformity during the meeting of the National Council in 1892, the Conference to consist of representatives of leading colleges and secondary schools in different parts of the country.”

The result was the Committee of Ten Report of 1894, a set of national standards for 9 domains of learning published by the National Education Association (NEA). This first set of national education standards could be equated to the 1966 science fiction TV show Star Trek with its NCC-1701, the starship Enterprise. Now, the NGSS with its framework designated NRC 2012could be equated to the 1987 TV show, Star Trek the Next Generation, featuring NCC-1701-D, the new galaxy class starship also named Enterprise. Is that where the name Next Generation Science Standards came from? Is the naming of the new science standards more about marketing than good pedagogy?

Maybe the development of NGSS should have been led by Captain Picard instead of The Carnegie Corporation. Never the less Carnegie “has taken a leadership role to ensure that the development of common science standards proceeds and is of the highest quality by funding a two-step process: first, the development of this framework by the National Research Council (NRC) and, second, the development of a next generation of science standards based on the framework led by Achieve, Inc.”

Carnegie not only took on leadership in developing the standards, they also helped motivate the idea of new science standards. In 2009, the Carnegie-Institute for Advanced Studies Commission on Mathematics and Science Education wrote a paper, “Opportunity Equation”, in which they summed up the work of several recently published papers and called for new science standards. The papers cited were all from well funded entities that are known for leading education “reform” in America:

McKinsey & Company, National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers- Achieve, National Science Foundation Task Force on Cyberlearning, National Mathematics Advisory Panel, Achieve Inc., National Governors Association, ACT, National Research Council, and National Center on Education and the Economy.

 In “Opportunity Equation”, Carnegie Corporation says we need new science standards that “Build high expectations for student achievement in mathematics and science into school culture and operations as a pathway to college and careers. Enhance systemic capacity to support strong schools and act strategically to turn around or replace ineffective schools.” These ineffective schools will be identified by assessing the achievement of standards with national normative testing.

Private money from the Carnegie Corporation was used to pay the National Research Council (NRC) which is a sub-group of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to write the framework. Although NAS was incorporated by Abraham Lincoln to do research for the US government, it is still a private corporation working on a contract basis. About 85% of its contracts come from the federal government, but some of its contracts are like this one.

The framework states this goal:

“The overarching goal of our framework for K-12 science education is to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science; possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on related issues; are careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives; are able to continue to learn about science outside school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including (but not limited to) careers in science, engineering, and technology.”

In a blog titled “The Next Generation Not-So-Scientific Standards” Jennifer Helms, PhD, writes “Notice the words or phrases “appreciation,” “possess sufficient knowledge…to engage in public discussions,” “consumers,” “able to continue to learn.” These are science appreciation standards, not science learning/understanding/synthesizing standards.” Maybe Jennifer is wrong but she has a point. The Framework does deemphasize knowledge and emphasizes practice. This may be an improvement in science teaching and it may not. We don’t know. It has not been tested.

I have two main criticisms of the Framework itself. In one of its three dimensions of science, instead of calling simply for science practices; the dimension is expanded to science and engineering practices. Adding engineering practices is not useful. Also, the Framework is overly complex and difficult to synthesize.

There is no need to introduce engineering practice in the K-12 system. At the next level there is very little differentiation between physics or chemistry majors and engineering majors until they reach third year. Science and engineering majors need to learn basic science before they are expected to apply it. Pretending that adolescent children are ready to study the nuanced differences between scientists and engineers is a distraction from learning the fundamentals of science.

In addition to shooting educators in the foot with unneeded leaning goals, the framework is a Rube Goldberg contraption. Three core dimensions are promulgated; (1) science and engineering practices, (2) crosscutting concepts that unify the study of science and engineering through their common application across fields and (3) core ideas in four disciplinary areas: physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences, and engineering. There are eight practices, seven crosscutting concepts and thirteen core ideas to apply. The framework defines all of these and gives guidance on how each should be instituted at different grade levels thus ensuring that the standards based on the framework will be an unwieldy and unreadable monsters.

The framework that the NRC produced reminds me of something Michio Kaku says in one of his educational videos about the search for the Higgs Boson. He states that the current standard model of the atom was so messy, “only a mother could love it.” This framework is so messy and overly complex; maybe even a mother couldn’t love it?

The framework has some first rate ideas enshrined in it and many reasonable sounding teaching principles. After all, some genuine geniuses were contributors. I thought while reading it that science-teacher education programs could find real value in studying this document. The fundamental weakness is that it was produced by corporate entities in a pseudo open environment and is being instituted in an authoritarian manor.

From the framework: “The committee recognized early in the process that obtaining feedback from a broad range of stakeholders and experts would be crucial to the framework’s success. For this reason, we secured permission from the National Research Council (NRC) to release a draft version of the framework for public comment. The draft underwent an expedited NRC review in early July 2010 and was posted online on July 12 for a 3-week period.”

I was one of the 2000 people that sent feedback, but I certainly did not do a David Coleman “close read” of this more than three hundred page document, nor did I have the opportunity to discuss what I read with anyone else who had read it. Educators and others were given three weeks to read, digest and comment on this major change to science education that is intended to be adopted nationwide. That feedback period’s only value was that it allowed NRC to claim public inclusion in the process.

I have concentrated on the NGSS framework here and will write a second piece on the resulting standards. This is not how change should come to education in a democratic country. The science framework is not an idea that was published and then by dint of its brilliance adopted by America’s science educators. Instead it is an authoritarian mandate that is being instituted before being thoroughly evaluated by education professionals. I have written before about my conviction that standards based education is bad education but this untested science framework forced on the nation by financial and political power is education malpractice.

California Seal Bearers Breakfast

1 Jun

Saturday (5/30/2015) witnessed a wonderful and happy event. The thirty-one seal bearers from Mar Vista High School (MVH) were honored at a breakfast along with their parents and the teacher they chose to honor. I was selected for recognition by our school’s valedictorian, Mariaester and two other participants from my AP physics course, Kevin and Samantha.

In 1916, Charles F. Seymour an educator from San Diego, proposed a society to honor outstanding scholastic achievement in high school. Since 1921, this society has been honoring the most accomplished students from across California. On Saturday, we met to recognize the seal bearers for 2015.

Mariaester and Kevin are doomed to be enemies. She is going to Stanford and he is going to Berkeley. Samantha will stay in San Diego at UCSD. My kids are going to three of the top five universities on the best coast. How proud I feel.

Mariaester comes from a wonderful working class Mexican family. She is the third sister from her family to be in one of my classes. As valedictorian, her diploma will have an honors designation plus a bilingual designation. Mariaester was also a key member and starter on our banner winning water polo team. In her spare time, she was an active member of the Associated Student Body (ASB) earning a lifetime membership.

Kevin was a member of my VEX robotics team and a determined student. This year Kevin challenged AP courses in: physics, chemistry, government, English literature and composition and self-studied for AP calculus B. Kevin was also involved in the ASB and several other activities on campus.

Samantha like Kevin and Mariaester will receive an honors designation on her diploma. Samantha earned a 4.25 weighted grade point during high school. She also was very involved with the ASB and was awarded a lifetime membership.

At the breakfast, more than half of the students had been in either my AP physics or regular high school physics class. It was wonderful seeing these budding young adults accept their accolades and honor their teachers. The students, their family and the teacher they were honoring were called one group at a time to the podium to have their laurels recited. I got to go up three times and hear how goofy El Guapo (my alter ego) is. It was really fun.

Every year for the past eight, Mar Vista High School has been required by the federal government to send a letter to all of our parents informing them that we are a failing school. No! It’s bogus! These students are proof we are a great school opening bright futures for wonderful young Americans.

The documentary “Defies Measurement” masterfully exposes how the benighted education policies promulgated at the behest of know nothing billionaires are wreaking havoc. Great schools are destroyed and bad pedagogy is promoted. I wrote about the unjust “turnaround” of Mar Vista Middle School (MVM) two years ago. I worked there for a year. MVM is a feeder school for Mar Vista High School. Schools like Chipman Middle School and MVM were never failing but were either destroyed or harmed by greed and ignorance. In fact they were doing exemplary work opening the path of success in life for thousands of youths.

As much as I enjoyed myself on Saturday morning, I could not help being frustrated by the fact that wonderful American institutions like Mar Vista High School are being targeted by profiteers or harmed by sycophants. Future Americans are at risk of never having the opportunity to attend school in these bastions of Democracy that should receive the lion’s share of credit for America and all it has achieved.