Archive | July, 2015

A Response to Congressman Peters

11 Jul

I received a reply from Congressman Peters (D-California 52) this April to my message against HR-5, “The Student Success Act.” The Congressman made several assertions concerning education that I discuss here in an open response.

Opening assertions by Congressman Peters:

“In an increasingly global economy, it is critical that we make educational investments that put our students in a position to compete with the rest of the world. For years, the United States has trailed countries like China and India not only in education investments, but also in student achievement. When crafting education bills, Congress should be sure that it is taking steps to close that gap, rather than broadening it.”

This paragraph states several widely held false beliefs. First of all the United States out spends India and China on education combined. According to the worldbank and a Chinese government data report for 2012, India spent less than 4% of GDP ($2.1 trillion) or about $80 Billion; China spent 4.2% of GDP ($10.36 trillion) or about $430 Billion; and the US spent more than 5% of GDP ($17.42 trillion) or about $800 Billion on education. Our education spending almost doubles India and China’s combined spending and per child we spend many times more than either country.

Student achievement measures depend upon what you want. If the goal is creative students who can innovate and lead happy lives then our system is clearly out producing India and China. One measuring stick might be Nobel Prize winners since 1949: America had 313 laureates; India 7; and China 8. Of the 8 Chinese, the Dalai Lama and Liu Xiaobo who won peace prizes both are considered criminals – Xiaobo is still in a Chinese prison; four are scientists who earned their degrees in the United States or Great Britain; and only the two literature recipients were educated in China. To recap, since 1949 two international and widely recognized citations for Chinese educated students compared to 313 such citations from our world’s best American education system.

It is common for business and political leaders to believe that standardized tests like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) that is promoted by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation are reliable indicators of school quality and student achievement. For several reasons they are not. Walter Hahn from the University of Utah recently returned to Europe to investigate the changes in education since he left. He reports that about age eleven most students are tracked into either a university path or various non-university paths. Testing of the non-university track students is not typical. Same is true in Asia. We test everyone. Researchers also point to many other problems with international testing.

It is true that US students have never been top scorers on international testing, but large segments of our students are very competitive. However, focus on testing leads to bad pedagogy. Professor Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon has written extensively about the problem with hyper-focus on testing in China. He reports that the Chinese government has been trying since the 1970’s to reform its test focused education system. However, because of the culture steeped in millennia of testing is so ingrained, Chinese parents insure test preparation. It is normal in China to put children in test preparation private academies after school and on weekends.

Some of my colleagues have been paid to go to China and demonstrate teaching while Chinese delegations searching for education improvement have visited and observed at my high school, Mar Vista High School. They do not care that our federal government labels my school as “failing.” No one in China thinks they have a great education system. Professor Zhao recently wrote, “The only way China will win the global competition of the future is for the West to begin doing education the way China does.”[1]

Standards based testing is misleading. Professor Haladyna and associates conducted a highly regarded study that shows as soon as high stakes are tied to these tests, their validity is undermined. When institutions, teachers and students gain experience with high stakes tests they find ways to focus primarily on test preparation. I was even taught by a consultant at a teacher training, “if it is not on the test, it is a waste of time to teach it.”

Another example of how high stakes undermine test results is the SAT. For three decades, SAT scores have gone up, an industry has emerged to prepare students for the tests and the predictability of future success based on test results has gotten worse. The data is quite clear that high school grades with all their flaws are much more predictive of future collegiate success than SAT test results.

Your colleague Congresswomen, Susan Davis (D-California 53), asked me “how can schools be held accountable without testing?” This indicates a belief that standardized testing is a valid measure of school or teacher quality. Today, few people outside of the testing industry believe that to be the case. When No Child Left Behind (NCLB) forced high stakes testing on the nation, it did not enforce school accountability. Ironically, based on testing results, public schools were blamed for the result of poverty by the political and businessmen who were actually responsible. Kind of anti-accountability don’t you think?

To Congresswomen Davis’ question, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) testing because it does not have high stakes attached is a reliable metric. The best school accountability is performed by regional accrediting agencies which send in teams of current educators who spend a week or more evaluating each school. They interview; administrators, teachers, students, non-certified staff and parents. They visit every class room and analyze all school documents including action plans. Finally they give useful feedback with a clear idea of what they expect in the way of improvement going forward.

I bring all this up because the re-write of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has been revived. Thank you for voting against the Student Success Act this July 8. I am hoping if the Orwellian named Senate version “Every Child Achieves Act” ever comes to conference you can help improve this law.

Poverty is clearly the over arching problem in education. We have great public schools with the most educated work force American education has ever witnessed, but we have out of control child poverty and it shows up as the key driver in every statistic. Here is some data from the department of education:

In 2013, approximately 21 percent of school-age children were in families living in poverty, an increase of 4% since 1990. But that poverty is much more damaging to certain ethnicities and as this table reveals it is reflected in testing results.
Ethnicity                               White          Asian         Black         Hispanic
Living in Poverty                   13%             13%          39%            32%
NAEP 8th Grade Math           294              306           263            272
NAEP 8th Grade Reading      276             280            250            255

Pretty much all of the schools that were labeled as “failing schools” by NCLB and slated for closure or “turnaround” were in high poverty areas; while no schools in upper middle class neighborhoods were touched. Having worked in both kinds of schools, I can assure you the teaching in the wealthier neighborhoods in California is not significantly better than the teaching in poorer ones. Teachers talk disparagingly about being punished for working in the wrong zip code.

STEAM initiatives and federal test and punish programs will not solve the achievement gaps among schools as long as pervasive poverty is allowed to persist. Sending education dollars to charter schools that now have a known history of disruptive financial failure and fraud will only hurt America’s students. Please get the federal government out of the business of running schools. Give the schools back to local control. NCLB was a huge mistake and we need a course correction.

In 1910, Commissioner of Education Elmer Ellsworth Brown wrote about the genius of the American system of education:

“Our educational organization answering as it does to our federal plan of government presents peculiar advantages as regards the making of a varied flexible yet inherently unified system of instruction. It is an organization not readily understood by foreigners. It offers many obstacles to the carrying out of any plans for rapid and uniform improvement. Yet the self governing character of its several members is of itself an incalculable advantage. Whatever unity is attained must be an inner unity an agreement through conviction.”

The hugely successful public education system in America has always come from the people of their own volition adopting the education ideas that best fit their own community. Soviet style command and control education undermines the great crucible of democracy that is public education and dooms the creative American spirit. Please end the disastrous experiment in federal control of education.

1) Zhao, Yong. Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, © John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 2014.

Trekkie Standards for Science – The Standards

3 Jul

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are awful. Do not adopt these standards. Corporate “Mad Men” gave them a name conjuring up the heroic images of Gene Rodenberry’s science fiction television series “Star Trek the Next Generation,” but they are really solely about pecuniary interests and power. If your state did adopt them reverse that disastrous course immediately. These misguided science standards are the pinnacle of “corporate education reform” whose theories of pedagogy are informed by profit incentive and theories of disruption.

The worst part about these standards is that they are not the real standards. The real standards are going to be written by testing corporations when they create the summative assessments for “accountability.” The NGSS are the universe of standards from which the subset of tested real standards will be taken. Once school leaders and teachers know the tested standards that will determine their future and the survival of their schools, they will focus on them like a cat after a bird.

Paul Bruno a middle school science teacher critiqued the NGSS for EdSource in April 2013 when the final draft was released. He wrote, “The most immediately striking weakness of these new science standards is that they are difficult to read. Indeed, the standards are so difficult to decipher that at various times the drafters have released a 2 ½ minute instructional video and a 5-page set of written directions to aid in interpreting them.”

This point keeps being reinforced. On June 25, 2015 NGSS released another “evidence statement” which notes “The evidence statements are intended to identify clear, measurable components that, if met, fully satisfy each performance expectation (PE) described within the NGSS.”

In Bruno’s 2013 article he makes other cogent points about the weaknesses in the NGSS; writing:

“In reality, a student’s ability to engage successfully in a ‘science practice’ is likely to depend first and foremost on his related scientific knowledge. So while the NGSS suggest that a third grader should be able to ‘use evidence to support an explanation,’ his skill with that ‘scientific practice’ will depend mostly on his knowledge of the phenomenon he is trying to explain. A family background in gardening may allow him to proficiently marshal evidence to support an explanation about plant growth, but he may nevertheless be unable to generate well-supported explanations about electronic circuits.”

The NGSS is a new theory of science education. It divides all of science into 13 core ideas which are all addressed in grade spans; kindergarten – 2nd grade, 3rd grade – 5th grade, 6th grade – 8th grade and high school. The same core ideas are repeated at each grade span.

To Bruno’s point, each disciplinary core idea (DCI) is associated with “scientific practices” and “crosscutting concepts.” Skills are emphasized over knowledge with the inherent view that the skills will easily transfer between core ideas. This is probably wrong and of course it has never been piloted because in the Procrustean world of “corporate education reform” speed is of the essence and if a few eggs are broken so be it.

In January, 2015, Peter Bishop, physics and math teacher extraordinaire, studied the NGSS over winter break. He came to our AP physics teachers meeting with some observations and concerns. Like any Annapolis man who served as an officer in the US Navy, Peter looked unflinchingly at what we are facing and identified some issues that we should address.
He spotted this in NGSS Appendix D:

“…Successful application of science and engineering practices (e.g., constructing explanations engaging in argument from evidence) and understanding of how crosscutting concepts (e.g., patterns ,structure and function) play out across a range of disciplinary core ideas (e.g., structure and properties of matter, earth materials and systems) will demand increased cognitive expectations of all students. Making such connections has typically been expected only of “advanced,” “gifted,” or “honors” students The NGSS are intended to provide a foundation for all students, including those who can and should surpass the NGSS performance expectations. At the same time, the NGSS make it clear that these increased expectations apply to those students who have traditionally struggled to demonstrate mastery even in the previous generation of less cognitively demanding standards…”

Peter’s response to this:

“How will this affect our instruction? In the statewide 2013 CST report, 40% of Algebra students were Far Below or Below Basic. Only 16% of the Physics students fell in these categories. The numbers are similar for Chemistry (21%) and Bio (18%). If we can take performance in Algebra as a reasonable metric to predict performance in science courses which require mastery of basic Algebra skills we can expect a dramatic increase in low scoring students.”

The design of NGSS is to start the standards with kindergarten students and the next year’s standards build on to the previous year’s development. By 6th grade students are supposed to: model the hydrologic cycle, report on global warming and other issues, understand the kinetic theory of temperature, work with theories of entropy, understand kinetic energy, and more. Even if the apparent belief that the rate of human development can be altered by these awesome standards is true, high school students for nearly a decade will not have the prerequisites to succeed. Today’s students are set up to fail just like the common core has set up math and English students to fail.

There are other voices across America speaking harshly about this new theory of science education. Heather Mac-Donald writing for the National Review said:

“Those standards, developed by educrats and science administrators, and likely to be adopted initially by up to two dozen states, put the study of global warming and other ways that humans are destroying life as we know it at the very core of science education.

“The New York Times reports that the standards’ authors anticipate the possible elimination of traditional classes such as biology and chemistry from high school in favor of a more ‘holistic’ approach. This contempt for traditional disciplines has already polluted college education, but it could do far more damage in high school.”

In the spirit of Lynn Chaney, Heather seems to detect a liberal college professor type conspiracy in the standards. I always find this stuff entertaining but I do see her point about citizens losing any influence over what is taught in local schools.

Doctor Stephen Uzzo from New York is concerned with the statements in NGSS. He says:

“They make sweeping and overreaching statements like: ‘scientific knowledge assumes an order and consistency in natural systems (3-PS2-b)’ When we know that emergent systems abound in nature (we have an exhibit on this upstairs), and making believe nature is consistent and orderly ignores much of 20th century science, never mind 21st. Anyone who watches the weather report knows this is just incorrect.”

Doctor Jenifer Helms from Arkansas really does not like the NGSS:

“These new standards leave a great deal to be desired, and by that, I mean that they are abysmal. I have read the entire 103-page document; and then I compared the NGSS K-12 standards with the current Arkansas Frameworks standards that can be found here. What I discovered was not just disappointing, it was disturbing.”

Trying to write education standards is probably a little like picking color choices for repainting a condominium project. No matter what, there are going to be complaints. However, In this case, it seems that the desire for dictatorial control over education is a much bigger driver than the perceived need for national science standards.

The major attempt to establish national standards in 1894 has had a profound effect on education in America and it would be hard to argue that was not positive. In the 20th century, the American public education system produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other system in the world. The United States which was viewed as a second tier power when the century began rose to dominate the world militarily, monetarily and culturally. So, maybe there is a lesson here.

In the development of standards in 1894, the call for standards was almost exclusively from professional educators and all 110 people involved in writing the standards were professional educators. There was little political and almost no financial support for the adoption of these standards and there was no high stakes testing for accountability. These standards were more or less embraced across the country based on their merit. They were education suggestions from respected educators and were embraced by each locale according their own needs.

In the introductory remarks for the Report of the Commissioner of Education, Department of the Interior, Washington, October 1, 1910, Commissioner Elmer Ellsworth Brown beautifully states the genius of the American education organization.

“Our educational organization answering as it does to our federal plan of government presents peculiar advantages as regards the making of a varied flexible yet inherently unified system of instruction. It is an organization not readily understood by foreigners. It offers many obstacles to the carrying out of any plans for rapid and uniform improvement. Yet the self governing character of its several members is of itself an incalculable advantage. Whatever unity is attained must be an inner unity an agreement through conviction.”

By contrast the NGSS were totally the product of power politics and political influence. These standards should more correctly be called the IBM standards. In 1995 the CEO of IBM, Louis Gerstner, spoke to the National Governors Association (NGA) on the urgent need for standards in education now. Lynn Chaney had torpedoed Bill Clinton’s nascent standards drive the year before, so it was unrealistic to expect immediate movement toward national standards. (1)

The following year Gerstner hosted the NGA at the IBM conference facility in Palisades, New York. At this 1996 conference, a new non-profit organization was started by the governors and CEO’s in attendance called Achieve, Inc. (2) According to Achieve’s 990 tax forms, Louis Gerstner was either chairman of the board of Achieve or emeritus chairman from its inception until the NGSS standards were finished in 2013. Achieve has copyright ownership of NGSS.

The NGSS website says the developmental work on these standards would not have been possible without the support of: The Carnegie Foundation of New York, The GE Foundation, The Noyce Foundation, The Cisco Foundation and DuPont. According to the science framework, Carnegie Foundation gave Achieve Inc. a contract to manage the development of the NGSS, but who actually wrote these standards?

I call NGSS the pinnacle of “Corporate Education Reform.” They learned from the CCSS fiasco. The web site lists 26 states and 40 individuals as writing the standards. Instead of being written in secret by testing company employees, the 36 education professionals and four corporate scientists who are credited with writing the standards are featured. But who really put this airplane built by committee together. Could it be Sue Pimantel a CCSS lead writer? The 2011 and 2012 Forms 990 for Achieve Inc. show Pimantel received $333,791 for consulting services, but they do not advertise her involvement on the NGSS site.

Like the CCSS the NGSS is an untested new theory of education being foisted on communities throughout America by un-American means. These were not great ideas that attained “an agreement through conviction.” There is nothing about this heavy handed corporate intrusion into the life of American communities that promises greater good. It is harmful, disruptive and expensive. I know my school district would have never adopted this of its own volition.

1) Schneider, Mercedes K. Common Core Dilemma, Teacher College Press New York and London, 2015
2) Ibid.