Tag Archives: CCSS

Response to Dianne Feinstein

23 Aug

Senator Feinstein, I am responding to you via open letter to address not just you but as many leaders as possible about education policy in America. At the outset, I want you to know that I have admired you since those horrible days when Dan White killed Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone and you were called upon to lead a wounded city. This message is not an attack on you, but rather, it is an attempt to educate about a harmful and widely held misconception regarding education testing.

In the message to me you wrote:

“I recognize that standardized tests have clear limitations and are not a cure-all for our nation’s education challenges; however, I also believe testing is an important tool for measuring student and school performance in order to ensure that every child receives a quality education. Standardized testing makes it possible for parents to see the progress their child is making and teachers to know when to correct course in their instruction.”

Now, I realize that this view, though unsupportable, is and has been for some time the belief of a majority of politicians and education bureaucrats in our nation’s capital. In the past, I did not appreciate how deeply this idea had permeated political thought. It therefore left me completely confused about why both Republican and Democratic leaders abandoned their own principles when it came to education.

I wondered, “Why have Democrats adopted test and punish policies that have clearly become a key tool for destroying public schools? Why have people like Barack Obama advocated charter schools that are little more than publicly financed private schools with little accountability? Why do Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton all seem to believe that a massive testing program will protect schools in poor and minority neighborhoods?”

On the other side of the isle, it is just as strange. Since the days of Abraham Lincoln, Republicans have stood for individual rights and local control but for two decades they have authored laws transferring control of education from local communities to the federal government. George H. W. Bush signed legislation that promoted federal involvement in local schools and his son sponsored, as his signature achievement, the “No Child Left Behind” law that gave control of school policy to the federal government.

Why is Jeb Bush such a long time and until recently vocal proponent of federal standards of education (the poorly written common core and next generation science standards)? Why did Orin Hatch vote against the Murphy opt-out amendment to the “Every Child Achieves Act?” Why was even Ronald Regan’s secretary of education, Terrell Bell, an early leader promoting the federalization of public education?

A very witty blogger named Peter Greene posted a comment about the recent education policy debate by Republican presidential candidates:

“GOP pols have the message– local control is great and the American Way and they totally support it except when they have to take it away from places that suck. Parents should be free to choose from an assortment of great schools, or at least from the assortment of charter schools that we say they should have. And parents who want to exert local control by keeping their community school intact (like, say, the hunger strikers of Chicago or the protesters of Newark)– well, they can’t have it.”

I started to wonder if our entire political class had become completely corrupted by money and power. Fortunately, that did not really make sense to me. I now believe I have plumbed the essence of the dilemma. Our political leaders do not understand the limitations of testing and especially standardized testing. The truth is that standardized testing is incapable of evaluating teacher or school quality, but there is a widely held belief it can.

A book written in 1999 by the education writer Alfie Kohn points directly at the disconnection:

“… it is an open secret among educators that much of what the scores are indicating is just the socioeconomic status of the students who take them. One educator suggests we should save everyone a lot of time and money by eliminating standardized tests, since we could get the same results by asking a single question ‘How much money does your mom make?’”[1]

That is the point. Standardized testing has a tremendous correlation to the economic conditions of the neighborhood in which the students live. This is the only variable that does have a high correlation with testing results. The environmental component of test results is so strong that it completely masks inputs like quality of teaching or quality of school. For the past more than a decade we have been mistakenly destroying great schools in poor communities based on a widely held misunderstanding of what the data means.

The famed education measurement expert, Gene V Glass, announced this month that he is no longer working in education measurement, because of its misuse. He asserted:

“The degrading of public education has involved impugning its effectiveness, cutting its budget, and busting its unions. Educational measurement has been the perfect tool for accomplishing all three: cheap and scientific looking.”

Last spring I heard Professor Yong Zhao speak. In his often humorous remarks he said that American students have never compared well on international testing. He then said, “The real question is why America is still here?” This instigated much laughter. The point is that standardized testing could not elucidate the greatness of America’s schools.

Here are a couple quotes from Professor Zhao’s latest book:

“’Out of the one billion people who have been educated in Mainland China since 1949, there have been no Nobel prize winner,’ Zheng wrote in an article. ‘This forcefully testifies [to] the power of education in destroying creativity on behalf of the [Chinese] society.’”

“The only way China will win the global competition of the future is for the West to begin educating the way China does.” [2]

I realize that when the federal government spends large sums of money there must be some form of accountability. Standardized testing has no real benefit to schools and misleads governance. It does not provide meaningful feedback to parents or teachers and it does serious harm to the classroom by narrowing curriculum and encouraging drill and skill pedagogy.

It is a mistake for congress to make specifics of education policy such as requiring standards and testing, the tool of accountability. I can think of three requirements that congress could make of states receiving title I funding that would significantly improve schools:

  1. All teachers must be fully certificated for the course they teach. (Professionalism is important for success in the classroom.)
  2. No classes can have more the thirty-two students. (Class size is very important especially in communities suffering the ravages of poverty and these are the very communities title I is designed to support.)
  3. All schools must successfully win accreditation by their regional accrediting association. (As I have written about this in other posts, this is real accountability by professional educators looking deeply into school function and giving important feedback.)

As we know, the “Every Child Achieves Act” (S. 1177) to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Public Law 107-110) passed the Senate and will be conferenced with the House reauthorization bill, the “Student Success Act” (H.R. 5). Both laws enshrine federal requirements for standards, testing and remediation of schools that are judged failures by this regime. Therefore, I urge you to stop this bill until the profoundly damaging and wasteful testing requirements are removed. Please protect public education from circling vultures.

1) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, © 1999, page 77.
2) Zhao, Yong. Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Jossey-Bass a Wiley Brand, ©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.

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.

Standards Based Education is Bad Education Theory

30 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/10/2015

While discussing a student’s next class schedule with an outstanding student counselor, I learned my colleague had become dependent on testing data to place her students. That is not a surprise; it is one of the fundamental errors permeating education globally. Standards based testing is a fraud; a mirage that falsely projects an aura of objective analysis. As soon as high stakes are tied to these tests, their validity is undermined.

The learning standards upon which high stakes testing is based come from a mistaken philosophy of pedagogy that posits: a standardized learning rate, standardized interests, linear learning progression, developmental alignment, etc. Humans are not standard. Some learn to speak at 16 months and some don’t acquire that skill until 72 months. Some are short, others are tall. Some are fast, other are not. A child from urban Chicago has different perceptions and interests than a child from Winnemucca, Nevada. A global curriculum will not meet the needs of an endlessly diverse population. One size truly does not fit all. Even if it did, it would still be a bad idea to have political entities in centers of power deciding what that curriculum should be.

About 500 BC, the ancient Pythagoreans were a mathematically based cult. One of their beliefs (mathematical standard) was that there was no such thing as an irrational number. An irrational number is a number that cannot be expressed as a ratio of two numbers such as ½. The most famous irrational number is the ratio of the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter which is expressed as π (≈3.14). The writer, Morris Kline, claims that the man credited with the discovery of irrational numbers was a Pythagorean named Hippasus who had the bad sense to announce his discovery while at sea. He was thrown overboard for his heretical thinking![1] This story may be apocryphal but it does delightfully illustrate the danger associated with ossifying thinking with standards.

The longest most sustained use of standards and standardized testing arose in China more than 2000 years ago during the Han dynasty. It was an attempt to select government official based on some sort of meritocracy rather than feudal family station. However, local Lords were able to subvert the testing criteria and maintain the power of appointment. Starting in about 200 AD, China entered a 400 year long warring states period of instability.

In 581 AD, the new Emperor Wen of the Sui dynasty achieved a coup over his employer the Northern Zhao and then militarily unified China. Emperor Wen believed he needed to protect himself from the power of feudal lords, so he reintroduced the ‘keju’ or testing system to select government bureaucrats. Meritocracy based on test results became the sole path to a government position. University of Oregon’s dean of global education and professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Yong Zhao, recently wrote about the ‘keju’ system:

“The emperor’s biggest concern was keeping China unified under his family’s rule. Learning from his own example, he realized he needed a way to weaken the hereditary power of certain families and tribes. Thus, he needed to find people who could help govern the country without relying on the existing ruling class. He also needed a way to prevent capable talents from rising against the empire and reinforce among his subjects the need to obey the rightful rule of the Son of Heaven.

We can’t know how much Emperor Wen planned and strategized, but the establishment of keju accomplished every one of the goals.”[2]

The ‘keju’ exams focused on memorization of the Confucian cannon and interpretive expository writing about the cannon and current political affairs. By far the most prestigious position in pre-industrial China was a government appointment obtained by success in these exams. This testing became the focus of education for virtually everyone living in the most advanced civilization on the planet.

It has been estimated that in 600 AD, China had at least a 400-year scientific lead on the rest of the world. So why didn’t the industrial revolution occur in China? Former Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank, Justin Yifu Lin posits:

“I believe the real reason of the absence of scientific revolution was not due to the adverse political environment that prohibited the creativity of Chinese intellectuals, but due to the special incentives provided by the civil-service examination system. Because of this examination system, curious geniuses were diverted from learning mathematics and conducting controllable experiments. Because of this system, the geniuses could not accumulate crucial human capital that was essential for the scientific revolution. As a result, the discoveries of natural phenomena could only be based on sporadic observations, and could not be upgraded into modern science which was built upon mathematics and controlled experiments.”[3]

 In China’s case the test became the education standard and that has been an ironclad law of standards and standards based testing ever since. Even David Coleman, the man who sold the Common Core to Bill Gates and then directed their development, knows that the tests become the real standards that will be taught. In a speech, he said:

“It was Lauren who propounded the great rule that I think is a statement of reality, though not a pretty one, which is teachers will teach towards the test. There is no force strong enough on this earth to prevent that. There is no amount of hand-waving, there’s no amount of saying, and ‘They teach to the standards, not the test; we don’t do that here.’”[4]

For America the first large scale standards movement was led by the Committee of Ten which published its report in 1894. Prepared under the auspices of the National Educational Association, this report was first published by the Bureau of Education, at Washington DC. The Committee of Ten was led by Harvard University President, Charles W. Elliot. The ten members supervised the development of standards for 9 different subjects. Nine subcommittees of ten members each worked in various locations around the country on their particular field of expertise.

There was an attempt to insure that the subcommittees were constituted by members representing diverse geographical locations. The committees were dominated by college staff and administrators but there were one or two classroom teachers on most of the committees, but the largest group of educators in America appears to have been ignored. There were no women on any of the committees.[5]

Two of the published standards – and there are many more – illustrate the innate problem with codified standards:

“They recommend ‘that the course in arithmetic be at once abridged and enriched; abridged by omitting entirely those subjects which perplex and exhaust the pupil without affording any really valuable mental discipline, and enriched by a greater number of exercises in simple calculation, and in the solution of concrete problems.’”[6]

So in mathematics, the committee called for more drill and skill which is exactly the kind of teaching Benjamin Bloom’s ‘Taxonomy of Educational Objectives’ called into question. The following comes from the science standards:

“As regards Resolutions 3, 4, and 5, it should be said that the order recommended for the study of Chemistry and Physics is plainly not the logical one, but all the members with one exception voted for Resolution 3 because they felt that the pupils should have as much mathematical knowledge as possible to enable them to deal satisfactorily with Physics, while they could profitably take up elementary Chemistry at an earlier stage.”[7]

This decision is why to this day we teach biology then chemistry then physics. This order is exactly backwards. To read a biology book a student needs knowledge of chemistry and to understand the forces that drive chemical reactions the principles of energy from physics is needed. San Diego Unified School District tried to rectify this order but they abandoned their expensive effort. The district was unfairly punished when their 9th grade physics student test scores did no compare well with the scores of mainly 11th and 12th grade students from across California on mandated standardized testing.

Mark Silver of John Hopkins reports,

“The standards movement has its roots in curriculum content and skills. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) was one of the first national professional organizations to publish national curriculum standards and goals.”[8]

These standards were guiding documents for the development of the California math standards which are widely considered superior to the common core standards. The common complaint I heard from fellow teachers implementing the California math standards was that they were “a mile wide and an inch deep.” These standards took us from “uncovering” mathematical principles to “covering” the material. Constructivist approaches like problem based learning were completely undermined and math instruction was pushed back to 1894’s drill and skill model. The high stakes involved made success on a narrow range of tested material paramount.

Since the inception of the California math standards, ossified standards have existed; for example rationalizing denominators. This procedure insures that there are no square-root factors in a denominator. Before calculators, rationalizing denominators significantly eased difficult arithmetic, but after calculators dividing by radicals became no more difficult than dividing by sums. Still the California teachers were compelled to drill their students on an antiquated algorithm.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Japan and China reacted differently to being behind the West scientifically and technically. China maintained its education culture and purchased technology. Japan completely changed its approach to education and engaged in a strenuous effort to catch the West in science, mathematics and manufacturing. The hallmark of Japan’s approach was authoritarianism. The goals of education became modernizing and producing loyal disciples for the Emperor. These purposes were to be insured by tested education standards. The education reformer, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, criticized both the goals and the methods. He denounced standards based education as mechanized education and agonized over putting children through “testing hell”.

With authoritarian standards based education, Japan became both a world power and a menace. China’s equally authoritarian standards based education led to weakness and vulnerability. Both countries were on a path of ruin.

The renowned historian, Arnold Toynbee established a criteria for judging whether a civilization was in a stage of growth or decline. He wrote:

“We must ask whether, as we look back over the ground we have traversed, we can discern any master tendency at work, and we do in fact unmistakably decry a tendency towards standardization and uniformity: a tendency which is correlative and opposite of the tendency towards differentiation and diversity which we have found to be the mark of the growth stage of civilizations.”[9]

Both John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi counseled against standardized education. Dewey stated “Imposing an alleged uniform general method upon everybody breeds mediocrity in all but the very exceptional.”[10] And Makiguchi theorized that “Education integrated into the life of society will yield benefits of well-planned living, without the undesirable effect of mechanical uniformity an inherent danger in standardized education.”[11]

What is the root of the persistent and two millennial old tendency for politicians with minimal knowledge of education creating education standards and mandating testing accountability? It originates in a deep rooted innate and evil desire in humans to control other humans. If we do not fight this tendency, we are doomed to live in an authoritarian society where political elites ensure subservience by controlling education standards enforced by standardized testing.

A better path forward is the development of consensus about the purposes of education through continual dialogue. Then allow professional educators to create curricular guidance by a process of peer reviewed research. Community schools should use that curricular guidance in the best way they see fit and should be encouraged to experiment. Statistical sampling identical to the National Assessment of Education Progress should be used to assess progress and provide information for the purposes of continued dialogue, research and further progress. It should be an ongoing process with no shortcuts; no silver bullets and no miracles.

As for my colleague’s concern about guidance in student class placement, teacher grades and recommendations along with input from the student and their parents is a far more reliable method of placement than relying on dubious standardized testing scores.

  1. Morris Kline (1990), Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times, page 32. Oxford University Press
  2. Yong Zhao (2014), Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Jossey-Bass of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Page 38
  3. http://www.uq.edu.au/economics/cepa/docs/seminar/papers-nov2006/Lin-Paper.pdf
  4. http://atthechalkface.com/2013/12/23/this-is-the-common-core-you-support/
  5. https://openlibrary.org/books/OL7129384M/Report_of_the_Committee_of_ten_on_secondary_school_studies
  6. https://archive.org/stream/reportofcomtens00natirich#page/105/mode/1up
  7. https://archive.org/stream/reportofcomtens00natirich#page/119/mode/1up
  8. http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/Transforming%20Education/Articles/Trends%20in%20School%20Reform/
  9. Arnold Toynbee (DC Somervell), “A study of History” abridgement Volume 1 – VI, Oxford University Press, 1946, page 555
  10. Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan, 1916. Page 203
  11. Ikeda, Daisaku. Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001 Page 18

“What you guys are doing is a great thing!”

30 Jun

The BATs (Bad Ass Teachers) of Washington organized their first public event on June 26 – it was a smashing success! Beginning at the iconic Westgate Park, home of political expression and protest for five decades, it was the perfect spot for a gathering of BATs. By 4:30 PM teachers were arriving, making signs and setting up a stage. Music and speeches started at five and about 5:45 police closed off 5th Avenue and hundreds of us marched off to Seattle Center and the Bill Gates Foundation. Included in those ranks besides me from San Diego were teachers from Oregon, Arizona and Oklahoma.

Teachers can do anything well, make signs, speak and sing. The crowd was initially uplifted by the impassioned singing voices of adults who actually care about children. Of course, a group of teachers knew to provide everyone in the crowd a copy of the song lyrics plus the words for the chants planned for along the parade route.

I was particularly pleased to hear one of the hero teachers from Seattle’s Garfield High school speak. Last year they made national news by refusing as a staff to give the state’s standardized tests. This year, like the rest of us, they are facing CC$$ testing, which is extreme and disruptive. She is not sure what the staff will decide to do. The pressure will be even greater – after all this is Bill Gates home.

Shortly after five a park worker started gathering up equipment including the chairs some of us were using. When asking for my chair he said, “What you guys are doing is a great thing!”

By the time we headed out onto 5th avenue, it looked like an old fashion union parade from the Samuel Gompers era. There were hundreds of teachers marching. Our ranks covered more than a city block in length. Most of us were carrying signs.

The teacher chorus and guitar player continued to lead us in the songs we had just practiced in Westgate Park. Here’s an example of some of the wonderful lyrics:

“I’m gonna lay down my bubble sheets
Outside the Board of Ed
Outside the Board of Ed
Outside the Board of Ed
I’m gonna lay down my bubble sheets
Outside the Board of Ed
Ain’t gonna teach to the test no more”

We also regaled the locals on the streets with chants like:

“Hey, hey, ho ho.
School closings gotta go!
Hey, hey, ho ho.
Privitization’s gotta go.
Hey, hey, ho ho.
Standardized tests gotta go.
Hey hey ho ho.
Charter schools have gotta go.
Hey hey ho ho.
Arne Duncan has gotta go.”

As we marched along people came out of their stores and businesses to observe. Most of them were smiling, giving us thumbs up, clapping and shouting encouragement. It was clear that at least in downtown Seattle, that teachers and public schools are more popular than those attacking us. At one point cars were traveling down the opposite side of the street and many of them were honking their horns in support. The public is clearly on our side.

Upon arriving at the Gates headquarters, there were more speeches, more songs and more chants. It was a good day for public education.

King the not Professional is Propagandist

5 Jan

It is unfortunate that the Democratic Party got into bed with corporate driven education reform. This piece seems like something a flack would write supporting a political agenda and not a well reasoned informed response from a top professional education bureaucrat. King rails against misinformation at the same time he spouts unsupported non-sense. Clearly the federal standards are being implemented before being field tested and the early evidence is that they are terrible.

The standards are strong on financial and political support and have little support from professional educators who have seriously studied them. No experienced professional educators were involved in writing them and among the few who reviewed the standards, some refused to sign off on them.

Mercedes Snyder looked at tax returns and makes a very convincing case that the CCSS were spawned as a vehicle to allow corporate access to education dollars. They are not about improving schools or helping minority communities. Their purpose is the transfer of education dollars to corporations who sell digital devices, testing, test preparation materials, scripted (mind numbing) lessons, consultants and the list is endless. In California, voters approved a tax increase to help education, but all of that money is going to build the needed testing infrastructure and other related Common Core expenses. Classes are remaining huge and the learning environment is becoming more repugnant as the testing load intensifies.