Tag Archives: constructivixm

NGSS is Science Education Plague

12 Nov

By T. Ultican 11/12/2015

Three bad ideas have taken root in California; common core, charter schools and NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards and Framework). There is growing awareness of the draw backs associated with common core’s top down control of schools and the often fraudulent and unstable charter school movement. On the other hand, most people have not heard of the NGSS. Monday, I was required to attend a “professional development” day focused on NGSS.

I teach math and physics at Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach, California. It is a magical place. The school sits about 6 blocks from the beach. Once, I actually walked down that beach and made an unconventional crossing into our neighbor suburb, Las Playas de Tijuana. Mexico is that close. Naturally, a lot of Spanish is spoken by our amazingly peaceful and kind students.

My district has set up cohorts made up of teachers from four high schools, tasking selected teachers in the various subject areas with leading professional development activities. Since I teach in two core areas, math and science, I am required to go for both NGSS and CCSS indoctrination (buying into these regimes is required for teacher leaders and administrators if they want to keep their jobs). Unfortunately, the creation of both NGSS and CCSS was led by testing company executives and CEO’s like Louis Gerstner from IBM and not experts in pedagogy.

These business executives have recklessly foisted their misguided education policies on America; not even pilot testing the transmogrification they propose. Political pressure driven by a few billionaires causes these changes to be abruptly instituted. Instead of a reasoned and thoughtful roll out of radical curricular changes, schools are forced to transition to them immediately, creating extreme discontinuities in the learning sequence.

For our NGSS training, we started with a November article in Science Scope magazine by Joe Krajcik called “Three-Dimensional Instruction – Using a New Type of Teaching in the Science Classroom.” He tells us that “Classrooms incorporating three-dimensional learning will have students build models, design investigations, share ideas, develop explanations, and argue using evidence, all of which allow students to develop important 21st century skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and self management.” Honestly, the only thing that appears new here is developing 21st century skills instead of 20th century skills.

These are all known principles of cognitive development that have been around for more than a century. They reflect the work of Dewey, Vygotsky and Piaget. It is the constructivist approach. I endorse that kind of pedagogy, however, the poorly written NGSS standards (close to undecipherable) are being forced onto students without matching cognitive readiness, violating Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” theory.

For example, approximately 30 core ideas are to be investigated by students and assessed in kindergarten through 2nd grade. Six science standards are to be introduced in kindergarten including earth’s systems, motion and stability, forces and interactions, and engineering design. At the same time, CCSS require that these babies learn to read, write and do math. Not even the Chinese expect babies to forgo childhood to be scholars destined to advance the economic engine. It is a huge mismatch in cognitive development that portends permanent damage.

The disturbing part of my training was the sight of three bright young teachers caught up in this “corporate education reform” sausage grinder. The week before our cohort met they were pulled out of classes for a day to work with district curricular leaders on planning the event. They gathered materials, planned a lab activity and tried very hard to take us through a demonstration lesson that illuminated the three dimensions of learning. We all had a nice day off from teaching and tried not to be negative Nancy’s, but none of the real issues with NGSS were discussed.

At the high school level, NGSS standards require integrated science just like common core requires integrated math. My school tried integrated math in the 1990’s and abandoned it as a bad idea. Now, I am teaching integrated math III. However, science is different than math. Most math teachers have enough background in algebra, geometry and statistics to teach any level of integrated math. It is the rare science teacher who has expertise in all science domains: earth science, biology, chemistry and physics.

NGSS writers posited that chemistry and physics principles like Newton’s laws, the gas laws, and atomic structure would be so thoroughly apprehended by 8th grade, that it would not be necessary to teach them in high school. In high school, student are to create reports and videos that explain the energy transformations behind global warming and how Darwin’s laws of evolution correctly explain the development of life. There are almost no high school chemistry or physics standards in NGSS.

I personally believe that the existence of global warming caused by human activity (burning fossil fuels) is settled science. I also think Darwin was a gifted scientific observer whose theory of evolution is well founded. On the other hand, why overweight the standards with these two controversial topics? I am not saying ignore them, but they are central to these new science standards and they do not need to be.

NGSS was never pilot tested and was rushed into existence before people had a chance to vet it. Therefore, NGSS is full of errors and horribly misaligned.

NGSS is another of those dreams held by a rich powerful man that has been ramrodded into existence. Luis Gerstner the former CEO of both IBM and RJR Nabisco started campaigning for these standards in 1995. In 1996, he talked the National Governors Association into making him chairman of a new non-profit named Achieve Incorporated. Achieve was charged with making his standards dream a reality. He remained the chairman of Achieve until the standards were completed in 2013 and copyrighted by Achieve Inc.

Unlike Bill Gates, Gerstner did not drop out of school. And not only did he complete school himself, he hired many people who had been to school. These are his only qualifications for leading education policy in America. Like Gates’s common core, Gerstner’s NGSS is terrible education policy that came about because America’s democratic process and the principal of local control of education were sundered by billionaires.

Standards Based Education is Bad Education Theory

30 Mar

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 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 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 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 test score.

  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

Faux Education Reform or Improved Education (Both are NOT Possible!)

22 Nov

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts about education policy with Congresswomen, Susan Davis (Democrat CA-53). Like many high government office holders, Davis got her start in the 1980’s as a member of the local school board. I immediately launched into my heartfelt belief that standardized testing was destroying public education and leading to the privatizing of public schools. She almost immediately asked me what I find a peculiar and telling question, “How are we going to monitor schools without testing?” This question implies that standards and standardized testing do indeed present a way of evaluating quality of teaching or schools. They do not. It also implies that monitoring schools is the job of the federal government. It is not. And for someone that had almost a decade working with schools not to know what a good job accrediting organizations do monitoring and guiding schools is significant. It demonstrates why it is so important to promote professionalism in the operation of our schools. Politicians and rich businesspeople are not well enough informed about the intricacies and variables involved in education to run schools and dictate policy. We respect the opinions of professionals in other arts such as the medical field when we make policy because they are experts in a complicated field, likewise we should respect professionalism in education because it is an even more complicated field. The bottom line is that since the passage of NCLB the education of children in how to think has atrophied. Like Diane Ravitch prophesized, “And so we may find that we obtained a paradoxical and terrible outcome: higher test scores and worse education.”1 Higher test scores because we made that the ultimate goal of our pedagogy and worse education because children are taught discrete pieces of information to recite but get no practice in using that information to reason and create.

While writing about how standardized testing and mechanical literacy are undermining the experience in school, Francis Lucerna, the co-founder of La Puente, observed, “This is not by accident; there is a reason this is happening and why it’s happening in public schools and not in private schools and other places. This is the education for followers, not for leaders.”2 In other words this type of education reform is the kind of class based reform that John Dewey warned against in 1916, “His own purpose will direct his actions. Otherwise, his seeming attention, his docility, his memorizing and reproductions will partake of intellectual servility. Such a condition of intellectual subjugation is needed for fitting the masses into a society where the many are not expected to have aims or ideas of their own, but to take orders from the few set in authority. It is not adapted to a society which intends to be democratic.”3 In a similar vein, Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of the constructivist oriented Soka Education system states, “Learning that has forgotten creativity is a servant of authority. If learning is to serve people, it must continue to create value.”4 For more than a century great education philosophers have warned us about how standards based and behaviorist education vitiates pedagogy; yet here we are in the second decade of the 21st century bringing this kind of injury to the public education system.

How did we get here? Recently I read a book by the renowned educator; cognitive and computer scientist, Roger Schank called Teaching Minds. In a discussion of scripts he writes, “Scripts tell us what will happen next in the aspects of the world that repeat frequently. Anyone who goes to a restaurant knows that when you order food, someone will bring it to you and later you will be expected to pay for it. … People who have scripts often generalize them so that in their own mind they are experts on things they have never experienced. This is what stupid looks like.”5 This seems to be a real cogent explanation of modern education reform led by the likes of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Arne Duncan and the endless list of education reformers with no personal experience either studying or practicing education yet they went to school so they think they are experts. Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute wrote about the Race to the Top (RttT) reforms brought to us by the non-educator education reformers that joined the Obama administration from the NewSchools Venture Fund. He observed that they have “published a list of 19 of its best ideas, few of which are truly ‘evidence-based,’ regardless of what President Obama says, and told states to adopt as many of them as possible if they want to get the money. It’s as if a bunch of do-gooders sat together at the NewSchools Venture Fund summit and brainstormed a list of popular reform ideas, and are now going to force them upon the states. (Wait, I think that is how this list got developed.)”6

Almost One hundred years ago John Dewey wrote Democracy and Education, in which he made many cogent and insightful statements about education. Here are a few:

(Page 46) “Why it is that teaching by pouring in and learning by passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so entrenched in practice? That education is not an affair of ‘telling’ and being told, but an active and constructive process, is a principle almost as generally violated in practice as conceded in theory.”

(Page 122) “An aim must, then, be flexible; it must be capable of alteration to meet circumstances. An end established externally to the process of action is always rigid. Being inserted or imposed from without, it is not supposed to have a working relationship to the concrete conditions of the situation.”

(Page 158) “Translated into details, it means the act of learning or studying is artificial and ineffective in the degree in which pupils are merely presented with a lesson to be learned.”

(Page 177) “While all thinking results in knowledge, ultimately the value of knowledge is subordinate to its use in thinking.”

(Page 203) “Imposing an alleged uniform general method upon everybody breeds mediocrity in all but the very exceptional.”

(Page 207) “Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less that a revolution in teaching would be worked.”

(Page 303) “Narrow modes of skill cannot be made useful beyond themselves; any mode of skill which is achieved with deepening of knowledge and perfecting of judgment is readily put to use in new situations and is under personal control.”

(Page 417) “Discipline, culture, social efficiency, personal refinement, improvement of character are but phases of the growth of capacity nobly to share in such a balanced experience. And education is not a mere means to such a life. Education is such a life. To maintain capacity for such education is the essence of morals. For conscious life is a continual beginning afresh.”7

John Dewey may have been America’s greatest thinker about teaching and learning and yet our modern reformers completely ignore him. I suspect many of them have never actually studied education philosophy and many others of them have other motives that have little to do with improving public education. Dewey is hardly the only person to have these same observations about good pedagogy. Roger Shank humorously made the point by stating, “Math and science are not important subjects. There, I said it. Start the lynching. One can live a happy life without ever having taken a physics course or knowing what a logarithm is. … But being able to reason on the basis of evidence is important.”8 Tsunesaburo Makiguchi the insightful Japanese philosopher-educator was fighting against an education philosophy based on producing subjects for the emperor at the same time that John Dewey was fighting against a behaviorist philosophy of education in the United States. Makiguchi wrote, “In-school education should be closely connected in practice with actual social life so that it can transform unconscious living into fully conscious participation in the life of society. 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.”9

The Swiss psychologists, Jean Piaget called Dewey’s discovery-based approach to education “constructivism.” Piaget believed that “children play an active role in making sense of things, ‘constructing’ reality rather than just acquiring knowledge.” The philosophy of “constructivism” is a move away from the educational philosophies of behaviorism and social conservatism advocated by men like B. F. Skinner and Edward K. Thorndike. Howard Gardner, the creator of the theory of multiple intelligences, writes, “Piaget’s account of the passage from sensori-motor actions to concrete to formal operations is the best worked-out trajectory of growth in all of developmental psychology.”10 In addition to Piaget’s work, the Russian developmental psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, observed that children have a “zone of proximal development.” “Vygotsky and other educational professionals believed education’s role was to give children experiences that were within their zones of proximal development, thereby encouraging and advancing their individual learning.”11 This approach to “constructivism” has lead to the idea of scaffolding. The teacher identifies the student’s needs and helps them through the zone of proximal development by questioning or other means until the student not longer needs the aide for constructing understanding. These brilliant insights into how people develop and learn are completely vitiated by standards based education and high stakes testing.

For the past thirty years, educators have been making pilgrimages to the Italian town of Reggio Emilia to observe what may be the best preschool education in the world. The traveling exhibit, “The 100 Languages of Children” was startling to educators in 1991 when it came to the United States and they saw the amazing work of these 4 and 5 year-old students. The heart, soul and educational theorist for the Reggio schools was a remarkable educator name Loris Malaguzzi, a confirmed constructivist. He once stated, “No, our schools have not had, nor do they have, a planned curriculum with units and subunits (lesson plans) as the behaviorists would like. These would push our school toward teaching without learning; we would humiliate the schools and the children by entrusting them to forms, dittos, and handbooks of which publishers are generous distributors.”12 He did not mean there was no planning and reflection but that the Reggio educators were constantly ready to modify their plans depending on how the students engaged. Unfortunately, Reggio Emilia is one of the few places in the world where constructivist education is practiced. Ellen Lagemann, an education historian, writes, “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes that Edward K. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”13 The same general situation in education appears to exist throughout the world.

I conclude after reviewing the observations about how people learn from the best educational minds on four continents that modern education reform in the United States is based on bad philosophy. The KIPP schools which Bill Gates holds up as a model for how education should be done are very behaviorist in their education orientation. Eli Broad completely defies reason when he promotes non-educators with business backgrounds as the best people to hire as education leaders. The Broad approach appears to institutionalize “what stupidity looks like.”  Barak Obama hires a non-educator as the top educator in the country. Together, they promulgate policies that undermine professionalism in education, lionize high stakes testing and make the future of public education vulnerable. As for Congressman Davis’s concern about monitoring schools, there are wonderful professionally based organizations that have been monitoring schools for decades. For example, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) does a great job of looking deeply into the operation and professionalism of schools in the western United States. WASC sends a team of educators from a different region into a school for a weeklong visit in which they review curriculum, school site plans, community involvement and visit many classrooms in progress. These teams are normally lead by a current school principal and are made up of current teachers who all know exactly what a well run school should look like and based on the evidence they gather give the schools valuable feedback. Schools that fail these inspections truly are failures and face the possibility of losing accreditation. If legislators think they need more, then the answer is to add resources to these accrediting agencies that make informed judgments about schools. Standardized testing is an unreliable methodology for evaluating teaching or schools and fuels the impulse toward behaviorism. The one consistent finding about the results of standardized testing is they are most influenced by the financial condition of the neighborhood. Using this unreliable method for evaluating teachers and schools is foolhardy and has lead to great schools being closed and great teachers being unjustly labeled failures.

As the new millennium started, I decided to leave my position as a researcher in Silicon Valley to become an educator. I sought a master’s degree in education at University of California San Diego (UCSD) where I met two amazing educators and thinkers; Professor of Sociology, Hugh ‘Bud’ Mehan and Professor of Mathematics, Guershon Harel.  From Dr. Mehan, the founder of the Pruess School, I learned about the history, politics and theory of effective education. From Dr. Harel, the founder of the Algebraic Thinking Institute, I learned about his amazing theory of education, Duality, Necessity, and Repeated Reasoning (DNR). Dr. Harel taught us about the subtle difference between the ways of thinking and ways of understanding. He presented us with evidence showing that poor teaching methods hurt students’ abilities to understand and their desires to learn. In 2001, all of us in my cadre at UCSD were thrilled to be studying with these great educators and with the idea that we could bring this kind of pedagogy to public schools. But, in 2002, the federal government mandated behaviorism through requiring standards and testing. In the past 10 years, this benighted reform has led to more and more money leaving the classroom to commercial pockets and to schools becoming a more and more onerous places. Now we have Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which are accelerating money out of the classroom to consultants and testing companies and undermining professionalism in education. This week I am presenting a lesson and an assessment on quadratic functions developed by a corporation hired to help us prepare for CCSS. The lesson is not bad but not really remarkable for anything other than more money left my classroom of 40 math students to pay for it. This kind of reform is faux reform which is worse than no reform. We can survive a budget crisis but bad philosophy of education is deeply destructive. Let us have real reform led by professional educators or faux reform led by businessmen and politicians will continue to engender ever degenerating education in America!

1. Ravitch, Diane. The Death and Life of the Great American School System. New York: Basic Books, 2010. Page 219.

2. Kohl, Herbert and Tom Oppenheim, ed. The Muses Go to School. New York: The New Press. 2012. Page 58

3. Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan, 1916. Page 356.

4. Ikeda, Daisaku, The New Human Revolution Volume 15. Santa Monica, California: The World Tribune Press. 2008. (Page 189)

5. Shank, Roger. Teaching Minds. New York: Teachers College Press. 2011. Page 101.

6. Petrilli, Michael. “The Race to the Top: The Carrot That Feels Like a Stick,” Flypaper blog, July 23, 2009. http://www.educationgadfly.net/flypaper/2009/07/the-race-to-the-top-the-carrot-that-feels-like-a-stick/

7. Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan, 1916.

8. Shank, Roger. Teaching Minds. New York: Teachers College Press. 2011. Page 83.

9. Ikeda, Daisaku. Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001 Page 18

10. Garner, Howard. Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Books. 1993. (Page 133)

11. Berk, L and Winsler, A. (1995). “Vygotsky: His life and works” and “Vygotsky’s approach to development”. In Scaffolding children’s learning: Vygotsky and early childhood learning. Natl. Assoc for Educ. Of Young Children. p. 24

12. Edwards, Caroline, Gandini Lella and George Forman, ed. The Hundred Languages of Children 2nd Edition. Westport, Connecticut:, Ablex Publishing, 1998

13. Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 7.