Thanks so much for visiting me here on my newly revised website. Along with an altogether new look, the changes allow me to more readily offer you timely, informative articles, websites to visit, and even quotes to use in your teaching. There’s also, of course, my free, monthly The School-Wise Newsletter, keeping readers up-to-date on all that’s happening in education.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping you’ll check out my blog from time-to-time and follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Be sure to visit me on examiner.com, too, where you’ll find numerous articles on education, parenting, and family life. You’ll also find me at bizymoms and ezinearticles.

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Common Core Pros and Cons: What You Need to Know

21/11/2014   |   No Comments »

The Common Core Standards, first announced in 2009, were fully implemented in a number of schools last year; nevertheless a September Gallup poll of 532 parents found that 32% had no opinion or had never even heard of them. Other findings included:

• 35% of the parents view the standards negatively, up from 26% in April.
• 33% of the parents view the standards positively, down from 35% in April.
• 65% support the idea of national standards, down from 73% in April.

Moreover, a follow-up survey found that just 33% of adults familiar with the standards favor its use in our classrooms, whereas a whopping 59% are opposed. And that sentiment is now being reflected in the fact that Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina have repealed the Common Core Standards, while Missouri, North Carolina, and Louisiana are moving in that direction.

Four states never signed on: Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia.

Have no doubt, though; there’s a lot to like about the standards because they…

1. Compare well with the standards of other countries.
2. Allow comparisons from state to state.
3. Eliminate the need of states to pay for the development, scoring, and reporting of their own mandated tests.
4. Increase rigor and better prepare students for college and career success.
5. Help develop higher level thinking skills.
6. Allow teachers to assess student learning and progress over time with optional pre-test and monitoring tools.
7. Provide for continuity in learning from one state to another.
8. Provide students with a better understanding of what they’re learning and why.
9. Enhance teacher collaboration and professional development.

But some in the know aren’t buying it, saying instead:

• “It’s not clear exactly where the current trend—of pushing more information on kids earlier—came from, but it seems to be a response to the idea that the U.S. needs to catch up to other countries’ education systems. The problem with this strategy is that there doesn’t appear to be much evidence that ‘more sooner’ is the most effective strategy.” ~ Alice G. Watson, Forbes contributor

• “…. Basically, you cannot standardize growth, particularly in young children and young adolescents. When growth is most rapid, standardization is the most destructive of motivation to learn. To use a biological analogy, you don’t prune during the growing season.” ~ David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child & child development expert at Tufts University

• “I’m worried. If this continues the way it’s going, my prediction is that by the time they get to high school, they will not be learning. We’ll see tremendous academic push back, over-anxious kids and school phobia issues. Kids are supposed to enjoy elementary school. There’s never been a time where we’ve had the need for psychological and social support services as we do now, and the Common Core is only going to exacerbate the crisis of over-stressed students, who struggle emotionally day to day. The other problem I see is purely academic: As students push through it, they’ll learn the material, but they won’t learn it well.” ~ Carol Burris, 2013 NY High School Principal of the Year

• “…. The American idea was always a well-rounded child prepared for citizenship and life. Now it is all test prep.” ~ Diane Ravitch, education historian
Finally, there’s this from comedian Louis CK: “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and Common Core. It’s this massive stress ball that hangs over the whole school. The kids’ teachers trying to adapt to these badly written notions.”

So what about those teachers working through the implementation of these standards? A recent survey sponsored by Scholastic and the Gates Foundation asked that very question of 1,600 educators from across the country and found that:

• 79% feel prepared to teach the standards vs. 71% in 2013.
• 68% feel implementation is going well vs. 62% in 2013.
• 53% have seen a positive impact on students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.
• 68% are enthusiastic about the standards vs. 73% in 2013.
• 81% say implementation is challenging vs. 73% in 2013.

Meanwhile, 76% of elementary teachers say the standards are mostly or fully implemented, whereas just 61% of middle school teachers and 47% of high school teachers said so. As for how implementation is going, 79% of teachers feel “very” or “somewhat” prepared to teach the standards, up from 71% in 2013. Best of all, 72% believe the Common Core will improve students’ ability to think critically and use reasoning skills, while 68% are optimistic that reading and comprehending nonfiction texts will get better, too.

But what about the Common Core online assessments developed with $362 million in federal funds? One reason they’ve sparked such intense debate is how long it takes to administer them:

Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC )
• Grade 3: 9-3/4 hours
• Grades 4-5: 10 hours
• Grades 6-8: 10-3/4 hours
• Grades 9-12: 11 to 11-1/4 hours

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)
• Grades 3-5: 7 hours
• Grades 6-8: 7-1/2 hours
• Grade 11: 8-1/2 hours

But that’s not all. There are a number of other concerns, too, such as:

1. The tests don’t measure the skills the kids should be acquiring.
2. The unreliability of the tests.
3. The excessive amounts of time spent prepping students for the tests.
4. Teacher evaluations based on student test performance.
5. Test-taking pressure and resulting anxiety.
6. The tests’ one-size-fits-all approach.
7. The lack of alignment between the tests and classroom instruction.
8. The lack of Common Core instructional materials.

There’s also students’ lack of typing and computer skills so necessary to perform well on these online-only assessments. In fact, just 10% of teachers said their students are well-prepared to take these tests vs. 53% who said just the opposite. And that figure surged to 71% for elementary teachers and 73% for those in low-income schools.

Plus, many schools lack the computer hardware or network capabilities required, so it’s not surprising that teachers found that field testing this spring went smoothly in only 10% of the cases, “mostly smoothly” in 51% of the schools, not smoothly for another 21%, and badly for 11%. Here’s why:

1. Lost Internet access during testing
2. Test sessions time out during extended pauses in student input
3. Problems with logging on or resetting passwords
4. Confusion about how to submit answers
5. Difficulties using interactive tools
6. Break-offs that forced students to start over

As a Michigan high school teacher put it: “The standards were positive until standardized testing was involved.”

For a student’s take, click here and be treated to fifth grader John Prusak’s YouTube video, “Another Brick in Ohio—No more Common Core.”

The result of all this: A growing backlash known as the Opt Out movement that is gaining supporters among parents, educators, and students across the country. Two national organizations of note are Opt Out of State Standardized Tests, which collects and shares state-by-state information, and United Opt Out National: The Movement to End Corporate Education Reform.

Add to that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s reversal on the standards. While originally signing on, he is now suing the federal government and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for funding the two testing consortia, PARCC and SBAC, to the tune of $362 million and for giving preference to those states that indicated they’d join one of them when applying for a share of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant competition in 2009-10.

He alleges that by taking these steps, the federal government violated the 10th Amendment’s sovereignty clause which reserves power to the states, plus all the laws that prohibit federal involvement in curriculum decisions.

Not surprisingly, the Obama administration wants a federal judge to throw out Jindal’s lawsuit, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the Common Core will continue to make headlines, so stay informed, too, and draw your own conclusions.

Civic Education, Politics, and an Uninformed Populace

21/11/2014   |   No Comments »

Certain dates are standouts, like February 14, October 31, and December 25. But what about September 17? It should be a standout, too, but it’s not. In fact, most of us don’t give the date a second thought; we certainly should, though. That’s because it’s not just another day; it’s Constitution day, set aside by Congress back in 1952 to foster civic engagement.

To institutionalize the day, back in 2005, Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia promoted legislation that would mandate recognition of Constitution Day in all schools and colleges that receive federal monies. Unfortunately, six years later, Congress stripped civic-education funding, and that, says Education Week’s Ross Brenneman, sent the message that civics is important, but not worth federal dollars.

And so it goes.

As a people we are sorely uniformed about American history and the workings of our government. Indeed, many are not even sure who our current leaders are–with one exception. Not surprisingly, Obama enjoys big name recognition, since he’s been president for almost six years and frequently crisscrosses the country campaigning and fundraising. Moreover, our new health care program’s nickname bears his name.

But what about second-in-command Joe Biden?

That’s exactly what late-night show host Jimmy Kimmel recently asked some folks on Hollywood Boulevard. One girl suggested he might be a man; a few others said they’d seen him in movies. Another identified him as a Republican who is set to run for president, while a couple more seem to think he’s a governor. It went downhill from there.

Afterward, The Huffington Post responded with the headline, “Jimmy Kimmel Hilariously Proves Americans Don’t Know Who Joe Biden Is.” Laughable and shameful, too. Meanwhile, a 2010 Pew Research Center found that only 59% of us know he’s the vice-president—a failing grade if ever there were one.

As for the Constitution, in September, the Annenberg Public Policy Center asked 1,416 adults questions about the government. The result:

• 36% could name all three branches of government; 27% couldn’t name any.
• 27% knew it takes a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to override a presidential veto.
• 21% incorrectly thought a 5-4 Supreme Court decision goes back to Congress for reconsideration.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. One glance at the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress civics exam suggests that our children are clueless, too, constitutionally and governmentally speaking. Here you go:

• 27% of 4th graders scored at the proficient level orbetter;
• 22% of 8th graders scored at the proficient level or better;
• 24% of 12th graders scored at the proficient level or better.

Explains retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: “Knowledge of our system of government is not handed down through the gene pool. The habits of citizenship must be learned. … But we have neglected civic education for the past several decades, and the results are predictably dismal.”

That sentiment is seconded by Citizen First’s Robert Pendiscio who says, “We send kids to school not just to become employees and entrepreneurs, but citizens capable of wise and effective self-government in our democracy. The public dimension of schooling was a founding principle of American education. We have all but forgotten it in the era of education overhaul.”

That, too, is the reason Justice O’Connor founded iCivics.org. Its purpose: “Reinvigorating civic learning through interactive and engaging learning resources. Our educational resources empower teachers and prepare the next generation of students to become knowledgeable and engaged citizens.”
Meanwhile, in 2013, the Civics Education Initiative was formed with support from Justice O’Connor, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and even actor Joe Mantegna. Its mission is to get all 50 states to require that their high schoolers take and pass the 100-question U.S. Naturalization Test. And they’re starting to gain some ground.

So far, seven states are considering legislation that, though not a requirement, would reward students who take the test. As it stands, those scoring at least a 60% would see a yet-to-be-determined uptick in their grade point averages. Those states are:

1. Arizona
2. Louisiana
3. Missouri
4. Oklahoma
5. South Carolina
6. South Dakota
7. Vermont

FYI: 91% of those seeking citizenship pass the exam. Here are a few sample question to test your own civics knowledge:

1. What is the supreme law of the land?
2. The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?
3. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
4. What is one right or freedom from the First Amendment?
5. How many amendments does the Constitution have?
6. What stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful?
7. Who is in charge of the executive branch?
8. How many U.S. Senators are there?
9. We elect a U.S. Senator for how many years?
10. The House of Representatives has how many voting members?
11. We elect a United States Representative for how many years?

To check your answers, click here. And then do one better. Get yourself a copy of the Constitution; you can pick one up at your local bookstore or head to Amazon or Barnes & Nobel online. Then read, learn, and talk it up with your kids, friends and neighbors, too.