Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

More Federal Guidance from Education Secretary John B. King, Jr.

Monday, October 24th, 2016

Almost every day, U.S. Secretary of Education does his best to rework the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA to his liking. Signed into law by Obama in December, it replaced No Child Left Behind. Last month, he actually released his proposed education funding regulations while Congress was recessed. Known as “supplement-not-supplant,” the debate revolves around its implementation. As Jason Russell explains, “The idea is that federal aid to schools and districts should be in addition to what they already get from state and local funding, not a substitute for other aid.”

That then promoted Senate education committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) to say at the time: “His proposed regulation would give Washington, D.C. control over state and education dollars that is has never had before. Federal law gives him zero authority to do this. In fact, our new law [ESSA] specifically prohibits his doing this.”

Indeed, Alexander went so far as to add, “If anything resembling [the proposed regulation] becomes final, I will do everything within my power to overturn it.”

Meanwhile, a few Secretary King quotes:

  • “The USA is fortunate, I think, as a country to have some high-performing charters that are doing a great job providing great opportunities to students–charters that are helping students not only perform at higher levels academically but go on to college at much higher rates than students at similar neighborhood public schools. That’s good. We should have more schools like that, and I think any arbitrary cap on that growth of high-performing charters is a mistake.”
  • “Teachers should prepare students to become more involved in their communities, to volunteer, and to think beyond our own needs and wants… Educated citizens who take part in society will push to curtail racial profiling and end discriminatory practices by prosecutors and courts that have a dire impact on poor people.”


Parents Across America Speaks Out about Education Technology

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Parents Across America, a non-profit boasting 44 chapters in 25 states, has taken a stand about the education technology that is changing the face of American education. Along with the flawed Common Core Standards, our children are now subjected to countless hours of classroom screen time, along with too many standardized online assessments, all coupled with increased data collection.

Unfortunately, it seems that many parents applaud all of this, believing not only that it benefits their children but that the test-based, “concrete” information they receive about their kids’ academic performance is valid.

Parents Across America knows better. Yes, the organization agrees that technology has its place, but asserts that it has no place before third grade and is against 1-to-1 devices before high school. It also quite simply espouses more vigilance when it comes to ed tech and how it’s used in our classrooms. Another of their concerns is (more…)

Professional Development for Teachers: A Revealing Study

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

This just out: A study recently published by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Science determined that a fourth grade teacher’s general math knowledge does not necessarily translate to better outcomes for students.

For the study, 221 fourth grade teachers from five states were randomly chosen to either participate in 13 hours of professional development, meetings, coaching sessions, and analyzing student work, plus an 80-hour summer workshop to deepen their knowledge of K-8 math, not jut fourth grade–or not.

This, of course, matters even more in this Common Core age where rote memorization and procedures have been superseded by an emphasis on conceptual understanding of math and critical thinking.

As for the upshot:

  • On a test of math knowledge, participants bested non-participants by 7 points: 258 vs 551.
  • On an assessment of teachers’ ability to explain math concepts, participants scored 23 percentile points higher than the non-participants.

Sounds about as expected, no?

And yet, it turned out that those teachers now so well-grounded in K-8 math had NO actual impact on student achievement–at least no positive impact. That’s right: The students of the the participating teachers actually scored 2 percentile points LOWER than those of the control group.

So: Maybe it’s not just knowing a whole lot about numbers–or any other subject for that matter, either–that makes the difference, but how information is presented/shared. Content knowledge is essential, of course, but just maybe a teacher’s passion for that content, personality, patience, and heart need to be in the mix, as well?

That’s the ultimate question and possibly the key to effective instruction.


“Watson” Takes on Teaching 3rd Grade Math

Monday, October 10th, 2016

This goes under the heading, “You can’t make this stuff up!” You see, there’s a new man in town, but only sort of… Named Watson, “he’s” actually a computer platform created by IBM. Thanks to artificial-intelligence, it’s not only capable of answering educators’ questions but also helps build lesson plans for them that are personalized–and, come January, will be available, at no cost, to all third grade teachers!

Ultimately–and not that long from now and regardless of grade level or subject–all teachers will have access to this latest “revolution” in education.

Heralded as a “personal assistant,” it not only comes up with great lessons but ones that are customizable. Plus it’s a font of information related to the Common Core State Standards and can help ensure they’re part and parcel of everything that’s taught. And that, after all, is the aim of the current administration.

No human error; no human touch.

Indeed, Watson is so smart, it even knows what skills and background knowledge are essential to the new learning to be understood and take hold. It also solves the pressing problem of diversifying teaching, so that the needs of every child are appropriately met–no easy task for us mere mortals.

Makes one wonder what the next step will be. An army of Watsons in every classroom, not just assisting teachers but taking their place, the perfect educators and data collectors?

You can almost hear Obama, Education Secretary King, and other education reformers clapping, can’t you? After all, in one fell swoop, no more teachers so no more unions, shortages, substitutes, salaries, or pensions.

No chance of nurturing nurturing role models in classrooms, either, but that’s the cost of progress, right?

Maybe in your book, but sure as hell not in mine!


The Growing Teacher Shortage

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

fotosearch_teacher_ks124863According to the Learning Policy Institute led by Stanford University’s Linda Darling-Hammond, in the 2015-16 school year, America was short some 60,000 teachers:

  • 48 states and D.C. were in need of special education teachers;
  • 42 states and D.C. were in need of math teachers;
  • 40 states and D.C. were in need of science teachers;
  • 50% of our schools reported shortages; 90% of those servicing high-poverty neighborhoods;
  • More than 30 states were in need of teachers of English-language learners.

Moreover, LPI estimates that, if the trend continues, by 2018, the 60,000 figure will increase to 112,000, with no end in sight.

Why all of a sudden are we running out of educators?

One reason is that teachers are leaving in droves, many within their first five years of service. Indeed, the annual attrition rate is currently 8%, twice as high in other high-performing countries, such as Finland and Singapore.

And while 30% of that figure is the result of retirement, many others leave because of unsatisfactory teaching conditions and administrators, along with such policies as high-stakes testing, evaluations based  on student test scores, relaxed discipline guidelines, too little teacher input, and on and on.

Plus, enrollment in teacher-preparation programs has slipped by 35% in the last 5 years.

No wonder, right?


Government Charter School Expansion to the Tune of Another $245 Million

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

123rf-education-21508154The U.S. Department’s continued support of charter schools–financial and otherwise–goes unabated. Last year, it chose to give $71 Million to Ohio through the Charter School Program despite evidence of fraud and other issues. Last month it released those monies, feeling justified because Ohio lawmakers passed a bill to overhaul its charter school law…

And now comes word that the department is doling out another $245 million to eight states and 15 charter schools to expand these so-called public institutions.

Among the beneficiaries of such largess–in other words, your tax dollars–are:

  • $58,454,516 to the Florida Department of Education
  • $30,498,392 to the Texas Education Agency
  • $27,329,904 to the California Department of Education
  • $24,447,229 to the Georgia Department of Education

As for those charter schools, their numbers include:

  • $29,799,050 to the KIPP Foundation in Consortium with KIPP Regions, California
  • $6,338,769 to IDEA Public Schools in Texas
  • $4,591,801 to the Democracy Prep Public Schools, N.Y.
  • $4,043,361 to Denver School of Science and Technology in Colorado

Meanwhile, to date and according to their own accounting, the U.S. Department of Education has already invested some $3 billion in charters and helping to start up 2,500 of them.

All that generosity, then, begs the question: Why not some of those dollars heading, instead, to such public school districts as those in Philadelphia and Chicago which are all but drowning in debt?

Brian A. Jacob’s Take on Student Test Scores

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

The study, “Student Test Scores: How the Sausage Is Made and Why You Should Care,” was written by Brian A. Jacob, a University of Michigan professor and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. What he figured out is definitely worth noting in this day and age of school reform,  data collecting, and accountability and where teacher effectiveness is based on the standardized test scores of students:

“Contrary to popular belief, modern cognitive assessments–including the new Common Core tests–produce test scores based on sophisticated statistical models rather than the simple percent of items a student answers correctly. While there are good reasons for this, it means that reported test scores depend on many decisions made by test designers, some of which have important implications for education policy.

For example, all else equal, the shorter the length of the test, the greater the fraction of students placed in the top and bottom proficiency categories–an important metric for state accountability. On the other hand, some tests report ‘shrunken’ measures of student ability, which pull particularly high- and low-scoring students closer to the average, leading one to understate the proportion of students in top and bottom proficiency categories.  Shrunken test scores will also understate important policy metrics, such as the black-which achievement gap–if black children score lower on average than white children, then scores of black students will be adjusted up while the opposite it true for white students.

The scaling of test scores is equally important. Despite common perceptions, a 5-point gain at the bottom of the test score distribution may not mean the same thing in terms of addition knowledge as a 5-point gain at the top of the distribution. This fact has important implications for the value-added based comparisons of teacher effectiveness, as well as accountability rankings of schools.

There are no easy solutions to these issues. Instead, there must be greater transparency of the test creation process, and more robust discussion about the inherent trade-offs about the creation of test scores, and more robust discussion about how different types of test scores are used for policy-making as well as research.”

The Sorry State of Writing Instruction under Common Core

Friday, August 19th, 2016

As reported by The Washington Post‘s Jay Mathews, The Education Trust collected 1,876 school assignments from 6 middle schools in two big cities in two states to uncover how well English, the humanities, social studies, and science are being taught in this age of the Common Core State Standards.

The results, especially when it comes to writing instruction, are hair-raising. For example:

  • “Only 4% of all the reviewed assignments pushed student thinking to higher levels.”
  • “About 85% of them asked students to either recall information or apply basic skills and concepts as opposed to prompting for inferences or structural analysis, or doing author critiques.”
  • Many assignments show an attempt at rigor, but those are largely surface level.”
  • “Relevance and choice–powerful levers to engage early adolescents–are mostly missing in action. Only 2% of assignments met both indicators of engagement.”


  • 18% of those assignments had no writing requirement whatsoever;
  • 60% only required a bit of note-taking, short responses, or just a sentence or two.
  • Just 14% had students write one paragraph, while only 9% asked for more.

Does Obama and the Common Core Standards he backed call this progress?

School-Wise Update: Government-based vs. Educator-based School Reform

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

Business types like Bill Gates and politicians like Obama, Education Secretary John B. King, and his predecessor Arne Duncan have, in many ways, changed the face of America’s public schools by supporting…

  1. Bribery-induced adoption of the Common Core State Standards via Duncan’s $4.35 billion initial Race to the Top grant program.
  2. Common Core-related online standardized assessments resulting in scores affected by the device used–think tablet vs. a keyboard–as well as kids’ typing experience, or lack thereof.
  3. Teacher evaluations based on students’ standardized test performance, so that Teacher A with a classroom of struggling and/or special-education students faces a label of “ineffective” and could be ousted vs. Teacher B, with few such students and hence higher test scores and a bonus in the offing, as all kids must take the same test regardless of classification.
  4. Non-stop student data collection, with most parents clueless as to how it’s being used, including being shared with third-party, non-education parties.

And so on; you get the idea, but now comes Joanne Yatvin, a former educator, principal, and superintendent, offering up a number of fix-it suggestions and this caveat: “Be warned that my proposals are not only unorthodox but also teacher-biased and cheap. Well, at least cheaper than the test-drenched practices now in place.”

Here’s a sampling: (more…)

School-Wise Update: Testing the Arts

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

Say it isn’t so…

Sarah Butrymowicz headlines her latest piece with, “Can testing save arts education? Teachers hope exams will make arts matter as much as math and English.” In other words, despite widespread criticism of too much testing these days–think of all those opt-out parents–the arts are next in line, so no break there either for assessment-weary students.

However, she reminds readers, “… Coming up with a uniform and efficient way to measure a subject that’s all about creativity, is difficult,” which, then, begs the question, why even try?

The answer, says Frank Philip, an arts education assessment consultant, is that “It’s very important for arts to be seen as a subject that can and should be tested. It’s a parity thing.”

You see, says Butrymowicz, “Access to arts education remains unequal” and cites a 2012 federal survey to back that up. Apparently, while about 95% of the highest-income schools offer visual arts courses, that’s true of only about 80% of the lowest-income schools.

So testing is the solution?

Fewer College Students Majoring in Education

Friday, August 5th, 2016

The message is clear: Fewer and fewer of our college students are opting for teaching careers, suggesting a dim outlook for school districts in need of filling vacancies. Indeed, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment continues to rise, but there are not enough education majors in the pipeline to fill the bill. This is especially true in urban and rural settings; while, at the same time, the demand is greatest for math, science, and special education teachers.

In fact, according to NCES, the number of college students graduating with degrees in education slipped from 106,300 in 2004 to just 98,000 in 2014, nationwide. And in Pennsylvania, the findings are even bleaker. In 2013, the commonwealth awarded 18,000 teaching certificates; last year, that number dropped to t 7,180–a 61% decrease in just two years.

The decline is blamed by many not just on the fact that teachers are paid less than those in other professions, but, according to Temple University’s Gregory Anderson, the public’s “jaundiced view” of schools. As he puts it: “If I’m an undergraduate student, teaching as a profession is not necessarily one shining with possibilities.”

With teacher morale at an all-time low thanks at least in some part to the countless federally mandated education reforms these past several years, such as basing evaluations on students’ standardized test performance, along with the constant drumbeat about our failing schools and ineffective teachers, none of this should surprise.


Teacher Absenteeism Makes Headlines

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Kids are missing school in droves—6.5 million of them last year according to the U.S. Department of Education, but they’ve got company in that regard.  According to a 2014 National Council on Teacher Quality study, teachers, on average, are absent 11 days each year, with a show-up rate of 94%.

If you do the math, that adds up to a student’s being taught by a substitute 143 days—6%–of his/her  K-12 years, in school. And that’s a lot—just about one month shy of a whole 180-day school year during those 13 years.

Meanwhile, such data seems to suggest that educators are gaming the system, enjoying countless mental health days, but a closer look tells a different, oft-untold story. For starters, many absences are out of a teacher’s control and they contribute mightily to the stats. For instance, there’s…

·         Maternity Leave

·         Military Leave

·         Jury Duty

·         Funeral Leave

·         Long-Term Illness

·         School scheduled in-service days

·         Response to Intervention (RTI) sessions

·         District workshops/professional development meetings

Plus, as NCTQ points out, that 94% show-up rate “is dragged down by the minority of teachers who are absent 18 days or more.”

Put it all together–and regardless of the very legitimate reasons behind the numbers– GateHouse Media’s analysis of the data found that substitutes in the classroom are linked with lower student achievement. Moreover, their use is on the rise, last year coming in at 14.5 days a year—188 days over the course of 13 years.

And subs are costly. That same report found that, during the 2012-13 school year, 115 districts paid them $335 million; in the 2014-15 school year, 118 districts indicated they’d spent $356 million on subs.

So, now you know…

The Case for Putting Handwriting Back in the Curriculum

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Back in 2014, journalist M. English penned an article for 21st Century Media that led with the line, “When John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence, he couldn’t have known he’d become a penmanship icon,” and adding that January 23 is National Handwriting Day.

And that should matter to all of us even in this keyboard-happy culture and despite the fact that it’s July not January and school won’t be in session for several more weeks.  As the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association reminds us, “The lost art of handwriting is one of the few ways we can uniquely express ourselves… Fonts lack a personal touch. Handwriting can add intimacy to a letter and reveal details about the writer’s personality. Throughout history, handwritten documents have sparked love affairs, started wars, established peace, freed slaves, created monuments, and declared independence.”

These folks are talking about cursive writing although printing counts, too, and both have been on the chopping block of late in large measure because of the Common Core English/Language Arts Standards.

Introduced back in 2008, Obama’s then U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan dangled the promise of divvying up $4.35 billion in Race to the Top federal grants to applying states that agreed to adopt them by adding 40/500 points to their applications.

Needless to say, it took; 45 states and D.C. ultimately adopted the Common Core State Standards  which promote keyboarding skills with nary a mention of handwriting.

The upshot: Many districts took handwriting instruction off the books, despite the well-documented evidence that a direct link between cursive and the brain exists. As Sarah Sweeney-Denham, head of Plymouth Meeting Friends School in Pennsylvania, explains, “… Research indicates that cursive writing surpasses keyboarding when it comes to making practitioners better communicators, (more…)

Quotes from Sebastian Junger

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

In a piece in Time Magazine‘s June 27, 2016 issue, Sebastian Junger, author of Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, is asked several questions by Karl Vick. One such question was, “So it’s not just service members who feel isolated,” to which the author responds: “The assumption is that our wonderful society is good for our mental health. And the fact that it’s not is shocking and also a relief to find out. I mean, why would suicide rates go up with wealth? Why would depression go up with modernity? It’s counter-intuitive, but once you think about it, once you think about our evolution as a species, it makes sense.”

The followup question, “Like Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents?” got this response: “Western society has this narrative that we’re moving steadily toward a kind of societal perfection. And in some ways we are. The improvements are amazing. But there’s this massive unseen cost, which is our sense of connectedness to the group, and that connectedness to the group has been at the core of our definition of what it means to be human for 200,000 years. For the first time in history, it’s being challenged, it’s being eroded…”

In this screen-happy, living vicariously and over-sharing just to reach out and get someone’s attention culture–even “friends” one has never met, thank you, Facebook–do you really disagree with him? Seems to me, that, nowadays and in many cases, connectedness translates to collecting LIKES at any cost from strangers and friends/family alike, and that’s as unconnected as it gets.

Better yet: Pick up the phone and talk, meet for lunch; have folks in for drinks or dinner–all so much better than posting and responding online, alone with a screen.

A Word about Millenials

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

The following insights come with thanks to Laura L. Carstensen, the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity writing for Time Magazine‘s June 27, 2016 issue. Entitled, “What millennials already know about growing up,” she highlights findings on the university’s Sightlines Project, including:

  • “More than young people in the past, millennials have friends they count on in tough times.
  • More millennials have college degrees than do prior generations.
  • Millennial poverty is up and employment is down, college debt is more than five times what it was just 20 years ago…
  • Both home ownership and participation in retirement savings accounts… are starkly down…
  • More than a quarter of millennials report that they could not cover a $3,000 emergency, whether with their own savings or by borrowing from family or friends, and thus live day to day…
  • Millennials are less likely to be married or have children than were Gen X-ers or boomers at the same age.”

From this, Carstensen suggests, “But these habits could be the right approach for a generation that could find itself working into their 70s or beyond and perhaps never retiring. Viewed that way, living with parents isn’t a sign of failure but an adaptation to new family structures… If millennials face six decades of work instead of four, and lives that could stretch even longer, leaving home at 18 or even 22 may make little sense.”

Is she onto something? Find her conclusions reassuring or the opposite?