“New Report: Winners and Losers of Common Core”


Dear Friends,

A very informative and important article on Common Core. Written by Jane Robbins, an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principals project. Shared by Donna Garner, a retired teacher and education activist.


 “New Report: Winners and Losers of Common Core”

Teresa Mull of the Heartland Institute writes about a new report analyzing the enormous funding of the Common Core national standards — where the money came from, what it was used for, and especially, who benefited from the entire endeavor. Hint: It wasn’t the students.

The report, “Smart Money? Philanthropic and Federal Funding for the Common Core,” was produced by scholars at Penn State University. Unlike many academic discussions of Common Core, it recognizes that the national standards are designed for technical, data-driven outcomes rather than genuine education. It also recognizes the dearth of evidence that the Common Core-type of “standards-based reform” actually elevates student achievement.

The report combines these insights with a wealth of information about the federal programs (such as Race to the Top) and private foundation grants (such as the millions of dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others) that poured into the Common Core scheme from development to implementation. From this data the report draws conclusions about Common Core winners and losers.


  • Philanthropic foundations, which “further rooted their preferences for . . . metrics, big data, measurable growth, and competition, in the education sector. . . . Venture philanthropists’ broad and strategic funding enabled them to purchase increased influence over public policy and public institutions without incurring any accountability for the policies they advanced” — policies that have no evidentiary basis for success. And crucially, the report notes that the foundations’ expenditures “empowered them to install public policies without democratic processes.” No one has ever voted for Bill Gates, but as even Common Core proponents have admitted, his “agenda has become the country’s agenda in education.”
  • The federal government, whose showering of money on states during a deep recession enabled the U.S. Department of Education (USED) “to exercise unprecedented influence over nearly every state’s standards.”
  • For-profit grantees that provide Common Core tests, curriculum, or other resources. The report notes that vendors of educational software and digital content reported a 57 percent increase in their market between 2010-11 and 2012-13 — “even though it is not evident that such products improve teaching and learning and improve achievement gaps.”
  • Non-profits such as Achieve, Inc., and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that received funding to promote Common Core. These organizations were able to add staff and expand their operations with help from the enormous flood they received from the Common Core spigot.


  • The integrity of certain non-profits which, in exchange for grant money, jettisoned their supposedly objective and neutral analysis of education issues to become propagandists for Common Core. Here the report specifically mentions the Aspen Institute and the National PTA (“The relationship of [PTA’s] mission to the Common Core is tenuous, since [standards-based reform] does not typically raise achievement but often distorts teaching and learning . . . .”).
  • School districts and schools, the great majority of which have received no direct funding to implement Common Core and will be expected to collectively lay out billions to implement the standards — with no assurance of positive results for students.

 We could add our own losers:

  • Students, who are being subjected to a substandard “education” designed to train them to be worker bees for politically connected corporations rather than educated human beings and citizens of our republic.
  • Parents and other citizens, who have lost control over their local schools to unaccountable Washington bureaucrats and private foundations pushing their own agendas.
  • The Constitution and our federalist system, both of which were designed to protect state and local control over issues such as education.

The Penn State report ends by analogizing the Common Core scheme to the 19th-century Gold Rush, with profiteering by the vendors of mining equipment to work a claim that turns out to be empty. At least with the Gold Rush, the losses didn’t infect our children and our entire system of governance.



Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12



Jay Leno’s Advice for My Dyslexia Son


Dear Friends,

A very inspiring story on dyslexia written by author, Liisa Ogburn, published in the New York Times. Liisa teaches, works with the elderly and writes in her spare time. She and her son Aidan Colvin recently completed a book “Looking for Heroes: One Boy, One Year, 100 Letters”, on what Aidan learned from successful people with dyslexia. Aidan met Jay Leno before a performance this spring in Fayetteville, N.C. Shared by my daughter Cynthia.

Jay Leno’s Advice for My Dyslexia Son

“Jay Leno here, calling for Aidan.”

This was the voice I heard when I picked up our home phone one day in April.

“One second,” I said, trying to sound natural, as if people like Jay Leno called our house all the time. I banged on Aidan’s door and whisper-shouted, “It’s Jay Leno!”

The call was not entirely out of the blue. We had met Mr. Leno the previous night for 10 minutes right before his performance in Fayetteville, N.C., about an hour from where we live. Bill Kirby, a writer for The Fayetteville Observer, had sneaked in my 16-year-old son, Aidan, to meet him when he heard about Aidan’s project. Over the last year, Aidan had written letters to successful dyslexics asking if they had any advice for a dyslexic high school student like him. He had written to Jay Leno three times.

“Did I answer?” Mr. Leno had asked him.

“No, but that’s O.K.,” Aidan had said.

Dyslexia, a neurological difference that impairs the ability to read, often greatly impairs performance in school.

Aidan had started the project in a moment of despair right after getting back his spring grades in ninth grade. They were disappointing. They didn’t reflect how hard he had worked. We were standing in his room at the time. I had pointed to a poster he had tacked up over his desk of successful adults who have dyslexia. “I wonder how they made it?” I had said.

“Probably smarter,” he had answered.

“You could ask,” I had said.

And so, over the last year, he had written to 100 successful dyslexics. Ten responded. Dr. Delos Cosgrove, a surgeon and chief executive of the Cleveland Clinic, was the first. He started his letter, “Dyslexia is an advantage in the fact that it makes us think more creatively.”

The second person to write back, the economist Diane Swonk, said among other things, “Success is the process of learning from failures, and I had more learning experiences than many.”

The sculptor Thomas Sayre said, “It appears that most dyslexics are improvisers. We have to be.”

Not one letter denied the challenges that come with having a significant learning difference. Instead, each letter provided the perspective that can only be gained over time. They all said, in their own ways, “Kid, you’re going to be O.K.”

My son pinned their letters up. He looked at these letters when preparing for a test or writing a paper or recovering from a bad grade. It would be nice to say that they provided the perfect antidote. They certainly did help, as did his academic accommodations. But midway through the year, his teachers called a meeting to see if anything more could be done.

Aidan’s principal, David Schwenker, wondered aloud whether taking one less class each semester might be the answer. “It would mean graduating one year later,” he said, “but then you could stay in honors classes.” Aidan was crestfallen.

It was fortuitous that the writer John Irving’s letter arrived around then. In it, Mr. Irving wrote, “You need to give yourself more time; it takes you longer to do things than it takes your friends. So what? If you do it well?” It helped to know that Mr. Irving, himself, had taken an extra year to finish high school. He graduated in 1961, when accommodations for disabilities were far less common. Aidan decided to do the same.

We are each born with different strengths and weaknesses, and learning to live with these is part of every life. What is regrettable is that often, far too early, the path some of us choose is shaped more by what we can’t do than what we can.

But back to Jay Leno.

By phone, he told Aidan many stories, including one in which his high school guidance counselor had recommended that he consider the training program at McDonald’s. Mr. Leno paused and chuckled. He obviously hadn’t listened to the guidance counselor. In fact, he went on to say, years later, he had invited this very guidance counselor to “The Tonight Show,” where he introduced him and they both laughed about that misguided advice.

The lesson Mr. Leno was trying to impart, I think, is that at the end of the day, Aidan is the one in the driver’s seat of his life. He can choose to follow or ignore any guidance offered. Mr. Leno also shared that the path he chose was not always easy — for a period early in his career, he slept in an alley in New York City at 44th Street and Ninth Avenue — while doing standup five or six nights a week for little pay.


Over the course of this past year, through conversations like this one and the letters he received, Aidan didn’t discover the secret to success for dyslexics. If anything, he discovered that there was no secret — except persistence, humor, improvisation and grit.

Was the project a waste of time? Far from it. Had he not had dyslexia and been in distress, Aidan would never have reached out for advice. He would never have connected with Mr. Leno or others who offered valuable insights, including the poet Philip Schultz and the explorer Ann Bancroft. He would not have written a book about this experience. And that book is opening doors he could never have imagined.



Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12



Remembering A Hero 15 Years After 9/11


Dear Friends,


An inspirational and heartfelt story written by Peggy Noonnan, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, posted yesterday September 11, 2016.


Remembering a Hero, 15 Years After 9/11

“With this bandanna, ‘Welles Crowther said, ‘I’m gonna change the world.” And he did.

What do I think about when I think about that day? The firemen who climbed “the stairway to Heaven” with 50, 60 pounds of gear. The people who called from Windows on the World and said: “I just want you to know I love you.” The men on the plane who tried to take the cockpit of Flight 93 before it went down in a Pennsylvania field: “Let’s roll.”

And I think about Welles Crowther, the man in the red bandanna.

He was 24, from Nyack, N.Y. He played lacrosse at Boston College, graduated and got an internship at Sandler O’Neill, the investment bank. In two years he was a junior associate on the trading desk. He worked in the south tower of the World Trade Center, on the 104th floor.

When United Flight 175 hit that tower at 9:03 a.m., it came in at a tilt, ripping through floors 78 through 84. Many of those who never got out were on those floors, or the ones above. Welles Crowther had already called his mother, Alison, and left a voicemail: “I want you to know that I’m OK.” Only one stairwell was clear. He found it. Most people would have run for their lives, but he started running for everyone else’s.


Welles Crowther and his mother, Alison, in 1999.

Welles was beloved—bright, joyous, grounded. Family was everything to him. He idolized his father, Jefferson, a banker and volunteer fireman. They went to the firehouse together when Welles was a child. Welles would clean the trucks, getting in close where no one else could fit. One Sunday when Welles was 7 or 8 his mother dressed him for church in his first suit. His father had a white handkerchief in his breast pocket. Could he have one? Jefferson put one in Welles’s front pocket and then took a colored one and put it in Welles’s back pocket. One’s for show, he said, the other’s for blow.

“Welles kept it with him, a connection to his father,” said Alison Crowther this week by phone. “He carried a red bandanna all his life.” It was a talisman but practical, too. It could clean up a mess. When he’d take it from his pocket at Sandler O’Neill they’d tease him. What are you, a farmer? That is from Tom Rinaldi’s lovely book “The Red Bandanna,” which came out this week. He’d tease back: “With this bandanna I’m gonna change the world.”

As Welles went down the stairwell he saw what happened on the 78th floor sky lobby. People trying to escape had been waiting for elevators when the plane hit. It was carnage—fire, smoke, bodies everywhere. A woman named Ling Young, a worker for the state tax department, sat on the floor, badly burned and in shock. From out of the murk she heard a man’s voice: “I found the stairs. Follow me.”

“There was something she heard in the voice, an authority, compelling her to follow,” Mr. Rinaldi writes. Ms. Young stood, and followed. She saw that the man was carrying a woman. Eighteen floors down the air began to clear. He gently placed the woman down and told them both to continue walking down. Then he turned and went back upstairs to help others.

Judy Wein of Aon Corporation had also been in the 78th floor. She too was badly injured and she too heard the voice: “Everyone who can stand now, stand now. If you can help others, do so.” He guided her and others to the stairwell.

Apparently Welles kept leading people down from the top floors to the lower ones, where they could make their way out. Then he’d go up to find more. No one knows how many. The fire department credits him with five saved lives.

He never made it home. His family hoped, grieved, filled out forms. On the Friday after 9/11 Alison stood up from her desk and suddenly she knew Welles was there, right behind her. She could feel his energy, his force; it was him. She didn’t turn. She just said: Thank you. She knew he was saying he was OK. After that she didn’t dare hope he’d be found alive because she knew he wouldn’t.

They found him six months later, in the lobby of the south tower. He’d made it all the way down. He was found in an area with many firefighters’ remains. It had been the FDNY command post. It was where assistant fire Chief Donald Burns was found. He and his men had probably helped evacuate thousands. Welles could have left and saved his own life—they all could have. But they’d all stayed. “He was helping,” said Alison.

The Crowthers never knew what he’d done until Memorial Day weekend 2002. The New York Times carried a minute-by-minute report of what happened in the towers after the planes hit. Near the end it said: “A mysterious man appeared at one point, his mouth and nose covered with a red handkerchief.” It mentioned Ms. Young and Ms. Wein. The Crowthers sent them pictures of Welles.

That was him, they said. Ms. Wein had seen his face when he took the bandanna from his face as the air cleared on the lower floors. Ms. Young said: “He saved my life.”

As a child, Welles Crowther had wanted to be a fireman. Few knew he’d decided to apply for the FDNY while he was still at Sandler. After his father found his application the department did something it had done only once in the 141 years since its founding. It made Welles an honorary member.

His father sometimes felt guilt—maybe taking him to the fire department so much when he was a kid was why Welles died. Alison said no: “That gave him the tools to be the fullest person he was that day.”

She thinks now of something else. The family spent the Labor Day before 9/11 together, at the house in Nyack. All weekend, said Alison, Welles was subdued—“quiet, introspective.” Normally he’d be charging around, playing basketball. At one point he sat with his mother in the living room. “He said, ‘You know, Mom, I don’t know what it is but I know I’m meant to be part of something really big.’ I didn’t get it. Who would get it? But he definitely sensed something was coming.”

I asked Alison Crowther a hard question, embarrassing for a parent to answer: How do you make a hero? She paused. “We tried to instill honesty,” she said. “The fearlessness he came with—my husband said he came with that hardware installed. He was this good-hearted little guy, very protective from an early age. Honesty was a big thing with us, and taking responsibility.”

It wasn’t us, she was saying, it was him. It was Welles.

The way I see it, courage comes from love. There’s a big unseen current of love that hums through the world, and some plug into it more than others, more deeply and surely, and they get more power from it. And it fills them with courage. It makes everything possible.

People see the fallen, beat-up world around them and ask: What can I do? Maybe: Be like Welles Crowther. Take your bandanna, change the world.



Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12



New Report: Classroom Technology Overrated Even Harmful


Dear Friends,

A very informative article written by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, titled “New Report: Classroom Technology Overrated, Even Harmful”. Dr Kardaras is a licensed psychotherapist and a specialist on children’s screen addiction.  Shared by Donna Garner, a retired teacher and education activist.



The Report Card

[COMMENTS POSTED BY NAKONIA HAYES TO THIS ARTICLE: Many teachers were told in the 1990’s that the attention span of babies and children up to 6 years old was being wrecked by parents’ sitting their young ones in front of a television screen to serve as a babysitter. They said the screen changed every 5 to 7 seconds. That constant movement of color and figures had shown to heighten attention deficit.

Walk into elementary classrooms and they are full –up to the ceiling– with dangling pieces of artwork and posters with bright colors on every wall. It does nothing to help children from chaotic home environments who need clean surroundings in which to focus on clarity of human communication. (Instead, try using one big poster of interest – a historical figure or event, for example, that can be the subject of conversation.)

Technology is a whole cultural “reset” button for human communication now at home, work, and school. Some of us, who try to drain the swamp while up to our rumps in alligators, can insist that our home or classroom not indulge in this mania. That means, of course, we have to take the technology away from the parents and teachers to serve as role models of this “new” behavior. That means we actually have to talk to children about significant topics and listen to them.

I would dream happy thoughts if the eloquent warning issued in the article posted below would wake up leaders and make a difference in education programs. – Nakonia Hayes]



“New Report: Classroom Technology Overrated, Even Harmful”



(Editor: Educators in recent years have come to embrace every new trend in education whether it has been proven or not. Common Core became the near universal standard with no evidence that it worked. Even some of its initial advisors like Dr. Sandra Stotsky turned against it. Now over $60 Billion has been spent on classroom technology without proof that it is effective. In fact, new reports show that excessive screen use can cause harm. Dr. Kardaras says: “Tech in the classroom not only leads to worse educational outcomes for kids, which I will explain shortly, it can also clinically hurt them…” 

Parents: what are your kids doing in school? 

PLEASE GO TO THIS LINK TO READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE:  http://education-curriculum-reform-government-schools.org/w/2016/09/new-report-classroom-technology-overrated-even-harmful/




Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12



“Trump’s Right…The System Is Rigged. Look at Common Core”


Dear Friends,

A very informative article written by Lance Izumi is Koret, senior fellow in education studies and senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. Shared by Donna Garner, a retired teacher and education activist (Wgarner1@hot.rr.com)

 “Trump’s Right…The System Is Rigged. Look at Common Core”

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump has argued that our political, policy and economic systems are rigged against ordinary Americans. The process that gave us Common Core is a perfect example of a rigged system in action.

Back in June 2009, two big Washington, D.C.-based organizations — the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers — announced their decision to develop national education standards which would lay out math and English knowledge requirements for students by grade level, and which would replace the standards created and adopted by individual states.

It wasn’t the politicians, however, who actually created the Common Core standards. The NGA and the CCSSO formed committees of education insiders and technocrats to do the work. While there were 60 members on these various committees, only a small handful actually created the standards.

Despite the fact that their work would affect every child in America, deliberations took place behind closed doors. In fact, all the discussions and standards writing were sealed by confidentiality agreements. Parents were barred from attending CCSSO meetings on Common Core.

The education publication School Reform News tried for ten weeks to get permission to attend a CCSSO meeting on Common Core — but was denied.

“The public has a right to know the laws that are going to affect them and their families,” observed Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency organization. But with Common Core, “it’s a black box.”

And when the Common Core standards were released, the Obama administration dangled $4 billion [Race to the Top] in front of state policymakers to push them to adopt the standards pronto.

States often signed onto Common Core without public input. Ze’ev Wurman, former senior education policy advisor in the George W. Bush administration, noted, “There was no discussion, no public debate.”

And who benefits from this secret transformation of American education?

Well, Bill Gates’ foundation bankrolled much of the development of Common Core. Is it any surprise that students are required to take Common Core tests on computers? On those computers, which schools must purchase, will be software, which they will also have to purchase.

The website of Gates’ Microsoft has urged schools to purchase new versions of its Windows software for the Common Core-aligned tests. The Washington Post reported, “Microsoft is hoping to make some money from the implementation of the Core in the classroom.”

Even more than Microsoft, the education mega-corporation Pearson is reaping massive gains from Common Core. Pearson’s own website has bragged about its “close association with key authors and architects of the Common Core.” And those associations have paid off.

Teacher and education researcher Mercedes Schneider, writing in her Columbia University-published book Common Core Dilemma, documents that Pearson, through its non-profit arm, gave early grants to the Council of Chief State School Officers, one of the Common Core sponsoring organizations. She noted that the head of the CCSSO joined the board of PARCC, one of the Common Core-aligned tests.

Pearson then received a contract worth $240 million per year to develop the PARCC test in a process that ensured that there would be no other bidders except for Pearson. And there’s more.

As Schneider said, the logical incentive is for school districts “to purchase Pearson curriculum to accompany Pearson-developed tests.” She said that Pearson’s Common Core strategy is to embed itself, “making its products and services indispensable,” thereby shutting down or subsuming competition.

Given this shocking trail, the Washington Post, which excerpted Schneider’s book, headlined that Common Core is “the gift that Pearson counts on to keep giving.”

Common Core was the brainchild of political, education and business elites — and continues to benefit them. In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump said, “the system is rigged against our citizens.” Common Core shows how right he is.

To View the article online:




Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12



I’m Banning Laptops From My Classroom


Dear Friends, an informative article in the Wall Street Journal on Monday July 11, 2016, written by Stuart Green.  Mr. Green is a professor at Rutgers Law School and the author of “Thirteen Ways to Steal a Bicycle: Theft Law in the Information Age” (Harvard University Press, 2012).


I’m Banning Laptops From My Classroom


For more than 20 years, I have taught college graduates, most in their mid-20s, the basics of criminal law and procedure. In all that time, at half a dozen law schools, I’ve had the daily opportunity to observe some of the miracles that modern technology has wrought in the legal academy: Computerized research. PowerPoint. No more handwritten blue books!

But now and then, carrying out my institutional duty to observe classes taught by younger colleagues, I move from the front of the classroom to the rear. What a revelation to see what the students are up to. While virtually all of them have open laptops and most are taking notes, many seem more intent on emailing and texting, posting on social media, reading news sites, shopping online, or looking at YouTube videos. I recently saw one student systematically checking out law-firm websites for summer-associate salaries. Another spent an entire class streaming an NHL hockey game.

If this is what the students are doing while I’m sitting behind them, observing the class, I can only imagine what they’re doing when I’m up front, lecturing.

Has the time come to ban laptops from my classes? The arguments for doing so seem pretty straightforward. As common sense suggests, and a March 2013 study by Faria Sana,Tina Weston and Nicholas J. Cepeda confirmed, students who are multitasking during class have less understanding and recall of what’s being discussed.


The study also found that “participants who were in direct view of a multitasking peer scored lower on a test compared with those who were not.” So the student with the game on his laptop is also making it harder for the student sitting behind him to focus.

My school has spent a fortune for classrooms with comfortable seating, quality lighting and good acoustics. Don’t we also owe students a physical environment in which they’re not bombarded with the laptop-generated equivalent of Times Square?

 Students use computers to take notes, sure, but that’s not all.  One spent class streaming a hockey game.

Even when multitasking is blocked, students who take notes on a computer tend to perform worse than students who take notes by hand, according to a 2014 study by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer. They found that laptop users were basically creating a transcript of the lecture, while those taking notes by hand were synthesizing the information. This confirms my own experience when meeting with students who appear to have a nearly verbatim record of what I said in class but fail to grasp what I was trying to convey. It’s like making a cake recipe from scratch, measuring out all the ingredients perfectly, but forgetting to put the concoction in the oven.

Laptops in the classroom can also make it harder to teach. Most law professors do more than lecture. We ask questions, pose hypotheticals, encourage students to engage in dialogue. Yet I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve called on a student with a question, only to have him look up from his laptop in bewilderment and ask me to repeat it. That slows down class discussion, making it harder to cover the material planned and impairing the learning experience of students who aren’t absorbed in playing Candy Crush or QuizUp.

My best guess is that many of my students, millennials almost all, have never been in a university classroom where they weren’t connected to the internet. As bright and hard-working as they are, they don’t know what it feels like to be completely focused on a text, or fully absorbed in a classroom discussion. Like so many others in today’s overly wired society, they are perpetually distracted, never fully present.

In August, when the new semester begins, I’ll have a new rule for my classroom: no laptops. No doubt the students will roll their eyes, mutter that I’m a Luddite, and present arguments showing why I’m wrong. They are law students, after all. But I hope that some eventually will realize that there is much to be said for being liberated from their devices. Maybe one or two will even send me an email to say how revelatory it is to really listen. I hope they won’t do it while sitting in class.



Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12



“Michigan Diocese Opts for Liberal Arts Over Common Core”


Dear Friends,

A very informative article written byPaul Senz, a graduate student at the University of Portland, in Oregon, earning a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry. He is recently written for Catholic Exchange and the Oregon Encyclopedia. Shared by Donna Garner, a retired teacher and education activist.

“Michigan Diocese Opts for Liberal Arts Over Common Core”

 A remarkable thing is happening in the Diocese of Marquette.

While not the only diocese or school district in the nation to express reservations about the Common Core State Standards, the Michigan diocese is unique in that it is implementing a Catholic, liberal arts curriculum diocese-wide instead.  Regarding Common Core specifically, Marquette Bishop John Doerfler released the following statement:

After much consideration, the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Marquette will not adapt or adopt the Common Core State Standards which were developed for the public school system. That said, we acknowledge that there is a base of adequate secular material in the Common Core State Standards that faith-based schools could reference as part of their educational programming. While we respectfully understand that other private and Catholic schools may discern to adapt or adopt the standards for these and other reasons, we do not believe that such actions would benefit the mission, Catholic identity or academic excellence of our schools.

Rather than adopting Common Core, the schools of the Diocese of Marquette have been implementing a classical curriculum, formed and informed by the best of the Catholic tradition.

“The decision to adopt a Catholic liberal arts model of education is the fruit of much careful study by the Department of Education, now the Department of Evangelization and Education of our diocese,” Bishop Doerfler said in an email to CWR. “The outcome of this study is a curriculum foundations document that is tailored to the needs of our diocese and proposes the adoption of a Catholic liberal arts curriculum for our diocesan schools.”

Last spring, Marquette’s Superintendent of Schools Mark Salisbury told the Cardinal Newman Society that the curriculum’s implementation has met with early success.

“Teachers are happy with the results,” Salisbury said. “We have improved our ability to teach students how to write well, students are learning and memorizing more poetry.” In addition, the Latin component of the curriculum has begun to yield extremely positive results, Salisbury said, helping “students with English grammar, vocabulary, and critical thinking skills.”

In March 2014, the diocese released the Foundations Document for the Catholic School Curriculum of the Diocese of Marquette, approved by Bishop Doerfler. The document makes clear from the outset: “the core of our curriculum is the person of Jesus Christ.” It goes on to stress that “our curriculum seeks to form our graduate’s character, aiming as high as its perfection.” To accomplish this, the schools of the diocese will focus their efforts on what they have identified as four essential parts of the academic curriculum: ordered basic knowledge, basic skills or tools of learning, development of the moral imagination, and the principle of correlation between subjects.  This method, focusing on these principles, is designed to “assist students in formation of their character based in their relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Far from being simply a reaction against the Common Core standards, the new curriculum in Marquette is an active engagement with the Catholic tradition, the great works of western culture, and moral and intellectual formation of the whole person.

By reading and studying the great works of western culture, the students are being exposed to some of the greatest minds and artists in history. Beginning in the third grade, students learn Latin; they read stories from the lives of the saints daily; by the time a student graduates from eighth grade, he will have read the narrative portions of the Old and New Testaments three times.

“The decision to choose a Catholic liberal arts curriculum is rooted in the Catholic Church’s long history of success using a liberal arts model that avoids a purely secular view of educational ends and means,” Bishop Doerfler said. “For example, the Jesuits have been leaders in education throughout the world for more than 400 years, utilizing a Catholic liberal arts framework. Their leadership reflects both a richness of Catholic identity (taking as their motto, from St. Ignatius, ‘For the greater glory of God and the salvation of humanity’) while also achieving the highest academic excellence.”

Bishop Doerfler went on to elucidate the distinction between a generic classical education, and that which is specifically and particularly Catholic in nature.

“Liberal arts or classical education are not necessarily Catholic,” he said. “However, Catholic liberal arts [education] constantly seeks the most excellent, beautiful, true, and good, which prepares the person for the encounter with the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty—namely, God.”

The foundational and fundamental character of teaching and forming young people is the person of Jesus, according to Bishop Doerfler. “Our foundations document clearly states at the outset: ‘The greatest happiness a person can attain is communion with Jesus Christ. This is the essential beginning and end of Catholic education.’”

Bishop Doerfler is encouraged by the progress that has been made in his diocese’s schools thus far as the implementation of the new curriculum standards has begun. It is still a process, but the bishop is optimistic about the future.

“Our teachers have been doing a wonderful job adopting new initiatives, step-by-step, to enhance our curriculum and achieve excellence in Catholic liberal arts education,” he said.




Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12



The Curriculum Is Changing, Once Again Without Public Discussion


Dear Friends,

A very informative article written by Sandra Stotsky aformer Senior Associate Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education, is Professor of Education emerita at the University of Arkansas.  Shared by Donna Garner, a retired teacher and education activist.

The Curriculum Is Changing, Once Again Without Public Discussion

The writing curriculum for K-12 students is changing in Massachusetts and elsewhere, but it isn’t at all clear that these changes will move more students towards a meaningful high school diploma.

What kind of writing should kids do at different educational levels? We know that writing is related to reading, but what does that mean for the K-12 curriculum? What are effective ways to develop a range of writing skills? What are the elements of a sound K-12 writing curriculum?

Since we have no research-based answers to any of these questions, we should be asking why the same writing program has been mandated for all students. But, unfortunately, this has not been the focus of pubic discussions–yet.

Credit for getting a discussion started goes to Education Week reporter Madeline Will. In a blog on June 20 she focused on Common Core’s writing standards and the change in emphasis as she described it from “personal” writing to “evidence-based” writing.

Why the changes? Because David Coleman, now president of the College Board, claimed that such changes would make students more college and career ready than whatever was in their previous English Language Arts curriculum. As chief “architect” of Common Core’s ELA standards, he was, apparently, the person who decided what the country’s writing (and reading) standards should be. It didn’t seem to matter whether K-12 teachers agreed, whether there was any evidence to support his ideas, or whether student writing might be improved by other changes to the school curriculum.

RELATED: Were Common Core’s ELA Standards written by charlatans? Sure seems so.

The problems with Common Core’s writing standards begin with their organization, not their implementation. Coleman chose to divide writing into the same three categories at all grades from 1-12: opinion (K-5)/argument (6-12); informative/explanatory; and narrative. As Mark McQuillan, former Deputy Commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (as well as teacher and researcher), has noted: “writing is taught as a unitary phenomenon from elementary school to high school, unrelated to reading skills and reading level.” After looking at PARCC sample test items for the 2015 tests in the Bay State, he observed that the only difference between the directions for literary analysis and argument is whether “the subject matter is fictional or factual.”

A unitary approach is very unlike the “student-centered” K-12 language-oriented approach outlined by James Moffett in the 70s in which reading and writing activities/genres vary across grade levels but are nevertheless coordinated. While there is no “evidence” for either a Moffett-inspired approach or a unitary approach, Common Core’s standards should have reflected some experience and thinking about children’s growth as readers or writers.

Moreover, while PARCC inappropriately begins literary analysis (and essay-writing) in grade 3, the greatest damage PARCC does is to argument. As McQuillan further commented: “Nearly all of its argumentative writing assignments are designed to elicit information from carefully selected texts,” hardly a pedagogical model. An authentic research assignment requires kids to figure out their research question after reading their potential sources, and, most important of all, to locate their own sources.

Why does this matter for the Bay State? Because, it seems, PARCC’s writing items are going to be used for the tests called MCAS 2.0 now being planned for 2017. MCAS 2.0 will be PARCC without the PARCC label.

More important, as writing researcher Arthur Applebee pointed out in a 2013 essay: the “form and content of these new assessments will have more impact on curriculum and instruction than the CCSS themselves; high stakes are attached to assessment results, not to the standards they are meant to reflect.”

In a similar observation, Tom Newkirk, English professor at the University of New Hampshire, described the standards as a “reform that gives extraordinary power to standardized tests. The Common Core State Standards are joined at the hip to standardized tests, not surprising because both the College Board and the ACT had such a big role in their creation.”

It is true that the time-consuming attention to writing and revising experience-based stories in elementary and middle school “writing workshops” from the 1970s on had never paid off in test results on NAEP or in the “real” world or college. Students may well have become more fluent writers but they were not better writers. For one account of the deficiencies in college freshman writing, see Gerald Graff’s 2003 Clueless in Academe. While college faculty and others have long been concerned about the stress on experience-based writing in K-8, to the detriment of the analytical writing needed in and beyond high school, there was no consensus among scholars or researchers that opinion-based writing in K-5 or argument in 6-12 was its replacement.

RELATED: Gates Foundation tied to suit against Common Core ballot measure

So who did Madeline Will quote in order to highlight teachers’ conflicting responses to the shift in writing pedagogy decreed by David Coleman? Coleman himself, a Rhodes Scholar with undergraduate and graduate degrees in classical philosophy but no K-16 teaching experience; Joel Zarrow, chief executive officer of the Children’s Literacy Initiative (which focuses on P-3); Robert Pondiscio, vice-president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute; Joan Dabrowski, a literacy consultant, Tanya Baker, director of national programs at the National Writing Project since 2007; and Carol Jago, associate director of the California Reading and Literature Project at UCLA, once president of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and high school English teacher for many years. A strange mix of informants, none of whom have ever focused on the teaching of writing; none of whom ever spelled out ideas on a K-12 writing curriculum; none of whom now addresses Common Core’s writing standards in a K-12 classroom.

The major professional organization for ELA teachers are well aware of the resistance to Common Core’s standards by many teachers, many of whom are members. The March 2016 issue of the NCTE’s elementary school journal addresses the pros and cons of Common Core, with a conclusion to the long introduction by its editors implying that teachers need to learn how to live with these standards and the tests based on them—a peculiar stance given NCTE’s history of opposition to the idea of standards or recommended book/author lists.

For students to move from autobiographical writing to opinion-based arguments, based on “evidence” from pre-selected texts, is not the direction for developing critical thinking. It sounds as if it might be the direction, however. Instead, it serves to cover up the deeper problems in a K-12 ELA curriculum based on Common Core’s standards and tests: high school students are given a false understanding of what real research entails and do not reach a high school level in reading that would enable them to do real research. And the June 2016 “report” on changes in writing instructions, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is not designed to point out the right questions to ask about a K-12 writing and reading curriculum, but rather to help teachers “adjust” to the change Gates is promoting-for other people’s children.




Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12



Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age


Dear Friends,

An informative article written by Perri Klass, a Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University. Perri also serves as National Medical Director of Reach Out and Read, a national nonprofit which promotes early literacy through doctors and nurses who provide primary care to young children at nearly 5,000 clinics, health centers, hospitals, and doctor’s offices in all 50 states. Shared by Donna Garner, a retired teacher and education activist.

“Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age”

Do children in a keyboard world need to learn old-fashioned handwriting?

There is a tendency to dismiss handwriting as a nonessential skill, even though researchers have warned that learning to write may be the key to, well, learning to write.

And beyond the emotional connection adults may feel to the way we learned to write, there is a growing body of research on what the normally developing brain learns by forming letters on the page, in printed or manuscript format as well as in cursive.

In an article this year in The Journal of Learning Disabilities, researchers looked at how oral and written language related to attention and what are called “executive function” skills (like planning) in children in grades four through nine, both with and without learning disabilities.

Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington and the lead author on the study, told me that evidence from this and other studies suggests that “handwriting — forming letters — engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.”

Last year in an article in The Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, Laura Dinehart, an associate professor of early childhood education at Florida International University, discussed several possible associations between good handwriting and academic achievement: Children with good handwriting may get better grades because their work is more pleasant for teachers to read; children who struggle with writing may find that too much of their attention is consumed by producing the letters, and the content suffers.

But can we actually stimulate children’s brains by helping them form letters with their hands? In a population of low-income children, Dr. Dinehart said, the ones who had good early fine-motor writing skills in prekindergarten did better later on in school. She called for more research on handwriting in the preschool years, and on ways to help young children develop the skills they need for “a complex task” that requires the coordination of cognitive, motor and neuromuscular processes.

“This myth that handwriting is just a motor skill is just plain wrong,” Dr. Berninger said. “We use motor parts of our brain, motor planning, motor control, but what’s very critical is a region of our brain where the visual and language come together, the fusiform gyrus, where visual stimuli actually become letters and written words.” You have to see letters in “the mind’s eye” in order to produce them on the page, she said. Brain imaging shows that the activation of this region is different in children who are having trouble with handwriting.

Functional brain scans of adults show a characteristic brain network that is activated when they read, and it includes areas that relate to motor processes. This suggested to scientists that the cognitive process of reading may be connected to the motor process of forming letters.

Karin James, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, did brain scans on children who did not yet know how to print. “Their brains don’t distinguish letters; they respond to letters the same as to a triangle,” she said.

After the children were taught to print, patterns of brain activation in response to letters showed increased activation of that reading network, including the fusiform gyrus, along with the inferior frontal gyrus and posterior parietal regions of the brain, which adults use for processing written language — even though the children were still at a very early level as writers.

“The letters they produce themselves are very messy and variable, and that’s actually good for how children learn things,” Dr. James said. “That seems to be one big benefit of handwriting.”

Handwriting experts have struggled with the question of whether cursive writing confers special skills and benefits, beyond the benefits that print writing might provide. Dr. Berninger cited a 2015 study that suggested that starting around fourth grade, cursive skills conferred advantages in both spelling and composing, perhaps because the connecting strokes helped children connect letters into words.

For typically developing young children, typing the letters doesn’t seem to generate the same brain activation. As we grow up, of course, most of us transition to keyboard writing, though like many who teach college students, I have struggled with the question of laptops in class, more because I worry about students’ attention wandering than to promote handwriting. Still, studies on note taking have suggested that “college students who are writing on a keyboard are less likely to remember and do well on the content than if writing it by hand,” Dr. Dinehart said.

Dr. Berninger said the research suggests that children need introductory training in printing, then two years of learning and practicing cursive, starting in grade three, and then some systematic attention to touch-typing.

Using a keyboard, and especially learning the positions of the letters without looking at the keys, she said, might well take advantage of the fibers that cross-communicate in the brain, since unlike with handwriting, children will use both hands to type.

“What we’re advocating is teaching children to be hybrid writers,” said Dr. Berninger, “manuscript first for reading — it transfers to better word recognition — then cursive for spelling and for composing. Then, starting in late elementary school, touch-typing.”

As a pediatrician, I think this may be another case where we should be careful that the lure of the digital world doesn’t take away significant experiences that can have real impacts on children’s rapidly developing brains. Mastering handwriting, messy letters and all, is a way of making written language your own, in some profound ways…


Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12



“Common Core isn’t preparing students very well for college or career, new report says”


Dear Friends,

A very informative article written by Valerie Strauss an education writer at the Washington Post, shared by Donna Garner, a retired teacher and education activist.

“Common Core isn’t preparing students very well for college or career, new report says”

A new report that surveys curriculum nationally and reaches thousands of K-12 and college instructors as well as workplace supervisors and employees has some bad news about the Common Core State Standards: Many people in education and the workplace don’t think some of the English Language Arts and math standards — which are being used in most states — are what students and workers need to be successful in college and career.

The report, issued by ACT Inc., finds:

  • There are gaps between some Core standards and what college instructors consider important for students to succeed — especially in the area of writing. For example, middle- and high-school teachers say that they have been emphasizing analyzing source texts and summarizing other authors’ ideas as required by the Core, but college instructors say they value this much less than the “ability to generate sound ideas — a skill applicable across much broader contexts.”
  • …Though the Core standards were designed to prepare students for college and career, the survey found that many workplace supervisors and employees believe skills necessary for success are not part of the Core. Specifically, they say that the No. 1 skill that ensures success is “conscientiousness.”

The 2016 ACT National Curriculum Survey® looks at educational practices and college and career expectations, with results taken from surveys completed by thousands of K-12 teachers and college instructors in English and writing, math, reading, and science. This year, ACT asked workforce supervisors and employees to complete the survey too to see what specifically is being taught in these subjects at each grade level and what material is deemed to be important for college and career readiness.

In March, more than 100 education researchers in California issued a brief saying that there is no “compelling” evidence that the Common Core State Standards will improve the quality of education for children or close the achievement gap, and that Common Core assessments lack “validity, reliability and fairness.” The researchers, from public and private universities in California — including Stanford University, UCLA, and the University of California at Berkeley — said in a brief that the Core standards do not do academically what supporters said they would and that linking them to high-stakes tests harms students.

…Here are some of the conclusions from the report:

1. There are discrepancies between some state standards and what some educators believe is important for college readiness.

Although standards are developed to help ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college and career in English language arts and mathematics, some results of the ACT National Curriculum Survey suggest that some state standards may not reflect college readiness in some aspects.

In English Language Arts finding 2, high-school teachers and perhaps some middle-school teachers may be emphasizing certain approaches to writing over others due to a concern for source-based writing in response to the Common Core State Standards. But if so, college instructors appear to value some key features of source-based writing (the ability to analyze source texts and summarize other authors’ ideas) much less than the ability to generate sound ideas — a skill applicable across much broader contexts.


In Mathematics finding 1, some early elementary school teachers report that they are still teaching some of the topics omitted from the Common Core State Standards at certain early grade levels, perhaps in part because the teachers perceive that students are entering their classrooms unprepared for the demands that later mathematics courses will make of them.

Also in finding 1, less than half of middle-school and high-school teachers believe that the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics are aligned “a great deal” or “completely” with college instructors’ expectations for college readiness.

Mathematics finding 4 indicates that although middle-school and high-school teachers generally agree about what mathematics skills are important to success in STEM courses and careers, college instructors or workforce respondents ascribed much less importance to those skills. In addition, many mathematics teachers in grades 4-7 report including certain topics relevant in STEM coursework in their curricula at grades earlier than they appear in the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards.

Perhaps these teachers fear that delaying these topics will prevent their students from success in later STEM coursework, or perhaps there is a lack of cross-content coordination with science to streamline what knowledge and skills are required of students at each grade…

According to Workforce finding 3, supervisors and employees report that workplace communication relies more heavily on face-to-face communication than on written communication. And, perhaps in keeping with this finding, workforce respondents also place high value on speaking and listening as contributors to positive outcomes for employees on the job. In addition, two of the six most highly rated workplace communication skills relate to the demeanor with which the employee presents information.

As discussed in English Language Arts finding 1, supervisors indicated that employees in entry-level positions should be able to write narrative texts as well as informational and persuasive texts. Supervisors also value an employee’s ability to tailor communications to enhance understanding and to reconcile gaps in understanding.

Mathematics finding 2 shows that workforce respondents value facility with certain kinds of technology (e.g., calculators, graphing calculators, equation editors) much less than educators do.

To view article online





Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12