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.

Respectfully,

 

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com

“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.

http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/4906/mich_diocese_opts_for_liberal_arts_over_common_core.aspx

Respectfully,

 

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com

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.

 

Respectfully,

 

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com

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…

Respectfully,

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com

“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.

CorePic1

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

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/06/09/common-core-isnt-preparing-students-very-well-for-college-or-career-new-report-says/

 

 Respectfully,

 

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com

The Common Core journalism blackout

 

Dear Friends,

An informative article written by Sandra Stotsky, former 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 (Wgarner1@hot.rr.com)

“The Common Core journalism blackout”

Earlier this month, a deliberately anonymous teacher set forth some of the problems she saw in the Common Core-based test she had to give her students.

This teacher argued — and provided anecdotal evidence to show — that the Common Core-based test: (1) is developmentally inappropriate; and (2) does not actually assess what it claims to assess.

 Both excellent points. But it seems unlikely that reporters for any “mainstream” — or even non-mainstream — media outlets will investigate either of her assertions.

Criticism of Common Core, it is regularly implied by the mainstream, comes only from wing-nuts concerned about “federal overreach,” not from teachers or parents or experts on standards and testing.

But as Mark McQuillan (former commissioner of education in Connecticut), Richard Phelps (testing expert), and I wrote in our analysis of Common Core-based sample tests, PARCC (one of the major Common Core-aligned tests) has at least four major problems. 

1. Most PARCC writing prompts do not elicit the kind of writing done in college or the real world of work. One-third alone is devoted to narratives, mostly imaginative writing. 

2. PARCC uses a format for assessing word knowledge (“use context to determine the word’s meaning”) that is almost completely unsupported by research. This pedagogical format seriously misleads teachers and cripples readers who need to develop fluency in continuous prose reading.

3. PARCC uses “innovative” item-types for which no evidence exists to support claims that they tap deeper thinking and reasoning as part of understanding a text.

4. PARCC tests require many instructional hours to administer and prepare for, but they do not give teachers or parents the kind of information that would justify the extra hours and costs.

These are major flaws that are not likely to be resolved by MCAS 2.0 (the test that will replace PARCC in the Bay State starting next year) because many of the test items that will be in MCAS 2.0 will come from PARCC. (The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted in November 2015 to continue the Bay State’s membership in the PARCC testing consortium). Without vetting by the state’s own teachers across the state, how can Massachusetts administrators and teachers be confident that MCAS 2.0 won’t simply be another vehicle for PARCC’s flawed test items? 

Unfortunately, not one of these issues has been thoroughly reported by the mainstream media. How can one account for such journalism “gaps”? One reason may be the reward system used by the Education Writers Association (EWA), which met in May in Boston for its annual conference (May 1-3). As blogger Anthony Cody commented, in a response to a Pioneer Institute paper on the EWA conference:

“In 2014, my blog posts highly critical of the Common Core actually won first prize in the EWA’s annual contest. The next year they changed their rules so only reporters employed in mainstream publications are eligible. Some of the best investigative work is being done these days by independent, unpaid bloggers. But at EWA, bloggers need not apply. Since most mainstream publications tend to support the Common Core, this effectively eliminates critics of the national standards (and other corporate reform projects).” 

In effect, EWA has found a subtle way to blacklist writers who might write critically about Common Core’s standards and tests. 

As part of the journalism “gap,” reporters have not yet noted the lack of research supporting Common Core “architect” David Coleman’s notion that substituting informational texts for literature will improve students’ college readiness. Not only is Coleman’s assertion not supported by research, available data indicate that exactly the opposite is more likely to happen. For example, we know that reading scores went down in the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results for grade 8.

 

Reporters have also failed to inform their readers about what is missing from Common Core standards,including: a list of recommended authors, standards on British literature apart from Shakespeare, and study of the history of the English language. Is it not newsworthy to note that, while high-achieving students in academically-oriented private and suburban schools will likely get the rich literary-historical content that provides the basis for critical and analytical thinking, under the Common Core regime, urban students will get little more than reading comprehension exercises? 

Why does the media “establishment” believe policy makers and education researchers who themselves seem to believe without evidence that standards mostly in the form of empty skills could develop “critical thinking” or “deeper learning”? It is strange to see them promote as “rigorous” math standards whose quality they should instead suspect because the only mathematicians praising Common Core’s math standards (Jason Zimba and William McCallum) wrote them.

What happened to skepticism or investigative journalism? Could it be that most reporters can’t read and understand high school mathematics or science standards?

To view article online:

http://www.educationviews.org/common-core-journalism-blackout/

 

Respectfully,

 

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com

Time to Admit the Obvious: Common Core Has Failed Spectacularly

 

Dear Friends,

An excellent article written by Jane Robbins, an attorney and senior fellow with the American Principles Projec. Shared by Donna Garner, (Wgarner1@hot.rr.com) a retired teacher and an education activist.

Time to Admit the Obvious: Common Core Has Failed Spectacularly

 

 On the same day former Bush Administration official Douglas Holtz-Eakin warned that discarding the Common Core national standards would diminish students’ college-readiness and harm the economy, the news came out that Common Core-trained students are less competent than their predecessors in math and generally less prepared for college.

Obviously Mr. Holtz-Eakin didn’t see that coming. But objective observers of Common Core have been predicting this result for years.

Now heading a group called American Action Forum, Mr. Holtz-Eakin makes a number of claims that have been debunked (it’s almost as though he wrote this piece a couple of years ago and hasn’t read the relevant literature since).

To begin with, he embraces the revisionist account of the origins of Common Core: “A state-led effort, the Common Core standards were drafted by experts and teachers from across the country.” It is now beyond serious dispute that Common Core was in fact a private-foundation- and federal-government-led effort, and that the standards were written essentially by a few drafters selected by unknown people for undisclosed reasons. So Mr. Holtz-Eakin establishes off the bat that he doesn’t understand Common Core.

He then repeats the talking point that the Common Core standards “have been shown to be more rigorous and effective.” Shown by whom? He cites to a Fordham Institute report that was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the chief financier of Common Core. But even though Fordham was essentially being paid to make Common Core look “rigorous” in comparison to the standards of other states, even Fordham was forced to admit that many states (such as Massachusetts and California) had clearly superior standards.

Scholars not paid by Gates have been warning for years that Common Core would have dire consequences for students’ college-readiness. English Language Arts expert Dr. Sandra Stotsky, a member of the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off on the standards because she recognized that they “would not prepare students for authentic college-level coursework.” Another Validation Committee dissident, world-renowned mathematician Dr. James Milgram, professor emeritus at Stanford University, has been withering in his criticism of the dumbed-down math standards, which he warned could not prepare students for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) studies in college. (Although they’ve tried to backtrack, the math-standards drafters have conceded the point.)  And Dr. Marina Ratner, another world-renowned mathematician, stated in a Wall Street Journal piece that the Common Core “represent lower expectations [than the previous California standards], and that students taught in the way that these standards require would have little chance of being admitted to even an average college and would certainly struggle if they did get in.”

And what about Mr. Holtz-Eakin’s claim that Common Core was shown to be “effective”? The Fordham report showed no such thing, because it was issued before Common Core was implemented. So we must look elsewhere for evidence of effectiveness.

Which brings us to the news released by the National Association of Educational Progress (the NAEP, or the “nation’s report card”) on the same day as Mr. Holtz-Eakin’s fantastical essay. The2015 NAEP scores of the nation’s high-school seniors show a decline in math performance, stagnation in reading performance, and decline in college preparation in both areas.

The average math score for seniors dropped from 153 in 2013 to 152 in 2015, according to NAEP a “statistically significant” decline. The reading scores stagnated, and came in significantly below reading scores from 1992 (down from 292 to 287).

As for college-readiness, Mr. Holtz-Eakin must be especially perturbed by that NAEP indicator. In 2013, 39 percent of students were estimated to be college-ready in math, and 38 percent ready in reading. After two more years of Common Core training, the readiness scores were down to 37 percent in each subject.

These results are especially significant because, unlike students who took the NAEP tests two years earlier, the 2015 test-takers had the benefit of full Common Core implementation. Or maybe “benefit” is the wrong word.

As quoted in The New York Times, NAEP governing board chairman Terry Mazany described all these results as “worrisome.” The Los Angeles Times quotes the “bottom line” offered by a former NAEP official: “We’re stalled. We’re not making any progress.” Indeed.

Coming on the heels of similar dismal NAEP scores for younger students in October, these results confirm that our schools are headed in precisely the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, Michigan is the latest state to explore replacing Common Core with standards that aren’t, well, garbage. This week the Senate Education Committee passed a bill that would substitute the pre-Common Core Massachusetts standards for the substandard Common Core. Given that even Gates-funded Fordham agrees the Massachusetts standards are better, will we see Mr. Holtz-Eakin and his ideological compatriots cheering Michigan on?

If anyone in the pro-Common Core camp criticizes Michigan’s action, that will prove these forces have agendas other than the authentic education of children. In the meantime, other state legislatures should jump off the Common Core train before it goes over the cliff. How much more evidence do they need?

Respectfully,

 

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com

America’s high school seniors’ reading and math scores have hit a wall

 

Dear Friends,

A very informative article written by Joy Resmovits, an editor and reporter who covers education for the Los Angeles Times. Shared by Donna Garner, a retired teacher and education activist (Wgarner1@hot.rr.com)

“America’s high school seniors’ reading and math scores have hit a wall”

Excerpts from this article:

America’s high school seniors’ reading and math test scores are barely holding steady or slumping, according to national standardized test results released late Tuesday.

Between 2013 and 2015, on average, students dropped slightly in math and held steady in reading.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as NAEP, is a test administered by the federal government. It is considered the gold standard in measuring what students really know, because the results don’t have consequences that could encourage teachers or test takers to game the process.

In math, the average score dropped from 153 to 152, out of 300 points.

On the 500-point reading test, scores dropped one point to 287–a decease officials called statistically insignificant.

The results for seniors weren’t available on a state-by-state basis…

“We’re stalled. That’s the bottom line,”said Mark Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research who used to run the government agency that administers NAEP.

“We’re not making any progress.” The scores come as the country continues to teach and test the Common Core State Standards, a set of learning benchmarks intended to make school more demanding and lessons more consistent among states.

…Officials are confident that the National Assessment accurately captured what students across the country are learning. They said they know that in part because the declines on math were consistent across the areas tested, including geometry, data analysis and algebra.

In 2015, NAEP tested almost 19,000 students in reading and 13,000 in math. In both of those subjects, 37% of students were deemed to be ready for college.

Scores on the lowest end of the reading and math tests were worse than they had been in 2013.

The gap between students who tested well and those who tested poorly concerns Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, the government arm that administers the exam. “We need to look at what it means,” she said.

There was one bright spot: In math, the test scores of English language learners…increased by six points since 2013.

But students with disabilities remained stagnant, and students who reported that their parents didn’t finish high school dropped by four points. And since 1992, black students dropped by eight points in reading… 

View the entire article:

http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-edu-how-smart-are-americas-students-naep-seniors-2015-20160426-story.html

 

Respectfully,

 

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com

Get Ready to Ditch the SAT and ACT

 

Dear Friends,

A very informative article written by Robert Holland, a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.Shared by Donna Garner, a retired teacher and education activist (Wgarner1@hot.rr.com)

 “Get Ready To Ditch the SAT and ACT”

Decades from now, education historians may observe Common Core (CC) provoked a wave of activism that resulted in decentralizing U.S. education.

That was not what the power elites intended when they concocted standards and assessments intended to apply to all students, teachers, and schools. Their objective was centralization. But their arrogance has activated a hornets’ nest of angry parents intent on reclaiming control over their children’s schooling.

The revolt is going beyond the widespread opt-outs from federally mandated Common Core-linked testing.  Behind the scenes, hard work is proceeding on long-dreamed-of alternatives to the College Board’s century-old dominance of college-entrance testing. Impetus for that came when a key member of the Common Core cabal, testing consultant David Coleman, went straightway from writing the CC English standards to heading up the College Board on an explicit vow to align its SAT with Common Core.

Testing a New Test

Now, with the start of 2016 SAT testing, that has happened. However, the Vector Assessment of Readiness for College (ARC)—a budding SAT alternative—is happening, too. For four years, remarked company spokesman Julie West, “We spent a great deal of time researching entrance exams dating back generations, speaking with professors, retired educators, and professionals. Questions were developed, submitted, and reviewed. Sample questions were also sent to outside evaluators.”

‘Our assessment evaluates math skills through calculus, contains science through chemistry and physics, and contains questions regarding grammar and classic literature.’

ARC beta testing is underway, most recently at the Great Homeschooling Convention in Cincinnati during the first weekend of April. Homeschool families are a natural constituency because linking the SAT and other standardized tests to a de facto national curriculum places homeschoolers’ hard-won freedom from statist overreach and offensive standards in grave peril, but the ARC alternative also may prove to be useful for private and parochial schools, as well as public schools in states not plugged in to Common Core.

“Because the homeschool community is the only sector that has not experienced dramatic shifts in standards or curriculum over the past several years, we have focused on them during beta,” said West. “However, any student with an SAT/ACT or PSAT score may participate in beta testing.

“Because our assessment evaluates math skills through calculus, contains science through chemistry and physics, and contains questions regarding grammar and classic literature, we believe high-achieving students from private and public schools will also benefit from ARC,” said West. “Because we will not permit super scoring, much of the socioeconomic bias has been addressed. Finally, because we are not a timed test, those with special-needs students have been excited to learn about ARC.”

A Drive to Feed Students Substance

Super scoring is a dubious practice whereby students can take their highest scores from multiple SAT tests and piece them into one inflated outcome. Eliminating that kind of gaming would be a solid initial accomplishment for Vector ARC.

Alternatives to the powerhouse College Board, founded in 1900, have been a long time coming.

The Vector team states its assessment will “assess both proficiency of subject matter as well as overall cognitive abilities,” thus maximizing students’ opportunities “to present their strengths.”

At least one other alternative to the entrance-exam monolith is already available, offered through the Annapolis-based Classic Learning Initiatives, which started in 2015. Administered online at testing centers, the two-hour Classic Learning Test (CLT) draws on the works of some of the greatest minds in Western tradition, thinkers of the caliber of C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, G.K. Chesterton, Martin Luther King Jr., Plato, and Socrates. Several renowned liberal arts colleges, including St. John’s and Thomas Aquinas, accept CLT scores as an alternative to the SAT or ACT.

Alternatives to the powerhouse College Board, founded in 1900, have been a long time coming. The ACT became one such alternative in November 1959, and in 2011, it actually edged out the SAT in total test-takers. Richard Innes, an education analyst at the Bluegrass Institute, says some officials at ACT still believe its “traditional mission is to provide a quality college readiness test that is useful to college admissions offices.” However, Innes also said ACT’s recent joint venture with Pearson Publishing to create a Common Core-type test called Aspire appears to have introduced “mission confusion” at the company.

Then there is the freshly revised federal education law that lets school boards use the SAT and ACT as their federally mandated annual tests, even for students who don’t plan to go to college, saving money for local school districts and ensuring these education-testing giants have continuous access to a $700-million-per-year market. With big education and big testing continuing to feed off each other, the yearning for individualized alternatives is likely to grow.

http://thefederalist.com/2016/04/20/get-ready-to-ditch-the-sat-and-act/

 

Respectfully,

 

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com

Concerned Parent on Math TEKS

 

Dear Friends,

This is timely and informative letter from a concerned parent from Katy, Texas in regard to the new Math TEKS

Hello Texas SBOE,

I am writing to thank you for taking the time to listen, discuss, and seriously consider the concerns of parents and a student at the meeting Friday.  I know you have a long schedule at each session.  It is very appreciated that you take the time to have a two way conversation with the constituents that come to the SBOE with concerns.  You have created a great environment for people coming before the board.

I also am grateful that you plan to take future time to discuss what to do with the math TEKS.  I don’t think the SBOE or the authors of the TEKS knew how literally the schools and publishers would follow these TEKS.  The schools are teaching the TEKS and only the TEKS.  The breadth of the TEKs is so overwhelming there is not extra time available.  We cannot assume any more is being done than the literal wording of the TEKS.

For reference I have attached the K-8 TEKS with the word FRACTION capitalized and highlighted in yellow as an example.  If the TEKS say to represent adding and subtracting fractions “using objects and pictorial models that build to the number line and properties of operations” that is all that is taught.  Objects and pictures are great examples to use to teach fractions, but the goal should be to add or subtract any two fractions, without drawing pictures.  I am not sure the definition of “build to the number line and property of operations” but that does note seem to be interpreted by the text book providers or the teachers as actually doing math with fractions to find an answer.

Please note that conversion between improper and mixed fractions is never mentioned in the TEKS.  Mastery of fractions, in my opinion, is critical for later STEM classes.  Without this mastery, unit conversions and so much of math and science are much more difficult.  I fear children will be turned off from the sciences because of a poor math foundation.  I bring up fractions as only one easily identified example.

Please keep in mind I am not a lobbyist, and I have nothing to gain from this effort to improve the math TEKS.  I see what is being done in my daughter’s math class, and I am compelled to try and make it better for her and the other children.  Our ISD is attempting to strictly follow the law and the TEKS, so I understand the remedy is with the SBOE.  Again, thank you for listening and acting on our concerns.

Best regards,

John Pendergraff

Katy, Texas

Below is a link to view the provisions.

http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter111/ch111a.html

 

Respectfully,

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com