Data resisters aren’t Chicken Littles

Chicken in a pot

John Kuhn says:

The vocal opposition we see to data collection efforts like inBloom, to curriculum standards (which define the data to be collected) like the Common Core, and to tests (the data source) like the MAP can all be traced back, largely, to two things: (1) dismay over how much class time is sacrificed for the all-encompassing data hunt, and (2) a foundational mistrust regarding the aims of those who gather and control the data. If your dad brings home a new baseball bat, it’s a pretty happy time in the family – unless your dad has been in the habit of beating the family with blunt objects. Data is that baseball bat. A better analogy might be a doctor who causes his patients pain unnecessarily with his medical equipment. Patients are naturally going to resist going in for procedures that the doctor says are “good for them” if they know it will come with excessive pain. There is a vigorous campaign online and in the papers and political buildings to discredit opponents of school reform as just so many Chicken Littles “defending the status quo” and sticking their heads in the sand. A salient question, though, is this: has the sector-controlling school reform movement, going back to the dawn of No Child Left Behind, wielded data honestly, ethically, and constructively? If not, then yeah, there will be resistance. These people aren’t Chicken Littles. They’re Chickens Who Won’t Get in the Pot.

via http://atthechalkface.com/2014/01/03/johnkuhntx-the-tyranny-of-the-datum

Educators don’t trust the powers that be, and the powers that be don’t trust educators. And thus our dysfunctional systems and dialogues…

Image credit: 11.20.11 Every Sunday, Peas

Essay questions for education ‘reformers’

Robert Shepherd says:

As a member of the Billionaire Boys’ Club, or as one of the paid associates of the BBC, you . . .

1. believe that extraordinarily complex skills like reading and writing ability can be validly and reliably measured by simple, objective
tests.

Explain how that could possibly be so. Please draw upon your extensive knowledge of the relevant scientific literature.

2. believe that innovation comes about when free persons conceive of varied goods and services that compete with one another in a free market in which users choose the goods and services that they wish to purchase and use.

Explain how this belief can be reconciled with a) a single set of mandatory national standards for all students, b) a single set of mandatory high-stakes national tests, c) a single national database of all student test scores and responses, and d) scripted literacy lessons that all teachers must follow to the letter.

3. believe that all students should follow the same standards and take the same tests.

Explain how this belief can be reconciled with the fact that students differ enormously in their backgrounds, in their developmental levels, in their gifts and interests and propensities, and in the goals that they and their parents have for their futures.

4. believe that national standards do not narrow and distort curricula and pedagogy.

Please answer the following questions:

If standards do not drive (and so narrow and distort) curricula and pedagogy, why create them?

If they do drive curricula and pedagogy, how can a single set of predetermined standards be better than ANY alternative set that might be developed by ANY OTHER expert or group of experts in education and particular subject matter?

5. believe that our schools are failing.

Explain how can this belief can be reconciled with the fact that, when results on internationally norm-referenced exams in reading, mathematics, and science are corrected for the socio-economic levels of students taking the exams, U.S. students consistently score at the top or very near the top?

6. believe that a small group of persons appointed by a committee of politicians should be empowered to create standards that overrule and render irrelevant the judgments about desirable outcomes in particular courses of study made by professional teachers, curriculum developers, and curriculum coordinators.”

Why?

via http://dianeravitch.net/2013/10/30/shepherd-an-essay-exam-for-reformers

Don’t blame the Common Core for local curriculum decisions

Kathleen Porter-Magee says:

While there is no shortage of programs that are emblazoned with a shiny new “Common Core Aligned!” sticker, the reality is that anyone can claim alignment. And while the Common Core is a convenient and politically expedient scapegoat for programs that lack coherence and rigor, it is up to school boards, principals, teachers, and parents to choose the curricula and the texts that will guide daily teaching and learning in the classroom. Indeed, parents have exactly as much input into the curricular decisions made at their children’s schools as they did prior to 2010.

let’s not forget that on the math side, prior to Common Core adoption, only 11 states required students to learn standard algorithms and only 7 states required students to memorize their basic math facts. Thanks to the Common Core, 45 state standards now require mastery of these essential content and skills. Indeed, the Common Core is unambiguous in its expectation that students learn arithmetic content and skills cold before moving on to more rigorous content.

Similarly, on the English language arts side, let’s not forget that there is no “required reading list” attached to the Common Core. . . . the standards themselves include only 4 “required readings”: the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and a Shakespearean play. Every other text selection is made at the state or local level. If your child is reading a text you don’t like, it’s not because the Common Core demands it.

Of course, this also means that parents … are right to be concerned about curricula that do not emphasize mastery of critical math content. And they’re right to try to push schools to assign appropriate reading that includes classic works of literature. But those are concerns that still need to be brought to local school boards, principals, and teachers. After all, even in the Common Core era, it is these local leaders and school-level educators who will determine the programs that get taught and the books that get assigned in schools across the country.

via http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-daily/common-core-has-nationalized-our-curriculum-these-local-decisions

Will an emphasis on ‘close reading’ kill the joy of reading?

Reading

As most educators know by now, the new Common Core standards emphasize ‘close reading.’ It’s hard to argue with that as a necessary skill for understanding complex writing. As a professor I spent lots of time dissecting research articles, book chapters, blog posts, and legal cases with my students. Close, careful reading and discussion also have been a staple of English / Language Arts classrooms for decades, as have been the critical analysis of political arguments in Social Studies classes, of pseudo-scientific claims in Science classes, and so on.

BUT… I keep thinking back to some quotes from Kelly Gallagher’s phenomenal book, Readicide:

“What has gone wrong in our schools: the creation of readicide through intensive overanalysis of literature and nonfiction. Young readers are drowning in a sea of sticky notes, marginalia, and double-entry journals and, as a result, their love of reading is being killed in the one place where the nourishment of a reading habit should be occurring – in school”

“On my desk is a copy of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (2007) unit of study for teaching To Kill a Mockingbird. This study unit, a guide to teaching Harper Lee’s timeless novel, contains overarching questions, chapter study questions, essay questions, vocabulary lessons, activities for specific chapters, guided reading lessons, directions for setting up a writer’s notebook, literary analysis questions, collaborative activities, oral presentations, handouts, transparencies, displays, quizzes, and projects. It also comes with an almost incomprehensible unit guide. This guide is 122 pages long – almost half the length of the actual novel! … If I were to follow this curricular guide step-by-step in my classroom, there is little doubt my students would exit my class hating To Kill a Mockingbird forever. Worse, students who have been taught to hate To Kill a Mockingbird will find themselves much farther down the road toward hating all reading. . . . No student ever achieved reading flow from analyzing every nook and cranny of a complex work. Students in these reading situations are not coming up for air. They are coming up for life preservers. . . . The overanalysis of books creates instruction that values the trivial at the expense of the meaningful. . . . “As I look at the 122-page teaching guide for To Kill a Mockingbird, . . . the value in teaching this book is when we use this great book as a springboard to examine issues in today’s world. This opportunity seems to be largely missing in the district’s mandated curriculum. A golden opportunity for our children to read, to write, and to debate about relevant issues is buried under 122 pages of mind-numbing instructions.

“We would never buy a book at Barnes and Noble if it came with mandated chapter-by-chapter exams. We would never read a book so that we could tackle worksheets afterward. We would never begin a new read with the expressed goal of earning points. And we would never feel compelled to read if we had to complete a project after every book. Yet, as teachers, we do all of these things to developing readers. We subject them repeatedly to treatments that are counterproductive to developing book lovers. And we do it book after book, year after year. Worse, we rationalize our behavior by believing we must prepare students to perform well at test time. Shameful.” 

So I’m torn. I want students to be able to critically analyze what they’re reading but even more importantly I want them to love to read. When I taught 8th grade, a mom told me that she once found her daughter reading in the shower, one arm stuck outside of the curtain. Now that’s a love for reading! I’m worried that the more we emphasize the technocratic side of reading, the less we will celebrate and foster the pleasurable aspects of reading. It does us no good to teach kids how to read if at the end they don’t read because we’ve sucked the joy out of it.

I’m concerned that, like in so many other areas of educational reform these days, we’re going to tip way past what’s reasonable. But maybe I’m just making stuff up. Got any thoughts on this?

Image credit: Reading, Canon_Shooter

Text complexity in the early grades: Shooting ourselves in the foot?

Cozy reading spot

Here are some quotes from the most recent issue of Educational Researcher regarding text complexity in the early grades, one of the hallmark pushes of the Common Core State Standards:

the CCSS text complexity standards for Grade 3 appear to be aspirational, much like the No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress targets (Shepard, 2008). The small set of studies that have examined text complexity over time does not show that text complexity at Grade 3 has deteriorated. Neither is there evidence that the accelerated targets in the primary grades are necessary for high school graduates to read the texts of college and careers. (p. 47)

AND

Another potential indirect effect on students may be their motivation and engagement. The engagement of reading among American students is already low, as indicated by a 2001 nationally representative sample of fourth graders from 35 countries that ranked the United States 33rd in an index of students’ motivations for reading (Mullis, Martin, Gonzalez, & Kennedy, 2003) and 35th out of 35 countries in the revised index of attitudes toward reading (Twist, Gnaldi, Schagen, & Morrison, 2004). At present, there is research indicating that motivation decreases when tasks become too challenging and none that indicates that increasing challenge (and potential levels of failure) earlier in students’ careers will change this dismal national pattern of disengagement with literacy (Guthrie, Wigfield, & You, 2012). (p. 48)

AND

Will the intended outcomes of higher levels of literacy for all students be realized by setting the bar arbitrarily at third grade? Our review suggests that the unintended negative consequences could well outweigh the intended positive outcomes. (p. 49)

AND

Increasing the pressure on the primary grades – without careful work that indicates why the necessary levels are not attained by many more students – may have consequences that could widen a gap that is already too large for the students who, at present, are left out of many careers and higher education. How sadly ironic it would be if an effort intended to support these very students limited their readiness for college and careers. (p. 49)

Hiebert, E. H., & Mesmer, H. A. E. (2013). Upping the ante of text complexity in the Common Core State Standards: Examining its potential impact on young readers. Educational Researcher, 42(1), 44-51.

Image credit: “Cozy” reading spot