Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Untested National School Standards Stifle Local Voices

As soon as someone tells you something will save education, hide your children, hide your wife and check your back pocket.

Because education deals with children and the American dream, it’s a land of magical thinking. The latest unproven fad is called Common Core.

No one ever field-tested it, but 45 states, including Indiana, adopted it, believing its mental sugar pills will make all U.S. kids “college- and career-ready.”

The Core defines what K-12 children must know in math and English, and forms the basis of forthcoming national tests.

The people who wrote it are not teachers, nor are they from Indiana.

Indiana’s Senate just passed Senate Bill 193 in a bipartisan vote.

Republicans sponsored the bill, and Democratic State Superintendent Glenda Ritz supports it.

The bill would pause Common Core while the state Board of Education gets public input in all nine congressional districts and commissions a financial analysis. Most states didn’t check the costs before signing on.

Why should they? Everyone’s doing Common Core. It must be brilliant.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has whipped conservatives into agreement: It “will prepare our students for success in college and their careers,” he wrote. It will help close the achievement gap between rich and poor children, supporters insist.

Its tests will “redeem assessment in the hearts and minds of teachers and parents,” said David Coleman, one of the Core’s four chief writers.

Next they’ll be telling us it multiplies bread and walks on water.

President Obama said by financially rewarding states for adopting the Core, he “convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards.”

Odd. Three laws prohibit the federal government from influencing curriculum.

Core supporters keep insisting states spawned it, although foundations and the federal government paid all the bills. No one will name which state leaders, exactly, made which decisions. No matter: It’s for the children.

Anyone who disagrees or questions, even left-leaning researchers who found education standards don’t increase learning, hates children.

The nationwide initiative, operational this year in Indiana only in kindergarten and first grade, has prompted “lots of sycophantic cheerleading,” complains Andy Smarick, a Common Core supporter.

Rick Hess, a think tanker in touch with state superintendents, lawmakers and school leaders across the country, called their “eerie confidence” in something no one has tested the “Common Core Kool-Aid.”

Remember the last time lawmakers prophesied an education miracle? It was called No Child Left Behind.

All that accomplished was to increase federal education spending 64 percent, occupy schools with 6,680,334 more hours of paperwork, and infuriate teachers and parents by its ridiculous pretense that a law can phantasmagorically eradicate refusal to learn, poor parenting, children’s different intellectual abilities and so forth.

Fort Wayne parents and teachers, like others across the country, have voiced plentiful concerns. For one, states are building massive databases to house student information from the tests, including health records, behavioral analyses, family income and more, which the feds recently decided it could share with anyone without notifying parents. Common Core tests, which its promoters expect will fail great numbers of children, are tied to Indiana teacher pay and job security. Curriculum experts say the standards are worse than Indiana’s previous standards and not internationally competitive or supported by research.

Worst of all, Common Core removes local voices in education. When centralized, unelected administrators control curriculum and testing, where do parents and teachers go with concerns?

Let’s raise such questions with our elected representatives while we still can.

The bill’s next stop is the Indiana House. Tell them no more Common Core Kool-Aid.


British children aged 10 who are good at maths earn £2,000 more by the time they turn 30

Children who are good at maths aged 10 go on to earn ‘significantly’ more in their thirties than classmates who are just average in the subject, government funded research shows.

They rake in an extra £2,100 a year while those with top reading skills end up earning an additional £550 per annum.

The findings, published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), illustrate the huge importance of children getting a good grasp of the three R’s at primary school.

Researchers analysed data from the British Cohort Study, which tracks more than 17,000 people born in April 1970 throughout their lives.

This group was tested on their maths and reading skills aged ten during the longitudinal study which also collected data on gross weekly earnings and number of hours worked per week.

IFS researchers examined the link between reading and maths scores aged ten and earnings at ages 30, 34 and 38 on around 6,000 people from the study.

They discovered that a child who was in the top 15 per cent of maths scores aged ten was likely to earn 7.3 per cent more aged 30 - an extra £2,100 per year - than an otherwise identical child who achieved a ‘middle ranking’ maths score.

This was even after controlling for additional factors like parental income and education and the highest qualifications the individual went onto obtain such as A-levels and degrees.

A similar pattern was detected at ages 34 and 38. Reading skills were also important for future earnings, but less so than maths.

A child who was in the top 15 per cent of reading scores aged ten was likely to earn around 1.9 per cent (£550) more per year aged 30 than their classmate who achieved a middle ranking result.

The study suggests that while reading ability earns some return in the labour market, employers seem to value maths skills more highly.

They are willing to reward people with higher wages, indicating there ‘may be a shortage of such skills’.

Claire Crawford, one of the authors of the report, said: ‘Our research shows that maths skills developed during primary school continue to matter for earnings 20 to 30 years down the line.

‘Moreover, they seem to matter more than reading skills and over and above the qualifications that young people go on to obtain. This highlights the importance of investing in skills, particularly maths skills, early.’

Dr Crawford, who is programme director of the skills sector at IFS, added: ‘In general, we might think that there’s a generally lower level of proficiency in terms of maths so employers are particularly willing to reward those who do have those skills more highly.’

Researchers plan to carry out additional work to see if people with good maths skills are going into careers that are particularly well rewarded financially such as engineering.

The study was carried out by IFS researchers working for the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions - a Department for Education sponsored research centre.

Meanwhile a study from London’s Institute of Education revealed last month that England’s brightest primary school children are almost two years behind their high achieving Far Eastern counterparts by the time they take their maths GCSEs.

They make less progress between the ages of 10 and 16 than the most able youngsters in Taiwan and Hong Kong despite almost matching their ability at primary school.

Education Secretary Michael Gove recently launched a new back to basics national curriculum, which sets out the topics teachers in English state schools should cover between the ages of five and 14.

In maths, five-year-olds will be introduced to basic fractions such as recognising and finding a half of a specified length. Currently, fractions are only introduced around the age of seven.

By the end of Key Stage Two, when children are 11, they will be expected to do sums with fractions.

They will need to learn their 12 by 12 tables age nine, instead of the current 10 by 10 tables by age 11, and use methods such as long division.

Schools Minister Elizabeth Truss yesterday said that the IFS research ‘clearly shows why mastering the basics in maths at primary school is so important’.

She said: ‘That’s why our draft maths primary school curriculum focuses on raising standards in arithmetic, including efficient calculation methods such as long and short multiplication and division, and fractions. The calculation of fractions, volume, and area will be introduced earlier.

‘We are also banning calculators from 11-year-olds’ maths tests. Children must able to tackle algebra and statistics by the time they reach secondary school.’


Almost 80% of NYC High School Graduates Need Remedial Classes Before Attending Community College

Put another way, only about 20 percent of students who graduate high school in New York City are academically prepared to take -- and presumably pass -- college courses. This should be a wake-up call, America (via CBS New York):

"Nearly 80 percent of New York City high school graduates need to relearn basic skills before they can enter the City University’s community college system.

The number of kids behind the 8-ball is the highest in years, CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reported Thursday.

When they graduated from city high schools, students in a special remedial program at the Borough of Manhattan Community College couldn’t make the grade.

They had to re-learn basic skills — reading, writing and math — first before they could begin college courses.

They are part of a disturbing statistic."

So what is the solution? We can continue to throw all the money we want into the New York City public school system (even though taxpayers already spend nearly $7,000 per student on transportation alone), but I doubt that will fix the problem. The issues facing public school students are systemic and too numerous to mention in a single blog post.

As social conservatives have argued for years, I think it all starts with the breakdown of the traditional family. As a personal (albeit unscientific) example, one of my good friends teaches eighth grade Social Studies in the New York City public school system. She often tells me that one of the greatest challenges she faces is dealing with kids from broken homes. The vast majority of her students are raised by single moms in government-subsidized housing, and thus don’t have the time -- or perhaps the inclination -- to force their children to do their homework after school or study for tests when they get home. They’re simply not around a whole lot.

And so we as a nation can have a spirited debate about, say, the best methods or policies that could, in theory, fix our broken education system, but until we resolve this issue -- an issue that is staring us blankly in the face -- the vast majority of students in our inner-cities will continue to graduate high school without the requisite skills they need to be successful.

I admire inner-city public school teachers very much. I believe most -- not all, but most -- work hard because, if nothing else, they want to see their kids escape a life of poverty and dependence. But children brought into the world in less-than-ideal circumstances -- as Marco Rubio once said -- are going to struggle to make it. And until we recognize that this is at least part of the problem, we’ll never be able to come up with serious solutions worthy of our kids.


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