Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Common Core Standards

Most states have traded their education standards for Common Core national standards. State leaders were told Common Core would not infringe on state and local control, would establish high academic quality, and would improve student performance. Unfortunately, none of this became true when the standards were actually written.

Common Core was written behind closed doors, largely by four education consultants employed by private organizations. Because of this, most state lawmakers and citizens did not hear about Common Core until after state boards and departments of education had quickly adopted it and corresponding national tests, with the Obama administration having presented adoption as the surest route to eligibility for federal Race to the Top money.

As they have learned how Common Core will affect curricula, teaching, and testing, state lawmakers and citizens have objected strenuously, leading more than a dozen states to consider withdrawing, while others have dropped their involvement with federally funded tests. The main concerns include Common Core’s questionable academic quality, nontransparent creation and quick adoption, federal involvement, links to a vast expansion of student data-mining, and further erosion of state and local control.

Policy Solution

States should replace Common Core with higher-quality, state-controlled academic standards and tests not funded by the federal government. They should secure student data privacy and ensure national testing mandates do not affect instruction in private and home schools.

Policy Message

    Point 1: Common Core is of mediocre academic quality, according to nationally known experts, and research shows education standards do not improve student achievement.

    Point 2: Common Core was not created by states in any meaningful sense. It was written behind closed doors by unelected committees inside organizations funded largely by the federal government.

    Point 3: Most states have agreed to subject their laws to federally funded and monitored Common Core testing groups, largely through contracts legislatures have not reviewed.

    Point 4: Many states promised the federal government they would trade their standards for Common Core before a draft or final version of the standards was published.

    Point 5: The national Common Core testing groups have not specified what data they will require of states within their student assessments, but they have promised the federal government will receive full access. The Obama administration has removed federal protections that in the past limited student data-sharing and required schools to inform parents of it.

    Point 6: Common Core threatens school choice, private schools, and home schools by creating a national market for education in which all tests—including the SAT, ACT, Iowa Basic, and Stanford 10—and most curricula are structured according to one system.

    Point 7: Common Core is entirely experimental. No state or school has ever tested it.

    Point 8: Education standards are not curriculum, but they determine what children will and will not learn. They define curriculum. And the federally funded testing consortia are creating a model Common Core curriculum, although federal curriculum creation is illegal.

    Point 9: Almost no state has analyzed how much retraining teachers, new curriculum, and upgrading technology by 2016 for online-only Common Core tests will cost taxpayers.

    Point 10: There is no process for parents, teachers, and school boards to provide feedback or gain flexibility on all or part of Common Core as students begin encountering it.

    Point 11: Common Core assumes one schedule of learning fits all children, and a small group of paid experts know what it is. It also rests on the premise, rejected by many communities and parents, that the sole purpose of public education is workforce training.


Middle-class British children are struggling in secondary schools after excessive tutoring for the 11-plus exam

Their marks may not indicate ability in such cases

Hot-housing children through entrance exams at selective schools could leave them struggling to keep up with more talented pupils in future, a leading headmaster has warned.

Parents are increasingly relying on tutors to help their children pass the 11-plus for grammar schools and private schools’ Common Entrance exam sat at 13.

But Christopher Ray, the chairman of the Headmasters and Headmistresses’ Conference, said many are unable to cope when they get into their chosen school.

Some are even asked to leave at 16 to avoid damaging the school’s A-level pass rates.  ‘At 11 it’s very hard [to select], so mistakes are made,’ said Dr Ray who is head of Manchester Grammar School.

‘You have to ask the question of whether students are going to make it into the sixth form at 16. The saddest thing of all is to get it wrong.

‘Why is that mistake made? One of the possible reasons is that the pupils have been over-tutored, hot-housed for the entrance exam and progressively cannot cope.’

Dr Ray said entrance exams for selective schools should be axed as so many children are now being intensively coached outside school.

University-style ‘assessment days’ - where teachers could monitor children over several hours in a classroom environment - would be better, he suggested.

More than half of children are being tutored privately as parents fight to get them into the best schools, a study suggested last year. Some are as young as two.  The practice has exploded in recent years despite the squeeze on family incomes.

In many cases parents are prepared to pay for their children to get into the best state schools as the overall cost is cheaper than private schools. Many grammar schools now have ten applications for each place.

Some schools are now asking questions that are harder to prepare for but critics say it is impossible to completely ‘tutor-proof’ the process.

‘Entrance exams are almost the worst way to select students academically,’ Dr Ray told a Sunday newspaper.  ‘They don’t really get to the heart of pupils’ potential.

'They don’t really tell you how that pupil thinks and almost all of them can be tutored for, which gives a very unfair advantage to those who are tutored.

‘Some heads say a 15 or 20-minute interview can be the corrective for that. I don’t think so - pupils are also being tutored for interviews.’

There are also concerns at the length of time children spend being coached outside school hours and the quality of education provided by some tutors.

Ben Thomas, headteacher at independent preparatory Thomas’s, Battersea in South London, said children’s free time was being ‘devoured’ by the practice.

The Centre for Market Reform of Education think-tank last month announced plans to establish a national association for private tutors.

Members of the association - the first of its kind - would have to sign up to minimum qualification standards and a code of ethics.

Headteachers have also revealed how parents are forcing children to do lengthy commutes so that they can attend the right schools.

Jane Grubb, headmistress of Bedales Prep School in Hampshire, said earlier this year that some children travel up to ten hours a week.


A very educational book

With traditional American values seemingly under assault from all sides, parents can struggle to find children’s literature that corresponds with their beliefs. Susan Allen, Virginia’s former first lady, fills this void with The Remarkable Ronald Reagan, her delightful new children’s book narrating our 40th president’s fascinating life and extolling the virtues he embodied.

The Remarkable Ronald Reagan traces President Reagan’s career living the American Dream from his days as young “Dutch” to his presidency, including his experiences in sports broadcasting, World War II combat and acting. By demonstrating to children the richness of a life spent fulfilling dreams, Allen’s narrative radiates optimism and love of country. Her portrayal of Reagan’s enduring faith, relentless work ethic and perseverance in the face of adversity gives children a true hero to whom they can all look up.

For many of Allen’s readers, Leslie Harrington’s illustrations will steal the show. Her sleek images render a sense of life and color to Reagan’s story that merits recognition. For those inclined to learn more, Allen includes a convenient addendum to the book with a timeline of Reagan’s life, notable bits of his correspondence with children and two pages full of fantastic Reagan quotations.

Allen’s book is more than a bedtime story—it’s a way for parents to showcase the American way of life. In an age of cynicism and moral ambiguity, children need a portrait of faith and clarity. Allen does a remarkable job of illustrating to children exactly why Ronald Reagan was America at its best.


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