Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Indiana Holds First Common Core ‘Pause’ Hearing

Another packed room awaited Indiana lawmakers reviewing Common Core national standards Monday, with people lining the walls, ringing the star-studded hearing room floor, and filling the upper gallery.

The five-hour meeting was the first of three lawmakers will conduct before another three by the state board of education. In between, accountants will estimate the costs of overhauling Indiana’s education system to fit national goals and tests for English and math in grades K-12. By July 2014, the state board of education will decide whether Indiana improves its own standards or sticks with Common Core.

“I have no preconceived notion as to what will come to adoption in 2014,” state Superintendent Glenda Ritz told lawmakers. She criticized Common Core in math, but said “the process will decide” whether Indiana chooses Common Core with our without amendments, or updates its own previous standards.

Indiana is the first state to reconsider the national project after public outcry led to a spring law requiring the current set of analysis. Hoosiers complained the state had not estimated the costs of Common Core, vetted its quality beside Indiana’s well-respected previous standards, and investigated the implications of signing contracts with federally funded national testing groups.

Ritz noted the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) did not request public input when the state board was considering Common Core, although “it’s not required anywhere for the department to do that.”

Academic Quality

This first hearing focused on academic quality. Those testifying on both sides referred to a comparison of Indiana’s standards to Common Core by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Indiana’s previous standards “were commonly regarded as being among the best,” said Jason Zimba, one of Common Core’s lead math writers. “During development of Common Core Indiana standards were often out on my desk.” The Fordham review showed Indiana’s math standards “too close to call” in comparison with Common Core, but did not consider career preparation, where Zimba said Common Core was better.

The institute sent Kathleen Porter-Magee to testify for the standards, and she said its review found Common Core better than Indiana’s in English. On the contrary, said Common Core committee member Sandra Stotsky, who spoke against the national standards. She quoted the review: “Indiana’s standards are clearer, more thorough, [and] easier to read than the Common Core standards.” Fordham found Indiana’s standards were grouped more logically, included better examples, and had better reading list, she said.

The Fordham math reviewer “told me and others directly that Indiana would be much better off keeping its old math standards and not going with Common Core,” testified Bill Evers, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, to quickly hushed audience applause.

Lawmakers and those testifying frequently discussed Indiana’s high college remediation rates.

“One of the things that is most disturbing is the number of students who have AP Calculus on their transcripts and come into remedial math classes,” said Chris Rock, a math and education professor at Manchester University.

Lawmakers quizzed Stotsky for a half hour after her 20-minute testimony, with questions ranging from over-testing fears to remediation.

“We have elementary teachers that have not been trained in math and science and history,” she said, when asked why Indiana graduates need so much college remediation if the state has high expectations for them. “We have a society with many distractions and the amount of reading students do in and out of school has declined. Students are doing other things with their free time. There are multiple causes for needing remediation at the high school and post-high school level.”

Nonfiction vs. Fiction

Common Core requires children to read more nonfiction. Porter-Magee said this would increase children’s academic vocabulary and subject knowledge. Stotsky said research shows analyzing fiction develops children’s minds better than fiction, and this is why English teachers are trained to teach literature.

Rep. Rhonda Rhodes (R-XX) mentioned her time as a kindergarten teacher, where bringing nonfiction materials into the classroom often meant “trying to sell our students on an agenda or a product and not stopping to think, ‘What is the purpose of this information?’”

“The floodgates have been opened by this requirement for informational text,” Stotsky replied. “What many of us would consider classical literary texts were already disappearing from the classroom. Common Core doesn’t address the problem—it sets up another problem.”

Common Core also mistreats the texts on its recommended reading list, noted Terrence Moore, a Hillsdale College history professor.

For example, Common Core recommends students only read the Bill of Rights, and never the entire U.S. Constitution, he noted. Instead, it recommends a book that describes the Constitution using “words such as ‘vicious,’ ‘master class,’ ‘camouflaged,’ and ‘ugly,’” he said. “Students’ first encounter with the Constitution will be this negative document... Yet we don’t have Common Core directing us to Federalist 10 or 51, but a highly segmented [book] from modern scholar with questionable language.”

What’s Next?

The pause law also means Indiana will keep its current state tests, the ISTEP+, until 2015-16.

“However those [standards] look, the job becomes finding and developing assessments that align with them,” Ritz said. “I’m committed to having standards and assessments and vendors will do what we would like them to do for the state of Indiana.”

The next legislative Common Core hearing will be held September 10, on the topic of testing.


Jeopardy Spelling Uproar Reflects America’s Downward Spiral


With the world, and our nation, falling apart at the seams around us, you might wonder what would drive me to write about a Connecticut eighth-grader's spelling mistake on Jeopardy. Actually, I wish to focus  more on the reactions to this error than the error itself, which only reminds us that Thomas Hurley III, like all of us, is human. Perhaps his nerves got the best of him. Maybe he actually believed that his spelling of "emancipation" in "Emancipation Proclamation" as "emanciptation" was correct.  I am sure many of us, sweating under the gaze of a pressurized, televised game show, might mess up here and there.  Had Thomas, his parents, and the scores of people expressed their dismay over what happened and left things at that, this would be over.  However, their uproar and outcry over this incident only crystallize this country's present intellectual, academic, and societal deterioration.

Thomas was competing in the "Jeopardy!  Kids Week" competition which was taped last February and aired recently and was a distant second to the eventual winner.  The answer to the final question was "Emancipation Proclamation", which the first place contestant spelled correctly, but which Thomas spelled  "emanciptation".  As it turned out, the child's mistake cost him nothing because the rules for Kids Week clearly state that only the winner of a round gets to keep the money earned, with second place receiving a consolation prize of $ 2,000.  In this case, the eventual winner, 7th-grader Skyler Hornback, broke the record for winnings for Kids Week with a total of $ 66,600.  Despite these facts, the reactions of the contestant, his parents, and a large part of the public epitomize precisely why this country is on the slippery slope to dope.

Truth be told, we are caught between two divergent, but equally destructive, notions in this society.  Half of the time, we are told that winning and achievement should be downplayed so as to not "offend" those who fail or do not achieve. The other half of the time, we are raising kids who think that they always have to win somehow and that losing is the end of the world. In view of the sheer absurdity of these two inconsistent and illogical views, is it any wonder that this society handles winning, losing, success, and failure about as well as it votes.

Our public education system spends more time and energy coddling and appeasing lazy troublemakers than rewarding and recognizing dedicated achievers. We have kids' baseball games where the score is not kept, fielding errors are not even discussed, and oblivious daydreamers are voted Player of The Game. Precision, accuracy, and fairness have been hijacked by fuzzy feelings, competitive socialism, and preferences for the less successful.  We wonder why we have lost our edge in the world, in our standards, in our critical and independent thinking skills, and in our standards of success.

Thomas should have simply expressed his dismay regarding losing, expressed his just pride in coming in second, praised the winner, and moved on. Rather, he told us that he was "cheated", was "pretty upset", would no longer be a fan of the show and, as a final nail on the old poor loser department wall, characterized his costly mistake as "just a spelling error."  How many times have I heard students of all ages utter this mindless justification for their carelessness? 

We are living in a nation where spelling is brushed off as a stupid, annoying, petty concern. Americans are losing their own native language in a sea of lazy, careless apathy.  Is it any wonder that the last five national spelling bee champions come from foreign backgrounds?  More and more, we are seeing children develop a "pick up my toys and leave" attitude to defeat rather than expressing good sportsmanship, maturity, and dedication to hard work and determination. Many argue that kids should not be expected to be mature, but reality demonstrates that allowing immaturity, selfishness, arrogance, and poor sportsmanship to fester in children only leads to large children pretending to be adults.

Of course, as is often the case, kids are only the products of their home. The parents in this case not only echoed the child's poor reaction to losing, but actually seemed to praise and support it. The boy's father said that host Alex Trebek had been condescending, callous, and smug, and had humiliated his son.

After viewing the segment numerous times and asking others who did likewise, the only thing I saw was a reaction to an error Trebek accurately described as "unfortunate".  The mother stated that her son was "stunned" and that everything had been "hard to watch". 

The last time I checked, everyone is stunned when they lose and nobody loves to watch anyone they care about lose anything. However, we are not talking about a serious injury or accident, a natural disaster, or even a shocking or unfair result, given the rules of the game and the fact that Thomas had little chance to win anyway. To say that Thomas and his parents overreacted to all of this is an understatement.

The public outcry over the result is perhaps even more damning, since it demonstrates a clear ignorance regarding the rules of the game, the value of correct spelling and good sportsmanship, fair play, common sense, and priorities. Responding to the public reaction regarding this incident,  Elijah Z. Granet, a previous Kids Week winner, stated that the key issue here is whether the answer is phonetically correct more than the actual spelling. According to Granet, an incorrectly spelled answer which is still phonetically correct ( Neemo for Nemo) is acceptable but a misspelled answer which is phonetically incorrect  (  Namo for Nemo ) is never correct.  In other words, Hurley, his parents, and all of those upset over this incident are incorrectly focusing on spelling over phonetics. Granet finishes his Facebook discussion of this incident by stating that Hurley's complaint has no merits whatsoever.

At first glance, discussing a seemingly trivial conclusion to a mere game show  may seem to be a great waste of time and space.  However, in this instance, this incident is a perfect reflection of why this nation is in so much trouble.  You have a losing contestant who was given the rules of a game losing because he violated rules he either never understood or never bothered to clarify. Rather than demonstrate good sportsmanship, the contestant acts like a petulant, spoiled, sore loser, and his parents, an enraged public, and the always-present inflammatory and ignorant media, march in support spewing evidence of their own ignorance of the context and rules of the incident. No journalist bothered to check the rules, interview knowledgeable past winners such as Granet, or present the reasonable, responsible, and accurate side of this issue.  The latest form of perceived injustice was just too juicy to ignore, despite the fact that the entire uproar is nothing more than a mob's public proclamation of its own stupidity.  Sound familiar?

We are living in a society ruled by mob mentality and twisted notions of fairness. We are bombarded with a daily disregard for accuracy, rules, fair play, humility, maturity, respect, and personal responsibility.  We either have to win all the time or pretend that we won something lest we feel slighted or traumatized. Heaven forbid we should have to face losing or the reasons we lost, much less grow from the experience. Parents are as much if not more to blame for their children for this situation, and this society provides the perfect conditions to raise arrogant, mindless stupidity and twisted entitlement to worship status.

Imagine the uproar if Hurley had been a minority. I can see Al Sharpton, that purveyor of parlance, rushing to form another protest march, pointing to the irony of the answer.  As a minority myself, I find all of this nauseating. As an educator, I find this situation embarrassing. As an American, I find the entire incident and what it reflects tragic. This may just seem to be a trivial spelling issue to some, but its message clearly reflects the writing on the wall for America.


University tie-breaker: Thousands of British A-level pupils take on tough 5,000-word dissertation to secure place on top courses

Thousands of sixth- formers are opting to take a tough research-based qualification on top of A-levels amid a collapse of confidence in the exam.

More than 30,000 teenagers are expected to submit dissertations under the Extended Project Qualification this year, a six-fold increase in four years.

The qualification can be used as a ‘tie-breaker’ between university applicants with similar A-level results, or to decide whether to admit someone who has failed to meet their grade offer.

The work, which is worth the equivalent of half an A-level, is usually presented as a 5,000-word report in an academic subject ‘outside their main programme of study’.

It requires a high level of independent work and original thought – skills which universities complain are lacking in school leavers.

Private schools in particular have recognised the value of the exam and around 6 per cent of pupils took one last year, a third more than in 2011.

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said: ‘My guess is that the number of students taking them will continue to increase. Ofqual research has revealed that universities are keen to see an increase in independent research and learning. There is an inadequate amount at A-level, so EPQs are absolutely up universities’ street.

‘Some universities also find A-levels not stretching enough for the most able students. The EPQ does stretch them.’

Just over 5,000 EPQs were submitted in 2009. This leapt to 16,000 the following year and 24,000 in 2011. Last year 28,500 students sat the qualification, which is offered by five exam boards and uses the same grading system as A-levels. Of these, 14 per cent were awarded an A*, 19.3 per cent an A and 19.8 per cent a B.
Education Secretary Michael Gove is reforming A-levels after the gold-standard exam suffered from years of grade inflation

Education Secretary Michael Gove is reforming A-levels after the gold-standard exam suffered from years of grade inflation

Elite universities said EPQs can make the difference between winning a place on a course or just missing out. But institutions outside the research-intensive 24 Russell Group universities are also increasingly relying on them.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is reforming A-levels after the gold-standard exam suffered from years of grade inflation. Modular work is being replaced by exams at the end of courses. The number of resits is also being limited.

But the changes will only be introduced from 2015, meaning it will be several years before students sit more rigorous exams.

The Extended Project Qualification was introduced in 2008. Students can choose the topic they research but it must be an academic area not specifically covered in their other studies.

Someone studying French and geography could write about the impact of tourism on the  environment in a region of France, for example.

The qualification takes a year during which students receive 120 ‘guided learning hours’ and undertake ‘extended autonomous work’.


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