Friday, December 06, 2013

Feds' Tentacles in the Common Core:  Student tracking and data collection

In Part 1 of my series on the Common Core State Standards being infused into 45 state public school systems, I revealed how the feds spent $350 million of taxpayer money, giving grants and waivers to muscle states and local school districts to accept the standards. And that was after 2009, when feds awarded, in the Department of Education's words, "governors approximately $48.6 billion ... in exchange for a commitment to advance essential education reforms ... including: college- and career-ready standards (aka CCSS)."

In Part 2, I showed how the feds are injecting their progressive agenda into curricula taught to U.S. kids in elementary, middle and high schools via their educative minions posted in academic arenas and among CCSS curricula creators.

Last week, I began to give you the third piece of evidence of the feds' collaborations and entanglements within CCSS -- namely that they are creating and expanding a national database to store and access your kids' private information obtained through a technological project within CCSS, an informational mega-overreach and push within their 2009 $48.6 billion bribe to governors.

PolitiFact, a so-called fact-discerning website, accused Angela Bean, an executive board member of the Fayette County (Ga.) Republican Party, of exaggeration when she said informational wings within CCSS were, in The Newnan Times-Herald's words, "designed to collect up to 400 data points on each child, which can include personally identifiable data. ... The data will be collected by a company called inBloom, created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation."

PolitiFact further accused Bean of confusing the facts and separation between the longitudinal data systems and CCSS. And it also cited CCSS organization officials, who affirmed that "there are no data collection requirements with Common Core." (Can you imagine "no data collection" requirements in the most overreaching national academic system and standards to date? If it sounds too good to be true, you can bet it is. Read on.)

But then PolitiFact explained that many Georgia schools are in fact using inBloom and cited Robert Swiggum, chief information officer of the Georgia Department of Education, who confessed that his state's system "collects data points in about 10 categories," including "a student's name, grade, gender, ethnicity, birth date, attendance, enrollment history, test scores, courses taken and grade received, and any subgroup (example: English language learner, retained, economically disadvantaged)."

And each of those categories has sublevels of students' personal information, too. PolitiFact itself elaborated, "Each of the categories has dozens of data points that can vary depending on how many tests each student takes, those test scores, the number of courses taken and the length of time a student has been in school."

So let me get this straight: Beginning in 2009, the Obama administration began a massive overreach, push and expansion of an informational and technological student tracking system that stores a wide range of academic and personal information of every student in the U.S. from preschool through college and into the workforce.

At the same time, the administration begins a massive overreach, push and expansion of a new national academic standard system, called Common Core State Standards, which will cover every core classroom subject from kindergarten through high school and be the basis of 85 percent of curricula and progress assessments.

Yet we're supposed to believe naively that the standards, curricula, assessments for teachers and students, and plethora of personal student data will not intersect, intertwine or be combined with or use the technological communication system through which all student data and progress in public schools are recorded and transmitted?

The longitudinal data systems and CCSS were developed and enlarged side by side during the same time and same presidential administration, but the CCSS testing and performance will not be recorded and monitored via the LDS?

Is it merely coincidental that the feds spent billions expanding both systems simultaneously over the past few years yet there is no congruency or intended purpose between the ginormous national construction of CCSS and the expanding LDS informational pipeline?

Hogwash! Who's kidding whom?

To not recognize how LDS will clearly serve the information gathered under CCSS is to overlook any connection between a hot dog and a hot dog bun. In fact, if you believe LDS and CCSS are solo and separate academic coincidences in an ever-expanding federal government that has been funding and promoting both, I have a London bridge to sell you in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.!

CCSS and LDS are partners in crime. It will be impossible for one to operate without the other, based upon the very reason they were created, which was to complement each other. They are destined to be married and become one, just as they have been living together in secret in the minds of bureaucrats and educrats. LDS will serve under CCSS, plain and simple, inasmuch as teachers and curricula will conform to LDS mandates, too.

And the primary problem remains that both CCSS and LDS are two of the greatest overreaches by the federal government -- in cahoots with state educrats -- and encroachments on student privacy and parental rights, all under the banner of the new "Common Core" education.

And if you think I'm just connecting conspiratorial dots, then let me remove all doubt by citing a document anyone can read on the website for the National Center for Education Statistics, which is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations and is located within the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences.

The NCES produced four books on building longitudinal data systems. The first one is titled "Traveling Through Time: The Forum Guide to Longitudinal Data Systems," which also gives a glimpse into their informational future.

In Chapter 5 of that book -- titled "LDS Benefits: Why Should We Build These Systems?" -- the NCES clearly explains for all to read: "Longitudinal data system (LDS) is not just a compliance system that will feed the state and federal governments more data. An LDS has the potential to make high quality, timely data available to all stakeholders to help them ... leverage significant educational change."

Any questions?

Welcome to the future of fed ed and having your family's personal information float across the Internet for "key stakeholders," from your house and the local schoolhouse to statehouses and the White House.

It's time to ship fed ed to some remote deserted island! And we can start by stopping Common Core.


PISA education tests: Why Shanghai pupils are so special

For the second time running, pupils in China’s financial capital have been world beaters in maths, science and reading. Here's why

Every day, Lucy Dong and her best friend Amy Zhu wake at 7am – 7.10am if they are lucky – munch through their breakfast of steamed buns and noodles, and head off to what may be the best schooling system in the world.

The 10-year-olds, who are natives of Shanghai, China’s sprawling financial capital, study in 35-minute bursts from around 8am to 4pm, with a small break for lunch – and a class meeting – sandwiched in the middle.

Outside school hours, the girls’ lives are a blur of extra-curricular activities: English class, flute class, drumming class, handwriting class, calligraphy class, Taekwondo training, modelling lessons and choir practice.

Over the coming years, as they chase their respective dreams of becoming an astronaut and a poetry reciter, Lucy and Amy’s lives are unlikely to be easy. But they will at least be part of an education system that appears to be paying great dividends.

This week, Shanghai was crowned – for the second time – the champion of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which compares the maths, reading and science skills of some 510,000 secondary school students around the world.

Shanghai’s students came top of the global class in maths with an average score of 613 (up from 600 in the last PISA tests of 2010). That was 119 points, or the equivalent of nearly three years of schooling, above the average, and placed Shanghai 25 places above Britain, which had 494 points.

Shanghai also came top in reading (570 points), just ahead of Hong Kong and Singapore, which joined it on the podium in all three PISA categories. Britain languished in 23rd place with 499 points.

Shanghai was also victorious in science (Britain came 21st) and excelled when it came to “top performers”. Twenty-five per cent of its students were placed in that bracket, the PISA results showed.

Some experts question the value of comparing cities and countries. Others point out that Shanghai’s relatively well-funded schools and well-paid teachers are not representative of the Chinese education system as a whole. Average pay for a Shanghai teacher is 4,400 yuan (£441) a month compared with 2,000 yuan in some cities in the southwestern province of Yunnan.

Even so, the latest results are likely to see more and more educators flock east in search of the mega-city’s magic formula.

Prof Kong Lingshuai of the College of Education at Shanghai Normal University has studied the city’s PISA successes. He says that the secret is a mix of “traditional elements and modern elements”. The former relate to the high expectations of “tiger” parents, and a belief instilled in Chinese children from a young age that effort is crucial to gaining a good education.

“Chinese parents pay great attention to their children’s education in the hope that their sons will one day become dragons and their daughters phoenixes,” says Prof Kong.

The “modern elements” include Shanghai’s willingness to constantly adapt its curriculum and teaching practices; its focus on improving under-achieving schools by pairing them with those that excel; its openness to foreign ideas; and the introduction of performance-related pay.

An obsession with training has also been key, says Prof Kong. As of last year, new teachers have to undergo a standardised, one-year training course before starting in the classroom.

Once qualified, they are required to complete at least 240 hours’ training in their first five years. Teachers are also encouraged to attend each other’s classes to promote a culture of “idea sharing, exchanging and positive competition”.

Outsiders often dismiss China’s education system as a pressure-cooker-style frenzy of exams that places too much emphasis on rote-learning and does little to stimulate creativity.

But in Shanghai at least, that may be starting to change. Authorities are attempting to move away from testing that relies too heavily on memorising facts and figures, and some schools are also giving students more time to play, rather than just study.

Gao Xinhong, a Shanghai student who became a minor local celebrity after getting the highest marks in this year’s “gaokao” university entrance exams, says the schooling system is becoming more flexible. “The greatest part of Shanghai’s education system was that it gave me a broad perspective compared to other Chinese cities. Shanghai’s education is good because it does not treat grades as the only thing for a student,” she says.

Zhu Yi, the father of 10-year-old Amy Zhu, agrees. “It is much better than before. Schools in Shanghai now focus on the all-round development of students,” says Mr Yi, a 44-year-old sports instructor.

He points to an ancient Chinese dedication to learning when asked to explain the city’s PISA successes, but warns: “Education is cultural. It can’t simply be copied or borrowed.”

Prof Kong says cultural factors have been central to Shanghai’s PISA glories but suggests western students hoping to catch up with their Asian peers would do well to take on some extra homework.

“The number of hours Chinese students put into homework is several times higher than their western pals,” he says.

Wang Huichun – a 40-year-old nurse who is the mother of Lucy – says that even Shanghai’s over-achieving students need to work harder if they are to keep succeeding.

“[My daughter’s] school is more interested in the arts than it is academic performance,” Ms Wang complains, in true “tiger mother” fashion. “There is not enough homework. It worries me a little.”


Georgia School Confiscates Christmas Cards

For as long as anyone can remember, teachers at Brooklet Elementary School have posted Christmas cards in the hallways outside their classrooms – until Monday.

When boys and girls returned from Thanksgiving break, they discovered that their teachers’ Christmas cards had been removed – under orders from the Georgia school’s administration.

Robb Kicklighter’s wife is a third grade teacher at the school. He said many teachers are disgruntled by the school’s decision to confiscate the Christmas cards.

“They took down the cards so the kids can’t see them,” he told me. “Some of the cards had the word ‘Christmas’ and some had Nativity scenes.”

Kicklighter said the cards were put behind an office door so only teachers could access them.

“It’s really sad because the students looked forward to seeing those homemade Christmas cards every year,” he said. “It’s stirred a lot conversation. This has been a tradition and the kids are wondering what happened to the cards.”

The Christmas card censorship comes as the Bulloch County Board of Education cracks down on religious expression in their schools.

Teachers have been ordered to remove any religious icons or items from their classrooms – ranging from Bibles to Christian music.

Teachers have also been instructed to avoid student-led prayers at all costs. Should they be in a room where students are praying, teachers have been ordered to turn their backs on their students.

“It’s an attack on Christianity,” Kicklighter said. “It seems like every time we turn around, someone is offended.”

Hundreds of outraged residents have joined a Facebook page to protest the crackdown – and many are vowing to attend a school board meeting on Thursday to let school officials have a piece of their mind.

The Board of Education released a statement noting that there are “established legal requirements to which we must adhere.”


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