Tuesday, March 18, 2014

History repeating

If you don't know the history, Google George Wallace or Orval Faubus

Crisis for Common Core: Indiana's Uncommon Ruckus Over Education Standards

What’s wrong with public education in America today? Across the country, just about everyone has an opinion. Very few, though, have the power to implement sweeping reforms.

In Indiana, a driver for the Uber car-for-hire service gets his mother on the phone for a reporter. Sharon Hurt is a 40-year veteran of the state’s South Bend public school district. What teachers need, Hurt says, is flexibility as individuals and support as a group.

“On a national level, we have to be concerned about how we’re lagging behind when it comes to other countries. Somebody’s got to take the lead on that,” Hurt says. “You can have a particular standard but it really boils down to the strength of the individual teacher and the strength of the support surrounding them.”

A “good teacher,” she adds, takes a government-prescribed education standard “and runs with it and uses it as an opportunity instead of a barrier.”

Indiana today is a battleground for one of the Obama administration’s preferred prescriptions to improve public schools — uniform national education standards formally known as Common Core State Standards.

In this special report, The Foundry examines why Common Core standards, originally touted as a bipartisan reform, proved divisive for Indiana residents — and what’s being done through layers of players to resolve the disagreement.

Common Core began as a broad reform, dreamed up by the bipartisan National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, to provide a high-quality base of academic standards that any state in the country could choose to use. In 2010, Indiana became one of the first states to adopt the standards. By June 2012, 45 states, plus the District of Columbia, also began the implementation process.

Common Core already is woven into the fabric of American education. And where the words “Common Core” appear, protests are not far behind.

Birth of a Common Cause

Resistance began at the individual level, with parents such as Heather Crossin, an Indianapolis mom of four. Crossin, now one of Indiana’s most vocal opponents of Common Core, asked her school’s principal why 8-year-old Lucy’s math homework suddenly focused on abstract concepts, even drawing pictures to solve problems, instead of practicing formulas.

“I assumed initially it was just a bad textbook selection. I found out that was not the case,” Crossin says. Instead, the principal brought in a representative from Pearson, the publisher, to explain the new, Common Core-aligned textbooks.

Crossin, who has appeared as a speaker at events sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, which opposes Common Core on policy grounds, recalls what happened next:

    “When parents still weren’t buying what [the publisher’s representative] was selling, our principal in frustration threw up his hands and said, ‘Look, I know parents don’t like this type of math because none of us were taught this way, but we have to teach it this way because this is how it’s going to be on the new [standardized] assessment. And that was the moment when I realized control of what was being taught in my child’s classroom  —  in a parochial Catholic school  —  had not only left the building, it had left the state of Indiana. And to me, that was a frightening thought.”

Fast forward to this month, when Indiana state officials, educators and parents are struggling through a lengthy reassessment and possible replacement of Common Core. Governor Mike Pence, a Republican, last May signed into law a bill mandating the review.

The decision was a little like changing tires on a race car in the middle of a lap. The new law also set a tight deadline for the state to review and decide on education standards going forward: July 1, 2014.

As late as the last week of February, officials maintained they were “on timeline” and simply doing the work of “articulating” and “clarifying” the set of draft standards that the State Board of Education intended to vote on in April, in time for teachers to plan the upcoming school year.

By March 7, Indiana Department of Education officials conceded they would need more time, The Foundry learned, and the date to vote on new standards would edge closer to the “reassessment” law’s July 1 deadline. The state school board is expected to take up the issue tomorrow.

From the outside, Indiana’s undertaking might look easy. Prior to adopting Common Core, the state had some of the best-rated standards in the country and a system in place for revising them every six years. The latest set was implemented only in a few grades state-wide in the 2011-12 school year.

For opponents of Common Core, Indiana is a trailblazer.

“By pausing implementation, Indiana wanted to assess the cost to taxpayers and the quality of the standards – something every state that adopted the standards should have done prior to adoption,” says Lindsey M. Burke, The Heritage Foundation’s Will Skillman fellow in education. “While it’s still unclear exactly what the long-term outcome will be in Indiana, the Hoosier State provided a blueprint for other states that are interested in putting implementation on hold.”


Indiana’s attempt to replace Common Core under fire

The first draft of Indiana’s testing and curriculum standards meant to replace Common Core national standards has grassroots activists in arms and educators and business leaders complaining, which has caused Gov. Mike Pence and his staff to slightly delay the rewrite process.

Almost no one has praise for the new standards, which essentially overlay Common Core with so many more mandates from other standards that roughly 90 percent of Common Core inside constitutes half the draft, according to an analysis of the math standards by former U.S. Department of Education official Ze’ev Wurman. During three public hearings around the state on February 24-26, school administrators and teachers complained that the 98-page draft with more than 1,000 K-12 mandates would be virtually impossible to cover during the school year.

At the very end of the February 26 hearing in Plymouth, a second-grade teacher stood up.

“I sat here for hours and didn’t think I would speak, but I have to,” she said. She feared publicly speaking her mind, she said. Common Core went into place in her classroom in 2013-14, she said, and it’s so overwhelming she can’t “truly care” about her students and their families. “We just run all day long,” she said, her voice trembling. “I feel Common Core is really beating up our children.”

In 2013, state lawmakers put Common Core’s national curriculum and testing mandates on hold, meaning they’d remain partially phased into K-3 classrooms while grades 4-12 would use Indiana’s previous standards until the state reviewed Common Core. Since then, Pence called for “uncommonly high” standards written “by Hoosiers for Hoosiers,” state Superintendent Glenda Ritz walked out of a state board of education meeting and sued the board when board member Brad Oliver moved that it follow the law by reviewing the standards, and the governor began a new education agency under his control, not Ritz’s.

Common Core has been besieged by parents and academics for approximately two years, leading to legislative challenges against it in approximately half of the states this spring alone. They’ve flagged a number of concerns, including the private process that created the standards, legally suspect Obama administration demands that states adopt them and corresponding national tests, the standards’ academic quality, loopholes that allow private entities to collect children’s personal data and give access to it to the federal government, and forcing the standards on teachers through test results that play into their job security.

More than 850 Hoosiers had submitted online comments on the draft standards as of Friday, said Lou Ann Baker, a spokeswoman for Pence’s education agency. “That’s a lot,” she said. Typically, few citizens comment on state standards proposals. Indiana also recently proposed new social studies standards, for example, which local media has not yet reported and even keyed-in grassroots activists just recently discovered, according to Heather Crossin of Hoosiers Against Common Core.

State board of education member Andrea Neal, who criticized Common Core before Pence appointed her to the board, met with Pence to discuss the draft on March 5. Neal, a middle school English and history teacher, says she is deeply concerned that Indiana will approve subpar academic requirements and called the draft a “fiasco.”

Neal told the governor “this is more than federalism; it’s about the quality of the standards,” she wrote in an email to School Reform News. “He reiterated that he wants standards that are ‘uncommonly high.’”  That description doesn’t fit the current draft standards, she said, and even Common Core supporters agree.


British schools inspectorate under fire

School inspections favour trendy methods and force teachers to waste hours on pointless preparation, a report warns today.  It calls for radical change,  saying Ofsted’s verdicts are only as reliable as flipping a coin.  Many rely on personal preference and value independent work over learning from a teacher, think-tank Policy Exchange claims.

Nearly three-quarters of teachers surveyed said they changed the way they worked during an inspection.

The think-tank called for routine lesson viewings to be scrapped and for better training for inspectors.

Its report has already inflamed tensions between Ofsted and the Government. Earlier this year, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said he was ‘spitting blood’ after learning that Policy Exchange and another right-leaning think-tank were preparing research questioning Ofsted’s effectiveness.

He said he suspected the Department for Education of a campaign to undermine him. Education Secretary Michael Gove replied that he backed Sir Michael ‘100 per cent’.

It later emerged Mr Gove had sacked the head of Ofsted. Baroness Sally Morgan – a Labour peer – claimed she was ousted in an attempt to politicise the watchdog, sparking further denials from Mr Gove and a fierce coalition row.

Today’s report says it found ‘widespread disillusionment with the inspection regime’, with teachers using Twitter and blogs to criticise lesson observations that may be only 14 minutes long.

Teachers gave examples of inspectors preferring independent learning to teacher-led lessons, the report says. It cites teacher and author Daisy Christodoulou, who analysed 228 Ofsted ‘best practice’  lesson descriptions.

She found that ‘very few’ highly praised lessons involved ‘teaching facts’, while ‘very often’ lessons were criticised for ‘the teacher talking too much’ or for ‘activities that involve factual recall’. The report notes that Sir Michael has warned inspectors on at least seven occasions not to favour one style of teaching.

However, it adds that it found a ‘consistent pattern in the preferred style of inspectors’ which often manifested itself ‘subconsciously’.

One teacher said: ‘Everyone knows their current buzzword is “pace”. This means we have to assume children have the attention span of goldfish.’

Schools do ‘harmful’ amounts of preparation for Ofsted visits, which is a ‘complete waste of time’, the report says.  Some 189 out of 262 teachers polled said they changed their teaching for an Ofsted visit.

The report also says many of the 3,000 private inspectors lack training and experience.

Ofsted suggested last night that reforms were imminent, adding many of the report’s findings ‘chime with our own’.

Jonathan Simons, co-author, said the research suggests ‘you would be better off flipping a coin’ than relying on an inspector’s judgment of a lesson.

The think-tank is calling for shorter, more frequent inspections, followed by in-depth  visits to struggling schools.

Ofsted schools chief Michael Cladingbowl said it is looking at reforms including giving parents more information. But he added: ‘In my view, parents will always expect inspectors to spend time in classrooms when they visit a school.’


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