Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Indiana withdrawing from Common Core standards

Indiana on Monday became the first state to formally withdraw from the Common Core education standards in a move that did little to appease critics of the national program, who contend the state is simply stripping the "Common Core" label while largely keeping the benchmarks.

Indiana was among 45 states that in recent years adopted Common Core standards spelling out what students should be learning in math and reading at each grade level. Some conservatives have since criticized the initiative as a top-down takeover of local schools, and in signing legislation Monday to pull Indiana from the program, Republican Gov. Mike Pence trumpeted the move as a victory for state-level action.

"I believe when we reach the end of this process there are going to be many other states around the country that will take a hard look at the way Indiana has taken a step back, designed our own standards and done it in a way where we drew on educators, we drew on citizens, we drew on parents and developed standards that meet the needs of our people," Pence said.

The state began moving away from Common Core last year, when Indiana lawmakers "paused" its implementation. This year, the Republican-controlled Legislature approved a measure requiring the State Board of Education to draft new benchmarks for students.

The draft for those standards, put out for review last month, has already drawn skepticism from Common Core critics, including an analyst hired by Pence to assess the new program. That analyst, retired University of Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky, says the proposal is just too similar to Common Core.

Stotsky released an internal Indiana Department of Education report that found that more than 70 percent of the standards for sixth through 12th grade are directly from Common Core, and about 20 percent are edited versions of the national standards. About 34 percent of English standards for kindergarten through fifth grade were taken straight from the national standards, and an additional 13 percent were edited.

Stotsky called the proposal a "grand deception." The State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on it on April 28.

"It makes a fool of the governor," Stotsky said. "The governor is being embarrassed by his own Department of Education if the final version is too close to Common Core."

Common Core was developed by the National Governors Association and state education superintendents. Indiana adopted the standards in 2010 under then-Superintendent Tony Bennett, a Republican. But by 2012, tea party anger had engulfed the national education standards and conservative anger over the requirements helped turn Bennett out of office.

Rumblings of dissent have popped up across the country. More than 200 bills on the national standards were introduced this year and about half would slow or halt their implementation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Oklahoma is among states considering implementing different standards. A state Senate panel voted Monday in favor of a measure that would effectively halt the use of Common Core.

The Common Core replaced a patchwork of varying standards from state to state, and supporters say it gives both consistency and academic rigor.

Experts on both sides of the fiery debate have said the Common Core standards are strikingly similar to ones previously used in Indiana — and any program the state adopts as an alternative is unlikely to be much different.

Even the original author of the measure removing Indiana from the national standards, state Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Carmel, pulled his name from the bill at the last minute this month after learning that other lawmakers had altered the measure to require the state to still meet federal requirements so as not to lose federal funding.

"What you're seeing is unsurprisingly pretty closely aligned to the Common Core," said Michael Brickman, national policy director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank. "The core of the Common Core is still very much in place."


Why pushy parents lower their children's grades

Most research tells us that being involved in your kid’s education is a good thing. And the more you’re involved, so the story goes, the better they do.

But occasionally a study comes along that seems to contradict all the others. A paper by Keith Robinson at the University of Texas finds that the more classic kinds of parental pushiness (helping with homework, volunteering in school, talking to children about their plans for the future) doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference to the child’s grades. In fact, as the pupils go past primary school age, help from parents actually lowers scores.

Time to re-examine some basic assumptions? Yes, perhaps. The study was a large one – taking in 30 years' worth of surveys of parental styles in the US. It took in 63 different types of parental involvement, from meeting with teachers on a regular basis to sitting in on lessons.

The reason behind all this, the scientists thought, is that pushing your child too much makes them anxious.

“Ask them, ‘Do you want to see me volunteering more? Going to school social functions? Is it helpful if I help you with homework?’ ” Robinson told the Atlantic. “We think about informing parents and schools what they need to do, but too often we leave the child out of the conversation.”

Makes sense. So how did “involved parenting” become educational lore? The grade gap between rich and poor has long been blamed on lack of parental support. Is this then nonsense?

Well, no. Parental interference actually does help kids – but only when it’s done in very particular way. Here’s a study I still believe in: a paper by Tucker-Drobb, a twin study which looked at the effects of environment on standardised tests.

It focused on children of around kindergarten age, and found strong evidence that pushy parenting was helpful. In fact, children without an educationally rich home life never quite reached their genetic potential. Pass a certain age and it doesn’t really matter what your parents do – your natural abilities will never get the chance to shine through.

This is in line with a wealth of studies on the subject and in fact with the Texas study: Robinson found that reading aloud to young children did have a positive impact on test results. It was only when parents started interfering in the school life of young teenagers that it actually became damaging.

There is a window, it seems, in which super-involved parenting really helps, and then this dwindles and dwindles until it starts to push into negative numbers, at around 13. Tiger mothering only works on the very young. Teenagers: you can breathe a sigh of relief.


Money Isn't the Problem With Education

Our children's education has been a national concern practically since the nation's founding. In 1788 the Northwest Ordinance decreed that “schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” Over the last 40 years or so, that encouragement has taken the form of upward spiraling educational spending, much of which was needed to pay for thousands of new school employees.

But according to a recent study by the Cato Institute, that increased spending hasn't produced dramatically improved outcomes. Using a matrix which compares aggregate SAT scores state by state compared with their spending trends, researcher Andrew J. Coulson found that test scores in most states have remained flat or slowly declined. Even in cases with lengthy declines in spending – Coulson cites Alaska, California, Florida and New York as examples – there was a lack of correlation between spending and results.

Granted, the SAT isn't a perfect example of academic prowess. Yet in most states the SAT is usually only taken by college-bound students, whom one would expect to be the best and brightest. Knowing our top academic achievers have a stagnant performance on an important college assessment doesn't bode well for average students.

The problem with this result is that it punches yet another hole in the theory that the cause of our failing education system is the lack of funding. In the last 40 years we have adopted new curricula, shaved the classroom size from about 30 per class to 20 or so and spent billions on new school infrastructure.

Yet none of it seems to produce measurable results. The highest achievers today are the ones taught outside the public school system, whether they're homeschooled or attend alternative parochial or charter schools. Those parents, and others with no children in school, bear the brunt of the additional educational spending. The only ones who seem to be happy about it are the government employees for whom mediocrity is job security.


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