Friday, June 20, 2014

What does Common Core math look like?

Caleb Bonham, Campus Reform’s Editor-in-chief, just released a video that illustrates the dramatic shift in mathematics education students will experience under the Common Core national standards. As the video suggests, Common Core will change dramatically the way math has been taught for decades.

Developed in 2009 by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, Common Core immediately was incentivized by the Obama administration with $4.35 billion in Race to the Top competitive grants and No Child Left Behind waivers for states that signed on.

Now, as implementation deadlines loom, states have come to realize the costs of Common Core, both in dollars and in their freedom to make decisions concerning local education policy.

On May 30, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill exiting the state from the national standards, making South Carolina the second state, after Indiana, to do so. Two other states—Oklahoma and Missouri—have legislation awaiting approval by their governors. In all, 17 states have taken some action to push back against Common Core.

Parents, for their part, have additional concerns. What will their children be taught under Common Core?

After the standards were developed in 2009, five members of the 30-person Common Core validation committee refused to sign on to the standards. Two are content matter experts: James Milgram, professor emeritus of mathematics at Stanford University, and Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform emerita at the University of Arkansas and co-author of Massachusetts’ highly regarded ELA standards.

As seen in the video—and articulated by Milgram—Common Core math standards do not use standard algorithms and sequencing.

According to a study conducted by the Pioneer Institute, by seventh grade, the Common Core mathematics standards leave American students two grade levels behind their peers internationally and do not prepare them for admission into highly selective four-year universities and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs.

During a meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Education, Jason Zimba, the lead writer for the Common Core mathematics standards, said Common Core includes “a minimal definition of college readiness” that was not designed to prepare students for admission to selective colleges.

The English standards create their own set of concerns. Stotsky argues Common Core’s “diminished emphasis on literature in the secondary grades makes it unlikely that American students will study a meaningful range of culturally and historically significant literary works before graduation. It also prevents students from acquiring a rich understanding and use of the English language. Perhaps of greatest concern, it may lead to a decreased capacity for analytical thinking.”

But there is good news. As the fall implementation deadline looms near—and the real-world impact of Common Core becomes clearer—states are reclaiming their educational decision-making authority by exiting the national standards and tests and reclaiming authority to implement strong state standards that are innovative and reflect the input of academic content experts, teachers and parents.


Victimizing The Accused? Obama’s Campus Sexual Assault Guidelines Raise Concerns

“Not Alone,” the White House entitled its task force report on campus sexual assaults. “Believe the Victim,” the report might as well have been called. It reflects a presumption of guilt in sexual assault cases that practically obliterates the due process rights of the accused. Students leveling accusations of assault are automatically described as “survivors” or “victims” (not alleged victims or complaining witnesses), implying that their accusations are true.

When you categorically presume the good faith, infallible memories and entirely objective perspectives of self-identified victims, you dispense with the need for cumbersome judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings and an adversary model of justice. Thus the task force effectively prohibits cross-examination of complaining witnesses: “The parties should not be allowed to cross-examine each other,” the report advises, denying the fundamental right to confront your accuser.

Every student accused of a crime or disciplinary infraction has an equal right to due process and fair adjudication of charges.
Alleged victims are supposed to be protected from “hurtful questioning.” The impulse to protect actual victims from the ordeal of a cross-examination by their attackers is laudable. But by barring cross-examination, you also protect students who are mistaken or lying, and you victimize (even traumatize) students being falsely accused.

School officials are also encouraged to substitute a “single investigator” model for a hearing process, which seems a prescription for injustice. As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education points out, pursuant to this model, “a sole administrator would be empowered to serve as detective, judge and jury, affording the accused no chance to challenge his or her accuser’s testimony.”

These “reforms” exacerbate an already dangerously unreliable approach to evaluating charges of assault. In 2011, the Department of Education issued guidelines requiring colleges and universities to employ a minimal “preponderance of evidence” standard in cases involving allegations of harassment or violence. This is the lowest possible standard of proof, which merely requires discerning a 50.01 percent chance that a charge is more likely than not to be true. It facilitates findings of guilt, which will be merited in some cases, and not others. For students wrongly accused, the consequences of a guilty finding can be as dire as a not guilty finding for students actually victimized.

These are difficult, potentially traumatizing cases for all parties involved, and not surprisingly some students complaining of sexual assault prefer not to participate in investigations or hearings. How do you evaluate their claims? If you’re the White House task force, you simply presume that they’re true: “Where a survivor does not seek a full investigation, but just wants help to move on, the school needs to respond there too.” Move on from having “survived” precisely what? You can sympathize with a victimized student who doesn’t want to pursue a claim and still wonder how school officials can respond fairly and intelligently to an accusation that hasn’t been investigated and may or may not be true.

Does this approach exaggerate or trivialize the problem at hand? Sexual assault is a serious felony, the task force and victim advocates would agree. According to the Administration, one in five students are victimized by it. Assume that estimate is accurate and imagine that 20 percent of the people in a community are suffering violent assaults. Residents would likely demand a stronger police presence and stepped up criminal prosecutions, rather than informal neighborhood councils to “adjudicate” complaints. But on campus, felony complaints are to be prosecuted informally, the way schools might prosecute violations of a dress code, without affording accused students any meaningful rights.

Justifications for this include the particular ambiguities of sexual assault charges on campus. Alleged assaults often involve alcohol, actual victims may know their attackers and, in a closed campus community, may be hesitant to press accusations against them. The irony is that these factors complicating the prosecution of campus assaults and inspiring calls for informal, non-adversarial responses to them are the same factors that, as victim advocates rightly assert, have encouraged victim blaming and prevented law enforcement authorities from taking allegations of campus assaults seriously.

The solution to the problem of ignoring sexual assault charges shouldn’t be assuming that they’re true. The “believe the victim” biases underlying the White House task force report aren’t subtle or inconsequential, but they’re not generally recognized by left of center media. The occasional students’ rights watchdog, like Brooklyn College professor KC Johnson, offers a critical, in depth analysis of the Administration’s approach, but in general reactions are dictated by partisan or ideological biases: The right has its own politically correct mandate to oppose any Obama Administration civil rights initiative. The left labors under a pop feminist mandate to reflexively believe self-identified victims of sexual assault.

Similar assumptions about victimization often dictate how people view the rights of the accused and their accusers. Compare the administration’s disregard for due process in formulating disciplinary procedures for campus sexual misconduct complaints to its critique of harsh, due process-less disciplinary practices in elementary and secondary schools.

The ‘believe the victim’ biases underlying the White House task force report aren’t subtle or inconsequential…
School discipline tends to be discriminatory, at least in effect, targeting racial and ethnic minorities, so civil rights advocates outside the Administration are rallying against it, rightly seeking due process protections for students accused. But in response to allegations of sexual misconduct in colleges and universities, the same advocates generally favor a prosecutorial approach that sacrifices due process over protections for presumed victims.

How do we account for these opposing approaches to student rights? Considering elementary and secondary school disciplinary practices, the administration sympathizes with students accused. In campus sexual assault cases, it sympathizes with accusers. But rights shouldn’t be allocated on the basis of subjective sympathies, unless we want to encourage discrimination — the sort of discrimination that plagues minority students in public schools. Every student accused of a crime or disciplinary infraction has an equal right to due process and fair adjudication of charges. You’re also “Not Alone,” the Administration should guarantee students accused of sexual assault. You’re accompanied by fundamental rights.


Eased Teacher Dismissal Puts California on Road to Less Crappy Schools

School principals are often held accountable for student outcomes, but are limited when it comes down to making one of the most crucial decisions in determining student success—which teacher is in the classroom. Today, L.A. Superior Judge Rolf Treu struck down five teacher protection laws as unconstitutional, a decision which could make California next on a long list of states that have already reformed draconian teacher protection laws.

In the highly publicized California Superior Court case Vergara vs. California, nine public school students challenged several state laws and collective bargaining rules that severely inhibit principals' influence over school personnel, and oftentimes work against the best interest of students.

"School districts, like any other organization, need to be able to manage their workforce in a rational way with a primary focus on putting the highest quality teachers in front of students," said Students Matter attorney Theodore Boutrous during the trial's opening statements.

Under current law, California teachers are eligible for tenure, or permanent employment, after just 16 months on the job. Once granted tenure it is prohibitively costly and time-consuming to fire ineffective teachers in California, which encourages principals to instead shuffle poorly performing teachers to different schools. Usually, schools in low-income neighborhoods with the most disadvantaged students end up with these teachers.

Fortunately, this is not the case in many other parts of the nation.

Just last year, North Carolina passed legislation that removes teacher tenure in 2018, replacing "career status" with one-, two- or four-year contracts contingent upon performance. Several other states and school districts have adopted employment laws that give principals autonomy over hiring and firing practices while, importantly, providing teachers the opportunity to work with principals on employment arrangements. For instance, instead of having a district office place teachers at schools, Colorado's mutual consent hiring requires that both the teacher and school principal agree that they're a good match.

Unlike California—which currently doesn't have a process for identifying and excessing bad teachers—in 29 states teachers are held accountable for their performance and classroom ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal. For example, in Florida and Oklahoma teachers are eligible for dismissal after two years of "unsatisfactory performance" rankings on their annual evaluations.

In the case of layoffs, California principals must give the boot to the newest teachers regardless of merit, whereas 22 states mandate seniority cannot be the only factor considered in making layoff decisions. Using a wider range of criteria, including how they perform in the classroom, places a higher value on quality teachers and allows principals to retain the best ones.

Research shows that getting good-quality teachers into all classrooms is the number one school reform we can make. A National Bureau of Economic Research study found that the most effective teachers improve student's long-term outcomes including the likelihood of going to college, earning a higher salary and living in a better neighborhood.

In his testimony last February, Harvard Economist Dr. Raj Chetty told the courts, "If we replace an ineffective teacher with a teacher of average quality the impacts would be on the same order as ending the financial crisis again and again and again, year after year. It would be a dramatic effect on the American economy in the long run."

School leaders need to be empowered to make decisions about school personnel and the Vergara case shines a spotlight on this critical issue. The court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs is a huge win that will finally require California policymakers to reform the state's antiquated teacher protection laws. The Golden State could be the next to join the nationwide movement that gives local control back to schools, and demands all students have access to a quality education.

Katie Furtick is a policy analyst at Reason Foundation. This article originally


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