Friday, August 01, 2014

Is Common Core on the ropes?

Opponents of rigid and controversial Common Core education standards just may be winning the battle. That pending victory is something Reason has pointed out in the past, as we've urged that libertarians should cheer for such an outcome, and work instead for expanded flexibility in education, and more consideration for the diversity of the kids on the receiving end of educrat ambitions.

It's impassioned moms who are defeating Common Core, suggests Stephanie Simon at Politico, overwhelming "sedate videos" and "talking points."

Honestly, though, Common Core supporters have also resorted to less cerebral tactics, such as condescension and political smears.

Simon's article is tilted more than a little toward the idea that Common Core has the facts on its side, while opponents are driven by emotion.

    "Teachers who like the Common Core say it’s revolutionized their classrooms, prodding students to read texts more closely and think more analytically. But it’s hard to convey that in a tweet. Really good sixth-grade essay questions rarely go viral. A nonsensical math problem might, whether or not it truly has anything to do with the Common Core."

In fact, though, while some of the arguments against the standards—as with anything coming from a grassroots movement—can be a little wild-eyed, opponents raise serious concerns about the way the standards were developed and their one-size-fits-all nature.

In the Washington Post, teacher Edward Miller and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an academic specializing in early childhood education, questioned the appropriateness of the standards for younger students. "It appears that early childhood teachers and child development experts were excluded from the K-3 standards-writing process."

The Cato Institute's Jason Bedrick focuses on the standards' rigidity, warning that "Common Core-aligned tests (particularly college entrance exams) will essentially dictate content: what concepts are taught when and perhaps even how."

Which is to say, moms (and others) may have good reason to be pissed off.

Whatever the arguments wielded by the opposing sides, though, though, opponents seem to be gaining the upper hand. The public is still split, but opposition to the standards is on the rise in places like California and New York. Nationally, Republicans take a dim view of the scheme.

EdWeek tracks state efforts to ditch Common Core, though its tracker isn't up-to-date. Oklahoma isn't even listed, though that state's Supreme Court recently upheld the legislature's torpedoing of the standards.

Simon says that Common Core supporters "consider it a victory that just five states, so far, have taken steps to back out."

Well, that's a start.


UC Professor Pleads ‘No Contest’ to Attacking Pro-Life Demonstrators

 Mireille Miller-Young, an assistant professor in the University of California/Santa Barbara’s Feminist Studies Department, pled “no contest” last Thursday to misdemeanor charges of theft, battery, and vandalism resulting from her March altercation with pro-life demonstrators on campus. She will be sentenced on August 14.

The altercation arose when Miller-Young grabbed a sign with photos of aborted babies from a group of pro-life activists led by 21-year-old Joan Short, claiming that she was “triggered” by the images.

The professor then pushed and scratched Joan’s sister, 16-year-old Thrin Short, who caught the incident on video. Miller-Young got away with the sign and later destroyed it in her office.

At the time Professor Miller-Young told police that she felt she had “a moral right” to steal the sign and that “she set a good example for her students” by encouraging them to help her.

Even after admitting to police that she took the sign, she entered a plea of "not guilty" on April 4th before changing her plea to "no contest" last week.

In an e-mail interview with, the Short sisters said that while they were mostly satisfied with the plea, they would have liked to see the case go to trial.

“She is going to be sentenced on three misdemeanors, so, in that sense, justice is being done. But we do feel a little disappointed that, because there won’t be a trial, there will never be a full, public airing of what actually happened,” the sisters explained.

“So there will still be people who will think we did something to provoke her, or that pro-lifers in general are trying to cause trouble and make people react like this. Basically, there is still some feeling that 'those girls were asking for it' left hanging in the air, unrefuted,” they added.

Since the incident, the sisters say they have “received both hate mail and messages of support,” but “fortunately, a lot more support than hate.” They added that although they haven’t gone back to the UCSB campus to protest yet, they plan on doing so in the fall.

It is not known whether Miller-Young received any disciplinary action from UCSB as a result of the criminal charges, since the university has yet to comment on the case.

However, in a statement to, George Foulsham, UCSB's director of news and media relations, said, “It is University policy not to discuss personnel matters. Professor Miller-Young is not currently teaching any courses and is not scheduled to teach any courses during the fall quarter. She is still employed by the University.”

Miller-Young’s areas of study include pornography and sex work. She was recently a panelist at the University of Toronto's Feminist Porn Conference. The event "brings together academics, students, cultural critics, sex workers, activists, fans, performers, directors, and producers to explore the intersections between feminism and pornography as well as feminist porn as a genre, industry, and movement."

The Short sisters said that they thought Miller-Young should have been disciplined by the university because “she set an incredibly bad example for her students, she involved students in the crimes she committed, and she has yet to indicate she is at all sorry. She may be parading around at UCSB as a feminist martyr, for all we know.”

“It is impossible to imagine a math professor who would still have his job if he not just committed crimes, but used students to help him to commit crimes,” they added.

When asked the Short sisters what they thought would be an appropriate sentence for Miller-Young, they replied, “Whatever will undo the bad example she set for her students and for everyone who might be thinking of doing something like what she did, and whatever will teach her to keep her hands to herself (something she should have learned in kindergarten).”

“Today’s plea bring us one step closer to seeing justice done in this case,” Katie Short, the girls’ mother and legal director at the Life Legal Defense Foundation (LLDF), said in a statement. “Pro-life advocates should not be subjected to intimidation and violence for lawfully exercising their right to free speech, and we are happy to see that Ms. Miller-Young is being held accountable for her actions.”


Are Lawsuits Ending or Mending Teacher Tenure?

Last month Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu handed down a landmark decision in Vergara v. California. A group of student plaintiffs supported by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur argued that state tenure laws violated the State Constitution, kept bad teachers on the job, and deprived them of a quality education.

A similar lawsuit is making its way through the State Supreme Court in New York and other state courts across the country, according to the New York Times:

Challenges to teacher tenure laws are moving to the courts since efforts in state legislatures have repeatedly been turned back. Critics of the existing rules say tenure essentially guarantees teachers a job for life. According to the New York suit, only 12 teachers in New York City were fired for poor performance from 1997 to 2007 because of a legally guaranteed hearing process that frequently consumes years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. ...

In New York, teachers can earn tenure after a three-year probationary period, which city school officials can extend for another year, and often do. That represents one big difference with California, where teachers can win tenure after 18 months, and even before being certified.

Larry Sand, a retired teacher and president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network explains that even if an anticipated Vergara appeal by the California Teachers Association fails, a new law will have to replace the stricken one. One may already be in the works based on a pending Los Angeles legal settlement, Reed v. the State of California. Seniority-based teacher layoffs, also referred to as last-in, first-out or LIFO, disproportionately affected teachers in 45 of LA’s poorest schools, since the newest teachers are often assigned to schools where more experienced teachers don’t want to work (a longstanding teacher union practice).

After years of wrangling between the local United Teachers of Los Angeles union and the ACLU, who sued on behalf of students, both sides reached a settlement that awards about $25 million annually to affected schools for three years to pay for more administrators, teacher training, and mentor teachers; however, the LIFO issue was never addressed. Reps from both sides applauded the decision, but as Sand notes in his latest City Journal article:

...the agreement never mentions the words “seniority” or “last in/first out.”

What boosters of the Reed settlement can’t explain is how adding administrators to underperforming schools would help retain good teachers. In L.A. Unified, administrators are “at-will” employees, but they’re treated like unionized teachers, and they’re almost never fired for incompetence. ...

“What these 37 schools need urgently is stability in teacher staffs, and this settlement is tailored to achieve that result,” Mark Rosenbaum, the ACLU’s chief counsel in Southern California, told me in an e-mail. “And should budget-based layoffs have to take place in the future, then it will be a no-brainer under current law that the teachers who have been specially trained and taught on these campuses will keep their jobs, no matter their years of seniority.” Rosenbaum is alluding to a part of the education code stipulating that, if a teacher has “special training and experience,” seniority can be waived. This exemption prioritizes teacher credentials, elevating an “input” (training) over an “output” (effectiveness in the classroom). Should layoffs be necessary, schools need to hold on to their best teachers, regardless of whether they have “special training.”

Sand speculates that given the prevailing political climate, a new California seniority law will like be “LIFO lite,” requiring additional teacher training as an alternative to dismissal. He’s right that hiring and firing of teachers should be based on outputs such as teachers’ demonstrated contribution to improved student learning, not more inputs such as time served, training, or additional credentials—none of which have a demonstrated positive impact on improved student achievement. Sand predicts:

Most likely, the legislature would craft a one-size-fits-all state law making small changes to the current system, satisfying the minimum requirements of Vergara and leaving the problem of seniority largely unsolved. Until California has a system that evaluates teachers on how well their students learn, the state’s public education will suffer.

And, until California parents start demanding the right to choose their children’s education providers no matter where they happen to live, don’t expect Sacramento politicians to enact any teacher quality requirements that would benefit students instead of teacher union members.


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