Thursday, December 04, 2014

How the Grassroots are Toppling Common Core

All over the country, grassroots pressure is driving states to ditch the increasingly unpopular Common Core education standards. Politicians are hurriedly backing away from their previous support, and next year’s incoming class of legislators are enthusiastic about reform.

As of this writing, six states have withdrawn from Common Core: Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah. Ohio is currently considering a bill to withdraw, and earlier this month Tennessee introduced similar legislation. Lawmakers in Wisconsin and West Virginia have said that Common Core reform is high on the agenda for next year.

Former supporters of the standards, like Gov. Mike Huckabee and Gov. Bobby Jindal, have since changed their positions and now oppose them. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has also rescinded his previous support, now openly calling for repeal.

All this is in spite of big money ad buys in support of Common Core, and threats by the federal government to deny states No Child Left Behind waivers if they opt out of the standards.

Why is all this happening? Politicians don’t change their positions for no reason. Lucrative special interest programs funded by the likes of Bill Gates are not abandoned on a whim.

It’s simple really. When the American people speak loudly enough and with enough unity, government has no choice but to listen. From a public relations standpoint, Common Core has been an unmitigated disaster. Parents hate them. Teachers hate them. Children hate them. Even some of the country’s biggest unions hate them. Pretty much the only people who actually like the standards are those who have never seen the inside of a classroom.

And the response has been a vocal one. Comedian Louis CK effectively captured the mood of the nation in his condemnation of Common Core on Twitter, a story whose popularity was boosted by its resonance with other American parents. Glenn Beck partnered with FreedomWorks to host “We Will Not Conform,” a live strategy sessions broadcast in theaters across the country that offered practical alternatives to Common Core and provided education to individuals on what they could do to fight back.

The retreat of Common Core has been very much driven from the bottom up, with individual dissatisfaction bubbling over into collective action that has resulted in real policy change. In North Carolina, parents have increasingly turned towards alternative education strategies like homeschooling out of frustration with the standards. Such behavioral shifts are hard to ignore for politicians who want to win reelection, and who are aware that parents vote.

None of the progress that has been made on Common Core would have been possible without the political activism of the grassroots. The fact that pressure from ordinary people has resulted in a cultural and political shift that now looks likely to consign Common Core to the dustbin of history should serve as inspiration for anyone who has ever felt too small to make a difference.


Christmas: no room at the inn for baby Jesus in school nativities

Christianity is being banished from school nativity plays as the annual performance of the Christmas story is replaced with bland “winter celebrations”, research among parents suggests.

Even in schools which retain religious themes, most now opt for a modernised version of the nativity story, often featuring elaborate twists and children dressed as unlikely additions such as punk fairies, aliens, Elvis, lobsters, spacemen and even recycling bins.

Examples cited in the survey conducted by Netmums, the parenting website, even included a retelling of the story modelled on The Apprentice. Others told of children dressed as ingredients in a Christmas lunch including carrots, sprouts and – confusingly – pumpkins.

Only a third of schools now stage a full traditional nativity complete with Mary and Joseph, inn-keepers, shepherds and magi, according to the survey.

Meanwhile one in eight had said their children’s school had dropped the Christmas story altogether for a modern alternative without religious references.

One in 14 said the school now opts for a fully secular event with neutral titles such as “Winter Celebration” or “Seasonal Play”.

A handful of those polled also said they had seen pan-religious school Christmas plays incorporating references to the Muslim festival Eid, the Jewish Hanukkah or Hindu Diwali.

The survey of more than 2,000 parents also showed that a significant minority now openly admit feeling aggrieved that their child had not been cast as a major character such as Mary or Joseph and many spoke of other parents attempting to pressurise teachers to give their child a bigger part.

It also showed that the image of children wrapped in household sheets and towels in a loose approximation of dress in 1st Century AD Judea as becoming a thing of the past thanks to supermarkets and online retailers offering cheap, mass-produced nativity costumes.

Overall just over nine out of 10 respondents said their children’s school stage some form of Christmas performance with contemporary versions of the nativity, mixing modern and Biblical characters, the most common Christmas celebration, performed at almost half of cases.

Only just over a third said their children still sing traditional carols and hymns as part of the performance while a quarter said they are feature festive pop hits.

Siobhan Freegard co-founder of Netmums, said: “Do they know it’s Christmas? At some schools, it seems not.

“While the UK is a diverse and multicultural society and it’s right children learn about all religions and cultures, many parents feel the traditional nativity is being pushed aside.

“It seems wrong to bombard kids with commercial messages about presents and Santa without them realising the true meaning of the celebration.

“This study shows many parents who aren’t religious look to the nativity as a comforting part of the Christmas celebrations and want their school to embrace and celebrate it, rather than make up a version with perhaps less resonance for kids.

“Christmas is about peace, acceptance and tolerance, so let's see more schools accept back this tradition.”

The study also highlights fresh concern that fears about safety and privacy are invading Christmas celebrations.

Only a minority (38 per cent) said the school allows parents to take pictures of the play freely, with one in six banning cameras altogether and one in seven restricting images to an official video which they have to pay for.

Significantly, one in three said the schools now ask parents to sign forms stating they will not share the pictures on social media.

Half of parents said they had provide a costume but most now buy with supermarkets the most popular option, while sites such as eBay and Amazon were also common sources.

Meanwhile almost one in 10 parents said their child’s schools now also stage a celebration for Diwali, while one in 20 cited Eid and Thanksgiving and three per cent of had Hanukkah performances.

Just one per cent said those celebrations were actively combined with Christmas nativity plays.


UK: Pupils to learn about immigration in new High School history course

Teenagers will be able to learn about the impact of immigration on Britain over the last 2,000 years under plans for a new history GCSE, it was announced today.

For the first time, a history module will be introduced covering new arrivals to the UK from the Romans up to modern day migrants such as those from Syria and eastern Europe.

The proposals – drawn up by one of the country’s leading exam boards – will assess the reasons for immigration, the experience of new entrants and the impact on the indigenous population.

The OCR board insisted pupils would find large numbers of parallels to the modern day, saying they would be “surprised to learn” that the black population of London may have numbered up to 15,000 in the 1750s and that at least 10 languages were used across medieval England.

Under plans, “Migration into Britain” will be included as part of an optional extended study theme, which will make up around 20 per cent of a new GCSE course being introduced in 2016.

OCR’s GCSE in history is currently the most popular version in the country, with more than 93,000 teenagers sitting it last year, the exam board said.

It is hoped the move will “reinvigorate interest in GCSE history” following claims from historical experts that rising numbers of schools were barring pupils from taking the subject beyond the age of 14.

The move is made as immigration continues to dominate the political agenda in the run up to the election. Last week, David Cameron promised the introduction of tough new rules on access to welfare benefits for migrants entering Britain from the EU.

But the government has insisted that the number of pupils sitting GCSEs in history had increased in recent years, with almost four-in-10 teenagers taking an exam in the subject in 2014.

Mike Goddard, the exam board’s head of history, said: “Migration is an ideal history topic for GCSE students to study, allowing them to consider fundamental historical concepts such as continuity, change and significance, rooted in the major events of England’s history.

“Doing this through the lens of the movement of diverse groups of people has the added benefit of contemporary relevance and will make for a rigorous, stimulating and enjoyable course.”

He said it would require pupils to explore and understand “the constant shifts in the British population”. This included the impact of invaders such as the Romans and the Vikings, the effect of the Empire on India and the West Indies and people coming to Britain to flee persecution including the Huguenots, Jews and, more recently, the Syrians.

The Government has already set out proposals to overhaul GCSEs will more rigorous subject content and a greater emphasis on exams as opposed to coursework.

Under the changes, new history exams require pupils to study a wider range of historical periods, a greater emphasis on British history and at least one extended project.

OCR is currently developing two new GCSEs in response to the reforms. One will focus on the “modern world” and the second will put more emphasis on a range of historical periods. As part of the courses, pupils will have the option of taking a dissertation-style project in the monarch, war and society or immigration.

The proposed new GCSEs will be submitted to the government next year and will be taught from 2016, subject to approval from Ofqual, the exams regulator.

Mr Goddard said: “Migration has been a constant and, in many important ways, a defining feature of our history. Tracking it thematically over time makes for a complex and fascinating study, will build on recent academic research, and will reveal many new and enlightening aspects of our past.”


No comments: