Sunday, February 22, 2015

AZ House panel moves to dump Common Core

PHOENIX — State lawmakers are moving to do what schools chief Diane Douglas has so far been unable to do — kill the Common Core academic standards and any tests associated with them.

The House Education Committee voted 5-2 along party lines to block the state Board of Education from implementing the standards developed in part by the National Governors Association.

The Republican-backed HB 2190 also makes it illegal for the board to adopt standards for college and career readiness that are “substantially similar to standards or assessments used by 20 or more other states.”

The legislation says efforts to implement Common Core, adopted by the board in 2010, “are void on the effective date in this section,” and anything new adopted by the state board can’t take effect until approved by the Legislature.

By the same margin, the committee also approved another measure that could undermine not only Common Core, but any future statewide assessment.

HB 2246, sponsored by Rep. John Ackerley, R-Sahuarita, would let parents opt out of having their children take any sort of statewide assessment. Ackerley, a high school physics teacher, said he’s not against any specific test but wants to affirm the rights of parents to make that choice.

And the full House voted 35-22 Wednesday for HB 2180, which would require the state Board of Education to create multiple alternatives to the AzMERIT test linked to Common Core — and allow local school boards to choose something other than that test.

Wednesday’s action comes as Douglas, who backed off on efforts to fire two Board of Education employees who were implementing the board-approved Common Core standards, put the board on notice the pair “will be permitted to interact only socially” with employees of the Department of Education, which Douglas controls.

“They will not be permitted to discuss any policy issues with or make any direct requests of non-board Department of Education staff,” an attorney representing Douglas wrote.

The move to quash Common Core is being led by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley.

“There seems to be some confusion about what local control is,” he told colleagues. “Local control is state control. Under Common Core, state control has been usurped by the federal government.”

Finchem also said Common Core has resulted in lower standards than what existed before.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said Finchem is lashing out at the wrong things.  He said Common Core deals with standards for what students are expected to know at various points in their education. Bolding said Finchem is objecting to the curricula, including the books used, items controlled by local school boards.

Heather Kays, who lobbies for the Heartland Institute, called that an “argument of semantics.”  “If you are going to dictate what students need to know, that means you are defining what they will be taught,” said Kays, whose national organization opposes Common Core. “And these specific set of standards actually do outline specific methods that need to be used to arrive at the specific answer.”

But Amanda McAdams, the 2011 Arizona “teacher of the year,” said the materials used are determined by staff at the school. McAdams, who said she has three school-age children, acknowledged there may be some frustration by parents, as their children find their work and homework more difficult because of Common Core.

“Kids will struggle,” said McAdams, who teaches sophomore English at Apollo High School in Glendale. But she said the standards have resulted in students learning more.

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, however, said the result of Common Core is that parents are less involved.  “I want the parents to be able to help with homework,” he said. “They can’t because they don’t know what’s going on.”

Brad McQueen, a fifth-grade teacher in the Tanque Verde school district, said the problem with Common Core is the standards were not developed and controlled by Arizonans. McQueen, author of the book “The Cult of Common Core,” said HB 2190 “returns everything Common Core took away from our state.”

But Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, said that’s not necessarily good. The problem with the old standards, he said, is they really didn’t prepare students for college. Coleman, a former teacher, said that has resulted in universities and community colleges having to offer remedial courses for Arizona high school graduates.

But Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said he thinks the focus has been too much on preparing students for college and career and not enough on “who they are as individuals.”

Coleman also worried that the restrictions in HB 2190 would preclude Arizona from some common-sense goals, like saying first-graders should learn their numbers, simply because 20 other states have the same standards. But he agreed to go along with other Republicans to have further discussion of the issue.

HB 2190 also drew opposition from Garrick Taylor, lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  “The current standards are working,” he told lawmakers. And he said it would be a waste of money to scrap the Common Core standards four years after they were approved and now start coming up with something else.


Imagining Danger: ‘America’s Worst Mom’ on Overreaction

Is America prone to overreaction? Are our schools imagining danger when they treat toaster pastries like a gun or a joke between friends as racial harassment?

In FIRE’s latest video, Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free-Range Kids movement, argues that too often we exaggerate the potential for danger when pushing “zero tolerance” rules in elementary schools or passing speech codes on college campuses.

Skenazy gained national attention in 2008 after she wrote a column for The New York Sun about her experience letting her nine-year-old son use the New York City subway alone. He survived unscathed, but Skenazy did not—she found herself labeled “America’s worst mom.” Since then, Skenazy has worked to help parents realize that their children are not in constant danger and deserve—and indeed need—some independence.

In an interview recorded at last summer’s FIRE Student Network Conference, Skenazy describes some of the most absurd overreactions at schools across the country. One of the most bizarre incidents involved a second grader who bit his Pop-Tart into an “L” shape and was suspended because his teacher thought it resembled a gun.

“When people can’t see the difference between a toaster pastry and a gun, there is something wrong with society,” said Skenazy about the case.

Skenazy explains that FIRE and Free-Range Kids have similar missions: They both fight the idea that young people are always in danger and extreme precautions need to be taken to ensure that they are safe.

“It’s the idea that kids are in such danger that we are hallucinating it everywhere,” said Skenazy.

Skenazy and her Free-Range Kids movement are the subject of an article in next week’s New Yorker. Skenazy’s reality television series, World’s Worst Mom, premiered on the Discovery Life channel last month.

SOURCE. Video at link

British universities paying firms millions to bring in 'cash cow' foreign students

Universities are paying agencies millions to recruit overseas students who boost their coffers.  Home students suffer as lectures are dumbed down to help those with poor English, academics say.  And some institutions enrol lucrative non-EU students ‘regardless of their language skills’, it was claimed.

A study by Times Higher Education (THE) found 106 universities spent £86million recruiting abroad in 2013 to 2014, or £1,767 per student – a 16.5 per cent increase on two years before.

The Russell Group of top universities were some of the top spenders, with Sheffield, Glasgow and Cardiff each spending more than £6million from 2011 to 2014. Coventry spent the most, paying out £10.2million in commission and VAT to recruit 5,634 students, according to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. However, a university spokesman said: ‘By error the figures . . . included substantial non-agent related costs, and therefore do not represent the university’s spend.’

The University of Bedfordshire spent £9.5million and Middlesex University spent £8.8million including VAT.

Giving money to recruitment agents is worthwhile for institutions because the average fee paid by a student from outside the EU last year was £11,289 – or £13,425 for laboratory-based courses. Fees for UK and EU students are capped at £9,000 a year.

Liz Reisberg, formerly of the Centre for International Higher Education, at Boston College in the US, and now an independent consultant, told THE the situation was ‘staggering’.

Of 158 universities that gave data, all but 19 used agents to enrol non-EU students. At the 124 institutions that gave a breakdown of admissions, there were 58,257 international students enrolled using agents in 2013-14.

This month, a separate THE survey found more than a third of academics thought foreign undergraduates did not speak or write good English.

One admitted to The Best University Workplace Survey that tutors ‘lower the level of classes so everyone can keep up – to the disadvantage of native speakers’. A Russell Group lecturer called the issue the sector’s ‘dirty little secret’.

A respondent at a university in the Midlands said it tried ‘to attract as many international students as possible regardless of their language skills.’

As the survey was anonymous, there is no suggestion the complaints came from institutions that pay agencies fees to recruit internationally.

Nicola Dandridge, of Universities UK, which represents the sector, said: ‘International students are subject to numerous tests to ensure they meet high English language requirements.’

The group said official guidance puts an onus on universities to ensure agents act ‘ethically and responsibly’.


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