April 29, 2014

Essential Reading

I've stated here before that at times the whole Common Core thing becomes overwhelming to me and I need to step back and catch my breath for a while. I wouldn't let any information that absolutely needs to be conveyed go by though, at least without a mention, since I do consider this blog a place to turn to for the essentials. Please be sure to subscribe to my posts on the left sidebar so you don't need to check in every day and find nothing new; you will be informed of when the blog gets updated.

For today I am providing links to what I consider some essential reading from the last few days.

New Hampshire Families for Education posted a brilliant piece about how schools actually need to ask for permission to allow our kids to take the SBAC tests. I loved it so much that I asked for permission to reprint it in its entirety, but have not heard back. So go read it here.

Governor Malloy was recently interviewed on WNPR's Where We Live radio show where he said that "federal law restricts students from opting out of taking standardized tests..." which is a flat out lie, as testified by CT Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor, and Chairman of the Connecticut Department of Education Allan Taylor, during the Common Core hearing in Hartford on March 12th. You can listen to the full radio interview with Malloy here or read a summary of the education points here.

Jonathan Pelto reports that Governor Malloy is trying to get a restraining order to prevent information being released to Pelto through his Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. I agree with Pelto's assertion that "while getting 'negative press' may be annoying to politicians, the notion that Governor Malloy’s administration would consider pursuing a 'restraining order' to prevent Freedom of Information requests is extremely disturbing considering the fundamental right that citizens have to get access to public information."

And finally, what's on the minds of Connecticut teachers:

You can read the Ann Cronin article referred to here. It's a good one.

April 16, 2014

Data Collection

It can be easy to toss our noses up at people who complain about data collection on kids, saying that they are being paranoid. But then an essay like this comes along, and instead of shaking our heads, we have to deal with the fear the reality brings. Excerpts:
A particularly troubling aspect of the Common Core scheme is the emphasis on massive data-collection on students, and the sharing of that data for various purposes essentially unrelated to genuine education. U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said:
Hopefully, some day, we can track children from preschool to high school and from high school to college and college to career... We want to see more states build comprehensive systems that track students from pre-K through college and then link school data to workforce data. We want to know know whether Johnny participated in an early learning program and then completed college on time and whether those things have any bearing on his earnings as an adult. 
To know all this, of course, we have to know pretty much everything Johnny does, throughout his lifetime.

What kinds of data are we talking about? The National Education Data Model includes over 400 data points, including health history, disciplinary history, family income range, voting status, religious affiliation, and on and on.

Pursuant to this enthusiasm for sharing student data, where might that data end up? One illustrative example (and an obvious one, in this workforce-development model) is departments of labor. In fact, USED [US Education Department] and the U. S. Department of Labor have a joint venture called the Workforce Data Quality Initiative, the purpose of which is “developing or improving state workforce data systems with individual-level information and enabling workforce data to be matched with education data.” Student education data are to be shared, to the extent possible, with labor agencies to promote the goal of workforce development.

Of course, under the new regulations that gutted federal student-privacy law, data can now be shared with literally any agency if the correct enabling language is used: the Department of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security... the IRS?

Both USED and state education officials further insist that privacy concerns are overblown, because student-level data will be anonymized. In the first place, this is simply not true – the data coming from the Common Core assessment consortia, and the workforce tracking data showing which students participated in which education programs and then earned which salaries, are necessarily student-specific.

In the second place, in the era of Big Data, there really is no such thing as anonymization. When there are multiple, perhaps hundreds, of items in the database, the absence of a name or a Social Security number becomes a mere inconvenience, not an obstacle to identifying the student.

There are many examples of data re-identification.  For instance in Kentucky in 1999, a researcher was able to match over 2,300 students who appeared on anonymized lists of test-takers – and the match had 100% accuracy.  And this was almost 15 years ago – long before education bureaucracies were collecting the myriad data they are now.

Where are we headed with all this? It is instructive to look at what USED itself is working on and writing about.

One report that appeared on the Department’s website in February of 2013 is called Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance. The thesis is that education must inculcate these qualities in students, and that their presence or absence must be measured in some way. How? The report suggests assessment of physiological reactions that a student exhibits to stimuli such as stress, anxiety, or frustration. These reactions could be measured through posture analysis, skin-conductance sensors, EEG brain-wave patterns, and eye-tracking, (pg. 41-45).And the report barely mentions the appalling invasion of privacy this kind of physiological measurement would entail; rather, it focuses on the “problem” that this isn’t practical for the classroom – yet, (pg. 45).

I haven’t even mentioned the ever-present problem of data-security. Hacking into student databases will occur, and in fact has already occurred. The wealth of data collected on students and their families is a hugely tempting target for people with malicious motives. But as serious as this problem is, the deeper problem is that the government has deemed our children little machines to be programmed, “human capital” to be exploited...
This is real.

April 15, 2014

Common Core Is An Industry

And this is a particularly educated editorial about the realities of the Common Core, from the Middletown Press. It's written by a member of the Middletown Board of Education. My favorite excerpts:
Common Core is an industry. Advocates will repeat the mantra over and over: “Common Core is not curriculum. It’s a set of standards.” What they won’t admit to is that most school districts do not have the luxury or the money to design custom curricula, create custom learning materials or formulate testing which would be accepted by the national standard-bearers. So, schools will have to pay for off-the-shelf curricula, text books, technology, learning materials and tests. Common Core is not just a set of standards, it’s everything that goes with it.

Common Core, for all it’s demands as an evidence-based system, offers no evidence of it’s efficacy. Common Core has not been vetted, tested, benchmarked, offered for academic review or scrutiny. It has been shoved down the throats of state educators who understood that if you didn’t swallow hard and accept the standards, you were less likely to receive federal dollars. Connecticut has received no Federal Race to the Top Dollars as a result of accepting the standards.

Common Core is going to make some people very, very rich. Because of the demands of the new standards, all new teaching and testing material will have to be created, and then purchased by hard-pressed school districts. But in the process, textbook publishers, test-manufacturers, technology creators are going to make lots of money. What’s more, because Common Core is predicted to show that most public schools are below standard, the Charter School industry, which is working hard to privatize public education, will be working diligently to pry public education dollars from the public schools where those dollars belong.

April 14, 2014

The Main Stream Media Chimes In...

I'd really like to know though, why people keep turning to Bill Gates as the authority on Common Core. Why wasn't Arne Duncan, United States Secretary of Education, interviewed? Oh yes, maybe because he's proven himself to be a horrible PR person?

April 12, 2014

The Weekly Quote

NGA Center/CCSSO shall be acknowledged as the sole owners and developers of the Common Core State Standards, and no claims to the contrary shall be made.


~ National Governor's Association & Council of Chief State School Officers
Attribution; Copyright Notice, & Representations, Warranties and Disclaimer

April 10, 2014

The United States Proposed Budget for Education for 2015 Reveals Where Education in the U.S. is headed.

First I have to start by reminding people that the United States should not have a budget for education at all; education is supposed to be in the hands of individual states.

That said, you can read the U.S. proposed budget in its entirety here. Following are some of the tidbits that jumped out at me.

The Federal Government wants to continue No Child Left Behind:
...To achieve even greater efficiencies and advance reforms that would improve student outcomes, Congress should enact the Administration’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) [No Child Left Behind].

The Federal Government admits that they are bribing states to adopt Common Core and everything that goes along with it. The code name the feds use for Common Core is College- and Career-Ready (CCR) Standards.
The Administration’s signature reform measures, including RTT and [NCLB] Flexibility, advance this goal through supporting State and local efforts in the implementation of college- and career-ready (CCR) standards and aligned assessments, rigorous accountability systems intended to help close achievement gaps and turn around our lowest-performing schools, and new teacher and leader evaluation and support systems aimed at ensuring that every classroom has an effective teacher and every school an effective principal.

They are going to keep giving us money to expand our P20 systems:
$70 million for Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems, an increase of $35 million, to support expansion and enhancement of systems that support the integration of data on school-level finances, teacher and leader effectiveness, and academic achievement that can be used to analyze links between the distribution of educational resources and student outcomes, with the overall goal of improving the effectiveness and productivity of our education system.

They want to re-design our high schools:
$150 million for a new High School Redesign program to support the transformation of the high school experience by funding competitive grants to school districts and their partners to redesign high schools in innovative ways that better prepare students for college and career success...

This one seems kind of strange, since CC, or CCR as the feds like to call it, completely destroys STEM preparedness. And it will be interesting to see how they think they can fit this into the school day when teachers are already complaining about how there's no time to do what they already have to.
$110 million for STEM Innovation Networks to provide competitive awards to LEAs in partnership with institutions of higher education, nonprofit organizations, other public agencies, and businesses to transform STEM teaching and learning by accelerating the adoption of practices in P-12 education that help increase the number of students who seek out and are effectively prepared for postsecondary education and careers in STEM fields.

The federal government intends to spend money to specifically teach kids non-cognitive skills, "or 'soft skills' [which] are related to motivation, integrity, and interpersonal interaction. They may also involve intellect, but more indirectly and less consciously than cognitive skills. Soft skills are associated with an individual’s personality, temperament, and attitudes":
$10 million for a new Non-Cognitive Skills initiative, under the Fund for the Improvement of Education, that would provide competitive grants to district and researcher partnerships to develop and test interventions to improve students’ non-cognitive skills in the middle grades.

More money for Race to the Top bribes:
In 2015, the Administration is requesting $300 million for a new Race to the Top – Equity and Opportunity (RTT-Opportunity) initiative centered on improving the academic performance of students in the Nation’s highest poverty schools. The initiative would drive comprehensive change in how States and school districts identify and close longstanding educational opportunity and achievement gaps. There would be two types of required activities.

First, grantees would develop, implement, or enhance data systems...Second, grantees would use funds to develop, attract, and retain more effective teachers and leaders...In addition to the required activities, grantees would be expected to address other factors contributing to educational opportunity and achievement gaps. These include, for example, school safety; non-cognitive skills; expanded learning time; fair and appropriate school discipline policies; mental, physical, and social emotional supports; college and career counseling...Grantees would examine the use and alignment of existing Federal education resources, including Title I, Title II, and Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems to ensure consistency with their RTT-Opportunity plans...

They hope to dangle $378 million in front of states to help pay for assessments, and to develop and implement Common Core standards in other subjects:
The request for a reauthorized Assessing Achievement (State Assessments under current law) program would help States pay the costs, including technology-related costs, of developing and implementing assessments aligned with college- and career-ready (CCR) [Common Core] standards.

Formula and competitive funds would support continued implementation of the assessments currently required by the ESEA [No Child Left Behind], as well as the transition to CCR-based standards and assessments that would capture a fuller picture of what students know and are able to do.

Grantees also could use funds to develop and implement CCR standards and assessments in other subjects, such as science and history, needed to ensure that all students receive a well-rounded education.

...The Department would set aside $8.9 million of the fiscal year 2015 request to support a grant competition to enhance or improve State assessment systems, which could include improving the accessibility of assessments, developing computer-enhanced and/or other new assessments or assessment items, providing high-quality professional development for teachers using assessment data to improve instruction, obtaining technology to help administer or analyze assessments, and/or conducting research to contribute to assessment knowledge and quality.

And the feds want to dump $248 million into Charter Schools:
The Supporting Effective Charter Schools grants program would make competitive grants to SEAs [State Education Agencies], charter school authorizers, charter management organizations, LEAs [Local Education Agencies], and other nonprofit organizations to start or expand effective charter and other autonomous public schools; funds would also support charter schools facilities programs.

I did not read through the sections on
C. Special Education and Rehabilitative Services,
D. Career, Technical and Adult Education,
E. Student Financial Assistance, and
F.  High Education Programs.
But I did read the section on The Institute of Education Sciences. That's the fed's research department:
The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) supports sustained programs of research, evaluation, and statistics to inform and provide solutions to the problems and challenges faced by schools and learners. Investment in research and statistics activities is critical in order to identify effective instructional and program practices, track student achievement, and measure the impact of educational reform. Through its four centers—the National Center for Education Research, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, and the National Center for Special Education Research—IES ensures that the Federal investment in education research, statistics, and evaluation is well-managed and relevant to the needs of educators and policymakers.

$70 million of the IES (Institute of Education Sciences) money would go to Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems:
This program supports competitive awards to State educational agencies to foster the design, development, and implementation of longitudinal data systems that enable States to use data on student learning, teacher performance, and college- and career-readiness to enhance the provision of education and close achievement gaps. Up to $10 million would be used for awards to public or private agencies and organizations to support activities to improve data coordination, quality, and use at the local, State, and national levels. The proposed $35.5 million increase would allow the Department to support $57 million in new grants emphasizing early childhood data linkages, promoting better use of data in analysis and policymaking, and integrating data on school-level finances, teacher and leader effectiveness, and academic achievement.

Finally, the feds plan to eliminate or consolidate some stuff, but my eyes are swimming at this point, so if you care enough you can follow the link up top to read through it yourself. There is also a list of links to some interesting appendices:
  • Summary of Discretionary Funds
  • Mandatory Funding in the Department of Education
  • Summary of Mandatory Funds
  • Advance Appropriations for the Department of Education
  • Total Expenditures for Elementary and Secondary Education in the United States
  • Detailed Budget Table by Program

April 9, 2014

When Your Kids Graduate UConn
The State May Be Able To Keep Following Them

On the Connecticut P20 website, we are told that
Connecticut needs a system for linking data across the agencies that serve individuals as they progress from early childhood through educational programs and into the workforce.

Yes, the state of Connecticut wants to collect information about your children from preschool all the way to age 20. And by the way, this was the brainchild of the Federal governement:
The process began with funding from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) at the U.S. Department of Education in 2009.

The P20 website also states:
The State Department of Education (SDE), The Board of Regents for Higher Education (BOR) and the Department of Labor (DOL) are actively collaborating to implement the P20 WIN System. A cross-agency data governance structure has been formed, data sharing agreements have been approved and the technical infrastructure is being developed. The system is designed with the flexibility to expand to include connections to early childhood data, independent colleges and the University of Connecticut.  

Well, the system is on its way to being expanded. To include the University of Connecticut.

Connecticut House Bill No. 5381 was raised this year on February 26. A substitute was submitted on March 13. And the Committee on Higher Education and Employment Advancement passed that substitute on April 7 and is now on its way to becoming law.

According to the Office of Legislative Research
This bill requires UConn, in collaboration with the Board of Regents for Higher Education and the Education and Labor departments, to develop and implement the “P20 WIN” system to report on its graduates' success, by major, with regard to employment and earnings. Under the bill, the “P20 WIN” system, also known as the “Preschool through 20 Workforce Information Network”:

1. securely and privately links data across agencies and departments that serve individuals from early childhood through elementary and secondary school and into the adult workforce and

2. provides the data to “education and workforce leaders” to help them understand patterns over time and make decisions to improve outcomes for individuals and the state.

The bill does not specify the types of data the system shares, the people or entities it shares with, or the particular purpose for which it can be used [emphasis mine].

The part that I find most interesting in all of this though, is how the bill changed from the time it was proposed to the time it was passed. Here's the wording of it as it was first proposed:
And here's what it looked like when it passed:

Notice the difference? An important sentence was removed from lines 11 and 12:

By taking out the line "none of which may contain personally identifiable information", the state is clearly saying that it wants to be able to include that information in their databases. And of course, we already know just who that information can be shared with.

In case you've missed it along the way, here is a list of the data they actually want to collect at the college level. And for those of you who don't grasp that this is happening in grade schools too, here's the list of what the data they want on that level. Be sure to scroll all the way down.

The state can't make laws insisting that colleges outside of Connecticut share data with them. But they can do it for all schools that get Connecticut funding. And they are.

There is still time to share your thoughts with your state senator about HB 5381 before they vote on it.

April 8, 2014

More People Are Waking Up to the Fact That It's about Poverty

I've mentioned that our real problem in Connecticut is one of poverty levels and not standards. And it seems that others are finally realizing it too...
What if we have actually been teaching the right skills in US schools all along – math and reading, science and civics, along with creativity, perseverance and team-building? What if these were as important a hundred years ago for nurturing innovative farmers and developers of new automobiles as they are now for creating the next generation of tech innovators? What if these are the very characteristics of US schools that have made us such a strong public education nation, and the current shift toward a narrower agenda just dilutes that strength? What if, rather than raising standards, and testing students more, the biggest change we need to address is that of our student body? 

...poverty, which has long been the biggest obstacle to educational achievement, is more important than ever. It is our true 21st century problem.

This devastating reality demands a set of education reforms radically different from those on which policy has fixated of late. Without a set of supports that enable all students to acquire basic literacy, problem-solving and communications skills, kindergarten teachers must tailor their instruction to an ever-broader range of academic capacities and behavioral challenges. And too many students will be doomed from a very early age to remedial education and dim prospects of life success. Until we ensure that basic, preventable medical problems do not keep large numbers of students out of class and lack of food does not prevent them from focusing, effective teaching will become further out of reach. So long as we put school nurses, social workers and counselors on the “expendable” list when budgets are tight, teachers will shoulder more non-teaching burdens, and instruction will be impeded. In the absence of systemic, consistent after-school and summer enrichment, a growing number of students will lose much of what they gain during the day and over the school year, wasting taxpayer dollars and future talent.

You can read the rest here.

April 7, 2014

Bill Gates on Math

Um, wrong, Bill.

Wonder what those Asian countries that you are always comparing us to
would think of this:

April 5, 2014

The Weekly Quote

If administrators are concerned about paperwork, checklists, and essentially compliance, rather than growth, that environment starts to turn into a controlling environment. And that's going to have a negative impact on students.

~ David Bosso
Berlin High School Teacher

April 4, 2014

The Fight For Our Children's Privacy

At the legislative hearing on March 12th for HB 5078, AN ACT IMPOSING A MORATORIUM ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS, my testimony was strictly about the privacy issue. I've written here several times about this problem, and it remains my biggest concern with all the changes to education that Common Core came with.

After my testimony, Senator Dante Bartolomeo approached me and asked for my personal contact information; she expressed her own concern with the changes to FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and wanted to speak to me further. I am a constituent of the Senator.

Today I spoke to Bartolomeo by phone.

Bartolomeo said that she questioned the SDE about the issue, and they referred her to UCONN for clarification. Unfortunately, she has not been able to substantiate my research regarding how CT law does not aid in protecting our children's privacy, after the federal FERPA law has been changed to no longer do so. I had provided Bartolomeo with a copy of  a letter I had written to the Curriculum Coordinator in Cheshire regarding my concerns. I had received a response from the Curriculum Coordinator saying that the district lawyer did not refute any of what I had written, and Bartolomeo had hoped for access to that lawyer to substantiate my letter. However, I did not have direct contact with her and do not know her name.

So without the aid of a lawyer to confirm my research, we unfortunately are looking at a longer timeline. Bartolomeo said she is going to put in a request with the Connecticut Office of Legislator Research (OLR) for them to provide her with a full report on what the changes in FERPA mean to Connecticut children. Unfortunately, however, because there are only five weeks left in this legislative session, she says we will not get that report until likely sometime in June. Which means that we will have to see her re-elected for her to raise any bills next year. So even though we now have someone's attention on this very important matter, we have a long road ahead of us in fixing it.

April 3, 2014

WNPR Interviewed Some Connecticut Teachers

On March 4th, WNPR's Where We Live hosted an evening panel discussion with teachers from across the state in order to accommodate their schedules which don't line up with a live morning call-in show. They invited educators to join in the audience, and hosted the following guests:

Liz Natale is a West Hartford teacher who wrote a popular op-ed for The Hartford Courant in January called, Why I Want To Give Up Teaching.

Ebony Murphy-Root is a lifelong Nutmegger and middle school humanities teacher on the faculty of a private school in New York City. She's owned a home in Hartford since 2008 and has taught in the capital city. She recently wrote "'Did You Grow Up Around Black People?' My Year Working for 'America's Most Trusted Educator.'"

David Low teaches aquaculture technology and mathematics at The Sound School in New Haven and is vice president of high schools for the New Haven Federation of Teachers. In 2012, he was named the New Haven Public Schools' teacher of the year.

David Bosso is a social studies teacher at Berlin High School and he was named the 2012 Connecticut Teacher of the Year. He has written several op-eds, including one on the role of teachers in the Sandy Hook shooting.

The video for the program is wonderful and you can watch it in its hour-and-a-half entirety here. Or, you can spend around 30 minutes enjoying the parts that I liked enough to clip for this post...

So teachers feel there is a lack of respect toward them as professionals in what they do...

They shared their thoughts about the data...

They spoke about federalizing education...

How this all actually affecting the kids...

About how Connecticut had already been doing well; the problem is an economic one...

And finally, how education has changed over the last decade...

April 2, 2014

Teachers in Connecticut Are Afraid to Speak Out

It's easy to assume that because teacher unions are not expressing concerns with the Common Core curriculum and testing, that the teachers themselves don't have a problem with it.

But there are great teachers out there who believe wholeheartedly that this whole package is a very serious injustice to our children.

Unfortunately, many of them believe that the only way they can make a real statement about Common Core is to actually quit their jobs.

Other teachers fear sharing their concerns at all:

But since most teachers cannot afford to quit their jobs, and most are fearful about speaking out, they must find other ways to protest. For example, just last week:
The public school system in Torrington was investigating whether nearly dozens of teachers called in sick on a day they were supposed to learn about the state's Common Core standards.

Fifty teachers, or a sixth of our teaching staff, called out for the day...

The district said only two teachers have made up the missed training. It said it was limited to any penalties it can impose on them.

Our teachers care.

But enough that in the fall they will turn out in record-breaking numbers to vote out Governor Malloy, who spent 2012 as the Chairman of the National Governor's Association's Education and Workforce Committee; the NGA being one of the two groups that set this whole thing in motion?

I'm hopeful, since Twitter users are claiming they will under #foolsout.

April 1, 2014

Where CEA Really Stands

Connecticut Education Association is a teacher's union representing 43,000 teachers in Connecticut. I first blogged about CEA here, where I finished with:
Yeah, CEA is a union. And some people have problems with unions. And yeah, CEA is obviously doing some fluffing of its own feathers, especially with a commercial, in order to bolster their image and hold their influence this election year. But you know what? Albeit subtly, they are reaching out a hand to parents, even if just to ask us to join them in their fight against evaluations. But given their influence, and thus far parallel ideas regarding testing, I'll take it.
 As a parent I had been hoping that help, would eventually be coming from the inside.

But then I heard them speak at the legislative hearing on March 12th, and was surprised at what I heard. Perhaps I only just got to hear them unedited for the first time, but it became clear to me that they are single-minded in their anger that the state didn't roll out Common Core the way they said they would.

In fact, CEA is downright pleased that "the Governor, through his Executive Order has created a working group that supports our position as well." I can't help but wonder how many people on the Implementation Taskforce are actually members of the CEA?

The problem is that now that the state has apparently dropped the teacher evaluations as they had been put forth with acceptance of the Common Core "package", the lack of concern from CEA over the actual curriculum and testing is way more glaring.

I have heard from three teachers who have expressed disgust with how CEA is handling the whole Common Core issue.

And Malloy has recently announced that he is running for Governor again this year. Till now he had fallen out of favor with the teacher unions because of the excessive evaluations teachers had to endure, and historically that endorsement has been important to him, since it brings him votes from parents and teachers who are not paying attention; it makes sense that a if a teacher's union endorses a candidate then that candidate must really have our children's best interests at heart, right?

So I wonder if Governor Malloy has been successful in buying CEA's endorsement?

Let's pay attention.

And CEA?

What about all the excessive evaluations your students have to endure?