October 28, 2014

More on More

I have received a surprising amount of requests from people asking me to clarify my objections to the Thomas More Law Center. It seems that some people think that I have a problem with Christians in general and they can't understand why. Interestingly most of these folks are self-identified Christians, but nevertheless I want to clarify things a bit. Mostly I'm going to pull pieces from the responses to comments I left on the actual post, and from an email that I sent to an associate.

In my ten years as a homeschooler, I met many people who are Christian. I found most of them to be lovely people and at one point even tried to participate in one of their support groups. However, through my experiences I have gained the understanding that many have a fundamental inability to separate anything they do from their belief that they are their god's servants; everything they do comes from a perspective of trying to serve him, spread his word, and bring him more followers.

Despite that, the reason for my "hard position" regarding Thomas More is not because they are Christian, but because their mission statement clearly states that their Christianity defines everything they do: "The Law Center’s purpose is to be the sword and shield for people of faith... We achieve this goal principally through litigation, seeking out significant cases consistent with our mission... The Law Center also defends and promotes faith..." and because they clearly state that they are a "ministry"; their whole purpose for existing is for religion.

On my original blog post I wrote "...we should actually avoid sending people to that website, unless of course, we know in advance that they are Christian and share all of the values that Thomas More does." So I completely agree that More's values will resonate with some people. But I can say that one of the things that I witnessed during all my homeschooling, is that religion can be very divisive. And until one has dealt directly with people whose religion is integral enough to who they are that they refer to themselves as a ministry, one cannot understand the depths of what that means.

Because of their religious viewpoint, the More Group will fight for liberties at the expense of others' liberties; they tout themselves as "...the leader in the effort to overturn Roe v. Wade..." and seek to fight the right of gay people to marry.  Please read their Wikipedia profile for a better and well referenced explanation of what they stand for: "The Thomas More Law Center is active in controversial social issues and cases..."

Because of their religious viewpoint, it would be very unlikely that they would take up a case, for example, where a teacher was reprimanded or written-up for expressing to their administrators that things like Common Core, extended day, or disciplinary issues with students are creating problems, if that teacher was openly gay or Wiccan.

I completely agree that "its easier to accomplish a daunting task when we as individuals set aside our differences and work together". But Thomas More will not set aside their differences; their religion is too integral to who they are, and they are therefore incapable of it.

I understand that wanting to have lawyers to back up parents for free would be wonderful. Totally. But I do not feel More is working for free; I believe the cost of their services is the exposure their help will get them. As they say on their website "The Law Center also defends and promotes faith and family through media and educational efforts."

So just as with homeschoolers facing improprieties with the schools, or in the case of parents of special needs kids whose schools are not doing right by them, parents who meet push-back from their school districts regarding testing refusals and other educational issues may need to pay a lawyer. And we do have Deborah Stevenson, who stays on top of all of this, if that becomes necessary.

The bottom line in all of this is that Thomas More Law Center is not irrelevant because they are Christian, it is irrelevant because they do not contribute to the conversation regarding Common Core in Connecticut.

But that may change if the Christian leaders of CT Against Common Core decide it's worth alienating the infidels who work with them. Only time will tell.

October 20, 2014

Thomas More Law Center

Here in Connecticut this group keeps finding its way into the conversation about Common Core. Last week they released a news piece pointing to their Resource Center, so I thought I'd poke around.

The very first sentence of their news article begins
From recommended literature that celebrates pedophilia...
I have to say that this automatically put me on alert; anyone who sees this as the biggest problem worth mentioning about Common Core is definitely not on the same page that I am. So without even reading further, I immediately went to their "About" page. Oh, and look!, their first sentence there is
The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values, including the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life.
and further on, continues with
The Law Center’s purpose is to be the sword and shield for people of faith, providing legal representation without charge. We achieve this goal principally through litigation, seeking out significant cases consistent with our mission.

The Law Center also defends and promotes faith and family through media and educational efforts. Above all, the lawyers of the Thomas More Center seek to meet the highest moral and ethical standards of our Christian faith and our legal profession.

Our ministry was inspired...

Um, ministry?

OK, so after ten years of homeschooling and being witness to the workings of HSLDA, this intro to Thomas More Law Center leaves me feeling completely justified in my willingness to dismiss them as fringe, at least here in Connecticut.

They represent Christians. And fight Common Core from a strictly Christian perspective. And while I can see value in that for Christians, are they really the people to represent parents at-large? To help you decide, here is a sampling of their Key Issues:
  • Defending the Religious Freedom of Christians
The ACLU and like-minded organizations are using sympathetic courts to destroy the religious and moral foundations of our great nation...
  • Restoring Family Values
Traditional marriage and family are under attack by Hollywood, the secular media, and radical homosexual groups who demand the legalization of same-sex marriages.
  • Defending the Sanctity of Human Life
...the leader in the effort to overturn Roe v. Wade...
  • Defending National Security
The Law Center opposes the Defense Department’s actions to homosexualize our military...

So my personal feeling is that we should not be looking to Thomas More Law Center to be the folks to represent us in our fight against Common Core; like HSLDA there are factors beyond the one at hand that will dictate how they respond and litigate, factors that don't necessarily represent parents en toto, and in the end, could actually serve to divide us. So in fact, we should actually avoid sending people to that website, unless of course, we know in advance that they are Christian and share all of the values that Thomas More does.

I would also like to speak to their Student Privacy Protection Opt-Out Request Form; it seems to have some serious admirers here in Connecticut, people who keep pointing others to it. I originally read through it some time ago with an eye to picking out what is useful in organizing opt out advice for people in our state. Originally it mentioned only PARCC testing, but now I see that they've made one specifically for Connecticut that speaks to SBAC. I don't know why they haven't labeled it "SBAC Form" though, instead of Connecticut, since none of it is specific to us.
The problem with using this letter is twofold. The first is that fact that it is not specific to us. It says that the submitter opts of out of
Any and all standardized testing or activities required by law... Any and all tests, assessments, or surveys not limited solely to proficiency in core academic subjects...
Except that here in Connecticut some tests are standardized but not required by law, and arguably do measure proficiency in core academic subjects. For example, several districts around the state are using NWEA MAP testing. And this letter does not provide for refusing those.

Second is that people are using it when they don't know what everything on it even means. It covers lots of stuff and sounds really informative and has the name of a law group on it, so I can see how people might think it's a good idea. But as I have advised, time and time again, people should not use form letters to opt out without agreeing with all of the talking points in that form letter. And certainly, in this case, don't use a letter that you don't even understand; when a school asks for confirmation of your concerns you can't run to others to help you figure out what those are!

Which is why it is so important for parents to write their own letters, pulling information they agree with from all available sources. Yes, including, but I hope I convinced you not limited to, the Thomas More letter.

Finally, my last problem with the Thomas More Law Center is that they have the wrong address for the Connecticut website. The address they offer is a website that is run by, as far as anyone can tell, and individual who is working alone and refuses to communicate with anyone else. The correct address for the website for the actual movement in Connecticut, that is run by the same group of people who also provide support via Facebook and community forums, is ctagainstcommoncore.org

October 16, 2014

How To Teach Second Grade Math

This is an example of how second graders are being taught to do math. The teacher who posted this mess laments at having to do it this way. But underneath it all, a parent speaks to how other teachers are getting around it.

Let's remember that many teachers, especially the good ones who have been at it for a long time, don't like Common Core but feel forced to use it. Let's not blame them for the mess we are in.

October 14, 2014

Adaptive Testing

Someone on a Facebook group recently posted a video from McGraw Hill about "adaptive testing". McGraw Hill is the company writing SBAC, which is the Common Core test being given here in Connecticut.

And the conversation that followed went like this:

It's important to remember that while the ability to compare student/student school/school might be something that other states hope to accomplish, here in Connecticut that is not the stated goal of the testing.

Here in CT the goal of the testing is to ascertain "mastery":
Sec. 10-14n. Mastery examination. (a) As used in this section, “mastery examination” means an examination or examinations, approved by the State Board of Education, that measure essential and grade-appropriate skills in reading, writing, mathematics or science.

So in CT the words "standardized testing" are irrelevant, since a "mastery examination" can theoretically be an adaptive one:
Reading passages might vary from student to student according to the complexity of the language and concepts they contain. But all test-takers would be asked to engage in grade-appropriate higher-order thinking skills, such as making inferences about what characters in the passage might do next.

It's important that computer-adaptive testing be standards-based, meaning there is a blueprint that ensures every kid sees test questions that reflect the full breadth and depth of on-grade-level content.

Interestingly though, Pearson Publishing, the company responsible for writing PARCC, the Common Core test being given in states that are not using SBAC as we do here in Connecticut, writes that:
By definition, adaptive tests given to different individuals vary in their statistical specifications and, as such, cannot be considered equivalent in the strictest sense.

...we encourage the recognition that adaptive testing in the context of the common core assessments must be pursued cautiously and deliberately.

There are trade-offs with choosing to use adaptive testing over conventional testing. Adapting testing... does not produce tests that are equated in the strictest statistical sense. It is important to understand the threats to the validity of scores and interpretations resulting from adaptive testing...

So if I'm understanding this correctly, the company competing with SBAC's McGraw Hill, is telling us that adaptive testing may not be the best way to test for mastery, since each test is different for each student.

This all lends a lot of validity to a comment that another person left on that Facebook post:

Also pointing out that adaptive tests have more of a chance of being invalid is a parent, as quoted by Diane Ravitch on her blog, who states:
My kid doesn’t like online adaptive assessments. She likes knowing there are 50 questions in 40 minutes.  She hates tests that give you many more difficult questions when you answer correctly. The test seems to go on forever.

So, one time she decided to hit buttons randomly and get a bunch wrong. Then the computer spit out fewer, easier questions, and she was able to finish the test at last.

Stupid politicians and administrators seem to forget that kids are intelligent, and when they know the tests don't count towards their grades they don't try their best; they just figure out ways to get through it all faster. One teacher in Connecticut actually admitted to me that she subtly suggested that her kids randomly answer things just to get through it (of course at this point the testing is not connected to teacher evaluations in CT, and once that happens she will likely stop advising her kids to do that).

But the whole idea of testing the kids for mastery, or whatever you want to call it, is a stupid one. The bottom line is that the kids know it doesn't count toward their grade, so they don't take it as seriously. And tests don't accurately measure the academic capabilities of kids the way they are supposedly meant to:

So the best thing a parent should do is to continue to refuse to let your child take them.

October 11, 2014

The Weekly Quote

Poverty is the single most reliable measure for test scores. And if you want to see evidence of that look at the latest release of the SAT scores, they include a graph, in which they show the test scores of students in relationship to the income of their family. And there is a stair step, it's very regular. At the lowest in the stair step are the children whose parents are below $25,000 a year, and then it goes up; with every increment and income, it goes up, and up and up and up, to over $200,000 a year.

The gap between the lowest end and the highest end on the SAT is 400 points, and it's correlated with the income of the family.

It really hurts academically, when children don't have food on the table. It really hurts when they don't know if they have a home to go to.  It really hurts when they have asthma, or they don't get dental care, or they never got screening for vision, when they have hearing problems, and don't know what the teacher said.

The United States, to our shame, lead the advanced nations of the world in child poverty. This is the number one problem of our time.

~ Diane Ravitch
  Reign of Error @ Quinnipiac University