Thursday, August 21, 2014

More Bad Polling News For CCSS

While we're making note of how Common Core is tanking in the Education Next and PDK/Gallup polls, let's pull out one other poll from earlier in the summer. This one also us ed the word "plummets," which has become a serious contender for leading the Common Core Headline Word Bank.

Conducted and released in June of 2014, the Rasmussen Reports national phone survey checked the support for the Core among a very specific population-- those with children in elementary or secondary school.

Once again, we can see the result of a year's worth of direct exposure. In November of 2013, the Core was supported by an unimpressive 52% and specifically opposed by 32%. By the following June, the numbers had shifted. Among parents of school-age children, support dropped to 34%, while actual opposition to the Core (which the survey referred to as the Common Core national standards) had grown to 47%.

The message is the same as revealed in the other polls currently making PR use of the word "plummet"-- direct experience of the Common Core and the various barnicular educational attachments that come with does not make people love it better.

This poll is not news, but back in June, we couldn't see so clearly that it was the harbinger of a trend. This is the opposite of a grass roots movement, the reverse of going viral. This is like the movie that opens strong on Thursday and plays to empty theaters on Friday. Common Core's one big remaining hope was that people might experience it and say, at the very least, "Well, this wasn't so bad. I don't know why people were fussing." Instead, the reaction is more along the lines of "Damn, that really does suck."

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Making a Difference

How can I make a difference?

In millions of situations millions of people have asked that single question.

There are plenty of inspirational answers for it. A thousand single persons working together can move the world. Your single action can be the straw that breaks the camel's back, the action that inspires others. Cue violins.

Personally, I think it's actually the wrong question.

See, we don't have to ask if or how we can make a difference, because by the very nature of existing, we make a difference. How do we make a difference? Hell, we can't avoid making a difference. I'm walking down the street. Another person is walking the other way. If I smile and say hi, that will have a different effect than if I scowl and look angry. There is no "doing nothing and not making a difference" option. If I walk past him as if I don't even see him, that has an effect, too. Doing nothing, not responding to other human beings-- that makes a difference, too.

Saying, "I can't make any difference, so I'll just be a lousy person, or one who stands by and does nothing," is not an out. Being lousy, doing nothing-- those things make a difference. It can suck-- sometimes we are thrown into situations that we did not choose, but once there, we must choose what kind of difference we will make. If you stumble upon a person being beaten, a choice has been forced upon you, and whatever choice you make, it will make a difference. I get that you may wish with all your heart that you weren't there, that this choice hadn't come to you. But it did, and whatever you choose will make a difference.

So there is no question about how to make a difference. We exist in the world, so we are making a difference. Maybe not a huge difference. Maybe not a Change the Course of Western Civilization difference.

This is doubly true of us as teachers. We are put in a situation every day in which we must interact with dozens, or even hundreds, of young human beings. We can't not interact with them, because even ignoring them is a form of interaction.

So there's really only one question to ask. What kind of difference are we going to make?

Doesn't have to be huge. Sometimes I think the biggest thing we can do for some of our students is take five seconds to send the message, "I see you. I hear you."

I imagine sometimes that when the Bible says we're made in God's image, what that means is that we all have the power of creation. By our interactions with other humans, we take a step to create a world that is just and kind, or harsh and unjust and cruel. We help create a world where people are known and loved as they are, or told they cannot have love until they change.

We are all engines of change. We alter the world around us, affect the people around us. With our actions or our inactions, we send ripples out into the world.

We make a difference.

I go back to school tomorrow (no students till Tuesday, but still...). I remind myself of this every year. I am going to make a difference, and I get to decide what difference I am going to make. So do you. Have a great new year.

Lily E. Garcia Will Break My Heart

It is clear that my relationship with the new NEA president will be fraught with ups and downs.

I have expressed my willingness to be courted. And she has definitely had her moments.

Back on August 11, Valerie Strauss unveiled an interview with LEG that had many folks cheering. Plainspoken and direct, LEG, provided a brace of great quotes:

Arne Duncan is a very nice man. I actually believe he is a very honest man. And that cannot excuse the fact that he is wrong wrong wrong on just about every thing that he believes is reform.

And I believe will go down to my last breath telling people that the most corrupting influence in public influence today is a high-stakes consequence for not hitting the cut score on a standardized test.

Stop doing stupid.

Her call for what is somewhere between civil disobedience and passive-aggressive insubordination.
“The revolution I want is ‘proceed until apprehended.’”In other words, ignore directives to engage in educational malpractice, and follow your best professional judgment until someone pins you down and forces you.

That is dead on. Yes, you have to weigh taking a stand against keeping your job in some settings. But there are also teachers out there following bad instructions because they are afraid that an administrator might speak to them sternly or give them a dirty look. It is way past time for teachers to stop being good little soldiers.

So, with the WaPo interview, LEG had me feeling all the feelings. Yes, her love for CCSS remained undimmed, but, you know, no relationship is perfect. And yes, the word on the street is that LEG talks a better game than she delivers, but that still makes her a step up from DVR, who was 0/2 on the talking/delivering business.

And then came this NEA press release in response to the PDK/Gallup poll that further chronicled the not-love directed at the Core.

It’s no surprise that many aren’t behind the Common Core as they are victims of targeted misinformation campaigns. Some on the far right have turned high standards for all students into a political football.

Dammit, Lily. I thought I could believe in you.

It's one thing to take the position that the Core are swell and lovely. You're wrong, but I get it (but you're wrong).

But it's quite another thing to stick with that old baloney about how people who don't love the Core are either 1) tragically misinformed or 2) tin hat Tea Party tools. Mistaking the CCSS for sound educational policy can be chalked up to a very different point of view (although, you are wrong). But mistaking the opposition to CCSS as a combination of ignorance and political wingnuttery is just delusional.

I know that you have to hold the NEA line, and that "proceed until apprehended" can be used in a classroom, but never an NEA boardroom. But even the backers of the CCSS have figured out they can't simply write off opposition as the result of ignorance and political buffonery. I don't think it's too much to expect the leader of my national union to have figured out the same thing.

This is going to be a long, tumultuous courtship as it is. Let's not make things worse by writing off critics from within the union itself. My heart just can't take it.

Patronizing Teachers for the Core

When you read this sentence at the start of a blog post, you know things are about to head south rapidly:

One of the most frequent questions I get from coaches is about how to coach teachers in the Common Core (CCSS).

This is the lede from "Coaching Towards the Common Core State Standards" over at Ed Week. Our is Elena Aguilar. More about her in a second. First, let's see what handy advice she has for us.

First, the scary!

Aguilar wants coaches to remember to acknowledge the feelings of the teachers they work with.

First, this is all very scary. This--the Common Core and its associated changes--is rather terrifying for teachers and administrators.

Mind you, their feelings of scarediness are not actually justified.

In fact, CCSS creates an opportunity for everyone in the education system to reflect on and make changes in many traditional practices and approaches. This is promising--there's a whole lot that needs to change in order for kids to get what they need, but it's also very scary. 

Aguilar comes from the Fight the Straw Teacher school of CCSS boosterism.

Some of the core practices in CCSS require phenomenal higher order thinking skills, collaborative learning, deep questioning of content and learning; there's a chance that in the future, in true CCSS-aligned classrooms, kids won't be sitting in rows listening to lectures and regurgitating facts on a test. But the rate of change is dizzying and this is what we, as coaches, need to manage. And change brings feelings.  

Oh, yes. All the feelings. But mind you, the feelings are just about the scariness of change, and the ways in which we will have to teach our students to do hard thinky things, and having to give up our slates and chalk. We might even have to give up coming to school in horses and buggies and honest to goodness, have I been teaching the last thirty-five years in some sort of unique teaching utopia while everyone else in the country is teaching like some combination of a nineteenth century schoolmaster and Archie Andrew's Miss Grundy? Because once again, I see a CCSS booster making both inaccurate characterizations of what was previously going on while over-promising the effects of CCSS. Because the single biggest factor pushing drill and regurgitation and thinkless schoolwork into my classroom has been NCLB and Common Core testing.

Sigh. Aguilar notes that coaches will hear complaints along the line of "I feel as if I'm being told to throw out years of what I've learned about how to teach and start over." Well, yes.

And then Aguilar gets one thing right:

First, recognize that teachers who are experiencing these kinds of emotions are feeling like their identities as educators are no longer relevant--they feel as if they are being asked to be different people. This is a very unique and difficult kind of pain--they feel like who they are is no longer valued, that the teacher they spent years developing is not longer relevant.

So the coach needs to recognize these feelings. Though again, not actually validate them or recognize that they have basis in reality. I am imagining Aguilar coaching ER physicians that when somebody has been stabbed with a knife, you must acknowledge that they feel pain, and that's pretty much it. Never mind the actual injury. 

Then it gets worse.

The second aspect of this kind of a statement that coaches will need to address is the teacher's lack of understanding of why he or she is being asked to change...What we experience as resistance in teachers often comes from a lack of understanding.

Got that? If you are opposed to or upset by or otherwise not embracing the Common Core, it's because you just don't understand it, poor dear. Holy smokes! Is there anything more patronizing than an attitude of "Well, any right-thinking person who understands the issues would, of course, agree with me. If you don't agree with me, it can only mean that your grasp of the issues is just not as advanced as mine." Is Aguilar really prepared to say to all the folks who invest so much time and energy in opposing the Core that all of them are just not as enlightened as she?! I hardly know where to begin, but perhaps we could start with results from the PDK/Gallup poll or the reform-friendly Education Next poll, both of which suggest that the more people know about the Core, the less they like it.

Aguilar also throws in that old standard "they were implemented too fast." I've addressed this before, but the short answer is that Too Fast was the only way the standards were ever going to be implemented.

Build bridges

Aguilar suggests that coaches find something, somewhere in the teacher's practice that already fits with Common Core and build on that as a way of soothing the poor, anxious, ignorant trained education professional.

This combined with explaining the why of the Core (which Aguilar doesn't really do in this piece) will help the teacher get over the Big Scariness. "Common Core is scary. I can't say that enough." Build bridges. Explain why. "Help her add some feelings to the overflowing bucket of emotion, feelings of excitement and hope."

But at no point should you ever entertain the notion that the teacher's misgivings about the Core are based on sound professional judgment, an understanding of what the Core and its attendant reforms represent, or a mature reflection on her practice and how reforms propose to alter it. Instead, lump all pushback under the heading of Teacher Be Scared, which is of course an irrational visceral gut-based reaction, like a deer spooked by a loud noise.

Who is this woman?

You can read more about Elena Aguilar here at her website. She started out as a substitute teacher and decided to "pursue teaching" by way of Teach for America (raise your hand if you're surprised). To give her credit, however, she stayed in the classroom for a good twelve years, transitioned to instructional coach, and then transitioned into running a consulting business. Her specialty is transformational coaching, and she has consulted for everyone from TFA to charters to public schools, so I suppose she could be coming to your school soon. Try not to be scared.

The Five Steps to Killing Universities

In August of 2012, the website The Homeless Adjunct ran the post "How the American University Was Killed, in Five Easy Steps." While "kill" might be a bit of an overstatement, the post definitely gives a picture of how US colleges and universities have been clobbered, and clobbered hard. Let's see if any of these steps look familiar two years later.

Here are the HA's five steps.

1) Defund the universities. This can be done in the context of "solving" any number of crises in public institutions (particularly those that show left-leaning tendencies). Yup. In PA. we've been slashing funds to colleges and universities like crazy, aided by a drop in the college-age population which exacerbates the same effect.

2) Deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors. This can take the form of shifting from full-time lifers to temporary adjuncts who are both paid less in the salary short term and cost less in the long term (no pensions or, in some cases, no benefits). This also goes hand in hand with creating a great mass of unemployed PhDs clamoring for the few meagre jobs available.

3) Move in a managerial/administrative class who take over governance of the university.Stop having universities run by academics and professors, and bring on the bean counters. Make a business style your priority. This helps re-inforce the first two steps, as bottom-line thinking keeps your focus on cutting costs.

4) Move in corporate culture and corporate money. "Academia should not be the whore of corporatism, but that’s what it has become." We've begun to see the stories of corporate sponsors making sure that economics, for example, be taught by professors who think the right way. Goodbye, academic independence; hello, corporate suck-ups.

5) Destroy the students. Well, leave them crushed by debt, anyway. Encourage them to over-extend themselves with a massive load of student loans. In return, give them a courseload that emphasizes spoon-feeding and regurgitation of basic ideas instead of thinking.

While the rhetoric may be a bit heated, the ideas are actually pretty recognizable to those of us public pre-college education. It's worth remembering that the reformsters are interested in "fixing" sectors of the education world beyond just public schools, and that public school teachers and college profs share, or should share, some concerns. From cutting funds, to bringing in TFA et al to minimize teaching lifers, to injecting corporate culture into schools through regulation and charterization, to trying to turn students into test-taking data-generation units, this all looks pretty familiar.

The writer develops these ideas with considerable more detail; this is definitely one of my "you should go take a look at this" posts.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why Did the Core Have a Bad Year?

Today's big headline from the new Education Next poll is "Teachers No Longer Love CCSS."

Support for the Core among teachers dropped like a stone, from 76% in 2013 to 46% in 2014. That's a lot of love lost. Now, as we move from the "Holy schneikies!" phase into the "Got some splainin' to do" phase, we'll start to ask the big question.


Over at The Fordham, Mike Petrilli hopes he knows why-- Note the phrase, “they will be used to hold public schools accountable for their performance.” Perhaps these words triggered the more negative response. I think Petrilli is hoping in vain. I think there's a much more likely explanation for CCSS's bad year among teachers.

Let's think back to May of 2013. Personally, I'm a fine example of what teachers were like at that point. I didn't know a lot about the Core, and what I did know didn't sound all that bad. As far as I'd heard, a bunch of important people had called together a bunch of teachers to write some standards that could be used across the country to bring a little coherence to the higgledy-piggledy crazy-quilt that is US education. I'm not really a fan of national standards, but as long as they came from educational experts and were largely voluntary, it couldn't hurt to look at them. Heck, if you had asked me in May of 2013 if I supported the Common Core standards, I might very well have said yes. And though there were teachers out there who had already caught on, there were plenty of teachers like me who were perfectly willing to give the whole business a shot.

So how did the reformsters lose all those hearts and minds?

I think it's a measure of how detailed and painstaking and inch-by-inch this massive debate has been that it's easy to lose track of the big picture, the many massively boneheaded things that CCSS supporters did along the way. Let's reminisce about how so many teachers were turned off.

The lying.

Remember how supporters of the Core used to tell us all the time that these standards were written by teachers? All. The. Time. Do you know why they've stopped saying that? Because it's a lie, and at this point, most everybody knows it's a lie. The "significant" teacher input, the basis in solid research-- all lies. When someone is trying to sell you medicine and they tell you that it was developed by top doctors and researchers and you find out it wasn't and they have to switch to, "Well, it was developed by some guys who are really interested in mediciney stuff who once were in a doctor's office"-- it just reduces your faith in the product.

The Involuntariness

In many places, it took a while for it to sink in-- "You mean we're not actually allowed to change ANY of it, and we can only add 15%??!!"

It quickly became clear-- this was not a reform where we would all sit around a table at our own schools and decide how to best to adapt and implement to suit our own students. Session by session, we were sent off to trainings where some combination of state bureaucrats and hired consultants would tell us how it was going to be. We were not being sent off to discuss or contribute our own professional expertise; we were being sent to get our marching orders, which very often even our own administrators were not "important" enough to give us (or understand).

Shut up.

Particularly in the latter half of 2013, we all heard this a lot. Phrased in diplomatic language, of course, but on the state and federal level we were told repeatedly that this was not a discussion, that our input was neither needed nor wanted, and that if were going to raise any sorts of questions, we should just forget about it.

This was particularly true for public schools. After all, the narrative went, public schools were failing and covering it up by lying to students and their parents about how well they were doing. It became increasingly clear that the Common Core were not meant to help us, but to rescue America's children from us. "Just shut up and sit down," said CCSS boosters with a sneer. "You've done enough damage already."

The slander.

Arne Duncan told newspaper editors to paint core opponents as misguided and misinformed. Then he portrayed objectors as whiny white suburban moms. Opposition to CCSS was repeatedly portrayed as coming strictly from the tin hat wing of the Tea Party. If you opened your mouth to say something bad about the Core, you were immediately tagged a right-wing crank. There was no recognition that any complaint about any portion of the Core could possibly be legitimate. It had to be politically motivated or the result of ignorance.

The Money.

The longer the year went on, the more it seemed that every single advocate for the Core was being paid for it. I've been wading into this for a while, and I'll be damned if I can name a single solitary actual grass-roots group advocating for the Core. Instead, we find a sea of groups all swimming in the same money from the same sources.

And at the school level, we also see lots of money-- all of it outbound. Suddenly, with Common Core, there's a long list of things that have to be bought. Can't get new books-- we have to buy computers to take the PARCC. And let's watch a parade of consultants, all making more money than we are, come in and tell us how to do our jobs.

The child abuse.

Many of us just finished our first year of Core-aligned curriculum, and in many cases it was awful. We were required to force students to operate at or beyond frustration level day after day. We watched school stamp out the spirit of the smallest students, whose defining characteristic is that they love everything, including school. While CCSS boosters were off sipping lattes in nice offices, we were there at ground zero watching 180 days of exactly how this reform affected real, live students.

The testing.

You keep saying that the tests are separate from the CCSS. We keep telling you that there is no daylight visible between them here on the ground.

The plan for failure.

There was a moment, even a day for the strong-hearted, where it looked like the Obama administration was going to release us from the educational malpractice that is NCLB. But no-- it soon became clear that we were still trapped in the same terrible movie. Our fates would still be linked to high stakes tests, just in more complicated and stupid ways. You did not have to be terribly cynical to conclude that the goal was for public schools to fail, so that reformsters could "rescue" the students "trapped" in "failing schools."

The backpedaling

As support has crumbled, Core boosters have retracted some of their pronouncements. "We have to build the airplane as we fly it" becomes "we have to take our time and fix these implementation problems." This has the effect of confirming what we suspected-- that they didn't really know what they were doing in the first place.

The implementation dodge was particularly telling. Teachers have heard "That resource/program/widget will work great. You're just using it wrong" a gazillion times. It translates roughly as "This won't help you complete that task, but if you do some other task, it might be useful."

But the thing about CCSS implementation is that Core boosters got to everything that they said they wanted to. So if the implementation messed things up that either means 1) they don't know what they're talking about or 2) the Core really are that bad.

Location location location.

Politicians have understood for at least several decades that you can convince people if you lie deliberately and sincerely, but sometimes (like this one) they forget an important detail. It is easy to lie to people about what is happening in a faraway place like Iran or Siberia. It is much harder to pull of lies about what is going on right in front of their faces.

Core boosters can tell stories all day about what's happening on the business end of their pride and joy, but teachers are actually at ground zero, and they have eyes and ears and brains and professional judgment.

This was a big field test year for CCSS as it spread into more schools than ever before. The drop in teacher support is one more clear indicator that, in the latest phase of rollout, the Core is failing. And as more and more teachers become entangled in this mess of botched national standards, things are only going to get worse. The Core lost support for the same reason that liver seems like a great thing to eat until you actually take a bite of it.

In short, I believe the Core lost teacher support because so many teachers spent the year face to face with it, looking it right in its beady little eyes. They don't love it because they know it so well. I'm willing to bet that by next May, when it's survey time again, the Core is not going to be awash in a new wave of teacher love.

Whatever Happened to Affordable College Education

I enjoy the blog Curmudgeon Central not just because the name makes us some sort of internet cousins, but because the writer, a college professor in Texas, makes me look like Little Mary Sunshine.

Recently, he published a post that jumps off from this internet meme

If you are of a Certain Age (say, mine) then you recognize this is more-or-less accurate. I graduated from college in 1979, but it was a pricey liberal arts school, but my summer job certainly amounted to Real Money in that context. Fast forward to my children, college grads of the 20-Tens, and we're looking at tuition bills that weren't even covered by my full-time job, let alone their summer jobs.

Politico's infamous fact (kind of) checker (sort of) took the meme on, but Curmudgeon Central is not a big truster of Politico, so he did some math of his own.

So… what are the real figures? Well, that summer job: 13 weeks, 40 hours a week, minimum wage ($2.65 at the time) would generate $1378 in income (before taxes). A year’s tuition and fees at the average four-year public university at in-state rates in 1978-79: $688. The summer job, it other words, would for tuition and about half of room and board at the average four-year state university, where the total year’s bill would be $2145. That’s 200% of the cost of tuition, or 64% of the total cost of attendance. Yeah, yeah, sure. Some flagship state universities would have cost more. Students still had to buy books and other supplies. The occasional late-night beer and pizza was de rigeur. And that wages figure was before taxes. [Please note: all figures below exclude taxes. Curmie isn’t so na├»ve that he thinks they don’t matter, but inserting a qualifier every time I cite a statistic is going to get really old for both of us. Please consider it stipulated throughout.]

The piece delves into the real numbers, and then addresses the Big Question-- why the hell did college get so expensive? He presents four reasons:

1) Wages haven't kept pace with inflation. As noted by a gazillion different people, in real dollars, minimum wage has been drifting slowly backwards.

2) Increasing expenses. Everything from additional student amenities to the kudzu-like spread of administrative associate assistants to vice-deans of pudding has upped the costs of operating a university.

3) Fees. Extra fees. Fees that look like options, but which are not. Some universities have taken lessons from the phone company and now use a price structure based on a $10 charge augmented by $150 in fees.

4) State funding. Or rather, the cutting thereof. Here in PA, where we can boast the lion's share of the most expensive public universities in the country, we have this mastered. 

Maybe it's my heightened sensitivity because I teach high school and because I expect to be paying off Parent PLUS loans until I die, but I'm always mystified at the degree to which college affordability is not more vehemently and repeatedly discussed in this country. 

We have let a college education become a luxury item available only to the well-off and in the process turned higher education from an highway that provides mobility between socio-economic classes into a huge wall that helps keep the classes separated. We have made it the goal of all public education to make students ready for college while paying little or no attention to their ability to go there. We might as well teach all of our students classes in How To Do Maintenance on Your Lexus Fleet or How To Properly Manage a Staff of 25 Servants.

At any rate-- take a look at this article. It has actually facts and stuff, with plenty to think about as well.