Thursday, August 29, 2013

Where exactly did CCSS come from, and what does it have to do with Bill Gates?

This article is a pretty thorough treatment of the players in creating CCSS and how Bill Gates has spent his money on the CCSS front.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Data-driven Expert Research

Yesterday a webinar asked me to take some teaching tips from a veteran teacher who had spent four whole years in a classroom in some other state. As the reform tide rises, we are regularly pelted by little chunklets of research as justification for whatever is being sold today. And sometimes perfectly well-meaning ivory tower types toss some educational research about, too.

Now, I don't hate science. I pretty much love science. And real science and real research have taught us some pretty amazing things about how the human brain works, how it processes information, and how learning can happen to it.

But much of what passes for educational research is junk. "Here's some research showing how well this flash card technique worked with 30 college sophomores at a German university! Clearly you should be using these flashcards!"

I don't blame the research world entirely. There is little real research on real students for the same reason there is little true research on pregnant ladies-- because using humans, particularly vulnerable young ones, as guinea pigs, is Just Deeply Wrong.

But when someone is approaching one of my colleagues with a pig in a poke wrapped in a fluffy blanket covered with "research" stickers, here's what I say:

You don't need to throw it out without looking. After all, teachers are supposed to study and reflect. But ask yourself-- was the research done by disinterested parties on a sample of people much like the ones you have in your own classroom. Can it be trusted? And most importantly, do you believe it?

Because here's the thing. Research is very valuable. It's the lifeblood of education. But you know which researcher has engaged in years of study with groups of subjects just like the students in your classroom under conditions just like those in your classroom? You know who has carefully observed those results and knows exactly how they apply in a situation just like the one in your classroom?

That's right. You have. You are the number one researcher, the pre-eminent expert on teaching under the conditions present in your classroom. You are the expert. Don't let anybody convince you otherwise.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Not Excited About CCSS #3 : And we know this how...?

One of the most fundamental problems with the CCSS is this. The basic claim of the CCSS is that if students meet these standards, they will be fully prepared for the working world (or college and THEN a job). "Master all these standards," say the CCSS, "and you will be all set for success at the next level."

And we know this how...?

Is there a body of research that correlates these standards with later success? No.

Was there a consulting board of college instructors who laid out what they needed from incoming students? No.

Were teachers, guidance counselors, and principals consulted to see what, in their experience, led to later success for their former students? No.

No, all that we know is that some powerful amateurs say that meeting these standards will lead to success (defined as "a good job") later in life.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Friday, August 23, 2013

K12 Go Away

Because I travel to plenty of ed sites, the internet is sure that I want to see plenty of ads about K12 and their awesome free on line schooling.

On the one hand, cool, because every ad they show me they pay for, and advertising K12 to me is a waste of their money.

Except, of course, that the money they're wasting is my tax money. The money they're wasting on radio spots and tv ads and big billboards is my tax money.

K12's ads are a great expression of the belief in free government money. The cyber-schools are advertised as free (and include a free computer!!) which is unvarnished baloney.

Aided by the legislature in Harrisburg, cyber-schools are bleeding local school district dry. They highlight one of the major flaws in school choice and its variations (of which cyber schools are just one)-- these kind of choice plans disenfranchise all the taxpayers in a school district who don't have children there.

Are you someone with grown children who wants to see your school district keep neighborhood schools open, because it's good for the community and it provides a solid education? Well, too bad. In many school districts, a handful of parents get to decide that the school should be closed because they want their child to attend the free school on the free computer.

In PA the problem is seriously exacerbated because of our crazy-pants formula assumes that if one student leaves a classroom, suddenly it's cheaper to operate that classroom, as if the light, heat, teacher, bussing, and other fixed costs are reduced. Meanwhile, the competing cyber-school business is paid vastly more than the cost of providing their service. I tried to think of an analogy for this, but it is so flipping insane that there isn't one. No wonder investors are getting into the cyber-school business-- it's like printing money. It's like running a used car lot where the customer hands you a filled out check and you give them whatever car you feel like giving them.

So, K12, no, I'm not interested. You aren't free, you aren't public, and for many , many students, you aren't even an education. Go away, and give me my tax dollars back.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Endgame: Assembly Line Education

Where is all this headed?

Industry took a giant step in this country when manufacturers figured out how to use the assembly line. Instead of highly trained artisans, only people with simple, easily learned skills were needed to create products. This meant the wages of easily-replaced workers could be driven down.

In the fifties and sixties, the food industry figured out how to take the model out of the factory and put it into a service industry. Again, the advantage was that instead of having to hire a chef (high level of training and expertise, hard to replace, and therefor expensive) fast food joints could hire, well, anybody with the most basic level of skills. They could be easily replaced and paid minimum wage (in fact, the job requirements are so low that fast food places can easily hire developmentally disabled workers and get paid to do it by the government).

As corporate reform forces try to move toward a privatized, for-profit education model, they face one hard reality: do a better job with your factory and you can bring in more money, but the revenue side of a school is almost impossible to change. Doing a better job doesn't increase revenue: a school doesn't take in more money for A students than for C students. And capacity is hard to budge.

So the major way to increase profit is to control costs. And the big problem with costs in schools is that you have to employ all these certified people with training and expertise. The solution? Change the system so that you can hire any shmoe off the street.

End the state requirement that teachers must have certification. Let anyone teach.

Create teacher-proof programs in a box, so that all the "teacher" has to do is open the box and read the materials (This is a double-win, because you can make money on the materials, too).

Do away with tenure and seniority, so that you can get rid of any teacher at any time for any reason.

Set your system up for churn. Let people stay in the job only if they settle for no real raises ever. Load up on TFA urchins who will teach a few years and get out.

Now you can drive costs down dramatically and create a school that is no more expensive to staff than a MacDonald's or a phone center.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Not Excited About CCSS #2: People Are Not Toasters

One of the repeated arguments in favor of a national standard is mobility: "If my kid has to move from Akron to Cucamonga, I want him to come into a new school that is the same place in classes as his own school."

On the surface, there is some merit to this argument. But on closer examination, we see the same thing wrong with all manner of standardization in education (and, for that matter, the world).

Let's look at this. Under CCSS, the argument goes, I should be able to teleport into any classroom in the country and find basically the same thing going on. Let's put that another way-- I should be able to teleport students out of any classroom in the country, gather them all into one room, and find them all pretty much in identical spots on their educational journey.

And there's my problem. Stop by my classroom in March. There's a room of students who have been exposed to exactly the same teaching program. Will they all be on exactly the same page? Of course not-- because human beings are not toasters. Every human being grows in his/her own way in his/her own time.

To use the CCSS approach to infants, the feds would declare that all infants must say their first words by month nine. They would offer a list of appropriate words for the child to say. And if the child didn't say words at month nine, the child would be labeled in need of remediation (which would be available in several spiffy Pearson-produced modules).

Or we could use the CCSS approach to courtship and marriage. Federal regulations would determine that people should meet at a certain age, proceed through a certain number of dates, and become engaged after a certain period of time, and then get married after an engagement of the standardized length. And we would expect that any husband and wife from any part of the country could be expected, based on their age, to be at a certain federally-approved stage of their relationship. Heck-- we should be able to take any husband and switch him out for any other husband of the same age and the two marriages should go on without a blip.

Human beings are not toasters and schools are not assembly lines. Standardized tests and standardized programs fly in the face of everything we know about human beings and about real learning.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

What David Coleman Wants You To Read

This article ran back in 2011, while the clouds were still gathering for CCSS. It gives a pretty clear picture of Coleman's bleak, weak vision for what American students should be taught about reading.

SF Gate Takes on CCSS

"A top-down program imposed on states in order to qualify for Race to the Top funds, the curriculum is the fruit of a process tainted with politics, vested interests and a lack of transparency."

 The SF Gate ran this, but it is written, incredibly enough, by the chairman of the Burpee company in Bucks County, PA. It's a pretty concise compendium of what there is to not like about CCSS.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Not Excited About CCSS #1 : Central Planning Sucks

It will be easier if I approach CCSS with a list rather than trying to organize all thoughts at once. So don't expect this to be a thorough well-rounded view.

I'm not excited about CCSS because I'm not excited about national or state anything when it comes to education. Any time some bureaucrat in an office hundreds/thousands of miles away wants to tell me best way to teach the student who's sitting six feet away from me, I'm not interested. You aren't here, and you aren't a teacher. You don't know. And the fact that you don't know that you don't know just further convinces me that you really, truly don't know.

I get the appeal of standardization, of lining up all the ducks in one big efficient row. But there's one thing you must have for Central Planning For Everyone to work-- you have to have somebody at the center of things who knows what to do. If you're going to get everyone in line behind One Right Answer, then somebody has to be able to reliable provide One Right Answer every time.

That person does not exist. Central Planning fails. It always fails. And it always fails because it creates a brittle, non-robust system that wastes energy making people line up behind an answer that is often wrong, because nobody can be right all the time.

Read chaos theory. Read information theory. What we know is that the one "right" answer always emerges and fights its way through a sea of many and varied answers, and you have to have that sea of chaos for the right answer to emerge.

It's seductive to think, "Can't we just skip all the wasted wrong answers and go straight to the right one." The short answer is, "No, we can't."

Edison famously observed that he got the right light bulb by eliminating all the wrong ones. He couldn't skip the process.

The same philosophy would lead us to conclude that since only a couple of games really decided the NFL championship last year, this year we should only play those games that matter. Which is, of course, impossible.

Central planning will always fail. Central planning by people who aren't experts in the field will certainly fail (no, despite what you've been told, no teachers helped write the CCSS). Central planning for a process which involves millions of distinct individuals, each with distinct and specific needs, weaknesses and strengths will extra-super for-sure fail.

Note: Yes, I know that one of the S's is supposed to stand for "State" and thereby help the fiction that CCSS is not a national standard, but that IS a fiction. CCSS is federal-level central planning.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Broad Academy

There are plenty of terms to learn when it comes to the school "reform" movement. One is the Broad Academy, which is turning out school "leaders" of a particular philosophical bent. Diane Ravitch's blog (which I expect I'll be linking more than a few times) offers a quick primer with links to more info.

"Just like any other job..."

And before anybody starts in with the "Teachers shouldn't whine about losing seniority or tenure. In the private sector people have to perform or they lose their job."

I'm going to skip the argument about where, exactly, in the private sector this occurs (remember that time all those bank ceo's trashed the US economy and lost their jobs because of poor job performance? no, me neither), because even without that discussion, the argument is still bogus.

Here's the pitch that's being proposed to recruit new hires:

"Come work for us. You can never have a real raise if you want to keep working for us, though your employment and pay will also be dependent on your performance evaluation. The evaluation will be designed by people who don't know how to do your job, and it will be based on factors that don't have anything to do with how well you do your job."

If anyone can look me in the eye and say that's how they handle hiring at their private sector workplace, then I'll listen to their rhetoric about how teachers have to suck it up and deal with employment the way folks do in the "real world."

Bad News from Philadelphia

 The news from Philly today is that the SRC (the government appointed board that replaced the elected school board about a decade ago) has okayed suspension of various school code rules, most notably the seniority rule. So now they can hire back whatever teachers they wish. Want to bet that the list is short on teachers near the top of the pay scale?

We've seen how academic "crises" can be used to break open public schools. Philly and Chicago show how a financial crisis can be used as well.

For bonus points, want to guess how long it will now take them to "solve" the crisis, now that they have the rules changes that they want?