Hershey Profits Fund $17 Billion Endowment for Nonprofit School, but Board Member Says It Won’t Let Him See Financial Records

(This story was originally published by ProPublica.)

by Bob Fernandez, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Charlotte Keith, Spotlight PA

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

For over a year, lawyer Bob Heist, then-chairman of the Milton Hershey School’s board, says he sought internal financial records detailing the spending history of the $17 billion charity, which has a mission to educate low-income students for free.

He now says he is being denied records he needs as a board member charged with overseeing the Pennsylvania boarding school’s operations, and earlier this month he sued the school to obtain the documents. It’s an extremely unusual step for a sitting board member, taken against an extremely unusual institution: The Milton Hershey School is the wealthiest pre-college educational institution in the United States. It controls 80% of the Hershey Co. candy giant’s voting shares, and reaps profits from the sale of Hershey chocolate bars, Reese’s peanut butter cups and SkinnyPop-brand snacks sold in thousand of U.S. retail stores.

The dispute is the latest in a series of legal entanglements involving the nonprofit Milton Hershey School and the members of its governing board. Two previous financial controversies raised questions about whether the school’s spending was serving the needs of its roughly 2,100 students, as required by law and enforced by the state attorney general’s office.

The suit also raises anew questions about board oversight of the vast Milton Hershey fortune, donated by the candy company’s founder to help poor and at-risk children. For months, The Inquirer, Spotlight PA and ProPublica have investigated this and other issues, including whether school leaders and board members have fulfilled that mission to a degree commensurate with the charity’s vast resources. The publications will share their findings in upcoming stories.

For years, critics have argued that the school, and the endowment that funds it, could be spending hundreds of millions more than it does. Because of Milton Hershey’s restrictive deed on the endowment, the charity cannot dip into any of its principal, now worth $16 billion. (That’s roughly the size of the endowment of the University of Pennsylvania, which is not subject to those constraints.) It can spend the income earned from those holdings, but it only spends part of that each year and has amassed about $1 billion in unspent income. The school recently received court approval to use some of those funds to build and run six preschool centers around the state that, in five years, will serve 900 impoverished children, a potentially significant expansion of its mission.

By far the nation’s richest private school, Milton Hershey currently spends about $139,000 per child each year in total costs. The residential school vigorously screens its applicants, and it offers rigorous academics as well as medical, dental and social services to students, many of whose families are below the federal poverty line.

A spokesperson for the school, Lisa Scullin, said in a statement that it has provided Heist with “extensive financial information and will continue to respond to any reasonable requests in his capacity as a board member.”

Heist said in the suit that the financial information provided didn’t include everything he was asking for and contained inconsistencies. Ricardo Meza, Heist’s lawyer and a former federal prosecutor in the Chicago area, said, “We are going to let the complaint speak for itself.”

Heist, who lives in Chicago and is a Hershey graduate himself, said he needed the records to ensure that school funds were not being “wasted,” to find out whether the school reported accurate information to the IRS, and to determine if consultants “exerted undue influence in order to receive funds.”

A spokesperson for Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, when asked whether the office plans to look into the issues raised by Heist, said the office had been “made aware of the petition and will monitor it, as we do with all legal filings against charitable entities across the Commonwealth.”

Because the nonprofit school doesn’t rely on public donations or accept funds from federal and state agencies, it operates with little public oversight. And as a charity, it pays no federal or state income taxes. In exchange for the tax breaks, Milton Hershey School is required by law to serve the public good by fulfilling its charitable mission — lifting low-income children out of poverty — a responsibility overseen by the state attorney general’s office and its charitable trust section.

If the attorney general’s office learns of practices or decisions that appear to harm the interests of Hershey students or waste trust assets, its staff can investigate and seek reform. It has done so at least twice in the past decade when disputes such as Heist’s have erupted among board members overseeing the school.

Such was the case in 2010, when The Inquirer revealed that Milton Hershey School purchased a money-losing golf course for $12 million, more than double what it was worth according to the school’s own appraisal. The deal quietly tossed a financial lifeline to local investors, including Richard H. Lenny, chief executive officer of the Hershey Co. at the time and a member of the board that approved the purchase. After acquiring the private course, board members spent an additional $5 million to build a Scottish-themed clubhouse, with a restaurant and bar, and opened it to the public.

Then-Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican who later became governor, immediately began an investigation into the potential conflicts of interest and possible waste of charitable assets with the purchase of the foundering golf course.

Additional fuel was added to that investigation in February 2011, when Robert Reese, a board member and the president of the Hershey Trust Co., sued the charity and fellow board members. He alleged they were violating their fiduciary duties to wisely spend the charity’s assets to benefit poor children. As part of his 20-page suit, Reese claimed that there was “no financial analysis done by the trustees and its officers to support the $12 million price” for the golf course and that compensation for Hershey board members had tripled since 2002 — from $35,000 for a year of service to between $100,000 and $130,000.

The state-chartered Hershey Trust Co., a for-profit community bank founded by Milton Hershey, exists primarily to manage the billions of dollars in the Milton Hershey School’s endowment. It has no retail banking products, and its directors, who are paid at least $112,000 a year, are the same individuals as the school’s board.

Reese, grandson of the inventor of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, later dropped his lawsuit, saying his deteriorating eyesight made it impossible for him to carry it on. The charity denied his claims.

In a settlement with the attorney general in 2013, school leaders and board members agreed to get approval from the attorney general’s office for any real estate purchases over $250,000, tightened board policies to avoid conflicts of interest, and placed limits on how much board members could pay themselves. The charity also promised to use “best efforts” to appoint board members with expertise in “at-risk/dependent children” and “residential childhood education.” The attorney general’s office concluded that the board members had not violated their fiduciary duty.

Shortly after the settlement, the school announced that it would use the golf course for new student housing.

In 2016, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General opened a new investigation into the charity’s board for apparently violating the 2013 agreement, along with lavish travel, board infighting and new allegations of conflicts of interest.

A leak of internal reports and travel expenses detailed the board’s behavior. In July 2016, the charity entered another settlement with the state attorney general’s office. The charity agreed to reconstitute its board, with several board members retiring and others limited to serving for a maximum of 10 years, and the attorney general gained the power to approve new board members, in hopes of ushering in a new period of good governance. The charity’s chairperson said she was “satisfied with the outcome.”

Heist’s petition is highly unusual, experts said, because directors of a charity typically have access to financial documents.

“A director of a nonprofit corporation in Pennsylvania is fundamentally allowed to see the books and records of the organization to determine whether the funds are being spent properly,” said Don Kramer, chairman of the nonprofit practice at Philadelphia law firm Montgomery McCracken.

Heist, who specializes in commercial law and litigation, would seem an unusual legal adversary for the institution.

A 1982 graduate of Milton Hershey School, he served as chair of the alumni association before being elected a member of the school’s board in 2011. In 2018, Heist took over as chairman of the school’s board and president of the Hershey Trust Co.

He took the recent legal action “reluctantly and only after numerous unsuccessful efforts” to obtain spending details from school officials, according to the April 2 filing. Heist has been trying to access this information since September 2019, the petition says, including issuing no fewer than five requests this year alone to the current board chair, M. Diane Koken, a former Pennsylvania insurance commissioner.

Reached by phone, Koken declined to comment, referring a reporter to Scullin, the school’s spokesperson.

Heist is seeking detailed financial documents — invoices, purchase orders, payment confirmations — covering five years of spending on six budget line items, including documents from the office of school president Pete Gurt.

Heist said in the suit that he needs them to assess whether “substantial and significant multi-million dollar School operations budget variances” are in keeping with the school’s mission.

The Heist dispute is spilling into public view after what had appeared to be a period of reform and relative calm for the charity. In a letter late last year announcing that he would step down as board chair, Heist cited the board’s improved relationship with “our regulators,” saying they were working closely with officials “so they have a better understanding of our activities and are not caught off-guard by future announcements.”

The school has until May 3 to file a response to Heist’s complaint. A hearing on the case is set for later this summer.

Posted in Ethics, information suppression, K-12 | Leave a comment

Mary Byrne’s letter to US Education Department regarding information collection under FERPA

This is a response to ED’s questions regarding the proposed extension of a currently approved information collection under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as posed in the Federal Register, January 5, 2021:

(1) Is this collection necessary to the proper functions of the Department?

No. Despite the fact there is no Constitutional authority for a federal department of education, Congress justified creating the Department in “Department of Education Organization Act” (1979) as promoting “the general welfare of the United States.” That same act stated in Sec. 101 (3) parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and States, localities, and private institutions have the primary responsibility for supporting that parental role; (4) in our Federal system, the primary public responsibility for education is reserved respectively to the States and the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States.” ED is not authorized by the U.S. Constitution or the Act establishing its existence to collect Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of individual students for the “general welfare” of the United States. Furthermore, it has no need to do so as explained in an ACLU letter to ED dated May 23, 2011 stating aggregated data allows for accountability while protecting student privacy. In sum, aggregated data is sufficient for the purposes of a national level ED.

Overreach of the federal government in monitoring the education activities of individual students was supposed to be limited by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). Two purposes of FERPA were to protect students’ PII and allow parents to access their children’s education records. In 2008, however, President G.W. Bush’s administration quietly rewrote the regulations governing FERPA to allow states, school districts, and schools to share students’ PII with any third party company from school records without parent consent. A simple change of the definition for “school official” enabled non-employees of the district to access students’ private information. Then, in 2011, FERPA regulations promulgated by the Obama administration further weakened PII protections by greatly expanding the universe of individuals and entities who have access to the student data (including prospective employers), broadening the definition of programs that might generate data subject to this access, and by eliminating the requirement of express legal authority for certain governmental activities.

The proper function of the Department as described in its founding statute does not include data collection and access to student data by non-governmental entities through processes that circumvent parents’ informed consent.

(2) Will this information be processed and used in a timely manner? (3) Is the estimate of burden accurate? (4) How might the Department enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected?

These questions control the narrative about PII protections, and assume that only enhancement of currently collected information (as endorsed by Big Tech-funded organizations such as Data Quality Campaign) is necessary. ED asks how it should “enhance” its current data collection activities rather how it should enhance PII protections demonstrates an ongoing lack of responsiveness to Americans’ concerns about Big Tech’s control of federal policies. This question assumes continuance of the status quo that is not consistent with the constitutional purpose of the federal government which is to protect individual rights – including the right to privacy as implied in the 14 Amendment.

Unfortunately, these questions continue a pattern of powerful influences to thwart attempts of lawmakers to update—or totally overhaul FERPA, to increase PII protections. In 2015, Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) reintroduced their 2014 “Protecting Student Privacy Act.” The bill would have prohibited the use of students’ personally identifiable information for advertising and marketing purposes and minimize the amount of such information that is transferred from schools to private companies, among other changes.

That same year, Senator David Vitter filed his “Student Privacy Protection Act” that would have expanded the types of student information covered under FERPA, require educational institutions to obtain prior consent from parents before sharing that information with third parties, outlaw a host of data-sharing practices that have become commonplace over the past decade, and require educational agencies and private actors who violate FERPA to pay cash penalties to individual families. Consistent with the role and authority of parents over children’s education as described in the “Department of Education Organization Act,” Vitter said, “Parents are right to feel betrayed when schools collect and release information about their kids. This is real, sensitive information —and it doesn’t belong to some bureaucrat in Washington D.C. We need to make sure that parents and students have complete control over their own information.” Regrettably, the questions posed above demonstrate that protecting the rights of individual students and their families is not the priority of the Department. ED’s questions imply ED is only interested in enhancing the violations to personal privacy conducted under the current iteration of FERPA.

(5) How might the Department minimize the burden of this collection on the respondents, including through the use of information technology?

Again, the assumption of the question is that the privacy of individuals is subordinate to the goals of Big Tech. The question should be stated in a manner that reduces the burden of individuals to protect their PII from agencies such as ED, rather than enhance the collection of PII using information technology for the convenience of unidentified third parties.

Posted in Education policy, FERPA, Mary Byrne, privacy | Leave a comment

The Sabotage of Public Education

By Bruce Deitrick Price

Genuine rigorous testing of educational ideas is rare in America. Why? Because practical testing usually goes against what the professors want to do. Their impractical ideas don’t perform well in the real world.

For example, Operation Follow-Through was the biggest, most systematic testing in American education, continuing for ten years, 1967 to 1977. This research showed absolutely that common sense, often called Direct Instruction, works best. Quite simply, that’s where a teacher teaches, and students learn. Honest educators would say, okay, that’s what works best. Let’s use it.

Our educators said no such thing, which is shocking. After all, Follow-Through was a government project. It should have been conducted in an honorable way. But the professors in charge reneged on their promise that the method that won the ten-year competition would be implemented across the country. Education professors further launched a nasty campaign defaming Direct Instruction and its creator, Siegfried Engelmann (1931–2019).

The chart accompanying this article should be studied by everybody interested in fostering better schools and more efficient classrooms. You’ll see there were nine groups of experts, each trying to prove the superiority of his favored method. (If helpful, use reading glasses or a magnifying glass. God is in the small print.)

Engelmann and Direct Instruction, described in the first column on the left, won overwhelmingly. The color bars (dark blue, sky blue, and deep red) show results in three categories: basic academic skills, problem-solving skills, self-esteem. You can see at a glance that Direct Instruction was far superior to the others, which in many cases underperformed relative to traditional methods by great margins.

Engelmann’s competitors emphasize behavior analytics, self-esteem, cognitive curricula, problem-solving, long-term retention, and almost anything but whether children are learning knowledge. For example, the sponsors of the Tucson Early Education Model explain that “there is relatively less emphasis on which items are taught and on the transmission of specific content, and more emphasis on ‘learning to learn.'” It was safe to predict that students learning to learn would not learn very much.

The overall pattern is clear. The methods that might commonly be called Progressive or Modern are failures. It’s as if these educators wanted to perfect methods sure not to work. Don’t underestimate their subversive tendencies. They had already put sight-words in public schools to defeat phonics; in 1962, these people had introduced New Math as a way to keep children from learning arithmetic (both conclusions based on this writer’s research). So we can sense they thought they were on a roll, and all they had to do was promote anything but Direct Instruction. Unfortunately for their takeover plans, Engelmann’s ideas prevailed by margins too great to be ignored.

When the competition ended, the professors submitted after-action reports. Basically, they tried hard to discredit Engelmann’s victory. The most vocal critique was by Professor House et al. (1978). Their article — along with several rebuttals from the original evaluation team and other researchers — was published by the Harvard Educational Review in 1978. The authors were extremely dissatisfied with the pronouncement of the evaluators that the basic skills models (i.e., Engelmann) outperformed the other models. The authors complained that basic skills are decidedly just that — basic. The authors imply that basic skills are only taught through “rote methods” — a pejorative term.

Engelmann has identified the impasse here. “Fundamentally,” he commented, “these people are looking for magic.” They want children to learn through talk and projects, not through systematic study, immersion in academics, or memorization.

Progressive ideas tend to be soft and abstract; it’s as if a class of teenagers spent a year discussing their feelings about tennis but never played tennis. But what works, according to Engelmann, is learning the simplest facts and then building on them. Wikipedia notes, “According to the program sponsors, anything presumed to be learned by students must first be taught by the teacher.” That requirement is both radical and witty. Progressives like to suppose that children pick up knowledge from the air or drinking water — that is, magically. That’s why there is now so little emphasis on spelling, vocabulary, and grammar — that is, the basics.

John Dewey was the grandfather of most Progressive ideas. He seemed to believe that children are delicate and should not be forced or disciplined. He said before 1900 that he didn’t want punishment in his ideal school. Decades later, the Summerhill school in England proposed that children should be allowed to study whatever they want each day. No rules. (Bank Street Model, the middle one on the chart, promotes the same philosophy.) Hippie communes tend to like this thinking. It might work for mature, self-directed children. But even they are likely to end up with a very uneven education. It’s the job of parents and teachers to suggest what should be primary, secondary, and lower, based on the experience of human civilization over thousands of years.

Siegfried Englemann’s educational philosophy is simple genius. Teach facts in an orderly, systematic way. As the years go by, your students will become educated people. No magic required. Just common sense.

Coda:

The U.S. has had three giants in education: John Saxon in the teaching of math, Rudolf Flesch in the teaching of reading, and Siegfried Engelmann in routine instruction across all subjects. The fascinating pattern throughout K–12 is that the Education Establishment expends vast energy and budgets trying to con Americans into accepting what is clearly inferior.

Posted in Bruce Dietrick Price, constructivism, Curriculum & Instruction, Education Fraud, information suppression | Leave a comment

Comments of Mary Byrne to Springfield, MO public schools board on critical race theory

Mary R. Byrne, Ed.D.
December 8, 2020
______________________________________________________________

I’d like to address Focus Area 5, Goal 1 of the 2019-2020 Strategic Plan End of Year Report that will be presented tonight specifically with regard to the following language:

Facing Racism training objectives included but were not limited to:
■ Prepare leaders to understand cultural consciousness and how to be aware of the impact of cultural differences
Introduce the components of critical race theory
■ Understand the historical role of racism and systems of oppression.

If you as board members are not intimately aware of what Critical Race Theory is or how it is applied in your professional development required content, then please educate yourself on how you are spending our tax dollars.

First, please be advised, if you are not aware already, that Critical Race Theory (CRT) is rooted in Critical Theory developed at the Frankfort School in Germany, and is the foundational philosophy of Marxism. The race conscious approach of CRT undermines liberalism which is the philosophy on which the U.S. Constitution is based is a contributing factor to the undermining of U.S. history.

Second, please be advised that proponents of White fragility identify academic content such as the scientific method which includes objective, rational linear thinking, cause and effect relationships, and quantitative emphasis (i.e., mathematics) as an aspect of White Culture in the United States as indicated on the table I have provided as an attachment to this cover page. The table, “Some Aspects and Assumptions of White Culture in the United States,” was developed by Judith H. Katz, a consultant on diversity education.

In addition to a cornerstone of science and medicine being categorized as “White,” the nuclear family, including a father, mother, and multiple children as a basic social unit is targeted for dissolution by groups that promote social change based on Critical Race Theory such as Black Lives Matter, Inc. Note that this position aligns with a goal of the Communist Manifesto and is antithetical to the religious teaching of a large number of churches in this school district, specifically, those who teach the 5th Commandment described in the Book of Exodus – Honor thy father and mother.

Finally, the racist nature of anti-racism education, was widely publicized in several national publications this past summer. I have attached an article Jonah Goldberg published in the New York Post last July. Goldberg critiqued the white fragility content imposed on school personnel as professional development stating, “This nonsense works on the assumption that mainstream, bourgeois norms — hard work, delayed gratification, punctuality, etc. — have no intrinsic or extrinsic value separate and apart from white culture and white privilege. That’s not only insane, it’s harmful, because it gives people permission to reject these norms as “structures of oppression” . . ..”

I can assure you, that the lack of personnel focus on academic content and how to teach it and the deliberate undermining of American history has contributed to the decline in academic achievement by students in this district. Consider well the effects of your decision to continue this line of professional development as you consider the impact they will have on SPS students, their parents, and on community support for SPS from all groups represented in this district.

Posted in Curriculum & Instruction, History, Humanities, K-12, Mary Byrne, Social Studies | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

K–12: The Life and Death of the Mind

By Bruce Deitrick Price

The life of the mind. This lovely phrase states what education is supposed to be about.. All things bright and cerebral. Play chess. Write a story. Devise a plan for any goal. Weigh evidence for and against any proposal. Note that you could be perfectly still. These activities occur inside the brain.

Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) wrote a book about the contemplative life, about thinking itself. Her title was The Life of the Mind. The phrase provides an elegant way to gauge the success of our public schools. Good schools enlarge the life of the mind. Bad schools do the opposite.

Perversely, and to a startling degree, our K–12 schools encourage the death of the mind. The strategy is straightforward. Discredit and eliminate the traditional basics — reading, arithmetic, knowledge, and the discipline to use them.

Reading is taught in confusing and counterproductive ways. Similarly, arithmetic is undercut by dismissing mastery and memorization. Foundational information, including geography, history, and science, is scattered about like parts from an IKEA project you don’t know how to assemble.

Allen Tate, a famous poet, said: “The purpose of education is … the discipline of the mind for its own sake; these ends are to be achieved through the mastery of fundamental subjects which cluster around language and number[.]”

Progressive educators seem to have reached a deep insight.. If they can limit “language and number,” everything else is limited. Taking no chances, they also seem intent on limiting fundamental knowledge. There are now hundreds of videos on the internet where people on the street are asked simple questions, a quick way of showing how ignorant our society has become. Look at a half-dozen videos by Jay Leno, Jesse Watters, Mark Dice, Jimmy Kimmel, and a new one called “my world is getting dumber.” Yes, it is.

The life of the mind has become disconnected from the life of children in our public schools. It’s like talking about the athletic life of people confined to their beds. The death of the mind may be more commonplace than the life of the mind.

One literary metaphor might be a neighborhood built on toxic waste. But the malignancy in public schools seems more intentional and personal. Imagine homes built on an Indian burial ground. Angry spirits roam the neighborhood. They are malevolent — grabbing at your feet, pulling you down. The professors who design classroom methods seem hostile toward children, academic achievement, and their own country.

If there are constraints on all things cognitive, mental, intellectual, or academic, what happens to the life of the mind? It shrivels.

The best way to prepare children to do all these things is simply to do them, every day, starting early. If you want your children to ski, put their boots on and take them to a beginner’s slope. Kids should start with the simple version of everything. If they cannot play chess, they play checkers. If they can’t play checkers, they play tic-tac-toe. School should feel easy for children. That’s how you entice them into learning, unlike Common Core, which tricks them into giving up.

The pretenders in control of our public schools start with elaborately difficult things. Or they don’t start at all. There you have the secret for destroying the life of the mind.

The Education Establishment can get away with its intellectual infantilization because there’s little criticism. There is only an all-enveloping silence and apparent acceptance of what the ideological extremists demand. Foundations, universities, and the media appear to agree. Well, you know what liberals used to say: if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. That’s especially true in the case of our newspapers and other media.

This article is intended to help everyone pretend you are a child in our public schools. You have been taught very little.. You can hardly read. You cannot multiply and divide.. Academically, you’re the walking wounded. Finally, the life of the mind is a half-life. How does it feel?

The Education Establishment fills the air with new verbiage, new programs, new initiatives, new goals, new jargon, new marketing plans. These people really do seem to hate clarity and transparency. Their ideas have nothing to do with curing the problem; their ideas are the problem.

They should stop doing the same counterproductive things they have been doing for years. From now on, do what the song suggests: teach the children well.

Here are some examples of how it probably feels to have no life of the mind: extreme forgetfulness. Dementia. Near drowning. Alcoholism. Amnesia. Oxygen deprivation. Traumatic brain injury.

Concussion — it’s probably a lot like that. The best people never tire of lamenting the violence of football even as they support educational policies that achieve the same results.

Bruce Deitrick Price’s new book is Saving K–12: What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them?

Posted in Bruce Dietrick Price, Common Core, constructivism, Curriculum & Instruction, information suppression, K-12 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Hoping for a Stronger Focus on Public Education after November 3, 2020

Whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden wins in the presidential election of 2020, we need a new kind of Secretary of Education—someone who has classroom teaching experience beyond grade 5 and has administered an elementary, middle, or high school for at least a couple of years or so. This experience gives teaching faculty a chance to understand and tell us a little bit about a candidate’s supervisory style. No need for a particular ethnicity or race or gender. We’ve tried using all these sociocultural criteria, especially in our major cities. But no criterion has worked for most kids.

Are recent nation-wide riots, looting, and arson all in large part expressions of our frustration with and rage at seemingly failed or ineffective educational institutions. We haven’t tried yet to make other institutions or agencies for public health or safety responsible for educating the nation’s children. We need to try, because it is clear that public educational facilities are no longer capable of educating our young or producing productive citizens?

There are several questions we should ask ourselves to try to understand the basis for the many waves of rioting in our major cities in recent years.

1. Why haven’t our educational institutions found effective remedial strategies for low-achieving students by now—over 50 years after the first federal grants to low-income schools and communities in ESEA in 1965?
2. Do schools in undeveloped or under-developed countries produce similar or lower levels of performance on the TIMSS, PIRLS, and PISA tests given to comparable children of low-income parents in this country on these tests? These have been the chief international tests available for our states to participate in.
3. What are the average scores in performance categories for each demographic group in countries with many non-dominant population groups as in the USA, Australia, Canada, and Singapore?

Maybe education researchers have looked at the wrong things or not asked the right questions.

1. How much reading or other homework have teachers assigned their students in K-12?
2. How many parents check the time their children go to bed every night and how much they read or practice every day?
3. Why have pre-schools on average, or after-school programs extending school teaching hours, failed to create equity among demographic groups in the K-12 school population?
4. Why has the use of literary texts and curriculum-aligned textbooks whose subject matter and vocabulary have been reduced in difficulty failed to boost minority scores?

Who could be recommended for Secretary of Education? Perhaps all parents would agree that such a person needs classroom teaching experience, knows well at least one of the subjects typically taught in K-12, and has read a lot and writes well. All parents might also agree that it would be useful to have a Secretary of Education who knows beginning reading research as well as research on beginning arithmetic education.

Here are some of the names I would recommend for consideration, whether or not each name is well-known or addresses all the criteria set forth above: Emily Hanford, an education writer who has thoroughly researched beginning reading issues, Robert Siegler, a well-known mathematics educator and researcher, David Geary, an expert on early childhood education, Liping Ma, a China-born teacher and researcher on early mathematics education, Vicki Jacobs, an expert in teacher training in English and language arts, and Michael Fitzpatrick, principal at the Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School in Massachusetts. Susan Sclafani (a first-rate administrator who worked under Rod Paige in Texas) should be considered, as would lawyer Robert Scott (he worked as a commissioner in Texas) and Alan Safran, developer of the well-known Match Charter School in Boston. There are many other relatively unknown names that could be considered.

It is partially Congress’s fault that a regularly increasing amount of federal and state money in over fifty years hasn’t helped low-income minorities in education. Congress hasn’t targeted the areas of influence on school achievement noted in the 1966 Coleman Report and the 1965 Moynihan Report. The two most comprehensive reports on differences in academic achievement in this country found family background more influential than schools and teachers. In other words, social factors were more important than educational interventions. The Coleman Report also noted, based on a test its authors devised, that the teachers of non-black students had greater knowledge and verbal skills than did the teachers of black children. It made no specific recommendations, but it is not difficult to infer that low-achieving students would benefit from academically stronger teachers. Recent information can be found in – https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2020144. It is clear that whatever our public schools have done since WWII hasn’t increased achievement in low-achieving students.

In recent years, many educators have promoted school choice, especially via charter schools, as ways to strengthen low-achieving students. But school choice may be useful to promote only if curriculum choices and the portability of funds for individual students are allowed. Letting public money be used for children in schools their parents want them to attend (whether private religious or secular schools), without a mandate to use Common Core-aligned standards, tests, textbooks, and teachers trained in Common Core-aligned material may finally enable school choice to be the motivational mechanism its supporters envisioned. The benefits of school choice are unlikely to emerge within the context of a Common Cored curriculum.

To ensure civic equity, it is likely we need to nationalize one subject–civic education—the major subject where common historical and contemporary knowledge across schools would make sense—such as the basic principles in the US Constitution. Some educators have strongly supported the use of some of the questions on our naturalization quiz as the basis for a high school graduation test. But to ensure diverse voices in history and geography at the classroom level, teachers should invite each parent of students in their grades 3-8 classes to recommend one good ethnic story/poem to read and discuss in class, with close relatives invited to attend and participate.

Public education should not be ignored by the winner of the 2020 presidential election, but we do need to rethink what we do in K-12 and not repeat the mistakes of the last 50 years.

Posted in Education policy, Education Reform, ESSA, K-12, Reading & Writing, Sandra Stotsky | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Stanford Professor Jo Boaler’s Math Revolution and War Against Algebra 2

Recently, Stanford GSE professor Jo Boaler, the foremost champion for reform math, has scaled up her campaign to displace algebra 2 with “data science” in American high schools: https://www.salon.com/2020/09/26/teaching-data-science-instead-of-calculus-high-schools-math-debate/?fbclid=IwAR2_EUTcMIrSEK2Y2HffJchGn4EKZ7IQOK4ePvGxttvl407m2Oo8Ut8nj7Q.

For decades, Stanford University has lent its prestigious fame to help Jo Boaler advance her reform-math campaigns and gain an unmatched influence on math teachers. How is she misguiding K-12 math education? My essay, “Jo Boaler’s Reform Math Fallacy,” has all the evidence.

According to Jo Boaler and other math reformists, traditional math is racist, elitist,
and inequitable, particularly for underrepresented minorities and women. Traditional
math emphasizes outdated, boring, procedural, rote-learning materials while
neglecting conceptual understanding. Traditional math questions are narrow and
closed thus incompatible with growth mindsets. Timed tests and the traditional
grading methods cause anxiety and traumatize students.

Jo Boaler’s reform-math ideas are summarized below.

1. Ban times table tests
Jo Boaler said in an ideal world she would ban times tables tests; she had never
memorized her times tables. “It has never held me back, even though I work with maths every day.”
2. Encourage finger counting
Teachers should celebrate and encourage finger counting and use among younger
learners and learners of any age. Even university students’ finger perception
predicted their calculation scores.
3. Arithmetic skills are outdated
Technology has advanced to the point that tiny powerful computers are routinely
carried around in pockets and purses. Computational fluency is the one thing
computers do and we don’t need humans for.
4. Celebrate your mistakes and no need to correct them
When students make a mistake in math, their brain grows, synapses fire,
connections are made; when they do the work correctly, there is no brain growth.
Students do not need to revisit a mistake and correct it to experience brain
growth. Teachers need to make students feel good about their mistakes.
5. Timed tests cause anxiety
Timed tests impair the brain’s working memory and cause math anxiety,
especially among girls. Math teachers need to stop frequent, timed testing;
replace grades with diagnostic feedback; and deemphasize speed.
6. Alternative assessments
Teachers always know how well kids are doing, so you really don’t need to test
them. You really easily have teachers write down what kids know and can do. The
kids themselves can also self-assess and tell if things are strong or not. They do
that with extreme reliability. You can ask kids to make a project, if you want, that
tells us about what they know and can do.
7. Reform math is visual
To engage students in productive visual thinking, they should be asked, at regular
intervals, how they see mathematical ideas, and to draw what they see. They can
be given activities with visual questions and they can be asked to provide visual
solutions to questions.
8. Multi-dimensional classrooms and a multimedia approach to learning
There should be more use of visual representations and “manipulatives” (e.g.
blocks, cubes, algebra tiles) and more emphasis on group work to solve
open-ended, “rich” problems. Students are rewarded for such activities as asking
good questions, rephrasing problems, explaining ideas, being logical, justifying
methods, or bringing a different perspective to a problem.
9. Homework is inequitable
When we assign homework to students, we provide barriers to the students who
need our support. This fact, alone, makes homework indefensible to me.
Teachers and school leaders who want to promote equity should consider
eradicating homework.
10. Postponing algebra to high School
By moving Algebra 1 into 9th grade for all students and replacing it with CCSS
Math 8, students will experience more confidence and success because they have
time to do mathematics with each other, discussing their learning, examining
each other’s work, and building a deeper understanding of concepts.
11. Detracking, group work, and mixed-ability teaching
We believe that secondary schools do not separate their students into tracks until
students choose course pathways at the end of 10th grade. Detracking and group
work may be critical in countering racial inequities in mathematics achievement
and course taking. All learners benefit: more able students deepen their
understanding from the need to explain their thinking and understanding other
students’ thinking, while other learners benefit from the explanations.
12. Displacing Algebra 2 with Data Science
Our survey discovered that less than 12% used any algebra, trigonometry, or
calculus in their daily lives. Only 2% use calculus. What we propose is as obvious
as it is radical: to put data and its analysis, instead of the calculus-destined
Algebra 2, at the center of high school mathematics. For Boaler, the sclerotic
nature of the mathematics curriculum is above all an equity issue; she calls
calculus a “horrible and inequitable filter.”

How do you like these radical ideas upon which Jo Boaler has built her prestigious career?

Why do parents massively send their kids to outside tutoring? Why are the academic achievement gaps widening and why are disadvantaged kids further lagging behind? Why do vast STEM-aspiring college students drop off their major? Why do Americans resort to political measures to tackle the K-12 math education woes?

To answer these questions, we need to delve into the profound anti-intellectualism and fallacies underlying reform math that pervades American classrooms. Larry Trone, a 76-year-old math teacher in Arizona, describes the fashionable reform math as “Boalerism” or “Boalerization.” https://thinkalgebra.blogspot.com/2020/10/radical-ideas-2.html.

What kind of “data science” is possible without a knowledge of Algebra 2?

In 1983, the landmark report, A Nation at Risk, famously warned that the “rising tide of mediocrity” was threatening American schools.

In 2013, the Department of Education’s report, For Each and Every Child, lamented, “Nearly 30 years later, the tide has come in—and we’re drowning … We have had five ‘education presidents’ and dozens of ‘education governors’ who have championed higher standards, innovative schools, better teaching, rigorous curricula, tougher testing and other education reforms … Americans have debated how to approach our education system and have called for reforms of every description.”

In 2020, someone said, “The world has loved, hated and envied the US. Now, for the first time, we pity it.”

Nearly all the economic, social, and political problems plaguing America today can be traced back to education deterioration over the recent decades. The reform-math cult explains a major part of the persistent, systemwide failure in American K-12 STEM education.

A country that dares not to teach times tables and Algebra 2 to its children is a country to be pitied.

Breaking the Spell of Math Reformists

Posted in constructivism, Curriculum & Instruction, K-12, math, Mathematics | Leave a comment

Academic Fitness

A few years ago I was at a conference of a few hundred History/Social Studies educators, consultants, etc. at the Center for the Study of the Senate in Boston. I was introduced, as The Concord Review and I had recently been the subjects of an op-ed column in The Boston Globe.

After several presentations and some discussion of History/Social Studies in the schools, I asked the question: “Is there then a consensus that high school students are incapable of reading a complete History book?” No one objected to that suggestion.

We have talked for several decades about “Varsity Academics®” and we now have that as a trademark. We have wanted to call attention to the possibility that work on academic expository writing in History could be seen as parallel to the work that goes into preparing a young athlete to be accepted on varsity sports teams in high school.

We still think that academic writing should start at about the same time as Little League and Pop Warner, giving students years to learn more about and to get better at term papers, especially in History.

We are now claiming a need for the same long-term preparation for academic reading, so that high school seniors, instead of being judged incapable, in advance, of reading a complete History book, would turn out to be quite capable of doing so, as a result of many years of serious nonfiction reading at growing levels of difficulty, during their school years.

At present, most of the focus in our schools is on writing that is personal or creative, and that has led to widespread incompetence in academic expository writing. Similarly what students are asked to read is mostly fiction, leading to incompetence in managing actual History books. These disabilities can be remedied by the regular development of academic fitness, in nonfiction reading and writing, especially in History, all through the years in school.

Posted in Curriculum & Instruction, History, Humanities, K-12, reading, Will Fitzhugh | Leave a comment

Breaking the Spell of Math Reformists

by Ling Huang, Palo Alto, California

In “My Childhood Schooling In The Soviet Union Was Better Than My Kids’ In U.S. Public Schools Today,” https://thefederalist.com/2019/08/27/childhood-schooling-in-soviet-union-better-than-u-s-public-schools-today/  Katya Sedgwick wrote, “Math was the dissident’s favorite in the Soviet Union. It was believed that the subject is so logical and abstract, the party could never impose its will on it. After all, two plus two equals four — in the 10-digit system, at least — regardless of the edicts of the Politburo. Maybe the Soviet bureaucrats weren’t clever enough, because the American educational bureaucracy did ruin mathematics.”  

Even in the Former Soviet Union or likely in today’s North Korea, real math is still revered and remains untouched by political will. Nevertheless, in today’s America, people are lost in the reform math cult, and the nation is resorting to politics to close the achievement gaps by redefining math and watering down math further. Math reformists indulge themselves in accusing real math as racist and elitist, defying the inconvenient truth that reform math is firmly rooted in racial and gender prejudice of the pioneer progressive educators back in the 1920s. Math reformers are crafting pretend math, feel-good math to “help” disadvantaged kids based on their belief that women and minority students can’t handle real math. Under adults’ such glorious slogans as “equity and social justice in math education,” vast disadvantaged kids are permanently deprived of their STEM career opportunities.

The current getting-rid-of-algebra2 campaign ( https://www.salon.com/2020/09/26/teaching-data-science-instead-of-calculus-high-schools-math-debate/ ) is meant to fulfill the vision of America’s great socialist planner, Marc Tucker,  that only less than 5% of jobs need knowledge of calculus; hence, the majority of students should be equalized at attaining just algebra 1 (https://ncee.org/college-and-work-ready/ ). In his “Dear Hilary Letter,” http://www.theroadtoemmaus.org/RdLb/21PbAr/Pl/Tucker-Hillary.htm  Marc Tucker rolled out the blueprint and roadmap for America’s successive education movements over the past thirty years, which culminated in the Common Core revolution that stipulates algebra 1 as the exit requirement for American high school graduates.

I do not think America is a great country. This country’s eminent educational professionals, by misguiding teachers and fooling the public– including Bill Gates — with one fad after another and with such allures of “conceptual understanding” or “21st-century skills”, design and implement such low-quality education to its vast disadvantaged children. Math reformists first watered down math textbooks from their layman’s perspectives. Then they softened tests, misused group work, and held back advanced students to close the achievement gaps on the surface. Now they are aiming at transforming college education to make everyone equalized. What is more, using “growth mindsets” and “brain science” theories, Jo Boaler advised teachers not to correct students’ mistakes.

Stanley Ocken, W.Steve Wilson, and many others ( http://www.nychold.com/ocken-calculus01.pdf, http://www.math.jhu.edu/~wsw/papers2/education/29-crary-newyorktimes-13.pdf ) testified that very few kids taught with wrong math in elementary grades could recover in their high school and college stages; hence Johnny cannot do calculus largely because Johnny cannot do arithmetic. It is indeed hugely difficult for disadvantaged kids to catch up even with ample helping resources around. Thus reform math basically has made career decisions for vast kids when they are in only 4th or 5th grade.

Because math has been dumbed down, science subjects have to be held back and dramatically watered down. PAUSD’s new science textbook, Amplify Science, is sort of Everyday Math in science.

English and history? These essays tell how English and history have become deficient over the past decades and why Johnny cannot write: https://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/interviews/ba2000-11-01.htm and https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/09/how-self-expression-damaged-my-students/262656/.  

We still have very strong math programs at Gunn and Paly, but PAUSD’s 1-8th math is heavily influenced by reform math. We have many capable and hard-working teachers, but they have been constrained and misguided by such notorious textbooks as Everyday Math. When PAUSD finally decided to drop Everyday Math in 2016-17, The current school board president, a student of Jo Boaler, enthusiastically pushed Investigations (aka TERC), a math-free math textbook that is even much worse than Everyday Math (http://www.math.jhu.edu/~wsw/ED/ocken, http://wgquirk.com/TERC.html), into PAUSD. And last fall, after successfully transformed SFUSD’s math programs, Jo Boaler and David Foster were welcome by PAUSD to help “reimagine” its middle school math.

Again, if kids do not learn real arithmetic well during elementary schools, if instead they are fed with the reform math nonsense, it is extremely hard for them to recover later. Therefore, it is indeed immensely difficult for disadvantaged kids to catch up on schoolwork even with one-on-one tutoring, let alone struggle by their own efforts.

American schools have been captivated under the Reform-Math Pandemic for more than half a century. The Stanford Graduate School of Education is a hub for producing, promoting, and propelling those controversial math education doctrines, textbooks, and pedagogy in PAUSD and across the nation (See Jo Boaler’s Reform Math Fallacy https://bit.ly/38oASeE ) America is in an unending dark age of K-12 math education. America’s misguided and failing K-12 education, which hurts preponderantly underprivileged kids, is the biggest social injustice. 

Reform math is so devastating! That is why I’d take all the risks to speak out against reform math and the mighty coalition behind it; that is why I’d be stupid enough to fight a fight that is almost doomed to fail.

Posted in constructivism, Curriculum & Instruction, K-12, math, Mathematics | Leave a comment

Here’s how Idaho can develop academically strong ELA and Mathematics Standards when it revises its current standards*

By Sandra Stotsky, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas

Idaho can develop effective non-Common Core standards for mathematics and English/reading if its Legislature requires the development of K-12 standards in mathematics and in English/reading with the following features and guiding policies:

In mathematics:

  1. Standards for all basic arithmetical operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, short and long division) and standard algorithms are taught at the same grade levels as in Singapore Math’s original series for the elementary grades. Here are articles about the original Singapore Mathematics program for K-5/6 after it began to be taught in 3 elementary schools in the North Middlesex Regional School District in Massachusetts:
  2. Standards that enable all children in public elementary schools to be prepared via their mathematics curriculum to enroll in and complete a traditional Algebra I course in grade 7 or 8 before going on to advanced science and math in high school.
  3. Standards/lessons from Dolciani-authored or co-authored mathematics textbooks in grade 8 and above, where possible.
  4. Standards for Euclidean geometry (with proofs) addressed in separate units in grades 6, 7, and/or 8 (as in Singapore Math), along with standards for separate algebra units, or in a full course in grade 9.
  5. Standards that enable high-achieving math students to enroll in and complete a traditional Algebra II course in grade 10 or 11 and to study pre-calculus in grade 11 or 12.

In English/reading:

  1. Standards in grades 3-8 that require about half of what all elementary students read in whole-class history or language arts lessons to come from the excellent series of informational books on historical people and events in U.S. and world history published in the 1950s and 1960s by Random House Publishers.  Please see this link.
  2. Standards in grades 9-12 that require all high school students to become familiar with historically and culturally significant whole works from the following ten Literary Periods: Classical (1200 BCE–455 CE); Medieval (455 CE–1485 CE); Renaissance (1300–1660): Restoration and 18th Century (1660–1790); Colonial and Early National (1600–1830): Romantic (1790–1870): Realism and Naturalism (1870–1910); Modernist (1910–1945); Post World War II (1945–1980); and Contemporary (1980-2020).
  3. Standards for a coherent literature/reading curriculum for K-12 that address all four major types of literature: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic literature.
  4. Reading lists showing titles or authors of well-known informational texts in these literary periods that serve as historical context for the literary works selected by the English teacher for classroom instruction.
  5. Reading passages for test items for each tested grade that come from works by authors in these literary periods. About 60% of the passages should be literary, and 40% non-literary.  Passages from well-known speeches or biographies may be literary or non-literary, as most English teachers would agree.

For teacher licensure or certification in Idaho:

  1. All elementary, early childhood, and special education teachers (grades K-6) should be required to pass the Reading Licensure Test (90) developed in MA in 2002 (or its equivalent).  This licensure test helped all teachers of young children to teach beginning reading so effectively that MA students on average earned first place on NAEP’s tests in grade 4 and grade 8 in reading and in mathematics from 2005 on.  MA students still have the highest state averages in the country. For a description of the test’s development, see this link.
  2. All prospective elementary, early childhood, and special education teachers should be required to take and pass the Bay State’s elementary mathematics licensure test (53).
  3. All cut-off scores for performance levels on all student or teacher tests should be set by Idaho parents, grade 11 or 12 teachers, and Idaho state legislators instead of using the cut-off scores the state is given from outside the state and/or the USED.
  4. In addition, the Board of Education (BoE) and the governor need to ask the math and English teaching faculty at each public college in the state to analyze the state’s current high school standards, grades 9-12, and issue a signed public report containing their analysis.
  5. The Idaho State Board of Education and the governor need to ask the math and English teaching faculty at each public college in the state to recommend in writing what standards should be added or changed to make sure that Idaho high school students are prepared for freshman and sophomore credit-bearing courses at that college if they plan to attend college in Idaho.

Concluding remarks

The chief purpose of the standards revision committee is to strengthen public education in Idaho in order to remedy recent federal and state policies designed for low achievers. All students once learned that, regardless of academic achievement, they were politically equal to each other in our civic culture, with a shared civic identity. Yet, policy makers and philanthropists have led low achievers to believe that they haven’t succeeded in school because of bigoted educators and communities. As my last four books try to make clear, all parents and educators must revive the civic mission of their own public schools, and actively help to restore educated citizenship as the goal of K-12 public education.

* Originally published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Posted in Common Core, Curriculum & Instruction, Education policy, K-12, Mathematics, Reading & Writing, Sandra Stotsky | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What can we do now: Education in America is a victim of Covid 19

AL’s education rating is already at the bottom of the heap nationally, but I don’t think any states are faring well today, and I don’t think any states have a solution.

Am I alone in thinking that American education is going down the tubes with no one doing anything about it?  This time, private/religious education is also being forced by the various governors into going down the tubes also.  Parents in AL are being forced to “home school” via “virtual learning” that is going to be “virtual chaos” by the time our schools open here. And I betcha this pretend education is going to cost more than ever.

I thought about how we got started in 2011 and actually accomplished our goal of informing the public about CC.  What about brainstorming again to:

Identify what will be going on when schools open across the US very soon;  what should be done, and how can it be done.

America will, I expect, be spending more money than ever with absolutely no idea what the result will be.  And what about the families, the parents and children–who have no real choices because the various governors are making “shooting from the hip” decisions that affect all citizens.  Even  church schools have no choices as long as Covid 19 rules.  In AL parents don’t know day to day whether a teacher or student will be diagnosed with covid and the school (or daycare) will be shut down for 2 weeks. 

The only real solution is homeschooling with a competent parent or parent substitute.  But how many families can fit into this scenario?  Churches are being shut down so how can their school umbrellas work, much less their schools? 

I welcome ideas and prayers.  I have a 5 year old grandson so I do have skin in the game.  But all of us have “skin in the game of education” because we care about the children of today who will be the citizens and parents and government of tomorrow.

Posted in Betty Peters, Education policy, K-12 | Tagged , | Leave a comment

K-12 is a land of mystery

Bruce Dietrick Price*

For those who enjoy a good puzzle, K-12 education is more intellectually entertaining than most people imagine. Classrooms are full of convoluted theories and mystifying methods. Probably the teachers themselves can’t explain the reasoning behind approaches that are used almost universally in American public schools.

Chat with friends who are smart and successful. Try to find even one who can explain Sight-Words, Prior Knowledge, Multiculturalism, Constructivism, Reform Math, or Common Core Math. Why are Geography, History, and Science so often slighted? What justifies the hostility toward memorization and academic content? Can anyone understand the paradox of most students getting A or B but almost no one possesses any general knowledge?

Jimmy Kimmel brilliantly illustrated the mystery we live in by sending a staffer out to the streets with a map of the world. “Point to any country,” people were told, “and name it.” Lots of people could not do this! (This video has been viewed 20 million times.)

Prof. Patrick Deneen of Notre Dame found that many students on his prestigious campus did not know who won the Civil War. His students were “know nothings.” Deneen wrote a polemic against the school system, arguing that “cultural amnesia” is its proudest achievement.

Probably the alpha mystery in K-12 is the one called Whole Word, which dictates that children must memorize thousands of sight-words in order to read. This policy is surely a mystery given that nearly all research favors phonics.

But Constructivism may be the most pervasive enigma. It’s commonplace in every subject at every grade but almost no one can say what it is. All we know for sure is that Constructivism has devastated classroom success by outlawing traditional teaching. Teachers must be passive facilitators. Students have to construct their own new knowledge.

Our vast educational structure is now based on a wisp of theory by a French biologist who studied how young children learn. To truly know something, children must formulate it for themselves. If somebody else gives you knowledge, it doesn’t count.

In the real world, there are many ways to gain knowledge. You might ask somebody where a bank is. “Go three blocks that way and turn left at the light.” A few minutes later you are at the bank. Constructivism seems to require that you explore the city until you find the bank for yourself. This kind of absurdity makes our schools silly, and children ignorant

A third-grade teacher sent me this sad letter:

“…The principal has refused to recommend me for employment as a teacher because I flagrantly ignored the school’s emphasis on education reform (read constructivism) according to him. He was appalled that I had the students memorize facts. Where was the higher order thinking involved in the task, he queried me – not waiting for an answer and clearly not wanting one. It mattered not to him that the kids loved the geography unit. Nor that 90% of them scored above 88% percent on their post-test (all fill in the blank – no multiple choice). That they had learned about the equator, they had seen images of maps and had talked with me about how the world seemed to grow over time in ancient maps. We talked about technology and how our planet looked on Google Earth. We talked about the invention of the wheel, of navigation, and all sorts of other fascinating things. The boys were wondering if we would soon have Google Moon and Google Jupiter. They knew what a compass rose was and what it did. They learned about scale and computed some simple scale problems. No, none of that mattered because I had violated two major rules – I had had the children memorize facts and I had taught them information.”

This woman is the teacher that most parents want for their children. Instead of celebrating her, the system discards her.

I confess that before this letter, I didn’t know what a compass rose is. Many times, if nobody tells us something, we never know.

*Bruce Deitrick Price is a novelist, poet, artist, and education reformer. This essay was published originally at his website Improve-Education.org

Posted in Bruce Dietrick Price, constructivism, Curriculum & Instruction, Education Fraud, Education policy, K-12, reading | 2 Comments

Keep the Students but Get Rid of Their Bodies — A Practical Response to Educational Super-Inflation

Count on the Brits to crucify their American cousins in an ECONOMIST article that slams our universities for raising their fees five times as fast as inflation during the last 30 years — a feat of ivory tower trickery that clearly invites explanation as much as dismay. Let’s start by noting that fees, scads of them, come from students and that there are, especially in American education, two kinds of students: bodily students who fill up classrooms and pay tuition, and mental-activity students who spend hours and hours reading books, memorizing terms, and preparing to take tests, some of them gruesome public spectacles.

Starting in the mid 1970s, it became clear to university boffins that students would gladly spend more hours in the classroom if professors would make fewer demands upon their time outside of the classroom. As indicated by university catalogs after 1975, professors responded by joyfully designing hundreds of new student-friendly courses and courted student enrollment by offering them higher letter grades. Students as well responded joyfully by spending more time on outside jobs, along with taking more courses and paying higher fees (nearly all subsidized by parents or the government).

The only bureaucratic price for this best of all possible frauds was a little statistical guilt linked to those students working 20 hours each week on campus jobs while simultaneously carrying 15 semester units and earning B-grades across the board: theoretically a killing 80-hour workweek according to traditional Carnegie unit standards.

Intellectually the damage done from 1980 by this academic Ode to Joy has been immense. Informally considered, this damage is most audible in the superior articulation and clarity of those who learn Spoken Worldwide American Dictionary English offshore, especially in China, India, and the Philippines.

But the overall deterioration in American vocabulary fluency is also cause for alarm, e.g., the number of college students and graduates who today finish the New York Times daily crossword puzzle in less than 15 minutes — a traditional measure of respectable literacy.

As should be obvious, the only way for American universities to regain their traditional effectiveness and respect is for them to keep their students, all of them, but get rid of their bodies. Simply put, this entails taking fewer course-units on campus and spending more mental-activity time off campus preparing to take challenging examinations, many of them university requirements.

As far as fiscal accountability goes, this shift simply entails returning to the average student workweek of forty-five hours, measurably so. As far as mental-activity goes, academic books and book-based testing tools are far more available than in 1980, cf. www.dictionary.com and AlzHope: nonpartisaneducation.org.

To put it optimistically, wherever there’s a bankruptcy, moral or fiscal, there’s always a way, especially for the hungry and energetic. So here’s to sunny days for our young problem solvers, along with apologies for the messy fraud my generation created for them to clean up.

Posted in Bob Oliphant, Education Fraud, Higher Education | Leave a comment

Who’s Telling the Truth about Alabama’s Constitutional Amendment One?

As a former member of the Alabama State School Board (2003-2019), I would like to share my concerns about the ballot language for Amendment One. When voters get a ballot on March 3, this is all that is printed in the ballot summary about Amendment One:

“Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to change the name of the State Board of Education to the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education; to provide for the appointment of members of the Commission by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the Senate; and to authorize the Governor to appoint a team of local educators and other officials to advise the commission on matters relating to the functioning and duties of the State Department of Education (Proposed by Act 2019-345.)”

This brief summary is misleading and totally unacceptable. It’s the classic “bait and switch.” Totally missing from the ballot is the very important content of SB 397 in Section 5 beginning at the bottom of page 4 and continuing on to page 5 mandating the new commission (which replaces the current state school board) to adopt five things. The first is “Course of study standards that ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside the state in lieu of common core.” The ballot summary for March 3 does not include any mention of standards.

Last December before the summary for the ballot was available, a legislator contacted the Legislative Services Agency Legal Division to confirm what the ballot language would be. He was given this information: “If the Amendment passes, the (new governor-appointed) commission will have to develop new standards which “ensure nation-wide consistency and the seamless transfer of students.”

A representative of the AL State Department of Education said they were are not aware of any other nationally recognized standards for math and English Language Arts other than the Common Core Standards. Unfortunately voters would not have any way of knowing this since it’s not included on the ballot.

Any assertion that Amendment One will free Alabama of the much-detested Common Core State Standards aka College & Career Ready Standards is false. Voters who rely solely on the ballot summary will not realize that the Common Core standards will be permanently written into the Alabama constitution. We would have to pass another constitutional amendment to ever get rid of them. Although the Secretary of State’s office was asked to add necessary information from the bill onto the ballot for clarity, this was not done.

On Monday several organizations including the Alabama Farmers’ Federation (ALFA), Forestry, Manufacture Alabama, the Alabama Realtors Association and perhaps others began running hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads endorsing Amendment One. The ads complain about our low test scores and how elected board members are too political. Apparently the Amendment One proponents think having a state school board made up of members who all were appointed by one person will not be “political.”

For those too young to remember or who have forgotten, many years ago the Alabama State School Board was an appointed board. However, it was changed to an elected one because the appointed board was not doing a good job. Right before the Common Core standards were implemented, former state school superintendent Joe Morton spoke frequently about how students’ scores had increased, moving Alabama up to the middle range of states. Then after a few years of using Common Core standards and assessments, our students’ scores plummeted to the bottom in math and close to the bottom in reading. I remember student progress declined all across America both in states with appointed state school boards as well as those with elected boards after the Common Core State Standards were implemented nationwide. If we are serious about improving learning, we need to start by actually replacing the much-hates Common Core (aka College and Career-ready Standards) with some that are more traditional and have been proven to work . Perhaps returning to the ones we were using immediately before Common Core would be a good start–at least when we were using them, our students’ performance was going in the right direction.

I know I’m not the only person who thinks there has been some legislative chicanery going on with this amendment. If the legislature and governor are so proud of it, why are they hiding so much of it, especially the information about Common Core, from the voters on election day, and why would it take so much media time to convince voters that it’s a good idea.

Link to the actual bill language which is not available on the sample ballot: https://legiscan.com/AL/text/SB397/id/2049734/Alabama-2019-SB397-Enrolled.pdf

Betty Peters
Dothan AL

Posted in Common Core, Curriculum & Instruction, Education Fraud, Education policy, information suppression, K-12 | Tagged | 2 Comments

Response to John Merrow’s advocacy of Project-based Learning

John Merrow has started a series of posts advocating project based learning.

I just posted the following to his website:

Last Week, Water. This Week, AIR. (The Series Continues)

John,

It’s disappointing to see you disparaging the teaching of factual information: “I also endorsed project-based learning because it demands that students become producers of knowledge, not mere regurgitators of canned information.” That sounds too much like dismissal of objective knowledge, the shared human knowledge that makes this and any communication possible.

Perhaps you are criticizing requiring students to learn inaccurate or biased information or mere opinions as facts; if so, please say so.

Or maybe you’re really criticizing misuse of standardized tests with no consequences for students, but used to hold schools, i.e. their teachers, “accountable” for student performance to justify firing teachers and closing schools or transferring them to charters. If so, you should make that clear.

Maybe you’re criticizing students getting information from online searches and social media sources. Or maybe you’re thinking of teachers handing out work sheets. Or even teachers unprepared to teach the content subjects they’re required to teach.

But it really sounds like a blanket dismissal of instruction by competent teachers of subject information, i.e. facts in context, and promoting in its place performance-based, project-based, discovery, inquiry, student-produced learning, etc. as the only genuine learning. They sound good but lack evidence of effectiveness in comparison to teacher directed instruction, which you actually acknowledge in passing.

The projects you describe (water quality, air quality, etc.) are fine as projects after students have basic knowledge with which to study them and the teacher has done dry runs to make sure the project will illuminate the teacher’s or district’s learning goals. In your water-quality example, you write that, after students had taken their water samples, “[Students] would need to know how to interpret readings, which would require some basic science research and direct instruction from their teacher.”

“Basic science research” may sound “basic” or simple, but even at a “basic” level it requires a number of steps, which, as you write, require direct instruction – of facts and procedures – by “their teacher.” How will the teacher know that each student knows the facts and procedures of “Basic science research” before attempting to apply it to a water or air study? Probably by a written test developed by the teacher or the district. Since “Basic science research” consists of an objective set of steps, an objective test would be an efficient measure of students’ mastery and of the teacher’s time.

And you don’t dismiss this learning as “regurgitating canned information.” Now that’s interesting.

And, by the way, this is also part of the overall goal of developing students’ mastery of the written language, And, by the way, this is also part of the overall goal of developing students’ m.stery of our written language in all subject areas.

Erich Martel

Retired DCPS h.s. history teacher

Here is one source on the AFT website:

“Putting Students on the Path to Learning: The Case for Fully Guided Instruction” by Kirschner, Sweller, Clark: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Clark.pdf

Posted in constructivism, Curriculum & Instruction, Education journalism, Erich Martel, K-12, science, STEM | Leave a comment

Test Critics Fail the Test: Critics of Testing Don’t Understand the Basics of Testing

by Glynn D. Ligon, now posted in the Nonpartisan Education Review.

https://nonpartisaneducation.org/Review/Articles/v15n2.htm

The Preface:

Critics of testing students don’t understand the basics of testing. We let critics get away with bogus arguments that undermine the benefits of testing our students. Parents are misled into opposing a unique source of information about their schools—and their children. Worse, some opt their own kids out of a valuable validator of their academic progress.

Critics of state tests are doing parents and educators a disservice. I trust the critics are merely misinformed; however, their attacks are often simply not based on fact. The news media validates the critics without benefit of having a basic background in testing. The state and district testing staffs have taken such politically cautious stances that they too seldom speak as advocates for the tests they are hired to administer and interpret. I venture to say the state and district test directors agree with me that the critics are off base most of time. I don’t know why we feel obligated to state our few agreements with critics’ tangential points before we begin destroying their numerous and overwhelming false premises.

I’m taken aback by four observations.

• Too few professionals are taking up for the tests.
• The critics are getting away with their misrepresentations and recasting of the issues.
• School accountability systems are being undermined.
• The states are trying to do too much with their state proficiency tests.

What’s needed in this debate is an unbiased, informed perspective. I no longer have a stake in this. I’m a former teacher, a former test director, and a former parent of public school students. I still have a Ph.D. in measurement and have read all the criticisms of testing. I constantly talk with parents who believe the criticisms of testing. I read the news articles about state testing and accountability.

So, here I go. I’m taking a “let’s get this debate centered on the issues and facts” position.

The attack on state tests is akin to Clark Kent being bullied on the playground as a kid and not being allowed to use his powers to defend himself. Somehow, it has become politically impolite to correct or challenge the test critics without first having to agree with one of their marginal points. The test pros seem to feel obligated to begin their response by agreeing with the test critics’ red herrings that make them appear to be legitimate defenders of our schools, students, and tax payer dollars. Sorry, critics. I’m not doing that. Not being a public employee, nor representing a testing company, I’ll say what should be said.

Posted in Education policy, K-12, Testing/Assessment | 2 Comments

Romanian officials’ nonchalant reaction to 2018 PISA results

Juan A. Martinez
Constanta, Romania

Two Romanian officials have reacted publicly to the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results. They appear to be unfazed by the results. This is atypical for persons responsible for national education quality. Their responses appear to be genuine, but somehow deficient. Their responses can be likened to a mix of persons who have been caught “holding the bag” and persons forced to comment on the loss of a football (i.e., soccer) match by the national team.

The current, but recently appointed Minister of Education, Monica Anisie, commented,

“We don’t necessarily need to worry about this evaluation of the PISA tests, it is an international assessment. The focus of these international tests is not necessarily on what pupils know, but on applying the knowledge in specific life matters…”[1]

Former ministers of education and other experts had invalidating reactions to Minister Anisie’s comments. They have taken a more worrying stance.[2] Tellingly, the Minister’s attitude is reflective of the longtime and deeply embedded philosophy of education held within the Romanian Education System. That philosophy is that students are to accumulate knowledge; they are simply to memorize information or facts. This is why Minister Anisie makes the questionable distinction between having knowledge and applying knowledge. However, the true distinction is between lower order and higher order thinking skills. The Romanian Education System is designed for the lower end while the PISA is designed for the higher end of Bloom’s Taxonomy. At the student level, they may have regarded the PISA as unimportant compared to the National Baccalaureate high-stakes test. The underlying educational philosophy is confirmed by a National Liberal Party (PNL) deputy Adriana Saftoiu. She states,

“…the future PISA test will have the same results in Romania as long as the spirit in the Romanian schools is not changed…Romanian pupils are not taught in the spirit of the PISA assessment. ‘In our country, children don’t learn by drawing parallels among information, among subjects. They are taught to say some lessons by heart.’”[3]

The origin of this philosophy is the general culture that favors survivalist or Particular (vs. Universalist) minded persons. In other words, whatever helps one survive or get through a situation is given priority over truth-seeking for its own sake.

Second, the longtime President of ARACIP, Serban Iosifescu,[4] posted on his personal Facebook account,

“…that the reaction of the society is predominantly emotional and that on the subject they have benefited from “the influence of lightning”, which have no solutions to the problems they report.”[5]

President Iosifescu, made other sardonic comments. Essentially, education policy and, especially, education evaluation, have become either politicized or fodder for cynics who can point out the supposed problems, but who cannot formulate or propose solutions. Remarkably, President Iosifescu has been in his position since 2005. He has worked with many Education Ministers who arrived with their own educational reform plans. Often these plans simply added to the hodgepodge of existing rules, policies, or practices without evaluating their systemic benefits or impacts. Succinctly, a lot of fanfare, lights and sounds; but no real, lasting, or system change.

Nonetheless, there is legitimate reason for concern. Romanian students did worse in 2018 than in previous test cycles (2015 and 2012),

“…students got lower scores in Reading, Mathematics and Science…the percentage of functional illiteracy increased compared to 2015…”[6]

(For a more in-depth analysis of the 2018 PISA results, see Salceanu, D. (2019, December 3)).[7]

Romania has been able to accentuate the extreme positives of its National Education System by showing the world its best and brightest. “Every year…international mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy or computer science olympiads.” showcase Romania’s accomplished middle and high school students.[8] However, these academic subject superstars are a very small minority of the likely top scoring Romanian PISA participants who reached level 5 or level 6 in Reading (1%), Mathematics (3%), and Science (1%) respectively. By definition, the superstars are not representative of the average students’ academic performance level. In my opinion, the national attention or obsession with the superstar students distracts and delays a sober and objective assessment of the state of education quality in Romania. Moreover, there is often a spurious connection between these superstars and the formal education they received in school. More robust correlatives would be: parental involvement, student’s personal aspirations, private tutoring, and private school attendance.

Endnotes

[1] Salceanu, D. (2019, December 4). Education minister on the PISA concerning result: ‘We don’t necessarily have to worry’. Experts, former ministers slam her stance. Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.romaniajournal.ro/society-people/education-minister-on-the-pisa-concerning-result-we-dont-necessarily-have-to-worry-experts-former-ministers-slam-her-stance/

[2] Salceanu, D. (2019, December 4).

[3] Salceanu, D. (2019, December 4).

[4] For the sake of disclosure, I was a member of the Romanian Evaluation Association, when President Iosifescu was one of its Board members. We had conversations about the Romanian Education System and his longevity as President of Agenției Române de Asigurare a Calității în Învățământul Preuniversitar – ARACIP (Translated as: The Agency for the Assurance of Quality for Pre-university Education).

[5] Șeful ARACIP, despre Raportul PISA: De rezultate au profitat, imediat, influensării și “experții” de pe feisbuc. (2019, December 4). Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.educatieprivata.ro/seful-aracip-despre-raportul-pisa-de-rezultate-au-profitat-imediat-influensarii-si-expertii-de-pe-feisbuc/.

[6] Facebook, & Google. (n.d.). PISA 2018 test results show over 4 in 10 Romanian students don’t understand what they read; education minister not that worried. Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.romania-insider.com/romania-pisa-2018-results.

[7] Salceanu, D. (2019, December 3). Romania, the lowest score on PISA test in the past nine years. Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.romaniajournal.ro/society-people/romania-the-lowest-score-on-pisa-test-in-the-past-nine-years/.

[8] The state of Romanian education. (n.d.). Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.rri.ro/en_gb/the_state_of_romanian_education-2608347.

Posted in International Tests, Juan A. Martinez, K-12, math, OECD, reading, Testing/Assessment | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Hechinger Report on college admission testing

Like most education-focused news outlets, the Hechinger Report claims that it “provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting.” Yet, somehow, it usually ends up dishing the same old formulaic propaganda supportive of education insiders.

Their October 9 story, “Questioning their fairness, a record number of colleges stop requiring the SAT and ACT,” is a case in point. For the thousandth time, they present the extreme anti-testing group, The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (a.k.a., FairTest) as an objective source of factual information and accept whatever they are told from other education institution insiders at face value. And, because they also spoke with some folk affiliated with one of the testing companies, they satisfied themselves that they got “the other side” of the story.

Yet, here are some very relevant points that this story, like almost all media stories on college admission testing, leaves out:

1. Whereas college admission test scores are correlated with socioeconomic status (SES), so are most of the other factors considered by admission directors. High school grade point average (GPA) is at least as strongly correlated. Extracurricular activities, recommendations, and writing samples are likely more strongly correlated with SES. Therefore, getting rid of college admission testing will not benefit lower SES applicants in general, and will hurt the chances of the “diamonds in the rough” that the tests are designed to help.

2. By dropping the admission test requirement, colleges raise their average admission test scores in competitive rankings, such as those of U.S. News & World Report. That’s because it’s the applicants with the lowest scores who choose not to report them. Applicants take the tests first to see how well they do before they decide to report them or not.

3. FairTest has been declaring a dramatic rise in the number of test-optional colleges for decades. Yet, over the same time period, the number of college admission tests taken has risen substantially.

4. Included in FairTest’s list of test-optional colleges are bible colleges, pilot schools and other focused vocational programs, and many colleges that make test scores optional only under special circumstances.

Posted in College prep, Education journalism, Higher Education, Richard P. Phelps, Testing/Assessment | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Beware New Quality Counts State Rankings

Education Week just released the final segment on its 2019 ranking of state education systems, and it is unfortunate that this generally pretty good news outlet continues to mess this up.

Point of Order: I just ranked Kentucky’ s All Student 2017 NAEP Grade 4 Reading Scale Score using the NAEP Data Explorer’ s tools. The state ranks 17th, not 22nd. But, that sort of simplistic ranking is misleading because NAEP is a sampled assessment and there are sampling errors in all the scores. Once you allow for the statistical sampling errors in NAEP (you can also do this with the NAEP Data Explorer), Kentucky’ s fourth graders were statistically significantly outscored by 19 states, tied 16 states, and scored statistically significantly higher than 15 states and the DC school system. So, Kentucky placed somewhere in a rather large and vague middle of the pack, but claiming it outscored a number of states with somewhat similar Grade 4 reading scores is not valid. Here’s another point: Kentucky still has a very high enrollment of white students in its public schools, much higher than many other states. By only ranking overall scores for all students, Education Week actually ranks a lot of Kentucky white students against minority students in other states. That isn’t valid, either. The detailed rankings attempted by Education Week do not honor the sampling error in NAEP and create unsupportable images of actual relative performance.

By the way, I found out that Quality Counts ranked proficiency rates, not even the more accurate NAEP scale scores. Very disappointing.

Posted in Education journalism, Education policy, K-12, Richard Innes, Testing/Assessment | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Back to school means education news stories …for a while

It’s that time of year again. As millions of youngsters return to school, thousands of journalists cast about for a once-a-year education-themed story. As one might expect with such sporadic attention, many of the August/September stories will be light and superficial.

Come October, though, education news reverts to its sparse normality. Those local and state news outlets willing to employ fulltime education beat reporters may enjoy thorough topical coverage in their region.

At the national level, however, two-party myopia obscures most reportage. The nearsightedness is most extreme in the sourcing of expertise—those whom reporters choose to call for authoritative quotes on education facts and research. Over and over again, national education reporters consult the small groups of policy analysts closest to the Democratic and Republican leaderships.

Certainly it makes sense for a reporter to talk to them, sometimes. They advise party leaders and it is important to know what party leaders are hearing. But, they are not the font of all knowledge and wisdom. Moreover, because national education reporters so rarely talk to anyone else, the policy insiders can take advantage.

Selective referencing—limiting one’s sources of information to one’s colleagues within the group—is the norm. Dismissive reviews—open declarations that no information or research exists outside the bounds of the group—are common, too. Indeed, national education reporters frequently pass along both unquestioned and intact, essentially helping policy analysts with their own agendas to suppress competing ideas and the careers of rival analysts.

Many education reporters don’t see a problem, though. After surveying their members nationwide, the Education Writers Association (EWA) declared this a “golden age for education reporting.” EWA revealed that 95 percent of its member-respondents think “My journalism makes a positive impact on education.”

The EWA also asked its members for their “most frequently cited sources of story ideas.” Sources #1 and #2 were, respectively, “news release, news conference, or public relations professional” and “news coverage.” The first source type requires money and organization, something far more common to establishment insiders than independent outsiders. The second source type—also known as pack journalism—simply multiplies the effect of the first.

The late professor and congressman Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously asserted, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Within the flatland of US education journalism, the assertion may not hold. The more narrowly journalists source factual information, the more opportunity they grant those sources to customize facts to benefit themselves and the two parties’ leadership.

Posted in Education journalism, Education policy, research ethics, Richard P. Phelps | Leave a comment