Iowa Academic Standards Hold Teachers Hostage

By Joye Walker

I retired more than a year ago, giving me many months to process the discomfort I felt in my last few years of teaching. It was a difficult time for many reasons, but one big reason stands out: a problematic curriculum that holds teachers hostage.

The Iowa Academic Standards is a set of “Clear and rigorous learning standards educators use to ensure all students are college, career, and future ready.” They are “required for all students by state law.” (

While the intentions of the Standards are admirable, the administration of actually delivering a curriculum that satisfies these Standards is fraught with problems. Teachers are required by state law to deliver a curriculum that consists of topics strictly outlined by grade level in the Iowa Academic Standards. Teaching math is an art that requires great flexibility on the part of teachers. Most administrators do not understand what is involved in teaching mathematics or how mathematics should be taught. Within a single classroom, students demonstrate a wide range of abilities and degrees of mastery of content previously taught to them. Teachers are faced with the monumental task of figuring out how to present content in order to bring each student forward in learning new concepts.

The Iowa Academic Standards consist of some major content domains, and within each domain are found specific standards. This is a simplistic view of school mathematics. It implies that mathematics can be reduced to a finite list of topics to be taught at each grade level. Realistically, mathematics is a complex intertwining of all math and other studies learned since elementary school, including reading, science, and social studies. Mathematics builds upon previously learned skills, including reading skills, language skills, computational skills, and logic skills. At any given grade level, the Iowa Academic Standards are written with the assumption that all students have some mastery of previously taught math standards. The reality is that no two students are at the same place in terms of concept mastery, in any given classroom. The skill of teaching is to bring students along, weaving previously learned skills and concepts with new ones.

Mathematics learning is a continuum. It makes no sense to have a finite list of standards to be taught one at a time when students encounter many skills and concepts that appear within a single problem. A teacher needs to determine where students are deficient in their skills and figure out how to address such deficiencies, which vary greatly within a given classroom. It should be the teacher’s call how to determine when this is accomplished and when they are ready to go on. School administrators frown upon reteaching concepts and skills for which students have incomplete learning, with the argument that such skills are below grade level and have already been taught. A teacher knows that not all students learn at the same pace and not all students master all topics. In fact, sometimes students struggle with a first exposure to a concept, but come to understand it much better after several more encounters with that same concept. Then, mastery can and will follow. The fact that students learn at different rates should not be a problem in school math classes, but teachers are discouraged from providing necessary remediation. Teachers also have to hurry students to learn more concepts when they have had woefully insufficient practice, most particularly with basic computation including with fractions and decimals.

To just say that students should be learning grade level standards while ignoring the fact that many students are not prepared to do this is not going to help. Administrators believe that teachers should be focused on grade level standards and, if necessary, choose only those that are most important. To most math teachers, it makes no sense to try to select those topics that are most important because they ALL are important! If we must do this, then we must not pretend that students who only studied a few topics are getting a full course in algebra or geometry or precalculus and we must not pretend that they are prepared for college math or entry into a STEM field.

Administrators also discourage the use of textbooks, encouraging teachers to use online or other sources. A good textbook is written in a sequence that develops new concepts by leading students from what was previously learned to new and related concepts. Development is carefully done in coherent textbooks, and also happens with good teaching, so that students can move forward in their learning. If, instead, teachers merely look at the list of standards relevant to their course and select materials about this topic or that one from various sources, there is no guarantee of a logical and sequential progression. Instead, a choppy, seemingly unrelated hodgepodge of topics ensues with the absence of extremely careful, time-consuming and technical consideration by the teacher. Students are left confused and are often unable to make connections among seemly random topics.

The Iowa Academic Standards is not a set of performance standards. In other words, it does not spell out the level of mastery that students must demonstrate in the form of concrete examples. Take for example, standard A-REI.B.3, which states:

“Solve linear equations and inequalities in one variable, including equations with coefficients represented by letters (For educators, mathematics DOK 1)”

{DOK is an acronym for Depth of Knowledge, and has levels 1-4 with 1 being the lowest. It is a measure often used in test development by organizations such as ACT.}

If the Iowa Core would give examples of what is meant by a standard or the DOK designation, teachers might find it easier to use. For example, offer something like “Students should be able to solve a linear equation that contains variables on one or both sides, including numbers that may be fractional or decimal, such as − 3x − 5 = 7x + 3 or ax + b = c or 0.4x − 6(3x + 0.1) = 7 − 1/2x .” However, the Iowa Academic Standards are not presented this way, so it can be a mystery to determine what exactly is required of a student to demonstrate mastery of a given standard.

Instead, parents (and of course, teachers), reading the description above as stated in the Iowa Academic Standards in an effort to determine whether their child is being taught this particular standard, must first understand what is meant by linear and what is the meaning of the word coefficient.

Next, it is necessary to determine what is meant by DOK 1. Here is the description linked from the standard A-REI.B.3:

“Math Level 1 (Recall) includes the recall of information such as a fact, definition, term, or a simple procedure, as well as performing a simple algorithm or applying a formula. That is, in mathematics, a one-step, well defined, and straight algorithmic procedure should be included at this lowest level.”

Not clear, is it?

Here are a few equations that are linear in the variable x:

x + 3 = 5

2x + 3 = 5

2x + 3 = 5x + 7

2x + 3 − 8x = 4(3x − 2) + 5

2/3 (4x − 9) = 1/4 (5 − 7x)

4ax − 3bx = cx + d

Which of these equations are DOK 1, according to the description provided above?

The first equation sets a pretty low bar. The second one isn’t much tougher. Where does this list cease to offer equations of DOK 1? I have been in rooms with seasoned educators who cannot agree on what constitutes DOK 1. And therein lies the problem. It is not clear to what expectations students are (or should be) held. I would expect my students to manage all of these equations in a high school algebra class. As you can see, the fifth equation requires fraction manipulation, as well as calculation with negative numbers. The student who did not master fraction computation or rules for combining negative numbers in previous grade levels is going to struggle at this point. Anyone who has taught algebra has seen this time and time again, yet such under-prepared students continue to be placed in algebra. However, if it is deemed that the first two equations are sufficient to satisfy the standard for algebra students in high school, then I do not hold out much hope for their success in post-secondary education math or other quantitative courses and most certainly, no hope for STEM field entry.

Even if all students in one school district are held to common expectations, there is absolutely no guarantee that all students in the next school district will be held to the same ones, due to the nebulous descriptions offered in the Iowa Academic Standards. One problem that teachers all over the nation face is dealing with the movement of students from one school district to another. Part of the art of teaching is figuring out how to catch students up if they enter a school with higher performance expectations. Requiring teachers to use Standards, then, does not ensure an equivalent educational experience from school district to school district or even from building to building within a school district. It requires great skill on the part of the math teacher to properly place and take care of incoming students. School administrators want to place students with their age group, regardless of deficiencies that would inhibit success in any given course.

My last point is about honors mathematics classes, which are falling out of favor in many circles. The idea is that honors classes are not clearly defined and because of this, should not be offered. It is acceptable to have vague curriculum descriptions, but somehow, great precision is required in describing honors level classes. “Elitist” and “biased” are words used to describe honors classes. I wonder how it is that coaches are allowed to select the starting team without being accused of having implicit bias, but teachers are not deemed professional enough to select the students who can handle a much higher level of study taken at a faster pace.

Today, a great many disparate levels of capability exist in our math classes. For teachers, it is very difficult to work with so many levels in one classroom. Teachers need to keep their most able students learning and progressing at high levels while simultaneously addressing sometimes profound deficiencies of students in the same class. Factor in the Iowa Academic Standards, and it becomes a study in frustration.

Mathematics has been my passion for decades, and it was an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to teach students of all levels for twenty-three years. My experiences both in the classroom and in life have given me many perspectives on the application of the math that I so enjoy. I was once told by a high-ranking school administrator in Iowa that veteran math teachers should not be trusted to teach math right, and that they should all teach from scripts. If you haven’t been bothered by anything else I have written here, this should bother you.

Teaching has been reduced to a robotic kind of job that does not involve creativity, decision making, or professionalism. It is a micromanaged kind of work that stifles passionate teachers and takes away their opportunities to provide students with curricula that make sense. Teachers are kept from holding all students to high standards, academically and behaviorally. If we are to educate generations of people who must tackle increasingly difficult problems, then we should be providing our students with tools – the highest level of education that we can possibly offer. High level education includes opportunities to learn vocational and technical skills that are so valued in our workforce. Such skills can be infused into our daily classes. However, the Iowa Academic Standards hold teachers hostage as they prescribe a curriculum, which may not be the best one for everyone. High quality education should also include the expectation of adherence to deadlines, regularity of attendance, respectful behavior, and clarity of requirements for earning various grades, including failing grades. Teachers need to be able to have expectations in place, backed by administrative support for those expectations. It’s time to rethink what we are doing to our children, and start expecting the very best education that we can offer.

Posted in Common Core, Curriculum & Instruction, Joye Walker, K-12, math, Mathematics, STEM | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The absolute worst “real world” problem I have ever encountered

by Joye Walker

It was in the UCSMP Algebra 2 book and I encountered it during my first year of teaching. Here was the opening linear programming example.


Stuart Dent decided to investigate one of his typical meals, fried chicken and corn on the cob. He compiled the data in the following table

 Vitamin APotassium(mg)Iron (mg)Calories
Fried chicken10001.2122

Stu let f= the number of pieces of chicken and e= the number of ears of corn. After deciding the minimum amounts of each needed from this meal he wrote the system:

100f+310e>=1000 (at least 1000 units of vitamin A)
151e>=200 (at least 200 mg potassium)
1.2f+e>=6 (at least 6 mg iron)
122f+70e>=600 (at least 600 Calories)


The point was to find the cheapest diet for a healthy life. One could argue that we are not talking about healthy foods here, but let’s not bog down with that. The objective function is C=0.90f+0.75e where a piece of chicken costs $0.90 and an ear of corn costs $0.75. Let’s also not bog down about whether those prices are reasonable, even back when UCSMP algebra was written, probably the early 1990s. The vertices of the feasible region, rounded to the nearest hundredth when necessary, are (0, 60/7), (3.76, 2.01), and (5.89, 1.32).

1. No one eats 5.89 pieces of chicken and 1.32 ears of corn. Instruction is needed (but not provided in the example) to help students find the lattice points nearest the vertices of the feasible region, but that are contained in the feasible region. Recall that this is the opening example of linear programming.

2. I sketched the feasible region on graph paper, taking great pains to use a ruler and be accurate. The inequalities were not pleasant to graph. I used the two-intercept method to graph each line, but when one of the boundaries is y=200/151, it took a bit of hand waving to make a good graph.

3. If a student is inclined to work through the examples in the book (I was always that student, and over the years of my career, I taught many such students), it is extremely tedious to get it graphed with such nasty coefficients in the inequalities, and it takes some pretty good precision to graph such that identified intersections are indeed vertices of the feasible region.

4. Opening examples should not contain nasty numbers. Students need to learn the concepts first. The tedious calculations can come later. We don’t start teaching students to multiply 1.96 times 6.7789. We start with multiplying 2 times 7 first. We get more sophisticated when they can handle it.

5. Students who are not good at following examples such as linear programming for the first time, are not going to stay with this one. They will tune out and not have a clue how to tackle their homework.

6. I completely rewrote that section of the textbook (my first year of teaching) and shared my lessons and problems with colleagues. I did use “real-world” problems in the sense that, for example, a farmer had a certain amount of acres to plant in corn and beans, and used information that gave reasonable vertices and objective functions. I completely avoided the nasty numbers because, while they can appear in higher level exposures to linear programming, they shouldn’t appear in the very first examples when students have to translate the given problem into a system of inequalities.

I absolutely refuse to ask my students to work problems that were unnecessarily cumbersome and where the numbers took away from the concepts being explored. I’m sure they were thrilled when I retired last year.

Posted in Curriculum & Instruction, Joye Walker, K-12, math, Mathematics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Do We Still Need Public Schools?

Sandra Stotsky, April 2022

Do we still want a chief policy maker in in the Department of Education with little classroom teaching experience beyond grade 5 who has never administered a middle or high school? No particular ethnicity or race or gender seems to have worked. We’ve tried using all these sociocultural criteria for selecting top education administrators, especially in our major cities. But no sociocultural criterion has led to an effective policy maker.

Are recent nation-wide riots, looting, and arson all expressions of frustration with seemingly failed or ineffective educational institutions? We haven’t tried yet to make other institutions for public health or safety responsible for educating the nation’s children. There are several questions we should ask to try to understand the basis for the many waves of rioting in our major cities.

1. Why haven’t our educational institutions found effective remedial strategies for low achievers by now, over 50 years after the first federal grants to low-income schools and communities in 1965 or so under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)?
2. Do children of low-income parents in other countries perform similarly on the TIMSS, PIRLS, and PISA tests? These have been the chief international tests available for our states to participate in.

Maybe education researchers have not asked the right questions, such as:

1. How much reading or other homework do teachers assign their students in K-12?
2. How many parents check how much their children 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 in this country?
4. Why has the use of literary texts and curriculum-aligned textbooks whose subject matter and vocabulary have been reduced in difficulty (such as recent Afrocentric curricula like Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project, located at the New York Times) failed to boost scores of children deemed marginalized?
5. What untried but new educational policies would their parents support?

Perhaps all parents would agree that an effective policy maker in the U.S. Department of Education 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 policy maker in Education who is familiar with beginning reading and arithmetic research as well as with the features of successful high schools like the old Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C.

Why hasn’t a regularly increasing amount of federal and state money in over fifty years hasn’t helped low-income students in education? Why hasn’t Congress 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? They both found social factors more important than educational interventions. The Coleman Report also noted that the teachers of non-black students had greater knowledge and verbal skills than did the teachers of black children. Wouldn’t all students, not just low-achieving students, benefit from academically stronger teachers? Recent information on the benefits of academically strong teachers can be found in

Unfortunately, whatever our public schools have done since WWII in the name of equity hasn’t increased general achievement in low achievers. Some scholars have even argued that no increase in achievement was ever intended.

In recent years, many educators have promoted school choice, especially via charter schools, as ways to strengthen low achievers. But school choice is useful only if curriculum choices and the portability of funds for individual students are allowed. As a Harvard economist found when he had an opportunity to design his own intervention program for thousands of Houston, Texas, students, trying to implement the features of effective charter schools doesn’t necessarily lead to much higher academic achievement.

Schools with chiefly low-income students or low achievers are considered high-performing if their test results are higher than expected. One of their characteristics, we are told, is “excellence in teaching and leadership.” According to a report on “strategies to improve low-performing schools” issued by the Center for American Progress in 2016, the phrase has been used by Roland Fryer, a prominent economist known for his attempt to inject seemingly successful charter school practices into “traditional” schools. According to the Center’s report, the vast school-improvement program he helped to design in 2010 for Houston “implemented the following best practices of high-performing charters” based on Fryer’s research on effective schooling models: (1) data-driven instruction; (2) excellence in teaching and leadership; (3) culture of high expectations; (4) frequent and intensive tutoring, or so-called high-dosage tutoring; and (5) extended school day and year.

The long-term results of Houston’s massive Apollo program, which Fryer designed, have been described as “statistically significant” gains in mathematics but “negligible” gains in reading. Moreover, “high-dosage tutoring” seems to be the source of the mathematics gains. For Fryer’s account of the Houston program and its results, see his 2011 or 2014 article. Houston’s results left policy makers with a conundrum. Low achievers seemed to respond to intensive math tutorials (all Houston students had regular math classes; only some had tutorials, too). On the other hand, it wasn’t clear that targeted and intensive tutoring could achieve more than immediate higher test results. In other words, tutoring didn’t seem to lead to lasting gains in both reading and math.

There is another problem that Houston educators needed to consider. Rice University’s evaluation report recommended not only more math tutorials but also tutorials in reading for the future. What could the statistical effectiveness of math tutorials in Houston tell teacher -preparation programs and professional developers to focus on? In this study, statistical significance likely reflects the large number of students in the Apollo program. And teacher -preparation programs and professional development do not typically show teachers how to do tutorials in any subject. A master’s degree program in remedial reading might show teachers how to do one-on-one clinical work in reading, but that is not the same thing as a tutorial in reading.

But school choice may be the best strategy now, as Thomas Sowell noted in his recent book titled Charter Schools and Their Enemies. Letting public money be used in every state for children in schools their parents want them to attend (whether private or secular schools), without mandates to use particular standards, tests, textbooks, and teachers, may finally enable school choice to be the motivational mechanism its supporters envisioned.

To ensure civic equity, however, we need to nationalize the one subject where it would make sense to ensure that all students share common historical and contemporary knowledge, such as the basic political principles embedded in the United States 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. That is one way to ensure similar knowledge in diverse groups of graduating high school seniors. To ensure diverse voices in history and geography at the classroom level (in addition to what is taught about the Constitutional Period), teachers should invite the parents of students in their elementary or middle school classes to recommend or provide good ethnic stories/poems to discuss in class, with close relatives invited to attend and participate.

The road to effective education is paved with local financial control and parent choice. All students do not want to go to college. High schools could establish several sets of standards rather than a single set of academic standards and let students take course sequences that appeal to them. For a discussion of effective standards and K-12 curricula and tests, listen to Ingrid Centurion’s interview with Sandra Stotsky on education: Centurion was a candidate for public office in South Carolina and doesn’t want public schools closed down. Stotsky was the chief administrator in the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2000 and was considered responsible for the state’s new or revised state standards and licensure regulations in 2000/3 that led to the “Massachusetts Education Miracle.” With parent-supported reforms, schools of choice can give all students the schools they want:

Posted in College prep, Curriculum & Instruction, Education Reform, K-12, math, reading, Sandra Stotsky | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

In Praise of Memorization

by Pearl Leff

I once worked at a small company of insanely productive engineers. They were geniuses by any account. They knew the software stack from top to bottom, from hardware to operating systems to Javascript, and could pull together in days what would take teams at other companies months to years. Between them they were more productive than any division I’ve ever been in, including FAANG tech companies. In fact, they had written the top-of-the-line specialized compiler in their industry — as a side project. (Their customers believed that they had buildings of engineers laboring on their product, while in reality they had less than 10.)

I was early in my career at the time and stunned by the sheer productivity and brilliance of these engineers. Finally, when I got a moment alone with one of them, I asked him how they had gotten to where they were.

He explained that they had been software engineers together in the intelligence units of their country’s military together. Their military intelligence computers hadn’t been connected to the internet, and if they wanted to look something up online, they had to walk to a different building across campus. Looking something up online on StackOverflow was a major operation. So they ended up reading reference manuals and writing down or memorizing the answers to their questions because they couldn’t look up information very easily. Over time, the knowledge accumulated.

Memorization means purposely learning something so that you remember it with muscle memory; that is, you know the information without needing to look it up.

Every educator knows that memorization is passé in today’s day and age. Facts are so effortlessly accessible with modern technology and the internet that it’s understanding how to analyze them that’s important. Names, places, dates, and other kinds of trivia don’t matter, so much as the ability to logically reason about them. Today anything can be easily looked up.

But as I’ve gotten older I’ve started to understand that memorization is important, much more than we give it credit for. Knowledge is at our fingertips and we can look anything up, but it’s knowing what knowledge is available and how to integrate it into our existing knowledge base that’s important.

You Can’t Reason Accurately Without Knowledge

You know a lot of things.

A lot of life involves reasoning: taking this information you have and making hypotheses that connect different pieces in a way that provides a deeper understanding of them.

The more information you have muscle memory for, the more you can use to reason about.

But you can’t draw connections between things you don’t know exist, or don’t have a good “feel” for.

The problem with not memorizing is that you’re limited by the lack of data points, or nodes that you can make connections between. In short, you’re limited by your lack of understanding of what to look up.

Here’s a small illustration.

Many would argue that there is no point for kids to memorize the world map today. But if you know basic geography, you will hear all kinds of political analysis that only works because the person arguing it doesn’t have any idea where anything is on a map. This is the problem with not making school kids learn basic geography. You can look up any country on Google, but if you’ve never had to memorize approximately where they are, either voluntarily or in school, you’ll never get a sense of why things are the way they are.

Here are some examples that show how that works.

Why does Oman have so much power in today’s Middle East – enough power that it can stay neutral in the various regional conflicts and still be a dominant political player?

This is why:

Oman controls the Strait of Hormuz, the only water-based entry to the Persian Gulf. Any country that messes with Oman risks being denied access to the Persian Gulf.

A second example: at the time of the writing of this article, Russia was a month into an invasion into Ukraine. This is not the first time in even the decade that Russia has tried to take over its neighbor: in 2014 Russia illegally invaded and annexed Crimea, and it is still controlled by Russia today. Why does Russia want to control Crimea so badly? If it’s a power play, why not threaten Belarus or Latvia, which also border Russia and would be easy to take over?

This is why:

Crimea’s Port of Sevastopol is a highly-desired prize for Russia: it gives Russia control over the Black Sea and trade access to the Mediterranean Sea. Russia has only two warm-water ports that don’t freeze during the winter: Vladivostok, which opens to the Pacific, and St. Petersburg, which opens to the Baltic. There are other factors as well, obviously, but Russia’s pursuit of warm-water ports is a frequently recurring theme in its history.

This may seem basic, but many people have never thought to look up these places on a map. If you were trying to just think of the answers you could easily miss them entirely. But if you memorized the map at some point, you knew where those places are and probably could have thought of the answer.

Or try a basic historical example: if you know that the printing press was invented in 1450, you can make the connection between that and the Protestant Reformation in 1517.

The point is that memorizing data gives you a bank of material to run through when forming and testing a hypothesis. When you rely solely on analysis as a form of knowledge-synthesis, you’ll often reach the wrong conclusions simply because you do not have good data to base your deductions on. Of course you can and should research, but you’ll be much more accurate much more quickly when you’ve got the information in your head at hand.

Chances are, you won’t naturally remember all these facts, and that’s where the memorization comes in.

To paraphrase a saying that LessWrong readers will recognize, your map is not the territory. Your job is to add as many features to your map as you can to make it resemble the territory as closely as possible. The more detailed the features on your map, the closer you will be to having an accurate idea of the territory.

Memorizing Organizes Your Knowledge

You know that feeling when you’ve got a lot of information about something, but it’s all jumbled and confusing and fragmented? You might feel this way about car parts, or historical events. Did the Babylonians come before or after the Persians? Did Frederick William I of Prussia come before or after Frederick I? Or William I?

When you look up every fact you want to know independently of its context, you risk it being jumbled and vague and fuzzy in your head. For example, if you heard that Daylight Savings Time started in 1916, you’d likely quickly forget the date.

But if you have key checkpoints of information memorized, new data has a solid place to lodge itself in your mind. If you know that World War I started in 1914 and ended in 1918, and someone mentions that Daylight Savings Time started in 1916, you’ll quickly deduce that they are related. You’ll also remember the approximate date that Daylight Savings Time began: sometime during World War I.

Imagine you’re an engineering manager. Who would you rather hire: the person who knows exactly what features are available in PHP 7 and which are only available in PHP 8, or the one who will figure it out by trial-and-error while writing each application and seeing what fails? Of course, the second engineer certainly may produce quality work. But the first one unquestionably has a comprehensively organized framework of the tools he has at his disposal.

Memorizing information gives you a concrete organizational scaffolding and context in which to put new information. Memorizing an organized set of facts means that new information can be inserted in an orderly way, sandwiched or enhancing other facts in an organized framework.

It Stays With You

My high school completely eschewed memorization as a way of learning. Because of that, students were outraged when, in tenth grade, an older teacher tried to require the class to memorize the equivalent of about four sentences of poetry for a test. All hell broke loose. Being asked to memorize forty words was slightly less outrageous than being asked to memorize the collected works of William Shakespeare. The students brought articles in proofs they had found online that memorization isn’t a good way to learn, that it would doom us all to a life of lifeless brain-dead chanting of facts, that it would cause all their neurons to flop over and die from the effort. If I remember correctly, they even tried to get parents involved.

But the school stood behind the teacher, and the teacher stood firm, and ultimately we had to be able to repeat back the lines of the poem via a fill-in-the-blank section on the test.

Over the years those lines have come back to me many times, and I understand them on a much deeper level. There’s no way I’d ever look them up, but having them accessible has made my life immeasurably richer.

Subconsciously, when you learn a piece by heart, its message penetrates deep inside you. It lies at your fingertips, ready for you to make use of it. Many cultures have long understood this. In Islam, people who memorize the entire Koran are given the special title of hafiz, or guardian. In a secular equivalent, I know people who have memorized Rudyard Kipling’s poem If— to give them a moral helping hand at times of crisis.

Even if you don’t really understand it the first time, memorizing information and literature gives you the opportunity to come back to it. In the words of a college professor of mine, the point of a liberal arts education is to give you what to think about. Having literature, poetry, or even just quotations at the tip of your fingers makes for a more vivid, vibrant, and resonant life.

*Originally published at Pearl Leff’s blog:

Posted in constructivism, Curriculum & Instruction | Leave a comment

Reading Before Writing

Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
8 September 2018

The extra-large ubiquitous Literacy Community is under siege from universal dissatisfaction with the Writing skills of both students and graduates, and this is a complaint of very long standing.

The Community response is to request more money and time to spend on sentence structure, paragraphing, voice, tone, and other mechanical Writing paraphernalia.

It never seems to occur to them that if students read more, they would know more, and in that way actually have some knowledge they wanted to write about. But reading and knowledge never seem to find their way into discussions of Literacy in Our Schools.

When teaching our students to write, not only are standards set very low in most high schools, limiting students to the five-paragraph essay, responses to a document-based question, or the personal (or college) essay about matters which are often no one else’s business, but we often so load up students with formulae and guidelines that the importance of writing when the author has something to say gets lost in the maze of processes.

On the one hand writing is difficult enough to do, and academic writing is especially difficult if the student hasn’t read anything, and on the other hand teachers feel the need to have students “produce” writing, however short or superficial that writing may be. So writing consultants and writing teachers feel they must come up with guidelines, parameters, checklists, and the like, as props to substitute for students’ absent motivation to describe or express in writing something they have learned.

Samuel Johnson once said, “an author will turn over half a library to produce one book,” the point being, as I understand it, that good writing must be based on extensive reading. But reading is just the step that is left out of the “Writing Process” in too many instances. The result is that students in fact do not have much to say, so of course they don’t have much they want to communicate in writing.

Enter the guidelines. Students are told to write a topic sentence, to express one idea per paragraph, to follow the structure of Introduction, Body, Conclusion, to follow the Twelve Steps to Effective Writing, and the like. This the students can be made to do, but the result is too often empty, formulaic writing which students come to despise, and which does not prepare them for the serious academic papers they may be asked to do in college.

I fear that the history book report, at least at the high school level in too many places, has died in the United States. Perhaps people will contact me with welcome evidence to the contrary, but where it is no longer done, students have not only been discouraged from reading nonfiction, but also have been lead to believe that they can and must write to formula without knowing something—for instance about the contents of a good book—before they write.

A nationally famous teacher of teachers of writing once told me: “I teach writing, I don’t get into content that much…” This is a splendid example of the divorce between content [reading and knowledge] and process [techniques] in common writing instruction.

Reading and writing are inseparable partners, in my view. In letters from authors of essays published in The Concord Review since 1987, they often say that they read so much about something in history that they reached a point where they felt a strong need to tell people what they had found out. The knowledge they had acquired had given them the desire to write well so that others could share and appreciate it as they did.

This is where good academic writing should start. When the motivation is there, born from knowledge gained, then the writing process follows a much more natural and straightforward path. Then the student can write, read what they have written, and see what they have left out, what they need to learn more about, and what they have failed to express as clearly as they wanted to. Then they read more, re-write, and do all the natural things that have always lead to good academic writing, whether in history or in any other subject.

At that point the guidelines are no longer needed, because the student has become immersed in the real work of expressing the meaning and value of something they know is worth writing about. This writing helps them discover the limits of their own understanding of the subject and allows them to see more clearly what they themselves think about the subject. The process of critiquing their own writing becomes natural and automatic. This is not to deny, of course, the value of reading what they have written to a friend or of giving it to a teacher for criticism and advice. But the writing techniques and processes no longer stop up the natural springs for the motivation to write.

As students are encouraged to learn more before they write, their writing will gradually extend past the five-paragraph size so often constraining the craft of writing in our schools. The Page Per Year Plan© suggests that all public high school Seniors could be expected to write a twelve-page history research paper, if they had written an eleven-page paper their Junior year, a ten-page paper their Sophomore year, and a nine-page paper their Freshman year, and so on all the way back through the five-page paper in Fifth Grade and even to a one-page paper on a topic other than themselves their first year in school. With the Page Per Year Plan©, every Senior in high school will have learned, for that twelve-page paper, more about some topic probably than anyone else in their class knows, perhaps even more than any of their teachers knows about that subject. They will have had in the course of writing longer papers each year, that first taste of being a scholar which will serve them so well in higher education and beyond.

Writing is always much harder when the student has nothing to communicate, and the proliferating paraphernalia of structural aids from writing consultants and teachers often simply encumber students and alienate them from the essential benefits of writing. John Adams urged his fellow citizens to “Dare to read, think, speak and write” so that they could contribute to the civilization we have been given to enjoy and preserve. Let us endeavor to allow students to discover, through their own academic reading and writing, both the discipline and the satisfactions of reading and of writing carefully and well.

In 1625, Francis Bacon wrote, “Reading maketh a Full man, Conference a Ready man, and Writing an Exact man.” These benefits are surely among those we should not withhold from our K-12 students.

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Posted in Curriculum & Instruction, Humanities, K-12, Reading & Writing, Will Fitzhugh | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Rate Busters

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
1 September 2021

Back in the day, when Union contracts specified the number of widgets each worker was expected to produce during a shift, that number was called “the rate.” Anyone who produced more than that number was called a “rate-buster,” and was subjected to pressure, sanctions, and the like, from fellow union members, until their production was once more within the agreed rate for that job.

There are “rates” in education as well, for students. In general, if they are assigned nonfiction papers, many high school students are asked to write only 3-5 pages. The International Baccalaureate asks for Extended Essays of 4,000 words (16 pages) at the end of a candidate’s time in the program, but that is quite out of the ordinary.

In 2014 a Junior at one of the most prestigious (and most expensive) New England preparatory schools expressed an interest in preparing a paper to be considered by The Concord Review, where the published history research papers now average 9,000 words (30 pages), but she was concerned because her teachers limited history papers at that school to 1,000 words or less (4 pages).

When The Concord Review started calling for history research papers by secondary students in 1987, the suggestion was that papers should be 4,000-6,000 words (or more), (16-24 pages) but students have been sending in longer papers. One 20,000-word paper on the Augustan Reforms in the Roman military (c. 65 pages) was submitted by a student in Singapore whose English curriculum would limit him to 2,000 words. He wanted to read more and write more about the topic. (He will be going to Oxford.)

He is a rate-buster, eager to go beyond the common expectations for what high school students are capable of in writing serious history research papers. In his introduction to the first issue of The Concord Review, (1988) Theodore Sizer, former Dean of the School of Education at Harvard, and former Headmaster at Andover, wrote:

Americans shamefully underestimate their adolescents. With often misdirected generosity, we offer them all sorts of opportunities and, at least for middle-class and affluent youths, the time and resources to take advantage of them.

We ask little in return. We expect little, and the young people sense this, and relax. The genially superficial is tolerated, save in areas where the high school students themselves have some control, in inter-scholastic athletics, sometimes in their part-time work, almost always in their socializing.

Not much has changed since Dr. Sizer wrote that in 1988. Our schools continue to find ways to limit the amount of nonfiction writing our students do, with the result that they do not get very good at it. But no matter how much college professors and employers complain that their students and employees can’t write, our “union rules” at the k-12 level ensure that students do very little nonfiction writing.

This is not the result of a union contract on rates, but it does come in part from the fact that, for instance in some public high schools, history teachers can have 150 students. This provides a big disincentive for them in assigning term papers or even book reports. They must consider how much time they have to advise students on papers and to evaluate them when they are submitted. But the administration and the school committees do not want nonfiction writing to get, for example, the extra time routinely given to after-school sports, or band and cheerleading.

In addition, some significant number of teachers have never written a thesis, or done much serious academic writing of their own, which makes it more comfortable for them to limit their students to the minimum of nonfiction writing in school (or none).

The Concord Review has published 130 issues with 1,427 history research papers by secondary students from 46 states and 43 other countries, so there are some “rate-buster” students out there, even in our public high schools. It is even clearer, from the number of excellent “independent study” papers we now receive, that many more students, when they see the exemplary work of their peers, follow the rule that says “Where there’s a Way there’s a Will,” and they take advantage of a journal that does not tell them what to write about, nor does it limit the length of the papers they want to write. When we see the number of these fine history papers, it should make us regret all the more everything we do to press our potential student “rate-busters” to do less than they could. We don’t do that in sports. Why in the world do we do it in academics?

“Teach with Examples”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
TCR History Camp [2014]
Varsity Academics®

Posted in College prep, Curriculum & Instruction, History, Humanities, K-12, Reading & Writing, Social Studies, Will Fitzhugh | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cheating in the Classroom: We all have a choice

I was naive about cheating as a student, so I was also naive as a professor. Then one day a student complained to me about cheating during my exam.

That put me in an awkward position.

The culture of my university was not friendly toward “policing” the students, so I was not eager to be an “enforcer.” But the student noticed my ambivalence and said, “Looking the other way is not fair to students who do the work.”

She was unassailably right, so I decided to act. To define a course of action, I discussed it with colleagues. Their hostility was surprising. They said they could not interfere with students’ “access” to a degree. I heard almost the same words over and over: “I’m not a policeman. It’s their decision if they want to learn.” The tone of moral superiority implied that I was doing wrong by noticing the evidence.

But I couldn’t go back to that mindset because I had children of my own. I didn’t want their teachers to be “tolerant” of cheating, so I had to hold myself to that standard.

I decided to focus on prevention.

I spaced students out during exams and distributed different versions of the test. Some students pretended not to hear the rules, and if I turned a blind eye, I would be rewarding cheaters again. I had to take charge. Imagine all 5’2” of me standing at the front of a large auditorium instructing students on how to leave an empty seat on all four sides of them.

During the exam, I stared constantly into the room, even though it felt awkward, and I’d rather have been reading. But it wasn’t enough. Students reported cheating on one side of the room when I was patrolling the other. I started bringing a student assistant to help.

But cheating is like roaches: the more you look, the more you see. I kept stumbling on new evidence of cheating, and I devised new prevention methods.

Then a new wrinkle appeared. My university ruled that cheating charges could not be brought unless the syllabus defined cheating and enforcement policies. The administration believed that many students came from a culture that did not define it as cheating because their learning is cooperative. My colleagues agreed that such cultures are superior to our unhealthy individualism, and that anti-cheating measures undermine cooperative learning with a climate of fear. But I went ahead and defined cheating in my syllabus.

I felt shamed because I knew I was being “judgmental” from the perspective of campus culture. But the taxpayers of California were paying me to make judgments. I felt like I was doing the minimum necessary to collect my salary in good conscience.

My strength came from having tested the Rousseauian view of learning in my own home. I was taught that “learning is fun,” so children will naturally learn if you leave them alone. I tried this on my kids, and it didn’t work. I’d tried it on my students, and it didn’t work. I noticed that many faculty members had children who did not learn the way the theory suggested.

My colleagues insisted that having “books in the home” was the difference between students who learn and those who don’t. So, their children’s failure to learn proved the flaws of this theory. We professors tell the world how to raise “our children,” but it’s not working on our children! I lost faith in Rousseau, and in social science.

I started asking students for opinions about cheating. One answer froze me in my tracks. The student said that some professors organize “so you didn’t have to cheat.” I asked what he meant, and he said they give you a one-page sheet that you can memorize, and that gets you an A even if you do nothing else.

A cheat sheet! I was horrified.

I felt trapped in a system that was just going through the motions. Ironically, the same thing had happened to me in an earlier career. I wanted to work in foreign aid, but during my first few field assignments, I had no work to do because project funds had been stolen. Everyone pretended nothing was wrong while they did nothing at work each day. No one dared to seem “judgmental.” I decided this was not the career for me and went into in teaching.

I didn’t like being at odds with the culture around me but didn’t like living a lie even more. Whenever I needed strength, I remembered the comment of the student who started it all— a “mid-career” student about my age.

Looking the other way is not fair to students who do the work.


Loretta Breuning, PhD, Inner Mammal Institute

Posted in Curriculum & Instruction, Education Fraud, Ethics, K-12, Testing/Assessment | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Rare Books

There is a general consensus among EduPundits that teacher quality is more important than student academic work in producing student academic achievement. That is mistaken. There is a general consensus among Social Studies educators that High School students are incapable of reading one complete History book and writing one History research paper each year. That is also wrong. 

We are not surprised that our High School students can take two years of calculus and three years of Mandarin, among other challenging courses, yet we still believe that they are not intellectually strong or diligent enough to make their way through one complete History book. We don’t seem to think they can write a decent research paper either, which has led to all the college expository writing courses which have sprung up over the years to repair their lack of preparation for college work, but that is another topic. 

As a test of this theory that secondary students are unable read a History book and discuss it until they reach college (if then), the TCR History Seminar has just concluded an 8-week online course of the reading and discussion of actual complete History books, not by High School students, but by Middle School students. Middle School students from the U.S., Hong Kong, and China met online with two seminar leaders to read and discuss: The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough, Churchill, by John Keegan, Miss Leavitt’s Stars by George Johnson, and Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife.

The results of this test indicate that the EduPundits and Social Studies educators are quite wrong in their low opinion of the capability of secondary students to read and discuss complete History books. David McCullough is easier than either Calculus or Mandarin.

So long as the English Departments in the schools, with their preference for fiction and personal writing, have a monopoly on standards and assignments for reading and writing, the benefits of this daring test might possibly be lost. It will be up to History and Social Studies educators to take up the challenge, and to ask their students to read complete History books (not brief excerpts and chapters from the textbook) and discuss them. Not only are they likely to be happily surprised by the capabilities thus revealed, but students will actually be on their way to better preparation for reading college books and writing college term papers. They will also have more knowledge and understanding of History and a better appreciation of the civilization they are inheriting. 

Do try it! We should not keep students away from complete ordinary History books by treating them as if they were Rare Books to be locked away in the Library—too precious for ordinary students to read. For more information contact: Steven Lee at steven@TCR History Camp <>.


“Teach with Examples”
Will Fitzhugh [Founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Academic Coaches [2014]TCR History Camp [2014]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
Varsity Academics®

Posted in College prep, Curriculum & Instruction, History, Humanities, K-12, Reading & Writing, Social Studies, Will Fitzhugh | Leave a comment

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.


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 , , , | 1 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 – 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:

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.”

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 | 2 Comments

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,”  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 ( ) 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 ( ). In his “Dear Hilary Letter,”  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 (, ) 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: and  

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 (,, 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 ) 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 | 1 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

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