Beware New Quality Counts State Rankings

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

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

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

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

Back to school means education news stories …for a while

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persian Gulf tensions recall a previous “gulf” crisis: The Tonkin Gulf Resolution

Why congressional oversight and investigative journalism must be aggressive

Dear Member of Congress,

Dear Investigative Journalist,

The recent ebb and flow of tensions in and around the Persian Gulf and the president’s family’s business ties to Gulf and Mid-east states need to be investigated and closely watched. His public actions reflect a fear of not being re-elected. Although bluster directed at Iran has calmed for the moment, his replacement of an experienced DNI (Dan Coats, whose only apparent fault was giving the president accurate reports) with an inexperienced sycophant – and quickly fell apart – should make everyone worry.

By coincidence, 55 years ago this week in another faraway gulf, a minor but intentionally provoked incident took place, when North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked a U.S. destroyer. Two days later a second attack was alleged, which most accounts conclude never happened. At the president’s request, Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. Since a draft of the resolution had been written two months earlier, it could be termed a resolution in search of an incident. Then, too, the president, Lyndon Johnson, was facing an election and accusations of being “soft on communism.”

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution gave him war powers equivalent to a declaration of war and passed Congress with only two dissenting votes. The result was the rapid escalation that became the Vietnam War. The attached article, a primer on the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, appeared in the OAH (Organization of American Historians) Magazine of History in 1992, written at the request of Truman scholar Prof. Robert Ferrell was guest editor of an issue of devoted to turning points in foreign policy. The article refers to the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor (off the Gulf of Mexico ). Here, too, despite the lack of evidence, Congress declared war on Spain (Several studies support the conclusion of an internally triggered explosion).

I hope that you (member of Congress or investigative journalist), will keep a close watch on the Persian Gulf and the actions of the president. A president who fires a top intelligence official for honestly briefing him with the facts as they are known to be demands aggressive oversight. The article may suggest some lines of questions to pursue.


Erich Martel

retired DCPS high school history teacher (world history, AP U.S. History)

Posted in Erich Martel, Ethics, History, Humanities, information suppression, Social Studies | Leave a comment

Should we switch from mandated “standardized” tests to mandated “performance” tests?

Sandra Stotsky, August 1, 2019

According to many education writers in this country, there are no tests in Finnish schools, at least no “mandated standardized tests.” That phrase was carefully hammered out by Smithsonian Magazine to exclude the many no- or low-stakes “norm-referenced” tests (like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, or ITBS) that have been given for decades across this country especially in the elementary grades to help school administrators to understand where their students’ achievement fell under a “normal curve” of distributing test scores.

Yet, a prominent Finnish educator tells us that Finnish teachers regularly test their upper grade students. As Finnish educator, Pasi Sahlberg, noted (p. 25), teachers assess student achievement in the upper secondary school at the end of each six to seven-week period, or five or six times per subject per school year. There are lots of tests in Finnish schools, it seems, but mainly teacher-made tests (not state-wide tests) of what they have taught. There are also “matriculation” tests at the end of high school (as the Smithsonian article admits)—for students who want to go to a Finnish university. They are in fact voluntary; only students who want to go on to university take them. Indeed, there are lots of tests for Finnish students, just not where American students are heavily tested (in the elementary and middle grades) and not constructed by a testing company.

Why should Americans now be even more interested in the topic of testing than ever before? Mainly because there seems to be a groundswell developing for “performance” tests in place of “standardized” tests. And they are called “assessments” perhaps to make parents and teachers think they are not those dreaded tests mandated by state boards of education for grades 3-8 and beyond as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Who wouldn’t want a test that “accurately measures one or more specific course standards”? And is also “complex, authentic, process and/or product-oriented, and open-ended.” Edutopia’s writer, Patricia Hilliard, doesn’t tell us in her 2015 blog “Performance-Based Assessment: Reviewing the Basics” whether it also brushes our hair and shines our shoes at the same time.

It’s as if our problem was simply the type of test that states have been giving, not what is tested nor the cost or amount of time teachers and students spend on them. It doesn’t take much browsing on-line to discover that two states have already found out there were deep problems with those tests, too: Vermont and Kentucky.

An old government publication (1993) warned readers about some of the problems with portfolios: ”Users need to pay close attention to technical and equity issues to ensure that the assessments are fair to all students.” It turns out that portfolios are not good for high stakes assessment—for a range of important reasons. In a nutshell, they are costly, time-consuming, and unreliable. Quoting one of the researchers/evaluators in the Vermont initiative, it indicates: “The Vermont experience demonstrates the need to set realistic expectations for the short-term success of performance-assessment programs and to acknowledge the large costs of these programs.” The authors state elsewhere in their own blog that the researchers “found the reliability of the scoring by teachers to be very low in both subjects… Disagreement among scorers alone accounts for much of the variance in scores and therefore invalidates any comparisons of scores.”

Validity and reliability are the two central qualities needed in a test. Indeed, the first two chapters of the testing industry’s “bible,” The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing are devoted to those two topics.

We learned even more from a book chapter by education professor George K. Cunningham on the “failed accountability system” in Kentucky. One of Cunningham’s most astute observations is the following:

Historically, the purpose of instruction in this country has been increasing student academic achievement. This is not the purpose of progressive education, which prefers to be judged by standards other than student academic performance. The Kentucky reform presents a paradox, a system structured to require increasing levels of academic performance while supporting a set of instructional methods that are hostile to the idea of increased academic performance (pp. 264-65).

That is still the dilemma today—skills-oriented standards assessed by “standardized” tests that require, for the sake of a reliable assessment, some multiple-choice questions.

Cunningham also warned, in the conclusion to his long chapter on Kentucky, about using performance assessments for large-scale assessment (p. 288). “The Performance Events were expensive and presented many logistical headaches.” In addition, he noted:

The biggest problem with using performance assessments in a standards-based accountability system, other than poor reliability, is the impossibility of equating forms longitudinally from year to year or horizontally with other forms of assessment. In Kentucky, because of the amount of time required, each student participated in only one performance assessment task. As a result, items could never be reused from year to year because of the likelihood that students would remember the tasks and their responses. This made equating almost impossible.

Further details on the problems of equating Performance Events may be found in a technical review in January 1998 by James Catterall and four others for the Commonwealth of Kentucky Legislative Research Commission. Also informative is a 1995 analysis of Kentucky’s tests by Ronald Hambleton et al. It is a scanned document and can be made searchable with Adobe Acrobat Professional.

A slightly optimistic account of what could be learned from the attempt to use writing and mathematics portfolios for assessment can be found in a recent paper by education analyst Richard Innes at Kentucky’s Bluegrass Institute.

For more articles on the costs and benefits of student testing, see the following:

Phelps, R. P. (2002, February). Estimating the costs and benefits of educational testing programs. Briefings on Educational Research, Education Consumers Clearinghouse, 2(2).

Phelps, R. P. (2000, Winter). Estimating the cost of systemwide student testing in the United States. Journal of Education Finance, 25(3) 343–380.

Phelps, R. P., et al. (1993). Student testing: Current extent and expenditures, with cost estimates for a national examination. GAO/PEMD-93-8, U.S. General Accounting Office, U.S. Congress.

Concluding Remarks:

Changing to highly subjective “performance-based assessments” removes any urgent need for content-based questions. That was why the agreed-upon planning documents for teacher licensure tests in Massachusetts (which were required by the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993) specified more multiple-choice questions on content than essay questions in their format (they all included both) and, for their construction, revision, and approval, required content experts as well as practicing teachers with that license, together with education school faculty who taught methods courses (pedagogy) for that license. With the help of the president of the National Evaluation Systems (NES, the state’s licensure test developer) and others in the company, the state was able to get more content experts involved in the test approval process. What Pearson, a co-owner of these tests, has done since its purchase of NES is unknown.

For example, it is known that for the Foundations of Reading (90), a licensure test for most prospective teachers of young children (in programs for elementary, early childhood, and special education teachers), Common Core’s beginning reading standards were added to the test description, as were examples for assessing the state’s added standards to the original NES Practice Test. It is not known if changes were made to the licensure test itself (used by about 6 other states) or to other Common Core-aligned licensure tests or test preparation materials, e.g., for mathematics. Even if Common Core’s standards are eliminated (as in Florida in 2019 by a governor’s Executive Order), their influence remains in some of the pre-Common Core licensure tests developed in the Bay State—tests that contributed to academically stronger teachers for the state.

It is time for the Bay State’s own legislature to do some prolonged investigations of the costs and benefits of “performance-based assessments” before agreeing to their possibility in Massachusetts and to arguments that may be made by FairTest, a Bay State-based company, or others who are eager to eliminate “standardized” testing but implement expensive and unreliable performance tests.

Posted in Common Core, Curriculum & Instruction, Reading & Writing, Sandra Stotsky, Testing/Assessment | Leave a comment

Richard Phelps: Is our education system failing us? Critically Speaking

CriticallySpeak @CritiSpeak

K12 is in trouble! Johnny can’t read, write or do arithmetic, even with a college degree. Interview with Dr. Richard Phelps CriticallySpeaking podcast
‎Critically Speaking on Apple Podcasts
‎@@string1@@ · 2019

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Education Next, the Fordham Institute, and Common Core

In years of observing the behavior of staff at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and Institute I haven’t noticed much of the “open-mindedness and humility” claimed on its website.[1] More common has been a proclivity to suppress dissent, shun or ridicule those who disagree, and promote their in-group as the only legitimate spokespersons for “education reform” along a wide range of education policy issues.

Fordham’s founder, Chester A. “Checker” Finn, waxes nostalgic about the early days of Fordham’s predecessor, the Education Excellence Network, and Diane Ravitch’s key, co-founding role in both.[2] But, now that she openly disagrees with them on some issues, Fordham President Michael Petrilli insults her as a “kook,”[3], and her long-standing relationship with the Brookings Institution is revoked on an absurd technicality.[4] An Education Next essay insults her personally and generally ridicules as an inferior intellect.[5]

Robert Pondiscio is “Senior Fellow and Vice President for External Affairs” at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. His Education Next essay, “Lessons on Common Core: Critical books offer more folly than wisdom,” typifies Fordham’s “humble” approach.[6] Pondiscio “reviews” six books written in opposition to the Common Core Initiative. Throughout the essay, he liberally portrays himself as a cool, measured, reasonable fellow, with the public—”parents and taxpayers alike who simply want a decent education for their kids”—on his side. The Common Core-critical book authors, meanwhile, are “carping”, “spleen venting,” “fear mongering”, and “conspiratorially minded” “excitable enemies.”

Pondiscio’s essay is short on substance and long on selective and colorful prejudicial quotations, adjectives and adverbs.[7] He characterizes Mercedes Schneider’s exhaustively researched Common Core Dilemma, for example, as “riddled with scare quotes and sarcasm.” Other descriptors employed for Common Core opponents include “bombast”, “overreach”, “dark mutterings”, “hyperbole”, “obsession”, “paranoia”, “folly”, “frets”, “paranoid conspiracy theories”, and “overreach”

Individuals Pondiscio agrees with, however, are “thoughtful”, “serious”, “sober”, and “principled.”

“Lessons on Common Core” effortlessly contradicts.[8] For example, Pondiscio supports the Common Core Standards for the “desperately needed” direction they provide teachers,

At a time when the nation’s 3.7 million teachers desperately needed help, when ‘What should we teach?’ was at long last being asked in earnest…

At the same time, he argues that standards really don’t matter much and good teachers ignore them completely,

Far more compelling arguments can be made not about how much Common Core matters, but how little.

To be upset by academic standards is to invest them with a power they neither have nor deserve. In my five years of teaching fifth graders, I never—not even once—reached for English language arts standards when deciding what to teach. … First things first: What is it you want to teach?

Pondiscio eases up a bit on his own “overheated” rhetoric for one book—the Pioneer Institute’s Drilling Through the Core. Perhaps not surprisingly, Drilling happens to be the only one among the six books written by authors one might legitimately characterize as elite—people Pondiscio might suppose he may need to work with sometime in the future—including a few individuals sometimes found inside his education reform tent, such as Stanford’s Williamson Evers.

Early on in his Education Next essay, and frequently in other venues, Pondiscio prominently brandishes his classroom teaching experience to establish his bona fides as a front-line educator. Moreover, on its website, the Fordham organizations proclaim.[9]

… we see much wisdom in “subsidiarity”— the doctrine that important matters ought to be handled by the competent authority that’s closest to the action, which in education usually means parents, teachers, and schools.

But teachers wrote the other five books Pondiscio reviewed, and he ridicules them mercilessly as ignorant rubes lacking the understanding that might qualify them to engage in a debate he believes to be beyond their intellectual reach.

Also unfortunately typical of Fordham essays on causes it is richly paid to promote: never once does Pondiscio mention his conflict of interest, nor those of Fordham.

As Joy Pullman, Managing Editor of The Federalist, describes the general problem.[10]

Common Core’s supporters are typically rich elites using their excess money to manipulate public opinion.

First, we have an obvious conflict of interest problem here. People deserve to know when a prominent official or self-proclaimed “expert” who is testifying before state legislatures or writing op-eds is making money from their persuasive efforts. It means their judgment is not entirely independent, even if they feel it so. Basic ethics requires someone with a financial or personal stake in the outcome of a public decision to recuse himself from participating in that decision. That has not been happening.

Second, it indicates rampant cronyism, which is a form of political and social corruption. We see that Common Core is infested with essentially the same set of people rewarding each other with taxpayer dollars and huge private grants, decades before there can be any proof that all this money laundering produced a genuine public good. Common Core is a giant experiment, remember. Bill Gates says he won’t know if his “education stuff” worked for “probably a decade.”[11] Former public officials (or semi-public officials, which is what I label the Common Core coauthors, because while we did not elect them we all must live with their decisions) are amply rewarded for doing what the rich and powerful wanted with sweet compensation packages following their “public service.”

Arguably, the Fordham organizations are the country’s most influential in education reform. Moreover, they have spun (or, purchased, depending on your point of view) a large, elaborate web of institutional and individual partnerships. A “common core” of people moves in, out, and across the groups. People inside the web know each other well, they share friends and enemies, and they owe each other favors. They are less likely to criticize others inside the network and, perhaps, more likely to criticize those outside the network.

Moreover, the network is replicating itself through such training vehicles as Fordham’s Emerging Education Policy Scholars Program.[12] If the graduates of these programs turn out to be just as censorial and clannish as some of those training them, our country can look forward to more narrow-mindedly conceived and hugely expensive white elephants like the Common Core Initiative.



[2] Finn, C.E. (December 1996). Farewell—And Hello Again. Network News & Views.

[3] The Education Gadfly. (March 29, 2011). “Fordham Dancetitute: Mike Petrilli takes the Fordham Institute in new directions,” YouTube.

[4] Ravitch, D. (June 11, 2012). “The day I was terminated.” Diane Ravitch’s Blog.

[5] Greene, Jay P. (Spring 2014). “Historian Ravitch Trades Fact for Fiction: Latest book indifferent to the standards of social science,” Education Next, 14(2).

[6] Pondiscio, R. (January 5, 2017). “Lessons on Common Core: Critical books offer more folly than wisdom,” Education Next.

[7] See also, Phelps, R.P. (July 2019). “Common Core’s Language Arts,” Missouri Education Watchdog.

[8] See also, Gass, J. (June 4, 2014). “To Be a National Curriculum, or Not to Be a National Curriculum: More Fordham-Finn Flip Flopping,” Pioneer Institute Blog.


[10] Pullman, J. (January 5, 2015). “Ten Common Core Promoters Laughing All The Way To The Bank,” The Federalist.



Posted in Censorship, Common Core, Curriculum & Instruction, Education Reform, information suppression, partisanship | Leave a comment

New “science and society” podcast

ANNOUNCING: Critically Speaking, a new podcast series hosted by Therese Markow, who writes:      

” … we separate facts from fallacies at the intersection of science and society.

“Every day we make decisions that affect our own lives, those of our children and the lives of everyone on the planet. With the enormous amount of unfiltered, anecdotal ‘information’ accessible from numerous public sources, wouldn’t we want to make our decisions based upon solid scientific data, presented to us in terms we can understand?

“The goal of Critically Speaking is to bring you the results of sound investigations across a wide range of health and educational issues, through discussions with experts, to empower you to make the best decisions in your everyday lives.”

Posted in Curriculum & Instruction, Education journalism, Education policy, Higher Education, Richard P. Phelps, STEM, Wayne Bishop | Leave a comment

Keeping Journalists in the Dark: ‘Citation Cartels’ Limit Public Knowledge

Keeping Journalists in the Dark: ‘Citation Cartels’ Limit Public Knowledge

The public relies on journalists to learn about and share academic research. Public knowledge can be undermined, however, when academics try to influence what research journalists cover or limit the “acceptable debate” about an issue.

This influence can be achieved through “citation cartels,” where sympathetic researchers cite and reference one another and ignore or dismiss the high-quality research of others that reach different conclusions. Citation cartels belittle research they disagree with, rather than refute it. …

Posted in Censorship, Education journalism, Education policy, information suppression, Richard P. Phelps | Leave a comment

Mathematics and Science Courses Required or Recommended for Admission into Engineering and Engineering Technology Programs at Massachusetts Institutions of Higher Education (2003)

This survey of the high school mathematics and science requirements for admission to the 11 colleges of engineering in Massachusetts in 2003 provides interesting facts in Tables 3 and 4. It is no longer clear if the required coursework is taught in high school mathematics and science departments in this country because of the “college-ready” tests now given in grades 10, 11, and/or 12 based on the standards in the Common Core and NGSS. Nor is it known what the mathematics and science requirements now are (if changed) for the traditional four-year undergraduate programs in this country’s engineering colleges.

This survey, compiled by Christine Shaw at the Massachusetts Department of Education in 2003, was undertaken to inform school districts in New England and elsewhere what mathematics and science coursework should be available in their high schools for students seeking to enroll in post-high school colleges of engineering in Massachusetts.

Posted in College prep, Curriculum & Instruction, Mathematics, Sandra Stotsky, STEM | Leave a comment

US Education’s Dominant Research Method: Cherry Picking Evidence

Posted in Censorship, Education policy, Education Reform, Richard P. Phelps | Leave a comment

The elitist strain in US education journalism

Posted in Censorship, Common Core, Education journalism, Richard P. Phelps | Leave a comment

There’s A Deeper Systemic Problem in the College Admissions Scandal No One Is Talking About

Posted in College prep, Education Fraud, Ethics, Testing/Assessment | Leave a comment

Indoctrinating our youth: How a U.S. Public School Curriculum Skews the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Anti-Israel Indoctrination Continues In Newton Public High School

Posted in Censorship, Education policy, K-12, Sandra Stotsky, Social Studies | Leave a comment

News Flash! AL’s Senate Pro Tem, who has previously stopped all anti-CC bills, filed an anti-CC bill today

The AL Senate has 35 members; 27 sponsored it.

Posted in Betty Peters, Common Core, Curriculum & Instruction, Education policy, K-12 | Leave a comment

Links to articles on standards-based grading

Competency based ed which is the method that will come as an outgrowth of SBG. What is measured will improve.  So this from Peter Greene applies.

Posted in Curriculum & Instruction, Education Reform, K-12, Sandra Stotsky | Leave a comment

Interesting review of Arne Duncan’s book, by fellow Chicagoan Bill Ayers

Arne Doesn’t Learn
customer review, by Dr. William C. Ayers

If you pick up Arne Duncan’s How Schools Work hoping to learn something about, well, unsurprisingly I suppose, about “how schools work,” you’ll be sorely disappointed. There’s no policy prescription here, no substantive analysis whatsoever, and no actual accounts or examples of how schools work. Instead we’re treated to random stories that circulate around several stuttering themes: Duncan’s dismay and then anger when poor kids are told they’re doing OK by school people when in reality they don’t have the skills to go to college; his encounters with enraged parents that happily end when they chill out after he shows them that his heart is true and his intentions pure; and his insistent defense of “big data” and high stakes standardized tests when promoting his preferred school “reform” goals.

The subtitle isn’t especially helpful either: “An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education.” That might have proved useful, but the reader searches in vain for fresh perspectives or insights, for some discovery or surprise, contradiction or conflict, for an inquiring mind thinking out loud as it engages a conversation with itself—anything at all that might be generative. What’s on offer instead is untroubled categories and settled conclusions. Arne Duncan learns nothing at all—neither in his many years at the helm of Chicago’s and then the nation’s schools, nor in the process of writing this personal account.

Failure and success? An inside account? A good memoir might fruitfully explore all of that, but it would have to be free from the brutality of dogma and self-righteousness, which Duncan can’t quite manage. He’s a dedicated corporate reformer, avidly endorsing the underlying thesis that education is a product to be sold at the market place rather than a fundamental human right and community responsibility, and embracing the entire triple threat: reducing the definition of school success (for other people’s children) to a single metric on a standardized test; marginalizing or crushing the collective voice of teachers; and auctioning off the public space to private managers and entrepreneurs. None of this is up for discussion or review, and that makes the entire account tedious and entirely predictable.

Duncan’s opening sentence is a calculated attention-getter: “Education runs on lies.” Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post points out that that sentence begs for the services of a good editor—education doesn’t run on lies, she says, so perhaps he means that the school system runs on lies; but since there’s no single school system in this country, perhaps he means specific schools run on lies. Whatever. It turns out “lies” is deployed as an all-purpose metaphor: the big lie (which he returns to again and again) is “social promotion,” moving kids along when they aren’t up to par or college-ready; other lies include the lie that poor kids can’t learn, manifest through low expectations by school people and politicians for children of the poor; the lie that self-serving teachers unions tell when they pretend to care more than a fig for the success of public school students; the lie spread by teacher educators that colleges of education effectively prepare teachers for classroom life. All lies according to Duncan. In support of the larger corporate reform agenda, Duncan dutifully side-steps any link (although well-established by authentic research and loads of data) between poverty or racial segregation and school success. Again and again he makes the dubious claim that test scores “don’t lie” and that the solutions to our various problems can be found in “big data”—selectively harvested to be sure.

The only “failure” Duncan will admit to is the classic “failure to communicate:” “Race to the Top” was “misunderstood,” parents and teachers didn’t understand the incredible value for their kids of regular standardized testing, and sometimes he “jammed my foot in my mouth.” He repeats this disingenuous self-criticism so often that it brings to mind the stuttering exchange between the Captain and the prisoner in the classic film “Cool Hand Luke”—every substantive conflict is dismissed with the Captain’s signature line uttered with utter contempt: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” The phrase is consistently issued by power to dodge the import of any conflict, and as prelude to doubling down on harsher sanctions and brutal punishments.

Arne Duncan’s children have always attended schools that work—public schools in the suburbs of Washington, elite private schools in Chicago— and these are schools with small class sizes, full arts programs, excellent facilities, and unionized teachers. Each of his kids is, of course, more than a score. Nothing wrong with any of that. The hypocrisy comes when he sets policy for other people’s children that never mentions class size or the value of the arts or the importance of teachers’ voices when it comes to school policy and practice. Duncan’s prescription for the rest of us is an anemic curriculum and a single-minded obsession with standardized tests.

We need to resist as we insist that in a democracy equality in education is a first principle, and that means that whatever the privileged and the powerful have for their children must become the baseline for what we as a community demand for all of our children. Nothing less.

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

Missouri’s Show-Me Institute: Where Liberty (and Censorship?) Come First

Last year, in response to one of their blog posts, I submitted a comment to the think tank/advocacy group, the Show-Me Institute, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri. I describe what I did, why, and what happened in a Nonpartisan Education Review essay ( ). Briefly, I warned the Institute that their blog post recommended a policy that would likely be found illegal in the courts. While a couple of other, purely supportive comments were published, my comment was shelved into “pending” status.

For several months. Finally, the Show-Me Institute simply deleted my submitted comment. Here it is:

“Before returning to the “good old days” of un-aligned, internally-administered, no-stakes (for students), national norm-referenced tests for systemwide evaluation, perhaps we should remind ourselves of what those days were really like. One can start by reading J.J. Cannell’s “Lake Wobegon Effect” reports here: . I’d also suggest my report on the same topic here: . The most important issue to keep in mind, however, is this: if any consequences apply to students, the tests must be aligned to state standards, otherwise the tests will probably be found illegal in the courts, as well they should be. It is simply not fair to evaluate students in any consequential way on material to which they have not been exposed. I do not mean to defend the current testing regime, which I also find unappealing. But, remember, it is this way because the majority party in Congress wanted it this way: .”

No nasty words. No personal attacks. Yet, somehow, someone at the ironically-named Show-Me Institute rationalized censoring this comment.

Richard P. Phelps

Posted in Censorship, Education policy, Education Reform, information suppression, partisanship, Richard P. Phelps, Testing/Assessment | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Letter to NPR’s Ari Shapiro and producers of their “individualized learning” podcast

From: Erich Martel
Sent: Sunday, November 25, 2018
To: ‘’

Dear Ari Shapiro and Individualized Learning (and Project Based Learning) Podcast Producers,

I want to make three points re “Individualized Learning” and all claims pertaining to education:

1) Always look for independent research.

Putting Students on the Path to Learning: The Case for Fully Guided Instruction:

Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching

Google neuroscientist Dan Willingham (UVA) and look at his series of articles, “Ask the cognitive scientist” in the quarterly American Educator:   (scroll down to Willingham)

2) Beware of educational programs described in euphemistic, feel-good language

A good example is “individualized learning”; it’s isolated computer driven learning. You should never employ a euphemism without explaining what it means in unvarnished, objective terms. Look up E.D. Hirsch’s jargon generator.

3) I was shocked to hear Chan and Zuckerberg quoted as education experts.

You have no reason to trust what they say about their facebook empire. There is even less reason to trust them on the subject of education:

See: Dale Russakoff, “The Prize: Who’s In Charge of America’s Schools?” which describes Zuckerberg’s $100M failed initiative in the Newark NJ public schools.

You already know a great deal about facebook’s role in the 2016 elections. The UK Parliament has just discovered even more evidence of Z’s irresponsibility:

I like NPR and many of its programs. I am, however, sick of hearing foundation ads on NPR that make claims (Walton, Edutopia, etc., etc.) that are not supported by independent research.

Erich Martel, Retired Washington, DC high school history teacher (1969-2011)

Posted in Censorship, constructivism, Curriculum & Instruction, Education journalism, Education policy, Erich Martel, information suppression, K-12, research ethics | Leave a comment

Common Core Collaborators: Six Organizational Portraits

New in the Nonpartisan Education Review:

Phelps, R. P. (2018). Common Core Collaborators: Six Organizational Portraits. Nonpartisan Education Review/Articles, 14(3–7).

– The Organization Named Achieve: Cradle of Common Core Cronyism
– The Council of Chief State School Officers and National Governors Association: Whom do they serve?
– Real Clear Propaganda: Bellwether’s Education News Bias
– The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and Institute: Influence for Hire
– Does College Board Deserve Public Subsidies?

Posted in Censorship, College prep, Common Core, Curriculum & Instruction, Education journalism, Education policy, Education Reform, Higher Education, information suppression, K-12, partisanship, research ethics, Richard P. Phelps, Testing/Assessment | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

State of ELA under Common Core

The Fordham Institute just came out with its “research” on reading and writing under Common Core.

Fordham 2018 “research”

No mention of three baseline studies that preceded Common Core.

Stotsky, Goering, Jolliffe study of Arkansas high school English teachers’ assignments

Stotsky, Traffas, Woodworth study of national sample of high school English teachers’ assignments

National Endowment for the Arts, Reading At Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America

Pre-Common Core English teachers taught complete literary works—mostly appropriate for high school. Today they don’t teach complete works and we don’t know what they do teach since Fordham didn’t find out.

See also Peter Greene’s insights in Forbes, How Common Core Testing Damaged High School English Classes


Posted in Common Core, Curriculum & Instruction, Education Reform, information suppression, Reading & Writing, Sandra Stotsky | Leave a comment