K–12: The Life and Death of the Mind

By Bruce Deitrick Price

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking the Spell of Math Reformists

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

Academic Fitness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking the Spell of Math Reformists

by Ling Huang, Palo Alto, California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sandra Stotsky, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas

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

In mathematics:

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

In English/reading:

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

For teacher licensure or certification in Idaho:

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

Concluding remarks

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

* Originally published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

K-12 is a land of mystery

Bruce Dietrick Price*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A third-grade teacher sent me this sad letter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betty Peters
Dothan AL

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

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

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

I just posted the following to his website:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erich Martel

Retired DCPS h.s. history teacher

Here is one source on the AFT website:

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

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

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

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


The Preface:

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

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

I’m taken aback by four observations.

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

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

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

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

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

Romanian officials’ nonchalant reaction to 2018 PISA results

Juan A. Martinez
Constanta, Romania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hechinger Report on college admission testing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware New Quality Counts State Rankings

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

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

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

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

Back to school means education news stories …for a while

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. https://thefederalist.com/2014/09/24/top-ten-things-parents-hate-about-common-core/ https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/why-are-finlands-schools-successful-49859555/

Yet, a prominent Finnish educator tells us that Finnish teachers regularly test their upper grade students. https://pioneerinstitute.org/news/the-serpent-in-finlands-garden-of-equityessay-review-of-finnish-lessons-what-can-the-world-learnfrom-educational-change-in-finland-by-pasi-sahlberg/ 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. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/performance-based-assessment-reviewing-basics-patricia-hilliard

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.” https://www2.ed.gov/pubs/OR/ConsumerGuides/admuses.html 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.” https://www.ernweb.com/educational-research-articles/preliminary-results-of-a-large-scale-portfolio-assessment-program/ https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ598325

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. https://www.apa.org/science/programs/testing/standards

We learned even more from a book chapter by education professor George K. Cunningham on the “failed accountability system” in Kentucky. http://education-consumers.org/pdf/Cunningham2.pdf 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. http://www.freedomkentucky.org/images/d/d4/KERAReport.pdf

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). http://www.education-consumers.com/briefs/phelps2.shtm

Phelps, R. P. (2000, Winter). Estimating the cost of systemwide student testing in the United States. Journal of Education Finance, 25(3) 343–380. http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40704103?uid=3739896&uid=2134&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21106063737141

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
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Posted in constructivism, Curriculum & Instruction, Education Fraud, Education policy, Education Reform, International Tests, K-12, Richard P. Phelps, Testing/Assessment | 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.


[1] https://edexcellence.net/fordham-organizational-values

[2] Finn, C.E. (December 1996). Farewell—And Hello Again. Network News & Views. https://edexcellence.net/about-us/farewell-and-hello-again.html

[3] The Education Gadfly. (March 29, 2011). “Fordham Dancetitute: Mike Petrilli takes the Fordham Institute in new directions,” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjh9hpJqsrs

[4] Ravitch, D. (June 11, 2012). “The day I was terminated.” Diane Ravitch’s Blog. https://dianeravitch.net/2012/06/11/the-day-i-was-terminated/

[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). https://www.educationnext.org/historian-ravitch-trades-fact-for-fiction/

[6] Pondiscio, R. (January 5, 2017). “Lessons on Common Core: Critical books offer more folly than wisdom,” Education Next. https://educationnext.org/lessons-on-common-core-critical-books-pondiscio/

[7] See also, Phelps, R.P. (July 2019). “Common Core’s Language Arts,” Missouri Education Watchdog. http://missourieducationwatchdog.com/common-cores-language-arts/

[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. http://pioneerinstitute.org/news/to-be-a-national-curriculum-or-not-to-be-a-national-curriculum-more-fordham-finn-flip-flopping

[9] https://edexcellence.net/fordham-organizational-values

[10] Pullman, J. (January 5, 2015). “Ten Common Core Promoters Laughing All The Way To The Bank,” The Federalist. http://thefederalist.com/2015/01/05/ten-common-core-promoters-laughing-all-the-way-to-the-bank/

[11] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/09/27/bill-gates-it-would-be-great-if-our-education-stuff-worked-but/

[12] https://edexcellence.net/about-us/emerging-education-policy-scholars-eeps.html

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