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. and AlzHope:

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:

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:

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

[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

[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

[7] Salceanu, D. (2019, December 3). Romania, the lowest score on PISA test in the past nine years. Retrieved December 9, 2019, from

[8] The state of Romanian education. (n.d.). Retrieved December 9, 2019, from

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.

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
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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.



[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

Some years ago, during the heat of a presidential campaign I assembled some policy-relevant and time-sensitive research on the top education policy topic of the day. I could have published the work myself as, it so happens, I ended up doing anyway. But, I thought the work would get more traction from a sympathetic organization with a higher profile.

I sent the research to a nationally known advocacy organization to use as it saw fit, but then heard nothing from them for weeks. Meanwhile, they published other research on the same topic. I wrote to inquire what had happened to what I sent, and why they hadn’t used it. It was an innocent question; I wanted to know if I should bother communicating with them in the future.

I received a reply from one of their research analysts. His answer had nothing to do with the research material I sent. Rather, he wrote that he had been a senior editor at a national education news publication and had inquired about me at both his current organization and among his colleagues at his former news publication. No one at either place had heard of me. Ergo, anything I sent them was not worth wasting any of their time on. It wasn’t that what I had sent them that didn’t matter. What didn’t matter was me. I was simply not important enough to merit a moment of their attention.

A couple of months ago I sent Politico Morning Education a batch of five reports collectively entitled, Common Core Collaborators: Six Organizational Portraits Common Core Collaborators: Six Organizational Portraits. I had written the reports, and they were published after editorial review in the Nonpartisan Education Review.

Four times I requested that Politico add a notice of the reports in the “Report Roll Call” section of its daily Morning Education. Thrice, I requested that they inform me of their rationale if they chose not to publish the notice.

Other curated “overview[s] of education policy news” published a notice and links to Common Core Collaborators, including: Truth in American Education’s blog, Education Views, Donna Garner, Jim Zellmer’s, the National Association of Scholars monthly newsletter, and Fritzwire’s daily Public Private Action.

Over the span of time I was communicating with them, Politico Morning Education’s Report Roll Call directed the public’s attention to reports from the following individuals and groups: 

  • American Federation of Teachers
  • American Institutes for Research
  • Bush Institute
  • Century Foundation
  • Center for American Progress
  • Chiefs for Change (2)
  • The Conference Board
  • Education Next
  • Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education
  • FutureEd
  • Rick Hess
  • OECD
  • Rand Corporation (3)
  • Southern Regional Education Board
  • Third Way
  • Urban Institute

Notice a pattern? The individuals and groups Politico’s Morning Edition deems worthy of mention are well-funded and politically well-connected—those who can “pay to play.” They tend to be individuals and organizations that donate funds to support education news outlets. They tend also to be organizations with their own public relations personnel. Finally, overwhelmingly they are individuals and organizations that have accepted money from the Gates’ and other foundations to promote Common Core.

Were any Common Core opponent individuals or groups represented over these two months in Report Roll Call? None that I could see.

Despite repeated requests, Politico’s Morning Education never mentioned Common Core Collaborators, and never explained why. Despite their complaints about others, it would seem that some journalists are perfectly capable of censorship and information suppression themselves. Perhaps, if I were more important ;-)

P.S. Later, I would receive the same cold shoulder from Education Dive.

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