Setting the Standard in Education

Posts Tagged ‘standards’

Common Core: Setting the Standard

In Federal on July 21, 2010 at 5:18 pm

It seems like I should slow down and do a little more editing on these posts. Apologies to “the” Heather Zavadsky and Mr. Michael Winerip. I’ll take my time with this one today, even though it’s pretty exciting.

The Education Gadfly reports that the Fordham Institute just released its comparison of the Common Core standards to each state’s standards. The brief description says that the standards are better than 37 states in ELA and 39 in math. I find that a little misleading, though. Those numbers only count those states that scored worse. There are only six states with better ELA scores and five with better math scores. What’s more, the scores are based on two factors: content and rigor (worth 7 points) and clarity and specificity (worth 3). The Common Core standards were designed with flexibility in mind. They receive a 2/3 in both ELA and math, mainly because they are only politically viable that way. For example, the report says the ELA standards “would be more helpful to teachers if they attended as systematically to content as they do to skills.” Clearly, if they were specific in literature content, it would be more of a hurdle to get states to agree to them. The most legitimate problems seem to be in high school math, where “the presentation is disjointed and mathematical coherence suffers.” However, both ELA and math get high marks in content and rigor. ELA is 6/7; only California, Indiana, DC, and Massachusetts are better. In math, they get a perfect 7/7. Hard to beat that. You can see the list of state scores here.

So this begs the question, is it worth it for states to adopt the new standards? For all but those four, I don’t see any reason not to. Aside from being equivalent if not better standards than virtually every state, having unified standards adds strength to comparability. It also reduces costs. Every child in the US could potentially take the same exams, so instead of designing 51 different tests, those states that join could the movement could all have the same one. I don’t know about you, but I find this extremely exciting. Standards and assessment could be revolutionized. Of course, standards are not the end of the story. Strong assessments and curricula designed around the standards are necessary to ensure that they are implemented most effectively. This is why I have said the “Race to the Test” is so important.

As for DC and the three states that had better ELA standards? I suppose it’s hard to recommend telling them to dumb down their standards. There should be a lot of thought that goes into whether it’s worthwhile. If the standards are only marginally different, it may be positive in the long-run, due to the benefits of shared resources. Two of those, DC and Massachusetts, will be voting this week on whether to join, so we’ll see what they think soon. Twenty-seven states already have and another dozen or so are expected in the next two weeks before the August 2 deadline. Perhaps those that adopt and want to improve on the standards could include additional standards and clarification for any vagueness involved in the current ones. If you’re interested, here’s a map of the states that have adopted the Common Core standards that will be updated when new states join. Below is the map of the current ones as of  this posting.

As of today (7/21), 27 states have adopted the Common Core and another dozen or so are expected in the next few weeks.

UPDATE: The Massachusetts Board of Education voted unanimously to  the Common Core movement. DC is up next.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm

It’s usually hard to settle on which bit of news to write about. If I were getting paid to do this, I’d spend all day and write about all of them. EdWeek had two really interesting articles this morning, one on work in developing science standards and the other is about a study showing teacher induction programs had positive results in student achievement gains, although not in keeping teachers in the field or making them feel more prepared. I was also intrigued by an article about why “bad” children can come from seemingly “good” parents. While it’s not directly school related, it makes me think of parent conferences I’ve and how many parents asked me, a 22-year-old straight out of college, how I can help them with their child that they can’t manage. How do we expect teachers so control all of the learning outcomes in their classes when we have so little hope with parents? (The answer is that most students aren’t like that and that we have to factor in this possibility when we look at student achievement).

However, the issue that sparked my thought the most today was Eduflack’s article about whether Bill Gates has the power to remake education. It’s the old question: if you had all of the money in the world, what would you do to___________. In this case, it’s what would you do to completely change the face of an education system that perpetuates class separation and causes inefficiency? Over the last few years, Gates has poured billions of dollars into education, funding everything from common standards to  charter schools to performance pay. Of course, even when one is being philanthropic, when dealing with lots of money, there are always critics. Leonnie Haimson calls him “the most dangerous man in America.” She claims his small schools have created less space for classes and have shut down entire programs, such as arts and science labs.

The same situation is now unfolding in NYC as the rapidly proliferating charter schools are wedged into public school buildings. As a result, the existing public school, with much higher concentrations of English language learners, special needs students, and homeless children, is now in many cases forced to provide instruction and mandated services in hallways and closets.

Perhaps Haimson should do her homework before lodging complaints. Charters generally have about the same number of ELL , homeless, and special needs students. In The Lottery, a scene shows Harlem Village Academy CEO, Eva Moskowitz,  being grilled by school board members while trying to get more space for HVA2. One of the questions asked is on that very issue. The board member asks what her special ed population is. Moskowitz points out that HVA’s special ed population was over 20%, much higher than the school she in the same location. Haimson also ignores major facts completely. She points out that Gates has concentrated his funding in cities where there are fewer people in power, saying that it helps him ignore the constituents. He has tended to places where there is mayoral control, rather than school boards with slow and bureaucratic methods. However, that is completely irrelevant to whether parents or students have any say. Large districts with complicated structures generally don’t have any constituent input, either.  What can you expect from the executive director of an organization called “Class Size Matters”, when studies show that for the most part, it doesn’t? (It’s only when classes are reduced to fewer than 20 that any effects are shown). Haimson spends the second half of the article angry about the fact that Gates hasn’t put much money into reducing class sizes. I suppose that shows why she has an axe to grind.

How could this face be the most dangerous in the world?

Regardless of ethical questions some may have about his methods, Eduflack’s question still remains: can Bill Gates change the face of K-12 education? He’s got a $35 billion foundation that says, “Yes.” While that may be a drop in the bucket compared to the close to $600 billion the US spends on education a year, it’s enough to create an entire model. Up until now, Gates has been spending money funding various projects. He’s given money to charter organizations, districts, and even teachers’ unions. Eduflack thinks he should go further. If Patrick Riccards (the writer of Eduflack) had that kind of money, he’d build his own districts. He’d take all of the existing research and create a complete district. Why spend $100 million dollars in Tampa trying to convince people to do things you like when you can spend money to run a whole operation? The Gates Foundation could control everything from the budget to hiring to curriculum and beyond. I wouldn’t stop there, though. I think Riccards is ignoring one key factor in school success – training. For Gates to truly create an entire system and see if it works, he’d have to found a school of education. Perhaps with New York’s new decision to allow alternative certifiers to have their own Master’s programs, there is an opening for such a plan to get off the ground.

Of course, the Gates Foundation would need to have a fundamental change in vision for something like this to happen. The Foundation sets its sights on funding a variety of projects, allowing for as much innovation as possible. Funding an entire district would not allow for the same scope of change, depending on the size of the district. Perhaps if the Gates Foundation were to create a medium-sized district with a budget of only tens of millions, rather than hundreds, it could keep its hand in more projects. Let’s say Gates opts to spend $15,000 per student plus the cost of the teacher training (more than almost every state currently spends). He could have a decent-sized district of 6,500 students (500 per grade, larger than average) for $97.5 million. That means if he were to create five of those (with varying methods for comparison), it would cost $492.5 million each year, not including the teacher training. He’s spending about that much currently, but that figure also doesn’t take into account that much of that funding would come from the state anyway. Let’s say the Foundation gets half of that from the state, so it’d be spending $250 million or about half of its budget on running five districts with over 30,000 students. Add in costs for running teacher training and you’ve still got a hefty but manageable sum. I’m sure they could do the math better and get it to work out in their favor even more than the math that I’m spewing (how else do you become the richest man in the world, afterall). The Gates Foundation could easily run a 10-year pilot for “only” a few billion and still have plenty to work in other areas. In the time that it’s taken Green Dot to become a noticeable presence, Gates Dot could completely change what education in the US looks like. Plausible? Probably not. Worthwhile? absolutely.

Are the Right States Being Rewarded in Race to the Top?

In Federal on May 8, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Paul Peterson and Carlos Xabel Lastra-Anadón of Education Next recently wrote a report about the improvement (or lack thereof, depending) in state standards across the US. They compared students’ achievement levels on the state tests in comparison to how well they did on the National Assessment of Education Progress. For those unfamiliar, the NAEP was created by the Department of Education and is based upon average international standards of achievement among the  industrialized countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Overall, they found that while reading standards have risen some in recent years, math standards have actually dropped. However, just as important as growth are the levels at which standards are currently. The only state to have higher proficiency requirements than the NAEP in either reading or math was Massachusetts and that was only in math. The state with the lowest standards? Tennessee, one of the two winners of round one of RttT, was hands down the worst state in standards. How terrible?

Based on its own tests and standards, the state claimed in 2009 that over 90 percent of its 4th-grade students were proficient in math, whereas NAEP tests revealed that only 28 percent were performing at a proficient level. Results in 4th-grade reading and at the 8th-grade level are much the same. With such divergence, the concept of “standard” has lost all meaning. It’s as if a yardstick can be 36 inches long in most of the world, but 3 inches long in Tennessee.

Despite these low standards, it was at least holding fairly steady with only a 1% drop in its standards between 2003 and 2009, compared to Arizona with a 48.5% drop and South Carolina with an astounding 65.2% drop in its standards in those six years. In the report and in a podcast with Peterson and Chester Finn Jr., the success of Tennessee and Delaware in Race to the Top is questioned, considering that Tennessee was 51st out of all the states and DC and Delaware wasn’t much better at 36th. Peterson complains

In Tennessee, the gap [between proficiency on state tests versus the NAEP] is wider than any other state, so from that, we gave Tennessee an F. If you go by how well Tennessee has done in the past, how can it possibly be a candidate for one of the two top awards?

He and Finn joke about how federal funding is based upon promises and this is a clear example of that. If past performance were the main indicator, then Tennessee would be one of the first eliminated, rather than the biggest winner.

However, we need to think about the function of Race to the Top. What is its ultimate goal? I would assume  most would agree that RttT is aiming to be a catalyst for change. Duncan and Obama keep patting themselves on the back for all the reforms states have made in the past year without even receiving a penny in return. The money, therefore, is not for crossing the finish line. That’s the wrong metaphor. What’s the point of giving money to Massachusetts for their past performance if they’re going to do well regardless of the money? As mentioned in a previous post, Massachusetts lost out on RttT points because of not being quick enough to adopt the national standards – as the state with the top standards in the country, they would probably be lowering their standards if they adopted the national consensus ones. Why shouldn’t they get points for strong standards, then? Because the point is to get the low performers up. Peterson and Finn point out that both Delaware and Tennesee agreed to adopt the national standards. As both states currently have low standards, adopting the national ones can only move theirs up. I don’t have a problem with grading states based on moves they’re making – these are not for promises at some point in the future. The states have a proposal that has been accepted and is being funded, the same way non-profits or researchers submit a proposal for a grant and get money based on fulfilling the requirements. How else can you fund immediate innovation?