The Red Pen Page

Here we take aim at the myths and falsehoods that can sometimes cloud the debate and prevent real conversation. If you have suggestions for an item that deserves scrutiny, email us at [email protected]

The LA Times Makes a Common (Core) Error

Even though Common Core State Standards have been around for years, it still seems as though folks are having trouble really understanding what they are—despite the fact that it’s built right into the name.

To put it plainly, the Common Core State Standards are a set of standards. State. Standards.

Despite that crystal-clear title, the Los Angeles Times editorial board couldn’t be bothered with getting it right—and not just when it comes to the concept of the standards. It also gets it wrong when describing how the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, treats the standards.

Although it requires annual testing to continue for third- through eighth-graders and once for high-schoolers, it abandons federal curriculum 1) There’s no “federal curriculum,” only state standards. 2) Standards weren’t “abandoned.” States are required to adopt challenging standards, which wasn't in No Child Left Behind. and performance standards in favor of greater state autonomy. As a result, it leaves entirely squishy what sorts of educational standards states are expected to set, and what steps even the worst schools will have to take to show they’re improving.

The Wall Street Journal Gets Nailed for Its Inaccurate Coverage of Common Core

Karen Nussle, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, takes the Wall Street Journal to task on its recent Common Core coverage.

The Collaborative came up with a whopping 9 mistakes and misrepresentations of the standards in the Journal, which we’ve cross-posted on our blog. Here are a couple of them:

Five years into the biggest transformation of U.S. public education in recent history, Common Core is far from common. As Nussle points out, this is “patently false.”

Though 45 states initially adopted the shared academic standards in English and math, seven have since repealed or amended them. Of the original 45 states, only Oklahoma has lower standards that actually conflict with Common Core. Among the remaining 38, big disparities remain in what and how students are taught, the materials and technology they use, the preparation of teachers and the tests they are given. A dozen more states are considering revising or abandoning Common Core.

You’d Expect a Bit More from NewsHour, Wouldn’t You?

Carrying the mantle of unimpeachable newsman Jim Lehrer, PBS NewsHour carries a reputation for impartial journalism. But after the Success Academy kerfuffle earlier this week, it was disappointing to see Gwen Ifill glorify opt-out champion Jesse Hagopian, without noting that he flouts the voices of civil rights leaders in their support the statewide annual tests that identify achievement gaps for poor and minority and special needs children.

It’s also disappointing to see Ifill perpetuate the rampant myths about Common Core and the related assessments. Will Ragland, from the Center for American Progress, does a thorough job of myth-busting the NewsHour segment, but it’s worth also highlighting briefly here on our Red Pen Page:

Jesse Hagopian: Studies have shown that kids will take some 113 standardized tests now in their K-12 career. It’s just become completely over the top. It’s become a multibillion-dollar industry to sell exams to children in order to rank and sort them. And it’s become really a test-and-punish model. She implies all 113 tests are related to the Common Core. In fact only 14 of these tests are related to the standards, and they’re replacement tests, not additional tests.

Gwen Ifill: The tests are part of the Common Core standards adopted by 24 states and the District of Columbia to improve student achievement and teacher performance.

A False Attack on Common Core, From One Right-Winger to Another

In this National Review op-ed, Stanley Kurtz packs in a greatest hits of the most popular myths and misconceptions of the Common Core State Standards. For example:

Jeb’s Common Core answer was well-practiced, yet profoundly misleading. The whole trick of Common Core is to make an end-run around the legal and constitutional barriers to a national curriculum, even as you deny that you’re doing it. Though the Common Core originated with the National Governors Association, it is not a federal initiative. And it definitely isn’t a curriculum.

Bush and his Common Core-supporting allies have been pretending to favor local control for years. Yet Jeb has repeatedly backed the most controversial Obama administration moves to consolidate what amounts to a national curriculum. A careful look at Bush’s record makes his actual views all-too-clear. Common Core actually empowers local control: States get to choose whether to adopt them, and then local districts and school leaders choose how to teach to the standards.

There’s No Mandate for Common Core Standards

A.B. Stoddard, Republican commentator and columnist for The Hill, is certainly entitled to her opinion. That doesn’t give her license to perpetuate the oft-repeated myth of a federal “mandate” for the Common Core State Standards.

If he prevails, the Senate and then the House could reauthorize NCLB, producing not only a huge legislative victory, and reforming the nation’s ailing elementary and secondary education system but killing off the politically toxic Common Core standards mandate in the process.There is not now, nor was there ever, a requirement to adopt Common Core.

Hey Atlantic, Accuracy Matters Too

Anne Quito reports on design, not education, so perhaps it’s understandable that she’s not up to speed on the origin and implementation of the Common Core. Still, we’d hope that somewhere in The Atlantic’s editing and fact-checking process on her recent paean to penmanship, Why Cursive Mattered, someone would have pointed out this totally false premise in her introduction:

Since the U.S. Department of Education dropped cursive writing from standard national curricula in 2011, the debate on the value of learning penmanship has raged. Are we talking about the Common Core? Because the federal govt didn’t draft it, and it’s a set of standards, not a curriculum. (Also it was finalized in 2010.)

Some argue that the skill is obsolete, akin to learning how to use an abacus in the age of supercomputers.

This Illinois State Rep Needs to Read the Fine Print

As Springfield, Illinois debates the merits and risks to students, schools and districts of proposed House Bill 306 opt-out bill, it’s important that the elected officials get their facts straight.

In a Chicago Sun-Times article, the bill sponsor, Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, just gets it wrong. Guzzardi is quoted as saying:

“There is no federal law that says that our state has to test 95 percent of our students,” Guzzardi said. Not exactly.

As a condition of receiving millions of federal taxpayer funds each year, federal law requires “not less than 95 percent of each group of students…who are enrolled in the school are required to take the assessments.” The state is responsible for this requirement.

“There was, but Illinois has obtained a waiver on that law.” This isn’t quite right either.

True, Illinois has a waiver from No Child Left Behind, but in no way does this waiver exempt the state from the Title I requirement of 95 percent participation.

‘Correcting’ the Record Should Involve Actual Corrections

In an attempt to “correct” the record, the Washington Examiner fails Journalism 101 and not only incorrectly labels a statement a “lie,” but also perpetuates additional mistruths in its inaccurate and over-the-top coverage of the Common Core:

Kasich also falsely implied that President Obama had nothing to do with Common Core adoption. President Obama essentially forced states to agree to adopt Common Core before they could get a waiver from the standards created by No Child Left Behind, which more than a decade after its adoption had become obsolete and increasingly harsh and impossible to meet. There are exactly zero federal laws or waiver requirements that require adoption of Common Core.

Lily Eskelsen-Garcia Wrongly Attacks Federal Policy

In a series of guest posts last week on Rick Hess’ Education Week blog, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia attacked standardized testing and standards-based accountability with “exaggeration and misinformation.”

Look, we can disagree on policy points, but over-the-top and misleading rhetoric (“No Child Left Untested,” “Testing Industrial Complex,” “high test scores are the purpose of education”) should not go unchecked—especially when it comes from the leader of the nation’s largest teachers union. We’ve red-penned just a few examples below.

On Monday, she started by applying a revisionist history to No Child Left Behind (NCLB):

We’ve suffered under the factory model of school reform for the past dozen years under No Child Left Untested. The pillars are simple enough.

  • Privatize (vouchers, franchise charters); Just a reminder, these “franchised” charters are public schools.
  • De-professionalize (fast-track teacher prep, short-term, disposable labor designed to churn in and out with paychecks low and no pension to worry about); Churn? Since when is a 4-year retention rate of over 82% called “disposable”?
  • Standardize (scripted texts, homogenized lessons, pacing guides to require each teacher to be on the same page on the same day); Nothing in NCLB requires these. In fact, it’s the opposite problem: 50 different goal posts, thousands of different curricula expectations and minimal consistency in quality of lesson plans.
  • and above all else: Hit your number. Motivate staff, students, and systems with carrots and sticks, with the goal wrapped around a quota of kids hitting a cut score.

Standardized tests are the measure of basic progress.
Standardized tests decide if a child is succeeding. Standardized tests decide if a teacher is effective. Standardized tests decide if a school should be closed down. False. Test scores are rarely the sole factor for any of these decisions, and when they are, it is a result of a local decision. It is a classic industrial model.

On Tuesday, she followed up with an attack on standardized testing:

I always find it ironic if not a little silly when someone (especially someone who's never taught actual children) suggests that the answer to every question regarding improving American education is to offer prizes or punishments based on standardized test scores. Maybe she’s referring to the recent move to reward progress based on multiple measures and offer support when schools or teachers falter on accountability systems—sometimes these interventions tend to put the kids before the adults.

The rationale behind such misguided “motivators” is often a panicked “Our kids aren’t prepared for their global competition!” Put aside for a moment the fact that this statement may or may not be true; the premise is that (1) prizes and punishments will produce higher test scores, (2) higher test scores will prepare U.S. students to compete globally, and (3) high test scores are the purpose of education. Honestly, has any administrator, superintendent or educator ever said this? Test scores are just one indicator students are on the right track.

On Wednesday, she stopped short of fully endorsing opt-out, instead continuing her call for an end to annual standardized testing:

On the federal level and in many states, there are inappropriate tests required of children with special needs, disabilities, and language issues. Really? Most of these statewide tests are designed with these special populations in mind and are tested, researched and evaluated to be appropriate (which cannot be said for most local tests).

There are perfectly appropriate tests that are used for absolutely inappropriate measures, like judging whether a school can be determined to have made “adequate yearly progress.” Progress toward what is usually left unsaid, but it is, by law, adequate yearly progress toward having 100% of the students in the school hit an arbitrary cut score that someone in some level of bureaucratic authority determined is “proficient” in reading and in math. Cut scores are designed and set based on recommendation by educator, psychometricians, and are based on evidence.

If one student misses that cut score by one point on either test in any grade level, the school has officially failed, which is, of course, absurd. Aside from the fact that over 40 states have waivers from this requirement of NCLB and Congress was scheduled to reauthorize the law over five years ago, the USDOE has outlined “safe harbor” provisions to address this.

The pressure placed on students can be enormous.… In Oklahoma, without any help from the federal government, the state legislature and governor doubled down on the testing obsession to declare that no third grader could go to fourth grade if he or she missed the mandated cut score on the reading test by even one point. They took the professional judgment away from third grade teachers who knew the names of their students and whether they could read or were prepared to succeed in fourth grade. Um, did you read the Oklahoma legislation? This claim is demonstrably false. (See below.)

Let’s take a moment on that last point. It’s unclear if Eskelsen-Garcia is misinformed or is intentionally misconstruing facts with her tear-jerking illustration of out-of-control punitive testing. Fortunately, Oklahoma’s State Department of Education has the applicable laws and rules for the 2014-15 school year posted on its website, and it turns out the state’s third-grade teachers can keep their professional judgment intact. Student promotion can actually be determined by a number of factors, including the use of a student portfolio or a “good-cause” exemption.

On Thursday, she wrapped up her series by shining a light on a Montana Title I school that isn’t “driven by standardized testing.” Except that they do take standardized tests. And their scores are good.

Ok, before you ask, the test scores of these children are actually pretty good. But not because the district is obsessed with test and punish regimens, and not because the teachers are forced to use scripted commercial programs. When you focus on the whole child, all kinds of indicators go up! These amazing professionals know that you don’t sacrifice the child to hit the cut score. Wait a minute, does that mean we can have yearly statewide exams without destroying school culture? Doesn’t this go against everything you’ve said about standardized testing for the 3 previous days?

What’s Missing From This Poll?

Education reporters at major newspapers get bombarded with requests to cover studies, reports and surveys, so when they do choose to write a news story about one, they need to choose wisely. They also owe it to their readers to put surveys and studies in context—to explain what they really say, and what they don’t say, to be a little skeptical about how questions are phrased, or how representative the respondents really are.

Alas, this didn’t happen when the Washington Post’s education reporter made the decision to publish findings from a decidedly non-representative “poll” of the 2015 Teachers of the Year, described as a “small, but elite group of educators.”

Consider this lead paragraph:

The greatest barriers to school success for K-12 students have little to do with anything that goes on in the classroom, according to the nation’s top teachers: It is family stress, followed by poverty, and learning and psychological problems.PROBLEM: The poll NEVER ASKED about anything that goes on in the classroom or the school building. The poll ONLY focused on external barriers.

Consider this graphic:

ccsso-toy-pollNotice anything missing from these options? How about ANY in-school factors? School funding? Teacher quality?

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