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 redpenpage@educationpost.org

Marco Rubio Is Wrong on the Common Core

As the field for 2016 Republican candidates takes shape, it’s looking like there’s one education area where pretty much all of the contenders are getting it wrong: Common Core.

For instance, Marco Rubio (R-FL), at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, said the following:

The second thing is, we need to help our people be stronger than ever. That begins with strong families, by empowering parents…. By the way, that also means not having a national school board that imposes a national curriculum on the whole country. 1. There is no such thing as a “national school board” and no plans to set one up. 2. We’ve been over this before. Neither Race to the Top nor the waiver program required adoption of Common Core—which, by the way, are standards, not a curriculum.

Ted Cruz Is Confused by the Common Core

Texas’ Ted Cruz, a contender for the Oval Office, joins his fellow Republican candidates by getting it wrong once again on Common Core.

Cruz is insistent upon repealing the Common Core State Standards at the federal level. Good luck with that, Ted, since they can’t be found anywhere in federal law or regulation:

Common Core is a federally created curriculum that the state’s “Race to the Top” grants are tied to. So if the state does not adopt the standards, it gives up the grant money. But since the federal government created this mess, there should be a way to undo it. Once again: these are state-created standards, voluntarily adopted by the states themselves. And while Race to the Top encouraged adoption of high-quality standards it did not require adoption of Common Core.

Rand Paul Fights Against High Standards for Students

Rand Paul from Kentucky tried to advertise his stance on the State Standards with his recent amendment to the Senate’s Every Child Achieves Act:

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.: Filed an amendment that would strengthen existing language that specifies that no state is required to adopt the Common Core State Standards.This is already current policy, but by all means: introduce unnecessary amendments.

It’s too bad his stance is woefully misinformed:

“If you have a national curriculum and rules, you’ll never get to these new ideas,” the Senator said. Once again, these are standards. Common Core is not a curriculum.

Moving Schools Isn’t Moving Professions

Quartz recently ran a piece—American Teachers, More Demoralized Than Ever, Are Quitting in Droves—that spent some time theorizing why teachers are leaving the profession “in droves.”

One problem with that: half of the teachers the author references aren’t actually leaving the profession. According to the study that he cites, about half of them are simply moving schools. And while teacher turnover is certainly something to watch and report on, it isn’t fair to conflate moving schools with changing professions.

A recent report for the Alliance for Excellent Education, a policy and advocacy organization, found that about “13% of the nation’s 3.4 million teachers move schools or leave the profession every year.” Some nuance: these numbers break down to 227,016 moving schools—not leaving the profession—and 230,122 leaving the profession each year.

You Can’t Make a Claim About Military Families Without Providing Some Evidence

More Military Families Choosing Homeschooling Over Common Core, an article out of Breitbart, actually points to several sources extolling the benefits of Common Core for military families—including Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley (commanding general of the United States Army Accessions Command), Achieve, Inc., the Military Child Education Coalition and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

As the title suggests, though, the article goes on to argue that Common Core is driving military parents away to homeschool their children—but provides very little sound evidence of that.

According to a 2010 report in the Air Force Times, So, a report from pre-Common Core? How exactly does that reflect the feelings of military families toward Common Core? however, there is data to indicate that more military families are finding homeschooling to be a better educational choice for their children than traditional school settings:

A 2001 Army survey found that 2.7 percent of those with school-age kids were home schooling, about twice the national average at the time. And in the decade since that study, the percentage of home-schoolers nationwide has risen dramatically, climbing from 850,000 in 1999 to 1.5 million in 2007, from 1.7 percent to 3 percent of all school-age children, according to the Education Department.

The article later goes on to say:

In general, homeschooling has shown massive increases across the United States since the Common Core has been implemented,This is referencing 2011-2012 data, but most states did not begin fully implementing Common Core until the 2013-2014 school year. with nearly two million children in the nation, or about 3.4 percent of the school-age population, now estimated to be homeschooled, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Ravitch Misleads (Again) on the Federal Role in Education

As a Research Professor of Education, self-described historian and recipient of numerous honorary degrees, it’s particularly surprising how often Diane Ravitch gets her facts just plain wrong (when she bothers to cite any evidence for her claims) and builds her rhetoric on a foundation of mistruths and misconceptions.

For example, in her EdSource piece, How to Fix No Child Left Behind, Ravitch manages to misconstrue or misguide her readers on almost every element of her argument.

Let’s start with just the first five paragraphs:

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s commentary for EdSource last month, called “How Not to Fix No Child Left Behind,” consisted for the most part of mushy platitudes that must be measured against the realities of his actions over the past six years.

During that time, Duncan has aggregated an unprecedented power to tell states and districts how to operate. The administration’s Race to the Top program was not passed into law by Congress, It was definitely approved by Congress. yet it was funded with $5 billion awarded by Congress as part of the economic stimulus plan following the 2008 recession.

Actually, the State Incentives Grants (aka Race to the Top) were authorized and funded by Congress through the appropriate process (The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009)—as Ravitch well knows. Additionally, the $5 billion she referenced was split between the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) and Race to the Top.

Duncan used that huge financial largesse to make himself the nation’s education czar. Quite a bit of hyperbole here. When states were most economically distressed, he dangled billions of dollars before them in a competition.

Let’s put this into context: Race to the Top was 1 percent of all education spending, and less than 5 percent of the total education funds in ARRA.

They were not eligible to enter the competition unless they agreed to lift caps on opening more privately managed charter schools, to rely on test scores to a significant degree when evaluating teachers, The whole premise of this paragraph is misleading. to adopt “college-and-career-ready standards” (aka the Common Core standards, which had not even been completed in 2009 when the competition was announced) and to take dramatic action to “turn around” schools with low test scores (such as closing the school or firing most of the staff).

First of all, none of these were eligibility requirements. As someone who worked in the federal government, Ravitch well knows the difference between eligibility requirements and selection criteria, so this is misleading. For example, states that won the grants, like Massachusetts and Rhode Island, still had and continue to have charter school caps.

Also, “college and career ready standards” does not necessarily equal “Common Core.” It was not a required component by any means. And test scores were only one of many measures to evaluate teachers, including lack of progress, graduation rates, observation scores, portfolios, student and parent surveys, and more.

Almost every state applied for a share of the billions that Duncan controlled, and almost every state changed its laws to conform to his wishes, yet only 18 states and the District of Columbia won awards. Duncan added the same conditions to state waivers This is false. from NCLB’s unrealistic target of 100% proficiency in reading and math for all children in grades 3-8.

They were not the same criteria. For example, waivers did not reference charter schools, teacher prep organization, or data systems.

Friendly reminder, Diane: it’s always helpful to check your facts before publishing.

Stop Painting Charters With a Broad Brush

The Post News Group, a publication out of the San Francisco Bay Area, has a piece taking charter schools—namely, for-profit charter schools—to task and arguing that the charter sector would be bad for Oakland.

Painting all charter schools with one brush is disingenuous on its own, but especially so when it is done with so much misinformation:

Public education is in crisis. Many children, especially low-income children of color, are poorly served by public schools. But charter schools are no better. A recent study concludes that about 30 percent of charter schools outperform public schools with comparable student bodies, while another 30 percent perform less well than the public schools. We can also identify many examples of successful schools, both public and charter.1) The same study (Stanford’s CREDO Report) also shows charters have a more POSITIVE effect on black and Hispanic students in poverty.2) These figures are only for math. In reading only 19% of charters perform worse than traditional district schools (25% outperform).3) Charter schools ARE public schools.

But to understand the situation, and the likely result of the move to the large-scale creation of charter schools, people need to pay attention to what is occurring nationally in the charter school movement:

The charter school trend is increasingly dominated by the for profit sector and is receiving massive investments from hedge funds and other investors whose focus is profit, not improving public education. NOT true. For-profit operators manage only 12.3% of charters, decreasing from the prior two years.

All of that said, we don’t necessarily disagree on everything:

Our focus in Oakland should be on improving our public schools. Fortunately, we have excellent models based on recent Oakland experience. Oakland Tech, now viewed by many as Oakland’s best high school, was recently a violent, dangerous place with little academic success. Frick Middle School, now a candidate for reorganization, was until recently regarded as a safe, successful school in a severely challenged neighborhood. Agreed! And Oakland is on the right track.

Here are some of the elements of a successful school: These 5 are all true, but why imply that charter schools aren’t able to provide these things? For example, Rocketship, which began in the Bay Area, is a charter network that places a huge priority on parent involvement.

1. A strong principal focused on instruction, a teacher of teachers rather than a disciplinarian or fundraiser. Oakland has many excellent principals and many who should be replaced. When Dennis Chaconas was appointed superintendent in 2000, his first priority was the replacement of 60% of the district’s principals. And then he replaced some of the replacements.

2. Well-paid, well-trained teachers. We need to demand that teachers be paid as much as nurses or police officers, so they can support their families and make instruction a career. The relationship between principals and teachers is clear—good principals attract and retain good teachers, while poor teachers leave schools where the culture and peer pressure demands their best efforts.

3. Site-based decision making in the context of accountability for school results. Public schools, just like charters, should be encouraged to develop their own identities and specialties. Public schools could be organized around specialities such as environmental science, African culture, or language arts to provide choices for students and parents.

4. Programs that address students’ life circumstances, including physical and mental health, violence prevention, and nutrition.

5. Active, engaged parent involvement that participates in decision-making as well as support activities.

Don’t Mislead: No One Is Saying Standards and Tests Alone Will Fix Schools

New Jersey reporter Kala Kachmar nobly sought to investigate the persistent achievement gaps between poor and wealthy students in the state’s districts. However, she starts with a misleading premise: that higher standards and new standardized tests alone will somehow “fix” the state’s schools.

No reasonable people in this debate suggest that. The new standards and tests serve as essential tools to identify where the problems are, but we still need supportive schools and world-class teachers in order to solve those problems.

PARCC Measures Gap, Keansburg Closes It

There is little evidence that the $186 million Common Core program will fix one of the toughest problems facing New Jersey’s classrooms: the education gap between rich and poor kids.

After nearly two decades of standardized testing and countless curriculum changes, students from homes at or near the poverty line still perform, on average, 15 points lower than other students on the math portion of the 11th grade graduation test, the Asbury Park Press found in a review of test scores for nearly 400 high schools across the state.NOTE: Tests identify gaps. Just saying.

Now, with the new testing standards raising a ruckus among many parents, politicians and the governor, experts say thePartnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers, or PARCC, test for most grades will not help close the education gap.Tests don’t close gaps, they IDENTIFY them. You seem to understand this in your TITLE and the sentence above–why forget it now?

“I think there’s little evidence that having large-scale testing has helped these students to fundamentally change,” said Drew Gitomer, an education professor at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education in New Brunswick. "We may have certain increases in certain areas, but by and large, achievement gaps persist."’Tis true, and the reason we know the true extent of these achievement gaps is thanks to statewide standardized tests…

Children from lower-income families tend to face hardships like hunger, stress and abuse at home that get in the way of learning, experts say. And with 38 percent of New Jersey’s 1.4 million students coming from low-income families, higher standards and harder tests could widen those gaps, Gitomer said.The standards and tests aren’t widening the gap! They’re exposing the true extent of these disparities so teachers, school leaders and parents can make informed decisions about how to improve education.

The state Department of Education thinks otherwise. It said the PARCC tests are meant to identify problem areas in students so teachers can improve lesson plans. Nationally, $186 million has been spent to develop the test. The costs in New Jersey are unclear because each school district doesn’t keep a separate budget for Common Core improvements, but many have had to upgrade text books, computer equipment and software.…

…The needs of poor, underachieving children do not appear to be as much of a priority for New Jersey under the Common Core, said Chris Tienken, an education professor at Seton Hall University.

"Standards don't address the factors that created the gap," he said. "Until you do, I don't see standards that will ever close it. I think we are spending a lot of money on solutions that won't solve the problem."Hmm… Prof. Tienken, you seem to be suffering from the Belief Gap. No reasonable person thinks that higher standards alone will close the gap. But should we really set the bar lower for kids in poverty?

The series of computerized PARCC assessments, considered more difficult than the last year’s tests, will roll out in March to test students on the Common Core standards.

PARCC replaces NJASK, the standardized test for elementary and middle schools, and the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), an 11th grade math and language arts test that students generally need to pass to graduate.

This week, Gov. Chris Christie said he had "grave concerns" about the Common Core now that it is tied to the state's federal funding. He’s appointed a commission to review the issues.And the state Assembly is considering bills that would delay the PARCC test for three years or allow parents to exclude their children from the test.…Gee, I wonder if that could be a politically motivated FLIP-FLOP to support a potential presidential bid? Meanwhile, he’s consistently urging students to take PARCC.

…Other than the Common Core standards and testing requirements, districts in New Jersey have a lot of discretion when it comes to creating effective curricula and teaching strategies, Erlichson said. She said local leaders have a better understanding of how to leverage resources.This is essential—Common Core just establishes a standard that can translate across school districts, but it’s up to the local educators to figure out the best way to reach their students.

“We facilitate and provide support,” Erlichson said. “But we count on school districts to make determinations of needs.”

Gitomer, of Rutgers, said schools need some level of accountability, but to assume that accountability by itself will change the education system is a naive view.Another over-simplification. No reasonable person holds this view. Just like standards alone won’t fix schools, accountability only works in a supportive school environment.

“The problem is we’ve often used the test results to blame teachers, students, schools—and we haven’t used (scores) to drive the kind of changes that would make a real difference,” Gitomer said. “If it’s a good test, it can provide some useful information. But in order to teach the kinds of things the Common Core requires, it’s going to take a sustained effort. The curriculum and way teachers teach has to change.”

The Oregonian’s One-Sided ‘Debate’ on Common Core-Aligned Tests

Oregonian’s Laura Frazier recently reported on (compiled, really) a roundup of education headlines regarding new tests linked to the Common Core State Standards.

Aside from the obvious issue of conflating all new tests aligned to the Common Core (and yes, there’s more than one—as many as four new tests are being administered this spring) and blurring the lines between commentary and newspaper reporting, Frazier fails to report (or in this case, find and summarize links) from both sides of the debate and instead casts a biased and indulgent perspective of the opt-out debate and new assessments.

Tests linked to new Common Core State Standards made headlines across the nation last week.

Starting this spring students will take new and more rigorous exams aligned with Common Core State Standards, adopted by Oregon in 2010. The exams have sparked a debate about standardized testing and parent’s right to opt their student out.

Here are a few headlines we found:Looks like you missed a lot of stories about the new tests that would balance out the piece. Here are a some headlines you missed…

New Common Core tests will test skills and reasoning, not memorization

Ohio educators talk about an improved assessment, pointing out that the PARCC test actually tests a student’s ability to apply knowledge, rather than just rote memorization and bubble-filling.

Deborah Gist: R.I. is ready for PARCC assessments

Rhode Island’s chief of schools sums it up: “PARCC assessments are designed to measure whether students have attained proficiency on the Common Core State Standards, which Rhode Island adopted more than four years ago. Thousands of educators have participated in professional development preparing them for transition to the Common Core. We are now in the third year of full implementation of the Common Core in all of our schools. Clearly, our teachers and students should be—and are—ready for PARCC assessments.”

Suburbia and Its Common Core Conspiracy Theories

In The Atlantic, a journalist (and mom) takes the time to debunk several Common Core conspiracy theories and address the alarmist tendencies of social media.

Opting Out of PARCC and Common Core Standards Is a Dangerous Concept

A superintendent of a New Jersey district explores the risks in opting-out of Common Core and its aligned assessments, including setting a bad precedent for future opt-outs.

N.J. PTA, principals launch PARCC website to answer questions

This story in True Jersey explores a website created to provide answers to common questions and identifies the best ways to support students as they take PARCC.

An open letter to parents on PARCC

A letter from New Jersey Commissioner of Education David Hespe who wants to dispel myths and explain the many benefits PARCC has for students, families, and schools.

Groups Battle Over Student Testing in New Jersey

From this Wall Street Journal article: “Good instruction leads to good test results,” said Superintendent Stephen Cochrane. “We don’t emphasize test prep. We emphasize critical thinking and good writing, and that leads to good results on PARCC or any assessment.”

Carolyn Radler, a mother of three in Wayne, welcomed the new regimen. “It will give you more information on the growth of your child, which is very important,” she said.

Parsippany schools superintendent speaks about PARCC concerns

Yet another New Jersey superintendent dispels rumors around the new test, declaring: “Frankly, I think it will be the best thing for the kids.”

Take testing to heart—it’s a key to student success

This Washington state superintendent gives background on Smarter Balanced, its role in her district, and how it will benefit her students.

The PARCC test / Relax, folks

An Atlantic City newspaper editorial compares hysteria around testing to the anti-vaccination movement and describes the thoughtfulness that has gone into implementing the assessment.

Cincinnati Teacher Advocates Testing Opt-Out

A recent piece on Cincinnati.com from an Ohio teacher and parent takes issue with the PARCC test, which is being administered throughout Ohio beginning this week, but misses the mark in a several of areas, including:

As a parent, educator, taxpayer and citizen of Ohio, I cannot help but continue to question the actions of the state Department of Education in rapidly expanding the use of standardized testing in our public schools. Likewise, many parents are looking at “opt-out options” for their children; teachers and principals fret at the loss of instructional time and local autonomy; superintendents are courageously taking opposition stances; and students anxiously anticipate how they are going to score and be labeled after taking the New Ohio Tests.We would love to see some data (and not just anecdotal evidence) to back up this claim! In NYC, for example, less than one-half of one percent of students ended up opting-out.

1) Actually, Ohio received input from 75 teacher groups, had five regional meetings on the subject, and received 9,600 comments on the subject.
2) More than 1,000,000 students were field tested in 16,000 schools across 14 states and Washington, D.C.
3) We’d love to know where this figure came from! The assessments are aligned to the expectations in the Common Core State Standards.
4) This fall timeline is a 1 year issue as states set cut scores, something that happens with every new test.
In 2011 and 2012, the Ohio Department of Education decided,with very little public input, that PARCC and AIR tests would take over our schools starting in 2014-15. These mostly online tests have two, three and four parts to them, were not systemically field tested, and are written, according to many research measurement experts, two reading grade levels above the grade of the students subjected to this monolithic mess called national standardized testing.

The scores of the spring assessments will not be available until next fall, after students have moved on to the next grade. Effective testing is suppose to yield immediate results and used diagnostically to help students. The New Ohio Tests accomplish neither.

While other states and the school district formerly run by Duncan—Chicago Public—5) CPS didn’t drop out
6) Again, it’s not a national test. It’s a common assessment for its member states.
dropped out of Common Core national testing(only 12 PARCC states remain), several high-ranking Ohio Board of Regents and ODE officials, including its superintendent,decided to join PARCC and serve on its Governing Board and Advisory Committees. It was a fait accompli for our students, teachers, administrators and parents.

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