"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Aug. 31 Deadline: Governor's Survey on Common Core Standards

The Governor has a survey on Common Core.  The deadline to submit your comments is this SUNDAY, Aug. 31, 2014.  Find the survey here: http://utah.gov/governor/standards/

Regardless of what you think about the standards, please make sure you take this survey.  Public input on the standards in 2010 was noticeably lacking.  As parents, teachers, taxpayers, and citizens, it is our duty and responsibility to voice our opinion on the issues facing our elected representatives.  I applaud Governor Herbert for asking for our input.  Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity.

A couple of suggestions: There are a lot of claims made about  Common Core and the CCSS Reform Package that includes the standards, as well as testing, teacher evaluations, longitudinal database, etc.  Make your comments as respectful as possible and as fact-based as you can.  In some of the recent articles, if people mentioned federal involvement, they were dismissed as not being informed, since the Federal government did NOT write the standards.  Sure, they coerced, bribed, incentivized and fully support the standards, but they did NOT write them.  Also, if you have concerns about particular assignments, make sure that they are required by the standards.  Too often, we are told that the standards are just standards, not curriculum.  If you don't like the assignment your kid brings home, we're told it's because the teacher isn't very good or the school district made a poor decision on what they chose for curriculum.  Most teachers, however, are choosing assignments based on the standards, but it is a tricky semantics game.  So, be very particular about what it is you say and how you say it.

A great analysis of the principles behind Republican opposition to Common Core can be found from the Utah County GOP Chairman, Casey Voeks, here: http://vimeo.com/97553651

I will list below two items: 1) The letter all school boards, superintendents and business administrators received this week, asking for our input on the standards.  You need to know that this email went out to about 300 people asking for input.  2) My comments on the three free-text boxes on the survey.  (Yes, there are some typos. I apologize, but that is what I submitted.)

Letter to USBA, USSA, and UASBO members on the governor's survey:
Good afternoon Board Members, Superintendents and Business Administrators –
The Governor is seeking feedback on a brief survey on the Utah Core Standards, as described below.  We have been asked to send this out to our employees, parents and parent groups, School Community Councils and others that have viewpoints and information to share on the Utah Core Standards.  Thank you for whatever help you might offer.

Subject: Governor's Standards Survey
Governor Herbert is asking parents, teachers, community members, and constituents to provide feedback in a brief survey on the Utah Core Standards. Respondents to this survey are encouraged to provide a general response on specific standards that they support, those they feel are problematic, or those that could be improved. 
The Governor's Standards Survey closes this coming Sunday, August 31. As of today, statistics show that 3,103 people have taken the survey, and the Governor’s office would like many more to voice their opinions. 
Please take a few moments to participate in this online survey and let your voice be heard. You will find the survey atutah.gov/governor/standards. Click on the dark blue section where it says, “Take the Survey.”
My comments on the Governor's Survey:

English Standards:

Too much of a focus on close reading. This allows for easy computer grading, but removes the reader from having an actual input into a selection. Also, not being able to bring in other metaphors or ideas outside of the text is not 'critical or higher-order thinking'. K-3 standards are developmentally inappropriate. The English standards overall are fairly vague. I'm not opposed to teaching argumentative writing, but supplanting persuasive with argumentative instead of teaching both is problematic. Both serve useful purposes. Also, reducing narrative writing isn't helpful. Finally, reading excerpts of classic works is not nearly as beneficial as reading the entire work. If the work is beneficial, the entire work should be read and studied. We make better writers from reading great writers. Informational text with the exception of the Declaration of Independence (or really anything from Jefferson) will, in almost every instance, be seriously lacking in writing quality when compared with the great works of Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens, Walt Whitman, etc. Finally, because of the requirement to include modern works, etc, it makes it difficult for a classical education model to be successfully implemented. Usually, classical models focus on time periods over certain grades. If you have to jump to some 20th Century author in the middle of your Greco-Roman period, you no longer have the capability to study in traditional classical fashion. Also, I'm not convinced that 20th Century authors are 1) better writers or 2) have deeper ideas than Socrates, Aristotle, Dante, etc.

Math Standards:

I could write pages on this. First, get rid of the standards for mathematical practice. These are standards that anyone fairly good at math will be able to do/demonstrate by solving a multi-step math problem. Dr. W. Stephen Wilson, Mathematics professor at Johns Hopkins, said that these practice standards are neither teachable nor testable. Second, there are many standards that contain pedagogy and curricular directives. These directives lean heavily toward the constructivist "Investigations" Math that was so controversial in Alpine district. Also, asking kids, especially those with a disability like Autism, to show multiple ways of doing the same problem or to explain how 2+2 = 4, is very frustrating and will serve to discourage them. The integrated math pathway that Utah (and Vermont) chose is very problematic for placement for kids that move in or out of the state. It also doesn't allow students who want to take Geometry and Algebra 2 concurrently. Next, the standards, especially in the high school integrated courses, are extremely incoherent. It seems like they took the standards from Algebra 1, 2, and Geometry threw them up on a dart board, and then just divided them into thirds. Many of the Algebra 2 concepts that are taught in 9th grade (e.g. exponential equations) with basic Algebra 1 concepts are not presented with any understanding of how to truly solve them in an algebraic manner, because the concept of logarithms (the inverse of exponents) is not addressed at all. So, the concepts do not build from one solid foundation to another concept that is within the grasp of the student to truly solve. Finally, where the average student used to have the opportunity to take Calculus as a Senior (starting with Algebra 1 in 8th grade), the only way to take Calculus as a Senior is to take the Honors grouping over three years. What this does is condenses 4 years of high-level math (Alg 1,2, Geo, pre-calc) into 3 years ( grades 9 -11) instead of 4 (grades 8-11) as it used to. As a math major and a programmer by trade, I do not believe I would have been able to master some of the more difficult concepts, especially in Algebra 2, if they had been condensed into 3 years instead of 4. So, we are making the path to Calculus more difficult for the average student who can do math, but who may not be exceptional. This will yield fewer STEM majors, not more. The focus on constructivist math practices will serve only to alienate students from their parents, as the parents struggle to help them with math. Even if the constructivist philosophy were phenomenal and backed up by research (which it is not), the role of the public education system in this state is to support parents, not replace them. If parents can't help their kids with homework, we send a subliminal message to their kids that parents are not the proper authorities to go to for. This directly violates State and Natural Law, and we should have no part in it.

General Comments:
I am opposed to national standards (which if you have a majority of states all implementing at the same time, you create de facto). We are limiting, through attrition, any other pathways for higher ed. The GED, SAT, and AP tests are all being aligned--this will force private and home schoolers into the same mix. The testing is the enforcement mechanism of the standards, and believing that a test, computer or otherwise, can more accurately measure and assist my child more than his/her teacher who spends 180 days with him/her is completely ludicrous. I see no evidence that 'critical thinking' can accurately be assessed by a computer. I would argue that human interaction, alone, would be able to assess this. The assessments also appear to measure process (see the reference to pedagogy and curricular directives in the math section) more than fact. As such, students who are successful will have to learn how to take these tests and answer them "properly", not just based on knowledge and information that can be gleaned from the wisdom of the ages. This is the exact definition of 'teaching to the test'. At this time, I do not see evidence that is what is being tested is necessarily what I want my child to know. Finally, the focus on 'college and career-ready' devalues the purpose of education--education does not exist to create good 'human capital' for the workforce. If we focus only on economic outcomes, we devalue all of our students who will not 'contribute sufficiently'. This is a highly distressing emphasis for parents with kids who have special needs and who may not fulfill that 'human capital' pipeline that the workforce is so interested in.

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