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Monday, May 06, 2013

How Homeschooling Has Benefited Me - Part 2 (And What It Has to Do with Common Core)

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Until I began homeschooling there were things I didn’t know about education, for example: children do not all learn things in the same way; there are various methods which can be used in teaching; and children can learn just for the enjoyment of learning and not for the sole purpose of meeting a test score.

Homeschooling has benefited me in that it has taught me what a true
education looks like.
Education is NOT about memorizing facts in order to pass tests. 
Education is much richer than that. It is learning simply because what is being
taught is interesting, engaging, fun, and rewarding.

Last week my friend and I attended a meeting to discuss Common Core (CC) (the new educational standards). Those in attendance included proponents of CC:

Debe Terhar, President of the Ohio State Board of Education (OSBE)
Tom Gunlock, Vice President of OSBE
Emmy Partin, Director of OH Policy & Research - Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Terry Ryan, Vice President for OH Programs and Policy - Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Those of us opposing Common Core included:

Beth Lear, Legislative Policy Analyst
Kelly Kohls, President of the Ohio School Board Leadership Council (OSBLC) and a member of the Springboro Community City School Board of Education
Warren Edstrom, VP, OH School Boards Leadership Council
Bob Lattimer, President, Citizens for Objective Public Education, State Board – Eagle Forum of OH
Homeschool parents: Connie King, Clara Stacko and Vicki Matsunami

(Left to Right) Beth, Rachel, Connie, Bob, Vicki, Kelly, Clara, and Warren

Where were the public school parents?

I want to begin by giving you a little bit of background on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. According to educationnews.org, The Gates Foundation gave the Thomas B. Fordham Institute $1.4 Million, including $960,000 to review the Common Core Standards. “Is it any coincidence that Fordham gave the Common Core Standards (Math and English) high ratings?” 

A FAIR article in 2010 stated: “Mike Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, agrees, telling the Puget Sound Business Journal (5/15/09), ‘It is not unfair to say that the Gates Foundation’s agenda has become the country’s agenda in education.’ The Business Journal noted that as of that date, the Fordham Institute itself had received nearly $3 million in Gates Foundation grants.”

Based on this information, do you think the Fordham Institute will lean towards an unbiased assessment of Common Core?

If you do your own Google search, you will find other articles discussing the relationship between the Gates Foundation and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. I share this only to give you an understanding as to why this organization is such a strong proponent of the Common Core; they received A LOT of money from the Gates Foundation and it is this foundation that is at the center of Common Core.

What did I come away with from this meeting?

Our children’s education is being sold to the highest bidder.

The amount of money surrounding Common Core is overwhelming!

Although not yet 100% decided, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) will be providing on-line assessments aligned with CC standards. Currently, there are issues as to whether or not PARCC will be done with these assessments by 2015. The federal government paid PARCC an estimated $200M for this service.

Before I continue, the Vice President of OSBE was adamant in making sure we understood the difference between curriculum and standards, so let me share their definitions.  According to his explanation:

Standards are what the students need to know

Curriculum is how you go about doing it

Throughout the meeting I kept hearing the phrase, “These standards are the floor.”  Let me share some information from Bob Lattimer’s Meeting Notes:

Question: Do the CC standards have the proper rigor? Is the proficiency level set high enough?

Response: (Terry) CC represents the minimum knowledge and skills that every student should possess (upon high school graduation). It is not the top level of student achievement. School districts will vary a lot in the implementation of CC; some will do well and others will fail.

Response: (Tom) The CC standards are the base or lowest level of proficiency. A district in Ohio could adopt standards from a state with higher-rated standards (like Massachusetts or could use the current standards.

Terry added that, “Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Tennessee have better standards than CC.” (Fordham ranked California, Indiana, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas, and DC above CC in English. Fordham ranked California, Florida, Indiana, Washington, and DC above CC in Math.) If their standards are better, why not use their standards? 

Common Core is NOT a higher standard. It is only “the floor level."

According to Tom, districts can opt out of CC but when asked if this meant that they could also opt out of PARCC testing the response was, “No.” As a school, where does this leave the students? PARCC will be written according to CC so if they do not use CC, how will the students pass those “important” tests?

Another excerpt from Bob's meeting notes:

Question: Why do we need CC standards, especially since research shows that national standards have no positive effect on student learning? Education is a state and local responsibility.

Response: (Tom made most of these comments.) We have a different society today than in the past. Skilled workmen are needed in manufacturing, not to do the manual assembling of products, but to program and maintain the robots that are actually making the products. Our schools are not producing enough qualified individuals. College graduates are not needed for these jobs, but the students coming out of high school need certain basic knowledge and skills. We need minimal standards that will produce high school graduates who are qualified for the workforce or college studies.

I posed the question, “Why is there such a rush to implement these new standards? Why are you (Fordham Institute) not willing to run a test pilot on these standards to see whether or not they will work?” The response I received was that it would cost too much money. Terry also said a pilot program is also unnecessary due to 20 years experience with standards based (or outcome based) education. My response, “Would it not cost more money in the end if it fails?” 

When the topic of data collection was brought up I saw many eyes roll on the proponents' side. Even after a couple of articles were read to them as evidence they were insistent that “no data will be collected.” 

In Bob's meeting notes he wrote:

Question: CC is part of a federal program to develop a Student Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) intended to track personal student and family data. Isn't this an intrusion of privacy rights?

Response: (Debe) We don’t collect individual student data (in Ohio’s current Education Management Information System – EMIS). There is no way that individual student data from Ohio will get into a federal database. If we want to prevent this definitively, the General Assembly could write a law forbidding it. We (Debe and Tom) can only speak for the current State Board of Education; future boards or legislators may disagree.

Terry mentioned that they expect there to be many problems with the implementation of CC.  He said, “Due to the challenges of implementation, you’re going to have school districts and school test scores going down. You’re going to have school districts that were rated A all of a sudden find themselves rated C. You’re going to have parents receiving information from their schools; they thought their child was proficient, now they’re being told that they’re not.”

This information did not surprise me as I have already heard reports about the confusion this is causing many educators.

At the end of this meeting I came to the conclusion that the only thing we know for sure about Common Core is that it is going to be a very EXPENSIVE change. Someone is going to have to pay for it. As mentioned in the meeting, districts are going to have to pay for the curriculum and other expenses. Be prepared for more school tax levies.

Children will continue to be taught to the test, just as they always have. This, which should be the biggest change, is staying status quo. Instead of changing the standards, maybe they should consider changing their method of assessing the children.

The following quote was taken from the United Opt Out National website. This is an organization that provides guidance and support to parents who wish to have their children “opt out” of high stake testing. You can read the full article here.
In Texas, we now invest 45 out of 180 school days administering standardized tests.  We also have a $500 million contract with Pearson to develop tests, even as $4 billion was cut from education and our class sizes are growing. Texas lawmakers have chosen to save the tests but not the teachers. In all 50 states, “testing for its own sake” has grown through the garden of learning like a kudzu vine, and it is choking to death flowers that are far more worthy than itself: music, art, history, and science are withering under its encompassing weight.
Testing corporations have hijacked public education and have increased their profits dramatically in doing so. As these testing giants continue to lobby for more tests, new tests, and ever more expensive tests, it is apparent to me that there will come a day when teachers must be renamed testers, the classroom must be called the testing room, and the little red schoolhouse will finally become the little red widget factory, pumping out standardized children who know nothing beyond what was on the test. That is not the vision I have for my children, my students, or my nation. ~ John Kuhn, Superintendent in Texas
(Of course, Texas is one of the states that didn't adopt Common Core. If the state wants to cut back on testing, nothing is stopping them.)

Another question I asked Terry was why did his organization look to other countries to find successful schools.  Why did they not go to the high performing schools within our own country? I offered him an example of a school called Ambleside School which teaches students in grades Kindergarten through eighth grade who claim that their children perform about two grades above their level. They assess their children not through tests, but through other methods. Each of these students is being given a rich education and they are succeeding. One of the questions in their FAQ page asks, “Why do you not give grades?” Their response:
Actually, we give more than grades at Ambleside. Teachers assess students daily in narration and conduct, and weekly in math and writing. Our students receive an extensive narrative evaluation of their academic as well as their character development twice a year. In addition, twice yearly our students have essay exam periods that are an important educational evaluative tool at Ambleside. The reports of progress and the exams are further supplemented by parent teacher conferences where the parents and teachers discuss strengths and weaknesses and strategize on ways to partner and improve the whole student.
Our goal is for students to be engaged learners, more interested in gaining knowledge than in getting a good grade. We have found greater understanding and learning happens when our students search their papers for teachers’ comments rather than glance at the grade and feel satisfied or discouraged.
It doesn’t sound to me like these children are being taught solely for the purpose of passing a test. Shouldn't this be the goal of all our schools?

I'd like to leave you with these last thoughts. I wonder if Bill and Melinda Gates would have wanted their children to receive a Common Core education. Is there another alternative?





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