“…our school systems actually lied to children and to families and to communities”

July 31, 2013

Now that I have your attention, here’s the full July 5, 2013 story from NPR (“Education Reform Movement Learns Lesson From Old Standards’)

“‘For far too long, our school systems actually lied to children and to families and to communities,” says Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a recent speech in Washington. And what made those lies possible, according to Duncan, was the one thing most of these state standards had in common: They were low.”

The NPR story talks about the Common Core, “the new set of national education standards in math and English language arts… This move toward a single set of standards has been embraced by a bipartisan crowd of politicians and educators largely because of what the Common Core standards are replacing: a mess.”

That’s where the lying comes in, because each state had different standards. NPR notes that a  “fourth grader in Arkansas could have appeared proficient in reading by his state’s standards — but, by the standards of another state, say Massachusetts, not even close.”

The article notes that many students met state reading standards but did poorly on federal tests.  In Tennessee 90 percent of fourth graders met state reading proficiency standards but only 28 tested proficient in reading on federal tests.

I’m not saying that Common Core standards aren’t controversial, but something is wrong and needs to be fixed.  Tennessee Governor Bredesen said in the article that “his state’s standards had been low for years.”  One study showed that more than half of the states had very low benchmarks.

Think it can’t get any worse than having low state standards out of sync with higher federal standards?  The article says, “It gets worse. Between 2005 and 2007, some 15 states actually lowered their proficiency standards in reading or math, according to a report from the Education Department. Why? Under the No Child Left Behind law, passed by Congress in 2001, states were held accountable for failing schools. But the law had a fundamental flaw.

“’It mandated that students at all schools be proficient,’ says Mark Schneider, vice president of the American Institutes for Research. But it ‘allowed states to set their proficiency standards.’”

Folks are concerned that “the first round of student scores in 2015 will be honest, and bad — so bad they shock parents and strike fear into politicians.”  Former Tennessee Gov. Philip Bredesen has this advice:

“’The scores are gonna look like they’re falling, and they’re not,’ Bredesen says. ‘They’re just being tested more honestly, and we’ve got to stay the course.’”

Many folks responded to this news on the NPR site and I love the first two responses.  Skip Mendler makes the point I try to make over and over again:

“The real problem is with the concept of ‘performing at grade level’ – the assumption that educational progress is strictly a function of chronological age, and that all kids develop all kinds of knowledge at the same rate. Lumping kids together in age-based cohorts, and then expecting them all to march through the curriculum in lockstep is absurd on its face.”

Mary Leonhardt  has her own blog Teaching a Love of Reading.   She writes “this whole Common Core issue is making me crazy, as it is driving the very curriculum that makes kids hate reading.”  

In response to the NPR story, she says that after 37 years of teaching high school English, she’s learned that only avid readers can reach the Common Core standards.

“The kinds of literacy skills the common core requires are skills only developed through wide, voracious reading.

“Which gives us the perfect catch-22: The very activities that develop high-level literacy skills are the very activities that are discouraged by the test demanding them. Schools are awash now in curriculum that requires students to pick apart, in excruciating detail, pieces of literature that are boring to them in the first place. Really, it’s hard to think of a better way to discourage avid reading among children.”

“… Children acquire oral language through having a multitude of people speaking to them and listening to them throughout the day. Little kids fall in love with oral language, often talking themselves to sleep at night, and continuing, without a letup, first thing in the morning.”

She closes with, “That’s what needs to happen with reading.”  I agree!

Some of us can’t stop thinking about education!

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Wednesday July 31, 2013 at 09:31AM

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