Category: Education in general

Controversy in New York over Smarter Balanced Assessment of Common Core State Standards

SBA = Smarter Balanced Assessment
CCSS = Common Core State Standards
NCLB = No Child Left Behind

The CCSS and SBA have led to a huge uproar in many New York State school districts. Many parents had their kids opt out of testing, fearing the tests put too much stress on children.

Here’s what one parent had to say:

My daughter is going into 4th grade so she took them this past year. Man what stress. I can’t imagine being that stressed about anything when I was 8! In my town too there was quite an uproar during the testing time. My wife and I would never have had her not take it. I’m an OT in a school, my wife is a speech therapist in a high school, mot of my family are teachers. I believe that it’s just not a good message to send to have your child not take it.

Here’s what one teacher had to say:

The Common Core State Standards are simply a set of standards that outline what should be taught as students progress through their pre-college career. From what I gather, most educators (like myself) don’t have a problem with the new standards, beyond the typical resistance to change you’d find in any organization. Teachers must invest tons of time rewriting curriculum and lesson plans to be aligned with CCSS. This isn’t something everyone wants to do. Also, there is a growing number of educators in the circles I run with who are of the mindset that CCSS is going to be replaced or repealed eventually, so why bother?

In truth, I think a lot of people, educators included, can get behind a universal set of standards, and that’s why they were written. Teachers just want to know that the rewrites aren’t going to happen every few years.

As for the standards themselves, as a high school math teacher I personally wish the math standards focused less on process and more on mathematical thinking. There already is a lot of reference to the use of computer-algebra-systems in the standards, but the future of mathematics is clearly moving away from the traditional computations toward the computer-based maths model.

The thing that so many are opposed to is the testing developed based on the standards. This testing is often referred to as the Smarter Balanced Assessment. While related, I think the best discussions come about when people are able to distinguish between the two (CCSS and SBA).

I have found that criticism of SBA is actually more a criticism of the heavy emphasis on testing that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) laws have promoted. Teachers generally hate the pressure of high-stakes testing, and are quick critics of the process, the pressure, the outcomes, and the conclusions of these tests. I believe it’s the teacher’s job to focus on teaching the curriculum the best way possible and not be distracted by testing of any kind, so I don’t really have a problem with the testing. I kind of remember always being tested as a kid (we did the CTBS and ITBS when I was young). To me it’s just a part of the process for students. The issue teachers should have is with the administrators who overreact to everything and pass pressure down to their teachers ineffectively, instead of leading them to improved teaching.

The way I view it, there are a lot of ineffective teachers out there. Administrators are responsible for the development or elimination of these teachers. Unfortunately there are a lot of ineffective administrators as well. The NCLB laws can help eliminate those administrators. The benefits of this should be obvious, although admittedly there can be a lot of pain as entrenched administrators fight to keep their jobs as the ineffective ones will resort to all kinds of tactics to improve test scores. Teachers should, imo, support the laws and work to improve their own teaching. A true teacher can lead from the classroom and help their school beyond the walls of their own classroom, imo. This should be their focus.

It’s just so much easier to complain. I mean if the dumb NCLB laws were to go away, we wouldn’t have to do any of that, now would we?

And another educator:

These kids have three days straight of the ELA test and three days straight of the Math test. These kids are stressed because it is a lot of information and if you don’t do well you go into an AIS class. Kids are embarrassed to be seen leaving our AIS classroom.

The stress students feel is because they are worried about the outcomes. The outcomes they fear (AIS classes) are not federally mandated, but are the product of weak administrators passing the fear along to the students. Is it possible to create a positive, winning attitude about tests? Absolutely. But that takes a disciplined, fearless leadership, which is obviously missing in many school districts.

Also, these AIS classes are a joke. You have like 10-15 kids that all have different teachers and are all working on different material at the same time so you can’t really do a lesson with them. It’s basically a study hall. You just have them take out their math work and work on that. Then you have to deal with, “I don’t have homework, I can’t find my work, I did it already, etc.”. Now you have to have them get out their folders and do computer work. If you have 10 kids then they get about 4 minutes of my time each to help them out on the best days. On the worst days you are dealing with kids having temper tantrums, kids crying, kids upset, etc. so you get about 2 minutes a piece.

Here is the problem. It is very simple. These rules, laws, etc. are made up by non-educators. We never get any input. They may listen to us but we aren’t heard. Then you have your local administrators want you to think their hands are tied, that all your problems are the result of the stupid laws they have to follow. They spend more time persuading parents that it’s not the administration’s fault than they do trying to make things better for the kids.

The national laws, the CCSS do not mandate when anything is to be taught. Educators have the freedom within CCSS to create their own curriculum – they are just supposed to use the CCSS as the underlying guide for that curriculum. Also, educators have the freedom to adjust within the year the amount of time spent on units and the order of the units. But the administrators throw more restrictions down and then blame the national law instead of their own incompetence.

NYU and Columbia are going global

Interesting New York Times article here on the new international campuses that have or soon will be opened by two of New York’s most famous schools.

Which ranking system is more helpful?

Washington Monthly takes a critical look at The U.S. News & World Report college rankings:

The U.S. News & World Report “relies on crude and easily manipulated measures of wealth, exclusivity, and prestige for its rankings,” Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris wrote. The U.S. News’ rankings take into account freshmen retention rate, admissions’ selectivity, high school counselors’ opinions of the school, faculty salary, per-pupil spending and the rate of alumni giving, among other things.

They’ve come up with a system designed to measure how good the college is for the country:

the Monthly ranks schools using three main categories: how many low-income students the college enrolls, how much community and national service a given college’s students engage in, and the volume of groundbreaking research the university produces (in part measured by how many undergraduates go on to get PhDs).

For comparison with South Korea, where rankings are done by the Joongang Ilbo with parenthetical information from here:

The JoongAng Ilbo’s evaluation team analyzed documents provided by the ministry of education and universities from across the country. The overall university evaluation is based on four categories: educational conditions and financial resources (technology and number of buildings); globalization (foreign faculty, foreign students, classes taught in English); research and faculty (research papers in academic journals); and reputation and alumni representation in society.

What is the value of a US college education?

As people complain that college education in American is too expensive, this New York Times article argues that it’s still worth it.

The Hamilton Project, a research group in Washington, has just finished a comparison of college with other investments. It found that college tuition in recent decades has delivered an inflation-adjusted annual return of more than 15 percent. For stocks, the historical return is 7 percent. For real estate, it’s less than 1 percent.

America has the most expensive college education followed by Korea, a very distant second. In Korea, students are protesting pretty loudly about the increasing costs…

In America, certain degrees are worth more than others. Colleges argue that a liberal arts education is a good investment but pretty much everyone in the real world would agree that as an investment you’re better off with any of the following:

-Business (Accounting/Finance)




-Health Sciences

Some people argue that going to college is a waste of time and money until you know what you want to do. If you decide on a certain career (and 18 is often too young to decide) then you see if a college degree is required and you go get the right education.

What do you think about the value of a college education and its value as an investment?

Here’s a language sample from a native speaker you may want to study:

I was a History Major. If I had some guidance 20 years ago, I would have taken a different route and probably had a much different, more accelerated career path. Unless you are teaching or looking at a career in academia, what purpose do liberal arts degrees serve? I ended up going back to school 2 times, once for a certificate program in computer programming back before the Y2K boom and then for an MBA. Each was necessary, I felt, because my BA in History wasn’t going to take me very far.

Teacher fired for assaulting a student or for self defense?

We know school rules disallow students from defending themselves against other students. What about teachers? Should they be allowed to defend themselves?

The student who defends himself or herself probably faces a few days off from school as in the Australian bully case. A teacher who was recently cornered by a student, physically and verbally threatened, and threw a nice punch for a 64-year-old art teacher might lose her job. Does she deserve to get fired? Does it matter she was teacher of the year last year? That she has been teaching for 23 years with no trouble?

Did the kid who got punched deserve to get expelled (he didn’t get expelled so far as I know but many people think he should be)? Not only did he physically threaten the teacher, but he also called her an “f*cking c*nt” plus other choice terms.

And what about the student who says, “Oh my God, he didn’t do anything; you can’t punch him in the face.” Some people think her attitude is one of the problems in American schools today – kids can do whatever they want, threaten teachers, etc. And teachers should do nothing about it.

What do you think?

Does the Cornell professor’s reprimand over a loud yawn go too far?

I learned about this from a message board where most people said the Cornell professor was behaving just fine and that there’s no real problem with reminding college students to be polite. There were also, some people, who thought the prof was “self-important” and should “shut up and get over himself.”

What do you think?

South Korea’s Engkey, English teaching robot

Engkey is an English teacher/robot supposedly. As far as I can tell it’s only good for correcting pronunciation errors (as students run through memorized conversations) and even then I find it hard to believe it knows “natural pronunciation”. But the real issue is that we know Behaviorism and the ALM have severe limitations.

You have to wonder if Choi Mun-taek (the team leader working on these “intelligent” robots) knows his SLA not only because of the robots’ behavioristic teaching style but also because he says a robot with a female voice is more effective for teaching than a robot with a male voice. Is that backed up by science or just common sense?

Nevertheless, the Education Ministry wants every kindergarten to have one (8,400) by 2013. They say Engkey can replace native speakers. I say if you’re in Kindergarten you don’t need a robot or a native English speaker.

School took lots of secret pics of kids at home?

New information on a story I linked to in February: Lower Merion School Dsitrict still thinks they have a chance to stay out of trouble:

An attorney for the district declined to comment last night on the Robbinses’ latest motion, except to say that a report due in a few weeks will spell out what the district’s own investigation has found.

“To the extent there is any evidence of misuse of any images, that also will be disclosed,” said the attorney, former federal prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. “However, at this late stage of our investigation we are not aware of any such evidence.”

From the plaintiff’s claims in this story, I see a large settlement in the near future. I don’t see how the school district can expect anyone to accept hundreds of pictures taken of kids in their homes in secret. You have to wonder if the camera ever caught a kid getting dressed or something because that would have to mean a lot of trouble.

Things your kids’ teacher won’t tell you

Most of the list may be pretty tame – there are certainly bigger concerns out there but some of the items are worth discussing:

3. We’re sick of standardized testing and having to “teach to the test.”

4. Kids used to go out and play after school and resolve problems on their own. Now, with computers and TV, they lack the skills to communicate. They don’t know how to get past hurt feelings without telling the teacher and having her fix it.

Lower Merion school spying on students inside their homes

Apparently one school is facing a lawsuit for spying on students and their families. The school issued laptops to each high school student and allegedly remote activated web cams to see what each student was up to.

It seems a little hard to believe (how could school administrators put themselves in a position where they might see students getting dressed, undressed, etc. ?) but equally hard to invent. Now we’ve got a class action lawsuit making its way through the system…

t’ll be interesting to see what happens to this story!