Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Standardized Public Education

In his recent thread on the outlines of what ed reform is pushing for, Charlie included this in a comment as another facet:

Standardized Curriculum - Reformers push the idea of standardized curricula, not only across classrooms within a school, but across schools within a district, across districts within a state, and, with the Common Core, across all states in the country. Standardized Curricula leads directly to standardized instruction - teachers essentially working off a script and pacing guide and being judged on their "fidelity of implementation". This boils down to every classroom in the country being on page 56 on the same day. This includes the ideas of vertical and horizontal articulation. Not only does this rob teachers of their autonomy and thereby de-professionalize teaching, but it is antithetical to differentiated instruction and therefore it worsens education for students. This is the first step towards delivering teaching through some process other than face-to-face contact between a teacher and a student who have a relationship.

A lot of Education Reform is focused on the idea of increasing productivity. The productivity cap is created by the requirement of a student-teacher relationship. The only way to increase productivity is to by-pass that relationship.

But that relationship is essential to learning. Teaching is a creative, improvisational act that is driven by the dynamic and unpredictable interaction between two real, live human beings. The students respond to the teacher and the teacher then responds to each student in an ongoing back-and-forth. This dialog can - and does - follow a myriad of paths that cannot be predicted or pre-programmed. It is like the universe of all possible chess games. Teachers get better over time because they have more experience and learn what moves to make in response to the students moves.

Anyway, standardized curricula de-professionalizes teaching and is a step on the path to replace teachers with machines. It worsens education but promises savings.

End of Charlie's statement.

On the heels of that statement was this story about Rocketship, the highly touted charter school based in California from AlterNet.  It's called, "Major Charter School Chain's Classrooms Look Like Cubicles for Telemarketers."

From Silicon Valley, the Rocketship chain of charter schools is hoping to expand across the country. It’s backed by some of the biggest names in the tech world and claims high test scores. 

Rocketship leaders brag that they think outside the box. Teachers, for instance—who needs them? The company says it saves half a million dollars a year by using fewer teachers, replacing them with non-certified instructors at $15 per hour. 

These instructors monitor up to 130 kids at a time in cubicles in the schools’ computer labs. Rocketeers, as students are called, sit looking at computer screens up to two hours per day, supposedly learning by solving puzzles. 

 Rocketship’s schools are in California, Wisconsin, and Tennessee with plans to expand into Indianapolis, D.C., and New Orleans: 25,000 students by 2017. 

And who ARE their teachers?

It’s no coincidence that Rocketship employs the same kind of de-professionalized, non-union workforce it seems to be training. Half its teachers have less than two years’ experience; 75 percent come from Teach for America. 

What about all that time in front of a screen?

Critics of the Rocketship model cite the American Association of Pediatrics, which recommends less than two hours of screen time per day—total. 

When you figure in that kids will be on computers and phones when they aren’t in school, too—they spend on average seven hours a day on various devices as it is—it raises a red flag. 

Skeptics say the Rocketship test scores just demonstrate the schools are focusing on test preparation at the expense of arts, languages, and real learning. 

Who are their supporters?  

Rocketship’s board and advisors represent the Gates, Walton, and Broad Foundations—familiar faces in corporate “education reform.” Benefactors include Facebook, Netflix, and Skype. 

So who are they attracting in the classrooms?

Rocketship targets low-income students, making them the guinea pigs for the cubicle model of education. 

In fact, the chain is already scrapping the 100-cubicle learning labs for its older students, fourth and fifth graders. Students weren’t always engaged, and sometimes were just staring at the screen and guessing. 

To hear their enthusiasm, you might imagine the tech elites would be dropping their kids off every day for these cutting-edge education experiments. But instead, many Silicon Valley leaders send their kids to private schools like Waldorf Peninsula—whose philosophy is to avoid computers, arguing that they hurt children’s development and attention spans. 

Folks, no one is arguing that some teaching and learning can't be by computer.  Indeed for students in isolated or rural areas, it will open doors.  For students who want the ease of learning on their own time, it's access to time (and/or classes not available in their schools).

Common Core is based on computer-adaptive testing. So that means every single school must have the technology to give those assessments.

But two hours a day in front of screen at school?  As the newest inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - Hall and Oates  - would say, "I can't go for that, (no can do)." 


Anonymous said...

Interesting article in the Atlantic along these lines.

What MOOCs Can't Teach. Even the founders of education start-ups say that online courses can't replace the classroom experience.



Anonymous said...

You can see some of the connections to Rocketship via the Muckety interface here:


Ann D

Anonymous said...

I would hope that you all would be more careful about conflating curriculum and the common core. The common core is not a curriculum. It is a set of grade level standards, or learning goals in particular subject areas. How a state, school, or teacher chooses to instruct their students to reach those goals is the curriculum.

Here's a 4th grade mathematics standard:

CCSS.Math.Content.4.NBT.B.5 Multiply a whole number of up to four digits by a one-digit whole number, and multiply two two-digit numbers, using strategies based on place value and the properties of operations. Illustrate and explain the calculation by using equations, rectangular arrays, and/or area models.

Any number of texts and/or activities could be use to instruct students on this standard. Just because the common core says all 4th graders in the nation should be proficient at this standard, does not by any means mean every teacher needs to be on page 56 of a certain textbook on a certain day. It is up to our school leaders how much autonomy both schools and classroom teachers have in deciding the best curriculum(s) to get their students to meet grade level standards.


Anonymous said...

Actually Honesty, This is exactly what ed reform looked like in my kids' Seattle school.

When MGJ came in, she told us that she would transform classrooms, so that a child in 3rd grade could move to a different school the next day & not miss a page in the textbook. Then she instituted every day math. There was a pacing guide & fidelity of implementation. Teachers had to use only those materials, word for word. The principal patrolled looking for teachers who might pull out the wrong set of manipulatives. My kids had previously been given different math because they were several grade levels ahead. With Ed reform they were required to do the same math as every other kid in the class along with other kids who were ahead or who didn't have the skills to approach the curriculum. When I complained to Carla Santorno about it, she said kids of different abilities shouldn't be in the same class. The good education my kids were getting from teachers who differentiated, went to pot. We had to teach math at home. Some teachers apologized & one even snuck some extra work to my kid if he would keep it secret.

So I have seen education reform and pacing guides & fidelity of implementation & every kid on the same page, is exactly what it looked like. 'Teacher proofing' was touted by our ed reform district leaders.

-No Thanks

Eric B said...

No Thanks, that is exactly what MGJ and Santorno did, and it was a stupid decision on so many levels. Honesty's point was that it isn't Common Core that makes districts do that, it's management and various ed reform venture philanthropists.

Anonymous said...

I agree that common core does not itself demand cookie cutter text adherence. What I saw is the ed reform definition of standardized education. Education reformers in our city & our district demanded that every child have exactly the same curricula delivery at the same time & took proud credit for the implementation. In their book it wasn't a mistake, it was a successful implementation of the education reform movement's goals.

This is my experience of ed reform. I saw what it did to our school, our teachers & my own children. That is why I say no thanks.

-No Thanks

Melissa Westbrook said...

Look Honesty (and others), Charlie and I know what Common Core is. The fact of the matter - and go check Amazon or others providing books and content - and you will see those standards driving the curriculum.

Anonymous said...

Please, Melissa, it's ridiculous at best and the height of paranoia at worst to think that curriculum is being delivered to American children in such a way as "every classroom in the country being on page 56 on the same day."

--- swk

Anonymous said...

SWK, do you remember MGJ?
Re-read No thanks's post.

If it can happen in a city, I wouldn't call it ridiculous. It's clearly what the Broad Foundation aspires to. MGJ didn't make it up herself.

It does require an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, though. Hopefully we are all smarter than that now.

Chris S.

Anonymous said...

And Common Core is the perfect, benign-and-reasonable-sounding first step toward that vision. I don't oppose standards, but I think they should be implemented thoughtfully, and not with standardization.
Chris S.

Anonymous said...

Do you people really think this will happen in "every classroom in the country"? Do you think so little of teachers that you think they would let this happen? Is it even still happening in SPS?

I'm not taking issue with Charlie's overall statement regarding standardization, but I do take issue with the hyperbolic statement. It undermines the credibility of his overall point.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

I'm with honesty on this one. WA state had its own minimum K-12 standards. It didn't result with every school districts using the same text or requiring teachers to teach the subjects a certain way. Were these standards destroying learning, teaching, or teacher's creativity? We also had the state's end of the year tests that students had to take to show if they met the minimum expectations set per grade and in certain subjects.

In Seattle, it wasn't until the unholy union of standardized testings to teacher eval that all hell breaks loose. Who can blame the teachers? Somehow a test students take becomes more of a test that measures them.

Many countries have national educational standards. Standards in themselves aren't a good predictor of success- not the gimmicky silver bullet. We should look at how the successful countries educate using their standards.

What has been done to develop our national standard, the Common Core, and the marketing and use of it are what is going to doom it. Common Core is now the enemy. Too bad.

flat world

Lynn said...

flat world,

When you say We should look at how the successful countries educate using their standards do you mean we should look at the educational practices in successful countries? How would you decide which countries have successful educational systems?

I thought that the way the Common Core was written is what will doom it. Aren't there issues with the development appropriateness of the standards in the early grades?

Anonymous said...

One advantage of synchronizing the schools and classrooms is to help transient students, who frequently have large gaps in their knowledge because as they move from school to school they skip pieces of the curriculum.
- Muir mom

Anonymous said...

Melissa- I know that you and Charlie know what the common core is. However, many people who read this blog may not, or may have a fuzzy understanding. It is for the readers' sake that I hope you would not conflate the common core and curriculum.

To your other point, since standards-based reforms were implemented, the standards have driven curriculum. For example, currently textbooks are written with the state standards of California and Texas in mind because they are the biggest purchasers. Now with common core on the horizon, textbooks and content are being written to reflect those standards. This is not something new brought on by the common core.

As Eric B. and flat world point out, the existence of standards (common core or otherwise) does not force district folks to make the terrible policy choices that No Thanks is documenting. The best teachers are those who get incredibly excited about finding the best, most engaging, and most clear ways of delivering instruction (all the while keeping up with social-emotional needs and engaging families). What is being taught is determined by the standards, how that is taught should be the domain of the teacher, with guidance by the principal and instructional coaches.

Finally, Lynn here are some documents on the alignment between current WA state standards and the common core. I know this doesn't answer your question directly, but may shed some light on differences from what is currently used.

Thank you all for an interesting discussion!


Anonymous said...

Apologies, here's the link I mentioned: http://www.k12.wa.us/corestandards/transition.aspx


Melissa Westbrook said...

SWK, I didn't say that. Please do NOT attribute statements to me or anyone else that they did not state.

I plan on a major multi-part series on Common Core and how it is playing out throughout the country (we are somewhat behind the curve). Then come to me and say it's all good.

I never said the idea of Common Core was bad but it's always the details that matter.

That Secretary Duncan found it necessary to trash-talk white suburban moms should tell you something.

Anonymous said...

Lynn, check out your favorite country, Finland.
For national core curriculum:

For how they do it (check out how they tie in R&D):

Singapore (the great thing about this city state is it doesn't sit on some intern'l laurel. Just read the main page of its site. Wow.)


Canada does not have a national education dept. (state's or provincial rights people, take heart.) Yet without a national standard, Canada has managed to provide comparable education across this vast, diverse, but underpopulated country. The strongest are BC, Quebec,& Alberta. (Quebec has a truly unique system with HS ending in 11th grade. After if you want university, there's 2yr. post secondary program of study, then 3yr. Of University for a BS, got that.) Canada though is a country that has nationalized health care for some time now and as Jennifer Weller puts it best, Canada is a country that has this:

Put together, these three contextual factors – societal pressures, equalization and intergovernmental relations – have allowed the provinces to defy the odds and fashion a national system of education without national standards.


The ideas behind CC was one I can agree with, but its development and now its implementation is a mess and far too political and profitable a process.

flat world

Anonymous said...

Sorry, should be "idea" behind CC. Old eyes. Also don't have to go intn'l for ideas. Look at Maryland and Massachusetts and how they do it.


Flat World

Lynn said...

Flat World,

I do admire a lot of things about Finland. I thought we'd established though that their educational outcomes are the result of their social services.

Diane Ravitch's Blog

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I took the quote from Charlie's comment that you chose to post above. I guessed I assumed wrongly from your actions that you supported the statement.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Okay, there's something to add to the list when we talk about the blog.

Agreeing with someone on their viewpoint does not mean you agree with everything they say in their post.

But c'mon, curriculum IS driven by the standards especially when the assessment will be based on the standards.

Anonymous said...

Are the core standards themselves the major problem for WA? Were our standards for math and English better? Or is the problem the new assessment and tying the teacher's eval to the test results? As a parent, my concerns would be over student's privacy, the rush in design and core standards implementation, and by tying teacher's eval to the test may possibly make some teachers focus only on what will be tested.

Are the proposed WA core standards for math such a big change to the previous standards? I see where some materials are dropped as teacher's responsibility to cover such materials for that grade as it will be cover in the grade before or after. I also see where some concepts and skills are expanded with more depth. There's a lot of emphasis to real world application. I can understand why these changes will require more PD and practice to transition into. All of this will add anxiety to any teacher and administrator who don't see a big jump in budget for traning or a lag time to allow for adjustments before the tests are rolled out.

The English/LAs will be interesting as the emphasis is on more informational readings and writings. AND grammar, parts of speech ID, etc. Materials to teach this will be from where? Budget? WW and RW in the primary grades were especially weak in this area. So as a parent whose English is imperfect, I rejoice to see the mechanics of writing and grammar in the core standards.

What I can't find is an OSPI evaluation plan of this process, to make corrections if there are problems with core standards, the roll out, and the assessment process. Anybody? 'Cause to me that's dumb especially if the money is going everywhere, but to the teachers and to upgrade classroom materials.

Not all the states have adopted this or have done so part way (some think their standards are better than common core). Massachusettes hasn't done so, but Alabama has, which may be a good thing for Alabama, but bad if it's another unfunded effort.

flat world

Charlie Mas said...

I don't believe that any of the Education Reform ideals will ever be achieved, and certainly not the most extreme visions of those ideals, but those are the ideals.

Let's not judge ideals by whether they are pragmaticly possible or not. That's not what they are about.

I'm not saying that "every classroom in the country on page 56 on the same day" could ever be achieved, but I am saying that it represents the extreme ideal of this Education Reform proposal.

Charlie Mas said...

Even without every student in the country on page 56 on the same day, standardized curricula and instruction, which is an Education Reform proposal, is a terrible idea.

Part of what's wrong with a lot of the Education Reform ideas is that they look great under laboratory conditions but fail utterly in the real world.

Let's take discovery math as an example. Put a great teacher with deep conceptual mastery together with a small group of well-prepared, motivated students and discovery math looks like the key to the universe. That's what Sherry Carr saw when she had Mr. Math give a sample discovery lesson to her daughter.

But take that lesson out of the ideal circumstances, give it to a teacher who doesn't really get math, in front of a classroom of thirty, with six ELL students, four students with IEPs, and twenty-four FRL students, and nothing good happens.

Aligned instruction, as described in the ivory tower of the JSCEE is NOT standardized instruction, but the nuance gets lost in the translation to principals and teachers and it becomes "be on page 56 on November 20th."

Management reduces everything to what can be counted and measured. The principal can't come into the classroom and determine, within minutes, how the teacher is differentiating instruction or motivating every student in accordance with their own unique drivers, but the principal can peek in the door and in a second know if the teacher is delivering a canned discussion of page 56.

What was the rationale given for all of the schools to use the same materials? To facilitate professional development. That means that they were coaching teachers on how to teach page 109, not on how to teach long division. If they were only coaching teachers on how to teach long division then the instructional materials wouldn't matter.

There was never any secret that the central administration was developing lesson plans for teachers. They were calling for fidelity of implementation. They wanted - in their ideal - for every teacher to deliver the same lesson on the same day.

They didn't achieve that ideal, but that was their ideal.

Now, whether that is consistent with the research and science at the root of these things or not, that is how they are expressed by management in application.

Standards, intended in theory as a floor, function in practice as a ceiling.

Anonymous said...

I didn't catch the part on standardized lesson plans and texts. The OSPI website seems to go out of the way to say that is not so. Nor did I read the standards to be the ceilng. I may have easily missed this.

In practice, sever years ago, I did encounter one new principal who did like to have teachers paced in math. When one class finished what needed to be covered for math for that grade, math ended a month and a half early. The fear was any more and it will throw next year's teachers off as children will come in prepared at different level. The teacher couldn't even teach off standard math though he did sneak in things like checkbook math, compound interest and amortization. He retired next year :(

My sense of all this is I think the naysayers do have it right in that the politicians and state level administrators are going through the motion. There isn't the matching 8 billion dollars or even 1billion dollars investment that came with common core like the governor and state legislator managed to find for Boeing. (Boeing wants an educated workforce to be competitive, but won't admit its subsidies and tax breaks come at the cost of education.)

Nationally, $150 million+ investment by the Gates appear big, but it's only 1/5 of SPS annual budget. But to small ed consultant companies, a few millions here and there is good money. To big publishers, this opportunity expands their ability to sell products and make money.

There are some things I like in the new core standards, but admit I don't know enough to compare the old vs. new. My assessment, even if we didn't adopt the common core, what is going on with the pacing, political pressure on teachers, the Gates' agenda, and big test makers offering more tests, test prep, and data analysis won't go away. Common core is just a mean to them.

flat world

Linh-Co said...

CCSS is driving the curriculum. We recently asked the Operations Manager at Singapore Math why they did not submit their books to the Seattle Elementary Math Adoption. Here's the response we received.

"Seattle, like many other districts currently conducting curricula reviews, has rigid guidelines based on the Common Core. The boilerplate publisher applications are exacting to the letter of the CCSS, but not necessarily the spirit of the movement. Thus, our currently available series would not pass the muster despite the obvious parallels between the Singapore Math Framework and the Standards for Mathematical Practice.

Looking forward, we will be releasing a new CCSS-aligned edition of Primary Mathematics this coming Spring and therefore will be much better positioned to market to schools and districts looking for ‘CCSS Stamped’ programs."

So CCSS and national testing will dictate what is taught in the classrooms.

Eric B said...

I may not be in the majority, but I definitely agree with the purpose of the Common Core. Is it really such a bad thing to ask that all fourth graders be able to multiply a four digit number by a one digit number? That doesn't mean you have to use discovery math, just that schools have to teach to that standard. If anything, it will reveal the failings of discovery math, when districts won't be able to pass CC requirements because their curriculum sicks.

Schools in Alabama will no longer be able to hide behind watered-down state standards and will actually have to compare themselves to other states. This is exactly what Arne Duncan was complaining about when he talked about the white suburban moms. When there are real standards, some people will find out that their school district/state have sold them a bill of goods, and will be mad. don't we want parents to engage in making the school districts better? A common set of standards will shine a light on failures and successes both and let people actually compare and use common data. Isn't that a good thing?

Yes, ed reform people have used CC as an excuse for their new pet projects, but they've done that since the dawn of the movement. That's not CC's fault, although CC could certainly use a better spokesman than Arne Duncan and the other loudmouths. I'm not saying CC is perfect. It certainly has flaws, especially in the reading/writing department. But it's certainly a step ahead of 50 wildly varying state standards.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"As a parent, my concerns would be over student's privacy, the rush in design and core standards implementation, and by tying teacher's eval to the test may possibly make some teachers focus only on what will be tested. "

Flat World, I smiled when I read this because it is so lengthy that it continues to be clear to me the huge effects this will have on education and our teachers. CC is not just a set of standards when you are speaking about how they are implemented.

Eric, I agree. There are some states that need the kick in the pants. For a few states, it's lowering standards.

But you count on a LOT of things to happen. Parents understanding what is happening - and probably waaay after the fact - and rising up.

And actually I believe Arne was not talking about Alabama moms - they are not the ones currently rising up and making noise. It's moms in NY State and New Jersey where these effects are currently being felt.

Meaning, real parents who are seeing the outcomes of a rushed plan with little public engagement are already crying foul.

For me, too little too late and if only for student data privacy issues, I"m fighting back.

Anonymous said...

Eric -

The problem is that the standardized test format is so limited in allowing kids to demonstrate their comprehension. Once the SBAC tests start is when the screws really get turned on the classroom teachers and our kids.

On a semi-related note, someone posted this Diane Ravitch quote to Twitter today:

"As districts purchase more Common Core aligned materials, hardware and software, what do they spend less on?" ~ Diane Ravitch

Ann D

Be real said...

Standards are the end goals for what students should know at each grade level, that's what the Common Core does -- it sets goals. Curriculum is how the teacher teaches it, and local schools and teachers decide what curriculum to use to meet the goals. They are not the same thing and it's disingenuous of you to conflate them.

The teacher of the year knows the difference: http://www.readywa.org/jeff-charbonneau.html

Charlie Mas said...

be real, that's one definition of curriculum, but it isn't the one that Shauna Heath uses.

She has said that the Standards are the curriculum. When asked about the curriculum for APP she replied "Two years ahead".

Curriculum, you see, is a word that the District has re-defined at least a half a dozen times in the last four years, so there is no longer any reliable definition of curriculum.

You think you're standing on the high ground, but you're standing in a swamp.

Charlie Mas said...

When the aligned curriculum was getting the push from the Goodloe-Johnson regime, Kathleen Vasquez would go on and on about how it was NOT standardization and how standardization was NOT the goal and how standardization was bad.

And then the principals implemented aligned curriculum as standardization.

Anonymous said...

Regards to APP curriculum, this is what my "APP Overview" handout says from our elementary tour years ago:

The primary purpose of APP is to provide a differentiated, challenging curriculum for highly capable students that meets their intellectual needs while being sensitive to their developmental level. Our teacher-created, non-textbook based, interdisciplinary curriculum combines acceleration and enrichment to promote learning at a pace, depth, and intensity appropriate to the capacity of academically gifted learners.

Developmentally appropriate curriculum: The APP curriculum is academically rigorous and challenging...But we cannot emphasize enough that this challenging curriculum is also developmentally appropriate.

Defining APP as simply two years ahead is changing the APP curriculum. It's misguided and we are seeing the negative effects of this shift. New APP first graders are going straight from Kindergarten to doing 3rd grade math, as opposed to compacting the curriculum and incrementally accelerating students. Middle school students are simply expected to meet the Common Core standards two years ahead - which is really screwy because the Common Core ELA Standards are generally the same 6-8, but the expectation is that students will deal with increasingly complex texts. They still need to meet the grade level standards.

If APP is defined as nothing more than two years ahead, it's no different than a double grade skip, which is not developmentally appropriate for many students.


Melissa Westbrook said...

"They are not the same thing and it's disingenuous of you to conflate them."

Who are you speaking to?

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