Turns out Common Core is not STEM-friendly

Photo by Anissa Thompson

Photo by Anissa Thompson

“As we have pointed out, standardization is inherently designed for standard, not exceptional, achievement. Because statewide standards in Utah and other states, including Common Core, are of the type that lead to standardization, it is impossible to assert as a logical argument that any of these sets of standards is the ‘best,’ especially when no evidence shows any correlation between ‘good’ standards and student achievement.”

So we wrote in a July 2012 report, analyzing Utah’s involvement in the nationalized Common Core standards, in which we recommended the state exit Common Core and develop its own curriculum drawing from the best methodology and resources in the world.

It turns out, we were right to be concerned. In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Sandra Stotsky highlights growing concern that Common Core “math standards are too weak to give us more engineers or scientists.” Stotsky served as a member of the Common Core Validation Committee and the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

While everyone from President Obama to Suzanne McCarron, president of Exxon Mobil, have been advocating for more emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education, it turns out Common Core was purposely designed not for STEM. Rather, it aims to “provide students with enough mathematics to make them ready for a nonselective college.”

Stotsky writes,

As Stanford mathematics professor James Milgram noted in “Lowering the Bar,” a report the two of us co-wrote for the Pioneer Institute in September, the Common Core deliberately leaves out “major topics in trigonometry and precalculus.” Contrast that with the status quo before the Common Core, when states like Massachusetts and California provided precalculus standards for high-school students. The implications of this are dramatic. “It is extremely rare for students who begin their undergraduate years with coursework in precalculus or an even lower level of mathematical knowledge to achieve a bachelor’s degree in a STEM area,” Mr. Milgram added.

 Why would Utah and 44 other states purposely adopt a system of education that lowers the quality of education and makes students less prepared to enter the vital STEM fields? Only they can answer that question, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the needs and interests of student learners were not top priority.

Meet this 13-year-old and his #hackschooling revolution

Logan LaPlante

Logan LaPlante

Thirteen-year-old Logan LaPlante has two big goals for when he grows up. He wants to be healthy and happy, and he figures his education should play a serious part in that effort. He has crafted his education to include activities proven to produce happiness and health; heavy doses of creativity; technology and online resources; and experiential classes and camps. He calls it #hackschooling. Politicians and policy wonks call it digital learning, school choice or (gasp!) vouchers. This is how Logan explains his view on his life and education philosophy:

This is where I’m really happy: powder days. And it’s a good metaphor for my life, my education, my hackschooling. If everyone skied this mountain like most people think of education, everyone would be skiing the same line, probably the safest, and most of the powder would go untouched. I look at this and see a thousand possibilities: dropping the corners, shredding the spine, looking for a tranny [transition] from cliff to cliff.

Skiing to me is freedom and so is my education. It’s about being creative; doing things differently. It’s about community and helping each other. It’s about being happy and healthy among my very best friends.

You can watch his entire TEDx presentation here.

Will digital learning save U. students hundreds on textbooks?

Sidewalk,University_of_UtahAccording to a recent Salt Lake Tribune article, a student leadership group at the University of Utah is looking into using “open-source textbooks,” which can be downloaded and used by students for free, as a possible way to save students money, perhaps as much as $500 per year. As most college students will tell you, an extra $500 per year can go a long way.

As noted in the article, one potential obstacle to any such endeavor is the time required by university professors to put together such textbooks. Though one advocate quoted in the article notes that sufficient material is already available for lower-level courses, those materials would have to be updated over time, and upper-level courses still require similar textbooks.

One solution to this issue might be to require university professors to help create and maintain open-source textbooks for the classes they teach as a condition of their employment. Some may complain about such a requirement, but since university professors’ living – and especially their grant-funded research – is highly subsidized by state and federal tax dollars, it does not seem unreasonable to require that they devote some time to making higher education a little more affordable (and therefore accessible) to the society that their livelihood depends upon.

In any case, it is encouraging to continue to see groups and individuals involved in public education (K-12 and higher ed) recognizing the innovative and cost-saving potential of digital learning. One can only hope that they will similarly recognize and embrace the ability of digital learning to change the culture of public education – so that instead of a culture centered on the financial interests and pedagogical restraints on employees of the system, we could have one centered on the academic interests and learning capacities of students in the system.

‘Like treating cancer with a Band-Aid’

Reading

Learning vocabulary starts long before typical preschool age.

“The federal government has a horrific record on preschool,” says Joy Pullman in The Federalist.

And she says no one is willing to admit what the root problems are: “The most curious thing about the preschool debate is that everyone acts as if dazed children just pop out of the prairie at age four.”

Of course, that’s not true – the learning gap starts long before typical preschool age, and yet no one is pushing for “preschool” at age 1, which is a lot less easy to promote than a program for a 3-year-old.

She also points out the elephant in the room:

Let me suggest another reason for the correlation between poverty and language loss in this country: fractured families. In the United States, as Brookings Institution research has shown, poverty is essentially the result of bad life decisions, not lack of opportunity. The study found that Americans have a 2 percent chance of living in poverty if they do just three simple things: finish high school (not college), work full time, and marry before bearing children.

Click here to read the rest of this excellent in-depth piece, “Government Preschool: Like Treating Cancer With A Band-Aid,” at thefederalist.com.

‘Like treating cancer with a Band-Aid’

“The federal government has a horrific record on preschool,” writes Joy Pullman in The Federalist.

And she says no one is willing to admit what the root problems are: “The most curious thing about the preschool debate is that everyone acts as if dazed children just pop out of the prairie at age four.”

Of course, that’s not true – the learning gap starts long before typical preschool age, and yet no one is pushing for “preschool” at age 1, which is a lot less easy to promote than a program for a 3-year-old.

She also points out the elephant in the room:

Let me suggest another reason for the correlation between poverty and language loss in this country: fractured families. In the United States, as Brookings Institution research has shown, poverty is essentially the result of bad life decisions, not lack of opportunity. The study found that Americans have a 2 percent chance of living in poverty if they do just three simple things: finish high school (not college), work full time, and marry before bearing children.

Click here to read the rest of this excellent in-depth piece, “Government Preschool: Like Treating Cancer With A Band-Aid,” at thefederalist.com.

How Obamacare is hurting its supposed beneficiaries in Utah

One of the many bitter ironies relating to the creation and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is how it is hurting many of the people it was supposed to help.

A new illustration from data analysis and visualization specialist Bob Rudis shows this quite succinctly. His mashup of data from Investors.com and Gallup collects in one chart the heartbreaking human impact of the Obamacare debacle. Below is an image detailing some of the organizations in Utah that have had to cut work hours and/or jobs because of Obamacare.

utah-job-loss-obamacare

 

Many of these people are part of low-income households. The hours they are allowed to work are being reduced because organizations are doing what they have to do just to survive the implementation of Obamacare. If they don’t, even more jobs will be lost. The effect on these folks, with reduced hours leading to lower incomes, is one more example of the unintended consequences of this disastrous public policy.

A further irony: Many of those most affected just want the income – they don’t even need or want the insurance offered by their employers because, for example, a spouse already gets employer-sponsored insurance. Unfortunately, these victims will soon be joined by millions more who are about to feel the pain caused by Obamacare — a healthcare “solution” riddled with sickening problems.

Objections to Utah’s school grading system are demeaning, hypocritical

800px-School_bus_invasionUtah’s education associations – representing the interests of various adults in public schools – have come out of the woodwork in opposition to Utah’s new school grading policy.

This is not surprising, since the idea of school grading is new and innovative, and these associations tend to reflexively oppose anything new and innovative in public schools. But while association opposition to changing the status quo is normal, the demeaning and hypocritical arguments they use to justify their opposition are not.

Up front, let’s clearly summarize the school grading policy: Utah’s local public schools will get a performance-based letter grade (A to F), based on student academic growth and achievement. No legal rewards or penalties are attached to these grades. The grades are simply to inform interested parents about the strengths of their child’s public school, as well as the areas that need improvement.

Now let’s consider the associations’ arguments in opposition to school grading, based on quotes published in The Salt Lake Tribune.

According to Utah’s largest public school teachers union: “Your average parent doesn’t know what’s going on. … And if we don’t wake up the citizens of this state, it’s going to be too late.” So the problem, according to the union, is parental ignorance, from which they intend to save us.

Read more

Guest column: Utah issues letter grades to public schools

A PlusBy the Association of American Educators

During the 2013 legislative season, the state of Utah passed SB721 in an effort to foster a culture of transparency in public schools. Similar to bills in 15 other states, the new law measures various sources and awards an easy-to-understand letter grade to all public schools. According to a report, 55 percent of Utah’s 855 public schools earned either an A or a B grade. Just 14 percent of schools earned a D or an F.

Grades were based on a combination of student growth and student performance on criterion-referenced tests in language arts, math, and science. High schools were judged, in part, on the additional standard of graduation rates. Schools were also asked to test at least 95 percent of all their students and 95 percent of their underperforming students.

Education reform experts agree that the new system will be effective. “With the clear results from an A-F grading program, Utah is placing a strong focus on student performance. Parents and students are finally getting the clarity they deserve. We applaud Utah for recognizing both achievement and growth,” said Patricia Levesque, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

While we must work together to ensure careful implementation and practical grading criteria, this new accountability program is a step in the right direction for Utah’s education stakeholders.

By giving every school an easy-to-understand letter-grade ranking, the state has created the simplest and clearest representation of how schools truly are performing – both good and bad. This new system will shed light on the education reform debate and allow parents and community members the ability to understand how their local schools are performing. An informed and engaged public will be instrumental in improving schools in the future.

In the new age of accountability in public schools, teachers are also embracing policies that promote transparency and results. According to AAE’s National Membership Survey, 89 percent of teachers surveyed support services such as GreatSchools. These programs and organizations allow stakeholders to search and compare schools in their area via letter grades.

Teachers are, in fact, supportive of policies that easily identify schools based on performance. Although improving schools is a complex issue, we must embrace accountability and transparency in our public schools.

This column is also posted here.

Utah’s education system gets ‘D’ in financial transparency

Are Utah’s public education administrators properly committed to openness and transparency regarding their stewardship over public schools and the tax dollars that pay for them? A recent analysis from the Cato Institute suggests the answer is no.

The analysis graded state education department websites for the financial transparency they provide. Utah’s State Office of Education (USOE) received a score of 65/100 – good for a “D” grade and coming in at 23rd out of 50 states. Two states got a grade in the “A” range (New Mexico got an “A” and South Dakota an “A-”), and 19 states got an “F” or a “F-” grade.

Read the rest of this post here at Sutherland Daily.

Utah's education system gets ‘D’ in financial transparency

800px-School_bus_invasionAre Utah’s public education administrators properly committed to openness and transparency regarding their stewardship over public schools and the tax dollars that pay for them? A recent analysis from the Cato Institute suggests the answer is no.

The analysis graded state education department websites for the financial transparency they provide. Utah’s State Office of Education (USOE) received a score of 65/100 – good for a “D” grade and coming in at 23rd out of 50 states. Two states got a grade in the “A” range (New Mexico got an “A” and South Dakota an “A-”), and 19 states got an “F” or a “F-” grade.

Utah’s score was driven primarily by the incompleteness of the “per pupil expenditure” (PPE) figures reported by the USOE. In its grading criteria, Cato states that PPE represents “the ‘price’ of a year’s worth of public schooling” and is “the fairest and most meaningful way to compare spending levels among states and districts of various sizes, and to measure trends in spending over time.” This makes PPE “the most intelligible measure by which the public can evaluate school system spending and efficiency,” making its accuracy especially important for financial transparency in the education system.

The analysis reports that the PPE figures reported by USOE include only operating costs and leave out expenses such as spending on new school construction, even though such expenses are paid for by taxpayers. Including these additional expenses to give an accurate measure of total PPE would have raised USOE’s public education financial transparency grade by 20 points, bringing it up from a “D” to a “B.”

USOE also lost points for not reporting pension costs, and for providing incomplete reporting on the costs of public education employees. Full marks on these two measures would have brought USOE’s grade up into the “A” range.

Of course, financial transparency on the State Office of Education website is only one aspect of openness and transparency in Utah’s government-run public education system. But since we live in a digital age when most information is made available online, online financial transparency is an important measure of public education officials’ commitment to openness and transparency. Hopefully, Utah’s education leaders will see this report as an opportunity to further open up public education and increase Utahns’ ability to access financial information regarding the schools that are responsible for educating their children, and are being paid for by their tax dollars.