Thursday, August 7, 2014

Are lawmakers qualified to write educational standards?

Common Core is causing many lawmakers in about twelve states to become more involved in their states own educational academic standards.  There have been several states where legislators have begun placing new restrictions on the state boards of education, which usually write and update academic standards.  And in other states, lawmakers have allowed for greater scrutiny of standards, which are requiring proposals to receive public vetting.
The state of Oklahoma is an example of an educational system that has received an extreme makeover involving the standards process and the state’s lawmakers have passed a law that allows them the ability to rewrite any standards they don’t want or like.  In May of this year, Oklahoma lawmakers voted to throw away the Common Core State Standards, before the national academic standards were set to take effect.  The state’s lawmakers sent its board of education to come up with and write a set of entirely new standards by 2016. 
Several people feel that Oklahoma’s decision is not a wise one, among them is Reggie Felton of the National School Boards Association.  He said that he believes it is an overreaction for state legislatures to believe that they can come up with their own academic standards and that they don’t have the technical capacity to do so.  “Politicians shouldn’t set academic standards,” said Felton.
Academic standards are developed to spell out the skills and knowledge that students are expected to learn by the end of any given grade level.  These standards are adopted at the state level, whereas curriculum decisions are made by the individual school districts and determines how to teach and the materials used to teach.  It is usual for State Boards of education members to consult with educators and subject matter experts as they develop academic standards.
Oklahoma State Rep. Jason Nelson, who co-wrote the new Oklahoma law argues that academic standards have always been political and his legislations will now make the process more democratic.  Nelson goes on to explain that with this new law they are allowing the voice of the public to be heard.  Wisconsin lawmakers also tried to pass a similar bill in April, the effort stalled however when the state’s schools superintendent campaigned against it, calling the entire effort, “craziness”.
Many people are worried about legislators debating on science standards, such as evolution, creationism, climate and climate change.  Or, debating social studies standards such as civil liberties and civil rights, genocide, religious history and political involvement.  Superintendents like Tony Evers worries that the changes in Oklahoma invite politicians to meddle in classrooms.  Politicians obviously disagree.
One thing is for sure, for these new standards to be passed, lawmakers must state what is wrong with the standards and make the argument, then both houses have to pass any changes by a joint resolution, and then the governor has to sign it.  Oklahoma Rep. Ann Coody, a former teacher and Common Core supporter made a valid point when she said, “We all think we know how to run education because we went to school.  Well, there are definite ways to teach, definite ways to learn, and those who spend their lives learning it and practicing it ought to be the ones we rely on for this.”

The changes in Oklahoma and other states have come about among criticism that the public was excluded from the processes that led forty five states and the District of Columbia to adopt the Common Core standards in math and reading by 2010.  And in most of those cases, the Common Core standards were adopted by agreement in each state among the governor, chief state school officer and also the state boards of education.  Lawmakers in Oklahoma believe that developing their own standards will help involve the public when they were previously excluded.  I, like many other concerned people, would worry about legislators deciding what my children will learning in school and the standards that should be implemented.  I worry that a political agenda would become first priority and not what is in the best interest for the children and with that aspect, I feel that experienced educators would be better qualified developing these standards.  I do, however, understand the anger that many have felt not being included in the initial process and decision making when Common Core was introduced and quickly accepted by so many states.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Innovations American Reformers Ignore

I recently read an interesting post written by a Finnish educator and scholar named, Pasi Sahlberg, who is one of the world's leading experts on school reform and educational practices.  He also is the author of the best-selling book, “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn about Educational Change in Finland?” Sahlberg is now a visiting professor of practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
In the post, Pasi Sahlberg writes about what he constitutes as real education innovation.  He also comments on how U.S. innovation has helped many successful education systems from around the world, and in the midst of this, Americans are ignoring these very same reforms that are positively helping so many other educational systems.  Why is this?  Why are we as a country the leading contributor to education reform but not taking our own advice?  This is very confusing to me and reading this post has opened my eyes to something I wasn’t completely aware of. 
Stahlberg explains that the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development can now accurately measure innovation in education.  Their findings have concluded that between 2003 and 2011 “there have been large increases in innovative pedagogic practices across all countries … in areas such as relating lessons to real life, higher order skills, data and text interpretation and personalization of teaching.”  The findings also concluded that the United States did not do very well when compared to the other countries who participated in the study.  To some that may not be surprising, since in the United States there are tougher accountability measures and some suggests that out country has an obsession with standardized testing.
I wasn’t too surprised to read these findings, however, I share Stahlberg’s surprise when I read the OECD’s list of the top five U.S. innovations that are found in pedagogic practice.  The first was more observation and description in secondary school science lessons; the second was more individualized reading instruction in primary school classrooms; the third is more use of answer explanation in primary mathematics; the fourth was more relating of primary school lessons to everyday life and lastly the fifth was more test interpretation in primary lessonsThe results came down to the fact that “Good innovation sometimes means doing less f something in order to make time for experimentation with new pedagogical strategies.”
So why has our country’s ideas helped so many other educational programs like Finland, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and China, where the United States have only been able to exhibit a modest amount of innovation reform within our own country?  Stahlberg explains that if you were to visit the schools in Finland and have a conversation with teachers and principals there you would find out that most of them have studied psychology, teaching methods, curriculum theories, assessment models, and classroom management researched and designed in the United States in our country’s initial teacher education programs.  Finnish universities include research articles and books written by U.S. scholars.  Their programs also include visitors from the U.S. universities to teach and work with Finnish teachers and leaders.  The reliance that Finland has on U.S. ideas is so great that some people call the Finnish school system a large-scale laboratory of American education innovation.  Therefore, the United States is the world leader in producing research, practical models and innovation to other countries, but fails to successfully implement its own ideas.

Stahlberg’s take on this phenomenon is that the United States is so much steered by bureaucracies, test-based accountability and competition that schools are simply doing what they must do in this situation.  He ends his post by writing, “Education policies should not be determined by mythology and ideology but guided by research from home and abroad.”  I was sad to read that our own government and regulations are keeping our school system from really excelling and benefiting from the very ideas that have been envisioned by Americans.  I wish that my own children could be benefiting from the ideas that their country has come up with and that have been proven to be successful, we just need to get out of our own way!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Oregon's wants to waive new state testing

An article recently came out that discusses how the Oregon Department of Education is requesting the U.S. Department of Education to waive the new state testing that is to be used to evaluated teachers.  The Oregon Department of Education is agreeing with a large part of a Portland School Board’s request to delay the use of test results that is required under the new Common Core standards.  The standards have been set-up to develop a statewide rating system for all educators.
On Wednesday, spokeswoman Crystal Greene stated that, it has been agreed by agency officials that it is too soon to be evaluating teachers through the new student test results.  However, officials believe that it is not too soon for schools and school districts to be evaluated.  This new form a testing will essentially help rank schools and their districts.  The ranking will be on a scale of one to five, which is what the education department now does with existing statewide test results, Greene went on to explain.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, which is the name of the new testing system is scheduled to be implemented in Oregon this coming school year.
On Tuesday the Portland School Board passed a resolution which asks the state to not use the testing results in their “punitive labeling” of teachers, students, schools and districts.  They board went on to explain that the test which again is based on Common Core standards is just too new of a program to be able to prove valid.
As of now, they are waiting for a formal response from the Oregon education department in regards to the resolution.  This will happen after Portland submits it to state and federal education officials, explained Greene, even though some of the state’s position is already known.  Various state education officials have asked the U.S. Department of Education for their permission to not use the results of this new testing system which is used to rate teachers on May 1.  Greene stated that her agency anticipates that the federal government will actually grant them that flexibility.
Even though the state is asking for a waiver involving teacher evaluations, they do not intend on seeking a waiver from federally mandated report cards that ask to rank each school and district.  A prime advocate of the resolution and school board member, Ruth Adkins, indicated that the resolution was means to start a conversation and that the worries that the report cards are too “one-dimensional.”
I agree with Adkins, in that, there needs to be more talking about how to better balance the support for schools and accountability.  It was hard for me to read Greene’s statement that education officials expect to see the number of students meeting state standards to drop after the new test is administered.  I do however understand the prediction, since the new test is indeed more rigorous.  Greene went on to explain that this simple fact “doesn’t mean students know less…We upped the bar. We have a larger measuring stick.”

It is good to know that this new test will not make it harder for students to graduate. Even though the test in itself is harder, the level of skill required to graduate has not changed.  Fortunately when implemented correctly this new test could help everyone achieve their same goals … “for the schools to be great and the kids to do better,” said Adkins.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Massachusetts Example

Every state in the country could take a lesson from Massachusetts, especially states in the southwest.  The state of Massachusetts and its educational system understand that success often starts with a good education, and this belief is what has led to the rising test scores and percentages when it comes to the state of Massachusetts and the children who go to school there.
The Education Week Research Center, is a nonpartisan group that works to accurately measure indicators such as preschool and kindergarten enrollment, high school graduation rates, and higher education attainment.  This group produces its results yearly and also takes into account family income and parental employment.  These aspects are incorporated into the study because they have been linked to educational achievement and can help the group produce accurate results.
What’s amazing is that the state of Massachusetts beats the national average in almost every category listed.  Some of the categories are: More than 60 percent of children living in Massachusetts have a parent with a post-secondary degree, which is fourteen points higher than the average.  Also nearly 60 percent of three and four year olds are enrolled in preschool, which is more than ten points higher than the national average.
It doesn’t stop there, because almost half of Massachusetts children who are in the fourth grade are proficient on their National Assessment of Educational Progress reading tests.  Also more than 54 percent of Massachusetts eighth graders got proficient scores on their NAEP math tests.  Both of these tests results were the highest rates in the country.
So what has Massachusetts been doing right, that so many other states have been failing at?  The main reason researched is the state’s bipartisan commitment to education reform.  In 1993, Massachusetts passed a major reform package.  This reform package increased spending.  This spending was primarily focused in poorer districts which raised assessment standards.  The increased spending also went to making licensure exams more difficult for new teachers.  Massachusetts was not the only state to improve their standards around this particular time, but the difference was that partisan priorities shifted in other places.  What Massachusetts did right was have both Republicans and Democrats continue investing heavily in education, equally.
There is still a drastic achievement gap among low-income and minority students compared to higher income schools, which is the case for every other state and improving their scores is still a challenge.
However, even though every school faces the same challenge in improving lower-income scores the Eastern Seaboard states perform best in the Education Week rankings. States like New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Maryland and Virginia join Massachusetts in the top ten, along with Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa.
Unfortunately the Southwest has not seen the same success.  Three of the bottom five states- Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada – fall into this geographical region.  It is hard to determine an exact reason for these results.  In general highly ranked states spend more per capita on their students than average.  However, this is not a deciding factor and higher spending doesn’t necessarily equal success.  For example, Alaska spent more than seventeen thousand dollars per pupil in fiscal year 2012.  But the state still landed in the bottom half of Education Week’s rankings.

I really think that states here in the west and throughout the country should take a good look at Massachusetts and see what is working for them.  Apparently they have it figured out.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Internet access and education

There is a little program that offers funding to school programs that many people have never heard of and don't know anything about.  Even though it is not well-known it is extremely important in modernizing the educational system and providing a better learning environment for not only students but teachers and staff as well.  The program is eighteen years old and is called "E-Rate" which is formally the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund administered under the auspices of the Federal Communications Commission.  This program offers discounts for schools and libraries to get Internet access and telecommunications, and this week is a big deal for the program, some are even calling it a watershed moment.

This week the FCC will be voting on the possibility of modernizing the E-rate program.  This vote could potentially redirect billions of dollars in the E-Rate funds out of unnecessary reserves and into classroom Wi-Fi installations and upgrades.  This first step in the restructuring would positively impact six million students in the coming year and tens of millions more students in the years to come.  Both Julius Genachowski, managing director of The Carlyle Group and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and Jim Coulter of the bi-partisan Leading Education by Advancing Digital Commission and co-founder and chief executive officer of TPG Holdings believe that the FCC should approve the modernization and have multiple explanations as to why.

Debate remains over when and how best to proceed with the E-Rate Reform, however, both Genachowski and Coulter believe that it is time to cut through the debate and act.  After the first step in relocating the funds they would focus on additional broadband access over the following three years which would require and additional three million dollars which can come from savings from further E-Rate modernization.  These modernization's include improved purchasing practices, and phasing our spending on antiquated technologies like paging and land-line phone services.

Genachowski and Coulter describe this modernization as being so important because it will create the necessary backbone for the deployment of technology in education.  They believe that technology is the transformative lynchpin for moving the nation's education system forward and that it is in the best interest for teachers to be armed with appropriate 21st century tools.  For the first time the economics of education technology makes sense, five years ago digital learning investments were a lot more expensive.  Now, the falling costs of laptops, tablets, and other digital learning devices, as well as innovative cloud-based software and enterprise Wi-Fi technology makes bringing the power of the Internet to every student more feasible and beneficial.

Perhaps one of the biggest deciding factor for my support of modernizing these funds is the studies through experience that shows how digital learning has transformed education.  When digital learning is utilized effectively, it can personalize learning and in turn multiplies teachers' impact.  This digital learning can even the playing field for schools in every city and every demographic giving the same access and benefits to every possible student.  I really hope that the FCC decides to vote in favor of the E-Rate program's modernization so that students and teachers can start benefiting from this wonderful opportunity and that they can work to implement it in as many schools as they possibly can before the traditional school year starts.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Maryland's agreement

On Friday, Maryland education officials, teachers unions and many other education organizations signed a written agreement during a meeting of the Maryland State Board of Education.  There were leaders representing teachers, principals, superintendents and various other policymakers gathered in Baltimore to formalize the 12-point document, which in general promised to strengthen the evaluation system.
Principal and teacher evaluations have been a controversial topic across the country and Maryland's agreement on Friday came amid continuing tensions over other aspects of educator evaluations.  Bill Slotnik, founder of the Community Training and Assistance Center, a nonprofit group that has worked with thirty states on teacher and principal evaluations, stated that, "This level of statewide collaboration is unprecedented nationally."  He goes on to say that in Maryland the main people involved in this agreement are saying that if they are going to have effective implementation, they are better off working together to make that happen.
Maryland's agreement focuses on setting learning objectives for students and carefully planning goals that each student is expected to learn over a given period of time.  These objectives which were developed between the educators and their supervisors are a key factor in Maryland's evaluation system.  Under this agreement, those who are involved will work together to develop "rigorous and measurable, but obtainable" objectives.
The President of the State Board of Education, Charlene Dukes, said that the Friday agreement was an important advance that shows a shared commitment to classroom success.  She also said that it would mean "listening to each other, talking to each other and putting forth the best strategies."
Betty Weller, the president of the Maryland State Education Association, which is the state's largest teacher union said that, "For us, it is an attempt to help our members be able to do this right so that it is a benefit to them and to their students in terms of offering the best opportunities to learn and grow."  
Although this agreement recognized the importance of flexibility from a local standpoint it also is aiming for consistency and a common language that can be used and expressed across the state.  In the agreement, they also called for a study that must be done by August 2016 which will focus on the implementation of student learning objectives.
Betty Weller added that the whole collaboration emerged form many teachers' efforts to get grants for more professional development.  This partnership is going to be extremely helpful, says Weller, because they are all trying to do the education-reform stuff, and many times they are doing this in different directions.
Jack Smith, a chief academic officer of the Maryland State Department of Education, said that the effort will draw on the best practices and emerging research and involve a wide range of educators and policymakers.  He said, "The coming together and the collective IQ are really important."
I commend Maryland for the ability they had as educators to see the big picture, and to visualize what the students needed and needed to happen for everything to take place.  As a whole, the entire state's educational system was able to set aside differing opinions and ideas to come together on common ground so that a change could be made that would benefit them as a state and as a collective whole.  I believe that this type of agreement may not be in the best interest of other state educational systems, however I believe that everyone could benefit from Maryland's example of coming together in a common interest to help better a situation.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Educating Girls

This story and post is very important to me because not only am I a girl, I am also a mother to three girls.  I believe that the world in general does not fully understand how important it is for girls to receive a proper education.  The U.S. government has started a campaign to support girls' education worldwide called the "Let Girls Learn" initiative.

Dozens of actors and athletes such as Jennifer Garner, Susan Sarandon, Alicia Keys, Ann Hathaway, Tyler erry, and pro basketball player DeAndre Jordan.  These stars have joined the U.S. government in spreading the word through where thy are speaking out about the importance of education for girls around the globe in an online video for this new initiative.

The "Modern Family" star Julie Bowen says in the two-minute video that, "A threat to girls' education anywhere is a threat to progress everywhere."  This is so true.  I believe that a lot of these starts like me are parents and are starting to realize actually how important their daughters education is to their future family and posterity.  The online video for the "Let Girls Learn" initiative premiered on Friday and was made after the recent kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria and the Taliban's 2012 attempted assassination Malala Yousafzai, who is a Pakistani schoolgirls and education activist.

These tragedies emphasize how important girl's education really is.  The U.S. Agency for International Development is supporting the effort by giving $231 million dollars for new education programs and also announced on Friday that they will help provide safe learning opportunities for girls in Nigeria, Afghanistan South Sudan, Jordan and Guatemala.

People all around the world are realizing the injustice that has been done to these many girls and want to help change it and make a difference.  The video that was presented on Friday is hoped to educate the world with the fact that empowering women can change the course of our world.  There is also the Let Girls Learn website that offers many ways for individuals and organizations to get involved and help with the cause.

I wasn't shocked to learn that an educated girls is more likely to educate her children and that a girl with a basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV.  Each additional year of education can increase a woman's earning potential by as much as twenty five percent.  These are things that have fueled my desire to spread the word and to teach my girls how important it is to get an education.  I want them to understand how their children and their children's children can be positively effective if they get an education.  I want them to know how sad I am when I hear that more than sixty million girls around the world that are not in school.

Soledad O'Brian who also appear in the video states that girls' educations are just as important in the United States as they are in other countries.  Cath Russell, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues said that, "An educated girl really is the key to a healthy, more stable, more prosperous country...Educating girls is really one of the best investments we can make."

I want not only my girls but every girl to hear and believe this.  I want them to realize that with them getting an education it can benefit boys also, because girls are the mothers of boys.  I want them to know that research show that countries where women constitute at least thirty percent of political representation are more democratic, and that women comprise about twenty percent of American elected officials in the House and Senate.  In general I just want them to know how important they are to society and the world and how getting a proper education will not only benefit them but many other people as well.