Staff’s Presentation on the Common Core

At the Feb 5, 2014 school board meeting, staff presented what was supposed to be an overview of the Common Core State Standards, which you can find here.  The presentation was, in my opinion, incomplete.

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To Common Core or Not To Common Core

Several nights ago I participated in a panel hosted by the Prince William County Committee of 100 about the future of standards in Virginia’s public schools.  Of interest to the Committee was whether the panelists believed Virginia should stick with the SOLs, adopt the Common Core State Standards, or do something else.  I chose doing something different, specifically adopting a Common Core Plus strategy that could be followed either by the state or the county if the state chooses differently.

That may seem like a strange recommendation to followers of this blog as I haven’t hidden my displeasure with the Common Core, so I thought I’d explain.

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Dumbing Down the AP to Match the CCSS

Since their inception Advanced Placement, or AP, courses have been in high demand in high schools across the country.  The content and sequence of instruction in AP courses is designed by The College Board.  AP courses are supposed to be as rigorous and challenging as a college level course.  Students take AP exams on fixed dates across the nation and their scores determine whether they can get college credit for the courses they’ve taken.  In theory the AP should save parents of college bound children money as their children, assuming they score high enough on their AP exams, will enter college with courses already completed.

Unfortunately, the course requirements and sequence of instruction under the Common Core State Standards don’t align with the requirements for the College Board’s AP exams, so the AP exams and courses are being redesigned to reflect the Common Core. According to The College Board, “The College Board is removing extraneous details from the AP course requirements and making AP classes less about simple memorization and more about critical thinking and synthesizing information. The AP is about taking a college course and giving a recipe for students.”

Thus far The College Board has revamped the AP Biology, Latin and Spanish Literature exams.  They are currently revamping the AP Chemistry and Spanish Language exams.

Math, as has become all too predictable, is proving to be difficult to align, particularly AP Calculus.  “AP Calculus is in conflict with the Common Core. It lies outside the sequence of the Common Core because of the fear that it may unnecessarily rush students into advanced math classes for which they are not prepared”, according to Trevor Packer, senior vice president of the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program.

The College Board has a suggestion here for school divisions – stop teaching Calculus.  Offer AP Statistics or Computer Science instead.  The College Board has plans to replace AP Calculus with AP Algebra, but those plans are tentative.

Virginia, thus far, has chosen not to fully participate in the CCSS, though we have aligned our content standards with the CCSS and have contract Pearson Education to develop, administer, and evaluate our state exams, the SOL exams.  This move by The College Board to align the AP with the CCSS means Virginia students will have no choice but to follow the CCSS.  It also means that students hoping to be Engineers, who must take Calculus in high school, will have no options for taking Calculus other than to attend a local community college on their own during their junior or senior year.

Going Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Nothing sets me off more than politicians who lie, regurgitate what they’ve been told without checking to see if it’s accurate, or pretend that the bow tied cow patty they’re trying to sell me doesn’t stink.  A few weeks ago I went off on a diatribe on the PWC Ed Reform facebook page about comments Mrs Lillie Jessie had made during board matters.  After I posted that diatribe, several kind people called and sent me messages inquiring about my state of mind.

Since my mind is what it is, I thought I’d elaborate on what Mrs Jessie said that made me so angry.

Mrs Jessie said the new ESEA had replaced NCLB and called for a new and better way of teaching.  Sounds pretty innocuous, right?  Unfortunately, what she said is 100% totally and completely false.

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Disavowing the Common Core Standards

Diane Ravitch is one of the most influential people working to improve public education.  I’ve disagreed with her on some topics, but on the issue of the Common Core State Standards we’ve found common ground.  Below is her latest article wherein she disavows the Common Core State Standards.

Those of you who prefer to click off of this page without reading the rest be forewarned.  Virginia is one of only 4 states that hasn’t adopted the Common Core State Standards, and we’re only in that group because of our current Governor.  Our previous Governor, Governor Kaine, fully supported the CCSS and signed Virginia up as an early supporter.  If they aren’t stopped, the CCSS are the future for Virginia and the entire nation.

— The PWC Ed Reform Team

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The Evil that Schools Do

Anyone who has paid the least bit of attention to education reforms in the past 20 – 30 years knows that rote memorization, or drill and kill, are the single worst things a developing child can be exposed to.   Not only does rote memorization take the joy out of learning, it undermines children’s ability to understand numbers and arithmetic operations.  Teachers forcing children to memorize math facts to automatic recall are committing what can only be characterized as educational malpractice.  In this modern era the focus in education is on deeper understanding, critical thinking, and developing 21st Century skills, not on creating a generation of robots who mindlessly repeat steps they don’t understand.

Too bad those promises aren’t based on actual science.  You know data, from actual studies, conducted by actual scientists and peer reviewed, that show that rote memorization undermines learning.  Because the studies, the actual science and data, show the opposite.

The Journal of Neuroscience recently published a study conducted by two professors of neuroscience from the University of Ontario. The scientists observed something rather amazing during their study:

Students who performed well on the math section of the PSAT showed more activity in brain areas linked to memory of math facts. Those with lower math PSAT scores had less brain activity in those areas and more in areas associated with processing number quantities.

The findings suggest that the high-achieving students knew the answers by memory, while lower-performing students were calculating even low-level problems.

Amazing, isn’t it?  Children who knew their math facts to automatic recall, or rote, did better in math than those who didn’t.  College professors and high school math teachers have observed this for years, but have been scoffed at, belittled, and worse by the folks peddling programs they claim foster deeper understanding and critical thinking.  Turns out the college professors and high school math teachers were right.

I don’t think anything will change as our country has sold it’s soul to the promise peddlers and has spent literally hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars developing techniques employed by these folks to undermine parent opposition to their programs.  Virginia has fully embraced these programs and openly advocates giving calculators to children, starting in kindergarten.

There’s just too much money and too much influence at the highest levels of government for anything to change.

Virginia Virtucon recently noted that students in Prince William County lag far behind students in Fairfax and Loudoun in their performance on the PSAT and in the number of students who qualify as National Merit Scholars.  Virtucon wanted to know why.

Prince William County is run by folks who honestly believe mastery of math facts and the standard algorithms are dangerous as they undermine student learning and critical thinking skills, and they teach that to our teachers.  The science says mastery of math facts and the standard algorithms actually improve student learning.  Virtucon, I think perhaps we’ve found part of the answer to your question.

I don’t expect anything to change.  Education in the United States and Virginia is run by folks who are making money by the boatload selling programs that they claim help students develop deeper understanding, critical thinking, and 21st Century skills.  Unfortunately, what they claim their programs offer will actually leave our children even further behind.  The evil that our schools do will live after them.

Mythbusting the Common Core

The pressure on Virginia to adopt the Common Core State Standards is intense, with the CCSS’s supporters actively spreading false information, grossly exaggerating it’s success, and misrepresenting who is behind the CCSS. Virginia isn’t likely to last long under such intense pressure, so us plain folk need to arm ourselves with knowledge and share our opinions with our state delegation.

Here’s the first of a series from Truth in American Education debunking the CCSS myths – the myth that the CCSS are “state led”.

Most of our elected delegates in Richmond, I’m sorry to say, are not well informed about the Common Core.  We need to educate them.

Here is a handy dandy one clink link to send an email to all of them.  Below the link is a list of their names and individual email addresses.

DelDBell@house.virginia.gov;DelSLandes@house.virginia.gov;DelCStolle@house.virginia.gov;delrrobinson@house.virginia.gov;DelJYost@house.virginia.gov;DelJMorrissey@house.virginia.gov;DelMKeam@house.virginia.gov;DelDHester@house.virginia.gov

Senators

Richard Black – district13@senate.virginia.gov
Charles Colgan –  district29@senate.virginia.gov
Toddy Puller – district36@senate.virginia.gov
Richard Stuart – district28@senate.virginia.gov
George Barker – district39@senate.virginia.gov

Delegates

Scott Lingamfelter – DelSLingamfelter@house.virginia.gov
Richard Anderson – DelRAnderson@house.virginia.gov
Luke Torian – DelLTorian@house.virginia.gov
Bob Marshall – DelBMarshall@house.virginia.gov
Jackson Miller – DelJMiller@house.virginia.gov
Dave Ramadan – DelDRamadan@house.virginia.gov
Tim Hugo – DelTHugo@house.virginia.gov
Mark Dudenhefer – DelMDudenhefer@House.virginia.gov

Why Johnny Can’t Subtract

Many parents and teachers have complained to me that their children can’t subtract.  While most of us managed to get through grade school generally getting subtraction, the whole concept seems to be beyond our children’s abilities.

In the past I’ve blamed Math Investigations and it’s approach to teaching subtraction.  But those complaints have continued this year, even with our new instructional resource.  In fact, the complaints have gotten louder, with many parents upset that Connects moves through material quickly and doesn’t give kids the time to understand and learn procedures.

This pace, which is leading to frustration and a profound lack of understanding, is intentional.  Not because of Connects, but the PWCS Math Department.

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Lions and Tigers and Math SOL scores – Oh My!!!

Word on the street is that PWCS’s pass rates on the revised and “more rigorous” Math SOL are abysmal, and hysteria has broken out across the county.  OK, hysteria might be a bit of an exaggeration because most of us are already in a summer vacation frame of mind and getting all hot and bothered when it’s 90 degrees out at 8:30 in the morning is impossible, but there has been a massive outbreak of vigorous finger pointing and hand wringing.

Told ya so.  Just saying.        Told.      Ya.      So.

We, or I to be more accurate, typically take a break from posting articles to the blog in the summer.  The snark and sarcasm factor tends to increase exponentially as the school year comes to a close, and we, or I more specifically, haven’t wanted to subject you to that.

Plus, my blog, my rules.

But I decided divert from that policy to actually put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, to comment on this mass outbreak of finger pointing and hand wringing over the “holy cow they’re low” pass rates for the Math SOL exam.  So here goes, but be forewarned, it’s my summer vacation and the snark is running freely.

Anyway, are our pass rates lower for the Math SOL this year?  Read the rest of this entry »

Cow Paddies Masquerading as the National / Federal Common Core Standards

Those of you who no longer have a dog in the fight and / or don’t follow education should probably pay attention.  There is a movement in this country to  federalize nationalize what is taught to every child in public school in this county.  That movement is backed with money from the federal government through a US Department of Education program called Race to the Top (you Congress critters who voted to give more money to Race to the Top were giving this program more money and power – knowing what you’re funding is probably a good thing when you’re a Congress critter).  Under Race to the Top, and other programs run by the Obama Administration’s Department of Education, states were either given the opportunity to compete for cash for schools or offered waivers from NCLB’s accountability requirements if they agreed to adopt and implement the national, federal, common standards and assessments. And every state, except Virginia, Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Texas has willingly jumped on-board.

Here’s the thing.   The standards the feds are ramming down the throats of public schools, stink.  Not need improvement, not OK – they stink.

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