Willful Ignorance Is Not A Desired Trait For Elected Officials

Last week, by majority vote, PWC School Board chose to send a letter to Governor McAuliffe asking him to allow Virginia to remain independent from the Common Core State Standards initiative.  The vote was close, with 4 in favor of sending the letter (Trenum, Johns, Satterwhite, and Otaigbe) 3 against sending the letter (Bell, Jessie, and Williams), and one abstaining from voting (Covington).  Several school board members stated that they didn’t know enough about the Common Core to vote either way.  (Bell, Williams, and Covington).

I have to admit that I was more than a little surprised that individuals elected to the school board for our county wouldn’t know much about the Common Core. The Common Core first burst onto the US stage in 2009 and have been one of the biggest issues in public education since then, so I found their lack of knowledge more than a little concerning.

I believe elected officials have a responsibility to research issues before them, rather than rely solely on reports from staff.  School board members aren’t elected to blindly nod their heads at everything staff says or suggests.  Staff will present whatever information supports their viewpoint.  I expect elected officials to view staff’s assertions with a degree of professional skepticism and to do their own research, particularly if the issue before them is controversial.  If they’re unwilling or unable to do that, then I question why they’re serving.

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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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More on Opting Out of SOL Exams in Virginia

Parents refusing to allow their children to be tested on state exams has been a hot topic of late across the nation.  The Washington Post recently ran several stories about the issue focusing on the statutes in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC.  One article stated that Students in the DC area can’t opt out state standardized tests.  The article quoted Charles Pyle,  spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education, as stating, “all students in tested grade levels and courses are expected to participate in Virginia’s SOL assessment program, unless specifically exempted by state or federal law or by Board of Education regulations.”

While Mr Pyle is correct that there is no opt out provision in state law, as is often the case with education bureaucrats, he omitted a few things.  While there is no opt out provision in state law, there is no law, policy, or regulation that prohibits parents from refusing to allow their children to be tested.  Your child will receive a zero as their SOL exam scores, but he / she will not be forced to take any exam that you as a parent have refused to allow him / her to take.

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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.

Va Dept of Ed Blows Off 60% of Virginia Students

This summer, after receiving a wavier from NCLB’s 100% passing requirements, the VA Dept of Ed established new goals for the percentage of students passing the SOL in all school divisions and public schools in the state.   The new targeted percentage passing was set for the state overall and for groups of students;  groups that are based on race.

The Va Dept of Ed took lots of flack from the public because the pass rate targets for 2013 – 2017 for Black and Hispanic students are lower than the pass rate targets for White and Asian students.   The Dept of Ed was accused of having lower expectations for Black and Hispanic students than they do for White and Asian students.

The VA Dept of Ed responded that the goals don’t reflect lower expectations for Black or Hispanic students as the final goal, 73% passing by 2017, is uniform across all groups. Instead of setting a uniform starting point that didn’t reflect actual pass rates, the Dept of Ed set the 2012 actual pass rates as the point from which annual increases are expected.  The goals for annual increases for Black and Hispanic students, according the the Dept of Ed, will be challenging but are achievable.

Unfortunately the Dept of Ed blew off White and Asian students as they aren’t expected to improve at all.

In 2012, 73% or more White and Asian students passed the state SOLs in every elementary grade level or high school subject tested.  For White and Asian students, who comprise 60% of Virginia students, no increase in the percentage of students passing the state SOLs is expected through 2017.  Here are the actual 2012 pass rates and the 2012 – 2017 targeted pass rates from the VA Dept of Ed for each racial group  Pass Rate Targets & 2012 Actual Pass Rates

According to the Va Dept of Ed, the percentage of Black and Hispanic students passing the SOL exams is expected in increase nearly 20% over the next 5 years, but no increase is expected for White and Asian students.   In these times of scarce resources, with pressure on school divisions to meet state pass rate targets, where do you think the resources will be allocated – to the schools that are struggling to meet the state pass rate targets or the schools that have already met them? If every child deserves an education that helps them achieve the most they can, is that fair?  Wouldn’t it be more fair for the state to expect the percentage of students passing the SOLs to increase in each and every group, not just in select groups?

If you have any concerns with the goals the Dept of Ed has established, you may want to contact your state representatives.

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

Trust Nothing You Hear from the Education Establishment

When it comes to education we parents have to trust that the teachers and education administrators in our public school systems won’t do anything that will harm our children.  While I think most of our classroom teachers have our children’s best interests at heart, I doubt everything I hear from the education administrators & bureaucrats.

I’m sorry to say that, but I have seen far too much evidence that the education administrators at the local, state, and federal level are corrupt and will willingly and knowingly lie or distort facts, to trust a word they say anymore.  Unfortunately, debunking their lies usually requires a degree of professional skepticism coupled with a willingness to dig into and understand details, something our elected officials are unwilling or unable to do.

The net effect is that the corrupt liars are setting education policy in this county, state, and country and our children are suffering because of it.

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Please Write to Your Delgates and School Board Members

Tell them that students should be able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide without calculators BEFORE they’re forced into Algebra or higher level courses.  Heck, tell them to order the  VA DOE to stop pushing calculators in our elementary school children.  Tell your Delegates that you support HB 469.    Tell your school board members not to oppose it.

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VA Board of Ed to Reset SOL Pass Rate Targets

Realizing that the new Math SOL pass rate targets they announced in July are so low that they are disgusting, the VA Board of Education has announced that they will be “revisiting” them.    According to the statement, the new pass rate targets were issued before the results of the “more rigorous” 2011 – 2012 Math exams had been received.  Now that the results have been received, the VA BOE will be revisiting “revisit the methodology in order to set more aggressive annual goals for raising subgroup achievement and closing achievement gaps.”

Translation – we screwed up and need to fix it. While I think the new pass rate targets bordered on disgusting, I give the state credit for realizing that they made a mistake and taking steps to fix the error.

You can find a chart with the SOL exam pass rate targets, the ones that were issued in July and will be “revisited”,  here.

SOL Tests in March?

Some Virginia School Superintendent’s are pushing for earlier SOL testing, writes Kevin Sieff in the June 2nd Washington Post.

Virginia currently gives SOL test to students in late May or early June.  Some district Superintendents’ believe that testing that late in the year leads to bored students with fewer opportunities for hands on learning, and believe that earlier testing, with opportunities for re-testing later in the year for students’ who fail, would improve learning by reducing boredom and reducing the stakes and stress associated with one time-year end testing.  Other district Superintendents’ oppose earlier testing as they believe many students won’t be adequately prepared for the exams and believe that earlier testing with re-testing would result in two track instructional programs – one for students who pass the earlier exams and one for students who failed the exams.

I think they’re all correct and that earlier testing with re-testing for students’ who perform below expectations is brilliant!.  Earlier testing will identify students who need more instruction on certain topics so that the can get the support they need while also identifying those students are ready to move ahead so that they can be challenged.

Reality in our classrooms is that the SOLs set a bar some students struggle to reach and others easily scale.  Unfortunately the emphasis on passing every student means that the priorities in the classroom are on the struggling students as opposed to the students who are ready to move ahead.  The net effect is the struggling students don’t get the time or attention they need to grasp foundational concepts while students who are ready to move on are left twiddling their thumbs.

Earlier testing with re-testing could fix that.  It would allow schools to identify knowledge gaps earlier in the year so that instruction can be geared towards addressing those knowledge gaps, and, by allowing re-testing later in the year, would reduce the pressure of a one time end of year test.     Additionally, testing earlier in the year would allow schools to identify those students who have already developed the knowledge, skills, and understandings necessary to move ahead and provide them with instruction to continue to challenge them rather than have them spend the last half of the year going to the library, supporting their classmates, doodling on their notebooks, wandering the hallways, or disrupting class activities.

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