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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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.

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.



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


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