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Myths about the Common Core Standards

by Patrick 2. September 2014 14:32
The Common Core Standards have become something of a staple in the news as of late. Politicians, pundits, celebrities and educators have discussed potential benefits and pitfalls of the adoption and implementation of the new standards. As with any social and political debate, however, the discussion about Common Core has been plagued by a number of misconceptions. By no means a comprehensive list, here are four of the more prominent myths about Common Core.

Myth 1: The Common Core Standards represent a national curriculum and implementing it means that the standards tell teachers precisely how and what they must teach.

This is one of the big ones. Many teachers are worried that Common Core dictates the exact material that needs to be taught in the classroom, and these concerns have been compounded by several public figures making accusations about the standards’ educational and political bias. It could be argued that the Mathematics Standards do fit this description; they do set content-specific goals to be reached by the end of each grade level. But in the English Language Arts Standards very few specific content requirements are made. Most specific authors and works they list are merely suggestions and do not need to be adopted by the teacher (with the notable exception of Shakespeare; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7; sorry students). Otherwise, Common Core gives teachers flexibility to choose their own material, as seen in its call for student proficiency with “eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature” (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9). As another example, the standards for history (limited to grades 6-12) do not even list specific historical topics through which the standards can be met, let alone do they determine what content would be required in the classroom. We find the same trend in the science and writing standards. Rather than specific curricula, Common Core tends to focus more on outlining the requisite critical thinking skills students could learn through any of thousands of individual curricula. Crafting lesson plans, choosing reading materials, and deciding on a teaching method are still left up to the teacher and the school.

Myth 2: Common Core decreases the amount of fiction and literature students will read.

This comes from a commonly cited set of figures which have Common Core proposing that, in elementary school, half of what students would be reading would be fiction. By middle school 40% would be fiction, and by high school it would be 30%. This myth is founded on the idea that these percentages represent the fiction/nonfiction ratio in English classes only. However, the standards mean for this 30% high school fiction rate to be a cumulative total from all of their classes. This means that the (probable) majority of texts from history, science, and math classes will count toward that 70% nonfiction total. English teachers will not have to worry that they will have to cut literature out of their curricula.

Myth 3: English Teachers will be forced to teach Social Studies and Science

This most likely comes from a misunderstanding of how the creators of Common Core categorized their standards. The two main categories are English Language Arts and Mathematics. Social Studies, Science, and Writing are subsumed under the former. But, this does not mean that history and science education now falls under the purview of English teachers. To be fair, some of the placement of certain standards under certain categories can be a little confusing; the standard outlining students’ need to be able to analyze the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7) is not listed under the History standards but rather under Reading Informational Texts, which itself is listed under the broad English Language Arts category. English teachers, however, will not suddenly become responsible for teaching American history or science.

Myth 4: No teachers were involved in creating the Common Core Standards.

The initial formation of the Common Core standards was in fact not carried out by K-12 teachers. The “Work Groups” – those who wrote the first versions of the standards – were made of diverse education and assessment experts from a number of associations, namely Achieve and The College Board. The “Feedback Groups” were made up mostly of university professors, understandable given that Common Core is aimed at promoting college and workplace readiness. You can see the full list of people who worked on the early stages of Common Core here. But K-12 teachers have had numerous opportunities to share their input. According to the NEA, “When the first drafts of the Common Core [standards]… were released, the Common Core State Standards staff and writers met with two groups of NEA members.  One was a group of mathematics teachers and the other was a group of English language arts teachers.  All the teachers in the groups were National Board Certified Teachers.” Similarly, the AFT has noted the involvement of its teachers in developing and implementing Common Core.

So there you have it, some of the more widespread myths about the Common Core Standards. Let us know what you think. Have you read or heard anything about Common Core that’s sounded somewhat dubious that we could address in a future blog? Leave us a comment, and stay tuned for our next post!

Fighting School Absences

by Lauren 30. August 2013 16:37

 With schools across the nation now back in session, teachers not only have to focus on curriculum and lesson plans, but they also have to keep track of day- to-day classroom happenings- like students’ tardiness and attendance. Although schools have long promoted class attendance, especially with the overly familiar Perfect Attendance Award (hardly the coolest or most prestigious award to win), class attendance has dropped dramatically over the last few years. In a recent study by Johns Hopkins University, researchers found that up to 15% of American students are chronically absent from school, meaning they missed one day for every ten. 

Similar research has found that 90,000 elementary school students miss more than one month of school each year. Here’s the bottom line: when students miss class frequently, it makes teachers’ jobs much more difficult, and students lose out on the learning time they so desperately need.

To combat the growing problem of chronic absenteeism (missing 10% or 18 days of the school year), the Advertising Council and the U.S. Army have teamed up to form a new campaign to promote attendance. Ads show how frequent absences diminish students’ possibility of graduating. The campaign launched at a critical time. September is now Attendance Awareness Month, a nationwide initiative designed to show students how attendance contributes to higher grades and performance. Plus, since in September students are just getting familiar with classroom policies, it will be easier for teachers to stress the necessity of attendance at this time.

The campaign also appeals to parents, challenging them to think about why their kids miss school. Are their reasons for absences valid? Often parents don’t think attendance is really important until high school, while others don’t keep track of how many days students really miss. Going on vacation for a week, 3 or 4 sick days, and family emergencies all add up. It’s easy to see that parents have the biggest deciding factor in student absences; when 90,000 elementary students miss over a month of school, it’s hard to shift the blame to the youngsters, who have no control over transportation or family vacations.

Unfortunately, only six states and several larger school districts, including those in New York City & Oakland, California, measure chronic absenteeism. This means most schools across the U.S. don’t have the capabilities to track and follow up on student attendance. At most, a letter might get sent home with the student, but who knows if it actually ends up in a parent’s hands. In order to change the lax attitude about absences, students and parents need to have a shift in values, where class attendance and knowledge are a priority.

How is absenteeism handled in your school? If you’re a teacher, have you noticed student absences increase in the last several years? If you’re a parent, what reasons do you have for letting your child miss school? What are your thoughts about the Ad Council’s new campaign? Will it be effective?

For more information on the initiative to end chronic absences, visit BoostAttendance.org.  This website also has a Text2Track, where parents can track student absences.

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Education | Classroom Management

Kentucky Aims to Approve Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

by Lauren 12. August 2013 09:01

After much resistance to the Next Generation Science Standards, the science equivalent to the Common Core State Standards for reading and mathematics, Kentucky education officials are now on their way to implement the NGSS state-wide. While in other states, accepting the NGSS has been standard procedure, Kentuckians voiced strong opinions against the standards, due to their emphasis on evolution. Clearly, the fight between evolution and creationism in schools is still very much alive.          

In fact, public opposition became so fierce that major news outlets, like The Huffington Post, published articles focusing on the evolution debate occurring in Kentucky. While the standards were being evaluated, the state received thousands of responses from residents. E-mails poured in, many of which claimed it was unethical to teach evolution to students “because it is a theory and not a fact.” Others claimed teaching evolution would ostracize religious students. Even more said teaching evolution interfered with students’ freedom of religion.

Although creationists pushed back, Kentucky education officials confirmed that evolution teachings are already a part of science curriculum in the state. Officials also told criticizers that much scientific evidence exists to confirm evolution. Ina recent statement, they said, “[evolution is] the fundamental, unifying theory that underlies all the life sciences.” They also stated, “there is no significant ongoing debate within the scientific community regarding the legitimacy of evolution as a scientific idea.” To confirm the validity of Kentucky educational officials, over 3,700 people signed a petition in support of the standards. Those who support the standards hope they will eliminate scientific ignorance and keep Kentucky on the right track for a competitive science education program.

As of now, it seems like evolution won out for Kentucky schools. Before the NGSS is accepted though, the standards have to be passed by the General Assembly, where they could reach further opposition.  As other states begin to focus on the NGSS, tensions between evolution and creationism are expected to rise. This is one of the most contentious debates in education curriculum. Many believe the two are in direct conflict with one another, an unbridgeable gap that defies any attempt at crossing.

What are your thoughts on the evolution vs. creationism debate? Can harmony ever exist between the two-where evolution is in science class and creationism in religion class? How does your school deal with teaching evolution and intelligent design? Is one promoted over the other?

The Return of Performance Testing?

by Lauren 25. April 2013 16:33
Thanks to the Common Core Standards, performance testing might be making a comeback. Since the Common Core Standards encourage states to test students in a variety of ways, some states have decided to reintroduce performance testing. (Performance testing gained momentum in the early ‘90s, but No Child Left Behind made the assessments too costly for most schools). Instead of having students fill in bubbles on their answer sheets, performance testing forces students to show their understanding of the learning material, typically by producing an essay, a portfolio, or a presentation. Students are required to demonstrate their knowledge about a particular subject. For many educators, performance testing is a superior method of examination because it allows students to show they’ve attained the critical thinking skills needed to advance to the next grade level.

In fact, educators believe the reintroduction of performance testing could alter the landscape of American public schools. In order for performance testing to be profitable, though, teachers must learn how to score/rate the assessments. Teachers must agree on what a particular score means and apply that rubric to every student. This will also lead to additional teacher collaboration. Teachers will need to discuss the qualities of excellent, mediocre, or poor work. At several charter schools, collaboration has been extremely important for performance tests. There, groups of teachers will meet and design projects that will allow their students to demonstrate their knowledge.

Additionally, one Boston-based educational center has put forth several necessary qualifications regarding performance testing.  The Center for Collaborative Education has emphasized the importance of aligned instruction, task design, and data analysis. Performance tests must be aligned to Common Core Standards, so students can accomplish the tasks they need to succeed in both college and the workplace. Likewise, the performance tests must be designed in such a way that students are clear about all the demands that are being placed on them. Finally, teachers must be able to analyze performance tests and glean information about student learning outcomes.

Add your voice! Is performance testing a boon to students and teachers? How can they be regulated? Is it a good idea to integrate them in with Common Core testing?
Check out eSchool News’ Report on Performance Testing.

Controversy and the Common Core

by Lauren 20. February 2013 11:59
While Common Core seems to be pushing forward full-steam ahead, there could be trouble lurking on the tracks. During the past few weeks, Common Core has been making headlines, but mostly all take a negative view on the new standards. In The Huffington Post, 2010 Teacher of the Year Sarah Brown Wessling questions if the Common Core “demoralizes” teachers. The state of Indiana is working on legislation where they could ensure the standards are no longer taught in their schools. Former Texas Education Commissioner, Robert Scott, has made it his personal mission to speak out against the Common Core. GED students are also being encouraged to complete their degree in 2013, before the test is drastically changed to the Common Core version. So, with all the negative press, it is clear that many educators are concerned about the inability of the standards to meet the needs of students.

For example, in her article, “Does the Common Core Demoralize Teachers?,” Wessling hashes through some of the major concerns surrounding the standards. She lists her concerns as follows: teachers already have too much to worry about, and the standards just add to the pile; the standards were written by people who are clueless about how a real classroom works; the standards ignore the needs of the student as a whole; and the standards take away teachers’ creativity. Wessling acknowledges the legitimacy of these concerns, especially for teachers who work in districts where funds and resources are limited.  Her article, however, takes a different tone when she encourages teachers to not let the Common Core get them down. Although it is bound to cause some issues, she gives some pointers for making the Core work in the classroom.

Other news, however, has been much more severe. Robert Scott, a past Education Commissioner in Texas, (one of the states that did not accept the Common Core), has been speaking against the standards. He believes the standards are not right for Texas, and he has been encouraging other states to follow suit. In fact, he once called the Common Core a “perversion” of what a real education should look like. In a recent testimony in Georgia, Scott said that he was pressured to sign on to the standards before they were even written. He feels the standards are more of a power grab by the national government and that the Common Core lacks transparency, since it was written behind closed doors. You can see his speech on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WcpMIUWbgxY In fact, this entire YouTube channel is dedicated to appealing the Common Core, where individuals hope local government will obtain control over local schools.

Leave a comment below! What do you think about the controversy surrounding the Common Core? Is the Common Core too much of a top-down approach, where the national government dictates what schools must do? Or is it necessary for the national government to have a set of standards that keeps education the same for all students? Would local government be able to better meet the needs of a local school?

More Class Time for Children in Five States

by Lauren 19. December 2012 15:37
In order to keep U.S. education competitive, five states have recently decided to extend classroom hours. As part of a three-year pilot program, certain schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee will all see longer hours, a drastic change that will affect 20,000 students in 40 schools. In fact, starting in 2013, these schools plan on adding over 300 learning hours to the calendar, either by extending the hours of a normal school day or by adding extra days to the calendar. This change stems from the desire of educational leaders, who believe spending more time in the classroom will give students access to information they might not have received before, particularly in more “critical” areas like math and science.

For the past several years, discussions have revolved around the quality (or lack thereof) of the American public school system. Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes American students have fallen immensely behind their counterparts in China and India, who spend much more time in class. Earlier in his career, Duncan mentioned that American schools should be open six or seven days a week and run 11 or 12 months out of the year. It is clear that other educators feel similarly. With the rise of charter schools, new student testing (like the Common Core Standards), and teacher evaluations, it is clear that some educators and parents want reform.

Additionally, education officials also believe that extended school hours are the best way to prepare students for success in the workplace. With extra time, teachers can craft a well-rounded education plan. For instance, instructors can emphasize the importance of art and music and aid students who have fallen behind. Educators also hope students will be able to become intensely familiar with technology by learning specific software programs or receiving training on how to write computer code.

However, these extra hours can be costly. In general, federal, district, and state funds are covering these schools’ extended hours. In Massachusetts, schools are also getting funds from the state’s expanded-learning program, and in Connecticut, a recent education reform law will help provide extra support. Not only is it more costly, but extended hours have also been a major point of contention for teachers. Earlier this year, the teacher’s strike in Chicago was due in part to longer school hours. Eventually, Chicago schools’ hours were extended.  It remains to be seen how teachers’ unions will work with these extended hours. Perhaps, if teachers were paid and valued more, like in many European countries, American schools would not have to worry about extending hours at all.

Is It Worth the Money?

While extending hours is clearly pricy, others question the actual benefits for students. In the high-performing countries of South Korea, Finland, and Japan, students spend much less time in the classroom. These schools often use unique approaches to learning, where quality is emphasized over number of hours.

What do you think about extending hours in the classroom? Will it be more beneficial for students? Will it make the American education system more competitive? What would you change about U.S. schools?

For more information, check out this article about education in Finland, one of the world’s top-performers in educational testing.

Charter School Enrollment Boom: What Does It Means for Public and Private Schools?

by Lauren 14. November 2012 10:36
Although the funding of charter schools is often the center of fierce debate, recently, The New York Times reported that charter school attendance is at an all-time high. In fact, over two million American students now attend charter schools, a number that has increased 13% from last year alone. For those who are unfamiliar with the details, charter schools are primary and secondary schools that receive public/government money, as well as private funding. However, unlike public schools, they are not bound by specific state and federal education laws. Instead, charter schools’ regulations stem from their charter, which usually indicates the goals of the specific school. Thus, charter schools seem to blend elements of public and private education, a formula that continues to draw the admiration and the ire of tax payers across the nation.

In New Orleans, after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, charter schools seemed to blossom overnight. Surprisingly, over 70 percent of New Orleans students now attend charter schools. In Detroit, Washington D.C., and St. Louis, charter school attendance is also high, at around 30 percent. Interestingly, out of 110 school districts across the nation, over 10% of district students attend a charter school.

So what makes parents want to send their children to a charter school? According to The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, parents like options. Most parents see charter schools as a personalized path of education. They believe charter schools cater to students’ specific needs and abilities, shying away from public schools’ one-size-fits-all-approach. In addition, charter schools usually offer more interest-specific classes, more AP or college-credit opportunities, and increased fine arts funding. In many cases, they also have greater access to new technology. Clearly, the budget of charter schools allows for more flexibility than their public school counterparts.

On the other side of the spectrum, opponents believe charter schools take needed funds away from public schools. For them, it makes more sense to invest in public schools for everyone than support the needs of a smaller group of elite students. They argue that more “gifted students” are attracted to these charter schools, which often leaves students who are harder to educate at public schools, where money is even tighter than before.  Opponents also point out that the success rate of charter schools is not particularly stellar. While some do boast of higher test scores and college acceptance rates, other charter schools perform the same as public schools, or even worse.

With those arguments in mind, it will be interesting to see what happens with charter schools in the future. Their enrollment is growing, and states have continued to support their development. Georgia just passed a charter school bill, allowing them in the state, and Washington will soon decide if charter schools are allowed within their state lines.

Comment on charter schools! Do you think they limit public school funding, or do you think they are a viable option for students looking to excel? Will the growth of charter schools inhibit the growth of public schools?

Adaptive Testing Paves the Way for the Future

by Lauren 26. October 2012 11:15
In the past, schools have relied on familiar methods of standardized testing, a system that usually includes multiple-choice questions where students fill in the designated answer bubbles. While this method does supply answers about students’ learning, new technology is enabling instructors to learn even more about the degree of their students’ knowledge. This new form of testing, called adaptive testing, is completed online. Depending on the program, students often have over 800 questions to choose from. Once a student starts the test, the software picks questions catered to that specific student, challenging him or her with questions he or she may or may not know.  The answer to the first question will influence the content of the second question and so on. This provides an extremely detailed picture of how much a student actually knows.

In fact, adaptive testing was first introduced in Delaware. The Red Clay Consolidated School District picked up on the idea, and with parent and teacher support, along with state funding, they were able to implement these high-tech tests. The school district decided to make the change in order to gain a thorough understanding of their students. While regular, fixed-form testing works well with the majority of students, teachers often learn less about high performers and low performers. High performers might not miss many questions on fixed-form tests, so while these students know the material on the test, it is impossible to find out what else they really know. Testing the extent of their knowledge is limited by fixed-form tests. Likewise, low performers might miss many of the questions, and it can be hard for teachers to figure out how far behind they really are. Fortunately, adaptive testing can provide immediate insight.

Additionally, with adaptive testing, the percent of questions a student gets right is no longer applicable.  In fact, most students will only get about half of the questions right. Instead, scores are created by assessing the level of a question’s difficulty. Since these tests are catered to a student’s specific needs, students have also reported that adaptive testing is more interesting and engaging. Questions with videos and graphics also help increase the interest of the test-taker. Likewise, because students are taking individual tests, chances of cheating are greatly reduced.  Adaptive tests are truly about finding what a student actually knows on an individual basis.

Clearly, there are many reasons why schools should introduce adaptive testing, but like many new things, it has yet to be perfected. Writing is almost impossible to assess through the exams; the evaluation of writing really calls for human judgment. Because of that reason, the tests do not emphasize writing, and teachers are afraid students will miss out. Likewise, teachers remark that test results should be clear and more useful. Others believe the format is too challenging; when students keep answering tough questions incorrectly, they simply shut down. While adaptive testing may be in its early stages, it is evident that testing methods are leaning towards assessing students on an individual basis.

So, what do you think about adaptive testing?  Would you want it implemented at your school? Does its emphasis on the individual help students in the long run?

Check out this video about adaptive testing: http://bcove.me/be40myzh

Here are some of the companies that are developing adaptive testing: http://www.smarterbalanced.org/


Are Bored Students Just Stressed?

by Lauren 17. October 2012 10:19
If you spoke with any teacher, he or she would probably tell you that boredom is a major problem in classrooms across the nation. Teachers are extremely familiar with students’ yawning, clock watching, and blank stares. Usually teachers combat boredom with more entertaining, hands-on lessons, but more classroom excitement might not be the solution. Earlier this month, a new study was released from the Perspectives on Psychological Science which links stress and boredom. In other words, students who are stressed about their family life, grades, friends, or other situations will be thinking about these issues during class, preventing them from wholly focusing on the lesson. While a bored student might blame his or her inability to pay attention on the teacher or material, in reality, a student’s boredom could stem from his or her mental stress.

First off, the study shows that students with ADHD are more likely to feel bored during the school day than students without ADHD. Instead of truly being bored, however, these students are usually caught up in a flurry of thoughts, which leaves them unable to concentrate. Likewise, students who are taking classes that are too challenging for them are also more likely to feel bored. These students are using more working memory to keep up in class, and as a result, they feel overwhelmed by the material and have a tough time concentrating.  However, instead of recognizing that they are frustrated and discouraged, they will most likely say that they are simply bored.

Additionally, researchers also noted that discouraged, emotional, and down students also feel bored in the classroom. When students are stressed, it makes it harder for them to learn in the classroom. It truly is a vicious cycle; emotionally stressed students are more likely to disengage and be bored, which adds to their stress in the long run. Noise can also contribute to students feeling bored. Music, laughter, or a TV in the next room can prevent students from concentrating. While students believe their inability to concentrate means they are bored, their short-attention span can result from a variety of different factors and emotions.

Interestingly, stress inhibits the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area that enables students to reason and remember specific facts. Disrupting this rational function allows the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, to take over. This explains why bored students are more likely to be tired, anxious, frustrated, or depressed. In response to their brain functions, bored students will either zone out or act out. Oftentimes, these students fidget, doodle, or appear sleepy.

With that in mind, how can teachers reduce students’ stress and help them concentrate? Surprisingly, researchers suggest that doodling/coloring is one way for students to control their drifting thoughts and stay on task. Most importantly though, it is vital that students learn to recognize their own anxiety and discover ways to re-engage their thoughts when they feel like they are drifting. Students who learn to identify their own emotions will be more successful in the classroom.

Discuss: What do you do to keep your students on task in the classroom? From your experience, do you believe stress and boredom are linked? What steps can be taken to reduce students’ stress? 

Common Core Testing Takes a Short Cut?

by Lauren 1. October 2012 15:13
Lately, discussions surrounding Common Core testing have shifted in a new direction.  When the Common Core was in its earliest stages, educators believed that one single test would cover all students per grade.  In other words, fifth grade students in Ohio would take the exact same Common Core tests as fifth grade students in Texas or Maine.  All students (and teachers) would have the same expectations and responsibilities. Since the Common Core is coming from the national level, it makes sense to think that all states will be held to the same standards.  As it turns out, that might not be the way it works.  Recently, Common Core developers have started to look at creating a short version and a long version of the new standardized tests.

Not surprisingly, the push for two different tests has come from the state level. Many state governments are reluctant to spend more time and money on the Common Core.  Although state budgets are tight across the nation, it seems terrible to think that education could suffer in the wake.  In fact, with the short version, students spend approximately 6 ½ hours on multiple tests and classroom activities in grades 3-5, close to 7 hours in grades 6-8, and 8 hours in high school.  The long versions, including multiple tests and activities, last at least 10 hours in grades 3-8 and 13 hours throughout high school.  That four or five hour difference seems like quite a gap.  So, how can the short version possibly cover all that is in the long version?

According to test-makers, it is possible.  The short tests will follow the same blueprint as the longer version.  Things like multiple-choice, constructed-response, and technology-enhanced questions will be present on both exams. Most importantly, both versions will supposedly meet the federal standards.  Scoring will also be similar, but interestingly, test-makers were clear that the longer version would provide clearer results about a student’s performance.  Likewise, the longer tests deliver a more detailed portrait for parents and teachers.  The shorter version, on the other hand, provides severely limited information about test-takers.

As of now, it looks as if each state will be able to choose the short or long version of the Common Core tests.  Additionally, because of the public’s antipathy towards standardized testing, as well as tight state budgets, the shorter tests might prove to be more popular.  Many educators are worried that most states will opt for the cheaper, shorter versions of the test, leaving few states that will actually make the investment with the longer versions.  Some are worried that this short cut will eventually lower the new, ground-breaking Common Core testing standards, making it resemble the outdated system that is currently in use.  In other words, taking this short cut might just put schools right back where they started.

Contribute your opinion! Do you think the Common Core tests should be split into a long and short version?  If it happens, will most states go with the cheaper tests?  How would this affect students?


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