Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Young Teacher Tells Why She Said "No" to Teach For America

This anonymous teacher's explanation of why she passed on the opportunity to "teach for america" — as if only Wendy Kopp's acolytes are out there doing the truly patriotic thing — brings together more of the criticisms of TFA in one place than I have seen before.

~Gene V Glass

Nearly six years ago—during my college’s first year orientation—I set my sights on becoming an elementary school teacher. Five years ago, I attended a Teach For America (TFA) info session at my college’s library. Many people encouraged me to apply, and (at a time when getting a job is anything but guaranteed) it was tempting. My East Coast liberal arts school is a sort of powerhouse for TFA. Between 40-60 of my class’ 500 graduates went on to TFA. As a comparison, six of us graduated as credentialed K-12 teachers.

Three years ago, I wrote “Why I Won’t Teach For America”. As I complete my second year of teaching (aka the length of a TFA commitment), I firmly stand by that decision for both political and personal reasons. From my personal perspective, here’s why:

I was properly trained to teach.

Had I done TFA, I would have had five weeks of training. Instead, I had literally years. Under the guidance of a master teacher, I experienced it all. If something went wrong or I didn’t know how to respond to a situation, I had people to help me. I studying education theory and pedagogy and learned material I still use every day.

I had a strong first year.

The TFA teachers I know often say things like, “My first year was horrible, but that’s just how it is!” TFA pushes the myth that a teacher’s first year necessarily is rough. In this assumption it is implicit but ignored that the students of these first year teachers are experimented on and get a sub-par education.

Even for credentialed teachers, the first year is challenging and new. But even with that, I loved my first year. I felt prepared, had an amazing class, and was finally doing what I loved. I know I am a better teacher now than I was then, but I also believe that I gave my first students a quality education. This is not because I am inherently “better” than those who teach through TFA, but because I was given the proper training and experiences prior to having my first class.

I teach in and am dedicated to my community.

TFA has applicants rank a number of locations, and the teachers I know got placed all over the United States. Two years after their placements, many are moving back to where they are from or to where they desire to live.

I teach at a school very similar in demographics to those where TFA teachers are placed: 85%+ minority, 80%+ free or reduced lunch, majority ELL. I also teach 10 minutes from where I was born. I foresee myself saving up to buy a house and raising my family in the town. I have connections to the community, and am personally invested in its long-term strength. I feel fortunate that, after two years of teaching, I am already established in the town and not looking for a transfer.

I am a public school teacher.

Had I done TFA, I would have likely ended up in a charter school. TFA has a very close relationship with the privatization movement. In LA, 90% of TFA teachers are placed in charters. I am proud to be working in a school that is making huge gains with an “underserved” population AND is fully public. For so many reasons (way more than can fit in this post!), I am a supporter of public education.

I am a member of my school’s community, not of a “corps.”

When I entered my school at 22 years old, I was by far the youngest teacher. But I was also just that: a teacher. I quickly bonded with the other teachers, many of whom have 10 or 20+ years experience. TFA teachers often say they are “doing TFA” rather than “teaching.” Amongst the TFA teachers I know, there is close camaraderie within the corps members. They live together, party together, and support each other. While this is likely necessary because many of them are placed far from home without any support system, I feel fortunate to be a part of my school’s community, and not an organization.

Teaching is sustainable for me.

Teachers work hard.

Many TFA teachers speak of the burnout they experience. I believe the organization does this purposely: if you are only getting two years out of your teachers, you might as well work them until they can’t do it any more. Every teacher I know—student teacher, career teacher, TFA teacher—gives 110% of herself mentally and emotionally. There are countless long nights and draining days. But at the same time, I know I want to stay in teaching, and I am not doing myself or my current or future students any favors by giving up my sleep and personal life. Moreover, my colleagues are people who are balancing work and personal life (often including kids and other obligations) very well, not other sleepless 24 year olds.

I am not leaving teaching now (or likely ever!).

I know for a fact I will teach next year. While we can’t predict the future, my long-term goal is to stay a classroom teacher. This shapes so much of what I do: I have invested literally thousands of dollars into my classroom and my library, I eagerly attend professional development workshops, I reflect on my practices and preserve my best lessons, and I forge strong relationships with families in the hopes that I will someday teach their children. I firmly believe all of this makes me a better and happier teacher.

The second year TFA teachers I know are taking many different paths. A few are staying in the classroom. Many are getting recruited out of their current placement by charter chains or by TFA itself. Others are going on to graduate school or, yes, to banking.

While there is a lot of dispute over TFA’s retention rate, many state that about 50% leave after two years and 80% after three years. I could not imagine what my second year of teaching would be like if I was planning on packing it all up and moving on to my next professional adventure come June.

One of my largest critiques of TFA is that it focuses on the experiences of the teachers over that of students, and I realize I have done just that here. Still, after two years of teaching, I firmly believe that NOT “Teaching for America” was the best move for me professionally, and certainly was the best service to TFA’s supposed mission that “one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.”

Gene V Glass
National Education Policy Center
Arizona State University

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nation's Largest Virtual Charter School Provider Sued Over Stock Deals

I have made no secret here about my skepticism of full-time online education for elementary- and secondary-age students. My skepticism has done nothing to stem the on-rushing tide of virtual charters that are spreading across the nation like a bad case of impetigo. The charter school movement is so leery of having their brand besmirched that they are increasingly trying to distance themselves from the virtual charter industry. Colorado Virtual Academy was recently in such bad shape performance-wise that they revealed plans to transfer low scoring students to a sister virtual charter with a different name so as to rescue the name of Colorado Virtual Academy. So even a miserable virtual charter is attempting to distance itself from itself.

At the top of the heap of suspect virtual charter school providers sits K12 Inc. of Herndon, Virginia. K12 Inc has been run since its inception by Ron Packard, a former banker with no record of having ever managed a successful education venture. K12 Inc currently operates in more than 30 states with more than 100,000 students. Of course, enrollment figures are a moving target since the turnover in enrolled students in a particular grade can reach almost 100% in a single year.

Now a new federal lawsuit accuses the K12 Inc. of reporting overly positive public statements during 2013 and that K12 CEO Ron Packard, who resigned in January, sold millions of dollars of LRN stock just prior to the true story of K12 Inc's poor performance becoming public knowledge. Packard made almost $6.5 million in the stock deals. Later after company targets for enrollments and revenues were hugely missed, K12 Inc stock fell by almost 40%. Lawyers for K12 Inc deny very hint of wrong doing. Previously, K12 Inc had settled with a state teachers retirement system that claimed that K12 Inc had reported misleading information resulting in a large loss for the retirement system. That payout to the retirement system approached $7 million.

If Americans want public education to be privatized, then they must be prepared to deal with what occasionally happens in private companies.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

So Who Needs Teacher Training? Surely Not College Professors.

Proponents of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) hold as an article of faith that a K-12 teacher can be properly trained in five or fewer weeks. After all, doesn't Teach for America train them in that amount of time and they all do fabulously well? So media hype would have us believe. Arizona's Governor Brewer must not have drunk her portion of the Teach For America Kool-Aid because she just line-item vetoed a half million dollars out of the 2014-15 state budget that had been earmarked for TFA. Why the Arizona legislature was trying to give $500,000 to its department of education that would subsequently give it to TFA is a story for another day. Perhaps the intention was to help cover Wendy Kopp's salary, which is reported to be in the vicinity of $500,000 annually.

Charter school companies also buy into the myth that K-12 teachers need no special training; all they need is a mastery of the subject they teach. BASIS charter schools – incredibly ranked twice in the top 10 high schools in the America by US News and World Report – doesn't just ridicule "ed school trained teachers" in its sales pitches, it refers to its own teachers as "subject specialists." (More on this some day.) Surely the clearest proof that "ed school training" of teachers is not just a waste but an abomination is the fact that "teachers" at grades 13-16 (Freshmen through Senior years of college) need no training at all. They are "subject specialists" and, like BASIS instructors, that is enough.

As in so many respects, the comparison between Grade 12 and Grade 13 in the American education system can be very revealing about some policy issues. If subject specialists are effective and competent teachers at Grades 13-16 without any "ed school training" whatsoever, then why insist on "ed school training" of teachers for Grades K-12? Why? Because subject specialists at Grades 13-16 are NOT effective and competent teachers. Indeed, as a matter of probability, your chances of encountering an awful college professor are many times greater than your chances of encountering an awful K-12 "ed school trained" teacher.

A personal reflection: Though I attended elementary and secondary school starting some 70 years ago, I can scarcely recall two teachers out of about 50 whom I would regard as not competent or very ineffective – and one became my future father-in-law, I must report without prejudice. And yet, through seven years of university study and having taught for 50 years myself, I can confidently say that ineffective, untrained subject specialists were hardly rare. Indeed, the worst teaching I was ever subjected to and much of the worst teaching I have ever committed was done by college professors.

TFA & charter school teachers are not trained in ed schools.
College professors are not trained in ed schools.
Therefore, TFA & charter school teachers are as effective as college professors.
This syllogism suffers from an undistributed middle and begs the question that college subject matter specialists are good teachers. Many of them are not. Nor are many TFA and charter school subject matter specialists.
In the spirit of hard-nosed quantitative research, I just checked the student ratings of the teachers in my high school (1955-58) and the professors in my college (1958-61) and the high school teachers beat the college professors.

For more on "Myth 14.Subject matter knowledge is the most important asset a teacher can possess," see 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Who's More Productive, America's Public Schools or the CATO Institute?

Andrew Coulson is affiliated with the Koch Borthers founded CATO Institute. He never tires of trying to demonstrate that America's public schools continue to cost more year-in and year-out but they don't produce more. Richard Rothstein pretty much destroyed that argument in 1995. But Coulson persists.

Coulson's latest attempt to embarrass public education finds him graphing the rise in K-12 education spending over a 40-year span against the rise in SAT scores across the same time interval for all 50 states.

Now Coulson corrects expenditures for inflation, as he should, and further corrects the SAT trend line for variables reflecting participation rates and demographic changes. He doesn't have a measure of the percentages of children entering public education over the years who are just learning English (arguably the most important variable to control for), but let's cut him some slack. Per pupil expenditure goes up; the adjusted SAT scores don't, according to Coulson. Left unstated is the implication that CATO-backed reforms of charter schools, vouchers and every other free-enterprise reform you can think of has scientific justification.

But what about the productivity of Coulson's education policy unit at CATO? What if we graphed CATO expenditures per year against number of education policy studies coming our of CATO each year. Behold! The graph.

It looks to me like CATO is spending more and more of the Koch brothers money without getting any significant increase in the amount of policy research coming out of the think tank. Of course, I haven't adjusted the productivity measure for Number of Pages in the reports or for Number of Great Ideas coming out of the unit, but I plan to put my Fliegenbeinenzählen unit on that job soon.

Now Coulson would likely object to this kind of quantitative casuistry. "Not fair!", he might say. "You can't judge the work of me and my colleagues by such simple-minded counts." "We here at CATO do a lot more than just turn out policy research. We hold conferences. We appear on television. And some of our researchers were on maternity leave the last two years, and you haven't corrected for that."

Yes, you're correct, Mr. Coulson. I haven't taken those things into consideration. Reality actually is a lot more complicated than just throwing up a bunch of numbers and hoping that some gullible soul will believe them.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Best high schools in America? Or worst journalism in America?

Nota bene: This is not an April Fool's joke. I only wish it were.

U.S. News & World Report loves to rank everything. It sells.

Their most recent ranking of high schools shows two Arizona charter schools in the top ten in the nation: BASIS Tucson (#2) and BASIS Scottsdale (#5). As always, the back story is more interesting than the numbers.

The BASIS charter schools – about a dozen of them, mostly in Arizona but a couple outside, like in San Antonio – are the brainchild of Michael and Olga Block. Michael is a former free-market economist from the University of Arizona. BASIS schools have made their reputation by ruthless screening of all applicants to insure that no special needs or English language learners make the cut and repeated testing until the wheat is separated from the chaff. BASIS Tucson advertises itself thus: "BASIS Tucson uses an accelerated curriculum that includes Advanced Placement courses in subjects ranging from calculus to music theory."

The great irony with BASIS Scottsdale is that the Blocks first chose to create it as a private schools with tuition in the $20,000 a year range, but when only 7 students had signed up they quickly converted to a charter school to collect the guaranteed $6,000 a year from the state – quite a failure out there in the free market. As a charter school, BASIS Scottsdale has attracted a student body that is 40% Asian.

And now U.S. News & World Report crowns BASIS Tucson & BASIS Scottsdale in the top 5 high schools in the nation. One need not dig deeply to discover that the recent graduating class of Basis Tucson & BASIS Scottsdale COMBINED is 44 students! I'm not kidding, 23 and 21 students, respectively. [p.s. I rarely resort to typography in search of emphasis, but extraordinary stupidity calls for extraordinary measures.]

What in the world is U.S. News thinking of? This mindless bean counting is reaching the limits of the absurd.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Virtual Charles Barkley

How is it that sometimes the subtlest thing can reveal a great truth?

It's March Madness season and those ubiquitous basketball analysts panels are explaining every turnover and rebound. Charles Barkley – former Auburn University and Philadelphia/Phoenix NBA star -- is noted for candor and straightforward honesty.

Last week, Barkley was interviewing the coach of a Sweet Sixteen team -- who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty -- when Barkley joked that he had one year of NCAA eligibility remaining, because he left college early to join the NBA.

Coach: "Sure, I've got a scholarship for you. You can come play for me. And we'll give you all your classes online!"

So much for the "Scholar/Athlete" branding that the money-grubbing universities like to boast about.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Remarks at the Launch of "50 Myths & Lies ..."

On Saturday, March 22, 2014, the edXchange initiative at the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education at Arizona State University held a public meeting at which the authors of 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools presented a preview of their new contribution to the debate on education reform. Something close to 150 citizens with an intense interest in the fate of our nation’s public school system were in attendance. Each of the 21 co-authors of 50 Myths & Lies spoke briefly about their contribution to the volume. A stimulating audience participation session followed the presentations. What follows are my remarks at the meeting. I spoke first and attempted to provide a bit of context for the group’s attempt to dispel the 50 myths and lies.

One narrative prominent these days – the Crisis Narrative – holds that our nation is at risk because our children are dumber than Finland, because our teachers are tools of greedy unions, because incompetent “ed school” trained administrators are incapable of delivering first-rate education.
And – this narrative goes on – what public education needs is total reform: higher standards, more tests, brighter teachers uncorrupted by the wishy washy “education school” ideologies, and above all, choice and competition. This narrative serves a set of private interests that want to reform our schools.
About ten years ago, Rupert Murdoch – the billionaire owner of Fox News – called public education a “$600 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” He might have more honestly said, “Public education is a half trillion dollar plum waiting to be picked.” Here’s one of the pickers: K12 Inc is a profit-making corporation traded on the NYSE that supplies online virtual education to about 100,000 children nationwide – 5,000 of them here in Arizona. Its revenues exceed ¾ of a billion dollars annually and its CEO, a former banker, received total compensation last year of more than $1.5 million. All of their revenue comes from state-level charter school programs. To say that K12 Inc is operating a substandard education factory is to give them more credit than they deserve.

Now this Crisis Narrative of devastation and salvation by free enterprise has created its own mythology. “We need more tests to keep incompetent kids from being promoted.” “School uniforms will close the achievement gap.” “Teachers are all-important in a child’s development; that’s why we should fire the bad ones immediately based on their students’ test scores and without due process.”

The purveyors of the mythology have been created by corporations and ideological interests that stand to gain from the coming great reformation. Enter the Koch brothers, Eli Broad, the Kaufmanns, Bill Gates, and their richly endowed ilk. In 2011 alone, the Koch Brothers donated $24 million to support free-market and libertarian think tanks and academic centers.
The think tanks’ mission is to get us all to believe that public education has failed and private, profit-making corporations hold the solution to restoring America to glory. Corporations enter into cozy relationships with politicians. Legislatures pass laws that create markets for private companies. This is called “crony capitalism” but its benefactors call it “free enterprise.” It’s the predominant mode of doing business in America today.
The action arm of the private corporations is known as ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is funded by right-wing foundations and private companies – the Walton family, the Koch brothers, K12 Inc. ALEC takes state legislators on fancy golf holidays to the Caribbean and hands them drafts of bills that they want introduced back home: charter school bills, assessment & testing bills, private prisons bills, bills about the sale of tobacco and alcohol. In 2012, 1,000 ALEC-written bills were introduced into state legislatures and 100 became law. Twenty-two current or former members of the AZ legislature are members of ALEC – all Republicans, including Governor Brewer. Jonathan Butcher of Phoenix’s own Goldwater Institute is co-chair of the ALEC Education Task Force – on which committee he is the only person with absolute veto power over any recommendation emanating from the committee. (Butcher was interviewed on last night’s [March 21] local news applauding the Arizona Supreme Court approval of vouchers, i.e., Empowerment Scholarships. If you think the long arm of the Koch brothers will never reach down into your life here in Phoenix, Arizona, then please think again. [On the evening of March 22, '14, a large group of Arizona Republican legislators was entertained at Donovan's steak hosted by ALEC and a group of lobbyists. Donovan's entrĂ©es easily top $50; not the kind of place that legislators hang out at when on their own dime.]

This is democracy in America today. Ever since the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Citizens United, corporations have free speech just like individual citizens and money is the same as speech. It’s just that some people speak so much louder than others.

The counter to the narrative of crisis and free enterprise is weak. You see it before you – a couple of old broken down academics who never asked for these fights, and a group of fresh, young PhDs who planned on a career in research only to discover that they have stepped into a political battleground.

Our counter narrative doesn’t yet have a name. Call it the Democracy Narrative or the Truth is Stronger than Fiction Narrative. Our narrative is rooted in fact and research. We celebrate the enormous accomplishments of American public education. The 50 Myths book is dedicated “To our nation’s teachers, often underpaid and underappreciated, expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools, who still have managed to make our public schools the path to self-fulfillment for generations of Americans.”

Monday, March 17, 2014

When is a remedial course not really a remedial course?

On a recent visit to Massachusetts, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told a Boston Globe reporter that 40% of the state's high school graduates need remediation when they reach college. Now, Massachusetts is one of the highest scoring states in the U.S. and exceeds most nation's in international assessments. So we can infer that Duncan believes that the majority of high school grads in most U.S. states need remediation when they enter postsecondary education. Carol Burris did a bit of arithmetic and estimated that substantially fewer than 20% of the college students in Massachusetts take a remedial course in college. She rendered no judgment on whether these students actually needed a remedial course.

How could Duncan be so far off? Clearly, Duncan wishes to see a half-full glass as being three-quarters empty, or else there is no thirst for his remedies for a failing public school system. That he has never been a teacher at any level in the nation's education system might excuse his ludicrous misperception of what is actually happening out there in the schools.

Every educator knows that "remediation" is a constant complaint lodged by teachers at Level X against teachers at level X — 1. First grade teachers blame Kindergarten teachers for not preparing the children, and second grade teachers blame the first grade teachers in turn. "Primary teachers have intermediate teachers upon their backs to bite 'em; and intermediate teachers have secondary teachers, and so on ad infinitum.

These criticisms lodged against teachers at the lower level are largely baseless and self-serving. Consider the case of the University of Oregon back in the 1970s. A large percentage of incoming high school grads were being designated "in need of remedial math" based on their scores on a math entrance test. They were required to take Math 050 which would not count towards graduation. The Oregon Legislature got wind of what was happening and said, "We're not paying for professors at U of O to teach high school subjects." Presto changeo! Math 050 was immediately changed to Math 100 and the flow of money from the Legislature to the university proceeded unabated.

We all love to call each other "incompetent." Arne Duncan does a lot of such name calling. It just goes to show you that a lot of incompetence is going around.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
University of Colorado Boulder

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Myth 8. Want to find the best high schools in America? Ask Newsweek or U.S. News.

The print media regularly mine gold. Rank anything from best to worst and some market niche is going to spend money to get to the results. The most livable cities in the U.S.? Minot, North Dakota and Dalhart, Texas, rank #1 and #2. Never mind that the criteria are some crazy combination of “Car thefts per 1,000 people” and “Days per year without gale force winds.” The citizens of North Dakota and the Texas panhandle will fall over themselves to buy the magazine and the local newspapers will feature the good news.

Who doesn’t love to see who’s number one? It was only a matter of time until Newsweek and U.S. News ranked high schools. Of course, separating the wheat from the chaff proves not to be as simple when dealing with tens of thousands of high schools that differ in a multitude of ways.

Newsweek is particularly inept. It sent its survey to 5,000 schools; about half returned filled out forms. The nation has about 20,000 high schools. So maybe the ones who didn’t respond had something to hide and wouldn’t be in the highest echelon anyway, so no harm done . . . maybe. Newsweek asked for self-reports of six statistical indices: graduation rate (weighted 25% of the total score); college acceptance rate (25%); SAT/ACT average (10%); advanced placement/International Baccalaureate/Advanced International Certificate of Education (AP/IB/AICE) tests per student (25%); AP/IB/AICE (10%); and percent students enrolled in an AP/IB/AICE course (5%).

It’s obvious that the Newsweek variables will rank schools by wealth, ethnicity, and exclusivity – not by how well they teach and care for students’ needs.

Newsweek rankings serve well people who want to know where the “right kind” of people enroll their children. Newsweek-like rankings produced by state education departments are used by Realtors more than any other audience. Realtors are enjoined by law from discussing racial composition of neighborhoods with their clients, but school test scores do the job of directing home buyers to privileged neighborhoods.

U.S. News & World Report continues to make a fortune from annual publications of college, grad school, and public school rankings. U.S. News does a better job of finding the “best” high schools than Newsweek, that is, if being more statistically sophisticated is “better.”

Consider an example that should give any objective individual pause in interpreting the hoax associated with U.S. News high school rankings. BASIS Schools is an Arizona-based charter school company with 10 campuses in Arizona and plans to open more. It announces proudly on its website that its “campuses are ranked in the top ten in the nation by Newsweek, The Washington Post, and U.S. News & World Report.”. Top ten! But to all who know BASIS Schools firsthand, the reality is anything but “top ten.” Although a typical BASIS school starts off with hundreds of students in elementary grades, the number who survive the gauntlet of tests and requirements for promotion, and make it to middle school and high school, is hugely reduced. Special-needs students need not even attempt the required admissions essay. After the relentless shifting and winnowing of wheat from chaff, fewer than 2 dozen students were around at graduation day in one of Basis’s featured charter schools. Just about any large suburban high school in America could collect a few dozen graduates who aced their AP courses and topped their SATs. But measures like “percent graduates accepted to college” make schools like BASIS appear to be in the top ten. There is much less to these ratings than meets the eye.

U.S. News also rakes in the dough with its annual rankings of undergraduate and graduate schools in America. In the rankings of graduate programs in Education released just this past week, there were a couple of surprises. Foremost was the appearance at the top of the list – the #1 ranked graduate program in Education in the U.S. – of Johns Hopkins University. Now Johns Hopkins is a wonderful university. If I had an incurable disease – and as a matter of fact I just happen to – I would want to know someone there. But, Johns Hopkins never appeared in the U.S. News ranking of Education grad schools in the past 20 years until a few years ago. And, in fact, when my major professor, Julian C. Stanley, left Wisconsin in 1967 and went to Johns Hopkins, they had just abolished their Education Department. It only was resuscitated in 2007 as the Johns Hopkins School of Education. Now when I asked my colleagues if they knew anybody on the faculty at the Johns Hopkins School of Education – forgive me – they were as much in the dark as I am. In fact, the only thing apparently remarkable about the faculty of the School is the number of joint appointments with the medical school and other departments in the health professions. And this might be the reason behind Johns Hopkins’s sudden remarkable appearance at the top of the U.S. News best Education graduate schools list. It has long been known that medical schools and agriculture schools need only to open the tap and federal money for research and training flows in torrents – and the U. S. News rankings depend heavily on things like “Research dollars per faculty member.” Hopkins's ed school has another remarkable statistic: doctoral students per faculty member ratio is 0.3. If I read that correctly, that means that there are three faculty members for every doctoral student! Talk about personal attention, or are we talking about a graduate program with hardy any doctoral students? In short, pretty much just a Masters program.

The ascendancy of Johns Hopkins to preeminence in Education is remarkable in another respect. U.S. News also ranks graduate programs in 10 specialty areas: Curriculum, Ed Admin, Ed Policy, Ed Psych, Elementary Ed, Secondary Ed, Higher Ed, Special Ed, Counseling, and Vocational Ed. Johns Hopkins does not rank in the top 10 programs in any of these 10 specialties. What then is it #1 in? Well, the specialty rankings are not based on statistical indicators, which largely hide more than they reveal. The speciality rankings are based on reputation as seen by deans and associate deans around the nation. And on the street, professionals know that these reputation rankings tell the true story about a graduate program.

As much as we all love these rankings, they clearly need to be taken with a grain of salt, or an entire salt lick.

David Berliner and I have joined with 15 bright young PhDs to expose 50 of the myths & lies that are threatening our nation’s public schools. 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools is published by Teachers College Press at Columbia University, a university with a truly great college of education.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
University of Colorado Boulder

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Myth #51 The Common Core will save America.

When David Berliner and I and our young Associates pulled together the 50 myths and lies that threaten America's public schools, we ignored the Common Core. We didn't forget about it. Who could? It was just that a sense of ennui overtook us and we could not bear to revisit the same dreadful collection of misguided ideas that has tormented educators for decades. After all, Arizona had just decided to scrap AIMS (the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) because it and its standards had failed to truly make the state's children college and career ready. And AIMS was nothing but a confection of an earlier group of bureaucrats and politicians who decided in the early 1990s that the standards in place then had failed.
Older standards have newer standards
Upon their backs to bite 'em
But newer standards have newer still
And so on ad infinitum.
So you must forgive us if addressing the Common Core was simply too much to bear.
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire.
Enough with the poetry!

Now Sherman Dorn did an excellent job of dispelling a host of myths about the Common Core a year ago on his blog. (Since Sherman was publishing his thoughts on March 17, 2013, he labeled the myths "blarney.") Here is some of the blarney about the Common Core that Sherman dispelled:

  • "The Common Core standards will dramatically improve instruction/the Common Core standards will bring new, more authentic forms of assessment."
  • "The Common Core will significantly equalize educational opportunities by setting common expectations of what students should learn."
  • "The Common Core will block curricular innovation by standardizing all curriculum."
  • "The Common Core is an attempt to cram corporate-friendly reform down everyone’s throats."
Sherman implied support for – or at least consent with – the Common Core when he wrote:
  • "The economic reasons one might make for a common curriculum are about general productivity, and most of that will be about internal markets, not exports."
  • "If corporations had somehow wanted to control schools indirectly through national standards, you would have thought that science would be a key target, and yet it has taken several years to get to the current draft state of the standards, and the draft standards do not look very corporate-y to me."
  • "...there is nothing automatic that ties a specific instructional method to a curriculum framework. Likewise, there is nothing automatic that ties a specific set of assessments to a curriculum framework. California and Kentucky experimented with performance-based assessment more than two decades ago with the blessing of 'it’s okay to teach to the test if the test is good enough' advocate Lauren Resnick, long before either the first wave of state curriculum standard writing or the Common Core."
He ended his critique of the Common Core mythology thus: "A set of common curricular standards are just that — a set of common nominal expectations that somewhat overlaps current practices. The vast majority of what is good or bad in a school cannot be related to them. I wish we’d stop hearing such blarney about the Common Core today and forever more." But I left Sherman's page with a sense that perhaps he was a bit too forgiving of an effort from which I see no good emanating. He viewed them then as largely benign. I can't agree. (Incidentally, if Sherman wishes to respond to this posting, perhaps on March 17, 2014, I will happily post his thoughts here.)

A number of things are so depressing about the Common Core. First, the degree to which my academic colleagues and teachers are complicit in creating the standards is troubling. With the promise of building a new future for American education and returning the U.S. to #1 in the world and closing the achievement gap, educators will flock to week-end committee meetings to write down the new standards in literacy and math and science that will guide our public schools into the future. (Arnie Duncan actually believes that the Common Core will close the achievement gap.) The rain men who make these promises are either too naive or too inexperienced or too smitten with their visions of omnipotence to understand that they themselves are merely tools of corporate and political interests.

Here is the first point on which Sherman and I see things somewhat differently. Sherman says that the Common Core doesn't look that "corporate-y to me." He's right, if by "corporate" one means big-C Corporate: Micro$oft, ConAgra, Ford Motors. The Common Core would not produce workers "job ready" even for Wal*Mart. But the Common Core is all about small-c corporate. There are small-c corporations that write the tests – oh, yes, you can't have standards without tests we are told – and then publish the textbooks aligned to the tests so that everyone can achieve the Common Core standards. In other words, behold Pearson, the British multi-national conglomerate currently gobbling up hundreds of millions of U.S. education dollars. Pearson had net earnings of more than $1.5 Billion in 2013. One small database sold to the North Carolina education department by Pearson – and one that North Carolina claims is defective – cost the state $8 Million. Pearson is not Micro$oft, but it is plenty big enough to buy itself politicians and lobbyists who can influence the future of America's schools.

Secondly, there was an air of insouciance in Sherman's quasi-defense of the Common Core: What's wrong with a bunch of educators getting together and dreaming about the schools of the future (and writing their dreams down for the rest of us to follow)? All the states have standards already, and there never is much local control anyway.

Well, there's a lot wrong with the Common Core. There will be no "authentic assessment" aligned with the Common Core standards; it costs too much. And reading and math will dominate because it is believed they can be assessed by paper-and-pencil and scored by computer. And test preparation in reading and math will drive out art and music and phys ed and even science and social studies. And no one dare teach a unit on wealth inequality or the destruction of the labor unions or the evils of fast food because it's not in the Common Core for obvious reasons.

And in the end, teachers will be further de-skilled and infantilized and told that curriculum is something you download from the government instead of something you create out of your own understanding of your students’ needs and passions and your sense of opportunity.

The Common Core is something you get when a President has so little knowledge of education that he chooses a Secretary of Education from among the guys in the pick-up basketball game at the Y.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
University of Colorado Boulder