Common Core Questions

So many stories this week including this excellent piece by Joanna Weiss in the Boston Globe. The piece is entitled "PARCC, panic and the perils of the new math", just in case the story gets moved later and the link breaks. Take a look at the article and the actual problem taken from a 5th grade PARCC exam. Ms. Weiss chronicles her reaction, "Stage one: Panic. “Area model what-huh?” Stage two: Frustration. Can’t a poor kid just do long division and be done? Stage three: Extrapolation. Is this the Common Core? The future of education? To the barricades!". As she goes on to say about "new math": "It’s part of a broader philosophy that the Common Core embraces: that kids should know not just the standard algorithms, but the concepts behind them. It’s not just whether you can do long division; it’s do you get long division? Can you explain it in words?".  The author asks the most important question, "So PARCC raises a different philosophical question: What should a test be testing? If you understand what division does, how much more do you need to know? ". The Common Core critic in the article points to the fact that straightforward questions make things more fair. Ms Weiss asks "...Jeff Nellhaus, PARCC’s chief of assessment, why it was on the test." and is told that it isn't boring, makes the kids think, and gets them engaged. How many of you agree with those assertions? The author says, "Well, yes, but so does a classic word problem, the kind that doesn’t require a whole new vocabulary. I’m all for encouraging students to think rather than simply regurgitate formulas. But the developers of PARCC need to be careful, and not just because a new-math zinger can scuttle political support for a test that’s largely quite good.". I was left to wonder why about who is in charge of determining what problems reflect the Common Core standard. As we know with books, the standards don't seem to be set by teachers.

Ms. Weiss makes a great point to the expert's rather lame justification. Now remember how Common Core started out, "The Common Core was designed to elevate teaching and learning.". It would toughen up the testing and some "soccer moms" might be upset to find their kids weren't quite so smart and "Duncan has repeatedly said the new Core-aligned standardized tests — being designed by two multistate consortia with some $350 million in federal money — would be light years ahead of the current tests.". We're now years out from those remarks and kinks in the system should be ironed out; those sorts of problems have fueled the backlash against Common Core and has put the supporters on the defensive. You can usually find a recent article of people complaining about Common Core problems--problems that are being attributed to Common Core and as this Washington Post piece notes, "Defenders of the standards have had considerable success convincing the public that those who reject them do so because they oppose education reform, are poorly informed, are under union thumbs, or don’t want to face the fact that their kids aren’t as smart as they thought they were.".

So now think about these questions, some mentioned in the article:

  1. Why is this question on a test? Traditional word problems work just fine for higher order thinking and I doubt many (if any) felt "engaged" by the problem.
  2. Does getting the question wrong indicate problems in the student's understanding of math? It doesn't seem to fairly assess a student's math knowledge. So why are education professionals holding it up as worthy test question?
  3. Should Common Core tests be used to judge teacher performance when some of the  garbage content is not "basic"?
  4. Might teachers waste valuable class time prepping for these types of "engaging" questions rather than concentrating on the basics?
  5. Who is driving the content based on the standards, teachers or corporations? And how much is the content shaped/influenced by teachers who are actively teaching?

Some blame teachers for 4 ways to subtract, area models, and other mathematical junk because Common Core is just a set of standards to guide the teacher--the teacher decides what is taught and how it is taught. But note that a teacher who teaches who exercises their judgement and avoids the area model in favor of the traditional "old school" methods will have students dropping test points even if  they understand how to do division; and if teacher performance is tied to that then the teacher will need to spend valuable time covering that garbage. PARCC's chief of assessment has said that the question is designed to measure a Common Core standard. This is a big part of the problem--Common Core should be measuring basics but the standards, as interpreted by an "expert" fly in the face of common sense. This sort Common Core test seems ridiculous . So the crazy math problems are part of Common Core and much of the ire should be directed at those companies creating the content (textbooks/resources/tests) getting branded as Common Core.

If we want to make this system work why not consider a database of questions broken down by grade level and difficulty level? So, making up some numbers for an example: suppose each grade has 500 problems with 100 problems at each of 5 levels of difficulty. The problems have been assembled by teachers and approved to go into the national database. A student would know the types of problems that would occur on the exam. A computer test would make up a test of 50 problems drawn from the 500 problems--randomized (both problems and numbers in the problem) for each student so that cheating is more difficult. The number of problems from each difficulty level would be decided ahead of time. The problems making up each level would be tweaked each year to retire some problems and introduce others. The problems in the database would be widely disseminated through PDFs and/or websites that let students access the content (create a random test/download x problems with difficulty y, etc). Knowing the potential problems they could encounter lets

  1. better students work ahead
  2. students out of school for extended periods of time keep working on content they need
  3. ESL (English-as-a-second-language) learners to study the word problems so that vocabulary/ grammar/ idioms that might prevent them from understanding the question are understood before the test.

In essence, look to create a transparent testing process and then insist on accountability. Now that's a touchy subject best left for each state to decide. With respect to students it could mean a very poor grade would impact their course (no A or forced to repeat the course) and potentially even the ability to graduate. But accountability needs to be there for teachers, too whether it affects their pay raise, ability to teach a specific class, or in extreme cases getting their license renewed.

Here are some stories that caught my eye over the past week.

  • So many test results have come out. Jim Clark of the Sierra Sun has an excellent column explaining Common Core results and the "games" states play: "Common Core charters two assessment consortiums: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers (“PARCC”) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (“SBAC”). States can take their choice.PARCC administered tests last spring in 10 states. The consortium’s mushy scoring system evaluates “expectations”; students score “below,” “nearly meets” or “meets/exceeds.”As reported in the New York Times, Ohio reported two thirds of its students are proficient in math and English; Massachusetts, a traditionally strong performer, reported only about half its students are proficient; and Illinois reported only one third proficient. What happened? (Enter, center stage, politically correct politicians) Ohio, California and North Carolina regarded “nearly meets and “meets/exceeds” as proficient. Massachusetts and Illinois only counted “meets or exceeds” as proficient.""
  • Washington state has released preliminary data, according to Connecticut News Blogs, "Only 29 percent of Washington High School students passed the SBAC math test. Put another way, more than 50,000 Juniors failed to pass this unreliable and unfair SBAC test.". New Jersey also has some splainin to do. According to NorthJersey.com, "A majority of students across New Jersey in all grade levels failed to meet expectations in math, and no more than 52 percent of them in any grade level met them in English.". NJTV reports, "Education Commissioner David Hespe says statewide percentages for PARCC math results are the most troublesome. More than half of the students tested failed to meet expectations or grade level. “For example, one third of our students – not yet on track – in geometry and that really causes some concern because that is unusual,” said Hespe.". Meanwhile, The Town Talk says "About 30 to 40 percent of Louisiana students showed a “mastery” command of English and math skills, according to state data.". Over at MyFoxBoston we learn, "The figures show 60 percent of students who took PARCC in grades three through eight met expectations in the English Language portion of the test, and 52 percent met expectations in math.". Now that's disturbing: Massachusetts is typically one of the best states in the US for education. But take a look at the mind shattering number from Fresno, California. From the Fresno Bee, "Only 2 percent of Fresno Unified students are considered college ready...Fresno Unified officials say the alarmingly low number is skewed because this is the first year the Common Core standards are a factor, but even before then Fresno Unified lagged far behind the state average....In 2011 ...Fresno Unified had 11 percent ready for college English and only 4 percent ready for math...Trustee Carol Mills said the number doesn’t correlate with other factors the district uses to determine if a student is “college ready.” For example: nearly 50 percent of Fresno Unified graduates completed A-G requirements –basic high school courses students need to pass before college....The Data Dashboard also yielded other alarming statistics, including the fact that 58 percent of students had a D or an F on their report card last school year. There also are wide achievement gaps among minority students....Graduation rates, however, have increased in recent years, with nearly 82 percent of students graduating on time.". Unbelievable.
  • If you read enough of those reports you see all sorts of attempts to make the numbers look better (see Jim Clark) or to minimize their importance. So how do you make the pile smell even better? The Bluegrass Institute has the answer with two pieces to look at, because the second is not so clear when you read it. The first piece explains, "...in some years during the past decade, more than 40 percent of Kentucky’s high-school graduates needed non-credit remedial course in one or more areas of English, math or reading. So, what’s happening? Dreamers in the bureaucracy are lowering the rim by getting rid of remedial classes.They wistfully think all will be well if these students, who are well behind, get placed in so-called “accelerated courses” – credit-bearing classes that promise to catch them up with their better-prepared peers. It’s a fanciful expectation that Robert King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, even admitted on Oct. 6 to the state Board of Education that professors in the university system are unhappy about.". So the officials entrusted to educate the students are attempting to lower the rim to make high school easier. The second piece explains the backlash from the local college system, "These department heads really took King to the woodshed for his obviously impractical ideas. A few quotes from the letter make it obvious that the math troops are really unhappy....“Adoption of the default placement model described in the Guiding Principles would indicate to the K-12 community that the postsecondary system no longer adheres to even these minimal standards for college readiness, let alone the more rigorous standards of the KCAS.”...“The impact of the co‐requisite model as a statewide standard will be particularly destructive in mathematics because students will no longer be held accountable by the postsecondary system for learning any algebra, not even the most basic algebra universally regarded as essential for college readiness in mathematics.”.....In closing, I must point out that critics of the Common Core State Standards predicted a dumbing down of college standards as an inevitable consequence of the adoption of what former Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday repeatedly admitted (such as here) were only “minimum” standards. After all, standards that omit high school trigonometry and pre-calculus are not going to get many kids ready for real college work. But, if the new college standard won’t even require high school mastery of algebra, we have a real problem.Clearly, the answer isn’t to dumb down the standards in Kentucky’s colleges. The real fix is to improve the quality of what comes out of Kentucky’s high schools." Thank goodness some people in Kentucky are not letting education officials destroy their state's education system. That would be a sad irony.
  • Signs of the Times with a fascinating look at the illegal overthrow of Hawaii. The article has a two part video on the issue as well. I would venture to say the vast majority of Americans are unfamiliar with the history of Hawaii.
  • Contra Costa Times on how UC Berkely aroused the ire of its students by not letting one of its adjunct teachers (and highest rated teacher) continue teaching. Sad.
  • Signs of the Times again with the following story, "A Gillett, Wisconsin, high school school teacher went to the hospital after a group of students filled his soda with cleaning solution, police say. On Oct. 20, the Gillett Secondary School teacher noticed a strange smell coming from his bottle after he had left it unattended, Fox 11 News reports....While the teacher had no symptoms, he decided to admit himself to the hospital as a precaution....It was later discovered that two teenagers, a 16-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl, had put the solution into the teacher's drink. They reportedly told the police that they poured a small amount of the cleaning solution into the teacher's soda as a prank....The school district is still working to determine the correct disciplinary action". 
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has, according to Infowars, determined, "...using the term “politically correct” as a pejorative is a politically incorrect “microaggression”. A campaign entitled Just Words which seeks to “raise awareness of microaggressions and their impact” asserts that the terms “politically correct” and “PC” have “become a way to deflect, [and say] that people are being too ‘sensitive’ and police language.”. They have some conclusions on other words, too.
  • RT.com on "...administrators at a school district outside Boise, Idaho voted earlier this year to purchase four rifles, 2,000 rounds of ammunition, and to train some staff to shoot".
  • An article I just discovered in Psychology Today, which was written last month, talks about declining student resilience: "Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Recent examples mentioned .... two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them....Faculty at the meetings noted that students’ emotional fragility has become a serious problem when it comes to grading. Some said they had grown afraid to give low grades for poor performance, because of the subsequent emotional crises they would have to deal with in their offices. Many students, they said, now view a C, or sometimes even a B, as failure, and they interpret such “failure” as the end of the world. Faculty also noted an increased tendency for students to blame them (the faculty) for low grades—they weren’t explicit enough in telling the students just what the test would cover or just what would distinguish a good paper from a bad one. They described an increased tendency to see a poor grade as reason to complain rather than as reason to study more, or more effectively."

PEMDAS: notes

PEMDAS

As I mentioned last post, I've been interacting with some middle school students. PEMDAS has been an important topic. I've put together some brief notes, shown above, that could form the basis of a lesson: warm up problems (which could then be the basis of discussion), teaching points, and then some more difficult problems involving PEMDAS, The solutions are at the end. The level of difficulty is more towards high school school students or an "honors" course at the middle school level. I've created a new  page called The Basics where you can download the PDF. I will post other introductory material there as needed. The Basics link is located on the sidebar, too.

Here are some stories that caught my eye this week:

  • Zero Hedge has commentary on a provocative piece in the The Economist magazine: "MICHAEL WANG, a young Californian, came second in his class of 1,002 students; his ACT score was 36, the maximum possible; he sang at Barack Obama’s inauguration; he got third place in a national piano contest; he was in the top 150 of a national maths competition; he was in several national debating-competition finals. But when it came to his university application he faced a serious disappointment for the first time in his glittering career. He was rejected by six of the seven Ivy League colleges to which he applied.". The article has the nice quote from, "...Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts on this subject: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discrimination on the basis of race.”". So true; but as private institutions they can do what they want. They are, however, undermining the prestige of their school. The loss of confidence in quality, combined with the cost of a US college education doesn't bode well for the future of US college education.
  • Payson Roundup wants to know why math scores of Arizona students have "plunged". According to the article, "Arizona students are worse in math than students in 33 other states according to data provided by the Nations Report Card. Arizona is not the only state that is struggling with proficiency in mathematics; the entire United States has poor mathematic proficiency scores. The National Assessment of Educational Process found that 7 out of 10 students in the U.S. scored at or above basic level in mathematics in 2013."
  • Huffington Post's Peter Greene delivers a verbal smack-down to a nonsensical Politico article. Nice job Mr. Greene!
  • The Atlantic has a piece on "The Anti-Free Speech Movement at UCLA". From the beginning of the article, "A half-century ago, student activists at the University of California clashed with administrators during the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, a series of events that would greatly expand free-speech rights of people at public colleges and universities.Today, activists at UCLA are demanding that administrators punish some of their fellow students for expressive behavior that is clearly protected by the First Amendment.". The article dishes out some blame, too: " The San Francisco Chronicle put it this way: “Regent Dick Blum said his wife, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., ‘is prepared to be critical of this university’ unless UC not only tackles anti-Jewish bigotry but also makes clear that perpetrators will be punished.” The lawyer Ken White wrote that “Blum threatened that his wife … would interfere and make trouble if the Regents didn’t commit to punish people for prohibited speech.”"
  • Listverse has "10 Things You Probably Didn't Know about Albert Einstein". What do you know about the Einstein refrigerator?
  • California has banned schools from using "Redskins" as a team name or mascot beginning Jan 1, 2017. "The new law will affect four California high schools in Merced, Calaveras, Tulare and Madera counties.". Does this mean they condone the "fighting Irish"? Perhaps that's the next lawsuit. Curiously enough, Governor Jerry Brown "...vetoed a separate measure that would have barred public properties from being named after individuals associated with the Confederacy."
  • Edsource has an article on poor California test scores, "In fact, only one-third of California students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 met the math standard – compared to 44 percent of students who met the standard in English language arts.". Did you get that? Failure is "the norm". Always remember that the test scores would be lower if it weren't for the many students who get a tutor to help them learn. And take a look at all the it's-no-big-deal talk and Common Core challenges talk. With respect to Common Core: "“Los Angeles started implementing Common Core three years ago,” Dorado said. “It takes time and a tremendous amount of work. In LAUSD, we’re talking 500 elementary schools alone.”Another challenge has been the shortage and quality of curriculum materials aligned with the standards. “Many teachers are in the implementation phase,” said the California Mathematics Council’s Vierra. “Many districts are still getting around to buying the curriculum (materials they need).”“A lot of teachers are cobbling together old materials with lessons they find online and material the district is providing,” she said. “Much of the math curriculum is still very fragmented.”". That's similar to my experience--despite knowing years in advance what was coming the school systems are still behind the curve years after Common Core was "implemented".

"Teachers" and "Education"

It was supposed to be easy-- moving to another state--but as I feared, it wasn't. I had spoken to someone from the state's Department of Education (DOE) and was told there would be no problem in teaching as an experienced teacher. But there was a problem. As it stands now I'm classified as a "rookie" teacher--which will require an additional 220+ hours of training and classes at a local community college in order to teach in the public school system. That would mean hundreds of hours training while working as a full time teacher plus thousands of dollars to take courses on things like time management, Common Core, and other topics that might be helpful to someone who has never taught in a public school before--but not for someone with 8 years of experience teaching high school math.

From talking to others, it seems this state has numerous "victims" who have been forced to pay fees and go through supplemental courses to meet state "standards". Same cr@p, different state--education is a business--a poorly run, inefficient, bureaucratically bloated, corrupt business. While I appeal the decision, another nightmare to talk about some other time, I've been learning about the local schools and looking into teaching jobs overseas in case the appeal is unfavorable. Given how messed up my dealings have been with the DOE, I'm not optimistic about winning the appeal. Recently I've heard about local teachers and schools using Khan Academy in the classroom as a substitute for teaching. Students watch online videos and take online test/quizzes. I'm not sure exactly what the teacher does but I've heard that one teacher likes that she can track the performance of the class and see what problems are causing the student difficulty. I've been reluctant to believe some of the details I've heard but after reading a Gary North article, "How Salman Khan Has Smashed 3,000 Years of Classroom Education Mythology", it seems that what I'm hearing about may not be as unusual as I thought. The article is well worth reading though I strongly disagree with this type of "education" and "teacher" that Gary North is talking about.

From the article, "According to its website, the Khan Academy now has 26 million registered students. Registered. Not just dropping in to see videos, but actually registering....Think about what this means for the educational establishment. They have claimed for over a century that a teacher must have specialized training in order to become an effective teacher. He must spend years in specialized classes in state-accredited universities in order to be sufficiently competent to teach a roomful of 30 students at a time. But Khan is teaching 26 million students at a time...He has turned the entire teaching establishment into the equivalent of teachers' aides..". He also says, in referring to Salman Khan: "That student is being taught by someone who never went through this screening process of state licensure and certification." And then describes  the public school system as "...one teacher and one low-paid teacher's assistant doing little more than taking roll". Two major points stood out to me. First, is that the teacher certification process is nonsense. And to that I heartily agree--I've had a front row seat to that freak show. Teacher certification as is implemented by the states is an impediment to "fixing" education. The second point that gets made is that teachers don't teach much and, even further (where I disagree) that they don't need to ("He has proven that by paying somebody nothing, that person can become the primary teacher..If the students can speak English, he becomes the primary teacher"). If Gary North's experience with the local education system is similar to what I'm seeing here then I understand why he says what he does. But I want to inject another perspective:

  1. Salman Khan is not a teacher: What you see with Salman Khan is mastery of subject and (usually) a decent explanation. But that's just one part of teaching. Teachers deal with, in some cases, difficult students, helicopter parents, discipline issues, special education students. They have to keep the students on task, set the pace, assess the performance--slowing down when the class has a problem and finding other ways to present the material to help out the students. You don't get that from a video. Salman Khan can be seen by many as a teacher because he, unlike many "qualified" teachers, is actually competent in the what he's teaching. About one third of public school math teachers don't having a degree in math and the math "standards" of middle schools is poor.
  2.  Khan Academy is not education: One student I've met liked Khan Academy because his solution to the problem wasn't graded, just the answer. Like other online tests you're graded as right or wrong. Why would a certified teacher think it's acceptable to not show your work in math? The student may be making a mistake (e.g. thinking $latex -2^3 = (-2)^3$) and getting the correct answer. Without work that error gets repeated and repeated. But it's commonplace for middle school teachers to not require the work. Said student did well on one quiz because the random creation of problems resulted in his quiz not having lots of negative numbers, where his knowledge was shaky.
  3. Teachers who abdicate their role in the classroom for videos and Khan Academy aren't teachers, they're "teachers" earning a nice salary for sitting in a class and performing administrative duties--low level administrators who cheapen the profession. Unfortunately it's becoming more commonplace. Khan Academy and it's videos are valuable resources that can provide supplemental instruction. Making that the class and calling it education; this "Education for the Masses" is not education--it's "education". Instead of encouraging this educational malpractice, real teaching professionals should be fighting it. Show that you can be replaced by a video and you eventually will be.

Teachers like to claim "teaching is a profession". It can be and it should be BUT it isn't under the current system. Worse, those in the system don't seem view it as a problem so it will never be fixed. Talk to anyone outside the system and they have some horror story about an unqualified teacher, yet that teacher gets certified to teach and then the system makes it very difficult to get rid of them even after it becomes crystal clear they are in the wrong profession. At the same time the system is actively keeping other qualified people from teaching. That's NOT a teaching profession--that's a teaching racket, and until educators really weed out bad teachers it's ironic to call them professionals. Moreover, despite claims of using "best practice" to guide policy there is no evidence that certified teachers of the public school system are better than the private school teacher. Anecdotal data shows the opposite, and that's why millions of people work hard to save hundreds of thousands of dollars to send their children to private school rather than accept such poor quality education.

The fact that teachers and education professionals don't work to fix the inequities  makes the "teaching is a profession" self serving rhetoric. As designed the certification process helps protect vested power structures in education. For example, teaching colleges--why spend time or money going to a teaching college if people can become teachers without spending that time or money. So they make the issue of getting certified to be based on other peripheral factors. Unions and teachers like it, too. Certification hurdles prevent an over supply of teachers (especially when the economy turns down) from pushing down wages. It makes teachers more valuable because it's more difficult to find a "qualified" replacement. Many adjuncts at community colleges work for slave wages, for example, because although they're qualified to teach that grade 13 student they aren't certified to teach them at grade 12---and with thousands of dollars and years of "training" obstacles they can't easily get into the public school system. Of course, if they did, they'd find themselves  relegated to teaching low level courses while the less qualified senior teacher takes the grade 12 courses. It's a perquisite of seniority--smaller class sizes, less special ed students, more diligent students, and less discipline problems. That teacher isn't teaching that class based on merit or standards and it's not "all about the kids" whatever they tell you.

Many certified teachers are not competent in their subject but the state certifies them as competent. This "certification of quality" is anything but. My 3 math degrees are irrelevant in determining whether I'm competent to teach math in a public school. In order to be certified the state you need to pass a multiple choice math test which requires the use of a calculator. Any normal person would consider degrees in mathematics as real proof of math competency but the DOEs, which are supposed to safeguard the standards, don't. Instead they establish their own much weaker standard and use that. It's a "smoking gun", if you will, that demonstrates real standards aren't driving policy, it's something else. Can you understand why this might weaken education? Why it isn't good for the kids? Is it any wonder our country performs so poorly on national and international testing? Is it any wonder that education shows no signs of improvement decade after decade?

It's certainly no wonder why parents spend a fortune getting their kids out of the "typical" high school. Many have graduated from good schools themselves and they know the difference between teachers and "teachers" and education and "education". I think it's wrong for Gary North or "educators" to view the resources of Khan Academy as an education (any more than a textbook should be considered an education). But given what passes for normal in public schools, I can understand the confusion. Good schools know these are anything but standards. "Educators" accepting and promoting them are anything but. Find another job, please! Until "certified" becomes synonymous with "qualified" and problem teachers are shown the door teaching is a profession is a lie. To make teaching a profession the certification process should be more about qualifications.

  1. Make sure every teacher passes a background check.
  2. A college degree. And make sure subject teachers have mastery of the subject. A BA or higher in a subject from an accredited institution demonstrates mastery. For areas with teacher shortages, passing PRAXIS/CBEST/... subject tests would help get that teacher into the classroom but it should be lower pay as they aren't truly qualified. This gives an incentive for them to get the appropriate education. Perhaps when teachers are let go through reduction in force those teachers would go before those with true qualifications.
  3. Teachers with unsatisfactory performance should have a window of opportunity to improve. For major/severe violations, immediate expulsion.
  4. Eliminate the silly certification requirements that have nothing to do with teaching. My problem was that my teacher training didn't have student teaching. They conveniently decided not to count the 8 years of full time teaching--three in a public high school with frequent teacher evaluations.

The third issue is the ultimate sticking point. It is difficult and expensive to get rid of unsatisfactory teachers. How can the system improve when it protects incompetence? If teaching is to be a profession, you can't shelter the incompetent--there's nothing professional about that and those poor teachers overshadow the true, hardworking, dedicated teachers who are out there. Teacher tenure should be abolished. Professions care about standards and quality--the current education system pays lip service to them.

Here are some stories that caught my eye over the last week:

  • The Chicago Tribune has  an article "Former Chicago Public Schools chief to plead guilty to bribery scheme". You'll get some insight into why I  feel the huge sums of money in public education go more towards bloated administration, corruption and other issues that don't towards educating students. From the article, "The secret bonus was just one part of a massive scheme outlined in a criminal indictment Thursday charging Byrd-Bennett, 66, with steering no-bid contracts worth more than $23 million to SUPES in return for promises of up to $2.3 million in kickbacks, other perks and a job.....The contract at the heart of the indictment involved a training program for principals and other midlevel administrators that greatly expanded a pilot program from 2011. A CPS committee set up to evaluate no-bid contracts initially balked at awarding SUPES a noncompetitive deal but less than a month later approved the plan. A short time later, in October 2012, the board awarded the first $2 million contract to SUPES, records show....Much of the indictment centers on emails sent between Solomon and Byrd-Bennett that seem to make no effort to conceal the alleged kickback scheme. In one message, which she finished with a smiley-face emoticon, Byrd-Bennett implied she needed cash because she had "tuition to pay and casinos to visit," according to the charges."
  • Signs of the Times reports "Four students have been plotting to "shoot and kill as many people as possible" at their high school in Tuolumne, California, according to authorities. Police arrested the suspects just a day after a mass shooting at an Oregon college left nine people dead. The arrests of the students from Summerville High School, in Tuolumne, California, were made Friday after the investigators discovered a "detailed" plan of a school-shooting massacre. All suspects were apprehended at their homes on suspicion of conspiracy to commit an assault with deadly weapons."
  • Scientific American with a good article on Shinichi Mochizuki and the status of the ABC Conjecture. "To complete the proof, Mochizuki had invented a new branch of his discipline, one that is astonishingly abstract even by the standards of pure maths. “Looking at it, you feel a bit like you might be reading a paper from the future, or from outer space,” number theorist Jordan Ellenberg, of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, wrote on his blog a few days after the paper appeared. Three years on, Mochizuki's proof remains in mathematical limbo—neither debunked nor accepted by the wider community. Mochizuki has estimated that it would take an expert in arithmetic geometry some 500 hours to understand his work, and a maths graduate student about ten years. So far, only four mathematicians say that they have been able to read the entire proof."
  • The American Enterprise Institute has an article summed up by the title "New data on 2015 SAT test confirm 40+ year pattern — high school boys outperform girls on the SAT math test". Some key stats to take away from the article: 1. "more young women (903,719) than men (794,802) took the SAT test in 2015" 2. "more high school boys than girls achieved perfect scores of 800 on the 2015 math test (11,098 boys vs. 5,570 girls), perfect scores of 800 on the critical reading test (5,160 boys vs. 4,746 girls), and combined perfect scores of 1600 on those two tests (1,325 boys vs. 721 girls)" 3.  "the percentage of maleswho earned perfect scores of 800 points (1.4%) to the percentage of females with perfect scores (0.62%), which produces an adjusted male-female ratio of 2.26-to-1 (vs. the 1.99 unadjusted ratio) for students who had perfect 800-point scores." The conclusion is well worth reading for several points that it makes. Women are doing academically than men, they are better represented in AP courses. "By all objective measures then, girls have essentially all of the necessary ingredients that should result in greater representation in STEM fields like engineering and computer science except perhaps for one: a huge, statistically significant and persistent 30-point gender gap (and a 10 percentile gender gap) on the SAT math test in favor of boys that has persisted for more than 40 years." And finally, "Given the significant and persistent gender differences in SAT math test scores that have persisted over many generations, the scientific data about gender differences in math performance would seem to present a serious challenge to Professor Hyde’s (and others) frequent claims that there are no gender differences in math performance.". A very interesting look at the data.
  • Signs of the Times with another piece, "A female high school student awaits a disciplinary hearing and could face expulsion for wearing a Halloween costume to school that prompted officials to lock down the building Wednesday. An unnamed female student was spotted in the hallway at Pueblo County High School early yesterday morning wearing a gas mask and trench coat...The teen was hauled to the office where she was interrogated by the police, who also placed the school on lockdown for about an hour. The Pueblo County Sheriff's Office SWAT team, which was training near the school, also responded in full camouflage gear and a large armored vehicle to sweep the building for anything dangerous or suspicious."
  • Kajarkin has won the World Cup of chess. Huffington Post has the details.
  • Magnus Carlsen will defend his chess titles in Berlin, according to Chessbase.
  • Signs of the Times again with an article plus local news video on "An Ohio court has upheld the suspension of a 12-year-old black boy for staring at a white girl at school in what he called a "staring contest," Fox 19 is reporting.The unidentified student was suspended from a private Catholic school, St. Gabriel Consolidated, in September of last year after school officials say he "intimidated" his classmate. According to the boy, he and the girl were engaged in a staring contest and that she was giggling the whole time. "
  • Boston.com with an update on the jury selection for the student who is being tried for killing his math teacher. I covered this some time ago here.

Resource: Cheating and other topics

They're cute, they're funny and with millions of views per video that's definitely not just my opinion. sWooZie videos each have millions of views and they could, potentially, be a useful resource for your class. I'm thinking in terms of cheating in the classroom, though other topics such as procrastination or bullying might be useful. There are 3 videos that deal with cheating in high school. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 as well as videos on cheating in middle school and college as well; the video on cheating in middle school has over 13 million views(!) Since the videos run about 5 minutes long they could provide a good way to lead into your topic or initiate a class discussion.

Here are some stories that caught my eye over the last week.

  • Newsday has an article "Cuomo throws Common Core under the bus". From the article, "...Cuomo is ostensibly siding with parents, saying Common Core is "not working" and pledging to review the standards, tests and curricula" and the following statistic gets thrown in. "Every year, half of New York's two-year college students must take remedial courses. Many of them will leave without a degree, or any credential. ". The Hechinger Report looks deeper into the reversal of New York's strong support of Common Core. This sentence caught my eye, "Dissatisfied that 96 percent of teachers were still getting good ratings – despite the fact that only about 35 percent of students were passing the new, harder Common Core tests – Cuomo got the legislature to agree to make it harder for teachers to be rated effective and harder for teachers without effective ratings to get tenure."
  • Accuracy in Academia talks about the high cost of Common Core, "During the past half-decade, the 26 states aligned with the Common Core has dropped to 7 but the price tag keeps increasing.“The Pioneer Institute estimates that the 7-year cost of Common Core is $16 billion,” Silicon Valley engineer Ze’ev Wurman said at the same Press Club event where Wood spoke....“In California, which has a line-item in the budget for it, the three year cost has been $5.2 billion. The original estimate in California was $1.6 billion.”" .
  • sott.net reports on a high school shooting in South Dakota "The principal of a South Dakota high school was wounded by a gunshot Wednesday morning. Authorities say that a student is suspected to be the perpetrator, and is in custody."
  • Ars Technica has an article "Los Angeles schools reach $6.4 million settlement with Apple, Lenovo" which ends an old fight, "Last year, LAUSD halted the $1.3 billion project to give every student in the massive district an iPad loaded with Pearson’s educational material. The about-face was announced after the Los Angeles Times reported that there had been improprieties in the bidding process for the contract with the school district."
  • Education Secretary Arnie Duncan is stepping down and Slate says "But as the opposition to Duncan’s policies has become more populist, and less overtly political in some communities, the changing nature of the push-back has aggravated existing tensions among Democrats over education policy, and endangered some of Duncan’s favored reforms".
  • Nola.com tells us "Gov. Bobby Jindal has agreed to spend $830,000 in public funds on his two failed legal cases fighting the Common Core academic standards in state and federal court....It's possible Jindal's fight over Common Core will end up costing the state even more than $830,000 over time. Legal fees in a separate Common Core lawsuit filed by legislators were not included in the initial estimate." Money to implement Common Core + money to repeal Common Core = lots of wasted money + less money for students.