Warring learning theories: Choose yours #WAPO #netDE #RTTT @RodelDE @GovernorMarkell #businessroundtableEPICFAIL

Warring learning theories: Choose yours
By Marion Brady

The rich philanthropists, hedge fund managers, state governors, big-city mayors, and syndicated columnists now shaping national education policy have reached a firm conclusion. The Number One factor in student performance is teacher performance.

Poverty, broken homes, lead and mercury poisoning, bad teeth, poor eyesight, language difficulties, hunger, low self-esteem, run-down schools, frequent moving, cultural differences, class size — well, yes, those are problems — BUT A TEACHER WHO IS REALLY ON THE BALL CAN LIFT THOSE SCORES!

So fire the worst, and put the rest on notice. Tell them to either get with it or get out. Bring out the market force carrots and sticks — merit pay, school grades, public humiliation, endless checklists, non-stop testing — and goodbye if they don’t work. Competition made America great, so pit kid against kid, teacher against teacher, school against school, state against state, nation against nation!

Keep that great teacher in mind as you read this post I got a few days ago from Dr. William Webb, director of The Center for Educational Options. Bill and his staff operate an alternative school in rural Henry County, Kentucky.

“…the students decided to acquaint themselves in a more mindful way with a small commons area located between our building and the high school. Working in teams of 4, the students were first asked simply to describe the area linguistically. They were mildly surprised to realize that a simple verbal description was not simple at all. The boundary of the area was established beforehand, and yet descriptions varied considerably from group to group. Landmarks that seemed important to one group were virtually ignored by another. Estimates of distance were wildly inaccurate. Words chosen to describe some aspect of the environment were imprecise and vague (“There’s a small hill a little bit behind our trailer that’s pretty steep.”). Listening to each group’s verbal descriptions, no one needed a curriculum or assessment expert to define the “lesson targets.” The important questions were obvious. How do we account for the differences in descriptions? How do we reconcile these differences to come to a shared “perception” of our environment? Why is it important to be precise in describing our surroundings? How do differing perceptions of our immediate surroundings influence the way we interact with each other? A host of other questions were asked and answered in the follow-up discussion to this “simple” exercise…

Moreover, student involvement during this discussion was profoundly different from the typical high school classroom interactions. Freed from the cognitive task of memorizing facts, our students argued and conceded and elaborated and prioritized and paraphrased and deduced and just about every other verb that the Bloom taxonomists say are important illustrators of learning. And they were doing it in the context of an authentic task with real-life implications.

Once the students had settled on a verbal description of the commons area, they were asked to draw a diagram of the area to scale. Not one student had any experience with that exercise. Most were math phobic, having been spectacularly unsuccessful in the math courses taught in the traditional classroom. But having spent the past few days thinking about their environment in a more mindful way, they were motivated to tackle this assignment. Armed with 50’ tape measures, they had little trouble measuring the lines that defined the area’s boundary.

But connecting those lines in a scaled representation of the area presented some challenges. One challenge was the way one adjacent building jutted into the space the students were detailing. In order for the scaled drawing to come out right, the angle that the building “interrupted” the space had to be accurately defined—and it wasn’t an obvious right angle. With no way to use a protractor, the students were stymied. Attempts to use their limited knowledge of geometry to find a mathematical solution were futile. Solutions on the Internet were too technical in their language to be helpful.

And then, in a flash of insight, one student (whose math skills had been assessed by standardized testing measures as being in the lowest “novice” range) ran into the classroom and returned with a block of modeling clay which he proceeded to shape around the building’s corner. Once he had “modeled” the angle in this way, it was a simple matter of transferring the angle to a piece of paper which could now be measured with the protractor. Voila!! The satisfaction this student felt at finding that solution and the affirmation he received from his classmates was a brand new experience. He felt smart. He was smart…

One other example:

As previously mentioned, the students were asked to draw a scaled diagram of the commons area they had chosen to investigate. This, of course, was a ratio and proportions exercise most likely introduced to students in elementary school. But our math-challenged students approached this assignment as if they had been asked to prove the Pythagorean Theorem. A freshman girl (let’s call her Kayla) with a neurotic aversion to all things mathematic, watched quietly while the other three (somewhat mathematically challenged) members of her group struggled to work through the steps for converting their measurements to the scaled drawing. After looking at their measurements and the size of the graph paper they were required to use, they decided that 8 feet of measured distance should be 1 inch on the drawing. There were dozens of measurements—2’9’’, 47’3’’, 9’4’’, etc. The teachers were no help. The students were on their own to figure this out.

Normally, Kayla tuned out when presented with an assignment from a math book, engaging in all manner of avoidance (and class distracting) behaviors. But this was different…a problem, for sure, but not just a math problem. So, Kayla listened differently and she watched as different strategies were tried, and then—she got it! “We gotta make everything inches, and then we have to divide by 96!’’ She showed her group mates. It was a special moment and nearly impossible to describe. Normally a bit histrionic in her actions, Kayla seemed more centered, more authentic, in her excitement and enthusiasm at discovering this hidden skill. She was clearly enjoying feelings of competence that she rarely experienced in the school setting, let alone while doing math. She liked how it felt. She insisted on doing all the conversions herself, working without a break through part of her lunch period to finish…”

If that’s not a dazzling description of real learning taking place, I’ve never read one.

Several years ago, my brother and I wrote an instructional program titled Connections: Investigating Reality. It’s a how-to manual for middle and high school kids and teachers that uses firsthand, “right here, right now,” real-world experience to teach useful, complex ideas, ideas that deal with, but also go beyond, the usual school subjects.

We put Connections on the Internet, allowed it to be downloaded free of charge (no strings attached), and invited users to help us improve it.

Dr. Webb was the first person to take us up on our offer. I asked him to comment about Connections, hoping his account would help explain the radical difference a theory of learning can make. I’ve quoted most of his response. The whole of it is at

In his account, where are the teachers? “The students decided…” “Once the students had settled on…” “The teachers were no help.” “The students were on their own…”

The learning theory that has kids worldwide sitting for hours a day “covering the material” says that what’s taught should be broken apart into easy-to-remember fragments. The fragments should then be sorted by subject, then sorted again, and again, and again, down to a level of specificity that allows each fragment to be an item on a multiple choice test.

This is the learning theory that explains the “standards and accountability” fad. It’s the theory that explains why nearly every state has now adopted the Common Core State Standards. It’s the theory that explains why learner memory looms so large in testing, to the neglect of insight, imagination, and ingenuity. It’s the theory that explains why billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on standardized tests.

Here’s a very different learning theory: The brain LIKES what it finds when the infant it inhabits is born. It LIKES complexity, likes the challenge of exploring raw experience in search of meaningful patterns, regularities, and relationships. In short, the brain likes the process of sense-making.

The first theory can’t explain why little kids learn so much in the first months and years of life, can’t explain Kayla’s sudden interest in learning, can’t explain the other student behavior Bill describes.

The second theory says it’s natural.

The second theory is why people who actually know something about educating believe in old-fashioned free play and old fashioned kindergarten. It’s why they believe in cutting teachers enough slack to let them do what needs doing, and why they cringe or roll their eyes when the new “reformers” preach about the need for “rigor” and for “raising the bar.” It’s why they opposed No Child Left Behind, now oppose Race to the Top, and oppose just about everything else related to education that the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been selling Congress and state legislators for the past twenty years.

The two theories aren’t compatible. There’s a choice to be made. If H.G. Wells was right, and human history is a race between education and catastrophe, that choice could be the most important one this generation can make.

Scully’s comin’ back!!!!! #netDE #Dodgers #mlb #baseball #bestannoucerever

LOS ANGELES – Nearing the end of what most locals agree has been the worst Dodgers season in memory, one man had the capacity to soothe the discontent, if only momentarily.

Vin Scully told his television audience Friday night, “God’s been awfully good to me, allowing me to do the things I love to do. I asked him one more year, at least, and He said, ‘OK.’ ”

Scully will be 84 in November and the 2012 season will be his 63rd calling Dodgers games.

This is not an insignificant development in L.A., which for nearly two years has watched in horror the systematic torching of the Dodgers from the top down.

More From Tim Brown

The owner went bankrupt and refuses to sell. The undermanned team had its second losing season in 11 years in 2010, and is in danger of experiencing consecutive sub-.500 seasons for the first time since the late 1980s. In what is being described as a loose boycott, Dodger Stadium is two-thirds empty many nights.

The fight between Frank McCourt and Major League Baseball – Commissioner Bud Selig wants him out, McCourt stubbornly resists – promises to linger longer, perhaps for years.

What’s left is Vin, the last reason to believe in the Dodgers and the barrier standing between McCourt and a fan base that grows ever more disenchanted.

Scully would challenge such a romantic and heroic notion. His talent is surpassed only by his humility.

In this era of turmoil, however, the Dodgers are OK as long as Scully says they are. The Dodgers will survive if Scully says they will. They will emerge one day – free of McCourt, composed and competitive – when Scully grins and his eyes light up and he finishes a story about a man and a game and a memory.

His presence is too big for them to fail.

And while it seems unfair that Scully must near the close of his career slogging through somebody else’s muck, he would not view it that way. They mow the grass, line the field, turn on the lights, and the baseball follows. So Scully does, too, not in spite of the muck, but above it.

“I have the same responsibility every day,” Scully told me several months ago, when the Dodgers were becoming something no one recognized, “which is to be as accurate, as prepared, as informative as I can possibly be on that given day, period.

“Whether it’s war time, peace time, my responsibility is between those lines. Anything else would be a distraction. Anyone who is really interested will have read about it, heard about it. What I want to give them is what they tuned in for – the game.”

It’s what the Dodgers have left. Lucky for them.

Our research shows that the common-core standards do not represent a meaningful improvement over existing state standards. #CChere2SAVEus #not #fail #netDE #RTTT @RodelDE

In Common Core, Little to Cheer About

The United States has long resisted a national curriculum, but that’s changing. More than forty states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands have signed on to adopt a set of voluntary curriculum standards developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Two years ago in this publication, Morgan S. Polikoff and I endorsed the nascent move toward a national curriculum, saying that it would likely bring greater efficiency and coherence, better accountability, and a stronger set of assessments to our educational system. (See inset below.)

I was betting that a national curriculum would give us something like a fresh start in the standards-based-reform business. A national curriculum, I thought, would let us leave behind the mistakes and inadequacies of existing state standards and give us an opportunity to build a curriculum full of strong content that was solidly aligned to improved assessments. The result of such an effort would be a stronger, outcomes-oriented educational system that serves all of our young people, in every state and at every income level.

In short, I hoped that new national curriculum standards would be better than the state standards they replaced, and that new student assessments would be better, too.

I wish I could say that our progress toward common-core standards has fulfilled my hopes. Instead, it seems to me that the common-core movement is turning into a lost opportunity.

By Andrew C. Porter & Morgan S. Polikoff

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a Commentary by Andrew C. Porter and Morgan S. Polikoff. It was originally published on edweek.org on June 11, 2009.

After a history of more than 25 years, the national-standards movement seems to be at peak intensity. In April of this year, representatives from 41 states met under the auspices of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to work toward the establishment of common guidelines in mathematics and English language arts. As of the first week of June, 46 states had formally agreed to join in the effort.

Even though the 50-state, 50-standards system that has emerged out of standards-based reform has increasingly come under fire from researchers and policymakers, there has as yet been little investigation of the extent to which these many sets of standards differ, one from another.

We wondered whether the current state standards might be so alike as to already constitute a de facto national intended curriculum. If this were true, national standards, though not difficult to implement, might not even be needed. On the other hand, if state standards documents cover widely different content, there might be greater need for a push toward consistency. In either case, national standards would be more efficient and probably of higher quality than the hodgepodge in place now.

Recently, three doctoral students at the University of Pennsylvania—Jennifer McMaken, Jun Hwang, Rui Yang—and I mapped the extent to which the common-core standards are aligned with current state standards and with various U.S. and international assessments. Using a nationally recognized content-analysis procedure, the Surveys of Enacted Curriculum, we compared common-core math standards with math standards in 27 states and common-core English language arts standards with English language arts standards in 24 states. We used all the data available from a state partnership coordinated by Rolf Blank at the Council of Chief State School Officers and maintained by John Smithson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. What we found was unexpected and troubling.

Our research shows that the common-core standards do not represent a meaningful improvement over existing state standards. To be sure, when we consider state standards in the aggregate, the common-core standards present a somewhat greater emphasis on higher-order thinking. But the keyword here is somewhat; the difference is small, and some state standards exceed the common core in this respect. And, in terms of mathematics and English language arts curricula focus, the results are just as disappointing: The common core has a greater focus than certain state standards, and a lesser focus than others.

What all this means is that the common-core standards don’t seem to build on what we’ve learned through decades of research and experience. The common core is not a new gold standard—it’s firmly in the middle of the pack of current curricula.

Even more surprising was what we found when we compared the common-core standards with the national curriculum standards of several countries whose students regularly beat the pants off U.S. youngsters on international achievement tests like the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA.

“I wish I could say that our progress toward common-core standards has fulfilled my hopes. Instead, it seems to me that the common-core movement is turning into a lost opportunity.”

Reformers, myself included, have been saying that U.S. schools need to teach more higher-order thinking skills if we’re going to catch up with other countries’ educational systems. But curricula in top-performing countries we studied—like Finland, Japan, and New Zealand—put far less emphasis on higher-order thinking, and far more on basic skills, than does the common core. We need to ask ourselves: Could our enthusiasm for teaching higher-order skills possibly have gone too far? Clearly, both basic skills and higher-order thinking are important, but what is the right balance?

Finally, I had hoped that along with a national curriculum, the common core would prompt us to develop better, more scientifically sound ways to assess student learning. In particular, I hoped to see assessments that are better aligned with the curriculum, that give teachers and administrators more useful information, and that are just plain better at measuring student progress.We may yet get such improved assessments. But what I know so far about the work of the two multistate consortia developing the assessments isn’t promising. It sounds as if the new assessments may ignore state-of-the-art research and technological advances, settling for tests that are much like the ones we already have. Meanwhile, innovative work on assessments that’s been going on in the states has ground to a halt while everyone waits to see what the consortia come up with.

If new standards don’t bring us better curricula than what we already have, don’t help us catch up with our international competitors, and don’t lead to better assessments, then all the hoopla over the common core may turn out to be much ado about nothing.


The only good news from the Dodgers season to date: the best announcer ever is coming back in 2012!!!!!! #Vin #mlb #Dodgers

LOS ANGELES (AP)—Vin Scully had the Los Angeles Dodgers and their fans feeling good even before the team’s six-run rally in the seventh inning.

The Hall of Fame broadcaster told television viewers Friday night that he will return to the broadcast booth for his record 63rd year in 2012, brightening an otherwise dreary season for the bankrupt franchise.

“The winning and losing doesn’t bother me,” he told reporters in a stadium elevator after the Dodgers beat the Colorado Rockies 6-1. “It’s just a love of people. I just don’t know what I would do (otherwise).”

Scully, who turns 84 in November, calls all nine innnigs of the team’s TV broadcasts and the first three innings of his games are simulcast on radio. He works all the home games and select road games.

“My barometer has always been goosebumps,” Scully said, citing plays made by Rockies third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff(notes) that excited him. “It’s a meaningless game, but it still thrilled me. It’s still there. As long as it’s still there.”

Scully held up some chocolate chip cookies on the air sent to him by a woman in Woodland Hills and joked that they were clearly a bribe to get him to return. He said he decided a week ago after discussing it with his wife.

“That’s good,” slugger Matt Kemp(notes) said after being informed of Scully’s announcement. “He’s the face of the Dodgers. He’s seen it all. If he was to leave, I think everyone would miss that voice.”

Winning pitcher Ted Lilly(notes) called Scully “a franchise player.”

“There are a lot of us who are very excited to hear it,” he said.

Scully shared his news with viewers at the start of the sixth inning. One inning later, the Dodgers exploded for six runs, helped by two balks from Rockies pitchers.

State releases school ratings, completes the Texas Two Step! #netDE

State Releases 2011 School Ratings

Release Date: Aug 26, 2011 7:29 AM  ShareThis

Delaware’s Department of Education today released its first set of annual school ratings since the state raised requirements for student proficiency in core subjects and streamlined school rating categories.

While the changes in the ratings system, consolidation of categories and a reset of the state’s Annual Measureable Objectives (AMO) make a direct comparison to last year’s ratings more difficult, the new ratings provide a sustainable baseline to measure schools against the state’s higher expectations for student performance. The shift from seven to three rating categories, which separates school ratings and school improvement statuses, also brings more clarity around school performance.

In 2011, 137 Delaware schools earned “superior” ratings, 32 were rated “commendable” and 37 were rated as under “academic watch.” Last year, 66 schools were rated “superior,” 17 schools “commendable,” 46 schools “academic review,” 0 schools “academic progress,” 26 schools “academic progress – under improvement,” 0 schools “academic watch” and 37 schools “academic watch – under improvement.”

Under the new accountability system, schools are classified in one of three categories:

  • Superior means that the school is “above” targets
  • Commendable means the school “meets” targets
  • Academic Watch means the school is “below” targets

While the ratings provide a view into a school’s overall performance, a school also can receive an additional status of “under improvement” if it failed to meet annual yearly progress performance targets for two or more consecutive years in a specific area or areas. Those areas can include: participation in reading or math; performance in reading or math; or issues around other academic indicators, such as graduation rate or attendance rate.

A total of 66 schools have been designated “under improvement” this year, 32 of which made adequate yearly progress but are frozen in that status until they do so for two consecutive years. The other 34 did not make AYP.

Federal law and Delaware regulations require that certain corrective actions be taken by schools designated as “under improvement.”

In addition to simplifying the school rating system, the Delaware Department of Education — with the support of the state’s districts and charter schools and at the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Education — applied for a reset of its Annual Measurable Objective (AMO).  “AMO” refers to the percentage of students within a school who must be proficient in reading and mathematics on state standardized tests each year as required under federal No Child Left Behind regulations. Under the 2001 law, all students must demonstrate proficiency in reading and mathematics by 2013-2014.

The “reset” changed the interim AMO “steps” or target percentages schools must meet but still adheres to the requirement that 100 percent of Delaware public school students in grades 3-8 and 10 demonstrate proficiency in reading and mathematics by 2013-14.

The change to the AMOs was the result of the introduction last school year of a new statewide assessment and higher proficiency standards, which raise the bar for what level of mastery is considered proficient. Other states also were granted similar resets due to changes in their state assessment or other policy changes. 

The state followed a federal formula to determine the new interim steps, which moved schools’ reading target for 2011 from 84 percent to 50 percent of students being proficient and the math target from 75 percent to 49 percent.

 

Why the two step? Well, check out this action from the aptly named saloon, “the Broken Spoke”  This dance offers lots of action, spinning in circles and you end up right where you started…..