The Slippery Slope of Standards-Based Education

The Standoff in Idaho Over Science Standards Reveals The Slippery Slope of Standards-Based Education

Co-authored by Idahoans Mary Ollie, Mila Woods, and Victoria M. Young

The uproar over Idaho’s proposed science standards is a grand demonstration of ideology blinding us to our reality. And the push for headlines and sound bites trumped technical aspects of standards design. The process became an exercise in frustration that could easily have been avoided by making a distinction between a standard – what students should know and do— and content— what is taught.

The art and science behind writing standards matters also.

Why is the difference important? At the beginning of the standards-based education craze, Idahoans were sold on the idea of “Standards of Excellence” (then known as “exiting” standards).

The promise was that state standards would not infringe on local control of curriculum (subject content and how it is taught). State standards were to serve as minimum educational requirements, not an all-encompassing system of control.

Due to lack of legislative and administrative oversight and accountability, the outcome-based (standards) movement spawned a series of word changes that has gradually closed the door on local control.

“Exiting” standards became “achievement” standards (corresponding to the foundation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB)) and were eventually labeled in Idaho Code as Idaho “Content” Standards. With our focus on federal NCLB overreach, we couldn’t see our own State overstepping their bounds through a flawed administrative rule approval process.

Why is this discrepancy between standards and content just now surfacing? Only the proposed science standards contain language that clearly describes content. Idaho “Content” Standards for other disciplines do not include supporting content. They are a set of performance targets — true standards.

Our 2017 proposed administrative rules for the science standards included supporting content. That inclusion is problematic. That’s where the discussion went south.

Think before you step on the slippery slope.

Supporting content does not belong in a legislated standards document. Legislative overreach occurred. And lacking an understanding of the nuances of standards and content, state and local control, and a proper process for standards development, the public couldn’t adequately sort out and debate the topic—or see the truth.

The reality? The Idaho Legislature did not reject five science “standards.” Only one performance standard was rejected. Four of the items were supporting content. They went beyond being just a standard. Content was at the heart of the controversy.

Scientific knowledge is ever-changing. What we know today may change tomorrow.

Education content should not be subjected to our politicized lawmaking process.
A state entity defining supporting content is micromanaging education. The Legislature needs to step back and look at what has been done. In a country where liberty is a founding principle, legislating education content puts us on the slippery slope sliding away from local control — towards State control.

If school districts and teachers need supporting content for resources or inspiration; sources are easy to find. Content should conform, locally, to meeting the needs of students, not to complying with a too-often politically motivated mandate.

Limit the role of the State to defining performance standards and leave successful achievement of and beyond standards to the local districts.

Until the light goes on and the public sees that standards-based (aka outcome-based) education has not definitively reform a single school, we will continue to waste time and resources on arguing over and implementing new standards rather than investing fully in our schools and their students.

Being able to see the slippery slope is the first step to doing no further harm, to the public education system of Idaho and the nation, due to the deceptive nature of standards-based education.

By our apathy, we’ve killed our kids

imagesGuest Opinion By Timothy Coman (originally published in December of 1999)

Tonight my heart hangs extremely heavy. I know the holidays are upon us, but this year has brought so much pain and agony for so many, I think we must sit and reflect. As I watched over and over the video clippings from Columbine, Jonesboro, Springfield and Pearl tragedies, I am reminded just where we have come to in our society.

So many people want answers, so many want justice, and yet, we should be looking at our own selves. We taught Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris to hate, yes, we did. We helped assassinate Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott. By our actions, we allowed this to happen. No one single entity is to blame, we are all to blame.

Our children are medicated from the time they leave the hospital till often times before they leave high school. We all look for a quick fix, a fast solution, a McDonald’s drive-thru experience, often thinking or believing this is the answer, and yet we continue to be so blind.

We murder children in the name of convenience; we assassinate others’ character to gain power, wealth or strength, and morality is what you and I feel is right within our own eyes. Everyone wants to know about gun control, prayer in school, metal detectors or the newest idea which will save us all from whom?

Ourselves, that’s who.

It doesn’t matter who becomes president as long as he has the right charisma, a nice look, the right speech, the all-feel-good message that has lulled us to sleep, and while we slept, our children killed each other, and why? Because we have taught them so easily that it’s OK to kill—as long as you are justified in your beliefs. Preachers shout morality, and yet sin runs rampant in their own homes and places of worship.

The politician shouts gun control, and yet has no difficulty cheating on his or her mate as long as no one else gets hurt. Parents sacrifice their children for money, bigger homes, nicer lifestyles, when all their kids want is them.

How many times have both the Harrises and Klebolds asked; “Why didn’t we see something?” — Why didn’t we all see something? Why have we all been duped into believing it’s someone else’s fault, someone else’s responsibility. When will we take responsibility. Is it that hard or have forgotten how. Either way, we killed these children and many more like them by our apathy, and refusal to care.

It’s long past time, the hour is late. In a perfect utopia, people would get right, change their lives, love their kids, reach out and take their neighbor’s hand. Did we ever live in a “Leave it to Beaver” society, or has it always been this way? I ask you the question today; can we afford to murder any more of these children? Will our apathy allow another Columbine to exist? Do we really ever remember these people after a few years? Do we even care that people died in Oklahoma? Do the crowds still mourn at the site of the federal building, or is it just a passing moment?

I hope for each of us that Columbine burns deep in the hearts and minds of all of us forever. As Eric Harris was quoted as saying in one of the videos he made; “Our goal is to haunt everyone’s minds and thoughts of this terror.” And you know, my friend, I hope this tragedy is never forgotten. Let us never forget by our apathy, those young people we have murdered in America, land of the hated and home of the forgotten. Please think about this. I ask you today, would you have said yes like Cassie did?

###

Whether or not all the details of the Columbine shooting were correct when this was originally published is not the point. The question is, when? When will we care enough to take on the heart of the problem  — social change?

The list of shootings grows longer as we recall the more recent and forget the past. It’s a problem.

April 20, 1999

April 20, 1999

It’s our problem because we have never been short on solutions; we haven’t cared enough to hear them.

The Education Reform Oligarchy & Their School Choice Conversation

Wish I could just turn back the clockThe education reform oligarchy of the 80’s had a school choice conversation —at least one that is a matter of record.

It’s doubtful that the public can recall what was discussed. It’s doubtful that very many were really invited to listen. What is more likely is that most people are left asking, what school choice conversation?

So here’s how the story went

“At its meeting in August 1985, the members of the National Governors’ Association [NGA] formed seven task forces for the purpose of examining in-depth critical problem areas in American education.”

Time for Results?

Time for Results?

It’s unlikely that very many people would argue against the idea that parent involvement in education is critical. Then — now, forever, and always — parent, community, and national involvement and support for public schools is a problem in critical need of being addressed with real solutions. How exactly school choice came to be seen as a “critical” problem depends …

“Whether the push for school choice is driven by economic and political forces, or by parents and educators, depends on whom you ask.”

What we know for sure is now our history.

To be clear, since the development of free desegregated public school education, people in the United States of America have had the freedom to choose between their local public schools, private schools, and home-schooling. There is no forced attendance at government-run schools only. There are compulsory attendance laws to protect a child’s right to an education but people have always had a choice in how to comply with that law. We have always had school choice. … to date.

But when was it discussed that school choice is the best answer for a lack of parental involvement? Who knows?

What was decided was to attach the issue of school choice to that of parental involvement. However, at the 1986 NGA meeting, a year after the topics had been decided, then Governor Lamar Alexander introduced the topic like this

“We will then hear presentations from three of the Governors who led the task forces on teaching, on leadership, and on choice.”

Their presentation of a critical problem area went from “parental involvement and choice” to “choice”?

Governor Dick Lamm of Colorado chaired that task force. As he explained it,…

“What we were looking at is how can we give additional flexibility to parents and students in choosing their schools within the public school context.”…

“Some of these could be magnet schools, some of them could be alternative schools, some of them could just be different options among the public schools.”

Lamm recommended PUBLIC choices. These choices were all under local district governance. And even though the topic was introduced as “choice,” Governor Lamm did share some views on parental involvement.

And he did acknowledge…

“The two things we looked at: choice, parental involvement. They are related but they are also separate.”

But in publication after publication, parental involvement and choice would be lumped together without any emphasis on “the choice” being “within the public school context.” It was never a significant part of the school choice public conversation.

The chair of the Choice Task Force wasn’t the only one voicing concerns.

Mr. Al Shanker (then head of the American Federation of Teachers) was one among many who tried to explain the potential pitfalls of “choice.”

“We live in a society where that [choice] is one of our top values.”

“Kids have more of a commitment when they decide on a program or a school than parents do.”

“I am very concerned, and I think all of us have to be concerned, that there are situations where choice could result, let’s say, in the top 25 percent of the students in a major city being offered nice spots in suburban schools, and leaving the schools in that city that might very well be on their way to coming back, leaving them without any role models at all for those other students.”

“Therefore, as we move towards systems of choice, I think you ought to be very sensitive that we may be leaving a lot of kids behind, and we have got to look at that. That’s not to argue against choice, it’s just to argue that we do it in a thoughtful way.”

“There is one other downside which hasn’t been mentioned on this…. The parents’ associations in England complain bitterly that if you have the right to switch, nobody wants to fight. That is, nobody is left to argue that you need improvement in the school because the dissatisfied people move out, leaving only those who either don’t know what is going on or who don’t care, or don’t have the time or the energy to move.”

“You rescue your own kid and say the heck with the rest of it. These things have to be watched.”

“I don’t know all the problems that are going to arise….I want to experiment. I want to make sure we don’t 
decimate the cities.”

Was it just the teacher’s union and a governor or two that questioned school choice as a reform strategy?

Ms. Georgeanne Sherrill, a career ladder 3 elementary teacher in Tennessee, was attending the 1986 NGA meeting to present information on instructional leadership and “career ladders” — an initiative of Lamar Alexander’s. She joined the conversation.

“I would just like to say one thing. I think it’s in connection with what Ms. Futrell [then president of National Education Association] said. I think we can give parents a choice in education without having to pull the students out of one school and put them in another school. We can work with parents to structure the program in that school to meet the needs of the parents that have children in that school.”

That suggestion seemed to be discarded at the time but is finding favor in some areas of the country now.

So it wasn’t just one union leader, or two, or one teacher that voiced objections and concerns. As the chair of the Parent Involvement and Choice Task Force, Governor Lamm went on to explain…..

“I, like I think most of the other governors, are desperately concerned about opening up choice to public or private school and the choice of a voucher or any similar thing, with cannibalizing the existing public school system, about taking resources that are already really too limited.”

There was definite dissention in the ranks of leadership. But the dissenting voices were effectively struck down at every turn by then Secretary of Education Bennett and the Chair of NGA, Governor Alexander.

The conversation going forward? It was framed.

Summary by Lamar Alexander

Summary by Lamar Alexander

What did we hear from the chair of NGA? We heard the question,

“Why not let parents choose the schools their children attend?”

And the talk was of a “better schools movement.”

“It will mean giving parents more choice of the public schools their children attend as one way of assuring higher quality without heavy-handed state control.”

And the project moved forward with the help of the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Bennett’s leadership. The nation had a new project, officially —Project Education Reform.Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 3.09.50 PM

The newsletter gave no explanation of "choice."

The newsletter gave no explanation of “choice.”

The critical problems of parental involvement and choice became joined at the hip —one dragging the other forward—but at this point in the story, not much was really said about the details of choice.

 

Did the report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education (A Nation at Risk) have school choice as one of its recommendations? No. The school choice agenda moved forward because influential and “gifted” people pushed it.

William Bennett was one such leader, for sure…

“He is a man of great brilliance and strong convictions, but he is a preacher, not a teacher. He is trying to manipulate public opinion to accept his ideas of what is right and wrong. This would be forgivable if he were not as gifted as he is and if he were not the Secretary of Education.”

”Bill Bennett is the first Secretary to understand the ideological and political possibilities of the office that were there from the beginning. In Bill Bennett we’re getting our first Minister of Education.”

“…he waded in with a controversial new voucher plan that would give parents of disadvantaged children funds that could be spent in private and parochial as well as public schools.”

School choice was part of the Bennett agenda from the beginning. How much he really cared about the disadvantaged, who knows?

But by 1989, we had a new president, a different secretary of education, and had some changes in governorships. What did not change was the Project Education Reform agenda —with one exception. The facade of parent involvement had been dropped. Instead of a task force on Parent Involvement and Choice, we now had a working group for Choice and Restructuring (pg.44).

Insert1And by 1991, it was Lamar Alexander who became secretary of education putting himself in a prime position to carry their reform agenda forward.

Today as head of the senate education committee, he has done his part to federalize the plan for school choice while being the artful dodger in avoiding any conversation concerning “choice.” The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is in conference committee…..tick, tock….

The bill to replace No Child Left Behind is a critical problem.

The bill to replace No Child Left Behind is a critical problem.

 

Time for the school choice conversation again? In light of the fact that the Dyett Hunger Strike is occurring in Chicago because an open enrollment neighborhood public high school is no longer a choice, we need to have the school choice conversation all over again…now. What is America’s choice?

“The hunger strike is now at Day 28 as of this writing (9/13/15) and the Chicago Board of Education has finally opened talks with the strikers.”

This level of sacrifice by a small group of people should make us all feel a bit humbled by their resolve, but a little sick inside that it has come to this — the oligarchy rules and, in general, they don’t feel the need to listen to any of us.

You-Haver-A-ChoiceThe public’s choice?

Homegrown Professionalism

Guest Blog: The Voice of Mary Ollie

When I began teaching in 1970, I had doubts about my professional abilities. That was a good thing as it made me reflect on my practice and willing to seek out advice from those more experienced. When I began teaching, older and more experienced teachers helped the newbies. Heck, school districts even called upon them to do continuing education.

For much of my career, most continuing education was organized and carried out by experienced teachers often working with colleges of education associated with a regional university. Every so often, continuing education was courtesy of a grant that funded an expert or researcher in a teaching field.

Midway through my career, I became that expert and that grant writer. I had the opportunity to share what I knew to empower others. Topics ranged from instructional design to science safety and test construction. The benefits extended beyond the course objectives that identified the formal learning that took place. It was the informal learning – the opportunity for teachers to share and to network – that provided the biggest benefits.

That changed after No Child Left Behind as consulting companies sprung up like acne on a teenager’s chin.

Consulting companies were hired to do continuing education and the quality – well, let’s say it was variable. Sometimes the grizzled old veterans had to listen for hours to someone who had maybe one whole year of teaching experience. At first we grumbled, but are now silent and doubting our abilities.

Today most continuing education is outsourced and the workshop coordinator leaves on the next plane out of town. And it’s not cheap. Why is it that expensive programs are used to do something that teachers are perfectly capable of doing for themselves and doing better?

I had not thought about that question much. However I was troubled by the increasing silence and self-doubting of those experienced teachers, including myself. Recently, I read a commentary by Peter Berger who teaches English at Weathersfield School in Vermont. The title of his commentary in the Rutland Herald is “First do no Harm.”

Reading Mr. Berger’s essay made me realize we are dealing with something that is widespread and that there is a reason. “Gaslighting” is a manipulation tactic designed to create doubt in the mind of individuals so that they no longer trust their own judgment about things and buy into the assertions of the “manipulator.” In many cases, the manipulator changes history to accomplish his or her goals.

Why are those experienced educators silent? experience-matters-blogSitting though a Common Core presentation where the facilitator espouses this “new approach” that inspires critical thinking and deep understanding makes it pretty apparent that history has been re-written. The newbies in the audience are convinced that it’s time for the grey heads to turn in their clay tablets for rocking chairs. We are dead wood. We are old fashioned. We resist change. We oppose new ideas. We protect those who only want to collect their paychecks. I think you get the idea.

##### Thanks for sharing, Mary. Many are getting the idea; many more need to.

Well? Did we just find another good reason to fight to regain control of our public schools?

My advice, listen to experience.