February 27, 2008

Common Core Off to a Dubious Start

New education group, Common Core, issued their very first survey-based report this week on the serious lack of knowledge possessed by our 17 year-olds. They even managed to get the NY Times and USA Today to use the report to bash NCLB a bit.

Timesman, Sam Dillon, spins the report thusly:

The group says President Bush’s education law, No Child Left Behind, has impoverished public school curriculums by holding schools accountable for student scores on annual tests in reading and mathematics, but in no other subjects. (emphasis mine)

Greg Toppo of USA Today has similar thoughts:

Twenty-five years after the federal report A Nation at Risk challenged U.S. public schools to raise the quality of education, the study finds high schoolers still lack important historical and cultural underpinnings of "a complete education." And, its authors fear, the nation's current focus on improving basic reading and math skills in elementary school might only make matters worse, giving short shrift to the humanities — even if children can read and do math.(emphasis mine)

Naturally, the report, itself, uses less-heated rhetoric. However, I am somewhat concerned with the dubious motives behind the issuance of this report.

The report is based on a telephone survey of 17 year-olds using questions taken from a 1986 NAEP exam. Of course, few of the interviewees could successfully answer the questions. From USA Today:

•43% knew the Civil War was fought between 1850 and 1900.

•52% could identify the theme of 1984.

•51% knew that the controversy surrounding Sen. Joseph McCarthy focused on communism.

This lack of knowledge could then be used as a club to criticize education and/or to push the group's favored education reform.

Then I started wondering why the group just didn't use the NAEP data in the first place. Why go through the hassle of calling up thousands of people, asking them a battery of questions to capture their responses, and crunching the numbers when the Feds have already done the heavy lifting for you?

That's when it hit me that the longitudinal NAEP data most likely didn't support the group's conclusions.

And, sure enough, the data tells a different story.

Here is the NAEP data for 17 year-olds in history:

Compare the pre-NCLB scores ('94 and '01) to the post-NCLB scores ('06). If anything, the post-NCLB scores show small (mostly statistically significant, but surely not educationally significant) gains. If 2006's 17 year-olds are dummies, this data shows they were just about as dumb (or slightly smarter) as their '01 and '94 cohorts.

That's an inconvenient fact for the Common Core people. It's also an inconvenient fact for the all the pundits who are so worried about NCLB's supposed narrowing effect on social studies. Especially when the 4th grade and 8th grade data show similar trends.

8th grade:

4th grade:

I especially like the somewhat substantial gains made by the 4th graders from the 10th and 25th percentiles. Hey, maybe knowing how to read does help learning content in other areas.

Similar trends show up in civics.

I'm giving Common Core an F for their fledgling attempt at advocacy.

You might be able to fool the dummies at the Times and USA Today with this crap, but you're not getting it by the edusphere.


Anonymous said...

One of the things that drives me up the wall with reports like this is that the kids can READ HISTORY in class.

Really. NCLB does *not* prohibit this.

I homeschool, and my wife and I do this with our child. In general, we do some history reading and some fiction reading every day (with occasional dips into Magic School Bus and other science books or books about artists).

In fact, you *WANT* to have the kids read both fiction and non-fiction as the vocabulary and average sentence length in non-fiction tends to be more difficult than in fiction.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

Kudos for another classic post.

Is there a way to get the clueless mainstream media to start reading your blog?

ms-teacher said...

I do not think schools stopped teaching history at the start of NCLB. However, I do know that more recently many schools, mine included, have opted out of teaching those students who are below basic and far below basic classes such as history and science.

I understand the need for this because if a student can't read the text, then they can't comprehend the content. We may very well see a more significant dip in upcoming years, but then again, we may not. The one thing I'll never claim to be is a future-teller.

Mike in Texas said...

You did notice the "no accomadations allowed" note on the pre-NCLB scores, didn't you?

KDeRosa said...

Nice try, Mike.

But, 2001 is pre-NCLB so your point does not affect the trend or observations.

Mike in Texas said...

You misunderstood me then Ken, and your information.

Before NCLB accomadations were not allowed. After NCLB they ARE allowed, and scores went up slightly.

The reason the group didn't use the NAEP data in the first place is they know its a crap test, borne out by the fact the report itself says it is, a fact I have pointed out to you numerous times and which you continue to ignore.

Should I post the link and the quote again for you?

KDeRosa said...

Mike, NCLB was signed into law on Jan. 8, 2002. So, I'm counting the 2001 test as being pre-NCLB. Further, both the 2006 and 2001 tests permitted accomodations.

The trend for these two tests are flat for 13 and 17 year-olds. The 17 year-olds spent their high school years under NCLB, the 13 year-olds spennt their middle school years under NCLB.

The 9 year-olds in 2006, however, spent almost their entire elementary school years under NCLB. Notice the increase in scores for the lower-performing students. I'm not ready to say that NCLB caused this increased, but you'd have a dificult time arguing that NCLB has been detrimental for these students.

The criticism of NAEP by the board of governors goes to the setting of proficiency levels, not to the validity of the test itself. I didn't rely on proficiency levels in my analysis.

Tony Dichiara said...

A few months ago two colleagues and myself completed the first phase of a new educational community website (www.educateinteractive.org). We currently offer a wealth of educational content, interactive community forums, and a free teacher website creator. I think it is through private organizations such as this blog and our website that we will see a change in the educational community.

Ryan said...

The fact of the matter, is that we need to start at the core of it all. We must bridge the gap between pre-school and elementary school if we want to see any change in education. We have to prepare our children to be ready to learn and want to learn. Do we really think that by doing what we have been doing for the last 100 years is going to all of sudden change the interest children have in school and stop the alarming dropout rates being experienced throughout the United States? There is something critically wrong with the existing structure that is built around the adult’s perceived needs vs. the needs a child's brain has, especially in their early years. The problems with early education can be solved not by blaming teachers and school administration but rather by looking at the structure of the stimuli we offer our children. Let’s look at some facts that point to these issues.
• America has moved forward throughout our history because we have freedom. We have prepared our youth to think for themselves, and to have the motivation and the willingness to take the risk to follow their own convictions. Today it is the group, not the individual that has the focus.
• The context of what is offered as curricula is by in large focused on what can be presented in a book and on a blackboard. What is offered today is academic content that is not typically useful to the students outside the classroom.
• All children are born with 100 billion brain cells and a child can lose as much as 30% of their brain cells if they are not ignited by age 6/7. The brain cells are ignited only by what the child’s brain finds to be necessity for preservation and of interest to the future endeavors of the individual. The brain will not remember what it does not consider to be of interest and use. Each child’s brain is different and fantasy and useless information will not find its way into long term memory.
• Learning requires that a child must be able to proceed at their own pace and see that they are making progress toward their own goals. Learning requires that a child finds their way into a successful place in the real world. Today this requires more than today’s linear structure of class organization by subjects such as English and Math. Skill development requires integration of many fields of knowledge structured that provides for automated critical thought.

How are these Issues corrected?
• First the focus must turn from group learning toward the specific focus on the individual. This can be done by understanding individual’s needs, interests, strengths and weaknesses on a real time basis and then providing the stimuli that can grow the individual, filling the potholes necessary for success.
• Curricula that are provided to the child must allow the child to see the purpose, value and personal benefit to be realized from learning –not being entertained or discouraged by present curricula.
• Modern multimedia technology must replace the book as the primary teaching tool used in the classroom. The book requires linear lines of communication with the requirement that the student remember a number of facts, which by in large have limited interest or use to the child. Further, 3 out of 4 textbooks found in today’s classrooms are published by foreign owned companies who have no interest in the education change needed in America.
• Parents must take a more active role in their child’s early education. By the time a child enters school their brain has been 85% wired which represents the thinking abilities and areas of interest a child has. Do not expect a teacher to fill in the blanks it is a neurological impossibility.
• The United States has wonderfully able and committed teachers. They need better tools to do the job they love. Those tools must provide the teacher with real time information, not historical tests, to allow them to help each child with their varying yet individual needs.
• Teachers need to be paid more as they are able to demonstrate their ability to take their classes to a 100% level of mastery of all subjects.

Posted by Ryan Whitworth, written by Gary H Andersen- CEO The Reality Works Company
Currently serving over 10,000 students on line within school districts in Washington & California