Are Children Learning

Indiana has new academic standards

Protesters at an April 21 rally against Indiana's new standards, which were approved by the state board Monday. (Scott Elliott)

Indiana has new academic standards, but Common Core opponents are still fuming.

By a 10-1 vote, the Indiana State Board of Education adopted the new standards today, following the lead of the Education Roundtable, which voted overwhelmingly in support of the new standards last week.

“I’m pleased we can finally bring this debate to a close and adopt a set of standards that will prepare Hoosier students for graduation,” board member Gordon Hendry said before voting yes. “I hope that, with this conversation behind us, we can stick with the standards and make sure we are not continually moving the goalposts on our students and teachers.”

The forces who led the charge against Common Core in Indiana, however, were dispirited by what the state will get in their place. The group held a rally last week with more than 150 demonstrators who packed the Roundtable meeting before leaving disappointed.

“I’m here to tell you I’ve lost faith,” said Heather Crossin, one of the founders of Hoosiers Against Common Core, calling the standards setting process a sham. “There was an end result in place from the very beginning and this process was designed to give that end result, which was rebranding Common Core.”

Andrea Neal, the lone no vote, said both the English and math standards are a step back for the state, but she was particularly critical of the math standards.

“It’s malpractice to adopt math standards that make no sense to mathematicians,” she said to a big cheer from the Common Core opponents in the audience.

That was the minority view on the board, however. B.J. Watts, a board member and elementary school teacher from Evansville, said he felt most teachers joined him in supporting the new standards.

“I’m proud of them because I honestly think we are doing the right thing,” he said.

Indiana, once an early champion of Common Core, has stepped back from the standards that 45 states agreed to follow. In 2013, lawmakers ordered a pause in implementation of Common Core and this year followed up with another bill voiding the 2010 decision to adopt them and ordering new standards by July 1.

Gov. Mike Pence and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz hailed the new standards as created “by Hoosiers and for Hoosiers” at last week’s roundtable meeting. Since February, committees of educators and experts selected the new standards from among several sets of standards they reviewed, including Common Core, the state’s prior standards, standards followed by other states and those offered by professional organizations.

“As I’ve watched and listened, it seems that fear can outpace fact,” board member Brad Oliver said before voting for the new standards. “The question I keep coming back and asking myself is: do these statement reflect the most critical knowledge and skills that children need?”

To critics, the new standards look much the same as Common Core to them.

“I still wear my ‘say no to Common Core” button,’ ” opponent Stephanie Engleman told the state board prior to the vote. “That’s because we still have Common Core and we will continue to have Common Core if you adopt the standards before you today.”

But Ritz backed the team the led the standards process, who argued Common Core’s architects actually incorporated many Indiana standards as they built Common Core standards. That helps explain the similarity, Ritz said.

“Indiana did play a pretty integral part, their standards being rated so high to begin with, in the formation of the Common Core,” she said. “There are things all kids need to know and be able to do that are found in all of the sets of standards that we reviewed. That’s what people need to keep in mind.”

Common Core was designed to assure all high school graduates are ready for college or careers, but Indiana critics have said they worried that the shared standards ceded too much control over the states’ education systems to the federal government. Creation of Common Core was led by the state governors but the standards were later endorsed and promoted by the U.S. Department of Education.

One of the few educators to speak during the public comment portion of today’s meeting was Tim McRoberts, principal of Speedway High School, who said it was time to move on from the standards debate so teachers could do their work.

“We’ve been preparing and working toward this for a few years now,” he said. “We’re ready to move forward.”

 

Detroit Story Booth

Why one woman thinks special education reform can’t happen in isolation

PHOTO: Colin Maloney
Sharon Kelso, student advocate from Detroit

When Sharon Kelso’s kids and grandkids were still in school, they’d come home and hear the same question from her almost every day: “How was your day in school?” One day, a little over a decade ago, Kelso’s grandson gave a troubling answer. He felt violated when security guards at his school conducted a mass search of students’ personal belongings.

Kelso, a Cass Tech grad, felt compelled to act. Eventually, she became the plaintiff in two cases which outlawed unreasonable mass searches of students in Detroit’s main district.

Fast forward to August, when her three great-nephews lost both their mother and father in the space of a week and Kelso became their guardian. Today, she asks them the same question she has asked two generations of Detroit students: “How was your day in school?”

The answers she receives still deeply inform her advocacy work.

Watch the full video here:

– Colin Maloney

First Person

Why the phrase ‘with fidelity’ is an affront to good teaching

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

“With fidelity” are some of the most damaging words in education.

Districts spend a ton of money paying people to pick out massively expensive, packaged curriculums, as if every one of a thousand classrooms needs the exact same things. Then officials say, over and over again, that they must be implemented “with fidelity.” What they mean is that teachers better not do anything that would serve their students’ specific needs.

When that curriculum does nothing to increase student achievement, it is not blamed. The district person who found it and purchased it is never blamed. Nope. They say, “Well, the teachers must not have been implementing it with fidelity.”

It keeps happening because admitting that schools are messy and students are human and teaching is both creative and artistic would also mean you have to trust teachers and let them have some power. Also, there are some really crappy teachers out there, and programs for everyone are often meant to push that worst-case-scenario line a little higher.

And if everyone’s doing just what they’re supposed to, we’ll get such good, clean numbers, and isn’t that worth a few thousand more dollars?

I was talking with a friend recently, a teacher at an urban school on the East Coast. He had been called to task by his principal for splitting his kids into groups to offer differentiated math instruction based on students’ needs. “But,” the principal said, “did the pacing guide say to differentiate? You need to trust the system.”

I understand the desire to find out if a curriculum “works.” But I don’t trust anyone who can say “trust the system” without vomiting. Not when the system is so much worse than anything teachers would put together.

Last year, my old district implemented Reading Plus, an online reading program that forces students to read at a pace determined by their scores. The trainers promised, literally promised us, that there wasn’t a single reading selection anywhere in the program that could be considered offensive to anyone. God knows I never learned anything from a book that made me feel uncomfortable!

Oh, and students were supposed to use this program — forced-paced reading of benign material followed by multiple-choice questions and more forced-pace reading — for 90 minutes a week. We heard a lot about fidelity when the program did almost nothing for students (and, I believe quite strongly, did far worse than encouraging independent reading of high-interest books for 90 minutes a week would have done).

At the end of that year, I was handed copies of next year’s great adventure in fidelity. I’m not in that district any longer, but the whole district was all switching over to SpringBoard, another curriculum, in language arts classes. On came the emails about implementing with fidelity and getting everyone on the same page. We were promised flexibility, you know, so long as we also stuck to the pacing guide of the workbook.

I gave it a look, I did, because only idiots turn down potential tools. But man, it seemed custom-built to keep thinking — especially any creative, critical thought from either students or teachers — to a bare minimum.

I just got an email from two students from last year. They said hi, told me they missed creative writing class, and said they hated SpringBoard, the “evil twin of Reading Plus.”

That district ran out of money and had to cut teachers (including me) at the end of the year. But if they hadn’t, I don’t think I would have lasted long if forced to teach from a pacing guide. I’m a good teacher. Good teachers love to be challenged and supported. They take feedback well, but man do we hate mandates for stuff we know isn’t best for the kids in our room.

Because, from inside a classroom full of dynamic, chaotic brilliance;

from a classroom where that kid just shared that thing that broke all of our hearts;

from a classroom where that other kid figured out that idea they’ve been working on for weeks;

from that classroom where that other kid, who doesn’t know enough of the language, hides how hard he works to keep up and still misses things;

and from that classroom where one kid isn’t sure if they trust you yet, and that other kid trusts you too much, too easily, because their bar had been set too low after years of teachers that didn’t care enough;

from inside that classroom, it’s impossible to trust that anyone else has a better idea than I do about what my students need to do for our next 50 minutes.

Tom Rademacher is a teacher living in Minneapolis who was named Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year in 2014. His book, “It Won’t Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching,” was published in April. He can be found on Twitter @mrtomrad and writes on misterrad.tumblr.com, where this post first appeared.