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Dennis Van Roekel’s farewell speech as NEA president: End blame. Bring equity to our schools.

Dennis 140703-CK-DVR-Keynote-09Outgoing NEA national president Dennis Van Roekel presents a critique of the last generation of counter productive education reform grounded in the reality experienced by our students.  He goes on to offer a vision for the role the nation’s largest teachers’ union should play in the future. (more…)

Day 2 of the Union Leader series on the Common Core: how do you know 12 + 7 = 19?

The first of the two Common Core articles in the Union Leader today features web developer Jon DiPietro’s critique of American public education, including that:

…his children come home with homework that suggests process is more important than getting the right answer.

“One homework assignment was to solve 12 + 7, and to explain how you got the answer. One student drew a brain with an arrow pointing to it,” he said. “In her first or second week at the middle school, my daughter took a math quiz. She got the right answers, but was graded wrong for using the wrong method.”

Common Core opponents frequently make the this “method doesn’t matter” point.  But what if Mr. DiPietro’s daughter got to 19 by counting on her fingers and toes?  Learning math is a accumulation of skills.  Counting on her fingers would not serve Ms. DiPietro well in Algebra I.  (On the other hand, the student pointing to his brain is on the right track if he means, “I have become fluent in addition.  I just see 19 when I see 12+7.”)

The Common Core calls for the kind of good instruction Ms. DiPietro’s teacher is providing: trying to ensure that students are fluent enough in the basics of math to solve real world problems.  Mr. DiPietro has crystalized the argument for the Common Core.

But there’s also a great quote from Mayor Gatsas about how hard it is to know what’s right at this juncture:

Mayor Ted Gatsas, who is taking on the Department of Education over testing protocols, said he had been made wary by past experience.

“In the 1980s, there was an experiment to build schools without classroom walls,” he said. “I still have a school like that in my district at Beech Street. The only thing that separates classrooms is file cabinets. Go in there and see if you can pay attention.”

Many Common Core supporters would agree with the mayor that the great American education system took a detour into the soft sand of the 70’s and ’80’s.  You could call it the Lake Wobegon era in which every child was above average.


Get the NH waiver story from NHPR

Here is NHPR keeping the education discussion grounded, providing an on-the-ground view of the meaning of New Hampshire’s No Child Left Behind waiver:

But what does the waiver mean for schools and teachers? Much of what’s in the waiver – the Common Core State Standards, a new teacher evaluations model, and support networks for professional development – were efforts already underway in New Hampshire.

Four “Principles”

The waiver had to address four areas of concern:

· College and Career Ready standards: New Hampshire satisfied this category by adopting the Common Core State Standards, a rigorous set of standards that been taken up by 45 other states.

· Accountability and Support: Under this section New Hampshire had to put together a new set of goal posts for improving student test-scores. Instead of shooting for 100% proficiency – an NCLB goal, which many thought unworkable – NH will seek to decrease the gap between full proficiency by 50% in six years. The bottom performing 5% of schools will be designated “priority schools”, and the 10% of schools with the largest achievement gap (the gap between top performing and bottom performing students) will qualify for additional resources.

· Teacher and Principal Evaluation: schools are already required to have some sort of teacher evaluation system in place, but under the waiver schools accepting federal money for teaching high percentages of poor students will be required to base 20 percent of teacher evaluations on a measure of student growth, be it test scores or a locally developed measure. A little over half of New Hampshire schools accept these “Title I” dollars.

· Reducing unnecessary duplication: This section was meant to spur innovation in terms of reducing administrative costs and streamlining school bureaucracies. In the 126 page waiver document it is given a single page of consideration.

The waiver of No Child Left Behind is good, but there’s a bigger story than that

The U.S. Department of Education granted the State of New Hampshire its “flexibility waiver” Wednesday, enabling our schools to replace the destructive No Child Left Behind requirements with a new school improvement plan. (Here is the Union Leader story.)

You could say this is big deal because the waiver gets us out from under an arbitrary No Child Left Behind school rating system that provided unjustified fodder for those who wanted to bash our schools and teachers. Some will say we accomplished that by sacrificing local control of our school systems to the federal government. Did we?

We didn’t. And that’s the really big deal. It took 10 months of negotiating, but we seem to have given up nothing in for the flexibility waiver.

What did happen is that New Hampshire has replaced No Child Left Behind with its own education strategy. That required a long term vision by our department of education and the support of a bewildering number of players, including two governors, the Legislature, teachers, superintendents and school board leadership throughout the state. But now there’s a real next generation plan in place for managing New Hampshire public education. Here are the key pieces:

Statewide standards

Most school districts are well into the process of rolling out the Common Core State Standards for math and English in their classrooms. This is not a capitulation to the federal department of education. These are standards have become controversial in the media, but not in New Hampshire classrooms. Teachers who have implemented them seem to like it. Here’s one example.

Beyond the Common Core standards, New Hampshire’s overall system of standards is getting put into a more coherent and usable form.

And the move toward competency based learning has begun. (This legislation, currently in committee, would be part of the next step if it passes.)


A new and improved annual student test, Smarter Balanced, will be used starting in 2015. This could lead to fewer total tests, and better designed test, for each student each year. In spite of what you hear, there will be no more student data shared than in the past and costs will not go up.

School Improvement

Instead of the flawed No Child Left Behind scheme, we will now have a new, regionally-based, system for working with schools that need help, either because they have low student achievement or some groups of students are falling behind. This needed legislation that passed yesterday.

Teaching Evaluation

A model teaching evaluation system, developed by New Hampshire educators, is available to guide all New Hampshire schools. Most RTTT states have built punitive evaluation systems that mandate that 50% of the evaluation is based on student testing. In New Hampshire, the 224 schools that receive federal Title I schools will be required to make student growth (not necessarily measured by tests) at least 20% of their teaching evaluation systems, a lower percentage than the federal education department appears to have required in any other state. For the remaining 244 schools, districts must develop a system “with the involvement of teachers and principals,” (legislation just passed) but are free to use the state model or another approach, including student testing or not.

The New Hampshire Department of Education seems to have fit these and other pieces together into a next generation of New Hampshire public education, negotiating with educators and legislators back home while protecting New Hampshire from the federal government’s punitive education reform agenda.

That’s what should be seen as a big deal.

NHPR reports that N.H. NCLB has been “passed over” by the feds; NHDOE says acceptance is imminent

UPDATE: 6:05pm 6/24/13  After I posted this and sent an ANHPE mailing that included it, I learned that the New Hampshire Department of Education disagreed with how NHPR framed the report.  NHPR has updated its story to include the NHDOE statement that “acceptance in imminent.”

This is definitely not good.  It has to represent a reversal, possibly even by the U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, since earlier indications were that the approval was on his desk for signature.

There could be other issues as well – possibly issues that pending legislation would address – but the primary bone of contention has been teaching evaluations.  The New Hampshire Department of Education, after long consultations educators from around the State, has been seeking flexibility in the extent to which student testing would be included in teaching evaluations.  USDE has insisted that at least 20% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on test scores, something NH teachers and administrators have felt is unjustified.

DOE has not, apparently, convinced punitive testing hawk Arne Duncan of the wisdom of the approach New Hampshire educators want.  Maybe No Child Left Behind will prove to be the lesser of the evils…

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

The US department of education has announced that once again New Hampshire’s application for a waiver from the controversial federal education policy, No Child Left Behind, has been passed over.

It has been ten months since New Hampshire applied for flexibility from the requirements of No Child Left Behind, and several rounds of waivers for other states have been approved since the application was submitted.

Alabama was the most recent state to be granted flexibility, making 38 states and the district of Colombia which have implemented their own plans for school improvement and accountability.

Seven states, including New Hampshire, have applications still pending, and five have not submitted waivers.

via N.H. NCLB Flexibility Request Passed Over Once Again By Feds | New Hampshire Public Radio.

New Hampshire about to waive No Child Left Behind, EdWeek “sources say”

The question will be, how much did we have to compromise on including student testing in teaching evaluations?  From Education Week:

Two more states—Alabama and New Hampshire—are about to get waivers from requirements under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, sources say. (Expect an announcement sometime very soon.) That will bring the grand total to … 39 states, plus the District of Columbia. So almost everyone. (But, notably, not big juggernauts California and Texas.)

via Is NCLB Waiver Renewal the Next Big Issue? – Politics K-12 – Education Week.

There is no connection between the inBloom data warehouse and the Common Core

New Hampshire should reject participation in the inBloom student data warehouse, if it ever comes to that, but the purpose of this post is just to make clear that there is no connection between the Common Core State Standards or Common Core testing and this proposed data warehouse.  Here’s an article from Education Week that should put that question to rest:

inBloom, the non-profit started with a hundred million dollar investment from the Gates Foundation, is planning to create a digital record which, barring catastrophe, truly could be a permanent record of every K12 student, from their first interaction with the schools to the last. The amount of information they are planning to collect is staggering. Here are the several hundred categories, which include academic records, attendance records, test results of all sorts, disciplinary incidents, special ed accommodations, and more.

via Will the Data Warehouse Become Every Student and Teacher’s “Permanent Record”? – Education Week.

Will Common Core testing limit opportunities for real learning?

If you haven’t seen this PBS Newshour report on project-based learning at the King Middle School in Portland, Maine, you should.  It’s inspiring.

The report was produced by John Merrow’s group, Learning Matters, and Mr. Merrow uses it as a starting point for this post about the Common Core State Standards.  Here is the part of his post I would like to comment on (highlighting is mine):

“I am following the Common Core story with interest and am pleased that we are going to raise standards and challenge our students more….[Common Core] folks are using all the right words and saying all the right things.


We do a lot good in American education but why is opportunity to learn determined by where you live?

Uri Treisman is widely respected professor of mathematics and of public affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. He is the founder and executive director of the University’s Charles A. Dana Center.  On April 19, 2013, he addressed the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics on equity in American education.  He called his talk “Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize,” and called on his fellow math educators to work toward an education system in which students, regardless of ethnicity, family income or location in the country, have an equal opportunity to learn mathematics and thus gain access to good jobs and incomes. (more…)

You’ve heard how US schools aren’t getting any better but, really….they are.

Prof. Michael Marder of the University of Texas at Austin shows in a simple way (but with a lot of behind-the-scenes work) how American education has been steadily improving.  The chart below shows the state-by-state improvement in 8th grade math scores.  New Hampshire (blue, 8 points between 2003 and 2009) and Massachusetts (green, 21 points between 2000 and 2009) improvements are highlighted.  Click on the graph for a little video explaining what you are seeing.


Front page for Marder movie on school improvement over time

But, even more impressive, here is the live version of the chart.  You can manipulate it in any way you want in order to review a variety of types of state-by-state education data over the period from 2000 to 2009.

Updated 5/27/12, 9:40am to make the degree of improvement clearer.