Thursday, June 20, 2013

No time to gnaw on education goals

This from the Courier-Journal:

The Common Core standards come up again Tuesday, June 18, at 1 p.m. in room 131 at the Capitol Annex in Frankfort. State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday is scheduled to appear before the Education Assessment & Accountability Review Subcommittee.

Lee Todd, the highly regarded former president of the University of Kentucky, has this advice for Kentucky as officials and educators continue to push more rigorous standards for the state’s public school students, especially in the areas of science and math.

“You’ve made some strides already,” he told members at last week’s meeting of the joint House-Senate Education Committee meeting. “Stick to it. We need it.”

Further, he said Kentucky mustn’t bog down in efforts to make students ready for college and careers.
“Speed is important,” said Dr. Todd, an engineer with graduate degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We can’t take time to gnaw on things.”

That’s important advice to educators, legislators and others involved in this critical task who are encountering rough going as they navigate the choppy water of politics and the unpersuaded.

Kentucky must stick with the standards already adopted for English and math, part of its Core Academic Standards, and lawmakers must support efforts of educators seeking to adopt better science standards.

Kentucky in 2010 became the first of 45 states and the District of Columbia to adopt the Common Core State Standards, a state-led movement to set basic, more rigorous educational standards for public education in mathematics and English language arts. Next on the agenda is enacting Next Generation Science Standards, recently adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education to give students a sound, fact-based science education.

But Kentucky’s Common Core standards are encountering some of the tea party-type backlash encountered in other states, including Indiana, where critics have attacked them as a “federal takeover.” And the science standards have come under fire from some lawmakers who wonder why they include evolution but not “creationism,” the religious belief that God created the world.

At the June 10 education committee meeting, several opponents of Common Core spoke, raising some concerns largely unfounded in fact.

And several scientists and teachers who had signed up to testify in support of the science standards got the brush-off from Sen. Mike Wilson, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee. Mr. Wilson, among those who support including creationism in the standards — and who was in charge of the meeting — told them the committee had run out of time.

Of those who spoke, some of the more fanciful claims came from parents who oppose Common Core.

An Oldham County parent blasted Common Core, with no supporting evidence, as a “top-down, one-size-fits-all government takeover of our education system!”

“Put a halt to the madness of Common Core!” he demanded.

Another speaker who identified herself as a Louisville mother of three school-age children, described the standards as being of nefarious design from “behind closed doors by several sets of federally sponsored committees.”

Reality check: The federal government is not involved in Common Core. The nation’s governors and education commissioners helped develop the standards, assisted through $35 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Teachers, education experts and others worked together to develop the standards with ample opportunity for public input. The standards are purely voluntary although most states have adopted them.

Still, critic Richard Innes, with the Bluegrass Institute, claimed the standards were developed with “an extraordinary lack of transparency” and hinted darkly of federal government involvement.

The nearly three-hour long meeting was twice marred by extraordinary rudeness from some in the audience directed at Rep. Derrick Graham, a Frankfort Democrat who was appearing at his first meeting as chairman of the House Education Committee. Both times, Mr. Wilson, the co-chairman in charge of the meeting, sat silently and did nothing to curb the outbursts.

The first episode was when Mr. Graham, who recently retired after 29 years as a high school teacher, attempted to explain the state took the politics out of education under the landmark, 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act by abolishing an elected commissioner in favor of one appointed by the state education board.

He was met with jeers and laughter.

Moments later, Mr. Graham observed that some comments about Common Core appeared to play on “political fears,” drawing more jeers, laughter and the loud comment by one spectator, “Oh come on!“

Such behavior generally is not tolerated at legislative committee meetings and should not be.
Mr. Wilson needs to use his gavel or step aside and hand it to Mr. Graham. And he needs to control the schedule so that as many people as possible, including those in favor of the science standards, get a chance to speak.

This from Kentucky New Era by way of KSBA:
Politicizing education hurts more than it helps
In an effort to take a new approach that will include age-appropriate lessons pushing students to not only learn the concepts of science but to apply them to real-life situations, the Kentucky Board of Education last week adopted new standards for students across the commonwealth. However, these new standards — which include lessons in climate change and evolution — have come under fire recently from some groups while being celebrated by others.

The politicizing of education is just wrong. We’re not going to get into the climate change or evolution debates here, but when any one group with an agenda publically celebrates or denounces a change in curriculum, we think they are taking education to a place it doesn’t need to go.

Education is about learning how to think, not what to think, and regardless of whether someone agrees with the day’s lesson plan, it should not be a political issue. One of the best freedoms we celebrate in America is the marketplace of ideas, and anyone who believes there should be a monopoly on the information shared in our public schools needs to rethink their priorities. Theories are theories. Facts are facts. And when we teach young people about these theories and facts, we need to give them accurate, unbiased information and let them draw their own conclusions.

No one should pass judgment on the new standards before seeing how they will be implemented and what kind of focus they will put on a whole host of science-related topics, not just the controversial ones. So far, it sounds like the new standards are on the right track, and we applaud the state’s effort to improve students’ college and career readiness.

It’s important to note there is a limited amount of time in schools, and if the new standards focus too much on one topic over another, that’s a reason to get upset. But we’re not there yet. Nonetheless, these groups, both liberal and conservative, from the very get-go are trying to drive education into the political arena. In doing this, people miss the point, and their efforts to support their own beliefs are also doing Kentucky’s students and educators a serious disservice.

There doesn’t have to be a political contest here. When it comes to science and what we know to be true, it is what it is, and that doesn’t have to undermine anyone’s faith.

That doesn’t mean teachers should spend months talking about one issue, political or not, while glossing over others. Emphasis is important, and we’ll have to watch for that, but as a community, we need to give our children the facts, teach them to apply what they learn and hope that they go out into this world with the ability to think critically and draw their own conclusions.


Anonymous said...

Being the first responder who runs into a house fire is admirable but do so without your oxygen tank and ax/hose is foolhardy.

As a state we have more than our share of discarded assessment tools and versions of curriculum laying behind us over the last two or three decades all so that we could be a "leader". Let's not regard educated discourse and discussion about something this important as wasted time.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Todd, this is not UK basketball fastbreak. Funny to hear a former university president talk about not taking time to gnaw on things - those places are the model for time wasting bueracracy. Finally, I have got no idea what he means by saying we shouldn't get bogged down in efforts to make students college and career ready. Wasn't he one of the university leaders clamoring about seniors not being ready for college level work just a few years ago?

What's that story about the tortoise and the hare?

I thought slow and steady wins the race.