Children with “highly involved fathers” are 98 percent more likely to complete their college education, according to panelists at a Wednesday AEI event. Though we often look at the importance of marriage through a spiritual, social, or economic lens, the speakers at “Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success” argued that marriage and fatherhood are important for children’s academic success, as well.
Panelists emphasized a “growing father divide” in America: according to a 2013 Pew poll, fathers have more than doubled the time they spend with their children—from 2.5 hours per week to 7 hours—but this increased interaction is pretty skewed toward higher-income families. In the lower income bracket, single-parent families are increasingly common, and a father’s presence is often less prevalent.
W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project and author of When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America, believes paternal involvement makes a difference because of the additional academic, financial, and emotional support it lends to children. Fathers still earn a good portion of household income in married families, and are thus able to contribute to a child’s education via investment in good school districts, educational activities, and college tuitions. Additionally, his studies have shown that fathers are more likely to introduce their children to a work environment, athletic activities, civil society, and politics. They’re also more likely to encourage their children to be independent and to take risks (not to say mothers can’t encourage such activity—he just meant fathers, statistically speaking, are likely to encourage such things).
Kay Hymowitz, Manhattan Institute scholar and author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, hearkened back to a time when the fathers was seen as a rather remote figure in the home, likely to seclude himself behind a newspaper or spend extra hours at the office. She applauded the fact that this stereotype is changing, and suggested that activities like Little League sports have helped foster paternal involvement. But she added that such involvement is not “trickling down,” so to speak.
How to solve this problem? The panelists agreed that, at root, parental absences are often tied to marital issues. Though we do want to provide support to single-parent homes, regardless of the marital situation at hand, it’s important to note that stable marriages often lead to stable parent/child relationships.
But Patrick Patterson, Senior Manager at ICF International, suggested that measures to include fathers in the academic and social lives of their children can have a marked difference, regardless of the marital situation at hand. Fathers should be given more tools and encouragement to be involved in students’ lives at school, in extracurriculars, and in athletics. He noted that the resources and support systems available to single mothers are much greater than those proffered to fathers, and that oftentimes fathers are called upon in negative situations (i.e., child called to the principal’s office) more often than in positive ones. He added that the earlier fathers are engaged in their children’s activities, the more likely they are to stay involved. Read More…
I once tutored a student who could write an A+ essay, and then get a D on her multiple-choice tests. In working with that student, I learned that these two different exercises required entirely different skills. I learned that not all students test well—an unfortunate trait in this age of testing frenzy. The SAT and ACT rule supreme over the futures of prospective college students across the U.S. Want to attend an Ivy League? The tests will determine your fate.
Thanks to a new experiment being conducted this year, liberal arts school Bard College is breaking this mold. While students can still submit a standard application, with the traditional list of SAT scores, GPA, extracurriculars, etc., the New York Times reports that students can also opt for a different (and in many ways, more difficult) project:
… Bard for the first time invited prospective freshmen to dispense with all the preamble, and just write four long essays chosen from a menu of 21 scholarly topics. Very scholarly topics, like Immanuel Kant’s response to Benjamin Constant, absurdist Russian literature and prion disorders. The questions, along with the relevant source materials, were all available on the Bard website. As for the four essays, totaling 10,000 words, they were read and graded by Bard professors. An overall score of B+ or better, and the student got in.
So you can send in your reading lists, club activity, academic references, and transcripts. Or you can write 2,500 words on the topic, “What is the Relationship Between Truth and Beauty?” Which exercise, do you think, is more beneficial to the student? Which measures their creativity—and which demonstrates their ability to jump through hoops?
Bard’s president, Leon Botstein, said the experiment is an act of “declaring war on the whole rigmarole of college admissions.” The typical admissions process picks students based on their best set of quantifiable skills. But this essay method requires and reveals students’ resilience, creativity, and erudition.
Not surprisingly, it’s a rigorous exercise, and many students did not complete the process. The Times reports that only 50 people ended up submitting essays—applicants aged 14 through 23, hailing from seven countries and 17 states. Nine submissions were not complete. All three homeschooled applicants were accepted.
However, as awareness of the program grows, it seems likely they’ll receive more applicants—from students who delight in thinking and writing, or perhaps from students who struggled with tests and classes, and want a second chance. Of course, this process defies the quantifiable designations of a normal application process, and one must applaud Bard for defying the automatous ease of the modern era. This application process, if it grows, will mean more work for all parties.
But it also offers greater goods to those involved: it stretches the application process from a mere filling out of forms, into a learning process itself. As one student essayist told the Times, “I thought about other colleges, but when I started working on the essays, I became sort of obsessed.” Bard’s experiment takes learning out of the classroom, and challenges students at the very outset of their academic career.
While the traditional college application process isn’t wrong, it does leave important knowledge—and important people—out in the cold. Perhaps this experiment will encourage other institutions to look with greater depth at students’ ideas, not just their GPA.
Friday’s Bloomberg article confirmed a longtime suspicion about New York public schools: New York State has the most segregated schools in the United States. It seems counterintuitive, as New York is a Northern state never subjected to Jim Crow. But the deep-seated economic inequalities in New York have created a new form of segregation that exist outside the rule of law but nonetheless affect the opportunities of thousands of students, many of whom will be firmly stuck in the cycle of poverty before they even begin their first day of kindergarten. In a state as liberal as New York, a haven for unions, powerful Democratic politicians, and organizers, those who champion the underdog and preach equality for all are failing the very people they claim to help.
Part of what drives this segregation in New York State is the economic stratification of New York City. Simply put, students from low-income households attend failing public schools, while students from wealthier families have their choice of charter schools, specialized high schools, or private schools. Stuyvesant High School, the most famous and selective specialized high school in New York City, offers admission to whomever passes their rigorous examination, regardless of economic background or ethnicity, but only seven black students were admitted this year, down from nine last year. While there is no law prohibiting black or Latino students from attending to Stuyvesant, low-income families often do not have the resources to help their children prepare for such a rigorous entrance exam. Additionally, if the student is an English learner, he or she will have a steeper uphill battle to receive an even passable education.
One possible factor that could explain such segregation is housing discrimiation. Jamelle Bouie, in one of his last pieces for The Daily Beast, described in stark detail the consistent and systematic methods by which blacks, many of whom were migrants seeking opportunities in the North, were prevented from securing stable housing. The result was the creation of the ghettos that sprung up in Midwestern cities such as Cleveland, and East Coast ones like Baltimore. The schools in these areas often underperform, with high dropout rates and low test scores in reading and math.
In cities like New York, low-income neighborhoods have seen little improvement in their local public schools. In the 1960s, following the Brown v. Board of Education decision, black and Latino children were integrated into predominately white schools, but nothing was done to fix the dilapidated schools they were extracted from, which have limped into the 21st century leaving thousands of dropouts in their wake. In 2014, the battleground for achieving greater educational equality has been charter schools, publicly-funded but privately-run schools that often share space with decrepit public schools. One bone of contention in the controversy is the accusation that charter schools siphon resources from public schools.
It’s true that suffering schools are not directly linked to any particular liberal policy. But the fact cannot be ignored that New York public schools, despite gains made under the Bloomberg administration, are still woefully inadequate. Only 66 percent of New York City high school students graduate, of whom a paltry 47 percent were ready for college, according to data released in December 2013. The bureaucratic maze and insufficient funding make it impossible for students to have their basic needs met to acquire the academic skills to lift them out of poverty and put them on the path to success. New York has long been regarded a bastion of liberal efficiency and equality, an example to the rest of the country for its tolerance and diversity. But this gaping inequality can no longer be swept under the rug. Underpinning this segregation are racist housing policies and willful “scrubbing” of undesirable students from charter schools, which impede black upward mobility as much as the laws in the Jim Crow South. It’s time for New York politicians to understand that their methods for facilitating opportunity have failed, and be more open to new ideas, perhaps from the other side of the aisle.
Advocates of education reform have pointed to Finland consistently over the past few years, urging the U.S. to take note of its educational success. The country has “consistently performed among the top nations on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA),” writes Atlantic contributor Christine Gross-Loh, yet their system “break[s] a lot of the rules we take for granted.”
In her interview with Finnish Education Chief Krista Kiuru, Gross-Loh highlights many of Finland’s most successful policies, and contrasts them with U.S. education reform policy to great effect. Through the interview, several of Finland’s best educational measures (some with rather conservative values) stand out:
Encouraging the principle of subsidiarity
As part of a series of educational reforms in the 1970s and ’80s, Finland “shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation,” wrote Smithsonian Magazine contributor LynNell Hancock in September 2011. ”Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines.”
Additionally, Finland has eliminated mandated standardized testing, with one exception: the National Matriculation Exam, which all students take at the end of upper-secondary school (similar to an American high school). “Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves,” wrote Atlantic author Anu Partanen in December 2011. ”All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher.”
“There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions,” writes Hancock. Because of this, Finnish educators are somewhat puzzled by the U.S. “fascination” with standardized testing—Louhivuori told Hancock such tests are “nonsense”: “We know much more about the children than these tests can tell us.”
Instead of requiring a state inspections, veteran teacher and principal Kari Louhivuori told Hancock, “Our incentives come from inside.” Teacher accountability and inspections are the responsibility of teachers and principals, not federal officials.
Hancock compared Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, in which states compete for federal dollars using tests and standards like Common Core, to Finland’s flexible, decentralized system. Helsinki principal Timo Heikkinen told Hancock, “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.” And indeed, the “human aspect” seems very important to Finnish education.
Focusing on the human element, rather than numbers
Teachers spend fewer hours at school and less time in classrooms than their American counterparts. Rather, they use this extra time to create curricula, assess students, and continue their own education. Children spend more time playing outside, and homework is minimal, according to Hancock. Read More…
Indiana is set to dump the Common Core standards, after a proposal passed the Senate Wednesday by a 35-13 vote. The proposal now goes to Republican Gov. Mike Pence for approval. This move, writes NWI Times reporter Dan Carden, was motivated by “fears the federal government seeks to control local schools.”
Many conservatives are concerned the federal government might use Common Core to enforce a specific set of educational principles or guidelines on teachers and children. This is perhaps the most pervasive concern regarding the standards.
Question: Is the Common Core initiative truly state-led?
The standards’ history is a bit opaque in places, but there are some basic facts about the standards’ development that can be traced. Common Core was kickstarted by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, according to US News reporter Allie Bidwell. While serving as the 2006-07 chair of the National Governors Association, Napolitano wrote an initiative focused on improving math and science education. This initiative inspired her to take on a larger project: creating “an internationally competitive education system.” She assembled a task force of commissioners, governors, corporate executives and education experts, and they collectively released a report in 2008 called “Benchmarking for Success.”
The report is primarily focused on “building a globally competitive education system,” and offered five steps to help achieve that goal. The first step called for new standards:
Action 1: Upgrade state standards by adopting a common core [emphasis added] of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grades K-12 to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to be globally competitive.
The report also included a section titled “The Federal Role,” calling on the federal government to play an “enabling role grounded in a new vision for the historic state-federal partnership in education—one that is less restrictive and mandate-driven and more encouraging of innovation.” They specifically asked that the government “offer new funding or allow existing funds to be used to help underwrite the cost for states to take the five action steps described above…” One could argue that this is exactly what Race to the Top did.
The NGA, CCSSO, and nonprofit group Achieve all spearheaded the creation of the Common Core State Standards. Some believe that, when initially introduced, states and critics adopted the standards enthusiastically. But as Carden put it in his Indiana piece, “After Democratic President Barack Obama endorsed the standards, Tea Party groups and other Republicans began to view Common Core as a federal takeover of their local schools.”
Did the federal government involvement start even earlier in the process? Former science teacher Kay Bivens thinks so—in a Lake Wylie Pilot article, she points to the federal funding that both the NGA and CCSSO receive, and draws rather sinister conclusions: “As a nonprofit, NGA meetings and paperwork are not subject to public scrutiny. But its 2011-2012 financial records show it received $4.9 million from the federal government.” Additionally, the CCSSO “shared U.S. federal grants of $330 million in stimulus funds with the NGA in 2010. Like the NGA, this nonprofit’s status allowed it to hold Common Core-related meetings leaving it open to criticism about secrecy.” Of course, none of this funding means the federal government directed Common Core’s creation—but Bivens writes, “it doesn’t take a detective to question the direct federal government connection with the two companies preparing tests to assess Common Core.”
On the other hand, Truth in American Education writer Shane Vander Hart thinks the standards were “special-interest written and funded” at their genesis, due to the heavy involvement of such groups as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Boeing Company, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the GE Foundation, IBM Corporation, and others. He believes the federal government really began playing a role when Race to the Top pushed other states to adopt Common Core: the 2009 stimulus package of $4.35 billion came with ties attached, and called specifically for new standards (though it didn’t specify which).
Thus, the question of whether the Common Core initiative was state-led is rather tricky, and depends largely on one’s definition of what a state-led effort should look like—and whether federal monetary incentive ought to have been included in the effort.
Question: Could the implementation of Common Core lead to the adoption of a nationwide curriculum? Read More…
As part of a continuing discussion on the myths and truths surrounding Common Core, this piece studies the standards’ math guidelines, and addresses pertinent questions and concerns regarding the material.
Question: Is the Common Core Dumbing Math Down?
Answer: No. Most of the backlash against some of the new approaches to arithmetic are due to their novelty, not their merit.
When a sample addition problem began circulating on the internet, some parents worried that new Common Core standards were selling mathematics short. In the picture below, a student can do a subtraction problem by counting up, using easy numbers, to span the gap between the smaller number and the larger number:
The method in the bottom half of the page has been ridiculed, but math teacher Hemant Mehta thinks it makes a fair amount of sense. He explains that the rule on the top is familiar to all of us adults, but it’s not particularly intuitive to a child:
The problem with that method is that if I ask students to explain why it works, they’d have a really hard time explaining it to me. They might be able to do the computation, but they don’t get the math behind it. For some people, that’s fine. For math teachers, that’s a problem because it means a lot of students won’t be able to grasp other math concepts in the future because they never really developed “number sense.” …
If students can get a handle on thinking this way instead of just plugging numbers into a formula, the thinking goes, it’ll make other math skills much easier to understand.
Mehta’s perspective echoes the reasoning given in the Common Core downloadable math standards, which state:
There is a world of difference between a student who can summon a mnemonic device to expand a product such as (a + b)(x + y) and a student who can explain where the mnemonic comes from. The student who can explain the rule understands the mathematics, and may have a better chance to succeed at a less familiar task such as expanding (a + b + c)(x + y). Mathematical understanding and procedural skill are equally important, and both are assessable using mathematical tasks of sufficient richness.
Question: These rules might be more intuitive, but are they slower or more cumbersome than the old way?
Answer: In the short term, perhaps, but these skills exist to cultivate number sense more than to speed up calculations. Read More…
Question: Does Common Core’s focus on skills and test results hurt teachers?
Answer: It could—in a couple different ways.
First, there’s the cost and work of implementing Common Core (the Pioneer Institute has researched the cost, and shares some numbers and statistics on its website). The standards require a level of time and work to implement that, at least temporarily, may frustrate many teachers. If the resulting changes are good, then teachers will benefit from their students’ improved rigor and enthusiasm for learning. But changes could cause—and already have caused, in some cases—greater frustration in the classroom.
The American Federation of Teachers just announced at this month’s SXSWedu conference in Austin that they will no longer accept money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its Innovation Fund. Why? The Washington Post reports: “Union members have expressed concern about the poor implementation in many states of the Common Core State Standards, one of the initiatives in which the fund invests.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten went so far as to say the standards’ implementation in recent years was “worse” than Healthcare.gov’s launch:
Fifth-grade teachers, for example, have been told to follow a new, scripted 500-page curriculum pretty much to the letter. It’s an inexcusable information dump that, without time and training for teachers to absorb, adapt and apply the new material, won’t improve student learning. As Linda Darling-Hammond has written, the Common Core standards should be ‘guideposts, not straitjackets.’
Common Core’s creators specify on their FAQ page that they are not in charge of the standards’ implementation, but rather those decisions “are made at the state and local levels. As such, states and localities are taking different approaches to implementing the standards and providing their teachers with the supports they need…”
In an EPE Research Center survey, only 22 percent of teachers said they had fully incorporated the Common Core into their teaching, whereas 65 percent said they had integrated some areas, but not others. Forty-nine percent believe that Common Core standards are of higher quality than their state’s previous standards, while 44 percent believe the standards are of “about the same quality,” and 7 percent said prior state standards were of higher quality. Read More…
As part of a continuing discussion on the myths and truths surrounding Common, this piece seeks to shed light on the standards’ “informational text” guidelines, along with questions and concerns that have surfaced around them.
Question: Do the Common Core English standards replace literature with “informational texts”? If so, what’s the replacement ratio?
Answer: Yes. The standards discuss “informational texts” and ratio of replacement on page five of the downloadable standards. Informational texts for grades K-5 are defined as “biographies and autobiographies; books about history, social studies, science, and the arts; technical texts, including directions, forms, and information displayed in graphs, charts, or maps; and digital sources on a range of topics” (page 31). For grades 6-12, an informational text includes “subgenres of exposition, argument, and functional text in the form of personal essays, speeches, opinion pieces, essays about art or literature, biographies, memoirs, journalism, and historical, scientific, technical, or economic accounts (including digital sources) written for a broad audience” (page 57).
As to the ratio of fictional to nonfictional text: the standards don’t give an explicit number, but say the “follow NAEP’s (National Assessment Governing Board) lead in balancing the reading of literature with the reading of informational texts,” in grades K-5, thus assuming about a 50-50 ratio. In later grades, they “demand that a significant amount of reading of informational texts take place in and outside the ELA classroom.” “Significant,” according to the 2009 NAEP Reading Framework (pictured below), would be somewhere around 55 and 70 percent for grades 8 and 12. They admit that fulfilling these standards requires “much greater attention to a specific category of informational text—literary nonfiction—than has been traditional.” They do note that “the ELA classroom must focus on literature (stories, drama, and poetry) as well as literary nonfiction,” and thus much of the required informational reading “must take place in other classes if the NAEP assessment framework is to be matched instructionally.
Note: these English standards don’t just apply to English classes. They also contain guidelines for teaching literacy in history and social studies classes, science class, and in “technical subjects.” In the above passage, the Common Core authors admit that English classrooms “must focus on literature” and literary nonfiction (often described as “creative nonfiction” or “literary journalism”). From this wording, it would appear that informational texts are meant to be most emphasized in the other aforementioned classes. And indeed, most history classes are meant to focus on informational texts.
Thus, it seems that the precise ratio of fiction to nonfiction implemented in the English classroom is still up to the teacher. There may be a greater emphasis on nonfiction than before, but the type of nonfiction selected is also dependent on the teacher’s choice. If he or she wants to introduce students to Charles Dickens’ journalistic accounts of London, the standards would allow for that.
Question: Will this become an opportunity for leftist propaganda to infiltrate schools?
Answer: Maybe—that entirely depends on the teacher and curriculum. Read More…
Thoughtful commenters on last week’s “Fact and Fiction at CPAC Common Core Panel” expressed some disappointment with the piece’s lack of in-depth analysis. I hope to respond to these concerns, and provide greater information on the “fact and fiction” surrounding Common Core. Unfortunately, it will take (a lot) more than 500 words. This article looks specifically at questions and concerns over student privacy with the new standards.
Question: Do the Common Core State Standards encourage or require government data mining of students’ personal information?
Answer: Not directly. The real culprit, it seems, lies with federal dollars given to states—take Obama’s Race to the Top: an initiative that gave federal dollars to states in exchange for their commitment to “four key areas of reform.” Though the reforms never reference the Common Core by name, Race to the Top called for “development of rigorous standards and better assessments.” It also required “Adoption of better data systems to provide schools, teachers, and parents with information about student progress” (this is where concern over data mining comes in).
Also, the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) offered stimulus money to governors in 2009 for state education. SFSF money came with a very specific set of qualifications for states: it doesn’t reference Common Core by name, either, but required that states “progress toward rigorous college- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable for all students.” Its second qualification, though, has many parents up in arms: “The state must assure that it will take actions to … establish and use pre-K-through-college and career data systems to track progress and foster continuous improvement.”
In sum, SFSF told states it has to track the students’ educational progression from preschool through college, and even beyond.
The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is leading the actual data-collection effort on the ground. This is where things get interesting, and why many people are grouping Common Core with the data mining effort: CCSSO is co-holder of the Common Core Standards copyright. They’re developing a system of “statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDSs),” that will track students from pre-K through college (and career).
What data does CCSSO intend to gather via SLDSs? In 2010, the National Center for Education Statistics released a technical brief titled “Guidance for Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS),” with a little information on the sort of data they’re likely to include: student’s name, name of parents or family members, address of his/her family, a personal identifier (like a SSN, student number, or biometric record), and “indirect identifiers” such as a date of birth, place of birth, or mother’s maiden name. Read More…
Concerns expressed at CPAC’s “Common Core, Choice, and Accountability” forum are much touted in conservative debate: there is widespread fear that Common Core is a guise for the centralization of education. What was thrown into sharp relief at the panel was the great growth of this viewpoint amongst conservatives, tea partiers, and libertarians at the grassroots level.
Panelists worried mainly about the centralization of standards (and how that will affect curricula), the widely protested promotion of informational texts in English classes, and the gathering of student information, supposedly tracking kids through the entirety of their school and college education (Phyllis Schlafly, Founder of Eagle Forum, compared this to George Orwell’s 1984).
Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke was the panel’s moderator. She said Common Core’s supporters in the conservative party are “well-intentioned,” but added that the standards have been “heavily incentivized by the Obama administration,” and are “setting us on a course for national curriculum.”
Schlafly said this issue has gained a lot of steam on the local level: “The moms are coming out of the woodwork on this issue.” She warned against the Common Core English Standards’ new emphasis on informational texts: “informational reading morphs into liberal propaganda,” she said, pointing to the College Board’s new “Spring Board” curricula as an example.
Robert Enlow, President of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, called Common Core “yet another mechanism by which those who think they know more can tell parents what to do.” Jim Stergios, Executive Director of Pioneer Institute, denied that the initiatives are truly state-led, calling it “a remarkable claim.” He pointed to Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, and the strong incentives (in the form of grants and waivers) offered to those who adopted Common Core. He believes these incentives were, in actuality, arm-twisting bribes and blackmail. “There are friends among us who say this is truly conservative. That is ludicrous,” he said.
Stergios also criticized the standards’ emphasis on informational texts: “Reading between the lines of literature teaches kids about meaning,” he said, adding that it teaches important lessons on irony and nuance. “When’s the last time you read a textbook and laughed?”
The panelists received a strong and passionate reception from their audience. There were several Tea Partiers and mothers in attendance, all of whom expressed strong agreement with Schlafly’s points. One mother expressed great fear over Common Core, and what it may encourage in the future.
Unfortunately, many of her fears may not be grounded. Common Core is a creature touted and rebuked across party lines, and myths cluster around it like a deep fog. The panelists expressed some realistic concerns with Common Core—but their rhetoric was perhaps too strong on certain points. One of the reasons Common Core has become the “most heated debate over education,” as Burke put it, may lie at the fault of such rhetoric. There is need for more “informational texts” on Common Core itself, before the debate can achieve any real lucidity.