Standards-Based Reforms

Nationally and in Ohio, we press for the full suite of standards-based reforms across the academic curriculum and throughout the K–12 system, including (but not limited to) careful implementation of the Common Core standards (CCSS) for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics as well as rigorous, aligned state assessments and forceful accountability mechanisms at every level.

The Education Gladfly

OECS launches international JERK assessment

Seemingly envious of the huge (and lucrative) success of the OECD’s PISA and the IEA’s TIMSS testing programs, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has devised and is marketing its own assessment system, the Judging Educational Results and Knowledge (JERK) exam. Fearing the effect that global warming may have on low-lying island shorelines and traditional tropical tourism, JERK is meant to raise money and awareness of the Caribbean’s other offerings. Aimed at preschoolers—the optimal age to develop a taste for authentic Caribbean seasoning—the principal subjects covered are off-shore banking and maritime exports. Every child who takes and completes the test gets a spicy chicken leg courtesy of Golden Krust (test underwriter and America’s largest Caribbean-food chain). Eat your heart out, OECD, but wash it down with a glass of milk if you can’t stand the heat.

Project ABC

The DOE announced today a new initiative involving PARCC, SBAC, EOCs, SATs, and ACTs. Under this effort, K–12 students with an IEP or 504, as well as those in GATE, ESE, or ESOL programs, will benefit from new rubrics to determine GPA and IQ. The intent of this initiative is to increase non-cognitive as well as twenty-first-century skills using gamification, MOOCs, scaffolding, and, of course, text complexity. The initiative has the backing of the NEA, AFT, NCTM, NCTE, and NCSS, multiple DHFS and DOCs, as well as SEAs, LEAs, and PTAs across the nation. Schools...

Jerome McElroy

Nutrition standards for school lunches are almost as controversial as the Common Core. Conservatives shun federal overreach; liberals resist high-stakes standards. Add to that the new opt-out craze and we’ve got ourselves one hell of a food fight.

This head cheese of interests has, however, produced one thing of value: the Food Network’s new game show, Top Lunch Lady (or Lad). Fast-paced, easily digestible episodes feature the nation’s most culinarily clever cafeteria chefs as they submit to a series of grueling gauntlets. Be it creating “next-generation” allergy-free peanuts, identifying the curious components of “mystery meatloaf,” or recreating the school lunches of yesteryear using only kale, quinoa, chia seeds, and vegan cheese, the competition is tighter than a new hair net.

The last contestant standing will receive a week’s worth of personalized aprons, a new set of designer ladles, and a year-long waiver from the Ag Department’s new rules. Expert judges include Joey Chestnut, Richard Simmons, that lunch lady from Billy Madison with the sloppy joes, and—the hardest judge of all—third grader Mackenzie Willard.

No matter how you cut it, “T-Triple-L” takes food lovers on a tasty adventure down memory lane. Mark my words: The show will be the hottest thing since 1946’s School Lunch Act. #ThanksMichelleObama!...

The Education Gladfly

Fordham’s State of State Standards reports have been a pillar of our work for nearly two decades. But we realized that there was one field we’d never ventured into: sex education. We focused on a simple question: “Does your state offer sex education, yes or no?” Turns out, the issue was hardly black and white.

Gnoes Tradamis

We hereby deem 2015 the year of federal education reform! Sure, the Heritage Foundation and teachers’ unions quashed ESEA reauthorization. And sure, states are the ones who will either adopt or kill the Common Core, not the federal government (despite, frequently, its best efforts). So what? 2015’s all about that fed ed-style reform. Exhibit A: Other agencies now assess employees using measures straight out of the Department of Education’s teacher-eval playbook.

Take Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Starting this year, 25 percent of his performance review will be tied to the childhood obesity rate, another 25 percent linked to corn and soy sales (easy enough for a former Iowa guv), and 35 percent based on TRANS. (It’s like VAM, but with trans fats. Oh, that doesn’t make sense? Just take our word for it.) The final 15 percent hinges on random and unannounced observations of the Vilsack family dinner table six times a year, with extra points given if the meal adheres to the MyPlate Mini-Poster!

Over at the State Department, Secretary Kerry will get a perfect score if he uses a email address. “Sometimes proficiency is asking too much, so we’re just focusing on growth,” said an agency spokesperson.

As for over-testing, FDA’s really in the $%#&. Commissioner Hamburg’s continued employment depends on her ability to match myriad acronyms with their correct department using a ten-year-old computer within a fixed time. She’s only tested biannually, but the stakes are...

Chester F. Finn, Jr.

Photo credit: Kimchi 김치" by Craig Nagy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Editor’s note: This fall, Hartford Education Press will publish a new book by Fordham’s Chester F. Finn, Jr. and Brendon Wright, provisionally titled Failing America’s Brightest Students: The Global Challenge of Educating Youngsters with Exceptional Ability. To whet your appetite, HEP has allowed us to print the Finn-penned preface that the team submitted (subject, alas, to revision between now and publication).

The idea for this book was born two years ago, when I read Amanda Ripley’s volume The Smartest Kids in the World. I hate to be promiscuous with compliments, but it’s a very adequate effort. Its title, however, is highly misleading, which I realizedas soon as I checked the book’s index and didn’t see any of my granddaughters mentioned. That’s like Romeo and Juliet without Juliet. The Old Testament without Moses. Black Swan without swans.

So I decided then and there to write a book that’s actually about the smartest kids in the world—and how countries around the globe educate them.

Regular Fordham followers know that we’re not fans of how America’s schools treat gifted students; benign neglect is usually the best they can hope for, like Mary and Kitty Bennet, Jan Brady, and the members of Coldplay not named Chris Martin.

So how do other nations do it? Especially those whose...

Dharma Finkelstein Montgomery

A new report out of the Research Association of the West Fremont Data Service (RAWFDS) takes a fresh look at the overlap between two fast-growing groups of cranky parents: Those opposed to school testing and those opposed to human vaccination. RAWFDS analysts label the former “anti-testers,” the latter “anti-vaxxers,” and explain that both have a penchant for “opting out.” Based on this shared tendency, the report poses an important, fascinating, and novel question: Are these two cliques actually different, or are the same people just refusing tons of stuff? Taking a representative sample of twelve parents in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Fremont-based researchers conducted a simple survey comprising three questions: (1) Do you allow your kid to take tests in school?; (2) Do you allow medical professionals to administer vaccines to your children?; and (3) What else do you refuse to do? To demonstrate the overlap for the first two questions, the RAWFDS report offers a venn diagram:

Incredible overlap! Wow. (And who knew that blue and yellow make green?) But the more important question, no doubt, is why? Why are so many flippin’ the bird at common practices? That’s where that third question comes into play. Scouring the incredibly numerous and varied responses, researchers conclude that some people just love to rebuff. For example, 73 percent of these same respondents steadfastly refuse to curtsy. Another 45 percent have stringent no-shoe-horn...

The Education Gladfly

Despite years of high-octane headlines, neither opponents nor proponents of the Common Core State Standards have managed to nail down the 42 percent of the population that tells pollsters they are still “unsure” about where they stand on this controversial topic. Are you one of the 42 percent? Use this tool to find out where you should land on the issue!

Kessington A. Bennett Waldorf IV

Photo credit: Me at 6" by Chris Gladis is licensed under  CC BY-ND 2.0.

For years, so-called “no excuses” charter schools have cultivated student perseverance, grit, and “growth mindsets” in the belief that such traits are essential to adult success. The theory seemed right, but it turns out to be completely wrong. New research indicates that the planet’s richest and most powerful denizens demonstrate altogether different character traits: arrogance, zealotry, self-promotion, narcissism, and an unwavering willingness to run roughshod over others.

This startling but unimpeachable analysis arose from recently uncovered videos of Stanford’s famous “marshmallow experiment.” In one riveting 1979 clip, three-year-old Travis arches an eyebrow when a marshmallow is placed on the table in front of him. When asked if he can wait for ten minutes before eating it, he snaps, “Do I look like a poopy-face? I wouldn’t wait 10 minutes for an entire #$&% bag of marshmallows. I specifically said white truffles!” The child then throws the marshmallow at the cowering researcher and storms out of camera range. Offscreen, he’s then heard demanding a black car. “And I damn well better not be kept waiting,” he wails. “You idiots have already made me late for Mommy and Me Yoga!”

Researchers at the time classified children like this one as having poor self-control and labeled them as marshmallow-test #fails. In 2012, however, an aging former member...

Robin Sparkles

Recent visitors to a local D.C. high school were greeted with a remarkable sight—a room full of high school seniors silently reading classic literature. The featured book was Emoji-Dick, a line-by-line translation of Herman Melville’s celebrated novel into emoji, the picture symbols now ubiquitous in modern digital communications. Unfortunately, A Nation at Risk, Again: Emoji Illiteracy in the Twenty-First Century claims that this classroom is the exception, not the rule. The timely report reveals a number of dire findings, but worst of all is the revelation that, according to researchers, an astoundingly low 62 percent of American students were proficient in ELA (Emoji Language Arts)—a full thirty-seven points behind their Japanese peers.

According to authors, most American students can’t grasp such basic distinctions  as when to use the “smiling face with heart-shaped eyes” versus the “face throwing a kiss.” These same kids are also frequently the target of online bullying. “Our only comfort regarding these students is that their emoji illiteracy actually shields them from understanding the vast majority of these aggressive online attacks,” says Mike Petrilli, education reformer and cyber bullying expert.

On the bright side, the people behind the Common Core recognize the need for improved emoji instruction and are set to roll out rigorous new ELA standards within the year. These standards will include important skills like “proper sentence punctuation with pizza emojis” and “using context clues to interpret or infer emoji meanings in literature.” Of...

Xavier Zinn

Clearly undeterred—and perhaps even spurred onward—by the backlash over its recent interventions in schools’ disciplinary practices and access to advanced courses, the Education Department’s proactive Office for Civil Rights is again moving into new territory: student lockers and alphabetical order. In the first instance, government enforcers have determined that high schoolers often have bigger lockers than second graders and now threaten punitive action if any school system does not give every student access to an equally capacious locker. Even more draconian is the fate awaiting districts in which little kids presently have “cubbies” rather than proper lockers.

As for alphabetical order, OCR has surfaced two problems that outrage their sense of fairness. It seems that teachers and schools routinely sort and categorize their students by the beginning letters of their surnames, which means that, 93 percent of the time,the Aarons and Adamses go first, while the Youngners and Zimmermans are relegated to lives at the end of the line. This blatant discrimination must be rectified. On some occasions, and perhaps half the time, the last must be first.

The second OCR issue is more nuanced. Teachers who attempt to treat kids fairly by occasionally instituting reverse alphabetical order are causing other kinds of problems, so saith the agency. Some early-alphabeters are said to suffer emotional scarring, while others lash out in tantrums, disrupting classroom learning. Meanwhile, the Ys and Zs are at risk of panic attacks due to being “put on the spot” by...