Monday, January 27, 2014

Hot topic for 2014: Common Core and testing

As state legislatures convene in 2014,  look for renewed debate about Common Core academic standards and the testing that comes along with it,  says Pam Goins, director of education policy for the Council of State Governments.

"Rising numbers of stakeholders are questioning the Common Core State Standards Initiative, state assessment systems and teacher evaluation models. Of the 45 states that adopted the common core, as many as 20 states may re-open the discussion on rigorous academic standards,"  Goins wrote in a news release last week. "The remaining states likely will review their commitment to overhauling state assessment and accountability systems."

That's certainly true in North Carolina,  where questions about testing are raging and the state is moving toward new exams developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium that will provide cross-state comparisons of higher-level skills.

In addition to assessment and accountability, the council pegs the top five education issues for 2014 as expanding access to early childhood education,  increasing college/workforce readiness,  figuring out the best uses of digital learning and increasing college completion.

Those all sound on target for our state,  though I'd add teacher compensation and charters/choice to North Carolina's hot-topic list for 2014.  Any other big items on your radar?


andrew riddle said...

What about parental responsibility. I believe the home environment is an important component. Public school used to be called secondary education. Primary education took place in the home.

Anonymous said...

Good luck with that... Parents .. That's crazy talk.. We have to blame teachers.. Silly. They are an easy target that can't defend themselves. Next your going to say we should hold politicians accountable..

Anonymous said...

Common core is nothing but preparing a class of worker bees that have been tracked and marked for easy recognition.

Pamela Grundy said...

I'd like to see this be the year when parents stand up together to push for a saner method of accountability than these crazy and expensive tests that cause more problems every year.

BolynMcClung said...


Raleigh has an education management problem. Too many decisions are being made by too many people who have records filled with too many mistakes.

An example: PowerSchool

What about that company Pearson that sold NC a piece of junk data management system called PowerSchool.

The decision to continue doing business with Pearson after it deep sixed the old system without warning was a bad one. Pearson essentially blackmailed the state.

NCDPI needs a management overhaul.

Bolyn McClung

Fake Name said...

Common Core make me sore.

Anonymous said...

Pamela and others, I'd like to see this be the year when CMS and parents stand together and push for saner school start times. High schools should start no earlier than 8am. CMS needs to stand up and make the right decision for healthier, smarter and happier teenage students.

Shamash said...

Yeah, I'm not too fond of the generic goal of making kids "college and career ready".

Without answering a few questions.

Which college?

Which career?

I suspect that the bar is probably set too low.

Anonymous said...

North Carolina needs to take charge and dump Common Core... Teachers need diagnostic testing that is useful as a tool. Reasonable pretest and post test. Make sure the test matches the curriculum. Not all classes need assessments. I don't want to see an gym, or dance test. Kids are stressed out as it is.. We do not need test for the sake of test.

Peggy C. said...

Not sure what is happening at our elementary school, either the teachers don't know how to teach the new curriculum or the students are really far behind and not getting it. Only a handful of 5th grade students pass the (very poorly written)math tests the first time around. Almost the entire 5th grade class retakes the tests. What a mess if this is this happening at every school.

Pamela Grundy said...


Perhaps the problem lies not with the teachers or the students but with the poorly written tests (especially if they are continuing to use the highly problematic technique of having children calculate answers and then fill them in on a confusing grid).

Shamash said...


How are the same kids doing on the MAP tests?

If they are consistently scoring well on the MAP tests, but not scoring well on the new tests, then I think you have some proof of where the problem lies.

(Even if BOTH tests are written by "professionals" at the same test writing company, things can and do go wrong.)

I'd tend to trust the test which has been the more widely used for the longer time (of the two).

Dr. Bob said...

8:04 am - Considerable research confirms the relationship between school start times, sleep deprivation, and student performance, truancy, and absenteeism, as well as depression, mood swings, impulse control, tobacco and alcohol use, impaired cognitive function and decision-making, obesity, stimulant abuse, automobile accidents, and suicide. Mounting evidence about the biology of adolescent sleep, and about the impact of later start times shows that starting school before 8 a.m. not only undermines academic achievement but endangers health and safety.

Some school districts including CMS argue that logistical and financial issues prevent local school systems from establishing safe and educationally defensible hours, however, legislation mandating start times consistent with student health and educational well-being is happening all over the US and is essential as we move forward. This problem can actually be noted as a public health issue.

Peggy C. said...

No, the unit tests are written "in house" by the 5th grade staff. They are very poorly written, with grammatical and spelling errors in almost every problem, as well as just plain confusing to read.

Anonymous said...

CMS is to dam big.. Common Core is more Obama.corp.bush.ed..

Shamash said...

I guess that's why so many people are demanding standardization.

If I saw a test like that, I'd wonder about those teachers.

Usually, though, I just see poorly copied tests, like from an old mimeograph machine so you can't tell a 6 from an 8.

Legibility is critical on math tests, though, especially when your kid knows the math, but misreads the numbers or can't see them because of smudges.

I'd definitely complain about an entire test which was poorly written, though.

Pamela Grundy said...


Sounds like it's time for a talk with your principal. Problematic tests don't do anyone any good.

Anonymous said...

To Peggy, you are not the only one who has noticed this phenomenon. There is not one correspondence than comes home from my son's school administrator or teacher that DOES NOT have spelling and grammatical errors on it!

doug said...

8:04am Agree completely. there is not one CMS highschool principal that would tell you that 7:15 is a good time to start school for teen age students.

Anonymous said...

Parents, This is National School Choice Week. School choice does not look the same for everyone because learning isn't the same for every child. Families must make the right decision for what works for their children. there are other good and affordable options out there other than just CMS folks.

Wiley Coyote said...

Solution: Give me a spirit duplicator machine.

New Test



Complete the word: Man's best friend is a d__g.

The first President of the United States was:_______________

I wonder what the outcry would be if we resorted to something that simple.

Besides, the duplicating fluid has a pleasant odor.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday I was talking with two friends, one a high school teacher and one a middle school secretary. Both were hoping for another late start day this week, not because they got to sleep in--staff reports at 7 like always, but because they said that the students were more energized and attentive on the late start time days. And they really liked having planning time at the start of the day. The school secretary friend, who has always been a very staunch defender of a county-wide CMS (and deeply regretted the end of busing), sighed and said "CMS is just too big now--local communities have no control over what's going on."

Shamash said...


You joke, but my kid recently brought home two tests where he was marked wrong because of poor copies.

Yes, in one the 8 looked like a 6.

But in the other, he was supposed to unscramble a word, but the entire scrambled word was hidden under a huge black smudge.

And the teacher marked it wrong, anyway.

Unbelievable, so I wrote her a note pointing out the mistakes.

Not that I care about the "grade", but kids need good feedback on how they're doing, not random sloppiness.

That, and the fact that they have kids learn "vocabulary" from rap songs just got my goat that particular day.

So I showed him how to use a dictionary so he could get the meaning of words the way most literate people do.

I can only imagine our dim future (Idiocracy) where everyone carries around thousands of rap songs so they can look up word meanings...

Anonymous said...

We moved here a few years ago from PA and decided not to buy a house in south charlotte because of the CMS 7:15am start time. My boys are very happy in Fort Mill with the schools and the 8:30 start time.

Chipper said...

Common core will be an epic fail and then we have another new program to rally behind.

Anonymous said...

my hot topic list is too long to write, but why can't teachers, in this day and age with the convenience of technology at their disposal 24/7, please update their websites for parents who care. thank you.

Mary Askey said...

I'm curious how much freedom and flexibility the teachers have now with the common curriculum? a previous poster noted that the teachers are making up their own tests?

Pamela Grundy said...

I don't personally listen to much rap, and have plenty of issues with the violence and misogyny in a lot of rap songs but the good rap writers do remarkable things with a range of complex words. If selected and taught well, they're a great source of vocabulary, as well as words in context.

Wiley Coyote said...


My comment was no joke. Tongue in cheek, but not a joke. The KISS method.

I've said it before, implement a curriculum across all LEAs in the state (English, math, science history, etc.), have teachers teach it. Let them make up their own tests throughout the year, give homework, pop tests, projects etc.

Then after the first semester and end of year if the state wants to give tests that cover the material from the two periods in order to see what the kids have learned, then do it. The grades count just as any other test the teacher gives.

The material really doesn't change. Math is math, history is history and English is English.

Think of it as Wiley's Principle of Parsimony (KISS).

Daddy daycare said...

for those of you concerned or you just want more data about early school start times, please check out this group.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Shamash, I'm afraid a physical dictionary is even more endangered than a print newspaper. Even I look up words online now (including but not limited to urban slang online dictionaries). I still have a well-worn paper dictionary, but use it mostly as a lap prop when I'm doing sudoku and crosswords.

bobcat99 said...

Ann, I know you have run something on this before, but what about a column on early start times and what we know about adolescents. I think changing start schedules is difficult, but it is doable. And it is worth it for the kids. As far as Common Core, I think there is enough pressure coming from the political left and right both to roll it back considerably. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is a one-trick pony. I don't think he has any other ideas for how to improve schools except testing.

Shamash said...


This is rap produced specifically for "educational" purposes.

It's called Flocabulary.

And it pretty much sucks for normal students.

But it has had some success with the urban crowd.

"Menchville High reports that the average SAT writing score for 11th graders in August 2005 was 420. In April 2006, after Flocabulary was introduced into the curriculum, the average score rose to 477."

Yeah, one step further towards that "gold standard" of 500's on those SAT's...

I'll pass for my kid.

Shamash said...


What makes you think I used a physical dictionary?

I used the online Merriam Webster.

He actually liked it because he got some funny definitions for the second and third meanings.

(Unlike the rap song which only used one definition, and not always the most common or most useful.)

And I even let him cut and paste the words.

But I'll teach him how to use a physical dictionary, too.

Just in case.

Shamash said...


I was also reading in Wikipedia where Flocabulary was endorsed by Oprah's BFF, Gail King.

Final nail in THAT coffin for me.

Besides, I thought the tide was turning AGAINST "rote" memorization.

But not if it's rap?

Pamela Grundy said...


I'll leave the Flocabulary research to you. I've seen some cool stuff done with rap, but it didn't involve packaged products. Ah, the wonders of capitalism . . .

Shamash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shamash said...


Flocabulary is corporate rap (aka C-rap).

With the usual backing.

Wouldn't be surprised to find it meets Common Core "standards", though.

Definitely designed for the below average learner (or maybe the English Language Learners... forgive us all).

Learning to music isn't anything new.

Anyone heard of Tom Lehrer?

New Math:

Mostly for entertainment, though.

He also did some childrens songs for Electric Company, such as Silent E.

Meant to be taken more seriously.

Bolyn McClung said...


Remember the type writer.

Ron Mingo, once known as the fastest typist in the world, taught typing in Oakland, CA in the 1970’s and used music in his classes.
Below is a link that shows his classes typing to 70’s music. Go to the 1:30 mark.

I found this the other day after I watched a very cute movie on Netflix: Populiare.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

To 10:17 I would love to have time to create a website/wiki but for now I have to make do with the one for the grade level.

I spend most of my time correcting papers, providing meaningful feedback, planning lessons for the specific needs of my students who are at many different levels, and attending staff meetings, committee meetings, data meetings, and parent conferences. Today after school I sent an email to my parents about upcoming events and then had to call several parents to discuss their children's behavior.

Technology may be available 24/7, but I'm scheduled to work 8 hours a day (some days I even get a break for lunch) and I work nights and weekends just to keep up with the paperwork. (Don't start, Wiley...I'm not complaining, just stating facts!)

Maybe you could volunteer to help with updating the website or other classroom jobs so the teacher has time to do it.

Anonymous said...

Common Core really will you still sell papers when the new fashionable education reforms come out in a few years? Common Core is the latest trend that will last 2-3 years at the most. It has no accountability and boxes in teachers. Minimal across the board results at best. Failure in less than 5 years maximum. Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...

Could it be that one reason NC schools did so poorly last year be that students and teachers were not provided with materials to assist with the new curriculum? A BOOK in a child's hand goes a long way.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that one reason NC schools did so poorly last year be that students and teachers were not provided with materials to assist with the new curriculum? A BOOK in a child's hand goes a long way.

Anonymous said...

Anyone aware of an incident over the weekend at South Charlotte middle? Got an email about it from our basketball league-but no details.

Anonymous said...

5:40 I'm glad you had time to respond to this blog post because you are so busy.

I am busy too. I have 4 children, work part-time and volunteer at two CMS schools several times a week with tutor groups and instruction. The parents truly appreciate the teachers who stay on top of everything and keep their websites up to date in order to help the students and parents be successful.

Shamash said...

Keith W. Hurley,

You are too optimistic.

Common core may indeed be a FAILURE after 5 years.

But that doesn't mean it will be gone.

NCLB was an obvious failure right out of the box, but continued for 10 painful years before they finally threw in the towel.

Of course, things could always be different this time.

Unfortunately, the low bar will have been set, and many will be sent into the world ill-prepared again.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:11

My kids third grade teacher's website still says she teaches fourth grade. Count your blessings.

Shamash said...

Anon 6:31pm

Who needs textbooks in hands?

When we have rap songs.

I've just discovered the webpage showing that the Flocabulary rap instruction is Common Core compliant.

Those verbal SAT scores of 500 can't be too far away!

Dare to Dream BIG.

Wiley Coyote said...


Flocabulary probably went into orbit after the opening number at the Grammys last night.

Teachers can dress up in fishnets and teach rap.

The Flocabulary 2013 Year In Rap even has Kim and Kanye with their baby's name in the lyrics.

Susan Plaza said...

The new School Time Task Force is working on finding better schedules for all students - eliminating the 4:15 bell, recovering planning time for teachers, and looking at later start times for high schools. As with other CMS task forces, these meetings are open to the public and minutes are supposed to be posted on the CMS website. Those of you who have written about later high school start times, please email Ann Clark and Dr. Morrison to voice your support. The next task force meeting is Thursday, Feb. 6, 2:00 at the Government Center downtown.

Anonymous said...

Wiley, Shamash, and Pamela,

"The Courage to Teach": Alicia student teaching 4th grade.

After a grueling day of "Cause and Effect", "Factorization", "Idioms", "Patriots vs. Loyalists in NC during the Civil War" and having my own father point out the correct spelling and definition of "diphthong" prior to my teaching mentor coming to my rescue during a Reading lesson "train wreck" (which was a generous statement) on the topic of "Character Development", I want to thank y'all for making my day on the subject of rap and Focabulary. Common Core fractions, decimals and percentages on deck. Rock on!


Anonymous said...

Oops, after a long and late day ...

The Loyalists vs. the Patriots would be a "NC Ode to Us" lesson PRIOR to the Emancipation Proclamation.

My resolve to get it right.


Wiley Coyote said...


It was the War of Northern Aggression.

Anonymous said...


I beg to pardon, but I believe it was the War of Southern Aggression.


Anonymous said...

Parent, students and staff, get out and voice your support for later high school start times. As noted by a previous poster Task force meeting on Feb 6, 2pm at Govt center, or just send emails.

Let's make a sensible decision for our stressed out teens.

Shamash said...

Dang, y'all.

Wouldn't the Patriots and Loyalists be part of ...


Shamash said...


I'm sure there are plenty of rap songs about dip thongs.

But you can't show them to the kids.

Shamash said...


Here's a folksy/bluegrass Dipthong Song.

Or feel free to use my recent C-rap composition...


Let me tell ya about dipthongs.

Not ya ridin on da hip thongs.

I be talkin about them dip thongs.

In my really really hip songs.

First you start with two vowels.

(No, I didn't say bowels...)

I mean them vowels.

Then you slide em together.

Don't worry about da weather.

Then move em through ya lip thongs.

That's how you make a dip thong.

ou, ou, ou,

Shout it out.

oy oy oy

Like boy and toy.

Shoutout to my boytoy.

Shoutout to my boytoy.

Let's hear it for dem dip thongs.

(OK, now it's time to go out and buy those emergency weather supplies...)

Roger Rabbit said...

Shamash, you obviously have too much time on your hands, I mean fingers.

Carol S. said...

Teachers, how is Common core going in your classroom?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Penelope Barker, who lead The NC Edenton Tea Party was a Patriot, not a Loyalist, during the Revolutionary War.

Next week; SHERMAN'S MARCH! (as a rap with diphthongs?)

General Sherman, dude, was a badass crude, marching through western Boone like a crazy loon.

Setting North Carolina on wild fire, General Joseph Johnson fled so he wouldn't be shot dead.

It's a rap, uh huh, Union rap, uh huh.

During a two day bash, North-South armies clashed, destroying crops and homes in their path.

While the Confederates fought hard many men were marred and had to surrender putting the war to an ender.

It's a rap, uh huh, yo' a rap, uh huh.

Then the Yankee transplants came, but who can blame, when the state of Massachusetts became known as Tax-achussetts?

So while we're all down here let's give a Rebel cheer 'cause learning to live together makes America that much better.

It's a rap, uh huh, rap it up, uh huh.


Happy Snow Day!

Eleni said...

Common Core and the subsequent testing that was developed, for the most part, by for-profit educational companies (i.e. Pearson). They are making billions of educational 'reform' in our country. From the curriculum right down to testing, Pearson (or a subsidiary) controls it all. I would like to see NC extricate itself from this corporate system.

Cookie said...

As a parent I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about the new common core curriculum. I have two elementary aged children and it seems to me that our school has jumped ahead and forgotten to teach, or should I say spend any time on the basics. I appreciate the multistep problems in math but notice that most of the kids are not able to keep up with it because they did not spend enough time on learning a strong base knowledge in basic math skills. The science is just a lot of memorization. I guess kids don't do science labs or science fairs anymore.

Chipper said...

the council pegs one of the top five education issues for 2014 as figuring out the best uses of digital learning.

What do parents and teachers think of all the video game integration and playing in the schools?

Anonymous said...

As a teacher, I believe Common Core is a mistake. Education is a state issue. The federal government has a poor track record with social issues. I was surprised to read earlier in this blog about teacher made test. I am not even aloud to use my own lesson plan template. There has been issues with schools not having text and materials to "teach to Common Core." When i was in college, before the testing craze, my math professors said " with any standardized test scores will rise, until you change the test." Common Core test scores will rise. The change was quick and the test is odd, but in time we will "teach to it" and scores will rise, until they change the test.

Anonymous said...

Cookie and Eleni,
I'm student teaching 4th grade at a private school in Charlotte that is also adopting Common Core Standards. The school also uses the Stanford Achievement Test Series sold to schools by our friends at Pearson's.

In theory, I think the standards (keeping in mind I'm still on the learning curve) are developmentally appropriate, challenging and educationally sound. In addition, it simply makes sense to have a more consistent national curriculum that can more accurately compare and measure student progress across schools, school districts and states while allowing students to easily move from school to school.

However, the problem lies when we use these kinds of curriculum programs and assessments to punish schools by placing them into "winner" and "loser" categories which is the result of the disastrous No Child Left Behind Act which - in theory - was designed with the best intentions but - in practically - miserably failed to accomplish it's goals. Allowing states to set their own achievement standards for fear of federal punishment created fare more problems than it solved with ever changing targets making it impossible to compare student progress and growth from year to year.

Without some degree of flexibility and autonomy to make adjustments to the curriculum according to the specific needs of each individual classroom, the potential to recreate another educational disaster is great. There's a reason individual states and individual school districts have historically made important curriculum decisions.

The beauty of teaching at a private school that is in the process of following Common Core Standards is that teachers aren't beholden to a ridged script with heavy handed bureaucratic oversight allowing for and continuing to create classroom environments that are best suited to truly meet the needs of individual students. America was not founded on the principles of being a cookie cutter nation.


Anonymous said...

I have been a teacher for 24 years and have witnessed many curriculum changes. In my opinion, Common Core is the worst educational reform effort I have ever seen. Student individuality and creativity has been stripped from the schoolhouse. All teaching is geared to the tests. EC students are treated unfairly with no allowances made for their special needs. I will be leaving this profession because of Common Core, as I cannot continue to teach under such illogical and untested standards.

Anonymous said...

Want to know more about Common Core? Check out what is happening in New York. They were one of the first to implement it, and now educators and parents are calling for a statewide pullout from Common Core.

Anonymous said...

January 27 @6:31 p.m
The students did poorly because the cutoff scores were changed so more would not pass. You do know that these cutoff scores are constantly manipulated Now we can buy more programs and resources from Pearson.

Shamash said...

This one report pretty much said it all for me a few years back when comparing state "standards" to NAEP from 2005-2009 (written back in 2011):

In that report, you can see that the states were all over the map with their "standards".

NONE of them were ranked proficient YEARS AGO.

Massachusetts came closest.

So this is NOTHING NEW.

What's sad is that many of the states were not rated BASIC, either.

And many states set their "PROFICIENT" rating BELOW the NAEP "BASIC" rating.

So there was no consistent definition of "proficient".

Every state could say whatever they wished and claim their kids were "proficient", resulting in a Lake Wobegon effect where more kids were deemed "above average" than should have been.

That's what we got with individual state "standards".

And that's why people want tougher (and more consistent) standards.

Of course, I personally hold my kids to even higher "standards", but that's a different matter.

Because not only do I think the state standards are low, but the NAEP standards are too low as well.

Especially for math.

Shamash said...

The real problem as I see it with the old state "standards" is that everyone got an overinflated idea of how well their child was doing.

Parents and kids from states like AL, GA, TN, TX, and NC would likely have NO IDEA that their "proficient" kids were so far behind the "proficient" kids states like MA, WA, MN, etc.

Until, that is, they decided to go to some college outside their state and had to compete with those kids.

State standards are horse and buggy.

They assume that the state is about as far as anyone will ever venture.

I've lived in several states and countries.

My kids are likely to be more mobile than I was.

State standards mean nothing.

Anonymous said...

Shamash, Sums it all up in the previous posting. You leave your state for a real college or compete for a job and reality will hit you. Common Core is a boxed in product like Lucky Charms. I would say Lucky Charms has a higher value and more sugar than a CMS Breakfast. (free of course) Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...

I agree.

And I repeat, "All the schools are failing! Here's what Pearson's has got to sell you".

Cause there's trouble in River City.


For what it is worth said...

6:19 PM,I hope that was auto-correct that caught you with "aloud" instead of "allowed".

Thanks for your service to our children.

As for the probable persistence of Common Core in our schools, examine all the other failed systems the feds have put in place and you will see they have grown a life of their own and they can not be killed, Head Start, NCLB, etc.

A preview I read of the speech tonight was that preK for all would be pitched. Just when you thought some had finally figured out preK was a flop, it gets a life of its own. Can we say entitlement? I say that because what all these programs, like social promotion, have done to the black race is to take the parents and their development of parenting skills out of the equation and thus the foundation of the black family accelerates its crumble. Parfenting is not easy but you only learn by doing. The feds have given them a pass just to get their vote.

Anonymous said...


My 28-year professional reference point being the arts:

I want to vomit anytime I hear someone touting the value of Arts Education for the sake of "creativity". There is absolutely nothing creative about learning to play the piano or learning the fundamentals of ballet. Learning an art form is a HIGHLY structured endeavor requiring years of disciplined and repetitive practice needed to master basic skills. Creativity generally comes into play AFTER having mastered internationally accepted "Common Core" standards which is why I don't necessarily reject the idea of Common Core standards as they pertain to math, science and language arts. This being said, I vehemently oppose the idea of some bone-headed politician dictating and mandating a teacher's every move in an effort to create a nation of standardized widgets.


Shamash said...

My main point with the NAEP tests is that we've known for YEARS that the "new standard" was going to be higher.

This isn't something that just popped up overnight.

We've been warned many times.

For ANY school superintendent to act "surprised" is foolish and an act. They knew all along.

And, yes, I do understand the Chicken Little marketing ploy and that "fear sells".

Hell, I used to work for P&G, who practically invented the fear of "bad breath" (HALITOSIS!) to sell toothpaste and mouthwash.

But, at the same time (having come from one of the LOW ranked states in my earlier years), I know how intimidating it can be to encounter just a normal kid from another state who knows so much more just because they were taught to a higher standard in school.

I mean I sweated BULLETS to get a low A in Calculus I in college because I was there with kids who had already had Calculus in HS.

By Calc II, though, I was at the top, but it took a lot of work.

Also, I know a little secret about all those tests.

All these big tests, PISA, TIMSS, NAEP don't give the same results.

NAEP is set up so that many foreign countries which follow a different curriculum might not do as well if they took it, even though they may outperform us on TIMSS or PISA.

So take them ALL with a grain of salt.

But do consider what each test has to say about how we are doing.

Shamash said...


I agree about not wanting a nation of widget-heads.

MY main concern about the "standard", of course, is that few will try to do better.

Teaching to the "standards" is no better than teaching to the test.

Especially in math which I think sets the bar too low.

Once people meet a standard, no matter how low it was set, they think they've accomplished something.

("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" comes to mind...)

I like to joke that my 4-year old girl is very "creative" on the piano. She can't find Middle-C, but she sure can create some sounds.

And I have a young niece who is a very "creative" dancer.

Yeah, a lot of people don't realize all the work that goes into the basics before someone gets to be truly "creative".

But the same is true for math, and writing, and so many other things.

That's why I don't totally abhor the "rote" memorization path to learning.

In many areas it is necessary.

The "creativity" comes after you've mastered the basics.

Anonymous said...

Ann, when McClatchey sends you on the next regularly scheduled furlough please consider bringing a regular substitute……..

The Shamish and Wiley Comedy Hour

Just cut and paste the same comments over and over from the last year to fill space no matter what the subject is.

Wiley Coyote said...


Perhaps you should define the difference between standard and basic.

Again, 2+2=4. Is that standard or basic knowledge?

Wiley Coyote said...


Thank you.

I'll be here all week.

Don't forget to tip your server.

Shamash said...


I'm talking about the NAEP definitions for "basic" and "proficient".

They are different from most state definitions of "proficient".

But they have been for years.

So it's not like anything has changed from their perspective.

Just from each state's perspective.

As for "2+2=4", it's definitely standard (for arithmetic above base 4).

Works that way world-wide and possibly throughout the universe (unless you're using base 3, where 2+2=11, or base 4, where 2+2=10).

In Common Core, a Kindergartener would be expected to know that 2+2=4 in base 10.

Wiley Coyote said...


It doesn't matter which word or tagline is used to describe what a child should know at a given point in time' Basic Skills, Common Core or whatever.

The bottom line is that there should be a level of what is acceptable - a standard, proficiency or base - for each grade level and stick with it.

What threshold do we want to use to implement courses at each grade level that will challenge kids and ensure they have a basic understanding of the subject(s)?

The problem continues when you can't get people to agree on what are acceptable levels of learning at each grade level.

Do we want to teach Calculus in the first grade? Second grade?

It's the same with the bell schedule. It isn't rocket science yet for the past several years, we're still listening to people upset about it. Determine the optimum time to start school based on sound research, implement the bell schedule and move on.

Anonymous said...

so after all of that, national standards are good. testing to determine if standards are being met are good. what to do if they aren't, needs work.

and the science being offered up for bell schedules is already known. the study authors admit if teenagers are given time to calm their brains before bed they can adjust to any bedtime. anyone who has regularly dealt with jet lag could have told them that self evident fact.

Anonymous said...

Wiley, 10:16
"It doesn't matter which word or tagline is used to describe what a child should know at a given point in time' Basic Skills, Common Core or whatever.

The bottom line is that there should be a level of what is acceptable - a standard, proficiency or base - for each grade level and stick with it.

What threshold do we want to use to implement courses at each grade level that will challenge kids and ensure they have a basic understanding of the subject(s)?

The problem continues when you can't get people to agree on what are acceptable levels of learning at each grade level".

Exactly. My niece is in the process of auditioning for music programs at various colleges around the country. Each college has base-line (common core, basic skills, proficient, threshold, or whatever you want to call it) criteria. No different than when I auditioned for college dance programs around the country. After a while, you start seeing and competing against the same people. I remember auditioning with people who absolutely weren't up to par with others having been "trained" at some rinky-dink school of baton twirling, tumbling and toe tap in a room full of trophies. It was sad witnessing the hard core reality of crushed 17-year-old dreams. C'est la vie.

So again, why I'm not adverse to creating a more consistent national curriculum that includes more uniform across-state teacher training without the obsessive madness associated with "test and punish" assessment methods with ever changing target goals.


Wiley Coyote said...


One thing you didn't mention - and I'll go out on a limb here and assume something - is that your niece probably did extra practice or training outside of what those other usual suspects did. Throw in your niece having a better grasp of music and therefore she succeeded.

We didn't teach men and women to build build rockets to send them into space, we provided a foundation of learning and those who had drive and a knack for a particular subject or hands-on talent rose to become the rocket builders.

My son has a knack for learning languages, but I still have to knock him back to reality sometimes when he uses the improper tense of a word or gets into his DJ Flocabulary mode.

He still had to learn the basics of math, science and history in addition to his language classes.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Give kids the basics of learning and who knows what they will discover.

Anonymous said...

Funny thought...

I'll never forget substitute teaching a dance class for the first time at NWSA. One student refused to get dressed for class until he knew what my "credentials" were. No kidding. Talk about high level standards? The good news: the kid decided to take my class and then directly went to the school principal and told him he could hire me. Apparently, I passed. Whew.


Anonymous said...

And then just for fun, they added "Gridded Response Items" so students not only have to find the correct answer to an open-ended problem, but they must bubble it in a way to please the test makers.

Shamash said...


Well, we've tried letting people decide for themselves what to teach at which grade and it has produced extremely uneven results.

That's what Common Core standards were created to resolve.

(Well, that and to scare people into buying Pearson test preparation materials...)

The difference as I see it with including Calculus in the "standard" is that you can then teach concepts which lead to a better understanding of Calculus in the earlier grades.

Maybe not in the second and third grades, but certainly by middle school or by the time they study Geometry.

Simply because there are some very simple things which make it easier to understand Calculus when you get there instead of having to learn it all at one time.

I could give examples, but it wouldn't be very "entertaining".

And we need to keep it light...

Shamash said...


So what are the "basics" today?

Better yet, what are the "basics" for TOMORROW, where our kids will be.

Surely they aren't the same as the 1950's, pre-Sputnik.

Some of these discussions about new "standards" remind me of the hullabaloo around "New Math" in the 1960's.

Of course, back then, it was the space race and the Soviets and our "Sputnik" moment.

New Math probably set the "standard" a bit too high for most, who found it impractical.

But, while so many people protested against the "New Math" it turns out that much of it was VERY USEFUL for computing, which was to come just a bit later.

While I avoided most of the "New Math" as a kid, I learned about it later in college.

I had tons of stuff where I had to understand binary, octal and hexadecimal. And matrices, oh, boy, did I learn about matrices.

Which, of course, most people had absolutely no idea about in the 1960's or even the 1970's.

Some of the stuff they taught me in college (Topology, Set Theory)had no "real-world" application, either, just a bunch of theoretical potential.

Then someone seriously commercialized relational databases in the 1980's and suddenly I found some practical value to what I had learned.

There's stuff like that out there today, but I am concerned that unless we improve our math education, it won't be our kids moving us forward.

And FWIW today, SOME kids ARE learning about the different bases in elementary school.

It may only be for the "gifted", but it's out there.

So "New Math" finally made it into the mainstream somehow.

(And sorry if this wasn't entertaining enough...)

Anonymous said...

Your assumption is correct.

Learning fundamental, or foundational, skills in all areas of academia is critical to creating successful future rocket scientists, artists, language interpreters, historians, teachers, doctors, writers, etc. able to compete against the best in the world. Once the basics are mastered, those who have a proclivity towards one subject or another have the opportunity to rise to the top through drive, extra work and ambition. Ties back to the subject of "creativity". The Impressionists could DO and MEET the "Common Core" criteria set at the juried Salon de Paris. They had mastered the fundamentals. Despite harsh criticism of their "new" way of painting, Impressionist works eventually made there way into every major art gallery around the world. The mother of Impressionist invention was developed AFTER mastering the techniques of other master artists. Martha Graham - on America's dance front - is another great example of this same phenomenon.

My niece, who is auditioning for music programs, still has to meet basic academic criteria in math, science and language arts set at each university which is why I still believe in the value of America's higher education Liberal Arts system which other countries, including China, are now trying to emulate because there needs to be a balance between widget-head thinking (thank you Shamash) and the freedom that comes with being exposed and open to new ideas in the spirit of invention able to keep America globally competitive. We can't test our way to the top. At the same time, we can't continue to fly by the seat of our pants willy-nilly. At some point, Mississippi decided that their students were #1 in reading based on their own reading assessment scores. Houston, we have a problem.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Shamash 8:40 - A big problem I see with my MS students is that they are not proficient with the basics in math. As a teacher, I am all for rote memorization and see the value in it. It is a necessary "evil" to move on to higher learning.

Anonymous said...

I'm a product of New Math as well as Whole Language. Glad your experience was better than mine although, perhaps, this is why I never went "mainstream" in binary, octal, hexadecimal and matric mathematics. I'm not a fan of either approach which, I suppose, goes back to Wiley's comment about people (and states) not being able to agree on what acceptable levels of basic learning should be in each subject area at each grade level. I think I finally got diphthongs down though.


Shamash said...

Wiley (and Alicia),

Regarding the dancers...

I think the sad thing about the students who went to "Miss Prissy's Tap and Twirl" dance parlor is that they might have worked just as hard as someone who went elsewhere, but were just doing the wrong stuff for too many years.

That's where the innocent kid (and possibly parents) get cheated.

It's not necessarily because they didn't work hard. Maybe they did.

Just on the wrong stuff.

They think they are doing all the right things best they know and exceeded the "standards" they've been taught (maybe "cheerleading" or whatever), but suddenly find that they don't have the right skills for what they want to do next.

That probably happens way too often with our schools.

Kids with higher expectations than skills (and inflated ideas of their talents) get shown the door.

Even if they have worked hard.

Shamash said...


Please don't make the mistake that so many others in education make about Asians being a bunch of "widget-heads".

They aren't.

Their school system favors that kind of learning (esp. in China) simply because it is just about the ONLY way to learn to write Mandarin.

Seriously. There is almost no other way other than drill, drill, drill.

Having been to China several times, I can tell you that there are some creative folks there as well.

With the basics to back their creativity, too.

The main difference is that most of their people also know a lot more math, too...

Wiley Coyote said...


To me, the most important classes that should be mandatory in school at some point are sex education and simple home economics (household budgeting, saving and interest). We can leave out how to use an oven part.

The basics are the same. It's the peripheral courses, science, technology, trade school type offerings,etc. that should be enhanced. Throw in advanced classes in math, critical thinking.

Again, history only changes one day at a time. English is pretty much English, depending how deep you want to dive into it. Our language is what it is whith 26 letters of the alphabet.

I'm not suggesting a one size fits all but to the contrary.

We also need to add more counselors in schools and make it mandatory that at least once or twice a year, parents and their kids need to have a meetingand find out what their kids want to be when they grow up and what their strong points are.

Anonymous said...

Well, all the answers to successful change in public education have been posted on this board. None of you could successfully run a business. I have been in business 33 plus years and some of the crap that you type is laughable and would never cut it in the world of business and finance.

Shamash said...


I could go with that.

I've talked about "home ec" as well, with an emphasis on the finance and economics, especially of having and raising a family, not just cooking.

(They might throw in some basics on calculating those student loan and credit card payments, too.)

Sure, the basics are still there for everyone, but offer more for those who want it.

I also like the critical thinking part.

I was lucky enough to stumble upon a book in logic and propaganda my Freshman year in HS, so I did a book report on it for History.

My History teachers reaction to it is another story..., but she had her hands full trying to dumb down class for the semi-literate basketball players, so I can't blame her too much.

Shamash said...

Anon 1:56.

Cool, the world of business and finance.

Been there, done that.

So what are we missing?

Join in the frivolity.

Anonymous said...

rocket science, german scientists bought and paid for. our moral compass was a bit bent in that period.

foundational, is knowing the result of 2 * 2 important? or is knowing that multiplication is simply shorthand for repeated additions. division, subtraction. Is it important i know how to write a web service? or just that i can consume it? Do i really need to know html or can i just use dreamweaver. even the idea of foundation is dated by our age.

Wiley Coyote said...


Someone had to know code to come up with Dreamweaver.

Those bought and paid for Germans had to learn the basics.

The sad fact is, most kids don't know where babies come from and what the consequences are for having one.

So the basic knowledge of what a condom is still eludes people with even half a brain.

Shamash said...

Oh, so let everyone else know everything else and we'll just buy them, like we did the German rocket scientists?

Gee, how long can that last?

Especially if we have to defeat them in a world war to get their "cooperation".

Yeah, I'm betting my kids future on our continued ability to do THAT...

You aren't the dude in "business and finance" are you?

If so, then pick up the WSJ...

Anonymous said...

I never meant to imply that the Chinese aren't creative. However, what's interesting is that an ever growing number of Chinese universities have decided to embrace a more American liberal arts approach to higher education. American colleges and universities still attract the highest number of foreign students and lets not forget that American students consistently outperform the rest of the world in international math competitions.

American students aren't failing. We're simply failing the same students in a never ending achievement gap cycle that even the most academically brilliant coalition of folks haven't been able to solve through forced social engineering policies, excessive standardized testing practices, acts of congress, pay-for performance bonuses, yearly changes in curriculum standards, advances in classroom technology tools, Teach for America, overhauls in chancellorship posts, expanded choice plans, and the latest hokus pokus.

Your "Miss Prissy's Tap and Twirl Dance Parlor" comments reflect the travesty and tragedy that occurs when innocent kids and parents get caught in what Wiley accurately describes as a K-12 educational system that can't come to consensus on what should be taught and the best ways to teach it.


Anonymous said...

Counselors (at least in our middle school) are not only unresponsive and hostile to teacher input, make sure that no student's feelings are ever ruffled, exacerbate any parent/behavior problem, and refuse
to realize that drugs exist at all.
Yes, many are valuable, yet many are in the way of so much of the poor behavior and lack of discipline in CMS.

Anonymous said...

And here is where we miss the point, what is basic is not nearly as concrete as we would like it to be.

The man on the moon project was offered as justification for basic knowledge. It was a poor example. To prevent the misconception that we somehow made it to the moon based on our homegrown knowledge is false. The truth is a lot more sullied than popular culture would like to remember.

You are correct, someone coded up dreamweaver. But, not everyone needs to be able to code dreamweaver. By extension the people who coded dreamweaver did not come up with the compilers to turn it into machine executable code. Should everyone person who develops software first know how to rotate right or left bits or nand and nor gates. Of course not. So what would have been considered basic and foundational in decades past is now irrelevant.

What is foundational is a lot more varied than we would like to believe.

Shamash said...


Good to hear that you aren't underestimating the Chinese.

I wouldn't, even though they do have a few issues, as everyone does.

They'll fix their schools because they really care about education.

Their parents are fanatical about their children's education.

And that's at just about every socioeconomic level.

I guess you missed my rants, er discussions, about how I don't think our schools are failing.

I think it's just some of our parents and students who aren't picking up the slack.

When you compare demographic to demographic (Asians to Asians, Whites to Whites, Hispanics to Hispanics, Blacks to Blacks) we are doing fairly well.

It's the mixture that makes us look worse than we really are.

The only area where we are demonstrably worse is in the performance of our "poor".

The "poor" in the rest of the world don't use their poverty as an excuse for failure, so you don't see as great of an effect of poverty on education.

In the US, though, a higher proportion of the "poor" don't do well in school.

I used Vietnam as a prime example of this.

Their poor are very poor, yet they perform well in school.

I posted a reference to this which showed the US at the bottom of the PISA "resilience" list.

Shamash said...

Sure the basics do change over time.

New math is no longer controversial. It just is.

And we do build on our past.

No one writes much assembly code or knows much about shifting bits.

When I started coding, the trend was toward higher and higher level languages.

Now programmers seem stuck with code that isn't much more than descendants of C and a bit "lower level" than I had hoped we would be by now.

So there are still areas where the basics matter. And knowing the old helps with the new.

For example, I just checked to see what language Angry Birds was written in.

It's called LUA.

I've NEVER seen it before, so I looked at some examples.

(I haven't seriously programmed in decades...)

So, despite several years of "progress" some things are basically the same.

Arithmetic still works.

Logic still works.

(So code like N=N + 1 and "If, then, else" statements still make sense to me.)

Chemistry still works.

Newtonian physics still works (for most everyday life).

And grammar, punctuation and capitalization still work.

Even if e e cummings gets away with slaughtering it.

Anonymous said...

For what it is worth.. Most people blog on phones or pads.. They do it on the run, bus, waiting for appointments. Spelling and grammar errors are common.. Auto correct, meeting starts, in between thoughts, whatever, only A holes correct or even have time to correct people. It is poor edict to correct blogs. My 5th grader knows that. I agree with your anti fed stance but don't be a Jhonson.

Anonymous said...

So you think DC has the answer? Home of Obama care.. The 500 dollar toilet paper. The studies on cow flatulence. Really?

Anonymous said...

I would bet that the greatest public education curriculum has existed since 1952. It contains mathematics, science, literature, philosophy, psychology,and a touch of world history. I'd probably only need to add US history to the mix to be complete. It is the Great Books of the Western World by Encyclopedia Britannica. And it is nearly free, maybe $6 for an ereader edition.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese have been steeling from us for the last 30 years. Education is not this countries problem. The breakdown of our families, big government, and Cronie capitalism is. My hope is, Chinese social issue come to the for front and it falls in on itself. Or, the cost of labor and transportation of goods become to high and factories start moving out.

Shamash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shamash said...

Yeah, well, people have been waiting for the Chinese to fall, for well, at least the 30 years they've been stealing from us.

But, I doubt it will happen soon.

Unlike us, the Chinese have a way of resolving (or brushing off) their "social ills" and moving on instead of wallowing in it for decades.

They learned a lot from Mao, or rather Deng Xiaoping, after Mao.

Besides, they're learning how to create on their own, so they don't need to steal as much from us anymore.

Isn't that good news?

Also, while the Chinese are outsourcing some of their manufacturing, they are doing it in a rather unique way.

They are actually "colonizing" huge parts of other countries with Chinese so they closely control what's happening and where the money goes.

It's happening in places like Africa and Mexico (and pretty much all around the world) where the Chinese are setting up various industrial parks.

Complete with expat Chinese, of course...

Clever, eh?

And it makes it easier to find Chinese takeout across the globe.