July 24, 2014
When the Walrus was just a pup, he attended public schools in Buffalo, NY.
Back then, the best teachers encouraged their students to achieve subject mastery not through rote memorization but through active learning. In general, ‘subjects’ were not taught (or learned) in isolation. There was some integration of ELA into Social Studies; math into science; and reading and writing skills were the foundation for all learning.
Somehow, over the past 4 decades or so, our American education system (in aggregate) has deteriorated to the point where in a recent study conducted by The Economist, the U.S. was ranked 17th in an assessment of the education systems of 50 countries, behind several Scandinavian and Asian countries. Finland was ranked first, followed by South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan, with Singapore coming in fifth. The once-admired public education system in America has reached an unprecedented – and hopefully, unwanted – level of mediocrity.
If we look at public education outcomes by state, we find a wide disparity in student outcomes. In its most recent report on the status of education in all 50 states, Education Week found that Massachusetts is our top performing state, followed closely by Maryland and New Jersey.
Bringing up the rear at number 50 is Mississippi, just slightly worse than Louisiana and New Mexico.
The differences from state to state on some critical measurements are staggering.
Just 59.4% of students in New Mexico graduate from High School, where in Vermont, 85% of students graduate.
It is widely accepted that at-grade reading and math proficiency in the 4th grade is a strong predictor of success in school and in life. Maryland is the best performing state in the U.S. on 4th grade reading skills, yet just 45% of Maryland fourth graders demonstrated at-grade proficiency.
45% is the highest in our country? And, that is more than 10 percentage points higher than the national average?
Of course, we can drill down even further, looking within states as the disparity of student outcomes by district, or within districts, outcomes by school or by teacher.
The facts on disparate student outcomes were part of the inspiration which brought together state leaders — including governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states — to seek solutions to this national crisis.
The state-led effort to develop the Common Core State Standards was launched in 2009, through a collaborative partnership involving the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
The goal is very simple. Implementation of the Standards will refocus schools toward ensuring that students acquire skills which are useful in college and in life. Life is not a series of multiple choice or true/false questions. Critical thinking and reading skills, focused on nonfiction and current event articles rather than fiction, provide a foundation for college, career and success in life.
Understanding the raw components of how to do math problems using logic is much more valuable than memorizing formulas, and it provides the foundation for problem solving across multiple disciplines.
We know that multiple-choice tests are best used for testing well-defined or lower-order skills. Problem-solving and higher-order reading and reasoning skills are better assessed through short-answer and essay tests.
Yet, no matter how you slice it, multiple choice tests are more affordable for testing large numbers of students. In most of the United States, multiple choice tests have become the default form of “high-stakes testing”.
How it came to be that our public education system devolved away from active learning and critical thinking into a series of “drill and kill” classroom exercises followed by mind-numbing multiple choice and true-false tests must somehow be related to the amount of resources required to read, analyze and objectively grade essays and ‘show your work’ problems.
There is also the issue of cost and scale as class sizes have generally increased, school district resources are stretched, and the complexity of material has expanded.
Let’s face it: a standard answer sheet marked with a #2 pencil can be machine graded, and the ability to collect and analyze the data is unmatched.
On the other hand, multiple choice tests are very rigid. Misinterpretation of the problem or information presented by the test maker can result in a false “wrong”, even when the student’s answer has some validity. Similarly, when students have some knowledge of a subject or question, they receive no credit for knowing that information if they select the wrong answer and the item is scored by a machine.
Just a few years ago, some of the best and brightest educators and public officials from across the U.S. launched an intensive collaborative partnership to develop the Common Core State Standards as a means to repair our failing public education system.
The state-led effort was launched in 2009, under the guidance of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Here we are today, just a few weeks away from the beginning of the 2014-15 school year for some 48 Million K-12 public school students across our 50 states.
A large and growing coalition of Monday Morning Quarterbacks – most of whom I suspect were raised on multiple-choice and deprived of active learning and/or critical thinking – have begun to rally in opposition to Common Core.
Very recently, noted media personality Glenn Beck – himself a high-school graduate – added his voice to the nay-sayers about Common Core.
Beck tells us that, “American children shouldn’t be tracked, monitored, and educated from D.C. And parents should have a voice in their child’s education. Common Core standards threaten parents’ rights, children’s privacy, and traditional American values.”
Great rhetoric with no substance; and it fails the critical thinking test.
But it is emotionally appealing to some, and clearly falls into the “True or False, Multiple Choice Method to Maintain International Mediocrity in Education” model.
Want to help destroy the fabric of America? You don’t need weapons of mass destruction or any sort of acts of terrorism. Just keep depriving our children of the opportunity for active learning and/or critical thinking skills they so desperately need to lead a productive and meaningful life.
Thanks, House Speaker John Boehner. You have successfully presided over a Congress which has the dubious distinction of officially becoming the least productive Congress in the history of the U.S.
The 113th Congress is solidly on track to enact 251 laws in total — over 10 percent less bills than the 112th Congress — which itself was credited with enacting the least amount of legislation since 1973.
Yet, if our Constitution were to be very carefully amended to change the purpose of the Congress, we could likely find that you have set a new record for frivolous activity, including the most recent announcement of your intention to file a taxpayer-funded lawsuit against the President of the United States for trying to do his job (against incredible opposition from House Republicans).
Despite some apparent irony in your pending lawsuit, I see at least one really positive facet to your case.
Although the current situation is not being billed as an impeachment, there are several Washington insiders who seem to think that filing a lawsuit is the foundation for an impeachment.
The last time the ultra-conservative right tried for an impeachment, their case relied on some sort of stain on a blue dress.
The good news from my perspective? The ultra-conservatives seem to have expanded their horizons a bit. It’s no longer focused on White House interns; now we have some actual issues to discuss.
I only wish they could find room to include Republican House leadership in their case.
Speaker Boehner and your band of merry men have refused to do your jobs, evidenced by your unwillingness to deal with critical issues (immigration, unemployment, tax reform), yet able to find the time to conduct 40 votes to repeal ‘ObamaCare’.
Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans – with front-man Ted Cruz leading the House Theatre of the Absurd — had the audacity to shut down the entire Federal government for a couple of weeks in October 2013, costing the American economy some $24 Billion in direct costs.
No doubt, the antics and shenanigans of the 113th Congress is the 21st Century version of The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland.
So, thanks again, John Boehner. Lewis Carroll left us with the wisdom, “If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there,” so I know he would be mighty proud that you have been able to update and continue his saga for current and future generations!
July 2, 2014
Charles Lewis has had a long and distinguished career as an investigative reporter for a number of credible and main-stream print, broadcast, video and internet sources.
Charles Lewis’s book, 935 Lies will be released this week. In his book, Lewis provides some interesting and provocative commentary on why facts, logic and reason are often missing in the rush to war.
His book inspired me to think, “Come on, Rep. Darryl Issa and Rep. John Boehner: Let’s get the House Select Committee to investigate the real Root Causes of how and why the U.S. is embroiled in a religious war in the Middle East.”
We can pretend that the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi was the premier event of our 21st Century, and is singularly the responsibility of Hillary Clinton, with additional culpability on President Barack Obama.
Or, we might want to take a serious look at what occurred in Washington following the atrocities of September 11, 2001, and the incredible subterfuge which was created by President George W. Bush and his team which led to our military intervention into Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush, Cheney and Company willfully brought the U.S. into religious wars in the Middle East which have been seething since 3,100 B.C.
No matter what we do as a nation, we will never be able to enable peace, harmony and tranquility in a region fraught with the residual effects of multiple centuries of social, religious and cultural nuances which defy explanation to those who are from outside.
Much like Marie Antoinette from 18th Century France, Bush and Cheney were ignorant, audacious and fully disconnected from the realities of the real world of everyday people when they foolishly launched their invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. They deliberately and willfully misled the Congress and the American people to create a real world replication of the 1998 movie “Wag the Dog”.
Now, some 13 years later, a majority of Republican elected officials in Congress are fixated on a variety of meaningless and inconsequential issues, i.e. “What else about Benghazi is the Obama administration still hiding from the American people?”
The American people really ought to be demanding that Congress get to work to ensure that our nation is fully prepared to prosper in the 21st Century. Something tells me that the events which led to the deaths of ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya are directly attributable to the actions which took place in 2001-2003 when the U.S. orchestrated the escalation of a Religious War in the Middle East.
So, why is it that House Republicans continue their assault on the Obama administration, when it seems to be perfectly clear that the real root cause of all of this mess in the Middle East traces directly back to bad choices and failures of the Bush/Cheney administration?
I’m thinking that a great deal of the problem is attributable to our failed public education system in the U.S. which seems to graduate young people who have never been exposed to critical thinking skills.