The Important Announcement that the Regents Didn't Make Yesterday

Published: Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Yesterday, the New York State Board of Regents announced that the controversial standardized tests in English and math would be reduced from three days each to two. But what was perhaps more important was the announcement that the Board didn’t make.

The hint was buried among the many documents related to the Board’s June monthly meeting was an update on public feedback on the Next Generation Learning Standards, the proposed revisions to the controversial Common Core standards for English and math. The last bullet point of the last page of the report given to the Board contains the following seemingly innocuous statement: “We plan on bringing the Next Generation Standards to the Regents in July.”

This statement contradicts the state’s original timeline for the standards review process. Up until recently, the state had been staying fairly close to this timeline. The process featured a state committee of parents and educators (of whom I was one) that met last August to draft proposed revisions to the standards. After several rounds of revision and public comment, the new standards were supposed to have been presented to the Board of Regents for approval by now.

So why have the Regents delayed the standards? I found out firsthand last week when I attended a meeting of the United Federation of Teachers’s Educator Task Force on Learning Standards, which has been organized by the union to give teachers a collective voice for suggesting changes to the standards. Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and Regents Kathleen Cashin, Judith Chin, and Louis Reyes attended the meeting in person, while Regent Judith Johnson also attended via phone.

During the UFT Task Force meeting, Chancellor Rosa told us that they had heard many people around the state echo our concerns about the new standards, especially those for the early grades. The Regents’ willingness to listen impressed but didn’t surprise me – after all, the Regents who attended are former public school teachers or superintendents. However, it was refreshing to hear Chancellor Rosa and other Regents insist not just that educators should be heard but that their ideas should be incorporated into the revised standards, even if it means delaying their implementation. The Regents agreed with many Task Force members that the standards should only be released with supporting documents, especially to help English Language Learner and special education students. The Regents also said that we needed further discussion about how the standards for the early grades can be improved.

Right now, we have a unique opportunity to improve standards, curricula, and assessment in New York – a chance to “get it right,” as Chancellor Rosa said last week. We currently have a federal Department of Education that appears unwilling to impose learning standards on states. We have a Board of Regents and a Chancellor that is genuinely eager to listen to parents and educators. We also have a governor may want to face another backlash from teachers and parents as he considers a run for another public office.

Let’s make sure that we continue to share our concerns about the standards with the Board of Regents. Let’s pressure the State Legislature to provide adequate funds to allow the Regents and the state Education Department to make standards, curricula, and assessments fairer and more accessible. Let’s encourage educators to share materials and write supporting documents for the standards. By doing all of this, we can ensure that the Next Generation Learning Standards can be a model for the rest of the nation – not just for what good standards look like but how they can be written collaboratively.

Revisions to Common Core Standards Released

Published: Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Today, the New York State Education Department released revisions to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics. I was part of the committee that met in Albany last summer to propose revisions to the standards. That week was an incredibly intense meeting of educators from to discuss what turned out to be relatively minor improvements to the standards. I've spoken and written earlier about my thoughts on the revisions, most extensively in an article that I wrote for Math for America last November called "Revising Common Core Math Should Be Just the Beginning."

As I've said before, I support the changes to the standards as an important first step. I wish we could do more to look at the standards as part of an educational process that includes assessment, curriculum development, and teacher training. These changes do none of that, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't make the changes. Many of the standards are too broad, too narrow, or misplaced. Since I teach high school math, I don't have much experience with the K-8 math standards or the ELA standards, which are much more controversial.

Nevertheless, it's good to see that the work that our committee did is finally seeing the light of day. The revised standards are scheduled to be put before the state Board of Regents in June.

An article (in which I was quoted) about the proposed changes appeared in the Wall Street Journal today at http://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-proposes-changes-to-academic-standards-1493763298 .

EdWeek Article on EngageNY

Published: Monday, March 27, 2017

An article published in EdWeek today describes a RAND study of teachers who use the EngageNY web site's materials for Common Core English and math. (EngageNY is a web site of Common Core materials published by the New York State Education Department.) The survey found that the math materials are used much more often than the ELA materials, that K-8 materials are used much more often than the high school materials, and that most teachers modify the material for their own use.

Liana Loewus, the author of the article, asked me for my thoughts while writing the article. I wound up being quoted extensively in it. I noted that "It's a great resource, particularly for challenging problems. The bad news is that a lot of the problems are very high level. ... It feels like it was written by a college professor." Unfortunately, many of the high school lessons are poorly organized and poorly scaffolded - there are very few lower-level problems to introduce topics, and the problems are very disorganized. However, the Creative Commons license used in the lessons allows anyone to modify and publish lessons for nonprofit use. This alone makes EngageNY an incredibly useful resource, despite its many flaws.

The complete article is at http://bit.ly/2nEutae . EngageNY is at http://www.engageny.org .

Google Classroom Review

Published: Friday, December 30, 2016

Google Classroom is a powerful collaborative tool but has frustrating bugs and surprising limitations.

Google Classroom is a free learning platform for schools that allows teachers to create, distribute, and grade assignments online. Released in 2014, it is designed to be not just a platform for class web pages but a complete integrated online package for managing class information.

My school used eChalk for years to run its school and class webpages until we switched to Google Classroom in the fall of 2016. In the last few months, I have used Google Classroom to post and manage assignments for my classes. I found that while it has a smooth interface that is integrated well with Google’s other collaborative tools, it also has several annoying limitations.

It Takes a Mathematician to Criticize the Value-Added Model

Published: Thursday, November 24, 2016

Most mathematical models didn't get the 2016 election right. Why would we trust them to measure teacher performance? In his latest op-ed piece for the Huffington Post, mathematician John Ewing (president of Math for America, which runs the Master Teacher Fellowship that I have had since 2009) criticizes the use of the value-added model to measure teacher quality. The value-added model theoretically uses gains in standardized test scores to measure the amount of student knowledge added by a teacher.

Ewing points out that the value-added model is based on flawed assumptions (For example, today's students come into contact with many teachers, so which teacher adds value?) and unreliable data (How do you measure socio-economic status? How do we measure what languages are spoken at a student's home?). Ewing concludes, "We would never accept mathematical authority in politics; we would never decide elections based on mathematical models that predict the outcome. Then why are we willing to do this in education?"

As a teacher, I know that many factors out of my control determine how well my students do on tests. Mathematicians know that models are useful but are based on assumptions and don't capture everything. What is particularly sad is that in New York City, teachers are never even told how our students are expected to perform. The value-added model might have some value if at the beginning of the year, we were actually told how our each of our students was expected to perform on state tests and what factors went into that calculation. I could then gauge my students' progress throughout the year and adjust my instruction accordingly. Instead, teachers simply sent a report a few months after our students take state tests.

Measuring my students' expected performance after my students leave my class doesn't enable me to help them. What's the value in that?

John Ewing's piece is here: http://huff.to/2gjBzvC .