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State Senator Bob Huff: Education Wolf (Page 2:4) by Jesse Bluma

State Senator Bob Huff: Education Wolf (Page 2:4)

better than others, specific to their own circumstances and student needs.  

Over those 20 years there was sharing of ideas internally and externally with other states and nations.  Rather than concluding the states with less rigorous standards needed to adopt some of the more challenging standards of those in other states, Huff and others swiped clean individual state standards.  He and others want uniformity and commonality, believing this will reveal what works in education.  How exactly a child learns content, skills, and concepts.  How teachers should teach.

State Senator Huff and other political supporters of Common Core either failed on purpose of out of hubris to recognize good teaching practices and student habits of mind have been known for ages.  Modern man may have fancy technology, better clothing, and the automobile, that does not mean modern man is superior to the ancients.  That does not make Mr. Huff superman, David Coleman superman, nor or Michelle Rhee superwoman.  Rigor, Testing, Think-Write-Pair-Share, Socratic Discussions, Literacy Circles, Annotating Texts, Cornell Notes, Academic Vocabulary, and emphasis on Non-fiction literature existed in the state standards, and existed long before Common Core. 

We must remember all this money, time, and effort is for a test score.  A test most students and parents care about for one week a year.  A test score politicians run to the nearest camera to take credit when it is “high” and point the finger at teachers when it is a sign of “underperformance”.  In the end, we philosophically, psychologically, humanely need to asses how much all this matters.  Testing, formal, and informal assessments are necessary and one of the main duties of a teacher.  Yet, we know the state tests and now the federal Common Core test and standards is forged from and by many misguided people.  It is the mix of political, social, and corporate entities.  A test and curriculum that neither Socrates, Einstein, nor Huff received when they were in school.   A test and curriculum that most private school students do not get in their schools.  A test, standards, and initiative many educators, such as Howard Gardner (Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences) and Diane Ravitch (former Assistant Secretary of Education) do not support.

Perhaps politicians, such as Huff have another thought in mind.  Uniformity of standards, pedagogy, curriculum, and testing is the structure for reinventing the teacher workforce.  Now that a federalized school system is in place teachers may and are being replaced with videos and online learning.  If Huff and other Republicans that take a hostile stance with teachers utilize the Common Core system, they can eliminate the work force they (misguidedly) fear.  It is key to underscore how Huff responded to my questions and what he said.  Again, rather than grasping the opportunity to persuade me to support him, rather than answering my questions directly and with specifics, rather than admitting he needs to learn more about educational issues and will take what I said under consideration, he fired back.  Firing back is his demeanor and attitude.

This does not leave the Democrat politicians unscathed.  The elimination of the teacher work force means a large reduction in the expense of education.  These funds could then be spent on other programs or reducing government debt.  We all know shiny objects are greatly distracting and modern man goes gaga for any piece of technology.  How wonderful it sounds and will sound to parents that their children will have a world class, rigorous, technology infused education that will prepare them for the future.  We can all see the smiles, cheers, and bragging that my little Johnny gets educated by a computer screen.  

The origins of education reforms, bills, and foundations must also be addressed.  We have those such as Huff and Bill Gates that see blanketing  schools with uniform standards and practices as a solution to educational challenges they do not fully understand.  This is often the manner in which elites operate.  We decide, we coordinate, we mandate, and we say you had choice to adopt it.  Their process is disconnected and disjointed from understanding that learning does not take place in the vacuum of a classroom.  

Poverty, transiency, spotty previous education, and the challenge of being a newcomer to a language are the big factors.  As Professor Sean Reardon from Stanford University explains, “It may seem counterintuitive, but schools don’t seem to produce much of the disparity in test scores between high- and low-income students. We know this because children from rich and poor families score very differently on school readiness tests when they enter kindergarten, and this gap grows by less than 10 percent between kindergarten and high school. There is some evidence that achievement gaps between high- and low-income students actually narrow during the nine-month school year, but they widen again in the summer months.  High-income families are increasingly focusing their resources — their money, time and knowledge of what it takes to be successful in school — on their children’s cognitive development and educational success. They are doing this because educational success is much more important than it used to be, even for the rich."

The issue we face when speaking with politicians, such as Bob Huff, is that “reforming” schools, helping children, and giving more technology to schools all sounds rather insipid.  In a post-modern, hazy, soft-bellied age, in an era with a strong thirst for bread and circuses, the mechanistic mouths of politicians yammering about improving education gets a pass.  It gets a vote.  And it sounds so good.  Yet, when we shake off that haze and investigate a little more we discover Huff is wrong on Common Core, wrong to trust or mostly trust David Coleman, and wrong for us.

David Coleman is the main author of the Common Core standards.  He also created a data and assessment corporation that he later sold to McGraw-Hill.  No conflict of interest there, right?  Additionally, Coleman was the treasurer for Michelle Rhee’s Students First edu-corporation.  A test centric driven philosophy of teaching and educating children that Rhee implemented in Washington D.C.  You may have noticed Coleman does not have teaching experience, as he was turned down early on in his career from a teaching position.  Yet, he and his Common Core is fine in the eyes of State Senator Huff.  

Coleman and Rhee recently traveled throughout the United States promoting Common Core and holding scripted town halls.  When teachers and students were permitted to speak, their questions went unanswered and the panelists changed topics.  For example, when student and future teacher Hannah Nguyen of Los Angeles attended a Rhee town hall the meeting was brought to a close after she asked her question.   

Rhee’s test centric approach is the same one that lead to cheating in dozens of D.C. schools, cheating Rhee knew about and did not act to prohibit.  This cheating scandal is one more reason high stakes testing, connecting student test results to teacher job status and bonuses is dangerous.  Students are not widgets, teachers are not factory workers, thus merit pay for student test results is not a fully accurate correlation.  If merit pay, bonuses, and other job securities is linked to student scores, it must be done so in a more ethical manner than Rhee and the D.C. school district.  

This is the same Rhee that supported Bob Huff’s Senate Bill 451, the Open Enrollment Act--allowing a “pupil to attend a school in a school district other than their school district of residence” if the student was enrolled in a school deemed “low achieving”.  We all understand politicians need to pass legislation in order look like they are on the job and corporations need to develop products and make people think they need and want them.  Yes, open enrollment provides opportunity for students to find safer and more academically minded places of learning.  Yet, neither Huff nor the edu-corporations have solved the root causes of poor performance--the population’s characteristics, qualities, and challenges.  

Finland is the favored son of Common Core backers.  David Coleman, co-author of Common Core, often refers to the education system in Finland as a model for America and others.  Curiously what is not mentioned is the vast differences between Finland and the United States.  The population of Finland is 93.4% Finn, 91.2% of the population speaks Finnish, the country also has 0.62 migrants/1,000 population.  Absent from the extolling of Finland as a model, is the contrast of cultures and populations.  One country more monolithic and one country more heterogeneous.  The United States has its own qualities and characteristics that must be addressed and recognized.  
The United States does not have a bad education system, we have a different education system.  Accepting and honoring those differences is valuable and we must make considerations for students that are English Language Learners and the continual stream of new immigrants.  According to the Unites States census from 1980 to 2007 there was a 140% increase in the number of people speaking a language other than English at home.  The largest increase was in Spanish speakers (about 79% of the increase).  In California there are approximately 1.4 million English Language Learners in public schools (85% of which speak Spanish).  

Yes, American students can do better in school.  Do American students lag behind other nations?  Yes.  Although when broken down by ethnicity on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, Asian students in America do as well as Asians in Asian countries, and Caucasian students do as well as other students in Europe.  Those of Hispanic and African origins do as well as students in Austria, Sweden, Norway, and the Ukraine.

If educators in Finland can recognize the contrasts, why don’t Common Core experts?  Henna Virkkunen, Finland's Minister of Education, was interviewed about the education system in her country by Justin Snider, a news editor and advising dean at Columbia University in the United States.  

“Teachers in Finland can choose their own teaching methods and materials. They are experts of their own work, and they test their own pupils.  Our educational society is based on trust and cooperation, so when we are doing some

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