New York’s Implementation of Common Core “Fails Kids”

‘Why would policymakers create tests that are designed to mark as failures two out of every three children?” ….and tie the expected falling scores to teacher evaluations and graduation requirements.


Let’s be clear. This article describes New York’s choice of how to implement the Common Core. The approach New York has taken ties more rigorous tests and expected drop in scores to both graduation requirements and teacher evaluations. Instead of being an example, New York represents a warning to all states.

This has happened in non-Common Core states like Virginia!

Teachers are getting more Common Core training, but on 1/4 say students are prepared


According to Catherine Gewertz at Education Week, “teachers are getting an increasing amount of training to prepare for the common core, but that doesn’t always make them feel ready to teach the standards.


According to the article, a recently released study, “From Adoption to Practice: Teacher Perspectives on the Common Core,” shows that while far more teachers are attending common-core training, they are giving those sessions low marks for quality.

  • Professional Development and Training. In last year’s report, 71 percent of teachers said they had attended professional development or training for the common core. This year, that figure rose to 87 percent.
  • Teachers were far more critical of their training sessions in 2013 than they were in 2012, however. Two-thirds felt they were of high quality in 2012, but barely half said so in 2013.
  • Only 23 percent reported that the assessments had been a topic of professional development.
  • Far more common is training on the English/language arts standards; training on the math standards runs a distant second.
  • Their sense of preparedness, ranked on a scale from 1 (“not at all prepared”) to 5 (“very prepared”), was about the same in this year’s report as it was the previous year: just under half gave themselves 4s or 5s on that preparedness scale.
  • Only one-quarter said in this year’s report that their students were well prepared to master the standards, and 14 percent said their students were well prepared for the tests.
  • Teachers are unhappy with the lack of alignment between their instructional materials and the common core, a situation that’s stubbornly unchanged from the year before. Nearly six in 10 said their main curricular materials were not aligned to the new standards.
  • Teachers are pretty cynical about publishers’ claims that their materials are “common-core-aligned.” Fewer than four in 10 said they’d trust curriculum providers’ claims of alignment.
  • Only 18 percent classified themselves as “very familiar” with the math standards in the fall of 2012, but that number rose to 31 percent in the fall 2013 survey.


Why was there “far more training on the English/language arts standards; training on the math standards runs a distant second?”


Literacy is now a “shared responsibility” across all content areas. This means that all secondary teachers are expected to integrate purposeful reading, writing, and discussion of complex text into their lessons. In reality, few teachers have received the training or support to carry out this formidable task, which will take several years of focused practice to reach an acceptable level of proficiency.

Although elementary teachers are much better prepared to teach literacy skills, they must increase the amount of informational text and do more argumentative/persuasive writing, which are significant changes.

Leading Change? “One of the most important responsibilities a leader has is providing direction.”


A recent Forbes article by Brent Gleeson drew some important distinctions between leadership and management.

Leadership and management are two distinctly different but complimentary skill sets that all companies need.

  • Leaders make sure the organization is doing the right things
  • Managers make sure they do those things right.
  • Leadership is about coping
  • Management is about coping with complex issues.


Technical Change has an answer. It is like a light switch–either on or off. You make a choice on which computer or which instructional resources to adopt.

“Fullan (2003, 2005) cites Heifetz and Linsky (2002) to distinguish between technical and adaptive change. Technical change involves people putting in place solutions to problems for which they know the answers. While this can be difficult, it is not as difficult as adaptive change, which involves addressing problems for which they don’t yet know the solutions. Adaptive change involves changing more than routine behaviours or preferences; it involves changes in people’s hearts and minds. Because the change is so profound, adaptive change can result in transformation of the system.”

Adaptive Change is a process of changing behavior and culture, both of which have no clear answers.

“Adaptive change stimulates resistance because it challenges people’s habits, beliefs, and values. It asks them to take a loss, experience uncertainty, and even express disloyalty to people and cultures. Because adaptive change asks people to question and perhaps refine aspects of their identity, it also challenges their sense of competence. Loss, disloyalty, and feeling incompetent. That’s a lot to ask. No wonder people resist. Heifetz and Linsky, 2002, cited in Fullan, 2003, page 34

My revised 5 Steps for Leading Adaptive Change:

1. Focus – What is important in your school?

2. Start with Why – Your staff should not only know the ‘what’ by the ‘why’ of your school focus.

3. Mindsets and Expectations – What your staff believes drives their behavior. Unless we address expectations and belief systems, and changes will be fleeting and temporary. Each staff member should understand what we must believe about our focus an the role they play as well as what specifically is expected of them.

4. Remove Barriers – Remove roadblocks and obstacles. Encourage open discourse. Accept disagreement as healthy and a part of the growth process. Discussions should focus on issues not people. ‘Hard on issues, easy on people.’

5. Together – Whatever the focus, the key is that everyone works together. Even though we play different roles, we all work together toward a common outcome.

Upping the Price of Teacher Absenteeism


By Stuart A. Singer, Author of The Algebra Miracle

In a recent post, Mel Riddile explained in great detail one of the primary reasons for the academic success of the students at our school—low teacher absenteeism. The conclusion of his post accurately summarized the overall plan:

“We trusted our teachers and treated them like the professionals they were. They trusted us and cared about their students and fellow teachers. They took ownership of the problem and the solution. Our teachers didn’t feel as though they needed to sneak around or feel guilty because they were absent. Many of the substitutes developed a loyalty to the school and would only sub for us. They felt wanted and appreciated. In this scenario everyone wins. We had the lowest teacher absence rate and the highest percentage of class coverage by substitutes and the best pool of quality substitute teachers in our entire school district. Most importantly, we faced a challenge together and we solved another problem by trusting each other and working together.”

The problems inherent in teacher absenteeism are obvious. It is common knowledge that any time a student misses a class it has a highly negative impact on their academic progress. A classroom without its regular teacher is the equivalent of twenty-five students losing a day of instruction multiplied by every period in that day. In addition, as Dr. Riddle points out, the costs in teacher coverage and potential additional administrative discipline issues increases the price exponentially.

The view from the classroom

In his post Dr. Riddile listed a number of important steps that resulted in lowering teacher absenteeism. But there was one that was the most important from the perspective of the classroom instructor:

Teacher Attendance and School Culture – Revisited


Note: This is an update of an article originally posted on June 3, 2014

“Culture eats strategies for breakfast.”–Peter Drucker

Great schools can be average in some areas, but great schools cannot have a glaring weakness and be considered great. Great schools find a way to solve the problems that stifle or debilitate good schools.

Increased accountability coupled with new, more rigorous standards and more challenging assessments place increased pressure on principals to improve classroom instruction. Maximizing instructional time is a key way to raise student achievement. Teacher absenteeism and the use of substitute teachers, which reduce instructional time, have long been problems faced by every school. Faced with budget shortfalls, many districts have resorted to removing teachers from classrooms during the school day in order to attend professional development sessions. Labor agreements have been structured in a way that encourages teacher absence. States have reduced the number of school days in a school year.

While principals often face district and state policies that actually encourage teacher absenteeism, principals can impact teacher attendance. Like every school problem, the long-term solution lies in the culture—attitudes, beliefs, mindsets, expectations, and relationships—of the school.

In Teacher Absence, Leading Indicators, and Trust, Raegen Miller made some important points regarding teacher attendance pointing to the need to look more closely at school culture:

  • If teachers’ presence in the classroom matters so much, shouldn’t we pay more attention to teachers’ absences?
  • Professional culture in a school can exert a strong influence over the leave-taking behavior of its teachers
  • Forty-five percent of the variation in teacher absence is between schools working under the same district and state parameters.
  • Paying attention to teacher absence gets at the professional culture in schools through the notion of trust, a universal human tension if ever there was one. In particular, theory and evidence point to trust between teachers and management as a moderator of teacher absences.

Teacher Attendance and Student Achievement

Here is the reality. When teachers are absent, students lose valuable instructional time. No matter how qualified they are, substitute teachers do not improve student achievement. “When I was absent I knew that my classes would regress no matter who was the substitute or how well I planned.” – Stuart A. Singer, Author of The Algebra Miracle

A recent study indicates that teacher attendance is an overlooked factor in improving student achievement. “Given the time and attention spent on school programs, new curriculum and strategies to strengthen teacher quality,” the report’s authors wrote, “we may be overlooking one of the most basic, solvable and cost effective reasons why schools may fail to make education progress.”

The study goes on to point out the following:

  • One in six teachers in some of the country’s largest public school districts are out of the classroom at least 18 days, or more than 10 percent of the time, for illness, personal reasons and professional development.
  • Overall teacher attendance rate is 94 percent.
  • Districts spend an average of $1,800 per teacher to cover absences each year.
  • No measurable relationship between teacher absence and the poverty levels of a school’s students
  • No difference in absentee rates among districts with policies meant to encourage attendance, such as paying teachers for unused sick time, and districts without those incentives.

A study by the Columbia University School of Business offers some interesting findings:

  • Substitutes are worse than the regular teacher. “In teaching, the person with whom an absent teacher is replaced is clearly worse in a substantial way. Substitute teachers are less likely to be highly skilled, since otherwise the chances are she would already have found a full-time teaching job. Even if a substitute is highly skilled, there is a start-up cost: just because someone has a degree in math doesn’t mean she can hop in and be a great sixth-grade math teacher.”
  • Students do worse in years when their teacher takes more time off.
  • “When a teacher takes an extended medical leave, it causes a drop in math and English test scores on par with putting a rookie teacher in the place of a teacher with four years of experience for an entire year.”
  • Shorter absences are more detrimental than longer ones. Ten one-day absences over the course of a year were found to lower student scores more than when a teacher missed two consecutive weeks.
  • Incentives for teachers to not be absent don’t work.

A Short Success Story

I received a call from the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources. He was calling to arrange a time for his staff to visit our high school. Unbeknownst to me, our school had the highest rate of substitute coverage for absent teachers in a district of approximately 270 schools.

In our school, when a teacher was absent, we had substitute coverage approximately 96% of the time. I was shocked to learn that other high schools averaged 65% coverage. In addition, our school had the highest teacher attendance among the almost 30 high schools in the district.

This came as a shock to the district staff because

Critique of Common Core Math Ignores Two Key Points

In The Wall Street Journal, Marina Ratner, writes that American students are already struggling against the competition. The Common Core won’t help them succeed. She notes “That there were “fewer standards” became obvious when I saw that they were vastly inferior to the old California standards in rigor, depth and the scope of topics. Many topics—for instance, calculus and pre-calculus, about half of algebra II and parts of geometry—were taken out and many were moved to higher grades.”


The author believes that the Common Core Math Standards are not rigorous enough and that the teacher-assigned math problems are not effective. However, the author fails to recognize two key points:

  1. The Common Core Standards establish a minimum, albeit much higher, set of expectations for all students. In other words, they set the floor. These standards are by no means meant to indicate how high we hope students can go. California has the option of adding 15% to the standards and could choose to include standards relating to calculus. As a principal, I wanted my students to take at least one math course beyond Algebra II, preferably and AP or IB course.
  2. The Common Core Standards define the what, not the how. It is up to the state, district, and school to decide on the how–curriculum and methods. Critics continue to point to math problems that are not a part of the standards, but represent the efforts of teachers in the initial stages of implementation.

School Discipline Survey: 85 percent of superintendents believe there are positive consequences to using out-of-school suspension

In April 2014, AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) partnered to survey 500 school superintendents to determine the state of district-wide school discipline policies and practices.


85 percent of superintendents believe there are positive consequences to using out-of-school suspension, 33 percent report that suspension maintains or improves school climate by removing the worst offenders and 15 percent say that suspension improves the behaviors of disciplined students. 

Most principals, myself included, would prefer to have an in-school alternative to suspension as part of their discipline continuum, but that takes funding and that requires district support. My district would not financially support in-school suspension. I had to find my own way of funding the program, which, our long-term data demonstrated, significantly reduced discipline referrals and incidents.

Publish Books Instantly From Evernote

For many authors, Evernote is the place where ideas are assembled into words and manufactured into stories. Now, with an integration by FastPencil, authors have a full-fledged tool to create and distribute a book in Evernote, from start to publish.


11 Amazing Evernote Features for Teachers

“Evernote is a powerful note taking web tool and mobile app. It is definitely an elemental component of teachers workflow. I have been using it for a few years now and I just can’t live without it now.Evernote enables you to take notes in both text and audio format. Your notes can also include images,videos and even files. Evernote is available across different devices so that everything you do with Evernote on your computer can be automatically synced to your Evernote account on your phone or tablet.”


8 Ways Technology Makes You Stupid: Has your brain been ‘googled’?

People assume that iPhones, laptops and Netflix are evidence of progress. In some ways, that’s true. A moderate amount of Googling, for instance, can be good for your brain, and there are apps that can boost brain function and activity.

Yet tech a…


Pay attention to #4

  1. Background knowledge is a key to learning.
  2. The idea that students no longer need to know information when they can “google it” is a myth.
  3. The more you know about a particular subject, the faster you acquire new knowledge about that subject. 
  4. The more vocabulary words possessed by a student, the faster and better that student reads, comprehends and applies new knowledge.
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