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Confessions of a Former High School Teacher: 10 Tips for Parents

Friday, February 27th, 2015 - by Joni Nichols

In high schools across America, from small country farm towns to bustling cities, I have seen quite a bit of the high school landscape. In the turmoil of Common Core ideological wars and stories like this award-winning teacher jumping ship earlier this month, it can seem daunting to send our kids to public school. It’s daunting to work there, too. Teachers are riding out big swings in educational reform while moms and dads just want a happy well-adjusted student.  During my ten years in, I did not have children of my own. I do now. And here are the notes I would want from the other side if I were a parent of a public high schooler today:

1. You are still in charge.

As a parent, you’ve chosen the vehicle to get your child to 12th grade, so you oversee the process along the way. And with free k-12 public school online and university model part-time high schools, you are not locked into any standard. (Here’s what I do.) No, Common Core has not taken over everything everywhere. Don’t let anyone boss you into a picture of what your kid’s education has to look like. You still have those keys.  (And this OHS “Online High School” attender will certainly broaden your definitions of high school through a few confessions of her own.)

2. Don’t be afraid of “paying extra” to customize what isn’t working.

Remember, teachers must aim at the middle, which means they are going too fast for the slower processors, and too slow for the fast processors. There’s nothing the teacher can do about that. But you can do a lot about that. And you should. The teacher will not have the time or emotional investment to initiate, but she is capable of tailoring more than she will ever admit. Yes, it is a little bit of legwork and back-and-forth communication, but this is not barbed wire you are getting through; it’s an email. You’re opening conversations that can lead to compromise.

3. Don’t misinterpret the pushback.

If a blank stare or a little resistance can get someone to solve their own problems and save them from more headache and heartache, then wow, what a skill to develop! Graciously bypass this defense mechanism (rudeness) and set up a meeting or ask for someone else to speak to you about it. They don’t know how serious you are, if you are just venting, or indeed impossible;  just as you don’t know what they are made of. Frankly, these adults are overrun with unique situations, and their brain and heart spaces are limited, so a little pushback of your own may be in order. (A little.)

4. Be the helicopter parent when needed.

By high school age, a hands-off approach may suit most of the time, so you may feel like you are poking through a mysterious membrane to dig through files and floorboards and defenses, but you are not invading your child’s space, embarrassing him, or being too overbearing. You are entering his very real world which is in need of very real adult supervision. Not because you have the power to force him to do something, but because you have the power to see things that he cannot see and give wisdom that he does not have. And when that teacher sees you humbly doing the unthinkable, she may pretend not to notice, but she will know you are literally saving your child in a system that cannot afford to customize swimming lessons for those still treading water in the deep.

5. Your words are more powerful than you know.

While leaning on standard phrases about department policies and school policies, teachers are closing the door, tweaking the details of assignments as they see fit. With no outside voices coming in, these dictatorships that can get quite overgrown. Maybe you are the first to raise the flag on an issue, and maybe you won’t win the argument, but something will change. And at the very least, she’ll be on her toes when it comes to you.

A photo posted by @xoxo_msheidy on

6. Go face to face.

Your very presence injects the human element. She is dealing with a sterile name and grade on a list. And that’s the way she wants it. She may “call the shots” and be difficult to disarm, but she (like you) can’t see all sides of an issue. And she has to listen to you. (She can probably give insight about your child that you may not see for yourself.) And if you both want the same thing–to teach skills with responsibility for working toward mastery–then the discussion of how to go about it will be an interpretative dance that can’t be done via email. She’ll meet you with a compromise…. though she will have trouble admitting it. Unless it makes for a compelling selfie.

7. Know the laws (and your guidance counselor).

Extra days, extra time, you name it, somebody has an Individualized Education Plan for it. The rest of life will be lived by new laws, but while you’re there, there are plenty that protect the child and his needs for accommodation. How about that student who needed to come 30 minutes late every day due to morning anxiety? Just enough time for her Starbucks run which she proudly brought into class. IEP certified. Frankly, no one knows what’s going inside your child’s life and your house, and it’s no one’s right to know or judge. But a parent must lead the intervention if your details won’t fit on the EZ form.

8. Put your child over your reputation.

Yes, you will become known as the parent who complains. Yes, your child may become known as the one with problem parents. Yes, they will talk about you and the situation during lunch with their coworkers. But while they are on the battlefield trying to stamp out ignorance, you are on your child’s side, trying to stamp out unjust treatment. I have had many an awkward discussion with many an embarrassed parent, but teachers put their reputation on the line daily as they give what they can to a broken system they can’t fix.  So in coming to the table, a high five is more in order. Welcome to the club.

9. Don’t let the teacher fool you.

With as many learning styles as teaching styles as curriculum styles, who is to say why Junior is failing?  That teacher just isn’t 100% sure. In that pressured world of details and deadlines, some stacks and essays get thrown away. (Gasp!)  Meaning, sometimes peace trumps justice. So be sure of what you are asking for. It’s looking good already.

10. Don’t forget the wildcard.

Remember, in this deck, there are always surprises. Brace yourself for the moment you learn that teacher is privately going through a divorce. Or chemotherapy. Or hasn’t cared for yeaaaaaars. Or that the history teacher might have a crush on your daughter. And, similarly, don’t forget that sometimes the wildcard is you.

So get in the game and represent your family well, never apologizing for your CEO role in the education of your child. Though the communication burden is on you (no matter their promises) it’ll be worth any mess it may create. Our children are always going to be worth the strain of questioning and reinventing the path as we know it.

To read more on where I ended up, you can visit my education blog here.

*****

image illustrations via shutterstock / 

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Watch the Frustration as 3 High School Girls Take a 6th Grade Common Core Math Test

Saturday, February 21st, 2015 - by Paula Bolyard

Three high school students from Elyria, Ohio, took a 6th grade Common Core math test last week and recorded their efforts. They described their experience in a post on an anti-testing Facebook page. Two of the girls are seniors and the third is in 10th grade.

We are taking the practice Math PBA [performance based assessment] PARCC test for sixth grade. Brooke is in Calculus which is only available on the track of honors math classes meaning during freshman year she started in Geometry, although students can get on the track and double up on math classes for a year and get up to calculus. I [Megan] took a quarter of calculus but dropped it because I did not need it for college and am taking statistics. Melanie is in honors classes but is a sophomore, she had more of a fresher memory to middle school math since she’s younger. This test was hard for ALL three of us.

“I can’t do this,” the girl in the middle says at one point when the test asks students to explain why an answer is wrong.

The girl on the right says she could probably figure out the answers if she had her graphing calculator, but her friend reminds her that 6th graders aren’t allowed to use the more advanced calculators.

“How are 6th graders supposed to take this?” the girl in the middle exclaims. “I can’t even do this. I’m 12th grade. I’m six years ahead of them!”

The girls complain that with the online test they can’t go back and check their work like they’re able to do with a paper test.

“I feel like I’m going to cry because I don’t know this and I feel so stupid,” says the girl in the middle.

Later in the video she admits, “I can’t do fractions. I couldn’t even do fractions in 6th grade.”

By the time they get to question 11 of 12 on the first section, the girls give up, completely flummoxed by the test, despite their team effort. When they try to view their scores, they are again frustrated when they discover that they must register for an account to see how they did on the practice test.

“Well, I’m not going to make an account for something I don’t support,” one girl complains (which raises some questions about the motives of this exercise).

Students in schools across Ohio are the first in the nation to take the Common Core tests, administered by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing consortium. All Ohio students in grade 3-8 are scheduled to take the tests this week — 100,000 children are scheduled to take the online version.

Ohio has become ground zero for anti-testing protests in recent weeks. A teacher in the same district (Elyria) recently made news when she publicly resigned — to gasps of disbelief – citing the “testing culture” and the “drill ‘em and kill ‘em” atmosphere in schools. There is an active testing “opt-out” movement in the state — driven in part by teachers — with parents across the state saying their children will not take the tests. Many districts have been forced to adopt procedures for allowing students to opt out and some have held meetings with parents to explain potential consequences for students who miss the state-mandated tests.

Sarah Fowler, a member of the Ohio State Board of Education, who has been a vocal critic of Common Core, wrote on her Facebook page that state Superintendent Ross confirmed to the board that there is no law permitting or prohibiting a parent from refusing testing in Ohio.

“Long-standing American tradition protects parent’s right to choose based upon their family’s unique needs and concerns,” Fowler wrote. She explained that Ohio students entering 9th grade have three options for graduation, only one of which involves the PARCC tests:

Students entering 9th grade this school year have three graduation options. 1. PARCC End of Course Exams, 2. Remediation-free score on SAT/ACT assessments, 3. Work/Skills assessment and Industry Credential. It was confirmed with ODE legal counsel that students who choose pathway 2 or 3 may change their mind and take the PARCC exams missed or refused this year in the future.

The Ohio House recently passed H.B. 7 in response to complaints about the new tests from parents and teachers. The law “declares an emergency” and would provide a safe harbor for students for the 2014-2015 school year in regard to testing. Schools would be prohibited from utilizing:

at any time during a student’s academic career, a student’s score on any elementary-level state assessment or high school end-of-course examination that is administered in the 2014-2015 year school as a factor in any decision to (1) retain the student, (2) promote the student to a higher grade level, or (3) grant course credit.

The bill would also allow students to take end-of-course exams at a later time in the student’s academic career if they do not take it on the scheduled administration date. The bill now goes to the Ohio Senate, where it must face Sen. Peggy Lehner, the powerful head of the Senate Education Committee, who is a staunch defender of the Common Core standards and who has called efforts to repeal the federally influenced standards “a circus.” Governor Kasich has not indicated whether he would support a testing “safe harbor” for the current school year.

You can take the PARCC Common Core practice test here.

I’ve pasted some screenshots of the 6th grade math questions the high school girls struggled with below, along with answers from the PARCC Alignment Document. Do you think they are inappropriate for a 6th grader? Should high school students be able to solve these problems?

 

Question 7:

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Field Test Note: I asked my husband and my son — both ‘math people’ — to try the golf ball problem. My husband, who has a background in engineering and computer programming and now works as a senior systems analyst, struggled with it because he wasn’t comfortable with the assumptions being made about year 4 sales. Students are supposed to assume that the rate of sales will increase at the average rate of the first three years, but that is not explained anywhere in the problem.
My son, who was homeschooled and minored in computer science in college (he’s now an IT manager), whipped out an answer in short order. He reminded me that he had learned to do problems just like this during the years we used Singapore Math in our homeschool program.

Question 8:

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Question 9:

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Question 10:

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Question 11:

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Question 12:

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Are Boys the Target of a Feminist Gendercide Campaign?

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Last week social media jumped on the story of a woman who supposedly decided to have a late-term abortion specifically because she found out she was having a boy. Based on a near-anonymous comment posted on an Internet forum, the story is highly questionable at best. Nevertheless, both pro- and anti-abortion advocates pounced on the missive. The dialogue generated took on a life of its own, inspiring the following comment from feminist site Jezebel:

“The virality of this story is sort of a nice reminder about confirmation bias: when something fits our preferred narrative just a little too snugly, it’s probably time for skepticism,” wrote Jezebel’s Anna Merlan.

How, exactly, does gendercide “fit our narrative” in the West, especially in relation to boys?

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Is Common Core the Obamacare of Education?

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 - by Paula Bolyard

This has become a top-down approach, just like Obamacare. We were told you can keep your doctor, you can keep your health plan. We were told this would be locally-driven, local curriculum. That’s not what it is. This is a one-size-fits-all approach from D.C.. We have never allowed the federal government to make curriculum decisions in our local schools and we will continue to fight against this.

That was Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal explaining to Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, the reason he changed his mind about supporting the Common Core State Standards. Jindal initially agreed that his state would submit to the standards, a list of what children should know in each grade from kindergarten to graduation in English language arts and mathematics, but later changed his mind, citing concerns about increased federal control over state and local education decisions.

Like many other governors across the country, Jindal was lured into agreeing to the standards with the promise of federal dollars from grants through a program called Race to the Top, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Cash-strapped states were encouraged to compete for grants by submitting applications that would be judged, in part, on whether or not they agreed to adopt the Common Core standards. States were told that their applications would be more competitive if they agreed to adopt the new standards.

Forty states applied for the first phase of funding, many of them enthusiastically agreeing to adopt the common standards that would eventually come to be called the Common Core State Standards.

States that didn’t get on board with Common Core during the Race to the Top competition found that the federal government had another incentive — or perhaps threat is a better word. The No Child Left Behind Act had an absurd 100% proficiency requirement that was looming in 2014. No state was on schedule to achieve 100% proficiency and states faced federally mandated sanctions in 2014 if that unrealistic benchmark wasn’t met.  The Obama administration offered states waivers that would allow them to avoid the consequences of NCLB — as long as they agreed to jump on the Common Core bandwagon.

The idea of national standards wasn’t invented in President Obama’s Department of Education. The 1983 “A Nation at Risk” report (which some experts considered to be rhetorically too pessimistic and not evidenced-based) urged schools to adopt standards that were “more rigorous and measurable.” President George H.W. Bush embraced a “defined set of national education goals” at a 1989 summit and in 1996 the National Governors Association created Achieve, Inc., a non-profit group devoted to higher education standards. Funded by groups like the Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce, and the National Alliance of Business, Achieve, Inc. was an effort to “set tough academic standards that apply to every student in every school.”

In 2008 Achieve, Inc., the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Governors Association issued “Benchmarking for Success,” a report that called for national standards and federal incentives to achieve that goal. That same year the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $22 million to the Hunt Institute to work with governors to promote national standards after being approached by Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, who would go on to become the architect of the Common Core standards. The Gates Foundation would eventually spend $200 million to promote the idea of national standards to state education departments, think tanks, unions, non-profit organizations, and education companies.

The infusion of Gates cash was a game changer and suddenly, without much debate or controversy, the nation was on the verge of adopting national standards, a development education secretary Arne Duncan called “the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown v. Board of Education.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, discussing the Affordable Care Act, famously said, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

In much the same way, the Common Core initiative was rushed onto the scene and states agreed to abide by the common standards before the public had time to comprehend the dramatic transformation that had just occurred. Americans, distracted with the housing crash, the recession, and the healthcare debate, were not focused on these complex educational issues at the time and so the discussions were mostly left to education bureaucrats. Before the final draft of the Common Core standards was released in June of 2010, dozens of states were onboard, which left little time for public review or debate. There was also no time for input from state legislatures. By the end of 2010, 39 states and the District of Columbia were on board with the initiative.

States that agreed to abide by the standards defended the decision, saying that federal law prohibits the federal government from meddling in state and local education decisions. Ohio Governor John Kasich recently insisted that control of education remains with local school boards. ”Barack Obama doesn’t set [the curriculum]; the state of Ohio doesn’t set it. It is local school boards driving better education, higher standards, created by local school boards,” Kasich told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday.

In theory (and on paper) that’s true. The reality is quite different.

The claim that the Common Core standards will not determine what is taught in classrooms — that states are still free to develop their own curriculum and local schools and teachers will still make decisions about individual lessons — should be rated as “half true” at best.

Let’s begin with the standards themselves. Schools do retain some measure of local control, but only to the extent that local schools stay within the confines of the mandated standards. For example, the math standards mandate that students “count to 100 by ones and by tens” by the end of kindergarten. There are no requirements for which textbooks must be used or how teachers should explain the concept to students, only that children need to know how to do this by the end of kindergarten. Teachers still have flexibility, but only within the limits of the common requirements.

One immediate result of the (nearly) national standards is that publishers, seeing an opportunity to make a profit, quickly jumped on board. Textbooks and curriculum guides nationwide began to sport “Common Core Aligned” stickers — even homeschool curriculum did not escape Common Core branding. In some cases, publishers found that books they currently had in print already aligned in some way with a standard here or there, so they felt justified in slapping Common Core stickers on them. In other cases, new curriculum and textbooks were (and continue to be) developed to align specifically with the new standards, which are being used to write tables of contents for math and English textbooks that will be used in classrooms across the country. The materials are so pervasive that reportedly 100 of 176 Catholic dioceses have adopted the Common Core standards, citing increased difficulty finding classroom materials and professional development programs for teachers that are not influenced by the Common Core.

Supporters say this is a great development; they cite greater efficiency in textbook publishing and an increased ability for teachers to share innovative ideas and lesson plans across the country. This might not have been the worst development in the history of education reform except that the federal government went on to increase its control — and the controversy — over the standards exponentially by spending $350 million in federal education dollars to fund consortiums to develop tests to ensure compliance with Common Core standards. Two testing companies — Smarter Balanced and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) — agreed to create the tests and most Common Core states signed agreements to use one or the other. Some 40 million students nationwide will be subject to these two tests created with federal funding and under the influence of the federal government. According to Education Week, the U.S. Department of Education is providing guidance on the peer-review process for the standards and tests and “could exert a powerful influence on how states set academic expectations.”

Critics say this will result in “teaching to the test” on steroids. The tests will most certainly drive what is taught in classrooms, even though the standards do not have specific curricular requirements. The PARCC Assessment Blueprint and Test Specifications FAQ encourages teachers to use their materials to “guide thinking about classroom rubric use and design.” According to PARCC, “The ELA/literacy passage selection guidelines and worksheets should also be helpful tools to guide text selection for classroom instruction and assessments.”

In other words: if teachers want their students to succeed on the tests, they should use the PARCC-recommended materials in the classroom.

And students will find no respite from Common Core in the ACT and SAT college entrance exams, both of which are being aligned to the new standards. College Board president David Coleman (the architect of the Common Core who first approached Bill Gates about national standards in 2008) has vowed to radically redesign the SAT. Education reformer Diane Ravitch called Coleman the “de facto controller of American education.”

Ultimately, the buck stops at the tests. Testing drives everything from publishing, to local hiring decisions, to the way math is taught in kindergarten. Advocates of the Common Core standards claim there will be no erosion of local control and deny there will be any federal influence on state and local decision-making. But it won’t be local teachers and school board members — or even states — deciding what will be on the high-stakes tests, and within a few years those tests will be the primary driver of what is taught in most of the classrooms across the country.

The Common Core standards will eventually lead to a one-size-fits all, top-down education with little opportunity for individual choice or state innovation because all children will have to pass the same tests. As Common Core takes root in local districts and classrooms nationwide, local control and state innovation will be abandoned as schools move increasingly toward a nationally directed approach to education with decisions overseen by officials at the Department of Education.

See Part I of this series devoted to making sense of the “tangled web of unanswered questions and competing interests” behind Common Core. Have a question you want to see explored in a future installment? Reach out to @PBolyard on Twitter. Also check out this collection presenting 150 of Paula Bolyard’s top articles over the years.

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An Adult Conversation About Common Core: Part 1

Thursday, February 12th, 2015 - by Paula Bolyard

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Over the next several weeks I plan to devote some space here to unraveling the tangled web of Common Core, the educational standards for math and English adopted by 43 states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA). The attempt to blanket the country in national standards as a way to improve educational achievement has become one of the great political and philosophical debates of our time and it deserves a serious and substantive discussion apart from the hyperbole and the talking points on both sides of the issue.

Should there be common standards so student achievement can be compared across state lines? If so, who should decide what the standards are and how should achievement be measured? Should the federal government have a say in the process? How about the states? If not, what should be done instead? How should taxpayer-funded schools be held accountable and how will parents know if their local schools can provide a quality education for their children? How can parents be assured that the teachers are skilled at teaching and imparting knowledge to children?

About the only thing that nearly everyone agrees on is that U.S. standards and student achievement have been heading in the wrong direction for decades. Beneath the surface of these debates we are faced with more important philosophical questions. What is the purpose of education in the first place? What does it mean to be an educated person? Does the meaning change as technology (and society) evolves or is there a static definition for what we consider to be an educated American? Is it based on some set of measurable, testable skills and something education reformers like to call “college and career readiness” or should career preparation be secondary to more intangible qualities like morality, love of country, and preparation for self-government?

Even if Americans could agree on what a good education should include and which standards to use, there is a separate discussion related to Common Core about accountability. Should teachers be held accountable when students fail to learn or progress and should tests be the way we determine a student’s success or failure? Should the federal government, which contributes 7-8% to most state education budgets, hold states accountable for how those dollars are spent through testing or should they just let the states determine how to spend the money, free from federal oversight?

These are all important questions that deserve more than soundbite answers and random examples of incomprehensible classroom lessons. Moreover, it is important to examine the history of American education — and education reform — so that we can move forward instead of repeating the same mistakes and failing another generation of children.

Just for the sake of comparison, let us consider the nation’s first comprehensive education law. The Massachusetts School Law of 1789 (passed just two years after the U.S. Constitution was ratified) gives us some insight into what the Founders thought the purpose of education was and explained why education was important to the success of the state and the nation. The law noted the duty the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had (as expressed in the state constitution, penned by John Adams in 1780) to provide for the education of youth because “a general dissemination of knowledge and virtue is necessary to the prosperity of every State, and the very existence of a Commonwealth.” The law declared that school masters of good morals should be appointed to teach children “to read and write, and to instruct them in the English language, as well as in arithmetic, orthography, and decent behavior.”

Teachers were admonished to “take diligent care” to instruct students in,

the principles of piety, justice, and a sacred regard to truth, love to their county, humanity, and universal benevolence, sobriety, industry and frugality, chastity, moderation and temperance, and those other virtues which are the ornament of human society, and the basis upon which the Republican [Massachusetts] Constitution is structured.

You’d be hard-pressed to find students in any public school in America today being instructed with “diligent care” in even one of the listed virtues, many of which are considered outdated by progressive education reformers, the relics a bygone (and oppressive) society.

Compare the Founders’ view of education to the less lofty goals of the Common Core State Standards, which seek to “ensure that students make progress each year and graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college, career, and life” and to “lay out a vision of what it means to be a literate person who is prepared for success in the 21st century.”

Success in “life” isn’t really defined in the Common Core standards, but seems to be related to ”the expectations of colleges, workforce training programs, and employers” and the ability to “compete with their peers in the United States and abroad.”

Over the last 225 years, education — at least the purpose of education — has evolved into something our Founding Fathers would likely not recognize. “College and career readiness” and preparation for a “21st century global economy” (hallmarks of the Common Core philosophy of education) have replaced the virtues that the authors of the Massachusetts School Law of 1789 believed were essential for the fledgling Commonwealth’s very existence — virtues they said were necessary “to secure the blessings of liberty, as well as to promote their future happiness; and the tendency of the opposite vices to slavery and ruin.”

Whether this philosophical change to an emphasis on college and career readiness will be an improvement in education has been the subject of much debate. Many supporters say that virtually anything would be better than the current scheme under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), where states were required to test students and hold schools accountable for student achievement. Because it left the determination of cut (passing) scores on achievement tests up to the states, critics of NCLB say it led to a “race to the bottom” and a lowering of standards as states set scores intentionally low to avoid the perception of failing grades and the resulting NCLB penalties.

Common Core opponents counter that the new standards will make things worse. They say a one-size-fits-all program of educational standards will crush innovation and creativity in the classroom and will drive all schools to teach to tests which are heavily influenced by a dubiously motivated federal government and corporate interests. They also point to an increased reliance on informational texts and a reduction in the amount of literature in the standards and say there is a strong progressive political bent to the standards.

Through it all, Common Core has become a monstrous, unwieldy political football. Lawmakers are encouraged by lobbyists and supporters of the new standards to ride out the storm and see the project through, assured that the untested education reforms will work and improve student achievement. At the same time they face the ire of teachers (and their unions) who despise testing-related accountability and forced compliance with standards their local districts do not control. Along with these competing interests, elected officials face a daily barrage of criticism from parents, some of whom have legitimate and substantive concerns and others who have made the standards a scapegoat for everything they don’t like about their child’s school.

Amid the shouting and debate and political tussling, the majority of the nation’s public school children learn in an atmosphere of uncertainty as schools continue in the direction of Common Core implementation, which has been anything but smooth. While politicians and parents debate whether or not the standards should be repealed (and even if they’re outright harmful to students), teachers are also left in limbo, not knowing if they’ll be held accountable for the (nearly) national standards and wondering if they’ll need to retool their classrooms (yet again) if Common Core is repealed in their state.

Untangling the complicated Common Core web — politically and philosophically — will take leadership and political courage, qualities that are often severely lacking in our modern political discourse. The shouting must give way to reasoned debate and genuine legislative solutions, lest Americans settle for the status quo and miss this unique opportunity to do the hard work of real education reform and lest we fail yet another generation of children.

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Editor’s Note: See some of Paula’s previous blog posts and articles about Common Core and stay tuned as she explores the subject further. Have any questions you’d like to see Paula address in the series? Please leave your comments below or reach out on Twitter: @PBolyard

Gasps of Disbelief as ‘Live with Kelly and Michael’ Top Teacher Winner Resigns Over Common Core Testing

Chinese-American Mom Says Common Core Is Just Like Education in Communist China

10 Signs Common Core Has Gone from Fringe Issue to Mainstream

10 Terrible Common Core Homework Assignments

How Common Core is Coming to Homeschoolers

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How Can Students Fight Back Against Oppressive Schools?

Monday, February 9th, 2015 - by Helen Smith

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I was happy and pleased to see at NetGalley that a new book focusing on how to fight back at school had been released called The Student Resistance Handbook. I was intrigued and ordered it after taking a look at the Amazon description:

The Student Resistance Handbook provides children with information on how they can effectively fight back against their school and work towards abolishing this abusive and oppressive institution. Legal non-violent tactics are presented that are designed to: disrupt the operation of school, substantially increase the costs involved in its operation, and make those who work for and support schools as miserable as they make the students who are forced to attend. The text was conceived to empower youth to struggle against the helplessness, passivity, and despair that schools were designed to instill. John F. Kennedy accurately claimed that “learning without liberty is always in vain.” This Handbook provides students with tools to fight for their liberty in order to attain a real education.

There was also an excerpt that looked good:

If you are looking to be warehoused in a more comfortable prison, this book is not for you. If you think getting a longer break for lunch or recess is a meaningful concession, this book is not for you. If you think better food in the lunchroom, more respectful teachers, and the end of standardized testing is what victory looks like, this book is not for you. There are no demands that can be issued or met short of ending the tyranny of compulsory schooling. If teachers or administrators want to reach out and negotiate with you, it will be based on a lie.They will only want to negotiate the terms of your surrender. Victory is when no one has to go to school and there are no consequences to not going. Given the rise of viable alternatives to school, this endgame is not completely far-fetched.

The book definitely looks worth a read, I look forward to getting my copy!

*****
Cross-posted from Dr. Helen

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Does American Jewish Survival Rely on the Holocaust?

Sunday, February 8th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

For a while now, my editor David Swindle has been plaguing me to start a series on Jewish identity. Like any good family we disagree with each other about practically everything, cultural and religious identification included. I can’t think of one Jewish setting in which I wasn’t directly or indirectly accused by fellow Jews of being a “bad Jew” for some mundane reason or another. One incident involved the infamous “pepperoni pizza at a Hillel event, for or against” argument. (Truly the greatest Jewish American struggle of our time.) Joseph’s brothers beat him up, threw him in a ditch, and not much has changed since, attitude-wise. Need further proof? Check out the latest argument over how Jewish Americans relate to the Holocaust.

Apparently 73% of us rank the Holocaust as our top-rated “essential” to being Jewish. This disturbs renowned academic Jacob Neusner who’s made a career out of entwining himself into the vines of the Ivy League. Neusner’s argument boils down to the concept that American Jews have no real sense of or connection to their own identity. Therefore, they need to go outside the geographical box to find themselves, either through the Holocaust or Zionism.

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VIDEO: Here’s the Proof That Big Government Can’t Fix Poverty

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

Reason‘s Jim Epstein reports on the extremely pricey efforts to fix public education in the nation’s poorest small town:

By far, the largest initiative to combat poverty with government largess has been directed at Camden’s public schools. New Jersey spends about 60% more on education per pupil than the national average according to 2012 census figures, or about $19,000 in 2013. In Camden, per pupil spending was more than $25,000 in 2013, making it one of the highest spending districts in the nation.

But all that extra money hasn’t changed the fact that Camden’s public schools are among in the worst in the nation, notorious for their abysmal test scores, the frequent occurrence of in-school violence, dilapidated buildings, and an on-time graduation rate of just 61 percent.

Watch the video (above), which is the first of three parts. The rest are available at the link, which I would have headlined “Required Reading” if I hadn’t already posted one of those today.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Un-Popular Face of Black Activism in America

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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“Black” has become an idol. Oddly enough we learned that lesson through the making of Selma, a film focused on the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who boldly declared, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Director Ava DuVernay defended the rewriting of history into what amounts to a black power narrative (mythical kneeling blacks before white cops and all), stating, “This is art; this is a movie; this is a film. I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian.” The mainstream media jumped on the bait thrown out by the film’s star David Oyelowo, who declared that ”parallels between Selma and Ferguson are indisputable.” The fact that neither the Academy nor filmgoers fell march-step in line only acted as further proof of the conspiracy against “black and brown people” in Hollywood.

The race war fomented in the rise of the Black Power movement (the nasty “alternative” to King’s civil rights movement) continues unabated. In fact, it has opened on a new front, one that ties racial strife with national security and even international relations. Playing on strong ties to the Nation of Islam, Black Power now has its eye set on the Palestinian territories and places like Ferguson, Missouri, and the like are set to become the next battleground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making way for the planting of hotbeds of radical Islamic terror.

But, to tell the story of Ferguson and Florida’s black activists traveling on solidarity missions to the Palestinian territories is to exact the same kind of indecent omissions as DuVernay. There are blacks out there who support Israel and who, in fact, draw inspiration from the civil rights movement in doing so. The primary difference between these black Zionists and their Black Power counterparts: They are motivated by Jesus, not Islam.

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in 2006, Cornetta Lane an African American at Wayne State University, even went as far as expressing this support by singing Hatikvah in front of an anti-Israel protester who claimed that Israel was a racist state.When Jewish students asked at the time why she sang Hatikvah, Cornetta replied that her pastor, Glen Plummer, explained that Jews significantly helped out African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and that Jews contributed significantly to both the NAACP and the Urban League, and were advisers to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Thus, when she saw that there was going to be an anti-Israel rally, Cornetta decided to take this step.

Much like Cornetta Lane, Chloe Valdary has drawn on her uniquely Biblical Christian upbringing and study of the civil rights movement to develop her own brand of Zionist activism. Dubbed “the Lioness of Zion,” Valdary started a pro-Israel student group on her college campus that garnered national attention, turning the college student into a speaker for a variety of Zionist organizations, including CAMERA and CUFI:

The parallels’ between the black struggle during the civil rights movement and the Jewish people today insofar as the legitimacy of Zionism is concerned is staggering. Martin Luther King Jr. [was] a Zionist but more importantly he realized that we must advance our duty when advancing the cause of human rights today. If he were alive today, he would surely be pro-Israel. This is one of the reasons why I am such a staunch Zionist.

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Valdary is not alone. Dumisani Washington, a pastor and music teacher in Northern California, has formed the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, an organization “dedicated to strengthening the relationship between Israel and the Jewish people, and people of African descent through education and advocacy.” Raised a Christian, Washington had a strong interest in the Old Testament and Hebrew history at a young age. Growing up in the segregated south, he drew inspiration from the Exodus as well as Martin Luther King:

Dr. King was a staunch supporter of the State of Israel and a friend of the Jewish people. Many who know of his legacy know of his close relationship with Rabbi [Avraham] Joshua Heschel as well as the Jewish support for the Black civil rights struggle. Many are unaware, however, of the negative push back Dr. King got from some people. Particularly after the 1967 war in Israel, international criticism against the Jewish State began to rise.  Dr. King remained a loyal friend, and made his most powerful case for Israel almost 1 year after the Six Day War – and 10 days before his death.

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Both Valdary and Washington have raised the ire of pro-Palestinian organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), an organization that misappropriates black history and depicts black supporters of Israel as the Uncle Toms of the 21st century. Contrary to the Black Power impetus forging the Ferguson-Palestine relationship, Washington has outlined the differences between the Palestinian liberation and civil rights movements, and in an open letter to SJP, Valdary condemned the organization, writing:

You do not have the right to invoke my people’s struggle for your shoddy purposes and you do not get to feign victimhood in our name. You do not have the right to slander my people’s good name and link your cause to that of Dr. King’s. Our two causes are diametrically opposed to each other.

Americans remain blind to these modern day civil rights/Zionist activists because, contrary to the preaching of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we have been made into a color-centric society by the Black Power movement and its contemporary descendants. Race has become an idol. Black Power has created the mythical “black and brown faces” to be honored through tokens of affirmative action while sacrificing living human beings on the altar of ghetto culture because of the color of their skin. To remain blind to the idolatry of race is to remain blind to the real struggle for civil rights in America, the struggle to be viewed as a human being instead of a race-based demographic or a color-based “minority.” This is the struggle that unites rather than divides us on issues of economy, quality of life, and yes, even national security and the threat of terrorism.

Now, more than ever, we must value each other on the content of our character, lest the idolatry that comes from the obsession with skin color blind us from the true threats unfolding in our midst.

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Exposing Feminism’s Patriarchy Myth on Campus

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Arthur Chu wrote a wandering epithet over at Salon on “bitter nerd” Scott Aaronson’s rant against feminism. Aaronson’s complaints as detailed in Chu’s piece are far from new. As a graduate teaching assistant I had many male students (rather nerdy types) walk out of film theory classes declaring they were “horrible people” and “secret rapists” because they were born male. In the wake of the campus rape lies of 2014, who can blame these guys for believing feminism is conducting its own War Against Men:

This is not a debate about gender roles. It is not about economics or the esoterica of hateful radicals in an ivory tower. This is a war, an ideological campaign to smear all men as moral monsters. It is not a war against “patriarchy” or some imagined evil rich guy. This is a war on men as such – of all races and social classes. It is a war against your brothers, sons, fathers, friends and relatives. And right now, the bad guys and girls are winning.

“…[H]ow could [Aaronson] be targeted by books written by second-wave feminists when he was a toddler?” Chu asks incredulously. Camille Paglia answers Chu in her book Vamps and Tramps, and most recently in her Time magazine piece on the overblown campus rape epidemic. Second-wave feminists believe themselves to be superior human beings through a pseudo-science that negates biology, psychology and religion in favor of a sterile view of the world as a grand social order which must be maintained and controlled through Marxist politics. To put it rather simply, the second wave threw out biology and psychology and mocked God, making a target of every man like Scott who reads feminist literature only to walk away convinced that he’s an inherent rapist because he was born male. As Paglia explains:

The horrors and atrocities of history have been edited out of primary and secondary education except where they can be blamed on racism, sexism, and imperialism — toxins embedded in oppressive outside structures that must be smashed and remade. But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.

Paglia details that Marxist feminists “…simplistically project outward onto a mythical ‘patriarchy’ their own inner conflicts and moral ambiguities.” Men have no such external myth on which to blame what Chu calls “internal demons” which is why for men these moral struggles are easily chalked off as “slippery things.” Chu writes

I do know that what could help women… is to find the guys who are doing bad things to her and stop those guys from doing that. That’s why feminism is more focused on women’s issues than men’s, because women’s issues are the things happening out in the world where we can do something about them.

This absurdity is an outgrowth of the second wave’s politicization of male rape. Female rape, highly eroticized in the ’70s, was legitimized by the feminist movement as sexual fantasy only to become an illicit crime when acted out by a male counterpart. Paglia notes, “…the illicit is always highly charged,” which is why the issue of campus rape has become the most highly charged issue of feminism today. This also explains why rape has become the source for such incredible moral ambiguity and why men, the mythical figures onto which the moral ambiguities of the female sex are projected, are increasingly blamed for women’s bad sexual decision-making.

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The story of Molly Morris and Corey Mock is nothing new to the campus rape scene. Having met on Tinder, a social media app designed to fulfill hook-up scenarios, Mock pursued classmate Morris, who played hard to get until agreeing to a breakfast date. Morris took Mock up on his invitation to a party, but wound up not arriving until 2 a.m., only to find a bunch of male wrestlers with few female faces in the crowd. Partaking in plenty of booze, Morris implies she was drugged and woke up the next day naked in bed with Mock. She decided not to go to the police because “she was not emotionally ready to enter a criminal justice system that would scrutinize her life and choices.”

Her’s is a pathetic excuse that permits the consequences of her bad decision-making to be projected onto the mythical patriarchy represented by Mock and the criminal justice system. When Morris finally did approach their university’s administration Mock was found innocent, then guilty, then granted a stay and finally expelled from the school in what amounted to a politically motivated public relations debacle. Mock’s side of the story is only given by his father via the comment field at the end. He explicitly details his son’s sexual encounter to make it clear that it was, indeed, consensual. After explaining what happened to his son, he concludes, “Morally and ethically I want to say, don’t have sex until you get married. We all know that would be naive.”

Would it? The reality is that abstinence has become the only 100% guaranteed way to avoid being falsely accused of sexual assault. That reality check highlights the long-forgotten intrinsic value of abstinence culture. The moralists who promoted that antiquated agenda understood that the allure of sexuality and the power of sex needed to be contextualized through marriage so societal order could be maintained. When society rejected marriage culture, it implicitly accepted the second-wave feminist alternative. Hence, every man is a rapist and every woman a victim.

Paglia argues that “rape will not be understood until we revive the old concept of the barbaric, the uncivilized.” Likewise, the problem of campus rape – that is, second-wave feminism’s grotesque predilection for falsely accusing male sex partners of assault in an attempt to soothe their own wounded pride and troubled souls – will not cease until moral order, built on a solid biological and psychological understanding of the individual and an acceptance of moral responsibility on the part of both parties, is restored.

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Feminism: Adding an ‘F’ to LGBTQ Activism

Thursday, January 15th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

When you’re constantly relying on a third party to define your sexuality, you’re inevitably going to write yourself onto the sidelines of social activism, which is precisely what contemporary feminism is currently doing. With its insane Marxist belief that biological “sex” and “gender” are two separate entities that do not overlap or influence each other, contemporary feminism has bought into postmodern subjectivity. Issues are left to be parsed in terms of value judgments rendered by individuals on the basis of sheer whim. This includes defining what it means to be a woman.

It’s bad enough when contemporary feminists attack shopping malls for categorizing “boys” versus “girls” clothing. The complaint is always the same: “My daughter wanted a superhero shirt that was unavailable in the girls’ department!” Pants were unavailable in the girls’ department 100 years ago. Women wore them anyway. Instead of raising independent thinkers, contemporary feminists raise dependent complainers who derive their entire sense of gender identity from a store’s marketing department. This is the dark side of allowing society to define your gender. Suddenly a generation of women is convinced they have male tendencies because they have a penchant for Superman. It couldn’t be that they want to wear his logo because they find him strong, appealing, or — God-forbid — attractive. Because his logo is sported in the boys’ department only, it must mean any little girl who wants to wear his shirt is obviously a trannie.

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What a VodkaPundit-Style Free Community College Plan Looks Like

Monday, January 12th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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New Institutions Rise as Older Catholic Colleges Shed Their Roots

Sunday, January 11th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

Is there a difference between Catholic colleges and any state university?

For many, there is, with the image of a Catholic college being smaller maybe, with cassocked priests criss-crossing the greens, quiet halls and ordered dorm rooms where crucifixes on the walls remind students of their faith, church bells ringing out morning and evening prayers, and the voices of religious brothers echoing in the approaching twilight.

With well over 250 institutions of higher learning in the United States, Catholic colleges like Georgetown University (founded in 1789), have been in business since the nation’s founding. Over most of that time, all managed to maintain their identity as primarily religious institutions with the occasional Hollywood film reinforcing their image during the 1940s and ’50s.

The reality however, is that most Catholic colleges, having been a part of the American scene for over 100 years, have evolved over time, accommodating themselves to scholastic standards valued by their secular counterparts.

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Your Guide to Museum Hopping In The Big Apple

Sunday, January 11th, 2015 - by Arlene Becker Zarmi

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Jugglers, mimes, keyboard artists, and assorted musicians perform on the steps of one of New York City’s most prestigious museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These performers are part of New York City’s museum scene every weekend when New Yorkers and visitors alike make the rounds of the many museums in the Big Apple.

New York can well be called Museum City, USA, with more museums than any other city in the country. There are museums of art, history, science, music, broadcasting, fashion, and almost as many museums as there are cultures, professions, and interests. Many are small, offbeat, and sometimes only one floor large, their likes not found outside the Big Apple. A museum hopping trip to New York will be both unusual and educational, and you’ll find that even after you think you’ve seen them all, a new one opens!

New York museums aren’t just collections of things. Some offer concerts, poetry readings, lectures, and movies. Most museums are in Manhattan and can be toured by area, as the larger ones are within walking blocks of one another on “Museum Mile”.  A few are in different part of New York City. Many are closed on Mondays, open late mornings, and have shops where you can buy items related to the collections, like books and postcards. Many even have restaurants.

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The West’s Multiculturalist Elite Proves the Greatest Threat to Islamic Reform

Friday, January 9th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Ahmed Merabet, the police officer who first responded to the terror attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices only to get shot to death at point-blank range by the attackers, will inevitably become the poster boy for both sides of the Muslim debate. His truth was that of a Muslim who integrated into French society and professionally defended Western values resulting in his untimely murder at the hands of Islamic radicals. That truth is already being manipulated by multiculturalist news outlets bent on defending universalism despite its deathly consequences.

The Atlantic is using Merabet’s story to drum up what they believe to be obvious anti-Muslim sentiment in France, obvious only because news agencies scrambling to cover the Charlie Hebdo story didn’t jump on Merabet’s paragraph to defend Islam against radical Islamic terrorists. (Priorities, people.) Joining with The Atlantic crowd, Max Fisher opines at Vox:

Here is what Muslims and Muslim organizations are expected to say: “As a Muslim, I condemn this attack and terrorism in any form.”

This expectation we place on Muslims, to be absolutely clear, is Islamophobic and bigoted. The denunciation is a form of apology: an apology for Islam and for Muslims. The implication is that every Muslim is under suspicion of being sympathetic to terrorism unless he or she explicitly says otherwise. The implication is also that any crime committed by a Muslim is the responsibility of all Muslims simply by virtue of their shared religion.

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The Plan to Take Back Feminism in 2015

Thursday, January 1st, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Take one look at Mic’s list of feminist triumphs for 2014 and you’ll get the feeling that most of us have over the course of this rather petty year: American feminism doesn’t know what to do with itself. Sure, it pays lip service to international women with its only PC figurehead, Malala Yousafzai, taking the list’s lead. And yes, the editors made sure to include a proportional number of women of color on the list, even if they included Ferguson protestors, leading one to ask why the feminist movement would want to associate itself with the kind of race riots we haven’t seen in this nation in nearly 50 years. But when your greatest triumphs include hashtag activism, conquering “manspreading,” and harassing Bill Cosby over decades-old alleged rape accusations, you illustrate how pathetic you’ve become.

A few of these so-called feminist triumphs were listed among the top feminist fiascos of 2014 in the L.A. Times, along with some real head-hanging, shame-filled moments stretching from #ShirtStorm to #BanBossy. One item on the list, however, strikes a sobering note: Rotherham. The complete lack of American feminist response to the sex trafficking of women in this British town for over two decades should be enough to shame feminists into pursuing a new direction in 2015. Feminism as a biblically grounded, non-sectarian movement for women’s independence can once again play a vital role in American and global culture, as long as its gaze is redirected from the navel to the critical issues facing women today.

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4 Fallacies Killing Feminism

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson, two wannabe-famous New York twenty somethings, teamed up to talk sex via their “running soap opera,” “almost reality TV show” podcast Guys We F*cked. Broadcasting under the “anti-slut shaming” banner makes Guys We F*cked appealing to the contemporary feminists at Salon who never turn down the chance to normalize twisted sexuality. Salon assistant editor Jenny Kutner sat down with the comedy duo more commonly known as “Sorry About Last Night” who, as they enter season 2 of their famed podcast, are looking to crowdsource funds from fans while noting that their careers are “…getting better because of the podcast, which is really exciting.”

Performing an editorial feat, Kutner defines the duo’s narcissism as “comedy with a purpose” in her attempt to define the two as feminists. In doing so, the assistant editor at Salon exposes exactly why contemporary feminism is failing 21st century women: Today’s feminists have worked to sever feminism from its historical roots as a biblically-grounded movement for women’s independence. What they’re replacing it with, a “social media feminism” as artist and feminist April Bey has dubbed it, is a mere mask for narcissistic, death-obsessed, goddess worship.

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Why Do Jews Struggle with Chosenness?

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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I have no interest in seeing Ridley Scott’s epic IMAX 3-D meisterwerk Exodus: Gods and Kings. Why would I want to spend money on a “gloriously junky” movie that turns my history into a collection of high-tech special effects laced together by a biased, biblically-inaccurate script? Yet, for however lousy the movie itself might be, it has inspired some interesting commentary on Jewish peoplehood from Emma Green over at the Atlantic. For Green, the film inspired a polemic that highlights the seemingly eternal struggle Jews have with the idea of being called out, that is to say “chosen” by God.

I’ve always found this to be rather asinine as far as ideological burdens go. Most people struggle to find their purpose in life. Jews are born into it. We are here to bring God’s teachings into the world in order to make this earth a better place. This chosen status, this calling doesn’t make us any better than anyone else. It simply gives us a job to do, a role that manifests itself through every aspect of existence, every academic discipline, every profession we’ve ever encountered. Whether we’re religious or not, or politically Left or Right, we (for the most part) are bent on doing our part to make the world a better place. Which is probably why those who hate us the most love to rub our chosenness in our face, intimidating the Emma Greens among us into second guessing our God-given responsibility.

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Chinese-American Mom Says Common Core Is Just Like Education in Communist China

Sunday, November 30th, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard
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Lily Tang Williams, a mother of three, testified before the Colorado State Board of Education that Common Core was similar to the education she received growing up in Mao’s Communist China.

“Common Core, in my eyes, is the same as the Communist core I once saw in China,” Williams said. “I grew up under Mao’s regime and we had the Communist-dominated education — nationalized testing, nationalized curriculum, and nationalized indoctrination.”

In a post at FreedomWorks, Williams wrote about her experience with the Chinese education system:

Our teachers had to comply with all the curriculum and testing requirements, or lose their jobs forever. Parents had no choice at all when it came to what we learned in school. The government used the Household Registration and Personnel File system to keep track of its citizens from birth to death.

“I came to this country for freedom and I cannot believe this is happening all over again in this country,” she said in the meeting. “I don’t know what happened to  America, the Shining City on the Hill for freedom.”

She said Americans should not compare their children (or their kids’ test scores) to those being educated under the Chinese system.

“I am telling you, Chinese children are not trained to be independent thinkers,” said Williams. “They are trained to be massive skilled workers for corporations. And they have no idea what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989 where government ordered soldiers to shoot its own 1,000 students.”

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A National Call for Gratitude this Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Lately my editor, David Swindle, has been encouraging me to develop a series describing my own out-of-the-box Jewish faith. It’s this mish-mosh of biblical proverbs, Torah adages, stories and songs tightly woven together by my American colonial heritage and intense Zionist pride. There is no one perfect word to describe my Jewishness beyond biblical in nature. Orthodox, Conservative, even Reform I am not. Reconstructionist or Renewal? Forget it. But I find commentary from all denominations (“streams” we call them in Judaism) interesting and acceptable in a “with malice towards none, with charity towards all” kind of way that gives me the liberty to define my Judaism in a way most of my compatriots are simply afraid to do. Which is probably why David finds my approach so fascinating. It’s rare to find a Jew who isn’t somehow fettered by the chains of guilt.

So I begin at the beginning, with Thanksgiving, the quintessential Jewish and American holiday. Traditionally Jews celebrate the idea roughly 1-2 months earlier during Sukkot, a festive fall harvest holiday in which we humble ourselves before the God who brought us out of bondage, not because we are perfect, but because He loves us and wanted to dwell with us. (Sukkahs, as in “tabernacles,” as in “the Lord tabernacles with us.”) When you understand the story of God and Israel as a passionate love story, the struggles are contextualized as are the prophecies, into tough tales with happy endings. When you understand the metaphor of God and Israel as a greater metaphor of God’s love for humanity (we’re just the physical reminders) you open your heart to the immense, overwhelming love of God. And there is nothing more you can do as a human being than reflect on that truth with awe-filled gratitude.

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Are America’s Law Graduates Really Getting Dumber?

Thursday, November 20th, 2014 - by Helen Smith

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Bloomberg Businessweek has an interesting article about why so many law graduates are failing the bar exam this year (via Newsalert):

The most recent bar exam test results are in, and they are ugly. In several states, people who took the bar in July were more likely to fail than those who took it last year, and scores on one portion of the test dropped to their lowest point in 10 years.

Are America’s law graduates really getting dumber? The people who put together the bar exam seem to think so.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners, a nonprofit that prepares one of the state-specific multiple-choice sections in which scores dropped dramatically, sent a curt message to law school deans in October. “The results are correct,” wrote Erica Moeser, the group’s president, in an Oct. 23 memo. “The group that sat in July 2014 was less able than the group that sat in July 2013,”…

As fewer people apply to law school, many programs have accepted less-qualified applicants in order to keep class sizes the same and to sustain their bottom line, says Derek Muller, a law professor at Pepperdine University. “This drop, while bigger than expected, is just a sign for what’s going to come for law schools as the incoming classes continue to decline in quality.”

Letting people in who are not qualified seems unfair to the students who invest so much time and then fail the exam. And what about the quality of the lawyers coming out? Is it compromised in terms of practice?

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Cross-posted from Dr. Helen, image illustration via shutterstock /  

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Ohio May Allow Elimination of Music and Phys Ed Teachers, School Nurses, Librarians, and Social Workers

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

Calling it a “horrifying spectacle,” education reformer Diane Ravtich wrote about an upcoming vote by Ohio’s State Board of Education:

On November 11, the Ohio State Board of Education will vote on a motion to eliminate crucial positions at elementary schools. The Board will vote on whether to eliminate “specialist” positions, that include elementary schools arts teachers, elementary school music teachers, elementary school physical education teachers, school nurses, school library media specialists, school counselors, and school social workers. Will they call it “reform”?

Education blogger Peter Greene said the Ohio Board was “gunning” for specialists:

The appeal for districts is obvious. Let’s have one music teacher for 10,000 students. Let’s have no music teacher at all. Great…Do we really need to argue that the poorest, most vulnerable students are the ones who most need these sorts of services and enrichment? Is there somebody in Ohio prepared, seriously, to argue that nurses and music and art and phys ed are unnecessary luxuries, and kids should just pack up their grit and do without?

Is this true? Does the State Board of Education in Ohio really want to deprive poor children of music and art education and social services?

Actually, no.

Currently, the Ohio Administrative Code requires that for every thousand elementary students, schools must have in place five of the following eight specialists: art, music, counselor, school nurse, librarian/media specialist, visiting teacher, social worker, or phys ed – called the “5 of 8″ rule. The state board is simply considering allowing boards to have local control over staffing decisions rather than enforcing an arbitrary number of specialists, regardless of the individual district’s needs.

Tom Gunlock, the board’s vice chairman, told the Plain Dealer that the proposed change (the vote won’t likely take place until December) isn’t intended to eliminate those positions, but to let districts make their own choices.

“I’m sure they’ll do what’s right for their kids,” Gunlock said. ”For years, people have been telling me about all these unfunded mandates and that we’re telling them what to do. They keep telling me they know more about what their kids need that we do, and I agree with them.”

This is actually a good thing. Instead of treating children like numbers and treating all school districts the same, it returns control to local districts so they can decide which (and how many) teachers and specialists they need. As we’ve seen with Common Core, one size does not fit all and local control is better than top-down national (or even state) authority. If you don’t like something your local school board does, you can walk down the street and complain to someone who lives in your community. They’re your neighbors and their kids likely attend the public schools in your district. If they make decisions you don’t like, you can vote them out in the next election and get a new school board.

Nevertheless, near panic has set in in Ohio as word has gone out that very soon, art and music will cease to exist in the state — along with the union jobs that must be protected at all costs (whether they’re needed or not):

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The Progressive Income Tax: Which Side Is ‘Greedy’?

Saturday, November 8th, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Daily Question

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10 Signs Common Core Has Gone from Fringe Issue to Mainstream

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

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When people like Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin first began to sound the alarm on Common Core a few years ago, many people viewed it as a right-wing cause, one of those issues that split cleanly along party and ideological lines and would remain in the conservative camp. The promoters of the Common Core, including the Republican Governors Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and others, surely never saw the tsunami of opposition that was headed their way and now threatens to take down the standards that were adopted by forty-four of the fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Here are 10 Signs Common Core Has Gone From Fringe Issue to Mainstream:

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