Unwrapping New York State’s New “Common Core” Tests–Its Contents and Costs

We have no idea what Ms. Gabor’s political ideology is, but this is an outstanding, thoughtful analysis of the Common Core tests that were given in New York this past year. It does appear the concerns about non-fiction being pushed into English Language Arts is being reflected in the testing. The Common Core assessment train wreck is fast approaching. It is our hope that parents of all political ideologies consider pushing their children to refuse to take the Common Core assessments. Imagine just ten percent (or more) of students across this nation telling their test proxies that they will happily sit their quietly, but they will not answer the assessment questions.

Andrea Gabor

Five years ago, I found myself drafted onto a New York State Department of Education committee charged with revamping the English Language Arts standards. As a journalism professor at Baruch College/CUNY, I had the non-fiction expertise that were seen as so important to developing the new standards. Although I had no experience in public schools, I was on the receiving end of the abilities and deficits of kids graduating from the city’s high schools.

As a journalist who had spent much of my career writing about business and management issues, I also had become intrigued with the corporate education-reform movement; I couldn’t resist a chance to participate, even in a small way, in the sausage making of public education policy.

The work of our committee would take close to two years to complete, with multiple trips to Albany, at a cost that must have run to several hundred-thousand dollars—if not…

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Assessment, Data, and Cognitive Dissonance

by Andrew Palmer

I have been reading So What do They Really Knowby Cris Tovani. It is a great book. In it, Tovani offers a very useful assessment tool called annotation. The idea is that you have a student mark up the text with their thinking as they read. They can write directly on an article or they can record their thinking on post-it notes about a text that they cannot write on. Annotations involve the student expressing an opinion, asking a question about the text, recording a reaction, making a connection, or predicting what might happen next.

As I was reading (and annotating), she made a great point and something that continues to bug me about the mindset of educational assessment in this country. Especially the mindset of those that are not educational practitioners (in other words, foolish politicians and billionaires who think they know something about what happens in a classroom).

Tovani writes:

“I am a skeptic. I distrust outsiders who barge into my classroom, data in hand, making judgments about students they’ve never met. When data from the district and state level doesn’t jibe with what I know about my students, I am driven into a state of cognitive dissonance, often trying to rationalize why the learners in my class didn’t do as well as I think they should have. Teachers often experience a state of cognitive dissonance to examine data they don’t trust. Some react with anger or denial. When teachers don’t trust the data, they don’t use it to inform instruction or enhance student performance.”

This is the problem with the fools that run around claiming their new and precious Common Core assessments will tell me some grand thing about my students. These new assessments, just like the current standardized assessments in every state will not be embraced by teachers, students, and parents. Instead of creating useful data that actually drives better instruction, they will just be another thing that drives them into a state of cognitive dissonance. Students will hate these tests just as much as they hate current state assessments. Student buy-in to an assessment is based upon the reality of prompt, and meaningful feedback. These tests will not provide that data to the child or the teacher. They will waste millions of dollars and create more problems in our public education system.

Of course, that is not really the point, is it? These new tests are more about controlling education from a national level than doing anything to help teachers and students improve.


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Schools for Subversion: How Public Education Lays the Foundation for University of Radicalism

H/T to Mary Grabar of DissidentProf.com

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January Black by Wendy S. Russo

by Andrew Palmer

When I started the book reviews here on Conservative Teachers of America, there was a specific type of book that I had hoped to be able to find and promote. It is a book that takes the ideas of freedom and liberty and packages it in such a way that a young adult would not realize that they are being taught those values. I am happy to report that I have found such a book with January Black.

This book started off with something extremely rare in young adult literature. Russo states on the dedication page, “Finally, I would like to thank the US military (and their families) for their service and sacrifice to defend our Constitution. Without you, I wouldn’t have had a story to tell, or a voice to tell it.” Rarely do you find young adult authors that could even tell you what the constitution is, let alone actually understand that it matters.

JanuaryBlackJanuary Black is Wendy S. Russo‘s first novel and it is published by the boutique fantasy/science-fiction publisher Crescent Moon Press. Russo is not a professional author and according to her website, she “works for Louisiana State University as an IT analyst. She’s a wife, a mom, a Tiger, a Who Dat, and she falls asleep on her couch at 8:30 on weeknights.”

January Black is a dystopian future science-fiction novel that centers around the main character Matty Ducayn. Matty is expelled from school early in the book. He is given a chance by King Hadrian to answer a question and earn a master’s diploma. The problem for Matty is that the answer to this one question (What was January Black?) will affect everything he believes about the society he lives in and his own family history.

Russo does a lot right with this book. One of the things that I love about her writing is how she slowly reveals the plot to the reader. Every time you uncover something new, the story develops a new layer of mystery. I especially enjoyed how the constitution and the ideas of liberty that founded our nation exist in the background as Matty unravels the mystery behind the question he must answer. There is just enough here to get a high school aged reader curious and asking questions of his/her own about our country’s history.

I would recommend this book for mature high school readers and above. The main characters are around 18, and there is a little bit of sexuality in the story. I have no problem with this, and I was actually quite impressed with how it was handled. We live in a society that teaches young adults that the only purpose of sex is physical pleasure. They are told through multiple mediums that there is no greater meaning attached to the act. The message that rages throughout popular culture today is that there is little value in a committed monogamous relationship. Not so in this book. Teens are presented with a completely different message about the topic. It is a message that I would want my son to be exposed to when he is old enough.

Russo really impressed me with this novel. I was left hoping that this would be turned into a series because I want to know what happens next. We need more author’s like Ms. Russo in young adult literature. Ms. Russo…less sleep, more writing, please!

Buy a copy of January Black in our Amazon Store!


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The Incomplete Constitution

by Charles Cooper

The Constitution is the greatest protector of rights ever penned by man’s hands. Simply by being a written Constitution, the document professes to be a touch-stone of liberty. Like a rule book, if you want to know if someone is cheating in the game of government, you simply read the rule book. Further, the genius that the American Founders invested into the U.S. Constitution becomes more and more apparent the closer it is scrutinized. The executive is the only nationally elected office, the Senate originally represented the states, and the House represents the communities within the states. Each level of the American experience is represented in our national government. The staggered elections of two, four, and six years keep emotion from seeping into the machinery too quickly. The list of wonderful mechanisms literally goes on and on: checks and balances, federalism, the amendment process, etc. incomplete constitution

There is a glaring and often overlooked weakness or absence, however. Even before the attachment of the Bill of Rights and certainly after its inclusion, the U.S. Constitution claims/ed to protect individual rights. At the core of this venerable document the most important term, “right”, remains undefined. In other words, the U.S. Constitution claims to protect “rights”, but does not define the term. So, one can ask, what exactly is the Constitution protecting?

To answer this question we must return to its inspiration; its spirit.

The Declaration of Independence does outline and establish an understanding of the term “Right”, but it will take more than a simple pedestrian effort to fully understand what Thomas Jefferson and, by extension, the Founding generation meant. The Declaration has embedded within it a deep, complex teleological argument thousands of years in the making.

As Jefferson states in his May 8th, 1825 letter to Henry Lee, the Declaration’s authority rests on such things as the conversations of the day as well as the teachings of philosophic figures such as Aristotle1 . To flesh this out, let’s unpack one seemingly simple part of the Declaration of Independence: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The Declaration states that “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” A useful “trick” I use when unpacking text I am familiar with is to walk, roughly, in reverse through the sentence or argument. So, in this case, we notice that our list of rights is categorized as “unalienable Rights” and that is prefaced by the word “among.” This denotes that there are more Rights that we are born with, but for some reason Jefferson (and by extension, the Founders…it was a unanimous vote to approve the document after all) have decided to rest on these three. There is a larger pool of other rights out there, but these three are crucial2. We must excavate via questions.

First, “Why these three?” These three rights, taken as a whole, define what it is to be a human being. To clarify what I am getting at, let us make a list of things that possess the first attribute “life”: broccoli, dogs, trees, humans, and squid. All of these things are alive. Now let us throw in the next right that is mentioned: liberty. Life mixed with liberty strikes broccoli and trees from our list since they do not have locomotion. So far, dogs, humans and squid have made the cut. Add to this list, finally, the right to pursue one’s Happiness. Do dogs, humans, and squid all have the ability to pursue their happiness? In what way is “Happiness” used in this document? Further excavation is necessary.

John Adams writes “Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all Divines and moral Philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man.” The Virginia Declaration of Rights states that when men enter into a social compact they cannot give up certain rights. The last few rights mentioned are Happiness, property, and safety. “Happiness”, contextually speaking, cannot simply be dismissed as feeling safe or the acquisition of property. Finally, we find “Happiness” mentioned in George Washington’s First Inaugural Address when he says “there is nothing more certain in the economy of the universe that there exists an indissoluble union between Virtue and Happiness.” Virtue is the highest goal a human can pursue. The highest good is the right use of reason and that entails the pursuit of the good life. The pursuit of morality, then, is the pursuit of the highest happiness. Of course, there is a material aspect to this pursuit. But the pursuit of happiness does not end with the purchasing of a house or collecting a pile of apples3Declartion and Constitution

To put it another way, the use of reason establishes a hierarchy of Happiness and shows that material happiness necessarily fades. The pursuit of Happiness is the pursuit of the most permanent and highest of “happinesses”. In short, the pursuit of Happiness is pursuit of the Summum Bonum, the Highest Good. As such, it must be a lifelong pursuit that quite possibly never is achieved. As a pursuit, it is not a guarantee of happiness, but an allowance for the ability to chase after goals established by your interest in perfecting Virtue. It is the chasing after of the ultimate perfection of the human project. Since the use of the word “pursuit” admits, at the very least, a difficulty in the attainment of the goal then perhaps the pursuit of the Good may be the next best thing to the actual attainment of the Good. In an Aristotelian4 sense, “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”5 defines the proper human life.

Finally, squids and dogs fall off of our list.

So, as we understand the definition of Happiness we come to understand the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and, by extension, the American Political Project begun by the Founders.

Man is the only animal created to use his life in pursuit of a moral/virtuous end. Government’s job is to get out of the way and allow man to “find himself”, as it were. Government’s duty is not to establish the Happiness of mankind, but to let man establish this for himself as much as this is possible within civil society.

Tying all this back together, Natural Rights are a reflection of the self-evident truths we find in a Nature that was Created by Nature’s God and ruled over by the Supreme Judge of the World. The “rights” that the U.S. Constitution claims to protect are not all social agreements or local/regional wants. The fundamental ones are aspects or characteristics of human beings that, if absent, would reduce man to animal and give credence to the Machiavellian formulation of government.

The denial of a “Natural Right” is the denial of man as man. By extension, it is the denial of the right order of the universe. This is why slavery (or any other denial of Natural Right) is such a horrendous act6.

A more perfect union is possible when the Declaration is allowed to inform and make more complete the original intention of the U.S. Constitution7.


[1] For a full search into this topic visit The Founder’s Constitution at http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders and search “Happiness and Virtue” or “Aristotle”.

[2] Compare this to the purpose of the 9th Amendment as well as the first paragraph of the 14th amendment which was loosely based on Bushrod Washington’s list of rights in Corfield v. Coryell.  Corfield v. Coryell was, in part, a brief attempt by Washington to make a list of some of the many Natural Rights “out there.”

[3] Read John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 5 Section 46: John Locke states that man can use his labor plus what he finds in nature to satisfy his needs and establish private property.  Private property ends, though, when he acquires too much material to be used effectively and puts others at a disadvantage.  However, in “the state of nature” there is no government to regulate this greed and, so, this pile of rotting apples is, effectively, ill used private property.  To see a different take, read Plato’s Republic and Socrates’ claim that only those who can effectively use property should be allowed to “own” it.  Socrates might say that the pile of rotting apples should have been distributed by someone to those who did not have apples.  The point here being, “Happiness” is not simply acquiring property as some assume simply because Jefferson borrows from Locke’s “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of property.”

[4] Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics Book I

[5] Compare this ordering of Rights with the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence to see how a reordering of fundamental rights can undermine the sanctity of the individual.

[6] For a further example, take a look at Jefferson’s use of the word “Men.”  He means the Declaration to apply to ALL HUMANS.  Look further in the document and you’ll see “governments are instituted among MEN”.  Unless you’re willing to claim that only white males lives under governments, contextually, at least,  you’ll need to admit that all human beings and “MEN” are the same thing.  Further, take a look at the paragraph where he complained about the keeping open “a market where MEN are bought and sold”.  Again, women and children were sold into slavery, not just males.  “Men” have rights, which is to say, all human beings are born with rights.  Bad government and bad laws take these rights away, not Nature or God.  There are no classes of men.

[7] Finally, the U.S. Constitution is dated from the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  The Constitution can be seen as a fleshing out of the Declaration in this respect.

*Charles Cooper (@Thrasymachus) works at Northwest High School in Justin, Texas.  He teaches college and regular ed. government and was awarded the 2012 Humanities Texas Teacher of the Year Award.


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BOOK REVIEW: Electric Ben by Robert Byrd

Electric Ben

by Andrew Palmer

I recently reviewed Bomb: The Race to Build-And Steal-the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon which was the 2013 Robert F. Sibert Medal winner. Electric Ben was one of the three Sibert Medal Honor books for this year. I am really excited to see such great informational books being offered to a young adult audience!

Electric Ben is only a forty page picture book. Because of this, I was under the assumption that it was more appropriate for an elementary audience. I am excited to say that it is not, and it is perfect for middle level readers. Honestly, I think readers of all ages would appreciate this book. I really enjoyed it. I was amazed at how much information about Franklin was included in this text.

Robert Byrd is a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and he illustrated this book, as well. He has a very unique style that I think would really attract kids to this text. The drawings have rich color and a bit of a humorous feel to them in places.

I have to admit any time a university professor writes a book about one of our founding fathers I get a little nervous. I could detect no bias or any attempt to disparage Franklin. I thought that Byrd did an outstanding job of delivering who Franklin really was. The book could be an excellent resource for a middle level student doing a research project on Franklin.

I think one of the best parts of this book is how disarming it is to the middle level reader that may not be interested in American history. As I mentioned above, the great illustrations draw you in and the length of the text is not daunting. This definitely is not a “boring” history book. I think this text could very much be a gateway for that middle level reader to discover a curiosity about those that founded this great nation.

Buy a copy of Electric Ben in our Amazon Store!


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I need to set the record straight

A good example of why so many teachers are afraid to speak out about Common Core. Doing so does put you at risk. Teachers still need to do it regardless of the risks.

Opine I will

I teach my students that their reputation is the most important asset they own. Your reputation is determined by your actions, your deeds, and also how you are viewed by others. Therefore, it is vital that  you understand that your reputation ultimately defines you. Success is not judged by how much you make, but rather, real success is judged by your character and how others view your actions and deeds.  I believe this with my heart and soul.

Unfortunately, my character was questioned by an unproven allegation. Ultimately it was determined I did no wrong and the allegation was unfounded. I write this posting today as a record of what has transpired over the last two days. I also owe my students and their parents an accurate representation as to what occurred so that they may be fully informed.

My views on the Common Core and high stakes testing,  are…

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BOOK REVIEW: The Colossus Rises (Seven Wonders #1) by @PeterLerangis

colossusSeven Wonders is a new science-fiction/fantasy series from children and young adult author Peter Lerangis. The Colossus Rises is the first installment of the series. It had been on the New York Times Middle Level Best-Sellers list every week back in March, and it has popped back in a couple times in the top-15 over the last month. This book is probably most appropriate for the early middle school reader (grades 5-7). I suspect fantasy fans all the way through high school would enjoy this book.

I am not a big fantasy reader. Most fantasy books I start usually get abandoned, but this book kept me entertained and engaged. I really enjoyed the  narrative voice of Jack. It is humorous and witty and keeps you smiling throughout the story. I thought the book had solid characters as well. Jack, Marco, Aly, and Cass have unique personalities that I think will allow different types of readers to connect to.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the mixture of the history of the seven wonders of the ancient world with the fantasy elements. This novel takes the kids to the Greek island of Rhodes (The Colossus of Rhodes). I love science fiction, and Lerangis has mixed a little bit of science into the plot that helped with my buy-in. The kids all have a special genetic marker (G7W) that will cause the kids to die when they turn 14. To cure themselves they must gather all of the Loculi that are hidden around the world at the locations of the seven wonders.


Peter Lerangis

There’s nothing groundbreaking about this book, and it is not a book that has deep thematic elements.  In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Lerangis’ editor, David Linker, calls it, “Indiana Jones meets Percy Jackson.” This is a pretty accurate description of the book. There is even an allusion to Indiana Jones as the kids enter a volcano with a hidden maze inside of it. It is a fun read, and would be good for the avid middle level reader that just wants to be entertained. Fans of Percy Jackson, Harry Potter and the Michael Vey series will enjoy this book. Overall, it’s a solid first effort of what looks to be a decent series.


Check out the official book trailer from HarperKids:

Buy a copy of The Colosuss Rises in our Amazon Store!

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Hey, History Teachers, Have You Seen the Constitution Reader from @Hillsdale?

This was featured back in the November 2012 issue of Education Matters. Education Matters is the monthly member newsletter of the Association of American Educators (Have we mentioned you should join the AAE?!?!?!). It is an amazing resource on the constitution.

From the AAE newsletter:

Teachers, are you interested in a great new resource for your social studies or history classes? The Constitution Reader is a free, interactive, searchable, and customizable website centered around The U.S. Constitution: A Reader. It contains the same material taught in the Hillsdale College’s core course on the Constitution. In addition to containing a fully digitized and searchable version of the Reader, The Constitution Reader also contains:

  • The topics that are most important to understanding American government
  • The key debates between the Founders, the Progressives, and others
  • A database of quotes drawn from the Reader
  • An illustrated timeline of American constitutional history

Visit http://constitutionreader.com/


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BOOK REVIEW: Bomb: The Race to Build-And Steal-The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin


by Andrew Palmer

While I do enjoy reading a great fiction book, I would much rather curl up with non-fiction book and learn something. I realize that not all readers are like that, and young adult readers are often very reluctant to read non-fiction texts. If more writers wrote non-fiction books like this one, more of you would want to join me, and more of our teens would be interested in history.

In the biography in the back of this book, it says that Steve Sheinkin “has dedicated his life to making up for his previous crimes by crafting gripping narratives of American history.” On the surface this is a humorous quip, the reality is this is a sad truth about American history textbooks. Frankly, most of them suck. They do not engage students in any meaningful way, and they never inspire kids to investigate more. Add in an uninspiring history teacher, and it is no wonder you have a society that is apathetic and knows very little about its own history. Sheinkin has another book out that has been fairly popular with some of my students, it is called The Notorious Benedict ArnoldBenedictArnold

In Bomb, Sheinkin takes three different story lines surrounding the development and building of the world’s most dangerous weapon and weaves them together. The first is the Americans trying to build the atomic bomb. The second is the Soviets and their attempts to steal the bomb through spies. I was fascinated with this part of the book. I was excited to see this written into a book for young adults. Sheinkin also includes a little information on the reality of who Stalin was. Young adults need to hear the truth on who the Soviets really were. Finally, the third story line was the Allies attempts to sabotage the German bomb program. This was really interesting, too. The details of these missions are sure to impress any reader.

Bomb is written in narrative non-fiction. For those that don’t know what this is, it is a genre that takes a historical event and tells it like a narrative story. It is such a valuable genre for getting readers to be interested in history. Those of us that are passionate about history know that it is best told in a story format. I wish more authors would write books in this manner for the young adult book market.

Bomb was a 2013 National Book Award Finalist, a Newbery Honor Book for 2013, a winner of the Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award from YALSA-ALA, and it won the Robert F. Sibert Medal for best informational text. Sheinkin should be applauded for his work in this text.

Consider buying a copy from our online store!



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