Stop Blaming, Start Acting

When schools became big business, they became political.

Everyone has a stake in the education game these days…something to gain (money and power) and something to lose (money and power).

In his book, manifesto really, “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling,” John Taylor Gatto exposes schools for the systemic prisons that they have become. Ask anyone in education and they will tell you that schools just aren’t what they used to be.

But my question is, whose fault is it?

Who is to blame?

A passionate education reformist and self-proclaimed activist, I have fought with, written to, and offered alternative solutions to every level I could gain access to from classroom teachers to supervisors to principals to superintendents to school boards to city council to the mayor to the State Commisioner of Education to the Governor to Senators to the Secretary of Education and even the President himself.

And I have come to one simple conclusion.

My husband says it often, that if you look to government to solve your problems then all you will get are more problems.

If we the people want education reform, then we the people need to demand it.

Period.

If we wait for the pendulum to swing, or the next president, or governor or superintendent or whatever…then it will be too late. Time stops for no one.  And our children cannot wait.

If you don’t like the way schools are being run, then find your voice. Find others and encourage them to find their voice and together you will become louder.

Speak from a place of knowledge and offer solutions rather than just critiques. Start small and find your confidence and then get bigger, tackle bigger and bigger goals until you see the change you want.

If your child cries and fights you over homework. Say something. Don’t let it ruin your night, week, year, relationship.

If your child hates to read or write, make time for the library and journal together. Talk to the school about what reading and writing looks like in the classroom and start a discussion about how it could be done differently.

If the math doesn’t make sense, ask the district to run a parent academy and explain it. If it still doesn’t make sense start a discussion about how it could be done differently.

Small steps.

Local change.

That is the real power that we the people have.

These are OUR children, OUR schools, and OUR responsibility.

One block at a time we can rebuild and stop waiting for others to do the work for us.

IMG_3983.JPG

 

 

 

 

So Sick of “Standards”

You pretty much have to live under a rock, and a really big one at that, to not have heard the term Common Core Standards.

Ok, well I have a new one for you, have you heard of the Next Generation Science Standards?

Sounds good, right?

I mean who doesn’t want to be a part of the “Next Generation”? What are the alternatives?

Time travel or death?

To be fair, I have not taken the time to really delve into the comprehensive website that has been compiled to explain the need, rationale, and support for these standards. But if you have the time, it looks like a great, albeit expensive to produce, read.

Here’s the link: http://www.nextgenscience.org/ 

Just think of all of the money the Common Core Standards cost. All of the new textbooks, materials, training, curriculum mapping, lesson planning, and resources. Not to mention all of the people paid to develop the standards, materials, and curriculum.

But even better think of all of the money that was made. What better way to  boost to our economy than completely revamping the math and ELA standards on a national level? Sure the rhetoric was lovely. Common Core would achieve lofty goals.

  • Every student held to the same standard.
  • All students would have an equal opportunity to quality education.
  • Academic rigor would dominate.
  • The tests would determine career and college readiness from grade 3.
  • Data and resources could be shared across the country.

There is a whole Common Core website rich with resources, FAQ’s and explanations on a fabulously extensive website, one that was no doubt expensive to create.

Here is the link if you are interested in learning more: http://www.corestandards.org/

But the rhetoric failed to mention how incredibly profitable the whole endeavor was to companies like Pearson, who produced the majority of the new materials and tests. In fact, it was so profitable that they decided to tackle the science standards too!

It’s hard to compile how much the shift to Common Core cost the average school district. But as our local school district spent more money on curriculum, training, and materials and made more cuts to faculty, staff, and extra curriculars…I couldn’t help but wonder.

So many of the people in charge of making and approving school budgets have no clue what they are doing. They don’t read the new standards. They don’t think about the changes. They just act or trust that their superintendents know best. And that needs to stop.

Perhaps our school budgets wouldn’t be so strapped and so many teachers wouldn’t lose their jobs or stipends, if they would stymie the race to buy everything to keep up with the ever-changing, ever-shiny new standards.

The Next Generation Science Standards website makes me sick. I can see the waterfall of dollars beginning, even as the class time for science in elementary school is being reduced. The only good that may come of this is that the tide hemorrhaging of elementary science will take a turn for the better as science tests become more important in the upper grades.

But I can’t help but suggest that the way to improve science instruction and “rigor” is not expensive at all. And it doesn’t require new standards, curriculum, training, or a ton of new, expensive resources. Technology is not a requirement either.

I am even going to explain it without the help of a fancy,expensive website and staff of writers and researchers. Just me and my little cheap blog.

That’s right.

What if the Next Generation would be better off trying to look like the previous one?

IMG_1631

Examining birds while waiting for a monarch tagging workshop.

IMG_2212

Nature’s playground

IMG_1654

Playing with perspective

IMG_1821

At the American Museum of Natural History in New York City examining dinosaurs. How many field trips have been cut over the years?

IMG_1932

Learning about how soap works by experimenting with milk and food coloring.

IMG_2039

An oldie but goodie, making a water xylophone.

IMG_2042

Experimenting with different types of food and the effect on the activity of yeast. After filling we put balloons on top to capture and help us measure the gas produced.

IMG_2043

Observing

IMG_2067

What goes up….

IMG_2125

Play is work.

IMG_2139

Before we left, he built a shelter out of shells to protect his favorite crab from the scavenging seagulls overhead.

IMG_2143

Still wondering what animal this femur (?) came from.

A decomposing skate found in Cape May. We examined it's partially detached jaw bone.

A decomposing skate found in Cape May. We examined its partially detached jaw bone.

Learning to stop and take a deep breath to appreciate beauty.

Learning to stop and take a deep breath to appreciate beauty.

Career and College Ready?

From the first moment I heard the catchphrase “career and college ready”, it bothered me, though I couldn’t easily put my finger on why.  The notion that school is a place to prepare students for life beyond school is certainly not revolutionary.

We teach children how to add and subtract so that one day they can work a cash register or balance their checkbooks. We teach children how to read so that they can fill out applications and follow written instructions or directions. We teach children about the world around them so that they can understand how things work and why people act the way that they do.

The now of education is inextricable from the later. Right?

Well, consider this quote:

“Education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” -John Dewey

Perhaps, in focusing so much on preparing them for later, education has missed the boat in capitalizing on the now of the process of learning. Setting benchmarks and piling on assessments to make certain that children are on a track that will guarantee success might actually be derailing students from ever reaching that success.

If we teach children to enjoy learning, the process of it (the reading, the computing, the exploring, the writing, the thinking, the creating, the debating) they will learn more than if we teach children to be focused on the measurable results of learning. If we excite children about the act of learning, the pursuit of knowledge will become a self-propelled race rather than a proscribed march through pre-determined checkpoints.

Ask a college professor or an employer, what makes a great student or employee.

I am certain that they will not answer with a list of skills and knowledge, but rather a type of character.

Successful people excel in careers and college because they can think, they like to think, and they have within them the desire and fire to achieve.

20140922_113821

The kids completing observation journals after a nature walk at Huber Woods. Ages 3,5, and 7 learning together.

Monkey in the Middle

“One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong.”

Hopscotch.

Double dutch.

Kickball.

Catch.

Flip flop.

One of these games has no place in the schoolyard. One of these games is hurtful to children and impossible to play fairly.

Flip flop.

A game suited for politics not education.

Education has become the playground for politicians. They change policies and stances on a whim trying to appeal to voters, when the winds of favor begin to shift. A scant few of these decision-makers have any experience or knowledge in the field of education, yet every single one has the confidence and often ignorant audacity to make grand statements and enact sweeping changes without a minute’s hesitation.

Sure, one can argue that politicians have advisers. They assemble commissions. They hold public town hall meetings. They fill in the gaps of their experience and knowledge with the wisdom and experience of others.

However, this system of communication is broken. The advisers do not possess the knowledge or experience base specific to K-12 education and the voices of the public are simply not heard.

Take NJ for example. Governor Chris Christie appointed David Hespe to Commissioner of Education. Hespe has some experience in education (see his bio), but it is limited to mostly the college level except for a stint as Assistant and Interim Superintendent in Willingboro School District. He also did some work with STEM activities at Liberty Science Center. However, the vast majority of his experience is political.

So we have Commissioner Hespe, who headed the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in NJ. I was able to attend two of the three public hearings held by this Commission and witnessed students, parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members speak about the damaging effects of the PARCC tests and the implementation of Common Core. Yet, after each of these public hearings, Hespe published an Op-Ed piece continuing to laud the benefits of Common Core and PARCC in the state of NJ. He did not acknowledge the experience and knowledge of the public who took the time and energy to prepare and deliver testimony. Read my testimony here.

In fact, Commissioner Hespe cared so little about what the public had to say that during the third public hearing he walked out during a short lunch break and did not return. Hespe never gave an excuse or an apology, nor did he or Governor Christie, who appointed him, respond to my petition asking to replace him as the head of the Study Commission.

So when Governor Christie came out suddenly against the Common Core, I knew his decision run for president would not be far behind. Why? Because it was purely a political move. If it had any educational weight at all, then it would have stemmed from those public hearings, from the town hall meetings, from the growing opt out movement in the state, or from the droves of frustrated students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

Flip flop.

In an article by Amanda Oglesby in App.com, Christie appears to be one with the people of NJ.

“I have heard from far too many people — teachers and parents from across the state — that the Common Core standards were not developed by New Jersey educators and parents,” Christie, who is running for president, said in a May speech at Burlington County College. “As a result, the buy-in from both communities has not been what we need for maximum achievement. I agree. It is time to have standards that are even higher and come directly from our communities.”

The problem is that he hasn’t heard anyone really. He tells teachers to shut up. His own Commissioner walks out of public hearings.

Under his direction, NJ has spent millions on the conversion to Common Core Standards and the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests through the tests themselves and the new curriculum, technology, and countless hours of professional development that they have required. He already has what he calls “buy-in”, because our tax money has already been spent and wasted.

Flip flop.

When this new imagined set of community-created standards hits the ground, who will pay for all of those changes? Will Pearson, the company cashing in on all of the flips and flops refund the money spent, so that NJ can invest it in mythical standards that are even ‘higher’?

Maybe politicians like Christie ought to learn a new game.

Just for a moment stop the lip service and take a look at the monkey in the middle.

Our children.

Except for them this is more than a game and they are the ones losing.

20140810_185337

Why Are Teachers So Afraid?

I am a teacher who was raised by teachers. I have always believed that once you become a teacher, you remain one for life. Though I resigned at the end of last year, I want to be clear that I would have had no problem at all publishing this blog under my name while teaching full-time. I am not afraid to speak my mind now, nor have I ever been.

Anyone who has ever taught with me, has witnessed me speaking up in team meetings, department meetings, and even board meetings, while employed as a teacher.

In my third year of teaching, non-tenured since I had just moved to Brooklyn from Baltimore, I spoke out against the widespread cheating that occurred during standardized tests in my school. Later in my career, I started and circulated a petition against our teacher’s union asking for information on the number of jobs that would be saved if teachers voted in favor of a salary freeze. When I was upset by how terribly our subgroup populations (special education, African-American, Hispanic, and low income) performed on the NJ ASK, I submitted a letter to the principal and superintendent with an attached list of 21 suggestions for improvement.

When my oldest started kindergarten in the same district where I was teaching, my principal (in good faith) cautioned me against speaking at board meetings. He said it was too political. To this, I replied that I was not afraid of politics. That year, I spoke at board meetings about everything from the lack to books in classrooms to the truth about connectivity woes that were not being honestly reported. I was quoted in the local newspaper speaking out against advertising on the side of our district school buses. In the end, my resignation speech was quoted in an Asbury Park Press article about teacher burnout. Here is the link.

My point here is not to wow you with my leadership skills or impress you with my bravery. It is to make the point that passionate, respected teachers who speak their mind rarely get fired for their actions. In fact, though I resigned from my previous district to relocate in search of a district that more closely embraced my ideals, I made more friends than foes. I still talk to the board members that at times I engaged in heated debates with. I still have the support and respect of many colleagues and parents I worked with over the years.

This is not to say that retribution doesn’t happen. In far too many schools it does. But what about the rest? I refuse to believe that the vast majority of teachers are so fearful of their administration that they will not speak up about the negative impact that PARCC and other standardized tests and reforms have had on their students, classroom, and schools. The children have had little to no voice in this whole debacle, and they need their teachers, who know them best, to advocate for them.

Tenure may look different in coming years (or extinct), but it was put in place to allow teachers the freedom to advocate for their students and teach in the way that they felt was best. Tenure protected teachers who taught evolution and tenure will protect teachers who speak out about the harmful effects of ill-conceived tests like the PARCC and the poorly designed Common Core Content Standards (CCCS) that are dominating curriculum and instruction across the nation. Tenure has been criticized for keeping bad teachers in classrooms, but I feel the biggest failure of tenure is that it has failed to empower the good ones. Teachers need to take advantage of it before it is taken away.

And if tenure is not enough to make teachers comfortable speaking out, then why don’t more teachers speak out who could stand to lose their job. Why don’t we hear more advocacy from teachers who have a strong second income or bread-winning spouse? Why don’t we hear more from teachers who are about to retire and have nothing to lose speaking out? Where are the young teachers who don’t have tenure but are still idealistic and fiery and want to speak out to ensure that they are not locked into a career dominated by the power of money instead of the needs of children?

There has been a precedent set. Superintendents like Dr. Joseph V. Rella and Dr. Michael Hynes from Long Island have spoken out openly in the media about the damaging effects of the new standardized tests. A Florida kindergarten teacher named Susan Bowles refused to give the state test to her students and was not fired. An 8th grade science teacher from  Long Island named Beth Dimino did the same and was not fired. In Seattle a few teachers got together and  refused to administer tests and their students were removed from their classes to take the test in the library. Yet, many of those students and their parents in turn refused to take the tests. Those teachers are now facing sanctions (unclear exactly what they are) but are not expected to lose their jobs.

I am not saying that every teacher should outright refuse to give the PARCC test or any test that they don’t believe in, though that would be nice. But I am saying that more teachers need to find their voices and enter into the public debate without fear.

America,” the land of the free and the home of the brave,” needs to take a long hard look at why so few teachers are willing to openly join an intellectual discussion about the validity of Common Core and the testing regimen that came with it.  We need to hear from them what is going on behind the classroom walls, not from politicians.

And if they are truly afraid to speak, then we have another bigger problem that needs to be addressed.

Teachers, we need to hear from more of you.

callout-29388_640

Guess What? Common Core Kindergarten Is Not the Savior of the Poor

Erika Sanzi recently published a critique of Sarah Blaine’s article about the Common Core standards for early education, particularly kindergarten, being “developmentally inappropriate. Sanzi starts off her article stating that she felt torn and wished that she could side with Blaine since, “Like Ms. Blaine, I look at all of this from a place of privilege.”  Yet Sanzi goes on to support the developmental appropriateness of Common Core for the early grades.

Sanzi claims, “There is much wisdom to be found in the voices of educators on this question of developmental appropriateness.” Then she cites one English arts specialist, Pat D’Alfonso, as evidence. It makes me wonder if Sanzi ever read the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative Issued by the Alliance for Childhood that was issued March 2, 2010. This joint statement was not signed by one  “English arts specialist” but rather over 300 educators and health professionals, many highly renowned in their fields, see their statement, names and credentials here.

Simply stated, Sanzi just like many legislators, education businesses like Pearson, school boards, and administrators have ignored the wisdom of those who understand early learning best. These standards were not designed with any regard to our youngest and most impressionable learners and only time will tell the true damaging effects of these irresponsible reforms.

But what makes me angry is the claims that these Common Core standards, despite being deemed inappropriate by over 300 highly knowledgeable people, who have experience studying and working with young children, have been touted as the savior of the poor in America. It is utterly ridiculous to suggest that somehow these standards are the antidote to the vast achievement gap between rich and poor, between people of color and those of European descent (or however you want to word it), and even between regular education and special education.

Poor children in America are in crisis and kindergarten is where major triage begins in order to compensate for what most agree is a 30 million word gap during their early years. Reading early and often is the antidote that can fill the gap and put students from widely different backgrounds on much more equal footing.

In addition, by requiring students from the beginning to use evidence from the text when writing and speaking, Common Core allows for students to depend far less on their prior knowledge and, in turn, quickly begins to mitigate the impact of having had less conversation or vocabulary rich experiences in early childhood.

In addition, by requiring students from the beginning to use evidence from the text when writing and speaking, Common Core allows for students to depend far less on their prior knowledge and, in turn, quickly begins to mitigate the impact of having had less conversation or vocabulary rich experiences in early childhood. (Sanzi)

Reading early and often does help. But sadly there is less and less time for reading in classrooms where rapid skill acquisition reigns.  What the kids are doing in most kindergartens is a far cry from children making up for lost time being read to and engaging in conversations. It is dominated by worksheets and assessments  If the PARCC test does extend to kindergarten next year, then you better believe kindergarten will also include typing practice.

Most schools with low-income students don’t have many books.  Especially since so much money is being spent on technology upgrades and training in order for the kids to be tested by the new PARCC test. Chicago public schools are refusing district wide, because it simply costs more money than they have to lay out. Sanzi is naive to think that this new set of standards and the inevitable (profitable) tests that will be tied to them will have the power to magically lift children out of poverty. In fact, it runs the risk of turning children off to reading, learning and school at an early age. The best motivating factor for reading success is the desire and love of reading. Children need positive associations not close reading and critical analysis when they are 5, before reading becomes work it must be loved. Why squander the opportunity?

But simply waiting until our children reach a testing year, and refusing the test will not solve the problem either. There has been a fundamental shift in how education is viewed and sadly that view is inextricably entwined with money. The real savior of the poor in this country will not come from the Common Core or lack there of. It will not come from taking the PARCC or refusing it. Starting from day one of kindergarten developing the skill of citing the text, will not make up for less conversation, but teaching parents how important it is to speak and read to young children will.

If we want all children to have a quality education, it will only come from the parents and teachers working together with their communities to demand better. Better schools and better education only comes with sustained hard work. Each community has its own strengths ans weaknesses that the people who live there know all about. The key is to start small and gradually grow more community education associations, parent groups, committees, and have those groups work together to create positive change one step at a time.

It isn’t a magic bullet but rather a long battle that will take blood sweat and tears. But then, with every small victory the community, school, and children grow stronger…together.

Common Core lays out the goals, but certainly doesn’t dictate how to get there. It’s hard to believe that beginning to read early ever hurt anyone but it’s near impossible to deny that failing to do so can quite literally ruin a child’s life. (Sanzi)

The goal needs to be less about when or how a child learns to read and more about how we can inspire and motivate children to want to read and to want to go to school everyday. No one would argue that not learning to read can ruin a child’s life. But I would argue that it is almost as bad to not show children how to love to read.

It is a crime not to inspire them to do more than perform well on the arbitrary, poorly designed tests that we allow for-profit companies to create for them. No child should feel like a failure at age 5, 6 , or 7. They shouldn’t cry when it’s time to do their homework. They deserve more and it is up to the adults to give that to them.

20150123_133312

My older son’s story about reading to his baby sister.

Common Kindergarten

Today I had a conference with my second oldest son’s kindergarten teacher.

On Back to School Night, when I first laid eyes on her, I knew she was a kindergarten teacher that I would like my son to have. Her warmth radiates from her like a little yellow sun in a child’s drawing. The sound of her voice singing, “Stop, Look, and Listen,” makes you want to stop wiggling in your chair and pay attention.

The conference went well. My boy knows his letters and numbers. He is a beginning reader. He has even started writing stories!  I was so happy to see his invented spellings describing penguins from the classic story Mr. Popper’s Penguins that we have just finished reading at home. The teacher readily explained how she was challenging him to grow even though he has progressed past what the class is learning as a whole.

I was a proud mother, but I had to ask about the testing. Had the PARCC test impacted the way kindergarten was being taught? She said, “No but the Common Core has.” She described how now the children were expected to learn so much more in such a short period of time (our district still has half day kindergarten).

Well, education reformers would see this as progress. They claim that kids need to start young preparing to be college and career ready. But when I mentioned science to my son’s teacher, she admitted that there just isn’t really time for it, nor for social studies either. (Do people not study these subjects in college or have careers in these fields?) These subjects have long been marginalized in elementary school, but with so much stress being put on children learning more and more reading and math skills earlier and earlier; these subjects are getting even less attention.

Curriculum companies know this and have started marketing “integrated” science and history literacy programs. This means that instead of a cohesive science or history curriculum these textbooks include a passage here and there of science and history-related topics. So if they read The Hungry Caterpillar by, Eric Carle, .they might then read an informational text about caterpillars. That ought to cover it, right?

Wrong.

The best part about science is inquiry. Experience, experiments, and observations pique a child’s imagination and sense of wonder. Those raw feelings are the most effective impetus of learning.  Let a child hold a worm, feel moss, or build a house of sticks. Those experiences lead to questions. They drive children towards books about nature. They give them something real to write about rather than the same canned prompts.

IMG_0237

IMG_0811

IMG_3133

The same is true for history. A love of history comes from experience and wonder about people and places. Map skills are best learned by following a map. And field trips and artifacts have the ability to transport children to other worlds in ways that a short informational text cannot.

IMG_2769

IMG_0072

Am I unhappy with the job that my son’s teacher is doing? No, because given the pressures of time and the demands of the Common Core, she has managed to inject joy and authentic learning into her classroom. She said that she is grateful that she is still able to give the kids some time to play. But I have to wonder what will happen to the pockets of joy that she is able to create, if and when the PARCC testing begins in kindergarten. How long until the block corner becomes a long table of laptops and recess a stand and stretch break?

In the race to get ahead, America is only falling behind. The answer to how to get children to be critical thinkers and higher achievers is to get them excited about learning, not shut them down with tests and test prep.

When I see articles like this one about forest kindergartens, it makes me ashamed that I settle for sending my child to school everyday, knowing that his “trouble focusing” has little to do with his behavior, being a boy or even his maturity.

It is his body and mind crying out for more.

Give Me Literature or Give Me Death!

“Education is not the filling of a pail; but the lighting of a fire.”

-William Butler Yeats

I am a busy mom of four young kids.

I struggle to find time to manage the onslaught of daily redundancies, even with my new temporary stay-at-home-mom status.

The mountains of laundry.

The making of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

The picking up.

The putting away.

The homework.

The meetings and school events.

My return to writing has fulfilled a part of me that felt like it was dying, since we relocated. Most people think me to be so strong and independent, which is flattering but lonely at times. But our choice to move was a planned one. Carefully, well… obsessively researched and calculated. It was a gamble, but not of the reckless sort.

So we have settled. I have found my voice again. I have spoken up about things that matter to me most. In a short time, I have developed a blog, that may not shatter any records or make any money….but it has a following of readers. It is encouraging to see the stats rise all day. The fact that 200-500 times on any given day, my words and thoughts are pulled up on someone’s computer or phone screen.

But my reading has become so shallow, that I feel my mind getting restless. For weeks, I have read and read and read on my phone and laptop. Article after article about high stakes testing, Pearson, the Common Core, child development theory, the opt out movement and anything remotely related. What I read was fueling my writing and my urge to educate others about the dangerous road down which education is headed. But all of this reading was giving me anxiety and making my brain feel like a rodent on a wheel.

For years I taught 7th grade English and motivated my students to read 20 books outside of class. I was alone in this. My colleagues didn’t require as many, in fact several did not require any reading outside of class at all. But it felt right to me. I didn’t want to “teach English”. I wanted to inspire the creation of life long readers.  I didn’t make my students write 20 book reports. Instead they kept journals full of sticky notes, where they wrote their thoughts as they read. Every 2 weeks we went to the school library, and while they chose a new book and read, I read their thoughts.

Did every child love the assignment? No.

Did every student read 20 books? No.

Did I give “reading detention” to a few kids over the years out of frustration and desperation? Yes.

Did I make my students with I.E.P.’s (special education) and ELL (English Language Learners) do it too? Yes.

Did I have parents complain? Yes.

Did I have parents read books and forge sticky notes for their kids? Yes.

Did I have parents write me letters thanking me for inspiring their whole family to read more? Yes.

The project became a big part of my legacy. From year to year, I would ask at Back to School Night how many parents heard about my book project, and many sheepishly raised their hands. I would have parents come up to me that same night and tell me that their child would never read one or two books, let alone 20!. Many of my students said the same thing. The number 20 seemed like torture.

But in my last year teaching, I created a bulletin board. Each student was given a paper hand, and they wrote their name in the center. Each time they read a book, they put a star sticker on it. The board was right near my classroom door, and it quickly became the hang out. Kids were talking about their progress. Talking about what they were reading. Egging each other on. And I couldn’t have been happier.

IMG_1702

I even put a hand up there with my name on it. I said I would read 20 books too. In fact for the 8 years that I taught 7th grade, I made the same promise. And for 8 years, evaded the few kids who asked me how many books I was up to. Each year I started strong, even posted notes just like the kids had to. But as the year wore on and my responsibilities and stress grew, I lost motivation and gained excuses.

I wouldn’t say I lied to the kids, but I certainly wasn’t honest. I told myself that my intentions were good, so it didn’t matter if I really finished. I had read more books in my life than most people. I already loved to read…life just got in the way. But that year with the bulletin board, I had a visual reminder of my failure, as the kids laughed at my hand with only 3 stars on it. I couldn’t bring myself to add stars for books I didn’t read.

So instead I talked to my students honestly about how lucky they were to have time to read. To not have the obligations and stress that adults have. I told them about the stacks of half read books on my nightstand with receipts as bookmarks sticking out from the pages. I told them that my idea of a vacation would be to lay in bed for days and read, like I used to before I had kids. I told them about how I read A Thousand Splendid Suns by, Khaled Hosseini, which is 384 pages long, in one night, because I just could not put it down. I described how I cried like a baby while reading to the point where my husband thought I was crazy. I told them that for the first time ever, I had shut the book and closed my eyes, because I couldn’t bear to “see” what would happen next. But as I told them these stories, I still couldn’t help but feel like I failed.

Tonight, I realized that the only person I failed in that situation was myself. For my guilty confessions showed my students what it meant to truly love to read. It showed them that reading could be like a dessert that you couldn’t eat, though you would love to. My words and emotion turned reading from a chore or an assignment into something more. Even if it wasn’t dessert for them, they could see how it could be for someone else and that was a step in the right direction.

I failed because, I didn’t make the time for myself to do what I love.

After being submersed in the politics of education reform, tonight I sat down to read one of the three books I received as gifts for Christmas (admittedly one of them I gave myself on a whim while in the book store shopping for my kids).

The first few pages of The Book Thief by, Markus Zusak made me realize all at once that I have been depriving myself of what I love most.  The narrative voice is incredible. I felt immediately grabbed and pulled into the book in a way so powerful and delicious. The most well-written article is nothing compared to a majestic literary voice. It is truly an art.

I had to pause my reading to write this, but I promised myself not to write another post until I finish the novel. I am anxious to go savor the book until I pass out from exhaustion or one of my kids wakes up with a nightmare or something.

You see the makers of the Common Core have placed such value on informational text, because it is what most adults read these days at work and for pleasure.

But I have to say that perhaps that is exactly what is wrong with adults these days. They are reading the wrong things.

If you fill your brain with information day in and day out, you become nothing more than a depository. Literature is thought, imagination, culture, and passion. Why would we want to deprive our children of these things? To make them career and college ready?

I would much rather have education light a fire than fill a pail.

PARCC Learning

PARCC is based on the core belief that assessment should work as a tool for enhancing teaching and learning.”

I like the sound of that.

I mean who can argue with a “core belief”?

And what neanderthal wouldn’t want to enhance teaching and learning?

Just like the Common Core ads on television (see my post Common Core Ads:Who Pays?), the language used on the PARCC website is compelling. It sounds like the answer to every teacher and parent’s prayers.

Because the assessments are aligned with the new, more rigorous Common Core State Standards (CCSS), they ensure that every child is on a path to college and career readiness by measuring what students should know at each grade level.

This sounds good too.

Wow! A set of standards that can actually ensure that every child is on the right path. Man, if the standards can do that, what do we need teachers for? Just hand the kids the standards, then give them the test. Presto! Career and college ready!

Educators are not stupid enough to believe this hyperbole, so then for whom is the PARCC website made for? I can’t quite figure it out. In the top right corner of the homepage, it says in bold “Stay Informed!” and provides a place for you to enter your email address. But perhaps the people who update their website should enter their own email, since the FAQ sheet contains information that conflicts with their homepage.

On the homepage, they list the names of the states who make up the PARCC. There are 13 states listed and Pennsylvania as a “participating state”. That makes 14 total.

The FAQ states, “… (PARCC) is a group of 19 states working together to develop a common set of computer-based K–12 assessments in English language arts/Literacy and math linked to the new,more rigorous Common Core State Standards (CCSS).”

Where did those other 5 states go?

If the PARCC website can’t even keep track of how many states are part of their own organization, how can they be trusted to grade rigorous math problems that require critical thinking skills?

It may seem like just a silly, minor mistake, but when you entrust a company like Pearson (who has historically made A LOT of mistakes Pearson Testing Problems)…little problems quickly become big ones.

These PARCC tests have been replacing midterms and final exams in some districts like Glen Ridge. These tests take a lot of time (a combined testing time of 9 hours and 45 minutes in 3rd grade and the time increases from there). The computerization of testing has cost districts a lot of money, which was spent often under the assumption that districts would receive reimbursement through Race To The Top (RTTT) funds. Well if RTTT is defunded, then what?

But most importantly the PARCC has impacted education, as I have written about before PARCC Data Drives Instruction. Even if the anti-testing movement succeeds, some of what was lost cannot be immediately regained.

Revolving door education reform has left many teachers exhausted, cynical and burned out. My mother retired from teaching kindergarten years ago, when they took her doll corner away. (As if the importance of play and all of the research supporting it suddenly didn’t matter.) How many dedicated teachers were driven into retirement or out of the profession because of the increasing focus on testing? How many students have already been turned off to learning?

The PARCC doesn’t want to stop at twice a year assessments. They have developed a whole battery of testing resources for teachers to implement all year long. That is if states agree to purchase and implement them. They rushed to buy Chromebooks, typing software, and increased connectivity…so why wouldn’t they?

According to their website there is an entire “PARCC Assessment System”.  That includes:

  • Diagnostic assessments in reading, writing and mathematics.
  • Mid-year assessments in ELA/literacy and mathematics
  • Performance-based assessments (PBA) in ELA/literacy and mathematics.
  • End-of-year assessments (EOY) in ELA/literacy and math.
  • Speaking and listening component (ELA/literacy only).

Each is described in great detail. Why? because these, my friends are all big moneymakers. Why just cash in on the tests? Why not make a backdoor deal with tech companies? (Sorry that’s not proven yet, but the investigation is underway LA School iPad Scandal.) Why not develop and sell a whole assessment system that makes money all year long?

I have read extensively about the dangers of high stakes testing and about the PARCC, but nowhere have I seen anyone mention this assessment system. The doubling of the testing time from one week to two weeks already had my teacher head spinning. But if states start adopting other components of this assessment system, I am not sure when students will actually learn anything, They will be assessed too often to learn anything with any depth and certainly with any creativity.

PARCC is based on the core belief that assessment should work as a tool for enhancing teaching and learning.”

It appears to me as if they used the wrong word.

The PARCC doesn’t aim to enhance teaching and learning.

It aims to replace it.

And boy will that make some corporate big wigs a whole lot of money!

moneypig

All quotes come from the official PARCC website:

http://www.parcconline.org/about-parcc

“Facts Are Stubborn.” – John Adams

download (1)

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclination, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

-John Adams  in Defense of the British Soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre, December 4, 1770 http://www.foundingfatherquotes.com/father/id/1#section=quotes

John Adams, one of our founding fathers, spoke fiercely, intelligently, and eloquently in defense of American freedoms. But no matter how well he spoke, the one spark that colonists needed to support the American Revolution was facts. Once the people knew the facts, the fire was inevitable.

But aside from rhetoric, back then, the facts were not manipulated as thoroughly as they are today. In today’s society, the facts are so obscured and people seem satisfied to live in a maelstrom of bias. Their televisions, computers, phones, newspapers, and radios exist in a realm dominated by bias and special interest. Not only do people not know the facts, they don’t even understand their own rights anymore.

Since the beginning of the PARCC test, I have been asking why don’t we just say no. The argument I most often heard was that we can’t, because it comes from the state. Oh, so if it comes from the state, then we must do it? Is that how it works? Really? I thought the state was made up of elected officials? If we as educators, parents, administrators, board members, mayors, etc. do not like what the state says (or even worse think the state’s policies are detrimental to our children) then are we not obligated to inform them of such? Anyone could write a letter,place a phone call, organize a meeting expressing their views.

No one had to tell Superintendent Dr. Joseph Rella of Comsewogue School District his right to speak up, because he took it upon himself to speak up. He wrote an open public letter to the State Education Department and even robo-called all of the families in his district to invite them to a rally against high-stakes testing.  http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-state-standards/ny-school-superintendent-on-common-core-stop-it-scrap-it-or-fix-it/

Dr. Rella’s letter went viral and should be revered as an example of what we need more superintendents to be. We need leaders not administrators content to collect a large paycheck for towing the line and complying with every changing mandate that comes down the line.

“Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.”

John Adams: Defense of the Constitutions, 1787

Well, how can we educate our children on the principles of freedom, if we as adults do not even understand or exercise them? Why don’t we see more teachers voicing their concerns at school board meetings. I was told by an administrator that speaking at a board meeting is just too political for a teacher. Really? Well, if it is then it shouldn’t be. Teacher tenure was designed to protect teachers’ freedom in the classroom.

         Though tenure doesn’t guarantee lifetime employment, it does make firing teachers a difficult and costly process, one          that involves the union, the school board, the principal, the judicial system and thousands of dollars in legal fees. In              most states, a tenured teacher can’t be dismissed until charges are filed and months of evaluations, hearings and              appeals have occurred. Meanwhile, school districts must shell out thousands of dollars for paid leave and substitute              instructors. The system is deliberately slow and cumbersome, in order to dissuade school boards and parents from              ousting a teacher for personal or political motives. http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1859505,00.html

Tenure has been cited for the reason many bad teachers are still in classrooms, which I have certainly seen to be the case at times over the years. But the bigger problem I see is that more teachers do not use the power of tenure to advocate for what they know is right for their students. There is no reason a teacher should be afraid to stand up at a board meeting and speak. Though I realize not every teacher has the guts to refuse to administer a standardized test like this teacher from Florida did.  http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/09/11/florida-kindergarten-teacher-refuses-to-give-standardized-tests/ The fact is that she kept her job. Her passion and sincerity was acknowledged and respected.

The fate of high stakes tests tied to the Common Core standards is at this point uncertain, but I can tell you that the pressure is on. The evidence against the value of these tests is mounting quickly. See this article for an excellent synopsis of the arguments in favor of opting out of testing.

http://www.parents.com/blogs/parents-perspective/2014/12/19/education/im-saying-no-to-high-stakes-testing-and-you-may-want-to-too/

Facts are stubborn.

We need to be too.