In My Crazy Mind

Let me start with a true story (at least as true as I remember).

When I was about 10 years old, my family went to Sea World. I was quite the animal lover, and seals were my favorite. We bought some little sardines and threw them to the seals who barked happily. Well, even at that age, I had an overactive sense of justice. So I decided that I would save the cutest seal with the long eyelashes from being trapped in that unnatural place.

I leaned way too far over the edge, far in the corner hoping that no one would see me. I dangled the sardine, luring the seal closer to me, then tried to grab the seal by the neck at the same time. My plan was to pull it up from the tank and set it free. I am not really sure what I was going to do with a full-grown seal. I can imagine me with my puffy 80’s afro and cutoff jean shorts trying to run, dragging a barking seal. Of course I never got that far, but I still think it would have been a pretty awesome feat…at least until I got to my getaway car and realized I didn’t have the keys or know how to drive.

Okay, humor me….one more.

In 7th grade, at about age 13, my mom took us to the Ecology Site where we had been going since birth to see the animals. It’s a neat place with a wide variety of animals from bald eagles to bunnies and bears. I take my own children there to this day, when I go home to visit.

Well, that summer, the Ecology Site had a dairy cow visiting. I was a Long Island girl. I had never really had a close encounter with a light brown and white cow as beautiful and sweet as that one (or with any cow at all for that matter). I looked at her, and she looked at me with big brown eyes. It was love at first sight.

In all my teenage glory, I shrieked and cooed and proclaimed that it was the most beautiful creature in the world. (Did I mention that I have always had a penchant for drama?) Well, this went on and on and on. My mother was getting tired of my swoon fest and was ready to head home. I wasn’t having it. I wanted to stay and pet her forever. Those eyes! She even let me pet the short soft fur between her eyes. She didn’t belong at that horrible Ecology Site. She deserved to be free, I proclaimed.

Once again, I found myself concocting a plan where I could take the cow home with me. My mom had heard enough. No the cow is not that cute. No you can’t take her home. No I don’t want to hear about how cute she is again. Don’t be fooled by the fact that my mom is a kindergarten teacher. Her sarcasm is hardly elementary.

So, my mother started to walk away, and over her shoulder she nonchalantly quipped, “Yeah, well we will see how much you love that cow the next time you eat a hamburger.”

My jaw dropped. Her words hung in the air like smog, polluting my altruistic thoughts. Yet it only took me a second to retort, in full teenage rage, “I will NEVER eat meat again.”

Much to my mother’s dismay, I held true to my word. I have been a vegetarian ever since.

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Tomorrow PARCC testing starts for the 3rd and 4th graders in my sons’ school. Thankfully, my two older boys are in kindergarten and 2nd grade, so they won’t be impacted this year, for the most part. However, I have never been one to only care about my own children.

My heart has this fantasy where I just run into the school tomorrow, round-up all of the kids and lead them from their Chromebooks and the PARCC test and set them free into the field. Maybe the kids would all hold protest signs or maybe they would do science experiments or maybe write creative stories under the clouds or maybe they would just be.

Anything is possible….at least in my crazy mind.

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A Response to Rob Furman: Elementary Education Reform is Big Business

Access to universal preschool sounds like such a lofty idea.

What better way to level the playing field than making sure that our youngest learners get an equal opportunity to have a good head start in life? Who could deny that some children in America are experiencing preschools that are nurturing environments of play-based learning, while others are getting nothing but shoddy day care centers or babysitters with TV remotes in hand? Anyone who wants to deny children quality preschool must be out of touch with reality, right?

Wrong.

Yes, children come to kindergarten with vastly different abilities and habits as elementary principal Rob Furman suggests in his article, “4 Surprising Reasons Why Preschool and Kindergarten Must Change” published by Huffington Post. ” As an elementary principal I have seen the difficulty kindergarten students have starting school when they have had no Pre K experience. Most students are soaring academically, while others (those without Pre K experience) are trying to learn how to hang up their coat or to sit and raise their hand if they need the teacher’s attention.” 

But the reason that some kids come to school unprepared has more to do with the experiences they are receiving at home, not at preschool. Some children are read to every night before bed, are taken to Mommy and Me music classes like Music Together or Gymboree, are fed healthy food regularly, are able to safely play outside in their backyards or at nearby playgrounds, are spoken to with kindness and encouraged to ask questions, and are raised in peaceful supportive home environments. Those kids excel. They would excel academically and behaviorally regardless of preschool, because they feel safe, loved, and are free to explore.

Other children are not so lucky. Without paid maternity leave in America, many moms and dads who want to stay home with their young children are not able to afford it in today’s economy. Therefore, more and more children are placed in day care centers from an early age than ever before. Many American children of all financial situations live in homes where stress levels are high. Parent expectations are high from choosing the safest car seat to looming college tuition.

High stress careers, financial woes, marital problems, health problems, depression,drug abuse, an endless pursuit of perfection and so many other issues drive many parents into survival mode. Families aren’t eating dinner together anymore and children aren’t playing kickball in the streets like I did as a child. Older siblings are inundated with extracurricular activities and sports that demand more and more of our children’s time at younger and younger ages. The younger children in families are raised on fast food in car seats, watching DVD’s as they are shuffled from practice to practice and activity to activity. Television and other electronic devices have become a savior to busy parents. They keep the kids busy, so they can check Facebook or watch whatever is on the DVR to decompress from their own stress.

And what about our nation’s poorest families? Child hunger and homelessness are rarely spoken about unless it is the holidays, yet for too many children it is a daily struggle. Gang and drug violence plague poor neighborhoods where the media rarely reports on the harsh reality of youth growing up there. I know because I have taught in an elementary school where kids had to leave out of the back door because there was a shooting out front and a teacher and a principal were assaulted inside during school hours.

Universal preschool would help those kids yes, but what would help more would be real progress in the war on drugs and real solutions to ending gun violence. It would help if their parents were educated and read to them or just spoke to them with  patience and kindness. It would help if they had safe places to play without fear of abuse, abduction, or violence. It would help if they had books in their homes and in their hands. It would help if they were sung to or hugged and told that they are special.

Furman’s article speaks volumes about how misguided even some elementary school principals are about how children learn best.

“Given the new expectations for our kindergarten students, Pre K programs must develop the pre-learning experiences necessary for reading and math readiness. I often hear our parents saying, ‘What has happened to play time in kindergarten?’ Well, sadly playtime in kindergarten is gone. But playtime is perfect for our Pre K programs ( Fact Check) Pre K should now accommodate all those very important social skills so necessary for student success in later years. That is not to say that our children will not have fun in kindergarten. We always want to be mindful of developmentally appropriate learning experiences for our children. Pre K experiences will be more focused on imaginative play, appropriate social skills and academic readiness.”

You cannot say “Well, sadly playtime in kindergarten is gone,” and, “We always want to be mindful of developmentally appropriate learning experiences for our children,” in the same breath and not be a hypocrite.

The fact is that universal preschool and compulsory “advanced” 1st grade kindergarten are not going to do anything to advance the academic potential of ANY child. Not if the curriculum is based on reading and math readiness that comes in the form of worksheets, computer programs and testing and at the expense of recess.

Kids learn math, reading, and social skills by having a safe and nurturing environment to play. All these new mandates and reforms has brought is exactly the opposite.

Florida parents are fighting to keep recess in their elementary schools because the districts are claiming that with the new rigorous Common Core standards that there is no time to play.

 http://insider.foxnews.com/2015/01/14/florida-elementary-schools-cut-out-recess-blame-common-core

(But really, I think this is Jeb Bush posturing for a presidential run and coming out against the Common Core. Once again, our children have become a political springboard.)

Education reform is full of rhetoric right now,so parents need to be more informed and vigilant than ever. If you are not sure if this is true, just take a moment to read what an executive at Pearson (the company that makes and reaps huge profits from the PARCC assessment and many other high stakes assessments) has to say about why it is worth it for our nation to have spent $1.7 billion on testing in 2012. With the new obsession with expanding and redesigning high stakes tests, that number will only grow.

http://researchnetwork.pearson.com/educator-effectiveness/is-1-7-billion-a-lot-or-a-little-to-spend-on-testing

Remember in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz what happened when Dorothy finally saw who was behind the curtain. It was not at all what she expected.

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
― L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Pay attention to the motivation behind these education reforms. Make them take off their masks. They don’t care about our children.

P.S. Rob Furman makes a lot of money off of education reform too. http://www.furmanr.com

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Reasonableness: Listen to the Kids

So much of the education reform sweeping the country has been based on the thoughts, education, and experience of teachers. But none of it has been based on the thoughts, education, and experience of children.

There was an uproar this week on many of the Facebook pages that I follow related to education reform about President Obama’s decision to appoint the pop star Shakira to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Though many acknowledged the fact that she had been active in promoting preschool education in her native country Colombia, they were frustrated that once again no American teachers were asked to join the committee.

We all know that celebrities wield a lot of power in this country and around the world. And that power can mean great social gains, such as when Brad Pitt and his work to lobby for Katrina victims. “The star,who has a longtime connection with architecture and green housing, started the Make it Right charity in 2007 and committed to building 150 homes in the city’s devastated Ninth Ward.” But in that same article, those homes have come under fire this year for rotting wood. Only time will tell if this celebrity will follow through.

But what is the excuse for ignoring the millions of teachers in this country who work day in and day out with the children that education reform claims to want to help to succeed? Teachers are educated in how to create and modify assessments. Teachers have been making and grading assessments since the beginning of time, yet when it come to the PARCC test it is Pearson, a for profit company that calls the shots. This company turns to Craigslist to find its graders, offering “$12/hour for college graduates of any field.

The disrespect and distrust of a nation of educators is disturbing. However, what is even more disturbing to me is the manner in which every aspect of current education reform seems to ignore the voice of the children. It is so clear to me that the vast majority of politicians, Pearson employees, school board members, and administrators making education decisions have either never actually worked with children or have completely forgotten how important it is to listen to them.

Recently a NJ school district has come under fire for a survey given to students.

“Several Ocean Township parents have filed a lawsuit against the local school district for what they say is illegally administering a survey to sixth, ninth and twelfth-grade students that ask detailed questions about their sexual behavior and attitudes, mental and psychological problems, and other personal questions without parental consent.”

Read more at http://thecoaster.net/wordpress/ocean-parents-file-lawsuit-over-student-survey/#hA4EF5sCwWxYXcHQ.99

So many of the questions on that survey showed a complete lack of respect for privacy and a complete disconnect with what is appropriate to ask a child, particularly in the 6th grade.

How is it that a district (it is not the only one to administer such a survey) can survey students on such personal issues, yet no one has thought to survey children about the changes that the PARCC test has imposed upon their schools and learning. I am not talking about a survey that serves the need of Pearson and the testing machine, but a survey that asks students about how this high stakes test has affected their teachers, lessons, assignments, and attitude towards learning.

Please click on this link to see the actual survey that was given out to students during field testing. There is only concern for issues directly related to test design and access to technology. I would love to hear if any school district has surveyed students about the education they received this year under the pressure of the upcoming PARCC exam. Please share in the comments if you have seen one, but I suspect that there are none.

I did find the testimony of a 10-year-old-girl, named Wednesday at the NJ State Board of Education Meeting.

I read and watched the videos of many people who spoke that day, but it was Wednesday’s video that really hit home to me as a teacher and a mother. I checked today, and on YouTube it has only had less than 400 views. I hope to change that with this post, because I know there are many more than 400 students who feel the way that she does.

If you have never shared a blog post before, this is your chance to make a difference, and help to insert a young student’s voice in this whole testing debate.

I feel like people are more apt to think that a young child’s words are shaped by their parents. I am a skeptic so I get it, but for me this little girl was speaking from the heart. The reactions of the crowd in the room speak to that sincerity. The tremendous amount of time and courage that Wednesday had is commendable as her voice is the voice of many young children struggling under the stress of high stakes testing.

Wednesday found out last year that she is dyslexic and she spoke about how they are, “given so many tests now,” Even math for her has become a struggle. “Math is only confusing word problems…the number of words on the worksheets makes me want to cry.” But even for students who don’t struggle with the work, they are being affected too. According to Wednesday, “Teachers no longer take the time to include creative projects because that takes too much time away from tests, tests, tests.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuN_nGiI5W4&feature=youtu.be

Many parents are submitting their refusal letters to prevent their children from having to take the PARCC. Acting Commissioner of Education, David Hespe, has backed down from his hard-line stance against test refusal now that he sees the movement is growing.

“Every district should apply its own policies. If a student comes in and is disruptive, you should have a disciplinary policy for that,” he said. “If they’re not disruptive, you should have a policy of what you do with that child. We should not automatically assume that coming to school and not wanting to take the test is a disciplinary problem.”

http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/15/01/07/anti-testing-turnout-puts-state-board-of-education-to-the-test/

But parents cannot submit letters to prevent their children from losing valuable instructional time all year long. They cannot submit letters refusing to allow the school their child attends to teach to the test.

Perhaps the next step after refusal is to start a call to action to local school boards to survey students about the education they received in classrooms this year.

Ask the students about their attitudes towards learning and towards the test. Ask them how much time was spent preparing for the tests. Ask them how stressed out their teachers are. Ask them how many worksheets they are asked to do. Ask them how much time was spent on typing practice and taking practice tests. Ask them how many field trips they went on and long-term projects they were able to work on.

Listen to the kids.

They have no reason to lie.

It is their education at stake.

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A first grade worksheet (copyright Pearson)