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Monday, December 29, 2014

How the Newest High-Stakes Tests Are Stealing the Joy of Reading from Our Kids

What do you think of this...?
In this post, a teacher speaks up about some of the reasons why kids are losing out in education today.

How the Newest High-Stakes Tests Are Stealing the Joy of Reading from Our Kids

Even beautiful pieces of literature become lifeless vehicles to teach dry, decontextualized skills. 

Close reading example

It begins with this, "Editor's note: As implementation of the Common Core State Standards continues nationwide, teachers are increasingly speaking out about how these standards, and the assessments that come along with them, are impacting their students. In 13 states this spring, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (or PARCC) standardized test will be deployed to measure student mastery of the Common Core curriculum; already, many educators have made their concerns known. Katie Osgood, a special education teacher in Chicago, is joining their ranks with this powerful piece about what, precisely, we steal from students when we ask them to spend their days focused on test-prep alone."
Teachers are often scared to speak up about the political/corporate take over of our schools. They often love and need their jobs, and worry about offending the wrong people. The good news is that more and more are sharing their experiences, and allowing the public to decide for themselves.

"My school is drowning under the ridiculous Common Core Standards. Everything I know to do to inspire my students is forbidden. Instead, we are forced to deliver truly horrible curriculum in developmentally inappropriate ways, with pacing charts that move so fast all our heads are spinning. My students with special needs are shutting down, acting out or just giving up entirely. Sometimes I hear them whisper, 'I hate school'— and they are right to think that. All the teachers are upset, and every time we ask "Why? Why are you making us do this?" the answer is always the same: PARCC is coming."
FYI: "In addition to the active governing board states, Pennsylvania is a “participating” state, which means that it is interested in the consortium’s activities, but has made no decision about using the PARCC assessments." Not sure what the difference is, but betcha Pearson is involved with all of the assessments.

"The kids are right to think that..."  
Kids are so much smarter than politicians and corporate business people think. If your kids are shutting down, dig deeper to find out why. We parents must demand real teaching - high quality, creative, engaging, individualized instruction done by humans - not computer programs.
Since this is a "one-size-fits-all" model of education, it makes little difference if you are in a tree-lined suburban, blue ribbon school or an inner city, underfunded school. It all sounds errily similar: "I cannot believe how we are warping the experience of reading for these children. Sometimes we are told to do a "close read" of stirring passages about the Underground Railroad for the sole purpose of pulling out the main idea and supporting details. We don't actually talk about the Underground Railroad, letting the horror of slavery sink in. No, it's simply about getting the skill, so the kids can demonstrate the same skill on the dreaded test. What a ridiculous disservice. I still remember my fourth-grade teacher reading us a novel on Harriet Tubman and how that story was one of my first understandings of true injustice. We were inspired to create art projects, to write poetry, to pull out further texts on slavery from our library. We had class discussions. We wrote letters. We felt the text come alive. Our kids are not getting anything remotely like that experience—because of PARCC."
Check out this amazing book linked below about how the way reading is taught can actually cause kids to hate reading:

"This type of readicide is not new; schools under high-stakes accountability have been forced into this twisted form of reading instruction for many years. But things are getting worse, so much worse. Thanks to PARCC. Any chance that kids get to become enthralled in a story, to become spellbound by a fictional world, to be pulled into the past through powerful prose, is done through teachers secretly stealing time for that wonderment. It is not in the standards. It won't be on the test. And it's definitely not in PARCC. "

Keep an eye on the level of engagement and joy your kids are experiencing in school, and be sure to speak up if you notice a change. Skills are certainly important, but creating classrooms where a love of learning and content are taught may be even more dire. There truly is an art to teaching. It involves genuinely caring about kids, creativity, a strong understanding of developmental psychology & content knowledge, modeling of passion for the content, and often a sense of humor!

We all know better - one size never fits all. Demand the best for our kids, they deserve it.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Kids these days...

A refrain that we are starting to hear more often is that "Kids these days" are not the same as kids 20 years ago or when "we" were growing up... Maybe it is something in the water. Or maybe it is the planned corporate takeover of public education.

I grew up in the 70's and 80's. I liked learning in elementary school for the most part. My school was experimenting with new ideas. I enjoyed the core subjects and all of the specials. What I remember most is that teachers read us books. I loved when Ms. Lubin read us James and the Giant Peach in 3rd grade. I loved the way her voice changed with each character, with the excitement of the plot twists, with the juicy, drippy drama of a little boy who lost his parents, and had to survive living with his two selfish aunts until he floated away in a giant peach. We would meet as a class and take the journey of entire books (not excerpts) together. We learned to sit still for long periods of time for the reward of the literature, not the punishment of standardized tests. We answered no workbook questions after reading—we had discussions.

In high school, Mrs. Hipple, my American Literature teacher read our class, The Crucible. Again, we were pulled in and mesmerized by her voice, the way she pronounced each character's name, and the way literature had us questioning intolerance, hysteria, and the maligning of reputations. The very idea that there would be an organized witch hunt was mind blowing. Yet here we are today in the world of public education when our own Secretary of Education (who has no education training or experience) calls parents who speak out, “White suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

Ask any teacher you know about the new teacher evaluation system based on VAM. In Pennsylvania it is called PVAAS. Teachers are being evaluated based on student test scores. Some states publish these scores in the newspapers and online. Teach to the test or be publicly shamed. "Rigoberto Ruelas Jr. was considered much more than a fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School – he was a mentor to youth tempted to join gangs and a tireless booster that kids could make it to college. But after a newspaper published a school district report that ranked Ruelas as a 'less effective teacher' based on his students' test scores, colleagues saw him grow despondent...his body was found at the foot of a remote forest bridge in what appears to be a suicide... friends and colleagues suggest he was distraught over the teacher rating."

Ah, the lessons of the witch hunts.

I have heard educators I really like allude to this difference in kids "today." It really ruffles my feathers because we should all know better. Since the federal law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and the even worse, Race to the Top, the bipartisan bad ideas of our politicians have psychologically impacted children. I see this in my own children and many kids I know. This legislation has used classical conditioning to train children that failing is shameful. I know a principal who shared that his own son referred to himself in the terms of the state. He called himself basic or below basic. A child internalized the terminology that the government mandated teachers use and that schools sent home with annual PSSA reports. It doesn't take a lot of digging to figure out what has changed in kids.

Like Pavlov's dogs, children who believe what their legislators are making schools and teachers teach, say and do, have been conditioned. Many kids have learned to play it safe. They anxiously ask more questions, take fewer risks, select easier assignments when they have choice, want to "just get it done," and rush through assignments. They aren't always interested in learning, just the reward. They want that "A," that Advanced label, that honor roll certificate. So this has been done to our kids, and the government solution du jour is to declare that the system they created isn't flawed, our kids are. Kids need to learn grit, perseverance, and develop character strengths. I am all for this kind of learning, but am questioning if I want legislators and politicians deciding what character strengths my kids need, or if perhaps that is something families decide.

Are we as parents and as a society guilty of not thinking critically ourselves?

Have we unintentionally shamed our kids when standardized tests scores came home with labels we didn't like? Have we asked teachers what they are doing to improve test scores instead of helping make our kids passionate about learning? Has the wool been pulled over our eyes in the name of "Accountability"? When do we hold our elected officials responsible for the untruths they perpetuate as they take donations from those who have decided that they know the kind of education our kids deserve?

Blogger Lloyd Lofthouse, U.S. Marine & Vietnam Vet, who taught English, journalism and reading from 1975 - 2005 reports that public education has a successful history and is under a major threat:
  • By 2011, the high school drop our rate has fallen to 7%—an improvement of 5% since 1990.
  • In 2012, for the first time in US history, a third of the nation’s 25 to 29 year olds have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, and by age 24, 90% of Americans have earned a high school degree or its equivalent.
  • In the fall of 2013, a record 21.8 million students were expected to attend American colleges and universities, an increase of about 6.5 million since fall of 2000.
"But even with all this success, in recent years, the Walton family has spent more than $1 billion toward efforts to 'infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system.' Never mind that this money is mostly in states where no Walton family members live or have children in school. In addition, The Wall Street Journal reported that Bill Gates has spent $5 billion in his attempt to destroy public education with the same goal—the Walton’s and the other billionaires have—to fire public school teachers and close public schools."

And don't think for a minute that it is "only" the urban school systems they want to usurp. It is all of our schools. All of them.

Keep learning and speak up on behalf of all of our public schools, before they are a part of American history, themselves.

It isn't kids these days that are the problem...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Google, Microsoft & ALEC: "Things that make you go, Hmmmmm."

It is interesting that two corporations vying for public school tax dollars are dropping out of the conservative "lobbying" group, ALEC. Both Google and Microsoft seem suddenly concerned with ALEC's stance on the environment. The American Legislative Executive Council is made up of corporations whose products and services we may love and trust. It is hard to boycott ALEC member's products and services because they encompass so much that we consume.
Warning: Sit back and kick your feet up when you click the link above. It is a long list.

"ALEC is not a lobby; it is not a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Through the secretive meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, corporate lobbyists and state legislators vote as equals on ‘model bills’ to change our rights that often benefit the corporations’ bottom line at public expense. ALEC is a pay-to-play operation where corporations buy a seat and a vote on ‘task forces’ to advance their legislative wish lists and can get a tax break for donations, effectively passing these lobbying costs on to taxpayers."

ALEC has been writing model legislation on issues like the ones below:

Privatizing public schools and higher education
Limiting voting rights through voter ID laws
Repealing labor rights
Protecting tobacco companies
Stand Your Ground Laws (as in the Travyon Martin case)
Supporting the for-profit prison industry
Forbidding local governments to limit pesticide use
Privatizing local water and sewer systems
Protecting polluting corporations from civil and criminal liability
And the list goes on and on...
The link above goes to their education page, but note the left side bar for many more of their pet projects.

Bottom line: Google and Microsoft products that have wormed their way into our schools & corporations like these see our schools and our children's education as an untapped market (some say the influx of Google and Microsoft in US classrooms has multiplied exponentially in the past several years). Ask your children and their teachers & administrators what Google & Microsoft products are being used in your schools.

Is it that these corporations suddenly care about climate change, or does it give them some legitimacy to usurp our public school tax dollars if they drop out of ALEC? It must be awfully hard to act like you care about public school children and their communities when you are funding a group who writes model bills that would, "...  privatize public education... Among other things, these bills make education a private commodity rather than a public good, and reverse America’s modern innovation of promoting learning and civic virtue through public schools staffed with professional teachers for children from all backgrounds...  "

Vying for their piece of our public school tax dollar pie...

It must be hard for Google and Micrsoft to defend being associated with model bills that compromise protections to students with disabilities, like the one written by ALEC in Wisconson. 
"This bill strips special education students of due process rights and rights to services. It allows for the segregation of students based on disability. It will devastate funding for public education in select districts. It will result in the largest expansion of private school regulation ever seen in Wisconsin and, at the end of the day, no one will have any data to show if it resulted in a better education."

In Pennsylvania, ALEC wrote SB 51:The Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act (Scholarship Tax Credits),
another Orwellian-titled bill that means the opposite of what it proposes. It would benefit charter and cyber charter schools so much, that some of those schools pulled students out of school (which public schools could never do) to promote the bill. The irony here is that charter schools perform the same or worse on standardized tests and PA's cyber charters are notoriously horrific for most students.

So do Google and Microsoft really suddenly care about climate change? It is worth noting that neither company sited ALEC's attacks on public education or student privacy as a concern, even as they collect our tax dollars for their "innovative technology."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

For Sale: Student Hopes & Dreams

It is an exhausting job putting together the pieces of the bi-partisan movement to standardize and semi-privatize public education. Part of the problem is that the maniacally beautiful plan that was set into motion bit by bit, so that the major changes to our schools stay below our radar. It is almost as if those behind the scenes have amazing insight to marketing and psychology and use it against us. In marketing there is a term used for the subtle changes to packaging and product, so that consumers don't consciously notice that they are getting less than what they expected or that a product is being re-branded. It is called the JND, the Just Noticeable Difference. You know that your favorite candy bar was bigger when you were a kid, but multiple times along the line it got tweaked and you got used to paying the same or more for a smaller product. That is what is being done to the tax payers with the aggressive push for charter schools and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Even in suburban districts the arts and recess are being cut little by little. This is a technique to set up demand for charter schools who will offer exactly what is cut from public schools.

And where are they hoping this will lead? They want charter schools instead of our suburban schools. We are not "failing", so why would they want this? Because it isn't about the kids... it is about profiting off of our pubic school tax dollars, which is what charter school are all about. Contrary to popular belief, charter schools are not true public schools. They are investor's dreams, called public private partnerships. They are bad for kids, but great for hedge funders.

The truly sad thing is that the Common Core State Standards isn't at all about our kids or their education. It's about the money. The debate I hear in my well-educated community often includes the perspective of people I really like defending the CCSS because, they say, we need standards. Of course we need standards, and we had standards. In fact, our schools have been recognized for their standards for years, and are the magnet that brought many of us to the historic, tree-lined streets where we live.

Pennsylvania teacher and education activist, Peter Greene, is connecting the dots for us. He explains that the Common Core standards are integrally connected to the collection of data. Diane Ravitch comments on Greene's post,"...Their purpose is to tag every student and collect data on their performance. They cannot be decoupled from testing because the testing is the means by which every student is tagged and his/her data are collected for Pearson and the big data storage warehouse monitored by amazon or the U.S. government."

In this post, Ravitch shares how covertly collecting data from our children is making money for businesses k - 20. "'Big data will open the way to the future of education,' says the CEO of Knewton. The company is piloting its products at Arizona State University. Whatever we used to call education will cease to exist. Big data will change everything." Watch this commercial from Knewton. Listen for when they boast that they "...track everything each student does..." at 0:50. Then watch this video, which bears the US Department of Education Logo. It is a speech by Jose Ferreira, CEO of Knewton, who "...shares his vision for a future where every student receives a truly personalized curriculum best suited to his or her needs." He is talking about plunking our kids down in front of computer screens and letting adaptive technology "teach" them. His first line is, "So the human race is about to enter a totally data-mined existence." And that is just the first 2 seconds.

In other news, "Google has admitted that it automatically scans and indexes the email of Apps for Education users even though ads are off by default, in order to provide features such as virus protection, spelling checks, and Gmail's 'priority inbox'." Since a law suit for data-mining student emails, Google states it has stopped this practice. "The suit, which plaintiffs hoped to turn into a class action suit, accuses Google of violating federal and state anti-wiretapping law."

To add to the quandary of our children being "totally data-mined" is the law suit brought against SAT and ACT for selling—you guessed it—student data. "Students assume that their names and scores will be shared with colleges to which they apply, but it turns out that far more is disclosed about students, and it is sold, not just shared." Parents assume that, as well. Politico recently reported, "The recent flurry of interest in updating federal privacy law focuses on preventing children’s personal information from being sold without parental consent. Left unnoticed: The huge and lucrative market of peddling profiles with student consent — even when that consent may not be entirely informed."

It is shocking to read that "[S]tudents taking the SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement exams and other standardized tests are asked to check off a box if they want to receive information from colleges or scholarship organizations. Depending on the exam, at least 65 percent — and as many as 85 percent — of test takers check that box, according to the College Board and ACT. That consent allows the College Board and ACT, both nonprofits, to market students’ personal profiles for 37 cents apiece. Those profiles can include information about the students’ grades and academic coursework — and also religion, ethnicity, citizenship status and expected need for financial aid in college. The ACT also lets customers filter student profiles by family income, parents’ education levels and student disabilities. Because the profile data does not come from students’ official school records, but gleaned from their answers to survey questions attached to the exam, no parental consent is needed. Federal privacy law only requires parental consent for the release of school records or the collection of data from children under 13."

Remember, David Coleman is the President of the College Board, which owns the SAT & ACT. He is also the architect of the CCSS and is now infamous for stating his immortal line that no one “…gives a *#!*” about what people feel or think. That line of reasoning was supposed to justify the denunciation of personal expository writing by the Common Core.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given grants to Knewton and many other corporations who want to profit off of our kids data. The Gates, Broad, and Walton Foundations seem hell bent on working together to castrate public education, though they may have different reasons. Ravitch reports, "The philanthropic sector–led by Gates, Walton, and Broad and their allies like Dell–prefer disruptive organizations of charters to public schools. Indeed, they are using their vast fortunes to undercut public education and impose a free market competition among competing schools. As they go merrily about the task of disrupting an important democratic institution, they work in tandem with the U.S. Department of Education, which has assumed the task of destabilizing public education.
Big money–accountable to no one—and big government have embarked on an experiment in mass privatization. Do they ever ask themselves whether they might be wrong??"

So the question isn't really, do we like the CCSS? The question is, do we want our kids in front of screens, innocently working hard and clicking away, each click being tracked and sold to make millions for corporations who have designed this Orwellian nightmare for each of their own personal agendas? The even bigger question is, do we want our great suburban schools replaced with charter schools with no local school board to oversee our tax dollars and our children's education? I certainly do not.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Former Senator says, Pennsylvania kids "figured it out" by 8th grade.

It is almost a year since I attended a PA Senate hearing last August about the Keystone graduation exams. In case you don't know, all Pennsylvania public school students who will graduate in 2017 and later, need to pass exams in Algebra 1, Biology, and Literature in order to graduate. No matter if they attend an outstanding school district, have straight A's, have learning differences, text anxiety, or any other legitimate issues.

 Much was said, but one thing retired Senator, Jeff Piccola said in his testimony has stuck with me. After a brief history of the way our politicians developed more school accountability, he testified about why the Keystones and their higher stakes were necessary.

Forgive any minor errors in the transcript I typed from his testimony here. (A special thank you to my student, Eli Werbach, for finding a working link after someone had the testimony removed from the original link.)

"It is important to note that the Keystones are the first instance that the students are held accountable for their academic achievement since Pennsylvania began developing these standards in the 1990's. Heretofore,  the PSSA's could be blown off by the individual students because it didn't count anything for them. And I recall visiting schools in various school districts and elementary school students can be cajoled, and bribed, and encourgaed to do well on the PSSA's, but by the time they get to 8th grade they've figured out they have no stake in the exam..." (Emphasis mine.)

It is with much respect that I ask the former Senator and others on these committees how many 8th grade students they know. I have three children and two have recently been in 8th grade. In addition, I have taught well over a thousand kids. I know all of the kids my children are friends with and the hundreds I met while substitute teaching as a new teacher. The kids are smart. If they are onto the fact that the tests aren't valuable to their learning experience, there is no buy-in. This happens because the children are thinking critically. Eighth graders respond well to authentic and intellectually interesting and challenging performance assessments and projects. If you want them to work harder this won't do it; threatening them with their graduation will only increase anxiety and resentment. They feel it is unfair, because it is unreasonable. They study hard and get good grades. Yet due to these exams, they see the sham in the high stakes scam.

Former Senator Piccola continues, "...Therefore we do need some kind of exam that students know they are accountable for their grade. Heretofore, school administrators and teachers were accountable for an exam that students may or may not take seriously. With proficiency requirements for graduation, the students will certainly view the tests as important. That is only fair to the students. That is something we need in our system to be fair to teachers and administrators."

Sigh. Even best selling author, Daniel Pink, knows carrots and sticks don't motivate. It is my guess that if our politicians actually listened to the testimony given by parents and real education experts, such as the incredible Dr. William S. Keilbaugh, Superintendent of Haverford Township School District, they would have a better understanding of child and adolescent psychology, and the actual financial and human costs of these exams.

And in defense of 8th graders, let me assure you that beneath their sometimes broody facade, their sometimes goofy antics, and their sometimes edgy adolescent attitudes, they are really exceptional human beings. We often react viscerally to the stories about elementary school students being forced to participate in developmentally inappropriate test prep and testing, but it is the same with our teenagers. All children deserve to have a chance to love learning, to learn at a pace that is individualized, to have teachers differentiate instruction in the way only human beings can (not computer programs), and to develop confidence in themselves as intellectuals. We are really cheating them out of a lot if they graduate and never want to learn again.

We shouldn't be making adolescence harder than it already is.

So as the one year anniversary of this hearing arrives, I thank all of the politicians who have reflected on true research, psychology, and best practices. I thank the politicians who have listened and heard the stories of parents and students. I thank them for changing their minds, which is the true sign of intellect and knowledge. Pennsylvania parents urge you to remove the Keystone exams as a graduation requirement.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

NCLB and Race to the Top: The joke is on us.

It sounded too good to be true when waivers from No Child Left Behind were offered to public schools. It was kind of selling our souls though, because the waiver meant commitment to a new set of micromanaging rules from Race to the Top. Did you know that if a state didn't request a waiver from the impossible mandate of No Child Left Behind, "... as of 2014, if only one child in your school does not score as 'proficient' on state tests, then your school must be 'identified' as 'low performing' under federal law. This year, every school (in Vermont) whose students took the (state) tests last year is now considered a 'low performing' school by the US Department of Education." Some think this is a ridiculous law that is setting schools up to wear the DOE's scarlet letter or be bullied into its next bad idea.

Just because they say so doesn't make it true.

It seems that parents and citizens are being fooled by the misuse of student data. If we believe that these test scores define our children, their teachers, or their schools, the joke is on us. If we reject it as an absolute measure (no matter what the media's school rankings say), we have a chance to have our voices heard.

However, Vermont didn't apply for a waiver from NCLB because "... it would have forced the state to evaluate teachers by their students’ test scores, which is unreliable and unfair to teachers and students." (And is now happening in Pennsylvania.)

Some people are saying that this misleading labeling of public schools is the government's way of convincing parents that schools are failing our kids, so we will welcome school choice.

Vermont state commissioner of education, Rebecca Holcomb, is treating parents and guardians with respect. She didn't give into the federal government's threats. Instead, she wrote a letter to families explaining that, "Vermont believes that schools have purposes that are no less important (and perhaps more important) than test scores."
Did I mention I love Vermont?

Some highlights from her letter:

“Just this week, a social media company that compares financial products (WalletHub) analyzed twelve different quality metrics and ranked Vermont’s school system third in the nation in terms school performance and outcomes."

“Nevertheless, if we fail to announce that each Vermont school is 'low performing,' we jeopardize federal funding for elementary and secondary education. The 'low performing' label brings with it a number of mandatory sanctions, which your principal is required to explain to you. This policy does not serve the interest of Vermont schools, nor does it advance our economic or social well-being. Further, it takes our focus away from other measures that give us more meaningful and useful data on school effectiveness."

“It is not realistic to expect every single tested child in every school to score as proficient. Some of our students are very capable, but may have unique learning needs that make it difficult for them to accurately demonstrate their strengths on a standardized test. Some of our children survived traumatic events that preclude good performance on the test when it is administered. Some of our students recently arrived from other countries, and have many valuable talents but may not yet have a good grasp of the academic English used on our assessments. And, some of our students are just kids who for whatever reason are not interested in demonstrating their best work on a standardized test on a given day."

"As parents and caregivers, we embrace a broader vision for our children than that defined in federal policy. Thus, we encourage you to look at your own child’s individual growth and learning, along with evidence your school has provided related to your child’s progress. Below are some questions to consider:
• What evidence does your school provide of your child’s growing proficiency?
• Is your child developing the skills and understanding she needs to thrive in school and
the community?
• Are graduates of your school system prepared to succeed in college and/or careers?
• Is your child happy to go to school and engaged in learning?
• Can your child explain what he is learning and why? Can your child give examples of
skills he has mastered?
• Is your child developing good work habits? Does she understand that practice leads to
better performance?
• Does your child feel his work in school is related to his college and career goals?
• Does your child have one adult at the school whom she trusts and who is committed to
her success?
• If you have concerns, have you reached out to your child’s teacher to share your

Read her entire letter here. Be sure to scroll down until you find it.

We must ask our public officials to represent what we think is best for our children.
Do politicians know best or do parents?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Former Yale Professor Warns: Don't Send your Kids to the Ivy League

All parents want what is best for their kids. In the United States of America, that means that parents tend to buy or rent in a place with the best public schools they can afford. We send our kids off to school and hope that the yellow school buses will get them safely to their classrooms, and their classrooms will lead them to a future filled with happiness, joy, the ability to think, to question, and to do whatever it is that they want to do when they grow up.

Recently, I received an email from Vice President Joe Biden, with the subject, "Good for business, good for workers, good for the economy." Apparently, big business and community colleges are informing our politicians. Biden writes, "We’ve heard from businesses that many jobs in today's brightest sectors go unfilled because there simply aren't enough people with the skills to do them. That's not good for businesses, it's not good for workers, and it's not good for this country." Wait, what? Many jobs are going unfilled? What businesses? What workers? I can't help but reflect on the term "workers." The word proletariat comes to mind, as I was educated before the Common Core Standards and we read a lot of fiction. Remember George Orwell's classic, Animal Farm?
"Boxer and Clover, two hard working animals, are used to represent the proletariat. They believe anything they hear and don't really think they're slaves. Since Squealer is such a good talker, the proletariat are drawn to Napoleon's ideas because they sound like they're beneficial. Also, they're kind of unintelligent, so they're very easily persuaded." defines the term proletariat:

pro·le·tar·i·at [proh-li-tair-ee-uh t] 
1.  the class of wage earners, especially those who earn their living by manual labor or who are dependent for support on daily or casual employment; the working class.
2. (in Marxist theory) the class of workers, especially industrial wage earners, who do not possess capital or property and must sell their labor to survive.
3. the lowest or poorest class of people, possessing no property, especially in ancient Rome.
Who are the proletariats to today's politicians? Maybe they are not who we think they are. Maybe they are our kids, public school kids. While we are sleeping, state governments cut public school funding, then claim our schools and our children are failing and unsuccessful. Though this started in the cities, it has now sprawled into the suburbs. Have your local taxes gone up? Don't blame the schools, blame your Governor. So what does a former Yale professor think of our dream to send our kids to the "best" colleges, perhaps even the ivy leagues? You may find yourself rethinking your American dream.
In this New Republic article, William Deresiewicz, opens our eyes about the real deal at America's Ivy Leagues. He is the author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and The Way to a Meaningful Life, which comes out August 19 from Free Press. He taught at Yale from 1998 to 2008.
Deresiewicz warns, "These enviable youngsters appear to be the winners in the race we have made of childhood. But the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in many of my own students and heard from the hundreds of young people whom I have spoken with on campuses or who have written to me over the last few years. Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it."

The following resonated with me: smart, talented, anxious, timid, lost, little intellectual curiosity, stunned sense of prupose, great at what they are doing with no idea why they are doing it. I see this in my own community. Great families, great kids, all caught up in a game in which they are unaware that they may be mere pawns.

Deresiewicz continues, "When I speak of elite education, I mean prestigious institutions like Harvard or Stanford or Williams as well as the larger universe of second-tier selective schools, but I also mean everything that leads up to and away from themthe private and affluent public high schools; the ever-growing industry of tutors and consultants and test-prep courses; the admissions process itself, squatting like a dragon at the entrance to adulthood; the brand-name graduate schools and employment opportunities that come after the B.A.; and the parents and communities, largely upper-middle class, who push their children into the maw of this machine. In short, our entire system of elite education."
I can't help asking myself how deep we are into the cogs of this machine? Are we so unaware that we are allowing our kids to be crunched in the gears without even knowing it?
Deresiewicz shares that he, "... taught many wonderful young people during (his) years in the Ivy Leaguebright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it was a pleasure to talk with and learn from. But most of them seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Very few were passionate about ideas. Very few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and development."
Thomas Jefferson knew the importance of public education, and it is not to color within the lines. It is not to be dispassionate about ideas, and it certainly was not to go through the motions and simply get a job.  Jefferson stated, (to George Wythe) "I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance." 1786 August 13.
He also knew that education brings the light of happiness when he added,
 (to C.C. Blatchly) "I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue, and advancing the happiness of man." 1822 October 21.
The article by Deresiewicz makes us question the jargon forced on public education today. Perhaps the most widely used being, "college and career ready" and "rigor." On rigor, he shares a story:

"The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time. I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class. She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion. There are exceptions, kids who insist, against all odds, on trying to get a real education. But their experience tends to make them feel like freaks. One student told me that a friend of hers had left Yale because she found the school 'stifling to the parts of yourself that you’d call a soul.'” (Emphasis mine.)

Do we want our children to be cogs in a machine, even an ivy league one? Do we want them to get mindless A's, to be afraid of taking risks, to not have the time to think about what they are learning due to "rigor"?

Deresiewicz  brings up a business term that has become fashionable to use in education today: Return on Investment. "... that’s the phrase you often hear today when people talk about college. What no one seems to ask is what the 'return' is supposed to be. Is it just about earning more money? Is the only purpose of an education to enable you to get a job? What, in short, is college for?"
These are the questions we must ask ourselves today, as politicians from both parties take special interest money from people trying to profit off of our tax dollars and tell us what we want for our children's educations. Read the whole article here and see what you think.

I will leave you with this quote:

"College is not the only chance to learn to think, but it is the best. One thing is certain: If you haven’t started by the time you finish your B.A., there’s little likelihood you’ll do it later. That is why an undergraduate experience devoted exclusively to career preparation is four years largely wasted."

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Good Grief.

This post goes out to those of you who have been subjected over the past 2+ years to my constant stream of disbelief and current event updates on the attack on public education, public school teachers, and the government's interference with the educational experiences of our children. I can't explain how it took me so long to get a clue, but once I did, all bets were off. I became obsessed with reading and verifying facts and so called "facts." My conversations with family, friends, and neighbors were, let's say, extremely limited. I wanted everyone to learn what I was learning. I am a teacher after all. But for someone who has dedicated her life to children (her own and other people's), this was too much to bear. Without knowing it, I became deep in the grief of watching my three daughter's educational experiences tainted by overtesting, joyless pressure and "rigor," as well as legislation that was being pushed by both political parties on them.

 I was recently out to dinner with a dear friend and she shared an observation that prompted me to write this post. She told me that she had been sad and concerned about me for the past year or so. She told me that I seemed like I was finally doing better. I felt terrible that I had been at such a bad place for so long.  I shared with her that I felt like I had gone through the stages of grief. It sounds a little strange that I would mourn an institution, and an imperfect one at that, but that is what happened.

My husband is the person who initially encouraged me to start blogging. Writing became important to me in a new way. I was able to report and share what the news and media weren't. My oldest daughter wrote an editorial about her personal experience taking the Algebra 1 Keystone in 8th grade, and our city's paper wouldn't publish it. We were shocked that they wouldn't give an articulate child a voice. Fortunately, education activist, Diane Ravitch did.

So, it has been really frustrating because our"high performing" schools are good schools. Our teachers and principals want to focus on what really matters, but are being derailed by bureaucratic interference with the intention to privatize. But you know what?  I am getting back on track and focusing on what I love—my family, friends, and teaching. This summer I have been working hard, letting creativity infuse new ideas into my plans for the upcoming year, and recapturing my love of life. I have been in shock. I have sat in disbelief. I have felt pain & anger. I have tread through hopelessness. And now I feel acceptance—not acceptance that we will forever lose public education (though we may). But I feel acceptance that though this is actually happening, my energy and passion for public education and for joyful, high interest learning for all kids (not just private school students) cannot be stopped.

I want to thank you, my family, friends, and readers for hanging in there with me these past years. It will not be an easy fight, but fight we must. Can grief be good? Getting through it sure is... and good grief, it can be difficult! I suppose that like Charlie Brown, I see that a lot is worrisome, but know that a compassionate dreamer with perseverance can get through a lot.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

We must learn to stand together.

Paul Horton is a History teacher at the Chicago Lab School - an amazing private school which the Obama girls once attended and where our esteemed Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is an alumni. Horton is an advocate for all children and has dedicated a lot of time, energy, and passion in writing about the very real attack on public education.

Morning drop off back in the day at the Chicago Lab School.

He explains it in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Horton has written profusely on this topic and the toxic damage it does to our children and our society. Read more here and here. You can search his name yourself and read and read, if you'd like. You will certainly learn a lot if you do.

Kids and parents usually look forward to breathing a sigh of relief when high school graduation arrives. The kids are ready to move on and move out. They are excited to have a voice in what and how they learn, and are thrilled to get out from under the government's hand in their education. Sadly, the US government is using a legal loophole to create a K-20 (Yes, not K-12, but kindergarten through grad. school) open market in education. The US Department of Education claims that individual states elected to adopt the Common Core Standards. Due to this claim, they believe they are not breaking the "three federal laws that prohibit federal departments or agencies from directing, supervising or controlling elementary and secondary school curricula, programs of instruction and instructional materials." No longer is learning about children, about developing a love and passion for knowledge, developing intrinsic motivation to read and learn on one's own, or about gaining confidence as kids grow. Nope. It is now a business opportunity.

Horton writes, "A recent Washington Post article using a well-placed source within the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation essentially confirmed what many critics have suspected: that Bill Gates effectively controls the Department of Education in the United States through his former employees who serve in leadership positions within the Department of Education. Our education secretary also does a lot of listening to Michael Barber of Pearson Education. Although Mr. Gates and Sir Michael, as well as other reformers, are doubtless well intentioned, they view the colonization of K-12 education in this country and elsewhere as a 'win-win.' In their view, the quality of education will improve with greater accountability, and they will make billions creating and delivering accountability for students, teachers, and education schools."

Check out these familiar names who are working hard to end public education as we know it:

1. "The Murdoch newspaper chain, the Tribune chain, The Washington Post (now run by a neoliberal libertarian), and The New York Times."

2. PBS and NPR
Interestingly, " Money is funneled into NPR and PBS by organizations that support privatizing school reform in the name of 'support for education programing.' "

3. "A Gates-funded Washington consulting firm, GMMB, works 24/7 to sell the Common Core Standards and all other elements of the Race to the Top mandates that call for more charter schools, a standardized-testing regime, and value-added assessments of teachers based on this testing regime."

4.  "Representatives of the Washington-based Fordham Institute work together with GMMB to send weekly talking points to major editorial boards and education reporters to ensure that representatives from an 'independent foundation' are relentlessly quoted. Not surprisingly, the Fordham Institute is hardly independent, and is heavily subsidized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Michael Bloomberg, and the Broad Foundation, and many more funders of privatizing education."

Horton bravely extols, the Common Core State Standards "is the tip of a corporate iceberg that amounts to corporate control of education policy with very little participation of classroom teachers, parents, or school boards. The idea that the Common Core Standards are the product of a democratic process is simply misrepresentation of fact—a big lie that GMMB, our education secretary, Bill Gates, Pearson Education, and the Fordham Institute propagate.

I must be naive, but I had no idea that our government hired PR firms to manipulate us into believing that their desire for an open market in education actually has anything to do with improving learning for our children.

On the impact of testing, Horton continues, "Whatever one may think of the Common Core Standards on paper, because they are tied to a standardized testing regime, they will fail. The literature on this issue is voluminous, but our current educational-policy makers simply ignore it. Teaching to standardized tests narrows the curriculum and results in teaching to the test. Administrators will encourage drill-and-kill exercises to increase test scores and will be forced to allocate precious resources and time to preparing for standardized tests."

 As an English teacher, I found Horton's reflections on the limitations of the CCSS writing approach interesting. When we teach children to write so an algorithm can easily score a response, we are creating a genration of writers who will not only dislike writing, but who will have no human audience willing to read their work. Would you want to read a collection of that formulaic writing? Didn't think so.

Horton wisely observes, "The Common Core Standards seek to teach literacy, but in doing so, they neglect developing essential tools of critical and contextual analysis that are predictive of college success, the development of the ability to produce a complex essay or research paper (a paper that goes beyond what an algorithm can assess), and the development of ideas about social or civic responsibility that run counter to the core value of neoliberalism: 'get what you can for yourself, nothing else matters.' This notion simply does not jibe with what I am hearing when I am visiting colleges with my rising high school senior son where the emphasis is all about service. What I have heard at every college visit is that admissions officers have determined that standardized testing does not predict college success. The challenges that a student takes on and is able to overcome and the rigor of the courses that a student takes are much better predictors of college readiness. "

If standardized tests are not even perceived by colleges to predict college success, why are we playing their game? In my community, I often hear parents concerned about their children being ready for the next stage. Is junior ready for middle school? Is he ready for high school, and is high school getting him ready for college? Is college going to get him ready for life? A job? A career? Being a parent does involve a lot of worrying, because no one wants our kids to have a good life more than we do. However, if we are just receptacles that a PR firm (hired with our own tax dollars!) dumps fears and thoughts into, then are we really doing what is best for our kids?

Horton shockingly reveals, "The Common Core Standards prepare students in areas that experience issues with literacy for work at the community-college level. Applying this one set of standards to all American students represents a national policy error of catastrophic proportions."

Keep an eye out for MOOCs as your kids venture towards their college days. You may or may not have heard of MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses. These classes are a way of delivering online content with no limit on class size. Sounds like a dream for a business person, and a nightmare for a student or teacher. Horton ventures a guess that colleges are next in the Gates plan of open market domination in education. He states, "The reformers seek to reduce the costs of teaching to create a profit margin for potential investors and markets for big education vendors. This is the brave new world that all K-20 educators face. We must learn to stand together."

Wisest line ever: "We must learn to stand together." Parents, grandparents, teachers, professors, and all who care about children, learning, and the future of our country. Urban, suburban, rural. Wealthy, middle class, poor. Private school parent, private school teacher. Public school parent, public school teacher. We must stand together.