Opine I will

I am a retired elementary school teacher just trying to do the right thing

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

The perils of one size fits all.

We’ve all tried it.

You know, that great deal. One size fits all. Than to our dismay, we wonder what were we thinking?  We thought it would work than we realized, hey we’re all different. It doesn’t fit at all!

Why are education reforms now taking the one size fits all approach?

We’ve been taught that our society is the great melting pot. There is no other country in the world that is as differentiated as ours. We’ve come to realize that we all have individual needs and wants. Some of us even celebrate all the differences between us. Legislation has been fought over and won that protects those differences. Yet today we find ourselves in the position where the one size fits all mentality seems to be driving the education debate.

No Child Left Behind is an enormous unfunded mandate that sought to pigeon hole everyone into one category.  Every child will  read on grade level, 100%. An impossible task that follows the one size fits all mantra. Everyone will be tested, everyone will be ranked and everyone must be labeled. The goal was to fit everyone into the same mold of success. No one was to be left behind. What really happened is that no body moved forward.

Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top campaign pits states and school districts in a competition to conform with his initiative. Unfortunately every state or school district that does not fits into his idea of conformity loses out on much needed funds in these hard economic times. Holding needed funds hostage to high stakes testing, designed using the one size fits all approach, is devastating local budgets while doing an immense injustice to our children and teachers.

The new Common Core State Standards is another one size fits all campaign. The architects of this approach promise that all children will become college and career ready. All students will be required to master certain skills  at the same age, regardless of their differences. They’ll be tested with a one size fits all test. The Common Core ignores differentiation, ignores regional differences and needs, and stifles creativity. The standards state,

Students advancing through the grades are expected to meet each year’s grade-specific standards and retain or further develop skills and understandings mastered in preceding grades.

Or  else! How’s that for one size fits all?

States like New York have adopted new teacher evaluation systems that use the one size fits all approach. In addition, to being graded on how a teacher’s students do on a test of the Common Core Standards, they’ll also be observed utilizing a specific rubric or check list such as Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching . Another one size fits all approach. So now we’ll have administrators visiting our classroom with checklists on their I pads to see if we’re all conforming.  March in step, forget innovation, experimentation or common sense. Follow the rubric and in some cases follow the script. because one size needs to fit all.

Yesterday, Randi Weingarten proposed a Bar Exam for potential teachers.  Ignoring the different needs of each region she proposed a national standard for teacher readiness. yet another one size fits all approach. Feeding the naysayers, here proposal implies that yes, perhaps the one size fits all approach just might work.

The Texas GOP’s new platform is the most disturbing attempt at the one size fits all approach.  Here are a couple of there planks ( splinters really)

  • American Identity Patriotism and Loyalty – We believe the current teaching of a multicultural curriculum is divisive. We favor strengthening our common American identity and loyalty instead of political correctness that nurtures alienation among racial and ethnic groups.
  • Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

Texas buys 48 million textbooks every year. Their influence can be seen in every textbook across the nation. Is this the one size fit all approach we really want?

So what’s really  going on? Why has the one size fits all approach taken over education reform?  We’ve all heard the argument that schools should follow a business model.. really. ( We all know how well that has worked in business over the last 10 years)

Here’s the challenge to those naysayers out there. Spend a year in any  classroom across America, try to use your one size fits all approach, and then let’s talk.

Time to play offense

Yesterday, I posted my concerns regarding the nice mess we find ourselves in. It cause quite a stir and as my Twitter feed lit up  I  began to realize that it’s time to get the offense on the field.  So let’s play offense!

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi said, “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” So let’s do what we do best. Teach!

It’s time to take control of the national conversation on education. For too long we have endured the negative comments, the sly remarks, the feigned concerns about education, the unwarranted accusations, and the false data that has turned us into our nation’s scapegoats. Well it’s time to use what we have and get that offensive team on the field.

So how do we play offense?

I will not pretend to know all  that we can or should do. I welcome your ideas and comments. We need to begin developing a new paradigm  for educators. One that will never play defense again, one that will never negotiate our expertise, rights, and beliefs away.

So let me start with a few plays of my own.

  • Make it your mission to teach all those naysayers.
  • Never sit by quietly when our profession is marginalized in personal and public conversations.
  • Challenge those that present negative generalizations using inaccurate  data.
  • Publicize your accomplishments in your classrooms and private lives.
  • Those with tenure, start acting like you have tenure.
  • Most contracts have academic freedom clauses, use it.
  • Expose fraudulent practices.
  • Challenge your administrators to provide resources you really need.
  • View ‘ new research’ with skepticism because real research can endure it.
  • Hold your elected representatives accountable, challenge their statements, call, and hound them.
  • Zealously defend your profession
  • Support your union while at the same time demand they never negotiate our confidentiality away.
  • Challenge textbook publishers
  • Demand respect, responsibility, and rights
We need an opening play, for the up coming school year. Something on the first day, to set the tone, to reset the field. something big. Any ideas?
Perhaps on the first day, a unifying message can be displayed all across the nation. Let’s get this conversation going.
This is only a beginning. I look forward to receiving your offensive plays. Feel free to comment.

Another nice mess you’ve got us into..

Oliver Hardy is well know for looking at Stan Laurel, who appears clueless, and with a frustrated tone exclaims, “another nice mess you got us  into!”

Nothing could be more fitting, than Ollie’s words when I look at the predicament  teachers all across New York State are in right now.

This past week the following  statement of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten following passage of the teacher privacy bill by both houses of the New York Legislature had heads spinning. She stated,

 “This bill restores balance and ensures that educators no longer will live in fear that evaluations and teacher rankings based on unreliable data will be splashed across the media and sensationalized by those interested in undermining public education. And it helps ensure the effective use of teacher evaluations to improve teaching and learning, and allows parents and teachers to work together to build strong public schools for all New York children.”

 New York State United Teachers President Richard C. Iannuzzi said,

“The governor and Legislature did the right thing by stopping the media from distorting and disseminating evaluation results,” Iannuzzi said. “This bill accomplishes that goal and preserves the purpose of evaluations, which is to provide opportunity for continued growth and improvement.”

Who are they kidding?? Teacher’s all across the state are suppose to celebrate legislation that allow, evaluations based on junk science, and may determine their future livelihoods, to be released to parents as a good thing?

Let’s keep in mind, this legislation was quickly negotiated to fix a much greater threat. The courts already declared that these evaluations can be released to the media, and something needed to be done. So in that light, it could have been much worse. But to celebrate this as a win, is akin to the South declaring a victory during a skirmish in the closing days of the Civil War. This isn’t a win, it’s a tourniquet. It may stop the bleeding temporarily, but once gangrene sets in we’re doomed.

 The way I look at it, our unions (we) negotiated ourselves into this nice mess.We negotiated a deal that allowed teachers to be evaluated using junk science.

Even though there is no evidence that supports Value Added Measures as a means of calculating teacher effectiveness,  we agreed to it.

We negotiated rubrics that will be used in teacher evaluations, yet many of these rubrics are untested.

We agreed to test and re-test models to measure our own effectiveness.

We stood by, while our students were subjected to 90 hours of testing.

We’re embracing the Common Core Standards as a means to magically make our students college and career ready.

We dare not exclaim Race to the Top, is really a race to nowhere, because politically we must remain loyal until November.

We stand by while charters eat away at public education, and even at times support our own charter schools.

So here we are, standing arm in arm with Governor Cuomo, praising his acumen in negotiating this deal. Forgetting that his tax cap policies have caused thousand of teachers all across the state to lose their jobs. Forgetting that his education commissioner is a pro charter advocate. Forgetting that his flawed teacher evaluation plan is nothing more than an attempt to circumvent tenure. Here we are standing there.

Yeah, another nice mess you got us into!

Frightened to the Core

As an educator I teach my students to think not just do, because if they know how to think, they will be able to do. I don’t want them to be common, I want them to be exceptional. I want them to feel, I want them to connect, I want them to be prepared, not just for college and future careers, I want them to be prepared for life. To be able to adjust, to be able to infer, to be able to recognize and respect the vast differences of our society and the world. The last thing I want is for them to be instructed via a common set of standards that dictate, what and how they should respond to questions or problems.

To be blunt.. the Common Core frightens  me. 

I’ve been reading about the new Common Core standards that are being mandated in states across the country. Next year, I’ll be required to follow these standards lockstep and barrel whether I agree with them or not. Even though my teacher contract guarantees  academic freedom, I’ll be required to cite each standard I cover during each lesson every minute of the day. I’ll be evaluated basedon tests and evaluations. These evaluations will be used to check up on me to make sure I follow these new standards. I’ve been told, that this is required to ensure that my students are college and career ready. Really? I’ll be teaching 5th grade next year, college and career ready?? What about ready for life??

I have been reading through a transcript of a presentation by David Coleman. David Coleman is considered the chief architect of the Common Core, so I guess we could consider him the expert, right? We’ll there are several things I picked up in this transcript that raises deep deep concerns for me. First of all, his association with Michelle Rhee’s Student First group should raise concerns for anyone mandated by the Common Core . Diane Ravitch clearly lays that concern on Mr. Coleman’s doorstep  in her blog. 

Mr. Coleman states,

remediation is a trap from which very few students escape’. 

I find this statement troubling. Is he suggesting that all of the recent research on differentiation, inclusion,and special ed is hog wash? The tremendous effort every district has undertook over the last 2 years implementing Response to Implementation ( RTI) is for nothing. Just what is he suggesting?

Mr. Coleman also states:

‘So the core standards for the first time demand that 50% of the text students encounter in kindergarten through 5th grade is informational text, meaning primarily text about science and history, text about the arts, the text through which students learn about the world.’

Then he goes on to condemn us all ”

That is a major shift and if you think about what’s happening in this country unintentionally literature and stories dominated the elementary curriculum. And then we expanded the literacy block. So we made the literacy block 80% of the time. Guess what that meant? We destroyed history and science in the elementary school.

So reading literature has destroyed science and history in elementary school.

Mr. Coleman fails  to recognize that high stakes testing destroyed science and history in elementary school. He further fails to define the term informational text. Would reading ” Number the Stars’  be considered non- informational? Does he consider any literature as informational? Will be forced to have our students only read ‘approved non- fiction’ 50% of the time?

What really bugs me about David Coleman is this statement concerning writing;

“It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or it is the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with those two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a sheet about what you feel or what you think. What they instead care about is can you make an argument with evidence, is there something verifiable behind what you’re saying or what you think or feel that you can demonstrate to me. It is rare in a working environment that someone says, “Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.”

Mr. Coleman, perhaps if we had more people in our society that gave a sheet about what other thought and felt, just perhaps our society would be a little better. Perhaps when a company such as Bain, wants to take over another, a little thought would go into the personal impact. Perhaps, the next time we go into war, more thought would be given to the personal impacts of entering into a war. Maybe just maybe, before a legislator passes a law restricting the voting rights of others, or a law requiring unions can’t negotiate for their members, that legislator would consider the human impact.

I want my students to do much more than just be college and career ready.

Yeah, the Common Core frightens me. Any social experiment that wants everyone to learn via a common core should frighten all of us.

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