Archive for December 2012

Utah Teacher David Cox on Common Core   10 comments

On Common Core: Education Without Representation

As it is going, teachers will be little more than robots, constricted in everything they do.

Guest Post by Utah Teacher David Cox

When I was first hired, what one taught was decided by the texts that teachers and the principal decided upon.

So I had a great deal of say.  It was school based, though the state had recommendations of what, and at what grade level, but recommendations were all they were.

Some time after Nation at Risk, 1983, it became the vogue thing for districts to write up “standards.”  That came about to counter what so many teachers were being taught by constructivist professors (as one of mine at BYU did) that, “If you want to cover the text…(wait for it) use a dish towel.”  You were to teach what they, the students, wanted to learn.  It was “democratic” learning (student driven).  In other words “just teach whatever!”  The standards movement came about to stop constructivism, because the Back-to-Basics movement wasn’t able to, since it was directed at teachers and not the professors, who were the source.  Alpine SD used teachers, I was one of many, who wrote these and lesson plans to go with them in the old ACE (Alpine Curriculum for Excellence).  It actually was very good –and specific.

Then the State Board of Education decided they had to get into the act and State Standards were created through USOE.  These were much inferior to the ACE.  At first we were able to “align” the standards together, which I worked on using Career Ladder monies.  Finally they were shoved down our throats and we had to give up the ACE for these inferior state standards, which were quite non-specific.

Now we are having National Standards crammed down our throats, which will be backed up with tests that will end up dictating even the methods used to teach.  Why?  (Here’s the irony.)  Because they are being created by professors who are as constructivist in philosophy as the original standards movement was created to get rid of!  And these “standards” (inferior to many states’ previous standards and heavily influenced by the aforementioned philosophy) are being required in order to get federal dollars and wavers from NCLB.  How can any district back out?

And as these become entrenched in a few years the politically correct police from Washington will start telling us EXACTLY what we can and can’t teach (history will be added, think of how that will be slanted) and how, and it will be things we in Utah will disagree with strongly depending on the administration in power.  What’s worse, there will be no other choice.  Already charter schools are being required next year to teach it, and even private schools will be required to become accredited, of which the first requirement will be to adopt the national curriculum.  The next step, as has happened in Sweden this past year, even home schooling will be abolished.  Do you see why I’m terrified?!

I’ve watched it happen from day one and followed it very closely.  I’ve seen all the changes, and it isn’t better.  Back then, you couldn’t guarantee perfect teaching, but many teachers did a very good job.

As it is going, teachers will be little more than robots, constricted in everything they do.

This will almost prohibit great teaching.

The real irony is that conservatives tried to forcibly get rid of the faulty constructivist teaching by using government power with the standards and accountability movement.  And after getting the force of government in place, liberals turned it around and took control and are in the process of completely implementing their agenda.  If they had truly understood human agency and the real conservative philosophy, they would never have tried to use government to “guarantee” correct philosophy, because if you give government enough power to control it, it will end up controlling you.

Here is why I strongly oppose Common Core:

 

As a retired teacher, former legislator, and grandparent, I am strongly opposed to the Common Core for three main reasons.

 1. I want standards, not standardization. Standardization forces everyone to come down to a common level, the lowest common denominator. Locally adopted or created standards build the intellects and support of and from the local parents and teachers. Nationally imposed “standards” bring avoidance and lack of responsibility along with agendas I oppose, such as #2.

2. The philosophy of those who created Common Core is constructivism. They believe the student must construct their own set of knowledge (discovery learning). This is the philosophy that gave us “Whole Language” instead of reading, English, and spelling. It gave us “Investigations Math” instead of real math. It dumbed-down history and geography into “Social Studies.” The Common Core itself is dumbing-down Algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus into Math 1 and 2, etc.

3. Finally, though the standards themselves were not directly created by the national government, they are being imposed by incentives. The real nationalizing threat comes from the tests that ARE nationally created and which drive the implementation of the standards. I want our schools to listen to the parents, not to Washington politicians and educrats.

The real answer to improvement will only come when we give both freedom and responsibility to the local community. That is the story of America, the story Europeans didn’t (and still don’t) believe, that, given freedom to either succeed or fail, the common man will usually do what is necessary to succeed. Nationally imposed education will not do this, neither will vouchers, which would only, with the funding, pass on the government interference that is hampering the public schools to private schools. To solve this we need to create new, community-sized school districts. Doing this will bring the community together on behalf of their own children. The adults will grow in the process of local decision-making and control of education, and that will then raise the children.
Only by creating new smaller districts will we return liberty and responsibility to the local parents and teachers. Only then will true accountability be accomplished. Only then will true educational quality and efficiency be possible to achieve. It truly takes a community to educate a child. We cannot lift the children without lifting the adults too.
That cannot be accomplished by nationally created and imposed standards.
It takes governing from the local level to lift and build the people. That is what the United – “States” are all about.

-by David Cox

A Literacy Expert Opposes the Common Core Standards   Leave a comment

A Literacy Expert Opposes the Common Core Standards.

Diane Ravitch has posted this information, given by a USC linguistics professor, Stephen Krashen, a literacy expert.

He writes that Common Core’s excessive detail will:

(1) dictate the order of presentation of aspects of literacy
(2) encourage a direct teaching, skill-building approach to teaching.
Both of these consequences run counter to a massive amount of research and experience.

There is very good evidence from both first and second language acquisition that aspects of language and literacy are naturally acquired in a specific order that cannot be altered by instruction (C. Chomsky, 1969, The Acquisition of Syntax in Children from 5 to 10. Cambridge: MIT Press; Krashen, S. 1981, Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning, Pergamon Press, available at http://www.sdkrashen.com).

There is also very good evidence that we acquire language and literacy best not through direct instruction but via “comprehensible input” – for literacy, this means reading, especially reading that the reader finds truly interesting, or “compelling.” (Krashen, S. 2010.The Goodman/Smith Hypothesis, the Input Hypothesis, the Comprehension Hypothesis, and the (Even Stronger) Case for Free Voluntary Reading. In: Defying Convention, Inventing the Future in Literacy Research and Practice: Essays in Tribute to Ken and Yetta Goodman. P. Anders (Ed.) New York: Routledge. 2010. pp. 46-60. Available at http://www.sdkrashen.com)

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As has often been noted:  the wonderfully informative insights about the flaws of Common Core are so important, but not nearly so important as the fact that Common Core puts into cement teaching philosophies that cannot be altered by the people using them.

There is no voice and no vote. Teachers and citizens have nothing to do with what will be decided upon to be taught. Only the central planners can alter or amend the standards.  That’s the NGA/CCSSO:  National Governor’s Association and Council of Chief State School Officers.  Nobody else.  Does that sound constitutional to you?

Sandra Stotsky on Common Core’s confusing way of teaching writing skills   1 comment

Remember Sandra Stotsky?  She’s the brilliant Arkansas professor with the courage to stand up and say no to the common core standards, when she served on the official Common Core Validation Committee and she realized they were not, in fact, going to prepare children legitimately for college.  She is also the wonderful woman who offered to work with the state of Utah (for free!) to help write legitimate, high educational standards rather than to see us remain on the faulty Common Core bandwagon.  (Our state leaders have not taken her up on this generous offer.)
This brand new Sandra Stotsky article is highly recommended:
http://inpolicy.org/2012/12/common-core-standards-which-way-for-indiana/

In it, Sandra Stotsky explains in detail,  looking at individual standards at a time, exactly how confusing the teaching and learning process becomes, as outlined by common core writing standards. She shows that concepts are expected to be used in essays to be written by sixth graders, for example, but the concepts were never previously introduced or taught.

This is forcing teachers to invent worksheets and writing samples to quickly scaffold students to the missing concepts without having allotted space and time to do so. It also leaves the slower learners at a disadvantage.

Additionally, Stotsky makes the point that there is no way for the flaws in common core to be altered by a vote or by a locality.  Neither those flaws which are now known nor  those yet to be discovered can be changed except by the central planners who copyrighted the standards: the NGA/CCSSO (National Governors’ Association and Council of Chief State School Officers).  —Who are not, by the way, teachers.

From Caffeinated Thoughts Blog: Private Schools Are No Longer Free Under Common Core Constraints   6 comments

http://caffeinatedthoughts.com/2012/12/private-schools-you-should-be-concerned-about-the-common-core/

I’m reposting Shane Vander Hart’s blog post.  I think it’s important that people understand his point: that even private schools will no longer enjoy the freedoms they have enjoyed previously if they accept federal monies in the form of school choice vouchers, because they will then be forced to obey the mandates and curricular guidance of the Common Core Initiative.  This desperately needs attention and discussion among among parents and voters nationally.

 

Private Schools – You Should Be Concerned About the Common Core

|December 12, 2012 | 2 Replies

Through popular school choice efforts several states like Indiana and Louisiana have adopted school vouchers.  While that seems great, and I am a proponent of school choice, vouchers seem to have unintended consequences for those who pushed for them – in that they give government a foot-in-the-door so to speak.  Because of this I’m concerned about a collective silence from private schools about the Common Core State Standards.

And Florida Governor Rick Scott is pushing for that very thing.  He said that students who receive tax dollars should be held to the same standards that apply to public schools.

That would be the Common Core folks.

Florida has adopted them.  Louisiana has some strings attached with their voucher program in the form of assessments.  Iowa even though they don’t have a voucher system (they offer a tax credit for donations made to school tuition organizations) private schools who are accredited through the Iowa Department of Education.  This is the only body who can accredit non-public schools at the moment.  Let’s put this in perspective failing public schools in Iowa are accredited.  Parents also can only access school tuition organization money if they are sending their child to an accredited non-public school.  Non-public schools don’t have to be accredited, but their parents can’t receive the tuition assistance.

So private school parents, teachers, administrators and boards – wake up.  You need to be concerned about the Common Core State Standards.  If you are forced to adopt these standards what choice will we really have?

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Shane Vander Hart is the founder and editor-in-chief of Caffeinated Thoughts.  He is also the President of 4:15 Communications, LLC, a social media & communications consulting/management firm.  He is a communications director for American Principles Project’s Preserve Innocence Initiative.  Prior to this Shane spent 20 years in youth ministry serving in church, parachurch, and school settings.  He has also served as an interim pastor and is a sought after speaker and pulpit fill-in.  Shane has been married to his wife Cheryl since 1993 and they have three kids.  Shane and his family reside near Des Moines, IA.  You can connect with Shane on Facebook or follow him on Twitter and Google +.

Rhode Island Teacher Quits Over Standardization of Education: Viral Video   Leave a comment

Stephen Round, a lifelong Rhode Island teacher, read his quitting letter aloud on YouTube.  He objects to one-size-fits-all education.  As do we.

NC Teacher Kris Nielsen Quits –and Explains Why   2 comments

http://dianeravitch.net/2012/10/27/nc-teacher-i-quit/

Academic analyst Diane Ravitch posted a letter from North Carolina teacher Kris Nielsen two months ago.

In the letter, teacher Kris Nielsen wrote about his reasons for quitting, as he did again in another article I saw today.  I’m posting both.  First, excerpts from his letter:

I QUIT

Kris L. Nielsen

Union County Public Schools

Human Resources Department

400 North Church Street Monroe, NC 28112

October 25, 2012

To All it May Concern:

I’m doing something I thought I would never do—something that will make me a statistic and a caricature of the times.  Some will support me, some will shake their heads and smirk condescendingly—and others will try to convince me that I’m part of the problem.  Perhaps they’re right, but I don’t think so.  All I know is that I’ve hit a wall, and in order to preserve my sanity, my family, and the forward movement of our lives, I have no other choice.

…I am resigning my position as a teacher in the state of North Carolina…

…Why?

Because…

I refuse to be led by a top-down hierarchy that is completely detached from the classrooms for which it is supposed to be responsible.

I will not spend another day under the expectations that I prepare every student for the increasing numbers of meaningless tests.

I refuse to be an unpaid administrator of field tests that take advantage of children for the sake of profit.

I will not spend another day wishing I had some time to plan my fantastic lessons because administration comes up with new and inventive ways to steal that time, under the guise of PLC meetings or whatever.  I’ve seen successful PLC development.  It doesn’t look like this.

I will not spend another day wondering what menial, administrative task I will hear that I forgot to do next.  I’m far enough behind in my own work.

I will not spend another day wondering how I can have classes that are full inclusion, and where 50% of my students have IEPs, yet I’m given no support.

I will not spend another day in a district where my coworkers are both on autopilot and in survival mode.  Misery loves company, but I will not be that company.

I refuse to subject students to every ridiculous standardized test that the state and/or district thinks is important.

I refuse to have my higher-level and deep thinking lessons disrupted by meaningless assessments (like the EXPLORE test) that do little more than increase stress among children and teachers, and attempt to guide young adolescents into narrow choices.

I totally object and refuse to have my performance as an educator rely on “Standard 6.”  It is unfair, biased, and does not reflect anything about the teaching practices of proven educators.

I refuse to hear again that it’s more important that I serve as a test administrator than a leader of my peers.

I refuse to watch my students being treated like prisoners.  There are other ways.  It’s a shame that we don’t have the vision to seek out those alternatives.

I refuse to watch my coworkers being treated like untrustworthy slackers through the overbearing policies of this state, although they are the hardest working and most overloaded people I know.

I refuse to watch my family struggle financially as I work in a job to which I have invested 6 long years of my life in preparation.  I have a graduate degree and a track record of strong success, yet I’m paid less than many two-year degree holders.  And forget benefits—they are effectively nonexistent for teachers in North Carolina.

I refuse to watch my district’s leadership tell us about the bad news and horrific changes coming towards us, then watch them shrug incompetently, and then tell us to work harder.

I refuse to listen to our highly regarded superintendent telling us that the charter school movement is at our doorstep (with a soon-to-be-elected governor in full support) and tell us not to worry about it, because we are applying for a grant from Race to the Top.  There is no consistency here; there is no leadership here.

I refuse to watch my students slouch under the weight of a system that expects them to perform well on EOG tests, which do not measure their abilities other than memorization and application and therefore do not measure their readiness for the next grade level—much less life, career, or college.

I’m tired of watching my students produce amazing things, which show their true understanding of 21st century skills, only to see their looks of disappointment when they don’t meet the arbitrary expectations of low-level state and district tests that do not assess their skills.

I refuse to hear any more about how important it is to differentiate our instruction as we prepare our kids for tests that are anything but differentiated.  This negates our hard work and makes us look bad.

I am tired of hearing about the miracles my peers are expected to perform, and watching the districts do next to nothing to support or develop them.  I haven’t seen real professional development in either district since I got here.  The development sessions I have seen are sloppy, shallow, and have no real means of evaluation or accountability.

I’m tired of my increasing and troublesome physical symptoms that come from all this frustration, stress, and sadness.

Finally, I’m tired of watching parents being tricked into believing that their children are being prepared for the complex world ahead, especially since their children’s teachers are being cowed into meeting expectations and standards that are not conducive to their children’s futures.

I’m truly angry that parents put so much stress, fear, and anticipation into their kids’ heads in preparation for the EOG tests and the new MSLs—neither of which are consequential to their future needs.  As a parent of a high school student in Union County, I’m dismayed at the education that my child receives, as her teachers frantically prepare her for more tests.  My toddler will not attend a North Carolina public school.  I will do whatever it takes to keep that from happening.

I quit because I’m tired being part of the problem.  It’s killing me and it’s not doing anyone else any good.  Farewell.

——

Thank you for your courage, honesty and clear articulation of the problem teachers face today, Kris.  Here is the other article, also reposted from Kris Nielsen with links to original below.

——-

Kris Nielsen: I (Used to) Love Teaching

                                                                                        By Anthony Cody on October 26, 2012 11:52 AM

Guest post by Kris Nielsen.   http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2012/10/kris_nielson_i_used_to_love_te.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+LivingInDialogue+%28Teacher+Magazine+Blog%3A+Living+in+Dialogue%29

This post was originally published here on his blog, Middle Grades Mastery. A modified version was sent to President Obama.

I love teaching. Or, I did love teaching. I loved teaching when my job was to teach. Now, I don’t love teaching, because my job is no longer teaching.

Was that introduction awkward enough? That’s kind of how my job feels: awkward, frustrating, backwards, stifling, and redundant. Breaking away from the comparison to the introduction, I’d like to add demeaning, thankless, exhausting, fruitless, unappreciated, lonely, undemocratic, unfulfilling, and major energy drain.

But, please, let me explain my whining. I’m not generally a whiner, so I feel that when I do moan and complain, I should have some good reasons, and maybe even some solutions. (Before you get your hopes up, I’m not going to offer any solutions. I’ve tried that; it’s pointless.)

I look back and I believe that my entry into the world of teaching had the worst possible timing. I got my teaching certificate late 2006 and spent the first two years of my career teaching Earth science to 6th graders. I created my own curriculum, based loosely on the New Mexico state standards. My kids loved it! I kept them busy with hands-on, student centered learning that built vocabulary and concepts along the way. I based my lessons on real-life problems, invited community scientists into my classroom, let students create their own projects, and had a solid stream of parent volunteers and visitors in and out of my door. My students led their own parent conferences, with me sitting close by to monitor the discussion and answer clarifying questions. My students had good grades and, much less importantly, had high scores on the New Mexico Standards-Based Assessment at the end of the year.

After two years, I believed I had gained enough valuable experience to become more mobile. A college professor told me that teaching was awesome because you could go anywhere in the United States and always have a job. So, I gave my colleagues a fond farewell and moved to Oregon, a state that I had always dreamed of living in. I was lucky to get my job there–I beat out over 80 other applicants to teach math to middle school kids. I taught the Connected Math curriculum and worked closely with a group of professionals who shared my goals. It was awesome. I taught math like I taught science: hands-on, student-centered, constructivist, discovery learning. Again, I saw great success, especially with minority students and English language learners. I had students coming from the high school thanking me for giving them hope when they were sure they wouldn’t make it past 9th grade. Two girls–children of immigrant parents–told me they knew they would be the first to go to college in their families, and they thanked me for it. Teaching in Oregon was amazing.

Then, the floor fell out. I could blame conservatives for the bone-cutting budget reductions, but it was everyone’s fault. My district found itself in deep shortfall and cut over 350 teaching jobs. Having been there only two years, I was on the chopping block. My principal was dismayed, my colleagues were shocked, parents were mad, and kids were upset. My union was apparently powerless, despite my pleas, to do anything. Seniority stays. I was not seniority.

In shock and sadness, I spent over four months looking for a job. I filled out over 300 applications and had three interviews. Those three interviews represented my competition with hundreds of displaced teachers. I was not hired. So, I looked outside the Oregon state borders. After a Google search for cities that were hiring teachers, Charlotte, North Carolina was number two. I went from looking at the nine classified jobs in Salem, Oregon (none of which I could do), to sifting through over 350 teaching jobs in Charlotte. It was mindblowing. How did this city need so many teachers? I applied for about 15 jobs, got callbacks on ten, and interviewed over the phone with three. The first interview landed me a job over the phone. My family and I packed up and drove across the country.

Let me emphasize that: my incredibly supportive (and adventurous) family sacrificed and adjusted just so I could keep teaching.

It was an exciting and daunting prospect and I was nervous. The staff at my new school was pleasant, helpful, and upbeat. The district orientation was disheartening (I felt like I was being hired at Kmart). The students were initially eager and well-behaved. The union was non-existent, which I didn’t really mind after my ordeal in Oregon. The administrators were generally professional and friendly, with only a minor “corporate” stench. I felt good about the arrangement.

What they didn’t tell me in orientation was that I would not have time to teach anything meaningful. I was hired to teach science and the exact same math I had taught in Oregon, but this was different. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is a district that is drowning in its own mandates, risk-taking, and testing culture. I think CMS is a microcosm of what’s to come in American education. It’s depressing. I didn’t like it, so I did some research. An adjacent district was hiring some math and science people and I was attracted to two main things: it was closer to home and they had rolled out a one-to-one laptop initiative recently. Every student was carrying a laptop in class every day. I had to get into one of those classrooms!

To make that story short, I did. It’s no different. Despite the lofty ideals and motivating speeches from administration, everything is the same. I’m not an educator, by the definition I had comes to terms with; I’m an employee of a system that has an agenda. My job is to frontload a small encyclopedia of knowledge to a group of students so that they can pass a test at the end of the year. There are now more shallow and meaningless tests, and my job now depends on the scores. That’s not teaching. That’s not what I do.

I’ve heard this several times already: “If you’re teaching students to learn and letting them discover the knowledge, then shouldn’t they be able to pass those tests easily?” At first, I thought, “Yeah! Totally!” But after trying it, I don’t think it makes sense. Standardized tests are rigidly specific in the knowledge kids should have. They are bent way over into the realm of vocabulary and multiple-choice answers-and they don’t even come close to teaching 21st century skills. If I teach my kids how to think and how to learn, then they will not be prepared to pass state tests, because that’s not what those tests are measuring. The tests measure two things: memory and application. The second one is important, but not in a multiple-choice or short-answer sphere.

So that’s the long story. Here are some more reasons I can’t do this anymore. I’ve gotten to the point where I feel good about how a lesson played out, only to check my email afterwards to find no fewer than five menial tasks that I must dedicate my time to. This is time when I should be planning more lessons, conferencing with parents, and learning.

I fight against poverty every day, knowing that I can’t save everyone. And no one in power seems to care. All I hear are excuses. I hate excuses.  I’m teetering on the poverty line myself, always running out of money by the third week of the month. And my family lives very frugally.

I have no health coverage for my family, because it would cost over a quarter of my pay. 
My take home pay is roughly equivalent to that of a full-time customer service manager at Walmart. I make less if you take into account the hours I work. I worked diligently through a master’s degree program to increase my efficacy as a teacher. I was rewarded with being treated like a disposable cog in a broken gear. My coworkers are downtrodden and frustrated.

My students are falling apart. They have little hope. I don’t blame them. They are reminded every year of their failure to pass meaningless tests and they watch the news that tells them they are dumber than the rest of the world. That piece of information is not true, by any means, but you can tell it affects them. And no one stands up to tell them they are doing fine.

I wanted to be part of the fix. I wanted to save the world. But every day I see powers greater than me stomp us down and tell us to get back into the classroom and be glad we even have jobs. If this is the way that public education treats professionals, then it’s time for me to find a new field.

I give up. They win. I have joined the ranks of parents who have come to realize that we are only empowered to do one thing: take care of our own. I hope that things change, but I don’t have the energy, the money, or the time to continue beating my head into a wall. And if the choices have run out for my toddler when he’s ready for school, I will do it myself. Maybe I’ll do it for others, as well.

Kris L. Nielsen has been a middle grades educator for six years in New Mexico, Oregon, and North Carolina. After watching the field of education change in appalling ways, he decided to start blogging about how teachers and principals can create positive change in their own classrooms and schools.  Kris is an activist against the bipartisan, corporate education reforms and has had his writing featured in several online magazines and blogs.  Kris currently lives in North Carolina, where he is working on his first book, Maximizing the Middle: Rethinking Middle Level Education in the 21st Century.

Dear Readers   Leave a comment

Dear Readers,

Sometimes I look at the search terms that have brought you here.   Some of you have typed terms like “I can’t stand teaching anymore common core,” for example.

I would like to hear and share your stories- especially students, teachers’ and parents’ stories.

Please email me if you would like to post your experiences, perspectives and stories here, anonymously or not.    212christel@gmail.com   Write “What Is Common Core” in the subject heading so I can recognize and open the email.

Thank you.

Christel

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