Archive for the ‘English teacher’ Tag

Cherie Zaslawsky: Brave New Schools   5 comments

Brave New Schools

Guest post by California English teacher Cherie Zaslawsky

The much touted Common Core Standards (CCS) Initiative that is being pushed as a silver bullet to improve our schools is not simply the latest fad in education: CCS is actually an unprecedented program that would radically alter our entire K-12 educational system, affecting content (i.e. curriculum), delivery (largely via computer), testing (also via computer), teacher evaluations (connected to test scores), as well as creating an intrusive database of sensitive information from student “assessments.” This program, for all the protestations to the contrary, represents the nationalization of education in America, extinguishing any semblance of local control. Furthermore, it was essentially developed at the behest of billionaire Bill Gates, who also funded it to the tune of some $150 million, and who clearly thinks he knows what’s best for everybody else’s children. (His own are safely ensconced in private schools).

California adopted the Common Core Standards (CCS) Initiative on August 2, 2010, only two months after the standards were released. Nor has this multi-billion dollar program ever been piloted anywhere! It’s a nationwide experiment—with our children as the subjects.  Nor was CCS ever internationally benchmarked. In California, as in most states, there was no time to devote to studying the intricacies of the program, vetting it, or introducing it to the public. Instead, Race to the Top money was dangled in front of state legislatures, and 45 states sprang for it, but 16 of these states at last count are already seeking to withdraw from the program.

Parents need to understand the implications of the Common Core Standards. These standards, which amount to a national curriculum via bundled tests, texts and teacher evaluations, would severely degrade our local schools. How? By lowering the standards of high-performing schools to make them “equal” with low-performing schools, in a misguided attempt to reach what its proponents call “equity” or “fairness” by mandating the lowest common denominator for all schools. True, this would close the muchballyhooed “achievement gap”—but only by dumbing down the education of the best and brightest to better match that of the unmotivated and/or less academically gifted.

The idea that all students should perform identically sounds eerily like something out of  Mao’s China. What happened to our relishing of individual talents and uniqueness? Would we lower the standards for the best athletes to put them on a par with mediocre athletes to close the “performance gap” in, say, high school football?

How do a few of the experts view this program? Dr. James Milgrim of Stanford University, the only mathematician on the Common Core validation team, refused to sign off on the math standards because he discovered that by the end of 8th grade, CCS will leave our students two years behind in math compared to those in high-performing countries. And according to Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the respected expert who developed the Massachusetts standards, widely regarded as the best in the nation, “Common Core’s ‘college readiness’ standards for ELA are chiefly empty skill sets and cannot lead to even a meaningful high school diploma. Only a literature-rich curriculum can. College readiness has always depended on the complexity of the literary texts teachers teach and a coherent literature curriculum.”

As English teacher Christel Swasey notes:  “We become compassionate humans by receiving and passing on classic stories. Souls are enlarged by exposure to the characters, the imagery, the rich vocabulary, the poetic language and the endless forms of the battle between good and evil, that live in classic literature.”  Instead, students will swim in the murky waters of relativism where all things are equal and no moral compass exists. We should not be surprised if they are also encouraged to view history along the lines of multiculturalism, “social equity,” and the Communitarian glorification of the collectivist “global village.”

Consider how drastically literature is being marginalized (30%) in favor of “informational” texts (70%) in the 12th  grade, with a maximum of only 50% literature ever, throughout middle and high school English classes. The switch to a steady diet of “informational” texts virtually ensures that students won’t be learning to think critically or to write probing, analytical essays, let alone to develop the love of reading and appreciation for the literary masterpieces of Western culture. Put in practical terms, it means that instead of reading Hamlet, Great Expectations and Pride and Prejudice, your child will be reading computer manuals and tracts on “climate change,” “environmental justice,” and the virtues of recycling.

And the price of mediocrity? In California, implementation cost is estimated at $2.1 billion, with $1.4 billion as upfront costs—mainly for computers (every child needs one—along with special apps—could that be one reason Bill Gates poured a cool $150 million into this program? Perhaps giving new meaning to the word “philanthropist”…) along with training teachers to navigate the complicated new programs. Even though it’s been proven—as if we needed proof—that children learn better from real live teachers than from staring at LCD screens.

In addition, tests and “assessments” will be taken on computers—resulting in the harvesting of personal data that amounts to a dossier on every child, including choice tidbits about Mommy and Daddy.  And what is to stop the powers-that-be from using these assessments and test results to “re-educate” “politically incorrect” students who show too much independence?

Clearly Common Core is a disaster in the making.  So what can we do? The simplest solution is to insist that our school boards turn down the carrot of federal funding and reject Common Core in order to preserve the integrity of our local schools through local control and to continue to allow our teachers to use their creativity in the classroom. The price of compliance with Common Core, however tempting monetarily speaking, is just too high— the mortgaging of our children’s future.

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Thanks to Cherie Zaslawsky for permission to publish her essay here.

“Insipid Brew of Gobbledy-Gook” – Professor Laura Gibbs on Common Core Writing Standards   8 comments

University of Oklahoma professor Laura Gibbs has given her permission to post her pointed observations

 about the Common Core writing standards here:

COMMON CORE WRITING STANDARDS = BLAH BLAH BLAH

by Laura Gibbs

In light of the brouhaha about David Coleman, Common Core and informational reading, I thought I would see what I could find out.

I went to the language arts standards and, as always, I found the usual blah blah blah – http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards/english-language-arts-standards – but there is nothing that gives any clue about balance; if there is a hidden agenda to drive out fiction in favor of non-fiction, that is not clear from the standards. However, what is clear from the standards, in my opinion, is that they offer NOTHING of substance to really change how writing is being taught in this country.

As someone who teaches writing, esp. narrative writing, I find nothing here that makes me feel like students who go through this Common Core system will be any better prepared than the students I have now.

ADDENDUM: I did post about what I personally would prefer to see here: https://plus.google.com/111474406259561102151/posts/RfejMC8wH5A

Worse, reading through the standards makes it really hard for me to understand how and why people take this kind of thing seriously.

I’m a practical, problem-solving kind of person. I don’t see how these standards do anything practical here to help us in the problems that students face in their writing skills. Note the conscious use of the word SKILLS here –

I believe very much in the teaching of skills, but the blah-blah-blah of these standards does not give me a vocabulary of skills I can use to develop a curriculum and inspire my students to see themselves as skilled writers. Instead, I see here an insipid brew of gobbledy-gook that MASQUERADES as being a sequence of standards, but really – what is happening here between Grades 6 and 12, during six years of students’ lives as writers? I would really like to hear from any teachers out there who find the way these standards are written to be helpful in any way, shape or form in guiding a writing curriculum:

Here is the Grade 6 standard for narrative writing:
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
Grade 7: verbatim identical to Grade 6
Grade 8: verbatim identical to Grade 6
Grades 9-10: Now it says “well-chosen details” instead of “relevant descriptive details”… huh? Were they just embarrassed to keep copying and pasting from one grade to the next?
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
Grades 11-12: verbatim identical to Grades 9-10

It’s too tedious to really do this for all the substandards, but here’s just one example of a narrative writing sub-standard:

Grade 6:
Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.
Grade 7: Oh look, now the conclusion “reflects on” the narration, instead of just following from it:
Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events.
Grade 8: Verbatim identical to Grade 7.
Grades 9-10: Oh look, now they have decided that we are going to study not “narrated experiences or events” but “what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative” – in other words, we will change one blah-blah-blah for another blah-blah-blah.
Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.
Grades 11-12: Verbatim identical to Grades 9-10.

Just to prove I am not being a Momus here, let’s take one more substandard:
Grade 6:
Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.
Grade 7: verbatim identical to Grade 6
Grade 8: Oh look, now we will “capture the action” (I guess we were not capturing action before now):
Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.
Grades 9-10: Oh look, now instead of “relevant descriptive details” we have “telling details” (???), and now instead of “capture the action and convey experiences and events” we will “convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.” That is worse than no change at all – just one kind of blah-blah-blah replacing another kind of blah-blah-blah.
Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
Grades 11-12: verbatim identical to Grades 9-10.

Now, I personally find this kind of puffery to be a waste of time, but if we are going to engage in such puffery at least it should accomplish something, right?

But what this tells me is that teachers are going to be doing the same thing as they teach writing between Grades 6 and 12. Which is probably a good reason just to abolish the factory-based model of putting students in grades anyway, ha ha… but I suspect it is instead just a way for the textbook publishers to publish separate, expensive textbooks for every grade – even though the SO-CALLED “standards for narrative writing” in Grades 6-12 are not changing in any meaningful way from grade to grade.

Laura Gibbs (Ph.D., UC Berkeley) teaches mythology and folklore at the University of Oklahoma.

NY Teacher William Johnson: Not Happy About Common Core in English Classrooms   4 comments

New York teacher William Johnson writes “classroom dispatches” for the Gotham Schools website.

http://gothamschools.org/2012/11/14/common-english-and-its-domain-specific-vocabulary/

Many teachers are caught in the spiral of silence, afraid to speak about the problems of Common Core for fear of losing their jobs.

I understand why they don’t want to make waves.  But I deeply respect the teachers like Susan Wilcox, David Cox, Kris Nielsen, Stephen Round and William Johnson, who do dare to speak their minds.  Today I’m highlighting New York teacher William Johnson who writes at the Gotham Schools website.

His observations about the absurd vocabulary requirements of Common Core and its disrespect of the English teacher and the English classroom are insightful.

Johnson writes:

“Thanks to the Common Core, this year a series of “Shifts in ELA/Literacy” will be imposed upon English teachers across the country. These shifts require, among other things, that English teachers spend less time on “esoteric literary terms … such as ‘onomatopoeia’ or ‘homonym’” and more time on “pivotal and commonly found words…such as ‘discourse,’ ‘generation,’ ‘theory,’ and ‘principled.’”

It’s worth noting that not one of the terms identified as “pivotal” under these common core shifts is specific to the discipline of English. This is particularly interesting given the Common Core’s insistence on “domain-specific” vocabulary….

Why do the folks behind the Common Core think domain-specific vocabulary isn’t important when it comes to English? Again, the language used to describe the new Common Core approach highlights the ways that these standards will change the goal of English study from understanding and mastery of literature and literary writing to “constantly build[ing] students’ ability to access more complex texts across the content areas.” In other words, the goal of English class will become helping students read texts for their other subject areas — the ones that really matter, like math.

…Unfortunately, the folks behind the Common Core have made it abundantly clear that they see little value in having students understand literature.

Over and over again, Common Core advocates have promoted teaching “informational texts” over literature. According to the Common Core, more than 50 percent of high school English curricula are supposed to consist of informational texts.

By 12th grade, the Common Core recommends that 70 percent of the texts students read in English be informational, not literary.”

Full Text:   http://gothamschools.org/2012/11/14/common-english-and-its-domain-specific-vocabulary/

In another article, Johnson writes: 

“The truth is, teachers don’t need elected officials to motivate us. If our students are not learning, they let us know. … Good administrators use the evaluation processes to support teachers and help them avoid those painful classroom moments — not to weed out the teachers who don’t produce good test scores or adhere to their pedagogical beliefs.

Worst of all, the more intense the pressure gets, the worse we teach. When I had administrators breathing down my neck, the students became a secondary concern. … I was scared of losing my job, and my students suffered for it.” 

Full Text: http://gothamschools.org/2012/03/05/from-near-and-far-responses-pour-in-to-bad-teacher-essay/

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Thank you, William Johnson.

Hilarious Washington Post Article on the Stupidity of Deleting Classic Literature   2 comments

The Washington Post has a hilarious article about the stupidity of deleting so much classic literature in high school English classes while calling Common Core education an increase in rigor.  Love it.  Reposting.

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The Common Core’s 70 percent nonfiction standards and the end of reading?

By Alexandra Petri

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2012/12/07/the-common-cores-70-percent-nonfiction-standards-and-the-end-of-reading/#comments

Forget “The Great Gatsby.”

New Common Core standards (which impact 46 out of 50 states) will require that, by graduation in 2014, 70 percent of books studied be nonfiction. Some suggested texts include “FedViews” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the EPA’s “Recommended Levels of Insulation,” and “Invasive Plant Inventory” by California’s Invasive Plant Council.

Forget “Catcher in the Rye” (seems to encourage assassins), “The Great Gatsby” (too 1 percenty), “Huckleberry Finn” (anything written before 1970 must be racist) and “To Kill A Mockingbird” (probably a Suzanne Collins rip-off). Bring out the woodchipping manuals!

 

I like reading. I love reading. I always have. I read recreationally still. I read on buses, in planes, while crossing streets. My entire apartment is covered in books. And now, through some strange concatenation of circumstances, I write for a living.

And it’s all because, as a child, my parents took the time to read me “Recommended Levels of Insulation.”

Oh, “Recommended Levels of Insulation.” That was always my favorite, although “Invasive Plant Inventory” was a close second. (What phrases in literature or life will ever top the rich resonance of that opening line? “The Inventory categorizes plants as High, Moderate, or Limited, reflecting the level of each species’ negative ecological impact in California. Other factors, such as economic impact or difficulty of management, are not included in this assessment.” And we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past has nothing on it!)

“It is important to note that even Limited species are invasive and should be of concern to land managers,” I frequently tell myself, in moments of crisis. “Although the impact of each plant varies regionally, its rating represents cumulative impacts statewide.” How true that is, even today. Those words have brought me through moments of joy and moments of sorrow. They are graven on my heart. I bound them as a seal on my hand.

My dog-eared, beaten copy of “Recommended Levels of Insulation” still sits on my desk. I even got it autographed. Their delay in making a movie of this classic astounds me. That was where I first learned the magic of literature.

“Insulation level are specified by R-Value. R-Value is a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it.” What authority in that sentence!

And then came the table of insulation values. I shudder every time that table appears. It is one of the great villains in the history of the English language. Uriah Heep and Captain Ahab have absolutely nothing on it. In fact, I do not know who these people are. I have never read about them.

“Wall Insulation: Whenever exterior siding is removed on an

Uninsulated wood-frame wall:

·           Drill holes in the sheathing and blow insulation into the empty wall cavity before installing the new siding, and

·           Zones 3–4: Add R5 insulative wall sheathing beneath the new siding

·           Zones 5–8: Add R5 to R6 insulative wall sheathing beneath the new siding”

I remember curling up with that and reading it over and over again. It was this that drove me to pursue writing as a career — the hope one day of crafting a sentence that sang the way “Drill holes in the sheathing and blow insulation into the empty wall cavity before installing the new siding and” sings.

But I doubt I will ever achieve this lambent perfection.

Look, I was an English major, so I may be biased.

People often, feelingly, write about a vague namby-pamby thing called the Magic of Literature. By the time you stagger out of one of these essays you wish that they had not been read to as children.

But I am not saying this as an advocate of the vague namby-pamby magic. I truly believe that everything you need is already there, in the greatest works of literature. If you want to fight your way through a thorny sentence, look no further than Shakespeare. If you are having trouble figuring out what equipment is necessary for the task you are about to perform, look no further than the Iliad, where Achilles has a similar problem.

Life is full enough of instruction manuals.

The best way to understand what words can do is to see them in their natural habitat, not constrained into the dull straitjackets of legalese and regulationish and manualect. It’s like saying the proper way of encountering puppies is in puppy mills. Words in regulations and manuals are words mangled and tortured and bent into unnatural positions, and the later you have to discover such cruelty, the better.

The people behind the core have sought to defend it, saying that this was not meant to supplant literature. This increased emphasis on nonfiction would not be a concern if the core worked the way it was supposed to, with teachers in other disciplines like math and science assigning the hard technical texts that went along with their subjects. But teachers worry that this will not happen. Principals seem to be having trouble comprehending the requirement themselves. Besides, the other teachers are too busy, well, teaching their subjects to inflict technical manuals on their students too, and  they may expect the English department to pick up the slack. And hence the great Purge of Literature.

These are good intentions, but it will be vital to make sure the execution is as good, or we will head down the road usually paved with good intentions. There, in the ninth circle, students who would otherwise have been tearing through Milton and Shakespeare with great excitement are forced to come home lugging manuals of Exotic Plants.

All in all, this is a great way to make the kids who like reading hate reading.

That’s certainly one way of addressing the reading gap.

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Great article.  Thank you, Alexandra Petri.

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