Weapons of Mass Instruction

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One of the underlying premises of the Common Core is that students who cannot independently read and write on an advanced college level are destined to be unsuccessful in life.

Do proponents of CCSS really believe that the 15 to 20% (NICHD) of our population with language-based disabilities are doomed to failure in life?

Thomas Edison, Richard Branson, Winston Churchill, Henry Ford, Erin Brockovich, Pablo Picasso, Magic Johnson, Anderson Cooper, Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Steve Jobs and other dyslexics were fortunate CCSS wasn’t around when they were in school as they might still be serving time in AIS class trying to pass a tier two vocabulary word quiz rather than testing a new theory, creating a new work of art, or discovering new principles that actually generated brand new vocabulary words.

These individuals and many others like them did not allow limited reading and literacy skills or a low score on a standardized test to define them and curtail their goals and achievements in life.

Instead, they relied upon their own unique gifts, talents, personality, and learning strategies to overcome obstacles and compensate for any academic deficiencies.

The heck with art, film, music, sports, vocational, trade, and alternative education programs…force feeding complex informational texts 70% of the time is the key to success in college and careers for all students… why not 38%, 55%, or 61.25%?

We expect our students to question the accuracy and reliability of any data they may collect from resources. We encourage them to consider the source of information and look for any possible bias or conflict of interest.

This same degree of scrutiny and skepticism should be applied vigorously to the data and claims of the Common Core sales team.

While Common Core advocates may decry the plight of college students who don’t read closely, many students actually enjoy the challenge and mystery of a puzzle and will refrain from reading the instructions for a newly purchased electronic device as they prefer to learn through discovery, experimentation, play, and trial and error.

Rather than focusing our efforts on teaching students how to learn we should be creating vigorous learning activities and experiences that capture students’ interest and stimulates their own desire to learn, also known as “flow”.

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, students achieve flow when they find a challenge or task so enjoyable they will pursue it as a reward in itself.

When a person experiences flow they want to do more of an activity leading to advanced skill development and mastery of the task.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi further explains in, ”Thoughts About Education” …

“…Yet it seems increasingly clear that the chief impediments to learning are not cognitive in nature. It is not that students cannot learn, it is that they do not wish to…

 Of the two main forms of motivation — extrinsic and intrinsic — I focus primarily on the second kind. Although both are needed to induce people to invest energy in learning, intrinsic motivation, which is operative when we learn something primarily because we find the task enjoyable and not because it is useful, is a more effective and more satisfying way to learn…”

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There are some things of value in life, like the dynamic relationship between a teacher and student, that are not easily quantified and measured.

A teacher may wear many “hats” during the day; educator, counselor, mentor, role model, referee, parent, advisor, and friend.

It is fanciful to suggest that a single score on a standardized test is somehow going to assess the overall effectiveness and quality of a teacher or even begin to measure the impact a teacher has had on his or her students and how that will be manifested and revealed in their future achievements and accomplishments.

Working with teenagers for more than two decades, the most important lesson I have learned is to never give up on a student as the fruits of my labor are not always immediate and very often will become apparent over time.

Education should be about preparing future artists, caregivers, citizens, leaders, problem solvers, decision makers, innovators, teachers, and volunteers….not test takers.

Back in 2011, David T. Conley warned in his essay, “Building on the Common Core” about the potential for misuse and misapplication of assessments…

“Implemented correctly, the common standards and assessments can vault education over the barrier of low-level test preparation and toward the goal of world-class learning outcomes for all students. Implemented poorly, however, the standards and assessments could result in accountability on steroids, stifling meaningful school improvement nationwide.”

Assessments should measure multiple performance indicators and be administered over an extended period of time to assure that accurate, comprehensive, and reliable data is collected.

Attempting to determine a student’s overall level of achievement for an entire school year (180 days) by measuring his or her performance during a very narrow and limited period of time (3 to 4 hours) will most certainly produce inaccurate and incomplete data.

This data is further compromised and corrupted whenever the student’s performance is hindered by extraneous factors such as; carelessness, anxiety, sleep deprivation, hunger, stress, apathy, depression, fear, illness, anger, etc…

Scores on a standardized test do not differentiate between students who answered a question wrong because they lack the requisite knowledge and skills, and those students who are sufficiently skilled but suffered from diminished performance the day of the test.

Therein lies a critical flaw and weakness of standardized assessments…while the results may identify specific questions a student failed to answer correctly, they do not provide a definitive reason or explanation as to why this occurred?

Project-based and performance assessments provide a more reliable, robust, and comprehensive means of documenting student achievement because they assess student performance over an extended period of time.

Most importantly, an extended task generates valuable data regarding student character development and soft skills.

Projects and presentations help students to develop essential college and career skills including; time management, public speaking, problem solving, creativity, decision making, resilience, collaboration, communication, persistence, resourcefulness, risk-taking, and self-reliance.

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 The most vigorous and vibrant qualities of the Common Core… constructivism, media literacy, technology integration, project-based and student-centered learning are de-emphasized in the classroom because these standards don’t easily adapt or conform to the boilerplate format of a standardized test.

“Rigor Redefined” and other research based writings by Tony Wagner offer great insights into career readiness and the expectations of employers…

“…He’s an engineer by training and the head of a technical business, so when I asked him about the skills he looks for when he hires young people, I was taken aback by his answer.

“First and foremost, I look for someone who asks good questions,” Parker responded. “We can teach them the technical stuff, but we can’t teach them how to ask good questions—how to think.”

 “What other skills are you looking for?” I asked, expecting that he’d jump quickly to content expertise.

 “I want people who can engage in good discussion—who can look me in the eye and have a give and take. All of our work is done in teams. You have to know how to work well with others. But you also have to know how to engage customers—to find out what their needs are. If you can’t engage others, then you won’t learn what you need to know.”

A bachelor’s degree is not a requirement for every occupation in the 21st century. Advising and encouraging all our students to attend college and accumulate a considerable amount of debt, is both thoughtless and irresponsible.

The headline of this 4/23/12 AP article says it all “1 in 2 new graduates are jobless or underemployed”

“According to government projections released last month, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor’s degree or higher to fill the position — teachers, college professors and accountants. Most job openings are in professions such as retail sales, fast food and truck driving, jobs which aren’t easily replaced by computers…

…Any job gains are going mostly to workers at the top and bottom of the wage scale, at the expense of middle-income jobs commonly held by bachelor’s degree holders. By some studies, up to 95 percent of positions lost during the economic recovery occurred in middle-income occupations such as bank tellers, the type of job not expected to return in a more high-tech age.”

Schools should be in the business of creating diverse and stimulating learning environments and experiences where a child’s athletic, artistic and creative talents are free to flourish and thrive.

Education should always be focused on helping each student to discover his or her unique gifts and abilities while providing numerous opportunities for students to pursue their passions.

With the new testing regime, the whole school experience has been diminished and transformed into a forced march toward a “designated performance level.” Under this system students are actually learning more about what they can’t do, than what they can do.

Matthew B. Crawford’s 2006 essay, “Shop Class as Soulcraft” discusses the importance of vocational education programs along with the inherent value and rewards of manual competence.

Crawford’s essay may lead readers to consider the possibility that readiness for college and career might be mutually exclusive endeavors for some students, and our noble efforts to prepare every student for the academic rigors of higher education could be negatively impacting the career readiness of those students who wish to obtain employment in the manual trades.

In 2009 the essay was expanded into a book; “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work”. This excerpt from the book jacket explains…

On both economic and psychological grounds, Crawford questions the educational imperative of turning everyone into a “knowledge worker,” based on a misguided separation of thinking from doing, the work of the hand from that of the mind. Crawford shows us how such a partition, which began a century ago with the assembly line, degrades work for those on both sides of the divide.

 But Crawford offers good news as well: the manual trades are very different from the assembly line, and from dumbed-down white collar work as well. They require careful thinking and are punctuated by moments of genuine pleasure. Based on his own experience as an electrician and mechanic, Crawford makes a case for the intrinsic satisfactions and cognitive challenges of manual work…”

In Tara Tiger Brown’s 2012 commentary; “The Death of Shop Class And America’s Skilled Workforce” she laments the decline of shop class…

“During my freshman year of high school I was required to take home economics and shop class where I learned basics skills in sewing, cooking, woodwork and metal work… 

I have continued to use those skills throughout my life both professionally and when needed around the house…

75% of the students in California are not going to attend university yet they are taking classes that will help them get into UC and CA State schools. Just like there are people who are not inclined to become welders or machinists, not everyone can be a rocket scientist or a football star. 

Students take physical education class in elementary school and with that opportunity they discover their abilities and their like or dislike for various sports. The schools breed our pro football and basketball stars. What would it be like if as adults we didn’t have exposure to sports in school?…

Without early exposure to shop class many kids are going to lose out on the opportunity to discover whether or not they like making things, and the inclination to pursue a career as a drafter, carpenter, welder or auto mechanic.

As shop teachers around California retire, high schools aren’t replacing them and shop classes are closing. There is no training for teachers going through university to learn how to teach shop…

What is America going to do without skilled workers who can build and fix things?”

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If education leaders and proponents of the Common Core want to be taken seriously regarding their campaign to improve college and career readiness for all students perhaps they should consider if accounting, athletics, character education, civics, community service, culinary arts, foreign language, geography, health, history, home economics, humanities, driver education, marketing, media literacy, political science, psychology, sociology, speech and debate, sign language, trade and vocational skills and visual and performing arts, are being adequately addressed in our schools today, or have they been left behind in a Race To The Top?

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One thought on “Weapons of Mass Instruction

  1. Pingback: #whatif… | WagTheDog

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