What Makes A Good Teacher?

1511263_700201873344978_1730944750_n

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.  ~ Carl Jung

Using students’ standardized test score to measure the quality of teachers is like counting patients’ cavities to evaluate the skills of a dentist or using patients’ blood pressure and cholesterol scores at the end of the year to determine the effectiveness of their doctors.

While David Coleman expects compliant Common Core teachers to teach to the test, most parents including myself want experienced and passionate teachers who respect and honor each child as individual learners and appreciate their special strengths and weaknesses.

A more meaningful measure of teacher effectiveness and quality would be how he or she raises the aspirations and dreams of students rather than how much the teacher raises standardized test scores.

Learning is a lifelong process and self-directed journey of discovery. It is far more important that a person is well educated than trying to determine if they have been educated well.

As Bruce Cameron wisely said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

This past school year Diane Ravitch shared on her blog a wonderful letter written by an elementary school principal reminding students what standardized tests don’t measure.

As you read this letter consider how many of these immeasurable qualities we also value in our public school teachers?

We are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you– the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do. They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day. They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school. They do not know that you have traveled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends. They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best… the scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything. There are many ways of being smart.

Diane Ravitch, “What the Tests Don’t Measure” 11/13/13

1912132_721252927906539_858186512_n

Learning To Care

1901328_729114717120360_2018586821_n

If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

~ Atticus Finch, ( Gregory Peck) “To Kill A Mockingbird”

Standards Are Expectations of Learning

1374855_640652432633256_1705194981_n

Many ed reformers who are not experienced educators don’t understand that The Common Core State Standards are cognitive goals and expectations of student learning or “growth”.

The Standards demand a fixed set of cognitive skills that must be learned and levels of performance that must be achieved by every student each school year regardless of individual circumstance and cognitive ability or disability.

Many reformers don’t understand that standards identify the “college ready” skills that must be acquired by learners and they are not simply bestowed or imparted by teachers.

Our students are not standardized, they possess a wide range of cognitive capabilities and disabilities. These abilities and skills do not emerge and “blossom” at the same rate and in the same way.

Unfortunately, the extra academic assistance and support services that our schools and teachers provide for struggling students, may not be enough to compensate for the absence of learning after school hours.

Many students living in poverty begin their schooling lagging far behind in basic skills and vocabulary development. Many do not participate in after school enrichment activities and informal learning experiences during the summer and other breaks that help to support and advance student achievement in school.

Too often, at-risk students who begin their schooling lagging behind their classmates will actually fall even farther behind and the “gap” will increase as they progress through grade levels because their academic growth is delayed and restrained by numerous barriers to learning.

In effect, our disadvantaged students who are “Racing To The Top” have a much greater academic “distance” to travel to reach graduation performance standards and in many cases they must do this with less academic assistance and resources at home.

The Common Core does very little to ameliorate this problem, because it focuses on the “symptoms” of low achievement in our classrooms rather than the underlying “illness” of poverty in our homes and communities.

It is fanciful to suggest that a steady “diet” or regime of higher academic expectations and standardized tests will address and eliminate the impact of diverse cognitive, social, emotional, and economic factors on student learning in our classrooms.

This approach makes as much sense as a nation raising the daily calorie intake recommendations and recommended weight for all citizens as a way to combat the effects of hunger and famine.

If a student enters school lagging behind other students in academic skills and abilities, he or she could achieve the same amount of academic “growth” as peers but may still be lagging behind in skills at graduation.

With so many students starting school “behind” and living in poverty, it is not prudent or wise to assume the number of first-year college students requiring remedial courses is reliable evidence that K-12 teachers are ineffective and their schools are failing.

It is foolish to spend millions of dollars on software “solutions” and standardized tests that repeatedly measure a narrow and shallow set of hard skills, rather than supporting student learning by using those funds to hire art teachers, librarians, counselors, coaches, nurses, and increase the number of field trips along with work-based learning experiences that actually cultivate student self-efficacy and lifelong learning skills.

The Race To The Top funds would be much better spent if they were used to support job shadowing programs, apprenticeships and internships for all our students so that they spend much less sit and learn class time testing and PREPARING for college and careers and much more work experience time applying and PRACTICING transferable learning and work-based skills.

Any Race To The Top funds that are remaining could be used to solve the “problem” of families having to pay for extra math or ELA college classes by providing Common Core vouchers for 1st year remedial college courses.

2567_600

Common Core’s A-Team

JtEHyTv

Blogger Mercedes Schneider has well researched and documented here and here that the initial working group tasked to develop and draft the Common Core State Standards was an exclusive and elite team of mostly inexperienced (classroom teaching) education “experts”.

As David Coleman’s A-Team was expanded, it is clear that new members outside the “inner circle” would play a supporting, rather than active role in the deliberations. A recent report by the New America Foundation contends that most colleges have not played a meaningful role or been actively involved in development of the Common Core State Standards.

A transcript of a speech given by Coleman during a 2011 meeting at the Institute for Learning reveals that as members were added to the group, open discussion and debate of the Standards was not expected or encouraged.

Participants were welcome to drop comments in the suggestion box, but pencils and erasers were in limited supply, and preferably checked at the door,..

“Student Achievement Partners, all you need to know about us are a couple things. One is we’re composed of that collection of unqualified people who were involved in developing the common standards. And our only qualification was our attention to and command of the evidence behind them. That is, it was our insistence in the standards process that it was not enough to say you wanted to or thought that kids should know these things, that you had to have evidence to support it, frankly because it was our conviction that the only way to get an eraser into the standards writing room was with evidence behind it, cause otherwise the way standards are written you get all the adults into the room about what kids should know, and the only way to end the meeting is to include everything. That‟s how we’ve gotten to the typical state standards we have today.”

Little doubt Coleman summoned his elite A-Team to do the exclusive “heavy lifting” of developing and drafting the Standards and just as John “Hannibal” Smith would gloat each episode, I can almost hear David Coleman rejoicing…”I love it when a plan comes together!”

Despite the poorly planned roll out and rushed assessment of the Standards, it has been suggested that decoupling the Common Core from the standardized assessments will solve many of the problems.

After a close reading of the transcript of Coleman’s 2011 speech It is obvious that the Standards were written with the expressed purpose of being tested in a standardized way.

David Coleman fully expected the Common Core standardized tests to be the dominant driver of instruction; not the Standards, or teachers, and certainly not our students…

“… these standards are worthy of nothing if the assessments built on them are not worthy of teaching to, period…But lets be rather clear: we’re at the start of something here, and its promise – our top priorities in our organization, and I’ll tell you a little bit more about our organization, is to do our darnedest to ensure that the assessment is worthy of your time, is worthy of imitation. It was Lauren who propounded the great rule that I think is a statement of reality, though not a pretty one, which is teachers will teach towards the test. There is no force strong enough on this earth to prevent that. There is no amount of hand-waving, there‟s no amount of saying, “They teach to the standards, not the test; we don‟t do that here.” Whatever. The truth is – and if I misrepresent you, you are welcome to take the mic back. But the truth is teachers do. Tests exert an enormous effect on instructional practice, direct and indirect, and its hence our obligation to make tests that are worthy of that kind of attention. It is in my judgment the single most important work we have to do over the next two years to ensure that that is so, period.”

David Coleman, 2011 Keynote Speech; Institute for Learning and View Speech Here

Passion-less national learning standards that were crafted primarily by a select team of mostly inexperienced experts and written to meet the demands of standardized tests, rather than the needs of individual learners, would certainly benefit from a close read and quite possibly a complete overhaul.

Is Pluto a Planet

Would You Believe…?

get-smart1

As data-driven and evidence-based challenges to the efficacy of the untested Common Core State Standards become stronger and louder, it appears CCSS supporters are growing desperate and resorting to Maxwell Smart’s catchphrase and tactic of backpedaling and switching between unconvincing and unsubstantiated claims.

This “Would you believe…?” strategy of continually shifting claims and substituting evidence is apparent in a new report from the New America Foundation.

“America’s primary and secondary schools may be busy preparing for the onset of the Common Core standards, meant to better prepare students for college, but one key partner isn’t even close to ready: colleges and universities themselves.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the New America Foundation, which finds that “there is little evidence to suggest colleges are meaningfully aligning college instruction and teacher preparation programs with the Common Core standards.”

Even though the Common Core was meant largely to improve the college readiness of high school graduates, the report says, “Many of those within higher education were not involved in developing or endorsing the Common Core standards and assessments, and have not considered how they might change their own practices to align with this K–12 initiative. Indeed, many are not even aware of the Common Core.

The findings follow earlier alarms that the people who run higher education have, for the most part, gotten involved only late in the Common Core process…

One reason, it said, is that it’s hard to come up with a single definition of what makes a student ready for college. Another is the huge variety of colleges and universities…

The report recommends that colleges add the results of Common Core assessment tests to the measures by which they gauge students’ eligibility for admission and financial aid..”

Jon Marcus, “Report: Higher Education Behind On Common Core” Huff Post College 7/23/14

I have previously commented on the important distinction between data and evidence and the tendency of some ed reformers to cherry-pick data in order to find any “evidence” supporting their predetermined conclusions.

Ed reformers have claimed that the Common Core is necessary for students so they can meet the academic demands of colleges, yet this new report reveals that colleges have made few if any demands, as they have been primarily silent partners when it comes to advising the authors of the Common Core State Standards.

Relying on Maxwell Smart’s  “Would you believe…?” playbook, some ed reformers appear to be adopting an emergency response strategy, and are now hoping we will believe newly fabricated evidence supporting their claims.

It doesn’t matter that the authors of the Standards barely consulted with colleges during the design and development phase, as long as colleges will now change their academic programs to align with the Common Core and that will serve as evidence of their endorsement.

While the report found that colleges have been reluctant to participate in the Common Core experiment because it is very difficult to achieve consensus on a “single definition of what makes a student ready for college.” and there is a  “huge variety of colleges and universities” ed reformers would still have us believe the great and powerful OZ, I mean Coleman, has identified a common set of college and career readiness skills.

So, the inexperienced and unwise chief architect of the Common Core has been designated America’s college and career readiness guru, and we are to believe he is qualified to advise every elementary, middle, secondary school and college in America regarding what it means to be “college ready”?

When it comes to the lack of evidence supporting their specious claim that Common Core standardized tests are valid and reliable indicators of college readiness, reformers just need to get colleges to follow orders, I mean recommendations and now agree to, “add the results of Common Core assessment tests to the measures by which they gauge students’ eligibility for admission and financial aid..”

Considering the weekly news reports of states that are reconsidering their participation in PARCC and the Common Core State Standards, I wonder how many times David Coleman has responded to his subordinates, “I asked you not to tell me that!”

Knowledge vs. Wisdom: A Common Core Conundrum

Slide11

Many people have expressed concern regarding David Coleman’s lack of experience in the classroom. Coleman himself has acknowledged his lack of qualifications for serving as the lead author and architect of the Common Core State Standards.

There is a big difference between being knowledgeable in a subject matter and having wisdom. Knowledge can be obtained through education, while wisdom is most often acquired through experience.

More troubling than David Coleman’s lack of classroom experience is his lack of work experience which greatly diminishes his wisdom regarding transferable and applicable job-ready literacy skills and his qualifications for writing career readiness standards.

The Common Core demands that teachers make 12 instructional “shifts” to properly align with the Standards including…

“Students build knowledge about the world (domains/ content areas) through TEXT rather than the teacher or activities.”

Pedagogical Shifts demanded by the Common Core State Standards

David Coleman had a powerful role as the lead author or architect of the Common Core and it is not surprising that the Standards would reflect and emphasize a text-dependent way of learning that is both familiar to Coleman, and most likely preferred by him.

Unfortunately, the Common Core’s emphasis on learning through reading rather than doing will cultivate workers who are more likely to be knowledgeable close readers rather than wise critical thinkers.

Wisdom aside, David Coleman clearly loves to dive deeply into text..

“David Coleman stood at a podium reciting poetry. After reading Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” a classic example of the villanelle form, Coleman wanted to know why green is the only color mentioned in the poem, why Thomas uses the grammatically incorrect go gentle instead of go gently, and how the poet’s expression of grief is different from Elizabeth Bishop’s in her own villanelle, “One Art.”

“Kids don’t wonder about these things,” Coleman told his audience, a collection of 300 public-school English teachers and administrators. “It is you as teachers who have this obligation” to ask students “to read like a detective and write like an investigative reporter.”

Dana Goldstein, “The Schoolmaster” The Atlantic, 10/19/12

There is a huge disconnect between the Common Core’s “promise” of improving students’ college and career literacy skills and its emphasis on cultivating specialized close reading skills.

While close reading may be easily measured by a standardized test these skills are not likely to be utilized in fast-paced work environments where solutions to novel problems are not found in the text.

Employers expect new hires to have proficient reading comprehension skills so they can work effectively with complex informational text, and not contrived close reading skills so they can spend days determining how the text “works”.

Close reading trains students to answer text-dependent questions using information and evidence derived exclusively from the text.

Multiple choice standardized tests that consider a likely or plausible response wrong because the student invoked prior knowledge rather than select the response that is text-based DO NOT measure higher order thinking skills.

future

In contrast, employers rely on critical thinking and creative problem-solving workers who can operate in a rapidly changing environment where they must deal with open-ended questions while finding solutions to nonroutine problems using vague, conflicting, and incomplete data.

Close reading demands a deep and detailed analysis of text. Students are expected to independently analyze the use of evidence and how information and ideas “interact” in the text.

Students must explain how word choices shape meaning or tone. They analyze the craft and structure of the text and must determine how separate components (sentence, paragraph etc.) relate to each other and the whole.

Students are discouraged from thinking or feeling beyond the text. Their thoughts must remain closely connected to the text as they fastidiously deconstruct and dissect the reading in order to determine the explicit meaning of the text.

The Common Core ELA Standards presume that the information employees need to analyze and deconstruct is primarily text-based, so while the Common Core does include multimedia Standards, Appendix A explicitly discounts and devalues the importance of media literacy skills.

In reality, many workers are required to analyze data and information that is presented in multimedia and virtual formats including, charts, tables, graphs, audio, visual, webinar, video conference, Skype etc.

Close readers must repeatedly go back to a reading in order to correctly answer text-dependent questions, while many employees must go beyond and outside the reading to find answers to job-related questions.

In most work situations, employees are valued for their ability to think outside the text and determine the meaning and significance of the information as it relates to the department they work in or business they work for.

Many 21st century employees must also be able to anticipate and predict the economic, political, environmental, social, and emotional significance and consequence of the information that is revealed in the text.

Close reading students may be able to think deeply and critically within the text, but successful employees must think broadly and creatively to help formulate policies and strategies that will enable their employer to operate appropriately, effectively, legally, and profitably outside the text.

David Coleman is convinced that knowledgeable students should be trained to read “like a detective” and the meaning of the words and ideas must be derived exclusively from the text, while employers rely on wise workers who read with perspective, and recognize that the meaning and significance of words and ideas is very often dependent on situations and circumstances that exist outside the text.

How ironic would it be if the fateful decision to make close reading a centerpiece of the data-driven and evidence-based Common Core ELA Standards was little more than a gratuitous and self-indulgent whim satisfying David Coleman’s passion for close reading?

So much for thoughts and feelings don’t matter in life…unless you are the chief architect of the Common Core.

 

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

~ T. S. Eliot.