Care To Learn

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Image: Rutu Modan

“What does it take to be a good parent? We know some of the tricks for teaching kids to become high achievers. For example, research suggests that when parents praise effort rather than ability, children develop a stronger work ethic and become more motivated.

Yet although some parents live vicariously through their children’s accomplishments, success is not the No. 1 priority for most parents. We’re much more concerned about our children becoming kind, compassionate and helpful. Surveys reveal that in the United States, parents from European, Asian, Hispanic and African ethnic groups all place far greater importance on caring than achievement. These patterns hold around the world: When people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was not achievement, but caring…

People often believe that character causes action, but when it comes to producing moral children, we need to remember that action also shapes character. As the psychologist Karl Weick is fond of asking, “How can I know who I am until I see what I do? How can I know what I value until I see where I walk?”

Adam Grant, “Raising a Moral Child” 4/11/14

When you think about all the rating, ranking, and sorting of students and teachers that is demanded by the Common Core, can’t help but wonder….

Does too much emphasis on student achievement, data-driven instruction, proficiency levels, independent mastery, and testing of students actually stifle and suppress academic, social, and emotional growth?

Does telling elementary and middle school students they are not “college ready” increase or decrease the likelihood that they will be ready for college by graduation?

Rather than repeatedly testing students to see if they are ready for college and careers shouldn’t we provide numerous learning activities and vocational pathways for students to actually practice their college and career skills?

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Cognitive Privilege

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I’ve been wondering lately if there is such a thing as cognitive privilege and what role it might play in the Common Core debate?

Is it possible that there are highly intelligent individuals who lack the empathy, experience, and wisdom to “see” and understand the academic challenges and struggles faced by disadvantaged and learning disabled students? These individuals mistakenly believe that all students have the cognitive ability and a responsibility to learn and test the way they do.

Educators encourage their students to learn how to think for themselves while a cognitively privileged person believes students should be taught to think the way they do.

“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 9/19/12

Educators help their students to become independent thinkers while cognitively privileged people will often demand that students are trained to be text-dependent thinkers.

There has been a lot of focus on teacher accountability and the importance of every child having a highly effective teacher. From my experience, one of the most important qualities and essential “skill” of a good teacher is the capacity to have empathy for students and even their parents.

I have criticized David Coleman and his infamous statement expressing disregard for thoughts and feelings. Coleman played a powerful role in development of the Common Core Standards and from my perspective, the Standards reflect his lack of understanding or concern for the needs of cognitively delayed and learning disabled students. David Coleman clearly has a passion for close reading and not surprisingly the Common Core Standards demand that all students learn to read and think this way.

In a recent commentary on the accreditation of Wheaton College, David Coleman stated…

“Reading well is at once a powerful and a fragile practice. In our time, the technology of interruption has outpaced the technology of concentration. It takes a certain reverent respect for what an artist has made to give the work sufficient attention (and love) to allow its full depth to emerge.

Attentive study also requires daily work. The report Academically Adrift documents that as many as 35 percent of college students study less than five hours a week. On average, students are studying only 12 to 13 hours a week; this is half as much as a full-time college student spent studying in 1960. One of the saddest clichés (or excuses) I often hear is that “the most important learning in college happens outside the classroom.” What a shocking capitulation — to lose the vitality of the classroom conversation as the main event of college life, as the place where careful daily preparation meets the intense engagement of fellow students and teachers.”

David Coleman, “No, Wheaton College’s Accreditation Should Not Be Revoked” 7/30/14

If cognitive privilege does exist, David Coleman is clearly it’s poster child, and this might be the reason he does not “see” or understand the challenges faced by nontraditional college students that could impact the amount of time they have to study…

If you picture the average college student as an 18-22 year-old who lives on campus, attends day classes, and is up until the wee hours of the night, you may need to readjust your thinking…

Ask most people to describe the typical college student and you’ll probably hear something about a recent high school graduate, someone in their early 20s who lives on or close to campus, and whose life is a mix of daytime classes and campus social activities. Walk into the library at many of our institutions, and that is a description of the people we are likely to see.

But the reality is that the traditional 18-22 year-old student is now the minority in higher education.According to the National Center for Education Statistics there are 17.6 million undergraduates. Thirty-eight percent of those enrolled in higher education are over the age of 25 and 25 percent are over the age of 30. The share of all students who are over age 25 is projected to increase another twenty-three percent by 2019…

According to a recent national report titled “Pathways to Success,” the most significant challenge is retention. One of the three defining characteristics (the other two are age and socioeconomic background) of a nontraditional student is the presence of an at-risk factor, such as  working full-time, raising a child as a single parent or lacking a traditionally earned high school diploma…

Traditional students may be taking 5 or 6 years to graduate these days, but add up the barriers confronting nontraditional college students and it’s clear that higher education institutions will be challenged to create the support systems needed to help them persist to graduation…

To improve what we know about these students, governments need to develop better tracking systems for data collection. Other recommendations in the report suggest putting nontraditional students into special cohorts for group support, shorter class terms that accommodate individuals balancing work and family, a hybrid learning experience that mixes online and onsite classes, better coordinated systems that simplify access to libraries, tutoring and technology support, mentors and life coaching to help overcome dispositional barriers, bridge programs to facilitate access for high school dropouts and flexible exit and entry points to accommodate family and job situations…”

Steven Bell, “Nontraditional Students Are the New Majority” | From the Bell Tower 3/8/12

David Coleman may wax nostalgic about his days at Wheaton and “the vitality of the classroom conversation as the main event of college life”  but his vision of college readiness is out of focus considering the growth of online classes and the special needs of nontraditional students.

Coleman does not appreciate the importance of informal learning outside the college classroom as he stated, “One of the saddest clichés (or excuses) I often hear is that “the most important learning in college happens outside the classroom.” 

David Coleman might reconsider his views on student learning if he had the opportunity to read my previous post citing a recent Gallup-Purdue study that learning experiences outside the college classroom are very important for career readiness..

And if graduates had an internship or job in college where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled as well…”

Higher Standards alone will not solve America’s student achievement problem. The Common Core emphasis on grit, rigor, and independent mastery reveals a lack of awareness and understanding regarding the academic, social, and emotional challenges of diverse learners. David Coleman may be determined to properly educate America’s youth, but he clearly lacks the capacity or desire to understand them.

I welcome constructive dialogue with people who may not agree with me, as I will very often learn from someone with a different perspective that I had not considered.

That said, there is not much to be gained from engaging in dialogue with individuals who are not interested or concerned with what other people think or feel.

Wouldn’t be proper Blogging etiquette to introduce a new term without providing a definition….

Cognitive Privilege; The advantages and benefits of possessing advanced cognitive skills and abilities; person may not be aware or recognize these benefits. Many cognitively privileged people believe that learning must be demanded and required in the classroom rather than discovered and acquired.

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Just Have Coffee

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Earlier this year Becca Bracy Knight , Executive Director of The Broad Center, threw down a positive challenge that she called @justhavecoffee ..

I need your help with a maybe dumb idea that could also maybe make a difference.

Earlier this week I met up with someone for coffee and we talked about the latest happenings in Newark, education policy, and the slippery slope of putting heavy cream into hot beverages. It was fun – I like connecting with other people in education and talking about big and small issues. What might surprise you is that the person I was talking and laughing with has been publicly critical of The Broad Foundation and “ed reformers” and was involved in a process that resulted in a confidential memo I wrote to board members ending up on the internet. So, yeah, Ken Libby was an unlikely edu-BFF for me. But I was following him on twitter, saw that he made a lot of really good points, had a sense of humor, and lived in my city. I emailed him and asked if he wanted to meet for coffee. I admit I was a little worried this might not go well, but I figured it was worth a shot. I was getting sick of the increasing cyber-snarkiness and general lack of dialogue among people in education and wanted to have some human interaction and perhaps even find some common ground. Turns out we agree about a lot more than we disagree about. And we have confirmed that neither of us is or works for the devil. Phew.

We both agreed that the simple act of more people actually talking in person one-on-one with someone they see as being on an opposing side or someone they assume they disagree about everything with or someone critical of their work would do a lot of good in an increasingly toxic environment in education. Personal attacks, dragging people’s families into the debate, refusing to open your mind even a little to an alternative viewpoint, refusing to acknowledge that you or your organization ever makes mistakes – all of that is inhumane and ineffective.

We want to start an informal campaign to encourage anyone working in education to meet up with 3 people they do not normally talk with, see as allies, or even agree with. Just go out for coffee with 3 different people. Talk with them. See what happens. If you feel like it, share how it goes. It might not change the world, but then again…it might.

I’m writing to you since you are someone I know and respect — and someone who other people in education respect and listen to. If you and everyone else who is getting this email does this and writes/posts/tweets about it, we can get a lot more people on board! While this is not a formal thing, we do have two things that might help it spread – a hashtag and a tumblr account: #justhavecoffee and justhavecoffee.tumblr.com (which I’ll put some other thoughts on as soon as I figure out how to use tumblr).

What do you think – good idea? dumb idea? Will you try it? #justhavecoffee

If you’re in, please share the idea with folks in your network and maybe 2014 can be a better year for everyone.

Becca

P.S. As Ken pointed out, some people may be so isolated in their respective “camps” that they don’t actually know people to just have coffee with. We’re playing around with the idea of using the tumblr site or some other way to actually help match people up who want to broaden their circles. In the meantime, if you’re fired up for coffee but don’t know anyone to ask, email us and we’ll try to help from our networks.”

Patrick R. Riccards, “We Have Met the Enemy. and…” 2/14/14

I think this is a good idea, but the conversations will only be productive if people (myself included) are willing to listen and reflect upon the ideas and opinions expressed, rather than deflect and discard them.

When I engage in dialogue with people I disagree with, the conversation very often becomes more of a debate, and I will focus primarily on confirming my assumptions and undermining their arguments rather than trying to understand another perspective.

You do not have to agree with another person or even support their position in order to understand their perspective. If I would like someone to “see” a situation from my point of view, than I should certainly make an effort to better understand theirs.

The 140 character limit of Twitter does not lend itself to meaningful conversation, but Twitter could serve as a conversation starter. I have a tendency to mostly Tweet to the choir or if I do Tweet to the “enemy”, it is mostly just to express my views or challenge theirs.

In the spirit of Becca’s Just have Coffee initiative, I am going to make an effort to include people on both sides of the ed reform debate in more of my Tweets. My purpose is not to start an argument but “introduce” people who may not have Tweeted before, and perhaps planting the seed of discussions that will continue outside the Twitterverse.

From my perspective, ed reform feels like sitting in the back seat of a car that is moving too quickly and the driver keeps taking wrong turns down dead end streets because his national Common Core GPS system is not properly calibrated for driving local streets.

Increasing numbers of teachers are jumping out of this misguided ed reform car and trying to get in front of it, though they risk getting “hurt” in the process.

At the same time, it is important to continue to engage in dialogue with the various drivers and since they don’t have experience navigating local roads, take advantage of any opportunity to help with directions, and be ready to take the wheel when they grow tired.

The Cookie Thief

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A woman was waiting at an airport one night
With several long hours before her flight
She hunted for a book in the airport shop
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop
She was engrossed in her book but happened to see
That the man beside her as bold as could be
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag between
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene
She munched cookies and watched the clock
As this gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by
Thinking “If I wasn’t so nice I’d blacken his eye”
With each cookie she took he took one too
And when only one was left she wondered what he’d do
With a smile on his face and a nervous laugh
He took the last cookie and broke it in half
He offered her half as he ate the other
She snatched it from him and thought “Oh brother
This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude
Why he didn’t even show any gratitude”
She had never known when she had been so galled
And sighed with relief when her flight was called
She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate
Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate
She boarded the plane and sank in her seat
Then sought her book which was almost complete
As she reached in her baggage she gasped with surprise
There was her bag of cookies in front of her eyes
“If mine are here” she moaned with despair
“Then the others were his and he tried to share”
“Too late to apologize she realized with grief”
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.

Valerie Cox, “A story of wrong perceptions” in “Chicken Soup for the Soul”, editor Jack Canfield

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 “Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.” 

~ Alan Alda

Common Core For An Uncommon Nation

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Expecting students to spend countless hours trying to solve Common Core math word problems is not the same as helping them to become more effective problem solvers.

Insisting students think critically about text that they must stay “connected to” is not the same as helping them to develop critical thinking skills.

That explains how students in China and other authoritarian nations may excel at critical thinking on the PISA exam yet grow up to be compliant and obedient citizens who do not challenge oppressive government policies.

It is not conformity that has been the engine to power America’s economy but creativity. It is courageous inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs who have advanced our economy over the years.

These leaders don’t fit educational molds, they break them. They don’t learn or think about problems the same way as everyone else. They will often improvise and innovate and they are more inclined to break with tradition and “rules”, than they are to follow them.

Seems silly almost trivial to continually fret over American students’ international rankings on the PISA test, when American employers continue to bemoan the lack of soft skills in their new hires.

A much more meaningful test of college readiness and global competitiveness would measure student creativity, courage, integrity, curiosity empathy, imagination, leadership, optimism, self-reliance, self-confidence, risk-taking etc.

Common Core evangelists have a selective love affair with data as they choose to focus on certain data points that lend credence to their “sky is falling” assessment of American education while ignoring other more significant data points.

Ed reformers continually praise the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean education systems because of their students’ consistently high PISA scores but they have publicly expressed little interest or concern regarding data revealing higher suicide rates in these nations and even among Asian Americans.

Here’s a good Common Core math problem;

How many new jobs will actually be created for all the Common Core college graduates when our monthly jobs report continues to show steady growth in service industry such as retail, fast food, hospitality, transportation along with construction and manual trades as the traditionally middle class and college graduate positions in government, finance, and other professions continue to decline or stagnate?

Why are the ed reformers so focused on PISA scores and the supposed education crisis in America, but they pay little attention to data revealing a growing student loan crisis in America….perhaps it is not too late to add financial literacy standards to the Common Core?

Public schools in America should primarily serve the academic, emotional, social, and vocational needs of our children and uphold the political and social values and ideals that gave birth to our nation.

Ed reformers efforts to impose a one size fits all standardized education program across this country demonstrates that they are willing to disregard and sacrifice basic democratic beliefs and principles with respect to public education and individual freedom for the sake of higher student scores on an international skills test.

This misguided Machiavellian approach to education reform makes as much sense as requiring driver education classes for all Amish students because not enough Amish children have been taking and passing driver’s tests.

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Common Core: A Matter of Perspective

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Part of the reason there has been such strong disagreement and debate regarding the Common Core is people “see” ed reform and the new Standards very differently, depending on their perspective.

For example when teachers express concern regarding the validity of VAM and the use of standardized test scores to measure student learning and teacher quality, many ed reformers and even the media will claim that teachers don’t want to be evaluated or held accountable for their students’ performance.

When teachers raise the issue of poverty and how it impacts student learning many reformers respond that “poverty is not destiny” and accuse teachers of furthering a #beliefgap rather than just acknowledging that students living in poverty are disadvantaged and they will require additional supports and services.

Most teachers understand that it would be misleading to suggest that students living in poverty are destined to be unsuccessful in life just as it is disingenuous to claim that a single data point can determine and predict the college readiness of elementary students or measure the effectiveness of their teachers.

Ed reformers have a strong belief and faith in the “power” of higher standards to act like a rising tide and lift all boats.

The Common Core “tide” of higer expectations may well rise in all schools across the nation but that will not change the fact that the “boats” in our classrooms are of different design and capabilities ranging from yachts to row boats and even rafts.

And while this academic “tide” will continue to rise, that will also not change the fact that many of the “boats” are also in dire need of repair as they have “holes” in them and some are “sinking”.

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I believe that many ed reformers are looking at education from a macro perspective and national point of view. They are evaluating the quality of education programs in schools from a distance and EQUALITY of learning standards is the main priority.

Reformers want students regardless of zip code, to have the same standards of performance in their schools and the same opportunities to be successful in life. This emphasis on equality and uniformity explains why reformers are strong supporters of national standards and assessments.

On the other hand, public school teachers view education up close every day from a micro perspective. Aware of the cognitive, economic, social, and emotional differences between their individual students, teachers are focused more on finding EQUITABLE or fair solutions and customized strategies to support and increase student learning in their classrooms and communities.

Teachers are not opposed to higher standards for students, we just want to make sure that EQUITABLE resources, support services and diverse college/career “pathways” are available in order to facilitate the learning of disadvantaged, discouraged, disinterested, delayed and disabled learners.

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Standards-based reforms and EQUALLY high expectations for all students seems a reasonable approach from ed reformers macro perspective, but teachers with their micro perspective and experiences are more concerned about EQUITY especially when they observe Race to The Top funds being spent on new computers, software solutions, and standardized tests while funding and staffing is reduced or eliminated for arts programs, sports programs, field trips, and essential wrap around services that support and promote student learning.

Jamie Vollmer’s insightful “Blueberry Story” reveals what happens when the misperceptions and miscalculations of a businessman are challenged by an experienced teacher.

“I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that had become famous in the middle1980s when People magazine chose our blueberry as the “Best Ice Cream in America.”

I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging “knowledge society.”

Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure, and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement!

In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced — equal parts ignorance and arrogance.

As soon as I finished, a woman’s hand shot up. She appeared polite, pleasant. She was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had been waiting to unload.

She began quietly, “We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream.”

I smugly replied, “Best ice cream in America, Ma’am.”

“How nice,” she said. “Is it rich and smooth?”

“Sixteen percent butterfat,” I crowed.

“Premium ingredients?” she inquired.

“Super-premium! Nothing but triple A.” I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.

“Mr. Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?”

In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap…. I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie.

“I send them back.”

She jumped to her feet. “That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”…

Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.”

Jamie Vollmer, The Blueberry Story: The teacher gives the businessman a lesson

Teachers know that fairly assessing student learning and teacher performance requires a more customized, comprehensive, and holistic approach, rather than a rigid and standardized evaluation system that simply counts how many students meet a standard of performance at a specific moment in time.

Doe Zantamata believes a more EQUITABLE way to assess student learning and growth would be using a student-centered “Measuring Up” system that recognizes, “Everyone has a different path, a different pace, and different challenges to face along the way.”  rather than a test-centered system that expects each child to learn and “grow” in a synchronized and standardized way.

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