Learn The Address

“American culture is identified as very individualistic, and yet there’s a tremendous social pressure to conform and to be like everybody else, and to marginalize and pathologize people who function differently in all different kinds of ways,” says Tom Ehrenberg, a therapist. “I will get parents who will say to me, ‘I just want my kid to be normal,’ and sometimes I have to say to them: ‘It’s not his job to be normal. It’s his job to be who he is.’ ”

“Learning From What Lincoln Had to Say”, Neil Genzlinger, NY Times April 14, 2014

“The inspiration for this project is the tiny Greenwood School in the small town of Putney, Vermont. The school’s students, boys ages 11-17, all face a range of learning differences that have made their personal, academic and social progress extremely challenging. Yet each year they are encouraged to practice, memorize, and recite the Gettysburg Address…

The film interweaves this contemporary story with the history, context and importance of the Address, which remains one of the most important declarations ever made on human equality.”

About the Project / Learn the Address

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             The Address Students at the Greenwood School in Putney, Vt.            Credit: Lindsay Taylor Jackson/Florentime Films

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

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              Sunset over the national military park at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.                      Photo © AppalachianViews/Dreamstime.

Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. ~ Abraham Lincoln

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The people — the people — are the rightful masters of both congresses, and courts — not to overthrow the constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it. ~ Abraham Lincoln

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#ThankATeacher

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“…I had incredible teachers. And as I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all of these things came from the way that I was parented and taught.

And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have made me so successful  professionally — none of these qualities that make me who I am … can be tested.

I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me. Their time was not taken up with a bunch of silly test prep — a bunch of drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. In other words, they were allowed to be teachers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, ‘My kid ain’t taking that.’ Actually, I have it in quotes cause she said, ‘It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it will just make him nervous.’ Yes, it was the late 70’s…I guess we could get away with it back then.

Well, I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.

I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based not on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.

I honestly don’t know where I would be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.

This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you guys must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.

So, the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself being called “overpaid;” the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. … Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.”

~ Matt Damon, Save Our Schools March 7/30/2011

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What makes a good teacher?

What makes a great teacher is someone who teaches you more than just that subject. They teach you how to be a better person, how to act everyday, and live your life to the fullest. Teachers teach, but great teachers help us learn and live.

~ Brooklyn, 12th grader, Fairfax R-3 – “A Great Teacher is…”

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In 2009 Bill Gates explained during a TED Talk what makes a good teacher…

“…A top quartile teacher will increase the performance of their class based on test scores – by over 10 percent in a single year…

What are the characteristics of this top quartile? You might think these must be very senior teachers. And the answer is no. Once somebody has taught for three years their teaching quality does not change thereafter

Now, there are a few places — very few — where great teachers are being made. A good example of one is a set of charter schools called KIPP…

They’re constantly improving their teachers. They’re taking data, the test scores,and saying to a teacher, “Hey, you caused this amount of increase.” They’re deeply engaged in making teaching better…

I think there are some clear things we can do…First of all, there’s a lot more testing going on, and that’s given us the picture of where we are.

Putting a few cameras in the classroom and saying that things are being recorded on an ongoing basis is very practical in all public schools… have it so everyone sees who is the very best at teaching this stuff.

You can take those great courses and make them available so that a kid could go out and watch the physics course, learn from that. If you have a kid who’s behind, you would know you could assign them that video to watch and review the concept.

And in fact, these free courses could not only be available just on the Internet, but you could make it so that DVDs were always available, and so anybody who has access to a DVD player can have the very best teachers.

And so by thinking of this as a personnel system, we can do it much better.”

Bill Gates: “Mosquitos, malaria and education” TED Talk, February 2009

Effective and experienced educators know that good teaching is about building and maintaining individual relationships based on mutual respect and trust. Students learn best when they have emotional rather than digital access to their teachers.

Unless there is a connection between teacher, student and lesson, learning becomes tiresome to all involved. Veteran educator, James Comer, states that, ‘No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.’…

There is the belief among some that camaraderie between teachers and students leads to unprofessional familiarity or places the teacher in a weakened position in the classroom. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strong relationships encourage learner exploration, dialogue, confidence, and mutual respect

Of course, we can do just about anything online, including teaching and learning. But I guess I am just old school. I want to look into your eyes when the answer finally dawns on you. I want to hear that inflection in your voice when you are angry with me. I want to see the smile on your face when you forgive me. I want to share in the joy when we both realize that we make a good team.”

WATCH: How A Teacher Encouraged Her Students With An ‘F’ Rita F. Pierson 7/3/13

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You know the purpose of the school is not just to raise test scores, or to give children academic learning. The purpose of the school is to give children an experience that will help them grow and develop in ways that they can be successful, in school and as successful adults. They have to grow in a way that they can take care of themselves, get an education, take care of a family, be responsible citizens of the society and of their community. Now you don’t get that simply by raising test scores.”

School-By-School Reform: Dr. James P. Comer Interview PBS 2005

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.

These tests provide limited information regarding the overall health of the patient and just like a standardized test, they cannot determine the influence and impact of pre-existing conditions, patient behavior, and environmental factors on the test scores.

It seems Bill Gates and other reformers have not considered the possibility that an educator who can train students to get high test scores may not be a good teacher.

Rather than rely on Bill Gates or scores on a standardized test, what if we were to ask students, what makes a good teacher?…

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

I’m clumsy, yeah my head’s a mess Cause you got me growing taller everday…

But you got me feeling like I’m stepping on buildings, cars and boats I swear I could touch the sky…I’m ten feet tall.

You build me up Make me what I never was…

~ Afrojack, “Ten Feet Tall”

Students will learn more from good teachers who collect hugs and care about them, than from great teachers who are more concerned with collecting data and comparing them to others.

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

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“Being a good teacher is a lot like being a good gardener. Good gardeners are optimistic and patient. They are able to see the potential in those struggling young seedlings and enjoy watching them grow, develop and bloom. They give special tender loving care to those few plants that are struggling and not thriving.

They don’t blame the plant when it’s not performing well; they check the growing conditions. Is the soil the plant is growing in suitable or does it need amending? Does the plant need more water; does the plant need less water? Does the plant need more sunshine; does the plant need less sunshine. 

Good gardeners are good problem solvers, but realize that sometimes no matter what you do, the plant still will not grow the way you would like it to.”

~ Elona Hartjes, “Good Teachers Are Like Good Gardeners”

Teach students to care about others instead of measuring how they compare to each other

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”

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Whether its hundreds of spring break bystanders watching and recording a daylight sexual assault of an unconscious woman, or middle school students using a cell phone to video the merciless verbal abuse and taunting of a 68 year old bus monitor, or even a depressed and desperate German co-pilot who decides to include a plane load of people in his suicide plans, there clearly is an empathy deficit and crisis in our world today.

Ed reformers must have experienced a serious case of buyer’s remorse after recruiting David Colemen ( the anti-Atticus Finch) to design and craft the Common Core State Standards only to hear him proclaim

“As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a s#@% about what you feel or what you think”

We are foolishly implementing national education reforms obsessed with measuring how students compare to each other at a time when schools should be doubling their efforts to maximize our students ability and inclination to care about others.

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There appears to have been a data-driven hijacking of the Common Core Standards. The use of standardized tests to assess student mastery devalues the most vibrant components of the standards and abandons the “promise” of constructivist learning.

Standardized  tests measure only specialized and discrete skills called for in the Commmon Core but they are not a comprehensive ruler or appropriate metric for measuring student agency and a wide array of essential non-cognitive skills.

What if the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests were designed and developed more for teacher accountability purposes than to reliably measure students skills?

PARCC has already acknowledged that their test is not a comprehensive or reliable measure of college and career readiness.

Using junk science VAM formulas, education leaders claim they can use student scores on these unreliable assessments to reliably measure the quality and effectiveness of their teachers.

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Have education reformers even considered the possibility that a “highly effective” educator who prepares and trains students to master a standardized test may not be a good teacher?

The unfortunate decision to use standardized tests to evaluate student mastery AND teacher quality means classroom instruction is focused primarily on rigorous and standardized lessons that prepare students for assessments at a time when many would be better served by vigorous and nonroutine experiences helping them learn how to properly manage their attitutes, behaviors, and emotions.

We are devoting too much class time training and testing children just so parents can be assured their 3rd graders are “on track” for college when there is no way the Common Core Standards and tests can prevent or predict which students will be “derailed” by cyberbullying, pregnancy, eating disorders, depression, drug abuse, abusive relationship, poverty, texting and driving, homelessness, domestic violence, hunger, sexual abuse, drinking and driving…

It is unwise to focus so much instructional time on students staying closely connected to text when many of them lack the ability to socially and emotionally connect with people.

Students should be spending less time in the classroom dissecting the craft and structure of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches and much more time volunteering in their communities as they honor and apply his powerful ideas about empathy, service, and justice.

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 if so much emphasis on student proficiency, data-driven instruction, and standardized testing unintentionally suppresses academic, social, and emotional growth and actually diminishes readiness?

Education reform should be about CULTIVATING changemakers, good decision makers, and healthy risk takers rather than TRAINING text dependent thinkers and proficient multiple choice test takers.

In our efforts to ensure all students are college and career ready we must not forget the importance of preparing citizens that are courage and compassion ready.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

~ Winston Churchill

“Everyone has a different path, a different pace, and different challenges to face along the way.”

~ Doe Zantamata, “Measuring Up.”

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What Happens When Highly Effective Instructors Are Not Good Teachers?

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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 measure the academic, social, and emotional impact a teacher has had on his or her students and how that will be manifested and revealed in their future endeavors and accomplishments.

Many reformers are also convinced that a standardized test score will provide evidence that a student is “on track” to be ready for college and careers.

Unfortunately, the decision to couple standardized tests with the Common Core Standards and to attach high stakes for accountability purposes will often distort classroom instruction and actually diminish student readiness.

While the Common Core Standards may claim to “ensure” that all students will be ready for diverse colleges and careers, classroom instruction is focused primarily on preparing students for standardized tests.

It seems ed reformers are not aware that employers are not hiring text-dependent thinkers who have been trained to correctly answer Common Core multiple choice questions by disregarding plausible answers…

“It’s not a multiple-choice world, employers say. Don’t send us graduates who only know how to solve multiple-choice problems…

Today, educators all over the U.S. are reinventing liberal education in ways that blend the best strength of the liberal arts and sciences…including their constant focus on real-world contexts and decision-making in situations where the answer isn’t clear cut.”

In Defense Of A Liberal Education, Carol Geary Schneider, Forbes 8/10/09

More recent interviews with CEOs and other executives have confirmed the disconnect between Common Core test preparation and employer expectations…

Respondents said students lack self-awareness, can’t work in teams, have poor critical thinking skills and come up short on creativity…

The fault doesn’t lie entirely with students; some blame must go to the schools that purport to educate them, the report found…

One of the biggest problems executives cited was that schools don’t measure student success with the right metrics. Just 12% of those interviewed said M.B.A. grades actually matter in hiring…

Instead, employers said they’d like to see more assessment of so-called soft skills like the ability to execute a plan, communication and critical thinking.

Business Schools Flunk When CEOs Grade the Test, Melissa Korn, 3/18/14

It is a mistake to rely so heavily on standardized test scores to predict future performance of students and to draw conclusions regarding quality of instruction in the classroom.

A standardized math or ELA test measures a narrow set of testable skills. Determining the effectiveness of a teacher based on student test scores suggests the primary responsibility of teachers is to train his or her students to take standardized tests.

Have ed reformers even considered the possibility that a person who effectively trains students to take standardized tests may not be a good teacher?

Teachers wear many “hats” during the school day; educator, counselor, mentor, role model, referee, parent, advisor, mediator, friend…

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Good teachers help every child to “grow” and develop as a healthy human being in diverse and unique ways that can’t be measured by a standardized test including…

Helping an obese child to lose weight by walking with him/her before school

Convincing a bully to change his/her ways

Empowering bystanders to become upstanders

Helping a student who is prone to violence to learn to resolve disputes peacefully

Getting a depressed student to eat regular meals by having lunch with him/her

Convincing a student to bring and wear eye glasses each day

Encouraging a student to be more responsible about taking medication each day

Helping a student to understand that racist, sexist, and other prejudiced beliefs are not OK

Inspiring students to lead and serve others through student council or peer mentoring

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Education should be about preparing future caregivers, citizens, leaders, problem solvers, decision makers, innovators, teachers, learners, creators, entrepreneurs, designers. developers, voters, change agents, 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.”

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.

A standardized assessment measures testable hard skills and will not reveal whether teachers and students possess the social and emotional skills that are essential for good teaching and college/career readiness.

Accountability measures should be more focused on ensuring there is an empathetic teacher in every classroom rather than an effective trainer of standardized test-takers.

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

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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

Common Sense

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.

~ Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

Free and open societies can benefit from uniform learning standards that guide and shape classroom instruction to prepare future learners, leaders, inventors, artisans, entrepreneurs, tradesmen, artists, teachers, mentors, volunteers, etc.

To be effective, these standards must also cultivate student agency and a set of “skills” that are not easily measured including; courage, creativity, empathy, initiative, collaboration, integrity, self-efficacy, persistence, resilience, risk-taking, decision-making, problem solving, civic engagement etc.

Governments create an intolerable situation when they couple standardized tests with national standards and then impose sanctions or “high stakes” on schools and teachers when their students do not meet these standards on time and in a synchronized way.

By design, these standardized assessments can only measure the discrete numeracy and literacy skills of the standards.

While the Common Core standards may “promise” to prepare students for college and careers the misguided and punitive nature of the assessment program actually distorts implementation efforts and leads to a narrowing of instruction that emphasizes the measurable and testable components of the standards.

Implemented incorrectly, “rigorous” standards will actually diminish student potential as viable academic and vocational pathways are closed off and even eliminated to make room for an extra portion of literacy and numeracy instruction and assessment.

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Education programs that provide numerous pathways allowing students to unleash their special talents and pursue their passions will “open doors” and increase learning and earning opportunities in the future.

The unintended and negative consequences of data-driven implementation are real and there are countless school letters being sent home to parents like the one posted here…

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There is a troubling disconnect between the promised “outcomes” of the Common Core Standards and the test-focused implementation efforts.

For example, the Common Core includes numerous descriptors and paints a “portrait” of students who meet the Standards and are considered to be college and career ready including…

They demonstrate independence…they become self-directed learners, effectively seeking out and using resources to assist them, including teachers, peers, and print and digital reference materials

They use technology and digital media strategically and capably. Students employ technology thoughtfully…They are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals.

Students appreciate that the twenty-first-century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together. Students actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening, and they are able to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds.

Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy, Page 5

However, the implementation efforts are focused primarily on numeracy/literacy and disregard these intended outcomes as the instructional “shifts” demanded by the standards focus on cultivating text-dependent thinking and discrete literacy skills that actually discourage independent learning…

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

The descriptors may call for students to “use technology strategically” yet most of the time spent using technology in the classroom will be while students are preparing for or taking standardized tests.

The descriptors may say students will learn to “understand and work with other cultures” yet the added expense and time devoted to Math/ELA preparation and testing leaves less time and resources for educational field trips, exchange programs, internships, and other learning experiences where students would interact with people from other cultures…not than just read about them.

It is foolish to believe that students who are prepared and trained to think and perform within the “box” of a standardized test will become adult learners and workers who can create and think “outside the box”. Or as Sir Ken Robinson explains…

You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them.

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Google VP Laszlo Bock explained in a NY Times interview…

“One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation…

After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently.

Another reason is that I think academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment…”

In Head-Hunting Big Data May Not be Such A Big Deal NY Times, 6/19/13

After distributing a quarterly report that reveals a recent drop in users and revenue, Google management will never ask employees to determine whether the change in company performance detailed in the informational text was either “bad”, “terrible”, or “disappointing”, but they will expect them to come up with plausible strategies and creative solutions to increase company earnings during the next quarter.

In the real world of learning and work outside of school, plausible solutions to novel problems are worth consideration and further study, but in the standardized testing “box” of the Common Core, such answers are wrong.

This distorted and somewhat dystopian view of student learning is apparent in the Common Core teacher training video (shared below); “Preparing for Close Reading with Students” as evidenced by the following exchange at 16:40 in the video…

Coleman: He moves to this very philosophical treatise on just and unjust law and what does it mean. And I think for students that’s very exciting cause he, I think the question of whether to follow a law is pretty interesting to them. What rules can they break, what rules can’t they break?

Gerson: And who’s rules are they?

King: But again, that’s one of those challenges right, because kids are gonna want to take that off into a conversation about rules and rule breaking…

Gerson: This uniform is an unjust law

King: Right, right…exactly, exactly. Again I think the discipline that you’re calling for is so important to stick with the text, stick with King’s argument, and try to avoid going too quickly to the easy connections…”

The speakers in the video clearly advocate a “discipline” of thought in the classroom so that children are initially denied the opportunity to make sense of difficult text by drawing upon their own life experiences and understandings.

Students are expected to read and think critically regarding Dr. King’s ideas about breaking unjust laws, but relevant activities such as opting out must not be openly discussed and debated in the classroom, and students better not be expressing their thoughts about the quality of the state exams on social media.

Daily training for Common Core-aligned standardized tests actually limits student learning as these tests fail to measure or “value” the most vibrant and vigorous components of the standards.

Jason Stanford, a  contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, recently took a Smarter Balanced 4th Grade ELA practice test and commented..

Then there were the questions that made me want to strangle the committee that wrote this test. None of the possible answers for what “best describes the lesson Coyote learned” had anything to do with the real meaning of the parable, and a student is asked to decide whether a particular metaphor about a “tree’s belly” is humorous, playful, or surprising, even though humor is often playful and surprising…

We’re so focused on measuring children that we’ve stopped developing them. These tests don’t measure what we want our children to learn and are a waste of money.

Common Core tests are failures, Jason Stanford 3/23/15

Just because standardized testing has been accepted practice for many years is not proof or evidence that these assessments will provide accurate and reliable data regarding student “readiness” and teacher quality.

As Thomas Paine said, in Common Sense,

A long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.

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A Common Core Curriculum Conundrum

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The Common Core State Standards is an aspirational document that describes a set of academic goals and learning expectations. The standards identify what ALL students should know and be able to do at each grade level in order to be ready for college and careers.

Proponents of the standards stress that they are not a curriculum as they do not prescribe how the standards should be taught or what materials should be used to support student learning in the classroom.

Another way of looking at it is standards are the destination and curriculum is the path or road students take to get there.

Standards are a critical component that help to inform and shape the curriculum. Together, standards and curriculum can serve as a foundation upon which assessments could be developed and aligned.

Common Core supporters insist that decisions on how to implement the standards are to be made at the state and local levels and school districts across the country may very well adopt different approaches and roads to implement the standards.

It is very surprising that states and local districts are encouraged to create different academic pathways for their students to follow when the video below explains that the goal of the Common Core is to create a national set of academic expectations and create a uniform or standardized education system so student and teacher performance can be compared on a national and international level.

If Common Core proponents claim it was not possible to generate valid and reliable data regarding student and teacher performance because states were following different standards, how does allowing students to use different class materials and follow different paths to the standards pose any less of a threat to data reliability?

Under the Common Core the curriculum clearly plays a greatly diminished and less important role compared to the national standards.

The national tests have already been constructed, so it is clear that the curriculum is not part of the foundation upon which the Common Core assessments have been developed and aligned.

The design and content of the National PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments has been influenced and shaped entirely by the Common Core State Standards.

Prior to CCSS it was the curriculum that dictated what materials would be used and what activities would take place in the classroom.

Since the tests have already been created and teachers will be held accountable for student performance on them via VAM, the new assessments will clearly be much more influential when it comes to decisions regarding classrroom materials and activities.

If Pearson publishes the new Common Core tests and Pearson also publishes the ELA and MATH text books that are aligned to the standards and assessments, how believable are reformers claims regarding “local control” of the curriculum?

While it may be true the standards are not a curriculum, the specificity of the skills identified in the Common Core Standards clearly does influence and control how we teach, just as a curriculum would.

Hard to argue that Common Core ELA Shift #2 doesn’t determine the way we teach and the way students learn in the classroom

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

or Mathematics Shift #3

Students are expected to have speed and accuracy with simple calculations; teachers structure class time and/or homework time for students to memorize, through repetition, core functions

While education leaders and Common Core supporters continue to claim that test prep or teaching to the test is not an appropriate or effective means to prepare students for the Common Core test, the convoluted or rigorous format and design of test questions would suggest otherwise.

No better way to determine if teachers will need to devote extra class time to training students for the Common Core assessments than to look at a sample question like the one published in Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” Blog,

Consider this fourth-grade question on the test based on a passage from Pecos Bill Captures the Pacing White Mustang by Leigh Peck.

Why is Pecos Bill’s conversation with the cowboys important to the story?

A) It predicts the action in paragraph 4

B) It predicts the action in paragraph 5

C) It predicts the choice in paragraph 10

D) It predicts the choice in paragraph 11

Hard to take the Common Core supporters criticism of teaching to the test seriously, when David Coleman, the chief architect of the standards, issued an enthusiastic endorsement of such practices during a 2011 Keynote Speech.

Coleman clearly boasts about the quality of his standards and the assessments that are built on them, while the issue of curriculum and how learning will unfold in the classroom in diverse and student-centered ways must have been a topic for another day.

… these standards are worthy of nothing if the assessments built on them are not worthy of teaching to, period…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.

The use of test items that are “distractors” would also suggest a need for extra test preparation and also raise serious questions as to whether these tests are measuring decision making skills rather than critical thinking.

Distractors are plausible responses but not the fully correct answer. Many of the new test items require students to select one or more answers that “best support”, are “most significant” or are “most likely”.

The questions on the Common Core English Language Arts test are more complex than those found on previous tests that measured previous grade‐level standards.

Correct answers will not “jump out”; rather, students will need to make a thoughtful distinction between the fully‐correct option and the plausible but incorrect options.

These multiple‐choice questions are specifically designed to determine whether students have comprehended the entire passage and are proficient with the comprehension and analyses specified by the standards.

Frequently Asked Questions: 3-8 Testing Program (pg 8, #21)

The passage above claims these new and improved test questions will determine whether students have proficient comprehension skills, yet many students may comprehend the passage, but their judgement and decision-making skills could be impaired by stress, and they mistakenly choose the plausible or partially correct response.

It is also quite possible that the student fully comprehended the passage, but they had difficulty understanding the complex and convoluted wording of the question.

Clearly teachers will need to use class time for students to prepare for the test and practice answering such questions.

We should also be concerned about lessons that the use of distractors will teach our students when it comes to learning and solving problems in real life?

Where wouId America be today if Thomas Edison had been taught not to pursue or investigate possibly true solutions and that plausible answers are always wrong.

If we are adopting national standards for the purpose of creating a unified educational system that will accurately evaluate students and teachers, then isn’t a National Common Core Curriculum or single “pathway” to the standards an essential component to assure that nationwide comparisons and conclusions regarding student and teacher performance are valid and reliable?

The editors of AFT’s publication, “American Educator” seemed to think so back in 2011 when they devoted their Winter edition to a discussion of the Common Core State Standards.

The AFT editors enthusiastically endorsed the standards AND even called for a National Common Core Curriculum…

A common curriculum – meaning one that is shared by all schools-is what binds all the different actors together…A common core curriculum – meaning one that fills roughly two-thirds of instructional time – leaves teachers ample room to build on students’ interests and address local priorities…This is an exciting new movement…but standards are just a beginning. They set forth the goals of an education, not the education itself. The essential knowledge and skills – the key to a rich life – must be set forth in a common core curriculum. It’s an idea who’s time has come

Common Core Curriculum: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Perhaps its time for AFT to publish another American Educator issue devoted entirely to the Common Core to clarify and update their position on a National Common Core Curriculum, or common pathway to the standards, and explain…Where They Stand?

Perhaps we should also consider the possibility that during the initial roll out period or Phase I of the standards, schools and states are being encouraged to develop and design their own Common Core Curriculum.

However during Phase II, when the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments become fully operational, a National Common Core Curriculum will be actively “sold” to parents in America as a means of improving student performance on the Common Core assessment and also as a necessity to accurately evaluate the quality of their children’s teachers.