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

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#whatif…

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Students spent as much class time on vigorous learning activities that cultivate social and emotional skills as they do taking rigorous assessments that quantify math and ELA skills.

The US Department of Education began grading parents based on the age their children learned to walk, tie their shoes, or ride a bike.

Teachers could focus more on cultivating students’ thirst for knowledge rather than satisfying ed reformers thirst for data.

Students spent more time taking informal and formative (informative) assessments rather than standardized summative assessments.

Schools provided diverse pathways and opportunities for students to explore and unleash their specialized skills and abilities rather than trying to standardize and quantify their skills.

Schools replaced rigorous and standardized rules for learning with a vigorous and vibrant approaches in the classroom that embraced the philosophy; learning rules!

Reformers understood that students learn from taking risks and testing things, not taking tests.

Schools could be more focused on teaching diverse learners how worthy they are rather than repeatedly testing students to determine how much their skills are worth.

Data-driven instruction meant helping EVERY child to learn and discover ways they are “Ten Feet Tall”

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”

Reformers realized that cognitively delayed and disabled students who are resourceful, persistent, courageous, and resilient will succeed in college and careers while academically and cognitively proficient students who are lazy, hesitant, dishonest, unreliable, dispassionate, and unimaginative will not be successful in college and work environments.

Joy, civics, culinary arts, foreign language, geography, fun, health, history, field trips, home economics, humanities, recess, fiction, driver education, athletics, political science, chess, psychology, play, sociology, speech and debate, sign language, trade and vocational skills and visual and performing arts were not left behind in our Race To The Top.

Reformers understood that learning is a lifelong process and a self-directed journey of discovery and not a “race” to reach a learning standard or data point.

Reformers understood that it is far more important that students are free to learn in school and are well educated, than subjecting them to continuous testing to determine if they have been educated well.

Reformers understood that teachers are like gardeners and Common Core is like Miracle-Gro but students will never thrive if their schools lack the resources to purchase garden hoses or even pay the water bill.

Education programs had more resources to address the underlying “illness” of poverty rather than continually measuring and addressing student “symptoms” in the classroom.

Reformers realized learning that doesn’t take place outside the classroom can have a much greater impact on student achievement than what transpires inside the classroom.

Reformers understood that learning should be more passion and purpose-driven rather than standards and data-driven.

Education leaders realized that in free and open democratic societies education should be focused on the needs and interests of students rather than the desires of data miners, corporations, and the state.

Reformers realized that using students’ standardized test score to determine 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.

There was as much effort devoted to assuring there are equitable resources available to every public school as there is assuring schools have equally high learning standards.

We remember that it was not conformity that has been the engine to power America’s economy but creativity. It was courageous inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs who have advanced our economy over the years. These learners didn’t fit educational molds, they broke them. They didn’t learn or think about problems the same way as everyone else. They often improvised and innovated and they were more inclined to break with tradition and “rules”, than they were to follow them.

Reformers understood that increased opposition to the Common Core is not simply “growing pains” but a growing awareness that coupling high stakes testing with the standards leads to a narrowing of the curriculum and incentivizes teaching to the test.

We did our best to help every child learn to care and we supported, encouraged, and inspired all students so they care to learn.

Teachers could first help EVERY student learn how to “Swim” before making them dive into complex informational text.

Yeah you gotta swim Don’t let yourself sink

Just find the horizon I promise you it’s not as far as you think

~ Jack’s Mannequin, “Swim”

There were many more education leaders and far fewer Common Core cheerleaders.

Ed reformers put less effort into selling solutions and put more thought into solving problems.

Ed reformers acknowledged that it is not fair to test older students using Common Core assessments or claim these scores reveal the effectiveness of their teachers because we are grading the ability of a person to climb an academic staircase that is partially completed and under construction.

AFT devoted an upcoming issue of “American Educator” to the Common Core State Standards and the editors clarified their statement in the 2011 Winter Edition that enthusiastically endorsed the standards AND even called for a National Common Core Curriculum

David Colemen retracted his infamous statement and the Common Core State Standards were rewritten by an experienced educator who understands that thoughts and feelings do matter in life.

Proficient and experienced educators took over leadership roles in the ed reform movement as the powerful and privileged education experts stepped down.

The Common Core’s close reading program were replaced by the National Work Readiness literacy program called Read With Understanding.

Reformers realized that employers desire workers who can think creatively, connect with people, and dive into their work rather than think critically while staying connected and diving into text.

Education technology were used to enrich and support student learning rather than to collect and share student data.

Reformers understood that education is a staircase of learning rather than an escalator and the diverse abilities and skills of students along with the amount of parental involvement will determine the manner and speed at which each student will be able to climb the steps.

The Common Core provided diverse career pathways rather than one path to college and underemployment.

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Happy Thanksgiving

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“A lot of people thought it was fiction and this is all real stuff. I had visited my friends during the Thanksgiving break, Ray and Alice, who lived in this abandoned church. They were teachers at a high school I went to just down the road in the little town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. And a friend of mine and I decided to help them clean up their church, and because I had gone to school there, I was familiar with all of these little back roads and nook-and-cranny places. And I knew a place that local people were using to get rid of their stuff….

So it wasn’t like some pristine virgin forest that we’d–you know, were screwing around with. And our pile of garbage, well, we couldn’t tell the difference once we threw ours down. But there was someone who could and that happened to be the local chief of police, a guy named Bill Obanhein, who we called Officer Obie. And he confronted us that next morning after Thanksgiving with our crime…

And I turned it into a little story. And then, of course, I decided to stay out of school because the civil rights movement was going on, the ban the bomb, clean the water, fix that, do this, you know, I mean, all the world was changing and I wanted to be where that was happening. And so I left school and, of course, that made me eligible as it were to, you know, join up and get sent over to Vietnam. And I didn’t really want to go and little did I realize that when I went down to the induction center that they–well, they found me ineligible, and I just couldn’t believe it. And so I turned it into a song. It took about a year to put together, and I’ve been telling it ever since just about…

I thought it’s probably just a story of a little guy against a big world. It’s just a funny tale, and I had–I still have–and I cherish the letters and the postcards and the pictures I got from the guys over in Vietnam, you know, who had little Alice’s Restaurant signs outside these tents in the mud…It became an underground thing not just here, but, you know, everywhere with guys on all sides of the struggles over there and the struggles that were going on here. And it overcame–it actually became now–really, it’s a Thanksgiving ballad more than an anti-war this or a pro-that or whatever it was. And I think it could only happen here…

Well, it’s celebrating idiocy you might say. I mean, thank God, that the people that run this world are not smart enough to keep running it forever. You know, everybody gets a handle on it for a little while. They get their 15 minutes of fame, but then, inevitably, they disappear and we have a few brief years of just hanging out and being ourselves.”

~ “Arlo Guthrie, Remembering Alice’s Restaurant”, All Things Considered 11/26/05

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Arlo Guthrie would most likely agree that telling an elementary student he will not be “ready” for a myriad of post-secondary academic and vocational learning programs based on a single data point is like tellling a person they are not moral enough and eligible to serve in the military because they were once arrested for littering.

Students will learn more from text that is unpretentious and emotive rather than complex and informational. Readings in the classroom should stimulate student feelings and stir up emotions rather than stifle student feelings and suppress emotional responses.

Heavy emphasis on hard skills leaves students unprepared for the real “tests” in life. Students will be far better prepared for the academic, social, and emotional challenges of college and careers once they have learned how to connect with people and effectively manage their complex emotions, rather than training them to connect with and master complex informational text.

It is just as important that students learn how to master their thoughts, feelings, and emotions as learning to master complex informational text. A “good” education program will challenge students to learn about themselves and their values as much as they are challenged to learn about specific content and subject matter.

While it is important that employees can independently understand a company memo or employee manual it is eually important they have acquired the social and emotional skills to abide by it.

While Common Core enthusisats continue to extoll the virtues of hard skills and the importance of students being globally competitive, employers desire workers with soft skills who can collaborate with others.

“In a new study in partnership with American Express (AXP), we found that over 60 percent of managers agree that soft skills are the most important when evaluating an employee’s performance, followed by 32 percent citing hard skills and only 7 percent social media skills. When breaking down which soft skills were most important, managers chose the ability to prioritize work, having a positive attitude, and teamwork skills as their top three requirements for management roles…

Soft skills can’t easily be learned, they need to be developed over time. The big challenge for millennial workers is that they have weaker soft skills than older generations, who expect face-time and teamwork from them. Millennials have spent too much time with their collective noses buried in their iPhones and Facebook pages…”

Dan Schwabel, “The Soft Skills Managers Want” 9/4/13

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“A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

As much as academics go on about the lack of math and science skills, bosses are more concerned with organizational and interpersonal proficiency. The National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed more than 200 employers about their top 10 priorities in new hires. Overwhelmingly, they want candidates who are team players, problem solvers and can plan, organize and prioritize their work. Technical and computer-related know-how placed much further down the list…”

Martha C. White, “The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired “ 11/10/13

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While the chief architect of the Common Core is convinced that thoughts and feelings don’t matter, numerous studies have documented the EQ is a far better predictor of workplace success than IQ.

“A 30-year longitudinal study of more than a thousand kids – the gold standard for uncovering relationships between behavioral variables – found that those children with the best cognitive control had the greatest financial success in their 30s. Cognitive control predicted success better than a child’s IQ, and better than the wealth of the family they grew up in…

To further understand what attributes actually predict success, a more satisfying answer lies in another kind of data altogether: competence models…The abilities that set stars apart from average at work cover the emotional intelligence spectrum: self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social effectiveness…

These human skills include, for instance, confidence, striving for goals despite setbacks, staying cool under pressure, harmony and collaboration, persuasion and influence. Those are the competencies companies use to identify their star performers about twice as often as do purely cognitive skills (IQ or technical abilities) for jobs of all kinds.

The higher you go up the ladder, the more emotional intelligence matters: for top leadership positions they are about 80 to 90 percent of distinguishing competences…”

Daniel Goleman, “What Predicts Success? It’s Not Your IQ” 7/17/14

Continuing to educate our students in a standardized feeling-free zone and data-driven “box” while encouraging them to think outside of it, is a far less effective means of preparing future collaborators, creators, and leaders than providing opportunities for diverse learners to unleash their talents and pursue their passions in an interest-driven and box-less learning environment.

“All [my] songs are encouraging me; I guess I write them for me,” Waters explains during a new documentary, Pink Floyd: The Story Of Wish You Were Here. “It’s to encourage myself not to accept a lead role in a cage, but to go on demanding of myself that I keep auditioning for the walk-on part in the war, ‘cause that’s where I want to be. I wanna be in the trenches. I don’t want to be at headquarters; I don’t wanna be sitting in a hotel somewhere. I wanna be engaged.”

~ Andrew Leahey, “Behind the Song: Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here” 8/30/12

A Clever Way To Share Student Data

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The impact of too much screen time on childhood obesity is well documented, and there is also greater awareness regarding past and present efforts of tech leaders to restrict their own children’s use of technology at home and in school.

A recent study also found that too much screen time inhibits a child’s ability to recognize emotions as corporate surveys and interviews have revealed the critical importance of emotional intelligence and soft skills.

So why would the American Federation of Teachers partner with a company that makes it easier for software programs to be used in the classroom and access student data?

“We’re starting to see fewer entrepreneurs going around teachers and instead starting to say, ‘How can we talk to them to find out what they really need?'” Weingarten said in an interview.

“Clever knew that from the beginning.  And that’s one of the reasons they’ve been so successful. ” …

And in the bigger picture, she said, the union’s relationship with Clever offers a lesson for others in the education-technology field.

“If you want your product to be used in schools,” Weingarten said, “talk to teachers.”

According to edSurge,

Clever is a service that makes it easier for schools to use many popular education technology products. It works by providing a simple developer interface (API) for third party education technology software to access important data from Student Information Systems (SIS) used by schools. This data can then be used by third party products to deliver services with less hassle.

A 2012, edSurge report on Clever revealed,

“We’re putting schools in control of their data and making it easier to share it when they choose to,” says Tyler Bosmeny, Clever’s co-founder and chief executive.

Clever has dramatically speeded up the once onerous task of connecting to schools’ data systems. Liang-Vergara says that he’s seen software vendors’ eyes light up when he asks if they will use Clever’s API to connect to his school’s data. “They say, ‘That’s an easy step for us,'” and it works, he says.

Vendors have been asking him to verify that Clever is sending them accurate data–and so far, he says, it’s been checking out. And when partners use Clever’s software to connect with schools, they in turn, share a slice of the revenue they make with Clever.

“There’s no greater challenge that a young software company faces that selling into schools,” says Deborah Quazzo, chief executive of GSV Advisors. “Selling into the schools and districts via partners [with other software companies] is very smart,” she says.

According to the security page on Clever’s web site,

Clever is always completely FERPA compliant under the Education Services Exemption. We partner with leading school district security teams and experts to provide outstanding data stewardship, and vendors who work with Clever have agreed to use student data in total compliance with FERPA.

Clever’s assertion that they are fully compliant with FERPA is not very reassuring considering that FERPA was amended in 2011 to expand access to private student data

The Secretary of Education (Secretary) amends the regulations implementing section 444 of the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), which is commonly referred to as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). These amendments are needed to ensure that the U.S. Department of Education (Department or we) continues to implement FERPA in a way that protects the privacy of education records while allowing for the effective use of data…The use of data is vital to ensuring the best education for our children.

Even more disconcerting is the 2008 Guidance document regarding the privacy of student health data…

In most cases, the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not apply to an elementary or secondary school because the school either: (1) is not a HIPAA covered entity or (2) is a HIPAA covered entity but maintains health information only on students in records that are by definition “education records” under FERPA and, therefore, is not subject to the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

Even with growing concern about the privacy of student data, more and more school districts are turning to software developers to help their students meet the math and ELA standards of the Common Core

Under NCLB and the Common Core, students are required to demonstrate proficiency with respect to specific Math and ELA standards at each grade level.

Many reformers continue to claim that excessive standardized testing and the efficacy of the Common Core Standards are two separate issues despite the fact that the chief architect of the standards has explained that the standards were written to be tested and teachers are expected to teach to the test.

The Common Core testing regime is designed to annually identify those students who have not successfully mastered grade level math and ELA standards and those teachers (via VAM) who are not performing up to those standards.

Yes, we have had learning standards before, but parents and teachers also understood that students are not standardized and they will learn and acquire new skills in their own way and at their own pace.

One year a student may lag behind in a subject area and the next year when they are cognitively and developmentally ready they may jump ahead of other learners. That is why grade-span testing is a more reliable means of measuring student learning but not as profitable for vendors selling customized and “personalized” software solutions.

Some people have stronger math or writing abilities than others and that is OK. People will gravitate towards those college programs and careers that allow them to exploit their academic, vocational, and social/emotional strengths and capabilities.

The college and career readiness mandate of the Common Core has become more rhetoric and a scare tactic to manipulate and convince parents that their child “needs” additional sit and learn math/ELA computer time to “catch up” with peers before the end of the year standardized test.

That is why some parents don’t protest when their children are parked in front of a computer for an extra class period rather than drawing a picture, playing an instrument, or engaging in other creative and physical activities that cultivate fluid intelligence and unleash other talents a child may have that also lead to careers.

These adaptive and customized programs may engage students and artificially increase their math skills and reading scores, but this type of digitally-enhanced learning and problem solving is not lasting or transferable.

Students will acquire new skills when they choose to engage in a novel learning activity rather than solving a standardized problem or a virtual task that continually adapts and adjusts in order to engage with them.

In the real world, it is the student/employee that must learn to adapt and adjust to new situations as they acquire transferable problem solving skills while developing their own techniques and strategies to successfully complete non routine work-based tasks.

Reformers continually complain about added college costs as some parents must pay for 1st-year remedial math and ELA courses for their children who are not “college ready” and they do not earn college credits for these classes.

Reformer use this argument to justify and defend the Common Core Standards which have distorted classroom instruction and have actually diminished student learning by forcing both teacher and students to focus primarily on a narrow and shallow set of testable math and ELA standards.

It is foolish to worry about the cost of two college classes rather than the enormous “price” our diverse and talented K-12 learners are going to pay every year as they receive less instruction in other content and special areas in order to make room for more remedial Math and ELA computer time in their schedule.

2008 Common Core report found that “NCLB’s intense focus on reading and math skills has dumbed down the curriculum” and resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum…

According to most teachers, schools are narrowing curriculum, shifting instructional time and resources toward math and language arts and away from subjects such as art, music, foreign language, and social studies.

Two-thirds (66%) say that other subjects “get crowded out by extra attention being paid to math or language arts” (Figure 1)

Math (55%) and language arts (54%) are the only two subjects getting more attention, according to most teachers; in sharp contrast, about half say that art (51%) and music (48%) get less attention; 40% say the same for foreign language, 36% for social studies, and 27% for science (Figure 2)

The vast majority of elementary school teachers (81%) report that other subjects are getting crowded out by extra attention being paid to math or language arts (62% middle school; 54% high school) (Figure 3)

About half (51%) of elementary school teachers say that struggling students get extra help in math or language arts by getting pulled out of other classes; the most likely subjects are social studies (48%) and science (40%)

59% of elementary school teachers report that social studies has been getting less instructional time and resources (28% middle school; 20% high school); 46% say the same about science (20% middle school; 14% high school)

Unfortunately increasing numbers of students are going to spend much of their K-12 schooling trying to improve math and ELA skills rather than having the freedom and opportunity to discover their talents and pursue their passions in other content and special areas that cultivate equally important career-related skills and abilities that the students actually excel at.

As Dr. Martin Luther King warned,

We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.

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Common Core 2.0 or 2001 Education Odyssey?

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With the Common Core’s emphasis on data mining and data-driven instruction there is a misguided focus and emphasis on maximizing and standardizing student “learning outcomes” rather than inspiring and supporting student learning “along the way”.

Students will learn and acquire essential academic, social, and emotional skills as they persist through vigorous and non-routine learning activities rather than proceeding through rigorous and standardized learning modules and online assessments.

Teacher, blogger and author Mercedes Schneider recently blogged about Race To The Top funding that targets school district data collection efforts and preparation for the new online Common Core assessments. Schneider found that applicants for RTTT funds agreed to

Use technology to the maximum extent appropriate to develop, administer, and score assessments and report assessment results.

The primary role of technology in education and employment should be to unleash human potential and creativity, rather than to simply quantify student and worker performance. As Richie Parker says…

I can’t say there’s anything that I can’t do…just things that I haven’t done yet.

Technology can be a powerful tool to enrich our lives while facilitating meaningful human contact and collaboration. In the classroom, education technology should be a tool to cultivate self-efficacy and encourage children to test their limits, rather than just a means to collect student data while testing a shallow and limited set of standards.

Knewton CEO, Jose Ferreira boasted in 2012 during a White House Education Datapalooza presentation;

So Knewton today gets five to ten million actionable data, per student, per day. Now we do that because we get people (if you can believe it) to tag every single sentence of their content (we have a large publishing partnership with Pearson, and they tag all their content) and we’re in open standard so anyone can tag to us.

So, Knewton students today: we have about 180,000 right now, by December it’ll be 650,000, early next year it’ll be in the millions and the next year it’ll be closer to 10 million, and that’s just through our Pearson partnership…

So we know you’re going to fail, we know it in advance and we can prevent it in advance. We go grab some content from somewhere else in the portfolio and going to seamlessly blend that into your homework tonight. So every kid gets a perfectly optimized textbook, except it’s also video and other rich media dynamically generated in real time. And it also uses the combined data power of the entire network. So here’s what I mean by that, like I said next year we’ll have close to 10 million students, a few years from now we’ll have a 100 million.

The Knewton CEO does not seem to understand that students become confident, courageous, and resilient learners by experiencing failure and overcoming adversity, not avoiding it.

Employers desire workers who know how to learn and are creative problem solvers rather than students who have been trained to perform with personalized and optimized digital learning programs.

The appropriate and effective use of technology in the classroom and workplace is as much about a student or employee mastering themselves as it is about mastering a particular device or process.

In the book, Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age the authors argue that technology should be used to customize learning and design assessments that are more appealing to students.

A test of reading comprehension, for example, is likely to present the same set of text passages for everyone, not taking into account whether each student will find the passages interesting or worth reading. Sophia, the music lover, Kamla, the basketball enthusiast, and Jamal, the expert on tanks and submarines, might all be assessed on the same passage about Mozart. Sophia would most likely be more attentive to the task than the other students, which would give her the best opportunity to show her actual reading skills. Providing multiple content options in a traditional print environment is costly and impractical. But in a digital environment, there is no reason why Kamla couldn’t select a passage about sports for her reading comprehension assessment and Jamal, a passage about submarines, as long as both passages are of comparable difficulty.

And the role of education technology will be expanded from assessing students to actually monitoring their progress and teaching them;

Most important, new technologies allow for two-way interactive assessments. With these technologies available in our classrooms, we will be able to create learning environments that not only teach, but also “learn” to teach more effectively. By distributing the intelligence between student and environment, the curriculum will be able to track student successes and weaknesses and monitor the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of its own methods. The result will be a curriculum that becomes smarter, not more outdated, over time.

Technology should be used in the classroom to assist student learning and as a tool for creating original content rather than to control learning and determine the content each student is exposed to.

At this rate, how many years will it be before the first ever U.S. Secretary of Education robot is interviewed and the reporter poses the same question that HAL 9000 was asked in 2001: A Space Odyssey ?

HAL, despite your enormous intellect, are you ever frustrated by your dependence on people to carry out your actions?

 

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What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge,

and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.

~ George Bernard Shaw

 

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Schools should be in the “business” of creating diverse and stimulating learning environments and experiences where a child’s academic, athletic, artistic, social, and emotional skills and desires are free to flourish and thrive.

We should prepare our children to be thoughtful, caring, resilient, and responsible leaders and learners who can make meaningful and lasting contributions to our challenging and vibrant world. They need to learn how to make courageous and quality choices as they communicate and collaborate with others.

Powerful and privileged reformers like David Coleman deny the importance of thoughts and feelings because they often operate in isolation and are incapable or unwilling to consult and collaborate with others.

Reformers may hold powerful positions, but those reformers who are unable to empathize and connect with other people have a limited ability to effectively direct education reform efforts as they are more Common Core cheerleaders than education leaders.

During the summer of 2001 French filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet were in New York City documenting the daily activities of Engine 7 Ladder 1. This footage was intended to be part of a documentary that profiled the “coming of age” of a rookie fire fighter assigned to the firehouse that was located just blocks away from The World Trade Center.

As chance would have it, the Naudet brothers were riding along with the firemen on September 11th and their soon to become 9/11 documentary would provide a first-hand account of events that day including the only footage from inside the World Trade Center.

This compelling documentary honors the victims of 9/11 and pays tribute to the heroism and sacrifice of the first responders. While the film may bring back painful memories it is an important primary source that vividly captures the powerful emotions, images, and audio of that day.

I first showed the Naudet brothers 9/11 documentary in class back in 2002. My 7th and 8th grade students also listened to the Five For Fighting song, “Superman” and also watched the 9/11 Concert for New York City performance…

Only a man in a funny red sheet

Looking for special things inside of me…

It’s not easy. It’s not easy to be me.

That year I encouraged my students to write poems or letters to Engine 7 Ladder 1 which were personally delivered to the firehouse on Duane Street. Here are excerpts from several student letters…

Three weeks ago my class and I watched the documentary 9/11. I had not seen the movie until then. Right then I found out that life was not going to be easy. You taught me never to give up. That may sound ordinary but it impacted my life immensely. My family noticed my change and wondered what had driven me to be more compassionate and loving. I started to spend more time with my mom and helping her.

Seeing and reading about your conduct and character has made me rethink my values. I now try to treat people with kindness and respect. Things that used to be important to me, like family and friends, are now even more important to me. I have come to realize how fortunate I am.

After seeing 9/11 I realized how lucky I was not to lose any of my family members. I’m sorry for your losses. I can’t imagine how you felt being inside the Towers, but I really appreciate all of the things you do. I don’t think I would ever have been able to do what you did that day. You have shown us all what a true hero is. A hero isn’t Superman. A hero is you.

Your movie 9/11 made me realize that firefighters do a lot for our world. I started to care more about the world and everything going on around me. I felt more secure about stepping out into the world after seeing your movie. Those are my thoughts and regards about the September 11th tragedy. I want to thank you for not running away from this tragedy. You were a great way of showing us kids that we should care about others.

The lessons that you had taught me is not to be mean or cruel to people that are different. Another lesson that you taught me is not to think of yourself, but think of other people. That is what makes you a hero to me. You guys also taught me that no matter how frustrated you are, that doesn’t mean you go out and kill people like what the terrorist did.

Back in 2002 I also introduced a 3D Memorial Project to my middle school classes. Students were required to research a significant historic event or an individual no longer living that served as a positive role model and made a difference in the lives of others. They were also challenged to select a dedication or tribute song that is played during the class presentation of their Memorial Project. Over the years numerous students have chosen to create projects for 9/11 and you can view photos of these 3D projects here.

In 2011 I introduced a media project for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. Students were challenged to create an original tribute video blending music with the powerful images and words from that day.

The finished project was to be guided and informed by the education goals of the National September 11th Memorial and Museum which include…

Provide opportunities for the public to make meaningful and purposeful connections between the history of 9/11 and their own lives…Suggest ways to honor the memory of those killed and extend involvement with the legacy of 9/11 through acts of civic/community involvement and volunteerism.

You can find additional details, directions and resources for this project here and I also created a sample project to guide and motivate my students.

Considering the above lessons of 9/11 perhaps ed reformers would pause their plans for a moment and consider how different our children’s education would be moving forward if the specious claim in Appendix A of the Common Core

There may one day be modes and methods of information delivery that are as efficient and powerful as text, but for now there is no contest.

were to be removed and replaced with John F. Kennedy’s statement…

The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of the nation, is close to the center of a nation’s purpose – and is a test to the quality of a nation’s civilization.

Life is not standardized and neither are children. The most important lessons in life will not be found in close readings or learned from taking tests as they are much closer to the heart.

The blacksmith and the artist

Reflect it in their art

They forge their creativity

Closer to the heart

Closer to the heart

Listen To The Music

Our lives are to be used and thus to be lived as fully as possible, and truly it seems that we are never so alive as when we concern ourselves with other people.
~ Harry Chapin

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Students will learn more from text that is unpretentious and emotive rather than complex and informational. Readings in the classroom should stimulate student feelings and stir up emotions rather than stifle student feelings and suppress emotional responses.

Heavy emphasis on hard skills leaves students unprepared for the real “tests” in life. Students will be far better prepared for the academic, social, and emotional challenges of college and careers once they have learned how to connect with and effectively manage their complex emotions, rather than training them to connect with and independently master complex informational text.

If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far. ~ Daniel Goleman

Songs are a timeless expression of the human experience. They capture the history of events, ideas, and people that have shaped our pluralistic society. Song lyrics are an excellent teaching tool that will engage, excite and inspire young people.

The creative and critical thinking process of analyzing and interpreting song lyrics helps students to develop essential soft skills and media literacy skills.

While the sound and style of music may have changed dramatically over the years, the content or subject matter of many songs remains constant, as artists continue to write about and wrestle with complex environmental, political, and social issues.

Martina McBride sings powerful songs that raise awareness about important issues. She explained her song selection process in a 2013 interview…

Sometimes I think songs are sent to you, in a way, McBride says. I never set out to find a song about one thing or another. When I hear a song like “Independence Day” or “Concrete Angel” or “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” or whatever it is, I feel like there’s a feeling that I have to do this song. I feel like it needs to be heard.

McBride says that’s exactly what happened the first time she heard “I’m Gonna Love You Through It.”

Sometimes it’s undeniable, she says. You can’t over think it. This is a song that’s real and is really going to matter to somebody. I thought that song was really hopeful and that it would give somebody inspiration to fight.

I stopped thinking and just sang it.

Somebody cries in the middle of the night
The neighbors hear, but they turn out the lights
A fragile soul caught in the hands of fate
When morning comes it’ll be too late

Song lyrics create an emotional hook in the classroom by stimulating students’ hearts and minds while challenging them to care about and confront persistent societal problems.

Musician Steve Van Zandt’s new curriculum; Rock and Roll: An American Story! is all about engaging students and harnessing the educational power of music as he explained in a 2013 LA Times interview

“Rock and Roll: An American Story” is a Web-based interdisciplinary curriculum that will be offered to schools at no cost. It is designed to explore the influence of rock ‘n’ roll on society and social movements, politics, American culture and history over the last seven decades.

The reasons for this project are many, obviously, Van Zandt said Friday during a news conference at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. But as I looked into it, I saw one word recur in discussions of the dropout epidemic: ‘Engagement.’ At-risk students are very often the students who do not feel engaged in school. Put another way, they are not seeing how the classroom relates to their lives.

The student is the most valuable resource a teacher can have when it comes to selecting songs for use in the classroom. Asking students to bring music into the classroom demonstrates respect for their interests. This builds student enthusiasm and cultivates self-efficacy.

Employing this strategy, the teacher serves as a facilitator, designing non-routine learning experiences and song-based activities that will lead students to new knowledge, insights, and understandings. As Bruce Springsteen sings, “We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school.”

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