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…

rigorImage source: Extra curricular activities cancelled for rigor.

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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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

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

 

Link

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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

Critical Thinking vs. Creative Thinking

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The Common Core demands students think critically while staying connected and diving into text, yet employers desire workers who can think creatively while connecting with people as they dive into their work.

In college and careers students will often face the challenge of answering open-ended questions rather than text-dependent ones. Much of the text they encounter in school and work will not be “rich and worthy” of close reading.

College students and employees will often be required to make decisions and determine a course of action using vague, conflicting, or even incomplete data that is derived from a variety of sources.

Education programs should cultivate independent thinkers who can formulate creative solutions to novel problems rather than training text-dependent thinkers who can answer standardized text-based questions.

David Coleman has made it clear that Common Core students are expected to remain tethered to the text and read like a detective while most employers expect their workers to be autonomous learners as they read with perspective.

There is a significant difference between thinking critically while close reading complex text and thinking creatively while solving a complicated task…

Creative thinking is divergent, critical thinking is convergent; whereas creative thinking tries to create something new, critical thinking seeks to assess worth or validity in something that exists; whereas creative thinking is carried on by violating accepted principles, critical thinking is carried on by applying accepted principles. Although creative and critical thinking may very well be different sides of the same coin they are not identical (Beyer, 1987, p.35).

The Common Core’s emphasis on text-based thinking at the expense of experiential learning is not in the best interest of students or their future employers.

Text may be complex and rigorous but it is a passive, dull, and lifeless way to learn, while activities are a much more dynamic, interactive, and vigorous way to learn.

The Common Core Standards do not cultivate innovative and creative thought because it’s lead author has made it clear that original thoughts and personal feelings don’t matter in life.

Supporters of the Common Core continue to claim it will prepare students for colleges and careers despite numerous surveys, reports, and research (evidence) that employers are seeking workers who think creatively

Overwhelmingly, both the superintendents of schools who educate future workers and the employers who hire them agreed that creativity is increasingly important in U.S. workplaces, and that arts training—and, to a lesser degree, communications studies—are crucial to developing creativity…Employers look for employees who reinforce their creativity by showing certain characteristics in the selection process:

Able to look spontaneously beyond the specifics of a question (78 percent)

Respond well to hypothetical scenarios (70 percent)

Able to identify new patterns of behavior or new combination of actions

Integrate knowledge across different disciplines

Show ability to originate new ideas

Comfortable with the notion of “no right answer”

Fundamentally curious

Demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work

Show ability to take risks

Tolerant of ambiguity

Show ability to communicate new ideas to others

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Supporters of the Common Core may point to standards that call for creative and divergent thinking yet the multiple choice questions on the Common Core standardized tests DISCOURAGE and DISCOUNT such thinking as they have only one right answer and plausible responses are graded as wrong.

Standards should serve as a flexible framework to meet the academic, social, emotional, and vocational needs of diverse learners and NOT a forced march to meet the data driven demands of standardized tests.

To date, Common Core instruction and implementation efforts have been focused primarily on the standardized “needs” of tests rather than the diverse needs of young learners. Standards should be a guide or pathway to learning and success, rather than a high stakes destination to failure.

Defenders of public education have questioned whether the data driven Common Core implementation efforts will actually lead to more students dropping out of school rather than increasing student achievement.

Paul Bruno, a supporter of the Common Core  responded to this concern…

And it’s also likely that, Common Core notwithstanding, our dropout rates will increase in the coming years since they are currently at an all-time low and an improving economy will give marginal students better alternatives outside of school.

For the record, it is entirely possible that the CCSS will contribute modestly  to future increases in the dropout rate. The Common Core will – by design – make some courses more difficult for many students, and for marginal students that may be enough to nudge them out of school altogether.

The Common Core Will Not Double the Dropout Rate ~ Paul Bruno

Michael Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has expressed views on preparing ALL students for college and the discipline of at-risk learners that also seem contrary or inconsistent with his enthusiastic support for the K-12 college prep for all approach of the Common Core.

What if encouraging students to take a shot at the college track—despite very long odds of crossing its finish line—does them more harm than good? What if our own hyper-credentialed life experiences and ideologies are blinding us to alternative pathways to the middle class?…

We shouldn’t force anyone into that route, but we also shouldn’t guilt kids with low odds of college success—regardless of their race or class—to keep trudging through academic coursework as teens…

Rather than pretend that we’re going to get “all students” to “climb the mountain to college,” we should build a system that helps many students find another road to the middle class—a path that starts with a better prekindergarten-through-eighth-grade education and then develops strong technical and interpersonal skills in high school and at community colleges. This is an honorable path, and one that’s much sturdier than the rickety bridges to failure that we’ve got now.

“Kid, I’m Sorry, but You’re Just Not College Material” Is exactly what we should be telling a lot of high school students. ~ Michael Petrilli

In my view, we should be proud of the charter schools that are identifying and serving high-potential low-income students—kids who are committed to using education to escape poverty and are often supported in that effort by education-minded parents…

The reason to celebrate these schools and the role they play is because the traditional system has been downright hostile to the needs of such striving children and families…tracking or ability grouping is seen as elitist; any effort to provide special classes, environments, or challenges for motivated or high-achieving kids is cast as perpetuating inequality—even when all the kids are poor, and even though there’s a ton of evidence that high achievers do best around other high achievers.

And now these “social justice” types want to berate schools for asking disruptive students to leave. For sure, there should be checks on pushing kids out willy-nilly…

But let’s not forget about the needs (even rights) of the other kids to learn. Isn’t it possible that U.S. public schools have gone too far in the direction of accommodating the disruptors at the expense of everyone else?

Or been guilty of “defining deviancy down,” in Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s words? As Eduwonk Andy wrote this week, it’s probably because charter schools are willing (and able) to enforce discipline that they are so popular with parents. That wouldn’t be true if they had to retain chronic disrupters.

To be sure, this raises tough questions for the system as a whole. As I said in the Washington Post video, there are reasons to be concerned that district schools will become the last resort for the toughest-to-serve kids.

But in life there are trade-offs, and I would be willing to accept a somewhat less ideal outcome for the most-challenged students if it meant tremendously better life outcomes for their peers.

Flypaper: The charter expulsion flap ~ Michael Petrilli

It is odd that reformers who fervently support the Common Core with its mandate of college and career readiness for ALL students would express views that excuse the most challenged segments of our student population from meeting these higher standards.

Wasn’t the rationale for adoption of the Common Core that higher standards would serve as an academic rising tide that will lift all boats regardless of condition, design, or years at sea?

Or is it possible that the Common Core, which lacks meaningful career and technical standards or pathways, is intentionally designed to prepare cognitively privileged and standardized students for college and post-college careers while the “marginal” learners in our schools will be encouraged to apply at Dave and Buster’s?

In a rigorous Common Core world “marginal” learners are expendable and in the vigorous history of America these individuals were exceptional.

Rather than rating and sorting students according to a common and narrow set of testable academic skills we should be celebrating and cultivating uncommon talents and divergent thinking in our classrooms.

As Arnold Dodge explains, schools should be honoring and uplifting the creative “characters” in their classrooms…

Many of our schools have become dry, lifeless places. Joy and spirited emotions have been replaced by fear, generated by masters from afar. These remote overseers — politicians, policy makers, test prep executives — have decided that tests and numbers and drills and worksheets and threats and ultimatums will somehow improve the learning process…

When a student does well on a reading test, the results tell us nothing about how well she will use reading as a tool to learn larger topics, nor does it tell us that she will be interested in reading at all. What it tells us is that she is good at taking a reading test…

With the battle cry “College and Career Ready,” the champions of standardization are determined to drum out every last bit of creativity, unpredictability, humor, improvisation and genuine emotion from the education process in the name of useful “outcomes.”..

The self-righteous, powerful and moneyed, if they have their way, will eliminate from schools kids who have character — or kids who are characters, for that matter…

But there is another way. If we believe that children are imaginative creatures by nature with vast amounts of talent waiting to be mined, and if we believe that opening children’s minds and hearts to the thrill of learning — without competition and ranking — is a healthy approach to child development, then we are off to a good start…

William Glasser, M.D., studied schools for over 30 years and in his seminal work, The Quality School, he outlines five basic needs that all human beings are born with: survival, love, power, fun and freedom.

How many policymakers today would subscribe to having fun or experiencing freedom as a goal of our educational system? Just think of the possibilities if they did. Kids actually laughing in school and not being punished for it. Students feeling strong enough to talk truth to power and not being silenced. Youngsters feeling free to write with creativity and originality without being ridiculed for deviating from state test guidelines.

And that’s before we even get to love.

Think of the characters that would emerge from such an environment. Comedians, orators, raconteurs, revolutionaries, magicians, clowns, young people with agency and drive, having fun, not afraid to take risks or make mistakes. Not afraid to be children…

The BLOG: Needed in School: 140 Characters ~ Arnold Dodge

Creative-Brain

Care To Learn

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Image: Rutu Modan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just Have Coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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