Cognitive Privilege

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

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

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

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

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

Dana Goldstein, “The Schoolmaster” The Atlantic 9/19/12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Common Core For An Uncommon Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a good Common Core math problem;

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

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

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

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

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

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Common Core: A Matter of Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sixteen percent butterfat,” I crowed.

“Premium ingredients?” she inquired.

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

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

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

“I send them back.”

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

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

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

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

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

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What Makes A Good Teacher?

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PISA Envy

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Tests confirm…ed reformers are suffering from impaired judgement and diminished critical thinking skills due to an acute case of PISA envy.

Ed reformers should reconsider their admiration for education systems that prepare young people to live and work in closed societies that don’t value creativity, freedom of expression, and independent thinking.

In a free and open democratic society education should serve the needs and interests of students, rather than data miners, corporations, or the state.

Common Core may “promise” deeper learning and critical thinking but the sterilized and standardized curriculum of scripted modules, discipline of thought, and continuous test prep would be more appropriate for classrooms in nations that expect conformity and require obedience from their citizens and workers.

In their quest for higher PISA scores, other nations will cultivate compliance and competition in the classroom rather than creativity and collaboration so that students willingly attend after-hours tutoring, Saturday classes, and even hook themselves up to amino acid IV drips to boost energy levels during long study sessions.

iv-drips-2The significant differences between a vast and geographically diverse continental nation like the United States and smaller land-locked or island nations like Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore etc. will most certainly account for a dramatic difference in the career paths available to students.

Career readiness in America should be about preparing students for the wide array of vocational opportunities our country has to offer including the arts, science, health care, manual trades, conservation, forestry, culinary, military, public service, hospitality, ranching, dairy farming, equestrian, criminal justice, human services, engineering etc.

Trying to model our school programs based on the rigid education systems in countries that do not have such a variety of career choices and vocational paths is foolish and not in the best interest of our students or our nation.

Education programs in smaller nations that are not as geographically and culturally diverse and with more restrictive governments will naturally focus on standardized curriculum and much narrower academic skill sets and job skills because students in these nations have more limited social, political, and vocational options.

As far as the ed reformers love affair with data, rather than comparing the Reading and Math PISA scores of say Singapore or China to the United States, why not compare their Human Rights Watch “scores” to the United States?…

“Chinese people had no say in the selection of their new leaders, highlighting that despite the country’s three decades of rapid modernization, the government remains an authoritarian one-party system that places arbitrary curbs on freedom of expression, association, religion, prohibits independent labor unions and human rights organizations, and maintains party control over all judicial institutions. The government also censors the press, internet, and publishing industry, and enforces highly repressive policies in ethnic minority areas in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia.”

Human Rights Watch World Report 2013: China

“The Singapore government in 2012 continued to sharply restrict basic rights to free expression, peaceful assembly, and association. However, there were small signs of progress in other areas, including changes in mandatory death penalty laws, and limited improvements in protecting the rights of migrant workers and combating human trafficking.”

Human Rights Watch World Report 2013: Singapore

If ed reformers insist on comparing the academic performance of American students to young people in other nations, then they should be careful not to include those education systems that primarily serve the math, reading, and science needs of restrictive governments in nations with more limited career opportunities.

Preparing American students for the wide variety of career opportunities in our nation requires a customized and vigorous curriculum focused on student interests and designed to increase academic, emotional, social, and vocational skills rather than a standardized and common curriculum focused on a narrow set of Math and ELA Standards and intended to increase PISA scores.

People learn through experimentation and experience. They acquire knowledge and skills by taking risks and testing things, not taking tests.

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Passion and Purpose

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David Coleman has made it perfectly clear there is no “room” in the Common Core for such trivial matters as students’ thoughts, feelings, and personal reflections.

Coleman may claim his emotionless Common Core will improve the career readiness of students but there is ample evidence that what employees think and feel has a direct impact on worker engagement and job satisfaction.

“Best places to work” companies don’t just have ping pong tables and free lunch, they have a “ soul” which makes work exciting and energizing.

They invest in great management and leadership. They train and develop people so they can grow. And they define their business in a way that brings meaning and purpose to the organization…

Now is the time to think holistically about your company’s work environment and consider what you can do to create passion, engagement, and commitment. It may be “the issue” we face in business over the next few years.”

Josh Bersin, “Why Companies Fail To Engage Today’s Workforce: The Overwhelmed Employee” Forbes, 3/15/14

Hard to understand how a passionless set of standards will improve the career readiness of students at a time when record numbers of employees are reporting feeling disengaged and dispassionate about their jobs…

Gallup’s data shows 30% of employees Engaged, 52% Disengaged, 18% Actively Disengaged.  “These latest findings indicate that 70% of American workers are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ and are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive,” states the report.

“Gallup estimates that these actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity.  They are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays, and drive customers away…

Though higher education generally leads to higher earnings, it by no means guarantees higher engagement.  Consider the data: College graduates in the survey were 28% Engaged, 55% Not Engaged, 17% Actively Disengaged.  High school graduates were 32% Engaged, 49% Not Engaged, 19% Actively Disengaged.”

Victor Lipman, “Surprising, Disturbing Facts From The Mother Of All Employee Engagement Surveys” Forbes 9/23/13

K-12 education programs that claim to prepare students for college and careers should be focused more on cultivating a wide array of social and emotional competencies that are transferable workforce skills rather than continually testing a narrow set of measurable Math and ELA skills.

Learning should be a self-directed journey of discovery. Students should be “free to learn” as they explore their interests and pursue their passions rather than simply following a curriculum map and standardized pathway to each Common Core learning standard.

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“Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test and don’t ask why
It’s not a question but a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable but in the end is right
I hope you had the time of your life”

Learning should be passion-driven rather than data-driven and focus on the needs of students rather than the needs of the tests. Classroom activities should provide numerous opportunities for students to connect with their dreams, feelings, interests, and other people rather than demand students read closely and stay connected to text.

Data-driven programs focus primarily on testing and measuring student knowledge while passion-driven programs provide numerous learning experiences that interest students and cultivate student wisdom.

The following excerpt from a 2010 valedictory speech reveals the consequences of standardized and test-centric education programs, unfortunately David Coleman is not interested in students thoughts and feelings…

“…While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. 

While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost?

I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning.

And quite frankly, now I’m scared…”

Erica Goldson, “Here I Stand” 6/25/10 Valedictory Speech

Many education reformers do not understand  that being “ready” for college and careers is not just about the subjects learned in school, but did you learn how to live?

In 2014 Jim Carrey gave the commencement speech at Maharishi University of Management that challenged students to overcome their fears and follow their hearts…

“Fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about your pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear.

So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying, I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it — please!…

I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love

You are ready and able to do beautiful things in this world and after you walk through those doors today, you will only ever have two choices: love or fear. Choose love, and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart.”

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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

Follow Your Heart

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Excerpts from Jim Carrey’s 2014 Commencement Speech at M.U.

“Fear is going to be a player in life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future, but all it will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions that we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear. 

So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the Universe for it.

I can tell you from experience, the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is. My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. 

Instead he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job, and our family had to do whatever we could to survive.

I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which, was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.

That peace that we are after lies somewhere beyond personality. Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form. Risk being seen in all of your glory.

You are ready and able to do beautiful things in this world, and as you walk through those doors today, you will only have two choices: love or fear. Choose love, and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart.”

Barriers To Learning

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Inside the classroom, the teacher has the greatest impact on student performance. It is also true that parents are the most influential teacher in a child’s life, and learning that doesn’t occur outside the classroom can have a much greater impact on student achievement, than what transpires inside the classroom…

“Decades of research have shown the staggering societal costs of children in poverty. They grow up with less education and lower earning power. They are more likely to have drug addiction, psychological trauma and disease, or wind up in prison… 

Dasani’s circumstances are largely the outcome of parental dysfunction. While nearly one-third of New York’s homeless children are supported by a working adult, her mother and father are unemployed, have a history of arrests and are battling drug addiction….

For children like Dasani, school is not just a place to cultivate a hungry mind. It is a refuge. The right school can provide routine, nourishment and the guiding hand of responsible adults…

To eat, the children sit on the cracked linoleum floor, which never feels clean no matter how much they mop. Homework is a challenge. The shelter’s one recreation room can hardly accommodate Auburn’s hundreds of children, leaving Dasani and her siblings to study, hunched over, on their mattresses… 

The projects may represent all kinds of inertia. But to live at Auburn is to admit the ultimate failure: the inability of one’s parents to meet that most basic need… 

For all of McKinney’s pluck, its burdens are great. In the last six years, the city has cut the school’s budget by a quarter as its population declined. Fewer teachers share a greater load. After-school resources have thinned, but not the needs of students whose families are torn apart by gun violence and drug use. McKinney’s staff psychologist shuttles between three schools like a firefighter. 

And now, a charter school is angling to move in. If successful, it will eventually claim McKinney’s treasured top floor, home to its theater class, dance studio and art lab. Teachers and parents are bracing for battle, announced by fliers warning against the “apartheid” effects of a charter co-location. 

Dasani knows about charter schools. Her former school, P.S. 67, shared space with one. She never spoke to those children, whose classrooms were stocked with new computers. Dasani’s own school was failing by the time she left… 

Miss Holmes has seen plenty of distressed children, but few have both the depth of Dasani’s troubles and the height of her promise. There is not much Miss Holmes can do about life outside school. She knows this is a child who needs a sponsor, who “needs to see ‘The Nutcracker,’” who needs her own computer. There are many such children.

Here at school, Miss Holmes must work with what she has…”

Andrea Elliott, “Invisible Child – Girl in the Shadows: Dasani’s Homeless Life” NY Times, 12/9/13

Poorer communities and schools would see a much greater academic return on their “investments” if instead of purchasing new computers, software solutions, and standardized tests, they properly funded programs such as; prenatal care, child care, adult ed, parenting classes, job coaching, drug counseling, health services, morning programs, and after school programs that provide meals, tutoring, arts and crafts, physical activity, and a quiet place to study.

It is naive to expect that students who have weaker academic skills, greater social and emotional needs, and attend chronically underfunded schools will start to achieve more in the classroom, simply because their state has adopted the Common Core State Standards, their schools have purchased computers to administer mandated standardized tests, and their teachers have received high quality Common Core professional development.

There is more likely to be an increase in the achievement gap and school drop out rates, rather than an increase in college and career readiness, if we continue to place greater academic demands on students with greater needs, without providing sufficient school funding to support essential wrap around services.

 

Hard Skills Are Soft Skills Dependent

“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 

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K-12 education programs should focus much more instructional time on helping students acquire and practice soft skills, if they expect them to master and apply hard skills in appropriate and effective ways.

The Common Core ELA standards demand that students provide evidence to support their claims yet the authors of the Standards seem to disregard decades of research and data regarding the importance of emotional intelligence.

In fact, David Coleman, the chief architect and lead author of the Common Core has made it very clear where he stands on this issue;

As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a sh#@ about what you feel or what you think.

The authors of the Common Core continue to maintain that the Standards, which emphasize a narrow set of testable hard skills, will properly prepare our students for the social and emotional challenges of college and careers, despite countless surveys and interviews regarding the critical importance of soft skills…

Do people underperform at your company because they lack these soft skills or do they disappoint because their technical skills aren’t up to snuff?

‘Soft skills are almost always to blame — that’s why we need to get better at measuring them.’

Do your best managers have the strongest technical skills in the company? Or do they excel on the soft side?

‘Soft skills set our best managers apart.’

Is it possible you have excluded some candidates with extraordinary soft skills because they didn’t meet your company’s benchmark for technical brilliance? These are the people who would have become your best managers.

My client refused to answer this question, but the look in his eye was a definite “Oops!…

Lou Adler, “Soft Skills Are Hard to Assess. And Even Harder to Succeed Without.” 3/8/14

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

One of my first conversations was with Clay Parker, president of the Chemical Management Division of BOC Edwards—a company that, among other things, makes machines and supplies chemicals for the manufacture of microelectronics devices. He’s an engineer by training and the head of a technical business, so when I asked him about the skills he looks for when he hires young people, I was taken aback by his answer.

“First and foremost, I look for someone who asks good questions,” Parker responded. “We can teach them the technical stuff, but we can’t teach them how to ask good questions—how to think.”

“What other skills are you looking for?” I asked, expecting that he’d jump quickly to content expertise.

“I want people who can engage in good discussion—who can look me in the eye and have a give and take. All of our work is done in teams. You have to know how to work well with others. But you also have to know how to engage customers—to find out what their needs are. If you can’t engage others, then you won’t learn what you need to know…

Tony Wagner, “Rigor Redefined” ASCD Educational Leadership October, 2008

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

Common Core emphasis on a narrow and shallow set of measurable and testable hard skills rather than cultivating transferable and work-based soft skills means our students will be as well prepared for the real “tests” of college and careers as a contractor with a “fully loaded” tool belt who lacks the confidence, courage, and experience to climb a ladder.

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