Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Common Core Grinch at Christmas… Part Two… Remembering The Snowflakes

Children are like snowflakes, no two are alike.

I think about the first snowy night of each winter season and picture myself outside with my face to the sky. It’s peaceful. Quiet. Each flake lands softly on my cheeks… nose… brows…   As I spread my gloved hands outward, a few flakes land and find a safe harbor for only a few twinklings before melting. Lifting my finger to take a closer look at each, I smile.   There is something magical in this moment knowing I’m looking at a unique and beautiful creation of nature. If I was given a microscope, I know its magnificence would be amplified into its individual glory.

Our children are like snowflakes.

Glorious.

They grace our lives, but for a moment. As a parent, they pass through our lives leaving distinctive imprints upon our hearts and minds. As teachers they honor us with their enthusiasm and passion. Their individuality is a precious gift. Being a part of their lives for such a brief flash is not only an honor, but the greatest blessing life has to offer.

Our children…

Snowflakes.

This doesn’t sound very Grinchy does it?

On December 18th I revealed I became a Common Core Grinch. You can find Part One here. As I have personally watched the unraveling of the Common Core Reform and witnessed its talons reaching into our states, school districts, schools, and classrooms my heart has grown sick with the results. The impact it is having creates boxed in uniformity for the teacher and very little room for the individuality of a child. From my perspective, Common Core is analogous to a blow torch.   It is melting, at a faster rate than can be grasped, our precious snowflakes.

I’d like to suggest that our teachers are like snowflakes too. Each one I have met and worked alongside has had something inimitable to impart to their students.   Teachers are individuals too. I wonder sometimes if it is the goal to be able to walk down the hallways of our schools and see cookie cutter teachers on the same exact page, teaching the same exact lesson, from the same exact unit, in the same exact way, using the same exact words…?

Not if you’re a snowflake.

This is education? This is our ingenious plan for getting every child to the same exact standard, on the same exact day, in the same exact moment… so what? … So each child can take the same exact test, on the same exact day, so we can measure how “same exact” they are? And… if they perform well, it is THE measure by which we say they are college and career ready?

Not if you’re a snowflake.

The Common Core Standards are definitely here.   The following are a few links to show where each state stands now with the Common Core:

http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-assessments/what-states-have-pulled-out-of-their-common-core-assessment-consortium/

and…

https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/a-july-21-2014-update-on-common-core-parcc-and-smarter-balanced/

Despite what the advocates are saying about…

*how they are only a set of standards and…

*how school districts have the choice of resources and programs and…

*how they are the roadmap to college and career…

                                                                  … I have come to learn just the opposite. 

The Common Core Standards were written between 2009/2010.   Superintendent Dorn formally adopted the Common Core Standards on July 20, 2011 in Washington State. Most of the public did not begin to even hear about the standards until the Fall of 2012.   One would think there would have been various open forums and an invitation to review the standards by educators at all levels as well as any and all parents….?   It makes me incredibly curious as to why, from the onset, this major overhaul was done in secret? What was there to hide, IF these standards were the best for our children?

I can no longer stick my head in the sand and pretend I’m an ostrich singing, “Everything is Awesome!” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6lHm-stXdM) “Everything is awesome when we stick together…. and we are all part of a team… we’re the same… I’m like you… you’re like me… we’re all working in harmony….”   Think of Emmet in the Lego Movie… Think of The Capitol in The Lego Movie… You, too, can be successful if you just follow the robotic, numbered steps… and you, too, will please The Capitol and Lord Business as long as you fit the mold.

Thank God for The Double Decker Couch. Yay Emmet! He had been brainwashed like the rest, a perfect male “Common” Citizen, but somewhere in the recesses of his mind… a creative spark existed.

I found the following 39 minute documentary to be helpful in understanding the “who” of Common Core:
BUILDING THE MACHINE:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjxBClx01jc
Both sides of this critical issue speak. It may cause a small tilt of the head and at least create some new questions to emerge. How many of us took the time to ask the bold questions when we first heard the term “Common Core”?

I know I didn’t.

I sat in a math meeting when I heard it for the first time. My first thought was, “You’ve got to be kidding me?   This is the fourth time the math standards have changed since 1997.” I returned to my building, innocently doing my best to implement the new standards. It wasn’t until the Spring of 2014, when I walked up and down the aisles of my school’s computer lab (set up in haste in the art room placing the art teacher on a cart) that a small little buzzer went off in my head. I watched 8-12 year olds struggle through the field test of SBAC and a small red flag took root in my brain.   Now the RED FLAG is waving boldly and asking the hard questions… Who wrote these standards?   Who reviewed the standards? How much is this costing the school system? Where is the money coming from? Who is paying for this? Who is profiting from this?

Follow the Money:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/12/21/heres-who-got-the-biggest-gates-foundation-education-grants-for-2014/

http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-state-standards/state-costs-for-adopting-and-implementing-the-common-core-state-standards/

http://www.alternet.org/education/corporations-profit-standardized-tests

I have come to believe, rather than snowflakes, we’ve been handed a cookie cutter recipe with cookie cutter programs which magically, if used with integrity, will create cookie cutter kids.   If we are good cookie cutter teachers, and follow the recipe to the “t”, then and only then, will our students successfully pass the SBAC test…. ? Hmmmmm…

Ironically, the cut scores are set for 70% to fail:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/11/20/good-luck-understanding-how-they-will-score-the-common-core/

None of the above works if you’re a snowflake teaching snowflakes.

One 5th grade teacher put it this way, “I feel like I used to be an artist.   I used oil paints and was part of creating beautiful canvases full of unique pictures. The canvases varied in size and shape, and on each one I utilized a different set of colors. Now? I feel like I have been handed a black chalk board and a piece of white chalk… and I am asked to create miracles.”

This teacher has been recognized for her success in the classroom with over twenty years of teaching experience. She has committed herself to work in high poverty schools and has a track record of motivating her students and seeing them excel. She is a snowflake.

I encountered another snowflake amongst the growing number of educators raising the red flag.   Brandon Parsons, 7th Grade world history teacher from Ohio, posted, And the first-ever Roman Concrete lesson is done (got observed today, too). The kiddos learned how to mix and pour concrete, learned how the Romans came up with the idea originally, and also found out that their formula was actually stronger than our modern Portland cement! The first few periods’ batches of concrete turned out pretty good (already started to harden)! (and all of this done WITHOUT technology or computers, thank you very much!)”

Brandon Pic

Brandon Parsons is a snowflake. He had the courage to create a dynamic learning experience for his students on the day of his formal observation.

A few weeks ago I stood in the back of the room next to a kindergarten teacher.   Many amongst the staff refer to her as “The Child Whisperer”.   She leaned over and whispered in my ear, “All I feel like I have done so far this first trimester is test.  It has taken so much time away from the kind of teaching I used to be able to do on a daily basis.”

I sympathized, my Grinchhood surfacing and shaking its head at the effects of Common Core.

On Friday, the last day of school before the break, I encountered her with her students in the hallway. She tapped my shoulder and inquired, “Have you seen the Gingerbread Man?” I was confused at first until I looked at her line of students. The curiosity painted on their faces took my breath away. I am sure she drew them into the famous story and had baked a Gingerbread Man for them to eventually eat.   Do you think these students will want to read this story again? Do you think their minds were activated and loving learning?

“The Child Whisperer” is a snowflake.

Another snowflake, Lauralee Klingler, an incredible 3rd grade teacher has been an example to all of us. Her wisdom in regards to children has taught me so many things over the past eight years. Most recently she posted, “The Christmas Spirit came to my classroom today…One of my students heard that a student was going to have no Christmas. He brought to school today two boxes. One box full of used girls’ toys from his house and the other box full of used boys’ toys. He said, “Mrs. Klingler…I didn’t want the other students to feel bad if I just bring a toy for _______, so I brought one toy for each student.” He went around the classroom with a heart full of joy and carefully picked out one toy for each student. My students absolutely loved their used toy and began immediately playing with them. This student gave the best gift of all…one from a selfless and pure heart…This kind of love reminds me of what Christmas is all about.”

Lauralee's Christmas Spirit

I believe this 3rd grade boy will make a difference in this world. I believe this kind of character surpasses anything the SBAC test will measure come this March.   This child is a snowflake.

I’m a snowflake too.

This night of the Eve before Christmas, I find myself thankful for two former students who reminded me of the spirit of education. In my angst, an instant message appeared on my phone this past summer. The two former students found me on Facebook and took me back to the good ole’ days. Both are now 28 year old, lovely ladies with young children of their own.   It was timely as I had been growing more and more depressed with the direction of my job and finding the mandates placed upon me sapping me of everything I believed and embraced about how children learn. My ability to create, develop, innovate, and use my talents learned through college and graduate school, and 25 years of experience with children, seemed to not matter anymore.   What mattered is I followed the federal, state, and district mandates and fit into the “common” box of teaching so students could fit in the “common” box of learning.

My Christmas gift this year comes from the memories ignited as their words tumbled forth upon my screen. It brings joy to my heart to be reminded of the kind of teaching that inspires… the kind of teaching that lights fires… the kind of teaching that captures and celebrates everything one high stakes test will never unearth.

This Common Core Grinch remembers being a snowflake and teaching snowflakes.

What learning and experiences stuck for these two former 4th and 5th grade snowflakes? Just what did these two beautiful and unique, young ladies share with me?

They remembered the three months spent practicing for the multiple act play. They remember learning 14 songs and dances, reading related content continuously, designing the props from the mathematics learned within class, drawing scaled models, measuring, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. Designing the tickets, running the fund raisers and keeping ledgers of the profits (using decimals in context), sewing costumes, drawing and painting the set…. This led to three performances and the gym packed to capacity each time.  (A group of 5th graders, 11 year olds, pulled this off!)

Cast 1    Oz Cast 2

They remembered the winter we studied the Arctic Regions. The students studied the native people and the animals.   They made temperature charts and learned about weather… they explored ice cube melting rates and made graphs of the melting times… they found the area of the continent… and this sparked them to find the area of each continent. They compared the sizes of each and made a sequenced list examining large numbers in context and created graphs. This gave them yet another context and “spring boarded” a study of area and perimeter utilizing algebra and multiplication.   The culmination of the unit happened in the school gym and the students entitled it, “Cold, Cold Places!” Each student designed a scientific experiment or learning experience that would help other students learn about the Artic Regions.   A “museum” was designed and set up for the whole school. During the day approximately 450 K-5th grade students visited the student created Museum and in the evening another 300 came from the community including their parents.

The following are just a few examples of the impact on student learning:  

*Upon arrival, eyes traveled to the ceiling as a 100 foot Blue Whale expanded the diagonal of the gym. The student designing this display discovered the length and width of the gym was too short. He had to figure out a way to make it fit. As a result the concept of diagonals of polygons emerged.

*Another student drew a 2D version of the average size of a male polar bear.   Visitors stood in front of the Polar Bear. He marked their height with a dot and then helped them measure their own height. Soon a scatter plot emerged and we had discussions around the data. In the classroom, this “spring boarded” into utilizing the various heights and making comparisons. The study of ratios was given flight.

*One young lady designed an experiment in which visitors to her station found the temperature of a bowl of ice cubes using a thermometer.   They were challenged to place their hand in the middle of the bowl and keep it there for one minute.   After the visitor finished, she shared the graphs she made showing temperature ranges in Antarctica.

These units of study went deep and my students engaged with text constantly. My students were able to “teach” others. Research says 90% of what you are able to teach another lodges in long term memory.  As I reflect back, and think of experiences like the play and thematic units of study, my wonderings include:

  • What was the result? Did their reading scores go up? Did this learning go into long term memory?
  • Can anyone design a test item question that measures the pride these students felt?   Did they have a level 4 in pride? A 3? Or were they below “the standard” with a 2 or 1?
  • Can anyone design a test item that measures their ability to follow through and complete a huge task?   Can anyone design a test item that measures the cooperation they learned or their increased ability to collaborate?
  • Can anyone help me design a test item to measure the level of creative thinking they showed as they problem solved together in various ways throughout the three months?
  • Are we seriously going to try to include only those learning experiences in our classrooms that can be measured by a test?   Is there anything else we value for our children?   Is everything important revolve around learning targets that can be measured?

 (Sidenote: This class had approximately 24 – 28 students depending on the month. Six students were qualified as special education and several were deemed gifted and talented.  This was a blended classroom model.  No child was pulled out of class at any time during the day. I believe teaching like this reaches ALL students and considers EACH of their learning styles and needs.)

Maybe my former students can continue to help us with these big questions?

One shared she didn’t remember picking up a pencil in mathematics until the concept was completely understood through concrete, physical models.   She remembered the time spent drawing pictures of the models and bridging this to practicing the skills she understood with a pencil. The result showed mastery of the skills. Often the skills were placed in contexts that were meaningful, and scaffolded throughout each unit of study.   This led to the students being able to utilize the skills with reasoning and solve complex problems. Of equal importance, the students grew to build confidence in mathematics and fall in love with the study of this subject.   A mindset was created.   Together, they tackled difficult problems and didn’t give up. Being perplexed became fun.

  • How do we measure this learning?
  • Is all valuable learning measurable?
  • Are these critical and important skills for our children to learn and do they promote the growth of the whole child?
  • Do children need these kind of experiences to strengthen all the regions of their brains?

And… how about this one…

  • Are these students, who are exhibiting a love of learning, being prepared for college and career?

The Common Core Grinch side of me wonders if I returned to the classroom if I would be allowed to continue this creative and passionate method of teaching?   Marazono’s Framework “supposedly” points an educator on the “how” to achieve a level 4, Innovative Teacher.   However, how can teachers be innovative with lock step schedules and programs like EngageNY or Journeys? How can teachers effectively integrate content throughout the day when mandated to teach 120 minutes from the literacy program, 30 minutes a day from the writing program, and 90 minutes a day from the math program? How can teachers establish living, breathing environments of curiosity when all the test prep is added? What of science? The Arts? History?

What are we sacrificing within the walls of our classrooms to push our children to achieve these common standards?  Are they developmentally appropriate at the elementary level?  500 early childhood specialists say no:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/29/a-tough-critique-of-common-core-on-early-childhood-education/

I wonder how a teacher can even breath?   Hand them a piece of white chalk, a black chalkboard, handcuff them, and put them in a restricted cell…   Then point the finger at them when their students do not meet the standard. Take away the oils, the colors, the varying canvases… Take away the heart of what makes teaching, teaching… and learning, learning.

Will Common Core be the death of the teacher snowflakes…   the death of the student snowflakes?

I sure hope not.

Teachers like “The Child Whisperer”, Brandon Parsons, and Lauralee Klingler are just a few examples of thousands more doing the same.   Struggling, yet finding a way. They believe in snowflakes.

Our children… our students… ARE our snowflakes.   No two are alike.   No two learn in the same exact way. No two have the same exact interests, and no two master skills and concepts at the same exact time. In order to learn, they must be exposed to multiple paths, multiple modalities, and various resources.

How do we judge a teacher?  They are snowflakes.  (Click on “judge a teacher” to read The Tale of Two Teachers)

How do we determine what children have learned and what is important to learn? They are snowflakes.

How does one write a rubric or a “scale” to judge a snowflake?   What makes a snowflake a level 4, Advanced? Or what makes a snowflake a level 1, Below Basic? How would a snowflake be Proficient, level 3? Or just not quite making the cut with a level 2, Basic? How can anyone write a test item question to evaluate the essence of a snowflake?

Anthony Cody, 18 year educator, science teacher, and educational writer said this, I am not reflexively against any and all standards. Appropriate standards, tied to subject matter, allow flexibility to educators. Teachers ought to be able to tailor their instruction to the needs of their students. Loose standards allow educators to work together, to share strategies and curriculum, and to build common assessments for authentic learning. Such standards are necessary and valuable; they set goals and aspirations and create a common framework so that students do not encounter the same materials in different grades. They are not punitive, nor are they tethered to expectations that yield failure for anyone unable to meet them.”

See more of Anthony Cody’s writing here:   http://www.livingindialogue.com/

Anthony Cody is another snowflake.

Somewhere in my Common Core Grinch heart, I have reminiscence of the brilliant sparkles of what once was…. Classrooms filled with snowflakes… with the freedom to flourish and thrive and blanket our nation with their individual beauty and unique imprints.

If we are against something, then what are we for?

I’m for Snowflakes.

Respectfully,

RAZ ON FIRE

DivineSpark

Fire is Catching

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The Common Core Grinch this Christmas… Part One

Today is the day I officially became a Common Core Grinch.

It being conference week for teachers and the high stress time already, I sat in my office reflecting upon the effects of Common Core and the impact it is having upon the classrooms of our nation.   The image of the grumpy, ole’, green Grinch came to mind.  My face definitely mirrored the contortions Jim Carey became so famous for in the movie of Dr. Suess’ beloved Christmas Story. I most likely will never star in any movie for my facial expressions, but I am sure mine are just as ugly.

I spent some time last night continuing my research around the Common Core Standards and uncovering more connections between Corporate Big Business, the Corporate Billionaires, the stake holders, the testing industry, the publishing companies… the list goes on. In my reading a parent posted the following:

Tonight, while trying to help my son with his first grade math homework, I told him I had no idea what they were talking about in the wording on his homework sheet, he then tells me: ‘Maybe you need to go in and talk to my teacher because you don’t know how to do this.’ I’m 33 years old and can’t figure out 1st grade math homework.”

The flood gates were opened to comments by a slew of angry and confused parents. I don’t blame them. I, too, am seeing math homework I’m not in agreement with either. See my own child’s perspective here: (here)

I joined this discussion thread and posted the question, “By chance, is your district using EngageNY?” My suspicions were affirmed.

A few months back I wrote an anonymous piece about my growing concern around common core.   A concerned parent in Washington and I found each other through a referral, and she asked if she could post my piece to some concerned parent sites. With a little trepidation, I said yes. Within the day the following comment came through in response to my writing:

“I am a mother of a 3rd grade student currently enrolled in the Spokane City School District (District 81). My daughter is bright, creative, sensitive, and has a passion for learning. Unfortunately during the past months, only months, I have witnessed her struggle, fail, and actually think that she was too stupid to understand how to complete the math assessments, and assignments. It breaks my heart, and is setting her up for failure, and creating a mindset of fear, extreme stress, and test anxiety.  No, you are not alone. When I saw her teacher about this I stated, that the public school system has a LEGAL OBLIGATION to provide my daughter, as well as every single student enrolled in the public school system, with the proper education! We talked about ways to help her, as well as myself, understand this new curriculum and common core formulas. I was astonished to see how they expect children of this age grasp, the unnecessarily complicated process, without knowing the basic formula first!  Then her teacher’s eyes watered up when I said as much, and said that I do not want my child held back because of this nonsense….I could tell he wanted to say something, but just said “we’ll find a way”. I think you’re right, in that most teachers are afraid to speak up and stand against this abomination called “Common Core”! If everyone, all teachers and all parents would rally together, and strike, or stand up and SAY something we could win.  We need to stop being complacent. We need to be the voice, and protector of our children! They can’t do it for themselves! These are entire future generations of our country, that are being force fed what boils down to being a political and financial agenda!!  I commend you for standing up and speaking out about the real problem!”

Spokane Public School District is using EngageNY too.

I could spend the rest of this post copying and pasting several more like comments.  I think two is enough to drive the point home.  There is a problem festering and brewing and soon will be boiling over.  Anything done in haste usually does not end well.  You’d think if this math program was to be put into the hands of teachers and used to instruct our most precious commodity, there would be a full review of the program by math experts?  It seems logical there would be time taken to find out what other school districts using it were finding?   Or consider even the state of New York dropped the program as currently written?  Or how about this one…  determine if it was field tested in real classrooms with real teachers with real children?  No?  And if it so happened it was field tested, which it was not, was there an examination of its results?  Hmmmmm…. For most school districts, none of the above happened.  Thenceforth, should anyone be surprised an outcry… or downright outrage… is catching fire?

What is the rush all about anyway?

The rush is all about getting students to standard…. Now!   The message I heard over and over is, “There is nothing else out there that aligns to the Common Core.” … Or … “It’s better than what we had.” … Or … “It isn’t that bad, come on….  Give it a few years and the kids will catch up.”

The rush is all about getting students to pass the test.  And the test is here… Now!  No time to wait, to think, to evaluate, or to ask the bold questions… and for those of you not convinced this isn’t about money, it may be to your advantage to read the following:

1) 8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson that Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests

http://www.alternet.org/education/corporations-profit-standardized-tests

2) Pearson Education Can Run, but it Can Not Hide.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/pearson-education-can-run_b_6327566.html

So what pushed me over the edge today?   From concerned educator and mommy to the cantankerous Grinch?

The wonderful special education teacher in my building came to my office with a student assignment in hand.  She pointed at a question and asked me for some background and help.

Here is part of the assignment:

6th Grade Problem

Zero in on #1.  Write the opposite of the opposite of -10 in an equation.

Think about this for a moment.   What grade level do you think this is from?

Let me humor us all with the standard the student is supposed to grasp:

Understand that positive and negative numbers are used together to describe quantities having opposite directions or values (e.g., temperature above/below zero, elevation above/below sea level, credits/debits, positive/negative electric charge); use positive and negative numbers to represent quantities in real-world contexts, explaining the meaning of 0 in each situation.”

And…

“Understand a rational number as a point on the number line. Extend number line diagrams and coordinate axes familiar from previous grades to represent points on the line and in the plane with negative number coordinates.

a. Recognize opposite signs of numbers as indicating locations on opposite sides of 0 on the number line; recognize that the opposite of the opposite of a number is the number itself, e.g., -(-3) = 3, and that 0 is its own opposite.”

 Does reading the standard bring clarity to this question? Is it easier to determine what grade level our children are expected to master this skill?

I, of course, dug into my background in mathematics, and began the path of explaining. The special education teacher then said, “I have 5 pages of this to work through with my student.”

My mouth dropped.

My mouth contorted.

My face reddened.

And my dear colleague affirmed I did not turn green.

The Common Core Grinch emerged. Wrong color, but the Grinch still.

Can we stop just for one moment and ask ourselves a few sensible questions?

Here we go:

  • Is this age appropriate?
  • Is this critical to the student to master at this point in her educational career?
  • How does this child learn? Is she an auditory learner? Is she visual?   Does she learn by doing (kinesthetic)?
  • What pre-requisite skills does this child need in order to be successful?

And this is where most of us need to give pause and ask ourselves what we are doing to our children, and dare I ask…. what toll is this taking upon the many gifted teachers in the classrooms across the nation trying to make sense of this sleigh pulled by a dog with tied on antlers?

May I boldly suggest the quickly written EngageNY materials peppered with errors do not address children’s learning modalities? May I boldly suggest the pacing of the lessons leave students farther behind and give no opportunity for review?

None of this is a surprise, really, to many who were already predicting what the one size fits all Common Core Standards would do to our classrooms. Take Anthony Cody, 24 year educator and national board certified teacher, for example, as he expressed the 10 Colossal Errors regarding the Common Core Standards:

http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2013/11/common_core_standards_ten_colo.html

By highlighting two of the ten errors he exposes, my evolution to the solid Grinchhood state will become obvious. EngageNY is a direct result of the push for national common standards and a fulfillment of Cody’s predictions embedded in the following errors.

“Error #2: The Common Core State Standards violate what we know about how children develop and grow.

One of the problems with the blinkered development process described above is that no experts on early childhood were included in the drafting or internal review of the Common Core. 

In response to the Common Core, more than 500 experts signed the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative. This statement now seems prophetic in light of what is happening in classrooms. The key concerns they raised were

  1. Such standards will lead to long hours of instruction in literacy and math.
  2. They will lead to inappropriate standardized testing
  3. Didactic instruction and testing will crowd out other important areas of learning.
  4. There is little evidence that such standards for young children lead to later success.

Many states are now developing standards and tests for children in kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade, to “prepare” them for the Common Core. Early childhood education experts agree that this is developmentally inappropriate. Young children do not need to be subjected to standardized tests. Just recently, the parents of a k-2 school refused to allow their children to be tested. They were right to do so.”

I am a first-hand witness to all of the above.   Teachers everywhere are grappling with breathing life into this scripted program and screaming for the time to do so.   This is addressed with clarity in Cody’s 4th error:

“Error #4: The Common Core creates a rigid set of performance expectations for every grade level, and results in tightly controlled instructional timelines and curriculum.

At the heart of the Common Core is standardization.  Every student, without exception, is expected to reach the same benchmarks at every grade level. Early childhood educators know better than this. Children develop at different rates, and we do far more harm than good when we begin labeling them “behind” at an early age. 

The Common Core also emphasizes measurement of every aspect of learning, leading to absurdities such as the ranking of the “complexity” of novels according to an arcane index called the Lexile score. This number is derived from an algorithm that looks at sentence length and vocabulary. Publishers submit works of literature to be scored, and we discover that Mr. Popper’s Penguins is more “rigorous” than Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Cue the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to moan that teachers are not assigning books of sufficient difficulty, as the Common Core mandates. 

This sort of ranking ignores the real complexities within literature, and is emblematic of the reductionist thinking at work when everything must be turned into a number. To be fair, the Common Core English Language Arts standards suggest that qualitative indicators of complexity be used along with quantitative ones. However in these systems, the quantitative measures often seem to trump the qualitative.

Carol Burris recently shared a 1st grade Pearson math test that is aligned to the Common Core standards for that grade level. 

Would (or should) a 6 year old understand the question, “Which is a related subtraction sentence?”  My nephew’s wife, who teaches Calculus, was stumped by that one. 

Keep in mind that many New York State first graders are still 5 years old at the beginning of October, when this test was given.

You can review the first grade module for yourself, and imagine any five or six year olds you might know grappling with this.

 The most alarming thing is the explanation Burris offers for how these standards were defined:

If you read Commissioner John King’s Powerpoint slide 18, which can be found here, you see that the Common Core standards were “backmapped” from a description of 12th grade college-ready skills.  There is no evidence that early childhood experts were consulted to ensure that the standards were appropriate for young learners.  Every parent knows that their kids do not develop according to a “back map”–young children develop through a complex interaction of biology and experience that is unique to the child and which cannot be rushed.”

Having honed in upon two of Cody’s ten errors, let’s go back to the student problem. What is the opposite of the opposite of -10 written in equation form?

If you haven’t already figured it out yet, this is a 6th grade level question from the 3rd Module of EngageNY. This is the mathematics the 24 writers believed was most critical for our 11 and 12 year olds to know in order for them to be career and college ready. The answer is posted in the picture below:

6th Answer Key

(-(-(-10))) = -10

Will this content help this young special education student become ready for college and career? My gut tells me there are other foundational mathematics skills she has not yet mastered and deserves the time and quality instruction to learn at her own pace in order to develop authentic mathematical understanding.

So… what’s the story behind EngageNY? Who wrote it?

Often times, we teachers take what is given to us, and just make the best of it. Very true. We are rule followers and do what we are told.   Don’t want to rock the boat or possibly call attention to ourselves. After all, we are now under a new evaluation system in which our principals rank us in around 41 standards.   We must show we are teaching the materials with integrity, we must prove our students are mastering the common core standards, and now there is even legislation in many states, including Washington, to tie our teacher evaluations to how well our students perform on the SBAC test. Some states have already passed this kind of legislation.

Uh Oh.

How does this set up any teacher to have open dialogue regarding their instructional practice or to analyze a program and deem it inappropriate?   How does this create a risk free environment in which the hard questions can be asked by the very educators living and breathing in the trenches alongside our children?

Honestly? It’s darn hard.

When I first heard about EngageNY it was shared in this way, “New York State developed a program with grant money.   $27,000,000 in grant money. Educators within the state wrote the program and it is free to use. It is the most aligned program out there at this time.”

Sound Good?

I laughed to myself as I did my first Google search and found David Greene, author of the book, Doing the Right Thing. He’s a skeptic just like myself.   The same questions below were festering inside of me one August day this summer.

He wrote, Being as skeptical as I am, I asked a few questions. “Is ENGAGENY really ‘in house’ as the NYSED says it is?” Where is the transparency? Who paid for all of this? Why is it so hard to follow the money? With whom does it partner? Who has NYSED hired to write the modules on their site?” See his full discovery here:

https://dcgmentor.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/why-isnt-aft-and-new-york-more-enraged-about-engageny/

Interestingly, EngageNY was NOT written in New York.   The Department of Education in New York contracted the job out to a company called Common Core, Inc. located in Washington D.C.   It was funded by a national grant and once written it had to be made available to any and all whom wished to see it and use it. It basically went viral and has been “adopted” by many school districts throughout the United States.

Because of the wide spread use, Common Core, Inc. saw the mighty dollar sign.

$$$$$$$$. Pretty symbol, yes?

So… this same company started a new company called Eureka.   Eureka bought the full rights to the Common Core, Inc. written EngageNY. Here’s the problem. Because EngageNY was written so quickly, it was filled with errors.   Because it was never field tested, there were many lessons found to be lacking. Eureka, the same peeps, now had the time to go through every module and fine tune the program.   The original writing paid for by the benefits of a national grant gave the now “for profit” Eureka the luxury of time to correct the errors and to make subtle changes to the lessons.   How nice for school districts everywhere. They can now purchase this “comprehensive” program.

EngageNY = Eureka

Eureka = EngageNY

How’s that for the commutative property?

School districts are still allowed to use as much of the old error filled version of EngageNY. It remains “free”.

If school districts want the new and improved version, well, they now have to fork out the dough.

You can examine the “free” version here:

https://www.engageny.org/common-core-curriculum

A more comprehensive analysis of the history of EngageNY was written by Mercedes Schneider, one of my favorite educational writers. See here:

https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/the-ny-dc-la-and-ca-story-of-eureka-math/

I will end Part One here.   I’m hoping my story will end with a softened heart and a happy ending for the U.S.A. educational system.   For now, though, when it comes to the Common Core Standards and EngageNY, I have been Grinchified.

Have you?

Passionately Submitted,

RAZ ON FIRE

 

2nd Grader Shares His Thoughts About Math… and the EngageNY Math Program

My son’s final quote of the night saved for the last line……

The story before the story:

My 2nd Grade son is a mathematical thinker.   As a math educator inside the system with a child inside the system my concern grows.  Classrooms across the country have teacher concerns growing too.  I know, I work with some pretty fantastic teachers and I am listening to their struggles every day.

My son has a natural ability to move around numbers in his head. This has been happening since he was four years old.  I often wonder if his Montessori School experience provided him with the foundation he needed to make sense of numbers.   I think back to all of his work places and the beads and the boxes and the tiles and the sticks.   He constantly was building tens.  As a parent, I was thrilled.

I remember tucking him into bed and him asking me to give him math problems.   I always said, “After Story Time.”   Story time would come to an end and I would shoot out 9 + 8!

He would say, “That’s so easy mom.   17!”

I was perplexed.  This is before Kindergarten.  “How did you get that so fast?” I’d inquire.

“Well, I just took one from the 8 to make the 9 a ten.  Then all I had to do was add 10 + 7 and that is 17!”

My heart overflowed.   Bubbled.   Celebrated.   He was making numbers friendly first.  Then dealing with them.   As a math specialist in my school district this was exactly the number sense we were aiming for in our students.   Rather than memorizing 8 + 9 = 17 as an isolated fact without understanding of addition, the goal was to provide students with these quick and efficient strategies.

I continued my “experiment” with my son.   “All righty then,  what is 8 + 6?”

Instantly he proclaimed, “14!”

Fluency and automaticity were definitely not an issue.  This is the worry of many from the public…. our children do not know their basic facts.  My belief is they do not know their basic facts because often times they are doing “sprints” and “speed tests” with a set of random facts their brain must “just memorize” with no sense making of the numbers.   Over time, there is so much to just “memorize” the brain shuts down.   Children are expected to be speedy with concepts they do not yet understand.  Research has shown that practice makes permanent.  If they practice for speed what they do not understand, then the misconceptions are imprinted in their brains.

“So how did you get 14?” my next question.

“Just as easy, mom.  This time I just took 2 from the 6 and made the 8 a ten!  Same thing.  So now I just have to add 10 + 4.  And that equals 14.”

Efficient.

I upped the challenge, “Okay then, what is 25 + 35?”

He looked upward and paused for a few seconds and said, “60.”

This amazed me.   Surely he hadn’t dealt with two digit numbers…. and I hadn’t worked with him on this in any way.  “Oh, my.  Well, how did you think about this?”

He said, “Well, I knew that 20 and 30 were 50.  Then the 5 + 5 just makes another 10.  So 50 + 10 = 60.”

Sweet!

“Okay, Big Shot,” his giggles filled the room, “Then what would 25 + 37 be?”

“That’s so easy, it’s just two more. 62.”

Huh? “Explain, Mister Man.”

“Well, before you know how there was a 5 + 5 and it made a 10?”

“Ummm… yeah…” I answered.

“Well, 7 is just two more then one of those 5s.   So I still see a 5 + 5, but now just have two more.  That’s 12.  It’s now just a 50 and a 10 and a 2.  That is 62.”

He persisted in asking for harder problems.

I took a chance, “What is 96 – 8?”  Remember he is approaching kindergarten.

A few seconds passed.   He said, “88.”

I followed up with the same question I always do, “How did you think about this?”

“I subtracted 6 first to get to 90.   The 8 is a 6 and a 2.   So all I had left to subtract was the two.  90 – 2 = 88.”

Brilliant.

I proceeded to give him two digit subtracting two digits and his strategies led him to an accurate answer each time.

Kindergarten and 1st Grade:

My debate within myself of where to send my son to school waged its own war within my head.  After much weighing, I sent him to his neighborhood school so he could be with his neighborhood friends.   We struck gold with his kindergarten and 1st grade teacher.  Both teachers created an environment of exploration and fostered his curiosity.   His math was very solid, so my concern was that he be placed with a teacher that really understood literacy development and his reading would skyrocket.   Happily, his reading did skyrocket and ended his 1st grade year at least one grade level above his own grade level.   I wasn’t concerned too much with his math….. yet.   He mentioned often how easy math was to him and it wasn’t challenging.   I knew this would be something I would have to face in the future….. a bridge to cross  to figure out how to put him in an environment in which his mathematical mind would flourish.

2nd Grader Today:

My son’s school is a looping school.  I love it.   He would have the same teacher for 2nd grade he had for 1st.   And I adore her…..  The sparkle in her eye gets me every time I see her.  Many, many, many years of teaching under her belt, and a “master” with every child she touches.

Now, dim the lights.   Imagine walking down into a dingy basement.  It is cold.   The scary music plays.  Slowly you creep down the stairs….  What’s at the bottom?   Your heart rate increases, sweat breaks out……. Oh Crap!

Two new programs hot off the press enter on the scene.   Journeys and EngageNY.

Oh.  Just that?  Harmless enough?

Think twice.

Actually think three times and ask if these two programs will be the magic bullets?  All children at standard, all children eager for college. Hmmmmmm……….

My son’s lovely teacher is buried in implementing two new programs and under the new teacher evaluation system (TPEP).   At parent/teacher night she scrambled to explain the new literacy program and its alignment to common core.   She said to give her time to figure it out and learn the new program.   This is a woman who created a love of learning in every one of her students and many achieved high levels in reading LAST year.   But now, this new program hits the scene.

And my son began coming home every single day bored.  “I’m bored, mom.  All we do is Journey’s all day long.  I saw this really cool story about storms, but we can’t go there yet.   Can we go to the library and check out some books on storms?  I want to read about them.”

Ugh.

I emailed his teacher.  I have the highest regard for her and let her know this almost weekly.   She empathized.   Later, another email came from her letting me know her team had revamped Journeys and figured out a way to put Literacy Stations back into the day.  She also was going to be designing some special projects for the students so they could start exploring and reading about things that fascinated the children.

Schew.

And now….  a monthish into school, her team decides to attack EngageNY.  Their grade level was the only one not doing it at my son’s school and she explained her fear of her students going to next grade level without the experience, vocabulary, and strategies.   Great Heart.   Great Intentions.   She sounded just like me a year ago, when my previous staff was deciding to implement one new program or both.  The teachers in our district were given the “choice” of doing Journeys, and staying with old math program OR also implementing EngageNY.

My tune has changed as I stand in the trenches alongside teachers using EngageNY.

I am living and breathing Engage NY.

I am also listening to my son tonight and had to speak out.

Examine the following two pages of his math homework:

Assignment 1Assignment 2

Conversation Begins:
Son: “Mom, math is so boring.  I’ve been waiting for a long time for it to get more challenging.”

Me: “I know, son.  We’ll talk with your teacher at conferences.  We will figure something out.”

Son: “We had a test today, mom.  It was really hard for most of the kids.   It was long and I think I may have been the only one to finish it.”

Me: “Oh really?”  Did you see other students struggling?”

Son: “Yes, mom.  The girl that sits across from me started to cry during the test.”

Commercial Timeout.  My comments happening inside my brain.  Are you kidding me?  This is rigor?  This is what our children need to fall in love with math and want to pursue it?  This is the answer to our nation’s “crisis”?  Blood pressure rises.   Other first and second grade teachers share similar stories with me.   “Help us!  What can we do?  This isn’t working with our kids. ”

I wonder why?

My son pulls out his homework.  I examine it.  I know his effective strategies and I stare.

Son:  “Mom, this is SO stupid.”

Me: “Now now.  Hold the horse.  Let’s look at this.”

Son (with tears starting): “We have to use these stupid number bonds to solve these and I already know the answer.”

Me: “Just a second.  Let’s look at this for a second.  Hmmmm…..  okay.   I see.  So let’s put number bonds aside.  Let’s look at this first column with all the landmark numbers.”

Son (with frustration, and no patience): “I already know all these answers.  I just use my combos of ten.”

I know how he thinks. “Okay so how do you solve 10 – 3?”

Son: “We have to make the 10 a 1 and then add back on some numbers.  And this is a stupid basic fact.  It’s 7.”

Me: “What do you mean you have to make it a 1 and add on?”
Son:  “Look at the example mom.”

I did.

Me:  “So let’s put the example aside.  How do you solve 10 – 3?”

Son:  “It is 7 because 7 + 3 = 10.”

Me: “Let’s continue. 20 -5?”

Son:  He grabs the pencil and writes 15.   “5 and 5 is 10, so I know I just have to subtract 5 from the landmark.”

Me:  Last one, “40-8”

Son: “Easy.  32.  2 + 8 =10.  So I knew I’d land on 32 by subtracting the 8.”

No way was I making him solve it like the example.

Next column.  Remember when he was a kindergartener and solved 96 – 8?  Above.  Eloquent strategy.  So we worked through these next column of problems utilizing HIS strategy and I showed him how to capture his way of thinking.

Assignment 3

If you go back up and examine first part of the assignment, my son’s strategy does not match, yet I believe his is much more eloquent and quick.  He did all of this in his head of course.  I worry about some posts I’ve seen go viral with all the steps in math with the new common core.  What you are seeing above is what my son did in his head.   Because I wanted to capture his strategy, we broke it down like is seen in the picture.   It is important at this stage of development to help children “see” their strategy.  My intent is not for him to have to do more steps, rather it is merely a way of showing the process happening in his brain.

Some final thoughts:

EngageNY was paid for by New York States Department of Education.  They contracted with a company in Washington D.C. called Common Core, Inc.  Because it was paid for by a grant, $27,000,000, it was made “free” to whomever wished to use it.   Then a company emerged called Eureka Math.   The same people who wrote EngageNY, Common Core, Inc. started Eureka Math.   Eureka Math bought the rights to EngageNY.   The public still can view EngageNY for free and use it for free, but any and all updates and improvements are now owned by Eureka Math.   The difference is Eureka Math is not free and must be paid for to use it.   This is just a side note so parents around the United States understand that EngageNY and Eureka Math are essentially one in the same.

Are these programs “unteaching” our children?  Are our children’s natural curiosity flourishing?  Is creativity, innovation, imagination, and the love of learning alive and well?

Think about the number sense my son has mastered.   Does this homework help or hinder his mathematical growth and understanding?   How much time is he now spending on testing with this new program?   It comes with daily problem sets, exit slips, mid module assessments, and end of module assessments.

My son is 7.

I believe many teachers believe this program isn’t the answer nor will it foster future mathematicians.  I believe many teachers are scrambling for ways to breath life into this program and align it with researched, best practices.  It is a given that children learn by doing and need hands on experiences for learning to go into long term memory.

A 3rd grade teacher shared a story about one of her top math students.  Each day the concept from lesson to lesson to lesson changes.  After about four days he approached her and asked, “Do we ever have a chance to review?  I need some time to let this sink into my brain.”

5th grade teachers struggled to teach the first module on decimals with students who came to them with little mastery of whole numbers. How do you think their students performed on their mid module assessment after one lesson on adding decimals, one lesson on subtracting decimals, then onto multiplication and division of decimals?  Did the students feel success?

6th grade teachers shared the end of module assessment took 3 hours and for some 4 hours in their classrooms.  One 6th grade teacher reported her top math student said, “I hate math,” after throwing her pencil down near the end of the test.

The lobe of the brain that utilizes reasoning is not solidified until at least 12 years old.  Yet our children are being stuffed like turkeys and made to reason before they are ready.  Can you imagine grandparents and parents getting frustrated with their baby when it isn’t walking by 6 months?  Next, deciding to put their child through drills and test them at the end of each week to see if they are closer to walking? Who cares?  They will all walk!

Finally, from the mouth of a 2nd grader:

“Mom, I’ve been waiting for math to get more challenging.  And now it is.  But in the wrong kind of way.   They are now making the easy stuff harder.  I already know how to do what we are doing.  The easy things I already know, I now have to do in a hard way.”

Passionately Submitted,

RAZ ON FIRE