Monthly Archives: January 2015

“I touch the future…. I teach.” – Christa McAuliffe

I remember my first years of teaching.   What an absolute joy it was… arriving at school at 6:00 a.m. and staying until 6:00 p.m., and my weekly routine of driving to school on Saturdays.   Teaching was my soul and my students became part of my heart.  I gave of my time by choice because I loved making a difference in children’s lives.

Teaching was fun.

Teaching was creative.

It was inspirational to innovate and design lessons that engaged my students and ignited their love of learning.

Teaching truly was a science and an art.  I still believe it is today… IF teachers are given the time and allowed to do what they are trained to do…

Today, teachers put in long hours because they have to…. and the extra hours are often not spent creating inspirational lessons… rather teachers are shackled with; endless paper work, constant tests to score and log and evaluate, countless meetings, tracking themselves on teacher evaluation sheets to prove themselves, attending professional development on yet another new program they are required to implement, reading the scripted programs handed to them to be followed and ready for the next day…

Christa McAuliffe was trusted as an educator, and given the liberty to be an innovative and inspirational teacher. 

Today marks the anniversary of the tragedy of the Space Shuttle. January 28, 1986 the shuttle exploded. I was in my dorm room at the University of Washington. It was one of those moments the heart skips a beat and one’s eyes become glued to the screen. No! It couldn’t be.

On that particular day, I didn’t know very much about Christa McAuliffe. However, 14 years later I was shaking her mother’s hand in Washington D.C. She spoke kindly to me and thanked me for my years of teaching. Grace George Corrigan smiled as she autographed the book she wrote in honor of her daughter, A Journal For Christa. I remember the awe I felt, listening to her speak of the memories of this special mom, wife, educator, astronaut… the goose bumps peppering my skin.  Christa, indeed, was one of those rare gems many aspire to be like.  She left a legacy.

Christa Book Cover  Christa Autograph

Christa McAuliffe was a teacher. An innovative teacher.   She was known as the “Queen of Field Trips” and she believed strongly in experienced based education. Her students conducted mock trials to learn more about the law. She developed a class on the role of women in the history of the United States. At first, she encountered trouble getting her course accepted, but she wouldn’t give up. Eventually it was placed as an elective and her students were inspired. One of Christa’s students wrote, “Mrs. McAuliffe’s course on the American woman changed my outlook on life. It was like she discovered something new every day, and she was so excited about it that it got the rest of us excited, too.”

A Message to Teachers Today:

I am in awe of the majority of teachers.   The challenges we face on some days feel insurmountable. We climb the mountain anyway.   Children come to us from all walks of life. We embrace them anyway. We are handed programs our expertise may not resonate with. We breathe life into them and navigate through them anyway. The powers that be want to judge us. We inspire anyway.   Christa McAuliffe Reach

Continue the path and the course in which learning is evident and alive.

Be innovative.

Creative.

Diverse.

Imaginative.

CONTINUE TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT FOR KIDS. Trust yourself. Surround yourself with your colleagues and inspire one another. Think outside the box. Be different. There is nothing common about you… nor is there anything common about any one of your students.

Motivate.

Inspire.

 “To (All Teachers), You touch the future!” Sincerely, Grace Corrigan

I dedicate the following video to each and every teacher across the United States. If you feel a need for a little inspiration right now, be touched by listening to this TED Talk video. Ken Robinson is an amazing speaker and will make you laugh. He may also give you pause about the current education reform efforts, and whether these efforts are the right direction for the future of our children.

The summary of Ken’s three principles in his TED Talk entitled: How to Escape Education’s Death Valley

  • Human beings are naturally DIFFERENT and DIVERSE.
  • If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance…. CURIOSITY is the engine of achievement.
  • Human life is inherently creative.   One of the roles of education is to awaken and develop these powers of CREATIVITY.

 “Teachers are the lifeblood of schools.” 

 I encourage all teachers to avoid the culture of compliance. Be your unique self and encourage your students to be their unique selves.  I believe Christa McAuliffe embraced these same principles. If she were here today, I am certain she would be standing tall… encouraging us all to teach innovatively… and to infuse every lesson with diversity, curiosity, and creativity.

 I hold the torch for this kind of teaching. The fire burns fiercely. Will you join me in holding this torch?

25 Things you may not know about Christa linked here.

Christa McAuliffe 4 (2)

“I touch the future…I teach.” Christa McAuliffe

Fire is Catching

RAZ

A Mommy, Wife, Educator… Opposed to all things COMMON.

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ALL Babies Walking By Six Months Old… A Satire on the Common Core Charade.

“A Lie cannot live.” – Dr. Martin Luther King

Omission 2

Race To The Stadium (RTTS) established

A group of professional sports team owners and product sponsors decided the United States was losing ground globally in producing high quality athletes…. so they met with The President and the National Secretary of the Department of Sports to convince them to set new athletic policies. Soon after, the new RTTS (Race To The Stadium) was established.   A committee was selected to write new and rigorous standards starting from womb to stadium.

A handpicked group of professional team owners and employees of national product sponsors were selected to establish the new standards. A few adult level doctors were also added. Written in under a year, they were rolled out to the state Governors and the State Superintendents of Department of Sports. In order for the new Common Sport State Standards (CSSS) to be adopted, only the Governor and State Superintendent needed to sign.

Two signatures.

Bam!

It was then pushed through the State House of Representatives and the State Senate with little time for review or public input. In fact, these standards were pushed upon the states by the federal government and the National Department of Sports. This was not initiated by the people or for the people….

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”   Abraham Lincoln

Putting the values of the United States Republic aside, if the two governing officials signed the CSSS into law, a stimulus package of money arrived from the federal government to implement the new standards. If not signed, money was denied and/or removed.   “Naughty” were the states who did not sign on.

Naughty, Naughty. “You will leave your babies behind.”

Some Governors later admitted they were asked to sign the document before the final draft of the standards was completed, but… I guess this is beside the point.

The State Superintendent also needed to sign the document. No committees formed. No review process. No early childhood physical therapists consulted. No pediatricians consulted. No athletes gave input.

Definitely no parents. “What do they know?

About a year after the State Superintendent signed the standards into law, a soft roll out to parents and pediatrician offices was initiated so enough time would be given to prepare their homes and offices. New baby materials, sports products, and technical support would need to be purchased to assist in helping the babies achieve the new standards.

Here were the new early babyhood Common Sports State Standards (CSSS):

  1. All children shall walk by 6 months old.
  2. All children shall run by 6.5 months old.
  3. All children shall do summersaults by 7 months old.
  4. All children shall do cartwheels by 7.5 months old.

It was ensured, by adhering to these rigorous standards, ALL babies would be on track for the Olympics and/or professional athleticism. No one questioned the age appropriate sports standards. No one questioned who wrote the standards… and those who did, in any way, were looked down upon.   Many, at first, even believed these standards were appropriate, necessary, and the answer to preparing the babies for a solid future in professional athletics and quite possibly a turn in the Olympic Games.

In the beginning, very few realized the standards were written by the owners of handpicked professional teams and the high ranking employees of the favored brand name sports products… like… hmmmmm….Nike, Gatorade, 5 Hour Energy… these well intended people, of course, really desired to start our babies off on the right foot. (No pun intended).

Next, a nationwide curriculum, specifically designed for parent use, was written by the same people… contracts were drawn up, with undisclosed amounts of money to be paid to them. This curriculum was accessible to parents once they bought a tablet. This tablet was the only platform that could run the software. If they followed the steps perfectly, the parents were promised their children would accomplish these high and rigorous goals.

Interested in following the money?:  Ten Common Core Promoters Laughing All The Way To The Bank.Money eye

Parents followed the lock step programs, using the accepted products only,  and pediatricians tracked their patient’s progress and entered weekly progress into a data tracking system to help parents target certain muscle groups that were failing in their babies legs.

Gill Bates, of course, in all of his athletic background and expertise, paid $200,000,000 to the committee to write the standards. The standards started at one day old. Each day, starting at day one, a lock step, scripted walking curriculum was established…incorporating all the sports baby products sold by the very writers of the CSSS.

Next, knowing the standards needed to be embraced and accepted by the masses, Bates, the athletic expert, also paid at least $200,000,000 for the promotion and advertisement of these new and rigorous baby standards… AND… do not forget… he also funded, through grants, the development of the software for the tablets for parental use.   Just imagine the profits $$$$$ made after every parent purchased one of these tablets.

Interestingly, even Gill Bates admitted the success of the new CSSS wouldn’t be known for 10 years. Listen at 45:22 in his speech at Harvard, “It will take 10 years to know if this “sport” stuff will work.”   Watch it (here).

The signs of implementation were clearly seen, as anyone driving through the majority of communities across the nation, or observing activity in local parks, saw no children playing or mommy’s pushing babies in strollers. Most were home practicing and following the programed script to ensure their child was walking on time. They didn’t want to “leave their babies behind” or to the doom of factory work for Nike.  Rather their dream was for their child to have the best chance of wearing the Nike gear out on the court as an athlete.

With time, many parents became frustrated with the script, and called their pediatrician’s office with their complaints. “This isn’t working.” Or “Johnny isn’t responding to lesson 6.” Or “My baby failed the three month module test, what do I do next?” Having the pressure themselves to ensure all their patients walked on their 6 month Birthday, the pediatricians continued to encourage integrity to the national walking program.

The pressure mounted.

Each parent knew they were required to take their child to a Smarter Balanced Athletic Testing Center to be analyzed by their Certified Pediatrician. The Pediatricians had checklists full of Criterion, Domains, Components, and Elements… with detailed rubrics (oops, I mean scales) to be tracked. All total there were 41 Elements within the Domains through the Elements based on the Components they would be judged upon whether they met the Criterion. The parent was given an evaluation based on all of this. Within the first 6 months of the baby’s life, the parent had four formal observations to determine if they were accomplishing the 41 Elements within the Domains through the Elements based on the Components and whether they were on track to meet the Criterion.

It was all a little confusing.

Confused BabyThe parents were informed, by Senate Bill 5946, if their child was not walking by the exact date of 6 months old, they would lose their child for 3 hours a day to a state run walking school with the goal of closing the walking gap. Soon there were walking schools springing up throughout the land, filled with state trained certified walking specialists holding the “key” to successful walking.

In a private meeting, the Smarter Balanced Athletic Consortium (SBAC) met, to establish what level of walking would be acceptable to pass the 6 month walking mark.  They based the cut scores on the previous year’s field test done on countless babies throughout the land. The cut score was publicized and revealed approximately 30% of the children would indeed be able to walk by the 6 month mark. However, 70% would fail.

The parent’s fears grew.   They wanted the best for their babies, and not passing the Smarter Balanced Athletic Test would doom their babies to a life slaving in the Nike and Gatorade Factories, or worse yet, peddling 5 Hour Energy Drinks in local stores.

The state run walking schools were prepared, however, and remedial walking programs were written and sold to these schools by the very same company who designed the Smarter Balanced Athletic Test.

The Pressure Mounted.

District Doctor’s Offices, overseeing the Pediatricians, hired testing coordinators. The coordinators found practice walking interim assessments with checkpoint assessments in between the practice interim assessments. Parents could administer these practice tests in their own homes to prepare for the ultimate Smarter Balanced Athletic Test. The data was uploaded to the District Doctor’s Offices in order to follow each baby, parent, and pediatrician and keep track of who was performing well.

Next, Walking Specialists were hired to assist parents in how to implement the tablet run Walking Program and answer the questions that continued to arise. The Walking Specialists were also able to help the parents look at the data from the interim tests and the checkpoints in between the interim tests. This assisted the parents to better understand how to target specific muscle areas needing stimulation, and established next steps for their baby in order to ensure their success on the Smarter Balanced Athletic Test.

The end goal for all, no matter what level they served in the Sporting System, was to get the baby to….

Pass.   The.   TEST.

The Pressure Escalated.

As the parents implemented the new Walking Program, they were informed and mandated to attend several evening professional development classes in order for them to understand the new Parental Evaluation System. You know, the one in which they had to show evidence of the 41 Elements within the Domains through the Elements based on the Components to see whether they were on track to meet the Criterion?

Baby said, “Eh?”

Their checklists looked much like the following:  TPEP List 3

Harder still, the parents had been mandated by the state to utilize a new Nutritional Program and Eating Schedule, (written by 5 Hour Energy), for their babies that was entirely different than the one used before. So… now… they were implementing the new Walking Program which included utilizing a new technology with the tablets, establishing a new Nutritional Program and Eating Schedule for their babies (thanks 5 Hour Energy!), as well as learning how they would be evaluated upon these things… all at the same time.

Sheesh!

Who would have dared question this charade?

 It was a Race To The Stadium…

 The Pressure Continued to Mount.

The Pediatricians were “under the gun” too. They were also judged and evaluated by similar criterion, much like the parents. Percentages of pass rates of his/her patients were logged and tracked into CEDARS, the state data bank. The data was then uploaded to The Feds. FERPA laws were loosened, so data could be released to third party vendors. Every pediatrician… every parent… every baby followed…

Data Tracking of Children.....Tracked.
Data logged.
National Baby IDs established.
The following link shows how to access the National IDs and how the FERPA laws have been loosened.  Click (here).

If the Pediatrician’s percentage rate was found failing, the state closed the doctor’s practice, and brought in their own set of better trained, “higher quality” doctors to run the offices.  All at tax payer expense of course.

Sadly, the pediatricians were tied to their desks, entering their evaluation data into computers from the four observations of each parent capturing the 41 Elements within the Domains through the Elements based on the Components to see whether they were on track to meet the Criterion.

Baby said, “Eh?”

The actual time with their patients decreased significantly because most had anywhere from 45 – 100 parents to track times four in a sixth month period.  (There’s some mathematics for you!)

Note… this was a “growth model” with the full purpose of helping the parents become better at teaching their babies to walk.

Again Gill Bates got involved, and helped fund Pediatrician For America (PFA). This program allowed those with a bachelor degree to be put in five week crash courses to become Pediatricians. After all, most were young and willing to follow the script and do exactly what they were told. Another benefit to the PFA, was the lower end salaries paid to these new doctors due to their placement on the salary schedule.  Additionally, this was considered a good thing because many of the traditionally educated Pediatricians were leaving the field and Pediatrician shortages became a real problem.

Sadly, the PFA program began to collapse too, as most PFA doctors gave only two years of their lives to helping babies walk before moving on to other jobs that became their real careers.

The Pressure Increased.

In the beginning stages of the implementation of the CSSS (Common Sports State Standards), it was decided the parents needed to incorporate a new sleep therapy program. New “research” had come out stating babies with strict sleep schedules were better able to practice their leg exercises each day to prepare for walking. The parents again, were called to more professional development in the evening to understand the strict sleeping program and how to adhere to it without waiver. Boxes arrived to their homes.   They cleared out hall closets to make room for all the resources arriving from the state.

The Pressure Point of Collapse Loomed.

A few parents and a few pediatricians started to raise some questions. They were scorned. Didn’t they understand these national Common Sport State Standards were written by experts in the field and necessary to prepare babies for the Olympics and Professional Sports? Didn’t they understand how critical it was to be able to compete globally with other countries producing star athletes?

The few parents and pediatricians grew in strength. They began to uncover the CSSS weren’t written by experts, but rather by the owners of professional sports teams and the product sponsors. Their voices grew.

In fact, in New York State alone, the Pediatricians wrote a letter of concern regarding the evaluation of parents by baby walking scores. It was signed by more than 1,535 New York pediatricians and more than 6,500 parents: Following The Common Core Money.  Where are Millions of Dollars Going?

Another joint document was written and signed by over 500 early baby specialists stating their concerns with the CSSS: (Joint Statement).

Still many states insisted on staying the course. Eyes shut. Ears closed.   A lot of officials made arguments the cost was already too high and there would be no way to abandon the CSSS.

Dr. Peg Luksik wrote, “When parents approach school districts or state legislatures with their concerns about the disasters occurring in Common Sport “homes” and ask that the program be stopped before even more damage is done to the education and self-esteem of America’s little ones, they are told that such a step would be irresponsible because of the huge amounts of money that have already been spent. So our “babies” will just have to “soldier on”.

Dr. Luksik went on to say:

The apparent success of that argument must have many other industries rethinking their approaches to problems.

Pharmaceutical companies who have been forced to stop production of a new drug that made it all the way to the final testing stage before the discovery of serious negative side effects could claim that they had already invested a great deal of money, so it would be “irresponsible” to stop production at this late date.

And companies that brought drugs into the marketplace, only to be faced with recall either because the drug had not been properly tested or unforeseen complications had arisen from its use, could make the same claim and avoid having to pull that product off the shelves.”

 Dr. Luksik makes more arguments for the halt of the CSSS despite the money spent so far.  She furthered her logical argument by mentioning how the auto industry may need to rethink how they go about business.  Baby Driving 2

A failing car?

No need for recalls.

After all… it cost too much to design the car, manufacture the car, and transport them to all the car dealerships.

Her full article can be found (here).


Fast forward ten years.

“Funny” thing…

Few pediatrician doctor’s offices exist. There are thousands and thousands of state run baby schools of walking. Parents are up in arms… protesting. Their babies no longer theirs.

And…

“Funny” thing…

Ten years later… The majority of 6 month old babies… stillaren’twalking.

Ingenious Experiment.

For Whom?
FOR WHOM?
Real or not real?Peeta Mellark, The Hunger Games

This is the birth to kindergarten mental health interventions for babies. This is “research” for the early learning and the $1 billion Obama is funding for daycare and preschool.  See for yourself: Obama Targets Babies

Martin Luther King Graphic

Passionately Submitted,

RAZ ON FIRE

References:

  1. HB 5946: http://app.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=5946&year=2013
  2. Teacher Evaluation Bill:  http://tpep-wa.org/about-tpep/legislation/essb-5895/

 

Common Core and Testing Concerns… A Letter to My Principal

Background Context about My Letter

Before reading my letter to my principal I want it to be public knowledge that I adore and love her.   She is an amazing administrator on so many levels.   In my 25 year educational career, I have encountered two principals I hold in the same high level of regard…  two principals that fall into the category of Distinguished. My current principal is one of those two.   The most critical practice she employees is listening.  

I have the opportunity to express myself.

I have the opportunity to share my perspective.

I have the opportunity to disagree with educational policies.

I have the opportunity to share research I encounter and we actually talk about it.

I have the opportunity to question decisions and seek understanding.

I have the opportunity to ask the tough questions.

She listens.

She honors my expertise and what I have to contribute to my school’s community.

She shares her perspective, too, and I listen.

Sometimes she challenges my thinking.

I feel respected.

I feel honored.

Principals are being put under the same pressures as us teachers.   They, too, are being handcuffed with educational mandates and policies that are shackling them to their desks, writing endless reports on every teacher to the nth degree of minutia.   (This is not an exaggeration).

I met with my principal this Friday, January 9th, 2014, and was able to discuss many of the topics I’ve included in this letter.   My purpose for writing this letter is threefold:

  • I wanted her to have the links to the videos and articles I was referring to so she could get some context around what I was sharing.
  • I wanted to have a letter written for other educators that may act as a template or a talking point to open conversations with their administrators.
  • I could utilize talking points in this letter to use in my future letters to our Governor, our State Superintendent, and our legislators.

I am sure my principal and I will have many, many more conversations around the topics in this letter. The key is… I can have these conversations. I am not shot down.   She doesn’t look at me like I am an alien from outer space.   She values me as an intelligent human being whom has the best interest of every child and teacher in my school at the center of my heart and mind. She understands these conversations are necessary if we truly are going to improve our schools and advocate for what is the very best for our children.  In my opinion, my principal has the same heart as Carol Burris.

Carol Burris, New York Principal of the Year 2013

Principal

I continue to receive letters, email, and instant messages from teachers sharing their stories.   I am also getting letters, emails, and instant messages from parents sharing their stories.   I plan to continue to write and advocate and use these stories to try to help stop harmful mandates and policies.  My dream is for teachers to thrive and be freed from their handcuffs so they have the time to fill their days with creative and innovative instruction without the pressure of test after test after test.

For those reading my writing for the first time, I hope a few things can be understood:

  • In the beginning I accepted the CCSS standards and did not ask a whole lot of questions. Questions like:  Who wrote them?  What was the process? Who reviewed them? Who approved them? This is true of many educators across the nation.   However, as knowledge came my way, and I was willing to dig underneath the surface and start asking questions… I have come to be opposed to the CCSS standards at the early childhood level for many, many layered reasons.
  • I do believe in standards. They act as guides for teachers. However, the standards need to be developmentally appropriate and never used in a punitive nature to children or teachers or schools.

 

Good Morning Principal,

It is Saturday morning and I wanted to send you some of the things I have been reading and researching to establish a deeper understanding as to why I have become so burdened for our children, our teachers, and our schools.  The first video link is the best one I have seen yet around why the early common core standards are not developmentally appropriate.

Dr. Megan Koschnick says, “Children cannot yet think abstractly until the Formal Operational stage occurring around 11 – 15 years old.”

She went on to say, “Children will be measured against inappropriate standards and will be held back and tracked into remedial classes that they don’t really need.”  (HB 5946 in Washington State for example)

Dr. Koschnick speaks here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tSQlJE6VuA

This second video is by Dr. Sandra Stotsky, one of the 30 people invited to be a part of the validation committee of the Common Core.   She is one of the five that would NOT validate the Common Core.  She explains very clearly why she would not validate the CCSS and in her ELA expertise why the push for text younger and younger is not appropriate, and she also addresses a child’s natural process for writing.

It is interesting to note her comment about how the five people who would not validate the standards simply disappeared off the committee.   The document only lists the 25 that did validate the CCSS. Why not be open and honest to the public and list the five people who would not validate the CCSS?

Dr. Stotsky speaks here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0aLonR51Ac&app=desktop

My main questions and concerns around CCSS is knowing that none of the writers were early childhood specialists, none had any real classroom experience, three of them a few years at secondary, and most worked for educational businesses and the testing industry.   One of the lead math writers works for Pearson.   Pearson is now the writer and publisher of PARCC, SAT, GED, and many more tests. (McGraw-Hill publishes SBAC).   They also have their fair share of the textbook industry, including all the remediation tests and programs.   Is it ironic they write a test, set the cut scores at 70% failure, and then are able to sell the remediation programs?

Here are some links about Pearson and the monopoly they seem to have in the United States education system:

  1. http://www.alternet.org/education/corporations-profit-standardized-tests
  1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/enough-is-enough-pearson-_b_3146434.html
  1. http://dianeravitch.net/2014/12/31/shocker-after-pearson-aligns-ged-with-common-core-passing-rates-collapse/

Pearson $

From the Trenches:

As educators, many things come our way and most of us do not question anything.   In fact, it is discouraged.   We are expected to take our marching orders without question.   Courageous conversations around what is best for kids are not had.  There isn’t time.   I often feel we chase our tails and jump from one thing to the other without really taking the time to examine, critique, ask critical questions.  We panic, we try this, we try that… etc…  At year 25 in my career, and in my past being recognized with several awards for my innovative teaching and motivation of children, I have never seen anything like what is happening now in our schools across the nation.

Obviously I am very, very concerned.  I have also done some research around Amplify and have found some interesting information.   Amplify is owned by Rupert Murdoch.  He is the big Fox News multi-millionaire.  He also has purchased Core Knowledge which two of our schools are using.   He is quoted as saying, “The United States education system is worth 500 billion in untapped profits.”

500 billion.

Rupert Murdoch started a company called inBloom.   Bill Gates funded the development of the software of inBloom.   InBloom is a testing and data tracking system for use in schools to see children’s growth over time.   Ten states were using this at one time.   It slowly collapsed.   Louisiana and New York were the last to hang on to this system.   Data was leaked to third party vendors and parents became outraged.  Due to this “leak”, inBloom closed its doors and failed as a company.   Well, Rupert Murdoch isn’t so stupid.  He regrouped this company, and it has now resurfaced.   Its new name… drum roll please…

Amplify.

He hired Joel Klein, the ex-chancellor of New York, to be his CEO. The following is an article about how they are trying to keep Rupert Murdoch separate from his new company because of the history of the failure of inBloom:

Amplify Education Tries to Build an Identity Outside of New’s Corps Shadow:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/mollyhensleyclancy/amplify-education-tries-to-build-an-identity-outside-of-news?utm_term=.eiDDP5N26#.faA9KGWdw

I have other links following the history of inBloom and its evolution to Amplify.

Therefore, this is why I have growing concerns as to many, many decisions that seem to be made without a full comprehensive review.   Somewhere decisions are made with no real trial period with lengthy discussions to follow, from the field, in order to make informed decisions to purchase a testing product or any other product for that matter.   It seems, in order to evaluate a new product, a few schools use the product and then there should be a discussion around the pros and cons of its effectiveness? A courageous conversation or two or three occurs before purchase? No?

I shared a little of this with a few coaches and they looked at each other, smirked, looked back at me and said, “So, what are your first steps as a data coach?” There are literally no opportunities to discuss multiple perspectives and the impacts we are seeing within the walls of our schools.   My questions were completely discounted and ignored. I had expressed my concerns around the test questions for both Amplify and the SBAC.   The high level of reasoning expected of the children is truly astronomical. I shared how we all read the book a few years back, “How the Brain Learns Mathematics” By David Sousa, and tried to put on the table how it said children’s ability to reason does not occur until 11-12 years old. I innocently asked, “Are you at all concerned, too? Is it concerning at all that the cut scores are set at 70% not meeting the standard?”   And this is the moment I got the “look” and the question about my first steps in my new job. In other words, “We will not discuss this with you.”

It seems we must assimilate much like The Borg in the T.V. series Star Trek.   Even John Luke Picard assimilated into the Borg until he was rescued and disconnected.

The Borg

My parent hat:

As a parent, I am not willing to sacrifice my child’s childhood, his chance to explore, ask questions, use his imagination, create, innovate, discover, play… I believed my job as an early childhood educator is to foster the curiosity of my students.  Students that are curious will learn.  Especially at 3 to 12 years old.  Make a learning environment that looks like a living, breathing museum fosters children’s desire to… race for books and to read and research,  perform science labs, work hard on math skills, and so much more.  When I had my own classroom…  well planned, creative, innovative, and integrated learning… had my student’s achievement soaring through the roof.  (You can read more here.)

My Educator Hat:

I strongly believe we are handcuffing teachers with compartmentalized programs that are killing the life blood of what makes teaching teaching and learning learning.   We are piling things on their laps that their legs can no longer hold, and they become lemmings… (term used by kindergarten teacher) marching in line, doing what they are supposed to do… all the while heading for a cliff.

My worry, in this Race To The Top (RTTT), is we are, at a more rapid speed than I realized, becoming Test Prep Factories.   Our classrooms are being filled with instruction that can only be measured by a test item and the policy makers are forgetting the most critical components of learning in early childhood children.

RTTT or Real Learning

Here’s China, who many seem to point to as the “ideal” and state, “We need to ‘catch up’.”   I have heard often we are “competing” with China.   It is interesting for me to read the real story behind the red curtain. As a parent and educator, I’m in no way interested in an educational system that produces regurgitating robots.

Inside a Chinese Test Prep Factory: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/magazine/inside-a-chinese-test-prep-factory.html?_r=2

And for a little more “fun”… I found this article to be telling… and I love everything this man writes.  “Your five year old failed a standardized test. Therefore he is Stupid, Insane, and Doomed to a Life of Failure”:

http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/02/10/your-5-year-old-failed-a-standardized-test-therefore-he-is-stupid-insane-and-doomed-to-a-life-of-failure/

The above is not far from the truth.   In California they are now experimenting with a 3 year old Common Core Test.  A research project is studying whether they can look at predictors of math failure based on 3 year old responses.   To me, this is nuts.

So… on this Saturday morning… I decided to pour my heart out… and give you some context to where my concerns are in regards to how children learn and the over testing.   Teachers are being held to these standards (many that are being shown to be developmentally inappropriate in the name of “rigor”), yet are stolen days and days and days and days and days of instruction time for more and more and more and more and more….

TESTS.

A pig does not get fatter by weighing it.   It needs to be fed.

Sad Pig

If children do not receive appropriate instruction, then how, dare I ask, are these teachers expected to get their students to standard?

I really hope, the powers that be, start examining the reality of the teachers in the trenches…

How Principals can Avoid Administrator-itis:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/11/24/how-teachers-can-avoid-administrator-itis/

I wish this article was entitled, how District Offices and State Departments of Education can avoid administrator-itis. It seems the farther removed an educator becomes from a classroom, the more they forget how the decisions they are making often place many burdens on teachers laps, sometimes to the breaking point.   This is one of those times.   When I was the K-12th grade district math coordinator in my last school district, I always viewed everything through the eyes of the teacher.   I led a Math Cadre of teachers, who met monthly to guide the decision making around mathematics instruction. Teachers had real ownership of the full process.

Our schools and teachers are being zapped with endless tasks and expectations that I believe will not get us where we want to go with our children…  there are more important things about the life of a child than what can be measured by a test.

Here is an example of something I wrote the other night as I reminisced about inspirational teaching and learning:

A Lesson in Science and Integrated Learning

My son got a snowman kit in his stocking.   After building the snowman, we watched it slowly melt.

I asked, “Is this a solid or liquid?”

Snowman Melting

As we discussed this idea I went to my cupboard to find the ingredients for making Oobleck. My son and I googled the Dr. Seuss Book and read the story… and made the substance… Many teachers do this every year.

Oobleck #1Oobleck #2

When I taught I was able to take the idea of “Oobleck” and turn it into a full scale integrated unit of study.

With 5th Graders I used to have the substance premade. I made enough for each group of four kiddos, but it was dyed blue. I informed them I had written a NASA Astronaut and they sent me some samples from the surface of Neptune they were able to obtain. I shared the scientists from NASA were requesting for students to explore the properties of the substance and to send them our findings.

My first question I wrote on the board was, “Is this a solid or liquid?”

Students were given a piece of paper and divided it in half. They labeled one side “solid”, the other side “liquid”. They were to experiment with the substance from Neptune and discuss the properties of each and write observations on both sides.  Later, students wrote detailed descriptions and included this in letters capturing their findings.  A month later, a return letter came back with gratitude for their hard work and thorough reports. (Written secretly by me of course!)

Next I posed a question… what is really known about the planet Neptune? Books were checked out and computers were used to research. Interest grew and students began doing studies of the other planets.  They wrote reports.  We learned about topic sentences, detail sentences, conclusion sentences, and paragraphs.

They began to make charts and graphs with the sizes of the planets including measurements like diameter and circumference as well as surface area. This became a great lesson in place value in a meaningful context. Distances from the sun were explored, and large numbers were written on charts and graphs.

Student’s natural curiosity led to a lot of research, reading, science, and math. The unit always ended with each student writing a story of an expedition to another planet. Within their story they had to include at least five facts of the planet they explored.

Creative and Expository writing continuous… it was a natural part of our day, every day, writing for varying purposes.

And…  my students loved to write.  Surprised?

What standards were taught? What learning measurable?

Most students scored a “4” for their love of learning as well as a “4” for their incredible imaginations… Of course, I collected their papers and used rubrics to score their writing and gave the students constructive feedback. My point here is, not every iota of learning can be measured. In fact, dare I propose… the most important kind of learning can’t be measured by a test question?

Matt Damon 2

Teachers need the time to plan lessons like the above.   Teachers are creative human beings trained to do this.  I am saddened by the programs handed to them that squelches opportunities to innovate, create, and inspire.

One teacher from another school district contacted me and said, “My principal came to my room today and told me to stop being so creative.  There isn’t any time for creativity anymore.  Please stick to the programs given to you. It is critical these students pass the test.”

Sad.

Disheartening.

Thank you for hearing me out, principal.   In my twenty-five year career, you are one of two principals I have worked for I believe understands the full range of instruction, and if you don’t, you ask for guidance.  I am thankful you have not fallen into administrator-itis…  I appreciate your willingness to listen, hear multiple perspectives, and have courageous dialogue around educational issues.   I am asking a lot of tough questions right now.  In my past school district, I knew each of the school board members personally and had a strong, working relationship with the superintendent.   I often met with them and spoke at school board meetings.   I am just a little fish here in Spokane.   It is the conviction of my heart, and what I am seeing inside the walls of schools, and the exhaustion on teacher’s faces, that is compelling me to write this lengthy letter to you.

Sincerely,

Raz

(RAZ ON FIRE)

DivineSpark

Fire is Catching