Category Archives: Common Core Standards

Senate Hearing… Our Testimony on Common Core… By Raz and Son

Senate Hearing

Olympia, Washington

April 2, 2015

1)  Part One of Senate Hearing

2)  Part Two of Senate Hearing

Raz and Son (Part One): Minute 21:57 – 30:49

Good Afternoon Ladies, Gentlemen and Senators. I am Raschelle Holland, currently an Instructional Mathematics Coach from Spokane, Washington and this is my 8 year old son.

Son: “Good Late Afternoon, Ladies, Gentlemen and Senators.”

I would like to thank those of you who are sitting here today, to give us, parents and educators, a voice, to tell our stories regarding Common Core and the impact it is having as it ripples through the walls of our schools and homes and into the lives of our children.

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

I am one of those people living in the trenches everyday alongside incredible educators working in a 90% poverty school. I am a National Congressional Teacher Scholar and National Board Certified since 2001, one of the first 100 in the state, and have facilitated several through the process since. I have been awarded the National Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics, the United States Senate Innovative Teacher Award, and the National Christa McAuliffe Fellowship Award. I’ve attended University of Washington, Whitworth University, and achieved a Master’s Degree from Gonzaga University. (Go Zags!) I am endorsed in Mathematics, Special Education, Psychology, and Elementary Education.

And… most importantly, I have spent 25 years working in Title One, low income schools.

I have a heart for these children. They are smart and courageous and face situations unfathomable. I could spend more than my allotted time telling you the stories from the trenches, of children with no running water, children living in homeless shelters, children from refugee camps in Africa who don’t speak one word of English, children who check their back packs several times throughout the day after receiving meals for the weekend on Friday mornings.

I am here, this late afternoon, vouching and standing for every single teacher who give their heart and soul to these children every single day.

The SBA takes way longer than 8 hours. It does. Children begin the test at 9:05 and many are still working at 2:55 for the ELA Performance Task. The same is true for the Math Performance Task. Young children whose hands barely span the key board, typing their answers.   Then there is another day for the ELA multiple choice and short answer test, then another day for the Math multiple choice and short answer test. Add to the plate, computerized interim tests developed by Amplify, to practice for the SBAC, to see if they are on track for the SBAC, and often, 4-5 months of the computers are tied up in a school year, doing testing.

Carol Burris,  New York Principal of the Year in 2013 said,

“I do not believe that any of the players in this project are evil people trying to control the minds of kids.  Rather they are true believers with an ideological allegiance to untested curriculum. The Common Core has some features that are good and others that are awful.”

For me, the awful part is the one size fits all approach demanding all children meet the same learning goals and targets at the same exact time.  Our children are not robots or machines spewing forth correct information on the spot lickety split.

What do we hold most dear in our children?

What is it we hope for them as they grow into their potentials?

Will standardization be the answer?

Rigor? The new favorite word traveling around the education world.

RIGORRRRRRRRRRR!

I, for one, am tired of hearing that any of us who question the standards in any way do not believe in high standards for our students. This is a huge untruth. We believe in high standards for each individual student from their individual starting point.

Is more Rigor the answer?

Higher, Longer, Deeper, Harder, Broader, More, and then younger and younger?

Is this the answer? Is this how learning works?

Let’s take a moment to examine this. One summer day, when my son was two, we attended a neighborhood pool party. A mom was going on and on and on about how her two year old son knew all of his alphabet letters, could say each one in order, and now he was mastering the letter sounds. I inquired as to how this had occurred? She shared how every day when her son took his bath, how she had him place the bath letters across the tile in order and then point to each letter and say their names. I looked at my son giggling in the sun, and I was pretty sure he didn’t know one letter yet, nor did I care, at that time. I just wanted him to play.

Hmmmmm… how is my son doing today at 8?   I just had his parent teacher conference and he is reading nearly two grade levels above 2nd grade. The other little boy moved away. I’m curious. I wonder what his reading level is today? Did knowing his letters at two become a predictor as to what kind of reader he would become? Better than his peers?

Have you ever looked up the definition of Rigor?

Son:

 “Georgie Porgie, Puddin’ and Pie,

Took some tests that made him cry,

When the computers came on in May,

Georgie Porgie ran away.”

Welcome to Georgie Porgie’s “rigorous” world.

I went to my friend, Merriam Webster, and the word is defined as:

  • rigor: the difficult and unpleasant conditions or experiences that are associated with something
  • rigor: the quality or state of being very exact, careful, or strict

Full Definition of RIGOR

  1. a (1) : harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment :  severity (2) :  the quality of being unyielding or inflexible :  strictness (3) :  severity of life :  austerity  b :  an act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty
  2. a tremor caused by a chill
  3. a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable; especially :extremity of cold
  4. strict precision : exactness <logical rigor>
  5. a : obsolete : rigidity, stiffness c :  rigor mortis
  6. b : rigidness or torpor of organs or tissue that prevents response to stimuli

Are we raising the rung so high our children can walk right under it?

What are we doing to our children in the name of rigor?

Are we letting go of those things that are not measurable?

Creativity.  Curiosity.  Innovative.  Imagination. 

Let’s examine a few of these standards.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.2.3 Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.

This is 2nd grade.  Draw a connection between a series of historical events.

Let’s look at a kindergarten math standard.

K.OA.3  Decompose numbers less than or equal to 10 into pairs in more than one way, e.g. by using objects or drawings, and record each decomposition by a drawing or an equation.

I really don’t think there is any necessity for a five-year-old to use college level vocabulary to explain complex math terms when many still need to develop one-to-one correspondence. Of course, someone who supports common core would say that all they are doing is raising the bar. However, this is a bar that is twenty feet up and for most five year olds, impossible to master.

Here are the voices of teachers from Spokane:

“I don’t understand why any of these things are needing to be addressed. We know so much about stages of development…why are the ‘decision makers’ choosing to ignore what we know to be true and push forward with high stress, developmentally inappropriate standards…?  Completely baffling and a waste of everyone’s time. (Especially the children’s!!) You can buy an infant a two wheel bike and even set them on it every single day…they still will not ride it until they’ve learned everything that they need to learn first…until THEY are ready!! Seems so simple!!”

“They keep changing/raising the standard, but kids are essentially the same as they have always been. They are humans, not robots that can be reprogrammed at the whim of a given standard. It’s great, even important, to set and reach for high standards as long as we recognize that children develop at different rates because each one is a unique and precious creation that was never meant to fit into an idealistic matrix of rigid, time bound demands.”

Did these “Standard Setters” have a deep understanding of how our youngest learn? All considered, is anyone else pondering and reflecting upon the developmental appropriateness in our youngest children? The frontal cortex of the brain that is able to reason is not solidified until approximately 12 years old. Yes, classrooms in younger grades need exposure to higher order questioning, experiences, and thinking skills. However, this gives children the opportunity to grow their brains and ability to learn how to reason logically. To set standards of mastery, and to espouse that all children learn skills and concepts at the same exact time seem incredulous to me.

Do all babies walk by 6 months old?

Do all children say their first word in the same exact month?

Do all children learn to read at a DRA level of 4 by five years old?

To demand that all children learn skills and concepts at the same exact time and then to “test, test, test” in the early grades, and demand reasoning in performance in order to meet these standards, seems a far stretch and may very well be setting our children up for failure. This failure will not breed the love of learning or prepare them for their future paths.

How many years have we had in NCLB? Fourteen years? Isn’t this enough time to paint a pretty clear picture this standardized, one size fits all, standardized world…and the high stakes testing madness…

Does.   Not.    Work.

So… what’s our new solution?

Create yet another set of standards. More “rigorous” standards.

Spend billions more.

Allow testing companies to make huge profits (billions) off of our children, yet there seems to be no money to reduce class size or compensate the very people working in the trenches every single day with the future in their hands.

The individual state’s set of standards supposedly failed, so these National “Common” Standards are supposedly filled with magic bullets of “rigor”.  Rigor, the supposed cure all to every educational woe.

I respectfully disagree.

My son deserves more. 

My students deserve more. 

Our children deserve more. 

Children are meant to fly.

Diffferent Butterflies!

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My Letter to Senator Baumgartner February 18th, 2015… Please listen to SB6030

Good Morning Senator Baumgartner,

I am an accomplished, veteran educator of 25 years.   I am also a mommy of an 8 year old.  I have been rewarded with several national teaching awards including the United States Senate Innovative Teacher Award.   My full bio can be found (here).

I have taken it upon myself to research this past year regarding the Common Core State Standards and the SBAC test because things just weren’t sitting right in my gut.  I uncovered a wealth of information that raises red flags and I have become very, very concerned.  My concerns have heightened as I see what is happening in the walls of our public schools.  Webpages look wonderful as school districts highlight the wonderful things going on, but underneath the surface there is more to the story.

I am concerned regarding the lack of transparency to the public regarding the standards.   Randy Dorn agreed to adopt them on July 20, 2011.   Most of us educators didn’t hear a word until the year of 2012, ranging from the spring through the fall.  Why is this?  Why was there not a comprehensive review of these standards?

Why no elementary teachers on the writing committee?  Why no early childhood specialists?  500 Early Childhood specialists wrote a joint statement expressing their concerns with the K-3 standards.   I have heard many of them speak, and my awareness level has continued to increase.

Why the rush with these standards?  If they are so wonderful and so amazing, why no transparency?  Why the secrecy sworn by the validation committee?  Dr. Stotsky, the only ELA specialist serving on the validation committee did not endorse the standards and refused to sign.  This is true of the only Math specialists.  He wouldn’t sign either.

This is concerning.

Dr. Stotsky is speaking throughout the country to raise awareness.  She speaks eloquently as to why the standards are flawed.  They truly are Senator Baumgartner.  I have links and information showing how the SBAC test was written in a hurried manner and is being found to be invalid and unreliable.

I feel so strongly about this I have started a National Blog.  “My All Babies Walking By Six Months Old… A Satire on the Common Core Charade” has been read by 30,000 people across the United States and in about 86 countries, the last time my son looked at my stats.  Please read: (here).

I also have been so moved by the idea of teacher evaluations being linked to the SBAC.    I am so tired of people claiming it is because us teachers don’t want to be accountable…  I am accountable to my students every single day.   There are so many layers to tying test scores to teachers performance….  there are simply way to many variables.  I feel so strongly about this I wrote another article called:  A Tale of Two Teachers…. Linking Teacher Evaluations to a Test… Lunacy.

I am passionate about teaching and working with teachers… I have been an instructional coach for many years and served as a District Math Coordinator in my previous school district.   In October, I just switched schools and went to the poorest school in Spokane, WA…  90 poverty and given an F rating by Washington State….  We have 15 new staff members willing to teach these wonderful children.   Many come to us 2-3 years delayed.

I believe the SBAC test will be discriminatory and will not give accurate information about what our children know.   Doing a test on a computer, expecting children to type their reasoning of how they solved math problems and type algebra equations at 8, 9, 10, 11 is so unreasonable.  It will not get at the heart of what they know.  Their hands are developing fine motor skills, some more advanced, some less.   Will the better typers score better?

In my school only 2-4 kids in a class have access to the internet at home.   My son goes to a affluent school on the south hill.  He gets fed a hot breakfast every morning… goes to school with a packed healthy cold lunch… he is secure… so are all of his classmates.  My son spends time on his iPad and computer at home.  We research nightly…

The achievement gap widens.

How will my 8 year old perform compared to children that have none of what he has?

How can we compare?

My heart is so sickened by what I am seeing in the walls of the schools.  They truly are becoming test prep factories…  My district ordered the Amplify Testing…. It has 3 Interim Assessments and then there are checkpoints between the Interims.  Our children are funneled constantly into computer labs to test, to prepare for the test, to analyze data to see if they are on target to pass the SBAC.   I am the Amplify Testing Coordinator in my building.  Not one 3rd – 6th grade student passed.  All were red and a level one.

Why are we funneling children to troughs of failure?

How can we continue this ethically?

It is well known the SBAC is set at 70% to fail.  Why would we send our children to that kind of day?  Why bother?

I challenge all of us to look to countries like Finland…  their educational system is a haven.  I have been reading so much about this, as well as all the research around PLAY and movement for our youngest children.

Senator Baumgartner, I am so convicted about this, I have opted my own son out of all this testing…  I care about the classroom based evidence his teacher provides at this young age.  He is developing… growing… give our children a chance to mature.  The pre-frontal cortex of the human brain doesn’t solidify what we are asking of our children until 11/12ish years old.

I still teach higher order thinking skills.  I still challenge my students and have high expectations… I do this to help them develop their capacity to reason and think and learn.  However, to expect mastery of these things is near child abuse.  I have seen the tears in the testing labs.  It is profound.

This isn’t about accountability anymore… this is about going down a path that is harmful to children and their natural curiosity and love of learning….  until they hit this madness.

Thank you for your time.  I would love to speak with you personally if you would honor me with your time.

Please give SB 6030 a listen.  It isn’t perfect, but those putting it together, often are people like me that have full time jobs and don’t have the luxury of time like many lobbyists who are paid by special interests.

Passionately Written,

Raz

Mommy and Educator

Rigor Belongs To Mortis… Not Our Children

Georgie Porgie, Puddin’ and Pie,

Took some tests that made him cry,

When the computers came on in May,

Georgie Porgie ran away.

Georgie Porgie is headed straight towards issues with mental health.

Welcome to Georgie Porgie’s “rigorous” world.

 As the concept of “rigor” is explored, a picture of a ladder comes to mind. Think of a ladder with 12 rungs. Children enter classrooms standing upon different rungs. Picture for one moment, a child standing on rung one.   All the rungs in between are missing leading up to the ultimate rung…

But.

Sigh.

Every child is pushed to rung 12 regardless.ladder 3

  • How does the child reach rung 12, when the stepping stones to 12 are gone?
  • Do we look at the individual child and offer instruction at their individual level?
  • Do we take into account what is developmentally appropriate for each and every child?

OR…

  • Do we plow on… in the name of “rigor”?
  • Do we teach them at such a level of frustration they lose their confidence as learners and give up?

What are we doing to our children in the name of rigor?

Rigor.

The new buzz word in education.

StandardizedWe educators are encouraged to teach with more rigor… in order to help all of our students meet the new rigorous standards. In fact, one of the major shifts the Common Core Standards espouse is rigor. It is our job to push them to the top rung. Every single child must get to the top rung by the test date, regardless of their abilities, individuality, or where they started.   Furthermore, all children are to accomplish the rigorous standards at the same exact time and prove it on a computerized test occurring on a handful of days in time. This test is the end all be all measurement as to whether the child has achieved the ultimate rung.

Hmmm…

Rigor.

I went to my friend, Merriam Webster, and the word is defined as:

  • rigor: the difficult and unpleasant conditions or experiences that are associated with something
  • rigor: the quality or state of being very exact, careful, or strict

Enticing.

Does it draw you in?

Do you get “warm fuzzies all over” reading the definition?

No?

Merriam Webster has more…

Full Definition of RIGOR

  1. a (1) :  harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment :  severity (2) :  the quality of being unyielding or inflexible :  strictness (3) :  severity of life :  austerity  b :  an act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty
  2. a tremor caused by a chill
  3. a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable; especially :extremity of cold
  4. strict precision :  exactness <logical rigor>
  5. a : obsolete :  rigidity, stiffness c :  rigor mortis
  6. b :  rigidness or torpor of organs or tissue that prevents response to stimuli

Well?

Did this solidify the “warm fuzzies”?

Did the clouds break open and pour rays of sunshine into your world?

Or…

Did the black thunder clouds clap loudly and send a bolt of lightning straight to your heart?

Zing!

My guess is the definition solidified, like it did for me, the icy realization of what “rigor” is all about, and it zapped the Common Core Standards for what they really are… death.

Maybe this is why the rigid, inflexible ELA and Math programs have seeped into many schools, promoting exactness and precision, and the uncomfortable conditions within the walls of our classrooms.

Rigor… prevents the response to stimuli.  EEKS!

Severity.

Cruelty.

EEKS!

Brrrrrrrrr….I just felt a tremor caused by a chill.

There are a lot of excellent teachers surrounding me. We believe in high standards for our students. We believe in developmental appropriate practice for each and every one of our students. Excellent teachers have an uncanny ability to look at each child individually, assess where they are, what they need, and how to challenge them at their unique learning pace.

Children standing on the lower rungs:

In a beginning of the year checkpoint, it was discovered that 80% of students in fifth grade were unable to do multi-digit multiplication or long division with whole numbers. According to the CCSS, students learn to fluently multiply multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm in 5th grade (5.NBT.5), and fluently divide multi-digit numbers using the standard algorithm in 6th grade (6.NS.2).

The first module from the district pacing guide entails place value of decimals, and addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of decimals. (Rung 10). These students, missing rungs four through nine, were being taught skills and concepts they had no access to because the foundational skills necessary weren’t there. Yet, when I mentioned this, I was told the students had equal rights to the mathematical content as the rest of the students, “The standards are more “rigorous”, and the only way for them to learn the more “rigorous” standards is to teach with more “rigor”. Teach the module in the order given, and find another time in the school day to ‘catch the students up’.”

Can anyone take a flying guess as to how these students did on the End of Module 1 Assessment?

To view the Module 1 Assessment, Scoring Guide, and an Example of Level 4 Answers, click (here).

Most scored level 1s and 2s.   Went home with failing grades.

This is Rigor folks!

Ladder 4 Raise the rung so high the students can walk right under it.

Chilling.

Next? Move on to the next module of instruction… fractions!

“Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.” – Dory from Nemo.

Just keep rigoring, rigoring, rigoring. What do we do? We Rigor, Rigor.

Children standing on the higher rungs:

What of those students who are exceling? Students in 6th grade placed in advanced math classes? Here’s a story you may find disturbing:

“My child told me that out of his class, only two students passed the SBA Interim Practice Test, both Math and English. He said that the teachers were quite upset, and compared test results from other schools within their district, to try and show them where/how they went wrong. He was fascinated, because prior to the test, the class was of course instructed that it was not to be spoken of or about in any manner, with anyone, including parents, so he knew this was a big “no no”. He was breaking the rules speaking to me.”

On February 18th, this mom received the following letter from the school:

Dear Families,

Tomorrow we will be mixing up the orange and green classes for the remainder of the year.  We have put a lot of thought into this process. Here are our reasons.  First, the majority of our orange advanced math students are having a very difficult time keeping up with the accelerated pace and content of the advanced math curriculum.  The frustration factor of students has reached an all-time high and motivation an all-time low.  (Emphasis mine)

Only a handful of students meet the criteria to continue in advanced math.  The rest were placed probationary.  The students who qualify for advanced math will continue with the program in a small group and everyone else will begin Chapter 5 of our regular 6th grade curriculum.

Flabbergasted isn’t near the word to capture my thoughts.

The majority of the 11 and 12 years olds placed “probationary”.  This is college and career ready?

How “rigorous”.

The mom went on to express:

“So now, only a few of the advanced students will continue to be taught the advanced math, the rest will now be demoted to the regular class, these are my words, not theirs. Isn’t it wonderful to know that the advanced students really aren’t talented, and they were able to be taken down a peg or two, as certainly it couldn’t be the curriculum?  They WILL be forced to conform and stop thinking, no matter the cost.”

My brain buzzes around questions like:ladder 1

  • Are the students really not smart enough?
  • Are they really not motivated?
  • Are they really incapable?

And…

  • Could it possibly be the program?
  • Could it possibly be the instruction the program encourages is not engaging or aligned with research?
  • Are there manipulatives?
  • Are the lessons differentiated?
  • Do they get to explore ideas or regurgitate answers from the followed script?
  • How many pencil and paper problems are the students given a day?

Rigor Rigor Snore Bore… Death.

The death of the hearts and minds of our children.   The death of the love of learning.

This kind of rigor is about death… not life.

A fourth grade teacher on the west side of Washington State attached the picture below, and wrote, “This is what happens when we put our children into pressure cookers. Shared by my friend, Florida parent/activist Sandy Stenoff. Florida, where student test scores make up 50% of a teacher’s evaluation (even if you don’t teach those students), and 3rd graders don’t go to fourth grade if they don’t pass the state test. These “reforms” sound great to corporate thinkers who know nothing about what motivates children or teachers. Or perhaps they do know, and this is their intent. Please help us turn this machine off! We must return to a place where authentic teaching and learning are possible, are encouraged, are funded.”

Sandy writes, “My son is a college sophomore and shared these words from a HS senior, so I made this poster. He said, ‘Look at this. This is how most kids really feel now’. To me, THIS is the highest stake… an entire generation of children who leave school feeling like this.

“I’m so…”

Rigor 1

What are we doing to our children in the name of “rigor”?

“I just want to get a repetitive mindless job I don’t feel extremely anxious about”

Disheartening.

Worrisome.

Tragic.

How many years have we had in NCLB? Fourteen years? Isn’t this enough time to paint a pretty clear picture this standardized, one size fits all, high stakes testing madness…

Does.   Not.    Work.

So… what does the National Department of Education do with billions from philanthropists?

Create yet another set of standards. More “rigorous” standards. The individual state’s set of standards supposedly failed, so these National “Common” Standards are supposedly filled with magic bullets of “rigor”.   The tests so “rigorous”, children at eight years old, with hand spans missing the length of a key board, are asked to type essays incorporating a comparison analysis of two separate texts, type explanations about how they solve “rigorous” math problems using deep levels of reasoning, and…

Their eyes fill with tears.

Rigor in The Classroom… A Short two minute Video

Rigor 3

Watch (Here)

Absolute crazy making.

This video is metaphorical and exemplifies the vicious cycle of “rigor”. The continued mandates, in the name of “rigorous standards”, have impacted the teacher, the principal, and clearly the most precious of all…. Our children.

This kind of “rigor” belongs to Mortis.

Rigor Mortis.

This rigor is stiff and lifeless.

It will be the death of our public school system unless we change course.

Georgie Porgie Run Away.

Far, Far Away.

Our children deserve high standards at their developmental learning level, whether they come to us at rung one or twelve. They deserve to be challenged and encouraged to grow at their own individual, developmental pace. Rigor 2

Passionately Submitted,

RAZ ON FIRE

References:

Rigor 4 1. This licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist describes, in alarming detail, the harmful effects the common core state standards and the high stakes tests are having upon children, as well as teachers.  View the 13 minute video (here).


 

Crying Child 12.  The following article was written to capture real stories from real families about the impact of common core and the common core aligned programs focused upon rigor.  Click (here) for the full story.


Crying Child 23.  This photo was submitted by a parent. Her child is suffering with the age inappropriate, error and trick laden, too much, too soon, too fast, common core homework. This photo was shared on social media. Without asking for any response, it still received hundreds of commiserating comments within a half hour.  The responses can be read (here).

A Mince of Words… Part Two. Duck Duck Goose!

“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck”

Or is it a Goose?

I awoke Friday morning excited to be facing a four day weekend.  Cup of coffee in hand, I sat down to my computer to catch up on news and here is the first post I read:

I am baffled, perplexed, confused, and a little dumb-founded that a research-based approach to teaching young children, to age 8, is being dismissed by educators who are also advocates for these same young children. Spending the last year, or more, entrenched in the national board professional teaching standards, DAP (Developmental Appropriate Practice) was absolutely important. Teaching on the edge of a child’s understanding is important. Knowing where a child is developmentally so you know what question to ask to get them to the next level is important. Asking children to do something they can’t do or are not ready for yet is disrespecting a child. Help me understand why this is even an issue.”

I looked at the comment tab and already the responses were flying.

I know this well respected, veteran, accomplished teacher personally.  Our history goes way back to our work at the state level.

As I scrolled, I found the comment made by another accomplished primary level teacher, inquiring if any of us saw the district post about “Developmentally Appropriate Practice” and the “scolding” it entailed.

What? 

I instantly went to the district webpage and found this post for the week of Feb. 11 – 17:Goose 1

“What is developmentally appropriate practice? This phrase gets thrown around a lot in the educational community. This short article summarizes the current research on the topic. Teachers that we have shared this with commented that they found it insightful given the recent adoption of standards and curricular materials.”

My blood pressure went up a notch.  I had been sent the very same article to read in response to my letter to the District Elementary Curriculum Coordinator two weeks prior.  The teacher’s inquiry and feelings hit me hard enough, I could do very little else for the rest of my day, but write. My original retort, “A Mince of Words… I see a Duck… I hear a Duck,” can be read (here).

It seems it is thought the phrase ‘developmentally appropriate’ gets thrown around a lot in the educational community… and it appears those who have read the short article have found it “insightful”.

I’m a bit fascinated by this, as I consider the many, many, MANY teachers in Spokane who are beginning to express their grave concerns with both the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and the current mathematics curricular materials.  The term we use is most definitely “developmentally inappropriate”.

As mentioned in Part One, we teachers are not alone in our concerns… 500 Early Childhood Specialists seem to agree with us…  many who are psychologists too, just like the author of the short article referenced by Daniel T. Willingham of University of Virginia.

Let’s do a little background check of Dr. Willingham… shall we?

For starters, Dr. Willingham (bio) is a professor at the very same university as the founder of Core Knowledge, E.D. Hirsch.  Two Peas in a Pod.

Eric Donald Hirsch, Jr. (born March 22, 1928) is an American educator and academic literary critic. He is professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia.[1] He is best known for writing Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (1987),[2] and is the founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation. 

Interestingly, Dr. Willingham also serves on the Board of the Core Knowledge Foundation.

Honk.

Dr. Willingham Seems to Think Learning Styles Don’t Exist

He writes:

“But don’t you think it’s a good idea to teach to all the styles? It might be, but there’s not much reason to think it’s because kids have different learning styles. Maybe it’s always good for kids to experience any idea in several different ways, even if all the experiences were in the same style. Maybe one of the experiences is especially well-suited to help kids understand the concept. Maybe the repetition is good. If it’s a good idea to teach to all styles, great, but I’d like to figure out why kids are learning more that way, given that other predictions of styles theories aren’t supported. The notion of learning styles is dated. No one believes VAK (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic) anymore. It’s been superseded by more sophisticated theories.”

Goose 3No one believes in Visual, Auditory, or Kinesthetic learning styles anymore?

No one believes?!!

There are more “sophisticated theories”?

Well.  I believe.  So do many of my colleagues.

We work with real children in actual classrooms.

No Goose is going to convince me otherwise.

If you’d like to learn more about his “sophisticated” theories and research on this topic read (here).

Hmmmmmm…

Honk. Honk.

Dr. Willingham’s Articles and Books DISCOUNT Piaget’s Theories of Child Development.

The short article posted on the districts webpage clearly shines the light on his view of the topic.  If you read the article clearly, he is discounting years of research of the renowned Piaget.  He was able to further express his views in (the article) entitled, “What is Developmentally Appropriate in Learning,” found in The Washington Post.

He writes: The New York State Education Department has a website that is meant to help teachers prepare for the Common Core State Standards. Author Chris Cerrone posted a bit of a 1st grade curriculum module on early civilizations. Here it is:

Core Knowledge words

 Cerrone, writing @ The Chalk Face, asked primary grade educators to weigh in: “What do you think of the vocabulary contained in this unit of study?”

The responses in the 78 comments were nearly uniformly negative. As you might expect from that volume of commentary, the criticisms were wide-ranging, much of it directed more generally at standardized testing and the idea of the CCSS themselves.”

Is it surprising K-3 early childhood educators might be a teensie weensie negative?

Noteworthy, for those of you starting to catch on, the ELA version of EngageNY is based specifically on Core Knowledge and the vocabulary in the picture above comes directly from one of the Modules.

Hmmmmmm…

Honk. Honk. Honk.

He equates Core Knowledge to the Montessori Philosophy.

And Core Knowledge is not alone. Another curriculum has had first-graders learning about ancient civilizations not for a decade, but for about a century: Montessori.”

This is laughable because my son attended Montessori through Kindergarten.  Walking into a Montessori Classroom and a Kindergarten Core Knowledge Classroom are unmistakably night and day. Heck… in a Kindergarten Core Knowledge Classroom they aren’t even allowed to engage with books until January.  My son was surrounded by books and encouraged to pour over books from 10 months through Kindergarten at the local Montessori School he attended.

Montessori philosophy believes children have their own, special individual developmental levels, and honors each child where they are, and builds from there.

Hmmmmmm…

Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk.

Dr. Willingham Unravels Howard Gardener’s Multiple Intelligences

The infamous Harvard University professor Howard Gardner, who is best known for his theory of multiple intelligences, has been a long-time critic of Hirsch. Gardner described one of his own books, The Disciplined Mind (1999), as part of a “sustained dialectic” with E.D. Hirsch, and criticized Hirsch’s curriculum as “at best superficial and at worst anti-intellectual”.[22] In 2007, Gardner accused Hirsch of having “swallowed a neoconservative caricature of contemporary American education.”  Is this also true of Willingham?

Willingham said of Gardener: “In the end Gardener’s theory is simply not all that helpful.  For scientists, in the end the theory of the mind is almost certainly incorrect.”  See his full unraveling of Gardener’s work (here).

Dr. Willingham also states in his critique of Dr. Gardener, “The soul general implication he supports is that children’s minds are different, and an educational system should take account of those differences, a point developed in diverse ways by his many followers.”

Ahhhhhh…clearing my throat…

Those of us that actually work with children, do just happen think children’s minds are different, and we should take these differences into account.

Yeppers.  We do.

Goose 4In the last district mathematics coaches meeting we were taken through an activity led by an experienced math coach.   We were asked to choose an EngageNY lesson and list on a cross referenced chart, the cognitive learning levels found, as well as the multiple intelligences.

For each pair of instructional coaches dissecting a lesson, can you guess what was discovered?

The Lions share of each EngageNY lesson fell in the lower levels of cognitive complexity, and few multiple intelligences were addressed within the lessons.

Hmmmmmm…

Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk.

Others Believing in Developmental Appropriateness.

Ahhhhh…. How could I forget the infamous Grant Wiggins? Grant Wiggins is the co-author of Understanding by Design and the author of Educative Assessment and numerous articles on education. He is the President of Authentic Education in Hopewell NJ. You can read more about him and his work at the AE site (click here) He writes:

“Over the years I have grown increasingly tired of Hirsch’s one-note samba about reading.  But I’ve kept my peace because the reading wars are endless, polemical, and easily bog one down in foolish debates. But these latest posts are just too over the top for me to remain mum.

For those unfamiliar with Hirsch’s critique, the only thing he thinks that truly matters is content knowledge. All of our ills – in reading, in learning generally, and in civic life – come down, in his view, to a failure of schools to teach a core and standard set of content.”

Is this what many of us are seeing in EngageNY?

Dr. Wiggins even points out how Willingham refutes Hirsh on a few points, even though they are bedfellows.  For Wiggin’s full critique click (here).

In Wiggin’s (backward design), the teacher starts with classroom outcomes and then plans the curriculum, choosing activities and materials that help determine student ability and foster student learning.  Wiggins, however, quotes Willingham, when trying to establish the importance of conceptual understanding of math in this article: (here).  Willingham proposes children learn concepts and skills simultaneously.  One does not necessarily come before the other…  Long debated topic in math circles.

Hmmmmm…

Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk.

Other Critics… Spokane Teachers

The following discussion thread included two veteran, accomplished teachers of primary aged children:

Teacher A: There is a great article by Grant Wiggins (Understanding by Design) that talks to this. Also E.D. Hirsch and Daniel Willingham attack Lucy Calkins over and over again, who doesn’t love Lucy ? Last year I emailed both Richard Allington and Regie Routman about Core Knowledge. They both responded with opt out of it at all costs. Regie’s recommendation was to get out of the former school as fast as possible.

Teacher B: I remember the article well. Lucy could teach circles around either one of them with the new units of study. Reader’s workshop units of study coming this summer. Can’t wait.

Teacher A: Yes, Regie also said to ask where the data was around the use of ALL the worksheets stating there is NO data that connects worksheets with retention of a concept.

Amen.

And Honk! Honk! Honk! Honk! Honk! Honk! Honk!

Who is Richard Allington?

Richard Allington is the author many books on reading instruction. He even came to Spokane. He wrote, “What Matters Most to Struggling Readers?” He is the one that basically says students need to be reading in a leveled text they can read at a 95% independent level accuracy rate.

Who is Regie Routman?

Regie Routman is a woman from Seattle who has worked closely with the IRA (International Reading Association). She says kids need to follow the gradual release of responsibility. She has a background in Reading Recovery.

Spokane School District has invested thousands and thousands (probably millions) of dollars into Reading Recovery.  They are also investing thousands and thousands of dollars into Math Recovery.  BOTH of these programs are embedded with the practice of what is “developmentally appropriate” for children.  BOTH programs target where a child is, and then challenges them from there.

Hmmmmmm…

Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk.

How “Insightful” was the Daniel T. Willingham’s Article?

From the mouths of accomplished, veteran teachers… (sharing just a few)…

Many teachers were baffled, perplexed, confused and a little dumb-founded by the districts blurb, as the first quote captured at the beginning of this blog post.

The discussion thread continued…

“I don’t understand why any of these things are needing to be addressed. We know so much about stages of development…why are the ‘decision makers’ choosing to ignore what we know to be true and push forward with high stress, developmentally inappropriate standards…?  Completely baffling and a waste of everyone’s time. (Especially the children’s!!) You can buy an infant a two wheel bike and even set them on it every single day…they still will not ride it until they’ve learned everything that they need to learn first…until THEY are ready!! Seems so simple!!”

“I often think about how important the skills of your Plan-Do-Review were! There are so many critical thinking skills, creativity skills, and life skills that students need to learn along the way to become successful. I loved those times when we could connect the Art room to the classroom… integrating the arts is so important to cement learning! Unfortunately, those skills are currently being ignored because reading and math are more important. When do you think the pendulum will swing back the other way?”

“They keep changing/raising the standard, but kids are essentially the same as they have always been. They are humans, not robots that can be reprogrammed at the whim of a given standard. It’s great, even important, to set and reach for high standards as long as we recognize that children develop at different rates because each one is a unique and precious creation that was never meant to fit into an idealistic matrix of rigid, time bound demands.”

“We are provided scripted developmentally inappropriate lessons with no repercussions, and the principal doesn’t seem to mind. As some teachers who do care have their careers on the line, teachers who JUST WANT TO TEACH and LOVE CHILDREN and have great PASSION, are sometimes either run out or throwing in the towel.”

I’m a bit confused myself.

Why would an article like this be posted on our district’s webpage?

It seems counter intuitive.

It goes against everything we know about DAP (Developmentally Appropriate Practice). One teacher expressed, “It wasn’t very smart to post an article like this for seasoned, veteran teachers to read.  We know better than this.”

From the premise the author is making… all the way to the background of the author… it seems much the opposite of the professional development and training we’ve been offered throughout the district’s history and currently.

Is it the goal here to promote more “insight” from an author who:Question Mark

  • Claims there is no such thing as learning styles
  • Shirks Piaget’s research around child development
  • Discounts Developmental Appropriate Practice (DAP)
  • Argues Gardener’s Multiple Intelligences

Hmmmmmm…

Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk.

What does “Developmentally Inappropriate” Practice Look Like?

In (Part One), I posted a (video) of a little girl struggling in tears, trying to do her homework from the EngageNY program.  It is astounding to me 6 year old children are being sent home pages of homework to complete with very little understanding of what they are doing.  I have witnessed this directly in my own neighborhood.  First graders coming home with 6 pages of homework.  They are throwing fits and having stressful breakdowns. There is a preponderance of evidence around the value of homework and what kind of homework should be sent home.  If parents need to be watching videos to help their Kindergarten – 3rd grade children at home, we have a huge problem as an educational system.

Furthermore, what children have parents who can access these “helpful” videos at home?

In my school, less than four children per class have access to the internet in their homes.

This is discriminatory and lacks the educational equity required for all our children to be successful.Goose 2

Sadly, this story came my way, “Another child literally bangs his head on his desk, because he’s not developmentally ready, or it’s not developmentally appropriate in the scripted EngageNY program, and the teacher is at a loss because she can’t REALLY adjust for him, because of the “benchmarks”. He feels like a failure, that’s what is going on…in 2nd grade. Bravo to the system. He could be made to love math, accepted where he is, and WHO he is, and moved from there… instead so many are learning to hate it.”

“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck”

Developmentally Inappropriate IS Developmentally Inappropriate

My Own Take on the Article

Daniel T. Willingham’s article is a Goose.

As a veteran, (accomplished 25 year educator), I found this post on the district webpage demeaning to my intelligence, as well as a slap to my years of experience working with children from pre-school through 8th grade.

The in-between the lines implications and wording by the post, paint early childhood educators as professionals who don’t have brains.  We just throw out the term “developmentally inappropriate” to blow smoke up each other’s Patooties…  We are about making excuses for ourselves because our students aren’t getting what we are teaching them through the “Goose” Programs we are handed.

EngageNY, aka Eureka Math, aka The Story of Units, aka Great Minds has some history worth learning.  The program is not well differentiated, is over peppered with worksheets, and lacking many necessary components in order to make it “developmentally appropriate”.

I think of Kathy Fosnot and her research around learning landscapes.  “Developmentally Appropriate”.

I think of Van De Walle’s research and the essential building blocks children need to gain mathematical understanding.  “Developmentally Appropriate”.

I think about the brain research in the book, How the Brain Learns Mathematics, by David Sousa. “Developmentally Appropriate”.

So… ultimately, what did I think of Dr. Willingham’s short article filled with “current” research?

Hmmmmmm…

This Goose did not lay anything golden.

Honk! Honk!

Goose 6 Honking

Passionately Submitted,

RAZ ON FIRE

For more information on the history of EngageNY click (here).

For more history on EngageNY click (here).

For information about how Core Knowledge and Amplify are connected click (here).

If your interested in following the money regarding Amplify and Core Knowledge click (here).

A Mince of Words… I Hear a Duck… I See a Duck.

“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck”

Developmentally Inappropriate IS Developmentally Inappropriate

No two children are alike… all are in different places, learn at diverse rates, and deserve to be challenged at their instructional level.

Duck 3On January 31st, I wrote my District Elementary Curriculum Coordinator a letter expressing my concerns around the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the  EngageNY curricular materials.   I sited my references and explained how my thinking has shifted in regards to K-3 standards. I do find flaws and believe some to be developmentally inappropriate.   The response to my letter was warm and well received.  Return communication came with links to articles for me to consider.  (One article, referenced in the direct quote from the district webpage below).

On February 8th, I sent a letter to my son’s principal opting him out of tests I determined to be developmentally inappropriate. You can read the letter to my son’s principal (here). I sited many of the same references, and gave many of the same reasons for my growing concerns with the CCSS and the testing that follows on the coattails.

Teachers

Many, many, MANY of my colleagues are expressing their concerns with the mathematics curricular materials, whether it is called EngageNY, A Story of Units, Eureka Math, or Great Minds… it is still the same curricular materials with the same basic lessons being presented to students. Many, many, MANY of my colleagues are using the term “developmentally inappropriate”.   I will go one step farther to say that many, many, MANY educators across the state of Washington and the United States are raising their voices claiming the “developmental inappropriateness” of the K-3 standards as well as the EngageNY Math Program… aka A Story of Units, Eureka, now Great Minds… aka another Duck?

Just one short week after my letter to the district elementary curriculum coordinator and my son’s principal,  this appears on the district’s webpage for the week of Feb. 11 – 17:

 “What is developmentally appropriate practice? This phrase gets thrown around a lot in the educational community. This short article summarizes the current research on the topic. Teachers that we have shared this with commented that they found it insightful given the recent adoption of standards and curricular materials.”

This “current research” written in the summer of 2008, before the birth of the CCSS machine.

I happened to be on a teacher discussion thread this weekend when this statement was brought to my attention.   This veteran, dynamic teacher expressed, “Did you see the article in this weeks SPS newsletter “scolding” us for using the term developmentally appropriate? I guess that’s the new ‘no no’ word in our district!!”

Duck 4Well.

It certainly is not a “no no” word for me.

Developmentally Inappropriate.

Couldn’t help it… it just rolled off my tongue.

Who else is using this term?  Is it just a group of early childhood educators who have worked with children for years and years and years?  Are we alone?

Let’s examine the use of this term… “developmentally appropriate” or “developmentally inappropriate”.  Shall we?

 Doctors

Has anyone ever taken their small baby to a doctor?  Did you discuss anything about development?  Did you ask any questions in regards to what is developmentally appropriate?  Were milestones discussed?  Did you want to know when you could expect your baby to hold his/her head up?  Did you want to know when it was normal for them to sit up, take first steps, walk?

Did the term developmentally appropriateness come up at all?

Did you ever discuss when your child would be expected to say his first word?  Did the doctor discuss ranges of what was normal?

I had a friend whose son wasn’t gaining language acquisition.  He did not fall within developmentally normal ranges.  She took him to the doctor to find out why his language was delayed.  No first words.  Only grunts.  Because it was past the developmental range, they did further testing and determined he was hearing impaired.

Quack.

Therapists

My son saw a child play therapist when he was three years old.  He went to three sessions.   She reassured me my son was totally within all ranges of developmental appropriate behavior for his age.   In fact, she found his ability to make analogies to his life experience at a level she hadn’t seen before.  He was functioning above the developmental normal continuum.

During this same time period, The Montessori School he attended shared a checklist of my son’s abilities.  He was cutting with scissors, knew his letters, was coloring and drawing, and much more. I think the term used with me was, “Your son is within all the developmental appropriate ranges for children at his age.”

Did the child therapist use the term developmentally appropriate?

Oops.

Did the Montessori teacher use the term developmentally appropriate?

Oops.

Quack. Quack.

Psychologists

 A local mother shared she had been taking her son to a psychologist to figure out some behaviors her son was exhibiting.  They discussed many aspects of her son’s life.   At the end of one of the sessions they got into a discussion about how children in elementary school are expected to type their solutions to math problems into the computer as well as lengthy paragraphs in the reading and writing portions of the state test.

The psychologist gasped, “Developmentally Impossible!”

His concern was the fine motor ability of children and their hand spans over the computer keys.  Children’s mastery of the keyboard happens at different times for different children.  It also involves practice.  Who will be the better keyboarders when computer access is considered… home verse nothing at home.  Will better keyboarders be able to type more?  Does this mean they KNOW more?

My colleague and I agreed children can learn to type and do in class projects where they are typing papers and importing graphics… but on a high stakes test to measure their cognitive abilities and comprehension of text… no.

Developmentally Inappropriate.

Oops.

Slid off my tongue again.

What about Dr. Megan Koschnick, an early childhood psychologist?  What does she have to say about this idea of developmental inappropriateness?  As I listen to her 23 minute presentation, I am fascinated by the title of her presentation: “Common Core is Developmentally Inappropriate.”  Listen (Here)

She starts her speech in this way, “I was asked to give a presentation about whether or not I thought the common core standards were developmentally appropriate.”

There’s that word again.

In the first minute and a half, the term developmental inappropriate is seen or heard five times.   It would be interesting to watch the video through and tally the number of times she uses the term.

Quack. Quack. Quack.

 Early Childhood Specialists

It seems 500 early childhood specialist have grave concerns with the standards too.   They believe they conflict with the compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development, and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn, and how best to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades.  It seems 500 early childhood specialists were concerned with developmental appropriateness too.  See their four concerns and all 500 specialists who signed the joint statement (here).

Quack. Quack. Quack. Quack.

 Licensed Clinical Social Workers and Psychotherapists

Mary Calamia, LCSW, CSASC speaks at the New York State Assembly, Minority Education Committee at the Forum on Common Core.   This is a passionate 13 minute presentation about the impacts of Common Core and programs like Engage NY… aka Eureka, Story of Units, Great Minds… another Duck? Watch it (here).

This clinician works with parents, children, and half of her clients are teachers.  Her case load represents 20 different school districts in Suffolk County.  In the summer of 2012 her teachers started to express increased anxiety for having to learn two entirely new curricula for math and ELA.

She says, “This is the first time I heard of the one size fits all taking the imagination and innovation out of the hands of the teacher.”

She says, “You can’t regulate biology, young children cannot engage in this type of critical thinking the common core calls for.  This would require a fully developed prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is not fully functional until adulthood. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for critical thinking, rational decision making, and abstract thought… All things required of the Common Core Prematurely.”

Developmentally Inappropriate.

Quack. Quack. Quack. Quack. Quack.

Principals

Carol Burris, Principal of the Year, New York, 2013, said:

“I do not believe that any of the players in this project are evil people trying to control the minds of kids.  Rather they are true believers with an ideological allegiance to untested curriculum. The Common Core has some features that are good and others that are awful.”

The awful part is the one size fits all approach demanding all children meet the same learning goals and targets at the same exact time.  Our children are not robots or machines spewing forth correct information on the spot lickety split.

Developmentally Inappropriate.

Quack. Quack. Quack. Quack. Quack. Quack.

The Children Themselves

Have you ever heard the cliché… “from the mouth of babes”?  Watch the following 2 minute video taken of this 2nd grade little girl.  Her tears may move you like they did me.  Pay particular attention to the worksheet she refers to…  pause the video if you have to, and look at the very bottom.  Do you recognize the mathematics program by chance?  See the video (here).

There are many more stories from children that can be told.  I have a pile.  For now… this second grade girl will speak for the rest of them.

Homework like this, from math programs like this, to meet the “rigorous” CCSS standards…

Developmentally Inappropriate.

  • What are we doing to our children in the name of rigor?
  • In the name of College and Career Ready?
  • What are we sacrificing to Get. Them. There.?
  • Are years and years and YEARS of developmental research being ignored?

In this compelling talk, Dr. Peter Gray brings attention to the reality that over the past 60 years in the United States there has been a gradual, but overall dramatic decline in children’s time to play.  The impact is staggering.  Watch the 16 minute TEDx entitled, “The Decline of Play and the Rise of Mental Disorders” (here).

QUACK. QUACK. QUACK. QUACK. QUACK. QUACK. QUACK.

Educators

It is interesting to me how doctors, therapists, psychologists, and children can show us the absolute picture of what is developmentally appropriate and what is developmentally inappropriate.  I find it demeaning, as a 25 year, accomplished educator, to hear I’m not supposed to use the words “developmentally inappropriate.”

It’s like saying… erase the education you received from University of Washington, Whitworth University, and Gonzaga University.  Erase the years of experience you have working with early childhood children.  “Developmentally Appropriate” does not exist anymore.  Erase the term.  It’s a “no no”.

Developmental Appropriate has been replaced with a new famous term…  RIGOR.

Those of us who question if something may be developmentally inappropriate are looked down upon as if we don’t believe in rigor or high expectations for our students. 

Bunk.

Book Cover... Developmentally Appropriate (2)

Is it really going to be suggested Early Childhood Teachers are not supposed to say “Developmentally Inappropriate”?  Doctors can.  Clinicians can. Therapists can.  Early childhood Psychologists can. Award winning Principals can.  Montessori Teachers can.  The tears in our children’s eyes can.

But… “no no” to any public school K- 3rd grade teacher?

Bunk again.

Even teacher’s resources claim the term “Developmentally Appropriate”.


My Banner:  Developmentally Inappropriate IS Developmentally Inappropriate.


Teaching a Kindergartener how to do long division with the traditional algorithm is _________________?

Don’t say it.

Spending time teaching 6th grade students how to count from 1 – 100 is _____________________?

Don’t say it.

Don’t slip.

Developmentally Inappropriate.

Oops.

Extreme examples to make a point.  However, what other term are us lil’ ole early childhood teachers suppose to use?


“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck”

Developmentally Inappropriate IS Developmentally Inappropriate.

QUACK!

Duck 1

 Passionately Submitted,

RAZ ON FIRE

To be Continued… Part Two… A Mince of Words… Duck Duck Goose! (Here)

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

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

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