Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Consistency = conformity

Our school has a "Quality Review" coming up soon, and in preparation for this, we had a trial run through last week. The results were disappointing, to say the least. The following Monday we had our monthly torture session, also known as PD day, during which our principal literally yelled at us and excoriated us as a staff for a solid ten minutes. This was followed by a highly paid outside presenter who gave an absolutely ridiculous and completely useless presentation on the Quality Review process, complete with lots of group work, markers, and chart paper.

During this session, we were asked to call out characteristics of a "good school." I was left somewhat agape after a faculty member actually said "everything is aligned to the Common Core." The answers that were shouted out were all, of course, officially approved ones. It was an exercise in "who knows what you're supposed to say?" A major theme that ran through all of this was consistency. That is, the student should have essentially the same experience in every room. All subjects should be taught the same way, the same things should be on the wall, and each teachers should use the same procedures and routines. Many people at the meeting seemed to be in agreement.

You might guess that I'm not. This type of consistency is exactly right for producing a uniform, consistent student body, and for hammering out any traces of individuality and creativity that might manifest themselves. For some reason Hogwarts comes to mind. Not a real school obviously, but a good one. In the Harry Potter books, each teacher had their own style and personality, and their teaching methods, rooms, and classes all reflected their uniqueness. This made things interesting for the fictional students, as they got to have different experiences with different personalities, and they learned to navigate a varying world with varying individuals.

My own school experience was absolutely nothing like what the Quality Reviewers want. No teacher of mine ever wrote on the board the aim of the lesson, and I had never even heard of an agenda, timed to the minute, being used in a classroom until I started working here. My teachers all had their own strengths and weaknesses, and their teaching styles reflected them. Some were excellent lecturers. Some were very adept at leading class discussions. Some were more laid back, and some were strict. Either way, they were allowed their individuality and somehow we all managed to learn. Of course, this was a small private school, and not a massive government controlled behemoth.

I'm not surprised, though, that absolute uniformity is stressed, since after all, the end product we want is an absolutely uniform student population.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Letter to parents with translation

I just got a copy of this letter we sent out to parents today about a big time super test. Thought I'd share it here along with a translation from EdSpeak. That way if any of you, my readers (all 3 of you) have children and get a letter like this, you'll know what it really means. 

Dear Parents/Guardians:

RE: Mandatory New York City Performance Baseline Assessment 
(Government School X) is dedicated to providing your child with the highest academic experience that prepares them for college and their careers. To achieve this, we have been working diligently to ensure that our curriculum is aligned to the Common Core Learning Standards.

Translation: Our state, in order to receive a huge influx of money from the federal government, has adopted the Common Core Learning Standards. If it weren't for the money, they wouldn't have changed anything, but they really need it to pay people like us who write this letter. Our school is toeing the line because if we didn't, we'd all be fired.
In order to determine how your child is progressing toward meeting these standards, we will be administering the state-mandated New York City Performance Baseline Assessment on (Date 1) and (Date 2). This exam is required for all students in New York City who are not taking the English Regents at the end of this school year. 
Translation: The state needs a meaningless arbitrary number that they get from some test in order to compare it to another meaningless arbitrary number they get from a test we're going to give at the end of the year.
The exam will be administered over two 45-minute periods during your child’s English class. This exam, which will take place over two days, will be used to determine your child’s skills at the beginning of this school year so that we can measure their growth in meeting these Common Core Learning Standards.
Translation: Believe it or not, this is going to waste 90 minutes of your child's time. Why? See above.
Since this exam is crucial to measuring your child’s success, it is imperative that your child attends school on (Date 1) and (Date 2).
Translation: If kids don't show up, we're screwed.

How awesome would it be if just 25% of the parents in the school opted the students out of the test? It would ruin all the numbers. I've become convinced that opting out is the only way to go. Trying to convince politicians to change things is fruitless. The system is too big and entrenched. The only way to do away with it is if enough people just voluntarily opt out. Homeschool. Go private. Go online. Refuse to have your children sit for standardized tests. Do it while it's still legal. I have a feeling we might start looking more like Germany soon.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Common Core conspiracy nuts

I realize I've been writing quite a bit about Common Core lately, but it is in the news a lot, and it's affecting the day to day life of teachers and students quite dramatically. Soon I plan to document some of those local effects that I've experienced this year as it's begun to be officially implemented in New York City. Also, I believe Common Core is representative of a very negative long-term trend in education that started with making it compulsory over 150 years ago. That being said, let's move on.

Some people think that Common Core opponents are conspiracy nuts.

I've always tried my best to be level headed, and have always shied away from crazy sounding conspiracy theories. I never allied myself with 9-11 truthers or those questioning Obama's constitutional eligibility for president. I tend to go with the mantra of never attribute anything to malice if it can be explained by stupidity. But lately, especially in the world of education and its latest battleground, Common Core, I've begun to wonder if stupidity is really an adequate explanation.

You'd like to think that those in charge of making decisions about educating America's youth, now that parents have ceded that responsibility to the government, aren't stupid. Over a decade of experience in the public school system has erased that quaint notion from my mind. Still, there's something odd about Common Core. First, there are its origins. It's bankrolled largely by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Bill Gates is not stupid. It came out of nowhere. States were economically coerced to accept the standards before they were even finished. It was presented as originating from the states, but that was a ruse. It's the subject of a relentless propaganda campaign. And then, stories like this come out.

Robert Small said he wanted to express his dismay over the introduction of a new school curriculum at a public forum Thursday night in Towson, but instead the Ellicott City parent was pulled out of the meeting, arrested and charged with second-degree assault of a police officer. 
Small stood and interrupted Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance during a question-and-answer session and began to tell the audience that he believed the new curriculum was lowering the standards of education and was intended to prepare students for community colleges. "You are not preparing them for Harvard," he said. 
The format of the forum did not allow the public to stand and ask a question. Instead, those who wanted questions answered had to write them on a piece of paper. Dance read the questions and had members of a panel, which included state schools Superintendent Lillian Lowery, answer them. 
Small, 46, asked him if he was an officer and the security guard, an off-duty Baltimore County police officer, showed him a badge. The officer grabbed Small's arm and pulled him toward the aisle. The audience gasped and some people sitting nearby got out of their seats. When Small started speaking, Dance told him that he believed his question would be answered, but Small continued to talk. After a couple of minutes, a security guard confronted Small, saying, "Let's go. Let's go." 
As he was being taken out, Small said, "Don't stand for this. You are sitting here like cattle." Then he said, "Is this America?" 
The officer pushed Small and then escorted him into the hall, handcuffed him and had him sit on the curb in front of the school. He was taken to the Towson precinct and detained. Small was charged with second-degree assault of a police officer, which carries a fine of $2,500 and up to 10 years in prison, and disturbing a school operation, which carries a fine of $2,500 and up to six months.

I realize that this article might have made a little too much of this incident. Police officers routinely react, well, negatively when people don't follow their orders, and they also routinely write people up for charges that end up getting dismissed or greatly reduced in court. Suspects often get far worse treatment than this man did for "resisting arrest." I'm sure the public nature of the event was in his favor in this case.

But still, I wonder. Maybe I'm just going crazy.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Critical thinking?

It's becoming more and more clear to me as I reflect on what's going on in education, and what has been going on for decades, that there is an ever-widening gulf between what the educational establishment claims are its goals and what it is actually accomplishing. This web site gives a concise blurb that is pretty much standard fare when talking about the goals of Common Core.
The Common Core standards for English Language Arts call for student-centered work in classrooms that build knowledge, develop writing skills, and produce confident and competent critical thinkers who are ready to take the next step toward college and careers.
Never mind the pervasive language in EdSpeak involving "producing" critical thinkers and the like, as if the schools are factories with a standardized product as the outcome. The goal of having students be independent critical thinkers is often put forth as what we're aiming for in the classroom. However, the very way that school is designed, and the ever growing trend towards greater and greater standardization and bigger and bigger bureaucracies - from district control of education to state and now federal - is completely at odds with this stated aim. As pointed out in this article on American Thinker:

A uniform curriculum raises serious concerns about the specter of indoctrination, dependency, and manipulation, even if implemented with the best of intentions. Centralized control over any educational curriculum is not only detrimental to science, it is also contrary to the principles of individual autonomy, democracy, and independent thinking. The essence of modern science is not captured by set core beliefs that can be all-inclusively taught and tested. Instead, the essence of modern science lies in the rigorous method of enlightened, critical, and independent thinking. The astounding progress in modern science since the 18th century has been achieved through a dynamic battle between rival scientific paradigms. The strength of science lies in fostering uncommon beliefs by a common and uncompromising commitment to critical thinking.
As the author notes, the very idea of a standardized, top-down curriculum is an anathema to the idea of critical, independent thought. Common Core boosters, by the way, say it's not a curriculum, it's just standards, but tell that to the national publishers of Common Core aligned curricula. Despite our commitment to "producing" critical thinkers, educators think that it's advisable that we dictate what every student should know and be studying every month of every year. The whole idea of Common Core is that not only in a district or a state, but in the whole country, every single student will know the exact same things by age 8, 9, 10, etc. How does independent thought fit in with this? Moreover, we control every single minute of their day. We tell them what to do, how to do it, when to do it by; we tell them where they have to be every minute of the day, and whom they should associate with. How on earth is anything resembling independence supposed to flourish in such an environment?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The growing gulf between State and parents

The Common Core is rolling out in full force, complete with new teacher evaluation systems, new standardized tests, and a vastly discontent public.

Parents assail education officials on N.Y. school reforms

BRENTWOOD, N.Y. — The growing focus on testing in New York’s schools is sickening students, bewildering parents and threatening to undermine public confidence in the state’s education system, speaker after speaker said Tuesday at a public hearing on the state’s “reform” agenda.  
Jeanette Deutermann, a mother of two from Bellmore, said she had to take one son to the doctor last year because he was so stressed out by test preparation.
“I don’t care about the data; I don’t care about the statistics,” she said. “I care that I want my son to like to learn.” 
Deutermann, who started a Facebook page for parents on Long Island wanting to pull their children from state-directed tests, was addressing the state Senate’s Education Committee. The committee Tuesday held the first of four planned hearings on the state’s ongoing reforms: the Common Core learning standards; new teacher evaluations; tougher state tests; new student data systems; and more. 
State Sen. John Flanagan, R-Long Island, chairman of the committee, said it was the first opportunity for the public to comment on the reforms. A few hundred people filled a small auditorium at Suffolk County Community College, cheering loudly as parents, teachers, senators and others questioned and ridiculed the state Education Department’s agenda.

This is only part of a trend that started way back in the very beginning of compulsory public education, when in the 1880s the state of Massachusetts used the state militia to force the last of the holdout parents in Barnstable to send their children to school at gunpoint. Compulsory public education was not something that people wanted, it was something that the State wanted. It was not meant to serve the needs and interests of parents and children, but to serve the needs and interests of the State. The two are often at odds.

The official government spokesperson at this event unwittingly revealed this.

The soft-spoken Wagner, a well-liked former school psychologist, was on the defensive from the start. Standing in for Education Commissioner John King, he was peppered with questions about the state’s rush to roll out new standards and tests. 
“There always has to be a year one,” he said. Wagner conceded the state has to more effectively explain its goals to teachers and parents. 
Several people also questioned the state’s plans to feed extensive student data to a nonprofit company creating a database for several educational programs. Lisa Rudley of Briarcliff Manor, a mother of three representing NYS Allies for Public Education, said that people aren’t aware of how much information is being collected or why. 
“You can talk about encryption and security, but it’s civil rights violation,” she said.

Let me repeat: "The state has to more effectively explain its goals to teachers and parents." The State is not interested in what the goals of teachers and parents are, and apparently isn't even interested in explaining them to children. The State's goals are hidden and nebulous, and involve troubling things like massive data collection, control of curriculum by an ever distant ruling elite, and psychological domination of students.

Explaining the State's goals takes the form of propaganda. Common Core was not, as its pushers made a half hearted and completely transparent effort to claim, supported at the state and grassroots level. It was directed entirely from the top, and foisted on states through dispensations of wavers from onerous NCLB requirements and threats of removing federal funding. The more parents learn about it, the more it becomes unpopular, but the propaganda efforts continue. New York City even started putting ads for Common Core in the subways this year.

If something is a good idea, if it's really beneficial, if it truly represents the interests of parents, students, and teachers, it doesn't need to be "explained."

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dare we hope??

It's rare that I ever come across a public official saying something about education that doesn't make me slightly sick, extremely angry, or both. 

Then along comes Aaron Osmond, Utah state senator, who wrote:

Before 1890, public education in America was viewed as an opportunity—not a legal obligation. Prior to that time, the parent was primarily responsible for the education of their children. The state provided access to a free education for those that wanted to pursue it. The local teacher was viewed with respect and admiration as a professional to assist a parent in the education of their child.Then came compulsory education. Our State began requiring that all parents must send their children to public school for fear that some children would not be educated because of an irresponsible parent. Since that day, the proverbial pendulum has swung in the wrong direction.

My jaw dropped when I saw this. Not like how it usually does where I'm thinking "this person lives in an alternate reality," but because of disbelief that a public official actually, finally caught on. I recommend reading the whole piece. It's really very good. I'm also heartened by the comments section, which is almost all very positive. 
Leave it to Utah. I like that state even more now than I already did. Interestingly enough, I already had made plans to move out there in a couple years because my fiancé loves the Red Rock area. I'm going to permit myself to feel optimistic for at least the weekend.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

FYI, I'm quitting

In case it is of interest to any regular readers of my blog (all three or four of you), I've decided that next year will be my final year as a teacher. I doubt this really comes as a surprise to anybody. It's long overdue, but unfortunately I made some less than wise financial decisions during a particularly "dark" period of my life, for which I have been paying out the nose for the past several years. This will end, however, in January 2014, at which time I can afford to quit. If you're curious, I'm going to go back to school to study audio engineering. If all goes well, I will end up with a job that most likely will pay less, but one in which I simply go to work, do something I like, and go home.

I decided to Google "I quit teaching," and found no shortage of essays and articles. Several years ago I wrote about the mystique of the teacher. I can think of no other profession where people make such a big deal about either entering it or leaving it - especially about leaving it. Could you imagine people writing an essay justifying why they don't want to be an accountant any more? Or a waiter (and yes, I am fully aware of the irony involved in me writing those sentences here)? The teaching profession is full of people who are career changers. They decide they want to do something meaningful and change the world, so they give up their cushy corporate job and join the teaching fellows. I'm just going the other direction. Call me selfish, but I don't care so much about making a difference any more. I just want my sanity back.

So, assuming that I don't completely lose steam and just give up on blogging, next year's posts will be written from the perspective of a disaffected teacher on his way out. I think I might have a slightly different take on things, or perhaps the same take intellectually but less emotionally involved. And please pray for me or send good vibes or whatever you care to do that next July I won't be writing with my cyber tail between my legs talking about how I'm dreading next year.

In the mean time, I am officially going to try my best to stop thinking about teaching until September.