What does it take to be a hero educator? It takes brains, courage, integrity, and a deep understanding of education and children.
Steve Nelson, headmaster of the Calhoun School in Manhattan, is a hero educator because he has all these qualities. He wrote a brilliant article about why the Common Core won’t work.
He knows that David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core, now heads the College Board. He knows that Coleman wants to align the SAT to the Common Core, so no one can escape his handiwork, not even students in prestigious private schools.
Here is a sample of Nelson’s article.
“Actual children, as opposed to the abstraction of children as seen in policy debate, are not “standard.” Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of child development knows that children learn in different ways and different times. Some children “read” (meaning a very limited ability to recognize symbols) at age 3 or 4. I have known many students who did not read well until 8, 9 or, rarely, later. The potential (or ultimate achievement levels) of these children does not correlate with the date of reading onset.
“It is rather like walking. Children who walk at 9 months do not become better runners than children who walk at 15 months. “Standardizing” the expectation of reading, and setting curricula and tests around this expectation, is like expecting a child to walk on her first birthday. If she doesn’t, shall we get our national knickers in a knot, develop a set of walking tests, prescribe walking remediation, and, perhaps inadvertently, make her feel desperately inadequate? In the current climate, Pearson is ready to design walking curriculum and its companion tests. The Gates and Broad Foundations will create complementary instructional videos.”
And he also writes:
“If policy makers and test writers had even rudimentary knowledge of rich individual differences, they would know that any standard test is unfair and, ultimately, useless. Just as children learn in very different ways, they express mastery in many different ways. The Common Core tests (and I’ve suffered the experience of wading through the many samples provided in the media) assume that all its takers process information in the same way, have the identical mix of cognitive and sensory abilities, and can, therefore, “compete” on level ground. This is nonsensical and damaging. Some of the most brilliant people I know would grind to a suffocating halt after trying to parse the arcane nonsense in a small handful of these questions. Even the math questions assume a homogeneous ability to understand the questions and a precisely common capacity for reasoning and concluding.
“I could go on: Stress inhibits learning, so we design stressful expectations; dopamine (from pleasurable activities) enhances learning, so we remove joy from schools; homework has very limited usefulness with negative returns after an hour or so (for elementary age kids), so we demand more hours of work; the importance of exercise in brain development is inarguable, so we eliminate recess and gym; the arts are central to human understanding, but we don’t have time.
“I have been accused of complaining but not offering solutions, so here’s a solution: Properly fund schools and allow good teachers to select the materials and pedagogy that serve the actual students in their care. The rest will take care of itself.
“And we can take the billions we’re wasting on NCLB, RTTT, Common Core and other nonsense and spend it to improve the lives of the shameful number of children who live in poverty in the “richest nation on Earth.”
Steve Nelson, welcome to the honor roll as a hero of American education.
Please someone, anyone: send this article to Bill Keller and Paul Krugman at the New York Times.