Archives for category: Curriculum

Joanne Yatvin, who served for many years as a teacher and principal in Oregon, is a literacy expert. She here expresses her view of the Common Core English Language Arts standards.

 

What the Dickens is Education All About?

Did you know that Charles Dickens denounced the Common Core Standards more than 150 years ago and didn’t think much of the value of higher education either? In his 1854 novel, Hard Times, Dickens devotes the first two chapters to satirizing education in the grade schools of his era, and it looks a lot like teaching in our schools today.

Right away, Dickens introduces Thomas Gradgrind, owner of a small school in an English industrial town, who makes clear what he thinks education should be: “Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. “

Next, Gradgrind, an unnamed visitor, and the schoolmaster, Mr. M’Choakumchild enter a classroom and lessons begin with Gradgrind in charge. He looks around the room and points to a young girl: “Girl number twenty” he calls out. She stands up and gives her name: “Sissy Jupe, sir.” “Sissy is not a name,” charges Gradgrind. “Don’t call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecelia.”

After learning that Sissy’s father performs with horses at the local circus, Gradgrind demands, “Give me your definition of a horse.” When she doesn’t answer, he turns to a boy named Bitzer and repeats the order. Bitzer says, “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eyeteeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.” “Now, girl number twenty,” gloats Gradgrind, “You know what a horse is.”

Later, while lecturing the class on the foolishness of using representations of horses and flowers in home decorations, Gradgrind calls on Sissy again, asking her why she would have such pictures on carpets where people would step on them. Sissy, no longer tongue-tied, replies, “It wouldn’t hurt them, sir. They would be the pictures of what was very pretty and pleasant, and I would fancy….” “ But you mustn’t fancy,” cries Gradgrind. “That’s it! You are never to fancy.”

Having humiliated Sissy once again, Gradgrind turns the lesson over to M’Choakumchild, who, Dickens tells us, has been thoroughly trained for his job: “Orthography, etymology, syntax, and prosody, biography, astronomy, geography, and general cosmography, the sciences of compound proportion, algebra, land-surveying and leveling, vocal music, and drawing from models, were all at the end of his ten chilled fingers ……He knew all about all the Water Sheds of all the world (whatever they are), and all the histories of all the peoples, and all the names of all the rivers and mountains, and all the productions, manners, and customs of all the countries, and all their boundaries and bearings on the two-and-thirty points of the compass. Ah, rather overdone, M’Choakumchild. If he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more.”

Dickens then ends the chapter with a metaphorical musing that compares M’Choakumchild’s teaching to Morgiana’s actions in the story, “Alibaba and the Forty Thieves”:

“Say, good M’choakumchild. When from thy boiling store,

thou shalt fill each jar brim full by-and-by, dost thou think that thou wilt always kill outright the robber Fancy lurking within—or sometimes only maim and distort him.”

While these excerpts from Hard Times are fresh in our minds, let’s consider their connection to today’s Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Below is a key statement from the official CCSS guide for teaching reading.


.The Common Core emphasizes using evidence from texts to present careful analyses, well-defended claims, and clear information. Rather than asking students questions they can answer solely from their prior knowledge and experience, the standards call for students to answer questions that depend on their having read the texts with care.

Although this statement does not include the word “facts,” it argues for the type of education that Gradgrind championed. Incidentally, neither “imagination” nor “creativity” is mentioned anywhere in the Standards documents.

To further emphasize the place of factual information in standards-based education, David Coleman, the primary architect of the Standards and now President of the College Board, has repeatedly asserted his view that students’ experiences, beliefs, and feelings should not be part of their educational journey. Below, is his explanation of how Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address should be taught:

The idea here is to plunge students into an independent encounter with this short text. Refrain from giving background context or substantial instructional guidance at the outset. It may make sense to notify students that the short text is thought to be difficult and they are not expected to understand it fully on a first reading —that they can expect to struggle. Some students may be frustrated, but all students need practice in doing their best to stay with something they do not initially understand. This close reading approach forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all students as they seek to comprehend Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Since I had not seen any lessons that fit Coleman’s criteria in my visits to classrooms, I turned to a website called “America Achieves” and viewed the only video there that portrayed the Common Core concept of proper teaching of a complex text.

That video shows a 9th grade teacher teaching a lesson on Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” that depicts a yearly event in a small rural village in which every family must participate. In this “lottery” the person who draws the one paper with a black dot on it is stoned to death by the crowd. Clues throughout the story let mature readers know about the lottery’s ancient origins and its initial purpose to persuade the gods to provide a good food harvest for the community, information that the story’s characters are never aware of.

At the video’s beginning the teacher describes her class to the audience as low-level readers with several English Language learners among them. She explains her choice of “The Lottery” as a complex text, yet within the range of suitability for ninth graders. The classroom scenes that follow show her asking students to locate specific bits of information and explain their literal meanings. She never asks why the story’s characters speak or act as they do. Also included in the video are short breaks where the teacher addresses viewers directly explaining her teaching further.

My response to the video was strongly negative. I felt that the teacher’s approach was mechanical and shallow. Without background information the students missed the author’s clues and failed to see the significance in the characters’ comments and behaviors. For them this was just a fairy tale without rhyme or reason. As a seasoned educator I could not accept the teacher’s choice of a text for this class or her failure to give them sufficient information beforehand and guidance during reading

It’s probably not fair for me to pass judgment on the Standards teaching methods after seeing just one video. But, if this new approach to K-12 education is so powerful why aren’t there more videos on this site—or elsewhere–showing teachers practicing more sophisticated teaching? Without research, field-testing, or evidence of student improvement, the case for the Standards right now is weak at best. Yet, most of our states’ governors, policy makers, pundits, and school officials have fallen for it. What we need is a reincarnation of Dickens to give us a picture of a modern classroom with a gifted teacher and a new Bitzer and Sissy to show us the difference between spouting “facts” and demonstrating genuine learning.

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A highly regarded high school science teacher at Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts was suspended in February because someone thought that his  students had created inappropriate projects that looked sort of like weapons. The teacher Gregg Schiller was suspended after two students turned in devices that could shoot small projectiles. Schiller reports daily to a district administrative office.

 

One project used compressed air to propel a small object but it was not connected to a source of air pressure, so it could not have been fired. (In 2012, President Obama tried out a more powerful air-pressure device at a White House Science Fair that could launch a marshmallow 175 feet.)
Another project used the power from an AA battery to charge a tube surrounded by a coil. When the ninth-grader proposed it, Schiller told him to be more scientific, to construct and test different coils and to draw graphs and conduct additional analysis, said his parents, who also are Los Angeles teachers.

 

The story notes that President Obama tried out a more powerful air-projectile at a White House science fair in 2012, which launched a marshmallow 175 feet.

 

Schiller’s suspension removes a popular science teacher who held a number of valuable roles in the school. Parents, teachers, and students have rallied to oppose his removal. Some think that the real reason he was removed was because he is the representative for the teachers’ union.

 

“As far as we can tell, he’s being punished for teaching science,” said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.
Schiller teaches Advanced Placement biology and psychology as well as regular and honors biology. Students are concerned about Advanced Placement exams for college credit in May.
“The class is now essentially a free period,” said 17-year-old psychology student Liana Kleinman. “The sub does not have a psych background and can’t help us with the work.”
Schiller initially prepared lesson plans for the substitute, but the district directed him to stop in an email.
“This is really hurting my students more than anything else,” Schiller said in an interview. “I would never do anything to set up a situation where a student could be harmed.”
He coaches the school’s fencing team, and administrators have determined the team cannot compete safely without Schiller in charge.
Schiller, 43, also was the teachers union representative on the campus and had been dealing with disagreements with administrators over updating the employment agreement under which the faculty works. His suspension, with pay, removed him from those discussions.

http://www.latimes.com/science/la-me-lausd-science-teacher-20140410,0,5329192.story#ixzz2yVcx9Gwy


Jonathan Katz taught mathematics in grades 6-12 for 24 years and has coached math teachers for the past nine years.

He prepared this essay for the New York Performance Standards Consortium, a group of high schools that evaluates students by exhibitions, portfolios, and other examples of student work. The Consortium takes a full array of students and has demonstrated superior results as compared to schools judged solely by test scores.

What is of special concern is his description of the mismatch between the Common Core’s expectations for ninth-grade Algebra and students’ readiness for those expectations.

Here is a key excerpt:

“….,based on my observations of many math classrooms throughout New York City, I have seen that there are many early teenaged students who are not yet sufficiently cognitively developed to think about complex mathematical ideas, and they are being left behind, unable to integrate the abstraction of algebraic ideas at this point in their lives. I value the idea of developing deep conceptual understanding and believe it is the only means for someone to develop the ability to work with ideas in higher mathematics. But what is appropriate conceptual understanding for a student in ninth grade? Fourteen year olds will now be expected to engage with linear, quadratic, exponential, absolute value, step, radical and polynomial functions, while developing an understanding of linear and exponential regression. Even most adults have no understanding of this level of mathematics. I would love to believe that students are well-prepared, but I have sat in over 50 different ninth grade math classes this year and have witnessed that what is being asked of our students is “disproportionate to their knowledge.” Too many students have come into ninth grade with limited understanding of basic important ideas like the variable, equality, and solution. Students lack an understanding of the relationship between arithmetic and algebra.”

Katz writes:

Facts about the CCSS and the New Common Core Algebra Regents
-Jonathan Katz, Ed. D.-

Mathematics is a wonderful discipline. All people should have the chance to see and feel some of its beauty and magnificence. I have spent the last 33 years in the world of mathematics education. I taught students from grades 6-12 for 24 years and have coached mathematics teachers for the last nine years. When the Common Core was presented five years ago—specifically, the 8 Standards of Mathematical Practice—there was hope among high school teachers that they would have the support needed to make math come alive for students. They wanted to open up to students the excitement of really grappling with problem solving and mathematical thinking, as opposed to merely asking them to follow standardized solutions closely tied to procedural goals rather than mathematical thinking. But with this year’s introduction of the Common Core assessment in algebra, it’s clear that this is not what the State of New York is expecting teachers to do.

In June 2014 NY students will be taking a new exam in algebra created by the New York State Department of Education that is “aligned” to the Common Core Standards. Only recently, sample questions were published to give teachers a sense of what their students will be asked to do on this exam. I have looked closely at the sample problems and have had many discussions with teachers about these questions. I have come to see that we have created a situation in New York that is causing tremendous harm to its students and that there needs to be an immediate moratorium placed on the dissemination of the new Common Core examination in algebra.

Why do I make this statement?

George Polya, who has had tremendous impact in math education in the United States, stated,

Thus, a teacher of mathematics has a great opportunity. If he fills his allotted time with drilling his students in routine operations he kills their interest, hampers their intellectual development, and misuses his opportunity. But if he challenges the curiosity of his students by setting them problems proportionate to their knowledge, and helps them to solve their problems with stimulating questions, he may give them a taste for, and some means of, independent thinking. (Boaler, 2008, p. 26)

Two questions arise from Polya’s statement.
• What is a mathematics “problem”?
• What does it mean to challenge students with “problems proportionate to their knowledge”?

The first Common Core Standard of Mathematical Practice can help us to understand the meaning of a problem.

MP. 1 – Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution. They analyze givens, constraints, relationships, and goals. They make conjectures about the form and meaning of the solution and plan a solution pathway rather than simply jumping into a solution attempt. They consider analogous problems, and try special cases and simpler forms of the original problem in order to gain insight into its solution. They monitor and evaluate their progress and change course if necessary. Older students might, depending on the context of the problem, transform algebraic expressions or change the viewing window on their graphing calculator to get the information they need. Mathematically proficient students can explain correspondences between equations, verbal descriptions, tables, and graphs or draw diagrams of important features and relationships, graph data, and search for regularity or trends. Younger students might rely on using concrete objects or pictures to help conceptualize and solve a problem. Mathematically proficient students check their answers to problems using a different method, and they continually ask themselves, “Does this make sense?” They can understand the approaches of others to solving complex problems and identify correspondences between different approaches.

This Common Core standard seems to honor the idea of problem solving and the many ways a student might engage with a problem. It seems to value the process of problem solving, the ins and outs one goes through as one tries to solve a problem and that different students will engage in different processes.

To implement such a standard, a teacher would need to present students with problems that allow for and encourage different approaches and different ways to think about a solution—what we call “open-ended problems.” Yet, when you look at the sample questions from the Fall 2013 NY State document you would be hard pressed to find an example of a real open-ended problem. Here is one example in which a situation is presented and three questions are then posed.

Max purchased a box of green tea mints. The nutrition label on the box stated that a serving of three mints contains a total of 10 Calories.

a) On the axes below, graph the function, C, where C (x) represents the number of Calories in x mints.

b) Write an equation that represents C (x).

c) A full box of mints contains 180 Calories. Use the equation to determine the total number of mints in the box.

A situation is presented to the students but then they are told how to solve it and via a method that in reality few people would even employ (who would create a graph then a function to find out the number of full mints in the box?). If you are told what to do, how can we call this solving a problem? (This would have been a very easy problem for most students if they were able to solve it any way they chose which is what we do in real life.) In fact, all eight problems in the same of Regents questions follow the same pattern. Students are told they have to create the equation (or inequality or system of inequalities or graph) to answer the question. Thus there is no real problem solving going on—merely the following of a particular procedure or the answering of a bunch of questions. Why don’t we use problems where there is a real need for an algebraic approach? Why would we ask students to look at a simple situation then force them to use an algebraic approach, which complicates the situation? We should be helping students to see that the power of algebra is that is gives us the means of solving problems that we would have great difficulty solving arithmetically.

If we were truly trying to find out if our students are developing the ability to problem solve, we would never create questions of this nature. They would be more open-ended so students had the chance to show how they think and approach a problematic situation. But that can’t happen on a test where everyone is instructed to do the same thing so we can “measure” each student’s understanding of a particular standard. This is not real mathematics and a contradiction of the Common Core Standards of Mathematical Practice!

Why does this matter? The consequences are huge, and not just for students. Consider the message we are sending to teachers. Since students will be assessed on following given procedures rather than how they strategize and reason through a problem, then teachers’ lessons will become all about following procedures to prepare their students for an exam they must pass in order to graduate. This will simply perpetuate the same failing math teaching practices we had in the past, will compound the dislike that students already have for math class, and will not in any way help our students to develop mathematical thinking.

The second question I posed from Polya’s statement was,

What does it mean to challenge students with “problems proportionate to their knowledge”?

The Common Core Standards is asking students to think deeply about algebraic concepts at an earlier age. Students in 7th grade are being asked to understand linear relationships and are introduced to y = mx + b. Students in 8th grade are asked to make sense of systems of linear equations. All this to prepare students for high school. But based on my observations of many math classrooms throughout New York City, I have seen that there are many early teenaged students who are not yet sufficiently cognitively developed to think about complex mathematical ideas, and they are being left behind, unable to integrate the abstraction of algebraic ideas at this point in their lives. I value the idea of developing deep conceptual understanding and believe it is the only means for someone to develop the ability to work with ideas in higher mathematics. But what is appropriate conceptual understanding for a student in ninth grade? Fourteen year olds will now be expected to engage with linear, quadratic, exponential, absolute value, step, radical and polynomial functions, while developing an understanding of linear and exponential regression. Even most adults have no understanding of this level of mathematics. I would love to believe that students are well-prepared, but I have sat in over 50 different ninth grade math classes this year and have witnessed that what is being asked of our students is “disproportionate to their knowledge.” Too many students have come into ninth grade with limited understanding of basic important ideas like the variable, equality, and solution. Students lack an understanding of the relationship between arithmetic and algebra. Ninth grade teachers have needed to develop the basic ideas of algebra as they attempt to get students to develop a strong understanding of functions. It has put students and teachers in a very difficult position. Teachers have had to ask, “What is fair for my students? What should I be doing to make sure I help them to grow and develop an appreciation of mathematics?”

Many teachers have been doing an incredible job, and my respect for them is enormous. One of those teachers, who is working in a school where most students come from struggling situations, was shocked when he saw the sample questions for the new Regents exam. He knew immediately that his students would not be able to answer most. He saw that many of the questions would have previously been on an Algebra 2 exam. Students will have to answer questions about an exponential regression, graph the residuals of a linear regression and describe its meaning, graph a cube root function, find the zeroes in a quadratic function, graph an absolute value equation and state the domain over which the function is increasing.

I remember in my early years of teaching I gave my students a test and most students did poorly. Instead of looking at why this happened, I blamed my students and simply gave them a harder test next time, as if that was a solution. I’ve learned a lot since then. I learned to redirect my teaching from what I hoped “to cover” to better understanding the thinking process that my students were experiencing—how they were making sense of the mathematics we were engaged in. In NYS we have decided that since too many students who graduate high school are not prepared for college, we will simply make things harder, as if exposing them to more and more complex mathematics at younger and younger ages will solve the problem of college readiness. We should be asking why students struggle to learn how to think mathematically and what needs to change so that math can begin to make sense to them?

New York State education officials are not totally oblivious to what is going on. They are concerned about what is going to happen when the algebra exam is administered for the first time this June. But they “jumped into a solution” rather than grappling with all the “givens, constraints, relationships, and goals.” Their solution has been to require that students take the CCSS Algebra Regents in early June and then have the option to take the old Regents exam three weeks later. Students can choose the highest result as their final score. It is a no-brainer that teachers will let students take the old Regents since we already know it is considered the easier exam, but this creates a new set of problems. The two curricula are very different. What is a teacher to do? Try to cover material from both curricula? Stop teaching the required CCSS curriculum and teach the old curriculum only since students would have a better chance of doing well on that exam? What is fair for our students? To what extent are we feeding into students’ already negative attitudes about mathematics?

I see only one solution at this time: a moratorium on the testing of students in ninth grade algebra. Then we need a concerted and informed effort to bring together teachers, math educators, students and parents to grapple with the question, “What is mathematics and why do we teach it?” Why do we ask students to spend 12 years in school studying mathematics? Since true mathematics is not a rigid subject, when will we recognize that all students are not the same and the way they express mathematical understanding can take different forms? Do we need to recognize that standards can be very detrimental if we treat them as if etched in stone but very useful if they are approached with more openness and flexibility? We must continue to ask questions so that we can truly meet the needs of our students.

References

Boaler, J. (2008). What’s math got to do with it? New York: Penguin Group.

Polya, G. (1945). How to solve it. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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Kathleen M. Cashin and Bruce S. Cooper are on the faculty of Fordham University. Dr. Cashin, an experienced educator, is also a member of the New York State Board of Regents. She is regularly in the minority on votes that increase the pressure for high-stakes testing. Dr. Cooper is a scholar who has written about school finance for many years. In this essay, they criticize the state’s pressure to raise test scores while sacrificing the social and emotional supports that students need to succeed in school. Schools across the state, restricted by Governor Cuomo’s 2% tax limit, must cut somewhere, and they are forced to cut such necessary services to students as social workers, psychologists, counselors, as well as the arts and athletics. These demands and the sacrifices they require will prove harmful to students, in the short run and the long run. A cardinal rule of medicine, derived from the Hippocratic Oath, is: “First, do no harm.” If it were the rule in education, the Regents and the State Commissioner would be judged to have done significant harm to the students in their care, whose well-being they willfully ignore in pursuit of ever higher scores on standardized tests.

Sacrificing Psychologists, Counselors,

& Social Workers—and Athletics & the Arts—to Test Preparation

Kathleen M. Cashin Bruce S. Cooper

To increase funds for the preparation of students for state tests, sadly, New York public schools and their districts have reduced the number of professionals for critical student services; these include guidance counselors, psychologists, and social workers, while removing often athletic coaches, arts and music staff. But how can we expect our children to flourish in schools socially, psychologically, and inter-personally if these students have fewer trained school professionals to turn to, should they need help, comfort, or support?

Thus, we are cutting the most important services for children, those that help them to develop as healthy, happy human beings, all because we are obsessed with spending more funds, hoping to raise test score results through test prep. As one school principal recently commented, “Just forget it if you are seeking a job as a school guidance counselor, as these jobs are few and far between!”

For example, New York State recorded a decline from 7,126 guidance counselors in local public schools in 2009, to 6,622 in school year 2011-12, a drop of 7%, even though the enrollments (and needs) had risen. Likewise, social workers in the state employed in public schools dropped by 6%, from 3,270 to 3,050 during the same time period. And nurses working in public schools in New York declined by 3%, from 3,662 to 3,544 during this time.

As another administrator recalls, when he was a student at a major N.Y.C. public high school, his guidance counselor frequently called him into her office and asked:

“How are you adjusting to school?” She would regularly check on my grades, attendance, and my adjustment to various subjects and classes. This attention and private time meant so much to me, and I remember her fondly to this day, as she helped me to become the person and professional that I became.

Even teachers of art, music, drama, and physical education – and other areas that often go “untested” by the state — are disappearing, again reducing children’s engagement, joy, expression, physical fitness, creativity, and affirmation. What have we as a society accomplished by turning schools into “test mills” where fewer kids are happy; and schools are now spending eight months each year prepping for state tests?

Funding for the music and art in schools in New York City, for example, has plummeted by 81 percent since 2006, from about $10 million for supplies, dipping down to just $2 million in 2012. Cultural partnership funding — to build bridges between N.Y.C. public schools and it important cultural institutions — likewise, has been reduced by 50 percent, from $26 million to only $13 million.

Results

Now, attention and time devoted to the “whole child” are now much less likely because teachers working alone in their classrooms are assuming more and more responsibility. And we see less staff who are trained and hired to help students — socially and emotionally — with a reduction in social workers, guidance counselors, athletic coaches, and school psychologists.

As a consequence, what are the effects of this drop in guidance counselors, now fewer in number in many schools, on children’s growth, stability, school attendance, as well the impact on levels of bad behaviors, such as physical bullying, and cyber-bullying? Those staff, specifically trained to address these students’ needs and problems, have diminished and thus are no longer around — or have so many students to serve, that they are not able to counsel students fully for college and career readiness.

We have data on the reduction in nonteaching staff, and on the rise of bad, anti-social behavior and depression among school kids; thus, we are believe that the drop in counselors and athletic-arts-music staff relates to the rising despair of students, who may have no one to whom to turn: fewer coaches, counselors, and psychologists in their schools.

Hence, we are making demands that students now become college and career prepared, while reducing (or overburdening) the very staff members who are trained to help these students. These critical questions must be answered at the federal, state, and local levels:

1. What is the level of relationship between loss of staff and the rise in student bullying and cyber-bullying?

2. What are the effects of reductions in available psychological and guidance personnel upon the levels of: (a) student suicide, (b) self-mutilation, and (c) truancy and dropout?

3. And how has the increase in gang membership — and combat among gangs –affected students’ feelings of school safety, school climate, and productivity?

Thus, overall, why are we letting our schools become less humane, supportive, and communal. And how are some students taking steps to join or create more gangs for fellowship and a sense of safety in numbers—or trying in other ways to create their own “safety nets”? Unsafe schools may then become breeding grounds, where frightened children look for protection in neighborhood gangs.

In effect, students are creating their own victimhood by these actions:

Looking to gangs for protection from other gangs;

• Missing coping mechanisms developed through counseling, guidance, and teacher relationships;

• Losing chances to learn life and life-coping skills in schools, along with other students and professional staff;

• Reducing available parental involvement and support in helping their own children learn to cope, practice, and succeed in school – and life; and,

• Losing real opportunities to practice social and personal skills at school and home.

We must recognize that caring for and supporting the socio-emotional needs of children are as important in the long-run as simply test-prepping our children’s way to a higher score on English, math, science, and social studies examinations.

Research and experience together show that children can learn, retain, and focus better when they are feeling and functioning as safe, happy, well-adjusted young people. Society has a real responsibility once again to make schools safe-havens for all children, physically and socially. For are we not truly our brothers and sisters’ keepers?

______________

Kathleen M. Cashin, Ed.D., is a member of the N.Y. State Board Regents and a clinical professor at Fordham University.

Bruce S. Cooper, Ph.D., is professor at Fordham University, Graduate School of Education, N.Y.C.

Contact:

Dr. Bruce S. Cooper

175 Riverside Dr. Apt. #2F

New York, NY 10024

Tel: 917 843-2281

Email: bruce.cooper@mac.com

This wonderful article in the American Educator describes the work of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, which has been conducting summer seminars for teachers for 30 years.

It opens the story through the eyes of a teacher named Keith Black:

“Instead of being subjected to what he disparagingly calls “PowerPoint drudgery,” Black spent eight hours each day dis- cussing classic works of literature, 17 in all, that he had read the previous three months on his own: Prometheus Bound, Agamem- non, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides, Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Peace, Lysistrata, King Lear, Othello, Hamlet, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Blood Wedding, Crime and Punishment, and Beloved.”

The Dallas Institute does not mention the Common Core or testing or rubrics:

“For 30 years, the Dallas Institute has treated teachers as intellectuals. To that end, the nonprofit educational organization, founded by former faculty members at the University of Dallas, offers teachers from all grade levels and all disciplines—not just English—an experience that either reacquaints them with or introduces them to the literature of Western civilization. The classic works studied are taught at the level of a graduate-school course and do not at all resemble typical professional development. Educators who attend this program rise to the challenge of engaging in insightful discussions about these complicated texts. In fact, they hunger to do so.

“Teachers work with human material, and the best way traditionally to gain access to human things is through the humani- ties, which are the foundation of a liberal arts education,” says Claudia Allums, who directs the Summer Institute. But a liberal arts education encompasses more than literature or philosophy or history courses, she says. It’s a particular spirit with which one approaches any discipline. “If a teacher has a broad, strong liberal arts education, then he or she is going to have a broad, strong foundation in human sensibilities. That’s the foundation we believe is important for any teacher’s wisdom.”

“Today, that belief is not widely shared. With the overwhelming focus on testing and measuring, it’s rare to hear words such as “wisdom,” “humanities,” and “human sensibilities” in relation to public education. Occasionally, reports like The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation,2 published last year by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, will decry the narrowing of the curriculum and call for a renewed emphasis on the liberal arts and their importance. But in the end, often little will be done to act on these ideas, however noble.”

I visited the the Dallas Institute a few years ago and was exhilarated by the spirit that permeates it: love of learning. Learning for the sake of learning, not for a bonus or a prize. This is a very small island of joy in a land where joy has been banned by federal and state authorities. Here there is intellectual freedom, which is endangered in our society by the powerful plutocrats who prize standardization and the ability to check the right box.

How ironic that the Institute flourishes in Texas, where the educational industrial complex was first launched. It is a small but important form of resistance to the status quo, a place where learning lives and thrives.

Alan J. Singer of Hofstra University has studied the Common
Core closely and suggested not only flaws but ways it could be
improved. Unfortunately there is no feedback process to make
changes or to upgrade content. Michael Shaughnessy interviews Singer
here for Education News
. Here is a good question and
answer: 2) What is this concept called ” text complexity ” and who
developed it? “If you look deeper you realize books are assigned to
the boxes based on something called “text complexity.” Text
complexity is defined on the Common Core website as a combination
of “levels of meaning, structure, language conventionality and
clarity, and knowledge demands”; “readability measures and other
scores of text complexity”; and “reader variables (such as
motivation, knowledge, and experiences) and task variables (such as
purpose and the complexity generated by the task assigned and the
questions posed).” Fortunately you do not have to worry if you
cannot understand what they are talking about, I certainly can’t,
because they start with the assertion that “A number of
quantitative tools exist to help educators assess aspects of text
complexity that are better measured by algorithm than by a human
reader,” although they also concede that “the tools for measuring
text complexity are at once useful and imperfect.” “One thing that
always makes me suspicious is that Pearson Education is marketing
the Pearson Reading Maturity Metric. They claim it is “a new and
more accurate measure of the reading difficulty of texts” that was
“developed by scientists at Pearson’s Knowledge Technologies
group.” It is supposed to be a “new computer-based technology” that
“measures how close an individual students’ reading abilities are
to what they will need to succeed in college and careers.” “Do you
remember the scene from the “The Dead Poet’s Society” when Robin
Williams’ character is trying to follow textbook guidelines for
measuring the value of poetry and ends up having students rip the
pages out of the textbook. He shouts “Rip! Rip! Rip!” I think we
need to do some ripping here.”

Howard Katzoff doesn’t understand why the commentators at MSNBC are so ill-informed about education issues. With the exception of Ed Schultz and possibly Chris Hayes, the commentators at MSNBC have swallowed the snake oil of corporate reform. Although they are usually out front on social and political issues, they sound like Fox News on education. When Education Nation opens in September, all of NBC turns into a cheerleading squad for the non-educators who paint by numbers (test scores).

In this post, Mr. Katzoff reminds Chris Matthews what education should be: it should be about educating the whole child in the liberal arts and sciences. It should not be a race for higher test scores or a process dominated by fear of failure.

Mr. Katzoff remembers when he started teaching:

“Look at our educational system from the point of view of well-meaning adults who use their academic knowledge and interpersonal skills with kids every day— and you will see that the whole discussion about American Education is framed from what Society needs, rather than from who children are.

“That is what is wrong with American public education.

“When our generation came into teaching in the mid-1960′s, it was typical for a Superintendent of Schools to make a speech at the start of the school year to inspire idealism among the staff, especially among the first- year teachers. Educational leaders would inevitably quote Socrates and the classics, alluding to the higher purposes of our jobs.”

But consider how things have changed:

“When I attended my last early September motivational meeting before I retired, the new regional superintendent came to our school to tell us we were in danger of getting a failing grade from the New York City Department of Education. Then she proceeded with graphs and charts to show exactly how we could move last year’s test scores to her projected scores for that year.

The instructional culture within American public schools has radically shifted from the classical Liberal Arts and Sciences or Humanistic tradition which emphasizes all the Arts, Sciences, Literature, History, Physical Education, Hand Work, Civics and Community Service— the paradigm of EDUCATING THE WHOLE CHILD.”

Our leaders are obsessed with numbers and data, not children or learning. That’s backwards.

Chris, can you help us? Rachel Maddow, can you?

The voice of a new blogger! At least, new to me. Glad to make his/her acquaintance.

This post was written by a veteran teacher who knows how to get students to love literature.

But it is a brave new world, and now the teacher must be trained to say the right words and terms by a “perky” Pearson trainer.

She tried! She really, really tried.

She traded jargon with the trainer, blow for blow.

But in the end, she couldn’t do it.

She knew the verbiage was empty nonsense, even if the trainer didn’t know it.

And she concluded:

Fifth graders fall in love with great books when teachers read them out loud with passion, and then talk about them with interest and knowledge. They learn to write when they are inspired to say something. Truth? They don’t need to be told what their reading level is: they need to be surrounded by books and they need to play around with them. Truth? They don’t need a rubric to learn how to craft a story where “the dialogue moves the story forward on the story arc” (Seriously? Whoever wrote this crap never read Vonnegut). They know that a story is good when their friends tell them, “This was great!”

Imagine that! No rubric! No text-to-text comparisons! Just reading for meaning and the joy of language and story. That will never do!

Roy Turrentine, an experienced teacher of mathematics in Tennessee, explains why the Common Core standards are misdirecting the teaching of his subject. The creators of the CCSS did a disservice to the standards and to American education by refusing the test the standards in real classrooms with real teachers and real students. By failing to field test the standards, there was no feedback from the world of reality and no opportunity to correct errors. Instead, the standards were sent forth with instructions that they were encased in concrete. Any business that released products that had never been tested in the real world, that had never been subject to make corrections based on experience, would soon be bankrupt. That is why I strongly recommend that every state and every district create committees of its best teachers to review and revise the standards to remove the bugs. Forget the “copyright.” What nonsense! How dare any private organizations assert the right to create national standards and then to exercise a copyright over them! Let them sue.

Roy Turrentine writes:

I would like to relate my experience with Common Core. I am a classroom teacher in Tennessee. I have advocated more rigor in education for over thirty years.

In Geometry,which is my main focus, Common Core seeks to unite the Cartesian approach and the traditional approach to the topics studied. The unfortunate aspect of this approach is twofold.

First, the development of the traditional Euclidian approach to Geometry goes back to Euclid himself. His uniting of these concepts created a body of knowledge that has remained intact for centuries. Common Core essentially rejects topics that may only be approached in a Euclidian fashion. Not that they say this. To read the standards you wouldn’t think so. But all the testing depends on the Cartesian approach.

Due to this approach, and due to the nature of the testing, only topics that may be approached in the Cartesian manner are treated. Teachers will surely be teaching less, not more. This brings us to the second point. High stakes testing will restrict teachers to practicing in a very specific way. In our training in Tennessee,the emphasis is more on technique in the classroom than it is on what is to be taught.

Those of us who teach in high schools across America have long desired rigor. To go to meetings where people seem to feel that this rigor is their idea is nothing short of insulting to those of us who have been trying to unite the disciplines for decades. Every good teacher knows what the ideal is. We have been trying to do this for all of our careers. Having Bill Gates give me his opinion does no one any good. Having his opinion become national policy will not serve anyone.

Roy Turrentine

Jere Hochman, superintendent of the Bedford Central School District in New York responds here to Tom Friedman’s column in the New York Times:

 

 

I could scream!
That is my reaction to Thomas Friedman’s column, “Obama’s Homework Assignment”
Mr. Friedman sees the big picture on every issue. This column is a shocker.

They put in annual high-stakes testing – that didn’t work.
They labeled districts – that didn’t work.
They tried small high schools – that didn’t work.
They diverted funds to charters – that’s not working.
They beat up on teachers – that didn’t work.
They’ve prescribed curriculum, scripts, and more testing – that’s not working.
So – why not blame parents until that doesn’t work?

Parents working three jobs don’t show up often but they want what’s best for their child.
Parents who do show up want high standards; not standardization.

Let’s see –
They cut funding for Parents as Teachers (most evidence based school readiness program there is).
No funding for early childhood, language development, and play.
No dangled RTTT grants for home visit programs.
Writing standards for 5 year olds.
Ignoring poverty.
Lowering taxes which depletes public schools and services.
Diverting funds to charter factories.
Obsessed with testing.
Broad brushing every school in the U.S. as the same.
Double and triple testing kids with disabilities and those learning English
Ignoring thousands of success stories.
Handcuffing states with egregious regulations.
Forgetting we educate every child.
Bowing to publisher lobbyists.

It’s so simple:
Attend to pre-natal and birth to five language development and play.
High standards, rich curriculum, professional development, innovative lessons, and meaningful evaluation.
Cap high school class sizes at least under 30, preferably 25
Provide comparable technology, resources, and funding in all districts
Focus on learning, not testing.
Systems thinking, not factory models.

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