The fight for #CCSS


The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are supposed to be a unifying element in education. Placing All (or at least most) of the states on the same page for student academic expectations. Finally states could compare achievement data. Standardized test results could finally be compared. In theory the Common Core is a good idea. The United States does need to set educational standards that challenge our students and tell employers and colleges what graduates know and are able to produce. The Common Core also help fully implement the No Child Left Behind Act  of 2001, up until now states have been issued waivers to comply with the law. CCSS and the assessments that go along with it are supposed to end the era of waivers and hold states accountable for their educational programs.

Corporations, states and school districts have been preparing for CCSS ever since their first draft was released 3 years ago. Corporations have spent 3 years on research and developing educational programs and materials to sell in support of the CCSS implementation. Other Corporations have been formed to create assessments that “fit” the CCSS curriculum. Many States have joined one of two consortium (Smarter Balanced and PARCC) to help guide in the development of these new assessments.  School districts have invested countless hours working to adjust their curriculum to meet the CCSS. Millions of dollars have been spent on this anticipated change over the past few years.

wordle CCSS

Now, a few states are starting to voice concern as the Pilot testing period ends and full implementation looms. Here in Michigan despite the best efforts of the Governor, Michele Rhee and Jeb Bush the legislature has decided not to fund any  CCSS implementation in the 2013-2014 state budget. What does this mean for teachers? IS this going to just be another unfunded mandate? or is CCSS dead? Time will only tell. 

I know what it shows. It shows America that Education is NOT a priority but a political hot potato that politicians like to throw around for votes. It shows teachers that politicians don’t give a damn about them. It the world that American is never going to “fix” its educations system that picks winners and losers by zip code.

Personally I am not the biggest fan of the CCSS. I have previously refered to CCSS as the “College” core due to the rigor and lack room for students who would prefer hands on learning and trade skills. The idea of having some “national standards” is appealing. Our staff is just getting used to positive changes that the CCSS has brought to our district. Our students are showing growth and achievement  I just find it very ironic that the same Republican Party that initiated the move towards the CCSS is now putting the standards on “pause”. As the fight for the common core rages from state to state, America will see that our educational values need to be changed so we can focus on real change. Change that makes sure every child can get a high quality education in our great country!!

All I want for Christmas

This past week has been a whirlwind on my emotionally, sparking my brain to fill with thoughts about the world today.

Last weekend, I received word from the Michigan Education Association (Teacher’s Union) that the Michigan legislature was going to take action on Right to Work bills before them on Tuesday 12-11-12. As a local union leader this was upsetting that such a divisive issue would be voted on quickly, without public debate, during a “lame-duck” session. I made plans to head to Lansing to voice my concerns, also contacted my legislators to share my feelings. Feelings of anger and resentment filled my brain on Monday.

Tuesday came and I awoke early. Abandoning my students for the day to head to Lansing in protest. I arrived early in the morning and sat in the gallery of the Michigan Senate as thousands filled the lawn.  I listened to chants, protest cries and eloquent speakers voice opposition to the bills. Concerns and objections fell upon deaf ears, as bills passed mostly along party lines to an instant signature of the Governor, who previously state he did not want to see a “right to work bill” on his desk.

Disheartened by the lack of a democratic process, on Wednesday I returned to my classroom. Students arrived early stating they “missed” my presence (having missed 3 days in two weeks). The teacher from across surprised me with a large Starbucks cup filled with a sweet tasting latte. She stated “for all your efforts on our behalf.” For the first time I felt valued as a union leader. My students appreciated my return as well. Asking why I had to miss school and begging me not to miss again. My heavy heart was lifted, good will exists in the world. Coming home that night I noticed a friend on Facebook, paying it forward with her children by handing out lotto tickets to strangers in the parking lotto of the local supermarket.

Thursday I was greeted with another gift from a co-worker, this time lunch. Wow! what had I done for two days of gifts? Pride of working with a caring staff overwhelmed me. It was catching on with our students too. Walking around the building I noticed the boxes for our holiday food drive were filling up. By this point in the week, many staff members had come up to me to voice appreciation for my efforts and the value of the MEA.

Friday arrived and I was in good spirits again. Anticipation of our holiday staff party and the weekend break were dominating my mindset. A causal check of Facebook between classes on my cell phone changed everything. A childhood friend, who lied in Newtown, CT and attended Sandy Hook Elementary posted a comment about a helicopter flying over. I had no idea what it meant. Returning to class, my curiosity was sparked. What was going on. At the end of my fourth hour. I checked the web to investigate further.

The horror that occurred left me (and probably everyone else) shocked. Asking Why? Our staff party all of a sudden wasn’t so festive. Leaving many asking questions that could not and will not be answered. I was uplifted again by the generosity of yet another co-workers gift of beer presented to me at the party. Even in light of the days events she thought of me.

Saturday arrived with busy family activities. Basketball camp for Griffin my 8-year-old son and then a scout trip to Cranbrook Science Center in the afternoon. It wasn’t till evening that I slowed down to think about all that had transpired the day before. I turned on the news to find out more details. Seemed like plenty of white noise, talking about the shooter, his family and speculation on how he obtained the guns. Checking twitter with my phone, I saw a line about not making the shooter an anti-hero and for society to focus on the victims. I liked this and was ready to turn off the news coverage.

But I am so glad I didn’t. The next person I saw on the coverage was Robbie Parker, the father of 6-year-old victim Emilie Parker. I could never imagine the grief he was and still is dealing with. I would have been okay for him to stand their and voice his anger. He did not. He voiced his condolences to all involved in the tragedy including the shooter’s family. Robbie Parker is the shining example of how to look horror in the eye. He loved his daughter Emilie this is so clear. He doesn’t want her death to taint her wonderful life. Robbie Parker is one of the true Heroes in all of this. Modeling how to face tragedy.

After hearing him speak. All I want for Christmas is good will towards all. In this day an age of wanting material goods, the latest and greatest items. We need to return to the Christmas spirit of helping others and the giving of ourselves. Avoid the advertisements that make us desire more “stuff”. Focus on how we can make someone else have a better day.

The saying goes what comes around goes around. Pay it forward so we change our culture, in turn this type of violent acts will cease to exist.

A Teachable Moment

With Hurricane Sandy approaching Monday morning during my advisory class, I decided to go off script and use the teachable moment. How often does a science teacher get to talk about the power of a hurricane and have live pictures to show? I had no lesson planned, but I know the geography of the east coast well having attend high school in Connecticut. Weather is one of the content areas I enjoy the most, and hey it is advisory class we could take the discussion anywhere. Using CNN’s and TWC’s live internet feeds to highlight the story, I only needed 2 minutes during announcement to pull up the need audio/visual aids.

Announcements end, cue up the video feed, starts by highlighting forecast for the day and when the storm will hit. Next up: closures and curfews for the NYC metro area. The broadcaster was talking about the need for people to be off streets so the emergency crews could get where they needed to be and the closing down of all of the public transportation. In my mind this was great teachable moment. The students heard about the weather threat and the need to get off the streets to a safe location. I pause the video feed to start the discussion. At first the class was concerned about what happen in New York City and the need for safety. Students were asking if this had ever happened before and many were surprised to learn that Manhattan is an island surrounded by water. Then the discussion took an unexpected turn.

A normally quiet student asked a question. I was happy since he rarely seemed interested in advisory conversations. He asked “So, if all the people are supposed to be home, wouldn’t that be a good time to break in a business?” First thought in my head was yes, so you are a budding young crook. Then I thought maybe I wasn’t hearing the question correctly. He repeated questions adding,”nobody is around, that is what happens, people get robbed.” I wanted to avoid the question but knew I had to take it on, I countered with “Well, you are right no civilians are supposed to be around since the police and national guard will be on the streets rescuing those in need.” I made sure I added, “They would be stopping all people they see, since nobody is supposed to be out and about.”

The class took my answers well and the discussion continued about hurricane and emergency preparations.

I felt I could not leave a question about theft unturned. Was my student a budding young thief or was something more at play? Later when the students were discussing items with partners. I pulled the student aside and asked about the question. Little did I know that a students family member been a victim of a robbery and he had overheard a discussion about the crime. The discussion was about how no one was around to witness the crime.

Some days a teachable moment turns into a learning opportunity for the teacher as well.

Middle School Chat Starting Aug 9th 8 pm EST

I have been on actively on twitter as an educator for a little over a year, in this time I have found wonderful connections to educators from around the world. I have found incredible resources and insights from educators of all levels. I value all of the people in my growing PLN. One thing that seems missing is a chat/group dedicated solely to Middle School Issues. So after conversations with members of my PLN and encouragement from my principal. I am going to moderate a #mschat starting August 9th at 8pm. This chat will   be a twice monthly chat focusing on current middle school issues. I hope this will be a time where middle school teachers can share the great things that are going on at their schools and also talk about the challenges of teaching at this level. I look forward to learning and growing with all of the connected educators out there. See you in 2 weeks.