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!!

Sad but True


In class today a few of my students were looking at maps after they finished a project on the computers. I came over to make sure they were done with their assignments and ask “What are you doing?” One of the girls responded, “Looking at maps.” The other stated “Yeah, I have to show her all 16 of the places I have lived!” This was a 13 year old girl who has gone through the moving process 16 times, more than once a year. After my “Oh” expression she continued “I can’t help it we have been kicked out alot.” My heart continued to break for this girl.  Thirteen years old, frequent moves and evictions filling your life. No wonder she struggles in school.
wordle poverty

Our district was just looking at attendance data. 1,354 of our 3,785 student have been absent from school for more than 10 days. Either the flu was really bad this year or student are staying home in large numbers. Are students sick for all of these days? Over 1/3 of our population sick that much? Probably not. Many times when I talk to a student about their absence, they reply “couldn’t get a ride” or “I had to watch my younger sibling.” Large amounts of absences in general a result of poverty. How are we going to address this issue?

10 days of school is 6% of the school year. I know students that have missed twice or even 4 times as many school days. Missing this much instruction has to have an impact on student learning. How can schools help students catch up when they miss school? Poverty is a growing issue in American schools. Sure it is not as bad as some countries, but it is like never before here. We need a plan to assist these children that are born into their circumstance.

#MSchat 4-18-13 #CCSS

Tonight we had a lively discussion about the Common Core State Standards. We started off talking about the limited amount of training many teachers have had for the change. I lead to a great debate about teaching reading and writing across the curriculum. Very informative discussion. Below is the link to the archive.


[View the story “#MSchat 4-18-13 CCSS” on Storify]

Why Grade?


Okay, let me ease the minds of many readers who feel a grade is a form of feedback. Yes, teachers need to give feedback on ALL assignments that is timely and specific. I for one don’t believe a letter grade (or number if that is what you use) is feedback at all. It is little more than a type of categorical ranking for a piece of work or period of time. It may be timely but is not specific at ALL. Why do schools chose to assign letter grades to work? What does the A, B, C, D, F (or now often an E) mean?

Our culture is obsessed with these grades. Grades are found everywhere, from Consumer Reports and stock ratings to ESPN and fashion magazines. Here is a quick rundown of the common understanding of letter grades:

  • A = The best can’t be better (unless +,- system used)
  • B = meeting the standards 
  • C = Average but okay
  • D = Below Average but passing
  • F/E = Failing do work or not acceptable work

So, if letter grades are used as feedback, are they specific? NO not very specific and actually quit vague by most standards. These grades might be okay for a stock rating or to judge a person’s attire for an evening but that is about it. Consumer Reports uses a great model for grading. The magazine gives a letter grade, but backs the grade up with a paragraph or two of justification. Giving specific reasons why a product receives a certain marking. I would bet that the grades came after giving reviews for awhile and readers wanted a “quick” guide to how a product compared to another. As educators or parents should we care how our student stacks up to another?

I hope not. Education is not about where a student ranks, it is about getting a student to be the best they can be. Grades hurt this growth in our students. Students need the kind of constructive feedback that Consumer Reports gives products that it is reviewing. Details about strengths and weaknesses. Remarks about how they can improve on their work. Does a student gain a desire to improve when earning an A?

Students often see the letter grade as a destination. Asking “what do I need to do to get an A?” Is this what we want in our students today? Reaching an end goal and stopping? Schools need to instill the value of improving work. Everything can be improved. I am still becoming a better teaching now, after 13 years on the job. Letter grades inhibit this growth in our students. In the many conversations I have with students, they often reflect that they are doing well enough when their grades are B and above. Many refer to this behavior as “doing” school. Are we creating learners? or something else?

Parents can actually be worse about grades. Parents will call and ask how their child can receive an A. Not worrying about the quality or the work or learning behaviors. Parents will often use these letters to compare their child to others. Should we be making comparisons? I personally would leave that up to selective colleges or employers.

This leads us to one of the major arguments for grades: those darn colleges require them. Should they? I don’t think so. Colleges should have an application process that has performance tasks. Admittance to college should not depend on arbitrary letters a collection of teachers gave a student over 4 years. Admittance should be based upon what a student can or cannot do! Colleges are currently complaining about grade inflation and student needs for remedial classes. So obviously our current K-12 grading system is not working for college admittance. Another example of where letter grades fail the students has been shared with me from high school AP teachers. Regularly they will have a student who “fails” their class but receives a 3, 4, or 5 on the AP exam. This means the student would receive college credit for the class but not high school credit.

Our culture thinks grades are great for education. Schools need to change this perception. Grades are great for the momentary comparison, for products or ranking a draft. Remember it is momentary if not,Tony Mandarich, Charles Rodgers or any other first round draft pick bust would be in the hall of fame.

Feedback is important for learning. Students need to know what they do well and what needs improvement. One way of doing this is to switch to a Standards Based Grading System. Nationally recognized author Rick Wormeli (@RickWormeli) has been working hard to explain to the world why our current grading system is not working. Below is Rick explaining why the current system doesn’t work. 

Help change grading from a ranking of students to feedback that would work to get the best out of our students. Make a system that helps students grow and become life long learns. Not striving for a letter on a piece of paper but to do their best!

The Job, nobody wants…Teaching

Last week I was perusing Facebook and noticed a post from a friend, Jim, that I felt needed a comment. The post had a picture of his computer on a table in the sun by a pool with the caption, “I love my job!” I snidely remarked, “Why don’t we trade for a day?” Jim’s response was typical, “I can’t handle my own kids for a day, so I will be turning that offer down.”

When ever anyone finds out that I am a teacher, first inquiry is what grade: “7th grade”. After hearing that I am a middle school teacher the second comment is “You must be a saint!”or “Rough age” or “I couldn’t do that”. It doesn’t matter who I encounter, this is the typical reaction. In fact it does not matter what level taught, this is the typical response.I love teaching middle school students and most teachers Do love TEACHING. So why do so many feel this way?

Sure different people have different desires and preferences for careers. Introverts prefer jobs with littler contact with others. Extroverts do well in sales and customer service fields. Some have scientific minds and do well in medicine and engineering. Financial minds work well in business and on Wall Street. Don’t we needed all of their expertise in education, teaching and modeling learning for students? 

Our schools are filled with all types of students with diverse learning styles. Education needs teachers that are just as diverse. To create a climate where ALL students can succeed, students need a teacher to connect with. Someone that has a similar learning style and preferences. Not just educators who “love teaching students and helping them learn.” (Although this helps!!)

Media reflects a society that feels teaching is “easy” with “summers off”. If this is so then you would think all schools would have flocks of highly qualified teachers. When in fact most school have difficultly finding more that 1 qualified candidate. 

Teaching is hard. It takes a unique passion for helping others and loving youth to be successful. IF society wants to create a better education system, then we better create a way to help more be passionate about being teachers!

Why I like twitter to be a connected educator!

Two years ago, I thought Twitter was  source of gossip. Filled with advertising, celebrities and people who just wanted to be up on the current rumors and goings on in Hollywood.

After having a conversation with a fellow teacher while eating chicken wings and watching the NCAA tournament, I was convinced to give it a second look. It started slow. I didn’t know who to follow. What to do. After spending some time as a lurker ( sometimes even feeling dirty for doing so). I started participating. I participated in chats. I developed relationships.

Yes, relationships. I meet people online and engaged in meaningful conversations. Fellow teachers were sharing what was going on in their classrooms. I listened, learned and then started sharing my story. Looking for a chat for middle level educators, I noticed a void. After some pushes and promises of help from friends. #MSCHAT was started in August of 2012. My network of educators has grown from the 40 teachers in my building to the hundreds or even thousands I interact with on Twitter.

Now as I approach 10,000 tweet milestone, I have been asked why twitter? Why not Facebook, Tumbr, Google + or any other online community? Twitter is simple. I don’t need to write or produce many things. Just 148 characters. I can lurk if I don’t want to be seen. My activity is not judged by logins, posts or friendships. It is an on-demand PLN, no strings attached. Best of all Twitter is kind, caring and helpful. I can’t remember an unkind word, discouragement, or rudeness on Twitter from educators. Everyone is helpful. They will point you in the right direction if they can’t help. I feel it is a wonderful community of learners, working together to become better educators.

I always say their are a million ways to skin a cat. Twitter is my preferred way to connect as an educator. Try it! If you don’t find it to your liking, there are many other ways to connect.