The fight for #CCSS

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!!

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What is the goal of testing and data?

Data is a key component in education. Schools need to know where students are in their learning so instruction can be designed to meet students learning needs. Schools have always used data. We use data to help determine grades, know reading levels, math levels etc. Recently the government (State and Federal) has arbitrarily decided that the data schools have been collecting should be used to measure the effectiveness of teachers. The test design corporations, such as Pearson, create tests with little teacher input, to sell to states for the purpose of measuring students against a “standard”.  If students don’t achieve the standard, teachers can be deemed ineffective and eventually lead to the loss of their teaching position if low scores persist. Government has mandated this value add measure, with the desire to hold teachers accountable for their student’s learning. All the while placing little to no accountability on the student or parents for learning achievement.

So what is this data really? Is it a summary of everything a student has learned? Does it measure higher level thinking? Quite frequently the data is just a mere snapshot, of where a student is performing at a certain spot in time. Is it right to assume that a picture of a 75 degree sunny day is the norm for a Michigan Winter? No, but it happens. As well as a 30 degree snowy day in April. Like weather student performance can vary from day-to-day. Different events occur in their lives. Sleep and regularity of meals are major factors in student performance. Instead of looking at student day-to-day “Weather” data, schools should take a “climate” approach at looking at data. Look at performance over the long haul. Examine many different data point to see growth, over extended periods of time. Data should not only come from national standardize testing corporations but from locally created common tests as well. This does make it difficult to attribute the results to an individual teacher (current goal of testing) but shouldn’t the results belong to the individual student?

Students ultimately need to be held accountable for their own learning. There are many other ways to evaluate the quality of teaching. Learning is owned by the student. Schools goals are to make life-long learners who have critical thinking skills. These qualities develop at different rates in all learners. Just like all infants learn to walk and talk at different times in their life. To help hold the students more accountable, schools might want to change their structure. Instead of grouping students by age,  schools could group their by their skills and abilities or by their areas of interests or by learning styles.

The goal of testing and the resulting data, needs to remain student learning. Schools need to focus on holding students accountable for their own learning. Without being held accountable student frequently blame others for their results. I hear it often in my classroom, when discussion grades with students. “The teacher gave me a C!” We need to mold the conversation around students earning their scores. Right now, students see no relevance for most standardized tests. These test have little merit towards students’ grades or graduation. Colleges only focus on the FINAL standardized test of the student’s career, ACT or SAT for admittance.

If districts/states are going to mandate so many standardized test for our students, lets remember one thing: Make them focus on student achievement and their individual growth, not the effectiveness of teachers. Testing does not measure teachers, observations of practice and actions does. If teachers, performance is measured on tests we will end up with more cheating scandals like Atlanta!! More questions will arise about cheating in schools than we have had about cheating in baseball during the steroids area!

#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]

2013 Resolutions

So it is a New Year! I have high hopes for 2013 as a professional educator. I have decided to post my resolutions for all to see to help me stay focused on the ideas and changes that I feel are important for this new year.

1. Stay positive: If I am going to make changes I have to focus on the positive and let the negatives lie where they are. I can give in and become an “energy vampire.” There is so much negativity surrounding the education profession today, it is easy to get sucked in an allow it to affect your teaching and you personally.

2. Expand my PLN: This past year of being a connected educator has helped me grow exponentially as an educator. I plan on continuing, I don’t think I could ever go back to being on “an island” alone with issues. Twitter, blogging, chats have so expanded my horizons and helped me find mentors and colleagues to push me as an educator.

3. Use more Formative Assessment in my classroom: Being my third year in the Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators program, I need to make sure I am using all of the wonderful techniques I have learned. I often focus on my favorites and forget about the rest. It is important to vary the Formative techniques I use. Need to focus more on allowing students to self-assess.

4. Lead by example: I need to continue by asking others to do as I do. Leaders leave the footsteps for people to follow them. I need to continue to press my feet into the ground for all to see and follow. If I say I am going to do something, I need to get it done. This goes for staff and students. I need to make sure if I ask the students to complete a task, I need to model it full for understanding,

5.  Blog: I need to do a better job of sharing my experiences. I am a poor writer in general, but I can write. If I write more I will get better. I wrote 53 blogs last year, I hope to improve on that number significantly this year. In blogging more, I will also be holding myself more accountable for my teaching and actions. I also have hopes of improving this site, by adding pictures and links,

 

I hope everyone has a great 2013. Keep up with your resolutions. Help hold me to mine.

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.

Teachers need to be accountable, but to whom?

On Thursday night, after working all day and attending a union round table discussion about education, I met up with an old college friend at the bar to catch up. He is a vice-president of a small financial services company, lives in an affluent community, and enjoys the finer things in life. After getting past the normal pleasantries and catching up with news about each others families, he asked me Why I was on his “side” off town. As I attempted to explain about the “education reform” movement in the state of Michigan and how it is affecting teachers, he asked “Shouldn’t it be about what parents and students want?”

This question rings true: Shouldn’t education reform be about what the community wants? Not what legislators desire. I agreed with him, since I have never had a parent complain about my instruction and the district where I work typically has strong parental support for what the schools are doing. Parents are always thanking the teachers for the job that they are doing working with their children. “I won’t want you job!’ and “You are a saint!” are comments often overheard at conference time.

“So why are we reforming schools?” Was the question he asked. I answer that it seems to be about accountability and money. Being from a sales background he agrees with these motives. Teachers should be accountable for sure but to what? Now teachers are accountable to their district, community and ultimately to their students. Reformers desire teachers to be accountable to a standardized test. Which is right?

From a business perspective the test is easier to measure and attach funding. Tests are part of a business model. Test producers also sell books, software and “canned programs” to schools. They can make it advantageous to schools to buy their products or use their online programs. In turn these companies can make millions off of educating our youth. Do these results show we have made a true difference using their measures? That can be debated. Many would argue the same or similar results would prevail if we stuck with what we have now.

Teachers should be accountable to their students. Students’ individual needs have to be addressed and accounted for on a daily basis. NO standardized test can measure all the “teaching” that goes on in the classroom. Communities and locally elected school boards have to monitor and decide if schools and teachers are doing what is necessary. Each community will be different, just like each child is different in the classroom. Society cannot us predetermined benchmarked norms to decided if a school is effective. That would be similar to measuring a parents effectiveness based on how the child meets development standards.

Society needs to stand up to the corporate take over of our education system. School boards are elected for a reason: to hire leaders that will create schools that meets the communities needs. We cannot let a publishing company mandate what every school district needs. It is funny that GOP leaders don’t want this to happen in health care (Obamacare) but support it with education!

What is the best learning environment?

Our traditional classrooms with desks in rows, with hard seats, is that a good learning environment? Probably not! Most classrooms are small, with hard floors, white walls, and 30-plus student desks. The desk traditionally are in rows facing forward, recent trends have teachers moving them around more but with limits due to class size. My current classroom is pretty big. I have large science lab tables that seat 2 student per table. I have them arranged in groups of 3, with two tables facing each other and one table at the end facing the front of the room. This seating arrangement creates seating for 36 students in my room. Luckily my largest class is 34. Recently, a few students complained because they were having problems focusing on learning. We talked about where they wanted to sit. In the end they concluded that there was not an ideal space in the room for them.

I got to thinking, where would I want to sit? Where would I learn best?  For me, I learn best alone in a quiet warm room while sitting or laying on a soft chair/sofa. Putting a sofa in a science room doesn’t work on so many levels and my room is usually far from quiet. So how do schools create idea learning environments that meet the needs of the students? What does this environment look like?

I remember at the end of a college course years ago, I was asked to create a plan for my ideal classroom. It should be large, with flexible seating. Carpeted area for students to sit on the floor. Book cases full of leveled reading materials. Muted colors on walls. A space that makes whole group instruction work, as well as areas to divide up the class for group and individual instruction. Nooks available for students who need a quiet out of the way space. Comfortable seating.

Many of these items are missing in my room, and many other teachers rooms. Schools just can’t afford the space or materials to create the “ideal” space. Our student are learning to deal with the less than ideal learning conditions. I am okay with it. Making do with what you have is valuable learning for students too. Teachers, administrators, society  need to keep in mind that the learning conditions might have impact on students performance. As a society we need to attempt to create the best learning environments in our schools.