Tag Archives: CCSS

Common Core & Al Gore!

I finally watched the 2014 television special on my DVR ( Ann Curry Reports) reporting on the what is now generally accepted truth; that the earth’s climate is changing and it is our own fault. As I watched the show I was thinking of Al Gore and all the flack he took about his predictions. UnknownWho’s laughing now? I’m not sure we “get it” as a people. Despite the evidence in front of us, smacking us in the face, we often times just ignore it because we “can’t handle the truth.” It is not in our culture, we’re not made that way.
Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is not the government taking over (always a good line to get people upset and revolt against anything the government does as they stand in line for food stamps) it is not a move to fire all teachers and it is not an effort to remove the power from local systems. Local systems and teachers still control much of what is presented and the how it is presented. Common Core is a tough educational statement. Who doesn’t want that? Who would rather send their children to the “easy” school?
I followed the blog of a group of homeschooled parent/teachers out of Michigan I believe, and read several of their blog comments about the subject matter they were presenting and how they went about it; the museum visits, visits to businesses, etc. I read how their children use the internet for research, watch educational videos, and interact with a text they were using that had all sorts of interesting links that kept the students engaged. As I read the blog I noticed that often their goals and projects mirrored Common Core objectives and in several cases went far beyond. Perhaps we need proof of life? Perhaps we need a county in each state to adopt CCSS and follow it and the use tests for a few years to demonstrate?
Al Gore was correct, just premature. We needed Camille to destroy New Orleans and Sandy to smack New York. We needed snowstorms of record amounts, forest fires that were out of control and floods that swept away our cars in order to listen and understand. Is Common Core premature? Are we needing further proof, further failure of the system before we accept the need for change? Are you willing to roll the dice on you children’s future because the tests are tough?

Fracking Education

Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) scores were released in Tennessee recently and combined with the state’s ACT performance, progress has eluded many of the state’s school systems.  Tennessee is not alone.  Across the country many are struggling and the discontent with more school change is rising. Schools exist on this pendulum swinging between getting a satisfactory rating for a few years, to an unsatisfactory rating for another few years.  Money is thrown at different programs that often wither on the vine after the money is gone.  Educators however, continue to plod away at the problem, turning the wheel of time using the same standards they’ve used before; the tried and true lesson that served them in the past sometimes unaware of all the changes in the world and society going on around them.  

In an article by Henry Di Sio ( Why Our Old Lens On Learning Will Fail A New Generation ) a former deputy assistant to President Obama, he illustrates the fact that education has not changed.  We are going nowhere while the world around us continues to change at an alarming rate.  What is the problem with education inertia?  Why can we not make the leap?  All around us the old structure of education is crumbling.  Charter schools, special school districts, on-line schools, home schools are all examples of the blood leaking out of the educational body as the system collapses on itself.  Our education system in many rural communities is much like the movie “The Money Pit” where despite their best efforts and throwing good money after bad, the house they were trying to save collapses on itself.  It’s a dream, an illusion.  We cannot fix education with money.  We can only fix something by first acknowledging what is broken and then agreeing on how to improve education.

So what is broken?  What exactly is the problem?  I have personal experience as a student, parent, and teacher in both the American education system and European system.  I know one thing about those two systems and that is in spite the fact they are both educational systems, we cannot compare one with the other.  In Amanda Ripley’s “the smartest kids in the world” a must read for every parent and educator, the answer is Finland’s students are the smartest.   The fact of the matter is we cannot compare our system to anyone else.  You can’t stay as slim as the French and eat eclairs all day and keep your lifestyle.  If you want what others have you have to act, follow, adapt their lifestyle.  We are not going to do that.  One thing that we’ve demonstrated better than anything else is that we are great at digging in, resisting change, living in the past. So what is broken/what is the problem?  For a complete revolutionary change this is a short list of what’s broken, the problems, and can it be fixed.

▪Basic Education System: Everyone takes a shot at this massive topic, everyone has another, a better idea, but this is the engine that runs the whole process.  We keep adding on and adapting, modifying, adjusting, and then going back to the old standards, so much so  that to define the educational system is like trying to tack jello to the wall.  Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the first major overhaul of the system in many years with great intentions, has tripped and fallen because of the failure of the leaders implementing CCSS, they neglected school’s adult social inertia (number 2 below, School Daze). In an earlier article I published about rural schools, I made the statement that school “is the music of our youth, the foundation of our religion, the beginning of our family, the origin of our job.” I believe CCSS is a great attempt at achieving systemic reform; using it as a big stick to force change is a grave error.

▪School Daze: School is, for the older generation (anyone over 30 who votes and has children), an integral part of their society.  It is the source from which many of their future husbands/wives/employment/voting attitude develops.  Our country’s school framework is not going to change that easily; you can’t force change as with CCSS, it must come as a revelation, a revolution.  I read some of my former students posting on Facebook, how their children are doing in elementary schools and found interesting and revealing that their comments and actions mimic those of school age parents and children of the 50’s.  Those same school social expectations.  The same attitude toward the educational system.  Their same reaction to teachers, administrators, and the school system in general.  CCSS appears to the uniformed as a threat to the comfortable school system and that fear of a great societal change for their children is too frightening, unacceptable; not the way things are “supposed to be.”  Progressive parents, seeing the problems with their schools, the poor scores, the in-fighting, the failure of schools to produce responsible and educated students, opt for other “outside the box” solutions often with great success.  Changing this is monumental: Change will happen.  Changes to societal attitude toward school and education will occur, brought on by the forces of technology, our economy, and social trends.  This change will happen, and the sooner society realizes that the educational system must fold the way it currently operates and open with a new organizational system, the better.

▪School Administrative Systems: Time’s up for the old school administrative system.  There are 13,588 public school districts in our country.  That means there are 13,588 interpretations of school curriculum, school schedules, teacher evaluations, student achievement.  An impossible mix of opinions, social standards, religious beliefs, community expectations.  Not manageable at any level, at least not manageable effectively.  It is time to reinvent school districts.  School support systems must reflect the latest change in education and in every school system you can find waste, duplication of effort, nepotism, and unqualified personnel making economic, technological, and policy decisions that are simply against the educational grain.  A business model, more like they way most companies operate today, is necessary.  It’s time to do away with the focus on weekly football pep rallies, candy sales for trips, and trying to maintain a low profile in the community and begin the work of education.

If you want a successful school system, equal across every state and college, then CCSS and national standards need to be adopted.  Schools need to be organized and run by a managing board of educators and community members answering to a regional office.  That regional office is staffed with education professionals and business leaders invested in the educational system.  The state providing oversight, funding, and management of resources.  Cut out the cutie fluff.  The goal, the focus of the school, is the education of the student and the enrichment of the schools community. To waste time on anything else is to lose focus on the reason the school exists.  Perhaps then we can recapture lost “effective” school days and get our education system back to where it should be; back in the primary business of educating students.

“I Told You So!”

When my son was in high school in Europe in DoDDS, I had the pleasure of sitting on the school board as an American advisor from time to time and throughly enjoyed the process. The search for academically rich content, hiring of educators well versed in their field, the expansion of operating hours for students and parents to use the school facility in the evenings. All wonderful and enjoyable meetings and professional staff members.

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When I retired and accepted the challenge of teaching in an American high school system I was faced with a puzzling dilemma. First off I wanted to join the school board and was told teachers were not allowed to be members (where do they get their inside expertise?) I was fortunate to teach in the same high school my daughters attended; perhaps fortunate is not the best choice of words. My daughter’s Algebra teacher sat behind his desk reading the sports pages while students flipped overhead slides, worked the problems, turned in the work sheets, then slept. He was a football coach. The “current events” class teacher was the lead basketball coach. They received the daily newspaper and read the sports pages diligently. The head of the English department, with woefully old textbooks, students seating in ill repair, was the head football coach. The football field was beautiful. I struggled for the first two years doing the very best I could as professionally as possible all the while screaming inside about the futility of the school system. Why doesn’t somebody stop the music! All the principals in the county and all the assistant principals were coaches, present and past.
I recently read a book by Amanday Riply titled “The Smartest Kids in The World” and I watched a video of her in a debate with others about why sports ought to be eliminated from high schools, a mantra I’ve cried for years. Speaking against this notion was a former director of athletics from Alexandria Vergina, and also he happened to be the former mayor of Alexandria, Verginia. As he spoke he outlined almost perfectly (and of course inadvertently) the case against school sports: He spoke of saving ones and twos. When Amanda spoke it was of thousands. While in the Washington Post an amazing lament by a wonderful teacher who could no longer take the frustration of the educational system.
Amanda Ripley’s debate as informative as it was is not the fodder for a similar discussion about any rural school in the south — no siree buddy! It is football that is king. It is football on the signs leading into the town, on the water tower, all over the side of parents’ cars and the high school itself looks more like an athletic club than anything remotely academic. Even their school colors/theme/jackets/yearbook everything about the school from an outside point of view screams this is an athletic facility first and foremost. As I debate this issue internally, and as a retired teacher and now an education connsultant, I realize that this issue is much bigger than high school, this is all about big business and big money. And on that note I’lll have to turn away from this issue for the moment because quite frankly, I don’t think there is a workable solution, not at this time.

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Of course the “End Is (not) Near”! I believe as Amanda Ripley states so well in her book “The Smartest Kids In The World” that as Finland went in the early 70s, so goes the United States today. I do believe we are at a pivitol point; the point where the control over classrooms and their content changes from individual teachers to national directives. Where everyone will be sooner or later singing the same song from the same book at virtually the same time from Alaska to Florida. Where for the foreseeable future teachers will become classroom managers and facilitators until this country makes to next step in improving the quality of educators in this country. There is a difference between teachers and educators and I think the time is fast approaching us as a country and as individual educational systems/counties to support the re imagination of the professional educator testing and licensing program and give the control of educating our children back to the classroom professional. The only way therefore to fix the system, is to fix the teacher certification and training system. To make becoming a teacher a professional educator, a master in their field, a current researcher and contributor, a professor by all accounts.

“College and Career Ready”

I’m really struggling with this phrase College and Career Ready used so frequently and easily throughtout the state of Tennessee especially in light of the attack on “career” type CTE classes — many of these classes being eliminated/reduced across the state. Some view and define the phrase as a charge to make sure that students are ready first for college and then after college ready for their career. Other educators (and here’s where I fit in!) see the phrase with two distinct charges; the preparation of students to be College Ready and preparing students to be Career Ready
College preparation is both the function of using CCSS to help students gain and understand subject knowledge in preparation for college level work, but also the task of understanding the “how” college functions. The fact that most classes do not meet everyday, that one class may be on the other side of the campus, what a “lab” class is, dorm room living, and the list goes on. How well do we prepare our students for college? How much do they understand about the process, the link between a future career and the degree required for that career? Using the Counseling and Postsecondary School Culture barometer from NYC schools, it is very interesting to see how infrequently we as professional educators “counsel” our own students in college expectations. The belief is that this counseling must be done somewhere along the line, someone other than me is responsible, the guidance office must take care of all of that. However, as this pulse of the school sampling often reveals, is that no-one is guiding our students on their future path when it is everyone’s responsibility not just the guidance office.
Career preparation on the other hand is two-fold: Those on the college path must understand the requirements for their chosen future career and those who elect to go into the existing workforce need to understand the how-to of interviews, professional dress, and resumes to mention a few skills. Realistically step back and look at the graduating class and estimate how many will go to and complete college, and how many will either drop out, enter the work-force directly, work and go to a tech school, enter the military, and then ask yourself how are we preparing the students for this “career” path? Are our students really “Career Ready?”
I’m worried about Tennessee. I’m concerned that we are focusing too much light on the college path that we are neglecting the path that many of our students will take. In so doing we are slowly eliminating those “career enhancing” classes like cosmetology, carpentry, plumbing, auto work, electronics, that we are pulling the “career” rug out from underneath a large population of students and forcing them into college level classes where they will not be successful.
If anything we need as much focus if not more on the Career Ready part of the phrase than ever before. We need technical school information, we need hands on CTE classes to teach the reality of math and business classes to demonstrate the requirement to be able to read and understand non-fiction because life is non-fiction. These needs are required life skills, not optional and “Career Ready” classes need as much focus as “College Ready” classes. Come-on Tennessee, let’s take back the lead in school-to-work education.

Three Cycles II

First of all thanks for all the emails/blogs and yes, I agree that it is still not that simple. Can’t really compare the education of a child to young adult with the manufacturing of anything because there are way too many dynamics. I agree. Adding to the mix the mobility of our society, various parental structures, ever changing technology, all of which simply goes to strengthen my central theme and that is the political process cannot help save education in our country. Try as we may to give all our problems up to the government, this is one that we cannot give up. This will take a much larger organization than the government, a more flexible, responsible organization. I think we are past throwing the responsibility back on the parents because they keep throwing it back. They throw it back because the educational system itself has gotten to be so complex that again I believe things like CCSS is exactly what we need. Not so much the standards themselves as the process that formed CCSS.
Many states over the past ten years have been chipping away at what used to be called vocational classes in order to better prepare students for the college path. Despite repeated studies showing the number of students in college and those in trade and vocational schools showing a gradual increase in these students, high schools seem too be going the other way. Tennessee among others, has been doing just that and I believe this will impact all of us negatively in the not too distant future. Some states like the NY system of BOCES is actually in the process of strengthening their vocational programs by developing a testing process like the end of year tests in academic studies, to validate the classes and improve student performance.

School’s Role In Society

The question I posed earlier was — what is school’s current role in society? What function do we need them to play? We’ve moved from an agrarian society to a manufacturing based and now to a international/technological blended society where many times the students are ahead of the faculty. Easily overheard in the teachers lounge, the discussion about using a particular student to operate the baffling technology, or the use of a student’s sophisticated electronic device to a teach a class. Educators are learning to adapt, to work-around technological barriers with the assistance of the students. Perhaps this is a “we’re in this together” mentality on the part of the teacher and student, but the administration/technologists are all in a panic.
So what is the “goal” of our school system? Clearly we are not going to be able to get past the incarceration until adulthood issue, unless we as a country re-visit the whole “age of maturity” issue. Not likely to happen. Prisons already eat up more of the budget than do schools. Allowing maturation to be recognized at 16 rather than 18 in our country would just feed an already broken system with younger inmates. Is the goal to educate students so they are prepared for collegiate life? That’s not going to work on the general population because not everyone is going to college. But this is how we operate. We seem to forget the “working class” in our schools by the assumption we make that the majority should go on to college. So what is our goal?
Comon Core State Standards talks about students’ “Workplace Readiness” — this can (although it currently is not) be defined as readiness for students both workplace and college bound.
I’m going to use a dirty word, Vocational Education, as an introduction to the way we were.
Vocational Education is the answer to school’s directional dilemma today. Not a panacea, a cure. Listen, Johnny over there in the back row carving on the desktop, Janie in the other corner braiding someone’s hair, Paula fixing your printer issues, are all people who should not be in regular secondary school. At 16 the decision ought to be made (as is in many countries) whether little Johnie is going to be a brain surgeon or a barber. Little Johnnie then would receive the appropriate English classes as a 11th and 12th grade individual that would befit his calling. I don’t know a single barber that needs to know Shakespear: But I know plenty who need to understand business English.
We do not conduct education that way because of two reasons: We tried before and it failed, and we are embarassed. Embarassed because we do not face the socal stigma in our country centered around social working placement. Someone in a suit is much better than a perosn in a blue collar, who is better than a farmer, who is better than a garbage collector. Like it or not I defy you to prove me wrong! In general, not talking specifically about your uncle Bill so don’t get offended, we as a society believe we have to send our kids to college beause that’s the path to acceptable and richly rewarding life’s work. Horse-Hockey.
So how do we change school’s role in society? It will take, just as the implementation of Common Core State Standard is doing to the curriculum of schools, a fundamental change in how we approach our educational system. I’m still hoping one of my daughters will marry a plumber! Brain surgeons in your family are generally not necessary — plumbers defiantly are (and hey what about fixing my printer/the loose electrical socket/my car makes a strange clanking noise ………. ! )

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Fishing In The Small School Ponds

Fishing in the small pond
Just the other day I attended a presentation by a company that promises the delivery of an educational product that will just blow the socks off of student test scores. The product they are selling is a packaged version with a pretty ribbon on top, of information, data, testing research available freely on the web. The problem is time; time that administrators and staff members believe they are saving the cave dwellers from expending by purchasing this “classroom in a box” idea. This company is just one of many fishing in the small district education office pond for the big catch. The idea is a simple one. They can provide a site license to the district so all their teachers can drink the same Kool-Aid and achieve greatness. Like thousands of other educational ideas before, as many are successful as not. The data they provide as documentation, as proof, is data from the state/district/schools themselves showing their “need” for this product. They have no solid data showing their success rate because this is a moving and fluid target.
The “cookie-cutter” classrooms these companies use as a model does not mirror the 60% and above free and reduced lunch population schools, or the rural schools without internet access, the urban school with locked restroom doors and metal detectors at their entrance doors.
I am not against these companies and their ideas, not by a long shot. I fear however, undereducated school boards, enamored by the presentation of academic salvation without the proof of success, purchase these products and then blame the educators for their failure. If you want to step back and see what needs to be done in the classroom, the basic unit of life in education, you’ve got to ask the teachers in those classrooms. Teachers need to be involved in these choices if, as I’ve said before, you are looking for a professional faculty then you have to treat them professionally.
The companies fishing for sales, again the bottom line here is these companies for profit or not, are not in schools pitching their product because they love you or the children. They are not there because of that — they are there because you represent money to them. Income. A vacation. A promotion. A new car/boat/plane. With that in mind, closer examination of the product is in order. A few suggestions to any board reviewing these type of ideas would be:
1.) Involve teachers in the process
2.) Ask for a demonstration time period. A good example is http://www.pd360.com offers a potential client a free month use to determine if their product fits their needs.
3.) Seek out other school districts who are using or have used products from this company and ask for a review.
4.) As the ACT asks students — compare and contrast companies.