"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Just what is wrong with Common Core in Vermont?

What's wrong in Vermont CCSS is also what's wrong in any of the CCSS states connected to Smarter Balanced Constortia.  These are standards/assessments produced by private trade organizations and financially supported by the DOEd.

What happens with common core standards in Vermont happens in Missouri since we are states in the Smarter Balanced Consortia.

Susan Ohanian writes about the future of Vermont public education.  As you read it, just insert Missouri in place of Vermont and you will have a good picture of what Missouri's future education will look like.  If your state is one of the remaining states in Smarter Balanced, this is your educational future as well.  From vtdigger.org and Putting a test on computer doesn't make it up-to-date:

The press release published in VTDigger (Oct. 23) by the Vermont Department of Education makes me weep. I shed tears for what the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has in store for Vermont children. Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca says, “These sample items will provide Vermont teachers with an early look into the rigor and complexity students will see on the Smarter Balanced assessments.”

Looking at the sample items for English Language Arts/Literacy, I’m reminded of that old Wendy’s ad, “Where’s the beef?”

Rigor and complexity? No. Mind-numbing drill on material that research shows is useless? Yes.

Read more here.

The ironic point is you, as a taxpayer into your local district, have little control about whether your district uses these mind-numbing drills.  It's consortia driven so your state educational agency can't direct the assessments to a meaningful degree either.  Short of taking your child out of the public school and either private schooling/home schooling options, what can a parent do to make sure their child receives the education he/she needs?  Ohanian has a suggestion:

If you want your young child to develop savvy about how words work, buy her lots of “genre” riddle books — books such as those written by Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg: Creepy Riddles, Spooky Riddles, Turkey Riddles, Fishy Riddles, Piggy Riddles, and so on.

Parents, it's time to become the educational advocates your child needs to become an independent thinker and responsible for his/her own life decisions.  The "free market" privatization of education with taxpayer dollars with no taxpayer input isn't going to provide the education your child needs.  The "free market" and governmental agencies will provide an education to supply a managed workforce, but as for learning academics in a meaningful way (and learning  how to use them for life skills) and applying them to a self-directed life, that's just not the goal.  It's not going to happen.  It's up to parents to either supplement or pull their kids out of this system. It's not for the kids in the least. 

Ohanian has extensive links on what's wrong with the common core here.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Accreditation Game

If you live in or around St. Louis you are very familiar with the crisis created when St. Louis Public Schools lost their accreditation from the Missouri State Board of Education. Loss of accreditation is meant to send a message to the school district, "You really need to do better."

For the individual student the consequences are less dramatic. They still receive a diploma. They are still eligible for all scholarships they would otherwise be eligible for. While they might, in theory, have a harder time qualifying for college admissions, MO DESE says it "has not identified any instance where a student who graduated from an unaccredited school district has been disqualified from consideration for admission." So where might they feel a pinch?

If they play a sport the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) provides that students who transfer schools or do not meet the requirements for residency upon enrollment at the school are ineligible for 365 days unless they meet one or more exceptions.  There is an exception for students transferring from an unaccredited public school:
 A student may be eligible upon his or her first transfer from an unaccredited public school to an accredited public school where the student’s tuition is required by state law to be paid by the home district provided the transfer does not involve undue influence and is not for athletic reasons.  Likewise, a student may be eligible upon his/her first transfer back to his/her home school if the school regains accreditation provided: 1. the student transfers within 365 days of accreditation being regained and 2. the transfer does not involve undue influence and is not for athletic reasons.

As the Turner Decision showed, the other consequence for students is that they become eligible to transfer to an adjacent accredited district, provided the moon and the stars line up just right to allow that to happen.

James V. Shuls, the new education policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute wrote in a piece for The Missouri Record, "the state’s board of education has set the bar for accreditation and provisional accreditation very low; so low, in fact, that the distinctions are essentially meaningless. The distinctions are also inconsequential because they change very little for the district besides the label. And as Shakespeare noted, 'a low-performing school district by any other name would smell like a low-performing school district.'”

Susan Turk at St. Louis Schools Watch has another point of view. The distinction is not inconsequential for everyone. In a recent post she explored the State Board of Education's recent surprising turn around on its position regarding St Louis Public School District accreditation. Just one year ago they earned the required six points to regain their accreditation and it seemed the SBE was poised to give it to them. Then they made an abrupt change and said they wanted to see a two year upward trend in scores before they granted accreditation.  Yet just ten months later they have reversed themselves again and granted provisional accreditation, which DESE describes as being considered accredited. Mr. Shuls was right. It's just a label and one with very little meaning.

SLSW has a more pessimistic view. The SBE's decision comes at a time when St. Loius Mayor Slay has a challenger in the upcoming election, Lewis Reed who had reclaiming St. Louis public school accreditation as one of his main platform goals.

SLSW explained it this way,  
... Lewis Reed supports returning SLPS to the governance of the elected board of education.  He does not support the mayor controlling the SLPS.  

When the state board voted to find the SLPS unaccredited in 2007, they did so for political reasons.  They took the unprecedented step of removing accreditation not after a regularly scheduled once in 5 year accreditation review, but 2 years early. They did so because as has been documented by Wilbur C. Rich in the Winter 2008 issue of the Hoover Institute’s Education Next journal, “Mayor Slay” formed “an alliance with the governor (Blunt) to take over the schools.”
Mayor Slay’s sudden support for the approval of provisional accreditation for the SLPS, Dr. Adams’ and the SAB’s request for consideration of it and the state board’s approval at this time, after academic progress has slipped somewhat, only makes sense in the light of political expediency, the upcoming mayoral primary in March of 2013. Mayor Slay fearing the anger of SLPS parents, needed to take an issue away from Lewis Reed. 
So while accreditation has little impact on the students, it has huge impact, and political capital, for many others: the mayor, adjacent district superintendents, and parents.  Right now it is just a game.

It is important to remember what accreditation is supposed to accomplish.  It is supposed to assure parents that the services and operations of educational institutions are of an acceptable quality. Hence the provision that if a district loses its accreditation parents may apply to have their child attend another accredited district. This is parent choice based on information supplied by some outside agency that is supposed to be trustworthy. In the case of SLPS that can be debated. 

The Show Me Institute report made a useful suggestion based on this understanding of the purpose of accreditation. Such a rating system should allow parents to know how the actual school they send their child to is performing. The current system only tells them how the schools in their district, as an aggregate, perform. The magnet schools in St. Louis have helped pull up the districts scores, while the scores at individual schools remain dismally low. If parents are to be able to make an informed decision about where they send their child, the individual school should receive the accreditation or rating. Mr. Shuls recommends a report card type system. 

"The current system pre-supposes that the state can hold schools accountable by accrediting the school district, when in reality, school accountability is best achieved when families are allowed to hold their child’s school accountable," he writes. This would give parents useful information and remove the political capital inherent in the current district accreditation process. Not bad. It also means, at least in theory, that fewer students would be eligible for transfer at any one time since only individual schools would fit into that scenario. Parents with more ability to hold their individual school accountable might have better success at changing it and keeping their kids there which would be preferable to moving their kids out of their local district.

Too bad we're headed in the other direction with less and less local control and more control coming from Washington DC. But we can always dream.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

007 Skyfall, Coca Cola and Cerebral Networks Create Intrigue and Adventure

Men hear the 007 theme and receive a challenge.  See what happens.

An article from the Wall Street Journal recently explained how music impacts the brain and processes emotion.   From Why Men Bond with the 007 Theme:

For millions of baby-boomer males who saw their first car chase and sex scene in a Bond film in the '60s, the theme song stirs powerful psychological coals, flipping a primal switch as images of silencers, casinos, bikinis, gin and gadgets flood the male brain.

"With male identity, there's a biological aspect to how we see ourselves, and for many men, the song releases feelings of invincibility and attractiveness," said Eugene Beresin, professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School. "Men link the theme to strength, adulthood and virility. It's like the smell of a childhood baseball glove or a father's aftershave."

But what exactly happens to trigger the flashback? "Music travels to the auditory nerve, where it's evaluated by the cerebral networks that process our emotions—before we even identify what we're hearing," Dr. Beresin said. "In a split second, our brain scans its files for a match. If the music unlocks memories, you are likely to reexperience the same emotions you felt when you first heard it."

WSJ continues:

...why do men find the deep guitar notes and swinging horns so intriguing? "There's a feeling of action and rhythmic rocking that releases a burst of dopamine—telling men they have the world by the tail," said Dr. Brizendine.

And women? "They're reminded," she said, "of an era of handsome, dashing men who they hoped would sweep them off their feet."

Below is a video of Coca Cola's campaign for the launch of Skyfall 007.  As you watch it, think about Dr. Beresin's theory of music unlocking memories and reexperiencing certain emotions.  Is the video an illustration that music is important to learning and actions?   It's fascinating (and fun) to watch how men respond to the 007 theme, how they view themselves and what they do when faced with 007 type challenges.

The men may not end up with a beautiful woman (see what they do snag), but it is interesting to watch what men will attempt for free stuff.  Music is quite powerful, isn't it? 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Redistributive Halloween

In school we teach the importance of the equal sign. Our equations must balance whether in math, or chemistry or physics.  Over in Language Arts the progressives teach that fair and equal are synonyms. In order to be fair we must be equal: equal schools, equal outcomes etc.

But alas, America's schools are failing. Our kids understand "equal" in math and science, but we have not been successful in teaching the synonyms of equal and fair.  Just watch Steven Crowder try to apply the lesson.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"I'm just no good at kindergarten, just no good at all.”

Students, get ready to test, test, test!  Teachers must prepare 5 year old children for the workforce!

Yesterday we wrote about a teacher who quit because of common core standards, top down testing and administrators who cared more about testing results than authentic learning.

Today we feature a story from Chicago and a mother's observation on her kindergartner's classroom.  It's truly heartbreaking.  This is a story that is undoubtedly occurring in kindergarten rooms in those states that adopted common core standards and other high stakes tests so 5 year old children can be tracked for career readiness. 

Is this what you want for your school?  To treat kindergartners like human capital for their data sets?  

From raiseyourhand.org:

Testing? Testing?

I've heard from teachers, education experts and even from my older kids, just how stressful all the standard testing in Chicago Public Schools can be.  I can recall taking exactly one standardized test as a kid each year, the Iowa Basic Skills test. That was it, unless you count the eighth grade constitution test. That was actually the more stressful of the two, because as every eighth grader knew  “if you don’t pass the constitution test, you don’t go to high school”. So, minus a bunch of 13 year olds humming School House Rock’s version of the preamble under their breath, the only big deal test for CPS kids was the Iowa Basic Skills. Total test prep for that was making sure you had two sharpened #2 pencils.  A formal note went home to our parents specifically directing them to  "Please send your child to school with two sharpened #2 pencils", so we knew the pencil thing was a big deal.  Back in the day notes rarely went home, unless a kid had chicken pox, then parents were worn of "possible exposure to your child". It sounds odd today, but back then mothers hoped their kid would be exposed to chicken pox so they could “get it over with”. I remember my mom’s disappointed look when I informed her that I did not sit next to the contagious kid. Better luck next time. The only other reason I recall a note going home was to act as the harbinger of the annual “Affy Tapple” sale, urging parents to “send you child to school with money”.  One week each fall the school sold caramel apples and for some excellent reason, you could eat the Affy Tapples at recess or even at your desk!  That was pretty much it for messages home, contagious diseases, caramel apples.... and in the case of the Iowa Basic Skills test, the explicit need for  #2 pencils. Test anxiety back then pretty much centered around constantly checking to MAKE SURE the pencils your parents sent you with, did indeed have a #2 imprinted on the side.  You never know when your mom might drop the ball and get the too hard #3 which would yield a fainter print, or the too soft, prone to smudging #1.  It had to be #2.  Is that a #2? Yes. Yes it is. Wait, better check again. Yes that is definitely a #2. On both pencils? Yes. Test prep done.  However quaint the notion seems today, back then teachers taught lessons, students learn new skills and information from those lessons, then the Iowa Basic Skills test came around once a year to assess how the students were doing. It was like a doctor making his rounds. It popped in quickly, checked your pulse, and moved on. 

In the present day, my kids have come home with reports of all kinds of testing, ISAT, Scantron, Dibels, MAP, the looming Common Core, I can’t remember them all. They are so frequent, that I sometimes respond with the typical mom "mmm hmm, that's nice dear" when my kids tell me they had ANOTHER one. My older two kids have learned to roll with the testing but they still find them disruptive and somewhat anxiety provoking. They both complained about the wonky computers they used earlier this year for a test. My fourth grader reported she was in tears because the computers were flakey and she didn't think she was finishing fast enough. We spent the past three years working on her "reading" issues, seeking assistance from numerous sources to finally end up learning that she didn't have a "reading" issue, but eye muscle issues instead.  We addressed it and her is reading much better, but lingering feelings of inadequacy and frustration still plague her. I doubt anyone at CPS really wants kids to feel crappy about themselves, but self-esteem issues are often a bi-product of assessment testing. Unreliable computers that freeze up or break down definitely add to the frustration. 

My sixth grader doesn't even talk about these tests anymore other than to say they are "stupid". Last year for one series that lasted a few days he admitted by the last round he was just putting down anything to get it over with. Like someone signing a false confession, he just wanted the incessant barrage of questioning to stop. So much for an accurate assessment, of his personal “benchmark”.  My son does resent the onslaught of tests taking time away from a class he genuinely likes. So the “assessments” are in effect, taking a kid engaged in learning, and turning him into a kid who randomly selects answers in order to bring about a speedy end to testing hell. Both of my kids report feeling annoyed when teachers respond with "because it will be on the test" to the "why do we have to learn this?" question. When I was a student, one of my teachers told our class that we had to know that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066. "Why do we have to learn that" we asked. "Because one day you will be on Jeopardy and the final Jeopardy question will be what important battle happened in 1066.  Because of me making you learn about the Battle of Hastings, you will win the game and the money".  Now THAT is a good answer!  I'm sure most teachers do not want to teach to the test, and few would consider test prep a dynamic lesson plan. I think most teachers would indeed rather be teaching to win Jeopardy than teaching to the test.

In addition to the reports I receive from my older kids, I recently volunteered to be on the frontlines of testing. I offered to help during the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test administered to my daughter’s kindergarten class. For two days the teacher needed to be pulled out of the classroom along with all of the kids. They would be set up in a room with computers where the test would be given. Parents were needed to act more or less as proctors during the test, being on hand to assist with the equipment, then acting as runners to take the kids who had completed the test back to their classroom. In the classroom a paid for out of the school's meager budget substitute teacher would be waiting to receive them. At no point during the MAP testing were the parents or the teacher permitted to help a kid arrive at an answer. They were there to help with the temperamental computers and to escort the kids back to their classrooms. Period. 

Unless you have been around kindergarteners lately, it is easy to forget just how tiny they are. They are little itty-bitty people. They still have little teeny tiny teeth in their mouths.  Many still have slight speeches issues, an ever-facing aural link to their toddler selves. After a bloodless injury like a bumped knee or pinch finger, they still wail pitifully for a band aid, still believing with all their heart that band aids make boo boos feel better.   Kindergartners are indeed students, but awfully pint-sized students.

So on the day of this MAP test, all these little peanuts sit down in chairs, each in front of a computer. They have all been here the day before, day one was used to test their "reading" skills.  I am there on day two, which is assessing math skills. No one's feet touched the floor. Their hands are smaller than the mouses they hold. They are instructed to put on their headsets. The headsets are meant for adult sized people, not teeny people. I notice that for most kids, the headsets were way too big. If these kindergarteners had been built by Dr. Frankenstein the headsets would have hung down to the two bolts coming out of their necks.  Few kids complained or sought help though. Maybe they had done so the day before?  Most either let them rest below their ears or used one hand to hold an earpiece on one ear while their other hand held the mouse. Optimal listening conditions it was not. My daughter did say to me "See mom, they don't fit. And when the person on the computer starts talking, I can't hear what they are saying." Well, then, that could sort of skew a result couldn't it? "Deal with it as best as you can" I said. "Hold it on one ear and listen on that side." Her eyes filled with tears. "I tried to do that yesterday,” she said. "I can’t really hear." She turned back to her computer. Even five year old’s are self conscious of crying in front of their peers.

I would imagine, that for many five year olds, this MAP test would be the first time in their lives that they could not talk through problem with an adult, or have an adult use different words that would help them better understand a problem.  I understand that the testing field has to be equal, but I am here to tell you, it just feels wrong for a child so young not to be able to ask for clarification. Here is an example of what I mean:  One question on the MAP test asked the kids to choose the picture that best represented something divided into three equal parts. "I don't understand what divided means. What does that word mean?" a little girl asked me.  "Ahh, I'm sorry. I can't tell you." I said.  Her little face looked up at me confused and somewhat betrayed. "Why? Why can't you tell me? Because you know I really don't understand what divided is. I need your help." "I'm sorry.” I said feeling like the slug adult I was “I can't help you with that. Do the best you can."  I saw a couple of kids choosing the wrong answer to that problem and I wondered if those answers were being recorded as the students not being able to recognize three equal parts when they see it clearly drawn.  I HOPE what was noted was that at age five they don't understand the robust vocabulary word "divided" because that, in fact was "the problem", not their ability to visually ascertain equality of shares.

Other hands were being raised asking for help.  "This mouse doesn't work. See I want to pick that answer,” a little boy said pointing to a spot on the far left hand corner of his screen. "But this mouse won't go there. It’s broke." I looked down at the mouse. The boy had moved it over to the left on the table, but his hand and the mouse had hit the keyboard, stopping the mouse from moving any further. "Here" I said. "When that happens you need to pick the mouse up, move it in the air over this way, set it back down, and move it on the table again." I picked the mouse up, moved it to the right set it down, and showed him how he could then move the curser to the left once more.  "But I don't want to move it that way". He said pointing to the right.  "I want to move it this way,” he pointed to the left. "I know it seems weird." I said. "But when the mouse won't let you move it on the table you need to pick it up, fly it through the air and set it down again."  Is five too young to learn the concept of counter intuitiveness? Hey kid, slow is fast, less is more, you got to be cruel to be kind and you have to move the mouse to the right in order for you to then move it left.  This “broken mouse” scenario played out several times, and remember, these kids had taken the test the day before, so I would imagine even more of them had this problem during the previous test.

Another hand goes up "Something happened" a little girl said. "I don't know what this is,” She pointed at the screen. She had gotten herself into "preferences."  I took the mouse and said "Let's see if I can get you out of here and back to your test."  I clicked onto the "close" button. Click. Click. Clickclickclickclickclickclickclick.  It took a half dozen or so clicks before the window closed and the little test taker with the big bow in her hair was back to her assessment. This was played out again, and again and again, throughout the duration of the test. In a perfect world, where all the computers worked, testing conditions would be less frustrating. But it's the real world, and a five year old could click on the wrong thing, and accidentally leave the test. Even when they do click on the button they want, the computers don't always respond to their commands. I know it's a computer or mouse glitch, but I can't help but wonder how many of these kids think it's their fault. I heard "I can't do this" frequently. "Yes you can". I said. "You are doing great. It's the computer, not you." The preferences or options screens were accidentally opened quite often. Other computer issues complicated the situation too. Some kids had to leave one computer and find another one, or switch out mouses. Computers fail, it’s a fact, but a lot of these little people felt the fault was theirs.

In the midst of all of this, I walked past my daughter.  She looked up at me, her face red from crying, I could see that tears had been collecting at her collar "I just can't do this," she sobbed.  The ill fitting headsets, the hard to hear instructions, the uncooperative mouse, the screen going to command modes, not being able to get clarification when she asked for it… her little psyche had reached it’s breaking point. It took just two days of standardized testing for her to doubt herself, quickly trading a love of learning for the shame of incompetence.  Later on when I picked her up after her long seven-hour day, she whispered into my shoulder "I'm just not smart mom. Not like everyone else. I'm just no good at kindergarten, just no good at all.”

There have been a couple of times throughout my on going stint as a CPS parent that I have wanted to reach downtown and rip out the throat of whomever was responsible for using my kids as canaries in some sort of education reform coal mine, or as pawns for some "public servant's" political gains, or as trading pieces in a CEO’s game of pocket lining...this, was one of those times.  I too, was once a CPS canary. I was sent into the "New Math" coal mine.  Prior to that, I foolishly believed that I was actually good at math, that I liked it.  Being taught "new math" sure set me straight on that fantasy. I discovered out none to soon, that I sucked at math.  I was actually "no good" at it.  Eventually the New Math mines were shut down, but only after my fellow canaries and me suffered the ill effects of its academic air.  It was heartbreaking to hear my daughter declare she was "not smart” and “no good at kindergarten". 

If all of these assessments, all of these benchmarks, all of these testis were ultimately beneficial, I would bite the bullet and say to my kids, "I know it feels rotten going through it, but you will benefit from it in the long run.". I’d look at CPS, trust in their wisdom and expertise and say, “Go ahead. Carry on.” I have done this in other arenas.  I assisted a six foot two orderly in pinning my one daughter down so that she could get stitches in her chin. “Go ahead. Close it quick.” I kept my other daughter sleep deprived for almost 24 hours so she could get a test ascertaining brain seizures. “Stay awake honey. Just seven more hours.”  I dragged my son week after week to a pool so he could overcome his phobia of water. “Just put your chin in this time okay? Just your chin.” I am fully aware of how kids sometimes have to endure bouts of stress and discomfort in order to obtain a positive outcome. However, this practice of repetitively testing kids is not one of those circumstances.  If kids are putting down any answer just to have it over with. If the equipment is not working. If it is causing kids to feel bad about themselves, anxiety over performance, if it is taking up class time with test prep and testing, if you can't hear the questions, or click on the answer you want, than these tests are doing more harm than good.  Furthermore, if what is really going on is that these tests are being used not so much to assess the students, but more to evaluate the teachers, then parents need to realize that their children are being used as the litmus paper, or canaries in yet another unproven education reform mine. I once read where Chicago’s old Riverview Amusement Park, used to test the rides by running them with sand bags in the seats. If the bags came back in tact, they let the kids on.  At least they used sand bags first

Monday, October 29, 2012

Teacher Says "I QUIT": The (Un) or Intended Consequences of Common Core?

One more bullet point: Ask school administration how much Common Core mandates had to do with the resignation. Explain that to a small child: a "one sized fits all" education is good enough for her.

Parents, when you go to conferences, take a copy of a teacher's (Kris Nielsen) letter below and ask your child's teacher and administrators their thoughts on what this teacher has written.  Ask:
  • how common core has affected their teaching and district autonomy
  • how a top down centralized "one size fits all" program actually "fits" all the students they teach
  • if they agree with this statement: "The silence of our professional organizations plus complicity of the unions has made Common Core a done deal." —Susan Ohanian (and maybe write an email to your state NEA and ask its statement about Ohanian's comment)
  • your principal if he/she can provide a school/district that educates to its mission statement and what that mission directed education looks like with the common core standard model in place 
I would wager to guess most mission statements are similar to my district, Kirkwood School District in Missouri:
The mission of Kirkwood R-7 schools, a personalized educational network rich in tradition and energized by future possibilities, is to create environments characterized by a passion for learning, purposeful discovery and expectations of excellence in order to guarantee that each learner achieves personal goals, academic success, and becomes a leader in society.

Personal goals have to be secondary to common goals now as Kirkwood School District and the majority of public school (and charters) are now under common core standards.  That "passion for learning" is increasingly being overtaken by a passion for testing.  Missouri schools are under the same standards/assessment mandates as North Carolina schools where this teacher taught.  Find the mission statement of your district and send them our way.  It would be interesting to compile a list of mission statements and figure out how districts will accomplish them with top down mandates.

The letter below should be shared with your teacher/administrator/superintendent.   You can follow the teacher at his twitter handle, @klnielsen74.


Dear North Carolina Public Schools: I Quit

Thanks to all of my friends who have already published this on their sites.  Let’s get our schools back!

To All it May Concern:
I’m doing something I thought I would never do—something that will make me a statistic and a caricature of the times.  Some will support me, some will shake their heads and smirk condescendingly—and others will try to convince me that I’m part of the problem.  All I know is that I’ve hit a wall, and in order to preserve my sanity, my health, my family, and the forward movement of our lives, I have no other choice.

Before I go too much into my choice, I must say that I have the advantages and disadvantages of differentiated experience under my belt.  I have seen the other side, where the grass was greener, and I unknowingly jumped the fence to where the foliage is either so tangled and dense that I can’t make sense of it, or the grass is wilted and dying (with no true custodian of its health).  Are you lost?  I’m talking about public K-12 education in North Carolina.  I’m talking about my history as a successful teacher and leader in two states before moving here out of desperation.

In New Mexico, I led a team of underpaid teachers who were passionate about their jobs and who did amazing things.  We were happy because our students were well-behaved, our community was supportive, and our jobs afforded us the luxuries of time, respect, and visionary leadership.  Our district was huge, but we got things done because we were a team.  I moved to Oregon because I was offered a fantastic job with a higher salary, a great math program, and superior benefits for my family.  Again, I was given the autonomy I dreamed of, and I used it to find new and risky ways to introduce technology into the math curriculum.  My peers looked forward to learning from me, the community gave me a lot of money to get my projects off the ground, and my students were amazing.

Then, the bottom fell out.  I don’t know who to blame for the budget crisis in Oregon, but I know it decimated the educational coffers.  I lost my job only due to my lack of seniority.  I was devastated.  My students and their parents were angry and sad.  I told myself I would hang in there, find a temporary job, and wait for the recall.  Neither the temporary job nor the recall happened.  I tried very hard to keep my family in Oregon—applying for jobs in every district, college, private school, and even Toys R Us.  Nothing happened after over 300 applications and 2 interviews.

The Internet told me that the West Coast was not hiring teachers anymore, but the East Coast was the go-to place.  Charlotte, North Carolina couldn’t keep up with the demand (why did this city need over 300 teachers?)!  I applied with three schools, got three phone interviews, and was even hired over the phone.  My very supportive and adventurous family and I packed quickly and moved across the country, just so I could keep teaching.

I had come from two very successful and fun teaching jobs to a new state where everything was different.  During my orientation at CMS, I noticed immediately that these people weren’t happy to see us; they were much more interested in making sure we knew their rules.  It was a one-hour lecture about what happens when teachers mess up.  I had a bad feeling about teaching here from the start; but, we were here and we had to make the best of it.

Union County seemed to be the answer to all of my problems.  The rumors and the press made it sound like UCPS was the place to be progressive, risky, and happy.  So I transferred from CMS to UCPS.  They made me feel more welcome, but it was still a mistake to come here.

Let me cut to the chase: I quit.  I am resigning my position as a teacher in the state of North Carolina—permanently.  I am quitting without notice (taking advantage of the “at will” employment policies of this state).  I am quitting without remorse and without second thoughts.  I quit. I quit. I quit!



I refuse to be led by a top-down hierarchy that is completely detached from the classrooms for which it is supposed to be responsible.

I will not spend another day under the expectations that I prepare every student for the increasing numbers of meaningless and expensive tests.

I refuse to be an unpaid administrator of field tests that take advantage of children for the sake of profit.

I will not spend another day wishing I had some time to plan my fantastic lessons because administration comes up with new and inventive ways to steal that time, under the guise of PLC meetings or whatever.  I’ve seen successful PLC development.  It doesn’t look like this.

I will not spend another day wondering what menial, administrative task I will hear that I forgot to do next.  I’m far enough behind in my own work.

I will not spend another day wondering how I can have classes that are full inclusion, and where 50% of my students have IEPs, yet I’m given no support.

I will not spend another day in a district where my coworkers are both on autopilot and in survival mode.  Misery loves company, but I will not be that company.

I refuse to subject students to every ridiculous standardized test that the state and/or district thinks is important.  I refuse to have my higher-level and deep thinking lessons disrupted by meaningless assessments (like the EXPLORE test) that do little more than increase stress among children and teachers, and attempt to guide young adolescents into narrow choices.

I totally object and refuse to have my performance as an educator rely on “Standard 6.”  It is unfair, biased, and does not reflect anything about the teaching practices of proven educators.

I refuse to hear again that it’s more important that I serve as a test administrator than a leader of my peers.
I refuse to watch my students being treated like prisoners.  There are other ways.  It’s a shame that we don’t have the vision to seek out those alternatives.

I refuse to watch my coworkers being treated like untrustworthy slackers through the overbearing policies of this state, although they are the hardest working and most overloaded people I know.

I refuse to watch my family struggle financially as I work in a job to which I have invested 6 long years of my life in preparation.  I have a graduate degree and a track record of strong success, yet I’m paid less than many two-year degree holders.  And forget benefits—they are effectively nonexistent for teachers in North Carolina.

I refuse to watch my district’s leadership tell us about the bad news and horrific changes coming towards us, then watch them shrug incompetently, and then tell us to work harder.

I refuse to listen to our highly regarded superintendent telling us that the charter school movement is at our doorstep (with a soon-to-be-elected governor in full support) and tell us not to worry about it, because we are applying for a grant from Race to the Top.  There is no consistency here; there is no leadership here.

I refuse to watch my students slouch under the weight of a system that expects them to perform well on EOG tests, which do not measure their abilities other than memorization and application and therefore do not measure their readiness for the next grade level—much less life, career, or college.

I’m tired of watching my students produce amazing things, which show their true understanding of 21st century skills, only to see their looks of disappointment when they don’t meet the arbitrary expectations of low-level state and district tests that do not assess their skills.

I refuse to hear any more about how important it is to differentiate our instruction as we prepare our kids for tests that are anything but differentiated.  This negates our hard work and makes us look bad.

I am tired of hearing about the miracles my peers are expected to perform, and watching the districts do next to nothing to support or develop them.  I haven’t seen real professional development in either district since I got here.  The development sessions I have seen are sloppy, shallow, and have no real means of evaluation or accountability.

I’m tired of my increasing and troublesome physical symptoms that come from all this frustration, stress, and sadness.

Finally, I’m tired of watching parents being tricked into believing that their children are being prepared for the complex world ahead, especially since their children’s teachers are being cowed into meeting expectations and standards that are not conducive to their children’s futures.

I’m truly angry that parents put so much stress, fear, and anticipation into their kids’ heads in preparation for the EOG tests and the new MSLs—neither of which are consequential to their future needs—in addition to the all of the other testing that happens almost weekly.  As a parent of a high school student in Union County, I’m dismayed at the education that my child receives as her teachers frantically frontload trivial information in preparation for more tests.  My toddler will not attend a North Carolina public school.  I will do whatever it takes to keep that from happening.

I quit because I’m tired being part of the problem.  It’s killing me and it’s not doing anyone else any good.  I will now take my place among the rest of the American educators, parents, citizens, and children who are dedicated to getting our schools–and our future–back.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Physics Professor's Interesting Experiment

Don't try this at home.

Did you know physics could be a riveting subject if taught creatively?  Dr. Harold Stokes illustrates how physics can garner student interest by firing a ping pong cannon.  The ending is priceless.  Not only does Dr. Stokes possess scientific knowledge, he has a great sense of humor and adventure.

For more on the ping pong cannon principle of operation, link here.
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