Jan 032013

I started out to write a post about my frustrations and fears last week, and deleted it over and over again. I just couldn’t get what I wanted to say correctly on the screen, nor could I collect the facts and links that led me to the conclusions I was making.

I had previously said, “as public school math teachers … we are screwed” in my first Exeter article, and I still feel that way. The alignment of major money against teachers is overwhelming, and I definitely see signs of attacks on public schools and public school teachers. Just look at the research about education right now, it is about merit pay, charter schools, and how to abuse teachers more, not about how to benefit learners more. Look at what the publishers are doing with Common Core.

Example 1

Example 2

You can’t look at these examples and not get a sense of dread in the pit of your stomach. If this is common core, then we are just doubling down on mediocrity. And as I struggle with the CCSS and my Exeter project, I am finding out just how difficult it is to work with the CCSS in a substantive way.

Then I read Kris Nielsen’s post, This is How Democracy Ends – An Apology, and it struck a vibe with me.

Here is my takeaway question though. Given that this is occurring, and I believe it is, then what can I do in my classroom to have a positive effect?

After all, I believe I can and do have a positive impact on my learners, and I have faith and confidence in them that they are not all “common”. I need to keep Kris’ article on my desk and re-read it weekly, to remind myself that just because this is the trend, I don’t have to accept it. I can fight against it and give my learners skills and abilities to reach beyond it.

Which brings me to my reason for posting, my resolution for the new year: To reach beyond and push my learners above common place standard thinking, and to give them skills to do the same. In short, my resolution is to fight, every day, to do my small part in not allowing the worst case to occur.

I am re-blogging Kris’ article in its entirety below the fold. It is worth reading, and even has an interesting Venn diagram to explain his arguments. I don’t think I agree with everything he says, but it resonates strongly none-the-less.

Read it. My thoughts above will make much more sense afterwards. I just found myself quoting most of his piece in sections the first time, and realized it would have a better flow this way.

This is How Democracy Ends — An Apology

DECEMBER 18, 2012 by Kris L. Nielsen at http://mgmfocus.com/2012/12/18/this-is-how-democracy-ends-an-apology/

Almost a year ago, I offered my time to the middle school at which I was employed to give a two-night presentation that promised to ease parents’ concerns about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Connected Mathematics Program (CMP).  I was given kudos by my boss, my coworkers, and many of those parents.  We talked about the future, the upcoming tests by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), and we even did some hands-on math demonstrations.  It was a good time for me, and I hope those parents can say the same.  My message was simple: trust us–we got this!

Some of them were still skeptical, and they should be praised for that skepticism.

First, I want to offer you my apologies.  It wasn’t long after my presentation that I had a crushing realization that the entire thing (minus the hands-on stuff) was completely misguided.  I felt like a flip-flopper, but I’ve always valued the truth more than feeling good.  So, I’m here to clear the air.  The truth hurts and it should start scaring the hell out of you, because your children are your most precious gift and you will do anything to protect them.

The whole reason I was part of the team that put those presentations together was to ease your worry about the changes that were coming.  I’m here to retract everything I said.  You should be worried.  Very worried!

I was wrong.  The Common Core State Standards is a sham, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is an instrument of devastation, and it’s all run by the process you see in the following Venn diagram (don’t you love Venn diagrams?):

slide1.jpg (960×720)

Before I start sounding too nutty, let me get down to the reality.  You’ll see that I’m not exaggerating.

America has long been known–despite our problems–as the country of freedom, innovation, and wealth.  There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is our democratic and free public education system.  Prior to NCLB in 2002 and Race to the Top eight years later, standardization was limited to SAT and ACT tests, NAEP and PISA tests, and graduation exams for Advanced Placement courses.  We valued music, art, drama, languages and the humanities just as much as valued science, math, and English (for the most part).  We believed in the well-rounded education.

Now, the Common Core State Standards has one goal: to create common people.  The accompanying standardized tests have one purpose: to create standardized people.  Why?  Because the movers and the shakers have a vested interest in it.  It’s about money and it’s about making sure all that money stays in one place.

It’s been happening for a few years already.  StudentsFirst, ALEC, the Walton and Broad and Gates Foundations, and other lobbying groups have created a false crisis in American education.  They want you to believe that America is in sad educational shape so that they can play the hero.  However, what they’ve begun is a snowball effect of legislation that devastates public education, teachers, and an already underfunded school system so that they can replace the public system, the unions, and the government employees with private systems that promise to pay less, bust unions, and remove benefits and pensions.

Teach For America is a prime example of a way to steal government funding, place it in the hands of private corporations, and remove that pesky career (tenure) teacher problem.  It’s worked like a dream–the average TFA teacher stays in the classroom for about 2-3 years.  Only a few remain for 5 or more years.  So, the new American teacher is a mass-produced, temporary worker in an ongoing assembly line.  Cheaper?  Usually.  And they don’t complain about pay, pensions, or benefits, since this is just a step in their career ladders.

Which means that students don’t have highly-qualified and seasoned teachers leading their learning anymore.  Even worse that that, TFA teachers are prepared and trained with test data as the be-all-to-end-all of priorities.  These teachers only know effectiveness by the scores their students receive on standardized tests.

Cooperation? Collaboration? Creativity? Communication? Critical thinking?  Life skills?  Only if there’s time (which there isn’t) and don’t expect it to be integrated or cohesive.  That’s not what the training is for.  Our students are now part of a larger plan–to prepare them for the “college and career readiness” laid out by the “job creators” on Wall Street–the ones that want your kids to understand that a job is what they’re trained for and that they are lucky to have, so stop whining about your pensions and benefits.  And forget about belonging to one of those pesky unions–we will have outlawed them completely by then.

But more importantly, all of the skills linked above lead our students to be profound, critical, and meaningful participants in a modern democracy.  Some would argue that our days as a free country for the people and by the people are limited, and running out fast.  If we continue to support the path that our nation’s educational system is on, we will speed up the end of our democracy.  When students are forced to learn for the sake of a score and are denied the opportunity to think and reason and question and appreciate the world in which they live, they are all the more easy to control and deny basic rights.

It’s already happening.  I despise watching people discuss and debate issues in this country these days.  No one knows how to do it.

America did not become what it is today because of common people.  We celebrate our diversity, exceptionality, and bravery at the same time that we are attempting to bury those traits.  The world is following our educational models of the past few decades at the same time that we are turning our backs on those successful models.  We are digging a grave for our democratic process at a time when we should be paying extra special attention to keeping it healthy.

Our next generation of learners can save us and keep us strong through their diversity, ingenuity, creativity, friendliness, cooperation, and forward thinking.  And their dreams.  The Common Core State Standards, standardized tests, and privatized teacher corps are stifling those dreams.  Our democracy will ultimately be the victim.

  3 Responses to “This is how democracy ends–My thoughts & resolution”

  1. “To reach beyond and push my learners above common place standard thinking, and to give them skills to do the same.” – Great resolution! I feel that my colleagues and I have had that same one for last 3 years. I call it “To create lifelong, patient, and creative problem solvers.” It took some convincing on our part for our administration to allow us to push our students. Teachers and principals around the district thought (and still think) that what we’re doing (Algebra for all eighth graders) is crazy. (Ask me if I care – I don’t.) We use CCSS as our reason for doing so. I have not delved as deep with it as you have. Do you think the CCSS is a “sham” (as Mr. Nielsen’s article states)?

  2. Line,
    I don’t think the CCSS is a sham, but I do have some concerns about it. For instance, why is there no one who can or will answer a direct question about the nomenclature change? If you search on the website, there is not a single point of contact for anyone in the CCSS body. All the contact links do is send you to other governing bodies, and they don’t respond to teachers.
    This kind of overt bureaucracy and lack of open communication feeds the ideas of disenfranchisement among teachers and creates the frustration that exists.
    I have found a lot in the CCSS that I like, but the difficulty of pinning down problems within the CCSS is large. That is where I am most frustrated with the CCSS right now.

    Well, that and the public media narrative that says I am a union thug who needs to be armed and that I suck at my job because of some imaginary achievement bar that no one on the planet can actually achieve. 😉

  3. Add to that (“… that I suck at my job because of some imaginary achievement bar that no one on the planet can actually achieve.”): We’re not going to tell you where that bar is exactly (because we don’t know ourselves) and just to make things interesting, we’re going to change that bar at will AND not tell you. [Sorry for the diatribe, but that’s how I feel about the district targets, anyway.]

    I, too, have found a lot to like about CCSS; it’s the implementation that is lacking. Your Example 1 and Example 2 are cases in point. Consequently, I am most interested in studying your project upon completion. Please keep us posted.

    So no response from the powers that be on your email? Hmmm … disappointing, but not surprising.

    All in all, I still strongly believe that teaching is the best job that I have ever had. Keep fighting the good fight and sharing your thoughts with us! Our Learners depend on it!

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