Children of the Common Core

Children of the Common Core

Image by Nick the Rat

The interview day was fast approaching, I haven’t interviewed in a while so this was a good opportunity to reflect on where I came from and where I wanted to go.

I was scatter brained in the days leading up to the interview, with poor time management I wasted post work hours searching for a new suit.
After trying on 3 suits each with its own shortcoming a.too cheap looking, b. too tight c. damaged zipper on the pants that slid open at the slightest movement. I almost had a panic attack and was upset with myself that I wasted time. I went home to meditate.

That night I prepped a smoothie for the following morning, my smoothie kick has been going well. Preparing 13 zip loc baggies in one shot makes it so much easier to make.The next morning I was pretty chilled out as I got onto the train and listened to the wheels screech below as the Q train made the infamous sharp turn over Coney Island Ave and ran down Brighton 11th street. The sun was rising and I felt the butterflies settle as I reviewed my talking points on a one pager. Soon the interview from hell would reveal itself.

“Screechhh! “… moments later a muffled announcement unapologetically declared a slew of train delays. If you live in NYC you know the announcements are seldom comprehensible, most times they resemble the muffled cacophonous sounds of the adult characters on Charlie Brown. I bounced from the B to the Q a few times to try my luck. Inevitably, I arrive 45 minutes late, drenched in sweat underneath all those winter layers, I freshen up and swap my comfy walking shoes for my patent leather interview heels.

As I enter, 3 other candidates are feverishly  clicking away at laptops around a small conference table. I jump in to complete a realistic “prioritization task” quite similar to what my day to day “firefighting” often looks like. Obviously I would ensure an absent teacher has coverage for his/her class before embarking on some philosophical discussion about the school dress code for a student whose precious do-rag was confiscated. We all must appease parents sometimes.

After completing the tasks, I chatted with the other candidates. Upon inquiring what school they had previously worked in they turned out to be Seniors in college. I naturally felt out of place, either this role was not for me or – I should not be applying to entry level positions with candidates more junior than me. I felt like the old maid in the candidate pool.

I brushed it off and got ready for the mini “tour” where the guide, the office manager- a bright eyed millenial boasted how the “graduation rate” was 100%. Yes, cherry picking and expelling those who can’t keep up can result in that.  OH lord. I couldn’t take any more, I wandered off on my own for a bit  in the “no excuses” zone and was uncomfortable with what I saw. While the environment seemed rigorous and not a single detail was overlooked I did not feel the joy from these students. Second graders walked silently down the hallway in a straight line , not even a single murmur nor a smile for that matter ! I won’t be completely biased here, I did observe a strong student teacher relationship where a student smiled and quietly hugged a teacher on the way into a classroom.

The schedule was scrupulously planned and the “data driven” ideology was evident via daily attendance rate posters plastered  all along the hallway. Laminated posters praising the most recent “Word Wizards”  who were on track to meeting the “reading goal” held a prominent spot on a bulletin board. The quantitative measure tallied the amount of books and individual words a grade level had read in total.One poster read ” 6th graders have read 460 books and 17,745,103 words.” Cultivating the love of reading in the K-8 years is wonderful, I have no qualm with that, but I don’t recall excessive quantifiers vis a vis my reading when I was in elementary school.  Are the students’ reading experiences enjoyable or a source of anxiety are they thinking”This is the 100th word I have read!”

My exploration continued into a 1st grade classroom where the teacher repeated verbatim from the corresponding part in a highly structured lesson plan. Students learned shapes and the ones that got something wrong had a towering figure above them draw a giant “X” in red. I remember learning about proximity as a teaching fellow and getting down to the same level as the child to show respect and relay empathy and understanding.

A towering figure, if you are 5 years old, that has got to be stressful! I just don’t know how else to say it , it seems like it goes against social emotional teaching and the concept of the whole child. Was I in a corporate reform outfit churning out middle managers who would only ever ask “How high?” students who memorized the right things but could not produce independent thought nor evaluate and think critically at the end of the day? Sure, they may have ready all those books that were on the list of approved curricula by Bill and Melinda and Arne but what kind of adults would they become? Children of the Corn, children of the common core.

I’ll wrap up this overdue rant – I did not feel the joy of learning and realized that the grass is not always greener. I need to develop and change gears sooner or later in my career but for now I know that I am at a school that I would send my own child to with no hesitation. These kids are joyful and learning at the same time, what more can we ask for ?




Insidious narratives

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The eternally contested purpose of education is something that most of us know well. Should education prepare the next wave of income earners into the labor market with a basic set of skills or is education meant to prepare all children for higher-level classical pursuits? Depth or breadth?

Since the formation of the Federal Department of Education all shades of the spectrum and schools of thought have enjoyed their proverbial 15-minutes of fame.

Despite varied perspectives at least we all agreed on the fundamental definition – that education was and always should be “public” in its essence and execution. Public, a “common good” in that the system of education was to serve the needs of the many instead of slavishly obliging plutocratic self-interest.

Was that part at least an indisputable given? I suppose not.

The beliefs contained in these two articles compose prevalent insidious narratives – the idea that  the move away from the ideal of a public education will close the opportunity gap and the belief that “we need better teachers”.

Exhibit 1 :

A recent Alternet article shows the economic priorities of our country- If you don’t invest well in the people who are responsible for shaping the minds of our next generation  with creative inquiry and intellectual thinking as a cornerstone of instructional methodology than the foundation begins to erode.
If we don’t respect teachers doing this important work than the message sent is we don’t value students’ education enough to invest in those providing it. High quality talent will opt for different careers that are better paying and come with a higher prestige- that is the bottom line.

Exhibit 2:

This article and Who’s Killing Philly Public Schools postulates the beginning of the end of public schools in Philadelphia, with 1/3 of of children now attending charter schools. Increased enrollment numbers coupled with the political cheerleading and economic bolstering of charter schools are harkening the continuing shift from public to private. Is Philadelphia and other die-hard charter school states a representative sample of where the nation is heading in the next couple of years?

This sentence in particular foreshadows the battle ahead and the practice of business as usual:

“The Agora Cyber Charter, which is run by the for-profit company K12, made $31.6 million last year from state taxpayers. It’s interesting to note that billionaire Michael Milken is an owner of K12 and that Mr. Milken was convicted of racketeering and securities fraud in 1989.”

Both are dangerous mainstream narratives that are targeting public schools and how the public views the quality of a public education.

As long as teachers are depicted as the villain, as long as the adage “those who can’t do, teach” pervades and the privatization movement is seen as offering a panacea from some kind of dystopia of public schools, then no student stands to benefit.


Alex Molnar on Virtual Education

Alex Molnar is a research professor at the University of Colorado whose work I was fortunate to discover when I was doing research for my Policy Analysis. He recently published a policy paper, Virtual Schools in the U.S 2013: Politics,Performance, Policy and Research Evidence . He frames commercialism as “ the curriculum of our culture“. He does a great job of linking consumerism to market-based school reform of public schools ( for-profit schools, charter schools etc.)

I like how he connects wealth distribution in this country to consumerism, credit card/student loan debt with the current education reform agenda. He also highlights the schools as a commodity.

At  49:27, he asks:

“How do you solve the age old problem: how do you transfer money from people who earn that money with their labor to people who earn that money, if you can even say earn, from their accumulated wealth.  How can you transfer money from people who earn less to people who earn more? The schools are a huge problem when it comes to that question because they  represent an enormous public investment, hundred of billions of dollars.