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 ?




Ideological Warfare : Ravitch v.s Kopp

The trend in the past day showcases events which highlight actions of activist collectives and individuals from a Long Island Principal retiring with an impassioned plea to his community to organize against high stakes -testing to the upcoming “Occupy the DOE” protest in D.C next month.  I have been seeing a trend now- that we have highlighted in class the very memes that have defined the opposite sides of the ideological spectrum of education reform Kopp to Ravitch  to the Recovery School District to the”Hessian” model of common sense school reform.

In the post,  The Big Lie about New Orleans exposed Mercedes Schneider focuses on the exploits and consequences of the  RSD – Schneider critiques one of the contributing factors to the movement and argues that it has been exploited by state officials with the term”miracle school”- this provides a great segway to a 2011 clip from Aspen Institute that has the face of each side debate.

Diane posits that  TFA paints an “incomplete picture” when it offers its systemic panacea while the revolving door of teachers who completed traditional teaching tracks through Catholic or State Universities are “deeply demoralized”. She refers to how education is regarded in Finland- a competitive high-retention field that brings about student achievement results without binging on testing. Wendy continues to sell her platform using memes like “transformational” and “what we have learned in 20 years” repetitively while Diane says she would support KIPP overhauling an entire urban district to answer one the central questions in this debate

“Are the high test scores charters post due to practices of “creaming” or skimming ?   Is the student body  educated in a charter and a district school similar?

The frustration is evident in Diane’s face as her question falls on deaf ears- Wendy reframes the discussion and does not address her point directly.

“What is the purpose of education?” What is the schools role in addressing poverty and inequality?

Below is the Aspen Video

What Does Real Reform Require?


Pearson’s very own “Testing Factories”

I am excited about the Educational Policy Analysis class I am taking. Most of the students are finishing up their SBL – some are already Principals or Assistant Principals in local district or charter schools. Everyone is to follow one blog and post thoughts about it weekly on our class blog. It’s a useful way for me to keep up to date on things that I was only following sporadically at times.
The professor offered a few choice Education Next, Diane Ravitch, Bridging Differences and Rick Hess. At first I chose Bridging Differences- this was origninally a blog that both Deborah Meier & Diane Ravitch led but apparently their opinions were quite similar so they separated into different blogs. The professor suggested that I was drawn to the blog for a particular bloggers voice who was leaving anyways so then I moved to Diane Ravitch who has been really opening my eyes to a lot of trends.

Recently, she has been posting about Pearson’s influence in the high-stakes testing industry. This was my latest response to her blog entry

The extended theme of private entities or not necessarily always private in tax status -as in the case of education funding foundations- persists with the current example of Pearson. Ravitch refers to Texas’ pioneering of the high stakes movement and its impact on those who stand to profit like Pearson’s $468 million contract to push out assessments – the contract details are highlighted in this post.

In thinking about how philanthropic funding looks different now – I formulate the question: How has the role of philanthropic and mega foundations changed in creating “testing factories”in the past decade? Perhaps more people are cognizant of the blatant “scheme” the behavior is evidenced is in actions like the Pearson Protest in NY last year. I am not sure how the strategy has evolved- its seems to have a wider scope and more strategic influence in some ways – does anyone have examples of how it has evolved?

When key players like Pearson can influence the testing agenda to maintain their dominance in the oligopolist testing market- then students, schools and teachers become mere consumers that testing products are sold to- true educational priorities are turned off – kilter. A principal that shared his thoughts on Diane’s blogs grounds us in his statement “we lack the infrastructure to be testing factories, and that shouldn’t be our job in the first place.”

With online-learning and online universities becoming more prevalent it seems like this is just the tip of the Pearson iceberg.