Let’s talk about giving teachers guns.

I’m not a teacher anymore.

But for 6 years, I had the sincere pleasure of educating elementary school children. 10 year olds. 5th graders who still looked to me for band-aids, were excited to show me their LEGO sets, and stared wild-eyed when I could answer 50 multiplication problems in under 50 seconds. I loved it. I loved those kids. But I hated the system. I stuck it out as long as stress would allow me, and then I left. And even though I don’t stand in front a classroom every day anymore, I’ll always consider myself a teacher. It was the job I wanted to do since I was a kid – inspired by so many of my own great teachers. I sometimes think by leaving I let them down. But teachers want nothing but for their students to be happy and successful.

And I doubt their idea of my success would include drawing down on a shooter who has just mowed down the classroom of 10 year olds next-door and is now coming for us. I often wonder what they would think of the entire situation. When I think back to my 1st grade teacher, Miss C., she was fresh out of college, young, and eager. That was 1987. I can’t even imagine her standing there, teaching me how to do simple addition, with a Glock strapped to her side.

I can’t imagine it now, either.

Because it’s insane.

It’s fucking insane.

I’m just going to skip listing all the of the responsibilities teachers have on a daily basis that extend far beyond the letter of the job. It’s a long list. It’s a stress-inducing list. A list that now includes active shooter survival and lockdown training. Yes, teachers now need to figure out how to heard a class of 20+ kids who are barely old enough to understand the concept of death into a classroom closet, or an out-of-sight corner, and keep them quite and calm. Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep a class of 7 year olds quiet? And now it could mean life or death?

But that’s OK – let’s just add gun handling, and combat training to it. It’s the obvious answer right? Fight fire with fire. Give those teachers guns. I’m sure little old Mrs. Anderson in room 106, who still doesn’t quite grasp the use of email, will certainly be able to squeeze off a few rounds and take down a person with a semi-automatic rifle.

Yeah, yeah ok ok. I know you’re saying we don’t need to arm all the teachers – just some of them. Some young, active ones who can run, tuck & roll, and have all that video game shooting experience, right? They’ll be perfect. Because of their age, and physique, they must volunteer to put their lives on the line and run toward the gunfire, instead of away. But, if there isn’t a gun in every classroom that must mean that some children and teachers must be sacrificed before those with guns have a chance to react, compose themselves, make sure their classes are safe, before running toward the danger.

You’ll read that what Trump really meant when he said to give teachers guns, was to only give them to ex-military who have since become teachers. While the sample size of a single teacher is low – I can easily say that of the 3 schools I’ve taught in – in 3 different states – none of them has former Marines (or any other branches) working as teachers. So, I guess that means we all die. And let’s not get into giving these supposedly existing teachers a bonus or extra pay of some sort; teachers can’t even get funding for classroom supplies, or special education assistance, or even just a raise every once in a while. Where’s that extra millions for hazard pay going to come from?

Does this sound stupid as fuck yet?

The only way everyone is safe is to keep the guns out of the schools. Away from the schools. See, the thing is, despite what all the gun-wielding, 2nd amendment humping, NRA cock sucking Republicans will tell you, this is a gun problem. It’s a gun access problem. They’ll be happy to tell you if we got rid of guns, then two things will happen: 1) the government will immediately initiate a hostile takeover of the country and declare martial law, and 2) all the criminals will now have all the guns and we’re going to be robbed, mugged, killed, etc constantly. Nevermind that a large majority of firearms in criminal possession are legal guns stolen from gun owners. It seems any schmuck can buy a gun at a gun show without proper papers or checks. But this is whole thing is a different argument for a different day.

A school is a safe place. A place of learning. A place of respect. It is not a place of violence.

When a motorist hits and kills a cyclist, the answer to the problem isn’t give the cyclists cars to start demolition derby style revenge- it’s to build better infrastructure, educate motorists, fine and/or jail the motorists, take away their license, and change the local laws and ordinances to better protect the cyclists. Of course there is pushback from motorists who couldn’t fathom riding a bike – just like there’s pushback from gun gurus about changing gun laws. The only difference is adding a bike lane saves lives. Adding guns doesn’t. Adding well timed bike signal lights saves lives. Add guns doesn’t. Taking a license away from a repeat drunk driver (not that this ever fucking happens) saves lives. Selling guns to domestic abuse offenders does not.

The point I’m trying to make is you don’t solve the gun problem by adding more guns. It’s like saying I’m going to fix my leaky sink by pouring water on it. And you sure as fuck don’t solve a school shooting problem by giving guns to teachers.

If I was still teaching and I was asked to carry a gun, I would refuse. It’s probably cost me my job but I’d rather not work in a place where I’d be forced to shoot a kid. But when it comes down to it, the blame falls squarely on the NRA and gun owners who put their desire to own guns above my desire to not shoot children.

Fuck those guys.

And fuck your guns.


‘The Old Way’ vs Common Core (AKA: How to math) (AKA: This picture pisses me off)

IMG_0916I want you to take a look at this picture. This picture makes me angry.

Very angry.

I don’t know if it’s photoshopped or if it’s real. I found it on a friend’s feed on Facebook this morning, and there was already a small listing of comments between folks debating what is shown in this photo. I of course chimed in, being a [former] teacher of elementary school myself.

Take a second, and solve the problem – see which answer you get.


The correct answer is 16.

But this picture is incredibly, and inexcusably misleading.

The answer is not 16 because the new Common Core curriculum gave us new, proper math. And despite what the picture says, both answers are not equally correct (in fact that makes zero sense). It’s because of my dear Aunt Sally, and your ability to kindly please excuse her.

Did I lose you? Sorry. Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. PEMDAS, or, Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication/Division, Addition/Subtraction – or, Order of Operations.

20 / 5 (2 * 2), do parentheses first so the problem becomes 20 / 5 (4)

But the rules of order of operations states that given only multiplication and division (same for addition and subtraction), you work left to right. You do not do the multiplication first just because M comes before D in PEMDAS.

So, working left to right, it becomes 4 (4).
Then multiply, and get 16.

If you incorrectly did the multiplication first, multiplying the 5 and the 4, you’d get 20 / 20, which equals the 1 shown in the picture. But that is incorrect order of operations, and incorrect math.

It is not incorrect because that is how ‘the old way’ taught it. It’s incorrect because you didn’t pay attention to the details of PEMDAS.

The big to-do about Common Core is that is supposedly introduces alternate critical thinking and problem solving skills – because there was something wrong with the ones already being taught? I went through elementary school in the mid/late 80’s, and graduated high school in 1999. I’m a product of ‘the old way,’ like all my friends – and guess what – I’m a damn good problem solver. We all are. I knew how to read and solve a word problem be understanding clues in 5th grade. When I taught 5th grade (for 5 years), they didn’t know that “how many more” meant they needed to subtract. They didn’t know their multiplication facts immediately. They still did addition on their fingers. 

The cause of this is two-fold:
1) So much emphasis being put on testing and preparing for the end-of-year tests leaves little wiggle room for exploring subject matter. It’s a get it done get it done get it done next learning standard world in the classroom these days. If some kids don’t get it, too bad we have to move on, and those kids can go to remediation class, or something. (Large emphasis on the “or something” because really we have no more TAs, and don’t want them pulled out of other subjects for remediation in another.) There’s no time to pause and ‘go deeper,’ even though that’s some of what Common Core purports to do. Teacher’s fear the tests because it effects their evaluations.
2) Common Core’s apparent lack of support for rote memorization. I don’t care what kind of problem solvers you think you’re making, but in order to solve those problems, students need to know that 6×5=30 without even thinking twice about it. Drill drill drill. Memorize. Parents make them memorize other important things – their phone number, address, stranger danger, etc etc. Why not the simple math skills required to function in the world?

One of the major problems of Common Core is that is pushes age-inappropriate learning requirements. We’re giving tests to Kindergarteners now? Unbelievable. The youngest learners learn the most through exploration learning. Common Core twists those formative years into rigidly structured test prep again. (Not to mention a teacher’s evaluation being tied to how well at 5 year old does on a standardized test….) ((let that sink in))

Common Core is supposed to enhance critical thinking skills. Well, as it’s followed the first class of students up through the grade levels (introducing a new grade level to it each year as it went along), by the time they get to an age/grade level where something like mathematical word problems require those skills – they haven’t got them, and even if they could think abstractly, they still don’t know that “how many more” means they need to subtract, or that 4 x 3 is 12. (Because they weren’t taught to memorize it).

So when you look at that picture, remember, the answer is 16.

Not because of common core.

Not because of the old way.

But because that’s how you fucking do math.

Our Boy Arne

Readers, I invite you to take a poll.
Does Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, actually know anything about public education, teaching, classroom management, and learning styles?

Feel free to comment as well.

Teaching vs. Working in the Private Sector; A New View

So you probably noticed I haven’t posted in over a week. I even totally forgot about my Friday’s Jam. I started my new job last Monday so my thoughts have been elsewhere. I’m working at the same geotechnical company as my wife, which is really, well, cool. Right now I’m a temporary contractor but hopefully I will transition into a regular position later this year.

But working for a private company for the first time in my life has found me reflecting on my time as a teacher and how wildly different it is in a few very important ways.

Let me first say I don’t regret being a teacher at all. Not one bit. It is what I wanted to do since I was in elementary school with my very own fantastic teachers I was looking up to. I’m extremely proud to have done it and had such a great time working with kids, especially letting them peak into the ways of the world through science, and reading them some of my favorite books. If the world of education were not in the state it is currently in, I’d probably still be doing it.

However since beginning a new job, I’ve noticed how less stressed I have been (and it’s only been one week). Here’s a few reasons why…

  1. If I’m late to work it’s not a big deal because there isn’t a classroom full of unattended 10 year olds waiting on me.
  2. Instead of waking up at 6am (I refuse to get up earlier on principle) and rushing to get ready, skipping breakfast, and getting to school by 7am to prepare for the day and receive kids at 7:40, I can now wake up anytime between 6:30 and 7:30, get ready without the proverbial gun to my head, and get to work when I’m ready (within reason, obviously).
  3. Instead of slamming food in my face and “relaxing” for approximately 15 minutes during my lunch period, I can eat when I want to, and take 30-60 minutes. I can even leave the building.
  4. When I leave work, I leave work. I don’t need to bring it home with me, or worry that I didn’t. I didn’t grade papers this weekend. I didn’t worry about next week’s plans. I don’t have this nagging fear of a principal popping into my classroom for an unannounced observation tomorrow.
  5. My work is evaluated based on its quality, not an arbitrary number of objectives deemed important and applicable to everything no matter what I happen to be doing.
  6. If I need to take a day off, I just do. No spending 2 hours preparing plans and materials for a substitute. My work will be waiting for me where I left off the next day I get back.

Even with those things in mind, there are several things I miss about teaching.

  1. Everything about being a good, influential figure in children’s lives.
  2. Seeing students get excited about something we’re learning (especially in science!)
  3. When the whole class is hanging on every word and would rather skip recess to have you continue the book we’re reading aloud.
  4. Chicken Patties from the cafeteria.
  5. Colleagues. Other teachers are some of the best people I’ve ever met and had the privilege of working with. I miss them
    yes that's me

    yes that’s me


  6. Field trips.
  7. Having an entire classroom that is mine. Filled with my stuff. Used the way I want to use it to teach kids awesome stuff.
  8. Little victories, and huge successes for every student.
  9. The lightbulb going on, and the face that goes with it (possibly the best thing ever about teaching).
  10. The extra, fun stuff: Playing 4-Square with the kids at recess and really kicking their asses, pajama/movie days, high fives in the hallway from little kids, dressing up as a pirate to promote a read-a-thon, and so on.

This is where it stands thus far. We’ll see where it goes from here.

A video that shows why teachers are going out of their minds

From The Washington Post

The video below is not a parody. It shows Chicago Public School teachers in a professional development session that will make you understand why teachers are going out of their minds and to what extent administrators have infantilized teachers.

Here is the video’s description on YouTube:

 This presenter was one of several consultants flown in from California and the United Kingdom for the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Strategic School Support Services’ special network. This is a professional development for teachers of Saturday ISAT [Illinois Standards Achievement Test] preparation classes.

Parents: Make your young kids MEMORIZE their basic math facts, please.

This is one of those things that puts me into a teacher rage. Before I rage, take a look at this question from an early elementary test (I believe it’s 1st grade):

Do you know the correct answer?

If you’re my age (32) or older, you know the answer is none of these, because the answer is 8+6=14. This is what we learned in school – to practice and memorize our simple math facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division). This was because in the real world when you get older you require immediate recall of these facts to complete other tasks, to say nothing to passing a subject like algebra or calculus in high school.

But now, with the supposed education standards revolution smashing down traditional barriers, the correct answer to this question is actually D. It’s a strategy where you break apart numbers, to make adding larger numbers easier. Only, 8 and 6 aren’t large numbers. Now this particular strategy has kids learning to break apart numbers to equal 10. In this case, you take 2 from the 6 toys and give it to the 8 making it 10. This leaves you 4 left over to add to that ten, giving you 14. Personally, that’s more complicated than just memorizing 8+6=14. Now, I do believe it is important that children learn the numbers that give you 10s (6 and 4, 5 and 5, 8 and 2, 7 and 3, etc), but at the same time they should be learning and memorizing 8 and 6 gives you numbers that ends in 4s (16+8 is 24, 38+6=44, and so on). Just like they should be 9s and 6s giving you 5s, or 8s and 5s giving 3s. This can be applied to any number in any problem with addition. And can be reversed for subtraction.

The problem with the strategy being performed in this question is the students need to know that when they take 2 away from the 6 and give it to the 8, they have 4 left over. So technically they’re required to know subtraction while they’re learning addition. To combat this, they are drawing pictures. Draw 8 circles and 6 circles, grab two circles from the 6 and draw them over with the 8 circles, so visually you can see there are 4 left from the original 6. Ok that’s fine – some kids require visuals to understand what’s going on. I’m totally OK with that because I’ve always believed it’s important to know why the math works, not to just do it. The visual show this, but this is not a strategy that should be taught in place of rote memorization of simple math facts.

Why? Because I taught 5th grade for 5 years, and every. single. year. students (more than half) come into 5th grade still counting on their fingers for addition and subtraction, and are completely clueless about multiplication and haven’t memorized their facts. They also can’t do subtraction because they do it upside down instead of borrowing/regrouping (eg: if the larger number is on the bottom of the problem they just start with that and subtract the number above it, which any adult will know is the wrong, upside down way to do it).

I have a clear memory of starting multiplication in 2nd grade, and having my facts memorized easily by 5th. And because I have them memorized and can look at 9×6 on a piece of paper and have an immediate recall of 54, I can complete 50 multiplication problems in under 50 seconds. Yes, I’ve timed it, because I often did the ‘mad math minutes’ time trials with my class. They marveled at how fast I could blast through writing all the answers, and they said “well you’re the teacher!” To that I said, “no it’s not because I’m the teacher, it’s because I have them memorized and as soon as I see it, I know the answer without thinking. It’s like looking at my shirt and saying ‘that’s blue’ because you’ve memorized that color is blue.”

Now let’s talk about real life. If kids are still coming to 5th grade and higher not knowing their most absolute basic math facts, imagine balancing a checkbook, or counting back change as a cashier. When you’re adding in the tip on your restaurant bill, are you going to pull apart all the numbers and draw a picture on the check to see what you get? Sounds absurd doesn’t it – and you’re probably saying “but Dan, they’ll be much older by then and they’ll be able to do it by then.” Are you sure? When a 10 year old can’t tell me that 12+8 is 20 within 2 seconds, there’s a problem. A big problem.

I’m not saying kids shouldn’t learn to break apart numbers to begin with, to understand why the math works, but it should not be taught as the de-facto way to do addition to small children. Children should begin drilling math facts as early as 1st grade. Pound that stuff into their heads. Drill drill drill drill drill. Flash cards in the car on the way to swim practice. Flash cards between commercials of Sponge Bob. Pop quiz at the dinner table for dessert. Anytime, anywhere.

Parents, get your kids active in memorizing their math facts, early. Don’t rely on the standards and curriculums to do it for you because they won’t. Remember, these standards and curriculums are being written by people who are not teachers, and have little to no experience in education or child development.

The answer is not D.

The State of [education in] the Union

Last night, President Obama, just like W before him, stood in front of the nation and reaffirmed to educators across the country that we are screwed – still.

Let’s take a look at what he said – as little as it was – about education.

Race to the Top, with the help of governors from both parties, has helped states raise expectations and performance. Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math. Some of this change is hard. It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test.

Hmm. That last sentence. Something doesn’t seem right. I’m pretty sure Race to the Top uses copious amounts of testing. And hilariously enough, those tests don’t measure how well our students think. In fact they don’t measure anything at all. Common Core has stripped all the thinking and discovery from the classroom. No, these tests very much ‘measure’ how well student can fill in a bubble. CCSS and RTTT aren’t more challenging curriculums, they are a set misguided objectives.

But it’s worth it – and it’s working.

Oh, you must mean in a parallel dimension where RTTT didn’t fail, and didn’t hand out vouchers giving states a pass for not meeting the expected requirements for the absurdly testing-heavy program. Did thousands of parents opt their students out of the tests in that parallel dimension where RTTT succeeded? Because that happened here, in reality.

The problem is we’re still not reaching enough kids, and we’re not reaching them in time. That has to change.

You’re reaching plenty of kids – it’s just that the programs the government has implemented have succeeded in widening the achievement gap between rich white kids in gated communities, and the impoverished. Oh, and all those high-achieving rich white kids are cozy in schools laden with technology and nifty amenities, while inner city schools and lower-performing areas still have their funding cut.

Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education. Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old. As a parent as well as a President, I repeat that request tonight. But in the meantime, thirty states have raised pre-k funding on their own. They know we can’t wait.

‘High quality Pre-K’…let’s hope he actually means high quality, and not high stakes. Because of RTTT, Kindergarten students are being tested and evaluated now. I’m sorry but there are fundamental development issues here. This is the age where discovery learning is how kids function. Testing them is just plain wrong.

So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children.

Uh oh. Partnerships with states? You mean politicians and businessmen getting together and shaking hands with other politicians and businessmen and wondering how much money they can make off public education?

And as Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high quality pre-K they need.

So, still no educators then. Gotcha. Nice. Thanks.

‘The Common Core Meltdown’

If you’re a parent with kids currently in school, a future parent, a teacher, or a tax payer, you need to read this article. With so much hullabaloo about the Common Core Standards (CCSS), Race to the Top (RTTT), and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) it’s very easy to get lost and confused. What are the CCSS? When and how are they being implemented – or why? How do they affect my child? Is my kid’s teacher worthless? And importantly,  What’s with all the testing?

Public education is moving more and more into the hands of private investors and corporate sponsors whom are profiting from the stress of parents, students, and teachers, and the devaluing of the educational process. And no, charter schools are not the answer.

And if this article doesn’t convince you Arne Duncan is a clueless moron, I don’t know what will. As far as I’m concerned he should be immediately removed as the Secretary of Education, and promptly tarred and feathered.

I’m going to quote some of the more important paragraphs, and I’ve bolded some of the more important and standout points, but the original article in its entirety can be found HERE. It is a must read.

Who Created the Common Core?

Because federal law prohibits the federal government from creating national standards and tests, the Common Core project was ostensibly designed as a state effort led by the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, a private consulting firm. The Gates Foundation provided more than $160 million in funding, without which Common Core would not exist.

The standards were drafted largely behind closed doors by academics and assessment “experts,” many with ties to testing companies. Education Week blogger and science teacher Anthony Cody found that, of the 25 individuals in the work groups charged with drafting the standards, six were associated with the test makers from the College Board, five with the test publishers at ACT, and four with Achieve. Zero teachers were in the work groups. The feedback groups had 35 participants, almost all of whom were university professors. Cody found one classroom teacher involved in the entire process. According to early childhood expert Nancy Carlsson-Paige: “In all, there were 135 people on the review panels for the Common Core. Not a single one of them was a K–3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional.” Parents were entirely missing. K–12 educators were mostly brought in after the fact to tweak and endorse the standards—and lend legitimacy to the results.

No teachers involved in making policies and standards that teachers will personally use in the classroom. That’s like a babysitter drawing up a step-by-step process for landing an airplane.

Emerging from the Wreckage of No Child Left Behind

The CCSS emerged from the wreckage of NCLB. In 2002, NCLB was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and presented as a way to close long-standing gaps in academic performance. NCLB marked a dramatic change in federal education policy—away from its historic role as a promoter of access and equity through support for things like school integration, extra funding for high-poverty schools, and services for students with special needs, to a much less equitable set of mandates around standards and testing, closing or “reconstituting” schools, and replacing school staff.

NCLB required states to adopt curriculum standards and to test students annually to gauge progress toward reaching them. Under threat of losing federal funds, all 50 states adopted or revised their standards and began testing every student, every year, in every grade from 3–8 and again in high school. The professed goal was to make sure every student was on grade level in math and language arts by requiring schools to reach 100 percent passing rates on state tests for every student in 10 subgroups.

By any measure, NCLB was a failure in raising academic performance and narrowing gaps in opportunity and outcomes. But by very publicly measuring the test results against arbitrary benchmarks that no real schools have ever met, NCLB succeeded in creating a narrative of failure that shaped a decade of attempts to “fix” schools while blaming those who work in them. The disaggregated scores put the spotlight on gaps among student groups, but the law used these gaps to label schools as failures without providing the resources or supports needed to eliminate them.

By the time the first decade of NCLB was over, more than half the schools in the nation were on the lists of “failing schools” and the rest were poised to follow. In Massachusetts, which is generally considered to have the toughest state standards in the nation—arguably more demanding than the Common Core—80 percent of the schools were facing NCLB sanctions. This is when the NCLB “waivers” appeared. As the number of schools facing sanctions and intervention grew well beyond the poor communities of color where NCLB had made “disruptive reform” the norm and began to reach into more middle-class and suburban districts, the pressure to revise NCLB’s unworkable accountability system increased. But the bipartisan coalition that passed NCLB had collapsed and gridlock in Congress made revising it impossible. So U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, with dubious legal justification, made up a process to grant NCLB waivers to states that agreed to certain conditions.

Forty states were granted conditional waivers from NCLB: If they agreed to tighten the screws on the most struggling schools serving the highest needs students, they could ease up on the rest, provided they also agreed to use test scores to evaluate all their teachers, expand the reach of charter schools, and adopt “college and career ready” curriculum standards. These same requirements were part of the Race to the Top program, which turned federal education funds into competitive grants and promoted the same policies, even though they have no track record of success as school improvement strategies.

Thanks, Arne. Go play in traffic. May I refer you back to this post, in which we discuss how much experience in education Duncan has.

College- and Career-Ready Standards?

The substance of the standards themselves is also, in a sense, top down. To arrive at “college- and career-ready standards,” the Common Core developers began by defining the “skills and abilities” they claim are needed to succeed in a four-year college. The CCSS tests being developed by two federally funded multi-state consortia, at a cost of about $350 million, are designed to assess these skills. One of these consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, claims that students who earn a “college ready” designation by scoring a level 4 on these still-under-construction tests will have a 75 percent chance of getting a C or better in their freshman composition course. But there is no actual evidence connecting scores on any of these new experimental tests with future college success.

And it will take far more than standards and tests to make college affordable, accessible, and attainable for all. When I went to college many years ago, “college for all” meant open admissions, free tuition, and race, class, and gender studies. Today, it means cutthroat competition to get in, mountains of debt to stay, and often bleak prospects when you leave. Yet “college readiness” is about to become the new AYP (adequate yearly progress) by which schools will be ranked.

The idea that by next year Common Core tests will start labeling kids in the 3rd grade as on track or not for college is absurd and offensive.

As a teacher in an elementary school I can safely tell you the standards for K-3 are messed. up. No longer are kindergarteners allowed more time to learn by exploration and free thinking and association. Now they have rigorous standards to fulfill and tests to take. Yes, tests.

Substantive questions have been raised about the Common Core’s tendency to push difficult academic skills to lower grades, about the appropriateness of the early childhood standards, about the sequencing of the math standards, about the mix and type of mandated readings, and about the priority Common Core puts on the close reading of texts in ways that devalue student experience and prior knowledge.

A decade of NCLB tests showed that millions of students were not meeting existing standards, but the sponsors of the Common Core decided that the solution was tougher ones. And this time, instead of each state developing its own standards, the Common Core seeks to create national tests that are comparable across states and districts, and that can produce results that can be plugged into the data-driven crisis machine that is the engine of corporate reform.

Hmm. These standards we made up and these testing challenges we’re implementing aren’t working? Ok, let’s give more tests with harder objectives. That should do it!

Educational Plan or Marketing Campaign?

The way the standards are being rushed into classrooms across the country is further undercutting their credibility. These standards have never been fully implemented in real schools anywhere. They’re more or less abstract descriptions of academic abilities organized into sequences by people who have never taught at all or who have not taught this particular set of standards. To have any impact, the standards must be translated into curriculum, instructional plans, classroom materials, and valid assessments. A reasonable approach to implementing new standards would include a few multi-year pilot programs that provided time, resources, opportunities for collaboration, and transparent evaluation plans.

Instead we’re getting an overhyped all-state implementation drive that seems more like a marketing campaign than an educational plan. And I use the word marketing advisedly, because another defining characteristic of the Common Core project is rampant profiteering.

And finally,

Tests, Tests, Tests

But while this larger political battle rages, the most immediate threat for educators and schools remains the new wave of high-stakes Common Core tests.

Duncan, who once said, “The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina” and who called Waiting for Superman “a Rosa Parks moment,” now tells us, “I am convinced that this new generation of state assessments will be an absolute game-changer in public education.”

Oh it’s a game-charger alright. Again, why is this guy in charge? Waiting For Superman was nothing more than a propaganda film supporting Charter Schools, which have been proven to not work – especially since to showcase their “top-scores” many kick out low-performing students, leaving them back in the hands of broken public education instead of in a situation where they could possibly be lifted.

The problem is that this game, like the last one, is rigged. Although reasonable people have found things of value in the Common Core standards, there is no credible defense to be made of the high-stakes uses planned for these new tests.

Only about 30 percent of students were deemed “proficient” based on arbitrary cut scores designed to create new categories of failure. The achievement gaps Common Core is supposed to narrow grew larger. Less than 4 percent of students who are English language learners passed. The number of students identified by the tests for “academic intervention” skyrocketed to 70 percent, far beyond the capacity of districts to meet.

Not much of a surprise when despite all the emphasis on differentiation pushed on teachers, and intervention programs for struggling kids (which by the way removes them from the classroom to miss more instruction) that all students, including ones struggling to comprehend or read English, are forced to take the same test.

When I’m forced to alter homework, in-class assignments, quizzes, and tests to allow lower level students to hopefully achieve, or higher level students to be challenged, but then they are all given the same test at the end of the year makes no sense. A 5th grade student who struggles to read at a 3rd grade level for the duration of the year, isn’t going to succeed on a 5th grade level reading test. Even if the teacher succeeded wonderfully in raising that student’s reading level from 3rd to mid-4th, it is still scored negatively making the progress and satisfaction achieved by both the student and the teacher for their success worth absolutely nothing when the test results come back.

The tests are on track to squeeze out whatever positive potential exists in the Common Core:

  • The arrival of the tests will pre-empt the already too short period teachers and schools have to review the standards and develop appropriate curriculum responses before that space is filled by the assessments themselves.
  • Instead of reversing the mania for over-testing, the new assessments will extend it with pre-tests, interim tests, post-tests, and computer-based “performance assessments.” It’s the difference between giving a patient a blood test and draining the patient’s blood.
  • The scores will be plugged into data systems that will generate value-added measures, student growth percentiles, and other imaginary numbers for what I call psychometric astrology. The inaccurate and unreliable practice of using test scores for teacher evaluation will distort the assessments before they’re even in place, and has the potential to make Common Core implementation part of the assault on the teaching profession instead of a renewal of it.
  • If the Common Core’s college- and career-ready performance levels become the standard for high school graduation, it will push more kids out of high school than it will prepare for college. The most vulnerable students will be the most at risk. As FairTest put it: “If a child struggles to clear the high bar at 5 feet, she will not become a ‘world-class’ jumper because someone raised the bar to 6 feet and yelled ‘jump higher,’ or if her ‘poor’ performance is used to punish her coach.”
  • The costs of the tests, which have multiple pieces throughout the year and must be given on computers many schools don’t have, will be enormous and will come at the expense of more important things. The plunging scores will be used as an excuse to close more public schools and open more privatized charters and voucher schools, especially in poor communities of color.

This is not just cynical speculation. It is a reasonable projection based on the history of the NCLB decade, the dismantling of public education in the nation’s urban centers, and the appalling growth of the inequality and concentrated poverty that remains the central problem in public education.

Common Core is not the answer, nor is any of the garbage being pushed through with it. What the US needs is an entire restructuring of the education system starting at the top, and filtering down through the state education officials, and the learning standards. These positions need to be filled by people with experience in education: teachers and administrators. The standards and objectives need to be written by the very same people who know what happens in a child’s development and what is achievable in the classroom.

Until then, stop blaming teachers. And unions. Because guess what, we don’t have unions anymore. In fact, we don’t have any representation or say in the construction of any of the policies we are forced to follow every day. Why is that?