Tag Archives: Diane Ravitch

What Would I Testify About Common Core?

Stop Common Core

Sometimes the most random things inspire a new thought or a new way of thinking. That just happened to me March 4th, 2014.

Every night, I read a book to help me sleep, unless if it’s a cracking good book like Divergent which kept me up instead of proving needed rest (thanks, Jenifer Anderson!) Just before reading the book for two solid hours, I was thinking about testimony I’ve seen lately decrying Common Core and its accompanying PARCC tests from the likes of Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Dr. James Milgram, Diane Ravitch, and Mercedes Schneider. I wondered to myself, “What would I say about Common Core and PARCC?” It’s an important question that all teachers should be able to answer for themselves.

What would I say?

I would say that it’s been thirty-three years since I sat in an Algebra I class watching a magnificent teacher standing in front of an ancient chalkboard, with chalk dust appropriately sprinkled on his dark colored pants. That man held such passion for what he was doing, and I realized that I wanted that same passion in whatever I did. It was a double blessing because I also realized that teaching other students, just like he was doing, was something I wanted to do as well. In that fall of 1982 was when I knew I was going to become a teacher, and it’s greatly due to Dr. Donald Voorhies, math teacher extraordinaire and now, a dear friend. I have never wavered in those thirty-three years, though the present climate is certainly doing its best to penalize and stigmatize good teachers for resisting the folly called Common Core.

I would also say that I’ve never quite realized what I wanted to do with those students I’ve taught since 1991. I have taught every math except Geometry and every social studies class out there, so I’ve seen a wide spectrum of courses. It was only last night that I understood with clarity what my goal of teaching was: to create educated, loving human beings.

I understand wholeheartedly that the subject matter is important, and I would never shirk on teaching the specifics of any subject, but it’s what goes on WHILE teaching the class that also matters. How I interact with the students, how I set an example of appropriate behavior—molding the good, eliminating the bad—and how I craft their interactions with others, those are the things for which I live. When a student once came to me after class to pay for another student’s class fee because that student couldn’t, when a student stops to help another one whose books have just fallen, and especially when a student came to hug me after my mother had abruptly died only seventeen days after being diagnosed with cancer, it is then more than ever that I know I’m in the right profession.

“What would I say about Common Core?”

And I have news for Common Core and PARCC supporters: those things will never test how successful my students will be at that never-ending class called life. There were more test designers than teachers crafting Common Core, and it shows in its unrealistic arrangement of subject material. Those PARCC tests will never evaluate the kindness and joy that these young adults-in-training will have for life. Louisiana may still be marching to the Common Core Madness, but now that parents are becoming more aware of its inflexibility and its affinity for teaching alternative methods of solving problems as the only acceptable method, the march has begun to stall. Most importantly, it will never help me create aspects of an educated, loving human being.

And then I would thank everyone for listening attentively. It’s the polite thing to do.


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A New Year’s Resolution List I Wish To Share

Dr. Diane Ravitch, a tireless defender of public school education, a diligent champion at exposing corporate education reform for the hoax that it is, and author of Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, has composed a New Year’s Wish List.

Photo by Paul Wolfe in Salon.com article "Testing and vouchers hurt our schools. Here’s what works" by Sara Scribner

Photo by Paul Wolfe in Salon.com article “Testing and vouchers hurt our schools. Here’s what works” by Sara Scribner

I am attaching it here in a link. (http://dianeravitch.net/2014/01/01/happy-new-year-to-all/) Here are a few highlights:

Let us continue to insist on a better education for all, not just more testing and more standardization.

Let us remember that the purpose of public education is not just to prepare for college and careers, but to prepare for citizenship in a democracy as responsible persons.

Let us continue to struggle for the day when public officials recognize that testing is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

A wonderful 2014 to you all.

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The Difference Between Instruction and Learning

While reading the many educational posts from the untiring Diane Ravitch, I read a response by a doctoral candidate that struck me with its clarity: there is a vast difference between instruction and learning. It’s a difference worth exploring.

A teacher is responsible for instruction, for preparing lessons that will lead to student learning. They outline what activities will occur during the class period, whether it’s fifty or ninety minutes, how the class will begin and end, and what reinforcements will be assigned in the form of homework. Good teachers take their years of experience and model the behaviors they want from their students, varying the level of difficulty for those students with myriad learning levels. They must also constantly monitor classroom behavior and minimize disruptions from students who are still being, well, students: young kids with short attention spans and likes/dislikes of fellow kids. This vigilance is equally as important as the lesson itself, because without classroom control, no instruction is possible. Along with this awareness is an alertness to determine if the students are grasping the concepts being taught, and if not, to spend more time on those skills.

A student is responsible for learning the material, for paying attention to the lesson, for copying down the examples, and imitating the processes presented in the class. They are responsible for doing the homework, bringing it to class, going over it in class, and turning it in. They are responsible for preparing for the assessment when it arrives, and that does not mean cramming the night before the test, but absorbing the material a little every night by practicing just a small portion every evening.

The path between instruction and learning is precious and perilous. Many things threaten that journey. Sickness often puts children at a disadvantage, especially when they miss more than a single day but several due to a lengthy illness. Economic situations often force young adults from high school to take on a job to help the family, even though it robs needed time for homework and test preparation. Social situations—single parent families, homelessness, moving from parent to parent—also make stable home situations less likely, and some of those youngsters have to take on the role of raising their younger siblings. Students going through puberty have erratic sleep patterns that make staying awake during school a challenge, and some just don’t see the point of school. Never-ending technology in terms of computers, phones, and gaming devices suck away precious time to reinforce the day’s lessons. All these factors can block the path between the teacher instructing and the students learning.

Standardized tests like End of Course tests (EOC), Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC), and Graduate Exit Exam (GEE) all test one thing directly: student learning. They gauge if the student has learned the material presented in the class. These tests do NOT measure the quality of the instruction. They do not take into account all those threats to student learning mentioned above. They wrongly assume that if students failed to learn, then the teacher failed to instruct. That is a false assumption and a false correlation.

People in power use that false assumption to say that if a student has failed to learn, then the teacher failed to instruct and should be fired. According to this narrow-minded thinking, schools with a large number of failing students should also be closed. This is most pernicious in New York State: Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo have shuttered several low-performing schools and have threatened teachers based on their students’ test scores. Louisiana under Governor Bobby Jindal and Education Superintendent John White have reinforced this false connection by having any teacher rated ineffective losing their tenure and become an at-will employee, capable of being terminated with little due process. Instead of encouraging teachers to be their best, to strive for greater excellence, teachers are demoralized, depressed, and worried that despite their best efforts, they could still lose their jobs. What an unhealthy way to promote education.

Common Core Standards, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and Race to the Top all promote this fallacy that poor student learning must equate with poor teacher instruction. Thanks to NCLB, we must test our children every year to see if they learn, where many countries that outperform us on international tests never barrage their students with yearly tests. PARCC tests require more sophisticated computers, so we will spend billions on computers, forcing spending cuts, firing teachers, and increasing class sizes. All this emphasis on testing and on blaming teachers is just wrong. It is fraying the fabric of public education, the foundation of our future, for the sake of instant gratification, of trying to look like we’re doing something significant.

This is a complex problem not fixable by this simple, short-sighted solution.

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I Would Like My Students To Be Happy, Healthy, and Enthusiastic Learners

I subscribe to the indefatigable blogger Diane Ravitch, author of the best-seller Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. One of the comments she made recently was that in Finland, teachers “want their students to be happy, healthy, and enthusiastic learners. They did not care about test scores.” That quote resulted in this article.

I would like my students to be “happy, healthy, and enthusiastic learners.” Unfortunately, I must battle against so many things to achieve that in my state. Having no children of my own, I figure somebody has to defend the students.

I pondered what did I want for my learners? I have taught both mathematics and social studies—with twelve years of yearbook/journalism thrown in for good measure—for over twenty years. My first sixteen years were in the private school system in Louisiana, so I never contemplated the hoops teachers jumped through as each new educational fad or fix found its way through the state. When I switched to the public school system, I found the situation murkier but still found hope in teaching my subject to the students.

In the switch to public school teaching, I found myself faced with a situation I have greeted with increasing dread as the years have passed: the parish designs well-meaning curriculum guides that fly in the face of common sense. The order of the material was disjointed, jumping from chapter to chapter, paying little attention to the design of the textbook. (Those books are usually designed by highly-qualified experts with a combined experience of more than a century, and most math textbooks have a similar outline in material.) Questions from chapter 6 (quadratics) require that I teach the material from chapter 5, but sometimes we jumped headlong into chapter 6 and then return later to chapter 5. Try telling students that there is an orderly, step-by-step approach to math while we’re jumping from topic to topic like whack-a-mole gamers. National Math Teacher-of-the-Year Dr. Donald Voorhies trained me, and his steady, methodical approach made the material accessible, built student confidence, and allowed students to regularly sweep math tournaments and rally competitions. My parish’s approach was haphazard at best, and I have not seen an Algebra II curriculum guide in seven years that has matched what I used to do in the private school system.

Then one year I taught Algebra I. The curriculum map was particularly horrid—all factoring had disappeared—and I found that I had no choice but to give Edusoft tests. The parish created these one-size-fits-all tests that were given to gifted, honors, and regular students to see whether they had mastered the material At first I found this rather self-defeating: at the end of each unit—there were eight—I was supposed to sacrifice a day of valuable teaching to give a test, but at the same time, I saw some value in the tests. At the end of the year, all Algebra I students would have to take an End of Course (EOC) test to determine whether they passed or failed the subject, and the questions on these smaller tests would mirror the final test. The program also had the added bonus of identifying the percentage of students who got the question correct. So if 80% of the students missed a particular question, then I needed to revisit that topic with them. This is called data-driven or data-directed learning.

My positive outlook on the tests quickly vanished as the tests rolled out. Of the eight unit tests, I gave six and the scores varied widely. Sometimes 87% of my students scored in the highest three bars—the program divided students into five categories, with some weird numerical divisions—and sometimes the number only hit in the 50s. I normally was not worried because I was teaching two sections of honors students, but I wondered what regular students made of these complex questions. The biggest concern I had was that the questions were phrased in ways that I rarely used, were excessively wordy, and seemed designed to confuse the students. I have no problem rephrasing my questions, but it would have been nice to have a heads-up on the way these test questions are written. Naturally the teachers were never given access to the test beforehand because that usually results in the wretched phenomenon called “Teaching to the Test.” Even more alarming to me were the questions that had no correct answers, which showed up more frequently than I care to admit. In the end, I surmised that the six lost teaching days, the 300 lost minutes of classroom material was not worth the tests that were being given, and I could have done so much more with the students with that time.

Common Core is the hurricane-du-jour striking Louisiana and in preparation for the harder PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test, my parish designed a test for the end of each module. Once again, I am required to sacrifice valuable teaching time to give these tests to see if the students learned the material. Let me say that I was underwhelmed by the first test and did not hesitate to share my supreme disappointment with the test designers. There were three skills that were overly-tested, as in giving three to five questions that tested the same skill when one would have sufficed, and there were eight skills that we were instructed to teach that never showed up on the test at all. Even worse, there were seven questions that tested material we were NOT instructed to teach; I had little choice but to tell the students to guess as we had not gotten to those skills yet. Those topics were actually in the next module and I included the page numbers as proof. Understandably I have not endeared myself to central office personnel and often joke to colleagues—with an alarming element of truth involved—that I might find myself looking for a new job next year.

So what do I want? I would like my students to be “happy, healthy, and enthusiastic learners.” Unfortunately, I must battle against Common Core, Engage New York, Governor Bobby Jindal, Education Superintendent John White, the Louisiana BESE Board, and sometimes people closer to home to achieve that result. Having no children of my own, I figure somebody has to defend the students.

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A Rising Tide Against Common Core

I believe that the tide is rising against Common Core, and I couldn’t be happier.

It certainly did not help when Louisiana Education Superintendent John White inexplicably moved up the date for full implementation of Common Core. When Louisiana adopted the Common Core Standards, 2012-2014 were designated as two transitional years, with full implementation in 2014-2015 school year. Suddenly White moved full implementation to 2013-2014 and then provided no curricula to assist this drastic change. Every Parish was left to their own devices and the leadership from White and the Department of Education was nonexistent.

The reaction has been swift. On October 10, 2013, the School Board of St. Tammany Parish passed a resolution asking that Louisiana remove itself from both Common Core and the PARCC tests accompanying it. On October 22, the Vermilion Parish School Board under Superintendent Jerome Puyau passed a resolution requesting a three-year delay of Common Core and any testing associated with it. Representative Cameron Henry (D-Metarie) has promised to fill legislation in the 2014 session to remove Louisiana from Common Core. As of yesterday, Washington Parish has also requested essentially the same thing as St. Tammany, and parishes are sharing their resolutions with each other.

I believe this is only the beginning. Parents and educators are organizing numerous webpages to educate people as well as spreading the word how to defend our students and teachers. Tireless defenders of teachers like Diane Ravitch and Lee Barrios continue to reflect on the flimsiness of Common Core and the assault on public education from the private sector. The chorus of angry, legitimate voices continues to swell.

As parents and educators rally and organize, the supporters of Common Core are circling the wagons. They have resorted to the weak line of logic that removing Louisiana from Common Core would somehow hurt our students, leaving them behind the rest of the country. My favorite line was that “We can’t be left with nothing and put that on the back of teachers and schools.” Actually, that’s precisely what John White just did to the state of Louisiana by moving up the full implementation date. Exactly how Louisiana students would be hurt by our removal from Common Core, supporters can never say.

I have written repeatedly about the problematic and systematically-flawed creation of Common Core, that its twenty-five authors had little or no classroom experience, and that involving teachers in some nebulous “feed-back” loop after the standards were done is not the same thing as involving teachers from the beginning. Supporters of Common Core never address this critical point, always parroting the answer that “thousands” of teachers were involved—somehow, somewhere—without any explanation of what that means. Let me state forcefully that this “reform” movement purposefully cut teachers out of important contributions because this “reform” movement is fueled by people with no respect for classroom teachers.

I wonder which parish will be next to pass a resolution asking for removal from Common Core?



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Simple and Straightforward: This Is How I Feel.

Recently Diane Ravitch published a link to an article by an incredible woman that expressed exactly the frustrations I and so many of my fellow teachers are feeling. Her name is Marilou Johanek, writing for The Blade, and a link to her entire article is below. I wish I could have expressed those sentiment as succinctly as she did.

“Public schools are buffeted by all sorts of competing agendas that seek to influence policy on charter schools, vouchers, value-added measures, unfunded mandates, high-stakes tests, and Common Core. Who wants a piece of the public school action?

Those who work in local schools are as frustrated as those on the outside, trying to make sense of the upheaval. Educators are exasperated with cyclical attempts at school reform that are hastily embraced and poorly developed.

Administrators are tired of begging for money. Property owners are sick of school levies. Parents are dismayed with eliminated programs, laid-off faculty and staff, and pay-to-play sports.

Students are numb and joyless about learning. They’re guinea pigs for revised expectations, exams, and for-profit education.

Public education is at a crossroads. It needs advocates to sustain it as an indispensable public service. Fortunately, a grass-roots campaign is forming to raise awareness of what’s at stake in public education.”

Read the entire article at http://www.toledoblade.com/MarilouJohanek/2013/11/02/New-group-befriends-beleaguered-public-education.html#LF7LeZPVlsQZU2u4.99

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A Letter From New York Highlights Similarities Between John White and John King.

In her vigilant fight to preserve educational excellence in the US, Diane Ravitch posted this letter from a mother who spoke at one of New York Chancellor John King’s informational gatherings around New York State. This one was held in Port Chester, New York, and her letter and testimony is included below. It is interesting to note that Louisiana’s Superintendent of Education John White has followed an almost identical path to New York Commissioner John King. Neither King nor White has taught more than three years in a classroom. Both gentleman then spent all their educational experience in leadership positions, King founding a private charter school, and White serving as Deputy Superintendent in New York. Both gentlemen had the support of powerful governors, and both are pushing PARCC testing for their states. New York has already implemented one round of testing, with disastrous first-round scores, and Louisiana is supposed to start in 2014-2015. Even more telling, Bianca Tanis speaks about her son, who has autism and who had to take the high-stakes tests. Louisiana under John White required its special education students to take the ACT test also, until Louisiana legislator John Bel Edwards (D)  stepped in with HB 343 to correct this oversight. Both men are under intense pressure and scrutiny.

Here is that mother’s letter to Diane Ravitch.

“Dear Diane,

Last night I attended the Common Core Forum in Port Chester, NY. I was number 6 to speak.It was an incredible feeling to finally be able to look Commissioner King in the eye and say what I have been wanting to say to him for the past 6 months, and to know that this time, he would have to hear me. But that’s the thing, he didn’t hear me or anyone else for that matter.

I brought my almost 80 year old father to the forum. Before last night he was only peripherally aware of education reform. As we left, he was holding back tears, overwhelmed by the pain that he heard parents and teachers expressing and moved by the dozens of parents, teachers and administrators who had spoken so eloquently on behalf of children. I too was moved but I was also angry.

Despite being forced to listen to dozens of parents, superintendents and teachers say over and over again that the current education reform is hurting children and public education, Commissioner King was unmoved. King had not heard me or anyone else for that matter. Despite his 12 stop mea culpa tour, King is going full steam ahead with his corporate, hostile takeover of education.

Back when I was a 28 year old mother of 2 children on the Autism spectrum, I worked hard to return to graduate school and become a teacher. During my teacher training I lost my little brother to cancer and watched my son undergo numerous surgeries. Through it all I continued my graduate work and maintained a near perfect GPA. I don’t tell you these things because I want sympathy or accolades, but to make the point that I know perseverance, I know struggle…the qualities that commissioner king believes that 8 and 9 year olds should experience as the means of motivating them to achieve career and college readiness. And part of what has helped me to persevere and to push through the tough times is my ability to stop and reflect, to change course when one paradigm no longer works. I am saddened and angered that public education is led by someone who is willing to do neither.

I have attached my testimony from the forum below. This is what our commissioner of education didn’t hear.Commissioner King must resign because as parents and educators, we deserve better.

Bianca Tanis
Parent, educator and co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education

“My son has autism and your reforms have hurt him. You mandate schools to share sensitive student data. You force students with disabilities to submit to inappropriate and humiliating testing. Only now, 5 months later, after you have had to endure public outcry, are you willing to consider changes. Where was common sense and decency 5 months ago when parents begged to for their children to be exempt and when children with disabilities were being tortured. You should be ashamed.

“These reforms are not about education. They are about the agenda of billionaires with no teaching experience. The fact that your close advisors are the mysterious Regents Fellows, individuals with little to no teaching experience, who are paid 6 figure salaries with private donations by Bill Gates and Chancellor Meryl Tisch, speaks volumes. Private money comes with a price tag and that price tag is influence. We reject leadership that allows public education to be bought. That is not democracy. By the way, the Regents Fellow job description does not mention teaching experience as a requirement.

“It has been said that parent opposition is typical when change is introduced. There is nothing typical about the present response. The incompetent roll out of the common core and the naked disregard that has been shown for developmentally appropriate and educationally sound practice is unacceptable. Your recent concessions are disingenuous and a case of too little too late. They do nothing to reduce the hours of testing or the inappropriate level of test difficulty. They do nothing to make cut scores reasonable or address serious problems associated with high stakes testing.

“In addition to hurting children, your policies promote social inequality. Private school parents, such as your self have the opportunity to say to no to harmful testing and data sharing while public school parents are not afforded the same rights. Are you afraid of what would happen if you gave all parents a choice?

“The inadequacy of our schools is a manufactured crisis. Poverty is the number one indicator of student achievement. When you factor in poverty, US schools are at the top. New York deserves real leadership that addresses real issues. If you won’t provide that leadership, we need someone who will.”

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