Our Children Are Not for Sale!

And this is the book that the newly hired CCSS book approval committee says has too much violence. I say if you are going to hire people to approve another adult’s choice of books, at least hire people who read.

https://stirringthemind.wordpress.com/tag/wonder/

Let’s teach WWII without showing scenes of war. Let’s tell our students to stand up to bullies without showing them the proper ways. Let’s tell our teachers we don’t trust their judgement in the classroom. Let’s go to Google for our book reviews rather than addressing our concerns with the people who have read the books and taught the lessons. Let’s let them have the book Holes, by Louis Sachar, about a boy who enters a juvenile detention and is met with much violence, but dismantle their author study on Lois Lowry because it shows scenes of war. Let’s not worry about the themes of love, forgiveness, honor, bravery, and redemption that come from those stories. Let’s take away all passion, autonomy, and creativity from teachers so that they are left feeling angry and defeated. Let’s run out our best teachers. This is what top down political agendas will do to the future of public school education and it is such a shame.

Teachers don’t choose books to see how controversial they can be. Teachers choose the stories that give way to rich meaningful discussion within their classrooms, that will foster a love of learning, that will turn a reluctant reader into a lover of literature.

I’m still angry. And I pray that parents, educators, administrators, superintendents,  and students will join in the fight against the political games being played. Our CHILDREN are not for sale Mr. Gates!

 

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CCSS, High Stakes Testing, and the Fine Print

I’d like to preface my thoughts by saying how proud I would be to be a New Yorker this week. http://changethestakes.wordpress.com/

I am not opposed to standards. I am not opposed to assessment either. The problem lies, as always, in the fine print. When we initially began implementing Common Core State Standards, I said over and over that we were already doing everything the standards called for. In our classes, we were covering every standard we were being told to start implementing. I know this because in my classroom, I charted for myself and for my students a list of both sets of standards. I am a visual learner and wanted to see what was being covered throughout our year.With every Common Core standard I taught, I’d mark through it with a sharpie… then move right beside it and mark out the Mississippi State benchmark that aligned with it. By the end of the year, there wasn’t anything on one chart that wasn’t on the other It wasn’t because we were so far ahead of the game. It was because the main frameworks really weren’t that different. Both sets of standards, Mississippi’s benchmarks as well as Common Core, were giving the same skills to teach a fifth grader. Common Core proponents were selling it to us with the statement that this wasn’t a script of how and what to teach but simply a road map of where we need to be going. How we got there was left entirely up to us as teachers and schools. Again, no different than before. We were planning curriculum maps on our teams that were completely independent of any other school in the district. And, the other schools were doing the same. There were some great sounding words that came along with CCSS. Words like complexity of text, rigor, more in depth, adding more literature are words that very few people are going to argue aren’t worthwhile for our children. But weren’t we already searching for the best and most complex text our students could achieve success with? Weren’t we already holding our students accountable to high and rigorous academic standards? I think so. Was it happening in every school, in every classroom across the state? Of course not. But that will be the case with any school year… Common Core or not. So why do we need Common Core? My opinion lies in number 6 below.

But the fine print of Common Core is what people are upset about. There’s an uprising among parents and educators (although few educators are speaking out) simply for just a few reasons. We feel we have been manipulated, misguided, misled, and bribed.  Here are my questions:

  1. If educators, principals, and school districts are, after such a plethora of new information on the topic has emerged, still fully invested in going forward with Common Core State Standards, why not speak out about why? Why tell teachers to not give their opinions? Its a fact that teachers have been told to not speak out. It’s a fact that teachers have been told their social media outlets will be monitored. It’s a fact that entire groups of teachers have been told that they can look elsewhere for a job if they don’t subscribe to Common Core State Standards. Public silencing is extremely concerning to those who are looking for answers.
  2. Educational reform isn’t new. But the amount of uprising is. Never, in my years as a student or an educator, have I seen such turmoil and controversy surrounding a new implementation. Why is that?
  3. In regards to high stakes testing, who are we really evaluating? I promise you, its not the kids. I would hope that teachers and principals who have parents opting out their children would take notice in a big way. These parents aren’t against the school or the teacher. In fact, they couldn’t be more of an advocate. By choosing to opt their child out of high stakes tests, they are stating that their school, principal, and teacher can’t be judged by a number. They are advocating for true learning as opposed to learning for a test. These parents get it! They are brave! I am in awe of their educational courage.
  4. Do we really teach kids? Or are we teaching a test? When instruction is driven by what we know is tested, there are things that get shoved under the rug. And trust me when I say, the things that get shoved under the rug are the things we WANT our teachers teaching.
  5. Why is home-school and private school enrollment on the rise?
  6. Why is it not clearly evident that this is all about money? Bottom line.

Below are the Mississippi State frameworks for the year 2010 and the 2013 Common Core national standards. Most of you will not be interested in scrolling through the many many pages to see how they compare and contrast. But if you are, well here they are.

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CDIQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.columbuscityschools.org%2Fplc%2FPLDs%2520Stems%2520and%2520Frameworks.pdf&ei=_EA8U9_DF6WYyAGjoYDgBw&usg=AFQjCNElNcTj4yMyF4A90YaNr1JFSXd1qQ&bvm=bv.63934634,d.aWc&cad=rja

http://www.mde.k12.ms.us/curriculum-and-instruction/english-language-arts

CCSS (a blurb for Jackson Jumbalaya)

Common Core State Standards and high stakes testing are buzz words being discussed and debated across the nation currently. As a teacher and a mom of two elementary age children, I have done my research and have strong opinions.

I was first introduced to the prospect of CCSS in 2010. All I knew of these new standards were that they were approaching and I would be required to teach them. I wasn’t too concerned with them, simply because this is nothing new in education. After being an educator for twelve years, I have seen mandates come and go. I have been trained on the latest trend in education, it seems, just about every year that I’ve been teaching. This was old hat. I’ve always been one of those teachers who look at the state frameworks list of skills, and then go teach my students with those skills as a basic guideline, not a final checklist. I’ve always looked at my students as future leaders of this great nation, who are in front of me for a reason. My students have always been my priority, not the government mandates or latest educational reform programs. I teach with passion and with purpose. I understand and agree that as a teacher, my purpose is to ensure that my students gain the proper knowledge before moving on to the next grade. However, my passion pushes me to foster their creativity and unique learning style. More importantly though, my passion drives my desire to help my students grow from the process of learning, not just focus on the end result. When we as teachers focus on the end result rather than the process of learning, we teach our children to value test scores rather than individuality. We teach them to value a number more than a big picture.

When CCSS finally arrived, and it was my turn to teach it, I took the positive from it. I saw the good in it. There are many great things about these standards. They require a more analytical approach to learning through literature. I appreciated the language I saw within the standards. Words like complexity of text really enticed me, because I am a lover of literature. One of the things I enjoy most about teaching is sharing great literature with my students. I have always valued book discussions and deeply analyzing passages with my students. Now, Common Core State Standards were actually telling me that this is what was required. I was perfectly okay with that. I was more than thrilled to up my game in order to foster more academic growth in my students. I saw that growth too. For two years, teaching the “Common Core” way, was very telling. The students began seeing deep connections from one piece of literature to another. They began pointing out the similarities between stories by the same author, or finding recurring themes as they read a series of books. Deep thinking and analytical reasoning became almost a friendly competition within our classroom. Students were jumping out of their seats to point out the dramatic irony and how that irony led to the overall theme of the story. It was magnificent seeing this coming from elementary students. I was impressed. I was loving CCSS.

As I began doing more research though, I began seeing things I didn’t like. I found out that in order for our state to be eligible for a grant (Race to the Top grants), we had to adopt the CCSS. We also had to adopt new assessment benchmarks. This makes sense initially. But as with our government involvement, things always seem to go awry. While schools were already being held accountable for teaching the CCSS, we were still being assessed the old way. The MCTs were still being given while teachers were teaching from a different set of standards. That doesn’t make much sense to me. How about aligning the assessment with the implementation of the standards? CCSS have drawn much criticism from both liberals and conservatives. I believe this is because many are finally seeing that top down takeover is not how we want our educational system run. The plethora of problems we have in our educational system will not be fixed by Common Core State Standards. I’m not sure what the fix is, unless we can find a way to making sure that every classroom in America has a highly qualified teacher who is actually empowered to teach. And when I say “highly qualified” I don’t mean the type of degree they have, or whether they are nationally board certified. What I mean by highly qualified is that they are passionate about their purpose. Instead of initiative draining programs and one size fits all curriculum, we need creativity, autonomy, and passion.  There’s a lot to be said for teacher autonomy. Unfortunately, we now have a culture that has been molded to not trust. We have federal government policy makers not trusting state officials. We have state officials not trusting local school districts. We have districts not trusting principals.  We have parents and principals not really trusting teachers. I hate to be the pessimist here, when I am completely the opposite within a classroom. Inside the walls of my classroom I become an idealist. I believe that students can achieve, I believe that I can motivate them and inspire them to go change the world.  It’s funny to me though that these mandates come from the top, but it’s only the people at the bottom who are outspoken about the effects. Why would that be? Could it be that the ones on the bottom (teachers) are the ones who actually know what’s going on? I’d say so. Teachers can’t fight alone. We need our parents, principals, districts, and state officials fighting alongside us. My less than favorable opinions about our top down levels of trust aren’t widespread. I don’t intend to generalize all government officials, all superintendents, all principals, all parents. There are plenty of supportive people out there who will fight to the death for education reform.

I have high expectations for this upcoming school year. I’m ready for it to begin. I have many hopes for this year. I hope that parents and teachers will come together as a team. I hope that parents will review their child’s test scores, which will come home soon after school begins, with a grain of salt. I hope that as a nation, we can begin to realize that our children are much smarter than these tests reveal, simply because these tests only reveal one corner of that 1000 piece puzzle. I hope that teachers will be driven by passion. I hope that children will be motivated and inspired by their teacher to dream big. Go change the world.

 

Questions

This blog has always been designated specifically to my students. However, tonight as I ponder the “why’s” of what MCE teachers do everyday, I am compelled to write this post for those of you who may question why.

The most frequently asked questions I have heard this year are 1) “Why do you read so many depressing stories in 5th grade?” and 2) Is this a Common Core “thing”?

Please indulge me for a moment while I express my joy over the literature we read in 5th grade. Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder. The literature that has been chosen for the fifth grade reading curriculum has come about over a span of five years. It has been a progression of realizations that has led us to our author study on Lois Lowry. Some may say that her books are too depressing…not appropriate….needing to be censored and edited too much. I say, those who think that either have not read her books, or have not seen the beauty that I take from her stories. Her Giver quartet gives a picture, when read together as intended, of true redemption and compassion.The lessons and discussions that come from each of these stories include seeing the beauty in our world, realizing that without despair, we could not cherish hope….without fear, we could not value freedom….without pain, we could not appreciate joy.  How many of us adults learned such beautiful life lessons such as this as fifth graders? Empathy, compassion, grace, mercy, and diversity are just a few of the topics discussed within these stories. Lois Lowry enables us, through her stories, to see the beauty in our own world from seeing the struggles in her characters’ worlds. Many of us do not have the slightest clue what it is like to struggle, to need. These characters know pain and turmoil on a level that we have never known in our safe worlds. Because of their struggle to escape their conflicts to find harmony and beauty, we see their pure joy over the wonders of a world as safe and colorful and happy as our own. So for the word “depressing” to be used to describe Lois Lowry’s literature, I cringe just a bit. Only because my heart is full of joy as I end each story with my class. My smile is a mile wide at the end of each story as my students realize the same truths I have time and time again. I have read The Giver twelve times now. Never once has it become old or mundane, because of the discussions and emotions that come about as a result of it. Please bear with me, if you are a concerned parent. Please trust that I teach these stories from a deep heartfelt place of love and compassion. Please know that my goal is not to check items off of a list to teach your child, but to give them a lasting memory of what beauty looks like. Beauty from words is the best beauty of all in my opinion.

Is this a Common Core “thing”… The simple answer to this question is a resounding no. I think the best way to express what I believe Common Core to be is to tell you what Common Core is not.
1. It is not a book of worksheets to be run off.
2. It is not a checklist of skills to be taught.
3. It is not an item that can bought at school aids.
4. It is not giving 5th graders 7th grade work and calling it a day.
Common Core, to me, means that as a teacher I am teaching in the most deeply connected way that I can. My students should be able to see how science, social studies, and reading all come together. My students should be able to tell me why an author feels the way they do based on the textual evidence from our stories. My students no longer have to tell me what is being personified in a poem, but how that personification contributes to the overall theme of the story. Deep thinking is required. Therefore, deep thinking is modeled on a daily basis.

I am not an expert. I am only a teacher with a very idealistic view of what teachers do and what students should learn. I value my profession more than you know and strive daily to build a community of learners in my classroom, who will one day become a community of leaders.

I will leave you with just a few of my favorite Lois Lowry quotes.

“Of course they needed to care. It was the meaning of everything.”
Lois Lowry, The Giver

“Be proud of your pain, for you are stronger than those with none.”
Lois Lowry, Gathering Blue

“But now he knew that there were communities everywhere, sprinkled across the vast landscape of the known world, in which people suffered. Not always from beatings and hunger, the way he had. But from ignorance. From not knowing. From being kept from knowledge.”
Lois Lowry, The Messenger

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”
Lois Lowry, The Giver

“They were satisfied with their lives which had none of the vibrance his own was taking on. And he was angry at himself, that he could not change that for them.”
Lois Lowry, The Giver