Mass Produced?

“They said she was timid and shy but had the courage of a lion. They were full of phrases like radical humility and quiet fortitude. What does it mean to be quiet and have fortitude? How could you be shy and courageous? [Rosa] Parks herself seemed aware of this paradox, calling her autobiography Quiet Strength – a title that challenges us to question our assumptions. Why shouldn’t quiet be strong? And what else can quiet do that we don’t give it credit for?”

“Take the partnership of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.: a formidable orator refusing to give up his seat on a segregated bus wouldn’t have had the same effect as a modest woman who’d clearly prefer to keep silent but for the exigencies of the situation. And Parks didn’t have the stuff to thrill a crowd if she’d tried to stand up and announce that she had a dream. But with King’s help, she didn’t have to.” – from  Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

Take it from a true introvert: finding your voice among all the publicly outspoken, wise, intelligent reformers out there today is intimidating. I do not claim to know it all. In fact, there are so many lines that are blurred for me amidst all of the differing points of view out there today. But I offer my opinions and thoughts as a modest sword to those who do want to take up this battle more loudly. If you are the outspoken voice who finds yourself on the actual steps of this fight,  I am the Rosa Parks to your Martin Luther King Jr.

I offer no profound insight that hasn’t been splashed on every social media outlet available. I only contribute what I have experienced as a mom and educator. A mom for seven years and an educator for twelve.

I believe one of the biggest battles we have on our hands today in regards to education reform is high stakes testing. It’s an issue I find myself wrestling with, simply because things are rarely black and white. The gray areas always confuse me. The devil’s advocate in me propels me to research BOTH sides of this fight. I have read and read and read from both advocates of standardized testing and proponents of the opt out movement. The advocates of high stakes testing would have us believe that we are doing an injustice by opting our children out. That these tests are invaluable to diagnosing the learned from the unlearned. But from my experience as a teacher, more harm than good comes from them. These numbers placed on districts, schools, principals, teachers, and students rarely (if ever) are used to help the child. And isn’t that why we do what we do? If the tests are a measure of student learning, then why are teachers going in their classrooms and shutting the door to do some secret test prep so that the scores favor her in the end? If the tests are a measure of student learning, then why are there students who excelled in the classroom all year but scored low on the standardized test? If the tests are a measure of student learning, then why are we not using the data the next school year to strengthen their individual academic weaknesses?

If you look for synonyms of standardized, you’ll see words such as make uniform, regulate, institutionalize, mass produce. Isn’t that scary? If we are truly meant to be differentiating instruction, how can one uniform standardized test measure successful knowledge? It’s a flawed system to say the least. There has to be a better way. I don’t want my children, or yours for that matter, “mass produced.” I don’t want our teachers feeling the pressured need to teach to a test because such high stakes are at hand. I don’t want our children missing out on the beauty of learning because it’s not a tested item or skill.

I’ll continue to read. I’ll continue to research. There has to be a better way. And by the way, if I hear the word “rigor” one more time…

 

 

CCSS Now Affecting Those I Love

This blog post today is specifically for the Madison County Public School District in Madison, Mississippi. As I sit at my computer this morning ready to fight for something worthwhile, I am shaking with disappointment. SO….

To Whom It May Concern:

I am no longer an employee of yours, but your state, town, schools, faculty, administrators, and students are very much still apart of my daily thoughts. Heart and soul is what I poured into your district for five wonderful years. I began my teaching career in Los Angeles, California, then moved to teaching in Tampa, Florida, and then ended in Madison, Mississippi. I read to my students every year whether I taught language arts, ancient civilizations, Mississippi history, social studies, or yearbook. And every year, it was the same book… which eventually became the same series. I had administrators in every school trust and encourage my passion for The Giver and the series surrounding it. The lessons, truly remarkable life lessons, that stemmed from those readings never let me down. I’m not going to push a book that I don’t feel is worthy of creating something magical for children. What this series accomplishes is nothing short of heart wrenching… in a good way. We even had our math teacher, Mel Lanke, so encouraged by this series that she took time to read it to her students in math. Any book that fosters such a love of learning can’t be dismissed.

Unfortunately, I hear that you are not approving this series for next year at Madison Crossing. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine why in the world you would take away from teachers and students something that has proven itself to be instrumental in affecting the lives of students. Maybe you should walk the halls and interview or just peek in on the kids and teachers reading it and discussing it. Maybe you should reconsider for Common Core’s sake even. Aren’t we supposed to be engaging our students through complexity of text? Aren’t we supposed to be rigorously raising the bar on academic expectations? This series, along with Lois Lowry’s memoir and her Number the Stars was a year long author study that not only provided such great in depth conversations about the beauty in our lives, but it also allowed for such intellectual discussion on literary devices, recurring themes from an author, and really immersing one’s self into the world of an author.

I strongly encourage you to read the following blog posts that I wrote last year. I wrote my way through the year, journaling every wonderful moment with my students because of these books. I encourage you to not just read the posts, but the comments from students as well. We had teachers and principals from all over the district and state visiting our classrooms because of what we were doing with these books. Dare I say, you are wrong. You are wrong to take this away. I’d like to know if the committee that chose to disapprove this series has even read the series.

I’m not a fighter. But I do take huge stands in the world of education. I am passionate about teaching children through literature. I am passionate about instilling a love of reading in students who are reluctant. I am passionate about using emotion and inspiration to engage a child in my classroom. That is what this series does.  I am confident that the ones making this decision are unaware of so many things. How could they possibly know what these books have accomplished? What are they basing their decisions on? Hopefully not Google or some site that says that they are controversial. Because if that is the case, the decision makers are replacing trust in educators with ignorance. I do not apologize for this fight I find myself battling. This is exactly why people are fighting Common Core. Because, simply put, we don’t need non teaching adults to tell teaching adults what is and isn’t acceptable for the classroom. Top down politics are in play here and that is so disheartening. To assume the role of rule maker and lesson planner and book chooser without ever having read the book or taught it is, for lack of a better term, insane.

I’ve heard your reasons and with all due respect, they are misguided. As teachers, we can teach lessons about standing up to bullies or fighting for a belief. As teachers we can teach lessons about past wars and tragedies. But how do we do that effectively without the examples of war and bullying? Without examples of despair, how can we give hope?

Below are the links to my posts. Don’t walk away from this decision until you have read them. If you do, you are doing a disservice to the wonderful teachers on the fifth grade team at Madison Crossing. More importantly, though, you are doing a disservice to the amazing young minds just waiting to bloom and blossom.

Sincerely,

Amy DuBose

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

https://stirringthemind.wordpress.com/tag/author-study/

https://stirringthemind.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/a-year-of-reading/

https://stirringthemind.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/its-all-coming-together/

https://stirringthemind.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/questions/

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.