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 (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.