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/

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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

Chapter 1

“But why? Why move? We’ve got a better place to live right now […]I can’t understand why everybody talks about changing things.” Jenner from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh

natchez trace

Mississippi

hollywood

California

tampa

Florida

houston

Texas

Change is hard. I should know. From the age of 18, I have moved five times. Each move was vastly different from the one before. From home to college. From college in Mississippi to married life in Los Angeles, California. From California to  Florida. From Florida to Mississippi. From Mississippi to Texas. Most of us like the stability of knowing our surroundings, and establishing relationships that stay constant. I am one of those people. I do not like starting over. I do not like change. But change comes. And with each of the changes I experienced, new experiences shaped me into who I am today. Without each of those steps along my journey, I would certainly not be writing this. In order to build a better anything, change must occur.

anne shirley pippy huck finn

I don’t know why, but throughout my life I have rarely been confident. My parents were both very confident and didn’t shy  away from much. Ironically, in the midst of a confident family I was shy and became extremely introverted the older I grew. During my 5th grade year of school, however, I found a way to become what I was not. It was within stories where I would find my own world. I oddly became transformed through the characters I met. It was sometimes a world of imagination and fantasy, as I read A Wrinkle in Time. Sometimes, I would escape and find confidence in characters like Pippy Longstocking or Huck Finn. And then, sometimes, I would stumble upon an escape so profound in my eyes, that I became consumed. While reading about Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables, I found a world of poetry and literature that moved me in such a way that I became a dreamer.

frisby
My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Bell, was the first teacher I can recall reading aloud to me. As I sat in her class and listened to her read, I became what she modeled. A reader. There are only two things about fifth grade I remember. One was using alphabet noodles to spell our weekly spelling words on our desk. I remember once that Mrs. Bell announced that the person who could spell the longest word would get a prize. I spelled “supercalifragilisticexpialodocious” never realizing she meant the longest word from our weekly list. I don’t think she had the heart to burst my enthusiasm, so I won the prize. The other thing I vividly recall during that year was listening to her read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh. Honestly, I would have to go back and revisit that story to really have a meaningful conversation about its plot. But here is what I do remember quite clearly. I remember the way in which she read. I remember her creating suspense with her volume and tone of voice. I remember hanging on the edge of my seat to find out if Mrs. Frisby’s family would escape unharmed. She created a world outside that fifth grade classroom for her students. I didn’t know then, that she would become an integral part of my educational philosophies.

moorhead moorhead2 wrinkle
From the resolution of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh on, I was hooked. I remember marching my brave soul down to our town library the day Mrs. Bell finished the story. I wanted a book of my own. Finishing an entire chapter book was an exciting new concept for me. I walked down the sidewalk and up to the main street of our “one red light” town. Mayberry kind of town. One dusty long center carpeted isle led me straight into the children’s section. I had never picked out a book on my own. Whereas most readers pick up a book because of the front cover, or the title, or even the summary on the back, I wanted the thickest book I could find. I didn’t even look at the titles. I ran my finger down the rows of books until I found, what was sure to be a book worthy of a dreamer, based solely on the width of its spine. Luckily, it turned out to be one of my favorites. A Wrinkle in Time gave me the escape I wanted then. Thankfully it was a great one. I shudder to think where I would be today had I picked up a copy of Hatchet or The Sign of the Beaver. Both great books, but would not have interested me in the slightest then.

glass menagerie scarlet letter the notebook homesick
Books became stepping stones on my journey. I can think back on my life with wonderful nostalgia and gratitude for particular stories that moved me a little further in my journey. It began with Mrs. Frisby and A Wrinkle in Time. Flash forward to The Glass Menagerie which showed me more of who I was and would become. I remember deeply identifying with Laura during a time when I felt a bit isolated and disconnected with the realities around me. Further along my path there I was reading The Scarlet Letter during a time where I was questioning spiritual matters. I certainly did not identify with Hester, the story’s protagonist, the way I had with Laura. But I did find myself feeling sorry for her even though she had done the unforgivable. This story was integral in shaping my outlook on sin and morality. This was a time when I had ditched my garments of shyness only to replace them with the cloak of rebellion. So stories of radicals moved me in some odd way. Then college came. A time where I was longing for my soulmate. I remember the book that spoke volumes to me during this time was Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook. Cliché? Yes. But in the midst of reading this book I found my Mr. Right. Further along my evolvement there were milestone books such as The Giver. Little did I know how much of an impact this story would have on my life, the lives of my students, and my educational career. It became my go to book. The book I carried around in my purse and pulled out when I needed to refer back to a passage I had underlined. Lois Lowry captivated my attention from chapter one and became a hero in my eyes. Another deeply moving and memorable milestone in my life was when I knew with a resounding clarity that I wanted to teach reading. My college professor, Dr. D’Amico, read aloud Walk Two Moons to her class on Children’s Literature. This book also became an integral part of my teaching career. Fast forward once again when I married my Mr. Right. The one who would listen to me read passages from Nicholas Sparks. We packed up our meager belongings and headed west. From Mississippi to California tears streamed down my face as I read the book my mom handed me before I climbed aboard the U-Haul. It was Homesick by Sela Ward. I was mad that my mom gave me this to read, when she clearly knew it would make me sad. But at the same time, this has been one of those stories that I needed for a reason and during a particular season of my life. I refer back to it often when I miss my Southern roots.

Looking back, books have been a constant in my life. I am so grateful to have had a teacher give me a love of reading. Otherwise, all those books that helped me along my way, might never have been read. Maybe I wouldn’t have become a school teacher. Maybe I wouldn’t have made it a priority to have as many books as possible in my home so that my children will never know a life without them. Certainly I wouldn’t be writing this. For it is from my love of reading and the effects that a love of reading can result in, that I am attempting this mountainous pursuit.

My confidence finally came. I finally found myself. In a classroom full of students, certainly not eager to read, transforming students became my mission. Turning nonreaders into readers became my drive. Not only did I set out to prove that I could change a nonreader into a reader, but I was determined to show those students that they loved reading. I believe that every person can love reading. It just takes the right book, and the right motivator to get them started. I became a motivator. To my surprise, the effects of passing on a love for literature were astonishing. I realized, as I grew both as an educator and a motivator, that I was accomplishing the same tasks that some teachers accomplished with a year’s worth of worksheets and projects, just by reading and having conversations about the books. What I learned and saw very clearly was this. Students can learn much more than we give them credit for. They can analyze much more deeply than we can imagine. They can problem solve, create, write, predict, comprehend, so much more than we allow them to. By giving students a love of reading, we are equipping them with the tools necessary to change the world. I don’t want to be a teacher who just teaches skills. I want to be a teacher who equips my students to go change the world. That, among many other things, is what reading can accomplish.