Common Core: The Good, The Bad, and The Reality

Last year, I wrote the post “How Common Core is Slowly Changing My Child.”  It struck a nerve with parents and teachers across the country as we all were adjusting to the new Common Core State Standards. I wrote it on a night where everything went wrong and homework was a nightmare for my then third grade son. That day had also been particularly difficult at work as I had begun to teach the first common core module unit to my ninth graders. After the kids went to bed, I wrote. By morning, the response was overwhelming. Two weeks later, I still had parents commenting on the change they had seen in their children due to school.

A year later, almost to the date, the post is making its way onto people’s newsfeed again and I’m getting the same comments from concerned parents and teachers.  It’s been a year since I sat on my couch on that October night, angry at New York State for implementing these standards so hastily, but my thoughts are still the same.

Let me be clear:  I am just one teacher. Just one mom. I am not speaking on behalf of every teacher across the country, nor am I speaking on behalf of every mom of school aged children. But I do think we have a lot in common, and my experience over the past year speaking with teachers and parents across the country is that there is more harm than good that is happening with the implementation of common core.  The standards, in essence, have good intentions. Who can argue that raising the bar and giving all kids in every state a fair shot at these higher standards is a bad thing?  Like I said, the intentions are good.

However, the rushed implementation of these standards and the educational practice that has been going along with them has been nothing short of a disaster.

My experience with common core is first as an educator:  I teach it in my classroom at the high school level, and second as a mother: I see what my children are doing at the middle and elementary level. A line that I wrote in my first post that I did not articulate clearly enough addressed high school teachers and our role in common core: “But let’s work backwards: our high school teachers signed up for this. We can get our kids college and career ready and if we don’t, shame on us.”  High school teachers were angry at that, but what I meant is that since choosing to teach secondary education our goal has always been to prepare our students for the post-secondary education world, whether it be entering the workforce or entering college. Making our students “college and career ready”, the whole basis of common core, is nothing new to us.

What I did not know at the start of the common core implementation, was how common core would look in an elementary classroom, nor was I prepared for what it would do to my children.

The implementation of these standards has also introduced a new curriculum that many schools across New York State have adopted: modules. These modules can be found on the engageNY website, and from what I understand, schools in various states are also using the engageNY modules. Suddenly, rather than allowing teachers to use their expertise, experience, and knowledge to create units aligned to the new standards, teachers were now being handed scripted units to use instead.  Units that were not created by teachers, but rather large businesses that did not take into account the different demographics or needs of each district. These modules have taken the creativity away from the teacher. They have taken hands on activities out of the classroom and replaced them instead with close reads and textual evidence lesson after lesson. Our English teachers are now becoming Social Studies and economics teachers. One of the ninth grade modules had me teaching about hedge funds, Ponzi schemes, leveraged money and Bernie Madoff—to fourteen year olds. The modules I work with are age inappropriate, redundant, and boring.  I am doing the best I can to make them engaging and fun. Every teacher I know who is teaching using the modules, is doing the best they can with the materials they have.

The modules my children are using are no better.  The ELA modules at the elementary level are much the same that I see at the ninth grade level. Passages, close reads, annotating, writing using textual evidence. There is value in that skill. Being an active reader and providing textual evidence is an important skill that is integrated into all subject areas.  But where is the funYes, the fun.  Elementary school should be equal parts challenging and fun.  Our elementary school teachers are creating lifetime learners who love to learn. Taking the fun out of school is taking the love out of school. These ELA modules have replaced fun with “rigor.” The math modules are so complex that parents can no longer effectively help their children with homework.  We are working on homework for hours.   Last week, my husband and I spent an hour on the engageNY website learning a seventh grade math module lesson, arguing over how to solve for x and y and where to substitute k .  We are highly educated adults, not twelve year olds. How does this translate in an average seventh grade math class?  My guess?  Not well. I can tell you from the anger and frustration on my son’s face as we sat trying to force this concept on him that it has been a unit full of frustration. The same goes for our fourth grade son as well. Homework time at our house is usually met with tears and more often than not, broken pencils and frustrated foot stomping up the stairs to bed.

The concepts are simple. The lengthy process to prove the children understand the concept is not. The reasoning behind the in depth (sometimes six extra steps to solve a simple multiplication problem) is so the children have a better understanding of numbers and how they work. What parents and children are so frustrated about, however, is that our kids know the answer. But after six steps there is more room for error and more room for confusion. Which all leads to more room for frustration.

I stand by my statement that these challenges don’t make our kids feel like they are on the road to being college and career ready in fourth grade.  It makes them feel like failures. Why?  Because even though they know that 6×5=30, they still got the answer wrong on the test because they weren’t able to “decompose” the problem properly.

A year later, I still see a change in my son. My older son is rolling right along.  I wouldn’t say he is enjoying it, he complains about the module packets and the nonstop close reads, but he is faring well. My younger son is still struggling. He lost his love for school that he had in kindergarten, first, and second grade. He’s active in sports and participates in the school band which helps us motivate him to get on the bus but his attitude toward learning is negative. He believes he’s stupid even though we tell him otherwise and even though he is not.  We can’t get back these years with him.

But we can fight for him.

aiden cc 2

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Dear Neighbors:

To My New Neighbors:

You see that green house behind us?  That sweet couple who likes their nightly cocktail on the deck? We have been tormenting them for nine years.  They know more about the inner workings of our family than anyone… the good, the bad, the ugly.  I’m sure they have an appropriate drinking game to go along with the six o’clock ugliness of hungry fighting that happens with my kids every evening. When they begin to hear the kitchen window slam shut, they know I have now attempted to block out some of the impending yelling that will take place, which doesn’t even muffle the sounds because our houses are just soclosetogether.  (I hope she is feeling better.  She was sneezing an awful lot the other day.)

What started as  toddler tantrums when we first moved in (and a 7:00 bedtime…at least they had that) has evolved into hormonal disputes, interesting name calling, and a touch of physicality. And that is all before I get involved.

New neighbors, take heed. They will fight. I try to keep it in check. I really really really hope you have loud kids, too.

And to my dear sweet neighbors in the green house, take comfort in this:  one day, my boys will own their own homes, and if karma has any sense of humor, she will give them neighbors with a pair brothers who are just like them.

Sincerely,

Mrs MB

Moms Who Write and Blog

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Doing The Best We Can

We are wrapping up our second week of summer vacation here in sunny Western New York, and I just came out of my two week hibernation/slumber/fog of recovering from the past ten months. This year was a tough one. With all of the changes both at school and at home, and a schedule change that threw our family for a loop, we barely made it through some days. But, I did the best I could. Some days my best was making it to the bathroom 12th period without peeing my pants a little bit. Some days my best was finding the shirt my son was looking for in the first laundry basket rather than the fourth. Some days my kids at school got the best of me, while my kids at home got the scraps. Some days my kids at home got the best of me, while my kids at school got the scraps. Some days my dog was the only one who got the best of me.

But. I did the best I could.

My boys got on the bus with their teeth brushed, wearing clean clothes, homework done, lunches in their bags every morning. My daughter was a trooper and was awake by 5:40 so we could leave by 6:30 for Pre-K. I was greeting and high-fiving and common coring by 7:15 (well sometimes 7:20…7:25). I taught, disciplined, encouraged, laughed, disciplined, intervened, and pulled my hair out until 3:00 and then I crashed.  I crashed HARD. Like, passed out, slumped over, drooling, snoring, dead asleep for twenty minutes in the preschool parking lot before going in to get my daughter every afternoon. That type of crash.

And then I was on for the rest of the night. I was dealing with after school-hungry-tired-I-don’t-want-to-do-my-homework-I-only-want-to-watch-TV-and-I’m-going-to-yell-at-my-brother-and-sister-if-they-talk-to-me, homework, dinner, cleaning up, hockey/basketball/baseball practice, packing f’ing lunches, signing forms that I was supposed to send back three weeks ago and now has THIRD NOTICE highlighted at the top, playing Old Maid and Uno so I didn’t feel like I was completely ignoring my kids (which I was because there is just so much TO DO BEFORE BED), and oh hi, husband!  How was your day, hon? Sorry you’re walking into this disaster and can you just throw the laundry in the dryer OK I’ll have a real conversation with you in five years, bedtime, picking out clothes for the next morning that will be here in just seven short hours, and then looking at the bag of papers that needed to be graded but I know I’ll only get through three before falling asleep and that poor kid will have a random red zigzag line on his paper from me falling asleep while reading it. That. That was my day, Monday-Friday for the past ten months. 

But I did the best I could.

And I constantly felt like I was failing. I was failing at being a teacher because I was too busy being a mom. I was failing at being a mom because I was too busy being a teacher. I was failing at marriage because it was easy to put that last. I was failing at writing because I was busy parenting and teaching. I was failing at parenting and teaching because I was busy writing. My husband got lost in the shuffle when he really needed a partner.

And then I got lost in the shuffle because I really needed me.

I felt tired and I looked tired. I bought better makeup and felt guilty about spending money on better makeup. I fit in exercise when I could and then felt guilty about leaving to go exercise. I was exhausted from exercising at 9:00. I ate Butterfingers and drank too much coffee. I gained a few pounds from the Butterfingers and coffee. I fit in another exercise class and felt guilty about that. I lost more weight. I still felt exhausted. I still felt guilty. I still felt like I didn’t know where I fit in, but I knew where everybody else did.

But I did the best I could. 

My story is not unique to me. I’m sure many moms and dads, working or not, feel this way throughout the school year. The constant hurry and rush to get from one day to the next.

My goal is to not rush this summer. No hurrying out of the house, no “Come on, come on, we’re late!”, no constant glancing at the clock.

September can wait. 

Lazy days

Lazy days

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Screwing Up Motherhood. Sorry, Firstborns.

We don’t tell expecting mothers the real side of parenthood–the stuff it’s really made of. It’s simply joy that we shower upon our expecting first time friends.  And it should be. Motherhood is beautiful, and pregnancy is (mostly) joyful, and having children makes people…different. I wouldn’t say better, because people who choose to become parents are not better than those who do not. Parenthood is just different. A wonderful kind of different.

But.

But what we don’t know upon holding our firstborns and looking into their eyes and admiring their every detail is that we will screw up and cry and apologize and wonder what the heck we are doing. We will make mistakes and then learn from those mistakes and not make them with their younger siblings. Our poor firstborns get the brunt of our rookie-ness.

My oldest is my boy Nate. Nate was born in 2002 and we are in the middle of the pre-teen years of hormones and mood swings, going wildly from happiness to sadness to anger to sheepishness to humor. When Nate was born I couldn’t believe that someone so perfect could happen to me. He was a sweet little mix of dark hair and mischievous smiles and belly laughs. He made my world flip from egocentric to selfless, and I loved my new role with this sweet boy. My husband and I were blissfully young and somewhat naive in our new family life.

Then life happened. The older Nate got, the more we realized that parenthood is 90% winging it and 10% hope. Hoping you are doing everything right and not making giant mistakes in the meantime. Because nobody tells you that when you have another baby, the pieces don’t just fall magically into place. Sometimes it takes a lot of rearranging and shuffling around to make life work. Nobody tells you that when you wake up your day will revolve around everybody else but you, and sometimes you have to make one of your children upset in order to find a bit of calm in a hectic house. Nobody tells you when you are holding this perfect little baby that one day he will challenge your every bit of patience. That what you think is right, he will protest is wrong and you will be left with your head in your hands wondering what the heck just happened and why this sweet little angel has been replaced with a hormonal stranger. Nobody tells you that you will lose sleep at night hoping and praying that you are doing it right.

Because our firstborns don’t get a seasoned, veteran parent. They get you and you will make mistakes. You will fumble and wonder and stress. You will realize with your second and third children just how much you screwed up and wish you could go back and do things differently. You will be rocking your sweet firstborn little baby to sleep and wake up twelve years later wondering where the time has gone and how you got so lucky to be this boy’s mom.

To all of the oldest babies, to the firsts, to the ones who paved the way for the other siblings, this is for you. Your parents love you, despite their mistakes.

nateriley

And Nate, my boy, I love you more than you can imagine. You amaze me every day. Your intelligence. Your athleticism. Your kind heart. Your sense of humor. Your persistence. Your ability to love. I love you so much, buddy.

natepitch

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Why My Children Will Not Take State Assessments

New York State Assessments are scheduled to take place next week.  Beginning April 1, students statewide in grades 3-8 will sit and take a three day ELA exam followed by a math exam a few weeks later.  Now that Common Core is all abuzz, and people are jumping at any chance they can to blame Common Core for the dismal state of public education, rest assured that these state tests have been in place well before Common Core. They’ve been here since 2002 when No Child Left Behind was created.  However, this is only the second year that the state tests are Common Core aligned, and the second year that these state tests are tied to teacher evaluation scores. It’s also the second year that parents have gotten more educated, more involved, and much louder.

It’s the perfect storm, so to speak.

Until last year, I, along with most parents, did not realize that parents have the right to refuse state testing on behalf of their children. Parents have the right to refuse. There is no provision that allows for the opting out of state assessments, however according to parents’ federal constitutional rights: The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” The Court also declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35) The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158)

In a nutshell, parents have a say in their child’s education, and the right to refuse state assessments falls under that umbrella. Starting next week, thousands of parents in New York State are doing just that. I am one of them.

The reason my children will never participate in these assessments again is simple: they are not a useful diagnostic tool that benefit the child in any way. The test is given in April and the scores are received in July.  There is no data or explanation of where the child needs additional help; the score is not sent home with identified areas of weaknesses. At that point, my child’s teacher is no longer my child’s teacher anymore. They are not used to determine promotion or retention of grade levels, nor are they factored into the child’s grade at all. The tests are not used as a learning or teaching tool. Instead, they are used to score and label children a 1-4 and then packed away in a ‘secure location’ for the next few years, never to be seen again. Once the scores are released, the children become statistics.

The state assessments have always been flawed.  In theory, I suppose it *sort of* makes sense.  Children take a test toward the end of the school year and it shows how well they know the material; how proficient they are (or aren’t). Students have always taken final exams at the secondary level which is a valid assessment tool used to gauge how well the child learned the material during that school year. The teacher knows what she taught, creates a final exam, and that exam is factored into the student’s grade. The problem with state assessments is that the teachers have no idea what will be on them and so much emphasis is placed on these scores in terms of district ranking that teachers have always felt a sort of obligated stress to continually raise scores.  When I taught at the 7th grade level I was consumed with those scores.  I didn’t spend the entire year on test prep, but I certainly spent the weeks prior on test prep.  I needed those scores to improve!  The school needed them to improve so we could improve our school ranking.  The district needed those scores to improve so we could improve our district ranking–and this was all before scores were a part of our teacher evaluation score.

Now that the state assessments are factored into the teacher’s APPR score, I can only imagine that test prep throughout the state has increased. Standardized tests factoring into teacher evaluation scores is not an effective measure of teaching. Teachers work with our children for close to 180 days. Basing an evaluation score on three days out of the 180 is not going to give an accurate portrayal of that teachers effectiveness. I don’t need my children to sit through three and half hours of testing to tell me whether or not their teachers have taught them. I know they have. They have taught them much more than can be shown on a bubble sheet or through a few short response questions.
Taking a Test

I’m not sure why society has begun to doubt teachers lately and feel that school districts need to prove that their teachers are actually teaching throughout the school year. If you want proof that children are learning, I can assure you, they are. Some more quickly than others, but that’s what education is. It’s an entire set of variables that are factored together to create a clear picture of that individual child and where that child started the year. Giving children in every school across the state the same test and then expecting to see a clear picture of how school districts and the teachers employed by those distrcts are performing is flawed. A district with high poverty levels and a large ESL population should not be compared to a suburban affluent district and then ranked and published in an annual school rankings publication. It’s comparing two completely different populations.

I do not want my children used as a part of a ranking system. I do not want my children to work hard all year long, and then feel that their scores on one test is definitive of the type of students they are.

Our children are not percentages or scores. In addition to being students, they are athletes, community members, school theater participants, student government representatives, and musicians–all of which can’t be shown on a bubble sheet of a state assessment.

The state assessments do not accurately measure the growth of our children. They do not accurately measure the effectiveness of our teachers and they take up entirely too much time and energy in our schools. The amount of money spent on standardized testing continues to increase, while the amount of money public school districts receive in the form of state funding continues to decrease. Districts are making drastic cuts to staff and programs but testing continues to stay in place using an abundant amount of district and taxpayer dollars.

Parents and teachers have watched the landscape of public education change as corporate reformers have swept in and made drastic changes. Our voices, research, and dedication to advocacy to public education is making a difference. One child at a time, test refusal is our way to stand up for what is our “fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of our children” (Pierce 268).

You can find Mrs Momblog on Facebook here. You can also follow her on Twitter @mrs_momblog

Resources:
Decisions of the United States Supreme Court Upholding Parental Rights as “Fundamental”
Congress Introduces Constitutional Amendment for Parental Rights
New York State Allies for Public Education
The ‘999’ers: something is not right
Gap Elimination Adjustment Explained: New York State 2014

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Teachers in the Trenches

When I’m at work and another adult asks me how my kids are doing, I always have to clarify, “My kids at home or my kids here?” This is what students are to teachers. They are our kids. Some tend to burrow into our hearts a little more than others, but for 10 months the children in our classroom, are our kids.

This is why when I think about the future of teaching and the slippery slope on which those of us in public education find ourselves, I can’t imagine not doing it. There are days when 19 more years in the classroom gives me heart palpitations–but I’m assuming that is the case with any career. 19 years is 19 years–it’s A LONG TIME. Imagining 19 more years of managing over 100 fourteen-year-olds every day…yeah, it’s daunting. BUT, the thought of not doing it and working in the private sector seems as foreign to me as working in another country. I mean, could I even function if I had to interact with adults all day?

I’m so conditioned to working on a bell schedule, that my brain is used to transitioning to something completely new every 42 minutes, while working in managed chaos within those 42 minutes. How in the world would I be able to work in a business office with that type of hyperactive personality? “Um, Shannon? Why are you standing outside your cubicle?” “Oh, just watching the hallways for three minutes. Do you mind if I high-five people and sing some Katy Perry really loudly also?” “Hey,I’m going to take my two-minute bathroom sprint. Can you watch my cubicle for a minute if I’m not back in three minutes?” “Shannon! Stop asking us for bathroom passes! We are allowed to go to the bathroom whenever we want!” “TURN DOWN THE CHRISTMAS MUSIC. I understand it is the day before a vacation, but you may not watch movies today!”

When I have these fleeting moments of wondering what life would be outside of the classroom, I’m always left with the question of what can I possibly have to offer any business after spending the last eleven years in a classroom with freshmen? I know virtually everything about pop culture, Twitter, sock buns, the difference between a messy pony and a top-knot, cutting weight for wrestling, hunting season (bow and shotgun), and Drake. I know virtually nothing about conference calls and sales meetings, end of quarter strategies, ROI, or intermarket sector spread. I would be a disaster. It would be entertaining, but disastrous.

…on that note, although I know nothing about the business world, I do know kids. I know how to motivate them. I know how to show them their potential. I know how to make them laugh, and I know how to put them in their place when warranted. I know how to make dry material exciting. I know how to show kids that there is more to life than the school or town where they live and there is more to life than the subject that I’m teaching. I know how to teach manners and empathy. I know how to interact with teenagers when they are at their most influential age and I don’t take that lightly–it’s my job to make these teenagers into real people and send them out into the world to work with you.

teacher

Teachers, we are a special breed. We were made for working with kids. We are patient, creative, entertaining, empathetic, stern, flexible, kind, motivating, overwhelmed, and completely crazy individuals who actually chose to spend our adult lives working with more than we can handle. Working with noise and chaos, juggling 25 or more different personalities, needs, and abilities at once. We chose to enter into a career where we take the blame for most, but credit for little. We chose this. We did.

Even though 19 years seems like forever, I’m glad I’m in the trenches. It’s where I belong.

*Side note: I do, however, think that the major positive in working in the private sector would be smell. Classrooms are not large spaces. These not large spaces are filled with teenagers. Teenagers who happen to sweat and fart. It makes for a lethal combination and the assault on my sense of smell is brutal. We had a particularly hot spring last year and my classroom is on the second floor–the non-air conditioned second floor. I cannot even put into words the scent that was emanating from some of these children. It gets pretty ripe. However, I’m guessing (hoping?) that the business world is full of freshly showered and groomed adults who do not make it a point to yell, “Yo! I just beefed one and crop dusted all over this room, man!” (If you happen to work with an adult like this, I empathize. I get it, brothers and sisters. I so get it.)

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Ya know what sucks? I love teaching.

Mrs Momblog:

This is pretty accurate. I’ve been teaching for 11 years and could not imagine going into the private sector, simply because my body is conditioned to work in a school setting. Funny post!

Originally posted on monday tuesday wtf:

I’ve really been thinking about my exit strategy from teaching. Ya know what sucks though? I love teaching. I suppose it doesn’t matter how much I love teaching; the profession has changed so much I don’t know how much more I can endure. I was contemplating what it would be like to interview with a company or organization not affiliated with education.  I realized there would be certain questions I could not ask at the end of an interview without giving away teaching induced PTSD.

I’m pretty sure I couldn’t ask these questions to a potential employer not affiliated with education.

1. What time am I allowed to go to the bathroom?

2. What supplies will I need to buy to do this job?

3. Where is the peanut free table in the break room?

4. What is the plan for a shooter on the premises?

5. What is the…

View original 58 more words

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