Free Kids From 180 Days Of Stress

A recent article in The New York Times claims that our children and adolescents are under great stress because we, as a society, have given up on childhood. While economic, racial, and familial factors contribute to that stress, the education given to our children and adolescents every school day through the application of the Common Core Standards can be a major stress as well. That stress occurs because those standards were created without addressing the cognitive, psychological, and social development of children and adolescents.

We need to investigate how mandating standards that are not based on the needs of  children and adolescents contributes to their stress.

1. Could it be that making kindergarten “the new first grade” is part of the problem?

2. Could it be that focusing on teaching kindergarteners skills to make them “college and career ready” instead of helping them to learn through play and by using their imagination is part of the problem?

3. Could it be that mastering 90 discrete skills in kindergarten instead of learning through active exploration and hands-on, play-based learning is part of the problem?

4. Could it be that, after long days at school plus Before-Care and After-Care, young children come home to tutors, hired to help them with reading, writing, and arithmetic skills that were formerly taught to children a year older, or come home to do homework  to master skills for which they are not developmentally ready is part of the problem?

5. Could it be that living in the only nation in the world which limits the amount of literature read in school and replaces literature with informational texts could be part of the problem?  Could it be that limiting the kind of reading which allows for a variety of  interpretations and encourages playing with ideas is stifling for the minds of children and adolescents?

6. Could it be that not requiring children and adolescents to revise their writing in order to stimulate their thinking and, instead, instructing them to get their thinking right the first time could be part of the problem?

7.  Could it be that telling adolescents, who are primarily interested in themselves and one another, that they can’t ever write in their own personal voice, can’t ever use the pronoun “I”, can’t ever tell their own story is part of the problem?

8. Could it be that telling adolescents, who are just becoming aware of the complexity of the world and human relationships, that they must always write essays about THE ONE TRUE answer and never write essays to explore a question they have is part of the problem?

9. Could be that never teaching children and adolescents how to form their own deep questions, how to stimulate their  thinking by discussing ideas with others who think differently from them, how to use their imagination in order to innovate and problem solve, and how to tell the story of their engagement with an idea is part of the problem?

10. In summary, could it be that the Common Core Standards have simply gotten it wrong?

Of course, the Common Core Standards have gotten it wrong.

Those who know about teaching kids to be thoughtful readers and effective writers say the Common Core Standards are wrong: The National Council of Teachers of English, the professional organization of literacy educators K-college, did not endorse the Common Core Standards because NCTE stated that those standards are not developmentally appropriate, do not help students to grow as learners and thinkers, and do not prepare students for their future, explaining that the Common Core Standards could apply to the schools of 1950 but not to the realities of today.

Those who know about how little children learn say the Common Core Standards are wrong. More than 500 early childhood educators signed a joint statement opposing the Common Core Standards on the grounds that the standards are not developmentally appropriate and would lead to long hours of direct instruction, more standardized testing, and would crowd out important, active, play-based learning.

Those who know what students need to learn to have productive and meaningful lives in the 21st century say that the Common Core Standards are wrong. Children and adolescents need to be taught how to honor their own curiosity, how to collaborate with diverse thinkers in order to strengthen their own individual thinking, how to think deeply and broadly about the human condition, how to use their imagination to think up new ideas and create innovative approaches, and how to express their ideas effectively and uniquely in writing and orally. None of those skills are taught with the Common Core Standards.

The writers of the Common Core Standards were not educators and didn’t have in mind the developmental needs of children and adolescents. Their goal was to improve standardized test scores. Children and adolescents have been denied meaningful educational experiences that could have helped them to grow and as learners and thinkers in order to raise test scores, yet that has not happened. Scores on NAEP, called The Nation’s Report Card, have been flat over the years of the Common Core and still are flat almost a decade into the Common Core. The sacrifice of real learning has produced nothing.

It is time to put more life into our kids’ lives. It’s time to reduce the stress of kids having to fit into a mold which does not serve them and only produces stress in them. It’s time to engage kids in the exhilaration of learning. It’s time to help kids to be their best and happiest selves.

We know how to do that. Ask us. Ask educators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Pay If You Don’t Go

Ever wonder who those people are at the Trump rallies? Ever wonder why they attend? A recent post from Diane Ravitch tells us about one such crowd.

Guess what: They were paid to attend.

DECENCY

 

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A friend gave me this button to wear on my shirt. It is a plain white button with black letters. It has just one word on it: DECENCY.

I wear the button as my statement for the 2020 Presidential campaign. DECENCY is what it’s all about. Of course, the candidates have to talk about health care, immigration reform, and gun control. Those issues cry out for resolution. But Democrats in the debates and in their stump speeches must pivot back to our country’s underlying need: DECENCY.

David Brooks, writing in The New York Times, makes that point.

Brooks says, “This election is about who we are as a people, our national character. This election is about the moral atmosphere in which we raise our children. The Democrats have not risen to the largeness of this moment. They don’t know how to speak on this level. They don’t even have the language to articulate what Trump represents and what needs to be done. Democrats believe they can win votes by offering members of different groups economic benefits and are perpetually shocked when they lose those voters.”

Brooks agrees with Marianne Williamson when she said in the last debate that “racism, bigotry, and the collectivized hatred that the current President is bringing up in this country” is the real issue in the 2020 campaign for President and the one that Democrats should focus on. Everything else follows that.

Brooks goes on to say that the Democrats are “unready” for the task of fighting for decency, but it falls to them to ” rebuild the moral infrastructure of our country and remind people of the values we share and the damage done when people are not held accountable for trampling them.”

Brooks identifies the values that comprise decency as: 

Unity: Seeing ourselves as one people.

Honesty: Respecting the truth.

Pluralism: Treasuring members of all races and faiths.

Sympathy: Being people with good hearts, who feel for those who are suffering, who are faithful friends, whose daily lives are marked by kindness.

Opportunity: Offering all children an open field and a fair chance in life.

Brooks emphatically states that Trump has put himself on the wrong side of all of these values. Brooks begs Democrats to lead an “uprising of decency”.

He concludes his piece with a hope, which sounds, actually, more like a desperate plea. He writes, “There must be one Democrat who, in word and deed, can do that.” One Democrat who can lead an uprising of decency.

But is there?

That is the question.

The survival of our republic depends on the answer.

 

 

On What Page Are The New Connecticut Commissioner of Education And The State Board Of Education?

After the embarrassing and ungracious offering of the job of  Connecticut  Commissioner of Education to one person, withdrawing the offer, and then offering the job to a second person, the reason given to the public for choosing the second person was that the State Board of Education want a Commissioner with whom it is “on the same page”. But what is that page? A good place to start looking for that page is with the goals of the new Commissioner.

Miguel  Cardona, the next Connecticut Commissioner of Education, stated that his three goals are: 

  1. Make a positive impact on graduation rates.
  2. Close the achievement gap.
  3. Ensure that all students have increased access to opportunities and advantages that they need to succeed in life.

Those goals have a familiar ring to them. The history of Connecticut trying to meet those goals is not a proud one. But maybe that “new page” that the new Commissioner and the State Board of Education are on is one of a dramatic new vision and radical new actions. What could that vision and those radical new actions look like?

First, would be to change the term “graduation rate”  to something like the graduating of well-educated high school students. Currently, graduation rates make good headlines but can mean very little in terms of student learning.

“Credit retrieval” is a common practice in public schools with low graduation rates. “Credit retrieval” allows students to make use of often dubious computer programs that, in no way, equal courses in academic subjects, yet  the students get credit for the academic courses. In doing so, students increase the graduation rate for their schools but do not have adequate learning experiences.

Charter schools have another way to increase their graduation rates. They “counsel out” students who are likely to not graduate before they get to be seniors which leaves only a pre-selected group as seniors and, unsurprisingly, they all graduate. And lo and behold, the charter school has a high graduation rate. For example, one year at Achievement First’s Amistad Academy in New Haven, 25 students out of 25 students in the senior class graduated, but 64 students had been in that class as ninth graders.

A visionary way to increase the number of students who receive a high school education is to not count the number of students who receive high school diplomas but rather count how many of the students who begin a school as ninth graders complete the coursework necessary for graduation. For example, some innovative public high schools hold Saturday classes with actual teachers instead of plugging kids into commuter programs. The applause should be given to high schools who deliver a quality education to all the students who begin their high school education in the school not to the schools who either give credits without the academic content and skills or who dismiss those who won’t make for a good statistic.

It is then that Connecticut students will have the tools for their future and the State Board of Education and the new Commissioner will have made a difference in the lives of our children and in the quality of our state. Increasing graduation rates, as it has been addressed in the past, gets us nowhere.

Also, increasing the achievement gap is a hackneyed expression that needs new vision. That vision could begin with redefining “achievement ” and redefining “gap”.  In Connecticut as well as nationally, achievement, since the publication on A Nation at Risk, has meant the attainment of good standardized test scores. Standardized test scores are always correlated with the income of the parents of the students taking the test. Therefore, we can raise test scores by getting wealthier kids into a school. The other way to raise those scores is to teach to the test. All commercial test prep courses and online free test prep courses claim that taking those prep courses will improve test scores. And they do. They do because standardized tests measure only one skill: the ability to take a standardized test. But that is not achievement.

Achievement in the 21st century means that students are engaged learners who are able to think critically, problem solve, collaborate with others, demonstrate initiative, speak and write effectively, access and analyze information, explore their own questions, and use their imagination as described in The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner of Harvard University. No standardized test has ever, or can ever, measure those skills.

So the goal of “closing the achievement gap” will serve only to highlight the disparity between the affluent and the poor. Even more importantly, the goal of “closing the achievement gap”, as measured by standardized test scores,  guarantees that the children in Connecticut who most need a quality education will be relegated to test prep in a school’s efforts to raise its standardized test scores and will continue to suffer from their lack of real teaching and real learning long after they leave our schools.

As for the “gap”, the gap that we should be addressing is not the gap between the standardized test scores of the kids in Wilton, Madison, Farmington, and Glastonbury with the standardized test scores of the kids in Hartford, Willimantic, Bridgeport, and Waterbury, but the gap between what all kids can do before we teach them with what they can do after we teach them. We should be working our brains full-time exploring how to help each kid to reach further, to know more, to try harder, and to accomplish what that kid never thought possible. That’s the gap our schools should be closing: the gap between students’ current assumptions about their possibilities as thinkers and learners and their eventual accomplishments. That is a goal with a vision that is worthy of our energy and investment as a state.

And what are those ” opportunities and advantages that children need to succeed in life”? We know exactly what they are because many of Connecticut’s children already have them. They are the opportunities and advantages of many of the children in our affluent, largely white schools. They are the opportunities and advantages denied to other children in Connecticut due to poverty, income inequality, and racism. The new Commissioner and the State Board of Education can take on these underlying problems of poverty and racism that affect children for every minute they are in school and which any school cannot prevail against without appropriate funding, personnel, academic resources, and social services. Looking at the big picture with its complex causes beyond the classrooms will take vision and strong political action. It will switch the narrative from one of “failing public schools” to one of how can we adults and taxpayers not fail our public schools.

Given the recent history of the leadership of public education in Connecticut, it probably is a vain wish that the “same page” of the Connecticut State Board of Education and the new Connecticut Commissioner of Education will be one of vision and bold action, but without dreams where are we?   As the song says: “You gotta have a dream or how you gonna have a dream come true?”

 

 

Charters and Dalios: What Do You Have To Hide?

True enough:

A Hartford Courant editorial (Sunday, July 14, 2019) strongly criticized the stipulation that the Dalio Foundation put on its offer to Connecticut public schools. The Dalio Foundation has committed 100 million dollars to Connecticut public education if we taxpayers also contribute 100 million AND agree to not being given any information about how the decisions will be made about how our 100 million will be spent. That is not a deal that we, as taxpayers, should take. It is giving our blank check to the billionaire Dalios. The Hartford Courant rightly points out that we, as taxpayers, have the right to know how 100 million of our tax dollars is being spent or we should not give the 100 million.  Our money can be misspent and do damage to our children. We have an obligation to our children to demand information about how decisions will be made about how the money is to be spent.

We have to wonder why the deal rests on exempting the Dalio and state partnership from Freedom of Information regulations and agreeing to no transparency and no accountability. As appealing as money always is, Governor Lamont should say NO to such a deal.  We don’t want Connecticut to repeat the mistakes that Newark made with the Zuckerberg money.

Also true and even scarier:

We, as taxpayers, give the same kind of blank check to charter schools. Charter schools take taxpayer funds and refuse transparency and refuse to give any accountability about how those tax dollars are spent.  Connecticut charter schools defy Brown vs. the Board of Education and Sheff vs. O’Neill by increasing racial segregation in Connecticut. Charter schools in Connecticut restrict the number of students with special education needs and students who do not have English as their first language. Charter schools in Connecticut suspend students as greater rates than public schools. Charter schools in Connecticut take money and resources from the 98.5% of Connecticut children who attend public schools. And charter schools do not have any better results than public schools, even with the questionable measure of standardized  test scores.

The Connecticut State Board of Education should join with the NAACP, which has called for a moratorium on opening any new charter schools and called for transparency and accountability for existing charter schools. Most of all, The Connecticut State Board of Education and Connecticut taxpayers should wonder what charter schools have to hide by refusing to be open and honest about their use of our money. 

Charter Schools: Your Time Is Up

In 1954 in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

In 1996 in Sheff vs. O’Neill, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the state had an affirmative obligation to provide Connecticut’s school children with a substantially equal educational opportunity and that this constitutionally guaranteed right encompasses the access to a public education which is not substantially and materially impaired by racial and ethnic isolation.

In 2019, the Connecticut State Board of Education allows charter schools in Connecticut to violate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education and violate the Connecticut Supreme Court ruling in Sheff vs. O’Neill.

For shame.

Wendy Lecker and Robert Cotto, Jr. explain how the charter school industry reinforces racial segregation and provides children in Connecticut charter schools with an education that is separate and unequal.

Charter schools do not work.

We must have just one public school system in Connecticut funded by our tax dollars. We must have just one public school system in Connecticut that functions with financial transparency and is accountable to the taxpayers. We must have  just one public school system in Connecticut that educates all children in increasingly integrated settings. Charter schools take taxpayer money but have no transparency, no accountability, and no mandate to integrate their classrooms.

Charter schools must go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Achievement: The Reach Not The Gap

A Critter Cruise demonstrated to me why standardized testing will never be a way to close the achievement gap.

What has a Critter Cruise got to do with standardized testing, you may ask. In fact, what is a Critter Cruise?

A Critter Cruise is an hour long boat trip out into Nantucket Harbor during which young children become familiar with the sea life from the depths of the ocean. The college students, studying marine biology, who work on the boat put huge containers overboard into the deep and bring up all kinds of specimen: huge crabs, lobsters, snails, and welks. The children hold them and carry them over to touch tanks where they observe them as one of the marine biology students gives them details about the specimen. After the boat travels farther from the shore, the children are given fishing poles and taught how to use them. Each child on the boat catches at least one fish, and parents and grandparents take photos of them proudly holding their line with the caught fish on the end of it.

The young children on this Critter Cruise are sure to score higher on their future standardized tests than children who will never have that kind of opportunity. First of all, the information about sea life given to the children on the Critter Cruise could be topic of a reading section on a standardized test. Secondly, the conversation about biology gives children a vocabulary and a perspective about life on the planet that those children who do not have such conversations lack and are unlikely to be able to compensate for. Thirdly, to even get to Nantucket for a Critter Cruise means that the children have families with the time, money, and motivation to provide all kinds of opportunities to broaden their children’s world which all children do not have. Lastly, the enhanced confidence in themselves gained by the children on the Critter Cruise who held up huge crabs with their own fingers and reeled in fish all by themselves cannot be easily duplicated by children who do not have those kinds of experiences.

So to sit down all kids, both those who have many experiences such as the Critter Cruise and those who have had none of that kind of experience, in the same room and give them a timed standardized test in order to OBJECTIVELY assess them is ridiculous. Their acquired knowledge differs. Their vocabulary differs. Their sense of the world and their place in it differs. Their confidence in themselves differs. There is no objectivity in standardized testing.

And for what do we want to measure them against one another? To validate for ” the haves” that they have everything including good test scores and to keep “the have-nots” aspirations low?

The achievement gap can never, ever be closed by continuing to assess students with standardized tests. We can improve achievement only by giving all children similar resources for being nurtured and enriched and then by asking all children to grow and develop beyond where they are. It’s not an achievement gap that we should be trying to close but an achievement reach that we should be offering to all children, the rich and the poor alike, the haves and the have nots alike. Only then will we be talking about actual achievement rather than talking about the gap between the well-resourced children and the under-resourced children.