Gravity

No, not that “Gravity.”   I like my cinema closer to home and just a little bit lighter.

No. Forget the movies.

Imagine instead a Pearson Common Core multiple choice question that might go something like this:

The gravity of the state of American education cannot be underestimated.  Which of the following answer choices best defines  gravity as it is used in this sentence?

A) weight

B) magnitude

C) the attraction of the mass of a planetary body at or near its surface

D) solemnity

Don’t misunderstand.   I don’t dislike the Common Core.  As an English teacher, I am a huge fan.  I love close reading.  I love supported, well-crafted argument.  I love that implemented appropriately, the Common Core will simultaneously challenge both high achievers and reluctant scholars.

No, the Common Core is not the problem.

Those most closely  connected to instruction –administrators, parents, teachers– agree, too:  American students must be well prepared for their post-high school lives.  This is not negotiable.  The success of a democracy rests in an educated populace; the success of a competitive economy resides here, too.   There is no contention about this shared goal.

So what’s the problem, then?

Education has become a prop in the theater of American politics.  Contenders for public office who may know little about the ingredients of successful instruction wave education about, making sweeping promises, sometimes vilifying teachers.   They glad-hand voters, swearing that more rigorous tests are the answer. More tests will promote learning.  More tests will lead to accountability.  More tests will provide the data necessary to fix what ails US schools.

But politicians who mislead the public into believing that more high stakes testing will somehow magically yield  universally stronger students over- simplify an extremely complex issue. Rigid adherence to the notion that linking teachers’ annual ratings to standardized tests will lead to improved performance fails to account for the intangibles that affect instruction, things like poverty and security.   Kids who come to school hungry will not perform well on tests.  Kids whose health care needs are not met will not perform well on tests. Kids who are anxious will not perform well on tests. Schools that are underfunded may not have the resources to support student achievement.  Time devoted to testing would likely be better spent cultivating a culture of intellectual curiosity,  nurturing the thrill of discovery, fulfilling the potential of every child in every classroom.

Gravity.  So much rests on education.  It’s not about number two lead pencils or  tabulated data.  It’s about the weight of wanting to know more tomorrow than you know today.  It’s about a solemn promise we make to all kids that if they work hard, their futures will be bright. It is about the magnitude of the responsibility we have to promote preparedness and achievement.  It’s about the pull of the moon, Mars, Venus that will draw today’s students to become tomorrow’s explorers.

 

P.S.: Again, I thank everyone for following/reading this and my other blog.

Data: What Would J.Evans Pritchard, PhD Say?

There will always be a J. Evans Pritchard trying to force the arts to yield to statistical analysis.

If you’ve been listening, you have heard the conversation. Data, Data. Data.

Standardized tests are the treasure troves of statistics that are driving–oh, excuse me, informing– instruction. # 2 lead pencils are the wands that, with the right sleight of hand, can make you see anything a skilled statistician wants you to imagine you saw.

But like poetry, teaching is an art, a fine art.  Just as it is obvious intellectual farce to reduce the mystery of poetry to the “data driven analysis” spoofed  in the clip, the same could be–no, should be– said for the purely statistical analysis of the instructional artistry that happens in classrooms every day.

Armies of academics going forth to evaluate kids and teachers via mathematical calculations, cold hard data?  Pardon?

Don’t misunderstand; testing has a place in education.  It is one of many tools good teachers use to plan and adjust their instruction. Reliable and valid testing can provide benchmarks of achievement. Sound tests can show teachers where kids need more time on task.

But great teachers know that testing–particularly one-size- fits-all testing– provides only part of the masterpiece that is learning. Learning is about curiosity and confidence. It’s about taking academic risks. It is about the intangibles that make every parent’s child a priority.

Every child who crosses the threshold into our classrooms is a unique and complex individual.They come to us with strengths and challenges, enthusiasm and fears.  No child should ever become a statistic on a bar graph, a mere blip of data on a spreadsheet.  Kids are people, not commodities.

Like poetry,the art of instruction defies scientific deconstruction.  There is just too much happening in classrooms on a day-to-day basis to reduce teaching to a few days of testing, especially flawed testing, especially testing created by one of the biggest text book publishers in the country.

Obviously, you say.

But here’s the rub. Politicians use data mined from classrooms nationwide to further their own ambitions, to promote their personal bureaucratic promises.

Just as J. Evans Pritchard’s method of deconstructing poetry ultimately destroys the beauty of the text, data driven education crushes the joy of learning, stifles creativity on both sides of the desk.  Teachers, fearful of the way test scores now compute into annual performance reviews, are far more likely to play it safe. Meeting Pearson’s benchmarks of  proficiency has become a matter of professional survival.  Kids, too, will stay within the lines because everyone knows standardized tests have no patience for divergent thinkers.

Where’s the data on the data?

P.S. : And big  thanks to all who continue to follow me on all my sites.

Stop # 1 on the Journey: All You Need is Love

thejoyofteaching:

I saw this post and couldn’t help but reblog this post. It is just so true!

Originally posted on Life is a Journey, Not a Destination:

     Back when I was too young to truly appreciate either the lyrics or the music, Lennon and McCartney said it all: “All you need is love.”  Back then, this was just a catchy tune playing on pop radio,  the big kids singing in the back of  the bus.

Now that I am older–much older– though, I am constantly reminded that what really matters is love: the people you love who love you back.  I know for sure now that the Beatles had it right.

Life isn’t about what you can own: cars and houses and clothes. It isn’t even about the achievements we can boast about.  What good is a Ferrari if you don’t have someone special riding shotgun?  If you have no one cheering for you when you bring home the Pulitzer, it’s just a piece of paper.

         No.  Life is all about people…

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The Legacy of 9/11

It was a beautiful day, crisp air, clear skies, the ultimate antithesis of what was about to unfold that morning.

Most of us older than 21 clearly remember where we were when we heard the unthinkable: the towers had fallen. I can remember what I was wearing and the sickening fear for the people I loved who were in the city. We were near enough to tragedy to see the smoke and almost everyone I know knows someone who was there. Two people I went to high school with died that day.  A man in our town did not come home to his family. A friend lost his brother-in-law. A neighbor lost her cousin.

It was a day for saying, “I love you” to our children and to each other.

9/11 was a dark defining moment for a generation with memories of neither Pearl Harbor nor Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby.

The juniors I was teaching that Tuesday morning seemed suddenly so very young. Teen swagger and bravado vanished. We huddled around a battery operated radio, anxious for a sign that everything would be OK, that someone was in charge.  When we all heard the unmistakable overhead roar of military pilots en route to the city, they surged toward me with the unconditional collective expectation that I would be able to keep them from harm. I will always remember the helpless dread, knowing that I would do whatever I could, yet equally certain that whatever I could do might not be enough.

The world changed forever that day.

And for our students– though each year, more and more of them are too young to remember this day– this is the only world they have ever known. It’s a world where traveling means removing their shoes and liquids are no-nos. It’s a world in which images of explosions can dominate the evening news. It’s a world of colored-coded security assessment and random acts of terror that we never believed could reach us here.

As adults, we must find ways to make this generation of kids feel safe amid this new reality. We have to provide the pockets of security where they can still be children, where they know they are far from harm’s way.We have to provide quality time for laughter and pride, for anticipation and excitement.

We may not be able to alter the future, but we can, we must, do what is in our power to preserve the present.

Happy New Year!

In NY, Labor Day is New Year’s Eve for families and for teachers.  It’s the anticipation of a fresh start, the excitement of sharpened pencils.   Every student starts the new academic year with an A average; every teacher starts the new year with a repertoire of innovations and insights to see to it that every pupil sustains those A averages.

The great gifts of summer vacation–perspective and rest and vision–make all things possible by Labor Day.  Like the rings that age trees, lessons of past years measure growth and become part of who we are.  We–students and teachers alike– begin anew, ardently focused on making the ring that will mark this year the richest, widest ever.

 So for all those heading back to school this week and next, best wishes for a happy, healthy and productive new year.  There are exciting adventures to be written on the as-yet-blank pages of those spiral notebooks.

Happy New Year!

Back to School

The ads start right after July 4th: notebooks and pens at Staples, jeans at JC Penny, everything else at Target.  Back to school shopping is an American tradition.

But…

…even as those back-to-school butterflies stir in August,  even as we get excited about what the new year will bring, even as we plan the lessons that we hope will hook our students, we know there are families across this country–  maybe even in our own communities– struggling  just to keep their kids sheltered or fed.  For these families, the costs of advertised bargains at Walmart and Office Max may be out of reach.

Yet, we all want to send our kids back to school feeling ready to crush the challenges of a new  year. This is not about the latest fashions or high tech gadgets.  It is not about competition or conformity.  This is about the most basic supplies that help kids start a new year with confidence: a pack of crayons, a new bookbag, comfortable shoes, a windbreaker, maybe a calculator.

Studies tell us that confidence is an important factor in academic and social success. A few seemingly simple new possessions can do so much to enhance that confidence.

Everyone knows that no child should start the school year sad.

Communities across the nation have responded to this too often unseen need with non-profits, neighbors helping neighbors. Some of these grassroots efforts have been initiated by ordinary individuals whose extraordinary efforts and vision are inspiring.  Local businesses act as partners in these endeavors.  Houses of worship, social networks, community centers, even food pantries support the efforts, too.   And in many– if not all– cases, donors and recipients remain anonymous.

Our Social Concerns Committee at church has created a Learning Tree and collects school supplies for families in need.  The community center  in my neighborhood also has a donation box where we can simply drop off  a new binder or a pack of pens or that most wonderful of all school supplies: the box of 64 Crayola crayons with the built-in sharpener.  Those who can, give; those who need, will get.

For those of us who have been able to send our own kids off to school with the basics, helping other families do the same reminds us–and our own kids–of the human community that we all belong to.  For those of us in need, our neighbors can give our kids the boost they need for a great start, helping us to help them be the best they can be.

As they say, it takes a village.

Check local newspapers.  Listen to local radio broadcasts. Organizations are frequently featured as families gear up for a new school year. Check in at your own community center or house of worship. Nationwide, Girl Scout and Boy Scout  and Boys and Girls Clubs often hold school supply drives.

Send a child back to school with a smile.

NOTE: One organization that has solicited not only back to school donations, but also basic necessities of daily living in the Westchester area is Miracle Hands, Inc. Read about this grassroots organization at their web site: http://www.miracle-hands.org/

Another children’s charity that operates in Westchester is the Pajama Project. This organization gives new PJ’s to homeless kids and has opened a reading center in Yonkers where kids can hear bedtime stories and leave with books to call their very own.  http://pajamaprogram.org/WordPress/chapters/westchester-ny-chapter/