Happy Halloween!

What do you do when your 4 year old runs up to you in August and says, “Mama, next Halloween you know what I want to be?  Molten Wock!”

Well, you take several moments of exasperation and you think to yourself, “How the hell am I going to pull this off?”  Then you answer, “You can be whatever you want!”

I’ve been asking him every few weeks since then if he still wanted to be Molten Rock… just to be sure.  I knew I would have my work cut out for me and that this was going to be quite an investment of time, so I wanted to give him the opportunity to recant his decision before I got started.  So, Molten Rock it would be.  And I thought, “Awesome!!! How unique and creative!”  I was so proud of him actually… I had expected the answer to the costume question to be some kind of rescue personnel or some kind of superhero… that seems to be the scope of the four-year-old boy genre 🙂  But I was determined to actualize his Molten Rock request.  It didn’t seem right to try to talk him down from this.

So here it is… I’m not sure it’s actually recognizable as Molten Rock, but my son loves it!

Molten Rock costume

Unravelling the acronyms

Hello parents out there!  If you’re like me, new to the school system and trying to understand it all, maybe you had a WTF moment like I did.  It’s not hard to see how confusing it all is when trying to decipher all the acronyms.

When the USDOE announced RTTT, they offered grant money  to LEAs that wish to apply.  The LEA must then submit their APPR to NYSED and are held accountable according to new SLO.  How is this different from NCLB, I wondered, where schools were required to show AYP?  Are schools still at risk of being labeled SINOI?  Would they then be assigned a TFA teacher?  Many schools sytems are using VAM to evaluate teachers, and this has led to the implementation of many sort of standardized tests.  I was familiar with the ACT and the SAT, but had a lot to learn about new methods of evaluations used in our schools– STAR, AIMSweb, DIBELS, MAP, just to name a few.  If a student does poorly does that require an RTI?  Would there be an AIS?  Why, I wondered, is there so much focus on math and ELA?  I also wondered what NYSUT, the PTA, and the BOE thought of all of this.

If this sounds confusing, you’re not alone.  I’m sure I’ll encounter new acronyms as I learn my way though public education.  If you’ve got one that I forgot, please feel free to post it in the comment section.  As for a translation of what I just wrote, let me spell out those acronyms for you:

USDOE–U.S. Department of Education
RTTT–Race To The Top
LEA–Local Education Authority
APPR–Annual Professional Performance Review
NYSED–New York State Education Department
SLO–Student Learning Objectives
NCLB–No Child Left Behind
AYP–Adequate Yearly Progress
SINOI–School in need of improvement
TFA–Teach For America
VAM–Value-Added Measures
ACT–American College Testing
SAT–Scholastic Aptitude Test
STAR–(not really an acronym) but a type of assessment product sold by Renaissance Learning
AIMSweb–Academic Improvement Measurement System
DIBELS–Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills
MAP–Measures of Academic Progress
RTI–Response to Intervention
AIS–Academic Intervention Services
ELA–English Language Arts
NYSUT–New York State United Teachers
PTA–Parent-Teacher Association
BOE–Board of Education

We’re opting out…

…of state mandated testing, that is.

I’ve been trying to decide how to open this blog.  There are so many things I want to talk about.  But lately it has been education that keeps coming back to dominate my thoughts.  Let me preface this post by saying that all of the views here are mine as a parent.  This is how I see it, how I understand it!

My son is 4 1/2 and attends Pre-K at our local school.  I grappled with the idea of sending him off to school so young.  I toyed with the idea of homeschooling.  I am very interested in the concept of “unschooling” (a topic for a later post I’m certain).  But ultimately I decided that Pre-K would be something that he would enjoy, and all of his friends would be going there.  I thought, “Pre-K, how bad can it be?–it must be play-based.  It won’t actually be like forcing an extra year on his already 13 year long educational sentence.  And besides I can always go back to the possibility of homeschooling.”

How wrong I was!  With New York State’s adoption of the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts (ELA) & Mathematics and a new teacher evaluation system, higher “standards” are being touted in all grades, even Pre-K!  This means that students are being evaluated using standardized tests on a scale unprecedented in our nation’s history.

Teachers and schools are also under scrutiny based on student test results.  In fact, the learning milieu is so tainted with the stench of testing that teachers are forced to spend a majority of their classroom time covering material for the test.  This leaves little room for innovation and creativity.  In short, the teaching profession is being undermined and good teachers are not given the opportunity to do their job.  Teachers and administrators are under the constant stress of producing better test results.

Education is being homogenized with a system that forces everyone to learn the same thing, at the same rate, and in the same manner.  Forget about a child who shows real promise in art or music; these are just two of the subjects that are being underfunded or eliminated entirely in the pursuit of progress.  Even in the platinum subjects of ELA & Math, the manner in which they are taught is being greatly restricted.

Though there are many reasons why I oppose this new system of reliance on standardized testing (one could write a dissertation), there is one thing that disturbs me the most.  We don’t trust teachers anymore to assess our children.  We don’t trust our schools’ administrations to assess our teachers anymore.  But we can pour billions of dollars into private companies to produce the curriculum and the tests that our schools are required to use.  Companies like Pearson and Renaissance Learning are making a fortune doing this.  They sell us products that are beautifully packaged and propagandized to make us feel like it’s for our schools’ best interest.  The government seals the deal by dangling more state aid above the heads of our schools.  And they take it, because after all, who really wants to be responsible for turning down extra money when most schools struggle with their annual budgets?  In reality the extra money is just a drop in the bucket with the overall budget with which a school must contend.  And one must question how many hours our administrators and teachers are spending jumping through hoops in order to get this reward, and to thwart the ever looming possibility of having it all taken away if they don’t cooperate, or if their students fail.

Anyway, I suppose this is a topic I will visit many times over and so I must allow myself to leave out many crucial details with this post.

In closing, let me get back on topic for a moment.  I submitted a letter to my son’s school stating the many reasons that he will not be participating in any of these tests.  WE ARE OPTING OUT!  And you can too.  There are so many great resources out there for familiarizing oneself with the opt out movement.  Here are links to the sites that got me started.

www.nystoptesting.com

http://unitedoptout.com/

and a great group to join for all of you in New York State:

http://www.facebook.com/groups/OptOutNewYork/

I have been repeatedly asked why I’m doing this, and that has been part of the motivation which led me to start this blog.  But mostly, other parents I talk to just aren’t aware of what’s happening or how it affects their children.  It has also been insinuated that opting out this early is silly and pointless.  By opting out my son from his Pre-K assessments, I might not be able to directly change the curriculum his teacher must teach or the manner in which she must do it.  The Pre-K assessments might not be the high-stakes tests that start in third grade.  But what I am doing is this:

I am attempting to preserve his individuality, his creativity, and his autonomy.  He won’t realize it now (he’s 4!!!).  But as he advances in the school system, he will possess an inherent curiosity to question what he is being offered.  And as he gets older I hope to instill the self-confidence he will need to say “NO” on his own.

Who am I?

I am a stay-at-home mother of two wonderful children.  I am many things in this world, but my position as mother is by far the most important of any I could have ever imagined.  I am a wife.  I am a daughter.  I am an artist.  I used to be a professor.  Perhaps I will do this again one day.  I am many things in this world.  Life roles constantly fluctuate.  We may define ourselves how others see us, but we become empowered when we examine how we see ourselves.

I love being home with my children.  This is my choice.  I gave up a career as an art professor and threw myself into mothering whole heartedly.  My life is rich and fulfilling.  My husband and I are happily married and have come to an agreement on how we want to live our lives.  We know what’s important to us, and we work together to achieve that.  Although he works full time and brings home the paycheck, we both agree that my role is equally important.  In this blog I hope to write about various topics from my perspective and all of my life’s roles that inform it–mother, wife, artist, gardener, baker, coffee-drinker, avid reader, critical-thinker, emotional basketcase 🙂

The title of my blog comes from Jack Kerouac’s “The Town and the City,” where he describes Mrs. Martin:

“…..To eat and to sleep, to have a house and to live in it, to have a family and to live with them–these are the things she knows.  To bask in the days that keep coming and going, to keep the house warm and clean and enjoyable, to prepare food and eat it and store it, to conquer sickness, keep things together, preside over the sweet needs and plain satisfactions of life, and to order the furies of existence around all these things–this is what she knows, and she understands that there is nothing else to know.

The depth of a woman’s heart is as unknowable as that of man’s, but nothing like restlessness and feverish rue ever abides there.  In the very deeps of this heart are contained all the secrets, and the one plain secret of life, which is something that is homely, course, sensual, and deep, something that is everlasting because it is serene and waits patiently.  A man may spend the night tracing the course of the stars above the earth, but the woman never has to worry her head about the course of the stars above the earth, because she lives in the earth and the earth is her home.  A man may yearn after a thousand shades and shapes that surround his fevered life, but to the woman there is only one shade and one shape to things, which she forever contemplates in the fullness of her profundity, and she never loses sight of it…..”