Last night I attended the first of four informational meetings hosted by our school’s principal. The topic: What is RTTT and how does it affect our school?
I had to chuckle when I arrived because the first screen on the smart board was a cartoon titled “Alphabet Soup”. Depicted was an aerial view into a bowl of letters wherein the word ‘content’ could be read, and floating all around the bowl were a lot of acronyms.
All jokes aside, it was hardly funny to see that only 8 people, two of which were myself and my husband, showed up to hear what our principal had to say. Was this apathy? A feeling of disconnect? Or just being unaware of how big this really is?
The meeting was largely factual and I must say that our principal did a great job explaining the whole mess. I applaud her for taking the time to organize these meetings and open a dialogue with parents. And I hope that more parents will be attending the next meeting.
I didn’t know that New York State was turned down for the federal grant the first time it applied. Apparently because our teacher & principal evaluation plan wasn’t up to par. But lucky for us we succeeded in securing our funds once we beefed up methods of evaluation. Hoop #1 for a mere $32,ooo to my district–that’s only $8000 each year for the next 4 years! Naturally you ask, Why bother? Apparently because changes were inevitable according to the Regents Reform Agenda, so we might as well get some extra money out of the deal.
One of the major components of RTTT is “Implementing Common Core standards and developing curriculum and assessments aligned to these standards to prepare students for success in college and the workplace” (NYSED). Who doesn’t want high standards and prepared students in our schools? But I stand by my opinion that Common Core standards work to homogenize education by forcing teachers to (largely) teach the same things in the same way, thus forcing students to follow identical learning paths that supposedly end with college degrees and stable high-paying jobs. It is a monoculture where the benefits of diversity in both student and teacher are ignored–dare I say discouraged? That was one point that I brought up during the discussion. I feel that education is greatly enriched by teachers who use a variety of approaches. I think we all fondly remember certain teachers from childhood or from college, perhaps, that we felt really reached us, connected with us, and inspired us? The Common Core method might work for a particular student if and only if that student happens to respond to that particular method. But what about the many students for whom learning would be better accomplished in a different way, or with a variety of ways? We need diversity in our education to support the diversity in the world. The Core says “workplace” but they really mean “college.” Not everybody is destined for four years of college. And what is the Common Core really doing to prepare the next skilled carpenter? And why don’t we celebrate our agricultural heritage and the (used to be) wonderful existence of the family farm, for example? The Common Core ignores culture and ultimately says, “we don’t consider that to be a worthy achievement.”
Another component of RTTT is Data-Driven Instruction, or “building instructional data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practice in real time” (NYSED). Sounds a bit cold and inhuman, doesn’t it? Our school uses STAR assessments where teachers get real data about where students are failing and why. This, we are told, is so they can target these struggling students and rectify any shortcomings. I’m all for teachers being able to assess their students and tests are certainly one way to do so. But I’m not convinced that schools should be so data-driven. To me it’s like going on vacation somewhere absolutely stunning, but spending the entire trip behind the lens of a camera, clicking away at all the hotspots and tourist attractions. Sure you come home and look at your pictures and exclaim to your friends that you saw the Grand Canyon or that famous building in that famous city. But you were so busy capturing each moment that you never took the time to just look, experience and think about all the nuances that are contained in that moment. The Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre in Paris and is constantly surrounded by a horde of tourists vying for a clear shot at it with their cameras. I know, I took that picture myself years ago. But what did my husband photograph while he was there on a high school trip? The horde itself! Does he have a picture of Da Vinci’s most famous painting? No, but his experience of the moment is just as rich if not more so. Anyway, back to data-driven… considering the amount of time and work the implementation of the Common Core has placed on teachers, I doubt if they’ll even have time to use that important data to address individual student needs. Our principal said that it would indeed be a challenge as teachers learn to adopt different methods or adapt their own… that it was an experiment. I like what my husband said: “Experiments are great, but a child is in a grade-level only once and what if that turns out to be a failed experiment?”
We talked briefly about “Turning around the lowest-achieving schools” (NYSED), and the problems that larger, mostly urban, districts face with affluent districts attracting the best teachers, while struggling schools become a starting point for new inexperienced teachers destined to leave once they land a better job. Let me briefly address this by saying that RTTT does not close the disparity gap between schools. In fact I see more evidence that it perpetuates it. From what I understand, struggling schools are more likely to be given a Teach for America teacher who is inherently inexperienced and temporary. Also, the lowest-achieving schools are usually the ones struggling financially and will now be burdened trying to provide the infrastructure needed to accomplish the Common Core. With many of the state assessments being computer-based, only the richest schools will be able to hit the ground running with the technology needed. Most importantly, as with much public policy, RTTT and the Common Core does not address the real cause of much of the problem. It is nothing more than a band-aid on greater social issues such as poverty & domestic instability.
And of course, there is the growing testing culture that is created by RTTT and the Common Core. Our students are facing more tests in school than at any point in our nation’s history, with baseline assessments, progress assessments, gross assessments, field tests, high-stakes state mandated tests, regents, college entrance exams, etc. One parent asked if the school felt pressure to teach to the test. Our principal said she didn’t think so as they haven’t seen many of the news tests and don’t know what’s on them, thus making it difficult to “teach to the test.” But with many of these tests tied to teacher, principal, and school performance evaluations I find it hard to believe that the idea of the upcoming test doesn’t inevitably play a large role in classroom instruction.
I know I am just scratching the surface on many of these issues and it’s probably time for an overdue disclaimer 🙂 As I try to describe these issues, please know that I am often sorting through them myself for the first time, trying to check facts, trying not to just regurgitate information, trying to add my voice as a concerned parent. My oldest child is 4. He’s in Pre-K. This is my crash course with the educational system. Anyone out there with a more seasoned voice, please feel free to add it in a comment!