Parents, is this what we want?

Stephen Round’s resignation from his job as teacher is the third public resignation of a teacher this year.

How many others have privately left the profession?  Then there are the veteran teachers who are counting down their remaining time until retirement.  I know of many.  The best teachers won’t compromise their teaching philosophies–at least they’ll try like hell not to.  But how much more can they take?  How many more will leave?  Or how many good teachers will just give up and relent to the system?  Is this what we want for our kids?  I want the BEST teachers for my kids!  I don’t want the ones who just say “oh well, let me just do what they (the mandates) say.”

With new state and federal mandates overwhelming teachers, it is becoming harder and harder for them to do their job.  The liberty for creative and innovative teaching is being replaced with a one-size-fits all approach.  This is bad for teachers.  I praise the brave teachers out there who have the guts to speak out.

But this particular post is a plea to parents–This is bad for our kids!!!  OUR children are individuals and often require an individual approach.  OUR children learn at different rates and have different strengths and weaknesses.  OUR children come from different home situations and cultural backgrounds.  Some of OUR children are more high energy, some are visual learners, some connect to learning through creative endeavors like art or music, some have learning disabilities, and OUR children’s unique characteristics go on and on and on.  How can we expect to implement a standard that demands all of OUR children to learn in exactly the same way?

The Common Core Learning Standards expect them to do just that.  The CCLS that most states adopted to receive federal Race To The Top grant money claim to provide all schools with rigorous standards in ELA and Math (other subjects to follow) across the board.  They claim to provide students with the education they need to succeed after graduation and they claim to hold teachers and schools accountable.  To be fair, I’ve heard some teachers and administrations state that there are good aspects of the new standards.  But my perspective as a parent sees more harm than good.

I know a (just turned) five-year-old in Kindergarten, who doesn’t get enough playtime.  Every day she brings home at least half a dozen Pearson worksheets.  She doesn’t get a nap anymore and often falls asleep at her table.  And as a result, she often loses recess at the end of the day.  This is the kind of teaching style that comes as a result of the “rigors” of the Common Core.

A mother of a seventh grader in a larger school system says her son is bored in math class because he doesn’t get the challenge he needs.  The teacher’s response is that her hands are tied… that the curriculum for the day gets sent to all the teachers in a top-down approach and that they must teach it on that day and in the agreed-upon method.

A ten-year-old is a good student and does well in his English class, carrying a 97 average.  But he doesn’t test well.  His first progress-monitoring assessment put him in need of services that he really doesn’t need.

A first-grader with autism is a brilliant reader, a skill that she learned with ease at the age of three.  She’s also gifted in math.  But she is bored at school and spends most days in a repetitive cycle of behavioral problems.  The teachers are too busy trying to implement the appropriate (and approved) interventions and won’t listen to the mother.  (She was even excluded from a meeting about her own daughter).

My own son is in Pre-K.  Although they still have a fairly well-rounded schedule with specials in art, music, gym, and library, New York State has decided to add to the federal Common Core mandates, placing certain expectations at the Pre-K level.  Pre-K is the new Kindergarten we are told.  My son is a high energy kid who needs LOTS of play.  Recently he has started to exhibit behavioral problems at school by refusing to participate in the academic learning parts of the day.  I fear he is already bored because those parts of the day come at the same time and in the same way.  A lot of parents are reporting the same thing–that their child doesn’t want to go to school because they hate that part of the day.  We’re not talking about a 10th grader here… These kids are 4!!!  It’s so very sad that they already hate school.  From what I understand, Pre-K never used to be like this.

I admit, being a mother of a Pre-K student has not given me a lot of first-hand experience with the school system.  But stories like these horrify me!  I don’t want this type of data-driven and corporate-driven education for my kids.  Do you?

Why, in such a large country like the United States with such a rich and diverse lot of people, would we want to set the same standards across the board?  I’ve heard it before, like at the Common Core Informational Meeting at my school.  Parents are scared.  They want their children to succeed.  They hear high standards, and they want that for their kids.  Who doesn’t?  I don’t know a single parent, educator, administrator, or extraterrestrial that would disagree.  But the Common Core Learning Standards, aren’t really about standards.

The Common Core Learning Standards are about control.  And they are about money.  As a parent, I am extremely bothered that local control, and even local input, is being pilfered by policy makers that have no real experience teaching.  I want a teacher to decide HOW they are going to educate MY children.  I want a teacher to decide what lessons to teach and how they are going to teach them.  If a teacher sees some merit in certain aspects of the Common Core, then they should be allowed to implement them in THEIR OWN WAY.  No teacher should be so hindered by all the details and mandates of a system that they come to detest teaching!  And if a teacher is in control, then I know who to talk to if I sense a problem with my children. 

High standards are not the issue.  However, it is the underlining details of the Common Core that should be unacceptable to parents.  We all need to be concerned about the increasing number of high-stakes tests and other frivolous assessments that are tied to the Common Core.  OUR kids are taking more tests than at any other time in our nation’s history!  We are the only developed country to test OUR kids in multiple-choice format!  These tests are not accurate portrayals of OUR children’s learning.  Yet they are the cause of a lot of unnecessary stress and they consume many valuable classroom hours–not only for taking the test, but also in test preparation.  Not only are OUR kids being judged by their test score, reducing them to merely a number, our teachers and our schools are being graded by the results of these tests.  It is no wonder that when so much is riding on these tests, that a culture of ‘teaching to the test’ will arise.  My principal assures me it won’t happen here, “…we won’t let that happen.”  If it hasn’t happened yet, it will… even great teachers having a breaking point… and if your job security is riding on this (or your sanity)… you’d better make sure that those scores are good.

On top of all of the high-stakes tests, all of which are developed at an enormous financial cost by an external for-profit corporation, all schools are being REQUIRED to purchase a method of student evaluation that has been approved by the state.  My school chose STAR, a product developed by Renaissance Learning.  These are computer-based assessments that test a student’s learning progress in ELA and Math at the beginning of the year, called baseline testing, and then retest later in the year to gauge their learning progress.  When students fail to test well, they are given a prescribed method of intervention and then retested and retested, sometimes with the suggestion to retest every week.  Is this how we want OUR children’s experience with learning to look like?  Although my son has yet to face any high-stakes testing, we have already committed to opting-out!  We have taken this a step further and also opted-out of the STAR assessments.  My apologies to the teachers who find STAR useful, but I will not allow my children’s data to enter the system for the benefit of the government or the profits of Renaissance Learning.  We, as parents, should be outraged that are children are being treated like guinea pigs when companies like Pearson Corporation send out their field tests that have no benefit for OUR kids or our schools.

Many schools have seen disastrous changes.  But, if your school is like my school, then you have yet to see the full fallout of the Common Core mandates.  We are a small rural school, fairly insulated for the moment.  Parents in my district have yet to see what some other schools have already sacrificed.  All in the name of creating better test takers, art, music, PE, recess, field trips, and many other valuable learning outlets are being grossly cut back or eliminated.  Even with these programs still in place, teachers in these fields are being asked to adapt their lessons to buff up ELA and math Common Core standards.  Must we wait until the shit really hits the fan, when even the schools that have managed to keep their heads above water, trying to make the best of the new mandates are going to be forced to make drastic changes?  Budgets are finite.  And when the meager funds given by RTTT run out, who do you think will end up footing the bill when schools are forced to pay for assessment systems, tests, computer infrastructure, the constant updating of software, not to mention test prep materials when it turns out that our kids’ test scores aren’t high enough?  Then you’ll see the cuts.  We, as parents, should be outraged about the direction in which OUR children’s education is headed, and about how OUR tax money will be spent!

We are told it’s necessary, like I heard at my school… “But we need to produce better readers.”  In my opinion our kids need more art, more music, more free play, more time to think creatively, more teachers with the freedom to innovate!  And my response to this talk about assessments and accountability and raising standards… why can’t we accomplish this locally?  Either our school was okay to begin with and this nonsense has no bearing whatsoever, or we know that our school needs some help and maybe if the government would put additional resources where they are actually needed, these particular schools will be able to make the necessary changes at the local level.  Teachers need to hold their students accountable.  Administrations need to hold their teachers accountable, and BOEs need to oversee what’s happening within their schools.  And guess what?  We parents have to privilege of speaking up WHENEVER we have concerns about ANY aspect of OUR children’s education.  Nobody can silence parents.  Nobody can oust us or reprimand us?

I want my son to love school.  I want him to love to learn.  But I fear in the current system of mandates, education is becoming homogenized.  I imagine that many will become bored with school and as a result become bored with learning.  In the words of Stephen Round, do we want our children to experience “a confining and demeaning education?”  I want my children to grow up with a free imagination, high level of creativity, and immense powers of critical thinking.  I don’t think they’re going to get this from the Common Core.

We need more teachers like Stephen Round to remain in the profession.  Instead these excellent veteran teachers are heading for the door.  Those that remain are afraid of speaking up.  When they do, they are considered trouble makers.  I’ve heard stories about some being asked to take early retirement.  To others it is suggested they might find another line of work.  When good young teachers, who we desperately need, enter the field, how will they perceive this treatment of their veteran colleagues?  To whom will they look, when they have questions or need advice?  Call me a pessimist, but I see a future generation of teachers who won’t question what is being handed down.  They won’t know any better.  And I do not want this for my children!  We should not want this for OUR children!

We need more teachers to speak up and expose the limitations of the new mandates.  But more importantly, we as parents need to listen to them and we need to become informed ourselves.  Then we need to speak up!  We need to voice our concerns and we need to tell our teachers, our administrators, and our representatives what WE want for OUR children.  They have to listen to us.  We cannot be silenced.  We cannot be ousted.  We don’t have to be intimidated by top-down pressures.  These students are OUR children.  We have to decide what’s best for them and make our voices heard.  My son’s teacher knows how I feel about the Common Core and assessments.  Our principal knows.  I’ve written to each member of our Board of Education.  I’ve written to president Obama and Arne Duncan.  I’ve commented in the appropriate sections at Pearson Corporation, NYSED, EngageNY, and other education-related websites.  But these entities need to become overwhelmed with our concerns–with our voices.  If we reach a critical mass of parent-outrage, we can see change.  

It’s intimidating at times, I know.  There have been moments when I really doubted my position, moments when it just didn’t seem worth it, and moments when I just didn’t think I could make a difference anyway.  But parents… We have to be the ones to carry the title of ‘pain in the ass’ and let nothing go unscrutinized.  We must call for an end to the rigmarole that education has become. Alone we just a drop in the bucket, but together we can bring that bucket to overflowing!

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6 thoughts on “Parents, is this what we want?

  1. AMEN SISTER!! You are a shining example of the courage and boldness that all parents can look to for advice and support! Keep telling the truth, and folks will listen!

    Another ‘piece’ that parents need to know is how many colleges and universities are going “test optional” for admission. As the public schools with RTTT mandates increase testing, the need for standardized testing to determine “college readiness” and admission is diminishing. Admissions reps are looking at individual essays, high school coursework and extra-curricular activities rather than a standardized test score. We have been told at several universities that all a high SAT score predicts is how well a student MAY do in his/her first semester. After that – it’s all about the student’s autonomy, which is NOT supported by the CCSS and the test obsession that starts in PRE-K now.

    Fairtest.org has a list of colleges/universities that are test optional:
    http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional

    • That is a great point about the trend toward test-optional at the college level. It seems that as public schools push toward more testing, the very qualities that colleges are looking for are no longer being supported. Ultimately the common core claim that it better prepares students for college is false– it is doing the opposite and we parents need also be concerned about this.

  2. Pingback: Parents, is this what we want? | Tadika2U.com - Early Childhood Education

  3. Pingback: To Refuse It All? | The Plain Satisfactions

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