Thursday, January 23, 2014

Clear As Mud

Here's a topic that's as clear as mud: transgender students.

I will admit upfront that I am not terribly well educated about transgender issues.  I have been open about being a supporter of gay rights (or as I like to call them, civil rights), and often transgender issues and rights get lumped in with gay rights (as in the phrase LGBT -- lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender).  Honestly, I'm not sure what each one has to do with the other, but experts and people in the know have coined this term, so I defer to their expertise.

I believe, in my very limited understanding, that being transgender is a legitimate thing.  I believe it is possible for someone to be born biologically one gender yet feel as if he or she is actually the other gender.  I think it's probably pretty rare, but I believe it happens.  I don't believe it's a conscious choice by an individual -- it's just the way they are.  Much like I don't believe those who are gay are so by choice.  I can't imagine why anyone would choose to be gay, considering the social backlash that exists in this country (although it is moving in the right direction).  I can't imagine anyone would voluntarily choose to identify him or herself as transgender either because the social backlash against that is even greater than that against those who identify as gay.  I also can't believe that a child of any age would voluntarily choose to say he or she is transgender because that causes a huge brouhaha and opens the child up to bullying and cruelty from both peers and adults and society in general.  If a child identifies as transgender, that's got to say something for "being born that way" -- kids don't understand the controversy surrounding being transgender; they probably don't even really understand what it is (most adults don't even understand what it is) -- they just know that they are one gender physically but feel like they are the other.

I have to believe that such a drastic realization isn't taken lightly by anyone associated with the transgender person -- the individual him or herself, the parents, or any doctors or psychologists.  I'm sure that for a child to truly be identified as transgender, much analysis and discussion and understanding must happen first.  A child of 6, 10, 13, 16, or even an adult for that matter can't just walk into a psychologist's office and say, "I'm transgender," and have the response be, "Okee dokee, you are!"

That being said, something must be done to help those who truly are identified as transgender navigate their way in this world, and this includes school.  The California Transgender-Student Law, known as AB1266, has stirred up huge controversy.  A well-written law that asserts the rights of those who are transgender should be a good thing; note I said a WELL-WRITTEN LAW.  If AB1266 isn't well written, then it's going to do more damage than good.  Kids who are truly identified as transgender don't deserve to be bullied or harassed or discriminated against.  They are children and they are human beings with feelings.  If AB1266 is a bad law, then get it re-written so it is a good law.  If it a good law, then a massive education campaign must be launched.  In this country, ALL children deserve to get an education, and anyone who know anything about education knows about what is called the "hidden curriculum".  These are the things we all learn at school but are not directly taught -- things like punctuality, organization, teamwork, and tolerance.  So if ALL children deserve an education, we have to make sure that even children who identify as transgender get that education, too.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Rotten to the Common Core

The more I have been immersed up to my eyeballs in Common Core, the more I have discovered I have many concerns about them.  In theory, I like the idea of rigorous standards that are similar across state lines.  But after seeing how the standards are set up, how many there are, and how they are being used, I'm not so much a fan.  The more I learn about the Common Core, the more rotten the whole deal seems.  And I'll be honest -- I live in constant fear that someone in my district will find out how I feel and I will get in trouble for having a dissenting opinion from the powers that be in my district.  Although I freely admit that I have no idea how I haven't been found out -- it's not like I hide my blog posts from anyone.......

Today, a friend of mine shared this article with me, and parts of it just made me see red.  Here's the link to the article (it's long but worth a read), and what follows are some of my thoughts/reactions to what I read.

In terms of the CCSS getting students "college and career ready", here's a quote from the article:
"The substance of the standards themselves is also, in a sense, top down. To arrive at “college- and career-ready standards,” the Common Core developers began by defining the “skills and abilities” they claim are needed to succeed in a four-year college. The CCSS tests being developed by two federally funded multistate consortia, at a cost of about $350 million, are designed to assess these skills. One of these consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, claims that students who earn a “college ready” designation by scoring a level 4 on these still-under-construction tests will have a 75 percent chance of getting a C or better in their freshman composition course. But there is no actual evidence connecting scores on any of these new experimental tests with future college success."

Look at how much money is being spent to develop the tests alone that align with the CCSS.  That number is astronomical!  That's just test development!  That's not curriculum development or costs associated with scoring the tests!  But what really staggers my mind is that the tests being developed by PARCC are not yet finished but PARCC has already developed a scale for scoring the tests and for determining a student's readiness for college.  All without having FINISHED the test or PILOTING the test.  How is this even possible?

Speaking of being ready for college..... "The idea that by next year Common Core tests will start labeling kids in the 3rd grade as on track or not for college is absurd and offensive."

Absurd and offensive are just the start!  Imagine for just a moment that you have a 3rd grader at home if your kids aren't that age.  Imagine how you are going to feel when you get the report sent home from school that based on the test your child took, it has been determined that your child isn't going to make it into college.  This has been determined 10 YEARS before your child is actually going to go to college!  Are you going to tell your child this at age 8?  "Well, honey, this test you took says you didn't score well enough to go to college."  How motivating will that be for a kid to go to school?  What's the point?  It's 3rd grade and he can't make it into college anyway, so why bother?  School sucks!  Yes, labeling kids in 3rd grade as on track for college certainly is absurd and offense as well as damaging and de-motivating and hurtful.

Think that the whole idea is for the students of this country to benefit from these standards?  Think again, o benevolent one: "Having financed the creation of the standards, the Gates Foundation has entered into a partnership with Pearson to produce a full set of K–12 courses aligned with the Common Core that will be marketed to schools across the country. Nearly every educational product now comes wrapped in the Common Core brand name."

Implementing the CCSS has been one of the most lucrative deals ever to come about for publishing companies.  Pearson is a superpower in the education arena and they are set to supernova right through the atmosphere with the establishment of CCSS.  Anything that can have the label CCSS slapped on it and sold will go like hotcakes because all the Kool-Aid drinking CCSS cheerleaders gobble those products up in bulk.  The economy should start booming from all the money being made from every last little thing developed to coordinate with the CCSS.

Now, not everyone supports the CCSS.  "...opposing the Common Core is 'an array of organizations with multimillion-dollar budgets of their own and much experience in mobilizing crowds and lobbying lawmakers, including the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, the Pioneer Institute, FreedomWorks, and the Koch Bros.' These groups are feeding a growing right-wing opposition to the Common Core that combines hostility to all federal education initiatives and anything supported by the Obama administration with more populist sentiments."

At first, I feel a sense of relief that I'm not alone -- there are others out there who are speaking out against CCSS!  But then I look at the list of who's against it and their reasons and my heart sinks.  These people and organizations are just as radical as the ones who are ramming CCSS down the throats of American schools.  They might actually think the CCSS is a bunch of hooey, but we'll never know for sure because it's all mired in political agendas.  There is no benevolence here; it's just more agenda-pushing.

As a teacher, I have a vested interest in making sure my students are as well prepared as possible for the future, whether that future includes college or entering the workforce.  If I turn out a bunch of ill-informed students, they become problematic citizens -- maybe reliant on welfare, possible living in poverty, potentially unemployable because of lack of skills, possibly ending up in the prison system.  So no teacher wants to go easy on kids because we know damn well where "easy" gets us -- being senior citizens cared for by a generation of people who lack skills to take care of themselves much less the rest of us!  Teachers WANT rigor in their students' education!  Teachers WANT kids to be challenged!  Teachers WANT students to be innovators, problem-solvers, creative thinkers, and critical consumers of information!  Teachers WANT kids to know how to read, write, spell, speak, listen, calculate, and compute!  Teachers WANT kids to understand how the world around them works!  Teachers WANT students to understand the past in order to have a bright and promising future!  Teachers WANT students to be healthy and see the beauty in world!  Anyone who says that teachers who don't like the CCSS because they don't like the added accountability heaped upon them is utterly ridiculous.  Teachers are used to being held unfairly accountable for what their students do.  Teachers are constantly judged by society.  Teachers have endured high-pressure accountability for their entire careers.  So that's not the reason for opposition to the CCSS.  It's because these standards have been developed without any understanding of how education really works in order for companies to amass huge profits -- and do it all for the kids, so it looks neat and pretty.  It helps to further demonize anyone who dares speak out against the CCSS -- oh, you don't like the CCSS?  Then clearly you don't care about children or their education.

This is rotten.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How to Ruin School

I've been a teacher for more than 20 years, and the majority of those years have been spent teaching gifted kids.  I spent a lot of time finding lessons, materials, and activities that challenge those kids, so I don't think I am a stranger to the concept of a rigorous curriculum.  In fact, I think a rigorous curriculum is incredibly important.  The Common Core promises more rigor.  I'm not convinced it does; I'm not convinced it doesn't.  I like the sound of the standards, but there are so, so, so many of them, and some of them are really unrealistic, and it is impossible for one subject area teacher to actually cover them all thoroughly in a school year.  I'd love to wait and see what happens while these standards are implemented; let's see if the rigor really is there.

But what I know I definitely don't like about the CCSS is the way they are used to regulate Every. Damn. Thing. that happens in a classroom or a school.

Case in Point #1: Students write letters to Santa according to CCSS standards.  Come on!  This is a childhood rite of passage!  It's supposed to be fun, a fantasy, a dream!  It's not meant to be an exercise in correct argumentative writing form.  By sucking the fun out of activities like this that are rooted in fun, there is no joy left in learning.  Learning is purely utilitarian.  Can't there ever be a time when something the kids do at school can be just because?????

Case in Point #2: Bathroom breaks can help students do better on the tests that will come about as a result of CCSS.  Now, there has been some kerfluffle over the headline for this story being sensational, but to me, the point is this: nobody wants to lose instructional time because kids need to go to the bathroom.  Having scheduled bathroom times is common in elementary schools, but the suggestion that an entire class of students all finish with their bathroom activities in five minutes being timed with a stop watch is ridiculous!  And the idea that having kids use bathroom passes and writing down departure and arrival times to give extra practice in hitting the CCSS about telling time -- both analog and digital -- is preposterous!  Now we are taking a function of nature -- going to the bathroom -- and tying it somehow to CCSS.  When will someone, anyone with a scoche of influence stand up and publicly announce -- ENOUGH!

If adopting the CCSS means everything that happens in a school turns in to an exercise to learn the standards and prepare for the tests, education is going to be in need of overthrow, not just overhaul.