Sunday, September 22, 2013

Common Core, Accountability and M&M's

This morning, I watched Dr. Megan Koschnick talk about the developmentally inappropriateness of Common Core State Standards.  Click here to watch the video.  The video is published on a website entitled, "Truth in American Education".  If you are interested, you can delve into the political, behind-the-scenes motivations and commentary.  I will leave you to search the site and draw your own conclusions.  But, politics aside, Dr. Koschnick makes some very valid points.

I'd like to cite my personal, education and professional experience here, just to offer a reference for my perspective (And, if there is some philanthropist out there who takes note of my brief resume and thinks to herself, "Hmmm...   I would love to pay this lady to wax educational philosophy all day!"  then, so be it.):
  • My mom is a special education teacher at the youth court.  She has the children who are incarcerated...  The children society has locked up.
  • My mom owned a child care center when I was a child.
  • Mom has a B.S. degree in Special Education and an M.S. in Counseling.
  • I taught private pre-school for 11 years prior to moving into public education.
  • I have an A.S. degree in Education.
  • I have a B.S. degree in Human Services Counseling.
  • I have an M.S. degree in Elementary Education, with an endorsement in Special Education.
  • I taught special education in a variety of settings for 12 years.  I also served as Local Survey Chairman.
  • I attended a program to obtain an alternate route license in Educational Administration.
  • I am married to a Naval Academy graduate who sports a degree in Statistics.  He has a M.S. Degree in Educational Administration.  He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Educational Administration.
  • I have three daughters, ages 21, 18 and 5.  (Yes, 5...)
  • My two older daughters have cystic fibrosis, and my eldest daughter had a double lung transplant almost 2 years ago.
  • My middle daughter is a college freshman and is currently participating in a research drug study.  Both girls have participated in multiple drug studies to further research for CF.
  • I have great experience with alcoholism and addiction, and family dynamics and recovery.
  • As a result, I have a close, personal relationship with God, meditate regularly and explore spirituality, which has led me to teach children Yoga and meditation practice.
  • I'm from Gautier, Mississippi.  I moved away when I was in the 3rd grade, lived in Florida and Virginia, and came back here when I was 30 years old.
Thus, my experience is varied and hails from multiple perspectives.  In the spirit of the Lion King and remembering who I am, I'd like to take a moment to breathe and write it down for later reference.  In doing what is required, I don't want to forget what I actually believe and know in my heart is good for children.

First, I was heartened by Common Core when it first came on the scene, because I am from Mississippi.  While the rest of the nation is rallying against Common Core as a violation of state's rights, I am looking at Mississippi's need to do something, anything, the rest of the nation is doing.  Mississippi is plagued with poverty that stems from ignorance and illiteracy.  We cannot continue to do our own thing and expect to make marked change for our citizens.

However, I was conflicted when I actually looked at the Standards.  Like Dr. Koschnick, I had grave concerns about the developmental appropriateness of the Common Core.  Drawing on my pre-school teaching experience and my knowledge of special education, I did not see success on the horizon for many of our children.  Failure to measure up...  That's what an initial review of Common Core brought to mind.  And, of course, that sparked that empathetic part of me who knows what it is like to be a little girl, with an alcoholic dad, who never measured up at home...  School was the one place I excelled.  My educational experiences helped stoke a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.  What will happen to the children who don't measure up at home or at school?  Like the directions on the shampoo bottle, "Wash, rinse, repeat."  We are destined to create a negative cycle for those children.

Currently, "accountability" is where it's at in education.  Why?  Money.  Plain and simple.  And, I know for a fact that "the test" is not an accurate measure of achievement for many children.  But, we use it...  We crunch numbers...  We look at the data.  Because it is all we have as a quantitative measure for the qualitative process of building living, breathing, feeling, thinking human beings.  However, if you are sitting in your living room looking at school ratings in the newspaper, or even if you are a teacher who is looking at the test and  determining that Susie has no idea how to determine the main idea of a passage, I can tell you that the data doesn't tell the whole story.  The man reading his newspaper and seeing the report of a school rated 'D' doesn't know how many students with special education needs are served in that school...  He doesn't know how many children in the school don't speak a word of English.  He doesn't know how many children came to school to take that test after having stayed up half the night listening to parents fight in drunken rages.  The teacher analyzing testing data knows.  And, she knows that Susie didn't take her medication to treat diagnosed AD/HD that morning.  She also knows that Susie didn't read one word on the test anyway, making the data null and void in and of itself because anything correct was a guess.  But, it doesn't matter what the teacher knows or doesn't know because her principal's job is to hold her accountable for the performance of her students...  No excuses.  (And, stop your annoying whining.) 

All of the above considerations bring me back to my thoughts on the video.  In a nutshell, I have no problem with any curriculum we set forth.  There are problems with Common Core, but there were problems with our other state developed curriculum too.  What I have a problem with is the expectation that all students will master the standards at a certain level.  Cite Piaget all you want...  The fact is I have a real 5-year-old sitting beside me that has already mastered the majority of the Standards outlined in the Common Core.  She reads, she writes, she does math calculations and solves complex math problems...  Speaking and listening?  Come over and talk to her.  I have children in my school who are much like Micah.  They can rock through Common Core with no problem...  Developmentally appropriate or not.

That brings me to research.  The people who are coming out against Common Core are primarily referencing developmental studies that are out-of-date.  Thank God researchers in the field of cystic fibrosis and transplant aren't taking this same approach.  Brain research has come a long way since Piaget and pals.  Dr. Koschnick states that we do not want to use our children as research subjects, but I beg to differ.  If Sarah, Dan and other CF patients didn't step up to the plate to help with research, we would still be in the dark ages.  Danielle gave permission for research within her transplant process, as well.  That's how progress is made.  That is how we move forward and continue to become the best we can be.  Research and trial and error is the reason Danielle is currently alive today.

The truth is that we are looking for simple formulas for complex problems.  And, in some cases, we have come up with complex formulas for simple problems.  We have thrown out common sense and human compassion in pursuit of College and Career Readiness.  Answers?  I don't have any.  But, I do have m&m's.

I recently had a little boy brought into my office during the pilot Common Core pre-assessment.  His 6-year-old eyes took one look at that test and said, "No thanks.  I choose to roll around on the floor."  So, I took off my principal hat and put on my mom hat just for a moment.  I put my arm around him, spoke kindly to him and gave him three m&m's to recharge so he could go in there and finish coloring in bubbles.  We are going to crunch his data right along with the other 20 children in the class, but we won't account for the m&m variable.

Thus, I'm left to draw the same conclusion I drew after the inception of No Child Left Behind.  It isn't the curriculum that is the problem.  It is the obsession with testing and accountability.  It is the ridiculous premise that every student is going to fully master any curriculum.  And, it is the nonsensical legislation that ties funding to test scores.  That is the real problem.  Only after we as a public become outraged that legislators, with no background in education, are determining how our tax dollars are spent at the expense of our children, will change come about.  What would happen if every parent chose to keep their child out of school during testing?  Currently 95% of students must be tested in order to get the $$$.  That's our law here in MS, anyway, and I imagine there are similar laws in other states.  We must tell the lawmakers we are sick of testing our kids to death...  Having a 6-year-old take a 3 hour test does not make sense to any sane person who has ever met a 6-year-old.  Talk about developmentally inappropriate practice!?  That is it!