Education After The Disaster Capitalist Reform Era Ends

I went back to college at age 42 because I wanted to be a great teacher.  

Really - I approached it as one more of the challenges I enjoyed setting for myself.  Although I had the advantage of age and a pretty broad life experience to inform me, I quickly realized that the biggest obstacle to effective teaching and meaningful learning  were testing and grading - not the kinds of assessments that teachers do daily and intuitively but the prescribed, limiting and burdensome testing and subsequent grades that are discouraging or misleading and worst of all useless in a teacher's quest to guide a student toward his/her strengths and the ability for each student to reach his/her potential.

I believe that if teachers were allowed to do what they were taught to do and encouraged, supported and provided with the time and tools to do it, that teaching and learning would look like Kris' description here.

  Technology would be used to enhance the experience, not to drive it!  Students would be self directed but not solitary.  Teachers would be facilitators and essential partners in the process.  The routine 7 timed periods  facing 130+ students daily would be transformed into learning communities with a mix of instructional time to provide for the requisite discipline that students necessarily need to develop both intellectually and socially. "Personalized learning" would not mean computer seat time with software purchased in bulk both to provide profit for the seller, savings for the school district and standardization because the most efficient way to measure what reformers call "learning" is by comparing the performance of students to each other on the invalid and unreliable high stakes standardized test. That's what parents have been led to believe and accept anyway. 

The biggest obstacle would be funding, the kind of money that a provides for ongoing professional development - the kind that teachers only get if they are able to take college courses on their own dime and participate in workshops and collaborative work groups in the summer. The kind of money that allows smaller class size and time during the school day to develop new teaching skills and to collaborate with, observe and evaluate other teachers with the object being improved performance, not getting rid of "bad" teachers. 

What does your dream school look like? . 

Beware the Reform-y Types in Constructivist’s Clothing

There’s been a great way to teach out there in school-o-sphere for quite some time, which we know leads to authentic learning and happy kids.  It’s not lecture.  It’s not worksheets. It’s not even “hands-on.”  (“Hands-on” doesn’t always mean that kids are learning or even engaged.)
Put that away and get back to our hands-on learning!
Put that away and get back to hands-on learning!
It’s called constructivism, and it is totally awesome.  Seriously, though, it is!  When we hear the buzzwords, like “child-centered,” “inquiry-based,” “student-led,” etc., what we are hearing is an attempt to get kids to lead their own learning path and construct their own understanding.  You know what happens when people construct meaning from their own learning?  They remember.  They transfer.  They apply.
There have been critics along the way, just like there are with everything.  Some suggest that if you allow kids to construct meaning, they’ll come up with outlandish ideas that don’t fit the scenarios or problems.  I say, fine!  Let them make up silly ideas!  It helps start the thinking process towards more logical ones.  And–and this is a big AND–it keeps the creativity in tact, without adults knocking it down before 5th grade.
The education reform we’re seeing now, sitting on top of the trash heap we call the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), is not anything like that.  It is pretty much anti-constructivist.  It is pre-planned, pre-ordained, and not at all student-led, much less student-centered (which is a meaningless buzzword these days, anyway).  When it is agreed that all students must know the same things at the same times in order to move on to the next thing that all students must know at the same time, you have killed constructivism.  And, as Sir Ken Robinson has virally said, you’ve also killed creativity.
Thou shalt not kill...creativity
Thou shalt not kill…creativity
We know this.  We parents, students, and teachers–we know this is happening!  We know because school is boring.  We know because students are either frustrated at the slow pace or stressed out because they can’t keep up.  We know because test scores are evaluating everything these days.  And we know because our kids aren’t learning anything new or useful to their everyday lives and, even worse, they aren’t allowed to pursue their true interests and learn about the science, history, math, and art behind those interests.
But beware!  There are reformy types in constructivist clothes.  A while ago, I apologized to the people I had misled with my allegiance to the Common Core State Standards and have attempted to double back and show the truth of the most destructive educational movement since NCLB.  The CCSS is a set of national standards, created with corporate interests at the heart, and designed to rank our children based on test scores.  Now, that’s obviously not constructivist.  That’s just fascism.
Oh no! He used the "F" word!
Oh no! He used the “F” word!
I want to apologize again.  I used to be a major cheerleader for the Connected Mathematics Project (CMP), which was designed by some very smart folks at Michigan State University.  CMP is different because it attempts to get students to think about scenarios, relationships, and problems before or during their attempts to assign symbolism to them.  I really like this idea–get them to think, then solve.
And then came CMP2, and WHOA!
And then came CMP2, and WHOA!
Students complained that it was too hard, since all they wanted to do was solve the problem, get the answer, and see me nod.  Teachers complained that it seemed a little too disconnected to be called Connected Math.  And parents didn’t understand what was happening to the math they knew when they grew up.
So, I rah’ed and I cheered and I tried to get everyone excited.  And it worked for many.  People started coming around.
I brought up a colleague’s frustration about the disconnectedness of the program (units didn’t always seem to go together) and why that was.  A Pearson representative told me that the key is to stick to the order of the script.
I kid you not, he called it a script.
CUT! Stop ad-libbing and stay on script!
CUT! Stop ad-libbing and stay on script!
When I went back to look at the teacher’s edition, it clicked.  It was more like a violent shock than a click.  I was floored.  This whole time, I was reading a script that I had to follow in order for this program to be cohesive.  Then I realized that the whole reason I didn’t do exactly what the pre-written lesson plans (the script) told me was because I knew some things wouldn’t work for my kids.
I know my kids.  I know when to go off course.  When college kids riding bikes around on some tour wasn’t going to cut it for my students, I tried something else to help them discover the ideas that we were trying to find.  Sometimes I even let them come up with their own scenarios.  A script doesn’t allow kids to discover, it just leads them a little more slowly by the hand then showing them some examples on the board.  It may be more effective for some, but not for all.  Especially if they can’t relate to the scenario or problem at hand.  And a script doesn’t allow teachers to teach, it just tells them what to say.
Nothing like a script and some Xanax!
Nothing like a script and some Xanax!
Connected Math and its cousin in ELA, Springboard, are not constructivist, they are not child-led, and they aren’t even very good at getting kids to discover meaning, if you think about it.  They are wearing the constructivist clothing because Pearson wants us to think that the power to learn is still in the hands of teachers and students, rather than textbooks and tests.
When you wrap your anti-intellectual program in a disguise, isn’t that sort of an admission?  An admission that it doesn’t work and you have some other motive?  What could possibly motivate Pearson, other than the success of our next generation?
Kris L. Nielsen continues to brutally kick the CCSS around in his new book, Children of the Core, and wants all parents to “refuse” to let their kids take the state standardized tests.  Learn how here!

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