Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Resolutions are for idealistic hipsters....

It's that time of year again. The time when we all tell ourselves (and everyone within earshot) just how dramatically our life is about to change. Of course it is. Of course we do. Just like we did the last twenty New Year’s eves. And how well did all of THOSE turn out? Many of us are fantastic resolution makers. Beyond that, not so good. The making, good. The doing, not so good.

January is the "official" start time for change. A new year, a new you and all that jazz-you know the story. But if you really think about it- shouldn't you be making changes all year long? Why the hell are you waiting till the end of the year or the start of a new year? If your life was screwed up before 12/31, its going to be screwed up going into the new year. "But this year will be different!" you are probably saying or thinking as you read this. I truly wish you the best of luck with that. I know for myself- making a "resolution" is basically setting myself up for failure- because NOBODY holds me to higher standards than me- so when I fail- I fail HARD.

Let's count my resolution failures shall we?

1) Years 2002-2010- Going to lose weight and get into shape and eat better (even joined a gym for 5 of those years- have you seen my fat ass?)

2) Years 2005-2010- Going to quit smoking (quit for 6 months in '06, and again for 4 months in '08. The rest of the year's, maybe quit for a couple of weeks maybe a month)

3) Years 2001- 2010- Going to stop "sweating the small stuff" (OK- I have relaxed a little more over the years)

4) Years 2001-2010- Going to work with my hubby to make and stick to a budget (We try, all year round- getting better, but still not there)

So yeah- the biggest resolutions most people make, are my biggest failures.Damn. It's kind of depressing. I have come to the realization that if you make a resolution you might as well throw a penny in a fountain and make a wish. It’s the same hopeful optimism that drives both activities. No "resolution" will work unless you have formulated a plan- written it down and gave yourself reasonable time to complete it. And I repeat- why didn't you (or I) do this earlier in the year? I have needed to lose weight ALL YEAR. I have needed to quit smoking ALL YEAR. I have needed to save money and take better control of my finances ALL YEAR. The changing of the calendar after drinking, eating and smoking to my heart's content is not magical in itself. If only! Then we would all be thin beautiful, rich non smokers and there would be peace on Earth yadda yadda yadda.

If I am going to try to better myself, I should be doing it year-round. It should be a constant goal, not something marked on a calendar. I know that these things need to start at some point, and what I need to do. I also know that falling on my ass and looking like a total schmuck and then beating myself up over my dismal failure is not a good strategy.

So despite an abysmal track record and a vast wasteland of shattered dreams, we continue to approach every New Year the same way; with the same pointless strategy. Isn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome? So that must mean that a whole bunch of us are off our nut insane because that’s exactly what we do.

2013 hasn't been a horrible year- of course we had our setbacks, but there was a lot of good too. I'm still in school, The Mister is 3 classes away from his Bachelor's Degree (I am a year out- but hey almost there!), I got an amazing job as lead teacher and director of a great preschool, The Boy went away to camp for a week and we both survived, Teenzilla shaved her head for St. Baldrick's, (still blown away by that!) I got to meet Mary Tyler Mom at the shaving event- that was fantastic! I was a very loud advocate for The Boy and spread autism awareness like fairy dust all year, I got to watch a beautiful woman realize the dream of becoming a mom, to TWINS- I Want a Dumpster Baby has been a source of many smiles and happiness for me this year! I am pretty happy with 2013 for the most part, and look forward to a productive 2014.

I won't be making one single solitary resolution though. With the exception of those born on January 1, none of us are actually a full year older on New Year’s day. I challenge challenge everyone today to stop looking at the new year as a means to an end and to start looking at every moment as an opportunity for a new beginning. So eat, drink and be merry ,and just be just realistic, thankful, and hopeful.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The holiDAZE with Autism

Making him take pictures- not my best idea

The HoliDAZE and Autism... two things that don't often mix well. The rushing, the loud music, the winter clothes, the crowds,  and new foods can all be a sensory NIGHTMARE for the child with Autism. Meltdowns are more likely to happen during this time of year- and with all of the other things going on it is VERY easy as a parent to get overwhelmed ourselves. So here are some things that we have found helps us out this crazy time of year...and being blessed with a child who has High Functioning Autism, we have it easier than some folks. But these tips can be helpful for ANY child and frazzled parent. So here goes...

1)This time of year is filled with meeting new people and the social stresses of being polite, and thanking people for gifts can put a BIG strain on a kiddo on the spectrum. Social stories are AMAZING helpers - but so is a willingness as parents to be understanding, TRY and limit interactions that involve a lot of new people and settings.  Don't do too much on any one day, if possible- limit things to one event a day. And if at all possible- try to entertain at your house- this gives your child a safe environment where expectations are  understood.

2)Schedules tend to change A LOT this time of year. And as I am sure any parent of an autistic child will tell you, schedules and predictability are VITAL in keeping the peace. Try and keep the daily schedule as close to "normal" as possible. Have a chill out time if you can. Try and include (if and when appropriate) your kiddos in the process. Put events on a calendar just for them- then remind them as time gets closer- it helps to take the mystery out of something new- as they can get ready by watching the count down. Each morning, share that day's schedule with the kids, and only that day's schedule. Don't worry about tomorrow or next week.  Again- SOCIAL STORIES!! Can't say enough about them!

3)Sensory issues during the holidays - where to begin? New foods, new textures, new sounds....it can be a veritable mine field for a autistic child.  Some things that might help are Keep clothes soft and comfortable,( this is particularly hard for me as I am the "Let's get dressed up" mom). Serve a favorite at meals, or have them eat before. This is a cardinal rule in our house- nothing worse than a hungry kid -ANY kid. Don't force hello's and goodbyes- this is a chaotic time with a lot going on- forcing the issue is NOT in anyone's best interest!  Crowded malls bring out the worst in people- imagine not having the ability to filter all of the noise, touching, lights and loud people- you would meltdown too!! Try and shop without then kid - you will BOTH be better off!  

4) Make sure family and friends are well informed about your child's "quirks". What might be mistaken as obnoxious or rude behavior is more than likely just a part of your autistic child's personality. Seeing the world in black and white can be a blessing and a curse. Especially around the holidays when we might be interacting with people that we don't see often, and who may not always be on our top 10 list. Make sure guests are aware that your kid may need a break- and they are walking away without answering because they feel overwhelmed, not because they are being a brat. Or (especially in our house) the kiddo answering a question or engaging in conversation that is COMPLETELY about dinosaurs- just smile and nod- we will take care of it when it seems to be out of control. Remember, they want to be involved too- but if you ask a lot of questions that is usually a sure way to shut them down. Also- processing time is usually longer, so be patient and wait for your answer!  

5)Find ways that your kid can help to make the holidays their own. Baking, decorating, setting the table, helping with Christmas cards- be as creative as you can. This is an amazing tradition builder as well as making Christmas with Autism a good time for all. 

6) And please don't forget about US. As parents to a kiddo on the spectrum, we spend a great deal of our time keeping schedules, trying to make sure  other siblings aren't losing out on things they like as well, school issues, friend issues,  and the holiDAZE are no exception. We don't get to enjoy holiday functions and family gatherings, probably because we are trying to keep the kiddo on an even keel,so most times we just don't get to go at all. We get a little stressed, overwhelmed and lonely too. Stop by with some of those cookies the whole family got together to make- you know- that fun event we decided not to attend because our ASD kiddo is all over the place, meltdown conditions are high, and the time of evening it is at is NOT the best time for him.  Please don't assume that just because he is older, he is "better." Not how it works. For us- early signs of puberty are starting- so now we have a whole new set of challenges. Everybody is dealing with their own challenges with autism and the holiDAZE- just remember- be patient, and be kind. We really appreciate it. 

So whether it is a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah,  Happy Kwanzaa, Blessed Yule or Merry Jar of Dirt for you- I hope some of these will help.   And please- by all means wish me a Happy/Merry/Blessed  whatever- I promise not to be offended.... I will be happy you took a minute to say something nice to me. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

One pissed off white suburban mom

You know what? I really want to thank U.S. Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, for pointing out that the only reason I am against Common Core is because I am a white suburban mom who has  realized my kids aren't geniuses. WHEW! Thanks for that Mr. Duncan. Here I was thinking that Common Core was a reboot of No Child Left Behind, another one size fits all set of educational standards that failed spectacularly. But clearly, as you so succinctly pointed out- it is ME who is missing the point- what with all my "helicopter mom" antics and happy ignorance of my children's poor education.  I am thrilled that you find it "“fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”  (P.S. what kind of sentence is this? Seriously- YOU are in charge of education?)

(If you haven't read the article- please read it here- I am not exaggerating or joking)

I was apparently completely wrong in thinking that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were developmentally inappropriate,  micro-managing attempt to guarantee that teachers will teach to the test and attempt to turn otherwise bright, imaginative students into fact regurgitating drones that are unhappy, frustrated and worst of all- NOT LEARNING. I guess I was wrong about the fact that CCSS is a program that is paid for by billionaires, and "researched" by people who have zero educational background.  And I must have misunderstood that  states have been threatened  to implement this very flawed set of standards or lose federal funds.
And when you said "The Common Core has become a rallying cry for fringe groups that claim it is a scheme for the federal government to usurp state and local control of what students learn. An op-ed in the New York Times called the Common Core “a radical curriculum.” It is neither radical nor a curriculum. … When the critics can’t persuade you that the Common Core is a curriculum, they make even more outlandish claims. They say that the Common Core calls for federal collection of student data. For the record, it doesn’t, we’re not allowed to, and we won’t. And let’s not even get into the really wacky stuff: mind control, robots, and biometric brain mapping"  were you referring to the DOE, February 2013 report that has pictures of the exact biometric devices you are claiming you can't use? I don't know about mind control- but YOUR department put this study out. (See page 44, article 11)  I am really confused now.  This coming from the same man who said that the best thing to happen to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. WHAT THE HELL??

And I must be completely delusional to think that white suburban mom's are the only concerned parents. Apparently no other race or ethnicity or socio-economic group  is worried and angry about CCSS. And dad's well- what do they even care?  Let's not even consider special needs students who will be expected to perform right alongside their peers, regardless of ability. I mean- your goal is "preparing for a global economy" - and apparently these children, the ones with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, etc. etc. etc. do not fit yours and your billionaire backers molds.

My kids may not be geniuses, but they are smart. They are capable of learning- yes, even my son with Autism. I have watched my daughter work her ass off to maintain an A average. She wasn't coddled, she wasn't told she was great no matter what she did. She was, and is held to a higher standard, and her hard work and perseverance and continually good  great report cards are evidence of that. I have watched my son work hard to understand concepts, and have modified curriculum for him, to help his differently functioning brain understand concepts. I do not feel like I was "punched in the gut" by the horribly low standards my kids were being held to. Because they weren't.   But maybe that is just my "delusional" belief.

Mr. Duncan- your rude, racist, sexist remarks are disgusting and have pissed off many, many people. Not just we white suburban moms. . And YOU are in charge of our children's education? It terrifies me to think where my very intelligent children will be when they graduate if this ridiculous set of standards continues to permeate and destroy our schools. Good teachers are leaving their jobs because

Sunday, November 10, 2013

What's that holiday between Halloween and Christmas?

It's November- time for family, and being thankful, and of course time to start thinking about Christmas.... NO!!! 

This year Christmas was starting before Halloween!  I really hate that. Let me eat my turkey and pumpkin pie dammit!  Going into a store and hearing Christmas carols BEFORE Thanksgiving makes me want to punch an elf.  I know I am not alone.  As much as I love the holiday season- I really, really hate that it starts so damn early.

So in the spirit of upcoming Turkey Day- here are a couple of  Thanksgiving Carols...I am sure you can figure out the tunes on your own. Enjoy!  


Tur-KEY roasting on an open fire,
Gravy cooking on the stove.
Thanksgiving carols being sung by a fire,
Our eyes as big as Oreos.
Everybody knows some turkey and some cranberries
Help to make the season bright.
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.
They know Thanks-GIHHHHVVV-ing’s on its way,
And that means lots of white and dark meat on a tray.
And every mother’s child is gonna try
To see if they can eat everything on the table and not die.
And so I’m offering this simple phrase
For kids from 1 to 92.
Although it’s been said, many times, many ways,
Merry Turkeyday


I’m dreaming of a Thanks-giving
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the turkeys glisten
And children listen
To hear someone at the do’.
I’m dreaming of a Thanks-giving
With every mouthful that I bite.
 May your days be merry and bright.
                                         And may all your Thanksgivings-es 
                                                        be all right.

Here's hoping that you will be singing these LOUDLY the next time you are in a store that insists on Christmas carols too damn early.  Who knows, maybe it will catch on! 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

PARENTS!!! What do you know about Common Core?


First of all- let me give you a brief overview of what (we are being told) Common Core is:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.http://www.corestandards.org/)

OK- sounds great, right? We all know that our education system needs to reflect the world's demands and to be relevant and successful in a global economy, right?   And thanks to No Child Left Behind- we are on our way- and Common Core is just another step to achieve these goals. 

No Child Left Behind was an abysmal failure.  Underfunded, poorly administrated, it concentrated on TEACHER performance and test taking. It didn't address the very real issues of poverty, special education, overcrowded classrooms and frustrated teachers.  Schools were expected to meet AYP (annual yearly progress) with no consideration of circumstances that would affect this progress that was beyond teacher and school district control. 

Common Core State Standards (CCSS)  were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association, both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation. Yes- Bill and Melinda Gates, There was little, if any  public engagement in the development of the Common Core.

This was not a grassroots initiative, nor did the ideas come from the states or from TEACHERS (who are the real innovators and push change in education). ​In fact, it was well understood by states that they would not be eligible for Race to the Top funding ($4.35 billion) unless they adopted the Common Core standards. (Education historian Diane Ravitch) So under threat of lost funding, something a majority of public schools cannot exist without- this set of fundamentally flawed, UNTESTED standards were rammed through -now in 46 states.

In the interest of looking at both sides- I can say one positive thing about CCSS. The small percentage of children who happen to move state to state won’t have to worry about getting caught up or being too far ahead of their new peers. The standards will be aligned in all of the states that have adopted them. Whoopty friggin do.

Let's talk about  developmental appropriateness. The developers and  promoters of the standards claim they are based in research. This is a lie.  For example, there is no convincing research showing that certain skills or bits of knowledge (such as counting to 100 or being able to read a certain number of words) if mastered in kindergarten will lead to later success in school. Two recent studies, one from a lab at MIT and another from U.C Berkeley  show that direct instruction can actually limit young children’s learning. At best, the standards reflect guesswork, not cognitive or developmental science. Children cannot run before they can crawl- it's as simple as that.

Teaching a child how to think critically is important- of course. But years and years of research and studies and child development models and theories have shown that their brains MUST be developed enough to even take on the kinds of things CCSS is expecting.

Take ELA in Kindergarten. These 5-6 year old children are to be writing persuasive arguments. When do they learn sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and most importantly at that young age, spelling? Sight words, counting and following directions are an integral part of the kindergarten day. Writing persuasive sentences as to why they do not want to eat their vegetables is not.

ELA is to be included in science and social studies- which in an of itself is not a problem. Cross-curricular teaching is a great way to reinforce topics. But- instead of reading classic literature by authors such as Twain, Dickens, Steinbeck, Paterson, Hinton and many  more, kids will be expected to read "informational text". Currently a 50-50 split, but looking to go 70-30 by the high school years. Informational text is an important thing to learn, sure, but the emphasis on informational text over literature is ridiculous. 

Let's take a look at the math standards under CCSS. Many of these standards require that students are  able to explain why a particular procedure works. Not inherently bad, but confusing as hell.  It's not enough for a student to be able to divide one fraction by another. They must also "use the relationship between multiplication and division to explain that (2/3) ÷ (3/4) = 8/9, because 3/4 of 8/9 is 2/3."  Forcing this higher level mathematical thinking on young children when they are not ready to learn it yet is counterproductive!  Mathematics Professor R. James Milgram of Stanford University, the only mathematician on the Validation Committee, refused to sign off on the math standards, "because they would put many students two years behind those of many high-achieving countries." For example, Algebra 1 would be taught in 9th grade, not 8th grade for many students, making calculus inaccessible to them in high school. The quality of the standards is low and not internationally benchmarked.

Now, let's look at CCSS and Special Education. Holding students, such as mine to a higher standard is also not a "bad" thing. When a student (like mine) was never given the opportunity in elementary school to learn what they are now doing in the 6th grade, when I was told he CAN'T learn (utter bullshit BTW) is subjected to these standards you know what happens?? A vicious cycle of test re-takes, misunderstood assignments, frustration, tears,and  increased anxiety. These are the things that I have to watch my child go through.  

Because CCSS standardizes all learning, it ignores any variables to the unique learning styles of the individual child. The thinking patterns of individuals with ASD are extremely different from the way in which neurotypical people think. Because of this, too much emphasis is placed on what they ‘can’t do.’ While impairments and challenges do exist, greater progress can be made teaching these individuals when parents and teachers work on building the child’s strengths and teach in a manner that is aligned with their basic pattern of thinking. Thinking in pictures, patterns, words and visually are hallmarks of the autistic mind. As Temple Grandin said, "The word thinker may be poor at drawing but have a huge memory for facts such as sports statistics or film stars." Or in The Boy's case- dinosaurs. Yet he has to consistently DRAW pictures for standards bases assessments- setting him up for failure. Common Core State Standards are untested, biased, inferior, and  detrimental to children with Autism, Dyslexia, ADD, ADHD and other alternate thinking and learning minds. 

If teachers asked themselves "Are students, all students, but especially students with disabilities, being given an ‘appropriate’ education with Common Core State Standards?"  I would fall over if any actually said "Yes."  Because they are NOT.  And when a teacher tells me "Either we use a pass/fail grading system in ELA or he just fails" my faith in educators is even more shaken than before.  

 How many parents are aware of The State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS) or the P20? Have you even heard these terms before? The SLDS,  is a comprehensive database compiled on each child, teacher and parent. This data is not aggregate data, it is linked specifically to the child. MY child. YOUR child. This data will follow the child through to their adult years into the workforce.  Sounds like something straight out of an Orwell novel doesn't it?  According to the United States Department of Labor, this SLDS will “Enable workforce data to be matched with education data to ultimately create longitudinal data systems with individual-level information beginning with pre-kindergarten through post-secondary schooling all the way through entry and sustained participation in the workforce and employment services system.”  This means that the public schools will be supplying the U.S. government a digital record of our children's statistics, aggregate information down to personality traits starting in kindergarten all the way through high school. And the President is already talking about an Early Learning initiative that will affect our PRESCHOOL AGE CHILDREN! 

 AND- are you sitting down for this? ALL of this data can be shared with just about anyone without parental consent thanks to the president's revisions to FERPA in 2011. Under this revision there are several different ways that all of your child's information can be shared- WITH JUST ABOUT ANYONE.  Scared yet?? If you weren't worried about the "rigorous" , developmentally inappropriate educational goals being set for your kids- how does having your kid's (and your) entire history, such as health conditions, parent voting status and political affiliations, blood type, religion, etc. make you feel? Teachers and administrators can also add notes about personality, effort and any other information they want to add. And all of this is available to just about ANYONE- without YOU consenting or hell, even KNOWING about it.  How about the use of physical devices that are slated to be used? Facial expression cameras, "posture analysis seat," "pressure mouse," and "wireless skin conductance sensor?"  These are propsed by the DOE- and you can actually see pictures of them in their February 2013 report! How's that for Orwellian? 

This invasion of privacy makes the NSA spying look like a game. Our children, that we do anything to protect, are now under the watchful eye of the U.S. Government. You have seen the news about conservative groups being targeted by the IRS, right? How about a child from a conservative family? Or a child from a liberal family, or a family who embraces an alternate religion? How will they be pigeonholed in school? What are the ramifications of this data collection on our children when they grow up and enter the workforce?  I don't know about you, but this literally makes me sick to my stomach. 

It is our job as parents to protect our children and demand they not be a part of  giant data collection project that will collect personal information and then sell it to for profit corporations. I don't know about you- but I question how the hell selling my child's personal information to corporations has any bearing on  how and what they learn? Do you really want your child TRACKED from the cradle to the grave? I would be willing to bet the answer is a resounding HELL NO! 

Parents- your voice, your input is being systematically eliminated from your child's education.  Teachers are leaving their profession because they cannot bear to "teach" in this manner. Children are anxious, overwhelmed and stressed. Parents assume that because the word "reform" is attached to all of this that it is all good.

A one size fits all attempt to standardize every school in the country is WRONG. Corporations have no business in our schools. Stand up to intrusive, doomed to fail government education "reform". Learn all you can about Common Core practices and learn about Opt Out options. This is not the future of education- it's the destruction of it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

I'm really not telling you how to do your job....much

The Boy is struggling in middle school. There are a variety of reasons for his struggles: 1) Executive functioning issues- which means he has problems with organizing, prioritizing and activating to work, focusing, sustaining and shifting attention to tasks, managing frustration and modulating emotions, and utilizing working memory and accessing recall.  These are all things we have been working with for years, and while he has made progress, 6th grade is causing something of a regression, and that has me VERY worried. 2) Not properly prepared in elementary school. When you are having a child with an above average IQ do way below grade level work, not having any expectations at all, and not truly using inclusion strategies, despite my constant advocating, questioning and practically living at the school, these issues in middle school are a direct result. 3) Common core (or power standards as they call them here). Common Core has no business being in ANY classroom! It is fundamentally flawed, and does NOTHING for students in special education.
4) Teachers that still expect NOTHING from him, promoting laziness (YES- to some degree!) and no desire to try harder because why? Nobody expects it.  Assuming he is unable, as opposed to presuming he can. Which is somewhat ironic, as the "power standards" are all "I Can" statements.

So when I question HOW he is being taught, and the reason WHY he is taking re-take after re-take, while still supposedly moving ahead in the classes, and trying to take notes, and remember everything (see number 1 above), question WHY differentiated teaching is not being utilized, and I get an email saying that he will be taking notes and tests utilizing "lower level thinking" is it any wonder I get ANGRY?? (excuse my massive run on sentence!)

So  I send an email back, explaining how even with the "lower level thinking" modifications which apparently mean to draw pictures- another skill my boy has a hard time with and would be ZERO help. I re-worded the questions, had him read about them, and then he wrote AND typed his answers out. Modification time: 10 minutes. No "lower level thinking." We also did energy equations, again, about 10 minutes for me to modify- and again without employing "lower level thinking" I will gladly modify all of these ridiculous power standards, without losing important scaffolding, and without insulting my boy's intelligence with "lower level thinking" I charge by the hour though- and since this could presumably work for other students-you best get me on the payroll! Drawing pictures may work well for other students- it does not work for mine!! Back to the idea of differentiated teaching- it works with kids on the spectrum too! Imagine that!  I mean seriously- "LOWER LEVEL THINKING" How is there any way I can't take this as an insult to my son? Not expecting him to employ the higher level thinking skills I know he is capable of, even if it takes a little extra time for him to get it is unacceptable, and a HUGE disservice to him.

Yes- lower level thinking skills are necessary to achieve higher order thinking skills- BUT- it is important to help students utilize their higher order thinking skills, beyond concrete answers, and allow them to really show what they  know. Lower level thinking is memorization, which is important- but educating the WHOLE child requires more than just memorization skills. Richer understanding emerges only when a student is allowed to analyze, evaluate and come up with new information. This is not impossible for The Boy- it just needs to be worked with, and a patient teacher is needed.

lesson blooms

Three Bloom's Taxonomy charts, all the same ideas- presented in different ways 

No- I am not telling you how to do your job. I am telling you what will work best with MY son. I want to be partners with you in his education, but when I see the papers come home with the awful handwriting, when he is supposed to be able to use a computer,  and then I see the level of work that he is doing, and get emails talking about "lower level thinking" I see RED.  Yes, I am an educator as well, but when you talk to me about MY child- you talk to me as a parent. Do not insult him or I.

I know your feathers are ruffled, and that you are insulted that I had any input about MY son's education, and questioned why you are not modifying in a developmentally and grade appropriate manner. I know it irks you that I gave you an example of my modifications, which only took 10 minutes, and you think I  do not understand that you have a multi-grade class, with 7 students that need modifications to their work as well. That's where you're wrong. I DO get it. That is why I gave you a breakdown of what I did- with the hope that you can use that in school with The Boy, and maybe even possibly with other students. Sure, you may have to modify a little more to make it work in class, but as long as the basic framework stays the same- there should be no problem.

I don't want to be the PITA mom, the one you see coming and groan. But I will and can be. Instead of blowing me off, or being irritated with me, recognize that I do know what I am talking about, and together with your knowledge and teaching experience we should make an amazing team.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why I have serious doubts about Common Core (and why you should too)


There has been a lot of talk, a good portion of it negative, about the new federally implemented Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). The goal of this is to have every school following the same exact standards. While in theory, this may sound like a great idea, a closer look reveals why the Common Core is not in the best interest of our kids. One of the biggest issues, I believe, is how CCSSI resembles the failed No Child Left Behind program. NCLB required teachers to "teach to the test", meaning students are memorizing rather than learning and critically thinking about information. Common Core is a one-size-fits-all education policy that assumes all students learn the same way. Centrally controlled standards will ultimately hurt students’ creativity and learning. Sound education policy realizes that all students have different learning styles, preferences, and paces- and we should be listening to our teachers, not a bunch of rich, old, white men in a big room deciding the fate of our kids.

Recently, the Superintendent of our school district wrote an article, singing the praises of CCSSI. Ask any school superintendent about this program, and you will hear much of the same. I am replying to this article with reasons of my own as to why the Common Core is certain to hurt our children's education, not help it. 

1)      Common Core: The goal is not to "cover" content or to "complete the book," but rather, the discovery of rich content.
The term "curriculum" often used to mean "the book." We used to make sure students were "exposed" to content in "the book" used in that particular class. Standards would vary from classroom to classroom as would specific learning formats used. The goal was to complete the book, with a focus on the delivery of content, not necessarily connected with any real learning. This system of run-through-it-one-time almost guaranteed that some students would learn and others would not.  
 The word curriculum comes from the Latin word meaning "a course for racing." Think how closely  this metaphor fits the way in which educators perceive the curriculum in schools. Teachers often speak about "covering" concepts as one would speak about "covering" ground. And that coverage is often a race against the testing clock. It isn't just "the book."   And just what is wrong with varied standards, and varied learning formats? All students learn differently!! Differentiated instruction is key!This is not a bad thing. 

                                                How we are adapting/implementing:
Curriculum is no longer a static list of check-off items for teachers to "deliver." They are also not kept a secret as in the past. They are a living, breathing, malleable set of high level student  performances which are discussed regularly and are posted on classroom walls. We want to ensure to parents that all students are not only exposed to the same standards, but are expected to perform at the standard described. Teachers now work to re-teach students who need it during each unit by measuring student proficiencies with frequent short assessments (called "formative").

"Expected to perform" That right there sets warning bells off in my head. How do posters on classroom walls enhance or help learning? How does taking re-take after re-take further knowledge when the rest of the class is moving on?

2)Common Core: These standards are all about students obtaining a deep understanding of concepts.
The Common Core does not specify or dictate how the curriculum should be taught, but are instead a set of higher standards which schools should be targeting. The curriculum now might be described as one which is an "inch wide and a mile deep" instead of the previous "mile wide, inch deep" standard of the past. Rote learning and memorizing facts would prepare students well for the 1950's assembly line world.  A rich curriculum involving deep understanding of concepts has a chance to prepare students for the 21st century.     

Federal law prohibits the U.S. Department of Education from “exercising any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction” or selection of “instructional materials.” But wait... the Department got around these prohibitions by making "Race to the Top" funding and No Child Left Behind waivers contingent on a state’s adoption of the Common Core and the aligned assessments. Because curriculum must be aligned with standards and assessments, the Department is able to exercise direction and control over curricula, programs of instruction, instructional materials.  It is true that CCSSI were commissioned by the National Governors Association (NGA) and  by the Council of Chief State School Offices (CCSSO), but federal government provided all funds for national Common Core tests.  States that did not adopt CCSSI were penalized on applications for federal stimulus grants as well. No, CCSSI is NOT mandated (not yet), but it is being dangles like a carrot on a stick and school districts (including ours) are chasing after it. 

How we are adapting/implementing:
Teachers are making significant changes in their classrooms, to having students use information in discussions, expand information using the internet and in formatting information in class presentations. Students are now being asked to construct arguments, analyze, understand and critique others, justify and communicate conclusions, synthesize and interpret, apply answers to the context, and so many more kinds of higher-order thinking and application. Researching websites via computer labs or I-Pads will be more and more prevalent, as will creating and presenting multi-media displays to generate more thought and discussion.  Deep understanding is learning for the 21st century.  
 Teachers themselves have to learn how to be "21st Century Educators" and have their own set of standards to learn and get a 3 or 4. As I thought about this, I realized it is truly about control, control of how and even what a teacher teaches. What if future circumstances required a higher rating to keep a teaching job? What about training that is "suggested" regardless the personal philosophies of teachers? Control people- it's all about control. Teachers would have little control over their classrooms under CCSSI They will be forced to comply with standards decided upon by federal bureaucrats. This leaves little to no room for teachers to innovate to meet the unique needs of their students. Think about this, three hundred prominent policymakers and education experts warn the CCSSI will close the door on innovation and without innovation, we are lost.

3)      Common Core:  Frequent student talk is the goal in Common Core classrooms. Teachers are asked to talk less.
We have known for, not years, but decades, that the lecture has the lowest level of learning of any kind of learning format measured (yes, even colleges are abandoning it.)  Student retention of information is minimal when sitting in a "lecture" classroom (some studies suggest just 5% of the information is actually recalled.) Just the idea of "retention of information" implies literal learning. Student motivation is also low in this kind of format. In a Common Core classroom, student communication can be an effective way to obtain a "deep understanding" of concepts.
I am all for more student interaction and less didactic teaching methods- a student INVOLVED in their education is more engaged, and willing to learn. This statement SOUNDS great. But what if the communication is wrong? The CCSSI assume that what kids need to know is covered by one or another of the traditional core subjects. The unexplored intellectual terrain between and beyond those familiar fields of study is HUGE, expanding by the day, the HOUR!

                                                          How we are adapting/implementing:
"Student-engaged learning" is the goal in the Common Core. The more students are involved with some type of learning activity the more they will learn. These activities can have any number of formats: small groups (research, problem solving, real world simulation, planning a formal presentation, etc.), work in pairs (debate planning, informal presentation, book or article "talk," inquiry/discussion), or many others. The role of the teacher becomes more of a facilitator and less of an "information provider." They use inquiry to build student interest, and students become more investigative in finding answers to complex questions.
Really? The standards, which, by the way are intended to prepare students for non-selective community colleges rather than four-year universities, are inferior to those of some states and no better than those of many others. Common Core’s English language arts standards consist of empty skill sets that, once implemented, might not require reading skills any higher than middle-school level. The removing classic literature and relying heavily on  of “informational texts” completely gives up the goal of truly educating students.  What about the students who need the information from a teacher, and are refused? I am all for kids learning research skills, and being taught and encouraged to find answers as opposed to having them handed to them- but what happens when a student has done all they can, and still needs more than a facilitator? What about the student with autism, ADHD, or LD- that may have executive functioning deficits and needs that extra help?

4) Common Core:  Students learn more on their own by being active participants. They build stamina, learn about persistence and how to solve problems.

Because the Common Core is much more rigorous than state standards, students will have  more difficulty in gaining the proficiencies which are targeted.  In the past, information gaining has been the "end" or target in the learning process. Classroom struggles in the past have been minimal for many simply because the standard was much lower. Applying information to complex problems is much more difficult than learning facts The Common Core will provide the challenge many students have needed. 
The  CCSSI is  more rigorous-if not more challenging (yes, there is a difference).  Younger students will have to learn at a faster pace than ever before. This is going to make early childhood programs  become more rigid. Pre-Kindergarten will be more important, and skills students used to learn in second grade will need to be taught in Kindergarten. What is wrong with this you may ask. Nothing, if you don't take developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) into consideration. There are MANY educational theories out there- some are outdated, and new ones are always being tested. However, I am a student of Piaget, and if you take a look at the picture below, you can see how his developmental stages do not coincide with CCSSI at all.
For example in a group of ten year olds, you can usually find three levels of developmental capabilities based on Piaget’s theory. There will be a few pre-operational, pre-logical, students, many concrete operational youngsters capable of logical operations applied to concrete, direct experience and a few formal operational youngsters who are fully capable of hypothetical deduction and abstract, critical and creative reasoning. How can a standardized, ill defined, one size fits all model appropriately respond to developmental reality? 
How we are adapting/implementing:
Higher-order thinking is being immersed into every grade and subject and is much more demanding. Complex, interactive learning processes are more prevalent and are much more arduous. Students will experience more of a challenge and will be asked and conditioned to have appropriate responses. In this way, the curriculum simulates the real world. Sometimes there are no answers, while other times, all the options are not very good, again, as in the real world. Students will have these experiences earlier in life. They will hopefully learn to build stamina and to not give up. Using these standards, "information" is the means to an end, not an end in itself, and can be used to obtain a higher level of learning. Readiness for college takes many forms. Learning to deal with difficulties and with academic struggles earlier will help students later on.
Notice the buzzwords here: "challenge" higher level of learning" "higher order thinking" Don't these all sound intelligent, and things every parent should want for their child? That is not coincidence folks. This "Race to the Top" is putting the emphasis on testing and scores, not on REAL learning. The CCSSI have not been tested -ANYWHERE. The CCSSI remove any instructional flexibility despite the possibility that their curriculum may not be what works best for a particular class. Teachers will not have the freedom to distinguish themselves and find new ways to connect with their students. Having to take re-take after re-take is not teaching students to deal with academic struggles. It is not TEACHING them anything, but how to finally memorize what they missed so they can finally move on. Or, they just give up all together. 

5)      Common Core: Helping students reach higher.
Students will be asked to perform at a more difficult level in the Common Core classroom. In traditional classrooms, students often were on the sidelines and not really engaged in their own learning. Expectations were low, and so was the amount and level of learning.

Expectations were low? For whom? The Common Core Standards are a set-up for national standardized tests, tests that can’t evaluate complex thought, can’t avoid cultural bias, can’t measure non-verbal learning, and can’t predict anything of consequence. The CCSSI math standards failed to meet the content targets recommended by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, the standards of leading states, and our international competitors, it's already hurting our kids. CCSSI exclude certain Algebra 2 and Geometry content that is currently a prerequisite at almost every four-year state college. With the CCSSI, if a student says 3x4=11- and can explain the steps they took to get that answer- it is not wrong! WHAAATT? Don't believe me? Watch this video, and then you decide. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DW0VxxoCrNo The CCSS “college readiness” ELA standards can best be described as skill sets, not fully developed standards.  And how does teaching to one big standardized test give teachers an accurate view of what their students are learning?  Having to re-test and re-test is still sitting on the sidelines, worse, because now the student is falling behind. 

Fun Fact: The CCSSI Assessments will not have an equivalency test for students with special needs. Many states provide students with special needs a modified version of the test. There will be no modified test for the CCSS, meaning that 100% of a school’s population will have their results reported for accountability purposes.

                                                 How we are adapting/implementing:
By identifying the learning target, students are asked to play a role in their own learning, thereby increasing their motivation to learn. They will have more personal awareness, will be better able to self-assess and to set goals. This challenging curriculum requires students to step up and do their part in the process. By becoming partners with the teacher in their own learning, students will hopefully come to school each day with a higher degree of interest, affording them the opportunity to build stamina and persevere in these tough standards.

I am exhausted by all of the feel good language here. Smoke screens and diversionary tactics all designed to distract people from what is going on with CCSSI. There is no best design for curriculum in any subject. A rigid, single set of curriculum guidelines from  6th-12th grades  is at the very least questionable, when taking into account students diverse interests, talents, and educational needs. Our schools should not be limited in the diversity of curriculum they can offer to students. Multiple models should be encouraged, not a one size fits all approach that is doomed to fail. (Remember No Child Left Behind?)

Something that was left out of this "Yay for Common Core" article is the fact that it  was developed by two tax-exempt private member organizations: the Council of Chief State School Offices (CCSSO) and the National Governor’s Association (NGA).  What this means is that local school districts, school teachers, parents and students are being handed a one-size-fits-all package of educational content and standards established by unknown, un-elected, unaccountable private interests, AND backed by the federal government,  holding themselves up as experts. 
CCSSI relies upon intrusive "state longitudinal data systems"(otherwise known as data-mining), tracking of student performance. Meanwhile, 2012 federal Education Department rules gutted the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), permitting CCSSI not only to track personal student information over more than 400 data points, but to share that information with other government agencies and private entities, and without parental consent. (otherwise known as data-mining). Taxpayers will fund private organizations through grants and stimulus money to develop these database systems, such as CCSSO’s Education Data & Information Systems.  Did you know that? And YOU have no say as a parent- at least in the nine states across the country that have already agreed to adopt this data mining process. Schools in New York, Delaware, Colorado, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina have committed to “pilot testing” and "information dissemination" by sending students’ personal information to a database managed by inBloom, Inc., a private organization funded largely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. again- don't believe me? Think it's a big government conspiracy theory? Well,  check this report out from the DOE, and again, make your own conclusions. 

A standardized common core of content for school curriculum  ignores developmental differences in individual learners.  All children learn differently, and biology won't be standardized. Imagination and desire to actually learn is being squashed by these Power Standards.  Ask questions. Demand answers, Fight for your child's education.  Common Core is not the answer.