Governor Brown will not allow students to be double tested this year!

A couple of items of note for our kids!
Our kids won’t waste time on two completely different end of the year assessments that take up hours of class time!  As you probably know, the old assessments took 10-30 hours of classroom time, depending on the year of instruction and whether your child is an English language learner.  The old tests are primarily multiple choice, and teachers and parents have no way of seeing what their kids actually got wrong.  I have lots of issues with multiple choice state tests, but that’s another post for another day.
The Governor is defying the bizarre mandates of No Child Left Behind that dictate that all kids have to be tested every year, with the cost being passed down to states and local districts for testing materials and the companies that score them.  So now our kids will be taking the Common Core assessments as a practice run – something that many of us in the teaching profession are still questioning, and parents should be questioning as well.
The pros and cons continue, and I will write more as I have more answers . . .
As I continue to question the Common Core, I continue to hear that 8 year olds will be asked to write essays on computers.  Are teachers and parents and child experts being asked if this is even appropriate?  Who is deciding this?  Who is holding them accountable?
Here is an article that delineates some of the issues of technological testing in the context of Louisiana:
Although the above article is fairly positive, I remain negative – particularly in light of the questionable spending of districts on technology in lieu of more experienced teachers, higher teacher student ratios, librarians and art teachers. (More on the iPad scandal in LA – kids hacking computers – hooray – they are smart!)
I’m currently reading “The Smartest Kids in the World” by Amanda Ripley, who followed three American teenagers who lived as foreign exchange students in Korea, Finland and Poland, three countries that remarkably improved their public education through focusing on high quality teacher training, creating equity among schools, delaying tracking so as to give all kids high quality educative experiences through age 16, giving more resources to poorer kids and kids with disabilities, etc., etc.  I’m loving the book, as a cultural examination of how schools and students can really demonstrate improvement within the framework of their history and populations, and smart research-based policies (as the Finns say, they got their great educational ideas from the United States – too bad Americans don’t listen to their best educators and their own research).
And finally, Diane Ravitch’s book just came out with all of the answers of what we should be doing to improve our kids’ education, to save the honorable profession of teaching, and to preserve democracy.  It’s called Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.
I missed her speaking with Linda Darling-Hammond the other night at Stanford, but I’ve been getting the reports from my teacher friends who went.  Here is an interview of her with Michael Krasny from Monday morning – this is a very sharp and compelling interview – Andrew and I listened to it last night.  Great questions and great answers on all the topics that are important in the policies affecting our kids today.
Maestra Malinche

Common Core messy messy – a California rebellion and Apple tales

“Those that make test scores and grades the heart of education hit their targets while entirely missing the point.” – Joe Bower

More on the Common Core!

This last week the California legislature voted to suspend standardized testing for all public school students for the 2013-14 year.  (Here’s who voted for and against).  This was based on the idea that we are transitioning from the California state standards to the Common Core standards.  In this transitional year, many districts are spending their money on updating their technology, professional development and practice tests for the Common Core.  Teachers, administrators and districts do not want to test students on the old standards while they are preparing students using the new standards.  Testing kids on both would be a monumental task, stress students, teachers and schools, pull everyone in two directions at once, and stretch districts’ resources – all the while taking time away from actual teaching and learning.

Tom Torlakson, our state superintendent of education, along with the support of CA educators (and me), support the suspension of the CA tests while we ramp up for the Common Core, while Arne Duncan, the US Education Secretary, is threatening to withhold federal funding to California students and schools if we suspend the STAR tests.

Here is a link on the story.

And here is a link to a very succinct Valerie Strauss article on problems with the Common Core, as they are currently being rolled out.  For me, it is dismaying to hear that the new standards, which have the potential to give back more control to local teachers and local schools in creating critically engaging lessons and learning experiences, are much more likely to repeat the problems of the past – teachers teaching to multiple choice exams that are made by for-profit testing companies and the continuing misuse of exam results to blame teachers and students, rather than to allocate more resources to schools that serve poor and/or minority students.  What’s even more disturbing to me is the astonishing amount of money that will now go to tech companies to buy computers and other gadgets so that students can take the tests.  I am very confused by the educational purpose of having students take the tests on the computers (will computers grade the essays? Are 8 year olds required to have decent keyboarding skills?), and I have no idea how even my rich suburban school will be able to afford this, or schedule all the computer labs for such a purpose.

Which leads me to another compelling story on how some districts are attempting to get ready for the technology based tests.  Here are a couple of links on the LA Unified decision to use funds to buy iPads for every kid while class size goes up, art teachers and other “non-tested” subject teachers have been laid off.  As people have started to question the use of such a large amount of a 25 year bond for the gadgets that have, at best, three years of life, the Deputy Superintendant of LAUSD in charge of the iPad rollout, resigned this week.

http://www.citywatchla.com/4box-right/5668-we-are-going-to-polish-the-old-apple-ipad-for-the-students

And an open letter to Apple Computers from an LA teacher:

http://www.hemlockontherocks.com/2013/09/an-open-letter-to-apple-computers.html

Of course, my favorite educator, Diane Ravitch, has an editorial in Scientific American about the dubious uses of technology in schools – well worth a read!

Meanwhile, I am so glad to have an amazing Stanford student teacher this year!  She is helping me deal with the 35 students in each of my classes – she works one on one with students who need it, and helps me keep sane with all the correcting of papers and projects.  A German mom of one of my students spoke out at Back to School Night a week and a half ago about the insanity of such class sizes.  I couldn’t agree more.  I think that funding smaller classes would definitely be better than giving each of my students an iPad.  Students really respond better to human interaction in learning language; I’m pretty sure it’s in our genetic code, the way babies respond to live people, but not recordings of live people.

Maestra Malinche

(married to an Apple programmer, and married to my Apple computer, by the way.)

trying to understand the Common Core (the email that started it all)

As you know me, you know I read a lot about education.  I love it.  It’s what I often do instead of lesson planning and grading late at night.  Sometimes I forward articles to my friends and colleagues.  Lately, I’ve been reading lots and lots of articles both for and against the Common Core State Standards, now adopted by almost all the states.

I thought I would include you in on this email, and ask your permission to let me send you more articles in the future.  I don’t do Facebook much, and I don’t have an actual blog, but I do like the email venue.  Please let me know if you want off of my own personal email list – in which I may vent on matters of education in the larger scheme of “what is wrong with this world and what can I do about it?”  I won’t be offended if you need off of this list – I get it – there is too much to read these days.  However, if your name is Hernán, and you happen to live with me, you are in for the ride – sorry.  I don’t intend to send more than one or two articles a week.  I think I can live with that.  And maybe I will just stop one day, when I get bored, or I get involved with saving bonobos instead.
If you want to share my emails with others, that is fine – I will try to maintain some professional demeanor for the public gaze.
So here goes (with some links attached).
The brand new Common Core State Standards – what to think? are they good? or are they bad? do they help teachers, students, schools? or not?
So I’ve been to a few professional development trainings on the Common Core and how they pertain to my subject area – Spanish.  In this, so far, I have gleaned that my subject area needs to underscore literacy skills and critical thinking skills, skills that World Language teachers have been improving upon each year since the AP test was updated to be a more rigorous and academic test.  Yay!  And, they seem to correspond well with the lovely 5 C’s of the National Foreign Language Standards (Cultures, Communities, Communication, Connections and Comparisons). The Common Core is not too frightening or threatening to my little world.
However, for many other teaching areas, the new standards are overwhelming, confusing and controversial. I want to know whether I should support them or not, or how I can support them or get rid of them.

And, as a mama, I am also interested in what is happening at the elementary school level.  I read sometimes that the new Common Core standards are too weighty for young minds, and that the teachers scoff at what is being asked of their little charges.  And sometimes I read about the excitement and joy of teachers who are embracing the new standards.  At times the Common Core standards seem to allow for more creativity and depth of knowledge – all that stuff that had been squashed by the old California content standards.  I hear that some teachers who have been around the block are pleased to go back to standards that allow for more teacher choice in curricular materials and require more engaging real life experiences that used to be part and parcel of elementary school education.
I generally try to stay positive on the matter of the new standards, although many smart educators say that the Common Core is the latest plot to ruin public education by creating benchmarks that most of our students will fail, causing parents and politicians to send our public school dollars to corrupt private entities that run sham charter schools.  Many respected educators and researchers say that the Common Core has the same fundamental problem as every other educational reform – that the real problem in education is poverty – and that raising the bar on young children will not change the contexts of their lives that impede their learning and self-empowerment.  In this, I generally agree that we will find no solutions without investing a great deal more in public education – creating schools where teachers make a high wage and have time to develop and plan with colleagues, along with creating a society in which companies can’t opt out of investing in the countries in which they operate and pay their own employees a living wage, and a solid health care system that is available to everyone, no matter how poor their salary.
So, I leave you with a couple of interesting links – one is an article by Diane Ravitch on why she cannot support the new Common Core State Standards; and one is an article by E.D. Hirsch explaining his Common Core knowledge curricular materials that support the Common Core with specific grade by grade content knowledge.  He uses a 4th grade curriculum example for social studies – perfect for me since my kid is currently in 4th grade!
Maestra Malinche
And here is my education quote for the day:  “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.”   Herbert Spencer   English philosopher (1820 – 1903)