The California Story

Okay, a “misunderstood teacher” story, and then a great article in defense of the Common Core in California, and why our state is implementing it better than New York and other states have (and are).
Today, my fabulous student teacher and I (and yes, she must be called fabulous), wore our pjs on top of our clothes, brought in toothbrushes, shampoo, mirrors, hair dryers, towels, pantuflas (slippers), bathrobes, soap, nail polish, brushes, combs, an alarm clock, and other accoutrement to act out the morning routine (with reflexive verbs) for our 2nd year Spanish students.  And, yes, yours truly brought a blow up mattress with blanket and pillows and pretended to be sleeping as the sleepy high school children entered the classroom when her rude alarm clock awoke her to 2014 – a totally perfect set-up for the kids’ first day back from winter break.
My fabulous student teacher performed it (and got videotaped) at 9:00 am; and I performed it again later in the afternoon.
Cut to an email received at 5:30 pm sent by the principal, after I walked to my car after my 11 hour day of teaching and an after school district curriculum meeting: “It was brought to my attention that you brought in a queen sized inflatable mattress and have set it up in the front of your classroom. What educational purpose does it serve?”
I feel like I’m in trouble. This is why principals should be in the same union with their teachers – we all need to be on the same team, fighting together for a better education and better resources and more fun for all of the students! Why would it be assumed that the quirky Spanish teacher was doing anything other than an interesting lesson? I’m sure I will be able to smooth it all over tomorrow . . .
Anyway, below is a link to a great article that came out on Diane Ravitch’s blog today on why California teachers are excited and not afraid of Common Core. The essence is, that if the standards are decoupled from bad testing policies and reform measures that punish teachers, principals, students and schools, the standards are really profound and interesting to aspire to (I agree mostly). Recently, I called up one of my old mama friends who is now an education professor in Milwaukee (she was a bilingual elementary school teacher who did her PhD on immersion schools in San Francisco). We discussed the Common Core at the elementary school level, and since I am a high school teacher with an elementary school kid, I am largely clueless about the appropriateness of the standards. She concurred with how “cool” and interesting the standards are, especially in math.  They are about helping you get your students thinking like a mathematician, to attend to the “bigger picture,” of mathematical thinking, so to speak.

The California Story.

This article is a plea not to let legitimate hostility to pervasive high-stakes testing, rewards and punishments based on junk science, and privatization measures aimed at delegitimizing public education, which too often accompany the adoption of Common Core Standards, blind you to the value of the standards themselves. In California, there is strong opposition to such “reform” efforts, yet widespread, enthusiastic support for the standards. The standards are seen both to embody the kind of education we have long desired for our students, as well as providing a tremendous opportunity to stimulate much-needed discussions on how best to improve practice at each school and district and develop the collaborative capacity to support such efforts.

Maestra Malinche

“Teaching is the greatest act of optimism”- Colleen Wilcox

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.)