Monday, April 28, 2014

The Common Core crucible

Can we talk for a second about that kindergarten show that was canceled so kids could cover the academic imperatives outlined in the Common Core? Here's the letter to parents:*

There's a lot of angry scoffing going on in my Twitterverse about this. It's held up as Exhibit A of the  Common Core's hatefulness.

This letter does not show us that the Common Core is bad or inappropriate. It shows us that the school principal's judgment is awful. Yes, a main principle of the Common Core is to prepare high-school graduates for college and career. Yes, there must be a continuum of learning from K to 12. But obviously best practices for teaching kindergarten include providing a developmentally appropriate curriculum. Having kindergarteners do a show for their parents is developmentally appropriate. Having them "study" for academic readiness is not developmentally appropriate.

The Common Core does not ask that educators make kindergarteners study. The Common Core asks that educators provide environments for kindergarteners to play, draw, ask questions, listen, experience art, and relate to others.

The Common Core is a core. A starting point. It leaves ample room for teacher expertise--its point is to leave ample room for teacher expertise. The roll-out was handled badly.

The assessment component has been handled naively. They should have recognized that standards that ask for deep, authentic, critical thinking cannot easily be captured in a standardized test.

Implementation and training has been handled bad, bad, badly. This should be local, in my opinion--but god knows schools, districts, states needed the time, space, and money to come up with something intelligent and helpful, and none of those things were forthcoming. MONEY is needed. TIME is needed. TRUST is needed. SPACE is needed. Legislators and educational-services providers need to understand this and step back. Like everything else in our country's operations, we have forgotten all about Process and gotten distracted by the shiny parts of Product. Then we don't understand why complicated things break down.

The Common Core is not evil or stupid. It seeks to emphasize critical and deep thinking.  It prioritizes children. It prioritizes teachers' expertise. Except for some insanely difficult exemplars at the lower grade levels (where'd they come up with those?), it is reasonable. It's not perfect. But it's a framework, not a prescription.

Here's an idea: Screw the tests. Have kids take the PISA and let all the rest of the standardized tests go; instead spend the next two years developing an intelligent, respectful, and fully funded roll-out of the Common Core. Don't have politicians do it. Don't let educational publishers get involved. Find master teachers and curriculum directors and pay them to take the time to do this. Make the Common Core implementable.

Then, after that, like five years from now, or ten years, THEN come up with tests, if we must. But I bet by then we'll find they're unnecessary, a dangerous and useless appendage left over from NCLB, like an infected appendix.

Educators know what's good for kids. AND the Common Core is not evil, but rather a lightning rod for the helplessness that both educators and parents feel right now, for different reasons. AND the people who run that kindergarten made some weird and terrible decisions. All these things are true. Can we stop yelling now?

*Courtesy of Washington Post; at least, I hope so.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

1) A Finnish guy, an American hero; and 2) H.e.a.r Chi Talk

Many thanks to those of you have rsvp'd for H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk. I'm getting very excited about this one. I just heard Pasi Sahlberg speak yesterday, thanks to Raise Your Hand Illinois, and, while listening to how Finland employed mature vision, humble intelligence, and faith in its people to strengthen their society is rather deflating because, well, frankly, this sort of behavior is not in the cultural DNA of the U.S, a place with a history of addressing complexities through stridency and slogans--it is also inspiring, or galvanizing, because it helps give shape to problems and solutions.*

Sahlberg mentioned that all of Finland's great edu-ideas--the ones on the right-hand side of slide 14 here, came from the U.S. Say wha? Really?? Which?! Where?! When?! I gathered by the end of the presentation that what (I think) he meant was there are innovative and engaging and pedagogically appropriate and child-developmentally-appropriate and teacher-respectful practices happening at individual schools, and that Finland's really done its research over the past forty years--but there is no mechanism to catalog, disseminate, propagate, and scale these individual and locally occurring ideas.

So. Here's where I get back to H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk. Sharing and amplifying these localized ideas is the exact point of this idea exchange. That's why I started it. That and the need for a counter to the yelling and anger and conflict that's been happening in Chicago and nationally in edu-fields. H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk is meant to be a place where great ideas can be shared and those who reach and teach can feel inspired and re-charged.

There is so much to learn from Finland's experiences. Let's start by sharing and learning from our own great ideas.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk: May 20

Finally! May 20 is the next H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk. I promised one in January and, what with moving house and job adjustments and holiday shenanigans and relentless polar vortices, it didn't happen. But  it's blooming now, along with the much anticipated plant shoots and tree buds.

Next event:

Tuesday, May 20

7:00pm sharp (doors 6:00)

The Map Room
1949 N. Hoyne

Donate if you wish
How about $5?

Register to attend
Or just show up

Submit to present
Got a great idea or a compelling question? Don't be shy!

Learn more

And don't forget
Spread the word!
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H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk: coming May 20
Be heard. Be inspired. Have a beer.
H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk is a social hour and idea exchange, featuring brief grassroots presentations on topics related to teaching and learning of all kinds.

A question-based structure
Collaborate on complex problems
Presenters start with a tough question about teaching or learning that they've been chewing on. Over six minutes, they present an inspiring way they've responded or seen someone else respond. They end with a new chewy question for their listeners, who in turn ask their own questions about the idea.

A diversity of attendees
Connect with resourceful folks in a variety of fields.
Past presenters include classroom teachers, veterans, peace activists, and artists. Past beginning/ending questions include:
  • How do we interrupt youth violence...and to what extent can do stress management tools prepare kids to be global citizens? (Yoli Maya Yeh, June 2013)
  • How do we get more veterans to value books as much as guns...and how can we measure positive impact?(Don Whitfield, September 2013)
  • How do we teach students to be free thinkers...and how free can they really become within a school year?(Dennis Anthony Kass, September 2013)

An innovative Chicago
Be a part of it!
The goal of H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk is to foster discussion and connections among resourceful folks in a variety of disciplines. Anyone is welcome to attend, and anyone is welcome to submit a presentation idea for consideration (in advance--this is not an open mic).

Mark your calendar...and pass it on!

In lieu of public funds, we put one foot in front of the other

I wish we didn't have to rely on corporations and foundations backed by billionaires to fund our basic civic resources, like libraries and schools (a three-year school improvement grant that provided vital services and support for the most challenged Chicago schools is ending this year...and all these programs put into place are expected to just continue on somehow without support, staff, or funding). But--it's nice to learn here that our library gets its exciting and innovative Maker Lab for one more year.

But really. This ever-accelerating move toward oligarchy. This withdrawal of public funds for public services. What are we doing, y'all?

In happier news, May 10–18 is Urban Biodiversity week. I had a heck of a time fnding the website through a Google Search, so I've put it here. You're welcome. Have fun. Watch for ticks. :)