Friday, September 30, 2011

Is "College for All?"

Last year my son's 4th grade class went on a field trip to visit Muhlenberg College. I thought it was a bit odd to take young school children on a tour of a college campus. They were not going there to see a play. Elementary school field trips should have some element of age appropriate fun! The new buzz phrase in our school district is "college readiness." According to the district website, college readiness is "the wave of the future." High school students can now take dual enrollment classes, taught by local community college professors, in order to receive college credits. Middle school students are being put on track for college.

College readiness is also a key requirement for obtaining a waiver, or relief, from the unrealistic AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) mandates of the failed federal No Child Left Behind Act:

“To receive this flexibility, an SEA [state education agency] must demonstrate that it has college- and career-ready expectations for all students in the State by adopting college- and career-ready standards in at least reading/language arts and mathematics, transitioning to and implementing such standards statewide for all students and schools, and developing and administering annual, statewide, aligned, high-quality assessments, and corresponding academic achievement standards, that measure student growth in at least grades 3-8 and at least once in high school."

In response to the current "college for all" education reform movement, a report by Harvard University's Pathways to Prosperity project determined that out of the 47 million new jobs expected to be created from now until 2018, only one third will require a bachelor's degree or higher. 30% of new jobs will require an associate's degree or post secondary occupational credential. Currently, only 30% of students go to college and earn a bachelor's degree by age 27. So why are we designing our public education system to satisfy an unrealistic and impractical goal? Here's a link to an informative blog that links to the Harvard report:

According to Dept. of Labor statistics,
the occupations with the fastest growth (scroll 3/4 down to see Table 1) and the largest numerical growth (see Table 2) show that a 4 year college degree is not going to be necessary for a huge segment of future workers. Home health care and personal aide jobs are at top of the list.

I think our school district's "college for all" agenda is more about improving the image of the district than serving the educational needs of the student population, which is 88% low income/poverty. If the suits really cared about the students they would not have cut art, music, phys ed and library from the already history and science deprived curriculum. Striving for excellence while narrowing curriculum just doesn't jibe. Public education should be about equal opportunity, and providing the best education to all students, in order to promote engaged citizens.

High expectations, standards, and goals are important, but when schools focus too much on college readiness, they tend to forget about who the children are at the moment. The important job of meeting immediate needs gets pushed to the background. The effects of poverty get ignored. I believe that it's much more important to provide mandatory pre-school to all children. Research supports early childhood intervention as a key factor in helping kids succeed at school. Once children learn to read, then they will read to learn. We need to give children the knowledge and rich educational experiences ( like exposure to the arts) necessary for them to discover their talents and decide for themselves if they want to go to college. Front and center should be the job of providing a safe learning environment, healthcare, nutrition, and books for students growing up in poverty. Why are we in a race to the top, and why do we need to be better than everyone else in the world? The majority of American students falling behind are those who are growing up in poverty. College degrees don't always translate into jobs.

I asked my son about his field trip and what he liked about college. His answer: "I got to see boys and girls kissing." and "Everyone has laptops." Thankfully the schoolchildren did not encounter any streakers or wild keg parties on their visit. ;D

Friday, September 23, 2011

Standardization is Creepy

Our school district is serving up their tricks and treats early this year. Here's an excerpt from the Allentown School District Annual Report (with my comments in red):

The need for a common standardization of core programs of studies and assessment tools across all 50 states is painfully obvious.

Standardized curriculum means standardized children.That's what's so painfully obvious.

At the local level across the state and the country, parents, educators and politicians spend time arguing over what is the right program when there are professionals at much higher levels with more data results to create and provide the consistent core standards for excellence for children.

In other words, local teachers who actually interact with children are low level chopped meat, not qualified to make important decisions about curricula. We should trust Bill Gates, he's not an educator, but he knows what's best for all children. He's got the data, cause he's got the money to control the research and the policy, even though he has a record of failure in ed reform.

When these national standards are imposed
We must obey the corporate overlords.

this presents an opportunity for schools and communities to truly align teaching, tutoring and supports to common curriculum goals.

Thank God, finally an opportunity for us all to truly align! Teachers have been falsely aligning for far too long, and that has got to STOP! The shame! How about aligning teaching to the needs of the students?

Because of this lack of uniformity

One size fits all keeps kids in line so they don't question authority at the test prep factory.

students with the same actual achievement levels could be considered “proficient” in one state, but may not be in another,”says the report (see

Test score data should determine everything, even though it is highly unreliable.

In fact, we all know that proficient in science in one school district is different than proficient in another.

Maybe that's because the students and communities are different, depending on poverty level. Teachers know this. But how do you know what we all know? Are you God?

That is why as many valid quality indicators as we can deploy are useful to us in making value-added classrooms work for our students.

Don't trust the teacher, trust our "value-added" extra valid quality system which has only a 30% margin of error!

(Me) Here's where we are headed, and it's very scary. Common Core national standards are big business. Bill Gate$ has partnered with Pear$on(textbook company) to write the new national curriculum which will be "imposed" upon our children.

In my school district there is too much focus on standards and college readiness, instead of the fact that 80% of Allentown students are now considered lower income or living in poverty. Not all children are college material. How about just focusing on what public education stands for: promoting citizens in a democracy while providing equal opportunities for all children. When we give the children the right tools and knowledge, in a safe learning environment, with a rich curriculum, they can make their own decisions about college. Racing to the Top, Winning the Future, will not fix poverty, which is the cause of low achievement. High expectations, speaking in platitudes, will not fix poverty. I don't want my local community school to be standardized. Celebrating our differences is what brings us together. Standardization will anesthetize our children to the very qualities we should value as a community of diverse human beings... little things like empathy and acceptance of other cultures and valuing the unique history of our community...things that are not so neatly measured and aligned. If standardization is the cornerstone of our public education policy, then we are doomed as a society. Why are we being told to compete in an education race, when we should be collaborating together to meet the immediate needs of our impoverished students. Where the heck are we headed so fast, and why do we need to be number one all the time?

You can read the entire scary report here: The arrogance of the author is just astounding.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Curriculum Narrowing is not a "Pathway to Success"

"On the whole, then, the available evidence strongly suggests that narrowing the curriculum in elementary school deprives students of an important opportunity to develop broad vocabulary and background knowledge necessary for strong reading comprehension later on. That lack of opportunity results in several negative consequences as students move into upper elementary school and the secondary grades."

(source: The Hidden Costs of Curriculum Narrowing by The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, 2006)

The new curriculum in the Allentown School District is called "Pathways to Success." How ironic that this new program, which is supposed to prepare students for college, has drastically reduced special classes (art, music, phys ed, library) at the elementary level to one per week. Now students will have art only 9 times per year. They will have one special per week, when they used to have one per day. Social studies and science have already been drastically reduced due to focus on reading and math standards.

All Allentown school board directors voted to approve these changes. Was any research conducted? The fraudulent ex-superintendent (Dr. Zahorchak) who imposed these harmful changes resigned right before the start of school. Administration is in chaos. But the district is moving ahead with Dr. Z's half baked experiments on our children. Dr. Z is staying on board another year in a newly created position, and taking his 195k salary. His entire buyout package is costing us 245k. And a consultant has been hired to help implement the curriculum overhaul.
The waste is enormous.

Disadvantaged children depend on school to provide necessary background knowledge. School is their only frame of reference. And now these children are being further deprived of access to books, since library class has been slashed from the curriculum. Their parents can't take them to museums, plays, or public libraries. They don't get to travel to Europe like the wealthy kids. Education Secretary Arne Duncan (no background in teaching) keeps talking about higher standards, and the importance of a well rounded education, but I guess that's just for the rich kids. All children deserve the same equally rich curriculum. Narrowing the curriculum is not "Pathways to Success" it's really "Poor Kids Get Less."

There are many more reasons why curriculum narrowing in bad. Here's the entire report:

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Discovery and Joy of Learning

Our son discovered action painting when he was 7 years old. It's a style that suits his athletic and energetic nature. The painting seems to always be in motion, just like our child. He literally puts himself into the painting. This is how he chooses to express himself artistically. Since I am an art teacher, I seized on the opportunity to teach my son about the artist Jackson Pollock and the art movement called Abstract Expressionism, New York School. I told him that Pollock was not just randomly dripping paint. The drips were sometimes based on figure drawings. Pollock could draw and paint realistically before he started working abstract. And Pollock layered the paint, and spent a lot of time working on these large paintings. He placed the canvas on the floor. We talked about the time period in history when Pollock created these paintings, and the music of the period, since our son is also a musician, and has always been interested in history. History has been pretty much eliminated from the curriculum at his school, along with art, music, physical education, and library. When schools don't teach subjects like history, art, or music, then kids don't learn to value those subjects. In our school district, children are being denied the opportunity to make connections across the curriculum. A test driven curriculum, with a strong focus on only reading and math skills, can diminish a child's joy of learning.

His interest in Pollock has sparked an interest in other artists, like Marc Chagall and Andy Warhol. Why did these artists paint the way they did? Studying works of art improves a child's critical thinking skills, helps children to make interdisciplinary connections and personal connections. The arts make learning more meaningful. And art for art's sake brings joy to our lives. This is the kind of authentic learning that gets cut from public education because of budget cuts and high stakes testing. All children must be given opportunities to discover their talents. Not all children have parents who are art teachers and can teach them at home. They rely on school for exposure to the arts. Be an advocate for an arts infused curriculum at every public school.

Painting by Gianni Villa