Here is an essay contest entry by Michelle Nicholes.
I am writing to express my concerns with the direction that our public schools are heading as a result of the federal government stepping in and more specifically (I am going to say it, but please keep reading!) Common Core. I know that there are a lot of good and bad things being said about Common Core and you are probably more than tired of dealing with it, but I truly believe it is something that still needs to be addressed.
When I first started hearing about Common Core, I was fine with it. (Not that I really had a choice, since it had already been implemented before parents were told about it.) It sounded like a good idea. But the more I started researching and learning, the more it started to confuse and concern me. I’m just beginning to really understand what is happening with the control over education being taken away from the state and the implementation of this new curriculum and standardized testing. And while I still don’t know everything about it, I know enough to be more than just a little concerned.
As a parent, I’ve always been actively involved in the education of my children. Because of this there are many things about Common Core that bother me. Below are just a few:
*It is very concerning to me that as a parent, I might not always have a say in what my child is taught in the public schools.
*I’m very angry that something that hasn’t even been tested or confirmed successful is being implemented. My children ARE NOT guinea pigs.
*I am disturbed that there is data collecting on children that has nothing to do with school. Why??
*I am frustrated that they are attempting to standardize education making it a one size fits all, when no two children are EVER going to be alike. It doesn’t take into consideration the individuality and also the struggles that some children face.
My son started struggling with math two years ago in third grade. He really struggled last year in fourth grade. Nor has it improved this year. I discovered that Common Core math was implemented the year he first started struggling. I was told that because of the new curriculum, they needed to cram a whole bunch of new math ideas into the year to get them on track for the next year. That all sounded wonderful, let’s get our students smarter, faster! But that isn’t exactly how it will work. They are introducing new ideas, new concepts that require children to learn things they are NOT ready for. Their brains are not developed enough to grasp the concepts yet and all it does is frustrate them. I saw that with my second grader last year in math as well. As an adult, the concepts they are teaching kind of make sense, if I look hard at the reasoning behind it. But most children are not ready for this way of thinking and reasoning. They have taken math from simple steps to many complex steps and I don’t understand why or see how it is helping. If you have looked at the Common Core math, then you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, I would encourage you to try to solve a few problems- following the new rules, not the way you were taught.
I had to relearn how to do long division last year in order to help my son with math. It confused me as to why it had been changed. After all, haven’t we all succeeded just fine – for many decades, I might add- with the tried and true method of long division? I showed him how I was taught to do it and he told me “I wish I could just do it that way. Your way is tons easier!” All this new curriculum is doing is frustrating the students and affecting their self esteem. Frustrated children give up. Most children that feel stupid or inadequate because they don’t understand something, will just give up! Children are not known for their patience.
I won’t go into everything that concerns me, but there are many more that I could mention. They are concerning enough to me that I will be withdrawing my children from public school next year in order to home school them. My children’s ability to learn and feel successful, instead of feeling stressed and inadequate, is important enough to me to make this big decision. I love our schools and teachers. I have no problems with them. However, I have no love for Common Core and what it will ultimately do to our children.
My hope is that you will continue to research and become aware of all that Common Core really is. Our children’s future is too important to not make a careful, educated decision.
I received this email yesterday from a parent a Mountainville Academy. Due to SAGE testing, the Computer Applications class can’t use the lab for the rest of the school year. Nice. We want our kids up on technology, so lets test them so much on computers that the computer classes can’t have a lab to use.
Sage testing is a computer test that all students throughout the school have to take. Because of this, the computer lab will be used for the testing. Students in my Computer Applications class will not be able to use the computer lab for the remainder of the school year because of testing.
Students will now be required to complete the assignments at home that would normally be completed in class. I will go over the assignment during class. I will have the website updated on a daily basis so that students will know what to complete and what documents are needed to complete the assignment. Assignments will be due the next time class meets. I would prefer that students email me their completed assignments before we meet again, however, I understand that this isn’t always possible. Students may print off their assignments and bring them to class and turn them in the next time we meet for full credit. (Regardless of which method students turn in assignments, they are due the next time we meet for class.) I will also require that they complete the header on each assignment because this will be the proof that they did the assignment and not just attach the solution page that is included within the web page. (The solution page is needed so that students can compare their document with what the document should look like.)
Typing logs. Since students will not be able to complete Microtype in class, it is VERY important that students keyboard at home. They MUST complete a typing log for each week. Starting this week, I’m doubling the points for typing logs since they will be taking the place of Microtype. The same rules and guidelines will apply with typing logs. If they are late, then it is 50% off the grade. They may turn in typing logs in up to two weeks past the due date. Students may use the time they typed for homework for one night only. Students must keyboard for 75 minutes each week to get full credit and they must keyboard at LEAST 2 nights during the week.
I know that this is a lot for students but it is the best we can do with the technology that we have here at school. If you have any questions, please let me know.
[Teacher name removed]
I received this email yesterday from Dr. Jonathan Caldwell regarding something happening at Minersville School in the Beaver County School District. Similar events are occurring around the country with various prizes or treats.
“It was brought to my attention that the children at my son’s school who take the SAGE test are being included in a drawing for an ipad, while those who have opted out, are not being included. I spoke to the principal and it was confirmed. The purpose was originally to try and motivate the kids to do well on the test. They had decided to do this months ago before the thought of ever having parents opt-out and now are scrambling to figure out how to handle this. I am confident that other schools may be doing the same. In fact I saw the article about the kids in New York getting ice cream for taking the test and those not taking it did not get to participate. I am all for incentives and ways to motivate kids to care, however I am deeply disturbed by this level of discrimination and separation. I disagree with punishing the kids for a decision that the parents made just as much as I am against punishing the school or teachers for the same decision that the parents made to opt out. I am disappointed in parents who refuse to educate themselves because they are more concerned with how this will reflect upon the school or the teachers. I DO think my sons school is great. It is consistently one of the top schools in the state. The administrators and teachers are amazing. It is unfortunate that this situation puts them in a position to where their hands are tied behind their back, required to teach a certain way or have their jobs on the line. Teachers become teachers out of a passion and desire to inspire kids but this is truly taking the “Teaching to Inspire” out of school teaching and making them “Teach to Test”. Just thought I’d bring this to your attention. Dr. Caldwell”
In a follow up email, Dr. Caldwell stated:
“You may also be interested in this: Last week I asked my son if he was the only one in his class opting out and he said, ‘No’. I asked him how he knew there were others and he said, ‘Because all of the kids not taking the SAGE test are sitting on the back row.’ Wow!!! Just another way to isolate, single out and draw attention to these students. I think they are trying to do some damage control as one of the other parents approached the principal about it today and was told that they are ‘pulling the other kids out of the drawing whom they have “Caught” not trying on the test’. (wow, that even sounds worse doesn’t it?)”
Didn’t see this one coming… :) From a speech Pope Francis gave over the weekend that dealt with moral and religious issues, comes this report on the Cardinal Newman Society website.
“And in this regard I would like to express my rejection of any kind of educational experimentation with children. We cannot experiment with children and young people,” the Holy Father reportedly said. “The horrors of the manipulation of education that we experienced in the great genocidal dictatorships of the twentieth century have not disappeared; they have retained a current relevance under various guises and proposals and, with the pretense of modernity, push children and young people to walk on the dictatorial path of ‘only one form of thought.”The Holy Father also reportedly warned against the dangers “posed by contemporary culture and widespread mentality propagated by the mass media.”
Dr. Andrew Seeley, executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education and a tutor at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., warned in “The Common Core vs. the Classical Roots of Catholic Education” that the goals and methods of the Common Core are fundamentally at odds with the discovery of Truth at the heart of an authentically Catholic education.
Seeley stated his belief that “under the guise of mutual understanding, curricular materials are likely to usher in an aggressively secular orthodoxy,” and the Common Core will in fact become a “dictatorship of relativism.”
- See more at: http://www.cardinalnewmansociety.org/CatholicEducationDaily/DetailsPage/tabid/102/ArticleID/3192/Pope-Francis-Defends-Parents%E2%80%99-Right-to-Decide-%E2%80%98Moral-and-Religious%E2%80%99-Education-for-Children.aspx#sthash.r3laNGgX.dpuf
We received this excellent letter from Alma and are publishing it. I have bolded a few sentences in the letter to emphasize them.
My name is Alma Ohene-Opare, an alumnus of BYU and a native of Accra, Ghana. Over the past few months, I have followed with much amusement, the nationwide debate for or against the adoption and implementation of the Common Core standards. The arguments have been fierce and passionate on both sides and seem to stem from a universal desire to raise the quality of education in America. The desire is noble. However, this noble desire will not compensate for or mitigate the empirically documentable effects of the failed policy being proposed.
Common Core may be new to America, but to me and the thousands who have migrated to the United States to seek better educational opportunities, it is in large part the reason we came here. If you are wondering what qualifies me to make the assertions I will make in this article, know this; I am one of the few victims of a standardized national education system in Ghana, who was lucky enough to escape its impact. I am also a member of the Board of Directors of a private K-12 institution in Accra, Ghana. Golden Sunbeam Montessori School was founded by my mother in 1989 and is currently leading the fight to rid our country of an educational system that has led to the systematic degradation and deterioration of our human capital.
Let’s get to the core of my argument; pun intended. What Americans are calling Common Core is eerily similar to my educational experience growing up in Ghana. In Ghana, K-12th grade education was tightly controlled by the Ghana Education Service, an organization similar to the US Department of Education. From curricula to syllabi to standardized testing, the government controlled everything.
In 9th grade, all students, in order to progress to high school are required to take a standardized exam known as the B.E.C.E, which stands for Basic Education Certification Examination. Depending on the results of the test, each student is assigned by a computer program to a public high school without regard to his or her interests, passions or ambitions. Each student is then assigned an area of focus for the next three years. Some of the focus areas are General Science, Business Management, General Arts, Visual Arts, Home Economics, Agriculture, etc.
Although things may have changed slightly since I graduated, most students generally did not have a choice as to which area of focus they were assigned. The only way to get a choice was to ace the standardized exam or to call in a favor either through bribery or some other type of corruption. The students who failed miserably were usually those who attended public schools; many of whom dropped out of school entirely.
The process was then repeated at the end of High School with another standardized exam called the W.A.S.S.S.C.E. This exam tested your readiness for college and ultimately determined which course of study you were assigned by the government in college. I did not ace that exam and did not get admission into the state run college of my choice. Instead, I went to a private university founded by a former Microsoft employee and was found smart enough to be admitted to BYU a year later as a transfer student, to graduate with a Bachelor’s in Information Technology and to be hired right out of college as a Program Manager at Microsoft Corporation.
Although the education system in Ghana is not similar in all aspects to Common Core as it is being proposed today, some of the basic tenets are the same. The curriculum was controlled by an external body without input from or accountability to teachers, individual schools or parents. Some argue that teachers and parents have control in Common Core. It pains me to witness such naivety. That myth has always been an inevitable play by proponents of any centralized system. The goal is to make people think they are in control while nudging them blindly towards a perceived public interest. The truth is simple; the institution that controls the exams, controls the curriculum.
By controlling the standardized exams, each school in Ghana was forced to make passing the exam its primary focus rather than actual teaching and learning. Hence anything that was deemed outside the purview of the test was cast aside and treated as non-important. Extra-curricular activities were cut if not totally eliminated and the school day was lengthened to ensure that students had even more time to prepare for the test.
In my case, school started at 6:00am and ended as late as 6:00pm. We attended school on Saturdays. Even when school was out we still attended school half day. Our lives were consumed with preparation for the standardized test. We all had booklets of past tests going back 15 years. Those who anticipated failing the test registered in advance to retake the test. The value of teachers was measured solely on the performance of their students on the standardized tests. Scammers who purported to know what would appear on the tests duped schools, parents and teachers alike by selling bogus test questions. Schools with political connections always unanimously aced the tests.
You may wonder why nobody ever tried to change the system. The answer was simple. The government made it impossible by requiring all students who wanted to go to High School or College to take the test. Hence, any time spent trying to change the system meant time taken away from preparing for the test. Parents became completely beholden to the system and would threaten to take the kids to other schools if administrators spent any time not preparing their kids for the test.
Now that you have a sense of how an education system can become trapped in the death spiral of standardized tests, let me interest you with the impact of this system on actual student outcomes. In Ghana, we had a phrase to describe how we felt about standardized tests. We called it “chew and pour, pass and forget”. Translated, it means memorize, regurgitate, pass the exam and forget everything.
Unfortunately that has become reality for many graduates of our educational system. As my father put it in a recent petition to the Ghana Education Service, “the education system in Ghana is akin to an assembly line setup by the government to create employees for an economy largely devoid of innovation, entrepreneurship, originality or risk taking”. Because students never learn to solve problems or think critically for themselves and are largely discouraged from challenging their teachers or the status quo, they are inevitably groomed to maintain the failed traditions of the past while believing they are completely powerless to change anything. The result is the fact that even with an abundance of natural resources, the country in general continues to suffer in the doldrums of socio-economic development without any clear path out of it.
Recently my brother left a well-paying job in the US to return to Ghana to take over my parent’s school. He had dreams of changing the system. He imagined students groomed to become innovators and entrepreneurs. He soon learned it was impossible to achieve any of those dreams if the school was to remain subject to the rules, restrictions and common standards the government had set. The only solution was to completely abandon the system, which he fears would cause parents to withdraw their children from the school. He is now stuck in the limbo of a catch 22 but continues to fight to win students, teachers and parents over to a new beginning for the education of their children.
In December 2012, I returned to Ghana with my family and had the opportunity to speak to 10th grade students at the school. I gave what I thought was an inspiring speech. I proposed to start an innovation and entrepreneurship club which will employ students to identify and propose solutions to some of the problems facing the country. I promised to provide the capital and resources necessary to support these kids in this new challenge. I ended by asking the kids who were interested to write their names on a piece of paper and email it to me. It’s been more than 18 months since I returned. I have received nothing and I don’t blame them. Their parents have paid a large sum of money because they believed our school would help their kids pass the standardized exam. I was not about to distract them from that goal. What a tragedy.
I have personally wondered what makes Africa so uniquely challenged in its attempts at economic development especially when all the innovations needed to do so are readily available to us. I came to a personal conclusion which admittedly is not scientific but captures what I believe to be the elusive culprit. It is contentment with mediocrity and a lack of curiosity to change the status quo. The problem is not inherent in the nature of Africans but rather the imposition of an educational system that burned out the light of innovation and made us content to live on the spoils of the countries brave enough to venture into the glory of the unknown. When I came to the US, many people would ask what the difference was between the US and Ghana. I responded that in Ghana, I could dream. In America I can do.
In writing this article, I am by no means endorsing the current state of public education in the United States. The problem with the system today is that the US government, aided by self-interested unions, has spent decades and billions of dollars trying to return to a system of education that America abandoned a long time ago; a system which has proven a failure in many parts of the world. Common Core is just the latest iteration of the failed system. Like a wise man once said, oh that I were an angel and could have the wish of my heart; to stand on the mountain top to warn against the path you are choosing to take. As an outsider looking in, I recognize one thing that most Americans lack. Because America has been free for so long, many have no sense of what tyranny looks like and how quickly physical and intellectual freedom can be lost on the path paved with good intentions.
I plead with all you well-intentioned but definitely misguided administrators, teachers and politicians. Raise your heads out of the dust and realize that America is great because America bucked against the status quo. Thinking a standardized and common core curriculum is innovative is like discovering water in the ocean and patting yourself on the back for it. This system is not new. Its greatest success was to create a conforming working class for the industrial revolution. It is not fit for a dynamic 21st century that needs constant innovation and the confidence to create new solutions to the problems that continue to beset and confound the smartest minds in the world.
America is desperate to find a solution to a problem that you solved decades ago. Return to originality. Put teachers and parents in charge of the education of their children. Encourage critical thinking that rejects conformity for the sake of some perceived societal benefit. Teach children to solve problems and not just to regurgitate the solutions of generations past. I have been silent too long and have now seized this opportunity to stand up for what I believe, which ironically is something I have learned from my experience in America.
America, I urge you to learn from the mistakes of those around because, like the plaque in my former bishop’s office read, “you may not live long enough to make all those mistakes yourself.”
–Alma Ohene-Opare, Salt Lake City, UT
A teacher sent in this third grade test question which students in Utah will be tested on. The question comes from Pearson and is not a SAGE test question but regular pencil and paper. Although I enjoy an occasional video game with my children, and I agree with some of what is written in the article about some of the positives, I find this inappropriate because video games certainly do desensitize children and can addict them. I also find the 2 questions below the text offensive in that the correct answers are video games are healthy and what people say about video games is false. This is just completely inappropriate for 3rd graders. People who don’t think reading something on a test is indoctrinating should realize that for all of my childhood and teen years, I thought porcupines could shoot their quills because of something I read on a 2nd grade test. Nobody corrected my thinking after the test and it stuck with me because I thought it was pretty cool and never wanted to be around a porcupine. It took years for a simple suggestion to be corrected. Impressionable minds absorb content and children have a high level of trust in their teachers so when teachers say something incorrect or highly inappropriate, it sticks with children perhaps for a lifetime.
Video games are designed to offer players rewards to incentivize continued play. Without rewards, leveling up, earning things, advancing, the games don’t have the same draw to players and keep them playing. Those incentives have a science behind them to ensure players get a little reward/stimulus every so often to keep playing. The video at the bottom illustrates one boy who became addicted to World of Warcraft and had his account terminated by his mother. Don’t ever let it get that far… :)
To see stories of kids with real video game addiction problems, click here:
I had to share this one. A family in England wanted to travel to the U.S. for a wedding and sought a TWO DAY leave of absence for their three-year old preschooler. A relative of this family here in Utah sent this to me yesterday. I never knew how critical preschool was in the U.K. They must be doing something so vital that three-year olds can’t miss two days. State preschool and compulsory education. We just can’t have three year olds thinking they can take off school for special events and stuff. Their education is most critical in those formative years…
Granite School District teacher Ann Florence has been fired during Spring Break so Granite School District could avoid as much of a media storm as possible. This action is unconscionable. Please read this post to the end and take action by emailing the people below your thoughts about them firing a wonderful and experienced teacher. As teachers find themselves reducing their teaching time (by as much as 20% of the school year by some accounts), in order to administer standardized tests, they are becoming increasingly worried about their students, as well as their own sanity as you’ll see below. Their free speech is curtailed just as it always is by narrowly-focused (I wanted to write small-minded but thought that might be perceived rudely) bureaucrats who have a very misplaced concern for children’s needs.
We must ask, what is the purpose of education? What is local control? I’ll tell you what it isn’t: It’s not bureaucrats and legislators trying to make teachers accountable through increased testing of children. Local control is a parent, responsible and concerned for the education of their children, communicating with a teacher about their children, and the three interested parties developing a plan that makes the teacher accountable to the parent and child to impart their knowledge. Testing is a part of education but that is best left to the teacher to evaluate students, and communicate with parents ensuring they know where their child has deficiencies to be able to appropriately address their children’s needs. Teachers need a quality program though. Fads like constructivist math damage children and Common Core has embraced this. The combination of good standards for a proper path of education, good teachers, good curriculum, parental involvement, and of course students’ needs, will do more to help educate children than anything else the state could implement.
Now to Ann. From all accounts, Ann was a superb teacher who was providing a wonderful educational experience for her students. Christel Swasey wrote up Ann’s being put on administrative leave days ago and noted that a year ago, Ann wrote an op-ed for the Tribune and said this:
“Managing teachers through intimidation is not working… teachers are looking for work elsewhere. Teachers who have loved their jobs are discouraging their own children from pursuing careers in education…. we feel exhausted and demoralized by the avalanche of mandates from the state and district… While legislators constantly raise expectations and think they can motivate us by publicly posting test scores, our time for teaching has shrunk….I now administer 19 days of standardized tests, costing me an entire month of instruction. This doesn’t include the days the testing site is down or the system crashes, eating up even more days…. I am held accountable for nine months of curriculum without enough time to teach it… Granite District has required teachers to learn the new Common Core, use a new grades program (which crashes regularly), design a new honors curriculum, use a new online system requiring the scanning and posting of all assignments and a daily summary of class activities, and learn to analyze complex data … No test score reflects the number of students who return to thank a teacher, the number who fall in love with reading again, gain new confidence to speak up in class, find solace in a teacher’s support, decide to try one more time just when they want to quit… We are tired of having our dedication reduced to a number.”
The Trib yesterday reported the firing of this teacher thus:
“Florence was placed on administrative leave March 27 after she told her first-period class that she was facing disciplinary action and might be fired. Spring break began March 28, and the letter was mailed March 31.
When students learned of the disciplinary action on March 27, they started a petition drive and obtained nearly 100 signatures in one day supporting their teacher.
Florence refused to grade the writing portion of the districtwide Acuity Test. She said the exam was a waste of students’ and teachers’ time, did not further any education agenda and that it was unethical to have teachers grade their own students on a standardized test that then would be used to judge the teacher.
In a letter to her students, she said she loved her career but had to stand up for principle.”
Hmmmm, now why would this teacher be fired for criticizing a standardized test??? Could it be that she is interfering with district revenue? Looks like McGraw-Hill is offering a reward to help pilot their exam.
State Superintendent Menlove just sent out this letter across the state as a stern warning to teachers.
“Testing environments need to be maintained to assure accurate testing of students without outside interference. Only those authorized educators should be in the room(s) while testing is occurring.
I sent a document Monday concerning opting-out of testing. Parents have the right to opt students out of testing. However, this right is not extended to anyone other than a child’s parent or guardian. I believe it is a violation of testing protocol and educator ethics for a licensed educator to encourage or suggest that individual students or groups of students not participate fully in State administered testing.
Please communicate with all licensed educators that those involved in sharing, or allowing the sharing, of any SAGE, DWA or other State assessment items will be referred to the Utah Professional Practices Commission and action may be taken against their teacher license. This includes the requirement that all testing protocols will be followed.
Additionally, those who do not honor a parent’s right to opt out of testing, or those who inappropriately encourage or facilitate opting-out will also be referred to the Utah Professional Practices Commission for possible action against their license.”
Teachers should honor a parent’s right to opt out. But they should also be more concerned about the students in their care than some bureaucrat who wants to feed “big data” with a monstrous stream of data to the detriment of children.Please read this article by Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project on “Common Core and Data Collection” which contains this troubling quote from Sec. of Ed. Arne Duncan:
“Hopefully, some day, we can track children from preschool to high school and from high school to college and college to career . . . . We want to see more states build comprehensive systems that track students from pre-K through college and then link school data to workforce data. We want to know know whether Johnny participated in an early learning program and then completed college on time and whether those things have any bearing on his earnings as an adult.”
Help protect our teachers
Please take a moment and write a polite email of support for Ann and other teachers to the following. Send emails separately or put them on the BCC (Blind carbon copy) line of your email.
Granite’s Superintendent Martin Bates: firstname.lastname@example.org
State Superintendent Dr. Martell Menlove: Martell.Menlove@schools.utah.gov
Wasatch Jr High Principal Christine Judd: email@example.com
Wasatch Jr High Asst. Principal John Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org
State School Board:
email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; jeffersonRmoss@gmail.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com;
Granite School Board:
Governor Herbert: http://governor.utah.gov/goca/form_comment.html (copy/paste your email into this form to send it to the Governor)
Your legislators: http://le.utah.gov (lookup by address here)
Provided by Whitne S:
“The Salt Lake Tribune invited UACC’s Christel Swasey to face off with Judy Park from the Utah State Office of Education regarding the increasing number of parents opting their children out of SAGE. Among items discussed were Ms. Park’s claim that Utah can make any “revisions, changes, or adjustments that Utah chooses to make” to the Common Core standards. See Christel’s polite disagreement based on the actual documents Utah signed. Christel even received an indirect answer to her long-awaited question regarding pilot testing. Ms. Park explains why she believes pilot testing is “not possible” nor necessary. Christel’s closing remarks make the whole video worth the time.”
It’s about time Mr. Colbert reported on Common Core. :)