Sunday, March 23, 2014

Connecticut and the Common Core State Standards

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to hear the esteemed thinker and writer, @DianeRavitch speak at Columbia's Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She had many wonderful points to make about teachers, and many not so supportive points to lay out against the Common Core.
To be clear, I support the Common Core as a guiding post for educators. I support the need for some type of quantitative feedback on how we are doing.  And I have begun to align my school's curriculum with the Common Core by adopting CollegeBoard's SpringBoard for English Language Arts and Math.
This morning, I came across a thoughtful Op-Ed by Sara Littman (via Jonathan Pelto) in which she spends a significant portion of the piece examining the supposed down-turn in reading complexities, and specifically pointing out the anomalies of the Lexile Framework, a strong advocate for the Common Core.
Not familiar with the Core's exploration of this trend, and not believing the Core supports only measuring text complexity based on Lexiles, which as a former READ 180 teacher, I know don't necessarily connect with pointing students to deep, meaningful texts, I thought I would take a look.
In the appendix of the Common Core, to be exact, Appendix A, the approach is laid out.
The Common Core suggest three ways to determine text complexity.  The first component described is the qualitative, which "refer to those aspects of text complexity best measured or only measurable by an attentive human reader, such as levels of meaning or purpose; structure; language conventionality and clarity; and knowledge demands." Secondly, the quantitative component "...refer to those aspects of text complexity, such as word length or frequency, sentence length, and text cohesion...and are thus today typically measured by computer software."  Finally, the standards include the reader and the task, which are "...variables specific to particular readers (such as motivation, knowledge, and experiences) and to particular tasks (such as purpose and the complexity of the task assigned and the questions posed)" stating that "such assessments are best made by teachers employing their professional judgment, experience, and knowledge of their students and the subject."
As a non-expert in either the defense or destruction of the Common Core State Standards, I am having a hard time making sense of what I read in the CCSS's description of text complexity and the interpretation of it by a growing number of people, both in and out of public education. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Boarding Schools and Public Schools

After posing on my Twitter handle, @AndrewMcNamar, the question, "Is it possible to replicate the learning models of @TABSorg or @NAISnetwork in pubic ed," my snowy morning exploration led me to a list of 25 critical factors in boarding schools, written by Pat Bassett and Pete Upham.  Their list inspired me to return to my blog, because 140 characters on Twitter is not enough space to share my thoughts on how their list connects to a public school world.

Here are three important points from their list that public and elite private schools should have in common:

"1. Create a distinctive and robust culture rooted in the school’s mission and values, informed by institutional history, energized by hope, and responsive to change."

By nature, human beings connect with stories; our history has been told through pictures and words for as long as we existed.  Local public schools should explore and honor their history in the same way storied boarding schools do with their histories.  Who are the graduates, the great teachers?  What are the legends and traditions?  

"7. Design experiential learning opportunities that serve a dual purpose: building student knowledge, confidence, and resilience through exposure to novel contexts, unfamiliar people, and fresh challenges; and deepening the esprit de corps between and among students and teachers." 

At other points on their list, Bassett and Upham attend to the need for focusing on each student's development, as well as creating opportunity for engaged students through leadership.  In point 7, I am struck by the language of "dual purpose."  Public education has moved too far down the testing accountability path.  As a result, these schools are lacking the "esprit de corps" that thrives at institutions like Phillips Exeter or Loomis Chaffee (those are two boarding schools I have visited).  Public education, in far too many instance, but specifically in the urban environment, are not attending to the basic human need for connection and belonging. 

"17. Attend to a faculty culture that is supportive of colleagues and school leadership, open to new thinking about teaching and learning, and hungry for professional growth."

Like many other states, Connecticut is moving in the direction of tying teachers' evaluations with standardized test scores.  We have read about teachers willing to walk away from this profession because they don't feel free to take risks beyond the curriculum associated with the test.  School districts force feed a one size fits all professional development strategy without consideration of the individuals.  Today's public school teachers are not afforded the same respect or academic freedom provided to boarding school educators

Public education needs to start examining the world of private education, specifically as it relates to school culture and climate.  Students who feel connected to teachers who feel empowered are far more likely to succeed academically. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Driven

It's funny, the words that stick in your head at important junctures. Today is my final day of teaching at a school that needs good teachers. It is also potentially my last day of teaching in the classroom because I've accepted a new position as an Academic Dean.
Driven came to mind this morning. The uncertainties of teaching in one of Connecticut's "Network" schools has driven me to want out of the school.  As of the last day of school, many of my colleagues don't know where or what they will be teaching, despite years of great reviews.
Driven came to mind two days ago when I asked a student twice to put away a cell-phone during the final exam before taking the test away on the third time it came out. I am tired of being blamed for the failure of students like that and so I am being driven out in order to take care of my self.
Driven came to mind a week ago when I realized that there are plenty of people who doubt I can handle this new position. Sure, it is a stretch for me, but I hate failing. It is that fear of failure that has caused me to read anything and everything about this profession. It is that fear of failure that makes me ask questions of the people who I think can guide me.
Yes, driven is the word of the week.

Friday, April 20, 2012

As a supporter of education reform, including the charter school movement, it is disappointing that the reform movement is focused not on the actual education of students, but on creating a brand or a name for themselves.  Over at Ctpost.com, an interesting article explores the money trail in Connecticut's attempt to "reform" education.
Finally, a news organization in this state is willing to look at what is happening in our State.  Perhaps, now someone should look at the complete authority given to Dr. Steven Adamowski as he dictates his reform agenda to Windham Public Schools. Someone needs to follow that money and his decisions.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Missed Opportunities

Every morning in schools around the country, the P.A. system beeps on and the daily announcements come on. Some schools use broadcasts, which is at least much more interesting than the voices in the sky.
But, I can't help but think that these modes, especially the P.A. system is hopelessly outdated.
In a generation where schools are constantly looking to draw their students in and engage them, it seems to me that we are missing many great opportunities to deliver messages through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Youtube. Schools are still fearful of these social media sites, and the result is a greater divide between the students and the school leaders.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Governor Malloy Must Just Show Up for Four Years Pt. 2

Unless I am misunderstanding Governor Malloy's Education Reform movement, he would like to see teachers held accountable for poor student performance. But for the University of Connecticut's men's basketball team, Governor malloy finds it "ridiculous" that the NCAA has banned the team from post-season play for poor academic standards in the past.
Interesting. I guess it isn't politically advantageous to call out the UConn Huskies and Coach Jim Calhoun, but those poor, incomepetent teachers...

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Caught off Guard

My best guess is that if the quality of my teaching was to be judged on student outcomes this year, I might end up as ineffective, especially when compared to last year's scores. Surviving this year has undoubtedly been difficult, and it has often left me feeling ambivalent. And yet.
In his powerful book of essays, The Hungering Dark, Frederick Buechner writes a prayer:
"Catch us off guard today. Surprise us with some moment of beauty or pain so that for at least a moment we may be startled into seeing that you are with us here..." My wife and I had the entirety of the prayer read at our wedding. The truth of it encompasses so much of what we do.
Last week, on a Friday no less, a student or two caught me off guard. For the entire school year to date, this one student, full of good intentions, has failed to accomplish any reading assignments at home.
But here she was, eight chapters into The Lord of the Flies, up to date on her reading and with the type of annotations I expect from my students. Tucked into her notes was a deep and profound question, but I can't remember it. Instead, I remember the lump in the throat, the "moment of beauty."
I have learned this year to not let my highs get to high or my lows get to low. It is what it is as the cliche goes. But I was thankful for the moment.