david coleman Archives - The Jose Vilson

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Chancellor Dennis Walcott Visits School of the Future

To Chancellor Dennis Walcott, David Coleman, Merryl Tisch, and McGraw-Hill Publishers:

First, I’ll mention that, since the discussions of the Common Core Learning Standards came to the fore, I’ve had a plethora of chances to immerse myself in the new vision for a quasi-nationalized education paradigm. In NYC, as usual, education policy makers feel the need to set the standard for the nation, from Bloomberg’s mayoral control dictates to the plethora of interim, field-testing, and high-stakes standardized assessments from third grade onwards. On the surface, one might think I’m at the forefront of the work done around the Common Core.

Yet, my earlier concern about the chaotic approach to transforming education via the Common Core concerns me still.

We can obviously start with Dr. Diane Ravitch’s contention that we haven’t actually field-tested whether the standards would actually get our students “college and career ready.” From a teacher’s perspective, I’d like to get more focused, coherent, and yes, rigorous about my argument.

We can talk all day about these standards and the three tenets of focus, coherence, and rigor, but without the means to make pedagogy more viable and focused on the whole child, we miss out on yet another opportunity to do something important: growing better people.

For instance, yesterday and today, New York City elementary and middle school children had to take an English-Language Arts and Math test (respectively) as part of the NYC Benchmark Assessments, with the assumption that these tests will give stakeholders a chance to see how much students learned in the past few months.

After a careful glance of the material along with conversations with students and teachers, these assessments seem to do more to assess what students don’t know than anything else.

If the intent is to help teachers, principals, and others get a feel for the tests in April / May, then why not let these parties into the assessment process rather than excluding them? If the intent is to show growth from today to the tests, then why give a test where you know the majority of students haven’t even covered all of this material? If the intent is to signal to everyone that they must raise their expectations, then why must we let them down so frequently with our lack of clarity?

From people I’ve spoken to throughout the city, we’ve had almost three re-arrangement in priorities in the last five months. At first, people thought we would have to address both New York State and Common Core Standards, specifically because the Common Core in New York State’s eyes was a draft. Then, people thought we would teach according to the first testing schedule given sometime in late August / early September.

For eight grade teachers, that meant we would teach exponents first. Sometime last week, however, the state sends out a document shifting priorities on topics again, giving some topics greater emphasis over others after almost three months of teaching.

We’re almost begging for schools to fail.

Even when schools had a clear roadmap like in the state of Kentucky, schools still dipped by as much as 35% in scores, and for good reason. Anyone familiar with the standards already sees the forestand the trees.

But we continue to perpetuate the myth that higher accountability will improve schools, no matter what the cost. After today’s interim assessment, I am convinced that, if we cannot make our school system more focused on children and their communities’ needs, we will continue to fail them, with or without a state test.

We can do better.

I’m not angry; I’m simply seeking answers. While I don’t speak for all teachers, I do speak because of them, and a plethora of other concerned citizens. Hope to hear from you soon.

Best,

Jose Vilson

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Dear Reader,

Frankly, this post shouldn’t matter.

I’m a classroom teacher first and foremost, and am often in situations where I can readily embody what most of my colleagues believe about education and the teachers’ role in education reform. It’s a privilege at times to rub elbows with union leaders, well-known activists, and other thought leaders and sharpen those elbows when their ideas go astray from my personal beliefs. I have enough integrity that I can sit in the same room with someone with an opposing view without jumping across the table and threatening to choke the other person out. Or at least threatening to occupy their spaces on first breath.

All this to say that I don’t actually have an opinion on the Common Core Learning Standards, yet.

A year or two ago, I posted a couple of crosswalk documents from the New York State Math Standards to the Common Core Learning Standards (prematurely since I understand lots more about it now than I did back then). For the last couple of years, I’ve also attended a couple of conferences concerning the dissemination and execution of the CCLS as well. In New York City, the discussion has come to a point where, if you’re not using the words “Common Core” in a PD session or a faculty meeting, the moderator might get a frown stamp from our central offices.

On the same end, my friend JD and I had a conversation about the CC and realized that the assessment will make the standards whatever they are. The assessment will decide whether the “cool” pieces will matter. Who cares if we have less standards from K – 8 if students still get tested to death? Who cares if we have more coherent, fluid sequences for what students learn if 20-40 days out of the year get dedicated to interim and state tests for various subjects? Who cares if we as teachers have to think harder about the sorts of questions they ask of students if we constantly have to consider whether the material we teach has a high probability of ending up on the test?

Thus, I concluded with my own intuition (thinking for myself matters) that it doesn’t matter what standards lay in front of me. Pedagogy matters. Curriculum matters. Questioning matters. Coalition and collaboration matter, too. For the average teacher, these things should matter, if they don’t already. When I lay out the 180 days I have to teach, I get a good sense of the curriculum maps and pacing calendars we’ve created, and think about how I’ll deliver the lesson. I’m not thinking about Jason Zimba or David Coleman reminding me about the three shifts in their vision. I’m thinking about where my kids are in their learning, where they need to go, and how I’m going to get them there.

Yet, if you ask some people who vocalize their disagreements with the Common Core, you wonder if they’ve actually taught for more than a couple of years. Their answers sound foreign, but catchy because of its pseudo-populist tones. “I’m against the Common Core!” Great. So the average person not into education would ask: what does that mean? Now we’re getting somewhere. You’re pro-whole child education? Me too. You would like to dwindle our dependence on standardized testing and focus instead on more well-rounded assessments? I’m on that team. You’re for better integration of science, technology, engineering, and math with the arts and humanities? Awesome, because I am too.

You won’t hear that, though. You’ll harp instead on Randi Weingarten and the AFT’s (cautious) support of the Common Core. You’ll hang on Diane Ravitch’s non-vote on the Core as a clear sign you’re on the right track. You’ll follow some random tweeter capitalizing every other words in their tweets or interrupting your online conversations with a standard “Common Core will do that because it’s bad.” You’re well within your rights to do so. If you’re going to disagree with me, you can, too.

I’m just saying we can do better.

Whether or not you believe it, we do need a better curriculum, a better pedagogy, a better way to address education in this country, and it’s not going to come from whatever we believe about any policy or papers that come across our desks. It will come from the day-to-day interactions we have with our students, our schools, and our colleagues, professionally and politically.

If the Common Core doesn’t support the things I believe about good schools, then indeed I am not for the Common Core. Punto.

Jose

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