Washing Out the Common Core

Govenor washing Common Core right out of our hair, he’s washing it right out of our hair …

Goodbye, Common Core education standards! Florida will now be B.E.S.T.: Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking. Some have speculated that the new name was an attempt to curry favor with the current denizen of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue whose wife has promoted ‘Be Best,’ as her first lady’s cause.

Those with more than short memories recall the time when the previous governor, Rick Scott, also rid the state of that turbulent priest (a/k/a known as the meddlesome or troublesome priest.)

Under his direction, the current commissioner Pam Stewart and the state board of education rebranded the Common Core as the Florida Standards. Common Core was scrubbed from the state’s schools, although those who took a closer look saw that besides the new name, all that changed were a few edits, additions of explanatory comments, and the requirement that fourth-grade students would learn cursive writing.

The Common Core is dead! Long live the Common Core!

Yes, the Common Core lived in Florida, except it had a new name as it had also morphed in other states in a real-world example of ‘la plus ca change, la plus que les meme chose.’

Have at it, Governor.

It would seem that the previous effort to rid Florida of the Common Core was a sop to alleviate the angst of Florida voters. It was a popular move; conservatives hated the Core because the Obama administration had forced it onto states as part of the Race to the Top grant program, liberals because it continued the damage educational reform was inflicting on schools.

The latest attempt, begun by Governor DeSantis and carried on by his partner-in-reform, Commissioner Richard Corcoran, came as a response to parents who complained during the 2018 election campaign that they couldn’t help their children with homework.

To be fair, the Commissioner oversaw an attempt by the Department of Education to solicit input from parents, educators, and others as to what revisions should be made to the standards. At the end, Florida ended up with the Be BEST standards.

Now let us examine what really has taken place. Is the Common Core really gone? Is it washed out of our hair?

Wait, we’re rushing too far ahead. We need to ask what is the Common Core?

It didn’t spring out of the ground as some new species unrelated to what went before. The Common Core found a way to meld existing state standards, in fifty different versions plus the District of Columbia and territories, into one set that all would use.

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) remembers a few years ago when a Florida official crowed to him that two-thirds of the Common Core math standards were exactly the same as Florida’s then existing Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.

Then there were the complaints that some states such as Massachusetts gave up a superior set of state standards in order to fall in with the common lot.

Never forget that the Common Core was adopted ten years ago in a rush by states to please the U.S. Department of Education in order to qualify for funding that was desperately needed in the days of the Great Recession.

What was different about the actual standards?

In math (GOT is a math guy), the Common Core deliberately made vertical articulation a feature. That meant that each succeeding grade level would build upon the learning of the previous grade level. For example, 6th grade math would teach ratios, 7th grade would teach proportions (when ratios are equal) and thus direct variation (when one number differs from another by multiplication, but as algebra: y = 2x), and 8th grade would teach linear equations (taking that 2x and making it 2x + 4, for example.)

Common Core pushed down content from higher levels to lower levels. After it came in, GOT began explaining the change to parents by telling them that Algebra 1 is now Algebra 1.75 given all the Algebra 2 content pushed into Algebra 1.

That came about because the writers of Common Core decided what they believed children should know when matriculating (entering) college and worked backwards. That is why we have children in kindergarten doing math worksheets instead of enjoying recess.

The high school standards were written as bodies of knowledge, not a discrete piece of content to be taught. Common Core declared that any given high school math lesson, focused on a particular concept, might include three to six standards from these bodies of knowledge. This is a distinction lost on most people, including GOT’s superintendent who decreed at the beginning of the year that every standard be written on the whiteboard, word for word, that each day’s lesson was about. Um, no, the high school standards don’t lend themselves to a one-by-one presentation.

In ELA (English Language Arts), the Common Core changed the curriculum (despite the many denials that Common Core did not specify curriculum) to a denigration of fiction and story in order to promote a focus on nonfiction, informational, and technical text.

Even more, reading whole works was deemed useless. The Common Core focused on excerpts from several sources, evaluating them, and coming to some sort of conclusion.

And in the Common Core tests, we find oral sources that necessitate students to listen to audio via earbuds plugged into computers as one of the sources to be evaluated.

Lastly, it wasn’t new to the Core, but the Core’s ‘reading’ test, like previous ‘reading’ tests, actually have been tests of thinking skills.

Has anything changed? Or is it wash, rinse, and repeat?

By and large, the vertical articulation remains. But that is not a bad thing. A few standards shifted, but overall, the push down of standards to ages where they are developmentally inappropriate remain. That part of the Core remains. If we use a popular motif, thumbs down on this one.

In fact, Florida is doubling down on the developmental inappropriateness as it seeks to write standards for pre-K, that is, three and four year olds, and then test them. Read far enough in the link if you need evidence that Florida intends to test pre-K children and then VAM-rate their teachers by the results. Thumbs down.

The high school standards remain written as bodies of knowledge. Thumbs down.

The developmental inappropriateness of the standards for each age level remain. Florida did not rebuild its standards from the bottom up, that is, it did not ask what each age level should be able to learn and do. Thumbs down.

The language is much clearer and far more easily understandable when read as to what is actually expected. Thumbs up.

Even so, the state will have to revise its test writing manuals so people will know exactly what the standards mean. Thumbs down.

ELA now comes with lists of books for reading. Thumbs up.

The lists are not inclusive enough. The focus on the classics means a focus on European/Greek and Roman classical writers. Thumbs down.

Not GOT, but an expression worthy of him.

Beyond the standards, there is the testing. Because what is tested is what gets taught. GOT is changing his motto to that line.

Florida plans to add two tests and delete two tests. High school students will have to take a Civics Literacy test and undergo the SAT or ACT regardless of whether they plan to go to college. The Geometry End-of-Course exam and the 9th grade reading test will be eliminated.

And therein lies the rub. The SAT and the ACT are based on the Common Core. What gets tested is what gets taught. GOT was talking to his Geometry colleagues this week and they were looking forward to the end of testing. No more EOC; no more district interim testing.

GOT laughed. Florida plans to revise its grading formulas to judge high schools on how well their students perform on the SAT or ACT (Common Core-based, don’t forget that.)

As long as schools are graded upon the results from Common Core-based tests, we will be teaching Common Core in the schools and continuing to put students through unending practice <cough, cough> GOT meant progress monitoring tests to predict what the results will be.

We will continue to be judged on the Common Core. It’s not gone, that wasn’t shampoo Governor DeSantis gave us, but some kind of sludge that makes us feel foul as he smiles for the cameras and tells parents that his superhero power is fixing education.

You Have to Fund It

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) was in the capital of Florida for the huge teachers’ rally that caught wind in the news cycle across the nation. He wasn’t on the dais or the program, but if he was, here is the speech that would have followed the outstanding speakers. In fact, it was a whirlwind, but everyone who has ever been to a dance knows that the fast numbers with dancers twirling across the floor must be followed by a slow dance, one that allows the attendees, slightly or more than slightly sweaty, to catch their breath.

You rock, Fed.

So many great speeches from those across the country to support us. But now, let’s take a minute to slow down, catch our breath, and unpack what’s going on.

First, let’s consider the message sent by Matthew Mears, in which he concluded that this action by teachers, conducted legally under their bargained contracts, in which every active teacher attending this rally took personal leave and arranged for substitute coverage for their classes, was ‘unacceptable’ because it meant a day of learning would be lost for students.

Matthew Mears, I applaud you. Wait, wait, don’t jeer.

Yes, I applaud you because you are making two essential points in your message, unintentionally, I am sure.

First, you are saying that as hard as substitute teachers try, they cannot replace us. We are IRREPLACEABLE.

And second, in saying that learning will not take place unless we teachers are in our classrooms, you are recognizing that we have VALUE.

We provide something for the children of Florida that no one else can. You need us and WE HAVE VALUE.

And you know what? In this capitalist-worshipping society that we live in? That means, Tallahassee, that means Governor DeSantis, that means Commissioner Corcoran, and Speaker Oliva, Senate President Galvano, Senator Diaz, and so many others, …

YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR IT.

You could have said put the kids on computer all day. I-Ready or a comparable program, that will do the job.

But you didn’t. You said it was unacceptable for teachers to take a day off. You have admitted to all that we have VALUE.

And if we have VALUE, you have to pay for it.

YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR IT.

You’d pay for a brain surgeon if your grandchild had a tumor. You’d pay for the years put into medical school, internships, residencies, and experience. You’d want the best and you would pay for it.

Art lessons? Piano or music? Personal coaches for that 8-year old athlete you think is going to be a natural for the NBA or NFL? You happily shell out for them.

A teacher? What do we have that you need us in the classrooms of Florida rather than offering an extra dime an hour to the people in the window of the fast food drive-through?

We know pedagogy. We spent years paying college tuition to sit in classrooms studying the theories of Piaget, Kohl, Vygotsky, Skinner, Bloom, Gardner, Bruner, and so many others so that we know how children learn. Hiring in someone with content knowledge but no idea of pedagogy will be a disaster <cough, cough> the adjunct teacher program is doomed to failure … then we spent half a year under a mentor in a classroom to see how it works in practice …

We have expertise. We have knowledge. That’s why a vast pole barn filled with computer stations and low-wage monitors is not an educational solution you embrace.

We know how children learn. You need us. We have VALUE and YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR IT.

Our craft is honed over years. The teacher of 5 years is nothing like the rookie starting out. And we keep learning, innovating, and improving our practice. We don’t stop just as a doctor doesn’t stop reading journals, attending professional conferences, and bringing new knowledge to the treatment of patients. The only difference is that a doctor can deduct his continuing learning from his fees before calculating his taxes.

As teachers, we can’t. Yet we continue to learn and pursue opportunities to make our best better.

That 5-year teacher is nothing like the teacher you see at 15 years. Just like that doctor. The longer she practices, the more knowledge she builds.

Experience adds VALUE. If you want it, legislators, you have to PAY FOR IT.

Yes, indeed. Teachers have VALUE and the longer we teach, the more value we have.

Florida, you have to pay for it.

All you teachers, sing with Beyonce: Put a ring on it, Florida. (Pay us what we’re worth!)

Dear Gary …

You will come to regret these words: “And most important, let’s focus on what’s best for students. We shouldn’t care where they are educated if it’s a high-quality education that prepares them for success in school and in life.”

For once, I can agree with you, but allow Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) to add the emphasis your recent piece in Florida Politics omitted: We shouldn’t care where they are educated IF [AND ONLY IF] it’s a high-quality education that prepares them for success in school and life.

Too bad you weren’t born a girl, Gary. You make a great cheerleader … oh, wait … that’s rather sexist. Boys are cheerleaders too nowadays, but then maybe that doesn’t fit your politics. It certainly doesn’t fit the policies of many of the private religious schools you demand our taxpayer dollars for.

We’ll never know, Gary, whether students are receiving a high-quality education in the choices you champion and you know the reason why. There’s no accountability.

Yes, GOT knows that charter school students have to suffer–oops, I mean take–the annual state tests that measure nothing more than how well students can perform on that particular test. That’s really not accountability, not when students from charter middle schools show up to GOT’s high school ill-prepared for the final four years of their required education. (Even those from your darling KIPP.)

You know who is prepared? Students from my district’s traditional public middle schools.

That IF is a very big IF. Bigly even. YUGE.

How do we know students are receiving a high-quality education? Especially students utilizing one of Florida’s many and proliferating voucher programs because they don’t have to take the state tests?

Gary, how do we know?

How are those taxpayer dollars being spent? You know, the ones taken from wage earners under compulsory taxation? The ones taken from people, rich and poor, at the same rate as they buy the necessities of life?

Your buddies say we don’t have the right to know. Do you agree with them?

If schools are taking public dollars, shouldn’t the public have the right to set standards that those schools must meet? IF we want to ensure that Florida’s children are receiving a high-quality education?

Shouldn’t we set mandates for how those dollars are spent? Shouldn’t we have reporting requirements and independent audits to make sure those mandates are kept?

IF we want a high-quality education for Florida’s children.

GOT supposes you believe that parents will hold their choice of school to high standards even when those schools withhold the information from parents that they need to make informed choices.

The schools will not divulge their secrets and their true quality unless they are forced to. Not only do we see their resistance every time legislation is introduced for that purpose, not only do we get self-serving, nauseous editorials by people like Patricia Levesque (“What use is there in being a disgrace to the name of wizard if you’re not well paid for it?” Oh, wait, JEB! does pay her well for it), but we see it in the outrageous number of charter schools that close due to financial malfeasance and governing misfeasance by the promoters and owners. There’s a reason #anotherdayanothercharterscandal trends on social media.

Don’t think that history proves otherwise. It was the manipulation of stock markets, the lack of investor information, and the insider trading that was legal during the 1920s that contributed to the stock market crash and the establishment of the Securities and Exchange Commission with strict reporting requirements for all publicly-traded companies that must be accompanied by a report from independent auditors.

It was the adulterated food and beverages, including the unsanitary conditions in which they were produced, that led to the establishment of food and drug regulations and the power to enforce the same by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the newly-created Food and Drug Administration.

These are the agencies we depend upon to keep our lives safe from poisons in our food and drink–such as the formaldehyde that at one time was used as an additive to milk for the purpose of enhancing dairy profits.

No accountability, Gary? No regulations, no requirement, no standards for choice schools? No watchdog agency?

What kind of poison are you pushing upon Florida’s children?

Sin vs. Sine

OK, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is starting this post with a math joke because this is the time of the year when he is teaching Geometry students about trigonometry and they want to pronounce the abbreviation with a short ‘i.’

Image result for sine
It’s a sin not to say sine.

However, there’s so much going on today regarding tomorrow’s teacher rally in Tallahassee, GOT wants to avoid Facebook Jail on a charge of oversharing. So he is creating this post to share links and will update it throughout the day.

Denver teacher retention rate goes up as their post-strike wages take effect: https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/01/10/with-15-7-average-pay-increase-post-strike-more-denver-teachers-returned/?fbclid=IwAR0f5lg2M6YrROpjLFvMFJsP_Bd_tZyCo_RNlgTdQnLn_CJ53gwSE_epVx0

Another take on the attempt to intimidate Polk County teachers: https://www.facebook.com/JenniferSabinAdvocate/posts/2422993554678622?__tn__=K-R

” This is not a teacher problem, this is a leadership problem.” https://addictedtoteaching.com/2020/01/11/an-open-letter-to-florida-leadership-about-the-rally-in-tally/?fbclid=IwAR0v-2SnT7fN6vFa0RcF-0rXKHwos03ubE3M-OnHQWWifSBrtwdfbe8cL34

Billy Townsend (Polk County School Board member) shares his thoughts. https://billytownsend.com/2020/01/the-red-monday-strike-and-the-collective-bargaining-rejection-the-teacher-party-begins-to-demonstrate-its-power/?fbclid=IwAR0SvtsZ2i8EXOmdi_aM60tnnyHPSnKf1BPA1k_dOHQzc981SxNZtEuFPJ8

Billy Townsend (again). He updates his post including this thought: Powerful people in this state are accustomed to impunity; so deny it to them. Our best protection as a community moving forward is to make sure that every act of retaliation comes with a public price.  https://billytownsend.com/2020/01/a-transformative-36-hours-updating-the-collaborative-threats-made-to-teachers-and-staff/?fbclid=IwAR2bwGyss91Sae3uoXro9c21AJtFxOyi6BBnAs2PBHnn0bZ8JPO4Vh-LgFk

By any yardstick — from per-pupil spending to teacher pay to graduation rates — Florida is an embarrassment. https://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/editorials/fl-op-edit-put-kids-first-in-tallahassee-20200110-caam6yqruvexrhtjcnqfl67bly-story.html?fbclid=IwAR0ybtna-J72T490P139w2hTObyKy62yqtss7D8KRMY8OLQL0skj0iw9jlQ

Thoughts on the next day. https://www.travislueth.com/blog-1/today-is-jan-13-but-what-happens-on-jan-14?fbclid=IwAR3e45f9z4KcGHSytHBMzUyygr4TW27Yhdk_M1sfpNWwiFecN5PosK4GQqs

SHALL : MAY :: APPROVED LEAVE : ?

Back in the day (pre-NCLB days), the verbal portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test contained a section known as analogies. The questions posed two words that were related somehow and asked the exam-taker to look at a third word and supply a word according to the same logic as the first pair.

Are they still doing this?

In these days of Florida education, it seems the lawyers are playing the same game. Last year, the General Counsel for the City of Jacksonville issued an infamous legal opinion in which he asserted that the meaning of the word “shall” sometimes is “may.”

In the issue at hand, the Duval County School Board passed a resolution to place a referendum on a November 2019 ballot asking the voters to approve a one-half cent sales tax for the purpose of repairing and rebuilding schools.

Accordingly, they asked the City Council as the legal authority over elections to place the referendum on a ballot. It should have been routine as Florida law says that the Council ‘shall’ do so once asked.

Not so fast, said Jason Gabriel (GC for the city). Sometimes, ‘shall’ means ‘may.’ The Council is not obligated to do so.

SHALL : MAY :: APPROVED LEAVE : ?

Now comes the warning from the Florida Department of Education legal counsel, Matthew Mears, sent to the teachers of Polk County, that they are conducting an illegal work stoppage a/k/a strike by taking personal leave that was approved by their district and going to Tallahassee to participate in the teachers’ rally Monday, January 13.

Image may contain: possible text that says 'is prohibited by the Florida Constitution and Florida Statutes. day employee organization that strike subject to any damages suffered a public employer result of violation, a by the Employees Commission to for each work stoppage continues or the to the public strike, and certification bargaining agent revoked or suspended. for A employee violating be terminated their position, subject reemployment upon particular significant limitations. As Department Education, obligation Polk County educators are advised of the associated participating in a coordinated effort to duty. Matthew Mears General Counsel Office of General Counsel Department Education W. Gaines St., Suite Tallahassee, FL 32399-0400'
He learned this legal definition right after his tort law class.

Shall means may and approved leave means a strike. 1984 and doublespeak have reached the world of education and the authorities are proclaiming that words do not mean what we know them to mean, what the dictionary says that they mean.

Why is this happening?

It is an instance of the new American feudalism, where democracy and the will of the people are swept aside for an oligarchy of the rich and powerful. In the aftermath, the servants of the government, scurrying for favor, drop their obligations to the public and their profession (!) to do the will of their lord.

There is no other way to interpret this move other than as an attempt to intimidate teachers. Yet Mears overreached with this one and had to issue a clarification that the Department of Education does not employ teachers and therefore does not have the ability to fire them.

But with that clarification he issued the usual whine that if schools have to close due to teacher action, the children suffer. Bad, bad teachers!

It makes one wonder how he passed his Bar exam. Who is harming children exactly?

Those who provide care for them everyday or those who deny them the means to do so?

Those who buy school supplies from their personal wealth or those who refuse to fund schools as they reward themselves with tax cuts to enhance their personal wealth?

Those who want an equitable education for all children or those who see education as a means of plundering the public treasury for private profits?

Those who understand the developmental needs of children, not only intellectual, but physically, spiritually, morally, and emotionally, or those who think that four-year olds should take reading and math tests?

(Not making that one up, there is a proposed bill this year …)

Teachers are coming to Tallahassee. They are not evil, they are not self-serving, nor do they take action to protect their self-interests. They are coming because they have had enough. It takes a lot to get them to leave their classrooms.

Image result for popeye
Spinach or no spinach.

As Pop-Eye would say: I’ve had enough and I can’t stand no more.

Teachers have had enough of the disrespect, the impoverishment, the callous dismissal of their professionalism, the abuse inflicted via standardized testing, and the lies Tallahassee politicians tell to support the same. We are coming.

Do You Wear Loafers or Cross-Trainers?

Asking for a friend because the shoe has dropped and if deaf politicians are going to do it to us again, at least they should have the courtesy to drop a shoe of our choosing on our heads.

Image result for loafers
Long ago, as teens, some of us actually put a penny in the leather slots.

Now comes the long-awaited news that everyone’s politician-they-love-to-hate, Jason Fischer, District 16 for Mandarin (Jacksonville), has filed his long-promised J-1 bill to require that the Superintendent of Schools be an elected position.

Jason believes strongly in democracy; as his website proclaims, he “believes in being an active and responsible citizen.” Responsible and active enough that his first version of the bill did not attempt to change the superintendency to an elected position, but to eliminate that feature from the school board.

Yes, Jason first wanted to make the school-board appointed by the mayor before the mayor said he’d rather have an elected superintendent.

Grumpy Old Teacher won’t bother you with that cliche, “I was for it before I was against it.” (Oops, he just did.)

Image result for cross trainers
Because what’s the point of being a disgrace to the name of Florida House representative if you can’t look good while you’re doing it?

But maybe Jason has a point. Maybe we should elect all school personnel. How would you like to vote for the principal of your school? Every two years, your principal should have to stand for election and explain why you should vote for her. No need to defend a record, no need for academic expertise or educational degrees in leadership, all that matters is a few billboards, radio commercials, and enough votes for the office.

Let’s not stop there. How about teachers? Let’s vote every year on classroom teachers. Let’s see, what’s important to parents and kids? Yeah, grades. Classroom policies about late work. Insistence on being on time; discipline referrals. Why not let the people vote?

Who cares if the teacher is qualified? Is content knowledge about their subject even important? GOT teaches math, but no one ever asks about his certification from the state to teach middle and high school. No one ever asks about his college transcripts–what background and learning he brings to the school. No one ever asks how long he has worked with children and does he have a clue about pedagogy (how children learn) and adolescent development.

Few ever ask about test scores. (Thank goodness!) But what does even that matter?

Naw, let’s just have a vote–qualifications be damned. And if GOT turns out to be a poor choice, vote him out next year and ignore the wasted year his current students have gone through.

There should have been a sarcasm alert with this post. But now that you’ve got the idea, what makes anybody think electing an unqualified superintendent, more concerned with satisfying political pressures and constituencies than seeing that sound education practices are in the schools (because sometimes that is very unpopular), is a good idea?

Jason does. Because he is beholden to a political boss, his employer with charter school interests, and the likes of the new American feudalists who run this town.

Reflection on the Young

We awoke this morning to the news that a major Iranian general, among others, was killed by U.S. military action in Iraq.

Social media has been on fire with shares of the news from many sources and comments on the significance of it, including retaliation by the Iranian mullahs who control the country.

The usual name-callers have posted their usual epithets against their usual targets.

The United States of America dispatched someone engaged in international conflict and violence, planning and leading efforts in covert wars, but yet is not a rogue terrorist like Osama Bin Laden, but a top official for a sovereign government.

Numerous questions occur to your Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT): Was it important? Was it necessary? Will the gain in disrupting the Iranian export of revolution across the Middle East be worth the cost of the coming retaliation?

GOT doesn’t have these answers, not yet, anyway. Does that surprise you?

GOT has no opinion about this. Perhaps in the coming days as more becomes known, he will form one. But that is not now.

I used to be so sure. I used to have an opinion about everything with the confidence, nay hubris, to pity those who couldn’t understand like me.

No more.

Teaching does that to you. In the free academy, bereft of scripted lessons and narrow curriculums, where students and teachers can pose questions and debate answers, you come to see that there are many sides to an issue and that others have sound logic for their rationale, that others will disagree as passionately as the flush in your face tells you about your passion for your position, and that the Bard was correct when he penned the words: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

As for now, GOT is transported back a few years. Whatever was happening in the news or around the world, GOT thought a war could break out, a major war, and soon the young people in his classroom, 14 and 15 and 16 years old, might be called up for military service (that big of a war!). As he watched them work at their desks during periods of independent practice, he would wonder how many would come back, how many would live their lives out of broken bodies as they reconstructed those lives, how many would have their potential cut-off before their lives could really begin?

The meaning of Soleimani’s assassination and all that will come of it, GOT has no idea.

The only thing I am sure of is that, in the months ahead, I will have more moments of looking at the teenagers I teach and wonder about them marching off to war.