Wednesday, May 21, 2014

When “harder” is not better: The problems with the lame rationale for reforming standards

In my last few posts, I have written about the many problems and issues with edTPA and the new certification requirements for teachers that are being rolled out first here in New York and soon nationally. My friend and colleague Jessica Hochman has just written eloquently about the unintended consequences of edTPA and the fear and demoralization that have ensued, poisoning the necessary relationships that should be built on trust between teacher educators, candidates, their cooperating teachers, and the K-12 students they work with.

Now Linda Darling-Hammond and Randi Weingarten have teamed up to call for an end to the test-and-punish approach to improving education, and seek a new way to hold educators accountable with a support-and-improve model. Their suggestions would help “teachers and school leaders develop the knowledge and skills they need to teach much more challenging content in much more effective ways.” Clearly, they are responding to the growing resistance to the Common Core Standards, which got a boost from comedian Louis C.K. recently who took his parental frustrations to Twitter  and television talk shows. Using “much more” twice in one sentence, these two important educational leaders sound like a needle stuck on a record scratch. As Bob Shepherd  has pointed out, their uncritical acceptance of the claims made by proponents of the Common Core Standards suggests they are either unaware or willfully ignoring that those claims are both false and misleading. Darling-Hammond and Weingarten lament “an out-of-control testing system” and parenthetically report that there are over a hundred tests in use in New York City. Dr. Laura Baecher of Hunter College was recently interviewed by Diane Staehr Fenner about the impact of edTPA on English Language Learners in the city’s public schools. “The amount of emotional, physical, and financial stress teachers are under to complete the edTPA mirrors the stress many ELLs are under this spring – almost non-stop testing. Teachers in New York City public schools report that their ELLS will have received less than four days of instruction over the course of 4 weeks between April-May.”

Holy cow, are we really that insane? Let’s recap. Pre-K standards include things like: With guidance and support, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing; collaborate with peers. You know, so they can be “college and career” ready. In Kindergarten, we expect they can analyze and compare two- and three-dimensional shapes, in different sizes and orientations, using informal language to describe their similarities, differences, parts (e.g. number of sides and vertices/”corners”) and other attributes (e.g. having sides of equal length). I recently saw a lesson from the Go Math!curriculum where they were expected to sort three dimensional stacking and/or sliding shapes into a Venn diagram. Mostly the children were excited about building towers with the shapes. Was Randi Weingarten listening when Governor Mark Dayton said at the Education Minnesota Rep Convention on April 26th that putting a barf bag in 4th grade test packets was not education reform

Harder does not necessarily mean better. Expecting more of younger and younger children is damaging in ways that we can no longer ignore. Parents don’t want to see their kids in tears over homework and fear of the tests. We are destroying the primal human joy of learning, which is about connection and collaboration, not competition and ranking. We are not all the same, headed down a path of sameness. Instead, let’s return to marveling at our differences and teach our young that inside a classroom a small democratic society is taking form and coming to life. Let’s help our teachers know how important it is to guide and support that, and return to a foundation built on trust.

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