Thursday, September 20, 2012

Open House, Closed Door


I've written a lot about the Common Core Standards and school "reform."complaining and suggesting that it is wrong-headed. I had an experience last night listening to my daughter's teachers that made things very clear.

My daughters attend the Syracuse City Schools which are short of money and long on demands. The testing data looks bad, as so do graduation rates. The city hired a new superintendent for a whole bunch of money and she spent another pile of money hiring an assistant. Meanwhile, many teachers have been let go, class sizes are up, and the Common Core and "reform" are in. At Open House I saw some effects of "reform."

There weren't enough chairs for us in any classroom. We stood along the wall, sat on heating vents, and filled every chair. Each teacher explained that the classroom just as crowded during classes. There isn't room to move with so many of them in there. But "reform" is about becoming lean and mean, slashing budgets and being efficient. Each politician who votes for such policies and each administrator who implements them should spend three weeks in class with thirty-plus kids. See what they think then.

Each teacher was beaten down. The Common Core is being slammed down like a hammer swung by a blind man. My daughter's math teacher was handed the first math unit four days prior to the start of school. He has yet to receive any subsequent units despite the fact that he is nearly finished with the first. He must administer standardized tests twelve to sixteen times this year. There is no choice in this. "Reform" is mandated and his job depends getting test scores up. He can't focus on learning because it's all about test scores. Those are two very different things.

My daughter's three-teacher team is a thoroughly professional, creative group who care about kids. However, "reform" seeks to delete them from the equation. In the "Race to the Top" creativity and individual expertise of teachers is jettisoned. The goal was to weed out bad teachers but standardization of teaching is killing quality.

My daughter will probably get the better end of the stick on this. The school, in an effort to improve its data, has tracked all of our middle class, mostly white, kids into one class (out of three). This class will check off most of the Common Core list in time to squeeze in something interesting. The same can't be said of the poorer, darker classes in tracks below them. I imagine that those kids will get the standardized curriculum, delivered on script, and that the tests will show how poor and non-white they are. Their teachers won't be trusted to find ways to help those kids. The One True Way has been scripted at the district, state, and national level. At least those kids will add some shape to the bell curve.

This is "reform." This is the assault on our children.

Write on.