Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cranky, Cranky, Even Crankier

For reasons completely unrelated to Jay Mathews I'm in a pretty cranky mood this morning. Reading his newest post in said cranky mood probably did not set me up to be impressed by what he had to say. However, starting off with
Among the most disturbing facts about U.S. schools is that 17-year-olds have shown no significant improvement in reading since 1980.
certainly did not help.

Is he serious? That's one of the most disturbing facts?

Every year we test a different bunch of 17-year-olds as the bunch tested the previous year are now 18-year-olds. Somehow each bunch of 17-year-olds should be smarter than the ones that came before them. How does that work?

Are 17-year-olds now significantly better drivers than 17-year-olds were in 1980? Do we expect them to be? Are 17-year-olds significantly kinder, more generous now than 17-year-olds were in 1980? Should they be? Why should students now be smarter than students 30 years ago? Are we suggesting that those students 30 years ago weren't so bright?

We should set high expectations for our students and for our schools. But those expectations shouldn't be based on students doing better each year than the students before them.

Are the young journalists smarter, better writers, more thoughtful than the older journalists? If they were the 17-year-old in 1980 should they be losing their job to the 17-year-old coming up who should be a significantly better reader than they were. Watch out Jay Mathews!

Mathews goes on to write about the Common Core State Standards. (Virginia has not adopted them so I honestly haven't paid too much attention to them.) He manages to really get me riled up again when he says:
Supporting the new standards is a movement to improve children's reading abilities by replacing elementary school pablum with a rich diet of history, geography, science, and the arts.
(I will admit to checking a dictionary to be sure that my feelings of offense by the term 'pablum' were warranted. They most certainly were.)

As an elementary school teacher who spends a lot of time thinking about the texts I share with, read to, or assign my students, both fiction and nonfiction, I am highly offended by this idea.

With only a few minutes left before getting my students from art class, I am now going to focus on something much happier and more hopeful - planning reading groups.


luckeyfrog said...

I'm really offended by the notion that before Common Core, there was no rigor. Maybe that was true in some classrooms or some states, but in Indiana our standards were very similar and in some cases tougher than the Common Core. I am constantly trying to find ways to do my "fun" holiday activities in a way that hides learning or to integrate activities so we're hitting more standards at once.

I think we should be striving for constant improvement. But, honestly, many of our school systems are even MORE stuck in a rut than before, because now our money is tied to test scores. Schools aren't encouraged to take risks trying new things; instead, they play it safe to not lose funding. Even at the classroom level, I worry about my students' test scores affecting my pay, and it's been hard at times this year to take a leap to change programs and do what I think MIGHT be better for my students.

And honestly? Considering the increases in poverty, divorced families, and more... I think keeping scores constant may actually be quite a feat.

So many people criticizing education haven't been in an elementary classroom since they were a student, and they remember things like construction paper hats or placemats for Thanksgiving, so they assume elementary teachers lead their kids in fingerpainting all day.

It's frustrating, but I know I'm doing better than that... and occasionally, I make a point of posting on Facebook about the cool things we are doing, because I want some small corner of the world to hear about it and realize that we are doing SO MUCH!

Luckeyfrog's Lilypad

Srk said...
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PamelaTrounstine said...

I love the obvious fact that every group of students is different, and I am not sure how they are supposed to best their peers from the previous year-- especially since I'm not sure things that matter in other parts of their lives and the lives of families have improved since 1980.

I am excited about the Common Core Standards, as I think many are, because of the potential for messy reading, real text not suck-the-life-out anthologies, the idea that we might get support to break away from scripted programs and re-embrace reader and writer workshops, etc. and reading for depth, which is where the pleasure of reading meets the learning. But Common Core Standards aren't HARDER than the current ones, and I feel like every person trying to get quoted uses the word "rigor'. I just like them because I think they can support the idea of a teacher being a professional who deserves some discretion and latitude to teach for their students in a way that is right for those students, and for students to be respected as learners on a journey, and honor the idea of making the material engaging and enticing and juicy rather than expect some lock-step responses to show 'engagement'. Marzano might be right about the effect of engagement, but in my home state of CA, we measure it by students who appear to be "off task," rather than who is getting excited about reading and learning.

Jenny said...

Jenny, You make so many good points. I've been doing the same thing of posting on Facebook. Somehow focusing on the positives not only sends the message I want but it makes me feel better too!

Pamela, It is amazing to think of all that has changed in our society in 30 years and how much harder things are for so many kids. I'm keeping my fingers crossed about the Common Core...