Monday, March 24, 2014

To What End

I am a few hours way from beginning PARCC field testing.  PARCC field tests come two weeks after delivering HSPA exams and few weeks before the the administration of state testing for 3rd-8th graders.  In some ways it is wasteful to complain.  The reality is that we have to prepare for a battery of mandated state exams.  However, it's impossible not to be concerned over the amount of time and energy devoted towards the administration of state exams.  

I came across two posts last night having to do with increased state testing and the looming presence of the Common Core.  Both posts are skeptical of high stakes testing and worry about the collateral damage caused by a "closed" system of schooling (see A Passion for Possibility).  I am sharing excerpts from both posts below.  The first is from the blog Between the By-Road and Main Road and titled A Passion for Possibility.  The second is a letter Will Richardson received from a mother of an elementary student

 I would certainly read both posts.  Even though the authors approach the topic of high stake testing from different emotional perches, the pieces, in my estimation, are aligned in highlighting what could be lost as we stand on the brink of introducing a new testing model.  After reading both posts I could not help but think about the end game and what it is really is we hope to achieve through forwarding the Common Core and committing to PARCC.

A Passion of Possibility:
When I think about listening I wonder about about learning--how learning ought to open us--ought to be largely a matter of possibility, not certainty.  And yet, the desire to be certain when confronting an unknown and have it named often determines us and what we value--be it in our homes, our hearts, or our schools.  Consider Maxine Greene who tells us:
We are not the first to feel a slippage under our feet, to grope for a “point d’appui,” something to stand on, a platform, a ground. Like so many of our predecessors, many of us grope wildly for security. We seek a certainty of protection, of salvation.  (from here)
But what is the price we pay for security?  I can't help but think of the cool comfort standards and high stakes testing have offered--twin methods we have been embracing since we were told we were a nation at risk.  Frightened of our limitations, we wondered who might we trust? And in the ensuing years we have learned most not to trust ourselves, our very eyes and ears. We substitute certainty and completeness that wrap itself around national standards and national tests for the slippages we feel when we stand on our own feet atop a world that is always in motion. 

When I think about the CCSS and other educational certainties it is the sameness--the way the language parses itself so neatly, so predictably that most confounds me as it concerns me. Consider how likely it is that David Coleman and company, could name for millions of children (at least those enrolled in public US schools) what they most need to learn and when. Standards are a closed system. And yet, if meaning is most revealed as Bakhtin says when it comes in contact with other, then what might we make of this rather closed movement of educational standards--self-referential, monologic?  Hegemonic?

One Mom's Struggle With School and Tests
For too many nights to count, I have watched my child come apart at the seams trying to make sense of homework that I deem to be complete and utter bullshit and a complete waste of time. I watch her write letters, words and numbers…. only to erase and write again, erase and write again…. because it’s not perfect, it’s not what the teacher said to do, it’s not what will get her perfect scores and make everyone happy. I watch her trying to think of multiple ways to write out a math sentence such as ‘5+4=9’. I mean, how many ways does a 7 year old need to write it? She even gets math equations that look like this: ‘16+12=__’. Ask her what the ones and tens places are and she couldn’t tell you. (I have explained them to her… and she is beginning to understand, but isn’t allowed to use that method at school(WTF?). The math that is being taught isn’t math at all. Its all comprehension. Why is she getting comprehension shoved down her throat before she even has the basic building blocks in the fundamentals of addition and subtract? I know the answer - NJ ASK. I’m sick of erasing, and the tears and wasted nights. I sick of watching this beautiful creature being snuffed out by school work that really isn’t teaching anything.

Monday, March 17, 2014

You Have To Laugh

As much as anyone I look forward to March Madness.  Even though I seem to be one of those rare basketball fans who enjoys the NBA game more than college, the NBA takes a backseat to tournament games over the next three weeks.  I genuinely enjoy watching tournament games.  The intensity inherent in a game where so much is riding on every single play and or coaching decision is enthralling.  My daughters are incredulous when they ask who I am rooting for and most times I do not care.  It is about the organic authentic drama unique to each game.

Over the years I have become less and less interested in the brackets.  I can't remember the last time I actually filled out a bracket.  It seems as if joining a pool and completing brackets has become an American pastime up there with the likes of fireworks on the 4th of July.  Again, it is about the games regardless of which team is playing.  For that matter making sure I am in front of the television when the tournament field is announced has also become a trivial occurrence. Last night, however, we had family over who wanted to watch the brackets unveiled so we watched.

I missed most of the brackets and came into the room when ESPN's roundtable of commentators were discussing the fate certain "bubble teams" and in particular those schools which failed to make the tournament.  After discussing amongst themselves the merit of several bubble teams as well as the seeding of top tier teams, NCAA Men's 
Basketball committee chairman, Ron Wellman was interviewed by ESPN.  The exact interview is not shared below but another conducting after the selection program has ended.  At one point during the interview one of the ESPN commentators asked a question about some of the teams who failed to make field.  In multiple cases Ron Wellman referenced strength of schedule as a factor used to determine the merits of at-large teams and in the case of those schools which failed to qualify for the tournament, their out of conference schedule(s) was weak.

I could not help but laugh every time I heard the committee chair reference a school's out of conference schedule.  So basically, the selection committee was either rewarding or punishing schools based in part by who they played on a Wednesday night in December.  As an educator ( and even as a former college basketball coach), I could not help but laugh at the hypocrisy associated with big time college athletics.   Here we were last night with a representative from the NCAA chiding teams for who they played out of conference.  So forget about classes and if need be criss cross the country to make sure your strength of schedule can be checked off on your tournament resume.  I know this sounds hypocritical on my part.  If I were so enraged I would boycott March Madness.  This is not going to happen.  I was more taken back by the flippant nature with which the NCAA reasoned about who one should play regardless of how this impact academics.