Tag Archives: Tisch

Weingarten Calls For A Moratorium on the Implementation of the Common Core: A “Save Harmless” Year for Planning That Includes Parents, Teachers and Principals.

The Common Core (CCSS) is approaching a tipping point, defined by Malcolm Gladwell as,

The word “Tipping Point” comes from the world of epidemiology. It’s the name given to that moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches critical mass. It’s the boiling point. It’s the moment on the graph when the line starts to shoot straight upwards. [in my example, downwards].

While the Common Core aficionados, the editorial boards of the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the NY Daily News laud the CCSS parents, principals and teachers are increasingly pushing back.

The parties responsible for providing the dollars, the electeds at the federal, state and local levels read the editorials and place that finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing.

As Tip O’Neill so succinctly put it, “All politics is local.”

In July the test scores will be released and the attacks will resume – dramatic drops in scores and the consequences – angry parents, teachers and principals – next year the Regents exams will reflect the CCSS and the attacks will reprise as more kids fail Regents exams and graduation and college readiness rates plummet.

Commissioner King bravely defends the decision to dive into the CCSS.

As a state, the percentage of students scoring proficient or above will likely decrease as a result of the more challenging expectations of the Common Core around careful analysis of text, writing with evidence from sources, applying math skills to real world problems, and critical thinking. The results this summer will provide a new baseline against which we – parents, educators, and students – can measure our progress toward college and career readiness.

The current implementation of the CCSS angers the public, the specter of the Bloomberg fall from grace over flawed school policies will resonate among the electeds.

We are approaching a tipping point.

Presidential aspirant Cuomo will see the “handwriting on the wall,” as the voting public loses faith, as polls show their opposition, for Cuomo, blame has to placed.

AFT President Randi Weingarten in a speech this morning at the Association for a Better New York (ABNY) offers a way out. See NY Times article here and an excellent Huffington Post article here.

With David Coleman, the father of the Common Core in the audience Randi asked,

So, what if I told you there is a way to transform the very DNA of teaching and learning to move away from rote memorization and endless test-prep, and toward problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork—things I know many of you have been advocating for years? And what if I told you there is a way to do that not a generation from now, but for students today, who will be the employees you’ll hire tomorrow?

For Weingarten the CCSS is at a crossroads,

I predict these standards will result in one of two outcomes: Either they will lead to a revolution in teaching and learning. Or they will end up in the overflowing dustbin of abandoned reforms, with people throwing up their hands and decrying that public schools just don’t work. And the coming months will determine which outcome comes to pass.

The AFT President makes a simple suggestion – take a deep breath – declare a moratorium on the impact of high stakes testing – make 2013-14 a “save harmless” year – spend a year working out an implementation plan.

An implementation plan must include curriculum, professional development and time—but they aren’t sufficient. A high-quality implementation plan also means involving the frontline educators who are responsible for engaging students in critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and the other skills expected in the Common Core. And the plan can’t just be imposed from on high. It needs to be designed with and by teachers—ideally through their collective bargaining agent. The only way this will succeed is if teachers have input and ownership. Teachers rise to the occasion. The more input and supports they have, the more confident they are about mastering these instructional shifts.

I fear the CCSSaphiles will push forward, continuing to test and punish, continuing to ignore the valid doubts of teachers and parents.

At the beginning of her speech Weingarten raised the thick volumes of the ELA and Math Common Standards – teachers envision emblazoned across the cover of the volumes the words of Dante, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”), the Core, rather than graduate students with college and career skills will be viewed as a punitive device, another way to punish, to humiliate, a “reform” that will fade and gather dust.

The clock is ticking.

Sitting in the audience: Chancellor Merryl Tisch, Cuomo’s Deputy Secretary for Education D’Shaun Wright, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson and a long list of “movers and shakers.”

After months of exemplary approval ratings Governor Cuomo’s ratings have plummeted from 74% to 59%. It’s only a matter of time before the backlash over high stakes testing will begin to splash the Governor.

Mayor Bloomberg, in his last year, his education approval ratings have dived,

… that 56 percent of registered voters in New York City say they trust the union more to go to bat for students. Less than a third, 31 percent, said they trust Bloomberg more.

The Common Core, to use a Gladwell analogy is ” a meme, [an] idea that behaves like a virus–that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects,” the Common Core will either be rejected as a terrible idea or accepted as a brilliant approach to changing education.

Tick, tock.

Read and/or watch Weingarten’s speech here.

Building Trust or Building Antagonism: Will Teachers and Parents Accept or Reject the Common Core?

Over the next two weeks kids in grades 3-8 are will be spending a couple of hours a day bubbling in answer sheets, writing essays and coping with multiple-step math problems. The tests reflect the new Common Core, and Walcott/Suransky and Tisch/King tell us,

The old tests…. tested only basic skills, and “were stifling learning and frustrating … children’s creativity.” By contrast, the new assessments, designed to assess whether students are on track for college and careers, are oriented toward critical thinking, solving real-world problems, and closer reading and analysis of texts. The new tests are “a completely different baseline,” the policymakers wrote, and the percentage of students identified as proficient is likely to plummet compared to previous years.

Old tests were “stifling learning and frustrating,” sounds more like a description of the new tests.

We know there is no curriculum, New York State has posted reams of material on their EngageNY.org website, the state recommends/suggests to schools districts across the state, however decisions are local. In New York City schools belong to networks, groups of schools with differing philosophical approaches – some enamored of Lucie Calkins strategies and others who abhor her views. The City-Wide Instructional Expectations 2012-13 and Instructional Shifts documents present an overview of department goals. As Sol Stern has written in the City Journal the department is misguided, either through ignorance or design. At the school level too many schools mechanically require frequent interim assessments and lesson plans targeting “deficiencies” identified in the assessments. A huge paperwork burden that results in what is essentially constant test prep – constant remediation to improve the data on interim assessments, and, perhaps, on the standardized tests.

The department lauds principals that require each and every lesson plan and lesson reflect instruction that targets “deficiencies” in Acuity, or whatever interim assessment the school uses.

Acuity is a Common Core K–12 comprehensive assessment solution that supports district and school instructional improvement goals, while enabling teachers to use valid and reliable assessment data to inform their instruction and intervention plans (from Acuity website)

Teachers feel overwhelmed, threatened and question whether this relentless imposition of essentially a 24/7 test prep philosophy will actually create “college and career ready” students.

Ironically at the same time the Common Core is being driven into classrooms across the city the department is about to adopt an instructional assessment model – the Charlotte Danielson Frameworks.

In addition to her Frameworks book – the new “bible,” Danielson has written a thin volume, “Talk About Teaching! Leading Professional Conversations (2009).”

Danielson begins the book with a sentence with which I hope we would all agree,

Leadership in schools implies instructional leadership. All educators who exercise either formal or informal leadership have the responsibility to use their influence and positional authority to insure high levels of pupil learning.

She believes that at the core of any conversation is building trust,

Arguably, the most important condition for professional conversations is the existence of trust between teachers and administrators, without trust, teachers are always on their guard in the presence of the principal, and they tense up whenever an administrator enters their classroom. Discussions during faculty meetings cannot be an honest reflection of professional views if teachers fear retribution or loss of standing if they express a view divergent from the official position.

The doyen of instruction practice warns us that building trust is at the core of using her frameworks to build competency at the same time that the department is hammering teachers with an inflexible heavily regimented approach to teaching.

Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform“(David Tyack and Larry Cuban) reviews a century of school reform initiatives, almost all of which faded into the dustbins of school reform. Tyack and Cuban conclude that unless reforms are accepted by teachers and parents they fail.

Harold Howe, II, former US Commissioner of Education, in a review writes,

Isn’t the message these two professors from Stanford have brought us under the banner of Tinkering Toward Utopia very much the same message as that of Robert Browning, which is so often quoted: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

The Luddites Are Right: Skilled Observers Trump Dense Algorithms – Improving the Art of Teaching Requires Mentoring by Respected Educators not Computer Printouts

At the top of the reform agenda, match teachers to pupil growth (VAM) and grade teachers accordingly: identify “good” teachers and “bad” teachers. Reward the “good” teachers and support, retrain and perhaps fire the ‘bad’ teachers.

Research appears to support the impact of “good teachers,”

In their analysis of these data, Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kain (2005) found that teacher quality differences explained the largest portion of the variation in reading and math achievement. As in the Tennessee findings, Jordan, Mendro, and Weerasinghe (1997) found that the difference between students who had three consecutive highly effective teachers (again defined as those whose students showed the most improvement) and those who had three consecutive low-effect teachers (those with the least improvement) in the Dallas schools was 34 percentile points in reading achievement and 49 percentile points in math.

If the goal is to fill classrooms with “good teachers” and rid classrooms of “bad teachers,” how are we doing in achieving that goal? The New Teacher Project report, “The Widget Effect” paints a grim picture, in the districts studied virtually every teacher receives a satisfactory rating and there is little help for new or struggling teachers.

    All teachers are rated good or great.

Less than 1 percent of teachers receive unsatisfactory ratings, even in schools where students fail to meet basic academic standards, year after year.

    Excellence goes unrecognized.

When excellent ratings are the norm, truly exceptional teachers cannot be formally identified. Nor can they be compensated, promoted or retained.

    Professional development is inadequate.

Almost 3 in 4 teachers did not receive any specific feedback on improving their performance in their last evaluation.
Novice teachers are neglected. Low expectations for beginning teachers translate into benign neglect in the classroom and a toothless tenure process.

    Poor performance goes unaddressed.

Half of the districts studied have not dismissed a single tenured teacher for poor performance in the past five years. None dismiss more than a few each year.

To address the disconnect, led by the US Department of Education, states began to design teacher assessment systems based on a combination of student growth scores (VAM) and principal lesson observations based on a widely accepted rubric. In the growth score category teachers are measured against each other and in the teacher lesson observation category against a standard, for example the Danielson or Kim Marshall frameworks.

In order to qualify for Race to the Top (RttT) and School Incentive Grant (SIG) dollars states have to implement a teacher assessment system, in New York State it is referred to by the acronym APPR. The feds and states have spent hundreds of millions of dollars, jobs for psychometricians, economists and other experts, using extremely dense mathematical calculations, formulae that are the subject of sharp differences in the academic community.

“If these teachers were measured in a different year, or a different model were used, the rankings might bounce around quite a bit,” said Edward Haertel, a Stanford professor…. “People are going to treat these scores as if they were reflections on the effectiveness of the teachers without any appreciation of how unstable they are.”

As scholars bicker the results from early adopters are surprising to the teacher scolds ,

In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations. In Tennessee, 98 percent of teachers were judged to be “at expectations.”

In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better.

Advocates of education reform concede that such rosy numbers, after many millions of dollars developing the new systems and thousands of hours of training, are worrisome.

“It is too soon to say that we’re where we started and it’s all been for nothing,” said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and policy organization. “But there are some alarm bells going off.”

New York State is entering both the first teacher of teacher evaluation and implementing the Common Core (CCSS) on the soon to be administered state tests. A state teacher union officer and the Chancellor of the Board of Regents have sharply differing opinions.

“We’re giving the test before teaching the curriculum. That’s not what you should do,” said Maria Neira, the vice president for research and educational services for New York State United Teachers. “We’re rushing to do it, instead of doing it right.”

Merryl H. Tisch, the chairwoman of the state board of regents, counters that the state’s timeline for common-core implementation has been clear for more than two years, and that schools and districts would have to have been “living under a rock” to be surprised now.

“There is an enormous pushback against us because we are rolling out the common-core assessment, and some think we should have waited a year,” she said. “But as youngsters graduate high school right now, they’ve already hit a wall. Their reality is right now. We feel this is such an urgent issue, we have to roll it out now.”

A principal, only half-jokingly, tells me that teachers in her school joke about undercutting other teachers to improve their “grade.” With the release of the first round of scores in August, 2012 principals were confused, in numerous instances the grades did not jibe with principal judgments. For probationary teachers the teacher grades determine tenure – few principals are willing to fight with superintendents for their teachers.

Around the country school districts are developing multiple measure systems combining the use of student test scores, usually a growth model, and supervisory lesson observations. We know the student test score data is “unstable,” aka wide year to year swings, and, up to now supervisors rate only a few percent of teachers as “ineffective.” The new multiple measures assessments, combining growth scores and lesson observations find few “ineffective” teachers. What if we train supervisors and lead teachers on the use of an agreed upon rubric and use supervisor/teachers teams to observe?

Well, guess what, the Chicago Consortium for School Research conducted a two-year research project,

“Rethinking Teacher Evaluation in Chicago: Lessons Learned from Classroom Observations, Principal-Teacher Conferences, and District Implementation” (Read here) from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research focuses on Chicago, but the lessons learned have significant applicability to districts across the country. The report is one of the first to provide research-based evidence showing that new teacher observation tools, when accompanied by thoughtful evaluation systems and professional development, can effectively measure teacher effectiveness and provide teachers with feedback on the factors that matter for improving student learning. This is especially relevant for those districts that are implementing the Charlotte Danielson Frameworks.

If we spent our time and dollars training supervisors and teachers around an agreed upon rubric we could develop an assessment system that identifies both “highly effective” and “ineffective” teachers, that not only identifies but provides feedback to a teacher that hopefully leads to improved practice.

The annual New York City Department of Education Instructional Expectations document demands of principals “frequent brief lesson observations with meaningful feedback.”

If we know that lesson observations conducted by well-trained supervisors and teachers are effective why do we spend mega-dollars on constructing systems based on mathematical algorithms that only the few can understand?

Either, we don’t think we can train supervisors to observe lessons, or, we don’t trust them, or, we are besotted with the world of data, take your pick.

Read an excellent interview with Charlotte Danielson here: http://www.ed.gov/Teacher-Evaluation-Systems

Or, maybe we can try to emulate Finland,

Finland has developed a deeply thoughtful curriculum and then provided teachers ever more autonomy with respect to how they approach that curriculum; they have both a curriculum worth teaching to and the kind of autonomy in how they approach it that is characteristic only of the high status professions. Because Finland is at the frontiers of curriculum design to support creativity and innovation, teachers have a job that has many of the attractions of the professions that involve research, development and design. They are pushing their intellectual and creative boundaries. Because Finland is understandably satisfied with the job its teachers are doing, it is willing to trust them and their professional judgments to a degree that is rare among the nations of the world (a sign of which is the fact that there are no tests given to all Finnish students at any level of the system that would allow supervisors to make judgments about the comparative worth of individual teachers or school faculties.)

Teachers jump up and down with glee – why can’t we be like Finland?

I point out that if we were like Finland the vast majority of you wouldn’t be teachers,

Finnish teacher education programs are extremely selective, admitting only one out of every ten students who apply. The result is that Finland recruits from the top quartile of the cohort

In the good, old USA admission standards to get into college schools of education are low and virtually all prospective teachers graduate and receive certification.

These are complex issues: the one point that I’m sure of is the current teacher assessment system will neither attract and retain “good” teachers or rid the system of “bad” teachers – it will simply anger all teachers – pit principals against teachers and principals and teachers against superintendents and state education departments: a pitiable formula for failure.

The Luddites are right. People trump mindless machines (and dense algorithms).

Transparency Required: Are Charter Schools Dumping Struggling Kids into Public Schools?

At the February Regents meeting Chancellor Tisch asked whether State Ed could provide the number of kids per charter school who had left and returned to public schools. Ken Wagner, the deputy for data replied they did not track that data but it could be done, and, the chancellor asked that the info be provided.

Anecdotally we hear story after story of charter schools dumping out kids who are not prospering academically or who are discipline problems back into public schools.

At the March Regents meeting Regent Dawson asked the same question, he was told by schools in his region that charter schools, right before the state tests, were sending kids back to public schools. Sally Bachofer, the head of the charter school office hesitated and looked to Commissioner King, who hesitated and asked Ken Wagner – who said he could have the info by next fall.

Next fall?

Each kid, public and charter, has a unique ID number – the State has the ability to track all students. It shouldn’t take six months – it should take six days!!!

We should know the number of kids, each month, who are admitted and discharged from charter schools and where they transfer to – another charter school or a public school. Additionally, what would have been the impact on State scores if the kid remained in the charter school?

The State currently collects voluminous data about charter school (see Charter School Update here). Charter schools do have enrollment targets relating to registering similar percentages of special education and English Language Learners as other schools in the district. Failure to achieve the targets can result in charters not being extended.

The Harlem Success Academies are an Education Management Organization (EMO) with 14 schools and more in the pipeline, and, with a long list of deep pocket supporters (Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, etc.) How many kids do the Harlem Success Academy schools send back to the public school? A rather simple query.

The original theory was that charter schools, free of district regulations, would become “engines of innovation,” and share their successes with public schools. Today the theory seems to be that charter schools will provide competition for public schools – to force public schools to improve or else – or be replaced with a charter school. One category of charter schools, the schools that are part of EMOs actively seek foundation and corporate support – and the support is not public information. Teachers are paid about the same as public schools – except – there is a steady teacher turnover. In fact, the model is based upon teachers not moving up a pay scale, teachers staying for a few years and leaving. Some charter schools employ retired public school teachers.

Many charter schools are single schools – generally referred to as “Mom and Pop” charter schools – they struggle, they have a limited ability to fund raise.

The core question: Are charter schools doing better than public schools?

Schoolbook peruses the arguments and Schoolbook and WNYC reporter Beth Fertig concludes,

While Mr. Bloomberg continues to say that his stewardship of the schools has led to improvements in student achievement, the latest results of state proficiency tests are further indication that the change he has been hoping for has largely been incremental, rather than transformational.

Eva Moskowitz, the CEO of Harlem Success Academies, who earns twice the salary of the NYC chancellor, clearly had an inappropriately cozy relationship with former Chancellor Joel Klein, a relationship that will not continue with the next administration. All the democratic wannabes have a problem with co-locating charter school in public school buildings.

With discretionary federal dollars drying up, the 700 million in Race to the Top ending and PARCC, the “testing machine” scrambling to find private sector dollars maybe, just maybe, decision-making may be returning to state and localities.

If it turns out, as we all suspect, that charter schools are dumping low achieving/discipline problem kids to the public schools – will the State take any action? I fear the State is too invested with charter schools.

Hopefully the next mayor will return focus to public schools, sharply discourage co-locations and eliminate Charter Schools from dumping kids – an even playing field.

Some advice from a founding father:

Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Stevens Smith, November 13, 1787

“God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty . . . And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

The Common Core: The Beat Goes On: Tony Bennett, David Steiner and the Hirsch Crowd Muse About the Common Core and the Future of Public Education

As the Common Core snowball gathers speed the three million teachers are increasingly ill at ease,

Even as the Common Core State Standards are being put into practice across most of the country, nearly half of teachers feel unprepared to teach them, especially to disadvantaged students, according to a new survey.

Education Week reports,

More than two-thirds said they were not well enough prepared to teach the standards to English-language learners or students with disabilities. More than half said they were not yet ready to teach them to low-income students or those considered at risk of academic failure.

Prepared or not the forty-five states that are part of the two consortia – Smarter Balance and PARCC are in high gear preparing the assessments for the 2014-15 school year.

The pushback is gaining steam.

Diane Ravitch has been maintaining for months that she is “agnostic” about the Common Core is now opposing the Core.

I have come to the conclusion that the Common Core standards effort is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation.

David Coleman and the Sanhedrin that created the Common Core should have spent a little time reading the 1995 classic “Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform.” David Tyack and Larry Cuban peruse the landscape – the last hundred years of school reforms and conclude,

Reforms have rarely replaced what is there; more commonly they have added complexity … Failure to enlist the support of the community was especially harmful … it was difficult to retain resources and enthusiasm that sustained change … changing basic organizational patterns created overload for teachers…

What does the historical experience suggest about attempts today to refashion the grammar of schooling? …We suggest that actual changes in schools will be more gradual and piecemeal …Gaining the freedom to experiment demands political and organizational savvy and collective action.

Innovators outside the schools who want to reinvent were often skilled at publicity and the politics of promising …they rarely factored into their plans a sophisticated understanding of the schools as an institution or insight into the culture of teachers.

On Thursday morning at the Harvard Club the Manhattan Institute hosted a panel, “Curriculum Counts: Fulfilling the Promise of the Common Core State Standards.” A fascinating hour listening to, and engaging with some really smart, thoughtful people – if you have an hour click here and watch,

Sol Stern framed the discussion, “Within the school-reform community, the standards have set off a virtual civil war. It pits those who believe that America desperately needs national standards to catch up to its international competitors against those who think that the administration, by imposing standards on states, is guilty of an unwise, or even illegal power grab.” (Read Stern’s City Journal essay, “The Curriculum Reformation: New national standards prod schools to return to content-based education”). Stern emphasized, quoting both ED Hirsch and Diane Ravitch, the missing essential element, a content-rich curriculum.

Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the NYS Board of Regents cast doubt on the increasing high school graduation rates when viewed against the appalling college readiness metrics (grades of 75 on the English Regent and 80 on the Math Regents exams). 75% of students entering community college in CUNY require remediation and six years later only a quarter graduate. While Tisch fully supports the Common Core she worries whether the PARCC consortia can deliver appropriate tests on time: Plan B is phasing in Common Core items on the current tests Tisch has not fully committed to PARCC assessments. Tisch was proud that the state website, Engage NY provided a host of resources for parents, schools and teachers that are free, and took a swipe at Pearson, which she called a “monopoly.”

Tony Bennett, the recently defeated Commissioner of Indiana (defeated by the voters) and just appointed Commissioner of Florida is an education reform “jihadist.”

* transform the way children learn
* transform the way teachers teach
* transform the way we assess students.

Although he limited his remarks to the Common Core Bennett supports vouchers and charter schools – the full range of choice options. He admitted there was a communications gap, “we need to communicate better with parents and teachers.” Somewhat surprisingly, at least to me, he lauded local control, and placed the burden of professional development on the local districts. To Bennett, the key was assessment, to use his words, “shine the bright light” of data -driven assessment which will lead change in classrooms. The Common Core was the spear with assessments as the tip of the spear – driving change – with a “take no prisoners” attitude.

Linda Bevilacqua, the President of the Core Knowledge Foundation, was insightful and focused. The NYC Department of Education, as well as the NYS Education Department have both selected Core Knowledge as the prime content provider in grades K-2. E. D. Hirsch has an article in the current issue of City Journal, “A Wealth of Words, the key to increasing upward mobility is expanding vocabulary,” read here. Linda worries that measuring skills (standards acquisition) in the absence of content is a fruitless path. She worries that the race to “find the main idea” types of assessments will narrow the curriculum instead of building content-rich grade-by-grade curricula.

In the afternoon, at the newly renovated Roosevelt House, David Steiner and Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein discussed, “The ELA Common Core Standards: The path to a better educated America?” Bauerlein, the author of “The Dumbest Generation” (Read review here. The format: a discussion with a skilled facilitator was an invigorating hour. The Common Core, actually what are called the “anchor standards” must be tied to a “rich content-based curricula.” Bauerlein was pessimistic, students entering an elite college year after year less prepared, less well-read, with little interest in becoming well-read. In his closing comments he mused whether college freshman English classes should be divided into two separate classes, a literature class taught by the “college professor,” and a skills class, taught by whomever. He sounded just like most secondary school teachers I meet!

Steiner worried about the mechanical aspects of the standards, he worried that great literature is great because of the beauty of the prose, and parsing every phrase takes away from the timeless nature of the prose or poem.

An erudite thoughtful discussion with David Steiner and the Talibanic certitude of Tony Bennett, an interesting day.

At the end of the morning event I noticed a teacher I knew – she had brought along two high school seniors from her school. I asked one, “If you were on the panel, what would you have said?” He smiled, and spewed forth … I followed up with a few questions, He replied, “I hadn’t thought about that.” The Danielson domains, components and elements popped up on a box on the inside of my glasses, I scrolled down to Domain 3: Instruction, to Component 3b: Using Questions and Discussion Techniques, and checked off the Level 4: “Distinguished” boxes,

* The teacher builds on and uses student responses to question in order to deepen student understandings,
* Student(s) extend(s) the discussion, enriching the lesson.

I fear Tony Bennett would have shoved a bubble sheet and a number 2 pencil over to the kid, “Quick, bubble in your answers, I have to decide whether to promote or fire your teacher.” Too harsh, however, increasingly the public views the Common Core as a testing regimen – test the kid, and test the kid again, use the results to promote or hold back the kid, to close the school, to fire the teacher, and, give me a few more hundreds of millions so that I can keep this up.

Those hundreds of millions should be spent recruiting, educating, supporting and retaining the most effective teachers. Spend the dollars to create spaces in which teachers can discuss and plan and collaborate and be open to criticism and offer ideas and criticism to colleagues. Clone principals who can thrive in and enrich the mix, stir the pot, add the seasonings, become the great chef.

Yes, weed out the ineffective teachers in a fair and humane fashion.

I may have quibbles with some aspects of the Common Core; I would hope that I have been following the path through the years, for example,

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.7 Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.8 Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

Sounds perfectly reasonable.

The elements of the Core (see above) must be entwined in a rich curriculum: what are we teaching? do we simply follow the chronological path of history, or, carve out the crucial themes for an in-depth analysis? Is nationalism a 19th or 20th century concept or does it impact the tribalism in Afghanistan or Syria today?

In too many classrooms educrats are proudly sitting with their I-Pads, electronic check lists, and flailing the teacher for only using 50, not 60% informational texts. The twisted paths of the educational reform movement are littered with discarded reforms. George Santayana is right, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” Unless teachers, parents and the wider public buy into a reform – unless the reform is “Sticky” (“Six Principles of sticky ideas”), teachers will close their doors and do what they have always done, parents will reject what they see as punitive ideas and the public as a waste of tax dollars.

Useful ideas, the seeds of change, must be nurtured, fed and watered regularly, not blared from the minarets of officialdom.

If it makes us feel better we can blame Bloomberg, or Joel Klein, or disinterested parents, they all make our job more difficult, ultimately it is the skill of the teacher in the classroom that closes achievement gaps.