All posts for the month August, 2013

Common Core Development: A Crumpled Timeline

Published August 25, 2013 by Vida Caramela

A crumpled paper ball made from an A4 sheet

Okay, I investigated those websites, and after scouring through them carefully, I did not see a drop of data. What I saw was a heap of professional development resources for common core.  That was a bit disappointing because I specifically asked to see data. Anyway, I decided to do my own search and I did come up with something of interest. So, here’s what I am going to do; I’m going to post the interesting facts about CCSS pilot testing as I find them.

I’ll start with an article I found on the Education Week website:

The article, written by  Catherine Gewertz, and dated August 23, 2011, states that New York City and Washington, D.C., are joining six other urban districts  to lead out in piloting the common core.  Gewertz goes on to mention, “The work is unfolding through the Council of the Great City Schools, which last week announced a $4.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that will be used for a broad range of activities to implement the standards in all of its member districts. But eight will play a lead role.

What I found especially interesting in the article was the following statement: “New York has already been at work on a pilot that involves three areas of common-core implementation: curriculum alignment, performance-based assessment, and text complexity.”

Now I have even more questions, like: Where, specifically in New York, is this pilot being done? When exactly did it begin? Has any data been generated from these pilots so far?

Based on this article, the Common Core Standards that have been adopted by the 45 States are in the prototype testing phase as we speak, and are not the finished product. If this is true, are the 45 States field-testing for the remaining five?

Until I find some evidence of pilot work occurring before the adoption of the CCSS by all of these States, I will be forced to conclude that the  engineering timeline for CCSS is fan-folded or possibly just crumpled, so every phase of it’s development is occurring practically simultaneously.


Common Core Effectiveness: Show me the data!

Published August 25, 2013 by Vida Caramela
Four-color map of the united states

Four-color map of the united states (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was sold on the idea of common core standards from the first time I heard that they were being developed. The low level of expectations, I had witnessed in some of the schools where I’d worked  in the past, was appalling. Whenever I would try to introduce rigor, high expectations and authentic assessment, I would be attacked and criticized. It seemed as though the school leaders and parents were more interested in appearances (high grades on report cards) than in actual student growth and academic excellence. They believed that the level of instruction and the way the students were being evaluated was perfectly acceptable. In fact, they were proud of the level of achievement that their students were reaching. Eventually, I got a position at a screened school where everyone truly understood the importance of rigor, and high expectations. My 7th graders were performing at higher academic levels than the ninth and 10th graders were in my former schools. My constant thought was, these kids could run circles around those kids. The most interesting thing is that my current school is a Title-one public school, located in an urban neighborhood. The majority of students are members of underserved populations, and for the most part, do not seem to be more intelligent than the students in my former schools, they just seem to be more motivated, and committed than their counterparts. I see the implementation of a common set of standards as a way to ensure that all U.S students are on a level playing field, and can compete globally. As for the question of how effective the Common Core Standards we’ve adopted will be, we have yet to find out. As with all new concepts, the way to answer that question is to prototype it, field test it on a small scale and work out the bugs, then refine or rework it and test it again. The process can be repeated until the desired outcome is achieved. Only then is the concept introduced to the wider public and monitored for effectiveness. Here’s the part I really like. Even after it is tested on the population at large, if it doesn’t work, it does not have to be considered a failure. There will be lessons learned that can help in making revisions, or in selecting alternatives. I do not know anything about the prototyping and pilot testing of the Common Core State Standards. Maybe that’s partly my fault, because I haven’t made it my business to know. Today, I checked out the comments section on Diane Ravitch’s Blog post entitled “The Biggest Fallacy of the Common Core Standards: No Evidence” ( ). I read a comment from a Dr. Jen Anderson which asserted that the CCSS was piloted for 3 years in Michigan and was effective in preparing teachers and in making students more successful. I replied with a request for hard evidence (data from the pilot), to which Dr. Anderson responded by sending the following links:

Other commenters on the blog insist that there are no pilot studies and/or no valid data that proves the effectiveness of the common core standards.

Hopefully the sites Dr. Anderson shared will provide me with some answers. I’ll let you know later

What Have We Left Behind?

Published August 14, 2013 by Vida Caramela

For the past two decades, a combination of budget cuts to education and No Child Left Behind has “left behind” some areas of instruction that are fundamental to a well-rounded education. Many public schools have “trimmed the fat” by eliminating what some consider to be low-stakes programs. These programs usually include the Performing Arts and Science, which are often the first to go. They are the unfortunate casualties of our National accountability measures for math and English Language Arts (ELA), which have triggered a brand new tunnel vision approach to American education.

In NYC, for example, it is quite common to find a high school which doesn’t offer any performing arts classes, or science electives. Music and art teachers have been excessed in exchange for literacy and math coaches. In the middle schools, students are often scheduled for two classes per day in ELA or math, but for no classes in science. The rational for this being that the school ratings are based on math and ELA scores, and there are no New York State exams in science for the 5th-7th graders. This practice of neglecting science instruction in grades 5-7 has been to blame for New York City’s 54% passing rate on the NYS 8th Grade Science Exam (a low-stakes test) in 2011. Science education is suffering throughout the nation as a whole.

In a time when U.S. scores in science have fallen far behind those of countries like South Korea, Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai in China and Canada, we should be asking ourselves, what is being done about it, and is it enough to make an impact?

Student interest in the performing arts and science have not waned over time. Neither has our society’s need for individuals with expertise in these fields. For a good picture of how educational program choices for students have dwindled over the years, one needs only skim through a few yearbooks. Compare the schools of the 50’s, 60’s, 70‘s and even 80‘s to today’s public schools. One thing you will notice immediately is the disparity between the number of programs, clubs, and events related to the performing arts and science, then and now.

There are many prominent scientists and artists who owe at least part of their success to their inner-city public school education.  For example, here are some accomplished alumni of New York City public schools:

  • Barbra Streisand- Singer/ Actor,
  • “Shaggy”- Reggae Artist,
  • Eric Kandell- Nobel Prize Winner,
  • Albert A Kruger- Scientist/ Inventor,
  • Clive Davis- Founder of Arista Records,
  • Lena Horne- Singer,
  • Isaac Asimov- Scientist/ Writer,
  • Babara McClintock- Nobel Prize Winner,
  • Stephanie Mills- Actress/Singer,
  • Irwin Meyer- Producer/ Tony Award winner,
  • Beverly Sills- Opera Singer,
  • Aaron Copeland- Composer,
  • Larry David- Producer/ writer and comedian,
  • Harry Belafonte- Singer/ Actor,
  • Woody Allen- Actor/Film director/ screenwriter,
  • John Corigliano- Composer/ Pulitzer prize winner,
  • Martin J. Fettman- Astronaut,
  • Marisa Tomei- Actor,
  • Spike Lee- Actor, director/producer/ screenwriter.

If students, thus society, have benefited from the well-rounded public education of those earlier years, why are we shortchanging this generation of students now?

From Victim to Advocate

Published August 14, 2013 by Vida Caramela
Advocate Against Discrimination

Advocate Against Discrimination (Photo credit: FreePride Foundation Project)

Jamie Isaacs, was a victim of intense bullying for many years. For her, the bullying began when she was in the second grade and continued until the end of the seventh grade, when she transferred to a different school. Jamie considers herself to be a survivor.  She, has not allowed tragic circumstances to spell her defeat. She has emerged from being a victim to being an activist, and has written her story in a book entitled, “In Jamie’s Words”. Jamie shares her experience with bullying every chance she gets. She speaks out, so that others who are suffering will know that they are not alone.

Jamie’s struggle started with one tormentor, her best friend, who turned against her. Other participants, were recruited until their numbers had reached a total of 22. The relentless persecution she endured was painful for her and her entire family. When she and her parents reached out to school leaders for help, they did not receive it. Eventually, she changed schools, but soon realized that the same bullies that tortured her, were targeting her younger brother. She then reached out to her County Legislator, Jon Cooper, who at the time was making efforts to stop cyberbullying, and she shared her struggle with him. He in turn asked her for her input in the drafting of new legislation on cyberbulling. Jamie felt a sense of empowerment and a strong desire to do more, so she founded the Jamie Isaacs Foundation For Anti-Bullying, a not-for-profit organization that helps young people know that they are not alone, and provides assistance to those being bullied. In February 2012, she was honored as a role model by Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), who introduced resolutions commending her for fighting against harassment and cyberbullying

By helping other victims of bullying, Jamie has found her strong inner voice. and is presently working with both local and state legislators to pass strong anti-bullying laws. The Jamie Isaacs Foundation has been named one of the TOP 10 Charities by Lifestyle + Charity Magazine!

On the Foundation Website, its mission is stated as follows: Our mission is simple… To save the lives of victims of bullying. We do this through intervention, and educational presentations, nationwide, to both students, and teachers and administrators. We present programs that help to raise awareness of situations where bullying is occurring.  After attending our presentations, students will have a special understanding of the effects of bullying. Teachers and administrators will have a better understanding  of the signs of bullying, and how it can be stopped. Our goal is to help children and their families overcome the devastating effects that bullying can have on kids, and their entire family. Some of these services can include representation by an advocate or even attorney where needed.  It may also include counseling and psychological services, all provided by a third party. We will assist in finding a therapist to fit each families financial needs. In addition, if the victims family is left with no other option but to formally withdraw their child from the school where the bullying is occurring, we will assist in negotiating a lower tuition, or tuition assistance to make it easier for the family to move their child to a safer place quickly.

As far as champions go, Jamie Isaacs is the real deal.

Greater incentives for achieving high scores

Published August 8, 2013 by Vida Caramela

Here’s an article from the Washington Post, entitled

Gates pours millions in new grants to change teaching profession

It will provide some frame of reference  for Group #2 in my post “Standardized Testing Debate”

Standardized Testing Debate

Published August 6, 2013 by Vida Caramela
De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.

De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throughout the nation, the lid is lifting off of a boiling-pot debate over high stakes standardized testing.  What started out as a relatively small argument in the academic community is turning out to be a bit of a hullabaloo. Increasingly, test-cheating scandals are being uncovered and widely publicized, as in the criminal indictment of 35 school officials and teachers in Atlanta, Georgia, and all parties are coming out swinging. The arguments involved are many, and with the recent introduction of the National Common Core Learning Standards, the new standardized tests that are based on these standards, and the new teacher evaluation systems that are partly determined by student scores, it seems there will be even more to come.

It’s going to be a while before the issues with standardized testing in the U.S. are resolved, but can we really afford to drag this matter out for very long? While the warring factions bicker on, the controversy grows ever greater, the pitfalls get even deeper, and generations of students are being affected. So, how do we fix this problem? The answer to the question varies depending on who you ask.

I’ll start with some of the views I’ve heard expressed by those appearing to be most vocal on the issue, or at least the one’s who have gotten the most news coverage, and hope you, my readers will help me to identify more for later blogs on the subject.

In one corner you GROUP #1:

The people calling for the elimination of high stakes or standardized testing. This group includes those that  believe that standardized tests are stacked against certain student populations and that these students can’t possibly pass them. It also includes those who argue that high-stakes testing causes people to cheat by promoting a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation. There are still others who identify these forms of testing as  disruptions to the educational process which limit a teacher’s creativity. The membership of this team are primarily made up of teachers, students, parents, and advocates for minority populations.

In another corner there is GROUP #2:

Those pushing for greater incentives for achieving high scores on standardized tests, or more punitive measures for those who have not made the grade. Proponents of incentives like No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top, some government officials, educational reform groups and philanthropists fall into this category.

Then there is the partnership of GROUP #3:

The attack on public education and the bust the unions groups.  Several educational reformers, and politicians fall into this category as well. They often use the debate on testing as an opportunity to demonize teachers.  They say the teachers who cheated with their students’ scores did so, because they were bad people. They paint the average public school as a haven for lazy, ineffective, uncaring, and self serving teachers. They are all about firing teachers and closing public schools. The union busters take that argument further, explaining how badly we need to get rid of the Unions, which only exist to keep those bad teachers employed and failing schools open.

Now that I’ve started off the list, please feel free to add your comments, views, and/or solutions.

Below are some links to related articles:

When Targets Take Aim

Published August 5, 2013 by Vida Caramela

Bl archer

Check it out! I have a little story to tell. It’s about two little girls in the same class who sat at the same table. Each time the teacher gave an exam, one of the girls  got a really high score, and the other a really low one. The little girl with the low scores was often teased by one of the other students at her table but never by the little girl with the highest scores. The girl with the highest scores was modest about her achievements and  never lorded her over the other students. One day the teacher gave an exam, and the girl who usually scored very low got 100%. The girl who usually scored very high got an 85%. When the tests were returned to the students, the little girl with the 100% threw her paper in the face of not the student who teased her, but the girl with the 85% and said, “In your face, sucker!” The little girl with the 85% began to cry and said, “why do people always do that to me?” The teacher asked the girl who had the !00%, if the other girl had ever teased her, she said no. When the teacher asked her why she did what she did, she shrugged her shoulders.

Now I ask you, how believable do you think this story is? Why would anyone who has experienced the pain of ridicule, turn around and taunt an innocent bystander? Would it have been more believable if the girl who said, “in your face, sucker” was directing it at the  bully instead of the bystander when given the chance?  It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But, it did happen. In fact, it happened in my classroom, and it’s the sort of thing that happens all the time with children, and yes, with adults as well.

No matter how often we are reminded of the “Golden Rule“, somehow, we are all guilty at one time or another of forgetting to follow it.  For example, we may not like it when people call us names. We may cry “foul” whenever someone else labels us with words that are derogatory. But, here’s the kicker, the minute we figure out a way to “pay it forward”, we do Just like my little student did. Even when we know how much words can hurt, because we were/are the victims of hurtful words ourselves, we still manage to adopt derogatory language into our vocabulary and excuse it by saying, Oh, that’s just how people talk where I’m from. We don’t mean anything bad by it.

This is a common trap, but here are some clues that can help you to recognize when you are using derogatory language.

You may be using derogatory/divisive language when:

  1. people tell you that they are offended by it.
  2. the individuals that you are labeling do not use the term to describe themselves.
  3. the term is being used inaccurately (look up the definition).
  4. the true definition reduces the ones being labeled to something less than, or other than human.
  5. the expression you are using was first adopted by individuals who did not hold the ones being labeled in high regard.
  6. there are more accurate words already in use to describe the person or group, but you have  deliberately switched them out for something less accurate.
  7. the language strengthens a mindset of “us” and “them”, i.e. is divisive.

Here’s my advise. Stop and reflect a bit whenever you hear yourself using  the type of language I have described above, and making excuses for it. Think about how much you sound like the racist, sexist, homophobe, or bully who chose inappropriate language to label you.

Now, name calling is just one example of how we twist the Golden Rule so that it reads, “Do unto others because they did unto you.”  Just because you’ve been a target, or part of a targeted group, it doesn’t mean that you have  earned a license to shoot blindly from a seat of pain and anger into a crowd that includes innocent bystanders with the hope of hitting someone who hurt you.  We all need to find a way to rid ourselves of the pain we have suffered, but there’s a big difference between releasing it and unleashing it.

So, here’s the moral of the story:

If you’re not careful,  you can easily become what you so despise.

But, there is a happy ending to this story.

I spoke with my students and made them aware of the impact that their behavior was having on others. I took the little girl who had become both a target and a bully aside, and pointed out to her that she had hurt someone else in the same way that she had been hurt.  She quickly apologized, and I got the sense that she had learned an important lesson that day, not just about what she had done, but also about how easy and seamless the transformation from target to bully can be.

Lastly, I charge myself and others with the following:

Become a deliberate practitioner of behavior and language that promotes unity, not division;  that encourages, but does not offend.