Friday, June 20, 2014

Standardized Tests Have Got To Go

It's time for standardized tests as a formal measure of anything to go.

For all of the 21st century, our public schools and students have been on a downward slide, and I blame much of it on standardized testing.

We use standardized tests to plan curriculum, evaluate students, and decide gifted or special ed placement.

We buy houses based on test scores.

We fire teachers based on test scores.

This is patently absurd.

Yesterday, even the Gates Foundation acknowledged that evaluating teachers based on test scores from the Common Core standards should be halted until students get used to the test.

"Last week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined the two largest teachers' unions in calling for a temporary halt to evaluating teachers based on Common Core tests. The foundation has spent more than $200 million implementing the Common Core standards nationwide."

Why? Because the tests are flawed. They incentivize cheating (see D.C. cheating scandal under media darling Michelle Rhee's watch, and Beverly Hall's ridiculous ruination of thousands of children's lives). They drive an inflexible curriculum that offers no place to see students as individuals. 

Last week, my daughter, the only current student at HoneyFern School, took her annual standardized test. She took the reading and math sections only. We did zero test prep. I bubbled in her Social Security number the night before, and she took the math sections one day and the reading sections the next.

Her scores as an 8th grade student put her at a grade-level equivalent of post-high school.

Yes, she is gifted, but not profoundly. We follow no book curriculum, but she did design and build a house. She took it to the White House this week. Her education has been guided by her interests, and I have designed all of her instruction around what she is passionate about. 

Standardized tests focus on numbers, dollar signs, and politics.

It is time to focus on students in education, not politics or big money or textbook publishers. 

Standardized testing as a driver of any curricular or instructional or evaluative decisions needs to go immediately. 

HoneyFern can be scaled up and successful; the Met School in Rhode Island is an example of this (also, ironically, supported in part by the Gates Foundation but under increasing pressure to standardize even though they have had amazing success with some of the most challenging populations). It is time for parents and lawmakers and teachers to demand something different for their kids. 

Public school right now is not good enough, and it's time to change.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ask a Teacher

Here’s the funny thing about research in education: most of the fancy expensive studies that have been done come as no surprise to teachers in the classroom. I am not talking about the teachers who are there for a paycheck and summers off (of course they exist). I am talking about the teachers who find their life’s work in the education of kids (of whatever age).

Take, for example, the recent “groundbreaking” study that found that when parents helped kids with their homework too much, the kids got no benefit. Go figure. I could always tell when a parent helped a kid with their homework for two reasons: 1) the style and voice were nothing like the kid themselves, which was my job to know, and 2) the parents who did their kids’ work were the most upset when they got a bad grade.

But I digress.

The next “groundbreaking” study is on kindergartners and how we underestimate their number sense and should expect more. OF COURSE WE SHOULD. But in this country, instead of expecting more out of our kindergartners with regard to challenging content, we expect more out of them with regard to sitting still, filling in worksheets, and following rules. If we let our kids explore, play, experience numbers, and ask questions, we would be utterly astonished at what they can do. This particular study also points out that kids gain nothing from repeating what they already know.

Also not shocking.

Repeat, for those who are unfamiliar with my philosophies on education as I have been writing them for three years via this blog: there is nothing wrong with the children. The system is broken. The adults are broken. The society is broken. We know how kids of all ages learn and do best: through play, through exploration, through trial and error and failure. Why do we continue to give them a worksheet with one right answer? Why do we continue to sit them down for hours of mind-numbing lecture and regurgitation?

These studies perpetuate the myth that studies like these are actually necessary. Want to save time and money? Ask a teacher. They’ll tell you.
Image by Marco Belucci via Flickr

Monday, April 7, 2014

Still Here?

You know what is pretty amazing?

You are still here.

Guess what?

So am I.

I have not forgotten about education. It is not off my radar. I am still reading, watching. I talk about it. I dream about it sometimes.

I may start writing about it again, although at a certain point it begins to feel as if I am shouting into the darkness.

But still. Lately I have read encouraging repeats of some of the ideas I have been writing about for the past three years. And HoneyFern was just awarded official federal tax-exempt status. So all options remain open.

If you have questions. or would like me to write about something in particular, please leave notes or topics in the comments. Maybe it's time to start the revolution again.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

US Teens Lag in Global Education: How to Fix It

This is not particularly shocking. What's the quote? Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, or something to that effect. So here we are again, with teens in the US slipping even further in the international rankings and Asian countries coming on strong.

And what does Arne Duncan suggest is the key to turning this around? More preschool, more access to college, raise standards and, last in the list, recruit better teachers.

How about these ideas:

1. Design education so it reflects the reality of the world. We are not all technological in the world, but that is the way things are headed. Stop with banning devices and incorporate them into learning. Let kids move around the class and collaborate. That's what the real world does.

2. Include students in their learning. Make them responsible for themselves by giving them a say. Let them decide what to study, even if it's just a list of possible things to study. You will get far better results when kids pick their focus than when it is assigned wholesale to a class of thirty individuals.

3. Stop holding kids back (or rushing them along). Be adaptive. Be reflective. Let gifted kids soar, and let kids who need more time to master the material take it. Truly differentiate in your classroom. How? By incorporating #2, first and foremost, you will reduce (or eliminate) discipline issues so that kids will be less likely to get off task if a teacher isn't in their face. Then plan and find a variety of resources so kids can get the help they need in the manner in which it works best (one-on-one with a teacher, out of a book, off a computer, etc).

4. Make everyone in the school responsible for the education of the students. Everyone. From the custodian to the principal to the crossing guard. All hands on deck. More adults focused on students means fewer students per adult means more focus on students and earlier intervention if any issues arise. There are ways to do this; I have worked in a school where every adult has an advisement.

5. Get off the agrarian schedule. We are no longer a nation of farmers, dependent on our offspring to bring in the crop, so why are we still scheduling school to follow the seasons? Flexible scheduling, including evening hours for teens who work or parents who want to participate in school but cannot so it during the day, hybrid models for parents who want to homeschool but need guidance, and year-round (for real) schooling that offers extra help during the short breaks are all options that can easily be implemented.

6. Institute more hands-on, trade-type options. And I don't just mean lathering about the mouth on STEM education then giving the whole class the same problem to solve (how to protect an egg with a toothpick cage, for example). If you are going to do STEM, DO IT. Find a problem in the community and SOLVE IT. And for that matter...

7. BE REAL. Fake problems that mean nothing are boring and inauthentic and don't engage kids. Real problems that kids can tackle and fix promote student engagement in school and community, a double bonus in our ever more transient culture.

And finally (or finally for now, because I could go on)...

8. Hire and train teachers who genuinely care about student learning, and administrators who genuinely care about teacher success and engagement. All this focus on crappy educators who don't care and just want a paycheck, and very little about administrators who use their job as a stepping stone to the Central Office, a resume builder, if you will.  Teachers are on the front lines, and it is the administrator's job to staff the school with teachers who want to be there, and then to protect them from idiotic tasks that have nothing to do with teaching and everything to do with busywork.

You want school to get better and students to shine? Stop waxing the same dull penny and start with real solutions.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Private School Parents Are Bad People

So says this article in Slate. The author says that rich parents bring rich change, including time and money, emphasis on money, and parental involvement.

This argument assumes that the largest issue with bad public schools is money, but it's just not. It's mindset. It's the fact that schools are still based on an agrarian calendar, still educating factory workers, and still pushing standardized tests. Money won't fix mindset.

Even China is de-emphasizing standardized testing, and they are the experts at educating compliant factory workers. Srsly.

I sacrificed 12 years of my life, and five years of my child's life, and I am unwilling to continue being an educational martyr, offering up my only child as a sacrifice. If I was called to make some real change, if people actually listened and thought about what was best for kids, then maybe I would consider returning. If adults in charge thought about how they learn best, if they considered what information they remember from their years in public school, things might change. I have tried to make change happen in my own small school district, which could be a model due to its size and diversity and have been repeatedly rebuffed and repulsed by grubbing minions who are only interested in what looks nice, not what's effective. If my system was only graduating 72% of its students, I wouldn't be making excuses - I'd be making changes.

Until then, don't call me a bad person for not wanting my child's brain to languish. I am actively involved in education, as a teacher, a learner, a parent and a person actively seeking change for all students (not just the wealthy and over privileged or poor and underprivileged). Don't call me a bad person for leaving the sinking ship just as it touched the waterline and then refuse to throw me anything other than a dollar bill as a life preserver. It's not about the money. Change your mind, then we'll talk.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Next Phase

Hard to believe it is July 30th, that the summer here in Georgia is almost over for students.

The tiny house moves on, albeit slowly. Here's where we are:

La Petite Maison sits nestled on a 10'x20' concrete slab at the back of the yard, waiting patiently for siding and plumbing and insulation and other interior goodness. We have added storage on the back and had to remove it when it stuck out too far over the tongue and made parking it impossible. Our building story has been a series of starts and stops, mistakes that we didn't see coming because there was no way to predict for people who have never built a house before.

La herself has been traipsing around Disney all week; when she returns, off we go to the mid-Atlantic region for a five-week jaunt. We have family and friends up north, and we will stay with them for most of our journey, but we are also planning on "doing" each of these cities: Philly, Baltimore and DC. Trip Advisor has an awesome 3-day itinerary for Philly, but for the other ones we are going to plan it as we go. Our trip ends on Assateague Island: wild horses, Maryland blue crabs and beach camping. #Blissful

After we get back, more work on LPM, softball again, more travels north for Thanksgiving and west for Christmas. Time passes no matter what we do, so we might as well make the most of it. Hopefully this sabbatical will help us move forward joyfully.

Those of you who continue to follow our journey, thank you for your support and encouragement. La will be blogging our trip daily, so expect a few links to that blog in the next week or so. We are reminded daily that we are not alone in the world, and that has been invaluable to both of us. We are grateful.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Last Day

Today is our last day of the year, and I always find myself exhausted and reflective on this day. It amazes me how far everyone has come in a year (not just academically), and this song is how far I believe they will go in the years to come. Thank you to everyone who has supported the school this year (parents, friends, and community members), and have a great summer!