PARCCs Origin Story

go around PARCC

From, a little piece I stumbled on today written by Stephanie Simon on 2/10/15:

The British publishing giant Pearson had made few inroads in the United States — aside from distributing the TV game show “Family Feud” — when it announced plans in the summer of 2000 to spend $2.5 billion on an American testing company.

It turned out to be an exceptionally savvy move.

The next year, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated millions of new standardized tests for millions of kids in public schools. Pearson was in a prime position to capitalize.

From that perch, the company expanded rapidly, seizing on many subsequent reform trends, from online learning to the Common Core standards adopted in more than 40 states. The company has reaped the benefits: Half its $8 billion in annual global sales comes from its North American education division.

Eduhonesty: When we wonder why America’s students are spending so much time testing, I’d say we should follow the money. Pearson has tremendous incentive to sell PARCC. New Jersey alone is expected to pay over $100,000,000 for four years of the test.

Money is political clout and the $4 billion in annual global sales that come from Pearson’s educational division give the company incredible leverage. We are talking about a number with nine zeros behind it, a number greater than the total gross domestic product of over twenty-five countries, based on current prices. We’d be foolish to think that Pearson is not regularly lobbying government bodies across this nation. That kind of money does more than talk. Sometimes it screams.

In particular, once a state has spent so many millions on a test, politicos and interested parties can be expected to attempt to justify the purchase. At a certain price, many people become afraid to admit, even to themselves, that they have made a mistake.

Before You Waste Months Getting Ready


This post is meant especially for newbies with multiple certifications, inexperienced teachers who can teach more than one subject. Please pass this post on if you know someone who might fit this particular glass slipper.

Hi, new teacher! If you have been teaching for a year or two, I hope you are having fun in the classroom. If you are enthusiastically preparing for next year, though, I want to pass on a cautionary note: Even if the district told you that you will be repeating your seventh grade language arts classes next year, sudden whims or emergencies can change that assignment. You may think you are headed to Australia only to find yourself landing in New Zealand.

I have had the ground shift on me more than once. One year, I even changed from high school to middle school mid-year to solve a district staffing problem. Expecting to teach science, I have ended up teaching social studies. A district will sometimes shuffle staffing at the start of a school year. Teachers move on in July and August, leaving vacancies that result in a dance across schools. I have helped friends move classrooms when they were abruptly shifted to elementary schools, even after the year started. Subject area shifts in middle school and high school often occur. If four people are certified to teach language arts, but you are the only one of the four who can teach science, you may suddenly find yourself looking at a set of astronomy books and software in September.

So don’t work too hard to get ready for that August opening day. You should be preparing and looking at your upcoming curriculum. You should be forming an overarching curricular plan. But don’t spend all the days of your summer designing specific lessons or making fun math Jeopardy games, activities that you may have to pass on to the person who takes your place while you start cramming on the American Revolution.

Just a tip from someone who has crammed in September more than once.

Found on a City Street while Walking Dogs

little library

Want a summer project? Why not build a little library for local dog walkers and others who may be passing by? Put all those books you were thinking of donating to the Goodwill or selling to Half Price Books in a cute display with a sign asking visitors to replace borrowed books with another book. If you are not a builder, you could check the Goodwill or other thrift shops for inexpensive furniture to use to create your library.

It’s summer and many of us are out walking. Why not haul those old books out of their hiding places and put them into the light? I loved this little library.

Napoleon and the First Year Teacher


As I reread my last post, a thought strayed through my mind that’s worth blogging:

“I bet she did not report a lot of what he did, too.”

“Napoleon” was an emotionally-disturbed, second grader who liked to break and cut things. He scared the kids in his class. He scared my daughter. I had a number of conversations with the teacher about Napoleon. I’m sure many parents did.

I had not yet taken the helm in a classroom, though, so I did not fully appreciate this woman’s situation. A teacher’s first and second years are proving grounds. Administrators can be ruthless in weeding out new teachers who are not meeting performance standards, despite the fact that classroom management is learned on the job. Classroom management can be learned, but not all teachers get the opportunity to receive that education. As time goes by, firing teachers becomes harder; any earlier positive reviews can be used as ammunition to fight a dismissal. As a result, many administrators do not take a chance on new teachers who seem to be having more than the usual start-up, classroom management issues.

I vividly remember trying to help a new teacher in my school who was struggling. She did not want to be on administrative radar so she was allowing behaviors that needed to be stopped cold.

“Dumb-ass is not really a swear word,” she said to me.

“No, you need to write that up,” I explained, going over the reasons.

You let anyone call you a dumb-ass and it’s over. But she was afraid to report misbehaviors by that point and she had reason to be. My struggling district was always laying people off. We riffed virtually annually. Firing a new teacher can be seen as proactive on a principal’s part, a chance to get brownie points. And, frankly, I believe some girls in that class were targeting this new teacher.

That teacher did not survive. I later regretted not taking more of a stand for her. I believe would have been a fine teacher eventually.

I now recognize the second-grade teacher with Napoleon in her class had a huge problem. When he cut the computer cords, she had to report that, but a natural response might be, “Why weren’t you watching him?” That sounds reasonable, but monitoring twenty-some seven-year-old students every minute can be tough. When “Mindy” comes over to get help putting on her gloves, you have to focus on the gloves. A lot of kids need help with outerwear at that age. You can’t be watching Napoleon every minute and our Napoleons are often watching carefully to see when their teacher is not watching.

That first-year teacher survived and continued to teach in her district. She was blessed with a strong administration and true support. Financially-comfortable districts have the social workers and psychologists to provide necessary information and support.

But I am sure she seized those scissors many times and did not say a thing.

First and second-year teachers are frequently walking a tightrope, balancing the need to ask for useful help and support against the fear of being seen as unable to manage a classroom. Those teachers may be afraid to ask for help or make disciplinary referrals. They want to minimize the time they spend on administrative radar.

Eduhonesty: Pity the new teacher who receives a “Napoleon” or two or three or even more on her roster for the year, especially when Napoleon is new to the school and has not established a track record. Special education placement requires an often-tortuous process, one that new teachers may not know. When those teachers request help, they may realize that they should have been documenting behaviors for months and must now begin a lengthy paperwork process demonstrating possible need for testing and evaluation.

In the meantime, those teachers have to worry about the test scores that Napoleon has been undermining since he first entered the classroom.

“We do not cream”

Zip code Neal

Creaming is the act of taking the best applicants for your school, creating a charter school which succeeds because troublesome and/or academically deficient students are not accepted into the charter school. Students who might have held down test scores get sent elsewhere, often to the local public school down the road. Public schools never have an option to cream.

As we continue the charter school debate, I thought I’d throw this comment by a charter school administrator into the mix. This woman passionately believes in saving all the children who come in her door. I give her credit for those views. Other charter administrators can be less welcoming.

In this time of data-rules-all, though, I think we have to be aware of creaming. It’s too easy for charter advocates to point to local charter schools to say, “See? The scores at XYZ Charter are significantly better than the scores at Local Public School. This proves charters are the way to go.”

I am not against charters. I favor choice, for one thing, and if a parent’s only choice is a public school performing in the bottom 2% of state schools, then that parent ought to have an alternative. Zip code should not be destiny.

But I do think that we need to get the issue of creaming up and front for examination. If XYZ Charter does not accept Napoleon because of his behavioral issues or Tom because of his academic deficiencies, then the school gains a sometimes formidable advantage in the annual test score game. For one thing, Napoleon and Tom end up at the local public school. If Napoleon is especially behaviorally challenged, he may disrupt learning for all of his classes, at least until the paperwork for special education placement goes through. That paperwork can take years, depending on the district and the degree of disruption Napoleon creates, though.

Creaming skews local school populations, putting the more problematic students in local public schools while charters duck trouble by passing problems on. I am not blaming the charters. I think our Napoleons are an under-addressed issue in education and I understand why a charter would choose to minimize classroom disruptions.

Charters have another advantage that needs to be on the table. How does a student get into a charter school? A motivated parent puts in the time and effort to apply to the school. They may volunteer to work charity and fund-raising events as part of the process.

Motivated parents are the strongest force I know for educational excellence. Those kids who started to slide academically in middle school? I could mostly predict how that slide would go by looking at their parent(s). When parents started calling, emailing, and turning up to check on homework, taking away phones in response to bad grades, and signing daily homework logs, the odds were good that a kid would pull it together. In the absence of parental participation, though, those slides can become avalanches that no educator can stop.

(To any parents out there who tried and failed, I’d like to say that parents can only do so much. Some adolescent crises cannot be solved by emails and homework logs. I should add not to give up hope. That boy who flunks his way through high school may still get a graduate degree or two, especially after a few years working in the hot sun. I’ve seen it happen.)

Eduhonesty: Some of our local schools are performing so poorly that I can only advocate for alternative schools, currently filled by America’s charters and other private schools. That said, I want to emphasize that using test scores for comparisons between local public and charter schools will not tell the whole story. The public school has to accept everyone who lives in district. Charters have more discretion. Some charters do cream. Any comparisons between local public and charter schools will be unfairly biased when creaming occurs. Who the administration lets into school hugely impacts eventual academic results.

Are those creaming charters better schools? In the sense that students appear to be learning more, they may be the better choice. If I lived in some zip codes, I’d pick that selective charter school for my kids before I’d let my daughter spend a year worrying that Napoleon might cut her or slice off her hair with the scissors he keeps carrying around.*

In the end, I’d get my child into the best school available. That school may be a charter. Or it may be the local public school. If I were a parent, I’d research local options on the internet. Then I’d walk into the schools. I’d see if administrators would let me observe areas of the school. I’d watch the kids. I’d look at the work on the walls. I’d try to find out about the teachers at my child’s grade level. For any parents who have a choice, this research has the potential to affect the rest of your child’s life.

*True story. The boy ended up in an alternative school placement midway through the year, but not before he had sliced a few computer cords and kept a whole classroom of second graders on regular red-alert through the fall and part of the winter. For the first-year teacher who was managing this classroom, that boy was a true trial by fire.



Disconnecting from Reality

book excerpt

Above: The book. Click on the picture to get a good look.

Below: A representative student paper.


Please don’t blame me for the lack of understanding in the above paper. It’s difficult to jump four years of math in a single bound, especially when you are in bilingual classes because you speak relatively little English compared to many peers. I drove an hour on Saturdays to provide tutoring. I tutored for free in school and in McDonalds. I taught furiously. But I had kids coming in at a first grade level in English-language acquisition. The majority of my students were at a third grade level in math. Some were lower.

I was required to give this test to all my students, exactly as written. Any modifications to the test would have “compromised the data.” Data ruled. Students did the best they could. I was also required to base 100% of their grades on tests since we were doing mastery-based grading.

Eduhonesty: Best move for anyone trapped in this situation: Retire if possible. If not, change districts. If you can’t change districts, consider changing professions. Because giving the student who wrote the above pizza answer that particular math book and that common-core-based test can only be termed lunacy. In fact, I’d say mandatory use of that test qualifies as educational malpractice.

Talking to Walls


I recommend reading my Aug 20, 2015 post before reading the following.

This post provides an additional take on the “I-love-how-you-did-this-but-why-did-you-do-that-when-you-should-have-done-this” management approach.  A young colleague just got bludgeoned by this approach as part of a professional development activity. No doubt her principal meant well, but her reaction was to say, “I got lambasted.”

This colleague has a perfectionistic streak, and the “I-love-how-you-did-this-but-why-did-you-do-that-when-you-should-have-done-this” approach does not work as well for that set of teachers as it may with other groups. Like students, teachers vary in their sensitivity to criticism and I-loved-this-not-that statements inevitably carry a degree of criticism, sometimes one that can even be interpreted as an attack, especially if the rigid use of this approach leads to a stream of negative comments.

Eduhonesty: My colleague said something to me after she was “lambasted” that struck me.

“It’s not a conversation. It’s a transmittal of information,” she said.

I found that to be a true characterization of the I-loved-this-not-that approach that’s currently in vogue, although I am not sure I recognized that I was not conversing at the time. I kept trying to communicate. As the year went on, I tried less and less, because my take was that no one was listening. I put that down to the people I was trying to reach. One was young and inexperienced* and the other was… well, the engine was running but I often doubted that man was sitting behind the wheel.

One would think touchy-feely management would be honest, but it’s not honest when everyone’s following a script and almost everyone knows the so-called right answers. My colleague drifted off the script and ended up feeling clobbered for honestly observing that she did not think a professional development activity would be appropriate or useful for her. She’s not concerned that her Principal disagrees. An honest disagreement would be fine. She’s concerned that her Principal did not listen to her.
When teachers don’t believe their voices will be heard, they become much less likely to offer suggestions and observations. Teachers provide feedback from the trenches. Teachers are the first people in a school to know whether a new program is working or not. They are the first people to recognize whether the East-Coast designed, common-core lesson plans are actually improving student learning. When teachers’ voices shut down, districts and students suffer.
I could have helped a great deal as we tried the common-core, identical-lesson-plans-for-everybody experiment, had there been anyone to hear me. But my words floated off into some black hole whenever I spoke against the party line. I found that I could make statements like, “But they can’t read the test!” and no one listened and nothing changed. When I pointed out the chosen book was set four years above the level of one classroom, a district administrator simply shut down on me. He’d picked the book over teacher recommendations for an alternative book written in friendlier English and he had a vested interest in that book. I had classes of students who could not read or understand their book.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I understood the desperation that led to a number of dubious choices made by administrators during my last year teaching, especially choices related to my former district’s curriculum. My colleague just gave me an insight on this score, though. District leaders were transmitting information, not sharing information. Sharing implies an exchange of facts and ideas that never happened because no one cared to listen, especially to disagreeable facts that conflicted with the chosen plan of action.
Teachers and students were the worst losers during the year of inflexible, canned, common-core lesson plans but, in general, when educators don’t communicate, everybody loses. Scripted programs for dealing with people work against communication. A little more humanity and a little less technique would benefit all the players in American education.

Let’s talk to each other.

Cops, Snapped and Family Feud

305 (2)

As I read the previous post, I think readers must have grave doubts about my taste. It’s not that Cops and Snapped are favorite shows of mine. But they are perfect shows for grading. If I miss a few minutes, I don’t have to wonder what happened. In theory, I guess I could push the back arrow to find out, but so what if I missed the final details of some miscreant’s arrest? And only the last few minutes of Family Feud matter. I usually take a break to try to guess the best answers as the family tries to win the $20,000 or the car.

Favorite shows I actually WATCH include zombies, NCIS agents, and blasts from the past. I always enjoy tuning into the United Federation of Planets, and new and old Doctor Who.

Are you hopelessly bored by grading those hundred-some math homework papers with all their peculiar, fascinating, never-before-seen mathematical operations? Try Cops. Or check out various options on the Food Network. You don’t have to watch them running around trying to make cupcakes. just look up to see the final wildlife-themed display.

In grading, as Mary Poppins said, “just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”



A secret job perk I failed to see

action month

This post will be so personal that I have doubts about sharing. But authenticity requires honesty. Besides, I desperately need to get organized and disentangled, and a blog I already pay for seems like a perfectly good site for that effort. Maybe someone else will benefit from my efforts to get myself together.

I read that line and think “Aspiring Life Coach Alert! Emergency! Everybody to get from street! Emergency! Everybody to get from street!” For those who have never seen the movie “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” here’s a fun link:

So what am I realizing as I relax and write in the blue room, or Marianos, or the hospital bed, or wherever? The fact that I am ADHD to a high degree does not come as any lightening bolt from the cloudless, clear, blue sky. I knew that. What I did not realize was the extent to which my job protected me from that fact. As the literature indicates, many ADHD persons are capable of what is called “hyperfocus.” To steal a definition from the internet: “Hyperfocus is the experience of deep and intense concentration in people with ADHD. ADHD is not necessarily a deficit of attention, but rather a problem with regulating one’s attention span. So, while mundane tasks may be difficult to focus on, others may be completely absorbing.”

Well, ummm… yes. I always did my homework in loud restaurants, beaches or other public venues when possible. The more noise, the easier it seemed to concentrate. I still work to music and the TV regularly. “Cops” helps me concentrate. I can’t think how many papers I have graded with Cops, Family Feud or Snapped in the background. My attention span seems to benefit from excluding background stimuli. I can sit for longer when the world’s less quiet.

I am frequently at my best in a crisis, at least the right kind of crisis. Problem-solving mode kicks in and, damn, do I enjoy solving problems. Critical thinking under pressure suits me. I think that’s why I chose the job that seemed to mystify many of my friends. Why do you teach there? They would ask.

My job was a perpetual crisis of one kind or another. On some level, I liked that. I liked swerving around the glass in the parking lot. I liked talking down hysterical students in hallways. I liked helping kids who genuinely needed my help, and North Chicago was filled with struggling kids who needed an advocate, not to mention a whole lot of remedial math and English. In many ways, the job was perfect. Even the grade level might have been perfect; when you are looking for trouble, finding a seventh grader has to be good place to start.

But I am realizing now that I relied on that craziness to keep me organized. Ironically, managing 12 tasks seems much easier to me than managing 4 tasks. The job forced me into hyperfocus, where I was at my best, or at least my most efficient. I am dropping balls now unintentionally and postponing tasks that are not urgent. I am scattered. Where is that stupid charge card? Why do I have to pick up the phone charger from the hospital?

Eduhonesty: I am going to have to create a more efficient system for managing my daily life, filled with lists and phone alerts, until I get a handle on the new routine. Then I strongly suspect I will turn off the phone. Or I will lose the file and/or paper on which I have recorded my new system. I may just neglect to look at that file as it sits waiting for me on an electronic device somewhere.  I am pretty sure daily routines are not me.

But I could use a few more of them. Work made those routines necessary. I did not appreciate that advantage to my position until recently.


A sea of epi-pens

imagePosted on every door of the early childhood school I subbed  for before I started my maternity position at the middle school, I asked about the signs. Most classes had serious or even life-threatening allergies. In my middle school, maternity position, I opened a white notebook of accommodations and medical conditions to find EpiPen after EpiPen, along with notes about how mom had to go on any field trips as well as instructions to immediately call 911.

The world  is shifting under us. Whether in response to environmental toxins or other horses of the apocalypse, like climate change, I submit these allergies represent a change that can no longer be explained away by “better data.”

In the meantime, this post is for parents. When they send home that list of food restrictions, please take it seriously. Even if your child has no problems, those allergies out there are real. Kids share or swap food all the time, and sometimes no adult is watching. Kids just naturally slime the area around them, too.

Eduhonesty: When in doubt, please toss suspicious items out of that lunch or snack. I keep getting trained to use that EpiPen, but the thought of plunging a big load of epinephrine into some little kid’s thigh scares me. I have not had to go there yet, but America has reached the point where some districts even require mandatory EpiPen training for subs.  Every time the nurse demonstrates that orange-capped device, I honestly cringe.