Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to our readers and colleagues, we hope everyone takes time to enjoy the day. 

We're grateful to everyone who's taken the time to read the blog, offer advice, encouragement, and the hard-won, "right on!"

WCT will be back with biting commentary once the tryptophan wears off.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bootstrappin' It!

Welcome back to the Gilded Age of bootstraps, grit, gettin' tough, and the beginnings of American plutocracy.

Frank Bruni, the New York Times food aficionado (how very bohemian bourgeois) turned education expert (how very 21st century plutocrat) sounded the alarm for school-children everywhere: get tough or stay stupid! 

Yes, reader, it's time for this year's Horatio Alger speech. We know it well: only through leading lives of excellence, nobly struggling against poverty, and facing adversity will we succeed. When all of the talk of bootstraps, toughness, and grit start flying fast, it's helpful to remember Horatio Alger wrote fictional stories. His characters sometimes succeeded through the help of a benevolent, wealthy person, too. 

In Bruni's version of this timeworn tale, the struggle we must undertake is the "laudable" Common Core. This will save us from becoming a nation of over-privileged (and under-tested!) layabouts. We assume the wealthy person is played by profiteers and plutocrats everywhere, though their helpfulness is questionable.

Bruni trots out the tired complaints that we live in a "cult of self-esteem" as he cites Common Core architect Daniel Coleman who says that the Common Core is so transformative it will transform the very idea of self-esteem. Self-esteem is now newly defined as something only achieved through hard work! 

We wonder what schools Bruni visited. Having spent considerable time in urban, public schools, we can't say students are exactly self-congratulatory. Instead, we have noticed students who:
  • Enter with skills several grade levels below the grade they're currently enrolled in
  • Bring disruptive behavior with them to the classroom
  • Can't concentrate because of lack of food, sleep, or parental presence
  • Seek lots of attention
  • Work several jobs, take care of siblings, and barely stay afloat
Bruni and others of his ilk would call this making excuses, instead of acknowledging the changing reality of urban America. Embedded in Bruni's spare the rod and spoil the child plea is the notion that students need to experience failure or else they won't go anywhere "big and real." 

On the contrary, many students in your average, urban school experience repeated, large failures. Still, they continue to show up with a decent attitude. Perhaps Coleman, et. al. should consider developing a standard for failure that can be demonstrated to be sure kids everywhere work appropriately hard to simply feel secure.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Education Colonization

The Redcoats Are Coming!

Where's Paul Revere when you need him? 

Some 38 CPS schools have been visited by mega-Thought Partners Cambridge Education, LLCsubsidiary of the UK-based Mott MacDonald. Tagline: Global Engineering Management and Development Consultants. That sure has a local ring to it!

Mott MacDonald's Education division has made in-roads in the following countries: Burundi, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Uganda. Next stop: Chicago. 

One might ask why a foreign-owned corporation is advising urban, American schools?  Or, what a UK based company knows about American education? And, do urban, American schools so closely resemble the schools of developing nations they warrant advising from a global conglomerate? We're confused, but we do know that staff whose schools were visited were asked questions like:

  • How do you know students are learning?
  • What does good teaching look like?
  • How do you know you have a functioning school?
Valuable questions to be sure, but why does CPS need to pay an outside "partner" to ask these questions? Teachers do a lot of reading and thinking, and are even known to be reflective, so often teachers within a school are asking and answering these questions all the time. Since CPS has so much cash floating around, they must feel spending $2 million dollars to get such answers is wise. 

To Cambridge, districts and students are paying clients. Hence the 100+ page prospectus submitted to CPS. Highlights include:
  • $1.6 billion dollars in revenue (we're fond of this phrase at WCT: Cha-ching!)
  • Two large California charter school districts as clients (Thanks to them, California can now be rebranded "the Excellence State" instead of "the Golden State")
  • Work with Bridgeport, CT public schools (see: Paul Vallas)
The "services" they offer, aside from inquisitiveness, include baffling graphics that describe such unheard of phenomena as: 
  • The humid classroom
  • The cold classroom
  • The stormy classroom
One of the many dubious services they tout is change management. Change management is defined as, "an approach to transitioning individuals to a desired future state." This sounds like hospice to us. 

We can only imagine what CPS has in mind for the desired future state of its schools.

Teachers: Has your school been visited by Cambridge? What do you think?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wanted: Extra Large Desk for 6'6" 3rd Grader

Arne Duncan's been busy walking back his statement from Friday about his fascination with white suburban moms and their hesitance to embrace Common Core. In his opinion, their resistance stems from the fact that it might make their kids seem less brilliant and that's scary. We suspect of all the things moms find scary, their child's brilliance and its relation to Common Core is not one of them. 

You can read reactions to his statement here, here, herehere, and here. It seems people, and not just white suburban moms, are mad. 

Duncan's apology is wrapped in the guise of high standards for everyone, everywhere. So take that suburbia! Or is it the inner city! We're not sure. But, he wants everyone to sit down and have a difficult conversation about:
  • Improvement for everyone!
  • Bringing about individual brilliance!
  • The educational reality we've been hiding (we've always assumed the educational reality we've been hiding is poverty, but Duncan thinks it's a lack of high standards)
The solution to all of this is, of course, Common Core! Since Duncan is its biggest fan, we thought we'd evaluate his initial statement and subsequent apology according to the standards he's advocating for.

We made the mistake and started with the 12th grade standards for Literacy, and then began crossing out the attributes Duncan couldn't demonstrate:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1a Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas. (Points for showing up for speech!)
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1b Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed. (Duncan does work effectively with education profiteers)
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1c Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives. (He sure has generated some conversations!)
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1d Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information or research is required to deepen the investigation or complete the task. (He did "apologize.")
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks. (Oops! Reteach!)
His apology indicates he may be ready to attempt 3rd grade standards (no offense to 3rd graders):

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1a Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion. (Duncan: "Research demonstrates that as a country, every demographic group has room for improvement. Raising standards has come with challenging news in a variety of places; scores have dropped as a result of a more realistic assessment of students’ knowledge and skills.")
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1b Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., gaining the floor in respectful ways, listening to others with care, speaking one at a time about the topics and texts under discussion). (Duncan: "A few days ago, in a discussion with state education chiefs, I used some clumsy phrasing that I regret.")
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1c Ask questions to check understanding of information presented, stay on topic, and link their comments to the remarks of others. (While he still needs improvement in this area, we're confident he can improve with practice!)
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1d Explain their own ideas and understanding in light of the discussion. (Duncan: "I want to encourage a difficult conversation and challenge the underlying assumption that when we talk about the need to improve our nation’s schools, we are talking only about poor minority students in inner cities.")
Readers: if you know of a good 3rd classroom for this student, please let us know, he'd be an ace on the basketball team!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Nov. 18th Means No Thanks to Plutocrats

147.9 million reasons to say no to CCSS

Fellow blogger Mercedes Schneider carefully details all of the philanthrocapitalist dabbling Bill Gates has engaged in to develop Common Core. WCT took the weekend off and we're a little foggy today, but it seems like Bill Gates-- as 21st century plutocrats are wont to--attempted to cloak his involvement in CCSS by throwing gobs of money at the four organizations who coordinated this state-led Gates-led effort:
  • The National Governors Association
  • Student Achievement Partners
  • The Council of Chief State School Officers
  • Achieve
Schneider points out that these four organizations have received $147.9 million dollars from Gates. Cha-ching! 

With all of that money, you'd think these organizations would ensure quality curriculum instead of this:
  • Choose the number sentence that shows the story (what's a number sentence?)
  • Write a number sentence that shows the missing number of marbles (is this English or math?)
  • Which is a related subtraction sentence? (The Pearson people are sure obsessed with sentences!)
One of Bill Gates' partners in plutocracy is Arne Duncan. Common Core has falsely been promoted as state-led, when in fact Duncan and the federal government are the brains of the operation. However, we can infer from Duncan't most recent comment that he doesn't have a brain:

"It's fascinating to me that some of the pushback [against Common Core] is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who--all of a sudden--their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were..."

Consider Duncan's inane, insulting, race-bating statement reason number 157 million to say no to CC.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Neighborhood Schools Fair

Today Chicago parents are hosting a Neighborhood Schools Fair at Roberto Clemente High School, 1147 N. Western Ave. in Chicago. Since the district won't host an event highlighting neighborhood schools, parents felt they had to. 

Readers: if you're considering neighborhood schools for your kids, or just curious as to what your neighborhood school has to offer, make your way to Roberto Clemente and see what it's all about. We hope there's a great turn out!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Who are Educational Profiteers, really?

Here at WCT we like to use the term "educational profiteer" to describe people and organizations who become wealthy and powerful through public education.  Lots of principals and superintendents could be considered wealthy and powerful.  Educational profiteers, however, do nothing that actually benefits the reason why schools exist:  students.

Chicago's educational profiteers come in a few categories:

1. Charter school profiteers.  For example, it is suggested that the closures of 53 CPS schools were designed to create profit-opportunities for charter profiteers, who, incidentally, don't the have inconvenience of  having to accommodate the needs of low-performing students who might have been displaced.  Cha-ching!

2. Educational coach profiteers.  These business-savvy folks make big bucks advising.  Last year, Hancock High School paid one partner $740,264.00.  Amongst other duties defined with the usual mumbo-jumbo, these profiteers:
"Provide principals with assistance and support to implement data-informed instruction, utilizing interim assessments, learning first and local assessments, to inform pedagogy."
The confusing commas and word order are part of their plan to dazzle us with words.  Additionally, these profiteers further conceal themselves with their plutocrat cloaks:  the cloak of the irreproachable do-gooder. Many educational coach profiteers wisely align themselves with  exemplary institutions like the Neighborhood Schools Program at the University of Chicago. UChicago + "serving low-income students" + corporate salary?  Cha-ching!

3. Vendor profiteers selling consulting services.  This one is complicated, so we'll break down the dubious CPS spending, as detailed on their Department of Procurement page

     A. 50 million dollars to 65 vendors for "Consulting Services." A quick inspection of one of the 65, "Brain Hurricane" tells us that:

  • They didn't splurge on their web design
  • They don't offer any ideas that a normal teacher can't think up themselves
  • They get paid a cool $2604 per student, with a guarantee of 4000 students  -- Cha-ching!

     B. 50 million dollars to 2 vendors for additional "Consulting Services."  The two vendors are "Academic Solutions" and Sylvan.  Basic internet research yields that:

  • Sylvan is a massive, nation-wide, pure-profit-based private enterprise -- Cha-ching!
  • "Academic Solutions" appears to be a conglomerate of various vendors selling tutoring, headed by CEO Jermaine Young.  Linked In helpfully notes that we should "Contact Jermaine for career opportunities, consulting offers and business deals."  Cha-ching!

To sum up A and B,  if we've done our math correctly, CPS spends ONE BILLION dollars on consulting services.  Could that be right? Granted, No Child Left Behind "requires that supplemental educational services be provided to certain low-income, low-performing students."  But we wonder -- how come they're not working?

One thing is for certain, though.  Educational profiteers everywhere have their fingers crossed for many, many more years to come of low-income, low-performing students to $erve.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Rank and Yank REACH

Stack this!

Microsoft made big news today when it abandoned its controversial, largely destructive employee ranking system called stack ranking where employees are pitted against each other to earn gold stars from their bosses. Sounds an awful lot like CPS's REACH

Stack ranking, or rank and yank, requires managers to rate employees against each other and assign a numerical rating.  These ratings usually follow a bell curve: 20% receive the highest rating, 70% receive a good rating, and 10% are rated lowest and shown the door. Critics argue this system is unfairly rigid, so we can see how it sounds like the ideal strategy to account for a dynamic, ever-changing school system!

Among the negative attributes of stack ranking are:
  • Employees unwilling to work with each other for fear of others receiving a higher rating.
  • Employees openly sabotaging co-workers so they maintain a top rating.
  • Short-term individual focus of getting the highest ranking versus a long-term focus of working toward a common goal.

As formal observations begin, we can already imagine the pitfalls of REACH:
  • Teachers who are unwilling to collaborate for fear their colleagues will get a better rating.
  • Teachers who begin volunteering for everything to score brownie points with the admin.
  • Teachers who are increasingly paranoid about the constant surveilling of their teaching practices, grades, room appearance, and attitude.
  • Teachers who no longer share a once-common goal of advocating for and helping students improve, but instead feel they must advocate for themselves first.
If schools can no longer follow the outdated model of "helping teachers teach" and must pick a corporation to follow, then they should at least follow Google's lead (and high stock price! Cha-ching!!) and encourage teachers to take time to pursue what they're interested in. However, this approach assumes that teachers are people whose thinking is valued, not just parts of the corporate education machine rolling over everything in its path all the while helping profiteers add to their bottom line.

Readers: has REACH changed your school? For our parent readers out there, have you noticed any change in teaching, good or bad? Click anonymous in the comment section and let us know!

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Textbook, You Say?

Oh, it's the teachers' fault!

We're nothing if not helpful at WCT, so we're going to give the Illinois State Board of Education and CPS a heads up: when you inevitably recommend that force schools to adopt Pearson Education and their array of CCSS products and those products just, well, suck: don't blame the teachers! 

New York City educators have pointed out numerous problems with some of Pearson's materials. Teachers found questions unrelated to the reading, missing pages within books, and tasks that were not age-appropriate such as kindergartners drawing the meanings of words like "responsibility" and "distance."

In an unoriginal move, Pearson's PR department along with the NYC Board of Ed. chose to blame these hiccups screw-ups on...teachers! Thanks, guys. Apparently, these "new" textbooks, teachers' guides and worksheets may have caused teachers to "struggle" in their implementation. Yes, because textbooks are so tricky.

Here's another tip: if it's one thing teachers aren't confused about, it's how textbooks work. Teachers struggle with textbooks because they're not very good or outdated, not because they don't get their function. 

After all, if teachers can navigate bullshit initiatives, ever-changing administrative directives, and unstable work environments, crappy textbooks are no problem. Try again, Pearson.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hey Educational Plutocrats -- we're on to you!

As urban public school teachers, we aren't the cleverest when it comes to the business world.  If we were business-savvy, we wouldn't be driving 10-year old cars, clipping coupons, shopping at Kohl's and coloring our own hair.  But we do like to read, and we've been reading about rich people.  We've learned a lot!

So it seems that there is, and always has been, a class of people called plutocrats who dominate society through their great wealth.  Filthy rich Roman plutocrats smashed their dishes after dinner parties to celebrate. When we think of American 20th century plutocrats, we think of Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly:  top hat, monocle, mustachio.  We think of Rockefeller and Carnegie.  Back in the day, the benefit of being filthy rich was that you got to be filthy rich!  Sure, you might found a university or an orphanage, but you also got to enjoy -- conspicuously -- your homes, your boats, your furs, your jewels and your bespoke clothing.

But then things changed during the 1960s.  A lot of people started having new ideas about things like treating minorities and women fairly, preserving the environment, and butting out of foreign wars.  This was the beginning of the idea that it's uncool to be filthy rich.

Uncle Pennybags resurfaced during the Reagan/Thatcher years, when Wall Street brokering and the Preppy Handbook were briefly fashionable, and yet the election of our first self-professed black president, Bill Clinton, marked the transition back into some 1960s thinking.

The bohemian bourgeois of the 1990s (the rich people for whom a $40,000 speedboat is unspeakably vulgar but a $40,000 zen bathroom is an absolute must-have) have evolved and increased their wealth. Some of them were thought to represent the 1% against whose power the other 99% ineffectively demonstrated in the Occupy movement.  The Occupy folks got it wrong -- they were demonstrating against only MINOR plutocrats, not the big hogs.  And these big hogs wear very different clothes than Uncle Pennybags.

These NEW filthy rich folks, like Bill Gates and Eli Broad,  wear a cloak that makes them irreproachable.  This cloak is very different from the top hats, furs and bespoke clothing of historical filthy rich people.  THIS cloak is constructed from bohemian bourgeois attitudes gleaned from the 90s woven into a very au courant and savvy philanthro-capitalism: the organizations and federal-policy-shaping endeavors which purport to tran$form, amongst other things, urban schools. This cloak is a win-win garment:  it permits trickle-down profit to educational profiteers everywhere, while maintaining the wearer's status as hog-with-the-big-nuts who has a social conscience, PLUS, admiration from a lot of the 99%.  If these guys were medieval royalty, they would DEFINITELY have purchased a choice spot in Heaven -- maybe not seated at the right hand of the Father, but close. We can't blame them completely for wearing this cloak, though, because it's the required uniform for contemporary American plutocrats.  Kind of like top hats 100 years ago.

We would really admire Bill Gates and his ilk if they made one of two choices:

1. To donate most of their wealth, Peter Singer-style, to actually solving American poverty.  Eli Broad, seeder of American urban districts with Broad Institute $uperintendants, has a net worth of 6.3 BILLION dollars.  If he gave away 90% of his dough, he would STILL have 630 MILLION dollars. A few ways to actually chip away at poverty might involve providing a complete remodel to inner-city areas of devastation, establishing a nation-wide system of full-day child enrichment and health programs for poor children from birth to five, and supporting humane and dignified ways to give people reason and opportunity to regulate their own fertility until they are in the position to adequately raise children.


2. To enjoy their wealth in Uncle Pennybags-style, as is the wont of plutocrats.

Perks for teachers?

The most commonly-held "perks" associated with teaching usually include:

1. Paid summers/Christmas off (but not anymore, CPS teachers!  No more deferred pay for us!  And no more "summers off" if you're non-tenured or working for a principal with his hopes up for getting rid of "tenured do-nothings")

2. "Shorter" work day (Not if you want to keep up with your day-ta!)

3. The opportunity to enrich young people's lives (Yes, of course, but isn't that the JOB THAT WE'RE PAID TO PERFORM, rather than a "perk"?)

We all know that educational experts everywhere are embracing corporate models for schools, giving teachers myriad opportunities to attend meetings about meetings, and also to generate, inspect, and - ahem - manipulate data.  We also know that new urban reformers love "corporate churn," the idea that high staff turnover and constantly changing administrative demands leads to higher productivity.  And of course, we all know about the opportunities out there for corporate educational profiteers to a$$ist in generating new ways to inspect teachers' failures.

But what about the corporate perks?  We've heard about corporate places where staff members get awesome things at work.  In fact, Career Builder did a survey and found out about five awesome corporate perks that keep staff members happy and productive:

1. Catered lunches
2. Massages
3. Nap rooms
4. Snack carts
5. On-site daycare

Boy, do those things sound great!  We know that it's unlikely that urban educational reformers will put the corporate perks into the corporate models for schools, so we've created an alternate list of perks that we'd like to see at our school:

1. Non-roach-infested storage space
2. Non-developing-nation staff bathroom conditions
3. Food available to buy -- even in a vending machine -- during our 25 minute lunch
4. Somewhere comfortable to sit down during planning periods

And last, but not least, maybe a cup of coffee (we'll pay!)?  And a thank-you from the boss every once in a while?

Leave a comment or email with perks you think teachers might enjoy.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Meet Chicago Bond Mutant: Juahm Emanugel

Time to dig out your notes from your college Econ class, readers! We're taking a look at UNO's finances, and it's not pretty.

We're not forensic accountants at WCT, but we sure could have used a team of accountants and MBAs to explain all the numbers in this alarming presentation on UNO Charter Schools. Researched and presented by Byron Sigcho several weeks ago and hosted by fellow blogger Rogers Park Neighbors for Public Schools, this presentation should be required reading on how private industry seeks to profit off the public and what charter schools have to do with it.

Educational excellence in the 21st century has become synonymous with the charter movement.  Neighborhoods might not be so welcoming to these schools--especially UNO--if they understood how they operated. 

Here are a few highlights, or rather lowlights, of UNO's finances:
  • This year, UNO will generate $91 million dollars of debt, $61 million of which is private loans.
  • UNO is paying over $2 million dollars a year in debt interest, while only paying $70,000 a year toward the principal (maybe UNO never went on a college spending spree, but we learned the hard way you can't just pay interest!).
  • The bonds that UNO has issued are backed by the state, meaning that the state can use any available revenues including taxes, to repay the investors. In UNO's case,  one investor is the local Nuveen Securities. Those investors are waiting for some high yield returns, while taxpayers should await higher taxes! Cha-ching!!
  • "Fees" are listed in the revenue table and are projected to increase each year, kind of like that $7 million $70,000 marijuana ticket ordinance the city was hoping to cash in on. One former UNO teacher said fees are generated when, for example, a student deigns to speak Spanish in the classroom. No excuses, amigos!
  • Despite UNO running a $21,000 per student debt (or $71 million dollars), in 2012 UNO managed to have net revenues and then something we assume is even better: excess net revenues. Revenues on top of revenues? That's some magical accounting.
Ironically, the Tribune published an editorial on Tuesday about Chicago's "runaway bond habit." UNO and City Hall must co-plan because the city has spent $9.8 billion dollar in bonds since 2000 on such items as: spare vehicle parts, trash bins, library books, obsolete software, and other short term issues. 

Bonds are supposed to pay for long-term projects for the benefit of all, not to be used as payday loans which benefit a few.

The entire UNO presentation is available here. We encourage you to take a close look at the information and see for yourself how Rahm Emanuel and Juan Rangel have morphed into the bond mutant Juahm Emanugel. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Double-Secret Meeting

Dean Vernon Wormer calls a meeting

We can't help but wonder if Wednesday's Board of Education closed session for "self-evaluation" was led by the illustrious thought partners who are populating many schools these days.

Perhaps David Vitale and the Board had to answer questions like:
  • Do you think you have high standards for the students?
  • What's the rhythm of the protocol rollout going to be?
  • Are you willing to be vulnerable in a public space?
  • Will you lean into discomfort with us?
and our perennial favorite:
  • Do you like being healthy?
Or, maybe they did an icebreaker called Link Up, where one person stands up to talk about themselves, and then when another person hears something that relates to them, they run up to the front of the room and link arms. Then that person talks, until another person hears something that relates to them. Finally, the whole room is linked up in the knowing communal bliss of being one. What do you think the magic words were that had the Board linking arms, readers? We guess "rich" and "Rahm's appointee."

We do hope the BOE abided the fundamental rule of Thought Partner share time: Stories stay, but lessons leave. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Say No Thanks to Common Core on Nov. 18th

Angry parents nation-wide are calling for a November 18th protest against Common Core standards. Their reasons include:
  • ever-more testing
  • ever-more philanthrocapitalist dabbling
  • incomprehensible homework
  • unrealistic expectations
  • elitist notions about the value of college
  • loss of local input and control
According to Common Core, our CPS high school seniors will be evaluated on their ability to:
Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
Unfortunately, the best of our regular, non-honors CPS high school seniors usually can only:
Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot. 
We think that skill #2 is a fairly complex and intelligent task for 17-18 year olds.  But not Common Core!  According to them, skill #2 is for 6th graders.

What are your thoughts, readers?  Any parents out there with opinions?  Any teachers with strong feelings on Common Core?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Horrible CPS Bosses

Even though National Boss's Day was in October, it's never too late to note all of the ways one's boss can make life miserable. Yes, we all know about horrible bosses all over Chicago who are horrible in conventional ways, like sexually harassing their employees, refusing to let people have a day off to take care of a sick kid, or handing out the layoff notice.  But what about horrible CPS bosses?  Are they really very different from their corporate counterparts? Yes and no, readers.

Forbes published a list of behaviors horrible corporate bosses might share, and sure enough principals we know have picked up on bad corporate behavior like:
  • Never being wrong about anything (check!)
  • Constant staff turnover (check!)
  • Being the Micromanager of micromanaging. With 100 teachers in a building, your principal has a hand in what everyone is doing (check, check, and check!)
  • Turmoil in one's personal life due to "the job." (double check!)
  • Never saying thanks (check!)
Here's a starter list of some horrible things we've seen and heard administrators doing:
  • Sneaky "re-definition" as a way to fire tenured teachers
  • Keeping a special bathroom just for their own use
  • Making female teachers cry at meetings
  • Standing by the time clock as staff are punching in and out
  • Getting rid of staff rooms 
  • Sitting in a teacher's room for "quiet" while a class is going on
  • Cryptic advice that means nothing, yet is expected to be followed
  • Self-congratulatory "inspirational" quotes that are doled out at every turn
  • Disapproval of teachers enjoying a life outside of the school building
Readers: what horrible boss stories do you have? Use the comment link to share!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Did Common Core Consider the Source?


Proponents of the Common Core State Standards are on the offensive lately. Parents are fed up at the prospect of more testing, states are choosing to withdraw from Common Core (we're guessing that's not the kind of choice Arne Duncan means), and teachers are up and quitting because of it.

The outcry over Common Core might explain Common Core: Consider the Source--the sensible sibling to the other Common Core website--that aims to tell the long journey dedicated professionals made in creating Common Core. Consider the Source details the dizzying path to excellence we'll soon be traveling. Incidentally, it also pedals educational platform$ and tool$ to implement the Common Core.

Then there are the Common Core trustees. Two of whom are familiar to our readers: BBB and Juan Rangel. We're confused. Trustee implies one who is in a position of trust. Yet, BBB is at the helm of Chicago Public Schools. CPS and trust do not go together. For example, just a week ago, CPS decided to wreak havoc at Ames Elementary. After that handiworkstudents, parents, and the city were left to guess if this school was: a) having another school move in, b) closing, or c) both. The right answer, of course, is none of the above. A recap: first, another was school moving in, then it wasn't, and now Ames is being renamed and rebranded as a military school. That's decision making you can believe in. Then there's Juan Rangel, head of UNO Charter schools, whose mini-empire is currently in the crosshairs of an SEC investigation. All manner of federal investigations are the sound leadership we've come to know and love.

With Common Core's emphasis on going to the source, critical thinking and higher standards, we can't figure out how these two knuckleheads were entrusted with anything.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

REACHin' For Excellence

In Sunday's CPS issued Teacher Newsletter, we're treated to this sage advice about teaching:
Having spent the last few columns talking about setting high expectations and communicating them to students, scaffolding students to share their thinking, and engaging students in rigorous texts and tasks, it follows naturally that we should next spend time examining just what students actually learned! Component 3d [in REACH] gets at just that: where are students on their path to learning?
Ah yes, our old friends high expectations and rigor. It seems we can't go a day without hearing about high expectations and rigor! We are unsure about how scaffolding students to share thinking is done. But no matter, this is all tied to the new amped-up, excellence-inducing REACH Performance evaluation, of which one goal is to:
  • Establish a common definition and standards for teaching excellence. Yes, because all you need is excellence.
How is this done?
  • Standardized tests! Here, this means "customized performance tasks...which assess student mastery of standards."
If only this applied to the test developers. A reader email tipped us off to what some schools' faculties received via email today:

"...some departments had issues with test fairness and accuracy of the task. A passage may have had inaccurate information in it, the answer key may have been inaccurate and/or incomplete, or the student document never specified how many examples a student had to provide to receive credit."

Inaccurate information? Incomplete answer keys? Unspecified requirements? Teachers' job security is based on possibly inaccurate tests that will measure (or not) what a student learns during the year? Sounds like excellence to us!

Teachers, have you noticed inaccurate REACH exams?