Tuesday, July 30, 2013

An Open Letter to the NC GOP

An Open Letter to the NC GOP:

You have failed the children of your state.

This is not meant to be just a dramatic sentiment that pulls the heartstrings of the reader. It is meant to remind the people who put you into office that you are incapable of doing what is best for children.  

With your new budget, you have effectively dismantled the education system in your state and sent a clear message to all of your teachers. That message is: get out while you can.

Who among you in the legislature wants to feel devalued in their profession? Who among you would like to better themselves professionally at your own expense without seeing the rewards of doing so? Who among you would like the rug pulled out from under you every time you turn around? Who among you would like to lose their job when a poorly constructed performance evaluation indicates that you are terrible at what you do though the parameters of the evaluation are, in large part, beyond your control? Who among you qualifies for public assistance as an educated and employed professional?

A decade ago, there were projections being made about the number of teachers that North Carolina would need in the coming years. At the time, back in 2003, it was tens of thousands. Because of the populations of students in some of your neediest areas, teacher turnover was already excessively high, and that’s before factoring in class sizes, high-stakes testing, and low pay. Exclusive of teacher assistants, NC has approximately 90,000 teachers teaching approximately 1.5 million students. That’s a ratio of about 1 teacher for every 17 students, a generalization that doesn’t factor in geography, population concentrations, content area numbers or grade level numbers. That generalization also doesn’t factor in which of those 90,000 teachers are Special Ed or intervention level support. We do know that class sizes are already too large in many cases and they are about to get larger.

The legislature has paved a road of inequity upon which a mass exodus of teachers in your state will walk.

When you planned for the gutting of education in NC, did you also plan for the consequences; the ramifications of your actions? What will this mean a year from now? 5 years from now? 10 years from now? Is public education blatantly being sidelined in preparation for the privatization of learning, a step that will reward the haves and punish the have nots? Did you plan for who will ultimately clean up the mess you’ve created, which, in the long run will be potentially more expensive than justly funding education in the first place?

I’m ashamed of your willingness to make your constituents feel abandoned and hopeless. I’m sad that the pervasive mood going into the next school year is one of defeat, anguish, and despair. I’m deeply troubled that students will ultimately be the ones affected when the quality teachers move on to greener pastures.

The only hope I have is that those NC Teachers going back into their classrooms this Fall will teach civic responsibility, community values, and critical thinking like they’ve never taught them before, so that this generation doesn’t grow up believing that public education is an undeserving budgetary castaway. I hope that NC Teachers will teach how deeply we must know our elected officials and what they stand for and what they won’t stand for.

I also hope that your children, especially those in public schools, have what they need to be prepared for college or careers in light of the extraordinary obstacles you have placed in front of your state’s teachers.

I stand in solidarity today with my educator brothers and sisters in North Carolina.

Mike Fisher
Former NC Teacher

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Dealing with the Random Standard

I’m largely okay with the Common Core Standards.

Anyone who reads me regularly already knows this. There are limitations, sure, but by and large, they are better than previous individual state standards that, for the most part, prepare children for 1992, but aren’t so great at preparing them for 2025.

That said, there are places where the standards are either inconsistent, out of order, or blatantly strange. This blog post is about the blatantly strange. This blog post is about Reading for Literature, standard #6, for grades 9 and 10. Here’s what the standard says explicitly:

Image: @Janet_Hale from her CCSSELAPP.com web app

Everything up to this point in the 6th Reading for Literature standard, and in the standard after, are all dealing with Points of View (or perspectives) on a sophisticated level from one grade level to another. Then, in 9th grade, we drop the “outside the United States” part in there where it hasn’t been seen before and won’t be seen in the 11th and 12th grade. Random. Random. Random.

However, random or not, we still have to deal with it.

My colleague Janet Hale, who brought this standard’s specificity to my attention, and I had an in-depth conversation about finding appropriate middle-school and high-school works from a “wide range of world literature” given that the works cannot be published in America, even if the story focus is from another country (The Kite Runner, for example).

We were struggling to come up with quality texts that were both worthy of cross-cultural analysis and had analogues or comparative universal themes. We wanted to attend to the capacities around global perspectives without being U.S.-centric while also attending to the valuing-evidence and critical-thinking capacities.

After continued discussion of the implications of this standard while considering curriculum design, we decided that it would be advantageous to tweet out about our thoughts and leverage our digital learning network to find world literature (especially short stories) read by middle-school and high-school students in other countries that American students can read via an English translation. Not an easy task, but we started getting titles from around the world.

Why does this matter?

Let’s take a look at the Grade 9 unit from Engage NY, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”  Here are the standards addressed in this unit:

Image: Engage NY, screenshot from Grade 9 unit

Notice that the Reading for Literature standard number 6 is an anchor standard (RL.6) rather than a grade-specific standard (RL.9-10.6). Using the grade-specific standard would necessitate a work of literature from outside the United States as well as an American-published text, keeping in mind that analysis is also part of the standard.

To be fair, a key design feature of these Odell Education’s materials is adaptability--the ability to use some of the strategies and supports around a different text. This is important. Because Odell chose to focus on the anchor standard, they are maintaining the spirit of “point of view” and “perspective”, which is one way to deal with what may appear to be a random standard.

Is it okay to always revert back to the anchor standard when a grade level-specific standard is difficult to address? Not really, though it is dependent on several factors, primarily on whether or not the standard addresses content that will be frequently assessed, has leverage in other content areas, or is a lifelong skill that students will need. Another dependent factor is readiness. Previous to the 9th grade standard, there is no mention of texts outside the United States, but it doesn’t mean the support in previous grade levels should be ignored. The College and Career readiness capacities, which I see as the umbrella of the ELA standards document, demand that students who are college and career ready “come to understand other perspectives and cultures.” Even if not specifically in the standards, we can apply this capacity to instruction in both planning and action.

While there are teachers who may have flexibility concerning which grade-level standards get a stronger emphasis, what about those teachers who must adhere to the letter of the grade specific standard versus the spirit of the anchor standards?

This question brings us back to our digital learning network’s collaborative Google doc. We need resources to be able to engage this standard and we need a worldwide cadre of educators to connect and discuss with. We don’t yet know if all of the recommendations are appropriate (e.g., text complexity, rigor) given that they are new texts to us, some of the intended rigor or complexity may be subjective, particularly if they are being used based solely on quantitative measures (Lexiles). Through reading and analysis of qualitative measures and reader/task considerations, conversations around these international texts could yield wonderful opportunities for classroom use or possible unit substitution as a resource. (Janet and I also love the idea of having international students Skyping with American students during and after they read one another’s text based on deep understanding of the text, universal themes, and subsequent analysis found in both texts.)

So, in a nutshell, let’s recap how a teacher might deal with the random standard:

  • Revert back to the anchor standard, the “spirit” of what students need to know and be able to do.
  • Address the standard specifically with new resources and collaborative curriculum design. (Perhaps even have conversations about scaffolding in previous grade levels for the sake of readiness to meet the standard where it lives in a particular grade level.) This attends to the “letter” of what students need to know and be able to do.
  • Be mindful of how the random standard relates to the College and Career Readiness capacities and plan accordingly. This attends to a more overarching vision of college and career readiness that is perfectly appropriate to consider when planning and delivering instruction.

The blatantly strange standards sometimes give us great launching points for collaboration, global conversations, and shared resources, as it has in this case. If you’d like to continue the discussion, please comment below, contact me or contact Janet, or contribute to the Google Doc yourself.

Upgrade Your Curriculum, now available from the ASCD Bookstore.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Awesome (FREE!) Summer PD Opportunity!

Janet Hale and I have just recently finished working on a Learning Path for EduPlanet21's Flipped Learning Online Professional Development Website. We used the Upgrade Your Curriculum book as a basis to create a "24-7" "always available" workshop that participants can work through on their own time.

In order to start populating the Learning Path, we are looking for 10 volunteers to complete the Learning Path this summer. The entire path, from beginning to end will take about 6-8 hours to finish, though the implementation will involve actually teaching the upgrade and providing feedback. (Summer school teachers are welcome!) There is not an expectation that the Learning Path must be done in a day, or during a small window of time. The beauty of the system is that it can be done on YOUR time.

Eduplanet21 is giving Janet and I 10 free licenses to work through the Learning Path this summer, so that we can tweak whatever needs to be tweaked and refine and revise based on user feedback. If you are interested in participating in this field test opportunity, please respond below in the comments section or send me a message via Twitter to @fisher1000. We are looking for those that will be able to commit to contributing to the full Path, though there will be no charge whatsoever! Totally free opportunity!

If you'd like a sneak peek at the preview trailer for our Learning Path, CLICK HERE!

If you'd like to be part of the initial cohort, we'd love to have you! Janet and I look forward to working with you!