Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Response to Survey on Regimentation and Creativity in School Reform-From a Parent and Teacher in Upstate NY

Parent perspective

What percentage of the changes in your school's pedagogy and curriculum, implemented in the last two years, have been designed to stimulate greater creativity in your child and nurture independent thinking?

I would have to say close to 0%. I do like some of the higher order thinking that is theoretically part of the Common Core; however, curriculum is often developmentally inappropriate even for the strongest students. The Core does NOT nurture independent thinking but seems to encourage students to manufacture similar responses. Lastly, the wording of many of the texts and tests is so confusing that it creates frustration in young children, their teachers and their parents. My happy-go-lucky son has had quite a few tearful breakdowns over homework and testing this year. By the middle of the second quarter, he was frustrated and burnt out.

What percentage of those changes have led to greater regimentation, discipline and efforts to enforce mastery of a fixed body of knowledge?

I do believe that we are forcing a fixed body of knowledge on innocent, vulnerable children, which is in turn destroying their curiosity and love of learning. Students are now losing recess more than ever. Many teachers feel forced to teach to a test. Sadly, my son is the student of one of these teachers. Though I have approached her via meetings, phone calls and email to indicate that my son thrives on creative learning, she has stuck to her guns, and my son will take over 500 pages of tests in 3rd grade. I am ashamed that this is allowed to go on, but when I meet with the principal, she indicates that the teacher is doing what she feels is right. As a mother, I’m torn up about this. I would guess a high percentage of the changes we have seen with APPR and the Core Curriculum have led to greater regimentation, discipline and enforcement of a fixed body of knowledge.

Educator perspective:

What percentage of the new protocols for teacher evaluation and student learning, and the professional development that has accompanied them, has empowered you to be more creative and innovative in the classroom?

What percentage of those protocols have eroded your autonomy, undermined your ability to connect with your students, and made you doubt whether you wanted to stay in the profession?

I would say close to 0% of new protocols have allowed me to be more creative. There are less and less extras, very few field trips or hands on lessons, and the lame professional development we have been offered has been a true waste of time because my colleagues and I need any “extra” time to create interim exams, SLO’s, and do data analysis.
 I have started using a smart board this year because one was placed in my classroom, but I have had no training on how to use it. Other than that, the Silver Strong APPR model that my union/district agreed upon does not inspire me very much because it is so time consuming and takes valuable time away from my students and my planning for students. I will give you a specific example that has bothered me since it happened. On top of 5 evaluations, lengthy pre-observation paperwork, observation paperwork, and post-observation work, I have to create an “evidence binder” to prove my worth. It is due June 1st, so I have had to start filling it.  One day last week, a former student approached me with the newest chapter of a novel she has been working on (and I have been editing) for two years. I was excited to read it! It was lunch time, and I was eating at my desk helping other students, so I placed it on top of my pile to read as soon as I got the chance. That afternoon, I had some feelings of panic about the red binder that had been sitting near my desk staring at me since October. (We had a very short meeting about them in September, but did not receive the actual binders until October. The binder will be 20% of our teacher score.) So, I decided to start photocopying, printing and taking pictures of my room during my prep set. (Yes, we need to take pictures of our room to three hole punch and place in the binder, but we have no color printer to print them on, so I e-mail them to myself and print at home then bring them back to school!) I was lost in paperwork when I heard an excited, familiar voice behind me asking, “What did you think of my new chapter?”
As you can guess, I hadn’t had time to read it, and it hurt me to think that I felt I had to put that binder before my budding writer. THE THOUGHT THAT THESE KINDS OF THINGS ARE NOW HAPPENING EVERY DAY, IN SCHOOLS ALL ACROSS THIS COUNTRY, MAKES ME SICK TO MY STOMACH AND SO VERY ANGRY. I would say that a pretty high percentage (50% or higher) of new protocols have eroded my autonomy and undermined my ability to connect with students. For the first time in seventeen years, I daydream about leaving the profession.

If the overwhelming majority of the new policies undermine creativity, and encourage regimentation, in both students and teachers, what does that say about the future of civic life in the United States? What does it say about the kind of society we are becoming?

I am scared of the society in which my children and students are growing up. Starting with “No Child Left Behind”, we have fostered a generation of uninspired test takers and have perpetuated the cycle of poverty and welfare in our country by not preparing students for the real world. There are very few common sense classes anymore, such as parenting classes, business classes, study skills, etc. In the rural district I teach in, these are truly a necessity, but it’s often about the newest test.

Are there elements of "fascism" in our current education policy and discourse, or is that too strong a word to apply to what is going on?

Elements of Fascism? Sadly, I suppose so. People on the outside are making decisions that are not well-informed and are forcing a body of knowledge on schools in a “one size fits all” approach. The slower learners fail, and, in my opinion, gifted students like my son are also set up to fail.  We are stripping children of their individuality, and I struggle with this every single day. 

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