Reign of Error: Diane Ravitch vs. Bill Gates

Our mock interview with Bill Gates on Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates.

Teachers' Letters to Bill Gates

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image courtesy of http://www.good.is.

Dear Bill and Melinda,

Our hopes were dashed when you ignored our invitation to attend Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error Book Tour in Seattle tonight.  Your silence and your continued lack of response to any one of the teachers’ letters to you on this website speak volumes to Americans, particularly public school students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

We prepared some great questions to ask you, but since you apparently have “opted out,” we have instead created this mock interview. Our questions to you are shaped by key arguments Diane Ravitch makes about you and your foundation in her latest book Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Knopf). Your responses are excerpts taken from a variety of speeches you have given on the state of education in the U.S. Of course, your “status quo” answers only…

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Danielson 4a: Reflecting on Teaching ReadyGEN

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As part of Advance, the NYC Department of Education’s new system of teacher evaluation and development, all NYC teachers must submit up to eight artifacts by April 11, 2014.

This requirement falls under the Observation and Other Measures of Teacher Effectiveness component of the plan, which represents 60% of a teacher’s overall score.  The other 40% are based on student test scores: a state or comparable measure, such as the Common Core state assessments in math and ELA, and a locally-selected measure.

These changes, which are a result of the federal government’s Race to the Top mandates, have largely been made in top-down fashion, without real teacher input.

On this site and on others, however, NYC teachers’ voices will be heard.  In fulfilling the first component of the plan, Observation and Other Measures of Teacher Effectiveness, which utilizes the Danielson Framework for Teaching as a rubric, NYC teachers will be writing reflection journals about the impact of Race to the Top (RTTP) polices and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) package on our teaching practice. The reflection journal artifact is aligned to the following Danielson domain and component:

Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities
4a Reflecting on Teaching

We begin with reflections on Pearson’s ReadyGEN, the new NYC DOE Core Curriculum ELA program for grades K-5. -KL

From a third grade Special Education teacher:

I only want to know if Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (for GO Math!) were selling stock options to NYC at a great rate. Why else would anyone, and I mean ANYONE have bought this “snake oil?”

From a fifth grade teacher:

I was ready for this school year, or so I thought. I attended multiple trainings over the summer, spent time reflecting, preparing, and lesson planning. I knew that there would be some big changes with the new NYC DOE Common Core-aligned ELA and math programs adopted by my school. But I had no idea it would be like this. 

Over the past week, I have worked through all of my preps and most of my lunches preparing for this new curriculum. I have also spent one to three hours daily at home. The workload is greater, beyond the normal preparation time, for two main reasons:

1.) The new teacher evaluation plan takes into account detailed and thorough lesson plans.

2.) Two new programs need to be tweaked to fit the needs of my class. Although many teachers are worried about the former, I realize that I am spending so much time planning just to get a grasp on what I am actually going to teach. The ReadyGEN ELA program has so many different components and addresses multiple standards within a single lesson, which leaves little time to delve deeply, explain or focus on anything.

There is so much knowledge that is assumed, that kids know what it means to analyze a text, or to explain how the text features contribute to the readers’ understanding. Sure, I can teach them how to do this, but doesn’t teaching mean showing and doing, or rather, having the kids do it? These lessons seem to be more about telling them to analyze and less about showing them what it means and how to do it. 

I don’t have a problem taking a curriculum and making it my own.  In fact, I would rather do this. I have never been the type to stick to a scripted program, but of course doing this requires even more work. First, I must understand what the main goal of the lesson really is, in relation to the standards (something that should be clear in a teacher’s guide, no?), and then I have to decide how to address the needs of my class while teaching to them the same standard. 
 
So I have this routine. I come home, reflect, and then figure out a way to conquer tomorrow. Expectations are unclear from administrators; they are doing their best to learn it too.  
 
But you want to know the saddest part? The deep, profound impact ReadyGEN is having on my students in a negative way. That’s what’s keeping me up at night. The fact that I have been teaching routines, directions, and skills without being able to delve into the deeper issues of life that really matter. The fact that I can’t teach social studies because there is no time, and what all these programs are really doing is prepping kids to take a test. The fact that I am a cog in the wheel rolling towards a world of charter schools that have no unions, because public schools are being set up for failure. The fact that a student’s parent asked me point blank today, “What can I do to help my son? He is on a second grade reading level and he is in 5th grade. He just came from Bangladesh and is behind.  He needs help. How can I help? How can you help?” I had to tell him to wait, because I can’t meet with small groups quite yet, and because all of the kids are reading the same book because they are all being tested and held to the same standards, and that’s really about it. 
 
It is unfair that teachers have had no time to plan, implement, and understand this new program, and our students are on the receiving end of our trial and error process. They deserve better. As the days go by, I am slowly becoming more and more empowered to chip away pieces of this program and to just teach. I will do what I need to do so that my kids can learn and grow. And I don’t really care if the new rubric doesn’t recognize my effectiveness. If I can help that one student, whose parent reached out to me, I did my job. 

Freedom to Teach, Freedom to Learn: A Year at Mission Hill

Teachers' Letters to Bill Gates

Chapter 8 – The World of Work

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What “college and career ready” really means

Bill,

“College and career ready” is one of your ed reform slogans that’s repeated ad nauseam.  Your way of achieving this goal is to use the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which you pretty much single-handedly funded, to train all US students to think a certain way.  You argue that this will make them more competitive in an increasingly globalized economy.  In doing so, English-language arts and math curricula are narrowing and becoming uniform, and schools, more than ever before, are turning into test prep factories.

In contrast to your vision, which centers on preparing students for high-stakes tests, as an experienced educator of English-language learners, I find Mission Hill’s interpretation of “college and career ready” to be developmentally appropriate and much more engaging than what ed reform, through its CCSS package, is offering.

Mission…

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Pearson’s ReadyGEN: May the Farce NOT be with you

Are there any NYC elementary schools NOT using ReadyGEN’s ELA Common Core curriculum?

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Yasmeen Khan, education reporter for WNYC and SchoolBook.org, recently informed me that 86% of New York City public schools (grades K-8) have adopted at least one of the NYC DOE’s “recommended” Core Curriculum programs.  As I mentioned in a previous post, due to budget cuts, high-stakes Common Core testing and pressure to align curriculum to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), NYC schools feel they have no choice but to use the official NYC DOE programs, which are subsidized.  NYC Core Curriculum programs include, but are not limited to, E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge, Expeditionary Learning and Pearson’s ReadyGEN.  

Over the summer, I reported that NYC elementary teachers are frustrated with NYC’s ReadyGEN ELA (English-language arts) program, which appears to be test prep -beginning in kindergarten – for Pearson’s Common Core state tests.  They complain that it is scripted, developmentally inappropriate and inflexible.  Teachers are also critical of how ReadyGEN is being developed.  They feel that Pearson, in collaboration with the NYC DOE, is making it up as they go along, creating and distributing units in piecemeal fashion.  At present, NYC teachers have only photocopies of the teacher’s guide for the first part of unit one in addition to the corresponding unit one online materials.

In what can only be described as a farce, yesterday, during the Chancellor’s mandated professional development day, we were told that the truck carrying our long-awaited ReadyGEN student books showed up at our school late on Tuesday.  However, (and there’s always a however or but), we are not in possession of the books.  The driver, apparently not wanting to wait while a staff member searched for bodies to help him unload the truck, drove off with our 300 boxes of books.  They are nowhere to be found.

We aren’t the only ones disenchanted with this new ELA CCSS program. On September 3, 2013, NYC teacher Beth Kleinman Sullivan wrote the following about ReadyGEN:

“NYC teachers were told today that we have to work with ReadyGen for literacy. Barring the fact that it’s not even ready yet, and we’re working with drafts, we found out it’s put out by Pearson. Pearson’s stranglehold now extends to all grades in pretty much all schools in NYC. They have told schools to print out the texts we’re supposed to use because they’re not ready …for us, even though they’ve accepted everyone’s money. I believe this is called a monopoly. I also believe that we’re now officially teaching-to-the-test in all grades.  The program is soft scripted and has a teacher text and one for each kid (if we ever get the books). There is neither guided reading nor read alouds in this program.”

I would really like to know if any NYC public elementary schools are spared from having to use this new ELA curriculum.  If so, what are you using instead? How did you align your curriculum to the Common Core? Are you happy with your program? Why or why not? 

Thanks, Katie

Freedom to Teach, Freedom to Learn: A Year at Mission Hill

Teachers' Letters to Bill Gates

Chapter 7 – Behind the Scenes http://www.ayearatmissionhill.com/index.php/chapter7 

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Bill,

Yesterday I met a dyslexic man who told me he didn’t learn how to read until he was 37 years old. To avoid having to read out loud in grammar school, he’d hit the kid next to him and get kicked out of class. In 8th grade, he was sent to a now defunct “600 School” in Brooklyn, which functioned “to educate emotionally disturbed and socially maladjusted children…unable to profit from instruction in a normal school setting.”

As I begin another school year here in New York City, I am fretting over the academic fate of some of my barely-reading-and-writing students who are over-age for their grade and act out – in large part – because of their learning struggles. Add to that budget cuts, which are resulting in larger class sizes and cuts to academic intervention services (AIS), and a…

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