Doin’ Core Curriculum Our Way (cue the Laverne & Shirley theme song)


The purpose of this reflection (Danielson 4a) is to further highlight the maddening waste of resources and lack of common sense that I’m seeing on a daily basis as a result of corporate education reform and its Common Core troika of nationalized learning standards, scripted curriculum and high-stakes testing.  Last week, Pearson’s ReadyGEN program, a “recommended” NYC Department of Education ELA (English-language arts) curriculum, particularly irked me.

In complying with the ReadyGEN script, my 5th grade co-teacher and I were instructed to read to students chapter seven of Rachel Carson: Pioneer of Ecology. I am an ESL (English as a Second Language) instructor and push-in to my colleague’s class during the literacy block.  The chapter’s title – Fourteen Dead Robins – intrigued me. Rubbing my hands together in excitement, I imagined a powerful, real world conversation we’d have with our students about the health effects of DDT and people’s unwillingness – due to fear – to speak out against injustices.

Instead, the ReadyGEN reading skill assigned to chapter seven was craft and structure, specifically analyzing figurative language and word choice.  We did attempt to practice this skill with our students using the ReadyGEN Student Materials workbook, but quickly decided to pull the plug on the task because we found few examples of figurative language, and we felt that the chosen ReadyGEN skill was ill-fitting in light of the chapter’s content.  It was as if the people who created ReadyGEN had randomly selected reading skills without first considering the content of the individual chapters. Chapter four’s reading skill was main idea and details while in chapter six – the previous day’s lesson – the students practiced cause and effect. Shockingly – given the NYC DOE’s constant use of Common Core-aligned – the standards themselves are not even cited in the ReadyGEN Teacher’s Guide, which is still in the pre-publication stage.

Below are the alternative questions that my colleague created midway into ReadyGEN’s chapter seven lesson. The students first discussed the questions in small groups, while we circulated, and then worked individually to respond to them in writing. We felt that this was a more suitable (and more meaningful) task that better reflected the main idea of chapter seven.


The next day, ReadyGEN never saw the light of day.  Instead, I led a lesson about cancer clusters that are appearing in farming regions of Argentina as a result of the country’s increased use of pesticides and herbicides.  I was inspired by a Mother Jones article I saw recently on Twitter.  The high-interest, real world content in this article tied in nicely with Rachel’s reaction to the effects of DDT as seen in chapter seven. The SmartBoard presentation I created included many visuals – photographs, graphs, charts – to aide students in digesting the challenging content. Genetically-modified and Monsanto’s Roundup Ready were among the vocabulary terms in the lesson.  Students were engaged and moved by the topic.  Below is one English-language learner’s wondering about pesticides.


I know of no teacher – including one in Ohio – who is satisfied with ReadyGEN’s ELA program.  The anchor texts (literature) may be authentic, but the reading and writing tasks are not.  Pearson’s ReadyGEN is a poorly and hastily designed test prep program to get students ready for next year’s high-stakes Common Core ELA assessment.  The NYC DOE could have saved a lot of money if they had instead provided schools with just the copies of the anchor texts, class sets of titles such as Rachel Carson: Pioneer of Ecology. Sample reading and writing questions and suggested performance tasks could have been posted online. From what I’ve observed, the Student Materials workbook (see below photo) is being used minimally.

I don’t know how much the NYC DOE has spent on producing this program and on providing professional development to teachers.  However, I’m outraged that ReadyGEN has priority over other, more pressing initiatives like ensuring smaller class sizes and providing AIS services to students. The Common Core standards, unfortunately, do not stand alone. As I am experiencing, they are not an innocuous set of student learning objectives that teachers can use to shape their own instruction.  Here in New York State, the adoption of the Common Core has led to the wasteful spending of millions of dollars on the development of inferior math and ELA programs that are scripted and threaten teacher autonomy.  The overarching goal of such curricula is not to inspire students or to address their individual needs, but instead to train them for meaningless high-stakes tests.


NYSED Commissioner John King runs away: Lessons from the trenches


Protest of NYSED policies in Port Jefferson, NY photo courtesy of

October 12, 2013

Mr. King,

The suspension of your Common Core Town Hall tour has resulted in a justified uproar among parents and educators in New York State and beyond (see Anthony Cody’s recent post). In satisfying the requirements of the 60% Danielson component of my teacher effectiveness rating, I have been writing reflections on my teaching practice under your Race to the Top and Common Core top-down policies. I intend to submit them as one of my eight artifacts (Danielson 4a). In this reflection, I wish to address your decision to retreat after facing opposition from parents at Thursday’s Town Hall meeting at Spackenkill High School in Poughkeepsie.

Unlike you, teachers do not have the luxury of fleeing in the face of stressful situations. Over the past eight years of being a classroom teacher – you lack this experience, correct? – I have learned different ways to ride out storms. I may not always respond to them gracefully, but I acknowledge my discomfort – sometimes aloud – and tell myself that these feelings will pass. As tempting as it might be, I don’t run away or give up on a particular student. The ability to work through tough situations, particularly confrontations, is a character trait that both educators and parents model to children. I’m sure you have done the same with your own kids.

Parents and educators in NYS have long suffered under your policies.  Your lack-of-common-sense mandates are crushing, and we are witnessing firsthand the damage to children wrought by high-stakes testing and uninspiring, developmentally inappropriate Common Core curricula. We are not venting; rather, we are standing up for our children by speaking the truth.  

When I encounter angry students, I try my best to acknowledge their feelings and to listen to them even if we are in disagreement. Some students act out because of situations at home. School may be the only place where their voices can be heard; thus, I try my best to put myself in their shoes in order to understand where they are coming from.

This has not been your approach to parents and educators who disapprove of your policies. Your decision to suspend these hearings is a mistake that has resulted in ever increasing numbers of people calling for your immediate resignation. Public education is a democratic institution, and it is our right to voice our concerns even if they conflict with your agenda.  If some of us appear angrier than others, it’s because our arguments have fallen on deaf ears for too long.


Katie Lapham (Brooklyn, NY)

Measures of Student Learning Performance Assessments: Grade 1 Report of Information


This past week my public elementary school, like many others throughout NYC, administered Measures of Student Learning (MOSL) Performance Assessments in English-language arts (ELA) and math to students in grades K-5.

WHY? NYC teachers have a new teacher evaluation and development system called Advance. 20% of our overall teacher effectiveness rating comes from a local measure of student learning or MOSL (another 20% of our rating is based on a state measure such as the NYS CCSS ELA and math assessments). Here is the NYC DOE’s definition of “local measure”:

      • Local MeasureRecommended by a school committee appointed by the principal and UFT Chapter Chair and approved by the principal*, each teacher’s local measure will be based on student growth on assessments and growth measures selected from a menu of approved options for each grade and subject (from the NYC DOE website).

My school chose the new K-5 NYC Performance Assessments in ELA and math as our local measure. The recently administered September Performance Assessments will be used to establish baseline scores for our students who will be assessed again at the end of the school year to determine their growth in these two subject areas. As per MOSL, students’ growth on this task – or lack of – contributes to 20% of our overall teacher effectiveness rating.

It is important to note that the local measure (MOSL) is separate from the state measure, which also counts towards 20% of our overall rating. This means that in the spring of 2014, our students in grades 3-5 will have to take these new NYC ELA and math Performance Assessments IN ADDITION TO the controversial state CCSS ELA and math exams (state measure). I am not taking into consideration teacher-generated tests based on content learned in the classroom.

WHAT are the NYC Performance Assessments? This past week, I helped administer the ELA NYC Performance Assessment to the ELLs (English-language learners) that I service. The first grade ELA Performance Assessment was particularly disturbing and anguishing to administer, so much so that I tossed and turned all last night. Here’s why:

1.) The NYC DOE recommended length of the task was 85-120 minutes over two consecutive days (remember: THIS IS FIRST GRADE!)

2.) After the teacher modeled the task, students had to independently read a non-fiction text that was different from the one the teacher used to model. The title that was pre-selected (not by teachers) for our first graders to read independently was Sea Turtles by Carol K. Lindeen. The age range for this title is preschool – 8, however I believe that for the younger kids, this book is meant to be used as a read aloud and/or for pleasure reading, NOT for use as an assessment. Sea Turtles, which our beginner first grade ELLs were required to read independently, is a level J book, according to Fountas & Pinnell.

3.) The assessment script instructed teachers to encourage first graders to take notes – in their own words – while independently reading Sea Turtles. Note-taking was modeled to the students prior to the start of the assessment. By note-taking, students were instructed to generate two text-based questions while independently reading Sea Turtles. They then had to use the text to answer the questions that they came up with on their own while independently reading a level J non-fiction book. In case you missed it the first time, I reiterate that these are new FIRST GRADERS.

4.) On day two, our first grade students used their notes (student-generated questions and answers) to write their own informational text about sea turtles. They were required to name the topic, include facts and vocabulary words from the text (perhaps migrate or mate?), use writing conventions and write a one sentence conclusion.

To satisfy my Danielson requirement – the remaining 60% of my effectiveness rating as per the new NYC teacher evaluation and development system – here are my reflections/wonderings (Danielson 4a) on the ELA NYC Performance Assessments:

1.) What’s the point of report cards and teacher-generated assessments based on content taught in the classroom if our students’ academic worth is now determined by these official state and local measures? We are teaching to the test more than ever, particularly in schools in low-income areas (Title I schools) where students have more catching up to do and where test scores are lower.  If test scores remain low for too long, a school becomes at-risk for closure.

2.) Our rating for this part of the NYC teacher evaluation plan is based on student growth. Low scores on the September assessments are actually advantageous to teachers as students will very likely score higher (showing growth) on the June assessment. Also, these are not teacher-generated assessments. For the ELA Performance Assessment, first grade teachers were handed a five-page assessment script and materials and were told to administer it. This, to me, is a farce. I am hard-pressed to find any meaning in these non-teacher created assessments that test students on skills they do not yet possess. They are a burden to students, teachers and administrators as well as a waste of time and money.  I’m not even describing here the resources and time spent on scoring the assessments.  The scores will be entered into a database for tracking purposes.

3.) How can anyone still believe that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) stand alone and can be separated from standardized testing, curriculum and teacher evaluations?

4.) In NYS, teachers are losing their freedom to teach and students are being deprived of their freedom to learn. These NYC Performance Assessments are the latest example. As I have noted previous posts, choice is an illusion.

5.) How can seemingly intelligent Tweed decision-makers like Dennis Walcott and Shael Polakow-Suransky truly believe that these Performance Assessments are of any value? I want them to explain to us why they believe in these particular assessments. Beth Fertig, WNYC education reporter, recently tweeted that “Walcott says he’s not serving the mayor but students: “I’m a true believer in what we’re doing.”

6.) What is the true purpose of these Performance Assessments? To measure student growth or to hold accountable teachers who either aren’t in a testing grade (K-2) or who teach a subject that’s not formally assessed by the state (music and art, for example)?

6.) Isn’t elementary school supposed to be fun, meaningful and engaging? Teachers, students and administrators should not have to suffer like this.

These are our students. This is Race to the Top and Common Core. These are our students under the influence of Race to the Top and Common Core. Any questions?

Danielson 4a: A Moral Inventory of my Compliance Work

In June, my Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates partner, Susan, and I created a 12-step recovery program for corporate education reform. For this reflection, I wish to elicit our Step 4, which reads:
We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. We determined that we had allowed corporate reformers to undermine our ethics and integrity. We searched and found we had participated in unethical scripted instruction, standardization, and high stakes testing out of fear and oppression that in turn caused fear and oppression in our students.
Excessive accountability should also be added to this list. One of my responsibilities as an ESL teacher/compliance officer (what an unsavory term, no?) is to write the LAP for my school’s CEP. The LAP is a 26-page  Language Allocation Policy that is incorporated into the school’s larger Comprehensive Education Plan.  In addition to providing data on the number of ELLs (English-language learners) in our building – their years of service, ELL programs, home languages, test scores and so on- we must also analyze the data by answering 41 questions in narrative format.  It’s worth emphasizing that this document is just one component of the comprehensive education plan.
Here’s my response to the question that has left me feeling like a fraud.
Part V: ELL Programming
B. Programming and Scheduling Information – Continued
Question 12: What programs/services for ELLs will be discontinued and why?

Answer: We are discontinuing the Journeys reading program and enVisionMATH because they do not match the level of rigor called for by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  The new ReadyGEN and GOMath! Core Curriculum programs are recommended by the NYCDOE and better reflect the demands of the CCSS.

This is what I believed was expected of me to write.  The reality, however, is far different. Teachers were largely satisfied with the Journeys program, which was purchased for two years only in grades K-2. Teachers in grades 3-5 collaborated to create CCSS (Common Core State Standards) curriculum maps and performance tasks.  ELA was mostly taught through the content areas, such as science and social studies.  They also had the freedom to select their own materials.

Compared to GO Math!, Pearson’s enVisionMATH program, which was used in grades K-5 for one year only, was the gold standard of math curricula.  The teachers in my building would happily return to using enVisionMATH and Journeys if given the choice.

In reality, we discontinued Journeys and enVisionMATH due to budget cuts and high-stakes CCSS testing.  NYC Title I public schools in particular feel they have no choice but to adopt the subsidized NYCDOE Core Curriculum programs and “free” NYSED lessons.  Doing this spares them from having to use their limited funds to create and/or to justify the use of alternative programs. Also, in this era of school closings due to poor performance on standardized exams, there is relief in knowing that the state and city-approved materials, like ReadyGEN and GOMath!, are designed to prepare kids for the new high-stakes Common Core tests.  They are – in essence – test prep programs from kindergarten onwards.

I have yet to encounter a teacher who is satisfied with the ReadyGEN and GOMath! Core Curriculum programs.  I haven’t worked with GOMath!, but I can tell you that ReadyGEN is cumbersome, confusing and uninspiring. Due to the demands of the program, we are having to devote more periods to teaching it, at the expense of other subjects such as social studies.  I am devastated that I must use this program with my fifth graders instead of the engaging and challenging social justice curriculum that my fifth grade co-teacher and I created, and have refined, over the course of three years of teaching together.

Because I cannot write this in the LAP, I share it with you here, a place where educators can speak the truth, a place where I can make amends.

Danielson 4a: Reflecting on Teaching ReadyGEN


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.