Chicken Little 2: The CRPE is Falling!

Chicken Little Final Version

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” A Nation at Risk, National Commission on Excellence in Education, April, 1983

“…powerful special interest groups, led by the nation’s teachers unions, have largely succeeded in blocking efforts to reform our broken public school system. K-12 education is a $600 billion-a-year industry–and the unions aren’t about to give up any of their market share without a fight.”  Enemies and the Future of American Education, Heritage Foundation, January 15, 2010

“We could lose this thing.”                                                                                 Introduction: A Nations’s Accountability Systems At Risk, Center on Reinventing Public Education, September, 2014

Lovers of children’s literature may feel compelled to read the re-write of the old story, Chicken Little, recently published by The Fordham Institute in cooperation with the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). Apparently unaware that they were lifting the essential backstory of the fairy tale, the inept authors attempted to capitalize on past successes by suggesting that their tale is a sequel to the 1983 smash hit, A Nation at Risk. In the end, however, neither the new version nor its thirty-year old predecessor adds anything to the original.

Poor Chicken Little. He was a young and simple chick, without much worldly experience, and had the (apparent) misfortune of having his world crash down upon him. His reaction, of course, was to immediately warn his neighbors of imminent danger, stirring a panic which was later found unwarranted. A bit more life experience, a bit more courage, and the danger of a falling acorn might have been understood as minimal.

It would have been wise for the authors of the latest version of the story to discuss their plot line with Diane Ravitch, who was closely associated with the ’83 version through its legal descendant, No Child Left Behind. She has since disavowed the story, and has worked hard to dispel its myths.

Mark Toner and Joe Jones of the Center for Reinventing Children’s Fiction seem to have completely forgotten the basic appeal of Chicken Little as a character. Innocent and naive, what could be expected of him? Chicken Little seems to have been largely written out of the story this time…according to the Toner/Jones retelling, there are only very experienced and world-weary “experts” who intend to spread panic, and for less reason than Chicken Little had. A good reading of the original tale causes the reader to feel like a bystander watching a toddler scream because it has seen its own shadow. You want to comfort and calm Chicken Little, not add your voice to the chaos.

Minus an innocent protagonist, the threat has to be even more overblown than ever for the story to “work.” The CRPE danger pales next to a falling acorn, though. Dr. Jones wants us to fear the end of accountability schemes in education. In essence, Dr. Jones wants to turn a real danger into a victim. He wants us to panic because the very things that have distorted the goals of public education have been effectively challenged. Those of us who have witnessed the damage done to humanistic efforts in education due to excessive standardized testing and Value-Added Measures of teacher effectiveness are hardly likely to accept either as endangered species needing protection.

And what of the moral of the story? Writing out the main character and substituting evil for good has robbed Dr. Jones of any hope for teaching a lesson. I have a suggestion for a re-write, though. Consider casting a first-year teacher as Chicken Little, and drop Dr. Jones’ story on them instead of an acorn. The moral is played out in public schools every day; inexperienced teachers are “held accountable” to ridiculous demands, and learn over time to respond with courage and professional perspective. Now that’s a tale to tell children.

Dr. Jones, it’s clear you and your partners at CRPE read the story of Chicken Little, but it’s equally apparent that you haven’t take its message to heart. You and the rest of your brood ought to buck up, get out of the hutch and enjoy some sunshine. The sky hasn’t fallen yet, and isn’t going to because you may “lose this thing.” The real danger to public education is a continuing reliance on metrics that have little relation to the development of citizens who are prepared to challenge authority and who have the right to demand that schools expand the boundaries of learning beyond the narrow confines of standardized exams.

© David Sudmeier, 2014

Academic Football with No Pads

batsfootball2

 

I’ve got to admit a level of hypocrisy when it comes to the subject of football. I’m against it. I’m also a Seattleite who went as nuts as anyone when the Seahawks took all the marbles. Still, those are two different subjects, really. Putting children in a situation where concussions are likely, not just possible, is unconscionable in my book. The risk an adult athlete wants to take in order to earn a significant salary is, short of outright murder in the ring, an appropriate decision to leave up to the individual.

The children in our care in the public schools are subjected involuntarily to a daily game of academic football, minus pads. The “concussions” are emerging even now; Louis C.K. speaks eloquently on that subject, and I expect many, many similar stories to emerge in coming days. When abusive standardized testing is forced upon students, the curriculum narrows, the educational experience is diminished, and the need for more testing is justified…and the circle goes ‘round and ‘round.

It’s time to admit the damage done due to institutionalized underfunding that has led school districts everywhere to become dependent on federal or corporate dollars. That need for funding has opened the door to coercion of state and district leaders by federal officials who have no constitutional authority to demand anything of them. When dollars, politics, and educational philosophy intersect, it ain’t a pretty sight, though…stuff happens.

The damage is evident when students—regardless of developmental disability, emotional instability, academic background or language understanding—are required to take a test, lest the school be penalized for being unwilling to test everyone. When a decision for kindness, for reason and humanity is declared inappropriate in order that corporations may more easily calculate “academic goals” in winning educational contracts, the system tosses children without reasonable protection into a game they do not comprehend. These students gain nothing from participating in the process, but are mined for information of value to a corporate entity.

The damage is evident in the diminished commitment to the process of education I see in student eyes year by year. As demands for “rigor” have grown, alongside the institution of “safety net” classes to improve test scores, the academic breadth of experience has diminished for students who give up “electives” to double up on a purely academic subject. Increasingly, we will see these remedial courses placed on-line, and if any specific connection is necessary between student and teacher…best of luck. Students who experience learning as a deeply personal collaboration will resent the constraints of “standards” as much as they do standardized testing now.

The damage is evident in the time students lose for further enrichment and guidance in the classroom due to excessive standardized testing. The amount of time varies widely from state to state, but it has increased dramatically for all during the past two decades. A lost week? Is that justified? How about places where yearly testing takes up even more time? Are their teachers able to use the time while students are testing to do productive work, or are they misused as very expensive proctors? How much do students lose when school administrators, office staff, and instructional support personnel are entirely focused on the organization of test materials, staff training, and test administration rather than the real and present needs of children? I think the public at large would be outraged to know the true costs of standardized testing, including hours spent on proctoring, organization and administration.

Students deserve a safe, healthy environment for learning. Excessive standardized testing is not conducive to that end. The information generated by those tests is unlikely to benefit students either directly, or through the creation of greater opportunities in their future. Rather, that information will be exploited to extract value in form of payment for increasing student adeptness in taking those same lousy tests that tell students nothing.

The only profit in public education should accrue to the learner, who should feel that they have gained by the opportunity to pursue happiness in a socially responsible way, and that they are ready to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. When that basic principle is met, students will find themselves in a safe and healthy environment , with pads firmly in place as they compete and cooperate in the supreme individual and team full-contact learning challenge!

 

© David Sudmeier, 2014

The Teeches & Leeches… by Dr. Soods

The Enemy

 

The peeples of Lernville were learners—the best!

They shared what they learned; it was school, sans contest.

 

The pathways of Lernville were twisty and turny,

Fun things to look at, no one in a hurry.

 

The Pooples of Lernville were taught by their Teeches—

The Teeches of Lernville: adored by their Pooples.

 

Learning’s the journey peeps wanted to last,

They never got finished, “What for?” they all asked.

 

The Teeches all knew each Poople they taught

And the Pooples were happy—they learned quite a lot!

 

The Teeches helped Pooples with readin’ and writin’,

They helped them with buildin’, they helped ‘em stop fightin’.

 

Teeches taught Pooples old songs and new dances

They talked about kings, long ago happenstances.

 

Pooples learned to count numbers, they learned algebratin’

It weren’t always easy— it could be frustratin’…

 

But all of the Pooples knew Teeches were there

To help them and guide them if they felt despair.

 

Teeches helped ‘em explore the world and its voices,

The Pooples of Lernville, they made learning choices.

 

Their neighbors in Gatesville weren’t nearly so lucky,

The Schoolmeister there was really quite touchy.

 

“A box for each student! A box that they’ll fit in—

We chop ‘em, we pound any part that is stickin’!

 

“We make sure they learns every fact in the book,

Or go back and start over, by hookety-crook!”

 

Gatesville was orderly; neat and quite straightly,

No wasting of time, no Poople-come-lately.

 

Schoolmeister McDuncan was very specific,

His speeches on learning were, alas, quite prolific.

 

A standard for reading, a test when that’s finished,

More standards, more tests to keep students skittish!

 

Obedient students reading 70/30,

Not too much fiction; it makes your head hurty!

 

The two Bros. Kooks were both up for a quest,

They relished a chance to purloin an int’rest.

 

They handed McDuncan their credit-y cards,

And told him to spend ‘til the stack reached to Mars.

 

And the man Gatesville’s named for, he told them to hurry,

“We got to remember, Standards must be quite sure-y!”

 

Together they Kooked up a doozy for students,

They called it the Kommon Kore Standard Impudence.

 

“No student can do this! It’s truly implacable–

With this we can show Lernville Teeches are laughable!”

 

“Once Lernville parents lose faith in their Teeches,

We sell them our Kommon Komputery Leeches!”

 

Quite soon in Lernville, the message descended,

Less fun for Pooples! No school open-ended!

 

It’s got to be done to fight off the foreigners,

National security calls for cast-iron outcomers.

 

The Teeches of Lernville were terribly stressed,

They didn’t believe what they worked for were tests.

 

The Pooples of Lernville felt less than inspired—

Their grades on the tests could get Teeches fired?

 

In place of the Teeches the Leeches were tendered,

Costly machines that Poople minds might be rendered.

 

At this point, Teeches and Pooples became furious,

They hated the changes, which had grown rather serious.

 

And all of the Teeches, they came to consensus

That all of that testing made no common senses.

 

They marched to the office of Principal Doopt,

“This testing is tedious, it’s dull and we’ve drooped,”

they said in one voice, “Away with this scam!

We want to help Pooples, that’s who we am!”

 

And all of the peeps of Lernville that day

Decided to make sure that Teeches would stay.

 

“We don’t want Leeches or any machines

That don’t know our Pooples and walk in like kings.”

 

And that’s how they ended the Kooky Kore Schemin’

While Pooples resumed both learnin’ and dreamin’:

“We want to do stuff, and share what we’re learning,

School always includes things we might need for earning.

But don’t try to stuff us like moon pies for parties,

‘Cause the dreamin’ part makes us more than just smarties!” 

 

© David Sudmeier, 2014