Common Core, 21st Century Skills & Kindergarten

In the last few years there was a shift in education from state standards to, essentially, federal standards.  These are referred to as Common Core State Standards. As soon as they were adopted by states, there was immediate feedback and criticisms about the standards from both parents and teachers.

Thing is, whether you love them or hate them, there are a couple of KEY flaws to the standards themselves.

The first, and more salient one, is kindergarten.  What most people actually don’t know is that kindergarten is NOT a legally required step in education.  Education begins with FIRST grade.

You might be asking, “So what?”  Well, kindergarten is the new first grade.  However, without all of the skills once taught in kindergarten, we’re setting up our educational system for failure.  In fact, I think if we looked at educational statistics in the last 30 years, we could, at the very least, set up a correlation for why we haven’t seen the expected gains.

During the last 30 years kindergarten has moved from being part of a day to a whole day.  Skills like learning to actually write (SERIOUSLY, hold a pencil), coloring to fine-tune motor control, following directions, and learning to solve problems were shoved aside to teach ACADEMICS!  After all, we need our kids ready!

However, we can’t have academics without first building the foundational skills.  This USED to happen in kindergarten.  Now, however, it’s addition and subtraction fact families, sight words, and writing paragraphs.  All this from a grade that’s not required.

Now, don’t take this to mean let’s make kindergarten legally required so we can start, day one, making 5 year olds sit still for 5 hours filling in worksheet after worksheet.  Instead, let’s return kindergarten to the foundational skills students will need in order to be successful over the life of their academic careers.

In short, how do you teach creativity, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, and communication if you don’t start in kindergarten and actually LAY that foundation?

If there is to be an educational revolution, and we seriously want to follow a business model, remember that businesses focus on VERY FEW GOALS.  Part of this process is choosing fewer goals, refining the model, and then delivering an excellent product.  Those businesses that tank often took short-cuts and went off half-cocked.

With that in mind, let’s restore kindergarten to kindergarten and focus on laying the foundation of 21st century skills by teaching students HOW to use tools and then allowing them to demonstrate that ability.  Yes, let’s give those kids scissors. Let’s act like the standards as a suitcase or an outfit.  Look at it and automatically remove 10% of what’s in the suitcase or one piece of jewelry.  Too much is too much.  Finally, let’s push all the of the standards up at least one year.  This means that what we expect from kindergarteners NOW we would expect from 1st graders instead.

You might think your kindergartener will be bored.  That he or she already knows all of this.  However, I think you’d be surprised at how much slowing the pace and allowing confidence will make a difference.  After all, is your kid REALLY bored or are you just in a hurry to prove how smart he/she is?



The 5-Year Thing in Teaching

I’ve never seen statistics on this, so I don’t actually know if it’s true.  However, there is this “theory” in teaching that many teachers exit the profession by their fifth year.  I’m sure there’s an amount like “half the teachers quit before they get to year 5” or some such stuff.

However, this idea popped into my head the other day because it occurred to me that MANY of the district office teachers and coaches are teachers who WERE NOT IN THE CLASSROOM FOR VERY LONG.  In fact, many of the principals we have WERE NOT IN THE CLASSROOM FOR VERY LONG.  All of a sudden I have this different view of they are LEAVING the classroom, not necessarily QUITTING the profession.

I think this is actually a far more chilling statistic if it’s true.  Having people who lack classroom success dictate and determine the fate and future of teachers and students is horrifying at best and probably some kind of malpractice at worse.  There’s something really, really wrong about having a leadership that knows little about the battlefield they’re sending their soldiers into, and criminal about leadership that would NEVER set foot on that battlefield because they hated it.

In real war, we tend to feel confident about our generals because they’ve seen real battle.  Well, this is real.  Why are we promoting the least qualified among our ranks to lead?  Moreso, why aren’t we questioning WHY they left the classroom but not the profession?

How to Hire a Superintendent

According to Suzanne.

In my warped world view, superintendents tend to just jump around district to district.  They stay long enough to have appeared to have done SOMETHING, but not so long that they actually have, thus managing to appear competent. Or at least not incompetent.

I feel like many areas of public life, not enough scrutiny is placed on the person who is going to be leading our students into the future.  In fact, I think that school districts operate a bit like incredibly lucky Exxon Valdezs or Costa Condordias.  We’re just one  catastrophe away from learning our leaders are, for all intents and purposes, drunken cowards who have no clue what leading really means and will feign ignorance at the first real sign of having his/her feet held to the fire.

My solution? Well, since I keep being told it’s the 21st century (like I haven’t figured *THAT* out), I feel we go all social media and Survey Monkey on them.  It seems to me that outgoing superintendents should be mourned.  The whole district community should be saddened at the loss of a true leader, and work towards keeping him/her.  A superintendent’s departure shouldn’t be treated as though it’s no different from being told it’s Tuesday or hot outside.

School districts should be polling potential candidate’s former district asking parents, students, teachers, management, faculty, school board, community members, and all other district employees a series of questions designed to find out WHAT, if anything, that person did during his/her tenure, as well as if they will miss his/her leadership, name five accomplishments or improvements, and name five outstanding issues.  We should be asking about leadership style, accomplishments (BEYOND the job description), visibility, insight, innovation, and community building

It’s surprising to me that in THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY we are still just looking at cover letters, resumes, and letters of recommendation.  There doesn’t appear to be a comprehensive Google search, full review of a candidate’s teaching style and ability, as well as checking out more than the references provided?  Where are our school boards going beyond to actually hire the best people for leading our learning environments?

If it were me, I’d expect the candidate to come in knowing the district, walking me through the plan to maintain or improve, and have a clue as to who the stakeholders are. After all, if they’re only selling themselves that doesn’t help me see what they’re going to do for the district as a whole.

Then after all that, I’d post my top candidates and ask the community to submit follow-up questions, comments, concerns or even “this seems like the best person for the job”.  When we’re talking a QUARTER MILLION dollars and up, we should be getting the best.  Furthermore, let’s treat them they way they feel teachers should be treated.  You get renewed based on the test scores, you’re an “at-will” employee, and raises will be based on evaluations from the classroom.

Until we improve innovation and transparency at our highest levels we will never get the educational system our students deserve.  In other words, stop TELLING me it’s the 21st Century and actually start HIRING like it’s the 21st Century.

How Can I Accomplish This?

The other day I ranted about politicians and unions.  Basically that teachers are being taken to task for what’s wrong with education and how our basic right to assemble or support our political causes is being threatened pisses me off greatly.  I think I pointed out that our (mostly male) counterparts are being protected because what they do is “important.”

Now I can see officers and guards being afraid of teachers and teaching.  Why?  Because IF this is true, then we (teachers) are putting them (officers and guards) out of jobs.  It is said that 3rd grade reading scores are used to predict the number of jail cells that will be needed.  Think about that?  How horrifying is that to consider?  That we might actually KNOW as early as age 9 that a child will end up as a criminal?

Then think about how messed up it is that we pour a lot of resources and money into that end of the outcome.  Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to fund education, pour money into early (and often) interventions, and to try to eliminate the need for jail cells?  It seems odd to me that, as a society, we’re willing to pay $47,000 (on average) per year per prisoner in California; however, we only pay $8,852 per student (when adjusted).  Mind you, we aren’t paying them to LIVE at school, but you get the point.

How do we make the huge shift to investment and funding people up-front rather than making huge cost shifts at the back to punish?  It seems to me that if this is true, then we need to make some radical changes now.

Now… How can I accomplish this?

BTW, is anyone amused (if you’ve read my stuff) that the average teacher spends between $2,000 and $5,000 per year to fund education out of their own pockets?  Yes, we’re trying to gift match the states!  Speaking of how do I change that!

Letter from Parent

It’s not often that you get a letter from a parent thanking you.  It’s always good when it happens though.  Given my year, this is a wonderful affirmation for me to have.

Dear Mrs. Wynnell,

Thank you so very, very much for helping to make 8th grade so wonderful for “G”.

We really appreciated all your support, encouragement, and concern.  “G” enjoyed having you as a teacher, and she spoke often of you and your humor.

We will miss you, have a great summer, and thanks once again.

Even reading it another time brings a smile to my face.  It really is good to know that what you did meant something.