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The Most Disturbing Post Yet…

November 14, 2013

Hello, America!! As I sit here enjoying the 86 degree daily sunshine & palm trees in Dubai, UAE, I am thinking of my friends and family in Boston, where I understand winter is upon them. As much as I continue to be homesick, I do not miss the impending winter weather, and have decided to focus on the good in my life instead of whining!

I have – just this week – settled into the position for which I was hired here in Dubai…the SEN Coordinator. I must admit I am glad to be out of the first grade classroom in which I was covering since arriving here on October 8th (which happened to also be my big 4-0). I will post later about the task I am currently facing in that capacity, but for now I wanted to share with readers a recent – and utterly disturbing – post from my mentor, Dr Diane Ravitch:

Yesterday I posted an excerpt from testimony to a state senate hearing in New York. I had seen it on another blog. I had the wrong name of the person testifying. Here is her name and her full testimony.

Mary Calamia

Statement for New York State Assembly Education Forum

October 7, 2013 at 10:14pm

Statement for New York State Assembly Education Forum

Brentwood, New York

October 10, 2013

I am a licensed clinical social worker in New York State and have been providing psychotherapy services since 1995. I work with parents, teachers, and students from all socioeconomic backgrounds representing more than 20 different school districts in Suffolk County. Almost half of my caseload consists of teachers.

In the summer of 2012, my elementary school teachers began to report increased anxiety over having to learn two entirely new curricula for Math and ELA. I soon learned that school districts across the board were completely dismantling the current curricula and replacing them with something more scripted, emphasizing “one size fits all” and taking any imagination and innovation out of the hands of the teachers.

In the fall of 2012, I started to receive an inordinate number of student referrals from several different school districts. I was being referred a large number of honors students—mostly 8th graders.The kids were self-mutilating—cutting themselves with sharp objects and burning themselves with cigarettes. My phone never stopped ringing.

What was prompting this increase in self-mutilating behavior? Why now?

The answer I received from every single teenager was the same. “I can’t handle the pressure. It’s too much work.”

I also started to receive more calls referring elementary school students who were refusing to go to school. They said they felt “stupid” and school was “too hard.” They were throwing tantrums, begging to stay home, and upset even to the point of vomiting.

I was also hearing from parents about kids bringing home homework that the parents didn’t understand and they couldn’t help their children to complete. I was alarmed to hear that in some cases there were no textbooks for the parents to peruse and they had no idea what their children were learning.

My teachers were reporting a startling level of anxiety and depression. For the first time, I heard the term “Common Core” and I became awakened to a new set of standards that all schools were to adhere to—standards that we now say “set the bar so high, anyone can walk right under them.”

Everyone was talking about “The Tests.” As the school year progressed and “The Tests” loomed, my patients began to report increased self-mutilating behaviors, insomnia, panic attacks, loss of appetite, depressed mood, and in one case, suicidal thoughts that resulted in a 2-week hospital stay for an adolescent.

I do not know of any formal studies that connect these symptoms directly to the Common Core, but I do not think we need to sacrifice an entire generation of children just so we can find a correlation.

The Common Core and high stakes testing create a hostile working environment for teachers, thus becoming a hostile learning environment for students. The level of anxiety I am seeing in teachers can only trickle down to the students. Everyone I see is describing a palpable level of tension in the schools.

The Common Core standards do not account for societal problems. When I first learned about APPR and high stakes testing, my first thought was, “Who is going to rate the parents?”

I see children and teenagers who are exhausted, running from activity to activity, living on fast food, then texting, using social media, and playing games well into the wee hours of the morning on school nights.

We also have children taking cell phones right into the classrooms, “tweeting” and texting each other throughout the day. We have parents—yes PARENTS—who are sending their children text messages during school hours.

Let’s add in the bullying and cyberbullying that torments and preoccupies millions of school children even to the point of suicide. Add to that an interminable drug problem.

These are only some of the variables affecting student performance that are outside of the teachers’ control. Yet the SED holds them accountable, substituting innovation and individualism with cookie-cutter standards, believing this will fix our schools.

We cannot regulate biology. Young children are simply not wired to engage in the type of critical thinking that the Common Core calls for. That would require a fully developed prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is not fully functional until early adulthood. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for critical thinking, rational decision-making, and abstract thinking—all things the Common Core demands prematurely.

We teach children to succeed then give them pre-assessments on material they have never seen and tell them it’s okay to fail. Children are not equipped to resolve the mixed message this presents.

Last spring, a 6-year-old who encountered a multiplication sign on the NWEA first grade math exam asked the teacher what it was. The teacher was not allowed to help him and told him to just do his best to answer.From that point on, the student’s test performance went downhill. Not only couldn’t the student shake off the unfamiliar symbol, he also couldn’t believe his teacher wouldn’t help him.

Common Core requires children to read informational texts that are owned by a handful of corporations. Lacking any filter to distinguish good information from bad, children will readily absorb whatever text is put in front of them as gospel. So, for example, when we give children a textbook that explains the second amendment in these terms: “The people have a right to keep and bear arms in a state militia,” they will look no further for clarification.

We are asking children to write critically, using emotionally charged language to “persuade” rather than inform. Lacking a functional prefrontal cortex, a child will tap into their limbic system, a set of primitive brain structures involved in basic human emotions, fear and anger being foremost. So when we are asking young children to use emotionally charged language, we are actually asking them to fuel their persuasiveness with fear and anger. They are not capable of the judgment required to temper this with reason and logic.

So we have abandoned innovative teaching and instead “teach to the tests,” the dreaded exams that had students, parents and teachers in a complete anxiety state last spring. These tests do not measure learning—what they really measure is endurance and resilience. Only a child who can sit and focus for 90 minutes can succeed. The child who can bounce back after one grueling day of testing and do it all over again the next day has an even better chance.

A recent Cornell University study revealed that students who were overly stressed while preparing for high stakes exams performed worse than students who experienced less stress during the test preparation period. Their prefrontal cortexes—the same parts of the brain that we are prematurely trying to engage in our youngsters—were under-performing.

We are dealing with real people’s lives here. Allow me introduce you to some of them:

…an entire third grade class that spent the rest of the day sobbing after just one testing session,

…a 2nd grader who witnessed this and is now refusing to attend the 3rd grade—this 7-year-old is now being evaluated for psychotropic medication just to go to school,

…two 8-year-olds who opted out of the ELA exam and were publicly denied cookies when the teacher gave them to the rest of her third grade class,

…the teacher who, under duress, felt compelled to do such a thing,

…a sixth grader who once aspired to be a writer but now hates it because they “do it all day long—even in math,”

…a mother who has to leave work because her child is hysterical over his math homework and his CPA grandfather doesn’t even understand it,

…and countless other children who dread going to school, feel “stupid” and “like failures,” and are now completely turned off to education.

I will conclude by adding this thought. Our country became a superpower on the backs of men and women who studied in one-room schoolhouses.I do not think it takes a great deal of technology or corporate and government involvement for kids to succeed. We need to rethink the Common Core and the associated high stakes testing and get back to the business of educating our children in a safe, healthy, and productive manner”.
I would like to thank Ms Calamia and Dr Ravitch for reminding me why we did the right thing by getting our own three little boys out of that kind of world when I did and bring them across it to a place where they are absolutely loving school – and utterly thriving in their education. Unfortunately not every parent has the opportunity to do what we have done here, and that is why every single parent in America must fight against what is happening in the public schools!!!
A special note…Dr Ravitch, I wish you continued progress as you heal from your recent health problems…you are in my thoughts and prayers!! 🙂 Jill

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  1. Rich permalink

    I believe there is an element in our state and federal governments who mean well and there is an element who wish to see public education fail so it can be replaced with private, market driven options. This is a matter of blind ideology, not any evidence or best practices. But teachers are among the best organized public servants. Instead of just taking it and taking it, and letting our children pay the price, why can’t teachers simply say, collectively and in unison, No. We aren’t going to let non-educators dictate educational policy. In every school, in every state, refuse to give the tests. Refuse to teach solely to the tests. Force the debate into the open. Expose the hidden horrors detailed above and say, Enough!

    • rich, i totally agree! i don’t understand it either…but i think it will happen – just not soon enough..

  2. This sounds like a scare campaign by a group with a selfish agenda. I first heard about Common Core from an entirely different angle. Joel Klein and his company Amplify [1] are embroiled in this controversy. I urge reeders [3] to listen to Joel defend his vision. I support it, for the good of my (potential future) grandchildren, this nation, and humanity as a whole.

    [3] reed means read and red means read

    • Are you kidding? Joel is also making a fortune on this “reform”.
      What possible selfish reason do you think we have?
      Do your own research…you’ve been brainwashed by corporate reform.

      • I apologize for using the the word “selfish.” I was out of line.

        You’re on a first-name basis with Joel Klein?

        The podcast I link to is Uncommon Knowledge, hosted by Peter Robinson. I find Peter’s conservative / libertarian viewpoint to be well-reasoned. He asks insightful questions, and he doesn’t throw softballs.

        You are right to insist that I do my own research.

    • Are you kidding? Joel is also making a fortune on this “reform”.
      What possible selfish reason do you think we have?
      Do your own research…you’ve been brainwashed by corporate reform.

      • No, of course I’m not on a first name basis w him- I just couldn’t be bothered to add the last name…nor do i have enough respect to waste my time typing!

      • & yes, please DO do ur own research – these people know what to say and how to say it, but it doesn’t have any true value. I’m sorry, but it maddens me when people hear one thing and make an assumption. especially when it’s ridiculous. I’m not trying to gain a profit from this blog (no matter how i may need one)…i will say what needs to be said, this is getting too old!

  3. A long time ago when NAFTA was passed, rich people decided that they would no longer manufacture here in the US and instead import from overseas. That meant that the only opportunity for making money domestically shifted to mining the local population for all their worth. For profit jails came about at the same time and the jails soon swelled with inmates for any reason they could put them in jail….

    Then came the schools, where testing became big business. Because make no mistake, what you are seeing is the after effects of rich people using the schools as a cash cow. Those never ending tests cost big money to produce and take. The Bush family very heavy into that and they are making a ton… while kids get the shaft. It will not end till people stop view education as a commodity and many other things too.

    Privatizing the commons is the root evil here…

    • Yes, Noah, we, the people, are considered “human resources” by the corporations. We are to be trained (educated), used, and discarded when we are worn out. Corporations have been caught taking out life insurance policies on their employees, so that when the employee – or “human resource” – has expired, a profit can be made from their death. You are enlightened, and so is this article. Corporations control the curriculum, and teachers are forced to teach it. It is a good thing to resist this Common Core – it was created to drive the children insane… but the corporations have the cure. Big Pharma makes pills for anxiety and panic attacks, drugs for ADD, increased focus, depression, you name it. Noah, you say “privatizing” the commons is the root of evil here, I say that “corporations” are the root of evil here.

  4. Kaye permalink

    This is why we enrolled our child in Alpine Valley School, a Sudbury model school in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, where the students direct their own education and run the school democratically. Once freed from the depressing, anxiety ridden, high pressured conventional system, he became happy, mature, responsible and is a passionate learner. I shudder to think of what state our family would be in were it not for Alpine Valley.

  5. Maria brant permalink

    I am a teacher at a Catholic school in Florida. We have started teaching according to the Common Core standards, but have not fully implemented the common core testing which is not fully slated to be mandatory until the 2014 school year or later. I am not sure what is being done in other schools, but a pretest is just that…a baseline to show the teacher what students already know. It is not for a grade and the students know that up front. In my opinion anyone who distributes the pretest without letting children know that it isn’t for a grade is just being negligent. As far as regular testing, I do not give any more tests than I did before the Common Core standards were given. I give my tests as I did before, once I have completed a unit. Each unit covers several standards, all of which are assessed at one time. Any unit prior to Common core was introduced most likely covered several different state standards which would also have been covered when testing after a unit. The common core standards allow us to teach that math can be solved in more than one way, rather than just the drilled way that many are being taught. They learn how to solve, but don’t know the “why” it’s done that way. We still teach operational computation the “standard” way, but also show students other methods that may make better sense to them. In the end, what matters is that they can solve the problems, not how they solved them.
    I do have some concern regarding the types of questions that are currently being proposed once the mandatory computerized testing takes place. They all seem to be set up as word problems that present real life situations. I am not sold that all students are wired to do well on these. Those that can’t think critically yet shouldn’t be made to feel like a failure if they cannot pass this type of test. Let’s face it, most of us didn’t like word problems as children either.
    Anyway, it is my understanding that the state of Florida has opted out of the PARCC assessment and is reviewing the whole Common Core idea. There are pros and cons I believe.

    • Hal H permalink

      It seems that word problems should become a standard part of class/homework then in order to help kids connect to the real world. Way back in the 1970s when I was in elementary school we had some word problems I think already in 5th grade (maybe 4th?). For some reason many kids groaned but perhaps I was okay on them because I had been trying real-world math on my own already (such as during a car trip — how long/how fast/how far, etc., etc.), but note that I excelled in math to begin with. Anyway, shouldn’t word problems be standard as part of the math-to-do daily? Even just easy ones of course in the early grades.

      What I’ve wondered, as a parent of a 1rst grader who is doing okay, is what is it like for 5th, 6th, 7th, etc. grades to suddenly transition to the CC?

      Your comment was very interesting. Thanks!

  6. This is pretty scary information considering I pulled my 6th grader out of public school in Feb. because she started having severe anxiety attacks. We couldn’t figure out why but they were 100 fold worse at school. She is home schooled now and while she does still have them, they are not as frequent or severe. Good to know that CC may be the root cause of these starting. To say I am livid would be putting it nicely.

  7. Reblogged this on kateschannel and commented:
    This is the second piece I have read about how the Common Core standards are not helping students.

  8. Shayla permalink

    As a middle school resource teacher I am not completely apposed to common core but I am concerned with the ” one size fits all” disguised as differentiation . My struggling math students have been placed in a ” common core” math classes. So now the advanced and struggling kids are in the same class moving at the same pace and I can see it destroying some of my students. And I do mean destroying !! I am fighting hard for these kiddos and as soon as I can get the ok from the district and the site admin I am going to place them in a sp Ed math class just to save them from going down a path of no return. At least when they get to the high school there are different math classes they can take but if we fail them ( and I mean WE, the system, fail them in middle school ) they may not recover and then what? They never pass algebra and can’t graduate high school because common core 8th grade math is more important than they are? I am sick over this daily !!!!

    • Hal H permalink

      Yes, this is the flaw in the method (as distinct from a curriculum) — whenever kids can’t be learning at their own level is a disadvantage. Why not have CC and have like 4 math groupings in a grade? Why not let a 6th grade kid do 5th grade level 2 math, 6th grade level 1 composition, 6th grade level 1 social studies, 6th grade level 4 art, etc., with ever subject individualized?

      Don’t we want precisely for more kids to learn more — if so, this is the way we should do it I think.

  9. Mike permalink

    We have two very active boys 6 and 9. They have just finished 1st qtr. Both are burnt out, tired of writing a math problem three ways and are very stressed. After reading non stop for the last 5 months on everything available on common core, we are scared to death. Both kids are showing many above mentioned signs that are not healthy. Some of the presented issues for them include the “I’m stupid, school is no fun”. There are at least three school work related meltdowns each week. We feel we are in fact supplementing their school because we are home schooling at least another 20 hr. each child per week. This just barely keeps them up to speed. These stresses are seen and felt from the admin right down to our family. We are very, very scared.

  10. Ann permalink

    So how about I give you a perspective of someone currently enrolled in a public school.
    It’s tough. There’s no other way to describe the feeling of a looming test, or that 1:00 am. feeling due to the heaps of homework we get, not to mention balancing out school, and the extracurricular activities that colleges oh so love. I’m currently a Junior in high school right now, and I’m looking at college after college. I’m feeling the stress of growing up in a society that wants test after test just to get data. And what do they find out from that data? that they should give us more tests. In freshman year, I suffered from test anxiety. It got so bad that even during a measly quiz, I would get stomach cramps. I would get all sweaty, and my mind would blank out. I could study all I want, but if the anxiety took over, I was going to fail. Thankfully, I grew out of it halfway through sophomore year, and I’m doing much better, but is it right for tests to cause us to feel so bad? During Sophomore year, we have to take our state standardized tests, and pass them in order to graduate. I made goal in each subject area (and got a fancy breakfast out of it) A few weeks ago, I learned that we have to take another test this year… that’s the congrats I get for passing…. I’m talking with my parents to see if i can be exempt from them. They know the stress school has on us. The fact that colleges ignore these tests also proves a point. The only tests they look at are the SAT’s and the PSAT’s. I remember taking the psats 2 years in a row. This year, I didn’t finish the math not because i didn’t know the subject content, but because I didn’t have enough time to do it all. It annoyed me that the tests play the quick thinking factor into their exams. If these tests were truly on how you are understanding the content, then it shouldn’t discriminate against those kids who don’t think at the fastest levels. Also, to conclude, I’ve grown up in a house hold where I’m told that it’s okay to be different, and everyone learns at their own speeds. If that’s the case, why are they trying to educate everyone the same way?

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