Sunday, May 25, 2014

Grit: The New Common Core Standard

Kid!  Pull Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps and Get Some True Grit!

by H.D. Worth, Teacher in the Trenches

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word grit? Grit, as in hard abrasive particles of sand, stone or gravel?  Grits, as in the Southern breakfast delicacy?  True Grit, as in John Wayne wearing an eye patch? G.R.I.T., as in “God, Really, It’s Terrible”?

The educational buzzword and current fad of the day is “grit.”  According to corporate reformers, grit is now the most important indicator in determining academic success.   In the educational world, it’s the personality trait of students who don’t give up on a task, whatever it may be, and are resilient in the face of failure over a long period of time.  

These reformers will tell you grit is more important than teachers motivating students to love a subject and engaging them in a journey of life-long learning.  It’s more important than a kid’s innate intelligence or natural ability.  It’s more important than giving kids room to experiment with a variety of subjects, including art and music.  It’s more important than the motivation that comes from students finding pleasure in accomplishing a personal goal.  It’s more important than a safe, nurturing classroom environment.

Grit means that kids just need to learn how to tough things out, no matter how miserable the task at hand.  It means kids need plenty of opportunities to fail and then attempt to rebound.   Even if a student has a learning disability, lack of background knowledge, or lack of basic skills, copious amounts of grit are all that are needed.   

If a kid is poor?  He or she just needs more grit.  If poverty is a problem in the community?  Grit is the solution. 

Grit completely ignores the fact that poverty leads to adverse effects on learning due to a higher rate of homelessness, poor nutrition, lack of health care, substandard living conditions, inadequately funded schools, abuse and neglect, behavioral and socio-emotional issues, and developmental delays.  I guess kids are expected to grit their way through hunger and pain, no need to take care of them. 

Why is the grit fad spreading so quickly?  Common Core proponents, like Arnie Duncan and Bill Gates, know that their business plan is in trouble.   Now they can blame kids for not having enough grit to conquer material that isn’t developmentally appropriate.  They can say kids just need to grit it out on standardized tests, like the PARCC, which are tedious and poorly constructed.  They will tell you kids need more grit to fit into their one-size-fits-all box. 

And by the way, the oligarchs couldn’t be happier now that they have another excuse to completely dismantle the social safety net.  Pick yourself up by your bootstraps, little Jimmy, and get yourself some grit. 
Further reading:

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Rauner: No Information :: Tribune: Misinformation

Who's running?
Rauner: No Information :: Chicago Tribune: Misinformation

Illinois politics evokes some of the best absurdities ever, but the Tribune also offers a steady diet of the outlandish – and today in the “Campaign 2014” article “Rauner Light on Pension Details,” a reader gets both in ample amounts. 

Accusations by the Tribune about Rauner’s shortcomings include his “prescriptions for how to accomplish that (pensions among other things) have been vague and at times contradictory” (,0,6397335.story).

No surprise there.  Why should or would he?  For Bruce Rauner, winning as a dark horse against Dillard and Brady, remaining below visibility works best.  In fact, we all feel at this point that we know more about how Bruce’s darling democratic wife Diane will treat or work with us than we do of Bruce.  Oh, well, perhaps he is still hunkered down with his supreme faction of 30 business leaders preparing a mission statement and action plan. 

On the other hand, why say anything at all?

The last time he did, with Rick Pearson of the Tribune, he called for an immediate movement of all current retirees to 401 K programs – regardless of no social security, no possible plan to enable it, a lifetime of contributions, or no real chance constitutionally that such irrationality could take place.  Later on, Rauner said he had misspoken. 

Better to use the camera, the 30-second sound bite, the ethnic faces to make one appear to be exactly what he isn’t.  If money and airtime worked against Dillard and Brady, even just barely, why not now?  After all, Quinn is likely to lose at least 150,000 votes in the election after his supernatural quest to fix Illinois’ pension problem.  That’s an edge.   

Then again, the same complaints made against Rauner could be made for the constant misinformation served to the readership by the Tribune and its staff in this article and many, many others.  Earlier this week, Jack Tucker pointed out the Eric Zorn’s “pretend” concern over the unconstitutionality of the pension reform bill included a bizarre and totally inaccurate statement putting blame on the pension shortfalls on poor TRS investment returns.

The point #1 is COMPLETE BULLSHIT! TRS returns have consistently been upper quartile compared to all large US public funds. Over 30 years the returns have averaged 9.3% net of fees.
This crap comes from Civic Committee BS that desperately “hopes” there is someone or something to blame other than the Legislature.
If something over which they have better control (Illinois State Board of Investments) CONSISTENTLY has poorer results than the other public pension funds, this cannot be the “answer”.
I was hoping that the integrity of the office and the occasion would require some regard for reality. I am bitterly disappointed.”

Remember like good little cogs who follow corporate orders, cannot stand the evisceration of their own defined benefits if others still have them, and promote in ink “I’m no fan of government pension systems,” Zorn and his fellows work day and night reconstructing what happened and who is to blame…and what they hope will result.

After criticizing Rauner’s latest back stepping and tremulous tiptoe around the subject of COLA’s for current retirees, Pearson and Secter both write in today’s article, “The automatic, compounded three percent annual raises are a key reason debt has skyrocketed, according to critics of the current system”

What critics?  The Illinois Policy Institute.  C’mon guys.  Be reporters!

Even Representative Elaine Nekritz would admit that the real issue is the $100 billion shortfall due to what she suggested a diversion of funding from what was owed pensioners, not theft. 

Fred Klonsky was quick to call that “a distinction without a difference.”

The COLA has been an actuarially calculated part of the pension program for nearly four decades.  It was not the COLA that opened the bottom of the debt bag…it was the refusal and avoidance to pay to begin with, followed by the avoidance of making payments afterwards.

As usual, the Tribune, a post-modern and bankrupt newspaper supposed to promote truth, avoids desperately identifying any real issue, especially those that hit close to home.

In fact, while Rauner hides behind what worked in the past – an abundance of shallow, millimeter thick attacks and unctuous flatteries of Bruce as a “good man,”  the Tribune relies on avoidance, or is it lying. 

A distinction without much difference.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

More Letters from the Inside: Two Actives Describe Disaster of Ed Reform in Education

Another Letter from the Inside: Two Active Teachers Describe the Effects of Ed Reform on Their Teaching 

“What follows is a piece that my co-teacher and I put together in response to the ‘ed reform’ that has been shoved down our throats… We are sending this out to several publications, but fear that it won't get published because of its length…” —Two Illinois High School Teachers

“Dictates, mandates, and data, data, data have overwhelmed day-to-day education.  Common Core; PARCC; Type 1, 2, and 3 Assessments; NCLB; ACT; SAT; PLC; RTI; CEC; VAM; IEPs; SIPs and a dozen other local acronyms and initiatives buzz about, but new evaluation models create more of an avalanche than an annoyance for classroom teachers.  

“We will be buried, dig our way out, or be dismissed.

“The sad reality is that none of the above transforms the essence of teaching.  This white noise often pulls teachers out of class to learn the latest educational à la carte solution. After brief introductions, we incorporate the few kernels that we can mine out of the buzz. But, we often deflect.  We fly under the radar.  We do our real work, teaching, while trying to pass the straight face test in managing the above list.  And despite our resistance, our students still find success on standardized tests but, more importantly, send us letters of gratitude for making them think in ways that don’t show up on those tests.

“Unfortunately, most education ‘reforms’ will succeed in making schools, students, and teachers more ‘common.’  So we have a ‘common’ experience, a ‘common’ set of expectations, and no ‘common’ sense.  Teachers are herded out of the classroom for their own indoctrination, then sent back into the classroom to slash instructional time in favor of more testing—all in the name of the sacred cow: data.  This is a corporate model.  Education is not a corporation despite those who see schools as ‘growing, untapped markets.’

“Is anyone listening to the classroom teachers today?  Not really.  In about 2-3 years another slew of solutions will be purchased; another set of acronyms will be dumped on us—at a cost in the hundreds of millions—by the Educational Corporate Complex.   Aspiring administrators and politicians, searching for the magic bullet, will succeed in shoveling more down our throats because not enough teachers, not enough parents, not enough journalists, and not enough honest politicians have the courage to engage in candid conversations about the root causes of student failure.

“Teachers are not against reform; we are for honesty.  The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach may seem the easiest to implement, easiest to measure, and the easiest to comprehend, but life is hard.  Life is complex. Learning is complex.  The mysteries of the human brain are complex.  The matrix of factors essential for success is complex.  

“Dare we say in a data-driven environment that it is impossible to quantify?  Please try to quantify your own childhood.  Please try to put into a spreadsheet those experiences that have made you who you are.  Educational reformers, and all of us, may just uncover and be humbled by the fact that our education—formal and informal, positive and negative—can’t be displayed in a spreadsheet.

“And instead of a common ‘target’ (or college) for all that removes the dignity from certain careers (the trades) and one that is measured by a limited common measuring stick (as in standardized tests), we should ensure basic skills, encourage critical thinking, and emphasize common sense.  This sort of common sense should be tackled on the community level, the way the US Constitution demands it.  

“What we might find, despite regional differences, is that honesty and a true commitment to egalitarianism could still lead to an umbrella of common sense values.  We might all embrace the concepts of hard work, accountability for ourselves and the greater good, and individual dignity.  

“Instead, our common values have been undermined by the causes and effects of poverty, the disintegration of the family, the promotion of a mass media that glorifies consumerism, the effects of the abuse of technology to access that culture 24/7, an absence of parenting and a growing dependence on institutional solutions for poor individual choices.  Of course these ‘one-size-fits-all’ reforms would work if students didn’t face these challenges, but these are the complex conversations the reformers, the federal government, the state government, the school districts, and the building administrations avoid.  

“The lack of common sense is real.  One ‘hot trend’ in education is that we want and expect student output to increase; yet students should not be held accountable for homework.  This academic ‘practice’ should never count toward a ‘grade...only the final output should count.’  In fact, students should retest until they reach ‘mastery’ of the common ‘target.’  

“So when the ‘burden’ of expectations are ‘lifted,’ will children choose to engage in challenging material?  Translated into teacher understanding: work ethic and ‘the process’ no longer matters.   It is only the ends that matter, not the means.  What kind of lesson is this for our young people?

“Thankfully many educators are still engaging in this debate in their classrooms and with one another.  And this is why teachers still love their jobs.  Step outside the classroom and these conversations become taboo.  Honesty is replaced by fear.  

“Teachers’ careers are on the line in our testing, data-driven culture:  Subgroups.  Categories.  Pie charts and Graphs.  Value-added models.  Education has turned into a business, and production targets must be measured; quotas must be met.  It is tunnel vision feeding the public’s appetite for easy solutions to complex problems in our hyper-paced world, but our formulas are becoming robotic and are eroding our humanity.

“Teachers and parents have solutions: the system of public education must be returned to the communities they serve.  Parents want teachers in front of their kids, not in endless in-services.  Parents want their students taught more and tested less.  Parents want their sons and daughters to build human bonds with passionate, thoughtful, creative, and compassionate individuals.  Parents want their son’s and daughter’s experiences in education to be more than data-driven.  They want it people-driven.  Teachers want the same goals for their students.

“This may be difficult to measure, but human beings know it when they see it and feel it when they don’t.”


—Two Illinois High School Teachers

Monday, May 19, 2014

Actives Describe the Classroom After SB7: Another Front in the War

"Got to stay single focused, got to stay single….."
Letters from the Inside: Active Teachers Describe the Effects of SB7

Dinner with an active colleague in May 0f 2014

“Sorry, you guys, but while you have been fighting for us in pensions, they’ve come under the cracks in the door.  You missed what happened since you left, since the Performance Reform Evaluation Act.  The classes you remember no longer exist.  The teachers you remember no longer exist.  We are miserable and defeated; I’m not kidding, all of us are either counting how much time we have left, or we’re trying to figure out some new kind of life outside of what has become a surreal nightmare of mandates, testing, and “enduring outcomes.”

Another younger, talented instructor responds to query regarding that dinner conversation.

My hoop dream is your nightmare...
“You hit the nail on the head with the term 'defeated'. That captures it perfectly. We're beaten down, convinced that we're stuck in a downward spiral that will end with the corporatization of our districts, the elimination of our pension funds (if not our jobs entirely), and the demise of public education in general. We're cogs in a data wheel now, expected to produce only quantitative results at the expense of the very qualities of relationships, values, and knowledge that inspired us to pursue this noble profession. The nobility and art is no longer valued. What IS valued is an adherence to strict data models, and finding ways to prove we've actually done our jobs. We are guilty until proven innocent under the Danielson model of evaluation, which in our district demands certain practices that we as teachers are legitimately against both pedagogically and philosophically (the daily posting of "learning targets" is one of them - this is required now by all staff members). We are all treated like we have no ability, intellect, or motivation, and while a good 95% of our teaching staff is among the most capable, professional, and intelligent any school could hope for, we're all being treated as if we are in that 5% of teachers who aren't quite cut out for the rigors of the job. This assumption about our professionalism and ability is demoralizing on its own, but it's just the beginning.”

What’s your perception of students within this “new culture of testing and performance expectation – for you and them?

"Students are less and less able to solve problems and think critically now because we've trained them not to. We've trained them to get the right answer at all costs. They're less and less responsible for themselves because they no longer need to be - if they fail, it's on someone else. If they fail, the teacher did something wrong, not them. If they did not turn in the work, it was because the teacher was not 'creative enough to figure out how to the tailor the work to their needs, and shame on that teacher for being so arrogant as to expect the student to fit into their deadlines' (that quote is nearly verbatim from a guest speaker our district brought in last year to usher in new grading policies). The amount of anxiety and depression among students has never been higher - I've had six students this year alone hospitalized for severe school refusal behaviors related to anxiety."

Another teacher/administrator describes his relationship with students after changes in SB7.

"If I can just get through another 37 years…"
“Maybe you remember actually knowing students, their interests and needs.  That’s not in the picture anymore.  I tell you honestly that I don’t even know them really until over halfway through the year.  Even then, I don’t really ever have the connection I used to have.  Those days are gone.  It’s all about expectations now, delivering information on an hourly basis to parents who complain that it’s my fault if the student in underperforming.  Then, it’s off to differentiated learning where I must deliver a singularly individual program of learning to anyone who is not with the rest of the class.  You either face 27 different learning lessons or you yourself learn to find ways to accommodate the lesser learning outcome so all are together.  Meanwhile, the kid who finds some joy in a certain part of the text as it echoes some deeper part of him…well, that’s lost in the morass of skill building.”   

How do you survive this pressure day in and day out?

“So 'defeated'? Yes. Despairing? Yes. Exhausted, angsty, and hopeless? Yes. The amount of energy it takes to prevent these emotions from entering the classroom and affected our students is staggering, and it has us all on our last legs. Everyone has their head down now, muscling through the day at their desks, desperate to get as much done as possible in a time when we're being asked to do more and more and more. With new initiatives and policies coming down at what seems like a constant rate, we are in a vicious cycle of reactivity; most teachers I know trend towards the proactive in terms of their personalities and approaches to conflict and adversity, so to be relentlessly put in the position of reacting to the latest browbeating has us feeling like we're on the losing end of a boxing match. Every time we pull ourselves up, someone's there to deliver the next sucker punch and knock us down again.”


When and how do we stop this absurdity?
"I've come to call this 'new' mentality, 'If it ain't broke, fix it until it is.' It is rampant, it is tragic, it is destroying our profession and it's destroying the system of public education that our society has come to rely on. 

And on top of that insult, they're now taking away our retirement security, our salary advancement opportunities, and our partial reimbursement for advanced education (which we're required to obtain to maintain our licenses). It's a full-on assault from every possible angle, and we don't even know how to fight against it anymore because it's so goddamn big.

I still love to teach, to connect with kids through the art form I love, and to bring positive change in my small corner of the world to the best of my ability. But along with my colleagues, I'm increasingly convinced that my days of doing those things are numbered."