Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Welcoming Author D.A. Russell and The Problem with the Common Core

I'm joined today by author D.A. Russell, a fellow author and educator, whose book Lifting the Curtain takes a hard look at the education system in the United States.  He is sharing his views on the Common Core, which has not yet come to my county in Virginia, so I found his thoughts particularly interesting and informative!

The Problem with the Common CoreGuest Post by D.A. Russell

When it comes to common core, I will sound as though I am talking out of both sides of my mouth. I like the new math framework, even though I dread seeing it enter my high school classes. For math, at least, it has the potential to be a truly exceptional upgrade to teaching – it goes back 30 years to the idea of having students understand math, rather than remember steps. In truth, the most successful math teachers already use such an approach, despite all the system does to try to dumb down instruction so that “everybody passes.”

Yet our most successful teachers, even us curmudgeonly math types, are strongly against the new core for technical reasons. We are highly concerned that what could (and should!) have been a big step forward in math education has been so mishandled by inept career DoE bureaucrats that it will be just another major failure of a poorly implemented bureaucratic mandate.  

Even if everything else was magically fixed, common core is untenable, even the best parts, because those who are responsible for its implementation were neither qualified nor experienced to roll out and manage a project anywhere close to this level of technical complexity. Common core is a huge project – education averages 25% of all state budgets.

Why am I so pessimistic about common core? Because the implementation fails in so many areas:

Implementation timeline mismanagement:

One technical cause for the rejection of common core by so many states is the typical ineptitude in a poorly thought-out implementation of a new bureaucratic mandate. This year, standardized tests for sophomores in high school will have significant content based upon the new approach in common core– even though those students have just started to see the very different learning approach in their classes.  A sensible and professional implementation and rollout would have been phased over 4-5 years —  starting the content in elementary school, expand it in middle school, and be ready for high school testing when those students had experienced the needed lead-in to the new approach. 

High costs, and weak or non-existent support materials:

The second problem is both the major cost and lack of materials and textbooks for an “immediate” rollout long before such materials can be professionally prepared. Schools are being forced to purchase new books consistent with the new common core, yet many of the “new and improved” common core text books are little more than quick-and-dirty reworks of existing texts by publishers rushing to capitalize on new sales possibilities. Most of these new books are so weak that they will have to be scrapped and replaced (at even more cost) down the line. 

Meanwhile, school budgets have to prepare for the significant indirect expense for the rollout of a new common core – new testing materials, preparation of curricula, and replacement text books all place a very large financial burden on high schools.

Curricula – missing in action:

Third, as usual, the bureaucratic approach to rolling out a new program the scope of common core relied on classroom teachers to pick up the broken pieces and make it work. I spent many days, pulled from my classroom, as my math department struggled to prepare for common core. Every school has had to divert weeks of teacher time to try to create new curricula for all the courses – because the career bureaucrats in state and federal DoEs did not bother to include such materials in their rollout plans.

A laundry list of core standards, no matter how good, is not a curriculum.

In addition to the above technical and implementation failures, there are many content issues that have been raised by various constituencies – especially in topics such as history, English and biology.  For my area, math, this has not been an issue. Rather than discuss some of those concerns here, I must emphasize the most important consideration for common core:  even if all content issues were resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, common core would still be a failed bureaucratic mandate because of the bureaucratic implementation failures

A dozen states have already rejected common core. The only way to get them back, and prevent further rejection, is to fix the bureaucratic mismanagement of the program to date.

About Lifting the Curtain: The Disgrace We Call Urban High School Education (2nd Edition)

The 2nd edition of the acclaimed look at today's failed education system -- with dozens of teacher submissions from across the USA and nine new chapters! Both KIRKUS and CLARION praise this important book "...from the unique perspective of a classroom teacher" that shows the real problems that have destroyed the education of our children. Few parents or legislators have any chance of seeing the real state of education in our urban schools. It is a shameful disaster -- unlike anything that we, as parents, experienced just 15-20 years ago. The real problems stay largely unseen, because career DoE bureaucrats and school administration are extremely good at hiding their failed policies behind the curtain of the school entryway. In Lifting the Curtain, Russell provides a detailed look at urban high school education from inside the classroom, including three years of research, and the first ever major survey of what students and teachers think of the educational system. If we want a real solution for our children, then for once we must focus on the real problems, the ones carefully hidden behind the educational curtain.

About D.A. Russell:

D. A. Russell has spent the last ten years as a math teacher in one of the urban high schools that is the subject of Lifting the Curtain. He is an honors graduate of Dartmouth College, and has his master’s degree from Simon School, where he was valedictorian of his class. Russell is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He has two children that he treasures, and four grandchildren. His son is a police officer who served in the US Army in Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star for valor. His daughter is a lawyer and his most passionate fan and honorary literary agent. Russell has a passion for children that dominates his life. He has taught and coached children for decades. Few things are more important in Russell’s view than to cherish the children who are our real treasures in this world. 

He is a contributor for education matters to the Huffington Post, and runs a personal blog at: LiftingTheCurtainOnEducation.wordpress.com, dedicated to letting teacher voices be heard in the real problems with education.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Book Review - The Demon Trapper's Daughter

Book Stats
TitleThe Demon Trapper’s Daughter
Author:  Jana Oliver
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Original edition (February 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-0312614782

A student recommended The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver and, being a lover of all things young adult and paranormal, I decided to give it a try.  It follows the story of Riley Blackthorne, the daughter of a demon trapper, who lives in a post-apocalyptic version of Atlanta.  Demons, angels, vampires – you name it, they exist.   When Riley’s father is killed (not a spoiler – more of a focal-point of the novel), it is her job to protect her father’s body so he can’t be reanimated and turned into a slave.  However, she has to contend with her father’s hot partner, Beck, who treats Riley like a kid, and the demons, who all seem to know her name and are singling her out. 

Oliver sets the stage from the beginning, pulling us into this rough world in which Riley lives.  The demons are characters themselves, ranging in size and ferocity.  While some are comical, others are downright scary, but each demon is unique, and her descriptions make it easy to fall into Riley’s world. 

We are in the head of Riley and Beck, almost interchangeably, in every chapter.  Their “voices” are distinct and interesting.  Riley, like a typical teenager, is impulsive and makes some poor decisions.  She can be infuriating at times, but I didn't dislike her.  Beck is by far my favorite character.  He is rough around the edges, charming and engaging, serving as a strong contrast to Riley.

The content is YA appropriate, though I wouldn't suggest allowing a teen under the age of 14 to read it.  While Riley is seventeen, Beck is an adult, and Oliver doesn't hide his feelings (alcohol, sex, etc.).

I enjoyed Oliver’s novel, and the biggest compliment I can give it is this:  In a world full of sequels, I’m more apt to read the first book and not finish the series.  When I re-shelved The Demon Trapper’s Daughter in my classroom library, I immediately picked up the second book, Soul Thief.  I did it less for Riley and more for Beck, because I find him compelling and awesome, and am pretty sure he has more to offer.
Age Recommendation:  14 – Adult
Genre:  YA Paranormal