Educationally Yours

I wrote this as an assignment for my graduate class. Ignore the parts were I claim to be the superintendent. That was part of the assignment. I’m sure this isn’t what they expect when they ask you to write to your senator about an issue in education.

 

Dear Mr. Corman,

I am writing to you today to request that you introduce a Common Core withdrawal bill in the Pennsylvania Senate. As I will explain, the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards that were tightly adapted from the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) should be withdrawn because they heighten the focus of schools on Math and Reading while marginalizing other subjects, they were developed without input from teachers, and they degrade what local control remains in education.

As the superintendent of the Greenwood School District, I believe that the emphasis on Math and Reading minimizes the importance of other subjects that are not tested. I believe that the components of education that are valuable cannot all be tested. Our school district has developed goals that include achievement in Science and Technology, Environment and Ecology, World Languages, Arts and Humanities, and seven other categories in addition to Math and Reading. We will struggle to meet those goals with an increased emphasis on only two subjects.

From sources that I have read, the writers of the CCSS, while maintaining that they communicated with the states, actually had minimal engagement with the public or classroom teachers. The developers of the CCSS, Achieve, Inc. and the National Governors Association (NGA) were heavily funded by the private sector including the Gates Foundation. As far as I know, the experts on what students are developmentally capable of achieving at each grade level are the people who do it every day. Creating a guidebook for their work without knowing what the know may lead some to suggest that the CCSS were developed to assure that public school falter.

Finally, in 2006 and 2007, I led a group of teachers, parents, and community leaders in developing the following mission statement for the District:

The mission of the Greenwood School District is to provide enriching, educational experiences for each individual student. We believe the foundation of these experiences is a partnership among the family, school and community. The learning environment will develop the skills necessary to produce responsible citizens in a rapidly changing, diverse world.

 

I would highlight for you the second sentence: We believe the foundation of these experiences is a partnership among the family, school and community.  The CCSS continue a trend that began with the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that established No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and began a steady erosion of local control. Our community and our district value local control as evidenced by our mission statement. Creating a national standard for developing curriculum quite possibly will lead to a nationalized curriculum and from there eventually to a national standardized test. At that point the state will have lost control of educating their citizens and what little local control remains will dwindle to nothing.

Interestingly, many reformers of education point to the tremendous gains made by Finland on the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The gains made by Finland are in part contributed to moving away from a nationally centered curriculum to a locally controlled curriculum. While they do have national standards in Finland, they are especially perfunctory.

In closing, I appreciate the time that you take to examine the issues that I have brought forth in this missive. Our children are dependent on people like you to do what is right to ensure them a bright future. Hopefully this future will include locally controlled schools utilizing teacher designed assessments to drive a well rounded curriculum.

 

Educationally yours,

 

Jeffrey A. Kuhns

Superintendent of Schools

Greenwood School District

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Tree Climbing Fish

I posted this on my Facebook wall a week or so ago.  I don’t think a lot of people really know what he is saying.  At least I don’t think many people took the same meaning from it as I did.  It crystallized some thoughts I had been having about teaching difficult students.  Let’s call them fish.

Fish rule the world.  Or at least the parts of the world that make it interesting.  Einstein himself was a fish in many ways.  For all of his mathematical brilliance, he was rather one-dimensional.  He never really set the world on fire in school he was consumed by his thoughts.  It has been said that not only did he fairly regularly get lost trying to get home but also at times he would not recognize his house when he got there.  Can you imagine what he was like as a third grader.  I can just hear the faculty room talk, “that Einstein boy is driving me nuts!  Is it just me or does he have the attention span of a gnat? Somebody sneak some Ritalin in that boys lunch, please!”

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, John Chambers CEO of Cisco, and Charles Schwab all reportedly have ADD/ADHD (Whatever they’re calling it this week).  Ben Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy, though never diagnosed had symptoms of what we now call ADHD as well as Beethoven, John Lennon and Elvis. The world of acting is chock full of people with that gnatlike attention span:  Robin Williams, Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey, Will Smith and even Alfred Hitchcock to name a few.  And athletes are ADD in amazing numbers.  Greats like Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Bruce Jenner and Michael Phelps suffer or suffered from lack of attention.  They are all fish.

If these fish would have been judged by climbing trees everyone of them would have been a failure.  At the singular activity though they were or are phenomenal.  I don’t believe that it is a matter of overcoming the obstacle, I believe that the so called obstacle is what made them great.

The link to teaching then is that we are keeping a large number of kids from finding their greatness.  There are a myriad of reasons and they go back way before standardized testing.  Standardized testing didn’t make it any easier but it really isn’t the blame.  The blame is on an educational system that everyone has bought into.  A system were being different is condemned and thinking creatively is not rewarded.  Where the number of ADD students in a classroom is seen as a hassle and not a reward.  Just think what it would be like if you had Einstein, Franklin, and Hitchcock in your room.  Would their ideas fit into your rubric?  Would you give them a “C” because they didn’t use commas?

So, what is the solution?  In my estimation the solution is to favor thinking over content.  Teaching students to use the tool they were born with for something other than to  memorize the states and capitals.  Most people won’t want to hear this but I believe the goal of the Common Core Standards is to do just that.  Not just to teach that 1+1=2 but to teach why.  And from that tiny sprout of why, encourage students to continue to ask “Why” until that blossoms into asking “How?” and eventually to students exploring the “Whys” and the “Hows” that interest them.

Fish know that the information is out there.  They need to know how to access it.  Fish know that they have brilliant thoughts all the time.  They need to know how to develop and expand them.  Fish, as I’ve said before, don’t understand your games of due dates, assignment planners, rubrics, and standardized tests.  They do understand when you don’t try to understand them.

Tomorrow:  I have more thoughts before breakfast than most people have all day.