I love a good conversation about education! Last evening I had the wonderful opportunity to have such a conversation with the parents of two of our elementary students. They met with me to talk about their concerns about education and the direction the New York State Education Department is headed. I hope they enjoyed the conversation half as much as I did–even though it lasted for two solid hours and I’m sure they had the bedtimes of their children to worry about when they left here at 9:00!
What did we talk about? If I had to summarize that conversation, in which this mom and dad offered countless astute observations about the education of their girls, I’d say it was about the impact of state testing and the common core curriculum on their children. They talked about the anxiety, the frustration, and the tears associated with school this year.
This young couple spoke of the loss of family time as their daughter spends three hours per night on homework, often on our new Math curriculum and the difficulty in solving problems as it’s done with the common core. Three hours of homework for 8-12 year old children? That’s ridiculous. No elementary child should have more than 20-30 minutes of homework total. You tell me as an adult if you want to come home from work and then work for another couple of hours?
These caring, dedicated parents wondered why their children are in front of a computer so much, why they don’t know things that we learned in school like state and local history and geography. Why are so few papers their children bring home focused on social studies or science? When do they get to do projects in school like the one created for the academic fair that their daughter was so excited about? And why is their child so worried about her performance on a state test, to the point that she’s afraid it’s going to affect the rest of her life because she was told it will be on her permanent record?
What’s my answer? Public education has changed dramatically in the past two years. I’ve said many times that this has been the most stressful, rapidly changing time in my career. The impact has seemingly hit us in waves. The first wave was my own, as I studied the changes and began to plan implementation three years ago. Next were the administrative team and the teachers who were involved in studying the APPR regulations with me and making decisions about our plan. Also affected last year were those incredible teachers of Math and ELA in grades 3-8. And last summer and this school year it affected the rest of our teachers as they came to better understand the portfolio reviews and the pre and post assessments in every subject and the changes to the curriculum.
But now the wave of anxiety is affecting our children. That’s our fault. It’s not okay for us to increase the level of anxiety in the children we are charged with educating and caring for to the point where they no longer want to come to school. ADULT employees must seamlessly handle the stress of a changing work environment without impacting children. The students take their cues from us. Our message must be, “We have worked hard all year and prepared for these tests. We’ve got this. I’m confident you will do your best!” That’s it. No threats, no coercion, no panic mode teachers. We are adults, we’re paid to handle the stress of change; the students are our responsibility not our partners in panic.
Think about the ugliest of divorced couples with kids. They use coercion and bribes, over-share information, malign the other parent and HURT their own children in the process. We cannot be like those parents as educators. We must be like those parents who do their best to protect their children from their own pain and anxiety.
And about those other questions? When is the time for social studies and science and creativity and joy in learning? I honestly don’t know. The best I can do is promise our entire school community that we will continue to work hard, to support our teachers and to figure it all out together. I don’t have all of the answers. I’m frustrated too. I know there are some good things to come from all of the State Ed changes. We did need to improve our instruction in Math as a school district so that our students really know their math facts and how to solve problems. Our students will be better at reading, writing, and discussing–they’ll be better at citing their sources and have more extensive vocabularies.
What I don’t know is how we’re going to meet the new challenges while maintaining all of the rich, wonderful things we’ve always done with our students. I can’t figure that out alone–I need our teachers doing that with us. As we master this new curriculum we will get better at bringing in all of those good things we’ve always done. These are tough transitional years, let’s do everything we can so that it’s not tough on the children we’re charged with teaching. And no, I still don’t think the answer is for our parents to opt their children out of state testing. But I will respect and support parents who decide that’s the answer for their families.
Just think of the impact those two young parents have already had on our educational community by meeting with me and asking questions and thinking deeply about the education of their children. Our faculty and our admin team are talking about these issues and will continue to focus on a balanced approach to our education for Randolph children. We have incredible educators, parents and children—if anyone can do all of this it’s Randolph Central. I’m in it for the long haul, I’ll stand with you, I’ll listen and I’ll work with you to make it better.