Archives For Pearson

Perplexed: adj.

1. bewildered; puzzled.
2. complicated; involved; entangled.

(o _ 0 )  ?

I am perplexed as to why this word is on the EngageNY first grade vocabulary list, and again perplexed when I review the first grade units for English Language Arts (ELA) on this website. I am perplexed because I can see that several units in our current grade five curriculum (Early Settlers and the American Revolution) and our entire grade six curriculum (Ancient World History) have  been bundled into a series of units that will be taught in first grade.Did I mention that EngageNY complicates these areas of study with content area lessons on the human body and astronomy in first grade?

All these complications have me even more perplexed as to why so many people are recommending that educators visit and use EngageNY resources. In two separate incidents over the past two weeks, I have heard educators from the State of Connecticut recommend the site. One recommendation was made directly to the Commissioner in the State Department of Education, Stephan Pryor, during a roll-out of the state’s Common Core website. I hope he does not take these recommendations seriously.

Remember that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were supposed to guide teachers to teach less and focus more. The CCSS were promoted as a means to stop instruction that is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The CCSS were promoted to allow teachers to select their own materials, an opportunity to move away from scripted programs, stating,”Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.”

Engage NY curriculum contrasts with these both of these goals; it is both staggering in its breadth and it is highly scripted.

A look at the Grade One English Language Arts curriculum in the “Listening and Learning Strand” demonstrates the breadth in a curriculum that is organized into 11 separate content area Domains. An examination into Domain 4, titled “Early World Civilizations” shows a unit that is 21 days in length for 6 year-old students using  a Tell It Again! Read-Aloud Anthology. Engage NY explains that this unit:

“….for Early World Civilizations contains background information and resources that the teacher will need to implement Domain 4, including an alignment chart for the domain to the Common Core State Standards; an introduction to the domain including necessary background information for teachers, a list of domain components, a core vocabulary list for the domain, and planning aids and resources; 16 lessons including objectives, read-alouds, discussion questions, and extension activities; a Pausing Point; a domain review; a domain assessment; culminating activities; and teacher resources.”

A further examination of Domain 4 means reviewing its 81 student objectives. That number is not as intimidating as the language in the content area objectives. The first ten objectives state that “by the end of this unit, students will be able to….”:
  1. Locate the area known as Mesopotamia on a world map or globe and identify it as part of Asia;
  2. Explain the importance of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and the use of canals to support farming and the development of the city of Babylon;
  3. Describe the city of Babylon and the Hanging Gardens;
  4. Identify cuneiform as the system of writing used in Mesopotamia;
  5. Explain why a written language is important to the development of a civilization;
  6. Explain the significance of the Code of Hammurabi;
  7. Explain why rules and laws are important to the development of a civilization;
  8. Explain the ways in which a leader is important to the development of a civilization;
  9. Explain the significance of gods/goddesses, ziggurats, temples, and priests in Mesopotamia;
  10. Describe key components of a civilization…
Consider the readiness for first graders to meet these content objectives, and consider their readiness in meeting  other content area objectives in this unit including:
#16 Explain the significance of gods/goddesses in ancient Egypt;
#26 Define monotheism as the belief in one God….

The problem with these content area objectives is that the response, (and remember this is a six year old’s response), is limited to a shallow or cursory understanding to any of these larger questions. Entire courses at higher grade levels, middle and high school, have been developed around these objectives, and many of these objectives will be repeated again in these higher grade levels.

Next, consider that the unit that follows Domain 5-Early American Civilizations, is dedicated to a study of the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan societies. These first 10 objectives for Domain 5 state that “the student will be able to….”

  1. Explain that a shift occurred from hunting and gathering to farming among early peoples; compare and contrast hunter-gatherer societies and Mayan society;
  2. Explain the importance of extended family to the Maya;
  3. Identify the areas in which the Maya/Aztec/Inca lived;
  4. Explain that the Maya/Aztec/Inca farmed;
  5. Explain that the Maya/Aztec/Inca developed large cities or population centers, or empires, many, many years ago;
  6. Explain that the Maya/Aztec/Inca had leaders (kings or emperors); identify by name the emperor of the Aztec, Moctezuma;
  7. Explain that the Maya/Aztec/Inca each had a religion;
  8. Describe the significance of the stars and planets to the Maya;
  9. Explain the significance of the Mayan calendar;
  10. Identify the Aztec capital as Tenochtitlan; identify that Machu Picchu is an Incan city…
There are 32 more objectives for students in Domain 5, and there are nine other domains with an equally daunting number of “the student will” objectives in the Listening and Learning strands. There are more objectives, with overlap, in the Skill strands for each of remaining nine Domains. According to the curriculum in EngageNY, a first grader would be expected to have a basic understanding of Early World Civilizations and Early American Civilizations as well as these remaining nine domains:

Domain #1: Fables and Stories
Domain #2: The Human Body
Domain #3: Different Lands/Similar Stories
Domain #6: Astronomy
Domain #7: The History of the Earth
Domain #8: Animals and Habitats
Domain #9: Fairy Tales
Domain #10: A New Nation: American Independence
Domain #11: Frontier Explorers

The most striking characteristic of this list of domains is the breadth of content area material that a first grader (remember, these are 6 year-olds), is required to “explain” or “identify” or “describe.” These are at best low level comprehension skills in Bloom’s taxonomy. This list clashes with the CCSS objective to become “more focused and coherent” especially when this list of domains does not appear to be connected by any central theme; their inclusion appears random.

All this content will be important to developing a student’s background knowledge over the course of several years, but how critically important is this material at the first grade level when instruction time is at a premium? Practice in reading and writing should be a priority, and the content used for in the development of reading and writing skills should not overwhelm students, but rather complement student cognitive ability.

Nevertheless, EngageNY provides equally dense ELA curriculum at each grade level. Students often “revisit” content that they may not have understood earlier, an enterprise that could be unnecessary given the cursory treatment that may given a topic at an earlier grade level (example: studying War of 1812 in grade 2).

Like any other website with lessons aligned to the CCSS, teachers may find value in some resources on EngageNY. A cautionary note, however, is that these are not “teacher-tested” lessons, but highly scripted lessons from the juggernaut of publishing and testing, the UK based Pearson. This raises a frightening scenario of having the creators of student achievement tests (Pearson) hold teachers and students accountable for the content they (Pearson) have also created in the lessons.

Connecticut’s adoption of the CCSS should remain true to its stated goals of allowing teachers to select their own materials in the development of focused curriculum at each grade level. The damage may already be done, however, since the website Pryor was offering in the state rollout of the Common Core already contains numerous links to EngageNY resources.

Which brings me to another 1st grade word on the EngageNY vocabulary list.
Apoplexy.

ScantronThe New York State Department of Education’s new standardized tests were administered last week. The tests for grades 3-8 were developed by the educational testing company Pearson and contained new “authentic” passages aligned to the new Common Core State Standards. State tests might have been routine news had not several teachers also noticed that the English Language Arts “authentic” passages mentioned products and trademark names including Mug ©Root Beer and Lego ©.

Product placement on standardized tests in elementary schools is bigger news. The public has grown accustomed to advertisements on webpages, before videos, on scoreboards, and with the well-placed beverage during a movie. Subtle and direct advertising to the youth market to develop brand loyalty at an early age is the goal of almost every corporation.

Consider a survey by Piper Jaffray, a leading investment bank and asset management firm, the  “Taking Stock With Teens” survey (taken March 1–April 3, 2013), that gathered input from approximately 5,200 teens (average age of 16.3 years). The survey is used to determine trends, and the most recent results note:

“Spending has moderated across discretionary categories for both upper-income and average-income teens when compared to the prior year and prior season. Yet nearly two-thirds of respondents view the economy as consistent to improving, and just over half signaled an intent to spend ‘more’ on key categories of interest, particularly fashion and status brand merchandise.”

Much attention, therefore, is placed on the youth market, and product placement on standardized testing could be a new marketing strategy. For example, corporations in the fashion industry could read this report and be inclined to offer some news stories or commission a short story that mentioned clothing brand names in the future to Pearson or another testing company in order to provide “authentic” passages. What better opportunity for corporations to build brand loyalty then to an audience, captive in a classroom during a state-mandated test?

The education reporter for the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss, reported on the “authentic” passages that mentioned products as “author’s choices”; Pearson’s response to her query:

As part of our partnership with NYSED, Pearson searches for previously published passages that will support grade-level appropriate items for use in the 3-8 ELA assessments. The passages must meet certain criteria agreed upon by both NYSED and Pearson in order to best align to Common Core State Standards and be robust enough to support the development of items. Once passages are approved, Pearson follows legal protocols to procure the rights to use the published passages on the assessment on behalf of NYSED. If a fee is required to obtain permission, Pearson pays this fee. NYSED has ultimate approval of passages used on the assessment.

Strauss’s report, “New Standardized Tests Feature Plugs for Commercial Products” also indicated that this practice is not exclusive to NY, and that “several different assessment programs have instances of brand names included due to use of authentic texts.” There were no specifics mentioned.

Following up with the NY Department of Education, Beth Fertig from the blog Schoolbook (WNYC),  Stories from the Front Line of Testing asked about the recent product placement:

“This is the first time we have had 100 percent authentic texts on the assessments,” said spokesman Tom Dunn. “They were selected as appropriate to measure the ELA standards. Any brand names that occurred in them were incidental and were cited according to publishing conventions. No one was paid for product placements.”

Perhaps no one was paid this year, but an unwritten taboo was broken with these standardized test. The New York Post reported one teacher response in the article  “Learn ABC’s – & IBM’s: Products in Kid Exams” by Yoav Gonen and Georgett Roberts

“I’ve been giving this test for eight years and have never seen the test drop trademarked names in passages — let alone note the trademark at the bottom of the page,” said one teacher who administered the exam.

They also reported that other commercial enterprises including the TV show “Teen Titans” and the international soccer brand FIFA  were also included on the tests.

While gaining the loyalty of the youth market is a necessary step for major corporations, the appearance of these brands on standardized tests brings our students one step closer to the future as envisioned by Stephen Spielberg in the film Minority Report. In one scene, the fugitive John Anderton (Tom Cruise) walks along a corridor while animated billboards market directly to him by calling his name:

The possibility of this kind of marketing exists and perhaps personalized advertising will call to us everyday; a cacophony of advertisements designed to keep brand names in our consciousness. Similarly, even the youngest students are the target of marketing campaigns as part of any corporation’s long term economic strategy; advertisements on multiple platforms are the “white noise” of their lives. So frequent are advertisements in students’ lives that any product placement, paid or unpaid, on these standardized tests may contribute to the definition of what is “authentic”. Students are exposed to ads so frequently and in so many genres that a text is not real without some brand name mentioned.

And if that product placement is a small part of what makes a passage “authentic” on a standardized test, can talking “authentic” billboards in the school hallways be far behind?

I read a tweet by the National Education Association’s (NEA) president, Dennis Van Roekel, which brought me to this quote: “I’m so tired of OTHERS defining the solutions….without even asking those who do the work every day of their professional life.”

Consider how solutions determined by others have determined the profound changes in education in the past 12 years. The legislation for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS), have come from stakeholders who are looking into  the classroom as if they are looking through a one-way window. This one-way window prevents the sounds of education, limits other visual perspectives, and prevents dialogue with teachers. The one way also window prevents the teachers from seeing or communicating with those stakeholders who have made these changes.

This past week, in my Twitter feed, I found links to information which made me wonder, with the increasing adoption of technology in education, how might this one-way window dynamic change?

The first piece of information came from a tweet by @webenglishteach. On a recent post titled “My career by the numbers (so far)” on her Chalkboard blog, Carla discussed her retirement as an English teacher and reflected on the numbers in her educational career, for example, the number of papers she had corrected or numbers of students she taught over the course of her 32 year career. She has spent the past year with the Department of Education (DOE), and noted:

“People at the DOE like to identify themselves as teachers. ‘I taught 2 years.’ They’re good people, but teachers make more decisions that affect other people on Monday than someone at DOE does all week. Be proud of what we do.”

The second piece of information came from a link in the article The Gates Foundation’s Education Philanthropy: Are Profit Seeking and Market Domination a Public Service?  tweeted by Education Week . The article comprehensively argued against the agenda of wealthy philanthropic enterprises that partner with public institutions, a public-private partnership.This article by Anthony Cody contained a link to a April 2011 article by Sam Dillon in the New York Times Foundations Join to Offer Online Courses for Schools  that described how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be working with the textbook and testing firm Pearson:

“In his educational work, Bill Gates has explored ways that new technologies can transform teaching. Vicki Phillips, a director at the Gates Foundation, said the partnership with Pearson was part of a ‘suite of investments’ totaling more than $20 million that the foundation was undertaking, all of which involve new technology-based instructional approaches. The new digital materials, Ms. Phillips said, “have the potential to fundamentally change the way students and teachers interact in the classroom.”

This investment will be extremely profitable for Pearson, a large corporation that also houses the publishing companies Penguin and the Financial Times; $330 million in Department of Education financing. The partnership with the Gates Foundation could give Pearson a considerable advantage as textbook and learning technology companies position themselves in an education marketplace upended by the creation of the common standards. Finally, Susan Neuman, a former Education Department official with the Bush Administration commented in the story, “Pearson already dominates, and this could take it to the extreme. This could be problematic for many of our kids. We could get a one size fits all.”
In both these instances, the classroom teachers are clearly not involved solutions. There are Department of Education employees with fleeting experience in the classroom  determining educational policy.  Public-private partnerships are fundamentally changing how content is delivered in the classroom. Finally, education services companies are developing both the texts and the tests for use in the classroom.
So why are teachers, those with years of expertise in the classroom, not leading to challenge the solutions offered by others?   That is what Van Roekel was asking when he addressed the NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly  at the 2012 convention:
“I’m so tired of OTHERS defining the solutions… without even asking those who do the work every day of their professional life.
I want to take advantage of this opportunity for US to lead – and I’m not waiting to be asked, nor am I asking anyone’s permission.
Because if we are not ready to lead, I know there are many others ready, willing, and waiting to do it for us. Or maybe I should say, do it ‘to’us.There are plenty of people outside our profession who have their own ideas about what we should be doing, how we should be evaluated, and how to improve public education…”
Teachers could define the solution if they had time and the ability to effectively dialogue with other teachers. Unfortunately, there is little teachers can do about the finite elements of time, however, teachers can communicate with teachers much more effectively today through numerous platforms. Research has proved that peer to peer professional development is successful, and one platform for such dialogue is  Twitter. No, not the “Katie Holmes vs Tom Cruise” Twitter or the #justsayin  Twitter trend. Twitter provides teachers a means to communicate (140 characters) quickly, to link content, to help research, or to celebrate success. Twitter can be an effective a part of a  PLN (personal learning network) for a teacher who has only a few minutes to spare each day, weekends included, during the school year and can be part of self-directed professional development mandated in some state teacher evaluations.
Twitter offers evening “chats” by subject, grade level, or on educational topics simply by using a hashtag (EX: #edchat, #engchat, #sschat). A complete schedule of educational chats is available on technology guru Jerry Blumengarten’s (alias Cybraryman)  Twitter page .
Using Twitter as my PLN, I found each of the articles I referenced above through Twitter. I will Tweet this blog. I may be re-Tweeted so that the information finds its way to other teachers.
Now consider that there are more than 7.2 million teachers (US Census in 2009)  , and then consider how Twitter could be used to connect teachers in dialogue (quickly), so that solutions in education can be proposed from the inside the classroom with the one-way window. Twitter PLNs can keep teachers informed (quickly) when “others define solutions” and help teachers generate their response in shared dialogues.  Twitter can be a tool for teachers in creating the powerful voice of those “who do the work every day of their professional life” and lead them to share their solutions to the problems in education. The decible level of collective teacher Tweets can be the noise to shatter the glass of that one-way window that “others” use to see into the classroom.