Education Week - September 25, 2013 - (Page 27)
SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 www.edweek.org
advancement should apply only to the high school grades,
which are already clustered to give students more time for
Problem #4: Nowhere in the standards is there any
attempt to link student learning to the real world in real
time. Everything is designed to serve students’ potential
future roles, and the means prescribed for demonstrating
mastery are limited to written essays, oral presentations,
and class discussions. This is the standards’ fatal flaw:
They are a set of academic exercises without any real-world
Possible Solution: While not all the standards can be
met through student-centered activities, many of them are
open to more-meaningful demonstrations of mastery than
the ones now specified in the English/language arts document.
Here is a typical standard from the writing strand as
presented for two different grades:
• Grade 3: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine
a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
• Grades 9-10: Write informative/explanatory texts to
examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information
clearly and accurately through the effective selection,
organization, and analysis of content.
This standard could be met in both grades by having students
write informational pieces for a parent newsletter,
letters to a newspaper reacting to a published article, or
simpler versions of an existing text for students in a lower
grade. Even producing a poster advertising a school event
would fit the expectations of this standard at the elementary
and middle school levels. In almost all the writing
standards, less specification of form and content would
allow students to use a wider range of writing types for
various purposes and audiences.
In the speaking and listening strand, the standards only
call for group discussions and class presentations. What
about mentioning improvisational drama, re-enactment of
fables and folk tales, and choral poetry recitations? Moreover,
the reading informational text strand includes only
“historical, scientific, or technical text.” What’s wrong with
having students read cookbooks, game instructions, biographies,
and newspaper articles?
In presenting this critique, I do not claim to have identi-
fied all the problems in the English/language arts standards
or to have offered the best possible solutions. Many
other voices need to be heard, especially those of K-12
PAGE 29 >
JOANNE YATVIN is a retired teacher, elementary school principal, and
district superintendent who now writes books for teachers and supervises
student-teachers for Portland State University in Oregon. She is also a past
president of the National Council of Teachers of English.
To Support Great Teachers?
What Are We Doing
By Mary Amato
experiences, no experience is necessarily more or less
authoritative than the next. White teachers need to facilitate
these conversations in their classrooms as much
as teachers of color do. Second, students who are able to
shift positions and imagine how someone else interprets
a social issue gain a more complete understanding of an
issue from multiple sides.
Dialogue on the Martin case can refine these skills.
Drawing from the San Diego plan, students can consider
the social factors and assumptions that contributed to
George Zimmerman’s decision to approach Trayvon
Martin in the first place. Students can also attempt to
imagine the 17-year-old’s reaction to Zimmerman and to
share how they react to adults in power, including teachers
and police officers.
These scenarios invite middle and high school students
of all colors and backgrounds to develop the empathic
skills that are key to democracy.
If we want future generations to practice democracy
better than we do, we must teach them how to participate
in open dialogues. They should have the social skills
to listen to and reflect on the experience of others—to let
another person’s story stand, instead of stifling it.
This is where schools can play a role, and this is what
democracy is all about. n
DAVID KNIGHT is a public high school special education teacher
in Boston, as well as a writer and education researcher.
ou can tell that Mrs. Obstgarten is a
great teacher when you step into her
Walk in on the last day of school, a
half-day when you’d expect kids to be
bouncing off the walls, and you see every
kid bright-eyed, eager to play a math game. Yes. On the
last day. She is the kind of teacher that every parent
wants, that every kid will remember. She is calm. She is
in control. She is curious. She has this light in her eyes,
this eagerness to learn, nothing you can measure or
package, but there it is radiating from her, igniting the
curiosity and creativity of her students.
In the past 12 years, as a children’s book author, I
have seen more than 2,000 teachers at work. I have
been in small and large, rural and inner-city, public
and private classrooms from tiny Dover, N.H., to
sprawling Phoenix. Schools bring me in for classroom
workshops and all-school assemblies in which I share
my passion and my process for brainstorming, writing,
Through these visits, and because of my own
background in education and education reporting, I
have learned to recognize a great teacher like Mrs.
Obstgarten—and it breaks my heart to think that this
year she’ll be sitting in Common Core State Standards
training sessions along with thousands of other teachers
across the country.
A set of official common-core
standards isn’t necessary to achieve
a high-quality education; great
The common-core standards have been adopted by
all but four states and are coming to classrooms across
the nation. Today, specialists are developing new curricula
and tests to meet those standards and training
teachers to use them. Our educational system will
spend time, effort, and money in the belief that implementing
the common standards will improve teaching
“Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core,” a
recent report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute,
estimates the total cost of implementation between
$3 billion and $12.1 billion, depending on which approaches
Yet, as someone who has visited hundreds of
schools around the country, here’s the reality as I see
it: New standards, tests, and training won’t necessarily
deliver results. What guarantees great teaching
and learning is a great teacher.
Great teachers are out there: the Ms. Ray who rushes
up to show me the newspaper her 6th graders are writing,
the Ms. Levenson who has emailed me ahead of my
visit to find out how she can prepare her 4th graders,
the Mr. Truman who sits in a student desk and raises
his hand during the Q-and-A because he has a burning
question, the Mrs. Winters who sent me stories her 2nd
graders wrote immediately after my presentation.
I’m buoyed by these amazing teachers, but I am
also dismayed by how many teachers are disengaged—no
preparation before my visit, no light in
their eyes while I’m there, no follow-up after I’m gone.
To a disengaged teacher, I’m just a line on the day’s
calendar, and the students know it. To an engaged
teacher, I’m an opportunity. I say this not to pat
myself on the back; I say this because a great teacher
will use every opportunity he or she has.
If a butterfly were to fly into a classroom and alight
on the whiteboard, a Mrs. Obstgarten will gather her
students to peer at the proboscis, to observe the camouflage
in the wings, to ask if anyone knows how, in
fact, a butterfly breathes, and to recommend research
to learn more (a butterfly breathes through spiracles,
tiny openings along the sides of its body!).
And if a living, breathing writer walks into the
school, a Mrs. Obstgarten will want to examine how
this writer works. A Mrs. Obstgarten will take notes
and encourage students to ask the writer questions.
(Do you outline? Do you deal with writer’s block? How
many revisions do you write? How do you make characters
so real? How do you handle criticism?)
To prepare students for my creative-writing
workshop, Mrs. Obstgarten and I worked together
to simplify the countywide lesson plan that she was
supposed to use (it was unreasonably complicated)
and to develop a pre-writing exercise. She taught the
exercise, I taught the story-writing workshop, and
then she followed up, allowing class time for students
to write and revise their stories and helping them
use the strategies I had demonstrated. The finished
stories were among the best I’ve ever read from this
age group. This was great teaching on her part.
By the way, I checked after the fact: Our one lesson
met all five common-core objectives for the narrativewriting
section of the 4th grade writing strand, and
we did this before having the official standards or
training. What does this mean? It shows that master
teachers are already doing the right thing. My point
is that a set of official common-core standards isn’t
necessary to achieve a high-quality education; great
You can give a disengaged teacher a five-volume
curriculum guide written by the best educators in the
world and you can still get a dull lesson. You can give
an engaged teacher a piece of scrap paper with the
word “bugs” on it, and you can get magic.
I believe that our schools should have well-articulated,
high standards for their students. But after
more than a decade of feet-on-the-ground observation,
I am convinced that what we need even more is
a “Great Teacher Initiative.” We need to attract the
brightest and best into the teaching profession and
make sure that teacher education programs at the college
level are rigorous, relevant, and passion-inducing.
A report released in June by the National Council on
Teacher Quality concluded that a majority of teacher
education programs do not adequately prepare teachers
with either content knowledge or classroom-management
skills. These are basic necessities.
Unless we address the issue of teacher quality, all
the effort and money going toward the common core
will be wasted. And our Mrs. Obstgartens, faced with
more training, may burn out or move on to private
schools when they should be refueling.
How do we accomplish this? I don’t know. I am not
an expert in education reform or teacher education.
But my Great Teacher Initiative would be founded
on these ideas: Good teachers have good content
knowledge and classroom-management skills; great
teachers have all that, and they are also passionate
and curious; if getting and keeping great teachers
were our highest priority, then getting and keeping
great standards would be a piece of cake.
Our goal should be to have not just one or two Mrs.
Obstgartens in every school, but to have a Mrs. Obstgarten
in every classroom. We should be able to walk
in and see the light in the eyes of the teacher and of
the students. Even on the last day of school. n
MARY AMATO, a former teacher and education reporter, is the
author of 11 books for children. Her young-adult novel Guitar
Notes (Egmont USA) was published in 2012. She is working on
a new children’s book series and a young-adult novel, which
Egmont USA plans to publish next year.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - September 25, 2013
Education Week - September 25, 2013
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Phila. Seeks Salvation in Lessons From Model School
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Schools Investing in New Measures To Boost Security
For Intellectually Disabled, a ‘Landmark’
States Mull Next Steps on Testing
News in Brief
New Research Consortium Targets D.C. Schools
Social Studies Framework to Guide Standards
Charters Turn to More-Unified Application Systems
Blogs of the Week
Texas Lesson-Plan Brawl Resonates Beyond State Border
Business Organizations Rally on Common Core
How to Improve the Common Core
Silence Is Not Neutrality
What Are We Doing to Support Great Teachers?
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
A Pathway for the Future of Education
Education Week - September 25, 2013