A Tree for the Teacher

I always thought of a shiny red apple as the quintessential gift of thanks to a teacher. It is a symbol; recognition of the immense effort required to impart understanding to a learner. Fruit, in itself, is a product. It is the outcome of a laborious and beautiful process that requires time, energy and optimal conditions. Time magazine’s depiction of the teachers themselves as apples; rotten or otherwise, suggests a fundamental flaw in their view of teachers and the process of educating children.

Just the image of a teacher as an apple is offensive. All apples eventually rot. They are at the end of the cycle. If anything, teachers are the tree. They are always growing and changing. Sometimes they need some pruning, but they always have the ability to grow again with the proper environment. No one would argue that some trees are better than others, but the actual designation of which are good and bad is completely subjective. Some trees are good because of the quantity of fruit they produce. Others are good for the quality of their fruit. Others produce very little fruit, but are great at providing shade and shelter from a harsh environment. Some trees provide a place for children to climb, explore and be inspired. Trees offer new perspectives; each limb giving a different view of the world below.

Unlike trees, apples can only be consumed or thrown away. Time magazine should be presenting teachers as the producers, not the produce that is destined for the compost bin.

Common Core Math Adds Up, But Doesn’t Subtract Down

A recent study (http://www.redding.com/lifestyle/peek-into-brain-shows-how-kids-learn-math-skills) put brain scanners on children and watched how their brains learned Math. While Bill Gates is probably drooling at the thought, the study did confirm what many have long assumed- drilling students on math facts will pay off. “If your brain doesn’t have to work as hard on simple math, it has more working memory free to process the teacher’s brand-new lesson on more complex math.”

Knowing this information, one would assume the 21st century standards of college and career readiness would place a premium on memorizing math facts, but that is not the case. In fact, Common Core Math actually demands less fact memorization than the standards they replaced. Take Common Core Standards in NY, please just take them :) (Be forewarned, fluency and memorization are two separate ideas. A child can fluently subtract 400-388, but can’t do it from memory). Look at the first grade Math standards that are related to facts:

  • Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9); using the relationship between addition and subtraction (e.g., knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 – 8 = 4); and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).

In second grade, students are finally asked to memorize, but only addition facts with no mention of subtraction:

  • Fluently add and subtract within 20 using mental strategies. (those listed in first grade) By end of Grade 2, know from memory all sums of two one-digit numbers.

At least in the old standards, Math facts were introduced in grade 1 and were strengthened in grade two. The Common Core Math Standards never require a student to memorize subtraction facts and that simply doesn’t add up (or in this case- subtract down).

Stop Racing. Run.

Students run in my classroom, they do not race. Racing is dangerous with 34 teenagers in a classroom filled with desks and chairs.

Running can’t be measured with a multiple choice test, so I do not give multiple choice tests. When I did, I wrote them following the model that I experienced in some of my high school classes. Each question had one correct answer, one close answer, one bad answer, and one funny answer. I enjoyed writing multiple choice answers, but hated test days. Watching students struggle to recall the color of Holden’s hat from their reading was an effective measure of their memory and/or ability to cheat but little else. I learned that no bubble, no matter how completely filled in, can reveal students’ understanding.

So, I stopped giving on-demand assessments and used technology to create student “webfolios” that increased healthy communication among my students. The emphasis was switched to the students, their self-reflections, personal responsibility, and away from racing to finish a test.

My students learn that writing is a process, and their best writing will not happen in 40 minutes. They discover that sometimes the best way to learn something, is to try to teach it. They face their fear of public speaking. They experience the difference between argument and debate. They organize, plan, and execute. They embrace opportunities to lead their peers. They reflect frequently and share openly. By the end of the school year, they know the value of their school year is directly related to the effort they put in each day.

The finish line for my seniors is the end of their secondary run. I give out awards based on how they ran. When they leave my class it is usually for college, career, or the military. My hope is they will continue to run because they found something, not stop running because they lost a race.

The educational race error cannot continue. No Child Left Behind left millions of children behind. Race to the Top erased billions from the classroom, increased class sizes, and replaced teaching and learning with underfunding and over-testing.

Racing is dangerous in a classroom and devastating as the philosophy for an educational system. Children can grow strong by running for fun but too many will be crushed by racing for rigor. Teaching cannot be canned in a module. Childhood cannot be measured by a score. Our children are not common. Our students are not data points. Our schools are not for sale.

No more false accountability. No more punitive measures. No more racing. Go for a run in green laces and continue to effect change. Running brings people together. It raises awareness. If enough people run, we can effect change.

As one.

4 Not More Than 2


This may sound like a CC math problem, but it is more a solution to CC: How is 4 not more than 2?

Nearly 70% of children who took the NYS tests last year were given 2’s and below which is supposed to indicate that they are not college and career ready.

Derek Jeter, #2 on the Yankees has been one of the most ready players for the last 19 years. What’s in a number? A career by any other digit would have been just as sweet. While his statistics make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the immeasurable and intangible aspects of his game are what have made him “Jeets” to the millions of fans who will watch his final home game today. He is “Captain Clutch” and “Mr. November.” He made “the flip,” “the dive,” and “the jump throw” even though he was not taught them from a script or a set of standardized plays.

Number 2 is more than the score of today’s game or the number of hits he has amassed during his career. He is the son of loving parents, a player on a baseball team, and the source of joy for millions of fans and rivals. Thanks DJ for always being ready. You have taught thousands of kids that being a 2 can no more stop a kid from reaching greatness than being a 4 guarantees it.

An On Demand Note About On Demand Writing

Each day, my son enters school with a smile. My hope is that he returns home in the same great spirits. I am afraid with endless quest for data, this simple hope is too much to ask.

In addition to the countless other assessments my second grade son is asked to take, the latest really has me scratching my head. Each student (K and up) is being asked to “on demand” write for 45 minutes on a genre that has not been taught. Imagine 5 , 6 and 7 year olds being asked to start every writing unit demonstrating something they have never been taught? Then, these students will spend a month or more working in that genre. They will use the writing process to develop and publish amazing pieces of writing and each unit will culminate in a Writing Celebration. The celebration ends when they are asked the very next day to write another “on-demand” piece to demonstrate their growth in this genre. I find this practice to be redundant and unnecessary. The issue is further complicated on the following day when the cycle resets and they are asked to write another “on demand” piece without receiving a single day of instruction in the next genre. Here is how each unit will present itself:

  •  On demand writing without receiving any lessons in the genre. 45 mins
  •  Lessons are given in genre. 1-2 months
  • Piece is published. 1 week
  •  On demand piece after receiving lessons. 45 minutes
  •  On demand piece in new genre without receiving any lesson in the genre. 45 minutes

What drives quality instruction during these writing units is the continual conferring that occurs between student and teacher as well as small group instruction to target any needs children may have. I do not see the value in adding beginning and end of unit “on-demand” pieces when our writing workshops are already structured to show student growth. A challenging part of teaching writing is getting students to love it and I fear that adding these many on-demand writing assignments will stymie that love for my son and his second grade friends.

Rather than demanding writing of 5, 6, and 7 year olds, we should be encouraging and inspiring them to write. Through a multiple year portfolio system, we can discuss and plan based on what our students can do instead of what they can’t.

On demand writing provides the same prompt for 5 year olds as 13 years olds (picture below). Clearly, not much thought went into this and there is no way this can be researched based. I hope somewhere along the way they realize that on demand writing is not supported by a single Common Core standard in the lower grades. This is test prep at its finest and writing at its worst.

My 45 minutes are up.


Lace to the Top 

@lacetothetop on Twitter

Teacher to Parent

Dear Parents:

As we begin another school year, we would like to set your minds at ease about a few things.  First and foremost, please know that we are not upset about going back to work.  We love teaching and consider it the most rewarding profession in the world.

We look forward to meeting your children.  We know that everyone has quirks.  Some people are cranky in the morning.  Some people are nervous to speak in front of people.  Some people need an extra smile of reassurance every now and again.  We promise to do our best to understand your children and make our classrooms places where they feel comfortable, appreciated, and happy.

It is the needs of the students in our classes that dictate the pace and content of our lessons. “One-size-fits-all” is for ponchos, not education.

We see you as teammates, not adversaries, and we hope that you see us the same way. We know that you know your children best, and we appreciate when you share your observations about how your children are managing the demands of our classes. An open dialogue between us is necessary for success.

We take cues from the students about what works and what doesn’t work and adjust our methods accordingly.  Our goal is not to simply get through a lesson.  Our goal is to make sure your children are engaged every step of the way.

We are concerned about the future of public education and we are taking active roles in preserving what we believe to be the right of all children to have high quality, meaningful education that will prepare them for their own unique long-term goals.

Take a deep breath, parents. Have faith in our ability to maintain our focus on educating your children in the face of the many obstacles being thrown in our way.  We have not given up.  We will continue to support your children in the classroom and fight for them outside of the classroom.  Most of all, we thank you for trusting us with your babies—whether they are in kindergarten or twelfth grade—and we promise to take good care of them.



Lace to the Top Response to Daily News Op-Ed

In Gregory Cizeck’s article, he makes many claims.  After he is done telling us how wonderful he is, he prepares readers to be amazed by his analysis of NYS Common Core testing.  Instead of wowing us with data, he tells a bizarre story about… baseball. He then gets way up on the soap box and tells us NYS Pearson Common Core tests”are unquestionably the most accurate, least biased, time and cost-efficient tests…”  Having never seen the tests and without access to technical reports, I wonder how he can make such claims?     

Although Greg seems more concerned about the color of my laces than the actual data presented, I would like to offer additional support for the blog that Gregory referenced. Greg may claim that NYS is simply “equating” and that the scores are tweaked to compare tests across multiple years.  Well, riddle me this one Greg- why is “equating” only done on the pass/fail cut score of 2/3.  Take a look at the third grade ELA.  No equating done on level 1 or 4.  Why only equate levels 2 and 3?  Ohhh that’s right, this is the level that determine if a student is proficient or not.  

Greg, you are always welcome to join our group and wear green laces. Seriously.


(2013 on the left and 2014 on the left)

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 9.42.25 PM


Lace to the Top 

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More than a Slogan

king of core-page-001School reformers will be rejected so long as four groups exist: disconnected reformers, demoralized educators, dismissed parents, and disinterested students.

John King has not worked for what students, parents, and teachers want in their schools during his time as NYSED Commissioner. He has ignored the impassioned and informed voices of parents and teachers. He has increased the amount of time students spend taking HST. He has withheld the test questions and their answers on HST. He has sold not wavered on his support of Common Core. He has denied culpability and has responded with half-hearted attempts at appeasement with the hopes of compliance.

Social media has applied tremendous pressure for John King to do what parents and teachers know is right for their children. In spite of his missteps, mishaps, and mistakes, mainstream media has largely ignored the commissioner’s lack of accountability in his failed attempts to meet the challenges of the Common Core roll out.

John King is entangled in an attempt to bamboozle the public with data, while suppressing a clear and simple truth; our children are more than a score. “More than a score” is more than a slogan. It is love for students’ individuality. It is nurturing students’ talents. It is support of exceptional teaching. It is decision making based on the best interest children. It is trust in local school district leadership. It is passion for meaningful classroom lessons. It is faith in the power of democratic control over public education. It is changing pedagogical acronyms and statistics into meaningful dialogue between school houses and homes. It is confidence in the smartest generation yet. It is embracing the whole child. It is inspiring people to make better schools. It is listening to the needs of students and parents. It is action to bring joy and curiosity to the lives of children. It is reflection on what works and what does not. It is honesty. It is humanity. It is humility. It is even humor. These are what should be the guiding principles in the hearts of minds of those who have assumed control of education and more specifically, invaded our classrooms without substantial time teaching or children in public education.

What will matter for students years from now will be times the adults in their lives showed them they matter. What they will remember are the teachable moments and acts of genuine compassion they experienced. If we support schools and inspire teachers to love their students as their own and do everything for the child, we may remove the need for reliance on the fallacy of HST from schools.

Educators and parents understand overreliance on standardized tests reveals an under appreciation of the relationships that exist in classrooms. Plummeting support of Common Core and exponential growth in the opt-out movement can be seen as evidence.

Energy is needed to focus on creating great classrooms and preparing students for life, not meeting false expectations of unaccountable, inexperienced, bureaucrats. Our kids are more than a score and we know the crisis in education is the invention of the reformers who sell the cure.

We matter. Disconnected reformers are running for fertilizer factories. Teachers are inspiring one another. Parents are embracing stronger connections to their children’s schools. Students are recognizing they are the smartest generation yet. We can send in letters on the first day of school to opt-out our children from high stakes testing, SLOs, and field tests. We can inform our friends, neighbors, and the parents of our children’s classmates of what we are doing and explain why. We can wear green laces to make sure when our voices are not heard, our beliefs can be seen in bold and impossible to ignore green. We are the reform our children need and want.

As one.

Only 15% of NYS Standards are tested on NYS Common Core ELA

NY parents were told their children (as young as 8) were taking a test that would measure college/career readiness,  while reformers paraded the Common Core as the path to college/career readiness.  The visions seemed aligned, right until NY unveiled its translation of the Common Core through its high-stakes tests.

Out of the 86 combinations of Common Core standards & strands (ELA 3rd grade ), NYS only chose to test 15% of them on the 2014 ELA .  This leaves teachers, administrators, parents, students and colleges/careers wondering if these 15% can truly be the measure of college/career readiness. 


13 of 86 of standards-page-001


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NYS Common Core Tests Expect More From Students Than The Questions Require

If you ask 8 year olds how two things are similar and different, most will respond in a few sentences.  When NYS asks 8 year olds how two things are similar and different they expect students to respond with a well constructed essay that includes an introduction & conclusion (among several other criteria).  

Teachers are all for teaching essay structure in their writing workshops.  When it is time for students to demonstrate their writing skills, it is the responsibility of the teacher to clearly define the expectations of the essay- especially for an 8 year old.  Teachers wouldn’t penalize students for not including something in their essay if it wasn’t in the criteria  to begin with.  Yet, that is exactly what NYS does.    


Here is the question NYSED asked third graders.  After reading the passage, most third graders could answer this question in a few sentences:

The author provides many details about how sea turtles are similar to and different

from each other. How is a leatherback sea turtle similar to a green sea turtle? How are

they different from each other? Use details from the passage to support your response.

In your response, be sure to

• explain how a leatherback sea turtle is similar to a green sea turtle

• explain how a leatherback sea turtle is different from a green sea turtle

• use details from the passage to support your response


Here is the Common Core Standard Map for the question.  Notice how the question only asks students to demonstrate one READING standard. It makes sense given the simplistic nature of the question.  

Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 5.44.21 PM 


And here is the rubric scorers are given to assign a value to student responses (o-4). Notice how student responses require multiple READING & WRITING Common Core Standards to be demonstrated in order to receive full credit (even though the question is only mapped to one reading standard and much of the criteria was not asked in the question).  


Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 4.57.17 PM



If New York State Education Department wants students to demonstrate more in their responses, NYSED better learn how to explain what their expectations are to begin with.   


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