Kristin Phatak
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One night last year, Gretel Rodriguez was playing the word game Hangman with her son who attends HedenKamp Elementary in the Chula Vista Elementary School District. He chose an unusual word. When Rodriguez asked him why, her son said he was learning it for the California State Test. Then he said he was nervous — worried that if he failed the test he wouldn’t get promoted to the next grade.

Rodriguez said in an April 7 interview, “My son had been experiencing headaches, then when he told me his worries, I made up my mind to opt him out of any standardized exams.”

Rodriguez is one of many parents, locally and nationally, who are choosing to opt their children out of testing.

“By opting my son out of standardized tests I’ve also ensured he doesn’t have to take the SBAC [Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium] test this year as well,” Rodriguez continued.

In 2012, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium was one of two companies that split a $330 million Department of Education grant to develop a computer-based test aligned with Common Core Standards.

In 2014, students will be taking a Smarter Balanced field test, or a test to test the test — based on Common Core Standards. The test will be administered to California students between March and June.

Rodriguez has another son who is a special-education student in the Sweetwater Union High School District. At first he told his mother that he wanted to continue taking the standardized tests and Rodriguez agreed.

Recently he changed his mind and asked his mom to opt him out. Rodriguez said she was happy about his decision because the new Common Core test has no modifications for special-education students or English-language learners.

The Phataks have three children in public schools. Two of them go to Salt Creek Elementary in the Chula Vista Elementary School District; their older son attends Eastlake Middle School in the Sweetwater district.

When asked which tests she was going to opt her children out of, Kristin Phatak answered, “All of them.”

Phatak believes that “tests designed by publishing companies are not a good measure of my children’s progress. They also encourage teaching to the test.”

Regarding the Smarter Balance test aligned with Common Core, Phatak stated, “I firmly believe that test is being designed to fail the children, and in turn fail the teachers and the schools. It’s an attack on public education.”

When asked why she believes the test is designed to fail, Phatak resonded, “When you start looking at the money behind new Common Core Standards and the Smarter Balance testing, you begin to question both of them. Venture philanthropists, like the Gates Foundation, have poured millions into advancing an agenda that I believe is geared toward privatizing all education.

"In states like Kentucky, where the Smarter Balanced Consortium test has already been used, the student failure rate was 70 percent. New York also had disastrous results with their Common Core exam. The push is to tie test scores to teacher evaluations. You can’t fail the teachers unless you fail the kids.”

Phatak encourages “parents who wish to be in tune with their childrens’ education to go to the Smarter Balance website and take the pilot test that corresponds to their child’s grade level.”

Phatak said she began talking to other moms about opting out last year. She is “shocked” because so many are coming up to her this year and telling her they are opting out.

Phatak is in contact with parents across the United States through her Facebook page, though she is not a member of a national opt-out organization.

“There are no consequences for refusing to take the tests,” Phatak said. “They [districts] cannot hold a child back.”

Opting out is not new to San Diego. In 2002, the Wall Street Journal carried a report on 212 Rancho Bernardo students who refused to take standardized tests. Rancho Bernardo parents expressed reasons similar to Chula Vista parents. They felt there was “no personal incentive for their children to labor over tests that aren’t included on school transcripts or are required for high school graduation.”

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anniej April 10, 2014 @ 9:17 a.m.

Teaching to the test, that is what our students are learning. There is little creativity, little interest being taught because it has become all about learning 'data '. BORING

Back in my day, long long ago we were not taught to the test. We were engaged, we were involved, there was discussion, interesting learning.

I applaud Ms. Rodriguez for opting out, she is doing what is best for her children. The beaurocrats obviously know nothing of the Rodriguez children's individual needs.

I am predicting doom and gloom for the Common Core curriculum for the majority of students in Middle and High School grades, as well as those elementary grade students who do not have the educational foundation of Common Core. Common Core should be 'tested' for a 12 year period, offered as an option beginning in kindergarten.

States, school districts jumping on the band wagon of Common Core - why of course - it is all about the millions of greenbacks - money, money money. The question is how many of those greenbacks will the students and teachers realize?

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shirleyberan April 10, 2014 @ 9:27 a.m.

They were teaching to testing years ago when mine was is elementary 15 whatever years ago. I think it was the new thing to do back then. No wonder our kids can't read and write or do simple math. I think it was eastlaker who mentioned a sorry lack of critical thinkers. Everybody's stressed over it; kids, teachers, parents. Defeats the whole reason to go to school. Must be why home school has become so appealing.

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shirleyberan April 10, 2014 @ 9:38 a.m.

Good grief, it's early but I just went all repetitive and wordy like John McCann's campaign add. I'd say home school is preferable for a lot of reason(s).

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Susan Luzzaro April 10, 2014 @ 10:07 a.m.

Phatak mentioned during the interview that scripting or teaching narrowly prescribed curriculum is happening in New York where common core was rolled out earlier. I did some searching around on the internet, the Huffington Post blog below has some sample scripting:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nicholas-tampio/why-are-parents-revolting_b_4590041.html

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shirleyberan April 10, 2014 @ 10:21 a.m.

Ad is correct. Using fear of failure everyday is not. Getting coffee now.

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anniej April 10, 2014 @ 11:21 a.m.

Ms. Luzzaro - I read the link - it appears 'old school' is not such a bad thing.

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eastlaker April 10, 2014 @ 12:41 p.m.

Part 1 Bear with me, this may take awhile.

Let me try and remember...a few years ago, SDSU had complained that there were too many students from Sweetwater who had been accepted under the Compact For Success, but had problems with achieving the minimum test scores in math and English/reading comprehension that the state has/had set.

So---there was a shift in English classes toward the encouraging of critical thinking skills. I would imagine, with the hope that those who were paying attention in class would benefit. End result, with any luck, was to be that even if the students might not be familiar with all the material they were being tested on, those critical thinking skills would help them deduce correct answers, both for test-taking and in real life situations.

(I don't really know how the math departments addressed this situation, because I can't recall hearing any problems with any adjustments that may or may not have taken place).

Supposedly this meant that there would be less classroom time devoted to the study of literature, and less reading of novels and other fiction than before--as essays, articles and other topical themes were explored.

Now--I love to read, always have. Started out favoring fiction, but recently have moved to more non-fiction. I love that there are worlds out there available in books, for anyone who wants to jump in.

I love the exploration that is available in all the world's knowledge...beyond the imaginations of most people, except those who will be expanding the world's knowledge with new fiction, non-fiction, scientific discoveries, breakthroughs in all fields...you get the picture.

What is not so great, is when rote learning is the only learning style available to students. There is wide agreement on that--people learn in different ways, and teachers need to be aware of all those ways. Most teachers are aware, and incorporate multiple ways to get the information across to students. Rote learning is good for early math skills and early reading skills, and for acquisition of a new language, for example.

So where are the problems with Common Core? There are many--oddly, this program seems to discourage rote learning for early math skills, in favor of inelegant, wordy and overly complicated formats and explanations. Why? Is the attempt being made to confuse the students?

Then, moving on...to the tests. If you want to teach to the test, you need to know the answers. But--these are new tests, and most of the time, teachers don't even have the materials to work from. Local elementary teachers I have spoken with say they have been putting their own materials together in the hope that it is going to work out for the students.

So, the testing is being done initially on materials the students have not been given. Gee, how fair is that?

Especially when not only the students will be evaluated, but the teachers will be evaluated.

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eastlaker April 10, 2014 @ 12:54 p.m.

Part 2 Conspiracy theorists get made fun of much of the time, and sometimes justifiably so, but let's just think about this.

Why make the students and the teachers look bad? Why make the students and the teachers look bad while charging school districts enormous amounts of money for the test materials, the equipment...why make everything topsy-turvy in the field of education, when students need stability in learning situations?

Because there is money in it. Bill Gates can look like Mr. Benevolent, with his great concern with education, but let's take a look at his economic incentive to control all the educational materials in all the schools, including any and all printed materials, any and all software, any and all equipment...

And the we get to the subject of data mining. That has to do with tracking how all the students do, and then can be used to determine the effectiveness of teachers. Without taking into account, of course, personal situations, illness, family problems, whether the child has had enough to eat to be able to think clearly enough to perform well on a test...and they are planning to begin this testing very early. I have actually heard kindergartners could be tested...when they are still learning the alphabet, learning to count...does this make sense?

Then, if all the data collected is used to determine who is a good teacher and who is a bad teacher, yet does not sufficiently recognize categories of learners (English language learners, those with cognitive and/or developmental difficulties, those with anxieties over testing)--how accurate can any of the assessments possibly be?

Meanwhile, somewhere there will be enormous files of data on every student. Which can be SOLD to companies, which then have the ability to target children with who knows what kind of advertising and product placement. Not to mention, there could be an attempt to help a child find a 'pathway'--but again, what of the motives?

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eastlaker April 10, 2014 @ 1:19 p.m.

Part 3 For profit "universities" that encourage massive loans at high interest rates and deliver ZERO educational benefit? Sweetwater under Ed Brand has already tried that. I am sure he would be the first to agree that there are some sweet deals out there for the enterprising school administrator with no ethics whatsoever--sell that data?--YOU BET!!!

Well, that is the short version, barely touching on some of the problems with Common Core, as it has been set up.

And, I say this as someone who cares deeply about education--I had high hopes, because I had thought Common Core would be used to bring up the educational levels of some of the states that traditionally rank very low, such as Mississippi...but that apparently is not what this is all about.

If anyone can prove to me otherwise, I would love to hear it.

(Again, France has had one educational standard, with testing given across the country at the same time for the same classes, so I feel there could be a benefit for some standardization of teaching materials. But in France, these are the students selected for advancement to their university system, not all students.)

I feel the greatest drawback to the Common Core is the way it can be used against the students and the teachers, to the economic advancement of corporations. It is an attempt to hijack the public educational system. This should not be allowed to take place.

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shirleyberan April 10, 2014 @ 1:36 p.m.

eastlaker - you are a prophet for non-profit public education. Hope we don't lose another generation to low high school graduation numbers.

3

johndewey April 10, 2014 @ 3:13 p.m.

eastlaker: Excellent analysis! Would you consider running for the school board?

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eastlaker April 10, 2014 @ 7:24 p.m.

Thanks, but based on practical analysis, I do not think I would appeal to a broad enough base of support.

My background is white, middle-America, and many people are distrustful of that. While I believe that everyone deserves a fair chance and that those who work hard receive the rewards of that hard work, I fear that many people are simply more comfortable voting along ethnic lines.

My mother tells me I think too much...I think people here want to be able to identify with those similar to them, and that means I wouldn't have much of a realistic chance. But I appreciate the thought!

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Wabbitsd April 11, 2014 @ 8:52 p.m.

eastlaker, I urge you to reconsider and go ahead and run. I think you will be surprised, your community is ready for a radical change. Get your message out, and at the very least, you will have gotten some good, honest common sense out there, which is in short supply these days.

1

Bvavsvavev April 10, 2014 @ 5:41 p.m.

I would like to add a devils advocate perspective. Please bear in mind I have 2 children, one in 7th and the other in 10th, and one that just graduated high school a semester early. I have been intimately involved in all 3 of my childrens education, from a classroom helper, to PTA, to School Site Council, district committees and volunteer activities. From kinder through high school.

I also own a professional services business and have hired many young, high school graduates from our community and school district to work for me.

Also, I am not for or against common core at this point. Like all of you, I am a concerned parent, community member and tax payer.

Just my perspective ...

Our education system is broken and is failing our children. Many are not prepared for college, much less have basic skills to get a decent job. Why is that? There are many theories, thoughts, and conspiracies as to why. My simple view is that our education system teaches kids in a box. Our education system as it is now was created in the 1930s or early 1940s. It is what made our Country the best, most advanced and powerful in world history. It was perfect for the era and times.

As our society changed with advanced technology, more diversity, more complexity, more immediate needs, shorter attention spans, etc, etc., our education system, save a few minor adjustments, plugged along.

Just about every other industry in our country changed to meet needs and demands, in order to survive. Again, education did not.

Now with a world market, the weaknesses of our education system are clearly seen. We cannot compete with many other industrialzed countries in education. We have to import workers for many of our industries. Too many of our youth dont have the skills to compete for jobs that pay decent living wages.

So, what are we to do? The status quo, which for the most part has failed? Or change?

I am for change! Although education is not a for profit industry, its basic needs are no different than any other business or industry. That basic need is money! And in order for our education system to succeed, produce graduates that have basic skills, and be competitive in the world market, it must change! And it needs money to achieve the change.

Our children will be tested to get into college, during college, for employment, for grad school, vocational school, professional designations, and throughout life. I feel bad that tests make kids nervous, harms their self esteem and makes them sick. But, life is full of tests to help them succeed.

I am not an expert in education, so I dont know the answers. What I do know is that change is needed, money is needed, and testing is needed. The hows and whys can be left to experts to figure out.

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Jmbrickley April 11, 2014 @ midnight

I beg to differ with you on many portions of your essay. It starts with the concept that every student needs to be prepared to go to college and ends with the notion that kids need to pass tests to succeed.

First, let's just get over the notion that this country was ever in the top of any list of civilized countries with the highest test scores. Never, ever happened. NEVER! The USA has always been in the middle of the pack when compared to other countries. In fact, they have never risen above "average" on any measure of test taking. Most of these tests do not test what the USA does excel at, THINKING.

Second, most of those "imported" workers you mention did not get "great" jobs here in the USA. They did however, get jobs that pay better than jobs available "back home," where ever that was. They still make far less than their degree should warrant.

Third, most of our industrial jobs moved out of the USA because labor is cheaper overseas, not because of some mythical rise of the intelligence of some foreign country. Even smart people work cheaply in China and India.

Fourth, students are not taught "basic skills" in public schools anymore. Gone are the days of shop classes, where we used to teach entry level skills in so many areas of employment. Today, everything is about getting into college. Have you stopped to think that not everyone can be at the top.

Fifth, when did the idea that school had to mirror that old saw that all medicine needs to taste bad or it isn't any good. Stress isn't good in the workplace, and it isn't good in school. School is a place of learning and a place to develop a love of learning. Stress is a job killer, and schools have no place for learning killers

Sixth, Common Core is not some new, highly effective teaching strategy. It is a systematic attack on the very thing that made this country's educational philosophy the envy of the world. It's sole purpose is to destroy public education, first by showing that our children are not learning, then by using that result to fire teachers, and promote "private" education with a shift of education dollars from public to private sectors. Common Core is a curriculum and testing project written by, and sold by for profit, private corporations. No educators were used in the development of any of the curriculum, nor the test questions. It's methodology is untested, unproven, and unverified. The implementation comes with so many financial strings attached that that alone should be raising alarms.

I could go on, but this isn't a book writing effort. But, I will use your closing paragraph to close this. You have no answers, are not an expert in education, but think testing is the answer, and that it should be left for the experts. Educators are the experts, not corporations who are only in it to make even more obscene money from our dollars.

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zollner April 12, 2014 @ 3:47 p.m.

I sent two kids through public education in the late 80's and 90's. this was before the testing craze. Guess what? Both kids learned how to read write cipher, both went on to get college degrees and good jobs and are upstanding citizens of this county. So for my kids public education did exactly what it was supposed to do. Plus both are pretty good at critical thinking. I don't see how public education is broken. It worked for my family. Stop drinking the kool aide.

3

shirleyberan April 10, 2014 @ 6:26 p.m.

Experts in stages of child development, specialists in child psychology of learning, that sort, not administrative manipulators or career politicians giving jobs to unqualifified and out of work friends.

4

oneoftheteachers April 10, 2014 @ 6:36 p.m.

First of all, let's dispel the myth that corporations fostered:our educational system was broken. The US has some of the best universities in the world attended by graduates of our American public schools. We encourage all of our students to attend college, not just the high achievers. Corporations that stand to earn billions of dollars want the American public to believe that schools are failing so they can swoop in, take over and collect those tax dollars. Teachers and their unions have been vilified and blamed for a problem that doesn't exist. If you adjust scores for socioeconomics, American students outperform their peers in other countries. Poor kids , who are kicked out of school in other countries, can't compete with their wealthier classmates but at least they have an opportunity here. Private schools and charter schools skim off the high achieving kids, ignoring special ed students, English learners and the poor. Don't label us as failing because we attempt to educate all students. Other countries don't even try.

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anniej April 10, 2014 @ 9:37 p.m.

eastlaker - you have my vote!!!!!!!

7

anniej April 10, 2014 @ 9:39 p.m.

question - why do we as a nation continue to vote in and recycle more of the same?

7

shirleyberan April 10, 2014 @ 9:46 p.m.

eastlaker - if you have a talent, share it or it's waisted. I know what you're saying but just because we're white shouldn't hold us back. (Is that funny or no?)

3

jibaro April 11, 2014 @ 7:23 a.m.

Bvavsvavev

Great post. Adds new deminsion to discusion. Thank you

3

anniej April 11, 2014 @ 8:35 a.m.

Bvasvasva - John Brickley - two people I respect greatly. Two educated, successful people who have different opinions - two people who continue to work to bring about positive change for OUR STUDENTS. TWO PEOPLE WE SHOULD ALL BE PROUD TO CALL NEIGHBOR.

Regarding the 'testing' issue, I too believe Bbasvasva we can not sugar coat life, however I do not believe that teaching to 'the test' or students being barraged with one State/Federal test after another equates to education. Testing is part of education, I get that and agree it is a necessity. However, when it takes the place of innovative thinking, individual teaching methods, and interesting styles - that is where I draw the line. My Grandson who is an excellent student and avid reader (has read over 1,000 books) finds little value in one test after another.

As Mr. Brickley stated not all students are college bound. Lesser the students? NO! Vocational Education is a much needed choice for young adults. We need trades being taught in our schools. We have high schools that offer a variety of options, why not a High School that incorporates Voc Ed? Woodshop, Auto Shop, Electrical, Plumbing, Masonary all offered in one location where like minded future tradesmen and women can celebrate their uniqueness.

I am not as educated as I should be on Common Core, perhaps due to the fact I have been entrenched in anti corruption and the fiduciary irresponsibility of the SUHSD. I have spoken to several 'new, young, motivated, excited' teachers I know very well and they are celebrating Common Core. My primary concern is the fact that to expect students to alter their learning processes late in their educational life may very well have devastating effects. That is why I don't believe it should be rolled out in the Middle and High School years.

I am hearing from ALL teachers I have spoken to in the SUHSD that they have NOT seen the educating of themselves on Common Core that Sweetwater should have provided. So I will end the conversation with the question: WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT MONEY?????

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eastlaker April 11, 2014 @ 9:24 a.m.

Good question, annniej--what always happens to the money in Sweetwater? Does it get shuttled off into an account for real estate ventures? Or into the account for paying all the attorney fees for all the corrupt members and ex-members of Sweetwater? Or into the Ed Brand slush fund for needy friends? Or does Ed's RV need new tires again?

Will we ever know?

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shirleyberan April 11, 2014 @ 12:05 p.m.

eastlaker - I can't help but think that your hesitation to throw your hat into the ring might be more gender related.

4

eastlaker April 11, 2014 @ 4:40 p.m.

shirleyberan--I appreciate your encouraging thoughts, but perhaps I can do more good as an independent thinker/commentator. I do believe that what Sweetwater needs right now is some people who are trained in forensic accounting to really dig into what has been going on. We need people who can figure out the real estate messes, and clear up all the other messes around the district as well.

We need to get to the bottom of the charter school deals--are contracts signed for a certain number of years, or if things aren't working, is the district able to cut any losses? Are we on the hook forever with these things? Is the authorization of all this legitimate, or is there some dubious activity involved?

So much has been done "fast and loose", as opposed to sensible and organized--that it will take a bit of time to figure out priorities for the NEW BOARD and the NEW SUPERINTENDENT who will, with any luck, be interested in bringing about some real change and positive momentum to Sweetwater.

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SpecialEd April 11, 2014 @ 5:28 p.m.

Eastlaker, I would like that. You would make a challenging board member regardless of your gender. Do it for public education. And let's invite a teacher from each school to sample tamales from our annual contest, where the winning cooking class is awarded a $5,000 grant to expand the culinary arts in SUHSD! Oh .. No cooking classes? Shoot. Well let's invite all the shop teachers.. Oh there's only one left? He is retiring? Shoot. Hey but I hope you're on board with the iPads and my Hall of Fame trophy building idea....

2

eastlaker April 11, 2014 @ 6:19 p.m.

SpecialEd, and you are special!

I think you and all your many friends should go see the documentary "If You Build It". I have mentioned this a couple of times, and no one has ever commented on it. Shop class rethought...there is some great stuff there.

It's about a community learning to pull together, and ending up better off than when they started.

7

shirleyberan April 11, 2014 @ 6:38 p.m.

SpecialEd is just a troublemaker. Ignore him.

5

shirleyberan April 11, 2014 @ 6:59 p.m.

NotSpecialEd can't understand sincerity or forward thinking. Looked at the YouTube trailer for If You Biuld It ... Design, Build, Transform ... Trade school, also known as technical or vocational school, teaches skills related to a specific job. Maybe that helps you understand something else you're missing Ed.

4

eastlaker April 12, 2014 @ 8:41 a.m.

On the topic of "If You Build It"...I was able to attend a panel discussion a few months ago with some of the people involved with the program and the film, and was very impressed.

There are difficulties involved in trying to bring back this type of instruction to the public schools. Two thoughts in specific were brought up: insurance on the operation of heavy equipment by students is no small matter; and, the other is that shop class has been seen as a way that lower income and minority students were tracked into a second-class version of public education.

So it is a hard sell. But as BBQ has mentioned, people learn in different ways. Some learn better in a more hands on environment. Anyway, the "rethinking" part of this program is that students learn the math, design and problem solving behind everything they do. They learn teamwork, they learn pride in accomplishing the creation of something from a concept to a model to a reality. From the program in North Carolina that lasted just a couple of years, many of the approx. 20 students went from being unmotivated to being engaged in their own futures. Most went on to college, when they hadn't really considered that before. (Now this program is underway in Berkeley, CA, in a middle school and a high school. I hope to hear more from these people.)

The students were given the physical tools and learned to use those, and then realized what else they could accomplish.

Education has always been something of a guessing game, because we can never know exactly what every student needs at every moment. So we hope we cover all the bases, or we try to cover all the bases.

The funny thing about people is that you just never know what is going to "take" or "stick". Which is why early exposure to all the arts is necessary, and early exposure to learning how things work is also necessary, and early exposure to the importance of caring for our physical world and our own being.

How can schools accomplish all that? It is an impossible task, but teachers do it EVERY SINGLE DAY!

I have the utmost respect for that.

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shirleyberan April 11, 2014 @ 9:04 p.m.

I hope nobody's taking points off for spelling.

3

shirleyberan April 12, 2014 @ 12:02 a.m.

Ed - I see now there is irony in the things you are most proud of. Keep talking.

1

Susan Luzzaro April 12, 2014 @ 9:58 a.m.

Here is La Jolla Country Day's required test for a bit of comparison:

http://www.ljcds.org/page.cfm?p=2444#calendar

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eastlaker April 12, 2014 @ 10:39 a.m.

Very well presented, great time-lines. I can tell people have really thought this through! I sure wish I had had something similar when my daughter was a 9th grader!!!

3

SpecialEd April 12, 2014 @ 11:09 a.m.

One of our SUHSD band teachers got nominated for teacher if the year, and I received some letters about how she taught a few classes full of kids how to play guitar. That school should receive ten grand and another teacher to expand their program. Sadly, I also received complaints about the oppressive administration there, what is a superintendent to do? This Common Core curriculum has us by the short hairs you know.

1

zollner April 12, 2014 @ 4:23 p.m.

Ms. Phatek is absolutely correct. All of the things that she mentioned, testing, charter schools, failures in testing results, are all designed to do one thing is to make sure that public education as we know it will be gone. All these things point toward one thing and that is the privatization of public education. The wolves on Wall St are licking their lips waiting for this to happen. That is why teachers are vilified, charter schools to drain the money from neighborhood schools, break the teachers union, give tests that the students will fail, and everybody throws up their hands and says oh public education is broken.

If it is so broken why aren't these charter schools out preforming the public schools on these standardized tests? Remember No Child Left Behind? What was the answer if a school didn't meet their testing goals? Why of course close down the school, fire all the teachers and reassign the administrators. Common Core is just another way to close down neighborhood schools.

Here are some facts about charter schools in the San Diego Unified School District. Since their inception in the mid 90's about 1/3 of all charters have failed. The two biggest reasons for these failures is financial fraud and cheating about the number of students in class each day. Commonly referred to as the ADA, average daily attendance. All money to run these failed charters came from the districts General Fund. All money lost is not recoverable. Charters are about reinventing the wheel.

When all this goes down and public education is privatized, and when you attend a local school board meeting you will see corporate heads making up the school board and telling you what your child will learn and how much it will cost you. And silly you, you thought taking out a loan for education was just for college. It will now start in kindergarten.

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Visduh April 14, 2014 @ 7:37 a.m.

The current laws regarding charter schools in this state date from twenty years ago when it looked as if a ballot measure to put vouchers in place was likely to pass. The laws were ill-designed, and have allowed all sorts of abuses. The chartering districts usually wash their hands of the charter schools they allow, and the advisory boards of the schools seldom have the resources to really run them.

We were told that if motivated teachers were freed from the many fetters of the state education code (all legalese and many inches thick), they could soar. What does the record show? A few do a very good job. Many have failed due to the factors you mention. And finally, some of those that do a good job are credibly accused of "cherry picking" better students at the expense of the regular public schools.

Here in Vista we had two board members, one of whom is still hanging onto his board seat, who appeared to want to disassemble the school system, and convert all the schools to charters. They didn't get their way, and the talk of that has abated. A few years back, LA had a proposal to convert every under-performing school (of which they have many) in the district to a charter school. That's the answer to a weak school? Make it weaker still? Gimme a break!

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Susan Luzzaro April 13, 2014 @ 12:28 p.m.

zollner, Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Your point about the number of charters closing is interesting. I have seen isolated articles about charters closing, but it's probably time to put the puzzle together.

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Visduh April 13, 2014 @ 3:22 p.m.

The foregoing has been a most valuable exchange of ideas. Two major thrusts have been going on in public education ever since the "A Nation at Risk" report came out about thirty years ago. A big part of that critique was that there was a lack of standards for various classes in many states and school districts, and that the teachers didn't know what was expected of them. In the intervening years, that deficiency has been closed up in most places. Another factor was lack of accountability. Teachers who had no standards to aim for could not be blamed for failure to teach. While most teachers had a pretty good idea of the standards, based on the textbook they were provided, it wasn't always clear just how intensely certain things needed to be covered. The anti-teachers union cabal picked up on this confusion and decided that the teachers would be evaluated (and fired) on the basis of the performance of their students on tests. That called for standardized tests. It was a short step from there to teachers teaching "to a test", and little else. Well, if your job were riding on how your kids performed on a big year-end test, you would spend your time preparing them for that, and doing little else. Just stands to reason, folks.

I recall in 1998 when the state wanted to do some uniform statewide testing, and wanted it on short notice. Nobody had a test that was based on California standards or on the "frameworks" that existed in certain disciplines. So, any test that was used would not fit with the state textbooks and generally not with the curricula being taught. Ah, but that didn't stop them. The state contracted to use the SAT-9 test, and administered it that year. (The test had nothing to do with the Scholastic Aptitude Test administered by the College Board, but was rather the Stanford Achievement Test (series), Version 9). It generally was based on some national standards that were followed most places most of the time, or so Stanford claimed. Sort of a "one size fits all" test package.

That year I was on the teaching staff of No County's most under-performing high school, and there was plenty of concern about the test. One morning I was trying to talk to a fellow teacher, and he looked as if his best friend had just died. This teacher taught American government to seniors. He declared, "I've just looked at that test and our kids are screwed." then he repeated "Our kids are screwed" several more times, mantra-like. A few questions formed in my mind, ones I didn't ask. First was why the school and district (which had no written standards for any classes) didn't teach something closer to those "national standards." Second was what he and his fellow social science teachers were teaching instead. Third was how/why the kids were "screwed." It seemed to me that if anyone was screwed, it was the teachers, the school, and the fouled-up district.

(See below.)

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Visduh April 13, 2014 @ 3:31 p.m.

In the years since then, the state did develop detailed standards for the various classes and grade levels, and then the state tests were based on those standards. And we have parents frustrated with the pressure of the tests, and the blinders the teachers now wear through the year.

As a society, we've gone too far with the testing, and it is time to back off. Teachers should have the time to offer enrichment in their classes. This rigid set of expectations means that everyone is in a lock step, and far too much is riding on the outcome of the testing. But also beware of those who would eliminate it altogether. You do not want to go back to the era of no accountability at all.

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anniej April 13, 2014 @ 10:35 p.m.

Visduh - very interesting post. I believe parents have grown weary with their bored children who rarely have interesting facts to share and then discuss when it comes to the curriculum taught in any given day.

"Teachers, offering enrichment in their classes" ah yes, enrichment which includes discussion, varying share opinions, action counter action what ifs.

It is indeed most disheartening to hear from my grandchildren 'that class is boring, we read and take tests'.

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Abcd April 15, 2014 @ 11:10 p.m.

There is definitely something broken in public school education. Too many tests, too many administrators taking valuable money from classroom teachers etc. At my sons private school on exam was given at the beginning of the year to see what areas needed improvement and one at the end to see results. Now that he is in public school there are many more tests, district measures, local measures, and now smarter balance assessments. All this testing is taking away valuable instructional time. In addition in public school no one fails. They just pass everyone despite poor performance. These then become those kids who can't compete nor keep up with everyone else and end up holding everyone behind. Also, in public schools ineffective teachers are not fired. You can be a terrible teacher who remains a teacher because of union affiliations. In private school ineffective teachers are always replaced by effective ones. And they spend 95% of their time in the classroom not in teacher training. In public school teachers are absent from the classroom 8 days for teacher development. Why this can't be done outside of classroom time is beyond my comprehension. Anytime their is a substitute student learning drops dramatically. At the private school my sons teacher missed 3 days of school total the whole year. That is the difference which is missing now in public school. Lastly, in private school parents supported teachers at home by helping themselves or getting tutoring where needed. At public school no matter what type of new teaching method you use children will not succeed laking this.

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Visduh April 18, 2014 @ 10:48 a.m.

Abcd, I agree with much of the sentiment you have posted here. But a couple of your claims are, I think, off the mark. You claim that ". . . in public schools ineffective teachers are not fired. You can be a terrible teacher who remains a teacher because of union affiliations." Many districts don't crack down of teachers whose performance is unsatisfactory. They have a defeatist attitude about making the case to remove them, although it can be done. But it isn't union affiliation that stops them, it is state law in the education code. Protections against arbitrary dismissal in state law predate the appearance of most of the unions, and go back far before the teachers unions were granted formal collective bargaining rights. Prior to putting those safeguards into the code, teachers were at the total mercy of principals and board members who hired and fired on the basis of attractiveness, family or political connections, religion, and just plain likes or dislikes. Ruffle the feathers of a prominent family in town whose kid is a total jerk, and you could find yourself out of a job. That was not an era to which we would wish to return.

Then you claim that "In private school ineffective teachers are always replaced by effective ones." When you use the term "private", I can't be sure that you are not also including what I call parochial schools. Many of those place far more emphasis on religious orthodoxy than on subject knowledge and teaching effectiveness, and I really, really doubt that under-performers in such settings are ALWAYS replaced. The only thing here that is always true is that it is most difficult to determine just how effective a teacher is. Some run their classrooms in unorthodox ways, and are determined to be ineffective for that reason, when in fact they are very good. The sole objective way to measure effectiveness, and it is limited in its use, is the testing you decry.

As to having teacher development during the school year, and pulling teachers out of the classroom for various purposes, I agree. That sort of thing should happen shortly before the school year starts, or as it ends, or during the summer break. Too many of the professional societies have their gatherings during the school year, and that means that anyone attending their sessions misses at least two instructional days. The system lectures parents and students about attending class every day, but the value doesn't seem to rub off on the teaching fraternity. "Do as I say, not as I do?"

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Abcd April 15, 2014 @ 11:40 p.m.

From my research it seems to me that the Chula Vista Elementary School District has taken federal money and is now obligated to adopt Common Core. The Gates Foundation has essentially purchased entire school districts and states into adopting common core standards. Chula Vista elementary schools have begun teaching these standards without instructional materials. I am no attorney but it seems to me they are in violation of the Williams Settlement Act which requires all students to have materials per se books to support what is being taught. The district did not have the funds to pay for books and yet they began teaching Common Core Standards. It appears to me someone is getting rich off of the backs of our children. Also that someone should look into who these test publishers are and the book publishers themselves to see if those making these instructional decisions aren't also the ones profiting from our children's tests and results. I believe we should for a parent union and refuse to take any more exams until someone is held accountable for the mess in public education.

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BFDJohn April 17, 2014 @ 7 p.m.

OMG. I did it. I joined this Reader thing. Thought I would never do it. I am a friend of a friend who has been following ALL that has been going on quietly. I got moles just never wanted to take the chance to speak out. But what the hell. Sweetwater School District maybe one member left A Trust Baby with a Sociopath at the ready to really screw up things. I got dirt just need to dribble it out like Chinese water torture. I have been hearing about all kinds of things. How the District dropped the ball on the Local Control Funding Formula. I heard through the Grapevine ACLU is pissed. Special favors for a Bond Oversight Committee member who is a black sheep on that Group. Much more to follow on that one. There is a reason for everything in government if you can call this one. Tom Calhoun. How are you going to explain that corporate office aka District Headquarters to that student in National City whose family can not afford his/her Wifi on their District Ipad. MUCH more to follow…FINALLY!!!

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