Category Archives: Education

Done-r Than Done

So only a couple days after our principal of our school TOLD ME that recess was indeed mandatory and the taking away of such as a classroom punishment was no longer going to happen- no surprise, it happened again.

1) looks like someone missed the memo

2) at what point did that become the only thing teachers can use as a bargaining tool?

3) to be fair it was a substitute, but you know what- eff that because every person that is entrusted with the task of educating our children needs to be informed of the school regulations. Period, no excuses.

4) at this point, it’s more of a game for me to see how annoying it’s going to get when I keep calling the school everyday. 26 more days.

5) if you are buying a house within RCSD limits and plan to ever have kids. Don’t.

6) I can not wait. CAN NOT WAIT. TO GET THE HELL OUT OF THIS DISTRICT. Done-r than done.

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Response From Dr. Vargas Regarding College Takeover of RCSD

I sent RCSD Superintendent Dr. Vargas an email this evening regarding college take over.. he responded the following within 22 minutes:

“Thank you, Andrea, for your thoughtful email.  While I am in on-going discussions with area colleges about potential collaboration, I am actively engaged in improving our schools on many fronts.  The more engagement we have with the community the more likely we can address our urgent needs in the immediate future.  Specifically, I would tell you and all parents that there are significant actions I have taken in the last few years that are promising.  For example, we eliminated the sad reality that our students were receiving the least amount of instructional time in the County when, arguably, they needed the most.  We are working very hard to make our system more responsive to the needs of our families.  We are on the path to closing the opportunity gap for our students compared to their peers in the suburbs.  For example, we have added more art, music, sports, and Advanced Placement courses.  Much more needs to be done, but the best evidence we have is that when we have family engagement and students are supported in multiple places such as home, neighborhoods and schools then we see excellent results as measured by graduation rates and college and career readiness.  Thank you again for your thoughtful questions.  Bolgen ”

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What Happens When Our ‘Last Chance’ Has Past and Why Haven’t We been Talking About Colleges Taking Over RCSD

Almost 2 months ago, in mid November, superintendent of Rochester City School District, Dr. Vargas, made a monumental announcement that he would like for local colleges to take over as many troubled school locations as possible. He made the jarring and frankly frightening statement that “this is our last chance to improve this district.” Essentially meaning that he’s out of options and has, I’m guessing, laid all his other cards out on the table in an effort to turn RCSD around.

After his bold statements and quest for assistance I’ve been waiting, sort of with bated breath, for further action. Further discussion on the topic. I was expecting an update on just how our last chance was going; because obviously I’d expect for the last ditch effort to be priority number one. But two months have gone by and there’s been none. Not a statement. Not a list of institutions that are up for the challenge. So my question is: now what? Was this really the only idea Vargas had? Was this really our last chance? And now with the recent shift in board members, including new board president, Van White, I’m curious as to what he thinks? Does he also put all his proverbial eggs into this basket of college take-over?

I plan on sending Van White an email, I will let you know if I get any sort of response from him.

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Dr. Vargas Unveils Proposal For Colleges To Take Over City Schools

vargasYesterday, RCSD superintendent, Dr. Vargas unveiled a proposal for colleges and universities to essentially take over individual city schools. If a take-over were to happen, the college would essentially replace the role of superintendent and be the decision maker for the school. Teachers would remain district employees, but new contracts would be negotiated.

The proposal still needs state approval to go forward, and would also require an 80% approval rating among its teachers for it to pass in a certain location.

New York State has been allowing these types of take-overs to happen as a part of the Race To The Top initiative. There have been schools in NYC and Buffalo that have done the same. The process is still fairly new.

Vargas says, “This is our last chance to improve this district.” As a parent that statement is scary. Is he admitting defeat? That the only way to save us is to turn the keys over? Are we essentially hopeless? Select locations haven’t been determined yet, but it seems like he’s going to target troubled locations first.

The news of the proposed take-overs is quite a bombshell in our district right now. I have so many unanswered questions and trepidations, and honestly haven’t really decided if this is a good thing or bad?

It’s no surprise our district is failing. Not only that, but we’re ranked dead last in the state. We can only move up from here, right? I still don’t like the fact that my children’s education seems to be completely experimental. A college take-over could spell innovation and great opportunity for our students. It could also mean colleges get to turn our elementary and high schools into little recruitment mills for their campuses. The feeling of uncertainty and instability is frightening. It’s scary to not know if your child’s school will participate in some experimental new strategy because they feel like they are lost or out of options. It’s daunting to not know if our school will shut down, move it’s location, adopt extended hours, or be taken over by an outside entity at any given time. I have three kids coming up through the system and I have no clue if our neighborhood school could be yanked out from under us at any moment because our superintendent feels like throwing his hands up in defeat- because he’s out of solutions. And on top of all that, who says that the people who are in the business of running colleges know anything about elementary or high school educations? Knowing what is good for students in college is something very different than knowing what is good for tiny little kindergarteners and so forth. Is this just a way to develop all kids to be college ready from the day they enter grade school to the day they walk across the stage at graduation? Which is something I take issue with as being problematic. college is not really a realistic, ideal, nor wise choice for all; let’s not be dishonest about that, nor forget that college tuition is on the rise while employment is not.

And then what if it does go through and it’s very successful? Is it going to be like local charter schools that require applications and a lottery process to be enrolled where there’s waiting lists that are hundreds of kids long and only a few coveted spots to fill? I’d love to see high school kids get an opportunity at accelerated courses, which our city schools have trouble funding and offering. But it’s not fair if some locations get that chance and others do not. As it stands, we have many failing schools and a handful of nice locations. I hear so much about locations like School of The Arts, but am disappointed that not all schools can brag about how great their programs are. Fixing one location doesn’t solve the district’s problems, because there’s still dozens of places that need help too. So even within our district, that is leagues behind our suburban neighbors, there is and potentially will be even more inequality in the quality of education depending on which building your kids are in.

Send Your Child To School Day

Today (November, 18th) is National Keep Your Child Home Day in protest of the apple handCommon Core Curriculum. The anti-Common Core movement has been steadily gaining momentum this year and has been a bit more visible and main stream than it has been previously. Today’s protest event has been widely talked about on social media, posted about by the news media and spread through parents groups across the country. Even though I support having a day to make a stand for education, I did not keep my kids home today. What I’m doing instead is I will challenge the same people who are encouraging keeping children home in protest of what is wrong with education, to also make a stand for making improvements in education and host a National Send Your Child To School Day on an alternate day.

I know, you’re going to say that Send-Your-Child-To-School-Day is every day. But it’s not. Not really.

According to my children’s district, , on any given day 3,000 of the RCSD’s 28,600 students are absent from school. They’re not in school because of social issues, family issues and health problems. Maybe some days they just can’t physically make the transport to school. I challenge the movers and the shakers of our community to have a day to protest where the system has previously and continues to fail our children. To not only encourage, but to actually fight for and help every child make it to school, at least for just one day. Make flyers, design internet memes to be posted and shared. Make pleas to parents, PTOs and PTAs. Contact the media, speak about it on evening television. Ask employers to give parents a break. Start hashtags on social media and create Facebook groups in protest of the outrage. Offer families help, give rides and encourage carpooling. Go to areas in the city where kids gather and discuss the value of an education with them. Join forces with clergy and knock door to door. Make calls and write your local and state lawmakers and urge them to fund busses for all students who need one, promote anti-bullying programs, and anti-gang initiatives. Fund schools to have registered nurses on staff and host days where mobile dentists come to school. Make cardboard posters on sticks and stand outside of state conferences and workshops. Ask unions and districts to include a clause for convenient parent teacher conferences and/ or home visits for students in crisis. All these things could encourage positive attendance rates.

I am not bashing keeping kids home. This isn’t a post against protesting the common core or keeping kids home to make a point. On the contrary, I believe it’s important to make a stand, and when you feel passionately about education you need to fight to make it better. I just also plea with vocal groups to create alternative solutions and foster parts of the system that have been broken for years. Our education system has been in crisis way before the Common Core was a gleam in the eyes of the National Governors Association.

Over the last few months I have heard a lot of protest in regards to the Common core, but very few realistic solutions. I’ve heard The Core get bashed by politicians, teachers, parents, famous authors and news media, but I don’t think I’ve heard any of them come up with viable alternatives. And we can’t go back. We can’t pretend that education was better before The Core, or that our system didn’t need a shake-down. We can’t pretend that schools in disadvantaged areas doesn’t offer a second-rate curriculum. We can’t pretend that we aren’t failing our nation’s students both on an academic and a social level. And we can’t deny that truancy and a lack of being invested are daily problems in our schools.

I don’t think you can create a system that is one size fits all, but even more problematic is creating and continuing a system that is not equally distributed. I’m talking about the fact that because you live in an urban are you might not get to have an art teacher in your building or get a change to take a foreign language or Math 4. One thing that all students on a national level have in common is the need to not just show up, but be present in class (as well as have access to all that is available to other affluent districts). If only there was a day dedicated to Just that.

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Are Rochester City Schools Out Of Touch With Their Student’s Demographics?

I wrote this post last year for my other blog at the D&C.. Every year it’s the same thing with the book fair at school where they encourage the kids to pick out books they want & go home & ask Mommy & Daddy to buy them.. I appreciate that fundraisers are fruitful for the schools.. But come on, stop setting us up where we have to look like the bad guys because we can’t afford to blow money on pricey stuff right before the holidays. This year there’s actually 2 separate fundraisers on the night of open house. A BBQ meal that costs $11 a plate & the Scholastic book fair. For our family of 5 it would cost $55+ to participate. That sort of pressure makes me want to skip open house altogether.

It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not referring to just the holidays, I’m talking about open houses and book fairs. We attend a school in the city of Rochester. Keep in mind two facts: 1) this district is so poor collectively that according to the state, it qualifies for free meals for all students, 2) this is the last ranked district academically in upstate New York. There’s no question that the district has some serious issues. Parent involvement is very low, and I feel like our school needs to specifically pay attention to its demographics, especially the economics of its student body when making decisions surrounding events where they want to encourage as much involvement as possible- not hinder.

Every year right before the open house the school hosts a Scholastic book fair that’s set up for a week in the school’s library. Then on open house night, you’re encouraged to purchase books from the book fair. It’s a fantastic fundraiser for the school and from what I understand, Scholastic is very generous with giving money or books back to the school based on sales. That being said, the way the school pushes the sales directed towards the kids bothers me.

Every year during class time prior to open house, they parade the kids through the library and let them browse the products they have for sale. The kids bring home flyers and are also vocally told about the sales. Every year my kid comes home with a wish list of books that he gets his heart set on buying. I’m not saying every teacher or every class or every school does it this way, because I don’t know if that’s true. All I know is my kid is in 2nd grade, and 3 for 3 years, this is what has happened. (A year later, we’re in 3rd grade & it’s 4/4)

On one hand, it’s nice for kids to get excited about books. This morning I heard a girl say to a fellow student, “did you see the book fair, it’s awesome!” On the other hand it’s annoying that the staff puts parents in an awkward position where they’ve amped the kids up to buy products without prior permission. I’m a very frugal shopper, and I like to guide my kids to make purchasing decisions based on what I have money for. And It’s not just books at the book fair either, it’s $10 bejeweled diaries and $5 jumbo pencils and over-priced novelty science kits, and a lot of plastic junk that I don’t really have extra money to spend on right before Christmas. I feel like the teachers or staff put the parents in a position where they have to either give in to their child’s desires or burst their child’s excited little bubbles. And I know it’s a nice fundraiser, probably the best of the year. But should they be pushing products for their own gain at the expense of low income families, especially at a time of year where the need to pinch pennies is the most important? I mean there’s kids in our school who don’t even have shoes or winter coats, but we think it’s wise to ask their parents to buy $10 pointy fingers and $11 meals?

Personally my kids have more toys than we have room for. We have stacks of books upon books upon books. We read every night to our kids and we still have books they haven’t even read yet. I also don’t usually buy books at full price. We also make good use of our public library. Many of the books that are located front and center at the book fair, (and of course are the most enticing), are the commercialized stuff like Ninjango and super heroes, and over-priced novelty items that you can most likely find cheaper someplace else or at any garage sale for 10 cents a piece, instead of the classics (which are nowhere to be seen), which I would be more apt to be happy about purchasing. Even if spending money benefits the school and it is a fundraiser, it’s right before Christmas and I’m not interested in buying extra toys and books and extra stuff, because frankly, it’s just not in the budget, and I also don’t want to bombard my kids with a ton of extra material things this time of year. I don’t necessarily want to be negative about books and don’t want to be negative about a fundraiser, and I am sure there are a number of great priced items that happily go to excited children. It’s not fun saying no to my kids- that’s why I don’t bring them to places like the toy store and set myself and them for disappointment. Unfortunately when the toy store comes to school, it’s hard to avoid. And of course, that’s the beauty of it for Scholastic, I know, I’ve worked in retail.

So anyway, the open house is tomorrow, and kids are encouraged to come on down to the library to purchase all the fantastic things they just picked out. I have no clue how much my son’s wish list comes out to. I have 3 kids, so of course, when you buy one kid something, you have to do it for all three. In the back of my mind I almost want to skip open house because I know it’s already going to be an issue that we’ll just have to spend money.

Of course, I’m not going to skip the open house, the kids have been looking forward to it for weeks. But I assume if I’m thinking it, others are acting on it. Many other families in the district have way less money than us, so I can see where there’s going to be either a number of disappointed kids at the event or possibly families that just don’t go because they feel pressured to spend money they don’t have. Even if only one kid’s family doesn’t go to open house because of the book fair, then the whole thing has failed. It’s sad to think a fundraiser would compromise the already poorly attended open house as it is. And I have to ask: is this whole situation a perfect marketing plan created by teachers or office staff that are hungry for supplies and funds for their classroom, no matter the implications, or are they just completely out of touch with the the district’s demographics? Do they not realize who their students are, even though they are surrounded by the open display of poverty every single day?

I also felt the school was way out of touch with its students in another situation, when last year they hosted a parent night and made it clear no kids were allowed. These are parents with two jobs, second shift jobs or even single parent families, and they seemed to have completely missed the mark when hosting school events and placing even more challenges to attendance on families where parent involvement is despairingly low as it is. Read any discussion board online about the floundering Rochester City School District and all you see are people blaming parents for not being involved enough in their children’s education. Why doesn’t the school district not only go out of their way to make it easier for parents to attend, but try to empathize it’s student’s needs and restrictions.

I know selling books through Scholastic is an important fundraiser, I just wish they’d do it in a different way when they direct sales towards elementary aged kids, and take into account the demographics of the students. Anyone else avoid a school event because of monitory reasons?

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Letter From RCSD Deputy Superintendent Of Teaching And Learning Debunking Myth That Lesson Plans Are Pre-scripted by The State

On Friday, October 7th, 2013 Beverly Burrell-Moore, RCSD Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning sent the following email to all principals and teachers in the district. This letter debunks the common misconception that lessons plans are pre “scripted” by the state for teachers. She points out that part of the “art of teaching” calls for using the Common Core Curriculum as a guide that is to be differentiated when necessary and that lesson plans are not to be given verbatim.

To:      School Principals and Teachers

From:  Beverly Burrell-Moore, Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning

Date:   October 7, 2013

Re:      Common Core Curriculum as outlined by NYS

Last summer, the RCSD adopted the Common Core Curriculum as outlined by NYS.  In doing so, we decided to purchase many of the recommended books, math manipulatives, SMART Boards and other resources for every classroom to ensure instruction is accessible. With the support of IM&T, eLearning now contains all RCSD-adopted Common Core Curriculum to support student acquisition of the Common Core State Standards. We invested in the implementation to ensure instructional consistency and rigor throughout the District so that our students will be College and Career Ready.

One of the misconceptions across the District is in regards to “scripted” lessons within the units and modules.  The units and modules should be used as the main teacher manual for implementing the Common Core Curriculum as adopted by the District.  Teachers are not asked to deliver lessons verbatim (teacher/student dialogue given in the lessons do not have to be followed as is). The dialogues given (SCRIPTS) are there for guidance to ensure student understanding of intended outcomes or learning targets. These SCRIPTS are designed to be used as teacher prompts to ensure that key aspects of the lesson (questions, concepts, etc.) are addressed.  The art of teaching involves Instructors expanding on the given lessons based on the needs of the students and differentiating by “Tiering the Tasks.” This means that the main activities in the lessons should be taught, but teachers should consider differentiating the content or process where necessary.

Examples:

CONTENT– While all students need to engage in and be taught the Common Core Curriculum as identified in the daily lessons, teachers may add supplemental materials and/or texts that build on the main instructional outcomes, but are at a student’s independent level through small group instruction, homework, etc. In addition, teachers may add in extra questions, skills, and strategies for instructional purposes as dictated by their students’ needs.

PROCESS– The lessons provide activities in which to deliver the content in a manner that will allow students to successfully persevere with grade level content and become independent learners. Teachers may differentiate the activities to account for real life application and to maximize student engagement (examples: jigsaw, carousel, gallery walks, cooperative learning groups, multi-media approaches, etc.).

Professional Development workshops regarding implementation of the Common Core Curriculum are currently available on AVATAR (and more will be posted soon). These workshops will focus on how the Common Core Curriculum aligns to the Common Core

State Standards and NYS Assessments, how to plan and prepare for the daily lessons, how to differentiate content and processes, and interactive demonstration lessons to ensure understanding of curriculum expectations.

Moving forward, we recognize the complexities and challenges we are facing as we use data to measure student growth and achievement in the RCSD. All stakeholders need to share in and commit to preparing our students to be College and Career Ready as defined by the Common Core State Standards.

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

Henry Ford

Thank you.

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Leading Authors and Illustrators call on The President To Save Appreciation For Literature In Education

121 leading authors and illustrators of books for children, including several national award winners, (and some of my favs, Judy Blume, Maya Angelou) are calling on President Obama to “change the way we assess learning so that schools nurture creativity, exploration, and a love of literature.”

I love that they did this. Literature is oh so vital to our children and it feels like we are losing sight of that in current education. Read the letter below.

October 22, 2013

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

We the undersigned children’s book authors and illustrators write to express our concern for our readers, their parents and teachers. We are alarmed at the negative impact of excessive school testing mandates, including your Administration’s own initiatives, on children’s love of reading and literature. Recent policy changes by your Administration have not lowered the stakes. On the contrary, requirements to evaluate teachers based on student test scores impose more standardized exams and crowd out exploration.

We call on you to support authentic performance assessments, not simply computerized versions of multiple-choice exams. We also urge you to reverse the narrowing of curriculum that has resulted from a fixation on high-stakes testing.

Our public school students spend far too much time preparing for reading tests and too little time curling up with books that fire their imaginations. As Michael Morpurgo, author of the Tony Award Winner War Horse, put it, “It’s not about testing and reading schemes, but about loving stories and passing on that passion to our children.”

Teachers, parents and students agree with British author Philip Pullman who said, “We are creating a generation that hates reading and feels nothing but hostility for literature.” Students spend time on test practice instead of perusing books. Too many schools devote their library budgets to test-prep materials, depriving students of access to real literature. Without this access, children also lack exposure to our country’s rich cultural range.

This year has seen a growing national wave of protest against testing overuse and abuse. As the authors and illustrators of books for children, we feel a special responsibility to advocate for change. We offer our full support for a national campaign to change the way we assess learning so that schools nurture creativity, exploration, and a love of literature from the first day of school through high school graduation.

Alma Flor Ada
Alma Alexander
Jane Ancona
Maya Angelou
Jonathan Auxier
Kim Baker
Molly Bang
Tracy Barrett
Chris Barton
Ari Berk
Judy Blume
Alfred B. (Fred) Bortz
Lynea Bowdish
Sandra Boynton
Shellie Braeuner
Ethriam Brammer
Louann Mattes Brown
Anne Broyles
Michael Buckley
Janet Buell
Dori Hillestad Butler
Charito Calvachi-Mateyko
Valerie Scho Carey
Rene Colato Lainez
Henry Cole
Ann Cook
Karen Coombs
Robert Cortez
Cynthia Cotten
Bruce Coville
Ann Crews
Donald Crews
Nina Crews
Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Laura Dower
Kathryn Erskine
Jules Feiffer
Jody Feldman
Mary Ann Fraser
Sharlee Glenn
Barbara Renaud Gonzalez
Laurie Gray
Trine M. Grillo
Claudia Harrington
Sue Heavenrich
Linda Oatman High
Anna Grossnickle Hines
Lee Bennett Hopkins
Phillip Hoose
Diane M. Hower
Michelle Houts
Mike Jung
Kathy Walden Kaplan
Amal Karzai
Jane Kelley
Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff
Amy Goldman Koss
JoAnn Vergona Krapp
Nina Laden
Sarah Darer Littman
José Antonio López
Mariellen López
Jenny MacKay
Marianne Malone
Ann S. Manheimer
Sally Mavor
Diane Mayr
Marissa Moss
Yesenia Navarrete Hunter
Sally Nemeth
Kim Norman
Geraldo Olivo
Alexis O’Neill
Anne Marie Pace
Amado Peña
Irene Peña
Lynn Plourde
Ellen Prager, PhD
David Rice
Armando Rendon
Joan Rocklin
Judith Robbins Rose
Sergio Ruzzier
Barb Rosenstock
Liz Garton Scanlon
Lisa Schroeder
Sara Shacter
Wendi Silvano
Janni Lee Simner
Sheri Sinykin
Jordan Sonnenblick
Ruth Spiro
Heidi E.Y. Stemple
Whitney Stewart
Shawn K. Stout
Steve Swinburne
Carmen Tafolla
Kim Tomsic
Duncan Tonatiuh
Patricia Thomas
Kristin O’Donnell Tubb
Deborah Underwood
Corina Vacco
Audrey Vernick
Debbie Vilardi
Judy Viorst
K. M. Walton
Wendy Wax
April Halprin Wayland
Carol Weis
Rosemary Wells
Lois Wickstrom
Suzanne Morgan Williams
Kay Winters
Ashley Wolff
Lisa Yee
Karen Romano Young
Jane Yolen
Roxyanne Young
Paul O. Zelinsky
Jennifer Ziegler

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A Look Into The Common Core Curriculum And Innapropiate Expectations For First Grade

I went to a Parent-Teacher Conference this week for my first grader. She has the same teacher my eldest son had in first grade for comparison, and everything this year is noticeably different. Both the subject matter and the order of study is completely changed thanks to the new Common Core Standards.

So far this year the class is focusing heavily on mathematics at an intense pace. My daughter is grasping the actual math part pretty well and is even scoring above average in several areas in math, but is scoring average or even slightly below in reading. The teachers are following the Common Core Curriculum put forth by the state, and they have not focused much, if at all, on reading or writing this year. (Apparently that’s coming later in the year). She brings home 2-3 pages of homework home a night, but has yet to bring home any writing or reading exercises, nor has she brought home any worksheets that have been completed in class for reading or writing. The teacher said they haven’t worked on that yet, and it was clear she really did not have any true grasp on my child’s individual reading abilities. The kids are encouraged to read anything of their choosing with parents at home for at least 15 minutes a night and record it on a daily reading log.

When my son was in the classroom only two years ago, they had a curriculum that focused on reading first, which is a clear foundation to everything else. Writing, math, social studies, science, etc. all require a base of proficient reading skills. Keep in mind that according to the state tests administered last year, only 5% of our district (Rochester City School District) was deemed proficient in English Language Arts (ELA). Prior to the Common Core Tests, I was told only 43% of the students in our particular elementary school were able to read at grade level. This is an area that undoubtedly needs attention, yet they have chosen not to focus or give precedence to it OR use reading passages on tests that are written at an age appropriate level thus far.

Even though she is too young for the big tests in the spring, they still continually administer tests in the classroom that the teachers do not aid the children with, meaning they don’t read them out loud to the students. They are handed out and taken solely by the kids. I was able to see some of the “tests” the children were given in math already. There was one test that was 2 or 3 pages of problems. Probably 4-5 in-depth problems to a page, each requiring several steps. (I’m going from memory of a test I was shown at the P/T conference). The first page was a mix of word instructions, picture instructions and fill in the box type problems, while the second page was text only instructions with blank spaces for the children to solve the problems. No pictures, no boxes, etc. Each instruction passage was 3 sentences at least, including large words like “unknown number,” “addends,” and “doubles.” I find the high expectations of required reading and in particular hefty vocabulary rather troubling due to the fact that my daughter can barely read. This is first grade, remember. She can read very basic words like See Spot Run, but not much beyond that. (Remember they haven’t worked on reading yet this year, so she’s still running on kindergarten skills, minus the amount she’s probably regressed for lack of working on it thus far). They do have a “read to self” time set aside in class, but she tells me she looks at the pictures of the books for 20 minutes. Because again, she can’t really even read. My daughter marked high on the first page of the test because she is good at drawing answers from visual cues, while the second page was left completely blank. Obviously. Because there was nothing on the page except for words. Questions that appeared to be almost an entire paragraph. Paragraph length questions are inappropriate, above level and too daunting for a child that is used to reading material that is comprised of mostly pictures and short rhyming words like dog and log and cat and bat.

My daughter often comes home with homework that requires me having to read the instructions on the top of the page for her; it is definitely not material she could get through on her own. Sometimes I will read her the instructions, and because of her five year old desire to be independent, she wants to try to figure it out on her own. She wants to do it how she does it in class, which is looking at the pictures and mostly guesswork.

It boggles my mind that the writers of the curriculum are giving kids work that is above their reading level, and not allowing time in the classrooms to make sure kids can actually read at that level, and if they can’t read, then there is no allowance for the teacher to recognize that fact and work on reading first. And the sad part is, the teacher’s hands are tied, they aren’t supposed to diverge from the state mandated curriculum. The teacher told me that first graders at this point should read about 7 words a minute. I don’t understand with those types of benchmarks that they think 3-4 sentence instructions are reasonable. Four sentences for example may take up to 8 minutes for an “on track” child to get through a reading passage (even double that number for a child that is below reading level) and by that time, say 16 minutes of reading for just one problem, I doubt they would have comprehended the beginning of the passage to even figure out what to do.

This new curriculum is not ideal, nor is it efficient in the order it is set up. It would make SO much more sense to work on reading first, then math skills second. And to make sure that instructions and questions on tests are age appropriate and realistic. That is clear to me as a parent, only by the small taste I have of what the kids are learning. There have been calls to change the current curriculum by educators and parents across the state. That is fine and good, but my child is only 5 once. I don’t like the fact that my child is a basically a guinea pig in a failing system. Even if they change the curriculum for future classes, my daughter’s very foundation for the rest of her life is at stake right here, right now. Her desire to want to learn is forming now. The way she writes her letters is being imprinted now. The way she learns to take tests and read books and do homework is happening now. Even her inclination to develop a love for books is happening today; I don’t have a year to wait for the state to make the material appropriate, and I’m angry that teachers who feel like they are teaching the students the wrong things don’t have the ability to make the judgment calls to change the curriculum. I feel like no one is able to accommodate to our specific needs. I also feel like a failure as her mother as the one in the position to make sure her needs are being met. I should be picking up the slack here and be able to teach her the skills that the school isn’t able to do, but often after 3 pages of homework at night, she is done- way done with academics. Oftentimes when she is merely half way done being drilled with math facts at night, she is tired and losing focus. Then when I do sit down to read with her at night, she’s too overwhelmed and overworked by the rigorous requirements during and after school to want to learn even more, and focus on working on reading with me. My daughter finds pleasure and comfort in cuddling with me after a long day and I reading books to her before bed. She often doesn’t have the energy at night to struggle through words like “unknown” or “doubles.”

I actually think some elements of the Common Core do have merit. I like the fact that they are being taught some expanded vocabulary and that my children aren’t being given a sub-par education just because they attend a school in an impoverished district. Children can comprehend some of these new concepts being taught, as their verbal comprehension level is higher than their reading level, (and continues to surpass it until about 8th grade). These are concepts though that should be told to a first grade child, but not be forced to try to read these words. So when a teacher tells the kids what a muscular system is and shown pictures, they can soak it up. Or if they are taught that the definition of the word “unknown” is a number that belongs in the blank box, they will probably understand what this word means by hearing it verbally and comparing the pictures on the sides. But to expect children to even attempt to straight up read these types of words is asinine and developmentally inappropriate. I like the fact that the state is trying to set standards and make sure our children are being challenged. But when the academic expectations go beyond a reasonable age appropriate challenge, it becomes damaging and counterproductive.

I am told not to worry about it, and that she’s right on track, at least compared to everyone else.. Because a majority of the class wasn’t able to do that last page of equations either. Since 95% of our district is considered a failure, she’s average, right?! But I do take the fact that she’s being presented with material that she has no chances of grasping quite seriously. I don’t understand the rush to make kids feel like they are failures in their school work. This not only affects their grades in the current year, but undoes the “scaffolding” the curriculum is supposed to create, as well as gives children the expectation that getting the answers right is completely unattainable. That failure is the new status quo.

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Dear Teachers, Help Us Help Our Kids With Their Homework

Since the beginning of this particular school year I have heard much chatter in the online parenting groups that parents are frustrated with the new way schools are teaching math. The main reason is that schools are now teaching new methods and vocabulary that we as parents have never seen before.

My school aged children are in 1st and 3rd grade and I’ve often had to search the internet to figure out how to help them with their homework; a few times I have failed to come to an answer. I have 3 bachelors degrees, so you would think first grade math shouldn’t be that hard for me to figure out, right?! But unfortunately I learned how to add 2+2 differently than they are expecting the kids to learn it now. This is magnified for parents that may not have the internet to look up new vocabulary nor the education background to teach their kids how to do the problems in any way, new or old. This is only going to widen the already large achievement gap we have in Rochester, a city that is riddled with poverty with a school district that has a problem with truancy and the lowest academic proficiency in Western New York. I can imagine it’s only going to get harder for me (and others) as the years progress and the work gets harder.

EngageNY has a website that is geared towards informing parents of the modules their children are doing, but the website is difficult to navigate and I’ve yet to actually ever find what I’m looking for upon visiting the site (and I consider myself pretty proficient online), so in reality it is not very helpful at all.

I propose that teachers send home quick reference glossary-style guides to every parent that includes key Math and English terms. This guide has to be something that is a hard copy, and not just online, so it’s available to everyone. Many parents in our urban district may have never heard of an array or know the difference between a row and a column or know quite what a long vowel is or what plurals are. Little guidebooks or even monthly newsletters would be a perfect way to help parents be informed and knowledgeable enough to sit down and do homework with our kids.

I also ask that you are mindful of the directions that you give at the top of the paper. If you want students to show all their work then write show your work. If you want students to write in complete sentences, then write that in the instructions. Homework instructions should stand on their own each day so that they can be solved at home even when the students didn’t grasp the work in class time, or were truant etc.. Let us be helpers to our children. I know that teachers don’t always author the worksheets that are sent home, but it’s frustrating for parents when the instructions are not complete and a waste of a complete evening if we can’t figure it out.

If we as parents can aid our children with their homework it is only going to make the process and your lessons flow much smoother.

Last year I attended an RCSD family day program at the Memorial Art Gallery and they did give a booklet to parents (there was only a handful of parents there)of math terms and a booklet about internet safety, so I know this is something that is possible to give out. I have yet to be given anything similar in my five years as an RCSD parent from classroom teachers. It’s possibly a good request to make of your school’s PTO or PTA or something to seek donations or create fundraising events for.

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