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Amazing technologies, Common Core Standards, and homeschooling.

I hope you had a good week. As I gear up for our two week Boot Camp program, I had the chance to participate this week in a “Boot Camp for educators,” held online by ASCD, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. The program, a webinar really, was fascinating for several reasons. First of all, it showed the power and depth of Web 2.0. (What exactly is Web 2.0, you may ask? Not everyone present at the session knew that either, although the presenter seemed to take it for granted that everyone did.)

Here is the wikipedia definition - “Web 2.0 is a concept that takes the network as a platform for information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, and collaboration on the World Wide Web. A Web 2.0 site allows users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue...” (1)

Here are some of my impressions of the webinar: The affable fellow running this boot camp/webinar was located somewhere near Niagara Falls, NY. As he shared his computer screen with us for the presentation, I could see multiple tabs open on his computer. It reinforced for me that he was multi-tasking, as I was, even as he ran the session. As he toggled back and forth between his uploaded presentation, he also “dropped” links and resources into his twitter feed, which I was able to see pop up immediately in twitter, as I myself toggled back and forth between twitter, his presentation, and the links he was giving us. 

He showed us some of his favorite new web tools for education (that was the theme of the session) and as he shared each one, I was also easily able to bring them up in my browser, often faster than he could share it. So, I was able to see and browse these new resources in my browser, even as he was sharing each resource in his browser and talking about it.

At one point he provided a questionnaire that he asked us to post our favorite educational links to, with our comments. The links and comments were immediately then posted to a spreadsheet, which we had instant access to, and which I was easily able to save to google docs for later reference. So, the session really demonstrated the power of the internet for education, both for educating teachers and educating students. It was highly interactive, and felt like a real group effort. 

One interesting new technology that he demonstrated is called QR Codes. (2) Similar to a bar code, this code can be placed, for example, on a piece of artwork created by a student. The code can then be scanned with a phone (that has scanning capabilities). The code then can bring up on the device a video or audio of the student who created the piece of art, talking about that work of art! (This was the example he showed us.) There are endless possibilities for this technology.  

Another resource he introduced is a site with an interactive map that links to newspapers around the world, based on the location on the map. (3) This includes historic newspapers. He showed us two newspapers from the early 20th century, from different parts of the country, and pointed out a serious discrepancy in their reporting of a major event, (the assassination of a US president!) due most likely to the slow time that it took news to travel in 1901.

My mind spun as I imagined each new resource that he introduced being used in homeschooling. (I am fairly sure that I was the only participant with their mind spinning for this reason!)

The technology is stunning, in many cases, and has so much promise. I recall sitting in class as a 7 or 8 year old, and being bored out my mind learning geography. And geography should not be a boring subject! With iPods replacing many textbooks, and mapping technology being so advanced, there is almost no way, it would seem, that this subject, or any other, can remain boring anymore. 

One thing I did notice was that despite all this amazing technology, the discussion during the webinar often came back to “Core Standards.” Core Standards is defined as “Educational standards (that) help teachers ensure their students have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful by providing clear goals for student learning.” (4)

Why do we need these standards? The official Core Standards site then goes on to explain that:

“We need standards to:

1) ensure that all students, no matter where they live, are prepared for success in postsecondary education and the workforce. 

2) Common standards will help ensure that students are receiving a high quality education consistently, from school to school and state to state.” 

The problem is that core standards do not “ensure that all students...are prepared for success in postsecondary education and the workforce.” And they definitely do not “ensure that students are receiving a high quality education consistently...”

Perhaps different schools across a given state need to agree on what is going to be taught. (Or do they?) But it is a slippery slope. Core Standards usually lead to another sticky issue; the way these things are measured is usually via grades, testing, and more standardized tests. Throw teacher performance bonuses into the mix, and you have a sure-fire recipe for a cookie-cutter education, devoid of much creativity and spontaneity, and worse. 

There is much research-based criticism, too, about Core Standards. As stated in this excerpt from an educational blog; “I have interviewed hundreds of teachers who significantly raised student achievement. Not one has ever said it was because of great state learning standards. Good curriculums help, but high-minded, numbingly detailed standards don’t produce them. How teachers are trained and supported in the classroom is what matters” (5)

He writes -

“But I have been talking to Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless, a national expert on this topic, and read his latest research paper: “Predicting the Effect of Common Core Standards on Student Achievement.” He reviewed the research. He assessed the chances of the Common Core standards making a difference. It turns out this is another big disappointment we should have figured out long ago.

Loveless investigated the possibility that strong standards might predict future achievement gains. They don’t.

Similarly, states that required students to have higher scores on their state tests in order to be judged proficient did not have stronger NAEP scores than states that grant proficiency status even to students who miss half of the questions….

The idea that common standards might create efficiencies and motivations that raise achievement is disproved by what has happened in the many states that created their own standards. Those states still have some schools scoring very well and others scoring miserably. That variation has not declined, defying happy talk from Common Core advocates…

For homeschooling parents, I think it can be valuable to have some basic guidelines to follow, if we feel we need them to help inform our choices about how to direct our children's learning. For those of us (probably most of us) who need to submit a homeschooling plan to our local school board, being up on the latest standards can even make a kiddush haShem, as well as forestall some homeschooling headaches. 

For limudei kodesh, we don’t usually have to submit any plans to anyone, but perhaps you are just taking a break from the local Jewish school system in your area, and want to keep up. Or maybe you have yeshiva in mind at some point for a child. One excellent book that provides some pretty comprehensive limudei kodesh standards is “Curriculum and Methodology” by Rabbi Hillel Mandel. (Available from Torah u’Mesorah, and in the Room613 shop.)

What we don’t need as homeschoolers are standardized testing and grades, to know that our children are “are prepared for success...and are receiving a high quality education consistently.”

As technology emerges and develops by leaps and bounds, the definition of success is also changing. The Associated Press recently reported “More than half of America's recent college graduates are either unemployed or working in a job that doesn't require a bachelor's degree.” Even the New York Times recently did a story about Peter Theil, the Silicon Valley investor who believes “more young people should be chasing breakthrough technologies instead of wasting their time and money in college.” (6)  Are common core standards really going to "ensure...success in...the workforce?"

Whichever path you and your children choose, and however you pursue it, I wish you lots of hatzlacha, and great success! And I have no doubts that our kids will all turn out just fine, iy"H!

 References

1 Retrieved from the internet 7/24/12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0

2 Retrieved from the internet 7/23/12. http://www.qrstuff.com/

3 Retrieved from the internet 7/25/12 http://newspapermap.com/

4 Retrieved from the internet 7/24/12. http://www.corestandards.org

5 Retrieved from the internet 7/24/12. http://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/why-common-core-standard...

6 Retrieved from the internet 7/24/12. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/20/education/edlife/the-thiel-fellow...

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