“College and career ready” is one of your ed reform slogans that’s repeated ad nauseam. Your way of achieving this goal is to use the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which you pretty much single-handedly funded, to train all US students to think a certain way. You argue that this will make them more competitive in an increasingly globalized economy. In doing so, English-language arts and math curricula are narrowing and becoming uniform, and schools, more than ever before, are turning into test prep factories.
In contrast to your vision, which centers on preparing students for high-stakes tests, as an experienced educator of English-language learners, I find Mission Hill’s interpretation of “college and career ready” to be developmentally appropriate and much more engaging than what ed reform, through its CCSS package, is offering.
Mission Hill, as you’ll recall, is a K-8 public pilot school in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, MA (note: since filming, the school has relocated to Jamaica Plain). In chapter 8 of A Year at Mission Hill, students participate in the last school wide theme: The World of Work. “How does one connect academics to the broader social context?” is the essential question that guides students’ exploration of work and careers.
You’ll see middle school students learning how to conduct interviews with a variety of job-holders, from a professional ballerina to a computer engineer. With help from students at a local university, and in collaboration with 826 Boston, a non-profit writing center, Mission Hill middle schoolers produce compelling first person narratives detailing a particular career. This writing project culminates with the publication of the students’ essays in a book called A Place for Me in the World. 1,000 copies are produced and distributed to organizations nationwide.
The younger Mission Hill students explore the neighborhood to get a better sense of the different types of work represented in their community. They visit a real estate office and apprentice with a baker in Boston’s North End. Back at school they operate their own bakery, utilizing their newly acquired knowledge and skills. A teacher remarks that “there is so much that they learn about those real life experiences that make true connections that they don’t forget. They are locked into learning. It’s chemistry, it’s math and literacy. It’s all this interconnectedness that makes this real for the children.”
Your ed reform policies are threatening our freedom to teach and students’ freedom to learn in meaningful ways.
How does the Common Core, with its focus on teaching the skills that are tested on high-stakes assessments, offer students an engaging education complete with real world experiences like the ones described above? Let us know.
-KL, Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates