The School of Deep Understanding

Teresa Stanbury used to be a Common Core skeptic—until she stepped into a Common Core math classroom where deep learning was taking place. What she saw, struck her into Core dumbfoundedness.

The teacher, Gideon Pelous, buzzed about the room like a shimmering dragonfly while the children—second-graders from the deep inner city—discussed the essence of numerals in small groups.

Before the Core, students would be taught that two plus two equals four, but they would never know why. They would go through their lives not knowing how to explain this basic mystery. Now things were entirely different. The moribund learning of the ossified past had been exhumed and cast away.

“I just had a realization,” said Shelly Thomas, arranging four rectangular blocks in front of her. “I used to think that numerals were quantities. I was trying to figure out what the curve on the 2 meant, and what the double curve on the 3 meant. I even tried measuring them with my ruler. Then I had the insight that numerals aren’t quantities, but rather symbols that represent quantities.”

“You mean to say—“ sputtered Enrique Alarcón as he seized a crayon.

“Yep,” she continued. “This 1 here represents a unit of something. It can be a unit of anything. Now, when we say ‘unit,’ we have to be careful. That’s another thought that came to me, but I haven’t figured it–.”

“I have,” interrupted Stephanie Zill, banging on her Curious George lunchbox. “We use the word ‘unit’ in both a contextual and an absolute sense. That is, a unit is unchanging within the context of a problem, but it may change from problem to problem. Also, certain defined units, such as minutes and yards, have a predefined size that doesn’t change from one context to the next—until you consider relativity, that is.”

“Oh, I get it,” said Enrique. “So, this numeral 1 represents one unit, which could be a unit of anything, but within a given problem, the word “unit” does not change referent unless we are dealing with more than one kind of unit at once. Hey, what color crayon should we use: magenta or seaweed?”

“Magenta,” said Shelly. “So, moving on with this problem, let’s say the numeral 1 represents one of these blocks. The numeral two represents two blocks.” She set two blocks aside to emphasize her point.

“Fair enough,” answered Stephanie. “But how do you get from there to 2 + 2 = 4?”

“OK,” Shelly resumed, swinging her braids. “So, you have these two blocks, and you want to add another two blocks to them. But two blocks, you see, is actually two of one block. So when you add two blocks, you’re actually adding one block twice. Now if you put twenty single blocks together, you get twenty blocks, which isn’t the same as two blocks, but it can be, if you divide those twenty blocks into ten groups of two each. Just try it and you’ll see what I mean. But here we want four blocks, not twenty, so that means that instead of dividing the pile into ten groups of two each, we should divide it into five groups of four each. So we do that. Then we take one of those groups of four and line up the blocks, like this. Then we take our original two blocks and match them up to these four blocks. It turns out that we can do so twice. This means that we are taking two blocks and then two blocks again, which is the same as adding two plus two, and this turns out to be four, which once again, or maybe for the first time, because this is all super-new, is represented by the numeral 4.”

Stephanie and Enrique nodded, rapt. “That was deep,” said Enrique.

“Deep understanding,” Stephanie agreed.

“That’s just the beginning,” said Shelly. “In the old days, we would have left it like that and gone back to dealing with abstract representations of quantities. But thanks to the Common Core, we get to apply this equation to numerous real-life situations. So, say you have a pair of socks and another pair of socks. How many socks do you have?”

“Two pairs,” said Orlando, who had just wiggled his way over from another group that was taking too long to arrive at insights.

“Two pairs, but how many individual socks?”

“They aren’t individual. They’re pairs.”

“But let’s pretend that they’re still individual, even as pairs.”

“Does it matter if they don’t match?”

“No.”

“Wait,” interjected Stephanie. “I thought you said the units were supposed to be identical.”

“This leads us to question what identity really is,” rejoined Shelly. “Any object in the physical world has a set of attributes. If you consider only certain attributes, such as general shape and purpose, this object may be identical to other objects that otherwise don’t resemble it. However, if you focus on the attributes that differ, they you find yourself confronted with unalike and incomparable objects.”

“I see,” Orlando sighed. “So, if we’re just considering the sockiness of the sock—that is, the property that makes something a sock and not some other object—then we have four such socks.”

“That’s more or less on the right track,” said Shelly. “There are some subtleties that need to be taken into account, but since group time is up, we’ll have to leave that until tomorrow.”

Mr. Pelous called the class back to attention. “Mathematicians, what did we learn in our groups today about two plus two?”

“It equals four!” the students cried.

“Yes, and why?”

The room erupted in voices—all saying different things. Suddenly Orlando began waving his hand frantically.

“Orlando, do you have something to tell us about why 2 + 2 = 4?”

“Yes—if it didn’t equal four, then life would be absurd, or at least very, very strange!”

“And who’s to say it isn’t?” shouted a student from the corner.

“It can’t be that strange, or we wouldn’t be trying to explain it through math,” Orlando said. The bell rang.

Teresa Stanbury thanked Mr. Pelous and wandered dreamily out of the school, marveling at the Common Core and the wonders it had wrought.

Standards Count as Complex Informational Text, Says Leader

Green Lake, NY–In response to schools’ complaints that they have not yet received a viable, affordable Common Core curriculum with actual texts, district superintendent Mike Vnutri announced that the students should be reading the very standards. “It’s informational text, and it’s complex enough,” he said. “Plus I have it from higher up that everyone’s supposed to be reading the standards several times in every class, so you’re killing two birds with one stone. Sorry about that metaphor; I happen to like birds.”

In a recent model Common Core lesson for a tenth-grade literature class, students spent a lesson reading ELA standard RL.9-10.4: “Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).”

Although this is not in itself a literary text, every literary text should be paired with informational text anyway. According to sources, it is even acceptable to leave the literary text out. This standard satisfies complexity requirements; when fed into text analyzers, it shows an eleventh-grade level and could thus be considered a “stretch” text–too hard for struggling readers, but within reasonable range for many others.

In order to ensure that all students leave the classroom with an understanding of the text, teacher Ernesta Pourtous announced, at the start of the class, that the goal of the lesson was to understand all of the words in the standard, which she then read aloud. She then asked each student in turn to repeat the goal of the lesson. She noted where they stumbled over words.

“Now,” she said, “when you encounter an informational text that has difficult words, there are several strategies you can use. One is to look the words up in a dictionary. That’s not the strategy we’re going to practice today, because we don’t have dictionaries in the classroom. Instead, I am going to teach you a four-step exercise: Identify, Predict, Align, and Define. You can remember it as IPAD.” There were giggles in the class.

For the next activity, she had students copy the standard from the board and carefully circle the words they didn’t know The circles had to be complete (or they would have to start over), and any student who did not circle “figurative,” “connotative,” or “cumulative” would lose a point. She circulated the room, taking photographs so that she could document that every student was hard at work. At the end of the ten minutes, she told students to hold their sheets of paper in the air. Circled words abounded.

Next, she took a minute to touch base about how it felt to succeed at an activity. Tessie Moran, a tall girl with dark bangs in the corner of the room, spoke quietly about how she now knew that she could do it. (There were hidden microphones n various locations.)

After this, Ms. Pourtous instructed them to turn to their partners and predict the meanings ot the words. “At this point, you are allowed to say what you think they mean; there are no wrong answers,” she told them. “But I do want to see everyone talking.” Soon the room was filled with noise. Five minutes later, she called for silence again. A student raised his hand.

“Yes, Jose?”

“Why aren’t we reading a sonnet or something?”

“It’s no use reading a sonnet if you don’t have a Common Core-aligned goal. The purpose of this lesson is to help you get your goals in place. That will make you college and career ready. If you want to read sonnets, you’ve got to do the hard work. Which leads us to the hardest part of the lesson: alignment.” She explained that now their task was to align their definitions with those of their classmates. First, they would compare notes in small groups. Then they would rotate to other groups–three times. Once they had completed all of these alignments, everyone would have an identical list of definitions. Through group influence, she said, these definitions would become more accurate over the course of the activity.

She then circulated as students conferred excitedly on the meaning of “connotative.” “I think it’s like a suggestion,” one student said; the others nodded and copied him. “Now, how do you turn that into an adjective?” Pourtous asked the group. Once they arrived at “suggestive,” she moved on.

At the end of the class, she had them all post their identical definitions on the walls. They had defined “figurative” as “imaginary,” “connotative” as “suggestive,” and “cumulative” as “piled up.” The room was now decorated with words and their approximate meanings.

“You see,” said Superintendent Vnutri, after displaying the video at a principals’ meeting, “every single student was involved in this lesson, and every single student walked out with a better understanding of the standard. Do you see how it was all in their hands? This is vastly more productive and student-oriented than having a teacher stand at the front of the room and yap about Shakespeare, or engage in dialogue with just three or four students.”

“I’d like to hear about the Shakespeare, myself,” a principal ventured.

“Sure you would,” Vnutri retorted. “You’ve just got to remember that this isn’t about you.”

 

Note: I made some edits to this piece after posting it.

 

District Mandates Innovation in All Schools

New Fork, NY—Responding to the lack of innovation in some schools, and the multiple definitions of innovation in others, the New Fork Department of Education has ordered all schools to follow a streamlined, data-driven innovation rubric that spells out precisely what an innovative school and classroom should look like.

“It’s time for every school in this district to become innovative,” said schools chief Frank Lubie. “There is no excuse for doing the ‘same old, same old,’ or dibbly-dabbling in your own special thing. Innovation is research-driven, we know what it is, and it’s time for everyone to get on board with it.” Any school in the district that has not become innovative by 2015–2016 will lose fifty percent of its funding.

What does an innovative school look like? First, its bulletin boards must look innov ative. “Every bulletin board must have a task, a Common Core State Standard, and a rubric, along with graded student work with a recent date,” said Lubie. “Not one of those items can be missing.” Just how is this innovative? “Research has shown that innovative schools have bulletin boards that conform to this standard,” he replied. “That’s why we call them innovative schools.”

Next, all classrooms must have a four-square chart on the wall. “It can serve various purposes,” said Literacy and Innovation Coach (LIC) Sally Onwys, “but it must be clearly visible, and it must be used.” One purpose was to show students how to write a paragraph. “In the middle, you’ve got your topic sentence,” she said, “but it’s in a diamond, so it’s still a four-square chart. Then you have an opening supportive sentence, two more supportive sentences with evidence—that’s the most innovative part, since no one used evidence in the past—and a summary sentence. Do that for four more paragraphs, and you’ve got an innovative essay in an innovative classroom, all thanks to the innovative chart.”

What if a student finds that a summary sentence is not needed, or that two supportive sentences do the trick? “That student will still have to follow instructions,” Onwys replied. “What’s good for one is good for all. To summarize: Even a student who sees no need for a summary sentence should write one, for the sake of our collective innovation rating.”

Speaking of collective innovation, all desks in an innovative classroom must be arranged in pods, until the neo-furniture arrives. “There should be no detectable front of the room,” said Onwys. “Students should have nowhere in particular to look except at each other. This will stimulate collaboration and group thinking.” In addition, all students would wear RFID tags so that they could be tracked at any time, for greater success. Additional monitoring might include discussion tracking (by computer programs that detect keywords), engagement measurement by means of skin conductance bracelets, and other items.

As for content, every innovative classroom must focus on informational texts. “We’ve got to catch up with the information age,” said Lubie. “Literature’s all very nice, and we’ll still teach it. But those kids have to be reading informational text every day.” To eliminate the cost of photocopying, and to provide texts at each student’s instructional level, schools would give each student an iPad with an interactive reading comprehension program. There would be no need to waste precious instructional time with class discussion; instead, teachers could circulate around the room and make sure students were on task. A typical check-in might sound like this:

Teacher: So, what strategy is Flubby teaching you today? [Flubby is an empathic animated tutor.]
Student: Today Flubby is teaching me the strategy of finding the main idea.
Teacher: Are you applying that strategy to an informational text?
Student: Yes.
Teacher: Let’s see.
Student (pointing to a highlighted sentence on the screen): Here’s the main idea.
Teacher: Great!

The teacher then makes a mark on a checklist and proceeds to the next student.

For Lubie, a strength of the innovative classroom is its lack of ambiguity. “We don’t have to worry about being misrated and misjudged,” he said, “because it’s obvious who’s innovative and who isn’t.” Nor is it necessarily time-consuming; the district has purchased five thousand Innovative Learning Packages that meet all of the specifications. A school need only set it up and use it.

“If the district becomes entirely innovative, as we require,” he added proudly, “the time soon will come when it knows no other way.”

District Leader Calls for Inhumanities

Rhino Falls, Wisconsin—Citing a global trend toward ruthless school and workplace practices, Superintendent Mark Sequor called on for a steep increase in the inhumanities throughout the K–12 grades. “It’s time we not only caught up with Singapore and China, but showed them who’s who,” he told an assembly of 10,000. “Our kids think they have lots of meaningless tests? They should see the tests the kids in Korea take. Our kids think they have too much homework? Compared to other kids, they’re on permanent vacation.”

To catch up with the rest of the world, says Sequor, the schools need an inhumanities emphasis even more than a STEM emphasis. “STEM might still give you a few stargazers,” he explained; “whereas a course in inhumanities will keep every child on task.”

The inhumanities, Sequor continued, are at the heart of the Race to the Top competition, which awards funding to districts that race into flawed reforms without really thinking them through. “The whole point here is to get ahead, not to succumb to lazy thoughts,” he explained, “and so, by embracing the inhumanities, we’re really going the extra mile—faster than anyone else, I’ll add.”

Telos Elementary, a model school in Rhino City, allows visitors to witness its inhumanities curriculum in action. The day is filled with rapid and strictly timed activities, where students from kindergarten on up must turn and talk, repeat, rotate, move to the next station, repeat, summarize, and get in line. “We can’t let them get dreamy,” said Holly Vide, the school’s inhumanities coach. “We need to have everyone engaged. Also, in the workplace, they’ll be switched from task to task or even fired, so we need to prepare them for that reality.”

By second grade, students are already learning to cheer over their data. “You’ve got to get into their heads that the statistics are what count, so to speak,” Vide said. “The biggest thing in their world should be that graph at the front of the room, showing their rise or fall in scores. This mindset will prepare them well for high school, where they have spend months preparing for the SAT. They learn to live for the score. That’s called achievement.”

In middle school, students refine their social ostracism skills. “Group work helps everyone spot the non-team-players,” said Sequor. “For this reason, it’s important to have group work in every class. Once you’ve spotted the non-team-players, you can exclude them and get on with your project.” The excluded students will receive low grades for classroom collaboration. “This is an important red flag for colleges and employers,” he said, “and it allows us to boost our credibility. If our team players are doing well, and we’re doing due diligence in classifying our non-team-players, then we’ll keep our good ratings.”

Once students enter high school, they are expected to do everything, he said. “Every high school student, in order to have a fighting chance in life, must have top grades, top test scores, leadership credentials, an array of extracurriculars, athletic prizes, community service hours, and at least ten things that go above and beyond what everyone else is doing. Can you be a person of integrity and character and do all of this?” he asked with a rhetorical flourish. “Of course not. That’s part of the point. Integrity and character are relics of medievalism. I think it was the medieval writer Flannery O’Connor who said something about how integrity lies in what one cannot do. We live in a ‘can-do’ era. A ‘can’t-do’ attitude is simply out of bounds.”

According to some critics, it’s the “can’t-do attitude” that makes room for thiings like reading, pondering, or playing an instrument. “No one who does anything substantial or interesting can do everything,” said Brian Emerson, a professor of English and an opponent of the inhumanities movement. “There must be areas of ‘no’ and failure.”

“That’s a quaint idea,” responded Sequor, “but it amounts to a bunch of fluff. Substantial and interesting things? Those are subjective terms. We have to take a hard look at the era and go where it goes.”

The era was not available for comment, but one of its representatives repeated its recent press statement that “following is leading.” We would have mulled over the words, but a whistle blew, and everyone scurried on to the next task.

 

Note: I made a few edits to this piece after posting it.

District Purchases New Goal Package

vennUpsidasi, MN–While schools around the country scramble to align themselves with the new Common Core State Standards, a district in Minnesota has taken a different tack. Because growth is what matters, it has purchased a new product called Goal-a-Matic, which gathers data through surveys and sensors, generates personalized goals, and then calculates progress toward them. What’s more, it guarantees growth for all.

“It’s amazing,” said Superintendent Tracy Groter. “I just sit down with a sensor bracelet, fill out a form, and boom! I’ve got a goal that matches me. Then a few months later, I sit down again, and boom! I see growth. Not any old growth, mind you, but academic growth.”

What was her personalized goal? “I will learn the spelling of two of the three following words: accommodations, accountability, and principal.”

Isn’t that goal a bit too close at hand? “It doesn’t matter; it’s a goal,” she replied. “Goals are goals. Growth is growth. Show the growth, and you’re good to go.”

The software comes with electronic Goal-Mentors, cellphone-size digital devices that remind users of the goal every hour. “It’s great to have that kind of pressure,” she explained. “If you know you’re being held accountable, you’re less likely to slip up.”

Teachers’ goals range from “I will write three standards on chart paper five times a week” to “I will praise the new teacher evaluation system in two out of the next three faculty meetings.” (While not strictly academic, these goals still serve academic purposes, according to Groter.)

For students, the goals are friendly and flexible: for instance, “I will turn and talk to my neighbor in 80 percent of my classes”; “I will draw a Venn diagram of something”; or “I will look at the title of a book and predict what it will be about.”

“I find these goals incredibly annoying,” said a fifth-grader. “I want to learn algebra, and instead I have to spend all day promising to learn inane strategies that I don’t even need and then showing that I’ve learned them.”

“This kid is just going to have to get used to it,” said Groter, “because the workplace does this kind of thing too. In fact, we’re borrowing a lot from what we hear is out there.”

Setting and meeting goals is only part of the process. Once they have attained their goals, students, teachers, and administrators must advertise their attainments. “When you’ve got 100 people showing growth, there’s got to be some other way of standing out,” said Groter. “Basically you’ve got to promote yourself. You do it by buying airtime.”

When students meet goals, they earn advertisement points. Once they accumulate five points, they may show a video ad of their attainments at the start of class. The teacher must accommodate these needs. At the end of the week, students vote on the most popular ads. The students with the winning ads take part in speed-networking events; the one that makes the best impression is named Student of the Week. At the end of the year, the student with the most Student of the Week awards receives the Success Prize, the school’s highest honor.

“I made my ads over the summer,” said Vince Chitry, a high school junior. “Then I started talking them up on Facebook. I know I’ve got the votes. Question is, what if someone offers to buy my votes? I could really use the cash. I could even use some of it toward special effects for my next video. I’ll have to think about that one.”

Vera Denken, a history teacher, asked what students would learn from all of this. She was swiftly informed that she would have to make an ad (her second) in which she displayed at least five approved “artifacts” of goal attainment.

“She had better be wearing new shoes this time,” commented Groter. “You can’t succeed in the real world if you wear the same shoes in two ads.”

Proponent of Teacher Obsolescence Theory Becomes Obsolete

Renart_illuminationExbox, SD—Nicole Intendo, professor of education at Avante University, received notice on Wednesday that she would no longer be needed in the classroom. Instead of taking her classes, students would spend the the time playing video games.

Intendo is a well-known proponent of the theory that traditional classroom teaching (narrowly defined) has become obsolete in the wake of educational technologies. According to sources, Avante University has enthusiastically decided to apply her ideas.

“That is insulting, preposterous, and un-research-based,” said Intendo. “Research has shown that classroom teachers in kindergarten through high school have become relics of the past. But in college and graduate school, it’s an entirely different matter. We need to shape the wants of aspiring professionals. Too many young people enter our education program with fantasies of standing in front of the room and presenting something fascinating about a subject. We have to combat their outdated sense of purpose.”

According to Intendo, research has shown that all aspiring teachers are essentially “industrial and hierarchical” in motivation. They want to teach the students something they don’t already know.  Video games, by contrast, are entirely interactive; you can’t get through the game unless you are actively playing. Therefore, says Intendo, it is essential that she disseminate the research as often and as widely as possible—through classroom lectures, TED talks, radio interviews, and pocket-size bullet points—so that the American public at large will be exposed to the facts.

“If I lose my position,” she said, fighting back tears, “there will still be kids in Boston or Dallas who have to sit and listen to a teacher talk about how to solve an algebraic equation or how a sonnet is structured or how World War II came about. Why should they have to suffer through that? All that information is on Wikipedia. What they really need is a screen, keyboard, and challenge, all tailored to them. It’s so obvious, once you look at the research—but it takes me about two years to get this across to any given student.”

Asked how teachers could possibly be evaluated accurately in a class driven by video games, Intendo pointed at a bar chart on the wall. “Teachers are all-important,” she said. “Everything they do impacts a student’s future outcomes. See that graph? It shows a teacher’s direct effect on future earnings, down to the dollar. This is why they have to accept their new roles and step out of the way.”

Intendo’s students have questioned her conclusions. “I think she’s comparing apples to Apples,” said one, who requested anonymity. “I enjoy video games, but they don’t belong everywhere. I’m taking a great class on Chaucer and Cervantes right now. Is there a video game for this?” He quoted from the text:

This Chauntecleer his winges gan to bete,
As man that coude his tresoun nat espye,
So was he ravissed with his flaterye.

“What are we supposed to do—play a game where we’re the rooster trying not to be killed by the fox?” he taunted. “Oh, and maybe sprinkle in some word challenges, like ‘ravissed’ and ‘Chauntecleer’?  I’d rather take the course, thanks, and play my favorite games in my own time.”

“My favorite high school classes had teachers who actually taught us stuff,” said another. “In music theory class, the teacher taught us harmony and counterpoint.  She made it really interesting, with examples from different kinds of music. She got us to notice things. Then for homework she had us do exercises and compose pieces. That’s the kind of teacher I hoped to be.”

“That just proves my point,” said Intendo. “As you can see from these comments, new teachers imagine themselves at the front of the room. They have some favorite teacher who set the example for them in that way. But they have to get weaned off their own experiences and start looking at data. They absolutely need me for that.”

Intendo, who gave a TEDTalk about the future of education, believes that education professors, when they lecture, should do so in the style of a TEDTalk. “I don’t lecture all the time,” she said, “but when I do, I practice every move in advance, so that I project total confidence. I make my multimedia effects really grabbing. I keep the ideas simple so the students have a takeaway. I bring emotions into the picture. I even share a little about myself. My point is not to fill their heads with useless information but to convey the most essential data in about 20 minutes.” The rest of the time, she said, was devoted to “turn-and-talk” activities, where students would come to a “scholarly consensus” about what had been said. At the end of the lesson, they would fill out a two-column chart with the headings “I used to think” and “But now I know.”

“My classes are revolutionary, if I may say so myself,” she said. “It occurred to me the other day that I am changing the face of teaching and learning. I have to keep this up. If Avante gets its way, we will slide right back into the status quo.”

“Measure Every Teacher Now!” Shouts District

thermometerNew Gaffe, NY—In its rush to get all teachers measured, the New Gaffe School District has ordered its schools to use any standardized measures at all, even if they bear no relation to the subject being taught.

“The point is to launch the new system and fire the bottom five percent of teachers,” said district chancellor Mark Islip. “We can’t waste time here. If we wait, the status quo will come sliding back down on us, like… a landslide. We’ve got to get the reform rolling. We can tinker with it later.”

According to the new directives, teachers of untested subjects may choose from an array of approved measures. One option is to take the students’ temperatures at the beginning and end of the year. “The September temperature, that’s your baseline,” said Islip. Then your June temperature may be higher, or lower, or the same. If it’s higher, it may mean there’s higher engagement in the class, or it may mean there’s a flu going around. We’ll take it as growth, in any case.”

Another option for such teachers is to use the English language arts test as a baseline and the mathematics test as a final exam. “Hey, you never know,” said Sandy Sullivan, a Reform Implementation Consultant (RIC). “The progress from ELA to math may be substantial. Music teachers might even get a boost.” When asked what “progress” from ELA to math would mean, Sullivan shrugged her shoulders. “We have to stay open-minded,” she said. “It could mean something.”

Not only teachers of untested subjects, but teachers of subjects such as chemistry and physics (which aren’t typically taught over multiple years) must use a baseline outside of the subject. “How can you have a baseline in physics, when the students don’t know any physics yet?” asked George Metropoulos, a physics teacher who, by virtue of being a teacher, clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about. “This whole thing needs reconsideration.” Metropoulos was given three options for a baseline: the previous year’s social studies test, the third-grade reading test, or the number of sit-ups each students could complete per minute, timed under officially approved conditions.

“We’re dealing with a lot of nitpickiness and frustration,” replied Toby Winnow, an instructional coach who reportedly had “worked with” Metropoulos until the latter balked. “Clearly the baseline is going to make more sense for some teachers than for others, but in the end it makes sense for everyone. Think of it this way. The kids come in with knowledge of something. You add knowledge of something else. Subtract that something from the something else, and there’s your value-added, after it’s gone through a state-of-the-art formula. Simple as that.”

What if the new measurement system results in the firing of good teachers? “Oh, please,” said Islip. “At this point, we could fire teachers blindly and end up much better off than we are now. Research has shown that if you fire any five percent of the teachers, you will raise achievement by half of a standard deviation, and increase students’ lifetime earnings by precisely $124,932.56.”

Which research has shown this? “It was on a slideshow at the last superintendents’ meeting,” Islip replied. “Those slides are top-notch, prepared by the best in the field.”

“I don’t see how any of this makes sense,” said Ariane Tort, a tenth grader. “First of all, I don’t want any of my teachers fired. Second, I’m really good at sit-ups, so that means less ‘growth’ for my teachers. Should I slow down my sit-ups so they get more growth points?”

“Do whatever feels right for you,” said Winnow. “Remember, this has nothing to do with you. It’s all about the teachers. I know it’s painful to see them fired, especially if you like them, but change is always painful, if you know what I mean.” He paused for a minute. “It’s painful even if you don’t know what I mean. Even if I myself don’t know what I mean, or no one knows what anyone means. In fact, that last scenario might be the most painful scenario of all, or the least painful. Wow, I’ve gotten philosophical,” he mused. “I wonder how philosophy would be measured. The possibilities are endless. That’s the wonder of the new system. So much room for innovation here. We could even give the kids a typing test.”

To Promote College Readiness, Congress Abolishes Speeches

talkAfter hours of snappy debate, both houses of Congress approved a bill that will forever prohibit speeches, monologues, lectures, books on tape, and other forms of communication in which a single person speaks for more than two minutes at a time.

“We are up against a crisis of epic proportions,” said Representative Frank Megalogos, D-MI. “Today’s graduating seniors are woefully unprepared for any sort of college or career, and why? The reason is simple. They have not been cognitively engaged. Someone has been talking at them, all these years, and they have just been sitting back. This has got to change, folks!” He looked at his watch and halted.

“Now, turn and talk to your neighbor about what I just said!” he shouted. “Come on, I want to hear voices! Talk, talk, talk!” The people in the room dutifully generated a buzz.

According to members of Congress, the key factor in student success is teacher quality, which essentially amounts to teacher disappearance. “Effective teachers are so good, you barely notice them,” said Senator Maria Vidrio. “You never hear them speaking. You never see them at the front of the room. They make the students do the bulk of the work, which means the students are twice as cognitively engaged as they would otherwise be.  A great teacher doesn’t even have to know much about the subject, because it isn’t her knowledge that matters. What good is a whole bunch of knowledge, if the kids just take it in passively?” Aware that she might have gone on too long, Vidrio caught herself and yelled full force, “Now, turn and talk! Turn and talk!”

Asked how a ban on speeches could possibly be compatible with the First Amendment, Megalogos let out a long, bitter laugh. “The very question proves the sad state of American cognitive development,” he answered. “There is a world of difference between freedom of speech and freedom to deliver a speech. People can still say whatever they want. They just have to keep it short. This shouldn’t be startling. The same rule applies everywhere. It’s what people want. Even my best friends expect me to keep my emails to a sentence or less. Some of my family members don’t want to hear from me at all.”

What was to be done about existing plays, recordings, and other works in which someone speaks at length? “Obviously, we’re not going to get rid of classic films like A Free Soul,” said Representative Murgatroyd Barrymore, who denies any relation to the actor Lionel Barrymore, who gave an outrageously long monologue in the film. “Instead, we’ll re-edit them with frequent commercial and activity breaks. That way, American consumers can continue to enjoy these old greats while benefiting from maximum cognitive engagement.”

What about religious services? “No one is exempt,” Barrymore replied. “Every single religious ritual out there has got to break it up. No more sermons of any kind. No more long prayers, long songs, long anything.”

Isn’t listening a form of cognitive engagement? “No, not at all,” replied Vidrio, who had been turning and talking for a good portion of our interview. “Listening is just plain zero-like. Sometimes we’ve got to do a little of it, but the less of it the better. We’re only cognitively engaged when we’re doing something. Research has shown that we learn the most when teaching others, especially in a noisy room.”

Not everyone shares the majority’s enthusiasm over this new bill. “I hate noisy classes,” said Wilky Roman, a high school senior in Wichita, Kansas. “I can’t think when everyone’s talking at once. I have to take a bathroom break, just to get my thoughts together, and then I get in trouble for taking so many breaks.”

“The kid is just making excuses,” said Megalogos. “Anyone who needs time alone is just being lazy. We’re in a fast-paced collaborative world, and if you don’t like it, the best thing you can do is change. Bring yourself up to speed. Give in to the noise.”

According to underground reports, a number of rebels have gathered in the Shenandoah Caverns to indulge in the outlawed practice of listening. Speakers, actors, and musicians will perform; discussion will follow. The schedule is booked for the next five years but may lead to multiple arrests.

Grand Opening: Common Core Hardware Store!

toolboxIn response to the overwhelming demand for “tools” that “unpack” the Common Core State Standards, two enterprising educators have announced the soon-to-open Common Core Hardware Store in Brooklyn. The store will celebrate its grand opening on Monday, August 19, just in time for teachers, administrators, parents, and students to purchase the tools they desperately need for raising test scores over the coming year. Additional branches will follow.

“It’s an incredibly exciting time,” said Marcy Plinth, one of the two founders. “One day, at sunrise, I was hammering a nail into a wall. I began thinking, ‘What if I were reading an informational text about how to hammer a nail into a wall? Wouldn’t that take a lot longer than just nailing the thing?’ Then kerbling—the idea for a tool came to me. I called my buddy Joe Rosette right away. He said, ‘Why stop with a tool? Why not have a store?’ So we went for it. Don’t let anyone else tell you that they’ve got tools, because ours are the only ones you can actually feel and hold.”

These tools resemble regular hardware tools, with a few key differences.

The CC Hammer weighs twice as much as a regular hammer. Its purpose is to make a loud and sudden sound in the event of non-alignment. A principal or coach should carry one into every classroom. “Initially you can expect a lot of banging in a school,” said Plinth, “but that should die down, once the classrooms get aligned with you-know-what.”

The CC Wrench looks like a regular stainless steel wrench but is actually a teacher evaluation tool. “This is for obstructionists—you know, status quo types—who are trying to throw a wrench in the system,” said Rosette. “We say, ‘go ahead, have a wrench, give it a throw.’ Then it automatically rates them ineffective and tweets the info to all the major news outlets.”

The CC Power Drill is designed to drill students in critical thinking. When you turn it on, it initially makes a whirring noise, but as it warms up, it starts to emit phrases: for instance, “I am justifying my point with the following textual evidence,” “Although you make a valid claim, you have not addressed my second counterclaim,” and so on. Dentists, cabinet-makers, sergeants, and low-inferencers are all encouraged to use this drill, so that the entire American public can align with its mental processes.

The CC Plumb Bob measures the depth and complexity of a text to the nearest one-thousandth of a fathom. “You won’t get anything more accurate than that,” said an advertiser who requested anonymity. “We’ve got The Tempest at 5.143 fathoms, Antigone at 2.112, and A Guide to Indoor Plumbing at 8.003. Why, I just sold the plumbing book to three districts after they tried this tool.”

What about math? The CC Bucket helps you draw circles—not any old circles, but circles in service of the Common Core Standards. “We’ve got different ones, actually, for different standards,” explained Plinth. “This one over here is for HSG-GPE.A.1: ‘Derive the equation of a circle of given center and radius using the Pythagorean Theorem; complete the square to find the center and radius of a circle given by an equation.’”

Why use a bucket for that? “Well, it says ‘a circle of given center and radius,’ and we’ve given you the center and radius,” she explained, pointing to a dot and line on the bucket’s base.

As for tools that “unpack” the standards, Plinth and Rosette have commissioned Jack the Unpacker: A CC Robot. “You give Jack the standards in the form of a suitcase with a latch,” said Herb Blink, one of the lead engineers, “and he unpacks them before your eyes. Before long, you’ve learned how to do it yourself.” (A matching Unpac-Man game is supposedly in the works.)

While pre-orders for the individual tools have been trickling in, no item has attracted as much attention as the CC Toolbox. “With the CC Toolbox, you’ve got everything right there,” gushed an excited pre-customer, who plans to spend the night outside the store before the grand opening. “I mean, I’ve got to have a toolbox to carry around. It makes me feel successful.” Child-size and Barbie-size toolboxes will soon become available, according to industry rumors.

The first 100 customers to arrive at Common Core Hardware will receive a free CC Magnifying Glass, an indispensable tool for anything that requires close reading or exaggeration.

Unthinking Beauty

After decades of “rethinking” beauty, the Team of Real-world Utilitarian Educators (TRUE) has made a unanimous decision to unthink it altogether, to demand that all schools implement the unthinking without delay, and to hold a national conference on the subject.

“Beauty is all economically based,” said TRUE president Lelijk Jones. “I’ve seen fifteen-year-olds who can paint better than Jackson Pollock. But Jackson Pollock’s the one who gets into the museums. It has nothing to do with quality; it’s all about money. I know some would disagree with me and say Jackson Pollock is a great artist. That just proves my point. There’s no agreement here.”

“Also, beauty doesn’t get us to where we want to go,” said Amy Strela, a hedge-fund manager, multimillionaire philanthropist, and founder of TRUE. “Looking good is one thing. Striving for beauty is another—it takes too much time. We need our children to set specific, attainable, measurable goals for themselves. Beauty’s a big hindrance. It isn’t always specific. It’s only sometimes attainable, and it sure isn’t measurable.”

“I agree,” said Elise Verloren, a high school sophomore who had quit the piano in order to devote more time to résumé-building. “I used to spend a few hours a day practicing and listening to music. Then they told me at school that I wasn’t doing enough for my leadership skills or for my community. I started working on those things, but then it was painful to go back to the piano. So I decided to focus on the real-world stuff.”

“Ms. Verloren brings up an authentic problem,” said social psychologist Doug Polezny. “There is a socially based tension between social and aesthetic life demands. It’s important to choose one or the other, because it’s… well, because it is. Since we live in a high-needs world, everyone should serve the social demands, at least for now. Schools should emphasize them in all the subjects.  School districts should advertise the new emphasis. Research has shown that targeted communication relieves people of mental conflicts and results in an increase of the desired behavior.”

Some TRUE dissidents (members who quit after the resolution passed) object that utility and beauty are not mutually exclusive. “I grow vegetables and flowers in my garden,” said one, “and I have no plans to get rid of either. My garden shears are good for both.”

“In an ideal world with gardens, you might be able to have it both ways,” conceded President Jones. “But we’ve only got twenty-four hours in a day, and beauty has a way of stealing an awful lot of those hours, if you let it.”

The “Unthinking Beauty” conference will contain no mention of beauty whatsoever. Instead, presenters will demonstrate strictly useful curricula, lessons, and workplace setups. “We must stress that just because something isn’t beautiful, doesn’t mean it isn’t pleasing to the eye,” said conference planner Tad Neznam. “We like things that you like. The point is not to stop liking things; it’s to stop loving them. You can still be comfortable in your environment. We even encourage it, for productivity’s sake. In fact, we’re all about improving the colors in workplaces and hitting the research-proven noise level.”

In a world without the B-word, according to the TRUE resolution, there’s much more time to get things done. “Just imagine how many hours are gained when you give up Mahler’s symphonies, not to mention Moby-Dick,” said Strela, who plans to donate ten million dollars for the construction of the first national beauty-free library. “Even a Shakespeare sonnet takes up time that could be spent on something else. We’re not talking page numbers. We’re talking time.”

“These people need to read Dostoevsky,” said Jeremiah Porfiry, an outspoken tenth-grader.

“No time for that, especially if there’s any you-know-what in his novels,” replied Strela.

Pre-registration for Unthinking Beauty is now open; the cost is $2,500 per registrant, regardless of age. Registrants receive access to the VIP Room, admission to twelve speed networking events and three seminars, and a reserved seat in the state-of-the-art auditorium.

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