Guest Blog by Sue Ward, Special Education Teacher, re: Damage Done To Teachers & Students With Disabilities, Low-Income & Minorities @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @usedgov @DeStateBoardEd #netde #eduDE

This is my (Sue Enos Ward’s) story, and the reasons I cannot sit back and watch Common Core take over.  I grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont when I was a teenager. I attended Lyndon State College in VT and obtained a BS in Education, BA in Liberal Arts and an AS in Communications. Before I graduated college I had over 1,000 hours of time in the classroom observing, assisting and actually teaching.

When I graduated I moved back to MA where I taught in a preschool, then became an assistant teacher in the classroom to work with special education students. I then became the teacher of a first-grade classroom. Looking back they are some of my favorite memories. One of the reasons those memories stand out was because I knew I was making a difference. I was doing it RIGHT! I was taught in college to avoid worksheets as much as possible, to get students involved in rich experiential learning, to get them to use critical thinking skills while incorporating things like social studies, hands-on learning and cooperative learning. As every teacher knows, every classroom has students that are at very different levels. I spent hours upon hours making sure that lessons, activities and independent activities were available to each student’s ability. It is A LOT of work, but it can be done.

When students were finished with their work and while I was working with different leveled reading groups, the students that finished their work knew where to find their challenge activity (for higher-level learners) or some of those higher-level learners knew how to be a peer-buddy and check on a student or read with a student that may need some extra help. I made sure that each and every student was taught our “system” so they knew how to be independent learners, working on lessons “at their own developmental level.” I used to take a minute sometimes and just sit back and observe the room. The buzzing sound of the students quietly knowing what to do, working together or independently, running like clock-work. They were happy. I was happy. They were learning and discovering and developing social skills, working at a pace and level that challenged them but did not frustrate them. I took pride in that creation, that rhythm we developed as a class. There was and will never be anything that gives me that same feeling. I taught passionately and found fulfillment in my craft. When I think about how amazing that system was, my eyes water.

Fast forward 10 years. I now live in FL. I have an 8-year-old son in the school system. I am still in education but in a different field. I’m still working with students but they are at the college level with learning disabilities. The feeling that I get when working with the students is similar but it’s not the same. My absolute favorite part is that I know this facility (Beacon College) is teaching these students at their individual levels and providing strategies and accommodations so that they can be effective and active learners. We are free from being mandated to teach the Common Core curriculum or any other “boxed” curriculum for that matter.

My son, his school, and most schools in 46 states are being taught through the Common Core curriculum. The curriculum’s original intent was for states to all be working on the same curriculum so that if a student were to move from one state to another, there would be no gap. I understand the intent. I would even understand the states implementing the same standards. But what I don’t understand is how their reading lessons, writing lessons and math lessons can all be written out for every single school, for each day for a year, for each grade. Not only are the younger students reading passages that are inappropriately long, they include inappropriate concepts such as the Vietnam War with lists of facts that involve a child to have abstract operational thinking. At age 8, they are still in the concrete operational developmental stage. If a true educator had written the story, he/she would have known that. What does that say about the validity of the writers of this curriculum?

It’s a one-size-fits-all curriculum that allows no extra time, it does not let the teacher provide any sort of background knowledge about what he or she is about to read. Every Friday, the students are given TWO different 2-page, “cold reads”, each with a test with 10 questions per test. Some of the questions have nothing to do with the story, but about how words and language meaning relate to other meanings in the story. Not only is this a difficult task for a child of this age, how does this help a student with ADHD? Also, as we all know our country is filled with multicultural diversity. After reading the information given on these test, it becomes obvious that the culturally diverse student (especially when it comes to language) will have no way of passing these tests. I will include that the way cultural diversity IS incorporated into this biased curriculum is in stories where the author’s name characters “Ling, Sanchez, and Soo”. Most of the students that may take longer to process information also have difficultly passing these tests.

What this means for culturally diverse students, students from low socio-economic status, special education students and students with learning disabilities is a failing grade, an F, low self-esteem and they should be in the “OTHER” category as they “don’t fit into the perfect little box” that the Common Core Curriculum has created.

There is so much more to talk about as far as the lessons, the assignments, the expectations, etc. but I would be writing for a month. As a former teacher that understands the importance of teaching to all of the different learners in the classroom to make them ALL successful, this curriculum (Federally mandated for each state in the United States) is an educational plague. It is a farce and should actually be illegal.  According to Federal law, the phrase “least restrictive environment” is defined in federal legislation. The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) requires that children with disabilities be educated “to the maximum extent appropriate” in the “least restrictive environment.” It means that students with disabilities should be “educated with children who are non-disabled; and that special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular education environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disabilities is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

I question how the Common Core Curriculum teaches ALL students to the “maximum extent possible” if the curriculum is not even teaching at the developmentally appropriate level. Also, where is Common Core’s “supplementary aids and services” I mean, surely if it is a Federal law to use supplementary aids and services Common Core MUST come with those since it is NOT designed for students with learning disabilities or students in special education.

I’m ready. I can’t sit back for one more minute and watch these children suffer (one being my own). I use an analogy to  people who don’t have a degree in education. I tell them, “Imagine you are a former doctor. And years ago you saw sick patients, you had the magic medicine that cured them when they were sick. When the directions were followed, the medicine was successful. Now, you’ve been away and things have changed. You peer into the medical field to find the magic medicine is NO where to be found and the doctors are using a medicine that keeps the patients sick. But YOU HAVE the medicine’s formula. You’re jumping and screaming, ‘Hey! Over here! I have the medicine that WORKS!’ But no one hears you. Not only does no one hear you, but the entire country is now using the fake stuff that doesn’t even work. THAT’S where I’m at. I’m jumping up and down here when I need to find a way to shout it from the rooftops, to yell it in the ears of the people that CAN change it. If someone can tell me who and how…I’ll even start at the bottom. But it needs to change. I will sacrifice time or whatever it takes and be the voice if others cannot. I am determined to change our children’s future.

-Susan Ward

Editor’s Note: A big thank you to Susan Ward for writing this article.  I admire and respect her for having the courage and determination to write down what so many of us are feeling already.  There are so many of us, but we don’t know how to unite into one voice.  We have to do this before everything we want our children to have with education is lost forever.  There are numerous Facebook groups involved with this endeavor, but we need to ALL join as one: Teachers, parents, students and citizens.  What do we need to do to make this happen?  For a start, I recommend every US Citizen who is opposed to Common Core and standardized tests email, call and talk to their elected officials: State Representatives and Senators, US Reps and Senators, and even President Obama himself.  If nobody speaks, nobody will listen.  Speak from the heart like Susan has, and I have.  If enough of us do it, they will have to listen.

-Kevin Ohlandt