Thanks so much for visiting me here on my newly revised website. Along with an altogether new look, the changes allow me to more readily offer you timely, informative articles, websites to visit, and even quotes to use in your teaching. There’s also, of course, my free, monthly The School-Wise Newsletter, keeping readers up-to-date on all that’s happening in education.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping you’ll check out my blog from time-to-time and follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Be sure to visit me on, too, where you’ll find numerous articles on education, parenting, and family life. You’ll also find me at bizymoms and ezinearticles.

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A Tween Must-Read: Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle

05/12/2014   |   No Comments »

Move over Harry Potter; Gabriel is on the scene now.

Raab Associates, Inc.

Tell your kids to buckle up: There’s a new fantasy adventure out there waiting for them called Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle. In it, author George Hagan explores such universal themes as honor, betrayal, greed, compassion, trust, and the ties that bind family and friends. All this in a captivating, one-of-a-kind page turner.

You see, Adam, twelve-year-old Gabriel’s father, has mysteriously disappeared from their Brooklyn brownstone. Turns out, he’s been taken captive, not just by the evil half-man and half-raven Corax, but by his own disgraced brother, as well. Thus Gabriel sets off on a quest to find and rescue his dad. As he journeys, he is joined by Paladin, an orphaned baby raven, and a few other unusual characters, including a walking desk. And among his many discoveries: He and his family can actually bond with ravens–and fly, too!

To succeed in this noble mission, Gabriel and his unlikely companions travel “to the heights of New York City and to the depths of Aviopolis.” And, as they make their way, they must solve 37 perplexing riddles, right there along with the reader. These verbal puzzles help set this book apart from all other imaginary tales and heighten its appeal.

As for riddles themselves, these brainteasers date back some 4,000 years to Samaria. Here’s an example from that age-old city: “There is a house. One enters it blind and comes out seeing. What is it?”

Meanwhile, archeologists have even found riddles etched on the walls of ancient Japanese, Chinese, and Tibetan temples. Some were used for entertainment while others actually revealed math formulas. Meanwhile, the Greeks used riddles to test a person’s intelligence and creativity. Here’s one of the most famous riddles from Greek Mythology: “What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?” Can you figure that one out, too?

There’s lots more where that came from in this book that asks: “What if a riddle could save your life?” Ah, yes, what if. So move over Harry Potter; there’s a new hero in town, one who takes readers on a brain teasing odyssey that thrills to the very last page.

But first, to get your son or daughter started making up their own riddles, Mr. Hagen offers these tips:

“Stinky-Pinky is a very easy riddle game that children can make up by themselves. This sort of riddle requires a rhyming two-word answer (the best combinations are an adjective and a noun, but they certainly don’t have to follow that rule). Example: What do you call a smelly finger? A stinky pinky!

• First, the riddler puts his or her rhyming answer together.
• Examples: funny bunny, legal eagle, peg leg, flamingo bingo.
• Now make up clues to fit the examples above:
• What’s another way to describe an amusing rabbit? A funny bunny!
• Name a law-abiding bird of prey? A legal eagle!
• What does a one-legged pirate lean on? A peg leg!

A board game often played by elderly pink birds with big beaks and long legs? Flamingo Bingo!

That’s all there is to it. Now you’re ready to make up stinky pinky riddles!”

(As for the riddles above: #1 is a man; #2 is a school. Did you figure them both out already?)

Common Core Pros and Cons: What You Need to Know

21/11/2014   |   No Comments »

The Common Core Standards, first announced in 2009, were fully implemented in a number of schools last year; nevertheless a September Gallup poll of 532 parents found that 32% had no opinion or had never even heard of them. Other findings included:

• 35% of the parents view the standards negatively, up from 26% in April.
• 33% of the parents view the standards positively, down from 35% in April.
• 65% support the idea of national standards, down from 73% in April.

Moreover, a follow-up survey found that just 33% of adults familiar with the standards favor its use in our classrooms, whereas a whopping 59% are opposed. And that sentiment is now being reflected in the fact that Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina have repealed the Common Core Standards, while Missouri, North Carolina, and Louisiana are moving in that direction.

Four states never signed on: Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia.

Have no doubt, though; there’s a lot to like about the standards because they…

1. Compare well with the standards of other countries.
2. Allow comparisons from state to state.
3. Eliminate the need of states to pay for the development, scoring, and reporting of their own mandated tests.
4. Increase rigor and better prepare students for college and career success.
5. Help develop higher level thinking skills.
6. Allow teachers to assess student learning and progress over time with optional pre-test and monitoring tools.
7. Provide for continuity in learning from one state to another.
8. Provide students with a better understanding of what they’re learning and why.
9. Enhance teacher collaboration and professional development.

But some in the know aren’t buying it, saying instead:

• “It’s not clear exactly where the current trend—of pushing more information on kids earlier—came from, but it seems to be a response to the idea that the U.S. needs to catch up to other countries’ education systems. The problem with this strategy is that there doesn’t appear to be much evidence that ‘more sooner’ is the most effective strategy.” ~ Alice G. Watson, Forbes contributor

• “…. Basically, you cannot standardize growth, particularly in young children and young adolescents. When growth is most rapid, standardization is the most destructive of motivation to learn. To use a biological analogy, you don’t prune during the growing season.” ~ David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child & child development expert at Tufts University

• “I’m worried. If this continues the way it’s going, my prediction is that by the time they get to high school, they will not be learning. We’ll see tremendous academic push back, over-anxious kids and school phobia issues. Kids are supposed to enjoy elementary school. There’s never been a time where we’ve had the need for psychological and social support services as we do now, and the Common Core is only going to exacerbate the crisis of over-stressed students, who struggle emotionally day to day. The other problem I see is purely academic: As students push through it, they’ll learn the material, but they won’t learn it well.” ~ Carol Burris, 2013 NY High School Principal of the Year

• “…. The American idea was always a well-rounded child prepared for citizenship and life. Now it is all test prep.” ~ Diane Ravitch, education historian
Finally, there’s this from comedian Louis CK: “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and Common Core. It’s this massive stress ball that hangs over the whole school. The kids’ teachers trying to adapt to these badly written notions.”

So what about those teachers working through the implementation of these standards? A recent survey sponsored by Scholastic and the Gates Foundation asked that very question of 1,600 educators from across the country and found that:

• 79% feel prepared to teach the standards vs. 71% in 2013.
• 68% feel implementation is going well vs. 62% in 2013.
• 53% have seen a positive impact on students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.
• 68% are enthusiastic about the standards vs. 73% in 2013.
• 81% say implementation is challenging vs. 73% in 2013.

Meanwhile, 76% of elementary teachers say the standards are mostly or fully implemented, whereas just 61% of middle school teachers and 47% of high school teachers said so. As for how implementation is going, 79% of teachers feel “very” or “somewhat” prepared to teach the standards, up from 71% in 2013. Best of all, 72% believe the Common Core will improve students’ ability to think critically and use reasoning skills, while 68% are optimistic that reading and comprehending nonfiction texts will get better, too.

But what about the Common Core online assessments developed with $362 million in federal funds? One reason they’ve sparked such intense debate is how long it takes to administer them:

Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC )
• Grade 3: 9-3/4 hours
• Grades 4-5: 10 hours
• Grades 6-8: 10-3/4 hours
• Grades 9-12: 11 to 11-1/4 hours

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)
• Grades 3-5: 7 hours
• Grades 6-8: 7-1/2 hours
• Grade 11: 8-1/2 hours

But that’s not all. There are a number of other concerns, too, such as:

1. The tests don’t measure the skills the kids should be acquiring.
2. The unreliability of the tests.
3. The excessive amounts of time spent prepping students for the tests.
4. Teacher evaluations based on student test performance.
5. Test-taking pressure and resulting anxiety.
6. The tests’ one-size-fits-all approach.
7. The lack of alignment between the tests and classroom instruction.
8. The lack of Common Core instructional materials.

There’s also students’ lack of typing and computer skills so necessary to perform well on these online-only assessments. In fact, just 10% of teachers said their students are well-prepared to take these tests vs. 53% who said just the opposite. And that figure surged to 71% for elementary teachers and 73% for those in low-income schools.

Plus, many schools lack the computer hardware or network capabilities required, so it’s not surprising that teachers found that field testing this spring went smoothly in only 10% of the cases, “mostly smoothly” in 51% of the schools, not smoothly for another 21%, and badly for 11%. Here’s why:

1. Lost Internet access during testing
2. Test sessions time out during extended pauses in student input
3. Problems with logging on or resetting passwords
4. Confusion about how to submit answers
5. Difficulties using interactive tools
6. Break-offs that forced students to start over

As a Michigan high school teacher put it: “The standards were positive until standardized testing was involved.”

For a student’s take, click here and be treated to fifth grader John Prusak’s YouTube video, “Another Brick in Ohio—No more Common Core.”

The result of all this: A growing backlash known as the Opt Out movement that is gaining supporters among parents, educators, and students across the country. Two national organizations of note are Opt Out of State Standardized Tests, which collects and shares state-by-state information, and United Opt Out National: The Movement to End Corporate Education Reform.

Add to that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s reversal on the standards. While originally signing on, he is now suing the federal government and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for funding the two testing consortia, PARCC and SBAC, to the tune of $362 million and for giving preference to those states that indicated they’d join one of them when applying for a share of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant competition in 2009-10.

He alleges that by taking these steps, the federal government violated the 10th Amendment’s sovereignty clause which reserves power to the states, plus all the laws that prohibit federal involvement in curriculum decisions.

Not surprisingly, the Obama administration wants a federal judge to throw out Jindal’s lawsuit, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the Common Core will continue to make headlines, so stay informed, too, and draw your own conclusions.