My “Point” About the New Indiana State Standards and Common Core

Yesterday, the AP picked up this story: Indiana Approves Common Core Replacement Standards, complete with this photo:

Common Core Indiana
It ran with this caption: “Stephanie Engelman makes a point as she and other community members speak to Board of Education members, who will be voting on controversial new academic standards that would replace Common Core in Indiana, Monday, April 28, 2014, Indianapolis. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Robert Scheer)”

Hey, that’s me!

So, what’s the hubbub all about?  What point was I making, exactly?

Well, actually it wasn’t just me, but literally twenty to thirty concerned citizens who came down to the Indiana Government Center to express our views.

I was but one speaker yesterday, and so many of them were excellent,  making their points, backed by facts, figures, personal anecdotes and emotional pleas, that I feel humbled to have wound up as the “face” of us all in this AP article which is now gone global.

Sadly, our voices made little difference and the State of Indiana now boasts new educational standards which are being widely mocked as inferior, even to the Common Core from which we had worked so hard to disentangle ourselves.

The news outlets really did not present our side of the story well, even though they used sound bites from yours truly. 🙂  Here and here and here.  (Yes, I do look like I’m about to cry when talking to Derrick Thomas.  I wasn’t, really.  I guess I just look a little tragic when I’m nervous.)

So I’d like to attempt to succinctly share why so many of us would take time out of our lives to fight for this cause.  Not an easy task, and I’m sure I’ll leave much out.  (Hoosiers Against Common Core is an excellent resource on this topic.)

Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin, but here goes.

First, let’s just get this out of the way:  The new Indiana State Standards contain 70% of the same content as the Common Core.  One can easily identify many standards that were literally cut and pasted from CC into the Indiana standards.  This is not “for Hoosiers, by Hoosiers” as Gov. Mike Pence is claiming.  (here’s a great article from Michelle Malkin).

These new Indiana standards are, indeed, a sloppy rewrite of Common Core, with a few things added in, but it didn’t come together to form a meaningful whole, and Dr. James Milgram, in an open letter to Hoosiers, has described them as “a dramatic example of what not to do.”

But what’s it matter?  After all, the standards are only a guideline of what needs to be taught, and it provides the floor, not the ceiling, right?

Sadly, that’s not true.  For one thing, the teachers want to teach what’s going to be on the standardized test, close to the time at which it’s going to be tested, so that the students will perform well, the school will receive good marks, and the teacher will keep her job.  This prevents teachers from reaching for the ceiling, as they fear the students will forget what’s on the floor… the floor being that which will be tested in the next few months.

In addition, the standards drive our curriculum.  That’s why nearly every school in the country has purchased new textbooks in the past few years.

(Do you hear that “CHA-CHING!” coming from Pearson, Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill? And people wonder what’s driving this!)

So what’s wrong with those text books?  Well, if you have elementary school kids in a mainstream school, you’ve seen the “fuzzy math” that they’re bringing home in their backpacks!  Math that’s filled with confusing story problems.  Math where they’re asked to explain their answers – a task that I would find difficult, and which is definitely developmentally inappropriate for elementary school children!

This is math where students learn three or four different methods to arrive at a solution, before finally learning the standard algorithm at the very end.  They then practice that algorithm nine times before moving on to the next topic.

What’s missing?  MASTERY.  They never MASTER their basic math facts, let alone that standard algorithm.  I’ve seen my own very bright son struggle with this very challenge.

Sadly, Stanford Math Professor, James Milgram, has evaluated the Common Core and maintains that, by the eighth grade, American students under Common Core will be two years behind their international counterparts.  (Here’s a good article.) In a world where our children compete with international students for college placement, this is especially concerning.

How about the English Language Arts standards?  Board of Ed member Andrea Neal addressed these beautifully yesterday, a bit of which was quoted here.  Another excellent critic is Dr. Terrence Moore, professor at Hillsdale College and author of The Story-Killers: A Common-Sense Case Against the Common Core.  Moore refers to the “dumbing down” of our education, and reflects on the fact that the focus is taken off of true literature, and placed on informational texts and short stories, which do not contribute to a student’s understanding of “the human condition.” A great article can be found here.

I could go on and on, my friends, but the bottom line is this:  The Common Core standards will not drive our educational system to produce students who are brilliant thinkers.  Instead, it will lead to students who are automatons.  Students who might be ready to do a job, but will not be ready to use their God-given talents to create, develop, and innovate in order to make the world a better place.

And make no mistake.  Common Core is very much alive and well in the state of Indiana.

Many thanks to the leadership of Erin Tuttle and Heather Crossin here in our Hoosier state.  Without these two powerhouse women, our fight against Common Core never would have gotten off the ground. And thanks, also, to my sister, Suzanne, who brought this issue to my attention and finally convinced me to (begrudgingly) get involved.

I know that I’ve only begun to make the case here, and I’m sure there are many who agree and disagree with what I’ve said.  What would you add? Please tell us what you think!

Christ’s Thirst for the Love of Souls

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”  – John 19:28

When we read these words, we tend to assume that Jesus’ thirst was a bodily thirst.  After all, the man had suffered terrible torture, carried a heavy burden for some distance, and hung suspended on a cross in the midday sun for several hours.  Yet, what among Christ’s life would really lead us to believe that a reference to a bodily need would be among His final words?

Indeed, Our Lord’s cry was not for wine or for water, but for the love of souls.  In crying out His thirst, He was pleading with us – with you, and with me – to know in our hearts how very much He loves us, and begging us to return that love to Him.

A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. -John 19:29

When they heard his cry, the soldiers cruelly gave him sour wine.  Yet, are you and I any better?  How much time do we spend soaking in His love for us?  How much time and effort do we spend, actively returning that love?  Do we feel it in our bones, so that the mere thought of Him brings us to our knees?

No.  Instead of giving him our very best, the finest wine from our tables, we give him our sour left overs.  We spend time in prayer… when we can.  We give to the poor… when we have a little extra money.  We offer help to one who’s struggling… when we’re not in a rush to be somewhere else.

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. -John 19:30

And yet, Christ knew our inadequacies.  He didn’t argue with those soldiers, “No, no, I said I’m thirsty!  That sour wine isn’t going to help at all!”  He “received the sour wine,” spoke His final words, “It is finished,

and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

He knows we are sinners, and yet he loves us.  He knows that we will offer him our leftovers, and yet he loves us.  He knows that a tragic few will strive for perfection, and yet he loves us.

Loves us so much that he died on the cross for us.  Loves us so much that his cry continues, I thirst!

He accepted the sour wine – our sour wine – knowing that it was the very reason why he had to offer Himself up.

And still he thirsts.

Cristo crucificado
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Reflection inspired by the book,  33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration, by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC (affiliate link, thanks for your support!)

Comment Trouble Fixed… I hope!

Thanks a billion to everyone who replied with encouraging words to my previous post, The Realities of Writing, whether via the blog post or Facebook.  I greatly appreciate it and your kind words truly do keep me going!

I heard from several people who attempted to comment, but received an error, and know of another friend who thought she had commented, but I never saw it on my end.  I called a meeting with my Senior Webmaster (AKA, my husband) and we believe we have identified and corrected the problem.  If you have had trouble in the past, if you wouldn’t mind attempting a comment on this post, and seeing if it goes through, I sure would appreciate it! (That was my best Gomer Pyle.)  If you still have trouble, please email me at Stephanie at afewbeadsshort .com.

(For any techies out there, the comment problem was apparently related to the Jet Pack plug in. I wasn’t using it, so I just de-installed it.)

Speaking of Gomer Pyle, a little teaser about my book… two scenes are set at the Mayberry Café in good ol’ Danville, Indiana.  Hmmmmm…. now, what would my young heroine be doing at a restaurant in a podunk town in Indiana?

Don Knotts Jim Nabors Andy Griffith Show 1964

The Realities of Writing

Like most wanna be authors, I went into this whole idea of writing a book – and getting it published – with a sweet naiveté akin to a toddler approaching a pit bull that was trained by a backwoods psychopath.

Pit Bull with baby 1892

All it takes is a great story, well written, with likeable characters and some good imagery, right?  A wonderfully intelligent and inspired publisher will pick it up and – voila! – I’ll have myself a contract, with plans for publishing the whole series.

Oh, how wrong I was.  There’s so much more to it.  First there’s the editing process, which I am beginning to realize could go on for years.  Every time I reread a passage, I want to write it a little bit differently.  And, as I’ve received reviews from a few friends (which, fortunately, were generally very promising), I recognize still more passages that need improvement.

Then there’s the question: to agent, or not to agent?  I was blithely on the path toward submitting to publishers without an agent, but then a talk with my friend Kyra Jacobs made me doubt the wisdom in this.  So, I’m now in the early stages of researching and querying agents.

Another thing to consider:  Publishers want an author who already has a national platform.  My blog gets an average of 375 hits a day, about 80% of which might actually be people.  Honestly, I can’t imagine who these 300 people are.

Hello? lo…lo….lo…

Hello? lo…lo…lo…

Did you hear the echo?  Try it yourself.  I swear there’s an echo.

Seriously.  Sometimes I don’t think anyone’s really out there.  I’m convinced that I have five friends who read the blog, but perhaps a publisher can be convinced otherwise?

Honestly, though, when I looked at my numbers today and compared them to those from a year ago, I realized that my traffic has actually increased by about 2.5 times.  Do I have the national platform publishers want?  I’m not sure.  But, I’ll celebrate the growth, and thank the readers who are out there for their ongoing support. (Now, would you please, please, pretty please add a comment, so I know you’re really out there?  I swear I hear crickets chirping.)

Regardless, I need to continue to grow this platform, so now I’m researching how to increase blog readership.

Then, there’s the fact that my hubby isn’t a big fan of my “work” that has yet to bring in any real money, so I also need to make a better effort to monetize the site.  How to do that?  (Note the new Google ad.  My old blog was still somehow drawing in a few pennies a month from a Google ad, even though I haven’t posted to it in a year and a half, so I figured I’d better throw one on this site as well.)

Then there’s the fact that I need to get out and network with other writers, to share in the joys and sorrows of this biz, learn from them, and hope that – maybe – they can even learn a little something from me.  I think I’ll enjoy this aspect of author life, but for now I’m just struggling to figure out where, how, when, and with whom I should do it.

So, that’s the reality of writing.  It’s one tenth creative art and nine tenths research, marketing and administration.  The creative art fills me up to overflowing, makes me feel that I am fulfilling my purpose in life, and using my God-given talents for His glory.  The research, marketing, and admin part sucks me dry, uses up what little spare time I possess, and leaves me feeling that I’m peddling and peddling but my tires are bare and I’m going up the road to Mt. Evans.

Don’t worry, I’m keeping the faith.  I believe this is God’s work, and He will provide everything I need.  Nonetheless, I ask for your prayers, encouragement, and any advice you may have to give!

P.S. Thanks to my friend, author Kyra Jacobs, who has very generously shared her time and knowledge with me. If you enjoy a good romantic suspense novel, grab a copy of her book, Armed With Steele!  The cover may seem a little steamy for my readers, but I promise it’s quite tame by romance standards!  🙂  And as an added bonus, it’s set in my hometown of Ft. Wayne, IN!
And, yes, that’s an affiliate link. Monetize, right?