I have a new job, a contract job working for Earth Networks, actually working for my son Mike. (He’s a physicist.)   My current assignment is to create a contour map showing detector error from a stream of data. After writing javascript for five years, I now need to learn to write C#, use the .NET framework, create sql queries, and serve web pages.  Although my past experience allows me to learn quickly, I feel barely competent doing this work.  That got me to thinking about competence as it relates to my past jobs.

Edgenuity c. 2010 – 2015

Rating: Extremely competent –  Every day I was sure of two things: 1) I knew what I was doing and how to do it;  2) No one could do it better.  I loved this job.  Looked forward to working every new day.  I was sure the people with whom I worked valued my contributions.  Until they deleted me.

Teaching Jobs c. 1998 – 2015

Rating: Shitso, as in schizomaniac –  On any given day, I was as good I did that day; no, as good as I did with my last student of that day.  Some days I came home depressed, thinking I had no clue how to reach the kiddos.  Other days I came home at the top of the world, thinking I was great and powerful.

Microsoft c. 1981 – 1994

Rating: Shitso – . Most days I felt utterly unqualified.  Worse, I was terrified that others would realize I was a complete idiot.  Some days, not many, I thought I was a god.  Actually, I still remember the day one of my bosses told me he thought I was a god.  Steve Ballmer didn’t think I was a god, but he thought I was good enough that he gave me an award one year,  a 10K bonus another year, and two leaves of absence when I could do whatever I wanted and then come back.

Oh, also, I met an old friend at a reunion a couple years ago.  Good friend.  He said – he was so glad I was there, he wanted to tell me that everything he ever learned about management he learned from me.  That was 20 years ago.  Since then he became a vice president. I became a teacher.

Wang c. 1979 – 1981

Rating: Competent –  My first computer job, first day, my boss Geoff said nice things to me.  Maybe a half year later, I overheard him grumbling to some other dude that I was underdressed for some occasion.  About six months later, he thought I was, well not a god, but maybe a godsend.  I thought I was hot shit until I got to Microsoft and everyone else was smarter.

Common Core and High Stakes Testing

Currently I work for a company that is developing online test-prep courses to prepare elementary and high school students for high stakes testing.  This year, states are preparing to use tests developed by one of two consortiums: SBAC or PARCC. Politicians have been pandering to a plethora of controversy regarding these tests.  Here are a few thoughts.

Tail Wagging the Dog
Tail Wagging the Dog

PARCC and SBAC developed the tests to determine whether the students are attaining a specified standard of learning. Students expect to fail these tests.  Therefore they opt out, or take test-prep courses to prepare for the test.

Educators and politicians developed a standard of learning common for all states named Common Core State Standards, or CCSS, to establish a high standard of achievement for all fifty states.  They expect higher standards will result in teachers teaching more stuff and students learning more stuff.

Reformers have been improving education ever since teachers have been teaching and students have been learning.  Recent reform began in 1957, in response to the Soviet Union launching Sputnik. Because we feared the smart Soviets would bury the dumb Americans, politicians passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which, among other things, required schools to set standards and means for assessment in order to receive federal funding.

States developed different standards, then later adopted Common Core to standardize the standards and maintain federal funding.  Politicians railed against CCSS as an infringement on states’  rights, without a clue of what’s inside them.  Publishers create resources aligned to  CCSS without a clue whether students will actually read them. They market to school districts, not students.

Teachers teach the fundamental theorem of algebra because it’s one of the standards.  Good students come to class and do their homework to learn fundamental theorem of algebra because it will be on the test.  Bad students, if they come to school, come to make connections with their peers.

A Parable

A farmer had three sons. The good son worked hard every day in the fields.  The slacker son hung out in the barn and smoked weed.  The evil son also smoked weed and tried to entice the good son to plant more weed among the corn stalks.

The farmer wanted all his sons to be good sons, so he said, “I need to establish a standard: All sons must work eight hours in the field each day.” He also declared that sons who did not meet the standard would not receive their pay.

The good son continued to work hard in the fields.  The slacker son got depressed and smoked more weed.  In addition to smoking more weed, the evil son joined a union to rectify the harsh treatment by the farmer.