While many of us focused on New York’s Ed. Commissioner John King this past weekend, I also watched two YouTube videos that were deeply disturbing from the other side of the country. They both involve Oregon’s Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton. Saxton’s background consists of being a teacher (I can’t find what he taught) and a football coach in Texas. I found both his presentations offensive to teachers and parents and also they raise troubling concerns surrounding student expectations.
First, Saxton is a big supporter of Common Core State Standards. In the first video, he describes Oregon’s P20 program http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJB-noB7wgE. P means prenatal and 20 is when your child, after becoming an adult, reaches grad school. This raises a question. Is the new expectation now graduate school beyond college for everyone? But let’s back up.
Prenatal care for disadvantage children is a good thing. Diane Ravitch recommends it in her book, Reign of Error, and I allude to it in Misguided Education Reform when discussing the problems of young children—issues like the effects of lead poisoning, and the need for health care etc. Certainly getting a country to care more about its children is a commendable goal. But I’m not sure that is the kind of prenatal care and/or goals to which Saxton is referring.
The concept of “life-long learning” is in itself also not a bad idea. But it is a matter of control. We should be in control of who we are and how we live our lives, within laws, in a democratic society. The idea of readying children from birth and following them through adulthood so they fit into the global economy is something entirely different.
A lot of us first learned about a “cradle to grave” plan a few years ago with the Marc Tucker “Dear Hillary Letter” http://www.eagleforum.org/educate/marc_tucker/. Like so many concepts, it can be a slippery slope when used in a controlling manner especially if it involves sorting students into two groups—those who can learn and those who supposedly cannot. That is exactly what Saxton references later on as you shall see.
Saxton, also in this video, claims daycare should be less about taking care of children for working parents, and more about teaching students. While that might also sound harmless, even worthy, young children require nurturing in the early years and not a hard-driving curriculum. It reminds me of the usage of the word “rigor” in regard to early childhood. We hear that a lot lately. Is it paranoia to also worry about parental rights with this kind of talk? I don’t think so.
The more recent video, October 12, has Saxton starting off with P20 references again http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yv0AtF7_2h0. He says some weird things about legislators not having control of the plan. This makes me uncomfortable because, while I may get upset with my representatives sometimes, they still represent ME! So why would any state school system be able to bypass the governing system and have such blanket control?
But as a special educator, it was Saxton’s comments about children learning to read that worried me most. He said, “I guarantee you if a kid cannot read by the end of third grade they are toast. It is an ‘oh shit’ moment for them if they cannot read by the end of third grade.”
These comments are degrading and irresponsible. We all know there will be those who have reading problems at the end of third grade. I highly doubt Mr. Saxton ever taught young children, or children with reading difficulties. He presumes teachers will work miracles. If they can’t make a child with reading problems read fluently by the end of third grade they fail. It is this black and white approach that leaves out all kinds of compensatory practices and methods to address the strengths and weaknesses we all exhibit.
Does Saxton think a child who has difficulty reading at the end of third grade is lost forever? Has our country become so perfectionistic no safety nets are allowed? Here’s a revelation for you, sir. Anyone can learn to read anytime. It may not be easy but it is doable. And while you are at it, read about Finland and how they don’t start to teach formal reading until a child is seven—that’s right—3rd grade!
I don’t like name calling, but as one of the presentations unfolded, Saxton calls himself an SOB. He thinks SOBs are great to instill change. I disagree. I think an SOB is an SOB.