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Mom's Blunt Letter to Obama About His Daughters and Common Core: 'Can You Figure Out What You're Supposed to Be Doing Here?


"Wouldn’t you be concerned if you heard these reactions from Sasha?”

Amy Lawson, a fifth-grade teacher at Silver Lake Elementary School in Middletown, Del., helps student Melody Fritz with an English language arts lesson Oct. 1, 2013. Silver Lake has begun implementing the national Common Core State Standards for academics. Remembering the plot of a short story is no longer good enough in Lawson’s fifth-grade classroom. Now, students are being asked to think more critically -- what, for example, might a character say in an email to a friend. "It’s hard. But you can handle this," Lawson tells them. Welcome to a classroom using the Common Core State Standards, one of the most politicized and misunderstood changes in education for students and their teachers in grades kindergarten through high school. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)\n

A couple of riddles for the the president of the United States courtesy of Common Core.

In an open letter to President Barack Obama, a teacher, writer and supporter of the Common Core state standards, criticized the tests that her daughter in Massachusetts public schools must take and question if the president would want his own daughter Sasha – who is the same age as her daughter Eva – taking these tests.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Barack Obama with daughter Sasha participate in a community service project at the D.C Central Kitchen in celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service and in honor of Dr. King's life and legacy on January 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. Americans honor the birth of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Pool/Getty Images

“I want every classroom in the United States to have great teaching and a rigorous, challenging, engaging curriculum. I believe the Common Core State Standards could help make this happen,” wrote Rebecca Steinitz, a literacy consultant in urban high schools, a writer and editor. “But the standards won’t succeed if the tests used to assess them are confusing, developmentally inappropriate, and so hard that even good students can’t do well on them. Setting high standards and effectively teaching them is a fine route to success; setting children up to fail because of ineffective tests is not.”

Obama's daughters attend Sidwell Friends private school in Washington, thus are not subject to the Common Core testing.

Steinitz has a Ph.D in English and was previously the director of the high school program at Lesley University's School of Education and an English professor at Ohio Wesleyan University, where she ran the freshman writing program, the Washington Post reported.

Steinitz gave examples of odd test question.

From her daughter's seventh grade exam, she cited the following question:

“You have learned about electricity by reading two articles, 'Energy Story' and 'Conducting Solutions,' and viewing a video clip titled 'Hands-On Science with Squishy Circuits.' In an essay, compare the purpose of the three sources. Then analyze how each source uses explanations, demonstrations, or descriptions of experiments to help accomplish its purpose. Be sure to discuss important differences and similarities between the information gained from the video and the information provided in the articles. Support your response with evidence from each source.”

Regarding the question, Steinitz asked, “Can you figure out what you’re supposed to be doing here, President Obama? And could you have done it in seventh grade?”

She referenced another question, this one from the third grade Common Core test.

“Old Mother West Wind and the Sandwitch both try to teach important lessons to characters in the stories. Write an essay that explains how Old Mother West Wind’s and the Sandwitch’s words and actions are important to the plots of the stories. Use what you learned about the characters to support your essay.”

On this question, Steinitz said, “Would Sasha have been able to figure this out in third grade? And, more importantly, is there any reason a third grader should have to figure out an essay prompt this broad and abstract?”

Writing about her own daughter, Steinitz said, “Here are a few of the things Eva said as she took the seventh

grade ELA test: “These are such weird questions.” “This test is crazy.” “This is a stupid, impossible test.” “This question just is a stupid awful question. It makes no sense.”

"Wouldn’t you be concerned if you heard these reactions from Sasha?” the mother added

She went on to compare hers and Obama's seventh-graders.

“Like my daughter Eva, Sasha appears to be a funny, smart, loving girl, who has no problem speaking her mind, showing her feelings, or tormenting her older sister,” Steinitz wrote. “There is, however, one important difference between them: Sasha attends private school, while Eva goes to public school. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support your decision to send Malia and Sasha to private school, where it is easier to keep them safe and sheltered. I would have done the same. But because she is in private school, Sasha does not have to take Washington’s standardized test, the D.C. CAS, which means you don’t get a parent’s-eye view of the annual high-stakes tests taken by most of America’s children.”

Read the full letter, which appeared on the Huffington Post, below:

Open Letter

Common Core state standards were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers for English and math and were adopted by 45 states. However, several states are debating changing or repealing the standards altogether. Indiana is the only state to repeal the standards.

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