Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Welcome to the Farm

Parents for Public Schools's picture

By Anne Foster, Executive Director, Parents for Public Schools (PPS)

I hear a lot these days about how standardized, high-stakes testing has killed creativity and innovation in the classrooms of America. I can understand why so many people think this is true, because when tests are omnipresent, there is a huge amount of time spent in preparation, and this leaves less time for other ways of teaching. The right place for testing and the right amount of testing are relevant topics for parents today, and their voices should be heard in this debate.

But I continue to believe that there are wonderful teachers all over the country who still find ways to help their students learn in creative and innovative ways. I found one such teacher this week at Moss Haven Elementary School in Dallas, Texas, part of the Richardson Independent School District. Her name is Kim Aman, and she’s a special education teacher who created a farm and a chicken coop at the school. Moss Haven Elementary School promotes good nutrition and exercise and has partnered with the United Way and the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. Their efforts are really coming together now.

Kim wanted to teach children how to love the outdoors and incorporate healthy ways of living, and so three years ago, she brought the American Heart Association’s Teaching Garden program to the school. The program is in schools across the country, and its focus is to teach children about healthy living with a hands-on working laboratory – a farm!  Students do the actual work of planting seeds, growing the plants, and harvesting the produce. The process teaches them how to eat and live in a healthy way. Kim says the program has shown that children don’t need sweets and candy as a reward – she gives clementines instead!

The program is innovative in other ways, too. Farmer and teacher Kim has helped the students share their work on social media through Twitter and Facebook (like it at “Moss Haven Farm”) and through an on-line journal that the students keep about their urban farming. Moss Haven Farm brings an interdisciplinary focus to the children’s learning, building skills in science, math, writing, technology and oh, yes – collaboration!

Last week, someone else noticed Moss Haven Farm, too, when Kim received an invitation for herself and several others to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll the day after Easter. Kim, a parent, a third grader and a preschooler joined First Lady Michele Obama this week and had a ball. The First Lady’s focus on childhood obesity and healthy eating habits connected perfectly with Moss Haven Farm.

Parents want their children to have creative teachers like Kim Aman who make learning engaging, exciting and real. Next time someone says there is no creativity left in American classrooms, tell them about Farmer Kim and then go find another teacher doing something amazing! Let’s salute, encourage and support creative teaching and innovative teachers!

Image courtesy of Moss Haven Elementary

In general, in special ed

In general, in special ed programs, there are many ways to explain away bad scores on standardized tests. IEPs offer a plethora of ways to explain why the student did not perform up to expectations OR will, eventually given some time. In the ends of an excellent Special Ed teacher, such leeway is used to help students. In the hands of bad schools, districts and teachers, it is used as an all purpose cover to hide or obscure any number of horrific issues.

Ask me about Casey, a student I was tutoring and how the fact that I helped him to reach the first grade level of reading despite Down's Syndrome and an IEP that STATED that Casey would NEVER read above third grade level. The parents were told to discontinue my services because they violated his IEP which clearly stated he would not reach the first grade reading level until the sixth grade at minimum.

But that is another story...

Special Ed teachers are generally not professionally attacked if their class does not meet agreed upon standards and with the very open ended requirements, a trip to a 'farm' can not only meet many of them BUT encourage the sort of 'feel good' grants public education is sclerotic with. What better to show how great education is then by showing wheelchair bound kiddies hugging lambs and gnawing on bell peppers?

This teacher was able to align her 'standards' with a slew of politically correct standards and reaped the benefits as I am sure her students did as well. With most schools, getting the students out into the community, even a dirty alley or a vacant lot, for a few hours is FAR better than sitting them at a desk for six while doing hand outs.

My hat is off to Kim. She has made the system work for her students.
Now, explain why her school probably doesn't have a GATE program, can not find money to send a group of students to a Lego FIRST League or a DI tournament. Explain why we have schools that take away Bibles during free reading periods, have students suspended, expelled or even arrested for gun shaped pastries or metal sporks.

And if aligning her curriculum with Michelle Obama's healthy eating spoof is so wonderful, explain this:
Students push back on new school lunches

I wonder how much attention was given to this student:
A brave kid filmmaker goes undercover to reveal the truth about the food service program at his elementary school.

It is amazing how successful 'creative' programs are when they are politically correct and use icons as obvious as bunnies and baby chickens. It is also amazing how quickly creativity is ignored and cast aside when it does not match goals and standards created by those with little or no knowledge of how to teach or what works in the classroom.

So, what experience or credentials does Michelle Obama have that allow her to spear head the complete overhaul of what is considered 'healthy' for children in school? And where was LFA on this scandal:
Preschooler’s Homemade Lunch Replaced with Cafeteria “Nuggets”

or this:
Parents Fined For Not Sending Ritz Crackers In Kids' Lunches

Again, huzzah for Kim.
Now, what about the tens of thousands of other teachers who teach despite the system that is more interested in the child management skills then what their students learn in the classroom or elsewhere.

Prepare, oh ye Special Ed

Prepare, oh ye Special Ed teachers for the new special ed cohort coming right at you:

Infants 'unable to use toy building blocks' due to iPad addiction

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers warn that rising numbers of children are unable to perform simple tasks such as using building blocks because of overexposure to iPads


I think the reason for the

I think the reason for the excessive testing is solely to produce income for the publishers. I can't find much in the new common core textbooks that is new except for the "Common Core" plastered over them. The prospect of having teachers evaluated on the basis of their students' test scores is ridiculous. I have been retired many years, but like all teachers, I had high-scoring students and low scoring students and I never felt that I could take the credit or the blame.

During my student years, I always had high scores. My scores didn't vary according to who the teacher was: they were my scores, not the teacher's.

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