Saturday, February 28, 2015

Three envelopes, three envelopes, three stamps

Join the fun, copy, paste, edit and send this or a similar letter to: Speaker Heastie, your state Senator, and your Assemblyman or woman...

Carl E. Heastie  
Speaker New York State Assembly
LOB 932
Albany, NY 12248
Find your Senator

Find your Assembly Person

Dear (Legislator)

Welcome to our world! Governor Cuomo, who refuses to release the school budget runs, is now also blaming you and your colleagues for failing schools. It seems that you legislators share responsibility with teachers for the fact that inappropriate tests, whose 'passing grades' are determined after scores have been reviewed and manipulated, are being used as the sole criteria for educational success. You all know the phrase, "lies, damned lies, and statistics," well these tests are certainly evidence of that.
Additionally, it seems as if the governor thinks that you are as unethical as teachers are. We obviously manipulated our evaluation scores somehow, even though he made sure all the plans had to be reviewed by state ed. He says he will hold up the budget if you don't pass his ethics reform, yet he shut down the Moreland Commission as soon as it seemed to glance in his direction.
Personally, I am glad to be in the august company of the NYS Legislature, and I thank you for all you do for your constituents. Since Governor Cuomo seems to think so poorly of teachers and legislators, I am asking that you hold firm against his educational agenda. Do not acquiesce to blackmail. Refuse to tie school aid to rapid, poorly thought out education reform. Pass adequate school aid. Override any veto. Then work with education professionals to find away to combat the negative effects of poverty on education and reform the way our children are assessed as being successful. We will support your fight against the dictatorial ways of the governor, because we know you support the most important people in this battle, our students. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

@NYSUT @AFT @NEA @OptOut The post that gets everyone pissed off

I started a Facebook Event on January 25th. It was intended to get people to write to Governor Cuomo and Chancellor Tisch about their education agenda, specifically about manufacturing the educational crisis and more importantly, about ending the GEA and not holding school aid hostage to the governor's issues with the teachers' union.  Since I wanted a large reach, I was reticent to say some things I truly believe. The event ended on February 14th with 7,100 people saying that they would or did write. Meanwhile I got nasty messages and fielded trolls and stayed silent while others took the time to say that THEIR way of protesting better than the one I was proposing. Different, yes, better...who knows?

So while I was staying silent I was honestly wishing that I could buy into the absolutes that well meaning organizations were spewing. I have always had the issue of thinking just a little differently than the masses- no matter what side the masses were on. Alas, I am the female Don Quixote and there are some huge windmills.

Viewpoint 1- There are bad teachers. Not 67% and not necessarily measurable by standardized tests, but I would hazard that about 5%  of teachers currently teaching are bad, and another 5% are poor. No, I have no data to back that up, just my gut. Those teachers either 1) should never have started teaching; 2) would be good teachers if they taught at a different level; 3) have burned out; or 4) are resting on laurels they never had. You know the ones I mean. They call kids 'fucking stupid' or 'morons'. They haven't changed a lesson plan in years, regardless of the make up of their classes and talk about 'this is the way we always did things.' I actually had a colleague ask why I was redoing some lessons because the ones I had were 'good enough.' Say what? 
I acknowledge that there are bad teachers, and they are the ones giving the rest of us a bad name. It is incumbent upon administration to remove them, through an expensive and time consuming due process 3020a. I am totally in favor of due process, but I am sure there is a way to make removal less expensive and quicker if our unions put their minds to it there could be a good solution. To say that 'it is the job of administrators' is true, but a cop out. If we truly want to make our profession professional, than we also need to have a hand in removing those who need to go. One bad apple does spoil the whole basket- at least in public perception. 

Viewpoint 2- The Common Core standards are good standards. The fact that they are certainly not easy to understand is crazy, and there are standards that are inappropriate for the grade level. Having said that, the haste with which they were rolled out meant that revisions would have to be done as they were piloted. The fact that no meaningful revisions have been made is one of the two major problems with the standards. The second major problem with the standards are that they were rolled out and used without proper professional development. The verbosity of the standards that lead to the lack of comprehension of the meaning of each standard, the lack of professional development and the rush to use the standards meant that teachers were nearly forced into using the modules or Pearson's consumables. The modules themselves are over long and, other than the tri-state rubric, there is no evidence that their use would increase test scores. Furthermore, standards should not be linked to grade levels, but their mastery should determine promotion to the next level.

Ah, test scores. The NCLB tests meet RTT meet CCLS. What a mess! 

Viewpoint 3- In New York State there is a history of testing, the most recent being the Common Core tests. Testing is not inherently bad. The major difference between the tests before NCLB were created by teachers in NYS for students in NYS. The questions were field tested in NYS and then used in PEP, PET, RCT and Regents exams. The passing grades were determined prior to the administration of the test and only on rare occasions were questions deleted after administration, thereby changing scores. Those tests meant something and those tests could be revived. 

Viewpoint 4- As a parent I believe that my husband and I are the best people to determine what our daughters should or shouldn't do. Therefore we are deciding to have our 5th grader take the common core tests. When asked, she said that she wasn't stupid, of course she doesn't WANT to take the tests, but since they are required she wants to do her best to defeat them. I understand the arguments that the only way we can make a statement that the common core tests must go is to refuse to allow our children to take them. I believe that I can make my opinions of the state tests known through emails, tweets, letters, and phone calls to my legislators and to the Regents. The parents who want to refuse the test for their children are well within their rights, and I will support their decision. They believe that they are practicing civil disobedience or saving their child from abuse. That is their belief and they are entitled to it. I believe that in life there will be hardships and obstacles my daughter will face that will make state tests look like the ant hills they are. My husband and I are teaching my daughter to do your best no matter what, that her self-worth is not dependent upon a test score anymore than it is dependent upon her looks or her athletic ability.  The tests can't teach resiliency, but taking them knowing that they are a not real determinants of ability and merely a waste of time actually is a life skill best learned young. I would no more have her skip the state tests than I would tell her she couldn't try out for any activity in which some people get chosen and others don't. The test is only abuse if the adults make it a big deal.  Oddly enough, the most rabid of parents who are touting their right to refuse the state test for their child are the ones that are most against my choice to have my child take it. 

Let the games begin!

Dear Governor Cuomo....APPR

I have been avoiding the APPR discussion because there is just so much more wrong with your education agenda that teacher evaluations are the least of my concerns. Does that surprise you? That a teacher thinks that teacher evaluations are the least of the problems? Well, if it does, than that is a huge mistake. You see, most of the teachers I know went into the profession for the kids. My husband is used to me saying that I have thousands of kids, when in fact he and I have two daughters together. Every single one of my students is and will always be ‘my kid’.  I treat all of them like my own daughters; I just happen to have the birth certificates for the two to whom I gave birth. Your first mistake is to think that I am unique. I am not. Most teachers feel the same way about their students. The ELA teacher on my team actually has a former student of her husband’s living with her family in her house. Teachers have hearts big enough for all their kids. 

The next thing that might surprise you is to think that teachers went into teaching because it was a last resort. You know, the idea that teachers aren’t smart enough to go into another profession. I was salutatorian of my high school and graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in history from SUNY-Albany. I also worked full time in the private sector and went to school full time to get my MA in education, also magna cum laude. One of the teachers on my team actually changed professions to teaching. She worked in the private sector as a veterinarian. So, for us, teaching was a choice. 

The problem with making tests worth 50% of a teacher’s evaluation is that tests don’t measure the true growth of a child- especially not a middle school student. Teachers teach children how to become useful, productive citizens of this world. That means that in addition to curriculum we teach kids how to behave appropriately given the place and time. We teach them to be kind, to listen, to wait their turn, and to stand up for themselves. I am continuously amazed by the true life lessons taught by the math teacher on our team. Her favorite one is teaching them to filter their words and actions by remembering where and with whom they are. You can’t bubble in the social skills needed to be college and career ready- but teachers teach those things too. 

We four have been together on a team for a long time. We have built relationships with students and parents that have lasted longer than the two years the students have us as teachers. And because we of our beliefs and our willingness to go above and beyond, we frequently have a good number of students who need something more, something extra. Most of those students are poor, have definite gaps in skills, have hair-trigger tempers or chips on their shoulders, are English Language Learners, or have severe or rare learning disabilities. We have had more than a few that had all those things. With us they are in school more often than they are suspended. They complain we are always in their business, but they come back in later years to tell us they are doing okay. They learn that someone cares and we carry them in our hearts forever. 

But they don’t always learn enough to make annual yearly progress. They rarely move from a level one to a level two. We taught them the content; we taught them to read better, write better, do the math; but the tests scores don’t show that because their scores were so low to begin with.  According to your tests, we are not effective.  According to your tests, we made no difference that matters. You are wrong; we made the only difference that matters. 

So now we are at a crossroads. Our jobs or our kids. If we continue to do the best we can for the students who need us the most, the new APPR plan will find determine that we are ineffective and we will lose our job. Do we misuse the union, play the game you already think we are playing and demand that those kids be placed in a computer lottery for a team and may the chips fall where they may?  What a moral and ethical dilemma you have forced upon us with the immoral and unethical use of standardized tests and meaningless evaluations. 

You made said that you respect teachers. Like hell you do. You said that it isn’t personal. Like hell it isn’t. Before every state test I tell my daughter to do the best she can, and she assures me when the test is over that she did her best. I ask the same of my students, and they tell me the same. What are you going to tell them when they realize that their best wasn’t good enough to stop their teacher from being fired? Do you honestly think that kids don’t know that their results will have some impact on their teachers? You must realize that kids hear things and see things and have a really good idea that you are targeting people that they care about. How are kids going to feel, “Mr. I Am the Children’s Lobbyist” when they go back to their old elementary, middle or high school and their teachers were fired? Who do you think they are going to blame? It is just like a divorce- they will blame themselves. Yeah, it is personal.  A generation thinking they were not good enough, feeling guilty for hurting people they cared about.  Yeah, it is personal.

Monday, February 9, 2015

King Cuomo

Dear Governor Cuomo,
You, like King George, have ‘a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny.’ In the parlance of the Declaration of Independence, "To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”
* You have refused to assent to the release of school aid runs, “the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”
* You have hinted that you will refuse to pass a budget “ of immediate and pressing importance,” unless your ethics reforms are passed.
* You have held promises of additional money for school districts, only if they relinquish the right of local control over districts, ‘a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.’
* You have promised to create more charter schools, whose directors boards are not local and are at places ‘unusual, uncomfortable, and distant’ from the families of the students they purport to serve.
* You have declared your objective to take down the teachers union, ‘for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.’
* You have endeavored to obstruct the Dream Act and the tax credit for education by making both conditional with the other.
* You wish to obstruct the Administration of Justice, by desiring to destroy due process, a right negotiated by collective bargaining, which is a protected right in the NYS Constitution.
* You desire to make teachers made Judges dependent on flawed tests alone, ‘for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.’
* You plan to erect a multitude of new districts, called charter school, and sent hither swarms of corporate cronies to harass our school districts, and eat out their substance.
* You have given your recommendation to ‘Acts of pretended Legislation:’
o For imposing a tax cap without removal of unfunded mandates
o For depriving schools and counties of needed revenue in times of recession; but not restoring same during times of prosperity
o For suspending your own ethics panel
* You have abdicated Government here, by declaring teachers out of his Protection and waging War against us.
* You have plundered our schools, ravaged our counties, imposed tests created by corporate donors, and destroyed the joy of learning for our children.
In the Declaration of Independence the paragraph immediately following the list of injuries and usurpations reads. “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” Governor Cuomo, do you feel the anger emanating from the population you are supposed to serve, but you wish to rule? Do you see the Fates snipping the thread from which hangs your ambitions for higher office? Can you be so blind, so deaf, and so ignorant that you cannot see that your education agenda has made you a despot such as was overthrown in 1776? Do you not understand that you were re-elected governor, not anointed king?

Small school districts are not the same as the 'small school movement'

There is a great blog  that discusses ending the small schools movement. The author, Aixa B. Rodriguez, makes a great case for dismantling the artificial small high schools or schools within schools she amusingly calls ‘boutique schools’ that are ‘charter-lite.’  These schools had been created in New York City with the goal of creating communities and giving parents ‘choice.’ Make no mistake, I support her, but her blog is a stark reminder that Downstate NY and Upstate NY have different needs and different concerns.  The major problem I have is that unscrupulous people (ie., Governor Cuomo and his ilk) could use her arguments against the small schools movement to bolster their arguments that small Upstate school districts need to merge. 

In Upstate NY small schools were not created artificially in the last few years, small schools were created over decades as their communities grew and decided that it was necessary to educate their children. Many of these communities still have photos of the one room school house for all grades; some community members actually remember attending those schools. In my local community on any given evening you can drive by the local school building and see cars in the parking lot as people attend sporting events, music events, drama events, or meetings of local civic organizations. 

Make no mistake about it, there are some drawbacks with small districts, and they are the same as those mentioned by Ms. Rodiguez; but the superintendents and teachers have found ways to compensate. Unlike the artificial small schools, small school districts make sure that all students have the courses required for a NYS diploma. No, there are not unlimited electives, but the ones that are offered are college or career preparatory. School districts share the services of Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) or implement distance learning. Yes, smaller school districts have fewer teachers per grade level or course. Yes, there are personality conflicts, but it is a life skill to learn to work with and for people with whom you wouldn’t socialize in your personal life. Is it difficult to pay for art, music and sports in these little districts? Yes it is; but many times the community steps up when the state government funding is insufficient.

The greatest difference between the small school movement and the small school district, though, is that small school districts are under the control of a superintendent selected by a locally elected Board of Education. Those BOE members ARE members of the community. They are parents and grandparents. They are alumni of the district. In Upstate NY, small school districts and small communities are synonymous. 

By all means, end the right-hearted, but wrong-headed small school movement, but leave our upstate small districts alone.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Local Control May Be A Thing Of The Past

In the “State of the State” address, both boldly stated and sneakily inferred, Governor Andrew Cuomo has launched an attack to assume power unto the state; power that belongs to the county, municipal, and local governments, including local school districts. Under the guise of saving money, Governor Cuomo is attempting to take away local control. The governor’s suggestion that localities need to share services is sound advice. His advocacy of locality mergers; school district mergers; regional high schools; and the increase in charter schools is sheer idiocy.
There is a reason why we in the United States do not just have one central government, we also have states. That is because the people at the state level know the needs of that state better than the national representatives do. The same is true at the state level.  My assembly person lives 1.5 hours. He is accessible by US mail, email, and telephone; but I can walk to my town supervisor’s house and knock on his door.  I frequently run into the superintendent of my daughter’s school and the BOE members at the local convenience store. They know me by face, if not by name. My state school representative, my member of the Board of Regent, is a lawyer whose office is 45 miles away.  Last night I attended one of 3 talent shows held at my local school district. The principals and superintendent were there, as were some of the school board members. The regent, understandably, was not.
Governor Cuomo wants to turn failing schools over to charters. There is currently one charter in my county. I can’t find anywhere on its webpage who the members of the board are, but every local public school district lists the names, addresses, phone numbers, and emails of every board member. Governor Cuomo says that the charter schools will become the center of the community. He doesn’t realize that the local schools in small districts already are the centers of their communities. He didn’t show up at the any of the talent shows either.
In February 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Joseph C. Cabell and described the division of power between the levels of government in the United States.  The author of the Declaration of Independence stated that there were matters left to counties and ‘wards’ and that the destruction of liberty was the concentration of power into a central body.  Governor Cuomo, I do not agree with you; I agree with President Jefferson.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Evaluate Me

Evaluate me.
Do I come to work on time?
Evaluate me.
Do I put in an honest day's work?
Evaluate me.
Do I know my content and my standards?
Evaluate me.
Do I know who has a 504 and who an IEP?
Evaluate me.
Do I know who has modifications and who has accommodations?
Evaluate me.
Do I keep lesson plans?
Evaluate me.
Do I try to improve every lesson every day?
Evaluate me.
Do I throw out lesson plans for teachable moments?
Evaluate me.
Do I contact parents?
Evaluate me.
Do I believe all my students can be and do better than they are right now? 
Evaluate me.
Do my students know I care about them even when their behavior drives me nuts?
Evaluate me.
Do I always remember that I don't teach a content, I teach children?
Evaluate me.
Not them. 
Evaluate me.
Not them.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The errors of his ways, or there is a lot wrong with Cuomo's education agenda

 The governor’s education agenda is just plain wrong.  First, there can be no doubt that teachers can and do have an impact on their students.  In small schools and districts that impact is even greater.  In 1989, researcher Craig Howley indicated that smaller schools and smaller school districts have a larger impact on students in poverty than larger schools and larger districts; and the more recent (2000) Matthew Project concurred.  Additionally, there is also no doubt that tests measuring student growth can contain valuable information for parents and teachers.  The best method of determining student growth is to have reliable and valid tests. Furthermore,  an achievement test in third grade, assuming a student has had adequate teaching, should reasonably predict the child’s ability to succeed on the next year’s assessment.  These facts are missing in the governor’s agenda.

What is wrong with Governor Cuomo’s agenda? First and foremost, the problem in New York is poverty.  Long standing measures like the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that middle and high social economic students are learning material quite well, it is the poorer students who are not.  Second, the governor’s insistence that small school districts merge is not only an attempt to rob people of local control of their schools, it is contrary to research on what will best help students. Third, the governor’s agenda demands  that teachers be evaluated on assessments, yet there is no mention of the ability of a score on any of the assessments to predict with any reliability the score for that same child in subsequent years.   The teacher never even sees the areas in which a child succeeded or failed, so there is not a way to improve teaching or truly help the child. Finally, his Gap Elimination Adjustment, his refusal to equitably fund schools, and even his Tax-Free NY initiative rob counties and school districts of necessary revenue; especially those schools that serve the poorest students.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dear NYS Legislature

A bully is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a 'blustering, browbeating person' and defines appease as 'to make anxious overtures and often undue concessions to satisfy the demands of someone with a greed for power.' The actions of Governor Cuomo in linking necessary school aid with draconian reform measures certainly qualify as blustering and browbeating. Now the question is whether or not the legislature is going to appease the governor, allowing him to assume that the legislature will not stand up to him on any issue; or whether you will learn from history and take a stand for local control and the localities you represent. 

Refuse to pass any budget tied to education reform. Let the governor know that you, our law-makers will take action on school reform after doing thorough research into what truly will help our children. 

Do what we tell our children. Don't be a bystander, be an up-stander.