Opine I will

I am an elementary school teacher just trying to do the right thing

Archive for the month “January, 2012”

The Perilous Pendulum

Anyone that has been in the education field for even the most limited time has felt the sweep of the pendulum.

It seems as though forces from one side or the other tend to push education reforms back and forth depending on who happens to have public opinion on their side. And there we lie, just as Poe described, tethered by the inquisitors of education reform,  as the sharp blade gets closer and closer until we begin to feel it. We somehow manage to set ourselves free but face another perilous trap set by our tormentors. The pit, the lowly pit where our inquisitors say the ineffective ones shall be tossed into. Yet just as we are about to succumb we are rescued by those who understand that the inquisition is flawed and that freedom of thought shall prevail.

Will we be rescued this time? I believe so, but unlike General Lasalle in Poe’s masterpiece we’ll have to be our own saviors. The drums of our army are beginning to beat, our own forces are trying to grasp that pendulum and have it swing our way. 

Look at the past week, President Obama during the State of the Union said, 

“Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn. That’s a bargain worth making.”

It’s a start.However,  let’s remind him everyday that Race to the Top contradicts his statement. We need to capture public opinion on the correct way to understand that teachers really do matter, that we matter more than some bubble filling test, that wastes valuable time and effort.

Even in Texas, where I consider is the birthplace of NCLB, there has been a cry to grab that pendulum.  AP reported:

 “State Board of Education members pressed the Texas education commissioner on Thursday about whether an abundance of high-stakes standardized testing is warping classroom teaching to ensure students spend more time preparing for the exams then actual learning.”

California Governor Jerry Brown,

California’s Jerry Brown, who has gone further than any other governor in blasting modern test-based school reform, said Wednesday that he wants to reduce the number of standardized tests students take, give more authority to local school boards and design a system to measure education performance that is less test-centric than the one now in use. Thanks to Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post for this report.

Diane Ravitch has been all across the country educating teachers, administrators, policy makers and the public on the perils of our current course.  Union leaders, are beginning to  have some effect educating their members on how negotiate fairness and not  be backed down by fear or intimidation. 

The pendulum is slowing, ever so slightly, yet it’s slowing. The growing movement of real reform can be witness everyday in countless Twitter feeds, Facebook accounts, professional list serves, rallies, demonstrations, and political campaigns. 

In New York, a growing movement, has started a campaign to reevaluate how teachers should be evaluated. They are holding an important town hall meeting on Feb. 15. If you are on Long island on that day, stop by and participate. 

So what’s missing? How can we stop the pendulum ourselves, and become our own liberators? The solution is simple, yet the work is hard. Advocate!

Contact the media, when you hear a pundit spouting words from the inquisition. Call them on it, tweet about it, pick up the phone make noise.

Truth will garner public opinion. The masses were petrified to question the inquisition, because the inquisitors kept them ignorant. Do what we do best. Teach! Teach our students, teach their parents, teach our administrators, teach our colleagues,  teach our elected officials, teach the media, teach the public. 

Teach and we shall hear the loud blast as of many trumpets!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dizziness

It has been one dizzy week. Dizziness comes in many forms. Dizziness may be experienced, physically, socially, spiritually, and intellectually.  I’ve been trying to cope with each one of these forms of dizziness all week.

Without going into too many details, I’ve been experiencing bouts of vertigo this week , due to Miniere’s  Disease.  I don’t want to go into details about these physical experiences of dizziness.However, I will share that it has quite literally shook me to the core and has me rethinking and researching alternative remedies to my infliction. It has also set the tone for my views this week.

It seems our ‘social agenda’ seems to be a little dizzy this week as well. Watching the GOP debate  and campaign in South Carolina this week my head was spinning the hypocritical  statements and reactions I was witnessing.  Who wasn’t thrown a little off-balance when a very evangelical audience was applauding Newt Gingrich and his  feigned outrage that his failure to honor his sacred vows of marriage  were being questioned? Or that we would be witnessing a campaign that supports throwing people off  any social service support they may need. Have we really reached a point, that a Presidential Candidate can actually say that we are a nation of entitlements and the audience goes wild? Talk about our world being turned upside down.

Spiritually, it has been a week with some odd turns. I’ve been reading  Republic of Noise and I’m beginning to experience that inner feeling of validation.  Even though, I’m in the beginning of this thought provoking book, I’m seeing a serious  contradiction to some of the classroom practices that we as teachers are being forced to do to fulfill ‘Standards’. I am also questioning my own inner feelings of solitude and whether or not I’m actually in tune with it.  I’m on shaky ground here, I know, sharing on Twitter, Facebook, or this blog.

Intellectually, I’ve been experiencing tremors that have caused me to reach out for rationality that will steadily guide me. Yet when I discovery that the Virginian Legislature is trying to prevent third grade teachers from teaching any subject other than Math and English Language Arts I nearly fell over.

When NYS Gov. Cuomo threatened to hold off funding to schools unless negotiations between teachers and districts agree with his views, he quite literally declared that collective bargaining rights in NYS were worthless. My head was spinning with questions of how does a democratic Governor attack collective bargaining.

This week I’ve had to test, pre-test, and coach students to prepare them  to take standardized tests in April. Every mandated minute of test prep, takes an equal amount of time from learning.  Those of us in NYS have discovered, that this year’s tests will encompass many more questions, requiring more student written responses, and even though more time is given, not enough time is allocated for a student to perform adequately.No wonder students across the country hold their heads when teachers announce another test is on the way.  Don’t be surprised when we are all labeled failures due to this year’s unfair attack (test). Our world is being turned upside down.

I’ll be searching for solutions to my physical dizziness this week. Trips to specialists are on the agenda. However, I’m really concerned about the wobbling and confusion that has been surrounding us all. Will we find adequate remedies to our national dizziness, or will we all fall to our knees when vertigo hits us all?

Scapegoats to Advocates

Why have teachers become America’s scapegoats? For the past several years the rhetoric has been rampant with statements of how our education system has faltered, how teachers are ineffective, how paying teachers pensions after years of work are destroying state budgets, how our country is trailing the world because of poor teachers , how teacher’s unions are creating hurdles on our “Race to the Top’, and  even though no child will be left behind, we are leaving more than ever behind.

Everyone wants to blame teachers. Teachers are the scapegoats..  really.

I’m not going to go into all the good GREAT things teachers do and I’m not going to give reasons why we are not the nation’s scapegoats. I’m, quite frankly tired of defending what we do. I think educators should stop defending and start demanding that the real causes of our national funk be addressed.

There aren’t any scapegoats, rather there are those that are and should be held responsible.

  • NCLB supporters- created a system of high stakes testing that is destroying our future.  This unfunded mandate has destroyed budgets, ignored educational research, caused turmoil regarding curriculum design, destroyed the arts in many schools and have caused millions to be left behind.
  • Charter and Voucher Pundits- profits mixing with education policy is a recipe for disaster. The bottom line gets shifted from the child to the shareholder. That’s wrong. Using public school buildings, and in many cases, sharing buildings makes no sense. The data is not there to support charters and vouchers. It’s a scheme.
  • Bankers and Investors- They caused the meltdown that have affected state budgets. For many years public pensions were not a burden, only when the market meltdown ( caused by a scandalous few) did pensions become the new  target.
  • Text book publishers- dumbing down our textbooks to appease the right wingnuts has not helped. When a small committee in Texas dictates what will be in textbooks and the entire country suffers. Publishers have put the bottom line ahead of the truth.  Also, these same publishers love high stakes testing because it means more test prep workbooks, more test writing contracts and more revisions to their lousy textbooks.
  • Many elected officials-  if they were graded on a standardized test many would be rated ROTTEN. Their failure to address poverty, inequality,dwindling  resources, infrastructure, funding, healthcare, early education, college tuition skyrocketing,  prenatal care, teen pregnancy, crime, drug abuse, housing, etc. has been the major cause to our problems. When you have mayors and governors demanding teacher evaluation and an end to collective bargaining one must ask what about them?

We  shall not be America’s scapegoats! Let’s be America’s top advocates. 

Demand accountability where it belongs. Demand real evaluations of unfunded mandates and policies. Demand those responsible for our economic meltdown be prosecuted. Demand poverty be wiped out. Demand healthcare for all. Demand affordable housing for those that need it. Demand that our children should have schools that are in good repair. Demand that textbook publishers leave distorted views out of our books. Demand the respect we deserve. Demand we be allowed to do our jobs without distraction. Demand that we have the tools needed to do our jobs. Demand that we are Americans too and we will not be America’s scapegoats.

 

The Silly Season

The ‘Silly Season’ seams to have begun. In New York State high stakes standardized testing time is rapidly approaching. Since it’s getting close to test time, it seems that ‘test prep time’ aka ‘Silly Season’ has arrived.

So why do I call it the  ‘Silly Season?

Some background..In NY, because we have signed on to the Race to the Top nonsense, all districts must come up with a way to evaluate teachers, Many districts have signed on to implement  Charlotte Danielson’s ” Framework to Teaching” rubric which is officially an approved ‘teacher practice rubric.’ This framework for teaching provides four domains that all teachers should be evaluated on. Through observation and evidence teachers  (and some already are) will be evaluated  on planning and preparation, the classroom environment ,instruction, and their professional responsibilities. Sounds good right? Well the jury is still out on how well this will work, however, it seems as though the rubric seems to be forgotten once the  ‘Silly Season’ comes around.

Even though many of us have sat through endless hours of professional development (that’s what administrators have to label it for reporting purposes) on  Charlotte Danielson’s ” Framework to Teaching” rubric, when the  ‘Silly Season arrives we are more or less told to abandon some of these approved teacher practices, we are going to be evaluated on. You see the  ‘Silly Season has arrived. It’s the season where test prep gets ramped up all across the state, and we strive to make 2′s 3′s and 3′s 4′s! Sounds silly doesn’t it?

 

Silly Season Traditions

Now I’ve search these new rubrics, even read them backwards looking for typos, yet I can’t find standardized test prep anywhere. Why just today I had to administer a ‘practice test’ simulating test taking procedures to my class, there by wasting over 1 hour of valuable class time. Silly isn’t it? Plus some of the topics on the practice test haven’t even been covered in class yet, super silly!

In my district we offer ‘clinics to all 3rd graders’ to help them prepare for these tests, and today we kicked off the  ‘Silly Season’ with the start of after school clinics. We were all given math practice test question workbooks, we administered an opening benchmark test, and we began marching our charges through multiple choice problems.Many by the way, math problems that the children haven’t even been taught yet. Again, I’ve looked through Charlotte Danielson’s ” Framework to Teaching” rubric and I can’t find this teaching ( is it teaching?)practice anywhere. So what are we doing? We’ll it’s Silly Season, in NY and that should be answer enough.

Silly Season Guidelines

1. Chuck the rubrics and raise the score!

2. Drill baby drill!

3. Gather as much useless data as possible.

4. Smile and tell the kids, don’t make careless mistakes.

5. Teach kids how to fill in bubbles

6. Drill baby drill! ( reminder)

And most importantly do what I do!

During Silly Season, when no one is around, shut the door to your room, teach your heart out and the Silly Season will be over soon.

 

The best of…

Let me start right off with the obvious. Yes! I believe that if children have the BEST teacher their odds at succeeding in life are greatly improved. I also believe that if they had the best parents, the best homes, the best doctors, the best foods, the best medicines, the best genes, the best… oh you get the idea. Of course having the best is always the best! But, what are the odds of that?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what the best is after reading a study being touted across the media that states incomes of children will be higher if they have the best teachers. ( I’m purposely not providing a link to the study. You see  this study has not been peered reviewed, it’s not published in any worthy journal, it’s just being touted as the answer by some journalists. Why should I help spread this questionable nonsense? The study is out there and if you really want to read it, I’m sure you can easily find it.)

The study itself leaves us with many questions. Such as, how valid is the data, how did they acquire the data, what school district (pretty important), why did they leave out kids with special needs ( even more important), and why isn’t it peered review? These are basic questions, that makes me wonder what’s really going on?

Pressure is mounting to rate teachers, offer merit pay, fire teachers, get rid of collective bargaining, eliminate tenure and in general just pound teachers. This so called study is just more  fodder for the trough of those looking to feed on education dollars. Here in NY State many districts have been mandated to reevaluate how they rate teachers. Read this blog  for a quick snapshot of how it’s going.

So let’s return to where I started. What do you think would happen if children had the best parents, the best homes, the best doctors, the best foods, the best medicines, the best genes,and  the best legislatures working for them? Would having the best teacher mean helping them score high on some silly test or would the best teacher help them make the most out of all the best things they have going on for them?  

Let’s attempt to  fix or societal problems Let’s attempt to make sure our children have the best. Let’s stop pretending some lobbyist, some economic guru, some bureaucrat  has the answer. Let’s start using some common sense.

 

 

 

A letter to Governor Cuomo

Dear Governor Cuomo,

I read your state of the union speech today. Sorry I didn’t watch it live, but I was too busy teaching my 6th grade class. I remember some of the wonderful speeches your father used to give; unfortunately you have fallen far short of his legacy.

You claimed that last year,” we were divided as a state: Upstate and Downstate, millionaires and the middle class, gay and straight, Democrats and Republicans.” Yet you failed to mention that we are still divided and that you contributed to our split as well. Last year when you cut education funding while refusing to tax millionaires yet yesterday you called that an “unfair tax code.” The damage was done. School districts across the state had massive cuts and many were forced to lay off teachers. Gay and straight and Democrats and Republicans are still divided. The schism still exists; please don’t pretend with your catchy sound bites. It worked for your father it falls flat for you.

You proudly stated that, “After 20 years of failure, we enacted the state’s first-ever property tax cap.” Did you ever think that there were legitimate reasons why a tax cap failed to be enacted for 20 years? Perhaps you should take a look at the many municipal governments that have already declared that they cannot stay within that arbitrarily decided upon 2% cap you have imposed. They can easily override this cap with a mere majority rule in their case. School districts, with many fixed costs are now being forced to lay off many teachers in order to meet this new dictum. In order to override they need a 60% majority of all voters to override. 59.999% is not enough! Is this the democracy that was taught to you by your father? I dare say I don’t think so. What ever happened to local control? If a majority of voters choose to fully fund their schools to whatever extent they vote for it should be their right. Isn’t home rule valid in New York State anymore?

You now proudly exclaim that you will be the sole lobbyist for students.  How grandeur of you! Every teacher in the Empire State is a lobbyist for their students every single day. We lobby for books, we lobby for resources, we lobby for safe schools, we lobby for real curriculum, we lobby for services for those who need them, we lobby for legislators that think of the children we educate first, we lobby every day! Your insulting statement was offensive to every student, teacher, and parent across the state!

Now you want to create a commission to reform education. Perhaps you and your advisors should look at recent reform movements. You want accountability. Aren’t you aware that districts across the state are already spending hundreds of thousands of vital funds on new flawed accountability plans, mandated by your charter school advocate Commissioner of Education? You appointed him, have you asked him?

You talk about schools being fiscally accountable. That’s what local school boards are for, and that’s why best government has always been local government. Perhaps you should reread the state’s Constitution and review the home rule section.  As you and your appointed commissioner run ramrod over our public school system, reread your father’s speeches on education. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn.

Now it appears you want gambling across the state. Ignoring the social consequences seems to be the paradigm of some of your policy statements. Teachers supported you in your last election, we took a gamble, a huge gamble that the apple may have fallen close to the tree. We were wrong, that apple rolled down the hill and it seems to be rotten to the core. We took a gamble, we gambled on you and the dice we rolled turn to snake eyes that bit us.

Principals’ Open Letter Regarding the NYS APPR Legislation

I received this e-mail yesterday and I thought I would share.  The Principals’ Open Letter regarding the NYS APPR Legislation has caused quite a stir in these parts. It’s a clear signal that educators have begun to stand up and demand that intelligent choices are made when revamping education policy, not political ones. If your not familiar with the letter or issue visit www.newyorkprincipals.org  and read the letter as well as the research behind it.

I’ll be giving an update later on during the week, as to my own personal quest to ensure  that as many educators, administrators, and parents are truly aware of the real issues at play here.

Read the update below

Dear Friends:

You are receiving this message because you have indicated your support for the New York State Principals’ Open Letter Regarding the NYS APPR Legislation (www.newyorkprincipals.org). We thank you for your support and would like to provide you with an update on all that has happened over these past few weeks. As always, the most recent version of the APPR Position paper (with all signatures) is available at: http://www.newyorkprincipals.org/appr-paper. Given that the paper with signatures is 100 pages long, we have also created a separate link for the four-page paper alone.

Some numbers to report:

·       Over 1163 New York State principals have signed the letter: that’s almost 26% of all principals in NYS! This is an impressive figure for a paper that has been public for just over two months!

·       We have over 5100 supporters now — teachers, supervisors, parents, superintendents and board members included!

·       Support among our New York City colleagues has increased notably these past few weeks!

Events of the Past Weeks:

·       Carol and I were interviewed by the New York City Fox 5 Affiliate on Monday, 19 December. The reporter had heard of our paper and was interested in learning more about our views. You can see the segment through the following link: http://vimeo.com/34026983

·       Carol wrote another article for the Washington Post Answer Sheet. Read her perspective on the inconsistencies of the SLO plans.http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/forging-ahead-with-nutty-teacher-evaluation-plan/2011/12/29/gIQAkMiYQP_blog.html#pagebreak

·       The New York City Public School Parents blog named our movement as one of the ten best education stories of 2011!http://nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/2011/12/worst-and-best-education-events-of-2011.html

Some Steps to Take:

We need to continue to build support for our position! It is particularly important that we expand our support upstate. Our next target is to have the support of 40% of the principals in New York State. This is achievable with all of your assistance!

1.      Understand the Issues! As I have mentioned in past updates, NYSUT is actively opposing our paper. We believe that this is due to a misunderstanding of our positions and recommendations. On our website is a clarifications memo that serves as a response to NYSUT’s concerns. You can find the memo through the following link: http://www.newyorkprincipals.org/clarification-points

2.      Contact your local Regent! Some of our supporters have been in active contact with their local Regent – even arranging for a meeting next month! They are aware of the issue and may very well respond to your requests. You can identify your Regent through this link:http://www.regents.nysed.gov/members/findrep.html

3.      Contact your local Legislator! The legislature can make the changes to the APPR system. Unfortunately, many are simply not aware of the complex issues related to the APPR system as created by SED. The last thing that they want, however, is controversy come elections next November. Contact your local legislator and let him or her hear about your concerns. This simple step will make a difference!

4.      Share the letter with your colleagues – teachers, principals, central office administrators — and encourage them to support it. The more signatures we get, the more powerful our message will become! Everyone is welcome to support the letter!

5.      We need more parents! Make your parents aware of the issues related to APPR and encourage them to support the letter.

6.      Tweet, Share, Facebook or whatever it takes to get the message out! We have a number of signatories from out of state! Remember:www.newyorkprincipals.org

Thank you once again for taking a stand on such an important issue! Please enjoy a healthy and happy new year!

Sean and Carol

Sean C. Feeney, Ph.D.

Principal

The Wheatley School

11 Bacon Road

Old Westbury, NY  11568

Follow my blog at http://www.thewheatleyway.org

Looking forward to…

I do love to teach.

I am looking forward to taking my class on a journey through the world of ancient civilizations, or an imaginary world of science fiction. I relish our long discussions on current events, past events, or just about any topic my students what to explore. Showing my class real reasons for doing math, and the joys of experimenting with new ideas, I can see the wonder and enlightenment in their eyes. As my Christmas break comes to an end, I have been thinking about getting back to the routines of my sixth grade classroom. I also been thinking about which book I’ll be introducing to my class, what math skills need review, which students have specific academic and personal needs, where we left off in Social Studies, Science and more. Unfortunately, I’ve also been thinking about district mandated testing that I’ll have to subject my students to as well.

Woes of standardized testing

I’ll have to administer an English Language Arts test that may or may not look like the new NYS tests coming in April. We then must look at these called ‘data’ generated by this exercise to determine which skills must be perfected before the actual test. Is this teaching? I don’t think it is and have expressed that sentiment to my administrators, but a directive is a directive and test prep I must do.

In addition, we’ll start a series of after school ‘clinic’ sessions for third graders, that is nothing more than test prep. Supplied with test prep workbooks we will be marching these 8 year olds through sample test question after test question.  Is this teaching?

Last month I was having a discussion with my class and I mentioned the word ‘benchmark’. Immediately a load groan rose from my students. Since we were discussing weather, and I was telling them of a benchmark used in forecasts it didn’t quite register with me as to why they groaned. When questioned, they thought I was going to give them a benchmark test on weather! How sad is that? Benchmark has become a word students have learned to regret for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve explained to my students that I do my best to minimize test prep, and that it really isn’t necessary if we all do a good job with our studies. My students usually do very well on these nonsensical examples of assessment that really don’t assess a darn thing. Over that past 12 years I have never worried about how I teach, how I am judged, or how my students are judges. But now I’m worried.

NYS’ grand plan?

NYS has redesigned their tests for this year. They haven’t shown us how they’ve changed. They haven’t shown us the type of questions, how they might be worded, and the vocabulary they might use. They have told us it will be longer and it will start the day the students return after spring break. That makes sense doesn’t it?  What else are we being told you might ask? We have also been told that the test will have pilot questions that test the test, and the test will also assess the teacher!  The rationale behind this nonsense states that this is all alright based on research. Really?

Does the research look at the effect on the student? How do you explain to a stressed out student that you think the question they didn’t understand really wasn’t an actual question that counts? How do you explain that we have to do more test prep, and we really don’t have time to spend discussing what they thing a utopian society really is?

Governor Cuomo’s new plan

To make matter worse, we know have a governor who thinks he must take on school accountability. He’s stacking the deck with a pro charter Commissioner of Education and now plans to appoint a commission , with outside experts to look at education in NY. Can’t wait to see who this will be, considering his spokesperson has said, “What are the performance indicators? How do you judge performance in the education system? How are the services being provided?” “No one has really looked at it without a particular perspective on what’s going on in education.” Really?? Where have you been Governor?

NCLB RTTP APPR acronyms to failure

The only group making advances lately are the so called corporate reformers and the test makers/publishers.Profits are soaring, teachers are frustrated, and students are not moving forward. I guess NCLB  is a success because if no child moves forward that none can be left behind. Now that race to the top is underway, corporations will be king of the hill soon. They’ll win that race and we’ll all be running in place.

Profits are soaring, teachers are frustrated, and students are not moving forward. NCLB it that view is a success because if no child moves forward that none can be left behind. Now that race to the top is underway, corporations will be king of the hill soon. They’ll win that race and we’ll all be running in place.

In Memoriam, [Ring out, wild bells]

In Memoriam, [Ring out, wild bells]
by Lord Alfred Tennyson
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

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