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

Archive for the tag “teachers”

Dear President Obama

The deadline to send emails to the President to support the Campaign for Our Public Schools is October 17. Here are instructions about where to send them.

Send them either to this blog or to Anthony Cody at Anthony_Cody@hotmail.com.

Here’s mine 

October 15, 2012

Dear President Obama,

This election will be very close, unnecessarily close in my humble opinion. I’m afraid that some teachers may be reluctant to vote for you due to your often contradictory statements and policies regarding education reform.  Due to your perceived unwillingness to truly listen to the concerns of teachers across the nation, we may be facing a situation that could bring us the devastating educational consequences of a Romney presidency.  It’s never too late for true change. Even for you.

Mr. President, teachers aren’t interested in dedicating their life’s work to a competition. We’re not interested in having a “Race to the Top” or having to worry about financial awards or punishments based on junk science. Financial incentives may work in sales, but they don’t work when working with children.

Mr. President, you proclaimed, in your State of The Union, that we need to stop teaching to the test and we need to respect teachers. Unfortunately, your policies do neither. Race to the Top has spawned even more testing than ever. In New York State, under our new teacher evaluation plan (APPR) students are tested multiple times in all subjects (even in gym) to measure their teacher’s effectiveness!  I calculated my students will lose at least the equivalent to 90 periods of valuable learning time due to APPR and Race to the Top. 90 periods lost forever! That’s not change to believe in, that’s abusing teachers and students.

My school has been named a ‘Reward School’ in New York State. That means we are one of the top performing schools in the entire state. Yet, Mr. President, our students must undergo even more testing, to ensure we teachers are effective. Is this respecting our accomplishment? Is this respecting us as professionals? As teachers?

Teachers have become our nation’s scapegoats and we are waiting for you to push the pendulum of blame towards the real culprits. Mr. President, graduation rates are at all-time highs, the achievement gaps are closing rapidly, college enrollments are up, and more students are graduating with advance degrees than ever. Yet you have us “Racing each other to the Top”.

Most importantly, Mr. President, our public schools are what sets our country apart from everyone else. Public school teachers are the true backbone of our nation. Our public school doors’ are open to all, unlike private and charter schools. Mr. President, we need you to stop endorsing the privatization of public education. 84% of charter schools underperform public schools. Thousands of Public schools outperform the best charter schools. Our future should not be for sale to the highest bidder or to the ‘reformer’ that’s more focused on profits than children.

Mr. President, your policies are demoralizing our nation’s teachers. It’s time do what you promised us. End Race to the Top, put an end to abusive testing, and respect our nation’s teachers. It’s time to move forward and give us the real change we can believe in.

Mr. President, it’s not too late, we really want you to win. It’s up to you.


Ralph L. Ratto

Proud Teacher

A Teacher’s Labor of Love Can Not Be Measured

As we celebrate Labor Day 2012 teachers all over the nation are beginning a new school year with a dark cloud on the horizon. We have been labeled failures by politicians , media outlets, corporate raiders, and movie makers. The need for education reform has been touted by both sides of the political aisle in a blind effort to pander to the raw emotions of a thoroughly hoodwinked electorate.

I’ve previously posted  data that clearly shows that graduation rates and college admissions are at historical highs. Historians like Diane Ravitch have shared data that explains the misleading nature of comparisons with other nations. Union leaders like Randi Weingarten have celebrated the gains we have seen over the last 20 years. Yet, we have been labeled as failures.

Yes, there is a need for reform!

Nothing should remain stagnant, we must constantly change and reform our ways to remain competitive. No one is disputing that. The problem arises with what has become a bastardization of true reform.

All to often, we’ve been told, it’s those ineffective teachers fault. Ignoring poverty, social needs, emotional needs, under funding, and the lack of resources, both sides of the aisle have their spiny fingers pointed right at us .. it’s those teachers that have to be fixed. As a result states have embarked on huge budget buster evaluation plans fueled by the funds held out, like  a carrot on a stick, due to Race to the Top. Here in New York State we have this debacle of an evaluation system called APPR.

The centerpiece of this frightful evaluation mess are high stakes tests ( you know, the ones RTTT was supposed to give us relief from) , district wide tests, and a third component based on observations and other evidence extracted magically throughout the year.  Using a Value Added Model which Diane Ravitch has labeled ‘junk science’ NYS hopes to root out those ineffective teachers.

Does this look like education reform?

Take a look at my district’s APPR plan.  I can’t fault my district and my fellow teachers for negotiating this nonsense because they were left with no choice. They must follow the laws of NYS.  They did their best, but unfortunately we’re now going to be judged by junk science, computer generated assessments, and a rubric that will attempt to put a numerical value on everything we do.

It’s demoralizing and unforgivable to attempt to place a numerical value on everything a teacher does.

60% of every APPR plan in NYS is based on placing a numerical value on everything we do! 

Administrators will be visiting classes with check lists and rubrics attempting to match the actions  of the teacher with a point value that will be used to measure teacher effectiveness.

A teacher’s labor of love is not measurable!

How do you place a numerical value on, the lives we have touched, the futures we have enhanced, the confidence we have instilled, the manners we have taught, the morals we have strengthened, the civic values we have formed, the smiles we have created and the country we have created?

How do you determine a numerical value on a teacher’s compassion  and understanding of a child who  faces anxiety when encountering challenging work? How do you measure the trust a student and/or a parent has in their teacher? How do you measure the hours teachers spend, looking at the ceiling in the middle of the night, as they ponder new strategies to help their students? How do you measure the tears wiped away from a frightened child as the teacher comforts and builds confidence?

This  Labor Day as we gear up for the new challenges of a new school year,  we face the unfair scrutiny endorsed by our state. Remember,  you have the power to protect your love of teaching.

It can not be measured no matter how hard they try.

Multiple Measured Madness

Multiple measured madness is underway across the country. No where is this madness  more evident than in New York State.

All Hail the Governor!

Last week our own Governor Cuomo “announced a groundbreaking agreement on a new statewide evaluation system that will make New York State a national leader in holding teachers accountable for student achievement.” Standing side by side by side with union leaders they hailed the “state’s commitment to put in place a real and effective teacher evaluation system.”

Governor Cuomo said,”Today’s agreement puts in place a groundbreaking new statewide teacher evaluation system that will put students first and make New York a national leader in holding teachers accountable for student achievement.”  Impressive right? Just like a true ‘lobbyist for students’ would be proud to stand up and proclaim.   Holding teachers accountable, yeah! bravo Gov!

You would never know  that Richard Iannuzzi,  president of New York State United Teachers, Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers were standing alongside our Governor as he spouted those words. It’s pitiful that these union leaders would stand by as anyone would say that teachers should be held accountable.

It’s even more disturbing that they succumbed to the Governor’s threats and approved what will become a death knell for public education in New York State. Yes, it will kill public education in New York!

Multiple Measures Madness

There has been an outcry of disgust and dismay across the state regarding the provisions of the deal.  Twitter feeds have been lit up, blogs are being written, teachers are considering their next move, administrators are wondering how to implement, school boards are wondering how to pay for this, consultants are jumping for joy as they await a windfall, students are wondering why another test, parents are confused, local papers are opining as fast as they could, researchers are combing for any supporting research, politicians are plotting their next strategic step, and the madness escalates

Carol Burris’ posting clearly lays out a doomsday scenario that will most like befall many teachers. Diane Ravitch calls the new system ‘madness’. Over 1300 principals have signed a letter asking for the state to hold off on this mandate. They demand more evidence, more research, and a sensible approach towards teacher evaluations. They offered research to back their concerns and were ignored.

What makes this so maddening is the outrageous behavior and comments by our own union.  They seem to be doubling down on their decision to bed with the Governor and have blatantly disregarded the concerns of their membership.  Nothing is more evident than this tweet sent out by Randi Weingarten last night.

  • UFT debunks myths abt new NY teacher eval agreement-bottom line-80% has to be negotiated. 20%,not 100% state tests.. http://bit.ly/A8Vrhe

Debunking myths? Calling concerns myths? From union leaders about union members? Talk about madness.

Debunking the DeBunkers

So let’s really set the record straight Mr. Casey. I’ve read your nasty piece and now it’s my turn.

You claim that multiple measures, evaluations will be more comprehensive, more accurate and fairer. Really, based on what? Your instinct? The state can’t even determine what an effective teacher really is? What’s effective? Is it determined by some value added algorithm? Is it determined by student income potential? Is it determined by whether parents just love their child’s teacher?  It seems as though some arbitrarily thought out multiple measures will be used to determine what effective really means.

You call concerns “alarmist alchemy” yet your own explanation of the magical 100 evaluation absurd. You claim that 60 of these magical points may include observations based on the  Danielson  frameworks. That’s great for Danielson and her company but may not be so great for kids and teachers.  There are major concerns with this approach.

There is a major concern that  many evaluations will not be accurate. Inconsistent applications of the Danielson framework has been a problem in the past.  Let’s say,  teachers follows this arbitrary framework, does that make them effective? Where’s the measure, what’s effective? Will the person doing the evaluation recognize innovation? Will innovation in the classroom be allowed? If it’s not on the check off list is it valid? What’s valid? There is a plethora of education research that contradicts Danielson’s methods and frameworks, some have been successful models some not. But then again, how do we measure success.

Mr. Casey you claim,

 “Burris incorrectly assumes that the entire 40 points in the measures of student learning will be derived from standardized state exams. But the use of value-added growth measures from state standardized exams need not take up more than 20% of the total teacher evaluation – and then only for a minority of teachers, those teaching English Language Arts and Mathematics, grades 4 through 8.”

You have quite selectively stated that standardized exams need not take up more than 20% of total teacher evaluations. “Need not” also means that  they could. Will districts already facing difficult economic times be able to afford to develop local assessments or even pay for their development? You claim it’s negotiable, yet we all know that means trade off based on funding.

You also claim that only a minority of teachers will be effected. Does that mean our union leaders effectively created separate classes of employees. Will we be able to collectively bargain now based on these classes? How does one not affected get to negotiate on the issue?

You also tout that,

A compelling approach to the issue of using value-added scores in teacher evaluations is found in the Hechinger Report blog post of Columbia University sociologist Aaron Pallas. Pallas sensibly suggests that where value-added models of standardized test scores are included in a teacher evaluation, the scoring needs to take into account the margin of error in a teacher’s score.

Quite to the contrary, “researchers have documented a number of problems with VAM as accurate measures of teachers’ effectiveness.”  Yet a very important percentage of teacher ‘effectiveness’ will be determined based on this questionable method. How in the world did our union leaders agree to this?

How does this teacher evaluation take into account outside influences, parental issues, societal issues, medical issues? How does it compensate for the child dealing with a family member that is ill? Or the child that comes to school exhausted? Or the child that is dealing with turmoil at home. what about the child that has a stomach ache the day of a test, or just has test anxiety? How do we account for the child who suffers from allergies every spring? Or the one who came to school upset because their pet died? So many variables out there, yet those who agreed to this terrible deal can’t  address them all.

Casey you closed with, “change is necessary.”

I’ll close with, change for the sake of change is dangerous.

We need to stop the multiple measured madness.

The Real Super Bowl

Super Bowl Sunday has finally arrived. And Yes!!  My beloved NY Giants are in it!

Regardless of which team you cheer on to victory, everyone is fully aware that Super Bowl Sunday has arrived. The media has been buzzing, stores have stocked up on supplies and team paraphernalia, the advertising industry has paid millions for 30 seconds of air time, families and friends are gathering, people all across the nation are focusing on the big game,and even presidential candidates are weighing in on the game. The nation is ready. The game is about to happen.

Wouldn’t  it be something, if our nation became as excited about the education of our children as it does over a football game?

What do you think would happen if the media covered education with the same detail as it covers the Super Bowl. During the game, we’re treated to data that has been analyzed, debated, scrutinized, and shared to help us understand the game. During the game, commentary is given to help those not familiar, understand the nuances of the game. Instant replays are deployed to review what and why certain plays were all about. They’re played over and over and even slowed down to include every important aspect of the game. For weeks after, if not years, game situations will be discussed and analyzed.  Just imagine, what education would be like if the media actually presented educational outcomes and their causes in a way that was fitting for the Super Bowl.

The public invests in the Super Bowl. The competition to host the Super Bowl is extreme. Some think it could be a $400 million windfall for the host city.  Combined with the millions spent nationwide on advertising, merchandise, food, and anything else associated with the big game, the Super Bowl creates a huge lift in revenue for many.

Can you imagine the revenues that could be generated, if there was a similar investment and buzz on educating our nation’s children? Would we have teachers working without pay as is the case in Pennsylvania? Would we have schools in a state of disrepair? Would we have classrooms that are overcrowded? Would we have states like NY imposing arbitrary tax caps on education? Would we have kids living in poverty?

The Super Bowl is played every day in every classroom across the country. Teachers coach their students to advance on the field of knowledge, and yes, sometimes they fumble, fall, drop the ball and get tackled by a problem. But just like coaches in today’s game, teachers are there to get their teams into the end zone.

Just imagine if what teachers do every day was treated like the big game?  

Would outside influences be allowed to hijack our game plans and our schools? Would superficial stats be tolerated?  Would a school be judged based on a specific performance on a specific day? Would new mandates and rules be implemented without fully analyzing the affects?  Would our team be allowed to take the field without the necessary nutrition? Would our teams be allowed to even play the game without the necessary equipment?

You want to see the real Super Bowl? Visit a classroom.

Go Giants!

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