Opine I will

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

Stand Up and Speak Out for Public Education

All across the Empire State thousands upon thousands of parents, students, business leaders, and teachers are standing up and speaking out for public education.  The message is clear. We will not let Governor Cuomo destroy public education in New York.9/11 Memorial Run/Wall in Manhattan

Andrew Cuomo, our ‘self-proclaimed student advocate’, is holding school funding hostage in his maniacal quest to sell off public education to the highest bidder. An integral part of his plan is to falsely proclaim our schools and teachers as failures.

We have all witnessed Cuomo do the following;

  • shifting needed funding towards the private sector.
  • handing over public schools buildings room by room to privately own charter schools.
  • wrenching local control away from communities.
  • demanding unfunded mandates that are driving public school districts into fiscal distress.
  • destroying teacher preparation programs.
  • whittling away at teacher education centers.
  • demanding standards that are not age appropriate for students.
  • forcing children to undergo hours and hours abusive high stakes tests.
  • labeled public sector unions as an evil force.

Let’s not forget, Cuomo was not endorsed by the New York state AFL-CIO and NYSUT. There is a reason this Democrat was shunned by labor. His agenda is anti-labor and is driven by his hedge fund millionaire campaign donors. That’s why he lost just about every county and every region in the state except for where his hedge fund millionaires poured in tons of cash.

His agenda is quite clear, he has a vendetta against those who turned their backs on him and squashed his presidential aspirations. He is willing to sacrifice the futures of the children, of the Empire State,  all the while handing parts of  a multi-billion dollar public asset to privateers.

As evident in his decisions to end any oversight on ethics he has ordered  all of his administrations e-mail and correspondence to be purged on a regular basis. Cuomo is counting on a world of darkness and despair as he slams the door on open government.  We are on to him, and he won’t get away with this.

Cuomo wants us to believe the sun in New York State Seal is setting on the era of public education and open government. It is time to stand up and speak out and tell the governor that the citizens of the Empire State will not allow that sun to set on our most important assets, our children and our public schools.Seal_of_New_York.svg

Stand Up, Speak out for public education. Let the sun shine as we share the successes of public education in New York.   Nassau County’s forum- “Stand Up and Speak Out for Public Education” is on March 12 at Westbury High School. More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/StandUp4PublicEducation.  #allkidsneed you to be there.

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Cuomo is an ignorant thug

New York State Governor Cuomo latest tantrum is yet another move in his billionaire campaign contributors’ playbook. Unfortunately, the children of the Empire State will become his sacrificial pawns in his warped war against public school teachers. Cuomo refuses to visit our schools or even have a discussion with teachers. Those are the actions of a ignorant thug, not a governor.

Cuomo is now demanding that Long Island teacher evaluations be reviewed by the state education department (NYSED). He ignores the fact that NYSED has already extensively reviewed every teacher evaluation plan and has ordered just about every district to modify their plan before they would approve it. He ignores the fact that each district had a limited number of plans to choose from because his NYSED created a limited approved list to choose from.

Cuomo chooses once again to ignore his own words when he held school funding hostage back in 2012 and forced a compromise on teacher evaluations. Remember when he 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,” Governor Cuomo said. “This agreement is exactly what is needed to transform our state’s public education system, and I am pleased that by working together and putting the needs of students ahead of politics we were able to reach this agreement.”

Cuomo tends to do that, promises one thing to appease his critics then ignores his promise. Remember his promise to the Working Families Party and his promise to sign HIS legislation that would hold off on the consequences of faulty teacher evaluations this year?  Both promises ignored and thrown out the window, this is not a governor; this is the workings of a thug.

Cuomo uses a recent biased article in Newsday to once again attack public school teachers, specifically Long Island teachers while ignoring the fact that 91% of all Long Island students graduate, outperforming every state in the nation.

Cuomo is a vindictive thug who has lined his campaign war chest with thousands of charter school backers’ dollars. He is positioning NYS to sell off our most valuable assets, our public schools.

Cuomo’s ignorance is in full view of the nation and the world. This is a guy who has been labeled as having presidential aspirations. Can we even fathom what a disaster that would be for this nation?

My Dad

I usually opine on this blog on education issues but not today.  Today’s post is dedicated to my dad who taught me to stand up for what you believe in. Rest in peace dad.

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My father is a remarkable man who taught me to work for what I believed in, no matter what others thought or said and the importance of family. At times we misunderstood his stubbornness, and like all families we argued and disagreed. I am sure many of you know first-hand what I am talking about.

Yet despite those arguments at times, he was always there when his family needed him.

When we look back with today’s lens, at my father’s life, we see that he grew up in a time of unfathomable hardship, poverty and despair. Yet my father told us stories of his life through the eyes of a child who fondly looked at these times as one of good memories, and family.

He was born into a typical immigrant family that lived in the poorest tenement, where families and rats shared a toilet in the hall, took baths in the kitchen sink, and slept on fire escapes in the summer.  Yet he always described these living conditions fondly to us.

At 8 yrs old he was sent to a Catholic orphanage with his brothers Augie and Carmine because his parents just couldn’t take care of them. Imagine what that must have been like. Living in a dormitory that wasn’t heated very well, wearing too thin of a uniform, in conditions that would never be allowed today. Yet when my dad described these times to us, he told us of good times with his brothers and Father Kenny teaching him to swim and looking forward to his mother’s visits.

At 10 yrs old he began working to help his family. He sold paper bags on Park Avenue, and the Daily News on the Subway at night. Can you even imagine sending your 10 year old to Times Square to sell newspapers on the subways? Even at 10 yrs old he helped support his family.

At 12 yrs old he was still working to help his family by delivering furniture on a pushcart, or delivering ice. He would shine shoes in the bars along 3rd avenue and would eventually make his way to central park where he would shine the shoes of sailors on leave after Pearl Harbor

He would always give his mother most of the money he earned, because even despite the hardships then he knew the importance of family. He eventually began working with his brothers in a printing shop, until he joined the army. Again family working together.

There were times when his home life was not a happy one. His father was a heavy drinker and often abusive to his mother and the family. So, he joined the army to escape that, yet he continued to send most of his pay home.  After his service in Korea and Germany he returned home to find that things were not much better, so he went to live with his Army buddy Walter’s family in Ohio. In Ohio he once again scrapped together a living until finally coming back home. Because he knew deep down that family was important.

He may not have shown it all the time but he always remained loyal to family values despite times of bitter turmoil. His home was always open to family, whether you needed a place to live there for a while, stop in for a drink or 3, or just a place to sit and chat. My father’s door was always open to family.

As his own family started to grow he always taught us family came first. We never went without, even when he had to work two or more jobs to make sure my sisters and I had what we needed. He was always there when we needed him, whether it was fixing a pipe, painting a wall, or trying to fix our cars. He was a fixture at all of our children’s plays, concerts, and especially ball games. Even when his health was failing, he would be there, cheering and rooting for his grandchildren to give that ball a ride.

You see, spreading his love and joy for family was his life’s mission. In his last days he assured us that he will always be there for us, and I believe he is and always will.

Governor Andy Cuomo is not #whatkidsneed!

Andy Cuomo, our sophomoric New York State Governor, claims to be the only student advocate, yet he is willing to hold the children of our state hostage as he pushes his vendetta campaign against public school teachers across the Empire State.

New York State United Teachers ( NYSUT) has begun a #whatkidsneed campaign to highlight what is at risk with Cuomo’s education destruction agenda. Keeping in that spirit I thought I would list things that kids don’t need from Andy Cuomo.

  1. Doubling the weight of high stake tests that will “break our students backs” is NOT #whatkidsneed!
  2. Making 9 year old children sit through 540 minutes of tests is NOT#whatkidsneed!
  3. Using the release of vital school budget information as a weapon is NOT #whatkidsneed!
  4. Keeping state aid below 2008 levels is NOT #whatkidsneed!
  5. The New York State Regents recommended a budget increase of $2.2Billion, Andy’s 50% reduction down to $1.1Billion is NOT #whatkidsneed!
  6. Andy Cuomo’s tax cap which has pushed many districts into fiscal distress is NOT #whatkidsneed!
  7. Andy Cuomo’s inflammatory language about public schools is certainly is NOT #whatkidsneed!
  8. Andy Cuomo promoting the agenda of his hedge fund billionaire campaign supporters is NOT #whatkidsneed!
  9. Allowing Charter schools to siphon need funds away from public schools is NOT #whatkidsneed!
  10. Programs that are being eliminated due to Andy’s tax cap is a trend that is NOT #whatkidsneed!
  11. Andy Cuomo’s continued use of the Gap Elimination Adjustment that is driving class sizes up and destroying programs for kids is NOT #whatkidsneed!
  12. Demonizing dedicated professionals that are vital for our children’s future is NOT #whatkidsneed!!
  13. Supporting standards that are based on political rhetoric and not real research is NOT #whatstudents need!
  14. Eliminating due process which will hamper a teachers effort to speak up for their students is NOT #whatkidsneed!

As we begin the second term of Andy Cuomo, it is clearer than ever that this is a governor that is NOT #whatkidsneed!

The Liberal Lion and the Snake in the Grass

Mario Cuomo was our Liberal Lion. He was a governor of the people, all the people.During his 1983 inaugural address he said,

“I believe government’s purpose, basically, is to allow those blessed with talent to go as far as they can on their own. But I believe that government also has an obligation to assist those who, for whatever inscrutable reason, have been left out by fate—the homeless, the infirm, the destitute—to help provide those necessary things which, through no fault of their own, they cannot provide for themselves. Of course, we should have only the government we need. But we must have, and we will insist on, all the government we need.”

Powerful words from our beloved Liberal Lion! During his tenure as our governor he increased spending on education because he knew and insisted that we must have “all the government we need”.

Fast forward to today and we now have his son, Andrew, aka “The Snake in the Grass”. Our miserable Snake in the Grass refuses to fully fund education and he set in place legislation, with Republican help, that makes it virtually impossible for local communities to make up the difference and fully fund their own community schools.

He allows hedge fund billionaires to raid our states most important asset, our schools, by evicting public schools from parts of our community public school buildings.

Our venomous Snake in the Grass, is now holding our necessary state aide hostage until he gets his way. Only a slithering Snake in the Grass would use a funding for children’s programs as a weapon. Even though  one million children live in poverty in his state, he refuses to give children what they need.

Unlike his father, Andrew Cuomo does not believe we must have all the government we need. This Snake in the Grass follows the tune of his campaign donor snake charmers.

The time has come for New York State residents to chop the head off this snake, his venom is poisoning our children’s future.  Contact your local legislator today and demand that they abandon this snake and his ideals.

Duncan’s Line in the Sand

Building anything on sand will lead to an eventual collapse. Sand is constantly shifting and provides little foundational support. Yet legislators often make policy decisions based on the shifting sands of political agendas. So, be wary when policy makers declare they are, “drawing a line in the sand”.  That line will often shift or even disappear due to the winds of political donors and lobbyists.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is about to build upon his education reform agenda and promises to “draw a line in the sand” that will continue abusive high stakes standardized tests in reading and math. Public education in our nation is about to collapse as Duncan’s continues to use tests as a cornerstone of education reform. He just doesn’t understand that when you build anything on sand it is doomed to fail.

Assessing student growth, once provided teachers with the mortar that allowed teachers to build upon lessons that provided what was necessary to help their students grow. Today, assessing student growth, with Common Core tests, has been transformed into a wrecking ball that is destroying teacher’s ability to adapt to the needs of individual students.

Duncan  is about to double down on his wrecking ball strategy as Congress revisits No Child Left Behind (NCLB).   Insisting high stakes tests be performed every year and using these tests to evaluate teachers erodes the foundation of public education in our nation.

I believe standardized tests should be used to drive differentiated instruction for every child in our classrooms. Common Core tests do not do that. They are used to force teachers to get every student walking lock step or else. The or else part is the threat that if a teacher does not get their students marching together in time, then the nation will declare that teacher ineffective and they must be discharged.

I believe teachers should be evaluated every year. The method of these evaluations should be collectively bargained at the local level and the local community should be deciding who should teach their children, not federal or state bureaucrats driven by political agendas.

As Congress revisits NCLB this week, they must abandon the NCLB legislation that was built on sand and is destroying our schools. They must build on the bedrock of our nation, the legacy of our public schools. They must fully fund public education and beat back those who are turning our schools into business ventures.

NCLB, CCSS, and RTTT are nothing more than flimsy acronyms that camouflage the fact that they are policies built on sand. Education should not be a race to the top, our diverse nation is anything but common and our children should not be judged that way, and all children should be allowed to progress individually. Once we get back to those basic principles then we are truly building on firm footing.

End of Year

It’s that time of year when we start seeing end of year lists in review. We become inundated with lists of everything from soup to nuts. Especially nuts this year!

Here is my list of questions,  still unanswered, as 2014 comes to a close. Feel free to provide an answer if you can or pass them along.

  1. Why are graduation rates at historic levels ( high school, college and post secondary) if our public schools are failing?
  2. The stock market is at an all-time high, so why are public schools underfunded?
  3. In New York State and many other states, property values are driven by the quality of the school district, so why is Governor Cuomo tying the hands of local communities to fully fund their local schools?
  4. New York State is no longer in financial trouble, so why does Governor Cuomo continue to use a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” scheme ( Gap Elimination Adjustment) that robs public schools of budgeted school aid?
  5. Why is New York State funding schools below 2009 levels while giving tax breaks to casinos?
  6. Where is the evidence that Common Core State Standards are age appropriate?
  7. Just what does the term “college and career ready” really mean. Especially when it is used to assess kindergarten through 6th grade children?
  8. Why does the New York State Education Chancellor and Governor Cuomo continue to state that our teachers are failing students when 93.8% of all high school graduates ( excluding NYC) are earning a ‘Regent’s Diploma”?
  9. Where is the evidence to support the underlying requirement of the Common Core that all students should be at the same level of understanding at the same time?
  10. Where is the research that supports the current practice of having elementary age children take hour upon hour of tests to measure teacher, administration, and district effectiveness as well as their own level of understanding?
  11. Why is it acceptable to dismantle and hand over our communities’ most important assets ( our schools) to private entrepreneurs?
  12. Why do our legislators do so little for the social needs of our communities while at the same time blaming our schools?
  13. How do states justify reducing the number of teachers while at the same time proclaim all students deserve a good education?
  14. Why have our public school teachers become the nation’s scapegoat for poor public policy?
  15. Why are special needs children being denied special education services?
  16. Just where is the evidence that supports the ideal that Charlotte Danielson and her contrived rubric should be the standard for teacher evaluation?
  17. Why are teachers’ unions unfairly labeled when the evidence shows that where they exist student achievement is higher?
  18. Why has President Obama been silent on high stakes testing since his State of the Union 2 years ago when he said testing should be limited?
  19. When will states be up front and honest and inform their residents that Lotteries do not increase funding for schools?
  20. When will all public sector unions join together and demand in a collective voice, “workers’ rights, pay, benefits and pensions for all”?

Frustration to Motivation

I love teaching. I know I make a difference in my student’s lives and that my students leave my class ready to face sixth grade and high school beyond that. Every day, I look forward to the challenges my students throw my way. That is what keeps me motivated, focused and teaching. That is why I became a teacher. Unfortunately, new challenges have developed that have turned this year into one of the most frustrating years I have ever experienced as a teacher.

The new challenges I face every day affect my students, my colleagues, my community, my craft, and me. These new challenges are caused by the political agendas of a few wealthy ideologues who are hell bent to “save our nation by saving our schools”.  When in reality their aim is a power grab that will destroy our nation’s greatest asset and hand it over to the private sector to fuel their movement and fill their pocketbooks.

I became President of our local Teachers’ Association about a year and a half ago,  and now my days are filled with contract negotiations, grievances, budget cuts, unrealistic expectations, nonsensical teacher evaluations, tax caps, invalid data, and accusations that suddenly we have no idea how to teach.  We are now being told we all must now abandoned good teaching and follow a new paradigm .

We are in the midst of our third year without a new contract in our district. Thanks to New York’s Triborough Amendment, our old contract remains in effect until a new one is collectively bargained. But that is not guaranteed to continue, because there is new legislation being drafted that would end that protective amendment.  Approximately one third of our teachers have not received a raise in 3 years, our health insurance benefit is under attack as well as our future pensions. Our financial and professional futures have been put at risk.

New York Governor Cuomo, the self-proclaimed student advocate, is on a crusade that will rip apart the fabric of our neighborhoods. He is on his own “Sherman’s March”. His goal is to beat public sector unions into submission by destroying everything in his path, because he claims it is for the public good.

His Tax Cap, his continued use of a Gap Elimination Adjustment, his failure to fund schools beyond 2008 levels, his warped teacher’s evaluation plan, his appointed Education Commissioner, his charter school advocacy, his support for school vouchers and his hedge fund allies have waged total war against our public schools.

This has made it impossible to negotiate a new teachers’ contract and that has created situations where we must now grieve conditions of our current contract that are being challenged. We are being told that we must now teach a new way, and that our old ways may have been effective.We must never the less change due to new high stakes tests. Our special education teachers must now look for ways that help our most vulnerable students despite new restrictions that prevent them from offering needed services. Our days are filled with administrators with clipboards wandering our halls and entering our rooms to make sure our assembly lines (classrooms) are working efficiently.

Here’s the kicker.  Our district located in a strong middle class neighborhood, whose homes sell for $600K to over $1million.Their property values stayed strong despite the economic calamity of a few years ago because of our schools.  Our students excel and over 95% of them go to college. Our teacher salaries are near the bottom of all school district salaries in the region.  We have outperformed the state, the region and the county on state test scores ( It kills me to even use this). With outcomes like these would a private employer treat their employees the same way?

Cuomo’s total war on us will have profound effects on the region.  Our teachers are contributors to our region’s economy. They spend their paychecks in local businesses, pay their fair share of taxes, volunteer in their own communities, and contribute to local charities.  Our retirees pensions flow directly back into the local economy as well.

2015 is not going to be a good year for education in New York State. Cuomo’s reelection has set the stage for a bloodletting of sorts. He now has the votes needed in the legislature to accelerate his campaign of destruction. Now is not the time to sit back and hope. Hear the call to action! Get involved, attend rallies, write letters make calls, and visit your legislator. Join your civic association, wear your teacher label with pride, and let your local businesses know you are a teacher and that you support them.

It’s time to turn our frustration into motivation. If not you better start practicing saying, “welcome to Walmart”.

In the 3rd year without a contract

Our Teachers’ Association is the third year without a new contract. As president of our association I made the following comments at last evening’s School Board meeting.

I  would like to start off this evening by congratulating you on your successful resolution at the New York State School Board’s Associations convention to enhance school safety by bringing to the forefront our district’s concerns with having elections in our schools while school is in session.  I would also like to congratulate the NYSSBA for rejecting their own Board of Director’s resolution to support the continued use of student performance data in APPRs. Even though it was rejected by a slim margin, I am hoping that our Board also voted to reject that resolution.

We all agree that some sort of evaluation process needs to be in place that fairly measures teacher and district effectiveness. Unfortunately so called educational reformers have hijacked the conversation and have created a system that relies on high stakes tests that creates invalid data that we all are unfairly judged on.

Our students are subjected to hours upon hours of tests that are used for multiple purposes Effective Assessments are not supposed to be designed that way. Effective Assessments should be designed to help a child, not label them or label their teacher, school, or district.

At last month’s Board meeting we were presented with bar graph after bar graph that were designed to show how we did on last year’s state assessments. They showed that we excelled at all grade levels and that our teachers do extraordinary work.

Despite the fact that we lead most of the state with our scores we still heard we need to work to increase the ‘stamina’ of some of our students and  that more work needs to be done to raise these scores even higher. That may make logical sense because we all want to do better and better however,

 I must say that, I believe that our students and your children are much more than a test score.

The current APPR evaluation system measuring student growth using

standardized testing is a not a  valid assessment of an educator’s job performance.

These tests do not take into account that our students are more than a test score. They don’t measure a student who may have come to school hungry, or is simply suffering that day from hay fever, They don’t take into account if a child may be dealing with problems at home, or a problem with their best friend. It doesn’t take into account that the child may be just having a bad day, after all we all have them. There are thousands of issues that impact on student learning on any given day and to make believe some standardized test can measure that, ignores the fact that your children are much more than a test score.

My colleagues know that, that’s why when you visit our classrooms you witness first hand the caring and nurturing that our wonderful teachers do. You see our teachers teaching the whole child  going above and beyond any contract language or some made up rubric to ensure our students, your children, are prepared for the yet unknown future they face.

When we speak of stamina, it should not be in the context of student taking tests, it should be in the unbelievable stamina our teachers have. They often work well into the night and on weekends developing lessons and experiences for their students. They attend workshops and classes to improve their craft so that their students and this community benefit.  When you believe that students are much more than a test score you do those things regradless of what any contract says or whether or not your contract has been settled or not.

 Teachers are an extraordinary bunch, they need to be. You see we all depend on teachers. What we do here day in and day out effects the lives of the children and the families we teach, it effects the property values of all that live here whether you have children or not. It even affects the local businesses in the area. Without a strong schools and strong property values, local businesses would flounder and disappear.

Hopefully, one day, we won’t have to sit and look at bar graphs that attempt to label our students and our efforts and our schools. Hopefully our elected leaders will come to believe that our children are much more than a test score.

And hopefully one day soon, our teachers will be recognized for their extraordinary efforts with a fair contract that recognizes that today’s teachers and our future teachers are vital members of this community.

The Big Lie

The Big Lie
time mag

It’s been said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Time Inc.’s website touts them as , ” Time Inc. (NYSE: TIME) is one of the largest media companies in the world reaching more than 130 million consumers each month across multiple platforms through influential brands such as Time, People, Sports Illustrated, InStyle, Real Simple, Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, Wallpaper and NME.”Notice their descriptor… ‘influential brands’. Time Inc. admits their magazines are out there to influence the public.

Time knows their covers influence, they also know that most of their readers won’t take the time to actually read. That’s why this cover is so dangerous. Yes… dangerous!

You see folks, we are at war and it’s a Civil War.  The weapons of this war are  influence,strategy, and power .

Influence( some examples)

Time magazine ( at the top of today’s list)

Think Tanks..

Gates Foundation

Koch Bros.

Pearson

Media outlets

Strategy ( some examples)

Promote the Big Lie;

” Our schools are failing”

“We are losing our standing in the world”

“Kids are not career and college ready”

“Teachers are ineffective”

“Our learning standards need improvement”

“Data can be used to make all kids learn”

“Teachers can overcome all other influences in a child’s life”

Power ( some examples)

“Elected officials”

Groups like New York State’s Board of Regents

ALEC

Governor’s Association

US Department of Education

 

 

This Civil War is being fought around the “Big Lie”.  Their aim is to gain control of our Nation’s most precious assets, our public schools so they may reap the huge profits of their conquests. The victors will gain control of our Nation’s hearts, minds and souls.They are filling their coffers with the spoils of each battle.

Every time they take over part or all of a school building they get stronger. Every time a district succumbs to the fear that they may be labeled as a failure if they don’t follow a Pearson scripted curriculum we lose a battle. Every second a teacher is forced to march their class through test prep, we are one step closer to losing this war.

It’s time to treat this as a real war. We have a weapon that is more powerful, more influential, more effective than anything they can throw at us.  That weapon is solidarity!

Solidarity has been used effectively to advance real change through history. We need to build strong grassroot links across our communities. Educate parents and your neighbors on the perils of losing their neighborhood schools. Visit with local Chambers of Commerce’s and discuss with them that education and tax reform are two separate issues and they should not be used to drive each other. Boycott media outlets that influence and not report. Get active in politics and drive those, who desire to split our nation, into the haves and have nots out of our state houses, governor’s mansions and even our city halls. Demand that your local school boards treat their teachers with respect and focus with laser like precision on what children really need rather on trying to jump through some reformer’s hoop.

And most importantly ….VOTE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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