Opine I will

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

Open Letter to Commissioner Elia

Dear Commissioner Elia,

This past Thursday your visit with Long Island teacher union presidents has validated the concerns I have with you as our Commissioner of Education and with your agenda. I listened carefully as you attempted to spin an agenda that was set by your predecessor, John King, and Governor Cuomo. You often hid behind federal policy or existing legislation as you addressed the concerns and questions posed to you that evening. Your attempt to blame our union for “agreeing” to the use of high stakes testing was sophomoric.  In addition, abruptly ending the meeting when you knew several of us wanted our turn to “ dialogue” with you was an insult to us and the thousands of teachers,( and teacher as parents ) on Long Island we represent.

I take exception to many things you stated when you met with us. You claimed that parents and teachers wrongly put everything that is negative in education today under the Common Core. You then attempted to spin that your Aim High NY survey somehow supported Common Core because they are high standards and that we just have to “rework” some of them.

Your Aim High NY survey was akin to a “push poll’ in politics. It was nearly impossible to condemn the Common Core Standards, it was cumbersome to answer and the survey taker was forced to work within the Common Core to offer changes. Yes, you were right when you stated we want high standards, who would be against that? You use that premise as you continue to spin faulty, abusive standards. New York had high standards, and before your predecessor push for the Common Core, NYSED was working towards improving them. I would like to know, how much was spent on that effort and where did those recommendations go?

When questioned  about the state assessments and with comments that we felt these tests were abusive and hurt children, your response was cold hearted and left me feeling that your really don’t care what children are facing as long as we meet a federal mandate. Your claim that the tests will be shorter and that tests will be untimed was addressed by those in attendance. We asked about ESL students, students with special needs and the concern that this new plan will not work. You fell back on your reform agenda to provide answers that only led to a validation that things are not changing and that you have been charged to drive Governor Cuomo’s and John King’s reform agenda.

Your simplistic view that parents and teachers are ‘stressed’ and that you are attempting to relieve that stress by listening to us and working towards some sort of change is nothing more than spin. You said that you believe in a standardized evaluation system that uses assessments as a component of that system. That is not relieving stress, that is signaling that the state will continue to abuse children with high stakes assessments that are meant to drive a political agenda.

When you were questioned on APPR, you stated that some state that there is a 4 year moratorium on using those scores but you prefer calling it a transformational period. You stated that scores will not be used for 4 years. Yet, when someone questioned that they may be used in the future you claimed they would not. You did not address the fact that the new scores will still be generated and distributed to teachers, districts, parents and the press. You did not address the fact that those scores will be used as advisory scores for districts. You did not address the fact that the assessments are based on standards that you admit are seen as inappropriate for many children and that are currently being rewritten. You claim these assessments are mandated by federal policy. My question for you is this; does federal policy require 8-9 10 year olds to take 9+ hours of exams?

Your response to the Opt Out movement was disturbing. You said that New York had the highest Opt Out rate in the nation and in the same breath you said, that Opt Out was not a factor that has driven you to do anything you have done in the last 8 month. Then you went on to say that you hoped that parents would let their children take the tests this year. You were then told to expect Opt Out rates to soar this year. We informed you that these tests have no instructional value. Your flip response was that additional questions have and will be released. You failed miserably to address our concerns and as a result many of us have begun to double down on our support for the Opt Out movement.

You touted that in Hillsborough, Florida, you worked with the local union to develop an evaluation process. With all due respect, New York is not Florida and Long Island certainly is not Hillsborough. The results on Long Island are clear; if we were a state we would lead the nation and the world. We do not need your “fixing”.

You claim that you have been throughout the entire state “listening”. Your social media campaign, including your Twitter account is chock full of your attempts to spin the comments on your so called “listening tour”. But one thing became perfectly clear to me on Thursday evening. Your “listening tour” is not about you listening to the parents and educators in the state, it’s more about we should “listen” to you. And that Commissioner is a shame.  This local president listened and I have no confidence in you or your agenda.

Respectfully submitted

Ralph Ratto


New Hyde Park- Garden City Park Teachers’ Association

A question for the new year

This is usually the month that a so called pedagogical  necessity  is used all across our nation.  I think we all need to think about the following.

Were the engineers, scientists, or contractors who designed the lunar module and put men on the moon ever forced to undergo this so called pedagogical  necessity?comamndandlunar

How about the engineers and laborers who tamed a mighty river and designed  and built the Hoover Dam to supply electricity for millions, do you think they ever were forced to undergo this so called pedagogical  necessity?


The Empire State Building was construct in only one year. Do you think the architects, contractors, laborers, financial backers of this monumental icon were forced to undergo this so called pedagogical  necessity?

The ” Greatest Generation ” saved the world and guaranteed a future for all of us. Do you think they were forced to undergo this so called pedagogical  necessity?


Do you think scientists and doctors who achieved medical breakthroughs, such as Dr. Jonas Salk   were ever subjected  and were forced to undergo this so called pedagogical  necessity?


Look at this shot of the construction of New York’s Verrazano bridge. Fifty years ago, the people who imagined, planned, and built this might structure were never subjected  or forced to undergo this so called pedagogical  necessity!verrazano

My question today is, where is the evidence that subjecting our elementary school children to hours of ‘ benchmark testing’ to assess their readiness for high stakes standardized testing, helps our nation?

All across the nation, elementary school children are being ‘measured’ by this  so called pedagogical tool. Ask yourselves why?



Saving Social Studies

As a fifth grade teacher, in New York State, I have felt the pressure of ‘fitting in’ Social Studies into my daily schedule.  Language Arts  and Math ‘block times’ have eaten away at the available time each day to teach the subject that is the most important.

I worry that NY’s new Social Studies Framework linked to the Common Core will effectively erode the curriculum into a series of tasks that have very little to do with learning about our past. Sites such as those provided by Putnam/ Northern Westchester BOCES are already watering down the curriculum. They have reduced learning about Europeans encountering Native Americans down to a 2 day lesson.

Imagine that! Two days!!

(I have included that 2 day lesson at the end of this posting)

Talk about watering down  a curriculum.

Over the past several years I have seen the time I have spent teaching Social Studies dwindle. I tried incorporating it into my ELA Block but, unfortunately I have had students leave my room during my ELA Block because they may have an Individualized Education Plan that mandates they  receive ELA instruction in a smaller setting. So if I combined Science or Social Studies into my ELA Block they would lose out.

I scheduled Social Studies in my plans but often those plans were interrupted. I was frustrated and was counseled that teaching Social Studies three days a week was just fine.Well it may be fine with my administrators, bit it certainly was not fine with me!

I love teaching fifth grade Social Studies. It’s focus is on the Western Hemisphere. It should be taught as a timeline, starting with how indigenous peoples settled into new lands and developed advanced civilizations that amazed European explorers. It should be focused on the “Peoples” struggles and advances.

Social Studies should not be taught in topics that are isolated from each other. In order for students to really understand what they are being exposed to, we as teachers must carefully build their schema.

This year I am taking a stand, in my classroom. I make sure I teach Social Studies every day.

I use various sources, including a wonderful series of books by Joy Hakim.  I use videos, audio recordings, and even Howard Zinn’s People History of the United States. I’ve read stories about Sitting Bull, and I am currently reading the biography of Chief Joseph Medicine Crow, Counting Coup.  So far my students have learned about the great civilizations of the Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, Mississipeans, Makahs, Iroquios, Anasazi, and more. We have learned about European exploration and conquest. We discussed the lust for gold, riches, and power that have shaped our historic background.

Currently we have begun to explore the formation of the English colonies and we will be analyzing the differences between them and how they interacted with Native Americans.

This week we began a new project. Using Legos my students will create their own Utopian civilization. Before they are allowed to use any resources ( Legos) they have been charged to develop a plan for their civilization. So far they have chosen a leader, established rules for discussions and began the process of deciding  just what their civilization will contain. They are discussing whether or not their economy will be based on farming,defense, healthcare, education, religion, tolerance and more.

This project is providing wonderful opportunities for me to teach. For example, one student stated that she wants to provide housing for the homeless. I used that as a catalyst to ask them to think of ways to ensure there are no homeless in their civilization.

At this point, my class is also writing individual essays on what they really want their civilization to be all about. Tomorrow I will be asking them to share their thoughts and to compromise on a shared solution.

Eventually they will be using the available resources to build their civilization.  

 In the meantime, we will read about the Puritans, Ann Hutchinson, William Penn and others and perhaps that may lead us in another direction.

In the meantime, I will post periodic updates of my class Utopia as I thumb my nose at lessons like these from BOCES.

Lesson 2: Europeans Encounter Native Americans


  • Students will examine how the Native Americans viewed the Europeans, and then look at two case studies involving the interaction of the Native Americans and the Europeans.
    Suggested time allowance: 2 class periods

Unifying Themes: (based on the National Council for the Social Studies)

  • Geography, Humans and the Environment
  • Development, Movement, and Interaction of Cultures
  • Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Global Connections and Exchange

New York State Social Studies Framework

  • Social Studies Standards
    • 1: United States and New York
    • 2: World History
    • 3: Geography
  • Key Ideas and Conceptual Understandings
    • 5.3 European Exploration and Its Effects: Various European powers explored and eventually colonized the Western Hemisphere. This had a profound impact on Native Americans and led to the transatlantic slave trade.
      • 5.3b Europeans encountered and interacted with Native Americans in a variety of ways.
  • Social Studies Practices:
    • Gathering, Using and Interpreting Evidence
      • Recognize and use different forms of evidence used to making meaning in social studies (including sources such as art and photographs, artifacts, oral histories, maps, and graphs).
    • Comparison and Contextualization
      • Categorize divergent perspectives of an individual historical event.
      • Identify how the relationship among geography, economics, and history helps to define a context for events in the study of the Western Hemisphere.

Common Core Learning Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies

  • RH.5-8.9: Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic
  • RL.5.1: Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • RL.5.2: Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
  • RL.5.6: Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described
  • WHST.5-7.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • WHST.5-8.6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.
  • WHST.5-8.8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

Unit Essential Question:

  • Do interactions between peoples always lead to positive results?


Day 1

1. Read excerpts from Morning Girl and its parallel text, Journal Entry by Christopher Columbus.Teachers can find both excerpts in Primary Sources and Literature Readings, or use the book Morning Girl by Michael Dorris and the Journal entry included here. If you wish, use Encounter instead of Morning Girl.

2. Have students consider the ways the young girl and Columbus viewed one another and their respective cultural groups. What were each group’s impressions and intentions? Students will make a T chart or a Venn diagram to record the similarities and differences of the perspectives of the two groups/

3. Project “Images and Descriptions Columbus and the Taino.” (included) Discuss the images and excerpts from the diaries and journal. How do these images and description add to what we already know?

Day 2

1. Introduce or review the definition of “turning point” and note that the class will analyze what happened to the Aztec when they encountered the Europeans as an example of a turning point. Explain that the Spanish conquistador, Cortez led an army against the Aztecs in 1521 and conquered them.

2. Distribute the “Compare and Contrast Chart for the Aztec” (included) and have students cover the “after” column when discussing the “before” column.

3. Ask guiding questions that will require the students to read and extract information from the compare/contrast chart such as

  • Where did the Aztec live before the Spanish Conquest?
  • What were some of their technological achievements before the Spanish Conquest?

4. Teacher can utilize a map of Mexico and Central America when discussing the geographic location category, by pointing, or asking a student to point to the areas that were inhabited by the Aztecs. Teacher should ask questions about location and ask students to hypothesize about why the Spanish would be interested in this area (Example: resources, land, treasure, etc.)

5. At the end of the discussion for the “before” column, students will be asked to read to themselves the information presented in the “after” column.

6. The class as a whole will do a verbal compare and contrast of the Aztecs before and after the Spanish Conquest. Teacher will direct discussion by using guiding questions if necessary.

  • What is the difference/similarities pre- and post- Spanish Conquest in language?
  • What do you think is the biggest difference in Aztec life after the Spanish Conquest?
  • How was the Conquest a turning point in Aztec life?

7. For homework: students will create a double–sided playing card to illustrate the turning point for Aztec life.


  • Completed T-Chart
  • Trading Card

Vocabulary (See Glossary for definitions)

  • turning point
  • conquistador
  • demographics
  • encomienda
  • indigenous population
  • Latinos
  • pandemic
  • polytheism


CCSS feedback memorialized

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) is conducting a review of the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics. Several groups including NYSUT and Superintendents are asking for our feedback on the current standards.

Since I am a 5th grade teacher I have reviewed each 5th grade standard and made comments on the what should be changed. I will be forwarding my feedback to the appropriate groups.  I am also posting them here as a way to memorialize my feedback. Hopefully this will lead others to do the same as proof that we tried to work within the system.

Our particular comments must be made public. We have no assurances from NYSED that all comments will be read. Therefore let’s use a little grassroots activism to post our specific objections to each and every standard.

Here’s mine:

Suggested changes to 5th grade ELA and Math Standard

Reading Standards for Literature K–5

2-  Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

 ( not age appropriate very subjective)

3-Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).

( poor example leads to misinterpretation of the standard)

6-Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described. a. Recognize and describe how an author’s background and culture affect his or her perspective.

(Not age appropriate- student lack necessary schema)

7- Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

(Not appropriate—who decides what beauty is? )

9- Compare and contrast stories in the same genre (e.g., mysteries and adventure stories) on their approaches to similar themes and topics.

(redundant and leads to misinterpretation of the standard)

Responding to Literature

  1. Recognize, interpret, and make connections in narratives, poetry, and drama, to other texts, ideas, cultural perspectives, eras, personal events, and situations. a. Self-select text to develop personal preferences regarding favorite authors. b. Use established criteria to categorize, select texts and assess to make informed judgments about the quality of the pieces.

( Too subjective. Students lack schema to judge quality)

Reading Standards for Informational Text K–5

  1. Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.

(quickly and efficiently are too subjective -leads to misinterpretation of the standard )

10-By the end of the year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grades 4–5 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

(high end? Should be in the grade band)

Writing Standards K–5

  1. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.) a. Produce text (print or nonprint) that explores a variety of cultures and perspectives.

(Not age appropriate)

6- With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of two pages in a single sitting.

(How long is a sitting? Too subjective- leads to misinterpretation of the standard)

  1. Create and present an original poem, narrative, play, art work, or literary critique in response to a particular author or theme studied in class. a. Recognize and illustrate social, historical, and cultural features in the presentation of literary texts.

(Students lack schema- leads to misinterpretation of the standard)

Speaking and Listening Standards K–5

1-Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly. a. Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion. b. Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions and carry out assigned roles. c. Pose and respond to specific questions by making comments that contribute to the discussion and elaborate on the remarks of others. d. Review the key ideas expressed and draw conclusions in light of information and knowledge gained from the discussions. e. Seek to understand and communicate with individuals from different perspectives and cultural backgrounds. f. Use their experience and their knowledge of language and logic, as well as culture, to think analytically, address problems creatively, and advocate persuasively

( not age appropriate- students lack schema)

Language Standards K–5

3-Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening. a. Expand, combine, and reduce sentences for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style. b. Compare and contrast the varieties of English (e.g., dialects, registers) used in stories, dramas, or poems.

(To what extent?  Not age appropriate, students lack schema)




Number & Operations in Base Ten 5.NBT

  1. Find whole-number quotients of whole numbers with up to four-digit dividends and two-digit divisors, using strategies based on place value, the properties of operations, and/or the relationship between multiplication and division. Illustrate and explain the calculation by using equations, rectangular arrays, and/or area models.

(Strike “and”– area models are not mathematically sound in all situations- leads to misinterpretation of the standard)

  1. Add, subtract, multiply, and divide decimals to hundredths, using concrete models or drawings and strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction; relate the strategy to a written method and explain the reasoning used.

(Strike ‘and” and replace with or- )

Number & Operations—Fractions 5.NF

  1. Solve word problems involving addition and subtraction of fractions referring to the same whole, including cases of unlike denominators, e.g., by using visual fraction models or equations to represent the problem. Use benchmark fractions and number sense of fractions to estimate mentally and assess the reasonableness of answers. For example, recognize an incorrect result 2/5 + 1/2 = 3/7, by observing that 3/7 < 1/2.

(the entire concept of reasonableness is too subjective.. using visual fraction models as an example leads to a misinterpretation of the standard)

  1. Interpret a fraction as division of the numerator by the denominator (a/b = a ÷ b). Solve word problems involving division of whole numbers leading to answers in the form of fractions or mixed numbers, e.g., by using visual fraction models or equations to represent the problem. For example, interpret 3/4 as the result of dividing 3 by 4, noting that 3/4 multiplied by 4 equals 3, and that when 3 wholes are shared equally among 4 people each person has a share of size 3/4. If 9 people want to share a 50-pound sack of rice equally by weight, how many pounds of rice should each person get? Between what two whole numbers does your answer lie?

( examples shown lead to misinterpretation of the standard)

  1. Apply and extend previous understandings of multiplication to multiply a fraction or whole number by a fraction. a. Interpret the product (a/b) × q as a parts of a partition of q into b equal parts; equivalently, as the result of a sequence of operations a × q ÷ b. For example, use a visual fraction model to show (2/3) × 4 = 8/3, and create a story context for this equation. Do the same with (2/3) × (4/5) = 8/15. (In general, (a/b) × (c/d) = ac/bd.) b. Find the area of a rectangle with fractional side lengths by tiling it with unit squares of the appropriate unit fraction side lengths, and show that the area is the same as would be found by multiplying the side lengths. Multiply fractional side lengths to find areas of rectangles, and represent fraction products as rectangular areas

( Not age appropriate, children often lack fine motor skills to perform the rectangle task above, and examples shown lead to misinterpretation of the standard)

  1. Interpret multiplication as scaling (resizing), by: a. Comparing the size of a product to the size of one factor on the basis of the size of the other factor, without performing the indicated multiplication. b. Explaining why multiplying a given number by a fraction greater than 1 results in a product greater than the given number (recognizing multiplication by whole numbers greater than 1 as a familiar case); explaining why multiplying a given number by a fraction less than 1 results in a product smaller than the given number; and relating the principle of fraction equivalence a/b = (n × a)/(n × b) to the effect of multiplying a/b by 1

( not age appropriate, should be in an upper grade)

  1. Solve real world problems involving multiplication of fractions and mixed numbers, e.g., by using visual fraction models or equations to represent the problem.

(Overreach – telling how to solve is a curriculum not a standard)

  1. Apply and extend previous understandings of division to divide unit fractions by whole numbers and whole numbers by unit fractions.1 a. Interpret division of a unit fraction by a non-zero whole number, and compute such quotients. For example, create a story context for (1/3) ÷ 4, and use a visual fraction model to show the quotient. Use the relationship between multiplication and division to explain that (1/3) ÷ 4 = 1/12 because (1/12) × 4 = 1/3. b. Interpret division of a whole number by a unit fraction, and compute such quotients. For example, create a story context for 4 ÷ (1/5), and use a visual fraction model to show the quotient. Use the relationship between multiplication and division to explain that 4 ÷ (1/5) = 20 because 20 × (1/5) = 4. c. Solve real world problems involving division of unit fractions by non-zero whole numbers and division of whole numbers by unit fractions, e.g., by using visual fraction models and equations to represent the problem. For example, how much chocolate will each person get if 3 people share 1/2 lb of chocolate equally? How many 1/3-cup servings are in 2 cups of raisins?

(visual models should be a strategy than MAY be used not must be used)

Measurement & Data 5.MD

  1. Relate volume to the operations of multiplication and addition and solve real world and mathematical problems involving volume. a. Find the volume of a right rectangular prism with whole-number side lengths by packing it with unit cubes, and show that the volume is the same as would be found by multiplying the edge lengths, equivalently by multiplying the height by the area of the base. Represent threefold whole-number products as volumes, e.g., to represent the associative property of multiplication. b. Apply the formulas V = l × w × h and V = b × h for rectangular prisms to find volumes of right rectangular prisms with whole-number edge lengths in the context of solving real world and mathematical problems. c. Recognize volume as additive. Find volumes of solid figures composed of two non-overlapping right rectangular prisms by adding the volumes of the non-overlapping parts, applying this technique to solve real world problems

( V=bxh is misleading.. it should be V=lxwxh  in the first example lower case b represents the area of the base when finding the area of a triangle A=1/2bh   it confuses the  student and is not needed)

Elia’s misdirection campaign.

New York’s recently appointed Commissioner of Education Mary Ellen Elia has concluded her fraudulent “listening tour” and has now embarked on a massive misdirection campaign.  Much like the sight of hand I wrote about here, she continues to drive her misguided agenda.

Elia has set up a new initiative called  AIMHighNY.  ( Nice name, I wish Cuomo would have aimed higher when searching for a Commissioner )

Fresh off her listening tour she has  created a website that contains a survey on the Common Core. She states,

 “NYSED is conducting a survey in order to provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the standards.”  That’s what we hear.. but this is what she goes on to say.. The survey’s intent is to Improve what already exists; don’t start over.”

She is supposedly going to ‘listen’ to public comment but refuses to start over. Her survey  is cumbersome, time consuming and designed to make us all fall in line.  Elia tells us,

that this survey is  not a referendum on the standards. Only comments tied to a specific standard will be considered.

Today I learned about her latest move. She set up this website called “Assessment Toolkit” which is nothing more that a public relations campaigned that provides school superintendents, politicians, and others with ‘talking points’ to sell high stakes testing.

The little credibility Mary Ellen Elia may have had is now shot to Hell. She claims to be listening to parents, teachers, and educators,yet at the same time developing talking points to push her agenda. And she promises more to come! That’s not listening, that’s attempting to pull a fast one.

Elia we are on to you.. watch the opt-outs soar!

“It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.”

Frank Luntz  is famous for his focus groups and language testing, and was behind phrases like the death tax (instead of the estate tax) and the GOP’s Contract with America. He is also behind the moniker

“It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.” 

Remember the “ Patriot Act”? Do you really think true patriots would have supported a law that violated our Constitutional Right to privacy?

While Luntz is not responsible for ‘ No Child left Behind” ,  “ The Common Core”, and  “ Race To the Top”, each phrase can be described the same. The phrase has nothing to do with what we hear. It’s a purposeful misdirection, much like a magician’s sleight of hand.  Say one thing, but mean another that will drive an agenda that cannot survive in the daylight of public opinion.

In 2012 President Obama charged the nation with the following  in his State of the Union ,

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. “

Since then as we raced to the top, more teachers have lost their jobs, resources are being diverted towards test prep, good teachers are not able to really teach, schools and teachers are following test prep scripts, and high stakes testing is out of control.

Yesterday President Obama called for a 2% cap on testing! It sounds good and already the NEA and others are applauding this statement has a huge shift in policy.  Well those of us in New York know it’s just another case of  “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.” 

We know Obama was given this talking point by new acting Secretary of Education John King. King was basically run out of New York when, as our Commissioner of Education , he doubled down on high stakes tests, then tried to blame local districts for over testing. He then declared his own 2% cap.

We now test for 9 hours in New York and  if we actually went to 2% our test time would soar to approximately 25 hours! Is that what they are saying? Test for 25 hours?

We also have another devastating 2% cap in NY. A 2% tax cap that has resulted in  an increased class size, many being programs cut, thousands of teachers to lose their jobs, school districts to be thrown into  financial distress, and children to lose out on a full education. Perhaps John King forgot to mention to Obama that using a 2% threshold may not be a good talking point.

In New York, our new Commissioner of Education Elia has set up a new initiative called  AIMHighNY.  Remember,  “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.” 

After over 250,000 opt outs of state tests, Commissioner Elia, fresh off her listening tour (“It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.” ) has  created a website that contains a survey on the Common Core. She states,

 “NYSED is conducting a survey in order to provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the standards.”  That’s what we hear.. but this is what she goes on to say.. The survey’s intent is to Improve what already exists; don’t start over.

I spent 3 hours today attempting to go through the 5th grade standards on this survey. The survey is cumbersome, time consuming and designed to make us all fall in line.  Elia tells us,

that this survey is  not a referendum on the standards. Only comments tied to a specific standard will be considered.

I bet she will use it as her own referendum.  Watch for her upcoming comments after the flawed results are in.

When Elia, Duncan. King, or Obama say.

 …we want the best possible standards as we continue to move forward on the progress that has been made in academic achievement.

As we watch the political fiasco surrounding presidential candidates, ask yourself a simple question, does what I am hearing really jive with what they are saying?

Is this just another sleight of hand ruse?

Is the pendulum really swinging or are we just part of a sleight of hand ruse?

3 card Monte

As a deadline creeps closer and school districts all across New York State huddle in negotiations with local teacher associations to agree on a new evaluation plan, under the threat of a loss in state aid, a prominent Regent and Governor Cuomo have either come to their senses or are imitating Penn and Teller.

Regent Tillis of Long Island said to a forum of teachers,  “I oppose the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers and principals,” and  “not admitting a mistake is making a bigger mistake.” He also called for an end to the use of the state’s so-called “growth scores,” and he recommended changes in state law that would allow more emphasis on local measures of achievement. These would include “Student Learning Objectives” — assessments adopted by school districts — as well as teacher-written tests and “portfolios” of students’ classwork. He also made a point to say he was speaking as an individual and not for the Board of Regents.

At the next meeting of the Board of Regents on Sept. 16-17 they will be voting to make the new teacher-principal evaluation rules permanent. The question remains, will Tilli’s vote reflect his bold statement to teachers or will he say once again he has no choice but to continue the status quo? Are his words just a distraction from the criticism he has been receiving, much like a Penn and Teller trick? I hope not.

New York Governor Cuomo issued a press release today stating ,

 “The fact is that the current Common Core program in New York is not working, and must be fixed. To that end, the time has come for a comprehensive review of the implementation of the Common Core Standards, curriculum, guidance and tests in order to address local concerns. I am taking this action not because I don’t believe in standards, but because I do.”

He promised to ask  a representative group from his former Education Commission, including education experts, teachers, parents, the Commissioner of Education and legislative representatives to perform a comprehensive review of the implementation of the Common Core Standards, curriculum, guidance and tests in order to address local concerns.

Cuomo’s sleight of hand has been exposed before. I don’t trust him anymore than I would trust the guy on the corner playing 3 Card Monte.

Cuomo states, in his press release, that he believes in the standards and he blames the NYS Education Department for its faulty implementation, even though he held state aide hostage until his vision for implementation was adhered to.  Cuomo goes on to say he sympathizes with the frustration of parents yet he refuses to visit with them at the schools where their children go.

Cuomo refuses to meet with teachers, refuses to visit our classes, and he knows full well that he continues to hold state aide hostage today, until teachers agree to his faulty rollout of Common Core.  Notice he is not calling an immediate halt of his new evaluation plan!

What do you think? Is that pendulum swinging or are we the target of a sick magic trick?

Preparing for Another Year

This is my last week of summer vacation.  It used to be a time of pure excited anticipation of a brand new school year. It used to be a great time of year. But all that has changed.

Today, I prepare for another year.

My year will start with the grand presentation of new teacher ratings based on last year’s tests. What will our ratings be? Are we highly effective or ineffective? Did last year’s students score well or not? If they didn’t do well, I won’t ever find out which questions they got wrong.

As our Teacher Association President, will I be able to help any of my colleagues that may be at risk due to these tests? How do we appeal results based on questions we cannot even review? Is this mysterious data based on a value added method even valid?

Last year, we informed parents that our Association supported a parent’s decision to opt out. Our district had about 26% of our students opt out. Did this skew the data? I think so. I also think it should invalidate the data.

Our new NY Education Commissioner, Mary Elia, said last week that teachers were unethical for supporting the Opt Out movement. I question her ethics.  Her unethical rant last week, condemning a parent’s right to avoid inappropriate and abusive testing for their children warrants her immediate removal.

So as I prepare for the coming year, I will be thinking about our new Commissioner.  I will be meeting with my colleagues to discuss how we should defensively negotiate a new evaluation plan imposed on us, even though our collective bargaining rights were slashed when it comes to our evaluation plan.

I will be discussing how we must be ready for a possible devastating decision by the Supreme Court. I will be discussing how to make our association stronger and how we must strengthen our partnership with parents and other community members.

I will be discussing how there are Presidential candidates who want to punch us in the face, close our faculty rooms to keep us from each other, take away our pensions, sell our schools and destroy our unions.

I will be also discussing how we will navigate with or around yet another Language Arts and Math curriculum supposedly aligned with the Common Core that is geared towards even more tests.

And somehow, I will be ready to meet these challenges and provide what is needed for every single one of my students, which is best done by closing my classroom door ignoring the distractors and doing what I know best, teach!

Swimming upstream

salmonAs a local union leader I often feel as though I am swimming upstream,often struggling against the current to accomplish a task that is needed for the survival of my local. Unlike salmon who swim upstream to propagate their species then die each year, union leaders struggle many years then ultimately hand over the reigns to another to continue on the never ending trek against the current.

Last year the current was particularly strong for me, as I negotiated a new labor agreement for my members. I had to deal with man made obstacles such as New York State Governor Cuomo’s tax cap, the rise in health care costs, APPR, and the public’s yen to make teachers our national scapegoats. I successfully navigated my way through those obstacle and ensured that my local will continue to thrive.

As I look upstream I see rapids ahead that are unlike any I have ever seen before. The Supreme Court may add an insurmountable  obstacle in our way. Friedrichs v California Teachers Association could be the death knell for our union. But unlike the salmon, we have legs. Our legs are our members that can get us out of the strong opposition current and lead us along a portage around the deadly obstacle.

The really bad news though is, the salmon are dying before they even have the chance to battle the current. They can not handle the hot waters due to climate change. And just like the salmon we could die as well unless our union sisters and brothers resist the urge to sit back and hope someone else will take the lead.dead salmon

Apathy will sap our strength and destroy us as the public climate heats up all around us. We may never have the chance to use our legs and sidestep the obstacles around us.

Get involved.

About to get bowled over!

I just don’t get it. Just when we seemed to slow down that pendulum of education deform, just when it looked as though it may actually stop  swinging menacingly at us, it seems as though a collective “heave ho!” could be heard all across New York. That menacing pendulum was given a huge unanimous push by the newly revised Board of Regents with help from NYSUT and the AFT. The question remains, which direction was it pushed?

When the Regents appointed former Hillsborough, Florida, schools chief MaryEllen Elia to become New York’s education chief,is the pendulum being push towards deform or away from it? Will public schools be bowled over or will the reformers be knocked out of our path?

Which way?

Will we get the Elia that is for VAM, Common Core, high stakes testing, firing 5% of teachers every year, merit pay, and Gates’ poisoned carrot on a stick mentality? Will we get the Elia that was fired from her former gig that three of the seven elected Hillsborough County School Board members lost confidence in her for reasons that included her response to two student deaths in 2012. Will we get the Elia that embraced the magnet school movement aggressively, became known for her extensive use of student performance data.Perhaps we will get the Elia that aggressively supports charter schools.

Will we get the Elia that NYSUT touts as having a background as a high school teacher and reading specialist, and her deep roots in Western New York, make her a welcome voice in the discussion about how to improve New York’s already strong public education system?

NYSUT somehow sees a silver lining in this storm cloud.

Well,I don’t!

I see a tornado that is about to push that pendulum and knock us all down like we are pins in a “Skittle Bowl” game!skittle bowl

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