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

Archive for the tag “Arne Duncan”

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”?

The perils of one size fits all.

We’ve all tried it.

You know, that great deal. One size fits all. Than to our dismay, we wonder what were we thinking?  We thought it would work than we realized, hey we’re all different. It doesn’t fit at all!

Why are education reforms now taking the one size fits all approach?

We’ve been taught that our society is the great melting pot. There is no other country in the world that is as differentiated as ours. We’ve come to realize that we all have individual needs and wants. Some of us even celebrate all the differences between us. Legislation has been fought over and won that protects those differences. Yet today we find ourselves in the position where the one size fits all mentality seems to be driving the education debate.

No Child Left Behind is an enormous unfunded mandate that sought to pigeon hole everyone into one category.  Every child will  read on grade level, 100%. An impossible task that follows the one size fits all mantra. Everyone will be tested, everyone will be ranked and everyone must be labeled. The goal was to fit everyone into the same mold of success. No one was to be left behind. What really happened is that no body moved forward.

Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top campaign pits states and school districts in a competition to conform with his initiative. Unfortunately every state or school district that does not fits into his idea of conformity loses out on much needed funds in these hard economic times. Holding needed funds hostage to high stakes testing, designed using the one size fits all approach, is devastating local budgets while doing an immense injustice to our children and teachers.

The new Common Core State Standards is another one size fits all campaign. The architects of this approach promise that all children will become college and career ready. All students will be required to master certain skills  at the same age, regardless of their differences. They’ll be tested with a one size fits all test. The Common Core ignores differentiation, ignores regional differences and needs, and stifles creativity. The standards state,

Students advancing through the grades are expected to meet each year’s grade-specific standards and retain or further develop skills and understandings mastered in preceding grades.

Or  else! How’s that for one size fits all?

States like New York have adopted new teacher evaluation systems that use the one size fits all approach. In addition, to being graded on how a teacher’s students do on a test of the Common Core Standards, they’ll also be observed utilizing a specific rubric or check list such as Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching . Another one size fits all approach. So now we’ll have administrators visiting our classroom with checklists on their I pads to see if we’re all conforming.  March in step, forget innovation, experimentation or common sense. Follow the rubric and in some cases follow the script. because one size needs to fit all.

Yesterday, Randi Weingarten proposed a Bar Exam for potential teachers.  Ignoring the different needs of each region she proposed a national standard for teacher readiness. yet another one size fits all approach. Feeding the naysayers, here proposal implies that yes, perhaps the one size fits all approach just might work.

The Texas GOP’s new platform is the most disturbing attempt at the one size fits all approach.  Here are a couple of there planks ( splinters really)

  • American Identity Patriotism and Loyalty – We believe the current teaching of a multicultural curriculum is divisive. We favor strengthening our common American identity and loyalty instead of political correctness that nurtures alienation among racial and ethnic groups.
  • Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

Texas buys 48 million textbooks every year. Their influence can be seen in every textbook across the nation. Is this the one size fit all approach we really want?

So what’s really  going on? Why has the one size fits all approach taken over education reform?  We’ve all heard the argument that schools should follow a business model.. really. ( We all know how well that has worked in business over the last 10 years)

Here’s the challenge to those naysayers out there. Spend a year in any  classroom across America, try to use your one size fits all approach, and then let’s talk.

Mr. Duncan- 90 periods lost forever

Dear Arne Duncan,

Your latest tweet got me thinking. 

Just how much will my kids miss next year, due to your policies? Looking at our new teacher evaluation scheme in NY (APPR), Race to the Top, NCLB and the infamous Common Core, I’ve done some rough calculations.

  • New York State now requires 9 hours of standardized testing
  • APPR mandated District assessments ( approx 3 hours)
  • Special area subject assessments due to NYS’s APPR ( Science, Music, PE, Art,  etc)  twice per year ( appox 1 hour each)
  • District assessments due to APPR for Science and Math used to evaluate teachers ( twice per year each= 4 hours)
  • District benchmark assessments per quarter for Math and ELA ( 8 hours)
  • I now take attendance 3 times per day for VAM data – ( 1 minute each time= 9 hours/year)
  • Due to new Common Core standards, I’ll most likely have at least 1 day of professional development ( 7 hours)
  • New York State usually has a their students complete a field test – ( 1.5 hours)
  • Practice time to expose kids to testing procedures and format- ( 1 hour/day for 2 weeks= 10 hours)
  • Common Core standards requires  Math fluency that must be assessed ( 1 hour)

Approximate lost learning time next year due to your policies–  60 hours!

Given a 40 minute typical class period, my students will lose 90 class periods of learning time. Lost forever Mr. Duncan, forever!

So what’s the plan to deal with these unintended consequences Mr. Secretary?

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