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

Archive for the tag “Cuomo”

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

President

New Hyde Park- Garden City Park Teachers’ Association

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!

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?

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?

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.

The culture of testing continues in NYS.

The culture of testing is about to be given a lifeline in a 4 way deal tonight in Albany. Governor Cuomo, the Assembly, the Senate, and NYSUT will be agreeing on a 2 year deal, that will continue to allow the students of New York to be tested for hours upon hours every school year. \

Last month I wrote that I was ashamed to be a teacher. Tonight, this proposed deal does absolutely nothing to address the concerns I wrote about. This proposed deal, ignores the institutional abuse we put our children and students through to prove that a series of tests, and rubrics can determine who is a good teacher  and who is not.

Here is a link to the bill

We were told that they were working towards a moratorium. That turned out to be untrue. The bill even states that this is NOT a moratorium. Now we are being told it is like hitting the reset button. This too is not true. A reset button starts something over, this bill does not do that. We are being promised that it gives us time to work things out. Really? What the hell have we been doing for the past several years? How does this bill give us time?

So here we are tonight, Albany working in it’s archaic way. Backroom deals abound. Promises made with fingers crossed. Sales pitches to the masses, that seem to ignore that  we can read what you just voted on.

NYSUT has been treading softly on Cuomo’s turf since our RA. My question now is why? For this?

So come next April it looks like I will be writing this again.

“Today I finished administering the sixth day of New York State Common Core assessments. I was a facilitator in a process that made my 10 year old students struggle,to the point of frustration, to complete yet another 90 minute test. I sat by as I watched my students attempt to answer questions today that were beyond their abilities. I knew the test booklets I put in front of them contained questions that were written in a way that 95% of them had no chance of solving. I even tried to give my students a pep talk, in hopes of alleviating their angst, when I knew damn well they didn’t stand a chance. Today I was part of the problem.

Governor Cuomo, and State Senator Martins, I pledge to you that you will not get my vote in November. I Pledge that I will actively work to have you voted out.

NYSUT, I pledge to you, that I will not be silent. I will continue to do whatever needs to be done to be sure our union works from a position of strength not from a position of fear of the Governor.

 

 

Time to reflect.. but not for long

As I sit in my backyard,  contemplating another end to another school year, I am drawn to the thoughts of why does this year seem so different than others. In the past, I would often look at summer break as an opportunity to unwind, reflect, recharge, and prepare for the following year’s challenges. But, this year is different, much different. The distractions caused by education reformers, political agendas, corporate raiders, and social upheaval have taken a toll. It has taken a toll on me, on how I teach,and on my students.

Education reformers have been successful in turning my classroom into some grand social experiment. We now march through a curriculum that is  geared towards a Common Core test that is meant to evaluate teachers and administrators. Our vocabulary lists now include words most likely to be found on these tests and we are now told to assess our students against these one size fits all standards. I have to test my students several times a year on an internet based program to determine their growth against students of their own ability. This is the true Race to The Top, as students are placed in categories and their growth scores are calculated to determine my effectiveness. They have turned our classrooms into assembly lines.

My administrators visit my classroom almost daily with a clipboard and  a  rubric used to again measure me. They look at my room and judge me on everything from what is on my walls to whether or not a kid may be daydreaming. I guess in today’s world, kids are not allowed to daydream, especially when an administrator happens by.

Political agendas have also been successful in upending my teaching apple cart. Here in New York, we have Governor Cuomo, who proclaims himself to be the state’s only student advocate. He proudly proclaims his tax cap policy is good for the state while  he funds his schools below 2009 levels. He seeks out tax breaks for millionaires while those of us in the classroom scramble to secure needed resources wherever we can. I have watched teachers lose their jobs all across the state as the concept of one person one vote has been thrown under the wheels of  his bus. This year we have seen the same Regents, that have approved the mess we are in, reappointed by our legislature. I have also personally felt the rage of my NYS Assemblywomen when I dared questioned her on vote.

On a national level, I supported President Obama’s re-election and heard his State of the Union as he praised teachers and asked for less high stakes tests. Yet, his Secretary of Education has failed or refused to do anything about it. Now we have to defend against an attack on  a teacher’s right to due process,and  justify our earned pensions. I have watched schools closed in places like Chicago and teachers’ unions vilified for standing up for the students their members teach.

Corporate raiders have begun the takeover of public education. They have discovered billions of dollars meant for educating the children of our nation can now be theirs. They have driven the Common Core, which in turn requires new resources which they then sell. They have opened their own schools, often turning those with special needs away, as they rob the budgets of local districts. They have even taken over public facilities, driving public schools into corners of their own buildings.

Social upheaval often is by design. We now have lock down and lock out drills in our schools. We often have to use valuable resources on security plans as as we must now fortify our schools. All the while the gun lobbyists point at others every time another school  shooting occurs. When a nation averages 1 school shooting a week and does not mobilize resources to change our mindset, one has to conclude this is by design. When a nation refuses to address poverty as the real reason some children do not succeed, it is by design. When one segment of our population fills our prisons and as a nation we do not direct our resources into those communities, it is by design. There is no other answer.

So this year, I am ending my year by reflecting. There is no time to unwind. I need to recharge because our nation is at war. we are at war to protect our nation’s future.. our children. Our public schools are needed, and I am not ready to be defeated by those who want to destroy and then steal our nation’s most important asset. Will you join me?

Ashamed to be a teacher today

Today was the first day I was ever ashamed to be a teacher.

Today I finished administering the sixth day of New York State Common Core assessments. I was a facilitator in a process that made my 10 year old students struggle,to the point of frustration, to complete yet another 90 minute test. I sat by as I watched my students attempt to answer questions today that were beyond their abilities. I knew the test booklets I put in front of them contained questions that were written in a way that 95% of them had no chance of solving. I even tried to give my students a pep talk, in hopes of alleviating their angst, when I knew damn well they didn’t stand a chance. Today I was part of the problem.

As I watched my students, I was angry that my efforts to stop this madness were not successful. I was angry at my students’ parents for not opting out their children. I was angry at my administrators for not stepping up to the plate and attempting to end this madness. I was angry at Governor Cuomo, NY Education Commissioner King, the Board of Regents, my state senator, my state assemblyman, President Obama, and even my state union. I was angry that my students were victims in the abusive game to drive a political agenda.

I lost it today. I lost a little bit of my self esteem. I lost my faith in my Party. I lost my faith in my ability to protect my students. I lost my faith in our future.

I watched my students valiantly attempt math questions that most adults could not answer. These questions were wordy, and purposely confusing in a warped way to prove some vulgar point about our public education system. Historically, my students excel on standardized tests, often finishing near the top of our district and state. Today I witnessed , no I was part of!! students enduring an abusive situation.

Today I am ashamed. I am ashamed I didn’t do enough to stop this madness.

But, I am not done. I am pledging to double my efforts to stop this form of institution abuse. My state senator and assemblyman be warned that if you do not work to end this madness, I will work to have you replaced with someone who will. Governor Cuomo, be warned that I will work harder to ensure your sick agenda is exposes you for what you really are. Commissioner King, be warned that I will do whatever I can to make sure you are replaced.

Today is a dark day…but not for long.

Keep it simple…

We are not going to win this battle against the corporate reformers backing Common Core unless we become unified under a valid banner.

It’s simple.. Common Core Standards and high stakes testing have no pedagogical validity because there are no empirical studies that verifies they actual are capable of results the so called reformers claim. In addition, high stakes testing is a form of institutional abuse that must be halted immediately.

Unfortunately, that important message is being destroyed by some who claim they are against the Common Core.

Read David Brooks opinion piece this past week . He calls it a circus. He describes the Right Wing attacks and misrepresents the Left.

There are groups of all political persuasions that are against the Common Core, high stakes testing and education reform. That said, just because another group may be against something that I am also fighting, they are not considered my ally. You really need to explore the agenda of all groups.

I am against the Common Core and high stakes testing due to pedagogical reasons, while groups on the Right are against it for political reasons. Political arguments are self serving, they reflect a much larger agenda. Calling it Obamacore may feel good to some but it does not help our cause.

In this case these Right Wing groups are pushing a much darker agenda. They look at Common Core as a grand conspiracy by the left, meant to indoctrinate our children while creating a mega database of ammunition that will be used against the masses. I can’t be an ally to that rhetoric.

I have  called out that agenda by posting links on Twitter that demonstrated that their agenda is so far to the Right that all of us should be wary. These groups are against teachers unions, they are against tenure, they support vouchers, they claim liberal teachers are brainwashing their children, and they claim Common Core is a tool to undermine Christian values just to start.

I have been vocal about these groups before, I have shown links to the Heritage Foundation, Freedomworks, the Koch brothers, and other similar groups.  I posted proof that their keynote speakers ally themselves with Glenn Beck and the Cato institute.

I will not ally with any group that is looking for my demise as a public school teacher or as a union member. I won’t risk the war, to save our nation’s important asset, our public schools and teachers, to win any battle.

Don’t kid yourself, these Right wing groups that are fighting education reform, with their not so hidden agendas, will ultimately destroy any chance we have to beat back the reformers. They will undermine the foundation of our cause, And once they erode the very ground that public education stands on, all will be lost.

Case in point…Those of us in New York are doing battle with Democrat Governor Cuomo. The more the Right pushes their agenda, Cuomo digs in deeper ignoring the Democrats in the group appealing to pedagogical senses.

Is this any way to affect change?

It’s time to call these groups out. Expose their true agendas.  Then and only then will we really have a chance to save public education.

Keep it simple.. Common Core Standards and high stakes testing have no pedagogical validity because there are no empirical studies that verifies they actual are capable of results the so called reformers claim. In addition, high stakes testing is a form of institutional abuse that must be halted immediately.

 

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