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

Archive for the tag “Diane Ravitch”



On this 4th of July it is appropriate to quote our Declaration of Independence in response to those that want to undermine our public schools.

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes;”

To paraphrase from the Declaration,

On this Independence Day it’s time to declare that our public education system will no longer be subjected to a long train of abuses and usurpations, under a design to reduce it under absolute Despotism, it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off such forces, and to provide new Guards for future security of our schools!

Dane Ravitch shared a leaked draft of the 2016 Democratic Party Platform. While there are many Planks that I strongly agree with, I must say that I am quite disappointed with the Planks on education. One would think that since the AFT and the NEA jumped on Hillary Clinton’s bandwagon with a way to early endorsement, education would be at the forefront of this Platform.

Unfortunately, this platform’s Plank on Early Childhood, Pre-K, and K-12 is  nothing more than rhetoric used to fill up a page in a meaningless statement. Much like Clinton’s promise to close every school that is below average, it actually puts our public schools at risk.

Let me first state that the Republican Party is in shambles and I will not support Trump or his Party. That said, I post the following in hopes that enough of us will speak out and demand real change.

When the Democratic Party declares that they will ensure there are great schools in every zip code and that the Federal Government will continue to play a critical role, it should send shivers up our collective spines. Just what does this mean?

Will the Party hand over control  of our schools over to John King to allow him to systematically wrest control away from local communities, much like he did in New York?

When bureaucrats tout high standards as a paradigm to success, we should be questioning whose standards? Just what are those standards and should the standards be the same for every child and every community in our diverse nation? Common Core is a failure and it appears the Democrats are doubling down on this miserable social experiment.

The Party Platform also states, “We will hold schools, districts, communities, and states  accountable for raising achievement levels for all students—particularly low-income students,  students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.” Does this mean the Party will continue the disaster of high stakes testing? Just what does accountability mean? Is this what Hillary meant when she said we should close every below average school? Simple math tells us below average means the bottom 50%. Is this the Party’s plan?

The Party’s  Plank also throw support behind charter schools. It claims increased transparency. Just what does that mean? Increased transparency does not mean total transparency. It does not mean that they will be held to the same standards as public schools. It does not mean that they will prevent charters from hand picking students, weeding out those with special needs, and hijacking space and resources from public schools.

They refuse to state that if they actually supported public schools and public school teachers there would not be any market for charter schools. Until we have true campaign finance reform, hedge funds  will continue to drive the Party’s Planks on education.

The bottom line, the AFT’s and NEA’s way to early endorsement resulted in a lackadaisical rhetoric   filled  platform that double down on the reformers agenda which will make us more dependent on false promises.

On this Independence Day it’s time to declare that our public education system will no longer be subjected to a long train of abuses and usurpations, under a design to reduce it under absolute Despotism, it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off such forces, and to provide new Guards for future security of our schools.

Let your voiced be heard, demand changes and take back our Party. Declare our independence from those working to destroy our nation’s future.




All politics is local

Today I  met with my New York State Senator , Jack Martins to discuss education and the reform agenda that is destroying public education.  I have been a vocal critic of Senator Martins over the last several years, so I do have to give him credit for agreeing to meet with me today. We spent over an hour discussing, APPR, high stakes testing, the tax cap, state funding, and the Common Core Standards.  I discovered that there was much agreement between the two of us, however I am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words.

I opened the discussion by presenting him with  brand new copy of Diane Ravitch’s new book, Reign of Error, I explained to him that when the state cuts funding for youth services and other programs that children in need depend on, it effects their performance in school. We discussed how socio-economic factors, that are beyond a classroom teacher’s control, affects their students.

I showed him my district’s testing schedule, and how my students will be losing over 53 learning periods this year. I explained that my 10 year old students will have to sit for 540 minutes this Spring to take these exams in order to rate me. I explained how that I viewed it as a form of child abuse.

We discussed many issues and I was happy to learn that there was common ground that we both could stand on.  Throughout our meeting I urged the Senator to read Diane’s book, and I explained how Diane addressed every topic we discussed today.

He asked what I thought he should do.  I told him to introduce legislation to get rid of the Tax Cap, abandon  APPR, and end high stakes testing. I implored him to demand to see research that supports Common Core and to work towards the removal of John King as Commissioner of Education as well as  Tisch from the Board of Regents.  The good news is that he seemed to agree with just about everything I said. But as a true politician he also used the caveat that some changes may not be achievable.

He informed me that the Senate will be having a hearing on education in the near future.  I told him that I thought that was good, however in order for me to believe that he was serious about changing the tide..he needed to have Diane Ravitch testify at his hearing. I explained to him that having Diane testify would be a good first step and it would send a message that he really wanted to know the real facts about graduation rates, international tests, VAM, and other reform issues.

He made no promises.. but time will tell. We’ll see if he wants to have a real hearing, or whether it  will be just another charade from Albany. You see, all politics is local, the last thing a politician wants is, his constituents to believe he is faking it. I don’t think Sen. Martin is… I hope isn’t.  I guess we’ll see.


Hostage Taking

Another wonderful article by Diane Ravitch that clearly lays out today’s real threat to public education.

Under today’s deformed standards, Socrates would be label ineffective because he believed that in order to learn one must be allowed to explore and fail.

Today’s new standards mandate that failure is not an option, ever. Every student and teacher must lockstep in unison through a common set of arbitrary deadlines and any deviations are deemed ineffective.

Race to the Top is not a race, it’s a death march for public education. Evaluating teachers via high stakes testing, is akin to executing those who can not keep up on this march, towards our new prison.

Teacher’s are barely hanging on to their most effective defensive weapon, collective bargaining. Let’s not kid ourselves, Cuomo, Bloomberg, and King are attempting to seize it. Once they do, we’ll be on that march and there will be no returning.

A must share

The following was posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog today. This is a must share and we all should distribute the following letter far and wide.


A Parent’s Letter to Frank Bruni of the New York Times

by dianerav

I just received this comment. This parent should be invited to appear on NBC’s “Education Nation,” on Morning Joe, on Rachel Maddow, on CNN’s “Newsroom,” and on any other talk show, most of which put people on camera who have never been public school parents or teachers or principals. She is more knowledgeable than Michelle Rhee or Bill Gates or any of the other “reformers”:

Dear Dr. Ravitch, 

I was composing my own letter to Frank Bruni early this morning, and didn’t see your post until later. Thanks, as always, for your advocacy. Below is a copy of the letter I emailed to Mr. Bruni this morning.

Rebecca Poyourow

Dear Mr. Bruni,

While I usually enjoy your opinion articles, I was dismayed by yesterday’s article on parent trigger laws. It seems to me that you do not know much about the issue and are relying for your talking points on the PR campaigns of the groups that support them, ironically not grass-roots parents’ groups but primarily astroturf groups with financial, policy, and personnel links reaching back to groups like ALEC (groups which you are certainly no fan of when it comes to their impact on other policy areas).

You seem to take for granted several ideas I would challenge you on: (1) that American public schools and teachers are failing, (2) that middle-class families should desert urban, public schools, (3) that charter schools are the answer to any problems in the current public educational system, and (4) that parent trigger laws would a helpful tool for remedying problems.

For the record, I am a parent with two children in my neighborhood public school in Philadelphia. Our school manages to hold together and serve well a coalition of low-income, blue-collar, and middle-class families with striking racial as well as socioeconomic diversity in a Philadelphia neighborhood–61% of our students are economically disadvantaged, 45% white, 45% black, 5% Latino, and 5% multiracial and other designations. We are not a rich school and cannot stage fundraisers such as the ones held by the Upper West Side public schools in NYC profiled in the NYT earlier this summer. In fact, we (and all public schools in PA) were hit hard by the education budget cuts enacted when a wave of extremist state legislators came into our state government in 2010. $1 billion has been cut from public education statewide in PA, and it has impacted our school heavily, raising class sizes while stripping the school of necessary teaching and support personnel, contracting the curriculum (music and language teachers were cut last year, and the school had no money previously for an art teacher), and leaving kids behind academically without the tutoring previously provided.

Yet our school remains strong, continuing to make AYP and to attract neighborhood parents, primarily because of the cross-class coalition using the school. Even if we haven’t raised $1 million for our school, many parents volunteer, run after-school clubs, and try to solicit community resources to help the school provide what has been eliminated because of cuts at the state level. The reward is that our children get to attend an integrated, academically sound public school in our city neighborhood that is open to all. We are part of a growing movement in several cities (including NYC) that has parents choosing to invest their time and energy in public schools, not only for their own families’ good but to strengthen the fabric of their neighborhoods and cities.

Which brings me back to your op-ed. I am a public school parent–not a teacher and not a union employee. I find the representations of the state of public education in the U.S. promulgated by films such as “Won’t Back Down” and “Waiting for Superman” to be harmful and inaccurate depictions of the current dilemmas faced by public school students, parents, and teachers.

Private schools have done a good sales job over the last decade or so, feeding the cultural panic among middle-class parents, creating anxieties in them that they cannot use the public schools and must purchase high-priced private schooling, tutoring, etc. at any price if their children are to succeed in life academically and economically. However, it is the class and educational background of parents that is the most critical variable in children’s success. While many currently make the claim (which you echo) that U.S. public schools are way behind other countries, when socioeconomic class is taken into account, American students do as well or better than the countries we say we wish to emulate. It is poverty that is our greatest problem. Middle-class children who attend urban public schools, even those in schools with very low average scores, do fine. If we want to solve the educational crisis that does exist for kids from low-income families, then creating jobs, stable health care, and an economic security net for their families is one key–and finding ways to create schools integrated by race and socioeconomic background is another–and providing appropriate funding, early childhood education, and smaller classes is a third.

The voucher, charter school, and parent trigger movements aim in precisely the opposite direction by draining public schools of funds desperately needed in this climate of scarcity and creating a two-tier system of schools, segregating kids even further by race, class, English language learner status, and disability. Indeed as the CREDO study by Stanford University shows, charter schools do not provide better educational opportunities; many provide worse. The people behind the push for parent trigger laws are not idealistic parents but chain charter operators hoping to expand their profits at the public expense–and their right-wing backers hoping to undermine our understanding of education as a public good. I hope you do some research on this topic and reconsider your opinion.

Rebecca Poyourow (a usually appreciative reader)


Frightened to the Core

As an educator I teach my students to think not just do, because if they know how to think, they will be able to do. I don’t want them to be common, I want them to be exceptional. I want them to feel, I want them to connect, I want them to be prepared, not just for college and future careers, I want them to be prepared for life. To be able to adjust, to be able to infer, to be able to recognize and respect the vast differences of our society and the world. The last thing I want is for them to be instructed via a common set of standards that dictate, what and how they should respond to questions or problems.

To be blunt.. the Common Core frightens  me. 

I’ve been reading about the new Common Core standards that are being mandated in states across the country. Next year, I’ll be required to follow these standards lockstep and barrel whether I agree with them or not. Even though my teacher contract guarantees  academic freedom, I’ll be required to cite each standard I cover during each lesson every minute of the day. I’ll be evaluated basedon tests and evaluations. These evaluations will be used to check up on me to make sure I follow these new standards. I’ve been told, that this is required to ensure that my students are college and career ready. Really? I’ll be teaching 5th grade next year, college and career ready?? What about ready for life??

I have been reading through a transcript of a presentation by David Coleman. David Coleman is considered the chief architect of the Common Core, so I guess we could consider him the expert, right? We’ll there are several things I picked up in this transcript that raises deep deep concerns for me. First of all, his association with Michelle Rhee’s Student First group should raise concerns for anyone mandated by the Common Core . Diane Ravitch clearly lays that concern on Mr. Coleman’s doorstep  in her blog. 

Mr. Coleman states,

remediation is a trap from which very few students escape’. 

I find this statement troubling. Is he suggesting that all of the recent research on differentiation, inclusion,and special ed is hog wash? The tremendous effort every district has undertook over the last 2 years implementing Response to Implementation ( RTI) is for nothing. Just what is he suggesting?

Mr. Coleman also states:

‘So the core standards for the first time demand that 50% of the text students encounter in kindergarten through 5th grade is informational text, meaning primarily text about science and history, text about the arts, the text through which students learn about the world.’

Then he goes on to condemn us all ”

That is a major shift and if you think about what’s happening in this country unintentionally literature and stories dominated the elementary curriculum. And then we expanded the literacy block. So we made the literacy block 80% of the time. Guess what that meant? We destroyed history and science in the elementary school.

So reading literature has destroyed science and history in elementary school.

Mr. Coleman fails  to recognize that high stakes testing destroyed science and history in elementary school. He further fails to define the term informational text. Would reading ” Number the Stars’  be considered non- informational? Does he consider any literature as informational? Will be forced to have our students only read ‘approved non- fiction’ 50% of the time?

What really bugs me about David Coleman is this statement concerning writing;

“It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or it is the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with those two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a sheet about what you feel or what you think. What they instead care about is can you make an argument with evidence, is there something verifiable behind what you’re saying or what you think or feel that you can demonstrate to me. It is rare in a working environment that someone says, “Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.”

Mr. Coleman, perhaps if we had more people in our society that gave a sheet about what other thought and felt, just perhaps our society would be a little better. Perhaps when a company such as Bain, wants to take over another, a little thought would go into the personal impact. Perhaps, the next time we go into war, more thought would be given to the personal impacts of entering into a war. Maybe just maybe, before a legislator passes a law restricting the voting rights of others, or a law requiring unions can’t negotiate for their members, that legislator would consider the human impact.

I want my students to do much more than just be college and career ready.

Yeah, the Common Core frightens me. Any social experiment that wants everyone to learn via a common core should frighten all of us.

Multiple Measured Madness

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

All Hail the Governor!

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

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

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

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

Multiple Measures Madness

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

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

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

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

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

Debunking the DeBunkers

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

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

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

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

Mr. Casey you claim,

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

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

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

You also tout that,

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

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

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

Casey you closed with, “change is necessary.”

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

We need to stop the multiple measured madness.

The Perilous Pendulum

Anyone that has been in the education field for even the most limited time has felt the sweep of the pendulum.

It seems as though forces from one side or the other tend to push education reforms back and forth depending on who happens to have public opinion on their side. And there we lie, just as Poe described, tethered by the inquisitors of education reform,  as the sharp blade gets closer and closer until we begin to feel it. We somehow manage to set ourselves free but face another perilous trap set by our tormentors. The pit, the lowly pit where our inquisitors say the ineffective ones shall be tossed into. Yet just as we are about to succumb we are rescued by those who understand that the inquisition is flawed and that freedom of thought shall prevail.

Will we be rescued this time? I believe so, but unlike General Lasalle in Poe’s masterpiece we’ll have to be our own saviors. The drums of our army are beginning to beat, our own forces are trying to grasp that pendulum and have it swing our way. 

Look at the past week, President Obama during the State of the Union said, 

“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.”

It’s a start.However,  let’s remind him everyday that Race to the Top contradicts his statement. We need to capture public opinion on the correct way to understand that teachers really do matter, that we matter more than some bubble filling test, that wastes valuable time and effort.

Even in Texas, where I consider is the birthplace of NCLB, there has been a cry to grab that pendulum.  AP reported:

 “State Board of Education members pressed the Texas education commissioner on Thursday about whether an abundance of high-stakes standardized testing is warping classroom teaching to ensure students spend more time preparing for the exams then actual learning.”

California Governor Jerry Brown,

California’s Jerry Brown, who has gone further than any other governor in blasting modern test-based school reform, said Wednesday that he wants to reduce the number of standardized tests students take, give more authority to local school boards and design a system to measure education performance that is less test-centric than the one now in use. Thanks to Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post for this report.

Diane Ravitch has been all across the country educating teachers, administrators, policy makers and the public on the perils of our current course.  Union leaders, are beginning to  have some effect educating their members on how negotiate fairness and not  be backed down by fear or intimidation. 

The pendulum is slowing, ever so slightly, yet it’s slowing. The growing movement of real reform can be witness everyday in countless Twitter feeds, Facebook accounts, professional list serves, rallies, demonstrations, and political campaigns. 

In New York, a growing movement, has started a campaign to reevaluate how teachers should be evaluated. They are holding an important town hall meeting on Feb. 15. If you are on Long island on that day, stop by and participate. 

So what’s missing? How can we stop the pendulum ourselves, and become our own liberators? The solution is simple, yet the work is hard. Advocate!

Contact the media, when you hear a pundit spouting words from the inquisition. Call them on it, tweet about it, pick up the phone make noise.

Truth will garner public opinion. The masses were petrified to question the inquisition, because the inquisitors kept them ignorant. Do what we do best. Teach! Teach our students, teach their parents, teach our administrators, teach our colleagues,  teach our elected officials, teach the media, teach the public. 

Teach and we shall hear the loud blast as of many trumpets!








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