Opine I will

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

Archive for the tag “Education”

Anger doesn’t describe it

New York State assessments conclude today. Half of my fifth grade students will have sat through over 9 hours of abusive assessments while the other half opted out and today is the worse day of all. Today’s math test includes overly complicated questions that most of our members of Congress would flub. They are multi-step atrocities that are designed to confuse and befuddle.  I am prohibited to post any of the questions until a select few are released to the public. I am pretty positive the hardest questions will never see sunshine.

Here is a general  idea of what one of these questions looks like.

A factory produces 4,861 items in 30 day. They then package them in crates hold 8 each. These crates are delivered to 26 distributers daily. How many are delivered each week to each distributer?

Ten year old children must be able to answer this question correctly, otherwise their teacher may be labeled ineffective.

Now here is the rub…

The New York State Department of Education issued the following  statement in a press release this week.

 Commissioner Elia said. “With substantive changes and increased guidance for educators, teachers will be able to develop curricula and lesson plans to meet the needs of students in their classrooms. “

The key words here are substantial changes.  That is admission that the standards that today’s tests are designed around are faulty.  Why subject children to 9 hours of abusive testing based on standards that require substantial changes? A warped political agenda is being driven right smack dab at the children on New York.

Anger doesn’t describe my feelings. Our society is being driven over a cliff by an extreme ideology that will destroy our nation. When we look the other way when children are being forced to fulfill an agenda, when we allow school children to go hungry, when we refuse to provide health care, when we demonize a segment of our population, we are heading for a fall.

Resist.

A Nation in Distress

distress-flag

I love our nation, I say the Pledge every day with my class and yes, we do say “One nation under God!”  I respect the lives lost defending our national symbol that represents the dreams and aspirations of our forefathers. I would never wear a flag, burn a flag or otherwise desecrate it. I am the son of a veteran and I am fully aware of the controversy surrounding those who would use the flag as a symbol protest.

So why then am I displaying an upside-down flag? Flying our flag upside down is not disrespectful if it is being used as signal of distress. Our nation is in a state of distress and it is about to be destroyed from within if we do not wake up as a nation. My upside-down flag signals that we are facing pain. I fear pain that we have never seen before. I am frightened. Frightened foremost for my children and grandchildren, as well as everyone else.

The election of Donald J. Trump happened because our country is in distress. Ultra- alt-right Tea Party types have brainwashed the masses (even though more people rejected Trump at the polls) into believing our country is no longer great. Our news outlets gave free reign to give un-American rallies air time and our radio airways have been taken over by propogandists spewing hatred.  Social media has been a breeding ground for false news, hatred, racism and worse. Congress has hijacked our Constitution and effectively stole the right of President Obama to appoint a member to the Supreme Court.

A huge segment of our population has been brainwashed into believing that America needs to be great again and that our national identity has been hijacked by ‘undesirables’. The result is Donald J. Trump! You may disagree with my analysis of our situation, and that is your right. However, you need to understand what is about to happen.

Trump is putting together a cabinet of individuals that pose a huge threat to our way of life. His potential Supreme Court nominee or nominees will lead our nation down a dangerous path.

Looking at Trump’s cabinet we see a crew should frighten us all.  Trump’s ties to Russia are emerging as he is considering appointing a Secretary of State that will ease sanctions so he can close his ExxonMobile deal with Putin. He has chosen a Secretary of Education who has actively worked to destroy public education. His choice for Homeland Security is a General. What’s next, martial law?

Trump’s cabinet will include an EPA Secretary who disputes climate change and wants to roll back regulations that protect our climate, and the very air we breathe. His choice for the SBA comes from his pals at the WWE! What’s next, death cage matches on the Mall?

It gets worse, he wants a General with the Nickname “ Mad Dog” to lead our Department of defense and a certifiable lunatic who got booted from the NSA as his top security adviser.  His top pick for HUD is psychotic according to Trump himself.  Even if we  survive this cabinet of fools, the middle class will not survive his Supreme Court.

Labor will be in distress. Workers across our country are about to be economically slaughtered. Trump’s first salvo was his attack on the United Steel Workers this week. Trump paved the way for Carrier to move hundreds of jobs under the guise that they are saving jobs. When called out on his lies, we saw Trump’s true agenda. He told them they needed to work harder and implied that they should accept a salary cut that would take them below the minimum wage.

Be prepared for a bloodletting on the labor front. First on his agenda will be a National Right to Work Law that will target every private sector union in the nation. Anti-Labor National Labor Relation Board appointments will make it impossible to correct unfair practices in the workplace. A SCOTUS decision that will allow ‘free riders’ to benefit from union bargaining and protection. Even those ‘free riders’ will lose the benefits of collective bargaining when it is banned (see Wisconsin). SCOTUS will rule that public school budgets can be raided to fund private and religious schools. Hedge fund controlled Charter Schools will eventually finish off our public-school system, Trump’s push for privatization will take a death grip across every public service sector across the nation. Teacher’s across the nation will watch their tenure and seniority rights get stripped away and students will be at the mercy of the power-brokers.

Our social safety net will be ripped apart as public service worker’s pensions will be stripped bare. Medicare and Medicaid may be destroyed. Healthcare for all may be a thing of the past. Our most vulnerable will be labeled as burdens and interlopers.

Our Country is in distress. Head the distress signal. Resist!

The End is Near

 

the-end-sign

Public education is our nation’s most important asset that is responsible for protecting and nurturing our nation’s most precious asset, our children. Public Education is about to be dismantled and sold off to the highest bidder in every state of our nation. Trump’s legacy will someday describe this real estate scoundrel as the demolition expert that has destroyed an American institution that began in 1690.  Unfortunately, a large portion of our populace do not realize that the end is near.

No matter which party you support or who you voted for, you will soon feel the real pain of a Trump administration. Some have said, we may survive four years of Trump, but will we survive many years of an ultra-Right Wing Supreme Court? Will we survive a Tea party controlled Congress? Will our schools survive?

The “end” for public education is one step closer with Trump’s pick for Education Secretary billionaire Betsy DeVos. DeVos is a conservative activist that has pushed for school vouchers across the nation. She supports raiding taxpayer revenues and funneling them to private and parochial schools. She has no experience in education and will be the chief architect in Trump’s demolition plan.

Trump’s demolition plan includes the destruction of unions. The very same unions that advocate for highly effective schools, strong standards that are appropriate, school safety, and protect the needs of our most challenged students.   Trump has signaled that he would establish Right to Work laws nationwide. Trump’s plan would impede all unions’ abilities to provide the much-needed advocacy that has protected our schools and in turn our middle class.

The end will arrive for many of our union sisters and brothers when a Trump Supreme Court dismantles public unions’ bargaining rights and his wrecking ball destroys tenure protections. Public schools will be immediately impacted when teachers that advocate for their students are fired without due process. Public schools will be systematically taken over by private for profit corporations that will not be subjected to collective bargaining. Profits and the bottom line will be the only measure that is important.

The end is near for public pensions. Trump’s demolition crew is about to blow up a system that has allowed hard working public sector employees to contribute to a system that would protect them in their end years. Trump’s crew will raid our pensions and turn them over to his private sector buddies. Public sector employees will now face the same questionable future as the private sector workers who have lost their future.

The end is near for our curricula. Our Science programs will be distorted with creationists warped views, Social Studies will be used as a tool to indoctrinate and not liberate the mind. The Arts will be lost forever. The focus will be on a false accountability system, based on a failed business model invented in some boardroom.

The end is near for our freedoms. Our freedom to worship as we choose, love who we choose, opine as we choose and severely limit our individual life choices. Trump’s demolition crew is about to dismantle our Inalienable Rights.  Disguised as the Righteous, his crew is about to destroy the very fabric of our nation.

We all know what we witnessed the day after election day. Many of us saw our own union sisters and brothers celebrate Trump’s win. Many of us lashed out on social media and even got into heated arguments. We could not believe that our sisters and brothers and even our loved ones failed to see that Trumps win will destroy us all.

If we put aside Trumps racism, bigoted, misogynist statements. We are still left with the unpleasant truth that the end is near. Unfortunately, it will be pain that will eventually open the eyes of many of our union sisters and brothers. The pain will be swift and devastating. It will be too late for I told you so’s. It will be our demise. Unless we stop him!

Resist! Resist! Resist! Put your niceties aside. Inform, argue, debate and be relentless. Boycott when told to, protest when you can. Throw up roadblocks, stand your ground. Don’t accept “maybe things will get better” or give him a chance. All the signs are there. Point everyone out. Point every threat to our way of life. Point out every conflict, every attack, every enemy.

Do what we do best. Teach! Teach others how the end is near and how it will be a reality if we do not wake up. Our national nightmare is here.

Not This Year

Nine and ten-year-old children are a curious bunch. They are on the cusp of adolescence and are just beginning to get a grasp on the outside world. Their minds are like sponges, soaking up everything that is around them. This is a very special time in their lives where they have opinions based on their own schema.

As a fifth grade teacher I have always looked forward to election season to introduce the concept of opinions, fact and fiction. I particularly always enjoyed introducing my young students to presidential campaigns, the Electoral College, and the importance of debate in our democratic process.

Not this year.

In the past, my students looked at candidates, discussed their campaigns, looked at the issues, and debated themselves. We always had mock elections and looking at the results were often an interesting exercise. My students usually began by parroting what was heard at home or they would disagree with what they heard at home. I encouraged them to read the news and watch news channels. We often discussed the different viewpoints presented. We read opinion pieces and discussed that opinions were worthless unless backed up with real facts. I also encouraged them to watch the debates and be prepared to discuss them the next day in class.  Yes, we did that in fifth grade!

Not this year!

How can I? This year I cannot discuss the issues with children. In addition, I am faced with families that are so polarized on the candidates that any discussion is viewed as an attempt to indoctrinate children. So how am I supposed to explain Trump saying he and other rich men have  the privilege to grope women when some think it is ok?

I see pictures of high school students in very diverse schools wearing Trump hats saying “Make America Great Again” and I want to weep because I know their parents love it.

I would love to discuss the issues of the campaign, with my students, but not this year. I just can’t!

I can’t discuss Trump rating women, calling them pigs, calling immigrants rapists, saying POW’s are not heroes, or saying Muslims are our enemy. Trump has brought our nation into a dark hole.

How can I? How can I with fifth grade students?

I will teach them history.

I will teach them about the peoples’ history!  I will teach them why our nation is the greatest in the world and about the mistakes we have made in the past. I will instill in them the importance of learning from the past. I will prepare them to create their own opinions based on facts not rhetoric. I will teach them about respect and the rights and responsibilities we all have as citizens.

As teachers we touch the future every day as we teach our students. We need to ensure our future is bright and we need to prepare our students so our nation never ever has to return into this very dark hole politics has brought us into.

So not this year! This year we look to the future. We ignore Trump and we defeat this ugly narrative by educating our students to learn from the past. And hopefully our great experiment will survive. We will survive not through fear and intimidation. We will survive through knowledge. Because, knowledge is power. And once we have the power, America will continue to be great.

Before you vote…THINK

To my Republican teacher friends,
Last night we heard every Republican candidate say that they would promote charters, vouchers, private schools, and home schooling. We heard them call teachers and schools failures.

If any one of them wins, know this, (as Ted Cruz would say) your public school will be at risk, children will lose necessary resources, and your careers will be at risk. You may not have a job, and their will be no social services available to help your family survive.

The Supreme Court will become a weapon that would destroy our way of life, your children will fight endless wars, you won’t afford health insurance, your pension will be a memory and you will have to work until you are dead or 70 years old.

And if you vote for any of them, please please never try teaching Social Studies.

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?

hoover14

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?

warship

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?

salktime_covercroppedbest

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?

 

 

“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?

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.

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”?

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