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

Archive for the tag “Elia”

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!

“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!

About to get bowled over!

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

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

Which way?

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

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

NYSUT somehow sees a silver lining in this storm cloud.

Well,I don’t!

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

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