Opine I will

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

Archive for the tag “New York State”

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

Saving Social Studies

As a fifth grade teacher, in New York State, I have felt the pressure of ‘fitting in’ Social Studies into my daily schedule.  Language Arts  and Math ‘block times’ have eaten away at the available time each day to teach the subject that is the most important.

I worry that NY’s new Social Studies Framework linked to the Common Core will effectively erode the curriculum into a series of tasks that have very little to do with learning about our past. Sites such as those provided by Putnam/ Northern Westchester BOCES are already watering down the curriculum. They have reduced learning about Europeans encountering Native Americans down to a 2 day lesson.

Imagine that! Two days!!

(I have included that 2 day lesson at the end of this posting)

Talk about watering down  a curriculum.

Over the past several years I have seen the time I have spent teaching Social Studies dwindle. I tried incorporating it into my ELA Block but, unfortunately I have had students leave my room during my ELA Block because they may have an Individualized Education Plan that mandates they  receive ELA instruction in a smaller setting. So if I combined Science or Social Studies into my ELA Block they would lose out.

I scheduled Social Studies in my plans but often those plans were interrupted. I was frustrated and was counseled that teaching Social Studies three days a week was just fine.Well it may be fine with my administrators, bit it certainly was not fine with me!

I love teaching fifth grade Social Studies. It’s focus is on the Western Hemisphere. It should be taught as a timeline, starting with how indigenous peoples settled into new lands and developed advanced civilizations that amazed European explorers. It should be focused on the “Peoples” struggles and advances.

Social Studies should not be taught in topics that are isolated from each other. In order for students to really understand what they are being exposed to, we as teachers must carefully build their schema.

This year I am taking a stand, in my classroom. I make sure I teach Social Studies every day.

I use various sources, including a wonderful series of books by Joy Hakim.  I use videos, audio recordings, and even Howard Zinn’s People History of the United States. I’ve read stories about Sitting Bull, and I am currently reading the biography of Chief Joseph Medicine Crow, Counting Coup.  So far my students have learned about the great civilizations of the Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, Mississipeans, Makahs, Iroquios, Anasazi, and more. We have learned about European exploration and conquest. We discussed the lust for gold, riches, and power that have shaped our historic background.

Currently we have begun to explore the formation of the English colonies and we will be analyzing the differences between them and how they interacted with Native Americans.

This week we began a new project. Using Legos my students will create their own Utopian civilization. Before they are allowed to use any resources ( Legos) they have been charged to develop a plan for their civilization. So far they have chosen a leader, established rules for discussions and began the process of deciding  just what their civilization will contain. They are discussing whether or not their economy will be based on farming,defense, healthcare, education, religion, tolerance and more.

  
This project is providing wonderful opportunities for me to teach. For example, one student stated that she wants to provide housing for the homeless. I used that as a catalyst to ask them to think of ways to ensure there are no homeless in their civilization.

At this point, my class is also writing individual essays on what they really want their civilization to be all about. Tomorrow I will be asking them to share their thoughts and to compromise on a shared solution.

Eventually they will be using the available resources to build their civilization.  

 In the meantime, we will read about the Puritans, Ann Hutchinson, William Penn and others and perhaps that may lead us in another direction.

In the meantime, I will post periodic updates of my class Utopia as I thumb my nose at lessons like these from BOCES.

Lesson 2: Europeans Encounter Native Americans

Overview:

  • Students will examine how the Native Americans viewed the Europeans, and then look at two case studies involving the interaction of the Native Americans and the Europeans.
    Suggested time allowance: 2 class periods

Unifying Themes: (based on the National Council for the Social Studies)

  • Geography, Humans and the Environment
  • Development, Movement, and Interaction of Cultures
  • Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Global Connections and Exchange

New York State Social Studies Framework

  • Social Studies Standards
    • 1: United States and New York
    • 2: World History
    • 3: Geography
  • Key Ideas and Conceptual Understandings
    • 5.3 European Exploration and Its Effects: Various European powers explored and eventually colonized the Western Hemisphere. This had a profound impact on Native Americans and led to the transatlantic slave trade.
      • 5.3b Europeans encountered and interacted with Native Americans in a variety of ways.
  • Social Studies Practices:
    • Gathering, Using and Interpreting Evidence
      • Recognize and use different forms of evidence used to making meaning in social studies (including sources such as art and photographs, artifacts, oral histories, maps, and graphs).
    • Comparison and Contextualization
      • Categorize divergent perspectives of an individual historical event.
      • Identify how the relationship among geography, economics, and history helps to define a context for events in the study of the Western Hemisphere.

Common Core Learning Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies

  • RH.5-8.9: Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic
  • RL.5.1: Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • RL.5.2: Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
  • RL.5.6: Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described
  • WHST.5-7.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • WHST.5-8.6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.
  • WHST.5-8.8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

Unit Essential Question:

  • Do interactions between peoples always lead to positive results?

Activities/Procedures:

Day 1

1. Read excerpts from Morning Girl and its parallel text, Journal Entry by Christopher Columbus.Teachers can find both excerpts in Primary Sources and Literature Readings, or use the book Morning Girl by Michael Dorris and the Journal entry included here. If you wish, use Encounter instead of Morning Girl.

2. Have students consider the ways the young girl and Columbus viewed one another and their respective cultural groups. What were each group’s impressions and intentions? Students will make a T chart or a Venn diagram to record the similarities and differences of the perspectives of the two groups/

3. Project “Images and Descriptions Columbus and the Taino.” (included) Discuss the images and excerpts from the diaries and journal. How do these images and description add to what we already know?

Day 2

1. Introduce or review the definition of “turning point” and note that the class will analyze what happened to the Aztec when they encountered the Europeans as an example of a turning point. Explain that the Spanish conquistador, Cortez led an army against the Aztecs in 1521 and conquered them.

2. Distribute the “Compare and Contrast Chart for the Aztec” (included) and have students cover the “after” column when discussing the “before” column.

3. Ask guiding questions that will require the students to read and extract information from the compare/contrast chart such as

  • Where did the Aztec live before the Spanish Conquest?
  • What were some of their technological achievements before the Spanish Conquest?

4. Teacher can utilize a map of Mexico and Central America when discussing the geographic location category, by pointing, or asking a student to point to the areas that were inhabited by the Aztecs. Teacher should ask questions about location and ask students to hypothesize about why the Spanish would be interested in this area (Example: resources, land, treasure, etc.)

5. At the end of the discussion for the “before” column, students will be asked to read to themselves the information presented in the “after” column.

6. The class as a whole will do a verbal compare and contrast of the Aztecs before and after the Spanish Conquest. Teacher will direct discussion by using guiding questions if necessary.

  • What is the difference/similarities pre- and post- Spanish Conquest in language?
  • What do you think is the biggest difference in Aztec life after the Spanish Conquest?
  • How was the Conquest a turning point in Aztec life?

7. For homework: students will create a double–sided playing card to illustrate the turning point for Aztec life.

Evaluation

  • Completed T-Chart
  • Trading Card

Vocabulary (See Glossary for definitions)

  • turning point
  • conquistador
  • demographics
  • encomienda
  • indigenous population
  • Latinos
  • pandemic
  • polytheism

 

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.

In the 3rd year without a contract

Our Teachers’ Association is the third year without a new contract. As president of our association I made the following comments at last evening’s School Board meeting.

I  would like to start off this evening by congratulating you on your successful resolution at the New York State School Board’s Associations convention to enhance school safety by bringing to the forefront our district’s concerns with having elections in our schools while school is in session.  I would also like to congratulate the NYSSBA for rejecting their own Board of Director’s resolution to support the continued use of student performance data in APPRs. Even though it was rejected by a slim margin, I am hoping that our Board also voted to reject that resolution.

We all agree that some sort of evaluation process needs to be in place that fairly measures teacher and district effectiveness. Unfortunately so called educational reformers have hijacked the conversation and have created a system that relies on high stakes tests that creates invalid data that we all are unfairly judged on.

Our students are subjected to hours upon hours of tests that are used for multiple purposes Effective Assessments are not supposed to be designed that way. Effective Assessments should be designed to help a child, not label them or label their teacher, school, or district.

At last month’s Board meeting we were presented with bar graph after bar graph that were designed to show how we did on last year’s state assessments. They showed that we excelled at all grade levels and that our teachers do extraordinary work.

Despite the fact that we lead most of the state with our scores we still heard we need to work to increase the ‘stamina’ of some of our students and  that more work needs to be done to raise these scores even higher. That may make logical sense because we all want to do better and better however,

 I must say that, I believe that our students and your children are much more than a test score.

The current APPR evaluation system measuring student growth using

standardized testing is a not a  valid assessment of an educator’s job performance.

These tests do not take into account that our students are more than a test score. They don’t measure a student who may have come to school hungry, or is simply suffering that day from hay fever, They don’t take into account if a child may be dealing with problems at home, or a problem with their best friend. It doesn’t take into account that the child may be just having a bad day, after all we all have them. There are thousands of issues that impact on student learning on any given day and to make believe some standardized test can measure that, ignores the fact that your children are much more than a test score.

My colleagues know that, that’s why when you visit our classrooms you witness first hand the caring and nurturing that our wonderful teachers do. You see our teachers teaching the whole child  going above and beyond any contract language or some made up rubric to ensure our students, your children, are prepared for the yet unknown future they face.

When we speak of stamina, it should not be in the context of student taking tests, it should be in the unbelievable stamina our teachers have. They often work well into the night and on weekends developing lessons and experiences for their students. They attend workshops and classes to improve their craft so that their students and this community benefit.  When you believe that students are much more than a test score you do those things regradless of what any contract says or whether or not your contract has been settled or not.

 Teachers are an extraordinary bunch, they need to be. You see we all depend on teachers. What we do here day in and day out effects the lives of the children and the families we teach, it effects the property values of all that live here whether you have children or not. It even affects the local businesses in the area. Without a strong schools and strong property values, local businesses would flounder and disappear.

Hopefully, one day, we won’t have to sit and look at bar graphs that attempt to label our students and our efforts and our schools. Hopefully our elected leaders will come to believe that our children are much more than a test score.

And hopefully one day soon, our teachers will be recognized for their extraordinary efforts with a fair contract that recognizes that today’s teachers and our future teachers are vital members of this community.

OK let’s not call it “Tenure” call it what it is… DUE PROCESS under law

OK let’s not call it “Tenure” call it what it is… DUE PROCESS under law.

Enough of the lies!

Let’s take a look at New York State Education Law

Education Law § 3012

I guarantee that most naysayers who demand and end to tenure have not read it, nor have they even have made an attempt to understand it.

Let’s take a close read as David Coleman would want us to

At the expiration of the probationary term of a person appointed
for such term, subject to the conditions of this section, the
superintendent of schools shall make a written report to the board of
education or the trustees of a common school district recommending for
appointment on tenure those persons who have been found competent,
efficient and satisfactory, consistent with any applicable rules of the
board of regents adopted pursuant to section three thousand twelve-b of
this article. Such persons, and all others employed in the teaching
service of the schools of such union free school district, common school
district and/or school district employing fewer than eight teachers, who
have served the probationary period as provided in this section, shall
hold their respective positions during good behavior and efficient and
competent service, and shall not be removed except for any of the
following causes, after a hearing, as provided by section three thousand
twenty-a of such law: (a) insubordination, immoral character or conduct
unbecoming a teacher; (b) inefficiency, incompetency, physical or mental
disability, or neglect of duty; (c) failure to maintain certification as
required by this chapter and by the regulations of the commissioner.
Each person who is not to be recommended for appointment on tenure,
shall be so notified by the superintendent of schools in writing not
later than sixty days immediately preceding the expiration of his
probationary period.

Notice it states that a teacher must have good behavior and be competent….

…shall hold their respective positions during good behavior and efficient and competent service…

It also states that there must be cause for removal and these are the clear and concise causes:

(a) insubordination, immoral character or conduct

unbecoming a teacher;

(b) inefficiency, incompetency, physical or mental

disability, or neglect of duty;

(c) failure to maintain certification as

required by this chapter and by the regulations of the commissioner.

This clause also tells us to read more for the proper procedures:

shall not be removed except for any of the following causes, after a hearing,

as provided by section three thousand twenty-a of such law

So let’s take a look at how districts can file charges against a tenured teacher.

Filing of charges…

Within five days after receipt of charges,

the employing board, in executive session, shall determine, by a vote of

a majority of all the members of such board, whether probable cause

exists to bring a disciplinary proceeding against an employee pursuant

to this section.

The employee may be suspended pending a hearing on the charges and

the final determination thereof. The suspension shall be with pay,

except the employee may be suspended without pay if the employee has

entered a guilty plea to or has been convicted of a felony crime

concerning the criminal sale or possession of a controlled substance, a

precursor of a controlled substance, or drug paraphernalia as defined in

article two hundred twenty or two hundred twenty-one of the penal law;

or a felony crime involving the physical abuse of a minor or student

Within ten days of receipt of the statement of charges, the

employee shall notify the clerk or secretary of the employing board in

writing whether he or she desires a hearing on the charges

The unexcused failure of the employee to notify the clerk or

secretary of his or her desire for a hearing within ten days of the

receipt of charges shall be deemed a waiver of the right to a hearing.

http://public.leginfo.state.ny.us/LAWSSEAF.cgi?QUERYTYPE=LAWS+&QUERYDATA=$$EDN3020-A$$@TXEDN03020-A+&LIST=LAW+&BROWSER=BROWSER+&TOKEN=08568209+&TARGET=VIEW

So I ask, where is the guarantee for a job for life? Where does it state a poor teacher can keep their job regardless.

Folks, tenure in New York State is a guarantee of due process that must follow the laws of New York.

Let’s call it what is really is, Due Process.

Lets make the deformers say ,” let’s get rid of due process rights currently guaranteed by law” . Make them accountable for their words.. just calling it tenure makes it too easy for them.

§ 3012. Tenure: certain school districts. 1. (a) Teachers and all

other members of the teaching staff of school districts, including

common school districts and/or school districts employing fewer than

eight teachers, other than city school districts, shall be appointed by

the board of education, or the trustees of common school districts, upon

the recommendation of the superintendent of schools, for a probationary

period of three years, except that in the case of a teacher who has

rendered satisfactory service as a regular substitute for a period of

two years or as a seasonally licensed per session teacher of swimming in

day schools who has served in that capacity for a period of two years

and has been appointed to teach the same subject in day schools, on an

annual salary, the probationary period shall be limited to one year;

provided, however, that in the case of a teacher who has been appointed

on tenure in another school district within the state, the school

district where currently employed, or a board of cooperative educational

services, and who was not dismissed from such district or board as a

result of charges brought pursuant to subdivision one of section three

thousand twenty-a of this chapter, the probationary period shall not

exceed two years. The service of a person appointed to any of such

positions may be discontinued at any time during such probationary

period, on the recommendation of the superintendent of schools, by a

majority vote of the board of education or the trustees of a common

school district.

(b) Principals, administrators, supervisors and all other members of

the supervising staff of school districts, including common school

districts and/or school districts employing fewer than eight teachers,

other than city school districts, shall be appointed by the board of

education, or the trustees of a common school district, upon the

recommendation of the superintendent of schools for a probationary

period of three years. The service of a person appointed to any of such

positions may be discontinued at any time during the probationary period

on the recommendation of the superintendent of schools, by a majority

vote of the board of education or the trustees of a common school

district.

(c) Any person previously appointed to tenure or a probationary period

pursuant to the provisions of former section three thousand thirteen of

this chapter shall continue to hold such position and be governed by the

provisions of this section notwithstanding any contrary provision of

law.

2. At the expiration of the probationary term of a person appointed

for such term, subject to the conditions of this section, the

superintendent of schools shall make a written report to the board of

education or the trustees of a common school district recommending for

appointment on tenure those persons who have been found competent,

efficient and satisfactory, consistent with any applicable rules of the

board of regents adopted pursuant to section three thousand twelve-b of

this article. Such persons, and all others employed in the teaching

service of the schools of such union free school district, common school

district and/or school district employing fewer than eight teachers, who

have served the probationary period as provided in this section, shall

hold their respective positions during good behavior and efficient and

competent service, and shall not be removed except for any of the

following causes, after a hearing, as provided by section three thousand

twenty-a of such law: (a) insubordination, immoral character or conduct

unbecoming a teacher; (b) inefficiency, incompetency, physical or mental

disability, or neglect of duty; (c) failure to maintain certification as

required by this chapter and by the regulations of the commissioner.

Each person who is not to be recommended for appointment on tenure,

shall be so notified by the superintendent of schools in writing not

later than sixty days immediately preceding the expiration of his

probationary period.

3. Notwithstanding any other provision of this section no period in

any school year for which there is no required service and/or for which

no compensation is provided shall in any event constitute a break or

suspension of probationary period or continuity of tenure rights of any

of the persons hereinabove described.

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.

Meet the Teacher Night 2012

l teach fifth grade in a small suburban K-6 district and last night was our meet the teacher night. I had several options before me,  give my standard  spiel on my procedures and expectations , explain the new Common Core State Standards, or educate parents on how, so called , education reform, will really affect their children. I had to decide whether or not I was willing to choose this mountain to take a stand.

Please keep in mind, I work in a very conservative  Republican district.  It is so conservative, that when President Obama gave his famous speech to students at the start of his first school year as president, I was given a directive not to show that speech to my students.  After much debate, I was threatened with insubordination charges if I dared to show that speech.  ( Just so you know, I read the speech to my class, I posted President Obama’s picture with an excerpt from the speech in my classroom, and it’s still there since 2009.)

After much contemplation as to  what to present to parents, I decided to do all three.  I went for that mountaintop. I  give a quick run down on procedures and expectations. I then explained the new Common Core State Standards, and went on to  educate them on how, so called , education reform, will really affect their children.

I explained to these parents that this year will be like no other. I went through how the Common Core assumes that their children have skills  that they don’t have yet. I explained how they must robotic-ally answer questions with specifics from texts while leaving out their own personal feelings. Because as David Coleman has stated, no body gives a sheet as to what you feel.  I explained how their children will have to learn a new expanded math curriculum and that I need to teach more than one lesson a day at times, because there aren’t enough days to teach 1 lesson per day before the ‘big test’. I told them that learning how to divide fractions is now not enough, their children will have to create models to demonstrate how that actually works. All because someone thinks that’s what is done in the real world.

When I described how New York State now has a new teacher evaluation program called APPR, I could see some parents were quite uncomfortable. I then explained to them that APPR will rob their children of lesson time. I showed them how I must take attendance 5-6 times each day to collect data , and how at 1 minute each it would rob their children of the time equal to 9 lessons. I then informed that of all the testing that their children will have to endure and that is designed to test teachers  rather their children. I told them that their children could lose up to 90 lessons this school year due to APPR tests, data, training, grading and more.

Our school was labeled a “Reward School” this year. That means that out of over 4600 public schools in NYS, our school was one of approximately 230 that were rated at the very top. Despite this, we are being treated as if we don’t know how to teach, our teachers must be evaluated to weed out the possible ineffective ones, and their children are not doing well enough.

I informed these parents  that it was time for them to get involved. It was time to step up and contact those at the state level that this path we are on is leading the wrong way.

Needless to say, there were some parents who were quite upset.

Hopefully not with me. It looks like it could be a wild ride this year. Stay tuned.

A Teacher’s Labor of Love Can Not Be Measured

As we celebrate Labor Day 2012 teachers all over the nation are beginning a new school year with a dark cloud on the horizon. We have been labeled failures by politicians , media outlets, corporate raiders, and movie makers. The need for education reform has been touted by both sides of the political aisle in a blind effort to pander to the raw emotions of a thoroughly hoodwinked electorate.

I’ve previously posted  data that clearly shows that graduation rates and college admissions are at historical highs. Historians like Diane Ravitch have shared data that explains the misleading nature of comparisons with other nations. Union leaders like Randi Weingarten have celebrated the gains we have seen over the last 20 years. Yet, we have been labeled as failures.

Yes, there is a need for reform!

Nothing should remain stagnant, we must constantly change and reform our ways to remain competitive. No one is disputing that. The problem arises with what has become a bastardization of true reform.

All to often, we’ve been told, it’s those ineffective teachers fault. Ignoring poverty, social needs, emotional needs, under funding, and the lack of resources, both sides of the aisle have their spiny fingers pointed right at us .. it’s those teachers that have to be fixed. As a result states have embarked on huge budget buster evaluation plans fueled by the funds held out, like  a carrot on a stick, due to Race to the Top. Here in New York State we have this debacle of an evaluation system called APPR.

The centerpiece of this frightful evaluation mess are high stakes tests ( you know, the ones RTTT was supposed to give us relief from) , district wide tests, and a third component based on observations and other evidence extracted magically throughout the year.  Using a Value Added Model which Diane Ravitch has labeled ‘junk science’ NYS hopes to root out those ineffective teachers.

Does this look like education reform?

Take a look at my district’s APPR plan.  I can’t fault my district and my fellow teachers for negotiating this nonsense because they were left with no choice. They must follow the laws of NYS.  They did their best, but unfortunately we’re now going to be judged by junk science, computer generated assessments, and a rubric that will attempt to put a numerical value on everything we do.

It’s demoralizing and unforgivable to attempt to place a numerical value on everything a teacher does.

60% of every APPR plan in NYS is based on placing a numerical value on everything we do! 

Administrators will be visiting classes with check lists and rubrics attempting to match the actions  of the teacher with a point value that will be used to measure teacher effectiveness.

A teacher’s labor of love is not measurable!

How do you place a numerical value on, the lives we have touched, the futures we have enhanced, the confidence we have instilled, the manners we have taught, the morals we have strengthened, the civic values we have formed, the smiles we have created and the country we have created?

How do you determine a numerical value on a teacher’s compassion  and understanding of a child who  faces anxiety when encountering challenging work? How do you measure the trust a student and/or a parent has in their teacher? How do you measure the hours teachers spend, looking at the ceiling in the middle of the night, as they ponder new strategies to help their students? How do you measure the tears wiped away from a frightened child as the teacher comforts and builds confidence?

This  Labor Day as we gear up for the new challenges of a new school year,  we face the unfair scrutiny endorsed by our state. Remember,  you have the power to protect your love of teaching.

It can not be measured no matter how hard they try.

The perils of one size fits all.

We’ve all tried it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Duncan- 90 periods lost forever

Dear Arne Duncan,

Your latest tweet got me thinking. 

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

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

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

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

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

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