A Teachable Moment

PCT President Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

We Won’t Be Divided And Conquered

With Long Island remaining the hub of the state’s opt-out movement (As of this writing 71,496 refusals have been reported.), it’s not surprising that one of our local politicians has nervously introduced legislation clearly aimed at mollifying the anti-testing electorate in in his district. Senator Jack Martins has introduced a bill that would exempt 20 percent of the state’s highest performing districts from the newly adopted Annual Professional Performance Review measures adopted by Albany.

While his legislation has a surface appeal to those who live and work in school districts that are some of the best in our nation and as good as most in the world, a little thought reveals the ethical absurdity of the proposal. We know beyond doubt that high test scores correlate with family income. Parents of rich kids can and do provide them with opportunities ranging from the obvious to the more subtle and immeasurable that get reflected on standardized tests from the third grade ELA test to the SAT. That said, are we then to increase the stakes on examinations for the economically and socially disadvantaged, judging their teachers by a dubious standard while those from more affluent and advantaged communities are exempt? Does such a move make any sense other than as an obvious attempt to quiet the opt-out movement by state politicians who grow increasingly fearful that their support for the new teacher evaluation system could seriously jeopardize their chances for re-election?

Suggestions like this one from Senator Martins should serve to heighten our determination to see to it that we are better represented in Albany by people whose motivations are deeper than political expediency. Senator Martins and those who voted with him to double down on testing had a chance to stand up for public education and the quality schools in his district. He muffed to opportunity to stand for something worthwhile. Our movement to end the scourge of high stake stesting has an ethical depth that people like him simply can’t understand. We won’t be divided and conquered.

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No Time To Be Nice

The opt out numbers look better and better. As of this writing, over 68,000 Long Island students refused to take the grade 3 through 8 examinations. That’s more refusals than there were in the entire state of New York last year. In no uncertain terms, these numbers are the response of a public who petitioned their elected representatives to do something to end the scourge of high stakes test in our state only to have to resort to civil disobedience when those representatives failed to do their job. I believe we need to keep the pressure on those who have been nothing less than duplicitous, telling us in various public forums that they supported our efforts to curb an out of control testing regime that was turning our best schools into essentially test prep institutions, only to in the end give the governor almost more than he asked for.

That being my view, it’s alarming to begin to hear NYSUT, our state education union, counseling being nice to these elected leaders who have betrayed us and the institution of public education. I don’t want to be nice to Assemblyman Charles Lavine. I want to support a candidate to primary him. If that fails, I want to run a Green Party candidate against him. Ditto with Senators Hannon and Marcellino who have grown far too comfortable and who seem to feel we will forgive them anything because that got us a little extra money for our schools. It is beyond question that by and large our elected leaders have no respect for us. Accepting bad treatment in my experience leads only to more bad treatment. I don’t understand why our union leaders in Albany don’t understand that. It’s really just that simple.

Many of us have worked very hard to build coalitions to oppose the attack on public education and the high stakes testing central to it. These groups are flush with our opt out victory and need to now be steered to politically removing the people who have shown themselves to be our enemies. This union leader is not going to be a party to letting people who openly screwed us off the hook.

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Don’t Confuse Talk With Action

Monday night’s meeting of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education was the first since the passage of the law which effectively made student results on state assessments the most important piece of teachers’ evaluations. Teachers whose students fail to reach an essentially arbitrary growth targets cannot be rated effective, even if those who supervise them on a daily basis rate understand them to be effective or better. What that does is to tie teachers’ continued employment to student test results. Does anyone doubt that teachers will be hyper-focused on preparing their students for the state tests? To not do so is to be irresponsible to themselves and their families. With that understanding of what New York had done to teachers and public education, I listened in amazement to Superintendent Lorna Lewis explain to the public how despite the action of the legislature and the governor, our schools would not yield and become focused on test preparation. What a canard!

First of all, we have already become a district that moves to the substance and rhythm of the state Common Core assessments, even though they have until now counted for only twenty percent of a teacher’s evaluation. With the new law wherein test results trump the observation of supervisors, one would have to be delusional not to understand that teachers will be driven to focus on preparing children for tests that are determinative teachers’ ability to continue to have their careers. Why, I wonder, would we lead the public to believe otherwise, a public half of whom opted their kids out of the assessments in protest against what they are doing to the academic program in our schools?

The leaders of our district like many seem to confuse talk with action. They are against testing, yet they don’t publically support the opt-out movement, have increasingly worked routinize instruction, focusing on the alignment of the educational program with the very assessment they claim to oppose. Just yesterday, I was told that teachers have been instructed to give final examinations in 5th and 6th grades, no one ever bothering to ask teacher whether that is an appropriate thing to do. More and more we’re preoccupied with making children college and career ready without ever understanding that we are squeezing out of the program many of the very things that actually contribute to that readiness. If the expression college and career ready means anything it implies the growth and development of a human child which surely includes much more than what is measured on an English or math test. Our leaders would have us understand that all is well in our schools. Nothing could be further from the truth. The parents who refused to let their kids take the state exams know this, and they are growing in numbers. They are the hope that we can bring real education back to our schools. If we double the number of children opting out again next year, there will be no one taking the tests. We could get to that happy day much faster if all our school leaders would act like the scourge of high stakes testing is the real threat that it is.

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Yesterday I posed the question of whether parents would opt their children out of the state exams or acquiesce to the demands of a corporate school reform movement bent on destroying public education in our nation. I’m heartened to report that almost half of the parents in my community (48.2%) have said enough. They don’t care what Governor Cuomo thinks. They will not allow Chancellor Tisch and the State Ed department poison the educational climate of their schools with more and more of their programs dictated by the demands of tests that do absolutely nothing to improve instruction anywhere in our state. I strongly suspect that those numbers will grow over this testing season, as parents who felt a little uncomfortable bucking the dictates of the state see that over one thousand others put their qualms behind them.

This has been a very hopeful day. The growing numbers of citizens who care about public education who deeply understand the threat posed to it encourages me to believe that we can win the battle in the end. We more than doubled our opt out numbers this year. If we have to, we will do that again next year which would bring us to the point where almost no students are taking the exams. At that point, the testocracy melts into an ugly puddle of slime.

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Tomorrow the New York State 3 through 8 assessments begin. While Governor Cuomo and the legislature effectively more than doubled down on high stakes testing, there is a good chance that, in the best American tradition, citizens will cast their own vote on the testing epidemic by opting their children out of the exams. Exams that children don’t take cannot be used against them and their teachers.

Last year, over sixty thousand New York children were withheld by their parents from the assessments, over twenty thousand on Long Island. This year the numbers are bound to be significantly higher. The only question is how much higher.

It is not hyperbole to suggest that either parents will rise up and voice a resounding NO to what the testocracy is doing to public education, or they will acquiesce to the corporate powers behind the testing movement and thereby move the process of dismantling public education forward significantly.

Coincidentally, I just sent in the second half of my school taxes for the year. For the first time in my adult, I felt a pang of resentment for having to pay to support what to my mind is the daily debasing of education in our schools, as testing drives more and more of the curriculum and the notion of what it means to be educated evaporates in favor of what at best is job training.

My generation took to civil disobedience to promote the rights of all Americans to participate in our democracy. We took to the streets to stop a stupid war in Viet Nam in which thousands of my peers died for no discernible reason. Those were moral crusades, and I believe the movement to prevent the corporate takeover of public education is every bit as much of a moral issue. If we care about educating our children to be thoughtful, analytical participants of our democracy, people with a broad understanding of all that makes us human, then it seems to me we will thwart this latest attack on public education by refusing to have our children participate in the main weapon intended to destroy it – high stakes testing.
Should the opt-out movement fail, it will signal to those who lust to turn our schools into profit centers that they are on the right course and that the public doesn’t care enough to protest its schools.

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Hard to Believe Tisch

Merryl Tisch is quoted this morning as saying that high performing districts (not defined) should be exempt from the new and as yet to be State Ed crafted annual professional performance review. I strongly suspect that the statement is intended to quell the growing opt out movement whose leaders tend to come from these very districts, Let’s remember that when the Governor’s Director of Operations wrote to Tisch seeing her input needed legislation, she responded with almost exactly what came out of the recently enacted legislation. Would such a move make sense? Sure it would, and that’s why I don’t expect it to happen. It would be hard to find a less sensible institution than our State Ed Department. Everything they turn out is at best opaque.

I’ll be taking this holiday season off, trying to recover from recent depressing events and restore my energy for the battles ahead. I’ll be back on April 13. Be sure to look for me.

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Opting-Out: More Important Than Ever

Parents who have been undecided about opting their children out of the New York State assessments have been given good reason to decide to refuse the tests. The distortion of teaching and learning of the current teacher evaluation system has now been magnified five- fold – by a change in the law that says that no teacher can be rated effective or highly effective if her student scores don’t meet some number to be determined by the State Ed Department. That effectively makes the test 100 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

This betrayal by our elected leaders has got to be answered and answered immediately. The best means at had to do so is to drive the opt-out numbers through the roof. Teacher who have children in grades 3 through 8 who don’t opt them out are aiding and abetting the demise of their profession and prejudicing their employment. It’s just that simple.

Parents who want more from their schools than training in how to pass standardized tests must inform the schools their children attend that they refuse to permit their children to take the state tests. These tests have never had any educational value. They have now become a very significant impediment to anything enlightened people would deem an appropriate education. With these exams determining their future employment, teachers will have no choice but to teach to them. Thus, a curriculum already significantly narrowed by corporate sponsored reform will have more squeezed out of it leaving little but English and math. The bottom line is if no one takes the tests, they can’t be used negatively impact teachers and students.

The Governor and Legislature know full well that they have spit in the eyes of New Yorkers. They know what they have done is dreadfully unpopular. Two recent polls showed the public overwhelmingly supporting the teachers union over their elected leaders. Our leaders have calculated that we will forget what they have done to our schools. Opting out must be our immediate message that we will never forget. We must also begin immediately to work to challenge those who have represented other interests, not ours. Our local will be reaching out to our community searching for candidates to challenge Senators Hannon and Marcellino and our Assemblyman Charles Lavine, all of whom have claimed to be friends of public education but who abandoned us when we needed them most.

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Bargain With The Devil

Details in the Albany press this morning reveal a budget deal even worse than it originally appeared. Governor Cuomo sought to have the results of state assessments count fifty percent toward a teacher’s yearly evaluation. What the deal provides is that for some teachers the state tests will count one hundred percent.

Governor Cuomo’s office is saying that the deal establishes teacher evaluation criteria such that if student scores show a teacher to be “ineffective,” that teacher cannot be rated effective even if her observation results say she is highly effective. To my mind that’s one hundred percent of a teacher’s evaluation, and an unmitigated outrage. In the short time that we have had a system tying student score to teacher evaluations, I have seen some of our very best teachers get student test results that would have rated them ineffective or developing but for their outstanding performance as measured by observation and supervision. Although there is ample scientific evidence that the state assessments are unreliable indicators of teacher performance, with a high degree of likelihood that today’s highly effective teacher is next year’s ineffective one, the elected leaders of our state have apparently decided that science be damned, settling political scores with our state union is more important the professional lives of hard working teachers and their students.

If the deal as we understand it today is what is put into effect in November, teachers will be consumed by the need to have their students score high enough to get them rated effective. We will have taken a giant step towards the extinction of what we have known as teaching and education. What will remain for teachers to do will be to monitor student participation in digitized media test prep, which through engaging graphics and other facets of computer gaming will convince the ignorant that something called twenty-first century education has come at last. Those who are able to see through that digitized illusion will almost be like the book-people in Fahrenheit 451, keeping learning and education alive until such time as there is a period of enlightenment when the keepers of knowledge and learning are again respected and allowed to share their gifts with the young.

This bargain with the devil will apparently be voted on by the Legislature today. We need to study the vote and start the very next day to oppose those cowardly cretins who supported it. The Long Island delegation likes to think of itself as made up of strong supporters of public education. Those who vote for this deal have given up any right to that title.

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Legislators Flail About Looking for Political Solution

The teacher evaluation plan in place in Plainview-Old Bethpage took us about a year and a half to negotiate. While I would be the first to say that the time could have been much better spent, there is one sense in which our APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) has been an improvement over the way evaluations were done prior to its advent, although that improvement has nothing to do with the student test score part of the plan.

The introduction of a rubric to guide the observation process has taken what had tended to be amorphous written observations, often simply an endless series of clichés, and introduced more concrete language about discernible aspects of a teacher’s performance. The observations that I get to read these days are much better focused and anchored specific references rather the generalized blather I used to read. Today I usually know immediately what the observer was talking about, something that heretofore was often difficult to know. There is now at least the potential that the process provided teachers with feedback that challenges them to think about what they are doing.

It’s ironic then that one of the few real gains from all the effort that went into negotiating these APPR plans is being challenged by Governor Cuomo who wants to put increased emphasis on student test results. As I write this, yet a new proposal is circulating in the legislature that would have the Regents come up with changes to the teacher evaluation process. To me, that’s one of the scariest ideas yet.

No one in authority is talking about any plan that will have any significant effect. If we were serious about teacher evaluation instead, of looking for excuses to not have to deal with the staggering number of New York’s children who live in impoverished families, we would be looking to an approach that had practicing teachers deeply involved in the process. We would look to organize schools in ways that would make teachers the most important people in the building, empowered to make professional decisions like who gets tenure. Can anyone imagine Merryl Tisch suggesting that to the Regents? It’s seriously disheartening to watch our elected officials flailing about in search of a political solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist.

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Tenure Envy

Tenure envy is at the heart over the ongoing debate about the due process rights of teachers. With the number of union workplaces in a steep decline for decades, the concept of not being subject to the whim of one’s employer is essentially foreign to a generation of American workers. They are therefore envious of one of the remaining groups to have protection from arbitrary dismissal. Disreputable politicians like Governor Cuomo play to this envy for cheap political gain.

Envy is a funny emotion. It can motivate people to seek to acquire the object of their desire, or it can curiously move people to seek satisfaction by trying to see to it that no one has it. The latter seems to explain the public view of tenure.

If we asked people who want tenure abolished if they believe that employers should be able to arbitrarily fire any of their employees, I strongly suspect most would say no. Most people have a native sense of fairness and know that it is all-together common for people to be fired for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of their work. Their vulnerability to the whim of their employers causes them to see it as unfair that other are protected against such arbitrariness. If they are unprotected, why should anyone else be? There must be something wrong. These teachers must have rigged the system in some way to provide them with what most others lack.

In a more unionized country, people would be more familiar with the due process rights in many labor contracts. More people would understand that all workers should be protected from arbitrary dismissal, that wrongly firing people can have a profound impact on their lives and the lives of their families. Taking away a person’s job should be based on evidence that is evaluated by an independent party. That’s all tenure is. It’s not a guarantee of lifetime employment. It’s simply a mechanism to make sure that people don’t lose their employment without good reason. In the end it is a mechanism to provide justice, something that all workers should be afforded.

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Hillary’s Dilemma

Back in February, I wrote about what educators would want to hear from Hillary Clinton about public education once she announces her candidacy for the presidency. Heavily dependent for political contributions on the Wall Street crowd that is funding much of the so-called education reform movement, I said then that both the NEA and AFT ought to start making it clear to her that “…she will have to stake out positions aimed at ending the tyranny of high stakes testing, stopping the public funding of corporately run charter schools, promoting teaching and education over training, correcting the serious flaws in the Common Core State Standards and addressing in meaningful ways the scourge of child poverty that afflicts so many of the nation’s children, robbing them of a chance at a decent life.”

I was pleased, therefore, to see the New York Times take the issue up today in a front page article. Hillary has a real dilemma. If she is not strong in support of public education and the people who work in our schools, union leaders like me will have serious difficulty marshaling our members to provide the boots on the ground support she is going to need. If she solidly supports public schools and teachers, she runs the very real risk of abandonment by her bankrollers, especially if Jeb Bush is the nominee of the Republicans. Bush has been a leader of the corporate attack on public education.

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I Had Few Tests and Little Homework

I had little to no homework when I went to elementary school but managed to become a reasonably literate person able to earn a decent living at work that I thoroughly enjoyed. Before my parents forced me to attend religious instruction after school, I was free to spend from 3:00 to 6:00 P.M. each day playing with friends, either in the neighborhood school yards or in a wonderful after school center in my elementary school supervised by Mr. Kraft, a fifth grade teacher at our school who kept us all in line without almost never having to even raise his voice. Our respect for him was all that was necessary to keep our mischievous natures in check.

Evenings were spent over family dinners that began each evening with listening to the 6 o’clock news on the radio. After the news, family talk occupied 45 minutes or so of leisurely eating. With television, after dinner we all moved to the living room where the one TV set was installed which we watched together, engaging in conversation all the while.

School was seen by my parents as my job to be conducted largely during school hours. Today’s elementary students do more homework than I had in high school. They spend their afternoons at lessons of one kind or another and endure enough homework that it’s a wonder how any of them come to enjoy learning, their days being so over-loaded with academic tasks. Ironically, they are pushed by their parents into a rat race to build resumes to qualify for some elite college, a frenetic piling up of organized activities that supersedes the cultivation of the interests that make a college education worthwhile.

Somehow, my teachers used our school hours together to teach me to read efficiently, to do basic mathematics, some history and science, music, arts and crafts, phys ed and an appreciation of citizenship, even teaching us Roberts Rules of Order and arranging meetings for us to participate in that required them. For a few pennies a day, from second or third grade on, we bought the New York Times or Herald Tribune, and received lesson in how to read them, even on the subway. We discussed articles from those papers every day. When President Eisenhower was inaugurated, school work stopped as we listened to his first speech as president. While there were little quizzes from time to time, I recall no instance of being drilled for any test. There were standardized tests from time to time, but I never had the sense that they were determinative of anything important to me. I don’t recall a single kid being upset by them. We never knew when they were coming, never knew what was done with the results. No big deal. Looking back, it seems to me that much of my early school experiences were designed to help us explore our world and our place in it.

Somehow without being burdened by school, without everything being organized around some examination, I managed to get educated and to acquire the skills to enter and succeed in college, going on to a tour in the Peace Corps in Ghana, a career in education with a parallel one in public sector union work. I believe I received an education far superior to the one the children in our school district are getting. Somehow, with little researched based knowledge of child development, my teachers fashioned an infinitely more appropriate learning environment than our teacher’s today are able to provide, my colleagues increasingly being forced to do things they deem inappropriate and in many cases detrimental to the children in their charge. Tests and homework were not confused with rigor, and learning was respected for its own sake and not an economic instrument.

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Time to Increase the Pressure

Imagine if all of the school boards that have joined the battle against Governor Cuomo’s proposed doubling down on high stakes testing publically announced that they pledge not to implement the law if it should pass and that they will join with their teachers and cease administering the state examinations until such time as exams are created that can be used to help teachers teach. Imagine such an assertion of local control. Imagine it coupled with a pledge by NYSUT to recruit candidates for the legislature to oppose those who support the governor, whether it is in primaries or by supporting candidates who are neither Republican nor Democrats. The polls show growing support for the anti- testing movement. We need to exert even strong pressure on the pro-testing legislators.

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A Union Man’s Reason For Opting -Out

Union Brother Tom McMahon is a local union president who has elementary age children. He has movingly written publicly about the reasons he and his wife have chosen to opt their children out of the state assessments. One would have to be completely tone deaf not to appreciate the sincerity of his thoughts. Listen to the passionate voice of a teacher and father talking about the effects of high stakes testing on his two children with very different needs.

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On Asses and Seats

There’s an old Yiddish saying that translates as, “Your ass can’t sit in two places at the same time.” It is sometimes uttered in its literal meaning, and sometimes metaphorically to highlight the holding of two mutually exclusive ideas. It’s in its latter sense that it comes to mind this morning to highlight the administration of my school district and many others who some days wish to be seen as militants in the anti-testing struggle but at other times act to perpetuate the illusion that the malignant testing mandates are not drowning out serious education.

From the superintendent of schools to the lowly elementary teachers, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t know that high stakes tests are increasingly driving instruction. There also isn’t anyone without a concern for the test results. Teachers’ jobs depend on them to in part, and the superintendent and other administrators know that a poor district performance on the state assessments is difficult to explain, ironically even to those oppose to the testing regime. Teachers have been given books and materials meant to exercise kids in the kinds of questions they can expect in April. Yet, curiously and completely hypocritically, faced with growing opposition to the tests, the administration of my district ordered teachers not to send test prep material home, apparently not wanting parents to see what their children are doing in the name of education. The implication to teachers is to use the test prep material in school where parents won’t be able to observe just how much instructional time is dedicated to the tests. Everyone has an interest in good test results, objectively meaningless though they may be.

It’s the same with the district’s response to the opt-out movement. The administration knows that the growing numbers of parents who refuse to allow their children to be subjected to the state assessments is the most potent weapon that we have to end the misuse of testing. They even agreed with us last year to make opting-out a less stressful experience for children, working with us to create alternate settings for these kids so that they would not have to sit and stare as other children took the examinations. Yet, with testing season rapidly approaching, they have done nothing to apprize parents of the process for opting their children out, clearly seeking to avoid growing numbers, but, in so doing, aiding and abetting the continuation of the very testing regime they claim to abhor.

So here’s a gentle reminder Plainview-Old Bethpage administration and other like it. Your asses can’t sit in two places at the same time. If you don’t want test prep, let’s sit down and work out a plan to end our participation in the tests. Furthermore, let’s also see if we can’t agree on the developmentally inappropriate aspects of the Common Core State Standards and promulgate Plainview-Old Bethpage standards that are aligned with reasonable expectations for children and flexible enough to service the academic needs of all. Let’s all have the courage to sit with those who care about children and cease our participation with those who have no interest in public education or the children it serves but are motivated by abject avarice. That’s the comfortable place to sit.

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Time Is On Our Side

It may not be a popular view, but I’m beginning to hope that there is no budget deal by April 1. If there is one, I suspect the legislature will have significantly caved to the education demands of our megalomaniacal governor. Time appears to be on the side of those opposed to Cuomo’s plans. A recent Quinnipiac University poll shows strong support for the opposition of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) to the Governor’s plan to tie teacher evaluations even further to the high stakes test scores of their students. Overwhelmingly, the public recognizes that this is a very bad idea, so bad that it is a big factor in substantially reducing Angry Andy’s favorability numbers. Cuomo has dug himself an education policy hole that the Assembly and Senate have to slowly fill in on his head. A late budget would also allow for this year’s opt-out numbers to amplify what polls have been showing, waning support for the test an punish approach to the improvement of public education in New York. Those numbers are bound to be much higher than the 60,000 children whose parents withheld them from the state assessments last year. Let the budget process grind to a crawl, as we watch Governor Arrogance try to slither away from the tough positions he staked out.

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A Tenure Deal?

I’m fearful that a deal will be made around Governor Cuomo’s teacher evaluation proposals that will center on extending the probationary period for tenure and in ways still not clear make it easier for management to terminate teachers adjudged ineffective. I saw yesterday where New York’s Council of School Superintendents weighed in on the issue supporting the concept of a five year probationary period for teachers. While they oppose Cuomo’s proposed requirement of five consecutive effective APPR ratings to be awarded tenure, they fully support the five year extension which would give them the power with thirty days’ notice to be rid of essentially any probationary teacher they want for almost any reason. Districts that are currently well managed usually know after two years whether or not a probationer fits in. What will people know after five years that they don’t know after three? Experienced teachers usually know if newcomers will make it after a few months. Or is it not a matter of knowing anything more but simply having unabridged power to command and control that motivates the superintendents’ support? Forcing people to invest four or five years before they know they have achieved professional status with the due process rights that come with that status is simply unfair. New York had a five year probationary period in the early 70s. It was wisely repealed, however. Bad ideas just never seem to die in the world of public education.

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Chancellor Tisch Tries to Buck Up Superintendents

Chancellor Tisch made the following remarks about opting out at the March 9 meeting of New York’s superintendents. Had she made these remarks to a group of teachers, she would have been hooted out of the room, so divorced are thoughts from the reality of what our teachers are facing in their classrooms daily. While on one hand I hate to spread her ill-informed message, I hope my readers will respond to them by redoubling their effort to encourage parents to opt their children out of assessments that tell us little to nothing useful.

So, let’s talk about opt out.

If you encourage test refusal, you have made a very powerful statement. We all want the tests to be even better – as short as possible and as closely matched to instruction as possible. That is a fair critique, and we continue to improve the tests over time.

However, some have a very different goal. They have said they want to bring down the whole system on which adult accountability is based – even if only a little bit – on evidence of student learning. I am much less cynical, and I see things very differently. I believe that test refusal is a terrible mistake because it eliminates important information about how our kids are doing.

Why on earth would you not want to know whether your child is on track for success in the fifth grade or success in college? Why would you not want to know how your child and your school are doing compared to other children in district, region, and State? Why would you not want to know the progress of our multi-billion dollar investment in education? Why would you not want to know whether all students are making progress, not just the lucky few?

I do not pretend that test results are the only way we know, but they are an important piece of information. They are the only common measure of progress we have.

We are not going to force kids to take tests. That’s not the New York way. But, we are going to continue to help students and parents understand that it is a terrible mistake to refuse the right to know.

We don’t refuse to go to the doctor for an annual check-up. Most of us don’t refuse to get a vaccination. We should not refuse to take the test.

I know that superintendents are on the front lines in this debate over the future of our schools. Day after day, you help your community understand the importance of high standards and the necessity for measures of student progress. We would be lost without your leadership.

It is true that many of us want to bring down an accountability system that few serious statisticians believe measures a teachers’ contribution to the education of children. To evaluate hard working teachers on a mathematically flawed testing regime to whatever degree is a fraud both on those teachers and the students in their charge.

The Chancellor’s comments say nothing about the absurdity of high stakes tests driving instruction rather than rich curriculum and the ingenuity of teachers to take children where they find them and advance them academically as far as they can go. She says nothing about the stupidity of standards that seriously conflict with what we know about child development. Standards like insisting that every kindergarten child read by first grade ignore that some are simply not neurologically prepared to do so and that forcing them to do so runs the risk of teaching them to hate reading at best or possibly ensuring they will never read as well as they might have. Tisch says not a word about the daily narrowing of the curriculum so that what is not tested is not taught, and the horrifying pressure to teach to the arbitrary rhythm of pacing charts that assume that every child can learn the same thing, in the same way and the same time.

The bottom line is that the education dilatant Chancellor has a faith in high stakes testing directly proportional to her lack of experience in education. A growing number of teachers and parents have faith in neither high stakes testing not the Chancellor and the Regents. By opting their children out, they cast a vote of no confidence in the education bureaucracy and their governor whose education agenda would make things unimaginably worse. The only thing encouraging about the Chancellor’s remarks to the superintendents is that she felt compelled to make them. They were clearly a response to the spate of public letters by superintendents calling the state’s testing regime and the governor’s doubling down on testing into serious question. So, the real message here is to do what we can to double the opt out numbers this year. Tisch sees the opt out movement for the threat to her agenda that it is. That she felt compelled to try to enlist the superintendents in pushing back should embolden us to keep the pressure up.

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Senate Republicans Support Cuomo’s Pseudo-education Reforms

It has been widely reported that the Republican Caucus in the New York State Senate is supportive of most of Governor Cuomo’s pseudo-education reforms. Our school district being represented by Senators Kemp Hannon and Carl Marcellino, two members of this caucus, I was prompted to write to them this morning. I’m sharing my letter with readers in the hope that they will send one of their own to Republicans who represent them. My letter follows:

Dear Senator Marcellino:
It has been widely reported that the Senate’s Republican Caucus is supporting much of Governor Cuomo’s so-called education reforms. I refer specifically to his proposal to increase the weight of student test scores on state assessments from twenty to fifty percent lengthening the teacher probationary period from three years to five and lifting the cap on charter schools. These proposals are yet another slap in the face of teachers, particularly Long Island’s outstanding teacher corps.

The link already established between teacher evaluations and student test scores has significantly undermined the educational experience of our students. I find it difficult to understand why our elected leaders do not understand that what is tested is what teachers are going to teach, especially when their jobs depend on their students’ results. The twenty percent in the current law has narrowed the curriculum and exposed children to countless boring hours of test preparation, both in school and home. This focus on high stakes testing has ratcheted up the pressure on children to the point where many of them become physicalyl ill during the examination periods when they have to sit for hours. Their results say more about the powers of endurance than they do about what these children have learned. We know for a fact that some kids simply blow the tests off rather than summon the energy and endurance necessary to overcome an exam designed for them to fail. More informed parents, recognizing the absurdity of the state’s testing regime, are opting their children out of the examinations in ever growing numbers rather than subject them to what they view as a stressful waste of valuable teaching and learning time. Increasing the percentage of teachers’ evaluations tied to student test results to fifty percent is to more than double down on a system that has not only not demonstrated any efficacy, but has also demonstrably negatively altered instruction. In the early grades especially, if it’s not English or math, its importance wanes the closer we get to the assessments.

As to the changes your caucus is seeking to the tenure law, reports indicate that you are pushing for an increase in the teacher probationary period of from three to five years. Advocates of this change never seem to be able to explain why such a long period of time is necessary to determine whether a teacher is deserving of professional status and the due process rights that come with it. The fact is that well managed districts observe teachers carefully for the first two years under the current system and discharge those that they deem unsuitable for professional status at the end of two years, waiting the additional third year in cases that are too close to call after two years. Extending the probationary period to five years will simply keep probationary teachers in an anxious state for a longer period of time and may contribute to the frightening turnover rate in some of our neediest districts. I suggest to you that where there are managements that feel they need five years to determine whether or not a teacher deserves professional status, there is a greater need to be concerned about that management than there is to extend the probationary period for teachers. While extending the teacher probationary to five years may sound like a significant reform, it will accomplish nothing other than to convince teachers of the legislatures disrespect for them and their contribution to the betterment of the children of our state.

To further encourage the growth in the number of charter schools without any body of evidence that they outperform the public schools from which they drain very significant financial and other resources is to perpetrate a fraud on the taxpayers of our state. The members of our union understand the charter school movement to be inextricably tied to a corporate led pseudo-education reform movement whose purpose is to engineer the demise of public schools in favor of a private model providing a very substantial return on their investment. For a Long Island representative whose district includes some of the finest public schools in the world to support a school model inimical to the welfare of those schools is highly inconsistent with your history of strong support for Long Island’s schools.

As a legislator who has been historically friendly to teachers and public education, our members urge you to stand with us against these phony reforms and work with us on the real problems facing the schools in our state. To support the Governor’s proposed “reforms” is to lend credence to his belief that New York’s schools are failing. Representing strong Long Island districts, you know that is a lie. We are counting on you to help us expose it.


Morton Rosenfeld

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Why Do Minorities Often Support Yearly Testing?

In the battle against high stakes testing and its deleterious effects on the education of children, leaders of our minority communities and civil rights organizations are often missing. Yet, it has always seemed clear to me that minority children stand to suffer the most from the culture of testing that narrows curricula and sends a not so subtle message children often victimized by poverty that they don’t measure up and that schools is not for them. I’m thankful to Diane Ravitch for pointing me to an article by Denisha Jones, a Indiana University professor, that suggests these minority groups support yearly testing in grade 3 through 8 in that it serves to shed a continuous light on the achievement gap between white and minority students and buttresses their demands for resources to counteract it. While Jones doesn’t develop a definitive strategy for winning civil rights groups to the anti-testing cause that she supports, understanding why people whose children stand to lose the most from the scourge of high stakes testing might support it nevertheless is hopefully the beginning of a process of winning them to the cause. This article deserves to be read widely.

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