A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Archive for November, 2011

Idiocy’s Masterpiece

The Daily News reports that the New York State Education Department is considering extending the time of the grades 3-8 reading test from the current 150 minutes to 245 minutes. If we needed any further evidence that State Ed is being run by idiots, here is idiocy’s masterpiece. Only people who know nothing about children and the teaching of them could propose having third graders sitting for four hours over two days answering batteries of short answer questions. Are we now going to judge the learning of students and the ability of their teachers on the basis of the children’s endurance to answer endlessly boring questions? What makes the sages in Albany think that we would know any more about a child from a 245 minutes reading test than we would from one of 150 minutes? How much more will we have to see from Chancellor Tisch, Commissioner King, the Regents and the State Ed bureaucracy before administrators, teachers and parents get themselves organized to run them out of Albany?

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Times Article Boosts Opponents New Evaluation System

An article in yesterday’s New York Times gave the cause of challenging the linkage of student test scores to the evaluation of public school teachers a shot of steroidal credibility. What began as an essentially local effort of the Long Island Principals Association to push back against an evaluation system that they see as degrading to both teachers and the administrators who evaluate them has begun to morph into a statewide movement with thousands of administrators and teachers signing on to the principals’ letter indicting the recently enacted evaluation system. Coverage by the Times will undoubtedly help to spread the word about the developing movement and help to recruit many more to the cause. A review of the signers of the principals’ letter reveals that local union leaders are beginning to sign on, realizing that few issues have aroused the ire of their memberships more than what they see as an unfair, opaque evaluations system that poses a significant threat to their welfare and to the welfare of their students. That Chancellor Tisch is quoted in the article referring to the evaluation system as “scientific” and “objective” is sure to further inflame the passions of educators who know that we aren’t even sure of what the tests say about our students let alone what they tell us about teachers. What Commissioner King, Chancellor Tisch and the Regents and Governor Cuomo have done to snatch the federal dollars of the Obama’s administration’s Race to the Top program is to elevate a blatant farce to the level of education policy in New York State.

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ILO Declares New York’s Taylor Law Violates International Law

New York’s collective bargaining law, the Taylor Law, bans strikes by public employees and provides for severe sanctions for unions and their leaders who break the law and strike. Striking workers are fined a day’s pay for each day they participate in an illegal strike, their leaders are often jailed and their unions are subjected to crushing fines and the loss of the right to have union dues deducted from member paychecks. To me, the Taylor Law is an outrageous infringement of what I understand to be the inherent right of workers to collectively withhold their labor when they feel themselves sufficiently aggrieved. It has been getting harder and harder, however, to find people who share my view, regrettably even within the ranks of public sector union leaders, who while they often pay lip service to the horrors of the Taylor Law, do nothing to promote its demise.

That is until the Transport Workers Union (TWU) filed a complaint with the International Labor Organization, an agency of the United Nations, claiming that the Taylor Law violates the rights of workers as established in international law. The TWU complaint grew out of their December 2005 strike against the New York City Transit Authority which came to the bargaining table with demands for serious givebacks in the areas of pensions and health despite the fact that the Authority was sitting on a billion dollar surplus at the time. Even more surprising than the filing of this complaint by TWU leadership is the fact that the ILO committee responsible for adjudicating such claims found for the union, determining that the Taylor Law is violative of basic worker rights established in international law. As interesting as the ILO decision is the absence of any coverage of it in the mainstream media. The media prefer to continue their assault on public employees.

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Support Grows for Principals Opposition to APPR Law

Judging by the growing number of signatures on the Long Island Principals Association letter opposing the current Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) law, teachers and principals throughout the state are angry and frustrated with the law and the regulations implementing it, regulations that appear to have more to do with promoting corporate test makers than with the welfare of children. While the position of the principals on APPR is not the one I would have written, should their letter go viral, it will serve as a vote of no confidence in Commissioner King and in Chancellor Tisch. It can be the start of a massive political push-back against the forces that wish to demonize teachers in their drive to privatize public education. If you work in public education in New York, you need to sign on to the Principals Letter.

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A Good Night For Progressives

There are some hopeful signs that working people are organizing to take back our country. What a night our union brothers and sisters had in Ohio, where by nearly 2 to 1, voters told Governor Kasich and his corporate supporters that they did not want workers to be stripped of their collective bargaining rights. The unions in Ohio, both public and private sector, gave us all a lesson in how to organize behind a focused message supporting middle class working people. In Mississippi, those who would reassert control over women were resoundingly defeated in their attempt to have human fertilized eggs constitutionally declared to be human beings, an amendment to the state constitution that would have even outlawed some means of contraception. In Maine, citizens repealed a Republican backed law that did away with election day voter registration, one of the many right-wing sponsored laws aimed at suppressing the vote of minorities, the poor and the young – all Democratic constituencies. Locally, Democrats took the Suffolk County Executive slot, while in Nassau it is still possible for the Democrats to retake control of the legislature, two races being too close to call at the moment. All in all, a good night for progressives – a good step down the road to the 2012 election.

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The APPR Mess

The Long Island Principals Association’s letter in opposition to the tying of teachers evaluations to their students’ scores on various assessments appears to be gaining momentum. Various teacher discussion lists I monitor suggest that teachers are signing on to support the document, in some cases encouraged to do so by their local unions. NYSUT, the state teachers union, is in a difficult position, having participated in the drafting of the APPR legislation, although I know for certain that they never imagined that this process would be implemented as heavy-handedly and ignorantly as is currently the case. What’s needed now is for the principals’ letter to go statewide, for NYSUT join in opposition on the basis of the problems of implementation and for all of the central office administrators in the state to join the protest of this totally irrational approach to the improvement of public education. That would certainly be a step in the direction of refusing to comply with the APPR law that I have advocated.

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Compelled By Ignorance

In recent days, I’ve participated in several discussions that strike me as the most inane of my experience, and, believe me, after 40 years, I’ve participated in some doozies. Plainview-Old Bethpage, like other New York districts, has been in a mad rush to select a test for grades 4 through 8 to measure student growth and apply that measure towards 20 percent of a teachers’ Annual professional Performance Review (APPR). So I participated in presentations by two test vendors, each trying to profit from the undeniable compulsion of districts to comply with a law that almost everyone in the field knows makes no sense. Within days, while our union objected, the district decided on a test and the testing of students begins next week in math and English. That no one can say with any certainty what these tests accurately say about student growth, and while we know even less about what they say about the quality of instruction students received, we will disrupt the education of our students anyway, relieved that we have complied with the law but professionally nauseated that we have been reduced to behaving stupidly.
The only good news on this subject comes from the Long Island Principals Association whose open letter on the unappreciated, dire consequences of the APPR law is a welcome sign that maybe people in education are starting to find the courage to fight back against the ignorance flowing from Albany.

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Scores Too Low? Test Them More

News today that as many expected, student scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) were flat for both English and math. That probably means that we can expect the educationist-commercial complex to gin up their propaganda machine to convince a gullible public that if we just test our children a bit more and threaten their teachers that if their student scores don’t improve they will either be subjected to an administrative harassment procedure or fired – if we just sweat the kids and teachers a bit more, we will be able to compete with any of the high achieving school systems of the world. We won’t hear much, if anything at all, about the effects of our economic problems on student achievement. As for the achievement gap, surely bad teachers are responsible for that too.

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Data Mining

Have you noticed how the data driven drones of the education world increasingly frame their enthusiasm for data collection in terms of mining metaphors? Thus, we are asked to dig down or drill into the data as though some precious mineral awaits us if we just go deeply enough. Have you noticed too how no one ever explains where teachers are supposed to find the time to do all of this data mining? It’s simply presumed that they have gobs of time to drill into the data of each of their students generated by the ever increasing number of computerized tests to which they are subjected. Rather than having mining as the operative metaphor, I suggest we use swimming and observe that many of our teachers are already drowning in data with no sign of anyone throwing them a life preserver.

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