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 May, 2013

No Strings Attached?

In teacher union circles, the influence of Gates Foundation money is a hot button issue. While NEA, AFT and who knows how many state affiliates of the two national unions have taken Gates money, I’ve been clear that there is no such thing as money from sources like Gates coming to us without strings attached.

Last week’s New Yorker had an article “A Word From Our Sponsor” about the influence of Koch money on the production of independent films for PBS. Read it and see how abject fear of offending David Koch, a major contributor to New York’s WNET and Boston’s WGBH, stations on whose boards he also served, deep sixed the production of a film on the influence of money on our political system.

In the end, the public has yet to see what sounds like an important film, and Koch, apparently offended by a previous film about the rich of New York in which he was featured, stopped contributing and withdrew from the boards of both public television stations.

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June 8 in Albany

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi hits the exactly right tone in his piece in NYSUT United about the June 8 rally in Albany. “Enough is Enough,” he says. I couldn’t agree more
The PCT still has about 20 seats available for the trip to Albany. Read Dick’s piece, and when it moves you to want to join us, call me at 516-349-1310 or email me at pobctorg@pobct.org.

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An Agenda for Real Change

I’ve been highly critical of the agendas of both our national teacher unions and that of New York’s state affiliate, an organization that belongs to both. I’ve explored in various ways the extent to which in seeking to deflect the worst aspects of the so-called school reform movement, they have slowly but surely been pulled ineluctably into the reform movement’s orbit.

We’ve had years of reform and years of our unions trying to pass themselves off as reformers. America’s weak schools and school systems are still weak, while teaching has become an ever less rewarding line of work as, data driven dunces impose endless straightjacketing programs that deskill both students and teachers. What would a union agenda for real change look like?

Stevens Institute Professor Arthur Camins offers one. It’s an agenda that challenges the conventional wisdom that teachers and a lack of competition are the core problems facing America’s schools. It embraces a much more sophisticated analysis of contemporary problems and offers cooperation and social and economic justice as major thrusts towards a solution. While the prose is a little turgid, its good sense shines through.

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Value Added?

At the June meeting of New York’s Regents, Commissioner King will propose using a value added formula for the calculation of 25 percent of a teacher’s annual professional performance review. Put aside the overwhelming evidence that these statistical models are severely flawed yielding results that can rate the same teacher highly effective one year and ineffective the next. Prior to this year’s state examinations linked to the Common Core, this same commissioner went around the state preparing people for the poor results that children were going to get on exams that contained material that was not taught. Now he wants to up the APPR ante for teachers with his value added proposal.

In past posts, I’ve question what the added value is to the state having a Board of Regents. That there is no value in having John King as our educator-in-chief is beyond question. It’s time for the education community,boards of education, superintendents, parents and teachers and their unions to say publicly what we have known for some time. The King administration is almost totally divorced from the reality of our public schools. Rather than working with people in those schools to improve them where necessary, vast sums of time money and energy are going into so-called reforms that at best will accomplish nothing, at worst cheapen education at our best schools.

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Stop Talking Smack

I was at a union meeting yesterday, a gathering of local presidents from across Long Island. As I listened to others engaging some of our state leaders, it dawned on me how much the leaders of our movement have bought into the agenda of the reformers – how deep down they appear to believe that the problems with our schools are the teachers working in them. If we can just find better teacher made assessment tools, if the right staff development can be created and implemented, if we can just align the unalignable our students will be able to compete with the best the world has to offer.

I had vowed not to say anything, having grown weary of being the spokesperson for things that others know as well as I but are too timid to speak, fearing I’m not sure I know what – just fearing. But , damn it, try as I could I couldn’t align my thoughts with the company line. So, I and a few others spoke of our concerns with our union agenda, an agenda that too often plays into the hands of the enemies of public education. Most in the audience just sat quietly. A few felt compelled to congratulate the status quo. I know some at the meeting yesterday are readers of this blog. So I have a very modest proposal to make.

Frontline did a story a few months ago on child poverty in America. Watch it, and then tell me how teacher accountability, staff development, multiple measures, APPR, Common Core Standards, Common Core aligned high stakes tests or any of the other educationist bullshit that passes for serious thought has the slightest chance of overcoming the challenges to survival that millions of America’s children face each year. We could do a hell of a lot more for these desperate kids if we taxed the likes of Bill Gates and the other uber-rich whose millions amplify their voices and drown out sanity, voices talking smack. We do neither ourselves nor the kids we claim to care for by talking smack too.

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It’s a Good Morning

The members of my union worked very hard on the first set on what is designed to be a long campaign to pass school budgets that gain over 60 percent of the vote. Our history is that results hover around the 60 percent mark, not strong enough to embolden superintendents and boards of education to put up the budgets we really need. Our efforts paid off sooner than I expected. The 69 percent vote for our budget is the biggest margin in recent memory and had to be due to our efforts and the efforts of others who understand that unless we start creating budgets that adequately fund our schools, our program will erode away, slowly at first but eventually reaching a point where it is becomes impossible to get back to what we once were.

The vote yesterday for the budget and members of the Board of Education has me hopeful this morning. I’m hopeful too that an idea that I have been pushing for over 20 years may finally getting the attention it deserves – that we need to start working on our budget and the strategy for passing it in September instead of waiting until the middle of the school year.

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Spreading the Word About Testing

My colleague Ken Ulric and I spoke to a group of retired educators this morning. Joining us was Jeanette Deutermann, the leader of the Long Island Opt-Out movement, a parent organization dedicated to bringing an end to obsessive high stakes testing in New York.

In the social hour prior to our presentation members of the group let us know that the larger than usual turn-out for the meeting was due to the topic of the program- testing. These retired teachers are still concerned for public education and the children in our schools. They are concerned about the education of their grand-children and the careers of their children who followed them into teaching.

Ken ably led us through an edited version of the Race to Nowhere movie, a fantastic motivator of anti-testing sentiment. The film served to warm the audience up for what Jeanette Deutermann and I had to say.

My theme was that he jobs they left don’t exist anymore and that the creative pleasures they experienced in the classroom are rapidly disappearing as more and more of the academic program of our schools devolves into test prep. I suggested that while the teacher union movement was late to recognize the significance of the issue, late to understand its potential for organizing, way behind parents like the Opt-Out parents, we were beginning to get our act together, the evidence for that being the mass rally NYSUT has called for June 8. I suggested too that if we believe, as most of us do, that the testing regime in New York is a form of child abuse, the we have an ethical obligation to work with others who agree with us to do whatever is necessary to bring the testing regime to an end. If that means opting our own kids and grand-kids out, so be it. If we don’t act in accordance with our ethics, we not only will we have no credibility with the parents of the children we teach, we will be an embarrassment to ourselves.

My friend Jeanette Deutermann was her usual engaging self. She spoke of how her own child’s reactions to the tests got her started on what would eventually become the Long Island Opt-Out movement . It was wonderful to see the warm response of this audience of retired educators to her presentation, many of them surrounding her with questions after the meeting was adjourned. Readers on Facebook, take a look at the Long Island Opt-Out page. Sign on. Become a part the movement.

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A Seat at the Table?

We will never resuscitate the teacher labor movement by currying favor with those who behind euphemisms like “reform” or “college ready” really are bent on the destruction of public education as we have known it, their ultimate goal being a corporate, profit oriented education market. Yet, the leadership of both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers continue to seek and tout a seat at the table where ironically the demise of public education is cleverly plotted.

I’m on this theme again having read an article in the May 10 NEA today entitled “Six Ways the Common Core is Good For Students.” The article quotes several teachers extolling the virtues of the Common Core . The piece also links to other areas of the NEA website that weave a narrative of how the NEA was part of the development of the Common Core, a narrative clearly written to make it appear as though the voice of teachers was heard.

That teachers voices were not heard, or maybe were not expressed by the National Board Certified teachers the NEA sent to the meetings, becomes very clear when one reads the responses of teachers in the trenches to the article. Not one has anything good to say. And those comments are very much like the ones I hear daily from the members of my local union.

The national unions find themselves living a paradox. Both are trying to get back to their organizing roots. But they don’t seem to want to seriously organize around the issues that excite their members. Nobody I know is marching for the Common Core. Nobody I know is doing labor walks for the Common Core. They are not going to their state capitols to ask for more Common Core. Why don’t the leaders of the NEA know this? Their failure is frightening. In so many ways, our leaders organize opposition to themselves when they seek seats at a table that is set as a trap.

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Three Simple Steps

Three simple things we could do obtain better outcomes from our public schools aren’t about to happen anytime soon. We will continue to prefer going down the reform road, even though there decades of evidence that it is headed nowhere.

Step one would be to close down most of the existing teacher education programs in favor of a solid liberal arts education for prospective teachers and an internship or clerkship (We need a better name.) that puts teachers to be in classrooms for increasing periods of time with increasing responsibilities over the four years of their education. They should be mentored by working professionals who would begin their training with observation and discussion and evolve into more and more supervised teaching. By their fourth year, they could even be given an actual teaching assignment with a prorated salary. How much better this would be than the current approach that essentially has prospective teachers doing a few weeks of “student teaching” in their senior year of college.

Harder to do is to once and for all have a real war on poverty. Lyndon Johnson’s worked, but only for the elderly. We used to have millions of impoverished old people. Thanks to Johnson’s war we have many fewer today. It’s time to finish the job with the focus of providing gainful employment to the parents of the 25 percent of America’s children who live in poverty. It is a dope addict’s delusion to believe that we can through education lift children out of the mire of poverty, with all that that means to the growth and development of a child. How many people do you know who are willing to pony up the taxes necessary to accomplish this? How many of our leaders are willing to lead the American people to do the right thing by our children?

Finally, we need to integrate our public schools by bringing all economic classes of children into the same classrooms. If we believe that we want a country based on shared middle class values, economic integration is the only what that will happen. Our current system segregates people by where they live, causing a real knowledge gap between the classes as well as a sizable empathy gap.

There’s the plan in four short paragraphs. It would do wonders for our schools, our economy and the soul of our nation.

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Take This, Reformers!

If you read one education article in the next year, read this one by Pasi Sahlberg, a leader in making the Finnish school system the envy of the world. Readers of my blog will find Sahlberg supporting many of the things I have advanced, only better. I wish the leaders of our two great national teacher unions would read it and take it to hart. I wish they would get off the absolutely stupid “a great teacher in every classroom” kick that they have adopted from the so-called reformers.

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It’s Not What We Say…

While it is easy to find school board members and central office administrators who talk a good game about being against New York’s obsessive testing, it’s more difficult to find local decision makers willing to be more activist and actually do something to further the cause of educating kids rather than testing them. Thus I’ve had good things to say about the administration in Rockville Centre who made it easy for parents to opt their kids out of the recent barrage of state exams.

Complementary words are in order too for the leaders of the Schoharie School District outside of Albany for the cleaver shot they have taken at the state’s testing scheme. Reaching the mid-point of the academic quarter when progress reports are due to parents, the district informed the community of its inability to accurately express the progress of its students because it had been consumed for weeks with preparation, administration and the marking of the state tests. Here’s a taste of how their action played in the local media.

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Taking a Risk for Justice

A couple of days ago, at a union meeting of leaders from adjacent school districts, I listened to Jeanette Deutermann, the leader of the Long Island Opt-Out movement, parents who will not allow their kids to be subjected to New York’s obsessive testing. Deutermann spoke eloquently of how the upsetting experience of her child during the state exams led her to start asking questions about them, the answers to which were deeply disturbing. She shared her concerns with some friends, tied into what opt-out movements in other states were doing, and the Long Island movement was born.
Deutermann is clearly looking for a way to work with teachers. She doesn’t want to get them in trouble, but she knows that it is only through a close alliance of parents and teachers that the powers in Albany will be more fearful of an enraged public than the corporate leaders sponsoring the current testing regime as a tool to discredit public schools.

In response to Deutermann’s remarks, I spoke about the need for teacher unions to support the Opt-Out movement if we are to maintain our credibility with our parent communities. At the very least, I maintained, we ought to be encouraging our own members to opt their kids out of a testing regime that we often claim is tantamount to child abuse. Addressing the concerns of several leaders that there were risks associated with defying the education department both for individuals and school districts, I tried to bring my colleagues back to their roots.

I observed that the brave souls who started our teacher union movement took far greater risks than I was talking about. That, for example, the brave teachers who undertook the first strike on Long Island did so with a law on the books that permitted the state to terminate them for striking. However, they knew what all who strive for social justice know – that there is always risk in confronting injustice, but the risk of tolerating it is greater. Those who take the battle on are not fearless. They get scared, but they do what they have to anyway.

I don’t know if I convinced anyone. I do know I’m sick and tired of union meetings where leaders find an assortment of excuses to avoid taking action. Too many of our unions have adopted a service model instead of an organizing one, the one that brought us from what was essentially serfdom to economic security. I know too that if we rise up and use our numbers to unite with pro-public education citizens and confront the privatizers, the testocrats and the plain stupid, we can save public education and our profession.

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Gates and Our Union

Some of my colleagues were upset by Diane Ravitch’s blog post for yesterday from which they learned that last year our state union accepted a grant from the Gates Foundation to its Education and Learning trust of $500,000. I’m happy for their surprise. I’m even happier for their anger! I hope they channel their anger into action.

While I didn’t know of this, even though I’m a member of the NYSUT Board of Directors, I’m not in any way shocked by this news. That the NEA and AFT have both been altogether too cozy with Gates has been clear for years. Why would anyone be surprised that the AFT’s largest state affiliate would try to translate that coziness into dollars? Where was the outrage two AFT conventions ago when the featured speaker was none other than Bill Gates talking about teacher accountability and how to measure it? Very few people walked out of the hall with me. Our leaders encouraged us to be polite to the man who has done more to discredit teachers and public education than anyone I can think of. Our leaders believed for a time that a seat at Bill Gates’ table would enable us to influence the policy of his foundation, ameliorating the negative influence of his money on our profession. I believe they have started to learn otherwise. We can see them changing course. Their policies haven’t worked. Our members are increasingly demanding action. They are starting to get it.

Both AFT and NEA have gotten considerably more aggressive in the anti-testing campaign. While they can’t yet bring themselves to openly support the Opt-Out movement, it’s beginning to lo0k as though they will have to if we are to maintain any credibility with parents of the children we serve. When AFT President Randi Weingarten calls for a moratorium on “the consequences” of the Common Core Standards because of the slipshod way in which they are being implemented, she surely knows that call will go unheeded and that the only next step open to us will be to join the growing public movement against the Common Core. Both organizations are making serious efforts to get away from service oriented unionism and back to their organizing roots. Witness the call of New York’s leaders for a mass demonstration in Albany on June 8 to demand a sane testing regime and adequate funding of our schools. Better yet, witness the organizing work being done at the local level to make this day a huge success.
So, colleagues, be angry. Let your anger move us to action. Let’s get organized. Let’s start taking some risks to defend public education. We’re going to have to do more than vote and write letters to save the institution we love.

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A Moment’s Elation

I’ve spent much of the past two days interviewing high school seniors in Plainview and Syosset for the 2013 Berkowitz Scholarship, an award created in memory of Leonard and Myriam Berkowitz, she a teacher in Syosset and he a psychologist in Plainview. Their estate provided the funding for these awards, leaving it to the union in each district do choose the recipients. This year, we will award three $12500 scholarships, three in each district.

This is all by way of introducing my point which is that those who think America’s schools are failing should have been with me the last two days talking to the outstanding, well-educated young people the Plainview and Syosset school district have turned. Had these children gone to the finest private schools, they would not have been offered broader educational opportunities, better teaching or sounder academic preparation. In fact, in many ways I suspect their preparation has been better than many of their privately educated peers. Let me be quick to point out, I know, if others don’t, that had I visited many of the school districts on Long Island, I would have found similar, bright, well-educated children, ready to pursue whatever further education they desire.

This morning, however, I found myself wondering how long it will be before we no longer do the wonderful job we’re doing. All over the state and nation, school budgets are being pared down, courses eliminated, teachers excessed and educational opportunities curtailed. Even richer districts like my own are starting to cut back. They tell the public that their kids are getting as good a program as ever, but anyone who thinks for a moment knows that’s untrue.

The simple fact of the matter is America feigns a deep concern for children. In most places, we resent having to pay for quality schools, convincing ourselves that public schools are bottomless waste pits. Our politicians thrive on that claptrap. They all want to brag about cutting taxes. In New York our pompous ass of a governor brags about bringing us a property tax can, a cap which in its short existence has clobbered the ability of public schools to deliver in many places even a basic education. We love our children, but we allow almost a quarter of them to live in poverty, voting for leaders who seek to cut the already meager programs that provide relief to these families.

Yesterday, I was reminded of what we are capable of doing for our children. Today, the world of budget cuts and unmet needs came crashing down on my momentary elation.

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Talk Education, Not Scores

If we are serious about ending the blight obsessive high stakes testing has inflicted on public education, we must cease lending the results of those tests any credibility. We need to stop having Board of Education meetings at which the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction spends a half hour inflicting upon the audience various charts and graphs of our students’ test scores which essentially have nothing to say about the quality of our academic program. We have to cease focusing people’s attention on statistically meaningless blips in scores, suggesting as was done last night that they are evidence of work that is needed. More often than not, they are evidence of nothing. In short, we need to talk about education, not scores. To do otherwise is to confront the testocracy on their terms, not ours. Every time we point to student scores as evidence of our success, we empower the enemies of public education

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The Day Ahead

I’ll be in Syosset today, interviewing students who have been nominated for the Leonard and Miriam Berkowitz Scholarship, an award created from the Berkowitz estate to honor children from two school districts in which the Berkowitzes spent their professional careers, she an elementary school teacher and he a psychologist at our high school in Plainview. The award in Syosset is to outstanding students who express an interest in becoming teachers.

I know I will meet at least some of the children of teachers who wish to follow in their parents’ footsteps. But, sadly, that can’t be done anymore, although I doubt that these children understand that. These children will not have the marvelous career I had to teach young people essentially as I saw fit, having earned the trust of the people who hired me. Only once did a principal ask me about my Regents grades in a particular class, observing that I had a 50% failure. With complete impunity, I laughed in his face, pointing out to the fool that this was not a Regents class, but a group of kids identified as potential drop-outs who I had encouraged to take the exam that no one thought any of them would pass. Little did I realize at the time that the fool’s mindless use of test data would become, after a time, the policy of the State of New York.

Spending my days listening to the grievances of teachers, watching them attempt to implement the reform program du jour, I feel that I want to ask the Berkowitz candidates, “What the hell is wrong with you? Why do you want a job that is becoming increasingly routinized and mechanized, where you have almost no say in what you teach and how you teach it, where the public has been led to believe that you are over-paid and under-worked, a job which every person who has been to school feels competent to tell you how to do.. What is it about this work that attracts you?

Most will answer with statements like, “I love to work with children.” How do I tell them that that’s not enough? How do I explain that they have years of struggle ahead to fight for and demand the respect and dignity that previous generations struggled through their unions to achieve. I suspect my eye will be on the candidates who show an aptitude for that struggle.

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Common Core Moratorium?

Recently, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten called for a moratorium on the implementation of the Common Core Standards, suggesting that we should get them working before we count them. Thus begins the process of at least one of our nation teacher unions distancing themselves from what time is showing tom be the lasted corporate sponsored reform initiative to be shoved down the throats of America’s k-12 teachers. Whatever merits the standards themselves may have, tied as they increasingly are to batteries of standardized tests, they will come to be seen even by a remote national union leadership to be inimical to the educational welfare of children and destructive of the craft of teaching. I welcome Weingarten’s remarks, but it’s time for her to get in front of her membership and distance the AFT even further from the reformers, recognizing that we need catch up with a parent led rejection of controls on local education policy through obsessive state testing.

In this regard the National Education Association is stunningly late to recognize that the tide is turning against the reformers. A look at their current webpage on Common Core Standards finds the following out of touch comment. “ NEA has been working to ensure educator input throughout the development and implementation of the standards. As an early partner of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, we provided support for common standards and opportunities for our members to provide specific feedback on the standards themselves. We believe this state-led initiative has the potential to provide teachers with manageable curriculum goals and more freedom to exercise professional judgment in planning and instruction.”

Ensuring educator input? Huh? The NEA’s statement is reminiscent of an old definition of progressive education I once heard. “Progressive education is an approach to instruction in which students are forced to do what they want.”

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What’s Fair?

Several times in recent months, usually in the context of discussions of financing public education, I’ve had the experience of being at union meetings where the sentiment is expressed that “Long Islanders pay much more in taxes to Albany than they get back.” The speakers, having assumed an inequity, go on to demand that something be done to see to it that we get our fair share. Two speakers, business administrators of Long Island school districts, gave expression to these sentiments at the Take Action Long Island (TALI) event Wednesday at which Diane Ravitch was the featured speaker. One speaker stupidly went so far as to suggest that if we don’t get a greater share of the state’s tax revenue, we ought to pursue statehood. New York State sends more to Washington than we get back, should we be looking at nationhood? Sadly, it was not surprising that these remarks were met with cheers from the audience, even the union activists present who should know better.

Now I well understand the strains of the property tax cap that prompt the anger at Albany. The so-called increase in aid to education this year barely took us back to where we were a couple of years ago. School districts throughout the state are dismantling their programs for lack of funds. At the rate we are going, we are surely following the path of California which once had the finest public school system in the nation until Howard Jarvis and his Proposition 13 capped property tax increases. But we are not going to get out of the mess we’re in and get a fairer formula for financing public education by trying to get more for ourselves at the expense of others less fortunate than we are. Here’s a fact that even some of my union colleagues don’t like to accept. Relative to most of the state of New York, most of our Long Island communities are rich. Think about Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton and many of the upstate rural communities. Many are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy with no local tax base. Do we think these people can be made to believe that we are being treated unfairly relative to them? Do we think that they and their elected representatives are going to support giving more to their downstate cousins when their communities are in many cases literally dying? For us to call for a greater share of an existing tax revenue pie is both socially regressive and stupid politics.

Rather, as coalition builders, we should be talking about how most of us are getting screwed by a system of taxation that is unfair to every region of the state in that it is not premised on the principles that those who make more should contribute more and that every child in New York State is deserving of the same educational opportunities. We ought to be reaching out across county lines to once and for all end the property tax as a principal source of school revenue, replacing it with the income tax. In short we ought to be talking about fairness for all, even if that means some of us have to pay more, and a fair system of funding the social and infrastructure needs of our society probably does mean that many in attendance at the TALI event would have to pay more. That shouldn’t bother us if we are interested in social justice as we claim to be.

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A Hopeful Note

Eleven hundred or so people gathered yesterday at the local wedding hall to hear Diane Ravitch speak about the corporate agenda to privatize our nation’s public schools, the subject of her soon to be released book. She was invited to speak by a group called Take Action Long Island (TALI), a group of mostly Nassau County teacher union leaders who are valiantly trying to take the teacher union movement back to its organizing roots. The event brought together teacher union activists, parents and public school administrators in what is emerging as a coalition of pro-public education forces who seem to have finally learned that their mutual respect for the centrality of public education to the health of our democracy is far more important than any of the issues that have historically divided them.

Ravitch broke no new ground in her analysis, except during the question period. Much of her speech methodically took the audience through chapter and verse on what obsessive testing is doing to our schools and how it is clearly a tool of those who wish to privatize the institution. In response to a question from the audience, however, a question about her thoughts on the Opt-Out movement, Ravitch startled the audience, particularly some of the assembled union leadership. She paused before answering, an impish smile coming to her face and said, “I have a dream. I dream that Long Island will opt out!” Thunderous applause greeted her call to action, after which she reminded us of a good union truth. If a few defy the state and opt their children out, there can be unpleasant consequences both for the individual students and the school district in which they reside. But if we all opt our kids out, there is nothing they can do except change the system.

While I have some issues with the remainder of yesterday’s program, I’ll save those for tomorrow’s post. I’ll close on the hopeful note that yesterday’s TALI sponsored event is but the latest evidence that the tide is turning against the so-called reformers. My thanks to TALI for their efforts to resuscitate a teacher labor movement that’s been gasping for air.

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In The Trenches

I spent about three hours yesterday sitting in the faculty lunch room of our high school talking to teachers. It’s the way I keep in touch with our membership. There’s something about the relaxed atmosphere of the lunch room that always gives me a keener insight into the thoughts of the membership than I get from attending more formal union meetings.

To say that the morale of the staff is at an all-time low is to understate the mood I found. A music teacher expresses his frustration with one of the more absurd aspects of the Common Core Standards as he talks about a student for whom music has been a welcome relief from his academic struggles but who now has to do written music assignments – one more thing to expose his weaknesses – one more thing to worry about.
Two foreign language teachers (I refuse to use the expression languages other than English – LOTE) speak impassionedly about the stupidity of requiring them to teach two different levels of language in the same classroom because cuts made to next year’s budget.
But my lasting impression of the day came from a teacher who asked, “Morty, do you think things will turn around in public education? I have nine more years before I can retire, and I can’t stand what’s happening.”

Here’s the short version of my response, a response that spread out over three lunch periods with and ever changing audience.
I think we can win the battle to save public education. Despite money advantage of the so-called reformers, the public appears to be waking up and is joining with the educators in their communities to demand education instead of testing, age appropriate curricula instead of the untested Common Core and schools that do not overburden kids with pressures to compete and succeed. We are clearly on the road to gaining these victories, even though it doesn’t seem so some days. Parents are opting their kids out of the tests in greater numbers. Coalitions are forming to oppose the Common Core Standards. Teacher union, albeit late to the party, have embraced the battle against obsessive testing, and while they can’t quite get themselves to say screw the Common Core are at least focused on the inane way in which it is being implemented.

What I’m not so sanguine about is the future of the art of teaching. A notion has taken hold that technology offers the possibility of ensuring that each student at each level receives the same instruction and that that is a desirable outcome. Wherever I go, people are talking programs, programs that invariably mean that what a teacher does in her classroom is prescribed by corporate made materials, increasingly of a digital variety. Corporate designed programs followed up with corporate designed tests. Good teachers following the programs getting good results on the tests. What the students are getting no one seems to care as long as they are college or career ready, ready to take their place as cogs in the corporate controlled world. I routinely meet teachers who are completely nonplussed when their smart boards fail, having built few skills to engage learners other than media of one kind or another. This is the battle that too few are fighting. Unless more of us take this on, teaching is headed to becoming a low skilled job of leading children through exercises and activities designed by others, a job almost anyone can do. Why then will we pay professional salaries to those who do it? What satisfaction will come from doing it? May Day is a good time to think about such things.

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