A Teachable Moment

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

A Month of Atonement?

A member called this morning and asked me to explain the calculation of the local portion of her Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). Although I played a major role in negotiating the plan, I couldn’t recall the answer to her question. It’s hard enough to remember things that make sense. Senseless things like APPR plans have nothing to attach themselves to in one’s rational mind. I told her I would look it up and get back to her which I did.

The answer to her question hinged on the results of our district’s students on a state assessment relative to the average state performance of similar students statewide. Our students are expected to do better than the state average, and our plan awards point toward a teacher’s final score based on how much better than the average our students do. I emailed her back my answer complete with an explanatory chart only to be met with yet another question. “Why does it have to be so complicated and hard to understand?”

The answer to that question, of course, is even harder to understand. How could responsible adults devise a system of teacher evaluation that is largely incomprehensible to the teachers being evaluated? 99.9% of those being evaluated don’t understand how the state arrives at their growth score. A significant number don’t get 20% of the local score. All they really get is the 60% that is essentially tied to observations of their actual teaching (which was the system before the reformers took over).

Now before most teachers fully understand their current APPR plans, a law gets passed last year requiring us to negotiate new and in some ways even more obscure plans. When do the leaders of our school district say, ENOUGH! When will they give their full- throated support to the opt-out movement and return some level of sanity to our public schools? I’ve been hearing from some of our members that maybe we should refuse to participate – simply tell the state we prefer not to. Thank you, but no thank you. Thinking about all of this gave me the idea that our national unions ought to designate November as a month of atonement for what we have allowed the reformers to do to public ed

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Take Your Appeals Process and…

According to the New York State Department of Education, some two thousand teachers are potentially eligible to appeal their ineffective “growth score” on the state test portion of the teacher annual professional performance review (APPR). To my very pleasant surprise, only eighty-six have applied.

The small number of appeals suggests that most of the members of the pool of eligible teachers recognize the absurdity of the so-call growth scores and so long as their jobs are not threatened by the APPR process could care less whether they receive a highly effective or an effective rating. Their response to the appeal process is a small but healthy expression of contempt for an evaluation system that is seen by most teachers as denigrating their hard work.

The appeals process appears to be part of a public relations campaign by the Regents and Commissioner Elia to rehabilitate the State’s disastrous education reform efforts with cosmetic changes. Look for the State to re-introduce the Common Core as the New New York Standards which will change some of the words but little of the substance of the Standards. Regrettably, real change is probably only going to happen when a majority of the children in all of the public schools in our state are opted out of the high stakes examinations and when we defeat a least a few of our elected leaders who have inflicted this scourge on us.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Accountability or Surveillance?

Much of what gets talked about today under the heading of teacher accountability should be more appropriately referred to as surveillance. Accountability implies responsibility and an obligation to explain or account for one’s actions. Surveillance denotes watching for wrongdoing, catching malefactors in the act. It’s root is the word from which we get vigil. True teacher accountability tends to be embedded in the culture of an institution. It’s internalized by all staff regardless of rank to the point where an outlier gets the attention and sanction of all. It takes thoughtful leadership to build true accountability. It’s ultimately built on a deep respect for the work and the institution.

Teacher accountability today is increasingly a surveillance system. Neither the teacher observation systems currently employed nor the linkage of student test results to teacher evaluations promotes real accountability. Those are systems to which we devote huge resources of time and money to ferret out information that would be self-evident in an accountability approach built on a belief and trust in individuals to do the right thing. Those are systems that promote gaming. They do nothing to nurture institutional loyalty. The dirty little secret behind all the accountability palaver is that we could put an end to all of the surveillance we do of teachers, all the formal observations, all their growth scores, all the spying on them, all the questioning of children in their classes and the educational outcomes would be totally unchanged. Were we instead to put the money we spend on surveillance into reducing class size or other educationally enhancing measures, we would accomplish something real.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Ya Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Just when I think I’m familiar with every teacher degrading aspect of public education today, I find that there is yet more to learn. In my Twitter feed this morning was, “Sign the petition: Help us end #McTeacher Nights!” What? McTeacher Nights? Go to learn that there are resource starved public schools in our rich country that get money from McDonald’s for having their teachers serve hamburgers and fries to students who are lured to the restaurant by the “pleasure” of being served by their teachers. Can you imagine? Teacher readers will intuitively understand that in most of these places teachers are coerced into volunteering for this degrading work. I’m not sure what good it will do, but I signed the NEA petition. Perhaps you will also.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

The Debate

A few post-debate thoughts. If one had believed that the early endorsement of Hillary Clinton by the NEA and AFT would have motivated Hillary to say even some innocuous words about k-12 public education, he would have been sorely disappointed. Her failure to say anything about the abject failure of current education policy does not bode well for her working to stop the damage of yearly high stake testing and the evaluation of teachers based on so-called growth measures. Why is it so hard for our national leaders to realize that if you promise political support to a candidate who has not expressed public support for at least some of your agenda, the likelihood of getting the candidate’s cooperation upon election is almost nil? Unless there is a ground swell of grassroots outrage, we’re likely to get little more than platitudes from Hillary. Why would she give more and run the risk of alienating other constituencies?

Putting her slight of public education, Hillary certainly did a good job last night. While I don’t agree with the New York Times that she was a clear winner of the debate, at the very least Bernie Sanders having clearly held his own, she demonstrated a command of the issues and credible positions on them. In fact all of the Dems demonstrated knowledge and thoughtfulness almost completely absent from the Republican debates. There were no climate change deniers, no evolution skeptics, no believers that but for the Nazi confiscation of people’s guns the Holocaust would never have happened, no gun fetishists, no appeals to bigotry, xenophobia and vainglorious patriotism and mercifully no appeals to superiority of any religion. The debate was mostly about ideas, serious ideas and a more elevated political discussion than we usually get.

It will be interest to see the effect if any of the debate on the polls. I’m particularly interested to see if Bernie Sanders managed to broaden his appeal to people who may not have known him very well before. The best line of the night had to belong to Bernie Sanders who said, “Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress.”

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Tonight’s Debate

I’m looking forward to the Democratic debate tonight. I’m hoping that unlike what we have seen thus far from the Republicans, education policy will figure significantly. A lot depends, of course, on the questions the moderator asks, but with Hillary having gotten the endorsement of the NEA and AFT and Bernie likely to try to minimize its impact, the subject is likely to come up one way or another.

Look for signs tonight that the candidates understand that there is a grassroots rebellion surging against the corporate driven education policy of the Obama administration. If the candidates understand this phenomenon and its huge potential electoral power, especially in low turnout primary elections, we should hear them competing for the votes Americans who oppose yearly high stake testing and the connection of these tests to the evaluation of teachers. I’ll be looking for recognition that poverty is the central factor prejudicing the achievement of America’s children and specific recommendations for hoe to confront the fact that so many American children begin school substantially behind their wealthier peers.

All of the Democratic candidates claim to be strong supporters of public education. We need more than their claims. We need to hear definitive plans for how they are going to do this, plans for ceasing the war on teachers and public education.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Support for Hillary

I’ve been clear that I opposed the early endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National education Association (NEA). I’m a proud supporter of Bernie Sanders because he offers a vision of a more decent and humane society in which the rights of working people trump the endless greed of the gang of plutocrats currently calling the shots. I’m pleased that so many young people are flocking to his cause. It says to me that they aspire to live in a more equal and just society in which they have obligations to others as well as themselves. Some recent polling by Pew Research suggests that a majority of young people support government interventions in our economy that promote economic justice. It’s similarly pleasing in that it suggests that our public schools may be doing a better job of inculcating notions of good citizenship than I thought despite the ed reform movement.

Yet, Should Hillary be the nominee of the Democratic Party, I will do whatever I can to see to it that she is elected, it being unimaginably horrifying to think of any of the Republican candidates winning. What I’m having real trouble accepting is the banal blither the leaders of our two great education unions are bombarding me with, ostensibly aimed at giving me reasons to enthusiastically support Hillary but which elicit far more anger than excitement. Just this morning, Randi Weingarten, a Facebook friend, posted a piece pushing the incredibly stupid notion that Hillary is actually more progressive than Bernie. Here’s the link if you have a need to have your intelligence assaulted.

I know I may have to vote for Hillary in the end, but please let me do that out of sheer pragmatism. I won’t have buyer’s remorse when she wins. I know exactly what I’m getting. Better than any Republican to be sure, but not Bernie.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Education vs. Training

Those of us who value education, especially public education, are faced with overcoming the very successful rhetoric of the reform movement that like an insidious virus has invaded our understanding of what it means to be educated, rapidly replicating itself to the point where many cannot remember or do not know that education was once about more than training for a job or college entrance.

My elementary schooling taught me to read, write and do some math, but it was about so much more. It was there that I learned about classical music, not a staple in my childhood home. I learned folk music too, songs of social protest, labor songs. So much of what we did in school was directed at citizenship, at our responsibilities to others. Excellent copies of great art works hung on the school walls, works that our teachers would talk to us about. There were weekly assemblies, often focused on guests who had come to talk to us. I vividly remember a family of refugees from the Korean War coming to speak to us about the plight of their country. I remember too the Korean folksong they taught. There was time for crafts of all kinds, from making a covered wagon out of strawberry boxes to woven bookmarks. There was time for fun. The best of the teachers I had told us stories of their own lives. Our music teacher even brought her French husband to school one day to talk to us about growing up in France and what France was like under the Nazi occupation. Or Miss Levy who had a travel itch and who told us wonderful stories of her experience of the midnight sun in Spitsbergen and spending a summer in India.

My teachers did so much to make us aware of the world beyond our Brooklyn community and helped us to understand our place in it. They had time to do these things. There were no pacing charts, no high stakes tests, no psycho-babble about twentieth skills, no making us anxious about gaining acceptance to college or our need to know what we wanted to work at as adults. We didn’t go home to hours of homework. The little homework that we had didn’t require the assistance of our parents. Home was for good time without parents, listening to the radio, watching television, reading and dinner conversations. My school was about getting educated. It was not about what I could take from the world but about what I might be able to give. It wasn’t aimed at preparing me for global economic competition but rather for citizenship and an enriched cultural life. Above all else it got me thinking about social justice and human freedom.

Some of my readers will respond that the world has changed. It surely has but in ways that make real education even more important than it was in my youth.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

The Latest Common Core Scam

One of the key points in the marketing of the Common Core State Standards has been the desirability of some to compare the accomplishments of students across state lines. How do New York students compare to those in Colorado or Utah? Universal standards for what children should be able to do grade by grade in theory make such comparisons possible. It is only theory, however, a theory that omits the reality that public education exists in a roiling political environment, one in which elected officials subordinate educational idealism to electoral realities. A front page story in the New York Times this morning makes this point exactly. It turns out that states define and report student accomplishment on the Common Core exams variously, making meaningful comparisons just about impossible. A student who is proficient in one state could be failing in another, even though both have been taught to the same standard. Every so slowly, the American people are learning that they have had their pockets picked once again.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Let’s Get Ethically Conspicuous

Both on the phone and through social media, many parents of elementary students in our district contact me complaining about the Common Core State Standards, particularly the math standards. It’s been in part through these exchanges that I have formed the opinion that the writers of the Common Core State Standards knew little to nothing about the intellectual development of children.

Last evening at a regular meeting of our board of education, a very poised and articulate young woman got up and began to talk about the response of her third grader to the math instruction. A teacher in a neighboring district, she was careful not to blame any staff in the school her daughter attends, focusing instead on her experiences as a parent with a child for whom math homework is an almost automatic trigger of emotional meltdowns. So much is expected of the children that teachers have little time to pause and reteach when children don’t get it, the rhythm of their work dictated by pacing charts aimed at getting them to cover everything before the state assessments in the spring, assessments that are tied to their annual professional performance review or APPR. Skill work in math or any other subject for that matter requires time for students to practice, practice that pacing charts do not adequately allow for.

I hear stories like this almost every day, from parents and teachers who often tell me that what they are forcing young children to do is tantamount to child abuse. Reports to the public in our district suggest that not only is all well but our children are doing outstandingly, learning concepts that only much older children used to learn. And, in fact, some are. But left unaddressed is an unknown number of children, anecdotally a very significant number of children, who are being asked to learn things they are not ready to learn to satisfy policy makers who subordinate the intellectual and emotional welfare of our children to half-baked economic ideas about international competitiveness, as though if we don’t jam as much material down children’s throats as fast as we can, the economy of the United States is going to come tumbling down, leaving us at the mercy of those evil Chinese who are training their children to economically vanquish us. Doesn’t anyone wonder how teaching children to hate learning is probably not a ticket to success, economic or otherwise?

Sadly, I think most of our board of education knows that there is something seriously wrong. Whether they have the courage to admit it publicly is another matter. If I’m correct that they know something is seriously wrong, then it seems to me they, no we, have an ethical responsibility to do whatever is necessary to treat our children caringly. Like many other Long island districts we’re into conspicuous achievement. We love awards and contests and all sorts of competitions that have little to do with the quality of our schools. How wonderful it would be if we decided to conspicuously modify the standards so that they comport with age appropriate abilities of our children – lead the way to serious reform. While we’re at it, what if our leaders all got behind the opt-out movement, strengthening this movement that will ultimately defeat the corporate reform agenda. Stop the damage here. Help to stop it throughout our state. Get on the ethical high road. Fear of state reprisals is no excuse for not doing what’s right for kids.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

The Appointment of John King

Social media were buzzing this weekend with postings about the appointment of John King to succeed Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. While it seems almost inconceivable at first glance that the President would appoint a person who became a lightning rod for the opposition to the President’s own policies, reflection suggests otherwise. Obama has been consistent on education policy from the time he first became a candidate. Our national teacher unions just chose to ignore the things he said during his campaign.

The first time I heard Barack Obama speak was at the NEA convention during the primaries preceding his election. He was one among most of the Democratic candidates to appear. I remember being struck with his chutzpah to come before ten thousand teacher union activists and brazenly support charter schools, merit pay and much of the so-called school reform movement. I listened to his speech seated next to a union leader who was so appalled by his remarks that he walked out of the hall in the middle of Obama’s speech. Some months later when the NEA despite his advocacy for positions anathema to most of its membership moved to support Obama over Hillary Clinton, it was clear that were he to win we were going to have problems with him. He surely didn’t disappoint, naming Chicago school head Arne Duncan who cleverly devised a plan to implement Obama’s corporate school reform agenda by bribing financially strapped school districts with big federal dollars if they would just sign on to his plan. That they did in droves.

Although Duncan came under growing criticism and with him Obama’s education policies, the President never wavered in his support for his friend and his policies. It’s simply a fact that President Obama subscribes to the major tenants of the reform movement, believing that if we just had the right teachers and the right standards, all of America’s children, even those scarred by the effects of poverty, can achieve at high levels. With little more than a year to his presidency, why would he change course now? In John King, he has a man whose public biography has been skillfully constructed to crafted to illustrate the power of education to help children overcome even extreme adversity, King having lost his parents at a very early age, crediting teachers with having set him on his course to success. That King spent his formative years in a middleclass environment, absorbing mainstream middleclass values, receiving the kind of stimulation children require to be successful learners is ignored in a narrative that influences the belief that if good schools saved him, why wouldn’t they be able to save all of America’s children? From Obama’s perspective, King is the perfect choice. His appointment signals Obama’s commitment to stand by his beliefs, even if they have shown to be ineffective.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

The Public Mostly Gets It

For 47 years Phi Delta Kappa and the Gallup Organization have been polling American attitudes towards public education. This year’s just released poll clearly shows that the American public does not support the major planks of the corporate school reform program. The public overwhelmingly believes that students are subjected to too many standardized tests and are against holding students, teachers and schools accountable on the basis of them, understanding that they are more than the score on a snap shot examination. Despite the massive publicity campaign to discredit our public schools and the tax dollars that support them, the number one education issue in the mind of the public is insufficient funding.

So if the public does not support the corporate reform agenda, and there is almost no evidence that it is working to improve anything, in whose interest are the test and punish reforms being pushed? Our democratic institutions are threatened as never before by the corruption of our politics by the moneyed interests. Central to that corruption is the attempt to discredit and privatize our public schools, the institution that sustains our democratic values. These interests throw massive amounts of money into our political campaigns, shaping the positions of candidates with their dollars. One of the key factors of Donald trump’s popularity is his unequivocal admission that he has given money to politicians of both parties because that’s what good businessmen like him do. After all, they need favors sometimes.

There is much to encourage defenders of public education in this poll. The reformers are clearly losing the battle for the public’s support. The remaining challenge is for public school defenders to build the political movement to defeat the corporate dominated stooges who represent us. For the unionists in this pro-public education coalition this will require a dramatic break from our traditional safety first politics. In this regard, the rush to early endorsements in the Democratic presidential primary is not very encouraging.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Teacher Morale

While low morale may be endemic to teaching in public schools owing to the emotional intensity of the work, some of the conversations I’ve had in recent days with members of our local union and union leaders from other districts suggest that teacher morale has plunged to astonishingly low levels.

As I walked into one of the schools in my district the other day, I came upon a conversation between a member and the security aid at the entrance to the building. As they came within earshot, I hear the member saying something about nine hundred as some odd days. After greeting them, I couldn’t resist asking about the nine hundred days, although I wasn’t prepared for the answer. “That’s the number of days until I can retire,” came the teacher’s answer.

That exchange has stayed with me since, causing me to think about what it must be like to see oneself trapped in a job and sustaining oneself by counting off the days, almost like a prisoner crossing off the days of her sentence. Whether it was something special about that day or just coincidence, that evening I met with a group of local union leaders who have been meeting regularly to try to energize our response to the devastating impact of the corporate school reform movement. There too, the depression of my colleagues was arresting. Leaders after leader spoke of the frustration and anger in their memberships. One colleague, while she had us in stitches with her dark humor, eloquently express her experience of the reform movement and the attempts to remedy its debilitating consequences, by analogizing the attempts of our politicians and regents to a dressmaker attempting to alter a dress that no matter what she does is never going to the fit customer. “Oh, you have a problem with the sleeve? I’ll just take it in a little here,” she said as she twisted up her sleeve. “Bra showing? If we just hike things up here a little bit, it will look beautiful,” she said as the dress began to completely distort her body. We laughed, but understood the depth of her feelings about what outsiders were doing to her work and career.

There was talk that evening of once great school districts having class sizes of almost forty students because the property tax cap has begun to bite even our wealthiest districts, rendering them incapable of meeting the challenges they once met with distinction. Governor Cuomo is calling for a reboot of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the testing regime tied to them. I’m not a techie, but when I reboot my computer, it does what it always did before the rebooting. If we are to rescue our schools from the privatizers, the philanthropists who give to get and the craven politicians who suck up to them for campaign donations, we need to do substantially more than reboot. We need to empower educators and their communities to rebuild schools so that they serve the needs of children again.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Wait for the Taskforce Report, But Get Opt-Out Letter In

Feeling the heat of the growing parent revolt against high stake testing and the evaluation of teachers based on student test scores, Governor Cuomo has once again reached for the creation of a taskforce on the Common Core State Standards, hoping to mollify those who hold him politically responsible for the chaos wrought in the name of higher academic standards.

Early responses to the naming of his taskforce are less than enthusiastic, with NYSUT welcoming the taskforce’s creation but suggesting that proof of its worth will await its recommendations for cleaning up the current education policy mess. Opt-out movement leaders have taken to social media this morning, most alleging the taskforce to be a fraud owing to its lack of parent and teacher members.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no informed opponents of the Common Core State Standards or high stakes testing on the panel. Those I know talk about the need to reduce the number of tests and a fairer system to evaluate teachers, but basically support the concept of national standards and the use of high stakes tests to measure student progress. The influence of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers is clearly present, with Randi Weingarten its former president, Catalina Fortino and a teacher from Brooklyn all owing allegiance to that powerful local union whose President, Michael Mulgrew, passionately defended an attempt to have the American Federation of Teacher oppose the Common Core at its last convention. It was on that occasion that he made his now infamous, intemperate threat to punch in the nose anyone who tried to take the standards away.

I will be pleasantly surprised if any change other than around the margins comes from this panel. Those of us who care about the extreme damage being inflicted on our best school districts in the name of standards and accountability must continue to build the parent movement to veto test and punish education by refusing to participate in it. Let’s wait for the panel’s report, but while we’re waiting, let’s encourage parents to get their opt-out letters in.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Competition Run Amuck

In conversations I have with parents, in posts on social media that I follow and in comments made by citizens at public meeting of our local board of education, I see a disturbing trend. Parents are increasingly seeing the education of their children as an all-consuming competition, one in which a good parent must seek competitive advantages for his own children and guard against such advantages for others. To be sure there has always been some of this in upper middle-class suburbs like ours. One can’t have taught high school students without having experienced combustible challenges to one’s grading that are often about as little as one point. It strikes me, however, that the situation has grown much worse, to the point where it influences decisions the school district makes.

Take the day that is being given over to the administration of the PSAT. Put aside the outrage that a private company is effectively mandating what public schools will do on a given day. Put aside too that many school district s like mine will pay the fee for the exam to the company. While most of the children in our high school will not be taking the exam, the district decision makes felt obligated to come up with a special program for the day because we couldn’t allow instruction to go on as that might put PSAT takes at a competitive disadvantage. That’s right. As this was explained to the public, I watched numbers of parents in the audience shaking their heads in assent, as if such a decision were axiomatic. Similarly, when the 3-8 state exams are given, children whose parents opt them out are sent to alternative areas where they are admonished not to work on anything that would get them academically ahead of their peers so as not to disadvantage them. How objectively crazy is this? Is it not a serious subversion of the reasons we send children to public school?

When we conceptualize our education system as a competitive area, we structure many of the behavioral outcomes of our children. In such an environment, one’s peers are rivals whose success diminishes us. One self-worth becomes aligned with one’s academic rank and as a student once told me when I questioned him about why grade were so important to him, “Without my grades, I’m nobody.”

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

NEA To Follow AFT IN Premature Endorsement

I gather that this weekend the NEA Board of Directors will endorse Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. Should they do so, they will be following the premature endorsement of the AFT and will have unnecessarily committed our membership to a candidate who as handled herself about as maladroitly as possible. Perhaps even more importantly, they will have further eroded the connection of the leaderships of both unions to the political activists in our ranks on whom they must depend to have their endorsement have any meaning.

By and large the union members likely to do the work to make our endorsement worthwhile are with Bernie Sanders. They have responded to his program for an economy that works for all of the people of our society, not just the one percent. They believe in his support for public education and trust that he stands up for what he says. The one’s I meet are both idealistic and practical. Their idealism embraces Bernie’s appeal to economic justice. Their pragmatism leaves them understanding him to be a longshot. Should he lose to Hillary, they are prepared to enthusiastically support her, but they believe, and so do I, that she will be a different Hillary as a result of their contest. Beyond any reasonable doubt, Bernie has pushed Hillary to the political left. Why not let that process continue? Why not make Hillary work for our endorsement? Where does Hillary stand on high stakes testing and its linkage by the reform movement to the evaluation of teachers? Where is Hillary on charter schools? What’s her program for addressing the achievement gap? Our premature support for her makes it much less likely that we will get definitive answers from her to any of these questions.

Once again the desire to cozy up to the powerful for the pleasure of the experience rather than as a part of a calculated political strategy appears to have overtaken both unions and thereby weakened them and the members they serve.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

New Yorkers Are On To The Common Core

A new Siena College poll finds 64 percent of New Yorkers think the Common Core State Standards have either had no effect on public education (24%) or have worsened it (40%). That then means that we have spent millions of dollars of scarce resources to fund the implementation of an approach that has diminished the public’s confidence in its schools. We have tied these standards to a regime of high stake tests of undetermined validity and in turn tied the student results to the evaluation of teachers, demoralizing our teacher corps as they have never been demoralized before.

We hired a new commissioner on the basis of her allegiance to the standards, the tests aligned with them and teacher accountability linked to student test scores. When does the absurdity of this policy dawn on our elected representatives? When do we collectively say, ENOUGH? When does it become clear to the policy makers that a few cosmetic changes will not suffice to convince the public of the merit of this policy? Must we wait for one hundred percent of New York’s students to opt out of the testing regime? Or have we reached the point where what the people of the state think no longer matters? Maybe the problem is even bigger than we think.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

The Seattle Strike

There were four education union strikes in the state of Washington this fall with the Seattle strike receiving the most attention. It remains to be seen whether this strike activity is a harbinger of increased union militancy or a phenomenon peculiar to special circumstances in the way schools in Washington State are funded.

One this is clear. The Seattle strike while about pay and benefits was also about professional conditions, the kind of conditions that have been demoralizing the people working in our nation’s public schools for some time. Already a leader in the anti-high stakes testing movement, the Seattle union representing teachers and support staff demanded and achieved two major concessions. Once and for all, they broke the ludicrous nexus between student test results and teacher evaluations, even winning some reduction in the number of tests required. Convinced that students were being subjected to more and more unrelenting academic pressures that were crowding out any time for students to relax and let off steam, the union bargained contractually mandated recess time for students. With some significant gains in special ed staffing and a financial package calling for a 9.5 percent wage increase over three years, an increase above a state funded increase of 4.8 percent over the next two years, the week-long strike certainly produced one of the best settlements we have seen in a long time.

The Seattle strike was clearly influenced by the recent teacher strike in Chicago, where a militant union mobilized the community to confront the test and punish policies of Democratic mayor Rahm Emmanuel. I want to believe that a trend is developing of a return to kind of militant education unionism that arose in the late 50’s and 60’s that ushered in an era of improving salaries, benefits and working conditions and which did so much to improve the lot of people working in our public schools and the children served in them. I want to believe that we can rebuild our movement from the bottom up and return it to a position where we sit at the table where education decisions are made as people who must be reckoned with because we are once again organized and organizing for ourselves and for economic justice in our nation.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

The Republicans and Education

Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate was notable for its almost complete lack of questioning or comments on education issues. Aside from a shot by Trump at Jeb Bush for his support of the Common Core State Standards, I don’t recall any other education remarks. Yet, it’s hard to find a state in our country where education issues aren’t hotly debated, particularly the issue of Common Core and high stakes testing. The candidates spent so much of the evening struggling with which of them is manlier and more bellicose than the others and President Obama that I suppose education was seen as a Low T topic.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Regents Cling to the Wrong Approach

It wasn’t very surprising to learn yesterday the New York State Regents voted to make their teacher evaluation regulations permanent. While some seats on the Board of Regents were flipped last year, there are still not enough members committed to ending the test and punish approach to school improvement that is choking meaningful quality education from even our best public schools. The real disappointment came with the knowledge that Regent Tilles, a professed opponent of the test and punish policy, voted to support the regulations, claiming he had to because it is required by law. Frankly, I have always seen Tilles as wanting things all ways. He opposes the current policy but votes to support the regulations. He opposes the scourge of high stakes testing but played a vital part in hiring Commissioner Elia, a proponent of testing and its connection to teacher evaluation. I fear Tilles is more interested in becoming chancellor than he is in acting on his professed beliefs. One way or another, he has let the defenders of public education on Long Island down.

Today, parents and school personnel who oppose the direction of education policy in our state are wearing red to show support for their local public schools. The failure of the Regents to seriously revise the regulations promulgated last spring will undoubtedly serve to breathe new energy into the opt-0ut movement. It will also hopefully begin the process of targeting public education’s political enemies in Albany and devising a strategy for their defeat in November 2016. Despise Governor Cuomo as I do, the crafty devil senses that the political tide is turning against him and his education policy, causing him to suddenly favor changes to the teacher evaluation system in the direction of greater fairness. It’s going to take more than that Andy!

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments