A Teachable Moment

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

Time is Money

Fran Sussner Rogers’ New York Times Op-Ed on the imminent change in the federal rules governing overtime talks about “…the clash between the finite amount of time employees actually have versus the desire of employers to treat time as an inexhaustible resource. And this issue affects everyone, whether eligible for overtime or not.” Although Rogers is a business consultant whose thoughts are aimed primarily at the private sector, they will resonate with America’s teaching workforce as well.

At a time when they are depicted as an unskilled, undereducated, uncaring pro-union lot by a corporate reform movement and their allies in our political class, the fact is today’s teachers, about 75 percent of whom are female, are working much harder than the teachers of my generation, particularly elementary teachers. The typical seven hour work day was never enough to cover all that teachers were expected to do. New standards, new curriculum, new programs, more meetings, greater parental demands, more professional development, more test prep all create the feeling in many that one can never do enough – that there is always something more that a teacher could be doing for her students. In recent years, I’ve had many more conversations with union members who express increasing difficulty meeting the needs of their own families, it still being the case that home and family responsibilities tend to fall disproportionately on women. So many more demands are made of teacher today that I have taken to talking to our members about their responsibilities to themselves and to their own mental and physical health. A line I often reach for is, “If you let them, management will suck the marrow out of your bones.”

This increased actual work load of teachers and the psychic burden attendant to the uncertainties created by the war declared by certain financial/political elites on public education have coincided, not coincidentally, with stagnating teacher wages. The recent financial crisis significantly exacerbated the pressure to hold down the wages of public employees, particularly teachers. Here in New York a property tax cap was put in place, a brilliant political move by bipartisan lawmakers who lack the fortitude to put in place a fairer, more progressive way of financing public services. This completely arbitrary tax cap is stimulating a race to the bottom in teacher salaries and working conditions. In my own district, we are currently dealing with a management that wants a longer school year but is unwilling to pay for it, their belief seeming to be that our time is of no meaning to us. Elsewhere, we see other examples of disrespect for increasingly difficult teacher work. From rising contribution rates to pensions and benefits to the adoption of entirely new and inferior salary schedules for new hires, the time and extraordinary efforts of teachers are undervalued. It appears that the teacher union battles for the dignity of being paid fairly for one’s time need to be fought all over again.

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The Screen Invasion

Regular readers are well aware that I am at best suspicious of the importance of technology to the education of children, especially young ones. I see the infusion of technology in our public schools as a part of the corporate sponsored education reform movement that has cleverly but insidiously manipulated public opinion into almost a fetishistic belief that a modern education must be structured on a technological base. Without kids spending huge amounts of time staring at screens in school, all hope for rewarding employment in the future is jeopardized. Seemingly unaware that this belief gradually clouds the historic meaning of an education, its meaning coming closer and closer to training, ignorant and irresponsible school leaders seeking celebrity have become the unwitting handmaidens of the high tech moguls, using their power over public school budgets to purchase all of the paraphernalia a 21st century education is said to require. Once down this path, school districts are seemingly forever committing more and more of their budgets to trying to stay up-to-date technologically, not realizing that Silicon Valley has a business plan that renders this attempt impossible.

I’m thinking about all of this again this morning in response to my friend Jeanette Deutermann, the Long Island Opt-Out leader, drawing my attention to a piece in the Hechinger Report highlighting the mass introduction of I-Pads in the Mineola Schools. Deutermann was alarmed by what she read and wondered why more parents are not similarly aroused. The huge response by people to her Facebook posting of this article offers some hope that parents are beginning to recognize this invasion of screens into our classrooms as the serious threat to quality education that it is.

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We Need to Expect More of Our Representatives

New York State’s property tax cap is not set to expire until next year. This law, originally intended to address the inequities of financing public services off of a highly regressive tax, has been a disaster that has led to the slow but steady erosion of our vital public infrastructure, not the least of which are our public schools. Yet, Governor Cuomo and the state’s Republican majority in the Senate want to make this law permanent. They have leveraged this demand by tying it to renewal of the rent control laws in New York City that protect working people from predatory rent gouging, a law supported by the Democrat majority in the Assembly.

Why can we not expect our elected representatives to see the need to protect city renters from what we know happens in a completely unregulated rental market. At a time when there appears to be a broad consensus that the middle class is vanishing as wealth and income are redistributed upwards, surely all but the stupid or corrupt can see the need to preserve affordable housing in the City. By the same token, they surely see that many in our communities are unnecessarily financially squeezed by the financing of education through a tax that that allows people of widely disparate income to pay the same amount towards public services. We need to relieve people who are unrealistically burdened by the property tax. The solution to their problems, however, can’t be to degrade our schools and other public services by artificially capping the revenue that supports those services.

Our elected representatives play us for fools. Deep down we all know we can’t continue to cut taxes and maintain our communities. Rather than have a serious public discussion of how we might fairly provide the quality public services we all know we need and want, our elected representatives play to our basest instincts. Ask me if I want a tax increase, and I’ll tell you I don’t. But show me a better system of financing public services tied to my ability to pay, and I will gladly accept it, even if it means that I have to pay more. I believe most people see it my way. It’s unfairness that rankles Americans. It’s the perception that the game is rigged against them.

Until we can expect better from our representatives in Albany, the public’s contempt for government will continue to grow and the quality of our communities will diminish.

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Either They Are With Us Or …

If everybody who claims to oppose corporate sponsored school reform were willing to seriously do so, we would be much closer to what I still believe will be an inevitable victory. The vote of the Regents to adopt the Education department’s recommended APPR regulations was eleven in favor, six opposed. Among the eleven voting for adoption was Long Island’s Roger Tilles.

Tilles has enjoyed broad support from Long Islanders interested in public education. He correctly saw that the opt out movement had long political legs and almost embraced I by talking about its potency and correctly predicting its rapid growth. Joining the six regents who strongly opposed the new regulations would have built on his public support, and, beyond question, Tilles is smart enough to have known this. His support for the new regulations suggests that he has an agenda the importance of which trumps his allegiance to the anti-testing movement. Having heard him talk several times about his desire to become the next chancellor, I suspect that’s what his vote is about.

We can expect him to explain his vote as a strategic play towards a bigger goal than the changes to the APPR process. Others may choose to believe him I won’t. That’s a version of the excuse our legislators give for having voted to change the APPR law in the first place. Given his public record of opposition to much of what the new regulations contain, he was ethically obliged to oppose these stupid and harmful regulations.

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More Time to Do A Stupid Thing

The New York Regents having voted to grant four month delays for districts that show they cannot negotiate new teacher evaluation plans by the statutory November deadline is being viewed with deep relief in the public education community. It seems having more time to do something stupid if preferable to having to do it quickly. And stupid and wasteful of time money and energy the new system surely is. It’s the latest Albany perpetrated fraud. Complete with growth measures that can’t be substantiated to measure student growth, with independent evaluators who will know next to nothing about the context in which their evaluations of teachers will take place, with SLO targets, weighted averages, rubrics, matrices all adding up to HEDI scores – all to tell us what should be immediately discernible to a trained educator’s eye – whether a teacher is bad, good or exceptional. The more I think about this latest iteration of the teacher evaluation fraud the more dedicated I become to seeing to it that the scum-bucket legislators who voted for this crazy law pay the ultimate political price for they cynical bargain with governor who is owned by the corporate education reformers. If you doubt that take a look at this Common Cause report.

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Mystifying Teacher Evaluations

This morning, I read through the proposed Regents regulations to implement the new APPR process written into law during the state budget process. The language in which the proposed regulations are expressed is the usual opaque educationist drivel one has come to expect from an education department whose pronouncements are increasingly unintelligible. They have been developing an in- group slang language for educrats to be able to talk to each other without the outside world understanding what they are saying. One would think that the procedure for evaluating a teacher or principal could be expressed in clear, concise English immediately intelligible to the person being evaluated.

While I’m sure I will have more to say once the regulation are adopted, I can’t help observing once again that neither the current APPR process nor this new one will improve the education of the children of this state one jot. Neither is a significant improvement over the local evaluations systems in place before the education deformers decided to discredit them, encouraging the public to believe that teachers were essentially accountability to no one. That was and remains a lie. Forty years of working in schools convinces me that detecting really bad teachers, teachers who are subject matter deficient and/or who fundamentally lack the ability to teach and manage students is simple and amazingly easy. It’s so simple most students are capable to a very high degree of letting us know who they are. Locating the remainder of teachers on some sort of spectrum of ability is a far more difficult task and one that I grow increasingly sure causes more problems than it solves. It is hardly worth the time, money and effort devoted to it. It distracts us for the discussion of issues where we really could advance the work we do.

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The SAT’s Business Plan

How many excuses will our society come up with to avoid the fact that it is unwilling to confront the national shame that a quarter of our youth live in poverty, a condition that significantly alters their futures in countless ways? Will we continue to tolerate corporate snake oil salespeople like the SAT’s David Coleman who is now hawking a program to have SAT prep become an integral part of the public school day beginning in grade 8? The SAT will provide free Kahn Academy materials, attempting thereby to capitalize on Kahn’s current popularity in some circles. But this is but the latest example of corporate giving to get, with fortunes to be made as SAT dips into school budgets everywhere. Isn’t this just what public education needs most at this moment, more test prep. It’s getting to be the time for a movement to opt out of the SAT and all of its products. You can read about this latest attempt to infiltrate public education in this article in The Atlantic.

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Enough Evaluation Rhetoric

When do the politicians and educationists exhaust their capacity to pontificate on what kind of teacher evaluation and accountability scheme we should have? I’m so sick and tired high sounding verbiage that complicates what to me has always been really simple.

It has and always will be easy to spot teachers who do not belong in our schools. One shouldn’t need any teacher tests to know if a candidate for an English position is knowledgeable about the subject. A skilled English teacher armed with the candidate’s college and graduate school transcripts should be easily able to glean knowledge of the subject in the course of a good interview.

Of course one can know a subject thoroughly and not be able to teach it successfully. Those who are thoroughly lacking in teaching ability reveal themselves almost immediately to those who know how to look for teaching talent and care to see. One doesn’t need any rubrics to see if students are engaged in a coherent lesson on part of the established curriculum. One requires no arcane powers to gauge the quality of teacher questioning and the depth of the student discussion her questions provoke. Where a teacher has developed rapport and respect with her students, the presence of an observer causes the students to almost instinctively help that teacher shine – kids who feel supported academically and emotionally responding in kind. If one wants to view the efficacy of a teacher’s writing instruction, a periodic review of her written assignments is all that is necessary to see if quality work is being done.

I’m completely sure that what I’ve said for English works for any discipline. It presumes that the supervisor knows the subject herself and is confidently willing to honestly evaluate her subordinates. I stress the honesty piece in that over the years I’ve witnessed numbers administrators try to explain their failure to document the shortcomings of clearly bad teachers by blaming it on the strong union I lead. The fact is, however, our union has never gone to bat for a probationary teacher whose poor performance has been amply documented.

The really good news is that there never have been large numbers of ineffective teachers in my district. That’s true of most districts in our state. The overwhelming number of them work harder, invest more emotion and time in their work than they are paid for and are too often made to feel that their efforts are unappreciated. This seemingly endless search for the ideal way to evaluate them contributes mightily to their feelings of being underappreciated. Listening to them talk about the ever changing evaluation models, one senses that they perceive that they are being stalked by predators out to rob them of their profession.

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On Monday night our board of education voted to close our Kindergarten Center for the 2016-17 school year. That uniformed decision based on the recommendation of the superintendent of schools will have negative ramifications on many levels, one of which is that it will tend heighten the already existing over-focus on academics that has been degrading our kindergarten program for some time. Our district, like many, has to a very considerable degree allowed school reform propaganda and the Common Core mantra of “college and career ready” to shape a program that grows further and further away from what we know about child development. I strongly suspect that in the not too distant future we will be talking about early childhood schools for pre-K through K with curricula aligned with the natural curiosity of children to learn through structured play. When that discussion finally takes place, people will look back on the shortsightedness of the current plan and laugh sardonically about how the propagators of it were seen as visionaries.

The true visionaries are the school leaders who understand the need to base early childhood education on the science of child development. The have the foresight and nerve to buck today’s “best practice” for what real educators know about the needs of young children. This morning’s New York Times has an article that highlights some true visionary early childhood leaders who are returning kindergarten education to something much closer to Fredrich Froebel’s original approach of teaching children through play of increasing complexity. It’s remarkable to realize that back in the 19th century people knew more about how children learn than some people today who claim the title educator.

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Time for Some Offence on Tenure, Pensions Etc.

Until everyone, not just teachers, has tenure, the due process rights of teachers will be under attack by ideological zealots who play to the base emotions of many people who believe that because they lack protection from arbitrary dismissal, everyone should. The more educators and their organizations defend tenure, the more their defense is seen as a desperate attempt to maintain a privilege denied to most others.

Rather than simply playing defense, why not promote the idea that no one should be fired without just cause and without some procedural rights to ensure whether or not cause exists. The time for such an approach may be at hand, given that the American public is increasingly sensitive to the probability that the current economic system is rigged against them. Might it not be appealing to say to those who envy our protection from arbitrary firing, “You know, we understand your envy. We have enjoyed a privilege that really ought to belong to every working person in our nation. No workers should fear losing their jobs for no good reason.

We need to take the same approach to defined benefit pensions as well. Why aren’t we talking about every worker having a secure retirement? Why are an increasing number of our elderly having to exist on the completely inadequate Social security benefits currently provided?

There is so much economic insecurity in our nation today. Advancing programmatic measures aimed at reducing the feeling many have that they are living on the edge of an economic abyss could become politically popular. Look at the unexpected response Bernie Sanders is receiving.

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A Stupid Solution to a Serious Problem

Not content with the damage they have already done to our public schools and the teachers who serve in them, many of our leaders in Albany are trying desperately to close out the year with a trifecta that includes a tax giveaway to the rich who support private and parochial schools and a permanent property tax cap.

The property tax cap was a stupid solution to a serious problem. The property tax is a dreadfully unfair way to finance public education. Communities vary greatly in the property available to be taxed, ensuring that the zip code in which a child is born will have enormous impact on the resources available to educate him. Then too, within communities there is the problem of people with widely disparate incomes contributing the same amount simply because they own the same model home. Most people recognize these problems with the property tax.

Governor Cuomo and a majority of the legislature recognized the problem but lacked the political courage to fashion an equitable solution. Thus, we got a property tax cap that limits property tax increases to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. No question the cap has helped some homeowners who legitimately were being squeezed by escalating taxes. But what was left out of the solution was how to maintain the health of the public institutions the taxes support when in a low inflation environment budgets can’t even approach a two percent increase. That question is still not being answered in Albany where the push is on to make the cap, which is set to expire next year, permanent.

There are other more progressive ideas floating around the capitol. The concept of a property tax “circuit breaker,” first proposed by NYSUT some years ago, has once again gotten some attention. While there are various versions of it, the essential concept is to tie one’s property tax liability to one’s ability to pay by not permitting property taxes to go beyond a certain percentage of family income. This is certainly fairer than the current system and an approach that New Yorkers would find acceptable. Such a system would enable us to guard the health of our public institutions. If we don’t do something like this soon, we will see a profound deterioration of our schools and other locally provided public services. We must not make a stupid solution to a serious problem permanent.

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The Ethical Challenges of Teaching Today

My understanding of the impact of poverty on children has been enormously enriched by the insights of Richard Rothstein, a scholar at the Economic Policy Institute. To read his work or to hear him speak is to see through the political smoke callous, ethically bankrupt politicians like Andrew Cuomo whose teacher accountability snake-oil is promoted to hide facing the failure of our society to deal with the reality that a quarter of our nation’s children live and are being permanently scarred by poverty. All of this is my personal preamble to Valerie Strauss’ publication of Rothstein’s remarks to the graduating class of Bank Street College of Education. While teachers have always faced ethical challenges, the totally corrupted state of our public schools raises ethical issues no previous generation of teachers has had to confront. Although I wish Rothstein had worked the possibilities of an ethical life in teacher achieved through collective action with one’s colleagues, his thought provoking remarks should be read and considered by every teacher in today’s public school classrooms, even in our best schools. This is a must read!

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12 Hours?

Yesterday schools in New York administered the Common Core English and geometry Regents examinations. For some of our students with special education modifications requiring extra time, we had teachers prepared to proctor the examinations until 8:00 P.M.. That means that some kids could take the two examinations for as long as twelve hours – TWELVE HOURS! It’s getting to the point where we need a Geneva Convention to outlaw this clear violation of the human rights of children. How can a civilized people permit children to be treated this way? Why is no one held accountable for this outrage?

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Scapegoating Teachers

On my way to work yesterday, I listened to a WNYC piece focused on the Mount Vernon schools and the challenges it faces educating vast numbers of kids who lives have been damaged by poverty. This is a school district in which over 600 of its students are homeless, one in which many enter schools physically and mentally unequipped to learn.

As I thought about what I would write about today, a story told by a principal in the district came to mind and evoked the same rush of anger I experienced when I first heard it. She told of seeing a little boy who had been absent from school that day and enquiring of him the reasons for his absence. The boy explained that he had no clean clothes to wear to school, leaving the principal to ask, “Where are we living,” her way of expressing the cruel irony that such conditions exist in one of the richest counties of the richest country in the world.
Mount Vernon and other similar schools districts in the state have waged a legal battle for what they believe is the serious short changing of their schools by the state. Asked what she would do if the money her district sought were forthcoming, the Mount Vernon principal talked first about hiring a full-time nurse, because, she explained, so many of her students had unaddressed health issues and never get to see a doctor. She went on to enumerate other services like psychologists, guidance counselors and many service providers who are routinely part of our wealthier school districts.

The radio piece contrasted these heart rending conditions with Governor Cuomo’s speeches blaming ineffective teachers for the problems of schools like the ones in Mount Vernon. Andrew Cuomo wants people to believe that putting resources into districts like this only inflates the bureaucracy, adding nothing to the performance of the schools. If you listen to the people from the Mount Vernon schools featured in this piece and think about what they confront daily, then if blame is to be allotted for these horrendous conditions, it lies with empty windbags like Andrew Cuomo who would scapegoat teachers to try to avoid their responsibility to take care of the desperate needs of children like the ones featured in this story.

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Free College?

I was tickled to read this morning that Bernie Sanders has been drawing big crowds in Iowa, not quite what was to be expected of a democratic socialist candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States. While my heart and some of my personal cash is with Bernie, I don’t realistically expect him to win. He will, however, clearly change the dynamic of the race for the presidency.

Among Bernie’s most appealing ideas is the notion that America’s public colleges and universities should be open to America’s children without cost. The average cost to attend a public college or university in the U.S. was $9139 last year, a figure that does not include room and board, books and other incidental expenses attendant to going to college. The staggering increases in college tuition over time have led to a generation of young Americans who are massively in debt to the tune of over one trillion dollars. Too many young people aren’t even able to borrow and are shut off from higher education. I suspect that no candidate of either party will be able to avoid the issue of rising college costs. In the competition of remedies, taxing the wealthy and Wall Street to provide the opportunity for higher education to all of our children will make good sense to a generation of parents whose stagnating incomes render them unable to meet these rising costs.

It will be very interesting to see how many other socialist ideas are ultimately popular with the American people.

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It’s Been A Hard Week

While I’m still convinced that the developing coalition of parents and educators committed to the defeat of the corporate education reform movement will triumph in the end, this has been a week to test one’s faith.

In the face of a tripling of the number of parents opting their children out of New York’s high stakes tests, our Regents, some of them newly elected, went and hired a new commissioner with a track record of supporting the tying of student test scores to teacher evaluation, merit pay and school choice, a person proud of her association with the Gates Fund, whose money has heavily influences the growth and development of the corporate attack on public education. Mary Ellen Elia immediate went about her task of trying to sell the same old crap, using a kinder and gentler tone than her predecessor John King.

If Elia’s hiring was not bad enough, my area’s Regent, Roger Tilles, who has been identified with the forces opposing the corporate attempt to destroy the public schools, found himself on the Regents interview committee that dredged Ms. Elia up and was party to the unanimous vote to move her forward and appoint her. I suspect his behavior is part of his maneuvering to become the next chancellor, a goal he has from time to time publically discussed.

To my chagrin, NYSUT our state union, warmly welcomed the new commissioner as did the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten thereby leaving our strong parent partners in the opt out movement wondering about our solidarity with them. Some of our opt out allies were so incensed they exhorted our teachers to seek new leadership for their unions.

This week also saw Long Island’s Senator John Flanagan, elevated to the position of Majority Leader, announced that his legislative priority for the remainder of the session is making the property tax cap permanent and lifting the cap on charter schools. The new Education Committee Chair, my area’s Carl Marcellino, echoed his leader’s goals amid allegations that he is being investigated for double dipping into his state expense account.

In Plainview-Old Bethpage, my own district, this week made clear that our board of education intends to close our very successful Kindergarten Center, thereby doing nothing to improve the education of our children but seriously worsening the working conditions of two thirds of the elementary teacher in our who teach them. The tawdry way in which this decision came to be made, a process devoid of any concern for the thought of the staff affected has brought district morale to a frighteningly low point. Through the eyes of the teachers, their governor has no respect for their work; their legislators pass laws threatening their continuing employment; their Regents and state ed department contrive regulation divorced from the reality of their work-lives; and where one might expect to find support for their efforts – their home district, they are met with contempt for their efforts, their thoughts rejected as not thoughts at all but emotions, emotional women whining because they won’t be able to eat lunch with their friends. The final irony was to have our board president label it all part of a great vision brought to us by our superintendent of schools.

Finally, this was a week that saw the staff starting to talk about creating a pool on how many district administrators will leave us by the end of the year. I wonder how long it will take before someone in authority thinks this flight just might be a sign of something seriously wrong.

Its’ been a hard week.

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Long Live the Book

Have you noticed how it is becoming almost impossible to have a serious conversation with education policy makers and leaders about the efficacy of digital media – how it is frustratingly difficult to get over the presumption in some undefined magical way reading something on a device of some kind is superior to reading an old fashioned book? A recent study from England that received national attention demonstrated that kids who attend schools that ban cell phones do significantly better on national exams than their counterparts in school permitting cell phone use. Just about no one in my district had anything to say about it. Technology is progress, and progress is technology. End of discussion.

Well maybe not. There was an interesting piece on NPR this morning. Listen to it. Pay particular attention to the two scientists at the end of the piece. See if it doesn’t suggest the need for a serious discussion. Maybe you have to begin it.

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In Search of a Unifying Vision

My friends in the both the opt-out and local teacher unions here on Long Island are upset this morning at the unanimous appointment of MaryEllen Elia to be the Commissioner of Education of New York State. Appointing someone too closely associated with the Gates Foundation and its poisonous impact on teacher evaluation tied to student test scores, merit pay, parent choice and other aspects of the so-called education reform movement is seen as a reaffirmation of the failed policies that have brought us to the present moment in which growing numbers of parents are voting by withholding their children from what they consider to be a plague of high stakes tests.

There is also considerable chagrin at the almost knee-jerk welcome to the new commissioner by NYSUT, AFT and New York City’s UFT. That welcome is being taken as evidence that the leaders of these labor organizations lobbied the Regents for a commissioner who supports the Common Core State Standards and the testing aligned with the standards. The UFT from whence Randi Weingarten rose to become the President of the American Federation of Teachers is a strong supporter of the standards and a tap dancer on the subject of high stakes testing. And here’s the thing, I do understand why these are difficult political issues for them.

Minority communities in this country by and large support the Standards and testing. They believe that for too long their children have been plagued by the low expectations society has had for them, low expectations born of the bigotry arising from America’s original sin of slavery. In their view, testing shines a light on what they see as their underperforming schools while the Standards will hopefully drive performance gains. The UFT exists in a city of minorities. To their credit, their membership reflects the diversity of the City. They understandably need to tread gingerly in the areas of testing and the Standards. But that’s not what they have done.

Whereas the suburbs with their higher performing, well- resourced schools, schools populated with students coming from families of higher median income , have increasingly come to question the Standards and their age appropriateness and have opted their children out of high stakes tests which they see as oppressive and a tool of a corporate reform effort, the City union has exerted political influence both in NYSUT and with the New York City legislative delegation to advance policy positions strongly opposed by local, suburban unions like mine.

State unions by their nature are coalitions whose members don’t agree on everything. The challenge to leadership is to define a unifying vision of such broad appeal as to make those contradictions appear secondary to the allure of the uniting vision. That has not happened yet in NYSUT. It can’t happen so long as its largest local, one that makes up a third of its membership, is willing to subordinate the needs of the rest of the state to its local interests. It can’t do that so long as UFT is seen as the tail wagging the dog.

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What The Numbers Don’t Say

Our school board is contemplating closing our unique kindergarten center and making our elementary schools k-4. If the question is can they shoe-horn all of the kindergarteners into the existing elementary schools, the answer is that the can. The superintendent and board can assemble data and charts to show that we can fit everything in. But what is forgotten is that schools are places of learning for children and workplaces for teachers, and we don’t have very good metrics to express the impact of changing their physical and sociological environment.

The creation of our kindergarten center was a matter of convenience. It was the least disruptive way to deal with what in 1996 was a bulging elementary population. Among the alternative at the time was opening an elementary building and redistricting k-4, anathema to elected officials. The public was divided at the time, with most favoring a kindergarten center, although there was wide disagreement as to where this center should be housed.

Over the years since, a new and unique school was organized by the staff, one with a culture all its own. Anyone caring to understand it need only with wit the staff of this building for a few minutes to sense their teamwork in support of providing children with the best possible start to their school years possible. How does one quantify the advantages to school beginners of have a team of experts in this area available to them? What’s the metric for the value of a whole school program designed for five year-olds? What’s the social value of all of our community’s kids beginning school together?

Teachers and related school professionals are seen by school managements as interchangeable cogs who can be reassigned at will without any impact on the educational program. Teachers know better than that, but can’t express their superior understanding to bean counters of this world and to the increasing number of school decision makers who know almost nothing about educating children and leading the adults who do that special job.

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A Clear and Simple Program for Our Schools

I’ve become a real fan of former Labor Secretary Robert Reich who has returned to academia and undertaken to use various media to explain complicated economic and social problems to general audiences. His film Inequality for All has in a very real way put the issue of the growing disparity between a tiny group of ultra-rich and the rest of our society at the heart of political debate in our country, with even the most conservative Republicans feeling obliged to address an issue which once would have belonged solely to the political left. From time to time he addresses education issues as in this Huffington Post piece accompanied by one of his short videos. His program for America’s public schools has been the agenda of my local union from the time I joined it over forty years ago. Sad to say, we are still a long way from achieving it. Take a look at what he has to say.

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