A Teachable Moment

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

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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Visionaries?

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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Long Island School Board Elections

Tuesday’s board of education elections on Lon Island were but the latest evidence that a growing number of parents want an end to the corrosive effects of high stakes testing. Jeanette Deutermann, founder of Long Island Opt-Out, reports that of the 75 candidates her organization endorsed, an astonishing 57 were elected. Our state representatives ought to be thinking about these results because supporters of the movement will be coming after them next. Those who make war on teachers will have their careers ended on the battlefields they have created. When the movement starts being covered on the front page of the New York Times, the cretins who represent us in Albany better watch out.

My own local worked very hard for the election of Jodi Campagna, a representative of Deutermann’s Long Island Opt-Out. Some who were opposed to her attempted to brand her a one issue candidate, seeing her advocacy for opting out of high stakes testing as a narrow vision for the future of our school district. More aware voters, however, saw the Jodi’s advocacy for what it really is – a battle to preserve a free, rich, multi-dimensional education that prepares children for responsible adulthood as citizens of a democratic society. Those who fail to understand that vision behind the opt-out movement are ironically themselves possesses of a restricted vision for our schools, that limited view being best expressed in the phrase that so easily rolls off the lips of the ill-informed –“ college and career ready.”

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Yesterday’s Regents Meeting

I have a seemingly endless capacity to endure verbal torture and was therefore able to watch that portion of yesterday’s Regents meeting available online. By the end, a couple of things became clear. While the most often used word in the hour or so meeting used to talk about the meeting itself was “conversation,” there really was no conversation to be heard. Instead it was more a group of windbags, most of whom spent their very limited time talking about things that they frankly appeared not to understand at all.

Not one of them seriously challenged the opaque presentation by deputy Commission Ken Wagner, a perfect master of meaningless speech disguised as intellectual discourse, a character who always causes my mind to wander to memories of the comedian Professor Irwin Corey, even though they all expressed very politically correct concerns with the state’s testing regime and its tie-in to teacher evaluation. What was needed was for one, just one, of the Regents to shout out, “Just what the f…. are you talking about.” Instead, lest someone think the Regents were losing their nerve on testing aligned to the Common Core Standards, Ms. Tisch, brought them back in line with her summary of the “conversation” from which she took away that none of the Regents wanted to ‘back away” from a testing regime tied to the Standards. The only Regent with the nerve to challenge Tisch a jot was Regent Betty Rosa from the Bronx who expressed her doubts the tests and the standards, politely dissociating herself from the Chancellor’s remarks.

While none of the Regents was clear on what our current testing regime tells us either about the performance of teachers or students, all seem to agree that we need betters test that do what they would be hard pressed to say. No one participating in the meeting seemed to be even remotely aware of the damage they have done to teaching and thereby to the student of our state. Those who have been hopeful that the Regents will somehow ameliorate the idiotic changes the Governor and Legislature made to the APPR law will be sorely disappointed. Frankly, I never expected much from them and have long been in favor of doing away with this body that is not directly answerable to the public.

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Angry Andy Is Still At It

Beginning to rival Scott Walker in his contempt for public education and public employees, our governor was out on Sunday speaking to religious groups about his tax credit scheme that would allow for tax deductions to individuals and businesses that donate scholarships to non-profit parochial and private schools. Never one to temper his remarks, Cuomo poured out his usual venom, suggesting that “sending your child to one of these failing public schools is in many ways condemning your child to get a second-class education.”

Keep it up Angry Andy. Deprive schools of the financial resources they need, scare a cowardly legislature into passing a teacher evaluation law that has demoralized the state’s teachers and now come up with a scheme to reward your rich friends and funnel even more tax dollars away from public schools. If Cuomo is a Democrat and if the Democrats in the Assembly choose to follow him, then I guess I’m not a Democrat anymore. What a shameful disregard for the public good.

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Kids Need to See to Learn

Pam Gallin and some ophthalmologist colleagues went into some schools in New York City’s poorer neighborhoods and screened 2400 children for eye problems. Four hundred and fifty of them were found to need glasses, some of them so badly they couldn’t see the “E” at the very top of the eye chart. Some of the children who had been labeled behavior problems turned out to be simply trying to communicate with classmates because they couldn’t see what the teacher was doing. This is just one of the many difficulties poor children face. Many children miss numbers of day of school because of dental pain, their parents often not having the money for dental care or the ability to take off from work to take the children. Poverty reduces the quality of these children’s live in so many ways, ways that are not accounted for in much of the gibberish written about failing inner city schools.

Not only are these children the innocent victims of poverty, now the state of New York wants to victimize their teachers. Just imagine how many thousands of kids there are in the inner cities of our state who like the kids in Dr. Gallin’s op-ed need glasses but are unable to get them. Then remember that their scores on standardized test are used to determine the continued employment of their teachers. How stupid can our leaders be? Their vision is so much more difficult to correct.

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Always the Wrong Discussion

The subject of almost always seems to stimulate public discussion that is unrelated to the urgency given to it at any given moment. In other words, we always seem to be having the wrong discussion, or so it seems to me.

In my town, the burning issue is whether we should close our unique kindergarten school in favor of moving the students to our -1-4 buildings. Passions are boiling over this issue. Try to get a serious public discussion of the fact that the program we offer kindergarten children increasingly diverges from what we know from research on child development, and one is met with blank stares at best. Some weeks ago, I tried to say some of this at a public meeting of our board of education. I spoke about how an alarming number of the members I represent who work in the area of mental health report that they are seeing shockingly high numbers of children presenting serious mental health issues. After I was done speaking, one board member angrily took me to task for my remarks, as though I was the enemy of the people.

Our media are filled with almost vengeful criticism of our public schools, but how many people do we hear talking about a growing rejection of scientific findings by Americans as perhaps a symptom of a failing education system. Is it not a striking failure of our schools that so many Americans view the concerns of climate scientists that there is good reason to believe that human activity is adding significantly to the warming of our planet as a hoax? What’s wrong with schools that graduate millions of students who believe the earth was created 6000 years ago? So much of our public discourse springs ultimately from ignorance of almost cosmic proportions, ignorance that goes unaddressed by our society and its leaders who peddle ignorance for their own political advantage. We’ve reached a point where the Governor of Texas alerts his state National Guard to watch the maneuvers at a local army base, encouraging his citizens to believe that the federal government means to take Texas over. What kind of schools produce a citizenry that doesn’t laugh him out of the governor’s mansion?

Do we seriously think that Common Core is going to address this failure to equip several generations of Americans to participate knowledgably and intelligently in our democracy? How will these so-called standards increase voter participation from the 37 percent of the last election cycle? How are high stakes tests tied to teacher evaluations going to enable our children to free themselves from ignorance spawned beliefs that continue to plague mankind? What does the expression “college and career ready” mean if our public schools encourage more and more of our best and brightest to go into finance and hedge fund management? How are any of the so-called reforms that serve as the focus of our public discourse on education going to address our society’s sin for permitting generation after generation of America’s children to be raised in debilitating poverty, poverty that starts children falling behind their more fortunate peers literally from the moment of their birth?

So many serious questions about how we educate our children need serious discussion while we put our time, money and resources into what at best are marginal issues.

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