A Teachable Moment

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

Moving Voting Out of School – Bigger Deal Than Expected

The Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education meeting was unusually well attended last evening. At first I thought parents turned out to listen to a presentation on an upcoming vote to bond over 50 million dollars in school improvements, but I was to learn that most were from our Old Bethpage School who had come to protest the way in which the district handled the presence of the voting public on Election Day.

Americans have been voting in public schools for generations. Public schools are ubiquitous, providing spacious rooms and parking facilities unavailable elsewhere in most communities. As public spaces, they don’t have to be rented and so provide an in expensive way for our society to provide the opportunity for its citizens to exercise one of their most sacred rights, the right to vote for those who represent us.

Listening to the anecdotes of the Old Bethpage parents, I could easily understand their concern. Their talk of people wandering around the schools, in some instances using student bath rooms is totally unacceptable. All of this in the still unsettled aftermath of Sandy Hook. Yet, I simply don’t understand why it is impossible to manage the flow of voters into and out of the school without them coming into unacceptable proximity to the students. Some security personnel and portable crowd barriers should enable us to alleviate the safety concerns of any reasonable person. While I’m sure that what I’m about to say will not be appreciated in some circles, I have always believed that an unrecognized benefit of school based voting is the opportunity it provides children with the first hand opportunity to see democracy in practice and to have their teachers talk about voting and its centrality to our society. Every year, in age appropriate ways, the wonderful elementary teachers I had talked to us about what was happening in a particular election, of giving us a sample ballot and allowing us to vote. From the time I got the vote to this day, I think I missed two opportunities to vote, both time during my Peace Corps service. I believe very deeply that the Election Day lessons my teachers taught and having two voting parents were responsible for my meeting my obligation as a citizen.

If that’s not enough to convince people of the importance of keeping voting in the schools, I learned something this morning about voting I never knew and I suspect most of my readers don’t know either. Where we vote can influence how we do it. In doing a little research before writing this post, I discovered a report of a Stanford study on the influence of location on how people vote. It turns out, that where people vote can have enough of an influence on the outcome of the election to decide close elections. As one of the researchers said, “Environmental cues, such as objects or places, can activate related constructs within individuals and influence the way they behave…” Thus, people are more likely to support a tax increase to support schools if they vote on the proposition in a well maintained school. Hold a referendum in a Catholic church on whether or not to permit stem cell research, and you are more likely to get a negative response. Although for me there always and continues to be broad educational benefit to holding elections in public schools, this research suggests that even more care is in order before we respond to the passionate demand of many parents to remove voting from our schools.

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Regents Keep Doubling Down on Testing

My readers know that I have long advocated doing away with the New York State Board of Regents as just one of the many layers of education bureaucracy that creates many problems for local school district and is essentially politically immune to the political influence of the public. This morning’s news is but the latest example of the total disregard by Merryl Tisch’s posse for the public’s sentiment on the issue of high stakes testing. Tomorrow the Regents are planning a vote on whether participation by school districts in field tests should be mandatory, or whether they should remain voluntary, with more and more districts choosing to opt out of them because of the growing burden of testing of their instructional programs. Field tests are examinations created by a testing company, in this case Pearson, to try out questions that may be used in later iterations of their high stakes tests.

No doubt The Regents are planning to make them mandatory, hoping thereby to push back against a rapidly rising opt out movement that threatens their Common Core test and punish approach to public education. If you are as determined as I am to end the tyranny of a Regents reform effort that is as divorced from the welfare of children and school districts as it could be, please consider sending our Regents a message about why requiring field testing is just their latest mistake. Here are their email addresses:

RegentTisch@mail.nysed.gov
RegentBottar@mail.nysed.gov
RegentBennett@mail.nysed.gov
RegentDawson@mail.nysed.gov
RegentChapey@mail.nysed.gov
RegentPhillips@mail.nysed.gov
RegentTallon@mail.nysed.gov
RegentTilles@mail.nysed.gov
RegentBendit@mail.nysed.gov
RegentRosa@mail.nysed.gov
RegentYoung@mail.nysed.gov
RegentCashin@mail.nysed.gov
RegentCottrell@mail.nysed.gov
RegentFinn@mail.nysed.gov

After you send your email, you may also wish to send a message to you elected representatives telling them that you support the abolition of the Regents, preferring that we have education policy makers responsive to the public.

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Absenteeism and Poverty

Those school reformers not motivated by the desire to privatize public schools for the profits to be made might want to look at and think about a new report released by New School scholars entitled “A Better Picture of Poverty” in which the effects of chronic absenteeism in New York City Schools is documented. The report located some 130 schools serving k-5 students in which a third of the school population has been chronically absent for 5 years in a row. Imagine the cumulative impact of missing significant amounts of instruction year after year. How do teachers cope with essentially itinerant students who are present one day and gone the next. The research shows that even the kids with better attendance suffer as teaching time is taken up by the desperate attempt to catch the chronically absent up. While the study was done in New York City, there is little doubt that the problem it documents is much the same in most of America’s blighted urban areas. On many occasions, I have heard my friend Phil Rumore, the head of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, talk about the centrality of chronic absenteeism to the problems of the Buffalo Schools. The reasons for the absenteeism vary from homelessness to not having clean clothes. How could anyone be stupid enough to believe that social pathology of this magnitude can be remedied better teachers?

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Leaders Who Won’t Lead

The other day, I posted an article on my Facebook page noting the criticism of some Hudson Valley school superintendents about the Common Core State Standards and the high stakes testing integral to this corporate sponsored school reform. My comment on the article was, “If New York’s superintendents got together, the Cuomo/Tisch/King attack on our public schools could come to an end. Imagine coordinated resistance by teachers, administrators and superintendents.” Last evening, at a forum on the Standards held in the South Huntington Public Library, four Long Island public school leaders, Superintendents Tom Rogers of Syosset and Lorna Lewis of Plainview-Old Bethpage and Assistant Superintendent Lydia Bellino of Cold Spring Harbor and Associate Superintendent Lydia Begley of Nassau County BOCES, displayed the kind of risk averse edutalk that passes for knowledge in some circles but which is ultimately a cover for a gross ethical failure to assume their appropriate role as defenders of our public schools and the children they serve.

Not a day goes by that several of our teacher members don’t contact me with some problem related to the Common Core State Standards. Most of the complaints stem from what teachers are convinced are the developmentally inappropriate expectations behind the Standards. I have a whole repertoire of stories of crying, puking children who are severely stressed and who talk about hating reading and or math. In our district, 20 percent of our students’ parents were so concerned about the negative effects of the state’s high stakes tests on their children that they opted them out of the entire testing process last year. Yet, these so-called school leaders on the panel last night had not a word to say about any of what they have to know is taking place daily in the schools they are paid to oversee. While the silver tongued Dr. Rogers warned the audience several times that the panel’s comments should not be construed as agreement with everything the state is asking schools to do , and while he and the others maintained that they express their disagreements with the state through vehicles comfortable to them, the fact of the matter is these highly paid leaders will not lead in the battle to protect their school districts because of fear as to what such public advocacy could bring by way of reprisal from Albany. “We’re doing what we can while we just follow Albany’s orders,” appears to be their flimsy defense.

The most informative part of the evening was the comments and questions of the parents in the audience. Not surprisingly, there were no questions or comments even remotely indicating support for the Standards or the testing baggage that comes with them. One comment from a teacher/parent stands out this morning as I replay the evening. She spoke as the parent of a child with severe learning disability who is unable to achieve anything higher than the lowest possible scores on the state examinations but who nevertheless is expected to meet the same standards as every other student. She spoke movingly about how no matter how hard her child works, she will fail and will never receive a high school diploma. How many thousands of kids like her daughter are in the same predicament? When they do fail, they will become nameless statistics used to demonstrate the failure of the public schools when in fact the real failure resides with the policy makers in Albany and the local school leaders who will not publically say what they know. Some of us are determined to see to it that that never happens.

It would be extraordinarily helpful to our cause if the leaders of our school districts joined us to save the institution of public education, an institution that has been personally very good to them. A few of them are publicly with us, and the rest have an open invitation to stand up and do the right thing at such time as the burden of conscience becomes more difficult to bear than the fears of damage to one’s career. With them or without them, whether we have the unbridled commitment of the state or national teacher unions or the local or state PTA’s, parents and teachers will win the battle to save our public schools and protect the children they were created to serve.

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Rich Child, Poor Child

The Obama administration announced today a new effort to attempt to get highly qualified, experienced teachers into the classrooms of our neediest schools. Once again, the administration appears to be saying the teachers are the problem rather than unaddressed festering social issues that are beyond the scope of public schools as they are currently configured. My colleague, PCT Treasurer Jane Weinkrantz, analyzes this latest attack from the President and Arne Duncan in this guest post. MR

The Obama administration’s July unveiling of the “Excellent Educators for All” initiative to place more “excellent” teachers in low- income schools has just been updated. However, the initiative still suggests that the President and his basketball buddy, Arne Duncan, still haven’t gotten a realistic grip on how the American education system works and why it succeeds where it succeeds and fails where it fails. The program demands that states create plans to distribute effective teachers more equitably among high and low income school districts. Here are the edu-vapor bullet points straight from Duncan’s press release:

• Comprehensive Educator Equity Plans
◦ The Department is asking states to analyze their data and consult with teachers, principals, districts, parents and community organizations to create new, comprehensive educator equity plans that put in place locally-developed solutions to ensure every student has effective educators.
◦ Chief State School Officers will receive a letter today from Secretary Duncan asking them to submit their new plans by April 2015. These plans were first created in 2006 and are required by Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
• Educator Equity Support Network
◦ The Department is investing $4.2 million to launch a new technical assistance network to support states and districts in developing and implementing their plans to ensure all students have access to great educators.
◦ The network will work to develop model plans, share promising practices, provide communities of practice for educators to discuss challenges and share lessons learned with each other, and create a network of support for educators working in high-need schools.
• Educator Equity Profiles
◦ To empower communities and help states enhance their equity plans, the Department will publish Educator Equity profiles this fall. The profiles will help states identify gaps in access to quality teaching for low-income and minority students, as well as shine a spotlight on places where high-need schools are beating the odds and successfully recruiting and retaining effective educators.
In addition to the profiles, the states will receive their complete data file from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). States will be able to conduct detailed analyses of the data to inform their discussions about local inequities and design strategies for improving those inequities.

Just to be clear, I want every child to have an excellent teacher. I don’t think income should be a factor in teacher quality. But, we all know it is. Look at any real estate advertisement. We may love the granite countertops, the central air or the “park like grounds,” but without the “EXCELLENT SCHOOLS!!!” part of the caption how eager are we to move in? When we purchase homes, American families buy the best schools we can afford. Think about the number of times someone you’ve met has said, “So what district are you in?” and commented “Very nice,” or sniffed with disdain, depending on your answer. We take pride in our zip codes because of our school districts. So what types of schools do the people who can’t afford homes and really can’t afford anything else get? They get schools with high teacher and administrative turnover, building code violations, crowded classrooms, outdated materials and failing standardized test scores.

A friend of mine teaches in a charter school in the South Bronx. She tells me stories of crowded classrooms, hungry children, violent children, kids who don’t speak English or have learning disabilities yet receive no services, a fractured discipline system, building safety conditions comparable to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, a sometimes scary walk from the subway to her school and, not surprisingly, an out-of-control teacher turnover rate. She is an intelligent woman and a dedicated teacher. In Plainview, she would be highly effective; at her school, most of her students failed the state assessments and we know test scores are the final and true arbiters of efficacy.

In Davonte’s Inferno: Ten Years in the New York Public School Gulag, Laurel M. Sturt, a New York City teacher who spent ten years working in an elementary school in the Bronx describes the revolving door of faculty as follows: “The want ads should read, ‘Seeking selfless, tireless, individuals with unbounded idealism, energy, stamina, and a capacity to be abused, maligned and underpaid.’ Indeed, the attrition rate is already huge, in urban districts about twenty percent a year, with about half of teachers nationwide leaving before the end of their fifth year. The instability from that high turnover, destructive to any learning community, but particularly to those in poverty (a change in teachers negatively affects learning outcome), costs in the billions of dollars annually from wasted teacher training, the expense of new training, and the loss of accumulated expertise from teachers who leave.”

Teacher burnout in low-income districts is much higher because the work is so much harder and the kids face so many more challenges just to get to school each day. Sturt chronicles children who came to school hungry, dirty, sick, sleepless, abused, homeless, with parents in prison and pretty much any other Dickensian condition you can imagine. There is a vast difference between that type of school and a school where, every August, teachers send out elaborate school supply lists that can total $50-$100 with the realistic expectation that everyone will have those items on the first day of school. The difference is money. Any child, but probably particularly a poor one, could tell you that. The middle class and wealthy can afford to give their children the support they need to thrive physically. I mention that before thriving academically because let’s face it—you can’t learn much when the loudest voice you hear belongs to the growl of your stomach and the heaviest thing you own is the weight of your own eyelids.

Yet, President Obama and Secretary Duncan think the difference is teachers. If they can just find the right teachers to teach in those poor schools, all will be well. Yet again, anything that’s wrong with education is something that is wrong with teachers. Poverty is not the problem. In fact, it’s OK to be hungry and homeless if you’re reading on grade level and passing your ELAs. If President Obama had announced a plan to make sure every low-income child has a full stomach, a bed to sleep in, a coat in the winter and a notebook to bring to class, I’d be thrilled. As it is, he’s announced a plan…well, not really a plan…if you look at those bullet points, there’s nothing there that could be called a plan. There are just some vague ideas: states will share “promising practices” which means that states will have to think of some promising practices—we’re not even feeling confident enough to call them “best practices” yet— because the Department of Education is flat out of suggestions. So, OK, President Obama and Secretary Duncan have issued a decree that states come up with plans, using guidelines that barely exist. Chad Aldeman, an associate partner at the nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners, told The Huffington Post. “The guidance released here — it’s honestly pretty fluffy, it’s just a non-binding plan.”

The non-existence of a plan isn’t even the real problem. Changing the players won’t change the schools, as long as the children remain deprived. The big change the President revealed today is painful in its naivete and commitment to delusion. He announced that states now have until June 2015 rather than April 2015 to submit their Educator Equity plans, giving states two more months to devise a solution to what is ultimately the problem of poverty. That should be plenty of time.

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Teachers Are the Last to Know In Plainview-Old Bethpage

New York’s Regents have apparently granted a waiver permitting high school students to take one or both the Common Core aligned English Regents Exam or the older examination based on the New York State standards. Should a student take both, he will be credited with the higher score of the two.

In what has become all too typical, a decision was taken at some level of our district’s governance to recommend to different sub-groups of eleventh graders that they take one or the other of these examinations in June. While one would think that the teachers in the high school English Department would have been consulted, and while the letters sent home to the parents of the sub-groups of eleventh graders imply teacher participation in the decision, the fact is the people teaching the children were never consulted. So, when these letters state that “…these decisions were based on discussions between various constituency groups…,” I guess the only conclusion to be drawn is that teachers are no longer considered one of the district’s constituencies. They need not be consulted before matters concerning their students are decided. This is but the latest administrative stunt that has eroded the confidence of the staff in the leadership of the district. Is there an award somewhere for the district that consults its teacher lease? I have this feeling that I’ll be hearing a board of education member brag about it at some upcoming meeting.

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Kid Deserve Time to Eat and Relax

As I do most mornings, I check on the Long Island Opt-Out Facebook page to see what members are up to. This group and its leader Jeanette Deutermann were responsible for organizing probably the largest boycott of state high stakes tests in the nation last year. In my district, Plainview-Old Bethpage some 20 percent of the kids skipped the exams.

This morning there was a post about how some districts are cutting lunch periods short and skipping phys ed in elementary schools to get more test prep in. A parent from my district reported that her child often returns from school with her snack which she says she didn’t have time to eat because students had a “working snack” period, and she didn’t feel she had enough time to finish the assignment and eat.

In our high school students are made to feel guilty if they take an unassigned lunch period. A publicity driven superintendent of schools hungry for the notoriety provided Newsweek or other pop-culture vehicles who rate schools in part on how many kids take AP classes. Teachers who know that in one way or another they will be judged on their test scores pile on the homework to the point where anyone who care to know realizes that even if high achieving high school students do homework until past midnight, they still need to get to school early to have time to grab what they couldn’t possibly finish from someone who has it. Those with better organizing skills, arrange for a division of labor on the assignments with a group share in the morning. While some lament the dishonesty in all of this, the greatest dishonesty is subjecting young people to a kind punishingly long day, more arduous than most of their college days will be, and more about endurance than education. If we can’t tell that something is seriously wrong when even little kids report that they don’t have time to eat and relax, then we have abdicated our responsibility to care for our young.

What a sorry state of affairs when there needs to be a rebellion to ensure that every child has 4o0 minutes or so to eat and talk with friends.

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An Analysis of Cuomo’s Victory

Following up on yesterday’s post on the takeaways from the Election Day, former Plainview-Old Bethpage social studies teacher and retired PCT member Joseph Marcal sent me his analysis of the gubernatorial election results in New York.

An analysis of the results of the election of Governor Andrew Cuomo shows how dissatisfied many Democrats are with him even though he won the election. In 2010 Cuomo received just short of three million votes which was 62.6% of the total vote. In the past election, he only received 1,942,705 votes which was 54% of the vote. By contrast both Carl Paladino in 2010 and Rob Astorino received almost the same vote of around 1,500,000 for both Republicans.

Why was the Cuomo vote so much lower”? The answer is in three parts. First Howie Hawkins of the Green Party received only 1.3% of the vote in 2010. In 2014 he received 4.9% of the vote. Hawkins went from almost 60,000 votes in 2010 to 175,000 votes even though there was a much lower voter turnout this year. Second, over 80,000 voters who voted in this election for other offices withheld their vote for governor. In other words they found no candidate for Governor worthy of their vote. Third,the fact that so many Democrats stayed home and did not vote at all while the Republican turnout was about the same indicates dissatisfaction by Democrats who simply passed on this election.

While Governor Cuomo can bask in his victory one can see the dissatisfaction of so many voters. How else can anyone explain the very low voter turnout, the rise of Howie Hawkins and the sharp decline of votes for Governor Cuomo this year?

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Election Takeaways

What to take away from the almost across the board Republic victory last night?

Clearly Democrats don’t have a message, at least not one that resonates with a population that feels itself disconnected from the improving economic statistics. Wages continue to stagnate to the point where Republican snake oil about economic improvements trickling down from the job creators to workers is more hopeful than the message of a party that increasingly finds it difficult to distinguish itself from the opposition on any issues other than hot button social ones. Progressive purity on the social issues doesn’t help people pay their bills.

Where were the Democratic candidates talking about the crying need to improve paychecks to improve demand to cause companies to hire more workers to meet that demand? Where were the candidates proposing massive public works projects to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure of our country, building that is easily financed with the low interest rates in effect today? Where were the Democrats addressing the problems of the long-term unemployed, many of whom will probably never have decent jobs again? Where were the Democrats marshaling the parents and teachers who are outraged by the well-heeled education reform lobby that is rapidly transmuting education into training, training that they aim to privatize as soon as they can engineer the failure of the public schools. Where were the Democrats boldly talking about the enormous contribution of the 11 million or so undocumented workers in our country who deserve an opportunity to stand tall in the light of day and be recognized for the Americans they have become? The answer to these and other such questions is NOWHERE!

Here in New York Governor Lesser of Two Evils gets another 4 years. Has anyone met a voter who is enthusiastic about that? Those of us whose skin crawls at the mention of his name can take some solace in the fact that his vote was clearly much less than he was hoping for. Those of us who supported Howie Hawkins and his call for a Green New Deal never though he could win but hoped he would carry a progressive message to a state once very hospitable to those ideas. That the Greens will now be in third place on the state ballot, ahead of the Working Families Party sell-outs, is about the only thing that made me smile this morning. Hearing their leader on the radio this morning excoriate Cuomo for his failure to live up to his deal with the WFP to work to elect Democrats to the state Senate was an example of fine dining on crow.

Those who believe that Hillary will save us in 2016 need to remember that she is tied to many of the Wall Street interests that Angry Andy is. Is she willing to call for the kind of policies that are necessary with rising wages, policies that will not be popular with many large contributors to he campaigns? Will she excite with hope those who didn’t bother to vote yesterday, believing that their effort didn’t matter, that is would change nothing? I have trouble with inevitability.
There is clearly more to take away. I’m looking forward to studies of the contribution of voter suppression on the election, for example. But enough for one dismal day.

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From Public Funds to Private Coffers

I’m almost at the point of thinking that the Common Core State standards are behind the country’s recent economic growth. Have you ever seen so much hocus-pocus, so much mystification of the simple as we are witnessing with the implementation of the Standards. New tests, new texts, new professional development courses, more consultants, more public relations to attempt to quell the growing rebellion against the Standards, more , and more and more. More taxpayer dollars being squandered on what teachers and the public are seeing ever more clearly as a business and not an education plan.

I’m thinking about this deplorable situation this morning having met with a group of teachers yesterday who reported that our high school hired some 30 substitute teachers yesterday to provide Common Core training to about a third of the staff. Two more days, I’m told, are to come. What is it about the Standards that they remain opaque to the bulk of the staff after countless meetings and staff development sessions? Wouldn’t a sound instructional innovation be readily understood by teachers who all minimally have an MA or MS degree? It becomes clearer and clearer that the real shifting going on is from public funds to private coffers.

Don’t forget to vote today. Think GREEN!

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A Green New Deal

In 1944 Franklin Roosevelt believing that the allies would shortly win the war, proposed an economic bill of rights for the American people. Here’s a grainy video of the speech, remarkable in that there isn’t a politician of one of the major parties who would dare to make anything like it today.

This speech is very much the center of the Green Party’s platform that seeks to put people and planet before profit. Howie Hawkins and the Greens echo Roosevelt’s speech in their call for a Green New Deal, adding to Roosevelt’s economic proposals a plan to protect the environment through a job creating plan to make New York powered by renewable energy by 2030.

It’s deeply disturbing to realize that 70 years after Roosevelt’s speech, the Democratic Party has no room for the kind of commitment to economic justice that he was talking about. Hawkins and the Greens and independents like Bernie Sanders are owed our gratitude for keeping these progressive ideas alive. If the polls are correct, Hawkins will get about 9 or 10 percent of the vote tomorrow, the largest vote for a minor party candidate ever. Just imagine what he could have done had he the 35 million dollars Cuomo raised from those who call themselves Democrats but have used their financial success to effectively reverse the New Deal and the security it sought for working people.

Bernie Sanders is making noises about running for president in 2016. Should he do so, he will have my support. He, and to some extent Elizabeth Warren, have the kind of moxie to motivate people to believe once again in the possibilities of a rendezvous with a glorious and just economic destiny.

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Another Leader Strongly Disagrees

My friend Phil Rumore, President of the Buffalo Teachers Federation is as angry as I am at the garbled message NYSUT is sending to its members by thanking Rob Astor for a letter he sent chastising Governor Cuomo for his intemperate remarks about the evaluation of teachers in an interview with the Daily News. You can subtract me too from the 600,000 NYSUT members on whose behalf our NYSUT officers thanked Astorino. Here’s Phil’s response.

MEMO TO: NYSUT Board of Directors

FROM: Philip Rumore, President, BTF

RE: “Open letter to Rob Astorino, elected leaders and candidates”

Make that 599,000 members in whose behalf that President Magee and Executive Vice President Pallotta are thanking Rob Astorino. Count me out.

To thank a candidate for Governor, who is opposed to tenure and supports renewable tenure, supports private school tax credits, supports the property tax cap, opposes the Dream Act, opposes Public Campaign Financing, opposes Triborough, etc. is beyond my comprehension.

He is obviously going to use this in his campaign.

That NYSUT is now posting information relating to Howie Hawkins does not undo the damage this “Open letter” will do.

What is the message to our friends that support us on the issues that Astorino does not?

Any justified anger with Cuomo and his recent statements does not justify over re-acting by praising a candidate
that opposes most of what we stand for – especially when Howie Hawkins stands with us on all of our issues.

While I have been proud to support you both in the past, I respectfully and strongly disagree with you on this issue.

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I Profoundly Disagree

I wrote yesterday of how the timidity of our unions to take on Governor Cuomo stokes his bullying tendencies, the latest example being his announcement that he will submit a plan for an even stronger evaluation system for teachers than the one he caused to become current law.

Desperate to gain some traction in an underfunded, somewhat pointless campaign, Republican Rob Astorino hoping to capitalize on teacher anger at Cuomo wrote an open letter to teachers taking Cuomo to task for denigrating them and reminding us that his wife is a special ed teacher and telling us that although we won’t always agree, he will be nicer to us than Angry Andy. Howie Hawkins, consistent with his thoroughly pro teacher pro public education positions also wrote, criticizing Cuomo gratuitous attack on teacher and our unions.

NYSUT officers, who engineered a position of no endorsement in the race for governor, responded to these letters with what has got to be one of the futilely silly efforts in our union’s history. They issued a series of letters, tweets, emails and Facebook postings thanking both Astorino and Hawkins for standing up for public education. The net result of these efforts is to put the union’s imprimatur on a vote for Astorino, a man with an arch conservative record, a politician who I heard many times excoriated by NYSUT Board members from his area, and, if I’m not mistaken, by Karen Magee herself before she was elected NYSUT president. This “anyone but Cuomo” message is neither principled nor smart.

If the NYSUT officers are remorseful over their failure to endorse in the race for governor, it would surely make more sense to encourage a vote for a candidate whose positions on education issues almost mirrors NYSUT policy, and whose positions on environmental and social issues parallels NYSUT’s social justice efforts. Howie Hawkins is that candidate. Such a response has many advantages. It says to the political world that we are going to support people who support our needs and beliefs and that our votes can no longer be taken for granted. Perhaps even more importantly, a shift away from the Albany insider political game to a politics that embraces our ideals could offer us a real opportunity to re-energize the waning desire of our member to engage in politics and sadly to even bother to vote. Howie Hawkins and the Green Party gave us this opportunity, but our leaders in Albany are saying a vote for Astorino is just as good. I profoundly disagree with them!

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Send All Leaders in Albany a Message

Andrew Cuomo has spent most of his re-election campaign hiding in plain sight. He’s made very few appearances, has managed to avoid all but one debate and any close scrutiny of his record. So it was a little surprising to read of his anti-teacher outburst to the Daily News, flipping the bird to the UFT and NYSUT for failing to endorse him by talking about a new round of tougher teacher evaluation proposals that he will submit after his reelection. So, on the eve of the election, with polls showing him 20 points or so ahead of his closest challenger, New York’s bloviating bull thrower of a governor decides to poke his finger in the eyes of Mike Mulgrew and Karen Magee, even though those two leaders surrendered to the governor when they failed to ask their governing boards to endorse Zephyr Teachout in the Democratic primary or Howie Hawkins in the general election. That’s the kind of timidity that invites bullies like Andrew Cuomo to prey.

New York’s teachers need to send a message to Cuomo, the members of the legislature and to their union leaders that they are tired. They can do that on Election Day next Tuesday by going to the polls and voting for the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins for governor. For Hawkins, it’s people and planet before profits. So it’s no to more charter schools, the Common Core State Standards, high stakes testing, the property tax cap, the gap elimination and hydraulic fracking and yes to renewable energy, due process for teachers, a progressive system of taxation, a $15 per hour minimum wage, the Triborough Amendment, universal health care and local control of schools. Should Hawkins receive votes equal to or better than his current polling numbers of about 10 percent, and should organized teachers continue to work after the election to build the party that embodies its values, the Greens will become a growing power to be reckoned with by the governor and legislature. He can easily do that, if New York’s teachers decide to stop wasting their vote by staying home or voting for the lesser of two evils and instead voting for what they believe. Our union movement is dying for some idealism.

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The Smart School Bond ACT

Proposition 3 on the ballot in New York this Election Day is entitled the Smart Schools Bond Act. While it may be smart for the high tech industry, I don’t believe it is a wise move for the citizens of this state.

The Act proposes that the state borrow 2 billion dollars which then would be apportioned to school districts on the basis of their state aid to enable them to purchase essentially whatever they wish. Districts would be free to buy things like computers and tablets and other gadgets that are almost obsolete as you take them out of their packaging. Yet, the taxpayers will be paying for them long after they are seen as relics of a remote past. The judgment of some of our school leaders suggests that much of this money would be wasted on the gadgets de jour. We need only look the colossal waste of millions on I-Pads in Los Angeles, where dollars that could have been spent to lower class size and expand cultural programs ended up as a pile of useless junk instead.

I have written before of what for me is the scam perpetrated on the public by some of the high tech companies who have discovered public schools as a major profit center. While there is astonishingly little evidence that the huge expenditures on high tech produce any significant academic gains, corporate propaganda has had the public convinced of its efficacy. They have contributed significantly to the empty verbiage of today’s discussions of education in which people vapidly punctuate their remarks with meaningless expressions like “21st century learners” and “best practices.” While I recognize that I risk poisoning the well when I observe that former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is on the panel created by Governor Cuomo that recommended features of the Act and will “oversee” its implementation should it pass, the fact is to me it is the latest example of corporate infiltration and subversion of public education.

A recent meeting of our board of education offered an example of just how deeply corporate ideas have penetrated our public schools. Our district just spent many thousands of dollars converting from Windows XP to Windows 8, a conversion brought on by Microsoft’s termination of its technical support for XP. Rather than lamenting how we are at the mercy of the Gates Empire who can stop supporting their products any time they choose to, one of our board members thought it an honor that Microsoft offered us an opportunity to be in one of their commercials. Some honor.

Finally, future iterations of the Common Core aligned high stake tests are planned for administration over the internet. Should this act pass, it will facilitate this process. This fact alone should cause those of us battling the scourge of high stakes testing to vote NO on Proposition 3. Maybe the Smart Schools Bond Act is not so smart for taxpayers after all.

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Proportional Representation

In Wednesday’s gubernatorial debate, among the many ideas proposed by Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins was a system of proportional representation. Needless to say, neither the other candidates nor the press asking the questions picked up on Hawkins’ proposal. Yet, the idea deserves serious discussion. A proportional representation electoral system could be an antidote to the growing mistrust of our government and other public institutions. Part of that mistrust surely stems from a feeling shared by many that their elected representatives from the two major parties do not speak to their interests and needs.

An electoral system based on proportional representation, while it can take many different forms, differs from our system of plurality voting. In our system, looking at the New York State Assembly for example, the state is divided up into election districts. Each district is represented by the winner of a plurality of the votes in that district, usually either a Republican or a Democrat. Such a system leaves members of the losing parties with the feeling that their views are not represented in the legislature. In a proportional system of representation, a party would get seats in the Assembly in proportion to the percentage of the vote it receives in the election.

Let’s take the upcoming election. If we had a proportional system and the Green Party gets 10 percent of the vote, they would be given 10 percent of the seats in the Assembly. Having those seats would provide those who voted for the party with a voice. In the case of the Greens, that would mean that ideas like a ban on hydraulic fracking, a single payer universal health care system, a 15 dollar minimum wage, an end to high stakes testing and the Common Core State Standards and other progressive ideas would be part of the public political debate. The presence of Green legislators, even though not in the majority, would influence members of other parties and would likely bring about the incorporation of at least some of their ideas in exchange for their votes. Most importantly, the people who voted for them would feel represented, even though they are in the minority. They would be less likely to be disengaged from the process. Proportional representation is inherently more democratic. In a proportional system working people could be relieved of the fear that in voting for smaller party candidates, they are wasting their vote. They could more comfortable vote for candidates who express their ideas and ideals, knowing that the odds that their views will receive at least some representation. Bravo to Hawkins for raising this important issue.

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The Debate

If you watched the New York gubernatorial debate last night, you have to agree that Howie Hawkins offered more clearly articulated substantive proposals than either Andrew Cuomo or Rob Astorino. Actually, the only other candidate to voice some ideas worth thinking about was the Libertarian Party candidate Michael Mc Dermott.

In its coverage of the debate this morning, all the New York Times could find to say about Hawkins and McDermott was, “The debate also included the Green Party nominee, Howie Hawkins, a United Parcel Service worker from Syracuse, and the Libertarian, Michael McDermott, a real estate broker from Long Island. Mr. Hawkins pledged to represent the “99 percent,” while Mr. McDermott expressed frustration with Republicans and Democrats.” The Tomes’ coverage was limited to the exchanges between Cuomo and Astorino which were conveyed in language saturated with boxing metaphor which in no way captured the impoverishment of the ideas of both candidates whose responses were essentially limited to Cuomo calling his opponent a racist and Astorino alleging that Cuomo is a felon who is about to be indicted.

Neither the Times not the candidates felt obliged to grapple with Hawkins’ ideas that included a research backed proposal for complete reliance on renewable energy in 15 years, a single payer health insurance plan and a progressive tax measure that would have the wealthy paying the rates they once paid thereby enabling significant tax relief for most New Yorkers. In education, where Cuomo claimed to have nothing to do with high stakes testing and the Common Core, Hawkins is for ending both and returning education to the control of locally elected officials. He was the only one in the debate who talked about the attempt by corporate interests to promote policies intended to have public schools fail so that they can become corporatized profit centers in the near future.

Last night’s debate is but the latest reminder of how our current political system constricts the flow of ideas, stifling all voices except those of the two brain dead major political parties. My guess is that only a very small proportion of the electorate saw the debate. With the press and media coverage essentially limited to the empty verbiage of Cuomo and Astorino, this will be for most voters an idea-free election. What a shame. Imagine if Hawkins’ best suggestion that we move to a system of proportional representation received serious exposure. I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.

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No Trust

I usually try to address this blog to issues of interest to people beyond the Plainview-Old Bethpage community. But at last night’s Board of Ed meeting, our superintendent reported that we opened schools with fewer scheduling problems than we had last year. Dr. Lewis expressed the hope that my union would publically recognize how well the district had done. Happy to oblige.

Last year we didn’t have scheduling issues. What we had were willful violations of our contract. They were such egregious attempts to rip us off that we settled all of them in our favor with the board’s attorney, a gentleman not known to be a pushover. So I wish to use my blog today to recognize publically that management chose to not violate the same sections of our contract this year. If congratulations were what Dr. Lewis was looking for, I’m afraid that’s not realistic.

In fact, this year the superintendent has chosen to violate a different section of our contract. After having spent two full years painstakingly negotiating an Annual Professional Performance Review plan and having appropriately implemented it last year, the district decided to violate the portion of it that addresses the observation of teachers. Sadly, the staff she neither knows nor trusts has totally lost whatever residual trust they had in her leadership. Good leaders know that trust, like loyalty, has to flow down before it flows up.

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Don’t Elect the Regents! Get Rid of Them!

A campaign has been developing to elect the Regents who oversee New York’s public education system. It parallels a growing dissatisfaction with an out of control testing regime tied to an ever growing negative reaction to the Common Core State Standards. While public disgust with New York’s education policy grows, the makers of that policy are insulated from the public’s anger, owing their appointments to the legislature, really to Assembly Speaker Silver and the Democrats who control the assembly.

The Regents exist as a shield for our elected representatives who meet the public’s displeasure with education policy with the cop-out that it is the Regents who make that policy. They just appropriate the money. Do away with the Regents and an election like the one we are about to have has the potential to become a clearer referendum on education policy. Look at New York City where in recent years the mayor has been given control of the public schools. Michael Bloomberg came in with a mandate that he used to bring his school reforms forward. Over time, citizens came to realize that his reforms were an abject failure causing them to elect a new mayor with a completely different philosophy of education.

We don’t need more elected representatives. We need the one’s we have to take responsibility for the education policy of the state. If the Regents ever had a good purpose, it has long since disappeared from view. There is no reason to set up another layer of politics in Alban

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The Degraded Language of Ed Talk

As a teacher I tried as best I could to avoid teaching the same thing the same way over and over again. I tried each time I taught a work of literature to approach it differently, even though by the time I reached the twentieth Hamlet, it required some serious imagination to think of a different way. For whatever I was teaching, I tried to think of an approach that that would work with the group of students in front of me. I never had any idea that there was a best way to teach something. I always understood each class as an experiment. I tried different assignments each year and wrote different examination questions, avoiding filling my file cabinet (later computer folders) with stuff from lessons past -all this in an effort to keep my teaching fresh and myself free from mind-numbing boredom. Sure, some things worked better than others, but what I experienced as the best ever in a particular year was eclipsed in another. I think that’s why when people today want to talk to me about best practices in teaching, my adrenaline starts to flow, urging me to flee to some place safe from the stupid talk headed my way if I remain.

I have much the same almost allergic reaction to the terms “individualized instruction,” “data driven”, “21st century learner” “college and career ready” and so much of the degraded language that permeates the discussion of public education. I never know what people who use these terms are talking about. More importantly, neither do they.

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