A Teachable Moment

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

Time Is On Our Side

It may not be a popular view, but I’m beginning to hope that there is no budget deal by April 1. If there is one, I suspect the legislature will have significantly caved to the education demands of our megalomaniacal governor. Time appears to be on the side of those opposed to Cuomo’s plans. A recent Quinnipiac University poll shows strong support for the opposition of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) to the Governor’s plan to tie teacher evaluations even further to the high stakes test scores of their students. Overwhelmingly, the public recognizes that this is a very bad idea, so bad that it is a big factor in substantially reducing Angry Andy’s favorability numbers. Cuomo has dug himself an education policy hole that the Assembly and Senate have to slowly fill in on his head. A late budget would also allow for this year’s opt-out numbers to amplify what polls have been showing, waning support for the test an punish approach to the improvement of public education in New York. Those numbers are bound to be much higher than the 60,000 children whose parents withheld them from the state assessments last year. Let the budget process grind to a crawl, as we watch Governor Arrogance try to slither away from the tough positions he staked out.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

A Tenure Deal?

I’m fearful that a deal will be made around Governor Cuomo’s teacher evaluation proposals that will center on extending the probationary period for tenure and in ways still not clear make it easier for management to terminate teachers adjudged ineffective. I saw yesterday where New York’s Council of School Superintendents weighed in on the issue supporting the concept of a five year probationary period for teachers. While they oppose Cuomo’s proposed requirement of five consecutive effective APPR ratings to be awarded tenure, they fully support the five year extension which would give them the power with thirty days’ notice to be rid of essentially any probationary teacher they want for almost any reason. Districts that are currently well managed usually know after two years whether or not a probationer fits in. What will people know after five years that they don’t know after three? Experienced teachers usually know if newcomers will make it after a few months. Or is it not a matter of knowing anything more but simply having unabridged power to command and control that motivates the superintendents’ support? Forcing people to invest four or five years before they know they have achieved professional status with the due process rights that come with that status is simply unfair. New York had a five year probationary period in the early 70s. It was wisely repealed, however. Bad ideas just never seem to die in the world of public education.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Chancellor Tisch Tries to Buck Up Superintendents

Chancellor Tisch made the following remarks about opting out at the March 9 meeting of New York’s superintendents. Had she made these remarks to a group of teachers, she would have been hooted out of the room, so divorced are thoughts from the reality of what our teachers are facing in their classrooms daily. While on one hand I hate to spread her ill-informed message, I hope my readers will respond to them by redoubling their effort to encourage parents to opt their children out of assessments that tell us little to nothing useful.

So, let’s talk about opt out.

If you encourage test refusal, you have made a very powerful statement. We all want the tests to be even better – as short as possible and as closely matched to instruction as possible. That is a fair critique, and we continue to improve the tests over time.

However, some have a very different goal. They have said they want to bring down the whole system on which adult accountability is based – even if only a little bit – on evidence of student learning. I am much less cynical, and I see things very differently. I believe that test refusal is a terrible mistake because it eliminates important information about how our kids are doing.

Why on earth would you not want to know whether your child is on track for success in the fifth grade or success in college? Why would you not want to know how your child and your school are doing compared to other children in district, region, and State? Why would you not want to know the progress of our multi-billion dollar investment in education? Why would you not want to know whether all students are making progress, not just the lucky few?

I do not pretend that test results are the only way we know, but they are an important piece of information. They are the only common measure of progress we have.

We are not going to force kids to take tests. That’s not the New York way. But, we are going to continue to help students and parents understand that it is a terrible mistake to refuse the right to know.

We don’t refuse to go to the doctor for an annual check-up. Most of us don’t refuse to get a vaccination. We should not refuse to take the test.

I know that superintendents are on the front lines in this debate over the future of our schools. Day after day, you help your community understand the importance of high standards and the necessity for measures of student progress. We would be lost without your leadership.

It is true that many of us want to bring down an accountability system that few serious statisticians believe measures a teachers’ contribution to the education of children. To evaluate hard working teachers on a mathematically flawed testing regime to whatever degree is a fraud both on those teachers and the students in their charge.

The Chancellor’s comments say nothing about the absurdity of high stakes tests driving instruction rather than rich curriculum and the ingenuity of teachers to take children where they find them and advance them academically as far as they can go. She says nothing about the stupidity of standards that seriously conflict with what we know about child development. Standards like insisting that every kindergarten child read by first grade ignore that some are simply not neurologically prepared to do so and that forcing them to do so runs the risk of teaching them to hate reading at best or possibly ensuring they will never read as well as they might have. Tisch says not a word about the daily narrowing of the curriculum so that what is not tested is not taught, and the horrifying pressure to teach to the arbitrary rhythm of pacing charts that assume that every child can learn the same thing, in the same way and the same time.

The bottom line is that the education dilatant Chancellor has a faith in high stakes testing directly proportional to her lack of experience in education. A growing number of teachers and parents have faith in neither high stakes testing not the Chancellor and the Regents. By opting their children out, they cast a vote of no confidence in the education bureaucracy and their governor whose education agenda would make things unimaginably worse. The only thing encouraging about the Chancellor’s remarks to the superintendents is that she felt compelled to make them. They were clearly a response to the spate of public letters by superintendents calling the state’s testing regime and the governor’s doubling down on testing into serious question. So, the real message here is to do what we can to double the opt out numbers this year. Tisch sees the opt out movement for the threat to her agenda that it is. That she felt compelled to try to enlist the superintendents in pushing back should embolden us to keep the pressure up.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Senate Republicans Support Cuomo’s Pseudo-education Reforms

It has been widely reported that the Republican Caucus in the New York State Senate is supportive of most of Governor Cuomo’s pseudo-education reforms. Our school district being represented by Senators Kemp Hannon and Carl Marcellino, two members of this caucus, I was prompted to write to them this morning. I’m sharing my letter with readers in the hope that they will send one of their own to Republicans who represent them. My letter follows:

Dear Senator Marcellino:
It has been widely reported that the Senate’s Republican Caucus is supporting much of Governor Cuomo’s so-called education reforms. I refer specifically to his proposal to increase the weight of student test scores on state assessments from twenty to fifty percent lengthening the teacher probationary period from three years to five and lifting the cap on charter schools. These proposals are yet another slap in the face of teachers, particularly Long Island’s outstanding teacher corps.

The link already established between teacher evaluations and student test scores has significantly undermined the educational experience of our students. I find it difficult to understand why our elected leaders do not understand that what is tested is what teachers are going to teach, especially when their jobs depend on their students’ results. The twenty percent in the current law has narrowed the curriculum and exposed children to countless boring hours of test preparation, both in school and home. This focus on high stakes testing has ratcheted up the pressure on children to the point where many of them become physicalyl ill during the examination periods when they have to sit for hours. Their results say more about the powers of endurance than they do about what these children have learned. We know for a fact that some kids simply blow the tests off rather than summon the energy and endurance necessary to overcome an exam designed for them to fail. More informed parents, recognizing the absurdity of the state’s testing regime, are opting their children out of the examinations in ever growing numbers rather than subject them to what they view as a stressful waste of valuable teaching and learning time. Increasing the percentage of teachers’ evaluations tied to student test results to fifty percent is to more than double down on a system that has not only not demonstrated any efficacy, but has also demonstrably negatively altered instruction. In the early grades especially, if it’s not English or math, its importance wanes the closer we get to the assessments.

As to the changes your caucus is seeking to the tenure law, reports indicate that you are pushing for an increase in the teacher probationary period of from three to five years. Advocates of this change never seem to be able to explain why such a long period of time is necessary to determine whether a teacher is deserving of professional status and the due process rights that come with it. The fact is that well managed districts observe teachers carefully for the first two years under the current system and discharge those that they deem unsuitable for professional status at the end of two years, waiting the additional third year in cases that are too close to call after two years. Extending the probationary period to five years will simply keep probationary teachers in an anxious state for a longer period of time and may contribute to the frightening turnover rate in some of our neediest districts. I suggest to you that where there are managements that feel they need five years to determine whether or not a teacher deserves professional status, there is a greater need to be concerned about that management than there is to extend the probationary period for teachers. While extending the teacher probationary to five years may sound like a significant reform, it will accomplish nothing other than to convince teachers of the legislatures disrespect for them and their contribution to the betterment of the children of our state.

To further encourage the growth in the number of charter schools without any body of evidence that they outperform the public schools from which they drain very significant financial and other resources is to perpetrate a fraud on the taxpayers of our state. The members of our union understand the charter school movement to be inextricably tied to a corporate led pseudo-education reform movement whose purpose is to engineer the demise of public schools in favor of a private model providing a very substantial return on their investment. For a Long Island representative whose district includes some of the finest public schools in the world to support a school model inimical to the welfare of those schools is highly inconsistent with your history of strong support for Long Island’s schools.

As a legislator who has been historically friendly to teachers and public education, our members urge you to stand with us against these phony reforms and work with us on the real problems facing the schools in our state. To support the Governor’s proposed “reforms” is to lend credence to his belief that New York’s schools are failing. Representing strong Long Island districts, you know that is a lie. We are counting on you to help us expose it.


Morton Rosenfeld

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Why Do Minorities Often Support Yearly Testing?

In the battle against high stakes testing and its deleterious effects on the education of children, leaders of our minority communities and civil rights organizations are often missing. Yet, it has always seemed clear to me that minority children stand to suffer the most from the culture of testing that narrows curricula and sends a not so subtle message children often victimized by poverty that they don’t measure up and that schools is not for them. I’m thankful to Diane Ravitch for pointing me to an article by Denisha Jones, a Indiana University professor, that suggests these minority groups support yearly testing in grade 3 through 8 in that it serves to shed a continuous light on the achievement gap between white and minority students and buttresses their demands for resources to counteract it. While Jones doesn’t develop a definitive strategy for winning civil rights groups to the anti-testing cause that she supports, understanding why people whose children stand to lose the most from the scourge of high stakes testing might support it nevertheless is hopefully the beginning of a process of winning them to the cause. This article deserves to be read widely.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Can Merged States Be Appropriately Represented in NEA?

It’s not often thought about but 50 percent of the members of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are also members of the National Education Association (NEA). That’s as a result of the state mergers that have taken place in recent times. They belong to the NEA, but most do not have the representation at the NEA’s convention that their numbers would entitle them to. My own local of over 700 members isn’t entitled to even one representative under the current apportionment of delegates. That’s because a condition of their mergers demanded by the NEA was that merged states would only get the representation that had in NEA prior to their coming together. Merged states with large memberships like New York get only a fraction of the representatives their membership of some 600,000 would normally entitle them to owing to the fact that there were only about 30,000 NEA members at the time of the merger.

The July NEA Representative Assembly will see the introduction of a proposed constitutional amendment that would give merged states the voting strength their numbers entitle them to in an electoral system honoring the principle of one person, one vote. The proposed amendment will require a two thirds secret ballot vote, a very high bar, but just the fact that it will be up for discussion suggests a change in sentiment and a realization that the NEA has nothing to fear from enlarging the representation of its membership to its highest policy making body.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments
Tags: , ,

Last Night’s Tilles Center Forum

I attended the forum at the Tilles center last evening, sponsored by LIU and the Long Island Principals Association and featuring Diane Ravitch, by any measure the best known critic of the school reform movement in the nation. Here are my takeaways from this event attended by well over 1000 participants.

Ravitch has done more to energize teachers to fight to preserve their profession than most of the nation’s major teacher union leaders with the exception of Chicago’s Karen Lewis. She speaks not only with an academic’s authority on education issues, citing a host of facts and figures, but also with a keen sense of what moves teachers viscerally. She, better than most they come across during their work days, understands what’s happening to teaching, how a generation of teachers is having the profession robbed out from under them by a clique of corporate reformers for whom profits trump even the welfare of the nation’s children.

My friend Jeanette Deutermann was on the panel that followed Ravitch’s speech. People have been observing lately that Long Island is the epicenter of the opt-out movement. Deutermann’s relentless organizing around this issue has been primarily responsible for our area’s lead on the issues of the destructive effects of high stakes testing and the recognition that the most potent weapon we have in the battle to end the testing scourge is to refuse to permit out children to take the tests. As I listened to her exhort the audience to stand up and fight back, I marveled at how much she has accomplished, starting her quest with a good deal of nerve and a free Facebook page.

Superintendent Joe Rella emerged as a clear audience favorite and deservedly so. Unlike many in his position, he has clearly not forgotten what it’s like to be a teacher. He communicates a plain spoken understanding of the threats posed to our profession by politicians like Andrew Cuomo and his corporate supporters, an understanding that includes an appreciation of how teachers are being asked to effectively change who they are in the implementation of what is called school reform. Unlike many of the superintendents I have worked with, this guy knows how to lead. It’s no wonder that he and the union leader in his district, my colleague Beth Dimino, who shared the stage with him last evening have an obvious respect and affection for one another.

Finally, last night’s event is but the latest evidence of the growing push back against the corporate reform movement in our state and a governor who is doing its bidding. To my mind, if our union movement had not been so late in coming to understand the possibilities of challenging the reform movement, if our leaders had seen the foolishness of seeking to accommodate the reformers, we would have been much further along to what will be out ultimate victory. The palpable energy at last night’s forum was there to be tapped all along.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Cuomo’s Chutzpah Sets Him Apart

Andrew Cuomo’s defense of his latest education reform proposals in his letter to the Long Island public in Sunday’s Newsday is interesting on a number of levels.

Clearly he is feeling the heat of an aroused public that is increasingly demanding an end to the scourge of high stakes testing and a re-working or abandonment of the Common Core State Standards. While Long Island has pockets of poverty and economic decay that have historically been associated with poorer performing students, the fact is that most Long Island communities have school systems that rival any in the country and the world. Citizens here pay very high property taxes to support those schools, take a keen interest in the school work of their children and know that by any measure their kids compete favorably with those from other parts of the country. They resent Cuomo’s suggestion that their schools are failing, seeing it for the lie it is, and experiencing it as almost a personal insult.

It fascinates me to see this governor, who challenges my capacity for contempt, endlessly trying to find a way to spin a series of education proposals that fewer and fewer see as offering any serious possibility of improving education in New York. He says his proposals are all about attracting and keeping and supporting good teachers. Sure they are. The reformers have made teaching such an attractive profession that enrollments in teacher education programs are down in New York and elsewhere. Intelligent people seeking a career love the idea of increasing the hurdles to be jumped over to get a highly stressful, low paying job at which one’s evaluation is based on student scores on state assessments that have been demonstrably shown to be unreliable measurements of teacher performance. Our best college graduates are aching to enter a field in which professional judgment and creativity are increasingly choked off by the demand to strictly follow corporate developed programs that mechanize teaching and the pressure to get high exam results to avoid the threat to one’s employment. They love the idea of being scrutinized for five years, for the most part by observers who know nothing about the culture of their schools, to earn the right to an abridged due process procedure. They are enthralled by the possibilities that through a test score based evaluation process that has been shown to rate teachers highly effective one year and ineffective the next they have a shot at a $20,000 bonus.

My favorite part of the Cuomo letter is where he states, “Virtually everyone also agrees that New York’s teacher evaluation system is not accurate and is skewed in its construction to provide favorable results for teachers.” Really? Here’s where Cuomo’s chutzpah sets him apart from lesser political scumbags. Left out of his remarks is the fact that this system that’s not working is the very system he negotiated with NYSUT And which he hailed at the time. Here are Cuomo’s words from the February 12, 2012 press release. “Today’s agreement puts in place a groundbreaking new statewide teacher evaluation system that will put students first and make New York a national leader in holding teachers accountable for student achievement,” This agreement is exactly what is needed to transform our state’s public education system, and I am pleased that by working together and putting the needs of students ahead of politics we were able to reach this agreement.” So the system that’s not working is Cuomo’s system which his current proposal simply double down on.

At the end of his letter, Cuomo tries to refocus the public’s attention from teacher evaluation to making it easier to takeover “failing schools,” reforming tenure and making it easier to get rid of what he maintains are the significant numbers of bad teachers in our schools. Here Cuomo is following the polls which show a lack of public interest in the tenure and school takeover issue. Cuomo senses that he will be able to peel the public away from organized teachers on these issues and get what he wants. Let’s hope we are not about to enter into another bad deal with Angry Andy.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Shanker’s Charter Schools Seem More Impressive Today

The imposition of the Common Core State Standards has accelerated a trend that’s been with us for some time – the homogenization of instruction. More and more of our teachers are working to the rhythms of corporate made programs and pacing charts that seek to assure that everyone will be finished with the curriculum by the end of the school, whether the children know it or not. If the pacing chart says more on, teachers move on, not finishing the curriculum being a much higher order of pedagogical sin than finishing but having many students not completely understanding what you taught. This is just one of many serious problems facing public schools that essentially go unaddressed as we move forward with the corporate reform agenda which assumes that all children can learn the same things and that they can learn them in the same amount of time and in largely the same way. I don’t know a single teacher who thinks that’s a smart way of going about the work of educating children, but it is certainly the over-arching operative idea of most districts, certainly including ours.

I’ve been spending a great amount of time talking to anyone who will listen to me on this subject. Thinking this morning that it was time to try to reframe my discussions, I found myself recalling the speech Al Shanker made that contributed to the launching of the charter school movement. The former head of the AFT, never foresaw that the ideas expressed in his speech would be adopted by the enemies of the very public schools to which Shanker dedicated much of his adult life. Clearly frustrated by the one size fits all reform efforts of his day and the extent to which those movements more often than not were not informed by the voices of teachers, Shanker spoke of groups of teachers within schools coming up with new ideas that they would be given the autonomy to develop on their own. They would form schools within schools. In his vision, the creative talents of teachers would be loosed to explore reasonable possibilities for improvement, with parents enrolling their kids in the programs that seemed to fit their children the best. That’s what Shanker meant by charter schools. Were he with us to experience the mind-numbing stupidity that passes for reform today, I strongly suspect he would be redoubling his efforts to search for a model of reform that teachers hungering to practice their craft could embrace. His picture of charter schools looks pretty enticing to those struggling in today’s classrooms. The speech is still worth reading and thinking about. Find some time this weekend.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

No Serious Reform Without Teacher Voices

At Plainview’s Board of Education meeting this past Monday night, I was reminded of a disturbing irony that is often observable at these events. The opinions of those derived from the least firsthand experience and knowledge are valued the most. So we had members of our board most of whom know only what they have gathered from their children, their memories of being in school themselves and what they are told by a central office administration which itself manifests few signs that they understand what is happening in our classrooms responding to points made by parents most of whom are laypeople, together writing a narrative of our schools that is seen as a contrived fiction by the people actually in our classrooms.

That’s just a local version of what happens at the state and national level. Does anyone seriously think that Andrew Cuomo knows the first damn thing about education or that he is being advised by people who know or care about the welfare of our public schools? Had Merryl Tisch taught for more than a couple of years in a parochial school, perhaps logged seven or eight years in one of the schools she is quick to deem a failure, her thoughts on education would be completely different, less focused on standardized test scores, more sympathetic to the daily tragedy of children growing up in poverty. Have we not had ample evidence that Arne Duncan’s talents were better aligned with a career in basketball that with overseeing national education policy.

In a system of public education in which the voice of the people teaching the children is barely audible, why would anyone expect good outcomes? If we are to have serious reform of our public schools, and I certainly believe there are many things that need to change, those changes will have to be driven by teachers. Former New York Education Commissioner Tom Sobol had a line he often used to talk about the process of change in our schools. He spoke about, “Top down support for bottom up reform.” To my mind he was the last commissioner in our state to have a serious understanding of teaching and learning. Those who have followed have been at best pretenders – at worst the tools of economic and political elite bent on destroying public education for their [personal gain.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Dignity and Status

I wrote yesterday of how Monday night’s meeting of our board of education demonstrated almost everything wrong with the public education scene today, focusing on how policy makers fail to address the really important questions difficult though they may be. The meeting was also noteworthy for the failure of school leadership to understand and appreciate the need of the people who do the actual work of teaching the children to have their thoughts and feelings respected. Wherever I go in our district, the first thing our members want to talk about is their deeply held belief that the management of the district does not appreciate their work, is disrespectful of their ideas and is essentially clueless about the what is really happening in our schools as a result of their policies that are choking the art and joy out of the practice of teaching. Our kindergarten teachers were there Monday night to raise questions about the district’s plan to close their school, a proposed closure that no one in authority every really bothered to talk to them about or to seek their ideas or cooperation. They went to the microphone to raise serious questions about how the district’s plan would work, questions that not only were not answered but were clearly unwelcomed. It reached a point where I just blurted out a demand that they be listened to respectfully. This evening was just a public display of what our members experience daily, a management that does believes it can do whatever it damn pleases with impunity.

Almost 60 years ago, our union was organized by a group of brave elementary teachers who wore a little button that demanded “Dignity and Status.” Monday made clear that this is a battle that our members are going to have to fight all over again. In a very real sense, it’s the battle our entire union movement is going to have to fight again.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Avoiding the Real Questions

There is a year’s worth of blog posts to be generated from last night’s meeting of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education. Almost everything that’s skewed about the public education scene today was on display, not the least of which is the failure of policy makers to ask and address the important questions facing the institution.

Part of the meeting was devoted to the proposed budget for next year. The supervisors of various departments came to tell the board how wonderful everything is owing to their support and generosity with the taxpayers’ money, most of them implying in their presentations that but for their efforts none of this great stuff would happen. I was particularly taken by the budget presentation of the Director of Pupil Personnel Services in regard to her request for an additional psychologist for next year. When asked why we needed another psychologist, she talked about the demands being made of the existing staff by a large number of stressed and anxious students. No one on the Board thought to ask the obvious follow up of why it is that we shave so many over stressed anxious students. Might it be something we’re doing to them? Might it be that we have encouraged them to believe that their entire self-worth is tied to their grades? No one appeared to care. In fact when I referenced this during public participation adding, that several of the staff who work in the mental health field told me that they have never seen so many over-stressed anxious kids some of whom had to be hospitalized, I was excoriated by one Board member for raising the issue. A parent then got up and confidently explained the error in my remarks. While it is true that children like her daughter are anxious and stressed, they are suffering from the lack of a 9 period day which would allow them to take even more academic subjects. More course work would ease their anxiety. How come I didn’t know that?

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Cuomo Re-Energizes The Opt-Out Movement

In all my efforts this year to promote the anti-testing cause, I’ve tried to encourage union colleagues and parents to aim for doubling the number of students in their communities whose parents refuse to let them take the state assessments. My readers are well aware of my belief that building the opt-out movement is the most power single action we can take to bring about an end to the pernicious influence of high stakes testing on public education. Never did I imagine, however, Andrew Cuomo would so lose control of his senses at NYSUT’s failure to support his bid for re-election that he would propose increasing the weight of student scores in teacher evaluations to 50 percent thereby leaving parents with no other realistic alternative but to opt their children out of the tests. I sense a new energy to the opt-out movement. Even the waitress in the diner where I stop for breakfast this morning was talking about her perception that almost everyone she know is opting their children out this year. The public pushback against the Cuomo proposals to double down on testing, create a whole new bureaucracy of outside teacher evaluators to do classroom observations have clearly backfired on the Governor. Where once it was difficult to find people interested in running for our board of education, I’ve been contacted by no less than three in the past two weeks, all of whom are clearly motivated by a passion to end the harmful effects of the state’s testing regime on our outstanding schools.

Last year over sixty thousand kids were withheld from the state tests by their parents. With the help of Governor Angry Andy do we dare to think about one hundred and fifty thousand? I’m thinking it could happen.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

It’s Testing Season

Today’s post is addressed specifically to readers in my community of Plainview-Old Bethpage. It’s part of our effort to end the scourge of high stakes testing in New York by citizens clearly know where we stand on parents refusing to let their children take the state’s assessments. Here’s where we stand.

The members of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers have been at the forefront in the battle to end the destructive consequences of high stakes testing in New York State. We have opted our own children out of the state assessments and vigorously defended the rights of all parents to do the same. We were instrumental in ending our district’s “sit and stare” policy, having gotten our board of education to provide students not taking the exams a comfortable alternative school setting. We deeply believe that the growing number of parents refusing to submit their children to testing exploitation is our most powerful weapon in the battle with powerful economic and political forces that are bent destroying public education as we have known it and making huge profits in the process.

We want the parents of our community to know that whether they opt their children out of the state tests or not, we will treat their decision respectfully, seeing to it that their children are comfortable during the examination periods in either the testing or alternative setting.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Keepers of the Magic

I was reminded last evening of how I used to be asked to talk to our newly hired teachers each year about how to get along with politically savvy parents in our upper middle class school district. I took the new teachers through the demographics of our district, stressing with the growing mistrust of public institutions and the skill of many in our community to negotiate their way through bureaucracies. I tried to get these newbies to understand the need to provide information that they themselves would want as parents. I always ended my remarks however with an injunction to be careful to be keepers of their professional magic.

By that I meant for them to maintain a professional distance, to have confidence that they were in possession of a body of knowledge and art that made them the experts in education and that allowing themselves to be engaged by parents as though the parents’ knowledge of educating children is as good as their own would render them essentially powerless to practice their profession with any degree of satisfaction. Some facets of our magic are not easily explained to lay people. There shouldn’t be any surprise about that. But last evening as I tried to explain the view of teachers on mid-term examinations to our board of education (Our middle school teachers think they are inappropriate and waste a tremendous amount of teaching time.), it was clear once again that their thoughts don’t matter – that these lay people think their judgment superior to our own. Sadly, our central office administrators who should understand the importance of being keepers of the magic clearly lost theirs a long time ago. I was told we need more transparency, one of today’s more politically correct terms. It seems to me that we can become so completely transparent that no one sees us, and magic once revealed and dissected isn’t magic anymore.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

The Tenure Trap

One of Governor Cuomo’s lines of attack against public school teachers and their unions is his call for increasing the teacher probationary period from the current three years to five. New York teachers currently serve a three year probation during which they are closely scrutinized by their supervisors. During this period, they are at will employees requiring only thirty days’ notice should their employer wish to terminate them. Teachers who make it through their probationary period receive professional status or tenure which simply means that they can no longer be summarily fired with only thirty days’ notice but must be found guilty in an independent hearing.

This Cuomo tenure proposal, like much of what our governor has to say about public education, has been designed to deceive and confuse rather than enlighten or improve. The fact is that under the current rules, most school districts make the decision as to whether a teacher is to receive tenure after two years. Most teachers who are hired know the subject matter they are supposed to be able to teach. Where they have difficulty largely centers on what we call classroom management issues. Where these issues exist, they are immediately apparent to supervisors and usually to the teachers who work in adjacent rooms. In good schools, there are resources available to help struggling teachers with these problems. Where there aren’t, most teachers figure the problems out themselves or find that they are asked to leave by the end of two years. So what will a five year probationary period accomplish? Absolutely nothing, except perhaps get a few teachers arbitrarily fired for a lack of due process rights. To a lay public who do not understand tenure, however, Cuomo’s tough tenure talk sounds like a serious idea.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Cuomo Spurs Teacher Activism

One of the heartening aspects of Governor Cuomo’s war on teachers and public education has been to see the revival of union member activism in this struggle. Sometimes with the direct involvement of our state union, sometimes through local initiatives, our members have held legislative breakfasts, community forums, demonstrations and events of all manner. They have exploited the power of social media as never before, visited and written to their elected representatives and sought to build coalitions around the idea of maintaining local control of public schools. I especially like one that came my way sent by the staff of PS321 in New York City to the parents of their children. In a very controlled, modulated teacher voice it carefully explains to parents what they have to fear from Governor Cuomo’s proposed changes to the system for evaluating teachers in New York State. I’m going to ask our teachers to send one like it to the parents of in Plainview-Old Bethpage, adding opting out of the state tests to the possible actions parents may want to take to foil the Governor’s attack

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

It’s Not Union Power That Should Be Feared

Fix our schools or our nation will be unable to compete in the increasingly globalized economy. We see this inevitability in the thousands of job openings that exist for high skilled workers that go begging for the lack of qualified people to take them. That’s the false idea that under-girds the corporate driven school reform movement. My readers are aware of my contempt for this argument, my belief being that if it were true we would see the wages of people in these high skilled areas being bid up which they certainly have not been.

Writing in this morning’s New York Times, Paul Krugman clearly agrees with me. His argument is that even right wing Republicans know that wage stagnation is a volatile political issue, but rather than deal with the kinds of policy changes that are necessary to address this issue that plagues the lives of most Americans, our attention is diverted to believing that if we just fix our schools, get everyone college and career ready, our problems will be resolved. It’s not too many steps from that to declaring war on America’s teachers and their unions as unscrupulous politicians like Andrew Cuomo has done. Completely unwilling to address the growing economic inequality in our state, Cuomo would have us believe that the all-powerful teachers union is the enemy of the state’s children and the economic progress of our community. The issue is power, but it’s the power that Cuomo’s financial supporters have, not the state’s teachers union. Read Krugman’s piece. He has a keen nose for bullshit.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

More on Loyalty

I’ve written before about how in any institution, loyalty has to flow down before it flows up. To a very significant degree the welfare of an institution depends on its leaders understanding that iron law. In places where teamwork is the norm, where from the highest authority to the lowest person on the table of organization people feel a connection to the institution and its welfare, you can be sure leaders operate with and understanding that their success is inextricably linked to the bonds of loyalty that exist between them and their subordinates. Workplaces where there is reciprocal loyalty are not to be mistaken for laissez faire environments where anything goes. Often, they are very tightly run, but workers buy into the system because they have learned that it works in their interest.

I think I first learned about loyalty in the workplace on those occasions when I would visit my father in his office. He was a career federal civil servant who held a very responsible executive position. I remember watching him engage the people who worked for him. Even as a kid, it was clear to me that he could get very scary to a subordinate who hadn’t done what he was directed to do. He demanded the same perfection that he expected of himself. But once a person was accepted as a part of his team, he was there for you. Make an error, and he might scare the hell out of you, but he would defend you to his superiors or to those outside the agency. Have a brush with bad fortune – his people knew that they could call him at any hour for help and advice. I find myself remembering answering our telephone to find a man incoherently, my father’s name the only words I could completely understand. One of his men was blind drunk, but, even in his drunken stupor, he knew that he could count on my father to rescue him. He did do that, leaving our family after a long day at work to find the man and get him to a hospital and treatment. He covered for him at work too while he addressed his alcoholism, all this at a time when people were not as sensitive to the problems of addiction as they are today.

That man became one of my father’s fishing buddies. Some of my fondest memories are the fishing trips my dad took me on, sometimes taking me out of school for a very special trip. Joe was often with us, and I now remember that he would often find a private moment with me to tell me how important my father was to him and how lucky I was to have him as a father.

I’ve been thinking about the bonds of loyalty in the workplace lately. I’m sure it’s because I’ve been called upon more often than ever to represent members before bosses who it seems to me are clueless about how to build those bonds with those whom they have been charged to lead and who, I’m very sorry to say, appear to be obtuse to the need to develop them. More than ever before I find managers who decry the lack of respect my members give them, as though respect automatically comes to one upon assuming a leadership position. I never thought to have to try to teach adults that respect is not a birthright but must be earned and that it is earned in part by letting people know you are there for them. What are we becoming when it feels “old fashioned” to be talking about loyalty?

Our schools are on February break next week. Unless there is an eduquake, I’ll be taking the days off from blogging. See you again on February 23rd.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Hey, Hillary

When Hillary Clinton speaks at this year’s NEA Convention as I am almost positive she will, I expect to hear he speak about an education agenda in sharp contrast to that of President Obama. I hope our national leaders are telling her that although she gets very substantial financial support from Wall Street Democrats who bankroll the so-called education reform movement, she will have to stake out positions aimed at ending the tyranny of high stakes testing, stopping the public funding of corporate run charter schools, promoting teaching and educating over training, correcting the serious flaws in the Common Core State Standards and addressing in meaningful ways the scourge of child poverty that afflicts so many of our nation’s children, robbing them of any real chance at a decent life. We should not be in a position wherein the inevitability of her nomination permits her to waffle on what are essentially existential issues for teachers and others are employed in public education. If we are to enthusiastically support her candidacy, she must above all else convey a sincere appreciation of the work of our members and the contribution of public schools to the welfare of our country. Public schools and all who work in them need a candidate who offers hope that we can foil the unrelenting attacks on us with the help of a friendly administration in Washington. Absent some pledge to this effect, people in public education will not be the boots on the ground of a successful campaign.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments