A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Albany Fails Again

The New York State legislature has finished its yearly session without any significant progress on education issues. For most teachers, the failure to untie student performance on high stakes test from teacher evaluations is the bitterest pill left by the legislature for us to swallow. It’s more than time for parents, teachers and all citizens concerned with the corruption of New York’s schools by the corporate school reform movement to rise up and defeat those in the state senate who value heir political contributions from the reformers more than the children and educators of our state.

Unless and until we target and defeat at least a few supporters of the testing scourge, our public schools will continue to suffer. The same people who support the so-called reforms are by and large the supporters of the property tax cap, charter schools and using public money to support private and religious schools. They must pay a political penalty, or they will succeed in undermining a vital institution of our democracy. It’s time to vote to save public education.

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Students and Teachers As Numbers

Why do we appear to think that unless you give teachers a score for their effectiveness, we are not holding them accountable? A law passed last year has local unions negotiation yet another number based mumbo-jumbo system for evaluating teachers at providing each one with a so-called HEDI Score, an acronym for ratings of highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective. Two of my colleagues and I spent part of yesterday afternoon working with central office counterparts on this exercise in futility. Basing our discussion on guidance documents from the state, documents that could serve English teachers as examples of how not to write, it was obvious to all of us that what we were doing had little, if anything, to do with the evaluation of teachers but was rather an exercise in professional pretense.

Here has been very little improvement, if any, upon the narrative observations of teachers that constituted teacher evaluations prior to the test based accountability reforms of recent years. Imperfect though they were, as good as the skill of the observer for the most part, they told a skilled reader more about the performance of teachers than the reducing a teacher’s work to a score. Union leaders and central office administrators will spend untold hours over the next few months developing teacher evaluation plans that will mean nothing to a single student,will further demoralize teachers and will discredit the politicians who sold out to the corporate school reform movement and passed the laws creating these foolish schemes.

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The Lederman Verdict

So Sheri Lederman, the Great Neck teacher who challenged the growth score portion of her teacher annual professional performance review, won her case. The court ruled that the value added methodology used to arrive at her score was arbitrary and capricious. The ruling is a moral victory, but unfortunately only applied to Lederman and to a particular evaluation she received. The law is now changed, although there is now an even bigger value added component. The fact is both this case and the ruling point to the difficulties and frustrations of seeking a judicial remedy for the pseudo-scientific bull-shit that has turned our schools into test prep institutions and will eventually choke all the life out of the school experiences of our children. It’s why each day I become a more fervent supporter of the opt-out movement, convinced as I am that it is only through civil disobedience that we will end the corporate assault on public education and our nation’s teachers. Sure, there are other legal cases in the hopper that may eventually give us better and broader verdicts, but how many years of curriculum constricting test prep must our children endure before that happened? How much more demoralization must our teacher experience?

Let’s use the Lederman verdict and its declaration that the value added method of evaluating teachers on the basis of student test scores is pointless – junk science if you will. Let’s use it to educate more parents to the wisdom of opting their children out of the tests that support value added evaluation. When almost no children take the test, there’s no value added anymore.

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Can Sanity Be Coming to Teacher Evaluation?

An extraordinary amount of time money and energy has been spent in the quest for some holy grail of teacher evaluation, all to absolutely no effect other than to severely damage the morale of the nation’s teaching force. Motivate by the empty slogan “a great teacher in front of every classroom, our political leaders, often with the assistance ed school professors, have taken us from evaluation system to evaluation system, all seeking to quantify the unquantifiable. Here in New York, school districts are supposed to have yet a new plain in place before the start of the new school year or face the loss of the recently enacted increase in state aid to education. Districts are in the process of doing this even though we all know that in a year or so we are going to have to do it again.

Here’s what I know about evaluating teachers. Judging their worth on the basis of student test score has been clearly demonstrated to be more about junk science than about judging worth. While it used to be the case that building administrators mostly knew how to judge good and bad teaching, in this day when they tend to come to their positions before they have mastered the craft of teaching, fewer and fewer of them have the foggiest idea of what they are looking at, focused as they are by rubrics that have them seek evidence for various parts of a lesson rather than the impact of the whole.

The best judges of teaching are teachers. In most schools, the experienced teachers know who the good teachers are. They know who should get tenure and whom we would be better off without. When one asks teachers whom they learned the most from about being a teacher, they will invariably tell you they learned from other teachers, more often than not in unplanned moments of interaction rather than any staff development at which some high paid consultant tells them what they ought to know. Yet, in most of our schools, we are indifferent to the thoughts of teachers about who should enter and stay in our profession. We schedule the teacher workday in such a way as to essentially preclude teachers having opportunities to talk to one another about their work. We isolate them for most of their day and have people less experienced and knowledgeable than they judge the quality of their work.

I had a little glimmer of optimism this morning as I read an article by Charlotte Danielson whose academic work has impelled many teacher accountability efforts. She now appears to be rethinking the subject more soberly. We share a belief in the importance of focusing on probationary teachers, making sure they are worthy of career status. We agree too on the importance of teachers engaging each other as a central feature of a system that promotes continuous teacher learning. Who knows? With big name scholars in the filed like Danielson thinking sanely about teacher evaluation, perhaps we can come up with a system that makes sense, even to our politicians.

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Not Again!

“This is a tremendous amount of work with no purpose. I think the people who wrote this don’t understand what it costs to renegotiate … and how now districts are being held hostage to this.” She was talking about the requirement in state law for school districts to negotiate new teacher evaluation systems tied to student test scores, even though there is a moratorium on the use of score to evaluate teachers and work is beginning at the direction of the Regent to come up with a new approach to teacher evaluation.

It’s satisfying to know that at least one Regent is thinking about the absurdity surrounding high stakes testing and teacher evaluation in New York State. We have a bunch of new Regents who have begun to distance themselves from the Tisch era of corporate led school reform, a new chancellor who almost from the moment of taking office announced that if she had a child, she would opt her out of the state exams, and we have by all accounts a growing state and national opt out movement of parents and teachers who are seeing to it that fewer children take high stakes tests each year. We had over 100,000 opt outs on Long Island alone this year. What is to be gained from spending countless professional hours working out annual professional performance review plans (APPR) that are bound to change in a very short time? This is the kind of stupidity for which Albany has become famous.

It’s time for the Governor and our legislators to act to remedy this costly, teacher morale destroying foolishness. Changing the system by which we evaluate teacher every couple of years does not inspire the confidence all should have in the accuracy and fairness of that system.

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Opting Out in Defense of Public Education

Last week, with New York’s high stakes tests upon us, I wrote to the parents of the children asked to endure these useless exams asking them to consider opting their children out. The response to my letter has been so positive that I’ve chosen to make it my blog post for today. Here it is.

Dear POB Parents,
Last year over 50 percent of the POB parents of children in grades 3 through 8 refused to allow their children to take the New York State assessments in English and math. In so doing, they joined a rapidly growing movement of citizens (over 200,000 last year) who are fed up with the state’s regimen of high stakes tests that have increasingly turned our schools towards test prep rather than authentic education, stressed children unnecessarily and dispirited teachers whose evaluations were inappropriately tied to student scores on these exams. The testing season is again upon us.

While our members are active in the Opt-Out movement and are convinced that it affords citizens the best opportunity to end the damage done to our schools by Albany’s education policies, we deeply believe in the right of parents to decide what is right for them and their children. I assure you that whatever your decision, your children will be treated appropriately.

Our leaders in Albany would like you to believe that there is no longer any good reason to oppose the state assessments. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your children are still asked to take these stress producing exams, their scores are still reported as are teacher’s evaluation scores. While our new Commissioner of Education talks about changes to the tests and the standards to which they are aligned, it is completely clear that she believes in measuring the worth of schools and teachers on the basis of standardized tests.

Should you decide to join us in ending the tyranny of high stakes testing in New York by opting your child out, our district requires that you send a hard copy letter to that effect to the principal of your child’s school. I have enclosed a sample letter for your convenience.

I trust the day is not too far off when instruction in our schools is once again driven by the judgment of educators trained to work with children rather than bureaucrats of education testing companies. Until that time, our members will do whatever they can to ameliorate the negative effects of these tests on the education of your children.
Sincerely,

Morton Rosenfeld
President

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Moratorium?

The more I think about the moratorium on the consequences of high stakes testing for teacher and students in New York State, the more I’m sure that what we’re witnessing is simply a more sophisticated, more media savvy campaign to make the standards, the high stakes test aligned to them and the connection of both to teacher evaluation permanent. None of our leaders in Albany are talking about permanently ending the absurdity of judging teachers on the basis of student tests. What we are hearing is the continuing belief that appropriate tests can be developed for this purpose. What’s also curious is that while there is a moratorium in place for the time being, the state tests will still be given and the results for teacher evaluation will be reported on an advisory basis. In other words, we’ve put a halt on the consequences of these exams because we have no confidence that they measure what they claim to, but we are going to report the results anyway thereby potentially embarrassing some teachers, although that embarrassment is not to be construed as a consequence.

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Don’t Let the Moratorium Become a Trap

Federal law no longer mandates the use of student test data to evaluate teachers. While the 3 through 8 testing mandate remains, it is essentially left to the states as what is done with the test results. New York law, however, mandates a linkage of student test scores and teacher evaluation. While the Regents have adopted new regulations that establish a moratorium on the uses of state test scores in teacher evaluation, the information coming out of the State Education Department make sit absolutely clear that that in the 2019-20 school year, there is an expectation that teacher evaluations will make use of a revised growth model. Thus, if the stupidity of linking teacher evaluation to student scores on high stakes tests is to be consigned to the substantial history of idiotic education reform ideas where it so rightfully belongs, it is going take a change in the law. It becomes increasingly clear that the Cuomo’s Common Core Task-force is a diversion meant to confuse the public into thinking that there has been a meaningful retreat from the corporate driven education reform agenda. Clearly, the Regents have not given up their commitment to yearly testing and on the pseudo-science that claims the efficacy of judging teachers on the student results of that testing. If we fail to build politically on the moratorium, rather than a significant step forward, it will become a dangerous trap.

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Cuomo’s Strategic Retreat

The media and blogosphere are full of speculation about Governor Cuomo’s apparent turn-away from the connection of student test scores to teacher evaluations. On my way to work this morning, local public radio had a commentator talking about Cuomo’s retreat from the combined attack of the parents and teacher union activists in the opt-out movement. If indeed Cuomo is retreating on the issue, we have to figure it’s a strategic retreat, one most probably designed to get even with those who have had the temerity to disagree with him. That’s simply baked into the character of the governor we have come to know. Just look at his treatment of Mayor de Blasio, a leader in his own party but a rival for the public’s attention.

I implore my colleagues in the movement to end the scourge of high stakes testing to avoid declaring premature victory. I am increasingly convinced that Cuomo’s retreat is temporary, just long enough to dissipate the energy of the anti-testing movement many of whom are already celebrating victory and declaring value added teacher evaluations dead. To do so is to trust Andrew Cuomo. Is there anyone in our movement who does? Then let’s act accordingly and redouble our efforts to bring sanity back to the evaluation of students and teachers.

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Watch Out for a Moratorium

In my November 6 post, I warned about the distinct possibility of the Cuomo administration out maneuvering the parent/teacher movement to end the scourge of high stakes testing and the tying of that testing to the evaluation of teachers by having his Common Core Commission propose a moratorium of some kind.. Today, the august New York Times is reporting unidentified sources as saying that a moratorium is in the offing. If true, while many will see this as a victory, I’ll be increasingly convinced that Cuomo’s real goal will be to suck the wind out of the teacher/parent opposition to his test and punish approach to public education – lull his opponents into a false sense that they have won. Once the pressure is off of him, he will go right back to supporting the agenda of his Wall Street backers. The only strategic response to a moratorium is to redouble our efforts to end the corporate sponsored reform movement once and for all.

Taking the rest of the week off. Back on Monday. Happy Thanksgiving!

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As Massachusetts Goes…

News that Massachusetts is abandoning the PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career) exams aligned to the Common Core State Standards is big. At the forefront of test based assessment of higher standards, Massachusetts has been in the mind of many reformers an example of the validity of their cause. The abandonment of PARCC in favor of a new state examination that is pegged to state standards that are adjustable is a major step in the battle to save public education. Not all of the Common Core Standards are bad. Many are, however, developmentally inappropriate. Left to the state, the standards can be changed to reflect the experiences of classroom teacher who work with them.

This news combined with new ESEA legislation that will no longer contain the linkage of theses like PARCC to teacher evaluation are the latest signs that the so-called movement is beginning to crumble. We must not, however, be lulled into a false sense of accomplishment until the entire test and punish reform efforts has been defeated and sanity and teacher professionalism has been returned to America’s classrooms.

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Test and Punish Takes a Hit

Good news this morning about progress in the battle to end the scourge of high stakes testing. A Senate and House conference committee has apparently agreed on successor legislation to the No Child Left behind Act that introduced the test and punish approach to school improvement in the United States.

Although we are as yet unable to read the bill, press reports indicate that while the grade three through eight annual testing requirement remains, most of the federal consequences for schools and school districts for insufficient progress have been abandoned in favor of state authority to decide. Also said to be absent is any mandate for the Common Core State Standards or the linkage of student test results to the evaluation of teachers, again such issues being left up to the states to manage.

While this legislation that seems assured passage into law does not guarantee any relief to New York’s teachers and children, state education decision makes will be unable to say that test and punish is the law of the land that must be followed. We will now be able to focus laser-like on demanding sate changes to the Standards and a teacher evaluation process free of the linkage of to student test results. The defense that the fed are making us do it is about to lose some of its potency. The new ESEA will not resolve all of the issues we have with the corporate reform movement. We will need to continue the battle to end the federally mandated annual testing. But ending the mandates on the standards, test based teacher evaluation and federal remedies for students and schools that don’t satisfy arbitrary federal notions of growth is a major step forward. The NEA and AFT deserve big-time credit for helping to shape this legislation.

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No Time, No Time! Hurry up. Hurry Up

I’ve been spending considerable time lately in conversations about math instruction, particularly at the elementary level. The advent of the Common Core State Standards has been inextricably tied to a regime of high stakes tests that have literally corrupted good teaching practice by the unrelenting pressure they exert to finish the curriculum before the state examinations in the spring. In my own district, the effects of the state tests are magnified by three mandated periodic local tests designed to make sure that what we expect to be on the state examinations will be covered by the time of the exams. With management watching where teachers are in the curriculum, with the results of state tests factored into their end of year evaluations, teachers are pressured to move forward in the curriculum whether or not they believe their children are ready to do so. If I had had any doubts about the blunting influence of high stakes testing on learning, my recent conversation about elementary math instruction would have disabused me of them. The Common Core was said to usher in curricula that were shorter and deeper. That does now appear to have materialized as teachers race to complete what I’m told is almost a new topic a day. The appropriate pacing of instruction used to be a professional teacher skill developed with experience. Professional judgments are of almost no importance in the current reform environment we find more and more ways to race to nowhere.

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Preparing for the Challenge of the Taskforce

In Friday’s post, I suggested that it is entirely likely that that in creating his Common Core Taskforce, Governor Cuomo may be cleverly creating the illusion of meaningful change his position of Common Core and the high stakes tests integrally aligned to the standards only to lure the building coalition of parents and teacher who oppose his policies into letting up on their pressure for change.

Having suggested that we must act as though we know for a fact that the intention behind the taskforce is the disarming of our movement for a return to sane education policies, what shall we do to defeat Andrew Cuomo?

To begin, we must work tirelessly to increase the opt-out rate in our state significantly. We had approximately 240,000 this year. 500,000 is a reasonable target for this year. And we need to promote the need for parents to get their opt-out letters in early, certainly before the legislature reconvenes in January.

We need to organize a lobby effort of our assembly representatives and state senators that demand to know what each individual intends to do to stop the scourge of high stake testing, the debilitating effects of the Common Core and the statistically foolhardy linkage of test results with the evaluations of our teachers. We need tom make it clear that we will be casting our votes next year looking at their performance through this lens.

There are already some statewide efforts underway to recruit candidates from both parties who are schooled in our issues and prepared to air them out in both primaries and the general election. There are clearly some opportunities to take some supporters of the status quo out, thereby speaking to the political class in the only language they are sometimes capable of understanding. We demand that you fix these outrageously stupid laws that are ruining our schools.
We need to start now to organize to turn out our votes next November. We need to talk to our friends and neighbors about the threat to our public schools and try to convince others to join us. Our unions must undertake publicity campaigns to both build the opt-out movement and tie it to the political process. We need some videos of highly respected teachers talking about the effects of current education policy on their student and their profession. We need children talking about their perceptions. A few viral videos of children talking candidly about their frustrations are infinitely more evaluable to furthering the cause than reams of data.

We need to make it clear that we are not interested in a moratorium on testing and a rebooting of the implementation of the Common Core. We demand real change and won’t be lured from that goal by some facsimile.

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Behind The Common Core Taskforce

Talking to an long-time colleague the other day about the Governor Cuomo’s Common Core Taskforce and what to expect from it. While it’s clear that the Governor created the taskforce in response to the mounting criticism of the implementation of the Common Core in New York and the high stakes tests aligned with the standards, what is not so apparent is what Cuomo is looking to achieve. My friend and I agreed that it would be totally unlike him to retreat, having very publically and stridently paced himself on the side of the school reformers and their demands for data driven student and teacher accountability. So, what’s he up to with the taskforce?

My friend advanced the thesis that the task force will probably recommend some sort of do-over in the implementation of the Common Core. During that reboot, a term Cuomo has used, there would be a moratorium on counting the results of the grade three through eight tests for both students and teachers, a moratorium that will last at least through the legislative elections next year. NYSUT can be expected to declare the moratorium a big union victory. More importantly, leadership in the opt-out movement while they will be more wary of Cuomo’s ultimate intentions, will nevertheless find it more difficult to grow their movement in an environment of a moratorium that leads the public to expect a significant roll-back of the testing regime. With the public’s focus off testing and the Common Core, Cuomo advances a new iteration of test driven accountability, claiming it corrects the deficiencies of the original roll-out of the Common Core and the testing regime but which really entails cosmetic changes. In this way, the thesis goes, the opposition to Cuomo’s reforms is weakened and our politically savvy governor gets what he always wanted, the test driven accountability systems demanded by his corporate reformer friends.

While we can’t know for sure that this is Cuomo’s plan, we must act as though it is. Once the movement of parents and teachers stops growing, it will inevitably lose its drive and intensity. Once that happens, it’s much harder to re-energize it than it was to begin it. We need a strategy to prevent our wily governor from out-foxing us again.

More on this next time.

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No Doubt Left About Elia

If we had any doubts about who Commissioner Elia is and where she stands on the scourge of high stakes testing and the incalculable damage it is doing to even our very best public schools, her release of a tool kit for superintendents makes it clear to teachers and parents that she wants New York’s students taking the 3 through 8 ELA and math tests and expects her superintendents get both groups to toe her line. Were I a superintendent, I would be outraged by the insult of thinking that I was too lazy and or stupid to write my own letters to parents and teachers if I wanted to, requiring Dr. Elia to give me a form letter into which I simply have to fill in the name of my district. What chutzpah! But what a jerk. The superintendents’ organization should blast her for this outrage, but I bet they don’t. If she had not smelled their fear, she never would have had the nerve to put this demeaning crap out to them in the first place.

Before most superintendents have even examined the tool kit, its publication has further inflamed those parents and teachers who have come together to defend our public schools from a testing regime that has been designed to discredit the institution of public education so that it may be privatized into an even bigger profit center than it already is. Jeanette Deutermann, founder of Long Island Opt Out, immediately took to social media to warn superintendents that our movement is watching them and is poised to pounce should they turn their backs on the their communities. My guess is that Elia has given our movement a gift, one that will help us achieve our goal of doubling our opt-out numbers this year.

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A Month of Atonement?

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

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

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

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

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Take Your Appeals Process and…

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

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

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

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Let’s Get Ethically Conspicuous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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