A Teachable Moment

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

A Clear and Simple Program for Our Schools

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

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Kids Need to See to Learn

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

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

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Always the Wrong Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking For Board of Ed Members

In looking to support candidates for the board of education elections coming up on the 19th of this month, more than ever we need to look for people with the courage to challenge the status quo, people who are willing to take some risks to defend our schools from the attacks from Washington and Albany.

We need to support people who understand the malignant effects of high stakes testing on students and teachers. Too many board members in my community talk a good game of being against testing but are willing in to do little beyond writing a letter and issuing a statement.

We need to find and support candidates who will hire and support school leaders who know how to lead, people who understand that loyalty has to flow down before it flows up. We need board members who understand that public institutions are not businesses and cannot be run on business principles that are focused on profits rather than the welfare of human beings.

Above all we need board members who believe the way public schools are currently organized to do their work is archaic, essentially an adversarial factory model that harkens back to a time when a docile, female workforce with few other employment options staffed our public schools. We need board members who know that there is untapped creativity and insight in the stifled voices of staff who are increasingly being ignored just when their thoughts are needed the most.

While my final though will appear controversial to many, to my mind it is the most important at this juncture. We need board members who understand that the quality of a school district is at best marginally related to the number of AP exams their high school students take. We need people who understand that the mission of public schools is the intellectual, moral and ethical growth of young people to the end that they become knowledgeable and engaged participants of our democratic society. We need policy makers for whom the phrase “college and career ready” expresses but a fraction of the very important work we do.

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Holding Our Leaders Accountable

I grow progressively concerned that too many in the public school community will simply sit back and accept what our elected leaders in Albany have done to teachers and public education. Last night I listened to a presentation by our superintendent to our board and the public as to what the new APPR law calls for, a presentation that presumed compliance with what she publicly stated was an absurd way to evaluate teachers. While our board president was happily enraged by what he heard and called upon the public to vote against our representatives who voted for it, there was not plan voiced to do anything about this betrayal. I also don’t hear from NYSUT, our state union, of a plan to get even with those who heretofore claimed to be our friends.

This morning I wrote to the leaders of our school community calling upon them to work with our union on the beginning of a plan for the accountability of Assemblyman Charles Lavine and Senators Kemp Hannon and Carl Marcellino, all of whom voted to double down on the tying of student scores to teacher evaluation. My email to school leaders follows. I encourage my readers in other schools districts to do the same.
POB Leaders,

After Dr. Lewis’ presentation on the New AAPR law, we all know that we have been betrayed by our elected leaders. It would almost be impossible to dream up a more stupid way of evaluating teachers than is provided for in this new law. Should this law be implemented, its impact on the teachers of our district will be profound. In my brief remarks last night, I doubt that I did justice to the deep anxiety and confusion I met when I attempted to address the concerns of the Parkway staff yesterday morning.

Assemblyman Lavine and Senators Hannon and Marcellino all voted for this law. I propose that the school community invite them to a community meeting to explain their vote to us. Invite is perhaps too weak a word. Maybe insist is better. While I doubt that any of those cowards will attend, if they don’t, we can then publicize their unwillingness to explain their votes.

Such a move by the leadership of the school community would accomplish three things. Firstly, it calls elected officials to account. Almost as importantly, however, it would suggest to the teachers who will bear the brunt of this law, that we are getting organized in their defense, that the entire school community understands the great unfairness that has been perpetrated against them. Finally, one way or another, the call for such a meeting will escalate the considerable pressure being exerted on our representatives to fix the problem they have created.

Let me know your thoughts.

Morty

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Anger Turning Within

I wish our elected leaders in Albany could have been with me this morning at a union meeting in one of our elementary schools. Had they been, they would have heard the deep anxiety and frustration of teachers who have come to believe that their ability to practice their profession and support their families are in serious jeopardy from a governor and legislature who appear to them to be bent on removing them from the classroom for some reason they are unable to fathom. They work their asses off day in and day out only to have their elected leaders denigrate their work, too many in their community resent their salaries and benefits and their supervisors fail to support their hard work. Truth be told, and certainly not a surprise to me, they don’t feel their union is doing enough to protect them from these threats, even though they know that much of the pressure they feel is coming from state and national sources. While they surely know that our local has done more than most in the fight against high stakes testing and its corrosive effects on the academic program and teaching, their anxiety about working in an environment seemingly hostile to their personal futures and their need for relief from these feelings is all consuming at this point, anger that is unaddressed often turning within.

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A Modest Proposal

Our state math assessments begin today. As I write the opt out numbers are coming in predictably a bit ahead of the English numbers last week. This is also the week that the New York State legislature resumes it work. Legislators are going back to Albany having heard an earful from the people at home about their recent vote to double down on testing as part of the teacher evaluation process. They also go back knowing that an enraged public withheld their children from the tests at a rate of at least three times that of last year. Should this movement continue to grow, as it shows every sign of doing, within a year or so there won’t be any children taking the state examinations. Some of the legislators are openly talking of doing something to fix the problem they and the governor created. They are clearly beginning to see that the organizing skills of the people who invented and grew the opt out movement can clearly be put to use election time to hammer those who put obedience to Andrew Cuomo and the corporate backers of so-called education reform above the interests of the parents, children and teachers in their districts.

The easiest fix would be to go back to what we have been doing until a more sensible approach to teacher evaluation can be developed. Better yet would be to pass a law that breaks the unsupportable connection between student standardized tests results and teacher competence. Still better is a modified version of something I used to do at grading time for my students that just might be a simple approach to teacher evaluation. Before I gave out quarterly grades I made students write down for me what they thought they had eared for the quarter. Almost invariably, the students gave themselves lower grades that I did. I strongly suspect that given the same assignment to critique their performance for the school year, teachers would overwhelmingly point to more shortcomings than those paid to supervise them would have seen. In such a system, we would probably have fewer highly effective teachers, the governor would have accomplished his mission and nothing of any consequence would have changed for anybody. Why go through all of the political contortions, the endless educationist drivel, the countless hours of testing and test prep when deep down we all know that none of this nonsense makes the slightest difference to the education of a single child in our schools. We can count on the low self-esteem of teachers to underrate their performance and to always believe that they could have done better.

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No Time To Be Nice

The opt out numbers look better and better. As of this writing, over 68,000 Long Island students refused to take the grade 3 through 8 examinations. That’s more refusals than there were in the entire state of New York last year. In no uncertain terms, these numbers are the response of a public who petitioned their elected representatives to do something to end the scourge of high stakes test in our state only to have to resort to civil disobedience when those representatives failed to do their job. I believe we need to keep the pressure on those who have been nothing less than duplicitous, telling us in various public forums that they supported our efforts to curb an out of control testing regime that was turning our best schools into essentially test prep institutions, only to in the end give the governor almost more than he asked for.

That being my view, it’s alarming to begin to hear NYSUT, our state education union, counseling being nice to these elected leaders who have betrayed us and the institution of public education. I don’t want to be nice to Assemblyman Charles Lavine. I want to support a candidate to primary him. If that fails, I want to run a Green Party candidate against him. Ditto with Senators Hannon and Marcellino who have grown far too comfortable and who seem to feel we will forgive them anything because that got us a little extra money for our schools. It is beyond question that by and large our elected leaders have no respect for us. Accepting bad treatment in my experience leads only to more bad treatment. I don’t understand why our union leaders in Albany don’t understand that. It’s really just that simple.

Many of us have worked very hard to build coalitions to oppose the attack on public education and the high stakes testing central to it. These groups are flush with our opt out victory and need to now be steered to politically removing the people who have shown themselves to be our enemies. This union leader is not going to be a party to letting people who openly screwed us off the hook.

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THE ANSWER IS OPT OUT

Yesterday I posed the question of whether parents would opt their children out of the state exams or acquiesce to the demands of a corporate school reform movement bent on destroying public education in our nation. I’m heartened to report that almost half of the parents in my community (48.2%) have said enough. They don’t care what Governor Cuomo thinks. They will not allow Chancellor Tisch and the State Ed department poison the educational climate of their schools with more and more of their programs dictated by the demands of tests that do absolutely nothing to improve instruction anywhere in our state. I strongly suspect that those numbers will grow over this testing season, as parents who felt a little uncomfortable bucking the dictates of the state see that over one thousand others put their qualms behind them.

This has been a very hopeful day. The growing numbers of citizens who care about public education who deeply understand the threat posed to it encourages me to believe that we can win the battle in the end. We more than doubled our opt out numbers this year. If we have to, we will do that again next year which would bring us to the point where almost no students are taking the exams. At that point, the testocracy melts into an ugly puddle of slime.

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OPT-OUT OR ACQUIESCE

Tomorrow the New York State 3 through 8 assessments begin. While Governor Cuomo and the legislature effectively more than doubled down on high stakes testing, there is a good chance that, in the best American tradition, citizens will cast their own vote on the testing epidemic by opting their children out of the exams. Exams that children don’t take cannot be used against them and their teachers.

Last year, over sixty thousand New York children were withheld by their parents from the assessments, over twenty thousand on Long Island. This year the numbers are bound to be significantly higher. The only question is how much higher.

It is not hyperbole to suggest that either parents will rise up and voice a resounding NO to what the testocracy is doing to public education, or they will acquiesce to the corporate powers behind the testing movement and thereby move the process of dismantling public education forward significantly.

Coincidentally, I just sent in the second half of my school taxes for the year. For the first time in my adult, I felt a pang of resentment for having to pay to support what to my mind is the daily debasing of education in our schools, as testing drives more and more of the curriculum and the notion of what it means to be educated evaporates in favor of what at best is job training.

My generation took to civil disobedience to promote the rights of all Americans to participate in our democracy. We took to the streets to stop a stupid war in Viet Nam in which thousands of my peers died for no discernible reason. Those were moral crusades, and I believe the movement to prevent the corporate takeover of public education is every bit as much of a moral issue. If we care about educating our children to be thoughtful, analytical participants of our democracy, people with a broad understanding of all that makes us human, then it seems to me we will thwart this latest attack on public education by refusing to have our children participate in the main weapon intended to destroy it – high stakes testing.
Should the opt-out movement fail, it will signal to those who lust to turn our schools into profit centers that they are on the right course and that the public doesn’t care enough to protest its schools.

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Time to Increase the Pressure

Imagine if all of the school boards that have joined the battle against Governor Cuomo’s proposed doubling down on high stakes testing publically announced that they pledge not to implement the law if it should pass and that they will join with their teachers and cease administering the state examinations until such time as exams are created that can be used to help teachers teach. Imagine such an assertion of local control. Imagine it coupled with a pledge by NYSUT to recruit candidates for the legislature to oppose those who support the governor, whether it is in primaries or by supporting candidates who are neither Republican nor Democrats. The polls show growing support for the anti- testing movement. We need to exert even strong pressure on the pro-testing legislators.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Duty of Civil Disobedience

I was at a regional union meeting yesterday, a meeting called to organize our response to Governor Cuomo’s declaration of war on teachers and our union. While there were an number of good ideas discussed, and while I was pleased to see by the attendance that our local leaders perceive the threat posed by the Governor’s proposals, I continue to be struck by the our reluctance to embrace bold action. There appears to be an underlying belief that if we can just find the right words, if we can schedule the right meeting, make the appropriate number of lobbying visits to our elected representatives, we will be able to prevail against a politically skillful, determined governor who is clearly seeking vengeance for our failure to support him in his last election. One local leader appropriately asked what our position was vis a vis the opt-out movement, to me one of the most potent weapons we have in the battle against high stakes testing. Our representatives to our state union running the meeting and some union staff there carefully parsed a few sentences in response when to my mind what was called for is a two pronged, full-throated embrace of the parent led movement. While I spoke about my local’s work in support of the opt-out movement and our goal to double the number of our students talking the exams from 20 percent last year, it is clear that our state union is reluctant to do more than utter platitudinous statements about parents’ right to opt their children out of the tests.

Last year over 60,000 students did not take the state examinations, over 20,000 here on Long Island. The simple fact is that there cannot be any bad consequences for either students or teachers if no one takes the tests. If we as educators believe that the current state regime of high stakes tests is detrimental to the emotional and intellectual growth and development of the children in our schools, then we must first of all keep our own children from taking the tests. To do otherwise is simply hypocritical and destructive of our credibility on this and other education issues. This belief also obliges us to encourage the parents of our students to do the same. I’m well aware that that the ability to do that varies from district to district. What all can do however is find ways to let parents know that we will not hold it against their children if they opt-them out. There are many parents who are uncomfortable opting their children out, knowing that student scores count towards their teachers’ evaluations and thinking that teachers will be angry if their kids don’t show. There are countless ways for teachers to let parents know at meetings, during phone calls etc. that we understand and appreciate their stance in withholding their children from the tests.

Our unions were formed by acts of civil disobedience. We won the right to bargain collectively by engaging in illegal strikes and other prohibited activities. Injustice invariably draws civil disobedience to it. I deeply believe that it will take many small acts of disobedience by and ever-growing coalition of believers in the centrality of public education to our democracy to save it from people like Governor Cuomo and the Wall Street interests who are funding the war against us. We ignore the duty of civil disobedience at our peril.

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A Hopeful Experiment

I’m weary of the phony hand wringing over the plight of our nation’s poor children trapped in public schools that don’t work. We do nothing to address the debilitating effects of poverty; we do nothing to create an economy where all people who agree to work receive salaries sufficient to provide a decent standard of living; we do nothing to end the economic and racial segregation that reinforce the scourge of poverty; we do nothing but blame our society’s failures on our under-resourced public schools that are given the impossible task of compensating for our indifference to the circumstances of almost a quarter of our nation’s children.

That’s why when I hear of some effort to improve the lot of poor children that is grounded in reality and stands a good chance to help, I’m suspicious that I must have misread or heard the proposal because hopeful efforts are so rare. But sure enough the mayor of Providence Rhode Island is pushing a program that has real potential to at least close some of the achievement gap. We’ve known for some time that poor children begin school having heard thousands, if not millions, fewer words than more affluent children because generally poorer parents spend less time talking to their children. Providence has launched a program to reach out to poor parents of young children to attempt to explain the importance of stimulating their children’s speech and teaching them how to do it. You can read about this very worthwhile experiment in a wonderful article by Margaret Talbot in the current edition of the New Yorker. If you are as jaded as I am from all of the stupid talk that characterizes the contemporary public education world, read this piece.

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A Must Read

As a young man, my elders always reminded me that my political views would grow more conservative with the passage of time. It used to irk me greatly to have my political thoughts countered with this bromide. I couldn’t imagine that simply as a factor of growing older and acquiring more my political sensibilities would gradually shift rightward. Was there some sort of political sclerosis that afflicts the aging that I knew nothing about?

I’ve been pleased to find that contrary to what I was led to expect, my intuition was correct. My political thoughts have grown more radical with the passage of time and appear to me to be directly related to knowing and understanding more about the world. I’m very glad that even as I reach my senior years, my mind is open to penetrating arguments like the one in Henry Giroux’s article “Barbarians at the Gates: Authoritarianism and the Assault on Public Education.” If you have followed and credited my thought on the real agenda behind the so-call education reform movement, if the substitution of training for education troubles you, if our increasingly blind faith in the centrality of technology to the education of our youth nauseates you, if you have suspected that the privatizers grab for public education is part of a much broader social agenda, read this article. You and I may not agree with it all, but it’s the kind of analysis that helps us challenge and clarify our own thoughts. I’m very thankful to the friend who sent it my way.

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Teacher Pay

Most teachers are paid on a salary schedules that remunerate them for time on the job and college degrees and courses taken. On some schedules, it can take 30 to 35 years to get to the maximum pay obtainable, each year on the schedule bringing an increase or increment as it is called. These so-called single salary schedules evolved over the history of public education from its beginning when teachers essentially received room and board in exchange for their services to schedules that gradually reflected the increasing educational requirements of the profession. There was a phase when elementary teachers were paid less than secondary teachers, women less than men and minorities least of all. In many ways, the changes in teacher remuneration parallel the changes in our society from one that was once largely agrarian to the current industrial model. Many of the current ed-reformers argue the need for a post-industrial method of paying teachers. Maybe, but most tend to propose ideas that would have most teachers making less.

Little noted in the debate over teacher pay is the fact that the single salary schedule yields the peculiar situation in which two people doing exactly the same work receive widely disparate remuneration. In my own district, $65 thousand dollars separate the beginning teacher with a BA degree from the teacher with 15 years of experience and a MA plus 60 graduate school credits. Now I do believe in the value of experience and education, but surely it doesn’t take a teacher 15 to 30 years to reach the top of her game. Yet, many teachers reading this criticism of the increment system will strongly disagree with me. If we listen carefully to their criticism, what they are often saying is, “I came up through this system. Why should it be different for beginning teachers?” To them, it’s as though God decreed an immutable single salary schedule and to tamper with it is to violate the order of the universe. Yet, wedded to it though they are, the increment system has perpetuated a growing inequity of two people receiving hugely differ salaries for the same work.

But even more galling than teachers’ blind faith in the increment system is management’s current attack on it. Not content to stretch out the payment of salary to journeyman teachers to in some cases 35 years, almost all of the salary settlements in my area of New York State have been financed by stealing money from the teacher who make the least and giving it to those who make the most. This has taken many forms, all of an ethical piece. Delaying the payment of increments into the school year and freezing increments have become all too common. For several years now, I’ve attempted to move teacher union leaders on Long Island to see this attack on the increment system as one that must be resisted, sadly to no avail. At a recent meeting of local leaders, several presidents appeared to be of the view that the next generation of teachers will simply not have it as good as we did, a sentiment that was later ironically added to with, “The Young members don’t care. It’s impossible to get them to do anything.” There’s a view to build a strong union movement on.

I recognize the facts that state aid has yet to return to 2008 levels and that New York’s property tax cap is in the process of doing to our state what Prop 13 did to California. But the failure of our unions to counter the attack on the increment system is sparking a generational conflict in our memberships that will ultimately render us less capable to combat all attacks.

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