A Teachable Moment

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

Ignoring Failure

By all means, let us continue the battle against high stakes testing, a battle that we are winning. But in the process of ending the mismeasurement of student accomplishment, let’s not slip into the belief that evaluation doesn’t really matter. I fear that’s the message we are unintentionally sending students when, as we are increasingly doing on Long Island, we craft grading policies that count the results of state Regents Examinations only if they raise student averages. I have no strong feelings about Regents exams one way or another. When I was teaching, I always pitched the level of my courses above that of the Regents. Yet, not all students had to take the Regents to graduate during my teaching days. What I do strongly object to is the growing ethically tenuous practice of counting the results for some and not for others. If we deeply believe that the exams are not true measures of student achievement, then we should not count the results no matter student scores. If, on the other hand, we believe them to be an accurate measure of student knowledge, then by what ethical principle do we exempt students from the results who receive low grades? If we are to ignore Regents failure, why count other failures?

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Thank You, Opt-Out Movement

New York State is touting a miniscule decline in the number of children withheld from the state’s grades three through eight examinations in English and mathematics. The drop from twenty-one percent last year will probably embolden Commissioner Elia and the Ed Department bureaucrats to continue to pressure the parents of our state into submission to a testing regime that is destroying public education. The State is also spinning a nominal increase in the test scores as proof of the efficacy of its test and punish approach.

Frankly, I have no idea whether the decline in opt-outs is statistically significant. It strikes me that roughly twenty percent have consistently boycotted the examinations in recent years as part of one of the truly progressive public education movements of the years of my involvement with public education issues. Think about it for a minute. The movement loses most of its eighth grade parents each year requiring it to recruit significant numbers of new parents each school year. Maintaining twenty percent of parents willing to defy the authority of the state, with many school administrations attempting to strong-arm them into submission, is no mean feat.

The continued well being of the opt-out movement is one of the very few positive signs in a world of public education that is beset by enemies. At a time when we have a national administration that seeks to turn our public schools over to corporate interests; when we increasingly see school leaders confusing training with education; when so few of those chosen to lead our public schools are empty careerists who no abiding loyalty to the institution of public education; when significant numbers of students in our schools are coerced into measuring their self-worth by their math and ELA scores; when test preparation crowds out the socialization of children to be participating citizens of our democracy; it is a shot in the arm for people committed to liberal education to know the opt-out movement not only exists but continues to thrive.

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The Real Failure of Public Education

If you have read this blog over a period of time, you are aware of my deep belief that the real failure of America’s schools has been essentially ignored. The real failure has nothing to do with graduation rates, test scores, Advanced Placement courses or any of the waves of reformist crap that have drowned out any serious discussion of the of the failure of American education to inform a citizenry so as to make them knowledgeable, critical thinking participants of a democratic society.

If I have interested you in my analysis, you must read “Manufactured Illiteracy and Miseducation” by McMaster University Professor Henry Giroux. Giroux sees the debasing of our public schools as central to an understanding of the politics that has brought us Donald Trump. If you are an educator and will read only one article about education this year, read this one.

On Saturday, I will be off to Boston to attend the National Education Association Representative Assembly. Some 9000 educators will gather ostensibly to talk about the condition of America’s public schools. It’s a safe bet that almost nothing that will be said there will either get as close to the heart of our problems as educators or suggest an activist strategy to remedy our plight as Giroux’s finer than fine analysis.

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Growing Opt-Out

The New York State math and English assessments for grades 3 through 8 will soon be upon us again. While there have been some changes in the exams around the margins, they remain an insidious inhibitor of quality education in our state. Educators with the best of intentions and a deep appreciation of what children should be taught are nevertheless teaching to these tests, they being judged, like the children they teach, on the basis of their students’ scores.

To a generation of political leaders who can only understand learning by measuring it, a generation that has reified accountability thereby reducing it to a number, talk of authentic assessment not only has no meaning but is too often seen as seeking to evade accountability. It doesn’t seem to matter to worshipers of math and English scores that over a decade of test score driven accountability has yielded no significant improvements. Some educators like me believe that it has reduced some of our best schools to shadows of their former selves. In my home district, while district leaders utter pious platitudes about test driven accountability, leadership still makes programmatic decision based on essentially useless scores.

The only option open to people who are serious about ending the tyranny of these tests is for parents to opt their children out of taking them. Each of the past few years has seen the opt-out rate in New York grow. This trend must continue to the point where it becomes absurd to spend huge sums of money on assessments that almost no one is taking. Only then can we expect to have a serious conversation about what a sane accountability system would look like.

Teachers have a duel role in accelerating opt-outs. They need to set an example in their home districts by opting their own children out of the assessments and demanding that meaningful educational experiences be offered in their stead. Through their unions, they must also encourage the parents of their students to follow their lead and opt their children out. There are thousands of public school teachers here on Long Island. Imagine if each of them convinced one new parent to opt her children out.

One of the few good things to happen in the realm of public education in New York has been the advent of the opt-out movement that has grown from a small group of dedicated parents, many of whom like Jeanette Deutermann exerted enviable leadership, to a coalition of parents, educators and citizens determined to save quality public education in our state and nation. We must grow this movement.

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Platforms Matter

My mind has been on the implosion of Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations, not on public education. It’s fascinating to read Republic stalwarts like David Brooks, Peggy Noonan and Charles Krauthammer all questioning the mental health of their party’s nominee. How wonderfully encouraging! But many of us knew that Nixon was crazy too. While more secretive about his psychic wounds, he managed to fool the nation, all the while appealing to many of the same dark emotions as Trump. Have we forgotten the Southern strategy, his code for the appeal to racism? Let’s not be too confident that this race is over.
There hasn’t been much talk in this campaign about public education. People committed to the centrality of public education to our democracy ought to take a look at the platform of the two parties in this regard. Let me not editorialize. Here are the two platforms. Bernie or Bust friends, think about which party is more clearly supportive of public education as you conceive of it?

Here is the Democratic education plank.

Democrats believe we must have the best-educated population and workforce in the world. That means making early childhood education and universal preschool a priority, especially in light of new research showing how much early learning can impact life-long success. Democrats will invest in early childhood programs like Early Head Start and provide every family in America with access to high-quality childcare and high-quality preschool programs. We support efforts to raise wages for childcare workers, and to ensure that early childhood educators are experienced and high-quality.

We will ensure there are great schools for every child no matter where they live. Democrats know the federal government must play a critical role in making sure every child has access to a world-class education. We believe that a strong public education system is an anchor of our democracy, a propeller of the economy, and the vehicle through which we help all children achieve their dreams. Public education must engage students to be critical thinkers and civic participants while addressing the wellbeing of the whole child.

We also support increased investments in afterschool and summer learning programs, which help working families, keep kids safe, and inspire learning at a time when many students are left unsupervised. We must find ways to encourage mentoring programs that support students in reaching their full potential. Mentoring is a strategy to ensure that children living in poverty have the encouragement and support to aim high and enter the middle class. We will focus on group mentoring, which is a low-cost, high-yield investment that offers the benefit of building a supportive network of peers who push one another towards success.

Democrats believe all students should be taught to high academic standards. Schools should have adequate resources to provide programs and support to help meet the needs of every child. We will hold schools, districts, communities, and states accountable for raising achievement levels for all students—particularly low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.

We must fulfill our national commitment to provide a meaningful education to students with disabilities, and work towards full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act so that students with disabilities can receive the extra resources and services they need. With an 33 appropriate educational foundation, children with disabilities can thrive and become adults with greater opportunities and more meaningful life experiences.

We are also deeply committed to ensuring that we strike a better balance on testing so that it informs, but does not drive, instruction. To that end, we encourage states to develop a multiple measures approach to assessment, and we believe that standardized tests must be reliable and valid. We oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners as failing; the use of standardized test scores as basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools; and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers. We support enabling parents to opt their children out of standardized tests without penalty for either the student or their school.

Democrats recognize and honor all the professionals who work in public schools to support students’ education—teachers, education support professionals, and specialized staff. We know that good teachers are essential to improving student learning and helping all students to meet high academic standards. Democrats will launch a national campaign to recruit and retain high quality teachers. We will ensure that teachers receive the tools and ongoing professional development they need to succeed in the classroom and provide our children with a world-class education. We also must lift up and trust our educators, continually build their capacity, and ensure that our schools are safe, welcoming, collaborative, and well-resourced places for our students, educators, and communities.

We will invest in high-quality STEAM classes, community schools, computer science education, arts education, and expand link learning models and career pathways. We will end the school-to-prison pipeline by opposing discipline policies which disproportionately affect African Americans and Latinos, Native Americans and Alaska Natives, students with disabilities, and youth who identify as LGBT. We will support the use of restorative justice practices that help students and staff resolve conflicts peacefully and respectfully while helping to improve the teaching and learning environment. And we will work to improve school culture and combat bullying of all kinds.

The Democratic Party is committed to eliminating opportunity gaps—particularly those that lead to students from low-income communities arriving on day one of kindergarten several years behind their peers. This means advocating for labor and public assistance laws that ensure poor parents can spend time with their children. This means raising household incomes in poor communities. It means ensuring children have health care, stable housing free of contaminants, and a community free of violence in order to minimize the likelihood of cognitive delays. It means enriching early childhood programming to prepare children in areas such as literacy, numeracy, civic engagement, and emotional intelligence. It means supporting equitable and adequate state funding for public education, and expanding Title I funding for schools that serve a large number or high concentration of children in poverty. It means ending curriculum gaps that maintain and exacerbate achievement gaps.

We support policies that motivate rather than demoralize our educators. We are committed to ensuring that schools that educate children in poverty are not treated unfairly, which is why we 34 will end the test-and-punish version of accountability that does no more than reveal the many opportunity gaps facing students from low-income communities.

Democrats are committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support democratically governed, great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. We believe that high-quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. Charter schools must reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools. We support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.


Contrast this conception of public education to that of the Republicans.

Education: A Chance for Every Child Education is much more than schooling. It is the whole range of activities by which families and communities transmit to a younger generation, not just knowledge and skills, but ethical and behavioral norms and traditions. It is the handing over of a cultural identity. That is why American education has, for the last several decades, been the focus of constant controversy, as centralizing forces from outside the family and community have sought to remake education in order to remake America. They have done immense damage. The federal government should not be a partner in that effort, as the Constitution gives it no role in education. At the heart of the American Experiment lies the greatest political expression of human dignity: The self-evident truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” That truth rejects the dark view of the individual as human capital — a possession for the creation of another’s wealth.

Parents are a child’s first and foremost educators, and have primary responsibility for the education of their children. Parents have a right to direct their children’s education, care, and upbringing. We support a constitutional amendment to protect that right from interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations. We reject a onesize-fits-all approach to education and support a broad range of choices for parents and children at the state and local level. We likewise repeat our longstanding opposition to the imposition of national standards and assessments, encourage the parents and educators who are implementing alternatives to Common Core, and congratulate the states which have successfully repealed it. Their education reform movement calls for choice-based, parent-driven accountability at every stage of schooling. It affirms higher expectations for all students and rejects the crippling bigotry of low expectations. It recognizes the wisdom of local control of our schools and it wisely sees consumer rights in education — choice — as the most important driving force for renewing education. It rejects excessive testing and “teaching to the test” and supports the need for strong assessments to serve as a tool so teachers can tailor teaching to meet student needs.

We applaud America’s great teachers, who should be protected against frivolous lawsuits and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom. Administrators need flexibility to innovate and to hold accountable all those responsible for student performance. A good understanding of the Bible being indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry, we encourage state legislatures to offer the Bible in a literature curriculum as an elective in America’s high schools. We urge school districts to make use of teaching talent in the business community, STEM fields, and the military, especially among our returning veterans. Rigid tenure systems should be replaced with a merit-based approach in order to attract the best talent to the classroom. All personnel who interact with school children should pass background checks and be held to the highest standards of personal conduct.

Academic Excellence for All Maintaining American preeminence requires a world-class system of education in which all students can reach their potential. Republicans are leading the effort to create it. Since 1965, the federal government, through more than 100 programs in 34 the Department of Education, has spent $2 trillion on elementary and secondary education with little substantial improvement in academic achievement or high school graduation rates. The United States spends an average of more than $12,000 per pupil per year in public schools, for a total of more than $620 billion. That represents more than 4 percent of GDP devoted to K-12 education in 2011-2012. Of that amount, federal spending amounted to more than $57 billion. Clearly, if money were the solution, our schools would be problem-free.

More money alone does not necessarily equal better performance. After years of trial and error, we know the policies and methods that have actually made a difference in student advancement: Choice in education; building on the basics; STEM subjects and phonics; career and technical education; ending social promotions; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals, superintendents, and locally elected school boards. Because technology has become an essential tool of learning, it must be a key element in our efforts to provide every child equal access and opportunity. We strongly encourage instruction in American history and civics by using the original documents of our founding fathers.

Choice in Education: We support options for learning, including home-schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, and early-college high schools. We especially support the innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits. Empowering families to access the learning environments that will best help their children to realize their full potential is one of the greatest civil rights challenges of our time. A young person’s ability to succeed in school must be based on his or her God-given talent and motivation, not an address, ZIP code, or economic status. We propose that the bulk of federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for children with special needs should follow the child to whatever school the family thinks will work best for them.

In sum, on the one hand enormous amounts of money are being spent for K-12 public education with overall results that do not justify that spending level. On the other hand, the common experience of families, teachers, and administrators forms the basis of what does work in education. In Congress and in the states, Republicans are bridging the gap between those two realities. Congressional Republicans are leading the way forward with major reform legislation advancing the concept of block grants and repealing numerous federal regulations which have interfered with state and local control of public schools. Their Workplace Innovation and Opportunity Act — modernizing workforce programs, repealing mandates, and advancing employment for persons with disabilities — is now law. Their legislation to require transparency in unfunded mandates imposed upon our schools is advancing. Their D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program should be expanded as a model for the rest of the country. We deplore the efforts of Congressional Democrats and the current President to eliminate this successful program for disadvantaged students in order to placate the leaders of the teachers’ unions.

To ensure that all students have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ ability to advance in American society. We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with sexual risk avoidance education that sets abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior. That approach — the only one always effective against premarital pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease — empowers teens to achieve optimal health outcomes. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referral or counseling for abortion and contraception and believe that federal funds should not be used in mandatory or universal mental health, psychiatric, or socio-emotional screening programs. The federal government has pushed states to collect and share vast amounts of personal student and family data, including the collection of social and emotional data. Much of this data is collected without parental consent or notice. This is wholly incompatible with the American Experiment and our inalienable rights.

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Our Kids Know!

I spent the last two afternoons interviewing high school students in Plainview and Syosset for our unions’ Berkowitz Scholarships. The scholarship is name for a psychologist who worked in the Plainview schools for over 40 years and his wife who was an elementary school teacher in Syosset. In both schools I met some of the most academically accomplished kids from both school districts.

When asked to look back on their education and reflect on how they would evaluate it, almost to a person these very thoughtful young people talked about how it seems to them to be all about tests and grades rather than on learning anything. The last candidate I met has just finished her last Advanced Placement exam, one of five she had taken this year. She spoke at some length and with a precision unusual for people her age about how much of what she was expected to know for these exams was already becoming blurry to her. I was struck by how these winners of the competition to be academic top dogs saw the competition as simply an instrument to get to college, the next competition.

What a frightful mess we have made of public education. We bandy about words like rigor, critical thinking skills, inquiry and assorted other verbal subterfuges for the stark reality of test driven intellectual drivel across the grades. Our teachers know it. Our students know it. Increasingly our parents know it. Many of our administrators know it. Yet, day after day, we facilitate the mindless competition that ironically alienates children from learning we claim we want them to experience. The mental health professional in our schools report they are seeing more and more students who are over-stressed, anxiety ridden and in many cases physically breaking down under the strain of the inappropriate expectations we have of them. Is this what we mean by college and career ready?

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Mindless Uniformity

The surest sign to me that a school or school district is intellectually dead is if all of the teachers on a grade are teaching the same thing at the same time using the same lessons and materials. In such places, the corporate reform movement has won, the quality of education being measured by the results on high stakes tests, tests that control what gets taught and when. Such places are led by education functionaries who either never had any understanding of and commitment to public education or sold that commitment for a step up the ladder of administrative success. The best days of teaching and learning in my district were when we had a leader who went from building to building challenging the faculties to try new things, to experiment, to take some risks to make things better. Teaching the way everyone else did marked one as lazy, unimaginative and therefore uninspiring.

I grow increasingly concerned that the deformers of public education are winning the battle of ideas as the public misconstrues uniformity for quality and differences as a sign that their children are missing out on something to which they are entitled. On one hand this is clearly the result of the preoccupation with high stakes testing. What we test is what we get. Yet, there is something more going on. Has a public that has grown increasingly mistrustful of public institutions developed a level of mistrust that perceives anyone getting something they are not receiving as a rip-off, an uneven playing field, a failure of that institution, almost a personal affront? I’m not sure, but I do know one thing. A mindless uniformity of instruction and quality education are mutually exclusive concepts.

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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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The Seattle Strike

There were four education union strikes in the state of Washington this fall with the Seattle strike receiving the most attention. It remains to be seen whether this strike activity is a harbinger of increased union militancy or a phenomenon peculiar to special circumstances in the way schools in Washington State are funded.

One this is clear. The Seattle strike while about pay and benefits was also about professional conditions, the kind of conditions that have been demoralizing the people working in our nation’s public schools for some time. Already a leader in the anti-high stakes testing movement, the Seattle union representing teachers and support staff demanded and achieved two major concessions. Once and for all, they broke the ludicrous nexus between student test results and teacher evaluations, even winning some reduction in the number of tests required. Convinced that students were being subjected to more and more unrelenting academic pressures that were crowding out any time for students to relax and let off steam, the union bargained contractually mandated recess time for students. With some significant gains in special ed staffing and a financial package calling for a 9.5 percent wage increase over three years, an increase above a state funded increase of 4.8 percent over the next two years, the week-long strike certainly produced one of the best settlements we have seen in a long time.

The Seattle strike was clearly influenced by the recent teacher strike in Chicago, where a militant union mobilized the community to confront the test and punish policies of Democratic mayor Rahm Emmanuel. I want to believe that a trend is developing of a return to kind of militant education unionism that arose in the late 50’s and 60’s that ushered in an era of improving salaries, benefits and working conditions and which did so much to improve the lot of people working in our public schools and the children served in them. I want to believe that we can rebuild our movement from the bottom up and return it to a position where we sit at the table where education decisions are made as people who must be reckoned with because we are once again organized and organizing for ourselves and for economic justice in our nation.

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Bits and Pieces

A Different Perspective on the Opt Out Numbers

New York State Allies for Public Education is reporting that they believe over 90 percent of the school districts in the state will have less than 95 percent participation on the ELA exams. Are the Feds really going to sanction that many school districts? They couldn’t possibly be that stupid. That would ensure 100 percent next time, a result that may well happen any way if our leaders in Albany don’t take concrete steps to undo their teacher evaluation legislation passed earlier in the legislative session.

Tisch a Heroine?

From many quarters comes praise for Merryl Tisch for standing up to Governor Cuomo and saying that school district will have until September 2016 to get their new teacher/principal evaluation plans in place. Why anyone would praise Tisch is well beyond my powers of comprehension. We ought to be pressuring her to resign, she having worked hand in glove with the corporate school reform machine. What makes delaying the implementation of an even more stupid teacher evaluation system than we currently have worthy of heroine status? Why would the leaders of the AFT praise her?

Up The Pressure on Legislators

Instead of praising Tisch, our focus should be on the legislature whose members appear to be confused and upset by the backlash from their adoption of the new teacher/principal evaluation system. They also appropriately appear to be reading the astonishing opt-out numbers and as a clear sign that there may well be significant political ramifications for those who voted for that legislation. Our demand should be simple. End the connection between student scores on high stakes tests and limit the number of times students are tested in grades 3 through 8. Return to testing as a teaching too, not a punishment.

Meritocracy Gone Amuck
If you haven’t read David Brooks’ column today, it’s a must read. He addresses an issues that my readers have repeatedly heard me sound off about – sending children messages that their being loved and respected is tied to their academic success – that to continue to be loved is to continue to succeed in ever more challenging school endeavors. Brooks nails this one, hard though that is for me to say about a pretty right wing commentator.

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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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Bargain With The Devil

Details in the Albany press this morning reveal a budget deal even worse than it originally appeared. Governor Cuomo sought to have the results of state assessments count fifty percent toward a teacher’s yearly evaluation. What the deal provides is that for some teachers the state tests will count one hundred percent.

Governor Cuomo’s office is saying that the deal establishes teacher evaluation criteria such that if student scores show a teacher to be “ineffective,” that teacher cannot be rated effective even if her observation results say she is highly effective. To my mind that’s one hundred percent of a teacher’s evaluation, and an unmitigated outrage. In the short time that we have had a system tying student score to teacher evaluations, I have seen some of our very best teachers get student test results that would have rated them ineffective or developing but for their outstanding performance as measured by observation and supervision. Although there is ample scientific evidence that the state assessments are unreliable indicators of teacher performance, with a high degree of likelihood that today’s highly effective teacher is next year’s ineffective one, the elected leaders of our state have apparently decided that science be damned, settling political scores with our state union is more important the professional lives of hard working teachers and their students.

If the deal as we understand it today is what is put into effect in November, teachers will be consumed by the need to have their students score high enough to get them rated effective. We will have taken a giant step towards the extinction of what we have known as teaching and education. What will remain for teachers to do will be to monitor student participation in digitized media test prep, which through engaging graphics and other facets of computer gaming will convince the ignorant that something called twenty-first century education has come at last. Those who are able to see through that digitized illusion will almost be like the book-people in Fahrenheit 451, keeping learning and education alive until such time as there is a period of enlightenment when the keepers of knowledge and learning are again respected and allowed to share their gifts with the young.

This bargain with the devil will apparently be voted on by the Legislature today. We need to study the vote and start the very next day to oppose those cowardly cretins who supported it. The Long Island delegation likes to think of itself as made up of strong supporters of public education. Those who vote for this deal have given up any right to that title.

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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.

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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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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.

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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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The Smart School Bond ACT

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

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

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

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

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

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Testing Tests Relationships

I asked the members of our union to tell me about anything out of the ordinary surrounding the recent administration of New York’s grades 3 through 8 English language arts exam. Amid the usual repots of crying kids, I received the following from Dr. Michele Price, a psychologist in our Old Bethpage School. Its insight into the family stresses caused by high stakes testing is an under-reported consequence of current education policy. MR

We are all familiar with the scenario of the man or woman who comes home from work and takes the pressure of the day out on his or her spouse and children. The demands of the ELA have created marked stress in households because of children crying over tests and homework, feeling generally anxious and depressed, as well as fighting with their parents and siblings. Children who are normally centered and socially-skilled have been arguing with their peers and having meltdowns at lunch and rec as a result of the demands of the test. Our brightest students have been crumbling under the pressure and shutting down. Teachers, support staff, and administrators are working every spare minute to help compose crying, frustrated children during their own lunches and preps, and arrive at their own homes in the evening too exhausted to function. One middle school student spoke to me through a torrent of tears, “My teachers spend so much time testing me. They no longer have time to teach me. I can’t take it anymore.” In addition, there has been conflict in families, with the parent who witnesses the daily negative impact of demands of the Common Core on the children expressing a desire to opt the children out of the test, and the parent who is not home as much and is not involved with the homework process insisting that the children take the test. As educators, we are all invested in the success of our students and certainly not opposed to rigor, but not at the expense of the mental health of all involved.

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A First Step Toward Fixing A Broken Testing System

Over one hundred teacher union leaders met in Centereach yesterday to talk about developing a strategy for changing the broken high stakes testing system in New York. Middle Country Teachers Association President Nadia Resnikov and I talked to the group about the recently passed New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) resolution opposing the current testing system in our state. Our message was simple. The current testing system is broken. It must be changed. Resolutions, however, are just words. People have to organize to breathe life into them. As part of our program, we showed excerpts of the film Race to Nowhere, a moving documentary that argues the thesis that our approach to education is robbing our students of their childhood.

Following our presentation, we broke down into county-wide groups to brainstorm things that local unions can do build the coalitions of teachers administrators, parents and grandparents to end the destructive impact New York’s testing is having on the education of its children. It was clear from the tables I visited that our local leaders got the message and were thinking creatively about what they were going to begin to do in their home districts. That we could get a hundred teacher union leaders to a meeting at the end of the school year says volumes about what testing is doing to the work teachers do, I’m heartened to believe that we have taken a first significant step in the political process of kicking the testocracy in the ass.

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