A Teachable Moment

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

Watch Out for a Moratorium

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

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

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Test and Punish Takes a Hit

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

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

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

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Political Progress

I and many others have been critical of the early endorsement by our two national teacher unions of Hilary Clinton before extracting from her some reasonable commitments to our political agenda. Recent days, however, have brought the pleasant surprise that through leadership efforts Hillary is laying out education positions that hold the promise of undoing the severe damage done to our schools by the Obama administration’s brainless test and punish approach to closing the achievement gap between the children of the poor and the more affluent. Brainless is really too mild an epithet for a Race to the Top scam that led cash strapped states in the midst of a financial crisis to embrace the untested Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluation plans tied to high stakes tests. Hillary seems to understand this and has pulled away from full-throated support for charter schools, recognizing that they do not educate all of the children public schools do. She has additionally, stated that she knows of no evidence to justify the tying of student test scores to teacher evaluations. I strongly suspect that our leaders have been telling Hillary that their endorsement wasn’t going to amount to much if her positions on education didn’t start to bend in our direction. One way or another, let’s recognize AFT and NEA progress when we see it.

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Our Tax Dollars Wasted

New York State has spent almost 700 million dollars on Race to the Top. 700 million dollars to implement a test and punish culture in our public schools. 700 million to enrage parents and encourage them to opt their children out of the tests on which we have spent millions. Here’s the state’s breakdown on what they spent our tax dollars on. November 2016 will be our opportunity to hold the people who let this happen accountable.

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Teach Strong

The other day, a colleague drew my attention to Teach Strong, a coalition of organizations interested in public education who want to work to make teaching a more attractive career. Both the AFT and NEA are participants in this venture, a venture premised on the belief that the quality of America’s teachers is poor and that changing the way we recruit, train, support and pay teachers is key to having a great teacher in every public school classroom.

Why the hell members are paying dues to the NEA and AFT to have their leadership run down their abilities is beyond me. Much of the bullshit that passes for serious discussion of teacher quality references SAT scores of ed-school students and draws conclusions about their intellect and teaching abilities on the basis of a standardized test that is increasingly coming to be understood to essentially be a fraud. Are there some dumb teachers? Sure! Just as there are some incredibly dumb physicians, dentists, lawyers etc. Here’s the interesting thing from my experience, however. I’ve met numbers of teachers over the years who are not intellectual giants, don’t see themselves as belonging to an intellectual elite, but who are, nevertheless, fantastic teachers, teachers who any sane person would want their children exposed to.

Even the name Teach Strong is offensive, the implication being that we have been teaching weakly. Why is it that we can’t face the fact that talent in any field is unequally distributed so that to expect there to be a “great teacher” in every classroom (whatever that means) is ludicrous. Beyond any reasonable doubt, we could staff every classroom with honors Ivy League graduates, and we wouldn’t have a great teacher in every classroom. We might even be surprised to find that we had made matters worse. The real problems facing America’s public schools have little to nothing to do with the quality of the teacher workforce. We would gain much more from halting the denigration of America’s teachers than we will from raising the bar for entry into the job.

America’s teachers are teaching strong. Many work in places where salaries are so low they must work multiple jobs to maintain themselves and their families. Even in our best schools, places where teachers make considerably more than the median American salary, teachers meet the challenges of working in an hostile environment, one in which they are essentially isolated from other teachers, asked to individualize instruction to over 120 students, evaluated in part on the test results of student scores on high stakes tests, required to respond to the most outrageous complaints with complete equanimity, infantilized by administrators who increasingly have had little teaching experience and where they talk increasingly about career change. Hardly a week goes by that one of our members doesn’t tell me about a conversation she has had with her child who has express interest in becoming a teacher. With guilty looks on their faces, these members tell me how they discouraged their kids from following them into teaching. Like all good parents, they want better than they have for their kids.

We’re already teaching strong. What we need is for people to notice, especially our national union leaders.

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No Doubt Left About Elia

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

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

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Driving Our Kid Nuts

Vicki Abeles is the maker of the film Race to Nowhere, a powerful documentary on the psychic toll America has been inflicting on its children in the name of competition and achievement. In the years since my union showed the film to several audiences in my community, hoping to wake it up to the realities of what we were doing to their children, the situation it graphically depicts has only gotten worse with the adoption of the developmentally inappropriate Common Core State Standards and the high stakes testing aligned to the Standards with the testing connected ever more tightly to the evaluation of teachers. Going to our schools today is more like having a job than being educated. In fact, the working conditions at most work place are superior. Little children are spending hours at home after a seven hour school day doing homework and studying for tests. High school kids are taking more college classes than many will take in college without the unscheduled time to do the work associated with them. Whatever time school work does not absorb is often scheduled into resume building activities in a fretful drive for conspicuous achievement that just might give one an edge on a college application. You have to look good to the colleges, the good ones at least. Forget about who you are. Abeles has written an essay that explores the hollowing out of childhood from the perspective of a parent who has the fortitude to honestly look at what she has allowed to happen to her children. Everyone with a child in school needs to read it and think deeply about it. If they do, they will hopefully immunize themselves against the almost virulent belief that our children are all underachievers if they do not have all As in Advanced Placement courses and are no guaranteed admission to Harvard.

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A Month of Atonement?

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

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

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

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

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Take Your Appeals Process and…

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

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

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

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Accountability or Surveillance?

Much of what gets talked about today under the heading of teacher accountability should be more appropriately referred to as surveillance. Accountability implies responsibility and an obligation to explain or account for one’s actions. Surveillance denotes watching for wrongdoing, catching malefactors in the act. It’s root is the word from which we get vigil. True teacher accountability tends to be embedded in the culture of an institution. It’s internalized by all staff regardless of rank to the point where an outlier gets the attention and sanction of all. It takes thoughtful leadership to build true accountability. It’s ultimately built on a deep respect for the work and the institution.

Teacher accountability today is increasingly a surveillance system. Neither the teacher observation systems currently employed nor the linkage of student test results to teacher evaluations promotes real accountability. Those are systems to which we devote huge resources of time and money to ferret out information that would be self-evident in an accountability approach built on a belief and trust in individuals to do the right thing. Those are systems that promote gaming. They do nothing to nurture institutional loyalty. The dirty little secret behind all the accountability palaver is that we could put an end to all of the surveillance we do of teachers, all the formal observations, all their growth scores, all the spying on them, all the questioning of children in their classes and the educational outcomes would be totally unchanged. Were we instead to put the money we spend on surveillance into reducing class size or other educationally enhancing measures, we would accomplish something real.

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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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New Yorkers Are On To The Common Core

A new Siena College poll finds 64 percent of New Yorkers think the Common Core State Standards have either had no effect on public education (24%) or have worsened it (40%). That then means that we have spent millions of dollars of scarce resources to fund the implementation of an approach that has diminished the public’s confidence in its schools. We have tied these standards to a regime of high stake tests of undetermined validity and in turn tied the student results to the evaluation of teachers, demoralizing our teacher corps as they have never been demoralized before.

We hired a new commissioner on the basis of her allegiance to the standards, the tests aligned with them and teacher accountability linked to student test scores. When does the absurdity of this policy dawn on our elected representatives? When do we collectively say, ENOUGH? When does it become clear to the policy makers that a few cosmetic changes will not suffice to convince the public of the merit of this policy? Must we wait for one hundred percent of New York’s students to opt out of the testing regime? Or have we reached the point where what the people of the state think no longer matters? Maybe the problem is even bigger than we think.

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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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Regents Cling to the Wrong Approach

It wasn’t very surprising to learn yesterday the New York State Regents voted to make their teacher evaluation regulations permanent. While some seats on the Board of Regents were flipped last year, there are still not enough members committed to ending the test and punish approach to school improvement that is choking meaningful quality education from even our best public schools. The real disappointment came with the knowledge that Regent Tilles, a professed opponent of the test and punish policy, voted to support the regulations, claiming he had to because it is required by law. Frankly, I have always seen Tilles as wanting things all ways. He opposes the current policy but votes to support the regulations. He opposes the scourge of high stakes testing but played a vital part in hiring Commissioner Elia, a proponent of testing and its connection to teacher evaluation. I fear Tilles is more interested in becoming chancellor than he is in acting on his professed beliefs. One way or another, he has let the defenders of public education on Long Island down.

Today, parents and school personnel who oppose the direction of education policy in our state are wearing red to show support for their local public schools. The failure of the Regents to seriously revise the regulations promulgated last spring will undoubtedly serve to breathe new energy into the opt-0ut movement. It will also hopefully begin the process of targeting public education’s political enemies in Albany and devising a strategy for their defeat in November 2016. Despise Governor Cuomo as I do, the crafty devil senses that the political tide is turning against him and his education policy, causing him to suddenly favor changes to the teacher evaluation system in the direction of greater fairness. It’s going to take more than that Andy!

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Big Surprise: There’s a Teacher Shortage

The top domestic story in this morning’s New York Times concerns the teacher shortage in many areas of the country. Imagine that! In is few short years, we have gone from a glut of teachers to a shortage. It’s not hard at all to understand how that has happened. Neither is it hard to figure out how to fix the problem.

The financial crisis hit states very hard, causing huge drops in revenue which in turn caused them to cut state aid to local school districts that solved their budget crises by laying off teachers. Across the country, thousands of teachers were excessed, many never to return to the profession, if they were lucky having found new careers. Those teachers who survived the layoffs found their wages frozen or stagnating and their working conditions deteriorating, both as a result of scarce financial resources and the acceleration of the corporate school reform movement’s drive to discredit public education with the goal of privatizing it. Key to discrediting the institution was a growing cult of accountability that has sought to tie student performance on standardized test to teacher evaluations, even though no reputable statisticians support the validity of this process. In many places, governors, often backed by the same forces pushing the so-called reform movement, launched attacks on education unions that ran the gamut from seeking an end to tenure to withdrawing or curtailing collective bargaining and pension rights. In short, that which made teaching attractive to many, job security, union wages, defined benefit pensions, the opportunity to do interesting, rewarding work and the certainty of a decent retirement began to evaporate.

With thousands laid off, with working teachers increasingly disgruntled, with much of the media reinforcing the lie that public education is failing America’s children, with teaching increasingly becoming test preparation, with all kinds of senseless barriers being created to qualify as a teacher being erected, is it any wonder that fewer young people are going into education. Why would a young person seek a career in which practitioners are increasingly presumed to be ineffective no matter what they do, where they are over scrutinized and under supervised, where they must hold multiple jobs to support their families and where their work is increasingly routinized? What is it that our society believes is going to attract them in sufficient numbers?

The attacks on teachers will either cease or the trend towards a growing shortage will continue. Young people seek careers that provide some dignity and status. Those are increasingly hard to come by working in public education today. Sadly, I find myself discouraging young people I meet from seeking to become teachers. I feel ethically obliged to do so.

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Join Us! Don’t Attack Our Leaders

My blog today is a response to a Facebook posting by the president of our local board of education. He expresses the facile view that the scourge of high stakes testing and its consequences could have been avoided by a union leadership more concerned with the interests of its membership. While my reads know of my disagreements with various levels of union leadership, it’s not fair to confuse mistakes with personal corruption as Mr. bettan and too many other do. Here’s the posting and my response.

As I’ve been saying for years: The sad reality is that this entire hi-stakes testing mess could have been avoided if AFT leadership hadn’t sold out their members. In NY Cuomo never gets test scores linked to APPR without the support of NYSUT. Race to the Top never happens without support from national teacher union leadership. Time to stop blaming billionaires like Bill Gates and companies like Pearson and start realizing that teacher unions have been taking money from their foundations all along the way. This is just another example of Weingarten putting her agenda ahead of her teachers. Note: my comments here have nothing to do with Clinton or the presidential election, but rather the disconnect between teachers and those they pay to represent them.
Gary Bettan

While I have been highly critical of the response of our unions to the corporate attack on public education, an attack spearheaded by Bill Gates for whom you apologize, to cavalierly state that high stakes testing and its consequences could have been avoided if the AFT and NEA had simply chosen not to go along is to simplify history to an absurdity.

A fairer analysis than yours would take account of the creation, through the corporate manipulation of the media, of an education crisis in the United States. As Diane Ravitch and other scholars have amply demonstrated, there is no crisis. In fact by almost any measure, America’s schools have been improving. This attack on public schools diverts the public’s attention from the real crisis – a growing number of America’s children are being permanently scarred by poverty. Such an analysis would also take account of corporate influence on our politics. No child left behind and Race to the Top didn’t just happen. They are a testament to the influence of money on politics and policy.

While I disagree with our state and national union leaders and have expressed that disagreement in person and in my writings, I have never suggested that they sold our members out. While they have made strategic and tactical errors, I believe them to be motivated by an abiding concern for the membership. Their challenge was and is how to push back against a corporate reform effort that is clearly aimed at the destruction of public education as we know it. They made a decision to engage the reformers and the politicians whom the reformers had bought and paid for, hoping through engagement to blunt the attack on our schools and members. That engagement has included taking money from places like the Gates Foundation to finance union education experiments. Let’s remember too that much of this testing escalation took place in the midst of the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression, one in which states had gaping holes in their budgets and the Feds were offering millions to climb on to the reform bandwagon, insisting on thing like tying teacher evaluations to test results.

In New York, this all took place at a time that I was on the NYSUT Board of Directors. The state was in a financial hole as were many local school districts. The Feds were offering close to a billion dollars if we would buy into the Race to the Top program with its Common Core Standards and testing regime tied to them. The challenge to NYSUT was how to get the federal money that many of its locals needed to save the jobs of their members while blunting the impact of the federal mandate to tie student test results to teacher evaluation. Their answer was to try to use collective bargaining to permit locals to participate in the creation of teacher evaluation plans, so-called APPRs.

While I and others spoke out against the APPR deal NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi made with Governor Cuomo and worked to try to get the NYSUT Board to vote it down, the fact is a majority of the NYSUT Board supported this approach, and the deal was done. Therefore, while it is fair to say that Iannuzzi made a mistake (It’s important to note that many in our ranks still do not believe he did.), it is completely unfair to suggest that he sold our members out. He made a decision that was backed by our board. It was in part that decision that ultimately cost him his job.

This year in New York we witnessed Governor Cuomo renounce the deal he made with Iannuzzi as achieve legislative changes that will make matters even worse. I was encourages to see NYSUT President Magee embrace the opt-out movement, thereby recognizing that it is only through the collective action of educators and parents that we are going to be able to overcome the power of the corporate reform movement. We had over 200,000 students opted out of the exams this year, more than triple the number of last year. We are at work to triple it again. Our members invite you and the other members of our Board of Education to fully embrace this movement. Such an effort will be infinitely more productive than hurling unfounded accusations against union leadership. Our unions are being attacked by the same corporate interests. Friends of public education like you need to join with us not attack our leaders.

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The Offer of a Hand in Our Own Destruction

Word yesterday that the New York State Education department has dumped Pearson as its test maker for the grades 3 through 8 assessments in favor of Questar, a rival company. We are also told that the contract with the new company, worth some 44 million dollars, will oblige the test makers to increase the number of versions of the test that will permit the validity of trial questions to be tested while shortening the length of the test itself. We are led to understand that through a process yet to be made clear teachers will be involved in the crafting of these exams and the data derived from them shared in a more pedagogically useful manner that heretofore. This announcement, the first under new Commissioner Mary-Ellen Elia, is being hailed by some, including NYSUT leadership, as a victory in the battle against high stakes testing. Why a shift in companies is seen as some kind of victory is beyond me.

While the length of the 3 through 8 tests is a significant issue, it is of much less importance to educators and parents than the fact that students are tested yearly and that their academic progress in English and math is measured by one test, No competent teacher would evaluate a student’s performance on such a limited basis. Add to that absurdity the fact that such limited information is then used to evaluate teachers and we have a system that has predictably corrupted public education. By defining success for both students and teachers by high stakes test scores, we have created a system where the curriculum is increasingly devoid of anything not covered by the tests and the very pace of the instruction is determined by the need to cover the tested material by the time of the test, weeks before the actual end of the school year. We have made school less joyous for students and promoted dishonesty among too many teachers and administrators who have come to see themselves in a struggle for survival. None of these existential issues for public education are address by the state changing the test maker. The whole thing appears to be a public relations move to get out from under the bad press that has been heaped on a discredited Pearson.

Questar may be able to make tests that are more error free than some produced by Pearson, but that should not cool the passion of those of us who see high stake testing as a potent tool of those who seek to delegitimize public education so as to privatize it and profit from it. It will do nothing to boost the morale of teachers who see their profession being stolen out from under them. It won’t curb the pressure we are putting on young children as we narrow their education to the point where it is becoming training rather than preparation for informed adulthood and citizenship. Inviting teachers to participate is quite simply luring them into participating in their own destruction.

The answer to the scourge of high stakes testing is not a new test maker. The answer is to return testing to the hand of educators who know how to harness it to sound pedagogical practices. The best way to make that happen is for parents and teachers to reject and resist the current testing regime. Over 200,000 students refused the state tests this year, up from 60,000 last year. Our goal has to be to boost that number to at least 400,000 next spring by starting now!

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NEA and the Opt-Out movement

One of the more disheartening aspects of the recent NEA Representative Assembly was its failure to fully embrace the opt-out movement. While a number of new business items that nominally supported the opt-out movement passed, items that called for working with other organizations to promote the opt-out movement failed and failed badly.

To the extent that one could discern from the debate the reason for the failure to embrace the opt-out movement, it appeared to be a fear that failure to meet the federal threshold of 95 percent participation in the mandatory high stakes tests would result in a loss of Title I funding. Of perhaps even more importance were the comments of a number of speakers who expressed the concern that opting out would lead to negative consequences for the teachers whose evaluations are tied to these examinations.

The latter reason is of a piece with a general impression I took away from the convention. There is an almost unanimous belief among the assembled union leaders that public education is under attack and that a major weapon in that attack is high stakes testing. Yet, despite that perception, there is no common understanding that to beat back that attack is going to require direct actions like promoting the opt-out movement, even if such support puts our members at some risk. There is no broad understanding that the risks of doing nothing other than making speeches and dabbling in electoral politics is in the long run more risky.

Here’s where leadership could make a profound difference. NEA President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia is as gifted a communicator as we have ever had. She and the other NEA officers surely understand that the most potent weapon we have had in the battle against high stakes testing has been the opt-out movement. It’s as simple as, if no one takes the tests, we can then have a serious conversation about the place of testing in public education. Leadership’s failure to speak that truth to the assembled union leaders and their unwillingness to embolden the delegates to take a stand, risks and all, was deeply disturbing, to me and especially to many New York union leaders who have strongly embraced the opt-out movement and helped to drive our opt-out numbers to over 200,000 this spring.

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Brainless in Orlando

    KoThe NEA Representative Assembly was disappointing on a number of levels that I’ll be talking about going forward.

    Yesterday, if one can believe it, the body voted down a motion that would have prevented the NEA from taking money from outfits like the Gates Foundation and other organizations and corporations that do not support the pro-public education policies of the NEA. If there ever was a no brainer, it seems to me this was the one. No one has done more damage to public education than Bill Gates who for a time had co-opted the two national education unions into supporting the Common Core State Standards and worse still the tying of the results of Common Core aligned high stakes tests to the evaluation of teachers. That Gates money influenced our policies is beyond any reasonable question.

    Push back by activists in both organizations caused both national union presidents to state that they would no longer take Gates Foundation money. Ironically a motion that looked to make it policy not to take Gates money would up serving to create a policy of encouraging the taking of this corrupting funding. Wendell Steinhower, the President of the New Jersey Education Association gets my award for the most brainless speech of the convention. Rising to oppose the motion that would prevent the NEA from taking Gates money and money from similar sources, Steinhower called upon us to take the money so that people like Gates would have less of it to give to bigger enemies than Gates. For a leader one of the largest state education unions to be so almost cosmically ignorant of the corporate campaign to destroy public education and the centrality of Bill Gates to this campaign left this union leader wondering about the future of our union. NEA President Eskelsen-Garcia’s subtle but clear encouragement of the opposition to telling Gates and others to keep their money makes her passionate statements about high stakes testing and the damage it is causing ring completely hollow. We simply can’t accept money from people who propose and fund political movements inimical to the welfare of our members and build a viable movement to defeat those movements. To believe that we can is to believe that people like Gates are stupid and essentially suicidal.

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Andrew Cuomo Prepares to Blow Some Smoke

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s poll numbers continue to sink in large measure owing to the growing organized opposition to his education policies and the public perception that everything that comes from Albany is tainted by corruption. What does a desperate, cynical politician do when faced with extinction? If the politician is Andrew Cuomo he doesn’t think about changing his policies. He thinks instead of an emotional appeal to Jewish voters many of whom see a nuclear deal with Iran as inimical to the state of Israel. He leaks to the press that he is thinking of opposing any deal with Iran even before he knows what the deal contains and certainly before he has done any careful analysis of where the interests of the United States lie. He calculates that citizens will be dumb enough to forget the reason they have driven his poll numbers down in the first place – the content and style of his approach to governing.

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