A Teachable Moment

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

Long Island School Board Elections

Tuesday’s board of education elections on Lon Island were but the latest evidence that a growing number of parents want an end to the corrosive effects of high stakes testing. Jeanette Deutermann, founder of Long Island Opt-Out, reports that of the 75 candidates her organization endorsed, an astonishing 57 were elected. Our state representatives ought to be thinking about these results because supporters of the movement will be coming after them next. Those who make war on teachers will have their careers ended on the battlefields they have created. When the movement starts being covered on the front page of the New York Times, the cretins who represent us in Albany better watch out.

My own local worked very hard for the election of Jodi Campagna, a representative of Deutermann’s Long Island Opt-Out. Some who were opposed to her attempted to brand her a one issue candidate, seeing her advocacy for opting out of high stakes testing as a narrow vision for the future of our school district. More aware voters, however, saw the Jodi’s advocacy for what it really is – a battle to preserve a free, rich, multi-dimensional education that prepares children for responsible adulthood as citizens of a democratic society. Those who fail to understand that vision behind the opt-out movement are ironically themselves possesses of a restricted vision for our schools, that limited view being best expressed in the phrase that so easily rolls off the lips of the ill-informed –“ college and career ready.”

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Yesterday’s Regents Meeting

I have a seemingly endless capacity to endure verbal torture and was therefore able to watch that portion of yesterday’s Regents meeting available online. By the end, a couple of things became clear. While the most often used word in the hour or so meeting used to talk about the meeting itself was “conversation,” there really was no conversation to be heard. Instead it was more a group of windbags, most of whom spent their very limited time talking about things that they frankly appeared not to understand at all.

Not one of them seriously challenged the opaque presentation by deputy Commission Ken Wagner, a perfect master of meaningless speech disguised as intellectual discourse, a character who always causes my mind to wander to memories of the comedian Professor Irwin Corey, even though they all expressed very politically correct concerns with the state’s testing regime and its tie-in to teacher evaluation. What was needed was for one, just one, of the Regents to shout out, “Just what the f…. are you talking about.” Instead, lest someone think the Regents were losing their nerve on testing aligned to the Common Core Standards, Ms. Tisch, brought them back in line with her summary of the “conversation” from which she took away that none of the Regents wanted to ‘back away” from a testing regime tied to the Standards. The only Regent with the nerve to challenge Tisch a jot was Regent Betty Rosa from the Bronx who expressed her doubts the tests and the standards, politely dissociating herself from the Chancellor’s remarks.

While none of the Regents was clear on what our current testing regime tells us either about the performance of teachers or students, all seem to agree that we need betters test that do what they would be hard pressed to say. No one participating in the meeting seemed to be even remotely aware of the damage they have done to teaching and thereby to the student of our state. Those who have been hopeful that the Regents will somehow ameliorate the idiotic changes the Governor and Legislature made to the APPR law will be sorely disappointed. Frankly, I never expected much from them and have long been in favor of doing away with this body that is not directly answerable to the public.

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Kids Need to See to Learn

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

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

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Always the Wrong Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s Not About Better Tests!

I’m always trying to teach our union members that there are always opportunities to develop political coalitions, often with people with whom we disagree on most issues. So, I’m thankful the Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education voted last evening to send the grade 3 through 8 field tests back to the education department. Anything that reduces the horrific waste of instructional time and delegitimizes the corporate sponsored test and punish regime is welcomed by me and the teachers I represent. Yet what became very clear from the discussion prior to the vote to return the field test was the lack of understanding on the part of most board members of why these field tests and the tests that they serve to develop are at odds with the goal of quality education.

Too many of our board members seem to think that if we could only get better tests, tests that are available for public scrutiny, they could support a high stakes testing regime. Their discussion last evening did not reveal any understanding of what high stakes testing is doing to the instructional program in our district and throughout the country and that these malignant effects are inherent in any such testing program, even ones decoupled from teacher evaluations. If standardized tests that compare students are central to student advancement, they will create a political pressure for teachers to teach to the tests. Add to the high stakes for students a linkage to teacher evaluation and you have a combination guaranteed to narrow the curriculum to those subjects and skills necessary for students to advance to the next step in the race to nowhere and for teacher to ensure their continued employment. The best of tests that become the be all and end all are ultimately antithetical to an education aimed at the intellectual and ethical development of children. The burgeoning ranks of the opt-out movement understand this. This movement is not about the quality of tests; it’s about their inappropriate use.

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Learning Summit

I can’t claim to have watched even most of yesterday’s Learning Summit, called by the Regents as they try to appear to seek informed comment from people who claim to know stuff about public education. From what I read this morning a consensus emerged that the new teacher evaluation law makes little sense from any number of perspectives. What will come of any of this, I have no idea. I did find it very interesting that UFT President Michael Mulgrew took credit in his testimony for getting the legislature to punt the teacher evaluation football over to the Regents. Why we would want to do that is beyond me, but I’m sure when I ask I’ll be told it is part of a grand strategy that I just don’t understand.

That aside, in the hour and a half that I watched, I must have heard the term “best practices” 30 or 40 times. It dripped off the lips of every expert contributing to the formation of a pool of almost meaningless drivel. Various puffed up characters, I frankly can’t remember their name, spoke with a degree of certitude about the best way to do teacher evaluations as though there exists a body of settled hard science. My favorite was a lady who claimed that teachers want the feedback from numerous observations. Somehow, in 40 years of teaching at the high school and college levels, and representing thousands of teachers over the years, I never met one that said that. For me the best practice is to run for the hills at the sound of some pompous ass talking about best practice.

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Crazier All The Time

The New York State Education Department has yet to write the regulations to implement the new Annual professional Performance Review (APPR) law, but just its published outline has forced teachers to think in ways that are inimical to quality public education. Numbers in my local union have talked to me about seeking to negotiate a protection for them from the clause in the law that says a teacher can’t be judged to be effective if she in ineffective as measured by her students’ test data. Serious, career professional teachers, teachers with reputations for excellence, teachers who are highly desired by our parent community, some of these teachers want a contractual guarantee that if they are found to be ineffective on the state growth measure, they will automatically be switched to a non-tested grade, in this way guaranteeing themselves that they will not be ineffective two years in a row and thereby subject to dismissal proceedings.

I supposed none of us should be surprised that people whose livelihoods are threatened will search for creative ways to protect themselves. The law itself even suggests this as an approach in that it provides that no student can have an ineffective teacher two years in a row. There are some rural school districts in this state that have only one or two teachers per grade who will be forced to play musical grades.

As I write, however, I’m unaware of any proposal in Albany to address the serious consequences of this crazy law. Instead, the Senate’s energy seems to be consumed by the political fallout from the indictment of Majority Leader Dean Skelos. There is pending legislation to delay implementation of this stupid law, bills to codify a parent’s right to opt her child out of the state assessments and assorted other measures that do nothing to treat either teachers or children fairly or protect the quality of our public schools. It grows clearer each day that representatives who won’t change this law will have to themselves be changed.

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Anger Turning Within

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

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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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A Modest Proposal

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

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

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No Time To Be Nice

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

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

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

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Don’t Confuse Talk With Action

Monday night’s meeting of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education was the first since the passage of the law which effectively made student results on state assessments the most important piece of teachers’ evaluations. Teachers whose students fail to reach an essentially arbitrary growth targets cannot be rated effective, even if those who supervise them on a daily basis rate understand them to be effective or better. What that does is to tie teachers’ continued employment to student test results. Does anyone doubt that teachers will be hyper-focused on preparing their students for the state tests? To not do so is to be irresponsible to themselves and their families. With that understanding of what New York had done to teachers and public education, I listened in amazement to Superintendent Lorna Lewis explain to the public how despite the action of the legislature and the governor, our schools would not yield and become focused on test preparation. What a canard!

First of all, we have already become a district that moves to the substance and rhythm of the state Common Core assessments, even though they have until now counted for only twenty percent of a teacher’s evaluation. With the new law wherein test results trump the observation of supervisors, one would have to be delusional not to understand that teachers will be driven to focus on preparing children for tests that are determinative teachers’ ability to continue to have their careers. Why, I wonder, would we lead the public to believe otherwise, a public half of whom opted their kids out of the assessments in protest against what they are doing to the academic program in our schools?

The leaders of our district like many seem to confuse talk with action. They are against testing, yet they don’t publically support the opt-out movement, have increasingly worked routinize instruction, focusing on the alignment of the educational program with the very assessment they claim to oppose. Just yesterday, I was told that teachers have been instructed to give final examinations in 5th and 6th grades, no one ever bothering to ask teacher whether that is an appropriate thing to do. More and more we’re preoccupied with making children college and career ready without ever understanding that we are squeezing out of the program many of the very things that actually contribute to that readiness. If the expression college and career ready means anything it implies the growth and development of a human child which surely includes much more than what is measured on an English or math test. Our leaders would have us understand that all is well in our schools. Nothing could be further from the truth. The parents who refused to let their kids take the state exams know this, and they are growing in numbers. They are the hope that we can bring real education back to our schools. If we double the number of children opting out again next year, there will be no one taking the tests. We could get to that happy day much faster if all our school leaders would act like the scourge of high stakes testing is the real threat that it is.

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Hard to Believe Tisch

Merryl Tisch is quoted this morning as saying that high performing districts (not defined) should be exempt from the new and as yet to be State Ed crafted annual professional performance review. I strongly suspect that the statement is intended to quell the growing opt out movement whose leaders tend to come from these very districts, Let’s remember that when the Governor’s Director of Operations wrote to Tisch seeing her input needed legislation, she responded with almost exactly what came out of the recently enacted legislation. Would such a move make sense? Sure it would, and that’s why I don’t expect it to happen. It would be hard to find a less sensible institution than our State Ed Department. Everything they turn out is at best opaque.

I’ll be taking this holiday season off, trying to recover from recent depressing events and restore my energy for the battles ahead. I’ll be back on April 13. Be sure to look for me.

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Opting-Out: More Important Than Ever

Parents who have been undecided about opting their children out of the New York State assessments have been given good reason to decide to refuse the tests. The distortion of teaching and learning of the current teacher evaluation system has now been magnified five- fold – by a change in the law that says that no teacher can be rated effective or highly effective if her student scores don’t meet some number to be determined by the State Ed Department. That effectively makes the test 100 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

This betrayal by our elected leaders has got to be answered and answered immediately. The best means at had to do so is to drive the opt-out numbers through the roof. Teacher who have children in grades 3 through 8 who don’t opt them out are aiding and abetting the demise of their profession and prejudicing their employment. It’s just that simple.

Parents who want more from their schools than training in how to pass standardized tests must inform the schools their children attend that they refuse to permit their children to take the state tests. These tests have never had any educational value. They have now become a very significant impediment to anything enlightened people would deem an appropriate education. With these exams determining their future employment, teachers will have no choice but to teach to them. Thus, a curriculum already significantly narrowed by corporate sponsored reform will have more squeezed out of it leaving little but English and math. The bottom line is if no one takes the tests, they can’t be used negatively impact teachers and students.

The Governor and Legislature know full well that they have spit in the eyes of New Yorkers. They know what they have done is dreadfully unpopular. Two recent polls showed the public overwhelmingly supporting the teachers union over their elected leaders. Our leaders have calculated that we will forget what they have done to our schools. Opting out must be our immediate message that we will never forget. We must also begin immediately to work to challenge those who have represented other interests, not ours. Our local will be reaching out to our community searching for candidates to challenge Senators Hannon and Marcellino and our Assemblyman Charles Lavine, all of whom have claimed to be friends of public education but who abandoned us when we needed them most.

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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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Legislators Flail About Looking for Political Solution

The teacher evaluation plan in place in Plainview-Old Bethpage took us about a year and a half to negotiate. While I would be the first to say that the time could have been much better spent, there is one sense in which our APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) has been an improvement over the way evaluations were done prior to its advent, although that improvement has nothing to do with the student test score part of the plan.

The introduction of a rubric to guide the observation process has taken what had tended to be amorphous written observations, often simply an endless series of clichés, and introduced more concrete language about discernible aspects of a teacher’s performance. The observations that I get to read these days are much better focused and anchored specific references rather the generalized blather I used to read. Today I usually know immediately what the observer was talking about, something that heretofore was often difficult to know. There is now at least the potential that the process provided teachers with feedback that challenges them to think about what they are doing.

It’s ironic then that one of the few real gains from all the effort that went into negotiating these APPR plans is being challenged by Governor Cuomo who wants to put increased emphasis on student test results. As I write this, yet a new proposal is circulating in the legislature that would have the Regents come up with changes to the teacher evaluation process. To me, that’s one of the scariest ideas yet.

No one in authority is talking about any plan that will have any significant effect. If we were serious about teacher evaluation instead, of looking for excuses to not have to deal with the staggering number of New York’s children who live in impoverished families, we would be looking to an approach that had practicing teachers deeply involved in the process. We would look to organize schools in ways that would make teachers the most important people in the building, empowered to make professional decisions like who gets tenure. Can anyone imagine Merryl Tisch suggesting that to the Regents? It’s seriously disheartening to watch our elected officials flailing about in search of a political solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist.

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Time to Increase the Pressure

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

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On Asses and Seats

There’s an old Yiddish saying that translates as, “Your ass can’t sit in two places at the same time.” It is sometimes uttered in its literal meaning, and sometimes metaphorically to highlight the holding of two mutually exclusive ideas. It’s in its latter sense that it comes to mind this morning to highlight the administration of my school district and many others who some days wish to be seen as militants in the anti-testing struggle but at other times act to perpetuate the illusion that the malignant testing mandates are not drowning out serious education.

From the superintendent of schools to the lowly elementary teachers, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t know that high stakes tests are increasingly driving instruction. There also isn’t anyone without a concern for the test results. Teachers’ jobs depend on them to in part, and the superintendent and other administrators know that a poor district performance on the state assessments is difficult to explain, ironically even to those oppose to the testing regime. Teachers have been given books and materials meant to exercise kids in the kinds of questions they can expect in April. Yet, curiously and completely hypocritically, faced with growing opposition to the tests, the administration of my district ordered teachers not to send test prep material home, apparently not wanting parents to see what their children are doing in the name of education. The implication to teachers is to use the test prep material in school where parents won’t be able to observe just how much instructional time is dedicated to the tests. Everyone has an interest in good test results, objectively meaningless though they may be.

It’s the same with the district’s response to the opt-out movement. The administration knows that the growing numbers of parents who refuse to allow their children to be subjected to the state assessments is the most potent weapon that we have to end the misuse of testing. They even agreed with us last year to make opting-out a less stressful experience for children, working with us to create alternate settings for these kids so that they would not have to sit and stare as other children took the examinations. Yet, with testing season rapidly approaching, they have done nothing to apprize parents of the process for opting their children out, clearly seeking to avoid growing numbers, but, in so doing, aiding and abetting the continuation of the very testing regime they claim to abhor.

So here’s a gentle reminder Plainview-Old Bethpage administration and other like it. Your asses can’t sit in two places at the same time. If you don’t want test prep, let’s sit down and work out a plan to end our participation in the tests. Furthermore, let’s also see if we can’t agree on the developmentally inappropriate aspects of the Common Core State Standards and promulgate Plainview-Old Bethpage standards that are aligned with reasonable expectations for children and flexible enough to service the academic needs of all. Let’s all have the courage to sit with those who care about children and cease our participation with those who have no interest in public education or the children it serves but are motivated by abject avarice. That’s the comfortable place to sit.

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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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Last Night’s Tilles Center Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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