Wednesday, February 5, 2014

It Is Civic Engagement Time!

Yesterday was a rare bright spot for education in the state of New York.  The State Senate and Assembly have both officially called for a two year moratorium on using Common Core aligned exams to make "high stakes decisions".  These high stakes decisions include promotion and middle/high school acceptance for students, ratings/job security/tenure decisions for teachers, and decisions regarding closures/expansion/co locations for schools (although in NYC at least that last part may be on hold for a while.)  If you have not been paying attention, this potentially major move from the state legislator, comes after dozens of hearings around the state where outraged parents and teachers expressed their concern about this issue.  To provide further context, students in grades 3-8 were forced to take these exams across the state last spring (which brought many of them to tears and made others physically sick) and only about 30% of them passed.  This was mainly due to the fact that the test were rushed and neither teachers or students had time to prepare.  In fact Common Core Curriculum was not even made available to teachers until this summer (months after the tests had been given), and even now the curriculum is not complete. There is currently no curriculum for 10th-12th grade ELA or Math, despite the fact that 10th graders are scheduled to take the Common Core Geometry Regents next year, and the Common Core ELA Regents the following year.

Any logical person can see that administering Common Core exams before Common Core curriculum has been released is putting the cart before the horse, but many don't understand just how damaging these tests are. 70% of children around the state were told by the State Education Department that they were failures. These kids were likely prepped to death, and then had to spend days on exams that they had no chance of passing or even completing.  Before the exams were even administered the SED knew that these kids would fail, so why give these exams at all?  My best guess is that they thought these exams would further, not set back their agenda.  They believed that when kids all across the state, even in high preforming suburbs, failed these tests their parents would call for teachers to be fired and schools to be closed or privatized.  The SED thought parents would realize they were wrong all along and that their children need these exams/standards/reforms if they want to succeed in life.  Well unfortunately for John King and Merryl Tisch parents are lot smarter than they thought and knew these exams were a sham.

Up until this point King and Tisch have stuck by these reforms, and Cuomo has remained silent and procrastinated (which is his way of giving them his full support while keeping his approval rating up).  The legislator is giving The Board of Regents a little more time to make a decision before going ahead with their moratorium, but it is clear to all educators that The Board of Regents have no intention of making any changes.  That was made clear by the abysmal ELA Regents Exam complete with harder cut scores that was given last month.  That test (which put tremendous strain on my students, and led to more student anxiety than I have seen in years) was clearly the Board of Regents going full speed ahead with their agenda. At least a dozen of my students (who I know for sure should have score in the 80's or 90's) ended up with scores of 71-74.  Since 75 is the score required to be deemed college ready, I am sure that SED will eventually use this to point out a need for high standards.  Other students failed the exam outright and are missing out on 5 months of reading British Literature and college level writing assignments to sit in a Regents Prep course. Clearly they are making no real attempts at change and will do whatever it takes to keep up this illusion that the students in our state are failing and that only their reforms will save us.  To John King and Merryl Tisch our students are just acceptable collateral damage in furthering their awful agenda.  An agenda that they will not let up on until every classroom is a test prep factory complete with all the expensive Person textbooks and blending learning programs in the world and run by a cheap non unionized teacher.

If there was ever a time to get involved and push back it is now.  The longer the legislator takes to act, the more likely we see these test in the spring, and the more likely we see teachers fired and students left back over them.  The best thing you can do is call or write to your state senator and assembly person asking them to support the moratorium.  While a two year moratorium does not go far enough in my opinion, it is a great start towards pushing back the tide of reform, and taking back the public schools for the students and teachers of New York State.  Below this post is a copy of the letter I sent to my State Senator Marty Golden, as well as my Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.  (I will also be calling both of their offices).

Dear Senator Golden,

I am writing to you today as a very concerned constituent.  I am asking that you join Senators Skelos, Klein, and Flanagan in supporting the two year moratorium on high stakes tied to Common Core testing.  As a proud New York City public school teacher, I have seen damage done by these tests first hand.  Everyday I see anxiety on my students faces caused by their Regents exams, and the look that my 9th graders give when I mention the Common Core exams they took last year (and will be taking in Algebra this year) is heartbreaking.  These tests are developmentally inappropriate and cause unnecessary anxiety among parents, teachers, and especially students.  Any educator with any experience knows that you should never give an exam that 70% of students are unprepared for.  The State Education Department has not even finished rolling out Common Core curriculum, and yet teachers will be fired over these exams, and students left back. Since it is clear that neither State Education Commissioner John King, or Regents Chair Tisch plan to do anything about this issue, it is up to the legislator to enact a law immediately before any more damage is done. Please support the moratorium that your colleagues proposed as it is an extremely important issue to myself and many of your other constituents.

Thank you in advance for your support,

-A Concerned Educator

Friday, September 27, 2013

Diane Ravitch Brings the Fight to the Ed Deformers in "Reign of Error"

Well once again, I am finishing up a post over a week later than I promised myself I would.  One day I am sure I will get the hang of it and these posts will come more consistently than once every three weeks.  This time though I have a bit of an excuse.  I had to read an entire book before I could even begin.  So without further ado, here is my review of Diane Ravitch's new book Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools.

Disclaimer:  As is the case with many teachers/bloggers in my world, Diane Ravitch is a personal hero of mine.  At age 75 Ravitch blogs several times a day, tweets non-stop, gives talks all around the country, and still has time to write very thoroughly researched books on education.  Ravitch does all this while being constantly attacked and slandered by some of the most powerful players in the education reform movement in the county.  Talk about one tough lady.

Over the past few weeks, dozens of bloggers across the country have come out in support of Ravitch and written glowing reviews of Reign of Error.  At the same time her opponents have come out to slander her, mainly out of a very real fear that the tide is turning back against them.  I doubt this book will change the opinion of people on either side of this debate.  If you are a teacher who has been in the trenches, you know that what Ravitch speaks is true.  At the same time, if you are a member of E4E, StudentsFirst, or any other Walmart/Gates backed dummy group, you will jump on any "reform" in education, no matter how damaging it is to children, as long as it keeps your society meritocratic, and your pockets lined.  (Just consider the fact that all the people praising the book are actual classroom teachers, parents of public school children, and prominent researchers and professors.  While the people bashing the book are conservative hedge fund managers and their cronies.)  However, if you are someone who has not picked a side yet, someone who still needs more information on the debate itself, or just someone interested in learning about the climate of education in this country you will certainly gain a lot from reading Reign of Error.

In her book Ravitch tells the entire story of the current national movement towards privatization (often cleverly disguised as "school choice").  After spending a few chapters carefully shaping the debate Ravitch goes on to point out and debunk many of the myths of education reform being pushed on the American public by the plutocrats that run this country.  Each chapter starts with a "claim" of the reformers, and then the "truth."  Each myth is very carefully disputed and made clear through evidence, charts, and clear explanations (all of which are end noted with sources).  Here are two of my favorite "claims" and "truths":

Claim:  Charter schools will revolutionize American education by their freedom to innovate and produce dramatically better results.

Truth:  Charter schools run the gamut from excellent to awful and on average are no more innovative of successful than public schools.

Claim:  Virtual schools will bring the promise of personalized, customized, learning to every student and usher in an age of educational excellence for all.

Truth:  Virtual schools are cash cows for their owners but poor substitutes for real teachers and real schools.

In the final chapters of the book Ravitch takes the next step by offering many solutions to our current problems in education.  It is in this final third of the book where I believe she exceeds her previous book The Death and Life of the Great American School System.  The solutions she offers are nothing radical or earth shattering, and none of them would change the system overnight.  However they are real solutions (not the next big thing that will be thrown out in 3 years, after several billion dollars are wasted and millions more have dropped out) that would bring real positive results over time.  Things like reduced class size, wraparound services, and strengthening the teaching profession.  These are real solutions that any teacher who has spent more than two years in a classroom knows are necessary for progress.

Ravitch has done all of the hard work for us activists.  She has made many clear and well researched arguments, and advocated for the real reforms that real educators want.  Reign of Error may just be the catalyst that finally pushes back the tide of education reform.  Once the public is truly informed and sees through the lies, double talk, and half truths, of the reformers it will be impossible to stop the push back.