Saturday, September 17, 2016

Cuomo Names Mulgrew President of NYSUT

Cuomo and Mulgrew: Together Again

New York Governor Andy Cuomo recently emerged at a Queens high school to name Michael Mulgrew the new president of NYSUT, the statewide teachers union. That's right:

"Thank you very much. What a pleasure, what a treat. First, to Michael Mulgrew, who is head of the teachers union statewide, who does an amazing job. Why? Because he really believes in what he's doing."  
Dozens of NYSUT members were shocked to learn that Karen Magee is no longer their president. Consequently, since no working teacher beyond Baychester or Bayside actually voted for Mulgrew, thousands of NYSUT members were disenfranchised in one fell swoop. 

Mulgrew said he's enjoyed his time as President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and will stay on until a suitable slug replacement is found. 


In the meantime, NYSUT members should prepare themselves for more giant check photo ops with Cuomo, and .03% of teachers will even win a $5,000 stipend for PD classes from the Lobbyist for the Students. Nevermind your tenure and pension; they aren't as important as Cuomo's political career. 

And those pondering the legality of Mulgrew's promotion should stop right there. For an obscure clause in the NYSUT Constitution states that any NYSUT member who has lunch with the governor as often as Mulgrew shall be president by default.

NYSUT's battles are now Mulgrew's battles, and its motto in 2017 and beyond will be "victory" assuming the state's constitution is rewritten to steal collective bargaining rights and pensions.


Cuomo also thanked NYSUT for its generous contributions to the New York Democrats, his political slush fund. With the help of Mulgrew and even more delicious lunches, Cuomo just wants to say "I love you" to teachers before he screws them over--once again.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Cuomo Appears at UFT Headquarters to Honor...Firefighters



Straining to burnish his Union bonafides, New York Governor Andy Cuomo recently appeared at the Manhattan headquarters of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Cuomo surfaced not in support of school teachers, however, but firefighters, who rightly received a rise in benefits with the stroke of a state-funded pen. 

Ironically, while claiming to care about workers, Cuomo cares nothing about working teachers. It seems Cuomo wants to knock teachers out of the middle class so he doesn't have to fight for them.

And it is an assault on decency that the UFT would even allow the Lobbyist for the Students within a block of Union headquarters--let alone inside--proclaiming himself a champion of justice for workers. In case the UFT has forgotten, Cuomo's idea of "justice" includes closing public schools and firing teachers due to destitute and dysfunctional families (otherwise known as low test scores).


Cuomo would also like to see teachers and their pensions disappear, signing his name to
Tier VI and Tweets like this: 


Evidently, justice ends where Cuomo's enemies list begins. Those who dedicate their lives to children will dedicate their appetites to cat food in retirement if Cuomo has anything to do with it.    

Furthermore, a looming 2017 constitutional convention ballot initiative would give Cuomo and his slimy associates the chance to finally enshrine laws that screw anyone who's been mean to Governor Andy, like teachers. A revised New York Constitution might exclude those pesky public pensions once and for all, for example, and Cuomo can do to collective bargaining rights in New York what his brother-from-another-mother Scott Walker did to them in Wisconsin. 


Helping one group of workers while punishing another is not fairness, but moral malfeasance, and cruelty cancels any kindness. The UFT should remember this the next time they open their doors to a man who's harmed their profession more than any politician in state history.      

Sunday, August 21, 2016

NYSUT in Need of Help! for the Heavy Hearts Club

The Heavy Hearts Club turned their backs on teachers in 2015  

Got cash to burn? New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) is interested.

The Union needs lots of dough to help re-elect those who recently enabled Governor Andy (Andrew) Cuomo's maniacal quest to destroy public education. That's right, NYSUT is asking members to contribute whatever they can to people who swallowed the following poison pills tucked into Cuomo's 2015 state budget, otherwise known as the Education Transformation Act:

  • Public schools will be labeled "failing" and surrendered to the State if not enough students pass tests the Lobbyist for the Students himself recently called "meaningless."
  • Since the real meaning behind the tests is to fire teachers, the tests must be secretive and flawed--and scores will be manipulated to assist in the firing of teachers.
  • In firing them, remember that public school teachers are now guilty until proven innocent. Justice excludes those who dedicate their lives to children, tenure be damned.  
  • Like the sex offenders that they are, Public school teachers must register with the State every 5 years and whenever they move or change their names. Teachers who fail to do so will be labeled as morally unfit and can never teach in New York again.

Do these laws sound beneficial to the lives and livelihoods of teachers? Didn't think so. Yet the teachers union now wants to use money voluntarily contributed by members (VOTE-COPE) to support the re-election campaigns of many of the same legislators who last year said their "heavy heart" couldn't even stop them from supporting these laws.

(In fairness, however, some legislators said it never felt better saying "yes" to something in the middle of the night.)

Who are the politicians NYSUT wants teachers to dedicate their time and money to until and even after Election Day?

Via Google, The Pen is Mightier than the Person was able to unearth the list of NYSUT-approved legislators who helped enact the Education Transformation Act:  




NYSUT will call these people "champions" of public education, but champions are crowned for words and actions. And since 2015, the Heavy Hearts Club has relied on carefully-worded excuses for their legislative impotence. With the notable exception of Senator Todd Kaminsky, who recently proposed laws to incinerate much of Cuomo's garbage, the legislature would rather pass laws that condone gambling and drinking vodka at 10 AM.

If each and every NYSUT-approved legislator listed above supported Kaminsky's bills in words and deeds, NYSUT's request for VOTE-COPE contributions would speak for itself. Instead, NYSUT wants more money for people who only talk about supporting public education. When it comes time to act, these legislators have either been sleeping or sharpening their shivs.

And don't buy the tired retort of "voted for record funding" whenever these legislators are challenged, for funding is not what it appears to be with a draconian tax cap in place, after all. And who even wants funding that will primarily be used to destroy public education?

A Trojan Horse constructed of cash is rolling across the state, and taxpayers will soon be paying more money for inferior schools, something Cuomo and others have always ironically used to justify their attacks on schools. Is it any wonder why Cuomo recently said, for instance, that "We spend more money per student than any other state in the United States of America, and I'm proud of it"?  Cuomo can at last be proud of public education since it's now covered in his slimy fingerprints.

So what's a working teacher to do in an election year that's been a blinding assault on intelligence?

With seemingly no reason to support most candidates, what next? 

Stop contributing to VOTE-COPE?

Stop caring about politics altogether and surrender to the charter school interests?

Support the lesser of many evils? 

Though teachers should be smart enough to answer these questions on their own, a key cause of this mess is that not enough teachers have cared to even consider these questions, ceding all political passion and opinions to leaders desperate to keep their seats at the proverbial table. Like tandem tumors, cynicism and apathy run riot as teachers "just want to shut the door and teach" and ignore the privatizers lurking beyond their classroom walls. 

To determine whether the Heavy Hearts are truly their friends--and truly deserve their help--teachers should ask them one question only:

Now that you've broken public education, what are you going to do to fix it?

Their answers should be worth about as much as your contributions to their campaigns.  
   

Monday, August 1, 2016

Stronger Together, We Opt-Out


A recent Friday news dump by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) reported that more than 20% of public school parents are still refusing to subject their children to grades 3-8 standardized tests. You don't need Bill Gates to tell you how much thousands of blank answer sheets threaten a test's validity. This number does not even include those kids who finished the test in five minutes because their friends opted-out. Pencils without erasers worked just fine.  

It seems the "toolkit" distributed by the state to combat opt-outs contained only pulled nails and sawdust.   

Standardized tests also line the litter box of a teacher evaluation law (APPR) that was recently declared "arbitrary and capricious" by a state judge. Not to worry--in the newest, slimiest version of Governor Andy Cuomo's putrid law, tests will count even more. The thinking is that our kids will be much readier for community colleges and careers if we make it easier to fire their teachers. Paradoxically, with less job security than a blind barber, the one profession the Lobbyist for the Student's legislation will not prepare our kids for is teaching.            
 

In his proposed regulations to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), U.S. Secretary of Education John "It's good to be the" King now seeks to smother opt-outs and tamp down an unprecedented act of civil disobedience. As education commissioner in New York, King only fed people's worst fears about the tests, callously implementing a system meant to close schools and shuffle students. Former New York City Mayor and aspiring horse jockey Michael Bloomberg recently noted that New Yorkers "know a con" when they see one, and the bullshit meter broke soon after King started spewing his dissonant hopes and dreams for kids.

Now King's act has gone national and he wants to punish even more schools for refusing the tests. Schools from Dover to Denver must come up with plans to deal with opt-outs, and the plans must be expensive and time-consuming. Because if there's anything public education needs, it's more mandates from distant dickheads who couldn't teach their way out of a wet paper bag.

If and when King's resolutions come to pass, his bluff must be vehemently called. For the federal government denying local resources all because of standardized tests goes against decency, democracy, and likely the Constitution itself.

And now is not the time for the leaders of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) to bend over and say "we told you so" to members. Although their favorite presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called this a "war" which we "don't have time for", as long as the rights of students and teachers continue to diminish, a truce will not be at hand. Perhaps Hillary will appoint people who believe in a local community's ability to control who teaches their kids. Or perhaps not. We might have to elect her to find out, as Democratic Party insiders consider Common Core a "political third rail", while Hillary once bizarrely referred to public education as a "non-family enterprise." 


At the conclusion of the 1995 film Braveheart, the hero William Wallace is dead and jaded Scottish rebels have lost all will to fight. To the exasperation of many, however, and at the pleading of Robert the Bruce, the Scots quickly bounce back and continue their war against England, realizing they've won nothing. Dispirited and disenfranchised Americans must carry the same spirit today, and cannot drown in complacency and despair. Greedy demagogues are indeed waging war against our schools, and will stop at nothing until students and teachers are assessed into oblivion.              
  

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The PARCC Test: Exposed

The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.

I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would be considered a “Security Breach.” In response to this demand, I can only ask—whom are we protecting?

There are layers of not-so-subtle issues that need to be aired as a result of national and state testing policies that are dominating children’s lives in America. As any well prepared educator knows, curriculum planning and teaching requires knowing how you will assess your students and planning backwards from that knowledge. If teachers are unable to examine and discuss the summative assessment for their students, how can they plan their instruction? Yet, that very question assumes that this test is something worth planning for. The fact is that schools that try to plan their curriculum exclusively to prepare students for this test are ignoring the body of educational research that tells us how children learn, and how to create developmentally appropriate activities to engage students in the act of learning. This article will attempt to provide evidence for these claims as a snapshot of what is happening as a result of current policies.

The PARCC test is developmentally inappropriate

In order to discuss the claim that the PARCC test is “developmentally inappropriate,” examine three of the most recent PARCC 4th grade items.

A book leveling system, designed by Fountas and Pinnell, was made “more rigorous” in order to match the Common Core State Standards. These newly updated benchmarks state that 4th Graders should be reading at a Level S by the end of the year in order to be considered reading “on grade level.” [Celia’s note: I do not endorse leveling books or readers, nor do I think it appropriate that all 9 year olds should be reading a Level S book to be thought of as making good progress.]

The PARCC, which is supposedly a test of the Common Core State Standards, appears to have taken liberties with regard to grade level texts. For example, on the Spring 2016 PARCC for 4th Graders, students were expected to read an excerpt from Shark Life: True Stories about Sharks and the Sea by Peter Benchley and Karen Wojtyla. According to Scholastic, this text is at an interest level for Grades 9-12, and at a 7th Grade reading level. The Lexile measure is 1020L, which is most often found in texts that are written for middle school, and according to Scholastic’s own conversion chartwould be equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark around W, X, or Y (using the same Fountas and Pinnell scale).

Even by the reform movement’s own standards, according to MetaMetrics’ reference material on Text Complexity Grade Bands and Lexile Bands, the newly CCSS aligned “Stretch” lexile level of 1020 falls in the 6-8 grade range. This begs the question, what is the purpose of standardizing text complexity bands if testing companies do not have to adhere to them? Also, what is the purpose of a standardized test that surpasses agreed-upon lexile levels?

So, right out of the gate, 4th graders are being asked to read and respond to texts that are two grade levels above the recommended benchmark. After they struggle through difficult texts with advanced vocabulary and nuanced sentence structures, they then have to answer multiple choice questions that are, by design, intended to distract students with answers that appear to be correct except for some technicality.

Finally, students must synthesize two or three of these advanced texts and compose an original essay. The ELA portion of the PARCC takes three days, and each day includes a new essay prompt based on multiple texts. These are the prompts from the 2016 Spring PARCC exam for 4th Graders along with my analysis of why these prompts do not reflect the true intention of the Common Core State Standards.

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #1

Refer to the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” and the poem “Mountains.” Then answer question 7.
  1. Think about how the structural elements in the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” differ from the structural elements in the poem “Mountains.”
Write an essay that explains the differences in the structural elements between the passage and the poem. Be sure to include specific examples from both texts to support your response.

The above prompt probably attempts to assess the Common Core standard RL.4.5: “Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.”

However, the Common Core State Standards for writing do not require students to write essays comparing the text structures of different genres. The Grade 4 CCSS for writing about reading demand that students write about characters, settings, and events in literature, or that they write about how authors support their points in informational texts. Nowhere in the standards are students asked to write comparative essays on the structures of writing. The reading standards ask students to “explain” structural elements, but not in writing.
There is a huge developmental leap between explaining something and writing an analytical essay about it. [Celia’s note: The entire enterprise of analyzing text structures in elementary school – a 1940’s and 50’s college English approach called “New Criticism” — is ridiculous for 9 year olds anyway.]

The PARCC does not assess what it attempts to assess

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #2
Refer to the passages from “Great White Shark” and Face the Sharks. Then answer question 20.

 Using details and images in the passages from “Great White Sharks” and Face to Face with Sharks, write an essay that describes the characteristics of white sharks.

It would be a stretch to say that this question assesses CCSS W.4.9.B: “Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.”

In fact, this prompt assesses a student’s ability to research a topic across sources and write a research-based essay that synthesizes facts from both articles. Even CCSS W.4.7, “Conduct research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic,” does not demand that students compile information from different sources to create an essay. The closest the standards come to demanding this sort of work is in the reading standards; CCSS RI.4.9 says: “Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.” Fine. One could argue that this PARCC prompt assesses CCSS RI.4.9.
However, the fact that the texts presented for students to “use” for the essay are at a middle school reading level automatically disqualifies this essay prompt from being able to assess what it attempts to assess. (It is like trying to assess children’s math computational skills by embedding them in a word problem with words that the child cannot read.)

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #3
  1. In “Sadako’s Secret,” the narrator reveals Sadako’s thoughts and feelings while telling the story. The narrator also includes dialogue and actions between Sadako and her family. Using these details, write a story about what happens next year when Sadako tries out for the junior high track team. Include not only Sadako’s actions and feelings but also her family’s reaction and feelings in your story.
Nowhere, and I mean nowhere in the Common Core State Standards is there a demand for students to read a narrative and then use the details from that text to write a new story based on a prompt. That is a new pseudo-genre called “Prose Constructed Response” by the PARCC creators, and it is 100% not aligned to the CCSS. Not to mention, why are 4th Graders being asked to write about trying out for the junior high track team? This demand defies their experiences and asks them to imagine a scenario that is well beyond their scope.

Clearly, these questions are poorly designed assessments of 4th graders CCSS learning. (We are setting aside the disagreements we have with those standards in the first place, and simply assessing the PARCC on its utility for measuring what it was intended to measure.)

Rather than debate the CCSS we instead want to expose the tragic reality of the countless public schools organizing their entire instruction around trying to raise students’ PARCC scores.

Without naming any names, I can tell you that schools are disregarding research-proven methods of literacy learning. The “wisdom” coming “down the pipeline” is that children need to be exposed to more complex texts because that is what PARCC demands of them. So children are being denied independent and guided reading time with texts of high interest and potential access and instead are handed texts that are much too hard (frustration level) all year long without ever being given the chance to grow as readers in their Zone of Proximal Development (pardon my reference to those pesky educational researchers like Vygotsky.)

So not only are students who are reading “on grade level” going to be frustrated by these so-called “complex texts,” but newcomers to the U.S. and English Language Learners and any student reading below the proficiency line will never learn the foundational skills they need, will never know the enjoyment of reading and writing from intrinsic motivation, and will, sadly, be denied the opportunity to become a critical reader and writer of media. Critical literacies are foundational for active participation in a democracy.

We can look carefully at one sample to examine the health of the entire system– such as testing a drop of water to assess the ocean. So too, we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States.

In this sample, the system is pathetically failing a generation of children who deserve better, and when they are adults, they may not have the skills needed to engage as citizens and problem-solvers. So it is up to us, those of us who remember a better way and can imagine a way out, to make the case for stopping standardized tests like PARCC from corrupting the educational opportunities of so many of our children.
                              

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Local Control? New York Schools Need Not Apply



As things go, the 1998 film The Siege is remarkably prescient. Terrorist bombs and bullets bombard Manhattan as New York FBI agent Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington) gives way to the maniacal whims of President Trump U.S. Army Major General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis). Muslim males are concentrated into camps around the city and Hubbard must take his investigation underground--both to evade Devereaux's homicidal scrutiny and because his headquarters is blown up at the beginning of the movie.    


It's Hubbard's apparent ineptitude at stopping the terrorists which draws the ire of the feds in the first place, and he must find a way around the government's ignorant interventions to save his city.   

Lest anyone label this the stuff of hyperbole, it is marching across New York State today.

Albany, for instance, has developed a bizarre love-hate relationship with public education, promising to increase funding if--and only if--schools agree to implement Governor Sociopath Cuomo's latest teacher evaluation law (3012-d). Among other absurdities, Cuomo's plan counts standardized tests as 50% of a teacher's overall score, and includes a student "growth formula" that even Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has called "random." Add to this number classroom observations performed by people who will need a GPS to find your child's school.  

In other words, public education is careening toward a place where bureaucrats like Cuomo only allow it to exist on their terms instead of the terms of local communities. Firing teachers and closing "failing" schools will only increase unless people shut up, take the Tests, and admit, "It is what is."

Sadly, NYSUT's promise to "seek" local control is closer to fiction than The Siege. The Union has voiced tepid opposition to Cuomo's attempts to trample workers' rights and test kids into conformity. Tortured Tweets aside, Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta conspicuously excluded references to 3012-d in his annual address to the state legislature, but can't wait to tell you how great Hillary Clinton is.

In addition, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who controls some 800 delegates to NYSUT's annual representative assembly and thus essentially controls how the Union votes --shamelessly proclaimed that a teacher's job should ride on test scores because principals cannot be trusted to do their jobs. It seems Mulgrew likes his chances with the demons of junk science more than the better angels of humanity. Paradoxically, Mulgrew also tried to take credit for Cuomo's meaningless "moratorium" on test-and-punish, and even placed a pricey ad that touted the UFT's bogus victory.

Any progress against the privatization of public education in New York, however, is thanks to thousands of prudent parents who've refused to expose their children to Cuomo's toxic tests. Unfortunately, Mulgrew's litany of lunches with the Lobbyist for the Students--access which no other NYSUT president knows--has only spread dysentery to schools throughout the state, as they must take another bite out of Cuomo's shit sandwich or starve to death--whichever comes first.  
NYSUT members outside of the UFT who dare question Mulgrew's malfeasance are accused of violating the "autonomy" of the Union's largest local. After all, there's a UFT election coming up, and teachers from Gloversville to Hicksville should just stay out of it; it's not like Mulgrew's autonomy has ever allowed him to fuck things up for the rest of the state.

But what say defenders of the UFT's recent $100,000 donation to a man named Ted O'Brien, a failed candidate for the state senate in the Rochester area, some 350 miles beyond the UFT's autonomy? The donation was allegedly part of an asinine scheme by New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio to raise money for distant Democrats. Is meddling in corrupt state elections less offensive than meddling in union elections?
Should UFT members think twice before funding the futile campaigns of candidates who live closer to Canada than Corona? Do UFT members even know what their money is being spent on? Maybe the U.S. attorney can clear this up.

Mulgrew and DeBlasio: Felonious Fellas?
Like a child needs a family, public education needs local control. The more control that schools surrender to ambitious idiots (i.e. New York politicians), the deeper our divisions delve. As we enter the Idiocracy, we must not let idiots divide us.

Rather, parents, teachers, and students must tell the likes of Cuomo and Mulgrew that their authority ends now.

Give our schools liberty, or give them insolvency.


         

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Cuomo Still Holding School Budgets Hostage over Teacher Evaluation Law

Stay classy, New York. 
In news more inevitable than Donald Trump dick jokes, school districts across New York State have soundly rebuked Governor Andrew Cuomo's latest teacher evaluation law (3012-d). Look no further for evidence of this than one year ago, when 250,000 parents refused to subject their children to tests designed to fire middle-class workers.

And though Cuomo and others would like you to believe that his bogus "Common Core Task Force" fixed everything, absolutely nothing has changed--including the law. Districts must still abide by the most pernicious aspects of Cuomo's plan. These include, for instance, having ass clowns in Albany instead of working educators determine whether or not students possess enough "college and career readiness" to keep their schools open or their teachers employed. Welcome to the idiocracy.  


Schools will also still administer the same tests Cuomo recently called "meaningless", along with yet another test that will be used to rate their teachers.  

Any district seeking to protect itself from the Lobbyist for the Student's asinine law will lose millions in funding. Immersed in his usual sleaze, Cuomo is offering bribes to imbibe his bile.

Districts who fail to strip teachers of more job security by July 1 can say goodbye to whatever aid Albany planned to provide them. Already faced with a crippling tax cap that inhibits help from within their own communities, superintendents everywhere must choose between a thousand cuts or decapitation.

Regardless, Cuomo is still determined to "break" public education; neither his laws nor his ego have lessened since last year. Add to this a devotion to deep-pocketed donors and the blurred lines between hubris, greed, and bad public policy once again come into focus.  


Heavy-hearted legislators who held their noses and voted for Cuomo's ludicrous law last year must breath the air of good sense if they expect to have any credibility on public education again.

It is immoral to tie lives to a law which no sane person can faithfully justify or defend.


Take the Board of Regents, for example, the unpaid group tasked with implementing the law. The outcry over Cuomo Core has swiftly put three Regents out to pasture, including chancellor Merryl Tisch--as complicit as Cuomo in the attacks on schools. Working the unworkable is the definition of absurdity, after all, especially on a volunteer's salary.      

Lawmakers must lighten their hearts and thicken their spines if they expect resistance to their malfeasance to end. They can start this process by listening to those who know our kids better than most: actual educators.