Friday, November 27, 2015

On Cuomo and Incompetency Based Education

Like sweet soma in Aldous Huxley's dystopian novel Brave New World, a dose of "competency based" education has arrived to pacify the public.

Rather than with super-sized standardized tests taken once a year—tests which are less popular than purgatory—the profiteers of public education now seek to lure schools into oblivion via the sirens of software.

If the plutocrats get their way—and they usually do—steaming piles of tests will be served even more frequently, albeit sealed in smaller, digital packages. The fates of schools will ride on kids' keyboards, as each log-in will at long last expose the incompetency of their principals and teachers. 

With No. 2 pencils soon going the way of pay phones and mix tapes, politicians will call for even more computers inside (and out of) the classroom. Besides, it's the 21st century, and technology is finally smarter than people. Tying teacher evaluations to computer-based tests will make sense to many, at least at first. Kids will enthusiastically complete tasks formerly known as high-stakes tests and be cajoled by computers into achieving proficiency.

Over time, however, this will become a fool's errand; the "bar will rise" just enough to placate parents and turn effective teachers ineffective. Educators will also ironically have no choice but to embrace this software since their careers will depend on it. Computers will spew forth weekly ratings of teachers and schools that will make Bill Gates swoon. Meanwhile, companies like Pearson, Questar and Google will collect pearls of data on our kids, for sale on the open market.  

Though the opt-out movement has apparently burrowed deep enough beneath the skin of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that the Lobbyist for the Students is reportedly considering amending his test-centric teacher evaluation law (APPR), it remains to be seen what, if anything, will actually change. All signs point to Cuomo once again including education "reforms" in the state budget—a cynical and selfish ploy which leaves schools in the hands of the infamous three men in a room.

If Cuomo was serious about improving education, he would compel the legislature to take up changes to his APPR immediately instead of five minutes before the budget's due.

Embedding education in the budget has forced heavy-hearted legislators to either forsake funding or vote for ludicrous laws they don't even read. And though Cuomo has hinted that he now wants nothing to do with high-stakes tests, don't be surprised if the words "technology" and "competency" are peppered throughout his proposals. Cuomo may indeed offer to remove traditional tests in exchange for competency based benchmarks, technology touchstones or pathways to proficiency; he's still searching for the right euphemism. As usual, all of this will come at a cost, with districts who agree to these deforms promised increased bandwidths and refurbished iPads. Sleazy budgetary bribes are how Cuomo "gets things done", after all.

It was just ten days ago that Cuomo expressed a desire to replace teachers with computers.  
Parents and teachers must therefore verify but not trust his overtures on education, be they from anonymous "administration officials" (i.e. Cuomo) or Cuomo himself.

And if Cuomo thinks computers are the answer, he should first try replacing himself with one. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The College and Career Readiness is All

A recent report by anti-public schools group StudentsFirstNY alleges that New York City schools are passing too many kids. The charter school charlatans request "an independent audit of school coursework to ensure New York City public schools are not lowering the bar and giving parents a false picture." 

Translation: Give us your schools.

And exactly what data do they use to support this claim of "scandalous" grade inflation? Yes, results from tests which over 250,o00 New Yorkers refused to take last year, tests intended to measure readiness for community colleges and careers.

How does New York State define "college and career readiness", anyway? Not even education commissioner MaryEllen Elia seems to know, though she does agree that the teacher evaluation system (APPR) is "random."

The truth is, thanks to College Board President David Coleman—yet another education "expert" who taught for zero seconds—only kids on track to score a 1630 on the SAT are apparently prepared for life beyond high school. Coleman pulled this number from his rear in 2013 when the New York State Education Department (NYSED) needed hard evidence that public schools were indeed "failing." Never mind that only 34% of kids who take the SAT score a 1630, or to what degree financial success equates with college and career readiness; Coleman had the cure. 

Though not quite "independent", the "audit of school coursework" StudentsFirstNY seeks is already well underway. After all, charter school bootlicker Governor Andrew Cuomo has used the same bogus test scores to justify his recent education "reforms" encased in the budget. So alarmed was Cuomo by the lack of college and career readiness in his state he decided to use tests he recently called "meaningless" as an excuse to shutter schools, fire middle class workers and paint a "false picture" of public education.

Now, with a twirl that would make a ballerina blush, Cuomo reportedly wants to stop using tests to destroy public education. The Lobbyist for the Students is evidently entombed in low poll numbers and needs working families to break him out. But don't be fooled: Cuomo merely wants to somehow swap standardized tests with "technology" to fire veteran teachers and steal their pensions. Maybe heavy hearted legislators like Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) will at least sniff the budget before they vote for it this year:

Something's rotten in Jeffrey Dinowitz's New York

With one putrid vote, Dinowitz—who New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has generously
supported over the years—helped bring high-stakes tests, receivership, and weakened rights for workers to New York State.

How did NYSUT respond to Dinowitz? By publicly thanking him with a glossy mailer, of course. 

Rather than condoning the budget votes of Dinowitz and others, NYSUT would better serve teachers, parents and students by loudly repeating the following question the next time the likes of StudentsFirstNY accuses our schools of "lowering the bar":

How does New York define college and career readiness? 

If the answer has anything to do with test scores, NYSUT wins the argument.        

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Good, the Bad and the Putrid

This blog has never been about a person. It's about ideas—the good, the bad and the putrid.

However, people who stunt good ideas and try to graft putrid ones upon them are regularly rebuked in this blog. Take New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, for example, whose inane quest to grind public schools into the ground continues unabated, as demonstrated by recent statements that this blog was the first to report on. Consider what you will about Cuomo the person, but Cuomo the politician has even more ideas for public education, ideas that should alarm many New Yorkers.  

Though Cuomo has yet to comment on the ideas in this blog, another Andy would like to make The Pen is Mightier than the Person about the person.

At a recent New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) Board of Directors meeting, NYSUT executive vice president Andy Pallotta announced that he had called the state attorney general to file a discrimination complaint against this blog, claiming that a recent post likens him to a character from the film Goodfellas. Like a few dozen other enthusiastic readers, Pallotta subjected the piece to a semi-rigorous close-reading and instantly identified with it, even though his actual name or likeness appears nowhere in the piece. Satire is wasted on the stupid, evidently, though Martin Scorsese's film and the blog, if anything, attempt to unearth a theme that often offends people in power: follow the money.

Does Pallotta's absurd attempt to censor this blog mean he's offended? Most likely. Is Pallotta offended by following the money? Let's hope he addresses this in his next lecture on unions and organized crime.

The fact remains, as NYSUT's director of political operations, Pallotta holds power over a lot of money, money that dues-paying members have every right to see is wisely spent.

Since high-stakes tests are the lynch pin of privatization, for example, NYSUT can and should do more to wield the bully pulpit and pocketbook against them. 
Pallotta and others might begin this campaign by at least asking teachers if they realize that their careers now essentially ride on students getting a 1630 on the SAT—New York State's asinine definition of "college and career readiness." NYSUT might then be in a better position to encourage members not to have their children take the tests—in solidarity with thousands of exasperated parents around the state.

With a decision looming in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, NYSUT must prepare for the worst and hope for the best. If and when dues become optional, thousands of working teachers will need more persuasive reasons to opt-in than saving a few dollars on patio furniture or dancing the nae nae.

People will join a Union that can be seen and heard fighting against the dismantlement of their schools, a Union that vigorously counters the putrid with the good. 

We look forward to hearing Pallotta's ideas. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Cuomo Wants to Replace Machines with Technology


In a recent interview at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo continued his assault on public education, logic and the English language: 

I was watching some crazy science fiction movie the other night, I couldn't sleep. And this person designs a computer that becomes smarter than the person. And he's trying to tell the computer to do something and it's telling him, "I'm overriding and I'm [inaudible]."

That's what we created. We created a government machine that we say, "We want to make a change in how we educate students...and the bureaucracy says, "No. We like it the way it is." And you say, "Yeah but you're my machine, I built you and I operate you." And the machine says, "Not anymore you don't."  
I hope technology can come in over that. And technology can almost say, "Forget the machine, forget the machine. You know how we're going to do education now? Every kid gets a computer. That computer has a piece of software that adjusts to that child and how that child learns. And that technology is going to fundamentally change the dynamic of the classroom."       
The movie which kept Cuomo awake sounds a lot like Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film features a computer named HAL 9000 which rebels against its operator on a voyage to Jupiter.

Though Kubrick's film points out the pitfalls of technology, Cuomo bizarrely uses it to praise technology and chide human beings. Cuomo apparently wants to replace teachers—who he compares to machines—with yes, actual machines.

As if our kids aren't already hooked on devices, Cuomo—who was a teacher for zero seconds—wants them staring at screens for at least 8 hours a day. The Lobbyist for the Students and other public education deformers envision classrooms of 50 or more students pointing and clicking their way into dreary, automated futures. And you can forget about them forming relationships with other children or compassionate adults—their best friend will be an iPad.

It's unsettling to consider that Cuomo might actually believe a "piece of software" can do a better job at educating our kids. What's more disturbing, however, is that he sees technology as a means to a destructive end. After all, Cuomo's goal all along has been to "break" the teachers union, and believes technology can help him achieve this while also enriching his campaign donors. Cuomo's slimy crusade against working teachers brought us last year's Smart Schools bond, for example, which spends $2 billion on educational technology, and Dick Parsons, the curmudgeonly head of Cuomo's Common Core Task Force who just happens to work for an educational technology firm. Cuomo condones turning our kids into drones as long as people like Parsons get their cut.

Teachers unions were not the inspiration for HAL 9000, but rather politicians like Andrew Cuomo, who choose to pass laws first and ask questions later. And if Cuomo thinks he can once again use his budget to "change the dynamic of the classroom", he should first try answering HAL's question:

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Memo to New York Teachers: F*ck You, Pay Me.


Lost seniority rights? Fuck you pay me.

Lost due process rights? Fuck you pay me. 

Lost your pension? Fuck you pay me.

Just keep paying and absolutely nothing will change—that's a promise.

It's a proud New York tradition:


NYSUT Unity Caucus

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

NYSUT to Charge Members for Meetings, Not Sure How Much Yet

From Beth Dimino, President of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association and ST Caucus Chair:

The letter below is the kind of Bullshit that will be NYSUT Leadership's undoing. The Unity Caucus has been having meetings in NYSUT headquarters since the building was constructed and they only thought to develop a policy for meeting spaces after STCaucus requested space for Local Presidents to meet in Utica and after NYSUT BOD meetings!
Bill us Ass Clowns!
We will meet!
We will continue to grow our numbers because the rank and file know we are with the rank and file! 
Dear Ms. Dimino: 
I am writing in response to your inquiry about using space at NYSUT headquarters for meetings of the ST Caucus after NYSUT Board of Directors meetings. 
NYSUT does allow certain external groups to use its headquarters facilities for a fee, subject to the attached guidelines. Consistent with the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA), NYSUT charges a fee for internal political caucuses to use the union’s facilities. The next meeting of the NYSUT Board of Directors, which takes place on November 20, 2015, is scheduled to conclude by 6:30 p.m. on Friday, November 20. Please advise Amie Marois of NYSUT Travel and Conference Services at of your group’s needs with regard to meeting at that time, including confirmation that the request is for November 20, 2015 after the Board of Directors meeting, the duration of the meeting, the approximate number of people who will be in attendance, and which room or type of room is requested. The fees listed in the attached guidelines are for a full day usage of NYSUT’s Headquarters facilities; half day usage at half price is also available. 
NYSUT has not previously received a request from an internal political caucus to use its regional office space. NYSUT is in the process of establishing the fair market rate for groups seeking to utilize its regional office facilities. It is anticipated that the fair market rate will be set shortly and, once set, it will be sent to you and the Regional Offices. 
As also noted in the attached guidelines, NYSUT functions have precedence over all meetings of external groups and although there is likely to be no NYSUT function conflicting with your request, NYSUT may pre-empt such groups’ meetings as necessary. NYSUT does not permit internal political caucuses to meet in its facilities during normal office hours of 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. If necessary to cover any expenses incurred, NYSUT reserves the right to charge external groups a fee for staffing the Conference Center for the relevant time period. 
Future requests for meeting space should be sent directly to Amie Marois in NYSUT Travel and Conference Services at 
Please don't hesitate to contact me with any further questions or concerns. 
Rob Lamoureux
         Assistant to the President
        New York State United Teachers
        800 Troy-Schenectady Road
        Latham, NY 12110-2455

Faced with an existential case before the Supreme Court which could make dues optional, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) continues to give its members plenty of reasons 
not to opt in.

On the other hand, renting out its offices to "external groups" might become the norm if and when the Union blows up. 


Monday, November 9, 2015

NYSED Updates Cuomo Core Toolkit

Amid uproar and mockery, it seems the New York State Education Department (NYSED) has finally decided to tell us what standardized tests are really all about.

Recent addendums to the state's "Assessments Tool Kit" includes a sample letter schools may send to parents to inform them of the value of the tests, a win-win for all.

The letter reads:

School Letter to Parents

Dear Parent/Guardian:

This past spring, many of your brats children participated in the 2015 Grades 3-8 English Language Arts (ELA) and Math Tests. This was the third year that New York students took assessments aligned to rigorous careers and community college readiness. The tests ask students to demonstrate and apply their knowledge and skills in areas such as critical confusion, analytical antics and bizarro logic. 

While no single test provides a complete picture of student achievement, when combined with grades and smear campaigns, annual assessments provide important information about a student’s teacher's incompetence. The tests also give us an objective measurement of how long it will be before your child's school is placed under state control, otherwise known as receivership. Additionally, the tests help ensure that teachers get the bullying they need to be successful.

With the help of Meryl's Tisch's lackeys, the State Education Department has worked hard to ensure that these tests provide a completely random assessment of your child’s learning. Every question on the State assessments was written specifically by people found on Craig's List, and all test questions have undergone an extensive review process that includes feedback from dozens of people who couldn't teach their way out of a wet paper bag.  

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has demonstrated a commitment to improving New York’s testing program and firing as many teachers as possible. She recently announced a contract with a new test company that should nearly double the bank accounts of billionaires. She also announced that this spring’s tests will include even more nonsensical questions for all grades.

The State has taken steps to ensure that your child can digest all this grit and rigor. State law and Commissioner’s regulations prohibit school districts from making placement decisions based solely on a student's performance on the Grades 3-8 ELA and Math Tests. 
Also, Governor Cuomo recently announced that the tests are "meaningless" until December 31, 2018 or his poll numbers rise—whichever comes first.

In October, the Education Department launched an online survey of the learning standards that pervert the instruction in your child’s classroom. The survey is available at and allows respondents to provide feedback that we plan to ignore. We believe the only voices that must be a part of the conversation are the billionaires who want to steal teachers' pensions. You are encouraged to participate in the survey if you're not busy defrosting your freezer. 

Please feel free to reach out to no one with any questions you have, because no one will return your call or email. There are also extensive resources for parents available online at our website

                        Thank You,



NYSED maintains that this letter is optional and customizable unless and until your school is taken over by the state.