Archives for category: New York

Rick Bobrick is a veteran teacher in New York. He is sick of the punitive high-stakes testing that he is compelled to administer. This regime is child abuse. He is a conscientious objector. He thinks that teachers should have the same right to opt out that parents and children have. He knows if he refuses to give the tests, he puts at risk his job, his income, and his pension. He asks a simple question: why not a law protecting the rights of teachers to refuse to do what they know is wrong? Why not give teachers the right to be conscientious objectors?

Here is his letter:

I teach 8th grade science in a small city school district located in the Mid-Hudson Valley. I am in my 35th year in the classroom, the last 13 of which I have been required to administer punitive, high-stakes tests in math, ELA, and science. Last spring I hit the wall and I have decided that, in all good conscience, I no longer want to participate in this detrimental practice. However, like most teachers, I am unwilling to risk losing my income, or my pension, or my even my reputation, in order to take a principled stand against this new wave of failed reform. On the other hand, why should I have to risk anything in order to stand against what I know is wrong?

No teacher or administrator should be required to ignore their moral and professional compass out of fear of violating NY state law. No teacher or administrator should have to comply with educational policies more harmful than helpful to children. No teacher or administrator should be forced to remain complicit to policies that are tantamount to educational malpractice at best – and child abuse at their worst. No public school educator should ever submit to inaction out of fear of jeopardizing their professional standing, personal well-being, or their family security. The fear, the veiled threats, and the de-facto intimidation are all very real concerns for many NY public school professionals. There is something deeply wrong with a system in which teachers and principals are afraid to act in the best interest of children.

My proposed solution to this professional dilemma is to try to establish legal protections for any NY educator who no longer wishes to comply with New York’s RTTT commitment. Following the advice of my local NYSUT representative, I have drafted a resolution that would establish a ‘Conscientious Objector’ status for any NY teacher or administrator who wants to abstain from the malpractice of high-stakes testing. I have never been politically connected, nor a particularly strong supporter of our union. All I ever wanted to do was to teach science and provide my students with the best learning opportunities possible.

I will be working with a group of like-minded citizens to convince lawmakers to support this initiative. If this proposal is submitted as a bill and passed into law it would provide legal protection for any teacher or administrator who wants to opt out of the testing debacle. As has been seen over the past two years, parents can ‘refuse the test’ without fear of legal consequences. Nearly 60,000 students across New York State sat out the 2014 round of Pearson testing, supported by parents who wanted nothing to do with tests designed to fail students and intimidate their teachers. It is my strong belief that teachers and administrators should have the same right of refusal, a legally protected right to, ‘refuse to test’. Passage of this resolution into law may be viewed by some as a long shot; if successful it would open a very messy can of worms for Governor Cuomo, the Board of Regents, John King, and the State Education Department.

Regardless of the end result, the message this sends to our political leaders could open some eyes and help bring this federal testing regime to an end, sooner rather than later; one more nail in the coffin of New York’s Regents Reform Agenda. At the very least it would let parents, boards of education, and the media get a better handle on just how much opposition there is from the educators who are being forced by the power of state and federal law to pursue education policies and practices that we know are inflicting harm to our students. Teachers whose voices are being silenced by fear of professional retribution, would be muzzled no longer. To sit back and continue to be a part of this testing madness, in my view, makes us part of the problem – ‘refusing to test’ makes us part of the solution.

If we do nothing, this whole mess will eventually die a slow death by a thousand cuts, collapsing under its own weight – but not after a generation of students has been short-changed by the educational blinders of the Common Core and damaged by the pressures of punitive, test-based reform and all the negative labels that come with it. Parents, college professors, and others will be pointing fingers and asking very serious questions as they try to make sense of what happened to our collective professional voice if the majority of us remain complicit through inaction. The ‘Nuremburg Defense’ doesn’t cut it for me. Burris, Farley, Naison, Lee and a small handful of other strong voices from within the trenches of New York’s schools are not enough. We have a choice to make, nearly half a million strong: defiance or compliance?

If adopted, the Conscientious Objector legislation will make it possible for the majority of NY educators to speak out against the misguided attempts of reformers; changing fearful whispers into strong and meaningful action. By granting the right of refusal, this proposed resolution would also help to restore our status as professional educators whose judgment and trust are valued by the communities we serve. Teachers, coaches, supervisors, principals, and parents, please keep your ears to the legislative track and when the time comes lend your support at the local and state level. Together we can make this happen and bring the joy of learning back to our children’s classrooms.

Rick Bobrick

This is an important message from a local school board member–Damon Buffum– to the New York Board of Regents. To commend him for his straight talk and thoughtfulness, I add him to our honor roll as a champion of American education.

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From: Damon Buffum (dbuffum)
Sent: Monday, October 13, 2014 11:27 AM
To: Norwood; Regent Bendit; Regent Bennett; Regent Bottar; Regent Brown; Regent Cashin; Regent Cea; Regent Cottrell; Regent Dawson; Regent Finn; Regent Phillips; Regent Rosa; Regent Tallon; Regent Tiles; Regent Tisch; Regent Young
Cc: Damon Buffum (dbuffum) (dbuffum@cisco.com)

Subject: Times Union article Re: Common Core Divides State’s Regents Board

Hello New York State Board of Regents -

My name is Damon Buffum and I’m a Board of Education member in the Fairport Central School District (Monroe County). I’m also a District Resident, father, grandfather and high tech Engineering Manager with Cisco Systems. The comments in this email are my own and don’t represent the opinions or policy of the Fairport BoE or Cisco Systems.

I wanted to comment on the recent article in the Albany Times Union regarding education policy and the views of the state Regents. First, thanks for your efforts. I know from my experience on the Fairport BoE, the time commitment to education in New York is immense and I can only imagine the time and dedication required to fulfill your roll on the state Regents Board. The main purpose of the note however, is to strongly support the views that Regent Rosa expresses in her comments in this article. She states, “They are using false information to create a crisis, to take the state test and turn it on its head to make sure the suburbs experience what the urban centers experience: failure”. I couldn’t agree more. In representing the Fairport education system I can firmly state that we have no crisis in the Fairport education system.

It’s disturbing to me to listen to Governor Cuomo, Commissioner King and the Board of Regents decry, universally, that New York schools are failing our children, that we spend more money than any other state and that our state government is providing more funding to public education that ever before. All of these statements have context, but are ultimately not true. I believe that you understand this. I do consider it a fact that we have certain districts that are in crisis, but I’ve also done personal analysis and know that there is a DIRECT link of education performance (whatever academic metric you chose) and student poverty. This is not a vague connection, but a direct connection. To divert attention away from this link to poverty and broadly paint this as a nationwide or statewide education failure is both misleading and incorrect. Using our sparse and valuable resources to attack this problem through inappropriate curriculum for early grades, over testing and data collection, high stakes testing, curriculum changes and the need for increased (overwhelming) investment in technology, new text books, teacher development is irresponsible and wasteful. I won’t go into the associated, unquantified, costs to these reform policies, but I have a firm belief that these are moving New York education in the wrong direction and will ultimately cost our state dearly in terms of an educated workforce and a healthy economy. We sadly do have a crisis in many urban and rural communities. We have a poverty crisis, a social structure crisis, a health crisis and economic opportunity crisis. These are the FUNDAMENTAL issues that have to be recognized and dealt with. A child spends roughly 17% of their time in schools. The best teachers, curriculum and tests won’t fix a problem if 83% of a child’s time is being impacted by other areas that are in crisis. This is where Governor Cuomo should be focused. Schools and teachers can do amazing things, but the children have to be safe, fed, healthy and ready to learn.

In my home district, the Common Core and associated testing (3-8 state testing, field testing, SLO testing) have caused an immense distortion of our child-centric focus and ensuring the education of the whole child. I understand that the CCSS are only standards and not curriculum or a test, but it’s naïve to think that the immense quantity of time and impact of these tests to do not have a direct link to the curriculum, funding, focus and morale of our education system. I’ve personally toured every building in our District and spoken with administrators, staff and students. We have a 95% graduation rate, our kids have a healthy education experience that includes the arts, history, the sciences, athletics, robotics, community service, diversity and inclusion. We are proud of our kids and our schools. Again, for me personally, I consider the New York state reform agenda to be a direct attack on the education community we have.

I know that I haven’t told you anything that you haven’t heard or known already. However, I am asking you to get real here. Let’s recognize the REAL problems that we have in New York and start attacking those. We need to stop proclaiming ALL education systems as failures and support the best of what we have while addressing the gaps. We need to support these activities with funding – and giving support and then taking it away through the GEA is absurd. The current Common Core implementation in New York is creating chaos. We have our Superintendents divided in terms of impact, the states teachers union initiating a lawsuit around a testing gag order, multiple Districts adopting declarations against high stakes testing, tens of thousands of students and parents opting out of state tests, schools being closed and we have total political dysfunction. Our kids are paying the price for this as they only experience their education a single time. We entrust you with our state education policy. Please put our schools and kids first (above a political or corporate agenda) and put education back in the hands of educators.

Regards –

Damon Buffum

http://m.timesunion.com/local/article/Common-Core-divides-state-s-Regents-board-5067470.php

Perdido Street blogger asks why it is impossible to find out who contributed to the lobbying group Families for Excellent Schools, which spent $6 million this year to prevent Mayor Bill de Blasio from regulating the charter school sector and won a law that forces the city to pay the rent of charters not located on public school grounds.

 

The blogger quotes extensively from the business magazine Crain’s New York, which described how this lobbying group exploited loopholes to avoid complying with state laws that require disclosure of donors to political action committees. “Group is visible,” the article’s title says, “but not its donors.”

 

Why do they hide their names and faces? We know why Perdido Street blogger has no name: he or she would be fired for speaking candidly, although tenure might be an obstacle.

 

But why do Wall Street hedge fund managers hide their identity? Why are they ashamed to let the world know that they are the “Families for Excellent Schools,” that they—whose children attend elite schools—are pretending to be parents in New York City’s poorest communities? Why pretend that impoverished families raised $6 million to attack Bill de Blasio, even as he was fighting to raise the minimum wage, expand universal pre-kindergarten, and preserve public education? Why pretend that the poor families who have been hoodwinked into supporting the privatization of public education are paying for the destruction of public education and the enrichment of investors and charter entrepreneurs?

 

Perdido Street blogger writes:

 

Just as Campbell Brown refuses to reveal who the donors for her anti-tenure group are even as she spends the money she gets from them on her anti-tenure campaign, Families For Excellent Schools spends millions lobbying politicians and millions more on pro-charter ads without revealing where that money is coming from.

 

This is life in Andrew Cuomo’s New York, where he raised millions through his Committee To Save New York PAC, then had that PAC spend that money on ads touting his political agenda, all without having to reveal who was donating to the Committee To Save New York PAC.

 

When the law changed and he would have been forced to reveal that donor base, he shut down the Committee To Save New York instead.

 

The criminals are running the state, folks – they own it, they’re throwing their dirty money around and buying whatever they want and whomever they want whenever they want and there’s NOTHING you can do it about it.

 

Andrew Cuomo’s New York – a cesspool of corruption.

 

 

 

 

New York State’s Education Department has warned teachers that they can be fired and lose their teaching license if they discuss the Common Core tests they graded. The New York State United Teachers has filed a federal challenge to this restriction of teachers’ First Amendment rights. This is an integral aspect of the secrecy that surrounds the Common Core tests. Teachers are not allowed to know what their own students got right or wrong. They are not allowed to discover what their students learned or failed to learn. And if they graded the tests, they can be fired for talking about what they saw.

John Ogozolak, a teacher in upstate New York wrote me to say:

“The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday of behalf of five teachers who are challenging “confidentiality agreements” they were made to sign prior to grading state exams in 2014. The gag orders threaten teachers with punishment for even mentioning what they saw on the exams and restrict the teachers’ rights to talk freely in public as citizens. The punishment could include the revoking of teaching licenses and even criminal prosecution. According to a NYSUT press release,

“The suit charges SED’s rules unconstitutionally make teachers’ speech conditional on government approval while establishing a ‘system to police the free exchange of ideas and opinions regarding its compulsory and costly testing regime.'”

“It’s all somewhat amazing, really. Yes, I guess I’ve been somewhat naive all these years. Who would have ever thought it would come to this in our great country? Citizens in Hong Kong have been fighting all week for their rights and look what is happening in our own backyards, courtesy of the apparatchiks at the NYS Education Department. I guess the testmongers there believe that their bureacratic process of creating useless exams as well as the proprietary rights of the billionaires who are their corporate overlords trump our individual First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Who will be able to speak out for our students?

“And, what lesson does this crackdown really send to our kids? It certainly has a chilling effect on the rights to free speech in our public schools. My nominees for the 2014 Education Hall of Shame: NYS Commissioner of Education John B. King and all his enablers on the Board of Regents and at the NYS Education Department and as well as all those spineless lawmakers who are letting them get away with this power grab. Of course, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo is already there to welcome you to the Hall of Shame.

“I’m imagining a protest involving thousands of teachers and parents across New York State who for just a few minutes some morning at the start of the school day put black electrical tape over their mouths to draw attention to this outrage. And, wouldn’t it be great if our friends in the media world join us, too, in making that point? I’m wondering if the New York Times, those self-proclaimed protectors of the First Amendment, would have to cover that story then? If only…… “

Richard Brodsky was one of New York’s most enlightened state legislators. He is currently a senior fellow at the Wagner School at New York Univetsity.

In this article, he describes the new politics of education: the policy debates are now dominated by hedge fund managers and rightwing billionaires.

When people like me say these things, the corporate reformers say derisively, “Conspiracy theory.”

Brodsky is a level-headed veteran of state politics. This is what he says:

“The usual participants [in legislative debates about education] have been school boards, parents, unions, the education establishment and the occasional adventurous elected official. Starting a few years ago, and more so now, there are new players in New York. The brawny and outspoken new kid is the hedge fund community.

“Say what? Well, there are millions in hedge fund dollars now floating around. Generalities are a little dangerous, but it’s fair to say that a lot of it is from conservative, big money, Wall Street hedge fund types like Home Depot’s Ken Langone, head of Republicans for Cuomo, who says, “Every time I am with the governor, I talk to him about charter schools. He gets it.” The newest entry is something called “Families For Excellent Schools.” While there certainly are “families” involved, the organization is led and funded by hedge fund managers and assorted right-wing billionaires. They’re very anti-union, anti-tenure, pro-test and pro-charter school.

“Right-wing billionaires and hedge fund managers have a right to be heard. And sometimes they may offer intriguing and important insights. There are valid critiques of many of our current practices. And teachers unions can be criticized. But the issues are too important to be left to attack ads and lawsuits funded by wealthy elites.

“What’s worse is that huge amounts of public education dollars are involved. It turns out that hedge funds are using taxpayer subsidies to fund the charter school movement. Under President Bill Clinton, a tax break called the “New Markets” tax credit has provided a 39 percent tax break for hedge funds that invest in charter schools in underserved communities. Like Albany, for instance. It’s one thing for the financial community to speak out against teachers unions, to fund lawsuits against tenure and to push high-stakes standardized testing as a matter of corporate citizenship. It’s another matter when there are big tax subsidies at stake.

“If the candidates for governor won’t talk about how these things impact New York, we’re left with big corporate money, with a real financial interest in the outcome, dominating the debate.

“In the end, the charter school movement challenges the existence of public schools, not just some of its policies. The drive to privatize education is part of a national attack on government and the empowerment of large corporate interests.

“To me, a healthy debate about the policies could be a good thing. But if we’re going down a path of privatizing public education, I’m worried. Public schools created the American national success story. Whatever their real shortcomings, they need to be strengthened and they need to be funded. And I don’t want that fight to be distorted by huge tax subsidies going to charter schools, even as we reduce federal and state aid to public schools. That’s the wrong kind of financial aid to education.”

A little more than four months ago, New York’s Working Families Party threatened to nominate its own candidate against Governor Andrew Cuomo, because Cuomo had grown so close to his Wall Street campaign contributors and was often called “Governor 1%” for his intense desire to defend the interests of the plutocrats. The WFP was prepared to nominate an unknown law professor named Zephyr Teachout, who was an expert on government ethics.

Cuomo promised to work with the WFP to elect a Democratic majority in the State Senate so that the Legislature could pass progressive legislation, which died in the State Senate, abetted by a small caucus of Democrats who aligned with the Republicans to give them control.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, the state’s leading progressive official, worked hard to persuade the WFP to support Cuomo (even though Cuomo had just humiliated de Blasio by backing charter schools over public schools and gutting the Mayor’s power to regulate charters). De Blasio even nominated Cuomo at the state Democratic convention, burnishing his otherwise nonexistent progressive credentials.

Of course, the WFP gave its nomination to Cuomo, Teachout challenged him in the Democratic primary, and with almost no money, managed to win 1/3 of the vote and half the counties in the state.

Now, lo and behold, de Blasio is working hard to elect the Democrats who would shift the balance in the State Senate, but Cuomo has turned invisible.

The New York Times wrote:

“It has been more than four months since the fragile marriage between the governor and the Working Families Party was consummated: The group endorsed Mr. Cuomo, over many of its members’ objections, after he agreed to pursue a long list of liberal goals, as part of a deal that Mr. de Blasio helped broker.

“The top priority was an effort to tilt the balance of power in the State Senate, where Republicans currently share leadership with a group of breakaway Democrats.

“Less than a month before Election Day, with polls showing some key Senate races leaning in Republicans’ favor, the arrangement with the governor appears increasingly fraught. Despite his pledge to push for Democratic control of the Senate, Mr. Cuomo has at times seemed not to have a strong opinion about the outcome of the November elections.

“You can’t say, ‘Well, I can work well if they elect this party,’ ” he told reporters last month. “They elect a legislature: Democratic, Republican, whatever they elect. I think the job of the governor is to figure out how to make it work.”

Translation: Cuomo hoodwinked the WFP, de Blasio, and the unions.

Governor Cuomo made clear that he thinks the current system of teacher evaluation in New York is inadequate. Too many teachers have been found to be effective or highly effective. In his way of thinking, the proportion of ineffective teachers would be as high as the proportion of students with low scores. With a “meets proficiency” rate of only 31% on the state’s Common Core tests, most teachers would be found ineffective, and there would be a whole lot of firing. Then Cuomo would have the challenge of replacing most of the state’s teachers. He knows nothing about education, about teaching, or about children. I could give him a reading list, but he wouldn’t read it. It is frightening to have consequential decisions made by a man who is so uninformed.

 

Cuomo, who never attended a public school, never taught a day in his life, never sent his own children to public school,  wants to crack down on teacher evaluation.

 

He seems not to know that New York has one of the most inequitably funded school systems in the nation. Certainly he knows nothing about the needs of children other than his own and those of his privileged friends. He thinks that breaking teachers and harassing them with test scores will drive up test scores. He is not a stupid man. He is just stupid on the subject of education. As we know, he is in love with charter schools. They get high scores by keeping out the hardest to educate chidden. That must be his ideal.

 

Statewide, the teacher evaluations found only 1 percent of teachers were rated “ineffective” and 5 percent of teachers rated “developing.” Cuomo, while not elaborating on any specific policy revisions, stressed the need for change in the current education system.
The governor also seemed to say that school funding could be based on performance, although a spokesman said he was speaking more narrowly about competitive grants.
“We’re now saying to the public education system, ‘You have to perform and you’re not just going to get funded for process, you’re going to get funded for performance.’ That is a big deal and that is a big shift,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo assailed the current budget process as well, in which school officials come to Albany each year to lobby for more money.
“We’ve gotten to a point where were spending more money per student than any other state in the nation and we’re in the middle of the pack,” he said. “And the whole culture of education in Albany is more money, more money, more money.”

 

 

A study commissioned by school leaders in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley reviewed the state’s teacher evaluation system and concluded that it was irreparably flawed.

“The study, released Friday, found that the state formula for calculating evaluations forces school districts to inflate classroom-observation ratings so teachers do not get poor overall scores.

“If districts were to give more accurate grades to teachers after classroom visits, the study found, many teachers would “unjustly” receive overall ratings of “developing” or “ineffective.” Such districts would “end up looking like they have an underperforming workforce,” the report said.

“This is not something that can be fixed; the state Education Department needs to start over,” said Louis Wool, Harrison schools superintendent, who was president of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents when the group commissioned the study last year.

“The study reviewed 2012-13 evaluation results for 1,400 teachers in 32 districts in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Dutchess counties. The superintendents group provided the data to Education Analytics, a non-profit organization in Madison, Wisconsin, which did the study.

“Researchers credited New York state with improving its methods of measuring teacher effectiveness. In fact, the report called New York “a pioneer” in developing a modern evaluation system. But researchers said there are few examples nationally of effective implementation and that strong use of data may not necessarily translate into good policy.”

The state apparently wants a system that gives many teachers low scores so they can be fired; schools and districts want to retain their decision-making power over which teachers should be kept or terminated. The state is trying to take that authority away from schools and districts by creating a mechanical formula. The formula doesn’t work, and no such formula works anywhere in the country. The biggest problem in teaching today is recruiting, supporting, and retaining good teachers, not finding and firing bad ones. Any administrator worth her salt knows how to do the firing part.

The state should not start over. The state should get out of the way.

Perdido Street predicts that Governor Andrew Cuomo will start a witch hunt for “failing” teachers as soon as he is re-elected.

 

Cuomo is fully in line with the failing national “reform” movement that relies on test scores to grade teachers. Despite a solid base of research that shows that this method is inaccurate and unstable, Cuomo will force through a statewide rating system based on test scores. The problem is that Cuomo has no knowledge of research; he never heard of the American Statistical Association statement on value-added methods, nor of the work of Edward Haertel at Stanford, or Jesse Rothstein at Berkeley, or any of the many others who have closely studied VAM and found it deeply flawed. He has, however, heard from Arne Duncan and the Wall Street hedge fund managers who generously support his campaign. They want experienced teachers gone and replaced by Teach for America or Educators 4 Excellence, or other bright young things who will not stay long enough to want a pension.

 

Perdido Street writes:

 

“But Cuomo’s framing this system just as the deformers are framing the system – test scores are the only valid measure and if many students are failing the new Common Core tests (despite the tests being rigged by NYSED and the Board of Regents to have just that outcome), then the teachers of those students must be failing as well.Beware the second term, folks – as the commenter at the Buffalo News story notes, this is a teacher witch hunt that we have coming and Cuomo’s going to be the head hunter.

 

‘If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have written over and over again that APPR was always devised to fire as many teachers as possible.

 

“It wasn’t a mistake that they rolled APPR out at the same time they rolled out the new Common Core tests that they rigged for 70% failure rates.

 

“The one thing the deformers didn’t count on was a revolt in the suburbs over the Common Core tests and the Common Core Standards themselves.

 

“After a year of furor over the CCSS, they had to de-link the Common Core test scores from APPR for teachers of 3rd-8th grade students.

 

“But make no mistake, the link is coming back and it will turn into a bludgeon they will use on you.”

The other day, I wrote a post chastising the League of Women Voters for planning a debate that included only Governor Cuomo and Republican candidate Rob Astorino. I thought it was unfair to exclude Howie Hawkins, who is running on the Green Party ticket.

 

I received the following response from Laura Ladd Bierman of the League of Women Voters of NYS:

 

The League of Women Voters of NYS, with its partners from WABC/TV, Univision and The Daily News, has been negotiating with the gubernatorial candidates to organize a televised debate in NYC. Based on the state League’s policies, the debates would have to include at least Cuomo, Astorino and Hawkins for the state League to be a co-sponsor. While two other debates have been offered to the candidates by other sponsors, our offer still stands.

 

I was misinformed, and I apologize to the League of Women Voters for my error. Thanks to the LWV for offering to sponsor the debate. Governor Cuomo refused to debate Zephyr Teachout, his primary challenger. I hope he accepts this offer to debate Astorino and Hawkins.

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