Archives for category: New York

Geoff Decker in Chalkbeat New York reports that the Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents said that if she had a child with special needs, she would think twice about letting the child take the state tests.

“New York’s top education official, who sharply criticized parents who might keep their children from taking state tests a few months ago, offered a different message for parents of some students with special needs on Monday.
“Personally, I would say that if I was the mother of a student with a certain type of disability, I would think twice before I allowed my child to sit through an exam that was incomprehensible to them,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in Albany.

Tisch’s remarks came after federal education officials rejected New York’s request to loosen testing requirements for some high-needs students in June. The waiver would have exempted English language learners who have attended U.S. schools for less than two years from taking the tests, and assessed students with severe disabilities based on their instructional level, rather than their age-based grade…

Never before has Tisch supported opting out as a reasonable response to unreasonable demands.

The state’s “request to exempt certain high-need students from some testing requirements was denied. Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle wrote that the current testing requirements were necessary to ensure that academic progress of all students is properly tracked.”

This is the height of absurdity. If a child has cognitive impairments so severe that he or she cannot understand the test, what exactly is the point of forcing the child to take the test. If the teacher knows that the child is certain to fail because of his or her disabilities, requiring the test is akin to child abuse.

Last year in Florida, the state compelled a dying child to take the state tests. At what point does a society come to realize that policymakers who impose such draconian mandates don’t care about children? When common sense and common decency are gone, what is left but an empty bureaucratic shell?

Where are the lawyers?

This post is a description of EngageNY, the scripted curriculum written for use in New York state and now migrating to other states. Ken Wagner, former deputy commissioner of the New York State Education Department, now Rhode Island state superintendent, promises to import them to Rhode Island. New York’s new state commissioner says she used the New York curriculum with great success in Florida. Read this post and decide for yourself. Be sure to read the comments.

Here is a sample:

The same people who gave us standardized testing have now given us standardized teaching, which goes directly to the information a student can get, how the student gets it, and what the student is supposed to get out of each and every class minute. It is 19th-century educational lockstep, pushed by the White House and institutionalized by the New York governor’s office.

If standardized testing dumbed down school and teacher evaluation, standardized teaching takes it a step further: It dumbs down the kids.

The project is called “Engage New York.” It does anything but.

If, say, you are a teacher of 11th-grade English in Buffalo, you get, every 10 weeks, a thick three-ring binder with instructions on what you are to do in every class. The copy I have of one of these runs 587 pages. The volume is excruciatingly boring to read. (I cheated: I skimmed most of the pages.) I cannot imagine what it is like to be a creative and imaginative teacher hamstrung by it. Worse: I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a student in classes that now have to be taught by teachers forced to deliver this drivel or be fired.

The book is divided into teaching “modules,” which list what questions the teachers should ask, what answers they should get, and how they should respond to them. They list what words students should learn each day.

There are regular pages headed “Unit-at-a-Glance Calendar,” telling the teacher the specific lines and paragraphs to be covered in each class. There are pages listing “Activity” items for each class; each named activity includes the percentage of class time to be devoted to it. One, for example has “Activity 1: Introduction of Lesson Agenda. 5%”; Activity 2: Homework Accountability. 10%”; “Activity 3: Masterful Reading. 5%”; “Activity 4: Hamlet Act 1.2, Lines 900-110 Reading and Discussion, 60%.”

Day after day of this, class after class, minute by minute.

The questions the teachers are ordered to ask are often so banal they read like a Monty Python parody. Here is an example. The teacher is told to ask the question, “What information do you gather from the full title of the play: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark?” (All teacher questions are in bold type.)

Permissible student answers are:

—The play is about a person named Hamlet.

—This is a tragic or sad play.

—Hamlet is a prince.

—This play likely takes place in Denmark.

This is drivel. The book is full of things like that. It is also full of misinformation.

Typically, schools with low test scores enrolled large numbers of students who are impoverished, are English language learners, and have significant handicaps. Such schools need extra staff and resources. But the vogue today is to threaten them with punishments, to fire the staff, and to hand them over to charter operators.

New York’s new state Commissioner MaryEllen Elia announced that, pursuant to the legislation that Governor Andrew Cuomo tucked into the state’s budget, she will take action against 144 struggling schools.

Cuomo’s “program creates carrots and sticks and sets out the possibility that the poorest performers could in a year’s time end up under outside receivership, that is, they could be taken over by an independent entity, such as a college or even a charter school operator.

There are 144 struggline schools statewide including 20 that are ”persistently struggling.”

For the persistently struggling schools, which includes Albany’s Hackett middle school, Burgard High in Buffalo and a slew in New York City as well as Rochester, an inside receiver, which is mostly likely the superintendent, will take charge this year. That person then has a year to show improvement or accept the outside receiver. The struggling schools have a year to improve or else they then go under the superintendent’s control, with outside takeover the year after that if there is no improvement.

The stick includes some potentially harsh measures, although it’s unclear how they will play out. In persistently struggling schools, for example, a superintendent acting as the local or in district receiver could conceivably fire teachers and administrators regardless of tenure. The superintendent also can change curriculum and institute a longer school day and school year.”

Blogger Perdidostreetschool notes that one of the struggling school was already being closed. He predicts that there will be many more sticks than carrots.

Perdido writes:

The goal of education reform is to slowly but surely privatize the school system, fire the unionized teachers, and replace schools with non-union charters.

That’s what Cuomo devised here with the budget legislation that allows for state receivership of so-called “failing” schools, but as is usual with the incompetents at NYSED, they screw stuff up and threaten to close a school that’s already closing.

 

I have gotten to a point where I hate posting statements by teachers who are giving up because of stupid mandates and idiotic “reforms.” I don’t want anyone to quit. I want teachers to stay and fight for themselves, their students, their profession. At the same time, I understand that sometimes people reach a breaking point, and they can’t take it anymore.

 

The only good thing about these statements is that they tell the world about the damage done by ill-informed, misguided, punitive “reforms.” We can’t afford to drive good teachers away, yet that’s what current metrics are doing.

 

Here is a statement by Jennifer Higgins. She knows she’s a terrific teacher, but the data say she’s not. I hope she fights back. Don’t let the reformers win. If you quit, they win.

 

 

Today, for the first and only time in as long as I can remember, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher.

 

Today, for the first and only time in as long as I can remember, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher. The reason? One that I am embarrassed to admit.

 

As an elementary educator, there are any number of challenges I face on a daily basis. We’ve ALL been there.

 

Schedules that seem impossible, students who struggle, curriculum demands, parental communication, interruptions for students leaving early or coming late, social drama “spillover”, not enough time in the day, the list goes on and on…and on. We teachers wear many hats – at times, we are parents, coaches, friends, mentors, social workers, psychologists, and cheerleaders, just to name a few. Yes, our job is to teach our students reading comprehension, problem solving strategies, and research skills, but our job is also to remind them of their manners, to encourage them to talk and to listen to each other, to practice kindness so they may model it, to comfort them when they come into school upset because a parent or grandparent is in the hospital, to reassure them when they are nervous about taking a test, to give them a hug and a Band-Aid when they give themselves a paper cut…because if we don’t do it, who will? So, we do. And most of us – myself included – love every minute of it. And because we love it, we don’t just do it – we do it with enthusiasm, with compassion, and with pride.

 

I don’t know how you would measure the value of a teacher in a student’s life, but if you could, I would rest assured knowing that anyone whose job it was to evaluate me would notice how I greet each child with a smile every day, how I incorporate Community Building activities into my classroom, and how I work for hours at night and on the weekends planning, giving feedback on assignments, and coming up with creative ways to teach 21 st Century skills to my eager learners. In addition to teaching 4 th grade in a collaborative, special education integrated classroom, I also actively participate in my school and district community as a Student Council co-advisor, volunteer on our Teacher Center policy board, summer school remediation teacher, and member of various committees including curriculum writing and the OLWEUS Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee. I would be comfortable with having someone observe my classroom management, read through my plan book, take notes on my rapport with children, view my parent communication log, or otherwise evaluate any number of measures, which contribute to being a dedicated and effective professional.

 

Too bad that New York State has other plans in mind. Instead of fairly measuring the effectiveness of my planning and teaching by utilizing methods deemed appropriate by actual educators, my evaluation is based on a convoluted matrix, developed by some non-transparent “powers that be”. I have read about it, researched it, had many discussions centered around it, taken countless notes at meetings – and still, I can’t tell you how it is calculated. What I can tell you is this (and this is extremely difficult for me as someone who does not enjoy “tooting my own horn”):

 

I have been told by my colleagues that they love working with me. I have been told by my principal that I am an exemplary educator. I have been told by parents that I have made their children love school and that I was the best teacher they have ever had. I have been told by students that they wish I could follow them to the next grade. I have been thanked by administrators for my involvement and dedication. I have even recently been made aware that there is a Facebook group for moms in my school, in which I have repeatedly received accolades and compliments.

 

But… I have also now been told by New York State that I am 2 points short of being an “effective” teacher; that, in fact, after 12 years in the classroom, I am only “developing” at my profession.
So what now? Well, when I heard this news, I did what any person wanting to be rational but acting with their heart instead would do – I cried…and cried…and cried. I didn’t sleep. I had trouble focusing on anything else. And then, the more I thought about it, the more I got angry.

 

I am angry that I spent hours and hours of time last school year using test prep books that made students miserable. I am angry that some of the brightest students I know received grades on the state test that will no doubt make them question their own intelligence. I am angry that if someone doesn’t know me better, they could look at my score of 72/100 and think that I am not a very good educator. I am angry that there are other good teachers in the same position as me. I am angry because, if I am truly failing at what I am supposed to be accomplishing, there is absolutely no way to improve because I have no idea what I did “wrong”. And I am angry because I would never give a score lacking feedback to a student, and yet that is exactly what is being done to me.

 

Let me be clear: I believe in evaluating teachers, and I am the first one to admit that there is always room for improvement. I self-reflect, I study best practices, and I try – each day, each month, and each year – to be better at my job than I was before. What would a fair system for evaluating teachers look like? I’m not sure, but I know with absolute certainty that it would not look like this !

 

I received a BA from Dartmouth College in Psychology, and I received my MA in Elementary Education from Columbia Teachers College. Sadly, I have been asked MANY times why I went to “such good schools to become a teacher”. The answer that I want to share, but often don’t, is: Shouldn’t a world-class education, from institutions that encourage you to persevere, to challenge yourself, and to think critically, be exactly what we want teachers to have in order to ensure that the next generation will be prepared to inherit the world and hopefully do a better job with it than we have? The answer that I usually give is to laugh and shrug nervously, because NO answer I can give can overcome the fact that the question is reflective of a much bigger problem. The truth is that most of our society still thinks of teaching as a “fallback” job, one that is not to be respected, and one that is undertaken by people who can’t do anything else. Clearly, this is the way we are thought of by the leaders of our state; otherwise, we would not be subjected to such an antiquated and unjust manner of “evaluation.”

 

Something needs to change, because if it does not, people like me – who have wanted to be teachers since they were little kids and who pour their heart and soul into their profession – will continue to feel at best dejected and at worst outraged. And eventually, those people will leave the field – either of their own volition or because they have been asked to do so because of their low performances on these evaluations.

 

Today, the reason that for the first and only time in as long as I can remember I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher, was that New York State told me that I am not good enough to be one.

 

The best – and the only – recourse I have is to take my frustration and sadness and turn it into a call to action. This cannot go on any longer. I can’t sit back and watch it happen. Change is necessary – and it’s necessary NOW.

 

Jennifer Higgins

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The respected Sienna College poll finds that nearly 3/4 of the public disapproves of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s education policies.

Cuomo rails against public schools and their teachers. He has no constitutional authority for education but has used the budget process to insert high-stakes tests for teachers. He is a champion for privately managed charter schools. He tried to get vouchers for religious schools, but while failing to do so, won $250 million for them.

The public doesn’t like his anti-public school policies.

For two years, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has shredded Mayor Bill de Blasio’s legislative agenda and imposed his own wishes on the city. De Blasio tried to rein in the free-wheeling charter sector, and Cuomo responded by expanding it and forcing the city to give free public space to charters or pay their rent in private space. This year, de Blasio sought permanent extension of mayoral control. He ended up with only one year.

 

Until today, de Blasio has faithfully supported Cuomo, despite the rebuffs and slights. He helped Cuomo get the nomination of the Working Families Party, which threatened to endorse Zephyr Teachout. He gave the premier nominating speech for Cuomo at the State Democratic convention, showing progressive support for a governor who has governed as a conservative.

 

Today, de Blasio finally let loose on Cuomo.

 

 

“Mayor Bill de Blasio, in candid and searing words rarely employed by elected officials of his stature, accused Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday of stymieing New York City’s legislative goals out of personal pettiness, “game-playing” and a desire for “revenge.”

 

“In an extraordinary interview, Mr. de Blasio, appearing to unburden himself of months’ worth of frustrations, said that Mr. Cuomo — who, like the mayor, is a Democrat — “did not act in the interests” of New Yorkers by blocking measures like reforming rent laws and allowing a long-term extension of the mayor’s ability to control the city’s public schools.

 

“I started a year and a half ago with a hope of a very strong partnership,” Mr. de Blasio said of the governor, whom he has known for two decades. “I have been disappointed at every turn. And these last couple of examples really are beyond the pale…..

 

“I’m not going to be surprised if these statements lead to some attempts at revenge,” Mr. de Blasio said, his voice even. “And we’ll just call them right out. Because we are just not going to play that way.”

 

Teachers know how vindictive and petty Cuomo can be. He fancies himself qualified to dictate how teachers should be evaluated, a subject about which he is totally uninformed.

This story is behind a paywall, although some readers found a way around the paywall. It was written by staff writer Fred LeBrun. It accurately describes the revulsion that parents and educators feel toward Governor Cuomo’s mean-spirited plan to tie everyone to a stake made of standardized test scores. LeBrun also points out that the State Assembly, which appoints new Regents, might well flip the majority next spring by appointing two new Regents to join the board. Chancellor Merryl Tisch has been a steadfast ally of Governor Cuomo and his plan (which is based on a letter she wrote one of his aides last December, outlining the changes she supported, without consulting the other members of the board of Regents.) If the opt out movement continues to grow–and there is every reason to believe that it will–the Assembly may not re-appoint Tisch to the board, where she has been a member since 1996.

 

 

In the linked article, LeBrun writes that it could have been much worse. Cuomo’s “education tax credits” to cut the taxes of billionaires while creating back-door vouchers did not pass.

 

 

What the Legislature and governor did agree to during the Legislative session’s final days was to direct the State Education Department to assure that the deeply controversial standardized growth tests and individual questions in Cuomo’s plan are at least age and grade appropriate and more useful as teaching tools. Also, that teachers are no longer gagged from discussing the test questions once they’re made public, and that a teacher’s student growth score, critical to whether that teacher stays employed according to the Cuomo plan, must also consider a number of student characteristics such as special needs, English as a second language, and most importantly, poverty.

 

Common sense tweaks, but far too few to make much of a difference. The core remains rotten. The Cuomo plan needs to be scrapped for something that actually works and that’s fair to all.

 

That is not so farfetched as it might seem.

 

As the Cuomo plan reveals itself as unworkable, unuseful and publicly about as popular as a dead whale in the living room, increasingly the Legislature and governor are shunting off the overly complicated implementation — and blame — on the state Education Department and the state Board of Regents, the body that by law is supposed to set and govern state public education policy. Unequivocally, Regent Roger Tilles of Long Island last week told reporter Susan Arbetter that the Legislature and the governor have all along been stepping on the Regents’ toes over formulating teacher evaluations, and not a single one of the 17 Regents is in favor of the present student and plan so favored by the governor.

 

After recent personnel changes, the Regents are very quickly becoming radicalized over the evaluation plan, and the so-called ”reform” agenda that embraces it.

 

The balance of those stridently opposed to the governor’s plan is at present a strong minority, and by March, when the terms of Chancellor Tisch and another Regent are up, that could well become a majority.

 

Already the Board of Regents is beginning to show new energy. Last week, while reluctantly accepting the education department’s draft teacher evaluation regulations as mandated by the Cuomo plan, the Regents found wiggle room that clearly signals they want to turn this garbage scow around.

 

The Regents voted for granting four-month hardship waivers without aid penalties to school districts that feel they will not be ready with a teacher evaluation plan by the required Nov. 15 of this year. That takes it to March of next year, which realistically means not before the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. They also decided that yet-to-be created and approved alternative local tests will be acceptable instead of the state standardized tests to meet the Cuomo student growth requirement, and they voted to create their own study group to evaluate and assess the entirety of the current evaluation plan with an eye to changes.

 

What that study group comes up with will make a dandy justification for an Assembly package of bills to give us a reasonable evaluation plan.

 

Meanwhile, other major factors speak to dramatic change. Next week, MaryEllen Elias becomes our new state education commissioner. She fills the vacancy left by the largely useless John King. He and Tisch were the main architects and promoters of Cuomo’s draconian version of a Common Core based plan. Elias is a veteran educator who is certainly familiar with the issues facing New York. Let’s see what she can do….

 

 

Cuomo can thumb his nose at the Legislature and the education establishment with seemingly little consequence.

 

It’s another matter when he tries to jam his malarkey down the throats of livid parents and their anxious youngsters, also known as the electorate. Last year, 60,000 Opted Out. This year 200,000. On Long Island alone, 40 percent of the students who could take those tests didn’t. Opt Out is a political force with quickly developing muscle, reflecting deep public dissatisfaction.

 

No single issue has contributed more to the rapid and still sinking decline of Cuomo’s popularity than his boneheaded war with students, teachers and public schools generally, and there’s no end in sight. Legislature take note.

Tim Farley is principal of the Ichabod Crane Middle School in upstate New York.

He is also a member of the board of New York State Allies for Public Education, the leaders of Opt Out in New York.

And he has a great sense of humor and timing!

He told his eighth grade students that if they read 850 books this year, he would dance for them at the end of the school year. They read 869. Watch Tim Farley dazzle students, teachers, and parents!

Update! A few minutes ago, I posted that the budget lifted the charter cap by 100. There are differing reports; this one says there will be 180 new charters.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders reached a deal on the budget that included major education issues.

The budget does not include the “education tax credit” for private and religious schools (vouchers), but does include $250 million for religious schools. That should satisfy Mr. Cuomo’s friends in the religious communities whom he courted.

The deal includes 180 new charter schools, 50 in Néw York City and 130 outside the city. That should please the hedge fund manager who gave millions to the Governor’s re-election campaign, while providng Eva Moskowitz plenty of room to grow her chain.

The deal extends mayoral control in NYC for only one year, despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s request to make it permanent. That should remind the Mayor who is in charge.

The deal retains the tax cap on school districts. Regardless of their needs, they won’t be able to raise property taxes by more than 2%, unless they are able to win 60% approval by voters. It may be undemocratic, but it is popular, especially among GOP legislators.

It is amazing how much education policy is now being made during budget negotiations, with no educators in the room.

This is a list of the Regents of the State of New York. The majority want to maintain high-stakes testing to evaluate teachers.

 

Six of the 17 Regents voted to oppose high-stakes testing and to change the state’s way of evaluating teachers. These six want more attention to student performance, not defined as bubble tests, but student work in the school.

If your Regent voted to support high-stakes testing, please contact him or her to express your views.

 

The Regents who opposed Governor Cuomo’s high-stakes testing are:

 

Kathleen Cashin

 

Betty Rosa

 

Judith Chin

 

Judith Johnson

 

Catherine Collins

 

Beverly L. Ouderkirk

 

These Regents are profiles in courage. They based their decision on research and on their own experience as educators.

 

If you live in the district of one of the other Regents, you should contact them and let them know that their vote for high-stakes testing hurts students and teachers by placing too much emphasis on standardized tests. Urge them to pay attention to pedagogically sound practices, as the other six Regents did.

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