Archives for category: Teachers

A new group called Voices for Public Education has organized in Douglas County, Colorado. This is a district whose elected board favors market reforms and hired Bill Bennett to speak before the last election ($50,000), as well as paying Rick Hess to write a laudatory paper about its policies.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Innovation Schools Do Not Mean Less Testing

Highlands Ranch, Colorado -September 15, 2014 – Voices For Public Education (Voices) opposes the Douglas County Board of Education (BoE) resolution authorizing the submission of innovation waivers to the Colorado Board of Education and the BoE’s use of the Innovation Schools Act of 2008 to waive state assessments. The resolution passed at the September 2nd board meeting.

This resolution authorizes schools to submit waivers from testing required by the READ act to the Colorado Board of Education. These waivers will be submitted under provisions from the Innovation Schools Act. Voices for Public Education supports fewer high-stakes, state and district-mandated tests, but they do not support this resolution.

Amy DeValk, co-founder of Voices for Public Education, believes this resolution will not result in less testing. State-mandated tests will be replaced by district-mandated tests.

“Passing this resolution has nothing to do with standardized testing. The board is using testing as a distraction to the real intent of submitting Innovation Waivers. These waivers will allow the BoE to get out of state requirements they do not agree with, ultimately giving them the ability to implement their own agenda and testing with little to no oversight from the state. Teachers and parents need to learn what this really means for their school.”

Voices urges parents to demand community meetings regarding this resolution and to oppose its implementation. Voices also encourages parents to oppose all standardized testing, whether it is mandated by the state or the district. Parents should demand testing that supports learning and helps teachers to guide instruction.

About Voices for Public Education:

Voices for Public Education is dedicated to educating the community to empower individuals to act and take back our public schools.

We educate by:

• Bringing in national education experts to discuss education reform and offer alternatives

• Building personal relationships to tell our story

• Supporting other community groups fighting education reform

We empower by:

• Working with our school communities to develop actions to take back our schools

• Giving teachers, parents, students and community members a voice in decision-making

We act by:

• Creating actions for both quick “wins” and long term goals

• Providing the resources and information for people to take individual actions

• Partnering with and supporting other grassroots organizations

https://www.facebook.com/VoicesForPublicEducation

Contact:

Amy DeValk, Voices for Public Education co-founder
wasnoyes@comcast.net
303-350-7206
Stefanie Fuhr, Voices for Public Education co-founder
tutucker@comcast.net
303-483-1196

The October 2014 Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup Poll says the following about what the public thinks about teachers. The big news here, in my view, is the dramatic shift in public opinion from favoring to opposing the use of standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. Only 1% was undecided on this question. Those favoring such a policy dropped from 61% to 38%. The public, if this poll is right, understands that value-added measurement is not working and is hurting the teachers in their community’s public schools. The bad news for Teach for America is that the public wants well-prepared, highly-trained teachers in their schools, not inexperienced young college graduates who have not passed through rigorous preparation and screening.

 

 

Only 38% of Americans favor using student performance on standardized tests to evaluate teachers, with parents even less supportive (31%). [My comment: Only two years ago, 52% approved using test scores to evaluate teachers; this is a big change in public opinion. The 61% who oppose using student performance on standardized test has increased from 47% in 2012.]

 

Of three reasons proposed for evaluating a teacher’s performance in the classroom, 77% of Americans said helping teachers improve their ability to teach is a very important reason for evaluating them. But fewer Americans (65%)
said documenting ineffectiveness that can lead to dismissal is a very important reason to evaluate their performance, and 46% said using teacher performance to determine salaries and bonuses is very important.

 

More than 70% of Americans said new teachers should spend at least a year practice teaching under the guidance of a certified teacher before assuming responsibility for their own classrooms.

 

More than 80% of Americans said teachers should pass board certification in addition to being licensed to practice, similar to professions like medicine and law.

 

60% of Americans said entrance requirements into teacher preparation programs should be more rigorous.

 

64% of public school parents have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools, but this percentage declined from 72% in 2013.

 

57% of Americans would like their child to take up teaching in the public schools as a career. This proportion was lower than when the question was last asked in 2005, when 62% supported teaching as a profession for their child.

 

 

 

 

A group of teachers at a progressive public school in Néw York City have formed “Teachers of Conscience” and written the Chancellor of the school system to say that they could no longer administer the state tests to their students.

For their willingness to act on the demands of their conscience rather than serve as compliant enforcers of actions intended to rank and rate their students, I place them on the honor roll of this blog. They are indeed Teachers of Conscience. They are resisters and conscientious objectors. From small acts of conscience, multiplied, grow revolutions.

They were inspired to act by the Seattle teachers’ boycott of MAP testing, but also by their conviction that the tests distort the purpose of education. They act in opposition to market-based reform and the Common Core.

Here is their letter to the chancellor from Teachers of Conscience:

Teachers of Conscience

A Letter to Chancellor Carmen Fariña

“The ongoing wars, the distortions of truth we have witnessed, the widening gaps between rich and poor disturb us more than we can say; but we have had so many reminders of powerlessness that we have retreated before the challenge of bringing such issues into our classrooms. At once, we cannot but realize that one of our primary obligations is to try to provide equal opportunities for the young. And we realize full that this cannot happen if our students are not equipped with what are thought to be survival skills, not to speak of a more or less equal range of literacies. And yet the tendency to describe the young as “human resources,” with the implication that they are mainly grist for the mills of globalized business is offensive not merely to educators, but to anyone committed to resist dehumanization of any kind.”

- Maxine Greene, In Search of a Pedagogy

Dear Chancellor Carmen Fariña,

We are teachers of public education in the City of New York. We are writing to distance ourselves from a set of policies that have come to be known as market-based education reform. We recognize that there has been a persistent and troubling gulf between the vision of individuals in policymaking and the work of educators, but we see you as someone who has known both positions and might therefore be understanding of our position. We find ourselves at a point in the progress of education reform in which clear acts of conscience will be necessary to preserve the integrity of public education. We can no longer implement policies that seek to transform the broad promises of public education into a narrow obsession with the ranking and sorting of children. We will not distort curriculum in order to encourage students to comply with bubble test thinking. We can no longer, in good conscience, push aside months of instruction to compete in a city-wide ritual of meaningless and academically bankrupt test preparation. We have seen clearly how these reforms undermine teachers’ love for their profession and undermine students’ intrinsic love of learning.

As an act of conscience, we are declining the role of test administrators for the 2014 New York State Common Core Tests. We are acting in solidarity with countless public school teachers who have paved their own paths of resistance and spoken truthfully about the decay of their profession under market-based reforms. These acts of conscience have been necessary because we are accountable to the children we teach and our pedagogy, both of which are dishonored daily by current policies.

The policies of Common Core have been misguided, unworkable, and a serious failure of implementation. At no time in the history of education reform have we witnessed the ideological ambitions of policymakers result in such a profound disconnect with the experiences of parents, teachers, and children. There is a growing movement of dissatisfied parents who are refusing high-stakes Common Core testing for their children and we are acting in solidarity with those parents. Reformers in the State Department of Education are now making gestures to slow down implementation and reform their reforms. Their efforts represent a failure of imagination — an inability to envision an education system based on human development and democratic ideals rather than an allegiance to standardization, ranking, and sorting. State policies have placed haphazard and burdensome mandates on schools that are profoundly out of touch with what we know to be inspired teaching and learning. Although the case against market-based education reform has been thoroughly written about, we feel obliged to outline our position at length to address critics who may see our choice of action as overstepping or unwarranted. You will find a position paper attached to this letter. We are urging you, Chancellor Fariña, to articulate your own position in this critical and defining moment in the history of public education. What will you stand for? What public school legacy will we forge together?

Sincerely,

Colin Schumacher, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School

Emmy Matias, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School

Jia Lee, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School

If you have written a letter or statement regarding market-based education reform and the Common Core state standards, please consider submitting it for publication on our blog.

The New York City Parents Blog compiled the many complaints of parents and teachers about Daniel Bergner’s article about Eva Moskowitz. Bergner interviewed many critics, but he quoted only two: me and Michael Mulgrew of the UFT.

Unlike the magazine article, the post explains that the main reason Mayor de Blasio rejected Moskowitz’s efforts to expand within PS 149 was that it would cause the displacement of children with special needs, some of whom are severely disabled. It was ironic that the $5-6 million TV ad campaign that Eva’s Wall Street backers ran on her behalf last spring claimed that the Mayor was forcing SA children out of their schools by denying them space, when the reverse was true: Moskowitz wanted to increase the size of her school at the expense of children with disabilities.

The ad campaign paid off for Moskowitz. Many of the same Wall Street tycoons who backed Eva also funded Cuomo’s campaign, so of course Cuomo supported Eva and cut the ground out from under the Mayor’s feet, with the help of the legislature. Eva got free rent, the right to expand in public space, and other privileges. But this was not what you saw in the New York Times article.

Opt Out Orlando posted the following letter by Susan Bowles, a kindergarten teacher. For her courage and dedication to her students, Susan Bowles joins the honor roll.

Her husband wrote this introduction:

“I tried to share this post by my wife, Susan, last night. I just found out her privacy settings don’t let others see it. I am very proud of her stance and completely support her, even if it means she loses her job. That would mean someone whose passion has always been about teaching little kids would be out of the profession. She began teaching in 1977.”

Susan Bowles wrote:

Dear Facebook Friends,

I have just sent emails to my principal and CRT, the superintendent, my colleagues at school, the school board members, ACEA (local teachers’ union) and the Gainesville Sun. I have a letter ready to go to the parents of the children in my class, pending principal approval which is standard protocol.

WHY I AM REFUSING TO GIVE THE FAIR TEST TO MY KINDERGARTNERS!

We have given the FAIR assessment in the past but this year it was revamped. It does provide useful information, but nothing significantly superior to what a typical Kindergarten teacher would observe in her students. This year, it is more time consuming and more difficult. Kindergartners are required to take it on the computer using a mouse. FYI: Kindergartners aren’t born with mouse skills. Many of them are proficient on tablets or smartphones, but the mouse can be tricky. (While testing a child last week, she double-clicked which skipped a screen. This child double-clicked three times and triple clicked once. There is no way to go back. There is no way for the school administrator to go back and make a correction.) While we were told it takes about 35 minutes to administer, we are finding that in actuality, it is taking between 35-60 minutes per child.

This assessment is given one-on-one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during this test. Someone has forgotten there are other five year olds in our care. There is no provision from the state for money for additional staff to help with the other children in the classroom while this testing is going on. A certified teacher has to give the test. If you estimate that it takes approximately 45 minutes per child to give this test and we have 18 students, the time it takes to give this test is 13 ½ instructional hours. If you look at the schedule, a rough estimate would be that it requires about one full week of instructional time to test all of the children.

Our Kindergarten teachers have been brainstorming ways to test and still instruct. The best option we have come up with is for teachers to pair up, with one teacher instructing two classes while the other teacher tests one-on-one. So now we are looking at approximately TWO WEEKS of true INSTRUCTIONAL TIME LOST. We will not be putting them in front of a movie or having extended playtime, but the reality is that with 35 students, instruction is not the same. FAIR TESTING IS DONE THREE TIMES A YEAR!

I KNOW I MAY BE IN BREACH OF MY CONTRACT BY NOT ADMINISTERING THIS TEST. I CANNOT IN GOOD CONSCIENCE SUBMIT TO ADMINISTERING THIS TEST THREE TIMES A YEAR, LOSING SIX WEEKS OF INSTRUCTION. THERE IS A GOOD POSSIBILITY I WILL BE FIRED.

I am heartsick over the possibility of losing my job. I love my job. There is nothing I would rather do than teach. I have cried and cried over this, but in the end, it’s not about me. I feel God wants me to stand up for what is best for children. So, come what may, this is my stance. I WILL NOT ADMINISTER THE FAIR TEST TO MY STUDENTS.

If you are wondering what you can do, first and foremost, pray that the testing situation for children in Florida will change. Secondly, if you are a teacher or administrator, tell your story. This is not an education problem. This is a state government problem.

Whom should you contact? Governor Scott sits at the top in the chain of command. I say, voice your concerns to him. He actually might listen since he’s up for reelection. Just Read Florida is the group that masterminded the new version of FAIR. Let them know what you think about it. This issue isn’t about one teacher. This is a springboard for educators and parents to tell their stories. Please, let your voice be heard.

Thanks to Becky Jones Young, my childhood friend and fellow lifelong teacher, for taking a stand of her own in Ohio. She was an amazing middle school English teacher, who quit teaching (her love, joy and passion) because she could no longer participate in cheating children out of fun, creativity and enriching learning – in the name of education.

Susan Bowles
Kindergarten Teacher
Lawton Chiles Elementary School
Gainesville, Florida

Plunderbund reports on the disputes between the school board and the teachers in Reynoldburg, Ohio.

The district gets high ratings from the state, even though poverty has steadily increased in the student body and nearly half the students live in poverty. Yet despite these accomplishments, the school board has not kept pace with teachers’ salaries and is now making a divisive contract offer.

Plunderbund writes:

“Reynoldsburg has consistently performed among the top school districts in Ohio, and over the past four years has shown continued improvement based on reporting by the Ohio Department of Education. In 2010, the district received a rating of “Effective”. In the three succeeding years, the district advanced to receive ratings of “Excellent”, then “Excellent with Distinction”, and then received a grade of “A” on the state’s new report card last year. In all three of those years, the district met 100% of the state’s performance indicators.

“Even more impressive, the teachers in Reynoldsburg have accomplished this feat with a changing student population – specifically an increase in the number of students living in poverty of over 10% (from 37.6% to 47.9%). With socioeconomic status being a huge factor in student achievement, such gains on state indicators simply cannot be ignored.

“Instead of recognizing these accomplishments on the part of the teaching staff, the Reynoldsburg School Board has chosen to engage in negotiation tactics designed to divide the teaching staff, implying that a great disparity exists among the teaching ranks. The performance of the district as a whole contradicts that notion.”

Nonetheless the school board is trying to drive a wedge among teachers by changing health benefits based on marital status.

“If Reynoldsburg truly wants to recruit good teachers and retain the excellent teachers they already have (as evidenced by the district’s improving performance), then the School Board should quit messing around and seriously reflect on how their actions are driving away experienced teachers. Instead of eliminating benefits packages that, by their own admission, most other districts have in place, they should retain the benefits for married teachers so that young, talented unmarried teachers don’t feel the need to seek employment in a district that has a better benefits package. That’s part of retaining teachers in a competitive environment, especially when the salary schedule is so similar.

“And regarding the salary schedule, they should seek to increase it across the board, but especially for the large number of teachers with Master’s degrees who should be most tempted to look to competing districts that will pay them more for that extra experience (that may also help pay off the student loans required to obtain the degree).

“The Reynoldsburg School Board thinks it is being innovative and forward thinking in trying to attract and retain teachers, but their misguided information, deceptive marketing, and lack of understanding of the “competitive teaching marketplace” has them driving a wedge between the excellent teachers that they already have employed in the district and instead is driving their best teachers away.

“Instead of playing games, the Reynoldsburg School Board should listen to the teachers who are leading the way in improving the district’s overall performance. While School Board members come and go, it’s the teachers who will be there for decades, continuing to have a positive influence on the lives of the children and families of Reynoldsburg.”

Jeff Bryant notices an interesting new phenomenon: Corporate reformers have dropped their triumphalist tone, and now they want to have a “conversation.” But the curious aspect to their concept is that the conversation they want begins with their assumptions about the value of charters, vouchers, collective bargaining, and tenure. As he shows, their “conversation” doesn’t involve actual classroom teachers or parent activists working to improve their public school. It typically means a “bipartisan” agreement between people who work in DC think tanks or veterans of the Bush and Obama administrations or grantees of the billionaire foundations promoting privatization.

In short, the “new” conversation isn’t new at all. It is a shiny new echo chamber where the voices of working teachers (not counting TFA and AstroTurf groups like Educators4Excellence and TeachPlus and others created and funded by Gates, Broad, and Walton) will not be heard.

A real conversation includes the voices of those who know the most about schools and teaching and learning: real working classroom teachers, as well as those who know the most about children, their parents. If the reformers listened to these voices, they would quickly learn that those who are most closely involved in education are not part of the Beltway consensus.

A regular reader, Laura H. Chapmam, curriculum consultant in the arts, asks: Who speaks for teachers? And, who is paid to appear to speak for teachers?

Chapman writes:

A collective teacher voice has depended on unions. The billionaires are recruiting teachers who are not friendly to unions, with the blessing of PR firms that USDE put in charge of helping states and districts comply with RttT requirements, including pay-for-performance.

The PR initiative, funded at $43 million, is dubbed the Reform Support Network (RSN). A 2012 publication from the PR writers working for RSN suggested that districts enlist teacher SWAT teams to head off criticism of the draconian federal requirements, in addition, a recent publication (May, 2014) offers states and districts over 35 other “messaging” strategies.

One of the “other” strategies is enlisting “teacher voice groups.” A “teacher voice group” is RSNs name for a non-union advocacy collective that depends on funding from private foundations favoring pay-for-performance.

Five voice groups are mentioned by name.

All have received major funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Teach Plus ($9.5 million), Center for Teacher Quality ($6.3 million), Hope Street Group ($4.7 million), Educators for Excellence ($3.9 million), and Teachers United ($942, 000). Other foundations are supporting these groups.

For example, Teach Plus receives “partner” grants from eight other foundations (including the Broad, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Joyce) and several major investment firms.

These groups are building out, state-by-state, in an effort to control conversations about “what teachers want. They are amplifiers of the wishes of the billionaires who fund them.

One of the major subcontracts for the USDE marketing campaign for $6.3 million, went to Education First. The founding partner is Jennifer Vranek, a former advocacy expert with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She and others working for Education First helped a number of states apply for the RttT competition. They have fashioned PR campaigns for the Common Core State Standards in many states. The firm’s website includes a sample of its communication and advocacy services: “Outreach and public-engagement strategies and activities; strategic communications planning; reports, white papers and articles designed to synthesize, explain and persuade; development of communications tools, including marketing materials, web copy, press releases, and social media content.”

All this is just more evidence that the question is not just about who speaks for teachers, but who pays teachers to be spokespersons for union-hating billionaires, and why do these teachers have so little respect for due-process rights, including contracts that are not entirely dependent on the pathology of testing promoted in federal and state policies?

I recently saw photographs of John F. Kennedy giving a Labor Day speech in New York City during his Presidential campaign in 1960. He spoke in the center of the Garment District, on the west side of Manhattan. He spoke to tens of thousands of garment workers. Today, the Garment District has been replaced by luxury high-rise residences. Following NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), the garment industry went to low-wage, non-union countries. The garment industry has few workers and no political power. The number of union members across the nation has dropped precipitously. The largest unions are public sector workers–especially, teachers–and they are under attack, as rightwing foundations, billionaires, and their favorite think tanks hammer away at their very existence.

What hope is there? Anthony Cody says there is plenty. He foresees the rise of “the teacher class.”

Here are a few quotes from a powerful statement. Read it all.

“The teaching class consists of educators from pre-school through college. This group is facing the brute force of a class-based assault on their professional and economic status. The assault is being led by the wealthiest people in the world – Bill and Melinda Gates, via their vast foundation, the Walton family, and their foundation, and Eli Broad, and his foundation. And a host of second tier billionaires and entrepreneurs have joined in the drive. These individuals have poured billions of dollars into advancing a “reform” movement that is resulting in the rapid expansion of semi-private and private alternatives to public education, and the destruction of unions and due process rights for educators.”

“As the latest report from Yong Zhao and ASCD illustrates, there is absolutely zero connection between the productivity of our economy and test scores. There may be some minimum level of academic achievement below which our nation’s economy might suffer, but our students are far, far above that threshold. So the entire economic rationale for our obsession with test scores and “higher standards” has been obliterated…”

Even liberal rationales for education reform are falling away. We have heard for the past decade that employers need students who can think critically and creatively, that everyone must be prepared for college. These arguments have been used to promote progressive models of education, along with the Common Core. The economic assumption here is that the middle class will grow as more students are prepared for middle class jobs. But the number of such jobs are shrinking, not growing. The supposed shortage of people prepared for STEM careers is a hoax, as we see with the layoff of 18,000 such workers by Microsoft. In fact, one economic projection suggests that in the next 20 years, 47% of the jobs of today will be gone as a result of technological advances and what Bill Gates terms “software substitution.” (see the full report here.)….”

“Teachers are paying attention. Study after study provides evidence that the central planks of corporate education reform not only fail to work, but are undermining the education of our students. This project that was supposed to be driven by data is collapsing, and would be long gone if our politicians were not being legally bribed to look the other way. Corporate education reform is a fraud, a hoax perpetrated on the public, with the active complicity of media outlets like NBC, which allows the Gates Foundation to dictate the very “facts” that guide their coverage of education issues….”

“Corporate reformers have diabolically targeted teachers where we were most vulnerable, by accusing us of placing our own interests above those of our students. Every element of corporate reform has been leveraged on this point. No Child Left Behind accused teachers of holding students back through our “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Due process has been undermined or destroyed because it supposedly provides shelter for the “bad teachers” responsible for low test scores.

“But this point of vulnerability is also our greatest latent strength going forward. Because teachers are deeply motivated by concern for their students, they are attuned to the devastating effects reform is having on them. Teachers are seeing what happens in communities when schools are closed – usually in poor African American and Latino neighborhoods. Teachers are seeing how technologically based “innovations” funnel both scarce funds along with student data to profit-seeking corporations. We have had more than a decade of test-driven reform, and teachers know better than anyone what a sham approach this has been. Teachers have seen and responded to the Michael Brown shooting, and though there are still difficult conversations ahead about race, teachers have a head start, because of our work with young people who are, like Michael Brown, vulnerable to racial profiling and the school to prison pipeline.

“Teachers have some important pieces of the puzzle, but we have not built the whole picture yet. There is a growing awareness of the discriminatory way laws are enforced, leading to huge numbers of African Americans and Latinos behind bars. But there is still a weak understanding of how this fits into a system that keeps communities of color economically and politically disempowered. School closures are a part of this disenfranchisement, as they rob communities of stable centers of learning. The disproportionate layoffs and terminations of African American teachers are a part of this pattern as well. We need a new civil rights coalition that brings these interests into sharp focus, and establishes alliances between teachers, students, parents and community members.

“When teachers bring a deep understanding of how our work has been hijacked and disrupted to bear on broader social issues, we find similar patterns elsewhere. We can see how profiteers are trying to sideline the US Postal Service, even though the level of service for the public will suffer. We see how the prison industry has turned into an enormous machine that sustains itself through vigorous lobbying, to the great disservice of many Americans. We see how laws governing debt are written to give tremendous advantage to financiers, while binding our students into a new form of indentured servitude. We see how leading Democratic Party politicians have taken campaign contributions in the millions from the sworn enemies of public education, and have become their servants….”

“The term “teacher leadership” has been used to describe a narrow range of activities often related to “getting a seat at the table,” or taking charge of professional development or Common Core implementation. But the real potential for teacher leadership arises when we take the lessons we have learned from a decade of being the targets of phony corporate reforms, and recognize our kinship with others who have been disenfranchised. The number of wealthy individuals who have sponsored this decade of fraudulent reform could fit in a small movie theater. Teachers number in the millions — our students and allies are in the hundreds of millions. The only thing that can beat the power of money is the power of people. But the people must be informed and organized. That sounds like work teachers ought to be able to handle.”

Ken Previti tells the story on his blog about Julianna Mendelsohn, a teacher.

Julianna wanted to help the children of Ferguson.

““As a public school teacher, my first thought is always about the children involved in any tragic situation like this,” she writes. “When I found out school had been canceled for several days as a result of the civil unrest, I immediately became worried for the students in households with food instability. Many children in the US eat their only meals of the day, breakfast and lunch, at school. With school out, kids are undoubtedly going hungry.”

“Julianna is from Raleigh, North Carolina. She knows that all the children in school are our children. The children in Ferguson are our children with their own needs. Our children need many things, and nutritious food is at the top of the list. Julianna’s efforts have raised over $125,000 to feed our children during this crisis.”

Read the post and send whatever you can to feed the children.

Julianna is a hero of public education who, like so many teachers, truly puts children first. She wants to feed them. Please help her.

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