Archives for category: Teachers

Gene V. Glass posted the following words by David Berliner on his blog, Education in Two Worlds:

When a profession as large and necessary to society as teaching is insulted by state and federal Secretaries of Education, judged negatively by the nation’s presidents and governors, see their pensions cut, receive salaries that do not keep up with inflation, often cannot afford to live in the communities they work in, cannot always practice their profession in ways that are ethical and efficacious, are asked to support policies that may do harm to children, are judged by student test scores that are insensitive to instruction and more often reflect social class differences rather than instructional quality, see public monies used to support discriminatory charter and private schools, yet still have a great deal of support from the parents of the children they teach, then there is a strategy for making teachers’ lives better. It is called unionization. The reasons for unionization could not be plainer. New and veteran teachers should band together and close down school systems of the type I have described. It will be difficult, of course, and some teachers will no doubt be fired and jailed. But if teachers do not fix this once noble profession, America may well lose its soul, as well as its edge.

Some states, as Audrey Beardsley reported in the previous post, are silencing educators by law or regulation or threats. They definitely don’t want teachers to express their views about high-stakes testing or political interference by legislators in the state capitol or from D.C. Nor do they want teachers to express their need for professional autonomy or to complain about mandates and paperwork and scripted lessons. Why anyone would presume that elected officials know more about teaching than teachers is a great puzzlement.

But as Anthony Cody shows in this post, legislatures are not the only ones who are trying to stifle teacher voice. He recounts a sad story about exemplary teachers who were invited to write a report about “a new vision for accountability.” When the report came out, Cody wrote about it, and I posted his commentary. We both thought it was a teacher-written report. Then he began hearing from teachers whose names were on the report, complaining that their words had been edited, revised, in some cases deleted by the consultants in charge. He dug deeper and learned that the consultants in charge of the project–ostensibly sponsored by the NEA–were funded by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

Cody includes in his post the statements of several participants in the process, all reporting that their recommendations were altered without their consent, in ways they did not approve. Their voices were muted, stifled, silenced.

Audrey Beardsley, a professor at Arizona State University, recently visited parents, educators, students, and state leaders in New Mexico. There she learned that the state had adopted gag orders for teachers, forbidding them from discussing or expressing an opinion about the state tests (PARCC).

 

She writes:

 

 

Under the “leadership” of Hanna Skandera — former Florida Deputy Commissioner of Education under former Governor Jeb Bush and head of the New Mexico Public Education Department — teachers throughout the state are being silenced.

 

New Mexico now requires teachers to sign a contractual document that they are not to “diminish the significance or importance of the tests” (see, for example, slide 7 here) or they could lose their jobs. Teachers are not to speak negatively about the tests or say anything negatively about these tests in their classrooms or in public; if they do they could be found in violation of their contracts. At my main presentation in New Mexico, a few teachers even approached me after “in secret” whispering their concerns in fear of being “found out.” Rumor also has it that Hanna Skandera has requested the names and license numbers of any teachers who have helped or encouraged students to protest the state’s “new” PARCC test(s), as well.

 

One New Mexico teacher asked whether “this is a quelling of free speech and professional communication?” I believe it most certainly is a Constitutional violation. I am also shocked to now find out that something quite similar is occurring in my state of Arizona.

 

Needless to say, neither of our states (or many states typically in the sunbelt for that matter) are short on bad ideas, but this is getting absolutely ridiculous, especially as this silencing of the educators seems to be yet another bad idea that is actually trending?

 

As per a recent article in our local paper – The Arizona Republic – Arizona “legislators want to gag school officials” in an amendment to Senate Bill 1172 that will prohibit “an employee of a school district or charter school, acting on the district’s or charter school’s behalf, from distributing electronic materials to influence the outcome of an election or to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation.”

 

The charge is also that this is a retaliatory move by AZ legislators, in response to a series of recent protests in response to serious budget cuts several weeks ago. “Perhaps [this is] to keep [educators] from talking about how the legislature has shortchanged Arizona’s school kids by hundreds of millions of dollars since the recession, and how the legislature is still making it nearly impossible for many districts to take care of even [schools’] most basic needs.”

 

In addition, is this even Constitutional? An Arizona Schools Boards Association (ASBA) spokesperson is cited as responding, saying “SB 1172 raises grave constitutional concerns. It may violate school and district officials free speech rights and almost certainly chills protected speech by school officials and the parents and community members that interact with them. It will freeze the flow of information to the public that seeks to ascertain the impact of pending legislation on their schools and children’s education.”

 

Where is the American Civil Liberties Union? Why are teachers singled out for a speech ban? As Beardsley asks, “Is this even Constitutional?” I would add, is this America?

The New York City Public School Parents’ Blog invited readers to comment on the ELA exams, which were administered last week (this current week devotes three days to testing in math). At last reading, there were 47 comments. Some of the comments refer to specific passages on the exam, which Pearson does not allow.

Given the fact that test passages are being disclosed on Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet, Pearson and other test publishers should release their exams and write new questions. If there are thousands of questions available, it won’t hurt anyone if students read them and use them to hone their skills. No one will know what will be on the next test.

By the way, some teachers who responded to this post noticed passages from last year’s tests.

According to Glen Brown, a teacher in Illinois, the Illinois Education Association endorsed the right of parents to opt their child out of state testing today.

Here is an excerpt from the resolution that was passed:

The IEA supports the right of a parent or guardian to exclude his or child from any or all parts of state and district-level standardized tests, provided the state or school districts are not financially or otherwise penalized if such students are excluded, and supports the right of educators without suffering from adverse actions regarding their employment or licensure to:

Discuss the impact of standardized testing with parents and/or guardians

Discuss the state and district-level standardized tests with parents or guardians and may inform parents or guardians of their ability to exclude his or her child from state and/or district-level standardized tests

Provide a parent or guardian with his or her opinion on whether or not a student would benefit from exclusion from a state and/or district-level test, and that no adverse action or discipline will be taken against a school district employee who engages in such discussion.

The IEA furthermore supports:

A school and its employees not being negatively impacted due to a student not taking a state and/or district level standardized test, such as by ensuring that students who are opted out of standardized tests by a parent or guardian are excluded from performance calculations for state and local accountability measures and from employee evaluations

Reducing the volume of standardized tests that students must take and to reduce the time educators and students spend on meaningless test preparation drills

A letter was circulated to all principals in the Rochester, New York, school system, advising them to identify teachers who had encouraged parents or students to opt out and to report teachers who were absent on testing day.

 

Adam Urbanski, the president of the Rochester Teachers Association, sent the following letter to his members:

 

Colleagues,

 

The attached email was sent to school principals by Beverly Burrell-Moore. Understandably, teachers find the tone and content of that email to be a blatant attempt at intimidation and an infringement on teachers’ rights and academic freedom. I have immediately brought this to the attention of Superintendent Vargas who said that he was unaware of the email but would communicate his position to teachers directly later today.

 

As well they should, teachers feel a moral obligation to speak up when they witness harm being done to their students. The tests being now imposed on students are educational malpractice and should be objectionable to teachers, parents and all others who care about students. I applaud all parents who choose to refuse to subject their children to these meaningless and bad tests and commend teachers who insist on their right to respond to inquiries from parents and students.

 

Today we have filed a Class Action Grievance against the District for already taking disciplinary action against individual teachers. Please let us know if you or your colleagues suffer any reprisals as a result of speaking out against these tests. We will continue to defend the rights of teachers to speak out against harmful educational practices and to advocate for the best interest of their students.

 

 

Adam Urbanski, RTA President

The following was posted as a comment on the blog:

 

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

 

I have spent the last week and a half reeling from the shot across the bow that public education took on March 31st when the New York State Legislature ostensibly signed off on its destruction with the passing of the New York State Budget, and its attached legislation, S2006B-2015. As a teacher who is passionate about what she does, with two years of failing State Growth Scores, I know my days as a teacher are numbered. I am left with only one choice, to continue to act out of love for my students until the day comes when my district will be forced to remove me from the classroom and students I graciously serve.

 

My first act of love for my students, since the passing of this legislation and the absolute betrayal of my own elected officials, is the following letter I sent to the Board of Regents this afternoon.

 

Dear New York State Board of Regents:

 

This letter is in response to New York State Law S2006B-2015, dated March 31, 2015. I write you as a teacher of thirteen years who loves her profession and her students more than words could possibly capture. There has not been one day in the classroom that I wished away. Not one paycheck that I did not regard with awe over the fact that I could be paid to do a job I loved so deeply. Not one August that I did not greet with excitement in anticipation of new students, new challenges and new victories. Nor one end of school year I did not confront with sadness over the end of a ten-month partnership with my students filled with reading and writing and thinking and questioning.

 

Teaching is my passion. Every single day I ask myself what went wrong? Who did I not reach? What can I do tomorrow to push harder and support the growth of my students? I sincerely love teaching because after thirteen years, I am clear on only one thing – I will never have all of the answers. And I like that challenge. Each year brings new students, new families, new strengths and new areas of opportunity into my classroom. My voracious appetite for meeting their respective needs is confronted by the infinite possibilities that education offers.

 

This year, we had an interesting scenario. It became very clear on reading comprehension assessments that students understood what they were reading, but of the fifteen students in my class receiving Academic Intervention Services (AIS) for reading, out of a total of twenty-seven students, eight continuously earned failing scores on weekly assessments. We asked ourselves, is it the vocabulary in the questions? No. Is it vocabulary in the choices? No. We realized that students could not see the correct answers in the choices because they lacked the transferal skills to get themselves from what they knew the answers were to the choices given. We started giving the students the questions without choices, and having them write their own answers. Then we gave them the choices and they had to select the choices that most closely resembled their answers. Our failure rate dropped substantially from eight students to one to two students. This is what teaching is. Every single day we must go in, assess what our students need from us, and devise ways to meet those needs.

 

I often tell people that a teacher’s job is never, ever done. I could work around the clock twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and still have things I want to accomplish in the classroom. As teachers, we have to eek out as much time as we can before school, during school and after school, and spend that time on the work we determine offers our students the greatest return on investment. This is why grading assessments we provide is so important to us. Students and teachers require continual assessment feedback so instructional time can best serve students’ needs.

 

Where is all of this going? It boils down to assessment. Your board has been asked to craft an APPR plan that bases 50% of a teacher’s APPR on assessments you deem appropriate for this purpose. Much of what I am about to discuss pertains solely to the current grades three through eight state testing program, but please keep in mind that these thoughts relate to any assessment we deem appropriate for removing a child’s teacher from his/her classroom.

 

Any assessment we use for the state’s 50% of the APPR must:

 

1. Include reliability and validity testing that demonstrates the instrument’s ability to measure what we are asking it to measure. Assessment in New York State public school classrooms must measure a student’s progress toward New York State Standards.

 

2. Be created by an entity that does not also sell curricular materials to school districts. The 2013 New York State 6th ELA exam included proprietary material that Pearson had also included in its series, Reading Street, which it sells to districts. This is a serious conflict of interest.

 

3. Have the ability to measure all growth a student experiences during a school year. The current methodology provides simple scores of one, two, three and four limiting its ability show us where growth has or has not transpired, for a variety of reasons.

 

4. Inform teachers and parents of information both parties do not already know. We know who has difficulty reading and who does not. We must use an assessment that offers rich details about where our students struggles are, as well as what students are doing well.

 

If we continue on our current path, teachers like me who love what we do, and have an innate desire to be the best teachers we can for our students, will be gone. For the last two years, I have been given a one and a two respectively for my State Growth Score. If you proceed with the State Legislature’s plan, and your current method of assessments, you will be taking good teachers away from the students who need them, using fraudulent instruments. With your June 30th deadline looming, I beg you to contemplate the gravity of this system, and as the law prescribes, use the next few months to speak with teachers and parents who are invested in this system, to craft a plan that places children first.

 

In all earnest, I am willing to meet with you anytime to discuss the frailties of our current system and measures we can take to meet the law’s deadline in a way that best serves public school children. They are what matter most.

 

Warm wishes,

 

Melissa K. McMullan
6th Grade Teacher
Comsewogue School District
Port Jefferson Station, NY

A group of teachers in New York have an audacious idea. They are raising money to make a Robo-call to every public school parent in the state. They are close to their goal. They need your help.

They write:

“We have, in a little over a week, come very near to achieving what seemed like the impossible. At the time of this writing, we are on the final push to our funding goal. We did a tremendous amount of work, sometimes going without sleep or meals, and hope that our action inspires others. We have raised enough funds to place robocalls to strategic areas throughout New York, and our ultimate goal is to call the entire state, so donations are urgently needed at this time. Our ripple in New York will add to the wave being felt throughout the nation. To donate and help us complete our mission, go to:

http://www.crowdrise.org/refusethetestsrobocall.

I will contribute, will you? If they got $10 from everyone who reads this, they would succeed and keep going.

The billionaires have the money. We have the ideas, the enthusiasm, and the energy of millions of educators and parents. And we are on the right side of history. Not high-stakes testing. Not privatization. Great public schools for all children.

Professor Celia Oyler has started her own blog, called “Outrage on the Page.”

She is a teacher educator at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has been a brave critic of “reform”

She has opened her blog to a anonymous guest blogger, who explains why so many are offended by Chancellor Merryl Tisch’s efforts to defend high-stakes testing.

John Merrow posted an important reflection on the broader issues raised by the Atlanta cheating scandal.

““Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” William Butler Yeats wrote in 1919 in ‘The Second Coming.’ Yeats was describing the world after the Great War, but it aptly describes American education today[1]: polarized, shouting at, but rarely listening to, each other. We disagree about dozens of issues: the Common Core; whether ‘opting out’ of the Common Core tests is appropriate (or even legal); the role of unions; the effectiveness of charter schools; the federal role; the amount of standardized testing; how to evaluate teachers; poverty’s impact on children’s learning, and more.

“Now, out of the blue, we have two[2] points of agreement: 1) Draconian punishment for the Atlanta cheaters is unjust, unseemly and counter-productive; and 2) students are the losers when adults cheat….”

“Everybody’s got a villain, whether it’s Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top; an obsession with ‘data-driven decision-making; education profiteers; greedy teacher unions; or a right wing vendetta against those same unions. [5]

“Can’t we agree on something else? I suggest two big ideas that everyone who is genuine about putting kid first can support. One, expose hypocrites and hypocrisies, wherever they may be. Two, school spending should be transparent, because we are talking about taxpayer dollars, and sunlight is the best disinfectant.

“Of course, the two are related, because hypocrisy often involves money and secrecy.

“To me, the biggest hypocrites are those who preach, “Poverty can never be offered as an excuse” (for poor student performance) but then do nothing to alleviate poverty and its attendant conditions. What they are saying, bottom line, is “It’s the teachers’ fault” when kids in poverty-ridden schools do poorly on tests or fail to graduate…..

“OK, poverty is not an excuse, but surely substandard housing, inadequate health care, poor nutrition, abuse and abandonment (all of which are more likely in high poverty areas) are factors in poor academic performance. So why are these hypocrites either standing by silently or actively opposing efforts to alleviate poverty and thereby improve the lives of students outside of school?….

“Even if these so-called “thought leaders” genuinely believe that poverty is not an excuse, shouldn’t they be outraged that most states are actively making things worse for poor kids [6]? At least 30 states are systematically shortchanging poor areas when they distribute education dollars, as the Hechinger Report made clear recently. “The richest 25 percent of school districts receive 15.6 percent more funds from state and local governments per student than the poorest 25 percent of school districts, the federal Department of Education pointed out last month. That’s a national funding gap of $1,500 per student,” Jill Barshay reports.”……

“We might want to start the investigation with charter schools, both the for-profit and the non-profit varieties [8] (because, when it comes to money, they’re almost indistinguishable). Rarely do they disclose how they spend their public tax dollars. And why should they, when their political enablers don’t demand it?

“I hope you are following Marian Wang’s reporting on this issue for Pro Publica. She documents how some charter operators are laughing all the way to the bank, taking your dollars to put in their accounts….

Merrow then describes an egregious case of charter profiteering, which he brought to the attention of Nina Rees, the Executive Director of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (who formerly worked for Dick Cheney and Michael Milken).

Merrow asked her in a letter:

“What I wonder is how many Charter Management Organizations [9] are playing fast and loose with the system. Here’s one case in point: We are looking into a CMO that is growing; its records indicate that its President owns the building his charter schools operate in, and so he bill the CMO for rent—a hefty sum. The CMO pays him a salary, a 16% management fee and an additional 7% or so for ‘professional development’ for the staff. In recent years he has added categories, notably ‘back office & support’ for nearly $300,000 and ‘miscellaneous equipment rent’ for $317,000. In FY 2008 he billed for $2.6M, but in FY 2012 the number climbed to $4.1M. His 5-year total is $15.8M….and he’s a CMO, not an EMO.

“We have a number of other examples, which prompts my questions: who’s minding the store, and whose responsibility is it?

“Is it the role of national organizations like yours to set standards for transparency? State politicians? I have no idea but would love to hear your thoughts.”

She said this was the authorizers’ responsibility.

Merrow summarized her response:

“She seems to be saying that her national organization bears no responsibility for policing the charter movement, for pushing states to write tighter rules, or for calling out the profiteers. That’s someone else’s job.”

And his last suggestion:

“Remedial education” is another money pit. Follow the money, you will discover that big bucks being spent on remedial education at every level, and, while some kids get ‘remediated,’ the situation never changes. The adults in charge may be wonderful, likeable human beings, but their jobs depend on a steady stream of failed students, meaning that they do not have a stake in fixing the system. I wrote about this three years ago when I announced that I was leaving PBS [10] to make my fortune in remedial education.

“Follow the money: How many millions of the $100 million Mark Zuckerberg donated to ‘fix’ Newark’s public schools have gone to consultants? How much money goes into the trough labeled ‘professional development’ and is never seen again? How much are school systems spending on highly paid central office staff ($100K+ per year) whose job it is to go watch teachers they don’t trust to do their jobs? How much of the increase in college costs is directly attributable to spending on administrators? Quite a lot, according to the New York Times.

“Schools would be improved if we’d agree to: Follow the money. Call out the hypocrites. Demand transparency. And stop blaming teachers.”

A wonderful column!

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