NY Commissioner Elia: The Time for Charm is Over; Let’s Start the Empty Threats

Originally posted on Daniel Katz, Ph.D.:

When MaryEllen Elia took over as Commissioner of Education in New York, she began by traveling the state to speak with various constituents about the direction of education in the Empire State.  This was no doubt in response to former Commissioner Dr. John King Jr.’s decided inability to listen to and to engage with stakeholders in public education, and Commissioner Elia should be granted kudos for being willing to step outside of her office in the current climate.  According to Principal Carol Burris, who attended the meeting between Commissioner Elia and New York State Allies for Public Education, MaryEllen Elia was cordial and generous with her time.  However, as was obvious from her resume in Florida, it is plain that New York’s new Commissioner is a true believe in the Holy Trinity of education reform: Common Core standards, high stakes standardized testing, and punishing schools and teachers whose students…

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It’s not an April Fool’s Joke folks

It was a running joke in my house ……… my husband would say “When you’re 55, you will retire and we can get on with the next part of our lives.” My answer would always be “I’m not retiring, they will have to drag me out kicking and screaming or push me out on a gurney feet first.” I never intended to be the teacher who counted the days until I COULD retire. I pictured my teaching career lasting until I was either unable to physically get to school, or until I died with a marker in my hand. Of course, I know that’s not how it goes – everyone does retire at some point – but for me it wasn’t going to be at 55. I love teaching. I never dreamed of going back to school to be an administrator because I knew I would miss my “kids” too much.

What has happened in NY State now has me thinking that it’s not a joke, that my husband is right, and as soon as I can, I’m going to retire. I don’t want it to be this way. I don’t want to be 55 wondering how on earth I’m going to live on a pension that I may or may not have anyway.

So, now as I rapidly approach the magic 30 years/age 55 mark, I am scrambling. I am scrambling to figure out how on earth I will continue to make a living – but more importantly – how I will continue to make a difference.

Yesterday brought me all sorts of words of support from former students, from parents of former students, from family and from people I’ve only “met” on Facebook. It was heart-warming, it was kind, it was encouraging. The best comment I got was from a parent of a former student who had not refused tests before and is now planning to refuse the tests. I got career advice from a friend, and even my silly teenager posed the question: “Is this just a big April Fool’s joke?” No, son, sorry – it’s not a joke. Your mom and all your teachers have been sold down the river for a yacht. We’ve been placed directly in the cross-hairs of every politician who thinks they know how to evaluate a teacher just because, you know, they’ve gone to school.

Some of them publicly said they “held their noses” while voting yes. Is that supposed to make me feel any better? Is that supposed to change the fact that now 50% of my evaluation will be based on the growth of students who are unique individuals and not machines? Is that supposed to change the fact that an “independent” observer who knows NOTHING about me, my classroom, or my students can determine if I’m “effective”? Is that supposed to change the fact that I have to scramble to find 100 hours of Professional Development – most likely that only NYSED or the Board of Regents approve and demand payment? You see, I DID NOT hold my nose when I walked into the voting booth in November – I refused to choose the “lesser of two evils”. I stood for what I believed and voted in a way that reflected what I believe. And, I will do the same this November. I won’t hold my nose and apologize later that things didn’t quite go the way I wanted.

The NYS Budget – with its “Education Reform Package” – is no joke. If we as teachers weren’t stressed enough – we just got another stab in the back from the majority of our elected officials. And when teaching becomes a revolving door “job”, when there are no veteran teachers left, then what? Students will lose.

Test Refusals in Southwestern NY – What’s going on?

There is so much going on in New York State around test refusals……rallies are being held everywhere it seems – except perhaps in Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties.

Last year, schools in these two counties had enormous numbers of refusals in proportion to their relatively small sizes. One school had a full ONE THIRD of students in grades 3-8 refuse the tests! You would think that the ball would be rolling faster and faster this year, with these schools’ Superintendents, Teachers and Parents leading the way. But, sadly that isn’t happening.

Shortly after the tests were given last year and refusal numbers came in – the BOCES Superintendent for CATT-ALLEGANY put out an urgent call to all school administrators in the districts in her region……… “WHY?”  and “What are you going to do to reduce the number of refusals next year?”  I may sound flip – but this was indeed the theme of her message – STOP the REFUSALS in 2015!! In fact, she (as rumor has it) demanded that districts give her “Plans for Reducing Refusals”.

It would do well for this writer to point out that this BOCES Superintendent is an experienced lawyer. She has NEVER been an educator, and in fact for many years was employed by BOCES to represent Districts in Contract Negotiations. For all I know, she is a lovely woman – more than likely she in fact IS a lovely woman. A lovely woman, a strong woman, an intelligent woman – doing her JOB. She is probably the kind of woman I’d like my daughter to be some day – working her way to a position that is to respected after many years of hard work. I have no personal grievance or even personal knowledge of  her. From the outside looking in – she has “made it” through the glass ceiling in a sense – she is BOCES Superintendent for crying out loud! KUDOS!

What I see coming from our BOCES Center is a push to enlist parent help in eliminating the GEA, which is a noble cause. What I don’t see coming from our BOCES Center is even a breath about supporting a parent’s right (and in the dire straits we face currently) encouragement to REFUSE the FLAWED TESTING and EVALUATION PLAN. It saddens me, because I know in my heart of hearts if there is going to be a revolution, a FIX to the mess in NYS – it’s not coming from them.

Perhaps this “doing the job”. Perhaps local district Superintendents are afraid – but it was rightly pointed out that these local Superintendents have nothing more to lose than any other Superintendent in NY by speaking out, by supporting parents, by making the refusal of the test a KEY POINT in sending a message to Albany and King Andy. It hurts my heart. It makes me angry. It makes me wonder what the end game looks like for districts in this region. We are a region of many small districts, rapidly losing student population and cutting staff on a regular basis.

Look through the component school directory, and see if you can find one district administrator explaining how refusing the tests is the way to end the madness. I can’t and neither can the parents.

Not to simply say that it’s “all BOCES fault”……..check around the lists of districts signing on to petitions to support a parent’s right to refuse – you won’t find us there either. Our NYSUT office doesn’t like hold those rallies either. Our local districts don’t like to hold those rallies. We hold “informational” meetings – but we have been told that the meetings must be “balanced” – yes, even on our own time. With constant staff cuts, there are very few who are willing to be vocal, and the few that were vocal last year are worn out and spread out – we have no network. We will travel to Buffalo for a rally (maybe if the weather is good and we are sure we wont’ be found out), but travel to Albany – that becomes a 24 hour saga. Syracuse – a 12 hour saga, and Rochester – a 6 hour saga………..

Understand that many of us KNOW what needs to be done and we sit at our monitors and cheer you on! We wish we could be you. We wish our Superintendents could be the ones you have standing arm in arm supporting  and encouraging test refusal – be we are already living in fear, and most of us want to hang on to what we have – even if we know in our hearts that it could all be taken from us anyway.




Is it really a Mid-Winter “Break”?

As I sit in my warm home, looking at my thermometer that indicates it is -20 outside (without the wind), I can’t help but wonder how my students will fare at home this week.
This historic cold concerns me. My students here in a rural community have no warming shelters to visit. They don’t all have parents with reliable vehicles, even if they start, to take them even to a store or library in a neighboring town – that’s if they have the fuel to get them that far.If the vehicles don’t start, how will the parents get to their jobs? How much income will be lost – sinking them further into debt?
I wonder what they will do as I feel the bitter cold seeping into my fairly well insulated home – and I have the ability to turn up the thermostat and pay that bill. Perhaps they qualify for HEAP – if they have applied. Be sure that the not applying can be due to pride. They are a proud bunch who love their children dearly and want to shield them from the poverty that exists in their lives.
I wonder about the child who even last week in negative 20s wind chills was coming to school with only a hooded sweatshirt as a coat.Is that child wearing that same sweatshirt just to stay warm in the house?
I wonder if they have frozen pipes.Frozen pipes mean no running water, no indoor working plumbing. And, having someone come to thaw them is a cost that many of them may not be able to shoulder. The other alternative is to DIY – which can be dangerous.
I wonder if their families have food in the house to sustain them until we perhaps have temperatures above zero, and they can get to a store.
I worry that the classroom is the warmest place they have to go – but we are on our Mid-Winter break, and they can’t even get on a warm school bus and come to school.
I worry about the stories I’ve heard about the snow coming in through the windows in their homes when it’s 30 outside, and wonder if they are warm. Are they waking to a blanket of snow INSIDE the house?
And, while we are a close-knit community, there has been an ugly attitude circling on social media – that maybe mom or dad shouldn’t have that tattoo, or that the family shouldn’t have satellite TV, but should be more concerned about food and heat. This attitude sickens me and makes me wonder who will help when there are some looking down their noses thinking that if the adults would just make better decisions – then it wouldn’t be an issue. But, let’s face it – when all you can afford for shelter is that run-down trailer that none of them would even consider living in-children will suffer.
The school sends lovely messages about dressing your child warmly, but what if you have nothing more than that hooded sweatshirt to keep your child warm? When did “we” become so heartless that “we” would watch others suffer and blame it on the parents?

The NYSUT “Revival”

In light of the reports today that NYSUT is working to strong-arm the Working Families Party (they vehemently deny this is happening) and that NYSUT will remain silent at AFL-CIO endorsements for Andrew Cuomo, I feel it is necessary to revisit the “REVIVAL” that the leadership team elected in April promised us as NYSUT members. Interestingly, only a few days after the coup  election, the “Revive NYSUT” website and twitter accounts were either wiped clean or locked. In the days leading up the election, I printed several copies of the “Where We Stand” and “Action Plan” pages from the web site. I have held on to them for a couple of months – hoping that my gut feeling that this election would just bring new faces to same old problems was wrong.

Today, NYSUT tweeted 2 things that grabbed my attention. One was what can only be deemed a strongly worded reply to those saying that NYSUT was working behind the scenes to get the Working Families Party to endorse Cuomo. They tweeted: “NYSUT has NOT endorsed Cuomo nor pushed WFP to endorse him. All rumors to the contrary are false. There is no chance of it happening.”  The second was “NYSUT issues early endorsements for DiNapoli, Schneiderman” This was most interesting as the “REVIVAL” folks talked the talk about member engagement and transparency, yet on a Saturday afternoon the Board of Directors decided to issue early endorsements BEFORE the endorsement conference. Transparency? I suppose so, since they proudly tweeted it out, but member engagement? I hardly see how they can say that there was member engagement on these endorsements since there has NOT been an endorsement conference!

From their own campaign website: WHERE WE STAND

  • We will defend public education. Period. Ok, so there was the “Picket in the Pines” which NYSUT jumped on when some grassroots chatter was going on about attending and picketing the Gov’s “Philosophy Camp” in the Adirondacks. All one has to do is to follow the Long Island Opt Out folks on Facebook, and one would quickly see that grassroots demonstrations are happening all over LI defending public education – but NO NYSUT! WNYers4PublicEducation have held their fair share of events – NO NYSUT!  Perhaps all the defending goes on in the glass tower of Latham? Other than the Picket in the Pines-full of photo ops with Randi of AFT fame- I haven’t seen much defense of public education.
  • We bring experience.  Yes, they are experienced leaders. Yes, they are experienced educators but they also promised to “bring forward new ideas in these troubled times.” If a photo-op with Randi is a new idea – well, then I must have just fallen off the turnip truck because photo ops are NOT a new idea.
  • We do not support Common Core as it is. I was especially encouraged by the line “a curriculum that is developmentally appropriate”. However, visit the NYSUT web site and you will see they are still encouraging members to use and upload lessons to “Share My Lesson” – the AFT attempt to make it appear that teachers are just in LOVE with the CCSS and are having a grand old time writing lessons that are aligned with it. And, additionally, haven’t there been plenty of NYSUT members saying that the CCSS have to GO – not be fixed, not be more slowly implemented, not ‘tweaked’?
  • We do not support Iannuzzi’s APPR or the way it was created. Here’s their take: “When a Board of Directors vote was requested, Dick refused and kept local Presidents in the dark until the deal was done.” Uhm, sort of like the early endorsements??
  • We are not afraid of the Commissioner of Education and Regents. This is especially interesting, because when Meryl Tisch visited Buffalo, a BTF teacher asked for NYSUT to show up and protest. Buffalo Teachers’ Federation was asked to show up and protest. What did this dues paying member get?? CRICKETS! Not a one of them showed – not a NYSUT leader, not a NYSUT LRS, not a BTF leader.
  • We are for transparency.  You know what, they have this one right – I haven’t seen financials, but I do know that my dues keep going up. They also pledge to be “accountable to the membership.” I’m going to reserve judgement on this one for now.
  • The tax cap was a terrible mistake. “We will fight to get rid of the tax cap completely. Recognizing that this will not be an easy task or one achieved overnight, we will chip away at the cap by going after short – term exemptions.” I don’t think there was one exemption this year – but there were several districts that voted YES on school budgets that were over the cap.
  • OPT OUT “REVIVE supports a parent’s right to opt out of unnecessary state tests.” That’s great news, but I would love to see the crack legal team at NYSUT also supporting the right of members to have an opinion outside of the school day – so that the unnecessary harassment of teachers who also support a parent’s right to opt out STOPS!
  • Social justice to bring real change.  “We will continue to establish REAL coalitions, not only in name but instead in action.” Don’t see it happening, don’t hear about it being planned ……and heck, I still get the weekly leader briefing. Maybe if so much space wasn’t taken up promoting “Share My Lesson” I would see social justice there.
  • We support NYSUT Constituency Groups. Unless you’re in MORE, or in the North Country, or in Western NY, or in Southwestern NY …… hmm…. UFT UNITY much?
  • Ed Reform “NY’s education reform agenda, under the direction of the Board of Regents and Commissioner King is not working. Revive will use data to push back.” UHM – but isn’t part of this fight we’re in all about excessive data collection – data collection that goes beyond FERPA? Who exactly will collect this data? Honestly, I have no more time in day to collect data for the glass tower dwellers to use.
  • WHERE WE STAND ON GOVERNOR CUOMO:  I’m going to be honest – this one scared me the most and continues to scare the crap out of me. I will let the REVIVE TEAM speak for themselves and you, dear reader, can draw your own conclusions: “Have you ever been so mad at your principal or superintendent that you did not talk to them for a couple of days? We all have. But have you ever gone months without speaking? ” “The REVIVE team recognizes that there is no support for an endorsement of the Governor, nor do we think he has earned one. This is not entirely the Governor’s fault. When the President of NYSUT does not meet the Governor to educate him about member concerns for months at a time we should not be surprised at the result. We will engage the Governor to address your concerns….hopefully to win him over. We will be the voice he cannot ignore; be it every week, day or hour until he understands our issues and concerns.”  

I fear these are dark days for NYSUT members …..unless you travel to Latham and join the “revival”.

Let It Go for the test refusers

I was making my way around the internet and found this, which was billed as a “parody”. I guess in the simplest terms, it is a parody, but sadly as I watched it, I realized that it was a video encouraging students to do their very best on the upcoming tests.


While I don’t have the outright musical talent, nor the equipment to make my own video, I have rewritten the lyrics in honor of all the students who refused NYS exams.

If anyone reading this has the ability and/or the desire to use these to make a video, feel free! If you want to change the words, go for it! If you just want to sing along, I’ve included a karoke version of the song as well.

Let It Go

(to honor all the test refusers)

The test lays flat on my desk right now

Not a question to be seen

A tyranny of secrecy

And it looks like I’m the pawn


The thoughts are howling in my head; a swirling storm inside

Can’t think about it, even though I’ve tried


Don’t open it, Don’t make a mark

Be the rebel you’ve always wanted to be

Refuse, Opt out –  don’t let them win

So  now WE WIN!


Pencils down, Pencils down

Can’t hold it back anymore

Pencils down, Pencils down

Walk away and slam the door


I don’t care

What they’re going to say

Let the tests rage on

The tests never measured me anyway


It’s funny how some distance

Makes everything seem small

And the tests that once controlled me

Can’t get to me at all



It’s time to show what I can do

Create and play and then break through

No test, No test, No test for me

I’m free


Pencils down, Pencils down

Can’t hold it back anymore

Pencils down, Pencils down

Walk away and slam the door


I don’t care

What they’re going to say

Let the tests rage on


My power flurries through the air into the floor

My soul is spiraling in amazing thoughts all around

And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast

I’m never going to test

The past is in the past


Pencils down, Pencils down

And I’ll rise like the break of dawn

Pencils down, Pencils down

That useless test is gone


Here I stand

In the light of day

Let the test rage on

The test never measured me anyway








A Parent’s Fear

I had an interesting conversation tonight with a parent whom I was CERTAIN was planning to have her child refuse the tests this spring. This is what she said to me: “I just love my daughter’s teacher, and when I think that I could do something that might hurt her, I get worried.”  This is a common thread of conversation that I’ve been hearing lately among the once-certain, once-defiant parents who were completely committed to test refusals last summer.

I think I understand where their hearts are. I think I do “get it” when they say that their WORST FEAR is that something that they or they child could do would possibly have a negative effect on a teacher that is beloved, a teacher whom they recognize as one who cares deeply for their child and has done everything in her power to make sense of all the CCSS nonsense in NYS.

I also think that I understand in their heart of hearts, these parents aren’t afraid of rocking the boat, or afraid of standing up to NYSED. What they do fear, however, is that personal connection – how it would affect someone that they have come to trust and respect and admire.

Despite the many gains made in my little school district, this one fear still exists. It is driving decisions that are truly based in a concern for the well-being of an individual PERSON – one that they care about so very deeply.

So …….. to all of you out there that are living with this fear, I want to tell you:

1. You must do what is BEST for YOUR CHILD.

2. Your child’s teacher – that person that you have grown to respect and trust and admire – will not be ‘hurt’ by a test refusal. In fact, if enough of you refuse – a score cannot even be generated! And, truly, how unique is that – that your child’s teacher would not be defined by a number and neither will your child!

3. Teachers support you in your refusals, and you know what else? Even IF somehow your refusal “hurts” us – we know that you have our backs. That means more than anything that a test could ever tell us.