Category Archives: Teaching

Help me understand

I have restrained myself for a few days now. I have not engaged with folks on social media who are fellow educators. I have been silent – silently seething to be honest. I tried to see things from their perspective. I have tried to understand that perhaps what feels like “bashing” to me isn’t meant in that way. I have tried to reconcile what I know to be true about myself, my specific place in education, my experiences and what I also know to be true (well, as true as social media lets me know someone who I don’t truly know in the way that I know my colleagues and real life friends) about those that seem to be doing the bashing.Honestly, I’m having difficulty with that.

I don’t understand how someone who uses a program to test children in their job can flippantly “call me out” for mentioning the fact that my district has adopted Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study for Writing. I don’t understand how I can be somehow “less” of an educator because I make a comment that I don’t use the program “with fidelity”. I feel shamed into admitting that, gosh yeah, I use the resources my district purchased to craft lessons that are developmentally appropriate for my students. Somehow, just by USING these resources, I am evil and participating in everything that is wrong in education. Apparently, I should refuse to use these materials – but others get a “pass” because you know, they’re just doing their job.

How can I really be an activist if I continue to participate in the current state of education? How dare I “claim” to be part of a movement to shut down the testing madness if I go to school every day and don’t resist? Look, I get it – changes are going to come when we as teachers say “NO MORE!”, but like those that feel the need to bash others – I need my job. I am not independently wealthy. I must have a paycheck.

When we begin to be the snake eating its own tail and bash one another without understanding that “activism” comes in many forms – we undermine one another. I have so much respect for those that make these general comments, but I’m not sure they completely understand what it means to be the sole breadwinner with 3 kids in college and working in a school that could in only 2 short years not even exist any more.

I proudly work alongside teachers who “fight” every chance they get. There is no test prep going on in our elementary classes. There are teachers answering questions every day about refusing state tests. There are teachers who don’t even look at the District purchased materials and forge ahead doing what’s right for their students.

I can’t and won’t judge those folks that make comments that seem to bash my situation – I don’t live in their worlds, but I also know that they don’t live in mine. Making a comment is easy, living in my shoes may not be quite so easy, as  I imagine living in their shoes wouldn’t be easy for me.  My hope is that we can all acknowledge that none on us have it “easy” and that for the most part, we are all doing the best we can – given our individual circumstances.

 

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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”.

The Many Faces of NYSUT

I am really confused by NYSUT these days.

A letter was printed in the Albany Times Union by the TEACHER OF THE YEAR whose face graces the cover of NYSUT UNITED. You can read his letter using this link: http://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Academic-excellence-to-the-core-4463752.php

But, wait……..isn’t NYSUT planning a RALLY on June 8? Why yes, indeed, Dick tells us : “It’s time to raise all our voices in unison to support public education. Educators, parents, students and community members will have the opportunity to speak as one.” 

So, NYSUT which is it? Do we LOVE the CCSS? Do we want parents, educators and students to support public education WITH the CCSS? Do we agree with Randi that there should simply be a moratorium on the testing? Do we think the CCSS were just “rolled out wrong?

What about the memo famously sent from Dick Iannuzzi telling teachers that we should be wary of discussing “opt out” with parents?

What about the news that was tweeted out of a listening tour that suddenly NYSUT’S crack legal team is looking into the confidentiality agreement that teachers had to sign before scoring tests?

What about Dick standing proudly with Andy when NYSUT agreed to the hell that is NY’s APPR?

What is NYSUT going to do about the impending destruction of completed tests – tests that will be used in that APPR to determine growth scores for its members?

Which face of NYSUT will we see tomorrow, the next day, the next week? Sorry, but this is NOT the way to instill confidence in your members, Dick!

Mixed Messages?

Today, my inbox had two very interesting bits of information.

1. Commissioner King’s “News and Notes” showed up telling me:

 “As you know, the Common Core will not just arrive in the mail in a shiny, new box. (The truth is, the CCSS show up at schools in brown cardboard boxes emblazened with PEARSON!) The Common Core is a comprehensive set of research-based and internationally-benchmarked standards that demands critical shifts in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Since the Board of Regents adopted the Common Core in 2010, the State Education Department has provided extensive and unprecedented resources and supports, including an abundance of instructional materials on EngageNY.org.”

Well, how very lucky for me – these are INTERNATIONALLY BENCHMARKED STANDARDS – and here I was becoming worried that they were national! Additionally, I am so lucky that EngageNY.org exists – because you know, I have no clue with my years of experience about how to read the standards and develop lessons. 

2. Randi Weingarten also sent me a lovely email telling me:

“We are committed to the success of getting the transition to Common Core right. To do that, we must help teachers and students master this new approach and not waste time punishing people for not doing something they haven’t yet been equipped to do. Can you imagine doctors being expected to perform a new medical procedure without being trained or provided the necessary instruments?That’s what is happening right now with the Common Core.”

What the what??? This is a NATIONAL UNION LEADER telling me that we need to get the “transition” to CCSS right. Hey, wait a minute – who even said that the CCSS are RIGHT? Where were the educators in developing these standards? Where is the ‘evidence’ that these standards are in some way better than the NYS Standards? Where is the PROOF that once we transition to them, reform will be done?? 

NYSUT, for their part, is FINALLY coming to the party and hosting a rally on June 8. I hope beyond hope that parents, students, and teachers show up and DEMAND TO BE HEARD! I hope that they shout “NO MORE!”

NO MORE HIGH STAKES TESTING! NO MORE CHILD ABUSE IN THE FORM OF HOURS UPON HOURS OF TESTING! NO MORE JUDGING STUDENTS, TEACHERS, PRINCIPALS AND SCHOOLS ON SECRET TESTS! NO MORE DECISIONS BEING MADE BY THOSE WHO KNOW NOTHING ABOUT EDUCATION!

Step into my WAYBACK Machine

Okay, I’m dating myself here a bit, but I used to really, really LOVE my Saturday cartoons and one of my absolute favorite times was when Mr. Peabody and Sherman would step into the Wayback Machine! For a few minutes, I would be transported back to an “important” event in history and get to see what happened, or what the writers wished we could know! I learned a lot from those trips in the Wayback Machine. For example, did you know that Ponce De Leon actually found the Fountain of Youth and ending up founding a Nursery School for all the men who were so thirsty that they drank from it?
Of course, that seems silly, but in my mind as a child – it seemed plausible. It led me to want to know MORE about Ponce De Leon and this magical fountain. When the topic came up in my studies, it led to my ability to draw from past experiences and ask questions.

I would like to take you on a trip in MY PERSONAL Wayback Machine as a first grade teacher. Sadly, we aren’t going back to 1513, but only to 2011. That was the year that I had this year’s current third graders in class.

In 2011, if I had a concern about a student and felt that the student needed extra services, I contacted the parent. We met, we talked about the child’s progress. I then went to the Reading Teacher and arranged for some extra help for the student. There was no RTI process, which by the way EXCLUDES parents. There were no monthly meetings where we tried some sort of “research based” intervention while waiting to get help for the child. Within a week, with parental consent, the student was receiving help!

2011 was also the year in which I attended training about Project Based Learning. I decided that the perfect “project” for my students would be to produce and present Fairy Tale Plays. We spent many school hours reading Fairy Tales, talking about the elements of Fairy Tales, and then moved on to talking about what made a play “good” or enjoyable.

My students created scenery, memorized lines, made costume decisions as a group, rehearsed, learned to wear a lapel mic, learned about blocking on the stage, gathered props, and got ready to put on our show!

During the show, LIttle Red Riding Hood was so into character that when the wolf arrived at Grandma’s house, she wandered off the stage to pick imaginary flowers. Her parents were panicked- had she lost her nerve? Later she told them, “I was just doing what Little Red Riding Hood would have been doing.” That student still asks me “Remember when I walked off the stage, and my mom thought I got scared?”

I had the great opportunity to see my students work together! I got to see the delight and a few tears  in parents’ eyes when they watched their “shy” child stand in front of everyone to deliver lines.

I’m not saying that it was a perfect time, but it was a child-centered time. Now, my days are filled with Progress Monitoring, analyzing STAR Test data, meeting with my PLC to discuss implementing the CCSS, assessing sight words, giving timed tests to make sure they all know their addition and subtraction facts, and in general keeping my head above water.

We are so busy testing and monitoring progress that we aren’t letting KIDS be KIDS! I have to “fudge” my daily attendance reporting in order for my students to have FREE PLAY every day. I am expected to have them all reading at the exact same level at the exact same time – there is no time for Little Red Riding Hood to wander around picking flowers.

Would I Lie to You?

Apparently, If you are a Commissioner of Education, the answer is YES! Lies abound from the offices of NYSED.

The lies are scary – intended, one can only imagine, to stop the recent vocal resistance through REFUSALS of the State Exams slated to begin in mid-April. The good folks at WNYers For Public Education ( http://www.wnyforpubliced.com/index.html)  have done a great job of exposing the lies told to Superintendents, Principals, Teachers and Parents. (See FAQ)

They have also created a great “Tools” section which includes what_you_need_to_know_about_refusing_state_tests.

As a teacher, let me tell you one of the BIGGEST lies being told, being bought, and being argued as PROOF that we actually NEED and should LOVE High Stakes Testings. The lie is that:

“These tests and the results help teachers inform and improve their instruction for all children.” 

My beautiful, funny, intelligent, inquisitive, creative first graders have taken both the STAR Reading and the STAR Math tests twice this year, unless of course, they have been “identified” as needing intervention – those poor kids have taken the tests MANY, MANY times. After the test, each student’s score is available to me immediately, you know, so that I can inform and improve my instruction. For my convenience, there is even an “Instructional Planning Report” for each child! Well, hallelujah, because you know – without it I wouldn’t have a clue where each child has room to improve!

These are direct quotes, taken from multiple “planning reports” for both Reading and Math:

“Understand that nouns can also be verbs”  “Identify the topic of a text”  “Recognize playful uses of language such as riddles and tongue twisters”  “Identify how words or phrases in literary text appeal to the senses” “Apply the vocabulary of position or direction” ” Count back by ones between 20 and 100″ “Count objects to 20”

Guess what?? I already know those things about the students that these comments were generated for! I knew most of it within the first month of school, and I could have predicted for the makers of the STAR tests, which of my students would score in the “watch” “intervention” or “urgent intervention” bands of their lovely color-coded charts. Additionally, I have already planned my instruction based on my DAILY INTERACTION with my students!

For those who teach grades 3 and up, the idea that a test score helps them plan and inform instruction is even more laughable. Test scores are not returned until mid-summer – by then isn’t it just a little too late to plan instruction?

They’re Starting to Feel It!

This is another of the many Messages from the Commissioner that just makes my blood boil!
I have deleted much of the message, and left this part all about the new COMMON CORE TESTS.
One has to ask, Why this sudden “push” to tell everyone that these new tests are so amazing?  Could it be that the powers in Albany are starting to HEAR US when we talk about having our children REFUSE to take the tests? Could it be that they are sort of like the Wizard that was just a sad fraud when the curtain was pulled back and not the “Wonderful Wizard” at all?
Reading this passage, on the heels of NYSUT’s “Listening Tour” and our own WNY4PE “Opt Out Forum” this past weekend, I’m guessing that we are finally being heard and taken seriously in Albany! Notice how the “Commish” reminds us that we all expect student scores to fall, but that no one expects it to adversely affect teacher, principal or school ratings.
Notice how he tells us (teachers, principals and anyone who subscribes to his updates) that he understands our stress. Notice how he makes a point about the CCSS being part of “Local Control”.
These are all LIES! Since APPR is in effect, the declining scores will most certainly affect ratings! How can they not, when it’s someone in Albany determining VAM scores? Local Control? That’s a lie too – there is NO MORE LOCAL CONTROL with the adoption of the CCSS! In fact, NYSED is producing a state – wide curriculum of “Modules” that are scripted an paced, and by the way even include a list of the books you’re supposed to have your students reading. To everyone who says “What’s the problem with Standards?”, I say – THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH THE CCSS!! NYSED has, in fact, made them a curriculum – with no local input, no teacher input!!
Message from Commissioner King

So, what do Common Core assessments really mean? Here are five key points – emphasized in a recent field memo from Deputy Commissioner for P-12 Education Slentz – that should help address some frequently asked questions about the transition to the Common Core.

  1. In 2013, New York State, for the first time, will be reporting 3rd through 8th grade student grade-level expectations against a trajectory of college- and career-readiness as measured by tests fully reflective of the Common Core. As a result, the number of students who score at or above grade level expectations will likely decrease.
  2. As mentioned above, we expect the assessment scores will decline. But we also expect that decline will have little or no impact on principals’ and teachers’ State-provided growth scores. Based on New York’s approach to measuring growth relative to demographically similar students, similar proportions of educators will earn each rating category (Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, and Ineffective) in 2012-13 compared to 2011-12.
  3. The number of students meeting or exceeding Common Core grade-level expectations should not be interpreted as a decline in student learning or a decline in educator performance. The results from these new assessments will give educators, parents, policymakers, and the public a more realistic picture of where students are on their path to being well-prepared for the world that awaits them after they graduate from high school.
  4. No new districts will be identified as Focus Districts and no new schools will be identified as Priority Schools based on 2012-13 assessment results.
  5. Local policies and practices should balance the need for increased rigor against legitimate student expectations for access to educational programs, including local promotion and admission policies.

There’s much more information about the Common Core and the new assessments below and on EngageNY.org. Take a moment to check out what’s posted there. 

Again, I understand how stressful change can be, especially when you’re asking students to read more challenging texts, to better support their arguments with evidence drawn from text, to write from sources, to achieve deep conceptual understanding of the most important math concepts of each grade, and to apply their math skills to real-world problems. But we owe it to our students to move forward; opportunity awaits them and it’s our responsibility to make sure they’re equipped to seize that opportunity.

Thank you for your dedication and perseverance over these last three years and now as we continue to move forward to implement the Regents Reform Agenda. Our students, schools, communities, and state are all the better for the work you do every day.

 Dr. John B. King, Jr.

Interestingly, I also found out that today, this NYSUT Ad is running across the state. So, folks, now is the time to REALLY put the pressure on Albany. Go to http://www.nysut.org/testing and sign the petition. While you’re there……..take the opportunity to “Tell It Like It Is” – no worries if you don’t consider yourself an “educator”, you have the chance to let the “man behind the curtain” know that you’ve pulled the curtain back and see him for what he is – NO FRIEND OF PUBLIC EDUCATION!