Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Hey, You Have Been Teaching 3 ½ Hours, Why Not Open Up Your Own School? 

By Dr. Michael Flanagan, member of the BAT Leadership Team


The Chancellor of New York City Public Schools, Carmen Farina, and Mayor Bill de Blasio have recently instituted a reform policy of merging small schools that are struggling with other schools in an effort to promote success. The small schools in question are usually located in buildings known as “educational campuses.” These campuses used to be large comprehensive high schools and middle schools, but since 2002 have been sub-divided. For example, Taft High School is now called the William H. Taft Educational Campus. Roosevelt High School is now the Theodore Roosevelt Educational Campus. Each campus houses five or six small schools. The goal of these new mergers is to give “failing” small schools a chance to “turn around” prior to being taken over by the state and handed over to "receiverships". Placing schools into receiverships is the result of Governor Cuomo’s new education law pushed through with our state budget in 2015. Schools labeled as failing had to show fast improvements or be placed into receivership, and most likely be taken over by charter school operators. Before falling into receivership, the schools were awarded turnaround funding ($154 million for 94 schools) and allowed to modify teachers’ working conditions to provide longer days, extra tutoring and other benefits to students. Even with the extra funding many schools were not able to demonstrate enough rapid improvement. So now the Mayor’s new position is that smaller schools lack support services and would benefit from combining together. Not as well-publicized is that many of these small schools will be merging with charter schools. Yes, that sound you heard was the other shoe dropping.

Now, I enjoy when policy makers mandate sweeping changes as much as the next guy; to heck with the impact on children and communities. However, the idea of creating larger schools as a means for improvement just plain cracks me up. I am sure all of the teachers who were excessed or forced into early retirement during the small schools initiative of our previous Mayor, Billionaire reformer Michael Bloomberg, are laughing as well. You see, their careers were destroyed because of this now obviously failed experiment. During Emperor Bloomberg’s 12-year reign (2001 – 2014), one of his earliest education reform tactics was to break up large public schools and create hundreds a “mini-schools”. The political rhetoric used at the time was that large schools were failing and that smaller schools would be more accommodating to a child’s needs. Vilification of teachers unions, blaming veteran teachers for the failures, and eliminating seniority protections were tactics used to justify the dismantling of the larger schools. Teachers who argued that the reason for poor academic performance was the high poverty rate in the communities were not only figuratively, but literally, dismissed. Students just needed to be fed their daily bowl of grit and rigor in a small school setting to succeed.

Bloomberg’s push to shut down large schools fit right into the education reform plans of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s New Visions grant program. New Visions provided $150 million dollars to fund the NYC small schools initiative. It is always fun when a couple of billionaires decide what is best for our children. Gates eventually invested $2 billion in this plan nationwide before abandoning it. The New Vision grants allowed for the purchase of upgraded technology, desks, materials and staff development. With all of that money on the table, the media and the politicians could not wait to swing the proverbial wrecking ball into our most underprivileged and vulnerable school districts.

Every wannabe principal with two or three years experience was writing proposals to secure some of that Gates grant money and open a new school. To obtain the money, these new schools had to have a theme and a cute name, like: New Explorers High School, The Urban Academy for Careers in Sports, The Knowledge and Power Academy International High School, The West Bronx Academy for the Future, etc, etc. If you could fill out an application and submit a proposal, most of the time you got yourself a school. These New Vision proposals did require you to partner with an outside organization. That organization would co-sponsor the new schools, and also share control of the grant money. Honestly, I am not sure if any of these proposals were ever turned down. The new schools also led to a large number of 26 year-old “instaprincipals” popping up out of nowhere. Few had even taught for more than two years.

Once the proposals for the new schools were accepted, the yard sale was on! Existing schools became wholesale markets where these new principals and outside sponsors could cherry-pick the incoming students to fill their rosters. They were not mandated to accept students with special needs in the same proportion as the existing schools. In order to close down the larger schools, the Department of Education would first conduct a dog and pony show to pretend they were investigating whether or not the school was failing and needed to be closed. We, the staff in the targeted school would fall all over ourselves to show our best work, the love and dedication we had for the school, and to discuss the frustrations and disappointment we had with a system that sets up students to fail. Endless cadres of suits would fill our classrooms and observe the hard work we were doing in the most difficult situations. Then they would submit reports that had already been written before they ever set foot in our building.

Next, they would begin to carve up the school like a turkey on Thanksgiving, taking the choicest pieces for themselves. You would be teaching your class and these DOE guys would walk in with blueprints and survey equipment to set up the school du jour. They would take the best classrooms and monopolize the common facilities like cafeterias and gyms. We in the closing schools were left with the closets and the old bathrooms to teach in. The new principals demanded separate entrances, and our students were told to not even walk through the halls where the new schools were located. Rules were put into place so that each school could treat their students as special, compared to the closeout school’s students. Meanwhile, the small schools had little discipline and their students basically had carte blanche to run the building. See, 26 year old principals might be chock full of energy and enthusiasm, but they don’t know a damn thing about earning the respect of students and maintaining discipline. That is a fact.

In order to disregard the UFT contract, the “blame the teacher” rhetoric was ratcheted up. The edict was that when the large schools were being phased out, 50% of the existing staff had to leave. This is where the anti-union narrative came into play. To destroy these schools they would have to grease some pockets and change a few rules. Inevitably, the teachers removed were the most experienced teachers who had the highest salaries. When Bloomberg assumed mayoral control of the schools, one strategy used was to give principals autonomy of their school budgets. Before mayoral control school budgets were de-centralized, if a school needed a new teacher, one was assigned by the Board of Education. Now, principals were looking for the cheapest human capital. The only problem was the pesky collective bargaining agreements that protected teachers’ rights. So, those contracted rights had to be violated. Experienced educators with many years of service were too expensive. They also knew their rights. Those teachers were either excessed, forced into something called the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, or retired. This end run around of seniority protections was then ratified into our UFT contract when teachers were thrown a bone of a raise after years of wage freezes.

ATR teachers became second-class citizens with fewer rights and protections than other teachers. Of course, in order to destroy the public schools, a corrupt bargain had to be made with union leadership to give away our hard fought rights, and so it was. Countless teachers were pushed out of their careers, only to be replaced by the six-week Teach For America warriors who took a crash course in teaching theory and came in to “save the schools.” Then fled in droves.

…Or became 26 year-old principals.

The experience of senior teachers was not respected. The propaganda taught to TFA recruits was that older teachers were the reason the schools were failing. The recruits arrived in these new schools with an unmatched level of arrogance and ignorance. I will admit that it was satisfying watching these TFA’ers get eaten alive when they tried to teach their classes without the benefit of discipline and experience. Except for the damage being done to the children in the classrooms, of course, it was actually kind of enjoyable watching them cry and quit in en masse.

Gates abandoned the small school movement to focus on Common Core and high stakes testing as his next attempt to privatize schools. But this was not before an entire generation of students was damaged, and the careers and reputations of countless teachers and staff were destroyed. Creating smaller schools with new names and fancy desks doesn’t solve the main problem, poverty. These smaller schools “failed” with the same frequency as the larger schools did. Except now our already-limited school budgets are being siphoned off by management companies, tech suppliers, and outside vendors. These vulture philanthropists take the money and run leaving the discarded carcasses of the community schools that had been the foundation of our neighborhoods. It was like the slaughter of the bison on the Great Plains in order to starve out the native peoples and steal their lands. They left our schools rotting and bloated on the streets of the city, while they counted their money and worked towards the new methods of public school genocide; charter schools, vouchers, Common Core, anti-tenure lawsuits, etc. etc.

So, yeah, when I see these brand new administrators come in to scout out locations for school mergers I am, what you might call, suspect. As teachers they were just crying in their classrooms like yesterday. By reformer logic they must be qualified to be an administrator. “Hey, you have been teaching 3 ½ hours, why not open up your own school”? What could go wrong? The more things change, the more things remain the same.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Great Reading Must Be Felt, Not Standardized

By:  Steven Singer, Director BATs Blogging and Research
Originally published on his blog here https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/21/great-reading-must-be-felt-not-standardized/
I made my classes cry today.
That sounds terrible, but if I’m honest, I knew it would happen and meant to do it.
I teach in an urban district and most of my 8th grade students are African American and/or impoverished. We’re reading Harper Lee’s classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” together, and the kids were loving it.
Until today when we got to the verdict in the Tom Robinson trial.
Jaquan closed his book with wide eyes.
“What the heck happened?” he asked.
Other students in the room murmured their agreement.
“They found him guilty!? What the F!?”
“I hate this book.”
“This is so freakin’ racist.”
I let them go on for a moment.
Frankly, it was the reaction I had been expecting.
It happens every year around this time.
Until this moment, my kids were really into the book. They were enjoying the case and excited by how well the defense attorney, Atticus Finch, had proven that Tom, a black man in the 1930s South, is innocent of raping a white woman.
But even last night I knew what was coming. The next day – today – I’d have to go and break their hearts when they read what the jury actually decides. Some of them were bound to be crushed. And today they were.
For those who haven’t cracked this book open in decades, let me recap.
There is no physical evidence that the crime actually took place. Moreover, because of a crippling injury as a child, Tom is physically incapable of perpetrating the crime in the first place.
In a world where black males could be tortured and killed just for whistling at a white woman – like Emmett Till – it’s clear that Tom is the victim, not the aggressor.
It seems like a slam dunk case. Yet the all-white jury finds Tom guilty, and ultimately he is shot 17 times in prison after losing all hope and trying to escape.
It’s no wonder that when we read that cascade of Guilty’s from the jury’s mouths today, my kids couldn’t believe it.
Some of my best students closed the book or threw it away from them.
So I let them express their frustrations. Some talked about how the story hit too close to home. They have family members in jail or who have been killed in the streets by police. One girl even told us that she’s never met her own mother. The woman has been locked away since the child was an infant, and because of a missing birth certificate, my student hasn’t even been allowed to visit.
“Mr. Singer, when was this book written?” one of the girls in the back asked.
“The late 1950s,” I said.
“I thought you were going to say it just came out.”
And so we talked about what the book has to do with things happening today. We talked about Eric Garner. We talked about Michael BrownTrayvon MartinSandra BlandTamir Rice and Freddie Gray.
At a certain point, conversation ceased.
My class of rowdy teenagers became quiet. We could hear people stomping in the hall, a movie being shown a few doors down.
There might have been a few tears.
I knew it would happen.
Last night I debated softening the blow, preparing them for what was about to take place. When we read “The Diary of Anne Frank” a month ago, I made sure they’d know from the very beginning that Anne dies. It should have been no surprise to them when Anne and her family are captured by the Nazis. It’s scary and upsetting but not entirely unexpected.
However, with “Mockingbird” I just let events unfold. And I stand by that decision.
It’s frustrating and painful, but my students need to feel that. It’s something I can’t shield them from.
It’s not that they have never felt this way before. Many of them have experienced racism and injustice in their everyday lives. But for this book to really have the desired impact, they need to FEEL what the author meant. And it needs to come from the book, itself.
A book isn’t just sheets of paper bound together with glue and cardboard. It’s a living entity that can bite. That’s the power of literature.
I can’t in good conscience shield them from that. They need to see it and experience it for themselves.
“I prefer to talk about the meaning in a story rather than the theme of a story. People talk about the theme of a story as if the theme were like the string that a sack of chicken feed is tied with. They think that if you can pick out the theme, the way you pick the right thread in the chicken-feed sack, you can rip the story open and feed the chickens. But this is not the way meaning works in fiction.
“When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning, and the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you experience that meaning more fully.”
This is what our policymakers either misunderstand or forget when they demand we assess understanding with standardized tests.
The meaning of a story is not expressable in discrete statements A, B, C, or D. We wouldn’t read them if it was.
Every person is unique. So is every reaction to literature.
You can’t identify the meaning of this story on a multiple choice test. You can’t express what it means to YOU. All you can do is anticipate the answer the test maker expects. And that’s not reading comprehension. It’s an exercise in sycophantry. It teaches good toadying skills – not good reading strategies.
Perhaps that’s why Common Core encourages us to shy away from complex texts like “Mockingbird.” We’re told to focus on short snippets of fiction and to increase our student’s diet of nonfiction. Moreover, we’re told to stay away from narratives like Anne Frank’s. Instead, we should have our children read from a greater variety of genres including instruction books, spreadsheets, recipes – just the facts – because as Common Core architect David Coleman famously said, “No one gives a shit what you think or feel.”
Frankly, we don’t do a whole lot of that in my class. We still read literature.
Today, even after the blowout, we kept reading “Mockingbird.”
My kids suffered along with Jem and Scout. They reveled in Atticus’s example. They feared where it was all going.
And when class was over, a few of them had come around.
“This is such a good book, Mr. Singer,” one girl told me on the way out.
“Is Atticus going to die?” another asked to which I smiled and shrugged.
Jaquan stayed after the bell to ask his own question.
“Do you think in a hundred years things will be any different?”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean do you think people will still do things like THIS?” he said holding up his book.
I looked at him and swallowed.
“I don’t know, Jaquan,” I said. “But things are better now than they were. We can hope.”
He nodded.
I clapped him on the back and wished him a good weekend.
You don’t get that kind of reaction from Common Core, and you can’t assess it on a standardized test.
They need teachers with the freedom to teach and assess as they see fit.
Otherwise, it is not just Tom Robinson that suffers a miscarriage of justice.
We all do.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

BATs - Stand up for our Undocumented Children

In schools and classrooms around the nation we teach amazing children who live in fear. They are our undocumented children and their families. Like the teachers in North Carolina we must join the fight to be the voices for the voiceless and demand that our undocumented children and their families be treated with respect and honor NOT like criminals. http://prospect.org/article/north-carolina-educators-fight-deportations-central-american-students-1
Many are brought here by extended family at a young age. Listen to award winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’ story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmz9cCF0KNE
Time to raise our teacher voices! Here is how you can support undocumented youth and their families - please read this carefully for information and tips on how you can support our children. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8TC8l2jpdQ3MzdncWdZQURJRTQ/view
Take to twitter this week - here are tweets for each day that we fight for our children and their families who remain afraid and voiceless https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RIoq32ChyCx6p2hcld8oKT2Su1ivkwg_aYltFqcD3WQ/edit?usp=sharing

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Another Brick From the Wall: When Education Reformers Fail
By Dr. Michael Flanagan, Co-Director BATs Action Team 

I will be honest; I really enjoy stories where corrupt and greedy education reformers just epically fail. Now granted for the past ten years or so reformers have been cashing in big time on the backs of school children and their teachers. Continually racking up public tax dollars in one way or another. Money for charter schools. Money for Teach For America. Money for Pearson etc. etc.

These reformers have been successfully embezzling public school funding, attacking teacher rights, and disregarding collective bargaining agreements all while generating huge profits for test companies and vulture capitalists. As this has been happening countless numbers of parents, teachers, activists and students have organized to push back against the billionaires and their political shills through grassroots efforts, often to no avail. Our protests are met by reformer stonewalling.

The seemingly insurmountable money and power behind these education reformers brings to mind Pink Floyd’s: The Wall. Teachers and parents have faced the brick wall of Common Core, vouchers, charter schools, anti union lawsuits and high stakes testing from the likes of the Fordham Institute, the Broad Foundation, The Walton’s, the Koch’s, David Welch, Bill Gates, the mainstream media, governors, the Department of Education and the President of the United States.

However, lately I am seeing more “Karma” like stories. There are more articles like; Pearson's stock is dropping, or Pearson’s New York State contract is canceled. Common Core has been voted out in several states and Teach For America is laying off employees. A school board in San Francisco actually voted TFA out. I have especially enjoyed watching charter schools like Success Academy and Gulen Charters facing criticism, while some Ohio charter operators have actually been indicted. I applaud how hundreds of thousands of parents opted out of state tests in New York (myself included) while Friedrichs v. California and Vergara v. California both fail spectacularly. Just this past week Sheri Lederman won her case against value added measures of teacher evaluation. Stories like these create hope that the tide may actually be turning, and we BATs are loving it.

I don’t know about you, but I think more people in the education activist movement should be able to celebrate and even take credit for some of these epic reformer fails. Because every time I read a Humpty Dumpty like story of a terrible Ed reform policy that bit the dust I think the same thing: Another brick from the wall! Each time one of these pirates is shown the door it is one more opening to bring back control of our public schools to the community, not the corporations. Schools for children, not for profit. The voice of the people not crooked politicians.

So it is at this point in our story that we at the Badass Teachers Association are asking those who read this blog, to share some of your favorite Ed Reformer Fails. Every brick that falls out of that corrupted wall is another chance to make public education the people’s again. BATs wants to hear from you! Please write and post or tweet your favorite “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” reformer story to the Badass Teachers Association Facebook Group, twitter @BadassTeachersA or in the comment section of this blog piece. Use the hashtag #‎AnotherBrickFromtheWALL

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The First Rule of Test Club is We Don’t Talk About Test Club

By Steven Singer, Director of BATs Research and Blogging
Originally published on his blog https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/18/the-first-rule-of-test-club-is-we-dont-talk-about-test-club/
How can you criticize standardized testing if you aren’t allowed to talk about the tests?
To show why these assessments are bad, you have to be able to mention specific questions on the exams.
But if you do that, you will be violating the test company’s copyright and thus be subject to legal action.
So there will be no discussion of your concerns, no defense of the questions in question. Instead you’ll be threatened to silence.
This is the Catch-22 for teachers, parents and children throughout the nation.
We know the federally mandated high stakes assessments public school children must take are poorly constructed, culturally and racially biased, and ultimately unfair. But if we speak up in public with any kind of specificity, we’re threatened with steep fines. And if we write about it on-line, those articles will be taken down, censored or otherwise disappeared.
This is what happened to Prof. Celia Oyler of Teachers College, Columbia University this week when she posted an anonymous classroom teacher’s critique of the 4th grade PARCC exam on her blog.
Since the article reproduced three live questions from the exam, Oyler received athreatening email from PARCC CEO Laura Slover.
Oyler acquiesced to the CEO’s demand that she remove the PARCC questions, but she did not – as Slover commanded – reveal the name of her source. Oyler is debating legal action of her own against the testing company.
Meanwhile, education bloggers across the country have engaged in civil disobedience by reprinting Oyler’s entire post along with the PARCC questions. Many of these articles have been taken down by Twitter, Facebook or other Internet enforcers.
It’s a sad day in America when free speech is treated so disdainfully.
These PARCC questions are considered private property, but in many important ways they are not. They were developed at public expense. They were funded by taxpayers for use in our public schools. As such, they should be subject to public review.
And we may review them – privately. Ostensibly anyone could ask their local school district officials to be allowed to come in to the principal’s office and look over the tests. In fact, this is one of the first steps parents go through to opt their children out of taking the exams. You can page through the tests with supervision so you don’t make any copies or remove any materials from the building.
I’m sorry. This is just not the same thing as putting these tests under public scrutiny.
I can look at them, myself, and make up my own mind. So can you. We can even meet and talk about this together in our own private homes. But the second I go to a public forum like a school board meeting and begin to discuss these assessments in any detail, I can be charged with breaking the testing company’s copyright.
And so can my child. In fact, multiple students have already been harassed on-line bytest corporation Pearson for allegedly talking about their exams.
This begs several questions: Can we legally hold minors accountable to such contracts without first providing them with legal representation of their own? Moreover, can they be forced to enter into these agreements without the presence of their parents or guardians?
However, there is an even more basic question with more far-reaching implications for the entire high stakes enterprise: How can experts explain what is wrong with the tests, if they can’t talk about anything on the tests?
Oyler mentions a question from the 4th Grade PARCC exam that is written at least two years above the grade level being assessed. Students are asked to read at a level beyond their years in order to find an answer. That’s patently unfair. But it’s one thing to make that claim – it’s quite another to point to the exact question and prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Unfortunately, this vital fact is being completely ignored. The testing companies have already silenced that debate. We’re not discussing the quality of the test anymore. We’re discussing free speech. It’s an important issue, but it isn’t the one we started with.
Standardized assessments are not top secret military documents. Reproducing a test question that tens of thousands of students have already seen is not analogous toEdward Snowden or Julian Assange.
Hundreds of test questions are already released by assessment corporations as examples to help with test preparation. Some of them even show up on the actual tests. Why not release them all? One couldn’t possibly go through every question and memorize the answers before taking the tests.
When the assessment industry gets to show us only a portion of the questions they use, they’re bound to display only the least objectionable ones in the bunch. We’re accepting an illusion of transparency and forking out more than $1 billion annuallyfor the privilege.
A product created with such a wealth of taxpayer dollars should be open to public review and debate. At very least, we should demand these questions are subject to independent review. That doesn’t mean the testing companies get to hire so-called experts with ties to their industry to sign off on the questions. It means real experts should have a say. We should hear from PhD’s in the field like Oyler. We should hear from classroom teachers. We should hear from parents and even students.
This is the only way we can ensure students are being assessed fairly. We shouldn’t just trust the huge corporations manufacturing this stuff. We have to know exactly what’s on the tests.
Without such public scrutiny and outcry, test corporations have no incentive to better their products. In fact, this is exactly how New York State residents got rid of perhaps the most infamous test question ever reported – The Pineapple Question.
You can read about the whole thing here, but the basic story goes as follows. Several years ago, students who finished their 8th grade reading test couldn’t get over how absurd this question was. They talked about it to anyone who would listen. Eventually, the question was reprinted on parent Leonie Haimson’s blog, Class Size Matters. It became a national head-scratcher. People all over the country called for the question’s removal.
Without public input, the Pineapple Question might still be on the tests. Students could still be trying to answer a question almost everyone thinks is ridiculous.
People often say they want more accountability in public education. Isn’t it time we started to hold the test manufacturers accountable for their products? Isn’t it time we restored free speech to public education?
We can’t improve our schools if we’re more concerned with a private company’s copyright than we are with the quality of the product they’re providing us.
We can’t have a functioning school system if whistle blowers are silenced.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Unwilling to Help Schools, PA Legislature Attacks Teachers

By:  Steven Singer, Director of BATs Research and Blogging
Originally posted on his blog https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/unwilling-to-help-schools-pa-legislature-attacks-teachers/
Screen shot 2016-05-13 at 10.48.35 PM
If you live in Pennsylvania, as I do, you must be shaking your head at the shenanigans of our state legislature.
Faced with a school funding crisis of their own making, lawmakers voted this week to make it easier to fire school teachers.
Monday the state Senate passed their version of an anti-seniority bill that was given the thumbs up by the House last summer.
As usual, lawmakers (or more accurately their surrogates at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) who actually wrote the bill) spent more time on branding the legislation than appealing to logic, sense or reason. The bill called HB 805 was given the euphemistic title “The Protecting Excellent Teachers Act.”
Yes, this is exactly how you protect excellent teachers – by making it easier to fire them.
Currently, if teachers are furloughed, those with least seniority go first. Under this new law, teachers would be let go based on their academic rating. Teachers can have one of four ratings: Distinguished, Proficient, Needs Improvement and Failing. Under the new legislation, teachers rated Failing would be furloughed first, followed by those under Needs Improvement, etc. Within those categories decisions would be made based on seniority.
It sounds great – if you know absolutely nothing about Pennsylvania public schools.
First off, in 2015 our rating system found 98.2% of state teachers to be in the highesttwo rating categories. So at best this bill is next to meaningless.
Second, like virtually all value added rating systems across the country, our rating system is pure bull crap. It’s a complicated measure of meaningless statistics, student test scores and mumbo jumbo that can be twisted one way or another depending on the whims of administrators, dumb luck and the phases of the moon.
A New York Supreme Court judge just ruled this week that the Empire state’s similar teacher rating system is “arbitrary” and “capricious.” But in Pennsylvania our legislators want to make it the axe that slices away teachers from the profession.
Third, the bill isn’t really about seniority at all. It’s about making it easier to fire teachers no matter how good they are at their jobs. Currently, state school districts are not allowed to furlough teachers based on lack of funds. This new legislation aims to remove that impediment.
It makes sense in a way. Pennsylvania lawmakers refuse to properly fund public schools so they have to make it easier to downsize. You’re welcome, taxpayers!
If this bill becomes law, school directors could fire whomever administrators want for whatever reason.
Admin: Mr. Smith, you’re fired.
Smith: Why?
Admin: Um. Financial reasons.
Smith: But I’m rated as Distinguished.
Admin: Not after we adjust the formula, mess with your class rosters and all around juke the stats to show you’re Failing.
Seniority is not perfect, but it avoids all these high jinks. It leaves no questions,nothing that can be easily altered. Either you have seniority or not. And if administrators have been doing their jobs by making sure good teachers stay and bad teachers are trained or let go, seniority correlates with good teaching. If you’ve been in the classroom for a long while, you’re probably a pretty descent teacher. Like anything else, practice makes perfect.
The public has to realize something about teaching at a public school. It is a deeply political job. You are subject to the whims of school directors, administrators, parents or anyone in the community with an axe to grind. You simply can’t do the job without some protections. How else can you fairly grade the school director’s child? How else can you exercise academic freedom to do what you think best if every decision is subject to committee?
This doesn’t mean teachers can’t be fired. They are fired every day. But administrators have to be able to make a valid case. They have to gather evidence to prove you deserve to be fired first.
It is highly ironic that Pennsylvania lawmakers are pursuing this legislation when they have done everything in their power to protect their own jobs first.
You want to talk seniority? Look to the legislature.
Incumbents are almost always re-elected. Why? Not because they do such a great job. They’ve made sure to gerrymander the state. Republicans reside in overwhelmingly Republican districts, Democrats in overwhelmingly Democratic ones.
This is no accident. A few years back, legislators redrew district borders to make sure they’d keep their jobs no matter how crappy they were at governance. It is deeply unfair and undemocratic. The majority of voters do not get a say. Instead, we cater to special interests and protect terrible legislators so they can pass crap like this bill without fear of repercussions during election season.
Do you think lawmakers would have refused to pass a state budget this year until 9 months after the deadline if they thought voters could actually hold them accountable? No way!
Do you think they’d withhold fair funding to the majority of public schools in the state if they thought the majority of voters had a say whether these knuckleheads stayed in power? Absolutely not!
And worst of all, even with Gov. Wolf’s promised veto, the crisis is far from over. When next year’s budget comes up for a vote in June and the Governor again asks for equitable funding for schools, legislators are bound to use HB 805 as a bargaining chip.
“You want some money for our kids’ schools? Then you’d better make it easier to fire teachers,” they’ll say.
Protect excellent teachers? Ha! They’re protecting terrible legislators.
We’ll never have good governance in this state again unless we find a way to redraw our gerrymandered districts. We need a voter referendum, a nonpartisan committee or – here’s a long shot – we need for extremist residents of these gerrymandered districts to revolt against the politicians hiding behind them.
Until then, we will be forever cursed with terrible lawmakers, execrable laws, under-resourced schools and a crumbling state.
An Important Election for New Jersey
By:  Anonymous NJ BAT

On June 7, 2016, polls will be open from 6:00am - 8:00pm for Primary elections in New Jersey. There is a great deal at stake during these upcoming elections. The candidates that make it onto the ballot for November can shape the future of education in our state and country. It is important that voters are informed when they go to the polls on June 7th, and even more important that you take the time to VOTE. 

Pennsauken is located in District 1 within New Jersey. In an effort to become informed about those that will be on the ballot on June 7th, I reached out to the Democratic Congressional candidates to get more information. My experience was eye opening. 

I used one of my favorite social media outlets (Facebook) to reach out to both candidates: incumbent Donald Norcross and his opponent Alex Law. I asked each if they would like to tell me and the members of PEA a bit about themselves. Was there anything that they would like us to know when going to the polls in June? Both replied to the private messages I sent, rather quickly. My response from Mr. Norcross was as follows: “Hello. Kindly check out this link. It’s from the National Education Association’s Legislative Report Card for the 114th Congress, in which they provided me a score of ‘A.’ http://nea.org/home/65595.htm” 

I must admit, that this was not the kind of response I was looking for. I can google and search for information on NEA’s website myself. As a constituent, I want more. 

Alex Law replied with an offer to meet in person, or talk on the phone. As I am quite busy during the week, he agreed to meet me at his office on a Sunday morning so that we could talk. I was floored. When meeting with Alex Law I was able to ask him whatever I wanted and he responded candidly. He spoke to issues that were very personal for me as an educator and spoke of his father who is a teacher as well. He also provided me with his official stance on Education Reform (This can be found on PEA’s website for reference). Our conversation became most interesting when speaking of charter schools. Alex spoke passionately about keeping funding in public schools. He is in favor of stopping the funneling of public money to charter schools, who he said, “Send all of the low achieving students back to public schools to keep their graduation rates and scores high” As we are facing the possibility of a charter school opening in Pennsauken, this is an important issue that has been on my mind. 

On the issue of merit pay, Alex stated that it could never work, because no two classrooms are the same and then went on to share a quick personal example, of his favorite teacher from high school and how this teacher taught a range of classes, sometimes higher level and sometimes struggling students. It would be unfair to assess him and pay him differently because he chose or was assigned to work with struggling students. In his position statement, Alex writes: 

“It’s been particularly frustrating to see conservatives increasingly treating teachers like a salesmen in a business, attempting to tie their pay to the performance of their students - a totally unfair and unrealistic strategy - while ignoring the failure of the American education system at large and refusing to look at systematic changes to the way we educate.” (Law, 2016) 

Our conversation went on for a little over a half hour, and with each topic, I continued to be impressed. When I returned home, I sat to read his entire position statement on Education Reform. As we are currently in the middle of PARCC testing, his position on high-stakes testing interested me greatly . Alex recognizes that poorly designed tests that take away from large chunks of authentic teaching and learning are a huge issue. He spoke of other countries who are continuing to advance in the area of education, while we fall further behind. The major difference between us and them - testing. 

While talking about his position statements, Alex shared with me that he didn’t write these on his own. He shared that although he had ideas about specific aspects of education, he needed to know more and called together a group of teachers to discuss the issues before solidifying his position. Wow - a candidate that is willing to sit and LISTEN to teachers. 

My experience with responses from these two candidates spoke volumes to me, as a voter and as an educator. Someone who points me to a website for an organization (of which I am already a member) to read a web article, shows that they don’t want to take the time to put thought into our interaction. On the other hand, someone who was willing to accommodate my busy schedule to meet on a Sunday morning and talk candidly, cares about what myself and my colleagues have to say, shows me that they value my time and my vote.