Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why I Don’t Want an Apology from Time Magazine
By:  Patte Carver-Hevia

This week Time Magazine (November 3 issue) is running a piece about how difficult people think it is to fire bad teachers and how deep pockets may have found a way to change that.
I have read the teacher outrage. “Cancel my subscription!” “Boycott Time!” “Time owes teachers an apology!”
No offense to my colleagues, but I don’t want an apology.
When my husband (a Cuban political dissident and then rafter) and I first started going out, his English was rudimentary and my Spanish was just a bit better. One Sunday afternoon we went to an electronics show at the county fairgrounds. You know the kind. Everything for sale at an inexpensive price. Nothing worth spending money on.
At the entrance, we spotted the “Win a Vacation” (in this case, a cruise to the Bahamas) papers to fill out. My husband wanted to fill one out. I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was a scam. He filled out the paper, used my address and phone number because he didn't have a phone, and dropped the paper in the box.
On Monday we were watching Wheel of Fortune at my apartment when the phone rang. A young man wanted to speak to my husband. He claimed that my husband won a vacation. He (my husband) would have to pay a boarding fee and purchase airline tickets and what credit card did he want to use to pay for everything.
I explained the language issue and that I would have to translate. As I translated the young man asked if my husband was interested in the vacation. I had to answer that I didn't know yet because I was still translating. Sometimes translating can take time. For example, for a long time I couldn't pronounce “refrigerator” in Spanish, but I could say, “That thing in the kitchen that keeps food cold.”
As I was translating, I heard the line click. I wasn't sure if the young man had put me on hold or if he had hung up. I continued to translate as I held the phone against my ear. I heard another click, and I could tell the young man was back on the line because I could hear others speaking in the background. He said nothing. Then I heard another click. Silence.
I hung up. About thirty seconds later, as I was explaining what had just happened to my husband, the phone rang again. This was before the days of caller ID for me, so I answered the phone.
And I heard:
“You f*cking spic. Why didn't you just say you don’t want the god d*mned vacation? Get the h*ll off my line.”
Normally I wouldn't give something like that a second thought. This was different though.
I spent six hours the next day climbing the phone tree. I started with the county fairgrounds staff. To another number and another and another and another.
Each time I repeated the story and what the young man had said. And anyone who knows me knows that I do not use vulgar language. I was careful to explain that I was simply repeating what was said to me.
Each time I heard a gasp on the other end of the line.
Each time I heard, “I’m so sorry!”
Each time I answered, “Thank you. I appreciate that. What I want though is to speak to that young man’s boss.”
Finally, I was on a speaker phone with the boss.
I told my story one last time.
And one more time I heard, “I’m so sorry.”
I said, “Thank you. I appreciate that. I don’t want an apology though. I want that young man’s job. He had access to my address and telephone number and he said that. I don’t think he’s someone you want representing your company to the public.”
He said, “You have it.”
I have no way of knowing if that young man truly lost his job or not. I had my say. I moved on.
So how does this tie to the Time article? Do I want to talk to the editor of Haley Sweetland Edwards and demand her job? Do I want an apology from her or her editor or from Time?
Not really.
What do I want?
I want a voice.
I want a seat at the educational policy table.
I want someone like Haley Sweetland Edwards to write the WHOLE story. She had access to so much more information and decided to write that. She’s talking to deep pockets about education, as if money makes the expert, but she isn't talking to teachers. Unfortunately, she’s not the only one.
I want Time to get it right.
I want judges like Treu (in the Vergara case in California case) to know what they are talking about before they make rulings.
I want people to understand that the likes of Gates and Welch are businessmen, not teachers. No matter what they say and no matter how philanthropic some of their efforts may be, their goal is to make a profit, not to benefit students. If they were truly interested in helping students, they wouldn't go about it by going after teachers.
I want action.
No, I do not want an apology. Like a PPO, an apology from Time would just be words on a paper. Meaningless. The toothpaste isn't going back in the tube, and I have a feeling Time would just make a bigger mess trying to shove it back in.
I’m willing to educate you, Haley, Time, Welch, Gates, Treu, and so many more.
The question is are you willing to put in the time, effort, and mental energy to LEARN?

Rotten Apples or Low-Hanging Fruit?
By: Wilma de Soto

The controversial TIME Magazine cover story has teachers from around the country up in arms and rightly so.

It’s an apparent corporate education reform piece from stem to stern, written without any balanced input from a single teacher with the intent to defame and malign teachers who have dedicated their professional lives to helping children of all persuasions make better lives for themselves.

Or is it?

While checking out the cover photo that has been passed around social media this week, I took note of something.  The headline proclaims “ROTTEN APPLES”, but the cover photo does not. Instead the reader sees a beautiful red apple, ripened to the point of perfection. A gavel is poised over it ready to deliver the destructive, smashing blow.

In my opinion, this photograph is a perfect and powerful visual metaphor for what Corporate Education reformers have done to the careers of many great teachers around this country; labeling teachers as rotten fruit while they are in the prime of their teaching careers.  Perfect specimens of educational acumen relegated to the garbage heap of history by a few corporate entities whose minions have never taught a single class in public school; they have been demoralized, defamed, denigrated and ultimately destroyed.

So has TIME Magazine goofed on this piece?  Did they inadvertently reveal the corporate education agenda while purporting to support it?  In this case I do not believe, “Only ‘TIME’ will tell.”

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Check Your Wallet! You Too Can Be An Expert on Teacher Tenure!

By:  Steven Singer

This can also be read on his blog

It is IMPOSSIBLE to fire a bad teacher.
Unless of course you document how that teacher is bad.
You know? Due process. Rights. All that liberal bullshit.
Thank goodness we have tech millionaires to stand up for the rights of totalitarians everywhere!
A slew of Microsoft wannabes is taking up the mantle of the bored rich to once again attack teacher tenure.
They claim it’s almost impossible to fire bad teachers because of worker’s rights.
You know who actually is impossible to fire!? Self-appointed policy experts!
No one hired them to govern our public schools. In fact, they have zero background in education. But they have oodles of cash and insufferable ennui. Somehow that makes them experts!
I wonder why no one wants to hear my pet theories on how we should organize computer systems and pay programmers. Somehow the change in my pocket doesn’t qualify me to make policy at IBM, Apple or Microsoft. Strange!
But that doesn’t stop millionaires and billionaires with nothing better to do than try to increase their already skyrocketing profits.
It’s disgusting. They’re nothing but wealth addicts looking for a new score by stealing whatever crumbs have fallen to the floor that the rest of us need just to survive.
Time Magazine, which decided to put this non-story on the cover for Nov. 3, should be ashamed. But something tells me the editors could care less about things like facts, truth, integrity…
These are the same folks, after all, who propelled Michelle Rhee to fame on theirinfamous cover with the then-DC-schools chief holding a broom to sweep out all the bad teachers. Oh! That worked out so well! Cheating scandals, anyone!?
But instead of any apology or retraction for their faulty journalism, one can imagine the following conversation at Time’s last editorial meeting:
Editor 1: I’ve got a great idea for the cover! How about a bunch of know-nothing idle rich talking out of their asses!?
Editor 2: Brilliant!
I know I’m just a teacher and I don’t have millions in the bank, a bulging wallet or even a platinum credit card – but let me try to draw on my poor more-than-a-decade of experience in the classroom to explain.
1) Tenure does not mean a job for life. It just means you have to follow due process before firing a teacher. Many other jobs have similar due process rights for their workers that they don’t call tenure. Unfortunately that leads to the belief that teacher tenure is special or unique. It isn’t.
2) Teachers are Evaluated Based on Student Test Scores. This is ridiculously inaccurate and unfair. Standardized tests do NOT effectively measure student learning. They measure family income. So teachers who have richer students have generally more favorable evaluations than those who teach the poorest and most difficult children. Value-Added Measures, as these are often called, have been labeledjunk science by national statistical organizations. They violate a basic principle of the field that you cannot use a test designed to evaluate one factor as a way to evaluate an entirely different factor. Removing due process would make the teachers who serve the most at-risk students, themselves, unfairly at risk of losing their jobs.

3) Firing the “least effective” teachers doesn’t improve education.
 I know this goes against common sense, but facts are facts. If you fire someone, you have to find a replacement. Ideally, you want a replacement who will do a better job than the person being removed. However, this is incredibly difficult and expensive. Half of teachers who enter the field leave in 5 years. It’s a tough job that many people just can’t handle. Moreover, it takes a long time to get good at it. A much more cost-effective approach is providing high-quality professional development. You can’t fire yourself to the top. Yes, if a teacher has no interest and doesn’t improve after multiple attempts to help, then it may be best for that person to seek employment elsewhere. But it’s not step 1!
4) Tenure Protects the Most Experienced Teachers. Without it, veteran teachers could not compete with new hires who enter the field at a lower salary. In the long run, it costs less to keep and train veteran teachers than hire new ones. But administrators and school directors often only see short-term gain. Without due process, veterans would be in danger of unfair firing to increase the short-term bottom line. This would reduce the quality of education kids receive because they’d be denied a wealth of experience and talent. Moreover, who would enter a field that only values new hires? There’s no future in such a job and it would just be a repository for a series of temps with no other choice than to teach for a few years before moving on. Teach for America, anyone?
5) Tenure Allows Teachers to Innovate. With due process, teachers can more easily make decisions based on what’s best for their students and not what’s politically acceptable. They don’t have to give the school board director’s son an A just because of his patronage. Kids actually have to earn their grades. And if a student doesn’t like a teacher, he can’t destroy the adult’s career by making a baseless accusation.
But to know any of this, one would have to possess some actual information about the field. That takes experience, not big money.
For some reason, the same people who are investing heavily in privatization just can’t see it. The people who champion for-profit charter schools, toxic testing and Common Core can’t wrap their heads around the concept. All they see are dollar signs of public money meant to pay for the public good being diverted into their private bank accounts.
Human suffering? Educational outcomes? Struggling students?
Who gives a shit?
Teachers do. That’s why they’re trying so hard to get rid of us.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Smarter Than Most Think: Students Catch on to PARCC's Epic Fail.

I had several students come up for lunch to work on various projects and homework completion today. Usually I just sit there at my desk, eat my lunch and talk back and forth casually with whichever kids are there that day, but today I simply listened to the conversation the kids were having amongst themselves, and lo-and-behold, didn't testing come up. The kids (none of them ones I would ever have thought would have such directed insight at their age) in my room started talking about PARCC; they talked about how they hated the pre-test they took in 6th grade and how much anxiety they felt just taking THAT and how nobody wanted to take the test this year in their peer group. The discussion veered over to how they HATED the new Pearson-CC-based math workbooks they have. They talked about how boring their classes in language arts and math have become over the last two years, how nothing is making any sense and how they know that the teachers aren't happy at all just by the unspoken vibe in the classroom. I sat there listening, soaking up what they were saying, but I kept my mouth shut and said nothing, despite almost bursting at the seams with pride. These kids KNOW how awful what is being foisted on them is and they know there are dastardly games afoot!
Then they turned and asked ME questions about PARCC. "Will we have one in social studies? Will we be getting those stupid workbooks for your class? We don't want history to be boring, too. We actually learn cool stuff in here. Do you like the PARCC tests?" And what seemed a million other questions all at once. I had to tell them "sorry guys" and that I wasn't allowed to talk about it with them and not to worry. And do you know what these smart seventh grade kids said? I quote: "We know. We know that none of you guys like it and you can't talk about it and that the tests are there just to get you in trouble and that if we do bad you lose your job and that totally sucks and isn't far! It's OK, Mr. X. We don't like it either." All that, and I hadn't given an opinion or spoken a word in defense or against. You probably could have landed a squadron of B-52 bombers in my open mouth at that very moment, so shocked was I...
Just when you think you can't be shocked by what comes out of the mouths of kids, you are completely proven wrong...THEY KNOW. I don't know whether they heard it from some other disgruntled teacher last year or if they came to the conclusion on their own. I suppose it doesn't matter either way. THEY KNOW. And the best part? When they told each other about how much their PARENTS hate it and what their moms and dads talk about when those workbooks go home for homework? Heated hatred for what is going on from the homefront. (I got to be a silent fly on the wall for that and was blown away at their observations!). I'm not going to lie or feel sorry for saying it; that discussion was music to my ears! It gave me hope that a spark is slowly smoldering in the darkness and that parents and kids will begin the fiery rebellion that we are bound and gagged from starting ourselves out of fear for our careers. Made the rest of my day in the gulag of public education that my profession seems to be becoming just a little less sour and I finished the day with a little kick in my step!

By:  Dr. Mark Naison
The reason I became an education activist was because the Community History projects I was doing in Bronx Schools were pushed out by excessive testing and the NYC DOE's decision to begin rating and closing schools on the basis of student test scores. Those projects created immense enthusiasm among teachers, students, school staff and families. Their replacement by drilling for tests based on state mandated curricula was a terrible loss for all concerned.

It is also significant that almost no charter schools emphasize ethnic studies and community history because they promote a critical vantage point on the economic and political elites who are the main funders and supporters of those schools. It would be most unfortunate if BATS did not give its most enthusiastic support to ethnic studies, in Los Angeles and around the nation.

 Charter maven Marshall Tuck also opposes Ethnic Studies, Shouldn't that tell us something?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

By:  Jacky Boyd  

Used with permission from the author as it was written for this blog

As the school year begins, the first round of standardized tests follows close behind.  In education today, high stakes standardized testing is a predominate way to hold schools, administrators, teachers, and students accountable.  This post gives a run down of what is lost when we focus so much time, money, and energy on one type of assessment.
To be fair, standardized testing does have some positives:
  • Pretesting.  A short assessment quickly assesses if students already know material.
  • Memorized facts.  What’s 7×8? Where’s the cell nucleus in this diagram? Standardized tests show memorization of facts.
  • Comparing scores.  Comparing scores has its place, but a student’s place within a class, school, state, or nation is less important than what student, parents, and teachers know about the student.
  • Cheap, compared to paying humans to double score complex assessments.
  • Less scoring error and bias.
  • Some students excel at this type of assessment.

Teachers can choose other assessments to evaluate progress, including: Essays; informal writing; presentations; portfolios; observations; discussions; practice problems; experiments; self assessments; reflections; and creating artwork, music, or machines.  Effective educators assess varying formality and format.
A sampling of the aforementioned assessments can foster the qualities listed below, all of which extensive standardized testing inhibits:
  • Collaboration.  On a standardized test, that’s cheating, but work in classrooms and work places is often collaborative.
  • Revision.  Standardized testing gives few opportunities to learn from mistakes.  It dismisses the tremendous merit in redoing work until it’s the best possible.
  • Curiosity.  Excepting for the Hermione Grangers out there, tests squash curiosity.  Furthermore, the prescribed scope and sequence disallows teachers to follow student curiosity.
  • Deep understanding.  Standardized tests cover set material.  Out of fairness to students, teachers must teach all that material before the test date, often resulting in breadth over depth.
  • Authentic learning situations.  Instead of writing, talking, or creating to learn, students repeat the same tasks to display what they have learned. Tests aren’t authentic learning situations, and thus do not mirror how students will utilize their learning to solve real problems.
  • Multiple perspectives.  Extensive testing teaches students to look for the one right answer, rather than explore possibilities.
  • Unmeasurable learning.  A standardized test will never measure if a teacher has challenged a student the most deeply.

Other problems with standardized testing:
  • A perfect test will never exist.  Test writers take years to write a standardized test, but even still, it will never fully be rid of all biases because it cannot adapt.
  • Snap shot of one day.  Maybe a student is distracted by a family situation, a runny nose, or the fidgety kid next to him.  Maybe a student masters the material a week, or day, or hour later.  That’s irrelevant to a standardized test.  The score is final.   While a teacher gives students multiple opportunities to show mastery, a standardized test is limited to the few minutes the child works on that particular question.
  • Special education concerns.  Standardizing assessment directly conflicts with special education students’ legal rights to tailor education to their needs.
  • Loss of differentiation and teacher autonomy.  To achieve high scores, some states and districts micromanage content through scripted lessons or Common Core aligned textbooks.
  • Funding and teacher evaluations.  How well students preform on one type of assessment shouldn’t affect a school’s funding or a teacher’s pay or job security.  Such connections only increase the anxiety and stress, and lead educators to make poor choices out of panic.  
  • Emotional cost.  High stakes testing causes anxiety and stress for students.  It is physically exhausting.  Then, add the negative emotions associated with poor performance.  While teens can own responsibility for failure, Kindergarteners should not.
  • Data mining.  I haven’t seen conclusive evidence data mining will occur with Common Core testing, but the possibility is scary.
  • Cost.  These tests need to be purchased by schools and are not cheap.  That money could be used locally for salaries, building improvements, or learning materials and programs.
  • Power.  A handful of companies make the tests, and these companies also make the textbooks.  Who are we letting choose the curriculum for our schools?  What authority do these individuals have and how are they held accountable for their work?

For all these reasons, I’m happy when standardized testing and I do not cross paths.  In a position that forced me to merely teach to a test, the real test would be of my integrity.  I’d be forced to become Mr Keating in Dead Poet’s Society: A teacher who stands up for students and true learning, but quickly becomes unemployed.
“BATs Lay Down a Challenge to Duncan”

By Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager Badass Teachers Association and Melissa Tomlinson, Asst. General Manager of the Badass Teachers Association

Also published in Diane Ravitch's blog here

Melissa Tomlinson and Marla Kilfoyle with Newark Mayor
Ras Baraka 
The Badass Teachers Association, an organization of over 52,000 teachers, has a bold challenge for Arne Duncan. Duncan released an opinion piece in the Washington Post last night titled “Standardized Tests Must Measure Up” . In this piece he attempts to respond to parent outcry against the current education culture of toxic standardized testing. He continues to not see the real problems and issues that teachers and parents face.   Therefore, BATs cordially invites the Secretary to conduct a Town Hall phone conference to hear the real concerns of parents, students, and teachers.

Arne Duncan fails to recognize a few important factors in his piece. He fails to acknowledge his role, in conjunction with the Department of Education, for paving the way for states to become test taking laboratories that are experimenting on children and teachers. He states that “the Education Department has provided $360 million to two consortia of states to support that work.” Duncan’s Race to the Top, defined by the educators in this nation as No Child Left Behind on steroids, has perpetuated a testing culture in our schools that is focused on punishing children, blaming teachers, and closing schools.

The money that is being spent to develop and implement these new tests could have far better use. Money should be used to provide safe school environments through financing construction and renovation of school buildings, to implement before and after school programs, and to support wrap around services in schools for our communities in need. Secretary Duncan does not see his role in creating the test mania we see in our schools today. He does not see that funding used to pay for tests is the main contributor to the funding pitfalls that schools are currently facing. He claims to want to help his own children “build upon their strengths and interests and work on their weaknesses” but what his children get and what public school children get are NOT the same. Duncan shows no understanding for the position that children, other than his own, have been placed in. Schools that are facing budgetary crises are forced to starve in order to have money to implement new standardized tests, which are forced upon districts as an “unfunded” mandate.

His statement, “A focus on measuring student learning has had real benefits, especially for our most vulnerable students, ensuring that they are being held to the same rigorous standards as their well-off peers and shining a light on achievement gaps.” Duncan, once again, perpetuates the false narrative of blaming schools and teachers for the achievement gap (which continues to widen). He continues, once again, to NOT acknowledge that poverty and inequality are direct indicators of the widening achievement gap. Standards of learning should not be set until all children, regardless of zip code, have access to the resources they need to be successful in school. Until that is achieved, the Secretary of Education, and the people within the Department of Education, should be charged with the task of finding ways to make that possible. The standards that they should be discussing should be a standard of equal resources for all children. The Secretary should NOT be discussing a standard of learning that will never be achieved until other societal issues are faced and dealt with, namely poverty and inequality.

Sec. Duncan fails to realize that yearly snapshot testing is not indicative of how a child is progressing in their educational journey. It is constant communication and attention of parents and educators to daily classroom interactions that drive this journey. A yearly assessment that is based upon the presumption that all children start off on an even playing field serves no purpose other than to put a spotlight on children living in poverty and the fact that they cannot compete with students that have been given more opportunities and have access to more resources.

Sec. Duncan mentions the waiver that he has offered during this first year of transition to provide flexibility on connecting teacher evaluation to test results. The allowance of such practices by the Secretary speaks volumes about his concern for the future of our educational system. As test results get tied to decision-making with regards to schools, the potential for a great disservice directed toward our children looms ahead. Teacher performance ratings tied to test scores will result in the loss of many excellent teachers and future educators. There are too many other factors that impact the educational performance of a child which, sadly, the Secretary continues to ignore this.

Throughout this whole process, the lack of communication with actual teachers by the Secretary has been apparent. Arne Duncan speaks to communicating with his children’s schools and teachers to create a collaborative team that is working towards the end goal of providing for a better future. We feel that it is time that Arne Duncan applies this to the country as well. As an association that represents over 52,000 educators, and interested parties, the Badass Teachers Association is extending a direct invitation to Arne Duncan to communicate with teachers who will give him a direct vision of what is really happening in our schools.

We invite you, Secretary Duncan, to participate in a Town Hall phone conference to speak with those that really care, those that have real experience, and real knowledge about education; America’ s teachers.

Consider this your formal invitation to get informed!

We await your call!

Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson