Sunday, April 23, 2017

NY Teachers VAM-Boozled Again by Dr. Michael Flanagan

Starting next week, NYC teachers will begin to give our MOSL (Measure Of Student Learning) Assessments. Thanks to Governor Cuomo, the NYS Legislature, and the Board of Regents -- they now comprise 40% of our total evaluations under NY State’s APPR teacher evaluation system.

Since 2013, NYC teachers have been evaluated by a changing set of criteria every year. This year, the evaluation was changed again in January 2017, and went into effect March 7th. Each school’s MOSL committee had to finalize their selected methods and goals by April 7th, 2017 -- the same day NYC schools went on Spring break. MOSL tests begin as early as Monday, April 28th in some schools, yet no one really seems to know what form they will take, what skills they will test, or what content knowledge will be included. At this time, with two months left in the school year, most teachers do not have any idea about, or control of, over 40% of the content of their annual assessment.

Under the Danielson-based Advance system, a teacher observed with such a shoddily planned-out assessment for their students would rightly be given an Ineffective rating.

Now obviously what I have just described has no legal, or scientific legitimacy, and would be laughed out of any peer reviewed journal. These VAM based MOSL’s have as much credibility as alchemy, or phrenology. So of course, that method will be used to determine teacher proficiency and student achievement.

Besides the pressure these tests put on students, teachers’ careers are now being evaluated on short notice assessments, that no teacher has even seen, much less been able to prepare their students for. Teachers are educated professionals. I myself have a doctorate in education. We can all clearly see that this method of evaluation is a farce. The problem is, that school superintendents, administrators and the UFT leadership are going along with whatever nonsense emits from the DOE. They force-feed it to the teachers and students, and expect them to swallow it without complaint.

Perhaps the most egregious flaw in this year’s MOSL’s is that since they are based on student growth, and we only agreed on the assessments two weeks ago, there was no time to administer baselines to the students. Baselines are usually given at the beginning of the year to ascertain what level a student is performing at. The baseline assessment should be similar to the endline assessment. How do you measure growth if you do not have any idea where you started from?

Since the NYC DOE did not have the MOSL assessments ready in September, the city in its infinite wisdom, will be assigning students what amounts to composite “proxy” scores as their baselines. In other words, they are making up where each student should be, then giving a haphazardly compiled assessment tool, and comparing the actual student’s score to whatever algorithm they have created out of thin air. One fellow teacher asked: ”if they are making up a proxy baseline score, why not just make up a proxy endline score”?

The main reason for these last minute exams is that over the last three years New York has had almost a quarter of a million students opt out of the Common Core ELA and Math assessments for the third to eighth grades. With so many opt outs, Governor Cuomo had determined that this year, the tests could not be used for evaluative purposes for students or their teachers. The funny thing is, students can opt out of the MOSL’s as well.

Common branch teachers such as art, music or physical education etc. are linked to the performance of students in classes that they do not even teach. Teachers whose classes end in either a NYS Regents exam, the NYSESLAT, or an NYSAA will not have to give their students MOSL exams, as long as those classes make up 50% or more of their programs.

This Value Added Model of teacher effectiveness has continually been proven to be false, most recently in the case of teacher Sheri Lederman. VAM is junk science, and the MOSL’s that the NYC DOE has come up with are exactly that, junk.

The Department of Education may throw these incompetent assessments at us, and it is indeed insubordination not to comply with the directives, but we do not have to pretend there is any merit to it. And as soon as our final ratings are compiled, we all need to flood the legal system with lawsuits against this clearly erroneous method of evaluation. Our students, and teachers, deserve better than to be VAM-boozled like this.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Let’s Hear It For Black Girls! by Steven Singer

 Originally posted at:

“Sisters are more than the sum of their relative disadvantages: they are active agents who craft meaning out of their circumstances and do so in complicated and diverse ways.”
-Melissa Harris-Perry, Sister Citizen (2011)
Let’s hear it for black girls!

They are beautiful, bold, irrepressible and – above all – so incredibly strong.

Black girls will outlast any struggle, face down any adversary, and – more often than not – triumph in the face of adversity.

I know. I’m a public school teacher, and many of my best students are black and female.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they get the best grades. Some earn A’s and some don’t. But when it comes to pure willpower and the courage to stand up for themselves, no one beats a black girl.

Those are rare qualities nowadays. Sometimes it doesn’t make these girls easy to have in class. But think about how important they are.

As a teacher, it sure makes your life easier when students do whatever they’re told. But in life, we don’t want citizens who simply follow orders. We want people who think for themselves, people who question directives and do only what they think is right.

In short, we need people who act more like black girls.

As a white male, it’s taken me some time to come to an appreciation of black womanhood. But after about 15 years teaching in public schools serving mostly poor, minority students, appreciate them I do.

Think of the challenges they face and often overcome. Not only are they subject to the same racism as black males, they also have to function under the burden of male patriarchy and the quiet sexism that pervades American society.

According to a study entitled Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls by the NAACP and the National Women’s Law Center, African-American girls suffer from higher rates of sexual violence and intimate partner violence than white women, high rates of sexual harassment in school, and they are more vulnerable to sex trafficking than any other group.

In addition, more than one-third of black female students did not graduate on time in 2010, compared to 19 percent of white female students. However, there has been progress. Despite a lingering graduation gap, black girls have actually increased their graduation rate by 63% in the past 50 years, according to the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. Unfortunately, this hasn’t meant they’ve built up more wealth. In 2010, single black women’s median wealth was just $100 compared to single white women’s wealth, which was $41, 500.

And it only gets worse the closer we look at it. Black women are the only group whose unemployment rate remained stagnant at 10.6%, while the overall rate for workers in the United States dropped from 7.2% to 6.1% between August 2013 and August 2014, according to a National Women’s Law Center report on jobs data. More than a quarter of black women live in poverty, according to the Center for American Progress, despite making up a larger portion of the workforce than white and Latina women.

Despite such problems, black women start businesses at six times the national average, according to the Center for American Progress. And this is even more startling when you realize they are also more likely to be denied small business loans and federal contracts.

It’s one of the reasons black girls are so special. Those who somehow survive the incredible pressures society puts them under often become super achievers. They can do almost anything.

Perhaps it’s an internalization of the advice black women often get from their mothers. They’re frequently told they have to work harder and do more just to be noticed, and they often do. In my classes, I’ve had more black girls achieve grades over the 100% mark than any other group. And that’s not easy to do. But it’s typical black girl power – they try to be more than perfect.

However, it takes a toll.

They are more likely to die of breast cancer than any other racial group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The reasons are complex, but include the fact that black women experience delays in diagnosis and treatment. Like many oppressed people, they often internalize that oppression – they don’t take care of themselves and the stress can be a killer.

And for those who can’t overcome the unfair pressures we place them under, the results are even worse. In school, I’ve seen precious and valuable girls thrown into a sometimes cruel and uncaring disciplinary system – a system from which it can be hard to extract yourself.

Some teachers and schools when faced with the independence and forthrightness of black girls don’t know how to handle them. In such cases, these girls are often disciplined out of all proportion to their population size in school districts. For example, in New York City, black girls made up only 28% of the student body during the 2011-2012 school year, but were 90% of all girls expelled that year from the city’s schools, according to the “Black Girls Matter” report by the African American Policy Forum. Similarly, black girls made up only 35% of the Boston public school population that same year, but accounted for 63% of all girls expelled.

In short, we’ve got a lot of work to do to dismantle a national system of racism and white privilege. But even beyond that, as a society we need to recognize and appreciate black girls. A little bit would go a long way.

We need to acknowledge the unique talents and skills of these amazing young women. And so much of it starts with a matter of conceptualization in the white adult mind.

Instead of seeing them as defiant, we need to recognize their independence. Instead of seeing them as challenging your authority, you need to see them as asserting themselves and standing up for their beliefs.

Those are all such positive qualities. How many times do adults complain that kids today don’t care enough about things – their apathy, their entitlement, their indifference. As a group, black girls are nothing like that! They are exactly the opposite! But instead of praising them for it, instead of valuing them, white adults often feel threatened and respond by trying to crush what they perceive as a rebellious and disruptive element in their classrooms or in society.

That’s why I love the Black Girl Magic movement.

It was created by CaShawn Thompson to celebrate the beauty, power and resilience of black women. It started as a simple social media hashtag – #BlackGirlMagic.

It embodies a theme I’ve already touched on – the irrepressible spirit of black women, how they are faced with an overwhelming mountain of challenges but somehow manage to overcome them and become tremendous overachievers! It’s a celebration of everything good and positive about the black female experience.

I think it’s just wonderful.

How can you not look at someone like Misty Copeland and not appreciate her success? She’s the first ever black principal at the American Ballet Theatre. She has shot to the top of one of the whitest, wealthiest and most elitist arts you can pursue.

Or how about Gabby Douglas? You can’t watch videos of the amazing Olympic gymnast, who at only 17, absolutely wowed the world with gold medals despite internet trolls hating on her hair.

And if we’re talking undue hate and criticism, no woman in recent memory has suffered as much as Michelle Obama. Whatever you think of her husband’s Presidency, you have to admit Michelle was a model of grace under pressure. How many times did haters pick apart her appearance while she just got on with the business of making school lunches healthier and being a tremendous role model for children of color and women of all races and creeds.

Or Ava DuVernay, the amazing director snubbed at the Oscars for her film “Selma.” What did she do? She made another amazing film “13th” about how the 13thAmendment ended slavery but opened the door to the prison industrial complex.

That’s Black Girl Magic. And it’s actually pretty common.

So come on, fellow white people. Let’s celebrate black girls.

Stop trying to touch their hair or compare them with Eurocentric standards of beauty. Stop, pause and actually see them. See them for who and what they are.

Black girls are amazing and make the world a better place.

Here’s to all the incredible and irreplaceable black girls in my classes and in my life!

You go, girls!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Call This The Empty Chair by Patte Carter-Hevia

Today I attended a National Education Association Listening Tour stop. Dinner and then a keynote speaker and then a panel discussion. The theme was "How do we create the public schools that our children deserve?”

The keynote speaker was a business owner and author. He told the story of how he came to learn that a business model is not what education needs. Interesting. Engaging. Informative. Entertaining.

Please, God, from his mouth to corporate America’s and the policymakers’ ears.

The panel discussion that followed included an education lawyer, a university professor from the college of education, a university coordinator of urban education, a state representative, the school superintendent, and the school board president. All wrapped up in a bow with the union president as the moderator.

All advocates of public education and educators.
All well-informed individuals.
All intelligent and articulate professionals.
Each with much to bring to the proverbial table.

And, as far as I could tell from what I have been able to discern, not a current public school teacher in the bunch.

Instead we were the audience. We were once again being talked to and talked about. Once again, the discussion, as good as it was, ended where it should have begun.

Pity the poor colleagues of mine who were seated on my right and my left.

I had a LOT to say. No, I wasn’t shouting; I just wasn’t whispering either.

I think a colleague of mine was correct, when we spoke afterwards, in saying that perhaps the discussion should have been open mic.

With no teacher at the adult table, we were instead again the kid in the class who knows the answer but that the teacher won’t call on.

During one point in the discussion, the superintendent commented that she had been invited by the local newspaper to write an op-ed piece on the newly appointed secretary of education. She said she declined the invitation. She declined the invitation because she didn’t know anything about the SoE. The superintendent is coming to the end of a forty-plus-year career in education. During her career, she has been to multiple meetings on education and educational policy. She has read research. She has read journals. She has served on committees. She has been visible at the local, state, and national levels.

In all that time and attention and service to education, she has never seen or met the current secretary of education.

She stated that when she wanted or needed the services of a doctor or lawyer or accountant, she sought out professionals in that particular field.

That generated a round of applause.

I commented that that is what she should have written in her op-ed.

The implication of her comments was that the appointment of the current secretary of education was wrong on several levels.
Yet I realize as I consider the members of the panel for this evening’s discussion and I hear teachers scream for a voice and a seat at the “grown-up” table, that tonight’s event, as good as the discussion was and as passionate about education as the members of the panel were, was still a microcosm of what is wrong with education.

And we’re still no closer to making it right.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Ones We lose by Cheryl Binkley

Originally posted at:

Last week, right before Easter and in the middle of Passover, a vandal spray painted Nazi, anti-Jewish, and anti-LGBTQ messages on a Jewish Community Center and United Church of Christ in my neighborhood. The Community Center is a place I have bought gifts for family.  The church is a place I have both attended and led workshops, though it’s not my home congregation. The community rallied and removed the graffiti, but the attack has me in a deeply reflective place.

They quickly caught the alleged perpetrator: a 20 year old, who had attended a high school in my district. Had his eyes not looked dead in the photo he might have been handsome and capable looking.  Word among my former students on social media was that he is a member of local white supremacist groups; groups I did not know existed in my community. I had not been his teacher, but for a mile or two distance one direction or the other, I might have been.

I can still remember almost 20 years ago when a student was arrested, my first “loss.” A colleague, older and more experienced said, “You can’t save them all.”  It was one of the hardest things to hear.  It still causes me pain that we don’t find a way to save them all. 

Each “loss”: each drug overdose, each suicide, each prison sentence is a blow to your own “why” for teaching and being.  Just as each success, each life affirmation is a cause for joy. For teachers our “why I teach” is often to help each child to find a path to life’s gifts, and when one loses their way, or does not learn the lessons that will help them navigate life,  it triggers deep introspection for those who taught that child.

What did I miss? What could I have done differently? Could I have done more? How did this happen?

Ironically, students we lose the most these days are on opposite sides of the political spectrum.  I have been to memorial services for recent former students whom I knew struggled with gender identity and sexuality, heard of students who had wound up in prison, and visited the hospital for bullied students who OD’d.  

Until now, I had never thought it through that white supremacist boys (or girls) are lost; just as in need of help as our LGBTQ, or our impoverished students. I don’t mean that we should back away from acceptance, defense, and caring for our LGBTQ students or stop helping those who live with fewer resources.  It is just a realization to me the common cause of their struggling is feeling left out, marginalized, disrespected, and unmoored from belonging.

The conversations overheard of young white-supremacist men saying, “We are taking back our country,” speaks to a feeling of being outcast, and rejected.

The young man who spray-painted the community center and church is lost in similar ways to the Trans kid who died at his own hand or the at-risk kid who overdosed from despair. One’s alienation expressed in self harming despair, the other’s in violent hatred for others.

Both beg the question: Why am I not accepted and included in the compassionate caring of family, friends, and community? Why am I seen as unworthy of love and acceptance?

Clearly, there is no pat answer for either’s lostness.  But there is a mandate for us as families, neighbors, teachers, schools, and communities. 

We have to ask ourselves why,  and change the way we are treating our children and adolescents so that they don’t arrive on the doorstep to adulthood with anger and despair in their hearts. 

We have to understand how we are systematically doing things in our culture and society that bring them to such a sense of despair, and we have to stop doing those things.  We must find the ways to include and connect with those who feel most bereft of care, and reach out to them, support them, and create systems that are inherently kinder, affirming, and more giving and forgiving. 

We have to find a way to save our “lost” children before their anguish tears us all apart.

Arne Duncan Designed Rahm Emanuel’s Latest Attack on Poor Students of Color by Steven Singer

Sometimes an idea is just too stupid to keep it all to yourself.
Ask Arne Duncan.
Sitting at his lonely desk as managing partner of the Emerson Collective, a limited liability corporation pushing school and immigration policy, he must have missed his days as President Barack Obama’s Education Secretary.
After all, he was the architect of Race to the Top, a federal policy that at best wasted billions of tax dollars without helping students learn – at worst it enriched private charter school operators, standardized test and publishing corporations and private prison operators without helping kids learn.
At the dawn of 2017 with Donald Trump just beginning to flush public education down the toilet in favor of school vouchers, Duncan took to the Internet wondering how he, too, could bring harm to inner city students.
On Jan. 11, he sent an email to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel with a suggestion that was pure Duncan – let’s help poor children of color by making it harder to graduate!
Chicago Public School students have suffered from decades of budget cuts, teacher layoffs and even the closure of 49 schools almost exclusively in poor, black or Latino neighborhoods. A former district CEO even plead guilty to a $23 million kickback scheme.
As a result, the more than 400,000 students, 37.7% of which are black and more than 80% of which are poor, have struggled academically.
How would Arne help them? Make them submit more paperwork in order to get a diploma. They must prove that after 12th grade they’re going to college, trade school, an internship, the military or would otherwise be gainfully employedOR ELSE they can’t graduate!
“Think about making completing a FAFSA [financial aid application] and applying to two or three colleges or the military a new CPS graduation requirement,” Duncan wrote to Emanuel in emails released to the Chicago Sun-Times through a Freedom of Information Act request. “Graduation rates continue to rise. This would signal the importance of ongoing education/training. A HS diploma is great, but not enough. No other school system I know of has taken this next step.”
Duncan followed up in February, and Emanuel replied, “Thanks. You know we are doing a version of your graduation requirement.”
Duncan responded, “Didn’t know. Good?”
No. Not good, Arne.
Because of your neoliberal meddling, when this year’s 9th graders finish their senior year, they’ll have to jump through yet another hoop to get their diplomas.
The Brookings Institute concluded in 2016 that cities like Chicago with pronounced income inequality are more likely to see higher rates of secondary school drop-outs, and lower graduation rates. An unrelated 2014 study found that Chicago ranked eighth among American cities in an index of income inequality.
None of that is helped by a new graduation requirement.
But Duncan disagrees.
He wrote an op-ed published in the Chicago Tribune praising the plan – his plan.
“Some people worry that raising graduation standards will cause more young people to drop out, but they’re wrong,” he wrote. “Young people don’t drop out because school is too hard. They drop out because it is too easy and they are not engaged. They don’t understand how it’s relevant to their lives.”
Wrong, Arne. It’s not a matter of school being too easy. It’s a matter of life being too hard. Imagine being an impoverished inner city student. You’re malnourished, there are few books in your home, you’re struggling to survive in a world populated by drugs and gangs, you’re suffering from post traumatic stress and your neighborhood school is closed, your teacher is laid off, there’s no tutoring, no arts or humanities classes. And they keep making you take endless high stakes standardized tests. THAT’S what makes students loose interest in school. Not because it’s too easy!
But Emanuel, a former investment banker and Obama’s White House Chief of Staff, only understands business solutions to human challenges.
When proposing this new graduation requirement, he said he got the idea from charter schools.
But of course! Private corporations running schools at public expense always know what is best!
Emanuel doesn’t think this new policy is a major change.
“We already have around 62 percent of our kids are already either accepted into college or accepted into community college, and our goal is to make sure nobody spikes the ball at 12th grade,” Emanuel said. “We want to make 14th grade universal. That’s the new goal line.”
Is it, Rahm? It’s interesting that you’re doing this for inner city kids but no one is suggesting it for wealthy kids in the suburbs.
This statement about expectations explains why:
“Just like you do with your children, college, post-high school, that is what’s expected,” Emanuel said. “If you change expectations, it’s not hard for kids to adapt.”
So poor black and Latino kids need YOUR expectations. Is that it? It’s up to YOUR patriarchy to step in and tell them what to do with their lives after high school or else – what? They’ll just sit home on food stamps doing nothing?
This is Chicago – where police brutality is an everyday thingGun violence is out of control. And you think these kids and their parents live in crippling, generational poverty because they aren’t trying hard enough to get jobs or better themselves?
Those seem to be the underlying assumptions here. It’s not about giving these 18-year-olds a helping hand. It’s about pushing them to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
It only takes a second of thought to realize why this is a bad idea.
The district has been cutting staff positions left and right – especially at schools serving poor students of color. Has any additional funding been budgeted to ensure district guidance counselors are in place to help students meet this goal? NOPE.
Students can graduate if they prove they’ve got a job after high school. Those aren’t exactly growing on trees – especially jobs that pay more than minimum wage. What if students can’t find employment? That’s reason to withhold their diplomas? Your academic fate should be held up because there aren’t enough positions as a fry chef!?
Sure, seniors can apply to a local community college, which according to a spokesperson for City Colleges of Chicago, lets everyone in. But what if this isn’t the path for them? Not everyone is made for college. Why is the city stepping in to demand a post graduate plan from students? Isn’t this really just a recruitment plan for these community colleges and/or the military?
Is this even legal? These kids have passed all their classes. They’ve earned a diploma. You can’t simply withhold it because their post-secondary plans don’t meet with your approval.
When the district withholds its first diploma, look for a legal challenge where taxpayers will be in the uncomfortable position of paying for legal counsel to stop a child from graduating.
This Duncan/Emanuel policy is something you might expect from a certified moron like current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. (She wants teachers armed against grizzly bear attacks.)
But it should be noted that both Duncan and Emanuel are Democrats. They’re just not progressives.
You wonder why a fool like Trump won the Presidency? It’s because of neoliberal attitudes like these. Both of these men were part of the Obama administration. And Hillary Clinton was following in the same footsteps – or certainly she didn’t speak out against it.
Emanuel’s political career is backed by the same big money conservatives that back Chris Christie, Mitt Romney and Bruce Rauner. He’s a puppet of charter schools, hedge fund managers and the Koch Brothers.
In fact, his corruption was so bad that during the 2016 primary, he became an issue for Democratic Presidential contenders. Bernie Sanders actually called him out in a tweet saying: “I want to thank Rahm Emanuel for not endorsing me. I don’t want the endorsement of a mayor shutting down schools and firing teachers.”
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Rahm had endorsed Clinton putting her in a bad position. Ann O’Leary, Clinton’s education advisor, said in private emails that Emanuel was “bad for Chicago schools.”
Like Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, O’Leary was a longtime supporter of corporate education reform policies – and so was Clinton. Hillary supported George W. Bush’s terrible No Child Left Behind – the law that changed federal education policy from focusing on equity to holding schools hostage for their standardized test scores.
O’Leary was worried about how Emanuel might hurt Clinton – especially in light of Bernie’s tweet.
In a private email to senior Clinton staff, she wrote:
“Bernie is beating us up over Rahm’s record on schools in Chicago. The Chicago school system is overloaded with debt and likely to run out of cash before the end of the school year. As a result, they are withholding their pension contributions, and laying off teachers and support staff.
I reached out to Randi W[eingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers] and she suggested that she tweet something tomorrow making it clear that Rahm and Rauner have been bad for Chicago schools and then HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] retweets.
That sounds like a toxic idea to me given Rahm’s endorsement, but I don’t think this issue is going away.
We could: (a) have HRC say something more forceful about the state working to help Chicago pay off debt so the schools can focus on teaching and learning; (b) have Randi say something more mild and we could retweet. But I do worry that short of going after Rahm, these options are not going to be satisfactory. So the (c) option is to stay silent for now.
O’Leary’s final decision was to do nothing.
And we all know how that turned out.
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The worst part is that the Democrats don’t appear to have learned anything.
Here’s what Duncan had to say just this month about how Democrats should be fighting the Trump administration’s education policies:
“The federal government is disinvesting in public education and withdrawing from accountability, so states and districts have to step up and lead.”
But Arne, your administration disinvested in public schools, too. Emanuel is famous for it!
And we all know what “accountability” means to neoliberals like you. It means endless standardized testing and closing schools catering to poor students of color. It means giving charter schools, book publishers and testing corporations a blank check.
No one is going to vote for that anymore.
That is just not a viable alternative to Republican policies that take all of this to its logical conclusion.
Destroying public schools slowly is not a viable alternative to destroying them quickly. Democrats need to either discover their real progressive roots or else move aside for grassroots groups to take over.
That’s a suggestion worth sending to your buddies Rahm, Hillary and Barack via email.