Friday, March 24, 2017

Independent Democratic Conference Denies Promised Funding to NY’s Poorest Schools by Jake Jacobs

video interview released last month by Nomiki Konst of The Young Turks has raised the profile of the controversial eight member Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of NY legislators who have entered a “strategic” power sharing coalition with Republicans in a closely divided State Senate.
The IDC is actually receiving money from the very wealthy through pro-charter PACs to deny long-owed school funding to the poorest districts in NY. The good news is there is still time to come through for NY schools, but the final budget vote is less than two weeks away.
The IDC has been a sore issue for New York Democrats who outnumber Republicans two to one. In the age of Trump, however, the IDC has seen a sharp rise in the number of grassroots groups coalescing to pressure rogue IDC senators to help mainline Democrats regain the majority as issues like campaign finance, taxation, healthcare and education funding hang in the balance.
Teacher and parent groups were keen to learn from the TYT video that IDC members take funding from the same charter school backers that fund Republicans and were concerned that the IDC is helping Trump and Betsy DeVos increase privatization of NY’s public schools.
In the NYC suburb of Rockland County, founding IDC member David Carlucci learned a local resistance group was forming and attended a meeting to explain his IDC membership. I went to the meeting and asked Senator Carlucci if he supports charter schools and if he takes money from charter school backers:
As the video shows, Senator Carlucci was in no rush to get on the record for or against charter schools. He instead offered “public schools [are] my top priority”, but would not disclose whether or not he opposes charter schools, even as the approaching NY state budget vote will include a measure to increase the number of charter schools in nearby NYC. Other IDC members are on the record in support of charter schools.
Senator Carlucci was also in no rush to talk about charter school funding, but when pressed, explained that pro-charter PACs fund both sides, including IDC members. He initially said he didn’t know if he took charter money, but eventually conceded that he probably did, and also lumped charter school supporters in with voucher supporters.
I soon after learned that Senator Carlucci received $7,000 from the pro-charter PAC Democrats for Education Reform on the eve of the last election, but that DFER and other Wall Street-backed charter PACs had been flooding IDC coffers with hundreds of thousands more, including gifts from frequent Republican donors, Walton family heirs and money moved through “housekeeping” accounts.
As the various PACs intersect and overlap, we see PACs like New Yorkers for Putting Students First shares staff with StudentsFirst of Michelle Rhee fame, while others like DFER include “Democrats” in their name to deflect just how tied to Republicans they actually are.
I followed up with Senator Carlucci who clarified some of his positions, for example saying he now opposes vouchers, but did not offer clear-cut opinions either for or against standardized testing or Common Core.
But the biggest education issue bearing down on Albany at the moment is the Foundation Aid funding battle, where Republicans want to greatly shortchange impoverished schools while traditional Democrats are seeking full funding of a court-ordered settlement allocating over $4 billion to districts based on poverty.
Senator Carlucci and the “Independent” Democrats first agreed to full funding, but balked when just such an amendment was introduced for a vote. Instead, they endorsed the meager Republican plan which offers $1.2 billion but changes funding formulas and in so doing, nullifies the original settlement, wiping billions owed off the books.
Commenting on an Assembly proposal for a $1.8 billion dollar increase with full funding within three years, Senator Carlucci said they were “at a really good number” but because they were getting there by raising taxes on millionaires, he said “I just don’t think it’s realistic right now that that’s going to happen”.
Edited by Lydia McMullen-Laird 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Joy of Opting Out of Standardized Testing by Stephen Singer

Originally posted at:
Testing season is a gray period in my classroom.

But it’s a joy in my house.

As a classroom teacher with a daughter in the public school system, I’m always struck by the difference.

So at home, I get to see all the imaginative projects she’s created in her class while the other kids had to trudge away at the exam.

“Daddy, daddy, look!” she squeals.

And I’m bombarded by an entire Picasso blue period.

Or “Daddy, will you staple these?”

And I’m besieged by a series of her creative writing.

My daughter is only in second grade and she loves standardized test time.

It’s when she gets to engage in whatever self-directed study strikes her fancy.

Back in kindergarten I missed the boat.

But when I found out she had taken the GRADE Test, a Pearson assessment not mandated by the state but required by my home district in order the receive state grant funding, I hit the roof.

I know the GRADE test. I’m forced to give a version of it to my own 8th grade students at a nearby district where I work. It stinks.

Ask any classroom teacher and they’ll tell you how useless it is. Giving it is at best a waste of class time. At worst it demoralizes children and teaches them that the right answer is arbitrary – like trying to guess what the teacher is thinking.

Then I found out my daughter was also taking the DIBELS, a test where she reads a passage aloud and is given a score based on how quickly she reads without regard to its meaning. In fact, some of the passages test takers are forced to read are pure nonsense. It’s all about how readers pronounce words and whether they persevere through the passage. It’s not so much about reading. It’s about grit.

No. My precious little one won’t be doing that.

I talked candidly to her kindergarten teacher about it. I trust her judgment, so I wanted to know what she thought. And she agreed that these tests were far from necessary. So I set up a meeting with the principal.

The meeting lasted about an hour. Sure, it was a little scary. No one wants to rock the boat. But even he agreed with most of what I had to say. He didn’t feel as strongly about it as I did, but he respected my wishes and that was that.

For me, it was a political statement as well as a parental one. I wanted to do my part to chip away at the corporate school reform movement. I know how much they rely on these test scores to justify closing poor schools like mine. I don’t want to give them a chance.

But little did I know what bliss I would be providing for my little one.

Beyond politics, I thought I was just protecting her from a prolonged period of boredom, unfair assessments and cognitively invalid measurements.

I wanted to shield her from adult woes. What I didn’t realize was I was opening a door for her creativity.

She loves creating these illustrated books telling the wildest narratives: Colorful superheroes blast bad guys into oblivion. Game show hosts get lost in other dimensions. Even her Mommy and Daddy get in on the action riding Yoshi through Super Mario land.

Often she adds text to these adventures. Her spelling could use some work, but I’m impressed that an 8-year-old even attempts some of these words. Sometimes she writes more in her adventure books than my 8th graders do on their assigned homework.

I’ve even noticed a marked improvement in her abilities during this time. Her handwriting, sentence construction, word choice and spelling have taken a leap to the next level. While her classmates are wasting time on the assessments, she’s actually learning something!

I wish I could provide the same opportunities for my students that I have for my daughter.

It’s strange.

Don’t teachers stand in loco parentis? Well this is loco, so let me parent this. Let me at least talk to their parents about it – but if I do that on school time, in my professional capacity, I’m liable to be reprimanded.

I have studied standardized testing. It was part of my training to become a teacher. And the evidence is in. The academic world knows all this stuff is bunk, but the huge corporations that profit off of these tests and the associated test-prep material have silenced them.

I have a masters in my field. I’m a nationally board certified teacher. I have more than a decade of successful experience in the classroom. But I am not trusted enough to decide whether my students should take these tests.

It’s not like we’re even asking the parents. We start from the assumption that children will take the tests, but if the parents complain about it, we’ll give in to their wishes.

It’s insanity.

We should start from the assumption the kids won’t take the test. If parents want their kids to be cogs in the corporate machine, they should have to opt IN.

As a teacher, I can try to inform my students’ parents about all this, but at my own peril. If the administration found me talking about this with parents, I could be subject to a reprimand. Giving my honest educational opinion could result in me losing my job.

As you can see, it hasn’t stopped me. But I teach in a high poverty, mostly minority district. My kids’ parents often don’t have the time to come up to the school or even return phone calls. They’re working two or three jobs. They’re struggling just to put food on the table. They don’t have time for standardized tests!

So every test season I sadly watch my students trudge away at their federally mandated bubbles. I see their anxiety, their frustration, their sad, sad faces.

And it breaks my heart.

But then I come home to my daughter’s exuberant creations!

You would not believe the joy of opting out!

A Teacher's Response to's Anti-Teacher Commercial by Alana Milich

I know this is minor compared with what's going on in the DOE, but it irritated me enough to write to about their commercial.

Here is the text of my email:

After watching your ad in which a kindergarten teacher is letting her class run wild with no supervision while she contemplates her vacation choices, I am moved to do something I've never done before- write a company to complain of the image they are portraying of my profession. As a 15 year veteran teacher, I can assure you that my stress does NOT come from the students in my classroom. My stress comes from endless meetings forcing me to enact tactics that do not help my students learn and achieve; my stress comes from not getting a cost of living raise in 10 years; my stress comes from national figures who know nothing of public education working to destabilize our system in favor of private, religious, and for-profit charter schools that are free to discriminate against differently-abled children with no penalties.

Isn't there enough teacher bashing without you adding to the myth of the inattentive, non-caring, child-hating teacher?

If you want to show a teacher needing a vacation, how about showing one burnt out on caring too much? Giving of her own time and money to her kids while an uncaring administration makes ridiculous demands on her? That would be relatable and not turn off the 3.1 million public school teachers in the US.

Thank you,
Alana Milich

Update - Here is the reply from

Dear Dr. Alana Milich

Thanks for your feedback.

We’ll be sure to pass it on to those relevant. At [link removed] we value all professions, including teachers, and this ad was only intended as a light-hearted bit of fun. We are passionate about connecting our customers with great stays, empowering them to experience the world in the easiest, most seamless ways possible, which this advert aimed to convey.
Kind regards,
Kyrillos Saeid
Customer Service Team

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Emotional Teacher Moment of the Day by Sandra Valentine

Remember your worth. This sweet child reminded me of mine on one of the toughest years I've had in my personal life.

**Emotional Teacher Moment of the Day**

With state testing the first week of April, it really is crunch time. I thought about putting our daily journals to the side until after the test, but today I fell in love with them more.

Like any other class across America, my classroom is very diverse. I have gifted, on grade level, and I also have a handful who are well below 3rd grade.

For those students, these next two weeks will have added pressure and frustration as I hammer through yet another test taking strategy or do a quick review over a concept they are still struggling with from August.

Yesterday, however, I saw a fresh faced student really having a great time writing about the adventures over Spring Break. This child is not on level, but that doesn't matter when it comes to journals.

When I called her over today so we could talk about her journal, her eyes lit up.

As I opened her journal to her last entry, my heart grew and tears formed. Not only did she have a complete sentence, but she had written an entire paragraph. It wasn't "up to 3rd grade standards" whatever that means to the State of Oklahoma, but it was her own personal work that she was very proud of.

I listened with great excitement as she read me her story and talked me through the pictures she had drawn to accompany her entry. I flipped to the very front of her journal after she was done and I showed her the tremendous growth she had just presented to me. Her first entry was just a picture. Her 3rd entry had its first word. Today, she showed me the first paragraph.

She told me how she tried her hardest to sound out words and the letters to the sounds she didn't know for sure, she tried her best on. I told her how extremely proud of her I was and she replied,

"You teach good to me."

I said, "Oh, you think I teach the class well? Thank you."
She said, "I don't know about everyone else, but you teach good to me. I understand you. You teach me. You teach good to me."

I asked her about her feelings on the state test and she said she was really worried about the reading part since she can't read, but was excited to show off her Math skills. She said she was ready to show the State of Oklahoma all she had learned this year.

The sad truth is that this child may not pass the state test.
But you know what? This teacher couldn't be more proud of her. This teacher couldn't be more proud of her today. In fact, when this school year is over, she will probably be the child I miss "teaching" the most.

I wish I could show the world her gains this school year. I wish I could show the world her creativity, her personal best, her friendly face and forgiving heart. I wish I could show the world how intelligent she is despite what a state test may or may not say.

The real beauty is that I won't have to because she will show the world how amazingly talented she is, how beautiful her voice is, and how artfully skilled she is with a pencil and that, State of Oklahoma, will be way more than the numbered score, or label, you would have given her.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Why Congregations Across the Nation Should Stand Against Vouchers by Cheryl Binkley

Originally posted at:

Many of the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish congregations of the U.S. behind the scenes are welcoming, even promoting the idea of government vouchers and financial supports for religious based PreK-12 schools, and the reasons are fairly evident.  More money, more students, the opportunity to open their own school.

Right now Vouchers is the flagship policy being promoted by Mrs. DeVos, the new Secretary of Ed, and by the new President, Mr. Trump.  The Secretary and President are supported by much of the Republican party which has depended on faith groups for their election since Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove figured out ways to attract churches to political action in the late 70s. Many politicians even see Vouchers, also called Ed Savings Accts and Scholarships, as a payoff to religious leaders who have delivered the votes in past elections.

However, there are some glaring reasons that Congregations across the US should rethink supporting or promoting vouchers for private PreK-12 schools. 
1. Our history of Religious Freedom as a nation is antithetical to requiring children be taught in a particular religion.
2. “Fundamentalists” and “Evangelicals” and “Christians” are not the monolithic group politicians would have us believe.
3. The story that public schools are anti-Judeo-Christian-values is untrue.
4.With the Money comes diminished control and fragmentation for our local communities. 

1. Our history of Religious Freedom as a nation is antithetical to requiring children be taught adherence to a particular governmental religion. 
I still remember as a child in Baptist Sunday School learning the story of Roger Williams and how he and his followers were pushed out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636 by the Puritans who considered him and his Baptist followers heretics. 

The story of how he escaped in a blizzard and made his way to Rhode Island to eventually found the state of Rhode Island and the first Baptist church in the Colonies was important history in our church.  His belief in Separation of Church and State, in the importance of individual conscience, and his belief in treating the natives honorably were taught as hallmarks of what it meant to be Baptist, even as late as the 1960s.  Many American denominations have a similar “freedom of religion” story in their history.

Williams’ beliefs have become less revered now that media preachers outrank congregational ministers and following a charismatic preacher carries more weight than figuring out what you, yourself think.  But it’s not my goal to convince everyone that we should all become AnaBaptists.  The point is that the Puritans’ push to make Massachusetts Bay a theocracy quickly became antithetical to what it has meant to be American for the last 400 years. It is important to remind ourselves, that though we may be the religion in control of government this year, we may be the victims of a theocratic government when another sect takes over.

2. “Fundamentalists” and “Evangelicals” and “Christians” are not the monolithic group politicians would have us believe. 
Each of those terms has a different meaning, and every faith is a minority in some part of the country.  There is also no assurance that the private for-profit firms, who will also be founding new schools or are currently in place, will be any more in touch with community values than the elected boards we put in office through our local elections, and the leaders/teachers from among our own local population. 

It has become an urban legend that Republican views are Christian views, that they are only one set of beliefs, and  that the two labels are interchangeable.  Yet, beliefs, worship practices, and codes of belonging across Christian communities in the US are as diverse as the complex heritages we grow from: from Catholics, to Quakers, to Jehovahs Witnesses, the range of “Christian” churches is vast.  Even among Jewish Congregations, there is national diversity of types and practices.

Many families across the country have stories of breaches and breaks because Grandma was a Methodist, and the Great Grands could not abide that she might not raise the grandkids Church of Christ, or Presbyterian, or some other denomination, and those stories are not limited to long gone generations. There is even the old joke about the guy stranded on a tropical island who when found has two churches there– one where he worshiped before he split off (from himself) to the new one. 

My home town had two gas stations, one grocery store, one stop light and 26 churches– all variations on protestant Christianity.  Yet, there was a reason there were and still are 26 or more instead of fewer. Each had a slightly different flavor and style to the other 25, and the congregants in each considered their reason for belonging to that particular church and denomination something worth being separate for.  Which of those churches will have control over the new school that receives the bulk of the voucher money from the community’s taxes?

That variation has not gone away in communities across the nation, and it is good and important to keep that variety in the context of our personal searches for truth and meaning.  However, it makes converting our Monday-Friday schools into religious ones, a problematic endeavor.

3. The story that public schools are anti Judeo-Christian values is untrue. 
Politicians, and some ministers who want to separate us from one another, would have us believe that public schools deny children freedom of religious belief, deny them the option to personally  pray, and deny core values that have been part of Western Judeo-Christian tradition.

Yet, in most states, the pledge of allegiance with “under God” right there in the middle of it starts off each day, by law.  Holiday concerts in December of every year are still much loved performance events of most localities with traditional carols and some add on’s in welcome to other cultures. The opening prayers still get said at many a local event, and major calendar breaks are still centered mostly around western religious holidays.  After school programs sponsored by local religious groups continue to be hosted across the country--Except in places like Michigan (Mrs. DeVos’ custom designed home state system of privates) where the fabric of local community identity has been shredded by mostly for-profit private schools who use the communities' money without serving the greater community.

 Public schools have actually been able to understand the difference between widely varying individual church dogma and the general religious ethics that inform our civil society.  Miraculously (or not so miraculously) there are core values that do reach across religious lines, and not just protestant Christian religious lines.

Values like honesty, not cheating or stealing, respecting one another’s possessions, not hurting others, gratitude,  kindness, sharing, and respect for our families and elders are both religious and civil societal values which continue to be cornerstones that keep our classrooms and schools functioning as healthy communities. Those values we can teach and do teach.  Though reinforcement of these values on a worship day or through religious community are helpful and healthy, the basic religious ethic of all the Big Five religions are already part of our public school traditions because they are the values that help us live in harmony with one another as good neighbors. 

Will the same be true of the narrower, more dogmatic, or for profit schools that voucher/scholarship money goes to? There are no assurances because they will not have the same requirements or community oversight our current public schools have. Will the religious organization that runs the new school respect your child’s right to practice a slightly different religious belief or practice?  They will not be required to.

4. With the Money comes diminished local control,  and fragmentation of our local communities. 
For many years, the joke among farmers and other local businesses was that the scariest words one could hear was, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.” The truth behind that fear is the reality that people who see citizens’ money as better spent based on outside views often bring ill-fitting policies. Public schools have suffered that plight much of late. Both Democrats and Republicans have felt economic unregulated capitalism would be a better system for managing schools than local democracy would.  Vouchers and Privately run Virtual Schools are the culmination of that belief. 

Nationally aligned business and political people believe that the unregulated Market will govern our children’s daily lives better than local community leaders, local parents, and local business people-- Just the way the Market has better governed our health care with better service and better prices. Neither ESSA nor DeVos/Trump Voucher-privatization will include actual local control, only corporate or indvidual religious organizational control.

While privates and virtuals will get the benefit of our federal, state, and local tax dollars; our local public schools will be left without enough to run the already legally required programs the privates and virtuals will not have to provide, with local districts unable to exert any control over the non-public schools that operate within their borders.  Those new schools (and some already established) do not operate with the same conceptual mission to serve the children and communities of the whole town, neighborhood, or county.  The new schools’ mission is to push a particular ideology or make a profit, regardless of the effect on the community as a whole.

Even if the new school happens to luckily be of your denomination, which of those 26 ministers will have control over what your child learns? And what happens when the money has been taken from the local school, but only those who "belong" are accepted?

It will be their choice, regardless of the effect on your community, your congregation, or your child or grandchild. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump Budgets More Money to Kill Kids in Yemen Than Educate Kids in USA by Steven Singer

Donald Trump apparently would rather kill children in other countries than educate them in ours.

When you make a budget, you betray your priorities.

As Paul Begala said, “The budget is a profoundly moral document. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be.”

So where exactly are Donald Trump’s priorities?

While boosting the military by $54 billion in his 2018 budget, he slashes spending at the U.S. Department of Education by $9.2 billion – the largest cut in the department’s history.

This sad excuse for a man actually proposes that guns and tanks are more important than school children. Perhaps his motto should be “Save the guns! Fuck the children!”

No wonder he obsesses about the size of his hands and literally brags about the size of his genitals on the campaign trial. Can you imagine the infinitesimal pecker you would have to possess to need to brandish phallic pistols instead of taking care of the children in your fucking care!?

What a disgrace!

And moreover, he doesn’t even know how to effectively use the armed forces at his disposal.

Against advice from the military, this pustule with a fake weave authorized a disastrous raid in Yemen in early February that left a US Navy SEAL and 14 civilians dead including an 8-year-old American girl, Nawar al-Awlaki.

At least we know where all this military money will be going. It’s cash for his toy chest so Trump can play army with our sons and daughters. Sure, there will be no more public schools, but if your kids survive to adulthood, they can be Trump’s toys soldiers!

Moreover, look at where this overgrown Cheeto is making the cuts. In order to pay for a $1.4 billion increase in charter and voucher schools, the majority of these cuts come at the expense of the nation’s public schools – institutions serving 90% of our students.

He proposes downsizing the entire department by 13.5% reducing or eliminating grants for teacher training, after-school programs and aid to ­low-income and first-generation college students.

So we’re throwing out proven programs that help kids learn for fly-by-night scams that have ignited scandals across the countryCharter and voucher schools can pick and choose their students. Public schools can’t. And we’re siding with the freakin’ choice schools!?

Traditional public schools have elected school boards. They have open meetings. You actually get a say in how your kid is educated and how your tax money is spent. But the choice schools do all this behind closed doors with appointed boards accountable only to the moneymen. And we’re siding with the option that gives us LESS choice – in the name of “Choice”!

I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise. We’re talking about the founder of Trump University – a fake business school that forced this professional liar to settle out of court for millions. Of course he sides with charter and voucher schools! They’re the kind of institutions he knows – scams!

The priority isn’t school children. It’s wealthy investors that can cash in with our tax dollars burdened by little-to-no oversight.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Trump wants to block funding to feed impoverished children! He actually wants to cut the already struggling Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, by $200 million.

The program serves more than 7.8 million people about three-quarters of which are children and infants.

So this human-sized hemorrhoid has money for guns and businessmen but pinches pennies on infant’s baby formula. Make no mistake – children will die because of this. And those who do survive will grow up malnourished. Their brains will not be as fully developed as middle class and wealthy kids. They will not do as well in school, they’ll struggle to even graduate and boost the numbers of our special education population.

And when called on it, Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget office director, told the press that feeding hungry children doesn’t work!
He actually said this:

“Let’s talk about after-school programs generally: they’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school. Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence that they’re actually doing that. There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually helping results, helping kids do better in school.”

Not only is this untrue based on multiple studies, it’s morally bankrupt.

Do you base your humanity solely on graduation rates? Should I not help a needy person if it doesn’t somehow boost the GDP?

Fuck you, Mulvaney, and fuck you, Trump!

I’m sorry. I know I’ve dropped more F- bombs in this piece than Trump’s grabbed unsolicited pussies. But what other response is appropriate than seething, inchoate rage!?

That our country has sunk to this level of selfishness and shortsightedness! The hypocrisy and greed!

I’m a public school teacher. I don’t use these words during the school day. But I will get a front row seat to how this budget will affect children.

I’ll be there when the rubber hits the road. And I’ll do what I can to help. I’ll stay extra hours to tutor. I’ll bring in food so my kids can eat. I’ll listen to their problems and offer solutions.

I’ll keep doing all the things I’m doing now. But I’m only one person. Our public school teachers are only one group. We can’t save every child in America ourselves!

And the parents can’t do it, either. Neither can our school board members, volunteers and concerned citizens.

We need a strong, moral government to step in and help.

I know that’s not a popular sentiment. Government has become bad by definition because of a generation of politicians who don’t believe in it running for office to prove themselves right.

But we all pay taxes. (Well, the middle class and poor do.) And we deserve a return on that investment.

America deserves better than this Trump budget. Our children deserve a better future than this.

Because if Trump gets his way, there may be no future at all.