Thursday, March 30, 2017

NEWSFLASH: Betsy DeVos Opens Mouth. Nonsense Falls Out by Steven Singer

Betsy DeVos opened her mouth-hole today and a load of crap fell out.
And somehow that’s news!
Our federal Education Secretary said Wednesday, “I’m not sure how [U.S. public schools] could get a lot worse on a nationwide basis than they are today.”
-Whether charter and voucher schools should be held to the same standards as traditional public schools.
-Whether guns belong on school campuses in reach of children.
-Whether the Department of Education should protect students with special needs.
-Whether the Individuals With Disabilities Act is a federal law (Spoiler Alert: It IS!).
-Oh! And what the heck’s the difference between proficiency and growth?
This woman is an idiot. Worse – she’s a rich idiot.
Why are we publishing a thing she says as anything other than standup comedy?
She knows nothing about public schools. She never went to them as a student. She never sent her own children to them. In fact, she only started visiting them in her official role as Secretary of Education!
Yet she has spent her entire life bribing policymakers to replace public schools with charter and voucher schools.
She is a saleswoman for privatization and she thinks public schools suck.
Well whoop-de-do!
They say opinions are like assholes. Everyone’s got one.
What makes DeVos’ opinion worth anything more than yours or mine?
But since you asked, there is a heck of a lot that makes our opinion better than hers.
Ninety percent of Americans have actually attended public schools. Ninety percent send their own children to public schools. And though popular opinion of public schools nationwide has suffered after an endless barrage of corporate propaganda against them, most people have a very high view of their own neighborhood school.
So if the media wants to publish a valuable opinion about public schools, they should publish what almost anyone ELSE has to say other than Betsy DeVos.
What does a Flat Earther have to say about constructing a globe? WHO CARES?
What does a skeptic about the moon landing have to say about NASA? WHO GIVES A CRAP?
What does Betsy DeVos have to say about public schools?
But fine. I’ll bite. Why does the billionaire heiress think our public schools stink?
She trots out the usual nonsense about international test scores:
“I mean, the fact that our PISA scores have continued to deteriorate as compared to the rest of the world and that we’ve seen stagnant at best results with the NAEP scores over the years. I’m not sure we can deteriorate a whole lot.”
First of all, she’s wrong about the facts.
PISA scores did not deteriorateLike NAEP scores, they’ve remained pretty much the same for all the decades we’ve been making these comparisons.
Internationally, our test scores have always been in the middle of the pack. And that shouldn’t be surprising.
We provide every child with an education. Many of the countries we’re compared with internationally don’t. That means we’re going to have lower test scores. You’re comparing ALL of our kids with only the best academic achievers in Asia, Scandinavia and other countries.
Add to that the overwhelming child poverty rate in the United States – something completely absent in most of these other nations we’re being measured against. Obviously our poorer kids who get fewer resources than your richer kids won’t do as well on standardized tests. You’re not comparing apples-to-apples. And whenever you make the adjustment for poverty, our students score at the top of the scale!
I’m not saying we can’t improve. There’s plenty we could be doing such as providing more resources for our poor and minority students. But opportunists like DeVos have always tried to use this test score myth to justify destroying the public school system and giving it away to private interests.
Betsy, please just stop. The blatant ignorance coming out of your mouth hurts. It’s embarrassing.
But perhaps there is a silver lining here. We’re used to hearing these lies from more credible sources. Before becoming Education Secretary, Arne Duncan and John King had advanced degrees. They ran major metropolitan school systems. DeVos is just rich.
There is no longer any question about their veracity.
Good luck trying to fool people with this same snake oil anymore. Just by opening her mouth, DeVos has poisoned the entire corporate school reform narrative.
Thanks, Betsy!

Educators: Are You Complicit?

By:  Chris Cerrone

Dear NYS Educators,

Did you attempt to bribe, coerce, or scare your students into "opting in" to this week's NYS ELA Assessment?  

If so, you are complicit in the attacks on your students, profession, and our public schools. Many parents across NYS are disappointed in the educators who offered candy, treats, pizza and even field days or trips, to the students who would be taking the ELA Assessment.  Others made false claims to scare children that your school would lose funding or students would not be prepared for the high school Regents Exams or SAT. 

Are you complicit in harming the education of your students?
As a fellow educator, I find it difficult to understand how those in my profession cannot see how the current NYS Assessment system is a flawed measure of student achievement and hurts our children.

  • Have you read the questions and passages, that are often confusing and many times have arguably more than one correct answer?
  • How about most of the assessments containing reading passages that are often 2 grade reading levels above your students' grade?
  • Do we really need 3 days of testing for 90 minutes for each subject? (or far beyond as a result of "untimed" testing)
  • Do you see students break down in tears or banging their heads on their desk as they encounter age-inappropriate tasks on the state assessments?
  • The vague assessment results come months later and do not provide detailed information to educators about your students. ( In the case of teachers, often your former students)
  • Are you aware that NYSED sets cut and proficiency at inappropriate levels that set up our students for failure?
  • Do you want your students' education to be limited to ELA and math skills?  Many elementary school classrooms focus primarily on the "tested" subjects of ELA and math, ignoring or reducing instruction in history, science, and the arts.  (Not necessarily blaming elementary teachers as many school leaders set classroom schedules that over-emphasize ELA and math)  
  • Does preparing for a test limit the opportunities for your students to take on critical thinking and creative tasks?
  • Are student behavior or attention-spans an issue because children are not given enough recess or free-play time?

Are you complicit in the attacks on your profession?
Do you fail to understand that the NYS Assessment system continues to be tied to your evaluation despite the brief moratorium?  

  • The 3012-d law still exists. The same system designed to falsely fail two-thirds of New York's students is being used toblame you for manufactured crisis of low test scores? 

  • Could you be fired, denied tenure, or placed on an "improvement plan" as a result of poor student performance on flawed assessments?

  • Do you realize that parents who have their children boycott the state assessments are not only protecting their kids but also educators?  A friend and fellow advocate I know famously has proclaimed at several forums and rallies that "she will not allow her children to be used as a weapon against their teachers". 

Are you complicit in the attacks on our public schools?
 Cuomo, Trump, DeVos, and other public figures like to falsely label our public schools as "failures".  How do they try to justify this propaganda--- THE TEST?  Low test scores, failing schools and inept teachers.  

The test is the weapon.  If you support the current assessment system, you support attacks on students, educators and schools. If our public schools are to survive, we need all hands on deck to defend our local educational institutions.  It is time to shed the fear, ignorance or compliance that drive your complicity to the almighty flawed assessments.  
NY Educators Speak Out About NYS ELA Test

  • “All tests this morning were different forms within each classroom. This has not been the norm in previous years. The forms had a variety of different passages (with the remainder of the passages being the same for all). Level of passages varied.”

  • “Over 11 hours wasted on testing this week. The passages were ridiculous and hard, some words I had difficulties pronouncing and too many difficult vocabulary words that were way above 3rd grade.  After 3 and 1/2 hours testing each day, today my students completely broke down and started crying.  My kids were completely overwhelmed each day and now they are left disheartened and completely defeated.”

  • “Four passages that are well above grade level with 6 multiple choice questions most of which require that a student go back into the text and the answer is still difficult to figure out is ridiculous. Kids were twitching. Two of mine cried. I administered to 7 children with reading disabilities. They didn't stand a chance. It makes me angry. I spent all year inspiring  them to  feel excited about learning and confident and in 10 minutes NYS made them feel like idiots. Additionally 3.5 hours after the rest started there are still 25-30 kids in a new location still testing. One said they were afraid to quit.”  [WHAT GRADE WAS THIS????]

  • So why does the 7th grade have 5 reading passages with just 35 total multiple choice questions today, but hammer the kids with most of the writing on day 3.  Poor design- spread out the writing.....esp the last day with fatigue.

  • Big problem with test ... State Ed did not bother to fully explain that there were different forms of test and for those students getting it read aloud, some proctors were reading aloud wrong questions.

  • All students who have the test read aloud accommodation were supposed to have the same form of the test this year. Districts had to pre-order them because each of these forms came shrink wrapped with an additional form for the teacher to read from.

  • 3rd graders given 4th grade CC test on computer

  • "I proctored the 4th grade test this morning. Here is a run down of the passages and levels I was able to find. Share, share, share!
Stunt Performers by tony hyland, 5.7
Ruby Goldberg's bright idea by Anna Humphrey, 5.30
Marshes and Swamps by Philip Johansson, 5.7
One day and one amazing morning on orange st. by Joanne rocklin, 5.4 (lexile 830L)
The passages were LONG."

  • “Almost every booklet was different.  Why would NYS do that the same year they start allowing test read mods to apply to the ELA?  Nowhere does it say test read has to be individually administered.  How can special education teachers read each child their different test?”

  • “There were 16 different versions of the 7th grade ELA and 16 different versions of the 8th grade ELA.”

  • "Well what I can say is it's difficult for an adult to take a test for that length of time, imagine how these kids feel. You can see it on their faces. I get sooo angry because these obnoxious tests are taking valuable class time away where they can actually learn rather than this waste of time.  I didn't look at the test because they put the fear of G*d in you, but every single student had a different test. I'm trying to find out if they at least had the same questions but in a different order.  If the test questions were different than that's a huge problem."

  • The term “isothiocyanate" appeared on day 1 of the NYS  8th grade ELA Exam.

  • "Today I had to read the entire test to middle school special Ed students. The words were impossible for even adults to understand. Kids were in tears. One was banging his head on the desk calling himself "stupid"."

  • Tell me again why we should not opt out. Is it our job to punish children with disabilities? The people who insist on this ridiculous testing regime should be jailed for child abuse.

  • Third grade test as of day 2.
    Day 1- the stories were not actually that bad and while many questions were difficult or confusing ( still too many in my opinion) I did see appropriate questions that were fair. So I thought ok- maybe they are making changes and a few tough or bad questions may be the determining factor to earn a 3 or a 4. Today I was hopeful when looking at the stories. Kids would be interested. One story was harder than the rest. However, the questions on multiple choice were very difficult requiring a lot of challenging inferences that were way too difficult for 8 and 9 year olds. For such a great story- the questions were awful! I could have come up with much better questions to ask my students. The essay also required a great deal of inferencing which proved to be very difficult for third graders. Very uninspiring test to say the least. Opt out!! As far as timing for third grade- day 1 some kids finished in about 1  1/2 hours while most too between 2 and 3+ hours. Today many are still not done at lunch and require a lot more time to complete it. This is absolutely abuse. And they still have another round tomorrow with 5 short answers and an essay.

  • NYS ELA Day 1
Why I support the "Opt Out" movement
Since becoming a parent, I've grown more cognizant of how my students react to the learning situations they face everyday. Today was no different but being the first day of the ELA state tests for my third graders, I was even more in tune to their emotions. This was a brand new experience for them. I know my students well, I know their mannerisms and what triggers them to excel or shut down. I strive to differentiate instruction everyday to grow all learners.
Today, after reading the directions, the mood in my classroom changed. Their eyes grew big when I recited the list of recording devices not allowed and after listing the "do nots", their worry set in.
Apparently there were several changes to the assessments this year: The tests are now untimed and there was one less question, making it shorter. Two great things- for the untrained eye. In the past, third graders had 70 minutes to complete each part and the majority of students complete the assessment in about 45 minutes.
It took some students over 3 hours to complete day 1. This was was infuriating. How on earth could students take 3 hours to complete a test if it was shortened? I watched panic set in on those students who were trying but lacked the focus to finish in a timely manner. These students needed constant redirection. A timed test provided a count down and time management. This free for all allowed students to suffer.
Perhaps the struggle was due to the challenging readability of the passages. The third grade passages seemed impossible from the start. I watched my students stare blankly at the first passage for uncomfortable lengths of time. When you have an excerpt from a chapter book, it's hard to get the gist without enough background. 2 of my struggling readers asked to have a word read to them. When I told them I couldn't help them, they shut down. I watched their faces fade from determination to degradation. Right there, these two learned they weren't going to be successful on this test. This was only passage 1. There were many more passages to go.
Another student shut down in the middle of reading the same passage. He was confused and unable to follow the story. I watched as he began fidgeting, tapping, rocking and crying. He was on the verge of a meltdown. It took him 2 hours to complete entire the assessment even with my encouragement and praises.
The readability of passage 2 was 4.9. I observed a student who reads at the first grade level chunk almost every word with his fingers. Good teaching tells us when a child reads like that, the text is too hard, that we shouldn't push a child to read when he lacks the strategies and tools to be successful. But today wasn't about being a good teacher. Today I was a good proctor.
As the assessment went on the readability actually leaned closer to third grader. But the students were already exhausted and beaten down by the onset of challenging passages and tricky vocabulary. It's only day 1.
Passage 2, a biography, had me curious about one particular paragraph that caught my eye. It seemed to target public education. It clearly stated the person referenced in the article went to public schools and claimed to not be "encouraged" by elementary teachers and until he went to a "selective high school". It was there his learning needs were met. Curious, I looked the passage up because I couldn't believe this was intended for third graders.

  • Today, I watched my students shut down in the first passage of a 3 day assessment. As a parent, I am angry that the parents were duped into believing everything has improved when in reality, the third grade test is worse. Your child's first exposure to high stakes testing should not wear a him down, make him cry or spend 2 plus hours to complete. Until the assessments are age and grade level appropriate, assess the standards taught and provide immediate results where teachers can consult the actual assessments to drive instruction, I will continue to support the opt out movement.

  • "My school did 3rd grade on the computer.  Kids tested all day.  Stopped for lunch and went back to continue.  At 3pm there were still a couple not done yet."

  • 3rd Grade: I was reading the test to my self-contained 8:1:1 class and recognized one of the passages with science content from a 6th grade Journey’s literature book.  

  • 3 grade teacher in NYC.  Yesterday the test had words on it like “astrophysicist" and "ukulele".   I don't know what educator would think these are appropriate words for a 8 year old.  Some Kids  tested from 8:30 to well after 12.  Again, what educator or parent can say children in 3,4,5 even 6 grade should sit for more than an hour on a test??????? Again many people are arguing it's a challenge and a good way to evaluate "comprehension" skills." Well as an educator comprehension is checked by retelling a story, finding the problem or solution or identifying the author's purpose.  These questions were unfair, showed no link to comprehension. Most questions truly could have been any answer and a student's guess was as good as mine. Today they read a passage on a tiger who was blind. If it is released, your hearts would break for these 8 year olds sitting trying to answer questions that were not in the passage.  I truly didn't even know what the answer was and all of the students including my brightest had different answers. This is a terrible way to torture children. Something must be done!!!!!!!!

  • The tests today are abusive. Over a dozen children in my school alone going back to take the test after lunch. These aren't children with disabilities.

  • Today is a complete disaster beyond my comprehension. Extreme inferencing well beyond their age level. Kids are definitely feeling it today. Begging for help and we were only on the first question.Stories range in difficulty level and the questions require so much inferencing. And the need for two details is so discouraging for third grade when there is really no second detail to explain it. I don't understand why an 8 year old needs two details!!! Especially for some questions. I don't understand why third graders (or any grade) are subjected to this insanity! Why is day one shorter for third grade but day two and three are just as hard and long? Why the need for 7 short answer and two full essays? Why do third graders have to answer two separate questions on essays??? This is their first experience taking a standardized exam and they are exhausted and broken!! This is child abuse. This is not good practice for future exams!! Parents that opt in really need to do more research. It was sickening to sit here. I really wanted to walk out and say I Refuse to administer them but then my kids need me.

  • I proctored the 5th grade. It was so labor intensive. I will never understand why the long response isn't done on the 1st day? So stupid

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Corporate Coup Destroying Our Schools Has Finally Come For Our Government by Steven Singer

First they came for people of color and I said nothing.
Because I am not a person of color.

Then they came for the poor and I said nothing.
For I am not poor.

Then they came for our public schools and I said nothing.
Because I do not send my children to public schools.

Now they’ve come for our government and who is left to speak for me?

This is a paraphrase of Martin Niemöller’s famous lines about the cowardice of German intellectuals during Hitler’s rise to power.

The fascists purged group after group while those who could have stood against them did nothing – until it was too late.

That’s very nearly the position we find ourselves in today in relation to the Trump administration.

The neoliberal and neofascist façade has fallen away. And the naked greed of our runaway capitalist system has been exposed for what it is.

Just this week, Trump unveiled a new government office with sweeping authority to overhaul federal bureaucracy on the business model.

Led by the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, The White House Office of American Innovation will be an autonomous entity enforcing the president’s will. Described as an internal “SWAT team” of strategic consultants, and staffed with former business executives, the office will cut down democratic rule in favor of top-down authoritarianism.

And the excuse is the same one used to deny equity for minorities, the same one used to dismantle protections for the poor and the same one used to unfairly label and close our public schools – we need to run government like a business.

The goal of a business is profit for the few. The goal of government is service to the many.

In a private business only the owner or the board of directors reaps the benefits. But our government is not supposed to be set up that way. It’s not supposed to benefit merely all the president’s men. It’s supposed to benefit all of us – the citizens, the taxpayers, the voters.

We have shifted our concern away from students and parents to investors and corporations. For almost two decades, our education policies have increasingly been to reduce local control – especially at schools serving the poor and minorities – and give that control to private charter school operators. We have removed the duly-elected school boards and replaced them with appointed boards of directors. We have removed or diminished democratic rule and replaced it with an autocracy. And all the while the middle class has cheered.

It was a coup in plain site, and no one but parents, students, teachers and intellectuals spoke up.

Our voices were undercut or ignored. When we demanded equal treatment for our children, we were labeled welfare queens wanting something for nothing. When we demanded fair treatment, a safe work environment and resources for our students, we were labeled union thugs standing in the way of progress. At every turn we were tone policed into silence and passed over for the voices of self-proclaimed experts who knew nothing but what they were paid to espouse.

We were told that the only measure of academic success was a standardized test score. But no mention of the white, middle class standard our non-white, impoverished students were being held to.

When our schools were increasingly segregated by race, class and income, we were told that it was only fair. After all, it was based on choice – the choice of the invisible hand of the free market. When our schools were starved of resources, we were told to do more with less. And when our students struggled to survive malnutrition, increased violence and the indentured servitude of their parents to an economic system that barely allowed them to sustain themselves, we blamed them. And their teachers, because how dare anyone actually try to help these untouchables!

We allowed this – all of it – perpetrated by Democrats and Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals, because they’re all really just different dogs to the same masters.

We justified it all in the name of the market, in the name of economics, in the name of business. Why should we care? It rarely affected us directly.

White, middle class folks could get by. It wasn’t OUR schools being given away to private equity firms. It wasn’t OUR children being educated by temporary employees on the model of the peace corps with little training and no experience.

Those were just someone else’s children. We weren’t even sure they were human. They certainly didn’t share the same portion of humanity as we did. They were unwashed and unfed. Even if you washed them, many of them would still have brown skin. We were happy to have them as an underclass, as a cushion to stop us from falling further down the social ladder.

Our kids went to either well resourced public schools with fully elected school boards and shiny new facilities or else we sent our children to pristine private schools that offered the best of everything for a price.

But now the chickens have come home to roost.

Because this same model is being applied to our government.

Now it is us who will lose our voices. It will be our services that are stripped away as an unnecessary cost savings. We will lose our healthcare. We will lose our environment. It will be our democracy suspended to make way for the more efficient means of government – fascism and autocracy.

Who has time to listen to the people? Much easier to just decide what should be done. And we can justify it with our business model. No more voters and representatives. Now we will be businessmen and consumers. Nothing will stand in the way of the corporate class enriching themselves at public expense. They will be merely providing the rest of us with the goods and services of government, the bits that trickle down on our heads like rain or urine.

That is what Trump is attempting. He is turning the United States into a banana republic – even installing his relatives and children in top leadership positions. Our government now resembles the corridors of power in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein with henchmen Uday and Qusay in tow.

The question is this: will we allow it?

Will we continue to allow it?

Will we stand for it as the administration installs Trump loyalty officers in every federal office?

Will we say nothing as nepotism and greed become the most prized attributes of governance?

Will we remain silent as our public schools continue to be raided, sacked and burned?

Because the answer to those questions is the answer to so much more.

Are we on the cusp of revolution or is history merely repeating itself?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Case Against Crayons by Catherine Malley

Crayons are illegal today; Classroom contraband, reeking of play.

My box of new September crayons: Flawless, sharp tipped, begging to escape their yellow and green striped Crayola box. Each color was perfectly placed in the spectrum: red, maroon, scarlet, brick red and my favorite, magenta. Magenta fell somewhere in the purples, but it was rarely returned to its identified space. At seven, I revered the fuchsia hue, utilizing it at every opportunity to color lips, tulips, and princess gowns.

Now my second grade students’ crayons maintain their sleek points most of the year. They are rarely used for any length of time. Crayons are illegal, especially when they are gloriously scattered under a desk just as the principal walks in to observe my classroom at reading time. I watch two pony tailed girls, one mahogany, one peach, scramble to take exquisite measures to lovingly return errant colors to the box. They roll the crayons in their palms, check for broken tips, set them in rainbow hues. ROYGBIV, a mantra for the order of color. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet – the progression as sacrosanct as the words of a prayer.

The careful placement of each color in the Crayola box takes too much time, is too engaging, enables the students to avoid decoding and reading comprehension. As the principal typed comments on his IPad, I knew the act of crayon spilling would have consequences.

Coloring rainbows makes little sense; When standards based tests demand recompense.

Daisies, sunflowers and a soft gray cat with a celestial blue collar. Panda bears and butterflies. My students can barely contain their excitement when given rare opportunities for free time – crayons, scissors and folded paper are exponentially exciting. Soon enough, we will be back to searching for the main idea in a story, identifying the problem and solution and making inferences.

For those lessons, hands are kept still and quiet on top of their desks.

Instead, small child, put that crayon box away; You won’t need sixty-four colors, just the color gray. “Testing one, two, three” is the only goal; All colors but gray will be leached from your soul.

There were six of us, growing up, and the deluxe box of sixty-four crayons was a treat. When they were brand new, sometimes my sisters and I inexplicably spent time dropping colors like burnt sienna and royal purple through the heating vents in the floor. Later, I would peer through the silver grill to see the preserved crayons - inert, untouched. A mystery – what drawings of oak trees, kangaroos and king’s robes would never exist because these colors were abandoned?
What pictures using forest green, sea green and mountain meadow green lie dormant in my students’ imaginations? 

One child expresses his frustration by breaking crayons. Shards of red-orange and medium violet spray like flecks of mosaic glass around his chair. He strips off the paper, erases the identity of lavender or turquoise, leaves naked stubs piled like wax corpses in the recesses of his desk. It’s the only way he can access his crayons on a daily basis. By systematically destroying them, he protests the dearth of creativity in my classroom. The curriculum dictates that I pass out piles of Xeroxed papers, littered with hulls of multiple choice questions, assigned in preparation for standardized tests.

Pencils only please – graphite, the color of lead, is the single acceptable writing tool.

Metrics can’t be assigned to bright yellow suns; Smiles can’t be measured, so crayons are shunned.

I sit in the principal’s office for my observation conference. He brings up the crayon incident. What were those children doing anyway? It’s because of your lack of classroom management skills that students waste time in your class and have no accountability for their learning. I think back, remember the day it happened, remember watching in horror as sixty-four crayons tumbled to the floor. Knowing the students would not get back on task quickly because for a brief moment, pleasure had escaped. The reverential act of collecting crayons was much more compelling for them than reciting sounds of long and short vowels at reading time.
Small fingers, touching color, holding imagination in their fists. Dropping crayons, a last revolutionary act of childhood, a fervent cry for freedom.

There’s no grade for a child on the blue of their sky, no percentage for joy in an orange butterfly.
At the end of the conference, my teaching is marked as Ineffective.