Friday, April 27, 2018

NYS Educators, Don't Fall for the Old Okeydoke
By:  Marla Kilfoyle, NYS Teacher

I admire Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis to the moon and back.  She is a heroine to many of us.  I remember in 2016 when she warned teachers, “Don’t fall for the okey doke,”

As NYS teachers we will be embarking on an important choice this primary season.  

We have the opportunity to vote for a truly progressive candidate on September 13, 2018 - Cynthia Nixon.

To learn more about Cynthia Nixon go here
Join me as an Educator for Cynthia - sign up here

I am a NYS teacher, and I am warning my brothers and sisters in New York….

Don’t fall for the Old Okeydoke this primary season.  

So what is the Old Okeydoke?  It is when a trap is set, but a victim still walks right into it.  

Believe me teachers, Cuomo, and others, are  setting a trap for you - don’t walk into it. 

Let’s take a walk down memory lane.

The New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), a grassroots organization in NYS, has been fighting Cuomo’s education reforms for over five years.  NYSAPE has issued close to a hundred press releases over the years calling out Cuomo for his destructive education policies.  NYSAPE has also led the charge in the opt-out movement here in NYS because of Cuomo’s push for a test and punish agenda.  As a result of Cuomo’s test and punish agenda  over 20% of the parents in NY opt their children out of testing.   Check out some of the press releases NYSAPE has issued.  It is a fantastic historical reminder of what Cuomo has done to teachers, children, and parents.

January 8, 2014

A powerful quote from that Press Release by NY teacher Bianca Tanis
“It’s very telling that while Governor Cuomo not only supported and endorsed the State’s rushed adoption and implementation of these so-called reforms, he now seems to want to wash his hands of any responsibility for the botched initiatives. The fact is, it is well within the Governor’s power to slow down their implementation through legislative means” says Bianca Tanis, New Paltz public school parent and steering committee member of Re-Thinking Testing, Mid-Hudson Region.

September 1, 2014
NYSAPE writes
The four challengers also oppose APPR, which ties teacher evaluation to student test scores, while the Governor, a prime sponsor of the law which created the system, fully supports it. All candidates support significantly rolling back time spent on standardized testing. However, the Governor claims that the recent legislation banning K-2 testing and capping test prep time will significantly roll back testing. In reality, it does nothing to reduce standardized testing time for 3rd through 8th grade students.

January 21, 2015

NYSAPE writes
In the months leading up to today’s address, Cuomo has made it clear his agenda, and that of his backers, is to assume control of education in New York, going so far as to call local control of democratically governed schools a "monopoly" that must be broken up.  The governor has also vowed to expand the growth of privately owned and operated charter schools, schools that are not beholden to public oversight.

To get a full list of their press releases which offer an extensive history of Cuomo HAS DONE to children and teachers go here    

I have also written about Cuomo here and highlight how he continues to call our school failures despite the fact that many children are succeeding!  Read more here.

Cuomo Fails the Children of NYS

Let’s take a look at what Cuomo has said about education and teachers over the years.
Remember he has been a supporter of  unregulated charter schools that suck money away from public education.  He uses the “failing school” narrative of the Republicans, and feels that teachers don’t represent their students when they advocate.  

From the Washington Post   (2014)
Cuomo said that if he is re-elected, he would work hard to bust up “one of the only remaining public monopolies,” he said, referring to public education, and said that he likes charter schools because they introduce competition into the K-12 education world. He also said he wants to change teacher evaluation systems to increase more incentives and more sanctions in order to “make it a more rigorous evaluation system.” He was quoted as saying:
“I believe these kinds of changes are probably the single best thing that I can do as governor that’s going to matter long-term to break what is in essence one of the only remaining public monopolies — and that’s what this is, it’s a public monopoly.”
And he said:
“The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations — I get it. I feel exactly opposite.”

From LOHUD on teacher evaluations that HE created  (2015)
"They're baloney," he said. "How can 38 percent of students be ready and 98 percent of the teachers rated effective? The problem is clear. We need real, fair, accurate teacher evaluations."
From Daily News (2015) - Cuomo responding to a NY Teacher who said that he represents his students.

“No, you don’t,” Cuomo said he told the person. “You represent the teachers. Teacher salaries, teacher pensions, teacher tenure, teacher vacation rights. I respect that. But don’t say you represent the students.”

From On the Issues  (2010)   Cuomo Doubles the Charter Cap

“New York must be the leader when it comes to education reform. This starts with the increasing the charter school cap from 200 to 460. But increasing the cap won't result in more charter schools if we too tightly restrict where they can be located or how they can be approved. We believe that public review and consultation are important--especially when charter schools will be co-located with traditional public schools--but this cannot become a poison pill that prevents opening new charter schools. As Governor, Andrew Cuomo will also oppose arbitrarily limiting the number of charter schools that can operate in a school district. And because SUNY has done a good job in approving and monitoring charter schools, we should continue to allow SUNY to have shared authority for approving charter schools with the Board of Regents. As a strong supporter of charter schools, Andrew Cuomo understands how important it is to retain high standards and strong accountability.”

Cuomo threatening schools that if they don’t adopt his punitive evaluation, he will withhold money in On the Issues  (2013)

“We started last year a teacher evaluation system, after years and years and years of dallying and opposition and lack of progress, we said last year we agreed on an evaluation system and then we said to the school districts across the state, we want you to adopt it, we want you to adopt it by the end of the year, and if you don't, you're not going to get the increase of 4% that we promised in the budget. Well my friends, the 4% agreement worked; 99% of the school districts have submitted a teacher evaluation test already ahead of the deadline, congratulations. We want to keep it going; more than 90% of the plans that have come in last only for one year. We want to keep in the model that in order to get the additional aid, you have to continue the evaluation process.”

Cuomo on turning “failing schools” into charter schools in On the Issues  (2016)

“Let's transform every failing school in the state of New York into a community school. Our charter schools are public schools and serve some of our neediest students--more than 100,000 of them all across the state. Charters are an important option for parents in communities with failing schools and provide education laboratories. On average, charters are half the cost of public schools. They are an important component of our system and we continue to encourage their development in this budget.”

Cuomo is a supporter of choice programs, like Betsy DeVos.  On the Issues (2015)
“Proposals #49 & 50: Pass the $100 million Education Tax Credit for public and private scholarships to promote choice in education.”

Teachers remember this?

NYS Teachers, don’t fall for the Old Okeydoke .

In the coming weeks, Cuomo will  try to position himself  as our savior.  He has been, and will continue to be anything but a savior for teachers, children, and parents.  There is currently a bill in the Assembly to end using student test scores on teacher evaluations.  It is NOT a full repeal of this punitive system but here is my prediction:  The Senate will pass it, and Cuomo will support it. 

Here are the issues I have with the language in the Assembly bill on APPR (crediting Deborah Abramson Brooks)

"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, rule or regulation
4 to the contrary, the grades three through eight English language arts
5 and mathematics state assessments and all other state-created or admin-
6 istered tests shall not be required to be utilized in any manner to
7 determine a teacher or principal evaluation required by this section."

"shall not be required to be utilized in any manner" should be
"shall not be utilized in any manner." 

The current language leaves it open for districts to use tests and the other language would not allow that. The bill also does not include K-2 testing and needs to be in there.  

Keep in mind teachers, parents, students, and education advocates have been fighting for YEARS to get all of this overturned.  We have testified, made trips to Albany to meet with lawmakers, we have met with lawmakers in their home office, we have protested, we have opted our children out of testing, we have sent hundreds of thousands of emails, we have submitted input via NYSEDs ridiculous surveys - FOR YEARS and all we have heard is crickets.

Crickets as teachers were humiliated
Crickets as students suffered through unfair testing
Crickets as over 20% of parents refused to allow the state to test their children, recognizing that their children were being set up to fail.   
Crickets as advocates took to the street to demand fair and equitable funding

Teachers, DO NOT forget all that he has done.  The countless children who have had their education ruined by a test and punish agenda and by under funding.  The countless teachers who have been humiliated by an evaluation system created by Governor Cuomo that one NYS Supreme Court judge ruled  “capricious and arbitrary.”

Don’t forget that he continues to refuse to restore much-needed Foundation Aid for our schools and children.  Read this incredible report by AQE called Alternative Facts & Historical Fiction: Fact Checking Governor Cuomo on School Aid

He continues to under fund public education - PERIOD!

Teachers don’t fall for the Old Okeydoke!

We have a chance this primary season to vote for a true progressive.  Cynthia Nixon has been in education advocacy for the last 17 years and is a spokesperson and organizer for the Alliance for Quality Education.  She has been honored for her work in educational and racial justice. 

We have a chance on September 13, 2018, to show politicians that they don’t get to beat us up, beat up the children we teach, and then think we will change our minds when they throw us a crumb.

We have a chance on September 13, 2018 to show politicians we won’t fall for the Old Okeydoke.

We have a chance to put a true progressive into the Governor's mansion who will fight for all of us.

We have a chance to show the nation that teachers. like our brothers and sisters who have taken to the street in Arizona, Colorado, West Virginia, and Kentucky, are DONE being abused and taken advantage of. 

To learn more about Cynthia Nixon go here
Join me as an Educator for Cynthia - sign up here

**This essay is my own  opinion and not those of The Badass Teachers Association or NY BAT. As well these views do not NECESSARILY reflect those of BATs.**

You can follow Marla Kilfoyle on twitter @marla_kilfoyle 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

It’s NOT Education Reform – It’s School Sabotage by Steven Singer

“Language is a weapon of politicians, but language is a weapon in much of human affairs.”
-Noam Chomsky
“Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.”

 Maya Angelou

Names matter.

What you call something becomes an intellectual shorthand.

Positive or negative connotations become baked in.

Hence the Colorado Democratic Party’s criticism of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

It just makes sense. DFER is a group of hedge fund managers pushing for school privatization – a policy the Colorado Democrats vocally oppose.

In fact, one of the organization’s key founders, hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, was quoted in the film “A Right Denied,” thusly:
“The real problem, politically, was not the Republican party, it was the Democratic party. So it dawned on us, over the course of six months or a year, that it had to be an inside job. The main obstacle to education reform was moving the Democratic party, and it had to be Democrats who did it, it had to be an inside job. So that was the thesis behind the organization. And the name – and the name was critical – we get a lot of flack for the name. You know, “Why are you Democrats for education reform? That’s very exclusionary. I mean, certainly there are Republicans in favor of education reform.” And we said, “We agree.” In fact, our natural allies, in many cases, are Republicans on this crusade, but the problem is not Republicans. We don’t need to convert the Republican party to our point of view…”

“We oppose making Colorado’s public schools private, or run by private corporations, or segregated again through lobbying and campaign efforts of the organization called Democrats for Education Reform and demand that they immediately stop using the Party’s name, I.e., “Democrat” in their name.”

To which I say “Hurrah!”

However, which is more inaccurate – the term “Democrat” or the word “Reform”?

Members of the nefarious school privatization propaganda squad are, in fact, Democrats.

They don’t adhere to the traditional views normally associated with the party.

So the Colorado Dems motion is a positive move toward taking back what it means to be a Democrat. And in that spirit, it should be celebrated and emulated by every state and national party association.

The Democrats have always been a big tent party with lots of different ideas being accepted under that umbrella. But putting corporate profits over student needs does not belong there.

My point is that the larger verbal slight of hand isn’t with the organization’s party affiliation. It’s with the term “Reform,” itself.

DFER is not alone in calling what they advocate “Education Reform.”

My question is this – is what they’re proposing really reform at all?

And if so, what kind of reform is it? Who does it benefit? And what does it conceal?

The word “Reform” has positive associations. It’s always seen as a good.

We always want to be reforming something – turning it from bad to good. Or at very least improving it.

And when it comes to education, this is even more urgent.

No one really wants to be against education REFORM. The only reason to oppose it would be if you thought the way we teach was perfect. Then we would need no reform at all. But this is nearly impossible. Human society does not allow perfection because it is created by human beings, who are, in themselves, far from perfect.

However, the term “Education Reform” does not mean just any kind of change to improve teaching.

It has come to mean a very specific list of changes and policies.

It means increasing the number, frequency and power of standardized assessments to drive curriculum and teaching – More high stakes tests, more teaching to the test, more evaluating teachers based on student test scores, more school closures based on low test scores.

It means reducing democratic local control of schools, reducing transparency of how public tax dollars are spent while increasing control by appointed boards, and increasing the autonomy of such boards at the expense of accountability to the community actually paying for their work.

It means transforming money that was put aside to educate children into potential profit for those in control. It means the freedom to reduce student services to save money that can then be pocketed by private individuals running the school.

If the goal of education is to teach students, “Education Reform” is not about reforming practices for their benefit. It is not, then, reform.

If the goal is to increase profits for private businesses and corporations, then it truly is reform. It will increase their market share and throw off any extraneous concerns about kids and the efficacy of teaching.

However, this is not the goal of education.

Education is not for the benefit of business. It is not corporate welfare.

Education is essentially about providing positive opportunities for students. It is about providing them with the best learning environment, about hiring the best teachers and empowering them with the skills, pay, protections and autonomy to do their jobs. It’s about providing adequate resources – books, computers, libraries, nurses, tutors, etc. – to learn. It’s about keeping kids safe and secure, well-nourished, and healthy.

In short, it’s about everything bogus “Education Reform” either perverts or ignores.

Calling the things advocated by groups like DFER “Education Reform” is pure propaganda.

We must stop doing that.

Even if we use the term to criticize the practice, we’re helping them do their work.

It’s just like the term “School Choice.”

Despite the name, the reality has nothing to do with providing alternatives to parents and students. It really means school privatization.

In that way, it is a more limited version of faux “Education Reform.”

So I propose we stop using these signifiers.

Henceforth, “Education Reform” shall be Education Sabotage – because that’s really what it is.

It is about deliberately obstructing goods and services that otherwise would help kids learn and repurposing them for corporate benefit.

Likewise, I propose we stop using the term “School choice.” Instead, call it what it is – School Privatization.

Anyone who uses the older terms is either misguided or an enemy of authentic education.

Perhaps this seems petty.

They’re only words, after all. What does it matter?

It matters a lot.

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

We cannot effectively fight the forces of segregation, standardization and privatization if we have to constantly define our terms.

We have to take back the meaning of our language, first. We have to stifle the unconscious propaganda that happens every time someone innocently uses these terms in ways that smuggle in positive connotations to corporatist ends.

To take back our schools, we must first take back our language.

To stop the sabotage, we must first stop repeating their lies.

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to theBadass Teachers Association. Check it out!