Breaking (Bad) News

The Common Core Task Force Commission released their final report. You can read the official press release here, or click here for the full 55 page report.

On the surface at least, the recommendations contain some very positive suggestions for changes (see list below), although some observers suggest, the modifications will, in reality be superficial at best.

The big news is that the recommendation does, in fact, include a four year moratorium. However, while they keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means. The report says “… any current Common Core aligned tests should not count for students or teachers until the start of 2019-2020 school year when the new statewide standards developed through this process will be put into place…During the transition, the 18 percent of teachers whose performance is measured, in part, by Common Core tests will use different local measures approved by the state, similar to the measures already being used by the majority of teachers

In other words, they are not recommending severing the tie between student test scores and teacher evaluations, they are just temporarily banning the use of common core tests for that purpose. If I’m reading this correctly (and I’ll follow up to let you know if it turns out I’m wrong), 50% of every teacher’s evaluation will still be based on test scores –  just not common core tests.

I had previously written that legislation would be needed to make these changes, but this turns out not to be true because “The Education Transformation Act of 2015 will remain in place, and no new legislation is required to implement the recommendations of the report, including recommendations regarding the transition period for consequences for students and teachers.”

This is definitely NOT something to celebrate. I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.

In the meantime, here are the major changes outlined in the report.

  • Overhauling the Common Core and adopting locally-driven high quality New York education standards with input from local districts, educators, and parents through a transparent and open process that are age-appropriate and allow educators flexibility for Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners.
  • Establishing a transparent and open process by which New York standards are periodically reviewed by educators and content area experts, since educators know their schools and students best.
  • Providing educators and local school districts with the flexibility to develop and tailor curriculum to meet the needs of their individual students and requiring the State to create and release new and improved curriculum resources that educators can then adapt to meet the needs of their individual students.
  • Engaging New York educators, not a private corporation, to drive the review and creation of State standards-aligned tests in an open and transparent manner.
  • Minimizing student testing anxiety by reducing the number of test days and test questions and providing ongoing test transparency to parents, teachers and districts on test questions and student test scores.
  • Ensuring that State tests account for different types of learners, including Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners.

Federal and State News

As expected, the Every Student Succeeds Act passed the Senate and was signed into law by President Obama. If you want a recap of what the law is about, please see this prior post on the SWRTA website. Also, here’s Education Week’s take on how everyone is claiming victory.

New York State Testing
The Common Core Task force has finished their work, and is said to be releasing their recommendations soon, possibly as early as tomorrow. According to Capital New York, their report will include, among  other things, a recommendation for a four-year moratorium on the use of test scores in teacher evaluations.  Let’s hold off on celebrating just yet, though.

For one thing, their recommendations are just that. Any changes would have to be made by the legislature and approved by the Governor. Secondly, even if it comes to pass, a four-year delay could just mean more time for them to “get it right,” which really means figure out a way to make their junk science more palatable to parents and impervious to lawsuits. Finally, even if we are successful in severing the connection between test scores and evaluations, we are still stuck with these wasteful and harmful tests themselves, and we will need to continue to fight them. This is why SWRTA has written a resolution which we hope to have voted on at the next NYSUT RA, which reaffirms our commitment to redesigning the federally mandated tests in ways that will benefit rather than harm students. We’ll be telling you more about that soon.

It’s Not Just About Us

In his latest entry on the Huffington Post, Hofstra professor Alan Singer takes issue with the ESSA, highlighting the many areas in which the law falls woefully short of its stated goals. It is, as usual, a great piece, with one glaring exception.

Almost as an aside, Mr. Singer essentially accuses teachers unions of acting in pure self-interest without regard to what’s best for students. Noting that unions supported ESSA, he says they praised “new federal flexibility but mostly they welcome changes in how their members will be evaluated.” He follows this with his suspicion that “they will abandon opposition to high-stakes testing once teachers will no longer be penalized.”

This is the argument we hear from folks who want to marginalize us and shut us out of the debate – the same folks who like to claim that the opt-out movement was started by teachers unions.

We know that this isn’t just about us; it’s about the students in our classrooms now and those who will be coming through our schools in the next 5, 10, 20 years, etc. But the “teachers are just looking out for themselves” trope is an easy argument to make. And if this thinking takes hold it will become very difficult for us to work together with parents and the public at large to get real changes enacted. It’s not enough to make a commitment to continuing the fight, it’s important that this commitment be visible.

My response to Mr. Singer is below. If he writes back, I’ll follow up with another post.

Dear Alan,

I don’t know if you remember me, but we met this past spring when we both spoke at the “Teaching and Learning in the Age of High Stakes Testing” forum at Hofstra.

I found your talk that evening engaging and enlightening, but was taken aback by a statement you made suggesting that teacher opposition to testing would wane once the connection to evaluations was removed. I was extremely disheartened to read your latest post and see that you are doubling down on this notion.

There are two sentences in that piece that are particularly troubling. You write “Teacher unions endorsed ESSA praising new federal flexibility but mostly they welcome changes in how their members will be evaluated.” On what do you base this? Statements from the AFT, NEA, and NYSUT have laid out numerous reasons for supporting ESSA that go far beyond evaluations. So since the word “mostly” is not supported by unions’ words or actions, it seems you are claiming to have insight into what they are really thinking, and thus suggesting that their public statements are deceptive. While you may believe this to be true, it is still your opinion and should not be presented as fact.

The second sentence (“I suspect they will abandon opposition to high-stakes testing once teachers will no longer be penalized.”) is on safer ground journalistically since it is clearly presented as opinion, but it is nonetheless gratuitous and harmful. You must be aware that this statement reinforces negative (and false) stereotypes of teachers unions – that they are concerned solely about the well being of their members and not at all about the students they serve. 

I can assure you that I, along with every other rank and file teacher I know, am opposed to high-stakes standardized testing whether they are tied to evaluations or not. This is a position that we have held consistently, and our level of advocacy has risen in recent years because the tests themselves have become more intrusive and damaging and it has become harder and harder to shield our students from their negative effects. 

In fairness, although I, and others, will push for continued attention to this issue, I cannot personally guarantee what response union leadership will have regarding testing if the connection to evaluations is severed. Certainly there are decisions that have been made by our umbrella unions that many of us disagree with – this is the nature of large democratically run organizations. 

You might have said that you are worried that in the midst of the multi-front battle against teachers, unions, and public education as a whole, that there is reason to fear that the testing issue might drop in importance; and you might have expressed hope (and a plea) that this wouldn’t be the case. Had you written that, I would agree wholeheartedly. But your statements, without any context or nuance, come across as little more than union bashing.

To be clear, this is not about hurt feelings, it is about the big picture. If you are truly dedicated to the cause of repairing what’s really wrong in public education (i.e. eliminating inequity, removing corporate influence, beginning a discussion of what is important for students to know, etc), then you need to recognize that we must all be together in this fight. None of these goals can be accomplished by driving a wedge between the various groups who are fighting for them – and that is exactly what those two sentences do.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I enjoy reading your posts and I am hopeful that future discussions of this issue will present teachers unions in a more fair and accurate light.

Rob Verbeck

ESSA Update

House Passes ESSA
In a rushed vote, the House passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, 359 – 64. The Senate is scheduled to vote next week, and the expectation is that it will sail through and be signed into law by President Obama shortly thereafter.

If you want to dig deeper into what’s inside the ESSA, here are few links that should help:

Cuomo to be Indicted?

Is Cuomo about to be indicted?
An article from the Buffalo Chronicle stating that Cuomo is going to be indicted has been making the rounds on social media as well as SWR’s email system. Unfortunately, as was noted the last time this paper made the same claim, the Buffalo Chronicle is not a reputable source. And while I hate to be that guy who takes the fun out of everythingthis article from not only addresses the overall reliability of the Chronicle, but pretty much tears the whole piece apart. This isn’t to say that Cuomo won’t wind up enjoying early retirement in a semi-private suite on the banks of the Hudson River, just that there’s no good reason to assume he won’t still be around for the next legislative session.

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Something to share

In response to the flawed Common Core survey that the NY State Ed Department posted online, NYSAPE (New York State Allies for Public Education) has created their own survey which they hope to be able to use to show what people really think of the Common Core (as opposed to the nonsense that NYSED is trying to push). NYSAPE is an organization of parents, teachers, administrators, etc, and they want the results of their survey to reflect this broad constituency. So…

  1. Please take a couple of minutes and complete the survey:  (click here to read their blurb about it, or click this link to go directly to the survey.)
  2. Bring this up at Thanksgiving dinner, and ask you family members if they’d be willing to complete the survey as well, then forward it to them
  3. Post it on Facebook and stuff


Things to be Thankful for?

It looks like NCLB (No Child Left Behind) is about to be replaced by ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act). The bill has cleared committee and is expected to easily pass the Senate and, although it is not a sure thing, will most likely pass in the House as well. Unfortunately, the requirement for annual testing in grades 3-8 still stands. However, this rewrite of the ESEA gets rid of the ludicrous AYP targets and also lessens the role of the US Ed Dept and returns more discretion to the states. At first blush, this wouldn’t seem to be of much help to us here in New York considering our Governor’s stance on testing. However…

It’s being reported that Governor Cuomo is open to reducing the use of test scores in teacher evaluations.

“…according to two people involved in making state education policy, Mr. Como has been quietly pushing for a reduction, even to zero”  

There’s plenty of reason to be skeptical (not the least of which is that he has never given us any reason to trust anything he says), and even the linked article throws some cold water on this actually happening,

“‘There is no position of this administration with respect to this issue,’ the governor’s director of state operations, Jim Malatras, said this week”

Nonetheless, combined with the news about ESEA, this report at least gives some reason to hope, and maybe opens the door just a little wider to give us leverage with the legislature.

Are you Highly Effective at Thanksgiving?

This piece is funnier if you’re familiar with the Danielson rubric (as opposed to the NYSUT rubric, which we use), but still worth a look.

Hope you all have a great Thanksgiving.

Common Core “Listening Session”

Although I was not able to attend last night’s Common Core “listening session,” SWR parent and Comsewogue teacher Melissa McMullan was kind enough to send me a summary.

As you may know, Melissa is an fierce advocate in the fight against the reform agenda, whose writing has been published multiple times in the Washington Post and elsewhere. She also was one of the speakers at last night’s event (see link at the bottom).

Melissa did not give me an estimate of attendance, but the article in Newsday said it was “more than 150,” which means there were probably at least 300 people there.

Overall, the turnout was overwhelmingly anti-common core, assessment, and APPR, from superintendents, board members, teachers, etc…  There was one rogue teacher from Middle Country who touted the benefits of Common Core instruction in his high school algebra class. He went so far as to say that he has learned more about math from Common Core than anything else in 15 years. (kind of reminiscent of a certain superintendent speaking at a forum back in 2014, no?) He also intimated that teachers who are opposed to it are not well trained, or are lacking “enthusiasm for teaching.” The room when nuts and several people stood and turned their backs to him. I did not. If we are there to listen, even if we disagree, we must hear all sides.

The first speaker was one of those paid people like the woman from Mineola. So only two, out of 45 people, showed any level of support. We spoke as a family afterward and if they do not recommend to scrap the Common Core they clearly were not listening.

This really never was about the Common Core, but Common Core has been so corrupted by greedy publishers, assessment creators and the APPR process that it really all has to go. There is no other way to undo what has been done.

Bottom Line
First, we know this task force and listening tour is largely a charade. The state has already said there are no plans to do a major overhaul of the standards or even look at APPR. But they have nonetheless opened the door a crack and we need to take advantage of this. In the Newsday article, State Senator Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said that “some changes sought by parents and teachers could be on the way.” “We’ll produce whatever laws we need to produce, we’ll try to change whatever needs to be changed to make this work.”

This is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for and we can’t afford to let it slip away. Between now and the end of the next legislative session there will be numerous calls to action, and if we don’t respond in force we will have only ourselves to blame.

Additional Links
Melissa McMullan’s remarks from last night
Newsday’s article about the event
News 12’s Coverage
PJSTA’s post, which includes video of Melissa, Beth Dimino, and others.

Latest News: NAEP, Tisch, APPR, & Poll Numbers


The latest NAEP scores were released this morning and, as rumored, they show declines (the first time scores went down since this testing began in 1990). And, as predicted, reformer types are denying that there could be any connection to Common Core, testing, etc. Again, the hypocrisy is stunning.  As Carol Burris writes: The very folks who gleefully hold public schools accountable based on scores, evade using them to evaluate their own pet policies. For those of us who had first row seats to the disruption and chaos they have caused, we have one simple message—no excuses.” For a great explanation of what this all means, read her whole post in this article in The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet.

Merryl Tisch Stepping Down

Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the NY Board of Regents announced that she would not be seeking reelection when her term comes up in March (presumably to pursue a role in the Harry Potter musical). Tischrecently spoke out against the Governor’s teacher evaluation plan, somehow ignoring the fact that much of the plan mirrors her own proposals.(clearly she should have been included as a contender for theOrwell Awards). While her loss may be a welcome change, it really will depend on who takes her place as Chancellor (Roger Tilles is said to be a contender), and  who is elected to fill the vacant seat. Just another reminder of how important it is that every teacher get out and vote next week. Legislators need to know that we are paying attention and that we are involved.

APPR Update

SWR is one of 420 districts statewide that was granted a waiver extending the deadline for submitting a new APPR plan. The waiver is for four months, at which point districts can seek another waiver which, if granted, would result in the new APPR regulations not taking effect until the 2016/17 school year. The Board of Regents recently announced that they will “form a panel” to “consider improvements” to the APPR plan. It’s nice that there is attention being paid to this, but the main issues with APPR are baked into the law and all the panels and considerations in the world won’t make any difference if the legislature doesn’t act to undo what they’ve done.

Poll Numbers

The Sienna Poll released on Monday makes it clear that New Yorkers are not enamored of Common Coreor Governor Cuomo.

  • Only 30% of New Yorkers feel that Common Core will have a positive effect on education, while 54% say it will have a negative effect or no effect
  • Just 20% of New Yorkers say the implementation has made education better, while 61% say it has had no impact or made things worse.
  • As far as the Governor’s handling of education, just 27% approve while 68% disapprove (this is far bigger than his overall approval gap, which is still pretty awful: 40/58)

These dreadful numbers clearly show why Cuomo launched the Common Core Review panel. It also explains the surprise announcement that Jere Hochman, Superintendent of Bedford Schools and an outspoken critic of the Common Core, was appointed to a position within the Cuomo cabinet.

What it all Means

There’s been a huge amount of movement recently – Cuomo’s commission and the Hochman appointment, Obama’s statements about over-testing, the Regents panel, Tisch stepping down. Most education blogs look at every one of these things as lipstick on a pig, designed just to deflect attention and keep the reform movement alive.

But even if all these announcements are nothing more than window dressing, the fact that the reformers even feel a need to put them out there is saying something in and of itself. They are feeling the pressure. An article in Salon posits that Obama’s comments, such as “learning is about so much more than filling in the right bubble,” and that testing “takes the joy out of teaching and learning” can be seen as a serious crack in the wall of the reform movement.  This is an important point. Reformers may be hoping to throw a few bones at the general public in the hopes of putting the brakes on the opt-out movement and making them look like they’re listening (and making teachers look like we’re just inflexible). We can’t let them get away with it – we need to be active (e.g. voting, making calls, being vocal, etc) and we need to be united. Not only have we not lost this fight, but we may have a critical opportunity here, and we can’t afford to let it go.

Legislative Endorsements

The following candidates have been endorsed by the Suffolk Community College Faculty Association. Please support them on Election Day (Tuesday, November 3rd).

  • We need to support our colleagues at community colleges, just as we want them to support us.
  • The Suffolk County Legislature is like the Albany “farm team;” many county legislators move up to the State level – and so we want to get the most pro-education candidates in now.
  • Politicians need to see that we are engaged in the process so that they are thinking of us this coming legislative term. (We can threaten to “remember in November,” but if they know we don’t get out and vote in large numbers, it’s an empty threat.)

County Executive: Steve Bellone (D)

County Legislators:

LD 1 Al Krupski (D)

LD 2 Bridget Fleming (D)

LD 3 Kate Browning (WF)

LD 4 Thomas Muratore (R)

LD 5 Kara Hahn (D)

LD 6 Sarah Anker (D)

LD 7 Rob Calarco (D)

LD 8 Bill Lindsay (D)

LD 9 Monica Martinez (WF, I)

LD 10 Thomas Cilmi (R)

LD 11 Thomas F. Barraga (R)

LD 12 Leslie Kennedy (R)

LD 13 Robert Trotta (R)

LD 14 Kevin McCaffrey (R)

LD 15 DuWayne Gregory (D)

LD 16 Steve Stern (D)

LD 17 Lou D’Amaro (D)

LD 18 William Spencer (D)

An Unsettling New Argument

The past week saw new heights in anti-public ed reformers attempting to contort reality to fit their agendas. But the most incredible (and dangerous) example of reality bending comes from Vicki Phillips, writing on the Gates Foundation’s “ImpatientOptimists” blog. Ms. Philips begins her recent post describing Miss Marjorie, “the hardcore head teacher of McQuady Elementary,” who taught Phillips “hard work, how to treat my peers, how to respect my elders and how to hold myself accountable.”  Phillips also claims “The bond I had with Miss Marjorie was the strongest I ever had with a teacher. I would have done anything for her, and she would have done anything for me.”

But alas, Phillips has come to bury Miss Marjorie, not to praise her. The point of Vicki Phillip’s hatchet job is that, despite her good intentions, Miss Marjorie was a failure. “I realized later that what Miss Marjorie had been teaching me wasn’t going to get me ready. She taught me how to diagram a sentence, but I didn’t know how to write that sentence in an essay. I learned how to follow directions, but I couldn’t find my way when I got lost.”

Peter Greene, blogging at Curmudgucation, calls BS on this, pointing out that the notion that Phillips “wasn’t ready” is not exactly supported by the evidence: “Vicki Phillips has two college degrees, spent time in a classroom, was a superintendent, and rose through various edu-supervisory positions to now act as the edu-mouthpiece for one of the richest men in the world. Damn that Miss Marjorie and the life of abject failure she condemned Vicki Phillips to.

Of course, Phillips doesn’t blame Miss Marjorie herself for being a failure – the issue is that teachers just don’t have the support they need to get the job done. But as Greene notes,

By using our context clues and doing some close reading, we can quickly conclude that as used by Phillips, “supported” means “fixed.”

This is one of the premises of the Gates Approach To Education– teachers do not know what they’re doing, and they’ll never figure it out until someone ‘splains it to them. And let’s combine this with another Gates premise– the definition of a Good Teacher is “one whose students get better scores on the Big Standardized Test.

Greene is spot on with this, but there is something potentially more troubling: Phillips is taking a new tack here. Teachers have long made the point that one of the biggest problems with standardized tests is that they don’t measure the many other things we teach our students, such as persistence, creativity, critical thinking, self-discipline, empathy, leadership, etc. Up to this point, the response from the reform crowd has been to ignore this argument. But now, Phillips is claiming that these elements have no value. One can infer that time spent on this non-academic goals is not only unnecessary, but potentially harmful, as they take time that could be better spent raising expectations or achieving higher standards (or insert other buzzwords) which, in reality, translate to nothing more than “get higher scores on standardized tests.”

Let’s hope this argument doesn’t take off. What we do matters. We teach children, not test takers. And if Vicki Phillips wants to spit in Miss Marjorie’s face for trying to make her a better human being, that’s a shame. We appreciate you, Miss Marjorie. At least you made the effort.