Books? We don’t need no stinkin’ books

The State Education Department released guidelines yesterday for how districts can spend the money they will be getting from the Smart Schools bond. As WNYT Albany reported, most districts won’t be able to use the money this coming year, because the guidelines were issued after school budgets were due to the state.



Sadly, this isn’t really “news.” For the department that totally botched the implementation of Common Core, and repeatedly sent confusing and contradictory instructions for the first go-round of APPR, to be issuing guidelines after the budgets are due is just business as usual.

By the same token, it really shouldn’t be considered news that, as shown in the WNYT report, Governor Cuomo said something absolutely idiotic. At about the :45 mark in the video, there is a clip (probably from last year) of Cuomo pushing the bond, saying 

“…that we should be still buying billions of dollars of books to train students…. to educate students. Who buys books anymore? Everybody walks around here… buy a Kindle or whatever device.”

In fairness to Cuomo, in his world, books don’t exist for reading, they are just a tool for laundering bribe money. Also, how can anyone expect him to know how useful books are to schools, when as far as anyone can tell, he’s only visited one public school during his five years in office?

There is so much that is galling about this quote, it’s hard to know where to begin. Is it the Freudian slip about “training students?” Is it his ignorance of research showing that readers of e-books don’t absorb information as well as readers of printed books? Or is it his own obvious lack of knowledge about the very technology he is promoting, as evidenced by the clueless way he ends that sentence?

As infuriating as that all is, what it most appalling about all of this is that it serves as just one more reminder of how abhorrent it was for the legislature to abrogate their responsibility and cede control of education to a man who clearly is not qualified to even speak on the topic. 

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Tom Croci’s Alternate Reality

The post-budget phone calls, emails, and picketing are, if nothing else, getting attention. State Senator Tom Croci just posted a video in which he acknowledges he made a mistake and apologizes for voting for the Governor’s budget makes a painfully lame attempt at trying to rationalize his vote, stretching the truth well beyond the breaking point.

In fact, what it appears has happened is that the intense pressure has catapulted Mr. Croci into a parallel universe – one in which he did the right thing, defeated the Governor, and passed a fair education bill (although, sadly, it is a universe in which he is just a poor victim, caught in the crossfire between the Governor and the teachers’ union).

You can watch the video here. It’s just 5-1/2 minutes long (It’s called “2 minutes with Tom Croci,” but we shouldn’t be surprised he can’t even be honest about that).

Here is our response to Senator Croci, as posted on his Facebook page:


Senator, please re-read the bill more carefully. The outside evaluators you claim are were removed from the budget are right there, enshrined in law thanks to your vote. Likewise, while it is not described as “50%” in the budget, test scores are one of two equal factors used for a teacher’s evaluation. If you’d like us to point out exactly where these items can be found, we’d be happy to do so.

We also suggest you watch your own video again. In it you claim that you are directing the Dept of Ed to reduce testing. But what the law actually says, as shown on screen in your video, is that the Chancellor of the Board of Regents “shall submit a report to the Governor, the Temporary President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the Assembly outlining recommendations that shall help to: reduce the amount of state and local student testing…” This is a toothless provision that is obviously there solely to give cover and does not say what you claim it does.

Also, you say “at no time did any union rep, teacher, parent, student, or any resident, ever ask me to cast a vote that would shut down our state government…” This is categorically false. I know for a fact that you received multiple phone calls from residents (at least one of whom spoke directly to your staffer) telling you that we felt a late budget would be better than a bad budget. We elected you to represent us and to have the courage to stand up for us. Multiple polls showed that the citizens/taxpayers/voters of New York opposed the Governor’s education agenda and you betrayed your constituents by giving in to him.

Let’s make sure we have a good showing at Senator Flanagan’s this coming Friday. Can’t wait to see if he can manage to come up with as creative a response as Sen Croci.

A Fine Line Between Stupid and Clever

It’s pretty common to hear the governor (or other educational deformers), referred to as being clueless. The usual response to this is, “they aren’t stupid; they know exactly what they are doing.” 

 
The people who claim he’s just an idiot point to things like how many times he failed the bar exam. But he did ultimately pass it, and that takes some intelligence. Besides, as we posted recently, our view is that his education plan reveals a level of cunning matched only by a typical Bond villain.
 
That said, Cuomo’s recent pronouncement seems to be a major victory for those in the “he’s a moron” camp.
 
As reported by Jessica Bakeman of Capital New York, Cuomo says that parents who have chosen to have their children “opt out” of taking this month’s state exams don’t understand that the scores are “meaningless” in terms of students’ grades.
 
Wow. It seems like he is just slipping into self-parody at this point. I don’t know how to break it to you, Andrew, but one of the major reasons parents are opting their kids out is precisely because they know the tests are meaningless for them.
 
Once again, the Governor comes across as demeaning and condescending to parents. But more than that, as the Perdido Street School Blog posted Friday, he’s given even more ammunition to the anti-test movement. (See also here, here, and here).
 
What could he possibly thinking? Does he really think this will slow the the momentum of opting-out? 
 
In theory, there is a possibility that it could work out that way. Maybe this does give some support to the “opt-in” crowd. And maybe for some parents who are on the fence, it will free them to tell their kids, don’t worry, it’s just practice, no need to stress. 
 
But doesn’t he realize that presenting the tests this way will only make them less valid? That if students know they don’t count, they may not try as hard? And that as a result their scores would drop and then… oh… that’s right… more… teachers… will… be… rated… ineffective.
 

Touché, Mr. Cuomo, Touché.

 
As it has been said, there’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.

Testing Related Bills Currently in The Legislature

There are a couple of bills working their way through the legislature that you should be aware of:

Bill to Exempt Top Districts
A couple of weeks ago, New York Senator Jack Martins backed a bill that would exempt the top performing districts from having to submit new APPR plans. There is now some word that he is planning to kill that bill (although we don’t have confirmation on this yet). This would be a very good thing as creating a two-tiered evaluation system is a terrible idea. Besides the fact that the new education laws are harmful to all students – not just the affluent ones – it doesn’t address the issue that the 3-8 testing is damaging to students whether they are 50%, 20%, or not tied to teacher evaluations at all..

Opt-Out Bills
Separate bills in the State Assembly and Senate would codify the rights of parents to opt their children out of state tests. Both bills prohibit districts from penalizing students who do not take the tests. The Senate bill would also require school districts to notify parents of their right to opt-out. At this point it is too early to tell how far this bills will get and whether or not the two houses will be able to work out the differences in the bills.

In any case, the U.S. Department of Education is taking a different approach. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says the Federal Government might need to “step in” to insure that 95% of students take the tests. This could mean declaring high opt-out schools as failing and withholding funds in order to push states to require in order to drive states to push anti-opt-out laws.

Off With Their Heads! (But first sharpen the blade)

Merryl Tisch has earned some positive press for suggesting that she’d like to delay implementation of the new evaluation system. While this is a positive step, let’s put it in perspective:  this isn’t a stay of execution to figure out if the prisoner is actually innocent, it’s a postponement to make sure that the guillotine is functioning properly.

The Facts
The new education law passed on April 1st, includes a provision that all districts must submit revised APPR plans by November 15th or lose state funding. Two weeks ago, Tisch expressed concern that it is unrealistic for school districts to have new plans done by that date. Initially it was stated that extending this deadline would require legislative change, and the Governor’s office insisted they would not budge. 
Earlier this week, Tisch took it a step further, saying she was directing the State Ed Department to find a solution to extend the deadline to the following September. The response from the Governor’s office was that doing so “would be disregarding the law.” They acknowledged that there is a “a hardship exemption for districts that can’t get the evaluations in place by the deadline,”  but insist that it is supposed to be the “exception, not the rule.”
Ultimately, this will come down to a bit of a power struggle between the Governor’s office and the Regents and the definition of what “hardship” means. 
Implications
It certainly is a good thing if the deadline is extended globally. As it stands, districts will need to work over the Summer and into the first 10 weeks of school completely re-writing APPR plans, trying to make them fair and reasonable while fitting within the criteria established by the new laws and whatever guidelines the Regents produces by July 1st. Having the extra time will help. A global extension will also allow for more time for push back against the legislature in the hopes that they will find the courage to fix what they’ve done.
If the extension is only provided to districts that can prove hardship (regardless of generously hardship is applied), then it still causes a tremendous drain on everyone, as districts will have to assume the deadline is in place until hearing otherwise. 
It’s important to note that this only applies to the creation of a new APPR plan, not the education laws in general. In other words, if extensions are given, districts will use the APPR plans they have in place, but the new regulations regarding tenure and due process will still go into effect. 
Analysis
Everyone has a different opinion about what’s behind this. It’s a power struggle, it’s a sign that Tisch is giving in to pressure, or it’s just theater designed to provide a distraction. One thing it is NOT is an indication that Tisch is starting to soften in her anti-public school stance. We can’t forget that nearly all of the ideas in the new laws reflect what was in her letter. 
Tisch is clearly not trying to delay the enactment of these harsh regulations because they’re bad for public education. Far more likely, she is driven by a fear that Cuomo’s haste in pushing the ideas too quickly will cause them to fail, ruining her plans and, when Cuomo throws her under the bus, destroying her legacy.

New York Parents Have Spoken

A question that comes up often is, “what is the goal of all the anti-testing advocacy?” What do parents hope to accomplish by opting-out and contacting legislators?  NYSAPE recently issued a press release, detailing exactly what they think needs to happen next.

NY Parents Have Spoken, Now It’s Time to Fix Cuomo’s Education Budget Debacle
& Establish New Leadership for the Board of Regents

For the past two years, New York State Allies for Public Education has warned elected and appointed officials about serious concerns related to excessive high-stakes state testing based on flawed and experimental learning standards, as well as the collection and sharing of private student data.

This past week, the national attention focused on the parent uprising taking place in New York State. Spurred to action by the refusal of both the Governor and the NYS Education Department’s failure to respond to legitimate concerns, thousands  of parents fought back to protect their children.

At this time, estimates indicate parents of close to 200,000 students this year have refused New York State’s Common Core testing agenda and the final figures are expected to be even higher.

The educational program of the state is in chaos.  Leadership is more important than ever. On Sunday, April 19th the Editorial Board of The Journal News declared, “The stunning success of the test-refusal movement in New York is a vote of no confidence in our state educational leadership” in calling for Chancellor Merryl Tisch to step aside.

New York State Allies for Public Education, a grassroots coalition of over fifty parent and educator advocacy organizations from all corners of the Empire State, stands with the Editorial Board of The Journal News.

Chancellor Tisch must step down. The only way for the Board of Regents, Assembly, and Senate to regain trust of their constituents is to call for the Regents to empower a new leader to fix within its authority, the Cuomo budget legislation fiasco and the misguided Regents Reform Agenda.

“Parents have been left with no choice. We will submit our refusal letters, which is our parental right, on day one of school, next year and every year and if those in power will not listen, we will free our children from a test driven, developmentally inappropriate education,” said Jeanette Deutermann, Nassau County public school parent and Long Island Opt Out founder.

“For the past two years Chancellor Tisch has repeatedly ignored parents at forums throughout the state. She is incapable of leading the state in a new direction because she believes what is happening is just fine and her latest plea for asking for more time is just a distraction from the real issues. Her repeated calls for critics to “calm down” indicates her unwillingness to change course.” said Lisa Rudley, Westchester County public school parent and NYSAPE founding member.

“On Chancellor Tisch’s watch, the work of the State Education Department has been outsourced to a privately funded ‘Regents Fellows’ think tank. It is not surprising that the reforms put forth by this think tank advance the agenda of the wealthy ‘yacht set’ and corporate-linked groups that fund the Regent Fellows: The Robin Hood Foundation, Gates Foundation, and even Chancellor Tisch herself.  When you replace a public service with a private organization that advances corporate agendas, New Yorkers know that is corruption,” said Anna Shah, Dutchess County public school parent and Schools of Thought Hudson Valley, NY founder.

“While the Governor has demonstrated blatant disregard for the will of the people by doubling down on the use of high stakes testing, the State Education Department and Chancellor Tisch similarly ignored parent concerns regarding inappropriate test content by forcing children to read passages on last week’s ELA tests that were up to four years above grade level followed by vague and confusing questions,” said Jessica McNair, Oneida County public school parent, Central NY Opt Out co-founder, and educator.

Fred Smith, testing specialist, NYC public schools retired administrative analyst, and Change the Stakes member said, “Instead of transparency and disclosure of complete and timely test data that would open the quality of the ELA and math exams to independent review, Tisch has ruled over an unaccountable testing program that flies at near-zero visibility–in a fog of flawed field testing procedures, age-inappropriate poorly written items, the covert removal of test questions after they have been scored, arbitrarily drawn cut off scores, and the misapplication of the results to reach unsupportable conclusions about students, teachers, and schools.”

“As seen with the budget debacle earlier this month, New Yorkers know when the ‘Albany Fix’ is in,” Eric Mihelbergel, Erie County public school parent and NYSAPE founding member. Mihelbergel went on to say, “We know that the opt out movement will ultimately invalidate the data and render these test scores useless. When some schools have opt outs as high as 70%, we know that any claims that opt out is “random” and that only a small sampling of test scores will yield usable data is illogical.”

To ensure clarity for all, NYSAPE calls for the following from the NYS Legislature & Board of Regents and will release a more comprehensive list in the near future:

1.      A dramatic reduction of testing in grades 3rd – 8th, along with reasserting New York State’s authority to determine the education of its children ​by calling on the US Congress to reduce testing requirements and return to grade span testing. As former President Bill Clinton said we don’t need annual testing, “I think doing one [test] in elementary school, one in the end of middle school and one before the end of high school is quite enough if you do it right.”

2.      Chancellor Tisch must immediately step down.

3.      An independent review of the NYS career and college ready standards to ensure that standards are research based and appropriate. Establish a taskforce including parents, educators, and stakeholders to study the Common Core Learning Standards and make recommendations to adjust and adopt NYS standards.

4.      Adhere to a public and transparent process for selecting a new NYS Commissioner of Education.

5.      Fix the Cuomo budget legislation debacle by passing legislation that decouples student test scores and restores local board of education control over teacher evaluations.

6.      Pass legislation that REQUIRES parental consent to share ANY identifiable student data beyond school district administrators.

We want to restore our classrooms with a well-rounded education and drive testing compliance factory reforms out of our classrooms forever.

Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be teachers

We’ve previously noted that fewer students are enrolling in teaching programs. A report just released by the ACT shows that this trend is continuing. In the last 4 years, the number of students interested in pursuing teaching careers dropped by 16%.


In addition, the report shows that the academic level of students who express interest in teaching is lower than the average of ACT test takers in every potential education major except English. The report does not indicate whether this trend is getting worse or not, but it stands to reason that as teaching becomes more and more of a risky proposition, the people who have the most options will be less likely to pursue education.

 
This brings up an important question: How should we respond to students who are considering becoming teachers?
 
Teacher and author Nancie Atwell recently garnered some attention not only for being the winner of the first annual $1 million Global Teacher Prize, but for an interview with CNN about that award in which she said she would advise young people to go into the private sector rather than become public school teachers. Is this the right approach?
 
On the one hand, it certainly seems wrong. While studies show that teacher morale is continuing to fall, we still care deeply about the mission of public education and want it to succeed – and that means we want our best students to carry the torch forward. So of course, we should be encouraging them.
 
However, is it really fair to allow students to spend a great deal of time and money pursuing a career that may be very different from what they think it is, and which, unless things change drastically, is a very risky proposition?  We’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. Setting a standard where for three out of their first four years, teachers have to be as good as veteran teachers (based on data that is unreliable), creates a situation where many very capable young teachers will be fired based on bad luck, random error, or just not having hit their stride yet.
 
Can we in good conscience allow them to take that risk for a career that many of us are feeling less and less enamored with?
 
For teachers of younger students, this is mostly a philosophical question. Of course you’re not going to tell a 9-year-old he/she shouldn’t be a teacher any more than you’d crush their dreams of being an astronaut, a professional dancer, or an actor. But students do seek advice from previous teachers, and high school teachers especially have to deal with this in a very real way. 
 
So what do you think? Do we have a responsibility to share the reality with students who are giving serious thought to enrolling in education programs? 


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