Tune in and Watch

Tune In

Tomorrow (Friday, 7/31) Dr. Cohen, along with Pat Med’s Michael Hynes, Terry Kalb, Kevin Glynn (Lace to the Top), and Jeanette Deutermann (Long Island Opt-Out) will be featured on a call-in show on WRCN (103.9 FM) from 12 – 2pm.  (Thanks to Ali Quenzer for the heads up)

Watch
A lot of comedians have tried the “what if we treated teachers the way we treat athletes” trope, but never as successfully as this bit from Key and Peele. Definitely worth watching all the way through (the BWM ad at the end is part of the sketch.
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Reject The AFT’s Premature Endorsement of Hillary Clinton

The AFT endorsement of Hillary Clinton was extraordinarily premature and inappropriate without specific commitments from her that she will be a strong supporter of public education.  No matter your opinion of her overall as a candidate, it is crucial to send her an important message. Please take a few minutes and click each of the links below.

  • Send a message directly to Hillary Clinton and let her know that as a teacher, regardless of the AFT endorsement, you will not giver her your vote unless she makes public statements against privatization of public schools, federal requirements for annual testing, and using test scores to evaluate teachers, as well as making a firm commitment to protecting union rights in this country.  Click here for the contact form on her web page. 
  • Send a message directly to the AFT and let them know they made a mistake. Endorsements should never be given against the wishes of the rank and file, and should always be contingent upon firm commitments from candidates that they will work for the best interests of public education once elected. Visit the AFT Election page, and look for the box in the right sidebar titled: “What are your thoughts about the endorsement process?”
  • Sign the petition telling the AFT to rescind their endorsement.

Another Fond Farewell

As you may have read, in The New York Times or elsewhere, NYSED has dumped Pearson and awarded the contract for developing state assessments to Questar Assessments, a relatively small Minneapolis based company. 
Some are viewing this as a great first step, but this is a stretch at best.  We’ll get back to that. First the bright side.

 

According to NYSUT, the new agreement includes a “promise to involve New York teachers in every step of the test-development process.”  This addresses a major complaint about these tests – that the questions are clearly not written by people who actually work with children. 

 
With all the talk about “accountability” in education, it’s good to see the term applied in an authentic context. As Karen Magee said, “Pearson offered a bad product and today Pearson got fired. Teachers have called for this for years.”  Pearson’s errors are legendary, and perhaps that will be at least one piece that will improve.
 
HOWEVER…
 
As many of us know, there is a world of difference between teachers being a legitimate part of the process vs. sitting teachers at the table just for the purpose of saying “there were teachers involved.”  NYSED has never said that they agree with educator complaints (the questions are developmentally inappropriate, unnecessarily complex, or invalid measures of the standards), let alone that more teacher input would address these complaints. So there is much reason to be suspicious that bringing more teachers in will actually make the tests any better – NYSED still has final say over the test content. 
 
And as far as errors go, Perdido Street School blog reports that Questar, as a company, is a mess, so we really shouldn’t be expecting better results. “Test scorers treated like cattle, imprecise scoring, managers who can’t answer scorers questions, scanning glitches, incompetent schedulers – sounds even better. Meet the new company for 3rd-8th grade testing. Sounds a lot like the old company, doesn’t it?”
 
And finally, let’s address the idea that this is a good first step. As many bloggers and writers have pointed out, changing vendors does nothing to actually change the laws that require students to spend time taking meaningless tests, force schools to narrow curriculum, and will result in good teachers losing their jobs. In fact, there is a reason to believe that it will have just the opposite effect. Mary Ellen Elia, the new State Ed. Commissioner, said at least some of the right things: “[She] hopes the new assessments will take less time, and that teachers will have access to their students’ results quicker so they can use the information to drive classroom instruction.”
 
But she also had this to say: “I am not a person who believes that children shouldn’t be tested. Life is one big test. We have to get to the point where people are at peace with that.”
 
Anytime someone answers a question that hasn’t been asked, you need to think about what the real purpose is. Nobody is saying that children shouldn’t be tested, but this allows her to position critics as being against all testing, as opposed to inappropriate high stakes tests. You can expect her to use this next Spring to attempt to undercut the opt-out movement. Watch for comments along the lines of “We’ve got rid of the company that was causing errors, we got teachers involved in the process, we’re releasing the data earlier, and we relaxed the gag order, so the only opposition to testing now comes form people who don’t think kids should take tests and teachers who don’t want to be evaluated.”
 
You can also expect her, or others, to use Pearson’s firing itself against us: “We fired Pearson because they weren’t doing their jobs, but teachers don’t want to be held to the same standard.”
 
This gambit will fail. Parents and teachers in New York are way smarter than that.

Latest News

A few news items of interest:

 
 
Supreme Court to hear “Friedrichs vs. California”
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear the “Friedrichs vs. California Teachers” case. The case concerns the requirement that teachers must contribute to unions even if they do not agree with some of the union’s activities and do not want to join.
 
If the court finds against the union, the effects will be devastating, as “unions would be in the unfair position of still representing workers, negotiating on their behalf and improving their working conditions without the law’s safety net requiring that all who benefit share in the costs. Dues-paying members would have to pay for the equal representation provided to non-members.” It would ultimately have the entire country follow the path of Wisconsin, which has, as expected, seen union membership decline and workers losing benefits and wages.
 
The decision is expected to come early in 2016, and while it could go either way, the safe money is on an anti-union ruling. For more on this topic, see NYSUT’s summary of the case or this article from Slate Magazine.
 
 
ESEA Re-authorization
The House and Senate began debating re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act this week. The House and Senate each have their own bills, which are, on the whole, very similar. Both would eliminate the AYP (annual yearly progress) aspects of No Child Left Behind, and would reduce the power of the US Department of Education, but would still maintain the requirement for annual testing. (Read more about the bills in this article from the Washington Post.) This again becomes one of those issues where one has to ask if it is better to support a bill that is wrong in many ways but much better than what we have, or should we hold out for a re-write that truly fixes what’s wrong. Knowing that Obama has indicated he will veto any bill that does not include annual testing certainly plays into that. Here’s why Carol Burris is supporting the Senate’s, “Every Child Achieves” bill, flawed as it may be. 
 
 
Spend Some Time in the Hamptons with Cuomo this Weekend
This coming Saturday, hedge fund manager and charter school advocate Daniel Loeb is hosting a $5,000/ plate fund raiser for Andrew Cuomo in East Hampton. A number of pro-labor groups, including various NYSUT locals, will be there to express dissatisfaction at the “hedge fund control of government.”  The central meeting point is at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Amagansett. A bus will be coming that will pick people up in Hempstead and in Brentwood. The bus will then pick up everyone at St. Michaels and bring them to the rally point.  Please contact Jeff Friedman at jfriedma@nysutmail.org or call him at (516) 670-7834 to RSVP and with any questions. RSVP is a must because of spacing.
 
Farewell Ken Wagner 
Ken Wagner, former Prodell Principal, current Deputy Commissioner of NYSED, and well known Kool-Aid connoisseur, has just been chosen to be the Education Commissioner of Rhode Island. While many of us have fond memories of his time at SWR, his statewide contributions have left a bit to be desired, to say the least. Let’s hope his replacement is someone who is more willing to listen to the voices of educators.