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A concerned member of the human race

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Short History of V.A.M. It--Updated

Trying to Turn "Time to Flowers" Before Ed. "Reformers" Would Have It Wilt
In 2013, a colleague asked me to write a blog with him to fight the ed. "reformers."  Since I understood the magnitude of the problem, I did that.  It was called V.A.M.  

In 2014, in anticipation of the NYC NYSUT conference, it was suggested by someone in UFT-Unity that members should disassociate their names from anything that might be contrary to Unity's line.  In that spirit, with regret expressed to me, my colleague annihilated our blog--because his name was associated with every single thing on it.  With a zap, there went my first 95 pieces and the handful he had done.

At that point, I decided, "hey, that's no way to say goodbye" to my blog.  So, in three days, I worked tirelessly to resurrect those pieces and, then, went on to add over four hundred more.  It wasn't popular with a certain Dad*, not my own, who liked to inform me that nobody agreed with me--until Cuomo's State of the State made it entirely evident that we are all under attack.  And, we need to rally to the defense of public education.

Last week, for reasons that are feelings more than thoughts, I made the decision to stop writing my blog.  I couldn't say why.  I'm pretty sure I'll keep coming up with ideas.  And, I'll put them together, sending them here or there, in one form or another.  I just won't be doing it via my blog.

So, Easter seemed the time to put that decision in place.  It's a time of rebirth.  And, I don't feel so much that it's an end as much as a beginning to other things--always with a sincere love for public education, the kids in it and a resolve to defend these things come hell, high water or ed. "reformers."  

With that in mind, Happy Easter, Happy Passover or just happiness!  Thanks for reading.

*For the record, I would like to mention that since I stopped writing this blog, I was honored to win a position as a UFT delegate.  (I hope to represent the teachers in my school with energy and intelligence; sometimes, I may agree with UFT-Unity and, at other times, I may disagree.  I will take no oath of unquestioned loyalty).  Prior to the election, I wrote a letter to colleagues.  In it, I referenced my work on this blog as well as its predecessor, the one which met an untimely end at the hand of my Unity-bound, Co-blogger colleague.

In the letter to colleagues, I stated that "due to the constraints of a UFT Unity Loyalty Oath" (http://thepjsta.org/2014/02/18/on-binding-delegates/),  Co-blogger "was unable to continue the blog."  He told me he had to "delete it in anticipation of the 2014 NYSUT meeting in NYC."  In no way, did I state this information in a vindictive way, just as a matter of fact.  Today, May 18, 2015, Co-blogger changed his tune.  He told me he terminated the blog at that time because my spouse disapproved. This, of course, would indicate Co-blogger engaged in an elaborate lie to me at the time the blog was terminated--an elaborate lie of which I remember every detail.

I have many reasons, including some referenced in prior e-mails that lead me to believe his most recent story is the lie.  And, I could give a long list.  Let it suffice to say, however, my husband never approved of my blogging, but this was nothing new.  My husband, however, did not tell Co-blogger to delete my hard work.  He has assured me of this and I believe him.  Co-blogger could have closed the blog by simply changing the password at his end without deleting all the pieces--which he was more than happy to have his name upon, and even advertise, up until mid-March of 2014.  Here is a copy of my parting words at valueaddedmeasure.blogspot.com (just prior to the deletion of the blog) picked up by Big Education Ape.

The time at which the original blog was deleted corresponded with a couple of events.  First, there was an e-mail from Dr. Ravitch, stating that she would be pleased to reference our work again, potentially generating many more "hits."  It also corresponded with NYSUT materials Co-Blogger showed me, relevant to possible committees, including ones on the Common Core.   There are many more things I could say here, but I do not willfully hurt others unless it is in the name of self-defense.

So, do I know the truth for sure?  No.  Perhaps, Co-blogger has lied to me with both stories.  Perhaps, he is lying to himself.

At any rate, although it could be part of an elaborate lie, the excerpt from Co-blogger's e-mail to me below (written after Dr. Ravitch agreed to cite our work again and shortly before his deletion of our blog)  is one of the many reasons I believed Co-blogger's concern for his own career, "professionally" and "politically," was the primary motivating factor in his decision to delete our blog:

"Thanks, that's awesome about the big Rav
Sorry, been busy as shit with the over-sized grievance... [matters particular to our school omitted here] and the upcoming NYSUT convention.  There are so many committees to be formed and/or joined and/or, well...  Man, they own you as a convention delegate."

Whereas I could try to understand when Co-blogger deleted my 95 or so pieces to protect his double-pensioned job in a union office given the current system, I could not so easily forgive Co-blogger if he had taken it upon himself to delete my 95 or so pieces because I am a woman with a husband who objects to her exercise of free speech.  I value free speech for women as much as I do for men.  I value my intelligence and I value the example I set for my daughters.

And, I also value honesty.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Soft Targets

What might have happened if the corporate reformers who now plague public education had set their sites on privatizing the U.S. military instead?

Teachers, of course, are a far softer target.  Most of us must come to school unarmed and very few of us are trained in hand-to-hand combat.  Most of us are women, but, let me emphasize, far from helpless.  If we were helpless, neither man nor woman would survive the classroom!  We are trained to care for children, however, not to defend ourselves or launch counter attacks.  We now live in a surrealistic world where we must battle to protect the interests of public schools and the children in them.

Can you imagine military charters providing mercenaries with increasing opportunities for merit pay and personal profit?  Can you imagine statisticians concocting value-added measures for our soldiers, formulated to decimate the last of the ranks called to duty in the name of public service and honor?  

The beautiful thing about junk science for some, I suppose, is that there is no end to its possibilities.  Someone could surely find measures to prove our U.S. military is failing.  You can manipulate statistics to prove any "damn" thing you want.  They could then blame soldiers instead of policymakers, paving the way for privatization.  

Billionaires could help the cause.  Business-oriented military managers could institute extreme cost-cutting measures, such as skimping on protective gear and trying to strip soldiers of pensions rightfully earned, all to pocket more pennies for themselves.  When you destroy its public servants, you destroy a nation.   

The Tortuous Twists and Turns of Recruiting Teachers

It is no news to people in the business that the ranks of teachers have dwindled.  Many teachers leave before five years.  Many retire early.  Many are discouraged before they get their feet wet.

Could it be something about the changing nature of the profession?
Here is a possible recruitment poster which might hail from teaching's golden past.

Here is the updated version, set against the backdrop of educational reform.  The letters have become a little jumbled though.

On the Frontiers of Ed. Deform

You tell yourself you're on the frontiers of education.  You are made of tough stuff.  And, now, you have to be prepared to brave the enemy fire which goes by the name of ed. "reform."  You might be cut down in life while working in the service of children.   If you are a teacher or a student, there are constant threats and few thank yous.  The new frontiers of education are dangerous places.  

Friday, April 3, 2015

Privatizing Public Ed.: When Advertisements Don't Equal Realities

Then, there is the unadvertised bait-and-switch of students, over-suspensions, "counseling out" and the failure to adequately "backfill."  Reality is a far different thing.

High-Stakes Preppin' Only to Forget

Tests are counted for so much in the current battle over ed. reform.  Yet, the greatest percentage of information one packs into one's skull for the purposes of testing in high-school exists only as short-term memory.  Soon after the exam ends, so much of the information proves useless.  It fades into obscurity.  With time, it is long forgotten.  We all know this.  Do the people who swear by the tests know this?

I often look at my high-school students.  They try to absorb the "necessary" facts of history.  They will need to regurgitate them come Regents time in June. I am under no false impression.  Most of it will be quickly and quietly forgotten.  The more you test prep, the more meaningless all the material becomes to many.

How much do I remember from high school?  Very little, but I learned enough to comlete college in three years.  I know there are underlying methods of thinking and questioning that will remain with me, but most of the specific content is lost.  I suspect I must be stronger for having known it, but I don't know it anymore.  I am vaguely aware that I may one day need to relearn this stuff in order to help my kids learn it--but then, after the test, we will all forget it together.

Sadly, the pain of current CCSS testing, all its collateral damage and the bitter taste of failure for 65% of our kids may never be forgotten.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Why Use "Outside Observers" When You Can Speed up the Process With Drones?

A Cheaper and More Effective Way to Reduce the Teaching Population

We've known for a long time that ed. "reformers" have utter contempt for teachers and the art of teaching.  Instead, they revere tests and use them as tools to torture both students and teachers alike. They set cut scores to achieve their political ends.  They have turned teaching into test prep.

Now, it is patently clear that they have the utmost contempt for the administrators who failed to rate enough teachers ineffective at a time when CCSS tests are slaughtering students.  

"Baloney!" saith the Governor.  Since principals couldn't get the job done, Cuomo has called for "outside observers," the equivalent of educational bounty hunters.  They will come at either great expense or great inconvenience.  They will come to schools in which they are foreigners.  They will bring their biases and work their magic--based on single observations. 

Principals once had manifold responsibilities around their buildings.  No more.  They are overburdened with multiple observations of even the most experienced.  They must comment on minutiae and more minutiae and enter it into a database.  Now, they will be asked to hop from school to school--despite the fact they may be needed at home.  

It is a sign of escalation.  Suppose the roving bands of outside observers fail to turn over the quota for ineffective teachers.  Suppose their schools go to pot as they are wandering the realm.   Perhaps, drones could do the job better.  They could be both evaluator, jury and executioner!  And, it could all be done anonymously from remote locations, such as the Governor's office.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Is Meryl Tisch Living in an Alternate Universe?

Both AFT president, Randi Weingarten, and NYSUT president, Karen Magee, came out recently in strong support of  students refusing tests.  Reactions were mixed.  One has only to read the comments following these posts.  Some felt it was done a little late in the game.  Others were greatly relieved it was done at all.  And, as for Merryl Tisch...

Well, she said, tests "provide an important source of objective information.   ...it's time to stop making noise to protect the adults and start speaking up for the students."

But....and there are many of them...

How can so many hours of testing over so many days speak to the interests of the students?

How can prepping instead of helping children grow in more meaningful ways speak to the interests of students?

How can testing at such an early age when many children have limited attention spans and develop at different rates speak to the  interests of students?

How can top-secret exams which require gag orders for teachers and intense monitoring of student social media speak to the interests of students?

How can diverting limited resources to expensive contracts with the likes of Pearson speak to the interests of students?  

How can tests with set cut scores to reach predetermined political ends speak to the interests of students?

How can tests which cause students to become physically ill and mentally anguished speak to the interests of students?

How can tests that sap students will to learn speak to the interests of students?

How can results that in no way help teachers address students' learning needs speak to the interests of students?

How can branding 65% of our State's kids as failures speak to the interests of our students?

How can depriving these students of music, the arts and other amenities of life, in the name of AIS, or funding more test prep, speak to the interests of students?

My last question:

Is Ms. Tisch living in an alternate universe?  And, if so, will she be returning to Earth soon?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Car Decals for the Common-Core World

Editorial Note:  Kudos to NYSUT President Magee for calling upon parents to opt out of this insane test-based system the other day!  But if you should choose to disregard that option and you are in the market...

Looking for family decals for the back of your car, but just can't seem to find any that really represent the interface between your family and current educational reform?  Have no fear.  Here are samples to fit your needs, no matter what side of the educational testway you drive.

Are you and your family among the chosen few, college-and-career ready, or do you work for Pearson?  Do you support high-stakes testing, ed.-reform style, yet send your kids to test-free private institutes?  Choose items like the one below to display your pride, decal-style, as you drive by in the fast lane.

Has the current educational reform left your family feeling deflated?  Dad doesn't know what to do.  Mom throws her hands up in disgust.  Your daughter is subject to crying fits while your son suffered an exam two hours prior to surgery for catastrophic brain trauma.  Fido does his best to hold the family together despite the fact that he's been playing dead more than usual.  While your engine is on idle, pick up a decal like the one below.  Let the world know you are not, nor will you ever be, college-or-career ready!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Stealing the Impossible?: On the Near-Media Silence on Saturday's Rally

View image on Twitter
Zephyr Teachout at the Rally

A certain Educator from NYC pointed out to me the other day that there was next-to-no news coverage of the March 28th protest to protect our public schools (the exception being news at Common Dreams and CBS Local).  Although the relative silence is unnerving, given the media biases throughout the Bloomberg years, one is hardly surprised.  Not only does Success buy a lot of advertising time (thanks to the generous donations of sponsors largely unlike us), they seem to get much more for free.

Let us look back at the coverage of the "dueling rallies" on March 4th in Albany.  Eva carted her students there and conducted the rally during class time, something which could never happen with our more than a million district children.  Her sea of red shirts captured the attention of the media.

On the Day of the Dueling Rallies, the NY Post clearly favored the Success Academy students.  The Post reinforced this fact with editorials.  To top it off, the Post exclusively used images of Success Academy kids.  

Both the NY Times and the NY Daily News referred to the dueling March 4th rallies.  Both news sources balanced the viewpoints from both sides, but both, again, relied solely upon the red images of Success.  

In "A Charter School Rally Duels With Teachers' Unions in Albany," the Times chose to use the image below.  In its defense, it noted that "The far flashier of the dueling demonstrations was the charter event, held in a park just outside the Capitol, where video screens and banks of speakers created a rock-concert atmosphere, despite gray skies and thousands of out-of-school children milling on snow-covered lawns."  The Success kids even danced in their red shirts.    

The Daily News featured a story on the March 4th rally entitled "City charter kids, teachers union participate in dueling education rallies at Capitol."  The News included two pictures of the Success Academy rally, one of Ashanti performing before a sea of red and another picture of a few kids in red holding up a sign.  They could just have easily balanced their reporting by showing a public-school defender holding up his or her sign.  They did not.

When push comes to shove with the presentation of public schools in the media, one is far more likely to find a story on one aberrant teacher than a story on thousands of people holding signs and chanting to defend the interests of public-school children.  In this spirit, the media turned a near-deaf ear to the March 28th protest.

I once asked my union rep. if he might not ask the next up the line to see if public-school teachers might designate one color citywide on one day of the protest week, March 9-13.  I told him it would be much more powerful than having each school designate differing colors on different days.  

He checked up the line.  He reported back to me that he was told each school is free to choose its own color--as if it were a good thing.  This seemed to me to be a cop out on a grand scale at a time when we are fighting for our very existence.  Although I would never want to force anyone to wear a shirt of one specific color, there is great power in encouraging thousands of concerned members to voluntarily act as one.  It would make our presence seem vast and strong, and only at the cost of our choice of wardrobe for a day.  Yet, our Union seemed unwilling to do so.  Someone lacks imagination.

Imagine more than a million kids and teachers all on the same page.  Do you think for one moment our million District kids cannot dance or sing?  Our best could show Eva's best a thing or two.  When you have a million, despite underfunding, talent not only shines, it blazes.  What if we put all our kids in shirts of the same color?  Do you think for one moment it wouldn't overwhelm her puny sea of red?  "Success" then might be counted as no more than a drop in the bucket.  Might it not be harder for the media and our opponents to look the other way then?