Sunday, May 20, 2018

How A Royal Wedding Exposed the Moral Bankruptcy of an American President

Who would have ever thought that a Royal Wedding in Great Britain would, in its rituals and symbols, expose the moral bankruptcy of the Trump Administration as much as any direct protest or critique, but that is exactly what happened yesterday. With the whole world watching, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle engineered an event which affirmed the unity of peoples and nations by drawing upon the most powerful African American traditions of prophetic preaching and choral performance and linking it to the ancient traditions of the British monarchy and the church of England. The result was an event which moved many American observers, including TV commentators, to tears, in part because it stood in such contrast to the hatred and rage being spewed by the President and his defenders in the United States, It was a reminder that that the dream of the unity of all peoples, and the celebration of their collective traditions, was still alive and still capable of kindling the imagination and transforming governments and public life. It was also a startling indication how, after the Presidency of Barack Obama, Americans had elected someone who would severely damage the global reputation of the United States by taking us down the lowest of low roads, appealing to the kind of nationalism and raw prejudice that once fueled fascism. Make no mistake about it, the contrast between what took place in Great Britain and what is going on in Washington, was both intentional and powerful

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

My Educaton Priorities

Although Education is only one of many issues on my plate in these challenging times, I do have an Education agenda to guide me over the next few years
1. Fight to reduce the stranglehold of testing and standardized curriculum on the nation's public schools.
2. Work to make sure that sports and the arts are available to all students, especially in high needs communities where they have been sacrificed due to budget cuts or an obsession with raising test scores.
3. Work to make community history and culturally responsive pedagogy an integral part of the school experience in high needs communities
4. Try to persuade Fordham, to become "SAT Optional" in its admissions policies
I will be using my position at Fordham, when feasible, to sponsor seminars, meetings and symposia to advance these proirities

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

When Was the Last Time You Saw A Student Carry a Tennis Racket or Saxophone on the Subway?

When I attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn from 1959-1962, I was on the tennis team, and was also a member of the marching band, the concert band and a pep band that played at basketball games.
I was a pretty good tennis player. I was undefeated at No 1 singles my senior year and came in third in the NYC indoor and outdoor championships.
However, I may have been the worst saxophone player in Brooklyn. Somehow I made the band, but tried not to drown out the many talented kids who played beside and around me. Nevertheless, I valued being in the band as much as being on the tennis team because it connected me to some wonderful musicians and allowed me to perform at all my school's important events.
It is utterly appalling to me that most young people attending public high schools in New York City no longer have the opportunities that I had in the late 1950's and 1960's. Every day, I went to school carrying my tennis racket and/or saxophone. How many times do you see kids doing that on the bus and the subway in New York today?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Next Steps for Test Critics and Resistors in New York State

Disclaimer! I am not a K-12 Educator. I do not teach in an Education Graduate Program. I am not a member of any Education Activist Organization. I am an historian, specializing in social movements, who has been in regular communication with parents, teachers, administrators, legislators and Regents on issues relating to testing for the last 5 years. PLUS, I am a tenured Professor who is basically untouchable and immune to intimidation
So, here is my candid assessment of what people who think testing in New York State is out of control should ask for
First, that the ELA and Math Tests in grades 3-8 should be one day each, with a maximum time of 90 minutes per day
Second, that the Tests should be diagnostic only, with all stakes for the test removed. Under no circumstances should tests be used to evaluate teachers, schools, or entire school districts, much less to remove teachers or principals, close down schools or put districts into receivership. Their only legitimate use is to evaluate individual students, with the evaluation being something shared between teacher and parent or guardian to help guide future instruction
3. All Test Secrecy should be Eliminated. Teachers, parent/guardians and Administrators should be able to look at individual test results
There are many other objectives that could be fought for, but these three should be the immediate focus as they are all goals that can be won if parents, teachers, administrators and elected officials can unite.
Can we do this?. We have to make change in increments. These changes, taken together, would take the boot off the neck of our State's children, teachers, families, and administrators

Monday, May 7, 2018

Why Testing in New York State is Still Abusive by Amy Gropp Forbes

Today, I asked education activists whether changes to testing made by the NY State Education Department, along with the partial severing of test scores from teacher evaluation by the State Legislature were steps in the right direction. 

Here is the responses I got from a much respected parent leader in Brooklyn Amy Gropp Forbes

1    I  think the change from 6 days to 4 was by far the most important and significant change made to date and I agree it should be applauded, in theory. However, now that the tests are untimed there are kids across the state who sit for between 2 and 6 hours in a single day for tests that the state estimated should take 60-70 minutes for 3rd and 4th graders (80-90 minutes for 5th - 8th graders) per day. This is a clear indication of 2 things: 1. the tests are not well designed. 2. The pressure kids are facing when they take these tests is enormous -- why else would otherwise reasonable and caring adults let any child sit for 6 hours for a test? There was major outcry when the ELA was 270 minutes over 3 days (90 minutes per day)...but now when children take between 120 minutes and 360 minutes in a single day we are supposed to be ok with that?

2.  NYSED tells us that they heard us regarding test length, but the increases in the last 10 years were so great that the reductions were inconsequential in the scheme of things: In 2010 the number of questions on the 5th grade ELA and math tests combined was 61 and by 2016 that number was 117. That is a 92% increase.  . As long as annual testing is mandated federally I realize we are limited, but I do not see any law about the tests needing to be more than 1 period a day, for one or two days. In my circles, no one really objects to content or quality the 4th grade state science test. It is fair and appropriate for the students. The only reason anyone opts out of it is because now it can also be used for teacher evaluations, something it was not designed to do.

3. Regarding teacher evaluation: leaving this to the districts leaves NYC vulnerable. While NYSUT and several local unions have been outspoken about the ills of our testing system the UFT has not. 
In NYC every subway car has the message "IF YOU SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING" but teachers and principals in NYC feel unsafe speaking out about testing. Teachers are not even allowed to read the test booklets.  When parents report situations that are against DOE policy rather than providing clearer guidelines to all educators and parents, we are asked to give names. We are not interested in seeing individual educators punished for doing what they have been led to believe they are supposed to do! This is a systemic problem, not a few isolated incidents. And the stakes attached to the tests are HUGE for kids in NYC. The law says that test scores cannot be part of a child's permanent record. But when NYC kids apply to middle and high schools those scores are included on every record and they are a factor for some selective schools.

4.    I truly believe that if we want a public education system that is equitable that we need clear statewide policy, not district level policy, when it comes to testing.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Donald Trump-Too Tired, Too Old, Too Lazy to be "An American Mussolini"

Donald Trump- Too Tired, Old and Lazy To Be "An American Mussolini":
When Donald Trump was elected, many of my friends feared that voters had elevated "an American Mussolini" to power and that our democratic institutions were gravely threatened
I took a different view, which I believe events of the last year and a half have confirmed. I thought that we would survive the Trump presidency, despite the divisions and ugliness that accompanied it, because the separation of powers built into the US government limit what any President can do, and because Donald Trump was far too old to have the time and energy to dramatically reshape our fundamental institutions.
Just compare him to Mussolini and Hitler, the two dictators who people most feared he would imitate. Mussolini was 39 when he ascended to power and Hitler was 44, whereas Donald Trump was 70 when he was sworn in. Not only were these two dictators much younger, but their personal habits were very different. Nothing stood in the way of their obsessive pursuit of national revitalization and in the case of Hitler, world domination. Can you imagine Hitler and Mussolini spending a good portion of their week playing golf or watching Fox News? Or flying to a resort their owned every weekend?
What protects the American people from an abuse of power are not only the Federal Courts, the US Congress, and a press Mr Trump can't intimidate or control, but also his own laziness. Compare his legislative accomplishments to those of Lyndon Johnson, who was 55 when he was elected in 1964. Within a year of his election, Mr Johnson had passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, comprehensive Immigration Reform, legislation creating Medicare and Medicaid, and an anti- poverty program. Mr Trump's only legislative accomplishment has been tax reform. His wall, his attacks on Obamacare, and other signature issues raised in his campaign, have been stalled. Donald Trump not only lacks the stamina, energy and skill to remake his country the way Mussolini and Hitler did, he can't come close to matching what LBJ did during his short time in office
And with sexual harassment allegations and the Russia probe provoking him and wearing him out, don't expect him to experience a new "fountain of youth" any time soon or spend 24/7 on the campaign trail in 2018 to assure he has a Congress that will do his bidding.
We are going to survive the Donald Trump Presidency--however long it lasts. And we may even learn something from the experience. After all, hope springs eternal. And there are some good people in this nation, of all political perspectives, who think we deserve much better than having a person of such questionable character representing us to the world

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The 8 Points Cynthia Nixon Emphasized In a Talk Explaining Her Primary Challenge to Andrew Cuomo

Cynthia Nixon spoke at a fundraising party in Park Slope last night attended by 90 people

The talk she gave emphasized several issues

1. Fully funding the state's public schools and equalizing funding between poor and wealthy schools and districts

2. Stopping all arrests for recreational marijuana which overwhelmingly target Black and Latino youth.

3. Ending the practice of cash bail. There are 25,000 people in prison awaiting trial in New York State, most of them people who can't  pay their bail

4. Investing in infrastructure- repairing roads and bridges in Upstate, suburban and rural New York and fixing New York City's subways which are falling apart

5. Instituting Medicare for All in New York State.

6. Investing in renewable energy all over New York State

7. Emphasizing economic development projects around the state which involve human services as well as brick and mortar structures.

8  Investing in housing that is truly affordable and protecting rent regulation

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Why Charters Are Gaining Ground in High Needs Communities

Nobody is going to want to hear this, but some of my best students and alumni of color are being recruited to work in charter schools. Since public schools are not making the same effort to recruit them, I can hardly advise them to turn those positions down. Until the NYC DOE starts actively targeting top students of color to train them for teaching positions, embraces culturally appropriate curriculum, and makes schools like those headed by Luis E Torres, Jamaal Bowman, and Paul Cannon citywide models for wholistic, community centered education, charters will continue to gain ground in communities of color. Public education loses if it just stands still.  Our public schools must actively recruit teachers and administrators of color, have curricula that reflects the diversity of the city’s cultures, have arts and sports as an integral part of the school day, and keep their doors open to 6PM to accommodate working parents. Nothing less will meet the charter challenge in high needs communities

Monday, April 30, 2018

Even The Hate Mail I Get Reveals The Contours of White Privilege

My Black friends have always told me "Mark, if you were Black, saying the things you do, acting the way you do, you would have been dead a long time ago."
If you think they were exaggerating, read the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the death threats and insults the African American philosopher George Yancy is repeatedly deluged with when he comments about issues in commercial media. The great Fordham Theologian Father Bryan Massingale has had a similar experience, as have my friends Johnny Eric Williams and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor who teach at two of the nation's top colleges. This is startlingly different from what I have experienced when I comment about race in America for CNN, or other media outlets. I get hate mail. I have scores of people telling me I should never be allowed to teach. But I have NEVER received a death threat or a rape threat or an email that begins "Dear N.....r Professor."
Black people in positions of academic leadership, commenting on the issues of the day, bring out a kind of insecurity in too many whites that is easily transferred into violent fantasies, and in some cases, into violent actions.
No one should underestimate the power and prevalence of White Rage in this country. It is quite literally life threatening to Black people, even when they reach positions of influence through their talent and hard work.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Why I Am So Dangerous

When it comes to transforming this country, I am much more dangerous than George Soros, even the George Soros of Fox News imagination! That George is transforming it from without; I am transforming it from within. And doing it in the most insidious way—by getting young people to question the racism and xenophobia they were exposed to in their families and communities and allowing them to imagine a different way of thinking and living. Not only have I been doing this for fifty years, but the thousands of students I have influenced, many who have become teachers themselves, have found their own ways of advancing this mission.
So while you are worrying about George bribing people to protest , you need to start worrying about me and people like me influencing the next generation. We are everywhere; not only in schools and universities, but in town councils and legislatures, in the media, in non-profits, businesses and government agencies.
And we don’t need to bribe anyone to convince them the country needs changing. Our weapons are information, discussion and a moral framework that elevates love and compassion over hatred and fear.
Good luck trying to silence us. History is on our side

Friday, April 20, 2018

Immigrants, Not Donald Trump, "Made New York Great Again"

Donald Trump thinks he is the right person to "Make America Great" because he imagines he was responsible for New York’s revival after the Fiscal Crisis of the 70's, but when you closely examine commerce in city neighborhoods outside of Manhattan, you realize that the very people Trump is attacking, IMMIGRANTS are the ones who did most to bring New York back from disinvestment, arson, redlining, fiscal crises and drug epidemics
For every Trump building in Manhattan
There are thousands of bodegas and small delis owned by Dominicans and Yeminis
Thousands of Chinese take out spots
Hundreds of gas stations and Duncan Donuts franchises owned by South Asians
Thousands of nail salons owned by Koreans and Hair Braiding Salon owned by Dominican and West African Women
Along with countless fried chicken spots, coffee shops, clothing stores, and small restaurants owned by people from all over the world
Immigrant commerce is the lifeblood of NY City neighborhoods. Attack immigrants you attack all of us.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Why I Continue to Boycott NY State ELA and Math Tests by Amy Gropp Forbes

OPT OUT 2018
My reasons to keep boycotting NYS ELA and Math tests:
1. These tests are used to label children, teachers and schools as failures. This happens most in high poverty communities and in communities of color. This promotes racism, contributes to segregation, and sets up a tiered system where children from different backgrounds are given different and very unequal educational opportunities.
2. The law requiring teachers to be evaluated by test scores is still on the books in NY state, even though it is no longer required by the federal ESSA law (the current moratorium in NYS will expire in 2019). As long as this is the case test prep will dominate in lower performing schools robbing children of a well rounded and enriching curriculum.
3. Our schools are not being fully funded. The money being spent on testing would be better spent reducing class sizes and providing schools with culturally responsive curriculum, school libraries, arts, etc.
4. The tests (as well as the year-round education that the high stakes promote) are developmentally inappropriate,  disproportionately affecting English Language Learners and children with disabilities. Only 5% of ELLs and 9% of students with disabilities were deemed proficient on the 2017 ELA.
5. The stakes attached to these tests have had dire consequences on early childhood education as well -- the push to do reading and math in kindergarten (to "prepare" kids) is not supported by research and has virtually eliminated developmentally appropriate play-based learning in many schools.
6. The tests themselves are incredibly poor quality -- much has been written about this but nothing has changed.
7. Computer testing will soon replace paper tests. This means even more data mining. It will also shift classrooms away from project-based hands-on learning and towards digital learning platforms.
8. Even though the vast majority of high school students are passing high school Regents exams and graduation rates are on the rise, only about 40 percent of grade 3-8 students are proficient on the tests. You can also see massive fluctuations in NYS test scores when you compare them to the steady performance levels on the NAEP test. These tests are clearly not measuring student performance and proficiency levels accurately.
9. High-stakes testing is the mechanism for privatizing education. Corporate interests are driving test-based accountability. Millions of dollars have been spent lobbying for these tests. We need education policy to put the interests of children first.
10. Opt Out is responsible for the minor changes made to date -- most importantly reducing the time spent on the ELA and Math tests from 3 days each to 2.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

It is OUR Country, Not His

One of the things saving the nation from complete disaster is Donald Trump's short attention span. In any given day, he will be attacking China, Mexico, NFL players, Amazon, CNN, the Mayor of London, Muslim immigrants, Robert Mueller, the Governor of California, sanctuary cities, even his own Attorney General. He flits from one bout of Twitter Rage to another, rarely introducing legislation to back up his tantrums. It is exhausting and infuriating, but I have concluded that this President is best described by a quote from Shakespeare.
"Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
He is a gangster, a bully and a serial philanderer who rose to power by using racism and xenophobia to unite one group of Americans against the rest, but we are learning that the damage he is inflicting can be contained if we organized and stand up for the things we believe.
I am angry that he is President, but am determined to keep his provocations and policies from corrupting and polluting the many communities I am part of.
It is a lot of hard work, but it has been successful thus far. It is OUR country, not his.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

High Stakes Testing: This Generation's "Vietnam"

The Era of High Stakes Testing initiated by No Child Left Behind came in with great fanfare, ignoring the infamous connection between testing and Eugenics, and promising a dramatic reduction in disparities in educational achievement based on race and class and an equally dramatic improvement in the US educational status relative to other nations
Now, nearly 20 years later, we are in a position to declare the Testing Movement a dismal failure.. Educational disparities based on race and class are, if anything, even greater than they were in 2001, schools are more segregated and the US educational posture, globally, has remained stagnant.
Worse yet, the percentage of Black teachers in US schools has gone down dramatically, test based school closings have destabilized neighborhoods, teacher morale has plummeted, teacher shortages plague many states, and stress levels among the nation's students have risen to dangerous levels
High Stakes Testing has been the Vietnam of this generation of policy makers, the wrong battle fought against the wrong enemy in the wrong terrain.
It is time to admit defeat, cut our losses, and create child centered, community centered education policies that value teachers and encourage relationship building, mentoring, and the
nurturing of children's talents inside and outside the classroom.
That means no national standards, no test secrecy, no use of tests to rate teachers and schools, an end to school closings and teacher firings, and a sharp reduction in testing budgets at the national, state, local and school level.
These are objectives all people who love children can unite around.
It's time to end the carnage. It's time to heal the pain. It's time to makes schools places which give our children confidence rather than add to their stress.

Monday, March 26, 2018

A Conversation Taking Place Over Breakfast About Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump

“Mom, why did Stormy Daniels spank Donald Trump. I thought spanking was something only done to children”
“Honey, I don’t want to talk about this. Maybe when you’re older.”
“Mom, I watched to whole interview at Cora’s house”
“Oh no! I sent you there to do homework!”
“ Come on Mom! We took a break to watch the interview. Kids aren’t stupid. We know what’s up. Plus we will probably discuss the interview in current events in class this week”
“That’s terrible! I am going to write a note to Mrs. Parker to tell her to excuse you from current events. There are some things fifth graders shouldn’t talk about in school”
“Mom. Give me a break. I know more than you think. We have sex education twice a month”
“This is awful. What kind of world are we living in. Kids are growing up too fast.”
“Relax mom, I’ll be fine. Just tell me one thing. What magazine did you spank daddy with before you had me and Billy?”

Monday, March 19, 2018

My Letter to the Owners of Grand Prospect Hall Asking them to Cancel Their NRA Event on April 12

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Halkias
As a forty years resident of Park Slope and as someone who has attended over 20 events at Grand Prospect Hall, from political fundraisers, to weddings to school celebrations, I am outraged and appalled that you would defy the overwhelming sentiment of this community and rent the hall to the National Rifle Association on April 12
At a time when almost every school in Park Slope had walk outs and vigils to mourn gun deaths at schools in the United States, especially the Parkland Massacre, it is a grievous insult to the people in our community to rent that hall to an organization that not only rejects all restrictions on assault weapons, but has insulted the students in Parkland who have spoken out against gun violence
If you do not cancel the NRA event immediately, i assure you that I will not only never attend another event at Grand Prospect Hall, I will encourage everyone I know, including local politicians, to boycott your organization
This is the worst decision I have seen a local business owner make in more than 30 years I hope you come to your senses and cancel the event

Mark D Naison
Park Slope Resident
Professor of African American Studies and History
Fordham University