Thursday, April 30, 2015

Did Anybody Ask Them? America's Expendables Have Their Say

Many people are upset with the unrest in Baltimore that followed the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Fair enough. But if you spent time in the neighborhood he lived in, or in neighborhoods like it around the nation, you might still be upset, but you will not be surprised. Abandoned houses. Vacant lots. Stray dogs. Rumors of mass displacement by the same people developing other parts of your city. No decent paying jobs anywhere.  Police who patrol your community who do not live in it. Friends and relatives pushed out of the area by rising rents even though much of the housing  in your neighborhood is decayed or vacant. Huge numbers of people rendered unemployable by felony convictions.

It is a toxic mix. And  the policies that are made to address it are made by people far far away. Who never include your voice

So I raise the question. Did anybody ask the poor people of Baltimore. when you:

Closed their neigborhood schools and gave them charter schools and test after test

Decided to wage the drug war in their community in a manner which would never be done at Johns Hopkins University, which has
as many drugs on campus as any "hood" in Baltimore.

Encouraged them to take subprime mortgages on the homes in their neighborhood and forcelosed on them en masse when the financial crisis hit?

Appropriated their experience and music and used it for entertainment

You know the answer. No one ever asks them anything. They are America's Expendables, whose suffering keeps our thriving prison industrial complex alive, and whose cries of pain are the material for popular music narratives, or hit tv series,  that people around the world turn to for pleasure or inspiration.

They have a lot to be angry about. Will you finally hear their voices? Will you finally ask them what they want and what they need?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

From Occupy Wall Street To Baltimore

When Occupy Wall Street sprang up, seemingly out of no where, critics pointed out the irony of a protest against inequality coming from a relatively privileged group. No one can say that about the uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson Missouri. The people on the receiving end of gentrification, wage compression, Broken Windows Policing and the drug war and whose bodies are fuel for the prison industrial complex have finally spoken. Many are not comfortable with the way they express their anger. But when people rise up against conditions which they find intolerable, it is rarely done by following the rules of the political system which has insured their marginality. Those who are upset by the violence need consider the grinding, daily violence and stress experienced by those rising up, conditions that most middle class Americans have never experienced, at least not until they are pushed out of the middle class. These uprisings have been a long time coming. Occupy Wall Street was a warning, a warning not heeded. Now we have face the consequences of 30 years of inequality and neglect in a form that is far more challenging

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Violence of Gentrification

Last night, at a dinner where my wife was being honored for her educational leadership and anti-testing activism, I ran into an old friend, Tom Kappner, who for forty years has been a tenant activist on the Upper West Side. I asked him how the battle against Columbia expansion was going, and after saying "Not good," he shared me a horror story about events that were occurring in the heavily Dominican neighborhood that runs from Amsterdam Avenue to
Riverside Drive between 135th and 155th Streets which has suddenly become valuable terrain. Tom had just come from a meeting with the local City Councilman and several community leaders who had stories from more than 400 Dominican families who were being harrassed by their landlords to drive them out of their apartments.  This was being done because huge profits could be made from raising rents for new arrivals or turning the buildings into co-ops.

  As Tom told me this, I thought of the events in Baltimore, and in Ferguson, and in many parts of Brooklyn, and was reminded that "Gentrification," often described as the impersonal operation of markets, can get very personal, and in its own way, quite violent.  How many tenants and homeowners and storekeepers leave communities where they have been fixtures for decades, sometimes generations, because they have been harassed by landlords and/or banks. If what is going on in West Harlem now is any indication, more than a few.

  We need to factor this in as we try to understand the rage that many people feel about police practices, and in more recent times, police killings.  The police are bearing the brunt of an anger felt at a whole array of forces that are driving poor and working class  people out of communities they once felt at home, or making them feel as if they are an unwanted presence   When harassment comes from every direction, and you feel that no one cares and no one will come to your defense, it breeds desperation and rage as well as resignation.

    Either we address the underlying causes of this distress, which go far beyond resentment of police, or we will reap the whirlwind.

    And not only in Baltimore

Saturday, April 25, 2015

You Can't Improve Schools or Reduce Poverty Without Dismantling the Prison Industrial Complex

There are a lot of people, including people I have spent the last few years fighting, who genuinely want to make schools in poor communities better. Their methods rarely work and those who oppose them say you have take measures to reduce poverty to make dramatic improvements in low performing schools. Were it that simple! Until you dismantle the prison industrial complex, change drug laws, and reduce the smothering presence of police in poor communities, you cannot reduce poverty or make dramatic improvements in schools. We have a legal system and law enforcement apparatus that assures that huge sections of our poor population remain in poverty; and puts huge burdens on poor families. While education policy is an important battleground, it is held hostage to other social policy arenas. I intend to make this argument, in season and out of season, until people stop looking to avoid taking on drug laws, policing and the prison industrial complex

Restore Recess Party 2016

1.  End High Stakes Testing and Ditch the Common Core Standards.
2.  Legalize Marijuana.
3.  Release all non-violent drug offenders from the nation's prisons and jails.
4.  End racial profiling and Broken Windows Policing.
5.  Put homeless families in abandoned apartment buildings and homes.
6.  Restore Recess! Let the Children Play!
7.  Revive the Civilian Conservation Corps to create jobs for the nation's youth.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Poem for Cornel West

When I see people attack
Cornel West,
I remind myself
that every fault and
you have will
be exposed
When you confront
the powerful
Your flaws
will be broadcast
for the world to
So it becomes
all the more important
to stay loud
to stay focused
and tell
that prophets aren't
Because they were

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why School Reform Alone is Destined to Fail

Our drug laws, our swollen prison population, and our entire criminal justice system needs to be addressed before young people in this society, especially those growing up in struggling families and communities, can realize their potential. Education reform alone will not work. Efforts to place the entire burden of uplift on schools will inevitably lead to demonization of teachers and a desperate attempt to privatize education which will make matters much much worse. The tunnel vision of school reformers, and their critics, has to be challenged. We need to radically transform law enforcement, raise wages, and create more affordable housing if we want to see true upward mobility in this society. Only then can schools play the role we all want them to in advancing opportunity.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why I Support NYCLetEmPlay

I have long had a vision of schools in the Bronx, and other high needs communities as places where students have full access to sports, the arts, counseling, and all the things that children get in private schools and well funded public high schools. The organization NYCLetEmPlay, which has been around for 3 years, but has recently gotten major media attention, is fighting hard to make sure students in those schools get the opportunity to play on interscholastic teams, an opportunity currently denied to many of them, especially in the small themed schools which were created when large high schools were broken up. I fully support their endeavors and will help them put additional pressure on school officials and find new sources of funding. In too many schools in the Bronx, students are demoralized by testing and test prep and have few opportunities to release tension through exercise or explore their talents through the arts and athletic competition. This is a prescription for disaster, It makes students hate school and stifles their potential to cultivate their talents in activities they have a real passion for. NYCLetEmPlay is one of the first grass roots protest movement in New York City and state which directly challenges the damaging environment in high needs schools created by excessive testing and lack of opportunity in sports and the arts. I will do everything I can to help this organization get its message accross.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Is Testing a Requirement of US Citizenship?

Throughout the US, from New York to Tennessee to Arizona, authorities are making the argument that taking tests is one of the requirements of citizenship, trumping parental rights, and the deep reservations teachers, parents and students might have about the excessive and inappropriate use of testing as an instrument of public policy. Such a position not only expands stretches the Constitution beyond recognition, it sends a chilling message regarding what citizenship entails. Do we want to live in a society where government officials use Public Education as a Theater of Intimidation? As Dr King told us on numerous occasions, and taught us through his actions, the right to protest is part of the lifeblood of democracy. When faced with public officials who seek to punish children and families who refuse tests, and limit the freedom of educators to speak out against testing, we are not only defending our children and our schools, we are standing up for what is best in American traditions. The Bullies must not triumph.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

My Problems With the Tests

1. There are too many tests
2. The tests are too long
3. The tests are poorly designed and poorly written
4..The tests are surrounded by a level of secrecy usually reserved for a nuclear arsenal
5. The tests are never returned to students and teachers to inform instruction.
6. The tests are used to rate teachers, schools and whole school districts, purposes for which they were never intended
7. The tests are made by profit making companies who give huge contributions to legislators and perks to policy making bodies
8. The tests are used to justify the implementation of a National Curriculum- the Common Core- whose advocates claim it is neither national nor a curriculum.
9. The tests are incredibly expensive and take money away from the arts, counseling, and libraries
10. The tests are discriminatory in the manner they are applied to Special Needs and ELL Students.
11. The high stakes attached to the tests have forced schools in high poverty districts to use recess and gym for test prep.
12. The tests have been used as an excuse for closing thousands of schools and firing tens of thousands of teachers, many of them teachers of color.

That is my list.

Please feel free to add to it in the Comments section below

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Test Resistance- A Movement Whose Time Has Come

Test Resistance has become one of the major grass roots movements in the nation. Long mocked and ridiculed by the media, ignored by politicians, it is now so large it has been covered in virtually every major national news outlet from the NY Times to the Wall Street Journal to USA Today. The incredible size and energy of the resistance in New York state, with major activity in hundreds of school districts, shows how much the overuse and misuse of testing has enraged and frightened parents, students and teachers. This uprising, having no major funding source, controlled by no powerful organizations, communicated largely by social media and word of mouth, shows no signs of ebbing because it has a profound sense of purpose, and a deep moral conviction that stems from the defense of children and their well being. Trying to suppress it will backfire. It will only diminish when politicians reduce levels of testing in schools which have reached abusive proportions and have crowded out the activities which make education most meaningful. Since most elected officials have not gotten the message, we can expect this movement to grow for years to come. History is being made before our eyes. And democracy revitalized in the process.

The Sociopathic Elite that Controls Education Policy- Guest Post by a New Jersey Teacher

People kill for money. The sociopaths that are set to profit from "education reform" are of the same mindset as those that lied us into thinking Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and killed hundreds of thousands of people in order to profit. They are of the same mindset as those that deny climate change in order to sell oil, or those that "frack" and create TV ads that talk about "safe hydraulic fracturing". This is the same group that charged cheating teachers in Atlanta with racketeering and destroyed those teachers lives. They have no remorse, they do not suffer guilt as a majority of people would. They lie, cheat, steal, ruin lives and even murder to reach their goal of power and profit. These are also the same people that have been militarizing our police forces and privatizing both police forces and jails. In our assessment of this situation we must include all of that and more. In the upcoming election, the current Republican positions about Common Core should not be confused with taking the side of those against ed reform. The republicans still answer to the same group of sociopaths that created ed reform. As do the Democrats in large numbers. The number of "moving parts" in this grab for power includes Pearson, the Governors association, Gates, the Waltons, the Koch Brothers, A.L.E.C., hedge fund managers, hundreds of thousands of teachers, parents, BOEs, Administrators as well as things I missed and haven't thought of. At the bottom of all of it, is an unquenchable thirst for money and power by people with no soul. That group is the "sociopathic elite". Massive numbers of good folk around the country must come to the realization that they must rebel to protect their children.

by Alec Shantzis

Friday, April 17, 2015

How Tennessee Requires Students Who Opt-Out to "Sit and Stare"

The following is a communication a parent in Tennessee received from an official in her school district claiming that there is no legal right to Opt Out of tests in that state and that students who refuse to take the tests must sit in the room with the test takers. In short, she claims the state mandates "Sit and Stare"

Dear ..........,

After I emailed you yesterday, all superintendents received further communication from the State Department of Education attorney regarding parents' desire to have their students opted out of TCAP testing. I am attaching her memo to this communication. Your daughter will not be able to sit in the office and read during the TCAP testing. According to the memo from the attorney, that would put us in a position of allowing her to opt out of testing and there is no legal provision for that. Therefore, your daughter will need to sit for the test with the rest of the students. Please feel free to communicate with Christy Ballard, the attorney for the State Department of Education, should you want to further express your concerns. We are following the rules laid out for us.



This represents an outrageous infringement of parental rights as well as an effort to clamp down on the growing revolt against excessive testing and the inappropriate use of tests to rate teachers, administrators, and schools

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why the Opt Out Movement Cannot Be Suppressed

How does it feel to be part of a movement which politicians fear, editorial writers hate and hedge funds spend huge amounts of money to discredit? You know what movement I am talking about- Test Resistance, otherwise known as Opt Out! The huge, defiant, even joyous mobilization to refuse tests in New York State has left the powers that be confused because what they thought was a crack down has produced an explosion of activism of unprecedented proportions. This reminds me of what happened with the lunch counter sit ins that began in Greensboro in 1960. The more authorities tried to suppress the movement, the larger it grew and the more it spread. History, and the cause of Justice, is one our side. Testing has reached abusive proportions in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it is the courage and heroism of parents, students and teachers, all of which we have seen in New York State in the last few days.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Middle School Testing Schedule in NYC- Testing is OUT OF CONTROL

This was sent to me by a Bronx teacher

I teach students in NYC. A list of the upcoming tests was shared with staff.  I was shocked when I saw it. I cannot post this on my page without ramifications but it is important that parents understand what testing is doing to instructional time.   When are we supposed to teach? When are they supposed to learn?  Education is becoming more and more of a farce.

April 14 – 16
NYS English Language Arts Test
6, 7, 8

April 22 – 24
NYS Math Test
6, 7, 8

April 17 – 30
(1 day exam delivered across a window of days)
NYS English as a Second Language Achievement Test Speaking
English Language Learners in 6, 7, 8

May 4 – 15 (3 day exam delivered across a window of days)
NYS English as a Second Language Achievement Test Listening, Reading, Writing
English Language Learners in 6, 7, 8

May 11
NYC End-of-Year Performance Assessments in English Language Arts
(Measure of Student Learning)
6, 7, 8

May 12
NYC End-of-Year Performance Assessments in Social Studies
(Measure of Student Learning)
6, 7, 8

May 13
NYC End-of-Year Performance Assessments in Science
(Measure of Student Learning)
6, 7, 8
May 20 – May 29
(1 day exam delivered across a window of days)
NYS Science Performance Test
8th grade

June 1
NYS Science Written Test
8th grade
June 2– 5
Finals in math, English Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, Foreign Language, Drama and Physical Education
8th grade

June 8 – 12
Finals in math, English Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, Foreign Language, Drama and Physical Education
6th and 7th grade

June 16
NYS Regents Exam Living Environment
8th grade

June 17
NYS Regents Exam Global History
8th grade
June 18
NYS Regents Exam Integrated Algebra
8th grade

June 22
NYC Second Language Proficiency Exam
8th grade

Not on the list but on the horizon for low-performing 6th, 7th and 8th graders in June - the Blackline Promotional Portfolio Tests in math and English Language Arts

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Test Revolt Day in New York State! THIS is What Democracy Looks Like!

Today's the Day. New York! Let's show the country and the world what the biggest Test Refusal in History looks like! Andrew Cuomo, the Legislature, and the Regents thought they could ignore our voices, but the parents, students and teachers of this state are going to show them that the real power to shape our schools comes from the people. And what is our power?. The power to refuse. To deny them the data. To prevent them from using our children as pawns..200,000 Test Refusers is not out of reach 250,000 is possible.. The one Brooklyn school I know best, which had less than 30 Refusers last year, will have over 230 this year. And pattern is being repeated throughtout the state from the big cities to the suburbs to the small towns. It crosses party lines. it shatters ideological boundaries. And when the day is over, a big message will have been sent, not only to Andrew Cuomo and his minions, but to every would be Presidential candidate in 2016- ignore the Test Rebellion at your peril.

Good luck parents. Good luck children. Good luck teachers
Your bravery is inspiring a Nation.

THIS is what Democracy looks like!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What Happens When You Equate Testing With "Civil Rights"

Is it "Civil Rights", when an obsessive emphasis on Testing:

** Leads to closings of hundreds of inner city schools
** Results in firing of thousands of teachers of color
** Produces 20 year jail sentences for Black teachers who "cheat on tests"
** Leads charter schools to intimidate students so much they pee on themselves
** Forces schools in low income communities to use recess and gym for test prep
** Inspires favoritism to schools who have right to expel low performing students

And what has been the result?

** No reduction of test disparities based on race and class
** No improvement in US global standing in educational performance
** Destabilization of neighborhoods where schools closings have occured
** Shrinking of Black/Latino middle class due to teacher firings
** Huge profits for real estate developers and charter school investors

Maybe it is time to redefine "Civil Rights" or reconsider the value of National Testing

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Generic Protest Letter Against "Sit and Stare"


It has come to my attention that the ........ District has adopted a "Sit and Stare" policy for those students whose families have have chosen to opt them out of state tests or have chosen to opt out themselves. As a resident of  . . . . . and someone who has long involvement with education policy issues, I would like to strongly protest this policy

Opting out of tests as a method of protesting excessive testing is a movement that is sweeping through  the nation, endorsed by groups like Citizens Action  and  Network for Public Education as well as teachers unions. It represents a powerful act of conscience that should be treated with respect not punitive action. Many school districts have gone out of their way to show their respect for students and families who make this choice.    ............. should follow their example.

The ........ school district has an excellent reputation among residents of the district and people around the state. That reputation will be instantly jeopardized if you follow through with a "Sit and Stare" policies. I will not be the only one to publiclize your actions should the district adopt a policy this punitive at a time when hundreds of thousands of students around the nation are opting out of state tests.

Test Resistance, of which Opting Out is one important form, is one of the great justice movements of our time It is deeply disappointing that a district in which I reside, and whose policies I have long respected, has chosen to punish students and families who participate in it


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Why "Sit and Stare" Is a Terrible Policy for East Hampton and Every District in NY State

East Hampton Board of Education Superintendent Richard Burns Principal Beth Doyle
Principal Chales Soriano
Dear Superintendent Burns, Principal Doyle, Principal Soriano and the East Hampton Board of Education

It has come to my attention that the East Hampton School District has adopted a "Sit and Stare" policy for those students whose families have have chosen to Opt- Out of state tests this spring or have chosen to Opt out themselves. As a resident of East Hampton, and a teacher and scholar who has a long involvement with education policy issues, I would like to strongly protest this policy

Opting out of tests as a method of protesting excessive testing is a movement that is sweeping through our state and the nation, endorsed by groups like Citizens Action of New York, the Working Families Party, and the Network for Public Education as well as teachers unions. It represents a powerful act of conscience that should be treated with respect not punitive action. Many school districts have gone out of their way to show their respect for students and familis who make this choice, East Hampton should follow their example.

The East Hampton school district has an excellent reputation among residents of the district and people around the state. That reputation will be instantly jeopardized if you follow through with a "Sit and Stare" policies. I will not be the only one to publiclize your actions should the district adopt a policy this punitive at a time when hundreds of thousands of students throughout the state are likely to Opt Out of tests.

I want to close on a personal note. As someone who one spent time in more than 20 Bronx schools leading community history projects, I have seen first hand the damage that excessive testing, and the misuse of tests to rate teachers and schools, has done to public education. I watched schools, in fear of low test scores, cut arts programs, eliminate school trips, and use recess for test prep

Test Resistance, of which Opting Out is one important form, is one of the great justice movements of our time It is deeply disappointing that a district in which I reside, and whose policies I have long respected, has chose to punish students and families who participate in it

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

The Catastrophe of "Broken Windows" Policing- Reflections on the Death of Walter Scott

  As I struggle  to come to terms with the untimely death of Walter Scott, shot in the back while running away from a police officer after a dispute over a faulty tail light,  I suddenly came to a startling and disturbing realization: Walter Scott was the fourth unarmed African American man I know of whose killing by a police officer in a highly publicized case came over a minor violation that could easily have been overlooked rather than a major crime. 

The first of these deaths, that of Bronx teenager Ramarley Graham, took place three years ago, when narcotics officers, suspecting him of possessing marijuana, chased him into his family's home in the North Bronx and shot him to death in the bathroom, with his grandmother watching. That anyone is even being arrested for marijuana possession represents questionable policy; that they should be killed by law enforcement during such an arrest is unimaginable. But it did happen, leading to the Graham family winning a 4 million dollar wrongful death suit against the city of New York

Next came the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri. Much attention has been directed at Michael Brown's role in a dispute at a convenience store shortly before his death, but when Officer Wilson decided to approach Michael Brown and his friend, it was for what we in New York call "jaywalking". None of the tragic events that followed would have taken place had not Officer Wilson decided to challenge the two young men for walking in the middle of the street on a little traveled residential block. That this was a subject for police intervention could easily be questioned; that it led to the death of an unarmed young man is as unfathomable as it is awful.

The final death is that of Eric Garner. Mr Garner's death came after police confronted him for selling "lucies" ( illegally acquired cigarrettes) on the street.  Here is another case where police could easily have overlooked the offending action, as the person committing the offense was unarmed, and not causing harm to anyone else. 

Let's look at all these cases in tandem. Ramarely Graham, killed for possessing marijuana. Michael Brown, killed for jaywalking, Eric Garner, killed for selling illegal cigarettes.  Walter Scott, killed for an out of operation tail light.

There are many questions we can and should ask about how the race of these individuals factored into their deaths, but we also need to interrogate the stragegy of law enforcement they reflect- namely "Broken Windows policing." Should the police be confronting and arresting people for minor breaches of the law and prepared to use deadly force in such incident? Should police officers be rated on the number of such arrests so their careers depend on making them? And should muncipalities depend
on the fines that result from such arrests as sources of revenue?

Dealing with internalized as well as overt racial biases is something all of us- not only police offiers- should be doing. But if we want to reduce police/community tensions, we may want to rethink how police are deployed and move away from "Broken Windows Pollcing" to strategies which are less rigid and more community oriented.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Teacher's Promise: I Will Not Go Down Quietly

As a teacher who spends large amounts of time working with my students after they graduate, as well as when they are in my class, I know I am expendable. I believe in my students potential as agents of transformation as well as workers, people whose writings, actions, artistic expression might help make the world a better place.I try to provide a model for them of someone who loves to learn, loves to teach and views freedom and justice as more than just words.

Which brings us to the year 2015. The last thing those setting education policy, or for that matter those ruling our government want is teachers like me. So I will not go down quietly. I will fight for my students, the students of the future, and all teachers who love their students and their job. I may not win this battle. But in the course of this fight, I will leave a record of our battle for public education and the dignity of teaching in whatever words I can find so that future generations will know that the suppression of teaching and learning by the powerful was not something easily undertaken or completed.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Atlanta Cheating Scandals and Eva Moskowitz Success Academies 2 Sides of the same Coin

If you think about it, the Atlanta Cheating Scandas ( which are just the tip of the Iceberg) and the rapid rise to prominence of Eva Moskowitz "Success Academies" (which have become the education model of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo) each represent logical responses to the insane pressure to raise test scores which followed in the wake of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

One way to deal with these pressures was to give policy makers the test scores they wanted by having teachers and administrators put in correct answers on the tests

Another was to adopt a routine of behavior modification and intimidation straight out of a Charles Dickens workhouse to get students to produce the right answers.

You decide which is worse- Cheating or Child Abuse.

That we have come to this is telling testimony of the absurdity of annointing raising test scores as the nation's primary anti-poverty strategy and its path to restoring Global Economic Competitiveness

It is also why Test Resistance is one of the fasting growing grass roots movements in the nation.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Tragedies that Have Befallen Public Education in the Last 20 Years

1. The closing of thousands of public schools in US urban areas, destabilizing communities and make them rife for gentrification and real estate speculation

2. The ethnic and racial cleansing of US teaching force through school closings and cost cutting "reforms," leading to sharp declines in percentages of teachers of color, particularly African American teachers.

3. The Bi-Partisan acceptance of universal testing from K-12 as vehicle to make US schools globally competitive, promote equity, and make students "College and Career Ready."

4. The development and implementation of statistical models of teacher evaluation- i.e. VAM and APPR- which are little more than junk science and totally undermine the only valid purpose of testing, which is to help individual students improve their skills

5. The highly secretive, and elite financed development of a set of National Standards- the Common Core- which are imposed on the nation's schools without experimentation, without debate, and in an atmosphere of coercion and intimidation, destroying local control of public schools in theory and practice

6. The Bi-Partisan promotion of Charter Schools as a substitute for public schools, leading to the creation of thousands of unregulated schools which receive public funding and become centers of fiscal corruption, authoritarian management, abusive labor practices, and civil rights violations affecting students and parents.

7. The systematic undermining of the arts, libraries, schools counseling, and experiments in community control of schools and culturally appropriate pedagogy.

Friday, April 3, 2015

This Time They Went Too Far: A Poem

This time 
They went too far
It's one thing
to enrage teachers,
parents and students, 
But now Cuomo 
and his buddies
have offended 
school districts.
We are not
East Germany
or Fascist Italy, 
At least not yet
An old fashioned 
attachment to
local government
and parent rights
still exists, 
along with 
suspicion of 
concentrated wealth 
centralized government power
Conservatives and Liberals
who hardly agree
on anything else
Can agree on that
So this game isn't 
The fat lady hasn't 
And the thin lady hasn't

Probably Impact of Cuomo/Tisch Teacher Evaluation Polices on Teachers/Students of Color by Brian Crowell

 I have attached my Empirical Findings on the probable effect of the Tisch/Cuomo teacher evaluation policy.. Due to my Graduate Work I don't have time to do a more Comprehensive Report, however my report can absolutely help NUSUT in a positive direction.

1. African American teachers are represented at high poverty schools (schools with significant populations of free and reduced lunch) beyond what their population suggests.
2. African American teachers are represented at low poverty schools( schools with low numbers of free and reduced lunch) lower than what their population suggests.

3. Hispanic American teachers are represented at high poverty schools  (schools with significant populations of free and reduced lunch) beyond what their population suggests.
4. Hispanic American teachers are represented at low poverty schools( schools with low number of free and reduced lunch) at a lower representation than their population suggests.

Combined with the Princeton Study (see scanned documents page 58 highlighted sections) which shows that 28.8 of Poor Children report to have repeated a grade and have been retained. 11.9% have been expelled or suspended. 21% have dropped out of school and didn't finish high school. We can absolutely infer from these findings that this at risk population will be the students who don't fair well on standardized test.

To continue, we can also absolutely infer that African American and Hispanic Teachers who serve these students will be disproportionately targeted for termination and or discipline due to low test scores on their Performance Evaluation. This Disparate Treatment Discrimination against the student and the teachers must be called to account. New York PERB Laws, New York State Laws and Federal Laws have precedent on these issues.

Brian Crowell 
Member AFT

High School Students in NYS Being Demoralized by New Graduation Requirements and Tests by Susan Ryan Murphy

Every few months, I add my perspective as a high school teacher to this fight. I always get a healthy dose of "likes" and I always get attacked for not understanding what damage is being done to our youngest students. I do understand ... more than you know. .
When will we switch the focus to the high school Regents and graduation requirements? Or add this problem to our focus? Are we fighting for all kids? Or is Meryl Tisch right ... is it just about appeasing the high performing districts? How many of the 60,000 or 250,000 opt outs will have trouble passing the high school Regents exams? How many will easily pass those and the AP exams also? How many will pass all of their high school classes and also earn 3-30 college credits? And yet, our weakest students (many of whom are not special ed students) cannot meet these new requirements. Some will take Algebra 1 as a three-year course sequence (earning 3 credits) ... and never be able to get a 65 on the Regents ... or an 80 as the new regulations require. (And we are complaining about the kids who are taking the Algebra Regents in 8th grade but will also have to sit for the math 8 test.) What about the student who enters 9th grade that reads and writes below grade level? Sometimes 3, 4, 5, 6 grades below grade level? Will they ever be able to score a 75 on the English Regents ... a 26 page test with reading passages on grade 14? Like the passage written by Stephen Hawking about String Theory in physics?
Realize that these are students who could have passed the old Regents exams and who definitely could have passed the RCT exams. Students who could have passed the old GED exam, but probably won't pass the new GED or TASC exam. Students who used to be able to tough it out and graduate ... but now the bar is just too high.
How many parents and teachers will fight for these students? How many BATs and Opt Out parents will lobby Albany for a change in the graduation requirements? How many will fight for a Regents or RCT that is fair for the bottom of the class? People are fighting for special ed exemptions ... but what about the kids who have no IEP but struggle with math or reading or test anxiety? What about the kids who struggle with depression or live in dysfunction? Will we fill the Million Dollar staircase for them? Will we organize a protest in Manhattan for them? Will we call our legislators and the Regents to ask for change? Or is the fight not really about the kids who struggle academically? Is Meryl Tisch right?

Teach for America: How America Preferences Elitism Over Logic by Desmera Gatewood

Imagine a society where those who occupied the most critical fields were only required to complete 6 weeks of training before applying their experience to vulnerable subjects. Imagine if your surgeon, your police officer, or even your hair dresser had only 6 weeks of familiarity with their craft before approaching you for service; you would be justified in cringing with disbelief.    A little over a month of experience and training would be unsatisfactory for any service we highly valued. 

However, we have some how excused this logic in regards to the Teach for America training model. Teach for America “corps members” are not required to have any knowledge of child development, pedagogy, and curriculum or classroom dynamics prior to being selected to teach and mold precious young minds.  In fact, within a 6 week training, the majority of the focus is shifted from understanding child development to instead crafting a lesson plan.  Perhaps that is because the age group that one may student-teach during their 6 week training is not necessarily the same age group or subject one may teach during the school year.  Or perhaps it is  because those facilitating teaching workshops hold no degrees in education or child-psychology themselves. 

My theory is that the entire group’s philosophy and application goes unchecked because the demographic that the majority of corps members represent is the same demographic that gets away with almost all of America’si llogical and irresponsible yet highly-funded practices: the white, “educated”,upper middle-class.  Though Teach for America touts an espoused mission of diversity and inclusion, the reality is that most corps members are from privileged white backgrounds (also, I’m aware over the last couple of years since they’ve “realized” this they’ve sought to “improve” it).  The narrative of a na├»ve young white girl who graduates from Harvard with a degree in finance, now having a conviction to dedicate two years of service to underprivileged children is so sensational, who could challenge it?

If Teach for America were a second-chance organization for African American males who obtained a degree after receiving  a GED, could we even fathom for a second that millions of dollars from state budgets would be allocated to funding to a teaching program that doesn’t even encourage or require teachers to remain in the classroom beyond two years?  If Teach for America were not founded by a Caucasian ivy-league female, but instead an African American female with teaching experience and identifiable similarities with the students she taught,could we guarantee that the public reception would be as positive?  

What I experienced in my one year as an African American female corps member, is that an overwhelming percentage of Teach for America’s corps members have no idea what the hell they are doing.  Not only do they literally have no idea how young minds develop, but they are admittedly culturally incompetent.  It shouldn’t be hard to believe that a young woman from suburbia who graduated from Vanderbilt would have little tolerance for African American children and parents that may be stricken with the effects of poverty and systemic racism.  I overheard the frustration filled rants ranging from “how do I pronounce the names” to “I hate talking to these parents on the phone” from my fellow corps members.   During the 6 week training I constantly had to serve as a liaison between black parents and frustrated/fearful white corps members during intense conversations. 

If we hold a standard of perfection, quality and competence for employees in other fields, why are we ok with excusing the most critical field from these standards?  If America is to ever seriously address social problems, we must first admit that we have allowed racism, classism and elitism to infiltrate almost every aspect of our intricately woven societal fabric.  Likea spreading cancer, we must radiate and eliminate every iota of these practicesbefore we can claim to be on a road to curing this infectious disease.

-         Desmera Gatewood

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Shout Out to Teachers in High Poverty Schools

Contrary to what Bill Gates and Arne Duncan and Andrew Cuomo are telling us, the teaching profession is not loaded with dead weight. Teachers in high poverty schools face conditions that would cause most people to crack under the strain or run screaming out of the building. The people who survive build walls around themselves to handle the pain. But it doesn't mean they are uncaring. Many of them privately comfort and help their students in ways that never show up on test scores. But they are in the cross hairs of the School Reformers- their salaries, their tenure described as the one impediment to a miraculous uplifting of the children of the poor. BULLSHIT!!! There are no miracles in teaching. And those that claim they ARE producing miracles- like the charter entrepreneurs in Success Academies--find ways of "cooking the book,"like pushing out students who have discipline issues or don't test well.

So lets give a shout out to the veteran teachers who stay in high needs schools. They aren't perfect, but they doing a lot more for students, and for justice, than the vast majority of those attacking them

When Democracy Died in the New York State Assembly

Something inside me died tonight in the New York State Assembly.  Democratic legislator after Democratic legislator, some who claimed to be lifelong friends of public education, some who were once teachers themselves, caved in and voted for a bill that was going to add to the test burden on the already over tested children of the state, subject teachers to  more scripting and more intimidation than they already had to endure and strip power away from principals and local school districts.

Many knew what they voted for was wrong. Many said so in their remarks. But they caved in and voted for a measure that was going to make the lives of their constituents miserable, our of fear, cowardice and a refusal to consider how their actions might look in the broad sweep of historical events

And their actions alerted me to something I had feared for some time. That the voices of ordinary citizens had become so smothered by the power of great wealth that all social policies were now held hostage to the pursuit of private gain. That political leaders, irrespective of political party, no longer felt a  moral imperative to consider the "public good;" that they could pay lip service to that ideal in communicating with constituents, but when the chips were down, they would always vote for the interests of the rich and powerful.

I had used certain language, I once though loosely, to describe our current predicament. Words like "Oligarchy" and "Plutocracy."

Tonight, I realized that those terms were rather precise descriptions of our current political arrangements

The interests of the children, the families, the teachers, the principals and the elected school board of our state were treated as impediments to a vision of educational transformation that handed power and funding over to private interests whose contributions filled the campaign coffers of officials of both parties. That such a give away of power and money took place in a Budget bill that included "ethics reform" made it all the more ironic

This was one of the most blatant displays of political cynicism and political  corruption that I have seen in my lifetime.

It was quite literally sickening

I mourn for the children. I mourn for the teachers. I mourn for the principals. I mourn for the schools that will be closed; the school districts that will be taken into receivership.

And I mourn for the democratic spirit, which has disappeared from the political culture of the state and nation in which I live.

I will never accept this as the norm. I will never accommodate to cowardice and evil

And I will not be alone