Archive for April, 2015

DFER Illuminates Hidden Dangers of Opting Out

April 20, 2015


As both a public school teacher and a public school parent I am well versed with the arguments against the experimental Common Core State Standards and all that comes with it. I know of the Manhattan-Project-like secrecy in which the standards were created and how it was funded almost entirely by the Gates Foundation. I know of the mad rush in which it was implemented, the coercive methods employed by the Obama administration to insure its “adoption” by almost the entire nation, the developmentally inappropriate demands it makes on children, and above all the unprecedented amounts of super high stakes testing with which it is inexorably bound. I am aware too that the test scores from Common Core aligned tests form the largest component for evaluating teachers, schools, and entire districts. In short, I know that in a remarkably short period of time and with almost no parental or teacher input, the Common Core and the standardized tests that have been aligned to it have become nothing less than the central nervous system of the American public school system.
For these reasons and more I am an unapologetic advocate for parents allowing their children to opt out of such tests, as they did in ever increasing numbers last week and as did my own child.
That said, there are times, I feel, when matters of education, solidarity and self respect need be sublimated by people of good faith and integrity to larger and more pressing concerns of the commonwealth. That is to say, there are times when we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
I speak specifically of the potentially negative effects that opting out might have on the value of real estate and property in Scarsdale and other sections of Westchester.

Part of the danger in involvement with movements such as the battle to save public education is that a certain myopia can creep in so insidiously that one may not even begin to notice it. Accordingly, I will admit that in several years of arguing and advocating against corporate education reform in all its forms, not once did it dawn on me to consider how opting out might lower real estate values in Scarsdale. Shamefully, perhaps due to the same movement- created myopia, I cannot recall a single colleague mentioning it either. Nor has the problem appeared in any of the mainstream media, possibly due to pressure from teacher unions.
Honestly, I might well have remained oblivious to the Scarsdale property factor were it not brought to my attention by Nicole Brisbane, director of the New York State branch of Democrats For Education Reform in an article in USA Today reporting on the Opt Out phenomenon.

“Yet collecting educational data is important for the future of education and can help define the character of a town, said Nicole Brisbane, state director at Democrats For Education Reform.
“Schools are one of the biggest differentiators of value in the suburbs,” she said. “How valuable will a house be in Scarsdale when it isn’t clear that Scarsdale schools are doing any better than the rest of Westchester or even the state? Opting out of tests only robs parents of that crucial data.”
Insight into this “robbery” may not be enough for me to insist my child sit for the remainder of the tests that will be administered this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but when I ponder how my actions may affect property values and homeowners of Scarsdale and even the rest of Westchester County, it does give a certain illuminating pause. And for that, I can only give thanks to the good people at Democrats For Education Reform who remind me that, in the end, we’re all Americans and we’re all in this together.

Leonie Haimson and Jamaal Bowman Teach Billionaire Created Fronts a Lesson

April 18, 2015

NY 1 images-1

One should never expect anything approximating authentic debate from any corporate owned news agency, that much the more when the subject is as oligarchically driven and defined as is “education reform,” and Time Warner’s NY1 “Inside City Hall’ s attempt at a debate about Common Core and its discontents proved no exception.

Nonetheless, it was satisfying to watch an authentic public advocate and a New York City public school principal teach two members of billionaire backed education reform fronts a lesson.
Ostensibly reporting on the huge spike in the number of New York state parents refusing to subject their children to high stakes Common Core aligned standardized tests, alleged journalist Bobby Cuza gathered together “a special panel” of “experts” carefully selected to deceive any viewer not highly conversant with the issue.

The 12 minute segment, much of it complete nonsense, did serve as a snapshot of how cynically such situations are covered and why many non-teachers can be so easily bamboozled.
But not so much this time.
Bobby’s “special panel” consisted of the following: Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, and Jamaal Bowman, Principal of the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School, Maura Henry, a teacher at the Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, and Stephen Sigmund from the group High Achievement New York.

High Achievement New York is yet another in the seemingly endless line of noble sounding multi- billionaire created “non profit “ fronts passing themselves off as authentic grassroots organizations created to ramrod education policies. ( How nice that the American lawmakers to allow individuals to accrue the wealth of nations so they can hire tax deductible mercenaries like Stephen Sigmund to do their bidding while at the same time deplete the public coffers of tax revenue!) Look at the High Achievement New York’s website and you will find the word “teachers” first and foremost. Look a little further and you will find among their “coalition members” both the Mike Bloomberg-funded, Michelle Rhee-led StudentsfirstNY and the grotesque Bill Gates financed Educators for Excellence.
Rest assured these are very special teachers indeed.

Like their bankrollers who make up less that 1% of 1% of our population yet own 40% of the national wealth, E4E make up less than 1% of 1% of New York City teachers. As their views are abhorrent to 99. 9 % of NYC teachers, this figure would shrivel down to 0% in a week (if that) without cash infusions from Gates and their hedge fund sugar daddies. Claiming to work “to ensure that the voices of classroom teachers are included in the decisions that affect our profession and our students,” E4E
operate as a kind of Fifth Colum, passing themselves off as unionists while attempting to worm their way into union positions in order to undermine it from within. They are reprehensible and minuscule in number yet, as seen here, have constant access to a fawning mainstream media.
As such, out of some 80,000 non E4E teachers, NY1 is fine with selecting just such a member for their “special panel ” on the Common Core.

The only problem was that the E4E teacher, one Maura Henry, didn’t seem to know the first thing about Common Core or even what the “debate” was about.
Henry was introduced as a teacher of English as a Second Language in the Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria as well as a member of Educators for Excellence.
Of course, there is no way on earth for the average viewer to know who is bankrolling either E4E or High Achievement New York and that is exactly as they like it to be. But you can rest assured NY1 knows and are not about to tell.

Alas, Ms. Henry’s handlers from E4E did not serve her well, leaving her to babble incoherently about her special feelings toward the NYSESLAT, a test exclusively for ESL students and one that had absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Of this, only Leonie Hamson seemed to notice.

Incredibly, Henry also seemed to be completely unaware of the fact that this year’s NYSESLAT bears almost no resemblance to its earlier incarnation. Far more importantly — and perhaps fatally for all ESL teachers in all New York State – NYSELAT has for the first time been absurdly “aligned” with the Common Core Standards, making it virtually impossible for an ESL student to pass it. You read that correctly. A test that should be designed to measure language acquisition will now be aligned with standards that are ostensibly written to measure language mastery. This act of educational child abuse — setting extremely vulnerable kids up to take tests they have absolutely zero chance of passing — somehow slipped by Ms. Henry. That and the fact that under Cuomo’s sadistic new teacher evaluation, in which 50% of teacher’s ratings will come from such tests, she and thousands of other ESL teachers, my self included, will — save a miracle on the level of the loaves and fishes — almost certainly be fired in two years time no matter what we do.

Oh well. Guess we should have thought of that before we were born.

Ms. Henry also babbled on about how she would like to see Common Core tests more “computer adaptive.”


Stephen Sigmund, on the other hand, was as sleek as a porpoise even as he mouthed one reformer cliché after another. The Common Core Standards, said Sigmund, were developed with “significant input from teachers” and are merely standards which “states have agreed upon, ” written to make students “college and career ready.”
And so on and so forth.

I got the distinct impression I could have listened to this slick operative gasbag for days without hearing a single original or altogether true sentence.
Truth and originality, of course, are not what good mercenaries are paid for.

What they are paid for is to reply to the fact that NYC kids are spending more time on tests than any other students on earth with rubbish like a High Achievement New York analysis, which states that a mere .75 % of school time is spent on testing.
Ergo the “time issue” is specious.
No mention of the shrinking of curriculum to feed the test monster, no mention of endless test prep, no mention of kids being stressed out of their minds across the state, no mention of education being debased into testing, no mention that the entire apparatus is designed to undermine public support for public education by constantly and consciously setting up the overwhelming majority of children to fail.

Earning his pay, Sigmund weaseled around the fact that standardized tests and the divine Common Core are bound together like Siamese twins.

Principal Jamaal Bowman, meanwhile, a man who deals not with abstractions and useless analyses but with actual flesh and blood students taking these monstrous tests, spoke thoughtfully and forcefully about “rethinking” the entire assessment process, “rethinking our approach to testing, curriculum and instruction.”

“13 years of testing,” stated Bowman “ and nothing has changed. ”

And then there was Leonie Haimson, whose Class Size Matters exists on a shoestring and who has taken on the billionaires and thwarted them with her sheer intelligence and moral force. Speaking with precision and in complete command of the facts, Leonie once again spoke truth to mammon and is a delight to behold. These are very, very dark days for education and educators in this country and, due to Cuomo and his super rich employers, that much the more in New York State. As such, such moments resonate very deeply. Watch her here.

A Review of “The Teaching Brain: The Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education”

April 17, 2015

Please find my review of “The Teaching Brain: The Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education”
A book by Vanessa Rodriguez with Michelle Fitzpatrick here.

teaching brain -04-17_at_12.57_.33_PM_copy_2_

Where “All About the Kids” Must Lead

April 4, 2015

Allow someone who is trying to hurt you to define the argument and you will be hurt. Allow the same to someone who is trying to trap you and you will be trapped.

This unwitting allowance, as much as the limitless funding of billionaires and the spinelessness of the corporate media, has been one of the reasons teachers from coast to coast have been backtracking, guilted into silence and paralyzed by their own rhetoric for years now. We have allowed ourselves to be both hurt and trapped.

I speak specifically of the endlessly repeated and utterly cynical declaration of the reformers, “it’s all about the kids.” I have heard or read this or some variation thereof ad nauseum for years now. I have read versions of it in the names of billionaire backed fronts like Students Matter and StudentsFirst, whose very appellations are themselves accusations against teachers.

I have heard it from ( yet another ) sociopathic principal who announced to the staff that conversation in the school be limited to “what’s good for the kids.” Worst of all, I have heard it from the mouths of teachers even as their students are more degraded by the day and their profession is being stolen from them by the hour by ed reformer mandates. This even as the demands on them grow exponentially; this from those who do not seem to realize that if you allow such words to define your profession, you will very soon be stripped of your professional status.

That process is well under way.

In a world full of weasels, no more-weasel worded trope exists in all of the Kingdom of the Reformers . And none is more effective. It is a rhetorical trick of the “when did you stop beating you’re wife” variety.

Once you are in you cannot get out.

Such declarations are designed to silence teachers by making them feel guilty and selfish anytime their concerns turn to feelings of self worth, of professional value, or concern for their non-professional lives such as the well being of their families. In other words, teachers are meant to feel selfish any time they concern themselves with what every other parent in the country deals with on a daily basis and what all must do to protect their own in an increasingly savage world.
In no other profession have I ever heard anything even remotely like the “ all about the kids” meme. Doctors are not repeatedly admonished, “It’s all about the patients”. Firefighters do not have an army of mercenaries screaming at them “It’s all about the people in the burning buildings.” No, the rhetoric is singular to the teaching profession.
The fact is that unless you’re talking about an education system staffed by devotees of a religious order or a cult, such a declaration is way beyond unreasonable. It is cruel and, unless you intend teaching staffs to be composed of childless 23 year olds who span a year or two before moving on to their real jobs, wholly unsustainable. A good school system must, without question, be primarily concerned with properly educating kids. But anyone who actually knows what they are talking about and is not engaged in teacher bashing or union busting, also knows that properly educating kids means insuring that the needs of the teachers who are educating them are respected and their profession honored. It requires balance.

The “all about kids” rhetoric reached its logical conclusion a few days ago in the following astonishing statement by Bronx Assembly person, Carmen Arroyo of the 84th District commenting on Governor’s Andrew Cuomo’s radical and savage new education bill.

Carmen Arroyo Unfit for public office.

Carmen Arroyo
Unfit for public office.

“Those teachers that are responsible and are doing their job, those teachers that sacrifice their families and themselves for the children they serve are going to be protected. Those that are not good, better get a job at McDonalds.”

I do not know if Arroyo is dumb, horrifically cynical or just desperately trying to please her masters in the new oligarchy in which we dwell. But I will say this: in no way do I find the kind of viciousness and absurdity bellowed by Arroyo coincidental to the rise and entrenchment of oligarchy. Every member of the New York State Assembly knows very well that they face the wrath of and loss of access to the limitless bank accounts of the super rich if they stray from the latter’s script calling for the privatization of the public school system.

Arroyo, in fact, does not seem to have even a fundamental understanding of the bill she has voted for — and in this, she is far from alone. She does not seem to understand, that is, that even if a teacher moved a cot into his or her classroom and saw their family only on weekends, in the bill she voted for nothing can “protect “ them from being fired because of their students’ test scores or a poor rating from a drive -by “independent evaluator.” Cuomo’s barbaric proposals, essentially a greatest hits of failed or unproven reformer schemes, were designed to insure maximum teacher firing.

Arroyo’s perverse and grossly insulting statement, however, does serve a purpose. It brings the reformer rhetoric to its logical conclusion. If teaching is “all about the kids”, it stands to reason that the teacher is there as a kind of an idiot’s version of a saint: an egoless creature without needs or cares or concerns of this world, willing and able to work endless hours and accept endless abuse for the good of their charges. That such an idiot saint would not be a member of a union goes without saying. It also highlights, to any one who hears it, how sick we have become as a people and a body politic and how urgently we need to unite and change the course of this horrific campaign now.

Any system that demands the sacrifice of a person’s family is deranged and any public official who demands such is unfit for public office. Any people who stand for such deserve what they get.


Thanks to the ever vigilant and excellent Perdido Street School ( for bringing Arroyo’s vulgar statement to light.