Posts Tagged ‘Common Core Standards’

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.”

Hmmmmmmmm.

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.

Expect No Change: King Will Be Replaced by a Facsimile Thereof

December 11, 2014
John King:  Builder of airplanes in mid air

John King: Builder of airplanes in mid air

So I woke up this morning to the news that New York State Education Commissioner John King, who never met a reformer he didn’t grovel to or a reform idea, tested or not, that he didn’t want to impose on an entire system, has been booted out or moved up or both, depending on how you look at it or who you read.

At any rate, King is soon to be gone.

Here and there bloggers have written of feelings of joy and the like at King’s departure. For myself, as much as I find the man a complete fraud and utterly reprehensible, King’s departure makes me feel, well… nothing much at all.
Yes, I’ll be glad not to see his can’t -you –see- how –sincere- I am face so much or to hear his whiny arrogant voice but it is near impossible for me to believe that King will be replaced by another better, or even different, than himself.
The news brings to my mind the changing chancellorships in New York City under the wretched reign of Mike Bloomberg: the prosecutional era of former prosecutor Joel Klein, followed by the ephemeral and clueless moment of the preposterous Cathy Black, followed, in turn, by the return of the steady, deadening hand of professional Yes Man Dennis Walcott. Through them all, the only thing that changed was the name of the chancellors and, as the reformers are constantly coming up with new terrible ideas, the methods of undermining the schools, busting the union and stripping the teachers of autonomy and morale.

Nothing changed because, despite their titles, not one of these chancellors was actually in charge. (Under orders to destroy the teachers union by any means possible, Klein may have come up with a few of his own ideas, but Black and Walcott? No way. ) Principally they came from Bloomberg but also indirectly from people like Bill Gates and Eli Broad, to say nothing of the ever expanding Wall St and hedge contingent of education experts. All of these nominal chancellors were taking their orders from others in ways that mocked they very idea that these were civil servants, mocked even more the idea that they were beholden to the people they served.
Not one of those chancellors was in charge and neither was King.

King, who spent two or three years in a classroom before becoming a charter school entrepreneur, was catapulted to the status of state commissioner because those who catapulted him understood that herein was a man who could be trusted to obey orders.
And obey orders King did.
As far as I can see, no campaign ( it is NOT a movement ) has so cynically exploited the nightmare of America’s racism as has the billionaire based education reform campaign, so the fact that King was completely malleable and African American made him the perfect choice of the ed reformers who declared ( and declare and declare ) that “education is the civil rights issue of our time.” Accordingly, King was the perfect Manchurian Commissioner. Perfect, that is, for a year or two while King enjoyed the luxury of seldom having to actually face the public he ostensibly served and consistently betrayed.

All this changed in the wake of the Common Core debacle in which, as King predicted, some 70% of New York students failed the new whiz bang tests and parents were increasingly horrified and disgusted at what was happening to their kids and their kids’ teachers under the miraculous new Common Core regime.

Rebellion was in the air, and somebody somewhere thought it would be a good idea if the seemingly mild mannered King went to a few choice locations throughout the state to enlighten and lecture the huddled masses yearning to be free as to the miraculous powers of the Common Core, a power that King, like virtually all education reformers, mysteriously withholds from his own children.

But, to King’s surprise, the masses – which is to say, the parents of the children in King’ s charge and the teachers who were teaching them — were in no mood for a lecture. King’s towering arrogance and thinly disguised contempt toward both parents and teachers, his rote arguments based on nothing but stale crème puffs and his anger at being obliged to actually answer questions was not, as they say, well received.
The Traveling King show was abruptly cancelled to allow its star a prolonged pouting fit, only to be revived for two performances in New York City along with guest star Meryl Tisch. The Brooklyn show, disgracefully stage-managed by operatives of Michelle Rhee’s front StudentsFirst who were allowed into the venue an hour early, swined up all but a few speaking spots and, generally speaking, treated King’s appearance as if he was making a monumental sacrifice simply deigning to be there among them.

King’s act was wearing thin and King became a liability for the people who orchestrated his meteoric rise to power. Like Cathy Black, King’s problems were
not because of his policies which he steadfastly and robotically defended, but because of public relations, far and away the dominant force behind a decade of so called “education reform. ”

King never rebounded.

That may be one reason that King, whether through his own volition or not, is gone. Who knows?
To me, only three things are certain. The first is that, in return for his service to them, John King will continue to reside on Easy Street for the rest of his mortal life. His billionaire friends will see to that.
The second is that whoever is named to replace King will, in terms of policy, in no meaningful way differ from King. Like the chancellors under Bloomberg, only the face will change.

Such is the oligarchic way.

The third is that, barring a miracle or a catastrophe, the destruction of public education in the state of New York will continue unabated and, in light of Andrew Cuomo’s remarkable promise to “break the last monopoly,” likely even accelerate.

That too is the way of oligarchy.

Awaiting the Word of the Corporate King

May 30, 2013

I have known the facts for weeks now but nonetheless there remains in my brain some voice that keeps telling me, this can’t really be true, my union, the once mighty United Federation of Teachers did not really sign off on an agreement allowing the cynically selected corporate crusader, New York State Education Commissioner John King, final say over the new teacher evaluation plan for all of New York City. Surely my union would never entrust this precious fan of Educators 4 Excellence (and other billionaire funded union busting lowlife organizations,) who taught a total of three years (one in a public school) and was just last week seen pathetically cheering on the corporate CEO’s he lined up to shill for Bill Gate’s Common Core. (‘cause, really, who knows more about education than CEO’s? ) to have the final say on the most radical change in teacher’s professional lives in decades.
Surely, this was some kind of bad dream or evil hallucination or elaborate cosmic joke that I’d, in time, awaken from, snap out of or catch on to.

John King who taught for three entire years.

John King who taught for three entire years.

But no. Like their signing on to Race to the Top, easily the most corrosive and insidious attack on American public education in its history ( of which Bill Gate’s Common Core and Commissioner King’s evaluation plan are part and parcel) the UFT, indeed, did sign on to this slow motion train wreck. Worse, my union wants me and my union brothers and sisters to believe that this is a moment for celebration, a victory of some kind.
Reading UFT President Michael Mulgrew’s letter on the matter made me cringe. (See below.) Several times. Then it did something worse. It lit in me the sensation I have known in certain dark hours in my life when I comforted myself with the thought, “it cannot get worse than this” until, a short time later, it was worse than that.

I suspect many teachers from coast to coast have felt something akin to that sickly sensation over the last decade of ceaseless attacks. I am tired of it. And more than tired of it. The corporate disease has over taken all including the only forces capable of withstanding it, namely unions and political parties. The choices of working people, never rosy, are now starker than they have been in a century and there seems there is nothing but darkness in the tunnel. We either find some way, as yet unimagined, to rebel against our own immiseration and degradation or we wind up with lives that are scarcely worthy of the word.

Herein Mulgrew’s letter.

Dear colleagues,
Late on Saturday, June 1, State Education Commissioner John King is expected to release an evaluation plan for K-12 teachers in New York City. It will be done through a binding arbitration process and take effect in September.
The mayor and the DOE will no doubt try to spin Commissioner King’s decision to their advantage. The UFT staff will be working through Sunday to get accurate information about the new system out to you by Monday morning in a form that is both clear and concise.
The process to create a new evaluation system has been long and contentious. The final decision came to rest with the commissioner because the city Department of Education proved incapable of negotiating in good faith with us.
The UFT and the DOE each submitted lengthy proposals to the State Education Department on May 8. Arbitration hearings are taking place in Albany today and tomorrow. Commissioner King will consider the proposals and decide on the final evaluation system on June 1.
We have the opportunity to use our collective-bargaining rights to modify aspects of the evaluation plan during future contract negotiations. Practically speaking, since we are in fact-finding now, if any changes were negotiated, they would not take effect until the 2014-15 school year.
Because the commissioner’s plan must be in accordance with the 2010 state law on teacher evaluation that this union supported and helped shape, we expect it to be fair, professional and focused on teacher development to the benefit of our students. The new evaluation system as set out in state law is designed first and foremost to help teachers improve their skills throughout their careers. Teachers who are struggling will get support tailored to their individual needs.
We have our work cut out for us in September, given this DOE’s terrible track record of translating policy to practice compounded with the fact that they will probably be gone come Jan. 1. We have started working on a professional development plan and we will use our rights to make sure that the new system is implemented fairly. It is a big help that we already have an appeals process for New York City teachers nailed down that will give our members stronger due process rights than they have ever had.
I hope this email clarifies where we are and what we can expect. Working together, we will make this transition. You can count on your union to continue to fight to get you the support you deserve. Thank you for all that you do for our city’s schoolchildren.
Sincerely,

Michael Mulgrew

Musings On Corporate Education Reform: In the Absence of Trust Grows Sickness

May 19, 2013

A dog starv’d at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
William Blake
The Auguries of Innocence.

blake

Insofar as an absence is as dynamic as a presence, a sane society that wishes to remain more or less healthy need be exceedingly careful of the things we remove, that much the more if those things are vital human needs removed from vital human institutions. The absence of beauty from a building, for example, does not create building minus beauty. It creates something radically different and profoundly diminished. Such changes can be said to be environmental and they are thus as subtle, unpredictable and dangerous as the removal of a species of insect from the rain forest. We now know that such a removal will create chaos even if we do not know when or where as the removal creates a chain of events outside of the logic of cause and effect. Such a removal, that is, may manifest itself in the Tundra ten, twenty, thirty years after the change.
If this is true with the removal of an insect, how much truer must it be with the removal of as primal and vital a human need as trust in an institution of learning ?

The most degrading and increasingly explicit message from the corporate reform campaign to American public school teachers can be boiled down to the following four words: We don’t trust you. We don’t trust you to teach your students. We don’t trust you to test your students. We don’t trust you to mark the standardized tests that we manufacture for your students. We don’t trust you to know your subject. We don’t trust you to have standards so we have provided standards for you that you will be punished for not following.
If fact, we don’t really trust you to do much of anything at all except the things that we tell you to do and even these we don’t trust you to do. And this is why we reserve the right to micro manage every aspect of your professional life

Of course, this is not the language that is employed to get their message through. The corporate reformers speak, incessantly, of accountability and more accountability – all of which is conveniently quantified on standardized tests and reduced to sacred and all revealing data.

Why do you need trust when you have accountability ?

Of course, only a vulgar mind would confuse trust with accountability. Accountability is the thing you need when you have already banished or you are incapable of trust.
And this is to say nothing of Bill Gate’s moronic totalitarian notions concerning students wearing galvanic bracelets to measure involvement in the lesson or placing teachers under video surveillance under the pretense of sharing the practices of master teachers.

In whatever form it takes, the message is the same: You, Mr. or Ms. Teacher are a person wholly unworthy of trust.

And don’t think for a moment that the students don’t also understand this.

For an additional kick in the head, the very same “reformers” who have institutionalized distrust of teachers demand themselves to be trusted unconditionally (or at the very least, unconditionally obeyed) even as they perform untested experiment after untested experiment on America’s unknowing children.

Consider the fact that Bill Gate’s Common Core Standards which are now remaking American public schools from coast to coast have never even been field tested.
Consider the fact that Valve Added Metric (VAM ) evaluation schemes which will determine the livelihoods of millions of teachers are wholly unscientific and akin to a roll of the dice.
Consider the obsession with merit pay despite a century of failed attempts to prove it somehow improves teacher quality.
Consider the fact that there is no evidence that any of the corporate reform schemes improves anything other than the bank accounts of their proponents.
And on it goes.

It is difficult at times, I will admit, in the face of all this not to fall into despair. Battling systemic degradation on a daily basis wears one down. I see it in the faces of my colleagues more and more and I do not know where or how it will end. Individuals so predatory that they have amassed the wealth of entire nations, at the same time that they have essentially harnessed the political machinery of the state, are neither easily defeated nor likely to admit they are wrong. Ever. No matter what. Observer Michael Bloomberg. Or Bill Gates. Or Eli Broad. Or their political operatives, Rahm Emmanuel or Andrew Cuomo or Chris Christie or Cory Booker, or the biggest catch of them all, Barack Obama.
I do not know where this will go. I do know this though, and I know it in the marrow of my bones: any society that systemically institutionalizes distrust of a profession as vital as teachers has entered a state of moral, intellectual and spiritual decay of a terrifying order. It is an order that true visionaries like Blake prophesied and knew would not long survive.
Nor should it.

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Occupy the Department of Education: Walcott Takes it On the Hop

October 26, 2011

Officially it was billed as the Chancellor’s Conversation On Raising Standards In the Classroom and Chancellor Dennis Walcott was to welcome the audience and Common Core Standards presenter and co–author David Coleman at the stroke at 6:00  PM at Seward Park High School in the Lower East Side.  Unofficially it was the first (of doubtless many) manifestations of Occupy the DOE.   By the time I arrived in the delightful company of  my unjustly fired former colleague  Jafar Smith and his son at about 6:15, neither Walcott nor Coleman were anywhere to be seen.  They and their entourage had already fled the auditorium leaving in their wake what struck me as a perfect image of their essence: a silent, empty stage surrounded by the police.

You know you have reached a strange moment in your history when someone bearing the title of   chancellor of education needs police protection.

The auditorium, on the other hand, remained packed with passionate, articulate and very, very angry parents and teachers who made no mystery of their disgust and fury at Bloomberg’s ever deepening corporate education reform blitzkrieg, its ever-deepening failures, and what these failures  are doing to their children, their children’s teachers and their communities.

Using the “people’s mic” made famous by the folks down the street a bit at Zuccotti Park, one speaker after another told all too familiar stories of their children being tossed out of charter schools because they were “too difficult, of ballooning class sizes, of having no books or supplies, of having to subject their students to constant test prep, of psycho or clueless administrators and of an overall degeneration of anything resembling a humane and serious education.

I can’t say I blame Walcott for fleeing. Herein was an audience that was going to demand that something billed as a “conversation” was, indeed, going to be a conversation and not the contemptuous ( if ever so civil ) monologue Walcott was doubtless meaning to present.  He would have been eaten alive and he knew it.    So too David Coleman, yet another shameless operative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation whose latest creation, the Common Core standards, are being rammed down teachers’ throats across the country without having any say whatsoever in the matter.   Why not?  He’s Bill Gates, after all.

People are no longer afraid.  They will no longer tolerate insanity in silence.  Not on Wall Street and not in their schools. Not with their future and not with their children.  Rest assured this Occupy the DOE was the first of many such gatherings.  As many, that is, as are needed to set things straight. As many, that is, that is takes to make the public schools truly schools and truly public.