Friday, July 8, 2016

Staying Strong in Chaotic World: Helping Children When Violent Events Occur

Listening to my friend Michael Soaries observe reactions to terrible events (one after another, as they're documented almost instantly) is like resting in the quiet eye of a hurricane.  His reflections on how to talk to our children about violence are insightful and so helpful:  Click on link below:

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The PARCC Test: Exposed

A teacher, under legal threat from PARCC, describes how 4th graders were slammed with this year's off-the-rails testing. PARCC: The secret (and mandated!) tests that no public school teacher can prepare students for -- because the content is secret until the day of the test.

"We can look carefully at one sample to examine the health of the entire system– such as testing a drop of water to assess the ocean. So too, we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States."

The PARCC Test: Exposed

The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.

I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would be considered a “Security Breach.” In response to this demand, I can only ask—whom are we protecting?

There are layers of not-so-subtle issues that need to be aired as a result of national and state testing policies that are dominating children’s lives in America. As any well prepared educator knows, curriculum planning and teaching requires knowing how you will assess your students and planning backwards from that knowledge. If teachers are unable to examine and discuss the summative assessment for their students, how can they plan their instruction? Yet, that very question assumes that this test is something worth planning for. The fact is that schools that try to plan their curriculum exclusively to prepare students for this test are ignoring the body of educational research that tells us how children learn, and how to create developmentally appropriate activities to engage students in the act of learning. This article will attempt to provide evidence for these claims as a snapshot of what is happening as a result of current policies.

The PARCC test is developmentally inappropriate
In order to discuss the claim that the PARCC test is “developmentally inappropriate,” examine three of the most recent PARCC 4th grade items.

A book leveling system, designed by Fountas and Pinnell, was made “more rigorous” in order to match the Common Core State Standards. These newly updated benchmarks state that 4th Graders should be reading at a Level S by the end of the year in order to be considered reading “on grade level.” [Celia’s note: I do not endorse leveling books or readers, nor do I think it appropriate that all 9 year olds should be reading a Level S book to be thought of as making good progress.]

The PARCC, which is supposedly a test of the Common Core State Standards, appears to have taken liberties with regard to grade level texts. For example, on the Spring 2016 PARCC for 4th Graders, students were expected to read an excerpt from Shark Life: True Stories about Sharks and the Sea by Peter Benchley and Karen Wojtyla. According to Scholastic, this text is at an interest level for Grades 9-12, and at a 7th Grade reading level. The Lexile measure is 1020L, which is most often found in texts that are written for middle school, and according to Scholastic’s own conversion chart would be equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark around W, X, or Y (using the same Fountas and Pinnell scale).

Even by the reform movement’s own standards, according to MetaMetrics’ reference material on Text Complexity Grade Bands and Lexile Bands, the newly CCSS aligned “Stretch” lexile level of 1020 falls in the 6-8 grade range. This begs the question, what is the purpose of standardizing text complexity bands if testing companies do not have to adhere to them? Also, what is the purpose of a standardized test that surpasses agreed-upon lexile levels?

So, right out of the gate, 4th graders are being asked to read and respond to texts that are two grade levels above the recommended benchmark. After they struggle through difficult texts with advanced vocabulary and nuanced sentence structures, they then have to answer multiple choice questions that are, by design, intended to distract students with answers that appear to be correct except for some technicality.
Finally, students must synthesize two or three of these advanced texts and compose an original essay. The ELA portion of the PARCC takes three days, and each day includes a new essay prompt based on multiple texts. These are the prompts from the 2016 Spring PARCC exam for 4th Graders along with my analysis of why these prompts do not reflect the true intention of the Common Core State Standards.

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #1

Refer to the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” and the poem “Mountains.” Then answer question 7.
1.     Think about how the structural elements in the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” differ from the structural elements in the poem “Mountains.”
Write an essay that explains the differences in the structural elements between the passage and the poem. Be sure to include specific examples from both texts to support your response.

The above prompt probably attempts to assess the Common Core standard RL.4.5: “Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.”

However, the Common Core State Standards for writing do not require students to write essays comparing the text structures of different genres. The Grade 4 CCSS for writing about reading demand that students write about characters, settings, and events in literature, or that they write about how authors support their points in informational texts. Nowhere in the standards are students asked to write comparative essays on the structures of writing. The reading standards ask students to “explain” structural elements, but not in writing. There is a huge developmental leap between explaining something and writing an analytical essay about it. [Celia’s note: The entire enterprise of analyzing text structures in elementary school – a 1940’s and 50’s college English approach called “New Criticism” — is ridiculous for 9 year olds anyway.]

The PARCC does not assess what it attempts to assess

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #2
Refer to the passages from “Great White Shark” and Face the Sharks. Then answer question 20.
 Using details and images in the passages from “Great White Sharks” and Face to Face with Sharks, write an essay that describes the characteristics of white sharks.

It would be a stretch to say that this question assesses CCSS W.4.9.B: “Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.”

In fact, this prompt assesses a student’s ability to research a topic across sources and write a research-based essay that synthesizes facts from both articles. Even CCSS W.4.7, “Conduct research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic,” does not demand that students compile information from different sources to create an essay. The closest the standards come to demanding this sort of work is in the reading standards; CCSS RI.4.9 says: “Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.” Fine. One could argue that this PARCC prompt assesses CCSS RI.4.9.

However, the fact that the texts presented for students to “use” for the essay are at a middle school reading level automatically disqualifies this essay prompt from being able to assess what it attempts to assess. (It is like trying to assess children’s math computational skills by embedding them in a word problem with words that the child cannot read.)

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #3

1.     In “Sadako’s Secret,” the narrator reveals Sadako’s thoughts and feelings while telling the story. The narrator also includes dialogue and actions between Sadako and her family. Using these details, write a story about what happens next year when Sadako tries out for the junior high track team. Include not only Sadako’s actions and feelings but also her family’s reaction and feelings in your story.
Nowhere, and I mean nowhere in the Common Core State Standards is there a demand for students to read a narrative and then use the details from that text to write a new story based on a prompt. That is a new pseudo-genre called “Prose Constructed Response” by the PARCC creators, and it is 100% not aligned to the CCSS. Not to mention, why are 4th Graders being asked to write about trying out for the junior high track team? This demand defies their experiences and asks them to imagine a scenario that is well beyond their scope.

Clearly, these questions are poorly designed assessments of 4th graders CCSS learning. (We are setting aside the disagreements we have with those standards in the first place, and simply assessing the PARCC on its utility for measuring what it was intended to measure.)

Rather than debate the CCSS we instead want to expose the tragic reality of the countless public schools organizing their entire instruction around trying to raise students’ PARCC scores.

Without naming any names, I can tell you that schools are disregarding research-proven methods of literacy learning. The “wisdom” coming “down the pipeline” is that children need to be exposed to more complex texts because that is what PARCC demands of them. So children are being denied independent and guided reading time with texts of high interest and potential access and instead are handed texts that are much too hard (frustration level) all year long without ever being given the chance to grow as readers in their Zone of Proximal Development (pardon my reference to those pesky educational researchers like Vygotsky.)

So not only are students who are reading “on grade level” going to be frustrated by these so-called “complex texts,” but newcomers to the U.S. and English Language Learners and any student reading below the proficiency line will never learn the foundational skills they need, will never know the enjoyment of reading and writing from intrinsic motivation, and will, sadly, be denied the opportunity to become a critical reader and writer of media. Critical literacies are foundational for active participation in a democracy.

We can look carefully at one sample to examine the health of the entire system– such as testing a drop of water to assess the ocean. So too, we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States.

Monday, May 4, 2015

John Oliver's Illustrative Investigation of the Standardized Testing Plague in the U.S...

Instructions for teachers: "…If a student vomits on his or her test booklet…" and more...

John Oliver does a thorough investigation on the testing plague in the U.S.   A home run of an analysis as he describes who is paying the price, and who is making millions from this travesty.

American students face a ridiculous amount of testing. John Oliver explains how standardized tests impact school funding, the achievement gap, how often kids...

Friday, January 16, 2015

Governor Cuomo and Chancellor Tisch: Building a Bigger and Meaner APPR Monster....

Eureka!  This new APPR monster is truly awful!  This will surely drive out teachers and bring forth the demise of the public education in our state, at last! ~ New York State Education Department

What an outrage! In 2014, too many public school teachers received Effective or Highly Effective scores on the APPR that was rigged to fail them in an effort to dissemble our public education system. They were doing their jobs too well in spite of all the obstacles that are regularly thrown in their paths. Just when it would seem that you can't keep a good teacher down...

Time to race to action Governor Cuomo and Chancellor Tisch! There must be a more destructive method to trip up and drive out those "upstart" teachers - especially those who so flaunt their skill and talent at this time of "reform" chaos.

Eureka, that's it! Create an even more flawed APPR system that eliminates principals' and local board of ed input. Teacher evaluations controlled from Albany - what an invitation to disaster. What a legacy.

Here is my New York State Resident evaluation of Gov. Cuomo and Chancellor Tisch:
Leadership skills: Highly Ineffective
Honesty and Ethics: Highly Ineffective
State Education Management: Highly Ineffective
Advocacy for our public school children: Not there
Intelligence: Not developed
Ability to gauge effects from risky behavior (full development of Executive Functions): Nope

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Standardized Tests are the Failures - Not Our Children

How Standardized Tests Do Not Assess Common Core Standards (Part 1 of 2 Parts)

Packaging "Wonder"
The PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) drives the current trend - the Common Core and its Standardized Tests, which bombard American public school children all through the school year.  The College Board's David Coleman and a team of non- educators chiseled out these standards (as in chisel and stone). Coleman claims that this will be instrumental in"cultivating wonder" in every classroom across the country.

The idea of cultivating wonder is a lofty notion. But "wonder" can't be mandated. In the Socratic Tradition, cultivating wonder requires thinking and discourse and investigation - none of which can be measured through standardized testing.

So good luck to any teacher, student, administrator, or parent who tries to find the ways that these assessments actually connect to the standards themselves. Because there is none.

Let's look at the description for the Close Reading standard:

College and Career readiness anchor Standard for reading

Key Ideas and details:

1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text. (www.

Despite the fact that this approach to reading feels like a joyless procedure, I tried to keep an open mind when working with my seventh graders. I have an arts background and would need to lean on imagination and problem solving to work to engage my students and to get them excited about looking at written language.

Our English language is robust and evolved, often strangely, from other languages. New words find their place in our dialogues as they're appointed to everyday use.  Our language is as organic as a rain forest; fluid and changing.  I was eager to work with my students who are also fluid and changing: Seventh graders mostly love to talk and to challenge: We could have fun with this.

This standard includes the study of connotation and detonation.  Different words mean different things to a student - depending on gender, socioeconomic background, nationality, personality, cognitive development, and life's experience.  Depending on who you are, the word HIT - might apply to baseball, a popular song, viewings on a viral You Tube item, or, a slap.

But, there was no curriculum provided. So, burdened by no curriculum, or, re-frame this as unburdened by untried pre-processsed rigid bulleted CC lesson plans, I had a certain amount of freedom to seek out my own resources as I set about to "cultivate wonder" among my students.

No curriculum? Consult with a scholar.

Before outlining lessons, I re-visited Francine Prose' Reading Like a Writer. I had read this book in grad school.  A prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction, Prose is a university professor and a scholar of reading and language.  I love this book - she discusses the explicit and the subtle, and relates how as a student, her English teacher guided her class through King Lear and Oedipus Rex to circle every reference to eyes, light, darkness and vision.  Prose observes: "And searching for every relevant word turned out to have an enjoyable treasure-hunt aspect, a 'Where's Waldo' detective thrill...(p. 4, Reading Like a Writer).

Her book is organized sequentially in the way we approach reading: The chapters are as such: Close Reading, Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, Narration, Dialogue, Details, and the nuanced Gesture. She examines the literal, and how that may be interpreted. There is something for every reader of any age;
plenty for a child who is a concrete thinker to grab onto - and plenty for a child who is moving into higher level thinking to ponder.

Through the rest of her book, which I enthusiastically recommend for anybody who reads/writes and/or teaches any subject she encourages us to roll up our sleeves and immerse ourselves in language.  I wanted to use Prose' book to light the way through this new reading unit, kind of like a powerful utility flashlight - so we could focus on words and phrases through her high beam.

For starters, I brought a few words to the table: Dove, Blood, Hit, and Fire.  Students wrote down their gut response. No correct or incorrect - purely subjective. (that is connotation)

Then we discussed the literal meanings and created a mnemonic for Denotation = Dictionary Definition.

Students' connotations of the words were quite varied:  Another mnemonic: Connotation - Connection: Emotional, Experience.  For the word Dove:  Dove=soap, Dove=bird, Dove=peace (symbolic, higher level thinking here), Dove-venturing bird from Noah's arc, Dove=shy and gentle.
The responses were so individual, which what makes language study fascinating.

Okay, so how does all this kind of reflection and discourse measure up on a standardized test? Before going there, there's another example of student responses to the word Blood.

Blood=hospital, Blood-=relative, Blood=gory, Blood=loyalty, Blood=war

There is no "right" answer for connotation if we have no context around it.  But depending on the context, blood takes on a different shading.  This is a skill to cultivate; it's higher level reflexive thinking -- a good reach for seventh graders.

Later we examined the connotation of the word rain in the Longfellow poem The Rainy Day. In this poem, rain signifies sadness and loss. How different from the joyful rain Langston Hughes celebrates in his April Rain Song.  We spent the rest of the year, until the tests, looking closely at the denotation and connotation of language in all that we read together.

What I had learned to share with my students: Attached to every word we know and use is our whole life's experience, and it's all rich.  I wanted them to keep experimenting with reading and writing and speaking.  They wrote daily reflections, poems, short paragraphs and essays - these were how I checked in on where they were in their understanding.

Fast forward: Test time:

Based on all the sound and fury around the goals of Coleman's Common Core, for some reason, I had
anticipated that a whole new kind of test had been created - one that would suitably measure cultivated wonder.  But on the first morning of the test week, as I flipped through the booklet, my heart sank.  These tests resembled the earlier ones from Bush's failed No Child Left Behind mandate.
These were zombie tests, rolled out from the closet of the undead.

The reading was so voluminous, that many students were unable to complete it. There was no time to highlight or jot notes, as we had slavishly practiced in class.  The writing section asked students to spit out answers - not to craft their writing.  When time was up, my students were frustrated and some were tearful as they threw down their pencils.  All the liveliness of our collective learning was yammered down flat - in a boring and insulting drill.

It was as if I'd coached them to overdress for an upcoming event, when actually all this occasion called for was to dress in a standard uniform that didn't actually fit anyone.

Problem #1: And Now for Something Completely Different.

If you've never perused a standardized ELA test, what you'll notice straight off is that the four or five reading passages have nothing to do wit;h each other.  They are decontextualized. Students read first about the Klondike Gold Rush (content not covered in class - no curriculum provided for this test), answer the questions, then skip on to ingest an unrelated passage about Diamond Veins in Africa, then leap into a disembodied passage from Louisa May Alcott's Jo's Boys (an author and book not familiar to most seventh graders, and developmentally inappropriate for many).

Because of the random quality of passages, students have just enough time to maybe develop a mild interest in the information, but then it's over, and they have to promptly move to the questions without time to process what they've just read.  It's reminiscent of the old Monty Python sketches: And Now For Something Completely Different that roll along with clattering speed.  Students have to constantly switch gears.  It's impossible to pick up on the rhythms and choices the author has made, which are
key points to reading closely, as Prose suggests.

Students have no prior knowledge of the content, so they're immediately placed at a disadvantage. Ramp up the time pressure, and I can't think of a better way to teach students how to dread reading and writing.

Important to note: The reading content (we're not asking for the questions)  of these tests are kept secret and unattainable, kind of like the Holy Grail. (Monty Python context).  That's how the test pushers keep a "leg up" on our kids, as they "race to the top."

Problem #2:  But all the work we've done doesn't show here.

As she guides us through careful word study, Prose provides us with 1 - 3 paragraphs minimally or
even a full page from an author's story so that we are provided with abundant clues as we infer what the author wants us to pay attention to. It's similar to looking at an Impressionist painting: We need as much of the painting as possible to stand back and better understand how each brush stroke is part of a larger image.

But the reading clues in standardized tests are stingy.  There's no room for full-bodied interpretation of a passage.  It's like giving the test taker a portion of a brush stroke and expecting him to "get" the full picture.

Let's have a look at this excerpt from a standardized test passage (2013 - Engage NY - 7th grade ELA exam):

Passage excerpt from Earth and Water and Sky by Brian Bushemi
(note: Brian Bushemi's novels are not on the touted CC Lexile that supposedly matches readers with books.  Students are not familiar with him. He's not Walter Dean Myers or Jaqueline Woodson or Suzanne Collins -   It is likely that Bushemi is a writer employee of Pearson, the British test materials company that has an enormous contract with PARCC. )

My point: Kids are not being tested on authors that they actually read. So why are teachers required  to choose books from the lexile?

(lines 25 - 31)

        "David stood up and continued toward the Thinking Pond. Suddenly, he heard a sharp, whining sound like the engine of a high-flying jet airplane.  It was followed by a crack! like a whip being snapped, only a thousand times louder.  Then a ball of fire roared overhead, followed by a searing gust of wind.
          The shock wave knocked David to the ground, his ears ringing. A second later, he heard an explosive, hissing crash up ahead.  A rush of air and hot steam billowed through the trees, and he covered his head as it washed over him."

And the "close reading" questions:

Which sentence from the passage best shows how powerful the meteorite was?

A "Suddenly, he heard a sharp, whining sound like the engine of a high-flying jet airplane."
      (lines 25 and 26)

B  "Then a ball of fire roared overhead, followed by a searing gust of wind." (lines 27 and 28)

C  "The shock wave knocked David to the ground, his ears ringing." (line 29)

D  "A second later, he heard an explosive, hissing crash up ahead." (lines 29 and 30)

Using Prose' flashlight beam, it's evident that Bushemi spends many sentences describing the power of the meteorite. The test assumes that students know what a meteorite is; earlier in the passage the boy muses on what it might be. A student who has no prior knowledge (we did not study meteorites in class), and thinks differently, might rightfully infer that it is an imaginary object, similar to A Thinking Pond as a magical notion.

Letter C shows that David is knocked to the ground (an idiom phrase - a challenge for an English Language Learner), but what exactly is a shock wave? Do meteorites emit shock waves that can knock people down?

A, B and D are good answer candidates for showing the power of the object, if one closely reads the words sharp, ball of fire, searing, explosive, hissing crash.  The connotation of all of those words is disturbance.  But the students aren't really being asked to work with connotation here, nor denotation, even though the standards cite those as launches to wonder.

Keeping in mind that many seventh graders are literal thinkers, it's easy to get this one wrong. There aren't enough clues. The offerings here are stingy. Thinking needs to be tamped down to it right. It's about navigating tricks, test maker's bias, and splitting hairs.  It not a scholarly exercise.  Alas, the joke was on us because the game was rigged. (casino context)

Neither does the reading of the other passages or questions bear any resemblance to reading with care. Many teachers like myself spent so much time "cultivating wonder" in the months before only to be astonished that none of that work can be measured by this test.

What happened?

My students' test scores tanked.

In Coleman and company's zeal to reform public school, they created a slipshod and hackneyed way to measure learning.  Paradoxically, these high stakes tests are insulting in design because the bar is so low.  They don't in any way deliver on the high falutin' dreams of Coleman's Common Core, and
their relationship to these standards is dysfunctional.  Yet, they do have the power to predetermine a child's educational future, to determine which schools are "failing", and the power to destroy teachers' careers.

They flatten what is individual in thinking, they degrade true scholarship, and discourage "thinking
differently"; peculiar to a culture that allegedly emulates "thinking outside the box." (corporate context).  Our children deserve better.

It all demonstrates that Coleman, Gates and the rest of the "reformers" have no idea what they're doing. Let's reform this reform, for starters; trash the tests.  They are failing our children, not the other way around.


Coming next: Part 2: Why conceptual thinking is the way of today and the future,  and how standardized tests cannot measure this.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Big Brother and His Holding Company- John King and The New York State Education Department: Manipulating Student Information to Drive Agendas

Data mining embeds student information into the digital footprint forever - but worse -
John King and company are manipulating this highly personal information to "demonstrate"
that our public school system is "failing" our students.  Carol Burris, principal of Southside High School, NY discovers egregiously inaccurate tracking of her students.

" The list did not include the names of many former students who were attending private and public colleges and universities, both in and out of state. I began calling families to verify the report. There were 53 names that did not have a college listing. By 5 p.m. that day, I had spoken with 27 families. In 25 of the 27 cases, the students were thriving in their third year of college. They were at Brown, Bard, Cornell, Bentley, Notre Dame and Wesleyan."
Read the rest of her article via Valerie Strauss' column in the Washington Post below:

Principal uncovers flawed data in her state’s official education reports

November 22 at 10:30 AM

School reformers talk nonstop about using “data” to drive policy, teaching and just about everything else, which, you would think, would require that the data being used be accurate. The following post exposes a troubling problem with the push for “data-driven” everything — bad data. This important piece was written by award-winning Principal Carol Burris of South Side High School in New York, who was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and in 2010, tapped as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. Burris has been exposing the botched school reform program in New York for years on this blog, and it is worth reading. You can see some of her earlier posts

By Carol Burris

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) has once again demonstrated its uncanny ability to forge ahead without regard for the facts.

In its zest to prove there is a crisis of college readiness, combined with a sweetheart infatuation with big data, NYSED produced reports (SIRS 601-604) to track New York high school graduates’ college enrollment. A few days before the public release of the reports, Deputy Commissioner Ken Wagner sent a memo to districts. He explained that the department had combined school data with that of the National Student Clearinghouse to document which former high school students were enrolled in college and whether they persisted in their studies.

The memo informed superintendents that after the Regents discussed the data, it would be publicly released because it would be of interest to communities.

Our district data coordinator, who is my assistant principal, brought me the SIRS report. It claimed that only 80 percent of our students from the cohort of 2008 (Class of 2012) were enrolled in college.   As soon as I saw the number, I knew it was not correct. Ninety-eight percent of the 2012 Class told us they were going to college and gave us the name of the college they would attend. Might some have left after one semester, or changed their minds? It’s possible. But I found it difficult to believe that 18 percent had either not enrolled or quickly dropped out.

I asked my assistant principal to drill down to the names in the SIRS report. Not only were the names given, the report included which colleges and universities the students attended, their race, special education status, whether or not they received free or reduced priced lunch, and in many cases, their college major. This massive collection of data on graduates made my jaw drop.

And then I looked at the names. The 2012 salutatorian wasn’t on the list. I began a name by name comparison of the cohort against the report. The list did not include the names of many former students who were attending private and public colleges and universities, both in and out of state.
I began calling families to verify the report. There were 53 names that did not have a college listing. By 5 p.m. that day, I had spoken with 27 families. In 25 of the 27 cases, the students were thriving in their third year of college. They were at Brown, Bard, Cornell, Bentley, Notre Dame and Wesleyan. 
One student was in the Naval Academy (which smartly and ironically is one of the few schools that does not share data), and another at Tufts. One was at the University of Florida and another at the University of Charleston. What was even more bizarre was that some were in New York State public colleges governed by NYSED—SUNY Buffalo, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Stony Brook and Queensborough Community College. One student had already graduated from a technical school with a 3.84 GPA. Eighty percent had now become over 90 percent, and over the course of the next few days the percentage would continue to climb. This was no small error.

When calling, I asked parents whether they had “opted out” of having their son’s or daughter’s college enrollment data collected. They had not. One mom said: “Honestly, if I knew about it, I would have opted out. It is not John King’s[1] business where my son goes to college or what his major is.”

The error was not limited to Rockville Centre. Ken Mitchell, Superintendent of Schools of the South Orangetown Central School District, discovered that 80 of his 2012 graduates who were attending college were not on the list of attendees. On the SIRS report, The New York State Education Department gave a 62 percent college going rate for his district, although the true number was 89 percent.

In an article entitled “Educators livid over college ‘success’ report,” four other districts reported error rates that ranged from 15 percent to 27 percent. Harrison Schools’ Superintendent, Lou Wool, characterized the NYSED report as “irresponsible” and said that it was part of an agenda designed to convince the public “that public schools were failing.”

From APPR scores that do not add up, to a disastrous rollout of the Common Core and its testing, the New York State Education Department has inexplicably gotten a pass on a series of blunders. But there are implications regarding this latest error that go well beyond New York.

Apparently one of the many “holes” in the Clearinghouse data, according to NYSED, is that students who do not receive financial aid in some schools are excluded . No matter what the reasons for error, many of our schools’ highest achievers—students who are likely to persist and who do not need remediation were not reported. Other excluded students are those who attend the military academies, who opt out of data collection, who attend colleges outside of the United States, or who attend colleges that do not share data. And of course there are always errors in matching the databases.

Because of all of the problems described, it is reasonable to question the veracity of many of the national claims regarding college readiness. We have been bombarded by “data” on remediation and the lack of college readiness, and this “data” is used to justify Common Core reform. In some cases, the data is pure exaggeration as I have written about here and here and here. However, because NYSED created this report which allows us to “peek inside,” we now know that there are serious problems at the very source. In a news report, Deputy Commissioner Wagner claimed the error rate was 3 percent, because that was the error rate allegedly found by the New York City public schools. This does not conform, however, with the very large rates of error that individual districts are finding.
Flawed reports such as these reflect the mindset of those who are infatuated with data, and who jump to use it when it confirms their belief that schools are not doing a good job. NYSED included the results in a Powerpoint narrative of how unprepared our students are for college. Superintendent Donahue of Byram Hills Schools referring to NYSED said that “once again, the confidence that they put in data is misplaced.”   That is a generous understatement. What happened in New York should be a cautionary tale for all.

[1] John King is the New York State Commissioner of Education

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Teachers protected under tenure's due process are best able to advocate for their students

Tenure does not mean "a job for life", but it does provide teachers with due process, enabling them to act in the interest of their students without fear of intimidation, recrimination or firing.  In the article below, Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson clearly outline the complexity of teaching and why tenure is critical for cultivating sound pedagogy, encouraging teacher advocacy for the multitude of student needs, and to protect the careers of dedicated teachers for stable school environments.



By: Melissa Tomlinson & Marla Kilfoyle
Imagine you are charged with the job of making the decisions that concern the life of a child, including the protection of that child. If you are a parent, this is no stretch of the imagination.
Now imagine that you are prevented from doing this. You are afraid to speak up and have opinions for fear of personal recriminations that could affect yourself or other family members. Consequences could include temporary loss of income, loss of a job, even loss of a career. You become silenced, effectively opening the door to the possibility of harmful decisions to be made regarding children that are in your charge.
As a parent, you have power. You have legal guardianship rights over the lives of your children until they turn 18. For a large portion of that time a child attends school. While that child is in school it is in the best interest of all children that adults involved can advocate for the child. When you deny tenure rights of teachers you are silencing that advocate.
We are 2 teachers and we are 2 mothers. Melissa has 2 boys and Marla has 1 boy. As teachers we understand the importance of teacher tenure, which for the remainder of this article we will call due process. First of all, a teacher’s right to due process does NOT guarantee them a job for life. For example, in New York State any tenured teacher can be dismissed under 3020a law.

Here are some scenarios in which teachers would need due process to protect children.

Scenario #1

Mrs. Smith goes to a meeting for Johnny, a special education student that she has taught all year. She knows that Johnny needs to have speech therapy and plans to recommend that he receive it as soon as possible. Before the meeting Mrs. Smith is told via email that she is NOT to recommend speech therapy for any more children because the district does NOT want to pay for the services.
Mrs. Smith with NO due process rights – goes to the meeting and doesn’t say a word in advocacy for Johnny because she is a afraid to lose her job and/or goes to the meeting and advocates for him and is fired by the district directly after the meeting is over.
Mrs. Smith with due process rights – goes to the meeting and can ignore the district directive and recommend speech therapy because that is what Johnny needs. The district cannot fire her for ignoring this harmful directive without a due process hearing.

Scenario #2

Mr. Jones suspects that one of his students is being beat up at home. The student in question, Mark, comes to school with a black eye. Mr. Jones tells his department chair that he is calling Child Protective Services on the parents. Mr. Jones gets an email from the district telling him to NOT call CPS because they don’t want the bad publicity.
Mr. Jones with NO due process rights – does NOT call CPS because he is the sole breadwinner in his house and cannot lose his job and/ or he calls CPS and is fired at the end of the week.
Mr. Jones with due process rights – calls CPS, ignoring the district directive not to, and cannot be fired without a due process hearing.

Scenario #3

Mrs. Davis is an award winning English teacher. She has enjoyed teaching an amazing unit on To Kill A Mockingbird for her entire 15 year career. In this unit she can teach children about social justice and equality. In Mrs. Davis class is the new president of the Board of Education’s daughter. When Mrs. Davis starts her To Kill a Mockingbird unit the BOE President calls her up and expresses concern that the book has rape in it. Mrs. Davis explains to the BOE President that her focus on the book isn’t rape but social injustice. The next day Mrs. Davis is called into her directors office and told she cannot teach the book.
Mrs. Davis with NO due process rights does NOT teach the book in fear of losing her job. She is the sole provider for her mother and herself and/or Mrs. Davis teaches the book against the advice of her director and is fired at the end of the year
Mrs. Davis with due process rights explains respectfully to her director that she will teach the book as she has done so successfully for 15 years. She further states that she will be attending the BOE meeting to make a statement that the BOE President is attempting to censor reading lists in the district for children. She cannot be fired without a due process hearing.

Scenario #4

Mr. Bryant has been a math teacher at XYZ High School for 25 years. He is loved by his students and parents in the community. He has been active in school and advises the award winning Math Club. During Mr. Bryant’s 25th year as a teacher the district hired a new Superintendent of Schools. This Superintendent sought to trim the budget and decided to cut several clubs, including Mr. Bryant’s award winning Math Club. Mr. Bryant made an appointment with the new Superintendent to plead their case. The meeting did not go well so Mr. Bryant rallied the community to raise money to keep the club. This angered the new Superintendent who
Mr. Bryant with NO due process is fired immediately and the new Superintendents nephew, a new math teacher, is hired to take his place.
Mr. Bryant with due process is called up to the Superintendent’s office and given a hearing prior to an attempt to fire him.
The above scenarios are only a few that we can provide to you. We could write a book but we hope that you get the overall simple reason why teachers need due process rights. Many people argue that no other job gets due process rights, and in many cases they are correct, but NO other occupation deals with the complexity of teaching children and making sure that the environment that they learn in is free of cronyism, favoritism, safe, and free from personal bias. A teacher’s right to due process provides a stable, safe, and productive environment for children to learn and thrive. It gives teachers the ability to advocate freely for children in their care without fear of losing their jobs.

marla-melissa-300About Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson

Marla Kilfoyle is General Manager Badass Teachers Association and Melissa Tomlinson is the Assistant General Manager of the Badass Teachers Association.
Marla Kilfoyle began her adventure into the Badass Teacher Association by way of being a parent advocate on Long Island in such groups as Parents and Teachers Against Common Core and LI Opt-Out. Marla has been a teacher in the Social Studies Department at Oceanside High School (NY) for 27 years. In addition, Marla coached the Oceanside Girl’s Track and Field team for 15 years and runs her district’s social science program.
Marla is the mother of a 10-year-old son and wife of Allen, a retired NYPD Detective. She continues her work as a parent advocate in LI Opt-Out as a member of their leadership team.
Melissa Tomlinson: A teacher of students with special needs at the middle school level, realized that she was not alone in questioning the role of standardized testing in schools when she found the Badass Teachers Association. She was first pushed into the spotlight of fighting the methods of corporate educational reform when she faced Governor Chris Christie to ask about his public degradation of NJ Schools when they were rated one of the top three in the nation. Along with teaching and advocacy, Melissa runs the after school program in her school building, providing a place for students to receive extra educational assistance, exposure to career possibilities, and a safe place to be after school hours.
Melissa is the mother of two teenage sons and she fights for equitable education for all students, now and in the future.