Spoiler Alert:  Teachers can educate you

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So it turns out that when you take the time to listen to teachers you actually learn stuff, including how to improve public schools without privatizing and turning them over to the corporate education reform industry.

In this recent commentary piece entitled, Smart solutions for Connecticut public schools, award winning Connecticut public school teachers Jean Jaykus and AnneMarie Surfaro-Boehme provide a teaching moment that all policymakers would do well to stop and read.

Imagine if Connecticut’s elected and appointed officials actually stopped denigrating teachers, the teaching profession and public schools and started listening to teachers and providing the resources necessary to improve educational outcomes, especially for Connecticut children living in poverty, facing English language challenges or requiring special education services.

 Smart solutions for Connecticut public schools (By Jean Jaykus and AnneMarie Surfaro-Boehme)

Their piece was first published in the Stamford Advocate;

Common Core National Standards are not outstanding standards. A state like Connecticut, the Constitution State, has an obligation to its taxpayers to answer the questions: Why keep defending Common Core and ignore an outcry from taxpayers, teachers, and students? Why are school boards not questioning this issue? Connecticut needs more than a fix for Common Core. Connecticut needs to take a pedagogical stand and replace Common Core and its SBAC tests with appropriate Connecticut standards and tests written by representatives from all education levels, including teachers, administrators and university professors. Just because the proponents of Common Core claim that it will have benefits and cure educational inequalities, doesn’t mean that it is so.

The damaging side effects and requirements of Common Core standards, teaching, and testing are affecting our schools by destroying creativity and taking away programs with proven good results. Teachers know this and morale is low. How will districts attract excellent teachers? Common Core is dummying down our public schools with overtesting and undereducating. Addressing the achievement gap does not mean bringing down higher-functioning schools to raise the level of lower-functioning schools. It is unfair to blame the schools for the achievement gap, a complex problem that is the result of socio-economic and cultural as well as educational issues. It is unfair to put students on a track based solely on tests, which is not only developmentally inappropriate, but leads to a narrow life path.

Putting all our resources behind Common Core across the state will not change the effects of neighborhood and family culture. The factors that contribute to learning and school success, from the early years on are family, parenting, neighborhood, income, good teaching, extracurricular and community activities, and especially positive role models. We need to create a culture in underperforming districts that values education. Connecticut needs the courage to challenge Common Core and change the direction of state funding to support smart solutions for schools, and promote the academic, behavioral, and emotional success for all our children.

New Connecticut standards and tests are the first step. As these are being formulated and piloted, we need additional steps and new solutions to help move our at-risk students into proficiency, raise student incentives to learn, and help close the achievement gap in our schools.

Mentoring plays a vital role in this journey. Any school willing to focus its efforts on mentoring can increase performance and create a culture of high expectations and support for all students. Start with principal to teacher mentorships. Principals need to be educational leaders, not testing supervisors and managers of technology. Instead of hiring more assistant principals and academic coaches to meet Common Core mandates, get principals back into the classrooms and help teachers enrich instruction, guaranteeing the strongest outcomes for students. In addition, establish teacher to teacher, school to school, and district to district mentorships by using state funding that is aligned to support these partnerships that model best practices. Also set up local business-education partnerships and apprenticeships. Mentoring encourages good connections, builds a strong work ethic, and helps our students work hard and pursue education.

Increase effective Magnet Public Schools across the state, like the 2014 Danbury Elementary Magnet School of the Year. Use state funding for more magnet schools, not charter schools. Magnet schools offer educational opportunities in our cities and towns in the areas like World Languages, STEM, Media, the Arts, and Tech Ed programs. Having a consortium of districts facilitates interdistrict cooperation, allows for smaller class sizes, and a greater diversity of students and talents.

Celebrate creativity in schools, and you instill passion, curiosity, pursuit, and purpose. You capture those teachable moments, a time to enrich the classroom experience and opportunities. When you value time on art, music, theatre, student government, field trips, and athletics, it connects the community to the schools. Student participation in these meaningful activities develops skills like communication, cooperation, time management, organization, problem solving, and leadership.

Establish more pre-school programs. These programs give young children more experiences in language development, play, and school readiness. Use state funds for community parenting education programs that foster strong family relationships, school support, and parent networking.

And it’s time to use our retired teachers. They are a proven asset. Many are available to render services in schools even on a part-time basis. They are well-suited to a variety of public school needs and activities in the total education of our students.

We can have education that excels, helps close the achievement gap, and moves children forward. Instead of treating high-stakes reading and math tests as a one-size fits all single measurement of success, how about celebrating excellence in education for educational growth and opportunity. It is time to stop hiding behind the screen of Common Core and adopt smart solutions for Connecticut schools.

Jean Jaykus taught for the Ridgefield Public Schools for 36 years in grades 3-6. She was Ridgefield’s Teacher of the Year, and won a Connecticut Celebration of Excellence Award for her curriculum project in Science and Technology. AnneMarie Surfaro-Boehme taught in the Ridgefield Public Schools for 34 years. Her teaching career includes the Early Childhood levels kindergarten, first, and second grades. She was Ridgefield’s Teacher of the Year, and won a Connecticut Celebration of Excellence Award, for her curriculum project in “The Arts: Creative and Performing.”

Teachers Matter

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True, teachers don’t matter to the Corporate Education Reform Industry and the people who are pushing the Common Core and the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Testing Scheme.

And teachers don’t seem to matter to people like Connecticut Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy who is not only an adherent to the Common Core and the Common Core Testing fiasco but remains the only Democratic Governor in the nation to propose eliminating tenure for all public school teachers and rescinding collective bargaining rights for teachers working in the state’s poorest school districts. [Although it is valuable to note that New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is certainly a top contender for being the most anti-teacher governor in the country.]

But people out here in the real world know that teachers matter.

Teachers matter a lot…

We all remember teachers that mattered to us when we were young, and for those of us with children, we treasure and appreciate the teachers that matter and have made a difference in our own children’s lives.

Teachers matter when they make international headlines, like the incredible individuals who gave their lives trying to protect their students over in Newtown, Connecticut.

But the amazing thing about teachers is that they matter when their deeds are deemed truly heroic and they matter when they are simply “doing their jobs.”

Sadly, disturbingly, shockingly, the United States is witnessing the greatest assault on public education in our lifetimes. Greed, stupidity, ignorance, and even more greed are behind the historic effort to denigrate teachers, turn our schools into little more than Common Core Testing factories, and destroy the concept of a true and comprehensive public education system.

In the name of preparing children to be “college and career” ready the forces behind the corporate education reform industry are undermining the very essence of the teaching profession and public education in the United States.

And the root of their ignorance (or stupidity) is their failure to truly understand that teachers matter.

As the founder, along with leading public education advocate Diane Ravitch, of what is called the Education Bloggers Network, I’ve had the tremendous honor of working with, getting to know and regularly reading the writing of more than 230 education bloggers who are collectively and individually fighting for public education and against the destructive tactics of the so-called “education reformers.”

Many of these bloggers and commentators have used their voices to help remind their readers that teachers matter.

One such article was posted earlier this week by an educator and teacher from Washington State who goes by the name of Teacher Tom.  And while he was simply telling about a moment in his day, this post, like many that Teacher Tom writes, served as a an extraordinary reminder that teachers matter…

Please take a moment and read Teacher Tom’s blog post entitled, You Want Mommy To Come Back.”  I am confident that it will remind you, like it reminded me, that teachers matter.

Sometimes mommy has to leave and you don’t want her to leave.

When I started teaching, I was a distractor. In fact, I considered myself a master distractor. I had every confidence that I could calm any kid down in less than five minutes through a combination of goofing, enthusiasm, and “Look what those kids are doing over there!” Today, I’m more inclined to simply sit with a crying child, to listen to any words they might be trying to say, to show warmth and empathy, to assure them that mommy always comes back, and to allow them the full arc of their strong emotion. Most kids still stop crying in less than five minutes, but that’s no longer the goal now that my priority is their feelings rather than my discomfort with their feelings.

So when mommy left last Friday, when he reached out to mommy as she walked away, when he screamed and cried and pulled himself from my arms, when he dropped to the floor to kick his feet in outrage, I sat there with him, blocking out the whole world but him.

I could hear he was saying words as he screamed, but they weren’t at first discernible, so I said, “You’re mad that mommy left,” and “You’re sad that mommy left.” No one can truly tell another how they feel, but I was pretty sure I was close to the mark in this case. He was still saying the words through his tears, repeating them. Finally, I thought I made out, “I want mommy to come back.”

I wanted him to know that he had been heard, that I understood and empathized, and I wanted it to be something that was true, so I said, “I want your mommy to come back too.”

He shout-cried at me, “I want mommy to come back!”

I nodded. I worked on keeping my voice gentle. I said, “I want your mommy to come back too.”

And he said back, “I want mommy to come back!”

We went back and forth like this several times. He seemed to really wanted me to know that he wanted his mommy to come back.

Other children tried to sooth him: one girl brought him a costume, another tried to hand him a construction paper fire truck. He didn’t accept their overtures, although he was by now present enough to shake his head “no” at them rather than simply scream as he was doing at me.

By now he was very clearly saying, “I want mommy to come back!” And I was replying, “I want your mommy to come back too,” to which he always shout-cried back, “I want mommy to come back!”

I continued to attempt to put a name to his feelings, using words like “mad,” “sad,” and “angry,” as well as to state the truth that “mommy always comes back.” But whenever I said, “I want your mommy to come back too,” he shouted at me, “I want mommy to come back!”

Then, finally, I really heard him. He said, “I want mommy to come back!” stressing the pronoun for his tin-eared teacher.

This time I answered, “You want mommy to come back.”

He nodded as if to say, “Finally,” and in one motion picked himself from the floor, stepped up to the art table, still crying, and got to work gluing construction paper shapes to a red fire truck pre-cut, his hands not fully under his own control. As he wadded and creased the paper, it looked almost as if he were wrestling with it, his fingers clenching and curling from the emotion that was still coursing through his whole body.

After a couple minutes, he became silent as he concentrated on manipulating the small pieces of paper, the last of his strong emotion going into this construction project.

I said one more time, “You want mommy to come back.” This time he ignored me.

You can read more of Teacher Tom’s posts at http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/

And you can find out more about the Education Bloggers Network on our emerging website at: http://edubloggers.org/

And remember, no matter how much the anti-public education forces deny it, teachers matter.

Education School Deans in CT make national headlines with powerful commentary piece

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Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading public education advocate, whose blog gets as many as 800,000 hits a month has highlighted the courageous stand taken by a number of college and university deans at schools of education in Connecticut.

The anti-testing, pro-teacher position these college deans are taking is especially important in light of the fact that Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration has been engaged in an effort to force the University of Connecticut to turn its School of Education over to the Corporate Education Reform Industry.  The Malloy administration’s State Department of Education has also been working to undermine some of the schools of education in the Connecticut State University System, especially targeting the program at Southern Connecticut State University.

In a recent Hartford Courant commentary piece, education deans from Connecticut’s independent colleges and universities step forward on behalf of teachers, the teaching profession, teacher preparation and public education in Connecticut.

Covering the news, Diane Ravitch posted a story entitled, “Connecticut: Ed School Deans Call for Common Sense and an End to Teacher-Bashing,”

Diane Ravitch writes;

Kevin G. Basmadjian, Dean of the School of Education at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, wrote a powerful article in the Hartford Courant in collaboration with other deans from across the state.

Connecticut’s students are among the highest on the NAEP, yet its policymakers insist that its schools and teachers are unsuccessful. The politicians want more charter schools and Teach for America.

He writes:

“As a nation and a state, we have clearly failed to address the inequalities that disproportionally impact many urban school districts where kids are poor and segregated. Sadly, for the first time in 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students now come from low-income families. But instead of addressing this crisis, we have demonized teachers for failing to solve problems our government cannot, or will not, solve. Poverty, homelessness and the dangerously high levels of emotional and psychological stress experienced by low-income students — these are the problems many of our nation’s public school teachers face every day.

“Our nation’s obsession with standardized test scores will not solve these problems, and they put our country at great risk intellectually as well as economically. As educational researcher Yong Zhao writes, countries with which we are often compared — such as Singapore, Japan and South Korea — are moving away from a focus on testing in their public schools. Why? Because they have learned from the history of the United States that a great education and nation is one that rewards creativity, originality, imagination and innovation….

“The most recent scapegoat for our nation’s shameful achievement gap is teacher preparation programs, for failing to produce a steady stream of what the U.S. Department of Education abstractly calls “great teachers” to work in our neediest public schools. By blaming teacher preparation programs, the department can yet again divert public attention from the most crucial barrier to achieving educational equality: poverty.

There is a need for more “great teachers” who will commit themselves to our state’s neediest public schools. But achieving this goal will take more than naive slogans or punitive measures levied against teacher preparation programs that do not successfully persuade graduates to teach in these schools. The U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations for teacher preparation — with its emphasis on standardized test scores — work against this goal because of the overly technical, anti-intellectual portrait of teaching they endorse. We in Connecticut need to make these jobs more attractive to prospective teachers through increased respect, support and autonomy rather than criticism, disdain and surveillance.”

The entire commentary piece authored by the deans can be found here: Stop Blaming Teachers And Relying On Tests.

The authors of the powerful piece are Kevin G. Basmadjian, the dean of the School of Education at Quinnipiac University. Also participating in writing this piece were: James Carl, dean of the Isabelle Farrington College of Education at Sacred Heart University; Allen P. Cook, dean of the School of Education at the University of Bridgeport; Sandy Grande, chair of the Education Department at Connecticut College; Robert D. Hannafin, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions at Fairfield University; Ann Monroe-Baillargeon, dean of the School of Education at the University of Saint Joseph; Nancy S. Niemi, chair and professor in the Education Department at the University of New Haven; and Joan E. Venditto, director of education programs at Albertus Magnus College.

CT Teacher Martin Walsh Slams Common Core SBAC Testing Scheme

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Martin Walsh is a Connecticut teacher and public education advocate.  He is also challenging the incumbent CEA President Sheila Cohen in this spring’s election for CEA Officers.

In a commentary piece posted at CTMirror today entitled, “SBAC test is part of corporate plan to discredit Connecticut public schools,” Martin Walsh makes one of the strongest statements by any educator about the failing of the Common Core SBAC Test.

If you are going to read one piece about the discriminatory, unfair and inappropriate Common Core Testing Scam, this is the piece to read.  Read it then then pass it on to every parents, teacher and citizens you know.  Now is the time to opt out children out of the Common Core SBAC Testing disaster

SBAC test is part of corporate plan to discredit Connecticut public schools (By Marin Walsh)

Our founders recognized that the fundamental purpose of government is to protect the rights of the people. The Declaration of Independence reads in pertinent part “…A]ll men are created equal… they are endowed…with certain unalienable rights…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…”

How, then, does the State of Connecticut justify the obstacles and roadblocks it has erected to prevent parents from exercising the right to opt their children out of corporate-backed standardized testing?

Easy. It doesn’t. It puts them in place and arrogantly dares anyone to defy them. And it doesn’t expect many parents to challenge the test anyway.

Why aren’t more parents alarmed by these for-profit corporate-sponsored tests? Largely because they trust their public schools and local elected officials to notify them of threats to their children’s welfare.

Sadly, most superintendents, boards of education and even the teachers’ unions are letting parents and schoolchildren down by not informing them of the pernicious nature of the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) test.

For example, most parents don’t realize that the FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) was amended to allow the corporations behind SBAC to use the test for data mining. Children’s data is no longer protected by federal law.

Additionally, the cut scores which determine passing rates have been arbitrarily set to ensure that about 60 percent of those taking the language arts test will fail and the failure rate for the math portion will be about 70 percent.

Not content with labeling schools and teachers as failures in order to advance its agenda, the corporate reform movement (actively abetted by Gov. Dannel Malloy and the State Board of Education) callously plans to attach the label to children.

Mastery test results should be used to measure progress and show teachers where support is needed to promote student success, not to brand children as failures.

In New York, and other states, test results have caused outrage after the fact and resulted in strong coalitions of parents and teachers opposed to toxic testing. Superintendents, administrators and teacher unions know this. Why are they silent? Why are so many of them willing tools in the state’s plan to thwart the right of parents to opt out? They should be challenged on that point until a satisfactory answer is provided.

The real purpose of the SBAC test is to buttress the corporate mantra of “failed public schools” in order to advance their case for the privatization of education. Rupert Murdoch put it bluntly in 2010 when he said “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone…”

That figure comes in part from test support materials, software and new textbooks aligned with the Common Core, but much of it will come from the expansion of charter schools.

Today, Connecticut is dumping $100 million dollars of taxpayer money into charter schools every year with little to no oversight and the governor’s proposed budget contains funding for an additional four. At the same time, magnet schools have gone unfunded and the state is doing everything in its power to dismiss or delay the CCJEF (Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding) vs. Rell case which would require the state to honor its obligation to adequately fund public schools, an obligation which it has never met.

The SBAC is one aspect of a larger scheme which, at its core, is about corporate greed, not the welfare of children. I urge parents to investigate this issue for themselves and to opt their children out of the SBAC if they have concerns. A sample opt-out letter can be downloaded from this website: Walshminnick2015.org.

Martin Walsh, a teacher in Glastonbury and resident of Wethersfield, is a candidate for president of the Connecticut Education Association.

New State Reading Test for Teachers vs. Steve Perry and the Testourkids.com Reading Centers

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According to the Corporate Education Reform Industry, the way to improve educational outcomes in the United States is to dramatically increase the amount of testing for students and teachers.

As proof, thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy’s Corporate Education Reform legislation of 2012, Connecticut teacher in Grades K, 1, 2, and 3 will be required to take the Foundations of Reading Test this year and biennially going forward.  The new test is produced by the standardized testing conglomerate Pearson Education Incorporated.

Teachers who have already passed the Foundations of Reading test for certification eligibility are only exempt from completing the “survey” on reading instruction this year.  They will be required to take it next time.

According to the Connecticut State Department of Education, “The results of the survey shall identify strengths and weaknesses in knowledge of reading instruction based on the reading objectives surveyed, and will provide disaggregate and aggregate data at the individual educator, school and district level. The results shall be used to develop student learning objectives (SLOs) and teacher practice goals and will inform professional learning…”

And Connecticut teachers – you need to note – that despite what teachers were told by their union, the Foundation of Reading Tests results WILL NOT BE confidential although they are exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

By comparison, one need only go to Steve Perry’s corporate website to see how the corporate education reformers deal with pesky things like determining the “strengths and weaknesses in knowledge of reading instruction.”

Steve Perry, who now calls himself, “one of the greatest influential figures in education today,” is very busy these days.

Not only is Perry a full-time employee of the Hartford Board of Education where he holds the position of principal of Capital Prep Magnet School, but he is preparing to open two new charter schools (Bridgeport and Harlem) and is crisscrossing the nation on the “Steve Perry Education Truth Tour.”   Apparently Perry’s mantra on his Education Truth Tour is that, “Teaching is the Greatest Act of Defiance.”

Meanwhile, on a visit to http://www.drsteveperry.org/ you’ll discover an announcement that you have the opportunity to open up your own “Reading Center” via www.testourkids.com.  The announcement even states, “We Finance All Individuals & Organizations.”

And better yet, by heading over to www.TestOurKids.com will reveal the news that you don’t even need to be a teacher to own your own reading center.

Filled with pictures and videos of Steve Perry, the TestOurKids.com website, which is registered to Perry’s publicist, proclaims that the business is dedicated to opening reading centers across the nation!

In fact, for only $25 per month per child and a one-time startup fee of $99.99 you can open up a reading center and you don’t even need to be a teacher!

Not only does TestOurKids.com provide ONLINE READING LESSONS, but ”Hundreds Of Fun – interactive animated leveled books,” a “Diagnostic Online Reading – Assessment,” PLUS, “A Proven Content – a safe environment of your home or office, For Each Student – Comprehensive, supplemental reading instruction, Fun Digital Learning Environment – makes connections possible.”

You can even – Schedule An Online Assessment

If the incredible opportunity via their website isn’t enough to persuade you, check out their Facebook page at:  https://www.facebook.com/TestOurKids1

Scroll down for posts like;

  • Let’s call our public schools what they really are – ‘government’ schools’ 
  • Who’s side are the teacher’s union on, anyway? 
  • Where is the outrage for our children? Black children are being robbed @TestOurKids wants to help; Open Your Own Reading Center —> 
  • Invite Dr. Steve Perry to your area CALL 860.997.6802 
  • Steve Perry can come to your location/church or school CALL 860.997.6802 
  • Enough is Enough; Teach Our Black Children how to Read! Visit testourkids.com 
  • Steve Perry in Buffalo NY talking about education reform for our children! 
  • And a special post at the same time, attacking Buffalo teachers, and observing, “Do people deserve a raise when they’re not doing the job right? Buffalo Kids reading proficiency only 13%… When will it be about the Kids First!” 
  • Education is a BIG WORD…Let’s start FIRST by teaching our kids how to read, getting their education will follow! @TestOurKidscom can help with this first step! 
  • When you have a system that doesn’t focus on learning how to read at an early age then our children will never get a full education! @TestOurKidscom reading centers can help

And while Steve Perry’s face is plastered across all the marketing materials, Perry’s publicist explains that he is actually the leading force behind the effort.

Yusuf Salaam explains that he is,

“Currently a successful and highly sought after publicist representing 5 of the top Educators in the country, I recently closed negotiation deals with my client Dr. Steve Perry and Bishop TD Jakes to promote furthering education in our minority areas. Have coordinated visits to the White House personally from First Lady Michelle Obama to have my client Dr. Marco Clark come celebrate his educational success and student achievement.”

Salaam adds that he,

“[M]anages brand awareness and promotion for an innovative online company TestOurKids.com, which operates as an online reading assessment software and reading lessons for children K-12th grade and assists organizations plus schools open and operate their own reading learning centers all over the US. After reaching a monumentally 300,000 evaluations reading assessments, we expanded our ambitions further and started assisting individuals also build their dreams in helping children in their communities. My management teams has opened facilities in 8 major cities and in conjunction with professionals has begun the process of teaching our children how to READ! “

And to fully appreciate the level of success these private reading centers are having, one need only look as far as Middletown Connecticut where both the Middletown Press and the Middletown Patch reported on testourkids.com early last summer.

For example, in an article entitled, Helping Middletown’s Littlest Readers Achieve, the Middletown Patch reported that, “The students’ reading scores have improved dramatically after participating in the six-month program.”

According to the Patch,

Last year, the Middlesex County Branch of the NAACP and the President Rosa Browne identified an epidemic within the town’s public school literacy scores.

More than half of the Hispanic and African American fourth-graders were reading below the goal level, and the scores only worsened as children got older. With cooperation from Superintendent Dr. Patricia Charles, a group of low performing children in grades Kindergarten through third were taken from MacDonough and Bielefield Middletown Public Schools and were provided an effective pilot program to help eradicate this problem.

[…]

Children were bused to Brain Wiz Reading Center, operated by Yusuf Salaam, a nationally recognized publicist to some of the top educators in the country, in order to increase their reading abilities at the most vulnerable time in their lives. The program is powered by TestOurKids.com, a computerized system that evaluates children’s reading skills, and it is utilized throughout the country, primarily for reading centers and schools that require the extra help

The children 5- to 8-years-old were tested prior to the start of the program and then retested on their last day and the results were overwhelming. All children who completed the course improved sufficiently, and some scored 2 to 3 grade levels higher in their overall reading. These gains were achieved in spite of extreme winter conditions and multiple holiday vacations from December to May. The program ran for an hour-and-a-half each day, Tuesday through Thursday.

 So teachers of Connecticut…

Rather than waste your time taking the Pearson Foundation of Learning Test this year, just follow Steve Perry’s website to the opportunity of opening your own reading center…. no certification or testing needed and apparently some local school districts will even bus their little ones to your location every day….

A Letter from a Teacher: What We Should Do Instead (Guest Post by Dr. Jeannette Faber)

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This guest post is from Connecticut Educator Jeannette Farber;

 2015 is upon us. Instead of staying on the road known as “education reform,” I have 12 resolutions – one for each month of 2015.

Two words: Investment and Innovation

But first… The myth of “our public schools are failing.” We erroneously base a school’s success on standardized test scores. We are duped into thinking public schools are failing based on an international test known as the PISA test.  In the five decades of our students taking this test, we have never done well.  Yet, our nation continues to drive innovation and our nation has the world’s best universities. We are compared to countries with a 3 % poverty rate, Finland. We are compared to countries that do not educate or test everyone.  Meanwhile, in the US, we educated everyone and test everyone.  If test scores are the basis of success (again, an erroneous measure), we currently have the highest test scores in our history.  We also have our highest graduation rates – 80% in four years and 90% for those who take more than four years or who earn a GED.

There are many myths: They are perpetuated by the corporate media and those profiting from privatizing public education.

Any lack of progress in school improvement is due to the lack of teacher empowerment and to equity in funding.  We need to invert the power dynamic and create schools that work from the classroom out, not the federal, state, central office, and/or principal “down.”  We need to focus on schools where there is intense poverty. These are not “failing schools”: they are schools that are being failed by society.

“Education reform” as we know it, began in 1983; since then, teachers have had to respond to initiatives that come and go whenever there is a change from “above.” Unfortunately, many folks driving policy and influence – like Arne Duncan, the Waltons, Bill Gates – have never been educators.  Current drivers of education “reform” are “corporation education reformers.” Corporations profit from public schools by selling “solutions” that are anything but solutions. They brought narrow, not rigorous, standards, The Common Core, written by testing companies.  What follows the Common Core? Canned assessments, scripted lessons, and an increasing onslaught of standardized testing – all purchased with taxpayer money.

And worse, this replaces the joy of life-long learning with the dread of a one-size-fits-all regime. It is not real learning. It is soul crushing.

So, instead of staying on this doomed road of corporate education reform, what should we do instead?

The 12 resolutions I offer are framed by two concepts: innovation and investment

To start, by innovation, I mean this: We do need to transform public education as we still largely work on a century-old model – the factory model.  We do need to make education more innovative, creative, student centered, and constructivist – all focusing on critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration.  The current road of “corporate education reform” will not take us there. In fact, it will take us in the opposite direction.

By investment, I mean this: Equity in funding and resources.  When public education became compulsory a century ago, education leaders vowed to make public education the great equalizer. We have failed at that for a century. Usually, wealthier students receive more funding; poor students, less. That is a betrayal of our democratic values.

Resolutions:

  1. Innovate, invert, the power dynamic: Starting from the “bottom” (See how we are conditioned to think?), educators need to take back our classrooms and schools for the sake of real learning and for our students.
  1. Innovate the purpose of “unions.” We can re-envision our teachers’ unions as true educational associations. Teachers need a credible way to ensure a seat at the head of the table.  Education associations need to shift the paradigm from being narrowly focused wages, benefits, working conditions to transforming our organizations to lead the profession. We are the experts. 
  1. Innovate the federal and state roles in education. Departments of Education (state and federal) should not be controlled of an administration. Administrations like to change the pieces, and even the game board, every 4 or 8 years. Rather, DoEs should be independent educational institutions that reports to an administration.  Institution leaders should be actual educators. Every time we get a new principal, a new superintendent, a new governor, a new president, schools have to change direction.  There is never continual focus on addressing the real problems.  And, teachers have no voice in these “initiatives” or “reforms.”
  1. Innovate by creating the education institution just mentioned – a national organization that has state and local organizations – education associations!  Teachers need professional development in the latest research and best practices. This national education institute and its state and local associations can provide professional leadership through affiliations with researchers and practioners in education, K – 12 or university experts. This would create ongoing, meaningful, and lasting transformation.
  1. Innovate how schools improve. Schools can work with these education organizations to create a vision and action plan for individual schools. Schools cannot fit into a one-size-fits-all reform.  Instead, this model would be akin to how accreditation organizations work but more for the purpose of helping schools/teachers continually work on school-improvement that works from the classroom/school out.
  1. Innovate how schools and teachers help other schools and teachers transform themselves. Each school could have a profile describing it – its strengths and challenges – so it can be part of a consortium of other like schools, all working together to affect meaningful change – all teacher/administration/expert led, of course.
  1. Invest in universal pre-school education in all 50 states. Have additional programs for children living in severe poverty that engages the parent/s and child from birth until s/he enters preschool.  Such programs can offer parenting classes and stress the importance of reading to a child.  This can help close the gap before children enter school.
  1. Invest in wrap-around serves in all school districts with a high percentage of poverty. School districts can work with outside organizations and non-profits to supply families with wrap-around services: continuing education for parents, mental health services, rehab programs, heath care, conflict mediation, character education, after-school programs, tutoring, etc.
  1. Invest in teachers. In order to have a real and lasting effect, teachers need meaningful professional development, time to collaborate, and reasonable students loads. Currently, 46.2% of teachers leave the profession in the first five years. That statistic, obviously, tells us we do not treat teaching as the profession it is.
  1. Invest in collaboration. We need to invest in schedules that allow schools to be learning communities not just for students but also for teachers: these are inter-related. Teachers learn to be better teachers through continual reflection, collaboration, implementation, and innovation.
  1. Invest in lead teachers. Public education has become an incalcatrant bureaucracy. Approximately 51% of K-12 employees are classroom teachers. The remaining 49% is administration and support staff.  We need to distinguish between administrators who have a managerial role (scheduling, policy, etc.) and administrators who are educational leaders (experts in curriculum, instruction, and assessment). I’ll call these folks Lead Teachers.  We could trim the bureaucracy if we empowered teachers, unleashing their expertise in order to lead schools in a continual growth model. And, let’s narrow the wide gap between teachers’ and administrators’ salaries.
  1. Invest a rich curriculum. Since NCLB and RttT, curricula have become very narrowly focused on math and reading – both vital components to education.  However, students deserve a rich curriculum.  Art, music, history, world languages, electives, etc. And young children need play time.  We need to bring our curriculum into the 21st century: more interdisciplinary and focused problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration.

The future of public education is truly at risk. We must resolve to transform our public schools by entrusting the experts, American educators, to lead the way. 

Jeannette Faber has been teaching high school English in CT for 19 years. She holds three advanced degrees, the most recent a doctorate in English Education from Columbia University’s Teachers College.  Dr. Faber resides in New Haven, CT. © Jeannette C. Faber 2014

 

A final 2014 campaign shout-out to Connecticut teachers and their supporters

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First and foremost, I want to thank the thousands of teachers, parents and public school advocates who have taken the time to read Wait, What? over the past few years.

Your camaraderie and participation in this endeavor has been a primary reason I stuck with the task of trying to educate, persuade and mobilize people to stand up and speak out on behalf of our public education system.

The last three years have been truly extraordinary as we have watched the corporate education reform industry set its money and political muscle on working to undermine Connecticut’s teachers, parents, students and public schools.

As we know all too well, driven by his devotion to the corporate education industry, in February 2012, Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy became the only Democratic governor in the nation to propose eliminating tenure for all public school teachers in Connecticut and repealing collective bargaining for teachers working in the poorest school districts.

No other Democratic governor in the country proposed such an anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public education initiative.

With Election Day finally upon us, one of the greatest mysteries of our time is why Malloy has been completely and totally unwilling or unable to apologize for his inappropriate, unfair and outrageous attack on Connecticut’s educators.

Over the last few months, Malloy’s supporters have tried every excuse under the Sun to explain away Malloy’s outrageous behavior…but Malloy himself has refused to step up and publicly admit or correct his statements and actions.

In fact, when Malloy tried to clarify his position this fall he actually managed to make it worse.

Asked about his statement that teachers need only show up for four years and they’ll get tenure, Malloy explained,

“I should admit that was bad language. It wasn’t about them. It was about tenure…”

Wait, What?  the problem is really tenure?

Fair due process for teachers is the problem??

Considering Malloy’s policies, it is fair to say that one of the more bizarre moments of the 2014 campaign was when the New Haven Register reported that, “Randi Weingarten, the national president of the American Federation of Teachers, told an enthusiastic group of union members Tuesday that the only way to stop the reach of the conservative Koch brothers and the new restrictions on labor is to re-elect Dannel P. Malloy as governor of Connecticut, and not vote for her friend Jonathan Pelto.

Strange considering Malloy’s anti-tenure, anti-collective bargaining proposal was right out of the Koch Brother’s anti-teacher, anti-public education playbook.

Not far behind the AFT leadership’s approach was that of the leadership of  the Connecticut Education Association who endorsed Malloy claiming that Malloy was the “First governor in Connecticut’s history to annually fully fund teacher pensions during his term in office and guarantee full funding in the future.”

However, as we know, Malloy had absolutely no role in ensuring that the Connecticut Teacher Retirement Pension Fund is being fully funded.  The credit for that goes to Governor Rell and the members of the 2007 Connecticut General Assembly who guaranteed that the teacher pension fund would be given the proper funds for 25 years starting in 2008.

But the most remarkable development is not that the AFT and CEA would endorse Malloy but that Malloy would make no meaningful effort to pivot back and address the concerns being voiced by Connecticut’s teachers, parents and public school advocates.

As if to prove his unwillingness to listen to Connecticut’s public school proponents, Malloy has told two newspaper editorial boards, in recent weeks, that he intends to “stay the course” on his corporate education reform agenda.

And last week, when asked if there was anything he would have done different over the past four years, if he was given the chance, he said there was nothing he would have done differently.

Nothing he would have done differently?

Nothing he would have changed over the last four years?

Putting aside his decision to skip the perfect opportunity to set the record straight on his attitude toward Connecticut teachers, what kind of person says that – given the chance – there is  absolutely nothing he would have done differently over a period of four years?

I understand that there are plenty of reasons for someone to cast their vote for Malloy or Foley tomorrow, but as a proud graduate of Connecticut’s public schools and now being a public school parent, I will not support any candidate who so callously denigrates and belittles the people who devote their lives to providing our children with the knowledge and skills they will need to deal with our increasingly complex and difficult world.

Malloy’s approach has not only been an embarrassment but it is a sad commentary on how far some of our Democratic officials have strayed from the most fundamental principles and values of our society.

Malloy ploy on Teacher Pension Fund takes center stage

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In this case, the issue isn’t which major party candidate for governor will do more damage to teachers and public education, but whether the candidates and their supporters are accountable for the rhetoric and claims they make during this campaign season.

The backdrop of the story is that in order to persuade Connecticut’s public schools teachers to overlook Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy’s three year record of demeaning, denigrating and bashing teachers and the teaching profession, Malloy’s supporters have recently sent out a series of campaign pieces claiming that;

Governor Malloy is the “first governor in Connecticut’s history to annually fully fund teacher pensions during his first term in office and guarantee full funding in the future.”

The primary problem with the claim is that Malloy had no legal option but too fully fund teacher pensions and furthermore, he deserves absolutely no credit for guaranteeing full funding of the teacher pension system in the future.

The credit for Malloy having successfully made the necessary payments and fully funding the state of Connecticut Teacher Pension Fund actually goes to the Connecticut Education Association, the members of the 2007 General Assembly and Governor Rell.

And while trying to inappropriately take credit for something he did not do, Malloy and his supporters conveniently overlook the fact that, as governor, Malloy has taken dramatic actions that have actually jeopardized the financial stability of the fund that helps pay for health insurance premiums for retired teachers.

As was reported in the October 15, 2014 Wait, What? blog entitled, “Teachers misled with claim that Malloy deserves credit for “fully funding teacher pension,” Governor Malloy had no option but to fully fund teacher pensions.  In fact, had Tom Foley been elected in November 2010 instead of Dannel Malloy, he too would have been required to make those same payments.

The reason Malloy or Foley would have been required to fully fund the teacher pension system is a result of a 2007 law that authorized the state of Connecticut to borrow $2.3 million and use those funds to address the historic underfunding of the Connecticut Teacher Pension Fund.

The law not only required the state to make any and all necessary payments for the next 25 years, but that requirement was made iron-clad when the language was added to the bond covenants the accompanied the bonds when they were sold to Wall Street investors.

As previously noted the proposal to safeguard the teacher pension fund was pushed by the Connecticut Education Association, passed by the Connecticut General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Rell.

But seven years later, the Malloy political operation has been attempting to mislead teachers into believing that it was none-other-than Malloy who deserved the credit for something that took place before he even became governor.

Today, in a CTMirror article entitled, Fact check: Who really protected teacher pension funding? the truth about this whole controversy is laid out.

As the CTMirror explains,

Since their controversial endorsement of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, leaders of the largest teachers’ union in Connecticut have portrayed the governor as the defender of what teachers worry about most: the future of their pensions.

But while touting Malloy as the first governor to “fully fund” the long-neglected pension system, the leadership message of the Connecticut Education Association doesn’t mention that Malloy had little choice but to do so. His hands effectively were tied by legal guarantees put in place by Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the 2007 legislature.

[…]

Each of the four budgets Malloy signed during his term does include the full pension contribution recommended by teachers’ pension analysts. Connecticut governors and legislatures have a history of contributing significantly less than the full amount.

That changed, though, in 2007, when lawmakers and Rell adopted a proposal from Treasurer Denise L. Nappier to borrow roughly $2 billion and deposit it into the cash-starved pension fund.

Connecticut promised in the bond covenant – its contract with investors who bought those bonds – to budget the full pension contribution required by analysts for the entire 25-year life of the bonds.

The CT Mirror story should be required reading for every Connecticut teacher and for all of those who follow the politics that surround Connecticut’s State Budget.

The entire CTMirror article can be found at:  http://ctmirror.org/fact-check-who-really-protected-teacher-pension-funding/

Malloy must come clean on his attempt to repeal collective bargaining rights

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In defense of its endorsement of Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy, the Connecticut Education Association is using its EXAMINE THE FACTS campaign to tell teachers that Malloy, “Supports teachers’ rights to collectively bargain and negotiate contracts, benefits, and working conditions.”

At the same time, most of Connecticut’s other unions are trying to persuade their members that if elected, Republican Tom Foley will follow Wisconsin’s right-wing, anti-union governor and destroy collective bargaining altogether.

But the fact remains that Governor Malloy is the only Democratic governor in the nation to propose unilaterally eliminating collective bargaining rights for a group of public employees.

In Malloy’s case, as part of his corporate education reform industry initiative, he proposed repealing collectively bargaining rights for public school teachers working in the poorest schools.

Had the Connecticut General Assembly not stripped Malloy’s anti-union provisions, 1,000 – 1,500 public school teachers, in up to 25 schools across Connecticut, would have lost their rights to collective bargain.

In response to Malloy’s proposal, the CEA wrote to its members on March 14, 2012 telling them that Malloy’s Education Bill would have “real and dramatic consequences for teachers.”

Leading the list of negative impacts, the CEA leadership explained that,

“The bill would take away collective bargaining rights from teachers in the lowest performing schools….”

The CEA letter went on to urge teachers to contact their legislators and tell them to “Fix the governor’s bill” and “Restore collective bargaining rights.”

With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, Governor Malloy has an obligation to come clean about his position on collective bargaining. 

Malloy claims that he supports collective bargaining rights, the leaders of Connecticut’s unions are telling their members that Malloy supports collective bargaining rights…but it is worth repeating, yet again, that Dannel Malloy is the only Democratic governor in the nation to propose repealing collective bargaining rights for unionized public employees.

To earn the votes of Connecticut’s teachers and other union members, Malloy needs to stand up, explain why he produced such an anti-union proposal and renounce his 2012 effort to repeal collective bargaining rights.

Union PR person claims Malloy never tried to repeal collective bargaining

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Since raising concerns about the accuracy of the CEA’s “EXAMINE THE FACTS” endorsement piece that was sent out to persuade educators to vote for Governor Malloy, I’ve gotten some pretty harsh emails and comments on my blog and Facebook.

Having now blogged for nearly four years, it is interesting that some people feel that it is appropriate to criticize our opponents when they mislead, falsify or lie, but holding our own to the same standard is identified as being disloyal or worse.

In one comment, a person wrote, “I really wish you’d stay out of CEA business.”

In another, a Democratic official opined, “Why do you just not accept that people are sick of your self serving crap you put out !!!”

Personally, I don’t think challenging a piece of campaign propaganda that the CEA sent out to 70,000 or so active and retired teachers is interfering in the internal affairs of the union. That would be like saying that only Walmart stockholders have the right to criticize the actions of that monster of a company.

I have no doubt that CEA’s leadership is perfectly capable of dealing with the fall-out from its decision to endorse the only Democratic governor in the nation to propose doing away with tenure for all public school teachers.

What intrigues me more is that Malloy supporters or union allies would write that my “posts look like they are being written… by the Koch Brothers.”

Really?

I’m pretty sure that the Koch Brothers are elated, not condemning Malloy’s corporate education reform industry policies and his massive corporate welfare program that is successfully redistributing money from the middle class to the wealthy elite.

But when all is said and done, the most unique criticism of all came from a union staff person, not with the CEA or AFT, who wrote,

“Malloy never, in any portion of the bill, stripped collective bargaining from teachers. Just because you believe something and repeat it over and over still doesn’t make it a fact or based in reality.”

Now that is one statement that deserves to be challenged.

In fact, Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy certainly did propose unilaterally repealing collective bargaining for teachers working in the poorest schools in Connecticut.

And to my knowledge, no Connecticut governor – Democrat, Republican or Independent – has ever proposed unilaterally repealing collective bargaining rights for any group of public employees since public sector collective bargaining began in the 1970s.

Here are the facts:

Governor Malloy’s Corporate Education Reform Industry initiative was submitted to the Connecticut General Assembly in a bill entitled “AN ACT CONCERNING EDUCATIONAL COMPETITIVENESS.”  Malloy’s bill was submitted on February 9, 2012 and referred to the Education Committee for a public hearing.

Section 18 of Senate Bill provided for the creation of what has become known as “Commissioner’s Network Schools.”

Malloy’s proposal was to allow the Commissioner of Education to override local boards of education and take control of Commissioner Network Schools by requiring local or regional boards of education to “enter into a turnaround agreement with the department regarding all aspects of school operation and management, without limitation.”

As part of that agreement, the proposal provided that the Commissioner of Education would have the power to, “Require the implementation of specific operating and working conditions in a commissioner’s network school.”

Since the unilateral control of the operating and working conditions would violate collective bargaining agreements, Malloy’s bill included the following language;

(F) The provisions of sections 10-153a to 10-153n, inclusive, [which are the state’s collective bargaining laws] shall not apply to any teacher or administrator who is assigned to a commissioner’s network school, except (i) that such teacher or administrator shall, for the purposes of ratification of an agreement only, be permitted to vote as a member of the teacher or administrator bargaining unit, as appropriate, for the local or regional board of education in which the commissioner’s network school is located, and (ii) insofar as any such provisions protect any entitlement of such teacher or administrator to benefits or leave accumulated or accrued prior to the teacher or administrator being employed in a commissioner’s network school. The provision of any financial or other incentives, including, but not limited to, compensation or the availability of professional coverage positions, shall not be subject to collective bargaining pursuant to sections 10-153a to 10-153n, inclusive.

Malloy’s proposed language unilaterally repealed teachers’ rights to collectively bargain – if they worked in a Commissioner Network School – and specifically stated that compensation or other professional working conditions – SHALL NOT BE SUBJECT TO COLLECTIVE BARGAINING.

Malloy’s bill was nothing short of a proposal to destroy the collective bargaining rights of teachers (and administrators) in what was supposed to be up to 25 public schools in Connecticut.

While the impact of Malloy’s proposal impacted fewer public employees than what Governor Scott Walker proposed in Wisconsin, the challenge to public sector workers’ fundamental rights to collectively bargain were no less serious.

Thankfully, the Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly stripped Malloy’s effort to repeal collective bargaining rights before they went on to pass most of the rest of his bad bill.

The truth is that Malloy did proposed repealing the collective bargaining rights and to this day he has never stated that his proposal was a mistake, inappropriate or wrong.

Apologizing is harder for some than for others, but I believe that no member of a Connecticut union, or anyone else who supports the right to collectively bargain, should vote for Dan Malloy until he publicly states that what he did was wrong and that he would not repeat this type of proposal in a second term.

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