Educator and Education Blogger Steven Singer’s MUST READ commentary piece

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Pennsylvania educator and public school advocate Steven Singer is one of the most powerful voices in the nation when it comes to speaking out for students, parents, teachers and our public schools.

The tag line for Steven Singer’s blog is – “To sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth.”  In his latest commentary piece, Don’t Blame My Students For Society’s Ills, Singer provides a stunning assessment of the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s assault on public education.

Re-posted in its entirety below to ensure it is read by a broad audience,  you can also read and comment on the article at Singer’s blog: https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/

Don’t Blame My Students For Society’s Ills

As a public school teacher, I see many things – a multiplicity of the untold and obscure.

On a daily basis, I see the effects of rampant poverty, ignorance and child abuse. I see prejudice, racism and classism. I see sexism, homophobia and religious intolerance.

And hardly any of it comes from my students.

Despite what some people might say in the media, on Facebook or at the local watering hole, the kids are all right. It’s what we, the adults, are doing to them that’s messed up.

It’s always been in fashion for grown-ups to trash the next generation. At least since Hesiod bemoaned the loss of the Golden Age, we’ve been looking at the current crop of youngsters waiting in the wings to replace us and found them lacking. They just don’t have our drive and motivation. In my day, we had to work harder than they do. If only they’d apply themselves more.

It’s all untrue. In fact, today’s children have it harder than children of the ‘70s and ‘80s did when we were their age! Much harder!

For one thing, we didn’t have high stakes standardized tests hanging over our heads like the Sword of Damocles to the degree these youngsters do. Sure we took standardized assessments but not nearly as many nor did any of them mean as much. In Pennsylvania, the legislature is threatening to withhold my students’ diplomas if they don’t pass all of their Keystone Exams. No one blackmailed me with anything like that when I was a middle schooler. All I had to do was pass my classes. I worried about getting a high score on the SAT to get into college, but it didn’t affect whether I got to graduate. Nowadays, kids could ace every course for all 13-years of grade school (counting Kindergarten) and still conceivably only earn a certificate of attendance! Try using that for anything!

Moreover, my teachers back in the day didn’t rely on me so they could  continue being gainfully employed. The principal would evaluate them based on classroom observations from time-to-time to assess their effectiveness based on what he or she saw them doing. But if I was having a bad day during the assessment or if I just couldn’t grasp fractions or if I was feeling too depressed to concentrate – none of that would affect my teacher’s job rating. None of it would contribute to whether my teacher still had an income.

Think of how that changes the student-teacher relationship. Now kids as early as elementary school who love their teachers feel guilty on test day if they don’t understand how to answer some of the questions. Not only might their score and future academic success suffer, but their teacher might be hurt. That’s a lot of pressure for people who’ve just learned how to tie their shoes. They’re just kids! In many cases, the educator might be one of the only people they see all day who gives them a reassuring smile and listens to them. And now being unready to grasp high-level concepts that are being hurled at kids at increasingly younger ages may make them feel responsible for hurting the very people who have been there for them. It’s like putting a gun to a beloved adult’s head and saying, “Score well or your teacher gets it!” THAT’S not a good learning environment.

Finally, child poverty and segregation weren’t nearly as problematic as they are today. Sure when I went to school there were poor kids, but not nearly as many. Today more than half of all public school children live below the poverty line. Likewise, in my day public policy was to do away with segregation. Lawmakers were doing everything they could to make sure all my classes had increasing diversity. I met so many different kinds of people in my community school who I never would have known if I’d only talked with the kids on my street. But today our schools have reverted to the kind of separate but equal mentality that was supposed to be eradicated by Brown vs. Board of Education. Today we have schools for the rich and schools for the poor. We have schools for whites and schools for blacks. And the current obsession with charter schools and privatization has only exacerbated this situation. Efforts to increase school choice have merely resulted in more opportunities for white flight and fractured communities.

These are problems I didn’t face as a teenager. Yet so many adults describe this current generation as “entitled.” Entitled to what!? Less opportunity!? Entitled to paying more for college at higher interest for jobs that don’t exist!?

And don’t get me started on police shootings of young people. How anyone can blame an unarmed black kid for being shot or killed by law enforcement is beyond me.

Children today are different. Every few years their collective character changes.  Today’s kids love digital devices. They love things fast-paced, multi-tasked and self-referential. But they don’t expect anything they haven’t earned. They aren’t violent criminals. As a whole they aren’t spoiled or unfeeling or bratty. They’re just kids.

In fact, if I look around at my classes of 8th graders, I see a great many bright, creative and hard-working young people. I’m not kidding.

I teach the regular academic track Language Arts classes. I don’t teach the advanced students. My courses are filled with kids in the special education program, kids from various racial, cultural and religious backgrounds. Most of them come from impoverished families. Some live in foster homes. Some have probation officers, councilors or psychologists.

They don’t always turn in their homework. Sometimes they’re too sleepy to make it through class. Some don’t attend regularly. But I can honestly say that most of them are trying their best. How can I ask for more?

The same goes for their parents. It can be quite a challenge to get mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, brother, sister or other guardians on the phone. Parent-teacher conferences are very lonely in my room while the advanced teacher is mobbed. But I don’t generally blame the parents. In my experience, most moms and dads are doing the best they can for their kids. Many of my student’s have fathers and mothers working multiple jobs and are out of the home for the majority of the day. Many of my kids watch over their younger brothers and sisters after school, cooking meals, cleaning house and even putting themselves to bed.

I wish it wasn’t like that, but these are the fruits of our economy. When the recession hit, it took most of the well-paying jobs. What we got back was predominantly minimum wage work. Moreover, people of color have always had difficulty getting meaningful employment because of our government sanctioned racial caste system. Getting a home loan, getting an education, getting a job – all of these are harder to achieve if your skin is black or brown – the same hue as most of my students and their families.

So, yes, I wish things were different, but, no, I don’t blame my students. They’re trying their best. It’s not their fault our society doesn’t care about them. It’s not their fault that our nation’s laws – including its education policy – create a system where the odds are stacked against them.

As their teacher, it’s not my job to denigrate them. I’m here to lift them up. I offer a helping hand, not a pejorative finger.

And since many of the factors that most deeply affect education come from outside the school, I think my duty goes beyond the confines of the classroom. If I am to really help my students, I must be more than just an educator – I must be a class warrior.

So I will fight to my last breath. I will speak out at every opportunity. Because my students are not to blame for society’s ills. They are the victims of it.

Read more of Steven Singer’s commentary pieces at: https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/

 

Catch up on the Holiday Week Posts

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If you didn’t get a chance to read last week’s Wait, What? Posts….  Here are the major pieces.

A heart wrenching story from a teacher in Tennessee.  Could have been Connecticut or anywhere…

“Thanksgiving Thanks to Teachers We Remember Who Didn’t Teach Common Core” By Alan Singer

Public Good or Private Gain – the story behind the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s Data Mining Effort

New York Superintendents call for an end to evaluating teachers on standardized test results

A heart wrenching story from a teacher in Tennessee.  Could have been Connecticut or anywhere…

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Read the story posted by a Tennessee teacher yesterday.  Then convert what will undoubtedly be your sadness and anger into action.

Election Day 2016 is just over 11 months away.

This time, use your vote to slap back the testing mania and the unprecedented attack on our students, their teachers, the teaching profession and our public schools.

Before you vote, demand that every incumbent explain what they have done to push back the Corporate Education Reform Industry and the destructive agenda.

Before you vote, demand that every candidate outline what they will do to put the concept of “public” back into public education.

No votes until they reduce the use of inappropriate standardized testing, no votes until they ensure that teacher evaluation program don’t rely on the use of those unfair standardized test results and no votes for those who have become lackeys for the effort to privatize public education.

Voting is the ultimate weapon we have in a  stable democracy, use your vote with Maximum Force.

The Tennessee teacher’s powerful expose was re-posted by Connecticut educator and fellow bloggerPoetic Justice who is “A poetry teacher defending ALL students and their families.” You can find and comment on the original post at: A Not So Graceful Exit: Why I Left Teaching

A Not So Graceful Exit: Why I Left Teaching

Yesterday, I quit.  In the middle of the school year, I quit.  After fourteen years in education, I quit.  I.  Quit.  Quitting isn’t something I do, particularly when children are involved, so this is still quite difficult to think or talk about.  It might seem an abrupt decision to some, but for those that know me well, you know this is something I have flirted with for a few years now.  I think it started about five years ago…

I was teaching in an inner-city school in Memphis.  I loved my principal.  I loved my kids.  I loved teaching.  Now, of course, there were issues.  Too much paperwork.  Not enough hours in the day.  Uninvolved parents.  Disobedient children.  District mandates that made no sense.  Still, overall, I was happy being a teacher.  I knew that I would either drop dead teaching or they would have to roll me out in a wheelchair.  It was what I wanted to do forever.  Then, the evaluation process for teachers dramatically changed.  Now, our students’ standardized test scores would become part of our evaluation. As I saw this change coming, I decided that I could help this process along by taking more of a teacher leader role.  So, I applied and became the instructional facilitator for the school where I had taught for the past 6 years.  In this role, I hoped to coach, mentor, and support teachers.  After all, that was a large part of that job description.  In reality, very little of my time was able to be spent doing that.  What did take up a large amount of my time was being my school’s test administrator.  I had experience with testing and the strict guidelines that go along with them, as all teachers do.  However, as test administrator, I was now responsible for reporting my teachers if they did not follow those guidelines.  The stress and worry of that prospect was just too much for me.  I had become an enforcer of a practice I didn’t even believe in.  I couldn’t do this to my teachers, so I left the position after two years and went back to the classroom.

I decided to try a different setting.  Middle school math.  My first year back in the classroom was blissful.  I loved my co-workers.  I loved the diversity of the school.  I loved teaching one subject all day.  Then, we started testing.  And the testing was even more frequent last year.  And now, three months into the school year, I’m certain we have tested more so far than we did all last year combined.

So, I quit.  I’m not going to be the messenger that tells my students that they have to take another test.  I am not going to spend another class period telling them I cannot help them get through a test they don’t understand.  They can get someone else to do that.  It will kill my teaching soul to do it even one more time.  Like all teachers, I have kids that read below grade level.  I can’t help them though.  I also have students that have only been in the country a few months.  I can’t help them though.  I even have students who don’t know our alphabet because their language is different than ours.  I can’t help them though.  And bless their hearts, they do it because I ask them to.  Most of them would do absolutely anything I asked.  They trust me and believe that what I am asking them to do is what is best for them.  I mean that’s why I spent weeks building connections with them at the beginning of the year.  I want them to trust me.  I rarely have discipline issues.  We are too busy and engaged in the lesson to get off task.  However, after testing kids for two weeks straight, they were done.  You cannot expect struggling students to engage in an activity that is so above their instructional level for an extended amount of time without eventually seeing their behavior change.  It is too frustrating for them!  I could tell that those two weeks broke the bond that I had built with some of my most challenging students.  They just didn’t trust me anymore.  That goes against every single thing inside me that led me to become a teacher in the first place.  And to be quite honest, it broke my heart.  I recently saw a post where someone described teaching as an abusive relationship.  You love it, but it makes you so unhappy.  I get that.  It does feel that way.

So, I quit.  I wrote a resignation letter giving my 30-day notice and gave it to my principal on a Monday morning.  I told him, both of my assistant principals, and my instructional facilitator that day.  With each time I told my story, I cried.  They didn’t try to stop me.  They didn’t make me feel guilty.  They were kind and understanding.  They know.  I’m sure they feel like quitting sometimes, too.  They aren’t the problem.  I slowly told my co-workers, friends, and family.  Everyone that knows me well said to do it.  Every single educator said they understood and would do it too if they could.  Every.  Single.  One.  I’m not married.  I don’t have kids.  I don’t have a mortgage.  I don’t have a car note.  I have more freedom to do this than most.  Because of that, I can’t be quiet about this.  I need to speak for those that don’t have the option to bow out.

My first step was sending the following letter home to all my students’ parents:

November 24, 2015

Dear Parents,

I regret to inform you that today is my last day as your child’s math teacher at #####.

I want you to know that this decision was not easy for me.  I will fill you in on why I am leaving, but first I will tell you what absolutely did not have anything to do with me leaving.  First, your children are not why I’m leaving education.  They are, in fact, the only reason I have any apprehension about this decision.  This, of course, will be most difficult for them.  I have talked to them about this and they handled it like rock stars, but please talk to them about it when they get home.  Adult decisions are often hard for anyone to understand, especially children.

Secondly, the administration at ##### is not why I am leaving.  I have felt nothing but supported by my administrative staff this school year.  I believe they have the best interest of your children in mind.  If I was going to teach anywhere, it would absolutely be at #####.

Finally, the teachers at ##### are not why I am leaving.  I have worked with many teachers over the past 15 years.  The teachers at ##### are some of the best I have ever seen.  In a profession where you are often blamed more than revered, I admire their willingness to keep waking up each day and choosing to keep going for their students.  Please continue to support the teachers at #####.  They need it, but more importantly, they deserve it.

Now…here is why I am leaving.

For the past five years, I have seen the testing of our students become more frequent and more frustrating for all those involved.  I absolutely hate having to stand before my kids and tell them they have to take another test.  It kills a little bit of my teaching soul each time I have to do it.

I spend so much time having to test them that I have little time to teach them, much less listen and talk to them.  So far this year, I have given my students the following tests: iStation Diagnostic (this will be given twice more this year), iReady Diagnostic (this will be given twice more this year), MAP Test (given in ELA, Math and Science), and the MIST test (given in ELA, Math, and SS).

These are just the tests that are mandated by the district or state.  We also give pre- and post-Common Formative Assessments at the school level.  Why all the testing these days?  The following is a post I saw online that explains it perfectly.  I’m not sure who posted it originally, so I am unable to give credit.  “The feds require annual testing for accountability. This translates into the BIG test that every state has (In Tennessee this is what we refer to as TCAP, now TNReady…more about that later).  However, the stakes are so high for that test, that states require additional “practice” tests.  But, the results of the state tests are used to threaten districts that are “failing”.

So the districts require “benchmark” tests, to make sure the students are ready for practice tests.  Individual schools and administrators are held accountable for their scores on the benchmarks, so they also impose building-level tests.  The result is non-stop testing.”

Back to TNReady.  This is the new state test that students will be taking this year in place of TCAP.  TNReady is a computer-based test and will be given in February and April.  Because it is taken on the computer, testing schedules will disrupt our regular schedule more than just a week like we were accustomed to under TCAP.  If that isn’t bad enough, the test is just down-right confusing.  You can read a blog post about it and take some practice questions here:http://www.mommabears.org/blog/alarming-info-about-tnready-testing-bomb.  Additionally, the blog post by State Representative Andy Holt shows you exactly how this is being handled by those in power in Tennessee: http://www.andyholt4tn.com/holt-what-tn-teachers-parents-should-know-about-standardized-tests/.

I urge you to become familiar with what is going on in education and make your voice heard about what is best for your child.  You can do this by contacting your school board members, representatives and senator.  And vote every single time.  It does make a difference.

So, back to my leaving.  I have to try to fight this somehow.  I’m not sure how I will go about that yet.  I guess this is my first step.  I do know that I can no longer be the messenger of something that I believe is harmful to my students.  That is exactly the opposite of why I became a teacher in the first place.  I am meant to help, support, empower, and praise children.  Under this current testing culture, I am simply helping to hurt them and that just isn’t who I am.

In closing, I am going to miss my kids so much.  I can barely think of it without crying.  However, I hope they eventually look back at this time and realize that I stood up for something I believed in even though it was a very, very difficult choice.  When they are faced with standing up for something they believe is wrong, I hope they are strong enough to do so.  It isn’t easy, but I think we all need a little more of that in our world.

My next step?  Not sure yet.  I do know that it is a disgrace that we are allowing companies from the testing industry to make millions of dollars off the abuse of our public education system.  Not only are we killing the spirits of students who want to learn, but we are also killing the spirits of teachers that want to make a life-long career of this.  I’m not the first one to give up and I certainly won’t be the last.  In 10-20 years, we are going to look back at this time in education and be very ashamed of what we have allowed to happen.

Finally, please hope and pray that my kids get a qualified teacher quickly. One that isn’t jaded by the system, that loves them in spite of their challenges, and has the strength to withstand the foolishness that educators endure.  I couldn’t be that for them anymore and the grief that causes me is suffocating at times.  I will miss them every day.  This quote helps when the feelings become overwhelming, “Be OK with not knowing for sure what might come next, but know that whatever it is…you will be OK”.

Remember, voting is the ultimate weapon we have in a  stable democracy, use your vote with Maximum Force.

“Thanksgiving Thanks to Teachers We Remember Who Didn’t Teach Common Core” By Alan Singer

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A re-post of Alan Singer’s latest column

Across the United States there are dozens and dozens of outstanding pro-public education bloggers, commentators and citizen journalists who are working as Drum Majors in the historic battle to push back the Corporate Education Reform Industry and re-insert the notion of fundamental concept of public back into public education.

One of the best is Alan Singer whose writing can be found in the Huffington Post and elsewhere.

In a commentary piece published today he pays tribute to the “Teachers We Remember,” while successfully obliterating the illogical and counter-productive policies promoted by the President of the United States and the other politicians who have become pawns for the “education reformers.”

Alan Singer’s full piece can be found at: Thanksgiving Thanks to Teachers We Remember Who Didn’t Teach Common Core.

For my part, I dedicate this repost to Mrs. Stratton, Mr. Coughlin, Mr. Fulton and the other teachers who I remember and cherish and who most certainly did not teach the Common Core.

Alan Singer writes;

President Barack Obama remembers his fifth grade teacher, Ms. Mabel Hefty. In 1971, Barack was a “kid with a funny name in a new school, feeling a little out of place, hoping to fit in like anyone else.” He recalls how “Ms. Hefty taught me that I had something to say — not in spite of my differences, but because of them. She made every single student in that class feel special. And she reinforced that essential value of empathy that my mother and my grandparents had taught me.” Barack remembers how Ms. Hefty made every child feel special. He remembers she encouraged empathy with others. He does not remember teachers who stressed skill acquisition. He does not fondly recall teachers that pushed testing. What had the greatest impact him as a human being, something he claims to carry with him as President, is feeling special and a sense of empathy.

But as President, Barack Obama has pushed a completely different education agenda, certainly not one based on his experiences in Ms. Hefty’s classroom. Obama’s Race to the Top initiative promotes Common Core skills based instruction tied to round after round of high-stakes assessments. No one gets to feel special. No empathy here. Ms. Hefty would be very disappointed in her star pupil.

My memories about teachers are not much different from Barack’s. When I was in middle school I joined the school’s math team, even though I was not particularly interested in math. The reason was my official teacher, Brenda Berkowitz, was coach of the math team. My mother had died and my father would sometimes rush out to work without leaving lunch money. Ms. Berkowitz always checked that I had lunch and when I didn’t she lent me twenty-five cents to buy a salami sandwich at the local deli. I don’t remember one lesson she taught in math, but I do remember the salami sandwiches. Ms. Berkowitz was definitely my best teacher ever.

The National Education Association interviewed celebrities about their most memorable teachers and their responses are remarkable similar to mine and Barack’s. Patti La Belle, from Philadelphia, talked about Ms. Eileen Brown who “was very helpful to my family and me. She and I became close friends and are good friends.” Zoe Saldana remembered Ms. Dilia Mieses Ritmos Espacio de Danza of the Dominican Republic who taught the “importance of perseverance and discipline.” Hilary Swank remembered the elementary school teacher who gave her her first acting role in a school production. Oprah Winfrey most memorable teacher was a fourth grade teacher who “believed in me.” Oprah “learned to love learning because of Mrs. Duncan.” Friendship. Perseverance. Acting. Love of Learning. No Common Core here. No high-stakes testing.

The NEA also interviewed elected officials, some of whom voted for Race to the Top. Former United States Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia thanked “Mrs. W. J. B. Cormany who “taught me to put my best efforts into everything I undertake, a lesson so important that it has remained with me to this day.” Senator Dianne Feinstein of California thanked Ms. Virginia Ryder who “took me under her wing, giving me individual attention, and enabled me to go to a good high school.” Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska thanked Ms. Hattie Buness who “opened the world for me when she taught me to read, to explore, and to question.” Congressman Paul Ryan, now Republican Party Speaker of the House of Representatives, thanked Frank Douglas who “taught me more about the world in six months than I had learned in 18 years.” Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah thanked “Ms. Eleanor Smith who “inspired me to go on to college at a time when the most that could be expected of me was to continue to work at the trade that I had learned. She told me that one day I would be a great poet.” A lot about best efforts, but who would have thought Orrin Hatch loved poetry?

And a special thank you to Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester who just pulled the state out of the Common Core PARCC high-stakes assessment consortium. The PARCC test is collapsing, down from 26 states to five plus Washington DC. Smarter Balance, the other national testing group is down to fifteen states after a high of thirty-one. Some states had belonged to both testing groups.

As a result of the Obama Race to the Top and Common Core initiatives, the average student in some United States big-city schools now takes over 100 hundred hours of mandatory standardized tests during their school career. Eighth-grade students are the most tested. They sit through between 20 and 25 hours of standardized tests, which makes up about 2.3% of school time. And this does not include ordinary teacher-made, school-wide, or district tests.

Under Race to the Top and Common Core students, teachers, schools, districts, and states are evaluated based on the high-stakes standardized tests, transforming schools from places where students like Oprah learn to love learning and Senator Murkowski learned to question into test prep academies. There is no more time for acting and poetry.

You have to wonder if Ms. Hefty would have been willing to be a teacher under these circumstances and what would have happened to that little boy with a “funny name” called Barack Obama.

Go and add your thanks for the teachers you remember – You can read and comment on Alan Singer’s article at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/thanksgiving-thanks-to-te_b_8645698.html

 

Where have all the teachers gone? By Jean Jaykus and AnneMarie Surfaro-Boehme

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Jean Jaykus and AnneMarie Surfaro-Boehme are both educators, Teacher of the Year awardees in Ridgefield and both won Connecticut Celebration of Excellence Awards. Their recent commentary piece entitled, “Where have all the teachers gone?” was first published in the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Times.

Where have all the teachers gone?”

Common Core claimed its vision was to close the achievement gap and bring test scores up, guaranteeing every high school graduate to be “college ready.” None of that has been attained. Common Core was really designed to assume government control of the public education system. That goal has been achieved. Autonomy has been taken away from local boards of education, administrators, and most importantly, the classroom teacher.

Common Core was mandated for all states ignoring where individual school systems were testing. For those school systems which already ranked high, this changed the teaching of their curricula, and focused instruction on test preparation, upsetting students, parents, and teachers. It is clear that for those schools in high-risk districts, more than just common standards and tests are needed to bring students up to parity. Common Core has not delivered.

By buying into the veil of Common Core and not challenging its underpinning mandates from the beginning, education communities have lost their way, while education spirals down. They have misplaced their ethical and moral obligation to our children. Educators were supposed to “teach the children well.” If classroom teachers, administrators, teaching institutions, and state and local boards of education are not in control of public education, the bedrock of our foundation breaks down.

Common Core has caused the depersonalization of the teaching profession, resulting in less effective time on teaching, slower productivity, and a rigid classroom environment which cannot be sustained. It has taken the joy of teaching and learning away because of mandated computerized lessons, assessments, excessive data recording, and inflexible block-scheduling. Instead of a mentor/collaborative relationship with administration, the binding teacher evaluation system is confrontational, preventing teachers from speaking out. Collaboration is not encouraged among colleagues because of the dictates of this national curriculum. Those in managerial positions remain controlled by the Common Core. So do our public schools, teachers and students.

Common Core has disrupted the learning process. It has replaced inspirational and innovative instruction with a curriculum that is not educationally and developmentally appropriate, disregarding the research which documents how children learn in concert with their development. Starting in kindergarten, it is pushing curriculum to levels for which students are not developmentally ready. The recent SBAC tests failed with disastrous results. Of greater concern is a new SAT test aligned with the Common Core for all students. At least Connecticut’s CAPT tests were fair and measurable, and represented what was taught in Connecticut schools. The SAT test is designed for the college-motivated student. But not every student is heading for college. What about meeting all students’ needs and America’s needs for jobs? We cannot ignore the students who want to explore diverse career paths and entrepreneurial opportunities via community colleges, tech education, manufacturing programs, and business initiatives and apprenticeships.

The underpinnings of effective teaching and learning exist inside an outstanding classroom where student needs are being met and instruction is dynamic and inspirational. Many gifted and distinguished teachers are leaving the profession, or biding their time to retirement. Experienced and creative teachers are still trying within their classrooms to do what is right for their students, but soon they will be lost to us as mentors. Districts will find it more difficult to hire well-qualified teachers. National trends show there will be a teacher shortage because fewer college students are choosing education as their career path. New teachers will be trained to follow the Common Core program as designed and not encouraged to innovate and employ multiple effective teaching methods.

The thread that is running through our schools from elementary to high school with Common Core, doesn’t align with an educator designed curriculum, and conflicts with educational pedagogy. From K-12, we have a top down, one-size-fits-all, set in stone, system with mandated teacher evaluations which include Common Core tests results. This Common Core system is undermining public education and disrupting the learning process for students, while wasting millions of tax-payer dollars. Connecticut is diverting public funds to promote the myth of charter schools that do not really address socio-economic inequality and the achievement gap. Everything is upside-down in education. It is time for the educational community to come together, take a stand, and speak out to decentralize public education and have local districts run local schools. It is time to fund more public magnet schools, set up inter-district partnerships and make use of our distinguished classroom teachers and retirees to facilitate school, community, and parent mentorships.

Common Core has taken over our schools impacting teaching and learning. An educated child is a free child, a responsible and independent thinker ready to take his/her place in the community. The goal for our students should be their learning, not the test results. Every child’s educational life matters, and every classroom teacher makes a difference.

You can read the original article at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Op-ed-Where-have-all-the-teachers-gone-6615808.php

Seattle – What happens when teacher union leaders step up to support teachers, students, parents and public schools

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For those union members, education advocates and parents who are consistently frustrated by the fact that some union leaders spend more time maintaining their close relationship with the power elite than fighting for their members and public education, the recent teacher strike in Seattle, Washington is proof that real champions have been stepping up in Seattle, Chicago, at the state level in New York and Massachusetts, and elsewhere.  These teacher union leaders are making a fundamental difference in the fight to improve public schools and provide greater support for teachers, students and parents.

For an update on the Seattle Teacher Strike check out, The surprising things Seattle teachers won for students by striking.

The post appears on Valerie Strauss’s blog, The Answer Sheet.  Strauss is a reporter with the Washington Post and her bog is one of the most important resources in the nation for information about education policy and the unprecedented assault on public schools and public school teachers by the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry.

If you don’t read Strauss’ blog you should book mark it and sign up for her regulator updates at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/

In The surprising things Seattle teachers won for students by striking, Strauss writes;

Seattle teachers went on strike for a week this month with a list of goals for a new contract. By the time the strike officially ended this week, teachers had won some of the usual stuff of contract negotiations — for example, the first cost-of-living raises in six years — but also some less standard objectives.

For one thing, teachers demanded, and won, guaranteed daily recess for all elementary school students — 30 minutes each day. In an era when recess for many students has become limited or even non-existent despite the known benefits of physical activity for children, this is a big deal, and something parents had sought.

What’s more, the union and school officials agreed to create committees at 30 schools to look at equity issues, including disciplinary measures that disproportionately affect minorities. Several days after the end of the strike, the Seattle School Board voted for a one-year ban on end suspensions of elementary students who commit specific nonviolent offenses, and called for a plan that could eliminate all elementary school suspensions.

Other wins for students in Seattle’s nearly 100 traditional public schools include:

Teachers won an end to the use of student standardized test scores to evaluate them — and now, teachers will be included in decisions on the amount of standardized testing for students. This evaluation practice has been slammed by assessment experts as invalid and unreliable, and has led to the narrowing of curriculum, with emphasis on the two subjects for which there are standardized tests, math and English Language arts.

Special education teachers will have fewer students to work with at a time. What’s more there will be caseload limits for other specialists, including psychologists and occupational therapists.

Seattle teachers had said they were not only fighting for pay raises but to make the system better for students. It sounds like they did.

Every teacher union leader in the country should be looking to Seattle for guidance on how to fight back against the forces seeking to destroy public education in the United States.

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.

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