Matthew Valenti’s Year 2 Letter to Connecticut Teachers

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These are dark time for our students, parents, teachers and public schools, as well as our entire country.

Connecticut continues to  historically underfund its school funding formula.  The crisis is now being exacerbated by Governor Malloy and the Democratic legislature’s decision to implement the deepest education budget cuts in state history.

At the same time, the legislature completed its 2016 session without addressing the fundamental problems associated with the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing scheme, nor did it step forward and require that the Malloy administration develop a teacher evaluation system that is not reliant on the scores of this failed and disastrous testing program.

People should be outraged and should be demanding that elected officials be held accountable for their actions.

In this guest commentary piece, Connecticut educator Matthew Valenti puts into words what many are thinking.

Valenti is not only a retired school teacher and champion on behalf of public education, he is one of the most outspoken advocates for teachers and the teaching profession.

Exactly one year ago, Matt Valenti wrote an open letter to Connecticut teachers that first appeared here in Wait, What.  It was entitled, An Open Letter To Every Teacher in the State of Connecticut (By Matthew Valenti).  Now, a year later, Matt returns to reflect on the state of the state when it comes to Connecticut’s teachers and public education.

Matt Valenti writes;

Last year, I wrote an open letter to all teachers in Connecticut and what a sad day it was for them.  http://jonathanpelto.com/2015/05/21/an-open-letter-to-every-teacher-in-the-state-of-connecticut-by-matthew-valenti/.  My letter dealt with the ineffectiveness of the newly elected second term Connecticut Education Association officers and how they ever could have been re-elected after their second term endorsement for a governor who slaps public school teachers around at every turn.  After reading my letter a year later, I thought it interesting to reflect on this past year’s events in our state on the teacher front.

After 40.5 years as a public school teacher, I retired in 2014.  This past school year, I taught a .4 position in a public school.  I was evaluated in April.  The evaluation system in Connecticut stinks!  As a veteran teacher, I could see no validity to the process.  It doesn’t help teachers or education.  Even the principal admitted to me that the new evaluation harms great teachers.  And I talked to teachers…..they are ready to leave.  So I ask all of you, how has CEA made our profession better for teachers or students this past year?  Just look at the recent post by Jonathan Pelto in Wait What about how the legislators treated teachers, students, and parents by reading what Jonathan wrote a few days ago  http://jonathanpelto.com/2016/05/20/ct-legislators-support-students-parents-teachers-malloy-common-core-testing-mania/
The majority of these were the endorsed candidates of CEA.

And where does public school funding stand?  Massive cuts from the state budget again!  What about testing?  Increased testing!  What about charter schools?  More support for charter schools and Common Core.  So, what exactly did our second term CEA leaders accomplish this past year?  You decide.  But I’m sure they have been effective with golf tournaments, teddy bears, and dinner meetings at Aqua Turf, or whatever “restaurant de jour” they chose to meet at this year!

Years ago, I signed up to be a lifelong member of CEA and NEA Retired because it was a one time payment and far less expensive than being billed the rest of my life.  So, I’m wondering what I get for my dues?  Threats of cutting my measly monthly 220 dollar health benefits I earned, threats of pension loss due to the outrageous behavior of the CEA endorsed legislators, a pension I paid into for 40.5 years?

When I took the.4 position, I was notified that my CEA and NEA retired status would be suspended and I would have to start paying half dues since I was considered active.  I railed against that!  CEA blocked me from making comments on their Facebook page, because they don’t want teachers to know the truth, and I have to pay dues?  And, did you ever look at their Facebook page?  Stories about planting flowers, lesson ideas for Memorial Day, 5 new books for children to read…..this is a union?  I want my dues to protect teachers from corrupt legislators, not hide in fear from a bully governor and report fluff on their social media page!

My suggestion for this election season is to see who CEA endorses, and vote the other way.

No one can think that voting for the CEA endorsed candidates will improve the state.  Look at the “progress” from the last election.

Best;

Matthew P. Valenti
Semi-Retired Teacher and Union President

Malloy and Wyman seek to turn their “Wisconsin Moment” into a Wisconsin Era

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Elected on a claim that he would stave off a “Wisconsin Moment,” Governor Dannel Malloy and his “policy partner” and side-kick Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, have not only ushered in Connecticut’s own anti-public employee, anti-government service and anti-middle class “moment,” but Malloy and Wyman are making it clear that nothing less than a Wisconsin Era.

Malloy is saying that the only budget that will get his signature is a full-fledged austerity budget; a spending plan that destroys vital state services and lays off public employees while coddling the rich and shifting even more of Connecticut’s already unfair and inequitable tax burden onto the back of Connecticut’s middle class.

In his latest diatribe, the ever smug, sanctimonious and thin-skinned bully of a governor has announced that he will veto any spending plan put forward by the General Assembly’s Democratic majority that reverses Malloy’s record-breaking, mean-spirited and draconian cuts to the critically important services that Connecticut residents need and deserve.

Pontificating that Democratic lawmakers won’t consider “enough spending cuts,” Malloy has – yet again – telegraphed that when it comes to the state’s revenue and expenditure plan it is  his way or no way.  It is a strategy that will require unprecedented state employee layoffs, will reduce the availability of critically important services for Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens, will mean less funding for Connecticut’s public schools and colleges, and will lead to higher local property taxes for Connecticut’s middle income families.

In addition to harming Connecticut residents, the Malloy-Wyman approach to governance leaves the leadership of Connecticut’s unions with egg on their faces and blood on their hands.

As many will recall, during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign, Connecticut’s union leaders were only too proud to hoist Dannel Malloy onto their shoulders with the false claim that Malloy, and Malloy alone, would protect Connecticut from following the dark and devastating tactics being implemented by Wisconsin’s right-wing, Tea Party governor and legislature.

As the media and union representatives reported in June 2014,

Preventing a “Wisconsin moment” from taking place in Connecticut was the prevailing theme of the Connecticut AFL-CIO’s 10th biennial political convention.

A union blog post at the time reported,

“AFSCME President Lee Saunders electrified the more than 300 union delegates to the convention with his keynote address on June 16” roaring, “We can’t afford Connecticut to become another Wisconsin.”

Saunders added,

“This election is in our hands. If we turn out the vote of people who share our values, who want to preserve the middle class, who care about quality public services, then we will win.”

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) leadership explained,

We have chosen to support candidates who will act to prevent a ‘Wisconsin moment’ here in Connecticut,”

And the President of the Connecticut AFL-CIO echoed the rhetoric at a press conference to announce labor’s support for Malloy saying,

“In recent weeks we’ve heard candidates talk about Connecticut having a ‘Wisconsin moment.’ Well let me say unequivocally — we are not Wisconsin.”  

In response Malloy bragged about his commitment to a Connecticut moment,” explaining that,

“A Connecticut moment is when you stand up for your fellow citizens.”

In the weeks that followed, AFSCME dumped $1.2 million into the Super PAC that was created to support Malloy and Wyman’s effort to spend four more years in office.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) added $600,000 and SEIU donated $550,000 to the same political committee.

Another $160,000 in union member funds was slid into the slush-fund that Malloy’s campaign operatives were using to get around Connecticut’s campaign finance laws.

Now, eighteen months later, Malloy and Wyman are standing up on these issues…

But rather than standing up for the People of Connecticut and doing their right thing, they are standing up, turning their backs and walking away from the very people who elected them.

To better understand the damage being wrought by Malloy, Wyman and their policies, one need only read some of the unsettling commentary pieces that have been published by many of Connecticut’s media outlets.  For example,

Connecticut must not balance budget by denying basic medical care

Looming Health Care Crisis Can Be Avoided by Restoring Funds to Community Health Centers

Connecticut position as leader in Children’s Dental Medicaid in jeopardy.

An aging Connecticut needs the Legislative Commission on Aging

Budget cuts threaten Connecticut’s progress in mental health

Governor puts low-income families at risk of losing health coverage

CJTS teachers lament ‘inhumanity’ of sudden staff layoffs

Short-sighted budget cuts undermine CT’s long-term prosperity

CSCU tuition increase no surprise, but is just as wrong

Silent and Compliant By Poetic Justice

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Poetic Justice is the blog of a fellow education advocate who is also a “poetry teacher defending ALL students and their families.”  It is a blog that all who support public education should follow.  You can read it at 

The latest Poetic Justice post is entitled Silent and Compliant and reads,

What we have in our schools today is not my idea of a healthy, holistic, nurturing education. We need to return to a paradigm where we cherish children, creativity, and the teacher-artist.

Silent
Compliant
Nonviolent
Invisible

Do our students even really exist anymore?
Or have they each become
just a data point?

Dead
All dead
not one alive
willing to risk
willing to scream
for their lives.

We have hidden
them all
and thrown them away – the outliers.

All that is left
are the silent
compliant
nonviolent
invisible children.

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.”

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