Friday, September 28, 2012

Dear Parents - A Must Read by Donald Sternberg

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September 4, 2012
Dear Parents,

On behalf of the teachers and staff of the Wantagh Elementary School, I would like to welcome you back to school. I anticipate that the 2012-13 academic year will prove to be an exciting year. 
We are all enthusiastic about the arrival of our new superintendent, Mr. D’Angelo, and the promise of a fresh vision for the academic well-being of our school district. Also, Mrs. Chowske will be joining our WES staff, functioning as our school’s Elementary Supervisor [aka, Assistant Principal]. The future is bright as we move forward with the implementation of our Writers' Workshop program expanding into our fourth grade and kindergarten. This year we will also initiate a new K-5 math program called enVisionMATH. This program not only meets the national Common Core standards for Math but does so with enhanced technological experiences for our children.
One significant issue as we move into this new school year is that we will, at times, find it difficult if not impossible to teach authentic application of concepts and skills with an eye towards relevancy. What we will be teaching students is to be effective test takers; a skill that does not necessarily translate into critical thinking – a skill set that is necessary at the college level and beyond. This will inevitably conflict with authentic educational practice – true teaching. 
Unfortunately, if educators want to survive in the new, Albany-created bureaucratic mess that is standardized assessments to measure teacher performance, paramount to anything else, we must focus on getting kids ready for the state assessments. This is what happens when non-educators like our governor and state legislators, textbook publishing companies (who create the assessments for our state and reap millions of our tax dollars by doing so), our NYS Board of Regents, and a state teachers' union president get involved in creating what they perceive as desirable educational outcomes and decide how to achieve and measure them. Where were the opinions of teachers, principals, and superintendents? None were asked to participate in the establishment of our new state assessment parameters. Today, statisticians are making educational decisions in New York State that will impact your children for years to come.
Standardized assessment has grown exponentially. For example, last year New York State fourth graders, who are nine or ten years old, were subjected to roughly 675 minutes (over 11 hours) of state assessments which does not include state field testing. This year there will be a state mandated pre-test in September and a second mandated pre-test in January for all kindergarten through fifth grade students in school. In April, kindergarten through fifth grade students will take the last test [assessment] for the year.
Excessive testing is unhealthy. When I went to school I was never over-tested and subsequently labeled with an insidious number that ranked or placed me at a Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 or Level 4 as we do today. Do you want your child to know their assigned ‘Level’? What would the impact be on their self-esteem and self-worth at such a young age?
Of additional concern to me is the relationship between children and their teacher as we move into an era where teacher job status is based upon student assessment scores. Guess what, some children will become more desirable than others to have in class! And, conversely, others will be less desirable. There, I wrote it! That concept is blasphemy in our school where teachers live to prepare children to be productive learners and members of society. Teachers state-wide are worried that their relationship with students might change when they are evaluated based upon their students’ test scores. Teachers want to educate students, not test prep them for job security.
Additionally, what should be shocking to you as a parent is that state and national databases are being created in order to analyze and store students’ test scores – your child’s assessment results and your child’s school attendance! Do you realize that the state has mandated that classroom teachers must take attendance during every math, ELA, social studies and science lesson – everyone, every day for the entire school year! Those records are sent to the state and become statistically part of the teacher evaluation process. It will no longer be enough that your child ‘was in school.’ Rather, if he or she was at a band lesson or out of the room for extra help in reading and a math lesson was taking place in class, he or she will be noted as absent from that instruction. That will be factored into the teacher evaluation. Thinking of taking your child to Disney World for a week during the school year or leaving a day or two early for a long weekend skiing? Think again! Those absences will be recorded as illegal, missed seat time and sent to the state – as mandated by the state.
This is all part of the massive, multi-million tax-payer dollar teacher evaluation processes started by our Commissioner of Education, our governor, and our state legislators and fully supported by statisticians employed by the state and assessment-making companies. No one in Albany is selecting to see the end of the journey; that 98 percent of the students graduating from Wantagh Schools go on to two- and four-year colleges. Their myopic view is focused on the ‘parts’, not the whole. Who will eventually suffer? Your children!
The balance must now be struck between maintaining the special nature of an elementary school setting and the cold and calculating final analysis rendered by statistics. The use of assessment data to drive instruction is a tenet of good educational practices. The use of assessment data to render a yearly prognostication of teacher competency is ridiculous
You have the greatest impact on your child’s school performance. Each teacher only has your children for 180 days per year and for less than six hours per day [minus lunch and recess times, art, music, and physical education classes]. It is our expectation that as partners in your child’s education, you will be doing your part as well. As part of any evaluation of student performance, Albany must simultaneously be asking parents the following questions
Does your child read at home each day for at least twenty minutes? 
Do you read to your child every day? 
Are math facts gone over daily until they are known automatically?
Is there a quiet location in the house for homework time and do you check your child’s homework each night? 
Is your child sent to school ready for the day with a good breakfast following at least eight hours of sleep? 
Are after school activities monitored so that your child is not ‘overbooked’ and their stamina compromised? 
Is your child in school daily [except when they are sick] and not taken out of school for any reason other than illness?
We will continue to have field trips, assemblies, and special school events but some events will be curtailed or rescheduled with an eye toward prudent times during the school year to maximize student seat time. However, it is unmistakable that we have entered into a new era of educational practice with higher stakes than ever before. 
I look forward to working with you and your child as we start our new school year because….together we make a difference.
Thank you.
Don Sternberg, Ed.D.

Testing Reform in the News -- September 17 - 25, 2012

Testing Reform in the News -- September 17 - 25, 2012

Another week chock-full of good coverage of test-misuse critics and the growing resistance to high-stakes standardized exams:
What Do ACT and SAT Scores Really Mean?
Chicago Strike is "Tip of the Iceberg" for Disastrous Consequences of School "Reform"
Standing Up for Teachers
Can the Chicago Teachers Strike Fix Democratic Education Reform?
What's Missing from the Chicago Strike Debate
High-Stakes Test Cheating Thrives While Investigations Languish
The War on Public Schools
Texas "Mothers Against Drunk Testing"
Ohio Superintendents Stand Up Against Third Grade Retention

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Josmar Trujillo: We're Fighting For the Same Thing: Better Schools

Sept. 21, 2012, 10:46 a.m.
I found myself unusually cheerful as I monitored reports coming out of the Chicago teachers’ strike. A powerful show of force in the streets, I mused, was long overdue on the issue of the American education system.
A friend of mine, however, pointed out that I recently had fought tooth and nail to keep open a charter school, my son’s former school, while the Chicago strikers see the charter movement as an attack on public education.
Faced with this contradiction, I wondered about the battle lines drawn in so many fights about education today. For example, when charter schools offer choices to families but also are seen as a threat to district schools or when union leaders choose to shut down a school system to fight for its members’ rights. In these fights I now see more common ground than people may like to admit, or at least more than I realized.
I felt a connection with the striking Chicago teachers as they fought with City Hall and pointed to two issues that were important to me: class size and an over-emphasis on standardized testing. It reminded me of my battle for education in the Rockaways, where I live, which was not about ideology alone but involved more practical demands.
The bottom line is all of us were fighting for the same thing: high-quality public schools in our neighborhoods.
Earlier this year I wrote to SchoolBook about the fight that I and other
parents of students at Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School had waged to stop its closure. Despite protests, petitions and even a meeting with Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, the Department of Education would not heed the voices of the parents. The closure was proceeding until Advocates for Justice, a social justice law firm, and school lawyers were able to secure a restraining order to keep the school open, at least for the short term.
During those hectic months last school year, parents scrambled to make contingency plans, the school administration
balanced a legal fight with all the business of running a school, and our children took grueling year-end tests. Some of the consequences of being left in legal limbo (our charter was not renewed but technically we were still open) were that many students and teachers left the uncertainty of PPA. We also lost our lease on a wonderful facility we had secured two years prior.
Also, as we mobilized we felt the stigma that comes with the label of “charter.” No union-leaning groups or elected officials felt comfortable helping us even as the absurdity of closing one of the Rockaways’ strongest-performing schools was apparent. A casual observer might make the mistake of assuming PPA parents were loyal charter advocates. Some may have been, some not. We
were, more accurately, advocates of Peninsula Prep and its amazing principal, Ericka Wala.
I imagined that the Chicago teachers also felt the political stigma that comes with taking sides in a public demonstration.
Peninsula Prep is now open and currently teaching the Rockaways’ youngest citizens important values that supersede the general
curriculum. One of these is determination, which we will continue to need. The possibility that the school will be closed mid-year still exists.
My son Jadyn is now enrolled in third grade at a district school because PPA’s new location doesn’t allow me time to get him there and deliver my other son to his pre-kindergarten. But my experience at PPA allowed me a chance to experience education in a unique way and lent me some new perspectives on charters, to which I had previously been hostile. A close partnership with the principal and solidarity with parents, forced in a battle for the school, convinced me to continue to advocate for the school.
At a time when some parents needed a restraining order to have their children taught at their school of choice, I believe we have to set the best example possible for our children and continue to fight for education.
Just like the teachers did in Chicago.
Josmar Trujillo is the former co-president of the Peninsula Preparatory Charter School in Rockaway, Queens.

Unions aren’t the enemy, and teachers shouldn’t back down, either

Just when you thought our political parties couldn’t even agree on whether God can stay in Mitt Romney’s heart, along comes the Chicago teachers strike to remind us that when it comes to blaming unions for all that ails our schools, the R’s and D’s have become almost
Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis in the film ‘Won’t Back Down.’ (Kerry Hayes)
The consensus is that it’s corrupt unions and their middling members who are holding back our kids. “On this issue and this day we stand with [Chicago] Mayor Rahm Emanuel,’’ Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said on Tuesday.
That’s not how the guy at the top of the GOP ticket has framed the issue: “Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children,’’ Romney said of the strike, which has some 350,000 Chicago kids hanging out at home and worrying their parents this week. And “President Obama has chosen his side in this fight.”
He hasn’t, though. It’s Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, who’s pushed teachers beyond their breaking point. The president is trying to stay out of the mess in his hometown, but a spokesman was quick to brag that it’s Obama’s leadership that “has led to groundbreaking reforms in our schools” across the country.
Like Romney, in any case, Obama strongly supports the idea that teachers should be graded, paid, retained or fired, largely based on how well they teach to standardized tests. There is no evidence, however, that this approach helps kids learn. There’s none, either, that teachers in the most under-resourced schools could with any amount of talent, energy
Thousands of public school teachers rally for the second consecutive day outside the Chicago Board of Education district headquarters on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 in Chicago. Teachers walked off the job Monday for the first time in 25 years over issues that include classroom conditions, job security and teacher evaluations. (Sitthixay Ditthavong - AP)
and can-do spirit boost scores each and every year.
That would be like saying that each reporter must grow his readership by a certain number of clicks a year to keep his job. Yes, we are moving to that business model to survive. But since war coverage or a long investigative project will only rarely draw the traffic that refried dreck reliably does, we’re no more improving journalism in the process than we are improving education by obsessively focusing on testing.
Every year at back-to-school night, I hear teachers in my kids’ excellent public school openly admit they’ll be teaching to the test; last year, my son’s math instructor went so far as to volunteer to parents that that’s all he really cared about.
That’s not how teachers want to spend their workdays, though. I also see how hard most of them work, how much they care, and all they have
Public school teachers cheer as Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, unseen, arrives unexpectedly to address a rally of thousands of teachers gathered for the second consecutive day outside the Chicago Board of Education district headquarters on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 in Chicago. (Sitthixay Ditthavong - AP)
to deal with from some awfully hard-to-please parents.
Emanuel says that while he appreciates Romney’s “lip service,’’ he’s had all the free advice he needs, thanks: “I don’t really give two hoots about national comments scoring political points or trying to embarrass, or whatever, the president.”
I’m not sure the president is embarrassed; on the contrary, the fact that his buddy Rahm is at odds with teachers will impress some people, even if it also antagonizes traditional allies.
Pop culture, after all, is chockablock with “Bad Teacher,” stereotypes; in last year’s movie of that name with Cameron Diaz, the title character is only in the classroom, where she mostly sleeps and shows movies, because she’s
Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake star in Columbia Pictures' comedy "Bad Teacher." (Photo Credit: Gemma LaMana - GEMMA LAMANA)
saving up for breast implants.
The cartoonish documentary “Waiting for Superman,’’ from Davis Guggenheim, of “An Inconvenient Truth” fame, all but cues the theme music from “Jaws’’ when referencing the Big Labor louts who supposedly make it impossible to get rid of incompetent teachers.
And coming soon: “Won’t Back Down,’’ the story of some pit-bull mamas who fight back against yet another do-nothing teacher, who spends class time talking on the phone, locking kids in the closet and denying them permission to go to the bathroom, yet can’t be fired.
This is not to say that unions haven’t protected some people who should never have been in a classroom. I know first-hand that they have, thanks to the first grade teacher who called my daughter names and yanked her arm so hard she cried as she struggled with a math problem at the board.
I rolled into that school with steam coming out of my ears, according to my husband, and that teacher was disappeared – but was immediately reassigned to a different Maryland school district.
Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee announcing her resignation at the Mayflower Hotel on October 13, 2010. (Ricky Carioti - WASHINGTON POST)

If organized labor is at the heart of the problem, though, why are outcomes in different areas of the country no different whether teachers are unionized or not? In D.C., Michelle Rhee’s scorched-earth tenure as chancellor of public schools resulted in a contract that allows teachers to be fired if they have two poor evaluations in a row, with the result that hundreds have been let go, including some with stellar reviews from students and parents whose students just didn’t do well enough on standardized tests.
And let’s not forget why we have teachers unions in the first place: It’s because in the not-so-great old days, mostly female teachers had no recourse when they were fired for no good reason, or were otherwise treated unfairly. My Aunt Ginny, a popular but strict teacher of English, German, and French, left her job in the only high school in our town rather than give in to pressure to award a football star a better grade than he had earned. She wouldn’t back down, either, and was effectively forced out of her profession.
Teachers in Chicago have decided they won’t back down at an inconvenient time for the president, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. If we really wanted to improve schools, we’d do what education powerhouse Finland does — fund schools equally, value teachers more, and administer standardized testing almost never.

Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s She the People blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.
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Responding to NPR's What's At Stake for US Teachers

I have found the NPR coverage on education to be biased.

Responding to NPR
What's At Stake For U.S. Teachers
by Alan Greenblatt

NPR’s article contained numerous errors. Here are two of them.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Susan Ohanian Update: Sept. 20, 2012

can't even describe these items. Proceed at your own risk.  I've been working on a couple of big new pieces. . . not ready for public yet. The good news from Vermont is that I found someone to use a chain saw on some of our downed trees. Next he's coming to split them. My husband is temporarily disabled but we'll have WOOD for the winter.

No, I could never want a log so badly I'd go anywhere near a chain saw or an axe.


State docks Metro Schools more than $3 million for rejecting Great Hearts
Nashville City Paper

I don't pretend to know anything about Nashville, but this sure looks like the typical ed reform tactic: using money to make the locals do what you want them to do.

Time For 'Testing As Child Abuse Suits"'to Fill the Nation's Courts
Mark Naison
California Progress Report

Mark Naison urges lawyers to contact Parents Across America and United Opt Out.

Here's how Bill Gates  Gets the Common Core . . . or Something Called the Common Core
Susan Ohanian


With considerable fanfare, LearnZillion announced the posting of more than 2,000 Common Core lessons developed by a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded 'Dream Team' of 123 teachers. And so I decided to take a look.

 Chicago school teachers give us all a lesson
Dean Baker


The writer, a US macroeconomist, says that we call all learn a lot from the Chicago teachers and their well-planned collective action.

 A Letter from an Art Teacher You Won't Forget
Brandi Martin


Here's an in-your-face declaration of love for teaching and an answer to the teacher-bashers who want proof that her art lessons improve state math scores.  You'll remember this one long after you finish reading it!

Chicago you are not alone... World-wide support grows for Chicago Teachers Union strike
Rich Gibson


Chicago has offered the best pedagogy in the country. They've shown us that it is possible, and right, to rebel.

 Can the Chicago Teachers' Strike Fix Democratic Education Reform?
 Richard D.Kahlenberg


Whatever the particulars of the final resolution to the strike, the dustup will be successful if it shakes up the wrongheaded, yet increasingly bipartisan, sense that teachers and their unions are what ail American education.

Are We Asking Too Much From Our Teachers?
Alex Kotlowitz


The author say we too often impute to teachers impossible powers. Don't you wish the editorial writer at the Times would read this?

Dear Ellen,
Jane Watson


Ellen Degeneres had a piece on Teach For America & JC Penney support, so longtime teacher Jane Watson sent her a letter explaining the issues,

To the editor
Oliver Sacks
The New York Review of books

Of course I am happy that Oliver Sacks wrote this letter--but angry that he needed to.

To the editor
Timothy D. Sleka
Altoona Mirror

Here's a good letter--giving parents something specific to do--opting their kids out of state tests.

Children's Progress Academic Assessment
Press Releases


Subject: Compliance with Kindergarten Reading Assessment Data. That just stops me cold.

'Won't Back Down' Film Pushes ALEC Parent Trigger Proposal
Mary Bottari
Center for Media and Democracy PR Watch

When people tell you what an emotionally appealing film the upcoming 'Won't Back Down' is, this thorough expose of the forces behind it will give you plenty of answers. Even if you don't plan on seeing the movie, you need to read this. Of course I had to add the Pearson connection.

School Days Resume in Chicago as the Lessons From a Strike Are Assessed
Monica Davey and Steven Greenhouse
New York Times

You want to help readers understand the Chicago teachers strike--and so you give the loudspeaker over to Michelle Rhee? And there's more.

Chicago strike ends, but debate continues over how we regard and treat teachers in America
Maureen Downey
Atlantic Journal-Constitution  Get Schooled Blog

Marc Tucker is back in the news--promoting himself, as usual.

Education Apartheid: The Racism Behind Chicago’s School “Reform”
By Joel Handley and Rosa Trakhtensky
Occupied Chicago Tribune

Let's hope the next phase of activism from the Chicago Teachers Union will be to address the class war in Chicago. This article is a start.

In Search of An Accountable Education Editor at the New York Times
Jim Horn
New York Times

Jim Horn offers an excellent knock-down of the New York Times education editorialist Brent Staples. Follow the links and you will get an education in the underside of value-added. And more.

Anti-Union Ads in Chicago Paid for By Hedge Funds, Billionaires
 David Dayen<
Firedog Lake blog

Surprise. Surprise. Hedge funds involved in opposing teacher strike. And here's a look at why you should pay attention to Democrats for Education Reform.

Romney Campaign Announces 'Educators For Romney'
Alyson Klein
Education Week blog

Offered as your laugh of the day.

Assessment expected to help teachers keep students on track
Tracey McManus
Augusta Chronicle

Georgia district ups the testing requirement. We're going to see more and more of this.

Chicago Strike and the Corporate Attack on Education
News Release
Institute for Public Accuracy

Progressive radio is asking about the corporate connection. Hey, they're asking me.

Opt-Out Movement Gains Steam
Jon Marcus
Harvard Education Letter

Imagine the Harvard Education Letter featuring the Coalition for Better Education billboard urging parents to opt their kids out of state testing.

Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken demands end to testing treadmill
Patricia Kilday Hart
The Chronicle

The comparison of Vietnam numbers and U. S. Department of Education numbers is right on target.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

EdShyster on Strike Coverage

Is Education Reform Like Crack for Columnists?

Columnist Nicholas Kristof on the phone with a representative of EdReform, Inc.
Much of the the reporting on the Chicago teachers strike has been of a surprisingly non-idiotic quality—especially by journalists who took the unusual step of going to Chicago and interviewing people who teach, send their children to public schools or attend such schools themselves.
But what to do if one is a prominent national columnist who is unable to leave one’s desk due to the extremely large number of followers to whom he must tweet throughout the day? Such was the fate of one Nicholas Kristof, who, apparently unable to make time even to Google “Chicago education reform, history of,” (try this experiment yourself at home, bold reader) managed to produce a column at once staggeringly misinformed, condescending and inane.
To be fair, Kristof wasn’t alone. All of the strike-related columns that appeared on the NYT editorial pages seemed to have been phoned in from EdReform, Inc. Joe Nocera kicked things off by casting Chicago Public Schools Jean Claude Brizard (who seems to have gone into hiding) in the heroic reformer mode of Joel Klein, last seen hustling edu-products for Rupert Murdoch. Kristof lamented that Chicago’s teachers use poverty as an excuse to avoid having to work very hard, and cited a “gold standard” study proving once and for all that students with bad teachers are three times more likely to be sold into sex slavery. (Actually that was a different Kristof column). David Brooks finished things off with a portrait of Rahm Emanual as the little known Greek God, Reformus, bravely raging against the city’s army of lazy, overpaid and unaccountable teachers.
But seriously, whatever one may think of these columnists they are certainly not stupid, especially Mr. Brooks, who wrote the title of his column in French, which is not even on the standardized test that columnists must take in order to be hired by the TImes. So why do they produce such drivel on the subject of public education? Allow EduShyster to offer a few insightful observations.
We are all education reformers now
Remember the old days when rich people got together and sipped sauvignon blanc, ate smoked oysters off of tooth picks and compared no load mutual funds? That was before the entire 1% came down with a wildly infectious case of something we might call achievement gap fever. Prominent Democrats (especially hedge fund managers and columnists) appear particularly susceptible. Why, darling, even Hyatt heiress Penny Pritzker is an education reformer.
Paul Tough is a GENIUS
As much as liberal elites may mock the right for being the victims of epistemic closure, the #edreform world increasingly functions as an echo chamber.Case in point: the current liberal fixation on firing teachers as the cure-all to ending poverty.Seriously? That’s all we have to do? The problem with a circle jerk of ideas is that it tends to lead only in one direction: hysterical madness! Hence Kristof’s implication (ala “Waiting for Superman”) that bad teachers actually cause poverty. 
They don’t know anyone who actually teaches (and no, having a niece in Teach for America doesn’t count)
Brilliant ideas like using so-called value-added models to measure teacher effectiveness tend to get even more brilliant the more drinks one has, or the further one’s proximity from an actual public school. In fact, the utter nonsensicality of Chicago’s proposal on teacher evaluation requires vast flagons of alcohol in ordrer to make any sense at all.
They don’t know any poor people
In education reform land, poor kids–especially the poor minority kids whose adorable faces appear on every #edreform website–are only one great teacher away from becoming the next Barack Obama. How great would it be if only we could get rid of all of the bad teachers (using sophisticated VAM technology–see above–coupled with removal of workplace protections). There woudl be Barack Obamas EVERYWHERE. In other words, a Democrats for Education Reform wet dream–well, maybe without all of that mean talk about Wall Street…
The newspaper they work for is looking to sell stuff to public schools
The future of newspapers–and all US media for that matter–is not loans from Carlos Slim but figuring out how to unload edu-products into the public schools. But as long as teachers are overpaid and overprotected, as we learned from Kristof, Brooks, et al, there isn’t enough left over dough to spring for all of that eduproduct. Now that’s an equation that even a New York Times columnist can understand.

MORE Weekly Update #25 - Sept. 19, 2012

Build a positive, alternative leadership at our general meeting Saturday 9/22, sign the new petion around teacher evaluations, and come to our social next Saturday!
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Movement of Rank and File Educators - MORE - The social justice caucus of the UFT
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Weekly Newsletter #25 - September 19, 2012
Fighting for the Schools Our Students Deserve - CTU and MORE
Like Help build an alternative caucus in the UFT! Membership meeting Sat. 9/22 + Sign the Eval Petition Online, Fundraising Party Next Saturday on Facebook share on Twitter
Saturday, September 22

CUNY Graduate Center
365 5th Ave @ 34th rm. 5414
12-3pm.  Bring Photo ID.
Reply to this email by Thurs. for childcare


Norm, the strike in Chicago has made clear the importance of clear, collective leadership to confronting the forces that seek to destroy public education and teacher unionism.

Be a part of the democratic process of building an alternative, social justice caucus of the rank and file that we need.

Come to our general meeting on September 22nd.  

We will be organizing our work for the fall - forming committees around action, education, internal & external communication, and the upcoming elections, and we need your help!  Also we will be assessing and analyzing the national and local impact of the Chicago strike.

Join MORE: click here.
- For a democratic union
- For a just contract that improves teaching and learning conditions.
- For equitable school funding that addresses issues of poverty.
- For a union that works with communities and directly addresses racism in education.
- For an educated, organized and mobilized union membership!
Please take a second to forward this to a friend or coworker, and consider joining our discussion list or our chapter leader meetup list.

MORE in the news:
Check out MORE members Julie Cavanagh and Megan Behrent discussing the Chicago strike on national television.

Spread the word about MORE
to your coworkers by distributing our latest leaflet: "Why we are running in the elections"

MORE believes that we can transform the UFT into a force that can win us a good contract, build an activist alliance with parent and community groups to stop the political assaults against our schools and our union, and stop the testing craze which threatens students’ learning conditions and teachers’ job protections.... Read more here

Other Upcoming Events: 

District 15 Happy Hour - 10/19  Freddy’s Bar - 627 5th Ave. - R to Prospect

Evaluations petition now online! 

Go to the MORE website to sign the petition to call for a vote on the new evaluation scheme. 

You can also download a copy to distribute at your school.

In February, the UFT agreed to a new framework that will base 25-40% of our future evaluations on standardized test scores.

The union will be negotiating the final details with the city over the fall and winter, but the membership deserves a discussion and a vote on the agreement.

Why Chicago Matters

MORE's Patrick Walsh: All Eyes on Chicago
MORE's Brian Jones in the New York Times
Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News
In our state: the Buffalo News says testing is a failure

Fundraising Social!
Sept 29th, 7pm
132 16th St.
(btw 4th & 5th)
R Train to Prospect

You heard it right, MORE is running in the spring UFT elections (find out why!).  And that takes money for mailings, outreach and advertising!

Come to a party to meet great educators like you who believe in public education and are going to fight hard to save it. 

Bring your friends, bring your family (over 21), and bring you checkbook or cash.

We need your support to run in the upcoming UFT election against the current leadership. Come find out MORE about us!

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John Thompson on Press Coverage: The Unsung Heroes of the Chicago Strike

The unsung heroes of the Chicago teachers strike have been, predictably, the education beat press and, perhaps surprisingly, other reporters who are not education experts. Just as it was not the job of the press to promote Waiting for Superman and other "widespread descriptions of the unions as the main obstacle to school improvement," it is not the journalists' job to say that teachers are being attacked unfairly. The job of the press is to report on what the strike was really about, provide historical and political perspectives, and to summarize evidence regarding policy. That is what it did.
Numbers-driven "reformers," and their corporate backers, could be forgiven in expecting a replay of previous well-choreographed attacks on urban teachers. Conservative "reformers" were justifiably confident that the seemingly high wages of Chicago teachers could be portrayed as the issue. Liberal "reformers" had enjoyed great success in misrepresenting seniority and due process as antiquated institutions to defend burned out teachers at the expense of poor children of color. And neo-liberal technocrats had long been adept in portraying their not-ready-for-prime-time algorithms as reliable measures of "student performance."
For instance, it is a safe bet that few reporters off the education beat have ever done more than skim a few "studies" of value-added models (VAMS). It is hard to imagine a journalist who does not cover schools with the hobby of reading and rereading both sides of these complex econometric models. And even if those sorts of wonks exist, how many would have the concrete knowledge of inner city schools that would be necessary to determine whether value-added evaluations would likely produce an exodus of teaching talent from the schools where it is harder to raise test scores.
Even op-ed writers were somewhat more fair during this controversy. The New York Times' anti-union opinion pieces showed more balance, and the paper also featured Alex Kotlowitz's review of the social science that argues against Chicago's "reforms." I suspect that commentators had read the brilliant work of Kotlowitz and William Julius Wilson, and they might know that the Chicago murder rate is far worse than that of New York City, for instance, and sense its relevance to teachers' performance. That might help explain the apparent desire of some to acknowledge that the Chicago strike is a fight over policy, as opposed to jumping the conclusion that teachers are merely protecting incompetents.
I suspect that others rushed to read Paul Tough's How Children Succeed, and thus moderated their reflective support for data-driven accountability. However, I wonder how many had already gone to print, basically in support of "reform," before reading Tough's conclusion, "I think education reform has probably hurt the very poor. [...] The better-off portion of low-income kids are more likely to find alternatives [like charter schools]. That leaves the original schools more concentrated in their disadvantage, and thus even worse learning environments."
The real difference between the teacher-bashing frenzy of the first "Education Nation," and other public relations campaigns funded by the "billionaires boys club," was that journalists set the tone by reporting on the evidence in regard to value-added evaluations. For instance, the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss reported how the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences concluded, "VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness [...] should not be used to make operational decisions because such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable."
Similarly, the Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn summarized research that concluded, "'analyses of (value-added model) results have led researchers to doubt whether the methodology can accurately identify more and less effective teachers. (Value-added model) estimates have proven to be unstable across statistical models, years and classes that teachers teach.'"
The most obvious difference between the last teachers strike is that since 1987 we have seen the rise of National Public Radio, The Huffington Post, and the edusphere, where the messy details of politics and social science can be reported. NPR drew upon the work of Associated Press writers Christina Hoag in Los Angeles and Rodrique Ngowi to put the role of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a national context. They reported on the contradictions created by the mayor's former boss, President Obama. They reviewed some of the president's rushed policies that have left educators "incredulous," and then used that word when quoting a Chicago teacher, "You are going to judge me on the results of the tests where there could be some extenuating circumstances that are beyond my control?" Hoag and Ngowi then cited Emanuel, "I am not a patient man. [...] When it comes to improving our schools, I will not be a patient mayor."
Or, consider the balanced reporting of the Huffington Post's Joy Resmovits and Emmeline Zhao who explained that the Chicago Teachers Union's "complaints echo the broader ones of teachers' unions across America: standardized tests are over-emphasized; class sizes are ballooning; teacher evaluations that use standardized tests 'cheapen' schools."
Nowhere in the above passages, I must emphasize, were the teachers' perspectives presented without giving equal attention to the arguments for the Chicago School System. But, that is the point. Whether you agree or disagree with the contemporary market-driven, test-driven "reform" movement, it would be hard to deny that it has benefited from the best public relations campaign that money can buy. This time, however, teachers received fair treatment. In the past, I suspect, education beat reporters filed the same solid accounts of school reform controversies, but old-fashioned journalistic excellence took a back seat to spin. This time, reporters provided the facts and set the balanced tone for a fair evaluation of the merits of complicated issues.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Standing up for teachers

By , Published: September 17

Teachers are heroes, not villains, and it’s time to stop demonizing them.
It has become fashionable to blame all of society’s manifold sins and wickedness on “teachers unions,” as if it were possible to separate these supposedly evil organizations from the dedicated public servants who belong to them. News flash: Collective bargaining is not the problem, and taking that right away from teachers will not fix the schools.
It is true that teachers in Chicago have dug in their heels against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s demands for “reform,” some of which are not unreasonable. I’d dig in, too, if I were constantly being lectured by self-righteous crusaders whose knowledge of the inner-city schools crisis comes from a Hollywood movie.
The problems that afflict public education go far beyond what George W. Bush memorably called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” They go beyond whatever measure of institutional sclerosis may be attributed to tenure, beyond the inevitable cases of burnout, beyond the fact that teachers in some jurisdictions actually earn halfway decent salaries.
The fact is that teachers are being saddled with absurdly high expectations. Some studies have shown a correlation between student performance and teacher “effectiveness,” depending how this elusive quality is measured. But there is a whole body of academic literature proving the stronger correlation between student performance and a much more important variable: family income.
Yes, I’m talking about poverty. Sorry to be so gauche, but when teachers point out the relationship between income and achievement, they’re not shirking responsibility. They’re just stating an inconvenient truth.
According to figures compiled by the College Board, students from families making more than $200,000 score more than 300 points higher on the SAT, on average, than students from families making less than $20,000 a year. There is, in fact, a clear relationship all the way along the scale: Each increment in higher family income translates into points on the test.
Sean Reardon of Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis concluded in a recent study that the achievement gap between high-income and low-income students is actually widening. It is unclear why this might be happening; maybe it is due to increased income inequality, maybe the relationship between income and achievement has somehow become stronger, maybe there is some other reason.
Whatever the cause, our society’s answer seems to be: Beat up the teachers.
The brie-and-chablis “reform” movement would have us believe that most of the teachers in low-income, low-performing schools are incompetent — and, by extension, that most of the teachers in upper-crust schools, where students perform well, are paragons of pedagogical virtue.
But some of the most dedicated and talented teachers I’ve ever met were working in “failing” inner-city schools. And yes, in award-winning schools where, as in Lake Wobegon, “all the children are above average,” I’ve met some unimaginative hacks who should never be allowed near a classroom.
It is reasonable to hold teachers accountable for their performance. But it is not reasonable — or, in the end, productive — to hold them accountable for factors that lie far beyond their control. It is fair to insist that teachers approach their jobs with the assumption that every single child, rich or poor, can succeed. It is not fair to expect teachers to correct all the imbalances and remedy all the pathologies that result from growing inequality in our society.
You didn’t see any of this reality in “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” the 2010 documentary that argued we should “solve” the education crisis by establishing more charter schools and, of course, stomping the teachers unions. You won’t see it later this month in “Won’t Back Down,” starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, which argues for “parent trigger” laws designed to produce yet more charter schools and yet more teacher-bashing.
I’ve always considered myself an apostate from liberal orthodoxy on the subject of education. I have no fundamental objection to charter schools, as long as they produce results. I believe in the centrality and primacy of public education, but I believe it’s immoral to tell parents, in effect, “Too bad for your kids, but we’ll fix the schools someday.”
But portraying teachers as villains doesn’t help a single child. Ignoring the reasons for the education gap in this country is no way to close it. And there’s a better way to learn about the crisis than going to the movies. Visit a school instead.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Strike of Choices

Gregory Michie

So Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the Chicago Teachers Union is engaging in a "strike of choice." I'd say it's more like a strike of choices.
After all, it's rare that anything is chosen in a vacuum. Choices are made within a context, a climate, and often in response to other choices made at an earlier time.
To call what's happening in Chicago a "strike of choice" is to deny how we got to this point, to conveniently ignore the prelude of choices that came before.
Last year, when Emanuel's appointed school board rescinded the four percent raises due to Chicago public school teachers according to their contract, that was a choice.
When the mayor promised a longer school day without knowing how he'd pay for it or consulting those most affected, that was a choice.
When he pushed for a state law that would make it harder for Chicago teachers to strike, and require that teacher evaluations be based partly on student test scores, that was a choice.
And when he relentlessly praises charter schools, or backs unproven "reforms" that are widely seen by researchers and educators alike as harmful -- those, too, are choices.
All this has added up to create a tense, combustible atmosphere surrounding the city's schools. The mayor can blame teachers, but anybody who's been paying even casual attention knows the deal.
I'd been watching the situation pretty closely during the past year in my role as a professor of education. But now, thanks to a choice I made over the summer, I again have a front-row seat: I left my full-time university faculty position to return to teaching 7th and 8th graders at a Chicago public school.
I wish I could say more about how things have gone in my classroom so far, but when the strike was called, we'd only had four days of classes, and two of those were cut in half so students could take standardized tests. Still, I think it's safe to say that it's going to take some time for me to hit my stride. Last Friday afternoon, I was trying to help a group of 7th graders understand the quote, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." The blank looks on some of the kids' faces spoke volumes. I was doing some pretty efficient pail-filling myself.
Of course, a lot has changed for teachers since I left CPS in 1999. I don't remember uttering the word "data" once during my previous nine-year tenure, but it's a data-driven world in schools now. Many would say that's a clear sign of how far teaching has come as a profession. Count me as a skeptic.
But some things are as I remember them. Many teachers still show up the week before their work year officially begins, spending entire days getting their rooms ready. Educators' supply stores are still full of teachers spending their own money, sometimes hundreds of dollars, on materials for their students and their classrooms. It's still common for teachers to stay at school well beyond the final bell, preparing for the next day, collaborating with colleagues, or counseling students.
And even in the uncertainty surrounding the looming strike, when it would've been easy to be bitter or distracted, teachers -- to a person, from what I saw -- made the choice to remain upbeat and hopeful, to stay focused on the kids, the work at hand. "I have a feeling it's going to be a great year," one veteran teacher told me, and others seemed to echo that sentiment with the way they approached their days.
So when Mayor Emanuel calls the current action by the Chicago Teachers Union a "strike of choice," and implies that teachers are choosing their own interests over those of their students, I take it personally. And when the Chicago Tribune's editorial board writes that the city's striking teachers "abandoned the children they say they're committed to teaching," I'm incensed. Judging from the size of the downtown rallies the past few days, I'm far from alone.
The mayor seems to think public opinion is with him, but it may be another sign that he's out of touch. Tuesday the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a survey of 500 registered voters showed that 47 percent support the teachers' strike, while 39 percent oppose it.
Out in the neighborhoods, the car-horn vote is even more lopsided. Based on three days of picketing with fellow teachers in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, I'd say the honks and hollers of support have outnumbered the thumbs-down gestures about 500 to one. And the encouragement is coming from a wide cross-section of Chicago's working and middle classes: Latinos, African Americans, whites, Asians, parents, former students, Chicago Transit Authority drivers, police officers, landscapers, plumbers, streets and sanitation crews, roofers, long haulers, and people who drive tortilla trucks, milk trucks and beer trucks too. These may not be members of the Commercial Club of Chicago, but I bet most of them vote.
The real shows of solidarity, though, came in the downtown marches and rallies. The sea of red, the common purpose, the swelling pride in the important work teachers do, the reconnections with teacher-friends who work in far-flung corners of the city. One of my favorite moments followed the march on Monday, when a large circle of teachers and their supporters formed around a group of drummers and impromptu dancers, all of us bouncing up and down and chanting to the beat, "I believe we are gonna win! I believe we are gonna win!"
It's too easy, of course, to cast this strike, or any social conflict, in terms of good vs. bad, winners and losers. But while it's not a strike of choice in the sense the mayor intended, it really is a strike about choices -- about which direction we the people want public education to go. Do we want to keep heading down the same road of more testing, more data slicing, more reforms based on a business model? Or do we want our schools to aspire to something different, something better, something more?
Tuesday morning, one of my new teaching colleagues, a first-year teacher who grew up in the neighborhood, brought her younger brother along to picket in front of a nearby school. His name is Angel. He's 10 years old and in fifth grade. For several hours he stood among us rather unassumingly, listening to the passing cars honk their approval, holding up a hand-lettered sign.
"I am in the middle of a lesson," it read.
Aren't we all.