Tell Cuomo: Keep DeVos Out of NY State

cuomo devosGovernor Cuomo has called the State Senate and Assembly back into session in order to extend mayoral control for NYC schools for the coming year. Most members of the legislature support mayoral control.

However, Republicans in the State Senate, led by Majority Leader Flanagan, are trying to force through a bill that would extend mayoral control only if NYC accepted a dramatic increase in the number of new charter schools permitted to open in the city. Their legislation would also remove all caps placed on charter school expansion in areas outside the city and introduce tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools.

This is right out of the Betsy DeVos playbook and would be devastating for public schools and public school students in the city.

Here’s why:

  • Research demonstrates that unchecked charter school expansion has fueled resegregation in urban school districts. Charter schools also suspend more black students and children with disabilities than their public school counterparts. As a result, the NAACP recently joined a growing chorus of civil rights groups calling for a nationwide moratorium on charter schools.

 

  • Charter schools lack the financial and instructional oversight of district public schools and are consequently more prone to fraud and profit-driven corporate corruption.

 

  • There is growing evidence that many rapidly expanding charter school networks intentionally exclude and fail to meet the needs of students with disabilities. In fact, charter schools in NYC “lose” an average of 6-11% of their students annually, whereas public schools tend to gain students as children get older. These “lost” students are usually struggling children who wind up in their district public schools after being expelled or counseled out of charters.  

 

  • Although there are some excellent charter schools in NYC (which will be unhindered by keeping the current cap), there is no evidence that charter schools, on the whole, perform better than neighborhood public schools, or that shutting down community schools and replacing them with privately-run charters is the best way to help our underserved communities.  

 

  • Most important, increasing the number of charter schools permitted to open in NYC means increasing the number of public schools that will be starved of resources via a loss of per-pupil funding and will ultimately be shut down.

Concerned?

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Call your state senator: https://www.nysenate.gov/find-my-senator

*Note: If your state senator is a member of the IDC (Independent Democratic Conference), he/ she voted yes on Flanagan’s bill to increase the charter cap.

2. Call your assembly member: http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/search/

3. Call Governor Cuomo: 518-474-8390

Script: Hi, my name is… and I’m a constituent from… (zip). [Insert personal details: I am a public school parent, teacher, graduate etc.] I am calling because I believe we should renew mayoral control for NYC schools without lifting the charter school cap. We need well-funded public schools with qualified teachers not more chain charter schools. [Feel free to include more reasons from above]

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/senate-leader-bill-ties-mayoral-control-charter-schools-article-1.2239324

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/02/28/separating-fact-from-fiction-in-21-claims-about-charter-schools/?utm_term=.c31fdb9517c7

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/12/08/when-public-goes-private-as-trump-wants-what-happens/

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/08/black-lives-matter-naacp-moratorium-charter-schools

 

When Cuomo Pretends He Cares

17353378_10100395925024913_884817314304257965_nLast night I attended Central Synagogues “action” to raise the age of criminal accountability in NY State, featuring several inspiring speakers, and the night’s big draw, Governor Cuomo.  Of course, no questions (and no boos) were allowed during the presentation even though Cuomo shamelessly used the pulpit to veer off topic and champion shutting down “sub-par” public schools.

He also weirdly equated quality of education with how many devices are used in a given classroom and talked about the poor, failing public schools in which first graders don’t have access to “any electronics.” (Definitely an issue adequate funding from HIS OFFICE might address. Also, I’d prefer my first graders use less electronics in schools, not more.)

Since I didn’t get to ask my question, here it is, ready for Cuomo when he decides to actually face his constituents and host a real town hall.

Thank you for appearing in this forum and providing the space to discuss the urgency of raising the age in NY State. Unfortunately, if we really want to address the tragedy of teens and young adults traumatized by the criminal justice system we must face the fact of the school to prison pipeline.

Yet, your record and your proposed executive budget will perpetuate the school to prison pipeline by  failing to allocate the recommended amount of foundation aid due to NYS state schools, thereby continuing to underfund schools in low-income communities, depriving those schools of the resources they need to support all of their students academically and emotionally.  Your budget also aims to do away with the foundation aid formula all together, meaning NYS public schools will never get the 3 billion dollars they are owed to meet the NYS constitutional requirement for equity in education as determined by the 2006 ruling. As a teacher, I know all to well that overcrowded classrooms, lack of supplies and support and a high needs population is a nearly impossible challenge even for the most qualified and experience educators. Funding matters. 

Your proposed budget also lifts the current cap on charter schools in NYC, despite evidence that many charters intentionally weed out students with disabilities and behavioral challenges through suspensions, expulsions and “counseling” at a much higher rate than their public school counterparts. Your proposal also ignores evidence that charter schools are more segregated than public schools and more likely to promote “no-excuses” disciplinary approaches that disproportionately result in expulsions and suspensions of students of color and students with disabilities. For these reasons, both the NAACP and Black Lives Matter have called for a “moratorium” on charter schools. 

Raising the age is essential and I ask that you support Senator Montgomery’s comprehensive plan to do so. But if you want to truly help NYC teenagers stay out of our already over crowded jails, you MUST fully fund public schools and keep the existing cap and funding rates for charter schools in NYC.  Will you commit to doing this? 

I called and left my question as a voicemail today. I encourage you to leave your own message. Tell him to be a real progressive and stand up for public schools. Meanwhile, I’ll keep that question in my pocket for his next appearance.

 

Send this letter to Cuomo

Courtesy of Indivisible Nation BK ( indivisiblenationbk.org,) I wanted to share this open letter to Andrew Cuomo about his executive budget and public education. Spoiler alert: Budget is not great. Read on for more info and please share! The budget will be finalized in the next few weeks. If you want to take a stand for public schools, you need to get this message to Albany. 

(If you’d like to print and send your own, you can find it here)

Dear Governor Cuomo,

The Trump administration poses a grave threat to our communities, our democracy, the environment, and our public education system. Now, more than ever, we need you to take a stand for public schools in New York State. You cannot claim to be a progressive leader if you continue to underfund our public schools while promoting the unchecked expansion of the charter school industry at the expense of district schools, low-income communities, and students with special needs.

I am writing to you today to demand that you revise the 2017-2018 executive budget in order to meet the needs of public schools statewide.

First, I ask that you increase the amount of Foundation Aid allocated to New York State public schools by $2 billion over the next two years. As you know, In 2006, the New York Court of Appeals found that the state was violating students’ constitutional right to a “sound and basic education” by underfunding low-income schools. Known as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) ruling, the decision required the state to commit $5.5 billion in Foundation Aid to public schools across the state by 2011. However, the full distribution of this Foundation Aid has been delayed again and again and NYS schools are still owed $4.3 billion.  Meanwhile, your budget proposal includes an increase of only $428 million in Foundation Aid for schools and eliminates the use of the Foundation Aid formula altogether, while freezing Foundation Aid to school districts at  2017-2018’s meager level. This is unacceptable. Given the likelihood of the federal DOE eliminating Title 1 funding, it is critically important that you take your responsibility seriously and ensure that New York’s public schools will receive the aid they are owed. You must revise the budget and commit to fully funding public schools in New York state.

Second, I ask that you remove the special education waiver proposal from the executive budget. This proposal would allow school districts, approved private schools, and boards of cooperative educational services to seek waivers that would exempt them from providing important protections for students with disabilities. Specifically, this waiver would allow districts and schools to ignore provisions regarding IEPs, functional behavior assessments, behavior intervention plans, class sizes, and finally, provisions requiring schools to notify families before changes in placement. This waiver would dramatically erode students’ rights and harm children with disabilities, particularly those from low-income families who lack the resources to navigate IEPs and state law. It must be removed.

Finally, I ask that you not increase the number of new charter schools that can open in New York City and maintain the current “cap” which allows up to 30 new charter schools to open in NYC. The NAACP recently joined a growing chorus of civil rights groups calling for a nationwide moratorium on charter schools in light of research demonstrating that 1) unchecked charter school expansion has fueled resegregation in urban school districts and 2) charter schools suspend more black students and children with disabilities than their public school counterparts. Meanwhile, charter schools lack the financial and instructional oversight of district public schools and are consequently more prone to fraud and profit-driven corporate corruption. Some prominent growing charter chains, like Success Academy, have even been accused of abusive instructional and employment practices.

Additionally, there is growing evidence that many rapidly expanding charter school networks intentionally exclude and fail to meet the needs of students with disabilities. In fact, charter schools in NYC “lose” an average of 6%-11% of their students annually, whereas public schools tend to gain students as children get older. These “lost” students are usually struggling high-need children who wind up in their district public schools after being expelled or counseled out of charters.  In New York State, some charter schools have been accused of intentionally weeding out lower-performing students and then leaving seats empty to maintain the illusion of high achievement.

Moreover, although there are certainly some excellent charter schools in NYC (which will be unhindered by keeping the current cap), there is no evidence that charter schools, on the whole, perform better than neighborhood public schools, or that shutting down community schools and replacing them with privately-run charters is the best way to help our underserved communities.  Most important, increasing the number of charter schools permitted to open in NYC means increasing the number of public schools that will be starved of resources and ultimately shut down.

This is not what we want for our children. We demand that you fully fund our public schools, remove the special education waiver and keep the current reasonable limits on charter school expansion in New York City.

 

Sincerely,

Indivisible Nation BK and Yours Truly (of PedagogyoftheReformed fame)

 

To the Billionaires Destroying Public Ed

Between Netflix, Facebook, the Koch brothers, a slew of corporate loving politicians and some other billionaires , public education is being systematically destroyed.

Why do all these people care?

Charter schools and “reformed” public schools have a way of funneling money to tech companies with ed products, publishing companies, test prep companies. Companies, companies, companies. Money, Money, Money.

Charter schools have a way of segregating and dehumanizing children of color. Keeps them in their place you might say. Hmm, I wonder why all these white billionaires would want to do that?

Charter schools have a way of de-professionalizing teaching and paying young inexperienced “teachers” – mostly women- to work long hours without any labor protections. Most of these people end up leaving teaching after a few years. I wonder where they end up working?

Charter schools have very little oversight and discriminate against students with disabilities. Billionaires love not having oversight. That’s how people become billionaires!

Charter schools cost the states less money than public schools because they raise so much privately. ( AND SOME OF THEM ARE FOR PROFIT- HOW IS THAT ALLOWED?)  That means millionaires, billionaires and gazillionaires can give tax deductible donations instead of oh, paying a lot more in taxes to help keep public schools open for all students. That makes them feel really good about themselves.

Well, here’s what I want to tell all these CEOs, in a moment of desperation at 6:17 am before I leave for the public school I work at every day.

You are not helping.

In fact, I think you are not good people.

You are motivated by your deepest prejudices and self interest.

Why don’t you go open a library or museum? That’s what rich people used to do. It was cool.

I would totally go to the Koch Brothers Memorial Library. Or the Mark Zuckerberg Museum of Something.

You want to know about some actual good people- I invite you to come to my school. You can arrive with the teachers at 7 am, see the thriving PUBLIC school community we’ve created, see a school that is actually racially and economically diverse ( 1 in a million!), see a public school building that is beautiful and kids are excited to come to every day, see a group of teachers who work 12 hour days partly to compensate for all the bullshit we have to deal with from the politicians in your pockets.

Yes that’s right, in everything you have done you make schools worse and you are WIDENING the achievement gap. You are making it harder to be a teacher and harder to be a learner. With all your obsession over standardization, accountability and school “choice” you are relegating the poor children you presume to help to days of uniformed, segregated, boring, scripted and ultimately useless test prep.

And you know what, I bet you would never send your white, billionaire children to a public school anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Be Real: Testing Is All Year Long

People are arguing about whether testing in NY state conforms to Obama’s theoretical 2% cap on testing time.

But let’s be real. At most schools testing takes time away from real learning all year long. Test prep starts on day 1, with jam packed, common core test aligned, “rigorous” ELA and math curricula. This includes test prep oriented curricula and actual testing. Starting in the first week of school, students take formative assessments, summative assessments, benchmark assessments and more on a weekly basis. And of course, from September through May, art, science, social studies and anything creative is relegated to the back burner- taught at most once a week.

And then testing season comes. At my school, starting in February, test prep takes over completely and suddenly the 3rd and 4th graders are anxious, frustrated and bursting in to tears at random moments. This is two months of explicit test practice almost all day every single day. Two months of no field trips, no science, no social studies and lots and lots of practice tests.

To be clear, I do not blame any of this on the teachers I work with. They kick ass and do everything within their power to make learning fun and meaningful for their kids. The power of testing over schools comes entirely from on high- from Cuomo, from Obama, from Gates and the other rich people who think they are experts at everything.

But if you ask a teacher how much time testing and test prep really takes from their teaching, you won’t hear 2%. If we’re being honest, at a typical school- without a strong opt out culture- testing takes around 60% percent of instructional time. If we were to talk about student learning time- including homework and weekend test prep boot camps, that number would go even higher. And then if you consider that nowadays, art teachers, PE teachers, science teachers and early childhood teachers are often asked to integrate the language and values of tests into their teaching every day, the number rises again. I would put my money on this statistic: In most schools,  75% of all learning time is devoted to, guided by, or limited by testing.

If we’re being real, bringing that percentage down to 1 or 2% means tossing out the the whole system. Testing will never occupy such a small portion of the school year when test scores are tied to teacher evaluations and student promotion and the tests themselves are wholly inappropriate. So, please, powerful people out there, either stop pandering to voters with these mythical tiny percentages or actually do something to fix the system you destroyed.

WaPo article on testing time in schools

 

Housing and Education Inequality- Again

Research tells us that socio-economically and racially integrated schools are better schools. But if we want truly diverse schools, we need equally diverse housing.

At my public school in a gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn we are fortunate to have a uniquely diverse student body. About 40% of our students are high or middle income and mostly white. Around 60 percent of our students come from low-income Dominican, Puerto-Rican or Mexican families. The resources of our upper middle class families gave us a music program, after school programs, art and science supplies, a school garden and unlimited free trips. Our Spanish speakers make our dual language program possible. At the same time, all of our students benefit from engagement with children and families of different means as well as cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

But every few days, I hear about another student who is leaving the neighborhood to move to the Bronx or Queens because they can’t afford to stay in the area. The students who are leaving are almost all recently immigrated, low income, native Spanish speakers. There goes our diversity and there goes their education. Going from a warm, nurturing and resource rich environment in an integrated public school in Brooklyn to a “failing” school or network charter in the Bronx does not bode well for their future. We know what schools they are headed for and we know that they are underfunded, overcrowded and either slated for shut down or newly privatized.

This is yet another reminder that the real issues in education today are poverty and inequality and that the worst facets of education reform disproportionately affect low income students of color. Nothing will get better for these children unless we address housing inequality and give ALL schools the resources they need to cultivate successful, critical, happy and healthy students. Every neighborhood needs affordable housing and every public school with a segregated, low-income population should be getting triple the funding of schools in high income neighborhoods.

I’m going to miss my students who abruptly left after years in our community. I’m worried about them and hope they land somewhere with teachers who can see how wonderful they are and the potential they have. I hope they get to do more with their days than ELA and Math. I hope they are not made to feel like failures. They are not failures and neither are their teachers- the only failure is a system that punishes the poor for being poor and recklessly allows corporate power into children’s lives.

New York already has one of the most segregated and unequal school systems in the country. If we don’t tackle housing soon, it will only get worse.

Cuomo’s Latest Attempt to Destroy Public Education

Cuomo just pushed through a preliminary version of yet another teacher evaluation system for NYC public schools- a mere two years after the last one was implemented.  This is more than a logistical nightmare for the DOE and school administrators. Like the current teacher evaluation system, the new system is not designed to improve schools, nor is it designed to cultivate quality teaching or help children thrive.  This is a system designed to bust up the teacher’s union, destroy public schools and drive teachers out of their classrooms and into the arms of non-unionized, unregulated, corporate financed charter schools.

Under the new system, up to 50 percent of a teacher’s rating is based on increases in test scores from year to year. As with the current system, this will apply to teachers in non-testing grades ( K-2) as well as cluster teachers- meaning that 50 percent of a kindergarten or art teacher’s rating could be determined by one grade’s math or ELA scores for that year.

This would be disastrous for school culture and the quality of teaching. In my title one school, we “chose” to link all of our ratings to the third grade math scores. Last year, this resulted in art and PE teachers being told to include math in their weekly lessons as well as intense pressure on math for third graders and their teachers. We had two full months of unhappy third graders drowning in boring, frustrating test prep. If Cuomo gets his way and 50 percent of a teacher’s rating is determined by test scores alone, imagine the pressure when the one grade’s math scores can make or break the careers of up to a third of the teachers in a school. One year of low scores could put about 30 teachers at my school on probation.

To make matters worse, under Cuomo’s new plan, the other 50 percent of a teacher’s rating would be determined based on evaluations by an “independent observer”  as well as observations by school leaders. I’ve had some experience with independent evaluators, and this imperative is not only financially and logistically impossible, but also deeply unfair to teachers and students.

I have been rated effective two years in a row thanks to positive observations and good fortune with test scores. Let’s say scores are not as high as we hoped for this year. There goes half of my rating and suddenly my career is on the line. The next phase of my evaluation is the arrival of the “independent observer”- someone who does not know me, does not understand the culture of the school, and does not know the students. This person also is likely to be decidedly unprogressive in his or her approach to educating children. Said evaluator will necessarily have very little time to observe each teacher, and if they don’t like what they see in my classroom – for any reason at all – my rating could plummet further.

I have been observed by so called independent evaluators before. When I taught first grade at a charter school, I was observed once by two lavishly paid consultants. They observed me for 20 minutes total and then gave me verbal feedback. During our conversation, they told me that they both had previously taught high school, and had NEVER been in a first grade classroom before. They then proceeded to tell me that my teaching lacked “rigor.” That’s what this new system is going to produce: sky-high consultant fees and evaluation that is even more arbitrary, inappropriate, and unfair than it is now.

There is only one conclusion to draw from all of this nonsense. Cuomo’s new system is purposefully designed to fire teachers – even effective ones – and bust up one of the only remaining powerful labor unions in the country. His is a system that will result in experienced, beloved teachers fleeing public schools for charters, private schools and jobs outside the field. Cuomo knows this. But he is so hellbent on taking down the union and privatizing schools for the benefit of his corporate cronies, that he does not care about the millions of children who will suffer at his hands. As I see it, teachers have three choices: we can opt out, we can be forced out, or we can leave of our own accord.