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)

 

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Trump Vs. Democracy and Education

Donald Trump is threatening to destroy public education and American Democracy. If you don’t see that- it’s time to wake up and check your sources.

I have spent over three years writing about the impacts of Ed Reform in the classroom. But with Trump-Pence in the white house, John King looks like a sweet angel. This new presidency threatens to destabilize our democracy, civic institutions, and the rights of all Americans.

All signs point to the rise of a dictator- the press is already being silenced and discredited, our president elect is an impulsive, reactive tyrant who has no regard for knowledge, science or reality, hate crimes are flaring up across the country unchecked and public education could be completely destroyed.

Education has long been regarded as a cornerstone of democracy- the goal being to learn to question, think critically and cultivate a sense of responsibility to others and to society. But Trump is doing everything he can to discredit those who think critically- journalists, educators, instituions of learning, everything he can to undermine our sources of knowledge and information in both his treatment of the press and his views on public education.

Trump and his cronies are spreading lies to discredit news sources, higher education, and the truth.Without a free press, and without trusting sources of information and institutions of higher learning we will lose our tenous grip on democracy. As educators, we know the difference between opinion and fact and we teach our students to always find sources and provide evidence for their claims. Meanwhile, as president elect, Trump has already backpedaled on countless promises, he has lied and complained about the press on twitter, limited press access and threatens to stock his cabinet full of ignorant, corrupt crazies who think facts are debatable. Including Ben Carson. And if Ben Carson has his way with our public schools, democracy will die.

Trump himself has referred to public schools as “monopolies” that need to be broken up, (meanwhile he has vested business interests in the dakota access pipeline and wants his kids to get security clearance) and Ben Carson has said that the best school is homeschool. Yes that’s right. Home school. AKA no school. Our new possible secretary of education doesn’t really believe in schools.

Not to mention- he thinks the world is 7000 years old, he doesn’t believe in climate change, he has no experience whatsoever in education  and worst of all he wants to defund colleges and universities that are “too liberal.” Meaning he wants to use the education department to silence enemies. This is fascism.  All teachers- no matter who you voted for- need to stand up against Trump, Carson and  for our schools. Democracy depends on public education and science, civility and respect are the cornerstones of a democratic education. Democracy is depending on us.

We teach our children to give evidence to support their claims and we need to hold ourselves and the president elect to the same standards. Read more than one newspaper. Check your sources. Watch more than one news show. Ask yourself- am I really going to accept at face value what a billionaire pseudo populist who has been charged with fraud, rape and discrimination says? Is Ben Carson qualified to hold any position in government at all?

Stop believing everything you read on the internet and stop buying into the attacks on journalism and the press. There are many creditable news sources out there. Find them. Read AP and Reuters. American teachers- remember what we teach our students. Find multiple sources of evidence for your claims. Know the difference between fact and opinion. Be kind. The earth is 4.5 billion years old. Stand up against Donald Trump and his cabinet of horrors.

Here are my sources.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/egads-ben-carson-dept-education

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bernie-sanders-could-replace-president-trump-with-little_us_5829f25fe4b02b1f5257a6b7

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/heres-big-trump-media-story

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/us/politics/donald-trump-holdings-conflict-of-interest.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=b-lede-package-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/ultimate-inside-job-donald-trumps-transition-team-sordid-new-swamp-lobbyists-donors

https://newrepublic.com/minutes/138669/brace-yourselves-education-secretary-ben-carson

http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/ben-carson-has-odd-plan-the-dept-education

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/11/us/politics/what-trump-wants-to-change.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=b-lede-package-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Don’t Know Much About History

Is anyone else thinking that we should get over our obsession with job readiness and coding and start teaching civics, history and critical thinking again?

It is ironic that in an election year full to the brim with historical myth, deceit, ignorance and intolerance all anyone can say about education is “coding! More coding!” Remember when education used to be viewed as essential to democracy?

In the most elite private schools and liberal arts colleges students do more than math drills, ELA exercises and an hour of code. They learn how to think. They are empowered to express informed opinions. They are empowered to see themselves as agents of change, to think critically and engage in democracy.  But we continue to manage public schools like factories- with economic rather than human, democratic goals. Beneath this reality is an insidious assumption that only our elites should learn how to think and engage critically in the democratic process, and that all everyone else needs is vocational training.

But education should be about more than job readiness for everyone, not just the already privileged. If I’ve gained anything from watching this circus of an election cycle, its a powerful reminder of the importance of history, critical thinking and empowerment in education.

The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think — rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.- John Dewey

A democratic form of government, a democratic way of life, presupposes free public education over the long period; it presupposes also an education for personal responsibility that too often is neglected. -Eleanor Roosevelt

Project based learning; Making science and social studies count

Amid the whirlwind that is education reform, many educators lose sight of the parts of the day that make school meaningful and fun- art, music, P.E. , social studies, and science. These are the projects, games and studies that are getting pushed more and more to the margins of the school day because of high-stakes testing in ELA and Math. Even at my school, with an administration that is pushing project based learning, the third grade skims the science and social studies content, because the bulk of the day is dedicated toward teaching toward the tests.  At the same time, since there aren’t standardized tests in these these subjects yet, there is a tiny bit more freedom for both teachers and students. In that vein, for this post I thought I would take a break from criticism and share something positive- something that can happen when teachers are allowed to ditch the script and get creative.

We teach science and social studies because we want kids to learn about themselves, their natural, cultural and physical environment and understand basic features and processes that are a part or their lives. Perhaps more important, we want them to develop habits of inquiry, problem solving, discovery, and collaboration. It’s not whether they remember who built which landmark in NYC, but whether they know how to pose questions to clarify and challenge, how to plan and work with peers, to listen, respond, critique, investigate and how to solve problems by testing out multiple possibilities. Yes we do want them to acquire knowledge- but remembering that they will only hold on to what they can relate to and what they will continue to use: if we want them to remember the 6 plant parts, we need to instill a love of plants and gardening in them through tangible experiences so that the knowledge remains relevant. If we want them to remember structures of government- we have to give them a sense that they are powerful and have a responsibility to vote in elections, that their lives are influenced by unseen forces. If we want them to remember details about New Amsterdam; we have to instill a love of history and a love of their city- so that they come back to it again and again as they grow.

In my classroom, against the odds, we are engaged in a purposeful, interdisciplinary science and social studies project. Although I’ve always been a project lover, this year was my first introduction to project based learning. In project based learning, long term projects stem from real-world problems, needs, or questions. Many progressive schools engage in amazing interdisciplinary thematic units and projects: Brooklyn bridge studies, Hudson river, the Lenape. These units include trips, art, writing, collaborative work, model making. Project based learning does all that but with a real life purpose, whether it is creating signage for a museum exhibit, re-purposing an empty lot or figuring out the best way to get from here to there.

My co-teacher and I were so excited about this idea and we quickly found our issue. We decided that we should try to figure out the best way to protect New York city from storms and flooding, so we mapped out a loose progression for our project, found a friend from Red-Hook to help us launch and got started. In order to address this problem, our class decided we needed to learn about NYC geography and neighborhoods, flooding, storms, buildings, landforms,and coastal ecosystems. Here’s what it looks like at the moment- during writing, the kids are researching topics of their choice to write information books about low-elevation neighborhoods in the city. in science, we are learning about landforms, weathering and coastal erosion. In social studies, we are visiting neighborhoods around the city and will begin constructing a map of NYC that highlights elevation and the neighborhoods we’re studying. We’re not covering material, we’re not checking bullet points off a list. We don’t know exactly where the project will head, which solution we will settle on or how we will present our findings. We’re not transmitting information.  What we are doing is collaborating, asking questions, making plans, solving problems- in short we’re offering our students an experience that will stick with them whether they remember the facts they learn along the way or not. We’re empowering children by letting their interests and ideas guide the project, and by allowing them to tackle a problem in the real world- a problem they can all understand and relate to. And we’re having a blast.

The kids meanwhile, are all about it. They bring in books from home about neighborhoods and hurricanes. They casually use the word elevation or erosion as they make connections to our project throughout the day. And all the kids are into it- from the four students reading at a third grade level to the ones who are just beginning to read at a kindergarten level.  The quiet kids who never raise their hands, some of whom have pretty sever learning disabilities, are suddenly jumping out of their seats wanting to share their observations and original thoughts. My over-energetic boys are sitting still and examining maps of NYC and hurricane footage. And then of course- the real reason I love social studies- our students are learning a lot about working together. Each afternoon we devote to our project, they practice taking turns, listening to each other, making a plan before diving in, making sure that everyone has a role to play, respecting each others ideas and abilities. My co-teacher and I are learning along the way as well, thinking about how to better plan our next project, how to make sure all the loose ends come together.  I’m amazed by the growth we’ve seen already, and can’t keep from dreaming up projects for the rest of the year.

How did this happen? Well, first, we hid all our science and social studies textbooks in the back of our closet. The thought of using textbooks in either of those subjects appalls me. We also used the scope and sequence as a starting point rather than a bible. We quietly compressed much of  the first social studies unit- rules, rights and responsibilities, ( a developmentally inappropriate unit on government) and thus were able to launch our project in early October.

This kind of learning should be happening daily. I know this makes me sound a little doomsday-ish- but I truly believe that in the age of climate change, drone warfare, stem cells, smart phones, and decreasing bio-diversity among other countless scientific phenomenon that impact our lives, kids should be engaging with science materials and concepts daily. Not to mention that kids love it- nothing is more developmentally appropriate in early childhood than digging in the dirt, building a shelter, planting veggies or learning about animals- science gets kids outside, boosts happiness and cements their connection to the natural world, all while fostering habits of inquiry and wonder. Likewise, in an age of societal instability and diversity, social studies, with an emphasis on collaborative problem solving, community building inside and outside of school, critical thinking and social justice should be woven into each school day and each discipline. This is the kind of learning that helps us fully become ourselves, that helps us find meaning and even helps us survive whatever life throws at us. This is the kind of learning that does more than prepare children for the future- it fully engages them in the present.

On that note, some Dewey before I go:  “We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future.”