Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Teacherbots: Tomorrow's Solution Today?

This piece is cross-posted from Students Last; an excellent new satirical blog.  Check it out!


Alaska - "How can we use technology so that we require fewer human teachers?" This was the question posed by Miles Katzman, founder and CEO of Teacherbots Inc,. as he stood before a roomful of attentive school district representatives from around the country. With budgets being cut, lots of districts are looking for ways to reduce personnel costs while still maintaining high educational standards. Katzman believes he has the solution: Teacherbots or TBs.

Teacherbots are being used at Sara
Palin Elementary School in Alaska
"TBs are tomorrow's solution today," quips Katzman.  What exactly are Teacherbots?  "They're state of the art approximations of human educators.  A happy marriage between manequins and intelligent robotic technology."

At Sara Palin Elementary School in Alaska, where robotic teachers have taught for more than two months, the experiment has been deemed a success. "We like them because they follow lesson plans exactly, don't take sick days and so far haven't tried to unionize," declares principal Tripp Glarick. The school still employs human teachers, known as "HBs" which is short for human beings. "Contractually we have to keep the HBs around for a few more years," explains principal Glarick.  "Otherwise they'd be gone already."

Some HB teachers seem to approve of their robotic colleagues. Michelle Luddite, a fourth grade teacher, explains, "When the number of students in my room hit 54, I was glad to get the bot. She processes student data, analyzes which computer programs will best address student weaknesses and programs assignments proven to improve test scores. My role is different. I attend IEP meetings, call parents and try to keep the 'needy kids' on task." What exactly is a 'needy kid'? Ms. Ludite explains, "Needy kids are those students who want to talk. They learn best by bouncing ideas off other people. You know, the ones who want to interact." Asked if she misses her role as a traditional classroom teacher Mrs. Luddite pauses to reflect. "I guess what I miss most is sharing the joy of the learning experience, exploring each individual child's gifts..." She trails off as Mr. Glarick approaches. "Well now don't go getting me all sentimental. You have to change with the times or else."

This brave new educational world has drawn significant interest from investors.  Venture capital firms have bet more than $9 million on Teacherbots Inc. whose corporate motto is, "Education should run like a well-oiled machine." CEO Katzman credits the adoption of common standards and shared assessments for making his brainchild financially viable. He explains, "Standardizing the standards has led to a standardized education and that translates to money for us. Now that there's a common definition of what 'good' looks like, education entrepreneurs can enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale."

Whether or not robotic teachers are "the best products" for our nation's children has yet to be determined. Critics say Teacherbots lack flexibility and are impersonal. Leonie Haimson, one of the founders of Parents Across America has been vocal in her disapproval of TBs.  "They're just plain creepy."

"So was my seventh grade gym teacher," counters Glarick with a chuckle.  Becoming more serious, he continues, "Are there some kinks? Sure, but you know with every new gadget you have to work out the bugs. With time, I'm sure the bots will become more human-like but with none of the outrageous demands of humans like needing bathroom breaks or wanting a duty-free lunch."

Some of the most vocal critics of TBs have been students. Fifth grader Johanna Stephens, who has organized several protests against the bots, refused to go to school after spending just one day with her classroom TB. "I hated her. She didn't look at me, just kind of at my forehead. She never asked me for my opinion or about my feelings. All she knew was my data," claims Johanna.

Principal Glarick tries to explain away Johanna's response, "Some students find it difficult at first but then they adjust. Students are used to having teachers that respect their opinions but if I can paraphrase David Coleman (one of the architects of the Common Core standards), our TBs really don't give a crap about what students feel or think. The bots are programmed to only accept correct answers and cited evidence. The kids will catch on eventually."

And maybe so will the bots.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Why did the DOE cancel the Healthy Lunch school program?

UPDATE: Because of the public outcry, the DOE officials now say they will NOT eliminate this program.

For several years, the non-profit organization Wellness in the Schools [WITS] program has been bringing professional chefs into schools to teach kids and the DOE’s school cooks how to prepare healthy meals; last year they also provided lunch in thirty public schools. 

Without warning last week, the NYC Department of Education suddenly announced it would cancel the WITS healthy school lunch program, claiming that its meals may violate new federal guidelines – without providing any evidence that this is the case.  According to the NYTimes, “Sharon Richter, a licensed nutritionist who has worked with WITS for several years, countered that the group has always maintained higher nutritional standards than those required by law.” Many parents have spoken up against this decision by DOE, and yesterday, in an apparent PR counteroffensive, the mayor announced new salad bars will be placed in schools under the sponsorship of Whole Foods.  
If you’d like to learn more about the organization Wellness In the Schools and its Healthy School Lunch program,  please contact Executive Director Nancy Easton at nancy@wellnessintheschools.org, Marjorie Wolfson at marjorie@wellnessintheschools.org or visit its website.  Below is a post written by Victoria Baluk, a parent volunteer with the program.

As a parent of two children who have benefited from Wellness in the Schools'  healthy school lunch program, and a former overweight child striving to keep  her own children from the same fate, I believe the New York Times article on  the city’s decision to eliminate this program omitted some important points.
For the last several years, the WITS program has given kids from thirty NYC public schools access to fresh, healthy food.  It is a crucial step in fighting childhood obesity and promoting healthy eating habits. "Food labs" teach kids how to prepare the items on the menu at home, and inform them about the nutritional values of each recipe. This program is important, it makes sense, and it's working.
The WITS program has been a successful "training ground" for healthier scratch cooking in NYC schools, showing that a shift away from prepackaged, processed items to fresher healthier ingredients is indeed possible citywide.
Sample menu items include: Mediterranean baked chicken, whole grain  pasta with pesto (made with fresh basil and chick peas), vegetarian chili,  and homemade flatbread pizza with fresh vegetables. All WITS schools have a fresh salad bar daily with multiple dressings made from scratch.  The kids  love it and have come to expect the healthier menu.
When the USDA announced its plans to improve the school food menu across the country we were thrilled.  So imagine our surprise when we learned that NYC  School Food would not be giving our school or ANY school, permission to  serve "real food" for the coming school year! After teaching our children the value of healthy eating, training an army of school cooks in healthy cooking techniques, and enlisting the help of hundreds of parent volunteers,  like myself, we would be returning to hamburgers (but with whole wheat  buns!), chicken nuggets, and mozzarella sticks (but with a whole wheat dinner roll!).
The DOE’s official recipe book contains healthier WITS recipes that the agency itself had already approved. DOE officials could have chosen these recipes for the new citywide menu but instead chose to go back to processed foods. Why? And what is the lesson here for our children?
From a parent's point of view, it's that money and politics matter more to the City than our children's health.  --Victoria Baluk

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Do you think Class Size Matters? If so, let your voice be heard!

Yesterday, the President put out a new campaign ad about the importance of class size (see below.).
This goes along with an excellent White House report released last weekend, prepared by the Council of Economic Advisers on the benefits of smaller classes.  
We immediately put out a press release, along with other parent leaders from throughout the country, thanking the President for this report, but pointing out that his administration has proposed an education budget that would cut $650M from federal class size reduction funds.
His Education Secretary Arne Duncan has also told right wing groups over the last few years that he thinks that schools should respond to budget cuts with “smartly targeted increases in class size.” 
Last night, the President made another speech about the importance of smaller classes in Nevada, and he tweeted the following message:
Use the hashtag #ClassSizeMatters to share why you think our kids need more teachers in the classroom.
This has been followed by hundreds of tweets from parents and teachers and others, explaining why they think it does.
I hope that all you who are already on twitter might take a few seconds to send out a message about why you think #ClassSizeMatters and copy the president at @BarackObama and me at @leoniehaimson 
Please also retweet this message I sent out last night to Arne Duncan:
Parents know that #ClassSizeMatters goo.gl/qs7b0 @BarackObama knows that #ClassSizeMatters Do you agree @ArneDuncan? pl RT if so!
For those of you who aren’t on twitter yet, I urge you to join because it can be a very effective and quick way to get your message out.  Just go to www.twitter.com and sign up. It takes only a couple of minutes.  Then click on @leoniehaimson to follow me and I will follow you as well.
It is not every day that the President sends out a message confirming the goals of your organization.  Let your voice be heard. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On Thursday, let's go visit the billionaire hedge-funders out to privatize our schools!

Please join us this Thursday 8/23 at 9:30 am at Columbus Circle to go on a tour and teach-in of the billionaire hedge-fund managers that want to privatize education...


Billionaire Dan Loeb

Billionaire Kenneth Langone

Billionaire Paul Tudor Jones

Q: What do these “fat cat” billionaires all have in common?

A: They crashed the economy and now they want to crash NYC public schools through StudentsFirst NY, an organization that is advocating for more standardized testing, more privatization, more school closings and more budget cuts. 

It’s time to go to their homes and workplaces & let them know our schools are NOT for sale!

Join parents and students from across the city as we get to know the billionaires spending millions of dollars to continue failed policies in NYC schools.

Thursday, August 23rd

Meet at 9:30 at

Columbus Circle 

Near Central Park West, by the giant globe 


A, B, C, D, or 1 train to Columbus Circle or N, Q, R to 57th St.

For more information:
Contact Julian Vinocur, Julian@aqeny.org, 212-328-9268


See also the report,  Students First, Romney First for more on the donors to this organization.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Parent leaders hail the President’s focus on the need for smaller classes

For Immediate Release: August 19, 2012

For more information:
Leonie Haimson (NY): 917-435-9329; leonie@classsizematters.org
Pamela Grundy (NC): 407-375-4222; shamrockparent@earthlink.net .
Robin Hiller (AZ): 520-668-4634; rhiller@voicesforeducation.org  
Wendy Lecker (CT): 203-536-7567; paaconnecticut@gmail.com  
Becky Malone (IL); 773- 793-0355; wats7573@aol.com
Karen Miller (TX): 281-893-8877; 832-372-4742; kmillerpta@aol.com
Julie Woestehoff (IL): 773 -715-3989; pure@pureparents.org

Parent leaders hail the President’s focus
on the need for smaller classes
Parent leaders throughout the nation thank President Obama for recognizing the importance of class size in his weekly address, and for releasing a report that shows how the elimination of 60,000 teaching positions since 2009 is not only unprecedented in US postwar history, but has led to class size increases that are severely damaging the quality of our public schools.
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, said: “The President’s speech yesterday and the new White House report, Investing in our Future, make it crystal clear that the class size increases across the nation represent a crisis that is severely undermining our children’s opportunity to learn.  As the White House report makes clear, class size reduction has been strongly linked to higher achievement, higher levels of engagement, and higher rates of attending college.  Yet here in New York City, our youngest students are suffering from the largest classes in 13 years, despite the fact that surveys show that class size reduction is the top priority of parents, year after year.  As a city and a nation, we must do better.”
Pamela Grundy, parent leader and co-founder of Mecklenburg ACTS in Charlotte NC, says: “Here in North Carolina we have been fortunate to have state and local leaders acknowledge the importance of small classes, especially in our state's many high poverty schools. Yet budget cuts in have severely undercut this reform and our children are bearing the consequences.  We greatly appreciate the President’s efforts to reverse this damaging trend, and we urge him to follow through on the federal level by restoring the $650 million that his proposed education budget eliminates from the Title II program, money that is currently used by states and districts to reduce class size and keep teachers on staff.”
Robin Hiller, Executive Director of Voices for Education, agrees: “Here in Arizona, schools are suffering from class sizes of 32 in Kindergarten and 44 in high school. There is nothing that is more important than bringing these stratospheric class sizes down if we want our children to succeed. We urge Congress to fully fund the President’s Jobs act and to restore all cuts to Title II, and for our State Legislature to do its part by ensuring that our public schools have the resources they need for smaller classes, rather than diverting public funds to vouchers, for-profit charter schools, and other privatization schemes.”
Wendy Lecker, one of the co-founders of Parents Across America – Connecticut, adds: “We applaud the fact that the President acknowledges that reasonable class size and an adequate supply of teachers are essential to a quality education and are basic resources that all public schools must have. Here in Connecticut, schools in high poverty areas continue to have much larger class sizes than in wealthier districts. We wish that our Governor and State Education Department would pay attention to the need for equitable class sizes, rather than their current focus on taking control of our public schools away from our communities and putting them into the hands of private corporations.”
Becky Malone of 19th Ward Parents in Chicago says: Class sizes in Chicago remain the largest in the state, and 95% of Illinois school districts have smaller classes than we do. Worse yet, the disparities have increased. While average class size has decreased statewide over the last ten years, it has increased in our city’s public schools. This is simply unacceptable if we are going to provide equitable learning conditions to all children, but especially our most at-risk students who need small classes the most.”
Karen Miller, parent leader in Texas and a former state PTA legislative chair points out: “Texas was one of the first states to reduce class size, with caps of 22 students in grades K-4, adopted by Governor Mark White and the Legislature in 1984. Yet over $5 billion has been slashed from the state education budget this past year. This has caused class sizes to soar, tripling the number of districts that have applied for and received waivers, representing nearly 30 percent of all elementary schools in the state. Surveys show that voters overwhelming support smaller classes; research shows that they boost student achievement, particularly for disadvantaged children. We cannot claim to care about our children, as a state or a nation, and allow class size to rise any higher.”
Julie Woestehoff, Executive Director of Parents United for Responsible Education in Chicago concludes: I hope that all of us, including parents, teachers, and our elected leaders, can pull together and invest in our children in the way that research shows really makes a difference: by reducing class size.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

FAQ re the movie “Won’t Back Down” and the Parent Trigger

On Tuesday, August 14 a Concert called TEACHERS ROCK, presented by Walmart  & promoting the movie “Won’t Back Down” will be held in LA: with appearances from Carrie Underwood, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Garner, Matthew Morrison, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Usher, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and others. On Saturday, August 18 the concert will be aired on CBS.
The movie itself, “Won’t Back Down,” will premiere September 28. This film already has sparked much controversy.  Below see an FAQ explaining why.  This fact sheet is also available as  a downloadable pdf. – Leonie Haimson

I’m hearing there’s a lot of controversy about the movie “Won’t Back Down.”  Why?  Many people believe the film promotes the privatization of public education and inflames a political climate in which teachers are unjustly disparaged and blamed for the effects of poverty and educational inequity.
What is the movie about? The movie tells the story of a group of parents and teachers who use a “Parent Empowerment” law, better known as the Parent Trigger, to take over a school that is failing their children. Parent Trigger legislation, promoted by the right-wing organization American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has been passed in several states, including California, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and is being considered in others. But while the movie depicts an inspiring story of parental revolt, actual efforts to use the Parent Trigger have been driven by billionaire-funded supporters of privatization, and have sparked acrimony and division. None of these efforts has actually improved a school. [See Beyond the Hype of the Parent Trigger; Just the facts.]

Who is behind the movie? The movie, due to open September 28, is produced by 20th Century Fox, owned by Rupert Murdoch, and Walden Media, owned by Philip Anschutz. Murdoch's right-wing politics are well known. Anschutz is an oil-and-gas billionaire who co-produced the anti-teacher film, “Waiting for 'Superman'.” He contributes to organizations that oppose gay rights and support teaching creationism in schools. Anschutz has also donated to Americans for Prosperity, founded by the Koch brothers, which opposes environmental regulations and union rights, and to the political career of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

What does the Parent Trigger law call for?  If 51% of parents at a school can be persuaded to sign a petition calling for any of a narrow set of options – either firing all the teaching staff, closing the school, or privatizing the school by turning it over to a charter operator, this must occur.  None of these options has any track record of success.

How did the Parent Trigger law originate?  The Parent Trigger was first conceived by a LA-based organization called the Parent Revolution, founded by a charter school operator and funded by the Broad, Walton and Gates Foundations.  The legislation was introduced in California by then-State Senator Gloria Romero, who now heads the California branch of the pro-privatization organization, Democrats for Education Reform. 

Have Parent Trigger laws worked?  The first time the “parent trigger” was tried, Parent Revolution sent operatives into Compton CA, to ask parents to sign a petition saying that their local elementary school should be turned into a charter school. Some parents who signed the petition later said they been misled,  the effort was mired in lawsuits and ultimately fizzled. More recently, operatives trained and paid by the Parent Revolution urged parents at the Desert Trails School in Adelanto CA to sign two different petitions: one calling for smaller classes and other positive reforms, the other demanding that the school be turned over to a charter operator.  After the organizers submitted only the charter petition to the authorities, nearly 100 parents asked to withdraw their signatures.  Yet a judge has ruled that parents could not rescind their signatures and the conversion to a charter school should go forward. Even Gloria Romero, the author of the Parent Trigger law, has criticized the organization’s tactics, and said that presenting Adelanto parents with two different petitions to sign was “needlessly confusing.” 
What’s wrong with the Parent Trigger?  The idea of “choice” has been manipulated by the corporate reformers and spread by groups like ALEC, who seek to use methods such as the Parent Trigger to turn public schools over to privately-managed charters. This is not real choice; nor is it parent empowerment.  Most parents want to see their neighborhood public schools strengthened, with small classes and less emphasis on standardized testing. Even Ben Austin, head of the Parent Revolution, has admitted that most parents are not interested in turning their school into a charter, but would rather focus on improving their existing public schools.

But are there other ways to provide better “choices” for parents?  There are many ways that districts can provide more and better choices within the public school system, by creating magnet schools and specialized schools that unlike charters, do not drain resources from public schools, privatize public buildings or take decisions out of voters’ hands. Why should a public school built with taxpayer funds be given to a private corporation just because 51% of current users signed a petition?  If a local firehouse was ineffective in putting out fires, or a police station in fighting crime, would we choose to hand these public services over to a private company, or would we demand that our elected leaders improve them? 

What about “parent empowerment”?  Charter schools are run by private corporations that are often more interested in generating profits than in empowering parents. Parents usually have less input into charter schools than public schools. Moreover, most charters do not get better academic results, and many impose harsh disciplinary procedures and push out students who need extra help. Instead, Parents Across America supports true parent empowerment, with real solutions devised from the ground up rather than imposed from above.  We want to see the authentic involvement of parents, along with teachers and other stakeholders, in developing, school-specific, research-based strategies for improvement.

How can we fight back?  Last spring, Florida parent groups, including Parents Across America, banded together to fight Parent Trigger legislation that had been introduced in the state legislature. By holding rallies and press conferences, calling their elected representatives, and speaking out about how the Parent Trigger is a ruse devised by corporate reformers to benefit charter operators rather than children, Florida parents prevented the legislation from being passed.

Speak out for real parent empowerment and voice. Spread the word on “Won’t Back Down” and Parent Triggers. We need real change in our schools, not false solutions.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Please help The Children's School expand!

The following post is by Nicole Krieger and Janine DiLorenzo, parents at The Children's School, a very special  inclusion school in Brooklyn that has been asking DOE for  years for more space to expand into the middle grades.  Too often the folks at Portfolio Office seem eager to find space for charters over the needs of even our most successful public schools.  Please lend your support to this  campaign.

Parents’ Committee for The Children’s School Expansion has begun a campaign to garner wide community and political support for the school’s most recent application to the NYC DOE Division of Portfolio Planning to expand The Children’s School through the 8th Grade.
A unique collaborative effort between District 15 and the city-wide District 75 (that oversees special education programs), the Children’s School covers all of District 15, which includes Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Sunset Park, Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and parts of Ft. Greene. The School currently consists of two sites. There is an all inclusion (ICT/Integrated Co-Teaching) elementary school in the Gowanus, in which ALL classrooms have a general education teacher and a special education teacher jointly providing instruction to a class that includes both students with and students without disabilities to meet the diverse learning needs of all students in a class. In addition, there is a very well-regarded Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) site in Ft. Green.
In fall of 2011, The Children's School was granted Portfolio Approval for Instructional Capacity by the NYC DOE Division of Portfolio Planning, which should have led to a space being allocated enabling the middle school grades to begin serving students for the 2012/2013 school year. Unfortunately, The Children’s School was not allocated space because the NYC DOE Division of Portfolio Planning stated they were unable to locate an appropriate space for the expansion. Therefore, the expansion could not proceed as planned. It was astonishing to The Children's School community, staff and parents, as well as the wider District 15 community, that other schools, including some which faced local opposition, such as Cobble Hill Success Charter, were granted space during the last portfolio approval cycle while The Children’s School, with a 20 year record of providing quality education to both general education and special needs children, was not.
This is the THIRD TIME (2005, 2008, and 2011) that The Children's School has been granted Approval for Instructional Capacity to expand through the eighth grade. On all three occasions, the NYC DOE Division of Portfolio Planning did not allocate appropriate space, but was able to allocate space to other schools. The goal now is to acquire a site so that The Children's School grade expansion can take place in fall 2013. In order to attain our goal in the 2012/2013 planning cycle, we have launched a campaign to make the community and our local politicians aware of this issue by creating a petition and website.  

Our website provides access to our petition, information about the campaign, a brief snapshot of the mission, curriculum and philosophy of the middle school grades and links to our Facebook page:  and Twitter feed:  Our petition can also be accessed here.
The addition of middle school grades within The Children’s School will provide much needed quality middle school spots to District 15 in Brooklyn. This has been a long standing problem [i]. It is poised to get even larger as the current enormous elementary school cohort, which has caused elementary schools to resort to kindergarten waiting lists for zoned students [ii]. moves up to the middle school level. The difficulty in getting an appropriate middle school spot has historically been even more challenging for children who have special needs [iii].
The new middle school classes will be unique among all middle schools in New York City. Often classes in middle school in New York City have as many as 35 students in a class with one teacher, whereas the middle school grades in The Children’s School will be all inclusion classes with classes capped at 24 students with two teachers and a paraprofessional. In addition, the middle school will maintain The Children’s School’s mission of respecting differences in all people. The school will continue to foster a community where students of varying abilities and multiple intelligences collaborate, cooperate, and respectfully support and challenge each other to succeed both academically and socially.
The Children’s School has been a pioneer in this model of teaching and learning since 1992 and has been extremely successful. This success is demonstrated by recent data collected by the NYC DOE. In 2009-2010 The Children’s School was ranked first in District 75, and third overall in NYC on the Chancellor’s List of Best Schools (based on the citywide school Progress Report). In 2009-2010, 78% of students scored a level 3 or 4 in ELA, and 79% scored a level 3 or 4 in math on the NYS standardized tests.5 In 2010, NY1 ran a story about The Children's School because it was ranked #3 overall among all elementary and middle schools in the city.
This success provides evidence of the need for the school’s expansion. The staff, parents and students at The Children’s School wholeheartedly embrace and support our school’s philosophy of inclusion. Seats at our school are highly coveted and an expansion will provide current and new students with the same foundation to succeed as they further their education into the middle school years and beyond.