Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Common Core forums last night in the Bronx and Brooklyn: what a difference!

Me in the Bronx last night (credit: GothamSchools)
Last night in the Bronx, only about 50-75 people showed up at the Regents Forum at Evander Childs HS.  The borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr., who started off the evening, was clearly furious at the poor attendance and blamed it on the fact that NYSED officials had given only one week's notice.

It was a mixed crowd, but most of those who spoke in favor of the Common Core appeared to work at charter schools or were teachers affiliated with Educators for Excellence, an organization funded primarily by the Gates Foundation, that also funded the Common Core.  The director of E4E, Evan Stone, spoke, as well as two (!!) of their Bronx "outreach" directors, one of whom had been excessed [not laid off] when her school was closed last year.

Most of the speakers were against the Common Core and its associated testing regime.  These included Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham, who asked for the resignation of Regents head Merryl Tisch, and several parents who decried that their Kindergarten children were being subjected to inappropriate bubblesheets exams and worksheets labeled "test prep."  While Tisch said that the state did not support standardized testing for small children, the parents called her "disingenuous" and pointed out that these tests were on the NYSED's approved list of assessments. See this video of Monique Dols, a parent of a Kindergarten child at Dos Puentes, a bilingual school in Washington Heights.

Teachers lamented how the scripted and flawed Common Core curriculum hav taken all the joy out of teaching, and how students no longer had access to art, music and well-rounded education.  Parents reported that their children who once loved school now cry when doing homework, and are made to feel like they are failures.  The state had decided beforehand that 70% of the children would fail the tests, to what end? one asked.  Another parent said the quota for informational text was "diabolical" and pointed out that reading literature is what makes us "human."

Regent Betty Rosa, who was there along with Merryl Tisch and several NYSED Deputy Commissioners, said she voted against the teacher evaluation system linked to test scores, and that the Common Core focuses on evidence, but there is none for the Common Core itself.  She concluded that sadly, all the focus has been on the standards and the assessments, but everything needed between had been omitted: sufficient resources, small classes, quality curriculum, and teacher capacity.

I asked the following questions about student privacy: "We've learning that personally identifiable student data was uploaded to the inBloom cloud -- once last December to help with inBloom's "infrastructure development" and again in July for the data dashboard "roadshows."  Exactly what personal data was uploaded and couldn't dummy data be used, given how incredibly sensitive much of this information is, and could be seen by anyone attending the roadshows?"

"Also, thousands of parents signed petitions against the state sharing this data with inBloom; hundreds have written letters begging for their child to opt out and at least 40 superintendents have given back their Race to the Top funds in hope of protecting their students; but the state insists on sharing their data anyway.  Parents, school board members and Superintendents all agree that this plan is not only completely unnecessary but poses huge risks for children's privacy and safety.  Eight of the the nine original inBloom states have now pulled out .  Why is the New York State Education Department so much more resistant to listening to parents and educators and so much more careless with kids' privacy and lives?"

Regent Merryl Tisch handed over the mike to Ken Wagner of NYSED, who repeated the usual blather and didn't answer either of my questions.

credit: WNYC/InsideSchools
In Brooklyn, the scene was completely different. The speaking list was entirely dominated by charter school parents who had been bused in by Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst NY and Families for Excellent Public Schools, two pro-corporate reform organizations financed by the Walton Foundation and other pro-privatization groups.

Officials at Medgar Evers College had been told to reserve a room inside the building for these parents early. Though on its website, NYSED announced that the doors would only open at 6 PM, by 5:30 PM all the speaking slots were already taken.  StudentsFirst was founded to provide the shock troops for corporate reform, and with the help of either NYSED or DOE insiders, they performed their role admirably in Brooklyn last night. The only person who had a chance to speak against the Common Core until the very end of the night was Katie Lapham, a teacher who happened to arrive even earlier at 4:30 PM.  Her statement is here.  An account from a parent posted on Diane Ravitch's blog is here.

One more point: there is no objective evidence that higher standards alone will narrow the achievement gap or enable children to learn what they need to succeed, as Tom Loveless and other experts point out.  And there is even LESS evidence to show that the current crop of Common Core standards and their associated modules and exams are high quality -- and much that argues against this. As Rosalina Diaz, a professor at Medgar Evers said last night,  ""I think this is very sad...The Common Core is the furthest thing from solving inequality. This is the ultimate inequality because people can't speak their mind," referring to the overwhelming dominance of of pro-Common Core speakers.

In fact, by basing all decisions on test scores and  labeling struggling students as failures, it may serve to discourage them, widen the achievement gap and lead to more dropouts.  What actually works to improve student learning and narrow the opportunity gap is small classes, experienced and caring teachers, and a well-rounded education -- all of which is being driven out of schools and actively undermined by NYSED's  narrow and damaging policies.


Anonymous said...

The E4E woman was excessed - not laid off. She chose not to seek placement, and not to work in the absent teacher reserve.

In plain language, she quit.

Leonie Haimson said...

correction made; thanks.

Brian Preston said...

Unfortunately, many folks confuse Common Core Standards with the assessment system and InBloom. They are 3 different issues. I personally like the Common Core and it's generally higher standards, but don't think the roll-out has been handled well. They would have benefited from piloting for a few years to work out the kinds and get better input from a wider range of educators--they were, in reality, the work of a tiny, tiny and closed group that made a mockery of wider involvement. I oppose the assessments as they are being used: They are something worth opposing. There are currently no tests available that were designed to measure teacher performance--the accountability system is an abomination. And there are far, far too many tests with results too secure to be useful to help students or teachers improve instruction. Finally, opposition to InBloom is great. It really is bizarre that NY remains in the mix, and it is even more problematic that Federal law protecting children's data was changed to allow such data use without much public awareness or input. The corporate backers of public privatization, like test publishers and InBloom, pulled that off behind the scenes.

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Anonymous said...

As if Diaz made any effort at all to do outreach and promote this event. He let PS 31 become ramshackle and now it is proposed to be torn down, he is a puppet of other forces, sad to see you have even a mild kind word for him