Tuesday, February 25, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - NYSAPE Urges Legislators to Cast No Vote for Incumbents at Board of Regents Election if Nominated

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  February 25, 2014
More information contact:
NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) www.nysape.org

NYSAPE Urges Legislators to Cast No Vote for Incumbents at Board of Regents Election if Nominated

New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), a coalition of 45 organizations from around the state, is urging New Yorkers to contact their Legislators to attend the joint Legislative session on Tuesday, March 11 during which four Regent board members will be selected.  Although the four Regent incumbents, Cea, Cottrell, Jackson, and Norwood have applied to retain their seats, parents, educators, and community members are asking their Legislators to vote “No” to any incumbent who is re-nominated.  NYSAPE will be keeping score of how each Legislator votes at www.nysape.org

Parents across New York State have expressed outrage at the Board of Regents’ failure to respond to the concerns of both parents and educators. The incumbent Regent candidates have failed to take action to amend current policies or speak out against them.  The recent recommendations of the Regents’ Taskforce Report did little to address the critical problems associated with the Common Core standards, the flawed modules, high stakes testing, or student data sharing. According to South Side High School principal Carol Burris, “The so-called delay in full implementation of high school graduation Common Core standards was a political ploy. First, the Common Core Regents exams were not delayed—students will begin taking them this spring.  Second, the new “passing scores” had never been established—and with good reason. If those two scores (75 on the English Regents and 80 on a Math Regents) were put in place, our graduation rate would plummet to 35%.”

Last week, the State Education Department also announced that they plan to upload sensitive, personal student data to inBloom, starting in July.  New York is the only state of the nine original inBloom participants not to pull out completely or put their data sharing plans on indefinite hold.

In recent weeks, Legislators had the opportunity to interview both new applicants and the incumbent candidates for the four open positions on the Board of Regents. “It is inconceivable to think that Legislators would vote for an incumbent simply out of deference to his or her previous service. I watched the interviews, I read the Regents Taskforce Report. I know that the Regents Cea, Cottrell, Jackson, and Norwood are not the best candidates for the job and do not deserve to be re-appointed. The future of public education in this state hangs in the balance and this vote will help influence how thousands of parents in turn cast their votes come November,” said Bianca Tanis, parent and co-founding member of NYSAPE.

"I would urge our Legislators to show up and vote,” said Eric Mihelbergel, Ken-Ton public school parent and founding member of NYSAPE. “They are more than aware of parent concerns and as elected officials, I am hopeful that members of the Senate and Assembly will carry out the wishes of their constituents to use this election as an opportunity to exert their influence to bring change to current policies and safeguard our children’s education.”


Monday, February 24, 2014

inBloom to testify on Friday & state plans to upload your child's private data in July

      Last week, the Commissioner King revealed that, despite the calls for an indefinite delay by legislators of both parties, he intends to start uploading student data to inBloom in July, with the full launch of the data dashboards in September.  We are the only state in the country in which the State Commissioner has been impervious to the objections of parents, educators, school board members and administrators, and  has refused to pull out of this egregious project.

Not to mention inBloom and the data dashboards will start charging for their "services" in January, and all districts will be able to cancel the inBloom-linked data dashboards at that time.   Many will likely do so.  So why does inBloom need to have all this student data for three or four months of data dashboards?

On Friday  the NYS Assembly will be resuming its hearings on privacy, and reps from inBloom are expected to testify.  Their refusal to show up last time really backfired and angered the legislators.  

The hearings will take place Friday, Feb. 28 at 10:30 AM at 250 Broadway in Lower Manhattan; livestream hereMore info and a form you can fill out if you want  to testify is here.  See also the RT video interview from NYC parent activist Karen Sprowal on why she opposes inBloom and feels it will put at risk her child’s privacy and security on our blog below; please also sign the MoveOn petition to stop inBloom in New York state here. 

See the video below and also the discussion/debate on NPR today between Aimee Guidera of the Gates-funded Data Quality Campaign and Superintendent Mary-Fox Alter of Pleasantville NY.


The current sad state of Murry Bergtraum High School - the result of 10 years of DOE failure

John Elfrank-Dana
John Elfrank-Dana has been a teacher and chapter leader at Murry Bergtraum High School for many years, as well as an adjunct professor at Fordham University.  He blogs at Labor's Lessons where this was originally posted.

Murry Bergtraum High School has been in the press yet again. This time in response to a NY Post article two weeks ago about the school's so-called "Blended Learning" program. The article today was about a bunch of letters students wrote  in defense of the program and school's administration, but many were riddled with grammatical errors. It makes one wonder how the administration let this happen, as we know it was orchestrated from the school's principal-appointed Brand Manager.

Why weren't the letters at least proofread before they were sent to Chancellor Fariña as well as the NY Post reporter, Susan Edelman? This madness is symptomatic of the larger failure of education reform in the city.

It's important that we not forget the background that got us here.

Set up for Failure: Murry Bergtraum has been a school that has been set up for failure since the early days of the Bloomberg administration. High academic and social need students were dumped on the school throughout the closing process of other schools. Bloomberg wanted the small schools to have a good shot at success so students whose family had no plan were sent to large schools like Bergtraum and Washington Irving. Diane Ravitch cogently explains how Bergtraum has become a nerve ending for the failed Bloomberg and Klein educational policy.

Lack of Security: In the last three and a half years the school has been under siege from incompetent administration that failed to provide enough security to ensure a school tone conducive to success. Teachers have complained and I have filed numerous security grievances and complaints that not enough was being done to reign in the school's worst behaving students. You can witness numerous fights online at various social media sites.

Incompetent Administration: Three years ago we saw the infamous bathroom "riot" in response to then Principal, Andrea Lewis' misguided attempt to punish students for fighting by banning use of the restroom for the rest of the day for 2300 of their classmates. That's how the students heard it over the PA anyway. She was removed in August of 2012.

Now we have suffered through the worst school opening in Murry Bergtraum's history this year with botched student programming and a principal, Lottie Almonte, who just never takes responsibility for anything. And like the School of NO, PS 106, in Queens scandal, staff who could escape did. Over 51 staffers at Bergtraum including: all assistant principals of instruction, all the secretaries and other teachers and guidance counselors, most at the top of their game, ran to the welcoming arms of other schools over the summer never to look back. Staff polls on both principals have shown a strong vote of no confidence only to fall on the deaf ears of Bloomberg's Department of Education.

Curricular Gimmicks Rather That Solutions That Work: Rather than reducing class sizes, adjusting the admissions policy so students with high academic and/or social need come from the neighborhood so families can be integrated into their schooling and receive social services, we got gimmicks. The latest is so-called Blended Learning. But, when you blend anything you need at least two parts. In this case it should have been traditional classroom instruction with computer-based instruction. That's not what was happening. Instead, students were given a log-in to an online class and sent their way with a deadline for them (or whomever they hire) to complete the online packaged lessons. Before that was the Leadership Academy 3 years ago which, like the current "Blended Learning" program was a credit recovery scheme that failed to meet state requirements.

The spin will be from pro-charter folks that is shows how public schools can't work. The spin will come from anti-teacher union groups that the school's teachers are to blame. But, given the facts presented above and the accounts embedded therein from those of us who lived it those biases just won't get off the ground.

The fact is that many of our students write well, and are going to have successful careers in college and the work place. It's a big school. There's well over a thousand young people in that building. But, the struggling students in numbers too large have not been served as they needed to be. They shouldn't be sent half way across town to go to school, they need more social services and their homes need support. They need small class sizes and real curriculum. Just like the kind of schooling the children of President Obama and NY State Ed Commissioner King receive.

But, ed reform in NYC and most of the rest of the country has been reduced to a high stakes numbers racket where district administrators look the other way to give principals the message - "get the numbers up any which way you can." Teachers are pressured to pass at least 80 percent of their students or else face the consequences of possible U or Ineffective ratings. The teachers union has been less than aggressive at reigning in bully principals in recent years.

"Just transfer if you don't like it" seems to be the implicit and sometimes direct response to staff from the UFT. The result, our students get junk education and when the evidence hits us in the face like those letters in the NY Post did this morning everyone is talking and anticipating- what's next?

Hold your heads up high, students and staff of Murry Bergtraum. You are stronger for what you have endured.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Videos of Interviews of candidates for the Board of Regents

Next month, four members of the board of Regents will finish their five year terms and are applying
to be re-appointed.  The Board of Regents appoint the Chancellor and are in charge of setting education policy for the state.  All four current members who are applying to be re-appointed, Christine Cea, Wayne Norwood, James Jackson and James Cottrell, have strongly supported Commissioner King and his controversial implementation of the Common Core standards and curriculum, high stakes testing, and data-sharing with inBloom.

NY State Allies for Public Education is endorsing an alternative slate of candidates, whose positions more closely reflect the widespread discontent among parents and educators with these policies.

Below are some videos that contrast the interviews of two of the new candidates applying for these seats with those currently holding those seats. These interviews are conducted primarily by the chair of the Education committee, Assemblymember Cathy Nolan and the chair of the Higher Education committee, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, but other legislators also ask questions.  More videos are collected here.  The vote of the Legislature on these appointments is expected to take place on March 11.  Parents should contact their legislators to let them know how they would like them to vote.

First, see the interview of Michael Reilly, a NYC parent leader and Community Education Council  member, who is applying for the Staten Island seat.  If selected, Mike would be the only Regents currently with a child in the public schools.

Contrast Reilly's positions with those of Christine Cea, a researcher at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities who holds the Staten Island seat and is applying to be re-appointed.  She appears to have a very different point of view on the Common Core and testing, especially as regards students with disabilities.  Here is a quote from her interview, when asked if there is a disparity between the Common Core and the IEPs, or individualized education programs mandated for students with special needs:

“I think that the IEP and the standards are the same because the IEP has standards on it already. The standards that we are proposing are a little different but they can be adapted because the IEP is individualized."

Also please watch the interview of Milady Baez, a former teacher and Queens local superintendent, who is applying for one of the at-large seats.  She expresses a more critical perspective on the Common Core as well as the education agenda pursued previously by the non-educators in the Bloomberg administration.

Baez's positions on equity and education contrast with those of Wayne Norwood, who currently sits in one of the at-large seats, chaired the Regents task force on the Common Core, and is a strong proponent of the current NY State Education policies.  Norwood is the Director of Community Engagement for the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, and like Cea, is applying for another five-year term.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tepid recommendations from the Regents taskforce on the Common Core & Ken Wagner admits little or no change in the offing

Commissioner King and Ken Wagner of NYSED
UPDATE: Even the slight suggestion that teachers might be able to appeal their "ineffective" ratings in their APPR evaluations based upon the flawed roll-out of the Common Core curriculum and modules was too much for the full Regents -- given the Governor's criticism -- so they eliminated that proposal today when the full Board voted.  More on this at the Times Union, and a video of a rather pained-looking Merryl Tisch explaining how these changes show how they really "listened" to parents is below.

The most accurate story about the recommendations of the Regents task force on the Common Core was reported by WNYC/Schoolbook, which called them "tepid" and "tweaks.” 
Nevertheless they enraged Gov. Cuomo who called them “too little too late,” even though his own Commission on the Common Core has not yet met.   
It seems Cuomo objects to the proposal that teachers can bring up their district’s inadequate implementation of the standards if they are threatened with being fired as a result of an “ineffective” rating they may receive from the junk science, value-added teacher evaluation system that he pushed into law. 
Yet these proposals will NOT satisfy the concerns of parents whose children’s education is being wrecked by developmentally inappropriate and rigid standards, overly prescriptive curricula and excessive testing; see the NYSAPE press release  . Neither do they appear to assuage the concerns of teachers; see the NYSUT release here.  Excerpt:
Instead of listening to parents and educators who are grappling with the fallout from the State Education Department's disastrous implementation, the task force dismissed their concerns with a report that, in the end, adds up to a 'we know best' collection of minor adjustments," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi, who noted - contrary to a comment by the governor - that the Regents did not pause or delay anything that is not already in law…. On teacher evaluations, what the Regents put on the table - allowing teachers to point out failures in their district's implementation of the Common Core - is nothing new. It is a provision that already exists in state law and which we planned on pursuing with or without 'permission' from the State Education Department," Iannuzzi said.
As further evidence this is what Ken Wagner of NYSED wrote today to his “data” working group:
 From: Ken Wagner <KWAGNER@mail.nysed.gov>
Date: Tue, Feb 11, 2014 at 7:43 AM

Yes, as you will see if you read through the Regents materials, the Common Core standards remain in place for both grades 3-8 and high school.

The only things that would change for State assessments based on these proposals is the availability of an assessment overlap in Geometry next year (similar to the ELA and Algebra overlap this year) and the lower cut score (partial proficiency, similar to the existing 65) for graduation purposes prior to the class of 2022.  We are preparing a short field memo to clarify these issues. 
EXCEPT as Carol Burris points out, they had NEVER proposed raising the cut score to graduate above 65.

As further evidence, the most independent and savvy Regents, Kathy Cashin of Brooklyn and Betty Rosa of the Bronx, voted against these proposals, for making insufficient reforms to the current regime.

See below, head Regent honcho Merryl Tisch, trying to explain her way out of the mess they are in, having satisfied neither parents, the unions or the Governor with their proposals.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dr. Johnny Lops, child psychiatrist, reflects on the damaging pressure from testing on NYC parents, teachers and kids

Dr. Johnny Lops is a child psychiatrist who works at a hospital in Brooklyn and has a private practice.  His website is at Drjohnnylops.com; and he tweets at @drjohnnylops

It’s Monday morning and I am sitting in my office in a clinic in Brooklyn, NY that services primarily low income multi-cultural families.  My phone is blinking that I have a message, most likely over five.  I can already predict the variety of calls I am about to hear.  Many will be mothers informing me of complaints from school that their children have  been acting out again, or that they are not focused, or that they continues to show insufficient effort or motivation.  

Day in and day out, it seems the job of a NYC parents and teachers is becoming more stressful.  I make jokes to the parents of the kids I see that I would not wish my worst enemy to become a teacher in these times.   Gone are the days where teachers were allowed the time get to know their students or their parents and do what I hope schools would provide: the opportunity to develop good social skills, executive functioning , emotional intelligence  and enhance their moral development.  

What schools do instead is put an overwhelming, overbearing pressure on kids to achieve  high scores on standardized test s, on which their teachers are then evaluated..  Well, if I am a teacher, I don’t have time to work on the development of a child.  If my job is simply based on academics, then getting through lesson plans are most important.  If I have a child who has experienced trauma, copes with multiple stressors at home like a majority of my kids, has an anxiety/depressive disorder, and/or a behavioral disorder, these kids are negatively affecting my future. 

 I am very proud of the teachers that do contact me and provide more information about my kids’ mental well-being.  A majority of teachers are quite -tuned in to their student’s emotions.  I find the ability for teachers to make referrals to mental health clinics has improved.  My concern is that with all the stress on schools to produce high test scores, the children who do not carry the full range of academic, emotional, or social intelligence are falling behind, way behind, and they end up in my office developing real psychiatric conditions that are undermining their well –being.  

Parents wish they could complete the homework with them but a majority of my parents struggle academically as well.   I have in my office a stressed out mother AND a child, both developing low self-esteem because of their poor academic skills.  Furthermore, because  children are acting out, has not fully developed healthy executive functioning skills or emotional intelligence, they have less time to do homework, because they need to come see us at our clinic for therapy and/or medications to target their symptoms, many of which are caused by their academic struggles. 

I am happy to work for a clinic where my staff and I are committed to serving local families and can provide them the support they need.  I think all my colleagues would agree, though, that having schools become a place focused so exclusively on academics has put an incredible amount of burden on parents and staff, trying to find alternatives for children facing these pressures.  Watching children in my office exhibit so many psychiatric problems  is upsetting.  I just hope those running  the NYC Department of Education and the State Education Department re-evaluate their strategies to improve children’s outcomes.  

--Dr. Johnny Lops, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist

Parents and Educators Outraged by Regents Unwillingness to Assume Responsibility and Change Course

More information contact:
Eric Mihelbergel (716) 553-1123; nys.allies@gmail.com
Lisa Rudley (917) 414-9190; nys.allies@gmail.com
NYS Allies for Public Education www.nysape.org

Parents and Educators Outraged by Regents Unwillingness to Assume Responsibility and Change Course

The leaders of the NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), a coalition of more than 45 parent and educator groups from throughout the state, expressed extreme disappointment that the NYS Regent Common Core Taskforce refused to address the real issues undermining education in this state and made only minor tweaks to current policies.  The report is quite clear that the Regents continue to ignore the deep flaws in the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS), excessive high stakes state testing and student data sharing.  The recommendations can be viewed here: http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2014/February2014/214p12hea3.pdf

Tim Farley, a parent of four public school children and the Principal of Ichabod Crane Elementary/Middle School said, “Today's recommendations from Commissioner King and the Regents task force reveal just how out of touch they are and how obsessive their appetite is for excessive state tests.  The fact that they refuse to subject their own children to these excessive testing and data policies is very telling.  The parents and educators of New York have been paying attention, and they are justifiably outraged."

“The need to replace the four incumbent Regents members is more important than ever,” said Eric Mihelbergel, Ken-Ton public school parent and founding member of NYSAPE.  The Regents Taskforce failed to address the real concerns of parents and again has displayed disconnect from their constituents.  Their recommendations today tell me the State is full steam ahead with this failed reform agenda.”

Carol Burris, South Side High Principal and 2013 Principal of the Year stated, “For a deliberative body that is so insistent that students, schools and educators be held accountable, their unwillingness to assume responsibility for their blunders and respond by correcting course is breathtaking.  For example, they shift the review of the New York State Common Core standards to the National Governors Association, rather than assume that responsibility themselves. At nearly every turn they “advocate”, or “encourage” others to take action, rather than earnestly respond to what they heard.  Developing a “teacher portal” and more low quality materials, is hardly the response our parents expected.  The tinkering with dates and semantics about college ready scores at the high school level provides no relief for our K-8 students from testing or from the implementation of flawed curriculum. ”

“Instead of simply calling for a delay in the uploading of private student data onto an insecure data cloud, and pass the responsibility to deal with this issue to the Legislature, the Regents should have insisted that the inBloom contract be cancelled, as every other state has done.  Why should New York continue to be the worst place in the country when it comes to student privacy?” asked Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters.

“The notion that more time to phase in standards or train teachers will somehow cure the ills of a deficient curriculum and inappropriate tests is misguided.    Just as troubling is the suggestion that teachers should continue to be evaluated on the basis of a system no one believes in, and that if they are threatened with losing their jobs, they  should “raise an alleged failure” of their districts to properly implement the Common Core – when the fault lies with the state.   There is no need for more money to 'engage' parents with implementation of CCLS. Parents have made their voices perfectly clear in demanding that these destructive policies be brought to an immediate halt,” said Jessica McNair, New Hartford public school parent.

"The Regents appear not  to understand that the actual time spent on testing per day, multiplied out over six days of the state assessments, is inappropriate for all students despite the misleading statistics quoted in recommendations," stated Chris Cerrone, Western New York public school parent of two elementary-aged children.

“Our state education system remains in turmoil, yet the recommendations of this task force do nothing to address the profound problems associated with the standards and excessive high stakes testing.  They simply echo the false sentiments of Chancellor Tisch and Commissioner King, by providing nothing more than superficial suggestions in an attempt to pacify the public. Parents will not be so easily assuaged,” said Jeanette Deutermann, Bellmore public school parent and founder of Long Island Opt-Out.