Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Opt-Out Not Just About Andrew Cuomo, Teacher Evaluations - It's About Making Education Better For Children

An important message from United To Counter The Core:

As we complete the first round of counts for ELA and move into the first round of counts for math, it is important to remember why parents do this.

Make no mistake, this wave of civil disobedience is not just about Andrew Cuomo and his teacher evaluation plan. Cuomo is the flavor-of-the-month in a long line of ill-prepared, ill-advised education reformers, each worse than the one before. These sometimes well-intentioned reformers have nevertheless damaged an entire generation of America's schoolchildren going all the way back to No Child Left Behind.

Hundreds of thousands of parents are not making political statements, they are looking at crying, defeated children around their kitchen tables and demanding meaningful change. NY parents and teachers want education reform that is educator-driven, that is tested and proven, that addresses the real problems facing our schools and our children, and that is implemented with a modicum of competency.

A reduction of testing or evaluations does not address the underlying issue. NY parents want what parents have wanted since time began - a better education for our children.

Loy Gross
Co-Founder, United to Counter the Core

The damage that is being done to children and schools goes well beyond overtesting and the endless test prep teachers must engage in to get children ready for those tests.

It's also being caused by the Common Core, which, if you're teaching EngageNY ELA curriculum, is an endless litany of close reading/text-based question drills that end with some argumentative writing.

There are no full books taught if you're using the EngageNY curriculum, just parts of books supplemented with movie clips.

For example, students don't read all of Romeo and Juliet anymore, they close read a scene in each act that they pick apart over and over by responding to text-based questions, then watch a bit of a movie adaptation to get them to the next scene that they'll be close reading and picking apart with text-based questions.

That's right - the days of students actually enjoying an engaging timeless story, identifying with or empathizing with archetypal characters or just getting lost in a story outside themselves is gone.

Also gone are classrooms where lessons can be spontaneous or fluid.

In my districts, we have an evaluation system that gives administrators the power to come in to your classroom unannounced for a mini-observation.

You never know when they're coming, so you have to be ready for them at all times.

You have to make sure that you have a dog/pony show ready for them when they come.

We have been told that effective lessons will contain

A) a DO NOW activity that is rigorous and text-based (experienced-based DO NOW writings are a no-no because, as ELA Common Core architect David Coleman once said, "No one gives a shit what your kids think or feel...")
B) A rigorous text-focused lesson in which students wrestle with difficult language they often don't understand and content that they have been given no context for
C) Constant assessment - every activity must have an assessment so that the teacher knows whether students learned what was being taught or not and teachers must know EXACTLY what student responses will be beforehand
D) A lesson plan that contains not only aim, do now, class activities, assessments for those activities, instructional objectives and "differentiation" methods but also the anticipated student responses for each of the assessments.

In essence, everything must be tightly controlled, from the DO NOW all the way to the EXIT SLIP and God help you if an administrator visits your class on a day and you're doing something that deviates from the imposed "effective lesson" blueprint.

I have no problem teaching the way they want me to teach some of the time, but I would like some autonomy to deviate from the imposed "effective lesson" blueprint once in a while, to do something creative, to do something different, to do something FUN.

For example:

Something happens in the news, something happens in the world or the school community, you want to spend a day having students talk about it, express their thoughts and feelings because A) it's good for them to be given opportunities to do this in a classroom setting where they can learn how to speak their minds while respectfully listening to others speak theirs and B) it builds community and rapport between students and teacher which leads to a more effective learning environoment overall.

But you can't do this anymore, not if you're concerned that an administrator with a laptop and the Danielson framework for dreary teaching and learning might come in and observe you.

I guarantee you, the discussion-based lesson I detailed above will lead to a negative evaluation rating.

Now I don't think the opt-out movement is going to bring about any change in how teachers are observed in their classrooms, but I do think the movement is very important to shine some light on just "assessment-based" and controlled teaching and learning is these days.

The damage that is being done to children and schools is not just an outgrowth of the overtesting and the test prep and test anxiety that goes with the overtesting - it's an outgrowth of the corporatization and mechanization of education that imposes control and measurement on every aspect of teaching and learning.

Teaching these days, I feel very much like the Little Tramp in Modern Times on that assembly line, under constant watch as I work on the widgets.

That is something I want to see changed and while opting out of state tests may not directly affect that, it certainly helps because it puts education reform and education reformers on the defense in the media after years of pushing their agenda with little-to-no pushback.


  1. I've seen the quality of instruction deteriorate so badly in my daughter's ELA classes. She read one book this year; it wasn't even a good one. Although she could have read it on her own in an evening, the class spent four and a half months on it. My daughter has learned to hate books and reading. It breaks my heart. I'm an English teacher, for Pete's sake.

    Yes, part of the reason why I opt out is because of Cuomo and the evaluations, but it's mainly because I want my daughter to get a great public school education like I did. I want that for my students, too.

    1. Thanks for sharing this. Your story is just one more example of the damage CCSS/EngageNY is doing to children, particularly as it relates to reading.

  2. The Testing and the Damage Done

    We caught you knockin'
    at our classroom doors
    You test our babies,
    with your Common Core
    Ooh, ooh, the damage done.

    You hit the cities
    all across the land
    We watched you testing
    with your voodoo VAM
    Wrong, wrong, the damage done.

    We sing the song
    because we hate your plan
    We know that none
    of you can understand
    W h y k i d s
    keep on, op-ting out.

    I've seen the testing
    and the damage done
    We want no part of it for anyone
    But now reform is
    like a settin' sun.

    1. Hey, that's good! Like the "needle" that Neil Young wrote about all those years ago, ed reform seems to be very, very addictive for our society. I hope we're on our way to kicking the habit.

  3. One HS English teacher I know was sticking to the module but the class discussion got a bit "off track" because the class noticed some relationship of what they were reading to bullying. So, the class discussed bullying and how it related to the reading. The principal got wind of this and was told NOT to deviate from the script of the module because there wasn't any time.

    1. Yes, that's exactly what I mean. Opportunities for authentic learning and discussion will be lost because of having to stick to the scripts.

  4. Sorry, the teacher was told not to deviate from the module.

  5. Another great column. Thanks. The bottom line is that the recent "reforms" have deadened authentic teaching and replaced it with robotic actions that students find increasingly difficult to derive value from or connect to. The administrators themselves are skeptical of the requirements coming down from Albany and Washington.

    We have way too much testing, too much "gotcha" of teachers and districts and not enough educator driven reform. Tisch, King, Flanagan, Cuomo, Skelos, Heastie, et al have made a total mess of NYS education and schools. They are all incompetent when it comes to teaching and learning and all out of touch with the thoughts of students, parents and teachers.

    It has to change in the not too distant future. The opt-out movement will only grow, just like the anti-war movement in the 60s and 70s. Teacher dissatisfaction will only grow.

    The number of college students enrolled in teacher prep programs is already down more than 30 percent in NYS and 53 percent in California. Similar numbers have been reported in other states. The quality of the incoming teachers is also sure to drop as top notch young people see what is happening to the profession and head in the opposite direction.

    The politicians are processing all of this and internalizing it. While it is true they are a band of thieves, they are also skilled at maintaining their power and abandoning their philosophy on a moment's notice.

    The nine LI state senators, including Senate Education Committee Chairman John J. Flanagan, Jr. have been in hiding all week. Not only has issued a public statement. But, from what I hear, they are scared to death about the public uprising. Incredibly, none of them saw it coming and now they are terrified that the math opt out numbers will be even higher.

    1. I have a feeling the L.I. 9 are in hiding over the Skelos subpoenas too, but you make great points about how politicians are very skilled at abandoning philosophy at a moment's notice when expedience requires that.

      I do think until political prices are paid by some pols for supporting the Endless Testing regime, they won't hit that threshold though. Right now, the deformer money keeps the wheels greased, but that can be overcome if a couple of pols are tossed and their losses can be specifically tied to their support of Endless Testing.

    2. Unfortunately I'm in the group of NYC parents who opted out and am a teacher. I don't fear any retribution because in three years I'll be terminated anyway. Thanks for the yes votes Andrew Lanza, Mike Cusick and Matt Titone.

      Fuck you Cuomo & fuck you Mulgrew for you are both worthless pieces of shit!

      The funny thing is that the apathy at my school has now disappeared and now EVERYONE is after my CL loyalty to Sean Rothkowitz, Emil Pietromonaco and Mulgrew himself. The chickens of my staff finally awoken to realize this after all the dumb shit UNITY has done to screw them.

  6. People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.
    -V (as in V for Vendetta)

    1. Wise words - alas, this government of ours is not afraid of us. Not at the city level, noit at the state level, and certainly not at the federal level. Hoping this opt-out movement can put a little fear into them, though, the way Occupy did.

  7. Why do you have no problem teaching the way "THEY" want you to teach????? DId you not get a proper education to do the job???

    1. Did I not get a proper education on how to do the job?

      That supposed to be an insult or something?

      Well, thanks for sharing...

    2. The two questions initially posed sadly demonstrate ignorance and bitterness...I would invite that person to learn about the attacks taking place against public education today, and then would welcome an "educated" debate, rather than insults and barbs, that do not merit being part of a forum.

  8. How can we expect the kids to do on these tests when our English teacher can't write a coherent sentence himself? I'm talking about a man who makes a word plural by adding apostrophe "s".

    The most insulting thing of all was when 12 year old AP broke out the laptop and started doing observations after the testing was over. Forget that teachers were fried from losing preps due to proctoring. Forget that the kids were bouncing off the walls. He had a job to do and dammit, he was going to do it, regardless of the circumstances.

    1. I was scheduled for an observation at a time I was testing. My administrator was annoyed when I pointed that out to her. She rescheduled me for a slot that was still part of the weeks I was involved in administering tests.

  9. RBE - The state Senate Democrats are coming after the GOP majority. I am a LI Republican, but I would love to see as many of the LI-9 tossed as possible. I say this with a somewhat "heavy heart" because the last time the Senate Democrats had a majority they seriously screwed LI taxpayers with the Gap Elimination Adjustment and elimination of the STAR property tax rebate checks, among other items. That said, the LI-9 has now voted for five consecutive budgets with some degree of GEA and has failed to reinstate the STAR monies that were stricken. In other words, the group is doing nothing positive and a great deal negative, especially in my career field.

    There are currently 32 GOP senators, one Democrat that affiliates with them and five traitor Democrats in the IDC led by Jeff Klein. We have to see how things play out with Skelos, Flanagan and a few others that could have some problems. We also have to see what happens in the way of challenges to the IDC members in primaries. Remember the last time around Klein indicated he would fall back into line with the real Dems and after he won his primary the general election he reneged.

    There are several GOP senators that could be in real trouble in a presidential election year, especially with Clinton on top of the ticket. The GOP lost its majority in 2008 when Obama brought a big turnout.

    George Lattimer would be a great replacement as Senate Education Committee chair.

  10. The Senate and Assembly Wall of Shame will come back to haunt those POS.