What VAM Can Never Measure?

It does not matter how many papers are written discrediting VAM. If it was possible to shove the American Statistical Association Statement on Using Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment in front of Andrew Cuomo’s face, it would make no difference to him. He would toss the paper into his circular file because reason has nothing to do with his so-called reform. VAM is not a rationale, but a belief to the reformers. The basis of their belief has nothing to do with mathematics, but everything to do with the tall tales the reformers give as anecdotal evidence to justify their beliefs.

This tall tale, often told by Teach for America types go something like this. After five weeks of training, this natural born teacher who just graduated from Harvard comes to work in a high needs school and immediately he is able to motivate every student in his 7th grade class located in the most poverty stricken area of Chicago. Each lesson captures the imagination of every student in the classroom. These highly inspirational lessons are differentiated toward every student in his class. He “teaches like a champion” as he was taught in those five magical weeks. He breaks down every academic behavior happening in the classroom. His students never knew that they have to face the teacher, give him direct eye contact, and have their feet planted squarely on floor. For the first time someone told them that they must have pencil in hand ready to write. Not only that, he is at school at 7:00 AM in the morning working with students one-on-one to catch them up to grade level. He tutors individual kids during his prep, during his lunch, and after school until nine at night. On weekends, he spends Saturday and Sunday at a local library working with even more of students. When April comes around, this class now has 100% of his students at level three or four on the Common Core ELA and Math Assessments. Just think, the previous year, when these students had that lazy burned-out unionized teacher who came to school at 8:40 and left exactly at 3:00, only 4% of these students even reached a level two on the assessment. Therefore, this “superman” teacher is rated using VAM as highly effective while that shriveled up union hack next door is deservedly ineffective and must be fired. Once every teacher in America is just like this Harvard wunderkind, every student will be on grade level headed toward college. There will no longer be any poverty in this great nation.

Disney could not have come up with a better fairy tale. All we need is for this teacher to sing a happy tune and a dozen Chicago pigeons will fly through his classroom window and tidy up his classroom. No mention is made of hunger, poor health, drug abuse, neglect, violence and homelessness that such students face every day. No mention is made of the lack of books, pencils, paper, or even desks and chairs found in such schools. No mention is made of broken lights, peeling paint and rodent droppings in these classrooms. No mention is made of about the lack of support and even terror initiated by many administrators of such schools toward new teachers. No mention is made that the only piece of technology these classrooms have is maybe a single outdated computer with intermittent internet access. No mentioned is made that even the most determined teacher will burn-out working 80 hours with no social or family life. No mention is made that this teacher’s meager salary cannot afford the price of a city studio apartment, food, transportation as well as teaching supplies for himself and his students. No mention is made that his salary will not be enough to survive and he must moonlight a second or even a third job to make ends meet while, at the same time, producing pages of lesson plans and taking additional college courses. Can VAM measure the stress and exhaustion of a working teacher trying to meet the demand that every child in his/her class grow academically against such odds?

But the main thing that VAM can never measure is what is within a good teacher’s heart. Only another anecdote can describe the heart of real teacher that no algorithm can compute. In the year 1965, I was ten-year-old fifth grader at PS 186 in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. I was not a great student. I struggled with reading because at that time the city used what was called the look-say approach to reading instruction using those old Scott Foresman basal reading series (commonly referred to as Dick and Jane). This approach was a precursor to what would someday be called whole language. I often had difficulty pronouncing words and therefore I was not a fluent reader. My parents were concerned and I remember sitting in the principal’s office with them. His name was Mr. Gladstone and he was the epitome of the old fashioned male principal. He was tall, wore a suit, and had distinguished looking gray hair, but had a kind face. He had me read for him and my parents. I do not recall exactly what was said, but as a result of the meeting, my class was changed. My new teacher was Miss Burke. She was this older Irish woman who always wore plaid skirts and high button blouses. To me, this teacher was Mary Poppins, Maria Von Tramp, and Cinderella’s fairy godmother combined into one living, breathing person who did change my life—not by magic but through caring, determination and love.

In her classroom, no one was allowed to make fun of any student who had a learning problem. She taught her students to help one another. When we read silently a book of our choosing, she always came over to me and had me read very quietly to her. I did not realize it at the time, but she was teaching me a host of strategies that helped me to become a fluent reader. I would not realize until I became a teacher myself that she was giving me phonetic and word analysis tools to improve my fluency. I recall that each time I read a page without error, she would have a big smile on her face and say “good job.”

During that era, each class was required to put on a play. She had each student read some lines of script and then said that I had the most expression and asked the class if I should have the main part. To my surprise, the whole class agreed with her. That was the first time in my school life that a teacher and my classmates showed confidence in me. However, I was scared to death and when I got home I cried to my parents that I could not do it. My mother called her at the school the next day and told her of my fears. I was afraid that I could not remember all the lines; I was afraid of making mistakes; and I was very much afraid of making a fool of myself in that giant auditorium in front of every student, parent and teacher. That evening, Miss Burke came to my house and spoke to my parents and me. She and my parents came up with a plan how I would learn my lines and practice a little bit every day. With her encouragement, I did it. I performed the main role of silly play about eating the right type of foods. I recall that I had to perform not only in the morning, but also again in the afternoon for another group of students. At that time, many of us went home for lunch, but I recall Miss Burke saying to my mom that I should have lunch with her (she was afraid I would not come back).

Whereas today, the common core teaches fifth grade students to compare the structures of drama, poetry and prose, we lived it. I learned how hard it is to put together a play with scenery, cuing for each stage direction and the details of choreographing a single dance. I learned how to stand, project my voice and even walk on a stage. Today, students learn that scripts have italicized stage directions, but I learned why and how each of those directions was important.

Miss Burke also ran the school’s chorus (glee club in 1960s jargon) with another teacher. I auditioned and soon found myself learning a medley of songs from Mary Poppins. We worked hours memorizing those songs, learning how to breathe and how to perform on cue using various hand signals. I remember that our chorus was chosen to perform in Lafayette High School. I was amazed that we were bathed in light while the audience was in total darkness. That was fine with me because it made me less nervous. To this day, I can still sing Supercalafragalisticexpialadoshus and Chim Chimney.

In addition, at that time, the Brooklyn Museum had an orchestra. This orchestra taught school children music appreciation. Every week, the fifth grade classes of our school went to the museum and the conductor and his orchestra taught us about all the different types of musical instruments and the role each instrument played in a concert. The week we were learning about woodwinds, I remember him calling me to the stage to try to blow through a tuba. No matter how hard I tried, I could not produce a single note. At the end of four weeks, all those instruments came together and played for us all different types of classical music. That was my first introduction to Beethoven and Mozart. I would learn the complexity of such music.

During the year, we went on a trip to the New York World’s Fair in which Miss Burke would explain all the different exhibits from many different cultures. Before we entered the Vatican exhibit, she explained to us the whole history behind the Pieta. For the first time, I was introduced to the Renaissance and Michelangelo. At the end of the year, because the fifth grade was the graduating class, we took a trip to Philadelphia to Independence Hall, the Franklin Museum and Betsy Ross’ House. What I remember most form that trip was sticking my head inside the Liberty Bell and sitting, in Independence Hall, at the desk of Thomas Jefferson. That motivated me to begin reading everything I could about our third president.

In terms of learning, I improved my writing because Miss Burke got each of us a penpal from Europe. I ended up writing to a young girl in Czechoslovakia. My letters got longer and more descriptive as the year progressed as I tried to tell her everything that we American children did throughout the day. She even had us write to an author of a book we read. I wrote to the author of a children’s biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. I was so proud when he wrote back to me and I have that letter to this very day. By the way, I still have that old play script in an attic box. A few months ago when we were cleaning out the attic, this sixty-year-old man refused to part with it.

That script is more than a bunch of faded rexograph papers. I cannot part with it because it represents the richest educational experience I ever had. It is amazing that all this was done in an average New York City public school by a teacher who taught with love and care. Miss Burke taught in a very traditional manner. To tell the truth, I cannot recall or even visualize a single lesson, but what I do recall is the warmth every time she spoke to either me or the class. I recall her smile and her pat on my back every time I did a good job. Can VAM measure any of this? Can VAM measure the love this teacher showed me and the other students of that class? Can it measure all the wonderful experiences this woman gave to me and my classmates that year? If you notice, I have not mentioned a single test. I do not recall taking any type of formal standardized test that year. Instead of hours of test prep, I had real learning, great learning. I learned through experiences, through song, through dance, through art and through purposeful writing. After that year, I no longer had any significant academic difficulties. What this teacher did for me is really how one is made college ready. A child is made college ready when you instill in them curiosity and a love of learning. Hours of high stakes testing and days of test prep create just the opposite—a hatred of learning. As I am writing this, my eyes are very moist. My tears represent the happy memories instilled by Miss Burke as well as tears of sadness for what has been lost—the true magic of teaching. Teaching is a human act, a complex act that cannot be measured by any algorithm. The passion and complexity of a human interaction cannot be measured by a single snapshot. When reformers describe teaching, it is nothing more than a mechanical act. One cannot measure something that comes from your heart and soul. One cannot measure an act of love, for that is what teaching really is.

Louisiana’s Class of 2014 ACT Scores Are In This Post

liberalteacher:

I had to re-blog this article from Mercedes Schneider about the dismal ACT results from New Orleans Recovery School District. Here is America’s only all charter school district graduating students with ACT scores that do not even come close to college level. If anything is proof of the failure of this charter experiment, it is right before your eyes.

Originally posted on deutsch29:

Today I made a new friend. This new friend works in admissions at one of Louisiana’s institutes of higher education. My new friend informed me that the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) is not the only entity to which ACT sends score reports. It turns out that ACT sells the same score information to college and university admissions offices.

It also turns out that my new friend has connections within a Louisiana post-secondary admissions office.

The short of it is that I now have the Class of 2014 ACT composite scores for all Louisiana districts as well as the composite scores for all Recovery School District (RSD) and Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) high schools.

And now, you have them, as well, because I created the following Excel file to share with the public:

Louisiana Class of 2014 ACT Scores

In the above file, I created three sheets. The first…

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NJ Governor’s Task Force: Take the PARCC, I Did

NJ Governor’s Task Force: Take the PARCC, I Did

liberalteacher:

When I saw this article, I too, who also had and still have an imagination, imagined myself taking this PARCC test. At ten, I was just beginning to overcome some learning challenges as a child. I can imagine such a test being used to prevent me from getting a high school diploma and becoming a very successful college student (which I was). I can also imagine instead of being retired with dignity after a 36 year career, I would have to work , maybe 50 to 60 hours a week, into my old age in some service job just to make ends meet. I would be working in a job that I would hate and despise because of the limited career options I would have had as a high school dropout.

Originally posted on parentingthecore:

Dear Members of Governor Christie’s PARCC Task Force:

I was one of those kids who always performed well on standardized tests. As a result of my scores, I was placed in gifted and talented programs, tracked into the honors and AP tracks (with their added boosts of inflated GPAs), and ultimately accepted to a highly selective liberal arts college. I wasn’t a particularly conscientious student, and I brought all sorts of hangups to my classwork (Carol Dweck is my hero, as I was definitely one of those kids who often didn’t complete assignments at all out of what I now believe was fear that I wouldn’t measure up to my “smart” reputation). But standardized tests saved me, and gave me a chance to “prove” my worth. You’d think I’d be the biggest cheerleader out there for our new, next-generation standardized tests. After all, standardized tests enabled me to…

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39 Steps Backward or How Richard Hannay was Killed by the Common Core Anarchists

Back in the early 70s when I was a student, my New York City high school decided upon a unique approach to teaching English to its students. Each term was devoted to a different type of literature or what we call today genre. One term, I read three Shakespeare tragedies, another term I read four science fiction novels, and so on. By the way, there was no genre called Informational text. Why? I don’t really know, but something tells me that the administration of that school felt that all our required social studies and science classes may have already filled that void. Nevertheless, when I was a junior, I had a great teacher who introduced me to one of my most favorite types of literature—mysteries. In her class, I clearly remember reading two pieces of literature that held me spellbound. One was Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and the other was The 39 Steps by John Buchan. Unbeknownst to me at that time was the fact that both were made into motion pictures by Alfred Hitchcock. And even though those two films are considered classics, I prefer both novels hands down.

I tutor many students and two weeks ago one of my students needed help in analyzing an excerpt from The 39 Steps. Of course it was just an excerpt because as we all know Mr. Coleman feels it is a waste of time for students to possibly read and enjoy a whole novel. But what was even more amazing was the fact that this excerpt was in a 6th grade common core workbook. Obviously, I read it in high school and remembered that many concepts had to be explained to us at that time. I recall being fascinated learning about the cultural differences between us Americans and the British in the waning days of its Empire. The book is obviously beyond the scope of an average sixth grader. But I had to confirm this for myself. I decided to use common core’s favorite readability formula on this excerpt—Lexile. Lo and behold, but not surprisingly, the Lexile score was 960. To put it in terms that we old teachers understand, the book is on the 10th-11th grade level. After all, to Arne, David and Bill, rigor is the “code word” of the day.

Before I begin to discuss the difficulty my student had with the text because of this dastardly curriculum, it is important to understand why this piece of literature is important and why it should be taught to high school students. The 39 Steps is one of the first examples of what I call the spy thriller. It is also the prototype of the man-on-the-run action adventure. From this thriller would eventually come the works of Ian Fleming, John le Carre, Robert Ludlum, Alan Furst and Daniel Silva. It also introduced some common plot devices that are so well known today that we consider them almost clichés. We have in this one book an ordinary man drawn into a secret world of intrigue and who risks his life for the good of his nation. Basically, it is first authentic spy novel.

The excerpt my student read was the first couple of pages from the book. The excerpt starts with the protagonist’s experience in visiting London from South Africa where he is mining engineer. Richard Hannay is described in this excerpt as being somewhat uncomfortable on this trip to his native land. He feels out of place and bored. All of a sudden, upon returning to his apartment, one of his neighbors barges in to his “flat” and after suspiciously checking all of the rooms say this sentence: ‘Pardon,’ he said, ‘I’m a bit rattled tonight. You see, I happen at this moment to be dead.’

What did this common core workbook want the student to do with the text? First, he had to read it twice. Of course, a close reading had to be done. His task was to circle key phrases that showed the “tone” of the passage. This was difficult for him because of two reasons. First, he had no understanding what was meant by tone and I had to explain and give him concrete examples of this common core concept. Next, the passage itself floored him because he had no background information to hook into. He had no conception that the main character was a colonial from a British African colony and that he felt out of place now in his mother country. Why should he know any of this when this curriculum forbids students from using any background information—especially in the area of social studies—when pieces of text are analyzed?

I had to figure out why this student was really having so much trouble. I spent most of my teaching career diagnosing learning problems and like the author of the above novel, I had to get a real handle on this mystery. First, I asked him about the setting. Where and when was the main character? I said what year do you think the passage is taking place in? He said that he thought the story was happening at the present time. He was surprised when I said it was about 100 years ago. He asked how I knew. I pointed out that in the passage that his mother country still had colonies. Then I had to explain what was meant by a colony and mother country. Of course, I pointed out that once we were a colony of Britain.

Next, I asked him for the exact location of the character. His first answer was Scotland. I asked why? He gave that answer because the passage said that he came from Scotland and now he was visiting. Then he started to rattle other locations mentioned in the passage. Finally, he admitted that he really does not know where exactly the character was because the story mentioned so many names that he never heard of. He did not know where London, Vancouver, New Zealand or the United Kingdom was. I then told him that the character was in Great Britain in the city of London which is its capital. I explained that Great Britain is often called the United Kingdom. I pulled out the Ipad and pointed to the UK on a world map. I tried to explain that it is called the UK because once upon a time the UK was made up of the kingdoms of Scotland, England, Wales, and part of Ireland that united into one country like our country which we call the United States. Next, I had to explain that once Great Britain had many colonies in the early 20th century. I went on to explain that once Canada where the city of Vancouver is located, New Zealand and South Africa where the main character came from was at the time the passage was written were colonies of Great Britain. I then had him reread the part that said that he went to live with his father in South Africa at the age of six and has not been back to Britain since that time.

Once I explained all this, he finally concluded that that the character was probably unhappy because he felt out of place. Now he was able to circle some phrases that showed the character’s unhappiness. As we looked for phrases showing the tone, he started to ask me the meaning of many other words. He had no clue what was meant by the word “flat” in the sentence “My ‘flat’ was in the first floor of a new block behind Langham Place.” Even though the next few sentences described what the flat looked like, he did not understand that it meant an apartment. Another word that confused him was “liftman” which, of course, was the elevator operator for the apartment. He kept asking why the passage used the wrong words to describe things. I had to explain that British English and American English often use different words to say the same thing. This could have been a lesson in and of itself.

Now, of course, he had to answer a few multiple choice common core questions. One question asked from which point of view the passage was written and another question asked which literary devices the author used within the passage. A third question asked which event represented rising action in the passage. Obviously all these questions were structural in nature and had absolutely nothing to do with the plot or ideas in the passage. The final task was for the student to write a short response in which he had to describe the theme of the passage. The teacher added this short response question by hand because the rule was that every passage needed for the student to write a short response to prepare for the test. In my view, there was no way the student would be able to figure out the theme of the passage from the excerpt because the excerpt ended too soon. Most of the passage described the character as being bored and only the last paragraph was beginning to transition into the true nature of the story. Obviously, the student felt that the theme of the passage had to do with the characters unhappiness and boredom which represented the bulk of the passage.

A week later, I asked my student what was the answer to the teacher’s short response question. When he told me, I could not believe what I was hearing. His answer that the general theme was boredom was incorrect. The answer, according to the teacher, was that the protagonist was going to embark on an unexpected and exciting adventure. The student had to infer all this from the last sentence in which the character’s neighbor said that “I happen at this moment to be dead.” According to the teacher, that last sentence represented evidence that an unexpected adventure was about to happen. Yes, that is one of the story’s themes if one knew the rest of the plot, but from that excerpt, such a conclusion represented a jump higher than vaulting over the Grand Canyon.

What the student was asked showed to me the utter ridiculous nature of the Common Core. Here is a great piece of literature that was completely destroyed by the tasks the student was expected to do. First, the passage was inappropriate for his age. Only a student who has taken high school global history would have an inkling of understanding as to the background of the story. In addition, there is no purpose giving any student an excerpt which does not show the true nature of the genre it represents. They might as well excerpt the first scene of Macbeth and asked the students to describe the setting or even the complete theme of that famous drama.

When I read The 39 Steps, I recall so many lively discussions. It was the time of the Vietnam War. One discussion I distinctly remember centered on the theme of risking your life for your country when your nation in itself was deeply flawed. We also discussed some of the political issues brought out in the novel, such as powerful industrialists profiting from wars and conflicts between nations and that it was in the interest of such people to forment war. The discussions that we had over this book represent real higher level thinking skills. It is the type of critical thinking skills that create a citizenry that questions its government. It is the type of learning that creates a true educated citizenry that is able to participate in relevant political discourse. Forcing students to read and describe the structure of a passage five years above grade level is not education, but frustration that will lead to a hatred of learning because it is purposeless. Whereas this novel gave me a life-long love of spy novels and got me thinking about wider issues, the excerpt my student read led to confusion, misunderstanding and a feeling of inadequacy.

Common Core Assessments and the New SAT—Remarketing Inequality

I have been tutoring students on a regular basis for almost 30 years. I started tutoring students for various standardized tests in order to earn some extra money. The main reason was my discovery in the mid-1980s that diapers, formula, baby clothes, and regular doctor visits cost a lot. I started tutoring for the verbal parts PSAT, SAT, ACT, SSAT, COOP and SHSAT at that time and soon discovered that every one of these tests require students mastering pretty much the same strategies. In addition, I also discovered early on that the students who do poorly on these tests have pretty much the same deficits. Either they have weaknesses in language and vocabulary or they have difficulty decoding written text.

Let us talk about language and vocabulary. Language problems are often due to a variety of factors. One factor may be that the student has a language-based learning disability which makes it difficult for such children to process written or spoken language. Many have trouble understanding vocabulary concepts as well as classifying or categorizing information. Often these students have difficulty with abstract concepts and often understand information very concretely. How this shows up on a high school level would be a student having to prove some concept using a literary quote. Recently, I tutored a student who was reading the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He had to find a quote related to “social status” issues and then come up with a discussion question related to the concept. The problem my student had is that he had no idea what was meant by “social status.” As a result, he could not find an appropriate quote or come up with a discussion question. Obviously, I had to teach him what was meant by social status—especially in regards to role expectations of women and blacks during the 1930s in the southern United States. Next, we have those students whose language problems stem from deficits in executive functioning. As states by the National Center for Learning Disabilities this problem makes

activities like planning, organizing, strategizing, remembering details and managing time and space difficult. Problems with executive function—a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action—can be seen at any age and often contribute to the challenges individuals with LD face in academic learning.

To put it more simply, it is the child whose brain is liked a turned-over filing cabinet. They are asked to retrieve and make sense of a piece of information, but they do not even know where to start to even find it. Often these children are very bright or have other conditions that impact the problem, such as ADHD.

Then we have the type of language issues related to ELL status. Imagine a student immigrating to America when they are just beginning high school age and now have to take the SAT. It is common knowledge that research shows it takes 5-7 years at that age to develop the type of rich academic English vocabulary to master any test that is vocabulary intensive. Even student who are born in the United States to parents that speak a second language—even professional parents—often have what I call language lags in English. In the last ten years, I have tutored American born children of Russian immigrants. Often these students have weaknesses in comprehension and written expression because there are gaps in their English vocabulary, grammar and spelling. Strikingly, these are students who have parents who have professional occupations, such as dentists, doctors, and engineers. The younger I start working with these students, the easier it is to get these students to achieve academically by the time they reach middle and high school age.

Next, there is the child who has difficulty decoding fluently complex text. These students have phonological deficits that interfere with their ability to break the code—especially when dealing with nonphonetic and multisyllable words. When I start working with high school students who takes a very long time reading text, I have them start to read aloud. Not surprisingly, they cannot decode 10 to 20 percent of the text. I recall one student who could not decode any words that contained silent vowel letters or digraphs. When I told the parents that he really could not decode much beyond the third grade level, they appeared surprised. Imagine this student trying to read an excerpt from some scientific text written on the college level.

Finally, we have the issue of poverty. Poverty is like placing a giant magnifying glass on all the above issues. Not only does it make each problem bigger, it creates a fire that destroys any hope of any of the above issues ever being solved. Conversely, if a student comes from a family that has means, many of the above problems I mentioned can be solved. For example, I started with one student when he was 7 years old. He had problems in language processing, pragmatic language, and executive functioning. Now he is a successful high school student who has a B+ average. Yes, he still needs some help, but he has overcome many of his problems. Another student was born with delayed speech and significant sensory integration problems. After early intervention services, he received speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and academic help from me. Two years of intensive tutoring enabled him to receive a decent score on the ACT and even receive a partial scholarship to a four year college. When a student comes from a family with money, most mild learning problems can be mitigated. The families I worked with were able to afford years private tutoring by an experienced professional in addition to any services provided by their schools. Furthermore, all these parents are sophisticated and were able to hire advocacy services to make sure that the schools gave their children all they were entitled to. By the way, these students either went to or go to suburban public schools that provide a rich education as well as interesting extra-curricular activities. Both their schools do not emphasize test prep or a narrowing of the curriculum for the sake of passing our state’s Common Core ELA and math assessments.

On the other hand, those students in poverty cannot afford the extra help that these middle class students have gotten. They cannot buy my services or the services of any credentialed tutor. Interestingly, an educational director of a charter school said to me at an IEP meeting that I was selfish because I only helped students for money. I should give away my services for free to kids in poverty. I then said that I will do that when the head of charter he worked for, no longer take a salary and that all the school’s hedge fund investors put their profits back into the school for the sake of these poor children. Obviously, there was no answer. But I digress.

The central point I am trying to make is that the Common Core is nothing more than a smoke screen hiding the real issues—poverty and the lack of real supplementary education services.. Here we have a curriculum that is vocabulary intensive, requires students to decode above their grade or developmental levels, and focuses more on the structure of text than the ideas presented in literature or informational text. At the elementary and middle school levels, the focus is whether the author presents appropriate evidence to support an idea or argument with little focus on the ideas that a particular piece of writing conveys. It is built on every weakness a student with learning challenges or children of poverty have. Its cure for students who come from homes that offer no language stimulation, no books, and no sense of security is frustration and failure. Its reward is the defunding of schools that have impoverished, disabled and immigrant children. If such a school has a music, drama, art or sports program in which some of these children may shine for a few hours, it must be taken away in favor of hours of test prep using materials significantly above the ability level of these problematic students. Money must be spent on constant testing and Common Core test prep books that only enrich corporate publishing monopolies, but not these children.

Now here comes David Coleman once again with his new Common Core based SAT. During the last few days, I have been on the Collegeboard web site reading about this new test. I read articles about its construction, purpose and planned implementation. He talks about how the test was constructed with the input of educators. The same was said for the Common Core. Nowhere did I read which educators. The material went on to say that students that do well on this test will be successful in college and in their future careers. He based this on students who have supposedly volunteered to have taken sample tests. Obviously, the samples that have already been given for standardization had to have been given recently. Yet, the Collegeboard knows already that these students are college and career ready. To really determine the validity of this claim, one needs to have given the real new SAT, not a sample, and follow the population (one that is representative of America’s real student population controlled for economic status, ethnicity, race, disability, etc.) over the next five to ten years. If one gave a sample test, let’s say last year, how on earth do you now know they will graduate four years hence and acquire a professional career!

What is even more interesting is that when I read about its structure and sample questions. I realized that instead of inventing something new, the new SAT was just a watered down version of the ACT minus the science section. He spoke how his new test will now have vocabulary in context and words that high school and college students use every day and not those esoteric vocabulary words students had to memorize in the past. First, the old SAT did have vocabulary in context questions and two, I want to know how one determines if a word is esoteric? When judging some of the samples, students with impoverished vocabularies and language problems will have just as much problem on this test as the old SAT. One sample was again the Common Core treatment of the Gettysburg Address. Students had to identify the different uses and connotations of the word “dedicated” in the speech. If a student has no idea what the word dedicated even means or has no background knowledge about the speech and its purpose, his/her answers will still be wrong. Not losing a quarter point for every incorrect answers and having four instead of five choices for each question will not really help someone who has below level vocabulary concepts or little background information. In another passage, there was what I called paired questions. If they answered the first question wrong, the second question which built on the first would also be wrong. Many questions were evidenced-based. The question would ask whether particular details supported the author’s central idea. However, if the student was unable to even determine the main point of the passage because of issues of comprehension, decoding, etc., there was no way such a question could be answered.

The new SAT invented by Mr. Coleman is nothing more than another paper and pencil bubble test that will be done either by hand or online. It is still a language intensive test that will be a challenge to poor minority, disabled and immigrant students. He talks about the fact that test prep will be unnecessary because the Khan Academy will offer free online help for all students. The Khan Academy’s support will end up being nothing more than free samples for the poor. Already the private test prep companies are beginning to prepare material for their small group classes and individual tutors. Because the New SAT is like the ACT, it is obviously that individual tutors will teach the same strategies. If students have very weak vocabularies, they will still need to learn the multiple meanings of words to be able to answer vocabulary in context questions. They will still have to learn how to utilize the context and grammar clues of surrounding sentences to figure out the appropriate meaning of a particular vocabulary word. Students will still have to learn how to identify different type of questions and the strategies one need to answer such questions. Students will still have to learn how to underline or highlight key or transitional words to identify changes in meaning and ideas in order to improve comprehension (something hard to do on an online test). Obviously, the best test prep remains human to human and not human to machine. Therefore, nothing will have changed. Students from middle class and wealthy families who come from better schools will be able to afford extra help and do better while impoverished students who come from schools with limited resources will continue to do poorly. And through its marketing the Collegeboard will convince more students to take its test which will mimic the ACT thus making a lot of profits for its investors.

Instead of sinking billions into this new test and its related test prep industry, we need to pull the curtain aside and toss out these charlatans. By the way, charlatan is a SAT word which for some reason most students have no idea as to its meaning (and it is not an esoteric word in my book). Instead, this money should be going to re-fund all public schools so they can give every student a rich education. Poverty is cured in only way—money. Only money can provide decent job with a living wage for the parents of these kids and the type of wrap around educational services that will provide health, counseling and additional tutoring services to compensate for years of neglect. Teachers who are powerless did not create the economic injustice that exists in our country. However, it is Coleman and his corporate supporters who refuse to acknowledge that they are the ones who contribute to economic inequality by their refusal to be taxed fairly in order to pay for the radical changes needed to begin to end poverty in this nation and really improve education. Therefore, I suggest that students should apply to schools that do not use the SAT or even the ACT in their application process. In addition, if they do apply to a school that requires a standardized test score, they should only take the ACT. Hopefully, if more people boycott that so-called assessment, it will die of its own accord. These tests—the Common Core and SAT—are cancers to education and the sooner we perform major surgery, the better will be our chance of survival.

Reflection after Three Months into Retirement

I hate to be asked how I am enjoying retirement.   People who ask this question have created a fantasy world of what it means to be retired.   After listening to my friends, family, former colleagues as well as perfect strangers, I have synthesized all their dreams, hopes and aspirations by creating a make believe world they call Retirement Heaven.   In Retirement Heaven, you can wake up late every morning—no earlier than 11:00 AM.  You never ever set your alarm clock again.   Upon waking up, your spouse will deliver to you breakfast in bed that is no less than 2000 calories.  After breakfast, it is time for a relaxing shower.  After a shower, you put on shorts, a t-shirt and sneakers for either your daily run or your two hour workout at the gym.  By the way, in Retirement Heaven, it is always summer. At about 2:00 PM, you make your way home for lunch and a few hours of television.   You’ve recorded on your DVD only mindless television programs to watch for the next few hours.  Now it is time for dinner.  In retirement, you are not allowed to make dinner, but instead, every evening you go to a different restaurant to eat meals that have no fewer than three courses.  You return home, take out your trashy novel and read until you drift calmly to sleep at about one in the morning.

For someone like me, such a retirement heaven would be like that old Twilight Zone episode where a gangster dies and is given every one of his heart’s desires.   He is given wealth, beautiful women and the ability to successfully commit every crime known to man without consequence.   In the end, he is completely bored out of his wits and asks to go to the other place only to be told he is in the other place!

To me, retirement means having the freedom to choose the type of work that I want to do.  It is also the ability to focus on those endeavors that are really important. On the day that I retired from teaching, unfortunately all the problems that existed before my last day of work really did not disappear.  Several people said to me you shouldn’t care what happens to the world of education.  One person told me that if all the public schools blew up tomorrow, you will still be retired on your nice pension.  Would I?

First of all, if public education ended tomorrow and was completely privatized, it would make it all the more easier for those in power to end pubic pensions.   Public education and my pension, which I earned through hours of hard work as a teacher, both represent a social contract. It is a social contract between the government and the people it represents.  If you end one, you can easily end the other.   The philosophical basis of public education derives from those Enlightenment thinkers who believed  that power derive from the governed.  The governed allows power to be given to a government so that it can establish policies that will benefit the collective.  The 18th century Philosophes believed that public education’s purpose was to create a sophisticated citizenry who would be able to immediately spot tyranny and remove it from power—either through constitutional democratic means or by force if necessary.   The concept of public pensions also has its basis in the 18th century idea of a social contract.   Public servants will serve society for a number of years at a lower rate of compensation so that the state can benefit from their skills.  In return, the public servant will receive a pension paid at the end of their public service so they can live the rest of their life in dignity.   But the purpose of a pension also is based on sound economic and social principles.   Instead of the retired worker being a drain on society, the retired worker will have enough income to continue to purchase goods and services (providing employment to others) and still be able to contribute to society (and the economy) in other ways, such as through volunteering or part-time employment.

Therefore, in retirement, I now have taken on a new job—saving public education.  One way is by working part time in the school where a spent the last third of my career.   For the majority of my 36 year career, I had a job that came into existence because New York City grossly violated the rights of disabled students back in the late 1970s.  Federal law mandates that disabled students need to be evaluated every three years and if there has to be a change in services, any reevaluation must be done in a timely manner.   Thus, in the late 70s, the city was sued because it had a backlog of close to 30,000 reevaluations. It resulted in the court ordering the creation of a team of professionals in each school whose job it was to make sure assessments and subsequent IEP conferences were held in a timely manner.  My job was as case manager and Educational Evaluator.   I became highly skill in conducting norm-referenced, criterion referenced and curriculum-based assessments.  The purpose of these assessments was not to punish teachers but to diagnose the educational needs of disabled students so as to help teachers meet their IEP goals. (Yes, this is the real purpose of testing.) A quarter of a century later the city was in relative compliance.   Because most city schools have relatively large populations, the team needed a psychologist to conduct intelligence and projective tests, an educator who was a skilled diagnostician and a social worker.  This ended in 2003 when Mr. Bloomberg embarked on reforming special education in New York City, which really meant he was trying to find a way to save money.   He made my job disappear overnight and gave the case management piece and educational piece to the school psychologists that now are so overworked, they are forced to cut corners in order to remain in compliance.   As for me, because Bloomberg violated so many of the contractual rights of Educational Evaluators (who were teachers), he was ordered by an arbitrator to create the job of IEP teacher.  I held this job for the final eleven years of my career. When the job was created by  the arbitrator, it was undefined. It was up to a building principal to define what IEP teachers would do. Bloomberg hoped that most principals would make the lives of these new IEP teachers so miserable that many would leave the system.   The opposite happened.   Most of us ended up doing many different albeit necessary educational tasks within our schools.  As for me, I became in charge of compliance, testing, data, and academic intervention services.

When I retired, the new principal would ask who did this and who did that.  My name was mentioned each time and before I knew it, I was back in the school a couple of days a week.  However, I am doing what I loved doing the most—working with kids.   Unfortunately, the city schools have a simple philosophy—the minimum is the maximum.  Because the union contract stated that IEP Teachers would only be funded for those who were former Educational Evaluators like me, once I retired, the money dried up and the position disappeared.   It disappeared even though the school would now have no one to provide state mandated academic intervention services for those students who received level 1 on those wonderful Common Core State Assessments in ELA and Math.  As for all my other jobs, I am helping to train three other professionals to do different pieces of my job.   When I started as an IEP Teacher in 2003, testing was just a little piece of my job, but as we all know, it turned into a monster with three head and twenty arms.  It took up so much of my time that I often could not work with students.   Now I am trying to give students the skills to do better on these assessments (notice that I did not say pass).   For example, it is not enough to say to a level one student that they need to use context clues.   What I do is to try to give them four or five strategies to help them try to figure out the meanings of so many unknown words on passages that are always above their grade level.  Yes, I hate the test, but I have to do something.  Many of these students are former English Language Learners who supposedly reached proficiency in English on a state assessment measuring second language ability.  By the way, I am in one of the few middle class school districts within the city.   However, we have many immigrant families.  The parents of these children work two, sometimes three jobs so they can live in a nice area.   However, because our scores  are a little better than the state average and we have fewer students on public assistance, we get less money than other schools around the city.   And knowing this, the city cut funds to hire just one academic intervention services teacher.

In addition to working part time in my school, I am also tutoring and I am collaborating with someone in writing a review text to help students try to pass these horrible state assessments.  Some might say that I am hypocritical trying to help students pass these assessments when they should be done away with.   For years, I have tutored students to pass the SAT even though I hate everything these assessments stand for.   However, by not helping these students, their low grades stand as a barrier preventing them from getting their foot in the door to enter the world of higher education.   As long as these institutional barriers exist—common core, SAT, etc., I will help student acquire the skills to work the system while at the same time advocate for change.

What I found most interesting these last several months was watching the types of teaching jobs posted by various online employment services.    Last June, I rewrote my resume and posted it on an employment site.   Now my email is inundated with lists containing scores of teaching jobs.   The first thing I noticed that most jobs posted today are for charter schools.   In the New York area, the one charter that comes up all the time is our favorite—The Success Academy.   Interestingly, one of Eva’s charter schools has been looking for a SETSS teacher since June.  I have a simple theory.  No one wants this position.   Who would want to work for a school where you are on-call 24 hours a day, paid low wages, and then spit out after two years.  Sometimes I think about applying as a lark.   I am sure once they realized my age and the fact that I had a 36 year public school career, my resume would end up in the circular file.  Interestingly, a well-known tutoring company saw my resume and wanted to interview me.  I asked what their pay was.  I   laughed when they said $15.00 an hour.  I told them that when I first started SAT tutoring in 1987, I worked for a college preparation tutoring service and was paid $20 an hour.   I added,  “When you have a high turnover rate, you end up getting what you pay for.”

I would never work for a charter or such a tutoring agency because they violate our society’s social contract.    I believe in and will fight for public education because every cent of public money must go to the child.  And yes, paying public school teachers decent wages benefit children.   A well paid professional feels invested in the system and will work hard for those under their tutelage. A well paid professional wants to dedicate their lives to public service.   The social contract is broken when education is privatized.   The privateers view teachers and students as human capital whose purpose is to create profit.  I call these privatizers education pimps.   Students cannot benefit when your purpose is greed and not the creation of a well-rounded individual who is able to think and make sound life decisions.   The purpose of these corrupt and greedy charter operators is to throw a few crumbs to their school’s students and teachers while they hoard our public dollars.  I want my tax money to be invested honestly and completely into each public school.  Charter operators will be quick to say that they are capitalists taking risks.  Yes, when one invests private capital, risks are taken, but what is being invested is our public money.   It is public money that is being given to them by elected officials who are in their corrupt little pockets.   These officials are also pimping our dollars for private gain and must be ousted.  Our elected officials have forgotten that they serve us and derive their power from us.

Getting back to that retirement fantasy world I mentioned at the beginning, I ended up doing one thing that I rarely did during my work years.  I have watched a lot more television.   One thing I ended up watching was Ken Burns’ documentary on the Roosevelts.   It reminded me that our society is again in a Gilded Age where a few wealthy men have taken control of our government and its institutions.   Ken Burns thinks that it was the power of these singular individuals that changed America in the first half of the twentieth century.   What he does not understand is that these great individuals could not have done anything if people did not organize and petition first on the local level and then nationally for change.  We have to regain control of all levels of government to make it again, as FDR believed, a force to create a just and fair society in which everyone has some share in the economic wealth of this great nation.   I know we have a hard fight ahead of us, but we are making headway.  There is an old adage:  The Ocean started as single drops of water.

Why I No Longer Support President Obama, Governor Cuomo and State Senator Avella

                Several weeks ago, I joined Democrats for Public Education and by doing so I publicly said something that I thought I would never say.  I do not support this Democratic President because he had betrayed the very foundation of Democratic values for a corporatist ideology.  For a long time, I would not admit the obvious truth that there appears to really be one political party in this country.   The two major political parties tend to slide into each other.   Both political parties have corporatist wings that are controlled by big money.  This wing, which is in both parties, is socially liberal and believes the purpose of government is to enrich those who have power and control.  This wing is the pivot that appears to connect both political parties.  First we saw this split in the GOP and now the split is in the open within the Democratic Party.  We have left-wing (true Democrats) now beginning to publicly separate themselves from the corporatist wing while in the Republican party, we have the teabagger wing splitting from their corporatist partners.  If you put a corporatist Republican and Democrat in the same room, I bet they would immediately fall in love. 

                The corporatists of both parties are not in any way conservative.  They do not believe in a limited government and have the belief that a free market will solve all problems.   In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan created the welfare queen out of a woman who was a con-artist and criminal who managed to squeeze money out of dozens of federal programs.  The corporatists should be dubbed the welfare kings.  The thousands this woman took in the 1980s is pocket change compared to the billions these corporate Democrats and Republicans have legally swindled from our government at the federal, state and local level.   They love government subsidies and bailouts.   Think of the billions that were given to this group during the great recession six years ago to stabilize the economy.  The cry went out that these banks and brokerages were too big to fail.  Unfortunately, they probably were because if we would not have kept certain banks and businesses afloat, millions more would have been unemployed.  But when the dust cleared, workers kept their jobs often with give-backs while corporatists walked away with billions in their pockets.  

                Now back to President Obama.  Many of us supported him because he embodied our dreams and aspirations for this country.  We believed his election would bring the rebirth of true progressivism.  However, what he has wrought is a mutated version of the liberal ideal.  If you study the New Deal under Roosevelt, you will see that many of his reforms did not come from the top, but started at the grass roots level.  A good example was Dr. Francis Townsend who published an extended letter to the editor in a California newspaper in which he came up with a solution to poverty among the elderly.  His proposal would lead to social security.   From his initial letter, grassroot organizations began to form around the country advocating for an old age pension system.   At first, FDR ignored the proposal, but when he realized that a significant portion of his coalition supported the idea of social security, Franklin Roosevelt changed his tune when he ran for re-election in 1936. The initial law did not have everything that Townsend and his grassroots organization wanted, but it was a start and did pretty much wipe out poverty among most of America’s aged population in the next seventy-five years. 

                It is at great peril that the Democratic Party ignore approximately 3.7 million teachers and their families.  The votes of several thousand billionaires will not win elections, but the support of teachers and the unions that represent them who are the ground troops that man telephones as well as go door-to-door for a candidate.   It is for this reason that tomorrow, I will for the first time in my political memory not support or vote for New York’s incumbent Democratic governor and my state senator in a primary.  I cannot support a governor and senator that support the 3% of students that attend charter school over the 97% that go to public schools.   It is amazing that earlier this year, the governor supported and got passed a law that is nothing less than welfare for wealthy charter schools.   Here is a law in which the wealthy Success Academy can dispossess public school children at whim and not pay a cent to the city in rent even though this charter is rich enough to move its offices to Wall Street and its CEO Eva Moskowitz makes twice as much as the President.  I am a political realist and know that Teachout does not have a chance over a $25 million war chest.  However, even if she gets 25% of the vote, that is the beginning of a grassroots movement.  That is enough for people to start to think about forming a third party in this election that could put Cuomo’s November re-election in jeopardy. 

                Ignoring parents and teachers who oppose privatization, the common-core, and an evaluation system that punishes teachers for things that they cannot control in order to deprofessionalize educators and create a cheap, transient teaching force is a perilous act.  History teaches that political movements are not started by the weakest in a society, but from the educated middle class.   Historical examples are all around us.   The French Revolution was started by the educated merchant and professional class.  People who are overwhelmed by poverty never begin political movements.  It is always the educated middle class that leads them.  Even the Russian Bolshevik Revolution was led by the educated middle class. Lenin and Trotsky were not peasants or factory workers living on subsistence wages, but educated professionals.  Therefore, the attempt to destroy the livelihood and profession of a group of very educated members of the middle class is nothing less than an act of political folly.   Teachers are abandoning the Democratic Party because it is the party that is abandoning us.   Unless Democrats from the President on down abandon this fake educational reform that is hurting several of its major constituents,  they are almost insuring the eventual creation of a political movement which may very well lead to a third political party.   And our own history has shown that third parties often throw elections in strange ways.   In New York, whenever three parties run for statewide office, it is often the Democrats who end up on the short end often leading to the election of a right-wing candidate.  People should remember the 1970 election of James Buckley as US Senator when two liberals split the Democratic vote in a six way race. 

                Many corporatist Democrats do not think they need us teachers.  That is why several have joined against us in those Anti-Tenure lawsuits.   What they do not understand is that once they split the Democratic Party and the party no longer controls any branch of government, their power will be gone.  Instead, you may end up with people controlling this country who hold social views far different than the majority of Americans, which also includes the neo-liberal corporatists of both political parties.   What happened in Missouri is a skirmish compared to what may happen when people take control of this country that hate working women, immigrants, gays and other minority groups and begin to use government to act against such groups.   We are in the middle of an education war right now in which everyone may come out the loser.  However, for myself and my family, I have to vote my conscience and not the lesser of two evils.   As I finish this article, the telephone rang with a robo-call from our supposedly very liberal Mayor who is supporting Cuomo.   That call represents everything that is wrong with politics in this country.  Obviously, he has to support the Governor or he will be politically punished by someone who is nothing less than a bully and the holder of many purse strings.  On the other hand, when you attempt to take away everything from a group, you cannot expect that group’s support.   Those in power may ignore us now, but I can guarantee they will not ignore us if we contribute to their loss of power.