Floundering at the Forums: John King faces more Common Core critics

photo courtesy of WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show

Live streaming the Common Core forums taking place throughout New York state has become a type of spectator sport for me. While chopping vegetables for dinner, I cheer on my fellow advocates as they speak the truth about corporate education reform to a panel of policymakers that include Commissioner John King and Merryl Tisch, NYS Board of Regents chancellor.

On Monday, October 28, 2013, around 70 parents and educators spoke to the panel at Port Chester Middle School in Westchester County, New York. There are thousands more of us in social media, in classrooms, in offices, and in homes who share these speakers’ sentiments. We are organized and unwavering in our mission to protect our “special interests”: the children of New York state. The next forum will take place in Suffolk County, Long Island on November 6, 2013.  Here is a complete list of scheduled forums.

For those of you unable to watch the video of the Port Chester forum, I share with you two powerful testimonials.

Susan Polos:

“Dr. King, I’m Susan Polos, resident of Katonah-Lewisboro district. I am a National Board certified school librarian in the Bedford Central district.

I was appointed by Regent Cohen as a practitioner to review and revise the ELA/ESL Standards, work that was close to finished when NY accepted the Common Core Standards as a requirement for Race to the Top money. The district where I work was at first glad to accept the funds but soon realized that the costs were greater than the reward. I am talking about more than monetary costs.

In the race to ensure “college and career readiness” (as though there is one path, one type of college, one type of career), we have sacrificed the arts, music, librarians, time for interdisciplinary connections, project-based learning, experiential opportunities – all diminished or disappeared as time, money and human resources have been redirected to data collection and data analysis. In the eyes of the state, our children are numbers, our teachers are numbers, and the numbers have been clearly sorted and cut to achieve a talking point. Then those numbers – attached to names – are sold to the highest bidder.

The national obsession with competition hurts our most vulnerable children. Our children deserve play, time to grow, school librarians and much more. They are more than numbers. They are writers (and not to the test, which is how they are now taught), they are builders, they are dancers, they are dreamers. Our teachers are living through a nightmare, following directives they deplore while trying to make each day the best for every child, knowing they are the convenient scapegoat for poverty, racism, and equitable access to resources.

You would not subject your children to what you subject the masses to. We all know that powerful forces are buying our politicians and thus education “reform” has become the bipartisan gift that keeps on lining the pockets of the rich while destroying the middle class and poor and threatening Democracy itself.

Please stop this train. Not by eliminating one or two tests as appeasement, but by listening to teachers, parents and students, and by ending corporate profit’s vise on our most precious resource: our children.”

Bianca Tanis:

“This is my son and your reforms have hurt him. You mandate schools to share sensitive student data. You force students with disabilities to submit to inappropriate and humiliating testing. Only now, 5 months later, after you have had to endure public outcry, are you willing to consider changes. Where was common sense and decency 5 months ago when parents begged to for their children to be exempt and when children with disabilities were being tortured. You should be ashamed.

These reforms are not about education. They are about the agenda of billionaires with no teaching experience. The fact that your close advisors are the mysterious Regents Fellows, individuals with little to no teaching experience, who are paid 6 figure salaries with private donations by Bill Gates and Chancellor Merryl Tisch, speaks volumes. Private money comes with a price tag and that price tag is influence. We reject leadership that allows public education to be bought. That is not democracy. By the way, the Regents Fellow job description does not mention teaching experience as a requirement.

It has been said that parent opposition is typical when change is introduced. There is nothing typical about the present response. The incompetent roll out of the common core and the naked disregard that has been shown for developmentally appropriate and educationally sound practice is unacceptable. Your recent concessions are disingenuous and a case of too little too late. They do nothing to reduce the hours of testing or the inappropriate level of test difficulty. They do nothing to make cut scores reasonable or address serious problems associated with high stakes testing.

In addition to hurting children, your policies promote social inequality. Private school parents, such as your self have the opportunity to say to no to harmful testing and data sharing while public school parents are not afforded the same rights. Are you afraid of what would happen if you gave all parents a choice?

The inadequacy of our schools is a manufactured crisis. Poverty is the number one indicator of student achievement. When you factor in poverty, US schools are at the top. New York deserves real leadership that addresses real issues. If you won’t provide that leadership, we need someone who will.”

Here is the video of the Port Chester forum: http://www.lohud.com/article/20131029/NEWS08/131029001/Common-Core-Watch-a-replay-of-the-forum-in-Port-Chester

Here are blog posts about the Port Chester forums:






A Call to Action: Tell Chancellor Walcott that teacher morale in NYC is low


photo courtesy of Yasmeen Khan, WNYC 

On Thursday (10/17/13), Chancellor Dennis Walcott, along with David Weiner, NYC Department of Education’s deputy chancellor for Talent, Labor and Innovation, appeared on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show to discuss the new teacher evaluation plan.

Towards the end of the show (19:20), Brian Lehrer astutely remarked that “after 12 years of Mayor Bloomberg, NYC teachers are demoralized at historic proportions.”  Lehrer pressed Walcott to acknowledge this, but instead the chancellor assured listeners that both he and Bloomberg were appreciative of the work teachers are doing in the classrooms and that educational reforms have benefited NYC public schools.  Walcott continued by saying, “I’m not going to make the generalization that teacher morale is down overall.  You have some (teachers) that are impacted and some who are not impacted.”

Chancellor Walcott – I don’t know a single NYC teacher who hasn’t been impacted by corporate education reform.  I see the exhaustion, frustration and stress on teachers’ faces everyday.  We shake our heads at the ridiculous, time-and-money-wasting mandates that are imposed on us by both the city and the state, and we mourn our lack of  autonomy.  “You can’t make this up” and “This makes no sense ” are uttered throughout our hallways.

One example of Danielson’s 4f (Showing Professionalism) is “the teacher challenges existing practice in order to put students first.” Challenging corporate education reform policies, which do not put students first, is the essence of my blog, and with this post, my intention is to show Chancellor Walcott that teacher morale is indeed low throughout NYC.

NYC teachers – As of today (10/20/13) there are 40 comments on Walcott’s recent appearance on Brian Lehrer’s show.  Below is a copy of what I wrote.  Please add to the comments and let the chancellor know that low teacher morale IS rampant and problematic in NYC.

Chancellor Walcott’s tone remains arrogant and condescending, from joking about teachers calling in during school hours to admonishing educators for “politicizing” the new teacher evaluation plan.

Likewise, the chancellor continues to appear out of touch with the realities of NYC schools. For example, Walcott claimed that schools have choice and that a “wide variety” of measures exist to satisfy the 20% local measurement of student learning (MOSL) component of the new teacher evaluation plan. His implication that this has been a democratic process is a sham, not to mention insulting to teachers and administrators who know better.

In contrast, the ailing middle school teacher from Brooklyn spoke the truth about what’s happening in our schools. Walcott and David Weiner responded to her criticism of a NYC DOE Performance Assessment by claiming that teachers were involved in creating these tests. After administering the 1st grade ELA Performance Assessment, I find this wholly unbelievable. No teacher I know finds them to be of any value.

This is not politicizing the issue, Chancellor Walcott. We object to these performance assessments because, in our professional opinion, they are NOT educationally sound, nor is their administration and scoring a wise use of time and money. We know our students best and would much rather be teaching meaningfully, addressing the individual needs of all of our students.

The chancellor talked at length about improving teacher quality, but who is holding Tweed accountable? I propose he spend time each month teaching singlehandedly in an overcrowded Title I classroom. Better yet, have him administer these assessments.


Thanks, Katie

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NYSED Commissioner John King runs away: Lessons from the trenches


Protest of NYSED policies in Port Jefferson, NY photo courtesy of http://perdidostreetschool.blogspot.com

October 12, 2013

Mr. King,

The suspension of your Common Core Town Hall tour has resulted in a justified uproar among parents and educators in New York State and beyond (see Anthony Cody’s recent post). In satisfying the requirements of the 60% Danielson component of my teacher effectiveness rating, I have been writing reflections on my teaching practice under your Race to the Top and Common Core top-down policies. I intend to submit them as one of my eight artifacts (Danielson 4a). In this reflection, I wish to address your decision to retreat after facing opposition from parents at Thursday’s Town Hall meeting at Spackenkill High School in Poughkeepsie.

Unlike you, teachers do not have the luxury of fleeing in the face of stressful situations. Over the past eight years of being a classroom teacher – you lack this experience, correct? – I have learned different ways to ride out storms. I may not always respond to them gracefully, but I acknowledge my discomfort – sometimes aloud – and tell myself that these feelings will pass. As tempting as it might be, I don’t run away or give up on a particular student. The ability to work through tough situations, particularly confrontations, is a character trait that both educators and parents model to children. I’m sure you have done the same with your own kids.

Parents and educators in NYS have long suffered under your policies.  Your lack-of-common-sense mandates are crushing, and we are witnessing firsthand the damage to children wrought by high-stakes testing and uninspiring, developmentally inappropriate Common Core curricula. We are not venting; rather, we are standing up for our children by speaking the truth.  

When I encounter angry students, I try my best to acknowledge their feelings and to listen to them even if we are in disagreement. Some students act out because of situations at home. School may be the only place where their voices can be heard; thus, I try my best to put myself in their shoes in order to understand where they are coming from.

This has not been your approach to parents and educators who disapprove of your policies. Your decision to suspend these hearings is a mistake that has resulted in ever increasing numbers of people calling for your immediate resignation. Public education is a democratic institution, and it is our right to voice our concerns even if they conflict with your agenda.  If some of us appear angrier than others, it’s because our arguments have fallen on deaf ears for too long.


Katie Lapham (Brooklyn, NY)

Make Them Stop, Make Them Go Away, Leave the Children Alone!

Diane Ravitch calls the NYC Performance Tasks “techno-trash.”

Diane Ravitch's blog

A teacher-blogger in New York City sent me this post.

I have a grandson who just started second grade.

I look at this techno-trash and pray that his teachers are not required to pay attention to it.

If this is the kind of “work” that comes out of Tweed (the headquarters of New York City’s “Department of Education”), I have advice for the next Mayor:

Clean out the whole bunch of people who make up these charts, graphs, instructions, mumbo-jumbo statistical nonsense.

Clearly, none of them has ever been a teacher of first grade.

Probably, none of them has ever had a child.

Maybe, none of them ever was a child.

They see children as data.

They see teaching and learning as a statistical exercise.

They value metrics, not children.

Please, Mr. Mayor, send them all packing.

Let them go back to the corporate world where they belong.

Keep them…

View original post 8 more words

Measures of Student Learning Performance Assessments: Grade 1 Report of Information


This past week my public elementary school, like many others throughout NYC, administered Measures of Student Learning (MOSL) Performance Assessments in English-language arts (ELA) and math to students in grades K-5.

WHY? NYC teachers have a new teacher evaluation and development system called Advance. 20% of our overall teacher effectiveness rating comes from a local measure of student learning or MOSL (another 20% of our rating is based on a state measure such as the NYS CCSS ELA and math assessments). Here is the NYC DOE’s definition of “local measure”:

      • Local MeasureRecommended by a school committee appointed by the principal and UFT Chapter Chair and approved by the principal*, each teacher’s local measure will be based on student growth on assessments and growth measures selected from a menu of approved options for each grade and subject (from the NYC DOE website).

My school chose the new K-5 NYC Performance Assessments in ELA and math as our local measure. The recently administered September Performance Assessments will be used to establish baseline scores for our students who will be assessed again at the end of the school year to determine their growth in these two subject areas. As per MOSL, students’ growth on this task – or lack of – contributes to 20% of our overall teacher effectiveness rating.

It is important to note that the local measure (MOSL) is separate from the state measure, which also counts towards 20% of our overall rating. This means that in the spring of 2014, our students in grades 3-5 will have to take these new NYC ELA and math Performance Assessments IN ADDITION TO the controversial state CCSS ELA and math exams (state measure). I am not taking into consideration teacher-generated tests based on content learned in the classroom.

WHAT are the NYC Performance Assessments? This past week, I helped administer the ELA NYC Performance Assessment to the ELLs (English-language learners) that I service. The first grade ELA Performance Assessment was particularly disturbing and anguishing to administer, so much so that I tossed and turned all last night. Here’s why:

1.) The NYC DOE recommended length of the task was 85-120 minutes over two consecutive days (remember: THIS IS FIRST GRADE!)

2.) After the teacher modeled the task, students had to independently read a non-fiction text that was different from the one the teacher used to model. The title that was pre-selected (not by teachers) for our first graders to read independently was Sea Turtles by Carol K. Lindeen. The age range for this title is preschool – 8, however I believe that for the younger kids, this book is meant to be used as a read aloud and/or for pleasure reading, NOT for use as an assessment. Sea Turtles, which our beginner first grade ELLs were required to read independently, is a level J book, according to Fountas & Pinnell.

3.) The assessment script instructed teachers to encourage first graders to take notes – in their own words – while independently reading Sea Turtles. Note-taking was modeled to the students prior to the start of the assessment. By note-taking, students were instructed to generate two text-based questions while independently reading Sea Turtles. They then had to use the text to answer the questions that they came up with on their own while independently reading a level J non-fiction book. In case you missed it the first time, I reiterate that these are new FIRST GRADERS.

4.) On day two, our first grade students used their notes (student-generated questions and answers) to write their own informational text about sea turtles. They were required to name the topic, include facts and vocabulary words from the text (perhaps migrate or mate?), use writing conventions and write a one sentence conclusion.

To satisfy my Danielson requirement – the remaining 60% of my effectiveness rating as per the new NYC teacher evaluation and development system – here are my reflections/wonderings (Danielson 4a) on the ELA NYC Performance Assessments:

1.) What’s the point of report cards and teacher-generated assessments based on content taught in the classroom if our students’ academic worth is now determined by these official state and local measures? We are teaching to the test more than ever, particularly in schools in low-income areas (Title I schools) where students have more catching up to do and where test scores are lower.  If test scores remain low for too long, a school becomes at-risk for closure.

2.) Our rating for this part of the NYC teacher evaluation plan is based on student growth. Low scores on the September assessments are actually advantageous to teachers as students will very likely score higher (showing growth) on the June assessment. Also, these are not teacher-generated assessments. For the ELA Performance Assessment, first grade teachers were handed a five-page assessment script and materials and were told to administer it. This, to me, is a farce. I am hard-pressed to find any meaning in these non-teacher created assessments that test students on skills they do not yet possess. They are a burden to students, teachers and administrators as well as a waste of time and money.  I’m not even describing here the resources and time spent on scoring the assessments.  The scores will be entered into a database for tracking purposes.

3.) How can anyone still believe that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) stand alone and can be separated from standardized testing, curriculum and teacher evaluations?

4.) In NYS, teachers are losing their freedom to teach and students are being deprived of their freedom to learn. These NYC Performance Assessments are the latest example. As I have noted previous posts, choice is an illusion.

5.) How can seemingly intelligent Tweed decision-makers like Dennis Walcott and Shael Polakow-Suransky truly believe that these Performance Assessments are of any value? I want them to explain to us why they believe in these particular assessments. Beth Fertig, WNYC education reporter, recently tweeted that “Walcott says he’s not serving the mayor but students: “I’m a true believer in what we’re doing.”

6.) What is the true purpose of these Performance Assessments? To measure student growth or to hold accountable teachers who either aren’t in a testing grade (K-2) or who teach a subject that’s not formally assessed by the state (music and art, for example)?

6.) Isn’t elementary school supposed to be fun, meaningful and engaging? Teachers, students and administrators should not have to suffer like this.

These are our students. This is Race to the Top and Common Core. These are our students under the influence of Race to the Top and Common Core. Any questions?

Danielson 4a: A Moral Inventory of my Compliance Work

In June, my Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates partner, Susan, and I created a 12-step recovery program for corporate education reform. For this reflection, I wish to elicit our Step 4, which reads:
We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. We determined that we had allowed corporate reformers to undermine our ethics and integrity. We searched and found we had participated in unethical scripted instruction, standardization, and high stakes testing out of fear and oppression that in turn caused fear and oppression in our students.
Excessive accountability should also be added to this list. One of my responsibilities as an ESL teacher/compliance officer (what an unsavory term, no?) is to write the LAP for my school’s CEP. The LAP is a 26-page  Language Allocation Policy that is incorporated into the school’s larger Comprehensive Education Plan.  In addition to providing data on the number of ELLs (English-language learners) in our building – their years of service, ELL programs, home languages, test scores and so on- we must also analyze the data by answering 41 questions in narrative format.  It’s worth emphasizing that this document is just one component of the comprehensive education plan.
Here’s my response to the question that has left me feeling like a fraud.
Part V: ELL Programming
B. Programming and Scheduling Information – Continued
Question 12: What programs/services for ELLs will be discontinued and why?

Answer: We are discontinuing the Journeys reading program and enVisionMATH because they do not match the level of rigor called for by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  The new ReadyGEN and GOMath! Core Curriculum programs are recommended by the NYCDOE and better reflect the demands of the CCSS.

This is what I believed was expected of me to write.  The reality, however, is far different. Teachers were largely satisfied with the Journeys program, which was purchased for two years only in grades K-2. Teachers in grades 3-5 collaborated to create CCSS (Common Core State Standards) curriculum maps and performance tasks.  ELA was mostly taught through the content areas, such as science and social studies.  They also had the freedom to select their own materials.

Compared to GO Math!, Pearson’s enVisionMATH program, which was used in grades K-5 for one year only, was the gold standard of math curricula.  The teachers in my building would happily return to using enVisionMATH and Journeys if given the choice.

In reality, we discontinued Journeys and enVisionMATH due to budget cuts and high-stakes CCSS testing.  NYC Title I public schools in particular feel they have no choice but to adopt the subsidized NYCDOE Core Curriculum programs and “free” NYSED engageny.org lessons.  Doing this spares them from having to use their limited funds to create and/or to justify the use of alternative programs. Also, in this era of school closings due to poor performance on standardized exams, there is relief in knowing that the state and city-approved materials, like ReadyGEN and GOMath!, are designed to prepare kids for the new high-stakes Common Core tests.  They are – in essence – test prep programs from kindergarten onwards.

I have yet to encounter a teacher who is satisfied with the ReadyGEN and GOMath! Core Curriculum programs.  I haven’t worked with GOMath!, but I can tell you that ReadyGEN is cumbersome, confusing and uninspiring. Due to the demands of the program, we are having to devote more periods to teaching it, at the expense of other subjects such as social studies.  I am devastated that I must use this program with my fifth graders instead of the engaging and challenging social justice curriculum that my fifth grade co-teacher and I created, and have refined, over the course of three years of teaching together.

Because I cannot write this in the LAP, I share it with you here, a place where educators can speak the truth, a place where I can make amends.