Testifying Before Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force in Queens, NYC

Last night I testified at one of NYS Governor Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force (aka Farce) sessions. The New York City event took place at LaGuardia Community College in a hard-to-reach section of Long Island City, Queens. Incongruously, it was held in the cramped Poolside Café, located deep inside the college building. Afforded to us, while signing in, were glimpses of swim team practice. It was as if Cuomo’s team deliberately chose an inconvenient time and location for the event in order to deter people from attending. To the best of my knowledge, there was no media presence at LaGuardia Community College. Unlike the Long Island session, which was covered in today’s news, I saw nothing reported about the NYC session.  Therefore, I will try to be as comprehensive as possible, but my six-year-old was with me so, unfortunately, I was unable to give all the speakers my full attention.

About 25 people testified; a balance, more or less, of Common Core opponents and supporters. I was speaker 18. MORE-UFT and Change the Stakes members shared the front row with pro-Common Core Educators4Excellence (EFE) teachers, including its founder Evan Stone. High Achievement NY, a coalition of businesses and education deform organizations such as E4E, was represented by its executive director, Stephen Sigmund. The main message of the Common Core supporters was that the standards are good but the tests need to be tweaked. They repeatedly used the term “opt-in” and recommended computer adaptive testing for students with special needs.

As a critic of the Common Core package, I was happy to see so many MORE-UFT and Change the Stakes allies (and friends!) who had shown up despite the challenges of getting there on time: David Dobosz, Fred Smith, Jane Maisel, Alliance for Quality Education‘s Zakiyah Ansari, blogger Peter Goodman, a Class Size Matters representative who read a statement by Leonie Haimson, and sociologist/public school parent/blogger Nancy Cauthen all testified. My apologies if I inadvertently omitted someone.

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Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, and Kishayna Hazlewood, 3rd grade teacher at P.S. 156 in Brooklyn, chaired the event. Hazlewood was mostly stoic while Nolan shared with us – from time to time – her personal views, citing a recent conversation she had with Carol Burris, Executive Director of the Network for Public Education Fund. Nolan seems to get it. NYC City Council member Danny Dromm opened the event with a statement that was critical of Common Core.

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Dromm in foreground listens to David Dobosz’s testimony; seated at the table are Nolan (on left) and Hazlewood (on right). Photo by me. 

As was the case when John King came to NYC in 2013 on his “listening” tour, StudentsFirstNY bussed in a large group of charter school parents who sat in the back as audience members – not speakers. This time, it seemed StudentsFirstNY wanted Educators4Excellence teachers, not parents, to do the testifying. Interestingly, after corporate education deform critics Dromm, Smith and Dobosz spoke, the StudentsFirstNY parents all rose and left the poolside café en masse. I asked four parents why they were leaving, but not one had any idea what was going on. Finally, a woman told me, “This isn’t for us. We support Common Core.”

FullSizeRender-28The quick and confusing departure of StudentsFirstNY parents. Photo by me. 

Once it became clear that well-informed, dissenting voices were being heard, StudentsFirstNY organizers instructed the parents to leave immediately. Presumably they didn’t want their brainwashed parents to be contaminated by the opposition. The exodus puzzled the young Cuomo staffers so I told them what was going on. One of them, David Contreras Turley, director of Constituency Affairs, gave me his card and told me that the governor’s office was neutral on Common Core. I challenged him by pointing out Cuomo’s support for education deform and charters. David did not respond. I was grateful to Cuomo’s representatives, though, because they were very accommodating of my restless daughter and the dozens of math manipulatives strewn all over the floor.
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After the departure of the charter school parents, a Queens mother passionately testified that the Common Core had brought anguish and frustration to her home and that her son had gone from a level 3 to a level 1 student in math. Immediately after her testimony, Assemblywoman Nolan reminded the audience to be respectful. Apparently, an Educators4Excellence teacher had laughed at and/or made faces at the mother while she was delivering her moving testimony. Nolan even got out of her seat and confronted the teacher who denied out loud that she was misbehaving. Nolan also gave High Achievement NY’s Stephen Sigmund a look that said “watch it, Buster.” I did not witness their alleged crimes.

Here is my testimony, which I also intend to submit online. If you were unable to attend one of these task force sessions, consider sending your statement to the task force via their website. Let’s inundate them with our message.

November 6, 2015

I’m a NYC parent but today I’m speaking to you as a NYC teacher. I stood before John King in 2013 and got no reaction from him. I am more hopeful today and feel compelled – once again – to speak up on behalf of NYC educators and students who are suffering under corporate education deform.

We detest what the Common Core package has done to instruction. This July 21, 2009 quote from Bill Gates will clarify what I mean by package:

Bill Gates said, “We’ll know we’ve succeeded when the curriculum and the tests are aligned to these standards. Arne Duncan recently announced that $350 million of the stimulus package will be used to create just these kinds of tests–next generation assessments aligned to the common core. When the tests are aligned to common standards, the curriculum will line up as well–and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better…”

We are given poor quality, scripted curriculum that is not developmentally appropriate. Education deformers have turned critical thinking and rigor into an extreme sport, frustrating and boring teachers and students to the point where – for example – a large number of us dread teaching math. Close reading has become tedious and is killing the joy of reading. The chief purpose of schooling nowadays is to teach skills that kids will need to know for the Common Core tests. Independent reading, through which students experience joy in having the freedom to discover a wide range of books regardless of level, is now viewed chiefly as a tactic to build students’ stamina for the absurdly long Common Core tests.

Our freedom to teach and to facilitate the development of whole child is curtailed. Due to the high-stakes nature of testing, those of us who work in a Title I school face immense pressure to raise test scores. Virtually every decision made at the school level is done with testing in mind.

No educator I know finds any value in the Common Core ELA and math tests. They are poorly constructed, developmentally inappropriate, decontextualized, confusing and deliberately tricky. Equally flawed is the new Common Core-aligned NYSESLAT, which is an ELA & content assessment, not a language test. Not only does the NYSESLAT fail to consider cognitive development stages but it also disregards what we know about second language learning. Our English-language learners, in particular, are being subjected to excessive testing that does not accurately measure what they can do. These bad tests are an insult to our intelligence.

Parents – please know that teachers – like myself (and there are many of us) – support your right to opt-out. We would opt-out of administering these tests if we could. In fact, a few bold teachers have. We hope that in 2016, opt-out numbers will reach 500,000.

Nothing short of a revolution is needed if we want true education reform. The Common Core package – all of it – has got to go. Revisit the lost standards, have teachers create diagnostic standardized assessments, stop using test scores to evaluate teachers and to punish schools, invest more in social services for our school communities.

Be brave and stand up to corporate education deformers. Let’s all stop being complicit in this costly, wrong-headed experiment that’s designed – in large part – to weed out so-called “bad teachers” and so-called “failing” schools. There are more effective and humane ways to improve our schools and to support the diverse needs of the children of New York State. Start by asking a teacher.

-Katie Lapham, NYC public school teacher 

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The Inconvenient “Lost Standards” of NYS: Why Deformers Prefer Common Core for Evaluating Teachers

January 5, 2015

Among the nauseating ed tech solicitations sent to my New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) email account over the holiday was this message from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and family:

We send you our sincere gratitude for your service to
the people of the City of New York,

and our very best wishes to you and your family for

a New Year full of love, peace and happiness.


Bill, Chirlane, Chiara and Dante

Love, peace and happiness.  I sometimes feel these emotions at school, but they are fleeting and occur only behind “closed doors,” in the presence of 25 six and seven-years-olds.  I’m certainly not feeling any love or “sincere gratitude” from the NYCDOE administration, including the district in which I teach. But thank you, Bill, for the gesture.  If ever you want to consult with working teachers and administrators who will tell you what our schools REALLY need in order to thrive, please reach out. Unfortunately, our prescription for education reform does not go along with the state and federal governments’ agendas, which, as it’s becoming increasingly evident, center on using teachers as scapegoats for the educational ills in our country.

I begin this new year with mixed emotions.  I’m excited to resume the creative, inspiring work I do with my energetic first graders – we are a family – but I’m also weighed down with new feelings of self-doubt, indignation and increasing despair. Recent observations of my teaching practice, which are not holistic, have felt punitive. Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching – a rubric that addresses the so-called instructional shifts of the Common Core – is used as a checklist for these brief and infrequent snapshots of the work being done in my classroom.  During this time, if administrators do not see evidence of what they are looking for – such as an assessment tied to an art project they are observing me teach – then I am at risk for a developing or ineffective rating for that component of the domain.

Additionally, New York’s use of valued-added modeling (VAM) to rate teachers, a tool widely considered to be junk science, is further demoralizing. Last year, I was rated “developing” on the local and state measures of New York’s fledgling teacher evaluation system; I still don’t know what standardized tests these ratings were based on since my English-language learners (ELLs) made progress on the 2014 NYS English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT). These Tweets from January 3, 2015 show that draconian teacher evaluation plans are not unique to New York.  They make me want to cry.

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On the first day of 2015, Carol Burris, principal of Long Island’s South Side High School, reported in The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet on the latest developments of New York’s teacher evaluation system. New York Board of Regents chancellor, Merryl Tisch, now wants 40% of teachers’ APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) to be based on state test scores (it’s currently 20%).

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pie chart courtesy of the NYC Department of Education

According to Burris, here’s why Tisch is calling for this change to teacher accountability:

To Tisch’s dismay, APPR which she helped design, has not produced the results that she and Cuomo wanted; only 1 percent of teachers in New York State were rated ineffective in the most recent evaluation.   The plan, according to the state’s Race to the Top application, was for 10 percent of all teachers to be found ineffective, with small numbers designated as highly effective. The curve of the sorting bell was not achieved.

In its latest blog post, the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association (Long Island) highlighted this key point originally made by Burris:

Regardless of what 60%* of your evaluation says, if the growth score (test score) says you are ineffective, your entire rating will be ineffective.  If you receive two ineffective ratings you will no longer be allowed to teach. *60% is based on observations (measures of teaching practice).

The above-mentioned state measures – growth scores – are based on student test scores from Pearson’s New York State Common Core assessments in English-language Arts (ELA) and math, which were first administered in New York in 2013. In receiving approximately $700 million in 2010 in Race to the Top funding, New York agreed to adopt the Common Core State Standards and to annually measure student progress toward “college and career readiness” as detailed in the new standards.  PARCC and Smarter Balanced are two national consortiums that have also created Common Core-aligned assessments, however their tests are administered online.  New York plans to transition to the costly PARCC online assessments.  Here’s a description of Smarter Balanced:

The Smarter Balanced assessments are a key part of implementing the Common Core and preparing all students for success in college and careers. Administered online, these new assessments provide an academic check-up and are designed to give teachers and parents better information to help students succeed.  Smarter Balanced assessments will replace existing tests in English and math for grades 3-8 and high school in the 2014-15 school year. Scores from the new assessments represent a realistic baseline that provides a more accurate indicator for teachers, students, and parents as they work to meet the rigorous demands of college and career readiness.

I detail these new testing initiatives because, contrary to what Common Core supporters argue, the Common Core State Standards are – by design – inextricably linked to Common Core-aligned assessments.  The Common Core standards do not and cannot stand alone.  They must exist in conjunction with aligned assessments in order to measure students’ “college and career readiness.” Student scores on these Common Core assessments are then used to hold teachers (and schools) accountable for using the Common Core standards to “prepare students for college and careers.”  I have reported at length on the devastating impact these new Common Core tests have had on student learning and student morale in New York City schools.

Another reason I bring up the Common Core package (standards + curricula + assessments) is because there has been a recent lauding of and pining for New York’s “lost standards” in ELA and ESL which, with a relatively modest budget of $300,000, were written by state educators from 2007 to 2009.  However, seduced by Race to the Top’s grant, in 2010 the Board of Regents abandoned the initiative and instead chained New York’s public schools to the Common Core. Lohud.com’s Gary Stern wrote about these “lost standards” in May 2014. Here’s a quote from the article:

“The Common Core was developed behind closed doors, but our New York standards were the work of extraordinary teachers and educators from the local level,” said Bonne August, provost of New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn, who co-chaired a committee that worked on the ELA/ESL standards. “We did things the right way, so teachers would buy in. Teachers are frustrated by the Common Core because they don’t see themselves in it.” 

Lohud.com also created the below table to compare key features of the “lost standards” to the Common Core standards.  As you can see, the Common Core came as a package, which included a testing program and a new teacher evaluation system. The “lost standards” did not.  Unlike the “lost standards,” the Common Core is streamlined, making it easier to hold teachers accountable (via test scores and the Common Core-aligned Danielson Framework for Teaching). Furthermore, the adoption of the Common Core brought $700 million in funding to New York.  The “lost standards” did not.

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table courtesy of lohud.com 

Chris Cerrone, a New York educator and school board member, wrote the following in a December 14, 2014 opinion piece for the New York State School Board Association (NYSSBA):

“How should New York proceed? We should drop the Common Core Standards and revive and continue the progress that created “lost standards,” known as the Regents Standards Review and Revision Initiative. The recent completion of the Social Studies Framework shows that quality standards can be created by New York educators who know their students, content, and age-appropriateness of curriculum.”

We teachers have an even bigger fight on our hands this year. If Andrew Cuomo and Merryl Tisch have their way, 40% of my rating will be based on measures determined by the state.  I have no idea what they’ll use to assess first grade teachers, but I can assure you that any new NYS Common Core assessment that’s not teacher-created will be developmentally inappropriate.

One of my goals for the new year is to take a closer look at New York’s “lost standards” for ELA and ESL.  Like Chris, I wish to make the argument that good work has already been done by educators in creating sound standards for our state.  We should continue this work for the other content areas.  Of the “lost standards,” Susan Polos, a highly regarded New York educator, was quoted by Gary Stern as saying, “Our standards were carefully and thoughtfully created, with educators involved, and should have survived.” I am not fond of standards (or rubrics), but I recognize the need for them.

I would also like to investigate alternative math standards.  If I had the time, I’d create an entirely new math curriculum for first grade.  GO Math!, which is Common Core-aligned, is a headache-inducing, poorly crafted math program that the NYCDOE adopted for its schools.  If (when?) New York state abandons Common Core, we’d also have to propose a new assessment program and teacher evaluation plan. The working educators of New York know what’s best for our students.  We need to reclaim public education in 2015.

The widening achievement gap in New York

Here is my response to Carol Burris’/Valerie Strauss’ Common Core tests widen achievement gap in New York, published today (8/26/13) in The Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet

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Re: “Students will now need to be placed in remediation, or Academic Intervention Services. Schools that serve a predominately minority, poor student body will be fiscally overwhelmed as they try to meet the needs of so many children. Those who truly need the additional support will find that support is watered-down.”

Carol Burris is absolutely correct. I am a NYC ESL teacher in a Title I public elementary school in East New York, Brooklyn. My school has experienced deep budget cuts this year; in fact, we have no AIS (Academic Intervention Services) position this year to service the huge number of students who did not test proficient on the CCSS tests (students who received a score of 1). The NYC DOE’s response to this has been training us in RTI (Response to Intervention). We are told we can no longer rely on AIS services. “We are all RTI,” they tell us, and classroom teachers are now responsible for providing this service to their own students. We differentiate to meet the needs of individual students; this is not a new concept. However, our class sizes are going up due to budget cuts, and at the same time we are expected to use the new NYC Common Core math and ELA curriculum programs to prepare ALL students for the developmentally inappropriate NYS Common Core tests. More students, particularly those in Title I schools, will be left behind.

This poisonous Common Core package is indeed widening the achievement gap, and it will end up doing the opposite of what it purports to do. Beginning in elementary school, an increasing number of kids will find school repellent (due to round-the-clock test prep, lack of real world knowledge) and will burn out before they even start considering higher education options. As an educator, I am heartbroken for my students and will continue to fight for their right to a meaningful education that truly gives them what they need.