Dear New York Times: Why I Oppose the Common Core

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meme courtesy of Susan Dufresne, teachersletterstobillgates.com 

Here is my response to last week’s New York Times editorial on the Common Core

Re: The Common Core in New York, published by the New York Times Editorial Board on 2/14/14

I am an elementary ESL teacher in a Title I public school in East New York, Brooklyn. First and foremost, I am an advocate for English-language learners. I take my role as a mandated reporter very seriously. After administering the 2013 NYS Common Core state tests, which I feel constituted child abuse, I decided to start speaking out. Since then, I’ve immersed myself in all things Common Core and have connected with many thoughtful and experienced education activists from around the world. I am against the Common Core because it is an instrument (weapon?) of corporate education reform, and it does not put children first. Please read my recent letter to Carmen Fariña, NYC schools chancellor, in which I describe the problems in our schools that I feel are most pressing. I also offer recommendations.

I grew up in communities that were hostile towards unions. I had not been an active UFT member until now. My father would roll over in his grave if he knew I was a member of the steering committee of the MORE (Movement of Rank and File Educators) caucus of the UFT. I joined MORE this summer because they are committed to the ideals of democracy and social justice, which are being threatened by the Common Core package.

Has the editorial board spent any time in our public schools? Do the members have school-aged children? I invite you to come visit my school.

-Katie Lapham, Brooklyn

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Testifying at John King’s Common Core Forum in Brooklyn 12/10/13

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NYSED Commissioner John King and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch brought their Common Core “listening” tour to New York City last night. Tisch was stationed in the Bronx while John King attended the Brooklyn forum at Medgar Evers College.  Tonight (12/11/13) the two will appear together at Spruce Street School/P.S. 397 (12 Spruce Street) in Manhattan from 5-7 pm.

Unlike previous Common Core forums held in New York State, the Brooklyn forum was dominated by Common Core supporters, namely representatives of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst movement, including teachers, and members of Families for Excellent Schools.  Former CNN correspondent Campbell Brown, whose husband, Dan Senor, is a board member of StudentsFirstNY, was there as well.  What was most striking to me was hearing parents praise high-stakes testing.

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Specials interests descend on Brooklyn’s Common Core forum 

I arrived at the Medgar Evers auditorium shortly after 4:30 pm.  I wanted to get there early to get a speaking slot and to edit and practice my speech.  In fact, I was the first speaker to sign up.  While I was working in a different location, the Common Core supporters showed up en masse and secured the remaining 44 speaking slots.  Even though a significant number of Common Core and high-stakes standardized testing critics were in the audience, I ended up being the only critic who spoke.

Here is a copy of my speech, which I had to deliver in two minutes.

The Common Core is undemocratic and has been implemented in top-down fashion. The Common Core puts corporations, not children, first. It was written secretively by 60 individuals representing a variety of non-profits funded by the Gates Foundation. Only one participant in the entire writing process was a teacher. Not only has the Gates Foundation spent nearly $200 million on the Common Core, but it sent consultants to Washington, DC to help Arne Duncan draft Race to the Top legislation. Here In New York, the Regents Research Fund, which supports the controversial Regents Fellows think tank, received $3.3 million from the Gates Foundation.

Furthermore, teachers did not play a decision-making role in reviewing the standards. A Florida teacher recently said the following about the process:

“As the review unfolded, it became apparent that we were not working with a holistic, integrated application of standards… It began to look instead like a checklist forming a platform for standardized testing” (Florida Teacher: “I Was Among Those Who Reviewed the Common Core in 2009” by Anthony Cody, 11/6/13)

As you’ve “heard” again and again, the Common Core has led to scripted curricula that do little more than prepare students – beginning in kindergarten – for high-stakes Common Core standardized tests. The content, format, and length of the exams, combined with instructional and enrichment time lost to test prep, constitute child abuse and deprive students of a meaningful education.

Do the right thing. End high-stakes testing. Look at model schools – like Mission Hill in Boston – that have experienced great success in teaching the whole child and in using authentic, portfolio-based assessments. Invest in smaller class sizes, especially in Title I schools like mine that have a high number of English-language learners and students with disabilities. We need educated teaching assistants, not an influx of technology, in our overcrowded classrooms. We need autonomy and the freedom to use the standards as we see fit, to best meet the needs of our diverse learners. The Common Core, in my professional opinion, will NOT close the achievement gap.

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:

http://nyceducator.com/2013/10/reformy-king-john-pretends-to-listen.html

http://dianeravitch.net/2013/10/29/parent-these-reforms-are-not-about-education/

http://perdidostreetschool.blogspot.com/2013/10/not-one-speaker-supported-common-core.html

http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-state-standards/stop-common-core-in-new-york-state-calls-for-john-kings-resignation/

NYSED Commissioner John King runs away: Lessons from the trenches

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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.

Sincerely,

Katie Lapham (Brooklyn, NY)