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.


Recognition for Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates

Dear all,

Susan and I so appreciate Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post profile of our website as well as Diane Ravitch’s strong endorsement on her blog. We also appreciate Anthony Cody’s recognition on his blog.

We recognize the healing powers of providing teachers with a space where they can share with one another stories about their struggles. Corporate education reform has been devastating to our profession, and it is our hope that teachers will find insight and inspiration through these pages.

Mr. Gates – we also hope you read our letters with an open mind and will respond to us in an authentic, meaningful way. We strongly urge you to spend as much time as possible in the “trenches,” in public schools, working directly with kids and dialoguing with educators. It’s the only way you’ll truly understand and appreciate what we dedicated, caring teachers are up against. We are teachers to the core – we feel it in every fiber of our being – but the Common Core together with its assessment, curriculum and teacher evaluation plans, are gutting us and our students.

Diane’s endorsement: http://dianeravitch.net/2013/06/19/an-amazing-website-teachers-letters-to-bill-gates/

Valerie’s article in the Washington Post:

Anthony’s blog:

On Facebook: Teachers’ letters to Bill Gates

Hi all, if you are on Facebook please LIKE a new page I created. Search for Teachers’ letters to Bill Gates. He needs to hear teachers’ experiences and perspectives so that he can better grasp what he is funding. That is, if he’s willing to. I have really appreciated reading your stories and they need to be shared with a wider audience. If you wish to post anonymously, please private message me at: katielapham1@gmail.com. I will re-post as anonymous to protect your identity.
If we collect enough anecdotes, perhaps we can send him a book.
Thanks, Katie

An open letter to Bill Gates from an overwhelmed teacher

Please join the Facebook page Teachers’ letters to Bill Gates.

May 25, 2013

Dear Mr. Gates,

I recently watched an interview you did with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer (12/9/08) in which you said, “We need to make more investments, and I do think the teachers will come along, because, after all, they’re there because they believe in helping the students as well.” Indeed, that is why I became a teacher. However, I believe in helping students through meaningful instruction and connections, not through excessive test prep and standardized testing, and data collection and analysis for accountability purposes.

In the 2012-2013 school year, I spent 40 school days away from my students in order to help with state testing: LAB-R, Common Core ELA, Common Core Math and the NYSESLAT. As an out-of-classroom ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, I am pulled from my mandated program to prepare and organize testing materials and to proctor exams. Together with a colleague, I am also responsible for administering the lengthy NYSESLAT (NYS English as a Second Language test in speaking, listening, reading and writing) to our 156 English-language learners (ELLs).

One of my professional goals for 2013-2014 is to maximize my teaching time. With this in mind, and because you believe in helping students, I am appealing to you for help in the coming school year. Investing your time at my public elementary school in Brooklyn, New York would require more effort than writing a check, but it would be more valuable to me as a teacher. Your assistance would allow me to spend a greater number of days in the classroom doing what I love: teaching kids. Here’s what you can do:

1.) Because of your background in computer science, you can investigate why the NYC Department of Education’s SESIS, SEC and CAP accountability systems do not match in recognizing that a student with disabilities is receiving her mandated ESL services. I’ve been instructed that documents must be checked for consistency and continuity, but I don’t know how to do this. Do you?

2.) Photocopies (two of each) need to be made of ELL program parent choice forms. One copy goes into the student’s record folder and the other is filed at school. Sometimes our photocopy machine breaks down so this task can take a long time to complete. Please also go into the ELPC screen in ATS to indicate program parent choice for each ELL in our building. While you are on ATS, go to the BNDC and BEPG screens to input the mandated number of minutes of ESL services that each ELL is receiving (in theory): 180 minutes/week for advanced ELLs and 360 minutes/week for intermediate and beginners. Use teacher file numbers to indicate which ESL instructor or bilingual teacher is providing the service.

3.) Meetings need to be set up with parents to discuss important issues such as poor attendance and intervention strategies for struggling students. Do you speak Spanish? That would help a lot.

4.) Preparing and organizing state testing materials is a mammoth undertaking and takes days to complete. Tasks include, but are not limited to:

*Counting and re-counting testing grids and testing booklets; check against class lists
• Bubbling testing grids to indicate any test accommodations and to provide biographical information
• Double-checking testing grids to ensure that all information is bubbled
• Counting rulers and protractors for students in grades 3-5
• Creating student labels and affixing them to test booklets
• Transferring (bubbling) student answers from grades K-2 test booklets to answer grids (for the NYSESLAT listening, reading and writing tests)
• Transferring (bubbling) scores from the NYSESLAT speaking test (grades K-5) to answer grids
• You can’t help me score the NYSESLAT writing test because you aren’t a licensed teacher, however you can help me by organizing testing booklets to ship back to the assessment company.

o Separate scoring materials into stacks by modality: speaking and writing.
o Separate the remaining test administration materials into two stacks, DFAs and test booklets, and then each of those stacks by modality: speaking, listening, reading and writing.
o Within each modality, organize the materials in the stacks by grade bands: K, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6.
o Complete the return summary sheet by verifying that the quantities in the return shipment are in agreement with those originally shipped on the packing lists.
o Pack all materials in the boxes in which they were shipped to the school.

Thank you in advance for your consideration. If you are interested in volunteering at my school next year, please contact me at the email address listed below. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards,
Katie Lapham (katielapham1@gmail.com)

Cc: Dr. John B. King Jr., NYS Education Commissioner
Cc: Dennis Walcott, Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education