Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Search for NYSED Truth Continues

Dear Regent Tallon
        I am writing to you immediately following a CSE meeting for my 14 year old daughter, and a brief conversation with someone who suggested you as a person who is understanding, responsive and might be willing to lend some insight. I am having an issue with regulations that appear very clear to me, conflicting opinions from NYSED associates, and a school district caught confused and in-between- ending with the apparent NYSED position that districts can choose which regulations to adhere to as if it is a salad bar of options for schools and the state, as opposed to opportunities for students to be "college and career ready".
        Earlier this school year (November-ish), my wife and I began pursuing education options for our very bright daughter (one of only 2 "level 4's" in her grade in our district on last year's 8th grade ELA exam) who has specific struggles with math and foreign language. She has been talking about her future and college for a couple of years, and is motivated to do as well as she can.  Other than foreign language and math, she's an 80s-90s student, and she has been identified as having an isolated disability which allows the extra help to get her on the path she really wants to be on (arts/writing). Our efforts to seek for her a path to a Regents Diploma with an advanced designation through a sequence of high school courses in The Arts (a path described in The Regulations of The Commissioner), have been met with confusion and inconsistency-when the truth in the regulations as they exist seems to be clear.  Following conversations with our district we began research and inquiries with NYSED regarding the regulations and the sequence in The Arts.

  1. All public school districts shall offer students the opportunity to complete a three- or five-unit sequence in each of the following areas:  career and technical education and the arts.
  2. All public school districts shall offer students the opportunity to begin an approved sequence in the arts in grade nine.
 There was contact through email with a NYSED Associate (Leslie Yolen, Arts Education) who verified in emails and over the phone that districts were required to provide students access to a sequence in The Arts as a path to a Regents Diploma with advanced designation. Ms. Yolen also contacted the Superintendent of our school to relay this information (along with the section of regulation above). Shortly after Ms. Yolen's message came another from a different NYSED Associate, Marybeth Casey. Ms. Casey's email contains statements inconsistent with the regulations, and uses a small phrase from the above 100.2(h) out of context to make a point in semantics that  is unsupported by the substance (and we believe spirit and intent) of this section of regulations. Ms. Casey basically denies the obligation of any public school to provide these sequences or a path to a regents diploma with advanced designation.
Her response:

1) "After discussing the question and reviewing the Regulations, Leslie and I agree that the district cannot be compelled to offer a 5 unit sequence in the Arts.  Part 100.2(h) clearly states districts must offer 3 or 5 units of Art" (Ms. Casey's bold on that "or")

2) "This regulation was crafted when sequences were required to earn a Regents diploma and while that is no longer the case, the regulation still exists as written. There is no basis in regulation to compel districts to offer an Arts pathway to a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation.  Part 100.2(e) as Leslie pointed out,  requires that districts offer programs that lead to a Regents diploma.  There is no language with respect to a requirement for a pathway to a Regents with Advanced Designation."

            While I'm not convinced regarding "Leslie and I agree" (I have spoke with Leslie, and it is my impression that she was told and then later "steamrolled" at a meeting regarding this issue), I am concerned at how/why a second associate was sought and empowered to override the opinion of the first (who actually has long experience in the arts). But I have played it by the rules. After a follow up email to Ms. Casey asking what type of Regents Diplomas are available in New York, and what benefits there would be to one over another, Ms. Casey sent a link to a chart describing the types, and a statement that more or less said that the benefit would depend on what the student was choosing to do. The chart she linked to shows that clearly there is language for such a requirement to make the regents with advanced designation available to "All Student Populations", which couldn't be more clear regarding the Regents with Advanced Designation and who it needs to be available to (ALL student populations). In addition, the phrase from 1002.h (1) in each of the following areas:  career and technical education and the arts indicates the requirement to provide opportunities in CTE as well as the arts, not a choice of one or the other.

            In an attempt to find out if the NYSED position truly was that schools could choose which type of students they could make college and career ready, and which path they would provide, I made a phone call on Feb 14th, to the office of Ken Slentz, who at the time was the next step up the "chain of command" (for lack of a better way to put it). I was told that Ken Wagner was the new person to speak to regarding Regents Diplomas, and transferred to his office. When the phone was picked up, and I gave my name, my call was transferred to....Marybeth Casey (not Ken Wagner). Ms. Casey and I had a pleasant conversation where she explained that "all public schools" and "all student populations" really means all schools that want to or can afford to, and all students in schools that do. When I asked her if what she's saying is these opportunities to be "college and career ready" are only available in schools that can afford to provide them, and to students lucky enough to attend them, she sympathetically said that was the state of school funding in our state.

            Mr. Tallon, I am trying to track down the truth. Is NYSED really in the business now of only creating and enforcing policies demanding "accountability" (test/assess/and data gathering), or does Commissioner King also want the regulations that support pathways to success adhered to? Are we supposed to tolerate the rhetoric of a commissioner who doggedly demands cooperation on an accountability path while NYSED itself is weak on the provisions in the regulations? Or is it simply that some of our students are being dismissed as unimportant and not worth those provisions? If you can provide any guidance and or support, I would greatly appreciate it, and my school district will only be made better with some clarity brought to this issue. My daughter cannot be the only bright, capable child who would benefit from the access to this sequence provided for in the regulations.

Thank you,

Dan McConnell

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How has school reform helped?

How has "school reform" helped?

This is how cautious conversations around the high-stakes testing  paired with the current version of reform go, when they happen in school:

"It's really more stressful on the parents than it is on the children."

"The kids don't really care... they want to do well!"

And so on.

     To me, it's not really the point. We can convince kids to do just about anything, and parents have always stressed over wanting the best for their children. But public education has been undermined and subject to almost constant attacks since the economic crash of 2007-2008. Parents, educators and students have good reason to be concerned, because no consistent or coherent explanation has yet been offered in support of the education reform model being packaged and sold to the public. There are enough well connected and aware citizens out there to know that "greedy public workers and their pensions", "failing schools", "college and career ready" and "competition in the global economy" are ill-defined specters served up to gobble airwaves and attention. They mean little when college is financially either out-of-reach, or a life-killing debt for future graduates with sense enough to look and see that billionaires, politicians, and their wealthy financiers are the very few who are thriving in this competition to serve the global economy. Those same powerful and well-connected people who, by the way, are looking to profit from the public dollars left because they couldn't be openly grabbed in the years leading up to and immediately following that economic crash. These same powerful people are the ones who sold the call for "shared sacrifice", then promptly avoided it themselves, opting instead for even more slop at the public trough while pressing hard against entitlements and public workers.

How has "school reform" helped?

     We shelter our kids as much as possible from the specific dangers that lurk out and about, and try to equip them with the skills and common sense to stay safe. We don't tell them exactly what is done to kids who are harmed by scuzziest of creeps that really do exist and sometimes don't get caught, and we end up conflicted when the most harm is done by our elected leaders, those they appoint, and the shadowy private funding behind all of it. We work hard as parents to create doers, livers, survivors- and happy ones at that. We send them to school, hoping that they will be equipped with the essential academic skills needed to then join society-capable of seeking a path towards independence and self-reliance. School is where they become integrated into a peer group, hopefully becoming comfortable with how their personal and academic abilities mesh with what will be their generation of future citizens. And in school, educators, support staff, and everyone else there work together to try and provide what is needed to prepare those future citizens.

  • Accountants
  • Construction workers?
  • Doctors, lawyers, investment bankers?
  • Computer programmers, or code-writing video game creators?
  • Technicians for a giant data-gathering company that will collect, store and analyze data on millions of U.S. citizens from cradle to grave?
  • Teachers? 

How has "school reform" helped?

     Keeping them off the street and out of jail is, of course, always a priority. But if you spend any amount of time watching the news coming out of some of the more urban areas you will be concerned. Young men are playing "knockout", a game where they try to one-punch sucker punch an unsuspecting stranger in a way that drops them unconscious to the ground. Teens on a Florida bus gang-beat a young boy who was going to report their efforts to sell him drugs. Under-supervised and morally/socially lost teens bully and hound others openly and or anonymously with social media and technology they aren't mature enough to use responsibly, and a couple generations of class and character have been lost to cable TV trash and mega-rich mega-idols who give the impression that wealth and respect are just some bad behavior and a photo opportunity away.   These are the kids coming to classrooms where they need to be taught. Clearly, there are obstacles that those pushing for "accountability" are less than willing to discuss, because they are unfamiliar with those types of challenges; uncomfortable admitting that there are people who contend with those challenges and deserve recognition for it; and because they smell money and opportunity in scapegoating others rather than participating in honest reforms.

How has "school reform" helped?

     What is the point, really, if the most that's been offered is a coercive system that allows the unaccountable to impose accountability, the benefactors of inequitable policy to impose inequity (code-named "school choice"), and politicians to grow secure and safe on campaign contributions funded in part by this diversion of public dollars? Has the decision been made regarding the value of a hedge fund manager vs the value of firefighters, police, teachers? Has rewarding public workers for a career of service with modest or less pension benefits lost value in comparison to risky wagers and artificially bloated speculative wealth for a few in the financial sector?

     Whatever the path my daughters choose, I want them to be happy, productive, and smart...not victims of someone else's plans. But really, reform isn't about my kids... really. They are collateral damage, and that disrespect to and disregard for them is angering enough-but it isn't about them. It's about the ever-increasing number of little lost souls left behind in this economic "competition" that makes making a living so hard these days. More and more kids coming to school tired, hungry, emotionally and economically insecure, with school and academics falling on their list of priorities. These kids benefit when their schools are empowered and funded well enough to at least attempt to address these needs in order to get to the academics.

So when we talk "reform", maybe the first thing we need to reform is the conversation. It's not about the need for more testing, more mandates, more hurdles and less money. It's about equity, accountability, and honesty-and it needs to start at the top.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Less Testing, More Investing

     "Parents want more information, faster, about how their children are performing relative to their peers. And the state is demanding higher levels of measurement, information, and evidence of progress." This statement is from OSC (Educational Assessment Scoring Environment), a company that will be taking state tests of students from our upstate area to Long Island for cheaper, more efficient, computer-assisted scoring. OSC has been seeking certified teachers to participate in scoring for $30 to $40 an hour. An initial inquiry to the company for teachers from our area to participate in scoring got an enthusiastic initial response, but in follow-up, a more cautious request came from the same OSC employee, suggesting a conference call to discuss the "logistics" of upstate teacher participation. The motivation for a move to this type of scoring is described by this company as cost-effectiveness, and the desire to keep teachers in their classroom instead of pulling them away for scoring. While I think these are admirable motives that most would agree with, the "parents want" stuff seems to be more of the snake-oil salesmanship from proponents of what is being called education reform.
     From new standards, to tests, to undermining the input of educators, to the collection and "uploading" of personal data of school students and their families: the increasingly opposed public has been told these efforts will benefit us all.  But I am not so sure that parents need to have their priorities described for them by leaders in business and policy, or that any description of those priorities should could come from those intending to more efficiently turn children and their schools into data to serve the "free market", the "competitive global economy", or any political/financial bottom line. Education is intended to prepare students to navigate and master these forces; help them make the world their own-not hold them accountable to serving it as-is. Public schools, though, have been scapegoated instead of supported in this effort to serve a population whose struggles and instability are increasing as the wealth in our nation trickles up instead of down, and the school funding disparity in NY shows a clear connection between the resources a district is provided and the achievement of its students.
     As a parent, I care little about what numbers the state would seek to stamp on my children, or how they compare to numbers of others. I've evaluated how politicians, corporations and investors handle such numbers and I'd say it's been two years plus of either ineffective or developing results. If our Governor wants to whine about unions and pretend he's on the side of parents, he needs to own up to his responsibilities for aggressively pushing the common core, "race to the top" package from day 1, not just point fingers at the Board of Regents. His failure to address school funding issues and his recent trip to the West Coast for what has been described as a "glitzy L.A. fund raiser" makes me question his priorities and his effectiveness.

Dan McConnell

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Investing, not testing is the way forward

     The insistence/consistent focus on evaluation of teachers as the number one priority, combined with the denial of the role that funding and wealth play in student outcomes, is narrow-vision, uninspiring, and either dishonest or disingenuous.

     Imagine a person (and/or a group of people) who had never ran on a track team, worked with a track team, maintained a track/field....suddenly being appointed authority over that area of athletics- in a school that had struggled to compete with wealthier neighboring district teams. The mission is stated as "close the win/loss gap", but the subtext is made clear in meetings, statements, the refusal to fund the necessities: trim costs. Pretend that a good track team is your priority in all memos, meetings, discussions, but spend less and redirect/place blame on athletic department staff for continued difficulties and losses to wealthier neighboring teams. The track is in shambles, dangerous to run on-not because the coaches and staff don't know how to do their jobs-but because the district can't/won't pay to resurface it. The hurdles, sand pit, pole for the vault...not useful for serious training to succeed/win/compete with peers. Because the area is a low socio-economic area, the students live in homes and with families that can't always provide square meals, comfortable beds, economic/emotional stability...the things that send a ready student/athlete to school.

     So what do the non-track, my friends bought me this job, I'm empowered to set policy but have no real connection to the day-to-day workings of track coaching/managing in a real school with challenges team suggest? What do they INSIST IS THE PRIORITY AND VOW TO FIRE ANY WHO DON"T COOPERATE?  


     That's right. Stopwatches. Forget the track, the equipment, the health of the kids, the involvement of the staff who really know what they're up against and have the experience to deal with it. Stopwatches.

     Suddenly more stopwatches, and to make sure the ones your budget dollars were diverted from the resurfacing for are reliable-some different stopwatches to turn time into a "value added measure"! There are protests from experienced coaches and runners that start coming from all angles, the crumbling track surface, the hungry kids, etc... you paint these as the protests of the unwilling and greedy and insist that more stopwatches is the best investment in order to find bad coaches and athletic department staff to fire when the track teams in struggling schools don't produce the wins that wealthier schools in neighboring districts produce.

     Not as many wins, not as many college-bound athletic scholarships...clearly, stopwatches will produce better outcomes, and if the stopwatches show less than desired improvement, we can fire athletic department staff...a win win! Sound data and consequences that matter.

     Does this sound a little ridiculous? I hope so. But I have been involved in a discussion with NYSED associates with an outcome describing that regulations saying ALL PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICTS and available to ALL STUDENT POPULATIONS really mean "if your district can afford it" or "if you're lucky enough to be wealthy or live in a wealthy area". It wasn't an unpleasant conversation, but an affirmation that it is the result of the unfortunate state of school funding in our state. "College and career ready" is for those lucky enough to be born into it, or attend a school able to/willing to provide it.

This is what YOU are accountable for, Governor. Not stopwatches.

     My suggestion is stop posturing and railing against unions, then own up to the impact poverty, joblessness and lack of character/morality in economic and education policy has on the most needy. There are people who know the daily struggles of an increasing number of students impacted by the crumbling condition of the track they are expected to run on. They are REAL EDUCATORS. Don't blow our money and place such reverent reliance/trust upon stopwatches (sold by eager stopwatch companies springing up everywhere these days).

I have metaphored long enough. Investing, not testing. That will get you results.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Any Input welcome

The link above takes you to a page where a summary of an issue involving NYSED and regulations is described. In preparing to enter into the appeals process regarding a recent NYSED decision. I have been made to believe that my family is not alone in wondering how NYSED could work so hard to create and enforce so many new regulations that suppress and control public education (under the guise of “college and career” readiness), but deny the mandates described in others that actually DO support student achievement. If you know anything, if you know someone, if you can help (or just want to keep up), contact me. Our governor’s lead when politically convenient-but wait ’til it is approach will leave destruction in his wake. We cannot let him have our schools, the governorship, or the WH.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Let Governor Cuomo Know.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  February 5, 2014
More information contact:
NYS Allies for Public Education www.nysape.org

NYS Leadership Falls Short to Reverse Course of the Flawed Regent Education Reforms

On Tuesday, February 4th, the leadership in both the Assembly and Senate called for a two-year delay of the use of Common Core state assessments for high-stakes decisions for teachers, principals and students.  The Senate also called for a one-year delay in the sharing of private student data with inBloom Inc., while the Assembly reiterated that there should be an indefinite halt to the disclosure of this information. Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo responded that the leadership’s announcement was premature and that he would await the recommendations of a Commission that he has yet to appoint. That Commission would issue its report in June.

The NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) acknowledges the legislature’s efforts, but this delay will not satisfy parents or educators because it falls short of the real change that needs to occur to get our school system back on track.    Thousands of parents and educators have testified at hearings and forums calling for a halt to the implementation of the Common Core and its aligned exams, and for the state to immediately cancel its contract with inBloom.  A delay in uploading students’ private data or attaching stakes to the exams is insufficient and will merely stall needed change.

“The Common Core Learning Standards remain untested and there is no evidence that they will result in more learning or increased student achievement. Parents are frustrated with the assumption that the standards will be successful if teachers are only provided with more professional development and students with more time.  The Common Core Standards are deeply flawed and the proposed moratorium falls short of the mark,” said Bianca Tanis, a New Paltz public school parent and member of Re-Thinking Testing, Mid-Hudson Region.

“For the next two years, children will be compelled to take grueling, inappropriate assessments that rob them of instructional time and force teachers to stick to a prescribed pace of instruction no matter the needs of their students,” said  Jeanette Deutermann, Bellmore public school parent and founder of Long Island Opt-Out.

“Parents, teachers, school board members and superintendents throughout the state have testified that they overwhelmingly oppose the state’s plan to share sensitive personal student data with inBloom.  We insist that the Regents immediately cancel the contract with inBloom; simply asking for a delay is not good enough,” said Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters and a leader in the fight to protect student privacy.

Not only does the proposed moratorium fall short, it is difficult to ascertain what it will include. "Although we appreciate the efforts of the legislature to be responsive to the concerns of parents and educators, the concept of a moratorium on the consequences of high-stakes testing needs to be defined.  Will this, for example, mean a suspension of test scores in teacher evaluations, or simply a prohibition on the dismissal of teachers with “ineffective” scores?  How will students be protected from the consequences of testing? Will the legislature prohibit the use of Common Core test scores for purposes of promotion and acceleration?  Will they allow young students to be excused from six grueling testing sessions?  All must be explained if we are to evaluate whether any real relief would be provided,” said Dr. Carol Burris, South Side High School Principal on Long Island and the 2013 High School Principal of the Year.

Jessica McNair, a New Hartford public school parent said, “Once again the legitimate concerns of New York parents are minimized with the suggestion of a moratorium.  This would only allow more time for the damaging NYSED agenda to take hold.  In discussing matters concerning children, it is imperative that the state’s leaders do more than simply slow down the train before it crashes.  We must put a stop to high-stakes testing and to standards that are developmentally inappropriate. The time for a complete course correction is now, with no pause or delay.”

Education Commissioner John King noted at last week’s budget hearings that he has been meeting regularly with the Governor.  “The relationship between NYSED and the Governor’s office must be questioned, especially as Governor Cuomo called a moratorium ‘premature’ as he awaits the results of his own panel's review of the Common Core,” said Lisa Rudley, Ossining public school parent and a founding member of NYSAPE. “We continue to call for the Commissioner’s resignation and the appointment of new Regents, because our children should not have to bear the brunt of a State Education Department whose agenda is out of control.”

The New York State Allies for Public Education represent forty-five grassroots parent groups from every corner of the Empire State, calling for a change in direction and policy, beginning with new leadership at the New York State Education Department and the Board of Regents. See www.nysape.org for more details.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

What is "choice"? Who will get to choose?

     As I type, my oldest is enjoying her 15th birthday party, and there are ten teenagers in my house. The group sang around the table, they have been in the far room sing/yelling to High School Musical, playing cards and telling weird pervy jokes and cursing occasionally...She really has made a fantastic choice of friends, and they compliment her personality-great kids, every one of them. It makes me feel pretty good about the project I have in front of me: pressing NYSED for clarification on paths students should have available to them. Are our education officials as willing to support our driven, talented artists and creative thinkers of the future as they are the tech-sector servants of the future? More to the point: are they willing to protect these arts paths for students in low socioeconomic status schools where students often face limited choices for a variety of reasons to begin with?

Is the state now in the business of discriminating ala' Romney (people should get the education they can "afford")? Are are we providing "choice" to everyone?