Monday, October 6, 2014

NY Assembly members meet with educators

It was nice to have been in a room with many others from so many different places. I have seen Assemblywoman Lifton in her office on a few occasions, and at SUNY last April. Still, it is difficult for me to wrap my mind around what the Assembly can/is willing to do-or what is the nature of what they have already done. During her appearance at SUNY Cortland this past April, I brought up the bill sponsored by Assemblyman Al Graf(R)-one that included a waiver from RTTT mandated responsibilities,  an end to common core and common core testing, and had language for establishing a panel of twenty-some people appointed by a variety of leaders and educators who would have public meetings in several locations throughout the state. 

I have the text, but believe it's still available online (A8844).

Lifton's response during her appearance was an "I hear your pain, but get more active, write your governor...we are sort of powerless in this..." type response. At Saturday's meeting Assemblywoman Nolan's response was to quickly brush aside bill numbers, describe how they go away and come back with different numbers and ask what is important...I think she knew the bill I was talking about but wanted to avoid getting too far into why good bills get killed by who, and why. It is a management technique (and looks good for a politician) to steer clear of details in the part they play and simply listen to you and let you get your stories off your chest. A person walks away feeling "Wow...they really listened to me!" Yeah, they did....aaannnd?  

Here is a quote from someone who was there the day Al Graf's A8844 died (Cue Don McLean music), followed by a link to the page it is on:

"Then came Tuesday, June 3rd.  The day that Assembly Bill 8844 was put to vote in the New York State Assembly Education Committee, chaired by Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan. Chairwoman Nolan had been advocating a HOLD on this bill meaning it would die in this legislative session if the vote took that path    I had the opportunity to attend this meeting/vote along with about twenty other parents. We traveled from all over NYS to advocate for the bill one last time. As we know, the bill was killed.  I was heartbroken to say the least. I couldn't believe what had just happened.  After the meeting adjourned, we were given the opportunity for a seat a the table with Chairwoman Nolan.  I thought that was pretty huge.  We were able to go around the table and discuss specific issues.  I had to hold back tears several times.  I do think that Chairwoman Nolan hears us, but for some reason she doesn't think this bill was the answer.  So I wonder, what is the recommendation then?  My kids, and everyone else's kids don't get a do-over with their education.  NO DO-OVER.  This bill would've eased that worry for me.  I'm afraid for today's students, especially those with an IEP.  I was glad that Chairwoman Nolan was listening though."

The Graf Bill, A8844:

An article describing the passing of Nolan's "put it in protected mode" bill

A link to the description of the "truth in testing" bill also sponsored by Nolan, but that she seemed unaware/unfamiliar with when I opened asking about it's status. Having sponsored then overseen the passing of the "on hold for two years" bill after the defeat of the "get rid of it now" bill...this testing related legislation seemed like a decent consolation prize. It calls for more transparency and review of testing companies, practices and results, as well as more access to old test items themselves. Good things, really, if we are to stick with no-bid contracting to testing companies sharing the revolving door between lobbying/policy making/politics:

Sorry, I meant for this to be a simple share-contacts/it was nice to meet you message....but I've been a little steamed since Saturday and came away agreeing with only a few things said: 1) That Tennessee accent is beautiful  2) Our unions have been complacent and 3) We need to form alliances with each other and parents to shake up all the people who think they can get away with forcing this insanity on us, and those who protect the insanity.

Oh-there was one more thing. For the top quality, caring people at that table who hinted at getting out: please don't. Evil only wins when good gives up. Not to be melodramatic but our nation is investing too much in drones and data-mining, and avoiding the real responsibilities-which are then left to pile up on public school educators and the educators of educators. 

So stay, play, fight and find a way. 

You do "...the most important thing on the planet second to parenting." (Jenke, 2014)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My Father in Law. I'm sure he'll be watching my every move.

My father-in-law. I could not have asked for a better "extra dad". This man was pretty damn awesome...I mean, he's the reason I have my wife, my kids...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

What reformers cautiously avoid

The conversation education reformers avoid 

My first daughter was born five weeks early. I remember that night clearly: we had just got back from some shopping and my wife had sent me out for a Burger King cheeseburger (one of those pregnancy cravings that had to be satisfied occasionally). When I got home, not too many minutes later, I found her in our bedroom on the floor-laying on her side with a stopwatch in one hand, and the book "What to Expect When Expecting" next to her. It was one of those "triple-take" wife...the stopwatch...the book. Later I was to find out she had sent me out on purpose, and that she had felt "something" was happening.
            Before long we were in the car, and on our way to the hospital, which was maybe 3 small village blocks away (a five minute walk). I was driving like she might give birth in the car and she had to let me know that I could slow down...that the baby wouldn't come in three minutes, but I had many memories of TV shows and movies where babies were delivered in the backseat of cars by husbands, cab drivers, firefighters, or some other random good Samaritan. It always happened quick with some yelling, screaming, crying, then smiling. Painful, messy, happy...and scary.
            Needless to say, my wife was right and we had plenty of time-but I was right too-it was scary. Not just because it appeared that the moment may have arrived-but because it was five weeks early (at that stage, complications are more likely). But even though there was no backseat birth or waiting room delivery, it became clear that our first baby was coming when they could do nothing to stop the contractions with medication and decided instead to induce labor. The worry was that if birth-weight was too low, our baby would be whisked away to a hospital more than a half hour away, and my wife would remain.
            I'm pretty sure someone had their thumb on the scale-she was so tiny! But she was able to stay in Cortland, close to us. Jen was in recovery, Chloe was taken to the newborn observation room, under a hood with oxygen being pumped into it and being monitored. I went back and forth between Jen and Baby Chloe. Sometimes I would sing softly to Chloe, leaning down close to do "You are my Sunshine", the same way I did while she was in Jen's belly and I would sing with my mouth pretty much on her. I can't remember how long I did this back-and-forth between rooms, singing/ talking/ comforting... but I finally went to one of the nurses on duty and asked if they could bring Chloe to Jen. Jen had just given birth to her first child, prematurely,  and was stressed. Chloe hadn't really spent any time with her mother and was in a bright impersonal room under a plastic hood. It had probably been a few hours-but time gets warped in situations like this. It was almost as soon as Chloe was in Jen's arms that both seemed to be better.
            Chloe is 15 years old now, one of three sisters, one of four of the loves of my life. Parenthood is an amazing, painful, wonderful, awe-inspiring responsibility, and as I write this, I am seeing my wife's post on Facebook. She is home with her own father and family right now. I won't share details, but home with her father is where she needs to be. There isn't much time left for that. I am home with our daughters. Jen's  connection with her father is a powerful one-recognized and respected by everyone in her family (and me). She knows that she's his favorite, (so does everyone else), and while he isn't in the mood for much right now-she is the one he wants with him.

Her FB post:

Me: Dad, remember when you used to take me fishing?

Dad: Yeah, Beansie (her younger sister's nickname, Jen's is "Ding-Ding"...don't know where these came from) went a lot too.

Me: How did we ever catch any fish? We sure did talk alot......... I guess is wasn't about the fishing was it???

Dad: I guess not...

Me: Thanks Dad. 
*****sniff sniff*****

            Chloe is sleeping right now. She's a teen, but gives us virtually no trouble. She is bright, beautiful, creative. Brenna, 13, could be described pretty much the same (in addition to the sleeping thing)-but is already taller and "leggier" than her mother and Chloe...a fact she enjoys razzing Chloe (and Jen) with. Our youngest, Ella (8), sits on the couch with the journal of letters Jen and I wrote to her when she was only "Little Fetus McConnell". There are too many great moments to remember, too many awesome things these kids do every day...We have from day one loved them, held them, supported them, encouraged them, and made it clear we love them unconditionally. And I think you can tell. If you are familiar with them, know them, or have seen any of the crazy stuff they do-you can probably get it. I'm not trying to brag, I think we've merely fulfilled a minimum requirement that many others do as well.

           But fewer parents can or do these days-cut loose to the free market and investment wind as well as policy makers and the silent hands that guide them.There is our real achievement gap problem. Education reformers avoid this conversation like the plague, because it is impacting factor numero-uno on student outcomes. Finding someone in school to blame (not something outside of school they might have to help fix) is the current agenda because it holds opportunities in a new "education reform" market. But what reformers won't engage with is a meaningful discussion regarding the quality of the bond that parents and children share, and how significant that is in determining a student's ability to focus and achieve in school. If their basic needs are met, if they are emotionally secure, they are more likely to succeed.  Reform stars would probably say that they understand and feel this love, this unbelievably strong bond that begins even before the moment you see and hold your baby in your arms. The feeling that parenting is the most important thing you can ever do-to unconditionally love; to put the needs of another first; to give the world the best possible future by laying a loving foundation in your family world first.

            They would say they feel the same way, and that they know lots of others who do as well. Of course they do. That's likely how they were raised, that's the world they live in: where families have the resources and background to form these secure and loving bonds. For the sake of public relations, reformers cherry-pick just that type of family to put out front for their lawsuits or enroll in their semi-exclusive schools. What they are NOT getting, or willfully avoiding, is the fact that more children are coming to public school classrooms without that quality family foundation in place. They are unfamiliar with and/or unwilling to discuss a different type of family and dynamic that leads to a different sort of student coming to many public school classrooms. And more of them are coming as we sacrifice real life truths to the demands of market perspectives.

            The arrogance of enjoying a gated sort of existence and undeserved influence over others, then using outcomes of inequity as criticisms of those combating inequity is aggravating. Using influence from within those equity gates to decide on and enforce a brand of generic education for the masses outside is wrong. All kids should have the connections I see in my family,many families I know. and that those driving reform likely have. But fewer and fewer do.

            No amount of testing, no exclusive "public" charter school, no amount of arrogant rhetoric from those who will not take on the real burdens, no posturing from someone who themselves enjoys a gated sort of existence can do it. It is time for honestly "shared sacrifice". Those who already have sacrificed are being asked for more by those who continue to avoid it.

Think reformers will agree?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Why public schools and tenure are suddenly top priority

            Our public education system is not the source of our state of inequity and outcome-decay, it is a co-victim along with the learners hoping to be more than fuel for the current global economy furnace ( or the gravel under its feet). Still: public school reform has been made a top priority. Why have education reform, failing schools and bad teachers taken the lead position on the "things to do" list? Two possible reasons:

1) There is a lack of will to address the actual problem: economic policy that empowers the greedy and dismisses or covers for failures that result-impacting the economy for everyone else while still enriching the greedy.

2) True education, empowerment, critical thinking, and collaboration in the masses are a threat to the few in power (the greedy mentioned in 1),  so education reform in its current form seeks to control the masses through a standardized education that will merely equip them to serve-not to lead.

            Despite the rhetoric heard from leaders in policy and reform, there is no reason to believe that they really want a nation of empowered, well educated graduates-even though their language is centered around "college and career readiness" and "competition". The implication of the former is that college is appropriate for all, careers are there for the taking (or will be when the "jobs of tomorrow" arrive), or both. Responsibility for any student's failure to achieve either or both lies entirely with public schools and teachers. But little attention is given to either the massive college debt that already exists among the un-and underemployed, or the debt awaiting all of those future college ready students who take on the challenge within a job market that holds little promise.  

            The latter, "competition",  is concerning because it reveals adherence to the cutthroat, me-first philosophy that leads to greed, inequity, market crashes, dishonesty and distrust. I'm not sure many in the forefront of education reform ( being politicians, semi-celebrities, coached carefully by PR experts) would claim that economic competition and individual glory are the primary goals of an education, or that we want to compare ourselves and compete globally with countries like India and China (even though those are often given as examples of who our competitors in the global market are). No one who is calling for America to be economically competitive with these other nations also opens a discussion regarding what our core values as a nation are. They certainly don't discuss whether we really want held up as models either a country where 1 in 6 city dwellers live in conditions unfit for humans or another where child labor is exploited and factory workers sometimes live in filthy dorms working seven day weeks and twelve hour days.

            Is reaching for these conditions the education reform plan for making American children (other than the more privileged) more competitive? I can't believe it, but I'm waiting for it to be proven wrong, namely with healthier models and clearly articulated and shared goals/values- "Common Core Values" (as opposed to standards). But in a world where advancements in technology mean fewer jobs for the majority, and more wealth and power for the minority. conflict is inevitable as inequity increases. Below is a list of five sources, lettered A through D. Each of the technology-related quotes below them can be matched to one of the sources. 

Can you match source to quote correctly?

A) From the "Manifesto" of Ted Kazinski (The "Unibomber")  (1995)
B)  From  a song by Jimiroquai  (1996)
C)  From Bill Gates (2014)
D)  From the July New Tech Schools Annual Conference Keynote Address by Paul Curtis (2014)


1.  ____  Well, technology in general will make capital more attractive than labor over time. Software substitution, you know, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses… It’s progressing. And that’s going to force us to rethink how these tax structures work in order to maximize employment, you know, given that, you know, capitalism in general, over time, will create more inequality and technology, over time, will reduce demand for jobs particularly at the lower end of the skill set. And so, you know, we have to adjust, and these things are coming fast. Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower, and I don’t think people have that in their mental model.

2. ____ The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering even in "advanced" countries.

3. ____  It takes fewer and fewer people to produce the things that we used to produce. And so the question for us is: where will the people go?...So if computers can access this kind of [massive amounts of] data, and compete against humans in something that we would have expected to be a uniquely human trait...again, what is it that human brings to the table...what's our "value add" to this economy, to society...?

4. ____ Futures made of virtual insanity - now
Always seem to, be govern'd by this love we have
For useless, twisting, our new technology
Oh, now there is no sound - for we all live underground

Tomorrow is day 1...and I'm starting to go stream of consciousness here. Let me just say that clearly, the education reform we are entrenched in is closely linked to the future (present?) conditions described above: class division driven by the market, technology, and who controls them. "Common" standards were not called "exceptional" standards for a reason. "Morality", "equity" and "honesty" aren't words heard when reformers disparage public schools. What would the global economy do with so many exceptional people raised with those values? Reformers will not target the true dangers, because they are the dangers that keep them in power, and everyone else under control. Public schools hold the potential to create change and reform from the base of society upward (not force it from above). Educators are the ones capable of challenging students to think exceptionally (not commonly).
This is why public education and tenure are being targeted.

(Answers to matching: 1:C ; 2:A ; 3:D; 4:B)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The things they say, the things they don't

 "StudentsFirst has taken the feedback from our membership and dozens of education policy experts and crafted a policy roadmap for lawmakers to consider as the new legislative year begins."
 (Read: "The inner circle of StudentsFirst and some high-powered and wealthy insiders who shall go unnamed have pre-written some strategy, policy, and talking points for those who appear to be "elected" into decision-making positions.")

"Great teachers make a difference for children of all backgrounds. All children deserve great teachers."
(Read: "By saying something simplistic and universally agreeable, we can then hopefully fool you into accepting some of our more ridiculous's the Trojan horse logic offensive!)

These quotes come from a website describing the studentsfirst policy agenda, and they echo the type of quotes commonly heard from ed-reform leaders. The problem with this "our schools  are failing and bad teachers need to be hunted like vampires" focus is not that schools shouldn't be re-tooled to an extent. If freed from state no-bid contract strangle-holds of canned curriculum and standardized cradle-to-grave test-shackles, real dedicated educators could do great things. The problem is who's defining the problem, what their agenda is, and what the likely consequences are. In addition, the refusal of this crop of non-educator education reformers (who are so far removed from the actual profession) to admit that the very real classrooms and the very real students involved are all very different from their rhetorical fantasy land...well, you have to wonder why they've been allowed a platform at all. The fantasy they are selling is one where great teachers and "choice" heal all failing schools and lift all students to achievement-nirvana.

But these reformers avoid inconvenient truths like the plague.

There are elementary school students who don't know for sure whether they will see their fathers or not that day-or that week. Visiting hours at the jail can be unpredictable, and mothers may or may not enforce the orders of protection that are supposed to keep some fathers away. Sometimes Dad might send a child off to live with the very Mom he openly disrespects because he wants some responsibility-free time to move his new girlfriend in (only to move her out and bring the child back a couple weeks later).

Sometimes it isn't even mothers or fathers that are the issue. Many times, grandparents and/or aunts and uncles are the primary caregivers in situations where the actual parents have either given up their rights or had them taken away by family courts. It's hard to imagine what goes through the mind of a young child who entered this life with the natural inclination to view their mother and father as the most important connections they could have: the source of love and information; the model of how to feel about themselves and relate to others; how to relate to and find their way in the world... It's even harder to imagine what goes through that same mind when those things we take for granted are absent or warped.

While it's hard to imagine some of this stuff, those in a growing number of public schools and classrooms don't have to imagine it. It's their reality, or the reality for others in that school or in their classrooms. Peers see it, teachers see it, principals see it, other members of those communities see it.

But "reformers" don't see it. They seem to be able to buy time, buy the conversation, even buy teachers unions to an extent. Maybe even buy policy and court rulings. No, they don't see it, but do they know it? I think so, but it doesn't seem to matter.

It isn't likely that their own children will ever sit in classrooms being more and more filled with classmates that bring those burdens into school from outside the school. It isn't likely that they will see neighbors, parents, children who want for what are considered the basics: running water, electricity, heat, decent meals. Their time outside of the school day and school year is likely spent in a way that seamlessly ushers their own young along the expected paths towards achievement: connecting more exclusive schooling experiences with lifelong social connections and later college and professional connections.

So when they promote "choice": is it really "choice" to separate the students and families with the resources from the students without-or is that "segregation"?

When they attack "tenure", are they really looking to weaken the defenses before the attack?

"Intentional" is the kindest way to describe it. "Calculated" is more truthful. The language of the public school/tenure attack includes insinuations of pedophiles and "bad" teachers lurking in classrooms protected by insurmountable union nepotism and red tape. "The most important IN SCHOOL factor..." is repeated often, with such stress placed on "in school" that this truth becomes clear:

The greatest, most pressing opponent is the greed and inequity that fund policies and fuel exploitation and PR smear campaigns OUTSIDE of the school. And guess which side the "reformers" are on? 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Two barriers to true education reform

There are many more, and these could be "unpacked" to delve more deeply-which I may do. 

1) The purpose of education seems most recently to be a concept imposed upon us, not conceived/created/decided by us.

Education is not a machine, it's an endeavor. The end result is intended to be a capable American citizen. Yes- enabled with the skills needed to pursue a career path they choose, but more importantly: an understanding of their civic responsibilities and how to contribute to society or "the greater good". An even more important (and related) outcome should be the ability to discern shit from shinola and join with others endowed with the expected products of a sound basic education to drive our democracy and resist the tyranny of the privileged. This is not some Socialist concept, it is in line with the thinking of one of the most respected Founding Father-thinkers! What could be more FOX-Newsy or in line with GOP/capitalist thinking?

In 1786, Thomas Jefferson wrote to George Wythe:

"I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance."

Education of late has started to become money-making for entrepreneurs and policymakers unwilling to meet their own obligation to the greater good-opting instead to  protect and promote the system of inequities that serves them best.

2) Kids have, I mean really changed

It isn't just that "kids have changed". Yes, they most certainly have, but this is almost so accepted that it hasn't even entered into the school reform debate when reformers themselves begin talking about the apparent education pandemics: failing schools, under-achieving students, and overpaid/overprotected teachers. 

They aren't about their schools, students and teachers, of course. The fact that their own kids have a consistent track record of success easing into a continuation of the socio-economic stability and security they enjoyed all through childhood is all the proof they need that the schools for the struggling many must be "failure factories" that are too costly, represent another investment opportunity, and need to be reformed.

The cold, hard truth is that many of those at the front of the reform movement have no connection to the real-life struggles of a growing number of people, or their children. Nor do they have a willingness to acknowledge the consequences of social policy failures taken on by educators in a building full of children who come with much more pressing concerns and needs.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Resisting the move to de-value educators

What will happen if teaching continues to be treated as a workforce instead a profession?

This came to mind when thinking about whether or not teaching is "a calling", something a little more than just a chosen profession; or if it is a mechanized skill that can be scripted, planned, then executed by anyone capable of doing as they are told.

Certainly, money can be made by devaluing educators or educators in the making-first by weakening and cheapening the process and then by owning and selling the methods and measures in the execution of education for the masses.

But to what end?

Would the wealthy stand for simple politicians and policy makers telling them "This is what your children will learn, and how they will learn it."?

Not likely. In fact, we are seeing the movement towards a more segregated system, where a shrinking number of those with resources will have or be provided options for real learning that will promote access to economic and social mobility, while a growing number are subjected to federally mandated sustenance curriculum and educators confined to prescribed curriculum.

Education is meant to promote knowledge, freedom and a citizenry capable of not simply finding employment but resisting tyranny through participation in their government. Educators need to be capable of maintaining the processes that serve those purposes for all learners-not just a pre-chosen few.