Sunday, April 5, 2015

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month - The Irony is Disgusting.

Thanks to a friend on Facebook who posted the image below I was astounded to find out that April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.  As a parental observer of what I see occurring in the month of April in our public schools my first reaction was a chuckle.  Don't get me wrong.  Child abuse deserves its own awareness month and needs to be addressed.  My chuckle was not the result of this serious issue, but the irony in regards to the month in which is dedicated to and the state I live in - April and New York. 

In April, 3rd through 8th grade students across New York state will be slammed with ELA and Math Common Core exams (How much time? - click here).  Traditionally, testing children is not abusive, but these tests are.  A majority of the students across the state failed these tests last year.  In my opinion, handing out a test that our students are unprepared for AND a majority will fail is a bad practice.  On the surface, it is debatable on whether or not this practice is abusive to our students.  However, it gets worse.  I came across this document several months ago - ELA 3-8 Assessments 2014 - Feedback from Schools and Districts.  I read through the comments.  A majority of them discuss the turmoil our students went through last year while taking the test.  Some of the extreme cases discuss students wetting their pants and pulling out their hair.  Debate over - these tests are abusive.  

So you see, my chuckle was not a fun one, but more of a "are you freakin' kidding me" chuckle that resulted in the irony that New York state is allowed to be abusive to children during the same month that our nation dedicated to prevent child abuse. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Props to Carthage Superintendent for saying Opting Out is an Opportunity

This link at the bottom is an awesome piece on opting out by WWNY. As much to my chagrin when Mr. Turner and Ms. Hanno encouraged students to take the test in the clip, I have to give props to Mr. Turner for saying what he did at 1:25 -

"there is an opportunity for parents to opt their students out if they feel that that's necessary".

Statements like this empower parents because they inform. In his statement, there is no push to take the test or opt-out. Frankly, it puts the decision in the parents hands and they must decide. This is an example of how education should be. Of course Abby and I would have been ecstatic if he encourage opting-out, but we were very happy when we heard him say what he said.

I have been critical of Carthage Central over these past couple of years, but I have to say they do treat opt-outers with more respect than other districts. I do have family outside of this area who's school is enforcing sit-and-stare for opt-outers and I hear other terrible stories from across the state. Carthage stopped the sit-and-stare last year and have an alternate location for the opt-outers and they are allowed to read.

Friday, February 13, 2015

If Movement is Life, then the Classroom is Dead.

Recently I watched World War Z. It’s a zombie flick starring Brad Pitt as our hero who saves the day. I don’t know what it is with Brad Pitt, but his movies have been identifying with me lately. Towards the beginning of the movie, Pitt’s character and his family seek refuge in an apartment with another family to avoid a zombaic demise. Pitt’s character and the father of the family have a disagreement on what to do next. Watch the clip…

“Movement is life” - Pitt’s character emphasized and his family moved on, and the family who stayed fell victim to their lack of movement. That moment in the movie introduced the viewer to this concept and the rest of the movie highlighted this point that movement is life.

As a teacher, this phrase spoke loudly to me and it should speak loudly with others. It is no secret that we have a horridly stale tradition in education of a “one-size-fits-all” classroom. If movement is life, then this aspect of our schools has been dead for a long time. “Wait, wait, wait” you say, “what about technology?” Unfortunately, in my realm of things, technology has been used to enhance this tradition, not change it.

Look at the two pictures below. The tradition is the same. The only difference is exchanging the blackboard with a computer or a SmartBoard and using whatever software comes with it. Not much has changed at all. We have only modernized the tradition.

You don’t have to just take my word for it. Visit any classroom. In general, you will find one lesson being presented to the class. Amongst the crowd of students you will find “zombies” who sit there and are just passing time. Either because the lesson is too much for them or it is not enough for them. Not everyone is a victim in a traditional classroom, but movement is life and we should do better.

What can we do? This has been my next step. It’s not perfect, but it’s better.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Getting Back on the Horse

Got back on the horse tonight by attending my first Carthage Board of Education meeting in a while. It was nice. I went there with three things:
  1. I wanted to check if the district is going to treat the students who refuse/opt-out the same as they did last year. Yes they are. The students will be put in a separate location and be allowed to read.
  2. I wanted to know what repercussions one of the elementary schools would face because they were under the 95% participation. The administration did not know. They are waiting to hear from the state (a very cliche response from them).
  3. I invited them to attend the rally at General Brown on Feb. 28th to voice their concerns. Now that Cuomo is withholding money until he gets what he wants, I can see some of them becoming more active. 

BTW- On the whole 95% participation, I believe they do know and did not want to admit that there are little to no repercussions for it. Whether it is truly a lack of knowledge or them being deceptively ignorant it does not bode well for their ability to lead.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Public Education Needs a Billy Beane

This summer I was fortunate to watch Moneyball starring Brad Pitt. I highly recommend it. Without giving away too much of the plot, the movie is about a former MLB player turned general manager who is trying to fix his team, the Oakland A’s, because three star players left for bigger salaries that the A’s could not afford.

I expected this movie to be excellent. It was. What I did not expect was to make a personal connection with the main character. In the following clip, Brad Pitt does an excellent job of portraying Billy Beane and his frustration as Beane shares what he sees as the bigger picture, its relevance, and his belief that the club’s current, traditional approach will get them nowhere. Watch the clip and then I will make the connection…

**Warning – there is some offensive clubhouse language in this clip.**

The atmosphere in that clubhouse parallels two sides that currently exist in public education. The “Billy Beane” side wants to step out of the old mold and into a new. In education, he represents the side that wants to truly individualize education. He verbalizes the problem to his cohorts. Unfortunately, they hear him, but do not listen. His cohorts, who represent the traditional mindset in education, are perfectly content with addressing their problems using the same old methods. They accept the consequences of their archaic actions. It is perfectly acceptable for them to just find the next best player for their clubhouse, instead of developing a new method that could change their clubhouse.

As most of you know the “change” that is supposedly going to turn education around is the Common Core Standards. Unfortunately, bringing in the “next best player” is not going to do jack for our “ball club” unless we change the way we handle our classrooms. It is absolutely no secret (and I would argue a fact that everyone can agree on) that the more individualized a classroom is for a student, the better it is for the student. Unfortunately, in New York state, there is a push to use EngageNY State Modules. Instead of stepping away from the traditional classroom, the modules are solidifying the long-withstanding hold the traditional “one-size-fits-all” mindset has had on our classrooms since the inception of public education.

Albert Einstein once stated that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. At 1:32, Billy Beane shows his frustration to the insanity caused by his colleagues’ inability to see that routine actions will produce routine results. For educators who wear the same innovative shoes as he does, this clip shows the emotion and frustration that is spent when sitting at a table where others think they are moving forward, but really are just spinning their wheels. I am all for upping standards. The Common Core is another revision trying to do that.  The fact is that standards have been revised many, many times and our method of delivery has not. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Actions Speak Louder Than Words (Why I Chose to Opt Out My Son)

In the 2012-2013 school year the New York State Education Department under the leadership of Commissioner John King and the Governorship of Andrew Cuomo required schools to meet the Common Core Learning Standards under the following conditions:

  • without any of the promised state modules 
  • without any aligned textbooks 
  • without being prepared (for example, a curriculum map for grades 6-8 was not released until November) 

 On top of those conditions the State had the gall to test the students on this “ghost curriculum” and tie them and their teachers to those scores. 2012-2013 illustrated one thing: NYSED was unprepared. Totally unacceptable, but Governor Cuomo let them get away with it anyway.

It doesn’t stop there.

Enter 2013-2014 school year and enter the modules. The modules not only were created to meet the Common Core Standards, but they were to bring in a whole new line of thinking. However, you cannot simultaneously reprogram the thinking of all the grade levels at one time. Teachers need time, parents need time, the modules themselves needed time. A strategic implementation statewide was needed, but instead of one, Commissioner King provided us with a rushed, botched implementation. Totally unacceptable. Governor Cuomo voiced his disgust, but again, let NYSED get away with it anyway.

So what is one to do?

Actions speak louder than words.

Throughout these past two years I have been very vocal about how the actions of the State Ed Department have been harmful to our schools and my son’s education. However, talk is cheap and, unfortunately, it can be easily ignored. That is why I chose to opt out my son from state testing in the 2012-2013 school year and again during this year. Opting out seems to have grabbed their attention (and many others). Although my son does not know the full extent of things, we have discussed together that when we opt out we are sending a message to the State that we do not like how they are handling things. Personally for me, it’s the loudest message that I can send right now to let them know that I do not condone any of the actions that I have described above.

The State’s ill-preparedness, deception, and blatant ignoring of parental concerns has created “a mountain of mess” in New York State education. Ultimately, there are two choices an individual can make to try to move this mountain. One could shout at it all they want or they could move it by picking up one stone at a time (credit here goes to Confucius). Talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words. Little does my son know that everyday he opts out of State testing, he is picking up a stone and slowly moving that mountain. Although the numbers for the opt-outers are not in for the Math exams yet, there were over 30,000 students who opted out of the ELA. 30,000 stones being moved every opt out day. With the opt out movement strong and growing, we will have that mountain moved in no time.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Carthage Central School Pulls a Fast-One

Tonight at the Carthage Central School Board meeting the administration and the Board(not the entire Board) pulled a fast-one on teachers, parents, students, etc.  To understand what they did, I need to layout a short trail of events that led up to it.

For the April 7th meeting an agenda was published on the Friday before that included “8.3 Adopt NYS Common Core Modules” under Action items (please see image below).  My wife put out a call to concerned parents, teachers, and community members to show up to the meeting and express their concerns.  For whatever reasons, on Monday morning a revised agenda was posted that excluded “8.3 Adopt NYS Common Core Modules”.  Regardless, 30+ parents, teachers, and community members showed up that night.  Some were very vocal about their concerns and others attended to show support.  At the meeting the Board was asked why 8.3 was removed and the reply that we received was that there needed to be further discussion on it before a vote would occur.

Above image - screen shot of the original agenda posted for April 7th.

Here is a link for the April 21 agenda. Notice that 4.0 is “Modules”.  My wife and I were excited because this item was on the agenda and thought we would be able to listen in on some of the “further discussion” that would occur.  WRONG!  The Board had a brief discussion on a proposed policy that the superintendent sent to Board members a week before to look over for using the modules.  The discussion resulted in some slight changes of wording in the proposed policy and then it was placed up for a vote.  The proposed policy was passed with a 6 to 1 vote.  All teachers will be forced to "utilized" the modules.

You be the judge.  Was the removal of “8.3 Adopt NYS Common Core Modules” from the April 7th agenda a strategic move?  Were they really sincere about having “further discussion” before putting it to a vote?  Was the use of the wording “4.0 Modules” on the April 21st agenda done intentionally to appear that action was not going to be taken, compared to the April 7th agenda that stated “8.3 Adopt NYS Common Core Modules”?

Personally, I cannot answer these questions optimistically.  I have lost a lot of trust with the Carthage Central Board and especially the administration.  The way this whole process has gone done is tainted with a rushed adoption, broken protocol and policies, and blatant manipulations.  All of which have been orchestrated by administration and condoned by the Board.