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.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

NY State Ed Starting Discussion To Test Teachers Every Year (Read Carefully)

As if we hadn’t had enough. According to this article from the NY Times, State Ed leaders are now entertaining discussion towards testing teachers on a routine basis. Also, the results would be used towards a teacher’s APPR. No details on how frequent teachers are to be tested, but teachers who teach multiple subjects will be taking multiple tests. Don’t worry. It’s not as bad as our students have it. There was no mention of field testing or who would be designing the tests. 

Here's a link to the article:    www.nytimes.com/2014/01/18/education/teachers-to-be-tested.html?_r=0

 If you found that the link was broken, that is because it never existed. I made up the story and none of it’s true (this doesn’t mean that it can’t happen though). There is a part of me that wishes this were true. True, not because I love tests and want to take over testing to the next level, but I want to believe that a headline like this would be a catalyst for a majority of the teachers in this state to stand up. Believe me, there are already some that do. However, in all due respect, many teachers find themselves behind a desk that is stacked with APPR forms to fill out, data from pre-tests to evaluate and SLO’s to write, DDI tests to create and evaluate, state testing memos to read (memo 1, memo 2, memo 3), field-testing memos to read*, PARCC** testing memos to read, (for teachers who are lucky enough) stacks of modules*** to read, and a list of a dozen or so dates to be pulled out of the classroom for conferences, professional development, chats, testing, etc (and I am not even going to touch upon the day-to-day responsibilities). It’s not like it was in the past when teachers were the source of their being too busy for their own good. Unfortunately, nowadays teachers are made too busy by the powers above to muster up enough energy to make a difference. I would love to see these teachers stand up, walk around their mountain of mandates, turn around, take a glance and say “THIS IS INSANE, THIS IS NOT EDUCATION” and take action.

 I was motivated to write this blog after I took the Praxis II Math Content test last Saturday. The amount of pressure that I experienced taking a test that I signed up for, that I wanted to take was extremely stressful. It was an an enlightening experience for me. I cannot imagine the pressure our students in grades 3 thru 8 experience on SIX DAYS**** of testing for math and ELA every year. It was an experience that I wish every teacher could revisit and get a taste of to remind them of what their students are truly going through, except on a magnified level. Just then, maybe then, there would be enough of us standing up with a voice that could not be conveniently ignored.

*The link is to the field test memo from March 2013.  This year's memo is not out yet.  Field testing is also mention in the PARCC memo where it states that "Schools that do not participate in PARCC field testing will be required to participate in all typical New York State field testing." 

**Schools are not forced to participate in PARCC this school year (2013-2014). If your school is, it is because they volunteered for it. 

 *** Modules are not mandated by every district, but their implementation has been rushed and has caused some undo stress for the student, parent, and teacher that could have been avoided with a slower, more strategic implementation. 

 **** At least six days of testing for all grades 3 thru 8. Grades 4 and 8 also have a state test for science.