Sunday, March 30, 2014

Common Core & How Our Schools Have Been HiJacked by the Educrats

A few years ago, with the youngest of my own children still in elementary school, I started getting emails from youthful teachers at his public 'gifted' school.. letting me know that all was well in our New York school, as now the 'curriculum was being aligned by Common Core Standards'.

Since I was enrolled in a MEd program, and had been teaching in schools in the city as a regular licensed substitute... I quickly did some research and quickly realized that we (parents, students and teachers) were all being mocked. And that our children's education had been hijacked by the Bloomberg/Klein/Gates Gang of Educrats... In particular, I realized that people who knew nothing about Education except as a business (hence, the term I coined Educrats) had usurped our public schools...and the fight that is just beginning to take back those schools and classrooms was but a distant whisper.

So it begins... And now some few years later, after watching my own child's education reduced to nothing but drills and tests, even in subjects still presumably considered part of an Arts ... Nothing but drills, Teacher-as-Sargent like classroom antics ... And emails from the Principal with nothing more than 'test and assessment' news... I began my own private anti Common Core, anti Bloomberg DOE, and anti test prep classrooms campaign.

That I've had no effect is not news to me, a single voice in a sea of powerful Educratic figures with billions behind them. At some point, because I could live without the job, I left teaching as the tsunami of test crazed public schools fell upon larger and larger sections of the school term... Except  that I still had ( and have) my youngest who is still in 6th grade - NESTm. And so I continued to be confronted with the sea of teachers letting me know how well the Common Core was 'aligned' with college preparatory learning. That so many teachers brought in by Bloomberg's Dept of Education knew so little also continued to shock and amaze me. That the principal at our school, herself a veteran of NYC schools, seemed to find NO voice of protest, shocked me even more.

And the Common Core ? Well, most recently, I saw some particularly heinous and time wasting 'exercises' from what was presumed to be a theatre class. And, rather than blaming the teacher, who certainly herself is not even old enough to recall what a real and NONtest based class on the subject would be like, I know better. And I regularly tell my sixth grader than school wasnt always like this. I tell my child and all the friends and acquaintances who increasingly want to know if this, the test mad, common 'low denominator' core school system that it is today, if this is all our schools represent.

And a bit of recent history : Back in 2008, I had wished more for Hillary (Clinton) than for Obama... Who even before he was resoundingly elected the first time, I just thought him overly cautious and 'academic'. So I am not surprised then that he simply missed the education debate altogether. That he appointed and then re-appointed Arne Duncan as Education Secy, a friend who also lacked sorely any real education background, was only a reinforcement of my impression - Obama had no clue about rescuing public schools. And more, I admit that I have become bitter, as I see that his own precious children are enrolled in a lovely, Private school with NO standardized test whatsoever, and certainly nothing approximating the nonsense of the so called Common Core.

There is NOTHING common about a good education. yet here in New York, that is exactly what more than a million young thinkers are receiving. The Educrats who put profit over education, MONEY and private contracts over teaching and learning... they have usurped the classrooms so many fought for since the early 1900's. And nearly managed to bring the public schools to their banged and bruised up knees...

Common Core is not the single enemy. Rather I would say the true culprits include the architects of the state mandates for tests, companies such as Pearson who have ties to Bloomberg, Murdoch and Klein, Bill Gates and his teacher evaluation 'systems' .... aptly referred to as the Billionaires Boys Club by Diane Ravitch. In other words, the so called Reformers are raping the public schools of great and good educators and principled principals... And who by promoting for-profit charters, and random test-based 'reforms', leave the true learning and teaching at the very back of the line.

So this article can go on ... Public schools in big cities such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles ... And in towns around the country - these schools are now under fire, while big business with no educational knowledge literally play with our kids minds... Common Core is a glaring and obvious case.

I am recently heartened by news of conferences being held and organizations being formed for the sole purpose to rid schools of these useless tests and plans and 'commonest' of curricula infiltrations.  Many articles, even in the reluctant NY Times and NY Daily News, are getting full press coverage, as more parents seem to be figuring it out; Common Core is just another part of the sham that adds no value whatsoever to schools.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Tale of Two City Public School Systems : An Open Letter to Mayor Elect De Blasio



An Open Letter to Mayor Elect De Blasio :
November 25, 2013

Anyone who actually lives in New York City, has kids attending public schools, and wants to help with improving public schools, will know that the things I write here are absolutely truthful. While I am not trying to say I have done all the exact statistical research, I AM saying that as a parent, sometime teacher, and former student myself of New York Public Schools, the following is what our new Mayor Elect DeBlasio probably knows himself to be true as well. I am saying too that what is needed is a genuine dialogue between City Hall and parents and students, and until open and honest dialogue begins again after the damage and secrecy of the Bloomberg administrations’ high jacking of our schools, students, teachers and families will continue to face ‘Tweed’ as it has come to be known as the Tower of Power, the place where no one other than the rich and connected ever has reasonable access for any purpose whatsoever.
So to begin, this is what I know, have observed, have experienced, and NOT what anyone paid me to research. I write this entirely on my own, and again, I have no title, no official purpose, and most notably, no contract with Bloomberg’s partners, such as Amblify, the new for profit company funded and founded by none other than Rupert Murdoch, former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein,  for the sole purpose of making tens of millions off the backs of public schools here and elsewhere. I have no connection other than what I have stated already: a parent with big ears and a bigger mouth, some education experience and many decades of public school exposure.
First things first: our public schools are made up of over one million students, age four to eighteen, and in some special circumstances, have students older than that who are struggling to complete studies. This is a massively sized system, and nobody can doubt the difficulties inherent purely in terms of size.
To the Mayor Elect, I submit this controversial statement : You (Mr. DeBlasio) spoke of a Tale of Two Cities. I commonly refer to the NYC Public School system in similar fashion: for students with families of some means, connections, education, there is a small and elite group of schools most of those kids attend. For the rest, some seventy percent roughly, the rest of the students, who are MOSTLY of color, LARGELY from families with lesser means, or from recently immigrated families..or a combination of other factors; for THOSE vast majority, the schools these nearly 650,000 students attend are LESSER schools academically, are more likely to be filled with struggling students, AND can often be seen as simply segregated.
Before the outrage this article will no doubt provoke, let me again say that the comments here are based on my own personal experience, my own teaching experience, and involvement in schools here in the city. And, all anyone would have to do if they ever wanted to, would be to stop outside any number of public schools during arrival, lunchtime or dismissal times… the crowds of students, parents, school buses filled with young faces, the cars pulling up and kids climbing in or out, all this and anyone can SEE for themselves how NOT diverse our schools actually are.
Recently, the President came to New York, and in support of his so called STEM initiative, he had a scheduled visit/photo op at a high school in a poorer area of Brooklyn that was presumably a shining example (ie shiny new building) of a school. Interestingly, nobody in the media so much as mentioned that the school Obama toured was all but entirely made up of students who were of color, non white, mostly from poorer families, and that the school has yet to graduate ANYONE. No diversity, no evidence of success, nothing but a very new building. In fact, the school has no rigorous selection for admittance and many of the students were simply ‘assigned’ from the convoluted Bloomberg so called “high school choice” system.
Under Bloomberg, Tweed literally ‘stole’ our neighborhood buildings, and in the name of “Choice”, force fed the entire student and family body to participate in a convoluted, often changing method for being ‘assigned’ a school. Co location, another term used for something many of us understand  simply as forcing  multiple schools and different interests into the same buildings, charter or otherwise, but most often, without regard for community or any local input.
Mr. Mayor Elect DeBlasio: you are not only a parent of students who actually attended and attend public schools, but you also have children of mixed race. I assume you know all too well some of the implications for students of color, and how they can often be relegated to lesser educational settings, if they were not your own, if you did not intervene at many turns along the way. This is a Tale of Two Educations, Mr. DeBlasio, and while that may be a formidable challenge to face, it remains an ugly and obvious truth. Under Bloomberg, schools and students, families and neighborhoods were further separated, as the monied sections of the city became more rarified than ever before.
We owe our city and its inhabitants better than this. I know it’s a monumental task, to literally take back our public school system from the Educrats, who have wasted so many years designing ways to ‘assess’, spending hundreds of millions on privately held contracts (Murdoch, Klein, Gates, Pearson, Amblify, et al) …without ever improving education citywide. We have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is by first admitting we have a problem. Thank you.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

And the Special Education 'Reforms' are doing what exactly???

To the question how we think teachers here in NYC generally deal with Special Education students in the schools and classes, I posted this note in October 2011:

Leinweber • October 11, 2011, 9:45 PM

Many teachers here in the city, including new and old alike, ones 'cultivated' from instant teacher training programs, AND ones with years of experience.. MANY just simply do NOT understand what is involved. I have had the unfortunate experience of working in a 'CTT' (now renamed ICT) where the teacher working alongside me was not only ignorant of basic IEP requirements, but she also was punitive with young students with known disabilities. Anyone who thinks this is unusual to find such insensitivity and ignorance about learning differences is just not looking! Around the city, there are many great teachers, and many of them know what it means to truly address all types of learners. Many however are entirely unprepared, and principals unable or unwilling to give these teachers the sort of training necessary to work with students who have difficulties and who need different supports in order to excel. It takes a valiant effort on the part of the administrators to really take a hard and honest look at how money and special education funding is being used in our schools. Often, funding for training and special resources is available, but schools use much of it for general purposes, and not for the enhancement of teacher support and training of our students in need. The result: children who are not receiving proper 'integrated' classes, uneven and unsuccessful learning when the outcome could be so much better, and a DOE and City Administration that just looks the other way.

Friday, September 16, 2011

School's back in session, sort of!

.. and all over the city, the remnants of the last years under the Educrat/Boys' club has become increasingly obvious...example: all the 'new teachers' that werent supposed to be hired..yet, they are in nearly all the schools I see so far:

with all the controversy over 'last in/first out', the Rhee and Bloomberg camps spending as much time as they did falsely accusing our public school system of protecting bad teachers... and then with the NYC/DOE slashing in school budgets around the city, isnt it INCREDIBLE how many new and youthful teachers there are showing up at schools around the city.

just as a favorite 'case study' of mine, at the G&T (Gifted&Talented) Citywide NEST+m where my son attends 4th grade, there are several of these absolute beginners. In fact, my 9 year old has one such person; a lovely young woman who was hired a week ago.. never taught, and while presumably well educated, never been a full time teacher anywhere..

does a newbie imply that he/she cannot be a great pedagogue? of course not; in fact, it has nothing to do with that possible outcome. A young, smart and energetic person can certainly turn out to be a great teacher.. but that is simply not the point.

in our city, firing older teachers is a way of life for school administrators; creating an ever growing pool of 'excessed' teachers throughout the city is what short sighted principals and their 'network managers' encourage. it's about money; we all know that. but how many people have thought about the true value of all those well trained, intelligent and prepared people who have now been forced to leave, or who left out of sheer sense of desperation that what they have done for years is not important to anyone at the NYC/DOE ??

the staff at NEST+m for example is nearly all a certain age group (well under 30) and they strangely resemble a (cuter) version of the principal herself ( a short, greying woman with glasses). so it's just like a corporate hiring process; nothing to do with experience, and apparently little to do with teaching ability either. funny though, that inside the staff are some gems, but it seems they exist almost in error.

Teaching and Learning; it's like the lost mantra. How can we expect better educated kids when the people teaching them (while they may be individually 'smart') dont know the first or second thing about managing upwards of 29 kids in a class ?? Seriously, it's as if the air at the Tweed building where the NYC/DOE makes its crazy magic happen is being regularly filled with noxious laughing gases.

Does anyone out there realize the intellectual capital of a great and experienced teacher also includes recipes for our children's own love of education and learning? Personally, it appears that money has trumped any common sense about hiring/maintaining or training and retaining great staff for our children to learn and grow from and with.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Old School BOE...

Back in the 1980's when I first completed my Bachelors from Sarah Lawrence, I arrived home entirely unsure about my career goals. I was in the middle of several exciting plans as I recall now, including leaving New York City behind and travelling around Europe,and/or going for my PhD in language and learning disorders for which I had applied and was awaiting acceptance. More than that, I just remember being perfectly happy to be out of school and very glad to be on my own, living the city life with friends, primarily spending my time relaxing and going out nights.

In the interest of disclosure too, it should be said that my mother was still herself working as a NY Public School Educator, which I have to admit to anyone who gets any other impression was NOT a particularly good motivator for me to do the same. Having watched her survive the many years, arriving home each day exhausted and with tales of children in crisis, school building in decline, curriculum in flux and apparently ever changing... all that did not bode well for my own determination about what to do with myself. And while I had spent a good deal of time myself in classrooms around the city, at college and even abroad, and even though I had always been told I was a great teacher in the making...I just simply was not sure.

And all that being true, I still trudged off that summer after college, to the cavernous offices of the BOE as it was called then in Downtown Brooklyn. And this is what I remember: Mazes of soup green walled rooms, with 8 1/2 by 11" papers stuck on doorways with scotch tape marked sloppily with codes, rooms of plastic orange and green chairs in which we waited, and older women - employees of the organization- many with beehive hairstyles, sitting at beaten metal desks surrounded EVERYWHERE by huge standing piles of applications (such as the one I was there to complete). I remember it took several such visits to get through all those rooms, to deal with all those ladies, and to see how my application found its place somewhere in all those piles of paper. All of which ended up with a notification of a test date, instructions to show up (no preparation guide, just to have a few sharp pencils and some form of legal i.d).

What I recall beyond the sheer bizarreness of the place, those chairs, ladies and lines is this: the test and the subsequent one-on-one interview with a retired New York City Principal was actually about education, about teaching and learning, about 'best practices' for handling many difficult but realistic scenarios. What I recall was that the interviewer spent more than an hour with me alone, discussing what I had learned first in school, how I had been able to that point to apply any of those skills and accompanying knowledge and generally what I thought was the purpose of 'being a teacher'. It was a fine interview; and that along with the written test sticks with me all the more so as I compare to more recent 'adventures'. The essential point about the earlier experience: I was well prepared to teach, the process though paper heavy, people and time consuming (nothing online yet!)..it still took into consideration the elements of teaching and learning. My interviewer was a seasoned educator himself, articulate and interested in how I would proceed in the profession with what I knew and learned prior. And the written test was similarly designed; albeit not based nearly as much on specific goals or scoring, and fairly unsophisticated in format as it has become now..it still took well into consideration the nature of teaching in the big city schools and demanded some depth of understanding and desire to teach in the city's schools.

Some weeks later, a provisional certificate, roughly xeroxed and stamped, arrived in a plain unadorned envelope. That was then. Instead though, I never used the paper, instead headed off to some travel, followed by some graduate work, and then leaving the field entirely, went to the corporate life for a job where, all things considered, it was entirely less stressful or challenging than standing in a classroom and attending to children and students in need would ever be. It was to be quite some time before I returned to try my hand at the gift of teaching and in that time many many things had changed. More than I was properly or reasonably prepared for as it turned out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

You Know It's Gonna Be a Crazy Day When....

1.you walk into a labryinth of security guards, screaming students and metal detectors.
2.the 'ladies' of the school office greet you with the following question:"Dear, do you know the extension to dial for emergencies?"
3.the students walk into the classroom, glance once at you and then walk out again.
4.the few students who decide to stay (even with a sub: imagine that!) sit at the computer screen and dial up the New York State Department of Corrections website, commenting as they do how they are looking up family member(s) in jails.
5.the two girls making out in the corner start an argument with one another about who's the 'b*?!ch' in the relationship
6.the announcements on the loud speaker appear to come from Mars, (and not Brooklyn) and are all but entirely unintelligible with static instead of a voice.

.... and when, at the end of six very long hours with some surprisingly sweet kids sitting near you in the mix, not a single ADULT staff person even ACKNOWLEDGES you were there, surviving the day at their fine school for higher learning....

Monday, January 26, 2009

A day underground...

Suffice it to say that wandering into a random school... absolutely knowing no one, having only a taped message telling me where and when to report... is a challenge most would admit to. I however think (in retrospect) it was like a child experiencing a complex and not so pleasant situation for the very first time: I had absolutely no experience or apriori knowledge... so let's just say I was very naiive.

Prior to this 'adventure', I did have plenty of experience with BEING a STUDENT, a TEACHER, a MEMBER OF A LEARNING COMMUNITY... in a number of situations, schools and places. And in all, I was always generally treated as part of a community of purpose driven learners/teachers/helpers...

Here's the thing: a sub in NYC is scarcely noticed either way. Expectations are so low; it's positively unnecessary to be or say anything particularly. It is about showing up at the allotted time, receiving a paper with attendance forms that need to be filed with student's names that you will not know (now, picture taking attendance in a foreign school with kids who do not necessarily want or care if you know they are there!), punching a card that is eerily the same as ones I remember from my mother's generation as a teacher here in New York City, and whatever else falls in between that time is just a bonus(?).

That first day though, and all other (sub)sequent ..ahh a pun.... I march in, greet and say hello to each and every person passing me in the hall, stairwell or anywhere else and EVEN though in many many instances I am barely acknowledged by other adults in these schools (am I invisible in this scenario? I wonder often), I find myself daily trying to just connect on a basic level. To the school administrator who's job it is to make sure there is indeed an adult (licensed) body in every class, I always smile, show them my letter, license... and in case it is a school actually seeking an excellent teacher, I pass them my c.v as well.

So to sum up :
*I get an assignment on the 'subcentral' system, by phone call, and rarely any other notification or information than from a prerecorded message.
*I present myself, professionally, on time, punch in, receive my assignment and...
*Goto Class(es) as listed on my schedule

Now, clearly I have yet to elaborate on the latter part .. the one where I actually show up at the door of a classroom and am expected to teach. That part will have to wait while I catch the reader up on the other, preliminary parts of the substitute-in-nyc scenario ... except to say that I have had ample opportunity whilst 'experiencing' subbing...as it's called... to ask myself the following:

Question "Is not teaching and the profession about connecting with students and others engaged in the educational process??" I can chuckle though, and while I acknowledge that to date I have had, met, and taught alongside of some very very excellent and engaged teachers, AS A SUB IT IS PRACTICALLY A NONEXISTANT EXPERIENCE. If anyone speaks to me, it is almost completely initially without any expectation whatsoever. Often I find that when I do have a moment with some of the adults (and even with some of the students), there is a calculable instant when each notices, "hey, she is a mature, articulate and educated teacher.."... and I have come to think how wierd it is that the surprise is that I AM qualified, experienced and not a total incompetent idiot!! Really.

As a Sub, I am essentially the no body walking in the halls with the blue attendance folder.. the folder that appears to be more important than the work that I may or may not be able to accomplish in any given day, filling in for a teacher I will probably never meet and who will most probably never care to meet me or if he/she does...

Leaving off now with an example of meeting one such teacher that is amusing: when, arriving back later that same day to her room where I was 'substitute teaching' for a group of aproximately 20 9th and 10th grade students...ALL of whom were there with me on detention (a detail which no adult felt necessary to fill me in at days' start) while the rest of the classes went for a trip, the teacher made the following remark as I headed out:

"I'm really impressed", she said quietly and smiling, and continued with, "usually, when I come back here after there has been a substitute teacher, all the chairs and tables are thrown around and paper and books are everywhere"...all said as calmly as you or I may mention to someone how nicely someone's new boots or coat are that they are wearing...

As I said, expectations for the 'sub' is, well, set 'sub'standard, all in all.