Names for Regents

Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch

Vice Chancellor Anthony S. Bottar

Regents:

James R. Tallon, Jr

Roger Tilles

Charles R. Bendit

Betty A. Rosa

Lester W. Young, Jr.

Chritine D. Cea

Wade S. Norwood

Kathleen M. Cashin

James E. Cottrell

T. Andrew Brown

Josephine Victoria Finn

Judith Chin

Beverly L. Ouderkirk

Catherine Collins

Judith Johnson

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Letter to Regents on new APPR adoption

August 31, 2015

Commissioner of Education Mary Ellen Elia

Board of Regents

NYS Education Department Building

89 Washington Street

Albany, NY 12234

Re: 3012-d Public Comment EDU-27-15-00019-P

Dear Commissioner Elia and Board of Regents,

Consider this letter my contribution to public comments regarding EDU-27-15-00019-P, in opposition to permanent adoption of this new rule. Then use the suggestions that follow to consider a more effective path forward.

First, the reasons to oppose adoption of 3012-d Public Comment EDU-27-15-00019-P as a permanent rule:

1)  “Faulty roll-out” of the new standards: It is among the reasons cited for the unrest, uneasiness, and displeasure that have arisen regarding the linkage of what were brand new standards, the need to acquire and create curriculum materials tied to those standards, and high stakes tests tying reputations and careers to that faulty roll-out.  This new rule would not address the missteps in practice and disrespects to students, citizens and professionals that occurred with that roll-out. In fact, this is a move to memorialize one of the biggest missteps.

2) Although our governor has taken the positions that: a)  we need a better evaluation system so we can find more teachers to fire; and b)  he has no responsibility for education policy (he says this mostly when citizens are unhappy with his approach to education policy)- he has also admitted those faults in the roll-out of the new standards. He has also noted the lack of reliability in the tests in accurately gauging student outcomes, and has proclaimed the primary importance of parents and kitchen tables as tools for student success. The passage of this new rule puts more focus on entrenching the mistakes and the faults of New York style reform, while ignoring the issues of primary importance. This rule is not an indicator of effective or highly effective policy making.

3)  An approach to APPR so heavily weighted in standardized testing is misguided. While we do need tests to chart student progress toward achieving academic standards, and even more to inform instruction, the more correlative variables in positive student outcomes are resources and opportunities, not tests and consequences.

Following are my suggestions:

Instead of trying to sell (or impose) the primary importance of tests to people who know that there are so many things more important in the educational experience of a learner-embrace sound pedagogy and practice. Listen to students, parents and concerned citizens and then include the teaching profession in building up learning experiences as opposed to finding someone to blame for the lack of them provided for in policy. Accountability is important-for all of us, and not just for test scores.

Put this new APPR rule at least on hold, and at best in the circular file, while a more holistic and experiential accountability system is created. Think of a portfolio, an ongoing assessment of academic skills, social/emotional indicators, and extra-curricular involvements/experiences…A tracking of the whole child with shared responsibilities between classroom teacher, administrators, school district, family and community… and leaders at the state level. Such a system would have to include regular assessment of essential academic skills, but these could be made far less intrusive on the school schedule and often be completed quickly on a computer and immediately saved as evidence of progress (or not). Third party proctors could be used for the more official assessments, but even then the focus is on building that ongoing resume for our future citizens, not finding someone to blame.  By high school, their portfolio should be showing community service, volunteer activities, leadership roles, internships and college visit records…

Think and reflect on the words of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who in a recent interview acknowledged that educators are often forced to be responsible for a host of burdens that students bring to school with them:

“I really think that we shouldn’t be looking at education alone anymore or mental health alone anymore or poverty alone anymore. I think that we have to look at the total family structure and see why it is that students are going into school not prepared for these challenges. And I think a lot of it has to do with what’s going on at home and their neighborhoods. Even super teacher may not be able to get through to a student whose life outside of school has issues.”

Most of all, we cannot continue letting state education officials and politicians off the hook and/or promoting them onward and upward for little more than lack of honesty and a tin ear. I have personal experience with NYSED’s willingness to self-promote the opportunities it supposedly provides, while at the same time denying that all students have access to those opportunities. “Sadly, that’s the state of funding in our state,” said a NYSED associate to me when explaining why this is the case.

If anything is unethical, it is leadership turning a blind eye to these conditions.

Thank you for considering my position in opposing this rule, and my  suggestions for an alternative approach.

Dan McConnell

My letter to Three NY State Assembly members

Below is a letter I just sent to Assemblywomen Lifton and Nolan, as well as Speaker Heastie. I usually get a phone call from Barb, and it’s been a while since we have spoke to each other. If I hear anything, I will follow up. They really are good people and need all of us behind them so they can know they represent a powerful and formidable collective. I think that is the reason why we are already seeing some reluctant backpedaling language from some leaders (regarding parental rights regarding tests). But there is way more to the battle ahead than the tests alone. The purpose of education and the promise of what should be waiting for future citizens needs to be collaboratively defined and ensured.


Honestly, and this is something I shared with Assemblywomen Nolan and Lifton when we met (last August was it, in Barb’s Ithaca office?) : I have been feeling more and more Republican with every passing year. Please help me stop this moral decline as anger takes me (as it did Anakin Skywalker) and lures me to the apparent power of the dark side.My decline into “republicanism” (I don’t want to call it “evil”…not yet anyways) is mostly because of the feeling I sometimes get that traditional principles I value in my leaders have been abandoned in the hopes of maintaining and/or preserving some legislative advantage. I’m coming mostly from the perspective of a public school teacher-but just as important as that: I have the perspective of the first college grad in my family, a boy that spent his youth in a single-mother household (but with a father involved and a sense of respect and value of responsibility…). I also have the perspective of someone who has always been a thinker, a people watcher, and observer of human nature, with an interest in politics and leadership. In my family, there would often be three generations gathered talking politics while we solved the crossword in the daily paper and debated the existence of “Bat-Boy” and location of Elvis as described in those other “newspapers”. Call it a VERY well rounded upbringing. Speaker Heastie, being about a month older than me (10/21/67 is my D.O.B.), do you remember that debate when Reagan was smug and dismissive of a president that many criticize-but to this day demonstrates more real character than any I can remember? I was like 13-plus-one-week but couldn’t wait for the day I could register to vote poser talking point paper-people out of or away from office.

Well, now I am living in a state where I need to look closely to see if that really is a “D” next to my governor’s name. I have to read and replay to see if I really did get that WFP, UFT or AFT endorsement thing correct…really, they did THAT? And now we promote a couple of SED fails upward and away from NY, but bring in a new commissioner that dares to double-down on disrespects of the past.

     We seriously need to move past this arrogance from within the ranks of the party I once loved and get back to being truthful about what bad policy has done to families. We need to move towards a day where we have a swifter mechanism for getting more transparency and more responsive/responsible leadership into SED. No more regent “fellows” advising without full disclosure of who they are, what their agenda is and what money is flowing, where, and why; more direct involvement of the boots on the ground. No more cheap-and-easy answer focusing on tests as the measure and punish stick; more shared accountability for ALL of the efforts and investments required to produce capable and productive citizens.
      To the point: Speaker Heastie gave me my first glimmer of hope that something good could actually be possible. Not a delay of pain bill, not a band-aid to make some extra rules regarding testing bill…those things are like covering bruises and making up excuses when you are the victim in an abusive relationship-and make no mistake, public schools in this state, the students in them and the communities around them, the professionals and non-professionals serving in them: it’s often an abusive relationship when they are among the neediest and/or serving the neediest and have to suffer the insane under-funded, test-obsession brand of “reform”. Speaker Heastie acknowledged in a recent interview that educators are often forced to be responsible for addressing a host of burdens that students bring to school with them. A test score is not necessarily the thing educators serving the most needy students feel most accountable for, and that market-friendly data can’t always be the priority.
      So can we move forward with a demand for a more holistic approach? A portfolio of accountability that includes academic dipsticks (standardized tests) but also social, community, charitable, student self-awareness/self-selected experiences that envelope the things developing citizens truly need? I am tired of the op-eds planted in papers in this state and will continue to respond to them and hound you folks with my (probably) empty threats to go to the dark side. What kind of role model would I be for my girls?
     So honestly, thanks for fighting the fight as best you can. I look forward to defeating the dark side with your help.
Dan McConnell
Cortland, NY

Post Op-Ed opened

On a family visit to my parents, I picked up the Sunday Syracuse Post Standard. In the “Commentary” section there was an editorial that dominated the page and truly did serve as more of an advertorial for the test and punish camp. It is linked to below, but one of the first things I noticed when I went to the Post’s online version was the difference in the titles:

Print version: “Opting out made a point-now take the tests”

Online version: “Opt-out movement made it’s point, now it must make peace with the tests”

Forget my wondering who would have the gall to take such a condescending tone- someone was clever enough to depersonalize and soften the title for the online version. But this piece still puts the nail in its own logic-coffin by ending with:

Parents, you’ve made your point. The state has heard you. Now it’s time to turn your focus to help your kids rise to the higher standards. But we won’t know how well the kids are doing unless you let them take the exams.

Let’s look at this more closely:

Parents you’ve made your point – If that were true, this piece may have read, and ended differently

The state has heard you – True…but they don’t really want to deal with what they are hearing and why. The testing push is the state’s way of avoiding their responsibilities in other areas.

Now it’s time to turn your focus to help your kids rise to the higher standards- This requires suspending common sense and giving into the premise that more focus on tests is the best way to make this happen. Speaking as a parent and a teacher, I can tell you that is not true.

But we won’t know how well kids are doing unless you let them take the exams – To begin with, see my response to the previous statement. Then, tell me who “we” is. I know how well my kids are doing.

Anyways…I’m a little more disappointed in my free press than usual. Below is my response to the paper.


Opting out made a point, but Post: you’re not getting it

The August 16 Syracuse Post used the “In Our Opinion” piece for the purpose of admonishing parents who are demonstrating the critical thinking and civic awareness that our new standards are supposed to promote. The position taken in that piece is one in line with a group that is apparently afraid of both.  We have already seen years go by with honest discussion avoided by education leaders short on experience in education but long on opinions regarding what is wrong. Their solutions usually include corporate contracts for testing and consequence for schools.  During the passage of those years, parents have had to tolerate listening tours that really weren’t, and the continued mantra of praise for data collection and for tests with little transparency and of questionable quality. Those passing years might coincide with those seeing the number of test refusals growing from a handful  to 200,000 or more parents choosing to exercise their authority in this way.  So despite familiar arguments in favor of high-stakes testing, it would be difficult to dismiss the growing number of aware parent/citizens-especially with a weak editorial scolding.

Tests are necessary, but should only be a part of a holistic approach to a learner’s educational programming and opportunities. “High stakes” should apply to all those responsible for providing the experiences and opportunities for a learner today that will create the effective citizen of tomorrow. Consider the words of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in an interview with the Albany Times Union on August 17th:

“I really think that we shouldn’t be looking at education alone anymore or mental health alone anymore or poverty alone anymore. I think that we have to look at the total family structure and see why it is that students are going into school not prepared for these challenges. And I think a lot of it has to do with what’s going on at home and their neighborhoods. Even super teacher may not be able to get through to a student whose life outside of school has issues.”

Testing should not be given top priority. It is the cheap seats, the easy answer-a way of placing artificial value on people instead of demonstrating that you actually value people.  They are also a way for our leaders to avoid their responsibilities. We need tests as a way to inform instruction- yes, but there are far more important things we could be doing and effective funding and programming choices we could be making to prepare future citizens.  That growing number of aware and involved parents understands that. Appointed education officials, elected policymakers and editorialists would be wise to come from another angle.

Is critical thinking what they really want? (Part 1)

What it is thinkers are thinking about:

School reform, common core standards, and standardized test-based accountability have all faced some resistance from those looking for more truthful and transparent discussions regarding what is needed to improve student outcomes. The resistance to what is being called reform can’t be explained away as simply as calling it “special interest” interference or knee-jerk opposition to those three ideas (reform, standards, tests)-it’s rising up because of the ideology often hidden in those reform ideas-as well as the apparent lack of a clear and consistent position in favor of a weaving agenda-driven narrative instead.

In pointing out how ideology and agenda can interfere with progress, I’m not just speaking about the pie eyed, money backed reform-zombies and the sudden crop of traveling non-profit/non-teacher salespeople and politicians working for them. I am also talking about boot-licking/crumb-diver teacher union folks and how they supposedly represent/promote/ defend the profession…or don’t-whichever is most convenient and effective in preserving a seat at the table when the opportunity to give voice presents itself.

Common Core stresses critical thinking, so…

Public parents and public students are rising up to take back their public schools, their public education; and the narrative. These are the true critical thinkers because they have already watched for years as our leaders sent large chunks of our public economy overseas-now some 2 trillion held privately (but always available to the wealthiest and most powerful). Despite this, the group once called investors and job creators have failed to fuel our domestic economy in a meaningful way. The absence of jobs; the disappearance of the middle class; the widespread and crushing college debt in a nation that demands college and career readiness but has been failing to give a return on that investment….the outcomes disparity created by these conditions is one that can’t be denied-even  by the most angry public school critics who push aside correlated variables then provide examples of it themselves in their critiques

When it comes to  two parties mentioned earlier (the zombies and the boot-lickers): you’d better pay attention and decide how relevant and useful you want to be. Union leaders have been far too conciliatory in reinforcing the value of the profession and have become part of the problem out of self preservation. Only after substantial community-based outrage did leaders begin to step up and back away from almost-apologetic claims that teacher-improvement was priority one and brand new tests for brand new teaching/learning standards was the way to get it done. It was a lead from behind approach that set the reputation of dedicated teaching professionals back considerably-allowing for a host of on-the-cheap suggestions to gain undeserved credibility. On the other side, the highly promoted test-and-punish brand of school reform does little but assimilate school for the masses into the free market formula Borg-collective holding far too much sway in defining our morals and our mission already. So resistance movements like opting out of or refusing to participate in state tests isn’t just activists spurred on by teacher unions afraid of accountability, or parents who just don’t understand the supposed “importance of these tests” .

The New York Times article linked to there is a great example of an anonymous large-scale insult to a group’s intelligence in two ways:

  1. The proposition that these tests, testing in this way, making “accountability” (vs formative assessment data) the most important part of testing…basically putting targets and numbers on people is the most vital thing we need to do to help students and teachers
  2. The continuing suggestions that parents just don’t understand, and if they resist they have either been compromised by special interests or just haven’t been told enough about #1

This is an insult to a group that has made ongoing attempts to have open and honest critical-thinking fueled conversation, and been faced by short-lived listening tours by a former commissioner, a smooth exit/promotion under fire for him and another top NY state ed official, as well as a new commissioner proudly taking up the charge of disrespecting critical thinkers.

Citizens and learners want more equitable opportunities and diminished focus on isolated snapshots designed and scored secretly in a system not based on achievement-but designed to categorize, separate and find failure. Accountability and progress can both be delivered in a more holistic, student-centered way, and the test pressure reeks of an agenda that is about something other than maximizing student outcomes. Critical thinking citizens know that unstable testing corporations and disingenuous data-speak are far from actually investing in future citizens…and they also know it’s a great way for the politicians and jackals to maintain access to their power and their profits.

So…do reformers truly want critical thinking? Are they willing to be held accountable as well?

Still wondering:…promises, boasts, consequences and threats…but where are the facts/resources/supports?

Times Union’s opinion blog featured a story about NYSED’s 10/20 announcement that there were new pathways to graduation-ones that would do more to honor, support and prepare a wider variety of students andt heir interests, skills, talents, dreams for college and career. I was interested in finding out more because this was the exact subject of an exchange I described earlier this year-one that started late in 2013 as my wife and I sought the opportunity of these multiple pathways (that already existed then) for our daughter in her school.
Now NYSED is trying to sell us on its worth by promoting their efforts regarding the very pathways that were at that time denied, downplayed then apologetically brushed aside when my wife and I tried to verify them. My fear is that NYSED and PEARSON have simply aligned to sell NY on tests for everything under the sun, and multiple pathways which aren’t really new are a cover for a whole slew of tests from PEARSON. Has our NYSED becometheir PEARSED?
The link below will take you to NYSED, the description they give of and the video promoting these opportunities.
The New York State Board of Regents approved a ground-breaking initiative (my emphasis) that will offer students new opportunities to develop college and career-ready skills in the arts, humanities, CTE and STEM fields. ‘Multiple Pathways’ will provide technical skills and work-based learning opportunities, paving the way for students to take a rigorous approved exam within a pathway to fulfill part of the Regents examination graduation requirement.
Check out the page for that Times Union opinion piece, and my comment is further below as well, in case it doesn’t get posted (it is awaiting moderation). Included are links to my original posts from when I tried to pursue this issue with NYSED associates. I have spoken with associates, NY Assembly members, had contact with my local regent (J. Tallon), Congressman Hannah…little of substance comes from any of these people regarding the truth: opportunities are not equal. regardless of what NYSED sells as it’s efforts to improve student outcomes. The paraphrase of insights and opinions collected as I meet with and make these contacts amounts to:
  • Cuomo is all powerful, and uses that power to secure himself politically, and if you oppose his agenda your future will be uncertain.
  • King is arrogant an cannot be swayed from what he feels is adequate for our children (but not for his own
  • The current state of turmoil in public education is a result of complacent and inactive unions and citizens
  1. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    While this may be a step in the right direction, I wonder if it is more self-congratulatory PR on the part of NYSED with little investigation into substance. Language for multiple pathways to regents diplomas and even alternative pathways to regents with advanced designation existed already-in regs (100.2h) and described in this NYSED chart:
    This made little difference when I pursued this type of opportunity for my daughter. On February 14th of this year my wife and I reached the sad conclusion of communications with NYSED where we asked about these supposed pathways and opportunities that ALL STUDENTS in ALL PUBLIC SCHOOLS in this state should be getting. Told first by an associate that yes, your school needs to offer this, then suddenly overridden by another saying “no, there is no language saying that” was confusing.
    When I brought up the “all students” and “all schools” language with that second associate in a phone conversation, the response was a sympathetic
    “Well, ‘all schools’ really means all schools that want to or can afford to.”
    And when I asked if that means kids lucky enough to have money or go to a school that has money are the ones that get those pathways?
    “Unfortunately that’s the state of school funding in our state”
    My daughters are lucky enough to be in a school where we will get as much support as they can give, and they have me and their mother. We hunt down opportunities that our school can’t provide. What of other students?
    I have emails saved, think I even have some voice mails saved. This isn’t just about my kids-it’s about ALL kids and holding these supposed ed-reform clowns responsible for earning their badges…not just posing and pretending.
    See my account here:

A NATION AT RISK…AGAIN!!! (Part One) The Imperative for preventing our leaders from selling a generation of children into indentured servitude.

The once unchallenged moral authority of our nation is at risk. This source of pride and self-assuredness has been an implicit endorsement of policies from arming violent, extremist rebels; to nation-building; to extraordinary rendition; to a financial crisis where people hiding trillions, and losing billions, were rewarded with millions. Those gleaming successes of our great nation have been undermined with the blaming of the public sector for recent destruction caused by insatiable greed and the ownership of policy by the free market and the private sector. Instead of efforts to halt this assault on common sense and educate citizens to reverse continued moral erosion, what followed was a coordinated effort from the nation’s leaders to drive public schools and their students to serve the same market that cripples the nation’s economy and world-standing. If allowed to continue unchecked, misguided education reforms and the absence of accountability for leaders in policy and finance threaten to condemn generations to come to lives of dis-empowered indentured servitude: not free themselves, but working merely to survive and serve the “free market”. The result would be the loss of the nation’s status as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to the rest of the world.