On Eva’s schools of opportunity

I do believe there are charter solutions for some parents, and have nothing against those who seek them and find happiness. I am pro-choice-just anti-agenda.


Brad, I am generally suspicious of charters (especially ones that might be emptied, staff-students-and all for a politically tainted photo-op and are able to avoid the oversight and transparency of traditional schools)…but if you are happy and your child is succeeding and having her needs met-than as a parent I am happy for that (honestly here, I have three young girls…the smarty stuff is coming here in a moment).

My input as a teacher:

  1.  I hope your school has a formal student conduct code that students are familiarized with. It certainly seems like this is the case, unless your daughter attends the even more country club version for Stepford kids. Pretty sure you were joking about the over-the-bed thing, half believe daily recital.
  2.  If it is an actual school your child attends, a discipline policy (code) for staff to be familiar with is a certainty (so that staff know whether paddlings or time outs are the expectations and which behaviors call for which responses). Eva’s public responses to questions regarding the enrollment and discipline practices and your description of scripted lessons leads me to believe that young eager staff are well trained regarding this code. Eva’s resistance to oversight and description of her school as publicly funded privately operated (so not subjected to public scrutiny) tells me you might have a hard time getting a copy of that official corporate document.

As a parent:

  1. I was very close, about 5/6 years ago, to trying to figure out how to put my daughter in another school somewhere where the children were all motivated and the parents were all involved. It can be hard for a school to maximize outcomes for the very capable when student needs are varied, sometimes severe and disruptive, and can divert class progress towards social/emotional areas as opposed to test scores and spreadsheets.
  2. My decision was that my daughters would be better served by the guidance and involvement of their parents in holding them accountable first, holding school accountable next, and along the way: helping to navigate peer/cohort relations that mirror the ones they’d confront in the real world (instead of homogenizing their experience).

So far, 3 talented high achievers with great, weird friends. I hope your methods are working as well. Sounds like you are super involved and value education. The kind of parent every teacher everywhere should hope for, the kind Eva recruits, the kind harder to find as our economy and society burden struggling families more and more.

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Comment on “restoring trust”

This morning, I read an article with a title that grabbed my attention.

What prompted me to write, though, was one of the comments:

I can’t speak for why teachers feel as they do, but can guarantee one large reason for parents’ discomforts is the endless litany of complaints and attacks by NYSUT.

I can speak to why teachers feel as they do, why I feel the way I do as a parent, and can comment on the political three-ring circus called “The governor, the legislature, and NYSED”. I’ll go reverse-order.

1) Pushing for tests and consequences over supporting the conditions for better results and opportunities is a symptom of leadership’s willingness to distract the masses in a political game. This happens because supporting the public becomes expensive when income below the luxury boxes is eroding and the luxury boxes are continually getting remodeled and upgraded. Policy is written in the luxury boxes, and when the public actually becomes concerned and starts to resist (the active and aware public), you start to see minor backpedaling and damage control (independent commissions, campaign season promo’s, “we really care about you parents” stuff), as well as attempts to find someone to blame and a cheap pharmaceutical solution vs lifestyle change (less work and pharma-lobby wins) . Even better if you can squeeze money away or avoid a court-acknowledged funding debt to public schools as our gov. has.

2) On being a parent and NYSED: “Sadly, that’s the state of funding in our state” was the response from a NYSED associate telling me why kids not rich enough or lucky enough to go to the right school might not get the provisions described in regulations as available in “All public schools” and to “all students”. “I was steamrolled in that meeting” was what I was told by another associate who had been helping advocate for my daughter’s access to one of the alternative pathways (in the Arts) to a regents diploma described in regulations. Interesting that the first associate’s description was “I have spoken to ***, and we both now agree…” (I spoke to ***, and they did not agree) . Even more interesting was NYSED’s proclamation about a year later announcing their “groundbreaking” new alternative pathways (and a video showing twirling dance kids, airplane repair kids…)! The “pathways” had existed for years…can you guess what was new?

Test language had been inserted for them into the regs. NYSED is an advocate for itself and the executor of the will of private interests called “research fellows”. Many of our regents are unhappy with the new regulation(s), but concerned about school funding for their area if they dissent. On teachers: overwhelmingly on the side of students, parents, schools, communities. Rarely involved in the waves of bad education policy (that seem to coincide with political and economic failures) but then left trying to make bad policy into good practice in the classroom. Fighting against that circus that wants to de-personalize the process and the children below the luxury box into an easy to pay for, shuffle and juggle numbers game.

3) Raising children is complicated, expensive, and never standard…imagine teaching a roomful.

Teachers care, every day

I understand the frustration a loving and involved parent might feel when they don’t get the response they want at the time they want it. It can make you wonder if the school or the teacher “cares”– because caring is a very personal thing (not like test score data)…and don’t we want that for our own children as well as others- to be cared for no matter what setting they’re in?

But often, the stories and condemnations of uncaring, unresponsive schools and teachers come from those very loving, involved and caring parents that have a high standard for the care they give and the care they expect to be given. Their children have likely experienced a level of care and involvement that a growing number of children are not experiencing. Again, I understand being frustrated with responses that do not match my wish list standards for care for my child. I have experienced this feeling.

But: imagine a phone that is never answered; a conference that is never attended; parents who hand over their responsibilities to grandparents…or have those responsibilities removed by court order.

Imagine the need for the teacher to stop by on the way home to drop off the third copy of that progress report that hasn’t found its way back. Imagine this is ongoing, common or pervasive. Imagine knowing that there are many hearts and souls needing to be fed in order for the minds to be fed. Imagine a child coming in first thing in the morning or reluctantly leaving to go to wherever “home” is at the end of the day and saying “forget the hug, please raise my standardized test scores so I can be in a school labeled as something other than failing!”

Imagine having to exercise your duty as a “mandated reporter”- many times.

Imagine that the most involved parents are provided an escape hatch to go to a tightly controlled school where other very involved parents will be sending their children. Can’t really blame them or the entrepreneurs taking advantage of this growing market.

Now imagine the children that are “left behind” and the teachers who will continue to serve, teach and care for them.

Obligation vs Opportunity

The way we educate children has been in need of retooling for some time. But why that is so and who should drive that retooling (and to what end) are vital questions. I am one-hundred percent behind reform that addresses that need, those questions and advances practice…it’s the “reformers” that I don’t automatically trust.

So I read voraciously. I communicate vigorously. I meet with legislators, representatives, and communicate with state education officials as well as leaders in my union-both state and national. I have also been a close observer of politics and politicians since I was a boy, and while I willingly admit to many faults- I do not hesitate to claim a skill with people and at reading them; a filter for the words of others and their motivations, and a keen nose for bullshit-regardless of which side of an issue they come down on. I wish I could devote all of my mental energy to my profession-but it is being undermined by bad policy, bad policy-makers, and those weighing in both openly and covertly while not really having earned a seat at the table.

Take, for example, Michelle Rhee. I feel bad that some have made her the queen of all that is evil in education reform, and that fans of Diane Ravitch might be particularly ugly in their criticisms. Interesting that Ravitch herself should draw fire for the irrational behavior of her less artful fans, but let’s put some perspective on it: When some NASCAR fans trash a honky-tonk and stain their own shirts with their chaw-spittle, no one blames Jeff Gordon.

Did that come off as out of line? A little bit of a broad brush and unfortunate description of a large group? Do you think it feels the same way to those who have dedicated themselves to an underpaid and often under-appreciated profession when they have to tolerate Rhee, Campbell Brown, Steve Perry, Eva Moskowitz…and so on?

The stories of rubber rooms and protected perverts in public schools get to be a bit much. Using the most horrendous examples of human nature to attack the profession that the horrendous human chose is the tactic of weasels and cowards afraid of honest debate, and while I regret ignorance from either side of an issue, I tend to seek some sort of intellectual explanation for it.

So I consider: is it really ignorance, or is it an emotional reaction motivated by the ideology that drives the particular person (e.g., the belief that the teaching profession is in need of reform because it is awash with overpaid perverts)? On the other hand, does it have little to do with any core belief and more to do with a desire to scavenge recognition, respect (real or artificial) and opportunity through any means available- including committal to outrageous positions and statements (claiming that the teaching profession is in need of reform because it is awash with overpaid perverts)? Is it more of that former sense of an obligation (whether for the good or otherwise), or more of that latter positioning and an opportunity?

If obligation: you are talking about a dedication, often a life-long one, to doing what you believe is something right-something that needs to be done. If opportunity, there is more weight placed on a chance you see for yourself. The tasks you perform could be very similar, the setting could even be the same, but the opportunity-motivated could be here today/gone tomorrow because another opportunity might motivate them.

Call Diane’s (or her fans’) criticism of Rhee uncalled for or unfair (or the impetus of rabid Rhee-hatred), but you have to consider the results of confusion that was caused by the opportunistic appearance of the meteoric rise of Rhee: from self-described failed elementary teacher of a few years to D.C. Chancellor; then an edu-expert; then riding a sweep-em-up broom on the cover of Time Magazine. In what world does crazy crap like that happen???

Well…It doesn’t happen absent gobs of money, connections, and a team of skilled web weavers that could turn the Zuckerman farm into a freakin’ theme park. Clearly Rhee was somehow the beneficiary of unbelievable opportunities.

Ravitch, on the other hand, is at a time in her life where she should be allowed more relaxation time than she is apparently willing to take. Having seen the first stages of education policy she helped to craft and then watched turn bad (from assessments to guide instruction to assessments to use against public education) she has felt an obligation to speak out about the missteps she observes and the missteppers she sees.

Opportunity vs obligation.

Of course, I know I am biased, but willing to be swayed when a position doesn’t reek of carefully crafted PR and talking points. I know we need to better prepare students, but one of the things we need to prepare them with is BS detectors.

So I happily say “thank you” to anyone making good things happen for struggling populations, from cradle-to-grave. I also say “take caution” to those trying to use faulty logic, inadequate statistical analysis, straw-man arguments or just outright intellectually and emotionally weak positions to undermine the great work done by others. Regardless of whether you hold purse strings, or hold office, there will be challenges.