Wednesday, August 26, 2015

@arneduncan sucker punches special needs students

As if the Common Core and standardized testing weren't enough. 
As if the funding cuts to public education weren't enough.
As if increased class sizes and decreased services weren't enough.
As if the black listing of education professionals wasn't enough.
As if the closing of neighborhood schools in high-poverty districts wasn't enough.
As if the expansion of segregationist charter schools wasn't enough.
As if teaching to the test instead of teaching to the students wasn't enough.
As if the myth of education 'reform' magic wasn't enough. 
As if all of this, and more, wasn't enough to cripple public education, last week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered a sucker punch to special needs students:

The U.S. Department of Education is doing away with a policy that allowed states to consider some students with disabilities academically proficient without meeting grade-level standards. 
The agency said in a final rule published late last week in the Federal Register that states will no longer be allowed to administer tests to students with disabilities that are based on modified academic achievement standards. 
Previously, states could count up to 2 percent of their students as proficient under the No Child Left Behind Act for taking such exams. But now the Education Department is saying no more to the policy known as the “2 percent rule.” 
“We believe that the removal of the authority for states to define modified academic achievement standards and to administer assessments based on those standards is necessary to ensure that students with disabilities are held to the same high standards as their non-disabled peers,” the agency said in the rule, which will officially take effect Sept. 21. 
The move is designed to ensure that students with disabilities who are capable of meeting general education standards with proper supports are not shortchanged, the Education Department said. Any state still using modified standards and assessments will have one year to phase them out. 
Despite the change, children with the most significant cognitive disabilities — as many as 1 percent of all students — will still be allowed to take tests based on “alternate academic achievement standards” under the rule.
In issuing the regulations, the Education Department cited new research showing that students with disabilities who struggle with reading and math can achieve at grade-level standards if  provided “appropriate instruction, services and supports.” What’s more, the agency said that nearly all states have new standardized tests “designed to facilitate the valid, reliable and fair assessment of most students, including students with disabilities who previously took an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards.” (emphasis mine)

The two key words in this quote are 'can' and 'if'. Students can achieve if "provided with appropriate instruction, services and supports." But here are a few fundamental flaws with that 'if/can' hypothesis:

  1. What if "the appropriate instruction, services and supports" are missing because of massive budget cuts faced in every state in this country?
  2. What if "the appropriate instruction, services and supports" are in place, but the child still can't pass the same standardized tests as the kid who got a full ride to Princeton?
  3. What if "the appropriate instruction, services and supports" are in place, but there are other factors outside the scope of the school which prevent the child from passing standardized tests? 
  4. Who determines which students with disabilities are "capable of meeting general education standards"? Teachers or edupreneurs?
  5. Will this now be written into a child's IEP? What if the parents disagree? What if they won't sign it? Who will protect their rights as parents to make the best decisions for their child?
  6. Who conducted the research?
  7. Was it subjected to peer review?
  8. Was it field tested?
  9. Where is the evidence that this is sound education policy?
  10. Who is benefitting financially from this change?

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. I'm sure parents of special needs students have many more. 

Look, anyone can be president, if they raise a bajillion dollars and spend every waking moment of their life campaigning. But what are the odds of that actually happening? Granted, there are varying degrees of learning and developmental disabilities, and some special education students are in fact very bright, but what are the odds on this bet? And more importantly, why is this bet so important? Based on everything that has happened in public education since NCLB, my BS meter alarm bells are ringing off the hook on this one. It seems to be another one-size-fits-all policy in a very long list of one-size-fits-all policies designed to churn out one-size-fits-all students who will be magically 'college and career ready'. But since most won't be able to afford college, at least they'll be ready for this exciting career:


So, when does Washington start hacking away at the Americans With Disabilities Act? When do we start removing handicapped bathroom stalls, parking spaces, wheelchair ramps, modified elevators, service dogs, automatic door openers, etc? After all, with the 'approprite services and supports', disabled people should be able to get around just like the rest of us... right? 

Here's the contact info for this lovely piece of legislation:
  • Monique Chism
    Director, Student Achievement and School Accountability Programs
    Phone 202 260-0826
    Room 3W224, 400 Maryland Avenue SW.,
    Washington DC 20202
I plan on contacting her myself to get a copy of the "new research" that proves this move is academic best practice. I suggest all you parents of special needs children do the same. If I'm wrong, if the research really does support this change, I'll print a retraction. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What if the media treated teachers like football players?

It's not hard these days to wake up and wonder if I'm living in an episode of the Twilight Zone. Whether it's women's health or voting rights or climate change deniers or Donald Trump or those pesky education 'reformers', life these days feels a lot like that episode, Stopover in a Quiet Town, where the couple is stranded in a strange town only to find out that they are really only dolls in a child's model train set.

Today's surreal moment comes once again courtesy of The Star Ledger. Jersey Jazzman, Ani McHugh (aka TeacherBiz) and I have taken NJ's largest newspaper to task over their shoddy and inept coverage of all things public education more times than I can count. For a definitive accounting of how the Ledger has cow-towed to the education 'reform' movement, check out this piece co-authored by the three of us. If you want more info, just Google any of our names with the Star Ledger and/or Tom Moran and you'll find all our postings.

They are but a sample of the larger, complicit silence of mainstream media on all things education 'reform'. If it weren't for the plethora of education bloggers led by Diane Ravitch, the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss and others, and the parent/educator-led grass roots movements that have sprung up as a result of their publishing the facts, American public education would have been dead and buried long ago.

"So Marie, what is it this time?", you ask. 

Well... As anyone who even tangentially follows politics knows, on August 2nd, Gov. Christie announced on CNN that he wanted to punch teachers in the face because, to him, we are the Devil incarnate. I wrote about it here including a link to the video.

One would think that a sitting governor with a penchant for crude and debasing remarks about women—especially teachers—saying he wants to punch three minority women in the face (NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Latina, and Vice President Becky Pringle and Secretary Treasurer Princess Moss, African Americans) and calling the nation's largest teachers union "the single most destructive force in public education in America" would garner some attention from the largest newspaper in said governor's state the next day. But no. This is what we got:

It wasn't until August 4th, two days later, that the Ledger ran a piece buried on page 4: 

Sorry about the poor quality, but trust me, the story on the right is about the video.

FYI... this was the front page that day:

Not even an editorial.

Then, whilst enjoying my cup of coffee (decaf, thank you very much) yesterday morning, I removed my Star Ledger from its protective yellow bag, (yes, I still subscribe if only as an investigative reporter and to see what Charlie Brown is up to) I opened it up, and was greeted with this:

And this:

And this...

Oh, and this, too...

Four pages devoted to some knuckleheaded player who sucker punched the Jets starting quarterback and broke his jaw. Four pages devoted to a game that has absolutely no bearing on the future of this state or this nation. Four pages of coverage of something that will not affect the rights of any child in this nation to receive a thorough and efficient education. Four pages of coverage—including fan tweets—of an incident that will not affect the future of the citizens of this state (except those in a fantasy football league). Four pages of coverage of the male equivalent of some "Real Housewives of (fill in the blank)" episode.

Where were the four pages of coverage of Gov. Christie's personal war on women? Where were the four pages of reporting on the responses from the teachers unions? Where was the reporting on all the tweets that education professionals across the nation posted about it? 

This is all we got—until that article on page 4 two days after the incident.

And to make matters worse, the press is all a-gog because New England Patriots QB Tom Brady is getting a slap on the wrist for cheating in the Super Bowl. Thank goodness, America is saved! Tom Brady will play again! But where was the thoughtful analysis and reflection when eleven Atlanta teachers involved in a test cheating scandal were tried and convicted on racketeering charges with many serving jail time? To be clear: what those teachers did was flat-out wrong. They cheated and must suffer the consequences. But, so did Tom Brady. But while many of those teachers will serve jail time, lose their careers and their reputations, Brady gets to keep his Super Bowl ring, not wash his uniform for a couple of weeks, and still collect a gazillion dollar paycheck (minus a few bucks for his suspension). And if he wins another Super Bowl this year, he can clean up his tarnished reputation with little more than a lint roller.


Some cheaters are less guilty than others.

Again, I'm not saying that the Atlanta teachers deserve to be let off the hook. I'm saying that by giving the antics of wealthy football players behaving badly pages and pages of coverage and hours and hours of air time, while virtually ignoring all of the facts surrounding education 'reform', mainstream media is complicit in the brainwashing of much of America into believing that middle class teachers and public education are the root of all evil in this country. 

I mean, c'mon, The New York Times ran an article about the sketch artist—the sketch artist!—issuing an online apology over his sketchy (sorry) depiction of Tom Brady in the courtroom! A sitting governor wants to put out a contract on teachers, and football players doing dumb stuff gets more press coverage? Really?!

I've often said that we are turning into this:

From the movie, "Wall-e"

Can anyone or anything save us? The press can play a huge role in turning the tide of public opinion about public education and educators—if they make a conscious decision to report fairly and accurately. But I'm not holding my breath. 

Thank God for bloggers.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

.@GovChristie He-Man Woman Haters Club Part 2

While attending the NEA Representative Assembly (RA) in Orlando last month, I posted Part 1 of this series after the Essex County Education Association staged a very successful protest rally outside Gov. Christie's campaign kick-off event at his alma mater, Livingston HS. The social media memes followed, and this one caught my eye:

Yes, he really said that to a woman at a public event. Go to Part 1 to see the video. To this day, I still don't know why that comment didn't torpedo his career (and people complain about the 'liberal media'). It's vulgar and disgusting—especially coming from a sitting governor with White House aspirations. But apparently enough people in NJ liked that kind of crass talk enough to elect him twice. Go figure.

Right now Christie's feeling the heat. Not to be trumped by Trump as the King of Mean, and desperate to make the cut for this week's debate, Christie needed some additional press, so he took to the airwaves and lashed out at his favorite target: women—particularly educators, saying he wanted to punch the national teachers union in the face:

Aside from the fact that he's wrong about that endorsement (AFT endorsed), Christie's national education policy includes punching three minority women in the face: NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia (Hispanic), Vice President Becky Pringle and Secretary Treasurer Princess Moss (African Americans). And I'm sure he probably wants to punch AFT President Randi Weingarten, too. Nothing says leadership like abusing women!

So, why does Christie hate women—particularly women educators—so much? He says,
Because they’re not for education for our children. They’re for greater membership, greater benefits, greater pay for their members. And they are the single most destructive force in public education in America. I have been saying that since 2009. I’ve got the scars to show it. But I’m never going to stop saying it, because they never change their stripes.
Ahhh... if only the facts bore that out. You see, out of the 70 new business items we wrote and approved at the RA last month, the majority had to do with social justice (including poverty, racisim and discrimination), LGBTQ issues and improving educational outcomes for students. And by the way, what's wrong with advocating for greater benefits and pay? Corporate executives do it all the time. So do the major sports teams' players associations (aka, unions). But I guess that's ok so long as you get to hang in the owner's box during the games. Yes, nothing says happy, productive workers like slashing their salaries and benefits!

So, again I ask: Why does Christie hate educators? I'm no professional psychologist, but his relationship with his mother can't be ruled out. After calling Democratic Asm. Reed Gusciora (an openly gay man) 'numbnuts' during the battle over same-sex marriage in NJ, Christie said it was no big deal, and that his mother—an NJEA member and a Democrat for much of her life—used to call him that. Is that all she called him? 
"[L]et me tell you, there’s a lot of other adjectives that I could have used that would have been a lot less appropriate..."
Such as...? The fact that he admits he was holding his tongue is rather disturbing. There is more than enough research proving that many behaviors are learned, and that the abused often grow up to be abusers unless they get help. Educators see the 'apples and apple trees' (good, bad or otherwise) analogy in our classrooms every day. 

When anyone—from a presidential candidate on down to a little kid—resorts to name-calling and bullying it's a sign of weakness and insecurity, not power and leadership. That person needs help, not a national stage on which to continue their sick attacks. As Wendell Steinhauer said in his response, "Chris Christie has no credibility as a leader and he is an embarrassment to New Jersey... [H]e is a terrible role model to the children that our members work so hard to protect, nurture and educate."

Other bloggers quickly responded.
Diane Ravitch:  
So here is a thought experiment for Chris Christie:
Which states are the highest performing in the United States?
Answer: Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Question: Do these states have teachers’ unions and collective bargaining?
Answer: Yes.
Question: Governor Christie, can you name a non-union state that is high-performing?
Answer: (silence)
Bottom line:
Teachers’ unions advocate for higher teacher salaries, which is good for teachers and ultimately for students because their schools have happy, experienced teachers; teachers’ unions advocate for reduced class sizes, which is good for teachers and immediately for students; teachers’ unions advocate for better working conditions, because working conditions are also learning conditions; teachers’ unions advocate for greater public investment in public schools, which is good for students, schools, and communities.
Russ Walsh:

I am sure it would give Christie a boost in the polls and solidify his standing as a violent, bullying looney worthy of Republican voter support. It might even be enough to get him on the stage at one of the primary debates where he could punch Wolf Blitzer in the face and garner even more support.
Steven Singer:

A 52-year-old who probably couldn’t beat up an egg with an egg beater continues to talk as if he’s a street tough. A grown man who is still apparently intimidated by people with any kind of learning or book smarts continues to attack education and educators.
No, this is not a case of an outspoken elected official "telling it like it is." This is a case of someone with a serious anger management issue running for leader of the free world. 

Remind you of anyone...? 

During this infamous confrontation at the UN General Assembly between Nikita Krushchev and Lorenzo Sumulong, the head of the Filipino delegation, the Russian Premier called Sumulong "a jerk, a stooge and a lackey."

Do we really want history to repeat itself? 

Adding: Gov. Christie is holding a fundraiser this evening at the Asbury Park Convention Center on the boardwalk. NJEA members will be out in force to protest. Stay tuned for a full report tomorrow!