Tag Archives: mike bloomberg

Sandy Closes Schools, Sandy Opens Schools

Most teacher folk I know are outraged that, as a result of the five days NYC schools were closed due to Hurricane Sandy and the need to meet a minimum number of attendance days (per New York State law), three days (plus a half-day) that would have previously been non-attendance days have been switched. In other words: kids will be in for four days they normally wouldn’t have.

I can definitely see both sides of the issue here, but I want to go over some of the many factors that exist.

Before I do, though, I must give credit to Arthur Goldstein, who wrote this excellent letter to UFT President Michael Mulgrew. I draw plenty of inspiration from his words as I share my thoughts on the situation.

Some arguments and some points:

This isn’t fair. That’s what some said to me when they found out. In a sense, it’s perfectly fair. During the week of the Sandy closures, I sat in my warm apartment watching the news, thanking my lucky stars I wasn’t affected. Sure, it was a tense week, as I was out of contact with many people who I knew were in trouble, but materially, physically, and emotionally, I lost nothing. For me, it was really a “week off,” though like I said, hardly a vacation. In this spirit, it’s no skin off my back to go to to work on those days.

The other side of this, though, is all those NYC DOE employees who were affected by Sandy. I’d be interested to know just how many total employees live in the Rockaways, lower Manhattan, Staten Island, Long Beach, or on the south shore of Long Island, all areas that were badly hit. Unlike me, these people didn’t have the luxury of relaxing inside as the storm and its aftereffects raged. No, they spent their week doing all different kinds of things: witnessing their homes burn down; being caught in neck-deep flood waters; shivering in homes without gas, electric, or heat; sleeping in shelters; watching sewage come up through their sinks; and much, much worse.

For them, Sandy week was not a week off. It was a week from hell. Many of my colleagues who felt the worst effects still managed to make it to work everyday, even though they were displaced from their homes. They shouldn’t have to work the extra days. They never got the time off I did.

So, what are you doing this February break? In my youth, the mid-winter recess meant we were going to Florida for our annual visit to the grandparents’ house and all the fun that entailed. Many students look forward to the break as I did because it means a trip somewhere. Now, despite the Mayor believing that many parents rely on schools to keep their kids under watch, don’t think for a second that if families already have vacation plans, they won’t be keeping them. I actually think we’ll see a large dip in attendance February 20-22: days that were previously part of the break but are now attendance days.

But I have all this paper work to do. June 4 was to be a clerical half-day, so that our morning could be spent teaching and our afternoon be spent completing report cards and cumulative records in preparation for the end of the year, which also brings with it reorganization of classes and record exchange. The time allotted for this work is precious. In my school, we basically all sit in our rooms in silence and get it done. And it’s wonderful.

This June 4, kids will be with us all day, meaning one less 3.5 hour block to do extremely important work against a deadline. My only guess is that on Brooklyn-Queens Day, which is a non-attendance day for students, we will be given time to complete records, only under more pressure because it’s later in the week.

Like I said, I see all sides of this issue. In a perfect world, my dear colleagues in school and out who suffered the worst – people who lost homes or are continuing to gut and rebuild – would not be required to work these three-plus extra days because they never had a day off anyway. But where do you draw the line? How do you determine who fits the criteria?

I don’t believe kids should be kept out of school, but I also don’t believe this is as cut and dry as the law says. This storm is unprecedented in our history, so exceptions and nuance must apply.

I have no simple solution, only these thoughts. What real ideas and solutions do you propose?

Another Case for Cell Phones in School

It’s 2012, so of course that means that one of the most ubiquitous tools at our students’ disposal is also one of the most reviled in NYC. Cell phones are simply not allowed in schools. There are too many people in positions of power who see them as texting, calling, and gaming devices as opposed to cameras, computers, and encyclopedias (ie. something that could enhance one’s education rather than take away from it like, I don’t know, test prep).

My kids are too young to have smartphones, but I’m a big boy so I get to have one. Today, it came in handy.

This year’s class got their first experiences using my set of digital cameras today. I thought I had one per customer, but as it turns out, I was two short. Nearly everyone was armed and ready to go on a scavenger hunt collecting pictures of arrays, but I had to improvise for the two who got shut out. So, one got my iPad and the other got my, you guessed it, phone.

There they were, traipsing about the halls, looking for arrays. Flashbulbs popped here, flashbulbs popped there. A girl held an iPad up and snapped away. And there was my cell phone user, happily capturing arrays all over the building.

Without a cell phone, she would have been excluded from the activity. That’s the way some would prefer us to have it, but it’s not the way I prefer to operate.

Without a cell phone, at least one of my students would not have been able to participate in our array scavenger hunt today. Instead, she was able to complete the same task as her peers.

Field Tests Should Be Taken Out in a Field and…

I heard an enticing nugget today. After they finish the English proficiency exams (which are three days this week), the lucky little kiddies who attend elementary school in NYC still can’t move their desks out of rows or put down their number 2 pencils. Field tests are next.

A field test sounds like something scientific, educational, and even fun. “I wonder if this rocket I built will actually launch. I’ll take it to a field and test it.” “I wonder if this seed can grow in different types of soil. I’ll plant it in a field and test it.” “I wonder what the average temperature is here over 60 days. I’ll use a thermometer in the field and test it.”

In reality, though, there’s nothing fun or educational about a field test. A field test is much less meaningful than The Test. It is administered for the purpose of seeing what questions work on kids and what questions don’t. Field tests are hardly scientific. After all, what kid will truly put forth his best effort on another standardized test with a month to go, especially knowing The Test is over?

And why is it necessary to subject the kids to more of the same? My kids have a mural and a scrapbook to complete by the end of the year, but precious time will be lost to a field test.

Field tests serve one purpose, far as I can tell: to frustrate the kids. On the ELA and math tests, the questions colleagues and I figured were field questions were concepts we hadn’t yet taught and/or were significantly above grade level. Therefore, try  though they might have to answer them the best they could, kids were, invariably, agitated by searching their brains for an answer their brains didn’t have.

Why must we continue to sacrifice valuable educational time to serve the demands of non-educators who aren’t adding anything worthwhile to the causes we champion? It’s another example of school gone bad. As always, the main victims are the children.

Test Prep Season From a Student’s Perspective

I used to love school. I used to skip there every morning after breakfast. I used to run as fast as I could to get to my classroom (except when an adult was in the hall – then I walked as fast as I could).

I used to wait outside the classroom reading a book or finishing homework. When the teacher opened the door, he used to have a big smile on his face, brighter than the sun. He used to say, “Come in and let’s learn together today!” I used to smile back and say, “Good morning!” knowing I was going to have a wonderful day with my wonderful teacher in my wonderful class at my wonderful school.

I don’t love school anymore. I don’t think I even like it anymore, to tell the truth. I don’t skip there anymore (but sometimes I think of skipping it altogether). I don’t run to my room (but sometimes I want to run away).

The teacher isn’t happy anymore. He doesn’t say, “Let’s learn together” very much. He only says, “We have an article to read. Let’s get moving.” Most of us wish we could move. Far, far away.

Everyday, we read, but not from books. Sometimes they’re called articles. Sometimes they’re called passages. Sometimes they’re called stories. I still don’t know why the teacher calls them different things. Maybe in the morning they’re one thing and in the afternoon they’re something else. We read them, whatever they’re called, and they’re very hard! I keep asking the teacher to let us read books, but he says there is no time.

Sometimes after we read, we have to write a little bit. That’s not so bad. I just write whatever I think I’m supposed to write. I always show it to my teacher because I never know if it’s right, and I want to make sure I am putting what he wants to see.

Sometimes we answer questions with an A, B, C, or D. A is the first letter in my name so I usually pick A for most answers. Bubbling is actually kind of fun, though. One time, we took a practice test and when I bubbled in the answers, I made a pattern. It looked like a staircase on the scantron!

Sometimes, when I’m reading a story, article, or passage, I start staring at something in the room and I forget to stop. Then the teacher is tapping on my desk and saying my name. I say, “Sorry,” but as soon as he walks away, I’m staring at something else. Then he starts getting upset and I just keep staring at that something else. When I remember I’m in school, I just pick an answer and then find something else to stare at. This happens everyday for like, 2 hours, I think.

It’s not so bad. I don’t have to think and I like that because thinking makes my head hurt. Anyway, I don’t think I’m supposed to know what to do because the words in these passage article stories are really big. So I’m really not sure why we’re using them but it must be because the teacher is so unhappy that he wants to punish us for it.

A lot of the kids try to get the answers right. They want the teacher to be proud of them. I see those kids looking back in the passage article stories to find answers, but I know them all, so I never look back. When the teacher says I should look in the passage article stories, I say, “But I know it!” and he says, “They don’t want to know what you already know. They want to see if you can read the passage” and I say, “BUT I KNOW IT!” By now, I’m getting really mad so I start to slam my pencil down, and I stand up to walk around the room. It is weird, though. Every time I think I do know it, I get the answer wrong. But still, I’m not going to look back in the passage article story. It’s so boring. I’ll just pick an answer. Maybe I’ll get it right and maybe I’ll get it wrong.

At the end of the day, I am happy to have the fresh air on my face after being trapped in passage article stories all day. I say, “Bye” to the teacher and go home, where I pick answers by myself. When my mom asks me if I’m going to read books tonight, I tell her, “There is no time.” She says, “Okay. Do what the teacher says. You have to do well on the test.”

When I go to sleep I see grey bubbles in my head. When I dream, I see a passage article story opening it’s mouth and swallowing me. When it closes its mouth, I know there is no way to escape, so I wake up screaming, terrified that when the test comes, it too will swallow me whole.

What Does a Know-it-All Know, Anyway?

I’ve heard people suggest that, since I’m a special education teacher, I am also a saint. People have told me, “Those kids need someone like you,” and, “They need a good male role model.”

Of course, none of these people are political types or billionaires. The way these influencers see it, I’m exactly the kind of teacher my kids don’t need because I don’t add enough value. Full disclosure: I typed that sentence with a smirk on my face.

Instead of honoring my commitment to teaching a high-needs cohort (or the commitment of others who teach special ed, ESL, or in high poverty areas), the know-it-alls use the choice I’ve made to label me a poor teacher. It is both upsetting and laughably idiotic that they have perversely twisted the notion of good teaching so that the teachers who take on the hardest assignments are made to look like the worst teachers.

Which shows you just how little these know-it-alls know.

The Evolution of Testing in My Career

Since my career began, here’s a sample of what I have heard from politicians, colleagues, others in school, and those joining in the discourse around the country regarding standardized testing:

As a pre-service teacher: Nothing.

I was left to assume the tests were an inconvenient nuisance at the end of the year that just had to be done – kind of like filling out a survey and receiving a prize.

As a first-year fifth grade teacher: “He took summer school because he failed the test.” “There are only __ days left until the test!” “Just do the test prep and don’t complain.” “We don’t even get the scores until July.” “The test doesn’t mean anything, they all get promoted, anyway.” “New York’s test scores are higher than ever!”

As a second-year fifth grade teacher: “This year is going to be really rough because we have one test and the next week we have the other one.” “We’re going to do a test practice passage every month so they know what’s coming.” “There are only __ days left until the test!!!” “These tests don’t show anything. It’s so easy to get a 3.” “We removed a whole class set of tests for having the exact same answer on an essay*.” “New York continues to raise test scores.”

As a third-year first/second grade teacher: Since I wasn’t in a testing grade, I’ve blocked it all out, except for me saying to colleagues, “I don’t miss the tests.” (Though this is the year I became a lot more keenly aware of the political dialogue around testing and the tremendous and unrelenting pressures of NCLB and Race to the Top.)

As a fourth-year third grade teacher: “We really have to make sure these kids do well.” “We’re doing six weeks of test prep and have to cover 50 indicators in math.” “We don’t want teachers teaching to the test.” “You know, this is important for your tenure and your job – you want to be able to show good test scores.” “Your test scores will count for at least 20% in our new teacher evaluation system.” “These test scores are so meaningless, why do they print them in the paper?” “It’s just not fair to the kids.”

*I heard this from someone who scored tests. In New York, teachers score tests from other schools.

Don’t Mess With Texas!

Deep in the heart of Texas, it seems the delicious taste of a people’s revolution is hanging in the air. Indeed, state Education Commissioner Robert Scott is firing salvos against testing that someday might earn him the distinction of being, “The Scott Heard ‘Round the World.”

His army is responding. According to the Washington Post, “more than 100 districts” have passed a resolution condemning an “over reliance” on standardized testing.

It is wonderful to imagine what adults can accomplish when they put aside their selfish greed and instead, act in the best interests of students (who are our future, after all). Let’s hope Texas becomes a model for other states – including my own – on how to stand up and demand an end to the insanity of forcing students to take tests that are essentially meaningless. Let them be the model for demanding students have rich, meaningful learning experiences that promote our country’s best possible future.

This is the kind of courageous and intelligent behavior that seems to have been eroded from the landscape, so kudos to the folks in for Texas standing up and thinking with their own brains!

I am posting the resolution here in the hopes that you read it, feel inspired, and spread it. It’s the start of a revolution!

WHEREAS, the over reliance on standardized, high stakes testing as the only assessment of learning that really matters in the state and federal accountability systems is strangling our public schools and undermining any chance that educators have to transform a traditional system of schooling into a broad range of learning experiences that better prepares our students to live successfully and be competitive on a global stage; and

WHEREAS, we commend Robert Scott, Commissioner of Education, for his concern about the overemphasis on high stakes testing that has become “a perversion of its original intent” and for his continuing support of high standards and local accountability; and

WHEREAS, we believe our state’s future prosperity relies on a high-quality education system that prepares students for college and careers, and without such a system Texas’ economic competitiveness and ability and to attract new business will falter; and

WHEREAS, the real work of designing more engaging student learning experiences requires changes in the culture and structure of the systems in which teachers and students work; and

WHEREAS, what occurs in our classrooms every day should be student-centered and result in students learning at a deep and meaningful level, as opposed to the superficial level of learning that results from the current over-emphasis on that which can be easily tested by standardized tests; and

WHEREAS, We believe in the tenets set out in Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas (TASA, 2008) and our goal is to transform this district in accordance with those tenets; and

WHEREAS, Our vision is for all students to be engaged in more meaningful learning activities that cultivate their unique individual talents, to provide for student choice in work that is designed to respect how they learn best, and to embrace the concept that students can be both consumers and creators of knowledge; and

WHEREAS, only by developing new capacities and conditions in districts and schools, and the communities in which they are embedded, will we ensure that all learning spaces foster and celebrate innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication and critical thinking; and

WHEREAS, these are the very skills that business leaders desire in a rising workforce and the very attitudes that are essential to the survival of our democracy; and

WHEREAS, imposing relentless test preparation and boring memorization of facts to enhance test performance is doing little more than stealing the love of learning from our students and assuring that we fall short of our goals; and

WHEREAS, we do not oppose accountability in public schools and we point with pride to the performance of our students, but believe that the system of the past will not prepare our students to lead in the future and neither will the standardized tests that so dominate their instructional time and block our ability to make progress toward a world-class education system of student-centered schools and future-ready students; therefore be it

RESOLVED that the _____________ ISD Board of Trustees calls on the Texas Legislature to reexamine the public school accountability system in Texas and to develop a system that encompasses multiple assessments, reflects greater validity, uses more cost efficient sampling techniques and other external evaluation arrangements, and more accurately reflects what students know, appreciate and can do in terms of the rigorous standards essential to their success, enhances the role of teachers as designers, guides to instruction and leaders, and nurtures the sense of inquiry and love of learning in all students.

Which Side Are You On?

Today, I am reimagining Florence Reece’s classic protest song, “Which Side Are You On?” in consideration of ed reform in the United States.

They say in the U.S.A. that teachers are what ails.

They’re overpaid and underworked, they’re why our students fail.


Which side are you on?

Which side are you on?


It’s oh so clear to many that this is all a game.

Political and dangerous to treat all kids the same.


Which side are you on?

Which side are you on?


If you’re a billionaire then it’s obvious to me,

You’re not someone who should influence ed policy.


Which side are you on?

Which side are you on?


You take away our teachers and close our public schools.

The end result of this is that the country goes to fools.


Which side are you on?

Which side are you on?


What is this land we live in where teachers are the root

Of every single social ill? Why do they get the boot?


Which side are you on?

Which side are you on?


It’s not about the students from your tower ivory.

You want to help the students? You must listen to me.


Which side are you on?

Which side are you on?


My mother was a teacher. Now I’m a teacher, too.

There are people who know teaching, and Mister, that ain’t you.


Which side are you on?

Which side are you on?

How Reformers Have Hijacked “Data”

This is my response to the letter I recently received from a colleague, with whom I am exchanging letters on various education-related issues. The original text of her letter can be found on her blog.

Dear Donna,

Long time, no write! I was very happy to read your letter and look forward to using this space to debunking the myth of data that has been perpetrated upon teachers.

There are two types of data.

You have data, which, when properly interpreted and used, encourages individualized, relevant, and urgent teaching. This is the kind of data we should all – reformers, traditionalists, principals, and parents – embrace. Here, “data” is a term that ought to frighten us on the scale of words like “puppy,” “kitten,” and “rainbow.”

The other type of data has become so important, and its use so encouraged, that its status can only be expressed thusly: Data. “Data” sounds like “data” (with the short a or the long a!) and it even looks like “data.” Where Data and data part ways, though, is in their use to students and teachers. It is Data that is undermining teachers like you. In fact, that this four-letter word is allowed to be uttered about and around children as frequently as it is is one of the great annoyances of education reform in this country.

Any dedicated teacher who truly wants to inspire the greatest achievement in her students understands the value of good data. I get this kind of data from quizzes, conversations with students, observations of what they’re saying and doing, homework, and exit slips. When I interpret the data, I am able to determine what my next steps should be for individuals and the whole class. This is what is meant by “data-driven instruction.”

You see how nice it is? Don’t you want to cuddle up with some data and figure out how it’s going to help you better teach your students? Of course, you already do, and you do it reflexively. I know you do because you understand its value. Any teacher who uses data would be considered in tune with student needs and is actively considering every student’s unique situation. This takes skill and dedication and teachers who use data to figure out next steps ought to be celebrated because they are truly tailoring their instruction to meet students where they are.

Data with a capital d serves a whole other purpose and has an entirely different value, neither of which have been determined yet! It seems that Data is mainly used to point out just how awful teachers like you and me are. That’s because Data essentially amounts to student standardized test scores. Unfortunately, too many know-it-alls in the reform dialogue don’t know what to you, me, and most is self-evident: all students are not the same!

Based on the Data on you, a teacher of beginner ESL students brand new to the country, published by New York’s papers, you are one of the worst teachers in the school, if not the city. I suspect if any Data was available on me, a teacher of self-contained special education, I’d be right there with you. The incredible fallacy of Data is that it doesn’t account for student needs and environmental factors the way the data we collect does. So that makes Data a prickly issue for those of us who know the term has been hijacked.

Now we have clarified the differences between “data” and “Data.” For a teacher who wants to encourage the greatest in her students, there are few tools that she has at her disposal that are more important than “data.” Unfortunately, when a reformer says “data,” they really mean, “Data,” and it is their failure to understand the difference that harms students and teachers.

Interpreting data is part of our job, but being chastised for Data shouldn’t be.


What I Remember

There’s a must read out there for every teacher who ever felt de-valued by value-added measures. It comes from a colleague of mine and I love the way she basically just up and says, “Uh-uh – I’m a lot more valuable than your stinkin’ numbers. Here are all the reasons why.”

Donna is now asking all of us like-minded (read: right thinking) folks to post examples of the value we’ve added unrelated to test scores. I’m doing that today. Thanks, Donna, for the inspiration.

I don’t remember your test scores, but I do remember the way you loved learning photography and how it helped you emerge from your cocoon.

I don’t remember your test scores, but I do remember a photograph you took while in my class appearing on the front page of the newspaper.

I don’t remember your test scores, but I do remember your shock and pride at winning the award for improvement in English.

I don’t remember your test scores, but I do remember you trusting me enough to confide in me that your best friend was being abused even though you thought it would get you in trouble and end your friendship. (In all honesty, this was one of the bravest acts I’ve ever seen from a child).

I don’t remember your test scores, but I do remember you graciously accepting my apology one day after I embarrassed you in front of the whole class.

I don’t remember your test scores, but I do remember our frank conversations about keeping you safe.

I don’t remember your test scores, but I do remember the time I made you laugh so hard, you had to go take a walk in the halls, and the way we all cracked up when you came back.

I don’t remember your test scores, but I do remember you crying when we watched a slideshow at the end of the year. (The reputation you had from everyone else – as being a nasty child – was mostly a myth).

I don’t remember your test scores, but I do remember you writing me a note saying you want to be like me because I see good things everywhere.

I don’t remember your test scores, but I do remember you quietly emerging as a top student.

I don’t remember your test scores, but I do remember you organizing a birthday surprise for me.

I don’t remember your test scores, but I do remember when I caught you in a lie about who did your homework for you and that it never happened again.

I don’t remember your test scores, but I do remember you overcoming intense and pervasive shyness, facing your fears and stepping outside your comfort zone, like when we went on the field together before the Mets game to answer questions in front of everyone.

I don’t remember your test scores, but I do remember you showing up one morning in tears and clutching a book order form because your mom wouldn’t buy you a 2 dollar book. I remember your gratitude when I bought it for you.

I don’t remember your test scores, but I remember everything that matters. I remember you.