Public Comment Period for Proposed Changes to NY State Teacher Evaluation Process APPR

The public comment period for proposed changes to New York State’s teacher evaluation process (known as APPR) is now open. To date, I have not been able to locate a date when it closes nor find a link on NYSED’s site that explains this. Others in NY, including senators, have been posting to their social sites about it. Comments should be sent to the NYS Education Department and the Board of Regents through the following email: Eval2015@nysed.gov

On a related note, here’s a great blog post by a teacher from the spring of 2013 when NYSED also had an open window for public input. It appears they just refuse to listen. So while I am hopeful that all the new feedback they receive will have an impact, I am realistic and smart enough to know it won’t.

 

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American Schools Need Way More Than an Hour of Code

The “Hour of Code” that has swept America off its feet this week is fine and all, but what happens after that hour? America children are wonderful consumers of technology, apps, devices, and screens. It is generally not until high school that they may encounter a sustained experience in programming skills. The topic is rarely visible in the middle schools and practically completely non-existent in the elementary schools. Sure, there are pockets of success here and there, but even within districts that may say they teach these skills to students there is no uniform curriculum for it. One class does it while the neighboring class doesn’t.

Here’s why the American approach is both outdated and dangerous: learning to code teaches you how to think. That is hard to visualize if you’ve never coded. Programming helps develop design and problem-solving skills that are foundational for later academic success. Rewriting spelling words 3x in ABC order doesn’t do that. Nor does monotonous skill-n-drill math homework sheets. Our approach of avoiding, rather than embracing, programming skills is dangerous because we are risking leaving an entire generation of would-be-coders behind. Young children are actually interested in this. They love seeing how things work, how to make them move, and how to deliver commands. Their inquisitive minds are ripe for these experiences. Instead, we are focusing more on other more testable skills like close-reading and break apart math. While those may be necessary as well, it should not be at the expense of learning a vital skill to the world economy right now and in the future. These stand alone hours and days (I call them ‘side-shows’) are really useless. It might pique a child’s interest in the topic, but then what? Can they continue coding on school time? Can they get a loaner laptop from the school to take home and continue coding? Can they skip a math worksheet if they can make the purple alien fly across the screen instead? What is the point of what we are doing now with programming in schools and what goals or problems are we looking to solve? Right now, I believe we are just looking to check the box as more of a PR stunt; “Do your students code?” Yes. We have computer science week because American schools don’t yet see the value in getting ALL students to learn to program. Add the fact that there is no standardized test for it and you can piece together why we’ve failed our children to date.

According to the the recent joint ACM and CSTA report, “Running on Empty”: “In 2009 and 2010, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) conducted a joint study and found that most public schools in the U.S. focus only on the consumer aspects of using computers.”

Meanwhile, here’s a sampling of what schools in the rest world are doing.

In Estonia, the new programming initiative is looking “to turn children from avid consumers of technology into developers of technology.”

In England, the entire computer technology curriculum was redeveloped so students as young as 5 are learning programming skills in the classroom and algorithms. No need for a hour of code there and some fancy posters and political photo-ops.

In Hong Kong, they are looking to have programming taught in at least 20% of the primary schools by 2016.

Even in tech-rich Singapore, they are starting to move towards teaching the little ones how to program. For years, they’ve been like American kids and viewed as just consumers of technology.

There are thousands upon thousands of programming jobs right here in America. A recent search for just one term (computer programming) returns over 58,000 job listings in just one job listing site. Change the search term to app programming, mobile programming, software developer or any other relevant combination and you will find thousands upon thousands of openings. Many of these won’t be filled by Americans. At what point to we seriously look at ourselves and ask why? The American job market has been dubbed as being in bad shape, but improving. All along thousands of ‘high-tech’ positions have remained open and there for the taking. Our society wasn’t ready to fill the need. Our society was (is) still looking for the job descriptions of the 1980s. Will we allow this to happen again in the next version of the worldwide digital revolution? Will our young students be able to develop and create ‘things’ like this:

Forget the hour of code. Really. Do your students and children a favor and give them hours of meaningful coding instead. Weave it into daily school activities. Encourage them to spend less time tapping away at Angry Birds and more time figuring out what makes the birds fly.

Get your students and children learning programming with these resources:
Tynker
HopScotch
Scratch  and ScratchJr
Move the Turtle
Learning to code while playing Minecraft

Thoughts on Data Protection Wording of NY Assembly Bill A8929

Here’s my take on the data collection/storage/sharing wording in the much discussed and debated NY Assembly bill A8929 that passed in the NY Assembly by a vote of 117-10 this past week. See the full bill here

I’ve copied out the data related sections and added my comments. I had to remove the ALL CAPS to make it easier to read (why is it in all caps like they typed it on a typewriter?)

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S  12. 1. Prior to July 1, 2015, the commissioner of education and the state education department are  hereby  prohibited  from  providing  any personally  identifiable information or de-identifiable student information to any third party vendor pursuant to any contract or memorandum of understanding for the purpose of collecting, storing  and/or  organizing student  data  or information in order to provide access to such data or information to third party vendors operating data dashboard solutions.

The wording above does not mean the state still can’t collect massive amounts of student, teacher, and parent personally identifiable information (PII). It just indicates NYSED can’t provide it to any third party for a year. Then, this gets revisited again next school year which simply prolongs this and we have to go through this all over again next year. The state can, and most likely still will, collect all the data it wants and will keep using it, just not work it into the new inBloom type systems. They won’t be able to provide the data dashboards to parents for at least another year. The wording below does not halt data collection.

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2. A parent of a student, a person in parental relation to a  student, or  a  student  eighteen  years  of  age  or older may request that such student’s personally  identifiable  information  and/or  such  student’s biometric  record  not  be  disclosed to any third party. The department and/or any school that receives such request shall  be  prohibited  from disclosing such information to any third party unless such disclosure is required  by law, pursuant to a court order or subpoena, for the purpose of a state or federal audit or evaluation to authorized  representatives of  entities  identified in section 99.31 (a)(3) of title 34 of the code of federal regulations implementing  the  family  education  rights  and privacy act, or is necessary due to a health or safety emergency.

The wording above indicates disclosure of PII might be required by law. So, spell it out. Which laws and when applicable?

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3. The department shall develop a form that shall be used for requests made pursuant to subdivision two of this section. Such form shall be made publicly available and shall allow such individuals the option to opt-out of disclosure of personally identifiable information and biometric records to any third party or to certain types of third parties. The department is authorized to identify a list of types of third Parties that individuals may opt-out of disclosure of such information and records and such individuals may opt-out of disclosure of such Information and records to any type and/or all of the listed third parties. Such list developed by the department shall not require the Names of such third parties to be listed. Such list may identify the Types of services such third parties provide.

This section above could cripple current school technology practices, which would be bad. The key phrase is “or to certain types of third parties.”  In modern-day 2014, we have to permit districts to use tech systems to facilitate transportation, scheduling, and other educational technologies including those used for instruction and learning by classroom teachers (Learning Management Systems, free/paid web based tools, cloud based email systems like Google Apps, etc.)

Wording also indicates NYSED will develop the list of services third party vendors can provide. The state doesn’t have to indicate the name of the vendor (e.g., inBloom) just what they do (e.g., data store). So NYSED can simply list out one of the possible services that parents cannot opt out from as “data store”, “data organization” or any other clever term used to continue their needs for collection, storage, analysis, mining, and sharing. Again, the prior paragraph indicates the storage tied to sharing is on hold until July 2, 2015, so NYSED can simply use next year to work on the list of services necessary and wait for July 2 hoping that no new legislation is brought forward to extend that temporary halt. This is also going to be a nightmare for schools to monitor and track what parent has opted out of what database/system/tool. The better approach is to simply eliminate PII from moving its way up the data levels to the ultimate spot of the NYSED offices.  Long term, I’d like to see a rework of the data levels 0, 1, 2, etc so PII never reaches the state level and never leaves the local BOCES offices. I still have not heard from NYSED why they need student/parent/teacher PII.

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5. Schools and the department may not under any circumstance  disclose personally  identifiable  information  or biometric records to any third party unless such third party has agreed in writing to:   a. Provide the department or the  contracting  school  with  a  breach remediation plan acceptable to the department or the school;   b.  Report  all  suspected  security  breaches  to  the  department or contracting school as soon as possible but not  later  than  forty-eight hours  after such suspected breach was known or would have been known by exercising reasonable due diligence; and   c. Report all actual security breaches to the department or  contracting  school  as  soon  as possible, but not later than twenty-four hours after such actual breach was known or would have been known by  exercising reasonable due diligence.

This section above is a good common sense approach. I would like to see added to that section details about performing security audits and making the results of such audits public. A state representative should be working with these third party vendors to verify that data is secure and not just take their word that it is.

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The major item I think is missing from not just this proposed bill, but any relating to data that I have seen to date, is what our fellow citizens in Oklahoma added to their new legislation on this topic last summer: an explanation of data fields. There bill isn’t perfect, but it better than what they had there. I want to see a law that mandates that ANY state department or entity that collects, stores, share, and uses data or is in contract with any third party vendor to collect, store, use, share  any PII related to the citizens of the state outline for citizens the specific types of data it collects (field names), the very specific purpose of the field (so in the NYSED databases they would have to explain in detail why every piece of data is needed), the length of time the data element is keep in the data base, if it is connected to any other state databases, and the specific details about any third party use of the data. Notice should be given to state citizens in much the same way the health care providers and insurance agencies have to notify customers of data use.

What About the “Dirty Jobs?”

Dear New York State Education Commissioner John King,
Not everyone is career and college ready. Just ask Mike Rowe. At least, not the careers you are thinking of.
Signed,
Dirty Jobers
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Everyone watches a reality show now and then and that’s okay. What do you watch? I watch Deadliest Catch, American Pickers, Storm Chasers, (yes, I am qualifying those are reality shows) and others, but one of the ones I’ve always liked the best is Dirty Jobs, with Mike Rowe.
I’m sure you’ve seen the show or heard about it, but if not there is a homemade video compilation of the “best clips” below. Mike has traveled America examining some of the jobs that our fellow American workers do, many of which don’t require a career or college ready path. Does that mean they aren’t productive workers? Great citizens? Hard working? Happy? Nope, not at all. In fact, probably almost every one of those dirty workers has made a long career with many staying with the same employer for dozens of years. While it is true that one can generally earn more money in employment after obtaining a college degree (sometimes), that doesn’t equate to success or happiness in my mind. Maybe we shouldn’t be pushing everyone who graduates high school immediately towards college. Maybe we should be trying to find the right fit for each person and not be disappointed if that doesn’t mean college.

Here on Long Island, NY with a 2010 US Census population of a little over 2.8 million people in our two counties (Nassau and Suffolk, not counting Queens and Brooklyn which are part of New York City) only 32% of the population, in each county, has earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher.  Those under 18 years old make up roughly 24% of the population in each county. So, that’s a lot of workers and citizens with no college degree going about their daily lives. I can’t be certain that this is a “good” or “bad” thing. We’ve been pretty fortunate here on the Island during the economic downturn our nation has been riding out the last few years. The hard times, so to speak, haven’t hit us as hard as in other parts of the nation. At least through my eyes. (Data source: here and here)

So what’s my point here? I don’t think the new Common Core curriculum leaves room for the students who might head into one of these “dirty jobs.” I have no data to back that statement up and only time will tell, but I think by simply stating over and over again that all we are doing is prepping kids for college or careers (I am making the assumption these are white collar type careers) and it is “urgent”, we are taking the chance of leaving behind thousands of those who might not be suited for that environment. The focus of education should not be to create little worker bees for American corporations. The focus of education should be to expand the mind, inspire creativity, spark curiosity, and develop good citizens. From what I’ve seen of homework for two of my kids in the last two years, and from the work they do in school, there is zero creativity. It is one worksheet after another, even for my kindergartner. Coloring in shapes, images, and pictures on a ditto is not an example of letting a child’s creativity flow. Not one of these dirty jobs requires worksheet completion found in a Pearson workbook or printed off from an engageNY web page.

Were any of the employers featured in any one of the Dirty Jobs episodes involved in the development of the Common Core Standards? Or, was it just big business and huge corporations who were involved? Are we, as a nation currently implementing the Core, looking to kill these dirty jobs as if they aren’t significant or relevant anymore? Here we are in the high-tech information age and American schools don’t even have computer science courses woven into most high school curriculum, let alone the middle and elementary ages. We’ll watch the next few years as the likes of App Academy replace the college option for many of our brightest students. I predict a similar model will appear for the trades as well to help fill the employment gaps.

Watch the full interview below with Mike Rowe on the high cost of college.

Then read (and watch) one of the many interviews with Mike during the fall of 2013 where he talks about the need for skilled workers, college debt, and more.  Or, watch his 2008 TED talk. Maybe we are going about these educational reforms in all the wrong way. It might be time to step back and watch where everyone is going … and head the other way.

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Related:
U.S. Unemployment: Three Million Jobs are Waiting to be Filled (here)

“My goal here is to challenge the absurd belief that an expensive four-year education is the best path for the most people, and confront the outdated stereotypes that continue to drive kids and parents away from a whole list of worthwhile careers,” Rowe said. “Many of the best opportunities that exist today require a skill, not a diploma.” Check out more at one of Mike’s many web sites devoted to connecting skilled workers with in-demand jobs: Profoundly Disconnected.

Guest Spot: Board of Regents creating ‘education apartheid’
by Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen

My Notes From the Open Forum Led by S.C.A.P.E

I posted the message below in the Lace to the Top Facebook group. My notes from tonight’s meeting follow the comment. Next time you attend a local forum, bring a friend, a parent, a teacher, a concerned neighbor. If you add one each time, you will have an over flowing room very quickly.

Special thanks to the S.C.A.P.E. advocates for organizing this. Would love to speak at the next one. (Stands for Sachem Community Alliance for Public Education.) We can try to get a web site going for the group and community as a place to organize and share content, especially some of the background knowledge. I have a lot of info right here on my bog that may help.  Check the links above and to the right. I am working on the data-mining page above.
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Tonight I got to meet a rock star. Yes THAT rock star. Dr. Joe Rella (and his lovely wife)!!! What an honor to hear him speak to our local group in Sachem. Blog post pending, but it was great to hear him tell the story of the original letter that started the movement. How every superintendent doesn’t think like him is beyond me. Intelligent, reasonable, rational, informed, and most importantly caring. All he wants ia for the kids to be kids and to right the wrongs. It is inspirational to hear him speak. He had his green laces on and I had my laces, glowing necklace, and bracelet on then ran home to have green ice cream (again this week). People are starting to connect the dots. Even if it’s only 5 today, then 10 next week. Just keep telling them to bring a friend and spread the message. These 3 quotes sum up hearing Dr. Rella tonight:

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
“You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result.”
“In a civilized country when ridicule fails to kill a movement it begins to command respect.”
-All from Mahatma Gandhi

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Thank you to Jeannie Cozetti for opening the night by telling your story and explaining Race to the Top and how it impacts our state. One thing you said really stood out for me: “Don’t let a test score define your kids and their teachers.” Oh, and you nicknamed Sara Wottawa the “Fact Machine”!

Thank you to Doug Smith from NYS Assemblyman Al Graf’s office from speaking to us and starting Assemblyman Graf’s position on this important issues. If you have not signed the Fix New York Schools Petition yet do it tonight! Support his legislation in the NY Assembly Bill A.7994 to withdraw from Common Core and Race to the Top.

Thank you to Mary Calamia for sharing the details about the very harmful physical and psychological effects of the Common Core Learning Standards and high-stakes testing and its impact on our children.  I will link to your written testimony at the NYS Assembly Education Committee hearing here. Thank you for being such a great advocate for these kids and helping to put an end to this madness. Your’s is a story everyone should hear.
– Normal year she gets 20 student referrals
– Now 50% of case load is 8 and 9 year old
– Last October she was getting near 10-12 calls/referrals a day. Serves 20 districts.
– Lots of self mutilation as a result of stress and other school related factors
The rest of her story … I can’t even type it. It is too upsetting.

And a final, big thank you to Comsewogue Superintendent (once dubbed “America’s Superintendent”) Dr. Joe Rella. Me_Rella_VWIt was an honor to both hear you speak and talk with you, and your wife, afterward. Thank you for staying so late as well. Here’s some notes from his talk:
– Dr. Rella told his teachers not to use the state test results for anything. How can they? A 1, 2, 3, 4 with absolutely no idea how they achieved that score.
– RTtT starts with developmentally inappropriate standards. Harmful in the lower grades especially.
– State Modules not complete don’t match the standards. Districts don;t even have them all and they are supposed to test on this.
-” It is hard for kids to accept day after day that I’m a loser.”
– The scores are useless and have nothing to do with the kids. Are used for the next piece of RTtT, that is APPR, the teacher/principal evaluations. 20% of teacher eval from the state tests, 20% from local assessments (SLOs, etc.). There are high stakes here.
-“How many of you had to see a shrink after taking the Regents? None of you. Not anymore.”
– Numbers matter. Blast everyone with calls and emails. Strength in numbers.
-“We’ve gotten lazy as citizens.”
-“There is nothing right about it.”
-In his district it cost $250,000 just for administration of the tests. District got $30,000 in RTtT funds. Basic economics here.
-He sent a formal “opt-out” letter to inBloom’s CEO to request that his district’s data be removed from their system and to indicate he wasn’t participating anymore. He just received a written reply back (paraphrasing here): “Thank you for your letter. Your contract as a district is not with us. Please contact your state.” He is working on his next step.
– And on 12/22 he will be a TV star. Tune in to channel 7 at 5:30 am. (It’s a Sunday so set your DVR.)
-“Stop it. Fix it. Scrap it.”

Thank you to all the S.C.A.P.E. advocates who organized tonight’s forum. We will double the crowd next time, I promise! Sachem friends and neighbors, please join our Facebook group and get informed. Our students are more than scores.

LI Education Forum Summary: The King Is Still Not Listening

Topic: NYS Education Regents Reform Agenda, blah, blah, blah
In attendance: NYS Education Commissioner, John King, Chancellor of the Board of Regents Merryl Tisch (not this one, the real one), State Senator John Flanagan, and lots of special interest groups.
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I have to say, tonight was powerful. The passion, energy, commitment, and dedication of our Long Island parents and educators was palpable in Ward Melville High School tonight. Tomorrow it is your turn Mineola area!

Last spring, before my wife and I made our final decision to have our son refuse the NYS assessments, I attended a parent/educator meeting in Mt. Sinai. The meeting was very well attended on just a week’s notice. Again, I thank Jeanette Deutermann for her tireless efforts to both raise awareness of the misguided NY educational reform agenda and for inviting me to that forum. I left that forum feeling inspired, educated, and determined. I vividly recall coming home that night and saying to my wife: “Dear, we just found ourselves a cause around which we can rally.” Actually, I don’t think I said it that nicely as a result of drinking a beer, or two, at the time. That was my first “no turning back” moment. Tonight was my second.

For starters I missed my fellow green lacers from the Lace to the Top group and my fellow district parent advocates from SCAPE outside. I arrived later than planned (but did make nearly 17 traffic lights in a row all the way from the south shore to Old Town Rd – all green lights) and wanted to rush inside since a friend was holding a seat. Thank you, Jane St. Pierre, for attending. It really means so much to me and my family to have your support, insight, and expertise. So I missed all of you “cool kids” hanging out stirring up trouble literlaly on the corner. Mark, Kevin, Jeanette, Sara, Janet … next time. I did arrive with 12 22″ green glow-stick-necklaces, proudly wore mine inside, and drove home will all of them in my windshield. I also did go out to look for you a little after the mid point, but then returned to sit with the overflow crowd in the cafeteria. Out of guilt for missing everyone, I came home and forced myself to have a bowl of green ice cream. It was terrible. I did spot the educational rockstar, Comsewogue Superintendent Dr. Joseph Rella literally standing in the back the entire time after coming in from hanging out with the cool kids.

The crowd. What can I say. Were they loud? Yes. Were they sometimes rude? Yes. Did the Commissioner expect anything else? No. The way these “public” forums are setup, the organizers left themselves open for these types of passionate outbursts. That and the fact that Commissioner King refused, yet again, to address any questions presented to him in these forums. He literally opened his first talking segment with, “Let me tell you why 45 states adopted the Common Core…” When you see someone like Commack Superintendent Dr. James cut off after a measly two minutes you ask yourself, “What’s the point?” Of course, every speaker went over time. The holding up of the time warning signs right in the field of vision for the speakers was a little much in my opinion. Here we have years of frustration all boiling over and you are supposed to package it up nicely into a nice 2 minute box. Not going to happen.

Speaking of packaging things up nicely … have you seen the video of PJSTA President Beth Dimino presenting her case at the forum? She was one of the first few to speak and it was shocking that she did not have that much to say. I mean she only had 50 letters, and mailed 300 others, asking for Commissioner King’s resignation. Maybe that just wasn’t enough letters? I bet we can drum up a few more. She had her red on for public ed and her green lace around her neck. Standing ovation #1.

My view of Beth’s powerful message is here.

I don’t have a list of speakers, but up to the point I left, they were all really good. Even the ones I may not have agreed with 100% were still making an effective case for their message. These were all points we could sit down at the table and discuss with the NYSED officials and the Board of Regents, but you see, that will just never happen. This is clearly a dog-and-pony show, smoke-and-mirrors, or whatever other over-staged phrase you want to use (feel free to comment below with some good ones.)  This King is still not listening.

I was proud to listen to Sachem Schools Wenonah elementary principal, Christine DiPaola speak. She made very powerful comments about every educational reform item that concerns me as a Sachem parent. If I can find her video or transcript, I will repost it here. I am sorry to have missed the other two Sachem speakers. Principal DiPaola was standing ovation #2.

As the speaker is called from the Smithtown school district, I am thinking, “I wonder what she will say considering I saw some resistance last spring from Smithtown with regards to the parent refuse movement.” I have to say, Smithtown parents and educators your Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Bradshaw spoke very eloquently about this current mess. I sense some support there and hope it was genuine. I believe she was standing ovation #3.

There was another star tonight and that was Eric Gustafson from the Three Village School District. Watch for yourself and you’ll see why he received standing ovation #4.

There were some quotes and quick moments that stood out.

– “The Mommies in NY don’t abuse their children.” –Beth Dimino
– Paraphrasing this one: Please explain to me Mr. King why I was rated 19/20 last year and only 11/20 this year. I am the same person. I lead my students the same. –Longwood Middle School Principal, Dr. Levi McIntyre
– “What has happened to the common sense of the Common Core? If this intiative does fail it will be due to pilot error with you and the state at the controls.” –Sachem Schools Wenonah Principal, Christine DiPaola
– “What about the kids? What about the kids?” -Yelled by a special interest group member from the back of the auditorium

And my favorite one-liner of all: “We agree more than we disagree about these points.” – John King

Is that so?

One of the things that really struck me while I listened to Commissioner King provide a “timed” response three different times was exactly what others online have said about him, and his speeches: he did not once mention the students. Hours of thoughtful, passionate pleas from these many educators and parents who see what all these new education reforms are doing to these kids presented before him and he doesn’t once mention the students, the children. Every single reform buzz word/phrase was used. He barely, I mean barley, remotely referred to anything the speakers mentioned. He picked up on a keyword or phrase like “professional development” if someone mentioned that. Then he’d go on and on that he’d help and he’ll get more money, but it never addressed the point the speaker was making about professional development, or whatever else the topic might have been. He has failed his Common Core listening skills module.

And here’s a few online comments I just discovered:
– ” Tonight I heard such articulate speakers ask very intelligent questions and Commissioner King did not answer any if them.” -LM
– “So proud of all the amazing people who spoke on behalf of the children tonight and ALL the green laces that were inside and out! Bad news…. King is STILL NOT LISTENING….” -JR
– “If there is a better parent organizer than New York Ed Commissioner John King, I have yet to meet him! He has single handedly turned thousands of parents in New York State into education activists!!!” -MN

A common comment from the audience during a lull, was: You’ve rallied the mommies. Something of that sort. My response … don’t forget about the daddies, too! So, that’s all I can recall from memory from tonight.  I urge all New York residents to get out and attend one of these meetings. Don’t sit there and complain all day about teacher pay, standards, testing, your taxes paid to the schools. Listen to these people. Hear their message and understand the concerns. Don’t be like Commissioner King and pretend to listen knowing full well your mind is already made up.

Here’s some local media coverage of the event.

Patchogue Patch:  State Ed Commish Slammed in Common Core Forum
Port Jefferson Patch:  Realtime Live Updates (now archived)
Newsday:  Hundreds attend East Setauket forum about state testing
News12 Long Island: LI Residents Gets Heated at Common Core Forum
Times Beacon Record North Shore of LI: State Education Commissioner Faces Heated Criticism

Note: I edited the text above to include the name of my “friend” who held my seat after receiving her permission to do so. The original wording when first posted kept her anonymous. That is no longer needed.

The Cupcake Test

I received permission from Marianne to post her entire comment below. This originally appeared as a reply within the comments section of a recent Diane Ravitch post. I thought the comment was so insightful, that I wanted it to stand out on its own. Thank you, Marianne.
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By Marianne Giannis
November 5, 2013 at 8:38 am
Here is my idea of how to be heard since the “reform” leaders don’t seem to hear the protests, emails, meetings etc. I call it “The Cupcake Test.” Read below to understand what this test is all about. Perhaps the people in power will start to understand what is important to children, parents, teachers, and schools if they receive cupcakes with a message. For example, a cupcake with “freedom to learn” written upon it. It’s worth a try.

The Cupcake Test

I teach 1st through 6th grade at a private, non-profit Montessori school in Wisconsin. We don’t do any standardized testing of any kind at our school. So let me rephrase my first sentence: I teach all day, every day, for nine months out of the year at a Montessori school.

I love the little bubble that I am so fortunate to go to every day. The children I teach are happy, curious, capable people and I enjoy having conversations, making discoveries, and trying out new things with them. I don’t like to even call them “my students” because so much of what they learn is a result of their own personal quest to know more about the world: past, present, and future. It is a really nice place to work, teach, and learn and I think that they feel the same way.

But I also like to know what is going on beyond this wonderful bubble. Outside of my school bubble, these happy, curious, capable people would be referred to as learners. Outside of the bubble, their knowledge would not be solely for their own personal benefit but used as data. Their experiences would not be unique but standardized, franchised, and homogenized across the county as we, as a nation, collectively run this “Race to the Top.” I wish that every child, teacher, and parent could join me in my bubble. Sorry, everyone else in eduland, you are not invited.

Here is my solution to educational reform that is easy, simple, and cheap. I call it the “Cupcake Test.” How do schools get the things that they really want? Bake sales. If parents, students, and teachers really want something for their school, they hold bake sales. If the cause is really important to them, people will take the time to bring in plates of cupcakes and then other people will buy them. How would the Common Core reform stand up to the cupcake test? Let’s say CCSS vs. fictional books, or CCSS vs. freedom from standardized testing, or CCSS vs. time to get to know each student, CCSS vs. learning just because it is what makes life interesting? Which cause do you think would win?

So here’s my point. Would we as a nation have supported this latest educational reform if it had to be funded by cupcakes or is it being initiated because there is so much corporate funding providing the money? Is it really important to the parents, students, and teachers and did anyone in eduland take a moment to ask them?

View the original comment in context at Diane’s post here:
http://dianeravitch.net/2013/11/05/a-mother-common-core-or-common-sense/

 

Pearson’s Vision of Connected Education – Scary, But Not That Scary

So once again this particular Pearson video is making the rounds on the various Facebook groups to which I belong. It gets talked about as some kind of bad learning experience for kids, tool for teachers, and info gathering device or outlet for parents. I’ve tried to use my experience of 18 years of working with educational technology to inform parents that this is in fact a “vision”, not a reality. There are examples like this in every industry and every major vendor has put them on YouTube for the world to see and say, “Oh how cool would that be” or “Hey, that is really scary.” The parents in these groups, and in the live meetings where I’ve seen this video discussed with a larger audience, usually state the most common reactions including, but not limited to:

1. How scary this is.
2. How there is no human interaction.
3. How the kids will break the devices.
4. How this costs too much,
5. How there are no real plants shown in the plants lesson.
6. How computers should not replace teachers.

This video, and the talking points around it, are not the rallying call we need to fight the over use of high-stakes testing, rushed implementation of the Common Core and the abusive data-mining of our kids.

Now I got tired of posting my $.02 on this over and over again so I will just report some of the various comments I’ve left on these social sites below. Feel free to use the comment area of this post to share your thoughts on this Pearson video or any other “futuristic ed tech” videos you have seen.

The REAL scary part of this video is at 5:30 seconds. Watch from 5:14 on and comment below if you can spot what, I think, is the worst part of all of this. The rest of it is promotional fluff…for now.

My recent commentary on this video includes:

“Connected learning utilizing the latest technology isn’t a bad thing. Heck, that’s what we are all doing right here in Facebook alone in these various groups. What you have to understand from these videos (every major educational vendor has some) is they are a wish list of “things”. Every industry has these series of videos that showcase what the future will look like if it is tech infused 24/7. Look up Microsoft’s Vision for Health Care, Retail, Education. Google Glasses, 3D printing, etc. This Pearson video is the one that makes the rounds at every parent meeting talking about the CCSS and testing. I work with educational tech. Been doing that for 18 years now. This video isn’t as frightening as you think, nor is it reality. The “scariest” part is at minute 5:30. Watch it again from 5:14 on and comment back if you caught the “scary” part. I put scary in quotes because it’s not ghost-like scary, but theoretically an unfortunate outcome of the Pearson system.”

and

“Kids won’t break them because that new tablet won’t be like anything you’e seen yet. Go look on YouTube for the flexible screen, stretchable tablets and other devices in development that we are not yet using. Heck, YouTube didn’t exist 10 years ago, Facebook neither. And the video is not about less human interaction, nor is that what Pearson is predicting. Believe me I’m as anti-Pearson as everyone else, but this is not their worst doing (and yet this is again a “vision” not a reality). Yes, they are trying to sell stuff; that’s what they do. But this video gets used over and over again as some kind of bad voodoo coming to our schools. Would you prefer if the medical profession/field never adopted any new technology? No one goes into surgery now with a doctor who uses techniques from 40 years ago. A computer can replace a teacher in certain circumstances. There is nothing wrong with a live video chat with an expert on a topic. Nothing wrong with kids learning math concepts by watching an instructor work it out and explain it in a video. Again, in my professional opinion of seeing and working with ed tech for 18 years, the worst part of this video is at the 5:30 mark. That’s what we should be rallying against.”

Now, with the same mindset watch these two videos below. Also consider the things that were not around say 5, 10, 20, 50 years ago – you know like YouTube and Facebook 🙂 Are these videos also scary? Maybe, maybe not.

and

Also here with explanation of the various new technologies and here in the search results view the Health Care and Retail examples as well.