Thursday, February 27, 2014

Life of a Bronx Teacher

Worst year ever. Low morale, attack observations, endless Danielson rubrics. common Core standards every meeting, Talent coaches, Pre post post and midline test only for VAM ratings, making teachers have to teach every second, fearing that god forbid a class just relaxes and we show a piece of humanity. Hatred of teachers from the reformers, media and worst of all, average people. I mean hatred of teachers. Sleepless nights worrying about losing our jobs. And just exhaustion. Psychological and physical exhaustion. Knowing that no matter how well you teach on a given day, some admin will come in and rip you the fuck apart. That is an average day.

Don't Blame the Public Schools : A Bronx Tale

In the 1950's and 1960's, Factories started closing and moving South, taking tens of thousands of jobs Bronx residents depended on with them:

The public schools stayed open.

In the 1960's and 1970's, landlords started burning their buildings leaving parts of the Bronx looking as if it had suffered aerial bombardment

The public schools stayed open.

In the 1980's and 1990's, the crack epidemic hit the Bronx, raising the murder rate to unprecedented heights and causing fearful residents retreat to their apartments

The public schools stayed open

Then, when the new century hit, crime rates started to go down, the Bronx's economy began to slowly recover, and many of its residents started to feel safe again

The public schools stayed open

But politicians and the press began to blame them for poverty and inequality.

Think that's fair?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

When You Are Looking for American Heroes- Don't Forget the Coaches!!

Those of you who know me know how proud I am of my grand daughter Avery's accomplishments as a runner. At age 10, she is now one of the top middle distance runners her age in the nation, and loves the feeling of confidence this gives her as well as all the great new friends she has made in her track team- the Prospect Park Youth Running Club.

But none of this would have been possible without the four volunteer coaches- all public school teachers and administrators- who run the PPYRC! Not only do they spend countless hours a week running practices and taking their team to meets, they have time to speak on the phone to parents about issues with their children's runnig- whether it is the shin sprints or asthma attacks they get, or the process they should go through in trying to find a high school with a good running program

None of the things that Avery achieved would have been possible if these coaches hadn't auditioned her, trained her, put her in the right events, and given her love and encouragement. We have a lot of great athletes in our family, but none of them ran track. It is the coaches in PPYRC who discovered and nurtured Avery's great gift.

And they are not alone. All over the country, volunteer coaches in basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse, and swimming are doing for other young people what PPYRC coaches have done for Avery- finding and nurturing a talent that gives them confidence and a sense of inner well-being.

Many of these wonderful people are public school teachers and administrators. They are true American heroes, deserving of recognition and respect.


Friday, February 21, 2014

When I Talk About Prison and Prison Education: It's Personal

Some of you may be wondering why I am defending a Prison Education initiative offered by a Governor whose other Education policies I despise. I can give you a detailed political explanation for my position, and ask you to read Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" but in truth, the reasons why this issue is so important to me are as much personal as political, rooted in a few powerful experiences I have had in my life

1. In 1969, I spent several days in the Brooklyn House of Detention as a result of an impromptu demonstration in a Brooklyn Coffee Shop and was placed on the detention floor there because I refused to shave my beard.
It was a sobering experience. I was a big, strong, athletic guy, but 90 percent of the people there looked like they could take me out without blinking an eye. When I asked my cellmate, a nice Puerto Rican man who had pictures of his three children on the shelf, what you had to do to get by he said " Mind your own business, but if anybody so much as touches you, try to kill them with your bare hands until the guard pulls you off." I kept that in mind for the entire time I was in, which was more peaceful than usual because the Mets were winning the pennant, but I can still taste the fear I felt. Anyone who thinks people in prison are being pampered and are getting a nice free ride at tax payers expense has never been in prison

2. One of my dearest friends and colleagues, Rev. Dr Mark Chapman has for the last 20 years taught graduate theology courses in Sing Sing Prison for a Master Program sponsored by the New York Theological Institute. I have had the opportunity to meet with some of his former students. Every single one of them has devoted their lives to helping people avoid the path they took and not a single one of them ended up going back to jail. Through Professor Chapman's work, I have seen the value first hand of what higher education can do for incarcerated people, and so have many of his students at Fordham who have met some of the people he worked with in his life changing course "The Black Prison Experience."

3. During the last five years, I have tried to help drug dealers recently released from prison, none with more than high school diplomas, find employment. All of these young men had children to support and I had no success whatsoever finding work for them. It was, and is heartbreaking to see them have to go back to selling drugs to get any income at all. Because of this, I think it is both humane and cost effective to give prisoners educational opportunities that will make them employable in the legal economy. And in this economy, higher education is the best path to do that

OK. I've said my piece. You don't have to agree with me, but at least you now now the reasons why I care so much about this issue.

What Testing is Doing to Special Needs Students: An NYC Teacher's Lament

I teach high school economics. Due to our absurd scheduling policy anyone can end up in this class, anyone from freshmen to seniors. Before I begin to tell the plight of my students it would be pertinent to mention that I am dual certified in social studies and special education, and I'm finally teaching what I am certified to teach. Out of all my IEPs a whopping 60% are out of compliance, and this is AFTER the blitz we had recently to make sure everything was up to code. Instead of telling you sweeping statistics I want to tell you about one of my students "J". J is a sweetheart more than anything. He has an IQ of 50, has a difficult time remembering who rode the bus with him that morning, and is registered for 5 regents level classes. FIVE. Five classes in which he is completely wasting his opportunity to learn life skills which he will desperately need in his lifetime. Five classes in which he feels like he is disappointing his teachers because he doesn't pass the regents tests given in actual exams. Five classes where he gets physically upset because he is expected to independently write a regents level essay. Let's keep in mind that when he fails the regents he takes the same classes the next year. Let's also keep in mind that he has so much extended time to take the tests that the teachers are scheduled to stay until 8pm. And then let's realize that this is child abuse. To demand from a child what they physically cannot do is abuse of the highest form. These students want to make their parents and teachers happy. They want to do well but are not given the opportunity because they are forced to do work way beyond their level. Please keep J in your heart. Especially around regents time (January, June and August). And please keep his teachers in mind. They are contractually obligated to read this exam to them countless times and not explain a thing. The only thing I can do is not in my contract... To give them a hug when they're so defeated they finally crack mid test.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A History Lesson from the Civil Rights Movement for Anti-Testing Activists

The non violent Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's did not hold most of their meetings in public. If they did, those meetings would have been broken up and those organizing and attending them would have faced severe retaliation. Organizers persuaded frightened people to get up the courage to register to vote or protest a segregated facility at tens of thousands of small meeting in homes and church basements. Yes we have seen all the great rallies and marches on televised film clips.- and those big public events were important. But the real work of organizing took place in small groups, away from the prying eye of authorities.

Since so many public officials want to suppress our movement, and have already showed their determination to retaliate against parents and teachers who speak out against Common Core and Abusive Testing, there is no reason to tell those officials where we are meeting and what we are doing..... until we are strong enough to beat them!!!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why I Will Never Raise My Voice Against Funding Prisoner Education

If any of you wonder why I will never raise my voice against funding Prisoner Education, even if the politician supporting it is someone I despise, here's one good reason:

I teach on the Bronx campus of Fordham University. In side the campus, there are as many people selling and using drugs as there are outside the campus gates Yet in the 40 plus years I have been teaching there, I have never heard of a drug raid on the Fordham campus, and never known a student arrested on campus for drugs. When I ask my students to name a New York State prison, they can usually name only two of the 60- Sing Sing and Attica

Now head outside the campus. If you talk to college age young people in the neighborhood, almost everyone will know someone who is in, or has once been in prison, usually for drugs. Many of them can name 8 or 10 New York State prisons ( Greenvale, Greenhaven, Coxsackie etc). And if you talk to young people who have been in prison for drugs, as I have on numerous occasions, most of them cannot get legal jobs. They are locked out of the legal economy permanently, exactly the way Michelle Alexander describes in her book, "The New Jim Crow."

So when someone tells me- I can't support spending money to educate people who have broken the law-- my answer is this:

At this moment in history, Prison is not for "people who have broken the law" it is for poor people who have broken laws that rich people are almost never jailed for. I support educating them so that when the leave prison, they have a chance of supporting their families without breaking the law. Many do not have that opportunity now.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Romance Is Gone From Predatory School Reform

Driving home from work today, I had an epiphany I wanted to share with you. And it is this. Even though terrible things are happening to teachers and students and families all over the nation, the Romance is gone from Predatory School Reform. It has been reduced to naked power, greed, and opportunism. And while this may bring little immediate relief to teachers having their pensions hijacked and tenure undermined; to students deluged with tests and deprived of arts, music and library; and to school districts and families forced to accept Common Core standards without discussion or hope of modification or to have neighborhood schools closed over their protests; it suggest that the revolt against these policies is going to steadily gather momentum and may eventually sweep away some of the damage. The Emperor no longer has clothes. This isn't about Equity, Civil Rights, or Improved Quality of Instruction. It is about the pursuit of Profit and Political Advantage. The Moral High Ground has shifted to us. Let's make good use of it in fighting this battle.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why NY Principals Founder Carol Burris sees the Ball/Zeldin Bill in the NY State Legislature as a Step Forward:

It is the closest thing to a true moratorium that I have seen and it will strike a huge blow against standardized testing and evaluating teachers by test scores. Here is why.

It BANS the use of state tests for retention, placement, gifted programs...everything but AIS. That means that it will make it much easier for opt out and it will protect students.
The tests have to be made public, which will drive Pearson crazy and run up their costs.
It reduces testing times back to 2010 levels and forces a lowering of the proficiency cut scores to what should be 2010 levels as well.

Regarding APPR
VAM and growth scores go away. Remember, they are becoming 25% this year!
State tests can't be used for teacher evals.
Locals become 40%. (which were becoming 15% this year) That is huge. Local measures are subject to negotiations so there is control and they are reasonable. Most Local measures are benign. 
Best of all cut for IE drops to 55. Now, test scores cannot trump all. It also fixes the problems with the bands whereby teachers can be ineffective without any ineffective ratings. It also calls for a committee of professionals to examine APPR.
Would I love for it to go away? You bet. This is a big improvement

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Democracy at Risk in the Nation's Schools

Because current Education Policies were made without the consent or input of those who experience them on the ground- teachers, students, and parents- they only way they can be implemented is through an ugly dose  of fear and intimidation, first on the teachers required to teach according to their precepts, then on the students and families who have to adapt to them. Anyone who protests the policies or questions their underlying logic is first dismissed, then threatened. We see this is the treatment of teachers principals and parents who protest school closings in Newark; in the sit and stare policies imposed on children who Opt Out of tests in many school districts in New York State; and the total suppression of free speech by teachers when it comes to challenging testing, the Common Core standards or test based teacher evaluations. What is at stake here is more than the future of education. If you shatter democratic practices in the nation's public schools, you will have a hard time sustaining them in the society as a whole.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Gates Foundation Dictatorship? - A Response to My Video on "Common Core Stealth Standards"

"Letter I just got in response to what I said about Bill Gates in my "Common Core Stealth Standards" Speech ( now on youtube)

Dear Mr. Naison,

I apologize for contacting you at your Fordham email, but I just watched a youtube video of your talk about the Common Core Stealth Standards, and had something to share. I am hoping you won’t mind. 
In your talk, I felt the last year and a half of my life summarized as I re-lived the sheer panic I have felt for the future of our country. I am that suburban mom, living in Connecticut, but also a former teacher who saw the confluence of what were good practices being distorted into what I now understand very clearly to be the overthrow of public school education. 
As a former middle school teacher, and trainer of teachers for the last 12 years, with a Masters Degree, lots more graduate credits in Instructional Technology, and Educational Leadership including the Administrative certification, I understand that reforms in education are nothing new. I have convinced many teachers that the latest fad or trend really could have some merit in their roles as teachers because I believed they did have merit, but that ultimately, teachers know the students best, and they can make it work. But after what I have seen in the last year and a half, I am no longer training or teaching, I am fighting as hard as I can to bring awareness to the sleepy suburbanites in my town, and to whomever else will listen, in a variety of ways. We have held a Common Core Forum in town, I ran for BOE to get the word out, have a growing mom-group, and I now have a column in the local paper on education matters.

But as I was driving today (after watching your video clip) there was a song on the radio by John Mayer called, “Waiting for the World to Change.” When I heard this line, I just felt the need to convey my thoughts to you for your consideration.
He sang:
"And when you trust your television
What you get is what you got
Cause when they own the information
Oh, they can bend it all they want”

We all know this, right? Well, I've become accustomed to searching the Gates Foundation for any new foundation, organization or person who speaks in favor of many of the current reforms. Nine times out of ten, they have received money from the Gates Foundation. What has started to scare me are the sheer number of libraries that are receiving funding from the Gates Foundation. And truly, if he owns it, he will bend it. I am convinced. 

And as schools, towns, and states move toward this 1:1 personalized learning paradigm, where technology is teacher, and teacher is facilitator, we could quite possibly find that a generation of children will learn content that can be changed at will, and which would effectively limit their ability to be true critical thinkers in their quest for knowledge.

For your reference, here is the link to the Gates Foundation grants, all 910 of them, which fund various libraries and library-related organizations:
And related work with Pearson:

I will continue to explore this connection, and hope you find this information useful. I thank you for taking the time to read this. 

Thanks for all your hard work!


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Badass Teachers Association "Evaluate That" Campaign Goes Viral

The Badass Teachers Association exploded last night on Facebook and Twitter with their #evaluatethat campaign. The idea came to the Facebook page via Georgia BAT Stephanie Lavender Weber who was staying the night with her students in school due to the snow storms that hit Atlanta last week. Stephanie proudly posted about staying with the students and taking care of them until their parents could come get them. She ended the post with #evaluatethat. BATs took it and ran with it. One #evaluatethat meme, made by BAT Kelly Braun, has over 50,000 hits on the BAT Facebook page. Here are some of the BAT stories for #evaluatethat I walked students home who were being threatened and harassed. #evaluatethat I don't just teach science. I teach empathy, self-worth, and the understanding that all life matters. #evaluatethat I treated two of my former students and one of the girls mother to have a haircut and color at a local beauty school before school started so they could enter high school feeling good. We then went shopping for school supplies and clothes. The lady who does my nails donated three bags of clothes from her daughter that went to college and both girls spent the rest of the day trying them on. The smiles on their faces is worth more than any amount of money. #evaluatethat One of my former students published a book of her poetry and dedicated the book to three of her high school teachers - of which I proudly was one. Now - evaluate that. #evaluatethat I had a senior student who couldn’t afford her senior yearbook. I bought it for her – anonymously #evaluatethat I attended the honors ceremony and graduation of a student I had three years in a row as his "mom" as well as the graduation party with his family. When I was honored with a lifetime PTA membership this year he came up to my school with flowers and a card and told my students that once you are one of her kids you are always her kids #evaluatethat We have hundreds of stories like this on the BATs Facebook page and we have thousands streaming on our #evaluatethat twitter feed. We will be making a film of these experiences and also will investigate some sort of publication. BATs fight every day to take back public education. Gates, Murdoch, Walton, and the Broads may have more money but we have more spirit! #evaluatethat Join BATs on Facebook at Follow us on Twitter

Evaluate That!!!

I have students sleep over when they’re thrown out of the house
Evaluate That 
I give them money for carfare when they have no way to go home
Evaluate That 
I stand between them and a knife aimed at their chest
Evaluate That 
I tell my students that I love them and remind them they’re the best
Evaluate That
I tell them that they’re brilliant when their tears fall on the test
Evaluate That