Silence Speaks At March For Our Lives

Listen to Emma’s profound silence.

Remember the silence of students crouched in closets, hiding from the sound of an automatic weapon being fired in their school.

Think about the loudmouth lack of silence of the President of the United States as he played golf while Emma Gonzales stood without words.

Question the silence of the Members of Congress when students, teachers, and parents asked them to address  gun violence.

Listen. Listen. Listen.

Then VOTE. Vote in your precinct or vote by absentee ballot if you are away at school. Vote early if your state allows it, or vote on election day if that fits your schedule. Whenever. Wherever. However. Just do it.

Make Emma Gonzales’s silence speak for a new ethic, a new beginning for this country weary with the noise of greed and corruption.

 

Hope For The Future: The Kids

I agree with Diane Ravitch. Take heart, everyone, the kids are coming!

Our Children, Our Heroes: The March for Our Lives
by dianeravitch

I am so enthralled with the new youth activism that has burgeoned since the horrific massacre of 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14. The students who survived immediately collected themselves and determined to fight for change so that the loss of their friends and teachers will have some meaning and will not be forgotten and assuaged by empty thoughts and prayers. I have seen the kids interviewed on TV programs and been enormously inspired by their thoughtfulness, their poise, their dignity, their presence of mind. They have been viciously attacked and ridiculed by detractors but they dismiss the slurs with humor. They are on a mission. They don’t want children to be afraid in school. They want to save lives. As one of them said today on CNN, “Our cause is not partisan. Surely we can all agree on the importance of protecting the lives of children.”

These young people are heroes. Having faced death, they value life. They have encouraged their peers across the nation to use their voice and stand for up for a better society.

Young people want a better world. We should help them. They are right. They are too young to have been corrupted. They have not grown cynical. They do not believe the status quo is inevitable. Youth is a time for idealism and high energy. This generation may be the change we have been hoping for.

They give all of us hope for the future.

Kids today.

They are terrific!

 

Questions for the New CEA President – 6

The Connecticut Education Association will hold elections for a new president in May. The two candidates for president of the CEA are Jeff Leake and Bob Smoler. Jeff Leake is currently CEA vice-president, and Bob Smoler is president of the Fairfield Education and Association and a math teacher at Fairfield Warde High School in Fairfield. I have asked them twelve questions about issues regarding education that face us as a state. I have previously posted five sets of the candidates’ answers. Here are their answers to the last set of questions.

My hope is that my interviews with these candidates makes for informed voting in May because Connecticut is in real need of dynamic leadership in education.

Bob Smoler

 12. What is your accomplishment in the past three years as Fairfield Education Association president of which you are most proud and why?

I’m most proud of transforming the Fairfield Education Association (FEA) from an apathetic organization with no voice and little presence in its members lives into a vibrant, well organized, association that brings value to its members and has a strong voice in our school district and in the Fairfield community

When I became president of the Fairfield Education Association (FEA) in 2014/15 we had many open building rep positions, those individuals representing their buildings often didn’t show up for meetings, and the FEA primarily engaged in two activities: negotiating a contract every three years and representing teachers when they got into trouble. In January of 2015, I walked all building reps and executive board members through a strategic planning process to plot a new direction for our association (see attached document). That planning meeting set the stage for a string of accomplishments that established the FEA as a force to be reckoned with in both our school district and our community.

Our newfound strength was developed through 3 main activities:

1. We demonstrated we could get individuals elected to office. Working with parents, the FEA has been instrumental in electing 5 members of the Board of Education and flipping the Board of Selectmen and RTM from Tea Party dominated political bodies to education friendly entities.

2. We have been on the forefront of solving problems for the town and the district:

a. When the town was struggling with rising healthcare costs, I designed a PPO plan that saved the district/town $1 million. A year later, the FEA open up our contract and convinced every bargaining unit in the Fairfield Public Schools to switch to the Connecticut Partnership 2.0 plan. In total we’ve helped the district and town save or avoid $5.2 million in expenses over the last 3 years while improving member benefits and reducing member costs.

b. The district was struggling with what they believed to be a teacher absenteeism problem. We did all the analysis to demonstrate that there wasn’t a teacher absentee problem, but rather activities of the district were creating issues for the buildings and the teachers.

i.  We showed the district was paying their substitutes less than other districts and  our practices in dealing with substitutes were different than other districts.

ii.We demonstrated that the elimination of February break was creating student and teacher burnout.

iii.We demonstrated that initiative overload was forcing teachers to take time off to meet the excessive demands being put on them.

The district has since addressed these problems by increasing sub pay, turning the President’s Day weekend into a 4 day weekend and cutting back on the number of initiatives considerably.

c. When the town announced that they wanted to focus on increasing their grand list as a way to keep taxes down, we analyzed all 169 towns in CT and demonstrated that the quality of the town’s public school system is the number 1 driver of housing values across the state. As a result, the town is recommitting to investments in teacher pay and per pupil spending after seven years of slashing these investments.

3. We are constantly looking to bring value to our members’ lives personally and professionally.  Examples include:

a. We’ve brought the CEA in to do seminars on Teachers and the Law, Retirement, and Special Education and the Law. I’ve also brought in a private financial planner to talk to members about life insurance, disability, saving for college, buying a house, long term care, etc. Some of these seminars were attended by 400 of our 1,000 members.

b.The district’s approach to servicing special education students was/is extremely problematic. We brought together all 120 teachers servicing special education students, identified all the problems and prepared specific solutions. We also did extensive research on reasonable workload and caseload caps for social workers, special education teachers, psychologists and speech language pathologists. We presented all our findings to the district and they are now acting on them.

c. There were several instances where administrators were not being supportive of teachers. We worked with the district to improve those situations in a manner fair to everyone. Each of those situations has been resolved.

d. When the district decided to out-source aspects of the social worker position by bringing in outside counselors, we convinced the district to terminate the out-source relationship and build the program internally with FEA members.

By demonstrating our competence as a political force, problem solver and a positive presence in our members lives, the FEA has become a vibrant organization with which members are proud to affiliate and who parents, the district and the town looks to as a partner in advancing our collective goals.

Any other thoughts as we conclude this interview?

Public schools and the teaching profession in Connecticut are very fragile right now. Powerful forces are pushing to privatize education and part of their process is to damage the unions by eliminating collective bargaining and interest arbitration. We cannot let that happen. That’s why I am laser focused on making sure education friendly people get elected to town and state offices. I’m also very focused on supporting local associations in bringing value to our collective membership. The CEA will never have as close a relationship with its individual members as the local associations will. The CEA can play a critical role, though, in providing locals with the information, tools, infrastructure and support to maximize the value they deliver to our members. If we can accomplish the two pivotal goals: elect the right people to office and support the locals in bringing value to members, then instituting equitable and learning-centered funding, getting teachers back in control of our profession, and maintaining a strong and vibrant CEA will become much more achievable.

Jeff Leake

12. What is your accomplishment in the past three years as CEA vice president of which you are most proud and why?

I believe that important accomplishments over the past three years have been my leadership on economic and social justice issues. I have been working with others in our Association in confronting racism and poverty. I have also been a leader in involving our Association with others groups in taking action on climate change.

Specifically, I have taken a proactive stand on the issue of institutional racism. We know that institutional racism impedes student outcomes in academics, social development and family engagement.

I have encouraged our members’ attendance at SERC’s Dismantling Systemic Racism Conferences on Race, Education and Success. The conferences have been important events as we seek to ensure access to an equitable education for all of our student. I am presently involved with a working group to pursue further action on this issue.

I chaired a member-driven Task Force on Poverty, which did extensive research on this issue and expanded our work to include research on the effects of trauma on our students. The task force was prematurely merged with a standing commission, but I hope to resurrect it as president. I am presently corresponding with the leaders of other state affiliates who have done more extensive work on the issues of poverty and trauma.

As a result of my leadership in organizing our members in the People’s Climate March in NYC and other climate activities, and my CEA RA-adopted resolution, CEA has become a CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs Roundtable Affiliate. The Roundtable advocates for public policies that address urgent concerns about climate change while creating good-paying jobs here in CT.

I believe these are important to our union because we improve both our professional status and the quality of education when we unite and advocate collectively on educational, economic and social justice issues.

Any other thoughts as we conclude this interview? 
I look forward to leading the Connecticut Education Association during the next three years, using the training, skills and relationships I have developed as CEA Treasurer and Vice President. Our challenges are many, but we are prepared to meet them. I am optimistic about our Association’s ability to continue to serve as the strong statewide voice for education and educators in CT. The teaching profession is a cornerstone of society and I am certain that our members will be unrelenting champions for our students, activists for social and economic justice, and courageous advocates for our communities.

For Shame: The College Board Uses Stoneman Douglas To Promote Itself

After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the College Board, the maker of the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests, AP Tests, and other exams, issued a statement, which was sent in an email to all college admission officers, from its president and CEO, David Coleman. That statement has been criticized by both high school and college officials. In addition to its being heartbreakingly insensitive to the students of  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, David Coleman’s statement shows the terrible mistake in what we have bought as a country: The Common Core Standards. David Coleman, singlehandedly, sold the country the Common Core before becoming president and CEO of The College Board

In his email from The College Board, David Coleman wrote:

I was struck first by this remarkable speech by Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. One of the things that makes Emma’s speech so striking is that it is infused with references to her AP Government class. At a time of utmost passion, she insists that she has been trained in evidence.

I do not write today to endorse Emma’s every word; her speech may have benefited from a less partisan approach and an attempt to better understand the positions of gun rights proponents. But I am compelled to share the unadulterated, impassioned voice of a student, drawing on her education as both shield and sword in the aftermath of terrible events.

I then encountered this testimony from Emma’s classmate, David Hogg, who reflects on the importance of journalism in the American fabric. A reporter who interviewed him writes: “In the past year, Hogg’s interest in journalism has grown stronger. His AP U.S. History class recently learned about the Pentagon Papers and the role journalists — ‘the fourth check on the government,’ he said — play in the United States.” David Hogg’s words honor Advanced Placement teachers everywhere, for they reflect their power to open worlds and futures to students.

I have taught AP English, have supervised many other teachers of AP English courses, know what it is to teach and to learn, and, most of all, am both inspired by the remarkable students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School but not surprised by them because those students are similar to so many students I have taught in all sorts of high school classes, not just AP. And I am appalled by David Coleman’s words.

I am angry about what Coleman’s statement says about what he has unleashed on the public schools in this country that misguidedly follow the Common Core curriculum. David Coleman, who calls himself  “the chief architect of the Common Core”, wrote the English Language Arts Common Core Standards. Each of those 42 standards govern how all students in grades K-12 learn to read, learn to write, and learn how to use language.

Coleman’s  statement about the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas is seriously flawed and harmful to students as are his Common Core Standards.

  1. His statement is a marketing pitch for AP courses. AP tests cost money. The more students that take the tests, the higher the profit for The College Board. Profit-making was also the goal of the Common Core sales pitch. All those who worked with Coleman to produce the Common Core were employees of testing companies or companies that analyzed testing data. The more the Common Core standards were adopted, the more profit for those who tested them.

2. David Coleman praised Emma Gonzales for her recognition of being “trained in evidence”.  Of course, it is not unique to her AP class that she has been taught to cite evidence for her position; every single English teacher in every single English course, AP or not, requires students to cite evidence. Most importantly, David Coleman does not once mention her passion, her advocacy, the use of her own voice in the response to unspeakable tragedy. That is because David Coleman himself was trained in something called “New Criticism”, which was popular in the 1930’s but has since been completely discredited.

“New Criticism” says that, when we read something, it doesn’t matter what the historical or cultural context is of what we are reading and, when we write, our own personal perspective is of no importance. All that matters is the evidence on the page. For example, David Coleman filmed a model lesson of how middle school teachers should teach Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and never once mentioned the word “race”.  He also, through the Common Core, preaches that all that matters is the evidence in a student’s writing and famously told audiences of teachers: We must teach students that” No one gives a shit what they think and feel”.

3. David Coleman criticizes the content of Emma Gonzales’s speech. In public. To the world. Shame on him. No good teacher would ever, ever do that. No good teacher would be insensitive to the grief that underscores every word Emma Gonzales and other students are speaking. But see. That’s the thing: David Coleman has never taught any students, any class, ever. And none of the people who worked on his team to write the Common Core Language Arts Standards for K-12 were elementary, middle or high school teachers; none were researchers about teaching and learning; none were college professors of education or English.  We couldn’t expect that team to know how to teach or how kids learn. Their leader, David Coleman, certainly doesn’t know about good teaching. The Common Core doesn’t promote good learning. Shame on us, as a country, for buying that shabby bill of goods.

4. David Coleman writes about AP teachers: “David Hogg’s words honor Advanced Placement teachers everywhere, for they reflect their power to open worlds and futures to students”.

As a supervisor of English teachers, I have known magnificent teachers of AP Literature and Composition, AP Language and Composition, and AP American Studies, and, in every single case without exception, what they offered their students was way, way, way above the official AP curriculum, which is extremely narrow and focused on preparing students for the AP exam. So their magnificence was not at all dependent on the College Board’s AP curriculum.

Also, as a supervisor of English teachers, I have been privileged to know countless magnificent teachers  who “open worlds and futures to students” who are not AP students. All good teachers “open worlds and futures to students” to their students of all abilities.

It’s not just AP teachers whom we should honor, but all teachers K-12 who, over the years, have encouraged young people to trust their own thinking and to express their thoughts and feelings so clearly and effectively that now they are ready to march for what they value.

 

Questions For The New CEA President – 5

The Connecticut Education Association will hold elections for a new president in May. The two candidates for president of the CEA are Jeff Leake and Bob Smoler. Jeff Leake is currently CEA vice-president, and Bob Smoler is president of the Fairfield Education and Association and a math teacher at Fairfield Warde High School in Fairfield. I have asked them twelve questions about issues regarding education that face us as a state. I have previously posted four sets of the candidates’ answers. Here are their answers to the fifth set of questions, which all deal with issues of funding:

Jeff Leake

10. What are your thoughts about education funding in Connecticut, including Governor Malloy’s current budget proposal to provide tax breaks through 529 plans (CHET) for funding private K-12 education? Using Education Savings Accounts to fund private school tuition and other private education costs is a terrible idea and will further deprive our real public schools with loss of funding

a. I addressed this question in a prior answer – the state is still not doing its part in adequately funding education in CT;

b. Allowing 529 plans to be used for funding any k-12 education is a terrible idea – these tax-sheltered accounts will only drain the necessary resources for schools and other public services;

c. In a report entitled Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card, the authors assign CT a C-grade, because CT is still not putting the resources necessary in the school systems with the highest levels of poverty.

11. Do you have thoughts about how Connecticut should address the pension-funding crisis?

a. We must ensure that our teacher pension funding is fixed for good. That will mean re-amortizing the debt accumulated over decades of under-funding;

b.After the re-amortization, our pension board must continue to monitor our investments and work to maximize returns;

c. The state must commit to an ironclad commitment to paying what is required into the teachers’ fund each and every year;

d. I am aware that the Treasurer has other thoughts on this situation.

Bob Smoler

10. What are your thoughts about education funding in Connecticut, including Governor Malloy’s current budget proposal to provide tax breaks through 529 plans (CHET) for funding private K-12 education?

 I am for anything that puts more funds into public education without inappropriate strings attached. The key here is that money contributed to education through 529 plans should be in addition to increased funding from the state, not instead of the State’s funding. As mentioned above, public education should not be viewed as a line item in the budget to be cut, but rather a cherished asset of the state to be continually cultivated and invested in

11. Do you have thoughts about how Connecticut should address the pension-funding crisis?

 I addressed this question in a prior answer.  The CEA already has plans to request that the State re-amortize their pension obligations and that will help.   My first and foremost focus is to make sure the state funds their obligations to the current defined benefit pension plan. We owe it to our current and soon-to-be retirees to make sure the promises they were made are kept.

In addition to the above, I am intrigued by looking at a combination of guaranteed issue whole-life insurance products, social security, and defined contribution plans to meet more of the financial needs of teachers while potentially taking some of the financial risk off of the state. Teacher needs have changed and the state’s situation has changed too. I am very committed to finding a win-win situation where teachers’ financial needs are met during their active years and after retiring while the state’s obligations are also made more manageable.

 

Tomorrow, I will post the candidates’ answers to my last question: What have been your accomplishments over the past three years in your role as either CEA vice-president or president of a local chapter of CEA of which you are most proud?

 I also will post the brief concluding remarks of both candidates.

Tune in tomorrow for the GRANDE FINALE of interview questions! 

 

Questions For The New CEA President- 4

The Connecticut Education Association will hold elections for a new president in May. The two candidates for president of the CEA are Jeff Leake and Bob Smoler. Jeff Leake is currently CEA vice-president, and Bob Smoler is president of the Fairfield Education Association and a math teacher at Fairfield Warde High School in Fairfield.  I have asked them twelve questions about issues regarding education that face us as a state. I have previously posted three sets of the candidates’ answers. Here are their answers to the fourth set of questions which all deal with the teaching profession:

Bob Smoler

7. How will you address the declining number of young people pursuing a career in education?

Many years ago, there was a severe nursing shortage and the industry developed a number of creative incentives for people to enter the field. I mentioned some of what I’d like to see happen in question 1, but we must recognize that teacher burnout, violence against teachers and the increasing risk to a teacher’s reputation as a result of a possible DCF referral or social media attack by a student or parent also plays a role in whether someone will enter and stay in the teaching profession.   The profession has also been under attack by sections of society that are anti-union, pro charter school and /or just looking to reduce the cost of public schools.

To counteract the above, the state needs to enact protections for teachers so becoming a teacher doesn’t involve putting your physical and emotional well being in jeopardy. Secondly, teachers need to take charge of our profession by making our voice heard in public forums and in the election process. Everyone wants to join a winning team and if teachers are viewed as respected and part of the solution, people will want to join the profession.

We also must recognize that many teachers are women, often with young families. Job sharing arrangements, paid time off to care for a sick child or parent, ability to continue your insurance at the standard teacher cost share rate after FMLA time has expired are all steps that could be taken to make the profession more family friendly.

8. Do you have any recommendations for the current way teachers are evaluated in Connecticut?

Teachers are in the business of helping student grow academically, emotionally, and ethically. We are striving to develop individuals that are capable of maximizing their own personal potential and contributing to society to the best of their ability. Teachers should be judged based on student growth over a period of time, not based on a given test. As mentioned before, student advancement in the key 21st century skills is part of the equation. As important, students need to learn how to advocate for themselves, how to handle the ups and downs of life, how to appreciate people from all backgrounds and thought processes. Personal development needs to be as celebrated as academic development. As a mentor, teachers play a critical role in all of these areas and teachers should be evaluated on how much they advance their students in each arena. I am on my district’s TeVal committee and am pushing to truly revolutionize the evaluation process.

9. What are your thoughts on teacher education programs in Connecticut, including the Relay Graduate School of Education?

Either teaching is going to remain a profession or it is not. Reducing standards for teaching certification, as the Relay Graduate School of Education does, is just going to allow less-qualified teachers into the classroom and degrade the type of education students will receive. From my perspective, teaching certification standards must remain high, and the state needs to create encouragements for individuals to get into the profession and meet those high standards.

 

Jeff Leake

7. How will you address the declining number of young people pursing a career in education?

  1. We need to craft a new vision of a teaching profession that is led by teachers and ensures teacher and teaching effectiveness;
  2. We need to imagine a profession built on the concept of collaborative autonomy, where teachers both teach and lead;
  3. We must identify, encourage and support minority candidates (high school and college) in order to change the racial makeup of our teaching force in CT;
  4. We must counter the negative narrative and demand the respect that our professionals deserve.

 8. Do you have any recommendations for the current way teachers are evaluated in Connecticut?

  1. With the help of strong union/teacher membership on the professional development and teacher evaluation committee, districts have developed evaluation systems that are comprehensive and that contribute to enhanced teacher practice and student learning and growth;
  2. In districts that have developed evaluation plans with limited union and teacher input, teachers describe limited confidence in the ability of the evaluation system to help them achieve continuous growth.

9. What are your thoughts on teacher education programs in Connecticut, including the Relay Graduate School of Education?

  1. Relay Graduate School of Education is not a true teacher education program but rather a factory for the charter school chains;
  2. Individuals interested in teaching as a career should enroll in institutions accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

Questions For The New CEA President-3

 

The Connecticut Education Association will hold elections for a new president in May. The two candidates for president of the CEA are Jeff Leake and Robert Smoler. Jeff Leake is currently CEA vice-president, and Robert Smoler is president of the Fairfield Education and Association and a math teacher at Fairfield Warde High School in Fairfield, CT. I have asked them twelve questions about issues regarding education that face us as a state. I have previously posted two sets of the candidates’ answers. Here are their answers to the third set of questions:

Jeff Leake

5.What is your position on standardized testing? What do you think about Connecticut’s current practices regarding standardized testing? Would you recommend those practices remain the same or be changed and, if so, how?

Standardized testing, although now disconnected from teacher evaluation, is still a burden for students and the learning process. Standardized testing has narrowed instruction and the student assessment process. We need to end every-year testing for our grade 3-8 students and implement representative testing (NAEP model).

6. What is your position on charter schools in Connecticut?
a. The original idea for charter schools was to create innovative, teacher-controlled learning spaces.

b. Charter schools have become for-profit business opportunities and have increased racial and economic segregation in our nation.

c. The proliferation of charters needs to end, and those presently operating need real and effective oversight.

 

Robert Smoler

5. What is your position on standardized testing? What do you think about Connecticut’s current practices regarding standardized testing? Would you recommend those practices remain the same or be changed and, if so, how?

Standardized tests, as they are currently viewed, are one of the great disservices to our youth and the education system as a whole. They do not measure achievement, but rather measure the ability to do well on a particular test that has inherent biases built into it. These types of tests also correlate to the relative wealth of a community. So, it is not doing anything to close the achievement gap.   If anything, it exacerbates it. Children in poor communities are likely to get a sub-par education as their faculty and administration must feel so much more pressure to “teach to the test.” These tests should not be used to reflect student capabilities, the effectiveness of teachers nor the quality of public schools. That said, they represent one of many data points that could be helpful in informing teacher instruction. To the extent standardized tests aid the instruction process, I am in favor of maintaining them in a limited manner. If these tests were to be used in any other way than informing instruction, then they should be eliminated.

6. What is your position on charter schools in Connecticut?

Public schools are treasures that need to be cultivated. They are central to our democracy. I am against any alternate education system that siphons funds out of the public school system or puts our schools under the influence of corporate entities. I also believe that when our public schools are properly resourced; they do a tremendous job educating students. Clearly, there are failing schools, but they are only failing because governmental entities have failed to recognize the unique challenges of these district, mostly poverty, and withheld the type of support from these districts that would allow them to succeed.

I’ve seen this movie before. When I was in the healthcare industry, managed healthcare companies came onto the scene promising to lower costs and improve quality versus traditional indemnity health insurance plans. In the early going, these plans were less expensive, not because they were doing such a great job, but because they were cherry picking the healthy customers and leaving the indemnity plans to insure the sick. Each time more healthy people went to the managed care plans, the cost of the indemnity plans went up until they were no longer affordable and they disappeared. At that point, the managed care plans had to begin insuring everyone and wouldn’t you know it, they became just as expensive as the indemnity plans were after a short while.

That’s what is happening in public education today. The charter schools are cherry picking the stronger students out of the public schools and as a result their scores look good. If charter schools ever had to educate everyone, no doubt their results would look the same or worse than that of today’s public schools. In fact, there is the risk that once charter and private schools have all of the students, they might find it unprofitable and pull out of the business, leaving whole communities without a mechanism to educate their children.