The Count on July 8, 2018: 3,000 Children

According to the U.S. government, almost 3,000 children have been separated from their parents and are incarcerated by the U.S. government. Those actions deserve our attention because they are being done in our name by our government.

Separating children from their parents and incarcerating them tells a clear story. There is no ambiguity. The practice is cruel. It is producing trauma in children. It will prevent some of those children from ever seeing their parents again. Inhumanity is being visited upon children in our name.

Each day on this blog, I will report the number of children still separated from their parents and incarcerated by the U.S. government.

My hope is that one day we will each look at that number, even if the number is only one child, will rise up, and will say STOP: No more separated families in my name. No more cruelty to children in my name. I insist upon us being a better country.

Honoring Melody Herzfeld And Others

 

Melody Herzfeld won a Tony Award that honors educators.

Melody Herzfeld is a drama teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School.

Melody Herzfeld’s students so love her that they created a surprise for her. They performed on stage at the Tony Awards to honor her.

Melody Herzfeld protected 65 students by barricading them in a small room when a shooter was in their school.

Melody Herzfeld teaches students the power of having a voice and using it.

Melody Herzfeld is part of the unionized group that those who have a lot of money and no knowledge about teaching and learning (e.g. Bill Gates, David Coleman, Arne Duncan, Betsy Devos) say are the problem in education today: public school teachers.

Not true. The Melody Herzfelds are everywhere. I know them.

If there are teachers who do not inspire their students, do not educate them, do not protect them, and do not delight in them, then, as in all businesses, those in charge, the administrators, can do their job and remove them. I have done that job.

I cheer for Melody Herzfeld. She teaches with love and produces excellence. I cheer for legions of public school teachers who do the same every day.

 

 

Stoneman Douglass Students At Tony Awards

 

 

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School amaze us.

But wait:  Marjory Stoneman High School is a public high school. It takes all comers. It’s diverse: 59% of the students are white, 12% black, 20% Hispanic, 7% Asian, and 2% multiracial. Most stunning is that 23% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch, which indicates their extremely low family income. There are no exclusions for students not having an aptitude for academics or not having English as a first language as in charter schools. There is no tuition for parents to pay as they must for most private schools even with vouchers.

What if our public school are not failing? What if we are failing them, as a country, by not supporting them and, instead, are putting our tax dollars into “public” charters and vouchers? What if the kind of excellence we saw from public school kids at the Tony Awards can happen everywhere if we as citizens and taxpayers want it enough?

 

 

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.