It WAS Alive

Almost a year ago, I posted to this blog my account of the old abandoned Draper School building in Rotterdam, NY.  If you missed it, this current post might be more relevant if you read the original story here. It was called When it was still alive, a quote taken from my son at the time of our visit. In that post, I described the eery scene of a broken building and imagined the grandeur that must have once been the heart of its community. I was not wrong.

To my surprise, the post received thousands of views, and many thoughtful comments from previous students and teachers of the Draper School. The outpouring of personal stories were heartfelt. They confirmed what I said in my previous post, that neighborhood schools do indeed create lasting memories and relationships that extend far beyond the academic lessons on the chalkboard (or whiteboard or Smart Board). Schools are oftentimes the hearts of their community, and when they stop beating, the neighborhood feels a profound loss. Many comments were from distraught readers, learning of their school’s demise for the first time. Others were from nearby residents, disgusted with what now stands in their community. All comments contained precious memories of days gone by in the old Draper School.

Fran Pugliese, Class of 71 attended Draper from 1958 until he graduated in 1971, his wife also graduating from Draper in 1974. He later taught at the school from 1975-1982, and coached girls basketball until Draper closed as a high school in 1986. He describes his memories and a bit of the history of Draper School’s end:
Lots of Fond memories. We were a Family. You knew everyone. My wife grew up across the street. We all hoped that Draper would live forever. Unfortunately it couldn’t . My two youngest daughters were attending Draper & I knew, as all parents knew, Draper couldn’t keep up. So we fought for a merger in town & settled for being annexed by Mohonasen. They kept Draper open for a year as a K-5 building. Then renamed their middle school Draper MS. It was a smooth transition but… We all hoped that something good would come out of the building but knew it would take lots of money. Here we are 27 years later & your blog lets us know what we all feared. It’s been vandalized so badly that it will take even more money to make it useable. So very Sad. But we pray that someone will find a way. But we will all have memories of Walking to & from school…How you started on Stanton st. & moved around to Vischer as you got older…..The gyn rocking on Friday nights…the playground…….The little gym & climbing the ropes with Mr Fink………Football & baseball games at Memorial Park& all the teachers like Mr Goodwin…….Just Many Many Good memories…My blog would be longer then yours if I kept remembering…….Til then..Lets Shout for Dear Old Draper High to Prove that we are STILL True!!!!!

Jennifer Carusone attended Draper from kindergarten until third grade, when Draper merged with another district. Though she was young, she felt the loss of her school’s closing as she was forced to attend another.

Former Draper student, Jenn Carusone, on the first day of school.  Used with permission by Ms Carusone.

Former Draper student, Jenn Carusone, on the first day of school. Used with permission by Ms Carusone.

And in her thoughtful comment, she addressed my son’s statement about “when the school was still alive…” It brought tears to my eyes.

… I want to tell him that when the school was still alive, I learned to ride my bike in the parking lot you stood in. It was a pink Huffy bike and I fell so many times. But with my Father’s help, I was eventually riding circles around that parking lot.

The gym with the hole, where you rode the floor scooters, I once played in that gym and rode those scooters, they were my favorite gym activity. The man who taught us in that gym was known simply as “Coach” to me. He was the man who put me on his shoulders when I broke my ankle on the playground. He was an older man by then and I always wondered if he was really Santa Claus who was undercover as my gym teacher.

I bought my first Christmas gift with my own money in that gym. The gift was for my parents. I don’t remember what it was but I remember how proud I felt.

Used with permission of Jenn Carusone.

Used with permission of Jenn Carusone.

Halloween was a very big deal when I was young and at Draper. The parents would come to the school dressed up and we would have a parade around the neighborhood block, the people who lived in those homes would come out and watch us. I felt a little bit like a super star in those parades.

Oddly, the biggest lesson I learned was when Draper was on the verge of merging. It was around this time that my mother and her dearest friend made picket signs and walked around the block in protest. One night I went with them. I held a sign and walked by her side. It was one of the first times I remember admiring her. She was fighting for her cause and she didn’t care what others thought. It was and remained my biggest lesson in civic rights.

Like Jenn’s parents protesting for a cause back then, today parents like me are fighting for similar causes. Public schools are under attack due to lack of funding, the potential of school closings, state take-overs, replacement by a Charter school, controversial curriculum standards, and excessive testing–a compilation of factors that are turning fond memories of school and learning into nightmares of “rigor” and test prep that are severing the personal connection between school and community as education becomes sterilized and standardized. Readers of this blog are familiar with my foray into activism and the birth of my advocacy efforts against education reform, which started after witnessing my son’s experience in prekindergarten. It is through this blog that I began to understand the issues affecting public education and what they really mean for stakeholders like children, parents, and teachers. Watching my son attempt to navigate a standardized academic world was like watching a square peg forcefully beaten into a round hole with a heavy sledgehammer; or like forcing a flower to bloom in the middle of winter, only to watch it die in its unnatural environment and state of being. It is because education is inherently personal, and always should be, that I am interested in the longterm positive effects that one’s school experience has on them. It is why, during my experience in the Draper building, my mind drifted beyond the decaying exterior of Draper’s architecture to the stories, memories, and relationships I imagined to have occurred within its once lively walls–my school experience was that way. Although I am unfamiliar with Draper’s community, so far from my own, it was easy to understand what was lost because it felt so familiar to my own alma mater, a small one-building K-12 school, which was also doomed to close its doors.

 


Mostly, I write this blog for my own understanding, and my own need to articulate complex issues or jumbled thoughts. I don’t expect a huge readership, but every once in a while, my posts find their mark, connecting me with people whom I would otherwise never know. The physical experience of the Draper building has had a lasting impact. My children still talk about our trip there and their feelings and memories of that day. My daughter, now three, still mentions cutting her finger and bleeding. My son, now seven, still talks about the details of the abandoned building. But it is the confirmation of the personal stories I knew once existed that has had the greatest impact. I feel now, in some ways, like I am a part of the Draper community, like I was given a unique glimpse into its personal history.

After our visit last year, I wrote to the Schenectady County Historical Society to try to learn more about the school and the building. The first Draper School was built in the early 1900’s on Guilderland Ave. extension. It burned down on May 14, 1914. A new Draper School was built on Mill Lane (now Draper Avenue) and opened in 1921. During the 1986-87 school year, the Draper School was absorbed by the Mohonasen School District. Most recently, the Draper building was used as the location of a charter school, which closed in 2008. I was astonished to learn that the destruction we had witnessed was recent, a result of just a few years of vacancy, not the result of decades of abandonment as I had previously assumed!

Kathy Alden Dalrymple, Class of 87 recounts the merger, and how the new school could not take the place of Draper:
I was part of the first graduating class of the new merged school – I don’t even acknowledge that I ever attended the new merged school … I just have zero connection to it whatsoever. Draper was, and always will be my alma mater! I attended from 2nd grade till it closed in 86. Like the rest of the commenters remarked, Draper was the best. It was small, but one great big family … And in the summer of 2013 we had an “Across The Years Draper Reunion”… – that means – EVERYONE STILL ALIVE – from the year the school was built, until it closed its doors in 86 – EVERYONE was invited! How AMAZING was that! How’s THAT kind of example for FAMILY, huh!?? It was actually my 25th reunion year in 2013, and I CHOSE to attend the Across The Years party instead of the regular one for the merged school that they “tell” me I graduated from. I had more fun seeing our old Draper family that night!! And like they said earlier – I loved to see the classes 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 years older – or younger – because even the seniors still went back to connect with the 7th graders – or the elementary kids. Everybody knew everybody! THIS is the kind of beautiful family that lived at Draper.
Anyone interested in the Draper School or other New York history can search historical online newspapers at www.fultonhistory.com, which offers free, searchable digital access to a number of New York State newspapers, including the Schenectady Gazette from 1911 through 1974.
I love history–and because schools and education are so foundational for many, leaving such a profound impact on the lives of people, the cultural history of schools is never bland. I want to thank my readers for providing me the insight needed to truly appreciate the history of the Draper school. It has been my pleasure to read your stories and memories of your time at Draper.

PreK… Again?

I am amazed at how the arrival of a simple form letter from my school district has my mind racing and my heart flooded with a variety of emotions. Since deciding to homeschool our (almost) seven-year-old first grade son, our correspondence with our local public school has been at a minimum. The district envelope’s arrival in my post office box made me immediately think my attention was needed for some sort of homeschooling technicality. Maybe my quarterly report was inadequate? No, this letter is coming too late to have anything to do with that. A reminder maybe for the next quarterly report? No, too early. I had no idea of the content… so I opened it.

It has come to my attention that you have a daughter who is eligible for our pre-kindergarten program for the 2015-2016 school year.  If you are interested in enrolling your daughter in our program, please call me by January 30, 2015 to let me know. If I do not hear from you by then, I will assume that you are not interested.

It seems like only yesterday that my son was four years old and excited with the prospect of trying school. We rushed to fill in the necessary paperwork and take care of the health and dental requirements to reserve his spot in the classroom. My earliest posts on this blog chronicled his growing hatred for school as I learned about Common Core State Standards and how developmentally inappropriate they are for young children. I remember an independent, creative, and articulate child who had no issues with being separated from his parents, and who was eager to be in school with his friends. Having a late January birthday, he was one of the oldest children in his PreK class. He learned his letters and his numbers quickly, and was outgoing and made friends easily. Despite this, his hatred for school grew steadily until we were forced to cut his days down to half days, ultimately withdrawing him completely. Our next decision to boycott a brick and mortar kindergarten the following year finally led to our decision to formally homeschool starting in first grade.

Now, my daughter, who turned three in October 2014 will be old enough to start formal school this coming fall! As a parent, I am acutely aware how different my children are from one another. By virtue of birthday, my son was one of the oldest; my daughter will be one of the youngest, starting PreK at three years old! I know that a lot can happen in her development over the next six months, but I’m grasping within my own mind to justify whether or not she will be ready for full day schooling, five days a week. Her diminutive size for her age is a huge psychological barrier for me. This tiny slip of a girl in PreK? Doesn’t seem possible.

My mind continues to list the many other differences between my children. My son was a veteran four-year-old, always articulate, with excellent language skills, and an impressive vocabulary for his age. He was a thoughtful little boy who liked to figure things out, build anything from nothing, and who enjoyed asking “why” and receiving an honest answer. However, I felt like none of this mattered to the expectations associated with his Common Core curriculum. Pencil grip and Pearson worksheets were the way of the PreK world, accompanied by following directions (All. The. Time.) and complying with a classroom culture that became increasingly “sit still and behave” rather than “play and explore.” As is commonly reported in regard to the Common Core, it WAS expected in my son’s PreK classroom that the children learned everything in the same way and at the same time. There was little room for student-led discoveries, and English language arts and math ruled supreme. My son lost interest, starting “acting out,” and in the end just shut down. I was reassured by one teacher the day we left the school for good that “sometimes kids just aren’t ready to be away from home.” But this wasn’t the case for us. My son didn’t fail at school. School failed my son.

And so I come back to thinking about my daughter, almost a year younger than my son in relation to the entry cut-off dates for school, and at a completely different developmental stage than he was (and yet he still did not “succeed”). While there is nothing abnormal about her stage in development, it is clear to me as her mother that she is a very different child when it comes to language, writing, shapes, colors, etc. My son was far beyond her level at the exact same age, but still had the benefit of starting PreK much older. I’m not at all worried about my daughter; as an informed and logical adult I realize that children develop differently, that eventually these basic skills all arrive (with or without the Common Core). But I’m forced to wonder: will she be ready for gripping that pencil and forming those letter and writing those words and sitting still for story time? More importantly, will she be ready for the dull repetition and unimaginative nature of a Pearson worksheet? She’s a girl, so that’s a benefit right there. Studies have shown that boys are at a disadvantage in a formal classroom learning environment. But at the same time, she’s certainly got much more of an attitude than her brother had at this age. Parents everywhere agree that it isn’t “the terrible twos.” As many parents can attest, it’s much more likely that the difficult behavior (all normal by the way) will arise around age three, (and will make two-year-olds look like the cutest, calmest beings!). Will she take that to school with her and be labeled as difficult or bad?

She does, however, have one difference that might benefit her academic career. She loves to color in pre-made pictures. My son hated those exercises, which seemed to be the bulk of the “art” the kids produced, and that were handed out with the real goal of developing hand strength for all of that PreK Common Core standards shit. Everything, in fact, was done with a Common Core standard in mind. It was inconceivable to do anything for pure enjoyment or… I don’t know… because it might be a developmentally appropriate activity for three-, four-, and five-year-olds.

Thing about it: three, four, and five! That’s how old the age range is for kids in PreK. You don’t have to be an expert in early childhood development to realize that the abilities of these children are going to vary greatly. I wonder if all the pre tests, benchmarks, and post tests take that into account. They certainly don’t measure how well-balanced a child’s integration is into a new school environment. They certainly don’t measure if that child is neglected at home and hasn’t eaten a nutritious meal in the past several weeks. And I’m quite sure they don’t take into account if a particular student loves art or music, or if their older brother is bullied in his fourth grade classroom, or if their father was just laid off from work, or if they are fascinated by insects, or if they are distracted by the embarrassment of recently wetting themselves during nap time (which will sadly be gone by the time they reach kindergarten!). Standardized tests, the fulcrum of the reform agenda, don’t tell much about the abilities of most children, especially young children at varying stages in their development from who come from extremely different life situations. If my daughter were to go to PreK, we would opt her out of any and all testing at that level… just like we did with her brother! There’s no reason to test a child this young. No. Reason. At. All.

We don’t have much time to make a decision about whether to send our daughter to PreK in the fall. The deadline is January 30, and right now, I just can’t picture her as ready for the realities of today’s PreK classrooms. But I asked her, just like I did my son when he was four, “do you want to try school”? She just gave me a crooked smile like she was contemplating whether to choose chocolate or vanilla ice cream. She doesn’t know what it’s all about. She will decide in largely the same way as my son did. He wanted to go to school because all the other kids his age in our village were also going. Sadly, that wasn’t enough. My daughter will face the fact that the other girls (and boys) her age will be moving off to school next year. And I will be faced with the same internal struggle I had with my son: will she miss out without these same experiences as her peers? I will let her decide. If she wants to try school because her best friend is doing the same, then so be it… the saga of school inappropriate reform will continue for my family. But if she chooses to stay home, I know she will be ok with her family and the homeschooling friends and experiences we have built up over the past two years. The myth of anti-social children no longer concerns me. My son is excelling in his learning, his social skills top notch and completely within the norm. He’s not behind in ELA or math. In fact, he is well beyond his first grade peers in many ways. I surprised myself with how much fun homeschooling is and how efficient. Truth be told, I hope she chooses to stay home. But unlike the strict guidelines of the school reform agenda, I will give my child some say in how and when she is educated.

Give the Gift of Opt Out

It’s Christmas Eve, and like many children across the globe who celebrate the holiday, my kids are excited that their long wait is coming to an end. My son and daughter are still young, almost seven and three respectively, and it’s easy to allow the perception of magic that fills their hearts to enter my soul this time of year. While it’s hard not to get caught up in the contemporary culture of all things materials, I’d like to pause for a moment of reflection at this day’s winding down to give thanks for all the non-material fortunes in my life, namely that my children are happy and healthy, and that we as a family are bound by love, and thriving from love’s energy.

While I give thanks for all that I have, I also acknowledge the incredible disparity in the world between those who have everything and those who have virtually nothing. Luckily I fall in the middle and am humbled. If you are like my family and your children wake up tomorrow filled with Christmas excitement, think of those who are less fortunate. We must, as a society, be willing and able to do something about poverty, and the generational disadvantages that affect many demographics.

But this isn’t a post about Christmas. Christmas is merely a perfect opportunity to reiterate the damage being stricken on our schools and the children who walk down their halls by the corporate elite who wish to profit from a privatization scheme that has been pushing Common Core standards, scripted curriculum, worksheet curriculum, test preparation materials, and of course, the litany of standardized tests themselves. School reform entities have weaseled their way into prominence because somehow they convinced us of the myth that our schools were failing and our teachers were incompetent. This is not true.

Our schools have become the target of reform because of poor performance on standardized tests, and we’ve been told that we are falling behind our international counterparts. This is also false. The reformers would have you believe their lies by leaving out important information. Poverty. Child poverty in the United States is staggering, according to a Washington Post article, with one in three children living in poverty in this country. Compare that to countries like Finland who traditionally score higher on international tests and one can see that their child poverty rate is much lower. When looking at test scores within the United States, it is clear that schools within economically advantaged communities score much higher than those within communities with high levels of poverty.

povertygraphic

The fact is that our schools and our children are being shortchanged based on a myth. In most cases, our schools are thriving. Those that are not are generally located in communities without the financial resources to compete with affluent districts. Ironically, it is these “failing” districts who are punished the most, given less funding, restructuring, teacher firings, and even school closure. The real problem is not school failure. It is not teacher incompetence. And it is not a lack of “rigor” or high standards. The issue is poverty and disparity, and until policy makers are willing to face this societal dilemma head-on, our schools and children will still suffer the cyclical illusion of failure because of something entirely out of their control.

What can one do about this as an individual? You can speak out. Speak truth to power. Every voice that dispels the myths is a voice of reason tipping the tides to policies and social programs that tackle the real problems and not the illusions. If you are able to speak out, you must. When it comes to education, you can give the greatest gift of all: Opt Out. Fight back against the myth based on test scores. Remove the data that corroborates the lies. Opt your child out of standardized testing and say no to the corporate takeover of our PUBLIC education system.

This Christmas season, as you contemplate all that you are thankful for, put test refusal on that list. You are your child’s best advocate, and opting out is a gift that every parent can give. It doesn’t cost anything and the rewards are infinite. Merry Christmas! And let’s wish for a New Year where the culture of testing is denied and our children and teachers can go back to real learning.

NYSAPE Press Release: John King Resigns

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 11, 2014

More information contact:

Eric Mihelbergel (716) 553-1123; nys.allies@gmail.com

Lisa Rudley (917) 414-9190; nys.allies@gmail.com

NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) – http://www.nysape.org

John King Resigns: Parents & Educators Call for a New Direction from the Regents and

Demand NO Interference from Governor Cuomo

Late Wednesday, the New York State Education Department announced that Commissioner John King is resigning effective the end of this year to accept a new post in Washington as an advisor to US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Last year NYSAPE, parents, and educators from around the state called for Commissioner King to step down. After many months of frustration and outrage from parents and educators across New York State, the chapter closes on an embattled commissioner who failed to address legitimate serious concerns.

Eyes from all corners of the Empire State now turn on Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, the Board of Regents, and the legislature to ensure the next commissioner represents the substantial change in direction that public school parents demand from a responsive government that serves the people. NYSAPE calls for the Regents to adopt an open, inclusive selection process and stresses the importance of input from parents, educators, and other stakeholder groups in appointing a commissioner who will be more accountable to the public at large.

Governor Andrew Cuomo will also be watched very closely to ensure he does not overstep the constitutional authority of the Regents and interfere in any manner with the selection of a new commissioner of education. For innumerable reasons, New Yorkers are very glad to live within a NYS Constitution that does not grant Governor Andrew Cuomo authority when it comes to oversight of education in New York. They will be watching very closely both Governor Cuomo, who called public schools a “monopoly” to be broken, and his private backers with financial interests in the privatization of our public schools.

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Westchester County

“It is time for the Board of Regents to move in a very different direction. The Regents dismal track record of refusing to heed warnings and address significant parental concerns with excessive testing, student data privacy, and school privatization leaves no room for error with the selection of the next commissioner and must not allow for any interference from Governor Andrew Cuomo or his backers,”

said Lisa Rudley, founding member of NYSAPE and Westchester County public school parent.

New York City

“John King was the most unpopular commissioner in the history of NY State. He showed no respect for parents, teachers or student privacy. Ironically, he was intent on protecting his own privacy, and routinely withheld public documents; our Freedom of Information request of his communications with inBloom and the Gates foundation is more than 1 ½ years overdue. His resignation is good news for New York state; hopefully he will be unable to do as much damage at the US Department of Education,” Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters.

Long Island

“This is bittersweet news for the parents and educators of New York. For the past few years we have endured an education commissioner that has repeatedly ignored our pleas for help. He has heard our stories of our children suffering as a result of the Board of Regent’s corporate reform agenda, and replied, “full steam ahead”. New York has seen the largest testing revolt and parent uprising in known history under his regime. This outrage and pushback from parents and educators will continue to grow until the Board of Regents and the State Education Department put their focus where it belongs: on our children. The future of education for the children of New York now rests with the selection process of his replacement, and parents demand to see educators on this search committee. Our hope is that his replacement will finally begin to listen to parents and educators, put our children first, and protect our NYS public education system,” stated Jeanette Deutermann, founder of Long Island Opt Out and Nassau County public school parent.

Dutchess County

“John King had many successes as commissioner of education. He was successful in creating a polarized, toxic situation and shutting down dialogue on important education policy matters such as common core, high stakes testing and student privacy. King earned a prestigious vote of “no confidence” from the state’s largest teachers union. King successfully hurled accusations and insults against parents, educators and concerned citizens and was able to deflect responsibility for his actions. King was successful in shortchanging the democratic process. King managed to avoid accountability to the Regents for demonstrated incompetence and lack of professionalism. In his short reign as commissioner of education, King was successful in mobilizing and forcing parents, educators, and concerned citizens to call and write state politicians demanding the he resign or be removed. King provided great advice and leadership that advanced charter, corporate education and other interests at the expense of public school children,” said Anna Shah, Dutchess county public school parent.

Otsego County

“The news of Commissioner King’s resignation is a victory for everyone in NYS who has repeatedly called for this moment. I am hopeful that a replacement commissioner will be appointed who has enough integrity to heed the concerns of stakeholders rather than blatantly ignore them. We must insist on an educational leader who will represent the best interests of students, parents, teachers, and schools,” Danielle Boudet, founding member of NYSAPE and Oneonta Area for Public Education.

Oneida County

“The students, parents, and teachers of New York State must insist that Mr. King be replaced with a commissioner that will actually put the needs of students’ first. Under John King’s watch, New York State embraced a reform agenda set forth by billionaires, a reform agenda designed to falsely label public schools as failing, widen the achievement gap, and portray hard working professional educators as the problem. This trend will only continue unless the citizens of New York demand better for our children. Mr. King’s departure provides the true stakeholders of public education-children-the hope that our next commissioner of education be courageous enough to defend our public schools by challenging the false narrative currently put forth by reformers,” said Jessica McNair, Oneida County public school parent and educator.

Erie County

Eric Mihelbergel, founding member of NYSAPE and Erie County public school parent stated, “On October 15 of 2013 we called for the resignation of NYS Education Commissioner John King after he proved his complete disregard for parents and the public by cancelling all scheduled Town Hall meetings across New York State. Now, over a year later, he is leaving New York State education in far worse shape than he found it. The New York State Board of Regents must step and do what they could not do before. They must appoint a new commissioner that puts the needs of our children ahead of the agenda of corporate education reformers.”

“Considering the many problems from Common Core, testing, and the failing APPR educator evaluation system, it is time that New York State has an experienced educator who has worked as a public school classroom teacher, principal, and superintendent as its next commissioner,” Chris Cerrone, Erie County public school parent and board of education member.

Statewide

Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager of the BATS stated, “John King has disregarded the voice of the practitioners in the classroom which soundly told him that the policies he promoted were hurting children and destroying their education.”

New York State Allies for Public Education consists of over 50 parent and educator advocacy groups across New York State. More details about our education positions and advocacy can be found athttp://www.nysape.org.

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Farewell Commissioner King

It’s already old news across New York State that John King is resigning from his post as NY’s education commissioner, effective at the end of the year, to take a position as a top advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  New Yorkers from all corners of the Empire State have been calling for Commissioner King’s resignation for over a year, so I consider the news of his departure from our state a victory.

Truth be told, I will miss Commissioner King. His innate ability to open his mouth and spew retorts that completely sideline the voices of stakeholders in education did wonders to galvanize our (activist) cause. John King simultaneously represents our anger and our resolve to fight back. He has often been photographed at forums across the state where articulate yet angry NY citizens spoke truth to power about the devastating effects they have witnessed in public schools because of the education policies King was hired to staunchly execute and defend. The face of King’s consistently smug, dispassionate, and disinterested responses has become a recognizable symbol of the infuriating and destructive reforms that have ruined public education.

NYS Commissioner of Education John King and Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch, the dynamic duo of ed. reform. We must continue to call for Tisch’s resignation as well.

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the world of education reform just keep getting more and more bizarre over the past two years, with one unbelievable addition after another, that rarely am I surprised anymore. I have to laugh at some of the praise I’ve been reading, like Regent Bennett calling Commissioner King “the best educator I’ve ever met.” This remark by a regent makes it even more imperative that attention must be paid to the NYS Board of Regents, its members, the role they play in state ed. and the thus far lack of transparency in the process in which regents are appointed to the board.

The title of this Peter Cunningham article in Education Post is called “A Great Education Leader Joins a Great Team.” — two mind-boggling, fallacious statements in my opinion. In fact the entire article is a sugar-coated ooze of praise for the great commissioner, using phrases such as “enormous change and progress,” and this giant whopper: “John brings unparalleled credentials, experience in both traditional and nontraditional schools, and extraordinary courage and composure as a leader.” Cunningham must be referring to King’s limited classroom teaching experience in a charter school and the fact that he sends his own children to a private Montessori school. Perhaps the article should be titled “NY Education in Ruins, John King Goes National to Help Duncan Dismantle Public Ed.”

The people of New York, the real stakeholders in public education have a different story to tell, and not all news of King’s departure is filled with praise. This lohud editorial, “Commissioner King’s Tone-Deaf Legacy” is not forgiving of the commissioner’s total lack of response to concerns that have echoed through the state. In this recent statement put out by NYSUT (New York State United Teachers), citing the great disconnect between King’s vision for NY and the cries of concerns coming from public schools’ stakeholders, the teachers union joins the call of other groups such as the New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) who demand that the Board of Regents select a new commissioner who will be a true advocate for public schools and who will actually listen to public school stakeholders..

King’s legacy of “full steam ahead” education reform policies and blatant ignoring of real concerns expressed by a majority of NY parents, teachers, students, and taxpayers will not be missed. But there is concern for many that such utter incompetence is being rewarded with a promotion to a top position at the federal level. For my part, I am not concerned. United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has already menaced education at the national level with policy pushing that promotes competition between schools and teachers in a test-driven education environment filled with inappropriate standards, narrowed curriculum, ridiculous data-driven accountability measures, and drowning local involvement. While I am appalled that King is moving up, I envision his new position at Arne’s side more like one would see a loyal lapdog at the feet of his master. After all, King is aptly able to perform the role; we’ve seen time and again his inability to utter any original thought that isn’t a direct recitation of Race to the Top policy agendas and Common Core rhetoric. And isn’t that what a master really wants? An obedient servant, a loyal head nodder and yeasayer?

Perhaps King isn’t being “promoted” at all. Maybe the rumors are true that King was forced out by Governor Cuomo. After all, he failed as his primary responsibility to squash the rebellion. New Yorkers are mad as hell over education reforms inflicted on our schools. And we are not backing down. I say let John King move into the ranks of Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee, two of the most hated individuals associated with education reform. After all, individuals like Michelle Rhee will long be held as symbols of school deform, and will help to galvanize our resolve to reclaim public education long after the so-called legacies associated with their job titles are repaired. Let the anger and uprising that John King helped to foster in New York spread further into the hearts of all Americans across the nation so that our collective purpose to save our schools becomes even more empowered.

To Stampylonghead

Dear Stampy,

My son begged me to post this note to you. I agreed on the condition that he finish his math. The math is completed, so here it is:

IMG_0244

IMG_0245

He’s 6, so let me translate. The first page says:

Stampy (the symbol in the upper left corner is a heart)
come
to
my
birthday.
January.
OSCAR (my son’s name)
there’s
cake!
For
you!
in
America.

Page 2 is obviously a drawing of your minecraft persona standing over and gesturing toward a cake (“kake”). Oscar says you really like cake!

Cheers,

Oscar’s mom

My “rabble-rousing rhetoric” for the day.

I was recently directed to a Newsday article by Anne Michaud titled Don’t waste your vote on Stop Common Core. While her article simplisticly reduces the conversation about education reform to a  he said, she said… or rather a  we say, they say  debate, I was struck once again by the missed opportunity of many of the commenters to debunk Michaud’s talking points with intelligent reasoning. Instead, commenters spent more time arguing various points with each other that had nothing to do with the article. I see this more and more, especially in my state of New York where a debate has been heating with the nearing gubernatorial election, and the Stop Common Core ballot line.

Much of Michaud’s article is a replay of pro-reform rhetoric, straight from the mouths of state education officials and a rehashing of the state’s so-proclaimed call for the reduction of testing in our schools. (Stakeholders know that in actuality testing still dominates education and drives instruction by focusing too much on quantifiable data). Michaud celebrates the “higher standards” of the Common Core and ends her article with this proclamation: “I’ve seen my high school-age daughters more engaged by their assignments than ever before. That’s not a course I want to reverse.”

I’m sure that’s true, but the article overlooks the big picture–socio-economic status. Ann Michaud is undoubtedly an educated, respectably employed, involved parent. She’s white, and let’s not forget that by virtue of her race, she is given a big advantage in the world of success and achievement and opportunity. In other words, Michaud belongs to the world of privilege and that means that her daughters would most likely succeed academically no matter what standards, what tests, or what curriculum were thrown their way. It is now widely known that poverty and other situations outside of the school play a larger role in the academic success or failure of children. So-called higher standards will not solve this problem.

Common Core isn’t about high standards, states like mine had high standards long before Common Core was adopted. Common Core is about control. It’s about telling teachers what to teach and in many ways how to teach it. The expectations laid forth by the backwards mapping of education have been shown by experts in childhood development to be inappropriate, especially in the early grades. We’re pushing children to learn concepts earlier and earlier and at rates that are not natural for many. One doesn’t need a report to understand this; just talk to members of your school community. There is little joy in learning anymore. Stress and anxiety among students and teachers abound. Michaud downplays and oversimplifies opposition to the Common Core and believes it exists magically, completely unrelated to other issues of testing and teacher evaluations. Schools have become test preparation centers because of the accountability structure associated with school reform. In a rush to align curriculum to Common Core State Standards, many districts in my state have adopted poorly written and uninspiring curriculum lesson plans called modulesSo, while Michaud’s daughters, and perhaps other children of privileged backgrounds might be thriving, there are indeed many who are not–who are in fact suffering daily.

Michaud’s article assumes that opposition to the Common Core comes from uninformed, complaining parents who just don’t get it, or perhaps by teachers who are afraid of being evaluated. She calls it “wonderfully rabble-rousing rhetoric.” While that is certainly one effect by a very small percentage of those who possess a myopic focus on single issues, or last night’s homework, the vast majority of those opposed to Common Core are acting from a place of good intentions and a vast amount of research into these issues. What surprises me most about reformers who downplay the public’s concerns is that they fail to acknowledge that opposition is coming from across the nation, from people everywhere, from all walks of life, from all professions. Our specific concerns might vary, or might be ranked differently, but when such a vast oppositional movement occurs with such force, as that against education reform, it’s time to start listening. It’s time to start admitting that there might actually be a problem.

How one defines that problem is an individual thing, and there is a wealth of resources available to help one accomplish this. Real experts in education like Diane Ravitch, Yong Zhao, Carol Burris, Susan OhanianMarion Brady, FairTest.org and many others have written extensive commentary on the subjects of Common Core, standardization, testing, scripted curriculum, data collection, Charter schools, and more. But it is abundantly clear that Common Core and the other ill-effects of the reform agenda are not serving the public the way they are touted by reform supporters, such as Ann Michaud.

Whether one chooses to vote against the Common Core in New York State either using the Stop Common Core ballot line or by supporting one of the other gubernatorial candidates who are also opposed to Common Core, or whether you choose to fight back by opting your child out of testing, you have a voice in this debate. The worst thing you can do is remain silent and comply with a system that you see hurting your child daily.