Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Post Modern Education in NY, USA : Welcome to Upside Downland

When Lil John King let fly with his ill informed sound byte that "special interests" had derailed his Town Hall soliloquies it struck me that a lot about education these days is out of whack. When the appointed puppet of special interests himself tries to hang that label on teachers who are sick of being jerked around and parents who are done with watching their kids being used as guinea pigs in an untested corporate funded curriculum it's time to step back and see where else this picture is spilling out of its frame. 

It's hard to describe the current state of things, whether it's upside down or backwards or just plain effed. But let's start with the unlikely situation we've arrived at where a statewide teacher's union President goes along with outrageously unfair teacher evaluations and defends the same corporate sponsored ill conceived, developmentally inappropriate curriculum that has teachers pulling their hair out and parents looking for someone to kick. Dick Ianuzzi, President of NYSUT never says No to Common Core or to the reformer crafted APPR that's specifically designed to facilitate widespread teacher firings within a 2 year period. Here is Dick sticking up for the Common Core Standards :

To be clear, "getting it right" doesn't mean abandoning standardized testing altogether or jettisoning the Common Core, as some propose. Rather, it means the state must listen, and respond, to the deeply held concerns of parents and teachers about the overreliance on standardized testing and how it is shortchanging instruction in music, the arts and other subjects students need to be well-rounded citizens.
The Common Core standards have the potential, if rolled out properly and with enough support and resources, to raise student achievement over time.

Yeah, Dick tell me exactly how we get it right with first graders reading about Mesopotamia, Byzantine math strategies that make Math lovers hate Math and high school Seniors without any poetry or literature because you agree with this guy, David Coleman, architwerp of the Common Core and Wanker Extraordinaire who doesn't, in his own words, "give a shit" about stuff like poetry, literature and how you feel.   

The courageous and right thing for a union president to say about an imposed curriculum crafted by outside corporate interests with specious edu qualifications is one word: "No."  But we don't get that from our guy. Instead we get the language of concession, the language of Dick's patron saint and string puller AFT President Randi Weingarten. Randi not only supports Common Core and all of its concomitant high stakes testing, bogus teacher evaluations and the rest of it but she and Dick cling to the concession making language of delusion that states the only problem with Common Core is its "rollout." I guess when they rolled out the guillotine it might have had a few bugs at first but it was pretty fucking effective at chopping off people's domes. No matter how Common Core is rolled out, it's toxic, it's developmentally inappropriate, it's scripted, it narrows curriculum and makes kids, teachers and parents hate school. Praytell Dick and Randi, how do we make this turd sandwich taste more like watercress and cream cheese by rolling it out differently.

Power to the...ummmm... ?

Here is Dick in his most famous attempt to not look like a corporate sellout pumping his fist and roaring his tepid message of Get it Right! Not sure about that gay cruiser hat from the 70's but maybe it's an AARP thing -- what do I know?

Weingarten deserves her own planet when it comes to upside down and backwards land. She hobnobs with Bill Gates, takes millions from him and does buddy interviews alongside him and to hear her talk, Randi sees people like Gates and other corporate edupreneurs as fighting the same battles we fight as teachers and parents. Here she allows Gates to flat out lie about teacher evaluations then follows it up with a nifty six pack of her own craft brewed bullshit:

Weingarten: Actually, in almost all places if you don’t do well under an evaluation system, you can be let go. The tenure process is supposed to simply be a fairness process. The reality is that managers don’t do their jobs.

Gates: There is no evaluation. For 90 percent of the teachers in America there’s no feedback. Now, we don’t need to argue about how it got that way. Was that the management? Was it the union? That is the way it is. And there aren’t many professions like that. So that’s got to change. It’s got to change in a way that’s a positive message for teachers, and that’s not high overhead, and that’s not capricious. A lot of people moved ahead just using the [student] test scores [to measure teacher performance], which I would claim is better than doing nothing. But it’s not as good as what we’re trying to craft together, where you have these other measures, like videotaping classrooms, peer interviews, and student interviews.

Weingarten: When I taught, the way in which we got evaluated is what I used to call the drive-by evaluation. Somebody would come in for 20 minutes with a checklist and that would be your evaluation. So it was clearly a snapshot. The tests are a snapshot. Neither one of them gets you to this point where you can use an evaluation system to help teachers continually improve and to help kids learn. But that work has to get done collaboratively. School systems by and large do not work collaboratively. They basically work on conflict. Conflict is the status quo in education. In Pittsburgh and in Hillsborough County, Fla., two of the places where the Gates Foundation has heavily invested, you see a culture of working together to make these changes.

Ahhh yes, Randi gives a big shout out to the Gates Foundation and all of its great work and Bill assures us 90% of teachers get no feedback in this country. Randi, rather than nailing him for that whopper, agrees and adds her own to the manure heap. When I taught... she begins. Really, Randi ? When you taught ? I may as well open my next blog post with When I was  6 ft 8 and deeply tanned cause neither of those things ever happened.  Here's a little snapshot of Randi's "teaching" as long as she seems to like the metaphor so well :

How long did Weingarten teach?

Education reformers “wouldn’t last 10 minutes in a classroom,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten this week. A lawyer turned union leader, Weingarten’s classroom time was limited, counters Education Action Group.  

Weingarten’s AFT bio claims she taught history at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn from 1991 to 1997. EAG obtained her personnel file via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. Weingarten was hired as a substitute teacher in 1991 and received a “provisional” license in 1993. In 1994, she received a “certificate to serve as a substitute.” A 1997 letter indicates Weingarten didn’t submit documentation showing she’d met requirements for licensure. No record indicates she ever served as a full-time teacher or was evaluated by a principal or other school official. When Weingarten ran for president of New York’s United Federation of Teachers in 1998, her opponent, Michael Shulman, suggested that she was not a “real teacher.” “She worked five months full-time that I’ve been aware of, in 1992, at Clara Barton High School,” Shulman was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “Since then she taught maybe one class for 40 minutes a day.”

An education reformer with two years as a Teach for America teacher apparently has more classroom experience than the AFT leader.

As the kids like to say "Pwned."

In truth she subbed. If you've subbed you know the difference between lesson planning establishing a routine and a rapport, being accountable to kids and parents and administrators -- not to mention the dozens of relationships you juggle with kids and other adults in the course of a day. Teaching and subbing are the same thing the way throwing out the first pitch and throwing a no hitter for 9 innings are the same thing. Naturally, someone who's never taught isn't going to grasp teachers needs, desires and anxieties, let alone advocate for them. Randi is going to stand around in front of the cameras hoping to turn some dopey sound byte into a chant and be seen as the next Big Bill Haywood. For the record " Get it Right!" is a flop and I believe Dick may have the rights to it. 

With State and Federal labor leaders firmly neutered and tucked into the corporate briefcase is it any wonder teachers have become the favorite chew toy of every special interest gang of con men who want to get their fingers into education funds? When the people you thought were representing you  -- as you taught classes, held parent conferences, bought cupcakes for some kid's birthday that you knew she wasn't going to get from home, juggled your own bills, kids, partner and life stresses -- turn out to be selling you out and throwing you under the ed reform bus at every turn it comes as something of a shock to the system. I am done being shocked. I was never awed. But we need to reclaim our unions from people who've used them for their own special interests at the expense of our own. Remind me to thank Lil John for putting that phrase into play, it's been very useful this week. He's rounded up all kinds of Special Interest quite unintentionally. 


  1. I'd like to ask Dick Ianuzzi how much respect and conversation that seat at the table he repeatedly told us we had to have has gotten him. Seat at the table? More like the seat at the kiddie table at family holiday dinners.