Sunday, October 13, 2013

On Poughkeepsie Common Core Fiasco: Political System of New York State is Broken

*Postscripts added after viewing of 2 contentious hearings
I join with the bloggers and activists that are outraged by the shutdown of democracy, in the cancellation of scheduled public town meetings on the Common Core States Standards in New York State, in the wake of the public hearing in Poughkeepsie, a blue collar city in Dutchess County. The hearings were sponsored by the Parents Teachers Association (PTA), whose national organization was an early, December 2009, beneficiary of Gates money for the purpose of promoting the Common Core, state organizations were soon to follow. The story of popular outrage over the Common Core and its implementation exploded like a hydrogen bomb on the blogosphere over the last 36 hours, at B-LoEdSceneChalkFace, Critical Schools, Diane Ravitch and here, EdNotesNYC Educator and hereNYC Public School Parents, PJSTA's site and Raging Horse. (See the video of the town hall hearing --in two days it has had over 17,000 views!  --see full length 1'46 version here and for that matter, this Oneida County hearing in central New York five days ago.) Previously scheduled hearings, now cancelled, were to be held in Garden City (Nassau County), Clifton Park (in the Albany area), Williamsville (outside of Buffalo) --hmmm, none of these a city over 40,000 in population. However, we must be conscious of the larger context in which the education conflict sits.
This is what educational autocracy looks like

There is no progressive political party that has its leading figures that will speak to the concerns of the people in this room.

The party affiliated with the NYSED commissioner, the New York State Board of Regents and the Governor, the Democratic Party, has very few politicians of powerful significance that will listen to the people in this room. In fact, these three individuals are the arch-architects of “reform” policies in the state and the overwhelming majority of the politicians in the state Democratic Party hew to the Common Core program of standardization and corporatization of the education system, and to the micro-managing and demeaning of the teaching force in the state. This is a definitive cancer of an educational policy, pursued enthusiastically by Democrats, in New York and nationally. Where is the assertive Democratic caucus denouncing this trend and challenging this? The instances are rare and small. That Letitia James, a clear opponent of the negative reform trend, is on her way to the New York City public advocate position, is a consolation, yet overall, she is a (most welcome) exception in a larger sea of politicians avidly working against the people. And her first partisan identification when getting elected was not with the Democrats. Some Buffalo area state legislators organized a mass forum October 2, the Summit for Smarter Schools, against the current "reform" trend, but we would want these legislators to form a formal caucus and to aggressively push back at the state level and nationally against this cancer. Otherwise, the trend will continue to steamroll over education as we knew it until the 2000s.

The Republicans? Well, they stand for parsimoniousness towards school funding and merely an alternative path towards breaking school unions from the path pursued by Democrats from Andrew Cuomo to Rahm Emanuel to Barack Obama to Cory Booker.

When teachers in New York State chafe at the APPR evaluation system they would do well to recognize that Democrats figured prominently in the sponsorship and the approval of the laws that spawned the evaluation system. Whereas New York City's Advance evaluation was an imposition by the state education commissioner, as a matter of fact, it is simply a trajectory of a state law created by the state legislature.

With the enduring effect of the Supreme Court Citizens United decision negating legislation on campaign contribution limits we can anticipate that the gravy train of (Bill) Gates Foundation, Pearson, McGraw-Hill and all the rest of the corporate interests will continue to inject themselves into the pockets of politicians to preserve the education commercialization program. The media also, from ABC-CBS-NBC-PBS-New York Times at the top, down to WNYC, all follow the same script, that the education system is broken, that teachers are the only ones that can be held accountable, that we should discuss sending all students to college, that the Common Core is imperative for making students career and college-ready --all of this worsened by teacher unions not challenging this but mouthing the same line, with at least the NEA's Dennis Van Roekel and the AFT's Randi Weingarten apparently on the take. Stopping the political/ideological juggernaut is a long mission indeed.

The prime directive: stopping Cuomo
Laudably, another NYC education blogger at Perdido Street School, has been tracking governor Cuomo's missteps, most recently with respect to the Moreland Commission on corruption (it is arguably independent, as it must report to Cuomo, prompting Common Cause New York to issue a stern letter of concern) -- a story which has been getting better coverage north of the Tappan Zee Bridge than from the Times. Aside from being aggressively anti-teacher, Cuomo has been on a consistent and dogged campaign against public employees, particularly their pensions. See here “New York State Workers' Pensions Cut, By Andrew Cuomo, Following National Trend,” and here “Cuomo's Pension Warning” in NY Post; New York should not be following national trends. In the early 20th century it was leading national policy trends in passing legislation that improved workers' rights, not gutting them, as Cuomo is doing. Impeding his electoral success, in his 2014 re-election campaign and more importantly, in his barely secret 2016 presidential quest, should be of highest order for organized labor and for progressives. The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), and the state affiliate, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), should deny Committee on Political Education (COPE) funds or any endorsement to New York's own (Democratic) version of Scott Walker. However, it is naïve to assume that these entities will do this until they feel great pressure from below.

An era of an ever more blatant Democratic contempt for the democratic process
The brazen institutional contempt that state education commissioner John King has for the public is merely an extension or a corollary of the institutional contempt that other key actors in this saga have for public opinion.

President Barack Obama, Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan sidelined any popular input either directly by the participation of parents or more than a token trio of actual schoolteachers in the creation and vetting of the Common Core. None of the standards authors have experience teaching at the K-12 level. The creation and the “passage” of the Common Core existed entirely outside of any public representative institution –or even a governmental agency. It was not passed by Congress, it was not created by any publicly accountable government agency. No, it was created by an ad hoc coalition of trade associations, i.e., the NGA, the CCSSO and Achieve Inc. (the last being an organization founded in 1996 by corporate leaders and politicians with the aim of creating education standards across states.), with Bill Gates' millions of dollars that more than dwarfed the money that Michael Bloomberg spent in 2008 and 2009 in buying the silence of community organizations during his quest for a third term. The whole episode of private institution supplanting of the democratic political process is discussed in my earlier post here.

Read 2009 Shame of the City series to see justification of this graphic
The urban disenfranchisement (exclusion of many big cities from the privilege of elected school boards) and vulgarization of the educational experience happens in coincidence with class and race patterns, so it can be argued that this is classist and racist.  For further discussion of the vulgarization of the educational experience in New York City since 2002, see my “Shame of the City” series installments I, II, III, IV, V in 2009, in the previous incarnation of this blog, approaching the third “election” of Michael Bloomberg. When we are silent once, when enable the future trampling on the political process. The disenfranchisement and vulgarization has leapt from big cities like New York City to smaller communities, across New York and the nation. We have seen the effects of ignoring initial transgressions in the past. Pastor Martin Niemoller spoke of the wrong of silence in the face of injustice with his “When they came for the Communists ...” formulation. We see this today. We have been silent when the urban parents were disenfranchised with their losing elected school boards. We accepted that representative democracy was alright for suburbs but not for New York City. This silence paves the way for the state takeover of the Buffalo School District which John King is threatening to pursue, Buffalo where the voters are resisting mayoral control and where teachers have been battling an evaluation system that can be used for teacher terminations.

First they came for the black and Latino teachers, but I did not speak up because I was not one; then they came for teachers put in the rubber rooms, but I did not speak up because I was not one; then with No Child Left Behind's emphasis on English and mathematics, they came for the non-essential arts and physical education teachers, but I did not speak up because I was not one; then they came for the foreign language, science and social studies teachers whose classes became more rare with the doubling or tripling of class periods for “ELA” and math, but I did not speak up because I was not one. Then, Arne Duncan with Common Core and Race to the Top, John King with APPR came for all of us, but it was too late.


 Comm. King asserts that Montessori students, such as his children, are subject to the same Common Core madness that Johnny and Jane public school students are subjected to. If we are a republican democracy, we should consider having true, seasoned educators as education leaders, subject to popular recall. Comm. King is as tin-eared as any 18th century absolutist monarch.

Here and below is the full video of the Poughkeepsie forum, revealing that parents became increasingly frustrated at having to wait one hour and 23 minutes before being allowed to speak, and were angered when the 30 minutes they had been promised were continually interrupted by King; and in the end, their time was cut short at 20 minutes. 
The video also includes revealing responses from King, showing how he answered questions read from cards about his insistence on sharing personal student data with inBloom (the first question that met with applause from the audience, at 41 minutes in) and why he won’t allow students to opt out of the state exams (at 1 hour 4 minutes in).

NYC Public School Parents blog noted these summary points from King's speech. It is absolutely outrageous that he is steadfast that personal data be shared with [mined for] inBloom and that he will not allow students to opt out of the tests. His hedging and tangent-pursuing in responding to the concerned teacher about special education students (at 33 minutes in the Whiteboro, Oneida County forum) is just sickening.

Listen to the schoolteacher at 43 minutes in the Whiteboro forum. He supports the concept of the Common Core, no radical. Yet, he faults the Commissioner for not properly reviewing the Common Core before implementing it. He notes that the Commissioner had "fumbled the ball" with Common Core, with state test cut scores, with the AIS program --on the last point, waiting until the Friday night before school started. He skewers him on a core point: "This is a problem with testing, you're working with professionals who also read the data and you cannot cherry pick the information . . . ." He closes by calling on the state regents to terminate the contract with John King and remove him as commissioner. (Watch out John Kings across America, teachers are reading the data and the literature and the data; and they are thinking critically and they are talking back.) [The petition to remove him was posted before this postscript was entered.]

Listening to the Poughkeepsie and the Oneida County fora it is apparent that the audience is overwhelmingly critical or at least skeptical of the Common Core. Yet, throughout the evenings King is continually defending the Common Core. If educators are against it, if parents are against it --both in red and in blue states, should not governmental officials heed their reservations at all? We can only call King tin-eared and oblivious.

A pathetic slow motion intellectual melt-down / Citizen blows down the Emperor's Clothes wall
While the Poughkeepsie hearing is hot with passion, the Whiteboro, in the pivotal swing county Oneida County (GOP in presidential elections, for Cuomo in '10), meeting gets to skewering the intellectually vacuous defense of the Common Core. Note at 1:17:52, a parent speaks up on behalf of teachers that are told by union reps not to speak up for fear of getting fired.
He puts to the Commissioner the simple question, why aren't the educators, who educate his child, able to download a curriculum that goes past Christmas, that goes past module three? He asks for a simple answer, not a seven paragraph answer. More crucially, he blows away the Emperor's Clothes mythology by asking for research evidence that the CCSS has been tried and has been successful. That this program has problems was obvious from the outset. It just took a common sense citizen to exercise common sense and practice basic critical thinking, something that eludes politicians and educrats.

Commissioner King first diverts by asking the parent for his second question, and finally goes in a maze of diversions to evade the question. Ultimately, he is incapable of giving a seven paragraphs or less answer, he is just left uttering word salad of CCSS buzzwords, bringing to mind Sarah Palin's interview intellectual meltdowns: King just emotes a jumble of stock phrases and Orwellian mis-truths: college-career ready, jobs of the future, rigor, mastering, reasoning, modules; teachers and school districts are free, no one is dictating . . .

Another speaker notes that the assessments of students take an inordinate chunk of time out (17%) of what should be learning time in the classroom, nine hours to assess a student's English capability, whereas she took a veterinary certification qualifying exam took three hours. Ludicrous, she points out.

Is your boss / commissioner a psychopath?
In the July 2005 Fast Company issue there was an article on psychopathic bosses.

Psychopaths have a profound lack of empathy. They use other people callously and remorselessly for their own ends. They seduce victims with a hypnotic charm that masks their true nature as pathological liars, master con artists, and heartless manipulators. 

Just as the business executives criticized in this article, numerous high level education leaders fit the same bill. The lack of empathy described in the article is an apparent core trait of Commissioner John King, as is evident in these hearings. A concerned parent plaintively pleads with the commissioner to shelve the Core and he reverts to a stock spiel on how there are differences on how to implement the Core. He just does not get it: this is not like other issues in which there is a divided public, health care, gun control, abortion; there is no faction of the public (not supervisors or politicians that have undergone reconditioning) defending the Common Core at these meetings. The public does not want the Common Core. But King? He does not care.

As I commented on a Perdido Street blogpost, King's obliviousness to teachers' concern and parents' pain is truly his Cathy Black moment, these meetings collectively are his milder counterpart to Black's "Ohhhhhhh" meltdown. Obviously, the political class of the state did not get it after the Black episode: city and state education leaders must (1) be good people persons and (2) be seasoned education professionals. King's youthful high-pitched voice only sustains the impression that he is not a seasoned pro, in contrast to a genial, seasoned professional as say, Sandra Stotsky.

We should not have been too shocked with King's treatment of the audience, as he had already cavalierly this summer on PBS dismissed Common Core opponents as Tea Partiers. Viewers will note that none of the trademark signs of Tea Partiers, such as offensive Obama bashing pictures, appeared in the two videos of the New York hearings. 2014 will be a year of opportunity for legislative or electoral push-back against the Common Core at the state level. These hearings illustrate that this is a potent issue with political capital.

(To my summer post on King's tarring opponents as Tea Partiers, one parent commented:
HOW DARE HE! I voted for Obama twice...born and raised in a progressive NYC family. I DO NOT want my children subjected to annual meaningless testing , whose purpose is NOT to instruct children but simply to measure them and their teachers, that takes away from quality instructional time. . . . this annual ordeal testing . . . . contributes nothing to a child's intellectual growth, in fact, discourages intellectual curiousity...I will fight it to the death. won't subject your OWN children to this monstrosity! )

He claims that he had to cancel his PTA hearings because of "special interests." A NYSED spokesperson said that this was referring to teachers unions. Yet, when you listen to the statements, which were from parents and teachers, it is is quite obvious that the concerns are seldom on any concern that could be construed as dealing with teachers' rights or interests, but that the concerns are nearly entirely expressing in a context of concern for students and their learning experience.
Thus, King and the NYSED's claim that the teachers union disrupted the process is truly specious.

As a commenter at Ravitch's blog notes,
This Poughkeepsie NY town hall meeting is a glimpse of thins to come. A tsunami of parental outrage will drown the Common Core and the standardized test reform movement. . Dr. Colemanstein has no chance against the monster he created.

Additional postscript:

Valerie Strauss in "How New York’s education commissioner blew it big time — principal" has posted a public letter by principal Carole Burris. Key excerpts as to his failed performance follow --I have taken the liberty of adding a bold subject header or two to draw out some of Burris' more salient points. Additionally, I have put text in bold with underline connections to financial benefactors, and bolded APPR and democracy comments:

The New York State Education Department has lost its moral authority, as defined by [Thomas] Sergiovanni.  That loss was clearly on display at a recent New York State PTA-sponsored hearing on the Common Core in Poughkeepsie, New York.  By the last half hour of the evening, the audience was both boisterous and impassioned, angered because there was limited opportunity to speak. What little time remained for the audience was twice interrupted by Commissioner John King, who had held the floor for an hour and a half.
The miffed King then reacted by cancelling upcoming scheduled forums.  In response to an inquiry about the cancellation by Long Island’s Newsday, King responded:
 I was looking forward to engaging in a dialogue with parents across the state.  I was eagerly anticipating answering questions from parents about the Common Core and other reforms we’re moving ahead with in New York State.  Unfortunately, the forums sponsored by the New York State PTA have been co-opted by special interests whose stated goal is to “dominate” the questions and manipulate the forum.”[1]
The people in the audience at the Poughkeepsie forum were teachers and parents.  The common “special interests” of both groups are children.
What occurred in Poughkeepsie is not surprising to those who have followed the course of reform in New York led by John King.  John King was a teacher for only three years—teaching in Puerto Rico, in a private school and in a charter school in Boston.  After his short career as a teacher, he became the co-director of Roxbury Prep, a charter school with fewer than 200 students during his tenure. Five years later, he became the managing director of Uncommon Charter Schools.
In 2000, John King entered the Inquiry Doctoral Program at Columbia University’s Teachers College.  Each Inquiry cohort was small and intimate—about 25 students.  I know the program well—I was a member of the 1999 cohort.  A fellow member of John King’s cohort was the wife of billionaire Jim Tisch, Merryl Tisch, who was appointed to the New York State Board of Regents four years earlier.  King and Tisch took classes together for two years. In April of 2009, Merryl became the Regents’ chancellor.  In September 2009, John King was appointed deputy commissioner of  education. Two years later, John King was appointed commissioner following the abrupt resignation of David Steiner.  It was the meteoric rise of a man who became commissioner at 36 years of age.
My will be done
King has surrounded himself with bright young people, most of whom like King, have limited or no experience in public education. They are called the Regents Fellows. Their positions are funded by donations, including a million-dollar gift from Chancellor Tisch herself, and nearly a million dollars from Bill Gates.  At a recent gathering of Long Island school leaders, Tisch was asked about the Fellows. She chided the audience, telling them that they should be grateful for the private donations.  The skeptical audience, however, well understood that there is nothing like a million dollar donation to ensure that ‘my will be done.’
‘My will be done’ has been the tone and the tenor of chaotic reform in New York.  In its rush to implement teacher evaluations, the Common Core and new testing, the state leadership has likened it to building a plane in the air.  Cut scores anchored to ridiculously high performance on the SAT caused proficiency scores to plummet.  Students, often in tears, rushed to finish tests that were too difficult and too long. The Common Core Algebra modules are still not finished, even though teachers must teach the course to students now. Rushed APPR plans reviewed by law school students and supervised by a young, former Teach For America grad now Fellow, led to disastrous results such as those of Syracuse, where 40% of the teachers were rated below effective and no elementary or middle school teacher was found to be highly effective.
Syracuse is not alone—other districts have simply chosen to hide their disasters.  The very APPR rating bands themselves produce illogical results, leaving one to wonder if the department can add three, two-digit numbers. The confusion continues. Just a few days ago, the department’s website directed those who wanted information about the parent portal to a telephone number of a sex chat line. From APPR, to the Common Core, to 3-8 testing, the plane being built in the air is falling apart.
No followership
As a result, there is no followership—no commitment among parents, teachers and principals to the values and ideals of reform.  The interest in the Common Core has turned to tepid support at best. What remains is compliance.  Even that compliance, however, is waning, as evidenced by the Poughkeepsie hearings, the Buffalo forum on testing that drew 2500, and the Opt Out movement that is growing exponentially around the state.  The moral leadership that is needed to navigate through the seas of sweeping change is not there. The source of authority is at best, bureaucratic.
In the authoritarian world of the Uncommon Charter Schools as described so well by scholar Pedro Noguera here, the rule is “thy will be done.”  In the real and messy world of democracy it is different.  Leaders must listen deeply, learn and respond.  They must be willing to consider alternative courses, and even in loud crowds, hear truth. In teaching, we attempt to perfect the skill known as “monitor and adjust.”  You can only master that skill by truly engaging learners.
In many ways, it is a sad tale.  One might imagine that if John King had first been a principal of a New York City public school, or the superintendent of a district, he would have become skilled in dealing with emotional and boisterous groups.  In doing small-scale reforms in a district, he could have practiced effective pacing. John King would know, as Sergiovanni taught, that the heart of good leadership is the development of followership.  Without followership, no reform has a chance.

[1] A Newsday reporter sent me this quote for response on October 12.

*   *   *
King and any politician backing him needs to reflect on standard civics classes. Parents and unions have a place in a representative democracy. King refuses to recognize the legitimacy of a bedrock of our government and our society: the voice and the will of the people. The people should not heed to his agenda. He needs to heed to the public's agenda. That is what representation is about.

It is high time for the commissioner to step aside.

Sign the petition: Terminate Commissioner John King:

John King has served as New York State Commissioner of Education since 2011. During his tenure, the quality of education in NY has continued to decline; particularly in poor and rural districts.

1 The Commissioner’s solutions rely upon blindly accepting NCLB, RTTT and Common Core policies and implementing more high-stakes, standardized testing for evaluation of students and teachers,

2 implementation of an untested national curriculum,

3 undemocratic corporate management strategies for operating schools,

4 more privatization of schools

5 and insistence that poverty-related conditions are not an excuse for low student achievement.

6 Furthermore, Commissioner King: · Refuses to lend credibility to staff and community-voiced concerns that much of Common Core curriculum and testing is developmentally inappropriate for students, and that NYS teachers received no significant training for the implementation of Common Core,

7 Refuses to allow meaningful dialogue about Common Core tests by imposing a “gag order” on teachers and administrators, preventing them from discussing test questions among themselves or with students,

8 Supports policy to allow private corporate vendors to have access to personal student data, without parental consent, for the purpose of marketing educational services,

9 Remains silent on the stress-related suffering by many students taking recent Common Core tests,

10 Promotes the reduction of the reading of fiction in favor of an increase in informational texts (50% informational texts in elementary school, and 70% for 12th grade readings by 2014)

11 with the generally predicted impact of a further reduction in the joy of reading and learning for all students especially those with learning challenges,

12 Continues to advocate more high-stakes, standardized testing, despite research concluding that it is ineffective for motivating students and increasing their learning,

13· Continues to ignore positive research results for the use of performance-based assessment, such as portfolios, performances, presentations and exhibitions, by more NYS schools,

14· Advocates for more closings and privatization of low-performing schools,

15 despite research indicating that charter schools are generally less effective than public schools,

16 and promote more racial and class-based segregation,

17 and create negative impact on community morale, motivation and development,

18· Advocates the use of poorly designed, ineffective corporate strategies, such as APPR, which de-professionalize teaching,

19 We, the undersigned, strongly believe that New York State’s education reform agenda is fundamentally flawed and must be re-directed in a humanistic, research-based manner; directly counter to the direction Commissioner King has taken. New York State children, parents and teachers need an education commissioner who passionately supports and actively works for:
· De-concentrating the impact of poverty in classrooms and schools,
· Institutionalizing performance-based assessments,
· Ending the obsessive use of high-stakes, standardized testing,
· Developing creative, alternative curriculum, assessments and schools,
· Assisting poverty-stricken, low-performing schools through collaboration with teachers, parents community members and students, rather than through closures and privatization,
· Ending corporate reform,
· Using school practitioners and constructivist-oriented consultants for developing and implementing curriculum & assessments,
· Implementing a moratorium on the Common Core Curriculum,
· Transforming the NYSED to serve as helpful consultants to schools and school districts, rather than enforcers of top-down policies that are disrespectful to teachers and harmful to students.

Therefore, we, the undersigned respectfully urge the NYS Board of Regents to terminate the employment of John King as NYS Education Commissioner, and immediately search for, and hire a candidate who strongly reflects the characteristics described above.

The Students Last blog posted a direct from Strauss' story to his blog. In keeping with King's total dismissal of democratic voice, I am reposting the blogger's list of words, reframed to King's conception:

The King's Dictionary

New York - The reigning Commissioner of Education for the State of New York, John King, has released the following dictionary of terms that he would like distributed at any other town hall meetings he deigns to attend.

accountability: fireability, what the King is above

child: learning unit available for sale to corporations (notable exceptions include: King's child(ren))

critical voices: that to which the King is deaf

democracy: a form of government in which people choose their leaders and their leaders choose not to listen to them because it is time-consuming and inconvenient

dissent:  that to which the King is impervious

education: marketplace

educators: pawns

experience: overblown requirement for teaching

evidence:  that which does not exist to support the use of Common Core Standards

knowledge: facts, information and skills not necessarily required before implementing state-wide learning standards

money: short cut around democratic process

parent:  easily manipulated adult unit in charge of child (see above)

Ravitch: she who must not be named

respect: what silent acquiescence shows

rigor: developmentally inappropriate

schooled: what the King got on October 10, 2013 in Poughkeepsie, NY

special interests:  those who disagree with the King's policies

Town Hall meeting: gathering at which the King speaks and you listen

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