March 26, 2015
Despite the noble intent of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, public schools in New York State are more segregated today than they have ever been in the past 60+ years.
Whether we measure segregation from a racial, religious or economic perspective, it seems clear that some of our students come to school each day ready to learn, and other students face significant barriers which stand between them and educational success.
There are libraries filled with academic research that points to positive parental involvement as the primary force to ensure student success in school.
Most experts agree that when parents promote reading activities at home, the ripple effect goes beyond reading achievement, language comprehension and expressive language skills to positively impact pupils’ interest in reading, attitudes towards reading and attentiveness in the classroom.
The fact is: Family and home life have more bearing on student achievement than anything else.
Classroom teachers have an important role to play, but when confronted in their classroom by a majority of young people who are not prepared, not ready and not inspired to learn, even SuperTeacher faces a Sisyphean task.
From a purely mathematical (statistical/scientific) perspective, it is not possible to use a standardized test to compare groups of anything – including students – when the subjects of comparison lack a common foundation and have insufficient common attributes.
My point is that while elected officials, union members and many others are busy throwing mud at each other, the real issue of ‘failing schools’ has little to do with teachers, and much to do with economic segregation in residential housing patterns across New York State.
The 700 +/- public school districts in NYS serve some 2.7 Million students in some 4,500 public schools (including public charter schools).
Governor Cuomo’s office very recently released an extensive and well-researched report, “The State of New York’s Failing Schools”.
In just over 200 pages, the Report points out many symptoms of a public education system in NYS which is working for some, but leaving way too many students unprepared to become productive citizens.
The Report focuses in on 178 “priority” or “failing” schools in 17 school districts in New York. It says, “Ninety-three percent of students in failing schools are students of color and 82 percent of these students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Student achievement today at failing schools lags behind state averages in every category”.
Somehow, the Report did not really get to the core of the issue: How to address the concentration of disadvantaged and disenfranchised students in these 178 failing schools — just 4% of the overall number of schools in NYS.
While I think there has been some roll-back on the original proposal from Governor Cuomo’s office to tie teacher evaluations more closely to student achievement as measured by standardized test scores, I remain concerned that the debate around Common Core Standards and standardized testing continues to divide parents and other adults in New York State.
It is my belief that the intent of Common Core is really centered on a return to requiring that our students develop and use critical thinking skills.
For the last 40 years, or so, our public education system has relied primarily on Multiple Choice and/or True/False as a way to measure educational achievement.
The shift to Common Core, which relies much more on analysis and critical thinking, is a shock to many adults who were raised on Multiple Choice.
The Common Core State Standards is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know — and be able to articulate — at the end of each grade.
The standards were created through a bi-partisan, multi-state collaborative including teachers, school chiefs, administrators, and other experts to provide a clear and consistent framework for educators to ensure that all students across the U.S. have access to the information and resources they need to graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.
One key role for the elected officials in our NYS Legislature is to ensure that real facts about Common Core Standards and subsequent testing are conveyed and explained to NY residents in a calm and rational way.
Another key role for our Legislature is to ensure that sufficient resources – including new and emerging paradigms – are made available to the 178 priority (or failing) schools in 17 school districts in New York.
As Governor Cuomo’s report, “The State of Failing Schools” points out: It’s not about money.
Some claim that their magic solution involves an unproven model such as: Charter Schools; Teach for America; Say Yes to Education; School Vouchers; Private School Tax Credits; or one of many other ‘snake oil’ solutions.
We are so fortunate in New York State to have some of the best colleges and universities, and some of the most experienced experts on teaching and child development.
Why are we – the residents, voters and taxpayers of New York State – left holding the bag: paying the most of any state in the U.S. per pupil, and achieving mediocre results?
I don’t think it has much of anything to do with teacher quality or teacher evaluations.
I think our approach to delivery of public education in New York State is obsolete, and until we are able to honestly and openly evaluate the system, and to seek optimum configuration, we will continue to spend too much; achieve mediocre results; and have this debate long into the future.
Many thanks to those elected officials who have taken the time and put some attention to this critical issue, and please feel welcome to contact me with any questions or concerns on my commentary.
March 12, 2015
The current U.S. Senate atrocity involves a letter released on Monday, March 9, 2015 from Senate Republicans to Iran’s government (the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran”), saying that any agreement made by President Obama amounts to a “mere executive agreement” goes well beyond the arena of conduct which disregards the laws of our nation.
I believe a significant number of mostly Republican elected officials in Congress are guilty of depriving the people of the United States the intangible right of their honest services, for at least the past 5 consecutive years.
That is a domestic issue, and it is described in Federal Law as ‘Honest Services Fraud’ (see 18 U.S.C. § 1346).
It seems pretty clear that some of these boys elected to the U.S. Senate just can’t resist acting like 3rd graders let loose on the playground with no supervision.
These boys have now pushed into a new and dangerous place. Whether they are guilty of Treason, as some have suggested, is really not the point.
At minimum, they are guilty of acting like narcissistic brats, and their behavior casts a dark shadow over an institution with a proud 250 year history.
This act of cowardice and ignorance engaged in by 47 elected officials in the U.S. Senate ought to be a wake-up call to all Americans that we have a major problem in Washington, D.C. and that our problem is not at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
This letter was signed by 47 of 54 Senate Republicans, and was authored by Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave it his approval and signed the letter. Among the Senators who also signed the letter are Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) all of whom are considering running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
In their letter, they wrote, “It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution – the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices – which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress…. Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.”
They also reminded Iran that “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”
The letter – and the 47 Republican Senators – faced an immediate negative reaction from the White House; President Obama; Vice President Joe Biden; Senate Democratic leadership; Congressional and Senate Democrats; and potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton; as well as many more.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized the letter finding it either (a) undermining the president’s authority; or (b) counterproductive.
Among other things, Zarif said, “This kind of letter is unprecedented and undiplomatic. In truth, it told us that we cannot trust the United States.”
Alabama freshmen Senator Tom Cotton has become a center of attention, facing both criticism and accolades, and he has been the key defender of the letter’s message. Many media sources have fixated on Cotton and the other Senators who signed the letter, led by the New York Daily News headline on March 10, “TRAITORS”.
Even Fox News (Megyn Kelly) was critical of this apparent publicity stunt: “What’s the point in writing to the Iranian mullahs? What are you going to do? They dismissed it already like ‘pfff, whatever’. And you’ve offended the Obama administration. And you may have offended some of the Democrats who would have come over with the Republicans, if depending on what happens with this deal, to have a stronger say in the Senate.”
Not to dismiss some incremental support from the Right: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry have expressed their support for the letter.
Among the seven Republican senators who did not sign the letter, several have commented that, ‘they did not find it appropriate, helpful or productive.’
While it seems likely that 46 of the 47 Republican elected officials are now questioning their decision to sign the letter, Tom Cotton himself is probably saying, “That worked out great!”
Overnight, Tom Cotton has risen from an unknown and obscure Alabama Senator to a household name!
Tom Cotton has demonstrated that a U.S. Senator who’s been in office just a few months can accomplish a great deal, with a little initiative and creativity.
Much like the boy who shouted “FIRE” in the crowded movie theater, Cotton may have caused a major panic. In this case, the resulting impact includes: irreparable damage to the reputation of the U.S. Senate; to the Republican Party; and to the security of the United States.
But, to the Tea Party base from which Cotton draws his support, he is now a hero. The more criticism he gets, the more convinced they become of his heroism.
The Koch Brothers must be mighty proud!