If you’ve followed the conversation about New York’s education reform agenda in the past year (namely the botched implementation of the Common Core standards and the teacher evaluation system), you’ve likely tired of the Johnny one-note defense coming out of the commissioner’s office.  Every time John King is faced with tough question about SED policies, he and his minions respond with the same script.

King wrote a letter to school district superintendents in December of last year after his disastrous performance at public forums across the state (Reflections on the Core), again contacted them in March in anticipation of the state ELA and math exams (Round Two of Common Core Testing), and, earlier this month, penned a letter to the Times Union (Albany) defending both the standards and their failed implementation.

Time and again, the bureaucrats in Albany turn to the same well crafted talking points memo in both internal and external communications. It was no surprise to learn last fall that King and his department had enlisted the services of a well known Albany lobbyist to help them craft that message. A Cliff’s Notes version of that memo might read:

  • Our kids are falling behind our international competitors. (Actually there is good reason to call his data into question, namely whether other countries assess the same groups of kids as the US and whether those scores even matter).
  • Kids enter college unprepared and have to take too many remedial classes. (This point is based on data from CUNY and SUNY.  The data for most 4-year institutions does not suggest the same crisis in college readiness).
  • Change is hard. (No one deals with more change in their jobs than teachers who see an entire new crop of kids and parents every year).
  • The state tests aren’t the problem, we’ve actually shortened them. (This point completely ignores the impact that the teacher evaluation system is having on kids. “Welcome to Phys Ed, grab a pencil,” is a phrase that no student should hear.  Teachers and parents understand how testing expectations have exploded in the last two years. This has to change).
  • We all agreed to this. (Not really, rank and file teachers were involved in neither the move toward the Common Core nor the teacher evaluation plan to the same extent they had previously been engaged. To date, there are still serious concerns about whether educators in the field are being included in discussions at SED).
  • We must aim for higher standards. (No one is fighting for lower standards. Teachers and parents want a common sense approach to education reform in New York that doesn’t ignore the reality that kids are facing, namely an onslaught of testing and the loss of teachers and resources year after year. In fact, this week it was revealed that in 2010 New York abruptly abandoned a new set of higher standards that it was ready to implement in favor of the Common Core.  Instead of investing in New York’s future, SED chose to jump at the pot of money at the end of the Race to the Top rainbow. Now we’re paying the price).
  • Politics and rhetoric are causing unnecessary drama. (The drama is in the classrooms across New York, and it’s being caused by the failures at SED.  What’s more dramatic than kids getting sick over testing? What’s more dramatic than great teachers being driven to the brink, choosing retirement over a few more good years dedicated to public service? What’s more dramatic than parents becoming so fed up with testing and SED’s failures that they opt their kids out of the state tests? King should focus more on the drama that kids and parents are facing and less on the discomforts he’s facing in the public arena).

There are still a number of questions that have gone unanswered:

  • Why can’t teachers see the tests? (Check out the StandwithSpencerport.org petition calling for the release of the state exams so teachers can use them to actually inform instruction, not just test and punish schools and teachers).
  • Why can’t teachers score their own performance assessments? (SED has created a multimillion dollar division of test security and integrity to address a problem that statistically doesn’t exist. Schools have been forced to turn to paper and pencil tests in performance disciplines like the arts and phys ed or spend thousands of dollars on testing SWAT teams [yes, they really call them SWAT teams] to administer performance assessments. Eliminating the restriction on scoring performance assessments would go a long way to right the wrongs that have been created by the teacher evaluation testing requirements by allowing authentic assessments in our classrooms).

The good news is that John King and his team are, at the very least, acknowledging their critics (of course the politicians finally took notice, which helped a bit). The bad news is that they have doubled (and tripled) down on the same rhetoric handed to them by their PR consultants.  Every time we hear these tired talking points, we should be reminded that King is more focused on public relations than our kids.

John King and his colleagues at SED should be reminded that New Yorkers are tired of the talking points. Don’t be surprised if parents and teachers tune you out and stop listening when you turn to the script. If you really want to reach out to New York’s teachers and families, stop telling them what you think and start asking them what their concerns are.  You’d be surprised at how a little listening can make a big difference in the confidence people hold in you.

Gil Shaham performs the Gigue from Bach’s Partita No. 3.

Take a minute and 47 seconds out of your day to enjoy something timeless and bigger than the work that overwhelms you today. Your mind and soul will appreciate it.


You might be interested in a report heard on NPR yesterday about the reading habits of American teens. It just scratches the surface, but offers sad commentary on the state of literacy in American families.  Simply put, kids don’t read.

“A roundup of studies, put together by the nonprofit Common Sense Media, shows a clear decline over time. Nearly half of 17-year-olds say they read for pleasure no more than one or two times a year — if that.” READ MORE

You read that right, “one or two times a year.”  That would include the newspaper, a magazine, a novel, anything read for pleasure.  Has the idea of reading for pleasure become so repulsive to children that they engage in the act less frequently than they see their dentist?  What are American families doing to beat the love of reading out of kids?  What happened to the unbridled enthusiasm of that one year old gnawing on the corner of board books and handing her favorite read to her daddy at nap time?

I wonder if SED is planning to take into account student, and parent, reading habits in the next round of the APPR plan. Maybe teachers could pick up a few extra points if their students own library cards and use the library regularly. Five points extra if families don’t subscribe to cable or place restrictions on screen time in the home? Or perhaps it’s time to implement a performance review for parents, collecting data on student absences, library usage from birth to age five (the most critical years), and merit pay (let’s call it “parental career ladders”) for families who raise even an average reader.



Product placements on New York’s 3-8 ELA exams represent “inexperienced, shoddy work on the part of Pearson and NYSED.” It seems John King and his minions at SED see nothing wrong with this. Who knows what will appear on the math tests this week, maybe a reference to the Lego Movie’s theme song ‘Everything is Awesome.’

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

Lace to the Top, an activist group of educators and parents in New York opposed to high-stakes testing, became curious about the appearance of certain commercial products on the state’s mandated exams.

Edith Balthazar, a New York City public school parent and freelance editor, thought the product placements were too blatant to be an accident.

The exams were created by Pearson, the giant British publishing company.

Imagine! An American Girl doll with a Pearson textbook in her backpack!

Typically, publishers’ guidelines for test development prohibit any mention of commercial products.

Members of Lace to the Top did some research and found ties between Pearson and the products placed in its exams.

Were the references to these products mere coincidence or advertising?

If their research is wrong, I hope that representatives of Pearson will contact me so I can correct the record.

View original

De Blasio says he understands Common Core protests

By Sally Goldenberg (Capital New York)

5:24 p.m. | Apr. 2, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed sympathy today for public-school parents who opted to have their children sit out recent standardized exams that are based on the new Common Core curriculum adopted by New York State.

“I understand their frustrations,” de Blasio said. “When my children were participating in the high-stakes testing I saw the same dynamics I think a lot of other parents have seen: Kids feel very nervous, they feel overwhelmed by the process,” the mayor said during a news conference about his universal pre-kindergarten plan at a school in Queens.

He promised his administration will “do everything in our power to move away from high-stakes testing” by expanding the pool of criteria used to evaluate schools and students.

“So I think parents are keying into something that’s very real in terms of wanting to see a more balanced system,” he added.

Across the state, parents, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Astorino, have chosen to protest the new exams by refusing to allow their children to take them. Some opponents say they dictate curriculum; others say they are unreliable.

De Blasio, who was broadly critical of the Bloomberg administration’s education policies, said he is “moving away from a lot of the sacred cows of the previous administration like the use of the high-stakes testing to determine a quote-unquote grade for a school. It was a process I thought was broken from the beginning.”


As local NYSUT presidents from around New York flood into Manhattan today and tomorrow, NYSUT President Iannuzzi is shifting into high gear and pulling out all the stops in his campaign to hang on to his job as the boss of New York’s largest union.  Delegates representing NYSUT’s 600,000 members and more than 1,300 locals will convene later this week at NYSUT’s Representative Assembly, which climaxes with a high stakes election planned for Saturday afternoon; an election which is set to determine the future of the organization.

Candidate Iannuzzi is up against a progressive slate of leaders from around the state including Harrison Teachers’ Association president Karen Magee and NYSUT Executive VP Andy Pallotta. Iannuzzi, along with his team of incumbents, is banking on a last ditch, full court press effort to garner enough support for a win.  In fact, their latest announcement, in which they claim support from 300 local unions, has been sullied by questions about their tactics (and, at times, their ability to add). It seems that some of the locals on their list are counted twice (co-presidents are listed) and others were placed on the list without their knowledge. One union president was listed as a supporter even though she had publicly endorsed Iannuzzi’s challengers; she even posted a letter on their website.  And the number, 300 (hence the reference to Thermopylae), only ads up to less than 25% of the delegates who are eligible a to vote in this week’s election (NYSUT has over 1,300 locals in total). In some cases, local presidents haven’t promised to support all of the incumbents, rather they intend to vote split tickets and only endorse one of Iannuzzi’s team with whom they have close personal or regional ties. At this point, any claim of a mandate going into this election would be premature at best, or at worse reckless.

The real concern in the eyes of many leaders across the state, however, are the tactics that candidate Iannuzzi is employing in his 11th hour whistle-stop tour of New York. Last month, in an attempt to peel delegates away from their locals, he sent letters to the Buffalo Teachers’ Federation and the Rochester TA delegates calling into question their responsibility to vote alongside their leaders, Phil Rumore and Adam Urbanski. What Iannuzzi ignores is that delegates’ obligation to representation is not a service to themselves, but rather a service to their members.

Iannuzzi kicked his pressure up a notch last week when he sent NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer, Lee Cutler, uninvited to a delegate meeting in Syracuse (Syracuse Teachers’ Association President, KevinAhern, has pledged his support to The Revive NYSUT candidates). It turns out that there were less than a dozen attendees at the meeting and only a half dozen delegates present. What absolutely shocked the Syracuse delegates was Iannuzzi’s follow up letter to the meeting. In it, Iannuzzi calls into question the STA’s endorsement process.

We were surprised to learn that President Ahern endorsed the opposition on your behalf without a phone call or a discussion.

In truth, the decision to support Revive NYSUT was made by the STA Executive Board in consultation with their Representative Assembly. There was not a single dissenting voice in either body. The letter goes on, bizarrely, to suggest that delegates had been subject to some kind of coercion and/or intimidation.

All of the candidates running on the Stronger Together team understand that is unethical and unlawful for a union to discipline or otherwise use threats to restrain, coerce, or intimidate or otherwise attempt to restrain, coerce, or intimidate any member for the purpose of interfering with his/her rights.

Iannuzzi goes on to cite the Code of Federal Regulations which applies in this case. You can read the full letter here:  Syracuse Appeal

These types of attacks are shameful and have no place in this election.  I reached out to the leadership team in Syracuse and they made it perfectly clear, STA’s process was followed to the letter and nobody was coerced or intimidated.  Any suggestion as such, either in this letter or otherwise, is a lie and possibly even slanderous.

What will Iannuzzi do next?  This week will surely be heated.  Our only hope will be that cooler minds will prevail and he will take a cue from his rank and file supporters.  Now is the time to focus on the future of NYSUT, its strength and its members’ collective wisdom.  Let’s find common ground as we move forward.

I won’t remind you what happened to the 300 Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae.  Let’s hope this year’s RA isn’t quite the bloodbath.


New York State Education Department Commissioner John King can count another fumble of the Regents’ edreform policies with the recent realization that the release of district-level evaluation results are months overdue. The data, originally anticipated for late fall or mid-winter, has yet to be released for the 700+ school districts across New York.

Some in Albany have speculated that the delay is an effort to starve criticism of New York’s teacher evaluation system and tests which were based, for the first time last year, on the controversial Common Core curriculum.

Another explanation is that it would be a bad moment politically to unveil the results, with Governor Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers planning to amend the rating system to shield educators from low scores on Common Core-aligned exams. Preliminary results indicate that the vast majority of teachers and principals fared well on their evaluations, but a detailed look would likely show how the ratings vary by school district along socioeconomic and racial lines and bolster union complaints that the system fails to account for factors like poverty. (Jessica Bakeman-CapitalNY)


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