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By Mike Schirtzer

Teacher and UFT Delegate: Leon M. Goldstein High School

 

Like most classroom teachers, I didn’t attend last weekend’s AFT convention. In fact, few working teachers knew it was going on, or had reason to care. Our delegates represented none of what we believe in and nothing that happened there will make any difference in our classroom. There was no call for Arne Duncan’s resignation, no resolution for a repeal of the Common Core Standards, and no new strategies for increasing union mobilization or supporting our students. Actually nothing of consequence was achieved. Members will go back to their respective locals and continue the same methods: Chicago Teachers Unions (CTU) will the lead the fight against so called reform that hurts our children and profession, while the AFT/UFT leadership will go back to a style of unionism that ensures that none of my friends become any more engaged in union activities. Continue Reading…

Bill_de_Blasio_and_family

By Mike Schirtzer

Teacher/UFT Delegate

Leon M. Goldstein High School- Brooklyn, NY

Congratulations, Mr. Mayor Elect, no matter one’s politics there is universal agreement that twelve years of rule is enough, it’s time for a new day. I’m sure you have already heard from the so called education experts on how to best “fix” our schools. Some of our friends have already told you how to best address the education needs (Diane Ravitch and Assailed Teacher). Rather than write you a laundry list of everything we want to help our public school system we have one simple request; visit our public schools and speak to the real stakeholders, educators, parents, and of course our children.

There it is Mr. de Blasio, you have already said education is a top priority, so take time and actually show up unannounced to public schools around New York City. Please don’t show up with an army of advisors and consultants, when the “iPad mafia’ comes in from the DOE it disturbs our classroom by diverting our students attention. You do not need cameras or reporters either. It’s simple, show up, sit down, listen, observe, ask questions and find out the truth for yourself. Our elementary school teachers have a great expression, “use your five senses,” that’s great advice that can help your evaluation. I know there are bunch of folks at Tweed (DOE headquarters) who have fancy titles and resumes full of “qualifications’ that they believe makes them experts, but better to speak the real experts, the people on the ground, find out the truth for yourself.

Visit all types of schools, ones that are considered high performing, ones that have been labeled “failing,” those that are forced to share room with charters, schools in communities where poverty is the norm, and schools where parents associations and alumni have made up for the wave of budget cuts. When you get there sit in on our classes, watch what teachers do. Take time to speak to them afterwards. Find out from teachers about how all these new policies such as Common Core  standards, new aligned curriculum, evaluation schemes, and proliferation of testing is affecting our students. After you’re done talking to teachers, visit the guidance counselors, deans, paraprofessionals, and other educators and find out their thoughts on all the changes made in the last twelve years.

Hopefully you can find some principals and assistant principals to talk to who preceded the Bloomberg era and can explain to you how our school system has changed for the better or the worse. Ask them their thoughts on the leadership academies, where inexperienced educators are left to run their own schools. Ask them how much sovereignty they actually have. It would be a really good idea to sit down and run a budget analysis with them, make sure to to focus on the allocations for “network support” and “educational consultants”.  It would also help you out to ask our school leaders about networks, superintendent offices, consultants, Tweed, and if all that money being diverted to these levels of bureaucracies could be better used in the schools. Find out the impact that these so called experts are having on our children and if we can better allocate public funds, such as reducing class size, adding more after-school programs, and wrap-around services.

And while you are talking to the educators and leaders, meet with parents, ask them their thoughts on all the new curriculum changes and testing. Find out how closing schools and co-locating ten schools in one building is affecting their children’s education. Ask them how to fix education and if poverty matters. Give them the “company” line that “poverty is just an excuse”, lets see their reaction to that! Ask them if the lack of healthcare or a pathway to citizenship affects their children’s education.

Finally, make time to sit down with the most important group of all, the real experts, our students. Have lunch with them, taste the food, find out their thoughts on school, what they want, what they need. Do they like all the test prep, less creative-arts classes, less physical education, less after-school programs, What do they think of their teachers, their principals, all the school faculty? Talk to the children who had their community schools closed or lost space to fancy new charters, investigate what has been the impact of Bloomberg’s policies on these innocent children. Ask our students how education can be improved, talk to high school students about the limited choice of courses due to budget cuts, find out how our younger elementary children have gone from playing and enjoying school to being drilled for tests on a daily basis, discuss with our middle school children how much stress they have from the constant practice for their ELA and Math exams. The main question for all our children has to be, is the obsession with bubbling in the correct answer making your educational experience better?

We don’t think this is too much to request. Visit schools, talk to the stakeholders, and let these conversations dictate your educational policies and choice for chancellor, not the experts who are lined up at your door, but have never spent a day in our schools. This is our only wish, Mr. Mayor Elect, we only hope you take our advice. As one of the few, if not the only organized group of actual rank and file educators that are actively working in public schools we are more than happy to open our doors to you.

Support of Union Leaders is Sought in Call for Moratorium on New NYS ‘Test-Prep’ Teacher Evaluation Scheme

MORE and Change the Stakes Team Up for “Win Back Wednesday” Rally at UFT Delegate Assembly, UFT Headquarters, Oct. 9

 For Immediate Release

NEW YORK — On October 9th at 4:00 p.m, activists from all over the city will gather at UFT headquarters to protest the emphasis on high-stakes testing that education advocates denounce for harming students, educators, and public schools. This action will be led by two grassroots organizations: the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), known as ‘the social justice caucus’ of the UFT, and Change the Stakes, a group of parents who oppose reducing education to the pursuit of higher standardized test scores.

According to organizers, the rally is being called “Win Back Wednesday” because public education must be “won back” from the profit-driven entities behind high-stakes testing and school privatization schemes and returned to actual stakeholders: parents, students, and educators. Wednesday is the monthly UFT Delegate Assembly, when representatives elected by rank and file educators from every school in the city traditionally meet to vote on key decisions.

Organizers are hopeful that union leadership will change course, breaking alliances formed in recent years with self-described education “reformers,” whose agenda typically focuses on increased high-stakes testing and privatization of public schools. To highlight growing opposition to these policies, UFT members throughout NYC will wear anti-high-stakes testing stickers and buttons in their own schools on October 9th, and then gather for a united rally at UFT headquarters downtown after school.

“Our children’s education should never be thought of as ‘common’ or ‘standardized,’” said Mike Schirtzer, UFT delegate and MORE member, referring to the new Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluation system. “Recent educational policies have put a dangerous emphasis on high-stakes testing. The results? A narrowed curriculum. A climate of fear and competition in our classrooms. Students learning to bubble in the right answer, not how to think critically.”

“All too often, our leadership has been complicit in this assault on educational quality and equality,” Schirtzer said. “As the nation’s largest, most powerful union local, the UFT can and should lead the charge for real innovation in schools. Rank and file teachers and public school parents want leadership to say loudly and unambiguously what we all know to be true: the testing regime has run amok. We have chosen the UFT headquarters for the rally because we believe they can be a leading voice for real reform.”

Rally organizers will call on union leadership to demand a “real path to better public schools,” including reduced class sizes; a renewed focus on the arts, music, civics, and physical education; and funding for afterschool programs and wrap-around programs.

Jia Lee, NYC public school teacher and parent worries that, “Standardized testing only gives my son’s teacher this information: if he answered an item correctly or incorrectly. In my son’s school, mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning; it’s never punitive as in these new high stakes tests. He doesn’t need the burden of thinking that his incorrect answers will cost his teacher her job.”

“While millions of dollars are being wasted on implementing these new ‘reform’ policies,” Schirtzer added, “our children lack the services they deserve and our educators enter their fifth year without a contract. The UFT leadership must use its power to say ‘enough is enough’! We are calling on them to join us in telling the public, politicians, and those that say they care about education that our children, teachers, and public schools are more than a test score!

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By Mike Schirtzer

Teacher/UFT Delegate

Leon M. Goldstein High School- Brooklyn

2013 MORE Vice Presidential Candidate for UFT

 

On October 9th at 4:00 p.m., activists from all over the city will gather at UFT headquarters (52 Broadway NYC) to protest the emphasis on high stakes testing that is harming our children, educators, and public schools. This action will be led by the grassroots organizations of Movement of Rank & File Educators (MORE), the Social Justice Caucus of the UFT, and Change the Stakes, a group of parents who refuse to allow their children to be measured by standardized test scores.

 

The rally is being called “Win Back Wednesday” because it’s time for public education to be reclaimed from the profit-driven “reformers” and returned to the real stakeholders; parents, students, and teachers. Our children’s education should never be thought of as “common”, “standardized”, or “data-driven”. Recent educational policies that have swept our city and nation have put an emphasis on high-stakes testing that narrows curriculum, turns teachers into test-prep machines, and takes the fun out of learning. Common Core standards, Danielson rubrics, and value added measures are untested, unproven schemes that have been developed with little to no input from public school teachers or parents. It’s time for us to take back our schools from those who seek to exploit our children. Public education should never be a for-profit endeavor- it should be  the foundation of a community where children feel secure and receive an education that provides an opportunity for them to develop critical thinking skills and express creativity.

 

We are joining together to let the public know that our teachers, students, and public schools are “MORE than a SCORE”. The new evaluation system called “Advance”  is rating teachers based on test scores for courses they don’t even teach. There is no conclusive evidence that rating teachers based on test scores will make them better instructors or have a positive effect on our children’s education. The worst part of the new evaluation scheme is that 40% of a teacher’s rating will be based on test score growth, algorithms that have never been proven to accurately determine if a teacher is “effective”. 40% or not, New York State Education Commissioner John King has declared that any teacher who is rated ineffective on the test based measures will be rated ineffective overall. Our education leaders have somehow decided that 40% equals 100%.

 

Common Core standards and the new teacher evaluation system have led to a proliferation of testing that is having a terrible effect on our youngest students. Children enter school with a natural curiosity to learn about the world we live in, but constant preparation for, and execution of standardized testing takes has taken that from them. Students need to have a chance to develop skills, and we must engage them in their innate love of learning.

 

When many veteran teachers entered the public school system the emphasis was on helping students to foster their “multiple intelligences” and talents. Learning was designed to be differentiated based on student’s individualized needs. Now our school system has fallen under the dark cloud of standardized testing and “one size fits all” standards which wrongly assumes that all children learn the same way. This is a tragic turn in public education, driven by nefarious preference for profits over what’s best for our children. While corporations and consultants makes millions of dollars, our students are conditioned to take tests, not to provide solutions to real world problems. This is not what education is about, nor can our democracy thrive or survive if this trend continues.

 

We have chosen the UFT headquarters for the rally because we believe they can be the sole voice of real reform. As nation’s largest, most powerful union local, the UFT can lead the charge for legitimate educational innovation ensuring that the real stakeholders- parents, students, and teachers – have a voice in how to best educate our children. We will be there to urge  the UFT leadership to join us in calling for a moratorium of the new hastily implemented evaluation system. Instead of a champion for the Common Core standards and “Advance”, rank and file teachers and public school parents want an advocate for children that says loudly and unambiguously what we all know to be true: the testing regime has run amok.

 

We need our union  leadership to call for real reform, smaller class size, renewed focus on the arts, music, civics, physical education and funding for afterschool programs. While millions of dollars are being wasted on implementing these new “reform” policies, our children lack the services they deserve and our educators enter their fifth year without a contract. The UFT leadership must use its power to say “enough is enough”! We are calling on them to join us in telling the public, politicians, and those that say they care about education that our children, teachers, and public schools are more than a test score!

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