POV: Those Who Can…

Points_viewThis Point of View was submitted by Shaker Junior High School principal Dr. Russell Moore of the North Colonie Central School District. Dr. Moore is currently in his 27th year as a principal. You can read more from him at his blog “Moore Perspective.”

I was just enrolled in my MEd. program at St. Lawrence and was sitting in my first class.  This program would not only result in a Master’s degree in Educational Administration, it would also serve as the basis for my NYS certification as a building and/or district administrator.  And like teaching, you need the certification to get an administrative job!  The professor seemed to be a really nice guy, but like most college professors he had no practical experience as a building principal.  I cannot be positive of that fact, but I’m pretty sure it’s accurate.

I don’t remember specifically what we were talking about but Dr. Williams (the name has been changed to protect the guilty) uttered the age old cliché in response to a colleague’s comments.  He stated, “Well you know what they say.  Those who can do, those who can’t teach.”  And, of course, he snickered about it.

Well, me being me, I said, “You should finish the saying.”

He looked at me quizzically and asked what I was referring to.  So, I said, “The full saying is those who can do, those who can’t teach, and those who can’t teach, teach teachers.”

I’m not really sure what he thought, the rest of the class loved it, and everybody had greater insight into who I was.

Needless to say I find the quote insulting and as far from the truth as most such sayings are.

I’ve worked with a multitude of professional educators over the course of 38 years in my career.  For a good number of them education was a second career; they had started down a different career path and found that it wasn’t really what they wanted to do.  The majority of educators I have known and interacted with knew from the beginning that they wanted to teach.  They have committed themselves to educating children, a conscious decision on their part based on their thoughts, beliefs, dedication to learning, desire to influence children’s development, or any of a wide range of reasons.  I can honestly say, believe it or not, I have not met any educator who went into education for the summers off.  I realize that’s a common belief of the non-education populace, but it has not been my experience at all.

And, I have worked with many educators who could have pursued whatever career path was desired and done well.  They had the abilities and personal characteristics that would have served them well in any line of work.  Many easily could have gone on to own their own businesses, or rise to lofty positions in big industries, or developed products that became everyday items.  The talents I have seen in people are as wide spread and as impressive as those you would observe in any field, any career path, any business.

And those people chose to teach.  They didn’t move to education when the college science or math courses got too difficult.  They didn’t suddenly realize that pursuing a career in business would be a long road, and ultimately one they didn’t want to spend time following.  They didn’t pass on law or medical careers because there are no jobs in those fields.  They wanted to teach.

It doesn’t matter what school you consider, the teaching staff is made up of very talented individuals, people who are committed to applying their thinking, creating, doing to educating kids.  Indeed, those who can, teach.

And that’s my perspective.

Cuomo announces new education appointments

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday three new education appointments to his administration.

Elana Sigall – Deputy Secretary for Education
Jay Quaintance – Assistant Secretary for Education
Paola Therasse – Program Associate for Education

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced new education appointments within the administration, building on the administration’s diverse team to achieve the Governor’s bold education reform agenda.

“It is an honor to welcome these new members of my administration, and I commend them for their commitment to public service as we continue to develop and implement reforms to New York’s education system,” Governor Cuomo said. “These individuals have a wide array of experience in education, including as teachers in the classroom, and such experience will be invaluable in improving student performance across the state. These individuals are dedicated to improving the lives of New Yorkers, and I am confident their proven records of success will be an asset to this administration as we keep moving New York forward.”

Elana Sigall serves as Deputy Secretary for Education. An attorney, professor and former teacher, Ms. Sigall previously served as Chief Policy Officer of Division of Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners at the New York City Department of Education, where she designed, launched, led and managed a number of new offices and programs and oversaw their hundreds of employees. She is currently an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College and at Columbia University School of Law. She also has held a number of public and private sector education policy and legal counsel positions for more than two decades. Ms. Sigall earned her A.B. from Princeton University and J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Jay Quaintance serves as Assistant Secretary for Education. With 20 years of teaching and administration policy experience in higher education, Mr. Quaintance most recently served at the State University of New York as Assistant Vice Chancellor and Assistant Provost for Community College Policy and Planning and, previously, as Assistant Vice Chancellor for Community Colleges. In these roles, he provided system support to the 30 SUNY community colleges for the implementation of the SUNY strategic plan, including coordinating efforts to advance many of SUNY’s critical initiatives to ensure student access, completion and success. His policy work focused on improving outcomes of college readiness, reducing remediation, and workforce and workplace development as well as academic program review and alignment. Mr. Quaintance has an M.A. in Rhetoric and the Teaching of Writing and a B.A. in English from New Mexico State University as well as a certificate in Basic Mediation from Albany Law School.

Paola Therasse serves as a Program Associate for Education. Ms. Therasse most recently served as a general and special education teacher within the New York City Department of Education, responsible for designing, planning and implementing English Language Arts, math, reading and social studies lessons for groups of varying skill levels based on Common Core State Standards. She also developed, wrote and implemented Individualized Education Programs for children identified as special needs students. Additionally, Ms. Therasse has held a number of public sector jobs, having worked for the New York State Senate Finance Committee and the New York State Assembly Corrections Committee. She received a M.S. in Education from Mercy College and a M.A and B.A. in Criminal Justice from SUNY Albany.

SFOS: Schuylerville eighth graders learn from Korean War veterans

Stories_schoolsEighth-grade students at Schuylerville Middle School got a firsthand lesson in history on Wednesday, Nov. 12, when a group of local Korean War veterans visited to share their stories and memories of the war, which is often referred to as “the forgotten war.”

The presentation was part of the Korean War Veterans Association’s Tell America Program, which encourages veterans to travel to schools to give students a better understanding of the Korean War and its consequences.

“We don’t usually teach about the Korean War and communism until the spring, but for years I’ve wanted to do something around Veteran’s Day,” social studies teacher Christine Huestis said. “I was excited to work with the Korean War Veterans Association to bring this eye-opening presentation to Schuylerville.”

Eight veterans of the Korean War visited Schuyerville CSDEight veterans from Adirondack Chapter 60 were on hand to share their personal accounts and answer questions about the war. Paul O’Keefe, a Korean War veteran from Schaghticoke, served with the 24th Infantry Division, the first U.S. soldiers called to South Korea to fight with Republic of Korea troops. He told students about the harsh conditions his troops experienced.

“We lived like animals,” O’Keefe said. “The temperature on winter nights would drop to 40 to 50 degrees below zero and there were days when we didn’t have any food.”

Roger Calkins, a Navy veteran of the Korean War, talked about his experience aboard a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, discussed the price of the war in terms of casualties, and shared a recent satellite image that shows North Korea as almost completely black at night, in contrast to the bright lights of neighbor South Korea. Calkins said he was honored to speak to the students and appreciated the questions they asked.

“It’s a real gratifying experience to see that young people are so interested and want to know what happened. We really appreciate that,” Calkins said. “It makes you proud to be an American.”

The students seemed to appreciate having the personal stories to go with what they had learned in class.

“The war was a lot bigger than I thought and it was interesting to hear about it from people who were actually there and lived through it,” eighth-grader Collin Edwards said.

“It’s something I won’t forget,” eighth-grader Claire Barton said. “I learned about the Korean War in social studies, but what these veterans went through is something you can’t capture in a textbook.”

At the conclusion of the presentation, O’Keefe provided students with a definition of a veteran and reminded them that freedom is not free.

“A veteran is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America, for an amount of up to and including his or her life.”

This story was written by Stacey Rice, communications specialist for the Schuylerville Central School District.

SFOS: Unadilla Valley students sharpen critical thinking skills during student-centered learning projects

Stories_schoolsA peek inside of Karen Ramirez’s home and careers and technology classes at Unadilla Valley reveals a host of seventh grade entrepreneurs. A visit to her classroom shows students in aprons juicing different fruits, tasting their creations with large wooden spoons, and then writing in a notebook.

Some students seem pleased with their results (a wide smile always gives it away) and others acknowledge the results with a pensive look and head back to the juicing machine.
Groups comprised of four or five students have been busy throughout the fall creating a juice drink, naming it, building a box for it, recording the recipe, picking the right advertising, and marketing the product.

“One student works on building skills as they build the package, and other student does the advertising and creates a 30-second radio commercial or a jingle,” Ramirez said.
“The last person in the group focuses on marketing where they complete a 10-question survey that focuses on people’s likes or dislikes. They then gear the rest of their project on the results.”

SCLRamirez’s project doesn’t resemble cookie cutter instruction (think students regurgitating facts), rather, it focuses on “student-centered” learning, which isn’t just a buzz word related to the Common Core Learning Standards, but a growing way of life at Unadilla Valley. Teachers cover topics more in-depth than they did years ago with an eye on cultivating critical thinking, analysis and investigative skills.

“As teachers, we give them the parameters of the project, back away, and allow them as a group to brainstorm together and come up with solutions and a final outcome on their own,” Ramirez said.

“If their juice is sour, I ask what they need to do to change it. I guide the learning, but I don’t tell them how to do it. They have to come up with it on their own, and they do if you give them time to think about it.”

Seventh grade student Mark Hine – whose focus and concentration were evident as he mixed his juice – said he appreciated the learning benefits of the project.

“This teaches us how to put things together and gives us a chance to learn from our mistakes. It makes you think harder, and you work more so you don’t make as many mistakes,” he said.

Lecturing Less
District leaders at Unadilla Valley aren’t trying to lessen the load on teachers, but they are striving for a classroom that features student-led instruction about 50 percent of the time.
Secondary school principal Frank Johnson said instruction at Unadilla Valley mirrors the Common Core shifts in ELA/Literacy and math.

“Our teachers work hard on lesson planning and assessments. We’re getting away from retrieval and recognition to more analyzing information, doing investigations, and comparing and contrasting. Those represent higher level thinking skills,” he said.

“The bare bones of it are that teachers introduce the topic, such as what it’s like to have your own apartment, and have the students do the reading and investigation (think conducting web research or reading consumer resources articles about entrepreneurship). The students who do the work will learn more.”

Helping students hone their critical thinking skills isn’t a new concept either.

District leaders at Unadilla Valley know that preparing students to succeed in a global economy in the rapidly changing 21st century requires helping them develop essential skills. They know the future students will grow up in differs drastically than it did 25 years ago.

In line with the shifts, teachers in the district instruct students to read more-nonfiction and work with primary source documents to develop a hypothesis on an issue and make claims using the information they’ve researched.

“We’ve been doing this for the last three years,” Johnson said. “Kids can do complex work.”

Lessons in Learning
Student-centered learning at Unadilla Valley stretches across the district and involves every subject. Algebra and geometry teacher Danette George actively tries to shift away from walking around her classroom and lecturing, to facilitating more group work and collaboration.

During an algebra lesson on applying inequalities (think 2x + 3 < 7), George wrote a list of problems on her iPad and connected it to big screen. She split the students into groups and assigned each group a few problems.

As the students worked on the problems, she walked around helping those who needed it. When the students solved the problems, they then taught the students in the other groups how they found the answers.

George said if students can teach what they’re learning, they tend to remember more.

“By the end of class, we had the entire worksheet done,” George said. “In class the day before, we went over the skills they would need to solve the problems.

“During lessons like that, I feel like I can actually talk to every student in class one-on-one. It buys me more time to get to a student who’s struggling or needs more help.”

Biology/living environment teacher John Jackson also embraces group projects and students testing their hypotheses. He often splits students into groups, assigns each a role, and monitors the group.

He said during a lab on an abnormal growth on a plant stem, students made a hypothesis about what happened to the planet and subsequently tested it.

“I teach them a scientific method,” he said. “Once the students see the bump in the stem, they figure out why it’s there and slice it open to verify if they were right or wrong.”
Sophomore McKayla Brown praises the student-centered learning approach and its hands-on qualities.

“When we learn from others, we learn from their perspective and we get more ideas, instead of just the one from the teacher,” she said.

“If you read about it, you usually forget, but if you do it, you remember it better.”

Of course, student-centered at Unadilla Valley doesn’t always involve groups. And it’s not without hints of creativity.

On just the second day of school, Will Rexroat asked his engineering design students to build an airplane out of some basic materials he gave them. The student whose airplane flew the farthest would be the winner. He also let students express their creativity and the freedom to design whatever he/she wanted.

“I’m teaching the design process and the thinking that goes behind engineering this year, so I wanted to see what the students already knew,” he said.

“It was more realistic for the world of engineering because there were no right answers, there were just better ones.”

This story was written by Christian Czerwinski, communications specialist for the Unadilla Valley Central School District.

Smart Schools Bond Act passes, Cuomo re-elected

Voters approved the Smart Schools Bond Act on Tuesday, which will provide each school district with funding for new educational technology and infrastructure improvements. The proposition passed with 62 percent of the vote.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also won re-election, garnering 54 percent of the vote, making him the first Democratic governor to win re-election in New York since is father, Mario Cuomo, won in 1990.

Cuomo first proposed his Smart Schools Act in January during State of the State address. The money that school districts will receive for technology upgrades will be determined by a formula tied directly to the state aid that each district receives. The money must be spent on equipment laptops, desktops, tablets, infrastructure upgrades and high speed broadband.

The money would also be eligible for the building or renovation of pre-kindergarten classrooms, high-tech school security features or to replace classroom trailers in overcrowded schools.

“The next step now in our journey is to reinvent our classrooms with new technology,” Cuomo has said. “We must transform our classrooms from the classrooms of yesterday to the classrooms of tomorrow.”

The bond act was met with some skepticism by some, who cited fiscal and more long term concerns.

“They’re assuming a box full of iPads that some school buys next year are still going to be useful and not obsolete in 2022,” president of the Empire Center E.J. McMahon said. “Nobody believes that.”

“The interest the state would pay annually on $2 billion, approximately $150 million, could have been used to increase current aid to schools for software and hardware purchases,” executive director of the State Association of School Business Officials Michael Borges said.

School districts will now have to submit technology plans to the state on how they will spend their share of the money.

Get out and vote today

Ballot being slipped into voting boxAfter months of political attack ads, debates and candidate promises, Election Day is here.

When New York voters head to the polls today, in addition to candidates for office, they will decide on a $2 billion Smart Schools bond referendum that, if approved, would provide each school district with funding for new educational technology and infrastructure improvements that could also include classroom space for prekindergarten programs.

Each school district would receive an allocation of the $2 billion Smart Schools that is proportionate to the district’s share of total formula based school aid in the 2013-14 school year, excluding Building Aid, Universal Prekindergarten Aid, and the Gap Elimination Adjustment. For example, if a district receives 2.0% of total State school aid, the school district’s Smart Schools allocation would be $40 million (.02 * $2,000,000,000). You can click here for a calculator of how much your school district would be eligible to receive.

If you haven’t educated yourself on the issues, take the time to do so. An educated voter is a democracy’s best citizen. We here at Ed Speaks encourage you to vote and exercise your civic duty. People tend to forego voting in the midterm elections. Let’s change that today. Polls are open until 9:00 p.m. tonight.

High-achieving teacher suing state over ‘ineffective’ label on evaluation

Sheri Lederman, Ed.D., a top-performing fourth grade teacher in the Great Neck Public School District is suing the State Education Department to invalidate a rating of “ineffective” on her evaluation.

The lawsuit states that Dr. Lederman’s students have consistently and substantially outperformed state averages in English Language Arts exams and 4th grade math exams over the course of her 17-year career at Great Neck. Over the last two years, approximately 68 percent of Dr. Lederman’s students have met or exceeded state standards, while the state average has been about 31 percent. Dr. Lederman’s superintendent, Thomas Dolan, signed an affidavit saying “her record is flawless” and that “she is highly regarded as an educator.”

Yet, when Lederman received her 2013-14 evaluation, based in part on student standardized test scores, she was rated “ineffective.”

According to the Washington Post:

The convoluted statistical model that the state uses to evaluate how much a teacher “contributed” to students’ test scores awarded her only one out of 20 possible points. These ratings affect a teacher’s reputation and at some point are supposed to be used to determine a teacher’s pay and even job status.

The evaluation method, known as value-added modeling, or VAM, purports to be able to predict through a complicated computer model how students with similar characteristics are supposed to perform on the exams — and how much growth they are supposed to show over time — and then rate teachers on how much their students compare to the theoretical students. New York is just one of the many states where VAM is one of the chief components used to evaluate teachers.

The lawsuit claims that Value Added Model as presently implemented by the state, actually punishes excellence in education through a statistical black box which no educator could see as fair or accurate. This past April, the American Statistical Association issued a report that called into question the use of VAM for teacher evaluation.

In the past, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the teacher evaluation system needed to be revised because not enough teachers were being labeled as “developing” or “ineffective.” Just last week, Cuomo vowed that if re-elected, he would push for a plan on evaluations that includes more incentives and sanctions that “make it a more rigorous evaluation system.”

The concept of evaluations are not new to New York. Teachers and principals have always been evaluated and held to standards, but under the current APPR, district evaluation plans must adhere to rigid rules set by the state and a portion of the evaluations is directly tied to student performance on state exams or other state-approved learning measures. The goal of APPR is to provide standardized, objective evaluation results.

This lawsuit filed by Dr. Lederman is interesting in that it goes after VAM as a measure to evaluate a teacher. Should VAM fall, it could significantly change the evaluation process in New York and around the country.

Cuomo hears from critics over ‘monopolies’ comment

Governor Cuomo at table with daughter working on homeworkEarlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed to break up “one of the only remaining public monopolies”, and push for a new round of teacher evaluations.

Cuomo also said that better teachers and competition from charter schools are the best ways to revamp an underachieving public school system.

Now his critics are firing back.

The Working Families Party, the Alliance for Quality Education, and the two candidates vying for the gubernatorial nod with Cuomo – Republican candidate Rob Astorino and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins – all took their shots at the Governor.

Working Families Party Response

“Gov. Cuomo is wrong on this one. His proposed policies on public education will weaken, not strengthen our public education system, and they would represent a step away from the principle of high quality public education for all students. High stakes testing and competition are not the answer. Investment in the future is the answer, and that means progressive taxation and adequate resources for our schools.

We endorsed the governor because of his commitments to raise the minimum wage, fight for public financing of elections, the full Women’s Equality Act, the DREAM Act, and decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana. But we’ll never hesitate to criticize him when he’s wrong, as he is on this issue. A vote on the WFP line for Governor is a vote to get those crucial progressive policies passed and to strengthen the WFP.”

The Alliance for Quality Education Response

The Alliance for Quality Education’s designated Champions of Education in the New York State Senate, Assembly and New York City Council joined in the chorus of community and school superintendent responses to Gov. Cuomo’s vow on Tuesday to break the public schools “monopolies” and replace them with more privately-run charter schools.

“I find it unacceptable that Governor Cuomo would further disempower and denigrate our public schools,” said State Senator Bill Perkins. “Saying that there should be more competition among schools—to break a so-called public monopoly—is his way of imposing heedless private business practices on these august institutions that have served our citizens well for more than a century. Furthermore, charter schools perpetuate a system of educational inequality and have ushered in a new generation of separate but unequal outcomes in education. Governor Cuomo’s own words—sadly, lead us to believe that profit and privatization is more important to him than serving every child in the state with excellence.”

“It is troubling to read that the Governor, just days before the election, is blaming teachers again, and is now slamming the ‘public’ in public education in favor of increased privatization via charter schools,” Assembly member Patricia Fahy said. “By definition, public schools serve all children, including all those who cycle in and out of charter and other private schools. While accountability is essential among all teachers and in all schools, slamming a bedrock institution of our state and country – public education – while ignoring so many root causes of school failure – is simplistic at best and not constructive to moving the needle on improving education opportunities for all.”

“The Governor’s recent comments about the state of education and calling it a ‘public Monopoly’ has me gravely concern,” said Assembly member Walter Mosley. “Education is a public good, not a public monopoly. It must be treated as such, regardless of one’s family income or status, public education must be treated with a proper level of respect and regard to the general welfare of our society.”

“As a father and grandfather whose children have attended our public schools, investment in public education and support for public schools is critical. This is not the time to attack public schools but to strengthen them,” said Assembly member Felix W. Ortiz. “I pledge to fight for more state aid to public schools next year. Our future is at stake.”

“I am not surprised that Governor Cuomo supports attempts to privatize schools to benefit hedge fund billionaires,” said NYC Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm. “These Wall Street fat cats may raise him the most money but public education isn’t a business. If Governor Cuomo actually spent time in the NYC public schools, he would learn that there is no independent assessment that says that charter schools perform better than public schools. He should do something constructive for public education for a change. He should demand that charter schools are held accountable. He should stop charter schools from evading public oversight despite receiving millions in taxpayer money. He should stop charter schools from failing to properly educate English language learners and special education students. And he should seek to end problematic conflicts of interest between charter school board members and business interests.”

Rob Astorino’s Response

“New York public school teachers deserve respect for their day-in-and-day-out dedication to our children. I know, I have three young children in public schools; I went to public schools, and I served as an elected public school board member. My wife Sheila is a special ed teacher.

Mr. Cuomo’s adversarial stance toward teachers borders on disdain. I simply cannot understand it. All I can say is that, as governor, I will treat you, as teachers, with the respect you deserve as educational professionals, and with which I treat all public servants. We may not always agree on everything, but our goals will remain the same:

Strengthening New York’s public school system to better prepare the children we love for the future.

I am deeply committed to public schools in New York, as is my running mate Sheriff Chris Moss. Public schools are in my blood. I am also a card carrying union member, so I understand the need for and benefits of collective bargaining.

I have heard your concerns over charter schools, and I agree that accountability within them is a must. I have supported charter schools in New York’s inner cities, but I recognize that better public schools must ultimately be the answer to New York’s education challenges.

Governor Cuomo has taken millions of dollars from charter school backers and has no interest in accountability.

As a parent, first and foremost, I am committed to getting rid of Common Core in New York, and as governor, I will pull New York from the program. No K-12 teachers were involved in writing the developmentally inappropriate experimental standards; they were conceived in secrecy and never tested, and the math and English content experts on the validation committee both refused to endorse the standards saying they were of “poor quality.” We’ll replace it with better standards set by New York education experts with input from teachers and parents. And through the same approach, we’ll develop proper assessments for our students, teachers, and schools, of which testing will only be one piece of the puzzle. Our teachers are not test-giving automatons and our children are not guinea pigs. Each deserve better, and they’ll get it under my administration.

I have twice been elected by wide margins in a 2-1 Democratic county. That happened because I am willing to listen and to reach out to everyone, in a respectful manner, to find common solutions. I stand on principle, but I also understand that compromise and good will are how we move forward together as a society.

I would be honored to have your support on Tuesday. I promise you’ll have a respectful governor in me, willing to work with you honestly and constructively to protect and better New York’s public schools.”

Howie Hawkins’ Response

Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor, said that Cuomo’s recent description of schools as the “last public monopoly” is just the latest episode in his ongoing attacks on public education and teachers.

“Andrew Cuomo is turning New York’s schools into the Hunger Games. Andrew Cuomo pushes a game of competitive grants, charter schools, and high-stakes testing. This type of competition leaves a lot of losers. If the Governor wants to break a monopoly, he should break Pearson’s monopoly on testing.”

“What is Cuomo going to attack after he breaks the schools and teachers? Break up the police and fire departments? Have competing companies to deliver drinking water?” asked Hawkins.

Hawkins noted that under Cuomo funding for education has fallen to the lowest percentage of the state budget in 65 years, with a $9 billion cumulative shortfall from what the courts have ordered. He has also enacted tax caps to undermine the ability of local schools districts to make up for the state’s funding shortfall.

Cuomo has also led a drive to privatize the schools, favoring charter schools and promoting high stakes testing, both of which increase profits for his campaign contributors. Last week he vowed to challenge public school teachers by supporting stricter teacher evaluations and competition from charter schools.

“A governor who treats public education as some corporate entity, who shows no support for public education doesn’t deserve a second term. The remarks made clear that Cuomo is an enemy of our public education system. And that he wants to break it,” added Hawkins.

Hawkins said that Cuomo’s recent statement was part of a pattern of increasingly erratic behavior by Cuomo in the closing days of the campaign, starting with his mishandling of the Ebola epidemic. Cuomo earlier today dismissed the Moreland Commission scandal as “political baloney.”

“One has to wonder why a party like the WFP wants you to vote for a candidate that attacks workers and education, opposes making the rich pay their fair share of taxes, waffles on fracking, does photo ops in war zones during his campaign, and doesn’t support universal single payer health care,” commented Hawkins.

Hawkins has been endorsed by a wide range of teachers union and educators, include Diane Ravitch; Nassau County’s East Williston Teachers’ Association; northern Westchester County’s Lakeland Federation of Teachers; Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association, Valley Central Teachers Association, Buffalo Teachers Federation, The Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers.; New York Badass Teacher Association, United Opt Out Independent Community of Educators, Independent Commission on Public Education (ICOPE), and Coalition for Public Education.

Cuomo vows to break up school ‘monopoly’ if re-elected

Gov. CuomoAt a Daily News editorial board meeting earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed to break up “one of the only remaining public monopolies,” and push for a new round of teacher evaluations should he be re-elected.

Cuomo said better teachers and competition from charter schools are the best ways to revitalize an underachieving public school system.

“I believe these kinds of changes are probably the single best thing that I can do as governor that’s going to matter long-term to break what is in essence one of the only remaining public monopolies — and that’s what this is, it’s a public monopoly,” he said.

On the topic of teacher evaluations, Cuomo said he would push for a plan that includes more incentives and sanctions that “make it a more rigorous evaluation system.”

“The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations — I get it. I feel exactly opposite.”

Predictably, the teachers unions fired back. Karen Magee, president of New York State United Teachers, called Cuomo’s comments “an unfortunate distraction” from addressing the real issues plaguing education, like poverty and fair funding.

“Public education is not a monopoly,” NYSUT President Karen Magee said. “It is the centerpiece of our democracy and what makes our nation great. Reclaiming the promise of public education should be our singular focus.”

“Gov. Cuomo has laid clear plans to expand his frontal assault on our public schools through high stakes testing, starving our public schools and privatization,” executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education Billy Easton said. “It’s not that shocking when you look at the enormous pile of cash he has raked in from the Wall Street billionaires who are investing in charter schools. He is rewarding his financial backers at a devastating cost to our children.”

Two years ago, Cuomo successfully backed a new evaluation system tying teacher performance to the Common Core Learning Standards testing results. Due to a sloppy roll out though, the implementation for some of those standards was delayed for two years.

“If you said Common Core testing was premature for students and you just halted the grades on the transcript, then what is your opinion about the impact of Common Core testing on teachers’ evaluations and what should be done?” Cuomo said at the time.

Just this month, Cuomo launched an ad campaign centered around education, that featured him sitting at his kitchen table helping his daughter Michaela with her homework. In the commercial, Cuomo calls for a five-year moratorium on using Common Core test scores. Just a few weeks later, he’s calling for tougher teacher evaluations and promoting charter schools.

With less than a week to go before Election Day, both Cuomo, and his gubernatorial challenger, Rob Astorino, seem to be turning up the heat on the issue of education.

Smart Schools Commission releases report

When New York voters head to the polls next Tuesday, in addition to candidates for office, they will decide on a $2 billion Smart Schools bond referendum that would provide each school district with funding for new educational technology and infrastructure improvements that could also include classroom space for prekindergarten programs.

Yesterday, the Smart Schools Commission, assembled by Gov. Cuomo to gather information on strategies for how schools can most effectively invest proceeds from the proposed bond, released a 56-page report, accompanied by the commission’s seven “Keys to Success” summary.

Throughout the past several months, the Smart Schools Commission has elicited input from hundreds of parents, teachers, students, administrators and private sector stakeholders through a series of three public symposiums in Albany, Buffalo and New York City, as well as from various meetings and feedback submitted through the Smart Schools website.

At each symposium, panelists presented to the Commission case studies, current projects and possibilities that included: enriching the in-classroom learning experience by incorporating the use of tablets, laptops and smart phones; extending preparation for student instruction by using web-based software accessible at home; increasing communication between the instructor and student’s guardian; providing more descriptive academic progress reporting; and, importantly, to support these changes, building a robust network of high-speed broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity throughout New York’s public schools and communities.

The Smart Schools Commission today noted to the Governor that many of these main themes are incorporated into their recommendations. In concert with these themes, the Commission has summarized its findings in seven “Keys to Success” that can serve as a guide for school districts considering the use of Smart Schools funds, should the Bond Act be approved by voters. The seven “Keys to Success” recommend that districts:

1. Embrace and expand online learning which will break down geographic barriers, provide access to the best sources of instruction in the world, and level the playing field for students in rural and smaller school districts.
2. Utilize transformative technologies, such as tablets, laptops, and interactive whiteboards to deliver differentiated instruction tailored to students’ specific abilities and needs that lets them learn and advance at their own pace.
3. Connect every school to high-speed broadband using technology that is capable of scaling up over time and deliver sufficient wireless capability to serve every student.
4. Extend connectivity beyond the four walls of the classroom so students from all backgrounds have equal access to the information superhighway.
5. Provide high-quality, continuous professional development to teachers, principals, and staff to ensure successful integration of technology into the teaching and learning experience.
6. Focus on in-demand STEM skills to ensure that students graduate with 21st century skills.
7. Plan, plan and plan again.

You can click here to read the full report, and here for a calculator of how much each school district would be eligible to receive.