Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

absolute power…

In Uncategorized on Friday, 19 April 2013 at 06:37

corrupts absolutely.



letter of retirement from a veteran teacher

In Education, Education advocacy, Pedagogy, School reform on Thursday, 11 April 2013 at 14:36

Gerald Conti’s Retirement Letter

 *italics added by me for emphasis.  not in the original posting.

Mr. Casey Barduhn, Superintendent Westhill Central School District 400 Walberta Park Road Syracuse, New York 13219

Dear Mr. Barduhn and Board of Education Members:

It is with the deepest regret that I must retire at the close of this school year, ending my more than twenty-seven years of service at Westhill on June 30, under the provisions of the 2012-15 contract. I assume that I will be eligible for any local or state incentives that may be offered prior to my date of actual retirement and I trust that I may return to the high school at some point as a substitute teacher.

As with Lincoln and Springfield, I have grown from a young to an old man here; my brother died while we were both employed here; my daughter was educated here, and I have been touched by and hope that I have touched hundreds of lives in my time here. I know that I have been fortunate to work with a small core of some of the finest students and educators on the planet.

I came to teaching forty years ago this month and have been lucky enough to work at a small liberal arts college, a major university and this superior secondary school. To me, history has been so very much more than a mere job, it has truly been my life, always driving my travel, guiding all of my reading and even dictating my television and movie viewing. Rarely have I engaged in any of these activities without an eye to my classroom and what I might employ in a lesson, a lecture or a presentation. With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliché with me, I’ve used it so very often) that “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching “heavy,” working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education and particularly not at Westhill.

A long train of failures has brought us to this unfortunate pass. In their pursuit of Federal tax dollars, our legislators have failed us by selling children out to private industries such as Pearson Education. The New York State United Teachers union has let down its membership by failing to mount a much more effective and vigorous campaign against this same costly and dangerous debacle. Finally, it is with sad reluctance that I say our own administration has been both uncommunicative and unresponsive to the concerns and needs of our staff and students by establishing testing and evaluation systems that are Byzantine at best and at worst, draconian. This situation has been exacerbated by other actions of the administration, in either refusing to call open forum meetings to discuss these pressing issues, or by so constraining the time limits of such meetings that little more than a conveying of information could take place. This lack of leadership at every level has only served to produce confusion, a loss of confidence and a dramatic and rapid decaying of morale. The repercussions of these ill-conceived policies will be telling and shall resound to the detriment of education for years to come. The analogy that this process is like building the airplane while we are flying would strike terror in the heart of anyone should it be applied to an actual airplane flight, a medical procedure, or even a home repair.

Why should it be acceptable in our careers and in the education of our children? My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom. Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth to the tyranny of APPR (through the submission of plans, materials and “artifacts” from our teaching) that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven.

Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America, which seems doubly appropriate to this case.

After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. I feel as though I have played some game halfway through its fourth quarter, a timeout has been called, my teammates’ hands have all been tied, the goal posts moved, all previously scored points and honors expunged and all of the rules altered.

For the last decade or so, I have had two signs hanging above the blackboard at the front of my classroom, they read, “Words Matter” and “Ideas Matter”. While I still believe these simple statements to be true, I don’t feel that those currently driving public education have any inkling of what they mean.

Sincerely and with regret,

Gerald J. Conti Social Studies Department Leader Cc: Doreen Bronchetti, Lee Roscoe


is the teaching profession becoming obsolete?

In Education, Education advocacy, Pedagogy, School reform on Thursday, 11 April 2013 at 14:20

is the true art, and believe me, it is an art of teaching  (i’ve had the pleasure and honor to work with MANY fine teachers) becoming obsolete?


Why The Business Model Is Not Right for Children

In Education, Education advocacy, Pedagogy, Politics, School reform on Tuesday, 9 April 2013 at 09:25

one of my schools is looking at outsourcing to a “business model” in which students who would traditionally be sent to the alternative education program because of discipline issues would now be “outsourced” to a company that has their ‘business centers’ in strip malls in which kids sit in front of computers for 4-5 hours a day while supervised by a teacher who also acts as school nurse, receptionist, custodian, etc.  there are no security guards or resource officers, as the salespeople from the company said they “never” have discipline problems.  in just this year alone, at the school which now holds the alternative program, we have had many arrests for things like aggravated assault, stealing, bringing drugs with and without intention to sell, sexual harassment…i could go on but it is just listing very poor choices that these children make/made.  i really can’t see how being in front of a computer will deter behaviors.  especially with the limited supervision of one or two staff members who may have a college degree and it may or may not be in education.  if they truly never have discipline issues, we must be doing something wrong because we have had to arrest many of our kids while at school for the types of activities i mentioned above.  

the salespeople touted that the kids would “feel like they are walking into an office building” and no attendance would be taken as it is not needed.   i guess once these kids are put into a business setting they immediately start attending “work” every day.   we have in place now a very strict attendance policy and some still skip school.  in fact, many do not care about the consequences they get now,  so, they will miraculously start going to “work-school” everyday when they skip our program now???   i don’t think so.  but…would anything else be expected from a for-profit program that treats children as if they are “consumers” or “customers?”

no meals will be provided.  the majority of these kids are on free and reduced lunch now and our meals at school might be the only ones they get that day.  what about kids who are in the special education program?  ones that may not be able to read the words on the computer screen or sit in front of a computer and guide themselves.  i have one child with such a severe reading disability that he is reading on a 2nd grade level in 9th grade.  and he will be successful working solely on a computer???  how will iep’s be followed? who is going to do the 3 crisis interventions i did this year for kids who were very seriously contemplating suicide (one even brought a straight edge razor blade to school)?  had the school not done a back pack search, as they do everyday with all kids, the razor blade would likely not have been found and we’d be dealing with a whole other situation.  what about counseling the girl who was hallucinating and seeing things?  what about the community service program all our kids must participate in?  is computer-based learning really best for kids who can’t even be motivated to sit in class and do class work or learn from actual, human teachers?  there are some kids that would thrive in self-directed, computer-based program.  from my experience in our alternative program, the majority of the kids there can’t even sit at a computer for a class period, much less hours and would certainly not thrive in that type of situation.  i feel this is setting them up for failure.  i won’t even go into the fact that this program is considered “private” which means no test scores have to be reported.  so, does that mean these “at-risk” kids who may not add to the increase (and may actually contribute to a decrease) in test scores don’t count?  that seems like the message being sent.

as i said, when the salespeople from this company spoke to the board, they really emphasized the fact that this program was a “business setting” and kids would feel like they are “walking into an office to work.”  but wait, they have all their lives to work and will spend the majority of it doing just that.  why do they need to start “working” in middle or high school?  the reason the that the teachers that are now teaching at the alternative school are so effective in helping these kids is based on the personal connection and truly individualized education they give.  not sure how the kids are going to get that from a computer screen.

the school board votes on this program this week.  i hope they realize that saving some money now will only lead to more issues later that  we, as a society will have to pay.  by this, i mean that while some of our kids go on to never get in trouble again, the majority are already heavily involved with gangs, have long school discipline records, and most have been arrested as juveniles many times (we have had kids that were charged with assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault and battery, rape, sexual assault/harassment,  carjacking and kidnapping, just to name a few).  we already know recidivism rate for these kids is high.  without exposure to those who show a true interest in these children and truly care about giving them the best education possible instead of hiding them away in a strip mall behind a computer, these kids will surely get the message that they don’t matter.  and recidivism will decrease?  i don’t think so.  and, when these “business people” get out into the real world, we likely will pay, via taxes, when they are in jail or in and out of the judicial system.  

school is NOT a business.  schools should not model themselves after businesses nor think of students as workers or customers.  while the ins and outs of the school system and such things as budgets and maintenance are business issues, the individual schools should be kept out of this model.  kids are kids.  they have their whole lives to work.  i fear without the alternative program as it is now (in an actual school with actual teachers as well as counselors, psychologists, and social workers), we will be seeing many, many more kids choose a path they may not live to see through.  or, they may see it through bars or from the grave.  we all know the statistics…

Why The Business Model Is Not Right for Children.

ADHD into adulthood

In ADHD, ADHD Adult, ADHD child/adolescent, Neuropsychology, Psychiatry on Sunday, 7 April 2013 at 07:39

Kids’ ADHD May Continue Into Adulthood

By Crystal Phend, Senior Staff Writer, MedPage Today

Published: March 04, 2013

Reviewed by Robert Jasmer, MD; Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco and Dorothy Caputo, MA, BSN, RN, Nurse Planner

Childhood attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may carry over into adulthood in 29% of cases, with a higher risk of other psychiatric disorders, a population-based study showed.

Almost 60% of kids diagnosed with ADHD in the study had at least one other psychiatric disorder at around age 30, which was nearly three times the odds seen among other children followed (P<0.01), according to a report in the April issue of Pediatrics.

Suicide by that age was substantially more common with childhood ADHD as well, although overall mortality wasn’t, wrote William Barbaresi, MD, of Boston Children’s Hospital, and colleagues.

“It is concerning that only a minority of children with ADHD reaches adulthood without suffering serious adverse outcomes, suggesting that the care of childhood ADHD is far from optimal,” they wrote. “Our results also indicate that clinicians, insurers, and healthcare systems must be prepared to provide appropriate care for adults with ADHD.”

The key message is that ADHD shouldn’t be ignored in childhood or adulthood, Rachel Fargason, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, commented in an interview with MedPage Today.

“There has always been the question of whether childhood ADHD persists into adulthood,” she noted.

Previous studies from the 1980s suggested it did, but by looking at the worst cases — people who presented in psychiatric clinics — rather than the typical child in the general population, Fargason explained.

The study included 5,718 individuals from the same birth cohort in the area around Rochester, Minn., where the Mayo Clinic is based. They were followed to an average age of 27 to 29 years using school and medical records to look for ADHD and other outcomes.

The prospective portion of the study included 367 adults who had childhood ADHD and could have their vital status confirmed.

Seven (1.9%) had died by the time of follow-up, yielding a standardized mortality ratio 1.88-fold higher than seen in the rest of the cohort that didn’t have childhood ADHD.

Although that overall survival impact didn’t reach statistical significance, the difference in suicide did.

The standardized mortality ratio was 3.83 for suicide among childhood ADHD cases versus others (P=0.032).

Notably, five of the seven deaths in the childhood ADHD group occurred in the setting of comorbid substance use and psychiatric disorders.

“This finding suggests the psychiatric comorbidities associated with ADHD may place patients at risk for early death, although the relatively small number of cases precludes a statistical analysis,” the researchers noted.

Childhood ADHD was associated with a 57% rate of one or more other psychiatric disorders at follow-up compared with 35% among controls, for an odds ratio of 2.6 (95% CI 1.8 to 3.8).

The rate was higher for those whose ADHD persisted into adulthood, with an OR 4.8-fold higher than in those whose ADHD didn’t persist (81% versus 47%).

The most common adult psychiatric problems after childhood ADHD were:

  • Alcohol dependence or abuse (26%)
  • Antisocial personality disorder (17%)
  • Substance dependence or abuse (16%)
  • Current or past history of hypomanic episode (15%)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (14%)
  • Current major depressive episode (13%)

Altogether, only 38% of individuals who had ADHD as a child experienced no mental health problems in adulthood.

Study limitations included use of administrative and school record data to determine childhood ADHD as well as the relatively small number of deaths, which may have limited ability to detect differences in early death risk.

The population studied is primarily a white, middle-class community, which might impact generalizability, Barbaresi’s group added.

“It is possible, if not likely, that the magnitude of the adverse outcomes in this cohort would be even greater in populations with additional challenges such as higher rates of poverty,” they noted.

Retrieved from: http://www.medpagetoday.com/Pediatrics/ADHD-ADD/37637?goback=%2Egde_985117_member_219365690

Barbaresi WJ, et al “Mortality, ADHD, and psychosocial adversity in adults with childhood ADHD: a prospective study” Pediatrics 2013; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-2354.

What We Should Learn From Atlanta

In Education, Education advocacy, School reform on Saturday, 6 April 2013 at 05:59

What We Should Learn from Atlanta

Posted by E. Rat 

I meant to read the “CORE” districts’ waiver application this week, but I got distracted by the indictments coming out of Atlanta on Friday.  So I read the eight hundred pageinvestigative report instead.

In the press, I am seeing a lot of disappointment in America’s educators.  Recounts of Beverly Hall’s tenure note the incredible pressures her regime put on schools; they also make sure to describe her work personality as unapproachable, removed, and aggressive – you know, not very womanly.

About sixty pages in, I was surprised to see a paper on Parks Middle School – lauding its remarkable (and false) achievement gains.  I was given this case study in successcheating to read at least twice back before the investigation was released (although not before Parks’ results should have been worrying; by the time that fan note was released, the Atlanta Public Schools had already investigated – and found – cheating at Parks (also mistresses, misuse of public funds and public buildings, and sexual harrassment – but I digress).

I think the report should stand as a clear rebuke to education reformers.  Not only do the gains they want not come as easily as they claim, they refuse to take real evidence of cheating seriously.  The report includes two position papers by academics APS asked to take a look at the test results.  The statistician notes that the test scores are about as likely as an oviparous rabbit and that cheating is likely the reason.   This study was suppressed.

Douglas Reeves – noted in APS’s internal records as an education reform proponent- spends three days visiting the twelve schools with the most suspicious records.  In his whirlwind tour that allows about half an hour at each school, he notes that all of his favorite reform strategies – high expectations, public knowledge of test scores, test prep, “strong leadership”, etc. – are in place.  So he decides that the gains aren’t suspicious at all, because obviously if you have high enough expectations and a strong enough leader, proficiency will skyrocket from 0% to 88% in a year.

Moreover, those favored strategies?  Favored some really nasty results.  The principal at Parks was lauded for removing teachers who wouldn’t get with the program.  It ends up that these teachers weren’t sad, lazy veterans but teachers who reported cheating.  His leadership skills were also honored through cash awards, performance pay, and secret gifts from education reformers when he made noises about leaving.  These cash incentives encouraged more cheating.

And since Georgia’s teachers have few job safety measures – their own Professional Standards Commission admits that districts can easily retaliate against whistleblowers – and very limited tenure protections, teachers had the choice to cheat as required or be fired.

So what rank-and-yank, cash incentives, all that leadership, and high expectations got Atlanta public school children was test scores so gamed that the schools lost Title One  program improvement money, and children who needed special education services were disqualified from them because of their remarkable testing prowess.

When education reformers explain what they want, the word “Atlanta” should shut them up.

Retrieved from: http://elementaryrat.blogspot.com/2013/03/what-we-should-learn-from-atlanta.html?m=0

Blood In Their Eyes School ‘Reformers’ Launch Their Final Assault

In Education, Education advocacy, School reform on Monday, 1 April 2013 at 10:15

Blood In Their Eyes School ‘Reformers’ Launch Their Final Assault

By: John Thompson

 The essence of market-driven school “reform” is captured in the wry humor of the classic movie Patton. As “Old Blood and Guts” Patton gave his standard exhortations, a battle-hardened GI responded, “Yeah, his guts, our blood.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his “brass-knuckled” edu-philanthropist backers, and the true-believers in accountability-driven “reform” may still believe they are battling teachers in order to, someday, produce greater good for more students. But, it is increasingly difficult to comprehend how they could hold on to such an illusion. More likely, test-driven corporate reformers are still enthralled in the beauty of their original theories, and they blame educators for spoiling their vision. Now, blood-in-their-eye “reformers” seem obsessed with punishing teachers who they blame for scuttling their designs for schools ruled by Big Data.

Test-driven “reform” began as a hard-nosed antithesis to traditional educators who sounded too much like bleeding heart liberals. Corporate reformers couldn’t be bothered with generations of social science into what it really takes for schools to overcome intense concentrations of generational poverty and trauma.

Having no knowledge of urban realities, the “Billionaires Boys Club” bought into the macho sound bites of “wonks” who might have spent two or three years in the classroom during their early 20s. These fervent idealists were convinced that veteran educators, and their “excuses,” were the problem. If unionized teachers had “high expectations!,” the cure for poverty could be found within the four walls of the classroom. All that was necessary was a heroic commitment to “whatever it takes!”

Even better, bubble-in “reform” provided an opportunity to repeatedly use tough-minded words such as, “accountability!” and “outcomes!” Corporate reformers funded public relations campaigns that characterized teachers as Madonnas or whores. They promoted documentaries that profiled dedicated young crusaders defeating poverty in the classroom while battling their union bosses, who supposedly protected their slug-like colleagues. Replace burned-out veterans with the Freedom Riders of the 21st century, and poor children of color would be saved.

The righteousness of “reformers'” ends justified their mendacious means. Across the nation, charter schools were set up for success, meaning that more of the most traumatized and difficult-to-educate students were crammed into neighborhood schools. Some “reformers” must have worried about the harm that the greater concentrations of extreme poverty were doing to schools. Others (such as in New York City) seemed to have no qualms turning traditional public schools into dumping grounds, in order to contrast the success of their choice schools with the failures of their unionized enemies. The most vulnerable students, sadly, became collateral damage in the battle against collective bargaining. Once “disruptive innovation” destroyed the “status quo,” it was assumed, “transformative” change would liberate all children of color.

Rahm Emanuel’s closing of 54 schools, like similar corporate “reforms” in Washington D.C. Philadelphia and elsewhere, will fail for the same reasons. They are based on theories that make sense to elites who have never held the hands or watched the fearful eyes of children traversing rival gang territory. They have never comforted kids who had just witnessed the murder of a passerby who ventured into the wrong turf. They have never taught a class where family members of students one side of the classroom have killed family members of kids on the other side. And, after the inevitable brawls, they have never held a student bruised too badly to be recognized by her own teacher.

When comparing “reformers” to General Patton, I must emphasize, I am not comparing teachers to soldiers in combat. When I say that the gutsiness of corporate schemes are paid for with blood, I mean the blood of our children. I have fretted over plenty of unconscious students, sometimes worrying that the kid was not breathing and I have been covered with plenty of their blood, but rarely have I witnessed cases of educators in danger.

The threat to the health of adults is mostly rooted in the stress of our jobs. I’ve never seen a teacher being stomped long after being knocked unconscious; it is the sound of those thuds on teenagers that affects teachers.

“Reformers” consciously added the stress of high-stakes testing to teachers in order to defeat us. But, the anxiety that non-stop testing has imposed on adults cannot rival the humiliation that it pours on our students.

I suspect that Emanuel and his allies see these closures as the last chance for a knockout blow. For nearly a decade, the true believers in accountability thought that they had the teaching profession on the ropes. But, even inside their bubble, it is now clear that teachers are fighting back. If market-driven “reformers” don’t put us away quickly, their exquisite vision for data-driven schooling will unravel. So, across the nation, the mass closings of traditional public schools are their last assault on an education system which did not appreciate their theories.

I suspect that these “reformers,” secure in their ignorance of urban realities, still believe that their opponents are to blame. Had educators welcomed enough rookies willing to gut it out and to “put children first,” the short term pain they dumped on neighborhood schools would have produced transformational gain.

It is hard to believe, however, that Emanuel and the other architects of the latest closures retain such illusions. These latter day Pattons may or may not see them as bulldozing the way towards privatization of our democracy’s schools.

Of course, sometimes we must close schools for economic reasons. There may even be times when closures are a valid way of helping students in failing schools. But, this upcoming battle only makes sense if it is motivated, in large part, by revenge against educators who they believe failed to recognize the power of their courageous battle plan.

Retrieved: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-thompson/blood-in-their-eyes-schoo_b_2940509.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false#sb=2276349,b=facebook

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