John King Is Our Leader, But Where Is He Taking Us?

NYSED Commissioner John B. King, Jr.  is the founder of Roxbury Prep in Massachusetts. 

According to the Roxbury Prep Report Card Roxbury Report Card,

the school is still listed as not meeting gap narrowing goals (receives a 2 in a 1-5 scale).

It currently performs 57% compared with similar schools.

They have a 94% attendance rate along with an 59% suspension rate.

Is this really what we want for the children of NY?

Stop repeating his rhetoric and start questioning everything.

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(Photo by Jennifer Scott)



Bad Days Mean You’re Human

derek lace I have had hundreds of bad days at work as a teacher. Some happened inside my classroom. There was the day my lesson for Les Miserables was cut short by a fire alarm pulled by a student. There was the day less than 50% of the students submitted their research papers. There was the day the Internet was down on the day of my observation and my lesson relied on the students accessing their work from their webpages. What I learned from those days was how to adapt to things outside of my control, change my approach to research paper writing, and always have a plan B when lessons rely on technology. Some of my bad days happened outside of my classroom. There were the days when my colleagues were excessed. There were the days when I had to argue with my principals. There were the days when my district’s test scores were published in the “hometown” newspaper. Those days have taught me to never lose focus on compassion, patience, and dedication regardless of outside pressures. But my worst days are the ones that have taught me the most. There was the day I learned my student committed suicide. There was the day I found out that my sleepy student was abandoned by his parents and was sleeping on the couch of a destitute family that had taken him in. There was the day the student I home taught passed at the age of 17 after battling cancer for five years. There was the day an angry student stood with a four inch knife surrounded by kids from a rival gang. There was the day a student told me something about her home that no child should ever experience. These days taught me why it is that I teach and it has absolutely nothing to do with numbers and everything to do with humanity. After 18 years in the classroom, I still have bad days. Bad days remind me to appreciate the good days. The bad days remind me that the most important part of my job is the emotional investment that I make with all of my students. The day I stop having bad days, I should remove myself from the classroom and take the green laces out of my shoes.

Put our focus on educating children- not constantly testing them.

Today, my laces and I ran up a mountain. I didn’t race- I went at my own pace and stopped when I had to. I think we all need to apply the same strategy to the next school year.

Teachers need to dismiss the notion that these tests count. Resist the urge to order those terrible Coach books, sing ridiculous test prep songs or put pressure on kids. Test prep is not a standard!
Parents need to let go of that perfect score. These tests are designed so that 60-70% of your kids will fail. Absolutely nothing will be done to influence instruction based off of these scores.

All others need to understand that this broken system is costing an estimated 20-50 billion dollars per year. These costs will rise considerably as the test moves online.

Please join Lace to the Top so we can put our focus on educating children- not constantly testing them.

On Facebook: Lace to the Top

Twitter: @lacetothetop

On students, teachers, parents, and admins: green shoelaces



Last year’s devastation has become this year’s hope

Another school year is about to end. Last year, we left feeling devastated knowing that many of our students would receive letters labeling them as failures and stripping away their self-confidence. If we sat back and did nothing a love of learning would be lost forever. But we did not sit back- we united. Teachers and parents fought back against billion dollar corporations and corrupt politicians. They had their “theories”, but never bothered or even cared to see the impact to the classrooms and dinner tables. In the age of supporting claims with evidence, we were asked to use blind faith to follow an education policy that would benefit corporations at the expense of the students.   Their rhetoric has lost its magic, their numbers simply don’t add up, and it turns out their King is nothing more than a jester.


While we continue to fight the attacks from outside our communities, the goal must be to rebuild from within.


Last year’s devastation has become this year’s hope.




The formula for NY teacher evals is revealed!

A study from the Bookings Institute concludes what many have already known for quite sometime, student test scores play a significant role in determining the value of homes.

Now that test scores have fallen across the state of NY, they will no longer factor into the value of homes as they have in the past.  Imagine a realtor trying to use a district’s 46% passing rate as a talking point to prospective homebuyers?

If test scores can no longer be a dominating factor in determining the value of homes, what will replace it?  NYSED Commissioner John King has the answer- teacher ratings!

On October 22, 2013 John King claimed, “the state will release the breakdown of teachers’ scores by district in “late fall or early winter,”  along with a more detailed analysis of scores of every teacher in NY.  In a false accountability scale, most teachers made the grade.  With 70% of students failing the tests, many districts have taken it upon themselves to increase the “rigor” of teacher evaluations so that teachers’ ratings more accurately reflect student scores on flawed high-stakes tests.  Teachers are left with the herculean task of having more students pass and by much greater margins.  Ultimately, teachers’ ratings will fall because they have no control over constantly changing cut scores.

As John King continually points out during his forums, so much of the responsibility is in the hands of the local districts.  In an effort to produce minimal/short-term gains through a “rigorous” resetting of expected student growth, districts are about to cause long-term damage to the value of their homes.  Would you move into a district with 100% effective and highly effective teachers or 78%?  Districts need to resist the urge of falling on their own swords for a king that will not support them.

For 2013-14 and 2014-15- if a teacher is rated “ineffective” or “developing, Governor Cuomo has agreed to remove the state tests (20%).  The locally selected test moves up from 20% to 40% of the teacher evaluation.  If a district uses state tests for local scores (many did this to save students from having to take additional tests, especially in the K-2 range), they will use observation for 100% of the scores.

None of this makes sense, but it makes lots of dollars for corporations.  Through these unfunded mandates, we are removing the funding for instruction/class sizes and placing it into a system of accountability that clearly does not work for students.


Twitter: lacetothetop


One child’s rigor is another child’s mental breakdown

The most valuable assessments in schools today is the running record. Running records measure both fluency and comprehension for each student. From this data, teachers can determine the appropriate level to instruct a child in reading. Teachers can also determine the child’s “frustration” level. “Frustration” is determined when a child’s accuracy falls below 90% or there is a complete lack of comprehension. Testing young children to the point of “frustration” may sound inhumane, but it is for a very brief moment in time and the assessment is done in a 1:1 setting. The teacher can end the assessment at any point.

Teachers are well aware of the reading levels for each child in their classroom. They are also aware of each child’s “frustration” level. While it is good practice to instruct students at or above their reading levels, it makes no sense at all to test a child for 3 days and over 500 minutes with text levels that are clearly defined at or above “frustration” level. Yet, that is exactly what the NYSED Common Core tests are all about. While Pearson and NYSED continue to produce costly and time consuming assessments, classroom teachers and parents have all the data they need. In the quest of rigor, we have abandoned common sense and the best teaching practices.

One child’s rigor is another child’s mental breakdown.

Forget the Politicians & Get Your Schools Back

NY school children will start the year with Cuomo as their Governor, Common Core as their standards, high-stakes testing as their measuring stick, John King as their Commissioner of Ed (?) , and their teachers will be tied to a system that no one can make sense of.

We have been screaming, “HELP” but the politicians are not listening. If we keep waiting for politicians to save us, we will continue to be disappointed. The change we seek can only come from within.

The success we have seen this year has been on the local level. Rather than walk away broken and discouraged, green laced students were prepared for the year. Green laced students started the year feeling brilliant and spent every school day proving it. Green laced teachers refused to see their students as tests scores. Instead, they saw their students as the hope and promise of this country. Green laced teachers refused to enter a competition with their colleagues and instead embraced collaboration with a focus on best practices- not flawed test scores. Green laced parents didn’t doubt their children because of test scores and many refused to have their students subject to them. In a system designed to show our students as failures- parents, teachers, and students have united in a bold and impossible symbol to ignore- green laces.

This movement desperately wants to swing for the fences and hit a homerun. Homeruns gather attention, but don’t always win games.  Forget the politicians and get your schools back.

As one

Good Neighbors

The grass is not greener on my neighbor’s lawn. He has crabgrass, bare spots, and clover. A few years ago he did not put Christmas lights up. Sometimes he does not say hi to me when I am outside. We are on opposite ends of the political spectrum on some issues. We come from different types of families. We raise our kids differently. He went to state school. He is a Jets fan. He is short. He is awesome.

Our conversations which are often mumbled grunts and distracted waves from our driveways coming from or going to someplace with three kids in tow are not a measure of what it is like to live next door to my neighbor. After Sandy, we worked together to protect our neighborhood against looting. When they heavy snows fell, we shoveled together through the night. He mows all the way to my driveway, not to the end of his property line, and I fertilize his lawn whenever I do mine.

We push each other to cross experience off our bucket lists. While he was training for an Ironman Triathlon, I was working on my dissertation. He was inspired to take the next step in his career and I was inspired to not be out of shape.

Good fences make good neighbors. Good neighbors with boundaries and respect make good neighborhoods. Good neighborhoods make great kids. Great kids will remember the fun they had on lawns in their green laces. They won’t remember who fought the crabgrass, bare spots, and clover.Image

The Honeymoon is Over


Green Laces are an idealistic symbol. They were created by two dads who were motivated to stop what they saw to be imminent threats to their children’s public education. The honeymoon has lasted for a year, and for some, that time has ended.

The question is, are you still in?

Before you decide, be sure to know who we are, why we wear green laces, and what we believe will help public education, its students, and their teachers to be even more awesome.

Lace to the Top is parents, educators, and children who have become advocates for public education. We are your friends, neighbors, and colleagues, not your enemy nor adversary.

The Lace to the Top Facebook page was created as a megaphone to call people who saw and felt the need to be a part of a positive change in education. We attracted many when we started with information that we thought was honest, useful, and clever. Many of our friends and family members joined us right from that first day in July, followed quickly by colleagues, members of other Facebook pages with a similar focus, and people who were new to the issues surrounding public education reform.

We wear green laces to help kids connect with adults in their school and community. We have been to the rallies and we will continue to do so proudly with our bold laces on whatever shoes we wear and whatever costumes suit the situation.

We believe this is the smartest generation yet, tested by the worst system ever. We believe high-stakes testing needs to be scrapped. We opt-out our children. Our sole focus is not Common Core. We welcome evaluations that are fair and do not damage students and the school year while tests pushers tout their importance and deny the abuse.

Lace to the Top has been part of joining collective whispers into a chorus. When some of the whispers change to screams from a different chorus, it is time to clean the chorus. The appearance of a united front will effect far more change than squabbling over divided details.

This is not an appeal to convince you to stay. This is a reminder of why you came. The Honeymoon was nice, but raising beautiful children is better. Image

Recall Notice

A few years ago, my daughter’s highchair was recalled. When I read the recall notice I thought I had missed something because the problem seemed so benign. There are pegs on the back of the legs on which to hang the tray when not in use. Children could fall on the pegs and suffer cuts or bruises. According to the recall notice, there were 21 incidents reported. To put that in perspective, 455,000 high chairs were sold. That’s a .005 chance of your child getting a bruise when he stumbles into the chair. For this risk, all high chairs were recalled and the company sent out little rubber covers to put over the pegs.

The amount of students taking high stakes exams dwarfs the amount of high chairs sold and every single student that takes the test is adversely affected. They may not all be stressed, or physically ill, but they are missing out on instructional time. For me, that is not the educational equivalent of a cut or bruise. It is a broken bone. The instructional time lost to test prep, test taking and test scoring does irreparable damage to the educational process for both students and teachers. All teachers and all students are negatively affected. Entire families and communities are affected.

Children were not being seriously injured by the highchairs. They were suffering minor cuts and bruises; common occurrences through childhood. So why would Chicco spend so much money to send out replacement parts to eliminate the very minimal risk? One can assume it is because they fear litigation. They want to relinquish responsibility for any harm, no matter how minor, befalling your child because they fear your response.

So why haven’t these tests been recalled to avoid the major damage being done to children? Is it because the profiteers responsible for their administration do not feel any risk of backlash? Are they so confident that we will continue to silently sustain injury that they will not consider recalling their dangerous product? They should consider themselves on notice: We will not be silent. We will not let our children, teachers and schools sustain any more injuries. We will not allow our children’s education to be squandered. We will contact politicians. We will talk to our neighbors. We will reclaim our schools and never buy their shoddy product again.

As one…

Lace to the Top


Twitter: @lacetothetop


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