My Wishlist

“If you could have any program to use in your classroom, what would it be?”  This hypothetical question was the catalyst for three days of reflection about what my wishlist would be.  What I decided was that if given unlimited resources, I would not want any program.  I don’t need a program, nor do my students.  Here is what we do need:

  1. More time.  I get 40 minutes per day with my high school students.  If I were to give each student individual attention, I would average 60 seconds per student– and that is not accounting for any group instruction time. This is not enough time to develop a meaningful perspective about each student’s individual challenges, strengths, goals or motivation.
  2. Technology.  I don’t mean software.  I mean hardware.  Laptops.  Printers. Cameras. I do not want to take my students to a computer lab.  I want technology at my students’ fingertips.  I imagine in my fantasy classroom I would often say, “Great question!  Let’s all try to find an answer.”  Students would google their little hearts out.  They would share what they stumble upon. They would ask their neighbors, “Hey, how did you find that?”  My lesson may derail.  Maybe I don’t have time for such meandering. Maybe the students take the discussion in a way I hadn’t planned on going. But every good teacher knows when the students’ excitement changes the direction of the lesson, you buckle up and appreciate the adventure on which they take you. Common Core enthusiasts have students going very deep into texts and claim this is the same adventure.  That is akin to giving a prospector a 2×2 area and telling him to find gold.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter how deep you go. Sometimes you just need to dig somewhere else.
  3. More adults in the building to address non-academic needs. Many students come to school traumatized every day.  Some have fled war-torn countries.  Some are battle-weary from their own houses. Many are hungry.  Many are afraid of what the day might bring.  The girl who skips class may be struggling with morning sickness compounded by the harsh reality of teenage motherhood. The boy who sleeps through class may be working a full time job at night to support his family. No curriculum program or individualized software is going to motivate these students.  The only thing that will motivate them is actual hope for the future.  It isn’t about wanting to graduate.  It is about believing in a future with conditions they have never experienced or even witnessed first hand. We don’t need more clinically proven programs that are aligned to Common Core standards in our schools.  We need more compassion, empathy, respect and hope.
  4. Recognition that public policy has an enormous effect on student learning.  
    1. When mom and dad have four minimum wage jobs between them and still have to choose between rent and food, students learn that hard work does not actually lead to success.  In their worlds, hard work leads to frustration, strained relationships, anger and fear.
    2. When mom doesn’t have paid time off from work, so she has no choice but to send her baby to school with a fever, there is more at stake than the spreading of an illness.  When the school calls mom to pick up her little one, instead of saying what her mind is screaming, “Tell her mommy’s coming!” she has to say, “I’m sorry I can’t come right now.”  The school/home partnership instantly becomes contemptuous.
    3. When parents are drug abusers that are continually arrested and jailed, instead of treated for their addiction, children suffer. The drug addiction cycle is one that cannot be broken with curriculum alone.
    4. Children who are undocumented residents are here through no action of their own, and yet they are keenly aware that the promise of “hard work leading to reward” does not apply to them. The ever-looming threat of deportation, coupled with lack of real opportunity after graduation makes these children cautious observers instead of active participants in their education.
    5. The county in which I teach is home to the largest population of veterans in the state, and one of largest veteran populations of any county in the entire US. This population, and their children who sit in our classrooms, face challenges resulting from PTSD, TBI, physical disability, inadequate health care, insufficient mental health services, lack of transition assistance, and cuts to pensions. There is no curriculum program in existence that would not seem trivial in nature when compared to the stresses that these families endure.

So, my wishlist? Fix the world in which my students are living.  If you can’t do that, then please, for the love of all things good, keep your programs and just let me educate my students.  Trust my years of experience.  Trust the lessons I have learned from the thousands of children that have graced my rosters. Understand that programs are mere commodities, while teaching is an art that deserves freedom and respect. Only when the art of teaching is again valued as an instrument of change for our students will real progress be possible.


The Opt-In Letter

Dear Teacher,

Take this damn letter and make damn sure that my child, _________, will opt-in to unlimited, rigorous testing. 

After reading Newsday, I know the only way to receive a high quality education is through more testing. Teachers, like you, are the morons who created the so-called “opt-out movement” to meet your union’s demands to keep teachers unaccountable. I trust 18 hours of testing will benefit my child more than 180 days of your “teaching.”

High stakes state tests will ensure my _____ year old is college and career ready. If someone takes something from my child, I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands and say it is his! You do not take what is his! And then I’ll punch them in the face and kick them in the dirt because bubble tests matter.

I have attached all of my child’s data including report cards, medical records, gamer profile for XBox, as well as the Youtube videos he recorded while playing Minecraft. Bill Gates only asked for 10 years of my child’s life. Let’s give him the full 30 and keep all that data safely stored by a reputable company such as, InBloom. If you’re not doing anything wrong, then you should have nothing to hide.

I fully subscribe to the methodology used by the New York State Education Department in conjunction with Bill Gates to tell me my child’s value. Questions without correct answers in addition to questions created with more than one plausible answers provide the type of rigor I value in my home. For example, I require my child to read passages from Bill Gates’ biography in a dark room and then ask him multiple choice questions on Mesopotamia just to provide some extra opportunities to show grit; “gritunities.” Although New York State fired Pearson from making the test I still fully believe in their validity. Use say cut scores, I say potatoes. The best part about these tests is how they cleverly teach children patience by providing the suspense of waiting 8 months to be told a score. As they say, “Test results are like wine; the longer you wait for them the better they are.”

In the world of global competition, it is important my child does not fall behind other countries. To fall behind such countries as Ohio and Arizona would be a detriment to our country and would not be a good way to make America great again.

Common Core is is a bipartisan agreement from 57 governors. Who am I to disagree with them? I am just a parent of a mediocre child. If my child is able to finish his test early, please allow him to take the test of those deadbeat children who decide to opt out to ensure we do not lose funding for our school.

Yours truly,

Billy “Deadbolt” Friedrich




NY Common Core Task Force Calls in “Experts” to Help

Cuomo’s NY Common Core task force member Sam Radford (president of the District Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo) had this to say last week regarding Common Core standards:

“It challenged them to be better and it gave them a set of standards where they didn’t have standards. We should all have the same standards. An A should mean an A no matter where you’re coming from…We need to be clear about the fact that these are good standards. These standards challenge our students to be better. These standards are what our students are going to need to compete globally, and so we want to keep the conversation initially about the standards.” 

Quite a difference from what he offered reporters yesterday:

“Even with the diversity of our background, we don’t know everything. So, in some areas, we need some experts to come in and tell us what certain things are and how they work.” 

Cuomo has a assembled a task force of 15 and charged them with fixing all that is wrong in education in NY. Their very first step is to bring in the “experts” to tell them what to do and say…


The next round of NYSED Common Core state tests begins in less than 6 months.

NYSED Commission Elia, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and NYSUT are claiming that the tests will now include input from teachers. Here is the notice from NYSUT announcing this opportunity. What these three groups fail to realize (on purpose or more likely as a badly oiled pr stunt) is that teachers have always been a part of the testing creation process.  )Click here for the roles teachers have played since NCLB testing started in NY.)

Teachers attempted to pair standards with test questions and were offered flexibility with the wording of questions to address the requirements of the standards. Sometimes, teachers were given a bit more voice. For example, when it was clear that none of the test questions matched the new Common Core writing standards, writing was completely dropped from the test (test items only appear as a response to reading, but not aligned to any writing standards). Speaking and listening also had to be dropped as Pearson was unable to come up with a single question that matched the standards. In fact, teachers had such a difficult time setting standards that only about 15% of standards and strands can be used on NY ELA Common Core tests.  Click here for a complete breakdown.

Teachers also score responses from field tests and help create anchor papers that are used during the scoring process. In addition, teachers are part of the final eyes review and can voice concerns before the tests are live.

To clarify, when I say teachers I mean 7 per grade level. 7 teachers per grade level in the entire state are tasked with putting together state tests. How is this possible? The answer is simple- it wouldn’t matter if there were 100 teachers per grade level as teacher input is minimal.

Leaves one to wonder, who makes the decision to put passages and questions on the tests? This is a job for none other than Pearson and its cast of merry psychometricians. Items are extensively field-tested. The items that make it to a live test have produced a desirable outcome (in the case of Common Core tests that outcome is 70% failure). Should the items not perform as the psychometricians predicted they would, Pearson can change cut scores or “equate” passing scores in order to match the predetermined number of students that are labeled proficient. I took on one of the Pearson affiliated psychometricians after he challenged me in the Daily News- still haven’t heard back from him… I guess I got my answer.  Click here for more info.

So what exactly can be done to correct all that is wrong with the 2015-16 tests. Nothing. The psychometricians have been hard at work and the field tests were already given. Still, NYSED, Governor Cuomo, and NYSUT want teachers feel as though they have a say in Common Core state tests.

The test development cycle is a laborious process.  NYSED lays out the 15 steps involved.  Are we to believe that a handful of teachers can somehow work their magic and fix the Pearson test, field test it for accuracy, and have it in the hands of the students in 6 months?  The answer to that questions is not A,B,C, or D.  It is an absolute NO!

Education in NY Headed for an Iceberg

John King had no intentions of leaving NY. While he deserves the credit for creating some of the worst education reforms in NY history, he should also be applauded for attempting to slow Cuomo’s teacher evaluation plan.

As John King was leaving his office in NY, Governor Cuomo sent him a letter.  The letter was meant to serve as a slap on the wrist and called King’s work in NY “unacceptable.”  John was crowned King Botched Implementer by Cuomo and was sent on his merry way.  During his farewell, King took credit for the standards and the curriculum in NY, but he stopped short of taking credit for the teacher evaluation system.  He correctly stated, that the evaluation issue belongs to Cuomo and Cuomo alone.  It was Cuomo’s evaluation plan that drove not only King, but John’s merry men, out of Dodge.  At first, we cheered King’s departure.  Now it has become clear why he left and the future isn’t as bright as we had hoped.

King never formally responded to Cuomo’s letter.  Instead, BOR Chancellor Tisch recruited an interim Commissioner to pen a 20 page response agreeing with much of what the Governor had to say.

Working in tandem- AFT, NYSUT, Board of Regents, and Cuomo installed a new Commissioner in NY.  They needed a Commissioner that wouldn’t waiver from Cuomo’s evaluation plan.  Commissioner Elia has been battled tested.  Her evaluation plan took her former district into the brinks of financial despair and she didn’t even blink an eye. She was the perfect fit.  At least King had the sense to leave, the rest of the folks are working together. This is the reason NYSUT never fought this plan until it was cemented into law.  Instead of fighting a draconian evaluation system that poses a threat to every teacher and student in NY, NYSUT’s President Magee was leading the troops on a wild goose chase demanding equitable funding.  Yes, we received more money and ironically it will not even cover the cost of the new evaluation system.

The message from Cuomo and his Commission (comprised of AFT and NYSUT leaders) will be a simple one- we must move forward.  A few chairs on the Titanic will shift, but we are still headed for an iceberg.

NY Gov Cuomo creates a Common Core Commission that is too big to fail

Governor Cuomo has once again tapped former Citigroup chairman Richard Parsons to lead his second Commission on education. The first one ended in a report ironically entitled “A Final Action Plan.”  I wonder if this means a teacher will be tasked with directing Citigroup’s next $45 billion bailout?

This Commission is comprised a lot of fractured reputations that have privately agreed to do some mending. Let’s be clear, these reputations have taken a well-deserved hit because the parents of 225,000+ children have been screaming for help and these leaders have ignored their call. For many in this Cuomo Common Core group, it is not an act of altruism, but one of self-preservation.

Yet, I remain hopeful that the predetermined solution arrived at by this committee in a few months will present some form of compromise.  There is no way these figureheads would risk what little is left of their reputations.

Take for instance AFT President Randi Weingarten.  Randi has hitched her hopes and future to the Hillary Clinton bus and there is no way she can afford another misstep- especially in her home state of NY.  She robo called for Cuomo, fully supports Common Core testing IN ALL GRADES, stood by UFT President Mulgrew as he threatened to punch anyone in the face that opposed Common Core…  I could go on, but considering her role is the President of the teachers’ union, I think that should suffice.

Then there is our new NY Commissioner of Education Elia.  She wore out her welcome pretty quickly by insisting parents of the opt out moment just needed to be educated on the matter.  She shared some more of her profound thoughts on education when suggesting that the solution for NY’s education problems was to provide students with alarm clocks.  She has been a disaster for the champions of Common Core.  While she will take on the evaluations that forced former Commissioner King to leave, she doesn’t seem to possess the intellect or the acumen to handle the position.  As for her expertise on teacher evaluations, ask her former district- they in financial ruins because of it.

NYSUT leaders have already begun blabbing about the need to obtain curriculum that is tied to the flawed tests… Is this what the students, teachers, and parents of NY truly need?  Tying curriculum to tests you cannot see or even speak about???  I guess the cardboard Cuomo cutouts were the best they could do.

Cuomo claims Common Core is headed for a total reboot. Oddly enough, he has chosen 15 people that never had a problem with it to begin with. It is not often that you ask the bull to clean up the mess in the china shop.  None have the skill set nor the compassion to handle the task.  None have a child that has been impacted by Common Core, testing, or teacher evaluations.  None have crafted a vision that promotes excellence in schools, collaboration in the classroom, and a return to the joy of learning to the school house and dinner table.

But stay positive, the players involved have far too much at stake for this to fail- Gov Cuomo included.  We can expect mediocre solutions to severe and systemic problems.

We are truly at the crossroads

We are truly at the crossroads. Education is a powder keg ready to explode at any moment. Politicians have been listening with their wallets instead of their ears, but it’s clear their constituents are becoming more hostile by the second. Something has to give and it can’t be the usual window dressing that has been offered in the past.

It’s fair to say that today’s children no longer learn the same as previous generations. Many arrive to school with the world at their fingertips – literally. Technology has changed the landscape of this world and should have already started to make waves in schools, yet that is not the case.

Funding has played a big role in keeping 21st century learners back. Schools have limited budgets and simply can’t invest in infrastructure that has a shelf life of 4 years (or less). And it’s where these budgets are being spent that guarantees state of the art learning environments will exist only in the mind (or the home). The mandates dictated from high above have forced districts to exhaust limited resources on a flawed testing and teacher accountability model. There is a 2% tax cap… on learning.

Parents and teachers were looking for an evolution in learning. Common Core gave us standards that we already had and offered excuses for privatizers to pillage and plunder our school houses. Not quite what we were expecting.

It is time to give autonomy back to districts. It is also time to cut the testing company & charter leaches off. A system run by limited funds and operating on a 2% cap cannot afford to fatten the wallets of investors at the cost of already limited resources in the classroom.

Politicians & Regents- it’s your move.

Union Leaders Are Addicted to Corporate Money & It’s Costing Teachers Their Union

Only days after Randi Weingarten and AFT’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton was met with a roar of boos and disdain from members, there was no way the AFT would push yet another corporation promoting Common Core.  Yet, that is exactly what they did. Introducing the nauseating support for IBM: image1 Apparently we are having such a hard time with Common Core because we are… human.  Time to call in the robots: image2 After all, IBM’s computer did beat Jeopardy Champion Ken Jennings.  But when it comes to education and what is best for kids I choose the human every time.  Here is Jenning’s take on the Pineapple & Hare story that appeared in the NY State Common Core test:

“Is this a joke? The story makes no sense whatsoever,” Jennings told the paper. “The narrative has no internal logic, the “moral” is unclear, and the plot details seems so oddly chosen that the story seems to have been written during a peyote trip … A ninja and toothpaste? What does that even mean?”

Our unions will continue to support Common Core.  That is what the leaders promised to the businesses that have invested capital in Common Core and now want a return on their investment.   The union leadership will never right this wrong and that is why there is no option but to replace them.  Perhaps IBM can help with that…

The Value of Experience

How do you quantify an experience? Some things cannot be measured with any degree of accuracy and that is difficult for people who equate “quantify” and “verify” to understand.

I remember a nurse coming into my room after the birth of my daughter with a chart that depicted stick-figure faces that progressed from happy to severely pained. The faces were numbered 1-10.  I was asked to point to the face that best represented my level of discomfort. Pain relief was offered when I indicated my pain was at a “7” face.

I laughed every time I was given this task because of how ridiculous it felt. My 7 could be someone else’s 10—someone else’s 4. My own 7 could be my own 4 had I been asked when I was less exhausted. Experience rooted in personal perspective and emotion cannot be assigned a number and then compared to others. The human experience cannot be normed.  The most recent teacher evaluation system is much like the hospital’s pain-face chart. It is attempting to quantify an experience.

I know my daughter’s teacher is highly effective because my daughter comes home happy. She made friends and when she didn’t get along with someone, she learned how to handle those emotions. She asks questions about the world around her because a curiosity has been sparked. Her teacher did not simply deliver curriculum to the class.  She shared 10 months of her life with them.  She instilled empathy and trust. She turned the apprehension of kindergarten into excitement for first grade. To assign a number to the magic that happened in that classroom is just as silly to me as pointing to a pain-face.

I refused all APPR testing for my daughter, so I cannot tell you if she is a 1 or a 4. However, I can tell you that yesterday, for the first time, she read a book from cover to cover and didn’t miss a word.  We were on our way home from the book store where she picked out Knufflebunny, by Mo Willems.  She also picked out Watch Me Throw the Ball, also by Mo Willems, because she “loves the author.” Because of her teacher, my five year old has a favorite author. What number effectiveness is that?

I listened to her read Knufflebunny while driving home. I heard her read “laundromat” and then quickly confess that she used the picture to help her. I heard her correct her “b” sound to a “d” sound when the word didn’t make sense. I heard the long silence between page turns while she studied the illustrations–appreciating the marriage of narration and art. I heard evidence of effective teaching in that silence because it meant my daughter had learned to love the multi-dimensional experience of reading.

Teaching is an art to be appreciated for its depth and ability to inspire in ways as unique as each child. I am thankful for my daughter’s teacher and the many others like her that continue to provide meaningful experiences for the children in their charge, even when the pressure is to simply deliver curriculum. Every day their instruction is driven by insight and instinct honed by years in the classroom, even when the pressure is to drive with data. To all of these teachers, may you have a restful summer to recuperate after a trying year. You cannot waiver in your resolution to protect the art of teaching from being transformed into the act of relaying information. Do not close your classroom door and wait for the tide to turn. Cast off your ridiculous numbers and unite. Use this summer to internalize the fact that you deserve respect. You are intelligent professionals, and for that you are strong. You are compassionate artists, and for that you are greatly appreciated.

Stronger Together

I wear a lot of colors. I wear my yellow ribbon for the brave men and women that allow me to speak freely. I wear my rainbow ribbon because love is love. I wear my pink ribbon for too many to count. I have purple, red and blue ribbons, lanyards and bracelets; all to raise awareness and show support. Most dear to me, however, are my green laces. I have been wearing them for years and they have sparked so many conversations about what is best for children and teachers. When 200,000 tests were refused in NYS this year, I felt like my laces played a little part in that victory.

Two years ago, when a rabbit and a pineapple asked, “Hey, what do you think about green laces?” I thought it was a great way to get conversations started, especially in faculty rooms, where silence on the issue of education reform was all too prevalent. Now, I am feeling that more than conversation is necessary in faculty rooms. We need action. Teachers, we need to stand up and tell our union leadership that we have demands and expectations for our profession. We need to be loud and persistent about our commitment to providing an education to our students that will allow them to be successful, happy adults. We need to demand that our concerns are heard and considered with legitimacy.

Complacency has shifted to awareness and awareness needs to shift to action. The moment I changed my white laces to green is one that will forever stand out in my memory as a defining moment as a teacher. Tonight marks another such moment. Tonight I filled out my membership form for ST Caucus, and in doing so, I felt a camaraderie and optimism that has not been evoked by NYSUT in a very long time.


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