Friday, April 24, 2015

Cram, study, test, forget - my email to state ed


I teach English at one high school in the Clarkstown Central School District. This is my 12th year teaching. And things seem to be hitting a new low.

I am still in shock at the recent budget vote. I understand that the Governor receives "extra" budgetary powers during this time, but the manner in which Mr. Cuomo acted is ridiculous and irresponsible, much like a 3 and 1/2 year old not getting desert before finishing his dinner. Cuomo's behavior is tantamount to a hysterical tantrum. 

When my 3 year old goes through his tantrums, I wait for him to calm down and then we talk it out. I DO NOT just give in to his tyrannical behavior.

But that is what the politicians in our state did. They gave in. Rather than call the Governor on his inappropriate behavior, rather than stand their ground and support what they believe in, they voted yes "with a heavy heart." 

And now we see the mess the Governor has created. Teachers are pissed. Parents are pissed. Students are apathetic about learning. Everyone wants to point fingers. 

Here's my finger pointing directly at you, State Ed. The politics have destroyed what public education can and should be. It is now your burden to deal with the mess. 

My challenge to you: get back to what education is about. Passion. Creativity. Exploration. Innovation.

Learning should not be a burden, it should be a freeing experience. If you do what the Governor demanded (and received), you will be destroying the education of an entire generation.

My biggest single issue with the Governor's "reforms": they hurt the students. Plain and simple. I cannot find students who are genuinely interested in learning. They cram, study, test, forget. Repeat next unit. Repeat next year. 

Testing shows one thing: a student is good (or not) at taking a test. True learning cannot be captured on a test. It cannot be reduced to a number. It cannot be standardized. If you believe it can, please, visit my classroom. I have invited the Governor, but he has yet to respond.

Your task is to provide for the students of New York. Well, a great way to start is by relieving the insane burdens you have placed on them. Give them age-appropriate tests. Create a reasonable implementation of new standards before testing them on that material. Respect parents' right to NOT have their children come home anxious and miserable and stressed over a test.

A mistake that seems to get repeated in this process is that Albany has perched itself upon some peak of excellence, doling out its indispensable wisdom to all the puny local districts. The one-size-all approach doesn't work. I invite any legislator to my classroom. Spend a day with me. Heck, spend a week. You can sleep on the Aerobed in my basement. Get a sense of what is ACTUALLY happening in schools before you rubber stamp harmful education policies that will have longer reaching impacts than your careers.

And, before you run that "teachers don't want to be evaluated" nonsense by me, consider this: everyone wants a fair evaluation. Cuomo's system is not fair. He seems to have forgotten what school is all about. He doesn't understand those connections between teacher and student and school that an "independent" observer cannot observe. Just like you can't rate every student on the same test, you cannot rate every teacher completely objectively. SO much of what we do is subjective and personal. In fact, that's HOW we do what we do - we make it personal. Because, after, we deal with people. Unlike the Governor and his political cronies. They seem more concerned with money. 

Please remember this: we vote. And we have long memories.

Get it right this time. If you don't, I fear you misunderstand the amount of cleanup you will have to do. Think of the lawsuits alone that will come your way. Think of the parents voting on emotion instead of logic. Think of the kids who will vote in 10 years.

Take this moment and consider the import of the future - our kids depend on it.


Anthony Celini

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Ellen Jaffe's reason for voting "Yes" on the NYS Budget.

[copied verbatim from her Facebook post]
Many of you know I was a teacher for more than 20 years, first in Brooklyn and later in East Ramapo. During that time I became concerned about the increase in standardized testing, and the time spent preparing for those tests; the pressure on students was clear.
In the Assembly, I have been a vocal advocate, speaking out for parents, educators and professionals, who are concerned about the direction of public education in New York State.
Education and childcare continue to be my top priorities. Working with my Assembly colleagues, I was successful in my advocacy to elect Judith Johnson, a former teacher and school superintendent, as our area’s representative to the Board of Regents. In February, I introduced legislation that would appoint a state monitor in the East Ramapo School District. My commitment to public schools has never been stronger.
Since January when the Governor first proposed his Executive Budget, I have been deeply offended by the manner in which he presented his Education Reforms, linking them directly to funding, the release of school aid runs, teacher evaluations and tenure, and delivering an on-time State budget, all the while holding our public schools and our students hostage by tying school funding to the Legislature’s passage of his entire education package.
In addition, the Governor included the Education Investment Tax Credit (EITC.) which I aggressively opposed and was successful in removing from the final budget.
I have stood up with other public education advocates, spoken out, and fought hard against the Governor’s unprecedented attack on our public school system and our dedicated, hardworking teachers. For weeks my Assembly colleagues and I struggled with how we could push back, change what the Governor had given us, and achieve the best of all possible solutions. We crafted an Assembly Education Budget resolution, which rejected many of the Governor’s proposals.
However, the difficult budget negotiation process is a three-way discussion among the Governor, the Assembly, and the Senate, making it impossible for us to simply remove only those items we rejected.
Moreover, under our State Constitution, the Governor has significant budgetary powers that were expanded during former Governor Pataki’s administration. In effect, without the Governor’s approval the Assembly cannot pass its own budget bills or even change language in the budget. The budget bills must come from the Governor. Consequently, despite some disappointments in the education budget, the final budget is better than what the Governor had proposed.
Teacher Evaluations: The Governor proposed evaluations to be conducted by an independent commission that he would oversee. While school districts will still be responsible for conducting their own evaluations, NOW as a result of the Assembly Majority, the Board of Regents – a panel of education experts – is required to provide parameters for these evaluations. This will change the dynamic allowing the Regents to speak directly with local teachers and superintendents.
Education Funding: The budget secures a $1.6 billion increase in education aid over last year, for a total of $23 billion, including:
68.5 percent going to high-need districts, 25.7 percent going to average-need districts and 5.8 percent going to low-need districts;
a $30 million increase in pre-K funding for 3- and 4-year-olds;
a $19 million increase to support grants for a total of $90 million;
a school aid run increase of nearly $1.3 billion, which includes $428 million more for Foundation Aid;
$603 million to cover more than 50 percent of the remaining Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA);
$269 million to fully reimburse districts for expenses they have incurred such as transportation and BOCES;
$75 million in grants for struggling schools;
$20 million in grants, including aid for libraries, teacher centers and bilingual education; and
$2.3 million to support a rate increase for 4201 schools for a total of $98.5 million
adds $5 million in Comprehensive Attendance Policy funding to help students attending nonpublic schools. Total nonpublic aid in the budget is $171.4 million.
Wishing you safe and happy holidays.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Importance of the Symbolic Vote

This is an angry post. A vent, if you will. A reaction to the sham that is New York State politics.

The state budget has been approved, and education "reform" is a part of it. As a member of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), I and many others have been fighting back against the ill-informed and harmful "reforms" that Governor Cuomo insisted on. Prior to the vote, we reached out to our local politicians, sending thousands of faxes, emails, and signed letters to our elected Senators and Assembly men and women. Our elected officials told us they had our back.

Seems that some of them had a change of heart. Here are the Yes votes in the Assembly:

And in the Senate:

UPDATE (4/4/15): This vent is directed towards Ken Zebrowski, because he chose to "justify" his Yes vote; Ellen Jaffee's justification came a few days later; the vent is indirectly pointed towards  to David Carlucci, as he did not choose to publicize hid reasoning for his Yes vote.

Mr. Zebrowski starts with:
The Governor's budget, submitted in January, contained significant policy changes to tenure, teacher evaluations and testing. After a month and a half of public hearings, the Assembly passed a budget resolution that rejected the Governor's proposals. I personally opposed these reforms because I believed they put too much emphasis on testing and unfairly blamed teachers. As we entered negotiations with the Governor and Senate on a final budget, our unequivocal goal was to reject these reforms. Unfortunately, the Governor has significant budgetary powers under the New York State Constitution. These powers were further expanded by the Court of Appeals during the Pataki administration. Essentially, the Assembly is unable to pass its own budget bills or change the policy language in a budget without approval by the Governor.
and ends with:
Education is the number one priority of myself and the New York State Assembly. If we could pass a budget by ourselves, the Governor’s reforms would have been rejected. Unfortunately, governmental and constitutional realities sometimes force us to compromise, make a bad situation better and use the leverage we have to advance the best policy available at a given point.
So, am I to assume that the Governor makes all the decisions regarding something like a budget? That he just reaches out to the Legislature as a kind gesture? Or should we #CallOutCuomo here for what he is: a tyrant? (A vengeful, jealous, pitiful tyrant at that...) If that is the case, then, Mr. Zebrowski, your vote doesn't really count, as you have no power.

With that in mind, let's talk about the symbolic value of standing your ground. You close with education being your first priority - yet you did not put that as first priority when you said yes. If your vote has no actual power against the tyrant, than at least provide your constituents with the symbolic support of a "No" vote (much like Mr. Skoufis did - I man whom I respect much more right now). Instead, you caved. Sure, maybe you made a bad situation better, but it still remains a bad situation. I would rather have seen you stand for what your constituents wanted than see you give in. As history tells us, appeasing a tyrant never works - he only wants more. (For proof, see the Governor's comments against the "entrenched education bureaucracy" that he made after the budget was signed. Your "Yes" vote gave him the support and the opportunity to say that.)

Your voting record will stand, and those who DO put education first will hopefully remember your priorities when the next election cycle rolls around. Until then, consider yourself #CalledOut - you have a lot of work to do to make this bad situation into a good one. Do that, and you'll earn my trust ... and perhaps my vote. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Signed up on @Bloglovin

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I thought this might be a good way to curate bloggers I should be reading. As far as I can see, Bloglovin creates an RSS feed for me, and I plan to dump that into my Flipboard - news, opinion, and bloggers, all in one spot.

Anyone else out there use the service?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My #GoodReads stats for 2013 (a slight #humblebrag )

Here are my reading stats from 2013 - 73 books and 18,000+ pages. I feel good about this. Real good.

Monday, January 13, 2014

I submitted my Google Certified Trainer application today! #edtech #gct

So. Last January, I started a journey to become a Google Certified Teacher. I passed the necessary tests and became a Qualified Individual on January 18, 2013. I was told then that I had one year before the tests expired.

Today, January 13, 2014, I submitted my application to become a GCT. 5 days before my tests expired. I never thought it would come down to the wire like this, but then I thought back to the previous year. An interesting moment of reflection, from the birth of my second son to broken sewer lines, it's been a wild, crazy, and wonderful ride.

I'm glad to have submitted the application, but I don't regret the procrastination: a lot of good living has happened in the interim.

If you'd like to view the application materials, you can peruse them here. Cross your fingers!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

#TheScottishPlay, done Twitter style

Yesterday, my juniors and I tried an experiment: what would happen if Macbeth had Twitter? I wanted them to review the major events of the play, which we watched before our 2-week break, before returning to analyze particular speeches. 

Here is the assignment I came up with: . In brief, groups were assigned Acts from the play and had to apply Twitter conventions to the major moments from each act. I created a form that students used their phones to complete, and then sorted the results by act and scene in the responses spreadsheet (see attached sheet - you can click the tabs at the bottom to see the different sorts).

We read through the results today (, and it was fun. The students were engaged, and I believe they captured the spirit of the play fairly well (even if I don't quite understand every hastag... #ohwell).