Saturday, October 10, 2015

No, I will NOT Nae Nae for Public Education

Last Monday NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) sent emails and text messages to those who have provided contact information, suggesting that we join their challenge to Nae Nae and send a video as a means of showing our support for public education. The "challenge" can be seen here and here. In an invitation reminiscent of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that was shared widely last year, we were asked to challenge fellow educators, students, parents, community members and elected officials to "do the Nae Nae dance for public schools" and post the dance videos on multiple social media platforms using specific hashtags. 

I responded to this ridiculous call to "action" by reminding those who planned this ill-conceived challenge that dancing is not going to solve the monumental challenges that teachers and public education face today. Public education is being dismantled and NYSUT wants us to DANCE? And the most recent NYSUT epic failure doesn't end there.

In the newest NYSUT brainstorm, we are now being invited by NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino to complete a survey to provide feedback to be shared with Governor Cuomo's newly formed Common Core Commission  - the commission that includes a few select pro- Common Core educators and the usual pool of non-educators, without the inclusion of dissenting voices. Most telling was Ms. Fortina's statement, "We have designed a feedback form to get your specific recommendations on transforming the Common Core standards into New York Standards." Transformation, aka "rebranding" which of course, is the expectation of the outcome of this "commission" by all of us who have been there and done that with this governor's administration. We can predict the outcome as certainly as former New York Education Commissioner John King was able to predict test score passing rates months before any tests were administered. The outcome is always predetermined when Cuomo and his political puppets are involved. Adding insult to injury is the self-congratulations that has become typical of NYSUT in the face of non-action as Ms. Fortino commented, "Our work on the standards is just one element of our fierce advocacy to fix the state's broken system of testing and evaluation." I guess I somehow managed to miss that "fierce advocacy". Or was she referring to the invitation to dance?

After a few days of discussion on Facebook about the upcoming survey, I became aware that input was being accepted when I saw a post by an activist friend and eloquent blogger, Michael Lambert. He shared the NYSUT post and commented:

The need for standards assumes teachers aren't competent. Where is the data that says standards make any significant difference?
Set up skills expectations, as guidelines, at 5th, 8th and 12th grades and watch us figure it out for ourselves and blow every assumption about how we need to be trained like dogs right out of the water.

His use of the word "guidelines" brought me back to a point in time where the standards movement hadn't taken hold and teachers in NY had autonomy to follow curriculum guidelines that allowed us to function as professionals capable of making decisions about how best to teach those students in our classrooms every day. 

I responded to Michael's post with the comment: 

Remember the good old days of curriculum guidelines? No testing of  "standards"? Classrooms were full of creativity. Kids learned and school wasn't about test prep. Teachers loved our jobs and kids were happy in school.

And then I began to think about my unique perspective as an adjunct professor at a local college which I held concurrently with my full time position as an elementary teacher in a public school for the last 20 years of my teaching career, from which I retired this June. Functioning in both roles simultaneously, I was keenly aware of the shifts in public education, as I witnessed the changes that began when the first groups of students who had been educated under No Child Left Behind began arriving in my college classrooms. With this in mind I responded to Michael again, writing: 

I will add that since I have also taught college courses for 20 years I can say without reservation that the students produced by the public education system pre- NCLB, and before the standards movement and testing frenzy, were far more prepared for college than those produced by the "reform" movement. We are in deep trouble if we don't reverse course soon.

Michael's comment that this is important because it "pushes against the false narrative" became the impetus behind this blog post, but before I could sit at the computer to put my thoughts into words, a Psychology Today blog post appeared on my Facebook news feed. As I read it I realized that it seems to summarize all that I have seen in my role as an adjunct college instructor in recent years. Rather than detail my experiences, I will let the blog post tell the story, but I will say without hesitation that while I agree with the author's assessment of the current issues with college students, I do not attribute the changes I have seen to helicopter parenting. Instead, I think the author, Peter Gray, hit the nail on the head with his statement in another of his blog posts included as a link:

Given a choice between really learning a subject and getting an A, the great majority of students would, without hesitation, pick the latter. That is true at every stage in the educational process, at least up to the level of graduate school. That's not the fault of students; that's our fault. We've set it up that way. Our system of constant testing and evaluation in school—which becomes increasingly intense with every passing year—is a system that very clearly substitutes extrinsic rewards and goals for intrinsic ones. It is almost designed to produce anxiety and depression. 

If the purpose of education reform truly is to prepare students for college and careers, where is the data from those who have actually taught these students when they reached college? Amid the rhetoric, where is the college instructor who can say that the five paragraph essay drilled into students for passing grades on high stakes tests translates into the type of writing we expect to see at the college level? Who can say that an education based upon choosing the one correct answer for every question or writing a response based upon the need to satisfy a rubric for test points translates to success in college or in a career? I have yet to see an overwhelming improvement in the critical thinking and writing skills of students who spent all or most of their pre-college years in a test prep environment. My experience has been quite the opposite. And as I was so aptly reminded today, we must share our truths and push against the false narrative that these reforms will lead to college success. 

So no, NYSUT, I will not Nae Nae and share a video. No, Ms. Fortino, I will not respond to a bogus survey when the outcome has been predetermined by the positioning of Common Core supporters on the very commission that is supposed to "fix" the failed education "reforms" in New York. As author Mike Rose states in his book, Possible Lives: The Promise of Public Education in America, we must "... assemble what the classroom can teach us, articulate what we come to know, speak it loudly, and hold it fast to the heart.” Please share your truths, speak loudly about what you know and do not be distracted by those who would have you think that activism is nothing more than a dance contest.