Voice of dissent

Teacher on Cuomo's Common Core panel criticizes report

One of the two teachers on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Common Core panel said Tuesday that its report was released without his approval or a chance for him and other members to provide their feedback.

“The report – and the process that produced it — is incomplete,” Todd Hathaway, a history teacher at East Aurora High School, said in a statement emailed by the state’s teachers union on Tuesday morning. “The report was released suddenly, even as final comments were still being solicited.”

Hathaway said the report, released Monday night, left out critically important recommendations that he said are necessary to correct the way the state has implemented the Common Core learning standards. The governor’s office “ignored my concerns” about the state’s testing policies, Hathaway said, saying that he opposed tying test scores to performance evaluations and that teachers cannot currently use the test scores to inform their instruction.

“The result is that some of the report’s conclusions and suggestions do not hold up to scrutiny,” Hathaway said. “I wouldn’t accept this kind of work from my students and I don’t accept it here.”

Cuomo’s panel did tackle several testing issues, recommending that the state limit the amount of classroom time that teachers should focus on test preparation and administration. It also suggested a ban on some types of standardized testing in early education grades, and a process to make it easier for district to reduce tests administered for teacher evaluations.

But Hathaway said those changes didn’t go far enough, arguing that the state should delay using tests in high-stakes decisions about teachers. “But that issue was never fully explored,” he said.

Cuomo has said that untying state tests to teacher evaluations is off the table.

Hathway was one of 11 members to serve on the panel. The other teacher, Nick Lawrence, is a eighth grade teacher at East Bronx Academy for the Future. In a statement put out by Cuomo’s office last night, Lawrence said the panel’s put forward “several recommendations that parents and educators can stand behind right away to start reforming the way Common Core is put in place here in New York.”

Hathaway’s full statement is below:

“The report – and the process that produced it — is incomplete. The report was released suddenly, even as final comments were still being solicited.  I had indicated the likelihood I would dissent and not allow the report to be spun as “consensus.” Nevertheless, the report was issued with my name attached. I am very concerned that the report tries to make it seem like all the discussion had been completed.  In fact, the Executive Office repeatedly ignored my concerns and the legitimate concerns of others about inappropriate state testing, the misuse of invalid tests for evaluations and the lack of transparency in state testing. The result is that some of the report’s conclusions and suggestions do not hold up to scrutiny. I wouldn’t accept this kind of work from my students and I don’t accept it here.”

“The failure to address testing and evaluation issues in a comprehensive way suggests the dynamics of the classroom will not change.  The report seems to blame everybody else for the problems of the Common Core learning standards without adequately addressing the appropriateness of some of the standards and the testing that goes with it. This report should have addressed serious deficiencies in state testing. It should have discussed the lack of transparency in tests; the lack of diagnostic and prescriptive worth to teachers; the unacceptable delays in returning scores to school districts and the insanity of pretending there is validity to teacher ratings that are derived from student scores widely acknowledged to be invalid.”

“Finally, this panel should have recognized the need to pause in the use of assessments for high-stakes decisions for students and teachers. This would have allowed the State Education Department, as well as school districts, to refine the tests and testing materials; teachers to engage in the standards and develop a variety of lessons to meet them instead of just relying on modules; parents to understand the role and utility of data in education; and for teachers to receive the necessary professional development. Implementing massive curriculum changes do not just happen overnight. They take time.  I fully support a delay in the use of tests in high-stakes decisions for students and teachers, but that issue was never fully explored.  You can’t put students first if you put their teachers last.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”