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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Computers and Education: A Good or Bad Partnership?

One scenario currently being given major media play is that technology used in schools are harming students. Dr. Nicholas Karderas believes that.

I think there is no doubt that huge sums of money are being spent on computers and computer-related accessories for schools, universities and other places whose main business is education, and money sways politicians who make public policy.

When this 21st century computer phenomenon becomes good education policy for the diverse populations throughout America is anyone's guess.

News Corp.’s $1 Billion Plan to Overhaul Education Is Riddled With Failures

Betsy Combier
President and CEO, ADVOCATZ
Editor, Advocatz
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials

Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax
Dr. Nicholas Kardaras
Aug 31, 2016

As the dog days of summer wane, most parents are preparing to send their kids back to school. In years past, this has meant buying notebooks and pencils, perhaps even a new backpack. But over the past decade or so, the back-to-school checklist has for many also included an array of screen devices that many parents dutifully stuff into their children’s bag.

The screen revolution has seen pedagogy undergo a seismic shift as technology now dominates the educational landscape. In almost every classroom in America today, you will find some type of screen—smartboards, Chromebooks, tablets, smartphones. From inner-city schools to those in rural and remote towns, we have accepted tech in the classroom as a necessary and beneficial evolution in education.

This is a lie.

Tech in the classroom not only leads to worse educational outcomes for kids, which I will explain shortly, it can also clinically hurt them. I’ve worked with over a thousand teens in the past 15 years and have observed that students who have been raised on a high-tech diet not only appear to struggle more with attention and focus, but also seem to suffer from an adolescent malaise that appears to be a direct byproduct of their digital immersion. Indeed, over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.

But if that’s true, why would we have allowed these “educational” Trojan horses to slip into our schools? Follow the money.

Education technology is estimated to become a $60 billion industry by 2018. With the advent of the Common Core in 2010, which nationalized curriculum and textbooks standards, the multi-billion-dollar textbook industry became very attractive for educational gunslingers looking to capitalize on the new Wild West of education technology. A tablet with educational software no longer needed state-by-state curricular customization. It could now be sold to the entire country.

This new Gold Rush attracted people like Rupert Murdoch, not otherwise known for his concern for American pedagogy, who would go on to invest over $1 billion into an ed-tech company called Amplify, with the stated mission of selling every student in America their proprietary tablet—for only $199—along with the software and annual licensing fees.

Amplify hired hundreds of videogame designers to build educational videogames—while they and other tech entrepreneurs attempted to sell the notion that American students no longer had the attention span for traditional education. Their solution: Educate them in a more stimulating and “engaging” manner.

But let’s look more closely at that claim. ADHD rates have indeed exploded by 50 percent over the past 10 years with the CDC indicating that rates continue to rise by five percent per year. Yet many researchers and neuroscientists believe that this ADHD epidemic is a direct result of children being hyper-stimulated. Using hyper-stimulating digital content to “engage” otherwise distracted students exacerbates the problem that it endeavors to solve. It creates a vicious and addictive ADHD cycle: The more a child is stimulated, the more that child needs to keep getting stimulated in order to hold their attention.

Murdoch’s Amplify wasn’t the only dubious ed-tech cash-grab. The city of Los Angeles had entered into a $1.3 billion contract in 2014 to buy iPads loaded with Pearson educational software for all of its 650,000 K through 12 students—until the FBI investigated its contract and found that now-former Superintendent John Deasy had a close relationship with Apple and Pearson executives. (Before the deal was killed in December 2014, the Pearson platform had incomplete and essentially worthless curriculum and such feeble security restrictions students that bypassed them in weeks.)

Despite the Amplify and LA debacles, others still seek to convince naïve school administrators that screens are the educational panacea. Yet as more American schools lay off teachers while setting aside scarce budget dollars for tech, many educators and parents alike have begun to ask: Do any of these hypnotic marvels of the digital age actually produce better educational outcomes for the kids who use them?

We could look to Finland, whose school system routinely ranks toward the top globally and has chosen to skip the tech and standardized testing. Instead, Finnish students are given as many as four outdoor free-play breaks per day, regardless of the weather—while here, a sedentary American child sitting in front of a glowing screen playing edu-games while over-scheduled and stressed by standardized testing is seen as the Holy Grail.

Dr. Kentaro Toyama, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, once believed that technology in the classroom could solve the problems of modern urban education. No Luddite, he had received his Ph.D. in computer science from Yale and had moved to India in 2004 to help found a new research lab for Microsoft; while there, he became interested in how computers, mobile phones and other technologies could help educate India’s billion-plus population.

Rather than finding a digital educational cure, he came to understand what he calls technology’s “Law of Amplification”: technology could help education where it’s already doing well, but it does little for mediocre educational systems. Worse, in dysfunctional schools, it “can cause outright harm.” He added: “Unfortunately, there is no technological fix…more technology only magnifies socioeconomic disparities, and the only way to avoid that is non-technological.”

The list of supporting education experts and researchers is long:

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes” and that: “In the end, technology can amplify great teaching, but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”

An exhaustive meta-study conducted by Durham University in 2012 that systemically reviewed 48 studies examining technology’s impact on learning found that “technology-based interventions tend to produce just slightly lower levels of improvement when compared with other researched interventions and approaches.”

The Alliance for Children, a consortium of some of the nation’s top educators and professors, in a 2000 report concluded: “School reform is a social challenge, not a technological problem…a high-tech agenda for children seems likely to erode our most precious long-term intellectual reserves—our children’s minds.”

Patricia Greenfield, distinguished professor of psychology at UCLA, analyzed more than 50 studies on learning and points out that reading for pleasure among young people has decreased in recent decades, which is problematic because “studies show that reading develops imagination, induction, reflection and critical thinking, as well as vocabulary…in a way that visual media such as video games and television do not.”

Education psychologist and author of Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds Jane Healy spent years doing research into computer use in schools and, while she expected to find that computers in the classroom would be beneficial, now feels that “time on the computer might interfere with development of everything from the young child’s motor skills to his or her ability to think logically and distinguish between reality and fantasy.”

John Vallance, a Cambridge scholar and headmaster of Australia’s top K-through-12 school, Sydney Grammer, has said: “I think when people come to write the history of this period in education...this investment in classroom technology is going to be seen as a huge fraud.”

There has also been surprising research coming out of Canada: Students don’t even prefer e-learning over traditional education. In a 2011 study, researchers found that students actually preferred “ordinary, real-life lessons” to using technology. Those results surprised the researchers: “It is not the portrait that we expected, whereby students would embrace anything that happens on a more highly technological level. On the contrary—they really seem to like access to human interaction, a smart person at the front of the classroom.”

We are projecting our own infatuation with shiny technology, assuming our little digital natives would rather learn using gadgets—while what they crave and need is human contact with flesh-and-blood educators.

Schools need to heed this research in order to truly understand how to best nurture real intrinsic learning and not fall for the Siren song of the tech companies—and all of their hypnotic screens.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Court of Appeals For the Second Circuit Rules That Teacher Peter Cohn Did Not Have Protected Speech When He Reported Grade Changing By Another Teacher

The issue of freedom of speech by a public employee is an important one. As seen below, the speech of a teacher who reports to a principal and/or other education policymakers what seems to be improper acts by another public employee is not protected under the First Amendment. In the case of Peter Cohn, the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, affirmed the decision of the District Court, which denied the protection saying that Mr. Cohn was not speaking as a private citizen.

I believe that the pattern and practice of destroying any exposure of corruption and fraud in public agencies is an error of judgment which should be fought before there is none. If public employees and private individuals are afraid to speak up, our public dollars will continue to be wasted or stolen.

See Garcetti v. Ceballos

US Supreme Court Rules That Public Worker Testimony Is Protected From Retaliation

Betsy Combier
President and CEO, ADVOCATZ
Editor, Advocatz
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials

PETER COHN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
No. 17-517-cv.
United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.
September 20, 2017.
Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Block, J.).
STEWART LEE KARLIN, Stewart Lee Karlin Law Group, PC, New York, NY., for Appellant.
ERIC LEE (Fay Ng on the brief), for Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, New York, NY., for Appellees.
Peter Cohn, a New York City public school teacher, alleges that he suffered unlawful retaliation after he suggested that a fellow teacher had improperly assisted students prepare for a state-wide standardized test.[1] The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Block, J.) dismissed the complaint on motion, concluding that Cohn's speech was not protected by the First Amendment because it was made pursuant to his duties as a government employee. We review that decision de novo. Ruotolo v. City of New York, 514 F.3d 184, 188 (2d Cir. 2008). We assume the parties' familiarity with the underlying facts, the procedural history, and the issues presented for review.
As part of his duties as an earth science teacher, Cohn was required to set up the laboratory portion of the New York State Regents Examination and help grade it. Cohn observed that approximately a dozen students in another teacher's class received perfect scores, and suspected that the teacher had improperly coached those students before the test. Cohn raised his concerns to the school's principal and assistant principal and, when they failed to act, Cohn informed the New York State Department of Education and the Board of Regents. Cohn alleges that he afterward suffered various adverse employment consequences, including unsatisfactory performance reviews.
Only certain types of speech made by government employees are protected by the First Amendment: it is necessary (but not sufficient) that the government employee "sp[eak] `as a citizen' rather than solely as an employee." Matthews v. City of New York, 779 F.3d 167, 172 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Jackler v. Byrne, 658 F.3d 225, 235 (2d Cir. 2011)). There is no "brightline rule" to determine whether or not "a public employee is speaking pursuant to [his] official duties," i.e., speaking as an employee rather than as a citizen. Ross v. Breslin, 693 F.3d 300, 306 (2d Cir. 2012). "Courts must examine the nature of the plaintiff's job responsibilities, the nature of the speech, and the relationship between the two." Id.
In Weintraub v. Board of Education, a teacher alleged retaliation after complaining that a school administrator had declined to punish a student who had thrown books at the teacher. 593 F.3d 196, 198 (2d Cir. 2010). The teacher's complaint was made "pursuant to his official duties because it was part-and-parcel of his concerns about his ability to properly execute his duties as a public school teacher— namely, to maintain classroom discipline." Id. at 203 (citation and quotation marks omitted). Consequently, the teacher spoke as an employee rather than as a citizen.
So too here. Cohn and the other earth science teachers were responsible for setting up the laboratory exam, creating the answer key, and grading the exam. As in Weintraub, Cohn's speech was "part-and-parcel" of his job responsibilities—here, ensuring the fair and proper administration of a test for which he had some responsibility. Id. The alert to school officials that another teacher may have helped students cheat was therefore "pursuant to his official duties." Id. Accordingly, Cohn was speaking as an employee—rather than as a citizen—and his speech is unprotected by the First Amendment.
Cohn's counterarguments are unavailing. He contends that he was speaking in a private capacity when he raised his concerns beyond his immediate supervisors (the principal and assistant principal) by writing to state educational officials. A similar argument was rejected in Ross: "[t]aking a complaint up the chain of command to find someone who will take it seriously `does not, without more, transform . . . speech into protected speech made as a private citizen.'" 693 F.3d at 307 (quoting Anemone v. Metro. Transp. Auth., 629 F.3d 97, 116 (2d Cir. 2011)).
Cohn also argues that he spoke as a citizen rather than as an employee because private citizens may likewise write to state educational officials about suspected cheating. Although a "civilian analogue" to a government employee's speech militates in favor of an inference that the employee's speech is protected by the First Amendment, see Matthews, 779 F.3d at 175-76, the presence of an unofficial analogue does not necessarily mean the speech is protected. Weintraub concluded that the plaintiff teacher spoke as an employee (rather than as a citizen) before the opinion considered the presence of a civilian analogue. 593 F.3d at 203. Although the lack of a civilian analogue "supported" the conclusion that the teacher spoke as an employee, it was not determinative. Id. Even if private citizens can complain to state educational authorities in the same way he did, it would not change our conclusion that Cohn's speech was made pursuant to his official duties, and therefore unprotected by the First Amendment.
For the foregoing reasons, and finding no merit in Cohn's other arguments, we hereby AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

[1] Cohn sued his principal and assistant principal, as well as the New York City Department of Education and Board of Education. 

BLOCK, Senior District Judge

For the Plaintiff

Law Offices of Stewart Lee Karlin, P.C.
111 John Street, 22nd Floor
New York, New York 10038 
For the Defendant
New York City Law Department
100 Church Street
New York, New York 10007 BLOCKSenior District Judge :

Peter Cohn ("plaintiff"), a high school teacher at the High School of Art and Design, brings the present action against the Department of Education of the City of New York, the Board of Education of the City of New York, Eric Strauss, and James Johnson (together, "defendants"). Plaintiff claims that defendants retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment right to freedom of speech in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants now move to dismiss plaintiff's case for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reason, their motion is GRANTED.
The following facts are derived from the complaint, taken as true and viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. See DiFolco vMSNBC Cable L.L.C., 622 F.3d 104, 110-11(2d Cir. 2010). Plaintiff was on the grading team for the New York State Regent Examination in June 2011. While performing his duties on the grading team, he noticed that another teacher's students were receiving disproportionately high scores on the exam, which suggested that the teacher had improperly coached the students. After plaintiff reported this observation to defendants Strauss and Johnson—principal and vice principal, respectively, of the High School of Art and Design—and also to the New York State Department of Education Testing Division and the Board of Regents, Cohn claims he received a series of unsatisfactory teaching reviews and was removed from his position as Chairman of Math and Science. He argues that these actions amount to First Amendment retaliation.
A government employer "may impose restraints on the job-related speech of public employees that would be plainly unconstitutional if applied to the public at large." U.SvNational Treasury Employees Union513 U.S. 454, 465 (1995). However, "[t]he Court has made clear that public employees do not surrender all their First Amendment rights by reason of their employment. Rather, the First Amendment protects a public employee's right, in certain circumstances, to speak as a citizen addressing matters of public concern." Garcetti vCeballos547 U.S. 410, 417 (2006) (emphasis added). Thus, to establish a First Amendment retaliation case, a public employee must allege facts demonstrating that he or she "spoke as a citizen on a matter of public concern," rather than pursuant to his or her job duties. Id. at 418. If the employee spoke pursuant to his or her job duties rather than as a citizen on a matter of public concern, the employee has no First Amendment cause of action. See id. at 421 ("[W]hen public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes.").
Such is the case here. Plaintiff's speech arose directly from, and "w[as] made pursuant to his duties," on the grading team for the New York Regent Examination. See id. ("The controlling factor in Ceballos' case is that his expressions were made pursuant to his duties as a calendar deputy."). He was performing his duty of ensuring that the exam was fairly and properly graded; it "is part of what he . . . was employed to do." Id. As defendants point out, this case is directly on point with O'Connor vHuntington U.F.S.D., No. 11-1275, 2014 WL 1233038, at *8 (E.D.N.Y. 2014), in which Judge Bianco held that a teacher on a grading team who reported grading irregularities on a statewide test was speaking "pursuant to his professional responsibilities and duties as a schoolteacher and grader[,]" rather than as a citizen on a matter of public concern.
Plaintiff here argues that O'Connor is distinct from his case because he reported his observation of grading irregularities to school administrators and the New York State Department of Education Testing Division and the Board of Regents, whereas the plaintiff in O'Connor only reported the grading irregularities to school administrators. But Garcetti instructs the Court to consider many factors, each non-dispositive, in a practical inquiry to determine whether the speech was made as a citizen rather than as an employee. See Garcetti547 U.S. 410, 420, 424 ("The proper inquiry is a practical one."). The mere fact that plaintiff here spoke outside of the small circle of school administrators is insufficient to transform his speech into that of a citizen on a matter of public concern. Thus, the facts plaintiff alleges in his Amended Complaint, taken as true and viewed in his favor, are insufficient to establish that he spoke as a citizen when he reported grading irregularities to Strauss, Johnson, and the New York State Department of Education Testing Division and the Board of Regents. And because he has not sufficiently alleged an underlying constitutional violation, his Monell claim also fails. City of Los Angeles vHeller475 U.S. 796, 799 (1986) ("If a person has suffered no constitutional injury at the hands of the individual police officer, the fact that the departmental regulations might have authorized the use of constitutionally excessive force is quite beside the point.").
For the aforementioned reason, defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is GRANTED.
/S/ Frederic Block


Senior United States District Judge Brooklyn, New York
January 25, 2017

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

NYC Special Education Teacher William Johnson: Confessions of a ‘Bad’ Teacher

I am re-posting the article below from my website because Mr. Johnson gives what I believe to be an accurate picture of how random labels such as "bad teacher" and "unsatisfactory pedagogy" are used.

See also:

Why Observation Reports Should Not Be Used To Terminate a Tenured Employee by Betsy Combier
At 3020-a arbitration, a good defense argued with supporting arbitration/court decisions made in prior cases will win, most of the time. Pick your lawyer/advocate carefully. Or, do it yourself pro se with a knowledgeable assistant.

Betsy Combier
Editor, Advocatz
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials

William Johnson
NYC Special Education Teacher William Johnson: Confessions of a ‘Bad’ Teacher

William Johnson wrote: "What makes a great teacher? To a lot of people, the answer seems simple enough: a great teacher is one whose students achieve. For the most part these days, student success is measured with test scores. Logically then, a great teacher is one whose students perform well on tests......I’m a bad teacher. That’s not my opinion; it’s how I’m labeled by the city’s Education Department. Last June, my principal at the time rated my teaching “unsatisfactory,” checking off a few boxes on an evaluation sheet that placed my career in limbo. That same year, my school received an “A” rating. I was a bad teacher at a good school. It was pretty humiliating."

March 3, 2012
Confessions of a ‘Bad’ Teacher

I AM a special education teacher. My students have learning disabilities ranging from autism and attention-deficit disorder to cerebral palsy and emotional disturbances. I love these kids, but they can be a handful. Almost without exception, they struggle on standardized tests, frustrate their teachers and find it hard to connect with their peers. What’s more, these are high school students, so their disabilities are compounded by raging hormones and social pressure.

As you might imagine, my job can be extremely difficult. Beyond the challenges posed by my students, budget cuts and changes to special-education policy have increased my workload drastically even over just the past 18 months. While my class sizes have grown, support staff members have been laid off. Students with increasingly severe disabilities are being pushed into more mainstream classrooms like mine, where they receive less individual attention and struggle to adapt to a curriculum driven by state-designed high-stakes tests.

On top of all that, I’m a bad teacher. That’s not my opinion; it’s how I’m labeled by the city’s Education Department. Last June, my principal at the time rated my teaching “unsatisfactory,” checking off a few boxes on an evaluation sheet that placed my career in limbo. That same year, my school received an “A” rating. I was a bad teacher at a good school. It was pretty humiliating.

Like most teachers, I’m good some days, bad others. The same goes for my students. Last May, my assistant principal at the time observed me teaching in our school’s “self-contained” classroom. A self-contained room is a separate classroom for students with extremely severe learning disabilities. In that room, I taught a writing class for students ages 14 to 17, whose reading levels ranged from third through seventh grades.

When the assistant principal walked in, one of these students, a freshman girl classified with an emotional disturbance, began cursing. When the assistant principal ignored her, she started cursing at me. Then she began lobbing pencils across the room. Was this because I was a bad teacher? I don’t know.

I know that after she began throwing things, I sent her to the dean’s office. I know that a few days later, I received notice that my lesson had been rated unsatisfactory because, among other things, I had sent this student to the dean instead of following our school’s “guided discipline” procedure.

I was confused. Earlier last year, this same assistant principal observed me and instructed me to prioritize improving my “assertive voice” in the classroom. But about a month later, my principal observed me and told me to focus entirely on lesson planning, since she had no concerns about my classroom management. A few weeks earlier, she had written on my behalf for a citywide award for “classroom excellence.” Was I really a bad teacher?

In my three years with the city schools, I’ve seen a teacher with 10 years of experience become convinced, after just a few observations, that he was a terrible teacher. A few months later, he quit teaching altogether. I collaborated with another teacher who sought psychiatric care for insomnia after a particularly intense round of observations. I myself transferred to a new school after being rated “unsatisfactory.”

Behind all of this is the reality that teachers care a great deal about our work. At the school where I work today, my “bad” teaching has mostly been very successful. Even so, I leave work most days replaying lessons in my mind, wishing I’d done something differently. This isn’t because my lessons are bad, but because I want to get better at my job.

In fact, I don’t just want to get better; like most teachers I know, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I have to be. Dozens and dozens of teenagers scrutinize my language, clothing and posture all day long, all week long. If I’m off my game, the students tell me. They comment on my taste in neckties, my facial hair, the quality of my lessons. All of us teachers are evaluated all day long, already. It’s one of the most exhausting aspects of our job.

Teaching was a high-pressure job long before No Child Left Behind and the current debates about teacher evaluation. These debates seem to rest on the assumption that, left to our own devices, we teachers would be happy to coast through the school year, let our skills atrophy and collect our pensions.

The truth is, teachers don’t need elected officials to motivate us. If our students are not learning, they let us know. They put their heads down or they pass notes. They raise their hands and ask for clarification. Sometimes, they just stare at us like zombies. Few things are more excruciating for a teacher than leading a class that’s not learning. Good administrators use the evaluation processes to support teachers and help them avoid those painful classroom moments — not to weed out the teachers who don’t produce good test scores or adhere to their pedagogical beliefs.

Worst of all, the more intense the pressure gets, the worse we teach. When I had administrators breathing down my neck, the students became a secondary concern. I simply did whatever my assistant principal asked me to do, even when I thought his ideas were crazy. In all honesty, my teaching probably became close to incoherent. One week, my assistant principal wanted me to focus on arranging the students’ desks to fit with class activities, so I moved the desks around every day, just to show that I was a good soldier. I was scared of losing my job, and my students suffered for it.

That said, given all the support in the world, even the best teacher can’t force his students to learn. Students aren’t simply passive vessels, waiting to absorb information from their teachers and regurgitate it through high-stakes assessments. They make choices about what they will and won’t learn. I know I did. When I was a teenager, I often stayed up way too late, talking with friends, listening to music or playing video games. Did this affect my performance on tests? Undoubtedly. Were my teachers responsible for these choices? No.

My best teachers, the ones I still think about today, exposed me to new and exciting ideas. They created classroom environments that welcomed discussion and intellectual risk-taking. Sometimes, these teachers’ lessons didn’t sink in until years after I’d left their classrooms. I’m thinking about Ms. Leonard, the English teacher who repeatedly instructed me to “write what you know,” a lesson I’ve only recently begun to understand. She wasn’t just teaching me about writing, by the way, but about being attentive to the details of my daily existence.

It wasn’t Ms. Leonard’s fault that 15-year-old me couldn’t process this lesson completely. She was planting seeds that wouldn’t bear fruit in the short term. That’s an important part of what we teachers do, and it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t show up on high-stakes tests.

How, then, should we measure students and teachers? In ninth grade, my students learn about the scientific method. They learn that in order to collect good data, scientists control for specific variables and test their impact on otherwise identical environments. If you give some students green fields, glossy textbooks and lots of attention, you can’t measure them against another group of students who lack all of these things. It’s bad science.

Until we provide equal educational resources to all students and teachers, no matter where they come from, we can’t say — with any scientific accuracy — how well or poorly they’re performing. Perhaps if we start the conversation there, things will start making a bit more sense.

William Johnson is a teacher at a public high school in Brooklyn who writes on education for the Web site Gotham Schools.

FEBRUARY 6, 2012
A New Model: Schools As Ecosystems
by Mark Anderson and William Johnson, at 10:30 am

What makes a great teacher? To a lot of people, the answer seems simple enough: a great teacher is one whose students achieve. For the most part these days, student success is measured with test scores. Logically then, a great teacher is one whose students perform well on tests.

Let’s take it a step further: what makes a great school? Again, the same basic logic applies: great schools are ones that produce the highest proportion of students who perform well on tests. The role of the school, in other words, is to produce students successful according to test proficiency.

Perhaps this framework appears overly simplistic, but it’s the framework that currently directs our efforts to improve public schools. Schools are knowledge-manufacturing facilities, with students being their products. This framework has led school reformers to advocate for accountability systems, human capital mechanisms, and other private sector management tools in public school reform.

Not surprisingly, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is an aggressive proponent of this business framework. The mayor’s private sector management approach recently led him to propose a “turnaround” program at 33 city schools that would require replacing half of those school’s teachers. Not happy with the product? Fire experienced workers and bring in cheaper, lower skilled replacements.

This framework is not just a New York thing. All across the country, school districts are being pushed, by influential figures like U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Calif. Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss, to evaluate teachers based on a “value-added” analysis. What does this mean? It’s a kind of metaphor: students are raw natural resources; unprocessed, they contribute little to the economy and thus possess little value. If teachers process them effectively, however, their value increases.

Let’s leave aside our gut reactions to talking about children this way. The real problem with this framework is that it’s been a dead end. For the most part, debates about how to produce better students have led to discord within the field of education, while demonstrating little significant impact.

Applying an industrial-growth model to student learning has rightfully caused consternation on the part of both parents and teachers. Parents don’t send their children to school simply to be processed like chaff from wheat. Yes, parents want their kids to get good jobs and to be academically successful, but they also want their kids to become mature, responsible, well-rounded individuals. Parents look for more from a school than its achievement on tests: is the school safe? Will their child receive individualized support and attention? Are there extracurricular resources and programs available? Are children happy at school? What sort of curriculum is offered?

As special education teachers, we know how critical these environmental factors are. Our students, for reasons as varied as their individual learning needs, rarely thrive in a high pressure, test-driven environment. The vast majority of students with exceptional learning needs perform significantly below the norm on standardized tests, significantly enough that these tests (or the scores required to pass them) must constantly be modified so that our students can be accounted as successful. Students receiving special education services are often more attuned to environmental factors than their general education counterparts. It is this sensitivity to their environment that often makes it so difficult for such students to focus on their studies.

Schools as ecosystems

But positive, supportive environments are not important only for students with exceptional learning needs. All students thrive in environments that support their development in diverse ways: from offering a coherent, sequential curriculum to providing students with a comfortable, stimulating physical space. Such schools, like their curricula, take responsibility not simply for academic development, but personal development as well. School environments where the curriculum is designed around standardized tests, and where factors like the physical and social environment take a back seat to those tests, are not conducive to learning.

We propose a fundamental shift in the framework and language we use to discuss educational reform. Instead of a framework that views students as products, we propose a framework in which the products of education are viewed as the contexts and content of schools themselves. The schools we produce should be positive and nurturing learning environments where students are engaged in a rich, coherent curriculum. Rather than view our students as widgets, we’d do better to view them as vibrant, dynamic organisms, and view the school, by extension, as an ecosystem. While such a model would make it harder to quantify school quality based on a simple numerical scale, it would enable us to have more productive conversations about systemic education reform, and to take action in targeted ways that will have a sustainable impact.

There are principles for maintaining a healthy ecosystem that can provide guidance in strengthening our school environments. We are certain that this shift in focus will — perhaps paradoxically — result in more productive student outcomes. Land maintained according to sound ecological principles results in abundant microbial soil life, interdependency of diverse species, and a sustainable yield. A school maintained according to ecological principles will result in lower teacher turnover, greater community engagement, and positive long-term student outcomes.

Our belief is that many schools commonly considered “great” already operate as healthy, sustainable ecosystems. Such schools offer their students adequate sunlight, fresh air, exercise, and nutrition. Their students feel intellectually, emotionally, and physically safe because their school communities celebrate diversity and offer equity of opportunity. These schools offer an array of supplemental options–such as music, foreign languages, clubs, and sports–to meet the diverse needs of their dynamic student bodies. They offer protection from short-sighted policies and destructive external forces through the strong relationships and trust engendered and developed within the school community. They possess built-in mechanisms to maintain equity and equilibrium, preventing one type of personality or learning need from dominating at the expense of others.

Cultivation, not demolition

How does this framework relate to ongoing conflict around school closures? Under the Department of Education’s current “turnaround” plan, as many as 33 city schools could be closed, re-staffed (with as many as half their current teachers replaced), and reopened. At schools all over New York, teachers, students, and families have voiced concerns about the city’s slash-and-burn approach to school “turnaround.”

If schools are factories, tearing down “ineffective” ones and replacing them with newer, shinier ones might sound like good business. If, however, we view schools as ecosystems, then struggling schools are depleted ecosystems desperately in need of resuscitation and support. Such resuscitation requires a holistic, long-term approach.

Using an ecological design approach, reformers could not treat schools as vacant lots primed for subdivision. Instead, school revitalization would need to be a community-driven, long-term process. In an ecological framework, school reformers would need to acknowledge the complexity of school communities, rather than simply pretending that schools could be leveled, bulldozed, and magically reinvented as high performing lots of isolated land.

Implicit in such a framework, and diametrically opposed to the “student as product” framework, is the understanding that there is no ideal school (nor student). Just as healthy ecosystems might come in a myriad of forms, healthy school environments may come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, dependent on specific local community needs and circumstances. That said, healthy school environments, like ecosystems, are guided and cultivated by a set of core principles, which the authors would like to explore in future posts.

Perhaps the best part of this paradigm shift (for the authors) is that in such a framework, the role of the teacher would shift from test-prep overseer to environmental steward. Instead of being trained and treated as a widget, teachers would be content experts and community leaders of their classroom and school ecosystem, responsible for all the students who inhabit it. Such stewards would necessarily need to be long-term inhabitants of these ecosystems themselves, growing more and more effective as their knowledge of the environment deepens and their relationships within the school community strengthens.

A new metric

Do we sound like dreamers? Would such a model be impossible to quantify? We do not believe so, and we’re not the first to propose such a paradigm shift. In fact, we believe that by refocusing our attention on the content and contexts of our schools, we can establish a new measuring stick. What’s more, since this framework would not be based on improving student test scores but on improving school environments, the responsibility would be shared by all who work within and support that community, rather than solely upon the backs of individual students and teachers within the confines of an isolated classroom.

In the posts that follow, the authors will lay out a series of ecological principles that we believe can be used as a guide for effective school design and reform. We will also examine model schools and investigate how they’ve constructed such exceptional school environments. We look forward to your feedback.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Question: Should Charter Schools Be Able To Certify Their Teachers or Not?

The issue of how to train teachers is an important one, especially now that unions, especially teacher unions, are "on their way out" according to many people in the education field I have spoken to in the last three years.

Charters want, and major media want, charters to be able to train their own teachers, while the teachers' unions and many States want to stay with a teacher certification process which takes almost two years. See the article in the NY TIMES below.

The solution may well be a combination of these approaches, but whatever the end result is, we need to tie the certification process to an evaluation and rating system which is fair and reasonable.

And, please let's stop the philosophy that senior teachers are garbage.

Betsy Combier
President and Founder, ADVOCATZ
Editor, Advocatz
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials

A Way to Get Great Teachers Into the Classroom

When schools reopened in New York last week, students were greeted by teachers who had spent the summer preparing for their return. Unfortunately, many of those teachers had had to devote some of their time not to lesson plans, but to a cumbersome state teacher-certification process that emphasizes bureaucratic procedures more than real-world qualifications.

So as a teacher who recently had to jump through the New York certification hoops, I was pleased to learn that the State University of New York Charter Schools Institute, which authorizes charter operators, is considering allowing charter schools to certify their teachers themselves. The comment period for the proposal closes on Monday, and the institute could approve it as early as next month.

Here’s my story. In February 2015, I was delighted to receive an offer from Democracy Prep Public Schools, one of New York City’s thriving charter school networks, to join an innovative new educational program called Pathways, for students with disabilities. There was just one problem: I was not certified to teach in New York State.

That I did not possess the requisite certification did not mean that I lacked the requisite qualifications. When I received my offer from Democracy Prep, I had already spent six years of teaching and coaching aspiring teachers in Boston and Chicago. As a graduate of Boston Teacher Residency, an alternative teacher-preparation program based in Boston Public Schools, I am certified to teach in Massachusetts. I also have a master’s in education from the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Nevertheless, because of New York’s approach to teacher credentialing, it took 18 months, three exams, one teaching portfolio, countless hours and about $1,000 for me to get my initial certificate through reciprocity.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. Because I was already certified in another state, I did not have to take additional graduate courses. Democracy Prep even reimbursed all of my application and exam fees. Still, I found myself having to divert precious time from my work in the classroom to study for exams and compile a teaching portfolio just to demonstrate that I was a competent teacher, which I had already proved six years before in Boston. It can be a daunting task, one that can deter great prospective teachers, or prompt already great teachers to leave the field rather than deal with the paperwork involved in getting certified in a new state or renewing their certification.

Even as charter schools become more numerous and more popular, they are having problems finding enough instructors, and so they rely on young, new teachers, often from nontraditional programs like Teach for America, who have yet to receive certification. Under the Charter School Institute proposal, schools would be able to design their own training programs and certify teachers. These new teachers would have to get a minimum of 100 hours of “field experience” under the supervision of another teacher and 30 hours of “content core” instruction, among other requirements.

Many charter schools, including Democracy Prep, are already in a position to undertake such programs. By mid-August of this year, I was headlong into summer professional development. Teachers at Democracy Prep engage in approximately 240 hours of training throughout the school year. I also receive constant feedback and support to improve my teaching practice and help students grow. I am observed weekly by school leaders, instructional coaches and other network staff members. At the end of each trimester, I sit down with my principal to review my performance and progress and to set goals for the remainder of the year.

While some unions and professors at teachers colleges have criticized the certification proposal, my experiences in schools around this country have taught me that no one actually cares where or how you learned to teach. No one has ever walked into my classroom and asked to see my degree or questioned my qualifications; all that has mattered is the classroom environment that I’ve helped to create, the relationships that I’ve built with students and families, and the growth of my students.

Limiting the ability of schools to attract great teachers makes little sense. It’s not important to our students whether their teachers went through a traditional graduate school of education, Teach for America or a charter school training program; all that matters is that they get the very best teachers that we can give them. Our communities, schools and students deserve the highest-quality teachers, not merely the ones with a paper certificate.

Willie Gould is an arts and literacy teacher at the Democracy Prep Pathways charter school in Harlem.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

ADVOCATZ: Full Service Advocacy, Support, and Problem-Solving

re-posted from ADVOCATZ' blog:
Advocatz' purpose is to assist any person or group who have been challenged by false reports or evaluations, defamation, libel, and/or who have received charges which are false or life/career-altering. 

We believe that all people have the right to due process of law, as well as the right to expose corruption and fraud. We help you do that.
Betsy Combier

We also assist attorneys in vacating judgments of "substantiated" false claims by investigating the investigators and defending the legal and contractual rights of all who are brought to grievances, mediation, arbitration, and/or want to go to settlement at any administrative hearing. We have extensive experience in winning cases in Education Law 3020-a arbitration. 

We are not attorneys and do not practice law. We investigate, research, seek facts wherever they may be in recorded information, emails, and any other social media sources, and assist the victim in creating a comprehensive and detailed report on exactly how the problem arose ....and can be resolved. 

We believe that the work needed to be done on each case is too much for a single attorney or a single representative who may not have or give the time needed to obtain all the details of what happened and that is why we give our clients unlimited time for discussion and research. All information is discussed and reviewed to give backup support and to manage all the case details for the attorney or client, if the client is pro se. In arbitration, mediation and negotiation where there is no attorney, and the appellant is pro se, we give the same assistance and support. Our opinions are not legal advice.

We help people who feel they have been harmed understand what the process is, and how an individual victimized by false claims can defend him or herself. Arbitration proceedings such as 3020-a hearings, do not take place in a Court of Law and there is no judge or jury.

We work as paralegals with Attorneys who subpoena witnesses, submit Motions To Dismiss charges, and argue for compliance with 3020-a Law on the determination of probable cause, the Just Cause StandardSection 2590-h, and Section 3020-a. In addition, we research case law for Article 75 and 78 appeals, Part 83 Appeals, First Department Appeals, and civil actions in State and Federal Court.

Paralegal Betsy Combier has 14 years of experience observing, documenting, and studying the 3020-a process as well as the underlying laws which supposedly apply to the discipline process for employees. She is a paralegal, advocate for individual and collective rights, and an investigative reporter. She is a graduate of NYU, Johns Hopkins, and Northwestern University, and has been a reporter/journalist/advocate for more than 35 years. She edits the following websites and blogs:
Parentadvocates.orgNYC Rubber Room ReporterNew York Court CorruptionNational Public VoiceNYC Public Voice, and Inside 3020-a Teachers' Trials.

We at Advocatz use terms such as "Just Cause" (or 'good cause') and "bad faith" in our defense of a Respondent brought to Education Law 3020-a arbitration. We want the Hearing Officer to look at the facts, or lack thereof, and the fairness and integrity of the process followed in support of those facts.

From Wikipedia:

"Good cause is a legal term denoting adequate or substantial grounds or reason to take a certain action, or to fail to take an action prescribed by law. What constitutes a good cause is usually determined on a case by case basis and is thus relative.
Often the court or other legal body determines whether a particular fact or facts amount to a good cause. For example, if a party to a case has failed to take legal action before a particular statute of limitations has expired, the court might decide that the said party preserves its rights nonetheless, since that party's serious illness is a good cause, or justification for having additional time to take the legal action."
 ( Henry Campbell Black; Joseph R. Nolan; Jacqueline M. Nolan-Haley (1991). "good cause". Black's Law Dictionary. West Pub. Co. p. 476).

Thus, a sustainable, valid defense in any forum results from a thorough, fact-based inquiry into the background of a case using the "good cause" justification.

Similarly, a valid defense should have a fact-based opposition to any bad faith by the defendant(s).

From Wikipedia:
"Bad faith (Latinmala fides) is double mindedness or double heartedness in duplicityfraud, or deception. It may involve intentional deceit of others, or self-deception.
The expression "bad faith" is associated with "double heartedness", which is also translated as "double mindedness". A bad faith belief may be formed through self-deception, being double minded, or "of two minds", which is associated with faith, belief, attitude, and loyalty. In the 1913 Webster’s Dictionary, bad faith was equated with being double hearted, "of two hearts", or "a sustained form of deception which consists in entertaining or pretending to entertain one set of feelings, and acting as if influenced by another". The concept is similar to perfidy, or being "without faith", in which deception is achieved when one side in a conflict promises to act in good faith (e.g. by raising a flag of surrender) with the intention of breaking that promise once the enemy has exposed himself. After Jean-Paul Sartre's analysis of the concepts of self-deception and bad faith, bad faith has been examined in specialized fields as it pertains to self-deception as two semi-independently acting minds within one mind, with one deceiving the other.
Some examples of bad faith include: a company representative who negotiates with union workers while having no intent of compromising; a prosecutor who argues a legal position that he knows to be false; an insurer who uses language and reasoning which are deliberately misleading in order to deny a claim."
Betsy Combier