Saturday, March 26, 2016

Elia Calls Teacher Encouragement of Opt-out Unethical

It's funny to be lectured by the likes of reformy MaryEllen Elia, who took boatloads of Gates money in Florida to promote programs that ultimately didn't work. Nonetheless, it's not that unusual. After all, her esteemed predecessor, Reformy John King, called parents and teachers "special interests" and managed to weasel his way up to US Secretary of Education.

Now, of course, we have a Regents Commissioner who says she'd opt her own child out if she got a chance. This is remarkable. Will Regent Roger Tilles, who talks a big game against reforminess but votes any damn way Cuomo says begin to exercise what he contends to be his conscience? That remains to be seen.

But what should teachers do? This teacher, the one writing this, certainly supports opt-out, and would encourage others to do so too. I think opt-out is the only force that's caused Cuomo to temper his draconian positions, or at least to grant lip service to it. Michael Mulgrew can stand up and take credit for it, but I've heard him at the DA not only declining to support opt-out, but also spreading appeals to fear about the money we'd lose were it to become popular in NYC. He sounds as reformy as anyone when he talks that talk.

Now if I felt it were unethical to encourage opt-out, I wouldn't be writing this. In fact, I think it's imperative that we do this. For one thing, despite Mulgrew patting himself on the back, the "moratorium" is not only temporary, but has little to no effect on a whole lot of teachers. I teach high school, and it has no effect whatsoever on us. Like most opt-out supporters, I have very low expectations for Cuomo's board rewriting standards, and I fully expect to see Common Core with a new name. Mulgrew can talk all he wants about teacher input, but he said the same thing about Common Core before offering to punch us all in the face if we opposed it.

Now I do draw the line somewhere. I would not talk opt-out in my classroom, ever. I don't think it's my place to influence my students directly. I'd have a different approach at a PTA meeting, though. Parents may get their info from the papers, which have a distinct slant. They may get info from principals, who delicately threaten those who don't participate. Or they may have no info whatsoever and not even realize that's an option.

Of course, in high school it's kind of a moot point. My students cannot graduate without passing Regents exams, whether they're Common Core or not. I certainly wish that were an option. I teach ELLs, and the English Regents exam in all its iterations has proven inappropriate for them. I spent several year prepping ELLs for this test. Oddly, I found I was able to get a lot of them to pass, and therefore graduate. But I did this by teaching them how to pass a single test at the exclusion of just about everything else. Kids who passed the Regents that way would be likely to need remedial classes if they entered CUNY, and that could limit their prospects to community colleges. But at least they got out of the place where they were required to learn skills that weren't good for much other than passing a single test.

Opt-out is the heart and soul of education in NY, and we can rejoice that we finally have a prominent voice in a position of power that is not insane. UFT leadership will not stand and oppose junk science testing. UFT leadership will not stand and oppose the worst education law I've seen in my lifetime, and Michael Mulgrew actually thanked the legislature for passing it.

MORE is running an opt-out activist for President of the UFT. MORE is forging alliances with Stronger Together, a huge conglomeration of state locals that were shut out when Mulgrew decided to dump NYSUT leadership. I never understood what union could be until I met Beth Dimino, Brian St. Pierre, and people all over the state who opposed reforminess in all its ugly forms.

We can be a union like that too, if enough of us rise up and overturn the Unity monopoly this May 5th. I'm ready.

Are you?
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