Friday, November 06, 2015

Astroturfing 101

It must be great to put out a press release from so-called Families for Excellent Schools and talk about how poorly the public schools serve high-needs students. Those astroturfers just care so much. High needs kids are the ones I teach every day of my life, the ones who wouldn't get into a hedge fund backed charter school on a bet.

If you're a lucky astroturfer, some paper will put your press release out as news. That's pretty much what a Daily News article did yesterday. In fact, it did not present much of any other point of view (though mild protests from Carmen Fariña's office were later added). It appears Fariña's office has some sort of junk science VAM formula to show progress, or lack thereof, on the part of ELLs. It seems to entail the NYSESLAT exam and some other English exams, like the elementary school ELA or maybe the NY State Regents. Neither the ELA tests nor the English Regents are designed to measure language acquisition (and your humble correspondent feels it's absurd to have newcomers take these tests at all).

The fact is the new NYSESLAT test has been given precisely once. Any other test with which they compare it was substantially different, and if that's what Fariña's office is doing, well, it doesn't know what it's doing. I know this well because I administer the NYSESLAT each and every year. The new NYSESLAT, like the aforementioned exams, does not measure language acquisition.  It used to at least try, but now it's all Common Corey. For the edification of confused NYC DOE officials, as well as the CEO of so-called Families for Excellent Schools,  the purpose of ESL is to help newcomers acquire English. It is not, as some genius at DOE stated on a Powerpoint, to prepare them for core content courses (though it certainly helps).

Last year's NYSESLAT test was largely about doing close reading. This is not a language specific skill, and in fact any and all reading skills transfer with time, something so-called Families for Excellent Schools did not really account for. Nor, it appears, has the DOE. Of course, since absolutely no one mentioned in this article appears to have the remotest interest in language acquisition or what that entails, this is no surprise.

It's funny, because right now, while this article merits placement in the Daily News, ESL instruction has been cut to the bone in NY State. I happen to know the writer of this Daily News piece is aware of this, because I sent it to him personally. I'm going to send it to him again just to make sure. I'm a little curious how severe cuts in English instruction for newcomers do not merit mention, but a press release from a Moskowitz PR firm masquerading as grassroots is a big deal.

No one bothers to ask me what's going on with ELLs because I am not qualified. I only see them come into my classroom every day of my life. Yesterday I had a girl come into my classroom, speak Spanish to me and everyone in it, and act like everything was fine. My students were pretty surprised.

I took her outside and told her, in Spanish, she had to speak English in my classroom. I asked if she understood and she said she didn't. This was a first for me. I told her I would not speak Spanish with her in the classroom and that I would not answer questions addressed to me in Spanish. She found that unreasonable. I told her I couldn't speak Chinese or Korean for my other students, and that until I could translate for all, classroom business would take place in English. I offered to explain it to her mom by phone and have mom explain it to her, and she seemed to understand a little better. But just to make sure, I had a dean who speaks Spanish better than I do give her chapter and verse.

Now it's great that so-called Families for Excellent Schools are interested in ELLs. Even as I deplore their outlandish ignorance, I applaud them for their concern. Since they are such big proponents of the Got to Go List Moskowitz Academies, I'm sure they'll urge Eva to start taking in all beginner ESL students, including those SIFE students who don't know how to read and write in their first languages. Do you know how many of these kids are now in the much ballyhooed Moskowitz Academies? Exactly zero. (And it would probably be fewer if they could do anything about it.)

Personally, I'm not at all surprised that math scores are down for kids who don't speak English. I'm not at all surprised that schools with high percentages of non-English speakers have lower test scores. After all, they don't speak English. I regret that is evident to neither the DOE nor so-called Families for Excellent Schools.

I suggest Eva Moskowitz and her BFF, the CEO of so-called Families for Excellent Schools travel to China, take a bunch of tests in Chinese and share their results with us. After all, since they're so horrified by these test results I'm certain they'd do much better. And since the new plan in NY State entails teaching ESL via magic, rather than classroom time, and since this is noteworthy to neither Moskowitz  nor so-called Families for Excellent Schools, they should have no problem learning Chinese. Eva will work her magic and show her CEO pal how to be highly effective.

I don't know about you, but I'm gonna sit while I wait for that.
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