By Valerie Strauss
Increasingly teachers are speaking out against school reforms that they believe are demeaning their profession, and some are simply quitting because they have had enough.
Here is one resignation letter from a veteran teacher, Gerald J. Conti, a social studies teacher at Westhill High School in Syracuse, N.Y.:
Mr. Casey Barduhn, Superintendent
Westhill Central School District
400 Walberta Park Road
Syracuse, New York 13219
Dear Mr. Barduhn and Board of Education Members:
It is with the deepest regret that I must retire at the close of this school year, ending my more than twenty-seven years of service at Westhill on June 30, under the provisions of the 2012-15 contract. I assume that I will be eligible for any local or state incentives that may be offered prior to my date of actual retirement and I trust that I may return to the high school at some point as a substitute teacher.
As with Lincoln and Springfield, I have grown from a young to an old man here; my brother died while we were both employed here; my daughter was educated here, and I have been touched by and hope that I have touched hundreds of lives in my time here. I know that I have been fortunate to work with a small core of some of the finest students and educators on the planet.
I came to teaching forty years ago this month and have been lucky enough to work at a small liberal arts college, a major university and this superior secondary school. To me, history has been so very much more than a mere job, it has truly been my life, always driving my travel, guiding all of my reading and even dictating my television and movie viewing. Rarely have I engaged in any of these activities without an eye to my classroom and what I might employ in a lesson, a lecture or a presentation. With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliché with me, I’ve used it so very often) that “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching “heavy,” working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education and particularly not at Westhill.
A long train of failures has brought us to this unfortunate pass. In their pursuit of Federal tax dollars, our legislators have failed us by selling children out to private industries such as Pearson Education. The New York State United Teachers union has let down its membership by failing to mount a much more effective and vigorous campaign against this same costly and dangerous debacle. Finally, it is with sad reluctance that I say our own administration has been both uncommunicative and unresponsive to the concerns and needs of our staff and students by establishing testing and evaluation systems that are Byzantine at best and at worst, draconian. This situation has been exacerbated by other actions of the administration, in either refusing to call open forum meetings to discuss these pressing issues, or by so constraining the time limits of such meetings that little more than a conveying of information could take place. This lack of leadership at every level has only served to produce confusion, a loss of confidence and a dramatic and rapid decaying of morale. The repercussions of these ill-conceived policies will be telling and shall resound to the detriment of education for years to come. The analogy that this process is like building the airplane while we are flying would strike terror in the heart of anyone should it be applied to an actual airplane flight, a medical procedure, or even a home repair. Why should it be acceptable in our careers and in the education of our children?
My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom. Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth to the tyranny of APPR (through the submission of plans, materials and “artifacts” from our teaching) that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven. Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America, which seems doubly appropriate to this case.
After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. I feel as though I have played some game halfway through its fourth quarter, a timeout has been called, my teammates’ hands have all been tied, the goal posts moved, all previously scored points and honors expunged and all of the rules altered.
For the last decade or so, I have had two signs hanging above the blackboard at the front of my classroom, they read, “Words Matter” and “Ideas Matter”. While I still believe these simple statements to be true, I don’t feel that those currently driving public education have any inkling of what they mean.
Sincerely and with regret,
Gerald J. Conti
Social Studies Department Leader
[Ed. Note: Republished from The Washington Post, April 6, 2013. CLICK HERE to read the original.]
By Francisco Vara-Orta
[Ed. Note: Reposted from February 3, 2013, San Antonio Express-News. CLICK HERE to read original article titled "Senators weigh 'Anti-american' curriculum."]
State senators at a committee hearing in Austin on Thursday grilled education officials over a curriculum system used by most Texas school districts that they said promotes anti-American values.
Teachers have criticized the curriculum, known as CSCOPE, as too rigid, and some testified to that effect at the hearing before the Senate Education Committee. School superintendents at the hearing and in San Antonio said the system is widely used because it’s flexible and affordable.
But lawmakers zeroed in on the social studies component of CSCOPE, citing a lesson plan conservative organizations and pundits have seized on in recent months — an optional discussion of the Boston Tea Party that invites students to include the perspective of Britons who might have considered it an “act of terrorism.”
The panel also showcased the view that CSCOPE promotes Islam over Christianity. One witness Thursday compared the system to “mind control,” and an algebra teacher wept as he described quitting because he felt he was “aiding and abetting a crime” by using CSCOPE.
State-sanctioned educational organizations developed the online program, used in more than 70 percent of school districts statewide.
It offers lesson plans and exams to help teachers follow state requirements on what should be taught — standards set by the State Board of Education that themselves have been blasted by liberal critics as promoting a triumphalist version of American history that minimizes the nation’s flaws and marginalizes minority contributions.
Districts can pick what they want to teach from CSCOPE’s 1,600 lesson plans, and some school superintendents who testified Thursday lauded its overall quality.
Smaller districts in Bexar County, such as Lackland ISD and Somerset ISD, use it. The area’s larger ones — Northside, North East, San Antonio and Harlandale — design their own.
“For us, CSCOPE is a lifesaver,” said Dina Webb, Lackland’s executive director for curriculum and instruction, who did not attend the hearing. “We don’t mandate how teachers use it and certainly, as a military district, wouldn’t teach anything anti-American. But we certainly don’t have the money or staff to be able to write new curriculum every time the state standards change.”
Webb has heard of only one complaint from a parent, regarding the lesson plan on Islam. Somerset ISD Superintendent Saul Hinojosa said he hasn’t heard any. A few Somerset teachers went to Austin to support CSCOPE in preliminary testimony collected a few weeks ago.
“If there was something controversial or something we think might not fit our kids, the teachers have the ability to modify their lesson,” Hinojosa said.
Wade Lebay, director of state CSCOPE at the Region 13 Education Service Center in Austin, said CSCOPE offers about 1,600 model lessons districts can access for a fee of $7 per student. Region 13 is one of 20 centers statewide that serve as liaisons between school districts and the Texas Education Agency, which oversees public schools.
Senators asked Lebay to read from a sixth grade lesson plan that showed international flags and asked students to “notice that socialist and communist countries use symbolism on their flags” and asked them what symbols they would use if designing a flag for a new socialist country.
Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, asked, “Does that sound like we’re sympathizing with those types of countries?” When Linda Villarreal, director of the Region 2 Education Service Center in Corpus Christi, responded, “We have 1,600 lessons, so to take just this one is —” Taylor cut her off, asking, “Who is reviewing these 1,600 plans?”
Regarding the Boston Tea Party lesson, committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said, “It’s amazing that when you all called our founding fathers terrorists, in Texas, that you thought that wasn’t going to cause problems.”
The panel took no action. Patrick said he’d like to revisit the issue.
America’s educational standards have declined since World War II, and socialism is the primary cause. Teachers’ unions, Progressive agendas, unconstitutional civil rights enforcement, and federal controls have combined to accelerate socialistic objectives at all levels of education. To reverse this trend, the electorate must demand sweeping legislative reform, lest radicalism destroy successive generations of our children.
After World War II the baby boom created demands for the explosive growth of public education, requiring more schools and teachers. Between 1950 and 1965, civil rights increasingly took the national spotlight and culminated in one noteworthy judicial ruling and one significant legislative act: Brown v. the Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The former overturned school segregation, while the latter prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and gender. As a result, the federal government exerted greater influence over educational policy. In 1979 the Department of Education was established to promote educational achievement through the enforcement of civil rights.
By that time teachers unions had already coalesced to secure positions that promoted their own interests, while laboring vigorously to advance the Progressive’s ideological understanding of social and economic equality in the classroom. States, now beholden to federal mandates, experienced a cascading effect, which trickled down to local school districts, resulting in bureaucratic waste, inefficiency, and declining student performance. Parents and communities were forced to relinquish care of their children to inferior teachers, experimental instruction methods, and questionable curriculum standards. Consequently, parents and communities lost the right to preside over critical educational decisions for their children, as their authority was supplanted by state-propelled socialism. Thus, students are held hostage to a system that now precludes them from competing on a national and global level.
The only curative for socialism and the corruption of public education is to repeal federal legislation which maneuvered away from the Constitution. First, teachers should be employed as individual professionals and prohibited from joining unions. Second, public school standards of skills, knowledge, and responsibility for performance should be returned to parents and communities. Third, civil rights enforcement resides with the courts, not administrative agencies. Fourth, state and federal legislators must enact tax reforms that enable the means for local citizens to take control over the performance of their public schools. Finally, allow parents the right to public or private school choice.
Until government restores the rights intended by the Constitution and constituents demand the repeal of extra-Constitutional legislation, socialism will dominate America’s public school system at the expense of our students.
Hats off to the Texas Tribune for their article on how much Superintendents in Texas make. It’s a touchy issue for superintendents, and perhaps for good reason. Over 200 Superintendents make more than the salary of the Governor of Texas. And that’s their base salaries, not including perks and lifetime benefits including a cushy retirement.
It’s worth a peek.
Though the Beaumont ISD superintendent’s salary is the top salary in the state, we wonder if equal attention should be paid to Terlingua CSD where Superintendent Kathy Killingsworth makes $178,399, which figures out to be $1,578.75 per student.
Or Kenedy County Wide CSD where Noemy R. Garcia is superintendent making $149,248 with 89 students, figuring out to be $1,755.86 per student.
Let’s not overlook Divide ISD where Superintendent William A. Bacon has 16 students and makes $4,212.8 per student.
Samnorwood ISD’s Superintendent Gary G. Auld has 872 students, makes $84,825 = $3,029.46/per student.
But the award may well go to San Vicente ISD where Superintendent Eric T. Stoddard has 738 and makes $91,670 = $5,729.38/ per student!
Amazing how some school districts can be rated exemplary but have superintendents that make the equivalent to under $6 per student in their district, while other districts pay large amounts of money to superintendents whose districts continue get low ratings.
See for yourself, or find out where your superintendent ranks at (Click Here).
This week, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) takes up the adoption of new social studies standards for public schools’ guidelines that will impact students around the country from kindergarten to 12th grade for the next ten years. Hearings begin Wednesday and run through Friday in Austin over curriculum requirements for U.S. History, U. S. Government, and other social studies-related courses. The controversy over the new requirements involves the impact and role of religion in America (including Christmas), the Founding Fathers, the greatness of America and the exclusion or inclusion of significant persons in U.S. history including Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Daniel Boone and more.
Stay on top of this issue! Visit our Texas Legislative Update blog here Wednesday through Friday as we blog from the hearings.
Friends and Patriots,
Wednesday morning, 3/10/10, I drove to Austin and arrived at the Texas Education Agency in time to be present when Fox and other news agencies gathered for a preliminary news conference concerning “testimony to the State Board of Education” (S.B.O.E.). After the news session, we adjourned into the SBOE chambers. I was honored to be given the information and to be invited to testify today and thanks in a large part goes to Jonathan Saenz, Esq., Director of Legislative Affairs & Attorney for the Liberty Institute.
I was up late preparing the one-pager (time limit of 3 minutes) and I appreciate the efforts and help from Dr. John Bell, Hope d’Amore, and Jonathan Saenz. I’ve included at the attachment my summary and I can tell you this: 3 minutes goes by quickly. I did not have time to quickly read though this before my time expired; however, 2 Board members (who had copies of my sheet) wanted to address the items I didn’t cover, and they assured me the items in question would not be removed from the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). I found the Board to be friendly and reassuring about the message I brought. My prayers were answered — and hopefully, this will bring about good fruit for the school children of Texas (and other states) over the next 10 years (at least in the areas of Social Studies, Government, and World History).
Thanks to all of you who lent encouragement and support. It is only with the help of friends, Patriots, and those who pray that we will stand and prevail.
Standing fast for ‘Liberty’,
Gary D. Nunn, Chairman Precinct 4054
SATP Education Tiger Team Leader
Testimony to the Texas State Board of Education
Gary D. Nunn
Hello and thank you for this wonderful opportunity today. I am Gary Nunn, U.S. Air Force retired, with 24 years — at which time I chose a teaching career. This new career allowed me to use what I’d learned while serving my country and traveling to other states and countries as well. I taught Social Studies – and integrated that across the curriculum, since I taught all classes in 5th and 6th grade Special Education. I became an Administrator and served as assistant principal at both junior high and at elementary and was a Director when the first Alternative Education Programs were put in place in 1996. After 16 years, a year ago in December, I retired but kept abreast of Education. I know how important the standards are that the State Board of Education will pass and that they will be in effect for the next 10 years . Because “what happens in Texas doesn’t just stay in Texas”, I know the standards you enact will be viable across most of the nation.
There were “unelected review members” who had a chance to ‘tinker with Social Studies, U.S. Government and World History and more. Some of the changes were outrageous – and, thankfully, the SBOE has voted to reject many of those proposals. Many of those things have already been addressed and those who did the “revision” did an exceptional job in my opinion. However, a few things, I feel, are yet to be resolved and I trust this Board will address these.
First, Social Studies, Grade 1, page 7, Sections (b)(1)(A) July 2009 Draft:
I understand Independence Day, Neil Armstrong, Daniel Boone, Christopher Columbus were all previously removed – but have now been returned. I’m glad somebody put them back. Thank you.
However, on Section (b)(15) Culture. It used to say: “The student understands the importance of family beliefs, customs, language, and traditions of communities, etc., etc. Families and traditions of families has become unimportant. The community has gained more importance; “ No, really, the word “family” and “families” has been removed. “Family” was taken out in the revision and the word “community” is taking its’ place??? It seems to me those who edited this draft overlooked “the family” as being a vital part of THE CULTURE IN TEXAS. I HOPE that will strike a note with the BOARD and that the BOARD will LOOK AT AND PROVIDE A REMEDY FOR THIS “OVERSIGHT” – THIS BLUNDER, to my way of thinking. It seems the “revisionists” have edited the “family” out of Texas culture – that’s what the Draft Recommendation says.
Second, U.S. Government, Page 2, Section (c)(1)(B) (October 2009 Draft):
Section (c) (1)(B) has been changed, adding something that was seriously lacking – and that concerned me greatly. I understand the Texas Freedom Network and other organizations were attempting to delete from our textbooks any mention of the religious background of our Founding Fathers – however, any objective reading of these Founding Fathers affirms our very existence as a nation is predicated upon universal principles, or Natural Laws, which transcend man-made laws – illustrated in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution and rooted in Judeo-Christian principals, as my friend Hope d’Amore so eloquently pointed out in her letter to Gail Lowe, Chairman of the State Board of Education, from Lampassas.
My friend, Dr. John Bell said this: “ rewriters of history delight in debunking historical truth. Even the most educated and articulate fall prey to perpetuating revisionist myths. Most recently, President Obama ignored these historical facts and cultural considerations in his apparent efforts to build goodwill in the Muslim world by declaring America is not a Christian nation. Nothing could be further from the truth. America is by no means perfect and has strayed from her principles on occasion – however, those principles derived from the Christian tradition have served her well for 233 years. For her future, and for the future of Texas, we would do better to “live the sentiment” of “one Nation under God” rather than to deny that part of her history. God bless America – God bless Texas – and God bless the Texas State Board of Education!!!