03/06/15 7:00am

To the editor:

From Peconic Landing to Brewer Yacht Yard to County Executive Bellone’s initiatives on reducing nitrogen pollution in our waters, it seems everybody around here except Greenport’s current Village Board has heard the message: Sewers have never been more important to our economy and environment.  (more…)

12/14/13 8:00am

Testing

The term Common Core has been used in these pages and elsewhere to describe the new policies and practices schools are being asked to adopt by the State Education Department. However, Common Core is just one portion of these reforms and, based on what I read in Michael White’s column and the overwhelming parent and teacher response at the education commissioner’s forums and on social media sites, folks are using Common Core as a catch-all term for the entire program. People are actually concerned about the new state assessments, the new teacher evaluation system (called Annual Professional Performance Review, or APPR) and potential profiteering by private corporate interests related to these reforms.

Common Core, on its own, is a relatively benign list of things that a student should know and be able to do by the end of a given school year in a given course. You can review the standards themselves at corestandards.org. These standards were authored by the National Governors’ Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the nonprofit Student Achievement Partners. Do these organizations have agendas? Of course they do. Every advocacy organization does. Are those agendas to steal money and autonomy from school districts? Hardly. Teachers will still be able to do good work in a Common Core classroom just like they were when the concept of standards was first introduced nationally in President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind reform initiative.

Claims that major publishing corporations like Pearson Inc. “wrote the standards” have no merit outside the fantasyland of sites like Breitbart.com  and its ilk. Any publisher worth its salt is aligning old materials and developing new materials to the Core, much as they did when the NCLB standards came out in the early 2000s, but they still must compete for district dollars to purchase those resources. New standards, same old publishing business. If you are interested in seeing a change in where schools spend their money, fighting Common Core is not where I’d spend your time or energy.

Ironically, the Common Core era, combined with the increased availability of inexpensive computer hardware like Chromebooks and tablets, has made it possible for teachers to implement inexpensive or free digital instructional resources, such as Khan Academy, Learnzillion and Brainpop. This movement has publishers like Pearson scrambling to hold on to their textbook and instructional materials revenues, as textbooks become dinosaurs and teachers are easily able to analyze results of a class quiz online and assign individualized activities to each student using a variety of free and open-source instructional programs.

Standards — Common Core or the old state standards — are goals, and teachers plan the path for getting students to the goals. If parents and teachers were only being asked to contemplate Common Core without the rest of the pieces that have come with it, we’d not have a rebellion on our hands. But, as they say, the horses are already out of the barn. Teachers are being given letter grades based on student test scores over which they may or may not have any control. Good teachers are getting disappointing grades and being told they must do better but, in some cases, doing better means magically removing a student’s learning disability, changing a student’s general motivation to take a multiple-choice test, or increasing the amount of exposure to literature and informational texts in a student’s home and family life. The APPR system has few defenders statewide, even in Albany. APPR can easily be removed or revised without disrupting the state department’s other initiatives, including Common Core.

The New York State Testing Program has been much maligned since it added the grades 3-8 assessments during the NCLB era. Pearson has the state testing contract, and there have been all sorts of problems and complications over the years, but Pearson has been making money by selling tests to districts and state departments since the invention of the test and will probably continue to do so throughout the next 100 years of rides on the educational reform roller coaster. In my work, I travel the country visiting with district leaders and educators and I can tell you pretty confidently that no state’s assessment contractor is respected or loved. Swap Pearson for CTB or Riverside Publishing and we’re probably having the same conversation here.

The movement against these reforms would be stronger if it divides and conquers. The State Education Department is not going to abandon its entire agenda, but it is conceivable to see them backing off from some of its components, particularly with such vocal and unanimous resistance across the state. Ask yourself: Would you be OK with a new set of learning goals for your children if the state department eased up on all the testing and if your child’s teacher didn’t feel as if she/he were under attack by the APPR system? Encourage your representatives in Albany to pick one component of the reform agenda and start there.

And give Common Core a second look. Without APPR and the new tests, it’s just a suggested list of things to teach in a given grade level and subject area, not the diabolical evil force it’s been depicted to be.

Doug Roberts is a consultant and entrepreneur in the educational technology sector who describes his work as standards- and publisher-agnostic. He lives in Greenport.

08/24/13 8:00am
FILE PHOTO |

FILE PHOTO | The Greenport School District is the most diverse of North Fork schools.

To the editor:

Thank you for shining light on the potential effects of recent federal and state policies on our local schools. Common Core itself is nothing more than a list of things that students should know and be able to do by the end of each year of school. It is a noble effort to organize curriculum to best prepare kids for college and careers. Nothing too controversial there.

Related: State officials call for patience on Common Core standards

The challenges come from the way our bureaucrats have chosen to execute Common Core and its related federal initiative, Race to the Top, which includes funding for new assessments, software for tracking data about students and educator evaluation systems. The systems created by our state Legislature — in partnership with our state teachers union, governor’s office, chancellor and Board of Regents — have hamstrung local educators. They are asked to engage in hours upon hours of additional red tape and paper-pushing that neither help improve outcomes for kids nor improve the quality of teaching and learning in our classrooms. The Legislature has over-thought this process in an effort to make it “foolproof.”

Our teacher evaluation system uses assessment data as 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation criteria. These are the same assessments identified in last week’s column, in which only about 30 percent of Riverhead’s students were deemed to be “proficient.” That means 7 out of 10 Riverhead teachers are less than effective, which I am certain almost every Riverhead parent would adamantly refute.

Our Legislature needs to know when it should get out of the way and let local communities manage quality assurance efforts in their own schools. If we want quality schools, we need support and trust from Albany, not micro-management.

Doug Roberts, Greenport

Mr. Roberts is vice president of a company providing data and assessment management technology to school districts throughout the U.S.

03/14/13 6:00am

To the editor:

Monday evening’s Greenport trustee candidates’ forum was my first foray into village government. Thanks to Tim Kelly and The Suffolk Times for organizing and moderating the event, and thanks to Ms. Phillips, Ms. Robins and Mr. Swiskey for their time and commitment to our village.

As a more recent transplant to Greenport — six years ago — I walked into the forum hoping to be energized to find ways to help the village I’ve quickly grown to love. I walked out feeling the exact opposite.

The ideas and conversation among the candidates were overshadowed by behavior from members of the audience that can best be described as immature and despicable, including loud side conversations, heckling, interruptions, laughter and a cellphone with a loud notification sound the owner refused to turn off.

At one point, it seemed that the altercation was going to change from verbal to physical, and I literally felt unsafe sitting in the room. My motivation to attend more Village Board meetings is now considerably lower.

It wasn’t clear whether the disrupters of this event agreed or disagreed with anything the candidates were saying. It just seemed to be disruption for disruption’s sake. If the village wants its residents to take its governance and electoral process seriously, I would recommend that it take action to remove these elements from these meetings.

Perhaps the best idea of the evening was presented by Mr. Swiskey, and, whether he is elected or not, I would encourage the village to strongly consider his insistence that we move more of the village government’s work onto the Web. Without a strong Internet presence, the village alienates an entire demographic of Greenporters who routinely conduct business and social interaction on the Web, and many of us in this category have valuable ideas and suggestions to offer.

There was much discussion Monday evening about “collecting input from villagers” about various topics, including parking and the use of Mitchell Park. It is extremely simple to gather feedback from people via the Web. I hope the new Village Board will ensure outreach to all Greenporters, not just those who can attend meetings during standard business hours or on weekday evenings.

Moreover, after Monday evening’s nonsense from my fellow audience members, I might prefer to participate from the comfort and safety of my laptop and home Wi-Fi.

Doug Roberts, Greenport

To read more letters to the editor, pick up a copy of this week’s Suffolk Times or click on the E-paper.