02/20/14 8:00am
02/20/2014 8:00 AM
(Courtesy photo by Stony Brook University)

School superintendents David Gamberg, Steven Cohen and Michael Hynes have scheduled a public forum on March 13 at Stony Brook University’s Wang Center. (Courtesy photo by Stony Brook University)

Speaking out against a recent push in state-mandated education testing just isn’t enough for some local superintendents. (more…)

11/20/13 6:00am
11/20/2013 6:00 AM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Diane Ravitch talking with Long Island educators in Hauppauge Tuesday morning.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTOS | Diane Ravitch talking with Long Island educators in Hauppauge Tuesday morning.

Education expert and influential author Diane Ravitch is calling on school administrators and teachers to halt standardized testing within their districts to regain control of quality education.

More than 150 Long Island educators — including administrators and school board members from Shoreham-Wading River, Riverhead, Mattituck, Southold and Greenport — attended a breakfast meeting Tuesday with Ms. Ravitch at the Hyatt Regency Long Island at Wind Watch Golf Club in Hauppauge.

In addition to promoting her newest book, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” Ms. Ravitch, a New York University professor, former U.S. assistant secretary of education and Southold resident, said she believes schools need to join together in order to deter what’s come to be known as high-stakes testing.

She also said the current teacher evaluation system tied to student scores is particularly unfair to teachers whose classrooms include English as a Second Language students and students with disabilities.

“It’s time for civil disobedience,” she told the crowd. “If they tell you to do something you know is wrong, don’t do it.”

When asked after the meeting if she believed the crowd would reject standardized testing within their schools, Ms. Ravitch said she hopes “they have the backbone” to go through with it.

“I wish they would,” she said. “That would be wonderful. I think it would send a message to the nation.”

Watch: Diane Ravitch appearances on The Daily Show

Although Southold Superintendent David Gamberg — who organized the event with Ms. Ravitch — and Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney declined to give definitive answers afterward about whether their schools would refuse to administer standardized testing, they agreed Tuesday’s talk with Ms. Ravitch has sparked a much-needed dialogue among educators and communities.

“She’s inspiring us to really think critically about the impact of this agenda on children,” Mr. Gamberg said. “Her strongest point made was that we report to our communities, not to [state Department of Education Commissioner John King].”

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a new set of standards that requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age. The Common Core standards were created by nonprofit organizations, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, as a way to better prepare students from across the U.S. for college and careers after high school.

Along with the federal government, Ms. Ravitch said the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded the Common Core initiative. She also said Pearson, a worldwide publishing and educational company, is the primary producer and seller of Common Core instructional materials.

In 2009, through the “Race to the Top” program, the federal government offered $4.35 billion in competitive grants to states that adopted Common Core standards and developed plans to improve state test scores and teacher evaluation results.

The following year, New York adopted the Common Core in order to qualify for a $700 million portion of the federal grant and later published lesson plans for teachers to help students meet the new standards. The state doesn’t mandate that schools use these specific lesson plans, but they are available online at engageny.org.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Greenport and Southold school officials at Diane Ravitch's meeting on Tuesday in Hauppauge.

Greenport and Southold school officials at Ms. Ravitch’s meeting.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Mattituck-Cutchogue School District officials at

Mattituck-Cutchogue School District officials at Ms. Ravitch’s meeting.

Earlier this year, the state did mandate that New York school districts develop their own teacher evaluation systems, known as annual professional performance reviews plan (APPR), or risk losing additional state aid.

Ms. Ravitch said she believes the country’s biggest problem with education isn’t test scores, but rather poverty levels, because there’s a direct correlation between low family income and low test scores.

She also believes funds should be allocated for student programs instead of evaluation and data collection systems.

“There are a number of billionaires trying to fix public education, even though their own children attend private schools,” she told the crowd.

While the state has claimed the Common Core program aims to better prepare students for college and careers, many educators have criticized the initiative because they believe it forces teachers to abandon true learning and “teach to the test,” which raises ethical questions.

Ms. Ravitch said she also seeks to help people outside education understand that the current system of rating teachers provides “false” results.

“You can have a superb teacher who one year has disruptive kids and then the scores go down, and another year has a cooperative group and the scores go up,” she said.

“The public needs to be educated that what the test scores reflect is who is in the classroom, not the quality of the teacher.”

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11/08/13 3:27pm
11/08/2013 3:27 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Southold School District Superintendent David Gamberg holding an article he's carried around since 2010 that reminds him why the district didn't take Race to the Top funds.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Southold School District Superintendent David Gamberg holding a piece written on May 25, 2010 by education expert and local author Diane Ravitch. It lists her top ten reasons why states and local school districts should not participate in Race to the Top.

When Southold parent Amy Burns comes across a math problem, she knows how to solve it.

But when confronted with math questions in her child’s homework — crafted under the new Common Core standards — she said she’s “afraid to touch it,” lest she teach her daughter the wrong way.

And she’s not alone.

The Southold School District hosted a public meeting Wednesday to discuss how the district is working under the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The new set of standards requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age to better prepare them for college and careers after high school.

Ms. Burns was among about 50 people seeking answers from the Southold school board and district administration about how Common Core is being implemented.

“As a parent, I’m a little in the dark and I want to help,” Ms. Burns said about the new curriculum. “[When I try to help my child], I get, ‘No! That’s not how [the teacher] showed me!’ And I’m like OK. I have to step away.”

After New York adopted Common Core, the state published lesson plans for teachers to help students achieve the new standards. The state doesn’t mandate schools to use these specific lesson plans, but they are available online at engageny.org.

Southold Elementary School principal Ellen Waldron-O’Neill said many of her teachers are using the state’s lesson plans this year for the first time. The school is starting to put together a K-6 parent packet that will show parents how students are working out math problems.

A “math night” at which parents would learn how to undertake math problems in a classroom setting, is also in the works.

Other parents praised the latest direction in their child’s education.

Southold parent Angelo Tondo said she’s noticed her daughter is more engaged with her studies because of the new curriculum.

“She loves coming to school,” Ms. Tondo said. “They have fun. They dance. They sing. They’re in the garden and in the sandbox. I know there are bad parts, but we’ve got to remember that there are a lot of good parts and the teachers are doing the best that they can.”

Southold School Superintendent David Gamberg said although teacher’s aren’t simply teaching to the state-created plans directly, they he was “heartened” to see they are incorporating some of the materials in their own lessons.

“They have every intention to use their professional judgement, and where it’s appropriate, to incorporate examples that come from those modules that may be helpful,” he said, “and resist and reject those things that are not.”

While Mr. Gamberg and the school board have agreed there are some good elements to Common Core, they’ve also been one of the more outspoken school districts on the North Fork to oppose the state’s mandate that ties teacher evaluations to state assessment scores.

In August, the school board approved a resolution calling on state and federal officials to overhaul the current method of standardized testing, and New York’s teacher evaluation system called the annual professional performance review, or APPR.

Most notably, Southold denied it’s total portion of Race to the Top funds in protest of the mandates.

Mr. Gamberg described the district’s share as “minimal, at best.”

“It would have been $11,000 spread over four years on a $25 million budget,” he said. “By agreeing to that money, which we did not agree to, we actually would have had more requirements and thus more costs … Many, many districts are exploring ways to return that money.”

As for questions about students opting out of state assessments, Mr. Gamberg said the matter is “still under investigation.” He said he believes all of the details will be ironed out prior to the tests.

At the start of Mr. Gamberg’s presentation, he held up a piece of paper he said he’s carried around for the past few years.

It was a letter written on May 25, 2010 by education expert and local author Diane Ravitch and lists her top ten reasons why states and local school districts should not participate in Race to the Top.

“By raising the stakes for tests even higher, Race to the Top will predictably produce more teaching to bad tests, more narrowing of the curriculum, more cheating, and more gaming the system,” Ms. Ravitch wrote. “If scores rise, it will be the illusion of progress, rather than better education.”

Mr. Gamberg said he believed much of the doom Ms. Ravitch predicted nearly three years ago is already coming true.

“This is all I needed to have for me to say as superintendent, ‘No, we’re not signing for Race to the Top,’” Mr. Gamberg said. “I’m not sure defecting Common Core is the answer, but the way to explore this deeply is to really build forums like this for us to continue to contact lawmakers.

“I think that’s the way to go.”

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