Dear Parents - A Must Read by Donald Sternberg

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September 4, 2012

Dear Parents,

 

On behalf of the teachers and staff of the Wantagh Elementary School, I would like to welcome you back to school. I anticipate that the 2012-13 academic year will prove to be an exciting year. 

We are all enthusiastic about the arrival of our new superintendent, Mr. D’Angelo, and the promise of a fresh vision for the academic well-being of our school district. Also, Mrs. Chowske will be joining our WES staff, functioning as our school’s Elementary Supervisor [aka, Assistant Principal]. The future is bright as we move forward with the implementation of our Writers' Workshop program expanding into our fourth grade and kindergarten. This year we will also initiate a new K-5 math program called enVisionMATH. This program not only meets the national Common Core standards for Math but does so with enhanced technological experiences for our children.

One significant issue as we move into this new school year is that we will, at times, find it difficult if not impossible to teach authentic application of concepts and skills with an eye towards relevancy. What we will be teaching students is to be effective test takers; a skill that does not necessarily translate into critical thinking – a skill set that is necessary at the college level and beyond. This will inevitably conflict with authentic educational practice – true teaching. 

Unfortunately, if educators want to survive in the new, Albany-created bureaucratic mess that is standardized assessments to measure teacher performance, paramount to anything else, we must focus on getting kids ready for the state assessments. This is what happens when non-educators like our governor and state legislators, textbook publishing companies (who create the assessments for our state and reap millions of our tax dollars by doing so), our NYS Board of Regents, and a state teachers' union president get involved in creating what they perceive as desirable educational outcomes and decide how to achieve and measure them. Where were the opinions of teachers, principals, and superintendents? None were asked to participate in the establishment of our new state assessment parameters. Today, statisticians are making educational decisions in New York State that will impact your children for years to come.

Standardized assessment has grown exponentially. For example, last year New York State fourth graders, who are nine or ten years old, were subjected to roughly 675 minutes (over 11 hours) of state assessments which does not include state field testing. This year there will be a state mandated pre-test in September and a second mandated pre-test in January for all kindergarten through fifth grade students in school. In April, kindergarten through fifth grade students will take the last test [assessment] for the year.

Excessive testing is unhealthy. When I went to school I was never over-tested and subsequently labeled with an insidious number that ranked or placed me at a Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 or Level 4 as we do today. Do you want your child to know their assigned ‘Level’? What would the impact be on their self-esteem and self-worth at such a young age?

Of additional concern to me is the relationship between children and their teacher as we move into an era where teacher job status is based upon student assessment scores. Guess what, some children will become more desirable than others to have in class! And, conversely, others will be less desirable. There, I wrote it! That concept is blasphemy in our school where teachers live to prepare children to be productive learners and members of society. Teachers state-wide are worried that their relationship with students might change when they are evaluated based upon their students’ test scores. Teachers want to educate students, not test prep them for job security.

Additionally, what should be shocking to you as a parent is that state and national databases are being created in order to analyze and store students’ test scores – your child’s assessment results and your child’s school attendance! Do you realize that the state has mandated that classroom teachers must take attendance during every math, ELA, social studies and science lesson – everyone, every day for the entire school year! Those records are sent to the state and become statistically part of the teacher evaluation process. It will no longer be enough that your child ‘was in school.’ Rather, if he or she was at a band lesson or out of the room for extra help in reading and a math lesson was taking place in class, he or she will be noted as absent from that instruction. That will be factored into the teacher evaluation. Thinking of taking your child to Disney World for a week during the school year or leaving a day or two early for a long weekend skiing? Think again! Those absences will be recorded as illegal, missed seat time and sent to the state – as mandated by the state.

This is all part of the massive, multi-million tax-payer dollar teacher evaluation processes started by our Commissioner of Education, our governor, and our state legislators and fully supported by statisticians employed by the state and assessment-making companies. No one in Albany is selecting to see the end of the journey; that 98 percent of the students graduating from Wantagh Schools go on to two- and four-year colleges. Their myopic view is focused on the ‘parts’, not the whole. Who will eventually suffer? Your children!

The balance must now be struck between maintaining the special nature of an elementary school setting and the cold and calculating final analysis rendered by statistics. The use of assessment data to drive instruction is a tenet of good educational practices. The use of assessment data to render a yearly prognostication of teacher competency is ridiculous

You have the greatest impact on your child’s school performance. Each teacher only has your children for 180 days per year and for less than six hours per day [minus lunch and recess times, art, music, and physical education classes]. It is our expectation that as partners in your child’s education, you will be doing your part as well. As part of any evaluation of student performance, Albany must simultaneously be asking parents the following questions

Does your child read at home each day for at least twenty minutes? 

Do you read to your child every day? 

Are math facts gone over daily until they are known automatically?

Is there a quiet location in the house for homework time and do you check your child’s homework each night? 

Is your child sent to school ready for the day with a good breakfast following at least eight hours of sleep? 

Are after school activities monitored so that your child is not ‘overbooked’ and their stamina compromised? 

Is your child in school daily [except when they are sick] and not taken out of school for any reason other than illness?

We will continue to have field trips, assemblies, and special school events but some events will be curtailed or rescheduled with an eye toward prudent times during the school year to maximize student seat time. However, it is unmistakable that we have entered into a new era of educational practice with higher stakes than ever before. 

I look forward to working with you and your child as we start our new school year because….together we make a difference.

Thank you.

Don Sternberg, Ed.D.

Principal

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Comment by daniel agolia on October 3, 2012 at 1:41am

Unfortunately the very things that children love about school are being gutted due to standardized tests having a higher priority.  Creative writing, trips to environmental centers, art, physical ed, school plays, music.  And what of the stress our children experience.?  Do you think this may lead to cheating? The  loss of one's livlihood, lost opportunities to get into great schools, loss of the joy of learning for learning's sake--due to high stakes testing.And how are these tests fair to those in poverty, or new arrivals, or those in special ed.  And how are they fair to the teachers who work with those in poverty, the homeless, the hungry?  Another writer suggested that we just get rid of the teachers and bring in Kaplan to teach test taking skills.   I fear that is next. Instead we should be looking to the countries in Scandinavia who are at the top of the lists in most categories of achievment.  They nurture their infants, they're big on pre-natal care, and they give their youth  the gift of time to mature before being asked to learn how to read.  They know that  a child's work is his play.  They encourage parents to stay home with their pre-school youngsters to develop self-confidence and a sense of security and offer economic incentives to do so.. I write this is a parent and a teacher/counselor in the NYC public school system for 35 years.  I enjoyed them but probably would have left this current system as is denies children their birthright of a joyful learning experiences.  Someday the tide will turn but how many children will have been turned off to school by then?  Finally, it should be the Principal's job to evaluate his teachers--but who is evaluating the Principals?  Politics should not enter into Principal's appointments--but that is another story.  Sincerely, Dan Agolia

Comment by Dr. Lynnda M. Nadien on October 1, 2012 at 1:04pm

We need to tell it like it is and we all need to advocate for our profession. Our children do not need to be the scapegoat in this 'climb' up the political ladder.

What happened to liberty and justice for all?

NYS needs to rethink or in plain language just 'think'?

Our kids deserve so much more!!!!

Comment by Stephen R. Schultz on September 28, 2012 at 1:00pm

Beautiful - just beautiful. This is why good teachers - I would like to include myself in that category - leave this system and go private. Well done Dr. Sternberg! Truth is always refreshing to hear!

Comment by Dr. Carlos Perez on September 28, 2012 at 12:43pm

Perfectly put and well stated!!!

Comment by Joseph C. Dragone on September 27, 2012 at 8:02pm

Congratulations!  What a remarkable letter!

Comment by Carmen Campos Ed.D. on September 26, 2012 at 10:02pm
This needs to be sent out by all principals to parents. Kudos to Dr. Sternberg!
Comment by Stacey Young on September 26, 2012 at 4:03pm
Dear Mr. Sternberg,
As a parent who has been trying to spread the word about the horrors of APPR, THANK YOU!!!!! Your school district - administrators, parents and community should be so proud of you for taking a stand. I am hoping that more and more of these letters will be written in hopes to educate parents that APPR is NOT what they think it is. All we hear in the news is it will "evaluate the teachers" - When teachers get bad scores this means they are bad teachers and they will be fixed or fired. What the public doesn't know is the truth!!!! The media NEVER talks about how this affects the children. We already have so many mandates that take the teachers out of the class. It makes it harder and harder to do their job. Now it's almost a guarantee that teachers - especially in poor areas will have to teach to the tests. Why don't we just get rid of teachers and hire "Princeton Review" to show the kids how to take the tests. How did education become a numbers game? Blaming teachers for what is an economic problem is wrong. How did getting an education degree and for most of Long Island a masters degree turn into what could be one course on how to teach to the tests? If we want our children to succeed, think out of the box, be scientists, inventors we need to support teachers to be able to do hands on projects, motivate students, inspire the LOVE if learning. APPR DESTROYS this and will fail our children. APPR DEMORALIZES our teachers.
So thank you again for writing this letter!! I hope their are more parents out there that will write or go to the Education Hearing on October 11 on Long Island and help try to get rid of APPR.
Comment by Dr. Peter Osroff on September 26, 2012 at 3:02pm

Don,

Bravo! More principals need to start sharing that Race to the Top is really a race to nowhere for our children. Moreover, APPR is no more an evaluation system than aromatherapy is neurology -- it is pseudoscience, make-believe evaluation.  One day the public will see that that they were conned into a phony reform movement; unfortunately, how many of our kids will have been hurt by then. Moreover, how many teachers are now becoming disheartened. Sadly,in real practice, the due process and safeguards of APPR now makes it even harder to terminate incompetent teachers than before. It is just so sad for the children and the educational professionals who really do care about kids. This new system only over-tests children, institutes a State growth scoring system that no one in schools really understands, benefits the lowest achieving schools since they have the greatest growth potential, and penalizes the highest achieving schools since they cannot maintain sustained growth.  Still, the silence is deafening...we all need to share what is really going on to parents. 

Thank you for taking a stand.

Peter 

Comment by Joan Taber Altieri on September 26, 2012 at 10:56am

It is extraordinary that an administrator spoke the truth and did so on the side of education. In the past few years, the once-negligible divide between Administration and Faculty seems to have transmogrified into a sort of upstairs-downstairs world in which administrators schmooze in the great room while teachers chop celery in the kitchen. We no longer work together with the aim of educating our students, that is, in the real sense of educating the whole child; instead, it seems as though Administrators have been working hand-in-hand with textbook companies and their test-prep offshoots to bring the latest educational trends into our schools. Each teacher is expected to sound like every other teacher—same lexicon, gestures, lesson plans, homework assignments, etc. As one teacher noted, before her retirement last year, “Pretty soon they’ll be installing a teleprompter in every classroom,” a sort of educational karaoke.

 

It is heartening to know that some principals agree that recent changes in educational direction do not serve to educate our students. Yes, by the time students graduate, they will know how to take a test; but they will not be prepared to ask or answer questions involving critical thinking unless their parents educate them at home; they will not be able to write creatively, unless their parents encourage creativity in the home. And teachers? New teachers will be well trained in business models of education. They will know how to teach for the test; they will know how to benchmark and classify; they will know how to take attendance nine or ten times a day, how to write an objectives outline, and how to collect artifacts to show that they are meeting those objectives.

 

I applaud Dr. Sternberg’s courage in speaking out in such a public way. Seasoned teachers will agree with him and, if they’re tenured, they’ll say so out loud. His fellow principals might agree with him, but most won’t say so out loud. Administrators in charge of curriculum, superintendents, and those who write and publish exams will not want his message to get around. It might encourage too many people to start considering the nature of public education and how it will or will not prepare students to function in the world as well-rounded, thoughtful, and educated adults.

 

 

Comment by Vivienne Mazzola on September 26, 2012 at 9:57am
Dr.Stenberg should be congratulated for his eloquent and explicit depiction of what is coming down the rocky road for students,parents and educators. I applaud him for enlightening the parents through a start of a new school year letter. I know that many parents have many misconceptions about our new education world. I only hope this goes viral with many conversations that parents have in the district spreading to other districts and therefore making some impact.

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