Dear Senator Schumer

Dear Ms. Zirkelbach:

Thank you for contacting me to express your concern with school voucher programs. I agree that we must invest our resources towards improving the public education system for all American children.

Our children deserve an excellent education that can put them in a position to succeed in life, and I have been a consistent supporter of federal funding programs such as Title I, IDEA and Improving Teacher Funding. While these programs have an important impact, they could do more if they were fully funded. That is why I urged Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education to provide the highest possible funding for these programs for 2017.

Additionally, I was proud to vote for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (S.1177), which was signed into law in the 114th Congress. This legislation authorized $1.65 billion for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant, which would support local public schools in creating well-rounded education programs, as well as building up schools’ digital capacity and infrastructure. Going forward, I will continue to be a strong supporter of our public education system.

Again, thank you for contacting me. Please keep in touch with your thoughts and opinions.

Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator

Dear Senator Schumer,

Thank you for your response. I think I sent my initial correspondence in January. It is September. I know you have other things to do, but if you are going to take nine months to respond, then maybe do not bother.

Also, you may be proud of your vote for ESSA, but my goal is to make that something that you will have to explain and repent for with future generations of parents. You have also supported the gutting of FERPA while supporting the build up of schools’ digital capacity and infrastructure. Senator Schumer, you have been a party to opening the flood gates on the 21st century ‘rush’ for PII data.

Hopefully, we can keep our society free enough that history will teach the story of how politicians sold out our children to hedge fund billionaires and big data.

Kind regards,

Christine Zirkelbach


Vouchers – Who Benefits

A key problem with using public tax dollars for vouchers for private schools, there are a limited number of seats in private schools.  That puts the ‘choice’ into the hands of the school, not into the hands of the parents.

Vouchers are also sold as a way to provide choice to low income students.  However vouchers rarely cover the cost of private school tuition.  So, the voucher money becomes a discount for private school for high income families who would have paid for private school regardless of the voucher.

Below are some great articles that discuss how vouchers have impacted students in the states where vouchers have been implemented.

Please add any other pertinent links in the comments below.


Regent Johnson Forum – Brewster

I had the pleasure of attending an education forum which featured a presentation with Regent Johnson.   It was in my home school district, and attendance was dismal.    This was the fourth forum that I have attended where Regent Johnson was a featured speaker.  Attendance was light, with only about 30 people in the audience.

Below is a summary of my notes so the writing will be rough.  I will try to refine and edit later.

“What can we do to help?”

Not be quiet, voices are heard, and we are listening; We would not be here today if it was not for Opt Out parents.  This is a lesson in civil disobedience.

Apology – for disruptive changes, key decision makers were left out; now 9 out of 17 Regents are former superintendents and, for the first time, the majority are women.

Shaming teachers has been an embarrassment for this state.

NCLB was a ‘Theory of Action’ and bi-partisan.  The theme was right, the implementation is where the law became so flawed.

Graduation rates increased but the achievement gap also increased.

In the US, 6 out of 10 children live in poverty.  And we do not fund our schools adequately.

A good accountability system is a cycle of continuous improvement.

Title 1 started with LBJ;  should be reauthorized every seven years, ESSA came after 10 years.

This is the only country where students do not speak two languages; hence the decision to bring back the LOTE Regents; so that diplomas can have a seal of bi-literacy.

Learning is complex; assessments should be complex as well.

Professional capacity building – ‘Moral Panic’ – lay blame on public school teachers.

Room for improvement in teacher preparation; takes three to four years to build professional confidence, and move from the script.  Evaluation system should focus on creating great teachers.

In 5 years enrollment in NYS teaching programs dropped to 400,000 from 600,000/700,000 while babyboomers are retiring.

It now costs $2,500 for teacher certification tests, and if you fail, you pay again.

AimHighNY – is a Data Dashboard.

Multiple measures for assessment; teamwork as an integral part of education.

New to ESSA -School Quality Review

Regent Johnon Co-chair of Research-based work group – new initiatives need evidence that it works or evidence that it is promising that it will work.

  1. Standardized tests are too narrow
  2. How do you retain teachers?  Had to pass a resolution to allow uncertified teachers to teach for 90 days because schools cannot find anyone.
  3. Pay Up – IDEA has never paid up to the 40% as stated; most has been 20%.  Cuomo withholding CFE money; redefine poverty as there are regional/geographic differences

Learning standards – Regent Johnson is a supporter of the concept of higher learning standards (me: this is a departure from her earlier statements that she supports Common Core) but what exactly is that?

Hammond-Darling vs Dewey – Regent Johnson – we need to blend both theories.


How do you envision pathways for special education for diploma?  Superintendents determination allowed 328 students to graduate and there is more to come.  “I envision that there will be performance based tests”

Regent Johnson – assessments will happen though out the year. (me – this sounds like CBE and I think she needs to see more research on what CBE is theory of action vs reality of implementation).

We will see a major shift in 2019.

Tax Cap: Legislative body & Cuomo on the other side.  Districts are approaching bankruptcy; losing programs (ie district in Rockland that will have to cut K next year but will have UPK funding).  BOR/NYSED seldom win the money fights.

Completely revising the teacher evaluation system.

Will be addressing the opening the Consortium model schools this year.

There is no research on the efficacy of testing 3rd grade – Regent Johnson supports assessments that inform practice.

Never use the word remediation.

Do the survey on

And, the federal government is pushing the 95% punishment, so there is a question asking what the punishment should be.





Comments on Superintendent Determination for IEP Students to be able to graduate with a local diploma

  • NYSED needs to step away from the mindset that a local diploma is a ‘less then’ diploma, and also work to stop having the local diploma framed as a booby prize for students with disabilities.
  • There needs to be safe guards within the Superintendent Determination for schools not to push out students with IEPs who can pass these Regents exams, but still need more time in a school setting to work on the social/emotional component for being ready for their next steps in life. The IEP needs to take precedent, and schools should not be perceived as ‘failing’ should the student needs supersede the school’s need for an increase in their four-year graduation rate.
  • The over-emphasis on passing regents exams detracts from a well-rounded education for too many students. The Board of Regents claim to be ‘against tracking’ but are okay with students being placed in Algebra 1 for two years for two to three periods a day.  Also, the over emphasis on the close reading standard and close writing standard is not a college and career ready skill.  Employers require students to be able to express original ideas in writing, not to regurgitate and cite lines from four texts that they just read.
  • The graduation pathways and non-dependence on five regents exams as high stakes exit criteria need to be extended to the entire student population. The path to a high school diploma should not solely be tied to standardized written exams, and should allow for students to show their talents and abilities in ways that are productive for the individual student.
  • The consortium model schools with true performance based assessments, have proved to be a successful model for improving student achievement and improving students’ ability to succeed in a college or career after high school. We encourage the Board of Regents to open up the application process and increase the number of public consortium schools using true project based assessments that truly engage learning.

The Regent Exam “Gotcha”

Guest Blogger  Denis Ian


Any “test” that features any sort of “gotcha” question is not an assessment … because that’s a game show tactic … and this is no game show.

Of course, every test should have some opportunities for youngsters to exhibit their special knowledge. To narrow down the scope of questioning … because the test-makers were too, too lazy to formulate a new question … is fraudulent.

The goal of an exam is to provide students with an opportunity to display their mastery of a subject. The test makers should be as invisible as a competent referee in a sporting event. It seems to me that these tests make a real effort to swerve off main moments and events … and thereby demand that the more obscure be mastered as well as the most important. If this were a bar exam, I might concur. Bit it is not a bar exam … it’s an assessment for young learners … about 200 years old … who simply want to graduate high school and open the next chapter of their lives.

I will say this … while sometimes imperfect, the Regents exams were … for decades … accepted as suitable and appropriate assessments for high schoolers in this state. In fact, they even held a certain distinction among the states. No more.

This obligated move to align with Common Core has caused havoc throughout the Regents test program … not just in social studies but in math as well. And it will surface in all subjects soon enough because the pattern is now clear. Regents’ exams are no longer reliable gauges of student mastery. Instead they have become more similar to “trial by ordeal”. To succeed is to endure.

When you have cut scores that fluctuate wildly every year, that’s a certain indication that the tests are sloppy and even the makers distrust their ability to make an accurate instrument.

With cut scores that boggle the mind, teachers and student will rightly assume that every years’s passing rate is up to the whimsy of some unidentified fops in some unlabeled office in Albany.

I still maintain that the goal of all of these assessments is to confirm over and over and over again that the schools are dreadful failures and that Common Core is the antidote to the crisis. The reform itself has been under such sustained rebuke … and these tests scores represent easily manipulated justifications for a reform that is a magnificent failure.

These volatile scores will also serve as justification for teacher firings and for school take-overs by the state. Control is the long-term goal … but chaos will do very well for the moment.

The saddest part of this educational drama is that New York will again assume a posture of righteous arrogance … insisting that … for this or that reason … it will all heal itself and wonderfulness will fill the air for all of ever.

This state’s dysfunction is now a graduation requirement whether Albany wants to admit it or not.

Rather than being a steward of education in this state, Albany has become a saboteur of public education. They are involved in direct dismantling of a public school system for reasons way beyond educational performance. There are sinister forces in this state … and in this nation … that have hijacked education under the guise of reform … but in reality … it was all done for monetary and political gain.

It is a coup d’etat of stunning breadth and alarming incompetence. These exams are simply a public performance of their intent to mock this public education system into obscurity … and replace it with a system designed not for students … but for the self-serving.

High Standard (singular)

There is only one standard that must be met for ELA in New York State.  Close reading.  All educational endeavors in New York State in English Language Arts are governed by close reading.

That is it.  Close reading is the anchor standard, and the entire ELA curriculum in NYS is now driven by close reading because you can not pass the ELA Regents in New York State unless you are proficient in one standard.  Close reading.  The ELA Regents is wholly driven by close reading; not knowledge of grammar or punctuation, or verb tenses, not comprehension of the works studied over the years in school, or even a passing interest in literature.  Just close reading.

Designing the ELA regents to only focus on one standard, close reading, is sold as a high standard but is really a cost efficiency.   Students are no longer asked open ended questions about literature that they have read during their education, nor are they asked to write opinion pieces on topics of interest, or business letters to express a concern.  Students now are tested by having to read a set of texts, excerpts or documents, and provide an answer based on a specific and narrow constraint.   The end result, in the idealized world of those that are pushing “high standards” is that all students willwrite a standard response.

The current standard of having every student in NYS needing to write a uniform response in order to graduate and earn a high school diploma means that NYSED puts more value on being able to grade an essay with a computer then it does it fostering innovative, creative writers and thinkers.

The ACT recently published a report on a recent survey of what educators and business found to be important skills.

 “Finding 1: There is general agreement that students and employees should be able to write for a variety of purposes, audiences and context.”

So, students should be proficient at many writing styles, not just standard essays to pass one standardized test.

In the second finding, 47% of college professors stated that the most important writing skill is students should be generating sound ideas for writing.  New York State education  and common core standards puts the focus on teaching students to critically analyze source text so it is no surprise that 43% of high school teachers put the Common Core anchor standard as the most important skill.   College professors put the ability to use language conventions proficiently above critically analyzing text.  College professors put the least value on being able to clearly summarize other author’s ideas in writing , which makes sense.  College professors want students who can generate their own ideas.

The final finding relates to reading, and college professors want students who can determine the central meaning of a text, identify important details, draw conclusions and make inferences, evaluate evidence and/or support for an author’s claim and distinguish among fact, opinion and  reasoned judgement.

These are skills that are developed with reading, and discussion, building vocabulary and comprehension.  Close reading focuses on minute details, and on answering questions that direct a student to focus on a very specific section of text and determine the answers to a set of multiple choice questions.

The second part of High Standard (Singular)  will go through examples of past Common Core aligned ELA regents and illustrate how the close reading standard is used to narrow instruction and only emphasize  one skill.

Thank you to Peter Greene, who writes Curmudgucation, for this piece ,which introduced me to the ACT study.  And thank you for his tireless efforts on writing about issues in education every day.

Thank you to Nicholas Tampio, Associate Professor at Fordham University, for raising awareness of the problem with the anchor standard and why it needs to be changed in this op-ed piece.

Thank you to Susan Ryan Murphy, who has patiently asked all my ELA regents questions and who has been advocating for many changes to the ELA  regents exams.  This is her letter to NYSED and the Regents pushing for changes to the grading scheme.



Ltr to Regents on ELA Regents Exams – Necessary Changes

Letter to Regents by Susan Ryan Murphy

I want to applaud you for taking the time to consider the idea of easing graduation requirements for our seniors. This is an amazing shift and gives me hope that NY can overcome the problems encountered in recent years. I hope the new graduation requirements include a path for those whose main disability is reading comprehension. There are rumors that the English Regents will remain as a graduation requirement. Keeping the English Regents in place “as is” could pose problems for our students. Before this decision is finalized, I urge the Regents who have never seen the test or read the questions to take the time to read through the questions before any decisions are made. I teach English and am all in favor of literacy standards. But, this Regents is not testing what you think it is testing. First, there are 3 reading passages which assess reading comprehension. The reading level of these passages is often as high as grade 14. Questions focus on understanding metaphor and sarcasm, skills that are listed as disabilities on the IEPs of some of our SWDs. No matter how much remediation these students receive, they will never be able to answer these questions. (It’s like asking a student who is color blind to pick out the red and green M&Ms.) In order to have a chance at passing this exam, a student needs to answer 12-14 multiple choice questions correctly. Mathematically, that makes sense. But when you look at the test and the 24 multiple choice questions, there are never 12-14 questions that a student with a reading disability could answer. They all struggle with poetry (4-5 questions). In years when the poem has had a sarcastic tone (leveled at grade 14) my weaker readers have gotten every question wrong. The remaining 19 questions are also paired with at least one text grade 12-14. Questions focus not on general comprehension of the passage, but on understanding a specific vocabulary word in an isolated sentence. Often these words cannot be defined in context of the passage. Other questions ask students to make inferences or to unpack figurative language. Weak readers are not good at this. My college bound students will answer almost every question correctly in September on the pre-test and, of course, will do the same the day of the Regents. My struggling students will only get 3 or 4 questions correct on the pre-test. By June, they are able to answer 7-10 questions correctly … but that may not be good enough. Second, the writing portion of the exam relies on reading comprehension skills also. Students must read an additional 5 passages and write 2 essays based on those readings. The first set of criteria on the grading rubrics assess the sophistication of their understanding of the reading passage(s). Students with a reading disability will not score higher than a 2 on this criteria. It is a rare that a poor reader will write an essay with a wide range of sophisticated sentence structures, sophisticated vocabulary, or error free language. Yet,this is what the rest of the rubric assesses. So, a poor reader, by definition, will be a poor writer on this particular exam. The argument essay is graded with a raw score of 1-6. Raw scores of 4-5-6 are almost impossible for a weak reader. My students have shown tremendous growth this year as readers and writers. Yet, while their writing scores were at a 2 on the pre-test … now they are writing better 2’s. On a good day, they might score a 3 … or average out to a 2.5. My college bound students, however, have moved from a pre-test score of 2-3 to a post-test score of 5-6. The literary essay is graded with a raw score of 1-4. On the pre-test, most of my struggling students left a blank page instead of writing an essay. The passage was so difficult to read that they couldn’t follow the directions. (I have taught these children for the past 3 years … they knew enough to write the essay … but they couldn’t understand the reading passage in September.) They have learned reading and test taking strategies this year and are now writing essays that score a 2. When I add up all of their points on practice Regents exams, they are scoring between 40 and 60 points. It sounds like I’m a terrible teacher. Yet, most of these students refused to read and write when I had them as freshmen. Most do not have IEPs or 504 plans. They have worked hard and overcome so much. Upon graduation, they are planning to enter the work force, the military, or, possibly, a two-year college to further their BOCES vocational studies. This exam does not assess the literacy skills that they do have. If they were asked to write an essay about how to repair a transmission, to weld aluminum, to debone a chicken, or to remove a virus from a computer, they could each score a 6. But they aren’t very good at writing about how an author uses metaphors to create a central idea. Thank you for all that you are doing to help our students to graduate.