Dear President-elect Trump:
Herein lie some of my views regarding education policy at the state and federal levels. I address the Federal Education Department, share some information about myself, and about how the political process both at the state level (in New York) and at the federal level (in D.C.) have treated education activists & child advocates such as myself. It is my intent to share facts and share possible solutions and ideas. I will not apologize for the length of this communique for i do not believe that the education of ALL of our nation's children should be condensed down to neat little out of context sound bites. It was disheartening to me that neither side during the course of this election cycle deemed our nation's children and public education a priority to be discussed in depth.
Unlike many of my contemporaries I believe there MAY be a place for the Department of Federal Education as it was originally intended....again I emphasize the word "MAY."
The Federal Department of Education in its current incarnation was birthed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Carter’s idea was founded on sound reasoning. At that point in time he saw the federal government as intrusive. He himself stated that the federal government had, instead of assisting education at local levels,
added to their “ burden.” The fed had indeed become a culture “bureaucratic buck passing.” He further went on to say that the federal government, which should be a “junior partner” in American education, had mistakenly relegated itself to that of an equal and silent partner. There were essentially six key tenets that the Federal Dept. of Education was founded upon.
1) It would bring education into the national spotlight and put someone a position of authority to “stir the discussion” regarding education.
2) It was to make federal education programs more accountable.
3) It would streamline education as it would no longer be enmeshed in HEW; which in turn would “promote better service” to local school systems.
4) The reorganization would result in substantial personnel and bureaucratic streamlining. It would allow for improved services at less cost.
5) “It will make Federal education programs more responsive. Placing education in a highly visible department of its own gives the American people a much clearer perspective on what the Federal Government is doing in education and who is responsible for these activities. It allows people to better decide what the Government should and should not be doing in education.”
6) “A Department of Education will ensure that local communities retain control of their schools and education programs. That is essential if our schools are to serve their students properly, and the Department of Education will, therefore, not permit the Federal Government to begin making decisions on education policy that are best made at the local level.”
President Carter’s complete statement regarding the DOE can be found here: Department of Education Organization Act Statement on Signing S. 210 Into Law. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=31543 October 17, 1979
I truly believe that President Carter had nothing but the best intentions mind as he created the DOE.
The problem arose in subsequent administrations...BOTH GOP and Dem. It started with Reagan's reliance on the severely flawed findings of "A Nation At Risk" and grew to Bush1 to Clinton to Bush2 to Obama's RTTT and Common Core (More detailed information can be found here: http://stopccssinnys.com/uploads/Sheffield_-_Six_Main_Tenets_Behind_the_Founding_of_FedEd.pdf
I guess I should give you some background on who I am:
I am the father of two children that were well–served by the public school system (as was I, many years ago). I am an educator, I have been called an education activist, and I am an active member of my community. I also am one very concerned citizen of New York and of this great nation – concerned about the direction education is being driven, not just on the state level, but by the way Fed Ed is pushing, and at times threatening, my state and nation. I am also deeply – DEEPLY troubled by the daily erosion of local control of public education, which I feel is being outright taken from our communities across the state.
Last spring I was officially interviewed for the position of NYS Regent by Assembly members in Albany, NY on Wednesday February 3rd, 2016. That interview in its entirety can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-TvgajLC6Q in this interview I even mention that too much authority was being exercised over states by FedEd.
I was interviewed live by Susan Arbettor on Friday February 5th, 2016 for her show The Capitol Pressroom; that interview can be found here from the 36:12 mark to the 48:24 mark https://www.wcny.org/feb-5-2016-ashley-hupfl-reporters-dave-catalfamo-john-sheffield/
I have been interviewed by local papers and been endorsed by such groups as Stop Common Core in New York State, NYSAPE, and NY BATS, and by numerous other groups and individuals across the state.
Throughout this process of interviews, I reached out to three superintendents in New York State that are well known for being honest, outspoken, and against many of the current reforms taking place in education. I informed all of them of what I wanted, who the other two were I was reaching out to, and that I was asking the same thing of all of them. They graciously granted me permission to share their names: Dr. Michael Hynes - Superintendent at Patchogue-Medford School District; Dr. Joseph Rella - Comsewogue Superintendent; Dr. William Cala – Retired Superintendent Pembroke, Shoreham-Wading River, and Fairport School Districts.
They were all posed the same hypothetical question: “If, in your capacity as Superintendent, you were to be involved in the Regent process, what are the top five or ten items you would ask prospective candidates about?” While they did not all come up with the same exact items, many of them were related. In an effort to answer as many of their top concerns as possible, I am linking some of their individual questions together into four major areas of concern.
Q: How would you begin to heal the damage done over the past five years? How would you demonstrate that children are the center of the educational enterprise? Where do you stand on the right of parents to OPT-OUT?
A: All three of these issues are tied together by one simple theme: trust. In order to undo the damage of the past five years, trust must be rebuilt between the Regents and the people of New York State. The legislature and the governor must also win back the trust of parents and communities across the state.
We must start by using child–centered practices that are proven and remove the emphasis on testing. Look at the programs that are being used in the consortium schools that are experiencing great success without a focus on testing and, for the most part, without Common Core. We should expand on those models; let decisions be made at the local level as to which part or parts of the consortium models best fit their given community.
We need to address the different learning styles of our children, in part, by providing multiple pathways to graduation through the use of different diploma tracks. While recognizing that a Regent’s diploma appropriately suits the capabilities of some students, we must bring back the “local” diploma, have a vocational diploma track, and recognize that our hard– working special education students deserve a diploma as well for their various equivalent skill sets.
In addition to these things, I support parents’ opt out rights. The children are their children. It is up to the Regents and education policy makers to earn back the trust of parents, schools, communities, and educators – until such time when parents do not feel they have to opt their children out. Furthermore, I will fight against any and all government agencies or persons that threaten, attempt to intimidate, and/or try to penalize districts with high opt out rates.
Q: What do you see as the role of testing? Should testing be coupled with teacher/school/administrative/district evaluation?
A: First and foremost, the role of testing should be for the classroom teacher and used in both formative and summative capacities for the classroom. I further add that its weight as a summative tool should be limited to 25% or under during any given marking period. To be clear though, this decision should be made at the local level. While I understand we are in an age of “globalization”, our communities are as varied as the children in them.
Should tests be linked to evaluations of teachers, principals, schools, and districts? The answer is simple: absolutely not. There is no reliable or valid formula to do so; Value Added Measure (VAM) is a perfect example of this. The reason there is no reliable or valid measure to link test scores to these types of evaluations is because these tests are not made to measure teacher/principal/school effectiveness. It is an axiom in testing and statistics that one does not use an instrument to measure something it was not made for! Where a Regents diploma is concerned, then testing may play a larger role due to the nature of that diploma track; what that role is needs to be determined by all stakeholders and certainly must have educator input.
Q: What are your stances on the funding of charter schools with public money with little accountability or oversight, the $300 million that charter schools received for MANDATE RELIEF this year, and unfunded and underfunded mandates in our public schools?
A: I think what bothers me the most about charter schools is how their original intent has been distorted from an alternative setting for students who have difficulty functioning in the “normal” school environment to a cash cow for privateers and education reformers whose main concern is the bottom line and profit margins…NOT the kids. The fact that they receive public funds with little or no oversight is mind–boggling to me as a citizen and tax payer.
If you delve further into it, you will find that many of these privateers have dumped millions upon millions of dollars into the legislative process of New York, including massive donations to Governor Cuomo, in order to exercise control over New York’s education policies. Part of their payback is that they receive public funds yet they do not have to play by the same rules as true public schools across the state.
As for the “mandate” relief charter schools have received this year, it simply disgusts me. While not having to follow many of the same rules and regulations as most public schools, here they are receiving even more public monies – and it comes at a time where the state is claiming not to have enough money to properly fund public schools. This leads me to underfunded and unfunded mandates.
Policies have been forced upon our public schools although proper funding has not been provided. As a matter of fact, the GEA (Gap Elimination Adjustment) is still here even though in two campaigns Governor Cuomo said eliminating it would be a priority. As a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, it was found New York State owes its schools billions of dollars that it has yet to pay, and it has been known for years that New York’s Foundation Aid Formula is in dire need of adjustments…yet none of it has been fixed. It seems to me that this, combined with some of the other factors I’ve mentioned, constitutes a clear attack on public education; an attack that is purposely setting our children, schools, and communities up for failure in order to facilitate a hostile takeover of public education.
Q: What are the top three most pressing concerns you believe the Board must confront and correct?
A: There is really only one grave issue in my mind and that is the total lack of trust in those making educational decisions about our children. Trust must be rebuilt. In order to re-establish that trust, there are several main issues that must be dealt with.
People, be they concerned parents, grandparents, educators, or community members in general, need to really be listened to. By that I mean more than just reflective listening and lip service. Action must be taken – action that undoes the damage of the past five years; it must be swift and it must be clear.
Processes dealing with education (and many other decisions for that matter) must be much more transparent. The citizens of this state deserve honesty and integrity where our children are concerned. Our children are not baseball cards to be traded and bartered away to the highest bidder and they should not be treated as such. The politics and big money must be driven from the equation in order for all children to be educated in the manner they all so richly deserve. The Regents must take the lead in this and all things regarding education.
The Board of Regents must regain control of educational decisions in New York State. The legislature must work with the Regents to properly fund education; investing in our children is truly investing in the future. The adage of pay now or pay later holds true. The cost of not investing in the education of all of our children to the very best of our ability leads to much greater financial and societal costs down the road. It is the Regents who must take the lead in all of this. It is they that must gain the trust of the parents, for with the active, involved, and informed parents backing them up, the legislature, and even the governor, will have to follow suit.
The Regents also must lead in absolving New York from its misplaced commitment to Common Core. After five years, the fact that there is so much public dissent about Common Core, its history, its developers, its inadequacies, its intrusiveness through data, its misplaced emphasis on testing, and the mere fact that it essentially is an experiment on our kids…all lead to the conclusion – it needs to be tossed. It is my opinion that it would have been gone already if not for the hundreds of millions of dollars of private money propping it up. Before Common Core, before RTTT, before NCLB, before federal government overreach began, New York had a first class public education system; we need to go back in time in order to move forward in education. New York also has its own “lost standards’ which had both time and money invested into them only to be “lost” in the wild goose chase of Race to the Top.
It is time for New York State to be a leader in education once more. The first step must be to leave Common Core and, if necessary, fight the Federal Department of Education. New York as a state must fight for its children. The leaders in that fight should be the New York State Board of Regents because they do not have to play politics; they only have to do what is right. In doing so, then trust can be restored, and we can move forward together.
(This "interview" was well received and published here: https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/john-sheffield-for-new-york-board-of-regents/ )
President-elect Trump: I and the people that supported me for a position on the NYS Board of Regents me know all to well first hand how politics & corporate money has seeped into public education and polluted and twisted it in such a way that decisions are not being made in the best interests of the children nor public education. How do we know this? We know this because those who supported me were from ALL OVER New York State. They were from Western NY, Northern NY, Central NY, the Southern tier, Long island, and New York City. They were parents, grandparents, and community members. They were of every race, age, religion, gender, and political belief system.....they were conservative, liberal, moderate, and every label you can think of. These people called, emailed, and mailed their legislators, representatives, and some even contacted Governor Cuomo's office. I, John Sheffield...a guy who makes his home in little Oswego, NY, received an outpouring of sustained support that far outweighed that of any other candidate in my district for the seat(s) I was running for.
Guess what happened: The friend of a powerful local politician was "chosen." Chosen against the will of the people.
When governor Cuomo hijacked education policy in NYS by tying it to the 2015 budget (and in my opinion circumventing the NYS Constitution) the people and parents of NY again roe up and made their thoughts and opinions clear to the governor and the legislature. Once again we the people of NY were completely and utterly ignored.
While this writing may seem focused on NY I believe my ideas and views are applicable anywhere. In other words I could be writing this letter in any town and in any state and still still be stating truth. After all there is much common sense in what what I offer.....and all I care about is in keeping the children first
I'll take it a step further to the national level. President-elect trump when the re-write of NCLB (now called ESSA) was going to be voted on education activists and child advocates from across the nation made their opinion VERY clear to their representatives and even to Senator Lamar Alexander the chair of the committee: "NO ESSA>>>DO NOT SIGN AND PASS THIS LAW." I was told by every legislative office I contacted that that message was very clear and that very few (in some instances none) calls were coming in that supported ESSA. Those who are supposed to represent us in D.C. went ahead and passed it anyway!
A final example: when now commissioner of FedEd John King's name came up for the FedEd Secretary position people from around the country rallied once more to make their voices heard. Their message again was clear: "NO JOHN KING FOR Secretary of FedEd." Those of us in New York were particularly vocal as we had experienced his dictatorship, in collusion with Governor Cuomo, over public schools firsthand. AGAIN, WE THE PEOPLE WERE IGNORED.
You say you are against Common Core. I urge you to eduacate yourself on ALL of the hydra like tentacles attached to it; the data mining, the control, false claims behind it, lack of supportive research, the push to privatize and treat our children as human capital to be profited from, and above all please realize that the education of children is NOT the same as building a car or hotel; and it certainly is not placing them in fornt of a computer screen more and more. True education is a very human endeavor sir, and removing the humanity from it is not only bad practice but a dangerous practice as well.
More information on my views can be found at www.JohnSheffieldForRegent.com
You may also find me on YouTube by searching "John Sheffield Off the Cuff."
John D. Shefffield
70 Edwards Circle
Oswego, NY 13126