Friday, July 3, 2015

Playing Games With Our Children’s Future: A Pennsylvania Budget Parable

by Steven Singer, member of the BAT Leadership Team and PA BATs

originally posted on his blog:


So let’s say I have this friend.

Let’s call her Ellie.

Ellie borrowed my car last week without my permission. She went off-roading and flattened all my tires.

So I’m understandably mad at Ellie, but we’ve been friends for a long time. In fact, we have plans to go on a road trip next weekend.

So I tell Ellie I’m not going to go with her unless she pays for new tires.

Sounds fair, right? And she agrees.

Well the day of the trip arrives, and Ellie shows up with my car. We tow it to the garage and the auto technician puts on brand new Michelins.

I turn to Ellie and say, “May I please have money for the tires now?”

She says, “Yeah. I already paid for them. I filled up the car with gas before we got here.”

“Wait a minute!” I reply. “You promised to pay for new tires!”

“I did,” she reassures me. “I used the tire money to fill up the tank.”

“But the technician still needs money for the tires?”


“Do you have any extra money to pay him with?”

“No. And you should be thanking me. I filled up the entire tank. It was on empty. I gave you more tire money than I’ve ever given you before. I’m not giving you another penny.”

Do you have a friend like Ellie?

Well everyone in Pennsylvania does. As the license plate used to say, “You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania,” and her name is Ellie. Ellie Phont.

She’s your Republican party, everyone!

And she’s been pulling shit like this for years.

She slashes money for public schools but pays for pensions. And she’s suddenly thinks she increased school funding!

It was the common refrain under Gov. Tom Corbett, and tax payers liked it so much we rode him out of town on a rail.

Now we have a new Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, but the state House and Senate are still overflowing with Ellies!

In 4 years, Corbett and his GOP legislature slashed almost $1 billion a year from K-12 public schools. We lost 25,000 teachers70% of schools cut staff and increased class size. Kids lost music, arts, sports, extra curriculars, nurses, councilors, etc.

So this year, Wolf suggested we put that money back. Ellie refused.

Instead, she suggested adding $120 million. Not bad, but not nearly what she and Corbett sliced out of our children’s education.

Unfortunately, Ellie is still being Ellie.

Of that $120 million, $87 million would go to Social Security and $25 million would go to pension obligations.

Schools would get just enough to give every public school student in the Commonwealth a whooping 3 extra cents a year!

Oh Ellie! It’s the tires all over again!

Well, Gov. Wolf isn’t putting up with her crap. He vetoed the budget she passed.

In addition, it’s a budget that:
  • creates a $3 billion deficit.
  • doesn’t tax natural gas drillers (something every other state abundant in gas does.)
  • offers no property tax relief.
Poor Ellie. She looks so sad. How could she have known mean old Gov. Wolf would ruin her fun (Except that he told her he would do this if she tried anymore of her nonsense)?

So she turns to all her friends – all her friends in Pennsylvania.

With tear streaked eyes she cries about how much money she wanted to add to schools. She cries about how much her typical Ellie schemes would help the Commonwealth.

Now that the budget’s been vetoed, Ellie will have to come back to work on her vacation. She’ll have to sit down with Wolf and come to some sort of compromise.

And the taxpayers? We’re in the same position as the hypothetical narrator above with the busted tires.

Are we going to let Ellie get away with just filling up the tank? Or are we going to force her to do what’s right and pay for those darn tires she destroyed!?

It’s up to you, Pennsylvania.

But I, for one, am tired of her bullshit.

If you’re state representative or senator is an Ellie, please get on the phone, send an email, and/or make an appointment to tell her to stop playing games with our children’s future.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

You Can’t Solve Prejudice With a Cookie-Cutter: Celebrate Diversity

057 soft chocolate chip cookies for blog

If America was a cookie, it would probably be chocolate chip.

Sure it’s mostly dough, but the chips are what give it flavor!

I mean, come on! Who wants a plain sugar cookie!? Yuck!

Maybe that’s what they meant all those years ago when they described us as a melting pot. All these different races and nationalities blending together to form a delicious whole.

However, some flavors just don’t mix – or at very least are slow to come together.

In fact, since the very beginning, much of America has been obsessed with ensuring we DON’T mix! Chips and dough can’t melt together! We must preserve the purity of the batter. In fact, let’s send those chips back to Belgium!

But times have changed. We’ve tried to legislate our way to equality. Voting Rights Acts. Anti-Segregation Acts. Non-Discrimination Laws. But the legal system is far from perfect, and it can only do so much. If we’re really going to become one big tasty treat, we’ve got to do something about it – each and every one of us.

So how do we all come together? What should be our goal?

For some people, the answer is silence. We shouldn’t talk about this stuff at all.

There’s very little scientific justification for categorizing ourselves into different races, anyway. Just button your lip and it will all go away.

To which I say, yeah, many things such as race, nationality, even sexuality are to a large extent man-made.

They’re the product of culture and society, but that doesn’t make them unreal. They’re totems, archetypes, symbols we use to navigate the social universe. If you think a social constraint is unreal, try violating it.

Moreover, ignoring inequality won’t solve it. That only ensures that the status quo continues to reproduce itself.

In short, if we don’t talk about prejudice, we’ll never get over it. Our biases will never go away.

Other folks – many with the best of intentions – think not that our differences are unreal, but that we should ignore them. Don’t talk about us and them. It’s all just us.

No more twitter campaigns proclaiming #AllChipsMatter. We should instead join hands and proclaim #AllIngredientsMatter.

And I do see your point. We are all important regardless of race, nationality, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. But is this really the best way to come together as a nation? If all of us taste the same, we’ll certainly be one – one bland and lousy confection sitting in the bakery that no one in their right mind would really want to eat.

Homogenization has its strengths. Look at white folks. We used to be very different. Czech, Slovak, German, Russian, etc. Now we’re one indistinguishable whole. Sometimes we venture outside of that label for a few hours to celebrate some ethnic festival, but most of the time we’re just white, White, WHITE.

Having a beer and a Wiener Schnitzel during Oktoberfest doesn’t change how you usually identify and how you are identified in the world.

But something has been lost here. You can only be blind to the differences in people if you wipe away the rough edges. People become less distinct, more similar. That’s not the best way to be.

There’s another way.

Instead of ignoring the differences between people, we should embrace them. Don’t hide your nationality, your race, etc. Celebrate them!

I am the proud product of this culture! I am the son or daughter of this type of person! I love this! I believe that! I am not just anyone – I am ME!

There is a danger when anyone suggests conformity as a way to fight racism, sexism or any form of prejudice. It puts the responsibility on those who are different. If you don’t want to be discriminated against, YOU need to conform.

I think this is wrong. You have the right to be yourself. Instead it is the responsibility of those who would discriminate to STOP.

If you’re racist, YOU need to stop.

If you’re sexist, YOU need to stop.

If you’re homophobic, YOU need to stop.

And so on.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You can’t just walk it off. Prejudice is the result of years of enculturation, socialization and bigotry. It takes time. It takes a loving heart. But most of all it takes two very important things that few people in America have truly achieved:

1) Willingness to try.

2) Acknowledging that there is a problem in the first place.

That’s where we are today.

Very few people exist in the United States without some prejudice. People feel uncomfortable around those unlike themselves. We have preconceptions about how certain people will act. We think we know better how other people should live their lives.

These are all prejudices. And what’s worse, many of them are actually unconscious. I didn’t even recognize that I got nervous around black people – and now that I do, I don’t want to feel that way. I know it’s not justified, but I still can’t help the feeling!

So there is much to be done here in the USA to make us the best we could be. And it is our job to do that work.

Because the cookie of America has lots of cracks in it and more than a few nuts.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Joseph A. Ricciotti Ed.D.
Retired Educator

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is to be applauded for his recently announced presidential platform and for his courage as a presidential candidate to address the issues that are crucial to the future of the United States as well as emphasizing the importance of fighting for the middle class. However, what should also be included in his campaign platform as well as in the campaign platforms of other presidential candidates that is also highly significant is the future of public education in the country. Including the role of public education in the upcoming presidential is critical in order for the United States to maintain its prosperity as well as its global leadership in the decades to come. Hence, the United States needs a president with a 21st century outlook who will elevate the importance of public education as a presidential campaign issue.

Public school teachers, parents and administrators need to elevate the issue of how public education in this country is under siege and currently undergoing its greatest challenge for survival from the threat of privatization and high-stakes standardized testing. Just as Bernie Sanders believes that the middle class in our country is in jeopardy from the oligarchs, likewise oligarchs such as Bill Gates, Bill Walton, Michael Bloomberg, to name a few of the corporate education oligarch reformers, are threatening to change and destroy public education in the nation by replacing public schools with charter schools.

Sadly, in the tri-sate areas of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, we also have governors who are in the privatization camp as all three governors have implemented policies that are considered by many teachers and parents to be anti-public education and who also advocate the replacing of public schools with charter schools. Their anti-public education stance and their erroneous philosophical beliefs are evident as Governors Malloy, Cuomo and Christie have all appointed commissioners of education in their states who support and promote privatization practices. These include their support of education programs such as Common Core State Standards (CCSS) with its stifling high-stakes standardized testing which is meeting severe parent resistance throughout the nation as the “opt-out” movement spreads like wildfire.

Unfortunately, two of the tri-state governors are Democrats who supposedly belong to the political party that has always supported public education. Needless to say, support of public education is not part of the playbook of either Governor Malloy or Governor Cuomo who have earned the dubious title of “education assassins.” Their anti-education policies are meeting with fierce resistance from organizations such as BATs, United Opt Out, Save Our Schools as well as the Network for Public Education which places the political futures of these Democratic governors in jeopardy as parents and teachers in these states are working together and have formed political movements that are in opposition to the anti-education policies espoused by Malloy and Cuomo. It appears to be a political movement as these groups of parent and teacher activists are in the process of developing clearly articulated positions that are highly critical of the tri-state governors. Likewise, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago faces similar political opposition in his political future. This also raises the fascinating question regarding whether Hillary Clinton in her campaigning for the presidency can choose to ignore this political movement

As most public school teachers, parents and administrators are aware, our present Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has been a champion of the wealthy privatization corporate reformers such as Bill Gates. Moreover, Secretary Duncan, a non-educator, has been Bill Gates’ primary advocate of converting public schools into charter schools. Jeff Bryant, an associate at Campaign for America’s Future writes, “a national moratorium on charter schools would stop the hemorrhaging of funds from traditional public schools.”

Needless to say, this type of educational leadership in Washington needs to stop and the next president needs to give serious consideration to appointing a person such as Dr. Diane Ravitch, author of the best selling book “Reign of Error” as the next Secretary of Education and someone who will help to restore public education and to support the teaching profession.

Public school teachers today are considered by the corporate education reformers as merely “clerks” whose expertise, craft and artistry are no longer valued. As an outgrowth of Common Core, teachers no longer have any say or voice in the curriculum and can no longer function as reflective practitioners as the corporations and testing companies now determine what is taught and how it is taught. Likewise, local control of education has been seriously eroded and has become a thing of the past by the new federal Common Core standards. Educators realize that Common Core is a top-down reform movement developed by non-educators and supported by Bill Gates.. It is, in essence, sheer politics with no chance of succeeding. Is it any wonder why teaching has been dehumanized when teachers must adhere to the mandates of the corporate reformers even though they know that these mandates run counter to the interests and needs of their students? It is time for teachers and parents to push back against these corporate education reformers and to help restore the dignity of teaching and public education.

Letter to the NC General Assembly: I Can No Longer Afford to Teach


Dear members of the North Carolina General Assembly,
The language in this letter is blunt because the facts are not pretty. Teaching is my calling, a true vocation, a labor of love, but I can no longer afford to teach.
I moved to North Carolina to teach and to settle in to a place I love. My children were born here; we have no plans to leave. I reassured my family in Michigan, shocked at my paltry pay and health benefits, that North Carolina had an established 200 year history of placing a high value on public education and that things would turn around soon.
When I moved here and began teaching in 2007, $30,000 was a major drop from the $40,000 starting salaries being offered by districts all around me in metro Detroit, but it was fine for a young single woman sharing a house with roommates and paying off student loans. However, over six years later, $31,000 is wholly insufficient to support my family. So insufficient, in fact, that my children qualify for and use Medicaid as their medical insurance, and since there is simply no way to deduct $600 per month from my meager take-home pay in order to include my husband on my health plan, he has gone uninsured. We work opposite shifts to eliminate childcare costs.
The public discourse on public assistance is that it is a stop-gap, a safety net to keep people from falling until they can get back on their feet. But as I see no end in sight to the assault on teacher pay, I will do what I have to do to support my family financially. We never wanted or expected to live in luxury. We did, however, hope to be able to take our little girls out for an ice cream or not wonder where we will find the gas money to visit their grandparents. And so, even though I am a great teacher from a family of educators and public servants and never imagined myself doing anything else, I am desperately seeking a way out of the classroom, and nothing about education in North Carolina breaks my heart more.
I will make no apologies for saying that I am a great teacher. I run an innovative classroom where the subject matter is relevant and the standards are high. My teaching practice has resulted in consistently high evaluations from administrators, positive feedback from parents, and documented growth in students.
I realize that no one in Raleigh will care or feel the impact when this one teacher out of 80,000 leaves the classroom. I understand. However, my 160 students will feel the impact. And 160 the next year. And the next. My Professional Learning Community, teachers around the county with whom I collaborate, will be impacted, and their students as well. Young teachers become great when they are mentored by experienced, effective educators, and all their students are impacted as well. When quality teachers leave the classroom, the loss of mentors is yet another effect. This is how the quiet and exponential decline in education happens.
Higher teacher pay may be unpopular, and I am aware it is difficult to see the connection between teacher pay and a quality education for students, so I will try to make it clear. Paying me a salary on which I can live means I can stay in the classroom, and keeping me in the classroom means thousands of students over the next decade would get a quality education from me. It’s that simple.
While I appreciate that Governor McCrory is advocating for a 1% raise for teachers in the coming school year, it is simply not enough. For me, that is $380, which after years of pay freezes, does not cover the negative change in my health coverage and copays. It does not cover the change in the cost of a gallon of milk, a gallon of heating oil, or a unit of electricity. It is not enough. A sobering fact: even a 20% raise would fall short of bringing me up to the 2007 pay scale for my current step, and that is in 2007 dollars.
My students deserve a great, experienced teacher. As a professional with two degrees and four certifications, I deserve to make an honest living serving my community and this state.
Lindsay Kosmala Furst
I was very afraid to write this letter. People have strong feelings about several of the topics herein, these things tend to take on a life of their own in the internet age, and “going public” means, of course, that when I go back to school next month, I may have to face students who know these quite personal details of my life. While I would not be leaving teaching as a statement or protest of any kind (what I really want to do is teach), I realized that the silent turnover that would happen serves no purpose at all, and that I need to at least let someone know. I’m not sure what kind of reckless abandon overcame me when I went ahead and sent the letters to both the General Assembly and the Raleigh News & Observer, but I knew that once it was out, there was no getting it back.
I feel like I have come out of secrecy. My cards are on the table. This is the reality of being a young teacher in NC right now. We expect recent college grads to suck it up and deal with low pay for a year or two. We expect that at 30, however, young teachers may be starting families or wanting to buy houses. The fact is that those of us who began here in 2007 are only making a few hundred dollars per year more today than when we started, and our benefits have been slashed, negating even that small increase.
With a heavy heart, I have realized that if I want to remain in the classroom, I will have to leave the state. If I want to remain in this state, the place that I chose to be my home, I will have to leave the classroom. At the same time, this advocate of public education is left wondering what will be left for my children when they start school. I can’t express how deeply saddening it is to think that about my own field.
Since this was reported earlier this week, I have received many messages of encouragement. At least a dozen are from other mothers in my position, teaching full time with children on Medicaid and/or WIC, the nutrition assistance program for women, infants, and young children. They thanked me for telling their story as well. So many are afraid to stand up and speak. The public negativity directed at teachers right now is overwhelming, and it is no surprise that many do not want to enter the fray. I cannot blame them. But since I already have, I will do my best to represent them as well.
Thank you for your support.
Update 1: WOW! I am overwhelmed by the response I have received. Thank you, thank you. Your support is incredible. Thank you for sharing your own stories here, as well. I am reading every single one of them.
Let me say this: While I appreciate difference of opinion, I will not be approving abusive comments. If you see one that has slipped by, please let me know. Thank you.
Update 2: You guys. Honestly, you bring tears to my eyes. I’m heartbroken to see so many of you feeling the same way. If you want to leave a comment, please scroll to the very bottom where it says “Leave a Reply.”

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pennsylvania GOP Lawmakers Demand Seniority For Themselves But Deny It For Teachers

by Steven Singer, Member of the BAT Leadership Team

originally posted on his blog:


Somehow it’s great for legislators, but really bad for people like public school teachers.

At least that was the decision made by Republican lawmakers in the Pennsylvania House Tuesday. They voted along party lines to allow schools to furlough educators without considering seniority.

But the House’s own leadership structure is largely based on seniority!

Hypocrisy much?

Most legislative bodies in the United States from the federal government on down to the state level give extra power to lawmakers based on how long they’ve been there.

Everything from preferential treatment for committee assignments to better office space and even seating closer to the front of the assembly is often based on seniority. Leadership positions are usually voted on, but both Republicans and Democrats traditionally give these positions to the most senior members.

And these same folks have the audacity to look down their noses at public school teachers for valuing the same thing!?

As Philadelphia Representative James Roebuck, ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, said, “If it’s wrong for teachers, why is it right for us?”

If passed by the state Senate and signed by the Governor, the law would allow public schools to lay off teachers based on the state’s new and highly controversial teacher evaluation system.

Teachers with a “failing” ranking would go first, then those with a “needs Improvement,” label.

This system is largely untested and relies heavily on student standardized test scores. There is no evidence it fairly evaluates teachers, and lawsuits certainly would be in the wings if furloughs were made based on such a flimsy excuse.

Value-Added Measures such as these have routinely been criticized by statisticians as “junk science.”

It’s kind of like giving legal favor to the management practices of Darth Vader. In “The Empire Strikes Back,” when one of his minions displeased him, he choked them to death with the Force.

No second chances. No retraining. No due process. One misplaced foot and you’re gone.

Pennsylvania’s proposed method isn’t quite so harsh, but it’s essentially the same. You’re fired because of this flimsy teaching evaluation that has no validity and can really say whatever management wants it to say.

Technically, things like salary are not allowed to be considered, but given the unscientific and unproven nature of this evaluation system, management could massage evaluations to say anything. Administrators didn’t mean to fire the teachers with the highest salaries but those voodoo teaching evaluations said they were “failing.” What are you gonna’ do? OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!

While seniority is not a perfect means of selecting who gets laid off, at least it’s impartial. Moreover, teachers who have lasted in the classroom longest almost always are highly skilled. You don’t last in the classroom if you can’t hack it.

Being a public school teacher is a highly political job. Your boss is the school board and members are elected by the community. While many school directors have the best interests of their districts at heart, favoritism, nepotism and political agendas are not unknown. Teachers need protections from the ill-winds of politics so they can be treated fairly and best serve their students. Otherwise, it would be impossible – for instance – to fairly grade a school director’s child in your class without fear of reprisal.

As it stands, state school code specifically mandates layoffs to be made in reverse seniority order, also known as “first in, last out.” Pennsylvania is one of six states that calls for this to be the sole factor in school layoff decisions.

It’s unclear how the legislature could pass a law that contradicts the school code without specifically voting to alter the code which governs the Commonwealth’s public schools.

Moreover, it may be illegal on several additional counts. Public school districts have work contracts with their teachers unions. The state can’t jump in and void those contracts between two independent parties when both agreed to the terms of those contracts. Not unless there was some legal precedent or unconstitutionality or violation of human rights or SOMETHING!

Get our your pocketbooks, Pennsylvanians. If this law is somehow enacted, you’re going to be paying for years of court challenges.

And speaking of flushing money down the toilet, the law also allows school districts to furlough employees for financial reasons. At present, layoffs are allowed only when enrollment drops or by cutting programs wholesale.

This is especially troubling given the legislature’s failure the past four years to fairly fund its public schools. Ninety percent of school districts have had to cut staff in recent years, either through attrition or furlough, according to the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.

So this law makes it easier to rob poorer schools of funding. If it were enacted, districts could fire teachers and reduce programs to pinch pennies. Now they are constrained to keep the highest possible level of quality for students regardless of funding shortfalls. This puts them at odds with the legislature and forces them to demand fair funding for their districts. Under this new law, school boards could more easily ensure that some students get a higher quality education than others in the same district!

Oh! We increased class size for the struggling students (most of whom are poor and minorities) but decreased it for the advanced classes (most of whom are rich and white).

Finally, we get to the issue of viability. Will the state Senate pass this bill?


The House passed it without a single Democrat voting in favor. The Senate is likewise controlled by the GOP. However, Gov. Tom Wolf is a Democrat and has said he’s against it. Seniority issues, he said, should be negotiated through the local collective bargaining process.

So once again we have partisan politics reigning over our public schools – Republicans actively trying to sabotage our public schools and fire their way to the top! Democrats vainly trying to hold the line.

Couldn’t we all just agree to value our public schools and public school teachers?

Or at very least couldn’t we all agree to give others the same benefits we demand for ourselves?

You know. Things like seniority!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Education Equity:  failing funding or fair funding?… Be part of the solution!

By:  Daun Kauffman
Originally published on
Grateful thanks  
A heartfelt tip of the hat to the Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC) of Pennsylvania !   They have led us, the nation, to a place in history where we get to be part of the “tipping point” of a dramatic turn toward educational equity.
Public domain
Public domain
No doubt that the task was daunting.  Education funding-concerns are very weighty and very high-profile in Pennsylvania.  House Bill 1738 set up the BEFC and tasked it to “develop a basic education funding formula and identify factors that may be used to determine the distribution of basic education funding among the school districts …”
No doubt BEFC research and analysis, coupled with focus, persistence and thoroughness have produced a historic recommendation.  A recommendation worthy of equally profound action from each of us.


Education Equity

The BEFC recommended factors required for fair funding.  Eight factors are included in a proposed ‘formula’ and eight factors are recommended for consideration by the full General Assembly.
The most pivotal equity-factor is found on page 69 of the document entitled “BEFC Report and Recommendations” (June 18, 2015):

“The [PA] Department of Education should consider devising protocols and measures to identify students in trauma.”
The BEFC recommendation continues with:

“The Commission recognizes that students in trauma may be more costly to educate and the application of weights to this factor based on reliable data may be merited.”
Childhood trauma is the “most pivotal factor” in education equity because of both its wide scope and its deep impact on children’s ability to learn.  It will be historic for any state to attack this  inequity, via  an explicit funding mandate, statewide, across five-hundred school districts.


Childhood Trauma is not “poverty”.  Research shows that about half of those living in poverty do not experience debilitating trauma.  Poverty does have a myriad of impacts on learning to be sure, but they are not necessarily traumatic impacts.
Childhood Trauma is a response of overwhelming, helpless terror to event(s) some call “Adverse Childhood Experience” (ACE): Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Physical Neglect, Emotional Neglect, Single Parent Home (due to any: separation, divorce, incarceration), Household violence, Community violence, Household substance abuse, Household mental illness, and more.
Photo  credit Maestro Pastelero
Photo credit Maestro Pastelero

Deep Impact

The impact of childhood trauma changes children’s physical brains, and impairs their cognitive and social functioning and ultimately their life trajectories. The children are not bad or sick, they are injured.  The neuroscience is compelling. Childhood trauma connects directly to education via its toxic stress effects on development of the physical brain.  When children live in a  chronic, traumatic state of survival, the unresolved toxic stress damages the function and structure of their still-developing brains. These injuries relate specifically to the prefrontal cortex and academic processes, especially crucial executive function, memory and literacy. The physiological process also leads kids to distorted perceptions of social cues, which alter their social behaviors in response.  Eminently logical defenses in the midst of trauma (hyper-vigilance, dissociation), become ingrained habits, and then destructive, once the threat is extinguished, but the defense pattern remains.

Wide Scope

The wide scope is stunning!  Based on research in the USA, childhood trauma rates vary in a range from 22%  to 45+% of children impacted by 3 or more categories of trauma — in many districts the scope is greater than English Language Learners (ELL) or those with an Individual Education Plan (IEP).   In some urban locations (pg. 17 map) the prevalence is greater than ELL and IEP students combined!  Researchers including our own Department of Justice report the scope as massive, “an epidemic”, or a “national crisis”, particularly in urban areas.
Findings from public health research are convicting.  The groundbreaking “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study” by Felitti and Anda/CDC found a “strong correlation between the extent of exposure to childhood ACEs and several leading causes of death in adulthood, including depression, heart disease, liver disease and stroke”
Center for Disease Control
Center for Disease Control
This study uncovered devastation that is no respecter of demographics, zip code or socio-economic status.  CDC researchers found roughly one-fourth, of beautiful suburban San Diego’s, mostly middle class, mostly white, working folks with medical insurance had experienced 3 or more ACEs!
Three or more ACEs is significant because experiencing 3 or more ACEs correlates with doubled risk of depression, adolescent pregnancy, lung disease, and liver disease. It triples the risk of alcoholism and STDs.  There is a 5X increase in attempted suicide.  It doesn’t just go away.  A detailed anecdotal narrative called “Danny goes to school” provides more insight.  Later, unaddressed trauma results in work absenteeism, lost productivity and more, measured in hundreds of billions of dollars, nationally.
Still today, at best, trauma-impacted children are invisible (see “What’s Missing?”) in the data and analyses.   At worst the data is outright misleading, especially for our understanding of academic results (including “standardized test” results).  Until now, attempts to analyze data all completely miss the deep impact on learning and massive scope of childhood trauma (Try asking for ACE-adjusted, test scores).

Evolving precision

Several members of the BEFC rightly raise crucial questions about how we can get to specific measures of scope and the cost factors for trauma.  Follow-up papers here will provide detail regarding screening measures and cost factors.  However, a key perspective is that we are leading the way, the front line of equity for trauma-impacted children.  A poignant awakening for us all.  We can choose to start with best-estimates and adjust as we go.  Conversely, delaying for every detail to be precisely quantified is too costly and too inequitable.
A starting point for screening can be as simple as the “ACE score” derived by counselors as part of annual school registration or re-registration.  A wide range of other screening measures is available at the National Child Traumatic Stress Network website.
A starting cost-priority in addressing the learning impacts of trauma is training of teachers and staff.  The most efficient approach is through the “first responders” already seeing the children every day.  Training must be an on-going requirement for all adults in a district, as part of a priority to: 1) deliver “safety”, 2) understand complexity of teaching trauma-impacted children, and 3) respond appropriately, including avoiding re-triggering old trauma.  Training options include “Institute for Family Professionals” (IFP), a division of Lakeside Education Network, right here in Pennsylvania, and Sanctuary Institute, a division of ANDRUS.
Other crucial incremental costs will include smaller class-sizes, with limits on trauma-impacted children per classroom.  Also, dedicated appropriate space(s) for children to de-escalate, and on-site counselors, that is District counselors, who build on-going relationships with the children and families in the school community. These are all starting points, to be refined as we go.

Immediate priority

What remains is the immediate priority for the full General Assembly to act formally.  We need them to explicitly acknowledge the power of childhood trauma by acting to include it in a “fair” funding formula as per the BEFC recommendation (weighting and costs to be estimated and then refined as we go).  The kids are waiting.

Join the movement:     If we all work together…

Photo © Ada Gonzalez Kauffman
Photo © Ada Gonzalez Kauffman
Please take a moment to write to your own legislators now, whether in Pennsylvania or elsewhere.  Sample below.
Pennsylvanians:  Please write or call now.  Simply click on this link, or search “find your legislator, PA General Assembly”, then click on a single legislator’s name.  (Most have an email link.  Many have a Facebook page.) Thirdly, cut and paste the short note below (or compose your own)  into their contact form with your name/address.  Please add your voice today!
Those from out-of-state can write the Co-chairs of the BEFC  here.  Equally important, those from afar can further expedite ‘tipping’ by raising nationwide visibility of trauma-impacted children and Pennsylvania’s dramatic and comprehensive shift in equity(share this post widely). We all have the chance to participate in the tipping point toward equity for trauma-impacted children. It’s an exhilarating time.  Join us as we all together make history.
Sample note to General Assembly legislators:

Dear ____________,
Thank you for establishing the BEFC and charging them with the daunting task of creating a fair funding formula! 
Please continue the profound work the BEFC started by adding childhood trauma as an explicit factor to the “Fair Funding Formula”   Please authorize a high priority effort to identify screening protocols and weights for the costs of educating trauma-impacted students. Meanwhile, please endorse best-effort estimates of those measures (to be refined as we go). 
Again, thank you for your part in getting us to this exciting tipping point toward Pennsylvania’s new leadership in educational equity.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Saying Goodbye: Time to Speak the Truth

by Robin Harris Newhall, a Massachusetts BAT


Today I said goodbye to one of the nicest groups of kids I've ever worked with. I said goodbye to a loyal and excellent para who has stood by me through thick and thin. I also said goodbye to a fantastic and energetic co-teacher who helped me bring fun back into the classroom. 

The hardest goodbye today was that of my teaching career. I resigned from the only job I've ever known. I could no longer continue the cycle of abuse I felt I was forced to implement on my students and myself. I have never been driven by salary, competition, recognition etc... I have always found motivation to succeed by being creative, passionate, happy with a job well done and pleasing my soul and that of others. 

Unfortunately, there is no longer any room for that in our public schools. It's all about an agenda, driven by data and individuals who want schools to become private corporations where billions will be made. Everyday I see this agenda and those that support it grow more and more powerful. This year, I witnessed more corruption, greed and abuse of power than I have seen in my twenty two years as a teacher. An environment that breeds fear, hostility and submission is no good for anyone, especially our children. 

I'm not one to run nor sit back and be silent. Being quiet, submissive and without tenure is what they want. Make no mistake, creating public schools to resemble that of private corporations is their exact intention. When you make no attempt as a leader to educate yourself and to make sense of this agenda, you fall victim to it. Worse, you drive it, promote it and believe it.

I want to make myself very clear, I am not leaving my peers and especially the children behind. A fight has been ignited within and I can't ignore it. The take over of our public schools and the regime of high-stakes test supporters, union breakers and unfair evaluations is a blatant and bold invasion of our civil rights and a damaging blow to the very principles of democracy! Our children are it's most tragic victims. 

So what do I say to these reformers and anyone else who has jumped on this toxic, destructive ride? I no longer have a paycheck tied to a reputation that could be slaughtered nor the fear of any other retribution. I can speak the truth freely, rally and have more time to write, research and educate. Movement, commitment, fighting this fight will make me weary, but submission and obedience would break me! I'm all in. Game on!