Wednesday, November 25, 2015

An Activist's Letter to Her Son
By:  Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director BATs

We adopted our son from Russia when he was nine months old. It was the single greatest day of our lives when they finally brought him to the hotel we were staying at in Siberia. The orphanage workers handed him over to us and made us take all his clothes off so they could return them to his orphanage for another child. It was, to me, a strange stripping of his former life but a renewal for his new life.

We proudly kept his birth name and began our new lives together.

When we adopted him, we knew that he would come with cognitive delays. We were educated by the adoption agency about possible health issues that he could be born with. He had years of therapy (OT, PT, Sensory Processing Disorder Therapy, Socialization Therapy, Speech and Language Therapy, two eye surgeries to fix his strabismus) to catch him up.  He worked so hard! 

He has excelled beyond our wildest dreams, and he is the joy of our lives. 

He is an accomplished trumpet player, he knows the full history of the sinking of the Titanic, he is a lover of animals, and he is an amazing son.  

I decided to write this letter to him because I have been involved in trying to stop the destruction of his education for 3 years.  My involvement has been time consuming and I am hoping that this letter will serve as an archive for him to understand why I fight.

My son,
I adore you more than you will ever know. Having you in my life has been an utter joy and has enriched my life beyond measure. This is a hard letter to write because I have been fighting a battle that began because of you, my love for you, and my want for you to get a great education. As a teacher and a mother, I know that getting a sound education will open so many doors for you. I know that using education to find your passion will make you a happy adult. This is why I fight. This is why I travel and speak; this is why I work on the computer for hours at a time to write, organize, and join coalitions to make sure that you, and all children, have an education that opens doors and allows for discovery of a passion.

There are entities in the country that want to take away your right to a “Free and Appropriate Education." They want to deny you the rights you are entitled to under IDEA.  They want you to work to IEP goals that you could never meet. They want you to take exit assessments that are designed to set you up to fail. They want to create a cookie cutter education system that won’t help you overcome your weaknesses and will not lift your strengths to the surface. I know this, your teachers know this, but the entities that make education policy are not listening. 

You are my son. I adore you. I love you and…
I will not be ignored.

So, I need to extend an apology to you.

I am sorry that adults who make education policy are ignorant about the real needs of special education children. I am sorry that adults involved in making education policy continue to marginalize special needs children. I am sorry that adults who make education policy continue to see special needs children, and their parents, as invisible.

The fight we have before us is to tell education policy makers that we will not be marginalized, and we will not be invisible.

So, I continue to fight for you, for all children with special needs, and I hope one day…
You will understand why I fight.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

BATs Legislative Action Team - Weekly Legislative Update

Reporting legislative news at both the federal and state levels!

 ESEA Update

The ESEA‬ conference report passes 39-1 Next: House vote on December 2nd

ESEA rewrite clears another hurdle; final votes coming
At long last, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is teed up for final votes in the House and Senate after Thanksgiving! On Thursday, by a vote of 39-1, a Senate/House conference committee approved a framework to reauthorize ESEA for the first time in nearly 14 years.

--"The framework replaces the one-size-fits-all 'adequate yearly progress' federal accountability system under current law with a comprehensive State-designed system that improves State capacity to identify and support struggling schools."
--"The framework maintains annual, statewide assessments in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, as well as science tests given three times between grades 3 and 12."
-- "The framework ensures States are able to choose their challenging academic standards in reading and math aligned to higher education in the state without interference from Washington. The federal government may not mandate or incentivize states to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, including Common Core."
-- "Instead of requiring schools to implement the same one-size-fits-all school improvement requirements as they did under NCLB, the framework calls for evidence-based action in any school in which students aren’t learning, but the Secretary cannot prescribe the specific interventions or improvement strategies schools must use."
--"The framework sets high standards for students with disabilities by putting in place a state-level participation cap of 1 percent of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who can take the alternate assessment aligned to alternate academic achievement standards. Additionally, the framework moves accountability for English language proficiency from a separate system in Title III to Title I, to ensure that States are focusing on the unique needs of students who are learning English."
-- "The framework maintains maintenance of effort and supplement not supplant, with additional flexibility for States and school districts."
-- "The framework also ends federal mandates on teacher evaluations, while allowing states to innovate with federal funding."
--Supports at-risk populations (multiple things outlined in this section)
-- "The framework authorizes the new Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program to help States and local school districts target federal resources on local priorities to better serve disadvantaged students."
-- "The framework improves the Charter Schools Program by investing in new charter school models, as well as allowing for the replication and expansion of high-quality charter school models."
-- "authorizing dedicated funding to support important priorities, including innovation, teacher quality, afterschool programming, increased access to STEM education, arts education, and accelerated learning, safe and healthy students, literacy, and community involvement in schools, and other bipartisan priorities." There is also a Preschool grant program being put together.

Higher Education - Brianne Kramer
H.R.4109 - To amend the Higher Education Opportunity Act to restrict institutions of higher education from using revenues derived from Federal educational assistance funds for advertising, marketing, or recruiting purposes.

State by State Report - Thank you so our State Admins who reported in for this bulletin

Washington State - Becca Ritchie

State Supreme Court says no — again — to Washington charter schools

New York - Marla Kilfoyle

Wisconsin - Debbie Kadon

Jeremy Thiesfeldt’s Bill to Silence School Boards, Principals, and Administrators

New Jersey - Melissa Tomlinson
NJ - A447/S1728 Establishing a task force to study the establishment of a full day kindergarten
A2994/S721 - proposal to allow higher performing districts to be monitored by QSAC every 7 years instead of the current 3
A-4044/S-1594 Establish requiremen
t for daily recess K - 5
A-2888/S-1039 Require teacher prep programs to include credit hours in autism spectrum disorder for instructional certificates for teachers of students with disabilities endorsements.
A4328/S445 Establishes Response to Intervention initiative in DOE to support and encourage school districts in implementation of Response to Intervention framework
S3240 Authorizes establishment of recovery high school alternative education programs.

Text can be searched at this link using the bill numbers

Florida - Cyndi Pelosi

HUR 759: Filed by charter school exec Rep. Manny Diaz eliminates school board authorizing power


Friday, November 20, 2015

This Is a Story About Tenure

by Amy Ellis, Associate Professor of Mathematics Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison

When I was 16, I did a 6-week summer program at Carnegie Mellon in which I took some introductory courses in Calculus and Physics. While there I met a friend who liked math as much as I did. As August began to stretch into September, we returned to our respective hometowns (LA for him, Spokane for me) and commenced our senior year in high school.

Throughout that year, we would send letters via cassette tape, and we would include math problems or math puzzles for one another. One day, I got a tape with a problem he posed for me, and I remember just how he introduced it: "I'll be reeeeaally impressed if you can solve this," he said. "*Really* impressed."

Here was the problem. Imagine you have a cube that is made up of tiny cubes. Take apart the cube and reassemble it into two smaller cubes, with no tiny cubes left over. What are the dimensions of the original cube?

Well, that seemed like an easy, straightforward problem. Why would solving that be so impressive? I began playing around with some perfect cubes, trying to find a solution to a^3 = b^3 + c^3.

Those of you who aren't an ignorant teenager from Eastern Washington might immediately recognize that my friend set me up. I tried and tried all night to come up with a perfect cube triple that would satisfy the equation, but I could not. I made a program on my HP calculator to run a search, but it didn't yield any triples. The next day, I went into school and made a program for the Apple IIe to run a search for a triple to satisfy the equation. By the end of the day, it was still searching, and the numbers were huge. Frustrated, I took it to my math teacher, who took one look at the problem and started laughing. "Amy," he laughed, "There's a famous theorem that states there is no solution to this equation!"

Unbeknownst to me, right at that time the mathematician Andrew Wiles was working on what would become the successful proof of Fermat's Last Theorem.

I was unfamiliar with Fermat's Last Theorem at 17, but Andrew Wiles first encountered it as a 10-year old. In 1637, Fermat conjectured a^n + b^n = c^n has no non-zero integer solutions for x, y, and z when n > 2. Fermat made an intriguing note in the margin of his manuscript: "I have discovered a truly remarkable proof of this theorem which this margin is too small to contain."

In the early 60's, at the age of 10, Andrew Wiles was captured by the simplicity of the theorem and began to try to come up with a proof of it. Fermat had proved the case for n = 4, and Euler wrote to Goldbach in 1753 that he had a proof for n = 3. Over time mathematicians were able to prove cases for other n's, but the problem remained to prove the general case. By the time Wiles encountered the theorem as a child, mathematicians had decided to put the theorem aside because they considered a proof impossible.

In the 1997 documentary by NOVA called The Proof, Wiles explained, "This problem, this particular problem, just looked so simple. It just looked as if it had to have a solution. And of course, it's very special because Fermat said he had a solution."

For over 300 years Fermat's Last Theorem intrigued mathematicians, professional and amateur alike. The theorem's notoriety grew over time as mathematicians failed to make substantial progress in solving it, with science academies offering large prizes to whoever could prove the general case. After the mid-1800s, most mainstream mathematicians gave up on proving Fermat's theorem. Furthermore, pursuing the problem had no known implications for other areas of mathematics. This meant that pursuing a proof was a big intellectual risk. A mathematician could spend an entire career attempting a proof and come up with nothing, with little to show for that effort.

Why would this endeavor be such an intellectual risk? Wiles explained, "The problem with working on Fermat is that you could spend years getting nothing. It's fine to work on any problem so long as it generates mathematics. Almost the definition of a good mathematical problem is the mathematics it generates, rather than the problem itself." Fermat's theorem was considered useless, in a certain sense, because it had no practical value in terms of generating new mathematics. It wasn't a mainstream, central question in mathematics.

As a young mathematician Wiles put aside Fermat's Last Theorem and took up the study of elliptic curves under his advisor at Cambridge, John Coates. Wiles became a successful mathematician and joined the faculty at Princeton, gaining the position of professor in 1981. In 1986, Ken Ribet, who was at Berkeley, built on the work of Gerhard Frey to establish a link between Fermat's Last Theorem, elliptic curves, and a conjecture known as the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture. Ribet's findings showed that in order to prove Fermat's Last Theorem one only had to prove the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture. Wiles knew that from that moment, that would be the problem he worked on.

Under the protection of tenure, Wiles abandoned all of his other research. He cut himself off from the rest of the world, and for the next seven years, he worked on proving the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture, and consequently Fermat's theorem, most of that time spent in complete secrecy.

Ribet noted, "I was one of the vast majority of people who believed that the Shimura-Taniyama conjecture was just completely inaccessible, and I didn't bother to prove it - even think about trying to prove it. Andrew Wiles is probably one of the few people on earth who had the audacity to dream that you could actually go and prove this conjecture."

Wiles worked in secrecy and isolation because talking to people about Fermat generated too much interest. His colleagues had no idea what he was working on, and thought perhaps he was finished as a mathematician. His colleague Peter Sarnak thought, "Maybe he's run out of ideas. That's why he's quiet." After 6 years of working completely alone, Wiles was close to a proof, and confided in his colleague Nick Katz, to help him verify one part of the proof. Katz found no problems and in June 1993 Wiles delivered a series of lectures at Cambridge in which he concluded by announcing that he had proved Fermat's Last Theorem.

Later, the proof was found to contain a flaw, but after a year of collaborative work with Richard Taylor, Wiles fixed the problem. Wiles and Taylor published their work in May 1995, in two papers in the journal Annals of Mathematics. The final proof ran 130 pages. Wiles was subsequently awarded the Schock Prize in Mathematics, the Prix Fermat, the Wolf Prize, and was elected to the National Academy in Sciences, receiving its mathematics prizes. His proof made history.

I have been thinking a lot about Wiles' story in the wake of Wisconsin's push to effectively end tenure. On May 29 the Joint Finance Committee introduced a motion that included broad provisions for terminating tenured faculty, which was passed in July. Moreover, in October faculty at UW-Madison discovered that Madison will not be allowed to write its own tenure policy, but instead will be bound by the parameters of a system-wide policy developed by the Board of Regents. The Regents policy will mandate a post-tenure review process, one of whose possible outcomes is termination of a tenured appointment based on unsatisfactory progress.

Many people make arguments for tenure based on the need to protect faculty in speaking out against their administration, in having the protection to question the status quo, or in conducting research that may be politically risky. These are important considerations for tenure protections and should not be ignored. But Wiles' story reminds me of another, less-often discussed reason for tenure protections: The importance of protecting intellectually risky research.

Under the protection of tenure, Wiles worked in complete secrecy for over 6 years on a problem that did not yield much in terms of publications along the way. His colleagues thought he might be washed up. What would his post-tenure review have looked like? Would Wiles have been able to show sufficient productivity to avoid sanctions and possibly termination? Would he have had the confidence to even attempt his proof under a policy that would have required regular demonstration of post-tenure productivity? Under the threat of possible termination?

Yes, most of us are not Andrew Wiles. But tenure offers the protection necessary to attempt the really big problems, the scientifically risky ideas, the ones that probably won't pan out, but might, and if they do, have the opportunity to move the field forward in historic ways. We need a system in place that enables faculty to go after the intellectual brass ring. That pushes faculty to think expansively about their research, to be creative, to take big intellectual risks. Tenure affords those monumental leaps in knowledge.

As a teenager interested in solving math problems, I had no idea that I would end up as a tenured faculty member at the University of Wisconsin. I truly believe it is a privilege to do the work I do. The directions of my research have taken me to places I could not have predicted a decade ago, and I hope that will continue to be true as my career evolves. I can think of no better career than the one I have. But I have also noticed that my work is more creative and more expansive post tenure. I am more willing to take risks, to follow a path that seems like it might lead to something fruitful, even if I'm not sure.

I hope that the UW Regents and the state of Wisconsin will eventually reverse its current course to reinstate strong, robust tenure protections. Whether it's the discovery of vitamin D by UW-Madison biochemist Harry Steenbock, or the first bone marrow transplant, performed at UW hospital, or the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, tenure protections affords significant advancements in research in science, in mathematics, in the humanities, and in the social sciences. We want those advancements to continue to happen in the great state of Wisconsin.

Prejudice of Poverty: Why Americans Hate the Poor and Worship the Rich


Take a breath.

Take a deep breath. Let your lungs expand. Let the air collect inside you.

Hold it.

Now exhale slowly. Feels good doesn’t it? You’d never realize there are hundreds of contaminates floating invisible in that air. Dirt, germs, pollution – all entering your body unnoticed but stopped by your immune system.

If only we had such a natural defense against prejudice. Racism, classism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia – we take all that in with every breath, too.

It may not seem like it, but all these value judgments are inherent in American culture. They’re as much a part of life in the United States as the flag, football and apple pie. And to a greater or lesser extent, you have subconsciously accepted them to help construct your ideas of normality.

What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? How should black people be treated? To whom is it appropriate to be sexually attracted? What makes a person poor and why? All of these questions and so many more have been answered one way or another for us by the dominant culture. Not everyone accepts this perceived wisdom, but most of us have swallowed these solutions whole without thought, logic or criticism – and we don’t even know it’s happened.

Take our preconceptions about wealth and poverty.

Well paying jobs are drying up. Minimum wage work is becoming more common. Salaries are shrinking while productivity is increasing. Meanwhile the cost of living continues to rise as does the cost of getting an education.

Yet we still cling to the belief that all rich people deserve their wealth and all poor people deserve their poverty.

When we hear about someone on Welfare or food stamps, we sneer. The average conception is that this person is probably faking it. He or she could have earned enough to avoid public assistance, but he or she isn’t trying hard enough.

Moreover, we KNOW with a certainty that goes beyond mere empiricism that many of the poor still manage to buy the newest sneakers, have flat screen TVs and eat nothing but Porterhouse steaks.

You can hear this kind of story uttered with perfect certainty from the mouths of white, middle class people everywhere. They don’t mind helping people who are really in need, they say, but most poor folks are gaming the system.

Never once do they stop to consider that this story about impoverished individuals living better than middle class Americans is, itself, one of the most pervasive myths in our society. We know it the same way we know all Polish people are dumb, all Asians are smart and all Black people love fried chicken and watermelon.

However, none of this “knowledge” is supported by the facts. Look at the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to the New York Times:
"Allegations of fraud, including an informal economy in which food stamps are turned into cash or used to buy liquor, gasoline or other items besides food have been used to argue that the program is out of control. In fact, the black market accounts for just over 1 percent of the total food stamp program, which is far less than fraud in other government programs like Medicare and Medicaid."
If you include erroneous payments because of mistakes on applications, overall loss to the food stamp program comes to 4%, according to the Department of Agriculture. Compare that to the 10% lost to Medicare and Medicaid – programs no one is calling to be cut or eliminated.

But figures like these don’t convince the average American. We’re so certain that all or most poor people are just lazy parasites. Everyone “knows” some low-income person they deem to be living too high for their circumstances.

And, yes, sometimes you do see an impoverished individual not wearing rags. Sometimes you do peek into an indigent person’s hovel and see new electronics or game systems.

How does this happen?


Credit card companies are waiting in the shadows to extend a line of credit to just about anybody. It’s a safe bet for these businesses. If they give you money today, they can charge exorbitant rates of interest – even more so with the highest risk clientele. But there isn’t much risk to these corporations these days when almost anyone can take a job as a state constable or bail recovery agent to hunt down debtors and bring them to economic justice.

When you see a destitute child with new sneakers, his parents probably bought them with plastic. When you see an X-Box in a needy person’s house, chances are that wasn’t paid for in cash. They used the charge plate and will end up paying for that game system many times what it’s worth.

It’s a problem not limited to the poor. Even middle class folks are drowning up to their eyeballs in debt. As wages have decreased, people have used their credit cards to keep a standard of living they expect. But they’re paying for it with huge portions of their paychecks going to these credit card companies. Yet even though we all do this, middle class folks look down their noses at people lower down the economic ladder for doing the same thing.

In fact, they refuse to even see that obvious truth. Instead they cling to the lie that poor folks are social parasites. We even begrudge them food. Those are my tax dollars going to pay for that penurious person’s free ride, they say.

Unfortunately, we don’t stop to consider how much of our taxes are actually going to help the less fortunate.
Let’s say you make $50,000 a year. That means, you pay $36 toward food stamps. That’s ten cents a day – the same amount many charities ask to help feed starving children in Africa.

If you add all safety net programs, the cost only goes up an additional $6 a year. That doesn’t seem like a huge chunk of my taxes. Honestly, do you begrudge needy people less than the price of a meal for a family of four at Bennigan’s?

By and large, your tax bill isn’t going to the poverty-stricken. It’s going to the wealthy. Over the course of a year, you pay $6,000 for corporate welfare.

You read that right. Six K. Six grand. Six thou. Those are your tax dollars at work, too. And it’s a much larger burden on your bank account than the $42 you shell out for the poor.

What do you get for that $6,000 outlay? It includes at least $870 to direct subsidies and grants for corporations. An additional $870 goes to offset corporate taxes. Another $1,231 goes to plug holes in the federal budget from revenue lost to corporate tax havens. Oh! And don’t forget a sizable chunk for subsidies to Big Oil companies that are polluting our skies and fueling climate change and global warming.

Most of your money isn’t going to feed hungry children. It’s going to recoup losses for giant transnational corporations like Apple and GE that hide their money overseas to boost profits and avoid paying taxes for things we all need like schools, police and fire departments.

This money subsidizes giant multi-national corporations that are already making billions and billions of dollars in profit each year. In the past decade alone, corporations have doubled their profits – all while reducing their American workforces and sending jobs overseas. Yet we only complain about poor folks using food stamps and buying new sneakers on credit.

Why is that? Why does it only bother us when poor people get help and not when huge corporations do?
Part of it is the media. We’ve been convinced that big business deserves its money and poor people don’t. Another part of it is that these facts often go underreported. Movies and TV shows love portraying the parasite poor person but rarely portray the corporate leech. Outside of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol,” the wealthy are usually portrayed in the most positive light possible and not as addicts hoarding cash they don’t need to compete with each other in a childish game of one-upmanship.

Finally, there is the racial and sexual element. By and large, corporations are run by white males. The poor are mostly black, brown and though women make up a slightly higher percentage than men, it is often conceptualized as uniquely female. Take the term Welfare Queen. Why is there no Welfare King? How telling that our conception only allows for one gender in this role!

The reality is much different. The true Welfare Queens are Big Businesses. They make unprecedented profits and avoid paying taxes on them. They have tons of cash on hand but never can seem to get enough. And if we increased the corporate tax rate to what it was in the 1950s when the Unite States was more prosperous than it has ever been, these same corporations would still be Filthy. Stinking. Rich.

So the next time you hear someone blaming the poor for gobbling up your taxes, remember the facts. First, it’s simply not true. There is no widespread fraud by the poor. They are not gaming the system. They are not putting an undue burden on the middle class. However, big business IS – in fact – cheating you out of income. Business people are getting fabulously wealthy on your dime – and even if we stopped subsidizing them, they’d still be fabulously wealthy!

Finally, don’t ignore the racial component. Would middle class Caucasians still complain so vehemently about the poor if they weren’t mostly talking about Black people, Latinos and women? I doubt it.
We may breath in these prejudices but we’re not helpless. It’s up to all of us to dispel these myths, not to let them stand, to confront them every time they come up. And, yes, I mean EVERY. TIME.

The only immune system we have as a society is education, knowledge, wisdom. And once you know the truth, don’t let anyone get away with this kind of racist, classist bullshit.
Who's Narrating 
the "Teacher Shortage" Narrative?
by Mitchell Robinson, member of the BAT Leadership Team
originally published on his blog:
Photo credit:
Photo credit:

A recent column by Stephen Mucher, Director of the Master of Arts in Teaching Program at Bard College, has attracted a lot of attention from those concerned about the health and vitality of public education. And for good reason. Mr. Mucher mentions the recent history of campus protests across the country, which he says he has noticed on his visits to some of the nation's most elite universities ("M.I.T. to U.S.C., Appalachian State to Cal State, Michigan to Berkeley, Amherst to Occidental") in his attempts to recruit what he refers to as "brilliant, dedicated, inspired young people who are ready and willing to serve" to Bard's Master of Arts in Teaching program. His conclusion is that these students are still engaged, politically aware, and want to make a difference in our nation's future ("until recently, many flocked to Teach For America"), but "they do not want to become teachers."


Without offering any actual evidence, Mr. Mucher suggests that prospective teachers have been scared off from applying to his program by much of the agenda of the corporate reform movement: increasing accountability demands placed on teachers, using student test scores to determine teachers' effectiveness ratings, and "the way teachers are blamed for much broader social problems." Now, no one who has spent any time in a classroom over the past several years would disagree that these are all real problems, and have combined to create a profession that feels under attack and held to unrealistic expectations even as states and the federal government continue a systematic disinvestment in public education. However, I would suggest that at least part of Mr. Mucher's failure to find what he is looking for may be because he is he is basing his search strategy on a faulty premise--and perhaps more importantly, because he's looking in the wrong places.

Better Rhetoric
A careful reading of Mr. Mucher's essay reveals an emphasis on the same, tired old reformer rhetoric: that teachers are "the problem" in public education ("But finding candidates to fill this role, especially good candidates, may be more difficult than policymakers are willing to admit"), and that these problems can be solved only if we can improve the quality of the teaching workforce ("America’s public schools need better teachers"). In an effort to bolster his assertions, Mr. Mucher nods to a recent survey suggesting that the teacher shortage is a significant problem, and identifying a set of principles designed to attract more young persons to the profession. [Curiously, these principles are eerily similar to the ones released earlier this week by the #TeachStrong initiative: "Better pre-service preparation, scholarships, loan forgiveness, higher salaries, professional mentorship, in-service training, and more time for collaborative work."]

With all due respect to Mr. Mulcher, it's time to put a stop to this lazy rhetoric, and stop blaming teachers for the problems that have been caused by the very reform agenda that forms the underpinning for his essay. Teachers are not the problem--teachers are the solution.

The "problems" in public education won't be solved by promoting the rhetoric that simply luring the "best and brightest" students from America's most elite colleges and universities to teaching will somehow fix the systemic defunding and privatization of our schools and the de-professionalization of the teaching profession. If anything, this strategy has contributed to the destabilization of the teaching force through programs such as Teach for America and The New Teacher Project--both of which, ironically enough, are partners for the #TeachStrong initiative.

Public education will only be "fixed" by admitting that whatever problems do exist in the schools have only been worsened by the damages done by the corporate reformers. Is there a "teacher shortage" in certain areas and in specific subject areas? Of course. But this shortage has been a "manufactured" one, and won't be solved simply by increasing the numbers of new entrants to the profession. We must first address the root causes of the shortage--poor working conditions, inadequate compensation structures, a lack of administrative and community support for teachers and schools, and invalid and unreliable teacher evaluation systems that are driving the most talented and experienced teachers out of the classroom.

Looking for Teachers in All the Wrong Places...

If Mr. Mulcher is really interested in finding more and "better" teachers I would also suggest that, instead of copying the approach of Teach for America and other alternative route to certification programs, he start by looking for young people who actually want to be career teachers--not just those with the highest GPAs or the gaudiest resumes.

I also find it curious that while the principles mentioned by Mr. Mulcher in his essay for improving the quality of the teaching force include recommendations for "better inservice training, and more time for collaborative work," the marketing materials for the Bard MAT Program, which is designed to be completed in 14-24 months, appear to emphasize brevity and convenience more heavily than depth or breadth of content or experience. The irony here is remarkable.

The students I have the privilege of working with at Michigan State University are not only proficient in the skills, knowledge and dispositions needed for success as early career teachers, they are aware of the "big picture" surrounding public education, and are committed to making a difference. These students are deeply committed to becoming not just teachers, but to becoming teacher leaders. They recognize the inequities that currently exist in too many schools and communities, and are excited to enter a profession that desperately needs their energy and passion. My students understand that they are entering a profession that requires significant preparation, and have dedicated themselves to a comprehensive and thorough course of study that includes theory, practice and authentic field experiences over an extended period of time. 

While Mr. Mulcher seems alarmed at the recent protests on college campuses, I see these protests as signs that today's students are increasingly aware of the inequities that exist in our society, and are ready to do something about these problems. Where Mr. Mulcher sees college activism as a sign that students are less interested in joining the teaching force, I see these events as indications that college students are ready to join those of us who have committed our professional lives to making a difference in our public schools and communities.

It is our job to stand up to the reform agenda, and make public education a place that is again worthy of the passion, dedication and spirit of our newest colleagues. We need them, and they need us. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I am a Public School Teacher. Give Me All the Refugees You’ve Got!


Come into my classroom any day of the week and you’ll see refugees.

That little Iraqi boy slumped over a book written in Arabic while the rest of the class reads the same story in English. Those twin girls blinking back memories of the Bosnian War as they try to underline possessive nouns on an English worksheet. That brown-skinned boy compulsively rocking back-and-forth in his seat fighting back tears wondering when his dad is going to come home from prison.

Every day, every hour, every minute our public schools are places of refuge for children seeking asylum, fugitives, emigres, exiles, the lost, the displaced, dear hearts seeking a kind word and a caring glance.

Some may shudder or sneer at the prospect of giving shelter to people in need, but that is the reality in our public schools. In the lives of many, many children we provide the only stability, the only safety, the only love they get all day.

And, yes, I do mean love. I love my students. Each and every one of them. Sometimes they are far from lovable. Sometimes they look at me with distrust. They bristle at assignments. They jump when redirected. But those are the ones I try to love the most, because they are the ones most in need.

I told a friend once that I had a student who had escaped from Iraq. His parents had collaborated with the U.S. military and received death threats for their efforts. So he and his family fled to my hometown so far away from his humid desert heartland.

I told her how difficult it was trying to communicate with a student who spoke hardly any English. I complained about budget cuts that made it next to impossible to get an English Language Learner (ELL) instructor to help me more than once a week. And her response was, “Do you feel safe teaching this kid?”

Do I feel safe? The question had never occurred to me. Why wouldn’t I feel safe? I don’t expect ISIS to track him down across the Atlantic Ocean to my class. Nor do I expect this sweet little guy is going to do anything to me except practice his English.

In one of my first classrooms, I had a dozen refugees from Yugoslavia. They had escaped from Slobadan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing. Yet you’d never know unless they told you. They were some of the most well-behaved, thoughtful, intelligent children I’ve had the pleasure to teach. They were always smiling, so happy to be here. They approached every assignment with a seriousness well beyond their years.

But sometimes you’d see a shadow cross their faces. Rarely you’d hear them whispering among themselves. I was so new I didn’t know any better but to come down on them. But later they told me what they had been talking about, what they had been thinking about – how Henry V’s military campaign brought back memories. They taught me that day. Every year I learn so much from my children.

My high poverty school doesn’t get a lot of refugees from overseas these days. But we’re overwhelmed with exiles from our own neighborhood. I can’t tell you how many children I’ve had in class who start off the year at one house and then move to another. I can’t tell you how many come to school bruised and beaten. I can’t tell you how many ask a moment of my time between classes, during my planning period or after school just to talk.

Last week one of my students walked up to me and said, “I’m having a nervous breakdown.”

Class had just been dismissed. I had a desk filled to the ceiling with ungraded essays. I still had to make copies for tomorrow’s parent-teacher conferences. I had gotten to none of it earlier because I had to cover another class during my planning period. But I pushed all of that aside and talked with my student for over an hour.

And I’m not alone. On those few days I get to leave close to on time, I see other teachers doing just like me conferencing and tutoring kids after school.

It was a hard conversation. I had to show him he was worth something. I had to make him feel that he was important to other people, that people cared about him. I hope I was successful. He left with a handshake and a smile.

He may not be from far away climes, but he’s a refugee, too. He’s seeking a safe place, a willing ear, a kind word.

So you’ll forgive me if I sigh impatiently when some in the media and in the government complain about the United States accepting more refugees. What a bunch of cowards!

They act as if it’s a burden. They couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s a privilege.

When I see that iconic picture of three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi drowned in Turkey as his family tried to escape the conflict, I find it impossible that anyone could actually refuse these people help. Just imagine! There are a host of others just like this family seeking asylum and we can give it! We have a chance to raise them up, to provide them a place to live, to shelter them from the storm. What an honor! What a privilege! What a chance to be a beacon of light on a day of dark skies!

I’m an American middle class white male. My life hasn’t been trouble free, but I know that I’ve won the lottery of circumstances. Through none of my own doing, I sit atop the social ladder. It is my responsibility to offer a helping hand in every way I can to those on the lower rungs. It is my joy to be able to do it.

It’s what I do everyday at school. When I trudge to my car in the evening dark, I’m exhausted to the marrow of my bones. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s not uncommon for a student or two to see me on the way to my car, shout out my name with glee and give me an impromptu hug. At the end of the day, I know I’ve made a difference. I love being a teacher.

So if we’re considering letting in more refugees, don’t worry about me. Send them all my way. I’ll take all you’ve got. That’s what public schools do.
To My School Board
By: Julianna Krueger Dauble, WA BAT

Tonight I am compelled to give you a slice of reality from a classroom teacher who stands in solidarity with our classified employees working without a contract since the school year began.
We have some big behavior issues at my school. Repeatedly the district tells us paraeducators are not a solution and won’t be hired for these children but there is no other forseeable way within the restraints of our system to help our kids.
We’ve been told no one in the district is prepared to deal with the trauma our kids come with. Classroom teachers need another adult in their classrooms for learning to happen. There is just no way around that fact.
Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE is doing ALL THEY CAN in my building. It isn’t enough. We need more educators. Certificated and classified.
Yet without fair pay for our classified staff we won’t attract anyone and the many open positions will remain unfilled.
The word workload gets thrown around a lot. I thought I’d outline some of my workload from past years that has since been replaced by the work of implementing Common Core. Further, these things I want to tell you about were done for kids BEFORE so many of them came with toxic stress caused by trauma and before our counselor was cut. These things were accomplished before years of state budget cuts, before high turnover of district level support staff, and before the overwhelming pacing guides were required of us. Before mandated assessments were so far out of reach for our struggling students and before students and teachers felt like failures even when we are working as hard as any human can.
These things I did before project based learning was thrown out and scripted lessons took their place;
Before our paraeducators weren’t stretched to their physical and emotional limits and back when the district provided paraeducators when student needs warranted them, here’s what I used to be able to do for my students:
We went on 4 Field trips a year to tour the wastewater treatment plant, Seattle Symphony, stream survey and ecology learning on Tiger Mountain, and planting trees to restore salmon spawning habitat on Lake Sammamish.
We used to have time for a worm bin for lunchroom compost.
We raised baby salmon and released them in the creek near school.
Green Teams of 5th graders helped with recycling school wide.
I used to have weekends with my family and was home before 8 pm most nights.
Parent conferences were about the whole child, they were not just pouring over the multitude of data points that now describes the standardized student.
We planned integrated learning units with guest speakers culminating the work.
We had museums provide temporary exhibits to our classes for hands on cultural learning.
We scheduled art as a lesson.
We had time to eat lunch.
We had paraeducators in our rooms supporting teaching and learning.

Now, I am not asking to go back in time, there were serious problems before (that persist today) but I speak for so many educators who are afraid or are so overworked they are too tired to speak out.
We are tired of asking 'why is this so hard?'
Here’s why:
Kids need caring supported environments with caring supported caretakers.
I challenge anyone in the public school system to refute that we, teachers and classified staff work miracles.
But we alone are not enough.
Again, why is this so hard?
I purport that it is a simple mathematical ratio.
We do not have adequate support staff nor enough trained teachers. We need caring adults who have the time, space, and resources to run schools for the 21st century.
That is, schools with wraparound services for families.
Schools with art at their foundation.
Schools with truly positive behavior systems.
Schools with experts who recognize and heal trauma.
Schools with teams of teachers encouraged to share their expertise and increase job satisfaction.
Schools with ample opportunities for educators to learn what their students need.
Schools that provide TIME for collaboration that is at least quadruple what we now have in our contracted year.
Schools which provide training the teachers ask for.
Schools with relevant books/materials & authentic space for innovation.
Schools with adequate light and heat.
Schools with tech usage that leads to solving real world problems.
Schools with layers of support for student safety.
Schools with flexible curriculum adaptive to families' interests.
Schools with transparent and democratic decision-making.
Schools where all employees are paid a living wage.
Schools where staff don’t have to work second jobs to live near their workplace.
Schools where employees are respected.
Schools where students who are aggressive or violent have services that match their needs.
Schools where science is considered core curriculum and valued as such.
Schools with an emergency preparedness plan that is realistic and supported with training and resources AND ENOUGH STAFF TO PROTECT KIDS.
Please understand that the ratio of student to educator is NOT adequate. We desperately need more adults in our rooms, our hallways, our playgrounds, our crosswalks, our clinics.
Please pay our classified employees what they need to live. Without a living wage we will continue to stumble through each school year praying for survival and inching closer to burnout. Fair pay and good faith bargaining is a first step in truly fixing what ails our education system.