Sunday, October 23, 2016

Brett Bigham Speech at Oregon Safe Schools Communities Coalition

Oregon BAT Brett Bigham and Cali BAT Mel House at SOS Coalition for Action
March for Education and Social Justice, Washington, DC 
I wanted to share my keynote speech from today with you all. I was asked to speak at the Oregon Safe Schools Communities Coalition at their OSSCC Awards ceremony, honoring community members for their efforts to stop bullying.
My speech is political and expresses my feelings and my feelings alone. I represent no-one but myself in them.
Good Afternoon Everyone, It is wonderful to be here today to honor Oregonians who have stepped up to stop bullying in this state.
In these modern times, with our 24-hour a day modern media you don’t have to look far to see examples of bullying. A simple youtube search will bring up countless videos of people being harassed, called names, being physically intimidated and threatened.
No, I am not talking about the Presidential debates. But I do believe the debates show a good example of what bullying is. And sadly, they are setting an example to today’s youth of acceptable behavior. I wonder how many girls and young women were called “nasty” this week. I wonder how many Mexican kids were taunted with “Build A Wall” or called “Miss Housekeeping.”
These are the facts about bullying. Over 73% of kids in a recent GLSEN survey reported being bullied in the past year. It is a fact that being bullied damages that young ego that is developing. These damages can be life-long—statistics show being bullied is related to drinking and taking drugs at a younger age, it contributes to stress and dropping out of school.
But we also know that just being a witness to bullying causes damage to the person who sees it. Just being in the hallway and seeing someone being bullied becomes part of who you are. I understand that.
When I was younger I was walking on the sidewalk looking at this girl eating an ice-cream cone. She was cute, blond, wearing this little sun dress. And then the guy next to her suddenly punched her in the face. That was 30 years ago and it is frozen in my mind, like a short movie that plays over and over every time something triggers it. I’m still haunted by the look on her face, the cone hitting the ground, and ribbons of blood from her nose running over the ice cream that was smeared across her face.
I am right now feeling the emotions of that day as if it were yesterday.s I felt that day. Perhaps I still feel them because I know she probably does too.
I’m sorry to put that image into your mind on such a beautiful day. But that is why we are here. Because to fix the problem of bullying we have to understand the damage it does. By witnessing that act of violence I have been forever changed. To this day whenever I see a girl with an ice-cream cone it triggers that movie in my head. The Dairy Queen by my house had a giant picture of a strawberry sundae with the strawberry sauce drizzling down the vanilla icecream. I couldn’t look at it without seeing her.
That’s just one example. I have more. You have more. I would guess every person in this room probably has at least a little bit of damage from bullying.
But bullying does not just damage the person being bullied and the person who sees it, it damages the bully. It creates a life-long pattern of cruelty and friendlessness and creates an adult who continues to damage the people around them.
I would bet every person in this room knows an adult that they think is a bully. A past boss, a mean neighbor, a black sheep cousin. These people just didn’t wake up one day in their twenties and find they had become a bully. What they probably have is dark history of being cruel and nasty that stretches back to their own youth.
That mean 70 year old man might have been a mean 7 year old boy. The sad part is, a mean 70 year old can spend his life teaching others how to be bullies. When we see people on tv screaming “get out of our country” we must acknowledge that they learned this bullying behavior from someone.
And that is why so many of us are fighting to end bullying in the schools. Just as we teach math and science we are also trying to teach humanity and social structure, about feelings and kindness. And with that role as teacher goes along the role of protector. The kids in my classroom are my kids. I will influence who they become. I don’t want them damaged by a bully. I don’t want a kid who bullies to be condemned to a life filled with toxic behavior.
That is why, when I was named Teacher of the Year, I stood up for LGBT youth. Even when my district told me I could not meet with a high school Gay Straight Alliance club because meeting with those students “has no value to this district.” I took a personal day and went anyway and was later fired for it.
There is a reason supporting those kids was so important. When I was 15 my best friend came out to me and killed himself that weekend. I learned early the damage that can come from bullying and by being afraid to grow up gay.
This is why Oregon Safe Schools exists. For no other reason than to stop bullying, to create a better path for all of our children and those efforts are working.
Since I’m a teacher I’m going to give you some more facts.
In a school with an anti-bullying policy the GLSEN study found that students heard homophobic and racist remarks less than a school with no policy. All students reported that in a school with anti bullying policies they felt safer and that they attended school more often.
In schools with A Gay Straight Alliance or similar club the statistics show similar numbers. If a school has a GSA the entire student body reports the school is a safer place and the amount of bullying in the school decreases. They found in schools that have LGBT-inclusive curriculum there was even less bullying of LGBT students. There is also less suicidal ideation and lower teen suicide rates.
I’m proud to live in one of the few places in the world that have anti-bullying laws on the books. I’m proud that almost all of our Oregon teachers are trained how to deal with bullying and racism. I’m proud that Oregon Safe Schools is one of the reasons those laws exist. As a board member you may think I’m biased but the truth is I am in awe of this group of people who have come together to make our state a better place.
Think of Oregon Safe Schools as a warrior who is protecting our children. They have stood up to the bullies and proved that education and training on a state level can lower the amount of damage bullying does to our kids.
And today we honor other warriors who have stood firm to protect the students and youth of their communities. The Oregon Safe Schools Awards are not lightly given. They go to people and institutions that have made a difference for their own students and the youth in their community.
We are here to say thank you for fighting with us and thank you for putting kids first.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Each week of this Bullying Awareness Month the BAT QWL along with the National Workplace Bullying Coalition will share a story from the upcoming NWBC anthology of workplace survival stories.  This is the second of those stories.


          When I watched the powerful 2012 documentary called “Bullied”, I cried in recognition, grief, anger and sheer sense of helplessness to stop it. At the end, there were memorials for children who had taken their lives because of bullying. I wanted to reach through my TV and shake those school principals and parents. I understood the victims and their sense of isolation and despair.    The main difference between children’s bullying and adults’ bullying is that the more “mature” bully leaves no physical scars. After all, there are laws for that! Having worked in mental health, I’ve seen the other kinds of scars. Unfortunately, I’ve also been victim to them myself.
          Years ago, I worked at a children’s charity. The Executive Director (ED) verbally abused staff. The first time I heard her scream, I thought she was injured and ran into her office. I was shocked when I realized screaming was her way of asking for a file. I was expected to intuitively predict her needs or incur her wrath. Charming!
          She looked like somebody’s Grandma complete with stuffed toys in her office and cross-stitched frames with statements of kindness and love. Actually, if you are familiar with Harry Potter, she was like Dolores Umbridge with her kitten plates. Except her eyes bulged more.
          This ED was revered in the community and at her church as a do-gooder. When people would come to the office to discuss making a donation, she would tearfully gush about how wonderful they were to support the children. After they left, she would call them the most ungodly names saying they were (bad word) cheap.
          “Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.” Theodore Roosevelt    WHY BULLY?  According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, bullies are more likely to intimidate and discredit the stronger, more competent people and not the ones who are weaker. Their targets also have different values from their own: including ethics, integrity, fairness and collaborativeness. The payback for bullying is that, by discrediting their colleague/subordinate, the bully’s career usually thrives. This was most certainly my ED’s case.
          I didn’t leave right away.  I stayed because I loved the cause, got along great with my colleagues and was fearful of being unemployed again.
          If you’re in that very difficult situation, here’s your toolbox:    TOOL # 1: Learn how to speak up.  First I asked her to please tell me what she wanted or needed, “one thing at a time”.  Her response was to look at me with disgust and question my intelligence. I repeated that I needed her to be clearer and to remain respectful so that I could help her. The other thing I did was to firmly say “please do not shout”.    She was shocked that someone would tell her “not to shout”. When she couldn’t deny what had just happened, she would dramatically grab her chest and say that she is a breast cancer survivor from 15 years ago. Then she would whimper that this was “affecting her today”.
          When I spoke up, there were times that she would stop for a while; but she had more experience and endurance at bullying than I did at stopping her. Still, my small successes gave me a temporary sense of control.    Bullies need silence to continue their bullying.
          TOOL # 2: Find out the history of the company and who might help. During my interview, I questioned the high turnover of that position. They explained that non-profits can’t pay well enough to keep people. That was a red herring.    It quickly became apparent that she had a long history of bullying. Long-time bullies ALWAYS have people protecting them and making excuses.
          One of the board members, who originally interviewed me, told me that it is the fault of the employees for tolerating the behaviors and for staying. I pointed out to her that “nobody stays”.    Out of curiosity, I asked this board member what was great about this ED. It turns out that she had helped them get rid of a “bad” Director who was destroying their reputation and ability to raise money. They felt “forever in her debt”.    It was clear that no one was going to help the staff. Basically, the ED knew where the body was buried.  When they start blaming the victim, as this board member did with me: GET OUT! The cost of staying is too high.
          TOOL # 3 Learn your legal rights.  It’s hard to take action when you fear retaliation. Because of that same inaction, victims of bullying may have rights they are unaware of.    In my case, I believed that if I quit, I would not be eligible for employment benefits and I needed an income while looking for another job. Clearly, this woman would not give a fair work reference so I felt fearful and stuck.    When my father unexpectedly died, her abuse escalated. I quit and reported her to my provincial Labour Standards with documented events. It turned out there was already a file on her from past victims and I received benefits right away. So check out free legal clinics and get informed.    Two years later, a successor called me saying she had found the detailed letter of resignation I had written to the board.  She wanted to thank me for validating her experience.    Until she read my letter to her husband, he thought she was making stuff up. I mean come on: that sweet Grandma, devoting her life to a children’s charity – a bully? No way!    She quit after we spoke and, following my recommendations, she also received all her benefits.
          I also told her:    TOOL #4: After leaving a serious bullying situation, take some time to heal!  THIS IS IMPORTANT! Recovery from bullying takes time. Just switching jobs without getting emotionally grounded could be a recipe for disaster. Having worked as a crisis counsellor, I can tell you that there is nothing brave about ignoring your mental health.    Don’t play with fire – put some emotional distance, catch your breath and heal. Do not wait for a diagnosis of a burnout, depression or anxiety disorder. You’ll transition better into a new job and increase your future successes.
          TOOL # 5:  Helping others can empower you.  The last time I was bullied at a job, I had learned from the ED experience above. This last time, I quickly recognized the signs and I was very capable of protecting my well-being and helping other targets.     Although I am no longer there, I know that I made a difference for my colleagues by supporting and guiding them. I was able to stay calm while properly alerting her superiors to her specific behaviours. Because I was calm and detailed, instead of emotional like my colleagues, people took notice.  I eventually left for greener pastures, but, even after I left, she couldn’t burp without the hierarchy taking notice. When she finally left and to this day, my old colleagues remain beyond thrilled.    Be a survivor – not a victim.
          TWO HAVENS FOR BULLIES.  A therapist I used to work with told me she could build an entire practice treating people who are victims of bullies in non-profits and churches.    We have an identity attachment to our religious life or when we pick a job in support of a passionate cause. Because of the helping and/or forgiving environment fostered in these environments, calculating bullies can get away with a lot.
          My life choices means I was in both these havens. I’m still sad when I think of the abuse I went through in a toxic church. I was cyber-bullied and treated very unfairly by one person in particular. I was told by others that, even though she invited me to help out “she is quite territorial”.    Just like the board protected the ED in the story above, the pastor protected the bully in this church. One witness, who has also left this church, described the way I was treated as “being unjustly crucified”.
          Emotionally, I know what she meant.    Here’s the baseline to look for in a healthy environment:    There should be space to have a voice and feel respected or move on!    Do you know how to speak up? Or do you avoid those difficult conversations?   Get my free 4 step cheat sheet on asking for what you want. You won’t regret it.    (Here’s the link for that cheat sheet:

1.       Learn how to speak up
2.       Find out the history of the company and who might help
3.       Learn your legal rights.
4.       After leaving a serious bullying situation, take some time to heal!
5.       Helping others can empower you.

This story and many others will be included in the NWBC upcoming anthology.  Find out more about this anthology and the other work of the NWBC by visiting:

 There is still time to submit your story for possible inclusion.   You can do so by following this link:

To view the BATs video on Workplace Bullying go here

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Who’s More Valuable – a Union Busting Lawyer or a Union Worker?

By:  Steven Singer, Director BATs Research and Blogging
Originally posted on his blog
There he was standing in front of me in line.

New gray pinstriped suit. Silk red Armani tie. White button down shirt so bleached it hurt my eyes.

We were waiting to board our plane to take us to Houston. Me, a public school teacher. Him, a union busting lawyer.

I was on my way to an education and civil rights summit. He was going to an annual lawyers conference, one of many he attends each year.

I got all this information not from talking to the guy. He was jovial enough but he just couldn’t contain his backstory to a single audience. He was in the mood to talk to anybody and everybody as we waited for the stewardess to tell us it was okay to board.

He spent most of his time talking with two representatives of the natural gas industry who had visited my home of Pittsburgh to invest in our rich deposits of Marcellus shale – and incidentally poison our environment. He also joked with another lawyer further up in line and already tipsy.

I listened to him yuk it up about exclusive golf courses, wine country and the presidential election (he’s a Trump supporter) and felt a warm dislike spread through my chest.

I looked at my faded t-shirt and jeans and wondered how it was that this guy gets so much for what he does and I get so little. Oh I get all the intangibles, but he gets… well… the money, pride and prestige.

There he was asking the gas guys about a good steak place for lunch in Houston. I love steak. I’d like to eat a nice, juicy steak. But I can’t afford it.

I’m only able to make this trip because I took the least expensive flight (coach, by the way – guess where he was sitting) and I was sharing a hotel room with a college professor who had saved up enough discretionary funds to cover the room.

While the attorney was dinning on steak, I’d be lucky to store up a muffin or two from the hotel’s complimentary breakfast.

Yet there he was telling the whole world his story unafraid that someone would take offense.

Well, I do take offense, buddy.

You make your living finding ways to make it harder for me to make mine. You spend your whole day looking for legal loopholes and documented precedents to take away protections at my job, cut my pay and make me work longer hours without overtime. You eat at expensive restaurants and wear Italian leather shoes while people like me live paycheck-to-paycheck. You are nothing but a parasite.

Yet no one else seemed to take offense at his braggadocio. Only me. The natural gas guys clapped him on the back and congratulated him on the delicious rib eye in his future.

It makes me wonder why unions are so often made to seem the villain and guys like this are seen as good ol’ boys at best and merely innocuous at worst.

I teach young children how to read and write. I open their minds to the world around them and show them how to think critically. I raise up the weak and give succor to the needy.

What value does he add to society? Seriously! How does he make the world one bit better than the way he found it?

Yes, I am a union employee and proud of it. I collectively bargain for a fair wage. I band together with my colleagues for a middle class income so I can afford to be a teacher. I demand professionalism and autonomy so I can do the job. I seek fair treatment so I’m not constantly looking over my shoulder in case a school board member would rather give my job to one of his cousins. And if you’re going to fire me, I ask for due process – proof of wrongdoing.

Somehow in the eyes of the public this makes me a monster.

But this guy gives you nothing. He provides no return on your investment except that he stifles me.

He makes it harder if not impossible for me to stay in the profession. He works so I can’t support my family. He endeavors for me to be paid the minimum wage so I won’t be able to come home and help my daughter with her homework but instead will have to move on to my second or third job. He argues that I should not be considered a professional and should not be treated like an intelligent person with an advanced degree but should be a factory widget who does as he’s told. He tries to make anxiety my normal state. And he seeks to ensure I can be fired at will with no proof, no reason, just an employers whim.

If he achieves his ends, my students will not have a productive atmosphere in which to learn. When you weaken teachers, you weaken students. We all say to put the kids first, but you can’t do that when you put teachers last.

He does all this and still has the gall to boast of it aloud in public. All while I stay silent, seethe and silently rave.

So we got on our plane, and when we landed in Texas went our separate ways.

I spent the weekend fighting for children and families. He partied with his partners. As a taxpayer, you pay a lot of money for his services. I’m a bargain, a steal. You get next to nothing from him. I open the gates for the next generation.

And somehow I’m the bad guy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Sound of Silence
By:  Marla Kilfoyle, NY BAT 

Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again

~Simon and Garfunkel

As I began to write this piece, I thought of this song.  In particular the first few lines, “Hello darkness, my old friend.”  Although I am sure that Simon and Garfunkel didn’t write this song about politics in 2016, it made me think of what we have been witnessing this election cycle.

Election season is always a difficult time for many educators and education activist.  We begin to look at all the campaign donations that fly to politicians from people, and organizations, that seek to destroy public education.  It is the same old players emerging here in N.Y.

The Waltons, The Koch Brothers, StudentsFirstNY funded by Wall Street Hedge Funders like Paul Singer, Dan Loeb, and John Paul Tudor.

The NYS Senate Republican Committee are HUGE cheerleaders for the charter movement and have received millions for this election cycle from the folks listed above.  For the sake of transparency, our Governor, and a smattering of Democrats, are also cheerleaders for charter expansion and the privatization movement.

I will have to say that NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE, is a bigger cheerleader for privatization then John Flanagan, the Republican majority leader in our Senate.  He is also a member of ALEC  

The ALEC education agenda is model legislation that travels around the nation when they need to defund schools, close them, and open up unaccountable charters.  They support ending public education for a competitive model of education.  The problem with a competitive model is that there are always winners and losers.  We should have NO losers when it comes to education in this country.

Anyhow, I diverge; back to our regularly scheduled program.

Here you can see the Board of Elections filings who has dumped money to the NYRSC

The Koch Brothers have been waging war on public education and teachers for many years now.  They are supporters of ALEC legislation to defund and destroy public education. I watched them three summers ago fund the end of due process rights from teachers in Kansas.   (see David’s $100,000 above).

The Waltons (who own Walmart and don’t even live in NY) have also had a long history of funding anti-public education initiatives (charter expansion, closing schools, choice, vouchers, TFA, and removing tenure rights from teachers).  They dumped another $500,000 to a PAC here in NY called New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany (a charter expansion PAC).

Updated (10/21/16) Walton's and Singer drop another $2 million to StudentsFirstNY for Republican State Senate Committee

Paul Singer dropped a million on October 10th, and notice that StudentsFirstNY is in charge of that money.

Dan Loeb another hedge funder who supports charter expansion, and who has a  history of dumping large sums of money to folks who support charter expansion, dumps $100,000 on Sept 7th.

First image are the Walton's of Walmart who gave $50,000, second image is Singer who gave $1,000,000, and the final image is Loeb who gave $100,000

Republican Carl Marcellino, who is running against Democrat Jim Gaughran, got not one but two, yes two,  $142,590 independent expenditure from StudentsFirstNY (A20133) for media.  Republican Elaine Phillips, who is running against Democrat Adam Haber, got a $271,950 independent expenditure from StudentsFirstNY (A20133).  Anyone who follows the fight to save public education KNOWS that StudentsFirst has been on the frontlines of the attack on public education and public school teachers.  They have been the cheerleaders for Common Core, High-Stakes Testing, School Closures, vouchers, choice, and charter expansion.   The sad thing is that Marcellino is on the NYS Education Committee.  Call me crazy but shouldn’t that mean he should fight for public education NOT privatization?   The larger question is – who will Marcellino and Phillips be accountable to when it comes to education policy?  We all know the answer to that question.  The Money!

One of several IE given to Marcellino from StudentsFirstNY - Marcellino is on the NYS Education Committee

Update (10/20/16) - Anti Public Education organization StudentsFirstNY given more money and using them to "oppose" Gaughran and Haber.

Marcellino given $286,756 from StudentsFirstNY for media and Phillips given $862,060 from StudentsFirstNY for Media

 The PAC that is distributing all this money to StudentsFirstNY – New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany is funded by anti-public education billionaires.  The other PAC, New Yorkers for Independent Action, is also supported by billionaires who are anti-public education.  This money is being distributed to politicians who will support their destructive agenda for public education in NY.
Bottom line is – we must get to the polls and vote anyone out who takes this money – Republican or Democrat.  Check the NY elections funding site to look up elections in your area 

As a public educator, education activist, and mother I will NOT be voting for anyone who takes money from StudentsFirstNY, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany or New Yorkers for Independent Action.  Public education is for the public good and we should be funding that equitably, not defunding and destroying it.  Public education should not be competitive where you have winners and losers.  Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy and is the great equalizer.

So, why did I title this piece the sound of silence?

While the NYS Senate Republican Committee is raking in all this cash from anti-public education billionaires, NOT many of them have said a word about Donald Trump’s behavior.  To me, silence means acceptance.

It’s OK to malign immigrants and it’s OK to malign women.

Here are two women that Carl Marcellino threw out of his office a few months ago when they went in to talk about the education of their children

Oh, and by the way, the NYS Senate Republican Committee thinks it is OK to pay for and distribute anti-semitic flyers.  This is a flyer that the Senate Republican Committee distributed about Adam Haber, who is Jewish and  running against Republican Elaine Phillips.

To add insult to injury this was distributed during the week  of Yom Kippur.

Here was Haber response in a press release 

The Sound of Silence! 

The views expressed here do not represent those of the BAT Board of Directors but my own personal views.  You can follow Marla on twitter @Marla_Kilfoyle

BREAKING NEWS!  BATS Begins a White Paper Collection

October 17, 2016- The Badass Teachers Association launched a White Paper Collection on its website. The collection will act as a clearinghouse of research, action research projects, and scientific research projects.  All research will be peer reviewed.

We are honored and proud that we can provide a free space for teachers, parents, and students to go to find peer reviewed research articles on topics such as education, social justice, technology, teaching and learning, and community based schools.

Our first White Paper is titled - The Intended Consequences of the DFER Education Agenda

You can find directly right here

Here is the introduction of this report:

The purpose of this report is to expose that the education platform of the Democrats for Education is not one rooted in research or supportive of sound pedagogical practice. In their mission statement the organization claims to be the champions of high-quality public education for every child, but we will show that much of what they champion, regarding policies and positions, are not rooted in best practices. We believe that hedge fund managers, business executives, and privately-run corporations should not be involved in creating or implementing education policy. Teachers, administrators, parents, communities, and elected school boards should be the stakeholders responsible for creating and implementing education policy in this country. 

BATs is proud to offer this to our network and we hope you will use it as a source for all your education research needs.

Fighting for Public Schools Means Fighting Against Systemic Racism – United Opt Out Education and Civil Rights Summit

By Steven Singer, Director of BATs Blogging/Research and United Opt Out Board of Director Member
Originally published on his blog here
What do you do when you hold a civil rights summit and none of the big names show up?
That’s what happened last weekend when United Opt Out (UOO) held its Education and Civil Rights Summit in Houston, Texas.
We invited everybody.
We invited the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). We invited the National Council of La Raza “The People,” the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Urban League and several others.
None came.
But instead we were host to many of these organizations individual members.
Just how many people came to the Lone Star State for the summit? Thousands? Hundreds?
More like dozens.
Not only did the major civil rights groups neglect to send their leadership, but the bulk of our nation’s education activists also stayed away.
United Opt Out had just gone through a major reorganization on philosophical grounds. Only three of its long-time board members remain – Denisha Jones, Ruth Rodriguez and Ceresta Smith. They have since been joined by five new directors – Gus Morales, Zakary Rodriguez, Erika Strauss Chavarria, Deborah Anderson and Steven Singer (me).
The directors that left the group did so for various reasons, but some of them split along ideological lines. Some thought United Opt Out shouldn’t work with labor leaders or civil rights groups that weren’t perfectly aligned with all of UOO’s goals. So they left. Those who stayed are committed to working with almost anyone to push forward the cause, piece-by-piece if necessary.
As a result, this organization that had been growing by leaps and bounds, finds itself starting afresh. While last year’s conference in Philadelphia drew progressive luminaries like Chris HedgesJill Stein and Bill Ayers, this year’s gathering was more low key.
But it was far from somber. In fact, the board’s vision was vindicated in the most amazing way during the summit.
As Jesse “The Walking Man” Turner discussed the importance of reframing school policy to include students basic humanity, Gus looked up from his phone and announced, “The NAACP just ratified its moratorium on charter schools!”
We all stopped what we were doing and went to our phones and computers for verification. Denisha found it first and read the resolution in full.
We cheered, laughed and hugged each other.
This was exactly the kind of change we’ve been talking about! In fact, Julian Vasquez Heilig, education chair of the California and Hawaiian NAACP chapter, had originally been scheduled at the summit as a keynote speaker. When the resolution that he had been instrumental in crafting came up for a vote at the national NAACP meeting, he understandably had to cancel with us. Clearly he was needed elsewhere.
And now one of the largest civil rights organizations in the country has taken a strong stance on charter schools. Not only does the NAACP oppose charters as a solution to inequities experienced by children of color, they’ve now gone beyond mere ideology. They’re calling for action – no new charter schools.
It is a tremendous victory for parents, children and teachers everywhere. And a much needed win for civil rights and education activists. The civil rights community (including the Black Lives Matter movement) is starting to acknowledge that Brown vs. Board is right – we cannot have “separate but equal” school systems because when they’re separate, they’re rarely equal.
Let me be clear – UOO did not achieve this triumph alone. It took many people, some of whom probably have never heard of us. However, activists supporting our movement such as Julian were strongly involved.
And if we had listened to the naysayers who proposed only working with perfectly like-minded groups, this might never have happened.
As a national organization, the NAACP still supports standardized testing as necessary to hold schools accountable for teaching all students. But this was not always the case.
What changed in those three months?
All of these organizations accept huge donations from the corporate education reform industry including some of the richest people in the world like Bill Gates. While none of us were present at these decision making sessions, it seems clear thatfear of losing their funding may have forced them to make hard compromises.
Should we then as education activists wipe our hands of them? Should we refuse to work with them on some issues because we disagree on others?
United Opt Out says no. We’ll work with almost anyone where we can, when we can. And the results were on display with the NAACP resolution calling for a charter school moratorium.
Perhaps now that we’ve found that common ground on school privatization, we can do the same with standardized testing. Perhaps we can help educate them about the history of this practice, how it was a product of the eugenics movement and hasalways been used to support white supremacy and keep people of color and the poor in their place.
If we can make that argument, think of the potential. Perhaps leadership at these big civil rights groups would be less willing to compromise if they understood that standardized testing was used to justify mass sterilizations of American citizens and it was greatly admired by the Nazis. Perhaps if they understood that our modern standardized assessments are little better and create a racial proficiency gap by their very design – maybe then threats from rich white philanthropists won’t seem as important. Perhaps if they understood that schools can best be held accountable by reference to the adequacy of the funding they receive and a detailed accounting of what they do with it, these organizations might be less inclined to rely on multiple choice testing.
In fact, this is why we were there together in Houston in the first place. We wanted to make our case to these same civil rights organizations.
They may not have sent their leaders, but their members were already here. And we spent the time working together to find ways to make our case.
It was really quite amazing.
Audrey Amerin-Breadsley, professor and author of the blog Vamboolzed, gave us an incredibly accessible and informative keynote on value-added measures (VAM), the practice of using students test scores as a way to evaluate their teachers. For instance, did you know this common practice was originally based on a model for the cattle industry? It’s junk science and has little relation to education, teachers and students. All it does is pit students and teachers against each other creating a culture of fear where educators can be unfairly fired at any time – not the best environment for learning. Yet ignorant, lazy and/or corrupt bureaucrats still champion it across the country as a solution to improving schools.
Sam Abrams, Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education(NCSPE) and an instructor at Columbia University, explained in minute detail howcorporate education reform relies on bad statistics and is bad business. He explained how academics blinded by economics and unencumbered by any real-life experience of public schools came up with this scheme, which has been disproven by the facts again-and-again. Not only do the highest achieving countries such as Finland go a different route, but those that follow this market driven model find student achievement suffering. In short, our current education policies are really faith-based initiatives, a faith in the invisible hand of the market, and an ignorance of reality.
But perhaps most heartening was the series of talks given by the locals. Houston Federation of Teachers is one of the few labor unions to pass a resolution supporting parents rights to opt their children out of standardized testing. In fact, teachers and parents even run a free Opt Out Academy for children not taking the tests so that their education continues while their peers suffer through these useless assessments. We got to meet parent zero, the first parent to refuse testing in the district. We heard the community’s painstaking process of spreading the movement one family at a time. This was in effect an opt out cookbook, a how-to for anyone wishing to bring this social justice action to their own neighborhoods.
It was a weekend to give anyone hope.
We were small but we were powerful. Given a few years to rebuild, UOO could well be much stronger than we once were. Meanwhile parents across the country continue to refuse these tests for their children at an exponential rate.
There are many struggles ahead. But we have made real progress toward our goal of providing an excellent education for all children.
No longer can our governments be allowed to keep discriminating against them based on the color of their skin, their parents bank accounts and other factors. We’re standing for all students, because we don’t see them as consumers or data points. We see them as children, as human beings. And we stand together to protect and preserve that shared humanity.
What better way to spend a weekend?