Thursday, November 21, 2013

RA RA RA! by John O. Landon

Ok.... Here's some bad made funny! I hate Common Core so much, but I couldn't let my students feel defeated! My students took the 8th grade Science Common Core Benchmark exam yesterday. During the exam they needed to use the Periodic Table of the elements which I handed out at the beginning of the exam... To which they asked, "Mr. Landon, what is this?" Well, I couldn't tell them anything but that it was the periodic table of the elements and they may need it for the exam. Today, I put this image on my board and asked what it was... They all correctly told me, "The periodic table!!" Then I played the hook in GaGa's song, Bad Romance and waited. It took them a minute but they got it and they laughed and sang along! One student then said, "You have too much fun planning your lessons, don't you Mr. Landon!" I said, "I sure do!"

Time for Action by Teddi Urriola

This is the testimony that I gave last night to the Minority Assembly Hearings for the Committee on Education. Our children do not need the rigid, inflexible, harsh, and standardized approach to education know as the Common Core. Hi. My name is Teddi Urriola and I am a teacher in the Rochester City School District. I had a very carefully crafted speech with statistics. I wanted to show you how this crisis in education is a manufactured crisis based on manipulated data and information. But I left that speech in the box outside and I really do hope you will read the statistics later. However, what I really want to do is put a human face on my classroom. So, I am going to tell you the story of 4 young girls and 4 little angels. They were in my Kindergarten and 1st grade classes 2 years in a row. Then you tell me if more rigor, harsh and inflexible instruction, higher expectations and more testing would have helped them? M came to me in Kindergarten. Quiet, she had trouble learning but didn't create any problems. She was never very clean or well dressed. She was in my class again in 1st grade. I may have met the father and the stepmother once in those 2 years. I found out that M's mother had died before she came to Kindergarten. On the last day of school I got permission to take M out to lunch at AppleBees. We then went shopping at Walmart. M never had girlie sneakers or clothes. When we went to pick out new shoes, she went to the boys area, that way her brother could wear them when she outgrew them she said. I sent her into the dressing room with a couple of cute short sets and asked the clerk to check on her. The clerk came back to tell me that she was wearing men's dirty underwear. I guess I needed to add panties to the shopping list. I gave M an angel to remember her mother and let her know that she was still watching over her and that I loved her too. T was always falling asleep in my class and never had her homework done. In fact it was usually never even removed from her backpack. I called home ready to give my teacher talk to mom and this is the story I heard. Mom got the kids up at 5 AM every day to take the bus across town to grandma's so she could go to work. The kids then took the school bus back across town to school and then back again to grandma's at the end of the school day. When Mom got out of work she would then load them all back onto the RTS bus and take them home, only to have to cook and do laundry and give baths and get them into bed to do it all over again the next day. Homework was not at the top of that to do list. 2 years later T's mom was murdered, shot on the front porch at a party. Another little angel, even though she was no longer in my room I had formed a connection because of that one phone conversation. I had learned not to be judgmental. J was lucky. She had a mom and a dad and they were educated. Dad was older and had retired from Kodak. A two parent family. He owned a cab and drove at night so that he could be with the girls in the day while mom worked. He was shot and killed one night in the cab. I think it is still listed as an unsolved homicide. Another little angel...daddy really loved you and so do I. R lived with her grandmother. Mom was in and out of trouble and in and out of her life. However, she was still mom. One of those times when she was in her life she too was murdered...I think it was over drugs. R stayed in our school and left last year for 9th grade...she came up to me one day last year and told me "I still have the angel you gave me." I told her, Mommy still loves her and so do I. Keep your nose clean and make good choices. I am here if you need me." William Bruce Cameron said, "Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts." I believe that I try to live this and I am not unique, so do all the other teachers in the RCSD who choose to teach in the city. This is a labor of love, not rigor. To my colleagues here who have talked about changing this or that, about implementation and roll out I say this, "This is not a reform that can be tweaked or adjusted or fixed. It is copyrighted. It is law." You gentlemen on the panel have the ability to turn back the clocks and stop Common Core in NYS, repeal Race to the Top. I would like to conclude with this quote by Winston Churchill. "All that is necessary for evil to win is for good men to do nothing." Please do something. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Battle for Public Education and "White Suburban Moms"": Unpacking Arne Duncan's Latest Insult

Originally published by emPower Magazine on November 20, 2013

Social media is in frenzy over the insulting remarks made by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. As reported in the Washington Post Answer Sheet by Valarie Strauss.
“U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state schools superintendents Friday that he found it ‘fascinating’ that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”
These words have sparked an outrage by many women who classify themselves as “white suburban moms” and feel directly insulted by Duncan’s choice of words. We should all be outraged at the utter lack of respect Duncan has for the people he was hired to serve…public school students, their parents, and their teachers. But a closer examination of those words reveals the nuances between the attacks on public education that Duncan has shaped by labeling the movement as “white suburban moms”. Below are five things to consider when making sense of the latest controversy in the battle to stop the privatization of public education.
1. The fight against the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is part of a movement to stop the privatization of public education.
Since the invention of our public education system there have been attempts to change the purpose and focus of public schools. Ideological movements have shifted the thinking of what should comprise the curriculum and how best to teach young people. Infused in this debate is the notion of what is the purpose of education. From a classical education for all to an education that sorts and prepares students for their probably destinations in the workforce to an education that helps each child learn to think critically and develop their potential; the purpose of education has been debated and influenced by those who have the power to shape the educational experiences of other people’s children. The recent push to “reform” public education is rooted in a set of false beliefs that include: public education is broken; American children are falling behind academically compared to their global peers as evidenced on international test scores; teachers are lazy and protected by a union that does not care if all children succeed; high stakes standardized testing will make children do better in school; evaluating teachers based on the test scores of their students will raise test scores; and allowing for-profit corporations to run schools and train teachers will help poor and minority children do better on standardized tests. When educational historian Diane Ravitch examined the research supporting each of these beliefs she concluded that these claims have no evidence to support them. In her latest book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to Public Schools Ravtich breaks down each of the myths used by those who seek to shift public funding of education into the hands of private corporations. The truth is our public schools are not failing. Wealthy children in the U.S. outscore children in many high achieving countries. In the U.S. 24 percent of children live in poverty, the highest of any developing country in the world. Our public schools are plagued by the realities of poverty that make it hard for children to learn and for families to invest in their child’s education. The “reformers” are quick to argue that poverty is not destiny and we should not use poverty as an excuse. Acknowledging poverty is not an excuse but ignoring the effects of poverty does more harm than good. Poverty determines what school children attend, how many resources they have access to, and how well they are prepared to learn and thrive. If poverty did not matter we would not have disparities in school funding, all schools would get the same amount of funding regardless of the property values within each district. If you really wanted to improve public education for all children you would acknowledge that the current levels of poverty in the US is the greatest obstacle to successful public schools for all.
2. The CCSS will impede real teaching and learning for all children.
Standards are not new to education. States have developed standards that identify the knowledge and skills children should gain and be able to do at each grade level in public education. Standards should assist teachers in making sure their lessons are not only developmentally appropriate but cover a wide range of skills and knowledge that children should acquire. The CCSS are the first time in U.S. history that we have attempted to impose national standards on each state. The implementation of public education has always been in the control of each state and school district. Federal government involvement in education has centered on civil rights issues like equitable funding in athletics, protecting children with special needs, and making sure poor children receive additional funding through Title I initiatives. The move to implement the CCSS has altered the separation between state and federal control of public education. The current administration has encouraged states to adopt the CCSS and Duncan continues to be a vocal supporter of this push. He argues against the idea that the CCSS are national standards and insists that they were developed by Governors but he fails to recognize the role the federal government has had in pushing CCSS onto to schools. If the U.S. Department of Education and the Obama Administration were opposed to the CCSS or at least were willing to slow down the implementation of CCSS until teachers had enough time to prepare and evaluate the standards, most of the opposition would be satisfied. But the federal government is not only a supporter of the CCSS but a driving force behind the decision for 45 states and the District of Columbia to implement the standards with no research that supports whether or not the new standards will improve real teaching or learning.
3. Urban parents and parents of color have been fighting many components of the privatization efforts for some time including the CCSS.
When social movements begin to grow one of the early challenges involves welcoming those who are new to the fight to work with those who have been involved for a longer period of time. Newcomers typically were not aware of the challenges others were facing but now have the motivation to fight back and support the movement. Sometimes those newcomers are in a position of power based on their race or wealth to shed light on the movement. As this happens those who have been immersed in the struggle since the beginning continue to be silenced and marginalized as the fight shifts to focus on the newcomers and their influence. This phenomenon was evidenced within the Occupy Wall Street Movement. People who had been disenfranchised by corporate greed for some time were suddenly watching those who have recently lost their job or been employed for more than six months display their outrage at the 1% for hoarding the American Dream. And these newcomers to the cause were able to yield their power and privilege to bring awareness to the movement while those seasoned veterans in the cause were subject to more silencing and became more invisible as the movement gained steam. This issue is complex and must be addressed if social movements are to grow and be successful. The CCSS is the first attack on public education that directly affects most parents. Unlike vouchers, for-profit corporate charter schools, and fast-track teacher preparation programs, CCSS is affecting all children who reside in a state that have agreed to implement the new standards.
Vouchers and charter schools have been unleashed on urban areas which typically comprise of people of color and low income families. Teach for America, and other fast track teacher education programs, specifically recruit recent college graduates or anyone who wants to be a teacher, to work in low-income schools with high minority populations. These programs do not exist in suburban and wealthy public school districts but yet they are justified as being necessary for other people’s children. Since NCLB, many parents have been critical of the privatization movement. They saw how setting impossible goals, evaluating schools on meaningless unreliable data, and blaming teachers for not being able to stop the effects of poverty only widens the achievement gap between their children and children who attend better funded public schools. Parents know that their children no longer enjoy going to school and worry obsessively about passing standardized tests. Parents understand that 3+ hours of homework each night is not only unrealistic but counterproductive in helping their child succeed in school. Parents know that for-profit charter chains that selectively exclude children who are English language learners or have disabilities siphon funds from struggling public schools that educate all children. Typically these parents do not have the power to influence education policy. They know something is wrong but they cannot get anyone to listen to them or take them seriously. Arne Duncan does not listen to them and his comments servers to further silence them from the movement to save public education.
4. The anti-CCSS movement is comprised of a diverse group of people who have different reasons for opposing the push for national standards.
Issues affecting public education have the ability to cross racial boundaries, class lines, religious beliefs, and political affiliations. Only parents who can opt out of public education and buy into private schools or home schooling can escape the day to day work of improving public education. But as taxpayers they are still part of a public system that affects every aspect of our society. Because the CCSS is the first attempt at national standards embraced by most states the effects are far reaching. Within the anti-CCSS movement there is a large group of diverse individuals who believe that we need to abandon the CCSS or at least slow down the implementation. Some proponents are focused on what they see as an over reach of the federal government. Others equate the CCSS with the Affordable Care Act and allow their disdain for President Obama to frame the argument against the standards as being opposed to Obamacore. And some see the CCSS as another tool of the privatization movement that will lead to an increase in testing and data mining of our students. The anti-CCSS movement does not have a single leader and groups who engage in fighting the CCSS do so in different ways. The Badass Teacher’s Association has made fighting the CCSS a focus of their group’s mission but they do not endorse a local action to keep children home from school to protest the standards. Within the anti-CCSS movement you will find a plethora of beliefs and efforts to stop the standards from being forced onto public schools.
Teachers disagree on the merits of the CCSS as well. Some high school teachers tend to like the standards and see many possibilities to improving teaching while many early childhood educators find the standards to be developmentally inappropriate for young learners. The fact is the standards are the same for everyone but will be implemented in 46 different ways but only measured using one of two assessments, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) or the Smarter Balanced Assessments. One aspect in the fight against the CCSS is why national standards are a bad idea…how do we determine what every child needs to know and when they should learn it? The United States of America is made of 50 diverse states. Is there really a common set of knowledge and skills that all children need to learn in the same way and at the same time? If there is who decides what knowledge counts, who’s voices are heard, and what skills are the most important? The very nature of learning disputes the idea that we can all learn in the same way and at the same time. Learning varies by the individual. Environmental factors combined with biological maturation will affect how a child learns and how much they learn. The reason why the opposition to the CCSS is varied is because children are varied. They cannot be standardized and made to learn exactly like everyone else. Children need an education that takes their differences into account and teaches them how to think so they can learn the knowledge and acquire the skills that are useful in helping them reach their full potential. Standards should be a guide not a rigid script.
5. Duncan’s remarks are not only racist and sexist but they are insulting to all parents who care about the education of their children.
I wonder how different the reaction to Duncan’s words would be if he said “suburban moms” instead of “white suburban moms”. This was not a slip of the tongue by the Secretary of Education. He is aware that much of the anti-CCSS push back is coming from women who he classifies as “white suburban moms”. He is also aware that many men are fighting against the CCSS along with people of color, mothers and fathers, who are concerned about the new standards. He knows that some urban parents are concerned about the increased in testing that can lead to more of their neighborhood schools being closed. He knows that the movement is varied but he chose to focus his remarks towards a particular group within the movement, “white suburban moms”. In a sense he is legitimatizing their concerns by addressing them directly and then he insults their intelligence by claiming that they only care because the standards make their child appear not as brilliant and their school not as good as they thought. Not only did Duncan insult all parents and supporters of public education everywhere he did it using racist and sexist comments.
His remarks illustrate two examples of how he utilized a divide and conquer strategy that is often used to undermine collective resistance to the privatization of public education. Education “reformers” like Duncan often frame their support of privatization ventures like the CCSS as a tool for improving the civil rights of children of color and low income children. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teacher unions in the country, confirmed this belief in the following tweet, 
  1. @rweingarten @penasplace @Linda1746 @GetUpStandUp2 @mcpssuper @symphily We aren't hearing that! CCSS hurting poor kids BAT tchrs reporting
@BadassTeachersA @penasplace @Linda1746 @GetUpStandUp2 @mcpssuper @symphily- EVERY Civ Rts grp sees as a tool to help poor kids
So because Civil Rights group believe the CCCS will help poor children then these “white suburban moms” who oppose the CCSS are part of the problem. Do you see how Duncan has pitted these groups against each other with 3 simple words?
By framing his argument to “white suburban moms” he silences the voices of all the nonwhite non-suburban men and women who are opposed to the CCSS. He does not want to listen to the voices of opposition surrounding the CCSS so he attacks the movement by using racist and sexist language that can further divide the group as the “white suburban moms” use their anger and privilege to bring this insult to the public’s attention. As a divide and conquer strategy, his words can cause those fighting to save public education to fight among themselves as one groups response is privileged over others (will the outrage of “white suburban moms” be taken more seriously than the outrage at his equating Hurricane Katrina to be the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans?). Make no mistake, Duncan knew exactly what he was doing when he said “white suburban moms”. What he did not know is that the movement would not be fooled by his efforts to undermine our efforts. We will acknowledge the way privilege and power highlights voices within the movement and silences others. We will continue to work together to make sure the dangers of the privatization movement are known to all. And we will never stop working to make sure every child receives a quality public education regardless of their race or parent’s income level. We cannot be limited to “white suburban moms”. We are supporters of public education and we are outraged at Duncan’s insult on behalf of every child, parent, and teacher who refuses to buy into the myth of privatization.
To learn more about the Badass Teacher’s Association position on the Common Core State Standards click here
To learn how you can opt out of high stakes standardized testing click here

Friday, November 8, 2013

A BAT Teacher of the Year Speaks Out: Cristi Lackey Julsrud

Hi BATs! As my school's teacher of the year, I was invited to speak at our local Rotary Club for their monthly luncheon. The people there were representatives from the business community. I was supposed to talk about my school, and myself , and my teaching, and how everything is all hunky-dory, but when it came right down to it I just couldn't lead those people to believe that everything is great. So I wrote this. A few of my badass teacher friends told me I should share it with you all. The speech was very well-received, and I was given an invitation by one of the members to publish it in our town's literary magazine! I hope you enjoy, because I never would have had the guts to deliver it if it weren't for this amazing group.

As I considered what to say about my school, and myself, and education in general, I kept returning to one thing. Politicians, you know, would have us believe that education is a “race to the top,” and that schools benefit from competition with one another in a free market system. If there is one thing that I can say with certainty about education, it is this: if we are in a race, fully half of the participants never knew they were in a race to begin with, most of them never intended to enter, and some of them walked over the starting line, laid down, and were never heard from again. “Race to the top” is a TERRIBLE analogy for education. I believe a much more apt analogy is a boat.

Education is like a boat. Some of us start out on it. The boat is leaky. It is understaffed. It smells. BAD. The food is horrible. Some of the crew members keep jumping overboard. From this boat, we cast out lines to the hundreds of fish around us in the water. Some of the fish bite readily; others are more cautious. As for me, I like to bait my hook with something meaty: To Kill a Mockingbird, Shakespeare, traditional English grammar, the Constitution, Patrick Henry’s speeches, Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Some of the fish think the bait is too big to swallow. Some think the bait is dry, or old, or just not the kind of food they want. Some bite at first, but are convinced by other fish that the bait is “uncool.” Some have the bait yanked away from them by well-meaning adult fish. Some are eaten by sharks, dragged down by seaweed, snared by other nets (because this ocean is full of poachers, and they have much nicer nets than we can afford). However, we keep on fishing through it all-- storms, sharks, poachers. Sometimes, you catch a fish, and I wish I could say that makes it all worth it. And it does, sort of. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that every year the boat gets leakier, the smell gets worse, and the bites get fewer and farther between.

You see, the ocean is where our students live. They are literally surrounded by circumstances which we cannot control. Poverty, apathy, unemployment, hunger-- all these are sharks which circle them. Self-doubt, fear, and bullying threaten to pull down others. And the ocean itself is ignorance. The lines we throw are not just to catch them, they are life-lines. We must make them see that the boat that we are on may not look like much, but the land we are going to will not only allow them to escape the ocean, but will also give them wings to fly.

I wish I could stand here and tell you all of the wonderful things my school is doing. I wish I could tell you the incredible outpouring of love, support, and FIRE that has been poured out just this week from our staff. I wish I had time to tell you every story of a student who found his wings, just like I promised he would. I have the stories. They happen all the time.

But the truth of the matter is that education right now is a battlefield. Politicians are seeking to demoralize and destroy public education, corporations are circling to pick us apart and sell off the pieces, many parents are apathetic, and society offers a multitude of cures for the ills of an education. Know that I, and all of the staff at my school, and countless others like us across the country, put on our combat boots every day, board the boat amidst the gunfire, and we cast our lines to the fish in the water, and we TEACH. Because we believe in this boat. We believe in its power. We believe in our kids, and most of all we believe that if we allow the war on education to continue, we will all lose, every one of us. Because we are all in this together, whether we are in the water, on the boat, or whether we have already arrived at a place where we have wings. We desire your support, we covet your prayers, and we need YOU to believe in us.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Choosing our Paths Wisely By Jennifer Clarke

“Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood”  We all know this quote from Robert Frost. I never liked this poem. I always imagined two paths: one pristinely cultivated by man, and one overgrown and unruly—wild and untamed by nature. It didn’t resonate with me. Ever. I am a literature person, and I listened to this poem, and I studied this poem, but I never chose to teach it, and now I know why.

The paths we face, as educators, as parents, as citizens in this country, are not the choices of paths followed and cultivated by man or paths uncharted. The ugly truth is, we face a path cultivated and allowed by man and one forbidden. That is the ugly truth, and that is why this poem never resonated with me. It lacked a truth I so readily saw.

I have watched the battles over Common Core, high stakes testing, privatization of education, and dismantling of public schools. I have heard how this reform is negatively impacting our kids, and I have read the research, the articles, and I have studied. I have listened to Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, President Obama, and all of the other power players, and their empty promises. I have also supported Mark Naison, and supported Diane Ravitch, and shared blogs and information from the Jersey Jazzman and Love Light and BATs, and Gopublicschools, and Lace to the Top, and every other voice trying to be heard for the actual benefit of our kids. And I am deeply saddened.

You see, these people chose the path that is not cultivated by the powers that be. But that path is not just overgrown and unruly because no one has walked the path. The truth is, there are a great number of us walking that path. It is worn, and it is full of people. But the path is blocked, and the power players have provided society with beautifully cultivated distractions to lead them to the more financially lucrative path for them. But the ills that plague education do not end at Common Core and high stakes testing. It is much, much uglier.

Our kids, our teachers are subject to abuses that should shock the national conscience. Students have been subjected to crimes that are violent and indecent, and these crimes are routinely covered up by administrators and community leaders in attempts to avoid scandals. Teachers who have spoken up to protect these students are alienated, isolated, ostracized, and terminated. Teachers have been victims of abuses and suffered the same fate. Silence is the order of the day. This culture of crime is pervasive in our nation and is ratified and perpetuated by hand-holding of the powerful. Is it any surprise then, that now we face a complete and utter destruction of the very nature of education, and seem powerless to stop it?

Until the national conscience is woken up, sheds it cognitive dissonance, stands along side the teachers, students, and parents, and raises its voice loud enough so that the side of the right becomes louder than the side of the wrong, no one will see the other path. Money can make things look pretty, but so can lies. We have a responsibility to face the truth for the sake of our kids. We have a responsibility to stand with educators who stand up for our kids. We have a responsibility to make our leaders aware that we will no longer blindly follow the path they have laid. We will, in fact, follow the path they cover up, or we will make our own.

There can be more than two paths. There can be more than one right way. But we must choose to leave the wrong one.

And we must be noisy when we do it.