Monday, December 8, 2014

BATs SEND AN OPEN LETTER* TO SECRETARY DUNCAN AND ROBERT KIM
CONVENE A COMMITTEE TO INVESTIGATE CIVIL RIGHTS ABUSES IN U.S. EDUCATION


Dear Secretary Duncan and Mr. Kim:
This open letter is a respectful request to convene a national committee to investigate civil rights abuses that have reached a crisis point. While we commend you for meeting with BATs, Save Our Schools, United Opt Out, Journey for Justice, among other educational activist groups (and hope that you have read the Journey for Justice report entitled "Death by a Thousand Cuts”), we are requesting a follow up process that will result in action regarding disturbing trends we have observed with regards to civil rights violations of both students and teachers.
As a national group of nearly 53,000 educators, we have collected the following observations as areas of concern:

Children and Communities of Color
We are anticipating disproportionately low scores on PARCC tests among African American and Latino students in high poverty public schools. Poverty stricken, homeless or transient students are at a distinct disadvantage taking tests reliant on technology with which many of them are unfamiliar. We are also concerned that cash strapped school districts have had to reprioritize their budgets to procure computers specifically for the tests, rather than on educational materials and supplies. Additionally, urban schools that educate children of color often start the school year understaffed, leaving students at a disadvantage throughout the school year. The use of punitive, high stakes tests under such conditions violates the students’ rights to an equitable education. Additionally, we are concerned with:
• Removal of waivers from states that refuse to give into test based accountability for teacher evaluations (deeming every school in the state a failure). This does not hurt teachers it hurts kids and kids in districts with least resources will be especially harmed.
• Children attending school with NO heat (Rick Snyder’s budget cuts in Michigan caused this).
• Students prevented from physical activity, recess, and physical education in order to raise test scores.
• Kindergarten children made to sit for hours at tables with pencil to paper. Those who are unable to meet these demands are punished for being children. They are forced to take standardized tests and writing assessments all year long. Their recess has been decreased immensely.
• Reports of inappropriate demands placed on children that conflict with research on child development. For example, a teacher from a rural Title I school reported having been told to have kindergartners reading 65 words per minute and writing eight connected sentences by the end of kindergarten. When the teacher presented administrators with research that showed the importance of play and socialization in kindergarten, she was removed from her kindergarten teaching position of ten years. This is one specific anecdote that is similar to dozens we are hearing from educators across the country.
• Districts forbidding Hispanic students from speaking Spanish.
• Removing extra support services for English Language Learners in New York State. The state is moving in a new direction as a result of Common Core. ESL Students will no longer be allowed to be taken out of their mainstream classroom for extra help. They will be forced to do Common Core and Grade Level work even if they had interrupted or no schooling before coming to the US. The new law ignores many immigrants who do not come from Spanish speaking countries and actually punishes children who speak a minority language or who are illiterate in their first language. The state is removing supports for these students but masking the new law with claims that the removal of these supports somehow prevents these students from being ignored. A close read of the new law makes it clear that they very much will be ignored now, worse than ever.
• English Language Learners are the most over-tested group of students. In New York State, they take more tests than general education students yet struggle to do so because of their lack of proficiency in the testing language: English. In addition, the new ESL law will require districts to reallocate funds that should go toward education services and instead spend it on administrative paperwork proving compliance. The state is requiring changes that they CANNOT adequately fund so they are forcing districts to pay for things they cannot afford. In addition, Charter Schools do not have to follow the law for English Language Learners and do not have to even provide services to these students.
• In Oregon, ELL students starting as kindergartners take a 45 minute web based state test in English proficiency. The ELL K-2 students are the ONLY students that are made to sit through a 45-minute computerized test. All other K-2 students are exempt from state testing. We find this inequity in testing unacceptable.
• Michigan’s ACLU lawsuit expected to be appealed provides an example of a state abdicating its responsibility for education. Judge Douglas Shapiro rightly dissented in the lower court decision: "for the educational provisions of our constitution to have any meaning, schools must provide 'adequate educational services to all children,'" Shapiro wrote. We agree.

Teachers
• There is a widespread pattern of removing older, more experienced teachers in this country.
• Due to a climate of fear, business mentality, and test based accountability systems, administrators are bullying teachers at an alarming (see teacherabuse.org). 
• Students are not getting access to a free and appropriate education at their learning levels. When teachers point this out to the powers that be they face unfair retaliation by their districts and/or administrations.
• Additionally, the effect of mandates teachers feel are abusive to their students is causing severe distress to teachers. They know it is wrong to require young children, children with disabilities, and children from disadvantaged homes to sit for hours and hours of abusive testing. For professionals who have devoted their careers to improving the lives of students, this atmosphere causes grave concern and emotional distress. 
• Teachers being forced to teach to a script using Common Core. This prohibits them from being flexible to meet children’s needs and causes both student and teacher great distress
Teachers of Color
• If we look at schools that have been closed around the country, NOLA, Newark, Chicago, the people who are losing their jobs are predominantly teachers of color. Children of color NEED to see teachers of color.
• There is a hiring crisis at schools primarily serving students of color: low-performing schools are finding it harder to attract and retain high quality teachers because Math/ELA test scores are now attached to teacher evaluations. When career performance is measured by a single indicator that fails to acknowledge the very real impacts of matters far beyond the control of the teacher, teachers seeking career success flee for higher performing schools. Some teachers are reporting frustrated students randomly bubbling in dots, their own form of "student opt out." Yet the accountability sticks to teachers, punishing those who work with the most at risk kids. This predominantly affects youth of color, of economic disadvantage, in the same neighborhoods where education should be students’ ticket out. In the more affluent suburbs, the opposite is true. We see teachers flocking to work, knowing they will benefit from high test scores due to highly literate families, college educated parents, private tutors and maximal learning conditions.
• In districts suffering from state take-over, teachers are replaced with those who do not know the community they are teaching. In St. Louis, Missouri, the majority of the teachers of color were replaced with white teachers when the state department of education took over the school district. The African-American teachers, many with considerable experience in their own communities, were not rehired.


Convene a National Investigative Committee

Based on the above concerns, we urgently request that the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights convene a national committee to make recommendations to alleviate these unacceptable conditions after conducting an extensive fact finding campaign. The committee should start with New Orleans, Philadelphia, Chicago and Newark, and should include all constituencies (parents, teachers, students, as well as race, social and educational scholars). Areas of investigation should include:
- the closings of schools in predominantly urban areas made up of communities of color and those living in poverty;
- the conditions of schools attended by children of color and children living in poverty (large class sizes, crumbling buildings);
- the starvation of resources of our public schools in the major urban areas which cause children to attend school without nurses, social workers, fewer teachers, and without proper educational materials;
- the pushing out of our teachers of color;
- the pushing out of our veteran teachers;

Additionally, we urge the Department of Education to provide incentives for the hiring of teachers of color and retaining veteran teachers by:

- Create and implement a grant that encourages our students of color to enter education programs and to enter the teaching profession;
- Create and implement a grant that rewards districts for use of veteran teachers in programs that mentor incoming teachers and children.

Sincerely,
The Badass Teachers Association

**Thank you to BAT Karen Wolfe for weaving BAT testimony into this magnificent letter! 

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree. There is an agenda for schools and it is not to the students and teachers benefit. Google Deliberately dumbing Down (Charlotte Iserbyte) and you will see what is behind our wonderful educational system.

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