Thursday, February 27, 2014

Beware of Education Reformers who Co-Opt the Language of the Civil Rights Movement

By Denisha Jones Originally published by emPower Magazine on 2/27/14
The legacy of the Civil Rights Movement is so great, that it come as no surprise that many groups would try and use the movement to bolster their own cause. Utilizing the lessons learned from the Civil Rights Movement to continue to fight against all forms of oppression is imperative as we continue to eradicate injustices.
But lately we have seen the language of the Civil Rights movement co-opted by groups that push an agenda that contradicts the values of the fight for civil rights. From Glenn Beck’s attempt to “reclaim the civil-rights movement” from progressives who supposedly co-opted the movement to fit their own agenda to an elected official comparing Republicans who were fighting to have the Affordable Care Act repealed to civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks and Dr. King, we see how the language and the history of the civil rights movement can be distorted. Some conservatives would have us believe that Dr. King’s message was not about social justice and equality but instead was push for more conservative values. King’s famous line “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” has led some to claim that King was promoting a color-blind society that ignores race and that he would not have supported Affirmative Action policies. No one knows for sure how leaders from our past would respond to our current situation in America, but it is troubling nonetheless to see the legacy of great leaders co-opted to push certain agendas.
The education reform movement has also co-opted the language of the Civil Rights movement to push through privatization schemes that claim to close the achievement gap and increase educational opportunities for children of color. From the implementation of No Child Left Behind, which was touted as a way to increase achievement for students of color, education reform has declared to be about improving the educational experiences of children of color. Using this language makes it nearly impossible for anyone to critique the reform movement without being accused of not wanting to help children who have been left behind. When educators beg policy makers to understand the effects of poverty they are told poverty is not destiny and that a great teacher is all a child really needs to succeed. These messages attempt to cover up the real harm that privatization is doing to all children, but especially children of color and low-income children. Below are three examples of how the corporate education reform movement undermines the struggle for educational equality for all.
1. Privatization is inherently unequal.
The corporate reform movement that is waging war against public education has one goal in mind: privatization. Free-market advocates do not believe in a system of public education and are on a mission to see every aspect of a public society privatized from our prisons to our schools. But with privatization comes the loss of public ownership. Public systems are open to inspection by the public. Records are made public and the process is transparent so that community members can understand what is happening and voice their concerns. Privatization removes the ability of the public to know what is happening with their tax dollars. Private companies can use proprietary laws to prevent them from disclosing documents and following laws pertaining to public records. A Florida reporter experienced firsthand how privatization makes it impossible to do investigative reporting about private prisons,
“As soon as I started doing my research, I hit a big barrier because none of the private prisons would let me see the facilities for myself. It’s outrageous that a private corporation can determine whether a taxpayer can access a state prison, that these companies have the final say over who can enter them.”
Without the transparency of how our tax dollars are spent how do we hold private corporations accountable? Some businesses do well but others fail to garner enough capital to stay afloat; that is the nature of capitalism. But when the business model of winners and losers is applied to public education, the losers tend to be children who struggle academically and families without the social capital needed to advocate for their children. The winners are CEO’s and stock holders who earn high salaries with public money but can use their private status to shield themselves from public accountability.
2. School choice is not about parents choosing good schools it’s about schools choosing good students.
School choice has been pushed by corporate reformers since the creation of charter schools and vouchers. Using the plight of underfunded poverty ridden urban schools reformers argued that low-income and minority families should be given a choice in where they send their child to school. Choice and competition would force low-performing schools to compete for students or be closed. Why should low-income and minority families have to settle for a failing neighborhood schools when parents with more money could choose better schools? This is how the argument for school choice is often framed as a benefit for certain groups. But the research paints a different picture. Instead of charter schools increasing academic achievement for low-income and minority students, research from Stanford University found that most charter schools perform about the same as public schools. A study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that 34 percent of charter students did worse than their public school counterparts, 49 percent stayed the same, and only 17 percent did better. In many states, charter schools and virtual schools are found to be ineffective but yet the Department of Education and the Obama administration continue to push charters as the solution to our public school problems.
The push for privatization distorts the picture of who really gets to choose under school choice schemes. Reformers would have us believe that parents are doing the choosing but in reality it is the charter schools, many which are for-profit corporations, who get to choose. Research from the same study out of Stanford found charter schools to enroll less students of color, less students with special needs, and fewer English language learners than public schools. Some charter schools are able to push out low-performing students before they take tests as a way to bolster their test scores. Critics of charter schools have acknowledged how it is unfair to compare charter schools to public schools when they typically do not serve the same population of students. Charter schools are supposed to operate on a lottery system where students are randomly admitted to the school, but often children with special needs and children with behavior issues are discouraged from applying. And children who pose problems once admitted are kicked out and sent back to their public school, but the charter school keeps the money the state allocated for the child’s education. If public schools could pick the more desirable students and weed out those who were weak academically they would not be classified as a public school.
3. Underprepared teachers for other people’s children.
Privatization of public education cannot be fully implemented unless the system for educating teachers is also privatized. Typically teachers were prepared through colleges and universities were they took a variety of courses and completed a semester long student teaching internship before they could apply for a teaching license through their state. Today fast-track teacher preparation programs like Teach for America (TFA) are turning teacher preparation into a business. Recent college graduates are recruited to spend a few years teaching in inner-city schools with high needs students. Armed with five weeks of training and a desire to give back, these recruits are placed in classrooms and expected to outperform educators with teaching degrees and years of experience. TFA is touted as noble program that will change the teaching profession by removing the union thugs who only care about themselves and replacing them with young idealistic people who have the commitment to do what needs to be done and will not use poverty as an excuse.
Armed with language of from the Civil Rights movement, TFA claims to be champion of low-income and minority children. Statements like this, “Nearly 50 years after landmark civil rights marches throughout the region, deep, entrenched poverty still persists along racial lines” and “From Birmingham to Selma, corps members are helping to prove that all kids can achieve at high levels, even those living in poverty” can be found on their website and are clear examples of how TFA has co-opted the language of the Civil Rights movement. But hidden behind these nice quotes is the assumption that other people’s children deserve underprepared “saviors” as their teacher. TFA only works in high needs areas that tend to be urban or rural and comprised of low-income and minority families. Although research has found that children who struggle academically need high quality teachers often they are the ones that get uncertified and underprepared novices. And TFA exacerbates that reality by pumping their recruits into schools and communities were children need more than a temporary “savior”. If the model of TFA is what is needed to improve teaching and learning, why are TFA recruits not sent to suburban schools or wealthy public school districts? Could it be that those parents would never allow someone with five weeks of training to experiment on their child? What the richest and most educated parent wants for their own child should be what we aspire to give all children.
The Dream Continues
The push for educational equity was a major part of the Civil Rights movement. Although we have made much progress from the days of segregated schools we have yet to achieve a system of education that is equitable for all children. Low-income children and children of color continue to be failed by our public school system. There is much work to done as we continue to march towards Dr. King’s dream. Corporate education reform is not an ally in our fight for educational justice. We must not be fooled by those who seek to use the legacy of our struggle to turn a profit at the expense of our children’s education. A strong democratic republic needs high quality public schools that offer a free and appropriate public education to all.
Denisha Jones has a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana University. She has taught kindergarten, preschool, served as a campus based preschool director, and taught college for over 10 years. Currently she is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at Howard University. Her research interests include service-learning, dealing with challenging behaviors, the de-professionalization of teaching, and promoting diversity in education.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

BATs Prison Education Initiative – Educate, Communicate, Activate! 2/23 thru 2/28

DAY 1/2 – EDUCATE!!!


The Badass Teachers Association recognizes that education is a stepping stone to opportunity.  BATs also know that the corporate assault on urban education that is occurring today will widen the opportunity gap and create a larger school to prison pipeline.  That being said, there has been much commotion about spending money to educate people who are in prison when we are seeing funding cut to public education and teachers being laid off.  We cannot separate the two from the other.  By educating inmates the nation can better prepare prisoners for life after jail. Since the majority of inmates in the nation are minorities, this is an issue that disproportionately affects unemployment in minority communities. Studies show that one of every three black American men will be incarcerated at some point in his lifetime and one in every six Latino men. BATs know that when people who are incarcerated obtain an education they not only can provide for their families but break the cycle of poverty.  BATs understand that many students are affected by parents and other relatives in prison and prison education gives these students a chance at having a family that can be whole.

Students from two groups—racial minorities and children with disabilities—are disproportionately represented in the school-to-prison pipeline. African-American students, for instance, are 3.5 times more likely than their white classmates to be suspended or expelled, according to a nationwide study by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Black children constitute 18 percent of students, but they account for 46 percent of those suspended more than once.

For students with disabilities, the numbers are equally troubling. One report found that while 8.6 percent of public school children have been identified as having disabilities that affect their ability to learn, these students make up 32 percent of youth in juvenile detention centers (Who’s in the Pipeline? From Teaching Tolerance:  The School to Prison Pipeline). The ACLU is committed to challenging the "school to prison pipeline," a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished and pushed out. "Zero-tolerance" policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while cops in school lead to students being criminalized for behavior that should be handled inside the school. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends. The ACLU believes that children should be educated, not incarcerated. They are working to challenge numerous policies and practices within public school systems and the juvenile justice system that contribute to the school to prison pipeline

BATs would like to take this week to Educate, Communicate, and Activate towards a “ BATs Prison Education Initiative.”  We would like to do this for those who are in prison who hope for a better life and for those teachers who teach in prison hoping to change the course of a life with an education. Please take the knowledge we are providing during the course of the week to educate those around you and to continue our fight to provide an EDUCATION FOR ALL!


I believe college education within a penal environment is not only a valuable tool for the prisoner in gaining self-esteem and confidence, as well as future employment, but it is advantageous to society at large. A college educated prisoner has a greater capacity to function within a social context. Once integrated, the prisoner, educated at taxpayers’ expense, becomes a taxpayer. He/she now can function as a productive member of the community. Education is one of the best investments a society can make within a penal setting.  ~Ahmad Tootoonchi

.Ahmad Tootoonchi, “College Education in Prisons: The Inmates’ Perspectives,” Federal Probation, Vol. 57, No 4 (Dec. 1993), 39.

From U.S. Department of Justice:  Prison Education Project

In 2013 the Rand Corporation found that, on average, inmates who participated in correctional education programs had 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who did not.  Each year approximately 700,000 individuals leave federal and state prisons; about half of them will be reincarcerated within three years.  The research was funded by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The findings, from the largest-ever analysis of correctional educational studies, indicate that prison education programs are cost effective.  According to the research, a one dollar investment in prison education translates into reducing incarceration costs by four to five dollars during the first three years after release, when those leaving prison are most likely to return.

With funding from The Second Chance Act (P.L. 110-199) of 2007, the RAND Corporation’s analysis of correctional education research found that employment after release was 13 percent higher among prisoners who participated in either academic or vocational education programs than among those who did not.  Those who participated in vocational training were 28 percent more likely to be employed after release from prison than those who did not receive such training.

The Federal Government set up The Reentry Council in 2001. The Reentry Council’s members are working to make communities safer by reducing recidivism and victimization; assisting those who return from prison and jail in becoming contributing members of their communities; and saving taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.  Attorney General Holder chairs the Reentry Council which he established in January 2011.

To view the research, please visit:

For more information about the federal interagency Reentry Council, please visit:

From Prison Studies Project:  Why Prison Education?

Studies conducted over the last two decades almost unanimously indicate that higher education in prison programs reduces recidivism and translates into reductions in crime, savings to taxpayers, and long-term contributions to the safety and well-being of the communities to which formerly incarcerated people return.

Recent research on prison education programs presents discouraging statistics on the current recidivism rate. The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) reported in 2011 that nearly 7 in 10 people who are formerly incarcerated will commit a new crime, and half will end up back in prison within three years. Given that about 95 out of every 100 incarcerated people eventually rejoin society,[1] it is crucial that we develop programs and tools to effectively reduce recidivism.

Prison education is far more effective at reducing recidivism than boot camps, “shock” incarceration or vocational training, according to the National Institute of Justice.[2] In 2001, the Correctional Education Association’s “Three State Recidivism Study” quantified this reduction, demonstrating that correctional education lowered long-term recidivism by 29 percent.[3]

A 2005 IHEP report cites yet higher numbers, reporting that recidivism rates for incarcerated people who had participated in prison education programs were on average 46 percent lower than the rates of incarcerated people who had not taken college classes. The same report examined 15 different studies conducted during the 1990s and found that 14 of these showed reduced long-term recidivism rates among people who had participated in postsecondary correctional education.[4]

The vast majority of people in U.S. prisons do not have a high school diploma. A high correlation exists between the level of education attained by an incarcerated person and his or her recidivism rate. The American Correctional Association has reported that in Indiana the recidivism rate for GED completers is 20 percent lower than the general prison population’s rate, and the recidivism rate for college degree completers is 44 percent lower than the general population’s.[5] In other words, the higher the degree earned, the lower the recidivism rate.

[1] Laura E. Gorgol and Brian A. Sponsler, “Unlocking Potential: Results of a National Survey of Postsecondary Education in State Prisons,” Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2011

[2] Lawrence W. Sherman et. al, “Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn’t, What’s Promising,” National Institute of Justice, 1998

[3] Stephen Steurer, Linda Smith, and Alice Tracy, “Three State Recidivism Study,” Correctional Education Association, 2001

[4] Wendy Erisman and Jeanne Bayer Contardo, “Learning to Reduce Recidivism: A 50-State Analysis of Postsecondary Correctional Education Policy,” Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2005

(5] Stephen Steurer, John Linton, John Nally, and Susan Lockwood, “The Top-Nine Reasons to Increase Correctional Education Programs,” Corrections Today, 2010.

By:  Michael Lambert

Back in the mid to late 80's I was a spec ed teacher at IS 302 in the East New York Section of Brooklyn which, at the time, had the highest homicide rate in NYC. One September, Matelyn, Ian, Germaine and Patrick walked into my room the first day of school and I'll tell you up front; this Puerto Rican from whitebread Queens was intimidated. They were big. Germaine was the... school's alpha male and the others were his boys.

Germaine had come up to me the previous spring, stopped me in the hall and said, "You're gonna be my teacher next year and you're gonna make me learn so I can get my black ass out of this neighborhood."

All four of them were profoundly learning disabled.

Now let me tell you about Rafael Cordero, IS 302. it was built in the 70's with a strong vocational training infrastructure. Machine shop, wood shop, cosmetic shop, and more.

Then that damn report was released: A Nation at Risk.

The shops were turned into classrooms and the vocational training programs gutted. You with me?

The stats, at the time, said that those four boys had NO chance of getting out of that neighborhood. They were going to wind up dead or in jail and they have haunted me for 23 years. They were great kids and while they were in my class no one messed with Mr. Lambert. They watched my car in the afternoon until I got to it. They worked their asses off every day for me.

They had NO chance and any chance they could have had was stolen from them by the same goddam politics that is screwing with us today. I don't want to hear any "if they worked hard enough."

That's a lie we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better.

I don't care what any one of them might have done to wind up behind bars. As far as a lot of those kids were concerned, their petty thefts and drug dealing was just small scale of what goes on in the halls of power and they were not and are not wrong.

Those human beings deserve a shot and if providing them with an education will salvage their lives than we owe it to them to give it to them.

But that is not why I have been a member of the Badass Teachers Association from day one. I am here to save my profession, to save my students' education from the goddam bureaucrats, politicians and CEO's who are trying to monetize the public school system for fun and profit.

And we are winning. Let's keep our eyes on that prize, focused like a laser beam and push while we have our adversaries back on their heels.

We can help those inmates and the thousands of mentally ill who are also incarcerated for no other reason than that they are sick and we have allowed their support systems to crash and burn, when we are done.

That's my piece. For what it's worth.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ras Baraka: Strong Schools are the Result of

Strong Communities and Strong Neighborhoods

By:  Melissa Tomlinson

Or maybe Mr. Baraka said “Strong families and strong communities are the result of strong schools.” Truthfully, he said both.

All week, the original title of this piece (as I was writing it in my head) was going to be “Why I Care About the Mayoral Election in Newark, and Why You Should too.”  This election in Newark has the potential to set a new standard for our state.  A standard that includes education as one of the most, if not THE most, important issue surrounding the vote.  Just look at New York City.  The election of  Mayor Bill de Blasio has changed the educational conversation from one that vilified the school system to one that recognized the strengths of the different community schools and is creating a way to build upon those strengths.

But isn’t that the way all elections should be?  Isn’t education the main vehicle we have for building upon our current situations so that they can be improved upon?  I say this all the time: education is the biggest and most important investment that we can make for our future. To support our children and our communities now will help bring about the changes in society that we wish to see. Ras Baraka is a man who has a plan about how to do this. Not only does he have a plan, but this plan was successfully implemented while he was a principal in Newark School District.

 Go back and read my opening statement.  Can you see the intertwining of the three variables and how they can support each other?  Can you see how strengthening one of those factors leads to strengthening the other factors?  Ras Baraka does. He recognizes that trying to separate these entities will only cause harm to the other.

 Ras Baraka made a very strong political move by holding a private session with different educational bloggers of New Jersey.  He recognized the strength of ‘on the street’ reporting and how we helped bringing national attention to the recent suspension of administrators of the Newark School district as well as the banning and arrest of the PTA president, all for speaking out against the ‘One Newark’ plan. But what is even more impressive is that he open the line of communications between himself and educators; something that is being neglected as an approach on a nation-wide level. His opinions of Cami Anderson were made quite clear.  She has got to go!” There was no mincing of words here.  He demands for the removal of a superintendent that only recognizes Governor Christie as her boss.  Ras Baraka calls upon the need for a superintendent to answer to the true ‘customers’ of education, the families and the communities.  The importance of a democratic process being used to influence school board elections was stressed and that change should fall into the laps of this elected body of the district.

 Being under state control, this is hard for Newark.  But Ras Baraka plans to fight for local control to be given back to the people.  The state has had plenty of opportunity to ‘make things right’ and has spent almost two decades trying. It is now time to give Newark back to its citizens.  While he did not outline how he was going to wrestle Newark from the hands of the state, he did say that this is going to be accomplished not just by him alone.  He recognizes the need for the organization of community groups, grassroots organizations, teachers, and the union.  He wants to create a collective groundswell movement, and he is just the person that can do that.

 When asked what he wants to do about the charter schools of Newark, and if he would support putting a stop to the influx of these outside interests becoming major players in this battle, Ras clearly stated that he would support a moratorium on any more changes to the Newark School system until everything is truly evaluated and community members are allowed to give input.  He recognizes that there are already charter school institutions that have become an integrated part of Newark. But he also recognizes that they have not proven to be any more effective at educating the children of Newark.  Ras does not want to take the decision out of the hands of the communities that he is trying to protect.  Once given the true information, he has faith that they will make the right choices.

After leaving this private session, we then joined the community for a public session to introduce The Ras Baraka Blueprint to Achieve Excellence in Newark’s Schools.  In this session I was blown away by the speakers that joined Ras to speak about this plan. Antionette Baskerville-Richardson, Dr. Lauren Wells, and Dr. Janice Johnson Dias spoke about the values and ideals behind this blueprint. Their speeches alone are worthy of a separate write-up (soon to follow!).  But let me add here, with these women in his corner, Ras Baraka may just be able to make the kinds of changes that education needs in our state, and perhaps, in the nation.

 That is why I am so interested in this election… and why you should be too.

Quick Note – Ras Baraka’s Blueprint will be discussed in a near-future post as I compare it to the Mastery and Uncommon Charter schools presentations that I attended today in Camden!
When I Talk About Prison and Prison Education: It's Personal
By:  Dr. Mark Naison
 Some of you may be wondering why I am defending a Prison Education initiative offered by a Governor whose other Education policies I despise. I can give you a detailed political explanation for my position, and ask you to read Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow" but in truth, the reasons why this issue is so important to me are as much personal as political, rooted in a few powerful experiences I have had in my life

1. In 1969, I spent several days in the Brooklyn House of Detention as a result of an impromptu demonstration in a Brooklyn Coffee Shop and was placed on the detention floor there because I refused to shave my beard.
It was a sobering experience. I was a big, strong, athletic guy, but 90 percent of the people there looked like they could take me out without blinking an eye. When I asked my cellmate, a nice Puerto Rican man who had pictures of his three children on the shelf, what you had to do to get by he said " Mind your own business, but if anybody so much as touches you, try to kill them with your bare hands until the guard pulls you off." I kept that in mind for the entire time I was in, which was more peaceful than usual because the Mets were winning the pennant, but I can still taste the fear I felt. Anyone who thinks people in prison are being pampered and are getting a nice free ride at tax payers expense has never been in prison.

2. One of my dearest friends and colleagues, Rev. Dr Mark Chapman has for the last 20 years taught graduate theology courses in Sing Sing Prison for a Master Program sponsored by the New York Theological Institute. I have had the opportunity to meet with some of his former students. Every single one of them has devoted their lives to helping people avoid the path they took and not a single one of them ended up going back to jail. Through Professor Chapman's work, I have seen the value first hand of what higher education can do for incarcerated people, and so have many of his students at Fordham who have met some of the people he worked with in his life changing course "The Black Prison Experience."

3. During the last five years, I have tried to help drug dealers recently released from prison, none with more than high school diplomas, find employment. All of these young men had children to support and I had no success whatsoever finding work for them. It was, and is heartbreaking to see them have to go back to selling drugs to get any income at all. Because of this, I think it is both humane and cost effective to give prisoners educational opportunities that will make them employable in the legal economy. And in this economy, higher education is the best path to do that
OK. I've said my piece. You don't have to agree with me, but at least you now now the reasons why I care so much about this issue

The Teacher/Student Fit!
By: Janna

I was a student of Dr. Frank Hewett (of the engineered classroom fame) at UCLA in the early 1990’s. He had a theory of the P-E fit where he explained most behavior disorders were not in the person but came from the person not fitting in well with their environment. Ever since then I have been very cognizant of the context of teaching and learning and behavior. In my mind, I see more of the “Teacher-Student Fit”. Not all students fit well with all teachers and not all teachers fit well with all students.

This brings me to my point, the myth of the “highly effective” teacher. I am considered a good teacher and I made great gains with students with special needs when I was a public school teacher, and now with my university students. But no matter how wonderful my evaluations say I am, I am not “highly effective” for 100% of my students. Every semester, there are usually a few in my class for whom I am really only an average teacher. Either they do not like me or need me very much or they have other distractions where my class never resonates as the most amazing experience in their lives. I am fortunate that the majority of my students let me know I inspired them in one way or another but I certainly do not reach every single person in my classes.

I also make mistakes. In the past 3 years there are 2 students I feel that I did not catch their problems in time to help them in my class. In these two cases, one student was saved in later classes by other faculty members, and one was not. I have kept tabs on him and he is doing well now at another university.

The point is that even effective teachers are not effective for all students. I often placed my children into classes with teachers who had excellent reputations. I found these teachers were fabulous with my compliant high achieving daughter. But in one case, the same teacher who was wonderful with my daughter was a mess with my son. She kept accusing him of misbehavior for months before we realized he had a vision problem and kept getting out of his seat in the back of the room so he could see the board. Even after he had glasses she really just never “clicked” with him and is made for a difficult year.

Maybe the reason no one talks about teacher/student fit this is we do not know how to measure it. But the reform movement keeps trying to identify highly effective teachers with test scores so we can give them more students, and fire those ineffective teachers so they no longer harm children. The flaw in this reasoning is the effective and ineffective teacher may be the exact same person; it may just depend on their fit with each individual student.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Teacher’s Common Core
By:  Dr. Yohuru Williams

For the past few years, teachers have battled against the Common Core questioning its value as an instructional model. At this critical juncture in the battle, when the public finally seems to be awakening to the dangers posed by the Common Core and high stakes testing, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the Teacher’s Common Core, and the ways in which it differs from the vision of the so-called Education Reformers. The Teacher’s Common Core constitutes those core values, beliefs, and ideas that inform and shape teacher’s view of education and it is purpose. They are not complex at all –in fact, one of the letters in the word Core represents each of the foundational ideas. They include Compassion, Opportunity, Respect, and Engagement.

Compassion: While it might seems odd, at first blush to have to remind the so-called Education Reformers of this fact: Teaching is a humanistic enterprise. It begins with basic human compassion. The synonyms for compassion highlight the teacher’s primary motivation, concern, empathy, sympathy, kind-heartedness. All are necessary for success in the classroom. Even the most hardnosed teachers, who practice tough love, at their core evidence many, if not all of these qualities in some way. For teachers, every student is unique—which is why we reject the one size fits all approach imposed by the Common Core. We believe that students deserve better than that. They deserve to be treated like individuals and not test scores. We reject the notion that our schools must become boot camps or armed fortresses for students to learn. Classroom experience, which most so-called Education reformers lack, tells us that. The failures of both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have been rooted in their lack of compassion. We cannot level the playing field by ignoring the mountains of research and evidence that point to the effectiveness of humanistic differentiated instruction over the cold and compassionless dehumanizing data of test scores. How many hopes and dreams have been crushed in the pursuit of hollow test scores that barely complete the portrait of today’s learners? Brimming with energy and with abundant technology at their disposal, they have nevertheless been stifled by education policies that deny them the opportunity to explore new heights in those pursuits that privilege individuals and human concern, the very essence of American enterprise and democracy. The Teacher’s Common Core knows this. It is why teachers across disciplines have fought for smaller class sizes, afterschool programs, science camps, technical and vocational education along with vigorous support for music, and the arts. We know and understand that this is, for many students where inspiration lifelong passions are born. Testing can never replicate this.

Opportunity-The Teacher’s Common Core encourages opportunity. Over the course of our nation’s history, teachers have been at the forefront of the democratization of education. Some of our greatest triumphs as a society have been born in classrooms. One of the key components of Voter Education drives during the Civil Rights Movement, for example, was the creation of freedom schools to help those denied an education acquire the tools of basic literacy so that they might fully participate in the democratic process. Coming from different districts of varying size and wealth, teachers share a basic commitment to the idea that every student has the right to an education that allows them to pursue a range of opportunities beyond those we are told constitute the new demands of corporate America. Schools continue to employ a number of important functions, the least not of which is helping students understand their role in a participatory democracy. While teachers appreciate the need to help educate students to enter a changing job market—one of the greatest tragedies of the battle over corporate education reform up until this point has been the way in which the so-called Education Reformers have run roughshod over the democratic process. Teachers collectively recognize the need for students to understand that part of what drives education is learning how to become caretakers of the democratic process and preserve it for future generations. That begins with recognizing and pursuing opportunities to shape public policy based on their needs and interests and holding those who restrict or deny the same accountable.

Respect- It seems rather obvious but teaching and the Teacher’s Common Core begins with respect. Respect for the students, the parents, the administrators, and the teachers who must work collectively to create education models that empower our youth. This delicate balance is compromised whenever we allow any one of these important stakeholders to be devalued. For years, over the imposition of top down education reform, teachers have fought for a more holistic approach to education that involves working to incorporate not only these voices but also others in the discussion. From the civics teacher that shuttles his students off for a trip to city hall, to the science teacher who teaches students through involvement with urban gardening, to the economics teacher who promotes Junior Achievement—teachers understand that it takes a village. Respect, unfortunately has not been a two way street as of late. The Corporate Education Reforms have done a bang up job undercutting teaching as both a calling and a profession. They have also undermined students and parents—in ways that have been equally appalling. The Teacher’s Common Core posits that an educational system built on anything other than respect and human dignity is doomed to failure by denying it constituents not only a voice but a recognized place at the table in fashioning future instructional standards and policies reflective of the students, parents and professionals who know best.

Engagement- Teachers have long held that students must be engaged to apply what they have learned in a way that is useful to themselves and the larger community. In the age before Common Core, this type of engagement was increasingly common. A few years back, for instance, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Social Studies teachers engaged in helping students hone their writing skills by corresponding with soldiers in Iraq on fundamental questions of democracy and service. I also had the honor to work with a Maryland music teacher using music composition and history to reach bipolar students. In 2012, I worked with an amazing group of New York teachers and students on a project that sought to get students to think about and engage with the great civil rights issues of their day including stop and frisk. One of the most significant critiques of the Common Core is that it robs teachers these types of opportunities. Teachers simply do not have the time to engage students or create such interactions when all value is placed on test scores. From New York to Alaska, there are abundant examples of these types of projects that I would submit have made students far more college ready than any test. For in the end what they measure is not simply testing taking ability but the essence of the Teacher’s Common Core—including the ability of students to show care and compassion in their work, recognize and pursue opportunities that benefit themselves and others, respect the people and spaces in which they work and engage with the larger community. This is why in addition to standardized test scores, college, and university admissions offices still require students to submit teacher recommendations. They recognize what Education Reformers seem hopelessly unable to see—the measure of a student’s ability and a life extends beyond testing. In the immortal words of Jackie Robinson, who often credited one of his coaches’ turned counselor with helping to keep him on the right path “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” That is the Teacher’s Common Core.

Our Common Belief
By:  Kisha Allgood

The strings
 The overture
 The whimpering violin
The tears of sparkling ivories
The simmering from within
The wings that fall
The hearts that sink
The power given when able to think
An overture
A Victory
What Bats fight for
What Bats fight for Creative Expression
What Bats fight for
The words dancing across
the child's lip
The sparkle in a child's eye
Why Bats fight
Together ,
Charter School Growth, Bloomberg Style, Creates Dilemma for the de Blasio Administration- A Special Report to BK Nation

By Dr. Mark Naison
In today’s New York Post, an article appeared claiming that charter-school applications in New York City were 56 percent ahead of what they were at this time last year…putting pressure on the de Blasio administration to re-evaluate its efforts to slow charter expansion.
Those numbers are REAL. They reflect the desperation of inner-city and working-class parents who hope to find high-performing, safe schools for their children and see charters as the best hope for that.
However, they are making that judgment, based on what they observe in their own neighborhoods — not because of the inherent superiority of charter schools — but because the Bloomberg Administration rigged the game by giving huge preference to charter schools — both substantively and symbolically — and by using charters not as a strategy to improve public education in the city, but as a wedge to privatize it and to smash the influence of the city’s teachers union.
The challenge of the de Blasio Administration is see what happens when the competition is even, and when public schools are given the resources, encouragement and support that charters were given in the Bloomberg years. When and if that happens, the demand for charters is likely to decrease as parents see public schools in their neighborhood improve dramatically and innovative new public schools open in their neighborhoods.
Under the Bloomberg Administration — aided and abetted by police systems of the state and federal departments of education — charter schools were consciously selected over public schools as the preferred alternative when low-performing public schools were closed. This preference was manifested in several important ways:
• Charters were given facilities in public schools rent-free.
• In schools where they were co-located with public schools, the charters were given preferential access to auditoriums, gymnasiums, laboratories, and often put in the most desirable locations in the buildings.
• Although charters selected their students by lottery, they were allowed to weed out students who had disciplinary problems, or who performed poorly on standardized tests. As a result, according to Ben Chapman of the Daily News, only six percent of charter students are ELL students and nine percent are special-needs students…far lower than the city average for public schools.
• When you count space, charters received more city funding than public schools, and when you add to that private contributions that they solicited, charters spent significantly more per student than public schools.
• Community organizations and universities willing to start new schools were encouraged by the NYC Department of Education to start charter schools rather than public schools.
These preferences had an absolutely devastating effect on inner city public schools, which were in the same neighborhood as the charters. In the case of schools who had charter co-location, it led to humiliating exclusion from school facilities that they once had access to, leaving their students starved of essential resources. But in the case of all inner-city public schools, it led to a drain of high- performing students, whose parents put them in charters, and an influx of ELL students, special-needs students and students pushed out of charters for disciplinary problems–taxing those schools’ resources and making it much more difficult for them to perform well on standardized tests. The school-closing policies of the Bloomberg Administration added to the stress on those already hard-pressed schools, forcing their staffs to work under the threat of closure and of exile to the infamous “rubber room” for teachers.
What occurred was a “tale of two school systems” within inner-city neighborhoods — one favored, given preferential access to scare resources…hailed as the “savior” of inner-city youth…the others demonized, stigmatized, deprived of resources, threatened with closure and deluged with students that charter schools did not want.
If you were a parent, which school would you want to send your child to?
But what happens when the game is no longer rigged? When charter schools have to pay rent? When they can’t push out ELL and special-needs students? When facilities in co-located schools are fairly distributed? When schools are no longer given letter grades and threatened with closing, but are given added resources when they serve students with greater needs? When universities and community organizations are encouraged to start innovative public schools…not just create charters?
If all those things happen — and I expect that some of them will during the next few years of a de Blasio/Farina Department of Education — then public schools in the inner city will gradually improve…charters in those neighborhoods will become less selective…and students, on the whole, will have enhanced choice and opportunity because there will be more good schools in the city.
The current hunger to enroll students in charter schools is understandable, given the policies pursued by the Bloomberg Administration, but those policies, which undermined public education, did not enhance opportunity for all students, and pitted parent against parent and school against school in a competition for scarce resources.
The de Blasio policy of restoring public schools to public favor is a sound one, and should be pursued carefully, humanely, and with respect for the hunger of parents and students of New York City for outstanding educational options.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Romance Is Gone From Predatory School Reform
By:  Dr. Mark Naison

Driving home from work today, I had an epiphany I wanted to share with you. And it is this. Even though terrible things are happening to teachers and students and families all over the nation, the Romance is gone from Predatory School Reform. It has been reduced to naked power, greed, and opportunism. And while this may bring little immediate relief to teachers having their pensions hijacked and tenure undermined; to students deluged with tests and deprived of arts, music and library; and to school districts and families forced to accept Common Core standards without discussion or hope of modification or to have neighborhood schools closed over their protests; it suggest that the revolt against these policies is going to steadily gather momentum and may eventually sweep away some of the damage. The Emperor no longer has clothes. This isn't about Equity, Civil Rights, or Improved Quality of Instruction. It is about the pursuit of Profit and Political Advantage. The Moral High Ground has shifted to us. Let's make good use of it in fighting this battle.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why Am I to Blame?
By:  Kisha Allgood
The year has gone on and nothing has changed.
 I give my heart to my kids am I truly to blame.
I'm a natural giver with a heart upon my sleeve,
I encourage joy and reaching for dreams, am I to blame?
It is painfully so,
testing my kids while my heart screams no.
Students voicing their academic fears,
Their precious minds, my internal tears.
Why am I to blame, it is not me at all, at all.
 I open my heart and answered this call.
Can you blame me for the heart I naturally share?
 I am a teacher, I will always care.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

You Make All the Difference

By Josh J. Middleton, Ed.D.

I’ll be honest with you; the neurons weren’t exactly “firing” inside my brain during the first few years of formal schooling.  I was a compliant child who showed up for school, but did not see the need to put out too much effort.  In fact my second grade teacher, Mrs. Collins, informed my parents that my handwriting was “atrocious” and that I needed to work harder on spelling.  I also clearly remember in third grade the fun I had darkening those little circles on the spring achievement test.  I made very creative patterns and was one of the first ones done!

My disconnect with school ended in 4th grade when I was serendipitously placed in a young teacher’s classroom in Cazenovia, New York.  Miss Panebianco was a brand new teacher in the 1972-73 school year and I will tell you that she made all the difference between me being a kid who could have fallen through the cracks or a kid who would find success in school.  I am FOREVER grateful to her for making a difference in my education and outlook on school.

A pivotal point for me that year occurred after taking a science test on the major organs of the human body.  I was continuing to put forth that minimal effort thinking I could slide by with a B- or C+.   When the tests were returned, I didn’t get a B or a C, not even a D.  My chapter test on the internal organs was F- !  I knew this would not go over well at home, and it really didn’t go over well with me either.  At the end of that day I was getting to leave the classroom walking toward the door feeling dejected and devastated.  Miss Panebianco quickly saw the countenance on my face and asked to speak with me.  I burst into tears, and while she was comforting to me, she also laid it on the line that afternoon.  Giving me the “I know you can do better” speech, she went one step further and offered me a chance to re-learn the material and take a re-test if I was willing to stay after school the next few days.  I agreed to the offer and found myself in her classroom the next couple of afternoons using an overhead projector to trace a life size depiction of the human body and the internal organs.  I cut each one out, labeled and defined its function and learned to properly place them on the cut out of the human body.  After a few days of doing this exercise a number of times, she gave me the opportunity to re-take the test.  Yes, this story has a happy ending: an A+ on the re-test, the needed spark to help me take responsibility for my own learning, and the initial interest to pursue a career in education.

What Miss Panebianco did for me (and all of her students) was instruct for comprehension, not completion of a chapter or to prep me for a high stakes test.  She accurately and in good conscience assessed me and engaged me in learning the material in a different way.  She knew I could learn the key concepts and definitions in that chapter and in any subject, but it was her care and dedication that made the difference.

I wrote this dedication to Miss Panebianco in 2003 as the cover article in my monthly Superintendent’s Newsletter.  We had not been in touch in the 30 years that had passed, but I was sure to find her address and send her a copy.  I received a touching card back from her just a few weeks later.  She wrote “Your letter means so much to me, more than you might imagine.  It has brought back such wonderful memories and will alter my perspective in the future.”  Now after 30 years I have heard back from some of my earliest students, and it does alter one’s perspective.  Just when you think the whole American Public Educational system has imploded and/or is being hijacked by political groups, you are re-energized and grounded again by remembering as an educator you owe it to your students to give them your best.  The outside political distractions are real, and we have a lot of work to get ourselves back to the table that shapes education.  Our influence in the political arena is so necessary now more than ever, but tomorrow within our schools and classrooms our focus needs to be on each and every student, because like Miss Panebianco, you make all the difference in the world!  Peace and blessings.


Middleton is a retired teacher, administrator, and district superintendent.  He currently teaches Educational Leadership courses for Montana State University and enjoys posting blogs for different education advocacy groups.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


Fighting High Stakes Standardized Testing (HSST) is a Civil Rights Issue

Dr. Denisha Jones

The boycott of the MAP tests by Garfield High School teachers in Seattle, WA has further ignited the debate against high stakes standardized testing (HSST). Recently the Seattle King County NAACP has come out in favor of the boycott. In a press release, the president of local NAACP chapter acknowledged that the tests do not cover what is taught in the classroom and is not aligned with the state curriculum. Instead of accurately assessing what a child has learned, “…success in the MAP test may be more reflective of the educational and/or economic successes of the child’s parents.”
It is important that parents, teachers, and community members understand that the fight against HSST is an important civil rights issues. Designed with the intention of identifying and closing the achievement gap, theses tests have become a mechanism for punishing students of color and their teachers. The achievement gap is a major concern but an increase in HSST only exacerbates the problem and further marginalizes students of color while denying them a free an appropriate public education.
Assessment is an integral part of the teaching-learning cycle. Preparing future teachers requires spending a great deal of time teaching them how to design effective assessments that will inform their teaching practice. Assessment is not only learned in college but requires continued professional development and opportunities for planning and collaboration. Teachers are trained to use multiple types of assessment that capture what a student has learned in a variety of ways. And most of all they are taught that assessments are never to be used to punish students. If the results of an assessment show that a child has not learned a concept, the teacher should use that information to develop additional lessons that provide opportunities for the child to master the concept. In theory this is what good teaching and learning based on sound assessments should look like. But today too many public schools are using HSST to punish students which is unethical and detrimental to student achievement.
The passage of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2002 under President Bush led to a massive increase in standardized testing. The intent of NCLB was to close the achievement gap by using standardized tests to highlight racial disparities in academic achievement. Schools were required to demonstrate proof of closing the gap through the release of standardized test scores. Those that failed to gain adequately yearly progress (AYP) would face sanctions from school takeover to school closure. As a result schools began testing students more and more in an effort to improve instruction. As the use of standardized tests continued to grow they became more and more attached with high stakes. When a single test score is used to deny a student promotion to the next grade or graduation from high school, they become high stakes standardized tests.
Monty Neil, director of Fair Test found racial disparities in the states that use HSST for grade promotion and graduation. States requiring an exit exam predominately serve students of color while those that do not primarily serve white students.
“Thus, there is clearly a racial dimension to the use of graduation exams, and youth of color, those who speak English as a second language or who have a disability or are from low-income families are disproportionately denied a diploma because of a test score” (p. 28).
His report found similar disparities when HSST are used for grade promotion. When we deny children the opportunity to graduate or be promoted to the next grade because of one test score, we are using assessment as punishment. What about the grades a student earns in their courses? If they can pass their courses why should they be denied a diploma because they cannot pass a single test? If grade inflation is a problem then the answer should be to bring in outside experts to independently evaluate students work and determine if the teacher is too lenient (or too harsh), not to punish students by denying them an education based on a single test score.
One of the major consequences of an increase in HSST is the growth of the school-to-prison pipeline. As students are subjected to grade retention and denied graduation they are pushed out of public schools and pushed into the criminal justice systems. The authors of a joint position paper that examined NCLB and the School-to-Prison-Pipeline found the use of HSST and zero-tolerance policies contributed greatly to this troubling phenomena (for more on the school-to-prison pipeline check out this article). Instead of closing the achievement gap, HSST has had the opposite effect and has become damaging to the academic achievement of students of color.
Differences in educational attainment between white students and students of color are a national concern. The achievement gap is real and if we are to ensure all students are guaranteed a free and appropriate public education we must work to make this gap a thing of the past. Some schools and communities have been successful at expanding educational success for all students. None of them have done it though HSST which tends to narrow the curriculum, encourage cheating, and force good teachers to leave the profession. Closing the gap requires dealing with the real challenges that students of color and low-income students bring to the classroom such as poverty and lack of resources. But today’s education reformers continue to focus their efforts on improving teacher quality instead of dealing with the inequities crippling many of our students. And their method for improving teacher quality is based on test scores.
One of the many reasons for the MAP boycott and the Chicago Teacher Union strike was the use of HSST in teacher evaluations. Currently there is a push to evaluate pre-service student teachers based on the test scores of the students they work with for 6-12 weeks! Instead of retreating from the failing effects of NCLB we are doubling down and pushing the testing mania even further. And in the end it is our children who will suffer while public education is undermined and ultimately destroyed. This fight is a civil rights issue and it is up to us to win the war and save public education.
What YOU Can Do

Friday, February 7, 2014

Reflections of a Badass General Manager
By: Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager BATs

BATs on June 14th Dr. Mark Naison invited me to be a BAT.  I happily accepted.  On June 17th I was elected by the administration group to be the General Manager of BATs (29 voted yes and 1 voted no).  I write this piece today because I feel compelled to honor all of the VOLUNTEERS who have made BATs the force it is today.

1.  Thank you to Mark Naison and Priscilla Sanstead who one day decided to create a Facebook page where teachers could raise their voices.  A simple thank you just isn’t enough!

2.  Thank you to Melissa Tomlinson BAT Asst. General Manager for her endless passion and energy to raise the voices of teachers, not just in her native New Jersey, but all over the nation.

3.  Thank you to the 60 Administrators/Moderators who have fought so hard to make BATs a safe place to be.  Thank you to them for creating a culture on the BAT Facebook page that is focused to the mission set out on day 1.  Thank you for the 24/7 care you have given to nurture this organization into what it is today.

4.  Thank you to Rebekah Cordova who built and maintained our BAT Website for 7 months – free of charge.  I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you.  Thank you to Neil Dobbs who has taken over our website and is now building us another amazing BAT Website.  He too has volunteered to donate his time to do this.  Thank you so much Neil.

5.  Thank you to Josh Harris who started and nurtured our BAT Blog that hosts many passionate guest writers.

6.  Thank you to Kelly Braun who helps Melissa Tomlinson run our Fan Page, which is an open space for people to get all the great BAT stuff we make.

7.  Thank you to Kathie Larsyn and Mary Carr for creating our popular BAT Pinterest site.  It is beautiful and so many people enjoy it.

8.  Thank you to Dean Nicosia who works hard to make our BAT Store a representation of the BAT spirit and humor.

9.  Thank you to our 179 State Group Administrators who make our state groups a place that recognizes the unique cultures of their states.

10.  Thank you to the over 80 BATs who administer our 47 Specialty Groups.   You have created a great place for BATs to go chat about their strengths and you give them a place to go when they need to heal. 

11.  Thank you to Caroline Turman and Kathleen Jeskey who rotate BAT Public Announcements every night of the week on Facebook.  I am so grateful that you volunteer to do that every day.

12.  Thank you to Amy BE and Sarah Pulmitallo for running the BAT Public Announcements on our Twitter feed every day.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

13.  Thank you to our dedicated BAT Media Team who blast emails out every Sunday to major news stations and newspapers in the capital cities of every state.  Lee-Ann Pepper Nolan, Tricia Snyder, Clyde Gaw, Cheryl Gibbs Brinkley, and Nikk Esner!  Your hard work and dedication humble me.

14.  Thank you to Keith Hughes and Terri Michal Rector who keep our BAT YouTube channel up and running with tons of great BAT voices.

15.  Lastly, thank you to all the BATs, who every single day, volunteer their voice, passion, and keyboard to Badass Teachers Association.  YOU ARE The Badass Teachers Association

With admiration and Badassery

Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager

Badass Teachers Association