Thursday, July 31, 2014


--Call for National Teachers Congress--
--Halt to Destructive and Discriminatory Education Policies--
July 31, 2014, Washington, D.C.--U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with the Badass Teachers Association (BATs), a burgeoning grassroots organization, to gain an understanding of the concerns of the 50,000+ member group which has been highly critical of the Secretary’s policies. The BATs had been protesting outside the Department of Education (DOE) building on July 28, and met with the Secretary during a post-rally meeting which BATs had scheduled with senior staff in the DOE's Civil Rights department that same afternoon.
BATs articulated numerous concerns about Race to the Top policies. In addition to criticisms, they also suggested a way forward. Dr. Yohuru Williams, an author, historian and education activist from Connecticut, suggested the Secretary convene a “National Teachers Congress” to invite a frank discussion about policy concerns. DOE staffers promised to give the idea serious consideration.
BATs Co-Founder Mark Naison sounded the alarm on civil rights. Naison, a professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University, said, “These policies, promoted with Civil Rights rhetoric, are riding roughshod over the civil rights of residents of inner city communities. School closings, privately run charter schools, chasing away teachers of color—all of these things are destroying our public schools, and they need to stop.”
When Secretary Duncan surprised BATs by joining the meeting, he asked specifically about BATs’ concerns about policies regarding special needs students. BATs General Manager Marla Kilfoyle responded.
“I told the Secretary what I know as a teacher and a mother of a special needs student,” said Kilfoyle. “The policies push schools to expose special needs students to abusive levels of testing, and force school districts to disregard individual student IEP’s,” Kilfoyle said. (IEPs are Individualized Education Plans which are required by law to help ensure special needs students gain greater access to curriculum).
Officials at the meeting seemed baffled by the intensity of anger teachers across the country have directed at the DOE. BATs explained that the Secretary fueled teacher mistrust by making statements showing disrespect for teachers from his support of the firings of Central Falls, Rhode Island teachers in
 2009, to his comments on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans public schools, from his support of Cathy Black for NYC school chancellor to his recent endorsement of the Vergara decision undermining teacher due process in California.
“If provocative comments like these stop,” Naison said, “maybe teachers will regard the Department more favorably.”
When DOE officials insisted that school closings, charter school preferences, and the use of test scores to rate teachers and schools were not the sources of problems, Chicago parent activist Shoneice Reynolds and her 10-year-old son Asean Johnson described in depth how Chicago community schools were first starved, then closed, and replaced with privately run charter schools which were often limited in their programming and sometimes abusive in their discipline policies. They explained that the  result was stifling parent voices, depriving children of great neighborhood schools, and making Chicago neighborhoods more dangerous. Reynolds and Johnson have been outspoken in their criticism of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's implementation of DOE policies.
At the meeting, NEA BAT Caucus Liason Larry Proffitt, a middle school teacher, described how rating teachers on the basis of test scores was driving the best teachers out of the profession in almost every school district in his state of Tennessee and was severely constricting the curriculum.
DOE officials including Secretary Duncan and James Kim, of the Office of Civil Rights, promised future meetings with the BATs.
The rally earlier in the day drew over 500 teachers, parents, and education activists from 38 states. It marked the one-year anniversary of BATs, which started as a Facebook group that attracted 20,000 members within two weeks. A list of ten demands included ending Common Core State Standards.
“We spoke truth to power, without fear and without compromise,” Naison concluded. “We intend to continue doing just that. Whether they will listen, only time will tell.”

Additional information is available at and Spokespersons are available in every state and may be reached by emailing Marla Kilfoyle or Melissa Tomlinson at

Press Release written by CA BAT Karen Wolfe
# # #

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BAT's March on DC Speech


BY:  Mel Katz
A Compilation of Past Writings, Plus Some
BAT’s March on DC – July 28th, 2014

Good morning my fellow Badass Teachers! It is such an honor to be speaking here today.

My name is Melissa Katz, and I am 19 years old. I will be going into my sophomore year at The College of New Jersey in good ol’ crazy Jersey studying Urban Elementary Education. I am a student activist, traveling across New Jersey (and now DC!) attending different education events, testifying at the State Board of Education, and meeting so many different, inspiring people also in the fight for public education. I am also a part of the amazing group Save Our Schools New Jersey, a grassroots, non-partisan, and volunteer led and powered organization of over 20,000 parents and other concerned residents who believe that all New Jersey children should have access to high quality public education. And just last week, I decided to add one more thing to my plate by announcing that I will be running for the board of education in my town of South Brunswick, New Jersey.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Why do you want to go into education? Why do you want to be a teacher? Don’t you know how much more money you could be making in another profession?” Back in March I spoke at a rally for public education in Trenton, and my response is still the same as it was then: The answer to all of these questions is simple: I have an undeniable belief in and love for our public schools, because public education is the great equalizer among us.

Based off of endless research, it is clear that these so-called “reforms” – the big examples being common core, new standardized testing, expansion of charter schools and so-called “school choice,” and new teacher evaluation systems – are not the answer to the issues we have in education that are mainly from outside sources – poverty, growing income inequality, dangerous environments in urban districts, unstable home life for some children, slashed school funding that has caused a gross underfunding of our schools, unfunded mandates –  the list goes on, and these reforms are only going to worsen the issues we already have.

Public education us under attack. There is an effort by public education reformers to undermine what we know as public education, demoralize and dehumanize teachers and the teaching profession, and sell the false tale of the failure of students and teachers that can only be quote-un-quote “fixed” by promoting school choice and increased standardized testing. 

My response: The kids in this country are not guinea pigs for the state, corporations, big businesses, and venture philanthropists to experiment on. There is absolutely no proof that Common Core is going to quote-un-quote “improve education,” “close the achievement gap,” or any of the other claims it makes to magically fix education with absolutely no evidence or proof of validity. There is absolutely no proof for the use of student standardized test scores being a valid way to measure “teacher effectiveness,” yet we’re moving full steam ahead with using student standardized test scores being incorporated as a large portion of a teacher’s evaluation. None of the changes in education happening today have been tested, retested, peer reviewed, tested again, and then slowly implemented in stages as anything else would be done in the business world where these reforms are coming from.

Our schools are the livelihood, center, and bringing-together of our communities. And if there’s one thing I want everyone to walk away with, it is the understanding that my teachers are not common. They are one-of-a-kind educators who put their all into making sure that their students experience true learning. My teachers went above and beyond for me – they stayed after class and talked with me about anything and everything, from politics to English to my worries and life questions. My teachers answered my emails after midnight without question if I was concerned about something and stood by me though the peaks and downfalls in life. They provided me with support and guidance when I felt lost or worried. My teachers not only taught me in the classroom but they taught me about the bigger picture and the world as a whole. My teachers played a huge role in shaping me into the person I am today – they developed personal relationships with me. And I can guarantee you that none these things will be found in a teacher evaluation or on any standardized test.

To quote Diane Ravitch from her piece “To Fight for Public Schools is to Fight for Democracy: “We oppose the status quo. We seek better schools for all children. We will work diligently with like-minded allies until we can turn the tide, turn it away from those who seek silver bullets or profits, and turn the tide towards those who work to restore public education as the public institution dedicated to spreading knowledge and skills, advancing equality of educational opportunity, and improving the lives of children and communities, while encouraging collaboration and a commitment to democratic values.”

At 19 years old, I am often reminded that I am ‘only a student.’ But I am not just a student – I’m a person with a voice. I’m a member of the state of New Jersey and our communities – I am a voting member of the state of New Jersey. I am a product of our schools that taught me how to think independently and creatively, not how to fill in a bubble on a standardized test. I stand behind our schools. I stand behind our educators. I stand behind our communities. And I stand in front of you to tell you that I will do whatever it takes to protect my schools for corporate takeover in any shape or form.

I, along with all of the other future public school teachers, must come together at this time and educate one another. We all must band together collectively, in partnership with current public school teachers, parents, students, and community members, and reclaim our future profession.

And beyond this collective partnership, us future teachers must fight for ourselves. We must fight for our profession. We must fight for our future students.

So to all of the future teachers out there: when someone asks you why you want to teach, saying that you want to be a fun teacher isn’t good enough; saying you want to make a difference is also not enough anymore. Tell people how you want to make a difference - and then do it. I want to teach my students about social justice and equity. I want to make change within my own classroom, within the community I teach in, and work to address the deep issues in society that impact the classroom such as poverty, income inequality, and children’s home lives. Words are no longer enough; action is required of all of us, individually and collectively.

We must all stay involved, be active, fight for what we believe in, and most importantly never let anyone convince us not to go into education - we are the next generations of teachers. The opportunity to reclaim public education from philanthropists, big businesses, and reformers is right in front of us, and it is imperative that we do so.

We have a voice that no one else has - we have nothing holding us back. We are obligated to take this opportunity and voice our opposition to the attacks on our profession. We are obligated to take this opportunity and voice our opposition to the reforms we know are not in the best interest of students, but rather only for those who can make money off of our students.

For the future of the teaching profession, we cannot afford to have future teachers who are anything less than passionate, dedicated, and ready to fight.

And we all must continue to push the same demands from the rally back in March I referenced earlier: Stop closing neighborhood schools. Stop attacking and scapegoating our educators. Stop the high-stakes testing madness. And fully fund our schools according to the law. Let's stand FOR our children, FOR our democracy, FOR great schools, FOR our dedicated teachers, and FOR local control!

We will win the fight for public schools, teachers, and students all across this country. We will win the fight against billionaires, philanthropists, for-profit corporations, and reformers seeking to line their pockets off of the backs of our students. We will win this fight for the future generations of artists, scientists, electricians, creators and inventors. We will win this fight so I, as a future public school teacher, can walk into the classroom on my very first day, look around the room, and know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. We will win this fight so I can stand proudly and one day, in the near future, say that I am one badass teacher.

BATs July 28, 2014 Speech
By:  Dr. Yohuru Williams

Mr. Duncan in May of 1894, Jacob Coxey, and his Army marched on Washington DC in the wake of a worldwide depression to petition the government for jobs for the unemployed.  Coxey opened his speech, not too far from here, invoking the promise of American democracy
“We choose this place of assemblage” he told his audience, “because it is the property of the people.
"Up these steps,” he continued, “the lobbyists of trusts and corporations have passed unchallenged on their way to committee rooms, access to which we, the representatives of the toiling wealth-producers, have been denied.”
120 years later we have come in the same spirit and with a similar message.
We choose the DOE and Washington DC as our place of assemblage because it remains the property of the people and you have been entrusted as our servant. Yet, in these halls, corporations and billionaires have hijacked public education from its true representatives the parents and teachers and students whose voices you have denied.
We have come today not only to reclaim this space; but also to renew our children’s faith that democracy is not for sale and that the will of the people in America still matters. I know that you can read our t-shirt and signage Mr. Duncan—but the United States Constitution is also our calling card. The preamble of which boldly identifies us by both name and politics.  For you may call us rabble-rousers or stats, teachers, parents or BATs—but let me be clear “We are also the people.”  And as the people we have come to demand that you respect our deep investment in the Union as well as our vision of the future.
Mr. Duncan, you should know that the educators who make up the BATS live by three principles
People over Profits
Parity over Charity
And Choice over Chance—because if you let the people decide the future of public education we would spare no expense to ensure that our children had access to the highest quality of instruction, in the safest spaces, with a full complement of courses and counseling, health and human services to help them realize their dreams.  That, after all, Mr. Duncan is the cornerstone of the American Dream. It is why we pay taxes—not to bail, out prop up, or kowtow to the corporation, but to invest in the future of our nation. Not for the profits of the CEO’s but to see just how much a child’s ambition grows when we place a premium on human dignity.
How, you may ask Mr. Duncan have the policies pursued by the DOE and so called education reformers from Oregon to Oklahoma, Kansas to Connecticut, and New York to Nebraska contributed to these problems. Let me count the ways.
When you came to the department, you pledged a new initiative, Race to the Top that was supposed to encourage innovation—instead it has produced despair and devastation. The people have cried out for relief pointing to the debilitating impact of these policies that have become little more than a slow and deliberate strangulation of the rights of parents, teachers, and our public schools.
And what are these deadly ligatures of strangulation:
Mr. Duncan you have pushed the Common Core and high stakes testing in education telling us that our students lag behind the rest of the world on every measure of success. But our children turn on the television and see a world awash in violence where a fundamental misunderstanding of history, language, culture coupled with technology run amok has in the immortal words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King produced guided missiles and misguided men. The solution to this dilemma lies in the schools in those so-called soft subjects dismissed by yours and the previous administration as unnecessary and in a celebration of STEM devoid of humanity. We want our children to live, grow and contribute to a world where people do not live in fear of violence misdirected but rights protected. We want our students reared on a model of profitable human compassion that can restore our crumbling cities and revive our economy in a way that privileges and protects families. In other words Mr. Duncan we don’t just want our children to lead the world, we want them to heal it with a leadership of empathy and not arrogance. Our common core is humanity not vanity.
Mr. Duncan, your have positioned technology as the solution to the education problem and labeled us as technophobes for fairly questioning the appropriate use of technology. Despite your characterization, we do not fear the future we are simply all too mindful of the mistakes of the past. America needs highly qualified teachers. Our children deserve useful technology and not technology for technology’s sake. What is good for Apple and Pearson cannot and should not be the measure of our public schools. That’s not innovation Mr. Duncan-its corporatization—and we are not buying it. 
Mr. Duncan, you have made everything about the collection of data—reducing our youth to test scores. If only you would take the time to see our students as we do. They are first and foremost children, students and scholars who pursue divergent interest. Many have special needs. They are concerned about the future and often wonder why the DOE is working so diligently to close the door of opportunity on them by creating a one size fits all approach to education. They need individualized attention, competent special education instruction and a full range of interventions to assist them. And yet Mr. Duncan millions of public school children across the country have seen class sizes balloon due to teacher layoffs and budget cuts. We have had to hear your painfully unfortunate comments concerning special education students. That’s not innovation—its alienation. And we are not buying it. 
Mr. Duncan, communities around the nation have witnessed highly qualified teachers let go and replaced by novice teachers trained through Teach for America. While we do not question the sincerity of your recruits—we have every right to be puzzled by your definition of “highly qualified.” While you and other so called education reformers have touted the benefits of placing largely unprepared TFA faulty in front of our children presenting them as a the vanguard of a new model of rigorous instruction—we have witnessed the catastrophic impact this has had on the children and the novice teachers themselves.  Mr. Duncan, That’s not innovation—its falsification. And we are not buying it. 
Mr. Duncan, you pledged that you would help root out racial disparity and inequality in the allocation of resources in our schools but your privileging of charters over true investment in our urban schools has been disastrous and the segregation of Latino youth in particular is appalling. For many of us who labor in schools deeply impacted by the maintenance of a two tiered system of education that mirrors the two America’s separate and unequal identified by the 1967 Kerner Commission, we struggle to reconcile our reality with your rhetoric. Mr. Duncan, this is not innovation its re-segregation—shameful, immoral and illegal. And we are not buying it. 
Mr. Duncan Federal aid to states for education has drop precipitously creating a very real crisis in our public schools. In Philadelphia, Mr. Duncan in two incidents less than 8 months apart two students, a 12-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy died of asthma attacks in schools where the nurse’s hours had been slashed as part of budget cuts. They are unfortunate martyrs to government arrogance and indifference. Mr. Duncan that’s not innovation—its an abomination. Is life so cheap?
Mr. Duncan districts across the country have cut funding to music and the arts—and time diverted away from core subjects to meet STEM and testing mandates. We will not be silent; we will not rest until you fully restore music and arts. It is a crime that in the city of Duke Ellington, a product of public education, the DOE promotes policies that limit instructional time for students to explore other avenues of creativity including privileging the development of the whole child both minds and hearts. Mr. Duncan that’s not innovation is suppression. It is misguided and fundamentally un-American. And we are not buying it. 
Mr. Duncan, you claimed that the forces of the free market Merit pay and competition would awaken a new spirit of innovation among teachers. Instead, you have presided over the stripping teachers of the most basic protections associated with democracy the promise of due process embedded in teacher tenure. Mr. Duncan, that is not innovation its subjugation. And we are not buying it. 
Mr. Duncan when parents, and teachers, and students have petitioned for redress, asked your department to listen to the will of the people rethink these policies so detrimental to kids, schools and communities, you have ignored us-that’s not innovation—its instigation and its provocation
And so he we are:
We aint buying it.
And when we come upstairs Mr. Duncan you should painfully aware that you will sit down with a group of teachers who are committed to the premise that this democracy has the potential to be a just democracy and we as the Bats will insist on a just democracy and nothing less.
So Mr. Duncan, let me conclude by saying to you –you rode into office pledging to usher in an era of new innovation- instead you brought frustration and devastation. Worst still you’ve undermined the very essence of participatory democracy. From Detroit to Dallas we need less of Michelle Rhee and John King, Steve Perry and Paul Vallas. What we really need is Hope and Change.  But we are defining it differently than your boss. For Hope and change for us HOPE means Honor our Public Education and Change course from the destructive policies that will set us back a generation.
Mr. Duncan, Sam Walton, Eli Board, the Koch Brothers, and Bill Gates are not the representatives of the American people. They do not own American democracy. We refuse to have our children’s futures brought and sold like stocks on Wall Street to the highest bidder. So we come here, the property of the people to let you know as the day is warm. If we think you’re wrong. The Bats are gonna swarm.
Yohuru Williams
July 2014.

Arne Duncan Drops in Unexpectedly on Meeting With BATS at US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and Gets an Earful! (w/ added reflections by Larry Proffitt and Marla Kilfoyle)

By:  Dr. Mark Naison 

   On July 28, 2014, following the  BAT Rally outside the US Department of Education, a delegation of BATS went up to  the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights to share some of the main issues that BATS had with  Department Policy.  Representing the BATS were Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager of BATS. Dr Yohuru Williams of Fairfield University, Chicago BAM (Badass Moms) leader  Shoneice Reynolds and her son Asean Johnson, Tennessee BAT leader Larry Proffitt, and Dr Mark Naison, co founder of BATS. The meeting had been set up by Marla Kilfoyle through an official of the Department of Education’s Office of Communications.

  Arne Duncan was not originally scheduled to attend the meeting, but dropped in unexpectedly in the middle. What follows  is my  account of the meeting, including the dialogue with Mr. Duncan, along with and some reflections on what it all means.  How much of what transpired will lead to further communication and action, and how much represented a “smoke and mirrors” game by officials of the Department remains to be seen.

   After going through security, we were escorted to a conference room in the
US Ed Department’s Office of Civil Rights, where we were met by 9 people, including a senior staff member of the Office of Civil Rights, James Kim, who chaired the meeting, along with staff members from the Offices of Communications and Community Outreach and several student interns with the Department.  Mr Kim, who chaired the meeting, was very cordial and asked us if we could present our major concerns, saying he hoped we could find areas of agreement as well as areas where we disagreed, and that a dialogue could  develop which would hopefully continue after the meetings.

    When Mr. Kim asked if someone would present the groups major concerns, I stepped forward, I decided to do so in a manner which would focus attention  on Department of Education policies that  maximized educational  inequality and violated the civil rights of students, parents and teachers in inner city and working class communities.   Using my own experiences in the Bronx as a reference point, I said that BATS were deeply concerned with how Race to the Top Policies, which required rating schools and teachers on the basis of student test scores, closing allegedly “failing schools,” and  preferring charter schools over public schools had the following consequences:

    Leading  teachers in vulnerable neighborhoods to “teach to the test” to the detriment of activities which fostered student creativity.
   Leading to the use of recess time, gym time, and after school time to test prep, maximizing health problems in poor and working class neighborhoods
    Leading the mass firing of veteran teachers and a sharp decline in the percentage of teachers of color on many cities.
     Leading to the destabilization of neighborhoods and the smothering of parent, teacher and student voices in the shaping of education policy.
     Leading to the demonization of public school teachers and their being blamed for everything from the achievement gap for the persistence of poverty and inequality.
     Leading to the best young teachers leaving  the profession prematurely

     The irony here, I said, was that these policies, promoted with  Civil Rights rhetoric, were riding roughshod over the Civil Rights of residents of inner city communities.  I asked for a two year moratorium on all these policies- no more school closings, no more VAM, no more charter school creation- and a new effort by the US Department Education to have teachers voices have a primary role in shaping Department policy rather than business leaders.

       My remarks appeared to catch many of the officials there by surprise. Several agreed with what I was saying; others tried to defend Department of Education policies and say states were ultimately responsible for the abuses I was describing
        The points of agreement expressed by Department of Education officials who spoke up were on the following issues:

 Need to reverse the declining percentage of teachers or color
Need to stop best young teachers from leaving the profession
 Need to stop use of recess and gym for test prep
Need to end demonization of teachers by public officials

    However, several of the officials, while agreeing that we needed to address the above problems insisted that school closings, charter school preferences, and the use of test scores to rate teachers and schools were not the sources of those problems

  As this point, Shoneice Reynolds, Asean Johnson, and Larry Proffitt entered the conversation forcefully and eloquently.  Shoneice and Asean talked in depth about how  in Chicago, community schools were first  starved, then closed and charter schools put in their place, smothering and stifling parent voices, depriving children of great neighborhood schools, and making Chicago neighborhoods more dangerous.   They gave example after example of one great program after another being eliminated in public schools, while charter schools were created which were often limited in their programming and abusive in their discipline policies.

Larry Profitt described how rating teachers on the basis of test scores was driving the best teachers out of the profession in almost every school district in Tenneessee and were severely constricting the curriculum.  Both put the blame squarely on the US Department of Education for promoting policies which led to those destructive consequences and for promoting rhetoric which demonized teachers.

       Right in the middle of both of these conversations, Arne Duncan walked in and introduced himself! Needless to say, we were surprised because we were told he would NOT be at the meeting.  Especially since he entered, along with one of his top aides,  just as things were starting to get heated and real disagreements were emerging.

      Secretary Duncan after  introducing himself,  and saying that he could only stay for a few minutes, asked for two things; first if  we could articulate our concerns about the Department’s policies on dealing with Special needs students, and secondly, if Shoneice and Asean could step out with him to talk about what was going on in Chicago.

      In response to his first comment, Marla Kilfoyle started speaking about her concerns about Department from her standpoint of the parent of a special needs student as well as a teacher. She said it appeared that Department policies  were forcing school districts to disregard individual student IEP’s and exposing special needs students to inappropriate and abusive levels of testing.

       Secretary Duncan deflected her remarks by saying that the Department was concerned that too many children of color were being inappropriately diagnosed as being Special Needs children  and that once they were put in that category they were permanently marginalized. He then said “We want to make sure that all student are exposed to a rigorous curriculum.”
        At that point, I interrupted him in a very loud voice and said “ We don’t like the word ‘rigor.” We prefer to talk about creativity and maximizing students potential.”

        Secretary Duncan was someone taken aback by my comments. He said “ we might disagree about the language, but what I want is for all students to be able to take advanced placement courses or be exposed to an IB (International Baccalaureat) curriculum.
 At this point, Larry Proffitt interrupted the Secretary  and said that in Tennessee, Special Needs students were being abused and humiliated by abusive and inappropriate testing and that their teachers knew this, and were afraid to speak out.
       We were clearly at an impasse here, which the Secretary dealt with by saying he had to leave and asking Shoneice and Asean to step into the hall with him and continue the conversation.
        The rest of us in the room were all now  pretty confused and more than a little upset.  However, James Kim spoke up and said that the rest of the DOE staff were ready to spend up to a half an hour more continuing the conversation, and hopefully we could develop some consensus on areas of agreement and ways of continuing the dialogue.
    Now, things started to get really interesting!  The woman from the Communications office who hadn’t previously spoken up, said that she was concerned about how angry teachers were at the Department since because it was her experience that every time Secretary Duncan travelled to a new city, he met with teachers to hear their concerns.   I then said, perhaps impolitely, that the Secretary fueled teacher mistrust  by making statement after statement showing disrespect for teachers, from his support of the firings of Central Falls Rhode Island teachers in 2009, to his comments on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans public schools, to his support of Cathy Black for NYC school chancellor, to his recent endorsement of the Vergara decision undermining teacher due process.    “Maybe if you can tell him to stop making provocative comments like these,” I said, “maybe teachers will regard the Department more favorably.”
  At this point, Dr Yohuru Williams chimed in with a suggestion for how the Department could genuinely welcome teacher voices- calling a “National Teachers Congress”- where teachers from all over the country could come together to frankly express their concerns about Department of Education policies.  He added “those teachers can’t be handpicked to say what the Department wants to hear, they have to be democratically  selected.”  His suggestion was discussed for several minutes and the Communication directors promised to give it serious consideration. This was one of the few talking points in the meeting from which there might be some serious follow up
    After this the director of Community outreach and one of the interns started critiquing our perspective that federal policies were driving the best teachers out of the profession, stifling creativity in the classroom, and leading to a decline in teachers of color.  In doing so they  started defending school  closings and VAM, asking us whether  there were any circumstances under which schools should be close and whether there was any method of evaluating teachers that did not rely on student test scores.
     At this point, Dr Williams spoke up, saying that in Connecticut, the suppression of community voices in cities like Bridgeport by unelected school boards was being justified by arguments that mayoral control was supported, if not required Race to the Top, and that similar dynamics were at play in Hartford and New London.  “Does the US Department of Education support real democracy in education decision making,” Dr. Williams he asked?”
     They two officials had no real answer to what Dr Wiliams was saying and deflected attention from his critique by insisting that we needed to hold teachers accountable by student test scores because there was no other way of making sure teachers took every student seriously and helped all of them reach their full potential.
     Now things started to get really heated. Larry Proffitt said that teaching to the test is not real teaching and to have students full potential unleashed , you needed teachers to give them individual attention and kinds of in depth instruction and inspiration that no bubble test could measure.  I said VAM was a disaster, along with the rest of  Race to the Top and we need a two year moratorium on test based teacher evaluation.
      James Kim then entered as a peacemaker and said “how can we keep this discussion going?”. We said, call us back. We are glad to continue a discussion about how to best get teacher voices more input into Department policy, how to find forms of assessing teacher quality that do not depend on student test scores, and how to attract and retain more great teachers, especially teachers of color. 
    Mr. King and the two Communications office said they would find ways of keeping the conversation going, and then called an end to the meeting.
     We left the meeting feeling that we had spoken frankly, that we had been heard, that some people agreed with our main points, while others disagreed. 
      However, nothing concrete had been achieved. There were no policy changes that anyone had agreed to and certainly no overall agreement to reverse the directions of Race to the Top.
       There were a few small glimmers of hope at the end of the meeting. Mr Kim, the top Civil Rights official ,  came up to me after the meeting and said that he really liked our group, that he would try to find ways of keeping the conversation going, and that he would like to meet with me the next time he came to New York. I agreed to remain in communications with him.  Through the entire meeting, he had been respectful, helpful and astute.
     Then, after everyone else left, another staff member from the Office of Civil Rights came up to me and said he really liked what we had to say. What could their office do right now to help us?   I thought a second and said to him “ Investigate charter school abuses. All over the nation, unregulated charters are employing disciplinary practices and expelling students in ways which would not be acceptable in a public school. If your office would start investigating such practices as civil rights violations, it would make a huge difference.”
      He smiled at me and said “Thanks for the suggestion. I will look into it.”
      His response gave me a glimmer of hope that some of the ten plus people in that room were on the same page as BATS on a few issues, even though the Secretary was clearly unmoved by anything we said.
     We spoke truth to power, without fear and without compromise.
      Whether we will be called back to continue the conversation only time will tell.


"Another Voice In the Conversation"
By:  Larry Proffitt

My friends, the BATs and especially the TN BATs, have walked this path with me. Even though there are moles within our TN BATs, we do not stop from our mission, nor do we cower from the cause of great public schools as a civil right for every child with quality trained educators leading them towards their dreams! I was inspired by the rally this weekend! I was inspired by Mark's comments in his blog! I was inspired by the parents of BAM, and I was inspired by the performance and speaking abilities of students of all ages! With that being said, I was also inspired by someone I believe to be a new personal ally of this common movement, Yohuru Williams. It was a pleasure to sit along side Mark Naison and Dr. Williams as we diverted the faulty reasoning and arguments surrounding the student scores to evaluation equation. One of the younger employee/interns listed all of his strategies and analogies for bringing success to his students of diversity and strife on their state tests. The formative assessments even showed a correlation for success, but to use a phrase from their comments, we know correlations do not lead to causation. Dr. Williams brilliantly pointed out that he seemed to spend his entire year within the area of test prep, which was one of our major bones of contention. He pointed out the struggle for students to learn without authentic teaching instead of a year filled with preparatory assessments. At his conclusion, I chimed in to agree with the assessment of the situation of Dr. Williams, but I also brought the young man's attention back to a comment he had laid upon the head of his students as he put forth his situation defending their position. His comment: "Now, I still believed within my heart that those students were capable of achieving!"
This is hard to get past someone bent on civil rights for all students and trying to shape education policy. I clearly asked this young man, "Do you mean to tell me that you believe those students spent all year in your classroom and didn't achieve?" It was at this point that his back-pedal began. I asked again. I made sure to use his exact vocabulary. This I fear, is one of our points of contention. Dr. Williams pointed out as we left the building together, that we caused them to change the direction of questioning altogether. 
The discussion of the day also centered around the weakening of the profession by the use of TFA to force out pedagogically solid educators for those of a lesser dedicated value of education. My comments to Secretary Duncan were necessary about the lack of support from the administration in my mind, because there seemed to be some confusion created about the aim of an earlier business item created this year about education policy makers. I introduced the concept of Community Schools used in Knox County, Tennessee as introduced by teacher/legislator, Gloria Johnson, instead of charters. I explained some of the unexpected benefits I've heard Gloria explain over and over. I left with their information in order for Representative Johnson to contact them. They asked for alternate solutions. We offered some. I, too, feel as Dr. Naison. It is wait and see now. I was humbled by the opportunity to be a voice for so many teachers. Aixa Rodriguez, thank you for the school you shared. It was a direct example of situations Dr. Naison started the discussion with yesterday. I really do believe there were at least three individuals in the room with sincere ears yesterday, but will the sound fall from their mouths upon others with strength of decision? Thank you to everyone for all of your commitment in an awesome event this weekend that serves notice, a movement is afoot. To quote Dr. Naison from one statement yesterday when things seemed to be digressing, "You guys have a problem! There are 51,000 of us!" He made it clear, that we weren't just putting on a show. I entitled my post yesterday, Another Voice In the Conversation. I did this because BATs are union and non-union. BATs are parents and grandparents. BATs are retired and active. BATs are legislators and community members. Family, there isn't another group that represents as many groups as the Badass Teachers Association. I chose to go ahead and post because of Yohuru's inspirational post earlier today of an e-mail he received. I was told at one point, "You need to focus on teaching if you get hired and LAY ALL THIS OTHER STUFF DOWN." I still showed up! I showed up because of friends like Marla Kilfoyle, Love Light, Priscilla Sanstead, Lucianna M Sanson and Mark Naison who new my walk this year and the valleys I've been through. I showed up for Dr. Denisha Jones, who guides with her voice and heart. I appreciate the guidance this group has afforded, but the support most of all! I showed up however moreover for our students of Tennessee and our nation and for my Tennessee BATs and the teachers of the nation, including the ones who know not that they need our help. My love goes out to all of the Badassery, especially our delegation of near 20 TN BATs that committed to this weekend!


My Reflections!
By:  Marla Kilfoyle

Mark has given an amazing synopsis so I don't feel that I need to write it all over again but I would like to add, in list form, some of my reflections.

1.  I did speak, prior to Sec. Duncan's entrance, about the marginalization of teacher voices in this country, teacher demonization, and the destruction of the profession of teaching. I spoke about the environment in our schools being one of blame, punish, and fear for children and teachers.  I spoke about the over testing of our children and the fact that if I had NOT refused my son out of testing he would have taken 28 days of testing.  In answering Secreatary Duncan's question about the role of the federal government in education I gave an example of the Site Based Management model of schooling I had experienced in Florida.  Site based management systems allowed schools and communities to make decisions for THEIR schools.  I explained to the Secretary that our schools need to be given back to our communities. Lastly,  as Mark noted, I spoke about our special needs children and how the USDOE policies of over testing are hurting our special needs and ELL children.   
2.  Asean spoke eloquently about how the Chicago Public Schools were being starved of resources and how can they expect Common Core to be taught if you starve the school of resources.  Asean also spoke about how ridiculous the Common Core was.  He shared the outdoor learning projects that he saw being pushed out of the Chicago Schools and brought a tri-fold board to show them these wonderful projects that children need.  Asean spoke about the over testing he experienced and the fact that real learning and resources have been pushed out of our schools for test prep. 
3.  Shoneice spoke about the importance of elected school boards and NOT appointed school boards.  She spoke about community schools that were run and managed by the communities they serve, all of which are gone under the current administration in Chicago. She spoke about the need for teachers of color and that children of color need to see people who reflect THEM in front of the room.  She spoke about Gresham and the turmoil that the Rahm appointed BOE has wrecked on this school.  She also spoke about the Common Core and how can you bring in standards that will cost more money when schools DON'T have the resources they need now. She spoke about how money is funneled to charters yet taken away from public schools.  
4.  Larry as noted above spoke about the fact that teachers elected this administration and they have let us down! He was badass!
5.  Mark, Asean, and Shoneice all spoke about Common Core, the over testing of our children, and the scripting of our teachers. They spoke about the fact that the money used for Common Core is driving out the things that our children need in schools! They spoke about the fact that test prep for the Common Core exams has driven out creativity, joy, and learning from our schools! 

In closing, as Sec. Duncan promised, we will be having a follow-up meeting with Michael Yudin the Secretary of the Office of Special Education.  He has already been in contact with me and we look forward to meeting with him at the end of August or in the Fall.  I am hoping, and I am sure, that now we have our contacts at the USDOE we will be following up on many fronts in the near future.  Stay tuned! 

Written reflections by  Dr. Yohuru Williams, Shoneice Reynolds, and Asean Johnson will be added to this post.  Please check back! 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Growth of a Movement: Lessons Learned During the First Year of the Badass Teachers Association

Originally published on Wednesday July 23 by emPower Magazine

On June 13, 2014 the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) celebrated its one year anniversary. As a member and administrator since the first few weeks, it has been truly amazing to watch this organization grow. The co-founders had no idea that a Facebook group titled Badass Teachers Association would have grown to include over 50,000 members and become a grassroots movement that fights for teachers and public education. The mission of BATs made it clear who we were and what we were about:
“Badass Teachers Association was created to give voice to every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality through education. BAT members refuse to accept assessments, tests and evaluations created and imposed by corporate driven entities that have contempt for authentic teaching and learning.”
BATs is for teachers. Teachers who are routinely silenced through neoliberal privatization policies. Teachers who are expected to perform miracles for students living in extreme poverty, speak English as a second language, and have special needs without adequate resources and support. BATs became a safe place for teachers to be heard, to network, and to demand change.
As I reflect back on this past year, it is truly inspiring to see what can be done when teachers refuse to be scapegoats and demand change. Although we have had many successes over the past year we have also made some mistakes and learned some valuable lessons on how to manage a fast growing group through social media. One of the things I learned, was that although we might all be badass teachers we were and still are a very diverse group of individuals. We come from all over the country and world, work in different settings, belong to different political parties, and have a variety of beliefs on many issues. It might be part of human nature to believe that people who share the same profession also share the same values but diversity in all forms is what makes us human.
The rapid growth of BATs took all of us by surprise. The founders and admins had been in many social media groups before but none of them had as many members as we did in our first 2 months. The admins spent countless hours each day admitting new members and monitoring conversations. We immediately voted to ban posts that contained spam and were racist, sexist, and homophobic. We also did not allow posts that disparaged either political party, attacked teachers, parents, administrators, or students. We learned that these conversations were quick to become divisive and the last thing we wanted was to see this group implode. Discussions on changing the name also became a distraction so we deleted these posts and encouraged people who did not like the name to leave the group. These actions led to accusations of censorship, but for those of us spending 10-15 hours a day having the same conversations it was the best way for us to keep the group growing. As an online social community we had the right to dictate what our purpose was and what conversations we would allow to take place within our own group. As we tried to capitalize on our growth it was imperative that we did not allow contentious issues to divide us.
Our stance against conversations that divided us soon divided us. Members wanted to discuss any issue they thought was important while other members did not agree that those issues were pertinent to our mission. When conversations took a turn for the worse they were deleted. These conversation topics varied, but included topics such as race and racism, the pledge of allegiance, guns, and sex education. Since none of these topics were directly related to our mission we thought it best to discourage them from taking place in our group. The founders even created affiliate groups focused on specific topics where members could discuss these issues with others who also wanted to discuss them. Nonetheless, some felt as though we were silencing their voice and although it was not our intention, we did, and for that we apologize.
During the past year, the founders and administrators have understood the need to allow difficult conversations to take place. Although we continue to monitor our group and keep a list of topics that are banned, we know that conversations about race and racism are something that all teachers need to have. In light of the Trayvon Martin verdict, we agreed to allow these conversations to progress and only delete comments that were racist and insulting. I remember reading through the posts and comments the day after the verdict. Although none were out right racist many were coded in colorblind language that blamed Trayvon for his own death. But these were in the minority. Most of the comments were respectful and acknowledged the lack of justice in the verdict. I was impressed by the thoughtful responses of many BATs who were quick to call out those who advocated being colorblind more than I was dismayed by the posts of those who were blinded by their colorblind beliefs.
My point in reviewing the history of BATs was to give you some perspective of where we came from and how we got to where we are today. As a result of earlier decisions, we have been branded by some as a racist organization that silence’s the voices of teachers of color. I am a teacher of color and I have never had my voice silenced in BATs and often I am asked to share my voice on issues regarding diversity and privilege. My experience may not resonate with what others have experienced but as I said earlier, we made mistakes in the past and we are in the process of learning from those mistakes. Does this mean we are perfect now? Does this mean that all members of BATs are culturally competent educators who believe in social justice education? Unfortunately it does not. We have over 50,000 members, and although we would like them to agree with us on every issue they do not. When the founders and administrators decide on an action to promote or a position to take, we can be sure that some of our members will not agree. From taking a stance against the Common Core State Standards to supporting Cuomo’s prisoner education initiative we have lost members who do not agree with us. Not everyone who disagrees with us leaves. Some stay because they continue to believe in what BATS stands for even if they do not agree with us on every issue. Others stay and ignore the conversations they do not like and focus on the ones they do.
On June 26 a member posted an article from the Washington Post titled, Student: My School District Hires Too Many White Teachers. The author made a valid point that students of color need to have teachers of color. Does this mean that all white teachers who teach students of color are ineffective? No it does not. It means that all students, especially students of color, need role models who are the same race, share the same culture, and come from similar communities. Anyone who has been through diversity training can understand why having black teachers would be good for black students. But for some of our members, the mere suggestion that there are too many white teachers, was taken as an insult to all the white teachers who teach students of color. Some immediately argued that there are not enough teachers of color. This argument fails to acknowledge the many teachers of color who have been pushed out of schools to make room for the mostly white Teach for America members, in places like New Orleans and other urban communities. Other members argued that the race of a teacher does not matter if the teacher is a good teacher. I have had good black teachers and good white teachers, I have also had bad black teachers and bad white teachers, but to assume that race does not matter is a luxury that only privileged people can engage in.
Again, what surprised me about the comments was the fact that most of them supported the author’s
points. Many members argued that although they were white, they understand that their students would benefit from having more teachers of color in their school and in their district. But when another member chose to write a blog about the conversation, she did not include any of the supportive comments. She took screenshots of about a dozen posts and used these to argue that the organization was not doing enough to rid themselves of members who have racist tendencies. She claims that none of the administrators or founders responded to the comments that denied the importance of race but many of our members did and so did I. What I find most troubling about her account is that she used the few statements to taint the entire conversation. We cannot force our members to replace their colorblind beliefs with cultural competency. All we can do is educate them and hope that in time they learn to accept and appreciate diversity, not be blind to it. But in order to educate people we have to let them be honest and say things that we are not going to like. That conversation provided an opportunity for our members to discuss the need for a diverse teaching force. Many agreed that this was an important issue, some did not, and others learned something. That is how you grow as an organization. By giving people the space to learn and grown. We would love for every person who joins the group subscribe to a social justice philosophy, be culturally competent, and have a strong understanding of privilege. But in reality we understand that not all of our members are ready to engage in this type of work. What we can do and what we will do is provide a space for our members to explore these issues and fight to save their profession.
Another way that you grow is to admit when you made a mistake. In the blog, the author eluded to the fact that BATs does not have a good track record when it comes to working with people of color. She has argued that she knows of some people of color who felt as though their voice was silenced. The founders and administrators acknowledge that mistakes we made in the past and in an effort to rectify those mistakes have issued the following apology:
The founders, general managers and moderators of the Badass Teachers Association, have, in the wake of conflicts that occurred recently, decided to implement a process of healing and self-scrutiny that we have been talking about for weeks, but is frankly long overdue. To that end, we would like to offer our sincere apology to those members who were either pushed out, marginalized, or banned from BATS for trying to initiate a conversation on our pages about race, gender, and privilege. We would also like to invite them to return to the group. They can do this by sending a private Facebook message to Marla Kilfoyle, Love Light, Priscilla Sanstead, or Mark Naison. We are sincerely sorry for stifling much needed conversation on these issues and making sincere fighters for equity and justice feel marginalized.
This apology is needed because in our attempt to keep conversations focused on our mission, we were complicit in silencing the voices of teachers who wanted to discuss issues of race, racism, and privilege. We hope that this apology will be accepted so that we can begin to repair the damage caused by our earlier decisions. We have grown over the past year and we have learned many things. We will continue to fight for all teachers to have a voice in education policy and leadership. We will continue to engage our members to examine the effects of privilege, racism, sexism, and all types of oppression on our students, their families, and communities.
On Monday July 28, we will speak truth to power as we rally in the plaza of the Department of Education from 10 am to 5 pm to protest the devastating policies of the U.S. Department of Education. “BATs will demand such things as ending federal incentives to close and privatize schools, promote equity and adequate funding for all public schools, and ban all data sharing of children’s private information.”
The time has come for teachers and supporters of public education to stand up and make their voices heard. Education is in danger of becoming a commodity, privatized and sold to the highest bidder. A privilege for those who can afford it rather than a human right for all. If you want to support teachers and public education we ask that you add your voice to the fight and join us at the rally!