Thursday, April 30, 2015

The One about Rick Snyder's Two Detroits...

By:  Dr. Mitchell Robinson, BAT Leadership Team Member

Originally posted on his blog

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced his plan to "fix" Detroit's schools today. Here's a cogent analysis of the broad strokes of his plan, according to my brilliant friend, Nancy Osborne:

Take away schools from the Voters. They will have no say. Stick the elected School Board (the Black People) with the debt...even though they had a positive fund balance before Lansing (the White People) appointed a succession of Emergency Managers who financially crashed the district over a 15 year period. In addition, Snyder's plan will create 3 new layers of bureaucracy. Give free busing to charter school parents no matter how far the children live from their for-profit schools. And this is just the broad outline. I'm sure there's plenty of mischief in the details.

In response, hundreds of Detroit's teachers voiced their displeasure, and the resulting shortage of teachers and subs caused many DPS schools to shut down for the day. Here’s the statement from DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley: ”Detroit Public Schools' sole focus and goal is the education of the more than 47,000 students whose education it has been entrusted with by their families. That focus and goal should be shared by all DPS employees. While we can agree to disagree on matters of policy, those disagreements should never impact our students and the instructional time they are entitled to as it has today - with 17 schools having been closed due to lack of teachers and other instructional staff. This unplanned turn of events is seriously misguided and directly harms our students - taking away a day in the classroom that students can ill-afford given the school days already missed due to our severe weather this past winter. It is truly unfortunate that so many of those who profess to be dedicated educators have decided to participate in this action given its unjustifiable and unconscionable consequence."
A couple of thoughts...

1. With all due respect to Mr. Earley, there’s a lot more to running a school district than just educating children. Believe me, every teacher wishes it were that simple. As lovely as it sounds, the kids can not ever be the “sole focus”—those entrusted with running our public schools also need to treat all school employees, from teachers to custodians, from secretaries to cafeteria workers, with dignity and respect. Snyder’s plan does none of this, so the teachers have not just the right, but the responsibility to protest.

2. I'd be a lot more inclined to listen to Mr. Earley's diatribe if he had voiced similar concerns when the recent M-STEP tests created massive problems with school schedules and instructional time--but I don't recall him ever making a peep about these interruptions. Methinks thou dost protest too much, Mr. Emergency Manager...
3. Mr. Earley and the governor are not just "agreeing to disagree" with Detroit's teachers and the teacher union--they are actively working to destroy the Detroit Public Schools, crush the teachers union, and de-professionalize teaching as a profession. Expecting DPS teachers to sit politely on the sideline so as not to upset the apple cart while the Governor and his colleagues dismantle public education in Detroit is not only naive--its insulting.

4. Mr. Earley's disingenuous attempt to cast Detroit's teachers as the "bad guys" in this dispute ("It is truly unfortunate that so many of those who profess to be dedicated educators have decided to participate in this action given its unjustifiable and unconscionable consequence") is not only smarmy and laughable, its not how leaders are supposed to behave. When one becomes a teacher, one does not forfeit one's rights as a citizen.
What is truly unfortunate about this whole situation is the complete and utter lack of understanding on the part of the Governor and the Emergency Manager about the value and importance of public education to Michigan's largest city. Instead of robbing public schools to pay his wealthy friends in the charter "industry", its high time for Gov. Snyder to show that he understands that as goes Detroit, so goes Michigan--and that he was elected to be the Governor of all of Michigan's citizens, not just the rich ones.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Detroit Board of Education Files Title 6 Complaint

April 28, 2015

Detroit, MI - Mr. Herman Davis, President of the Detroit Board of Education, and fellow Board members filed Title 6 complaints with Barbara McQuade of the Department of Justice. This decision came from the Board having been advised of serious complaints of abuse, misuse, fraud, and conflict of interest. This complaint was filed with the hopes of summoning a Grand Jury investigation to expose the wrongdoings of the Governor and his Emergency Managers, including, but not limited to:

  • The creation of two separate and unequal school systems, one with primarily Caucasian students and the other primarily Black and Latino students.
  • Emergency Managers making unilateral decisions, entering into no-bid contracts while voters, employees, students, taxpayers, and parents suffer the decisions and mismanagement of funds and resources.
  • Issues that include: not filing for Federal grants for Head Start in a timely manner; anomalies and misusing of funds including a $50,000 bonus to the Detroit Public School Emergency Manager the  formation of the EAA, which denies poor children breakfast when children must travel great distances to school by city bus and, if the bus is late, arrive at school to locked doors, returning home without food or school; closing the newly renovated Southwestern High School; the creation of a community-wide deficit of appropriate learning atmospheres for special education students.; giving a nearly half million dollar contract to the Chancellor of the EAA to oversee the education of 7,000 of the poorest children in the nation; and making null and void actions of the elected board to request a Federal Investigation of possible illegal activities by the Emergency Manager.

Mr. Davis is continuing to collect affidavits of Detroit citizens, including parents, students, and teachers who work in Detroit that have been harmed, in which they check the item that identifies the harm to which they were exposed. He is also seeking complainants willing to give testimony. (See next page for form.)
                       # # #

DATE____________NAME__________________________________ ADDRESS ____________________________________
CITY _____________________________ STATE _____­­___ PHONE ____________________
__ I wish the DOJ to keep my name AND info, given above, anonymous, and not reveal it without my written permission.

Governor Rick Snyder created two separate and unequal school systems. Both systems receive Federal funds. One system is primarily Caucasian students. In this system, authority over schools, BOTH public and charter, BOTH high performing and low performing resides with the State School Superintendent and State Board of Education as well as locally elected boards. Locally elected boards are provided with necessary resources to perform the functions of the position they were elected to. This discourages conflicts of interest, competitive bidding. Resources like training and professional assistance benefits and taxpayers students and helps ensure trust. Elected boards suffer no retaliation for meeting or requesting help from the Federal resources.

The other system is primarily Black and Latino students. In this system, authority over schools both public and charter, both high performing and low performing, resides with the Governor, his appointed administrators known as Emergency Managers which supersede locally elected boards, and state contractors who have sometimes been appointed to boards and able to vote for contracts to themselves. There is little or no competitive bidding. Locally elected boards are not provided with necessary resources to perform the duties expected by voters. This includes resources as simple as use of a multi-page copy machine and as important as notice about contracts the school district enters into. The elected board suffers from retaliation for meeting and requesting help from the Department of Justice. Under the direction of the Governor, Emergency Managers make unilateral decisions, enter into no bid contracts while voters, employees, students, tax payers and parents suffer the decisions, mismanagement of funds and resources, errors and retaliation. This includes but is not limited to:
- Not filing for Federal grants for Head Start in a timely manner.
- Detroit Public School Emergency Audits anomalies and misuse of funds. A $50,000 bonus to the Detroit Public School Emergency Manager for himself, to himself while the district suffers a deficit.
-Formation of the EAA which denies children poor children breakfast when children must travel great distances to school by city bus and if the bus is late, come to school to locked doors and must return home without school or food.
-The Emergency Manager closing a newly renovated Southwestern High School, (construction tax payers are still paying for) while an investor agreed to pay $1,000,000 for the property, the property was not secured, and vandals ruined the building, of which the buyer withdrew.
-Forcing Detroit Public School Board members to file FOIA for information about the Detroit Public Schools.
-Malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance with contracts, minutes, proposals communicated by the Detroit Board of Education.
-Creating a community-wide deficit of appropriate learning atmospheres for special education students.
-Giving a whopping nearly half million dollar contract to the Chancellor of the EAA, to oversee the education of just 7000 of some of the poorest children in the nation.
- Null and voiding actions of the elected board to request a Federal investigation of possible illegal activities by Emergency Manager.

Responsible Management Officials: Governor Snyder, Darnell Early, Jack Martin, Roy Roberts and others to be determined. Others:__________________________________________________________________________________________________________I represent a Parent _ Student _ Tax Payer _ Property Owner _ Voter _ Legislator _ Employee_ Disabled Person _ ESL _ and it is my feeling, because of the color, ethnicity and race of the majority of the students, employees and tax payers et al, like me, who utilize this system, the Governor has acted egregiously, discriminatorily, and negligently, causing harm to the community through his interference and creation of schools which now operate in a manner under his authority, which is abusive, destructive, separate, and unequal. And, I was personally harmed when/because ________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________ Additional Information Attached ____
I’m joining the Detroit School Board Title 6 Complaint Yes__ No __ My actual costs and/or financial losses are $_________
and My compensatory damages for pain and suffering are $300,000. Yes____ -or- No _____ Another amount $_________
Signature _________________________________________________
Parent or Representative Signature _________________________________________________

(Please return the Title 6 Complaint Forms as soon as possible to Herman Davis at, or call 313-354-6708. We look to attract 200-300 Plaintiffs, and or supporters, Tuesday April 28, 2015, @ 10am at the Federal Building 477 Mich. Ave. We need to get the Fed’s involved). Call friends and family, get them out.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Clash of the Titans – Unionism at the Network for Public Education

Screen shot 2015-04-27 at 1.03.47 AM

It was billed as the fight of the century.
Or at very least – the weekend.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia vs. Randi Weingarten.

National Education Association vs. American Federation of Teachers.

Union president vs. union president.

All moderated by education historian Diane Ravich.

“Oh snap!” cried six hundred voices in tandem at the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago.

“It’s goin’ down!”

No soft pitches coming from Diane, either. These were going to be tough questions. No politicking. Only candid truth.

And the interview actually seemed to live up to its hype in one shinning moment.

Will you both commit to no longer taking any money from the Gates, Broad and Walton Foundations?

Ravich’s question hung in the air a second before the crowd erupted into a standing ovation.

We cheered so loudly at the question, we didn’t hear the answers – two quick short yeses.

When it quieted down somewhat, Lily nodded and Randi cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted “YES!”

At the time, I was overjoyed. But in retrospect something keeps bugging me.

That wasn’t as candid and organic as it appeared.

There’s no way the heads of the two largest labor unions in the country could commit to something like that off the cuff. They were expecting that question and they had already agreed in private on the answer.

Does it matter?

Maybe not. If the NEA and AFT actually follows through with this promise, who cares if the presentation was staged?

But there were other cracks in the facade along the way.

It started well enough. Both women said some really supportive things about teachers and our unions.



-Teachers are first responders to poverty. Never say I’m just a teacher. (NOTE: activist parent Rosemary Vega says she used almost the exact same words to Randy in a private conversation.)

-All middle class workers have to realize we’re all in it together.

-The other side lives in an evidence free zone. We need to keep pushing the truth.


-Privatizers have to get people to distrust teachers. This is hard because most people naturally trust our profession.

-It’s strange that some celebrities want to make the world a better place by making it easier to fire more teachers.

-People who say teachers go into this profession for a cushy job are “idiots.” (Randi then countered that these folks are “morons.”)

-Teachers need tenure so they won’t be fired for helping kids.

-We talk about the progress gap – what about the resource gap?

-They say if kids had better teachers, they wouldn’t need resources!

-There are three pillars of corporate school reform:
1) privatize
2) standardize
3) delegitimize (teachers)

RESULT: Lily takes it. She came off more eloquent and genuine than Randi who seemed a bit strident and defensive. Judging by the mediocre applause and even outright hissing Randi earned from the audience, New York teachers may still blame her for Gov. Cuomo who she supported in the last election.


-We need to get rid of high stakes tests. We need tests that are diagnostic. I took tests when I was a child, but they were about ME – not my teacher.

-We wanted three things from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) rewrite – no federalization of teacher evaluations, school closings or Common Core.


-If we have standardized testing at all – and I’m not sure we should – we should use them for general trends. Not to fire teachers, close schools, etc.

-The NEA is against annual testing in the ESEA rewrite. Instead we want informational grade span testing at the state level. That means testing reading and math once in elementary school, once in the middle school and once in the high school.
-Lawmakers say you need to test kids every year. They think we need the data. However, the NEA told them that we don’t test that much even now! We only test kids in grades 3-8 every year. We test high school students only once. So we already have grade span testing in the high school. If that’s working, why not do the same in the elementary and middle schools?

RESULT: Yuck and yuck. Are these really the same rabble rousers from Round 1? They both agree on grade span testing. Yes, it’s clearly better than annual testing but it leaves so many unanswered questions:

1) If we had grade span testing, would our test-obsessed country really only test once at each academic level? Right now, standardized tests aren’t required in Kindergarten, first or second grade – yet in most schools WE HAVE THEM! To paraphrase Lily – we already have literally annual testing through 8th grade! Prove to me that grade span testing won’t be that!

2) How can you be sure grade span testing will actually remove high stakes? Just because you say something doesn’t have high stakes doesn’t mean it isn’t actually de facto high stakes. I can call a cat a “dog,” but it still won’t use the litter box.

3) Do we really need any of this “demographic”, “purely informational,” nothing-to-see-here-folks data? Do we? Why? To prove kids are learning? We give them grades for that. To prove kids are getting the proper resources? We do audits for that.

So let’s call this one a sloppy and ugly draw with few punches thrown.


Randy: Standardized testing is ruining the potential of the Common Core. (Ravich responded that it is an outrage that so few kids pass Common Core tests who passed the tests they replaced.)

Lily: Many Common Core standards can’t be evaluated on standardized tests. They ignore the best parts. Organize a project, give an opinion, do a multi-media presentation. You can’t assess that with a multiple choice fill-in-the-bubble test.

RESULT: They agree again. The rank and file hate Common Core. The majority of teachers are against it or uncertain, but our largest union leaders think it’s just swell. It’s so gosh darn great, but toxic testing is ruining it. Are you freaking kidding me!? Why are the leaders of our biggest unions – who are supposed to represent us – defending standards that were not developed by educators, are developmentally inappropriate and have never been proven to work!?

Standardized tests are bad, but standardized curriculum is good!?

Once again light starts to shine through the cracks here. 

Somewhere, sometime ago, a decision was reached between these two ladies and parties unknown to make a compromise. Save Common Core by lightly ribbing standardized tests. Champion a slight decrease in testing (that may not actually reduce testing at all) in exchange for saving standardized curriculum.
I’m sorry. I’m calling the fight. No winners here.



Michelle Gunderson chaired an incredible session about the need to transform our labor unions around the issues of social justice.

Remarks included:

-Get Up! Get down! Chicago is a union town!

-After Gov. Walker, there weren’t supposed to be any unions. But WE’RE STILL HERE!

Rosemary Vega: true leaders don’t make more followers. They make more leaders.

-Everyone is a worker. Everyone deserves rights – whether you’re in a union or not.

-Fighting for social justice is key to building strong unions.

-Do you want a service union or an activist one? Associations shouldn’t just be about salary and benefits. They need to be about Justice.

-People of color used to be banned from joining unions. Now they’re leaders.

-You’d never know how much our unions had to fight for the rights we have today. We don’t pass that on to the next generation. We should.

Michelle: Union members aren’t friends. They’re brothers and sisters.

RESULT: Randi and Lily are teetering on their feet! They’re almost down! Somehow they’re still standing! How can they still be standing!?


Diane had a brief talk with the Chicago Teachers Union president to end the entire NPE conference. Karen didn’t say anything revolutionary.

In fact, she deflected any kind of praise back to someone else. 

When Diane said Karen was her hero, Karen said she felt the same way about Diane. When Diane asked her about being attacked in the media, Karen thanked the Badass Teachers Association for coming to her aide on Twitter.

She was poise, finesse and grace.

The strength she demonstrated! The power! The integrity!

RESULT: Boom! It’s all over! It’s all over! Ring the bell! Ring the Bell!

Unions still have an important place in our fight as teachers. But it’s not top down. Unions work best when they’re bottom up – just like any Democracy.

Lily and Randi seem like very nice ladies. In many ways they DO stand up for teachers and students. But there is more to their stories. They have seats at the table in the smoke filled rooms where decisions are made at the highest level about how our country will be lead. And to keep those seats, they have to make compromises. They have to sell these compromises to you and me as if these were their own ideas. They want to convince us that these are really OUR ideas.

But it’s not true. It’s showmanship.

We have to be smart enough to see through it and call them out on the bullshit when it comes.

Unions have always been about people power – and what powerful people we have on our side!

The audience at NPE was full of these courageous, big hearted activists and organizers. I’m so honored to have been included in this tremendous event.

Power to the people!


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Here Comes Everyone – a Day of Inspiration and Advocacy at the Network for Public Education Conferance

Let me ask you a hypothetical question:

If you could have dinner with any five people in the world, who would they be?

You don’t have to ask me that question. I not only had dinner with them, I spent the whole freaking day with them at the Network for Public Education Conference!

And there were more like 500 of those folks!

Imagine everyone you’ve ever read about in the resistance to corporate education reform.

Imagine them all in one place, standing in line all around you waiting to select a Danish.

Yeah. That was breakfast.

I invited the amazing Pennsylvania blogger Russ Walsh to my table to chat over bagels and coffee.

I told him that I’d been so inspired by his criticism of the Dibels test that I refused to allow my own daughter to take it. He laughed and said it was a mighty responsibility.

We hung out. No big deal.

And then I saw Peter Greene of the Curmudgucation blog. We sat together during a break out session and talked shop. He told me how it was frustrating sometimes to feed the beast – to keep writing articles after one of yours had made an impression. I laughed because I knew exactly what he was talking about.

We’re best friends now.

I was walking down a hallway and there was Diane Ravich right behind me.

Yes! Right. Behind. Me.

I tried to collect myself before walking up to her.

Don’t blow this, Singer! I warned myself, but I kinda’ did anyway.

I introduced myself and shook her hand. She knew exactly who I was and said, “I love your blog.”


She loves my blog.

But then I opened my mouth to respond, and all that came out were unrelated syllables. Something like, “blllurgghh.”

But there were more people waiting to talk to her. She probably didn’t notice. Right?

And really I could go on like this for days.

However, it wasn’t just the opportunity to meet and talk with education heroes. The breakout sessions were amazing:

The Opening Symposium

Brother Jitu Brown of NPE and Tanasia Brown from the Newark Student Union were inspiration personified. Though she’s only a student, Danasia lead the assembly like a seasoned preacher on Sunday. And Jitu’s words just made you want to rush out of those doors and renew the fight.

Debunking Myths:

It may not be the zombie apocalypse yet, but some decaying half-dead arguments continue to shamble across the scene. They’ve been disproven repeatedly but some people refused to accept it. 
 Media Matters Hilary Tone and People for the American Way’s Diallo Brooks gave some excellent tips for putting these zombie arguments to rest:

Six Tips For Debunking Myths

1) Familiarize facts – minimize falsity. Start with the truth, not what’s wrong.

2) People believe what they hear. Warn them about it. “You’ll probably hear the Koch Bros. say…”

3) Don’t just debunk – retell. After dispelling a lie, make sure to give a new narrative to replace it.

4) Use graphics. People love visuals.

5) Make things easy to understand. Don’t use jargon. Expect no prior knowledge.

6) Messengers matter. Credible and unexpected sources can be very convincing. When someone you’d expect to disagree with you actually agrees, it makes people think, “Even THIS guy gets it.”

Other tidbits include:

-Call out false progressives. If they don’t understand the real problems, they can’t come up with real solutions.

-The media only talks about education policy with actual education experts 9% of the time.
America’s Suicidal Quest for Educational Excellence:

Author Yong Zhao brought down the house with an amazing and hilarious presentation. He argued that America’s corporate educational reform movement is destroying the very things about our education system that makes it great.

The goal of increased standardized test scores is ill conceived. Countries with high test scores produce graduates who are less creative and interested in education. Why is this something we want to emulate?

Other tidbits:

-Standardization isn’t a reform. China’s been doing it since 600 AD.

-Our schools aren’t getting worse on standardized tests. They’ve always been bad at them. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

-We’re working to weed out and select kids. If children do what some few people want, they’re gifted. If not, they’re special ed. But does that mean our requirements are any good?

-Societies aren’t murdered. They commit suicide. Focusing on standardization instead of creativity and difference, is suicide. We’re destroying our most cherished virtues.

-One of the amazing things about US education is we accept everyone for 12 years. This doesn’t happen everywhere in the world.

-If you spend 10,000 hours working at something you’re already good at, you’ll become great. If you force kids to spend that amount of time on something they don’t like, they’ll only become mediocre.

-WARNING: Common Core may increase standardized test scores but it will make your child hate reading for life.

-We do not instill creativity in our students better than Asian systems. We just kill it less successfully.

-Standardization is preparing kids for jobs being replaced by machines and outsourced. We should not compete with China. We should create new opportunities.

-Do not fit your kids in to the future. Let them create it.

And so much more!

This has easily been one of the best days of my life. Top 10 for sure.

And there’s still a half day to look forward to tomorrow.

So many burning questions:

-Which education luminary will I eat breakfast with in the morning?

-Will my BFFs Walsh and Greene sign my program book?

-Will I get a chance to express a meaningful sentence to Diane?

Find out in our next exciting episode!


Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Resistance is Real – They’re All Here at the Network for Public Education Conference!


An old adage says, “The most radical thing we can do is introduce people to one another.”

If that’s true, then the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago may be the most radical gathering in the history of the world!

Everywhere you turn are familiar faces that belong to people you’ve never actually met.

I wasn’t checked-in to the hotel for more than a minute before I ran smack into a colony of Badass Teachers.

Melissa Tomlinson, Marla Kilfoyle, Larry Proffitt, Kelly Ann Braun, Kristin Vogel, Karen Wolfe, Denisha Jones, Terry Kalb and so many more.

I’m “friends” with all of them on Facebook. Just like I’m “friends” with Stephen Hawking, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and George Takei!

But these are at least people with whom I’ve actually engaged. We’re all in the Badass Teachers Association – many of us on the leadership team.

We plan actions, incite twitter storms, write articles and all around raise Hell about the standardization and privatization of public education.

But meet them in person!? No. I’ve never done that… until today.

And is that abnormally tall man greeting folks in the lobby Anthony Cody? Yes, it is. The most prominent education blogger in the country is helping sell souvenir t-shirts!

And is that Melissa Katz – the 19-year-old teaching student setting the field aflame with her youthful activism!? Yep!

It’s like some science fiction story where the Internet came alive and started spitting out virtual people into the hotel lobby.

At first, I was simply speechless. I could hug, nod and take pictures, but that was about it.

But as the magic spell refused to fade away, I gradually accepted the reality of the situation.

These weren’t phantoms. These are real people.

And so – we began to talk.

I’ve spent hours messaging these individuals on-line. We’ve done much to steer the course of the resistance to corporate education reform. But nothing beats face-to-face interaction.

And the door kept popping open with more people I’d never even known existed who felt the same way I do about schools and learning.

In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve met a cloud of BATS from all over the country. We’ve talked about:
-The way Pearson standardization is seeping into college level teacher education courses. The complaint has always been that standardized tests don’t prepare students for college. And instead of fixing the tests, we’re dumbing down the universities!

-How activists in some states have made progress holding charter schools accountable and in others activists have made progress holding cyber schools accountable. But rarely do we seem able to do BOTH. It’s like a bureau in a “Three Stooges” episode. When you get one closed, the other pops opens wider.

-The way parents feel about their own children isn’t that much different than the way teachers feel about their students. However, it’s very difficult for each group to acknowledge they’re on the same side. How powerful we could be if we worked together!

-How education blogging is so much more authentic and free to tell truth to power than print or television journalism. Big money controls the media, but it can’t control everyday folks who feel compelled to write articles and publish them on-line.

And so much more!

Not a single conference has started, yet my brain is swimming with ideas. There are so many people I want to talk with and so many subjects I want to discuss!

In any case, it will probably be a long day tomorrow with some really tough choices to make. There are so many incredible presenters giving talks on so many important subjects – many at dueling times.

I feel energized and part of a growing community of people dedicated to righting the course of public education. The profiteers and privatizers have a war chest loaded with cash on their side.

But we’ve got people. Real people.

I’ll side with people any day.


(Watch this site for further updates throughout the weekend if I can find a spare moment.)

Friday, April 24, 2015

The One about Bullying, Threats and Arne Duncan...

The Secretary of State is supposed to be the nation's top diplomat.

The Attorney General is supposed to be the nation's top lawyer.

The Surgeon General is supposed to be the nation's top physician.

So why is Arne Duncan, the nation's Secretary of Education, behaving more like a schoolyard bully than like the nation's top teacher?

In the face of unprecedented opposition to his administration's program of standardized testing, with nearly 200,000 parents in New York State alone opting their children out of standardized tests that they perceive as not only unhelpful, but downright damaging, Sec. Duncan went on the offensive Tuesday, promising that if the states wouldn't force those children to take his tests, then he would:

"'We think most states will do that,' Duncan told an Education Writers Association conference in Chicago, according to Chalkbeat New York. 'If states don’t do that, then we [the federal government] have an obligation to step in.'

Duncan didn’t elaborate on what the federal intervention might look like. It could, however, involve labeling districts with too many opt-outs as “failing,” a status that places restrictions on how schools use federal money. This would in turn pressure state government and school districts to roll back parental opt-out rights.

Duncan went on to say: 'Folks in the civil rights community, folks in the disability community, they want their kids being assessed. They want to know if they are making progress or growth,' Duncan said."

First, everyone should be considered a part of the "civil rights community" and the "disability community," as these communities are made up of those who support civil rights and those with disabilities. The fact that Sec. Duncan is so clearly trying to "divide and conquer" is at best a very clumsy strategy, and at worst an obvious attempt to bully folks into feeling guilty or like bad parents for opting out.

Second, no teacher needs yearly standardized tests to know if their students are "making progress or growth." Just as parents don't need these tests to know if their children are growing. The people that teach and love these children are well aware of what they are learning, what challenges and successes they are encountering, and what strategies will work best to help them continue to grow and learn. Let's not pretend that a once-per-year multiple choice test will somehow magically provide some special sauce that will reveal what kids know and are able to do.

Finally, if this many parents are angry enough to opt their kids out of these tests in the first place, just how ticked off do you think they will be when the Sec. of Education threatens to force their kids to actually take the tests?

And, Mr. Duncan--have you ever really tried to force a child to take a test? I had a tough time getting my then 4 year old to put on his mittens in the morning. Good luck with that.

What Sec. Duncan doesn't seem to know--because he was never a teacher himself--is that the testing movement depends on the goodwill of the teachers and students involved. Without getting "buy-in" from teachers, parents and students there is no way this thing is going to fly. Let's say that Mr. Duncan "succeeds" in getting every child in the nation to actually sit down and take his tests. Does he really think that no child will look at those blank rows of bubbles begging to be drawn on and not start filling them out in the shape of a tree, or just color in every bubble on the sheet? And to think that these tests are supposed to be used to make high stakes decisions on whether teachers keep their jobs or not. No wonder that the American Statistical Association is on record as saying that Value Added Measures, a statistical approach that uses test scores to come up with building-level scores, is an inappropriate and invalid use of standardized tests.

The way to "fix" this problem is not by playing the heavy and threatening to force these tests on unwilling children and teachers. It's to listen to the opinions of those who have legitimate objections to these tests, and implement thoughtful reforms, such as...

  • limiting standardized testing to one time in grades 3-6, one time in middle school, and one time toward the end of high school
  • ensuring that test results will be shared with teachers so they can use them to improve instruction
  • guaranteeing that test scores will not be used to evaluate teachers--which these tests are incapable of doing with any degree of accuracy

So, Mr. Duncan, instead of posturing and threatening punishments, why don't you try doing what a real education leader would do--listen carefully to dissenting opinions, work together with your colleagues in the schools, and develop a better testing model that actually helps teachers teach and helps students learn?

Mitchell Robinson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Chair of Music Education
Michigan State University

The One about Two Schools 20 Miles and Worlds Apart...

I spent the day observing two student teachers. Both were teaching instrumental music in middle and high schools, and each was assigned to an experienced, master teacher. But that's where the similarities end...

One of the student teachers was placed in an urban school and the other in a rural school. The differences between these two schools were stark, and illustrative of the disparities in how our society treats children based on their socioeconomic status. 

Upon entering the urban school, I was immediately struck by how quiet it was. The hallways were eerily empty, with none of the typical hallway chatter and vibrancy of excited students making their way from class to class. The corridors were dark and gloomy, with the walls and lockers looking badly beat up and in need of a fresh coat or two of paint. A quick trip to the men's restroom revealed a dirty, broken mirror, no soap, and a single roll of paper towels propped up on the edge of a cracked porcelain sink with a leaky faucet. The restroom, like the halls and classrooms, hadn't been cleaned in a long time.

Less than an hour later I found myself 20 miles away in a bustling school with busy hallways flooded with natural light, brightly painted walls and lockers, and large classrooms with freshly vacuumed, plush carpeting. The restroom was spotlessly clean, and fully stocked with soap dispensers, paper towels and hot air hand dryers.

While the contrasts between these schools could not have been more clear, the students in each building were amazingly similar. Both bands were beautifully behaved, engaged and enthusiastic. Each group of musicians entered their respective band room, got their instruments out of their cases, and began warming up for rehearsal. It was only upon closer examination and discussion that the differences between these two settings became more readily apparent:

  • In the rural school, every child had their own instrument, and kids who played large instruments like the tuba had one school-owned instrument to play at school, and another instrument for home practice; in the urban school, some instruments were shared among multiple students during the day, and no students had school-owned instruments at home.
  • All of the instruments in the rural school were in good playing condition, and when repairs are required there is a school budget and an established repair procedure in place; the teacher in the urban school was busy re-padding a clarinet when I entered the band room, and shared that she spends over $1000 out-of-pocket per year on instrument repairs and equipment replacement--there is virtually no school budget for these things.
  • Most of the students in the rural school's high school band had been playing their instruments since 5th grade, and had lived in that community their entire lives. The 112-piece band played advanced repertoire, had a full instrumentation, and many of the band's alumni went on to participate in music ensembles in college after graduation; the urban school's band program had been decimated by the elimination of the district's elementary music program the previous year, and as a result there were only 15 students in the ensemble. Due to the transient nature of the school's population, students who had been playing their instruments for several years were sitting next to kids who had just started playing two weeks previously, making for a very challenging learning environment for students and teachers alike.
Driving home at the end of the day, I couldn't help but wonder how different things would be if all of these children, both rural and urban, had the same advantages at school--clean, safe and adequate facilities; high-quality instruments in good working condition; vibrant, attractive surroundings conducive to learning.

I wondered what a student from the urban school would think if she spent a day at the rural school, in a bright, spacious and well-maintained environment. Would she feel angry, knowing that her peers in the rural school district had advantages that were denied her?

And I wondered what it says about us as a society that we allow some of our children to spend their school days in squalid conditions that make learning more difficult, while their peers in more affluent communities enjoy advantages that help prepare them for success.

Mitchell Robinson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Chair of Music Education
Michigan State University

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


More Information Contact:
Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager, BATs
Melissa Tomlinson, Asst General Manager, BATs
Badass Teachers Association -

NY BATs – Time for Tisch and Flanagan to Step Down

The New York Badass Teachers Association, is a diverse pro-public education organization of 3,225 members.  It is the state affiliate of the Badass Teachers Association, currently 55,493 strong nationwide.

NY BATs proudly applaud the parents of New York State who have sent a strong message to the Governor, the Regents, and the Legislature with their refusal to take tests that have no value to their children’s education. Over 180,000 parents showed a strong vote of no confidence in the Governor, Chancellor Tisch, and Senator Flanagan when they would not allow their children to take corporate created ELA standardized tests.  Parents recognize that these tests have no value to education, are developmentally inappropriate by being 2 grade levels above the grade tested, were ripe with errors, and  contained product advertisements inappropriate for our youngest learners.  It is at this time, and due to the strong message over 180,000 parents sent to NYS, that we demand  Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Senator John Flanagan (Head of the Education Committee) step down, immediately, from their posts.  The parents of New York State have spoken – they have NO confidence in you.

“Chancellor Tisch and Senator Flanagan have ignored the wishes of public school parents in New York State.  They continue to push through an education agenda that is harmful to our children, not rooted in sound research, and supports the privatization movement underway in this country”, said NY BAT and parent Marla Kilfoyle.

Special Education advocate and NY BAT Terry Kalb said, “Parents across NYS have voted NO CONFIDENCE in Tisch's leadership of our public schools by refusing state testing despite her threats and intimidation. All attempts to get the Chancellor to pause, reflect, adapt, change direction have been stonewalled.  We need new leadership and a new direction from The NY Regents and our legislators to support our public schools, our teachers as professionals, and the concerns of the parents.”

“Chancellor Tisch and Senator Flanagan should step down in their roles because they do not have the best interests of New York public school students, teachers, or parents at heart. They have consistently shown their allegiance to special interest groups such as charter schools and testing corporations. They serve hedge funds not the people of New York State,” claims Michael Flanagan a NY BAT and parent.

NY BAT Jamy Brice Hyde states that Tisch and Flanagan are, “Out of touch with all stakeholders in public education.  The Chancellor and Senator won't hear the concerns of public school teachers and parents.  Both serve the Governors disastrous political agenda and Tisch is the one perpetuating the false idea that the massive test refusal by parents is a labor dispute.  She has offered no solutions and no road map to get NYSED back on track.  There is very little evidence that they care about our public schools and the children who attend them.”

The parents of New York have been ignored and marginalized by former Education Commissioner John King, Chancellor of the Regents Merryl Tisch, and the Education Committee led by Senator Flanagan.  The parents of New York State have spoken by initiating the largest parent led test refusal movement in history.  As teachers, we stand firmly with our parents.  Education in New York State needs to be returned to teachers so that they can best serve the children in their classrooms.  Senator Flanagan and Chancellor Tisch have shown they are NOT capable of guiding education policy in New York State.  It is time for them to step down so we can get education right for our children.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

This Article May Be Illegal – Lifting the Veil of Silence on Standardized Testing

By:  Steven Singer
Originally posted on his blog:
What you are about to read may be a criminal act.
I may have broken the law by putting this information out there.
Edward Snowden leaked data about civilian surveillance. Chelsea Manning released top secret military documents.
And me? I’m leaking legal threats and intimidation students and teachers are subject to during standardized testing.
Not exactly a federal crime is it?
No. I’m asking. Is it?
All because they talked about standardized tests.
The US government mandates public school children be subjected to standardized assessments in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Most schools test much more than that – even as early as kindergarten.
And since all of these assessments are purchased from private corporations, the testing material is ideological property. The students taking these exams – regardless of age – are no longer treated as children. They are clients entering into a contract.
At the start of these tests, students are warned of the legal consequences of violating the terms of this agreement.
In particular, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests require students to read the following warning on the first day of the assessment:
DO NOT PHOTOGRAPH, COPY OR REPRODUCE MATERIALS FROM THIS ASSESSMENT IN ANY MANNER. All material contained in this assessment is secure and copyrighted material owned by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Copying of material in any manner, including the taking of a photograph, is a violation of the federal Copyright Act. Penalties for violations of the Copyright Act may include the cost of replacing the compromised test item(s) or a fine of no less than $750 up to $30,000 for a single violation. 17 U.S.C. $ 101 et seq
So the first act of testing is a threat of legal consequences and possible fines.
There are no such warnings on my own teacher-created tests. Sure I don’t want students to cheat, but I don’t threaten to take them to court if they do.
The school has a plagiarism policy in place – as just almost every public school does – which was created and approved by the local school board and administration. The first infraction merits a warning. The second one results in a zero on the assignment, and so on.
Moreover, this is something we go over once at the beginning of the year. We do not reiterate it with every test. It would be counterproductive to remind students of the dire consequences of misbehavior right before you’re asking them to perform at their peak ability.

Okay, Brady! Go out there and win us a football game! By the way, if you deflate that football, you will spend the rest of your life in jail. Go get ‘em!
But that’s not all.
In Pennsylvania, we also force kids to abide by a specific code of conduct for test takers. They must enter a quasi-legal relationship before they are even permitted to begin the tests we’re forcing them to take.
Much of this code is common sense. Get a good night’s sleep. Fill in bubbles completely using a number two pencil.
But some of it is deeply disturbing.
For example, students are told to “report any suspected cheating to your teacher or principal.”
They have to agree to be an informer or snitch to a government agency. My students aren’t old enough to vote or even drive a car, but they are directed to collaborate with the government against their classmates.
In addition, they are told NOT to:
-talk with others about questions on the test during or after the test.
-take notes about the test to share with others.
Sure kids shouldn’t talk about the test with classmates DURING the testing session. Obviously! But why can’t they discuss it after the test is over!?
Kids aren’t allowed to say to their friends, “Hey! Did you get the essay question about ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’?”
They aren’t allowed to discuss how difficult it was or compare how each of them answered the questions?
These are children. If you think they aren’t talking, then you just don’t know kids. You don’t know people!
And why shouldn’t they talk about it? They just shared a stressful, common experience. Who wouldn’t want to compare it to what others went through so as to decide how your experience rates? Did you answer the questions well or not? Did you get a more difficult question than others? Did the thing that struck you as odd also hit others the same way?
Personally, I do not consider talking like this to be cheating. It’s just human nature.
But we force kids into a legalistic vow they won’t do it. On the test, we make them fill in a bubble next to the following statement:
By marking this bubble I verify that I understand the “Code of Conduct for Test Takers” that my Test Administrator went over with me.
As a test administrator, I am not allowed to move on until all students have filled in that bubble. I wonder what would happen if one of them refused.
Technically, we aren’t making them promise TO ABIDE by the code of test takers. Perhaps we lack that legal authority. We are, however, making them swear they understand it. Thus we remove ignorance as an excuse for not following it.
But there is a veiled threat here. We imply that not following this code will have harsh legal consequences.
And I’m not sure it should.
Kids certainly ignore it. They almost definitely discuss the exam with their peers after the testing session. But we’ve given them a sense of guilt, fear and anxiety just for being normal human beings.
That’s wrong.
Teachers are forced to do it, too.
Just as there is a code for test takers, there is a code for test proctors.
I have to sign that I understand the “Ethical Standards of Test Administration.” Again, much of this is common sense, but it includes such statements as:
-Discuss, disseminate or otherwise reveal contents of the test to anyone.
-Assist in, direct, aid, counsel, encourage, or fail to report any of the actions prohibited in this section.
So even teachers technically are not allowed to discuss the test and should report students or colleagues seen doing so.
If I walk into the faculty room, and one of my co-workers describes a question on the test and asks my opinion, I’m supposed to report this person to the authorities.
What kind of Orwellian nightmare are we living in?
If we see a question that is badly worded, misleading, has no correct answer, contains misspelled words – anything out of the ordinary – we’re supposed to remain silent. In fact, we’re not supposed to read anything on the test other than the instructions.
I can’t talk about it to my colleagues, my principal, my spouse, my priest – ANYONE.
What are the consequences of breaking this code?
Ask those teachers in Atlanta who were convicted of cheating. Obviously they did more than just talk about the test and they deserve to be punished. But there is a specific threat to teachers if they violate this code.
According to the “Pennsylvania System of School Assessment Directions for Administration Manuel”:
Those individuals who divulge test questions, falsify student scores, or compromise the integrity of the state assessment system in any mannerwill be subject to professional disciplinary action under the Professional Educator Discipline Act, 24 P.S. $ 2070. 1a et seq, including a private reprimand, a public reprimand, a suspension of their teaching certificate(s), a revocation of their teaching certificate(s), and/or a suspension or prohibition from being employed by a charter school. [emphasis added]
So teachers may lose our certifications, livelihoods, etc. Heck! We could be charged with racketeering like the Gambino Family and face up to 20 years in jail!
And all just for talking!
I thought speech was protected by law. Doesn’t the First Amendment protect me from prosecution for speaking except under extreme and unusual circumstances?
If my colleagues and I were to discuss the appropriateness of certain test questions, would that really be such a bad thing? If we compared the questions being asked with how we prepared our students for the test, wouldn’t that – in fact – be the responsible thing to do?
I never give my students one of my own teacher-created tests without knowing exactly what’s on it. I’ve read the test from top to bottom. Heck! I made it!
One shouldn’t feel like a whistle-blower for talking about a standardized test. Discussing the appropriateness of specific test questions does not make me Julian Assange.
Therefore, I must ask an important question of you, dear reader: Did I violate these rules by writing this very article? Is the piece you are reading right now illegal?
I contend that it isn’t. The code of conduct for both test takers and test administrators is freely available on-line from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The legal threat at the beginning of the test is reproduced almost word-for-word in a sample letter the state Department of Education suggests schools send to parents before testing begins.
I haven’t included anything here that is not freely available on the Internet or elsewhere.
But the need I feel to stop and answer this question is kind of scary.
There is a veil of secrecy over these tests and the way they are administered. And it’s no accident. The testing companies don’t want all of this to become public knowledge. They don’t want the quality or inferiority of the actual exams to be known.
And our state and federal governments are protecting them. From whom? Our teachers, parents, and students.
Shouldn’t our legislators be looking out for our rights and not just those of private contractors who were hired to provide a service? Obviously we have to allow test manufacturers the freedom to do their jobs – but some of this seems to go beyond that requirement.
We’re being silenced and intimidated to protect an industry that is of dubious qualityand obscene profitability.
Every day more people are asking questions about the validity of standardized testing. Everything from the frequency of the tests to the value of cut scores has been the subject of criticism. Thousands of parents are refusing to let their children take these assessments at all.
Isn’t it time to throw back the Iron Curtain of standardization and look at these tests in the cleansing light of day? Isn’t it time to evaluate this process as well as the product? Do we really want to support a system that encourages silence and snitching from our children and educators?
Isn’t it time to move beyond standardization and toward a system of teacher-created curriculum and testing instead of relying on capitalist profiteers.
Big Corporation is watching.
Let’s poke him in the eye.